Post-game Reactions

Picture 1The story line in the Eastern Conference this season is going to be the possibility of having three 60-win heavyweights duke it out for the conference title—basically the same story line as the one that emerged last season. There will be much hand-wringing over the importance of getting the top seed, so as to avoid the other top two teams until the Eastern Conference Finals. All of that hand-wringing seemed justified last season, until Orlando (the 3rd seed) toppled Cleveland in a Conference Finals that seemed simultaneously close and lop-sided.

Of course, the top seed is also good because (in theory) you face the weakest possible opponent in the first round. What’s that? Elite teams don’t worry about the first round? Or even the second round, if they’re the top seed? In theory, I agree.

But the East has the potential to be stronger this season than it has been in a long time. I’m willing to bet right now that this will be the first season since 2005 in which all eight Eastern Conference playoff teams finish at 42-40 or better. And that raises another question: Do any of the second-tier Eastern teams have the potential to topple one of those three elites in a playoff series?

Don’t laugh. Atlanta and Chicago almost did it to the C’s in the last two seasons. Philly-Orlando was competitive last season. We all remember Golden State-Dallas in 2007.

Just as Kevin Arnovitz took a look at the second-tier sleepers on TrueHoop last week, we’ll spend the next week or two examining some of the teams outside the Boston-Cleveland-Orlando triumvirate to see if there’s any potential for sneaky goodness there. These are not meant to be ultra-exhaustive looks; your thoughts are requested in the comments.

Starting with…The Raptors.

In: Reggie Evans, Amir Johnson, Hedo Turkoglu, Sonny Weems, Rasho Nesterovic, Demar DeRozan, Quincy Douby, Antoine Wright, Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack

Out: Shawn Marion, Jason Kapono, Roko Ukic, Carlos Delfino (not really), Anthony Parker, Joey Graham, Kris Humphries, other minor players

(Ed. note: Holy crap is that a lot of turnover).

Admit it: You’re laughing at the very thought of this Raptor team winning, say, 50 games and pushing one of the top three teams to the brink in the playoffs. But then you think of the diverse skill set that a four-man core of  Jose Calderon-Turkoglu-Chris Bosh-Andrea Bargnani brings to the table, and you can see the Raps at least making life uncomfortable for their opponents. Lots of screen-rolls, lots of shooting.

In order to scare the C’s, though, the Raps will have to answer at least a few of the following four questions affirmatively.

1) Can the team move away from mid-range two-point jump shots?

Only two teams took a lower percentage of their field goal attempts from near the rim than the Raptors, and only seven took a lower percentage of their FGAs from three-point range, according to 82games. A bunch of teams (including last season’s Spurs) have shown you can win while lacking in one of those two efficient types of field-goal attempts, but it’s very difficult to win when you’re deficient at both. (Instead, you tend to finish in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency; Toronto was 22nd).

Exactly 470 three-point attempts left with Kapono and Parker, but about 770 are coming in with Jack, Hedo and Wright–though none of those players shot the three as accurately as Parker or Kapono last season, and none will be allowed to shoot it with the same per game frequency as they did last season. (And if Wright does take 149 threes again next year, the Raptors officially have a coaching problem, even if Jay Triano is a cool guy you might see on Yonge Street sometime).

On the interior, they’ve undoubtedly added toughness and rebounding in Evans (and both are huge necessities—the Raps were an average defensive rebounding team last season and a terrible offensive rebounding team), but Evans isn’t exactly the low post scorer Raps fans are begging for. Nesterovic has a nice little hook shot, but he’s not a game-changer.

But if Turkoglu gives the team a better screen-roll game, it could result in better looks both inside and out—and we know how well Turk ran the screen-roll with Dwight Howard.

2) Have we seen the best of Jose Calderon?

Did you know Calderon is about to turn 28? And struggling to hide the fact that he’s going bald, something we can all relate to? In other words, he’s no longer the up-and-coming point guard so good the Raps had to move T.J. Ford for Jermaine O’Neal’s corpse. (Calderon is actually older than Ford).

And Jose’s game took a step back last year. He was still productive, with a PER near 19 and a solid effective field-goal percentage, but his numbers dropped across the board. You can attribute some of that to a few nagging injuries, including a hamstring problem, but it’s fair to ask whether Calderon can be a top-10 point guard in the NBA. (Of course, with Hedo around to share ball-handling duties, the team may not need Calderon’s offense as much).

They will need him to at least survive on defense, and the boys at Raptors Republic can tell you Calderon really, really struggled on that end last season. Quickness kills, and it killed Calderon all year.

3) Can the defense improve? (Awesome question, I know. Thanks).

This team was bad defensively—23rd in efficiency—and the numbers suggest the team’s famously mediocre rebounding wasn’t the main culprit. (They were actually 14th in defensive rebounding rate, which measures the percentage of available DRBs a team grabs).

The 82games number show something of a mirror image on defense of the team’s offensive shortcomings. Teams shot about 60 percent from the floor on inside shots against Toronto (one of the bottom 10 marks in the league), and the Raps allowed their opponents to take a ton of threes and make them at a decent rate (about 37 percent); only the Hornets and Wizards allowed more three-point attempts as a percentage of all opponent attempts.

The guys at Raptors Republic will tell you: The Raps got smoked on screen-and-roll all season last season, in part because of Calderon’s problems.

The new guys might actually help here more than anywhere else. Jack is capable on D, Wright is in the NBA only because of his D, and DeRozan has all sorts of potential as a long-armed irritant. Experts tend to be pretty polarized on the defensive skills of Evans and Turkoglu, but I think Turk is a tough match-up for most small forwards, and at least some of the numbers (see here and here for instance) bear that out.

Amir Johnson is a foul machine, but he can’t make the team’s interior defense any worse. (Or can he?)

4) Can someone outside the Big Four provide consistent offense?

The best teams in the East have the interior bodies to frustrate Bosh or limit his impact on  Turk-Bosh screen-rolls. Bargs and Calderon get a lot of their offense on open threes–events that happen less often against the best defensive teams.

Will the wing-types provide enough offense for the Raptors to win on nights when the big four are quieter than usual?

This is where the team falls short to me. Jack is more a jump-shooter than slasher; about 75 percent of his shot attempts the last two seasons were jumpers, and he his effective field goal percentage on jumpers is mediocre. DeRozan is unproven. Wright is not an offensive player. Belinelli showed flashes, but he may not be ready.

Verdict: The Raps are good, but nothing to be feared.

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Zach Lowe

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  • I 100% agree with your assessment. The Raptors will be able to score in bunches next season, not worried about that. Defense and rebounding are still suspect in my books. We need a lock down defender at the wing (ime udoka is a fan favourite here), and bargnani needs to dramatically improve his rebounding if we hope to make a run at 50 wins.

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  • I’m a Raptors fan, and this is very, very, very fair. If all goes right, the Raps can be at the top of the 2nd tier. That’s the ceiling.

  • Swirsky’s SOldier

    Its funny when the elderly still think they are tough! I think there are going to be a few suprises this year in the east!

  • Raptor fannn

    Fair assessment but the starting five pose a real problem for opposing teams. Four of the five starters can really shoot the rock from outside and the only exception is the shooting guard. Toronto has very good offensive players and defensive players, but they are different bodies. the key for Toronto is to get the right chemistry and mix of lineups to be effective. The starters are scorers and the back ups are defensive players…it will be interesting and it is too early to say if their overhaul will pay off…but it might.

  • Diegus

    Please, with all the respect you deserve, don’t call your best four players “The Big Four”…they were the celtics and lakers of the 80’s, or the 90’s bulls…please, control your words…

  • Raptors fans [as well as others] who attribute the team’s poor defensive showing last season to the lack of quickness by Jose Calderon exhibit only their lack of proper attribution when it comes to identifying why a team like this gives up dribble and pass penetration opportunities galore when the opposition plays Pick & Roll basketball relentlessly against it, i.e. because it exhibits a specific weakness in this area of the game.

    This team’s main problem in this regard does not revolve around the ability of Jose Calderon but the ability of Andrea Bargnani and their other Bigs, outside of Chris Bosh [who has the lateral quickness and the internal commitment required to defend effectively against this most basic of all NBA set plays], to play their part in stopping this specific action.

    If you track the Raptors Defensive Efficiency over the last 3 seasons vs this specific play you will see that their poor performance is tied to the increased minutes received by Mr. Bargnani & Co., in one of their Big positions vs a more mobile player with size like Jorge Garbajosa, or Kris Humphries, or [even] Jamario Moon [as an under-sized #4/PF], or Pops Mensah-Bonsu, etc.

    Astute NBA observers will know that competent Pick & Roll defense in the NBA starts with having Bigs that are able to defend this action rather than a PG with superior quickness or exceptional toughness, etc.

    Top Notch Pick & Roll Defense in this league, given the sheer size of the Bigs setting the picks themselves is dictated first and foremost by the [i] Defensive Bigs degree of lateral quickness, [ii] attention to detail, [iii] commitment to defend vs smaller players with superior quickness, and [iv] the other three defenders on the floor at the time the Pick is set and their individual and collective ability to rotate effectively through their specific responsibilities associated with the different techniques designed to counter the Pick & Roll in the NBA … not the lateral quickness of their PG at the point of attack.

    Good Pick & Roll D is in fact keyed and determined by the other players on the court NOT a team’s PG.

    If they do their jobs properly, it then becomes much easier for a bigger, thicker PG like Jose Calderon, or Chauncey Billups, or Jason Kidd, or Deron Williams, or Ron Harper, or Quinn Buckner, or Dennis Johnson, or Magic Johnson, etc., to then do his job to contain this specific offensive action.



    It is a mistake in basketball judgment to simply assume that the way Hedo Turkoglu performed each of the last 2 seasons with Orlando is how he is going to perform this season for the Raptors.

    How come?

    Andrea Bargnani … who the Raptors have decided to play as their Center … is NOT equivalent to Dwight Howard in the three main phases of the game, i.e. Defense, Offense & Rebounding; nor, is Chris Bosh … who the Raptors have decided to play as their Power Foward … equivalent to Rashard Lewis, in this same regard [i.e. D, O & R].

    When the Magic added Lewis to their team 2 seasons ago … please take note of the fundamental changes which occurred in Hedo’s individual game, e.g. with a PF like Rashard on the floor to augment Turkoglu’s specific skill-set [in terms of D, O & R].

    Likewise, as Superman began to really mature 2 seasons ago … please take note of how his play may have served to accentuate the strengths and minimze the weaknesses in the individual game of the Turkish Michael Jordan [once again, in all three main phases of the game, i.e. D, O & R].

    Although I, personally, like what Hedo brings to the table a great deal … it’s a substantially different environment for him with the Raptors than he was able to excel in with the Magic.

    Is he capable of making the necessary adjustments?

    For the Raptors sake, I sure hope so.

  • I do think that the Raps will look better this season than last… However, they really don’t match up against either the Cavs or the Magic when it comes to the five spot.

    That will be their downfall against the elite in the East.

  • Hi, my name is matthew and I’m an addict. I love my celtics and the NBA in general. The off season is tough, news hear…a little more there…then the long wait to week one of preseson camps and games. So I do a lot of thinking and analizing.
    #1 the celtics are probably the second or possibly 3rd most
    talented team in the east. How ever!!! We are deep on bigs
    With talent. We are experienced and grinders. We play
    unmerciful D. Plus even with our age we have a young stud
    In Perk Rondo and BBD. Good balance
    #2 Cleveland isn’t as good as people think. They added garbage
    Players. I don’t see them any better than last year really.
    Little deeper…little bigger…but still it’s LBJ’s show..win or
    Loose it’s on him
    #3 Orlando has to regroup. They got better but lost the clutch
    Shot tAker and decision maker in Turk. I’m interested to see
    How that works.
    #4 raptors got better by subtraction of garbage players and
    Addition of solid role guys and scary in the sense u now have
    a Turk to bosh combo…that’s a damn good 1-2 punch. D is
    Suspect but I see 55 or more wins. Easily. Don’t think that Turk
    Doesn’t mAke a huge difference. He will

  • madtown12

    i can’t believe you called calderon, bosh, turkoglu, and bargnani the big four. More like the little four

  • The offence Turk is joining is actually similar to the Orlando offence, contrary to the above poster’s looooooong and drawn-out assessment, which is why Colangelo thought he would be a great fit. It doesn’t matter what their ‘listed positions’ are (ie. Bosh at the 4, Bargs at the 5) — the characteristics of the players are similar…..

    Bosh=Howard (Bosh is better and more versatile offensively, but obviously not the defender Howard is)

    Bargnani=Lewis (Bargs is arguably the better shooter and may in the next year or two become a better overall player)



    Calderon=Nelson (Personally, I’d rather have Calderon as my PG than Nelson, but not everyone will agree with this — they are comparable — let’s not underestimate how much Jose’s injury last year truly hampered him — at the end of the season he was dynamite)

    I love the role players the Raps acquired and this is suddenly a team full of young assets and even with some long-term contracts, they still have über flexibility going forward….

    The Bargnani contract is a bargain; Jack may be slightly overpaid now, but remember how young he is and he’s just coming into his prime — he beat out TJ for the starting PG spot last year and can score; Turk should have 2-3 solid years and then he becomes an expiring contract if they need to move him; Calderon is locked up and not overpaid, etc.

    Not only will they challenge for the 4 spot this year (and maybe even give the geriatric C’s a run for 3rd if Boston has injury problems), but this franchise looks to be poised for some extended burn in the top 4 of the conference now. Barring a huge collapse this year, Bosh looks to be re-signing with this team and if the offseason has shown us anything, let’s not ever underestimate Mr. Colangelo’s ability to make things happen — I’m still flabbergasted at how he was managed to address every weakness this team had last year….

    This post was very fair as mentioned above — the Raps likely won’t seriously challenge Boston, but if Colangelo’s new roster starts to come together as it could, then look out!

  • DBro,

    IMO, your attempt to state that these player comparisons are favourable for the Raptors:

    Bosh & Howard
    Bargnani & Lewis
    Turk & Turk
    DeRozan & Lee
    Calderon & Nelson

    miss the mark on Bosh, Bargnani and DeRozan when considering the traits and interactions of these players in terms of Defense, Rebounding and specific elements of their individual offensive games, much of which is linked to the specific position they now play for their team.

    You are certainly entitled to hold your own opinion on these matters, and it will be most interesting to see how the coming season plays out for the Raptors, as I too see the opportunity for uber flexibility from a roster like this.

  • It’s really tough to assess a team that you can only watch live twice per year.

    Calderon played on a sore hamstring for most of last season – thus defense really sucked.

    Bosh played on a sore knee for most of last season – thus defense really sucked.

    The team has 12 new players since the all-star break. So last year’s stats mean what? nothing? Really tough to say if they’ll gel or not.

    Celtics are still good, but who can know how Garnett will play this season? Old & injured, maybe he can come back to form, maybe not?

    Sheed is a meltdown waiting to happen, if Garnett & Sheed get into it – expect fists to fly.

    Lots of risks in an older team.

    Celtic might the best team in the league on paper, but the games aren’t played on paper.

    We’ll see.

  • Steve,

    When that possibly “best team on paper” is also the one which won 66 games two seasons ago, plus the NBA title, and then followed that up with a 62-win regular season campaign last year, which included advancing to the 2nd Round of the playoffs … despite playing without a HOF player like Kevin Garnett and a highlt serviceable Big [off the bench] like Leon Powe … only to lose to the team that then went on to the NBA Finals, I’d suggest that this outfit … after adding a 3rd Big Man with the cred of Rasheed Wallace, is in all likelihood, going to be something substantially more than a mere “paper tiger” this coming season.

    When the season opens this fall, if the C’s are healthy, I’d expect them to be one of the elite teams in the League right from the get-go.

    PS. IMO, adding Wallace to this cast of characters will be not be disruptive in the least. On the contrary … he is going to function like KG’s brother-in-arms [as well as T’s].

  • Tinman

    Oh – there you are Khandor.

    Props to you guys, solid assessment, well except for the Calderon bit – his hamstring hurt for 3/4 of his season- you try guarding with a sore hammy. He’s a very good point guard when healthy.
    Think I’ll bookmark you.

    I think you calling the top three spots is premature.
    Only team that I think stands out are the Cavs and that is because Lebron is coming into his own.
    Seriously doubt the Magic improved, and do not see them repeating their, uh, magic from last season.
    And you guys arguably got thinner and older. Your W total is heading south.
    Injuries will be a factor(they killed the Raptors last season) and some of these signings, Shaq, Vince, and Sheed might not work out as well as you all think.

    One thing for sure is that Raptor fans can’t wait for the season to begin. BC basically kept his core of Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon(easily top 10 PG when healthy) and then blew up the ship.
    The Raptors are a wild card this year, rookie coach, so many new faces, much more athleticism and raw ability has been added. Coach Triano has been given the bodies, lets hope he can maximize their talents.

  • nunya

    Got to love these idiotic Bosh fanboys who still can’t get it into their ridiculous little twats that Bosh is the most overrated weakling in the league. This moron Khandor has devoted his life to idolizing “RuPaul” despite game after game of pretty much every player over 6 feet doing whatever they want against Bosh.
    It will all depend on chemistry and I have a feeling the Raptor’s chemistry will be pretty good once they get rolling.
    Belinelli will have a breakout year.
    The Celtics will surprise, but not in the way the Boston fanboys think…KG will not bounce back as well as they assume and Ray Allen will have health problems…not to mention Rondo’s dissing this summer coming back to bite the team in the ass.
    Orlando is going to be scary. It all depends on Nelson getting back to form…if he doesn’t, they will struggle.

  • I believe you nailed it, khador!

    IF they are healthy, the Celtics are an elite team.

    Have some fun, read about the risks!


  • Tinman

    Don’t know of many in Raptorland who consider Bosh a superstar(but unfortunately will command superstar money next season). Really think its unfair to call him overrated or a weakling. Bosh is a top 7-15. He’s in that pack, you know, behind the Lebrons, yet ahead of the Boozers. Will be interesting watching him surrounded with different talent, whether he’ll accept less touches. One positive, less double teams.
    Look for his rebounding numbers to jump, time for him to crash the boards.

  • nunya,

    Without the name-calling, etc., [in your some of your comments on different sites] you can bring some solid hoops analysis to the table.

    Does someone who would choose Josh Smith over Chris Bosh when evaluating players in today’s game at the PF position, strike you as a “CB4 idol-worshipper”?

    Unlike those who waste their time & energy attacking Bosh’s individual game, IMO, it is far more prudent AND accurate to realize that this young man is:

    * Only turning 25 this year
    * A multiple-time All-Star performer
    * 1 of the few 20/10 players in the NBA
    * An Olympic Games Gold-Medal-winner

    when operating at his best, as a finesse-based Center who focuses on facilitating overall team play, while Rebounding [priority], Defending [priority] and Scoring [in moderation], with his outstanding level of quickness, and the match-up problems he creates for opponents at this specific position.

    With the “credits” Bosh has accumulated to this point in his career, while playing for a team like the Raptors, those who attempt to insult this young man are the mis-guided individuals.


    re: Belinelli

    I, too, think that this young man has the goods to become a very good NBA player … that is … IF he is used properly.

    I am very interested to see if the Raptors’ braintrust is actually capable of figuring this out this season.



    re: the views of Bleacher Report

    Since they started their operation I have seen little from them to warrant placing much stock in their opinions.

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