Just when it looked like the Raptors had taken a couple of steps back the last week or two, they come from behind to win a thriller in a revenge game against the Bucks. With the Raptors having lost four of their last six games, the Bucks took a 9 point lead over the Raptors into halftime, and with Bargnani not playing, Bosh and Turkoglu struggling, and Andrew Bogut dominating down low, it looked like another long night for the Raptors. Then a funny thing happened. The Raptors didn’t roll over. In fact, they came out of the locker room and started chipping away on the Bucks lead. Time and time again, the Bucks hit big shots that in the last couple of games might have taken the wind out of the Raptors sails, but this time they stood toe to toe and threw their own punches. Just about every Raptor had an impact in the second half, but Jack came up huge in the scoring column, scoring a season high 27 points.
Interestingly, Jay didn’t go with his three ball handler lineup at the end of the game. He went with a four ball handler lineup. With Milwaukee going small, and without Bargnani, Triano decided to put Calderon, Jack, Belinelli and Turkoglu on the floor at the same time, and lo-and-behold, it worked well. It was difficult for Milwaukee to defend four players who could shoot from the perimeter and create and allowed them to press on the other end. It’s something I’d like to see more of.
A few stats worthy of mentioning…
– The SG position accounted for 28 points, with both DeRozan and Belinelli having good games. The play of the game had to be the left handed bullet pass Belinelli threw to Bosh late in the fourth. After going through some struggles this season, Raptor fans have really gotten a good look at why Belinelli was such a steal from Golden State and why I predicted he would one day finish in the top 3 for 6th man of the Year.
– Brandon Jennings took nearly twice as many shots (15-8) as DeRozan, and only scored two more points. You might think Jennings going 5-15 is a bad game for Jennings, but it’s actually slightly higher than his average for January (.296). In fact, he’s only had one game so far this month where he shot above 40%. That’s 1 out of 11 games. His shooting percentage and scoring have plummeted every month since the start of the season. His 55 point game now seems like a lifetime ago. In fact, Jennings’ shooting percentage for the season (.381), is virtually the same as that of Antoine Wright (.384), who causes most Raptor fans to cringe when he takes a shot.
– Turkoglu shot 2-10, missed every 3 pointer he took, turned the ball over 3 times, and picked up 5 fouls. And he played one of the better games he has in quite a while. It’s the most aggressive I remember seeing him all year long.
BRANDON JENNINGS REVISITED
On Raptors Republic, some annoying poster who is probably all of 12, claimed that Jennings was already one of the best PG’s in the league and was going to be better than Isiah Thomas. That was about two weeks into the season. Now, having seen quite a few hot starts from players who never showed that again (Kevin Gamble, anyone?), I was not ready to concede his entry into the Hall of Fame just yet. I brought up the name of a former Raptor who I think Jennings can be compared to: Damon Stoudamire. Mighty Mouse had an immediate impact on the Raptors and even the league. He dominated a poor Raptors team and ended up winning Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, that was probably his best year, with career highs in apg and 3 point percentage. After leaving Toronto, he struggled to find his place on teams where he wasn’t the dominant player and didn’t have the ball 95% of the time.
Like Stoudamire, Jennings plays big minutes on a bad team. And like Stoudamire, more is being asked of him than a player of his inexperience should be. Both players shoot/shot more shots than anyone else while shooting a low percentage.
The fact that Jennings still takes so many shots, despite shooting so poorly (he’s averaged 20 shots per game the last three, yet didn’t come close to 40% in any of them) is troubling, but what is even more troubling is that he actually has some talent on this team. The Bucks play well when Bogut scores, but he takes 3 fewer shots than his point guard. And Bogut shoots over 50% from the field, as does Luke Ridnour, yet it’s Jennings who takes the majority of the shots.
Many Raptor fans have questioned why Colangelo didn’t take Jennings who, to them, is clearly a better player than DeRozan. There are a few things wrong with that line of thinking, though. The first is that you can’t judge a player after only a few months. Both players will no doubt get better. The second is that they are in two completely different roles. Jennings landed on a team with few other scorers, and was asked to score. He’s often the Bucks’ first option on offense. DeRozan landed on a team with one All-Star and 3 players who were expected to average in the mid-to-high teens. DeRozan is always the last option on the floor and has maybe had one play called for him all season, if that.
They also play two different positions. Jennings plays PG, so has the ball in his hands most of the time. DeRozan gets the ball either when none of the other players on the floor are open, or when he makes a cut or grabs a rebound. He works for his touches.
Had DeRozan landed in a situation where he needed to score, I’m sure you’d see his scoring average go up, and his shooting percentage go down, just like Jennings. If Jennings had landed on the Raptors, he’d probably be stuck behind Calderon, playing 20 mpg, just like DeRozan, and not being asked to score, just like DeRozan. He certainly wouldn’t have scored 55 points against Golden State, not with Bosh and Bargnani on the team. He’d also probably be shooting a much higher percentage, since he wouldn’t be forced to take so many shots. Then maybe Raptor fans would be wondering why Colangelo didn’t take DeRozan…