It’s A Mad, Mad World

As I look out my window and watch snowflake after snowflake dance on the wind and fall slowly to the ground, blanketing the city in a white quietness, I come to the realization that the world has gone mad.

Keep in mind, I live in Vancouver. And it’s November. In the last five minutes, we’ve gotten more snow than we did all of last winter. The winter that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world descended upon the city to watch the 2010 Winter Olympics. The winter that the local ski mountain had to actually import snow in order to have enough to run the events.

A look at the current NBA standings doesn’t help matters. Wasn’t Miami supposed to be a powerhouse this year? As of right now, they’re sitting 6th in the East, barely above .500. In fact, if the playoffs started today, and they were in the West, they’d be a lottery team. Can you imagine if the Heat missed the playoffs?

San Antonio, who many wrote off as a legitimate contender, is the best team in the league. Houston, on the other hand, which some felt was the sleeper of the West, is floundering near the bottom.

Charlotte is a bottom dweller, Milwaukee looks awful and Cleveland is in the 8th spot, just a game and a half behind Miami. What’s even more shocking is that Toronto, who many pundits called the worst team in the league, before the season started, is just below Cleveland in the 9th spot, and have just reeled off four wins in a row. In fact, the Raptors have beaten the top two teams in the East, Orlando and Boston.

And right on cue, Raptor fans are starting to think about the playoffs. Keep in mind, this is the same Raptor fanbase that wanted to dismantle the team after losing to Charlotte at home just two weeks ago. Neck braces are required with the amount of whiplash Raptor fans give.

So what to make of all that is happening?

First, I want to look at a few teams before the Raptors (if all you want to do is read about the Raptors, than I suggest you scroll down a little).

Too much is already written about the Miami Heat, so I won’t go into great detail, but they do show that simply getting talent isn’t enough. You’ve got to get the right talent. While the Heat grabbed, arguably, the three biggest free agents on the market last summer, not one of them compliments each other. And while they were able to retain and sign some role players, they apparently weren’t the right ones. They have possibly the worst starting PG in the entire league and practically invite scoring in the paint. And now with Udonis Haslem out for possibly the year.

Now, I certainly don’t think they will continue to play at this low level for the rest of the season, even with Haslem, who was their best interior defender, possibly out for the season. If they win fewer than 50 games this year, I will be absolutely shocked, despite them being half a game above .500 right now. Still, for Raptor fans, even 50 games would probably give the Raptors a pick in the low 20’s (they got Miami’s first round pick in the sign and trade for Bosh), which would be a lot better than most expected.

And then there’s Philadelphia. With Doug Collins on board, the 2nd pick in the draft and another year’s maturation of the young players, many people thought Philadelphia might be vying for a playoff spot. After watching them lose twice against the Raptors, as well as ten other teams, it’s obvious the only thing they will be vying for is the fewest wins with the Clippers.

The Sixers certainly weren’t good last year (another season in which they didn’t live up to expectations), but injuries caused problems and they did finish with 27 wins. 27 wins would be a ten game improvement over where they are projected to be if they continue at the same pace. So why are they playing so poorly? Believe it or not, I think it has a lot to do with them trading away Samuel Dalembert.

Sure, Dalembert was not a great fit for the team and never lived up to his contract, but for all his faults he was a defensive center who could rebound the ball and defend the middle. Without him, Philly is left with Spencer Hawes, who was supposed to give them more offense, but has given them very little of anything. And Elton Brand is not the intimidator he used to be, so driving the paint, as the Raptors have discovered in two games against them, is relatively easy.

And while Jrue Holiday is putting up pretty good stats, and playing good defense, he’s still struggling mightily trying to figure out how to run a team. He’s the perfect examples of why assist numbers don’t automatically mean a player is a good PG. Holiday is a pretty good player, but he’s still got a while to go before he’s a good PG.

Milwaukee certainly doesn’t have a hole in the middle. Andrew Bogut has recovered nicely from his brutal injury last season and is putting up similar numbers to last season, although scoring fewer points at a lower percentage. In fact, the entire team is having some trouble putting the ball in the hoop at a reasonably high rate. Of the top 4 scorers on the Bucks, only one is shooting above 40%, Carlos Delfino, and he’s not exactly lighting it up at 42%. Milwaukee is currently last in the league in field goal percentage at .409. That’s bad. Historically bad. That’s something that shouldn’t happen with a really good point guard.

I was critical of Brandon Jennings, last season, because I felt that, despite his numbers, his game was still quite flawed. He shot a low percentage, but that didn’t stop him from shooting more than anyone else on the team. If you’re the PG, your job is to get your team the best shots possible, and if you’re taking a lot of bad shots, that’s a good indication that your decision making is a problem. Apparently it still is. He’s taking more than 3 shots a game more than anyone else on the team yet shooting 38%.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Spurs. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would pick them every year to win the Championship every year and be right half of the time. I even picked them last year, after a little hiatus, because I thought the moves they made, like trading for Richard Jefferson, was enough to put them back over the top. I guess I was a year late. No, they still aren’t favourites to win the Championship, not with Kobe and the Lakers still around, but they are looking like a much better team. They are scoring better, Jefferson finally looks like he’s fitting in. They have an excellent front line, anchored by one of the best defensive bigs in the league, and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are playing like All-Stars again. Between them they are averaging more than 40 points and 12 assists per game.

And now we come to the Raptors. Before the season began, I predicted the Raptors would win 28 games. They’re currently on pace to win 32 games. So the first question is, why are they playing better than most predicted?

Well, they are scoring at a lower rate with a lower percentage, so obviously the improvement is not on the offensive end. On defense, a quick look shows that they are 19th in opponents scoring per game and near the bottom in defensive field goal percentage. Their defensive rating, however HAS improved, in part because they are rebounding the ball better and, in part, because they are causing more turnovers.

No doubt about it, this Raptor team looks completely different from the one that played last year, even though much the personnel is the same. They are more athletic, run more, despite scoring less, and rebound the ball much better (thanks largely to Reggie Evans). And Jose Calderon is finally looking like the same guy who signed his big contract a couple of years ago. He seems healthy, is playing with confidence and has improved his defense to where it’s almost respectable. Not quite, but close.

And they’re on a four game win streak. Time to start thinking about the playoffs?

At the risk of annoying fans who hate anything written about their beloved Raptors that doesn’t involve rainbows coming out the player’s asses, I have to say that it’s a little early to start planning for playoff tickets.

While the four game win streak was nice, two of the wins came against an inept Philadelphia team that can’t score or defend, one came against a very bad Houston team and the other against a Rondo-less Celtics team. Nothing to sneeze at, especially after the recent Florida trip which got people’s hopes up.

The team is in a precarious position. In order for the team to play like they are, too many things have to go right for them to do it on a consistent basis. First off, Reggie Evans is having a career year. He’s rebounding the ball like no Raptor player has ever done, and his hustle is contagious. Unfortunately, because of his lack of offense, there’s no way in hell he should be starting, and might very well be traded before the trade deadline. He’s starting, however, to make up for the anemic rebounding that Bargnani gives the team. While Bargnani is scoring like a maniac, he’s still deficient on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards, so when he isn’t scoring big, he simply hurts the team. Of the Raptors 6 wins, in only one of them did Bargnani score fewer than 24 points. And that game was against a Cleveland team missing two of it’s best players.

And what happens when Ed Davis returns? Whose minutes does he take? Amir Johnson probably deserves more than the 20 mpg he’s playing now, as long as he can stay on the floor, and while I think Davis will eventually be a very good player, he’s going to take some time. And while I think he should be able to rebound well, he’s not going to do it at a rate similar to Reggie, so rebounds might end up being a problem agains for the Raptors.

And while Calderon looks like he’s turned the corner, DeMar DeRozan is still too inconsistent to be counted on. It’s far, far too early to write him off, especially after what he showed early, but it’s obvious he’s going to take more time. Keep in mind that, despite his struggles, DeRozan is playing much better in his second season than Bargnani did in his second season, so anyone who thinks he should be traded, especially those Bargnani fans who I know have called for it, are ignorant at best and hypocritical at worst.

And while the Raptors have improved their defense, they aren’t exactly holding their opponents to a low shooting percentage. They just happen to often shoot better than them in the games they win. Not a recipe for consistent success.

While it may sound like I’m predicted doom and gloom for the Raptors, the Raptors have proven, even when they lose, to be an entertaining team that works hard. And while the playoffs may seem like a great thought, is it really the right thing for them in the long run? Well, that’s another story….

15 thoughts on “It’s A Mad, Mad World

  1. Good article TIm. Good balanced view. I only see the raps improving unless davis takes minute away from the veteran bigs and doesn’t perform at a high level. I will still stick with 33-37 wins i predicted at the beginning of the season. SA looking like title contenders and only a healthy Bynum would make me favor LA over SA. Good work

    • Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

      aaron,

      I’d be absolutely shocked with 37 wins. And as a future post will discuss, I think it would hurt the team long term.

      As for the Spurs, I’d love to see them win again, but I keep waiting for an injury from them. While Ginobili is having the best statistical season he’s ever had, he’s also playing more minutes than he ever has. It’s very un-Popovic like and I don’t know whether it’s best for the team.

      Brasky,

      I really don’t think Colangelo is going for any quick fixes. The trade, and his comments about it afterwards, make me really believe he’s looking solely long term. I’d love for the Raptors to be able to trade Barbosa, but with his injury, I don’t know how that’s going to happen.

      Ragu,

      I was actually a fan of the Isiah-led Pistons, and without the internet, it was a very different world. It’s hard to say what reaction would be like today. You’re right though, they have most of the basketball world chuckling with every loss.

      As for Brandon Jennings, I think there still is a select group that still have rather taken him. I don’t think he’s a bad player, by any means, but he’s not the player a lot of people seem to think.

      In the East, I still think Milwaukee will put things together, and New York seems to be playing more like I thought they would. Indiana is probably going to be mediocre for a while, but they certainly have enough talent to win 40-45 games, which is enough to make the playoffs in the East. And I think you’re forgetting about Chicago. So that’s 8 right there. I don’t see Toronto finishing higher than any of those teams.

      Rapthoseleafs,

      I wasn’t referring to Bargnani fans in general, but specific ones.

      I agree with you about where Davis’ minutes will come from, but it does mean the Raptors lose Reggie’s rebounding a little. It wouldn’t be a problem if…well, I think you know where I’m going with that.

      malefax,

      I read PJs comments. Quite frankly, I think he’s just being nice. Bargnani seems to be worse this year, if that’s possible. I think he’s got a long way to go before he gets to passable, unfortunately.

  2. I pray Colangelo doesn’t go for any more quick fixes this season. This season should be about player development. They might as well shut down Barbosa and give all the backup minutes to Bayless while they’re at it.

    One thing’s for sure, a top 3 pick is essential to this team’s rebuilding process, otherwise they’ll be forever stuck with a bunch of complimentary pieces and 3rd options.

  3. I’m still waiting for the bottom to fall out in Miami. Could not have happened to a better bunch :) I am really hoping Sternbot and Nike are seeing the backlash Lebron and to a lesser extent, the Heat are getting. Isaiah and the Pistons were never hated this bad.

    Brandon Jennings. Wasn’t there a time when a select group of Raptor fans were crucifying BC for selecting DD or BJ? I wonder what they think on BJ now.

    Do the Raps make the playoffs? Who knows for sure! They have played better than I expected and the East, outside of Boston, Orlando, Miami and Atlanta is pretty wide open.

    As for Reggie, while I agree that there is no way he starts on an elite NBA team, he really seems to be taking a “captains” role with the group, and who knows if it’s part of the reason the players have been playing with more “fire” (yes, I know there are a gazillion other variables)…

    Anyhow, good read as always Tim! It’s freaking icy here in SW Ontario (brrrr)

  4. Tim,
    Don’t be so hasty with the Bargnani fan generalities. I think Demar will be a great piece to this team. Jay needs to keep running him out there.

    Demar just turned 21 during the summer – and can drink anywhere now. He’s a raw talent that needs to mature.

    As for minutes, I would imagine Davis will pick off some of Anderson’s (former) minutes, as well as some of Reggie’s – he’s averaging 28 minutes per game right now. While I think Evans is a great energy guy, Raps need more of a balanced approach (like 12Pts & 9Rb type numbers). Reggie has never has these type of minutes before, so my secondary concern would be to level them off a bit, to minimize injury possibilities. Then again, “highlighting” Evans (with these type of minutes) may enhance his trade value.
    .

  5. Pretty balanced discussion.

    Pj Carlissimo said in an interview recently that Bargnani is defending better, both help and man. That’s what I really want to hear: even if his rebounding remains anemic, if his defense becomes passable or good, he becomes a big net positive.

  6. I think a lot of the people talking about trading DeRozan are thinking that Weems might be better (or at least as good) and therefore DeRozan is redundant. Might as well fill another hole, the thinking goes. Me, I’d wait a bit more but athletic swing men usually show that they are stars early on. Sonny might not be a star but seems ahead of his good buddy. And it could stay that way despite the moderate age difference.

    Me, I’d start working the phones soon with Orlando for a straight Barbosa for Gortat swap

  7. “DeRozan is playing much better in his second season than Bargnani did in his second season, so anyone who thinks he should be traded, especially those Bargnani fans who I know have called for it, are ignorant at best and hypocritical at worst.”

    I don’t think Bargnani was a starter in his 2 first years…the ignorant e hypocritical I guess it’s you…but anyway basket it’s not your sport!

    Anyway I would give DD some more time even if I don’t see him as an untouchable!

    • footie,

      Bargnani started more than half of his second season, including a stint of 40 games in a row where he averaged nearly 30 mpg. So, in other words, you’re wrong. Thanks for the comment, though.

  8. “right on cue, Raptor fans are starting to think about the playoffs. Keep in mind, this is the same Raptor fanbase that wanted to dismantle the team after losing to Charlotte at home just two weeks ago. Neck braces are required with the amount of whiplash Raptor fans give”
    “At the risk of annoying fans who hate anything written about their beloved Raptors that doesn’t involve rainbows coming out the player’s asses, I have to say that it’s a little early to start planning for playoff tickets.”
    “so anyone who thinks he should be traded, especially those Bargnani fans who I know have called for it, are ignorant at best and hypocritical at worst.”

    Your starting to have an arrogance about you. Still a good read as always.
    I agree on the DeRozan comment.

  9. I felt that last year Milwaukee and Charlotte were both not going to be too good this year. Last year Charlotte was decent, but other teams have improved and they havent. And the Bucks just went on a huge run towards the end of the season. I thought if Milwaukee could get it together, and have Bogut they could win 45-50 games. I think I was wrong. Jennings is bad, I’m saying it, he’s bad. Okay he’s young and all, but your PG shouldn’t be taking the most/worst shots whilst shooting a horrible percentage. Now you see why Nash is such a great PG, not just because of his passing and court-vision, but his shot selection. He could shoot a lot (ala Steph Curry, who is better than Jennings) because Nash is a great shooter (50 40 90) but he knows when his scoring is needed and when it isn’t. Jennings just shoots.

    As for the Spurs, I’m extremely happy for them. Spurs are a team I’ve always admired for the consistency, and the way the play basketball. They don’t have the most explosive players but they get the job done. This year with everyone healthy they could win it all, depending if they are healthy come post season. Anderson will be a very good SG for when Manu retires which will be in 5 years I hope. Manu should be give a mini-MVP award along with Parker.

    Yeah, noticed the “trade DeRozan” threads, really dumb. They are doing exactly what they
    have been complaining about, but with DeRozan instead of Bargnani. Some even said DeRozan and Weems should go to the D-League. Unbelieveable.

    Great post as usual Tim :)

    • TInman,

      I blame it on a few dolts at Raptors Republic that drive me batty.

      khandor,

      I never understood how so many people were so head over heals over Daryl Morey. Guys like him are great at putting together mediocre teams, although Houston’s not even that this year.

      I liked Drew Gooden when he was drafted, and then less and less so every single season. Maggette was an interesting gamble, but it doesn’t look like it’s paid off, so far. I think he’s played too long in losing environments. It’s tainted his game.

  10. Tim,

    re: Miami, San Antonio, Houston, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Philadelphia

    Expect Miami to right their ship as the seasons continues to unfold. Those who were predicting 70+ wins were not accounting for the difficulty the Heat would have melding their 3 best players:

    i. With one another;

    and,

    ii. The rest of their roster, as is.

    The fact is …

    – D-Wade is not yet the equivalent of R-Allen [as a shooter]
    – L-James is not yet the equivalent of P-Pierce [scorer]
    – C-Bosh is not yet the equivalent of K-Garnett [all-around]
    – E-Spoelstra is not yet the equivalent of G-Rivers [as an experienced top notch head coach]

    It will be a “slower process of maturation” in Miami, not the “big bang process” it was in Boston for a “Big 4″ that were further along in each of their respective careers.

    re: San Antonio

    Expect them to gradually come back to the rest of the top teams in the West. Come playoff time, however, they should be better prepared this time around … e.g. with the addition of Splitter and the expected growth of Hill and Blair and Anderson and Neal … than they were last season.

    re: Houston

    Stats-based GM’s like Daryl Morey who make the mistake of trading for a player like Kevin Martin, at the expense of a player like Carl Landry, are highly over-rated, IMO. GM’s like this will usually do a good job of keeping their teams competitive with the other solid teams across the league … while maintaining on a tight budget … but, they will be highly unlikely to ever construct a championship calibre franchise.

    re: Charlotte

    Expect the Bobcats to get better and better as the season unfolds. It is simply Larry Brown’s M.O. as a high end basketball coach who eventually “figures it out” properly with his team.

    re: Milwaukee

    I expected them to go backwards this season. Any team that thinks Drew Gooden is a good “add” is going to experience problems. Losing Luke Ridnour was a 2nd off-season blunder; as was adding Corey Maggette, while trading Dan Gadzuric and failing to obtain a decent back-up C. In addition, Scott Skiles is making a major mistake by failing to give major minutes to Ersan Ilyasova.

    Right now, the Bucks are a mess.

    If Bogut’s injuries bother him for the whole season, they are in danger of missing the playoffs with their current roster.

    re: Cleveland

    They have a solid collection of players and a solid head coach. They will hover around the #8-10 spot in the East for the entire year … provided that they don’t take a “major swing for the fences”.

    re: Philadelphia

    Doug Collins does not have a solid handle on their personnel yet. Elton Brand is a major problem they will not get out from under until they decide to trade him. Will probably end up trading Iguodala instead because he has more market value. Trading Jason Smith was a critical error, as he was ready to blossom into an increased role this year, as he’s done so far in New Orleans. Adding Brackins and Songaila was a mistake.

    Expect the 76ers and Wizards to battle it out for the No. 15 spot in the East the rest of the season, unless Philly can make a significant trade.

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