In my post, “Three Reasons for Raptors Optimism”, I laid out a few good (or so I thought at the time) signs at the start of the season that seemingly indicated a high playoff seeding and possibly a trip to the second round of the post-season or farther. I don’t especially like to admit when I’m wrong but, in this case, my predictions have not quite panned out as I thought they would.
(Quick note that I am not suggesting that they blow this team up (figuratively, of course). The season is only a quarter of the way done, they are still getting used to playing for a new coach, and they have shown enough flashes of good play to not yet let our panic get out of hand. It is easier said than done to play like they have shown all the time, but it should be possible.)
Let’s review my old list:
The swagger of Jermaine O’Neal
In the post, I argued that arguably the first “enforcer” in a Raptors uniform since Charles Oakley would bring some much needed grit, toughness, and aggressiveness to a team often labeled as “soft”. O’Neal’s numbers have been admirable and he did string together five straight double doubles. He has been a presence in the paint, both altering and blocking shots.
But he has had injury issues, starting with him banging up his surgically repaired knee and ending with a sprained shoulder. He has missed a significant number of games because of this. Moreover, his toughness is not really rubbing off on his teammates. Aside from Bargnani throwing Vince to the floor like he was a candy wrapper, the Raps defence has been laughable at times.
I am a proponent of the fact that this game is predominantly about talent, but passion, hard work, and intensity can be almost as important to winning games. Players have made themselves careers in the NBA based mostly on hard work and intensity. On the flip side, no player has ever had an elite NBA career without talent. The Raps need to play with passion on both ends of the floor. We have seen that when they do this, they are successful. However, so far, neither J.O or Triano have managed to make that happen on a consistent basis.
I wrote that Chris Bosh entered the season with a new sense of purpose and intensity on both ends of the floor. If the first week of the season was a microcosm of an NBA season, he likely would have won MVP. But after that first week in which he was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week, he tailed off. His 30 point games were turning into 12 pointers. His 14 rebounds were turning into single digit totals. And he was becoming less willing to drive it to the hole. All in all, this team rises and falls with Chris Bosh and if he is not going at full speed, the team suffers. And that’s what we have seen.
Calderon has been going well actually. Last I checked, he was top 3 in the league in assists, with a stellar as usual assist to turnover ratio. He has a very reliable jump shot and for the most part, does not take unwarranted shots. He is a calming steadying force for this team and one need only watch Roko or Will run the offence to see the difference.
He has missed some games which has been disappointing. One silver lining in those dark days was the realization (if it wasn’t already obvious) that the backup point guard situation is next to nothing and that more PG insurance may be needed.
All in all, the Raps have played far below their expectations. That was the danger when Colangelo boasted that this was the best Raptors team “on paper”. That likely created a wave of high expectations for this group and the fact is, they have not delivered. It is still early and they have showed signs. They just need to bring it for 48 minutes and the Ws will start coming. Or maybe my optimism (as well as others) was unwarranted, in which case, I’ll stop making predictions. Nah, I’ll never do that.