I started doing "5 Things" last year after Raptor games, and this year we're going to try and make it a regular feature, time willing. It's great to have basketball back, even if it's only pre-season.
After winning 48 games last year and pushing Brooklyn to seven games in the opening round, the Raps are looking to grow from last season's unexpected success. They re-signed Lowry, Patterson and Vasquez, and are hoping their young players like Ross and JV continue to improve.
Now, this is the pre-season, so you always want to be careful with your evaluation. Coaches aren't trying to win so much as trying to find the right combinations, allow the new players (like Lou Williams and James Johnson) get comfortable. So any analysis needs to keep that in mind. With that all said, here are my Five Things from tonight's game.
1) Demar is ready
Demar Derozan was a first time all-star last year. He made Team USA over the summer, as a surprise pick. He's clearly ready for the regular season. He looked decisive and confident tonight, and even showed flashes on the defensive end. If DD becomes even an avergae defensive player (and his 3 stroke looked very good tonight) he'll take yet another step towards stardom. He's already an all-star. Tonight, the Raptors looked decidely different with him on the floor.
2) Second Unit still finding its way
They added Lou Williams, a scorer, and James Johnson, as good a lockdown 3-4 defender in the NBA for their second unit, but it may take a while for those guys to figure out how to play together. The second unit got ripped tonight. There were clear communication issues, and when Williams isn't scoring, and JJ believes he is a scorer, there are problems. They did carry the first unit's unselfishness with them, which is a good sign, but they were something of a mess on the defensive end.
3) Defensive issues
Coach Dwane Casey said before the game the offense was ahead of the defense. No kidding. Awful transition defense, slow rotations (particularly JV), and a general lack of intensity brought to mind their late season struggles on that end. This is a concern going forward. People have lauded a backup duo of Williams and Vasquez, but neither of those guys play defense, and if they aren't scoring, JJ cannot cover for them completely. They'll give away leads like they did tonight with regularity.
4) More Defensive Issues
I don't want to hammer on this, but the Raptors ability to play good team defense (They finished in the top ten in the NBA last year) is this season's most concerning, and most important, issue. Boston shot over 50% tonight. The Raptors don't seem to recognize individual players on the floor. Jumping out at Evan Turner on the 3 point line, for example, so he can make the extra pass to a better shooter. Or not identifying that Avery Bradley has a jump shot and not guarding him until he scored 20 points in the first half. Everything about their defense screams desperation. I won't hammer on the whistle in the pre-season, but the fact that the Raptors got 2 technicals in a freaking pre-season game should indicate some frustration towards that part of the game. I blame this on frustration and some guys consistently not being where they were supposed to be. Give someone an open shot in the NBA, they're going to make it.
5) Kyle Lowry
Only fitting that this post start and end with the Raptors two best players. Lowry makes such a huge difference because even in a pre-season game, he gives a shit. He's the only truly good defender among the Raptor guards, and when he's out there, this is a completely different team. there are concerns going forward, mostly on the defensive end, but so long as Derozan and Lowry stay healthy, they'll compete and win their fair share of games. And that's all you can ask from your favourite team.