One game, some things v3.25:
- So is there any doubt now over the main ingredient missing from this team? And yes, there are plenty of ingredients they're short on. But if there is one thing this team is generally absent of too often it's competitive effort. How maddening is that? That was my takeaway from their win over the Rockets Sunday. When they actually, collectively compete and commit to running hard in transition and defending for the entire 24 seconds of the shot clock and gang rebounding and trying to be first to loose balls, they're not a bad team. They're certainly good enough to be better than 10-15.
- Now it's easy to say a team doesn't work hard enough, often enough. It's hard to quantify and a losing record tends to be the trump card. And it's not like the group is lazy or apathetic, necessarily, though there have been a few nights. And mere effort isn't going to consistently allow you to beat the Celtics and the Magic and the Lakers etc. Those teams are stacked with talent and play with great effort too.
- But in the middle world where the Raptors live, effort is often enough. Look at the Rockets. They don't really have any good players, but they're 13-10 and no one expects them to disappear from playoff contention because of the way they've willed themselves into it. Shane Battier is the only lottery pick, and he's not very good, at least in a conventional sense. Chuck Hayes? Luis Scola? The guy is a three-second violation every time he catches the ball in traffic. Trevor Ariza has some game, but not as a primary scorer: He's shooting 39 per cent from the floor. And it's not like their bench is stacked.
- But I was talking about this with an NBA scout the other day and he made this point: Just because guys are in the NBA and are elite professional athletes, it doesn't mean they're elite competitors or ferocious battlers. Because the NBA is predisposed to seeking certain physical attributes - height, quickness, jumping ability for example - it often ends up overlooking guys who truly do compete. I don't think this problem exists as much in hockey, for example, because the physical package is more uniform; less guys get advanced through the system just because they're unusually big or have a freaky slap shot. With so many 6-foot, 200 pounders around, the ones who don't have a taste for battle likely get weeded out.
- But there are only so many seven footers with skill and talent out there. Hello Andrea Bargnani! Or 6-foot-10 guys who can handle, shoot and pass. Hedo! So flaws kind of get minimized and you're left with a No. 1 pick who isn't exactly ready to scratch guys eyes out most nights, or a prized free agent who is so enamoured with his Mr. Fourth Quarter status that he forgets about the second quarter on a Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
- There are short-term solutions to the problem. One is simply winning. There is a enough talent here to go on a bit of a run and success reinforces good habits - hey, this trying hard stuff really works! Another is to give more time to guys who try hard. Pops Mensah-Bonsu is no artist, but he does not waste his time on the floor. I'd have him in my rotation most nights just in case that's the night he gives you four offensive rebounds a dunk and a couple of blocks in four minutes. You're going to find out pretty quick with him, so you might as well roll him out there. Similarly, Sonny Weems has shown nothing since preseason to suggest he's not deserving of steady minutes with this group, not when his competition is Antoine Wright. DeMar DeRozan is fledgling, but as his confidence continues to grow, as does his overall competitiveness. More minutes for him too. Amir Johnson is always ready. There are some solutions on the roster, but it will be interesting to see if Jay begins to use them more. Based on a one-game sample, I suggest he will.