Monday, December 28, 2009

Feels So Good To Reunite

Yesterday, while passing through southern Ontario for the Christmas holidays, I had the privilege of attending a matchup of the local Raptors against my favorite team, the now-shaggy Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, integrating three recently injured stalwarts (Gordon, Hamilton, Prince), quickly fell behind by 19 points at halftime, further confirming my belief that they are just crap this year. I rooted hard for them, though, bellowing out the virtues of DEEETROIT BAAASKETBAALL! to the chagrin of local Hogtowners.

But I aim not to illustrate the problems of los Pistones. While in the Air Canada Center (Centre?) I used my favorite Christmas gift, a neat new digital camera, to take several videos of the Raptors operating on offense and defense. What I found will further underscore a point I made in early December, viz. that Toronto should fire coach Jay Triano. Also, their roster as currently conceived has no hope of ever winning a title. Their "big men", Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, are two of the worst-defending top 5 draft picks in NBA history.

1. Bargnani

Consider first Bargnani, Toronto's sweet-shooting center. Here, he twice muffs his defensive assignment: he fails to adequately threaten Jonas Jerebko camping in the corner for a 3-pointer, and then three seconds later he fumbles the resulting rebound, allowing Jerebko to sneak in for a layup. That's really embarrassing for a fourth-year man who says he wants to make the All-Star team.

Yet Bargnani is actually capable of defensive excellence. Here, watch him correctly move his feet, keep his hands up, and watch the waist-level movement of Rip Hamilton as the latter attempts to drive to the hoop. Hamilton still received a foul call and two FTs, though. Bargnani, recognizing that he was disadvantaged on the mismatch, would have been wiser to bump Hamilton away from the hoop, before Rip put up a shot.

And for fantasy owners, Il Mago puts up about 1.2 blocks per game, often of a demoralizing variety. Here, he rejects an attempted drive by Hamilton:

With his unusual combination of size and litheness, Bargnani certainly has his moments at the offensive end. Here, watch him extract revenge on Jerebko with a sweet post-up routine in the paint:

2. Bosh

Bosh's problems may be even worse. Here, watch him guard from the rear Jason Maxiell's post-up attempt. Maxiell shrugs, tells himself "F it", and flips the ball to a slashing Hamilton, who drives uncontested to the basket, blowing past Bosh, who appears to watch haplessly. Where was the help? Bosh also somehow picked up a foul for his (lack of) troubles, giving Hamilton an "and one" opportunity. If you're going to foul, make it count.

In this video below, Detroit's Tayshaun Prince dribbles the ball at the wing, defended by Hedo Turkoglu. Ben Gordon smartly slides in to screen Turkoglu, and Gordon's erstwhile man, Jarrett Jack, picks up defense on Prince. The switch hits paydirt for Detroit as Prince easily backs Jack into the painted area and sinks a short flip shot. Notice Bosh observing these proceedings, but electing not to double-team Prince, despite Prince's SIX-INCH height advantage on Jack. Bosh seems to be doing nothing at all -- neither committing to defending his putative man, Jerebko, nor providing help defense for Prince.

3. Euro-Softness

The Raptors have been pilloried for packing their roster with too many European players — Bargnani, Turkoglu, Calderon, Nesterovic, Bellinelli — who lack the savvy and toughness to bang with NBA stars. Here is one example. Marco Bellinelli attempts to guard the quick-moving Rip Hamilton, who grabs Bellinelli while dodging around for daylight. The referees call a foul on Bellinelli, who surely grabbed back — but was he the principal wrongdoer? NBA success requires learning how to win these battles of PR with referees.


Now, I am not a professional athlete. I recognize that the instantaneous sensory processing and finely controlled motion required to succeed in the NBA is ridiculously difficult. However, if Bosh and Bargs ever want to be thought of as legitimate stars who can help elevate their teams to greatness, they need to spend whole summers doing nothing but rotating on driving wings and roaming shooters.

Anyway, lest you think I am nothing but a doomsayer, here are two cheerier videos we took at yesterday's game. Here in the first quarter, Sonny Weems steals a pass from Charlie Villanueva, races the length of the court, and jams the ball home, bringing the crowd to a frenzy. Finally, here Chris Bosh hits a free throw to vault his team past 100 points, triggering a free-pizza deal for every attending fan.

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