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Posted on October 19, 2010 | 12 Comments
One thing that everyone has been interested in seeing is how the Raptors defense has improved. Last year, it was one of the achilles heals (unfortunately, they had more than one) and a lot of fans hoped the roster changes made over the summer would give the Raptors a chance at improving their defense.
The problem with the theory that the Raptors defense should improve dramatically is that the most of the roster changes did not, in fact, give the Raptors better defensive players.
Bosh, for all his criticism, was actually a half decent defender. He wasn’t great, by any means, but him leaving the team certainly doesn’t automatically make the Raptors a better defensive team. Bosh was never the most willing defender, but he knew how to play team defense, and that’s half the battle. If his replacement was a much better defender, then we could expect the defense to improve.
Amir Johnson IS a better defender than Bosh, but his penchant for fouling still makes him unlikely to play heavy minutes. Besides, Johnson played last season and the Raptors were still awful defensively. Ten more minutes a game isn’t going to make that much difference.
Ed Davis has the potential to be an excellent defender, but he’s a rookie and won’s see any action until November. Missing training camp will put him behind and rookies rarely make much of an impact on the defensive end. Besides, while he has the potential to be a very good team defender immediately, he’s going to struggle against stronger big men, which at this point, is most of the league. He’ll need to get a lot stronger.
Reggie Evans seems to be the current replacement for Bosh in the starting lineup, at least until Davis is ready. Evans is tough, strong and willing to throw his weight around. He’s shown to be a good interior and post defender, and has been defending most of the post players thus far (more on that later). Where he’s weak is whenever he has to step outside of the paint. He doesn’t make good decisions out on the perimeter and isn’t quick enough to defend out there. On the boards, Reggie is a slightly better rebounder than Bosh, but the difference is negligible.
No matter how Kleiza performs this season, he’ll be more well liked by Raptor fans than Turkoglu. The question is, will he be for effective? For all of Turkoglu’s faults, he wasn’t actually as bad defensively as many Raptor fans would like to think. Now, I’m not saying he was good by any stretch of the imagination. He hardly ever gave the effort that was needed and didn’t exactly have the quickest feet to stay with his man laterally. He did understand how to play defense, though, and that went a long way.
Kleiza is a more willing defender than Turkoglu ever was, but Kleiza lacks Turkoglu’s understanding. Of course, given a choice between the two, I’d choose Kleiza. While he isn’t a great team defender, he’s got strength, toughness and a willingness to throw his weight around. And he’s going to work hard.
Rebounding-wise, Kleiza has been a nice surprise. He’s a far better rebounder, especially on the defensive end, than Turkoglu ever was. And he seems to get a lot of tough rebounds, too, which is sorely needed on the Raptors team.
Barbosa doesn’t have the best defensive reputation, but that might have more to do with his playing for Phoenix. So far, he’s be actually pretty good, especially with the Raptors pressing as much as they have. He’s come up with a lot of steals and has used his quickness to his advantage. His lack of height at the SG position, where he has played nearly exclusively, hasn’t hurt the Raptors yet on the defensive end, but there are times it will. The idea seems to be that when Barbosa is on the floor, the team will press more, nullifying any height advantage the opposing team might have at the SG position.
There are a few players that weren’t replaced. Antoine Wright came into training camp with a stellar defensive reputation and left with an overrated one. Marco Belinelli was actually a decent defender, but was traded for Julian Wright, who is supposedly a good defensive player, but might not get much of a chance to show it. Nesterovic is probably the player that the Raptors will miss the most. He didn’t play a lot, but could always be counted on for good, solid team defense. This years the Raptors have David Andersen.
Now about what I’ve seen so far this season.
The Raptors seem to have a completely different philosophy this year on the defensive end, which will probably make more of an impact than the new players. Whether this is thanks to new assistant coach PJ Carlesimo, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Unlike Iavaroni, Carlesimo has coached on teams that have been very good defensively, including the NBA Champion Spurs.
I thought the idea the Raptors had last season, about protecting the house, seemed sound, but the players never really seemed to get it. This year they seem to be taking more advantage of the more athletic roster. The team is doing a lot more pressing and trapping, which is creating more turnovers and easy baskets. Last year, not one single Raptor player averaged even 1 steal a game (which in itself is a little astounding considering 57 players in the NBA averaged at least a steal a game last year). In the preseason so far, six Raptors are averaging at least a steal a game. Now I don’t expect those numbers to hold up over the regular season, but it’s certainly a good indication of a style of play.
Speaking of steals, an interesting fact I discovered was that Bosh and Bargnani were the worst starting front court pair in the league last year at getting steals. Bargnani was 40th in steals among centers (83rd in steals per 48 minutes), whereas Bosh was 37th among PFs(86th in steals per 48 minutes). Part of blame lies the style of play, which did not include trying to create turnovers, but part of it is due to the fact that neither simply force many turnovers.
The trapping and pressing style of play certainly benefits Barbosa, DeRozan, Weems and even Jack much more. They’re given much more freedom and can use their quickness and athleticism more on defense than they did last season.
Now, one big thing I’ve noticed defensively is in the front court. Reggie Evans has been starting, and guarding most of the opposition’s post players. This isn’t such a bad thing as Reggie is a good, strong post defender and not great on the perimeter. What this means, however, is that Bargnani is defending more power forwards, and they seem to be defending him more. It’s interesting because a lot of Bargnani’s defenders have claimed that he’ be better off at PF. Now, that’s essentially what he’s playing. And the results haven’t been surprising. When Bargnani was defending the opposition’s post player most of the time, as he did last year, he did give the Raptors good post defense, if not much else. In the pre-season, he’s playing less post defense and being exposed more on the perimeter. And he’s still hurting the team with his poor team defense.
In fact, I’ve noticed opposing teams focusing their drives at Bargnani, knowing he’s the weak link on the interior. The fallacy that Bargnani could be hidden more defending PFs has been exposed. It doesn’t make a difference. Opposing teams know he’s a weak link and focus their attention on him.
And Bargnani’s rebounding certainly isn’t improved with more PFs guarding him. Some people might remember the couple of flourishes he had on the boards in the last few games, but his overall numbers have remained reletively unchanged over last season.
And essentially playing PF hasn’t helped Bargnani on offense, either. But I’ll save that for the next post…
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