Filling some big shoes

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nobody thought it was going to be easy replacing Jorge Garbajosa's minutes and it hasn't been.

When the Raptors 29-year-old Spanish rookie dislocated his left ankle joint and broke a bone in his lower leg in one of those I-can't-look sporting moments television revels in replaying again and again, the feeling was there was no way the Raps could be as good without him.

Garbajosa is one of those players who does all the little things and most of the big things right. His contributions weren't always readily apparent, but ask his teammates or his coaches and Garbo was a key cog in the Raptors machine, one of those "glue guys" was how general manager Bryan Colangelo described him.

So it was big shoes Joey Graham and Juan Dixon were asked to fill and to their credit, they have lessened the blow that a loss such as Garbajosa's could have had on this team.

Graham starts against teams where coach Sam Mitchell feels he needs some size on defence. When size isn't so much a concern, Dixon has stepped in making two starts with Anthony Parker sliding over from shooting guard to small forward and Dixon filling Parker's old role.

The fact that the Raptors are 7-1 since Garbajosa went down sums up how well Mitchell's lineup juggling has gone.

Graham is a perfect 6-0 as a starter since the Spaniard's season ended. In those six games he is averaging 29:03 minutes, 12.7 points per game, six rebounds a game and 2.2 assists.

Dixon, with both his starts coming against the Miami Heat, is 1-1 and averaging 31.4 minutes, 14.5 points per game, five rebounds and three assists a game.

Graham though, because of his size, is the one who has been asked to replace more of what the team lost when Garbajosa went down and to date he has done the job surprisingly well for a much less experienced player.

"He has been good," Mitchell said. "Hopefully, he has turned the corner. He's playing with a lot of confidence. Hopefully the way he has been playing the past two weeks, he can continue to build on that."

Darrick Martin, a veteran of 11 NBA seasons, points out Graham's development has been no quicker or slower than most as they try to find their way in the NBA.

"The learning cycle just takes time. With each game you can see his confidence building. Just the moves that he's making and the shots he's taking, he's getting more comfortable. He's learning how to guard guys in this league."

Graham semi-bristles at the suggestion that he's doing anything more now than he has been capable of before. For Graham, all that has changed is the opportunity.

"My whole thing is the minutes you get you have to make the best of the opportunity," he said. "From the time since Garbo went down, that's all I've been trying to do."


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