Transformation comes full circle

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Jamario Moon's first regular season in the NBA will end where it really began.

Moon made his first start of the season here at the United Center in Chicago. On the heels of a strong performance off the bench in Philadelphia, Moon was summoned by head coach Sam Mitchell just before the Nov. 10 game the following night in Chicago and told he was starting.

The decision was explained as a way to get a long, athletic, and energetic body on Luol Deng, who had been a Raptor killer of sorts. Moon did that and more, limiting Deng to five points in 22 minutes while scoring 12 and pulling down six boards himself.

Last night, some 25 weeks later, Moon was making his 75th start of the season, the most by a Raptors rookie in franchise history. The only game Moon has not started since that Nov. 10 win over Chicago was March 30, when Mitchell threw Jason Kapono into the starting lineup, hoping to get him going.

But the following game it was back to Moon, who has been a major defensive presence pretty much all season. Among league rookies he is first in steals, second in blocks, and third in rebounds. Not bad for a guy who was never drafted and didn't get a full-time gig in the NBA until he was 27.

He wound up filling what would otherwise have been a huge void in the Raptors lineup at small forward with Jorge Garbajosa out for the season.

"As far as enthusiasm and defence, Jamario did all the intangible things," Mitchell said yesterday. "The deflections, he blocked shots, just a lot of things that we didn't have from that spot in the past. We were lucky to find Jamario and were fortunate he was ready to play."

Mitchell recalls a game early in the season when Moon still was coming off the bench.

The 112-85 loss in Milwaukee was one of the worst games the Raptors would play all season and Moon was concerned.

"He asked one of the coaches after that game: 'Do you think I'll get another chance?' I told him of course he would get another chance. Everybody sucked that night," Mitchell said.

"We just liked the things he was doing," Mitchell said. "Every time we looked up, Jamario was always around the basketball."

PLAYOFF TEST

And on the verge of his first NBA playoffs, Mitchell isn't expecting to see anything different out of his star rookie once the second season begins.

"If there is nothing that has fazed Jamario to this point, I don't think anything else will," Mitchell said.

Moon says he has been extremely happy with his defence for the bulk of the season, but says he'd like to show a more consistent jump shot in the playoffs.

"Everyone knows I can shoot," Moon said. "I know I can shoot. It's just a matter of getting comfortable with it. I still hesitate a lot when I shoot the basketball."

On paper, last night's certainly was one of the more meaningless games the Raptors have played, but that's not the approach Moon was taking.

For Moon, the game plan is not going to change, regardless of what's at stake.

"Obviously I still want to come out here and do my best," he said.

"I'm still auditioning for next year, that's how I'm looking at it. I still want to come out and do the same things I did the first time here, if not better."


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