Raptors focus on effort

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:08 PM ET

TORONTO - Whether roles get defined or are at least made clearer by as early as this weekend isn’t at the forefront of Jarrett Jack’s mindset.

Whether a starting unit becomes more definitive is an issue that remains in the backburner on Jack’s list of priorities.

The bottom line with these Raptors, who are projected by many of basketball’s pundits to finish near the bottom of the standings, will all be based on work ethic and being both mentally and physically tough to play each possession, whether it’s at home, the back end of a back to back, or on an opponent’s home floor.

“Effort is the No. 1 priority coach has been preaching,’’ Jack began as the Raptors had a rare off day on Thursday, the grind of training camp and the tedium of the pre-season put aside.

“Every night you’re not going to make shots and there will be some nights when your defence can be a little lax, but you can always have effort.”

In the NBA, effort can often mask shortcomings, be it on offence or defence.

As recently as last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were pretty much buried even before the season’s first jump ball was initiated, deemed insufficiently good enough to compete, let alone make the playoffs.

Scott Skiles created the proper habits during camp and extracted every ounce of energy from a team that pushed the Atlanta Hawks, which had a lot more talent than the Bucks, to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Had Andrew Bogut not suffered that gruesome arm injury, who knows how far the Bucks could have gone.

Milwaukee’s mantra became Fear the Dear, emerging into one of the NBA’s feel-good stories.

Whether the Raptors can duplicate Milwaukee’s improbable season is up in the air because so many players have to step up, but the point remains that effort and intensity can carry a team, assuming they are embraced on a consistent basis.

It’s what coaches hang their hat on in the absence of a star player, a go-to guy who will always draw double teams and on a team that is short on creators.

Brandon Jennings became a revelation as a rookie and Bogut stood out, arguably, next to Orlando’s Dwight Howard as the top centres in the game.

Jay Triano and his staff have been a lot harder this pre-season, demanding more and taking less for granted in shaping a rotation and creating role definitions that will be based on merit.

“Even if plays don’t go your way, effort is the one thing you can control, game in and night out,’’ added Jack. “We have to make sure it’s at the top of our list.

“We can’t have offence be at the top, defence second and effort third because without effort you can’t execute either one of them. That’s the one thing that’s been harped on.

“Coach hasn’t allowed us to relax at all and he’s on us for every little thing. It can be annoying for us, but it’s what we need to be a good ball club and for us to be successful, especially with the power shifting to the East.

“We got to bring that mentality to every single practice and hopefully it will transfer into games.”

Maybe it does and perhaps the team’s ability to play every possession will compensate for various ails, but one still has to make shots and stops.

It’ll be foolish for anyone to put any stock into Toronto’s 2-2 pre-season record when one all needs to worry about is how the players compete, whether it’s on the glass, applying on-the-ball pressure or being smart enough to know what spot one needs to be on the floor.

In their exhibition opener, the Raptors took advantage of a fatigued Suns team, forced turnovers and were able to get out in transition to bury Phoenix.

In Boston, the Raptors were competitive, but showed little compete level the following night in getting hammered on the boards by the Bulls.

Wednesday night against the visiting 76ers, and by no means was it an exhibition in clinical basketball, but the Raptors persevered.

Defensively, they gave up too many drives.

“There was too many middle penetration,’’ Triano would acknowledge afterward. “We need to be better defensively.”

Which is only achieved through effort and hard work.


Videos

Photos