TORONTO -- In the last seven days, the Toronto Raptors may have lost more than just their four-game winning streak or two straight contests. The Dinos possibly lost the lifeblood of their team - Reggie Evans.
When the six-foot-eight forward came down awkwardly on his right foot and subsequently suffered a non-displaced fracture during Friday night's loss to the Boston Celtics, it opened the door to see if this team has made any strides as a team to rebound the ball or if early signs of improvement were just a product of Evans' brilliance.
For years, abysmal rebounding has characterized the Raptors as they've been mediocre, at best, in keeping opponents off the glass, allowing 11.4 offensive and 41.3 total rpg -- good for 23rd and 14th -- in the league last season. To start the 2009-10 campaign, it's been a completely different story. Toronto is allowing 9.9 offensive and 39.2 total rpg - ranked eighth and fifth respectively.
Over the course of its first 17 games, Toronto has out-rebounded opponents in 12 contests, something it did only 30 times all of last season. A quick glance at the stat sheet and Evans' 12.1rpg - third in the NBA this season - is undoubtedly a large part for the improvement.
A deeper look inside the numbers, and it's shocking the rate at which the Virginia native is pulling down errant shots.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the eight-year veteran is pulling down 35.3 percent of all defensive rebounds and 26.4 percent of all available rebounds during his time on the floor this season. Not only does that lead the league, it puts Evans in some historic company.
Only one other player in NBA history has posted a defensive rebounding percentage greater than 35 percent and total rebounding percentage greater than 26 percent in at least 400 minutes played. Who might that be, you ask? None other than Dennis Rodman, who for good measure, accomplished each feat two and three times respectively.
How the Raptors respond to losing their ball-hawk forward will depend on the production from the front court players, namely Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson. Both are averaging fewer than six boards a game and will need to put in more work on the glass if they hope to keep Toronto in the top 10 in rebounding.
It's not only the gaudy rebounding numbers that Evans brings to the table that make him so invaluable, it's his knack for the intangibles. Whether it's diving for a loose ball, taking a charge or causing a steal off a deflection, the fan favorite provides the Raptors with a spark and intensity the city endears.
Despite an inauspicious 6-11 start, it's a far cry from the woeful pre-season predictions many observers expected from Toronto. It may come as a surprise to a casual observer, but Raptor fans can agree the former Iowa Hawkeye has played an immense role for its early success.
EFFORT, OR LACK THEREOF
When the Raptors were met by a focused and vengeful Celtics team on Friday night, it was somewhat expected as Boston looked to redeem itself for an early-season loss suffered at the hands of Toronto.
The effort that followed on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks to open a four- game homestead, however, was an inexcusable second half display that observers will admit is a growing trend with this young squad.
Trailing by only six points at the break, the Raptors came out listless in the third quarter and practically gave the game away, getting outscored 25-11 in the frame. It was the Raps worst offensive performance of the year, scoring a season-low 78 points.
Wondering how Toronto fared without its rebounding extraordinaire? Not a single player grabbed more than seven boards, as the Raptors were out- rebounded for only the fifth time this season.
It wasn't just that they lost, but rather how they lost. Showing little emotion on the floor, it's hard not to think if the coaching staff's words are falling on deaf ears.
Frustration appears to be boiling out of the locker room, as head coach Jay Triano made no secret about how he felt after the game, telling reporters, "DeMar [DeRozan] got out-played by Joe Johnson. Jose [Calderon] got out-played by Mike Bibby. Andrea [Bargnani] got out-played by Josh Smith. Sonny [Weems] got out-played by Marvin Williams. Joey [Dorsey] got out-played by Al Horford...they beat us, every single position, every single guy."
How the Raptors respond to their coach's tirade may give some insight into how much players take heed to the words of their bench boss.
With Evans seemingly out of action, Toronto will need to look elsewhere to fire up the troops when its back is against the wall.
If not, Toronto will wish it wasn't under the scrutiny of playing at home these next three games.