|Raptors forward Alexis Ajinca receives instructions from head coach Jay Triano against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario on January 26, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
CHARLOTTE — The Raptors’ defensive numbers have been terrible this season and the focus of the final 26 games of this developmental season will be on shoring things up at that end of the floor.
Everybody knows Jay Triano doesn’t have a Bill Russell — let alone a Bruce Bowen — to work with, but the head coach is looking for a better effort and smarter play from the group he does have.
“We have to be better defensively,” Triano said when queried about what he is looking for out of his team down the stretch.
“There are three things that you have to do that can help your defence, get back in transition, which takes away easy baskets — you give up three of those in a game and that really hurts your opponent’s field goal percentage.”
That’s a question of effort, which might be the key, because even though this is hardly a group that loves to defend, with more of a commitment to it, the ugly numbers could improve at least a little bit.
How bad are the stats? Though Toronto only ranks 23rd in the league in points against (104.5 points per game), when the more revealing defensive rating measure is taken into account (points allowed per 100 posessions), Toronto, at 111.5 slips all the way to 29th, though to be fair, that is an improvement over last season’s 113.2 defensive rating.
As for the other two keys to defensive improvement — Triano added that the Raptors must also improve at boxing out because that will limit second-chance opportunities and must make sure they get farther up on opponents to contest shots.
Again, all three areas are more about effort than they are about actual skill. Yes, gifted defenders who are always in the proper stance and have better lateral quickness will guard better than those who aren’t natural stoppers, but even a bad defender can become passable if he desires to be and makes himself a pest.
The Raptors have not done that this season, the starting guards have been turnstyles on too many nights and Andrea Bargnani has continued his maddening tendency to distance himself from the defensive and rebounding aspects of the game.
Though he is shooting the lights out in February, averaging 26.9 points on a sizzling 49% from the field (48% from downtown), the 7-footer has not blocked a single shot in seven games this month and is down to 4.9 rebounds a game.
“(Bargnani) has been playing well, he’s been scoring for us, but the thing is, now we want him to do the same things everyone else is,” Triano said.
“(The whole team has) to be better at boxing out and challenging shots.”
Triano said he is more worried about the lack of rebounding from Bargnani than the lack of blocked shots since blocks are not always valuable (since opponents get the ball back if a shot is rejected out of bounds), but admitted, “we like our big guys to be able to blocks shots.”
Triano said the lack of rebounding has been a group effort. In particular, he pointed out that one of the keys in Toronto’s recent loss to the star-laden Miami Heat, was the offensive rebounds hauled in by tiny Heat point guard Carlos Arroyo. “We get a stop and all of a sudden (Arroyo) gets an offensive rebound,” Triano lamented.
“We did our job, but our guards don’t come back and rebound.”
A familiar refrain in Raptor-land and one that must finally end if the franchise is to finally get back on track, either this year, or more likely, whenever NBA play resumes in 2011-12.