With just 18 wins in a season that has only 16 games remaining, there hasn’t been a whole lot to get excited about where the Raptors are concerned.
Yes, the development of DeMar DeRozan and that of rookie Ed Davis have been worth watching and at times very encouraging, but the big picture looks very bleak at first glace.
There is one thing this team does well, better in fact than every other team in the NBA and that’s get out on the run and score in transition.
No team has produced more fast break points in this NBA season than the Toronto Raptors.
Go to any game and head coach Jay Triano, if you can hear him from your seats, spends the bulk of the game imploring his ball handlers to “Go.” And those not with the ball are implored to “Get there,” meaning getting down floor and establishing position under or near the basket to take advantage of a ball that is being pushed up court that will hopefully beat defenders to their own basket.
Jose Calderon, a guy who initially preferred the traditional half court offensive approach is now as diligent as any Raptor pushing it ahead to a streaking DeMar DeRozan or Sonny Weems.
It was all keyed by being active at the defensive end and feel. Jose getting a feel and turning those points into transition points. We’ve said all along if you’re active with your hands and your feet defensively it can turn into points offensively.
“We are not afraid to push the ball ahead,” head coach Jay Triano said warming to one of his favourite basketball topics of discussion. “In the past we would dribble it all the way up. I think you get more opportunities when you are able to create more options with different guys up ahead.”
Having some success with it, particularly late last season, has developed a trust that has seen every Raptor more willing to get out on the run this year and push it ahead.
Even Reggie Evans, just three games back after a lengthy absence, is buying in. Both Friday night against Indiana and again Sunday against Charlotte, Evans made long bounce passes from underneath his own basket towards midcourt to get the fast break moving.
“It’s a small sample right now but when he was healthy before he would pull down a rebound and hold it and hold it and hold,” Triano said. “Now he gets a rebound and he’s looking to throw it out.”
Newcomer James Johnson likes nothing better than to take the ball and go. As long as he stays in on the defensive glass and rebounds he has the green light to take off with every board he pulls down.
The Raptors hold a slight lead over Golden State for the NBA lead in fast break points but will need to shore up another area of their game if they hope to stretch that fast break lead out.
The reason for that is there can be no fast break without first getting a defensive stop.
“When they make shots your first move is (backwards for the inbound) and then down court the other way,” Triano said. “If you can get a deflection or a challenge or a rebound and then go ...”
And the Raptors as a unit are more than willing to get out and run. It’s getting that initial stop that has held them back. Part of it is youth and part of it is the makeup of this team. There just aren’t a lot of guys on this team that are either willing or able to follow a defensive game plan.
Triano believes he is seeing improvement on the defensive end which should make them an even better fast break team than they already are.
“We can be better when we do it more and we can do it more when we defend better,” he said of getting out on the run. “Give our guys credit. We don’t have the savvy guys who have been around the league 11 years to know all the tricks about defending, but they are working hard and the last (few) games we have been pretty good.”