Sometimes, in a world full of stats and complex explanations to problems, the answer is a very basic one.
This, for me, is the case with the Toronto Raptors inability to defend this season, after showing massive improvement last season.
The Raptors, minus Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani, looked a lot like last season’s version of this team, in a surprising stomping of the Dallas Mavericks 95-74. The Raptors were hot from behind the three-point line making 12 on the night. What was more surprising was the fact they held the Mavericks to 0-for-13 on the evening from three point range.
That three-point futility by the Mavs actually snapped a streak the Raptors once laid claim to. It is most games consecutively making at least one three-pointer. The stat got a lot of play in Toronto when they owned the record. The Raptors saw their streak end a few seasons ago, while the Mavericks, prior to tonight, had not had a game without a made three-pointer since 1999.
Still one great night of defense does not break a trend. The Raptors, who at one point were giving up the most points in the NBA, have improved only slightly, surrendering 99.3 points as of Dec. 14. This ranks them 24th in the league. Compare this to last season when they ranked eighth in the league giving up 93.3 points per game.
You may say that it is only six points, that is not the end of the world. But when you consider the Raptors record in close games this season, that six-point differential is huge. The Raptors record when they find themselves tied or behind by five points or fewer with less than five minutes to play is 0-11.
I promised you a theory as to why this is happening. It has nothing to do with Andrea Bargnani—although the fact that the Raptors defense returned from the ashes with him in the lineup does say something.
There's no advance stats that will land me a job in a NBA front office someday. Just some simple old fashion logic.
While last season we all marveled at what Dwane Casey accomplished in a shortened season, we forgot something. Yes, it was true he had no training camp, an impossible schedule thanks to NBA lockout and an Allen Iverson-friendly NBA with very few practices.
Despite all of that adversity Toronto made a complete change of identity. Just like this season, last year's club had injures and they had guys from the developmental league like Ben Uzoh and Alan Anderson, among others.
Still, the teams the Raptors were facing, had little to no time to prepare and game-plan for them. Given that extra time to prepare, teams have exposed the Raptors this year and torn them to pieces, with arguably a more defensive-minded roster.
It could very well be as simple as that. The Raptors surprised everyone last season with a change of character and a new system that teams were not use to them playing.
There was no time to relax last season to allow there focus to slip. Now back to the regular schedule and having more free time that attention to detail has been lacking. It was one of the points made by general manager Bryan Colangelo himself in trying to explain what has gone wrong.
Andrea Bargnani paints a much gloomier explanation in comments he made to an Italian news outlet. Unaware of things like Google translation, Bargnani freely admitted that Raptors have trust issues—the warning signs of many relationships going south, not just in basketball.
You can choose whatever theory you care to believe. The simple fact is the Raptors performance against the Mavericks was the exception and not the rule. The lack of trust and the failures at the defensive end are the biggest explanations to the Raptors poor 5-19 record on season.
If the Raptors hope to get back to any form of respectability, it is going to come on the defensive end of the floor.
I talked with Reggie Evans of the Brooklyn Nets before the Nets played the Raptors earlier this week. Evans knows Casey from his days with Seattle where Casey was his assistant coach, and Evans says he still keeps a close on eye on his former club. “They are young and still got a lot to learn,” Evans stated. “They just need to keep on buying into what Coach Casey trying to do.”
In the end, neither Casey’s defensive system nor his message has changed. This is the one thing that we do know. It all reminds me of one of Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong’s many expressions: “Peacock today, feather duster tomorrow.”
Will see what happens when the dust clears on this NBA season with the Raptors defense.