Toronto Raptors: Yes They Can

GeneContributor IDecember 12, 2009

Many people have long believed that an NBA team could not win a lot of games, especially in the playoffs, by relying mostly upon offence. But then the Phoenix Suns made it to the Western Conference finals twice, by doing just that.

So, after they witnessed what they previously believed to be impossible, some of them changed their tune to say that a team couldn’t win a championship by relying mostly upon offence.

Many of the so-called “experts” said that the Suns needed a dominant low-post presence to succeed. So, partway through 2007-08 season the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal to matchup against players like Tim Duncan in the playoffs.

With O’Neal, the Suns lost to the Duncan-led Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.  The next season (2008-09) the Suns didn’t even make it to the playoffs with O’Neal onboard for the entire season.

I believe the main reason why the Suns played a lot worse after they acquired O’Neal was because they started playing away from their greatest strength, which was a high-speed and overpowering offence. In support of that viewpoint is the fact that the Suns have played a lot better ever since they returned to their “Run and Gun” offense.

On the home front, the so-called “experts” repeatedly said similar things about the Toronto Raptors. They constantly said that the Raptors couldn’t succeed without a traditional center that defends and rebounds really well.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

So, the Raptors acquired Jermaine O’Neal and then had one of their most disappointing seasons ever. Having a big defensive low-post playing center wasn’t the miracle cure for all that ailed the Raptors, contrary to what so many “experts” proclaimed.

Impossible is What You Make of It

Just because the Phoenix Suns have not yet won an NBA championship by relying mostly upon offense, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s impossible to do so. But people believing that something is impossible can make it so.

If the Wright brothers truly believed that it was impossible to build a “flying machine”, then it would be impossible for them to do so, because then they wouldn’t have tried to do it.

In fact, if everybody always held the belief that if something hasn’t been done before then it’s impossible, then nothing new would ever be accomplished in this world. The world would be perpetually stuck in an era more primitive than the Stone Age, without any chance of innovation and progress.

What’s the Statistic for How Many People Misinterpret Statistics?

I’m unsure if anybody has ever won an NBA championship with a statistically below league-average defensive team. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that no one has. Even then, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s impossible to do so.

Let’s rewind time to an era before anybody ever built a house using bricks. In that era, the statistics would show that nobody has ever built a house using bricks. Now, would it be correct to conclude from those statistics that it’s impossible to build a house using bricks? No, especially if no one had ever tried to do so.

But, even if many people tried and failed to build houses using bricks that still wouldn’t guarantee that it’s impossible to do so.

In such a scenario, the statistics would reveal that 100 percent of people who tried to build houses using bricks failed to do so. Based on those statistics, would people be right if they concluded that it was impossible to build a house using bricks? No.

The only accurate conclusion that could be made based on those statistics is that people tried to build houses using bricks, but failed. That’s it. Those statistics tell us nothing about whether building a house using bricks is possible or not.

Failure Is In the Eye of the Beholder

So, I strongly disagree with the notion that the (pre-Shaq) Phoenix Suns are the ceiling for how well a team can do by relying mostly upon offense. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that they are the ceiling.

How many Raptors fans do you think would be upset if they “only” won 62 games in the regular season and “only” made it to the Conference Finals in the playoffs? I believe that a huge majority of Raptors fans would be ecstatic with such a result this season.

The players, however, should be setting their targets as high as they can, which would be a championship.

Somewhat ironically, however, the best way for them to achieve such a goal is for them to not think too much about it in the present. If they start thinking too far ahead, especially while playing in games, they can lose focus on the task at hand.

The players should take things one game at time and then, within each game, they should put their complete focus on what’s currently happening at any given moment.

Getting Defensive about the Playoffs

The notion that it’s impossible to succeed in the playoffs by relying most upon offense can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. To illustrate this, let’s use an example.

Let’s say that no general managers, coaches, or players believe that it’s possible to succeed in the playoffs by relying mostly upon offense. Then, since nobody believes that it’s possible, nobody will even try to do it. In such a scenario, it really is impossible to do so, since no one will even try to do it.

Moreover, if a good offensive team in the regular season believes that they have to drastically change their style of play in the playoffs, then they will most likely not have much success in the playoffs.  The main reason why they didn’t succeed would likely be because they played away from their strengths, similar to what the Suns did after they acquired Shaq.

This phenomenon can also be seen in some rookies who believe that they have to make drastic changes to their approach once they reach the highest level, so they end up playing poorly. If a player’s approach is mostly good, but he then makes drastic changes to it, then he’ll inevitably change a lot of things that were good.

Successful players should continue doing the good things that got them to where they are and only change things that truly aren’t good. In short: If it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it.

But, if a good offensive team failed in the playoffs because they played away from their strengths, many “experts” would likely point their fingers and say something like, “See, it’s impossible to succeed in the playoffs by relying mostly upon offense!”

And then, if all the general managers, coaches, and players truly believed their “proof”, then nobody would try to rely mostly upon offense in the playoffs, in which case it really would be impossible to win that way.

If the key people on at least one NBA team truly believe that it’s possible, then it is possible to win a championship by relying mostly upon offence.

Debunking a Defensive Myth

The notion that it’s always possible to play well defensively, but not always possible to play well offensively is false. Some people say that such a statement is true because players can always give maximum effort on the defensive end.

But, if they believe that simply trying hard but not getting a stop constitutes good defense, then the same measure should be used for offense. By that measure, giving maximum effort on offense, but not scoring constitutes good offense.

So, if such a measure is used, then it’s always possible to play well defensively and offensively.

If, however, good defense is defined by getting stops and good offense is defined by scoring, then playing well on either end of the court is greatly dependent on the strengths and weakness of the players and their opposition.

How many times have you heard a coach say something along the lines of, “You can’t stop a player like him, you just have to try to slow him down?"

Let’s say that a game was going to be decided by a single play and you had two choices. The first choice would be to stop a player like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Dwayne Wade from scoring. And the second choice was to score. What would you pick?

Even if they had the best defensive team in the league, I believe that an overwhelming majority of coaches would rather try to score, preferably via a high-percentage shot like a dunk or a layup.

Based upon the current strengths and weaknesses of the Raptors, it’d be a lot easier for them to consistently score a lot than to get a lot of stops. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for them to consistently get a lot of stops, it’s just a lot harder for them to do so than to consistently score a lot.

Trying To Force a Square Peg into a Round Hole

The current Toronto Raptors team has the potential to be something very special.

If the Raptors play close to their potential, they can be the best offensive team in the NBA this season, or even in the history of the NBA. If they achieved either of those feats, then they would be able to compensate for more defensive deficiencies than any other team in the NBA this season or in the history of the game, respectively.

It may be true that other teams cannot win a championship without being one of the best defensive teams in the league, but that’s because other teams don’t have the offensive firepower potential that the Raptors currently have.

A lot of the tired old clichés about defense don’t apply to the Raptors this season.  Regardless of how many points a team gives up, if they simply score one more point than their opposition then they’ll win the game. This is true even in the playoffs.

Many of the so-called “experts” have criticized the Raptors because of how different they are compared to traditionally constructed NBA teams. But it’s those very differences that can be their greatest strength.

A lot of coaches try to employ strategies to counter the way that most NBA teams play. But the same strategies that work well against traditionally constructed teams can greatly backfire against teams that are constructed differently.

If the Raptors play close to their potential, then even the best NBA teams will face extraordinary challenges when playing against them. The Raptors have the talent to beat any team in the NBA, even in the playoffs.

But, if the Raptors coaches and players give too much credit to the “experts” and believe that the way that they are currently constructed is a curse rather than a blessing, then the Raptors could end up being just another sad case of wasted potential.

Simply Believe the Truth

All that being said, does that mean that I believe that the Raptors should forget about trying to improve on defense and just concentrate on offense? No, absolutely not. I believe that the Raptors should always be trying to improve all aspects of their game.

Trying to be one of the best defensive teams in the league is a good long-term goal.  But, succumbing to an “all is lost” type of attitude, if that goal doesn’t appear to be achievable, is not good.

If players are trying their hardest to play good defense, but are going through a moment where they’re not seeing fruits from their labours, then they shouldn’t blow things way out of proportion by believing that the situation is much worse than it really is.

Players putting too much pressure on themselves can make them play worse. If a player doesn’t handle the added pressure well, in that he increases his fear and anxiety levels, then he’ll play at a level far below his capabilities.

Furthermore, if too many Raptors players truly believe that they can’t win a championship without being one of the best defensive teams in the league, then they can’t. Not only that, but such an incorrect belief could make it such that even making it to playoffs would be a huge challenge.

Especially during games, if players are thinking thoughts like, “We’re trying as hard as we can, but we’re still not getting good results on defense and that means we can’t win a championship”, then they’ll be playing well below their potential.

Where’s a player’s head if he’s thinking such thoughts during a game? His head is not completely focused on the task at hand. Also, such thoughts can be greatly demoralizing and demoralized players can’t play anywhere near to their potential.

What NBA player doesn’t dream of winning a championship? What reaction do people have when their dreams are dashed?  It’s called hopelessness. Needless to say, hopelessness does not breed confidence.

Playing at a low level of confidence significantly lowers the quality of play at both ends of the floor. The Raptors consistently playing at such a low level could make even making it to the playoffs extremely challenging.

Simply believing the truth, concerning how talented this Raptors team currently is, can greatly help in keeping the players’ confidence at a high level if things don’t appear to be going well. Moreover, simply believing this truth can greatly help in making it such that things are always going well for them.

Can the Toronto Raptors win a championship without being one of the best defensive teams in the league? If they truly believe that they can and thereby consistently play a confident brand of basketball then, yes they can.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.