The “Jekyll & Hyde” Toronto Raptors closed out their last 10 games with two wins to achieve a respectable 6-4 mark and run their season record to 13-17.
And for all the concerns about how the Raptors have given up points, they held teams under 100 points five times over this most recent stretch of games.
But the recent signs of improvement were not obvious coming into this period. As the Toronto Raptors after 20 games had closed with five losses and the team in disarray.
It started with an embarrassing 35-point loss to the 4-9 Charlotte Bobcats. Followed by Paul Pierce’s embarrassing dunk over Chris Bosh in the loss to Boston. And ending with the 146 points given up to the Atlanta Hawks.
Perhaps the worst result of this five game skid is that it has become apparent head coach Jay Triano has lost the room and the Toronto Raptors' players have not “gelled” as a team.
Some player outbursts and a closed-door meeting later, and the Toronto Raptors looked like a new team just one day after surrendering that season league-high 146 points to the Atlanta Hawks.
A three-game winning streak ensued. Followed by a two game losing skid, a strong win against Houston at home, two road losses, then two more solid home wins.
And the Raptors faced adversity as Jose Calderon injured his hip nine games ago, forcing back-up Jarrett Jack into a starting role and making Marcus Banks give up his suit for a uniform and meaningful minutes off the bench.
Jack has stepped up with 12.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists as a starter and the little-used Banks pressed into seven games, providing 5.4 points on 47 percent shooting in 14 minutes per contest.
The most important change was Jack’s emergence as a leader for a floundering Raptors team that couldn’t seem to stand up for themselves.
But perhaps the most impressive thing Jack has done recently was to show real leadership on the floor. In the game against Houston following Trevor Arzia’s attempt to behead Raptors’ rookie DeMar DeRozan, Jack made it clear he was going to stand-up for his teammates.
Jack’s actions over the past two weeks represent what has been missing from the team during this season and in the recent past. A person who other players can look to for inspiration and support.
The Toronto Raptors have found a leader in Jack.
And the Calderon injury combined with Antoine Wright’s public outburst caused Jay Triano to look at other changes as well.
For the first 20 games of the season, Triano repeatedly went to a “ball-handling” “duo-point guard” line-up featuring Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack. And while this combination may have been effective on the offensive end of the floor, defensively it was a disaster!
But with no Jose Calderon available, the ball-handling experiment wasn’t available (May it rest in peace!).
And after the three-game winning streak ended, Triano was forced to look at what his current rotation of wings was producing for him. The result was the disappearance of Antoine Wright from the Raptors rotation.
It can now be officially confirmed, Antoine Wright is deep in Jay Triano’s doghouse!
Even when up by 40 points in the fourth quarter against the New Jersey Nets, Wright could not get minutes in Triano’s rotation.
Wright has earned his relegation to the pine this season. His 33 percent shooting and 4.7 points per game have made him a liability on offense and his insignificant contributions in boards, blocks, and steals made Wright the easy choice to sit down.
For the past five games, it has been the high-flying Sonny Weems who has been first off the bench. Paired with DeMar DeRozan, fans are finally being treated to the up-tempo offense they expected when the season started.
And unlike his garbage time minutes, Weems has been showing good shot selection and disciplined and aggressive defense.
Weems has averaged: 8.4 points while shooting 50 percent; 3.4 rebounds; 3.0 assists; 1.0 steals; 0.6 blocks; 1.4 turnovers; 2.6 fouls; in 24 minutes over the past five games. A statistical line that towers over what Wright has been able to provide this season.
It looks like the Raptors have found a new wing.
But these “Jekyll & Hyde” Raptors have not dodged all the concerns about the team.
They are still a sad 0-11 when giving up 115 or more points in a game and they did this three times in the past 10 games. It will be a long frustrating season if they continue to get blown-out in over a third of their games.
Jarrett Jack has played well with Jose Calderon out of the line-up. But how will Triano handle the starting assignments when Jose returns?
Can these two “starting” point guards share duties without egos getting in the way? Will Triano try to keep the peace by reverting back to his defensively inept “ball-handing” line-up?
With Sonny Weems now getting significant minutes, the Raptors have three key rotation players who are little more than rookies in terms of NBA experience. Can playing the very young DeRozan, Weems, and Amir Johnson take a team to the playoffs? And what happens to Antoine Wright?
Reggie Evans has yet to set foot on the floor for the Raptors and the Raptors have missed his inside strength and presence. But how will Triano handle his inevitable return and the likely negative impact on Johnson?
So many questions. Can a rookie head coach successfully handle these challenges? Hopefully Bryan Colangelo doesn’t wait to lend Jay a hand too long next time!
But for now, the Raptors are 13-17. They are in contention for a playoff spot. And the excitement the young guns in the Raptors current rotation bring to the ACC is something every Raptors fan should be watching!