It's a busy week of preseason game with the Toronto Raptors home Wednesday night against the Wizards, followed by the Raptors facing the Knicks this Friday in Montreal on TSN 2.
Montreal is a great city and the atmosphere was electric the last time the Raptors played there. I'm pumped up!
Here are my five thoughts for the week.
1. Raptors turnovers and up tempo approach: I like the fact that the Raptors are trying to push the ball more this season. They have got to be able to create easier scoring chances when they can and at the same time, be responsible with the ball.
The 49 turnovers in the first three games - Raptors were 21st in NBA last year and that has to improve - is way too many, yet understandable when you're trying to create a bit of a new look. Sooner or later, they'll find that delicate balance between good open court scoring chances and running their half-court offense.
A little food for thought, in order to be able to run consistently you have to be risk/reward oriented in your approach with your defense. The Raptors' defense is more of a protect the paint, contain penetration, contest shots and be very solid in terms of field goal percentage allowed, which is crucial in terms of the quality of shots your opponent gets.
Toronto was third from the bottom in the NBA last year in turnovers forced. I'm sure that will improve to some extent with a much greater understanding of the purpose of the defense yet I don't see it being a huge jump. They're not a team like an NFL/CFL team that would Blitz a ton. Again, risk vs. reward.
Therefore, you have a team that will need to take advantage when they do turn folks over and when not they absolutely have to be a terrific defensive rebounding team, which is an area that needs improvement, in order to get run outs on misses. We'll see how it all goes.
I would call it 'Opportunistic Tempo'. Keep in mind that only ONE of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams from last season was even in the top 16 (New York-5th) in possessions per 48 minutes while the remaining playoff qualifiers occupied seven of the Final 14 spots of a lesser pace. They stayed within the speed limit.
Good teams run in an intelligent fashion with a purpose, get a high percentage shot before the defense is set and more importantly, they don't let you run on them, they take care of the ball, take intelligent shots and bust their tails back in transition.
Running sounds nice, sexy and is stylistic but you better bring the substance every night if your 2 & 3 spots aren't occupied by elite guys that can flat out go and do it for you.
2. Landry Fields: We've all had our opportunity to evaluate the pro's and con's of the contract he got from Toronto in free agency now it's time to get down to business between the lines, and oh man has that been discussed!
These next few weeks are important for him to get settled and figure out his role in the system. Based upon what I've seen of him as a Raptor in training camp and the first three preseason games, he's very intelligent and sharp to pick things up, but he still has a good way to go.
Fields is a good on and off-ball defender with an excellent understanding of schemes and will be very steady in that regard. He's got the size and toughness to be a good rebounder on both ends and they need the 3 spot to rebound it well since DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani still have a ways to go in that area - they need to pick it up here.
Offensively, Fields looks like he's still finding his way in terms of the types of shots he'll get to take. Is he going to be one of the top three options out there? No. He'll likely be the 4th or 5th guy for you in that area. Can he contribute? Sure. He needs to consistently make his open shots, be respectable at the three-point line and earn some points with run out opportunities as well as offensive boards.
He'll be that guy who makes the correct next pass and sets the solid screen. It's a Team game and the sum is more important than the parts. He'll give a bunch to help that sum just don't expect him to be a guy every night that's getting you 15 and 8. He'll play a good amount--he's got the intangibles that coaches love and that allows you to play a more riskier player at another spot at times because you know that he's going to be in the right place at the right time and not do silly things.
3. Josh Smith (Hawks): No Joe Johnson and to a lesser extent Marvin Williams. It's now his time. Smith has wanted to bigger role and now he's got it and he has to produce big-time. He impacts the game in so many ways with his terrific defensive ability with the blocking/altering of shots and his range/coverage ability is impressive when he's locked into the task. He'll go get it on the boards and he can score in a bunch of ways. Will he be consistent and responsible with the extra touches/shots? Only time will tell.
Maturity has always been a bit of an issue but he's settled down the past few seasons. This is the year it's all got to come together. The playoffs are still within reach if he performs to his potential. It'll be nice to have Al Horford back, that will help Smith a great deal.
4. Kyrie Irving (Cavs): He was a dynamic and fun player to watch last season. I'm looking forward to watching him over a full 82 game season to see him take those small incremental steps that young point guards take in their development in terms of how to run a team, create better scoring chances for teammates and on some nights take a game over during certain defining moments.
The Talent level is slowly improving on the Cavaliers, but they're really young and not ready to contend yet. This is a point guard league, it's kind of like having an elite quarterback in football. A very good/great one can really make a huge difference. I'm curious to see how he's going to blossom.
From what I saw last year, the tools are there to be a difference maker for his franchise as they continue to build the roster.
5. Danilo Gallinari (Nuggets): Another guy I'm excited to see play a full 82 game season with the Nuggets. He's improved his game and is a lot tougher than he looks. He plays the game 'right' and fits the style/flow that George Karl wants from his team. He's more of a 'system' type player that fits best when he's with guys who share and push the ball in an up tempo free-flowing system. He shoots it and can deliver the critical assist. He'll battle you on 'D' and competes hard on the glass and in 50/50 Ball scenarios.
He was the key piece in the Carmelo Melo trade and with good health over a full season, I think he's got the ability night in and night out to be a notch better. It seems like injuries have held him back a bit so far. If you're a Nuggets fan, you've got to hope he can suit up 75 + games this year. If he does, he's got the chance to give you 18 ppg , 6 rpg & 3.5 apg. The ability is there, but as in the case with Josh Smith, albeit for different reasons, it's time.