Well, we almost got a look at the new Raptors Monday night. While the team laced 'em up for their first preseason game, the team's two biggest offseason additions, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, saw injuries keep them out of action.
However, there was still plenty to watch and dissect, the biggest being the aggressive play of DeMar DeRozan. Dwane Casey has left no room for misinterpretation that DeRozan is expected to make his living at the free throw line this year. For a guy that can't hit three-point shots, getting to the line is an absolute must if he wants an even halfway decent efficiency mark (which is important because he's not going to be offering a lot of playmaking or defence).
Against Real Madrid on Monday night, DeRozan was unmistakably aggressive, getting himself to the line nine times and making six of his attempts. He even had two turnovers on drives when he carried the ball trying to turn the corner (it looks like his handle still has some kinks to be worked out), so even when he was making mistakes they were aggressive mistakes, at least on the offensive end.
On the defensive end, DeRozan had his issues. While he walked away with three steals, he was called for four fouls, most of which came as a result of him getting beat either off of the dribble or in transition. The foul trouble isn't such a concern, but the fact that DeRozan was still caught flat-footed, both on his man and in help situations, is troubling, although hardly worth sounding the alarm over in the club's first taste of game action.
If you want something troubling to pick apart, take a look at Andrea Bargnani and Ed Davis. Bargnani had some nice aggressive moves himself, but he also settled for a lot of lazy mid-range jumpers (he shot 5-16 on the night) and too often, the offence came to a screeching halt when he got the ball. Worse, his help defence did not resemble the aggressive, attentive play that he demonstrated in his much-vaunted early season performance from last year. His rotations were often late and he just lacked that fire that had everyone so excited last December.
The disappointment over Davis is different, mostly because it looked so familiar. While Davis got 10 rebonds in 18 minutes of action (he'll always be a stellar rebounder with his instincts), he managed only three points on an 0-2 shooting night, and he shot just 50% from the stripe, despite everyone talking up his newly reworked shooting mechanics. Davis also seemed no better equipped to handle himself down in the paint, failing to establish or hold position and picking up five fouls in his limited playing time.
This isn't a question of will or effort, Davis was battling, but he is still finding his way in the post in the NBA. After all of the praise that Davis received in training camp, one expected to see a much more polished player take the court, instead a very familiar player was presented. It's the first game of the pre-season, though, and again it's hardly a cause for panic, plus his rebound rate is so strong that there will always be minutes for him in the rotation.
On the whole, the team looked exactly like they should have in their first pre-season matchup. They were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) and the faster pace that Casey covets came and went (they only managed six fast-break points), but they held Real Madrid to just 41.8 per cent shooting and got themselves over the 100-point threshold despite an off-night from Bargnani.
John Lucas proved to be an effective sparkplug that got the second unit running with a bit more urgency, and he and Terrence Ross proved that there may actually be some three-point shooting to throw at opponents this year (both shot 2-3 from behind the arc).
This was a very incomplete look at the squad, too, with Lowry and Valanciunas out, but it will be interesting to see how the club develops over the next few games, now that they've set a sort of baseline for everyone's expectations.