NBA Basketball Column: Free Throws
The Raptors' Five-Game Mirage
Generally when your number one overall pick and highest paid player goes down with injury you'd expect the team to get worse. But when that player is your worst defender, is among the worst rebounding forwards in the history of the game, averaging a pathetic four boards per game, and is shooting less than 40% on the season, the opposite is not only expected, it's known.
Cue the five game winning streak. The Toronto-based commentators have exalted the Raps for "playing as a unit", "refusing to lose" and "buying in" to the defensive philosophy.
Blah blah blah.
The Raptors have reeled off five straight wins for several less glamorous reasons:
1) They came against bad teams and/or teams playing badly: the Mavericks, Rockets, Cavaliers, Pistons and Magic.
2) The Raptors are better without Andrea Bargnani
This season has been an unequivacle disaster for Il Mago (Bargnani's Italian nickname, "the magician"). Last year it seemed Andrea had turned a corner - he was shooting less three pointers, getting more baskets around the rim with dunks and layups, getting to the free throw line six times a game (vs three this year), and seemed to give a crap defensively. Apparently this was an illusion. Bargs went down for the season after 30 games, and has regressed badly. Outside of the aformentioned stats, Bargnani just isn't trying. Before his most recent injury he was barely working to catch the ball inside, instead parking himself behind the three point line, a place defenders don't mind him catching since he's so easy to guard from that distance.
In the fourth quarter against the Pistons and Magic, the Raptors hoisted three after three, many of them by some guy named Alan Anderson, who is shooting 33% on the season. Fortunately for Toronto, these shots went down. Over the course of an entire season these results will prove anomolous.
No one I know is touting the Raptors as ready to grab one of the last couple playoff of playoff spots. The suggestion that they've made any significant improvement, outside of the natural improvement by losing one of the most harmful players in the game, must be dismissed.
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