BY ISRAEL FEHR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
If there was to be one positive drawn from the Toronto Raptors 2011-2012 season, it was the discernible defensive improvement the team made under first year head coach Dwane Casey.
The three seasons prior to Casey’s arrival, critics dogged the Raptors for submitting subpar defensive efforts. Over those three seasons the team allowed an average of 104.4 points per game.
Then last year Casey administered his magic touch and the Raptors suddenly went from one of the league’s worst defensive teams to a team consistently capable of competing at their own end of the floor.
Toronto allowed an average of 94 points per game, good enough to rank in the top 10, and limited opponents to shoot 43 per cent from the field, also in the top 10.
It appeared that Casey had laid the foundation for the future of the organization, but so far this season the Raptors have done nothing to prove that it wasn’t anything more than sleight of hand.
At 3-12, all signs of improvement defensively have vanished. To make any striking assertions through 15 games, a small sample size, would be reckless to an extent, but Toronto’s defensive woes have been noticeable since the season tipped off.
The most puzzling aspect of the defensive decline is that the offseason’s two key acquisitions, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, were touted as above-average defensive players.
A huge problem for the Raptors has been fouls. Their opponents are averaging 26.6 free throws per game. They are essentially gifting their opponents more easy points than any other team in the league, and when they don’t foul they’re allowing easy baskets at the rim.
Much of that has to do with Andrea Bargnani and his overall defensive predicament. He is not physical enough to battle down low with true NBA centers, yet he’s neither athletic enough to stay in front of the new-breed power forward.
Valanciunas’ presence was supposed to eliminate some of Bargnani’s issues but it has been more challenging than expected. While he has shown flashes that he can one day be the vital centre in a strong defence overall he has struggled in certain matchups and adjusting to the faster speed of the NBA game, which leads to quick foul trouble.
Lowry does represent a defensive upgrade over Jose Calderon at point guard but when he missed six games with an ankle injury, his absence from the lineup was painfully obvious. The Raptors did not play with the same efficiency on both ends of the floor.
DeMar DeRozan poses a similar problem as Bargnani. He is scoring above his career average and rebounding better too but he doesn’t match up well against small forwards and allows shooting guards too many easy lanes inside.
Finally, the Raptors wing depth has been annihilated by long term injuries to Landry Fields and Alan Anderson.
Due to those injuries and consistent foul trouble, Casey has had a tough time putting together a proper rotation and at times has been forced to play some bad matchups. Last season Casey was able to hide Bargnani and DeRozan’s defensive deficiencies by managing his lineup configuration; this season that has proven much more difficult to do.
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