What a difference a 10-3 streak can make. What was looking pretty dismal is shaping up to be a very interesting second-half of the season.
Here's the From Deep mid-term report cards:
Overall Grade: B
Strengths: Willingness to change on the fly. By embracing a more aggressive defensive style he was able to utilize his roster better and get players competing rather than thinking on the defensive end. Young players have made progress under his watch and kept his head during the Raptors early season stumbles. Toronto consistently gets good shots on play calls coming out of timeouts
Needs to work on: Finding a way to get Hedo Turkoglu playing optimally. In Orlando his reputation was as a player who required a heavy hand to provide maximum effort. Nothing in Toronto has suggested otherwise. Can Triano drag the best out of the Raptors $53-million man?
Overall Grade: C+
Strengths: Attitude. Banks went about his business when he wasn't seeing the floor without disrupting his co-workers and earned a tremendous amount of respect throughout the organization for being ready and able to contribute when Calderon got hurt. Shot 48 per cent from the floor and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1 in December despite playing only minimal minutes the prior to that, even back to last season. Now back deep on the bench again but was in the gym working hard today.
Needs to work on: Getting out of town. Did his extended cameo show enough that Toronto could package his contract? Third point guard duties not what he wants heading into a contract year.
Overall Grade: B
Strengths: Consistency. Bargnani is in the midst of this third straight month of steady play, allowing for the odd blip. Gone, for now, are the month-long swoons that marked his first three seasons. He's also improved his shot-blocking - leading the team in that category with 1.4. Coupled with some improved one-on-one post defence and there is plenty of room for optimism here.
Needs to work on: His three-point shooting. Shot just 15-of-52 in December but has rebounding nicely in January. If he can finish this season at or around the 40.1 per cent mark he shot last season (currently 38.2) has a chance to be a very special season for the emerging big. As he rebounds better he seems to be realizing that he can. That will help too. The final piece of the puzzle will be passing the ball constructively.
Overall Grade: C
Strengths: Value for money. When the Raptors traded Jason Kapono to Philadelphia they replaced his role - to some degree anyway - with Belinelli. They do similar things - provide instant offence off the bench, though Belinelli provides a little more defensively and can handle the ball in a pinch. Most importantly he does it for $1.5-million, or about a quarter what Kapono was earning. When he's on he can be game changer, capable of draining some tough shots, scoring in transition and spreading the defence.
Needs to work on: Shot selection. He's too good a shooter and too skilled a player to shoot 39.6 per cent from the floor.
Overall grade: A+
Strengths: Strength. Is pulling three offensive rebounds a game which puts him tied for 13th in that category. No other elite scorer is rebounding at that rate on the offensive glass. His effort there and getting to the free throw line (9.2 FTA/game) allow him to carry the Raptors offensive load efficiently and without dominating the ball to the point it chokes off other guys. That he's played every game and is leading the league in double-doubles is also a tribute to his off-season work. Has been close to brilliant in how he's deflected chatter about his future.
Needs to work on: Staying healthy and maintaining his approach on the glass and in doing the hard work getting to the line. As the season begins to unfold as he hopes leading by example won't be enough; he'll need to actively bring the group together on and off the floor.
Overall grade: B-
Strengths: Shot selection and taking good care of the basketball are things Calderon has made a habit of in his NBA career and he's been at it again this year. Prior to missing most of December with a hip problem his lack of mobility against opposition point guards looked to be chronic too. Has played his best basketball since coming returning to the lineup Jan. 6.
Needs to work on: Coming of the bench and running the second unit. Playing with the second group allows Turkoglu more touches and gets him going in the first quarter and allows Calderon to pursue his offence more aggressively when he hits the floor. He's shooting 55.8 per cent from the field and averaging 12 points and 5.5 assists in 24 minutes in that role since rejoining the team in January.