With the Toronto Raptors on a two-game win streak, TSN's Jack Armstrong offers up five quick thoughts on their ability to play as a team as well as the leadership of Jarrett Jack, the value of Chandler Parsons, Chris Kaman of the Mavericks and the upside of Kris Humphries.
1. Jarrett Jack (Warriors): One of the surprise teams in the league has been this squad. It's important to have veteran leaders and coach Mark Jackson has tapped into this former Raptor nicely and he's producing. His ability to play both guard spots, direct the offence and provide scoring punch are such significant pieces to providing versatility and productivity. It's critical to have guys who have savvy, smarts, toughness and a bunch of experience to help you through different parts of the game. Jack has played really well here and you won't hear lots about him but I've been impressed by his improvement and more polished game.
2. Chandler Parsons (Rockets): Defends pretty well and rebounds decently for a guy who isn't the strongest guy on earth. Shoots it well and can put it on the floor. Considering that this guy was a second round pick, he's been a steal for his club. Got a chance to watch him in person on Sunday in Toronto and, even though he struggled a bit, he's got the confidence and know-how to be an effective player in the league. Every GM is in search of 'value players' and he is one of them.
3. Chris Kaman (Mavericks): It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes for him, once Dirk gets back in the lineup. Will they complement each other or get in each other's way? Kaman likes the ball in his hands, wants his plays run and time to trigger his post moves. He's a good player who has a nice face-up game and is efficient with his back to the bucket. He will hit the boards and play with energy defensively. Kind of curious to see how he, Elton Brand and Dirk figure it all out down the road. A little more interior scoring than Dallas has had in the past with the likes of Tyson Chandler and Erick Dampier, who were more defensively oriented. Coach Rick Carlisle is one of the best in the business, he'll figure it out.
4. Kris Humphries (Nets): Minutes have been reduced after starting season as lead power forward after signing a two-year extension. Seems to have fallen out of favour a bit with Avery Johnson. He is relentless on the glass and has improved as an offensive player with his touch around the basket. I'm confident that as the season goes on that he'll regain some of the lost ground he's trying to make up. The Nets issues are more a case of Brook Lopez being hurt and the fact that Joe Johnson has been just good and not very good. Ask Atlanta fans if they 'really' miss him right now. Humphries is far from a star but he complements Lopez' rugged style well and in time, I see him being an important guy in the Nets front court.
5. Toronto Raptors (Less is More): Amazing isn't it? Two of your most talented offensive players, Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry are injured and the team is playing better. They are playing harder defensively, have each other's back and are sharing the ball the best I've seen this season. Check out their assists the past three games, the ball is moving and they're getting quality shots. Sometimes when your talent level drops, guys look in the mirror and realize you've got to play the game differently and rely on each other even more. Lesson to be learned here. It's more about playing the game the 'right' way and not as much about 'who' you've got on the floor.
Don't get me wrong, talent matters a ton in the NBA. Gotta have it or you're toast. It's also important though that the talent you do have knows how to play 'inside' the structure of a team and does things to complement/lift others at all times. When Lowry and Bargnani return, it will be important for them to add to that dynamic, both can and must do it and need to be conscious of that and be a positive solution to the improvement of their team. Over the long haul, the Raptors need everyone to carry their weight and play to their potential consistently. The Raptors have made a major investment in Lowry and hopefully, with good health, he'll be able to consistently hit his stride.
On the other hand with Bargnani, he's been here seven years, it's long overdue. Part of the solution or part of the problem? Permanent Potential Syndrome? We talk too often about his upside and not enough about what he actually does right here and now for you. I have been guilty of that in my defence of him. I have defended him for a long time and been quite, maybe overly patient with him. It's time for him to stand on his own two feet and produce in a way that benefits his team and not his stat line. Can he do it? Absolutely. Will he and/or does he want to? Only he can answer that. It's a team game; always was and always will be.