Casey’s Greatest Challenge Awaits

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Watching Dwane Casey work his defensive magic with the Dallas Mavericks from the start all the way until their championship finish during the playoffs provided us with a renewed appreciation for importance of having assistant coaches that are basically coordinators.

As Rick Carlisle‘s defensive coordinator, Casey helped transform a team that was considered anything but defensive-minded into a cohesive unit capable of dealing with anything thrown their way — they did run through the Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and Heat on their way to the crown. There were obviously some good tools to work with, namely Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks finally found the right defensive anchor to help them mask some of their glaring deficiencies. Having Chandler watch Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki‘s back on defense was a definite masterstroke.

But Casey, now the coach in Toronto, will have to work some serious magic to do the same things for the Raptors, a notoriously bad defensive team whose best offensive player, Andrea Bargnani, is the runaway winner of the worst defensive player tag on the team.

Coming up with a scheme that fortifies the Raptors’ defensive prowess must be built on the premise of keeping teams from exploiting Bargnani on that end of the floor. And that’s exactly what Casey, blueprints from Dallas under his arm, has in mind. He made that clear in this interesting Q&A with Zach Lowe of The Point Forward on SI.com:

SI.com: So you probably know about Basketball Value, the Web site that lists numbers for every five-man lineup. When you look at Toronto’s lineups, you see immediately that almost every one that played a lot struggled on defense. And when you dig deeper, you see that nearly every lineup that included Andrea Bargnani was awful defensively. This is my way of asking: Can you build a good defensive team with Bargnani on the back line? Is it possible? How do you do it?

Casey: Well, he’s not going to be our starting center, really [because he's more of a power forward]. He’s in a similar situation with Dirk Nowitzki at this point in his career. I’d have to check their numbers, but I’d venture to say at this point in his career, he’s probably somewhere in the same area where Dirk was, where both have had to live down the reputation of being soft. And by the way, Dirk has never been anywhere near soft. Don’t ever use that word with him.

SI.com: I won’t! Believe me!

Casey: Because he’s one of the toughest, hardest-working guys in the league. I don’t know Andrea. All I know is what I’ve read and seen. I am excited to get to know him. He’s going to get better defensively, and he’s a great offensive player. But we have to work with him, coach him up and put him in the right situations so he is not exposed as much. I think Amir Johnson can be an above-average defender in the same position, and that we can put someone like Amir in a system so that Andrea is not exposed as much.

Look, our challenge is to find a five-man unit that is above-average defensively. Who that five will be, I just don’t know at this point. But when you win 22 games, you’ve got to change things. You can’t come back with the status quo.

In addition to Johnson, the Raptors also have a potentially high-impact young defender in Ed Davis to work with. Casey clearly has a plan, though. And that has to make Raptors fans, who are tired of watching their team get trampled defensively, feel a little better about the future.

Casey comparing Bargnani to Dirk will probably raise a few eyebrows, but it shouldn’t when you factor in the context in which the comparison was made.  In fact, there probably isn’t a better frame of reference, or role model, for Bargnani at this stage of his career.

Now if Casey can just identify his Chandler-clone …

28 Comments

  1. Phil says:

    All we needed was a center like Jonas to back up Bagnani and to play the center spot that Bargnani can’t, who we now have! Watch and see…if there even is a next season to watch…

  2. TRIBINSKI says:

    Im a Mavs fan and im happy for Casey for his new career as head coach of Raptors. I do believe that D. Casey will be able to rebuild this team and become playoff contender.. Goodluck Mr. Casey and to the Raptors Org.

  3. R4 says:

    Let’s be serious, most of the foul calls in the nba go for centain players and make us believe they can’t play defence. I watched many games where Boston and Miami will play and alot calls are not called. I think to find out who can play defence is to call the game equal. No more favour calls for superstars. The refs need to just do their jobs and call the game equal. Andrea weak side help is not great and calderon just sucks as a defender but when they do play aggressive they always call a foul. if they lay off their player blow by them. Maybe it just me but I would like to see a even game called for once. regardless who it is..

  4. James says:

    ALL OF YOU PEOPLE NEED TO LOOK AT BARGNANI’S +/-
    WHEN THIS GUY IS ON THE COURT, THE RAPTORS SURRENDER MANY MORE BASKETS THAN THEY MAKE
    THAT STATISTIC ALONE TELLS YOU THAT HE IS A HORRIBLE DEFENDER.
    GET RID OF HIM AND JOSE, GET A WINGMAN AND SOLID CENTER IN FREE AGENCY AND THE RAPTORS ARE A 40WIN TEAM, SIMPLE AS THAT!

  5. matt says:

    Ppl only think about PPG. Ed Davis is already a better player than Andrea. Better rebounder, better defensive player. Bargs is like a 7 foot Jimmer or 7 foot JR Smith. Ship him out to Indy for P.George. Bargs needs to be on an established team to be effective. Unfortunately the raps r a rebuilding team. He needs to go to a team where they have beast defenders. By the way at PF, he would look horrible having to guard Nowitzki, CB, D.West,Boozer, BGriffin,etc. Big Ben scored a career high against Bargs. Having watched the raps with Bargs on the team, it doesnt look like this guy will ever improve on D or rebounding. He actually played decent at times in 2009-2010 and had great games against Dwight and TD. His bpg went in half in ’11. His rebounding is at 5.2 per game. That is horrendous. Sorry, but Bargs has to leave. It is in the raps best interests and is in the best interests of Bargs.

  6. SeanseyDev says:

    All Star team is a joke! Every year its the same! Some player with a huge fan base gets selected to the team when a deserving player gets left out! Iverson and mcgrady are prime examples of this! Bargs has to overcome that obstacle aswell before becoming an allstar!

  7. hasib says:

    Jay Triano did not coach defense, it was all offense. The coaching change alone will be huge. Andrea couldn’t rebound well, but Reggie Evans gobbled 11.5 boards per game because of that. When Evans went down the others stepped up and increased their rebounding numbers greatly.

    Basically the Raptors need to put Bargnani beside a defensive minded Center (Gasol, Nene, Chandler, Jordan, etc); and it will mask some of his troubles. At the PF position Bargnani will have an easier time scoring and even playing defense vs smaller PF’s (in 1on1 situations).

    Bargnani is a good 1 to 1 defender but when Calderon and Derozen and Barbosa are being blown by, his weakness was magnified when he couldn’t step up and contest the athletic guards. Dwane Casey will fix that. Look for Bargnani to make the all-star team next season if he puts some work in this summer.

  8. Rainman says:

    Bargnani a good shot blocker?

    he blocked 0.6 shots per game this year…down from about 1.2 from last year…

    This guy is a PF, so play him there, and watch him improve. Im a raptors fan, and i havent given up on him just yet

  9. lakerfan says:

    I meant the grizz get someone like nene not mark

  10. lakerfan says:

    I kinda wish for the raptors to get a player like mark gasol and iff luck someone like Nash they have the capspace if they trade some ok players like bayless. since im a laker fan im actually rootin for a trade with andrew for mark Gasol as well I bet the gasol brothers would make an interesting tandem. Also I hope blake becomes a starter and Fisher a backup I bet he could influence the bench better than lamar

    • QuestionMark says:

      Nash is an option since he did say he may think of finishing his career in Canada, so Toronto would be the choice, Marc Gasol or Tyson Chandler is unlikely. As of now best option would be to sign Crawford (if possible) and Shane Battier, and if we keep Barbosa, ship Jose, and start Bayless then Barbosa can be backup PG, Crawford, 6th man and Battier backup SF.

  11. rob says:

    Andrea Bargnani is not a bad man to man defender… Infact He is actually very effective when it comes to slowing down bigs posting up on him. He is a terrible help defender and an even worse rebounder. Those are his deficiencies. The man who cannot stay infront of their counterpart, is Jose Calderon. Jose “The Matador” Calderon leads the opposing pgs through the lanes to be challenged by one of the worst help defending centres in the league. This is what kills us every game. I think we need a good shot blocking centre, and effective help defender to not cover up bargnanis, but calderons mistakes.

  12. SeanseyDev says:

    A starting lineup of calderon, derozan, j. johnson, bargs and A. johnson/Davis with a focus on defense would be a decent team. Go after Nene, sign him, put him at center and this team looks fairly good on paper. ON PAPER!

  13. G says:

    I’ve been a raptors fan from their inception. Im also a big fan of defence into offence and the raptors since incepetion have had very few seasons of consistent defence. Minus the Vince, JYD, charles oakly, antonio dave and boogie williams days which they were an amazing team and 80% of their points were transition points started from good defence. Bargnani isn’t bad but needs a lot of work and needs to lose 20 lbs. Calderon is plain horrible on defence at anythin, Derozan is getting into form so this should be a break out year from him on both ends. I’ve been let down by the raptors every season but i’ve come to the realization that once the organization get’s behind this team it won’t matter. If they took a percentage of their earnings from the maple leafs and put it into basketball and made the correct moves they would be a contending team. When durant came into the league the raps were a better squad but now I wouldnt even watch the game at home or free courtside. As a Torontonian since birth im quite embarrsed by the raptors and their overall performance. I know the nba isn’t easy but takes a lot of work and determination and consistency that this team doesn’t have. I can agree we should get nene but then again the majority of players don’t wanna come to the city and I know this personally as I have a family member in the nba who has introduced me to a lot of players..different reasons but overall not a contender, too cold seem to stick out. Everyone loves the nightlife but other then that toronto is destined to be at the bottom. HOPEFULLY Collangelo is reading this if so I want a face to face sit down. lol…

  14. Mauro says:

    Hi, i’m an italian nba supporter and i follow all Bargnani’s season and i think that Andrea isn’t a great defensive player, but i also think that the Raptor’s team doesn’t have a good defensive system.
    Look at Bosh when he was a Raptor’s player, everybody said that he isn’t a good defensor too but now that he was on a great defensive system he can make the difference also on that part of court (maybe only there this past year :) ), so i think that Bargnani can become a good player also on defense if he finds a good position on the court (not centre because he cannot compete with those type of player on the back court), but he need to find also a good defensive team and system.
    On the comparison with Dirk i think that he was the player that Andrea has to look at to improve his skills, but i think that at the moment is too far from him but he’s very young and he has to believe he can become a great player.
    FORZA ANDREA!
    PS Sorry at everybody for my not very good english….

  15. Ziggy Diggy says:

    I agree, i think bargs has been subjected to a lot of criticism, but what do you expect when you have your franchise guy leave for Miami and you are left with a squad of guys who have been taught more on the offensive side of things, rather than defensive a la jay triano. that isn’t a knock to jay triano, he definitely got them at the right offensive level. but great move by BC to hire a defensive minded coach whose coached Dirk defensively, bargs will now have a legit coach who can train him on the areas us raptors fans care most about. and i say this to you bargs haters out there, this guy can definitely eclipse Dirk’s career…

  16. KIngC150 says:

    Andrea needs work and help for sure on the defensive end, but he’s not our worst defensive player. He’s does block some shots, but mentioned by someone else already, is that his issue lies in help defense. The main reason that the raptor defense fails is that, in this era of the game, its really hard to prevent the offensive from pentrating with just man-to-man. The raps as a team were terrible in team offense and help situations.
    Not to say, the defense of Andrea, Calderon, Kleiza, etc are capable, they’ve got work ahead of them to do.
    Although, i believe people need to stop picking of Andrea, This guy is getting hated on because of how people write about him, and the results of the raptors. While he gets comparison to Dirk, He isnt quite the player Dirk is, and may never will be. At this point, he’s still young, and is a 2nd, more so a 3rd option at best but is forced to play the 1st option. I think if the raps can move him back to his natural postion at PF, get some more scorer to take on some of the offensive load, then he can expend less energy on offense, and spend more time focusing on defense, and rebounding (which both aspect, that he is really lacking)

  17. Marko says:

    People seem to forget Bargnani is a very good shot blocker

    • Nick M says:

      Let’s clarify Bargnani’s shot blocking abilities. Just like his defence, Andrea is a good shot blocker on the ball. He is not able to shot block players as a help defender; and from watching 70-80 games a year (I know, have mercy on Raps fans) players that see Bargs when they are driving the lane do not seemed concerned i.e. no one is kicking it out when they see Bargs in front of them.

      Being a shot blocker is 90% mental and Bargs is not feared by anyone. For that matter, although he is a good on the ball defender, no post up player is scared of him either he just ends up blocking a couple of their shots a game. The most important part that everyone needs to remember is that no one is altering their shots around Bargs and that is the major ability of a shot blocker, not the actual shots that are blocked!

  18. Luca says:

    I think that Andrea is the only player in the league that can be compared to Dirk for his size and his offensive skills. If he will play in his role (PF) with a big center near him, like Nene or Gasol he will be illegal and will become an All-Star next year.

    • QuestionMark says:

      Agreed, Andrea needs a defensive C, like Dirk had Chandler to protect the paint, it doesn’t expose Dirk’s defense as much, Dirk isn’t a great defender, but is better Andrea, Andrea needs someone like Gasol or even Chandler to cover up his bad defense.

  19. SeanseyDev says:

    While I agree with most of the comments posted above, I would have to argue that Bargnani is definitely not the worst defensive player on the Raptors current squad. Bargnani is a decent Man to Man defender who is capable of covering multiple defensive positions. Hes also a good shot blocker that keeps the ball in play (unlike D. Howard) . Bargnani’s weakness is at the help defence end of the equation. His help defence is very poor. the raptors weakest defensive players are Calderon and DeRozan. There inabilities to keep their men from driving to the paint magnifies Bargnani’s shortcomings. I think that Casey’s most important job is to work on Calderon and Derozan first, not Bargnani. Im not saying that Bargnani doesnt need to improve, im just saying that hes getting a very hard rap because of the failings of other players being put on his shoulders. Hes young, just had a franchise handed to him, he just needs time to grow. Dirk is the perfect example of how good Bargnani can become. I also think he is playing out of position at Center. Colangelo needs to chase Nene or Marc Gasol aggressively for a good Center so that Bargs can move back to PF. Nene preferably. Dont jump the gun on Bargnani, theirs a LOT of talent in this player.

  20. Cha says:

    Andrea’s a bitch from what I’ve read. Nothing compared to Dirk. Not as good offensively. And Dirk actually works hard.

    • sadfadfasdf says:

      he’s still young, cut him some slack.
      and we’ve had some terrible coaching staff, so hes not as developed. i still see alot of potential in him. atleast hes not injury prone like brandon roy

  21. Kevin says:

    As a Raptor fan, I have to agree that Barganani is terrible at defense. I don’t believe that he is the only one. Personally I think Calderon can be put into that same sentence. In my opinion, I don’t believe that either player is in good enough shape to perform on both the defensive and offensive end every game. I believe this is the reason why they are so bad defensively. They believe that performing on the offensive end makes up for being so bad on defense – and it doesn’t.

    There are so many times where you can look at tape and see the starters get blown out, followed by the bench that brings them back and then they return and give up a huge lead again. When either player sat, the team became better. Once they returned, the opposing team took advantage of that player’s ineffective defense.

  22. Ross Smith says:

    Sorry… but that PG named Jose would most def be considered our weakest defensive player. When hes on the floor, he basically invites opposing PGs to blow past him with a wide open lane.

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