The rebound is snared off the right side of the rim, snatched by the paws of a scintillating brute of human athleticism. The attacker runs the opposite way while a teammate chooses to fill a wing. The defense sprints back to protect its territory, scrambling to retrieve the accurate balance to stop such an oncoming authority. The defense becomes fewer as the invaders have thoroughly out-raced their counterparts, now at a 3-on-1 advantage and all that is left is what kind of score will take place — a reverse layup, a gracious, aerial-defying slam dunk, or a raising 3-pointer that breaches the skyline. Instead, an errant pass to an unsuspecting player results in a fumbled ball; the defense willingly picks up its newfound gift and heads the other way as the tables have now turned.
This has too often been the sight when watching the “games” of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, a combined 12-32 record as of Dec. 22. The question throughout the early remains of the 2005-06 campaign has been, who is the best of the worst? The two teams are the worst in the league, but every dark cloud has a bright lining, right? So in evaluation of the two rosters, and what may be at stake here and now, one can come to the conclusion that it is the Raptors who have the “brighter” future. While they may not surpass thirty-five wins in the next two years, they do have a solid foundation of talent — both of youth and veteran experience — that does give head coach Sam Mitchell reason for optimism, even if he may not be around to see the final product.
We’ll get into the Hawks later so let’s take a glimpse at the Raptors, whose roster boasts of a solid nucleus of Chris Bosh, Jalen Rose, Mike James, and Morris Peterson. While the Hawks’ main young phenom is a 6-foot-7 small forward in Al Harrington, the Raptors’ young gun is a 6-11 post who owns a plethora of skills in Bosh. If you’re going to build a team, build it around a dynamic interior presence, or a quick, bristling point guard who can run a team. The Raptors have chose the first route. Bosh averages 22.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, and continues to improve every day. He can face up, pass, or shoot. More impressive is the fact that at 21 years old, he has teammates who are much older yet who look up to him and count on him to carry the team night in and night out.
Those veterans include Rose, Peterson, and James. The Raptors have a well-balanced scoring attack as four players average double figures in scoring. They have shooters (Both James and Peterson shoot over 37% from 3-point range), passers (James and rookie Jose Calderon average a combined 10.7 assists), and rebounders (three Raptors average over 4.5 rebounds per game). James, Rose, and both Williams’ (Eric and Aaron) have 10-plus years of experience, but the Raptors also boast a nice stable of young talent. Rookies Joey Graham (7.2 points, 3.1 rebounds), Calderon (7.0 ppg, 6.5 assists), and Charlie Villanueva (12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds) all have contributed in fine fashion this season.
Unfortunately, the Hawks do not have such balance and veteran influence despite an excruciatingly young ballclub. Only Harrington, Tyronn Lue, and little-used Tony Delk have more than four years of experience. The problem is that almost all of their young talent is exclusively in the tweener range. No Hawks player is taller than 6-11, and the majority of their players play the same position, if not the same style. Rookie Marvin Williams is 6-9, Joe Johnson is 6-7, Josh Childress is 6-8, and Josh Smith is 6-9. There is no legitimate interior threat, either offensively or defensively — therefore it is hard for the Hawks to designate anyone as a consistent, go-to scoring threat who can give them an easy inside basket.
The fact is both of these teams won’t make the Eastern Conference’s Elite Eight come playoff time, and both are likely to claim high seeds in the lottery. But the mixture of veteran leadership and youth on Toronto lends far more reason for promise sooner rather than later. The Hawks have some nice talent as well; however, all that talent lies within their wing positions. Both teams are exciting to watch due to their energy and exuberance in their play, but Toronto seems to play with a purpose on both ends of the floor. As soon as Atlanta acquires a post presence and a stable point guard, it soon will be within Toronto’s reach.