It’s too early in training camp to project whether Linas Kleiza will play at small forward or at power forward. But it’s not difficult to project the kind of impact Kleiza will have with these new-look Raptors when the ball gets in his hands.
No player did more offensively in knowing how to get his shot off and score than Kleiza during Sunday’s open scrimmage, an event that drew a modest crowd but one that did provide the first glimpse of the Raptors in a game setting.
“He just knows how to score,’’ head coach Jay Triano said of Kleiza. “The bottom line is that he has a nose for the basketball.”
Kleiza led his side to a resounding 50-33 win, making seven of his 10 shots to lead all players with 15 points.
“It was a good first scrimmage,’’ Kleiza said. “Our goal is to get better every day. We play the right way and play together and we can have a lot of fun.”
DeMar DeRozan appears ready to assume the popularity mantle, an athletic player who will be given a chance to emerge as the face of the franchise.
In time, the kid has to learn how to handle the ball better, make better decisions when the ball is in his hands and step out to make jumpers.
But at this moment in the Raptors’ changing of the guard, DeRozan is the team’s most popular player, a guy the club uses on most of its promotional material.
In the team’s first public appearance, under a backdrop of an open scrimmage here at the University of British Columbia, DeRozan received the loudest ovation.
When the flushed home an alley-oop feed into a dunk, the crowd reacted in a fashion that evoked images of Carter.
When the Raptors made DeRozan a lottery selection last spring, comparisons were made to Carter from an athletic perspective.
DeRozan isn’t quite able to put the ball on the floor and flat-out attack a defence and the rim, but he’s getting better.
He can’t step back and drill three-pointers at will like Carter, but the kid is working hard at improving his jumper.
When you watch DeRozan and see the improvement he made from last year’s rookie season, it provides hope on a team many have written off as hopeless.
When you watch how DeRozan and Linas Kleiza play off each other, you see building blocks.
But on Sunday, what one experienced was DeRozan’s popularity and the potential to win over more fans as he evolves into a more complete player.
“He’s coming out of his shell,’’ teammate and close friend Sonny Weems said of DeRozan. “He’s more comfortable. We’re expecting great things from him and he’s up to the challenge.”
No player introduced to the half-empty crowd at War Memorial Gym received a louder reception than DeRozan.
No player created a stir than DeRozan when the ball was in his hands.
“It feels great,’’ DeRozan said when asked to comment about the reception he received. “It’s a humbling experience to see how the fans love me. All it does is make me want to work harder.”
There can be no question that DeRozan doesn’t mind the spotlight. He bounded onto the court full of energy Sunday afternoon, by far the most energetic of the Raptors and basked in the chance to show his stuff. He had a couple of thunderous dunks, played fast and loose and smiling the entire time.
“You can see our energy when we get out there in front of fans,” he said. “How we really get amped, we really get hyped because we love them seeing what we’ve been working on, what we’re trying to do, what we have in store for this season.”
The danger is putting too much responsibility or pressure on such a young player on a team that could very well struggle during the season. But DeRozan’s teammates and coaches agree he has the personality — and work ethic — to handle it.
“Confidence comes with hard work and believing in yourself,” said Triano. “And he’s put so much work in. The kid wants to get better. He wants to be good. Every single day in the summer time it’s like, ‘we’re going to send you a coach.’ (He’d say) ‘this is where I am. I want to get better.’ And he’s been progressively getting better because of that.
“He’s very receptive to people who want to help him. He knows that’s what our staff wants to do. That’s why he’s getting better. He’s got a chance to be very, very good.”
Coach Jay Triano was lamenting some bad shooting after his team went a collective 1-for-9 from three-point range and just 32-for-79 in a 40-minute scrimmage here on Sunday.
“I think a lot of our guys are not shooting the ball the way we want [them] to right now because we just haven’t had a lot of time,” said the coach. “Our practices are very taxing and tolling on their legs.
I think that’s something that will catch up to the other stuff we do once we slow down a bit get into more shooting drills instead of running these guys up and down, trying to get them into game shape.”
A team anchored by Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan beat a team led by Jarrett Jack and Andrea Bargnani in a 40-minute, straight time Raptors intrasquad game in front of about 2,000 fans at the War Memorial Gymnasium at the University of British Columbia on Sunday.
It was rather an informal affair — a couple of players were traded back and forth during the game to balance out different rotations — but Linas Kleiza led the winning team with 15 points and Bargnani had eight for the losing team.
“We’ve been in training camp all week, it felt good to get out there and play in front of a crowd, try to get back to playing full speed,” said DeRozan. “It’s definitely different because in practice we probably go up, down, up, down, stop. Go over defence, go over the offence, then up, down, up, down, stop. It felt good to go out there for a consistent time, running clock and playing a full game.”
But there were two things that did kind of stand out.
We saw a lot more aggressive defence. Not reckless but a fair amount of trapping at midcourt, a lot of challenging on the perimeter and recovering and it was a big change for last season when everyone sat back and protected the paint. Better use of personnel, I think; Sonny and DeMar do have the ability to help hawk the ball at midcourt and recover and the bigs did a good job of rotating to the ball when the trap was inevitability broken.
Will it work against other NBA competition? No idea but I have a feeling that a guy like Steve Nash might have a bit of heyday on Wednesday night.
The other point?
Linas Kleiza is a scorer, pure and simple. I thought he was the best player on the floor (and, again, it was a scrimmage against each other) but he got his stuff in the flow of the game, didn’t force things and knocked down his shots.
The one part of his game I liked the most? He seems to be a very good weak-side rebounder on the defensive end. He’s quick enough to go get the ball if he bigs occupy their men and that might the most valuable thing he does.
Anyway, there is still a lot of work to be done and the eight games against other NBA teams will be a far more telling experience than Sunday was.
Sitting in a bare-walled office with a laptop and a desk as its only significant features in an office tower barely a rink’s length from the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs and Raptors play, Uzumeri, 41, is bursting to set the record straight about what ails MLSE.
That ownership – specifically being majority-owned by a pension plan with a fiduciary duty to look out for the interests of its members first and hard-done-by fans of the Leafs, Raptors and TFC second – is not the problem.
“I can’t emphasize it enough,” said Uzumeri, who left Teachers and the MLSE board in May to start his own investment company. “There is nothing more the board wants than to win, and from a financial perspective they have all the resources in the world to achieve that. People have a backward view of what’s going on.”
Part of the problem is that real glimpses into what goes on behind the scenes are hard to come by. Uzumeri described MLSE as the most public private company in the world, but it’s still private, and during his three years on the board, he never granted an interview about MLSE because he didn’t see the point.
“It’s not [a story] to say these guys are trying really hard or have a passion for success,” he said. “It’s news to say the suits are focused on the bottom line. If you’re actually in the boardroom you see how different the focus is.”
Now that he’s no longer in the boardroom, he feels an obligation to stand up for what have become an easy target – his corporate brethren at Teachers and Larry Tanenbaum, the only individual shareholder in MLSE and the company chairman.
What emerges upon discussion, however, is that MLSE is not the same owner it was five or even three years ago. It has improved.
“I really think the ownership has gotten better,” said one source with ties to the MLSE board. “It’s like any business, it takes a while to understand it, I think. But if you’re smart you learn as you go and you learn from your mistakes and owning a team is no different.”
if Raptors management wants to achieve its goal of attracting new fans across the country, they said, they’ll have to do more than show up on the West Coast once a year.
For one thing, they say it’s difficult to find games on television. If you want to watch even half of the 82 regular-season games, you need to buy a specialty cable channel. “I had to sign up for TSN2 [to see Raptors games],” said Juno Lee, 21, of North Vancouver. “But the casual fan wouldn’t do that.”
Then there’s the media coverage. “There’s almost no coverage out here at all,” said Matt Johnson, 24, a UBC student from London, Ont. “Raptors come after preseason interviews on the Canucks.”
And while Vancouver residents might be proud of the fact that Raptors head coach Jay Triano spent a quarter-century living in their province, starring for the men’s basketball team at Simon Fraser University and later calling Grizzlies games – it’s another local hero that has the hearts and minds of people here.
“Start a campaign to get Steve Nash to Toronto and you’ll get lots of support from Vancouver,” said Steve Curran, a Vancouver-based fan.
But is Vancouver a basketball city? Stan Stewardson, the former men’s basketball coach for SFU (he coached Triano), said Vancouver is “starved for major-league sports,” although he still thinks basketball ranks fourth behind hockey, football, and baseball. “The city would support an NBA team if it was run properly,” he said.
"I know that there are a lot of people who maybe are sour about the NBA and what happened here with [the Grizzlies] leaving, but we believe we’re Canada’s team," said Triano. "We have the ability to market right across the country and because of that we want to reward the fans who still love basketball in the Vancouver area."
A few hundred fans took in Sunday afternoon’s abbreviated game, won 50-33 by the Jose Calderon-Demar Derozan led White squad. After it was over, about 50 diehards, several in Raptors jerseys with Sharpies, basketballs and posters in hand, crowded around the team bus waiting to get autographs.
"They were great," said Triano of the fans. "They were very receptive. I think they liked what our guys did and hats off to UBC for helping us arrange it."
While Colangelo called the UBC camp a great chance to expose the product, can Vancouverites willingly adopt a Toronto-based team? It’s worked to some extent with the Blue Jays in baseball, probably because Vancouver has never had a major-league franchise ripped from the city.
Triano says he thinks the Raptors’ presence in Vancouver is simply a reward for true basketball fans.
" … I still get e-mails and people calling from Vancouver, watching games nationally. There are still people out here who like to stay in touch with NBA basketball."
"Our team did get more athletic," Triano said. "We didn’t get a chance to see it today with Barbosa. But we think [Sonny] Weems and DeRozan will play big parts, we re-signed Amir Johnson and he’s very quick up and down the floor. We have to use those guys to their strengths and that is not sitting back in a box playing defence, it’s out and challenging."
DeRozan, who suited up for the White team, which beat the Black team 50-33 in Sunday’s 32-minute contest, got the loudest ovation during the introductions and drew the biggest cheers of the afternoon when he thundered home a dunk off a lob feed from point guard Jose Calderon.
Triano was enthused that the youth of the team was embracing the opportunity to take more ownership in the team’s fortunes this season.
"I think it’s the personality of our young players," he said. "It’s not that they’re young players who don’t want to learn. They want to be a part of this and grow. They are young players on a team where they get a chance to play, and they are going to be rewarded with minutes if they keep doing what they’re doing."
However, the double teams that last year went towards Chris Bosh, are most likely shifted in Bargnani’s direction, and no longer will he be benefiting from the open looks that CB4 provided. Moreover, as the go to scorer Bargnani is going to be forced into more isolation scoring situations and frankly his face up/pull up game is not currently up to level it needs to be. The Raptors better hope that Bargnani has once again made some significant leaps in his game this off-season in order for them to stay competitive.
The Toronto Raptors are not only facing problems in the star department. There have been many issues that Bryan Colangelo has done a poor job of addressing throughout his tenure as General Manger.
Calderon has failed to live up to the high expectations of his lucrative contract that he signed in 2008. His gradually declining play caused by injuries and god knows what else saw the number one job to go to Jarrett Jack last year. The trouble is, despite Jack’s surprisingly impressive play last season, it is apparent that he is not part of the upper echelon point guards in the NBA. Jack was brought in by Colangelo to play backup to Jose Calderon, but it all it looks like is two solid backups posing as starting point guards for the Raptors. Also, I cannot fail to mention that yet again, Jose injured his left hamstring at the World Championships this offseason, although he is supposed to be 100% now.
The major determinant of a good year for Evans revolves around shooting: is his PPS above or below average? Is his free throw shooting disgustingly terrible or merely atrocious? When Evans shoots well from the field, he posts star and superstar calibre WP48s. If he makes free-throws above the break-even point (47%), that’s helpful as well. But both of these things have only happened about 50% of the time in the past four years.
Interestingly, Evans hasn’t really shown any signs of age-related decline so far. Sure, his WP48 has declined as he’s approached 30, but his rebounding, steals, and other athletic indicators haven’t changed significantly. No, it appears that Evans’ decline is related to his shooting. That being the case, I can’t imagine that his WP48 will be any worse than last year’s 0.129, and in fact, he may improve on that mark. The biggest problem is that he’s not likely to get many minutes. He’s also in the last year of his contract and may be traded – if he manages to find himself on a team that actually plays him, he’ll get a chance to produce some wins.