This year, Christmas has come early for the Raptors. The dreaded road trip from hell is here: 8 of the next 10 games are on the road; 6 against playoff teams; 4 against teams being much improved from last season. The Raptors could very easily go 2-8 or 3-7 in this stretch. The good news is that we will get a good sense of exactly how this team plays under some duress. They have been showing a really aggressive/defensive/running game that is tough to sustain, but if you get through this stretch (win or lose) playing with energy, the fans will really have their backs. For the record, put me in the camp that thinks these guys will play this hard for most of the season.
The Kings are an interesting team. They are the only team in the league I don’t watch, unless they are playing the Raptors. It’s a combination of them being on the left coast, getting as much national TV coverage as the Raptors (zero), and not having a team I want to follow; although they have a nice group of youngin’s that are definitely on my radar; if that made any sense at all.
The Kings have a really nice core of young players (Casspi, Cousins, Evans, Green and Whiteside) that could rival what Presti & Co are doing in OKC in a couple years. I guess that wasn’t a question, but what could the upside of this bunch?
The Kings have a lot going for them so far but the key is going to be how much these guys work to improve themselves as they build toward being a contender again. Tyreke Evans is a bully on the court who needs to keep improving his jumper (three-point shot looks great so far but pull-up jumper is still bad). DeMarcus Cousins has all of the talent and size you’d want in a big man but he has to learn how to play defense intelligently and keep his conditioning under control. Omri Casspi has to do a better job of pacing himself through the year and get better handling the ball. Donté Greene improved so much heading into last year but needs to find a way to score efficiently. Hassan Whiteside … well, he’s a nice kid who needs every bit of awareness he can soak up on the court.
This team has a ton of talent but they can’t just be satisfied with how good they are early on. They need to learn how to defend as a team and continue to get continuity on the court offensively. The upside is a contender for the Western Conference but that is a few years down the road. They need to realize what it takes to get down that road.
I have a vested interest in Samuel Dalembert (betting big he will average a double-double for my fantasy league). His expiring contract heading into the possible lockout is one the most valuable assets in the lague; for a team that’s rebuilding with nice young talent, I don’t see them not trading him for some complimentary assets. What would the Kings be looking for in a trade?
Here’s the thing about Dalembert’s contract. I don’t think they’ll trade him. If they were to deal him, they’d be looking for a good combo guard that can shoot with high efficiency. But I think the Kings are all about fiscal responsibility heading into the lockout. Nobody knows what the CBA is going to be like and what restrictions it will impose on teams. The Kings want to be prepared for everything with the way they’re building for the future. And being a small market team that is struggling to sell tickets and get a new arena, it’s actually more advantageous for them to let it expire, keep the cap space and use their intelligent drafting. They have a lot of good players on rookie contracts. Don’t take on potentially bad long-term deals just because you have an expiring contract on your hands.
Now that I’ve said that, he’ll probably be dealt by the time this is published.
Will the Maloofs move this team to Las Vegas?
I really don’t see the Maloofs moving this team to Vegas. That doesn’t mean they won’t move at all though. This franchise has to have a new arena deal and the Maloofs want it to be in Sacramento above anywhere else. But they also are still running a business and if the city of Sacramento won’t give them a new arena then they’d be financially irresponsible to not explore other cities. San Jose is pining for a team but they probably won’t be allowed with the territory rights of Oakland so close. Anaheim will probably have the same issues with the Lakers and Clippers. Seattle still doesn’t have an arena and Las Vegas has too much red tape to take seriously. But cities like St. Louis and Kansas City need to be taken seriously. Those cities have a real chance to steal a NBA team sometime soon. Maloofs don’t want to leave this city. They’re legitimately committed. But they can only wait so long.
For the record, I see this team moving out of Sacramento before the city helps with a new arena. We saw the Sonics get ripped out of Seattle when their stadium deal didn’t happen, depriving fans of watching Kevin Durant on a day-to-day basis. The Kings have similar young talent. Would be a shame…
Leandro Barbosa – Wrist (expected to play)
Samuel Dalembert – Thigh (might play, played last game)
Francisco Garcia – Ankle (might play, played last game)
**Sorry I don’t have any shot charts up today, but the ESPN decided to crap out on me this morning, and everyones charts were off**
PG – Jack vs Udrih
To his credit, Jack has been playing pretty good as a starter, averaging 11pts 4.5rebs 5ast a game, but tonight he will have his hands full with Udrih, who has also been surprisingly good out the gate, and if I didn’t take Mike Conley Jr in my fantasy team, I would have tried to pick Beno up on waivers. For some reason though, Udrih has always been one of those players that I’ve always hated, I don’t know why (might have been during the time Calderon was coming up and Udrih was getting similar praise because he’s a Euro, but he really isn’t as good – petty I know). Udrih doesn’t get into the lane much, but he’s picks his spots, and doesn’t play outside his comfort zone, which is definitely something of a rarity.
This is one of those match-ups where slow and steady wins the race. Jack needs to protect the ball much better than he has been so far this season: 8 turnovers in the first two games, brutal.
SG – DeRozan vs Evans
In a nutshell, Tyreke is what we want DeRozan to be: a head strong guy who attacks the paint and wreaks havoc. To Derozan’s credit, he has been doing a good job of getting to the rack off the bounce and drawing contact; getting to the line about 4 times a night. While that is an improvement, he’s one of a couple cats on this team who has the ability to get to the hoop consistently, so more is needed. Defensively, he will have his hands full with Evans who does a great job of getting into the paint and to the line. This is going to be one of those nights for DeRozan.
SF – Kleiza vs Casspi
I like Casspi a lot. His game is sweet. Tall, lanky small forward who shoots the three and has handles: a prototypical Colangelo player. Not trying to start any rumours, but doesn’t he seem like the type of guy that could end up on the Raptors at some point? The kid just looks to score (doesn’t rebound, pass or get to the line well), but does so from the perimeter. Not trying to discount anything, but this will be one of Kleiza’s easier nights this season since Casspi’s backups are Antoine Wright and Donte Green; both of whome are a step down from Omri offensively.
SF – Evans vs Landry
**Disclaimer:** I’m almost biased to a fault on folks who played significant roles in Houston over the last few seasons. Yes they are part of a solid system that plays to their strengths, while hiding their weaknesses, but I don’t care. It’s the same blind idiocy that has fueled my support of the Raptors all these years.
Great, now that I look a tribal honking Rockets fan…
Landry is a nice player: not flashy, not overly talented, but he comes to work (think Reggie Evans with more offensive game and minus the freakish rebounding we’ve been treated too). He was part of the Kevin Martin trade last year that made you realize how desperate Morey was for a scorer (he sacrificed a key forward with Yao out for the season). I’m looking for Evans to rebound and be active on defense, basically what he’s been doing so far, but we can’t be expecting him to keep up this Rodmanesque rate for much longer, which has been making up for Bargnani’s 3.5rebs a game.
C – Bargnani vs Cousins
I know nothing of Cousins other than the highlights I’ve seen/read, and by all accounts, the kid is the real deal. He’s big, athletic, strong, agile, co-ordinated, smart, and putting up nice numbers. The Kings front court is not a traditional one, which should make tonights game interesting to say the least. Normally, you’d have Evans on someone like Cousins, but Bargnani will struggle to defend Landry on the perimeter, so here we are. If you were one of the folks who were concerned about Bargnani’s scoring, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. All he needed was a couple games to adjust to life without Bosh, then he seemingly flipped the switch. His defense is better than years past, but his rebounding is worse (for now, should improve). This is one of those games that Bargnani needs to step up and protect the paint against a rookie who seems to be out for blood.
Edge: Cousins (only because I expect a better all around performance)
I don’t want to say this is a must win 3 games into the year, but if the Raptors don’t win tonight (10:30p EST start btw on Sportsnet One), they could easily be 1-9 (2-8 if they steal against the Bobcats) when they roll into Washington on November 17; this stretch of games is that tough. Wins are wins, and you want to be confident and positive when heading into a tough road swing.
Vegas has the Kings as 4.5 point favourites with an over/under of 192.5. Slower pace, with lots of opportunity. I got the Raptors by 2.
As always, live chat will be bumping tonight.