“The No. 1 thing is playing hard like that every day is an NBA skill, that is a talent,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said ahead of a visit from the New York Knicks on Monday. “I don’t know how you describe it or what you call it but for the guys I’ve seen over the years who bring it every day like that, that is not easy to do. “You would want everybody to give it every day like that and hit people and play hard and take hits, get beat up every day, but it doesn’t happen.”
The lineup of Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry produced a Defensive Rating of 92.5, a fairly remarkable number. Toronto’s two-man combo featuring Amir and JV produced a 96.9 Defensive Rating and combos featuring any two from the starting five produced solid results as well. Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry are terrific pick-and-roll defenders, particularly with their ability to hedge in unison. Valanciunas has potential to be one of the best defensive centers in the NBA thanks to his combination of timing, mobility, size and athleticism, while Rudy Gay, warts and all, is still a solid defender.
“It may fluctuate until somebody grabs it and runs with it and commands it so to speak,” he said. “That may take some time. I like the effort of everybody. It’s not like the guys on the second unit are not competing or performing well. (It’s just that) They are all kind of playing at the same level. Nobody has stood out or separated themselves.” You can take that one of two ways: Either no one has been good enough or they’ve all been as good as each other.
“Austin has every NBA skill,” Casey said after practice Saturday. “The only thing he’s ever had to work on is his strength and his body to not get knocked off the mark, not to give up offensive rebounds and to be stronger. That’s his biggest challenge as an NBA player because he’s one of the best three-point shooters that we have [and] he has a great basketball IQ.”
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