The best time to write about the NBA is in-between lecture slides about microeconomics. Here are my dilapidated thoughts from last night’s preseason match between the New York Knicks and the Toronto Raptors.

The last time these two teams squared off, it was the stuff of legends.

Quincy Acy, our bearded hero, having been freed from the shackles of backing-up the back-ups by the irrelevance of the whole situation, caught fire (not literally, although that beard is certainly a fire hazard). He strung together a litany of points against fearsome foes in Ike Diogu and Tour’e Murry to lead the Raptors to a nine-point victory over the New York Sweatpants. The whole sequence was scripted and immortalized by the effervescent words of Blake Murphy:

6:11 – enters game
5:43 – fouls Ike Diogu to announce his presence with authority
3:15 – after playing possum for 150 seconds, he steals the ball from Diogu, drives the lane and scores
2:50 – takes a charge because he doesn’t suffer fools like Udrih lightly
2:27 – Dwight Buycks feeds Acy, who takes it in for more #buckets
1:44 – Buycks finds Acy and WTF SERIOUSLY QUINCY A-THREE AKA QUINCY A3 with the triple BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE WHAT IS HAPPENING
1:00 – Metta World Peace, get that garbage outta here
0:20 – takes a charge because Diogu needed to know; hits a pair of free throws because fundamentals
0:14 – aforementioned lariat on Udrih
0:00 – strokes beard, mean mugs, reminds world of O.G. status

Unfortunately, yesterday’s game featured very little Acy magic to speak of. However, fans were treated to a double-overtime game that lasted over three hours in length, which is like getting extra anchovys on your pizza when you hate fish. I would do a recap of how it all went down, but the crunch time lineup was Buycks-Ross-Stone-Acy-Hansbrough. Need I go on? Ross hit a clutch three to send it to double overtime where Toronto’s bench crew put away the Knicks’ bench crew. The Raptors won 123-120 to improve to 5-1 in the preseason.

Anyway, here are four takeaways from yesterday’s match.

Trimmer Lowry Equals Better Lowry

It’s easy to forget, but Kyle Lowry looked awesome at the start of last season. Through his first 8 games as a Toronto Raptor, he averaged 18 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals in just under 32 minutes per game.

As the season wore on, Lowry was hampered by bouts of injury and ineffectiveness which really took the shine off the hardworking point guard. By the time he turned it back on towards the end of the season, most fans had stopped paying attention, and had soured on the idea of Kyle Lowry at the point.

This year, Lowry has come into camp in-shape, and he’s looked more like the Lowry at the start of last season, only minus 10 pounds or so. He’s noticeably quicker and it’s really paying off. Although his boxscore line didn’t look so great (11 points on 11 shots), he played smart defense and took good shots. He’s more aggressive in transition and he’s using his quickness to create separation, rather than crashing into defenders, which should theoretically reduce the likelihood of an injury (which is especially key considering the mess of point guards behind him). He had an impressive finish in the lane over Tyson Chandler, and he constantly attacked the basket or shot threes, which is ideal for a guy who isn’t all that great at shooting long jumpers. Hopefully he keeps this up in the regular season.

A Bad Night at the Office for Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas is only 21 years old. Despite all the praise we give him, and all the expectations we’ve pinned on him, Jonas is still very raw. The tools are all there – the size, the motor, the IQ, the touch around the basket – but he’s still a prospect. He’s going to have his ups and downs, and last night’s performance definitely fit the later.

Jonas looked lost defensively. Twice in the first quarter he lost track of Tyson Chandler which resulted in two baskets for the Knicks. In the second, he was tasked with guarding Bargnani in the post and he fouled him twice. He wasn’t much better at the offensive end of the floor, scoring six points on 2-7 shooting from the field and 2-4 from the line. He missed a number of gimmies at the rim that he normally makes. He has an extremely tough matchup Wednesdat night versus the Memphis Grizzlies and their vaunted front-line. Hopefully he bounces back.

Another Fantastic Game for Demar Derozan

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched or followed the Raptors preseason so far, but Demar Derozan and his newfound post-game has been lighting opponents “mup, mup, mup”. He finished the game with 21 points on 8-15 shooting from the floor, including sinking 2-6 from downtown.

Demar’s post game has been widely discussed in this forum, but it’s worth mentioning yet again. The post-game is allowing Demar to attract double-teams and it’s also allowing him to shoot closer to the basket, which is doing wonders for both himself and for his teammates. Here’s his shot chart from tonight’s game:

dd shot chart

Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Demar’s, or if you want him shipped out of town at the first sight of a first-round draft pick, this is a promising development and if he continues to shoot the way he has this pre-season, Derozan will likely see an uptick in his efficiency numbers, which should translate into more wins for the Raptors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHrM9ccHb7Y

Potential Solution to the Bench Problem: Go Big?

The ineffectiveness of the bench has been the yang to Derozan’s ying this pre-season. They’ve looked wholly uninspiring, failing to score while also failing to defend very effectively. A lot of the struggles on offense comes down to the mess at point guard. There is an obvious lack of shot-creation with the second unit, and the triunmvirate of Buycks-Stone-Augustin is not cutting it.

However, Dwane Casey and his coaching staff might have stumbled onto something when they trotted out a “big” lineup of Stone-Ross-Fields-Acy-Hansbrough out there in the fourth quarter. The lineup looked good defensively and the offense was humming with Fields running acting as the point-forward and Ross knocking down three pointers. I doubt Casey benches Augustin and Buycks in favor of Stone, but the lineup looked decent, which is more than anyone can say about the other bench-exclusive units that have been showcased thus far.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Amir is attempting more threes this year. There was actually a pick + pop play run for him in the first quarter. If he can sink them, I’m a fan, but otherwise I don’t like the idea of Amir moving away from the basket
  • Speaking of jumpers, Tyson Chandler has a mid-range jumper now? He sunk two in tonight’s game and he was very confident in shooting them
  • Rudy Gay had another good game. He’s still prone to shooting ill-advised jumpers but he’s doing enough to compensate for that. He looked better than Melo did tonight.
  • I’m really pulling for Landry Fields to have a bounceback year. He’s been impressive. His movement on offense has created a lot of space and scoring chances for his teammates and he threw down an alley-oop. Wow.
  • Andrea Bargnani: 4-12. HAHAHAHAHA. No one man should have all that pasta.
  • Metta World Peace is a thug on the court. Off the court, he’s actually seems like a pretty nice guy.
  • The turnovers…weren’t a problem today! They only committed 15 over the span of 58 minutes!
  • The Basketball Jones is back! Their first podcast of the season: http://thestarters.nba.com/
  • Andrey

    such a great game

  • tonious35

    Was at the game… soooo good! One thing I noticed, my blood pressure was up when Buycks was handling PG, but when J.Stone (77) took control of the ball everything went to normal. J.Stone in my opinion earned a spot on the Roster. He wanted organization and control, and he was willing to get his teammates involved, plus he played great defense in 3 positions (PG, SG, and SF). I really feel Buycks should be sent to the D-League to learn some more Bball IQ stuff, but be a 1st call up.

    • Pong

      I think it’s Stone’s experience playing with both Ty Lawson and Andre Miller as well as in the NBA in general. Ty Lawson’s more of your scoring point guard that relies on quickness and speed and then at the other end of the spectrum, you have Miller who’s more of an old school, pass first point guard with high basketball IQ. Even though Stone played limited minutes he’s at least used to the competition.

      Whereas you have Buycks who hasn’t really played in the NBA before. Even though he’s been in D league and overseas, the talent’s no where as close as the NBA. It’s good to see that he didn’t fade out near the end of the game though. Even though he was something like 0-6, he was still aggressive and made those back to back buckets in overtime. He also made the right pass to Ross for the game tying 3.

    • Andrey

      Well we gotta remember that Stone was signed before Augustin and Buycks. But Stone didn’t pass his physical and that’s why he’s playing for 15th spot. But if he was healthy he would’ve been our back up pg it seems.

    • Phat AlberG

      And also I like add when he plays with Ross, Acy, Fields & Hansbrough. I think this second unit has played with the most cohesiveness so far this pre season, what do you guys think?

  • crazycello

    I didn’t see the game but I wish you wrote more about Ross. The kid hit 7/13 3’s and had 9 trips to the foul line. His shot hasn’t looked great so far but that is a killer line.

    • tonious35

      The 5 of the 3s that Ross made, were quality 3-pointers. Feet were set and ready to fire within the set play. The ones he missed were terrible 3pt shots early in the shot-clock that only Kobe or Paul Pierce can try and not get chastise for them. This is a difference between a prepared player and a space cadet.

      • Bendit

        TR, imo, has always had a sweet stroke. What he lost along the way was shot preparation as you pointed out and confidence. The last couple of games should have helped. I am concerned though about his mental approach to the game at this level but it’s still early in his career.

      • WhiteVegas

        The 3’s he made were catch and shoot. The 3’s he missed were curl and shoot, or 3’s he created for himself off the dribble (he did hit one curl and shoot to send it to OT).

        Lesson from all this, only let Ross shoot catch and shoot 3’s, but let him shoot as many as he wants. He was lights out on catch and shoot 3’s.

  • kayell

    Metta World Peace IS a nice guy. My bro, who was in the tennis program at St.John’s University (where Artest came from), went to school with him. Not friends, but in the few times my bro encountered him, he was cool…a little weird, but that’s not news from someone who changes their name to Metta World Peace

    • DDayLewis

      He’s also done a number of great things by volunteering his time with various charitable organizations. Sadly, most of us just see the MWP that is on the court.

  • mountio

    Did you write this before the overtime happened? How about a little love for TR?
    I hope this is the opening of the floodgates that gets TR going. As much as people want to call him a space cadet and say hes floating out there .. he looked much better than JV last night .. and there is NO WAY any of our other wing players (RG, DD, especially LF) could pull off that shooting display in overtime, Lets give this kid some props and hope that he gains some confidence from this (and perhaps more importantly, hope that Casey wakes up and actually gives him some consistent minutes). I said it a million times and Ill say it again. There is only one way that this team takes the leap into a decent team – thats if TR improves A LOT. The only way to make that happen is give him some real minutes and see what happens. LF is a fine glue guy, but he should not be getting more mins than TR.

    • DDayLewis

      You got me! A lot of this was written before the OT started. Ross had a great game, especially given who he played with and against.

    • Duke

      You’re talking as if RG & DD have never caught fire in a close game… I like Ross and obviously want him to do well, but it’s always been about his consistency. I really hope he gets it

      • mountio

        Considering DD only made 34 3s last year (24 the year before and 4 and 5 the previous 2), I think its safe to say that he hasnt hit 5 threes in an overtime / 4th quarter situation. I think I recall an early game against NY where he hit something like 5 in the first half .. but nothing in the clutch like this.
        Gay its entirely possible .. I have less history with him and hes certainly made many clutch shots.
        Point wasnt necessarily to degrade the others – for example, I think Novak would be my overwhelming first choice to hit a clutch long jumper – but to say that T Ross brings a special talent to the team and we shouldnt waste it (notwithstanding the inconsistency will drive us crazy for a while)

  • ppellico

    counldn’t see the game…and as much as you thought JV had a tough night…Amir numbers show aweful!! How did he get such a +/-??? He played over 20 minutes and had, what?…2 rebounds?
    And today I read he was not only taking 3s, but planned 3s!!!!? The world has now truly gone nuts.
    Just get me outa here.

  • Nilanka15

    Agree on Fields. He’s taken a ton of heat since Colangelo drove a dumptruck full of money to his house (I mean, who wouldn’t accept that offer?!?!).

    He’s got a real unique skill set. If he can start hitting some shots outside the paint, he’ll be a very solid asset off the bench for us this year. Hoping he succeeds.

    • Ghotte

      Fields has a chance to be the 1st or 2nd player off the bench if he can make an immediate impact. The expectations on Hansbrough might be a bit too high given his limited abilities. Ross is likely going to still struggle with his consistency (he was jacking the shots a bit too much which is understandable given the 2nd unit but if he’s plugged into the 1st unit he shouldn’t be forcing things.)

    • mountio

      I did like what LF brought last night. I had to do a double take when he got up for that lob – very impressive. However, I will still re-iterate, that if we are going anywhere, its going to be on the back of a BIG TR improvement .. so lets continue to give him some serious run. If hes only getting 10-15 mins a game, I guarantee that he will not develop any consistency.

      • Ghotte

        Ross shouldn’t just be gifted minutes for improvement. Rather, he should be doing what he is being asked to do by the coaches. That’ll earn him development minutes. No one’s questioning his ability but the jury’s out whether he’ll “get it.”

        • mountio

          I hear ya – but hes clearly shown that hes fragile and his confidence can go up and down like a yo-yo. Pre Gay, he got some nice run and put together some really nice games. Last half of last year, no mins, no confidence, terrible performance.
          Im not saying gift the mins, but I think hes not the kind of guy who is going to respond to being benched and work harder. Seems like he needs to be handled with kid gloves and pumped up. Worst case, whats the downside of giving this guy some serious run for 10-20 games? LF will always be what he is .. a solid glue guy with limited upside. If it turns out hes our best option off the bench .. Im fine with that. But, Id like to see if TR can take us to another level first. 20-30 games or so into the season, we will have a decent idea of whether we have a chance or should trade gay and tank … in which case, we can re-evaluate.

  • Nilanka15

    In terms of the bench, it seems pretty certain that the first three are Hansborough, Fields and Ross (in any order), but that backup PG spot still remains a mystery. I’m not sure if Casey is any closer to making a decision now than he was in Halifax.

    IMO, if all 3 players aren’t impressing, I’m going with the one player who has the most NBA experience. Congratulations Augustin….you win the spot by default.

    • Ghotte

      Agree but for the 3rd spot I’m picking Stone to leapfrog Buycks – who is showing he can’t run an offense. Maybe the coaches are asking him to be aggressive but I just don’t see any flow when he’s the PG. Stone, who I thought was dead in the water a couple games ago, seems to be rounding into better form. It’s not like we need additional scoring out of that position.

      • mountio

        Agree on stone. Hes not perfect .. but I love his length and he brings D and Buycks just does not .. and as you say, unfortunately Dwight has fallen on his face after the summer league and has shown no ability to run an offense.

        • WhiteVegas

          Yep. Our bench offense looked night and day depending on who brought it up the court, Stone or Buycks, when we did that dumb 2 PG lineup. Stone can run an offense and set up other guys. Buycks looks for no one and immediately jacks up a bad shot.

      • Nilanka15

        Yeah, Buycks is looking like nothing more than an undersized shooting guard, who isn’t that great at scoring. John Lucas III anyone???

    • WhiteVegas

      Stone way out played Augustin yesterday, and in my opinion has all preseason when given minutes. He plays amazing defense (3 steals that all led to fast break scores), and he actually looks to set other guys up early in the clock. Augustin and Buycks just immediately look for a contested 3 or drive to fade away / crazy layup. Stone will be the backup PG by the regular season.

  • Nilanka15

    Did anyone notice Bargnani trying to post-up DeRozan in the 3rd quarter, and ended up settling for a low-percentage fade-away that missed badly? LMAO!

    It’s only a matter of time until Knicks fans are pulling their hair out. This guy is as soft as a wet noodle no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

    • Amigo

      I would worry about awful Lowry as usual (3 assists). He can’t run a team and the bench is DJ & Stone lol

      • Nilanka15

        Our starters put up 30 in the 1st quarter, and erased a double-digit deficit in the 3rd quarter. Small sample size, I know, but it looks like we don’t need Lowry to be setting up guys with easy buckets (a la Calderon) in order to score efficiently. With Rudy, DeMar and Jonas all able to operate out of the post, high assist numbers from Lowry isn’t a necessity. He just needs to continue to be aggressive, quarterback the offense, take good shots, and be a pest on defense.

        • Ghotte

          +1 Lowry took what was given him, broke down the defense when he had the ball and gave it up to his wings early in the shot clock. Not much more he could have done really.

      • WhiteVegas

        Obviously you didn’t watch the game. The starting unit was phenomenal and was killing the Knicks starting unit. Who gives a crap about box score when we’re killing the other team.

    • NyAlesund

      I noticed but that kind of movement is not Bargnani’s speciality. The Knicks fans are not patient at all, but their concern is not Bargnani. Their concern is whether or not Melo will remain. In the meantime instead of laughuing about him you have to be concerned about JVal that was afwul.

      • Nilanka15

        Nah, I’m not really concerned about a 2nd year player who had an off night….

        ….in the preseason….

        ….versus one of the best defensive centres in the league.

  • Nilanka15

    And a great crowd last night at the ACC. We have more fans (and louder fans) at preseason games than half the league during the regular season. Great work Toronto!

  • Bendit

    The Knicks blog have a hate on for Tyler H. Check the tweets at post-end…

    http://knickerblogger.net/preseason-recap-toronto-123-knicks-120-15-overtimes/

    • GoingBig

      That is as it should be.

      Did you see the commentary about Bargs

      “Sure it’s the preseason, but someone’s gotta be with me on this: Bargnani looks a lot better / smoother / sexier / more effective when he’s killing YOUR team during the regular season. Sure, there were some promising notes: jumpers sans hesitation, a beautiful drive and dime-stopped turnaround, a smooth baseline J a few moments later. Still, the sour remains, in the form of roadkill-slow defensive rotations, and the fact that Bargs couldn’t jump over a million-dollar bill if you told him he could keep it.”

      Looks like the Knicks fans will be panning for the fool’s gold that is Bargnani

      • Bendit

        Haha yes I did. The writer while recognizing the defensive shortcomings seems to be overly enamored with the offense which was 4 of 12. Too much sticker shock I think.

      • KnickFanInTO

        I don’t know what blog you’re reading. The Knickerblogger folks, by and large, think Bargnani is worthless. They hope to be surprised but expect to be underwhelmed.