Ed’s Note: Once again, please welcome Tamberlyn Richardson for her third piece on RR.

It’s been an exciting 29 days and hitting the .500 mark with an easier schedule in sight has even some die-hard tank-talkers chiming in with the “Lets Go Raptors” chant.

Factor in that Dwayne Wade laced them up for only his second full back-to-back this season and we can assume that the South Beach Boys are up on their current affairs.  If the reigning champions aren’t taking you for granted any more, neither is anyone else.

En route to this new found respectability the team has undergone more dissection by experts and armchair point guards than Derrick Rose’s knees as to their sudden ascension:

  • Did the Raptors sudden improvement in ball movement and assists occur just because we traded one isolation-heavy forward?

  • Is the jump due to the insurgence of three new recruits alongside Hansbrough and all that was needed was to add depth to a woeful bench?

  • Were the two sophomores ready for primetime long before or did they merely need to be able to play relaxed, knowing they could play through mistakes without losing minutes or touches?

  • After shouldering the toughness quotient, veteran leadership, reliability and extra effort plays by himself for far too long, did Amir just need reinforcements?

  • Was Kyle Lowry an All Star-calibre guard in waiting who simply didn’t have the right system or personnel around him that would allow him to spread the ball?

  • Was Dwane Casey only biding his time until he had a tight nine-man rotation to showcase his heralded defensive prowess to vault his team’s overall defensive rating, actually send out plays that produce results and finally call “aware”  timeouts?

  • Did DeMar DeRozan just need to witness a franchise-type player fail at leading, and tweak his own role accordingly?

  • Or was it simply “the straw that broke the camel’s back” syndrome when one defining breakthrough win made everything else click?

Ultimately, all of these views can share a portion of the truth, but in my opinion there is one intangible that is making everything sustainable and consistent: team chemistry.

Top ranked teams all have something in common, in that they each have an identity and system in place. In some cases that identity is based on versatility but other than San Antonio, the other factor at play is they all utilize a system based on a trend.

The fact is, today more than ever the NBA is fad-based; when James took his colluded talents alongside Bosh to South Beach everyone started trying to assemble a “Big Three”. Their subsequent back-to-back championships led to teams looking to play fast and small with the trend moving to interchangable players at different positions and the waning of big, slow-footed centers.

New trends emerged last season with the success of Indiana and San Antonio taking the Heat to seven games. Indiana utilizes The Big Analytic, Roy Hibbert, Paul George and their smashmouth defense while San Antonio relies on fundamentals, ball movement and a plethora of capable ball-handlers who can hit corner threes. Almost in concert with the end of the playoffs, big men once again became trendy.  The Spurs’ run coupled with the Warriors Cinderella season, the three point weapon became a trendy strategy to build teams around, rather than just another tool.

The Spurs, the most consistent team of the past decade have been influencing trends for years. You can pin-point at least a presence of their input in almost every top seed. Their original Big 3 of Duncan, Parker and Robinson, who was later replaced by Ginobili may in fact have been what inspired Pat Riley and Miami’s triumvirate.

The Thunder borrow from them in that they’ve built through the draft; Memphis, Indiana, Chicago and Houston all use one or two big men, while the Warriors and Portland both feature three-point shooting.

Mike D’Antoni ‘s old “run and gun” style was in full display in Clipperland but even they recognized more toughness and half court capabilities was required to go deep in the post-season. In fact, the absence of that style working past April has teams looking to upgrade it with pieces from other trends. Phoenix have incorporated Masai Ujiri’s Denver plan of youthful depth at every position along with the addition of simultaneous ball-handlers for even scoring distribution. What makes them deadly is that without the presence of a true franchise player, opposing defenses are forced into man-on-man coverage to defend several capable players, which often exposes defensive liabilities for the Suns to capitalize on.

Toronto’s claim to credibility comes via their versatility; they can play in the half court or transition, they play ever-improving strong defense, they have a developing big man in Jonas Valanciunas, stress ball movement and floor spacing, and can feature multiple ball-handlers on the floor at one time.  They can bring in toughness when required and have multiple three-point shooters. Opposing teams may be planning for DeMar DeRozan but with the ball moving around the floor, inside and out the Raptors are making teams pay if they don’t prepare for all scoring options.

Toronto doesn’t so much feature a trend, rather, they are similar to the Suns in that they utilize their versatility to defend the specific trends. Ball movement, defense and of late, multiple ball-handlers have been our core product on court. However,  the one intangible Toronto features few other teams can boast of is chemistry and fit. No trend, trade or paper plotting can accomplish how a team functions, fits and ultimately gets along. This intangible has the ability to make or break a team faster than an All Star injury.  One look at New York and its visible how much Jason Kidd did to help that team and while this same guy made the difference on court, in New York, he’s having the opposite effect on the borough’s sidelines.

Jarrett Jack was a godsend for Golden State but either he doesn’t have the same fit in Cleveland or Bynum’s cancerous attitude completely offset it. While Detroit appeared on the precipice of belonging, off season paper improvements of self motivated individuals Jennings and Smith appear to have set them back instead of propelling them ahead.

There’s no true accounting for how chemistry can work; oft maligned Monta Ellis is thriving in Dallas playing arguably his best ball in years. On paper, Atlanta appear thin without enough frontcourt presence but the pieces fit so perfectly they’ve been one of the surprises of the season. Even coaching can benefit from chemistry as Jeff Hornacek is proving with his young Suns squad.

This brings me to Toronto, our team is not only gelling they are improving the longer they play together; a direct benefit of chemistry. I’m not saying Rudy wasn’t a great guy or didn’t have the desire for the Raptors to win, he just wasn’t the right fit or leader for this team. Valanciunas and Johnson are more involved in the plays now, Ross is maturing into a MoPetesque sniper who can defend, DeRzoan seems to have learned how to do everything right from what Rudy did wrong and craziest of all is his best friend, Lowry maybe the greatest benefactor of his departure.

Perhaps the addition of multiple players who already could function as a unit has accelerated the fit, but there just seems to be something else involved. Not even during Chris Bosh’s reign did I feel this type of camaraderie on court, in fact not since Vince Carter, Mo Pete, Charles Oakley, Alvin Williams and Tracy McGrady have I had this feeling of team chemistry.

Since the trade,  the Raptors handed the West’s best Thunder their first home loss, with both All Stars playing.  They’ve beaten the league-best Pacers, taken games versus the top two defensive teams, had comeback wins, won ugly and most importantly are beating the teams they should.

Perhaps the problem for Ujiri now becomes making any moves that could disrupt this nucleus because tinkering with team chemistry can result in an explosion or implosion. Surely, Masai’s presence in Miami indicates he is still observing, but given the team’s performance of late and upcoming winnable games one would assume he will be looking to improve the depth further.  One additional defensive specialist or big man could be the difference in how many rounds of playoff experience these Raptors can achieve .

I’m not suggesting we don’t have holes to plug or areas to improve.  I’m saying this team has the makings of something special. In a year of mediocrity, perhaps Toronto could be this year’s Cinderella team and reap the benefits of its young core gaining invaluable experience via an extended playoff run and subsequently aid in the team’s future growth.

The one area I am currently concerned about is the center of what was suppose to be the key to the trade, the highly touted pass-first guard – Vasquez who has been anything but. I re-watched Friday’s Washington game on Legue Pass to hear what their commentators had to say about the drubbing and an interesting comment was made regarding Vasquez. Evidently, he told reporters pre-game that although he was happy to be in Toronto, he wasn’t pleased with having to come off the bench.

Since the trade, all the players point differential has been surging the longer they play together except Vasquez and Hansbrough. The latter has been the most affected by the trade in terms of his minutes, fitting in with new players and returning from injury so I’ll give him a pass but while Salmons and Patterson’s (the steal of the trade) numbers are also improving along with the starters Vasquez is consistently declining. To avoid any long-term affect, Dwane Casey needs to address this quickly or there will be a point guard trade, and it’s not the one everyone’s talking about.

In terms of the numbers over the five-game period prior to Miami in which the Raptors faced the two best defenses, the starting fives’ point-differential ranged from a low of +7.8 for Ross (a significant improvement for him) to a high of +11.6 for DeRozan.

Other milestones the Raptors are reaching since the trade:

  • Points off turnovers, 21.2 per game – 2ND in NBA

  • Opposition Turnovers (forced) 17.0 per game -, 4TH in NBA

  • Opposition Fastbreak Points (transition defense) 11.2 – 5TH in NBA

  • Since the trade their 22.4 Assists per game would place them 12th coming out of dead last

  • Point Differential: (since trade) 6.1 Tied 5th

  • 4th Quarter Point Differential: 4TH BUT (since trade) 3.57 is NUMBER 1

Heady numbers considering that the Raptors have room for growth and following what’s sure to be a grudge payback match in Indiana, Toronto will face a slew of winnable games . Of the thirteen January games after Tuesday only five teams are .500 or over, while eight feature cellar dwellers.

This is the perfect time for the Raptors to increase the division lead, continue to gel and iron out kinks while playing lesser foes. For the fans, its a great time to attend a game and enjoy the spoils of what it feels like to win again.

To wit, my buddies made the trip to Miami to attend Sunday’s game and noted how empty their arena was. This isn’t something saved for the Raptors, in fact there are many Canadian and Lithuanian fans who attend those games. However, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how long it’s been since we had a genuine product to cheer for and how much a winning franchise would merit full house support at the ACC.  So, I encourage you to attend some games this January to witness a winning team aiming their sights on the post season.

Perhaps, you’ll find that special je ne sais quoi of the old days and actually feel a part of this special chemistry developing on the court. I know there are about 20-plus GM’s juxtaposing around the association currently trying to figure out how Masai Ujiri did it and what chemistry class they need to attend to get the same results.

Tipping off to another exciting week at the Republic, follow me on Twitter.

  • Pong

    Great article image

  • Joshua Chan Zuo Sze


  • Dr. Scooby

    I L O V E the way this team has been playing. Clearly they won’t keep it up at the same rate, but I doubt they’ll completely fall back to their awful loosing ways of 4 weeks ago.

    I am believing the recent play is a mirage in that the team is playing much better, but once opposing teams figure out how to defend the Raps offense (And good teams will), we’ll be loosing as many as we win – essentially a .500 team. If Lowry misses games with injury (which historically is expected), the Raps are less than a .500 team.

    I do not want to risk assets this season merely to win an extra playoff game or two. I’d rather invest in building a better team in the future as opposed to now.

    • Saskatoon Raps Fan

      The problem with the raptors are going to come back down to earth angle is that they are just getting out of the worst part of their schedule. Even if they come down a little bit I think they’re going to go above .500 the rest of the way. If they can keep their level where it’s at right now they could go on a serious run

      • CJT

        AND, they aren’t doing anything that is not sustainable. They are putting forth effort, playing hard on D and moving the ball to get open shots. It is not as if they are making fade away 3 pointers over double teams all day. I think the pride that they are all feeling with this winning mentality will help carry them as well, once you get a taste of the respect from the teams and media you will want to keep that going. IMHO

        • ac1011990

          Someone on the forums brought up a great point. Right now the Raptors are playing as hard as they can, for the past 13 games they have been playing playoff intensity basketball. The question is how long can you maintain such an intense way of playing. Contending teams usually cruise to the playoffs and then turn it up. Is this pace really going to last? If your going hard every night for 82 games guys get tired and injuries occur. I love the way the Raps are playing over the past few games but im not sure this pace really lasts. I still think we are an elite player away from being a very good team.

          • MalcomX

            A) This team is young so they can handle the pace
            B) This team is afraid to ease back now – that MAY change as the competition changes to sub 500
            C) The elite free agent will be attracted to the Raps if they can keep improving on defense

            • ac1011990

              A lot of assumptions there. Being young doesn’t mean you can withstand anything, maybe they can handle the pace maybe they can’t. Elite free agents aren’t going to be attracted by a few good games. I kind of find it funny when people think these guys would be willing to join a team because of a few good games. This team has improved from before but we haven’t proved anything yet. We are a LONG ways away from attracting elite free agents.

            • Dr. Scooby

              actually, the Raps ran out of steam in the 4th quarter versus Miami.

    • What the

      Like the Oakman once said, we don’t go below .500
      We started at the bottom now wehere Raps will beat the Pacers it’s a two game road trip just call this game 7 in a playoff

      • What the

        At .500 our head is above water, why would we want to go back under there we started at the bottom now wehere, now we can show the Knick and Nets this is how we do (sing it) this is how we do it

        • What the

          Don’t worry Raptors fans Casey and the starting 5 will all be with the Raptors until the end of the season and there is no sand bagging/tanking going on or has been going on this season by the Toronto Raptors and I’ll tell you why, First how can a incom’n GM evaluate a coach,players and team after just 30 games? what? he sat around and watch Raptors videos all summer of val,ross,kyle dee and amir our (fantastic 5) nah the man needs a season to see what he’s got and they are showing MU what he’s got to work with.Second we all know about “the guy” we sent to sacville, well he had to go and not because of sandbagging/tanking but money wise if you know what i’m saying.Third the sandbagging/tanking came from Tim W. (smile) nah it came form the way the Raptors were playing at the time and Tim, nah it was Wiggins and the deep draft , but hear this it took BC 7 years to put this team together MU needs to see what he’s got with Captin Casey and the fantastic 5 and if what BC is telling him about his creation is true and I think he’s starting see and with a little touch up here and there on the bench it’s playoffs another flag hanging in the ACC ,Casey gets COY and MU gets EOY with two different team just like BC story done say it ain’t so

          • WHAT THE

            you all know BC is still in the back ground right, it’s just that he couldn’t/wouldn’t be the one to get rid of Bargs his #1 pick, his new boss says changes had to be made and BC said but i’m so close just give me a little more time and i’ll give you 5 allstars ready for 2016 allstar game at the ACC (How many allstars did the Suns have at one time ?) his boss Big L told him he was going to break up the team then BC quits cause ” two bulls can’t rule the same pen” see Calderon and Kyle. But before BC quits he made sure his buddy who was handed EOY 2013 was in place to take over his job and carry on what he started

  • ChangeIsNeeded

    Appreciate the effort but the run-on sentences and multiple commas make this almost unreadable. Takes away from any analysis and insight, unfortunately. Love RR but this is becoming a trend that’s pulling me away from this site. I understand this is an unpaid blog site but sometimes less is more. Don’t need so many columns from so many different writers. Stick to the good ones and create discussion. Just my two cents.

    • Dr. Scooby


      • Delabar’s Weighted Balls

        There’s always someone sleeping around here

    • Ion66

      I would agree, but I write the same way!

    • j bean

      I found the article to be excellent. Great content with a little wit thrown in. Certainly never had a hard time reading it. Actually I find it kind of ridiculous to critique the grammar on sports blogs unless it is really overwhelmingly bad.

      • ChangeIsNeeded

        The first paragraph has four commas and one period in it. Ridiculous as you may find it, some people appreciate constructive criticism. It’s not hard to proofread an article of this length. Also, the content is a lot of other people’s opinions and questions with no answers. There are great writers on this site that keep the standard high. Just my opinion but this is more personal blog than team blog material.

        • Lucas

          That paragraph may have been edited, so I can’t comment on your first statement.

          However, I would caution you to make damn sure you know your grammar before criticizing others. For instance, the word “but” should be preceded by a comma, which you failed to do on both of your comments here. That makes it difficult to trust your judgement on the matter.

          No offence, but in general I would leave specifics of criticism to people who are more qualified to provide such feedback.

          • ChangeIsNeeded

            How do you know what my qualifications are? Relax. I was pointing out that there are good writers on this site, and this particular person isn’t one of them. Hence, they’re a prospect. Also, quotation marks aren’t used to emphasize. They are used to quote. Check your own grammar rules.

            • Dr. Scooby

              zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, ‘gee’,,,(“thanks”); how are ya now!?

        • Reggie Evans

          Take a chill pill dude. The writing may not be perfect but it is totally readable. If it bothers you that much you can always choose to not read it but keep that internal troll inside would ya?

    • Jeffrey Yau

      MY biggest problem was the photo at the top. Looked like LBJ was getting double teamed from behind if ya feel.

      • Tanks-a-lot


    • Roarque

      You want to complain? Head over to the Globe or the Star and read what pros like Doug Smith say about this team. The grammar is great but the content is superficial at best.
      The sentences were long but the concepts being presented made it worth the struggle
      Thanks Tamberlynn

      • Matt52

        Rap of the Year!

      • ChangeIsNeeded

        You proved my point. I come to this site BECAUSE the content is better than the so-called pros. The fact that it’s difficult to read because of poor writing takes away from the great content. Don’t take everything so personally people. Feedback is not complaining.

      • DC

        Not sure about Smith’s articles, but his blog is often replete with spelling errors.
        I found this write-up to be well-composed and easy to read. Criticisms of the punctuation are a reach, and the purpose of such is puzzling.

    • arsenalist

      I’ll admit. This article did not go through the editorial review and should not have been published as-is. It happens, but its rare so give us some credit there. I’ve gone through and fixed what I can.

      Sorry again.

      • Rjak27

        The grammar seems fine to me now.

        I like the RR format. There are a lot of different writers, and that’s what makes it so good. All the different perspectives provide a good snapshot of what the fanbase is thinking.

        Add to the varied perspectives the energy that new writers bring, and the result is that this site is providing a surprising amount of depth in its coverage of the team. Personally, I find this to be the best source for Raptors coverage online or in print.

        • slack denail

          It’s fine now that Arse went through it. I’m with ChangelsNeeded, I couldn’t get past that first paragraph (which is fixed now)

      • ChangeIsNeeded

        Doesn’t need an apology. Thanks for the update.

  • trith be told

    The Raptors have been playing well no doubt but the ‘something special’ should be saved for you know….something special.

    No disrespect to the squad because all fans appreciate good basketball, but to compare this team to a team like GS (remember Curry plays there!) is getting way ahead of ourselves.There is no one player remotely as good as Curry on this team and you need elite players to advance deep in the playoffs.

    Just sayin’.

    • MalcomX

      Rip, Chauncey, Prince and the Wallace bros aka the BAD BOYZ of Detroit would beg to differ.
      Remember them?

      • truth be told

        Yeah I do. Who on the Raptors is as good as Wallace x 2, Billups or Rip at that time?


        • GetLicks

          Unfair comparison. You’re comparing guys that were in their prime to guys either just starting to enter their prime or are far away from reaching it.

        • MalcomX

          First thing – you’re right to say those five guys were special
          Second thing – Kyle reminds me of Chauncey in that they’re both streaky but when we’re good they’re all-star good.
          Last thing – none of them considered themselves all-stars. There was an us against the world vibe coming from the Pistons back then

  • Ion66

    I get the feeling that Vasquez came in, expecting Lowry to be gone soon after he arrived. I wonder if his enthusiasm at the trade was largely due to that expectation? Another thing that gets no mention, but has me wondering at the effect on this team, is the role of the new coaching staff? We hear so little about them, and their role in this season. With Casey being a coach who is learning the head coach role, I see him as a developing work in progress. I. Wonder to what degree the staff is as well?

    • Roarque

      One or both are hand picked to replace Dwane who is headed south soon. We shall miss his professionalism.
      Agree about Grievis’ expectations – I suggest he grow up and start blending. The team could be his next season if he works harder and stops sulking

    • j bean

      His first comments after joining the team were about looking forward to playing with Lowry. I have a hard time believing he thinks he should start ahead of him.

  • puffer

    Good article. Particularly your comment on how short a time this team (9 player rotation) has actually been playing together. I agree that the relatively soft January sched should help them solidify their system and only improve the team chemistry. And good point about Vasquez. He has been looking worse and worse. Raps need to address that somehow.

  • SR

    Thanks for the column. Well written.

    Vasquez is an interesting problem. He’s a talented guy who has just been out of sync with the team ever since arriving. It’s not that he isn’t putting in effort, it’s just that he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time bouncing passes off the hands of bigs who have very good hands (Amir and JV) and rimming out 3 point attempts. Something’s just not clicking, and it’s unfortunate to hear it may already be affecting him mentally/emotionally. It may yet turn out to be a slump and familiarization process that just needs to be played through.

    The pessimistic view would be that he had a Mike James season in New Orleans when the expectations were low and there was a lack of talent on the roster. Plenty of NBA players can put up solid stats in that situation without being able to transfer their productivity to a more limited role on a more talented team.

  • Trace Fairley

    Nice article. Absolute steal of a trade. We now have a cohesive starting unit that actually plays team basketball – so much better to watch – Most importantly, we have a bench with experience and athleticism. I like how they seem to take turns stepping up with big games.

    Casey may not be the best coach, but look at how few games we have been blow outs this season even when Rudy was here. That means players are prepped and ready and want to play for DC. Also, there has been very little drama – a good coach diffuses situations before they develop and handles players the right way. Clearly DC manages his people. His fault early on was not evaluating soon enough and having too wide and strange rotations. Team plays better with LF and SN glued to the bench.

  • Maniacal

    Good read – thanks for posting!

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