Ten Stray Thoughts on a Thursday

With an assist from the Raptors Republic forums.

I’m going to be brutally honest: this team is boring.

It feels odd. I don’t mean that the style of play is boring (quite the opposite, actually), nor that their success isn’t enjoyable (again, the opposite) — there just aren’t that many decent storylines surrounding this team at the moment.

Wins against lesser opponents are becoming routine (unless I write the game preview, apparently), and high-spirited contests against the NBA’s elite are becoming the norm. Demar’s All-Star and Lowry’s All-Snub cases have been beaten to death. Zarar and Blake are doing their best “Woodword and Bernstein” over Terrence Ross’ promising sophomore campaign, and we’ve covered the overnight transformation from “zero to hero” since the Gay trade. We’ve even entertained the idea of adding minor pieces to bolster a potential playoff run. I mean, what’s left to talk about — tanking?

(I kid, I kid)

Since I was unable to conjure up an actual topic to broach, I hit up the Raptors Republic forums, and asked them what they wanted to read about. Listed below are ten semi-Raptors related thoughts.

lowry wonderwall

1. Don’t Look Back in Anger, Kyle Lowry!

Credit to Zarar for this idea. He suggested that I look through Lowry’s game-logs and see if he’s ever put together a half-season as impressive as this one. Are we seeing an oasis in the desert, or Oasis in concert? Is this fake, or is this 100,000 people belting out “Wonderwall” in unison (read: real, cheesy, but awesome)?

Unfortunately, my Basketball-Reference query searching skills aren’t the sharpest, so I had to approximate. Nevertheless, here are Lowry’s three most impressive 10-game stretches by “gamescore” (a PER-lite statistic that totals the positives in the boxscore and subtracts the negatives, data found here):

Third Place: Lowry’s mid-season outburst in 2012-11 (games #26-35)

Lowry’s last season in Houston was Rockety to say the least. He and Goran Dragic fought tooth and nail for the starting job, his team wasn’t all that great (Chuck Hayes was the starting center) and he famously clashed with coach Kevin McHale.

But don’t get it twisted — Lowry had his moments. During this 10-game streak, Lowry averaged 18.7 points, 6.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game on 46.5% shooting from the field, which comes out to a 15.98 gamescore rating. He led the Rockets to a 5-5 record, with wins coming against OKC (back when Harden was there), Memphis (the season where the Grizzlies beat the Spurs in the playoffs) and most notably, our Raptors (Lowry dropped 25 points on 12 FGA).

Second Place: A Sick, Wicked and Nasty end to 2011-10 (games #65-74)

With the Rockets closing in on a potential playoff seed in the Western conference, Lowry stepped his game up to a ‘Hole. ‘Nutha. ‘Level. He flourished in Rick Adleman’s beautifully crafted offensive schemes, and led the Rockets to a 7-3 record (including a surprising victory over the Spurs). He averaged 17.8 points, 8.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.3 threes per game, for an average gamescore of 17.08

Unfortunately, Lowry’s season came to an abrupt and grueling end when he suffered a leg injury in March of 2011. In addition to sidelining him for the remainder of the season, the injury brought upon a nasty bacterial infection that left Lowry bed-ridden with a temperature of 104 F. Yikes!

First Place: Exit the Dragon, Enter the Pitbull (games #1-10)

Lowry’s start to the 2012-11 season was something to behold. Coach Kevin McHale opened a contest for the position of starting point-guard, and Lowry slammed the door in Dragic’s face (and McHale’s probably). His Rockets only won five of the ten contests, but it was through no fault of Lowry. He averaged 17.8 points, 9.3 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 2 3FGM per game, good for a 17.47 gamescore.

Unfortunately due to a combination of Dragic’s ascension, injuries and feuding with McHale, Lowry’s 2012-11 season petered off, especially towards the end. However, it should be noted that through 34 games, Lowry averaged 18 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game.

So is this season a mirage? One way or the other, I can’t say for sure. The numbers suggest that Lowry has always been capable of his current level of production, but his career averages fall short of his present-day heights. Then again, Lowry has never found himself in such a favorable situation (no coach clash, no injuries, no competition at PG) in the past. So is regression “Waiting for the Rapture“, or will Lowry’s run “Live Forever“? I guess we’ll have to wait and see (which is “The Importance of Being Idle“).

2. What’s in a Name?

Here’s a list of slam dunk champions who have also scored 50 or more points in an NBA game:

  • Michael Jordan
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Dominique Wilkins
  • Vince Carter
  • Cedric Ceballos
  • Terrence Ross

Here are their respective nicknames:

We need to get our stuff together and finalize on a nickname for Terrence Ross (and TRoss doesn’t count, that’s just an initial followed by his last name). My vote goes to “Trey Rosay”. Cast your votes in the comments below.

gravy ball

3. Vasquez’s Uncertain Future

Let’s get a few things straight. Vasquez is a capable NBA point-guard. He has his fair share of shortcomings (quite possibly the slowest PG this side of Derek Fisher’s 38th birthday), but when he’s healthy, Vasquez is a great asset to have off the bench. He becomes an restricted free-agent at the end of this season, so the question is: should Masai resign him, or should he look elsewhere for an upgrade?

I would be in favor of resigning Vasquez to a cheap deal. There simply aren’t that many fantastic back-up point-guards in this league. Reggie Jackson is on pace to be Harden 2.0 (albeit, a lite-version), and Jarrett Jack was a deserving sixth man candidate last season, but what’s left? When Vasquez is healthy and acclimated, he can pick-and-roll the offense to a passable level of efficiency for five-minute stretches. He’s a steady facilitator on a team bereft of handles. An offer of four million over two seasons is fair for both Gravy, and the team.

4. BeerGraphs and I agree: Boneshaker is one of Canada’s Best Beers

I’m not a beer snob. I’ll drink what you pour into my glass. I’m not above dabbing in some James Ready. I’ll drink PBR, and if I’m already liquored up, I’ll gladly polish off a bottle of Olde English (word to the wise: don’t).

But if I’m going to spend a lazy summer afternoon on my deck, you can bet that I’m kicking back with Alan Ashby on the play-by-play, a sudoku puzzle Hemmingway novel in one hand, and a frosty Boneshaker IPA in the other. There’s no better way to bask in the glory of your pretension (and if there is, let me know).

Why Boneshaker IPA? As described by

This naturally carbonated, unfiltered I.P.A is loaded with citrus and pine aromas from a continuous hopping technique that our brewers use to create this one of a kind beer. Amarillo hops and a complex malt bill are used to create a balanced body with a large hop character giving way to a unique taste experience.

‘Nuff said. Pick up a six-pack at your local LCBO. Thank me later.

5. O Demar’s Post-Game, Where Art Thou?

Remember how excited we were in the pre-season about Derozan’s supposed “newfound post-game”? Every time Demar got the ball in the high-post — regardless of who was defending him — he would take a few dribbles, work his way deeper into the post, and either pull out an up-and-under move, or shoot the fadeaway jumper. Here’s an example:

However, any semblance of a post-game disappeared as soon as the regular season started. Demar went back to his perimeter-0riented attacks. He’s back to curling around screens, pulling up, and attacking off the dribble. According to Synergy Sports, only 7.3% of Derozan’s possessions are spent in the post, which is a fairly average number, especially as compared to prominent post-up guards like Dwyane Wade and Harrison Barnes (14%, 18%). In fact, that number is actually down from last season, where 11% of his plays were classified as “post-ups”.

There are contextual factors to consider with these numbers. For example, if he is posting-up, and a double comes, Demar could be passing out of them in an effort to find the open man, which would thereby decrease the number of possessions spent in the post (possession being a field goal attempt, free-throws or turnover).

The more worrisome trend is that Demar is migrating away from the hoop. Last season, 32.5% of his shots came from within 8 feet, which is approximately average amongst guards. However, with Derozan scrapping his post-game, that figure has dipped to 27%, which has correlated with a drop in overall shooting efficiency (52.3 to 51.8 TS% between last season and this season).

6. A Comment Regarding the Comments

Last Tuesday, I elucidated Raptors Republic’s informal commenting policy. Since my call for civility seemed to have gone by-the-wayside, I’ll take this moment to reiterate my point.

The RR staff isn’t interested in policing your comments. We would like to think that you’re all mature adults who are above petty name-calling. We would like to ask you to avoid personal attacks and trolling in the comment sections. Those exist for the purposes of discussion. When you troll, or turn the comments into a giant flame war between you and your fellow keyboard warrior, you are ruining the experience for everyone else.

Thank you.

rasho lolita

7. Remembering Rasho

I’m no Raptors historian. I started watching this team on a consistent basis in 2006-07. I have fond memories of that squad — they were a rag-tag group of decent players led by a All-Star in Chris Bosh, and everyone fell in line. TJ Calderford ran the point and forced defenses into adapting to different looks. Bargnani and Bosh stretched the floor with their outside shooting. Anthony Parker and MoPete splashed three’s from the corners and Juan Dixon chucked ill-advised shots. Everyone had a role, and everyone played within it. Led by head coach Sam Mitchell, the team capitalized on a weakened Atlantic division and snagged the franchises’ only divisional banner, which now hangs by its lonesome in the rafters of the ACC, serving as a bitter reminder of the ineptitude of the franchise.

There were several likeable characters on that roster. Bosh was the team’s best player and his “long neck + longer dreads” combo was likeable in exactly the same way that a passive ostrich would be likeable. MoPete was the fan-favorite and Chuck Swirsky’s “AP FOR THREE” endeared us all to the former Euroleague MVP. Derrick Martin looked like a penguin in a jersey and Juan Dixon had tremendous moxie for his size, but in my mind there was only one — Rasho Nesterovic.

Nes-tero-vic. The tip of the basketball or the flat-footedness of the shot. His demeanor was demure and his motions were meaningful. The Slow Slovenian trudged up and down the court, face unchanged, ready to compete with athletes an infinite times more athletic than himself, more agile than himself, more skilled than himself. Was he the best player? Not once was he the best player, but damned if Rasho didn’t contribute in one way or another. While everyone skirted around in the atmosphere below him, Rasho took to space and played the game at his own pace, and in his own way.

I miss you, Rasho. Come back whenever.

8. Looking Ahead to The Week to Come

The Raptors’ five-game Western Conference road trip will come to a merciful end after Friday’s contest against the Clippers. They will have two days to rest up before playing a pair of home games agains the Hornets on Monday, and the Hawks on Wednesday.

On paper, the Raptors should net themselves two wins before riding into the All-Star break as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. However, as demonstrated by the game against the Kings, this semi-banged up squad is ill-equipped to take opponents lightly. More importantly, the Raptors front-line will have their hands full trying to stop Anthony Davis and Paul Millsap. With Amir hobbled, and Hansbrough working his way back into form, the onus will fall on 2Pat to defend these two highly mobile, highly versatile fours. Both players can shoot from the mid-range, and both players excel in the pick-and-roll. The key to victory will be to limit their damage down low, while controlling the glass and dominating on the perimeter. Here’s hoping to a pair of monster games from All-Star Demar Derozan.

9. Remember when “The Arcade Fire” Wasn’t a Pseudonym for “Pretentious Quebeckers”?

Me neither, but this is indie done right, not indie overdone.

10. Dwane Casey’s Resurgence

I’ve made no secret of my dissatisfaction with Dwane Casey. The defense has been solid all season, wavering somewhere between the 10th and the 5th best defensive squad in the NBA,  but the offense, especially pre-Gay trade, was borderline unwatchable. With the help of my homie Louvens Remy, I wrote up a lengthy post about Casey’s horrible out-of-timeout plays.

Since the trade, much like his team, Casey’s coaching has seemingly improved. The defensive rotations are tighter, timeouts are being put to good use, and the offense now passes the eye test (the eye test being whether your eyes bleed while you watch Gay isolate 2000 times per game). The Raptors’ offensive sets are now much more diverse (albeit plain and predictable in the aggregate) and as a result, the team has seen an uptick in offensive efficiency. What’s changed for Casey?

Tim Chisenholm made a great point in this week’s episode of Raptors Weekly when he suggested that Casey might have finally gotten around to working on offensive sets in practice. Given that this is a relatively young squad, and given Casey’s reputation as a “defense-first” coach, it makes sense that Casey and his staff elected to devote the majority of practice time hammering out defensive schemes. Now that the defense has established itself, he’s taking the time to instill new plays and spice up old sets.

That’s not to overlook the personnel changes. Gay soaked up 30 percent of possessions while he was on the court, and his largess in the offense simply could not be reworked. His replacements in Patterson, Vasquez, Salmons, and even Hayes, can all be considered heady players who generally understand where they should be on the court. Hayes is a heady passer and Vasquez spelled the end of the three-headed nightmare known as “DJ Stone Bikes”. Those changes are undeniable.

But so is Casey’s newfangled coaching acumen. I’m not naive enough to believe in “a new and improved” Casey (I’ve The Wire too many times to believe that things change in a meaningful way), but his team does seem to be responding to his message. Generally speaking, he manages his rotations well and he plays the best match-ups. Turning to small-ball is no longer his only crutch on offense and he’s playing the right players at the end of games (Raptors are on average +11 in fourth quarters this season).

So what does Ujiri do with Casey? The smart money is still on Ujiri bringing in his new man, but much like Kyle Lowry, Casey performing well in a contract year is a plus. If he retains Casey, no one will complain. If he chooses to can him, everyone will understand.

Happy (almost) weekend, everyone!

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