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Raptors reinvention another Dwane Casey accomplishment

If you think Casey can be let go and the team can just find a Steve Kerr, well, I admire your optimism.

Take a step back from the granular Casey decisions that infuriate the fanbase week-to-week and look at the results. Toronto is humming along with another solid start to the season: they’re 3rd in offence and 12th in defence despite playing the 7th toughest schedule, they’ve weathered injuries to the starting small forward and back-up point guard, and the team is still 14-7. This is the same season where Toronto has completely remade their offence too.

The Raptors have been remarkably consistent during Casey’s tenure. But as RR colleague Sahal Abdi’s tweets from last week point out, the fanbase is always ready to fire Casey and find someone else. Those who call for his job have zero understanding of what Casey brings to the table.

Firing a coach to push the team over the top has been a mixed bag historically. If you’re hoping the Raptors find a different coach, you would probably point to Steve Kerr in Golden State as the prime example of what can happen by changing coaches. And you would be right: making a coaching change was the difference. Kerr deserves credit for creating an offence that played to the roster’s strengths and finding the perfect role for Draymond Green.

The flipside is that Mark Jackson was a bad coach. He wanted to play a dated style of basketball and limited Steph Curry’s shooting. By simply not being Mark Jackson, Kerr was going to be an upgrade.

You can’t make this argument for Dwane Casey now. After last season, you could have said the similar things: Casey’s offence was not effective and the game had passed him by. Instead of running things back, Casey adapted. Toronto has ramped up the three-point shooting, shooting 30% more threes per game than last year, and used DeMar DeRozan as more of a creator in the offence.

And he addressed another legitimate complaint: he uses a deeper bench now to trim the minutes he puts on his stars. This has the added bonus of developing young players who can step in when injuries inevitably happen (see: Fred VanVleet) while keeping DeRozan and Kyle Lowry healthy. Casey has acknowledged some of his faults and evolved from them.

The glaring area of weakness is late-game execution. The Raptors rank 24th in clutch offensive rating this season. Toronto does not create good scoring opportunities in clutch minutes, reverting to old habits from the by-gone offence. Their passing falls off a cliff and they rank 30th in assist percentage in those situation.

If we can find those stats, so can the coaching staff. You could read that as a negative because it feels like I’m pointing out an error that has yet to be resolved, but I don’t view it that way. Casey and his coaching staff have shown that they’ll identify problems and adapt to find solutions, and I think we’ll see this begin to get addressed now. This team has finished top ten in clutch offence for three straight seasons, so there’s a reason to believe they turn it around.

And that “reason to believe” is why I don’t understand how people want Casey fired. How many coaches can completely change their philosophy and succeed? Adaptation is not something coaches find easy. They’ve made it to this level because of their conviction and philosophy. To change is to admit they were wrong. It doesn’t happen that often and Casey has shown a willingness to do it.

If you think Casey can be let go and the team can just find a Steve Kerr, well, I admire your optimism. I’ll keep the guy who has delivered back-to-back 50 win seasons and four straight seasons of top-ten offence over the next Terry Porter or Jeff Hornacek.

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