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DeMare Carroll played a game-high 24 minutes, and notched 15 points on 3-6 3FG, but had another turnover-filled game with 5. The second-leading man was DeMar DeRozan who struggled again with his shooting, going 4-11 FG but did show some nice interplay with Jonas Valanciunas by dishing out 4 assists. The latter almost had a double-double in 21 minutes, going for 8 points and 10 rebounds, in minutes played mostly against Andrew Bogut.
The night did belong to Norman Powell, who was 6-11 FG for 13 points and looked fluid as ever, and he’s also a subject of our conversation in the below podcast.
The Raptors started brightly but the Warriors took control in the late second quarter, with the second half being closer to summer league than pre-season. The Raptors, “led” by Norman Powell, Shannon Scott, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, and Andrew Bennett did make a late run, but Mo Speights had key baskets to put the game away, just when the Raptors were within 7.
This game was not televised and was broadcast on the Warriors radio channel. To make up for a proper recap, I’m joined on RW Extra pod by Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA), who was at the Shark Tank in San Jose to witness this one:
There were no real changes in the lineup tonight for Luke Walton, who takes over temporarily while Steve Kerr recovers from back surgery. The lineup was the same as last year: Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Thompson, and Curry. Despite a stagnant starting five though, no one played more than 30 minutes. Walton distributed playing time equally, also subbing in newly acquired Ian Clark. Clark is the first new free agent signing to see time. The Warriors limited the Raptors to 37.6% field goal shooting while forcing 17 turnovers. Granted, Toronto was without sharp shooter Kyle Lowry and is still looking for ways to incorporate Demarre Carroll and Corey Joseph into an offense with three new assistant coaches, but Golden State does not look like a team that took a break this summer.
As expected, they were sluggish early but in the end put on a good show for the San Jose crowd. The Warriors missed three of their first 10 shots, but Stephen Curry woke everybody up with back-to-back threes. It was a short night for Curry, however, who fouled out midway through the third quarter. Whether they were all warranted fouls is up for debate — this was a radio-only game — but being the first preseason game in front of a crowd that may not regularly get to watch the Warriors, the referees could have cut the MVP a little slack.
Then Steph fouled DeRozan on a half-court prayer with 0.1 seconds left in the half. “Ref-You-Suck” chants rained down in a pre-season game. DeRozan cut the lead to seven heading into the tunnel, 53-46. The Warriors held the Raptors to 42% shooting in the half, while shooting 50% themselves despite a lethargic start to the game (wow, flashbacks).
Barbosa. The Brazilian Blur scored nine points (4-of-5 shooting) in seven minutes in the first half, with six more (3-of-4 shooting) after intermission. It was a sharp performance by the last man to report to training camp. McAdoo also came off the bench to offer solid production in addition to his usual energy. He and Barbosa led the team in Plus-Minus, each finishing at +12.
Norman Powell scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter. … DeMar DeRozan scored 12 points. … Jonas Valanciunas had 10 rebounds. … All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was given the night off to rest a sore right groin after Sunday’s 26-point effort
How many players in NCAA history have posted 16 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block and 60 TS% as a freshman*? Exactly four — Kevin Love (superstar), Jahlil Okafor (highly-rated prospect), Michael Beasley (incredibly talented offensive player that dealt with substance issues) and, yes, Anthony Bennett. *Sports-reference allows four categories to sort through individual seasons and does not allow for per-minute comparisons, just per-game, so this isn’t a perfect example, but it adequately communicates my point Obviously comparing college and professional stats isn’t straightforward and these numbers lack context, but it gives a snapshot as far as how precipitous the drop has been for Bennett. What’s even more troubling is how inexplicable it is. Why was Bennett such a huge bust? I’ve mentioned the turmoil surrounding the teams he’s played for, his poor conditioning, and he’s also dealt with various injuries going all the way back to high school. He made slight improvements in his second season, but that should be expected, and hey, it’s not like he could’ve possibly done worse anyways.
There is a confidence and a comfort about Ross already this year that wasn’t there a year ago. And it was apparent even in training camp as he took his turn addressing the media, something we are pretty sure he would pay money to avoid if that were an option. Ross, though, surprised those with his candour and the way he engaged in that setting. Again, it may be the least favourite part of his work duties. But he was good. He was different than in the past. He was asked about these subtle changes after Sunday’ game. Part of it is health, he explained. Ross is no longer limited by bone spurs in his ankle, which keep him from doing the things he wanted to do a year ago. But part of it too, and not even Ross is sure which part is bigger, is his role is clearly defined this year and he’s happy in it.
A former seventh-overall draft pick, the 23-year-old Biyombo is looking for a fresh start following four underwhelming seasons in Charlotte. “I’m excited,” said Biyombo, who found himself on the open market this summer after the Hornets declined to extend him a qualifying offer. He had three coaches in four years, bouncing between the starting lineup and the second unit before ultimately falling out of favour with the organization. “I can’t sit here and tell you a lot of things about it but, more than anything, I’m excited to play the game. I still have a lot of work to do, so I look forward to that. I know a lot of people will be watching… I’ll let my game speak for itself.” Biyombo has never been much of an offensive player. Many would argue that his limited range makes him a liability in today’s NBA, but the Raptors couldn’t care less. Coming off an abysmal defensive season, one that saw them fall from a top-10 ranking to 25th, Dwane Casey’s club was anxious to add a player of Biyombo’s unique skill set. They know exactly what they signed up for.
This is probably selling Casey short. He’s brought his team to the playoffs the past two years, they have a better defensive squad this year, and he’s said he plans to play Jonas Valanciunas more in the fourth. It’s just hard to see what Casey could do to win the award. Finish top-two and you’re still behind Cleveland and within an expected range. The Raptors would have to finish No. 1 in the East by a healthy margin and look like real super-contenders to make this happen. Unlike Wittman, there doesn’t seem to be much room for real improvement.
“I don’t honestly,” Wright told Pro Bball Report. “I am just trying to learn as much as possible. I don’t know what I am getting into, but I know it’s a good thing.” Both of these players have shown the right kind of attitude and effort that confirms the Raptors drafted well. However, even with the advantage of having a brother (Dorell Wright) in the NBA and playing four years in college, there’s a huge difference between being told about the league, playing with pros in the summer and actually being on the big stage yourself. Things happen fast now. This isn’t like college and Wright knows it.
“When the injuries came, I started reading Scripture. I had the odd, unsettling thought, ‘I don’t think I’m really saved.’ My casual Christianity needed to be told, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!’ (James 2:19),” he wrote. “God dims the light of our life with suffering, so that our hearts embrace a grace that really sustains. Suffering is a time to mourn the loss of that which could never save.” After being injured for over three years, Fields admitted that basketball had become his gospel and finally began to see why he had been allowed to suffer through a painful ordeal. The reason was to find hope in God alone. “The only thing that lasts in this life is Christ. I started putting all my joy, hope, and life in God’s hands,” he wrote. “I call my first season of injuries, ‘The Wilderness.'”
From the official source:
Out for tonight's game at GS: Lowry (groin), Johnson (Achilles), Toupane (ankle) and Nogueira (hamstring). Joseph starts at point. #rtz
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) October 6, 2015
Terrence Ross had a strong game against the Clippers, including four steals. Check them out here.
A new feature we’ll do this season is 30-second highlights. Here’s the first installment featuring Kyle Lowry vs Clippers.
It may just be preseason, but it’s more than enough to get Will and Zarar excited as they scrutinize the Raptors win against the Clippers in Vancouver. There’s individual performance analysis followed by team-level analysis. We also cover Dwane Casey’s comments regarding Jonas Valanciunas playing in the fourth, and the starting PF spot being undecided. That, and a ton more in a Rapcast which is actually talking Raptors basketball.
While there is no way to know whether the Raptors’ off-season moves — essentially swapping out offence for defence around the core of the team — will pay off, a dominant Lowry would certainly make the Raptors relevant. He was excellent in the preseason debut, scoring 26 points in 22-minutes in the Raptors’ 93-73 win. “He’s been playing like that all camp,” Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll said. “Kyle, he’s an aggressive guard. He’s been … shooting the ball (well) all camp. You can just tell he has a confidence level about himself. That’s good. He’s our point guard. He’s the head of the snake. We need him to have that type of comfort.”
“It definitely doesn’t happen in one game,” DeMar DeRozan said of relocating that defensive culture. “But I think we did pretty good putting in a new defence that all of us weren’t accustomed to running the past couple of years,” he added. “We put it in and we went up against one of the best pick-and-roll teams in the league. I think we did pretty OK, honestly. That we could physically look at something and see what we could get better at. We got seven more games and a lot more practices where we can still get better at it.” Casey wasn’t exaggerating when he talked about the lack of attention the offence has received through training camp. All you had to do was watch the first quarter of last night’s game when the starters were in for the bulk of the time to see the uncertainty there as the team introduces both a new starting small forward and power forward to the mix.
“I love JV a ton but when you have five turnovers as a centre that’s way too many,” Casey said. “We’ve got to make sure we get those cut down and that’s on me because we haven’t worked on a lot of offence . . . but we have to take care of the basketball.” As is often the case, the Raptors played what could turn out to be a regular rotation for most of the night before going to the deep-bench players in the late stages. They were without Anthony Bennett, however, as he sat out with a shoulder injury picked up during training camp. There is no timetable for the Canadian former first-overall draft pick to play in a game. James Johnson (Achilles), Lucas Nogueira (hamstring) and Axel Toupane (ankle) also sat out.
Underrated Raptors Player Of The Game Terrence Ross showed off his skills on the defensive end of the floor, playing active defence and getting into the passing lanes for four steals to go along with a block, two assists, a rebound and six points. It was a big return for Ross who underwent ankle surgery over the offseason and spent the end of summer rehabbing.
KYLE LOWRY: He was the best player on the floor tonight between the two teams. Outstanding. Ran the club beautifully, set up the offence and teammates well and was stellar attacking the basket and drawing fouls. The Raptors need him to play at high level each game and when he does – they can play with really good teams. He plays the way he did tonight and he’ll be playing in Toronto in February in the All Star game.
KEY PLAY: Backup centre Bismack Biyombo is known for his defence and didn’t wait long to show off his rim protecting skills, dramatically swatting a Josh Smith shot into the first row late in the first quarter.
Lowry led all scorers with 26 points in 22 minutes, finishing 7-for-10 from the field and getting to the line 12 times (making 11 of those attempts). DeRozan, Valanciunas and Luis Scola also hit double digits in scoring. Since the offseason, we’ve been talking about Lowry’s weight loss and now everyone’s had a chance to see the new Lowry, the rest of the basketball world is buzzing about it too.
“Part of me (feels it’s my job to lose) just because Amir was the starter and I was the backup four. Without Amir here I feel like I should go into that role, but everything is earned, nothing is given. Just going out and proving myself and in my mindset I feel like I am going to prove and hopefully earn (it).”
“He got a lot of criticism, first draft pick. . . Shouldn’t worry about it, it’s not his fault that he was drafted where he was drafted,” River said. “And the draft is for one day, whether you’re high or low, I always tell my players that really it’s a number someone gave you that day, where would you be tomorrow if they drafted again, and then again the next day if they drafted again.” Criticism is tough for young players who are accustomed to starring for university teams. “Some handle it well, some don’t. I think he’ll find his way. He’s home, he’s probably in a more comfortable surrounding,” Rivers said. “Some guys read (what’s written about them). I did as a player, I wish I hadn’t honestly. I think even the positive stuff is not good to read honestly. “The team can help him. . . the best way they can help him is by playing well, and they’re in no rush for him to be great yet.”
“He’s a talented young man, he’s doing some things that surprised all of us offensively and defensively, but most of all . . . enjoy the game, get the stigma of being the No. 1 pick off his shoulders, and just enjoy the game,” Casey said. “That’s the most important thing. No expectations right now, just get better, work hard, work his butt every day in practice, and get better and enjoy basketball, enjoy coming to the gym every day.” The Raptors signed the six-foot-eight 245-pounder a week before camp opened. Bennett was coming off a solid summer spent with Canada’s national team, playing first at home for the Pan American Games and then in Mexico City at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.
While Stackhouse freely admits he’d never imagined himself moving to Canada for his first NBA coaching job, so far Toronto is looking like a good fit. “I think the stars just lined up,” he says. As a two-time all-star with experience spanning eight different teams over 18 seasons in the NBA—he was drafted third overall by the 76ers in 1995—Stackhouse brings a unique perspective to the team’s coaching staff, a combination of smarts and instincts and, especially, toughness. “I’ve been out there,” he says, noting that Ujiri was looking to add a former player to the coaching staff. “We can come up with an idea that sounds great on paper, but I know what I feel and what I see when I’m out there on the court.” Stackhouse is quick to point out that each of the team’s assistant coaches has his own unique offerings, and he’s learning from all of them. That humility seems to be a component of his notion that “you’ve gotta treat people right,” which is how he describes the source of his respect for head coach Dwane Casey. Back when Stackhouse was with the Mavericks, Casey was an assistant coach in Dallas, and he made an extra effort with the longtime shooting guard. “I was hurt, and he would get in the gym with me and shoot around,” says Stackhouse. “We just kind of built a relationship there.”
Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
Did I miss something? Probably…still, let me know and send me all your links. ALL OF THEM: [email protected]
Jotted down some thoughts form the pre-season game. I totally may have forgotten a player entirely because I’m still on a drunken high from this morning’s demolition.
The Raptors blew out the Clippers (box) in Vancouver with Mike Bibby on hand. Thought that deserved a bit of a mention. Kyle Lowry had an easy 26 points and was easily the best player on either side, and though I don’t judge offense much in pre-season, other than DeMar DeRozan, things looked fluid and more teamworky than last year. Defensively, the Raptors were the more active team 1 through 5, and though there were some WTF moments, overall, you had to have been pleased that was a recognition that defense is not an optional part of the game.
Here are some player thoughts while we get the Quick Reaction machine back up and running (hey, it’s our preseason too).
Good news if you were totally down on Terrence Ross, because he resembled a basketball player for the first time in almost a calendar year. He no longer seemed to be suffering from Paul Pierce-inflicted PTSD and was active on defense without being irresponsible, hit some pull-up jumpers, and even got a block on Jamal Crawford.
DeMar DeRozan looked like he’d been playing against Drew League opposition all summer. Nothing he tried really came of and it’s best to pretend this game never happened, because if any judgements were to be made from this outing (which we obviously shouldn’t make), it would be firmly in the category of ‘more of the same’.
Luis Scola brought the old-man and averaged 48 fakes and hesitations per move, and it was fun to watch. We also saw him hedge out on the perimeter against guards after which he tried to make his way back to the paint like an injured dairy cow. My favorite part of Scola’s game had to be the move he pulled off on Josh Smith. Because Josh Smith sucks.
Bismack Biyombo had a pretty nice help defense block, and followed it up by shocking the world with a baseline turnaround which met nothing but net. This caused the game to stop, the children were sent home, and the Pope was summoned to deliver a feverish sermon about Nazareth or something. I like Biyombo in the same way I liked Primoz Brezec.
Kyle Lowry looked slim. He’s an afro short of looking like Jazzy Jeff and tonight he spent four quarters growing it. The quickness he’s gained was evident, he seemed nimbler, and this isn’t the weight loss crowding my judgement. That extra quarter step that he’ll gain this year will do a lot for him on his drives and defense, both of which looked good.
Cory Joseph loves to dribble, he likes to dribble, dribble, and dribble some more. The good news is that there’s usually some product at the end of all that and he’s not just TJ Fording. The guy loves to use the same screen two or even three times on the same possession, almost playing a game of hide-and-seek with his defender. Him and Scola/Biyombo seemed to know what they were trying to go about.
DeMarre Carroll is certainly more than just a three-point shooter on offense. He had a couple very nice drives after Lowry hit him with passes on the move, and his defense was his defense, no complaints there. Didn’t play too much but in what he did show, you got the feeling he’ll fit right in because as a coach, you don’t have to do much for a guy like him to fit right in.
Jonas Valanciunas held his own against DeAndre Jordan on the glass, and finished a couple pick ‘n rolls after catching passes that weren’t exactly easy. His shots still look UAF but they keep going in. His offensive game is far less awkward than what it appears as, so when his shots go in, instead of the reaction being one of relief and thankfulness to the rim, it should really be, ‘never a doubt’.
Patrick Patterson did OK. Hit a jumper, was active on the glass even against Griffin/Jordan, and played closer to the rim than what he did last season.
Bruno Caboclo looked pretty shocked that he was getting some run, and ran around like a oversized deer, even getting a block on some shitty Clipper bench player named Lance Stephenson. He had him in his pocket all evening by just giving him space and keeping a hand up. Overall, it was fun watching Bruno and if you ever feel bad that he might not make it in this league, rest assured that he’s got a job waiting as the Raptors next mascot. And what a mascot he would be.
Norman Powell played a bit, hit a jumper, and Ronald Roberts had a spin move which he got fouled on.
You’ll probably see a lot more of Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and Roberts tomorrow in San Jose against.Golden State. Oh wait, that game isn’t even broadcast.
So we’ve previewed the roster top to bottom, and we have a basic idea of what the starting 5 is going to look like. Ahead of tonight’s first tilt, a lingering question in many of our minds remains though – how does Dwane Casey plan to use his bench pieces to supplement the starters? With only a few media interviews and 11 new faces in training camp, predicting the core bench rotation seems a bit murky at this stage– but we’ll try our best.
With a pledge to give Jonas more touches in the fourth quarter for his improved free throw shooting apparently, the starting 5 could likely be the finishing 5 on many nights. I’ll pencil in Patterson, given his recent open statement of wanting to start; something we’d only expect him to say if he knew he had it in the bag.
PG – Kyle Lowry – Pilates god
SG – DeMar DeRozan – Contract king
SF – DeMarre Carroll – JYD shooting 3s
PF – Patrick Patterson – 3s, 3s, and possibly only 3s
C – Jonas Valanciunas – Fourth quarter beware
ICYMI: Patrick Patterson’s Media Day interview
Starting to hear DeMar and DeMarre’s names often and together every game this season might be a little much, but hopefully their impact on the court together will make up. DeMar finally gets to play alongside a solid rebounding defender at the wing, to compensate for some of his shortcomings in those areas. Terrence Ross was an occasionally versatile defender, but a clear regression in his third year exposed the fact that playing out of his natural position at the 3, and against opposing starters, was simply too overwhelming.
That leaves the following group as the likely rotation bench squad for the Raptors, in order of predicted usage, subject to matchup/foul-trouble/injury considerations. Mind you, this is very difficult to predict this early, but it’s probably our best guess given the history and style of these players.
– Cory Joseph – PG
– Terrence Ross – SG/SF
– James Johnson – SF
– Luis Scola – PF
– Bismack Biyombo – PF/C
– Delon Wright – PG
– Norman Powell – SG
– Anthony Bennett – PF
– Bruno Caboclo – SF
– Lucas Nogeuira – PF
Exactly what we’ll be getting out of this bench is completely unknown and quite possibly the biggest reason why predicting the Raptors chances in the east is so difficult. The starting lineup will likely have a similar or slightly higher net efficiency as last year, given a slight potential downgrade at the PF position (losing Amir), offset by an upgrade at the SF position (getting DeMarre). But Dwane Casey can only be an educated (let’s hope) guessing man in the science behind figuring out the dynamics of the bench rotation.
The Bench Last Year
Behind a shaky defense, the second unit for the Raps was heavily reliant on a steady diet of Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson 3-pointers in 2014/15. While James Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough provided added toughness and energy off of the bench, the skill level was simply not enough to keep up with opposing second units on most nights, and especially in the playoffs.
Here’s a breakdown of Dwane Casey’s bench last year:
|Raptors Bench Player Breakdown – 2014/15|
Contrary to common belief, it was actually Patrick Patterson that led the bench in minutes, and in some ways, Patman was another sixth man candidate for this team. Shooting over 37% from 3 and about 45% from the field, Patterson, while offensively more limited, was a more efficient and versatile option than Williams. He also proved himself to be a stronger on-the-ball and help defender. He was often part of the finishing lineup for Casey that featured Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan alongside.
The reality was that when Lou Williams was good, he was really good. Especially early in the season.
There was a period in November and early December where Lou could do no wrong. Dwane Casey’s heavy usage of Lou Williams both early in games, and late in the fourth quarter was a confident statement that most teams overlooked, and one that paid off early in the season. However, it was this early season success that seemingly made him lazy as an offensive coach, especially at end-of-quarter or end-of-game moments.
No worries – we the fourth right? Not really.
|Raptors 4th quarter Bench Players Ratings and Usage (min 20 games)|
Casey used Lou Williams for the majority of fourth quarters (9 minutes/game), and Williams took over 26% of the shots available to the team during that frame. For a bench player, that’s a lot. Moreover, when he played that much and shot that much (primarily in isolation), teams started to easily pick it up and prepare defensive schemes accordingly. If bench reliance in the fourth quarter may not be as big of a factor this year (at least with Jonas’ sub it might not), it forces Casey’s hand in having to play his bench players efficiently from quarters 1-3. More importantly, it means that he will have to actively seek out bench players that are fit to play in the fourth quarter on that night, as opposed to defaulting to Lou or Patterson. In other words, he’ll be forced to think more long and hard about his bench rotations on a nightly basis. And with a team option on Casey’s contract looming, the interesting nature of our roster, is that it gives Masai Ujiri a great opportunity to see what Casey’s made of; and this time, with an assortment of defensive talent for him to work with.
The Bench This Year
It’s hard to predict where Coach Casey will go, but the first logical conclusion is to decrease Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes, coming off of a season where both played heavy minutes and suffered injuries majorly impacting the team. This means Joseph and Ross are the likely candidates to play heavy bench minutes, with Luis Scola or James Johnson to be the second or first off of the bench in the case that Jonas (more probable) or DeMarre get in foul trouble early. Norman Powell is unlikely to see regular time, unless Terrence Ross isn’t able to fill his bench role of scoring 8-15 efficient points a night, with solid defensive performances (something more likely than last year, given he’ll be playing his natural position more and facing second units as opposed to starting lineups). The same goes for Delon Wright – if Cory Joseph plays his role, hard to see the rook getting a solid rotation spot.
If defense at the 4/5 spots struggles (probably the only spots where we have a glaring deficiency with Amir gone and Jonas still unproven as a low-post defender and rim-protector), the likely candidates to see time are Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo. With Bismack’s scoring and playmaking weaknesses, the more likely go-to for Casey will be Luis Scola on most nights.
Toronto Raptors – 2015/16 Projected Depth Chart and Rotation
Another interesting decision on Casey’s radar will be his usage of Anthony Bennett, Lucas Nogeuira and Bruno Caboclo, the fringe bench players each of whom could either be a reasonable rotation player in the regular season, or a D-League regular. One would imagine that with each having at least 2 years of experience at this stage, they are past the development phase, and into the experimental phase. Is it time to throw them in the fire? Yet another slate for Dwane Casey to leave his mark on.
The Raptors were good 2 years ago for their defense, and last year, with virtually the same roster plus Lou Williams, for their offense. This year, with defensive-minded bench players such as Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, and Luis Scola, the decisions for Dwane Casey to make will be plenty. Plenty to talk about for the fans – let the games begin.
I’ve had many arguments on Twitter about Bismack Biyombo’s actual value in relation to his perceived value that have resulted in me being unfollowed and, on a couple of occasions, even blocked. There’s no way around it: I am a Biyombo stan.
And for good reason.
The main knock on Biyombo is that he’s offensively inept, or that he doesn’t understand the very basics of basketball. While there’s certainly some truth to these notions — they have to be rooted in something, after all — they’re grossly exaggerated.
Biyombo turned the ball over on 16.5 percent of his touches last season, which seems good for a player lauded for being turnover prone. The more telling statistic, however, is that Biyombo touched the ball just 16.5 times per game despite playing 19.4 minutes per game. The Charlotte Hornets would, by choice, often freeze Biyombo out of the offense, and for the most part he accepted that. In fact, only 11.1 percent of Biyombo’s touches came from Kemba Walker, the team’s point guard, even though Walker made the fifth most passes per game in the entire league last season. So to some extent, Walker tried to mitigate Biyombo’s limitations by simply not giving him the ball.
There’s a reason for that. What you’ve heard is true: Biyombo’s hands are, shall we say, not great. He’ll fumble seemingly simple passes, especially on the move. He’s also more about force than finesse. You’ll see him throw up an air ball on what should be a rudimentary hook shot. He’s improved a lot in these areas since his rookie year, but he still has a long way to go.
But to suggest Biyombo offers nothing on the offensive end would be foolish. Much like Amir Johnson last season and to a lesser extent James Johnson, the majority of Biyombo’s contributions don’t show up in the box score. He’s perhaps one of the best screen setters in the league, for example. Because Biyombo spends a great deal of his time in the gym, he’s exceptionally strong as a result. He plants his feet with purpose, sees angles well, and has improved the timing of his screens considerably over the last few seasons.
Interestingly, because of his tremendous length and athleticism, teams respect him in the pick and roll despite his offensive ineptitude. He can get from the 3-point line to the basket in under three steps, and his long arms allow him to release the ball close to the rim even if he’s a few feet away from it. The defense subsequently tends to get sucked closer to the basket when Biyombo is involved in a pick and roll.
Actually finishing can be a legitimate challenge for Biyombo, but the fact that teams respect his ability to roll to the rim speaks to just how good he can be if he puts it all together.
Statistically, there is some evidence of Biyombo’s prowess in the pick and roll, too. The Hornets attempted 20.3 shots from behind the arc per 48 minutes with Biyombo on the floor — two more than their 18.3 attempts when he’s off — and made 4.3 percentage points more of them (34.7 percent on the floor versus 30.4 percent off). Should this trend continue with the Raptors, Biyombo will be a valuable piece when the team wants to spread the floor. Yes, you read that correctly: Biyombo does help spread the floor, albeit in a way seen less often than a few years ago.
Overall, Biyombo’s offensive impact was negligible. He posted an offensive rating of 97.5 last season, slightly below the Hornets overall at 97.7. The Hornets have never been a good offensive team since Biyombo was drafted, so this upcoming season with the Raptors will present new challenges and new opportunities for him. The Raptors are full of gunners — they finished last season fourth in points per game but 22nd in assists per game — which should allow Biyombo to exploit one of his other strengths: offensive rebounding.
Biyombo finished fifth in offensive rebounds per 36 minutes among players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season and flaunted an excellent offensive rebounding percentage of 13.4. Of his 101 made field goals last season, 14 were put backs off of offensive rebounds. He shot 82.4 percent on put backs overall, and again, with the Raptors firing up shots early and often, Biyombo will have plenty of opportunities to snag boards and hammer them home.
Don’t be misled: Biyombo is not and will likely never be a player you can rely on for 10 points per game. However, if you’re a bit more new school about how you approach offensive contributions, Biyombo will not disappoint. His defensive dominance is well documented, but his offensive impact is probably under-appreciated. To most fans and analysts, being a good offensive player means scoring points and assisting teammates. However, there’s so much more to offense than just those two things. You hear coaches, including Dwane Casey, talk about players doing things that don’t show up in the box score, or aren’t properly represented in the advanced metrics we have today. Biyombo is one of those players.
He’s not going to blow you away with sweet shimmies in the post or smooth jumpers from the elbow. That’s not his game. But what he will do is set monstrous screens, snag countless offensive rebounds, and infect his teammates with his relentless hustle.
And really, that’s exactly what the Raptors need.
Six of the seven games will be televised and four will air on radio. There’s also an Andrew Wiggins appearance at the ACC.
Here’s the full schedule:
|Oct 4, 2015, 7:00 PM ET||v.L.A. Clippers||Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia||TSN2||TSN 1050|
|Oct 5, 2015, 10:30 PM ET||@Golden State||SAP Center at San Jose||–||–|
|Oct 8, 2015, 10:00 PM ET||@L.A. Lakers||Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, California||NBA TV Canada||N/A|
|Oct 12, 2015, 7:30 PM ET||v.Minnesota||Air Canada Centre||NBA TV Canada||TSN 1050|
|Oct 14, 2015, 7:00 PM ET||@Minnesota||Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Ontario||TSN2||–|
|Oct 18, 2015, 6:00 PM ET||v.Cleveland||Air Canada Centre||NBA TV Canada||TSN 1050|
|Oct 23, 2015, 7:30 PM ET||v.Washington||Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec||TSN2||TSN 1050|
Stackhouse empathizes. Like DeRozan, he was a shooting guard who thrived on getting to the free-throw line and did not focus on three-pointers, shooting only 31 per cent from beyond the arc for his career. Stackhouse knows there is more pressure on DeRozan to develop that shot than there ever was on him. “The game has changed a little bit with the (perimeter-oriented power forward),” Stackhouse said. “You pretty much play four (shooters) around one (big man), so you want everybody around the perimeter to be a threat.” “I know I can shoot it. It’s just me doing it every night,” DeRozan added. “If I go 0 for 5 one night, that don’t mean nothing. The next night I could go 3 for 5. I’m willing to shoot them. I was always so comfortable feeling like I can go to the basket, get fouled or create for everyone else. I need to make it easier on my teammates now, being able to catch and shoot.”
The 35-year-old native of Argentina understands the allure of a guy who knows the game inside and out and can be a positive influence on younger teammates for what is, by NBA standards, a pretty young team, but there’s the matter of what Scola is still able to bring on the court. And anyone who watched any of Argentina’s games at the recent FIBA Championships in Mexico knows Scola has plenty left to offer. He has an MVP award from that tournament to show you in case you have any reservations. “I am sure my experience can help but I also believe I can help on the court as well,” he says pausing to make sure his questioner understands he has inadvertently insulted the player he is interviewing. “To me if I am helping I am happy in whatever aspect of the game. If it’s in the court, outside the court, or both or in the locker room, all those things would be welcome to me.” Scola, though, has come here because he likes the situation both from a team aspect and what it can mean for him personally.
That follow through tho #WeTheNorth #TrainingCamp A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on
Not often does an NBA team enter training camp with most of their big men in mid-season shape. This is the scenario that the Raptors find themselves in with Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola playing for their countries this summer and Bismack Biyombo with the NBA Africa initiative. Valanciunas in particular believes this summer has set him up for a strong start, “My expectations for this season are high, I’m ready to play and I think we have a great team. I was working out with Jack Sikma a lot, we had a good offseason.”
“From my summer league performance, I feel like I’m that player, I just wanted to go out there and prove to everybody that I can be that . . . just to prove everybody wrong,” he said. “I had to come here, maintain the same confidence and be the player who I am and just fit the roles that the coaches want me to do and don’t put any extra pressure on myself. “I know what I can do, I know what my weaknesses are that I have to improve on, I have to just perform the way I need to perform.” Powell is still a long shot to make the Raptors out of training camp and the pre-season — his non-guaranteed contract isn’t helping him any and he’s likely destined to start the season in the D-League — but he’s not going down without giving it his best shot. “Norm is not your typical rookie mentally because he is a tough kid, mentally tough,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s not awed by the bright lights or who he is guarding.”
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Patrick Patterson was asked about improvement’s his teammates have made over the summer, and singled out DeMar DeRozan as taking a big step forward:
DeMar’s been more of a vocal leader, taking the reins on this team. Not solely dependent on his isolation game, but also working on driving, knocking down threes on a regular basis. JV’s just improved overall, his defense and offense, his ability to score in the post, and also be more comfortable on the perimeter knocking down shots.
On the court, DeMar’s definitely one of the ring leaders, as far as being the most vocal out there on the court. Whether it’s talking to teammates, or whether it’s talking to guys on the sideline, making sure guys are paying attention and in-tune to what the coaching staff is preaching to us. He’s always encouraging everybody. From the jump, DeMar’s trying to take the reins of this squad.
This brings us to a brand new segment on the site called “DeMar DeRozan – on the road to $27.5M/yr”, let’s see how he’s doing:
“Knocking down threes”
“Not solely dependent on isolation game”
“Working on driving”
There you have it, guys. Get your body ready for a $27.5/M contract for DeMar DeRozan to be signed at 12:01 AM on July 1st.
For more on DeMar DeRozan, check out Shyam Baskaran’s piece from this morning which talks about his upcoming season, and how it’s intertwined with the contract situation.
I think you’re well aware of my infatuation with theplayerstribune.com, which has drummed out another excellent article. This time it’s Delon Wright giving some advice to younger brother Dorell, and making parallels with his own early career.
First, he believes that, unlike himself in Miami, Delon Wright will get his playing time in Toronto:
The guys ahead of me were better, and a month after I was drafted in Miami, we traded for Shaq, so now we were championship contenders. I went from coming into a young team where I thought I’d play 20-30 minutes a game to playing 159 total minutes over my first two seasons. I had to wait my turn.
You’re in position to play right away as a rookie on a team with serious postseason aspirations. That’s a lot of responsibility, and there will be ups and downs. At times you’ll play well, at others you won’t. You might catch a few DNP-CDs for whatever reason. No matter what, just continue believing and keeping your head, because it can always come back around.
Looking at the Raptors PG spot, you have Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph who will take up a big chunk of the minutes at PG, but given Wright being a Casey-type player on defense, the coach will find him time for him. It might mean backing up DeRozan at the two, which is entirely possible if Ross struggles (a very distinct possibility).
He also mentioned how Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan reached out to the older Wright after Delon was drafted:
You’ll also be taken care of in Toronto. I’m close with Kyle Lowry, going back to those four-star camps, ABCD and AAU. DeMar DeRozan is somebody who looked up to me in high school, and he played on my team at the Drew League when he was still in eighth and ninth grade. Those are two great dudes, and I know they’re going to look out for you. I didn’t even have to ask. They reached out to me and let me know you’re in great hands.
So, how many minutes do you think Wright will be getting this year:
Nice piece written by Josh Lewenberg over at TSN. Just reaffirms how predictable of a team were really were last year but mostly on offense side.
4.3 seconds left. Tied at 95. The play, as it’s drawn up, is for DeMar to flash up and off of an elbow-screen and iso on the left logo to get his shot off. In a not-so-pivotal clash with the Orlando Magic that January night in 2013, with a 15-27 record under their belt, the Toronto Raptors had little to no hope of salvaging their season. With a starting lineup on that night featuring Ed Davis (remember him?), no clutch performers, and a disgruntled Lowry coming off the bench for Jose Calderon (seriously, how long ago does this feel already), the team’s highs were few and far between. One consistent glimmer of hope though, was the one offered by DeMar DeRozan, who that night, hit a game winner.
Fading away with almost no hope of a basket, DeRozan lifted off in that corner, draped amongst two defenders, and drained what appeared to be (and probably might have been) the biggest fluke of his career. And as fans, let’s be honest – we took it. We took that moment of instant gratification like it was nobody’s business.
What seemed like the world-record for most 1-3 point losses was actually the 2012-2013 campaign for the Raps, a team that started slow, lost closely, lost often, and never really caught steam. That team however, featured should-have-been Slam Dunk Contest champ and freshly signed DeMar DeRozan, playing in the first year of a 4 year, $38 million contract. Going in, the contract seemed expensive, risky and yet another one of Colangelo’s draft-choice-justification moves. But 3 years later in retrospect, I think Raptor fans can all agree that Colangelo’s signing of DeMar in 2012 and Amir Johnson in 2010 were 2 of the shrewdest moves made by the 2005 and 2007 Executive of the Year.
The reality of that situation was that the Raptors franchise (one that has featured the likes of Carter and McGrady in times of hope in the past) had a fan base that was absolutely starved. Starved for a real franchise player; preferably a wing, that could take a game over, shut down opposing wings, score 35+ on occasion, make clutch shots, and take this team to the promised land, or at least to the team’s second franchise playoff series victory. Enter DeMar. Selected as the 9th overall draft pick in 2009, the USC product was young, athletic (to the say the goddamn least), coachable and ideal franchise player material – right? And whether it was fair or not, we built expectations. But clearly, the Raptors team as it was structured around DeRozan, was headed nowhere.
Certainly the 13/14 and 14/15 seasons proved to be a completely different story for the team under the Ujiri era, but the question to ask was – why? We as fans, once again needed to point the finger to a franchise player – and we did. His name was Kyle Lowry. Snubs aside, DeMar was an all-star in 2014, the team’s leading scorer, a counted-upon free throw shooter in clutch moments, and still viewed as the 1A “franchise player”. With an injury costing him the majority of the 14/15 season, and Lowry making the all-star game, the question, however, continued to arise – did this team need DeMar DeRozan as bad as they thought? Was he the franchise player? Could he be that wing we were starved for? With a slow start, injury, rust, and a great end to the regular season, the question remained unanswered last season. And with the stakes the way they are coming into this season, the imaginary magnifying glass on DeRozan will be bigger than ever.
Masai Ujiri has proven two things in his tenure so far in Toronto – he’s not afraid to make a move, and when he does, he’s not going to settle for anything less than his asset’s complete worth. And in the case of the Bargnani deal, nothing less than five times his worth.
With a stellar track record of decisions, Ujiri’s recent signings of JV and DeMarre Carroll, both at annual levels well above DeMar’s annual damage of around $9.5 million, have basically given us as fans a blank slate for expectations. We have no idea if these signings will blow up in Ujiri’s face, or in 3 years, look just as good as the DeMar and Amir signings of the Colangelo era. Having inherited a starting lineup that took this team to the playoffs and division titles in consecutive years, in many ways, this will be the first season that Masai will truly be judged – on a team that he actually has a footprint on. And yet, likely the most intriguing and important decision in Ujiri’s Raptors tenure is yet to come.
One thing, however, is for sure. It’s clear that the NBA’s version of inflation has settled in this past summer heading into the gargantuan spike in salary caps slated to begin in 2016. With the likes of Enes Kanter scheduled to make in excess of $16M this year (sorry Enes, yes, again), it’s clear that we don’t live in 2010 free-agent land anymore. The new way is money – and lots of it.
If it seemed like there was an elephant in the room on Media Day this past Monday, it was certainly DeRozan’s contract situation heading into 2016. Expected to decline his player option, DeMar will almost certainly be seeking a max-level deal, in the ballpark of around $25M next summer. To put things in perspective, that would be about $10.5M more than LeBron claimed in Miami after “The Decision”. Granted that was 5 years ago and a clear sacrifice to win a ring, but to the earlier point, it’s clear that times have changed.
The way that Masai, this past week, shrugged off questions with an outright statement that DeMar’s contract will not be discussed during the year, really makes you think. The old Masai, or even a younger GM, may have remained ultra-politically correct with a statement that would buy more time rather than nipping the questions at the bud. Outright denying the possibility of it seemed like a preemptive avoidance of the issue altogether. A good sign if you want DeMar gone? Probably.
What it boils Down to:
So what’s going to decide what DeMar gets next summer? And for how long? No way to know everything that’s going to be going through Masai’s head, but here are some starting points:
Probably a no-brainer, but after a 49-win season, it’s kind of hard for DeMar to prove his worth through regular season wins, unless we win many more games, get better seeding (maybe), or most convincing of all, if DeMar plays a pivotal role in at least one playoff series win.
2) Defense (consistently)
We saw shades of DeMar’s defensive abilities last year, and in Casey’s help-heavy defensive lineups that lacked any actual defensive talent, DeMar stood out on many nights as the second best starting defender next to Amir. But it was nowhere near consistent, and not often enough against the likes of James Harden, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler – and in April, Otto Porter.
3) 3-point shot (again, consistently):
Again, on occasion we saw shades, but the hair over 28% that he shot last year is not going to cut it, anywhere. As KG would put it – not in Preschool, Little League, YMCA, or the Raptors. The reality is that at his position, as a potentially max-level player, he has got to learn to keep defenders honest with a long-range threat, especially if Casey follows through on plans of playing any kind of small ball. If he could somehow do this at even a 33% rate consistently, the impact could be amazing.
4) 4th quarter and clutch performances:
After only posting that one shot in Orlando in 2013, in 2014/2015, DeMar arrived as a consistent clutch scorer.
More of these types of games, where DeMar is the clear marquee player on the court, will add to his perceived leadership potential. Teams want a winner who is willing to take on the scoring load on tough nights, late in games. Further, it would exhibit his overall capability on a grander stage (especially in the playoffs). This will ultimately play one of the biggest factors in whether the Raps place the faith in him to be a max player.
5) Market factors
One word: Durant.
The somewhat intriguing reality of this situation is that it’s truly a coin toss as to how DeMar will react to the inevitable distraction from the media and the pressure of playing in a contract year. Early in the 2012-2013 season, we almost wrote Lowry off and cast him away to New York, only to later offer him $48 million over 4 years that summer. The point is, DeMar could rise dramatically to the occasion, or crash and burn.
I think most fans would agree that DeMar at least has the occasional ability of a max-level player. The questions are simply consistency and health across an 82-game season and into the playoffs. And with the way NBA salaries are trending, if the Raps don’t offer him max money, he almost certainly will receive offers elsewhere. Granted DeMar is one of the truest to Toronto that you’ll ever find, but money is money. Amir Johnson would probably agree.
The DeMar DeRozan experiment will answer itself in due time. See you on Canada Day.
The league is getting smaller, with more of a premium on creating and shooting. That should mean Lowry and Joseph play together often, with Wright sliding in as well, if he earns Casey’s trust. (Wright has a long way to go on that front, particularly as a shooter.) “I thought it hurt us somewhat last year when we had two small guards in when you are going against six-foot-six or six-foot-seven guards,” Casey said. “But with Cory’s size and Delon’s size, I think that is a huge plus for us.” Will those lineups work? It is impossible to say. Sometimes even a few months’ worth of data is not enough to tell you anything conclusive.
THE ROOKIES Experiencing their first training camp at the NBA level, you would think Raptors 2015 draft picks Delon Wright and Norman Powell would be overwhelmed… Not so, according to Dwane Casey: “First couple days, they haven’t been lost like deer in the headlights. They still have some things to learn, but the effort, focus and concentration is there.”
“Delon is not your typical rookie so you can put a little pressure on him,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Wednesday. “Norm is not your typical rookie mentally because he is a tough kid, mentally tough. He’s not awed by the bright lights or who he is guarding, so I think who they are personally and their ages and maturity level puts them at a different level.” But it’s more than that. “And their skill level too,” Casey said. “They are both NBA-ready players. It’s just going to be things presented to them in a game that they probably haven’t seen before. The speed of the game is one example. I was talking to Delon the other day about how NBA players change speed. They can go from zero to 100 in a split second and he has to get used to that. Once he does that, that’s when the sky is the limit for him.”
“Kyle can go hide and rest on offence a little bit, if there is such a thing for him.” Wright knows he’s got as much to learn on the court as he does off it but one thing the staff has been impressed with is his on-court instincts. The game’s still a bit fast for him and the competition is better and more consistent than anything he’s ever seen but he seems to just “get it.” “Delon is one of those guys that is not a drill guy … Once the lights come on or the official throws it up, he plays the game,” Casey said. “He does some uncanny things where you’re saying, ‘Whoa, what happened there?’ He’s always doing that. He has excellent hands defensively, but he’s still learning.”
What they don’t tell you is that it’s not just the availability of money that adds temptation, but time. You have all this free time to buy, buy, buy. Really, free time is the root of the trouble you can find as a pro. That’s the hardest thing about the adjustment you’re about to make. When I was at prep school before jumping to the NBA, I had a strict schedule. Be at school at 7:30. Breakfast. Assembly. Class all day, then basketball. Afterwards, it was study hall and maybe one more chance to sneak in some gym time. Most of your days in college were basically planned for you, too. In the NBA, on non-game days, you’re there at 8 a.m. to get your extra work in and then practice with the team. That takes maybe four hours, tops. Now you’ve got the rest of the day to yourself. You’ll need to learn how to manage your time.
Dorell was insistent that Delon ended up in a really solid situation with the Raptors. Not only will he have an opportunity to play for a competitive team as a rookie, but he’ll have a pair of role models he can turn to if he has any problems on or off the court. “I’m close with Kyle Lowry, going back to those four-star camps, ABCD and AAU,” Dorell wrote. “DeMar DeRozan is somebody who looked up to me in high school, and he played on my team at the Drew League when he was still in eighth and ninth grade. Those are two great dudes, and I know they’re going to look out for you. I didn’t even have to ask. They reached out to me and let me know you’re in great hands.”
The work with Sikma in Vegas prior to heading over to Latvia was fruitful. The veteran NBA centre worked on getting Valanciunas more comfortable shooting the short-range jumper with less hesitation. “We’ve still got a ways to go to get it to translate to game time,” Nurse admitted of the progress Valanciunas made with Sikma, “but to be fair, that Lithuania situation for JV is high pressure and when that pressure is on and you have to win and your country is going bonkers …” Bottom line is the combination of the high-pressure situation and the recently learned changes to his game weren’t exactly compatible. In the heat of the moment and under the microscope as he was, more often than not Valanciunas reverted to what he has always know in Latvia.
On day one, Raptors rookie Norman Powell admitted the team’s initial practice had been “tough”—training camp is a grind, with guys out to prove themselves or find a spot to fill. But it’s not just gruelling for the rookies. On day two, NBA veteran James Johnson told Sportsnet he was feeling good, but noted how tiring the week can be. “Mental fatigue is kicking in a little bit,” he admitted. “It’s expected.” Johnson said the team’s schedule is manageable, and that the fatigue would be “easy to fight through.” The biggest challenge, he said, is trying to pack in so many things, like nailing down the team’s new defensive schemes. “They told us what we had to do, the things we were going to go through,” he said, “so it’s pretty easy—but hard at the same time.”
The Raptors didn’t down screen two seasons ago, when they ranked ninth in defensive efficiency. But their defense fell apart last season, they went from top 10 to bottom 10, and they couldn’t stop John Wall and the Wizards in the playoffs. Here’s Wall getting into the middle of the floor on a side pick-and-roll and finding Marcin Gortat for a layup. He also had the option of hitting Bradley Beal in the opposite corner. The additions of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph will certainly help the Raptors’ defense this season, no matter how coach Dwane Casey wants them to defend side pick-and-rolls. But a change in scheme could also be in order. Of course, keeping the ball on the side of the floor is a lot easier said than done. First, the big defender has to let his teammate know that the screen is coming. The real work starts with the guy guarding the ball, who has to put himself between his man and the screener. If he’s just a little late in doing that, his man will get to the middle of th
The second unit’s goal is to maintain the score. If our starters leave with a 6-point margin after Q1, and re-enter the game with 6 minutes to play in Q2, and we’re up 5, terrific. Our rotation players have done the necessary. Considering the quality of players, including their experience and the fact they fit nicely into their roles (i.e., Bismack is a true centre despite being undersized, Luis Scola is a veteran who knows how to play, etc.), we have every reason to believe this group can do the job. Yes, Delon Wright is a rookie, but he’s not an adolescent like so many. The other task for a quality rotation player is to step into a starter’s role should injury strike. Would you feel like we were giving up if Terrence Ross needed to take DeMarre Carroll’s spot? I wouldn’t.
“I’m going to miss those close personal relationships with the players that I’m working with,” Mermuys said on Wednesday. “It’s hard to do that as the head coach, because you have to make some of those tough decisions. I’m still going to try to do me, but I will miss those close-knit (relationships), letting them lean on me or being able to pick them up when they’re down, things like that.” Yet, taking the gig was an easy choice. When the Raptors named Mermuys to the position, there were some team followers who thought it was a demotion. It was just a few years ago that Nurse made the move from Rio Grande of the D-League to the Raptors, even though he was moving from head coach to an assistant. Being around an NBA environment can be crucial in terms of becoming a valid head-coaching candidate in the league.
I would probably swap the Bucks for the Raptors but I also might manage a Raptors site, and honestly, those very well could be the top six teams in terms of seeding at the end of the season. Which has me thinking, from the outside looking in, do people outside of Toronto generally think the team has actually taken a step back this season based on their acquisitions? Or are we being judged by our sub-par (putting it lightly) playoff performance last April? Or is it because winning the division doesn’t matter anymore and it’s hard to muster up any respect for the defending (two-time!) Atlantic Division champs?
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So I’ve been checking out some of the interviews from the players and Dwane Casey, and I can tell you with a strong level of confidence that you’re not missing much by skipping all of them. Amidst the bland commentary, tin-canned positivity, and talk of Bismack Biyombo being anointed the captain of the defense by Dwane Casey (I kid you not), lies a cold hard truth: this team has got it all to prove, and there are detractors out there who just don’t rate the roster.
I think the top 6 teams in the East are the Cavs, Heat, Bulls, Hawks, Bucks and Wizards. The 7th & 8th spots are up for grabs!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 29, 2015
The good news is that as per Casey, he seems quite happy that he now has the type of “two-way players” that put defense first. Then again, if I you go back to last year’s media day he would speak of how excited he has to finally get a scorer like Lou Williams off the bench. That’s the thing with pre-season, you already know what people are going to say before they even say it because that’s what you’re supposed to say at this time of the year. Except when you don’t. Like for example, Casey suggesting that Valanciunas’s FT percentage will likely keep him in games in the fourth quarter this year, as if the guy was ever a poor FT shooter. It’s those kind of random remarks that make me:
When prompted about Valanciunas again, Casey made it a point to highlight that he’s changing some things to protect him from being so crap on defense:
We’ve changed some things that hopefully help him, that will help him keep closer to the bucket. It’s not rocket science or anything earth shattering. We’re doing some things to keep him closer to the bucket. Number one, help him in the pick ‘n roll situations. Number two, help him rebounding-wise on the defensive end. Our defensive rebounding percentage was terrible, our guards outrebounded our bigs in defensive rebounding percentage. We got to get our bigs upto that level, because you’re in trouble when your guards outrebound your interior people.
Now, Dwane Casey knows more than anyone of us about basketball, but something here isn’t adding up. Here are the Raptors DRB%, which I presume Casey is referring to:
I don’t see how our guards are killing our bigs in DRB%, but maybe Casey is referring to some other statistic, or a deeper slice of this stat. Or maybe he feels that our guards are better relative rebounders than other guards, more so than our bigs (they’re not). I really have no idea. But, I don’t see how Jonas Valanciunas is the prime suspect in the murder of our defense. Maybe instead of dropping this big quote about how the team needs to help out Jonas Valanciunas, the quote should be about how perhaps DeMar DeRozan can learn to check his guy up top, or that Kyle Lowry might want to pay attention to his man once in a while instead of wandering off. It just never sits right with me when Valanciunas becomes the lightning rod for our defensive issues.
Maybe it’s because Valanciunas is a quiet dude who likes to go ice-fishing in July and doesn’t talk much, so you can hit him on the head with any blame and he’ll just shrug it off and accept it. Or maybe he really is that bad and we just can’t see it, though I doubt it.
Valanciunas restricted offensive players to 46.5% shooting at the rim, which is better than DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Robin Lopez, Timofey Mozgov, and Pau Gasol. The guy can actually defend the rim quite well since the principle of verticality was drilled into him, so I believe the issue Casey has with him is that his positioning is out of whack. He’s not where he’s supposed to be so that he could defend. The problem with that analysis is that Valanciunas is asked to hedge too often on the high screen, and by the time he’s venturing back into the paint, he’s on someone’s back and out of position. Now, if you ask Valanciunas what his preference on those plays is, his answer 100% of the time will be to sag back. He would rather play a damn zone before he would hedge beyond the three-point line.
The storyline here isn’t that Valanciunas can’t move on defense, it’s that Valanciunas is a 7’0″ tall man who weights 255 lbs. He, or anyone with that bulk and frame, is not supposed to be able to do what we ask of him, so when he doesn’t recover and gets caught on the baseline, we don’t have the right to play the bad defender card. Now, I’m glad that Casey seems to recognize this and is asking Valanciunas to stick closer to the basket so he can actually use that 46.5% number to good effect. It’s just something that should have been obvious a long time ago.
Last year we tried to play a brand of defense that was very aggressive and put a lot of pressure on players to rotate, and when the rotations weren’t made or were made too hard, guards could drive into the paint without rebuke. I don’t necessarily have an issue with this year’s roster adopting that approach because DeMare Carroll, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, and Bismack Biyombo are good ball-pressure players who should cause issues. You also have to keep in mind that you can’t ask Valanciunas to join in on that party. He has to stay close to home and deal with the traffic that might be funneled towards him. If that does happen, I fully expect his “Opp FGA at Rim” to skyrocket from 8.1 per game to around 11 or 12, but I believe that’s a trade-off you’re more comfortable making, even though it has the potential to get him in foul trouble.
The defense has to strike a careful balance, but when it fails, we can’t be picking apart the low-hanging fruit that is Jonas Valanciunas, because he’s as much a victim in this story as anyone.
It was not enough to keep the bench in tact. Williams left for Los Angeles as a free agent, while Tyler Hansbrough headed for Charlotte; Greivis Vasquez was traded to Milwaukee; Patrick Patterson will likely become a starter. That leaves James Johnson as the only likely holdover for the second unit. In particular, Williams’ output has to be replaced. “The first guy that comes to mind is Terrence Ross,” Casey said of the swingman who started most of the last two seasons, but will be replaced in the starting unit by DeMarre Carroll. “Not only just a scorer, but he’s got to come in and defend. He had an off year last year defending. He knows it. We know it.”
Coach Dwane Casey said after the first morning practice that one of the team’s key weaknesses at this stage is verbal. “We’ve got to do a better job of communicating,” he remarked. Casey praised newcomers Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo for their ability to communicate on the court. “Those two are our best talkers,” he said. While Scola’s ability to communicate is less of a surprise — he’s a 35-year-old veteran of the game, after all — it’s a little unexpected to hear that about Biyombo, who is just 23, Casey admitted as much: “I wouldn’t have guessed it,” he said of Biyombo’s communication gifts. It was the coaches in Charlotte who informed Casey of Biyombo’s poise, and the Raptors bench boss is expecting big things from the Congolese centre. “He’s probably going to be the captain of our defence as far as guys that can go vertical, block shots, communicate,” said Casey.
Of the five different five-man units used during the regular season last year that included both JV and Patterson, none outscored their opponents and the two were right at the very bottom of that list with opponents scoring 14.1 and 11.2 field goals more than the Raptors while those particular five-man units were on the court. Patterson, though, isn’t willing to concede it will always be that way. He is confident those numbers can be improved on with better communication between himself and the young Lithuanian, and perhaps better understanding of what is needed from each. “It’s all about me and JV talking and communicating and finishing plays with rebounds,” Patterson said. “Me not solely relying on JV to get the rebound. Me making a conscious effort to go to the glass and finish with a rebound. Talking to him … It’s all about communication and talking.”
“We’re changing some things offensively, we’re changing some things defensively,” said Casey, speaking during the team’s annual media day festivities on Monday. “So making sure that we’re all on the same page of those changes is going to be a big challenge for us as a staff. To make sure we want to be a better ball-moving team. We definitely want to be a better defending team. We’re going to have some subtle changes defensively and there are things we’re going to do in certain situations. All of those things are going to be a bigger challenge than having added pieces.” While the most unrecognizable thing about this ball club in 2015-16 may be their approach, Toronto’s new faces should go a long way in helping them implement it. By design, Ujiri and his front office staff targeted “two-way” contributors this summer, bidding farewell to a couple more offensively inclined players from last year’s roster.
It’s repeated ad nauseam, especially if you’ve read ANY basketball writing over the past three years, but the midrange area is something of a no-fly zone. Unless you’re LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, or maybe Carmelo Anthony, the shot simply isn’t worth it. Bennett is nowhere near that level, and yet, 56 percent of Bennett’s attempts originated from the midrange are last season.
Perhaps as part of the first step in the Raptors’ development plan for Bennett, Ujiri stressed the importance of basically hitting the reset button on the Canadians’ dismal NBA career, thus far. “We want a new Anthony Bennett in a way where it’s not the pressure of being a No. 1 pick anymore — that’s gone,” Ujiri said. “We want to figure out the basketball player that he can become, not what happened in Minnesota or what happened in Cleveland. I think that’s all gone now. “I told AB, ‘hey, we have to figure it out here,’ and I think he’s settled in a little bit [in the] last day or so.” Bennett’s struggles have been well documented, but given his enticing talent, Ujiri sees no down-side to taking a chance on him.
Ujiri chose to keep Casey around, but his off-season moves — and you can add the acquisition of backup centre Bismack Biyombo, an excellent rim protector who brings little else to the table — put pressure on the coach. This roster is a lot closer to Casey’s ideal. When asked if this roster fit Casey better, DeMar DeRozan answered in the affirmative. “He’s a defensive coach,” Joseph added when asked of his first impressions of Casey. “He’s very defensive-minded, just like (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) was. I have no complaints.” Now Casey is going to have to prove it, and the roster is still far from perfect. For one thing, the Raptors will rely on Jonas Valanciunas to make defensive leaps, and nobody can say whether or not he is capable of making them. Last year, Casey regularly benched Valanciunas in the fourth quarter because he did not trust him to be able to guard pick-and-rolls with one of the Raptors’ weak defensive guards, and with good reason.
“You miss the continuity that Amir brought,” Casey said. “You knew what you were getting from Amir each and every night. You will never change that and you can’t replace that. He was just like an old blanket. Always there and we will miss him. His continuity and his closeness with DeMar and the rest of the guys is unprecedented. He will always be loved in the city because of his love for the city.”
“From when I came here in day one, all I heard [about the Raptors] was iso, iso, iso,” Carroll said (last season, the Raptors ranked second in isolation frequency). “And then if you came in here a couple days ago, ‘cause I’ve been here two and a half weeks, you’ll see how the ball moves. It’s a good thing, I think it’s going to be a different type of basketball. It’s not going to be that iso, iso, pound the basketball. It’s gonna be more movement, kinda something I’m used to coming from Atlanta, and just passing up a good shot to get a great shot [more often].” For Carroll to bring that mentality over (and the same could be said for Joseph, who played with the San Antonio Spurs last season) should play a big role in changing an offense that was often criticized for its stagnancy last season. Other moves will, too: even after a Sixth Man of the Year-winning campaign, the Raptors let Lou Williams go in the offseason without making him a contract offer. In similar vein, they traded Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks during the draft. Those players were largely triggermen within last season’s offense, finishing third and fifth respectively in field goal attempts for the team.
“If DeMar wants an extension, I’ll give it to him right now at this second,” said Ujiri. He continued on to say it didn’t make sense for DeRozan, as Ujiri thinks he is worth way more than what he can give him with the extension. Ujiri claims he was misinterpreted when he said there will be no talks with DeRozan on a contract extension this season, and that it was blown out of proportion. He expects to wait until after the season to negotiate a contract extension with DeRozan and doesn’t think this is what DeMar wants either, business wise. Reports are that DeRozan will be expecting max money at the end of the season, but at the Raptors media day on Monday, he was more focused on this upcoming season and said he hasn’t thought much about his contract.
“I just wanted to get out there and learn and see how the world is outside of my family,” the new Raptors centre said. “You grow up with your family and it’s great, but you get to live by yourself and understand the meaning of life. “It was a gamble but at the same time it was a challenge. I told my parents, ‘If I ever fail, I think I will come back to school and finish school and be a good citizen.’ “My goal also wasn’t to go and fail, my goal was to go and do it. I got out there and did what I had to do and I’m thankful it turned out to be the way it did. “I embraced every single moment.”
The contracts for Caboclo and Nogueira are now guaranteed through the 2016-17 season. In accordance with the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Raptors had until October 31 to exercise their option on both players.
Links? You got links? I want em’: [email protected]
“I know everything, I know every person who says something bad about me. But it’s part of the game, it’s part of the business, for me I don’t need the motivation from that but I just use it, I know who’s going to talk.” So, what did you think about what was written about you from February, Kyle? “It’s true, I know how bad I played. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. I want them to say those things, because they’re going to change their minds (from) early (last) year, and it was ‘Oh my god.’ Now I’ve got to go back to making them say ‘Oh my god’ again. That’s all that matters.” If Lowry is reading this right now, I’ll just say this: He’s a fascinating, complex figure. At his best he makes basketball look like a heroic exercise, because unlike the LeBrons of the world, his greatness doesn’t have a big margin for error. It looks hard.
“You’ve got to change your body a little bit. And I’m not a young pup no more, but it’s just about the future for me, it’s about being healthy,” Lowry explained, saying he hired a new nutritionist “and just changed a few things that needed to be changed.” Now, “none of my pants fit.” When Lowry first told DeMar DeRozan about his weight loss earlier this summer, DeRozan had to see it to believe it. “It was a shock, it was a shock to everybody, it was a shock to me so I made him come see me in L.A. to make sure it’s real,” DeRozan said. “That takes a lot of discipline, when you play at a certain size your whole career in the league, to be able to drop that much weight … but he did it. So I think he’s trying to be more athletic, trying to play above the rim or something, I don’t know what he’s doing.”
What prompted his off-season commitment to exercise and clean eating isn’t entirely clear. The easy answer would be that after a season in which Lowry experienced higher highs and deeper lows than a six-year-old overdosing on refined carbohydrates, it’s an acknowledgment that he needed to improve his fitness to be able to sustain the excellence he’s capable of over an entire season, but hasn’t quite pulled off yet. That a year that featured both his first all-star nod – as a starter, no less – and a strange second-half spiral the ended with a four-game beat-down at the hands of the Washington Wizards prompted him to dig deeper than he ever had in the off-season. Lowry is not one for easy answers, or at least obvious ones. “No,” he said when asked if how his season ended prompted his commitment to conditioning and diet program that made him lighter and leaner without sacrificing any strength. “I worked on my body because I wanted to work on my body. Honestly, that’s the truth. I wanted to be something different. I know what I can be.”
Lowry didn’t spend much time on the court during the summer. While DeRozan believes the point guard is looking “a lot more aerodynamic” in pre-training camp workouts, it will be interesting to see how the new look impacts his game, mostly predicated on toughness and physicality. Will he still be able to bully his way into the lane, fight for loose balls and withstand the hits he takes around the rim? He’s confident that the weight loss did not come at the expense of his strength, boasting that he could still bench press a local columnist. He believes his style of play has more to do with a mindset, a mental toughness than the way his body is built. The hope is that this change helps him stay healthy and sustain a high level of play for a full 82-game season and, most importantly, into the playoffs.
While tales of weight loss and muscle building are a dime a dozen at NBA media days, seeing this particular point guard trimmed down turned heads. A photo of Lowry and some other NBA players after a workout appeared on Twitter this summer, and the Internet buzzed with chatter. Fellow backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan joked that Lowry is “more aerodynamic,” and says the photo was so surprising that he insisted Lowry fly out to visit him in Los Angeles. Patrick Patterson texted Lowry to confirm the picture hadn’t been doctored. “Then I saw him in the locker room and I was like ‘I’ve never seen this before. You’ve always been this short, chunky, bulldog fat kid that I’ve known since my first year in the NBA. To see you like this, it’s like the evil twin brother,’” Patterson said at media day, chuckling. “It’s so weird. I’m happy for him; he says he feels great, and I’m proud of him.”
“Sometimes you get older, you’ve got to change your body a little bit. And I’m not a young pup no more, but it’s just about the future for me, it’s about being healthy,” Lowry said. The 29-year-old, who’s listed at six foot one and 196 pounds, hired a nutritionist, and said he changed the way he ate. He wouldn’t say how much weight he’d lost, but it was a couple of belt loops at least. “None of my pants fit, I can tell you that much. Dead serious,” he said. The change was clear in his lean face, cut arms and narrow waist. “I feel faster, I feel a lot lighter, I feel quicker, I feel sharper. I still feel strong because when I go in the weight room, I still move the same weight I’ve always moved,” he said — then added to a reporter: “I can still bench press you.”
“There’s been a lot made about JV finishing games,” Casey said at media day. “Well, he’s getting to the point of his career, with the experience, that he should be able to do that. I noticed they didn’t use him as much in Europe at the end of games, but we plan to use him, especially offensively, down the stretch. “Father time is a great teacher and developer of those kind of situations,” Casey added. Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes signed with Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. If Casey is to sit the 23-year-old Valanciunas, there’s no longer a veteran safety net.
“I think I’m a very unique individual,” the team’s most expensive summer free agent acquisition said. “I’ve been through a lot and I want to share my story with people and let them see how I live day to day. I’m an average Joe, just like you.” Well, maybe not since there aren’t a lot of shared experiences between a 29-year-old NBAer and a late-50s Canadian sportswriter. But he does just want to fit in with new teammates in some kind of “normal” way. “I don’t play the game for the media, I play the game for my teammate, I play the game for the fans that come and show up. At the end of the day it’s always good to get recognition but that’s not why I play the game,” he said. “I think I finally got my opportunity, that’s the big thing and taking advantage of your opportunity.”
However, it remains to be seen whether this will be an honest shot for Bennett to earn minutes as more traditional power forwards, Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola are definitely in front of Bennett. If Dwane Casey decides to use smaller lineups more often, James Johnson and DeMarre Carroll will need minutes at that position, too. While Bennett was the de facto centre with the Canadian national team this summer, that will not happen often in the NBA. “We feel like we’re a growing team and we can absorb a guy like that,” Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri said. “Was he (worthy of being) the no. 1 guy in the draft? We don’t know. It didn’t work out in a couple places. I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him.” Maybe they will, or maybe they will not. Regardless, it is time to stop judging Bennett by outdated expectations. Perhaps he will get an opportunity to change the conversation.
It’s important to temper expectations, as Bennett’s been mostly terrible in his two years in the NBA. Injuries, circumstances, and his lack of fitness haven’t helped things, but he’s got a long way to go before he becomes a valuable contributor for a playoff team. His strong performance for Canada at the Pan-Am Games and FIBA Americas was a good start and he’ll have to continue building on that.
Asked what had changed in his game, new Toronto Raptor Anthony Bennett said, “Last year, it was just kind of a setback for me, but I’m just trying to put that in the past … I’m trying to have fun.” Bennett said that in 2014, during Summer League in Las Vegas. He was coming off one of the most roundly panned rookie seasons in NBA history. At the time, he was still a Cleveland Cavalier. Everybody, including Bennett, seemed excited about a second chance. Until Cleveland packed him as a makeweight in a trade to Minnesota. Minnesota was excited, too. Bennett said some nice things about new opportunities and being healthy for a change. Once he got out on the court, he was just as bad. Minnesota cut him a week ago, an unheard of ending for a No. 1 overall pick still on his rookie deal. Bennett agreed to give back $2-million (U.S.) in salary in order to escape. Clearly, both sides were desperate to be rid of each other.
That is the hope with this team — that the pieces fit together better — because the talent has not improved. Williams was a dynamic scorer, Vasquez a serviceable backup point guard and Amir Johnson, even when he was banged up, often kept the Raptors’ interior defence upright. Ujiri’s contractual bets on Carroll, Joseph and even Jonas Valanciunas are that they can produce more than they have in different roles in the past. In the case of Valanciunas, head coach Dwane Casey spoke of finally loosening the reins on him in the fourth quarter and trying to leverage his offensive ability better than the team has in the past. What he did not mention was adjusting the defence to allow Valanciunas to be less aggressive in guarding pick-and-rolls, which is just as sure to occur. As always at this time of the year, the only intelligent thing to say is: “We will see.” It is nice that Carroll is talking about the Raptors improving their ball movement, but the core of the team is the same as the one who could not, or would not, do so last year. We will see if Casey can abide by Valanciunas’s mistakes. We will see if Lowry can stay healthy and trim. We will see if DeMar DeRozan can finally improve as a three-point shooter and more willingly make the swing pass on the perimeter. And we will see about Ujiri’s beliefs.
“I feel like it was the perfect situation for me,” Bennett said Monday, after admitting that putting on a Raptors jersey did feel a bit weird. “Coming home, playing in front of family, friends, fans, it’s just being comfortable. Comfortable and just going out there and playing with confidence.” Confidence is a key for Bennett, but he knows he won’t be handed anything. The team has told him as much. “This is a good place for him. It’s home,” said head coach Dwane Casey. “He should feel comfortable. But again all the time and everything else, he’s going to have to come in and earn it … that doesn’t mean anything is going to be given to him. And I don’t think he wants anything given to him. He’s a super young man and a young talent.”
With no full guarantee on the deal, Bennett fits into the same slot as a handful of unproven young players trying to catch on with a team that already has 14 guaranteed contracts and can only go to 15. Bennett, who has struggled to find or develop a discernible NBA skill in two seasons with Cleveland and Minnesota, will have to earn a spot against the likes of untried rookies Norman Powell and Ronald Roberts. Toronto could also waive one its players with some guarantees on deals — Lucas Nogueria would be on that list — to make room for Bennett, who will have to fight Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and prized off-season acquisition DeMarre Carroll for playing time.
Likely coming off the bench this season, it will be interesting to see how he handles the adjustment to his role and the types of opportunities he gets on a consistent basis. Biggest thing I’m looking for from him is for daily consistency. If he gives you good to very good distance shooting, improved ability to create his own shot and gets to the FT line and stellar defence, I know I’d sign up for that right now. It’s time. Major investment in minutes and experience have been given him by the organization and they need to see a return on that investment. He’s capable which is pretty evident; now you need it from him on a regular basis.
Where will the bench scoring come from? Lou Williams was seemingly the sole source of offense at times for the second unit last season, and after averaging 15.5 points in 25.2 minutes off the bench, he received the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award for his efforts. With Williams lost in free agency (by choice, because Toronto never made him an offer to stay), the team will now rely on newcomers Cory Joseph and Luis Scola to replace that level of production.
This isn’t going to be determined until very near the end of the pretend games season but do they start Luis Scola or Patrick Patterson next to Valanciunas? I don’t know right now but Scola’s smarts and ball-moving skills might give him a leg up.
Casey is not committing to either Patterson or Scola as the starting 4 yet
“The people here are nice. Wherever I go, people say ‘Hey, DeMarre.’ So it’s kind of cool, man, to have this many fans, have this many people who recognize you and understand what you did, and how much they love you.” Carroll joins the Raptors from Atlanta after stints with Memphis, Houston, Denver and Utah. Argentine veteran Luis Scola, who had previous NBA stops in Houston, Phoenix and Indiana, also spoke highly of his new home. “I think the city is amazing,” he said. “I thought the city was amazing before I got here and I’m actually even more impressed with the city. I think it’s probably the best city in the NBA to play (on).
It was Grade 12, and after a summer of ball on the mean courts of Rathburn Rd and Central Parkway, I returned for my senior year to Father Michael Goetz High School in Mississauga. It was the typical first day of school – finding out your classes, negotiating locker spots, smoking behind the buses, and checking out the stage on which the final year of high school would be cast. And then there she was, Michelle Delgado (name changed). When she got out of her mom’s beat-up Mazda, it took me three takes to recognize her. The first take being, “Woah, look what just transferred over for her senior year”. The second, “Wait, that girl looks familiar”. And third, “Holy shit! That’s Michelle Delgado”.
That summer Michelle had transformed herself. She had gone from pear-shaped to hourglass in a matter of months. I never asked her how she managed to become this smokin’ hottie, but I imagine she followed the same regimen as what Kyle Lowry did this past summer.
And so it was that Kyle Lowry became the talk of town. He joked about his wife smiling at his abs, had teammates teasing him, and even him casually shooting one-handed FTs whilst on the phone was good enough Vine material:
“It was a shock, it was a shock to everybody, it was a shock to me so I made him come see me in L.A. to make sure it’s real,” DeRozan said.
“That takes a lot of discipline, when you play at a certain size your whole career in the league, to be able to drop that much weight … but he did it. So I think he’s trying to be more athletic, trying to play above the rim or something, I don’t know what he’s doing.”
“He’s a lot quicker, a lot more aerodynamic. I think it’s going to be beneficial for him,” DeRozan said.
“Kyle put his nose to the grind and did that all himself,” Casey added.
“He’s the one who had his own trainer. He had his own regimen that he went through this summer that most of our guys probably couldn’t make it through. He ran the hills in Vegas, he did a lot of stuff that he did on his own. And my hat is off to him for doing that because he could’ve relaxed and took the summer off but he didn’t. He knew what he had to do and he did it.
“He’s worked his behind off … I’m happy for him and I’m sure that it’s going to show on the court.”
We also had DeMarre Carroll raving about restaurant and and wondered why people are so nice in this city:
“There’s a lot of good food,” the six-foot-eight 215-pound Carroll said Monday at the Raptors’ media day. “I’m an Italian (food) guy myself, so I’ve been in a lot of restaurants.
“The people here are nice. Wherever I go, people say ‘Hey, DeMarre.’ So it’s kind of cool, man, to have this many fans, have this many people who recognize you and understand what you did, and how much they love you.”
Luis Scola also echoed his feelings about the city:
“I think the city is amazing,” he said. “I thought the city was amazing before I got here and I’m actually even more impressed with the city. I think it’s probably the best city in the NBA to play (on).
“It has some challenges — the winter obviously, the traffic obviously — but those are challenges you have in all the cities of the north. And those are challenges you have in any big city. And I’m from Buenos Aires so I’ve dealt with traffic since I was born. So it doesn’t really bother me that much.
“So I’m happy to be here. I believe it’s going to be a great outside basketball experience for me and my family, especially for my family. They have a chance to live in another country and get to know another culture and get to know another city.”
What was surprising is Delon Wright getting on the traffic bandwagon and taking a shot at what is most likely the Gardiner:
“I like it so far, besides the traffic,” said the 23-year-old guard from the University of Utah. “It’s be better if I walk but I have a car now. But I like the city, I love it.”
Ah, I feel ya man. There’s nothing like getting stuck on the Gardiner Spadina exit while you’re still in Mississauga, it’s more Canadian than maple syrup.
We did have Dwane Casey chirping up and basically pretending like he hasn’t decided on who’s going to start the PF:
Casey is not committing to either Patterson or Scola as the starting 4 yet pic.twitter.com/9QSGXTgAon
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) September 28, 2015
I can’t believe he needs time to think about which PF suits JV more – Scola or Patterson. Personally, I’d love to see a Scola/JV frontcourt, if only to watch time stand still as they make a big-to-big pass.
Casey, throwing another curveball to reporters suggested that he might even give JV the ball in the fourth, citing his good FT shooting being a prime reason why:
Casey on 4th quarter JV pic.twitter.com/C9UDJPR10z
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) September 28, 2015
Ah, yes. FT shooting. Thing is, Valanciunas was always a good FT shooter and that didn’t mean anything in the past and probably doesn’t mean anything now. It is media day and it’s very long so you have to fill the time with words and these were some of the words.
Anthony Bennett showed up too, and was asked if he still would have liked to be picked #1:
“Honestly? Yeah, why not? It comes with a lot of pressure, but at the same time, I’m ready to work. Starting fresh again. Hometown. Just got my focus on what we have here. I’m not really thinking about (his draft position) too much.”
Ujiri was asked the same question and gave a more candid answer:
“We feel like we’re a growing team and we can absorb a guy like that. Was he (worthy of being) the no. 1 guy in the draft? We don’t know. It didn’t work out in a couple places. I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him.””
And that kind of was Media Day. Fairly generic stuff, basically a glorified photoshoot.
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Sam fires up his Nokia flip phone to dial into the podcast, and we tackle the Anthony Bennett case, the Canadian conspiracy, and a lot more in this week’s Rapcast.
Reports surfaced on Friday that Anthony Bennett was working towards a contract with the Toronto Raptors, and today it became official. Sure, the team hasn’t made any announcement yet (that will likely happen tomorrow during Media Day), but who needs that when we have Shams Charania and Yahoo! Sports to confirm the news for us.
After physical exam today, Anthony Bennett has signed a one-year veteran minimum deal with the Toronto Raptors, league source tells Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 27, 2015
In less than a week the world went from expecting Bennett to once again receive heavy bench minutes from the Minnesota Timberwolves, to shockingly becoming the first top selection to hit the waiver wire so quickly in their career, to joining Cory Joseph as part of Toronto’s Canadian contingent. After all, it was just two years ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers went off the board and selected Bennett first overall, making him the first Canadian to have that honour. Since then, Bennett has failed to live up to the hope that typically comes with a number one pick, but is also still just 22 years old. Many are already calling Bennett the worst top selection in NBA history, and he might very well be, but the hope is that the Raptors can help Bennett unpack some of the potential that is so tantalizing. At 6’8″, 240lbs, with a 7’1″ wingspan and exceptional athleticism, Bennett seems to have the tools to prosper in the NBA In his rookie year he was a member of a very dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers team, highlited by Andrew Bynum’s mere presence, Mike Brown’s vacant stares, and Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters fighting for possessions. He followed this by being a throw-in in the Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins trade, and seemingly never being significantly wanted in Minnesota. Bennett becomes the third string Power Forward for the Raptors behind Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola, and will also compete for minutes with small-ball options like DeMarre and James Johnson. Minutes will not be force fed to Bennett considering the Raptors clear intent on competing this year, but there is room for them to be earned His numbers aren’t nearly as bad as his on-court appearance has looked, and after a summer with team Canada he is in the best shape of his life. At a salary of just over $947,000, the Raptors are making a minimum investment for a chance at a high reward. It’s now up to Bennett to make the most of this opportunity, and to do so without the weight of being a first overall pick. Update: From the man himself:
Media Day is tomorrow, with training Camp opening on Tuesday, so Bennett won’t have long to wait.
The contract isn’t official, it’s merely a rumor/report blowing in the wind, and yet Anthony Bennett has already added his name to the list of divisive players for Raptors fans to discuss. In every fan forum, every blog post, every Tweet, and article, two things are clear to everyone:
1) Anthony Bennett is an all-time bust who doesn’t have a place in the NBA, or
2) Anthony Bennett is a steal who could take over as the starting PF by the end of the season.
This whole process is just another reminder of the sensationalism that is involved in sports. We like extremes. Something is good or bad, hot or cold, expensive or cheap, etc., etc., etc..
Many don’t do well with the middle ground. There is the objective reality that we don’t know how something is going to work out, but opposed to that we all seem to have a belief that we know what is going to happen. I think this falls into almost every area of life, but it is magnified when we are dealing with sports. Irrationality too often reigns supreme in the sporting world.
When it comes to the draft we all think we know who will succeed and who will fail. When it comes to free agency we all want to believe that we know who will live up to their contract and who will be the next financial albatross (we’re watching you, Enes Kanter). We want to be able to say that we knew ahead of time, when it was merely an educated guess.
I get it. I want to be right too. I don’t want to be caught off guard, and I want people to think that I am educated enough to have known.
But what I truly don’t understand is how anybody could be against signing Anthony Bennett to a minimum contract. I had trouble figuring out why this bothers me so much, but I finally figured out the two reasons why.
The first reason is that many seem to think that Anthony Bennett is a known commodity, which is something I wholeheartedly disagree with. I don’t think that Bennett is done growing as a player at just 22 years old, and that he has shown enough little flashes of potential to indicate such.
We tend to like things that are new, because they are unknown and they can provide hope that we can be right about a wildcard. We want to cheer for the underdog, and to have a player come out of nowhere to everyone but us. This is the biggest reason why we all latched on to Bruno so quickly, because we are on the inside and can hopefully be proven right in the long run. Since Bennett was a top draft pick, logic dictates that he must then be a known commodity. I disagree with this rational in this instance, but that is more a matter of opinion than of fact, so I’ll move on.
The second reason this bothers me so much is far more measureable. It’s the money.
Anthony Bennett was the first overall selection just two years ago, and has been a clear disappointment. To date he has yet to live up to his potential, and has routinely looked lost when he has gotten an opportunity to see the floor. No one can argue that he has been a success to date in his career, and even those who think he could eventually be a starter in Toronto (the minority, but I have read it in several locations) would do so on the argument of potential and not by track record.
But the money adds up.
Take a look at the following advanced and per 100 stats for six players who were free agents this summer, and the six contracts that they recieved.
Per 100 Stats:
Player 1 : 1 Year, $981,348
Player 2: 2 Year, $5,754,630 (second year player option)
Player 3: 1 Year, $947,276
Player 4: 1 Year, $1,150,000
Player 5: 3 Year, $10,000,000 (third year team option)
Player 6: 4 Year, $50,000,000 (fourth year player option)
Although basketball is far more than the numbers we produce in charts such as these, who do you think should receive each of these contracts based on the above stats?
I’ll give you a moment to guess:
Here’s who they are:
Player 1: Quincy Acy
Player 2: Darrell Arthur
Player 3: Anthony Bennett
Player 4: Chris Copeland
Player 5: K.J. McDaniels
Player 6: Thaddeus Young
None of them light the league on fire, but many of the fans who hate Anthony Bennett at the minimum salary would likely have jumped at paying K.J. McDaniels his new deal (Bennett is just one month older than McDaniels). Many would have wanted Thaddeus Young and see his contract as a reasonable deal in the new economic landscape of the NBA. Many would have liked to bring back Quincy Acy for added depth, or to sign any of the others, but we seemingly get held up on Bennett’s draft selection and his status as a bust.
In fact, Julyan Stone just signed a one year, non-guaranteed contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder for $981,000. You remember him right? We will apparently be paying Anthony Bennett less than Julyan Stone would earn if he makes a roster.
The Raptors have a need for a long term PF. I think it’s irrational to believe we can know that Bennett will certainly be this player (although he could be), and it’s irrational to believe that we can know for certain he has no chance of being that player. Right now he is somewhere in the middle and his paid fairly for the value he brings.
Anthony Bennett is no longer the top pick. He is a 22 year old prospect, a waived player making a league minimum salary who is now fighting for his NBA life, and a man who has (apparently) hand selected the Toronto Raptors as the team he wants to play for. I cannot understand how anyone can be against that at the moment when we’re talking about a minimum salary contract.
There is no downside to bringing Bennett home to Toronto…you know…unless you’re Ronald Roberts.
As of this article’s publishing, the countdown sits at 32 days, 10 hours, and 30 minutes. Regular season action is finally within sight. Not to mention the Raptors’ renewed opportunity to rediscover their former selves. A time where intriguing subplots quickly transform from offseason appetizers to the main course of discussion.
Today’s mission: Round out the Republic’s position previews and dive in at the Power Forward spot. But in case you missed them, you can get straight to the Point, here, examine the Shooting Guard and Small Forward situations while you’re at it, and feel free to then follow up at the Five.
We all should prepare for a chaotic scene, overall and at the Four, at least initially. Combining new faces with a refreshed philosophy on defense (hopefully) and an increased allocation of minutes to players who are now being counted on to step into more prominent roles could lead to mixed results in the beginning.
But that’s not necessarily a negative. I think I can safely assume we’d all happily trade a few early growing pains for a second half of this squad getting its act together. The opposite of last season’s lasting impression.
An essential part of the process will be how Casey implements his troops. Unlike the way he’s handled Jonas Valanciunas’ role to date at the Center position, there’s enough options available to eventually employ a successful rotation. Casey’s past does warrant some slack, however. Wait, did I just say that? Well, the balancing act any Head Coach encounters when deploying an offensive lineup that doesn’t come back to haunt on the defensive end is a dangerous proposition. Still, this is likely his last shot at a long-term future in Toronto.
The majority of that rotation will run through Patrick Patterson and Louis Scola. And depending on matchups and gameflow, James Johnson and DeMarre Carroll will also contribute to the cause. To a much lesser extent, rookie Ronald Roberts could have his name called as well. Or maybe, just maybe, JV’s game takes such a leap it spills over into minutes at the Four. Hey, stranger things have happened. Just take one look at the Republican Nomination race.
Alright, wishful thinking tends to lead to disappointment. So back to the matter at hand. Actually, hold up a sec. You can now add a wildcard to the picture.
Former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is expected to clear waivers and sign with Toronto, source close to situation told ESPN.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) September 25, 2015
Barring some unexpected snag, Toronto is well-placed to sign Anthony Bennett to one-year minimum deal — all it can offer — early next week
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 25, 2015
More on Bennett in a bit. For now let’s start with the one who was once brought up in the same talent-level discussion as his Kentucky teammates. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe have since soared well above PP, and the same goes for Paul George, the player Patterson was mock drafted ahead of by numerous outlets back in 2010. A chance to reclaim some of that high praise is now at his doorstep.
The odds-on favourite to crack the starting lineup? While filling the shoes of the beloved, Amir Johnson?
On the surface, the fact that Patterson might receive the gig is a positive sign, though it’s not an imperative component. As Zarar pointed out in his think-piece over the Summer, contributions don’t need a label attached to them.
My only devil’s advocate attempt would come in the form of the first unit boosting a player’s confidence. Or a bump in notoriety that can lead to higher contract demands. But by all accounts, PP is the quintessential team player.
It’s a shame that despite placing third on the roster in overall Minutes Per Game (26.6 last season), PP is still not seen as a primary contributor to the masses.
Can he ascend to the next level?
Stability in the halfcourt set will have to be realized in due course, while balancing his catch-and-shoot from downtown personality. Concerns over increased minutes resulting in a misuse of his strengths are valid, yet when one surveys his production in the Per 100 Possessions department, questions quickly turn into excitement over what Patterson can become.
Highlighted by the uptick to 2.5 threes and 10.4 boards. As opposed to his 1.8 and 5.3 averages per game. Considering Toronto finished a below average 18th with 97.2 possessions per game last season, those numbers are just a reference point to assess what Patterson has to offer. But those possessions also marked a climb in the category for the 4th straight year.
Even when the Raps want to go small for extended stretches, Patterson’s multifaceted game owns enough elements to be able to man the five spot.
A storm is brewing. It’s a not-so perfect one, but a storm nonetheless.
Now, on to the old-timer.
We shouldn’t be surprised if Casey decides to buck the trending notion of PP suiting up with the starters and go with the 35-year-old Scola. A move that would undoubtedly gain its fair share of scrutiny. As noted, whoever starts doesn’t truly matter. But if it does come to pass, questions of its validity should be answered in short order.
The basketball world’s initial reaction to signing Scola – 1-year, $3 Million – was an overwhelming display of indifference. As if the Argentinian had little left in the tank. Sure, the talking heads would have showered Toronto with praise if the calendar read 2010, yet what do the Raps really need to get out of Scola?
Nobody is asking the the wily vet to reincarnate his upper-echelon status. Nor is anyone demanding his recent standout performance at the FIBA Americas translate once the season starts. Fundamentals, setting picks, help on the glass, and a shooting touch around the rim and from outside is all that’s requested. And Scola is more than capable of delivering.
Then comes the underrated mentoring process. The Raps can rival almost any squad in the league when it comes to losing focus, and with eight years of service time mixed with tons of international success, there really is no downside.
When most think of Scola, a declining image usually comes to mind. Well, his three-year increase in boards Per-36 (7.5 – 8.9 – 10.1 – 11.4) suggests there’s plenty left. A strength sorely needed to help out this team’s achilles heel.
Speaking of strengths:
With the way the NBA is trending, seemingly for good, it’s not that much of a stretch to think an official reclassification will take place in the future. The “Power” and “Small” positions could eventually be scratched in favour of a simple “Forward” designation. Interchangeable pieces are growing league wide, and hey, a European team joining the Association is not that far off. A new landscape is forming and the Forward spot is just a cog in the machine.
Good news for the Raps, though, as they just so happen to employ quite a few new-school performers. Patterson can slide into this dimension as well. Versatility is owned in abundance moving forward.
One does get the feeling that Casey’s mindset is already set in stone. The structured environment attached to DeMarre’s past makes you think he can already do no wrong in Casey’s eyes, while Johnson is seemingly set up to fail with every misstep. Carroll and JJ are just as similar as they are opposites. Comparable skillsets (minus the outside shooting) mixed with different backgrounds.
Early rumblings of Johnson being the dark horse to start at PF is all but an afterthought at this point. But make no mistake, JJ will see time at almost everywhere but the point. And when the aforementioned switch to small ball occurs, that’s when the options really open up.
Pick your positive lineup poison.
- PG-Lowry, SG-DeRozan, SF-Johnson, PF-Carroll, C-Patterson
- PG-Joseph, SG-Lowry, SF-DeRozan, PF-Carroll, C-Patterson
- PG-Lowry, SG-DeRozan, SF-Carroll, PF-Johnson, C-Patterson, or to show how diverse this really is:
- PG-Lowry, SG-DeRozan, SF-Patterson, PF-Carroll, C-Johnson
The key ingredient in every one is Carroll. Who comes in with an already unblemished aura for a reason. A defensive catalyst that is the hopeful infectious spark that will spread across this entire team. Especially when he’s checking the opposition’s best swingman. Everyone will be put on notice soon after.
There is a problem with this picture, however. The positives are too spread out. A good problem to have in most cases.
The attributes needed are present, but not enough players are equipped to stand alone. Opportunity should and will then be up for grabs. And that’s where T-Ross will get his chance. Who knows, T-Ross could end up having the last laugh.
Which leads us to a player who’s searching for much of the same. Though coming from much deeper depths of ineptitude.
Home Sweet Home?
Anthony Bennett has come home. That in itself is worthy of peaking one’s rooting interest. Unfortunately, the uphill battle starts immediately. Draft day in 2013 was a proud moment for Canadian basketball, only for that pride to turn into a massive disappointment.
The big dog at UNLV wasn’t ready for the rigors of the pros. Poor shot selection, decision making, and court awareness has turned the former No.1 overall pick into a player that the Timberwolves couldn’t even find a willing trading partner for. Which then concluded with Bennett clearing waivers.
Still only 22-years young, AB has a chance to flip the script. And the Raps could have just scored light at the end of the tunnel at an extremely low cost. His one-year, minimum deal should register under the $1 Million mark. It’s a big “could”, but the price tag screams why the hell not.
How does he factor into the Power Forward equation? There most likely won’t be any real impact off the hop, though another positive spin resides in having another body down low in case of injury.
And as stated in the breaking news piece, Raptors 905 might have a new project on their hands in the days to come.
The fact that Bennett hails for T.O. can work in two ways. The makings of a story worth following (while potentially increasing jersey sales in the long run), and the fact that talent lies somewhere within this kid. A humbling low point of his career has just taken place, perhaps his hometown surroundings can light a fire.
Future star? Not likely. Future serviceable role player? We’ll take it.
Some quick and not-so quick hits to round-off the discussion:
Biggest Strength: Flexibility. As much as Amir is owed a debt of gratitude for laying it on line on a nightly basis, one could argue he limited a needed shift in identity. His departure not only allowed funds to be spread elsewhere, but it also opened up numerous possibilities on the court. Even with the timeframe of an adjustment period bordering on the unknown, situational basketball now has a better chance to flourish.
They’ll miss AJ’s pick-and-roll presence, but options to get more creative can now be focused on.
Biggest Weakness: Too many variables hinge on the big picture. In order for the new-look Raps to take flight, all hands on deck have to be willing to buy in. Lowry and DeRozan can aid the process immensely. The usual frustrating suspects of isolations when the moment doesn’t call for it, sporadic ball movement, and failing to make feeding the post a priority all must come clean.
But just like Casey, it takes two to tango when placing blame. The frontcourt of years past somewhat forced their hand. Plotting in the lane mixed with minimal activity on the glass made late-in-the-shot-clock desperation understandable half the time. A consistent connection between the two camps might be too much to ask for.
What I like: Whether it was management’s faith in what they already had or simply a lack of acquisitions available to make, it’s going to be enjoyable to watch PP and JJ enter the spotlight. It’s about time.
What I don’t like: An overall lack of rebounding prowess still remains. This is where the loss of Amir comes back to bite. An annual downfall, and a potential deja-vu for the upcoming season.
Unfortunate prediction: There will be so much emphasis on the Forward spots and how they’re rotated that the growth of JV will remain stunted.
Bold prediction: Scola not only becomes a consistent contributor, but plays a vital role down the stretch and into the playoffs. Where the Raps advance past the first round. Bad habits don’t sit well with grizzled vets. This is a perfect match.
X-factor: Defense/Coach Casey. The positive vibes will come to a screeching halt if the assumed defensive mandate fails to come to fruition. There’s a reason why “Defense Wins Championships” is a much ballyhooed cliche. Though a simple statement doesn’t do it justice. Championships are won because defense opens up everything else.
If we get the same old sagging-off-the-ball story that just invites way-too-easy lane penetration while showing a lethargic fight to work through screens and forgetting box-out fundamentals at a moments notice, well, let’s just say I’ll meet you back here around the All-Star break venting about a stagnant offense. The players have to execute, but Casey has to enforce the rule. The ax can only fall in so many places.
Enjoy the Jays’ game!
The Raptors are looking to get another mascot:
ESPN sources say Toronto will indeed consider Anthony Bennett if he does clear waivers but Raps' crowded frontcourt makes signing him tricky
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 25, 2015
There's interest w/ teams in signing Bennett — including his hometown Raptors — but teams want him for less than that $5.8M waiver price.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) September 25, 2015
Anthony Bennett has officially cleared waivers, league source tells Yahoo.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) September 25, 2015
The #1 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft has missed 25 games last season, which came on the heels of missing 30 games his rookie season. Sporting a career PER of 9.5, and basically not being that good at professional basketball, it’s safe to say he’s on his way to being a NBA bust, if not there already. The weird part is that the players chosen after him all ended up having NBA careers:
2. Victor Oladpio (Orlando Magic)
3. Otto Porter (Washington Wizards)
4. Cody Zeller (Charlotte Bobcats)
5. Alex Len (Phoenix Suns)
6. Nerlens Noel (New Orleans Pelicans, traded to the Philadelphia 76ers)
7. Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings)
8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons)
9. Trey Burke (Minnesota Timberwolves)
10. CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers)
11. Michael Carter-Williams (76ers)
Other than being a decent rebounder, Bennett doesn’t have much of a game. He’s not a good post-up player, doesn’t have range, and can be quite clumsy. Having said that, the Raptors are a gimmicky club and I wouldn’t put it past them to get him on board, under the ruse of trying to strengthen the PF position. They currently have Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola there, and after that they got Ronald Roberts, so I the question really becomes: is Anthony Bennett more of a value than Ronald Roberts?
He is at least an equally good basketball player than Roberts but with more talent, but that’s not even the main thing. Once you think about the marketing aspect and the possibility of selling another Canadian to the audiences, I could see the Raptors making this move in a heartbeat.
I say go for it, we’ll be no worse than what we already are, and at best he might actually find his game and be productive. Though, playing at home is added pressure and if he couldn’t handle the pressure of being the #1 pick, whose to say being under constant scrutiny at home will be any better?
The $5.8M waiver price is high, and the Raptors would essentially negotiate with the Wolves, as described in this CBA FAQ question. Browsing the team salaries, the Raptors will remain clear of the $84.74 luxury tax if a minimum contract for Bennett can be arranged. Basically, the Raptors can only offer a minimum and there’s no impact on the tax situation. It would be a good use of the 15th spot, and you could even stash him in the D-League, which would add some gloss to the Raptors905.
Our won Blake Murphy analyzed three landing spots for Bennett, and the Raptors were one of them.
Bennett instead walked away from the Minnesota Timberwolves with a $3.65 million buyout and will presumably make up the difference in a deal with Toronto.
Yahoo is now reporting the same:
The Toronto Raptors are a strong frontrunner to sign Bennett, a native of the city, to a deal, league sources said.
Bennett’s reps pushed for a buyout with Minnesota and tried to dissuade teams from claiming him on waivers, league sources said. His agents had a destination in mind for Bennett, league sources said.
When the Raptors drafted Valanciunas, Raptor fans hoped that the franchise would finally have a center that could anchor the team for the future. It’s not that the team never had a decent center. The team drafted Marcus Camby after their first season, but he struggled as a rookie and was traded away the next summer. Antonio Davis ended up making the All Star, but he was undersized and played the 5 only out of necessity.
Of course there was Hakeem Olajuwon, but he ended up playing a year longer than he should have and that one year happen to be with the Raptors. A year most would like to forget.
In 2004, the Raptors drafted Rafael Araujo, hoping he would replace the departed Antonio Davis, and we all know how that went.
Rasho Nesterovic ably manned the position before losing his starting position to Andrea Bargnani. Chris Bosh also played some center, but never wanted to play the position and shouldn’t really be considered one.
So while the Raptors have had some talent at the center position (including an MVP/Hall of Famer, Defensive Player of the Year, All Star, starter for a Championship team and a 20 ppg scorer), only Bargnani was a Raptor during his prime years, and the less said about those years, the better.
Wait, I don’t remember this season…
Valanciunas is about to enter his fourth season, having just turned 23. Statistically, he’s improved every season, finishing 2nd in the league in field goal percentage last year and breaking the 20 PER mark. Despite that, last season felt like a bit of a disappointment for Valanciunas. While he improved on his previous season, he simply didn’t make the leap many hoped he would and ended up playing fewer minutes than the season before, as Casey never fully trusted him on either end of the floor.
Much has been written about Valanciunas’ struggles, both here and elsewhere, but it is important to remember that he’s only been in the league for three seasons and big men do tend to take longer to develop. Yes, it’s an overused sentiment, but it’s also true. DeAndre Jordan struggled to get consistent minutes in his first two seasons before blossoming into the player he is, today.
While the young big man showed improvement defensively, he still gets caught out of position, too often, and simply doesn’t have the instincts to ever become an elite defender, but that doesn’t mean he can’t become an above average one. He has the desire and ability. And while he’s become one of the better rebounders in the league (13th per 48 minutes), he’s been criticized for not grabbing the big rebound, and it’s a valid criticism. Too often did his opponent grab and important offensive rebound, with Valanciunas not boxing out and being out of position. Adding strength will help, but so will experience.
On the offensive end, it’s an interesting case. Valanciunas is among the best at scoring around the basket, in terms of percentages, the Raptors actually had more trouble scoring when he was on the floor than when he was off. There are a couple of reasons for that.
The first is that Valanciunas may be a very efficient scorer, but he’s not a very quick one. When Valanciunas gets the ball in the post, the entire offense often comes grinding to a halt. His teammates end up ball watching as Jonas holds onto the ball before making his move. Valanciunas’ offensive game is designed for the half court, unfortunately the rest of the roster isn’t designed for the half court.
This is obviously a problem, and not one that will probably be addressed this season.
And to make matters worse, Valanciunas simply doesn’t see the court well. He too often has blinders on when he’s got the ball in the post, ignoring teammates he should be passing to, but he also often fails to see other defenders who will double him and swipe at the ball when he’s not looking. Like his defense, experience will help with this and it’s an area he knows he has to improve.
There’s no reason, yet, to think Valanciunas can’t end up becoming an All Star and being worthy of his rather large extension (his contract, that is). Having better defenders and better shooters around him should help immensely.
While the Raptors haven’t had the best starting centers, throughout their history, the backup center position has been mostly populated by journeymen or power forwards who were forced into service as the backup 5 simply because of a lack of talent there. Last year, Amir Johnson spent almost as many minutes backing up Valanciunas as he did at the power forward position, where he started most of the last four years. And before that, Aaron Gray was the guy called upon to spell Valanciunas.
And this is probably why the signing of Bismack Biyombo was looked at so optimistically by Raptor fans.
Not too long ago, Biyombo had scouts drooling with his size, athletic ability and defensive instincts. He first turned heads when he dominated the Nike World Hoop Summit, in 2011, by racking up a triple double (points, rebounds, blocks), the first in the history of the summit. Yes, he was raw, especially offensively, but you couldn’t teach what he had. And he was drafted 7th the same year the Raptors took Valanciunas.
Unfortunately for Biyombo, he was even more raw than he seemed. While he still displayed great defensive potential, he never gained the offensive polish he needed to excel in the NBA. With Biyombo on the floor, it was like Charlotte (the only team he played for in his first four years) was playing 4 on 5 on the offensive end, and not even his intimidating shotblocking or rebounding could make up for it.
One problem is that, while Biyombo is a great shot blocker, he’s still learning the game and doesn’t yet have a great feel for what to do defensively. He can be easily faked out and is a better help defender than post defender. Plus, he is not the least bit comfortable when he has to defend an opponent who can face up and his from outside.
On offense, he’s learned that if he’s outside of three feet, then it’s probably not a good idea to shoot the ball, which is why he’s been able to shoot above 50% the last two seasons.
Despite all that, Biyombo is just 23 years old and still has the physical abilities that scouts fell in love with. He’s never going to become the player many hoped, but he should be able to fill a need for the Raptors.
Luis Scola also will probably end up playing some center, when the Raptors go small. He can score, is crafty and is a better defender than he used to be, although that’s not saying a whole lot.
Quick hits to round-off the discussion:
Biggest Strength: Both Valanciunas and Biyombo can rebound the ball, something that the Raptors had trouble doing last season.
Biggest Weakness: While both Valanciunas and Biyombo have talent, they both lack experience and will make their share of mistakes.
What I like: Both Valanciunas and Biyombo should be able to improve, this season, and it will be fun to see how they progress.
What I don’t like: Valanciunas’ game isn’t suited to the current roster and Casey doesn’t seem to know how to use him. If he doesn’t make a fairly big improvement this season, something needs to happen.
Unfortunate prediction: Valanciunas will continue to bring the offense to a halt and see his progress level off.
Bold prediction: Biyombo will thrive on a new team and new system and become one of the best backup centers in the league.
X-Factor: Casey and his inability to adjust his game plan to give Valanciunas a better chance to succeed last year played a big part in the big man’s lack of progress, and there’s the same danger this season. Casey needs figure out how to utilize Valanciunas’ talents, or one of them might be on a different team next year.
To understand the upgrade the Raptors have made at this position, you have to look at some historical context around the small forward spot. Raptors starters at this position over the years include Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Antoine Wright, Linas Kleiza, Hedo Turkoglu, Rasual Butler, and Sonny Weems, and I can go on. I really can.
Morris Peterson was the last legitimate small forward we had, and prior to that, you would have to go back to Tracy McGrady to find a quality player at the position for the Raptors. The mistake of selecting Rafael Araujo over Andre Iguodala was compounded by picking Joey Graham over Danny Granger the next year, and the Raptors never recovered from the double-whammy that the 2004 and 2005 drafts delivered.
DeMarre Carroll is such a significant upgrade over anyone the Raptors have had since Tracy McGrady, that I don’t think there’s a position in the league this summer that has been improved as dramatically. From Terrence Ross to DeMarre Carroll.
What Carroll means to this team has already been documented so there’s no point going into details here. The key points here are:
- The Raptors have someone who can guard the opposing team’s best wing player, and the league has plenty of those around
- They have drastically increased their team defense because Carroll’s aggressive play can influence the game and his impact isn’t just limited to his man
- He can play the three or the four, giving the Raptors three-point shooting (39.5% last season) at the most dynamic position in the league – the “stretch 34”, which many teams are still figuring out how to defend
- Though he’s reliant on others to create three-point shots for him, he can score on his man if he needs to, which means the ball doesn’t have to go back out to DeRozan or Lowry if a possession goes stale
- He’s a tenacious player whose activity can be infectious, which is the opposite of Terrence Ross who started at the position last year
- DeMarre Carroll: I’m the black Kyle Korver
- DeMarre Carroll promised larger offensive role
- Breaking it Down: Ways in Which DeMarre Carroll Gets Steals
- DeMarre Carroll Fantasy Basketball Player
The Raptors 25th ranked defense needed all the help it could get, and Carroll’s going to be counted on to provide a lot of it. Backing him up is the coach’s whipping boy, fan favorite, martial artist, black-belt wielding, pine-riding, neck-tattoo sporting, not-as-manly-as-a-voice-as-you’d-expect-from-a-guy-who-looks-like-that, James Johnson.
Last year, James Johnson surprised everyone with his work ethic, discipline, and basketball play. When he was signed, he was almost treated like a recovering alcoholic who the fans feared would relapse. In the end, he ended up being a mature professional who by silence and obedience had proven his coach didn’t really know what he was doing, and that he should’ve gotten a lot more playing time than he did.
James Johnson enters this season bringing the exact same things he brought last year: a strong will to attack the rim off the bounce, good rebounding, solid defense which at times can border on gambling, and absolutely no semblance of a three-point shot (unless he’s worked on it this summer which would make him DeMarre Carroll 2.0). Given what the Raptors have on offer at that position (their third string SF is Bruno Caboclo), there’s absolutely no reason why James Johnson shouldn’t see more playing time, even if as a tandem with Carroll playing the three while the latter switches to the four, or vice-versa.
The ‘argument’ against playing him is that the defense leaves him to help on our scorers and results in a congested floor, which is completely unfounded because Johnson has time and time again proven that three-point shooting isn’t the only way to beat a sagging defense. His first step on the baseline, back-door cuts, and general movement causes enough worry to a defense that they can’t forget about him, so this narrative that we’re down to four men on offense is complete bullshit.
The 6’8″ 212 lbs Carroll, and the 6’9″ 250 lbs Johnson give the Raptors significant size at the three, and both are capable of playing the four. These two will almost always have a rebounding edge over whoever they’re going up against, and it would be criminal not to utilize that. Neither of them is a great post-up player, but both can, in spots, back a man down and execute a move or two, simply on account of frame and bulk.
They’re both intelligent and emotional players who can read the game well as it comes naturally to them. James Johnson’s growth in this area has been exponential over the last three years, and Carroll’s always been a quick study. They’re equally likely to create flashpoints in a game that can swing momentum, light up teammates, and change the nature of the game. Whether it be a sick dunk, a key three, or a steal leading to a score at the right moment, there’s a lot of energy here that the Raptors can’t afford to keep bottled up. The team might be headlined by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but it’s this position that can provide the spark that lights the fire under this team.Direct Link
This post would be incomplete without mentioning Bruno Caboclo so here I am mentioning him. Here’s what I believe about Bruno Caboclo and his type of player, and I could be completely wrong:
You cannot expect someone to be a quality NBA player if they haven’t played an organized game until they were 18 years old, especially if they didn’t start playing the game until they were 13 years old. There are always exceptions like Hakeem Olajuwon who started late but he was gifted with the footwork of a ballerina. For Caboclo, we’re relying entirely on his skeletal frame. The Raptors are hoping that somehow they can figure out how to use his 7’7” wingspan in an NBA game for more than blowout fodder purposes. They’re hoping he can start knocking down threes which in theory would be unblockable. They’re hoping that he can fix his footwork so he’s not backing up 4 feet on every single jab step. They’re hoping he can drive without giving up what he’s trying to do well before he actually drives. They’re hoping to turn him into a basketball player, and they even purchased a D-League team just for him.
For the purposes of team depth, Caboclo doesn’t matter. He’ll spend his time in the D-League and will put up a show, either using his basketball skill, or more likely, the hype around him. He’s a cartoonish figure that has his own reality show in Mississauga, and we’re all very interested, if for nothing than for shits and giggles. And maybe he’ll even pan out, but probably not.
Quick hits to round-off the discussion:
Biggest Strength: Defense and size – The Raptors have one of the best 1-2 defensive combos at the position, and they should be able to provide enough of a challenge to wing players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Paul George.
Biggest Weakness: Playmaking and ball-handling – though James Johnson made some nice passes last year, neither is a great ball-handler so the Raptors don’t have a point forwardish type player.
What I like: The fact that we have a credible defender at the wing in the starting lineup, who requires almost zero coaching and is someone Dwane Casey can just throw out there without even a word being said to him. He’ll also generally defend our worst problem.
What I don’t like: An injury to Carroll means that we lose our best three-point shooter and best defender in one shot. Would’ve liked to have some more backup in terms of three-point shooting.
Unfortunate prediction: Unlike in Atlanta, the Raptors offense won’t generate enough clean looks for Carroll and he’ll end up forcing shots.
Bold prediction: Bruno Caboclo will play meaningful minutes this season in recalls from the D-League.
X-Factor: How effectively will small ball be used with James Johnson and DeMarre Carroll playing at the same time? Play these two with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Patrick Patterson at the 5, and you’ve got yourself a lineup that’ll be tough to match up with. Not saying it’ll work, just curious to see what it would look like.
There’s DeMar DeRozan and after that there’s…er…Terrence Ross, no wait, Norman Powell?
The gap in talent between the first and second string spots increased significantly when the Raptors parted ways with Lou Williams, leaving things quite threadbare once you get past DeRozan. The good news is that most NBA teams are structured similarly, the Bulls with Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell, the Warriors with Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush, the Wizards with Bradley Beal and Gary Neal, so this is not really a problem per say. The difference between the examples I’ve given and the Raptors is that Terrence Ross is prone to extended spells of bad form, and hasn’t really shown that he can be relied upon for production. This could force Dwane Casey to extend DeRozan’s minutes which is undesirable.
Defensively, DeRozan has worked his way up to be an average defender on the best of days, and Ross, despite having the physical tools to be a good defensive player, remains appallingly bad. The Raptors may have plugged perimeter holes at point guard and small forward, but the off-guard defense remains a problem. The introduction of DeMarre Carroll has had an impact here, as Ross will now be shifted to his more natural off-guard position, something which Dwane Casey pointed out as being important since it allows Ross and DeRozan to face less physically imposing matchups.
One of DeRozan or Ross always ended up guarding the opposition’s best wing starter, and that will no longer be the case, which is a relief for both as neither fared well in such situations. Additionally for Ross, the bench role means less pressure which Dwane Casey’s hoping translates to a more relaxed player playing with a greater degree of confidence. Ross has a tendency to let his confidence spiral down to the depths of the earth when things aren’t going his way, and last year this problem was compounded by him being a starter, as he eventually lost his place in the lineup.
If summer league is any indication (and it’s usually not), Ross does have a battle for minutes on his hands with Norman Powell, something that he never has had before. Up until now, the starter minutes have been, more or less, guaranteed for him as his competition have been the likes of James Johnson. He’s coming off surgery to remove bone spurs, is already relegated to the bench, and has a very hungry player in Powell looking to make a dent in his minutes. Powell, say what you will about summer league, does not lack in confidence at all, and in basketball that plays a huge part. Ross, on the other hand, is terrified of driving.
The main act at the position is of course, DeMar DeRozan, who will be opting out of his deal next season and looking to get a 100%+ raise on his current salary of $10M. What the Raptors deem his worth remains to be seen, and the situation could end up turning out to be another Chris Bosh. Leaving contract talk aside, DeRozan’s weaknesses remain what they have been the last two years.
His marginal improvements in ball-handling and shooting haven’t changed his style of play, and hasn’t changed how defenses play him. He shot 28% from three last season and still has suspect handles, which is basically all a defense needs to know to figure out how to guard him. Despite getting to the line 10.7 times a game, he’s got a .510 TS%, which is 34th among starting guards in the league. He’s a high usage, low-efficiency player that desperately needs a three-point shot to open up his game, otherwise the script is predictable:
- Can’t shoot from the outside, defense crowds him
- He bulls his way to the rim taking up way too many possessions a game, but getting fouled enough times to get his scoring numbers up
- In the clutch, the refs swallow the whistle and the Raptors pay
- Against good defenders who can crowd him and are quick enough to recover, he’s got no response due to lack of handles and shot
This isn’t a pessimistic take on DeRozan, it’s just facts. One glimmer of hope is that he did shoot 34.8% after the All-Star break last season so you’re hoping that carries over.
For him to have a fighting chance to be meaningful in a playoff series, he has to be able to create his shot with less friction. Whether it be a dead-eye mid-range jumper he shoots while rising, a transition pull-up three, or some Kobe-esque moves in the post, DeRozan’s offensive arsenal needs to expand so that defenses have to think about multiple things when guarding him.
On the plus side, he’s in a contract year looking to be paid and the failed playoff appearances should serve as further motivation to succeed and prove a point. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to Dwane Casey on what the type of role DeRozan will serve. If it’s more 1-4 clearouts or dribble-handoffs that serve as a ruse for isolation play, then DeRozan will likely have a similar season like last year – high PPG, low efficiency, predictable in the playoffs/clutch. If he’s upped his game enough, and Dwane Casey has new ideas on how to run his offense in a more egalitarian way, then we might see a different DeRozan that feeds off his teammates, rather than leeching on possessions.
Much like Kyle Lowry, the key here will be pacing DeRozan. He’s averaged over 36 minutes the last four seasons, and that number should be, at the very least, be reduced by 2-3 minutes. Of course, that depends on how well Ross plays, and whether Casey feels comfortable leaving DeRozan on the bench for 9 minutes a half.
Instead of pulling the usage lever to increase yield, the Raptors have to figure out how to make DeRozan more efficient. Acquisitions like DeMarre Carroll will help as it’ll result in a better spaced court, but that’s only a small part of the journey in bumping DeRozan to the next tier in the NBA.
It should be noted that there’s a possibility that Cory Joseph might end up playing the off-guard position as well, and perhaps even Delon Wright, so Dwane Casey does have a lot of configuration options when structuring his sets.
Quick hits to round-off the discussion:
Biggest Strength: Hard to pin a strength which spans across the position, since DeRozan’s is getting to the FT line and Ross’s is outside shooting. If I had to pick one, I’d say athleticism but I’m not really convinced.
Biggest Weakness: Defense. Powell is a rookie and Ross and DeRozan are not players that inspire great confidence on defense. Dribble penetration against them has been easy in the past and will be again this season.
What I like: Ross coming off the bench gives him a greater chance of success, and I have a feeling Norman Powell just might carry over his summer league play.
What I don’t like: DeRozan’s contract year situation – it has the potential to be a dark cloud hovering of the season, especially if the team starts losing.
Unfortunate prediction: DeRozan won’t improve his three-point shooting or ball-handling to the levels needed for him to be an elite scorer.
Bold prediction: The Raptors will regret not offering Terrence Ross an extension.
X-Factor: Will Ross produce enough off the bench as Casey expects, allowing him to reduce DeRozan’s minutes, giving the latter some perspective from the sidelines.
The Raptors enter the new season having replaced their backup point with one of championship pedigree, added a third stringer capable of playing (and defending) multiple positions, and have had their starter undergo a physical transformation that’ll make you swoon. Suffice to say, the PG is the Raptors deepest position.
The focus here has been that of defense. Unceremoniously shuffling out Greivis Vasquez was an early offseason sign that the Raptors wanted to revamp their defense identity, and that was only the first step. Getting rid of Vasquez and replacing him with a mannequin would already have been a significant upgrade, Masai Ujiri went a step further and solidified the position through the draft.
The senior from Utah was picked with the 20th selection in the draft and it immediately became clear what Ujiri was attempting to do. The 6’5” guard has proven to be a strong defender who can also run the show, and his four years of college experience makes him ideal to contribute in a meaningful capacity, while still learning the NBA ropes. Though he’ll likely see limited minutes playing both the on and off guard positions, Wright’s mere presence and length on the court should afford Dwane Casey a defense less prone to penetration, and more apt to a disciplined offensive approach. At the very least, unlike Vasquez, he won’t be taking away shots from more capable scorers and is able to stay on the court in crunch time without presenting glaring defensive mismatches. The Raptors haven’t been three-deep at the point for years, and this is a position they found themselves needing many a time last season when Vasquez was struggling making Lou Williams the de facto point guard simply because there was no on else.
Make no mistake, Wright is the icing on the cake when it comes to point guard signings, the key acquisition here is Canadian Cory Joseph, a move that drew attention around the league due to the money involved. The narrative here is that Joseph comes from the Spurs system bringing along with him great habits, intelligence, and playmaking, and is a player on the cusp of graduating from being a bench player to a starter, but for the opportunity. The reality is that unlike players like Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe, there are still doubts whether Joseph projects out to be a starting caliber point guard. However, that doesn’t preclude him from being a potentially great fit with the Raptors.
Structured playmaking is what Cory Joseph is all about, and the Raptors of last season sorely lacked that. In the clutch, they were either in full-on iso mode with Lou Williams, or laboured to create shots through predictable approaches. Joseph is a patient enough man and a good enough player that in a structured offense, he’ll deliver the ball where it needs to be delivered as per instruction. That’s what made him an asset in San Antonio, and it’s imperative that that approach continue in Toronto to some degree. At the same time, he’s sure to get more freedom in Toronto and we’ll likely see glimpses of his game that we haven’t seen before.
How successfully Cory Joseph integrates into the team is heavily dependent on the style of play Dwane Casey has in mind, and the lineup formats that he envisions. It’s very difficult to see Joseph playing with an all-bench unit since the second unit is very thin, so a mish-mash of starters and subs is the more likely (and traditional) option. If he’s playing running plays with DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, he’ll look a lot better than if he’s asked to do the same with Bismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross.
Joseph improved his three-point percentage from 31.6% to 36.4%, which was a pretty big reason he got the contract he got. Along with Ross, and assuming he’ll play with Carroll and Patterson, the Raptors could have four good shooters on the court as part of the pseudo-bench unit, with three of them being good defenders. That’s a scenario that wasn’t there last season, and lends itself to a very fast style of play, which Joseph will be asked to quarterback. If Norman Powell turns out to be half-decent, you suddenly can see the bench being able to score.
Variety is the spice of life, and completing this triumvirate is Kyle Lowry. There’s a general agreement that an in-form and healthy Kyle Lowry is arguably a top 5 NBA point guard (Westbrook, Curry, Paul, Wall). The flip side of the argument is that he’s shown that level of form for half a season which just isn’t a big enough sample size. For the purposes of this post, though, we won’t try to argue either way.
What the leaner Kyle Lowry that’s been gracing the pages of Instagram means for the Raptors, nobody quite knows. You would assume that he’s going to be quicker, faster, and more well-conditioned, and perhaps that translates to having fresher legs for a longer part of the season. Or it could mean he’s more prone to injury, or less prone to injury – I don’t really know how his body will react, and how in turn he’ll react to his body reacting. It’s an X-factor that we’ll have to keep a close eye on right from day one.
Last year he was in God-mode till mid-December when a culmination of poor form, fatigue, and nagging injury caught up to him, and suddenly the shots that were swishing were hitting front rim. The lesson here is that one has to pace themselves. His shooting percentage dropped to 37% from 45% in the new year while his minutes remained the same – 34.5. Despite clearly being out of form, Dwane Casey didn’t think that he could afford to rest Lowry, and once the injuries hit and the playoffs came, his poor management of the player caught up to him and Lowry was even worse in the post-season. The added depth at the position should mean Lowry playing around 3-4 less minutes a game, and averaging around 30 or so. Even if he plays 3 minutes less next season, that’s a 10% drop in playing time which will both keep him healthy and better prepared for the playoffs.
The three point guards all offer something different. Lowry is about individual shot-creation and play-making, Joseph is about running set offenses, and Wright is about defense and situational playmaking using his big frame. All three are good pick ‘n roll players that can score themselves, with Wright obviously being the least of the threat. They’re good ball-handlers, strong defenders, and though Lowry is prone to gamble, at least on paper they shouldn’t be allowing easy penetration into the lane, and at the same time will be a constant threat to press opposing guards.
That’s a good starting point for whatever Dwane Casey would like to do on either end.
Quick hits to round-off the discussion:
Biggest Strength: Defense. As already stated, the defense that these three can collectively play at the position could be a hallmark and driver for this team.
Biggest Weakness: Playmaking under pressure in the clutch. When the possession breaks down and you’re being hounded, Kyle Lowry has a tendency to go solo instead of making a play for someone. Corey Joseph tended to pass out in those situations and let one of the other Spurs make a play. Delon Wright is a rookie.
What I like: There’s variety at the position allowing Casey to mix-and-match lineups depending on the style he wants to play.
What I don’t like: There’s variety at the position allowing Casey to mix-and-match lineups depending on the style he wants to play.
Unfortunate prediction: Dwane Casey won’t trust Delon Wright to play in situations where he would be an asset.
Bold prediction: By the end of the season, nobody will talk about Cory Joseph’s contract.
X-Factor: Can Dwane Casey create a sense of predictability in the rotations for the players, and give all three a clear idea of what their role is, and when they’ll play.
Can you smell that? That’s what actual basketball talk sounds like. Will joins the pod as we review and rank the Eastern conference from the bottom-up.
- Jonas talk
- Positions 15-9.
- Positions 8-1
- Will and Bismack Biyombo
Ding dong yo! Ding dong.
The Toronto Raptors hit a road block last year – the NBA Playoffs. Everything was going according to plan, but thanks to a rough home stretch through the final few months and a horrific sweep, thanks Paul Pierce (again) by the Washington Wizards, the Raps were again forced to sit on the sidelines after the first round (again) and watch.
The team lacked depth to replace its struggling starters. Kyle Lowry had a playoffs to forget averaging 12.3 ppg and shooting a rough .316 from the field. Demar Derozan played well for the team but even his 20.3 ppg couldn’t save them from the brooms. After some much needed additions and some unfortunate subtractions, the Raps looked primed for their new campaign.
On the way out are Amir Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Louis Williams. Filling their shoes and then some though are DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola. At press, NBA Futures at TopBet have the Raptors at +2500 to win the East, and +5000 to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy. Which is actually pretty appropriate for this team. Not too strong, not too weak.
The team struggled last year after coming out of the gates flying. It looked like they couldn’t cope at times with being the favorites on the court night in and night out. After January, the team went 16-18 finally securing their second straight Atlantic division title on March 27. A division title that could’ve been locked up weeks before and was done in a very week division, let alone conference.
At 49-33, the Raptors were the only team above .500 in their div and were one of only five teams above .500 to make the playoffs in the Eastern conference. In other words, three teams made the playoffs with below .500 averages!
The new season should be a much stronger one defensively for Toronto with their new additions on the back end. Their needed depth is a welcome sight and their fire should be lit again. They’re no longer a favorite. They’re no longer coming off a heartbreaking game 7 loss. They’re entering the year after an embarrassing playoff performance and the loss of some key marquee players.
Much like in 2013, the world is against them and this team again has something to prove. Expect We The North to stand strong.
It was a battle of old and new at EuroBasket as Jonas Valanciunas faced up against Andrea Bargnani, and proceeded to treat him like a rag doll you about to give to Goodwill. Check the highlights to see what’s new with JV:
The podcast can’t stop, won’t stop. Andrew and Zarar blast through Twitter questions like a hot knife through butter, and hand out more predictions than a panicking psychic. Topics include:
- Darrick Martin
- Jonas talk in FIBAs
- Motion offense for next season
- Lack of zone defense
- Future of Terrence Ross vs Alan Anderson
- ‘Melo to the Raptors
- Markieff Morris and Kenneth Faried still hangin’ around
- Cory Joseph expectations
- This team vs last year’s when it comes to playoff expectations
- Playoff predictions: Raptors vs East contenders
The #Raptors905 (I think I’m supposed to use a hashtag) announced their regular season schedule. Here’s an excerpt from the release:
The 50-game schedule will be comprised of 24 home games, 24 road contests and two games as part of the 12th annual NBA D-League Showcase. The Santa Cruz Warriors will host the Showcase for the second consecutive season. The 19-game schedule will run over five days from January 6-10.
Raptors 905 will play 22-of-24 home games at Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. The team will also play two games at Air Canada Centre on Friday, December 11 versus Maine and Monday, March 14 against Fort Wayne. Both games will precede a Raptors home game.
November and December combined feature 12 of 18 games at home. Conversely, the team will be on the road for 15 of 19 contests in January and February. The club will end the season with eight of its final 11 games at home.
For tickets, you have to email [email protected], and he’ll meet you in a dark alley near Church/Queen, where you’ll have to hand him some money and he’ll slip you the tickets in your back pocket. No receipt will be provided and remember that this transaction never happened.
In other news, my cousin is trying out for the Iowa Energy D-League team. Here’s him talking about basketball in my homeland of Kashmir:
I watched Master Chef last night. Those people love preparing food far too much, and I have absolutely no clue how anybody could enjoy cooking that much more than eating. In related news, I’m dying for the NBA to be back and we are 47 days away from the first regular game for the Raptors. 47…long…days.
This of course means that we are fast approaching training camp, preseason, and actual roster news. Until then, we will have to make do with trying to discern what Jonas Valanciunas will bring to the Raptors this year based on his performance in Eurobasket, dreaming of Luis Scola maintaining his Greatest Of All Time status that he displays at every international tournament, and seeing clips of Cory Joseph running the show for team Canada when they aren’t up 24 points.
I miss the NBA, and there are 10 Raptor related things in particular that I am most looking forward to seeing this year:
1) Skinny Kyle Lowry
The dude looks incredible. Remember how good pudgy Kyle Lowry was to start last season? He was the clear leader of the team on both sides of the ball. When at his best he can set the tone on both sides of the ball, and can make all the difference for Toronto.
But the problem here is well known to every fan of the team. Lowry hasn’t shown that he can last an entire season playing at this ideal pace. His defense struggled for most of the year and got progressively worse as the year went on, and even his offense was hit and miss towards the end of the season. He was relatively healthy, but his conditioning did not allow him to maintain that level of energy through the entire season.
Now? Only time will tell, but based on the pictures we are seeing he looks primed for a long run.
2) Casey’s Defensive System
It was my biggest complaint last year. Casey was brought to Toronto almost entirely due to his reputation as being a defensive innovator. He helped build the system that allowed the Dallas Mavericks to win their first and only NBA Championship. His resume was sparkling and his reputation for his defensive knowledge was even better.
Toronto has reaped little of this success during his time on the bench. In fact, the defense last season bottomed out and finished the year with the 23rd ranked defense, allowing opponents to score 104.9 points per 100 possessions. The only teams that were worse in this regard were the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Raptors over-rotated, and created far too many mismatches that the opposition easily exploited. It was uglier and uglier as the year went on. It became painful and predictable to watch.
It was largely for this reason that the Raptors let Lou Williams walk and traded Greivis Vasquez, while also focusing their attention on players like DeMarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, and Cory Joseph during free agency.
Add to that that Masai Ujiri hired Andy Greer to be one of Ujiri’s assistant coaches. Greer was a key assistant to Tom Thibodeau in Chicago and helped Chicago to be one of the top defensive rosters in the league (12th last season in points allowed per 100 posessions).
Casey may be the first defensive head coach to have a defensive assistant coach that has been hired to help him. With the 2016-17 season being a team option for Casey, he could very easily be entering the final year of his tenure in Toronto. He has one season or less to prove that he has what it takes.
3) DeMar DeRozan’s Contract Status
It has been regularly reported that DeRozan will be seeking a max contract next summer as he is currently underpaid for the value that he brings. But $25M annually would make him criminally overpaid for the type of player that he is.
I love DeRozan, and would even love to see him be a lifelong Raptor. He has embraced the city and its identity, and has seen it through with the team during some very lean years, but I have no desire to pay him that type of money.
With that being said though, I anticipate that he will at least get very close to his desired salary. With the explosion of the salary cap, a terrible free agent group, and enough teams that will need to reach the salary basement in regards to spending, DeRozan will be primed for a massive raise.
I hate the thought of losing him for nothing, and his contract status will be a key talking point for the entire season.
4) Celebrating Every Knicks’ Loss…Even More than Normal
Andrea Bargnani turned into the gift that just keeps on giving. Just thinking about how Masai Ujiri abused New York by trading gives me a big smile on my face. Ujiri not only managed to get the Knicks to take Bargnani off his hands, he also convinced the Knicks to give him their 2016 First Round Pick…for the second time!!!
Ujiri was the one who traded Carmelo Anthony to New York while he was the GM in Denver. A piece of this trade was acquiring the rights to swap 2016 First Round picks with New York. Now he went and got the worse of these two picks.
Denver is coming off a season that saw them finish with just 30 wins, and are now turning their team over to a rookie point guard. New York meanwhile managed just 17 wins last season, and are caught somewhere between trying to compete with Melo while also developing young players like Kristaps Porzingis.
The Raptors could easily be looking at a top 10 pick next summer, while also competing to make a run in the playoffs. And if everything breaks right, Toronto could even see themselves in possession of a top 5 pick in a draft that features talents like Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, Dragan Bender, and Jamal Murray.
I will gleefully hate on New York and Denver all season.
5) The Potential Collapse of the Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are in a great place when it comes to talent. They are on the verge of competing for the Championship this season and have their core (Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Lance Stephenson, J.J. Redick, and Paul Pierce) under contract for at least two more seasons. In fact, the only key player for the Clippers that isn’t under contract for 2016-17 is Jamal Crawford.
And yet, the Clippers seem to be in disarray. Reports have surfaced that the franchise is as unstable as ever and could be on the verge of self-destructing.
As Raptors fans we can enjoy both sides of this franchise’s present state, and can hope to see them towards the bottom of the playoff picture in 2017, as the Raptors own the Clippers’ 2017 First Round pick, top 14 protected.
Perhaps I take too much pleasure in watching other teams suffer.
6) All-Star Game in Toronto
The entire NBA world will turn it’s eyes to Toronto in the middle of February, and the greatest players will join together. Ujiri and company will aim to use this weekend as a selling point to players like Kevin Durant, as they try to sell their franchise as a free agent destination.
7) Jonas Valanciunas
I can’t wait to see how the new $64M man will be used. The pressure is on him to not only meet the expectations that come with that contract, but the room is there to exceed the value that he is getting paid. It’s up to him (and Casey) to stay on the court deep into the game, and to play more than his 26.2 minutes per game.
I fully expect to see him regularly north of 30 minutes per night.
8) A Crushing Sense of Doom
I’ve been a Raptors fan for too long. I know it’s coming. It happens every year. It’s only a matter of when my soul will be smashed by the team I love.
9) Raptors 905s
Bruno Caboclo, Normal Powell, Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira, and potentially Ronald Roberts. I can’t wait to see which of these players might show the potential to be key contributors to the franchise’s future.
10) Something Other Than Netflix and Master Chef to Watch
October 28 can’t come soon enough!
By biggest impact, we mean greatest positive influence on our win-totals. Come vote and discuss.
The newly penned Lithuanian had a monster game at EuroBasket as he dominated Belgium’s frontline with ease scoring 25 points and 12 rebounds. Individual highlights below:
Despite his big game, though, Lithuania was shocked as they gave up the offensive rebound at the buzzer which Belgium tipped in. Valanciunas was caught trailing Matt Lojeski in transition and wasn’t able to get to the rim fast enough, as the latter tipped it in, rendering the big man’s game void:
Andrew and Zarar take you deep into Raptors history, folklore, legend, and myth, as they run down moments that are forever etched in a Raptors fans mind, whether good or bad. We try to recall memories that our subconscious remembers only for our tongues to fail us.
There’s Vince Carter, the Damon years, Babcock’s blunders, an omission in the middle, classic post-gamers, days that broke our hearts and nights that kept us going. Also, there’s Will Solomon. It’s a pod like no other.
What’s your strongest memory?
And here we are. September has come, training camp is still weeks away, the roster is likely set, and we have largely run out of news to discuss. We truly are in the dog days of summer and NBA basketball can’t begin soon enough.
All that’s left to do is to dream about what this roster could do and how they could play together, while hoping (praying?) that they have improved enough to not lose in the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row…or embarrassed for the second year in a row.
The starters will still feature the likes of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, with DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson likely to join them. These two new entries will certainly change much about the Raptors, but it is on the bench where the biggest changes are now found.
With Patterson likely joining the starting lineup, the seldom played James Johnson is the one bench hold over from last year who actually saw the floor. Lou Williams has taken his NBA Sixth Man award to the Lakers in an attempt to share the ball with Kobe Bryant and Nick Young, while Tyler Hansbrough has taken his agitation of opponents and fans to Charlotte. Greg Stiemsma and Chuck Hayes will no longer ride the pine in Raptors’ jerseys, and Landry Fields and his left handed shooting has also moved on (although to nowhere in particular).
Lou Williams helped define the Raptors style of play last year. He was the ultimate gunner who dominated when he was hot, but continued to shoot even when nothing was falling. The Raptors become one of the top offensive teams in the league, but also became a collective group that prioritized scoring over defence.
This wasn’t all on Lou, and he certainly wasn’t the only culprit, but it was a visible pattern.
All of this culminated in the Raptors getting destroyed (to put it kindly) in the first round by the Washington Wizards. What had started as an exciting and hopeful season, ended with disappointment and a new objective by Ujiri to improve the Raptors defensive focus.
Hence the changes to the roster for 2015-16.
As intriguing (see: scary) as it is to see what Terrence Ross can do as a primary weapon off the bench, perhaps the biggest change to the second unit is the signing of Cory Joseph for four years at $30 million, with a contract starting at $7M for 2015-16.
Joseph will be tasked with the role of primary ball handler off the bench and will be asked to replace all of what Greivis Vasquez provided, as well as some of what Lou Williams did (with Ross hopefully providing the rest).
So how do Joseph and Vasquez compare statistically, and how can Cory go about fulfilling the role that he has been brought in to play?
For starters, Joseph brings a much higher offensive rating compared to Vasquez (115 to 105), and a lower defensive rating (104 to 110). Joseph is a net positive on the court, while Vasquez was a negative for the Raptors last season. Although it’s a rather low bar to exceed, Joseph showed himself to be a far more valuable contributor than Vasquez. Just look at their advanced stats.
Joseph has a higher player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, total rebounding percentage, steal percentage, block percentage, offensive wins share, defensive win shares, win-shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, and value above replacement, all while having a lower usage rate and turnover rate.
Cory Joseph truly is an advanced stats darling based on his 18.3 minutes per game last season, and helps to answer many of the questions that Ujiri needed answered this summer.
Despite all of that though, Joseph has yet to show that he is capable of replacing the three point shooting that Vasquez provided. He may have shot just 1.5 percent less than Vasquez from long distance, but he also took less than one three point shot per game (0.6 to be exact). Vasquez meanwhile attempted 4.3 such shots per game.
The hope in Toronto is that Joseph will be able to maintain his shooting percentage from last year, while also increasing his three point attempts, and that he can do so while extending his minutes played. A tough task to say the least.
There’s one more stat that Joseph now has on Vasquez: a higher annual salary.
Joseph’s contract starts at $7M in year one, while Vasquez is entering the final year of a contact that will earn him $6.6M. In the grand scheme of things, $0.4M isn’t a large gap between the two, but in a salary cap world every dollar matters.
On the surface it feels like Joseph is getting well overpaid, so much so that it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that a hometown bonus was included to bring him back to Toronto. A hometown bonus for a player who brings a championship ring back to the place where he grew up, and can be marketed as such. After all, the Raptors have long dreamed of having a Canadian player to sell to their fanbase. This was one of the main reasons that Steve Nash was so appealing when he last entered free agency (I love Nash, but I’m thankful each day that we dodged that bullet). Despite the Nash overtures though, Joseph is the first of what the team hopes is many players who could fulfill this dream for the Raptors management.
But $7M seems awfully high for a back-up point guard. How does this salary compare to other back-up point guards around the league?
Jarrett Jack is making $6.3M for Brooklyn, while Cleveland is paying Mo Williams just $2.1M. J.J. Barea gets $4.1M annually, and Shawn Livingston is paid $5.54M. Patrick Beverley is now paid $6.5M after re-signing with Houston this summer, and Darren Collison gets $5M.
Back-up point guards have a wide split when it comes to salary, but Joseph’s contract is certainly on the high end of the scale despite being at least in the same area as many other back-up point guards around the league, many of who have already hit their ceiling as older players while Joseph still has room to grow.
But let’s use Shawn Livingston as an example. I’m picking him due to the role he played in Golden States run to the championship last year, as well as his rather middle of the road contract (compared to other back-up point guards that are not on rookie scale). Livingston originally signed with the Warriors in 2014 for the full mid-level exception, with a first year salary of $4,673,825, a number substantially lower than Joseph’s first year salary of $7M.
Joseph’s first year salary is 44 percent higher than that of Livingston. The hometown bonus seems insane at this point, but this is without factory in the new economic landscape that includes the new TV money.
When he was signed last summer, Livingston accounted for 7.4% of the $63.2M salary cap. The first year of Joseph’s contract accounts for 10 percent of the 70M salary cap.
Yes, his contract his high, and Joseph is still a relatively unknown player who has yet to prove himself as a focal point of a roster, but his signing isn’t nearly as large of a gamble as his starting salary makes it out to be.
An argument can be made that Joseph didn’t get any hometown bonus, but rather the normal youth/potential bonus that many young players with proven track records receive. He’s a young player with room to grow who has already played a role for a championship team. These type of players get paid. And based on the new economic landscape, taking up an additional 2.6 percent of a team’s salary cap space (when using Livingston as an example) could easily be explained by his youth and not his nationality.
He is a ball-hawking defender who makes opponents work for every inch of room they can get, and when given the opportunity he has shown to attack at will. If he can improve his three point shooting then his contract could very easily become a bargain in a year or two, instead of being mildly overpaid at the moment.
With the signing of Joseph, the Raptors have a back-up point guard that could one day become a starter, and did so without breaking the bank. You can’t do much better than that when it comes to free agency.
Now, let’s get this season started already…
Kyle Lowry was asked about Instagram pics and his weight loss, here’s one of the questions he answered where he revealed it started from a comment made by his wife.
What made you decide to drop weight?
It started during [last] season, and even before that. I was talking to my wife, and she said “You were always your best at your college weight.” The saying is, the older you get, the lighter you’ve got to be. I thought Ray Allen did a great job of that, and Chauncey Billups too. I’m getting to the point where I’m a little bit older. I’m still young, but I’m a little bit older, and I can pick and choose how I want my body to look and feel. It’s good to understand your body. I want to be special. At the end of the day it’s all about me and how I feel and what I can provide for my team and my family.
Follow the link for the full interview (auto-playing video).
This weight loss has gotten me more excited than all of our signings combined.
Rushing to judgement is a character flaw in all of us. Some are just better at hiding it than others. But these days I’m striving to buck that trend, particularly when it comes to possibly jumping the gun on a player who still has room to grow. I’m sure most can relate, as often times our fandom gets the best of us. Only to come back and haunt in some form or fashion.
A caveat counteracts that notion, however. As one investing their emotions is half the fun. I guess the constant tug-of-war will always exist, but as we continue to evolve as fans, letting a scenario play out to its fullest potential is almost always the best course of action. Even though the frustration endured over a player not reaching the level their skill-set was pegged for fast enough is another trait we all have in common.
This way of thinking certainly applies when you survey the Raps’ roster. A squad that owns plenty of talent trending upward with the best yet to come. Yes, even Bruno.
If the current “core” ultimately fails to become anything more than simply “being in the conversation” of the league’s elite, names like Co-jo, Powell, Delon, DeMarre and Valanciunas offer optimism that the Raptors’ reinvigorated movement of recent years will remain afloat. The backcourt trio is just getting started, while Carroll, who turns 30-years-old next summer is set to embark on the most prominent role he’s ever received. Rumblings of an overpay were and are inevitable, but late-bloomers are always welcome. Opportunity just had to meet his talent halfway.
To a lesser extent, PP and JJ own that same opportunity. It would be wishful thinking to believe either can catapult themselves into a higher class of player, but handing out concrete minutes can work wonders. Of which both are about to receive.
With what could be a future of guard-heavy assets – much like the present – the JV extension not only makes sense, but may very well turn out to be a godsend down the line. At times, his play can be puzzling, that’s not a top secret evaluation. But he comes with more pros than cons. Which results in a landslide victory considering the lack of depth up front. Besides, even with the questions that cloud his progress, there are too many other what-ifs surrounding this franchise to not solidify a part of the future at a much needed position.
And let’s not underestimate the positive impact Louis Scola can have on JV’s development. A complimentary piece when on the court together, and a possible mentor off of it. Scola’s skill-set represents the parts of JV’s game he needs to work on. No matter how deteriorated it may now be. You can get a taste of what Louis has left in the tank, here. It may have been the FIBA Americas, but quality competition nonetheless.
Now, if there is any credibility to the Tristan Thompson rumours, the roster moving forward will need to be reconstructed. Same goes the for the club’s finances.
As for K-Low and T-Ross, well, one gets put into a category all his own, while the other borders on being the exception to the rule. Have we already seen Lowry at his optimum level? In order for the masses to hold complete faith that whatever untapped upside remains can be reached, he must first find his former self.
When it comes the once most polarizing player on this team, Ross has perhaps the steepest climb ahead of him. It’s most likely time to enter the mindset of we’ll take what we can get. A selfish deviation from my own mission statement, but I’m in the process of a learning curve myself.
Which brings us to the headlining act.
Boom or Bust?
Over the course of DeMar DeRozan’s six seasons, we’ve witnessed moments of stardom mixed with ugly spurts of inconsistency. Carrying this team over extended stretches has not gone unnoticed, but neither has his inevitable shooting inefficiencies.
Still, DeMar also represents the perfect combination when looking at the big picture. There’s no other player in the lineup that can match his set of tools, or own the potential to make such a sizeable leap in contributions. Lowry can make a push to be in the same sentence, but with his wear and tear, he gets pushed down a notch.
When one looks back at the mistakes made in the 2009 draft, where Hasheem Thabeet was selected one pick before James Harden, Johnny Flynn before Steph Curry, and Jeff Teague sliding all the way to 19th overall, it’s safe to say DeRozan has been a great investment.
But now is the time for that investment to reach a higher profit margin. If a next-level jump is realized, the progress of his supporting cast moves that much quicker along with it. That’s a two-way street, however. But if not, this franchise will remain in status-quo limbo.
Let’s take a look at what DeRozan has working for and against him heading into the season.
- Pieces in place: Masai did an admirable job adding to the puzzle. An encouraging sign moving forward. Most of whom are capable of helping to boost DeRozan’s production. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. A lineup consisting of DeRozan, Lowry and Joseph on the floor at the same time can be highly beneficial. DeMar can utilize his strengths more when he doesn’t have to worry about directing traffic by default, or at inopportune times.
- Contract status: I don’t think there’s any doubt his player option will be exercised. Adding to notion that we’ll get to see DeRozan at peak levels. As of this moment, I would push all-in on the Raps offering a max-type deal, but the onus still would reside on the player to earn that “slam-dunk” decision. With an effort to stay fully healthy to boot.
- All-Star Game / 3-point improvement: One would think a second All-Star nod is high on his to-do list. Especially when it’s being played on his home court. Word has also been making the rounds that DeRozan has been sharpening his downtown skills throughout the offseason. Though with an entire career that has never seen his threes-per-game register over the 0.8 mark, and a percentage that has hit over 30% just once, we shouldn’t hold our breath.
- Shot selection: His propensity for long-twos and mid-range work has been well documented. So has his dip in FG% over the last three seasons, as well as his chaotic swings in the True Shooting department. This is where his supporting cast hopefully steps in. There doesn’t have to be a monumental shift, as even incremental improvement on pick-and-rolls, fighting through screens, interior presence, and shot-clock awareness can allow DD to take charge in other areas, while not overcompensating for others. Slashing to the basket while being hit in stride can benefit almost every facet on the offensive side. Keeping his free-throw rate in tact is imperative, but offering others better position for offensive rebounding can be a tremendous added bonus. But of course, DeRozan must aid the process with a little more unselfishness.
- Contract status: His impending situation also comes with a downside. A new crew, with a new mentality (especially on defense) may take time to reach an all-systems-go personality. Perhaps not even until the following season. Well, his probable payday suggests the Raptors’ brass and fans alike might not have the luxury of witnessing that full effect until after the loot is handed over. He’ll either get paid as a justifiable franchise player or still exist as the type best suited to be a secondary option.
The upcoming season holds as much potential as it does questions. But now with the logistics out of the way, let’s move in a different direction.
Comin’ Full Circle
Sports commentary and analysis has undoubtedly shifted towards treating players more or less like analytical robots. And the movement is here to stay. It acts like a truth serum of sorts when it comes to an individual player’s value. It also lends itself to evolving, which is always a good thing. Furthermore, it has now created a space where the human element has been pushed into a subsidiary role.
How about a compromise?
As long as we’re still keeping an open mind, let’s implement an outside-the-box connection. When you mix the fact that we’re still in the midst of the offseason with the long weekend fast approaching, it’s a perfect time to contemplate and reflect. Not to worry, though, there’s plenty of time to dive deeper into True Shooting Percentages, Win Shares, VORP, PER, and how many times Terrence Ross turns the ball over Per 100 Possessions once the season starts.
Still with me? Just checking.
I’ll save some of you the trouble of pointing out that the angle of DeRozan hailing from Compton has been used before by other outlets. I fully acknowledge that. But that’s not going to stop me from moving forward with a narrative that’s been brewing for quite some time. There’s always room for hitting a topic another way, as the similarities go well beyond growing up in the same hometown. And as N.W.A.’s 1988 hit single encourages us all to do: “Express Yourself”.
Give it a spin to set the backdrop. And feel free to bust out the Running Man.
The new N.W.A. movie, Straight Outta Compton, will be our reference point. A story that represents an entire generation whether you were a fan of the legendary group or not. You would have found yours truly walking to school as a youngster sporting my gigantic yellow Sony Sports Walkman (remember those?) popping in cassette after cassette.
I’ve yet to watch the film, though, as I fear the outcome. I fear a glossy hollywood take on something with such raw roots. I’m optimistic yet skeptical. Much like the way I’m preparing for such an important Raps’ campaign.
A strong musical influence is not unlike a sports team one grows up with. You can critique both, take issue with a new album or team direction, but in the end, one craves the best out of each.
Rushing to judgement is the same in any arena. So I’m trying my damnedest to stay neutral when it comes to the movie. Even though I recently caved by seeking out a review. An enjoyable piece written by Wesley Morris at Grantland. Though the positive reinforcements I was looking for weren’t exactly present.
While reading the piece, a few quotes made me think of the Raptors. What can I say, it’s only the offseason in theory.
” In the end, Straight Outta Compton seems almost terrified of the power it has.”
How many times have the Raps failed to impose their will on an opponent? Only to “take” what’s given to them. The pieces are arguably in place to achieve much more, they’re just not buying in to what they can accomplish. Or better yet, not getting out of their own way.
“It seems terrified to more directly connect that music to both its human and societal sources. It’s easier to make the hip-hop Avengers. Something that group did struck a raw nerve. But now everybody responsible for that moment seems content to remind us that they also struck it rich.”
Last season was supposed to be about building on success, whether it was warranted or not. A movement took place two seasons ago that lit this city on fire, but the way the second half of last year and first round of the playoffs went, contentedness was seemingly in the air.
To represent that previously stated limbo this franchise is in, with DeRozan at the forefront, I’ll finish off with with another classic record. And the reason why I chose my headline. This track was released after its strongest member, Ice Cube, left the group, and the crew slowly started its downward trend soon after. Let’s hope DeMar’s game dictates a better situation, and we get to see this thing to the end.
100 Miles And Runnin’: Here’s to that headline being spun in a more positive light. I’m thinking the morning after the Raps advance to round two.
But they really are Straight Outta Excuses.
The Raptors’ 21st season is approaching and it’s set up to be a beauty. With an upgraded roster and the NBA All Star weekend coming to the city there is much for Raptor fans to be excited about.
It’ll also be nice to move on from the 20th anniversary celebrations. There were some great moments that came with the festivities last year. The throw back jerseys and salutes to former players during games were awesome. Having to watch Dwayne Casey talk about the time the Raptors beat the 72-10 Bulls every other commercial break was a bit tough. But that’s what comes with a franchise that hasn’t accomplished much, you’ve got to focus on what little success you’ve had.
Vince Carter’s tribute at the Air Canada was great. Seeing him well up during the ovation tugged at the heartstrings of even the most bitter fan. It felt like there was closure. Carter was sorry and appreciated the fans and we forgave him for the messy exit with the team. Everything was settled and it was time to move on.
But with all the All Star hype coming this year, at some point the debate will return on whether Carter’s number should be retired. The answer is no. Carter put the franchise on the map. He inspired a generation of young Canadians to become the best crop of basketball talent this country has ever seen. But he also quit. He became soft and selfish. Everything associated with his departure was a disaster.
In order for a player to have his number retired there needs to be an overwhelming positive connection with the franchise. Someone who fans can reminisce about and unequivocally say, man I loved that guy.
It just so happens that another former Raptor who embodied the heart and soul worthy of a jersey retirement also wore the number fifteen. As a Toronto Raptor Amir Johnson was everything Canadian sports fans love. A hard-working, blue-collar guy who showed up every night and gave 100% no matter how poorly the team struggled. When most players around the league wouldn’t even consider playing north of the border, Johnson embraced it. Off the court he was Mr. Toronto, wearing Leaf Jerseys to events, buying up all of Drake’s CDs and never once complaining about his mediocre teams or sore ankles.
While Vince Carter had the skill and accolades to deserve the jersey retirement he doesn’t have the heart and soul to make it happen. Amir Johnson has the heart and soul but his in-game statistics aren’t there. Which brings us to the natural solution: joint-jersey retirement.
When both players retire, hang the number fifteen from the rafters of the ACC with Carter and Johnson’s names on the banner. It’s the perfect salute to the greatest star that ever wore a Raptor uniform and one of the greatest quiet leaders the team has ever had.
The joint-jersey retirement will appease everyone. The Carter fans that are adamant his number be retired will get their wish. The Raptor fans who want to acknowledge the Carter legacy but aren’t comfortable with the way things ended will have a reason to justify the number hanging from the ceiling.
Think of the conversations the joint retirement would spark…
Son: Was Vince Carter the greatest Raptor ever?
Dad: He was amazing, son.
Son: Wow, I want to be like Vince Carter.
Dad: Actually, towards the end of his tenure he turned out to be kind of a pussy. Your mother and I would be happier if you became someone like Amir Johnson. But Vince was very good, yes.
Guy From Scarborough: Yo guy Vince Carter was the best player ever. They should take Amir off that banner.
Other guy from Scarborough: Yo Vince was awesome but he quit on the team. Amir is buddies with Drake.
Guy From Scarborough: True. Amir was awesome too. Let’s get a Jamaican patty.
It makes too much sense. An Amir/Vince combo jersey retirement is the way to go. For those who think such a banner would be out of place in the ACC rafters, keep in mind there’s one already hanging for Bon Jovi. We’re good. See you at the ceremony.
Cory Joseph may have dished out 7 assists, but it was Luis Scola that dominated the headlines with 35 points as Argentina beat Canada to open the FIBA Americas tournament. Here’s some video of Scola’s performance which included the general bag of veteran tricks. If you notice closely, you’ll even see him jumping at one point:
Canadian Men’s Basketball on precipice of becoming a world player
It’s been a productive summer for the Men’s National Basketball program as they continue to build confidence on the international stage. At the Pan Am Games in Toronto they won the silver medal losing their only game to the gold medalist Brazilian team. Along the way they shocked the U.S. squad, knocking them out in the semi finals and created history with the first Men’s Basketball medal ever won at a Pan Am Games..
The youngsters are also faring well in tournaments proving Canadian Basketball is on the rise with a solid foundation in place to maintain a presence in the future. The Under 16 Men’s Team finished second at the FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina. The player to keep an eye on as he rises up the ranks is 15 year old 6’6″ Rowan Barret Jr.
He’s the son of Rowan Barrett who along with Steve Nash forms the brain trust of the Canadian Men’s Senior National Team. R.J. has been surrounded by basketball his entire life and Nash is his godfather. Barrett Jr is ranked second in North America in his age group and with his natural athleticism may well be what many have already coined him as “Canada’s next Andrew Wiggins“.
Despite a 6-1 record the Under 19 squad finished fifth at FIBA World Championships in Greece losing only to Croatia in the quarter finals.
The player who stands out in this age group is 18 year old 6’4″ Jamal Murray who was kept off the U19 team to gain experience with the senior team at the Pan Am Games. Wise beyond his years the point guard led the Canadian squad to the upset of the US team at the Pan Am Games which ultimately took them to the gold medal game.
He’s getting compared to some big names in the NBA and his recent 30 point performance at the NIke Hoop Summit equals a mark set just twice previously by Kevin Durant and Nicolas Batum. This year Murray heads to Kentucky where he’ll hone his skills en route to his inevitable entry into the NBA the following season.
“When I watched the Hoops Summit (global all-star game) out in Portland earlier this year he had 30 points, and I was reminded after the game by Nicolas Batum that only two players prior to that had 30 points in that game,” said the coach. “They were Nic Batum and Kevin Durant, so I knew he was in good company with the way he played in that game and the poise he had on the big stage – Triano.”
This past week in a warm-up to FIBA Americas, the Senior Team won the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup in Puerto Rico posting a 4-0 record.Brimming with confidence and the roster trimmed to 12 they arrive in Mexico primed to compete for the title. The goal is a a top 2 finish which will guarantee them an Olympic berth next summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Tuto Marchand Results
August 23: Canada 85- Argentina 80
August 24: Canada 80- Brazil 64
August 25: Canada 86- Dominican Republic74
August 26: Canada 78- Puerto Rico 72
Showcasing how much Canada has grown both in the NBA and internationally they have 9 NBA players on the roster and that doesn’t include 2 players who’ve participated internationally previously (Tristan Thompson and Tyler Ennis).
Cavalier rebounding specialist Thompson is likely focused on finalizing his free agency as he remains the top unsigned free agent and Ennis is recovering from off season surgery. Both would be strong possibilities to be a part of the Olympic roster should the Canadians earn a berth at the FIBA Americas Cup.
FIBA Americas Canadian Roster
While Canada will face some of the same teams in Mexico City the rosters will likely change as this tournament has greater importance given the Olympic qualifying stakes. At present 4 teams have clinched their spot to Rio:
- United States – Gold Medal, FIBA World Championships in Spain 2014
- Brazil – Olympic Hosts
- Australia – Gold Medal, FIBA Oceania
- Nigeria – Gold Medal, FIBA AfroBasket 2015
Ten countries will compete for these two spots up for grabs in Mexico City including Argentina,Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and our Canadians. Although Canada enters the tournament on a high from their summer performances and Tuto Marchand gold medal they recognize the need to stay focused since many teams didn’t utilize their “A Team” in the warm up to the Americas event running August 31 to September 12, 2015..
FIBA Americas Canada First Round Schedule
The tournament has three rounds of play, round one features games versus Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico (2 of those teams they beat this past week)
Tuesday September 1, 2015 – Canada versus Argentina 3:30 pm
Wednesday September 2, 2015 – Cuba versus Canada 3:30 pm
Thursday September 3, 2015 – Canada versus Venezuela 7:00 pm
Friday September 4, 2015 – Puerto Rico versus Canada 7:00 pm
All games are Eastern Standard time and have a pre-game show beginning a half hour prior. TSN is running all games from the tournament with the first game (Cuba versus Venezuela) tipping off today at 1:00 pm. .
The obvious goal will be to place as high as possible in the first round as placement determines the second round opponents with games September 6th -9th. To wit, the team finishing atop the first round will play teams finishing 5-8 in the second round making an entry to the medal rounds easier. The top 4 teams will move on to the final round with 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3 on Sepember 11th to determine the gold medal round to be played September 12th.
Young Canadians Gaining Experience
While the goal is to win the Americas Tournament there is much more these young Canadians can draw from these events. Namely experience, not just on the world stage, but also in terms of building leadership skills. Last summer Stephen Curry and James Harden led the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships and translated that experience into a one-two finish in the MVP race. Harden specifically sites the experience he gained from leading the US team a prime reason for his ascent into a better leader this past season.
Andrew Wiggins and Cory Joseph will likely be tasked with taking on this responsibility for the Canadian squad (with Thompson likely added to the mix in Rio should they gain a berth) and this will benefit the Timberwolves and Raptors specifically in the coming season.
Others like Anthony Bennett, Nik Stauskas and Andrew Nicholson can use the event to build confidence for the upcoming season. Bennett who also participated in the Pan Am Games appears to fit the international game well, arguably better than the NBA game. No doubt these events will help him with his professional career which up til now has been underwhelming as he initially dealt with a myriad of injuries and subsequently tried to translate his skills to an NBA court.
And, for players like Melvin Ejim this experience may bolster his confidence as he attempts to turn his summer qualifying contract into a a full time position with the Orlando Magic.
Toronto Raptors and NBA Players at Tournament
For Toronto Raptors fans they can look forward to becoming more familiar with the games of Cory Joseph and Luis Scola who captains his Argentinian squad. Other NBA players who’ll play in Mexico City by team are:
Argentina:Luis Scola (Toronto Raptors)
Of note: if Brazil were not the Olympic host city they would likely have several players participating such as Anderson Varejao (Cavaliers), Tiago Splitter (Hawks), Leandro Barbosa (Warriors), Bruno Caboclo (Raptors), Nene Hilario (Wizards),and Cristiano Felicio (Bulls).
Canada: Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), Cory Joseph (Toronto Raptors), Anthony Bennett (Minnesota Timberwolves), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers) and Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic) Melvin Ejim (Orlando Magic), Kelly Olynyk (Boston Celtics), Robert Sacre (LA Lakers),
Dominican Republic: Francisco Garcia who last played for the Houston Rockets
Mexico: Jorge Gutierrez (Milwaukee Bucks)
NOTE: There may be additional NBA stars playing for their countries like former Raptor and Venezuelan Guard Greivis Vasquez but the FIBA Americas site does not list him on their roster.
Taking into consideration the Canadians bring a young squad to Mexico the 9 NBA players and their success this summer bodes well for the squad giving them reason to be confident. Regardless of the talent on the team they’ll need to maintain focus and humility as they face squads who have the benefit of playing together internationally for years.
A top two finish at this tournament would make up for a snub to last year’s World Championships when a Finnish Team bribed their way into a wild card seed ahead of the Canadians and a few other deserving countries. Looking down the pipeline there is reason to be optimistic Canada is just now entering what could translate into the golden era of Canadian basketball.
The first step toward that goal is to take care of business in Mexico City and earn a berth on the Olympic stage.
Will and Zarar take you through the last week of August and into September with talk of Tristan Thompson’s future, DeMarre Carroll’s present, helluva lot more, and even a peek across Europe in a way that’s unusual to the pod.
- Tristan Thompson rumours
- Jonas Valanciunas contract in absolute terms
- Precedence for overpaying Canadian players
- Tim’s article
- Masai Ujiri inheriting Bryan Colangelo
- Twitter questions
- DeMarre Carroll’s All-Star candidacy
- Last hurrah for Vince
- Bebe’s role next season
- Why we love scrubs
- Soccer talk
Raptors go 47-35 on the year, finish fifth in the East, face Washington in the first round.
The Valanciunas Extension
Another win in an already successful off-season for the team, especially considering a 4-year max contract extension would have been in the $93m ballpark once the salary cap rises next season. (read more)
Even still, the present-day Valanciunas is still a rather useful player. He’s somewhat awkward and his game is inflexible, but he’s good at what he does. He was tremendously efficient while operating in the post and held opponents to a respectable 46.5 percent shooting at the rim last season. If that’s the baseline for his production, Valanciunas is off to a good start. (read more)
What about Ross’ Extension?
Is burning dollar bills a better use of money? (listen to pod)
After toiling in his development last season, Ross is not a popular figure within the Raptors’ fanbase. The idea that Ross might be retained for the long haul is not a pleasant thought. However, if Ujiri can manage to lock Ross into a reasonable figure, an extension might not be such a terrible idea. Ross’s price will never be lower. (read more)
Is Ujiri: Status quo or moving the needle?
But is the team better? After all, DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas struggled on defence last year, but they’ll still be getting the bulk of the minutes for the club at their respective positions. Patrick Patterson is expected to slide into the starting five to replace Johnson, but his defensive bona fides aren’t really anything to write home about, either. So is the idea here that Carroll starting, Joseph backing up the 1 and the 2, and Biyombo playing spot minutes is all going to amount to a defensive turnaround for the club? Are they meant to vault the Raptors from the basement back into the top ten, or just into the middle-of-the-pack defensively? (read more)
Masai Ujiri has become surprisingly content with the status quo. He has barely touched the young core that he inherited from Bryan Colangelo when he took over the club. He has likewise kept the controversial coach Colangelo left for him. His most recent transaction was to lucratively extend the contract of a slow-footed post player, another Colangelo holdover. His team was bounced from the first round of the Playoffs in two consecutive years and yet the biggest import he’s made during this tenure is for a 3-and-D role player to help augment his pre-existing core.
Basically, Ujiri has done as little as possible to upset the status quo of the Toronto Raptors since he took over the club just over two years ago, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who’d criticize him for the totality of that strategy.
That has a lot to do with the aforementioned Colangelo and the wild swings he would take to try and push the team forwards by leaps, often face-planting in the process. Those inside and outside the organization watched as he tried to chase every name player that hit free agency or the trade market, and so its no wonder that Ujiri’s willingness to mostly ride the same wave year-in and year-out has been met with a certain amount of calm-induced acceptance.
That said, heading into year three as GM of the Raptors, it’s hard to say that the team has meaningfully improved since the one major trade Ujiri pulled off in the first months of his tenure, the one that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento for an impressive haul of role players (the one that accidentally put the team on the course it’s on now). Ujiri has mostly looked to tweak the fringes of a roster that sits decidedly below the elite in the NBA — that is when he’s not re-signing his own free agents to new deals — and the moves he’s made this offseason seem to imply that he’s further hitching his wagon to this version of the club rather than looking at how to significantly improve it.
Take a look at this summer’s transactions: he replaced Amir Johnson with Luis Scola, he replaced Tyler Hansbrough with Bismack Biyombo, he replaced Grievis Vasquez and Lou Williams with Delon Wright and Corey Joseph and he tacked four additional years onto Jonas Valanciunas’ contract. On the whole there isn’t a lot of improvement there, just a redistribution of skills (lose some offence, gain some defence). Of course, he also brought in DeMarre Carroll, and Carroll will sort of replace Terrence Ross by doing what the team wanted Ross to do but do it better, while Ross will be asked to do what Lou Williams did off of the bench but will likely do it worse.
Now, the idea here is not be willfully obtuse. Obviously this is a team that struggled at the defensive end last season and so Ujiri attempted to balance out the roster by importing some defensive options, expecting that DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Valanciunas can help more or less approximate the offensive output of a year ago. This is not a weak strategy and, in truth, it is the kind of iterative approach to filling in holes that Colangelo steadfastly refused to employ, and that went a long way towards sealing Colangelo’s fate two years ago.
But is the team better? After all, DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas struggled on defence last year, but they’ll still be getting the bulk of the minutes for the club at their respective positions. Patrick Patterson is expected to slide into the starting five to replace Johnson, but his defensive bona fides aren’t really anything to write home about, either. So is the idea here that Carroll starting, Joseph backing up the 1 and the 2, and Biyombo playing spot minutes is all going to amount to a defensive turnaround for the club? Are they meant to vault the Raptors from the basement back into the top ten, or just into the middle-of-the-pack defensively?
Put it this way: I think that the club has improved, that the fit of these players will work out to be stronger than the fit the club had last year, but when it comes to the record or the Playoffs I can’t say that this club is meaningfully better year-over-year.
Ujiri has always been an opportunistic GM. He doesn’t wildly overplay his hand, he doesn’t try and take shortcuts when building a team and he rarely makes bad moves. It’s a strategy that netted him a stellar (likely) lottery pick in next year’s draft from New York, it’s a strategy that allowed him to nab Andre Iguodala for Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington when he was running the Nuggets and it’s a strategy that makes him feared by opposing GM’s because he won’t make big mistakes.
However, it’s also a strategy that has kept his teams from advancing past the first round of the Playoffs in five attempts. It’s a conservatism that keeps him nimble enough to execute any trade at any time, but it’s also one that can leave him lying in wait while other, bolder (and, perhaps, more reckless) executives gobble up the bulk of the prey.
Under Ujiri, there is always a sense of ‘yeah, but wait to see what he does next summer!’ Last summer he mostly just re-signed his own players, while everyone looked forward to this summer, when the club would have gobs of cap space to play with. Then, this summer he spent that cap space on role players to augment his controversial core, and so everyone is now looking towards that lottery pick next year and the options made possible by the skyrocketing salary cap. There’s always one eye on the future with Ujiri, which is a great quality, but sometimes the future can look so tantalizing you forget that you still have a present to take care of.
The Raptors being a perennial Playoff team would be nothing to sneeze at, given their history. If this club is going to spend the first years under Ujiri making iterative progress inside of that reality, there really isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s just that, when the growth is too iterative you actually stop improving, you just change. Eventually players just get older, or contracts just expire, and nothing meaningful ever winds up getting accomplished. That’s what it is to maintain the status quo, to accept things more or less as they are. The belief is that Ujiri would make a bold move when compelled to, it’s just a question of what it takes for that compulsion to boil up in him.
There is nothing wrong with this summer’s transactions, just like there was little wrong with Ujiri’s transactions in Denver. It’s just that now that we have five years of data on how he likes to run things a broader pattern has begun to emerge. He likes to massage the fringes of his rosters. He’s never hired or fired a head coach. He likes to maintain rather than discontinue. Year three was his most successful in Denver, but it still resulted in a first round exit and we never got to see how he would have handled that disappointment. For an executive that has never liked to overcommit he’s one DeMar DeRozan extension from doing that with this particular Toronto Raptors roster. I’m not sure if it’s meaningfully better than the one he fielded last year, and if I’m right I wonder if we’re on the verge of seeing the first cracks in Ujiri’s longstanding tradition of maintaining the status quo.
Question is pretty straight forward. Do we give up on him yet?
The Raptors are slated to go 23-18 in the first half of the season.
No guests? No problem. Here’s 40 minutes of lukewarm radio goodness.
The Toronto Raptors might not be finished with handing out contracts this summer.
The Toronto Raptors made it official on Thursday, as the team announced that it reached an extension with center Jonas Valanciunas. Terms were not released, but Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Valanciunas will earn $64 million between 2016 and 2019.
Here’s why the signing made sense for both teams, and what it means for the future of Valanciunas and the Raptors.
What’s in it for the Raptors?
Center for the future
First things first, they secured their center of the future in Valanciunas. Quality big men are hard to come by – especially 7-footers – and now they have a long-term solution in Valanciunas.
The extension locks in Valanciunas for most of his prime. Player option aside, Valanciunas’s age 24 to 26 seasons will be spent in a Raptors jersey. Given that big men typically peak late, the deal has the potential to grow into a steal. Conversely, potential is priced into the contract, so if Valanciunas has inexplicably already hit his peak, it’s a slight overpay.
Even still, the present-day Valanciunas is still a rather useful player. He’s somewhat awkward and his game is inflexible, but he’s good at what he does. He was tremendously efficient while operating in the post and held opponents to a respectable 46.5 percent shooting at the rim last season. If that’s the baseline for his production, Valanciunas is off to a good start.
Jonas Valanciunas ranked 10th in scoring efficiency among the 197 players who used 10+ Pos/G. Here's a look at how: pic.twitter.com/JHksrDVLPB
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) August 18, 2015
There are finer points of minutiae in Valanciunas’s favor. Take health, for example. He missed has missed just three games over the last two seasons. He’s also a strong free throw shooter, having shot over 76 percent from the line in every season to date. Both those qualities are hard to find with bigs.
Granted, Valanciunas has plenty of warts, as well.
On-off data has shown that the Raptors have consistently performed better with Valanciunas on the bench – especially on defense. Part of that is explained by ill-matched schemes, but Valanciunas doesn’t help his own cause by being slow-footed and largely lacking defensive instincts.
Valanciunas, for all his shinny efficiency metrics, could also stand to improve on offense. He’s a woeful passer and generally can’t impact the game unless he’s inside the paint. To his credit, he’s working on upping his quickness and honing his jumpshot with Supersonics legend Jack Sikma this summer.
At his current level of production, Valanciunas is probably worth $8 to $10 million per year. Couple the rising salary cap with Valanciunas’s potential, and his deal becomes far more reasonable than his salary would suggest.
Avoiding free agency
The big downside to signing Valanciunas was how it was going to affect the team’s financial flexibility for the vaunted Summer of 2016. However, Valanciunas signed for just $2.5 million more than what his cap hold would have cost (source). The difference is negligible and it’s a price worth paying for security.
Namely, the security of shielding Valanciunas from free agency.
Securing Valanciunas was never really the problem. Valanciunas was going to become a restricted free agent and the Raptors held the power to match. But what if a team threw a maximum offer at Valanciunas, one that could have cost $93.9 million over the next four years?
Handing Valanaciunas that kind of money sounds silly, but you have to consider the salary climate. The rising cap puts money in everyone’s wallet, and since there’s a minimum salary floor, it means everyone will be looking to spend.
Teams will swing for the big names next summer. Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah (if he can bounce back from injuries), Al Horford, Dwyane Wade and Mike Conley will be out there, although they all seem likely to re-sign with their respective clubs. Those guys will get the max.
Past that? It’s solid veterans like Nic Batum, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, or restricted names like Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones. Valanciunas would have fallen into this group. Some teams will get desperate and spend wildly on these names because with free agency, it’s more about who you can get, rather than what value can be captured.
Keep in mind this summer’s market saw Omer Asik (no potential, severely limited offensive skillset) receive $60 million over five years, and Enes Kanter (a historically awful defender) command upwards of $70 million over four. Tristan Thompson – a severely limited player by all means – is hunting for the max. Those deals were signed with the cap pegged for $70 million. Bumping that figure to $90 million will only pour gasoline on an already blazing market.
Valanciunas hasn’t quite earned this contract, but he would have got at least this kind of money next summer. As Snoop Pearson said in the Wire, “Deserve got nuthin to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.”
Instead, Valanciunas is now cost-controlled and the Raptors can avoid the headaches associated with constant badgering regarding his future, duck the messy free agency period itself, while paying at or below market price.
It’s a good deal for Toronto.
What’s in it for Valanciunas?
$64 million is a lot of money. If he manages it effectively, it’s enough to support his family for generations to come. And while Valanciunas could have held out and tried for a bigger contract in free agency, not every dollar is worth the same.
As former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks explains, security holds a lot of sway among players.
Keep in mind that even if the JV extension seems low, Long term security and finances outweigh the unknown going into FA, even if he was RFA
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 20, 2015
Signing for the long run also makes sense as Valanciunas clearly seems to enjoy the city of Toronto. He spoke glowingly about the organization after he signed his deal.
The team is also making a strong statement as to their commitment towards Valanciunas. This, along with reports of the team changing up its defensive schemes to a style that suits Valanciunas, suggests that their franchise center might actually crack 30 minutes per game next season. Long suffering Jonas fans, rejoice.
The departure of Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez also leaves a void on offense, one that could be filled by Valanciunas. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are already near their capacity in terms of usage, and Valanciunas projects as the most logical third option to fill the void in the offense.
Altogether, Valanciunas will be paid handsomely to remain with the only NBA team he’s ever known, while doors continue to open all around him. The deal makes plenty of sense for him, too.
Building for the future
In constructing a team, the general manager has to plan for different outcomes. Signing Valanciunas gives Masai Ujiri options for the future.
As a hypothetical, let’s say the Raptors decline sharply next season. Lowry isn’t able to recapture his all-star form, DeMarre Carroll turns out to be a system guy, DeRozan continues to top out as a medium-efficiency, volume-scoring two guard, while the team fails to make the playoffs.
In that scenario, having Valanciunas gives the Raptors a piece to build around for the future in the event of a tear-down, similar to how Portland rewarded Damian Lillard with an extravagant extension while they stripped their roster. At the very least, Valanciunas would hold significant trade value if the Raptors opt for a full, bare-bones rebuild. Either way, they managed to secure an asset.
Extending Valanciunas, however, comes with a bit of inflexibility as well. Namely, the Raptors have very little – if any – cap room to work with next summer. This team – with the core of Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas – is something close to the end product, unless they choose to blow it up.
Altogether, the Raptors have $71 million in guaranteed salary next summer. That figure drops by $10 million if DeRozan turns down his player option to become a free agent (which he will). Once that happens, DeRozan be on the books for a massive qualifying offer, while the Raptors also have Ross’s future to consider, along with a pair of first-round picks to come.
That’s why they need Valanciunas to step up.
After years of preaching patience, chemistry, growth and continuity, Ujiri is now betting that his team is on the cusp of reaping a reward. When Ujiri first took over in 2013, it was widely expected that he would dismantle Bryan Colangelo’s creation and start fresh around Valanciunas. But then came the unexpected success, and Ujiri has since changed his operative from purely rebuilding, to building on the fly while keeping an eye to the future.
That has, in part, pushed Valanciunas’s development to the back burner. However, Valanciunas remains central to his plans. He remains the team’s best chance of developing into a star. If he breaks out, the Raptors have a chance to be great. If not, the Raptors might have locked themselves into a decidedly mediocre core.
Now that Valanciunas has his extension, we fans, along with Ujiri, will get to watch which direction he leads the team going forward.
UPDATE: 4-year, $64 million; could escalate to $70 million #bank
The Raptors say they will make it official later today, but apparently both sides have agreed to the deal. Another win in an already successful off-season for the team, especially considering a 4-year max contract extension would have been in the $93m ballpark once the salary cap rises next season.
Jonas opted for security now, which might not have made sense given he’s missed only three games the last two seasons (both for the Raptors and internationally), but it speaks volumes about the type of person he is, and the type of team the Raptors are trying to build with quality people who are also talented.
These are still my thoughts on the Valanciunas extension. It is good. Good deals are good. https://t.co/iH3NxhEs0E
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) August 20, 2015
The terms are still unclear, but even if the deal comes in at 4yrs/$70m, it’s still a steal for a guy who’s heading into the prime of his career after averaging 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 26.2 minutes per game last season while posting a career high PER of 20.6.
Will update as the terms become public, but with this all out of the way, the team figures heavily on Jonas for the future, and it’s on JV to produce and get to the next level.
Basically we already officially know 4 of the starting 5. Who do you think Casey rounds out the starting lineup with at PF?
The Toronto Raptors’ D-League affiliate Raptors 905 stocked their roster by drafting 16 players from across the D-League, the team announced on Thursday.
The team will hold the rights to the following players for the next two seasons. The names are as follows:
There’s a few fringe NBA players on the list. The most notable are Dahntay Jones (last played for the Clippers), Ricky Ledo (of Dallas Mavericks fame) and Earl Clark (recently waived by the Brooklyn Nets).
In addition the 16 aforementioned names, prospects like Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Delon Wright and Norman Powell could also see time in Mississauga. The Raptors can only send a maximum of three players down at any time, so they’ll likely cycle players in shifts, or depending on matchups and injuries.
Anyone who thought all the intriguing Raptors’ news was done for the summer was thrown for a loop yesterday, when word came out that Jonas Valanciunas had left the Lithuanian National Team to return to Toronto for a physical, as he is rumored to be closing in on a long term extension with the team that drafted him.
Zarar took a quick look at the extension yesterday, but at the time little was known about the financials of such a deal. And while nothing is finalized at the moment, we at least have some rumors about about it might cost the Raptors to keep Jonas in the fold for the foreseeable future.
Over the last few months many had assumed that the basic starting point for any Valanciunas extension would likely cost the Raptors something similar to Enes Kanter’s contract. This summer Kanter agreed to a 4 year, $70+M max contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, a contract that was then matched by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Enes Kanter, one of the worst defensive players of all time, managed to convince two teams that he is worth a max contract. Two teams!!! And all Toronto fans immediately panicked as to what this would mean for the Raptors.
Enter Mark Stein…
ESPN sources say Valanciunas extension is not done but sides are in advanced discussions on four-year pact worth in excess of $60 million
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 17, 2015
$60+ million for Valanciunas? Even if his contract comes out at $65 million over four years it comes out to an average of just $16.25 million. This contract would carry him into the start of his prime and give the Raptors added flexibility compared to if they were to wait to sign Valanciunas next summer. Valanciunas’ contract could be structured a few different ways.
The Raptors and Jonas could agree to a contract with equal payment each year (roughly $16.5M), or could start at a lower rate in the first year with raises of up to 7.5 percent annually. If this were the case, Jonas could start at roughly $14.5M in year one. Here’s what it could look like:
Year 1: $14,500,000
Year 2: $15,587,500
Year 3: $16,756,562
Year 4: $18,013,304
The big advantage to structuring Valanciunas’ contract this way is the additional cap space that it would provide the Raptors during next summer’s free agency. Without a contract extension being signed, Valanciunas would be a restricted free agent and would take up just $11,651,205 of the Raptors cap space due to his cap hold.
The above structure would secure Valanciunas’ presence in Toronto for the next four years but would only take an additional $2,848,795 (approximately) from the Raptors’ 2016 available spending room. If the contract comes in closer to $60M then these numbers drop even further and provide the Raptors with all the flexibility they could dream of.
As a player with six years or less experience in the NBA, next summer Jonas would be eligible for a max contract that accounts for 25% of a team’s salary cap. And with the cap ready to explode the numbers would be astronomical.
As reported, 4yrs/60m+ for JV would be a coup for TOR, max salary for next summer is 5/117m and 4/80m+max offer sheet from another team
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 17, 2015
The rumored contract extension would save the Raptors roughly $15-$20M, keep Valanciunas as a Raptor into the start of his prime years, and could leave Toronto with nearly as much salary space as they would have had with his cap hold.
If the contract comes in anywhere under $70M the Raptors have a heck of a deal on their hands, and if Valanciunas continues to develop the deal could become a steal as the salary cap rises even further.
As per Jonas Miklovas, who covers the Lithuanian national team for basketnews.lt, the Raptors have offered Jonas Valanciunas a long-term contract (Lithuanian article), but have requested that he undergo certain medical examinations.
Now, I have now idea what the credibility of the source is, and if this information is true, it certainly isn’t being leaked from MLSE. The writer in question does hover around the Lithuanian players a lot, so there might be some truth to this.
It is in the best interest of the Raptors free-agency aspirations next summer to hold off on a Valanciunas-deal if the amount is under $11/yr (which it won’t be) as that’s what his cap-hold is for next summer. If they do extend him, they entire next free-agency with more money tied up than if they negotiate next summer.
Either way, the bottom line is that re-signing Valanciunas should be a top priority, and it appears the Raptors want to get that sorted out quickly.
UPDATE – Stein is reporting now:
ESPN sources say Valanciunas extension is not done but sides are in advanced discussions on four-year pact worth in excess of $60 million
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 17, 2015
ESPN sources say Jonas Valanciunas has indeed taken brief leave from Lithuanian NT to return to Toronto to firm up extension with Raptors
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 17, 2015
It’s a $15M/yr deal, which honestly, is quite reasonable given the new salary cap. Here’s how his cap-percentage looks like:
2017-18 and beyond: 14%
The voice of the Raptors, Matt Devlin, took some time to talk Raptors basketball on a wide-ranging set of topics.
- 4 games in 5 nights minimized
- Wale incident
- Does acquisition of defensive talent warrant change in defensive tactics?
- Surprised at Lou Williams allowed to walk?
- Manner of sweep dictating the off-season moves
- The game that changed the course of last season
- Kyle Lowry’s off-season fitness
- Light at PF – how would matchups vs Pau Gasol or Kevin Love work out?
- Jonas Valanciunas – what’s the one thing he needs to do to get to the next level?
- Raptors tendency to matchup versus dictating matchups
- Who was the most vocal player in the locker room, the one providing veteran leadership last season?
- Paul Pierce comments
- Who will replace Amir Johnson?
- Thoughts on Amir Johnson as a person
- Flying on the Raptors charter
- Do you get to see the cities when travelling on the road?
- 2016 free agency – is the Kevin Durant talk crazy?
- Possibility of Toronto signing a top-tier player
- Drake effect – players relationship with Drake
- Raptors fans and their effect on players
- When does Matt’s Raptors work start?
- Who’s the Raptors best three-point shooter?
- Terrence Ross’s upcoming season and expectations
- Mixing and matching bench/starters
- DeMar DeRozan improvements
If you’re a regular reader of the Republic, chances are my previous piece that touched on a few questions and expectations for the upcoming season rings a bell. If not, well, shameless plugs and the blogosphere go hand in hand these days, so you can check it out, here.
However, self promotion is not the intention. There was supposed to be a section in that article which covered the fan base’s perspective. But I decided not to include the angle for a specific two-part reason:
A) Riding shotgun to those shameless plugs is the audience’s unfortunate act of selective reading. But don’t get me wrong, that’s not meant to troll anyone, as I’m guilty of the same crime. And as I’ve stated in the past, this may be a podium to preach but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a self-anointed pedestal. Although, I do plan on ending this write-up with a temper tantrum. It could get a little awkward, just a heads up.
B) There’s always a risk that the topic won’t receive its proper exposure by getting lost in the shuffle of a 2000-word commentary. You can be a hardcore fan, a casual enthusiast, or the former mixed with the title of Blogger attached to your name, but the amount of time and effort invested by any city’s community deserves a column centered around the ones putting in that very work. A dedicated point of view is long overdue. The “people” are people too.
Now, a few things may have just taken place. I’ve either piqued your interest and you’re ready to read on, or maybe you’re having thoughts of bailing and switching over to your favourite Blue Jays blog. Perhaps one never even made it through the intro, and they’ve since closed this window to open up their Snapchat app.
It’s all good either way, Blue Jays fever is undeniable at the moment, and I’m ready to unwelcome the Yankees to town as much as the next crazed supporter. Hell, a clash for first place in the division with David Price on the mound to open the series on a Friday night, count me ALL IN!
So if you decided to bounce, we shall meet again. If you’ve stayed with me, let’s roll.
Bright Lights, Big City
The central focus will remain court-side, after all you’re here for a reason. But it wouldn’t feel right neglecting the Raps’ brothers from another mother as we go. Not to mention a shoutout being in order to all fans who don’t hail from the Big Smoke. Sorry, I meant Hogtown. Wait, the only other options are T-Dot and the 6ix. Let’s just say a new nickname is my new mission.
Most of the time Toronto is viewed as Public Enemy No. 1 in its own country, but the love comes across in spades when you start talking sports. Well, Leafs fans not so much.
The Bills also play an important role. I will admit that my lifelong fandom of the franchise pushed the scale of whether to include an American city in this scene. What about the Argos and TFC you ask? Let’s face it, NFL Sundays are just as popular here as it is in the States, we just live vicariously through our neighbours across the border to take our passion to the next level. And if the “higher-ups” didn’t make such a mockery of the silver-platter opportunity the “Bills in Toronto Series” presented, this city could have been on its way to following L.A.’s footsteps and making future football stadium preparations.
Word to the wise: If you’re not ready to showcase an NFL-type atmosphere, don’t take on the project. Ridiculous ticket prices combined with a corporatized tailgate party had us doomed from the start (the current Jays’ money grab can’t be viewed as a positive, either). One day Toronto, one day.
The Sky Dome (I hope we all still call it that), should host the Jays, and the Jays only. The plan is finally in the works, but it can’t come soon enough. And one doesn’t have to look much further as to the reasons why with the hysteria currently surrounding the club.
Enter the city’s hardwood, which represents a few parallels, as not too long ago the Raps were in the Jays’ position. Expectations were at their usual low point, outcries over Kyle Lowry’s lack of enthusiasm and highly questioned work ethic were gaining steam, and a postseason appearance was the furthest things from our minds. I may even venture to suggest Lowry was the equivalent to R.A. Dickey at the time. The difference being the Raptors didn’t lose a potential member of the future elite to get him. Yes, I know, Dickey has seemingly turned a corner. R-E-L-A-X.
The skill level that came in return from the now franchise-changing Rudy Gay trade pales in comparison to the value the Jays have wrangled up in recent weeks, but the impact has been similar. The Raps’ upward climb doesn’t come without loose ends, though.
What made the run towards that Brooklyn battle in 2013-14 so special? The word “expectations” pops up yet again. Meaning there weren’t any. Simply put, even though gameplay was all-systems-go, this team and its backers were just happy to be invited to the party. It’s only then when assumptions for the following year begin to translate into you guessed it, expectations.
The next step was at the Raps’ doorstep, and a full throttle beginning only furthered the notion. It’s hard to argue that a step back was the end result. To connect the Jays’ dots, this second-half run has been highly entertaining, but one still gets the feeling we’re all playing with house money all over again. We get to sit back and just enjoy the ride. The Raps’ don’t have that luxury anymore.
To keep the parallel universe alive for a minute, take Season 2 of HBO‘s True Detective for example. If Season 1 didn’t provide such an exhilarating experience, its expectations wouldn’t have been through the roof. And it then wouldn’t have become the most hated show Twitter has ever seen. Similar to the Raps’ second-half swoon and postseason plummet.
The injury argument is valid, but if this squad is an injury away from losing all of what little cohesiveness they have, there’s more problems than we once thought.
In their defense, this city’s sports scene was at a standstill before the Raptors’ resurgence brought it back to life and kept it a float for quite some time. Not only in the eyes of Torontonians, but in the mainstream as well.
As for the finally in the right direction Leafs organization, “Two years away from being two years away” now applies to this city’s ice surface.
When I say collective, I will attempt to combine my own personal thoughts with what I’ve come across on this site’s comment section. Along with debates on Twitter, and those good old fashioned arguments during time spent at some of Toronto’s fine establishments. I’m sure some can relate. So let’s run down how we as outsiders view the Raps’ central figures.
Masai: Alex Anthopoulos may be the most recent man of the hour, but let’s not forget who played out the same type of scenario during the NBA Draft and Free Agency. With questions quietly popping up in regards to his long-term future, Ujiri seemingly saved the day.
Casey: It’s now or never for DC. If his “defensive calling card” can’t see the light of day with the troops brought in to help, while forming a more organized chaos on the offensive end, Casey’s days will officially become numbered.
K-Low: Perhaps the fear of his new found understudies sparked the fire needed for K-Low to put in some offseason conditioning. Trending on Twitter is one thing, having it carry over to his on-court responsibilities is another. Muck like Casey, this very well could be a make or break year for the now “slender” point guard. The lead is yours for the taking, Lowry.
DeMar: I do tend to agree that in a second-fiddle role DeRozan can ascend to new heights, and as this team’s go-to scorer, we’re most likely in for more of the same ups and downs. But then there’s that bit of untapped upside hiding in his game. Mix that with a hopeful new team concept, and we may not need him to reach upper echelon status. Either way, we’ll likely know the answer to just how valuable DeMar is to this squad just before his contract situation hits the fan.
JV: I must admit, I’ve worn JV-style blinders in the past. Ever since he was taken 5th overall in 2011 I’ve held out a bit of false hope that we would eventually see that supposed mean streak we saw on his international game tape translate in short order. Not to mention a quicker turnaround in his outside game.
Revisiting that draft and the fact that names like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard could have been had doesn’t help matters, either. Still JV represents part of the solution if he can adapt, and the clock his ticking with yet another max-deal possibility lurking the background.
DeMarre: A gem of a pick-up, as Toronto reaped the rewards of Hot-lanta’s role player riches. DeMarre can contribute in nearly facet of the game. The offensive rebounding, defensive prowess, and timely 3-point shooting departments can use all the help they can get. Effort is not a worry, as the only pressing matter revolving around Carroll is how much it rubs off on his new teammates.
PP & JJ: Patterson and Johnson are going to be linked together all season, with a lot riding on the connection to boot. Whether both will be given a true chance to shine and asked to become full fledged members of the heavy-minutes club remains to be seen. There’s also the news of Markieff Morris hinting that Toronto is one of his desired locations.
If a deal does go down, PP or JJ could possibly be involved. So for now, the picture remains cloudy. But in many eyes, a rotation between them sets up an ideal situational-based duo.
T-Ross: By now, most of the fan base has turned on T-Ross, myself included. Perhaps if we stopped dwelling on what he was supposed to become we’d notice the positives he could bring to the table. A bench scorer capable of getting hot at the right time? A poor man’s Sweet Lou? I’ll have to let that one marinate for a while before I come to my senses.
The Young Guns: As much as I can suggest what ifs from 2011, the draft is hit-and-miss territory for many teams. But by all accounts, Wright and Powell show plenty of promise to hang our hat on, and could be this city’s starting backcourt at some point in the future. Guarantees are seldom, just browse any draft year and notice the massive amount high selections that amounted into very little, or nothing at all. Bruno and Bebe promise to keep the 905ers entertained throughout the first-half of the season, with Bebe likely getting the first crack at a call-up. Something tells me the rebounding rebuild will still be ongoing at that point.
But we can’t forget Cory Joseph, one who can not only run the show in his own right, but can also provide the matchup problems this team covets. When Lowry and Joseph hit the floor together, that does suggest there’s a front-court mismatch giving either DeRozan at the 3, or DeMarre at the 4 a chance to take advantage. With a better defensive lineup going back the other way.
Speaking of getting defensive.
And Now, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey
I used to be of the belief that it was my way or the highway, but with another season biting the dust, and one now on its way, you tend to realize that different viewpoints are kind of what makes everything tick. Attempting to witness the point you’ve gone out of your way to prove come true is a large part of why I wrote this piece, and write in general. I can only assume it’s also part of why you’re taking time out of your day to read this. If you got this far, that is.
But the good will ends when one suggests how I should go about that very writing, or simply how I should root for my teams. The aforementioned time all of us put in to the Raptors, or any team for that matter, changes that equation. I’m not going to sit idly by and blatantly spit out a homerism point of view. And I’ve come across that kind of backlash one too many times.
If you’re not holding your team accountable for their actions, I question your fandom in the first place.
That’s more annoying than You Tube videos that won’t let you skip the ad after five seconds, more than someone not giving up their seat to an elderly person on the TTC while they’re too busy chatting away on their cell phone, and even more bothersome than the Conservative Party’s commercials/smear campaign against Justin Trudeau literally airing every five minutes.
Luckily I came across an alternate version to ease the frustration.
Enjoy the sold out show tonight, folks. Meaningful baseball in the middle of August? We can get used to this. A playoff birth ending the Jays’ 22-year drought can only provide a high note for the Raps to start on.
JUST DO IT!
This is coming from the reporter who broke the Markieff Morris unhappiness story:
[Markieff Morris] is prepared to do whatever it takes to force Phoenix to deal him. He likes Houston because of James Harden and Toronto because of Kyle Lowry, but he honestly doesn’t care where he gets dealt as long as he is not wearing a Suns uniform.
He is going to tell the Suns he can’t play for them, has too much hatred and animosity built up and that they won’t want him around.
Markieff is not calling back teammates and plans to be very standoffish when he reports to camp. He does not plan on arriving until he absolutely has to, so no pickup games with the boys before camp starts. He is expected to make a circus of media day.
He has told those close to him he can never be happy in Phoenix. That he won’t say a word to any of the Suns’ upper management and will have one word answers for Coach Hornacek. He will keep things short and simple.
Morris is signed to a VERY reasonable long-term contract, and the Raptors have some depth issues at PF, so there’s a natural interest here.
Given that the player is demanding a trade, his trade value is affected and teams won’t break the bank to get him as he’s on the outs anyways. A Patrick Patterson/Morris swap is something Phoenix would jump at given their predicament, but I would not even go near that trade since Patterson is a better floor-spacer, though not as good a post-player.
At the same time, would love to have Morris in addition to Patterson. Let’ see if Ujiri can pull something out of his hat. On the other hand, though, do you really want a player that’s being such a bitch?
From ESPN Insider:
Offer: PF Patrick Patterson
Net value: $19.5 million
Why it works: Legendary sabermetrician Bill James coined the term “challenge trade” for when teams swap players at the same position, hoping to win the exchange of similar talents. Patterson and Morris have largely the same strengths and weaknesses, making this something of a personality/contract challenge trade. The Suns would hope Patterson’s stability would offset any downgrade in talent, while the Raptors would be getting the longer and better contract.
Why it doesn’t: Conventional wisdom holds that Morris is the better player in this swap because of his ability to create his own shot. But that isn’t especially important to Toronto, which has plenty of creators, and Patterson was the more efficient scorer and a slightly better rebounder. So the Raptors might just prefer to keep him and not deal with Morris.
The Raptors need a power forward, and Markieff Morris is a power forward. Once you put those two realizations together, you can probably come to the conclusion that this is just a rumour because it would make sense the Raptors pursue the headcase that is Markieff Morris.
However, would Morris really be an upgrade over Patterson? In certain ways – yes. Morris is bigger, a better post-up scorer and shot-creator; but he is an inferior shooter and rebounder, and his basketball IQ is a notch below PatMan’s.
Taking this one with a grain of salt, because hopefully that’s all it is.
The 2014-15 regular season schedule was released on Wednesday.
I checked out some of the types of plays Cory Joseph’s been making in San Antonio and had a few observations. You can see the plays below. Generally, I thought he greatly benefited from from having a very structured offense around him, and guys who could simply make plays and finish in traffic. He does have it in him to create a shot for someone else out of nothing, but he wasn’t called on to do that with the Spurs too often. There aren’t many pick ‘n roll plays as the Spurs really do have a very spread-out offense which doesn’t lean heavily towards one particular play. I found his greatest strength to be delivering pin-point passes to where certain players are supposed to be, and he’s got the ability to drive either direction and make passes with either hand. Check out the plays below:
The pass here is important, but what makes this play is the baseline screen set for Leonard which gives him plenty of daylight to hit a mid-range jumper. Structured, man. That’s what the Spurs are:
The more highlights I saw, the more you see these types of assists, where he gives it up to a guy who has it all to do, but for some reason it counts as an assist. A bit misleading to be honest:
A recurring theme in Joseph’s play-making is how often he actually gives the ball up, sometimes multiple times, in a possession before somehow ending up getting the assist. He also has a tendency to visibly take a few steps back before he charges into the drive, which could give him up a little:
Here’s a very deliberate play where Ginobili is curling around the FT-line screen, expecting to receive the ball exactly where Joseph delivers it. It’s a simple play which warrants a simple pass. In fact, most of the Spurs passing is quite simple and certainly so is Joseph’s. There aren’t any draw-four-defenders-and-kick-out-with-a-behind-the-back-pass assists anywhere in Joseph’s highlight reel. This lends greater credence to the idea that Dwane Casey really has to design a very structured offense to integrate a PG like Joseph:
This is straight-up recognition that Diaw has a lane available and making a quick pass, without even wasting time by dribbling it:
This is a much more bang-bang play than it seems. Love gets screened freeing up Diaw for an instant and Joseph finds him easily. Simple basketball yet again, where Joseph’s reads are easy to make, and so is the pass:
The below is his most common drive-and-kick. He can drive in either direction and can make the pass with either hand. This is a pretty subtle skill, and when used in the context of a spaced out floor with the defense shifting, can be a great asset:
A simple cut to draw an extra defender and pass it back out to a three-point shooter. Imagine this play being run in combination with DeMarre Carroll instead of Ginobili:
This here is a more Raptoresque play, where he’s single-handedly generating a shot for a teammate. There aren’t many such examples in his Spurs highlight clips, as usually the Spurs don’t require heroics like this to generate clean looks. Last year’s Raptors, though, they relied on plays like these:
Man, how is this classified as an assist? I get that he picked out Parker on the curl, but Parker still had two defenders to beat:
He evades four defenders here before dropping off the pass. I get a sense that it’s these types of plays that he’ll be asked to make with the Raptors:
Simple drive and kick back out:
Have a nice humpday!
They said summertime is dead time. They were wrong. Will and I go through the dearth of topics available and produce #content:
- JV max contract talk
- DeMar DeRozan’s Drew League
- KD and DD at OVO
- Lowry losing weight
- Patterson comments about starting
- Terrence Ross new segment
- New jerseys
- Ads on jerseys?
- Players playing international ball
- Louis Scola’s durability
- Shannon Scott
Grainy video has surfaced showing DeMar DeRozan somewhat dunking on James Harden in the Drew League.
As with any such play, the true value of the dunk should be judged by the reaction of the victim. Here we see James Harden trying to inbound the ball in a panic, pretending like nothing happened and suggesting that this game even matters. As if somehow inbounding it quickly will turn the mob’s attention away from him being posterized. DeRozan does the slow walk away which suggests that he has imposed his dominance on Harden, who at this point, has no choice but to accept his fate.
If this were the animal kingdom, DeRozan would mark his territory by spraying all over the court, and James Harden would be shunned from the pack and never allowed to enter the building or the city. His passport would be revoked, and he would be forced to live with hyenas, who would often laugh at him and remind him of that time he got disowned from the pack. Harden would have to drink from a separate, somewhat infected, body of water than the rest of the hyenas. After every hunt, he’s be the last one to eat, feeding off of the scraps of stale wildebeest meat. I realize that this analogy is going off the wall, so I’ll just stop.
Why not discuss it now? The dog days of summer are officially upon us, so let’s all speculate.
After three years, you typically have a general idea of what direction an NBA player is headed. But as Jonas Valanciunas heads into his fourth year in the NBA, there are still questions yet to be answered. Here’s what we know: Valanciunas has improved year-to-year, but has yet to make that big leap. But this year – being a contract year – is a huge year. This is the year where Valanciunas will be evaluated with scrutiny, and only he can decide where his fate lies.
Sure, there are external factors at play. Dwane Casey doesn’t trust Valanciunas a whole lot. Interestingly enough, although Valanciunas’ PPG and FG% rose from his second to his third year, his mpg dropped. Ergo, although his usage has dropped, his efficiency has gone up. Makes sense. Lower field goal attempts usually means higher efficiency.
Although a starting center, Valanciunas now ranks 27th in the league among centers in USG % (usage percentage) at 17.3. Pretty much everyone – and their dogs – ranks higher than Valanciunas in this category, including Cole Aldrich, Jusuf Nurkic, Henry Sims, Alexis Ajinca, Kelly Olynyk, Chris Kaman, and, you guessed it, Andrea Bargnani.
You’d be hard-pressed to state that any of those aforementioned centers are better than Valanciunas, but somehow they are all heavily more involved in the offensive schemes of their respective teams.
Isn’t Valanciunas’ problem mostly on the defensive end though? If he’s solid offensively, why not go to him more in a season riddled with offensively inefficient nights from the swingmen? Surely his 57.2% field goal percentage (2nd in the NBA) should absorb more of the offensive flow.
There are three main problems with Valanciunas’ offensive game: Indecisiveness, weak passing, and a limited post-game repertoire.
There is only one way that Valanciunas can score efficiently and often – starting from the left side and cutting in for the running hook. It’s a solid move, one that’s pretty hard to stop. But it’s also easy to predict, which limits the amount of touches Valanciunas can get offensively. If he’s able to add an element to his offensive game where he can post-up defenders on the right side and be more decisive, his game will open up dramatically. Even if he can get more comfortable starting from the elbow and working his way into the paint on a consistent basis, he’ll become far more feared. In essence, this is exactly what he needs to do more of:
Nice footwork, the pump-fake is quick, smooth, and decisive.
Dwane Casey would be just fine if Valanciunas’ FG% dipped if it meant he can consistently add moves like that to his game. Volume means lower shooting percentage – Anthony Davis’ 53.7% at nearly 18 field goal attempts is much more conducive to his team than Valanciunas’ 57% at 8 field goal attempts. That’s the best example, of course, but it’s a general rule of thumb. Be good, be unpredictable, and we can live with a drop in efficiency.
A good post-player that Valanciunas can learn from is Donatas Motiejunas – a silky smooth big man with tremendous footwork and a versatile repertoire.
Apart from his indecisiveness and limited offense, there is another glaring reason why the Raptors can’t go to Valanciunas more often: He struggles with passing out of a double-team. Valanciunas is really efficient at scoring down-low, which naturally means he will draw double-teams. That’s always a good thing.
As per Gregg Popovich:
“One way that big guys are gonna still be valuable is if you have a big guy that demands a double-team. If you have a big guy that you don’t have to double-team? You’re in trouble. But if you got a big guy, he better be somebody who is good enough that he commands a double so it can get kicked, and moved, and you can penetrate or pitch for the threes.”
Popovich, by the way, was intrigued about drafting Valanciunas in 2011. It would have been fascinating to see how much quicker Jonas would have developed under the guidance of Pop and Duncan.
Back to his point.
If the Raptors kick it down-low, they know that they don’t necessarily need Valanciunas to score. De facto, they may even kick it to him expecting him to draw a double-team all the while readying themselves for a dish-out to the perimeter for an open three. But they won’t do that knowing that Valanciunas can’t pass it out.
Plain and simple, his passing needs to improve. Valanciunas ranks dead lasts amongst qualified NBA centers in assists (.5 apg). He’s in the same mould as Ian Mahimi. Telling.
Defensively, Valanciunas has become more than a respectable rim protector. By February of last season, Valanciunas’ rim protection (based on opponents’ FG% allowed) ranked higher than the likes of Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford. By the end of the year, he improved even more, eventually trumping the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Smith, Draymond Green, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Timofey Mozgov, and Andre Drummond.
The final number: Valanciunas allowed his opponents to shoot 46.5% at the rim according to Nylon Calculus. Of course, that number shot through the roof during the playoffs in a disastrous way. In the sweep at the hands of the Wizards, Valanciunas allowed his opponents to shoot 63.6% – one of the worst during the post-season. Unfortunately for the Raptors, it didn’t help that Patrick Patterson’s defending down-low was even worse, as he allowed his opponents to shoot a whopping 69.6%.
Consider this distinction: Marcin Gortat allowed 51.1%. Drew Gooden: 53.8%.
If Masai Ujiri was serious about basing the bulk of his evaluation on how his players perform in the playoffs, those numbers are something he will analyze thoroughly before the trade deadline.
Trading Jonas before the deadline won’t be out of the realm of possibility. Depending on how he performs, Valanciunas may not earn the max – but the reality is he might get it anyway whether it be in Toronto or elsewhere. Knowing that, Masai might not gamble losing him for nothing if his performances aren’t up to par. On the flip-side, the best thing to do would be to stay pat until the end of the season – evaluate the year and match the max offers if need be. If he’s not worth it by then, you let him walk and absolutely forget about tying up more cap room in a big free agent year.
Will Masai want to extend Jonas in order to save money in the off-season? That’s not entirely how it works. Any contract negotiations now would revolve around the max-raise next year. So unless Valanciunas wants to take a paycut this year to ensure a longer contract, a cheap extension is unlikely. Barring a disaster, Valanciunas is going to get paid.
Zach Lowe reported earlier this week in his Grantland column that Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level extension. But at this point, extending his contract early might prove to be a knee-jerk reaction of sorts. Sure, his value is still tremendous. I mean, a talented – and young – starting NBA center is always going to have value.
Patrick Patterson may help Jonas improve this season offensively. When paired with Amir, Valanciunas lost the majority of his touches inside to his power forward counterpart. Patterson doesn’t demand that kind of inside touch. Instead, he’ll stretch the floor and spot-up beyond the arc while Valanciunas can be the go-to-guy down-low.
Defensively the Patterson – Valanciunas tandem really struggled, especially in the post-season. On offense though, it was a good proposition. That duo, per 100 possessions, had a +/- of .8; while the Amir – JV tandem was a -2.6.
There’s still indication that Valanciunas can make a leap this year if he really puts his mind to it. He needs to improve on his deficiencies, but above all, he needs to get to a level where he’s entrusted with 30 mpg – simply because a 25 mpg player is never worth a max contract.
Ultimately, Masai Ujiri may have to decide between letting Casey run the show, or giving Valanciunas a max-contract which would establish him as a 30-34 mpg player, something that doesn’t seem probable with Dwane Casey around.
I’m told Valanciunas will once again play for Lithuania in EuroBasket next month, you’ll have Cory Joseph to watch with Canada at the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico that starts late this month and there’s every chance Luis Scola will take one more shot with Argentina at the same event, I was told last week.
Valanciunas is a central figure (pun intended) on the Lithuanian team and plays every chance he gets, and Cory Joseph is obviously going to be part of Canada Basketball for some time to come. None of that is surprising. What is a bit odd is 35-year old Luis Scola suiting up for Argentina the month before training camp starts. Keep in mind Valanciunas and Scola have been suiting up for years. In fact, check out what Scola’s been upto over the last decade plus:
- 2001 FIBA Americas Championship: Gold
- 2002 FIBA World Championship: Silver
- 2003 FIBA Americas Championship: Silver
- 2004 Summer Olympic Games: Gold
- 2007 FIBA Americas Championship: Silver
- 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball: Gold
- 2008 Summer Olympic Games: Bronze
- 2009 FIBA Americas Championship: Bronze
- 2011 FIBA Americas Championship: Gold
- 2013 FIBA Americas Championship: Bronze
He’s basically played every year for the national team.
For Valanciunas, it’ll give us a good chance to see how his mobility work is coming along.
Undrafted Ohio State guard Shannon Scott has agreed to a partially guaranteed deal with the Toronto Raptors, league source tells RealGM.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 6, 2015
He’s undrafted out of OSU. He’s a smallish, fast guard who didn’t look very good with the Spurs in Summer League, and averaged single-digit points in college but was a decent playmaker. He doesn’t have much NBA potential – DraftExpress had him 86th before the draft – but he’s a pretty good defender.
Offensively he’s a “tools but no production” guy. Not sure where he fits beyond just an extra body at PG in camp.
Alex Toupane also signed a similar type of contract, described by Blake as:
A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.
Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.”
We hear this every offseason. X player dropped 15 pounds of fat. Y player added 25 pounds of muscle. Blah blah blah.
But holy shit look how slim Kyle Lowry looks! Pictured below is Lowry posing with Kyle O’Quinn, C.J. Watson and Brian Roberts. Perhaps the black tank and crossed-arm combination is exaggerating the appearance, but Lowry looks noticeably trimmer.
The picture caught many people off-guard. Reporters like James Herbert of CBS Sports were taken aback by Lowry’s transformation. As was J.J. Redick, who slid into the comment section to ask O’Quinn if that was really Lowry.
To be fair to Lowry, he was never too big, or out of shape. But he did struggle with a back injury that significantly undercut his effectiveness in the second half of last season. As Lowry dropped off, so did the Raptors. Here’s hoping that a fully-fit Lowry can recapture his All-Star form and lead the Raptors to an improved campaign.
While Dwane Casey stated last month that both Patrick Patterson and James Johnson are both better suited to come off the bench, Patterson feels that the starting power forward position is his to lose.
And rightfully so.
As the season ever-so-gently approaches, the possibility of ending the off-season with only two authentic power forwards in Scola and Patterson becomes more realistic.
From the Toronto Star:
“Realistically, that’s the one role that’s not filled yet,” said Patterson, who averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds a game last season. “I see it as it’s mine to lose . . . But it’s all about what coach (Dwane) Casey wants, what (general manager) Masai (Ujiri) sees, and who works hard and who earns it.”
Patterson could certainly guard most power-forwards in the East, while Scola would likely slot in as a starter against the more traditional non-shooting fours in the league. It would be an interesting scenario for Dwane Casey to work with. Starting Patterson at the four would stretch the floor in a way that Amir Johnson never could despite the latter forming a semi-respectable three-point shot last season.
Will-Lou dissected this topic more thoroughly last week:
There’s also the point about the Raptors’ future. Patterson is 26 and likely near his prime, but he represents the Raptors’ best long-term solution at power forward. Scola signed a one-year deal to fill a need and Johnson is on an expiring deal. Patterson might not be perfect, but at least he has a chance to become a mainstay.
Altogether, starting Patterson is no slam dunk, but in lieu of a better candidate, the starting power forward position should be Patterson’s job to lose. It’s not a perfect solution, but he’s the Raptors’ most talented power forward and that’s the job of the coaching staff — to make it all work.
For the last two years DeMarre Carroll has produced in fantasy basketball much like he has in real life. He’s been an efficient role player type, producing well above top-100 value in the aggregate with stats that don’t scream for attention but aren’t lacking either. This is a guy who was available late last year in most snake drafts in the 90-120 range of players taken off the board and was priced accordingly in auction drafts. While he made his name during the 2015 playoffs guarding the likes of King James, fantasy heads knew his stats were valid long before this:
I was a big in investor last fake season in DeMarre Carroll for a couple reasons. The first is because his value was somewhat sneaky in that his popcorn stats (ie. Pts, Rebs, Asts) don’t jump off the page, but aren’t exactly negatives either. Yahoo, ESPN and NBA.com commonly employ eight or nine statistical categories in their leagues with each category carrying equal weight and importance, so the amateur competitor does well to look beyond the basic stats we’re all drawn to over analyzing for the sake of the larger image; specifically, I’m talking about the Pts category ‘cause, you know, damn, its hard not fixate on that one sometimes. When you take your eyes off the big numbers and take a look at the small, however, DeMarre Carroll shines.
The second reason why I liked him was because of how thoroughly unsexy his name was. Playing for a team like the Hawks that doesn’t receive consistent media attention allowed Carroll’s production in 2013-2014 to fly under the radar. A late first round draft pick in 2009, Carroll also failed to bring with him the hype that surrounds early lottery picks. This is important because terms like ‘superstar potential’ are thrown out about these types players every year, often causing them to be reached on. Dion Waiters, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Trey Burke all serve as recent examples of this phenomenon. DeMarre Carroll’s quiet pedigree along with his subtle stat line indicated to me that there might be a market inefficiency to take advantage of and, luckily, there was.
Unfortunately, the cats out of the bag now and he is no longer so anonymous. Where there was some reason to doubt Carroll last year – as he only had one bonafide season of production under his belt – no such discounts are likely to be available this year. This is especially true if you happen to play in leagues with Raptors fans, as one of your buddies is bound to be just a little too excited at the prospect of drafting him.
But what can we realistically expect from DeMarre Carroll this upcoming season?
During his time in Atlanta, Carroll’s fantasy value was defined by Stls, 3’s and TO’s. His production in these categories was bolstered by efficient shooting percentages and good rebound totals. While most players carry both positives and negatives, Carroll lacked a truly negative stat; His free throw percentage (70.2%) wasn’t great, but this was offset by minimal attempts (2.6 per game) and a good field goal percentage (48.7%).
Moving forward we should expect some things to change. This is always the case when players move teams, the tough part is judging whether or not his stats will improve or show regression. All signs point to Carroll seeing an increased role on offense, but I’m skeptical that this will improve his value. While I would guess that he sees more shot opportunities (perhaps one or two more attempts a game), the quality of the shots he’ll be taking may suffer. Meaning it’s hard to foresee his scoring boosted by more than a point or two per game, with the increased production likely offset by lesser percentages. It’s not out of the question that his scoring will skyrocket, but this would be a genuine shock. I’d also be wary of Carroll reproducing his superb 3-point production from last season, as his shooting percentage was a career high (39.5%) and because he’ll likely see less open looks no longer playing beside Kyle Korver. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 0.5 decrease in 3-pointers made from him this upcoming season as a result.
But there are some definite positives here too. For one thing, as the main defensive cog of Dwayne Casey’s team he is likely to see just as many if not more minutes than he did in either of the previous two seasons. More minutes always equal more opportunity for stat accumulation. Also, with Carroll scheduled to slide over to the power forward spot in certain line-ups it would make sense for his rebounding numbers to improve. This was likely to happen anyways considering that the Raptors are a poor rebounding team and DeMarre Carroll won’t have to battle two above average glass-cleaners in Paul Millsap and Al Horford for boards.
Here are my own projections for him based upon these musings:
(I admit these are based solely on reasoning and not calculus)
As you can tell his numbers improve in some areas but have fallen in others; while this may look like an even trade off, I suggest for fantasy purposes that his value will be diminished some. This isn’t to say that in real life he won’t meet or exceed expectations, but fantasy isn’t real life. My reasoning? Scarcity. Rebs and Pts are important stats but are less rare than the trio of Stls, 3’s and Blks, something that DeMarre Carroll has been an elite contributor in for the past two seasons. When you factor in anticipated drops in efficiency paired with increased attempts from the free-throw line as well as the field, DeMarre Carroll projects to fall just short of his asking price.
In today’s Grantland piece, Zach Lowe suggested that Jonas Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level contract. Some excerpts:
Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level extension. Large humans get paid, and this large human shot 51 percent on post-ups as a 22-year-old banging against the world’s toughest bigs, per Synergy Sports. He’s a beast on the offensive glass, shoots almost 80 percent from the line, and should develop as a pick-and-roll finisher — both at the rim, and with a soft midrange jumper.
An early max extension would also eat into Toronto’s cap flexibility for next summer. Valanciunas would go on the 2016-17 books at a salary around $21 million. If the Raptors wait, Valanciunas would count as only an $11 million “cap hold” when free agency kicks off.
They could still make room to do that, even with Valanciunas at a big number, by letting both DeRozan and Ross walk. Would the Raptors dare venture as high as four years, $80 million — below the projected four-year, $93 million max — to keep Valanciunas in the fold? That may be too rich for Masai Ujiri’s blood, and if it is, expect Valanciunas to hit the market next summer.
Valanciunas is currently making $4.6M and has a qualifying offer of $6.2M next summer.
As mentioned in the article, the nuance here is what your cap looks like in the first few days of free-agency next summer. If you sign him to a big deal this summer, he’s counting at $21M, but if you sign him next summer, his cap-hold is only $11M, which is a big difference. In either case, you can go over the cap to sign him since you have his Bird rights.
I believe that you should defer decisions to the latest responsible moment, and signing Valanciunas to a big money contract this year prohibits you from entering any sort of big free-agency sweepstakes next year. Sure, you might end up overpaying him next summer because you waited, but if that even buys you a 10% chance at landing a free-agent like Kevin Durant, or someone close to that caliber, you simply bite the bullet.
Bryan Colangelo found himself in a similar situation with DeMar DeRozan and inked him to a $10M/year deal, which at the time sounded like over-payment, but in hindsight was a bargain. The chances of Masai Ujiri pulling a similar sort of deal with Jonas Valanciunas this summer is simply too low, because the market is that much inflated and Valanciunas is a 7-footer with skill. Even though Valanciunas hasn’t exactly had over-powering seasons, he’s still got enough in him to entice teams to throw money at him. Whereas we extended DeRozan in his ‘low’ period, Valanciunas, despite Dwane Casey’s best efforts, still has relatively high stock in the league.
Here’s the order of source credibility:
5. Marc Stein
4. David Aldrdige
3. Chad Ford
1. Low-res photo taken in a crowd
Given the above pecking order, RR can safely confirm that Kevin Durant will be signing with the Raptors next summer.
They actually look pretty sweet.
Hot topics, hot takes, hot raps and hot jerseys.
The importance of the starting lineup is overblown. In a league which is becoming increasingly fluid and where positions are harder to define, where permutation of lineups change the style of play many times during each game, the concept of your starters defining your team is archaic. I’m writing this in the context of the recent power forward debate (if you can call it that) of whether Patrick Patterson should start ahead of Luis Scola, as Dwane Casey had hinted that Patterson is best suited to come off the bench.
The biggest benefit of having a set starting lineup is predictability. Everyone has a general idea of when they’re going to play, when the first sub will happen, who the first sub generally is, and what stretches of play the bench unit will be responsible for (at least in the first half). I get it. At the same time, this sort of predictability can come back to bite you because it’s also easier for the opposition to scout a set pattern. Why would you show your cards at the start of the game if you didn’t have to?
The focus on basketball #analytics has changed a few things, and probably the biggest one is highlighting the value of the three-point shot. One area where it’s hinted at disrupting but hasn’t yet is the concept of starters. If you look at most teams, their most efficient lineup is often different than their starting lineup. For example, in terms of Win%, the Raptors starting lineup last season wasn’t even close to their ‘best’ lineup, yet played the heaviest minutes. I know, there are many other variables at play here, but the point I’m trying to make is that having a defined set of starters and sticking to them is counter to putting out the lineup that’s best for the moment.
On most teams the starters generally consist of your five best players and they tend to start all five together, as if the game is decided in the first quarter. To me, it never made sense to start out with a lineup where all your talent is concentrated when it’s a 48-minute game. If anything, the talent wealth should be spread evenly in the game, and perhaps be more concentrated in the fourth quarter. After all, a basketball game is closer to a marathon than a race. If you happen to have ball-needy players in the starting lineup, you’re also decreasing their effectiveness by playing them all together since they’re basically competing against each other for possessions. Just look at Jonas Valanciunas, we all complained all season how he wasn’t getting enough touches when the real problem was that he was playing with players who need the ball just as much, and are higher in the pecking order. If you move a guy like Valanciunas to the bench, perhaps you can afford to give him the time on ball he deserves?
I get the idea of a starting lineup in something like soccer, where you’re only allowed three substitutions and your starting eleven needs to be carefully picked in anticipation of what the opposition might do. The margin of error there is low. If you start a lineup where your wingbacks like to overlap, but the other team have players who are efficient at operating in wide areas and cutting in, you’ve set yourself up to fail, or at least put a tremendous amount of pressure on your midfielders. Better use a sub, and oh, it’s a 90 minute game where fatigue kicks in real soon and there aren’t any official stoppages of play.
Those constraints don’t exist in basketball. You can make unlimited subs and have a concept of timeouts which afford you tactical flexibility. I’m a little surprised that a coach out there hasn’t debunked the myth that you need to have your 4 or 5 best players in your starting lineup, as if playing them gives you a massive lead at the end of the first quarter which you ride home the rest of the way.
Maybe that’s the next step in basketball. We’ve already done away with differentiating between positions and instead have placed an emphasis that a team should consist of interchangeable parts rather than specialized players who can only be successfully in select settings. Maybe the next bold move is to start Kyle Lowry one game, and Cory Joseph the next. It’ll take some getting used to, but if as a coach you have a plan, it’s the other sideline that’ll be left scratching their head.
The new-look, small-ball, defensive-minded team that Ujiri has been constructing this off-season now has the bench crew to give Casey the support he lacked during the playoffs.
Most notable, Rex Kalamian, who is coming off six seasons with the Thunder (the last two as lead assistant). Having been part of OKC’s great run the last few years, he brings credibility and understanding of what a winning program looks like. If nothing else, having had worked with the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka et al, gives him instant credibility as an elite talent manager.
Andy Greer spent the last 5 years under Thibodeau in Chicago, and is a known quantity to Casey from their time spent in Minnesota together. Defense? Yes! Offense? Probably not, but this team knows how to get buckets.
Jerry Stackhouse rounds out the bench, and brings with him an understanding of what it takes to make it in this league. 18 years as a player is nothing to shake a stick at; we can only hope that he can have an impact with the likes of Ross and Johnson, shaping some of the perceived (or real) problems that they have been manifesting over the last few seasons.
Ujiri has earned some time off IMO.
Full press release here:, here’s a Casey quote:
“I am pleased to add Rex, Andy and Jerry to our coaching staff,” said Casey. “They are established winners at the NBA level, and bring valuable experience and a passion for the game to our team.
“Together with Nick and Jama, we have a group that will challenge our players daily to improve and compete.”
With the August long weekend on deck, two things are certain. Many of us are contemplating whether to use a last minute excuse to book Friday off. I say go for it, most of us deserve an extended vacation. On the downside, the Civic Holiday also serves as a reminder that the dog days of the NBA offseason are in full swing. Here’s to all of us getting a chance to kick our feet up.
Each of these days off can work in our favour, though. Never being able to forget the way the season ended is one thing, but the slow process to something resembling forgiveness can be achieved.
The Draft, Free Agency, and Summer League have all provided a welcome boost to morale. Especially the play of Stormin’ Norman Powell, who so far has the makings of a potential steal at 46th overall. Yes, even with only Summer League action under his belt.
His jump-shot may be erratic, but a rookie with such a defensive mindset is a rare breed, and the separation created on offense he showcased in Vegas point to a bright future with this organization. The kid might even already provide the most hustle on this roster, that is unless K-Low wants back in the ring. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Now, the offseason noise has settled down, and with NBA TV back to running their Hardwood Classics and old-school dunk contests on the regular, addressing the upcoming season will only start to ring louder as we go. Where questions begin to translate into expectations.
Whether they’re justified or simply existing as hope is up for debate. So let’s start the conversation. Feel free to chime in, even if your favourite play is running the pick-and-Troll.
Leading off the Game Of Raps:
Question: Will the DeMarre Carroll signing provide the needed domino effect?
It’s difficult to say when we’ll be able to have a firm grip on what this reboot truly has to offer, at least as far as this season goes. It’s also hard not to let last season’s road trip reference point seep into the discussion. The back-half of the now infamous six-gamer, smack dab in the middle of winter, one that saw the Raps’ fortunes change for the worse. Let’s rehash the experience, as being a glutton for punishment is in our sports blood.
We all remember game 32 in Portland, where Toronto owned a shiny 25-6 record coming in. And to their credit, backed up the notion that they belonged in the NBA’s upper echelon with an all-out, overtime effort. Three days later, the armour began to crack, with Golden State providing the first reality check. Only to be followed up by a Phoenix dismantling. Not to mention the next 31 games after the fact, where 25-6 transformed into a 15-16 disappointment, and a team on the brink of losing its way.
I can’t pretend to sit on a throne here and act like I didn’t get caught up in the false hope, as I will admit that visions of an Eastern Conference Finals’ appearance got the best me before and after that battle with the Blazers.
What contributed to the Raptors’ downward slide? Well, how much time do you have? Injuries, strength of schedule, and the inability to incorporate the frontcourt into the grand scheme (though a scheme without a blueprint wasn’t so grand in the first place). Let’s see, what else can I harp on, oh yeah, the sloppy pick-and-rolls, random moments of actual crisp and unselfish ball movement that weren’t capitalized on, and to hop on the Tulowitzki train for a baseball reference regarding the defence: “Don’t give me this olé bullshit!”.
All of these factors help place blame. But what makes those faults tick? All signs point to a damaged culture and personalities butting heads. Well, in comes DeMarre Carroll, the acquisition who can only help facilitate a change.
With Carroll never surpassing 17 minutes per game throughout his tours in Memphis, Houston, Denver, and Utah, only to catapult close to the 33-mark with the Hawks, some would suggest that the results from Atlanta’s disciplined system won’t be seen in a vastly different environment. A valid consideration, and there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. But where there’s a will, there’s a chance to flip the script.
How does Carroll stack up with those liabilities? As for fighting through injuries, look no further than playing through a buckling knee sprain in the postseason. How about his 6.1 boards Per 36 Minutes and 8.7 Per 100 Possessions while predominantly roaming the 3 and capable of moving to the 4 when needed. Which can only aid the Raps’ rebounding relief effort. The 100 possessions category also comes with 2.2 steals, and he can net them in a variety of ways. Then comes his steady and even increased 3-pointers made, as well as his 3-point percentage from the regular season to the playoffs (1.7 to 1.8 and .395 to .403). The perfect role player? I’d have to concur.
Carroll also directly effects JJ and PP, two players this fan base wanted to see receive a more sizeable role, and we seemingly have gotten our wish. Whether it’s by default over the size of DC’s contract making it difficult to find an upgrade at Power Forward is now a moot point. A rotation between the two with a little Louis Scola mixed in and DeMarre taking over when the matchup calls for it has the potential to hold the fort down at the 4.
Essentially, if you morphed Johnson and Patterson into one player, Carroll would assume the identity. His two-way presence might even rub off on Lowry and bring back his physical brand of basketball. But more on K-Low and his partner in crime in a bit.
This town lost a fan favourite in Amir, but you can pencil in Carroll as the next in line. All of a sudden DC being the team’s highest paid player doesn’t sound so weird. Well, it still kind of does. But it’s how Toronto has to operate if they want to employ anything more than a 4-seed squad with a first-round exit strategy.
Question: Will JV and T-Ross finally cement their “core status” or continue to roam the fringe?
Just when we think a corner is turned, we end up stressing over Valanciunas’ inability to mesh with the league’s new “small ball” direction. As for T-Ross, contributions from downtown are a nice distraction, but we’re left dwelling on his dwindling defensive prowess and extreme lack of assertiveness in the offensive set.
On the surface, both are considered to be part of this team’s core moving forward. Yet when you look at the new makeup and what may come as soon as next year, their potential has to be somewhat realized in short order for that to continue. Especially considering both have impending contract situations.
Ross’ preferential treatment needed to stop, compared to JV at least, as chance after chance has been given. I realize his ankle problems have been making the rounds, but the right move has been made moving him to the bench. The expectation is now for Ross to become Lou Williams’ replacement. How’d that role work out for not-so sweet Lou? Streaky scorers tend to have long careers, but also one that includes many stops along the way. I’m fine with Ross becoming the new stop-gap.
Regressing almost across the board in his Per 36’s doesn’t bode well either. A dip in points, steals, rebounds, free-throw attempts, free-throw %, and 3-pt %. All the while joining the decline party was his overall PER and true shooting percentage.
Optimism could be in order with the Raps’ new defensive mandate, however. It could spark something for the former above average wing defender, though optimism is known for clouding one’s judgement.
Back to JV, who despite his flaws remains a vital cog. He’s feeding the press what they want to hear. Working on a jump-shot, while attempting to improve his quickness, footwork, and predictability. Ok, i threw in that last one. True story, though.
There does come a point where if something is not woking, the current solution may be the problem. If JV can’t defend past the interior, or maintain the pace the Raps want to play at, it makes sense to send him to the bench in important situations. However, how are we ever going to see him evolve if he’s not given the opportunity to fail and learn from it. It’s an uphill climb, I get it, but as much as Toronto wants to emulate Golden State, the personnel doesn’t match the requirements.
Throw in the fact that the annual catch-22 rears its ugly head while attempting to mask one deficiency that only leaves another (on the glass) wide open to be picked apart by your opponent. You do all you can to keep up with a trending league, but at the same time, at least attempt to balance it out if what you employ calls for it.
Here’s two that could help the situation, if they can get out of their own way that is.
Question: Are we about to witness K-Low and DeRozan transform into true leaders?
Remember that time when this duo was closing in on comparisons to the Splash Brothers? Looks like “analysts” were a little to presumptuous on that one. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say this backcourt started to read their own press clippings. The only way all of these scenarios reach their pinnacle is when DeRozan and Lowry totally buy in to what Masai and company are trying to achieve.
Faith should still reside that they’ll reach at least the conversation of the elite once again, but more importantly, the next step in leadership. Motivating factors exist for each to boot. I wrote about Lowry recently in regards to the influx of new faces at his position, as being pushed could be exactly what he needs to turn back the clock. I tend to rip on Lowry more often than not, that’s just tough love, but I won’t stop reiterating his reckless running of the offense until his tendencies move more towards the team. A good starting point would be to stop begging for calls. The other team already scored in transition and you’re still talking shop with the ref?
K-Low: you had this city on lock, and it’s there to take back if you so choose. If you’re not careful, your trade watch part-two could become a thing.
DeRozan might truly hold the keys to this revival, though. His main incentive being monetary based. If fantasy sports has taught us anything, it’s a safe bet to go all in on player with a massive payday ahead of him. Those spurts throughout last year where DeMar took his game to the next level, even adding the title of precise ball distributor to his resume, may very well offer us some extended enjoyment this season. But as always, he’ll have to kick the habit of his ill advised mid-range game.
The trickle down effect on this franchise’s future is also at stake. Carroll’s structured attitude can only stretch so far, and the last thing Bruno and Bebe need is to continue to soak in the status-quo environment. Along with Wright and Powell, who both should see regular minutes as the season moves along.
If Toronto does find a way to answer these questions, meet the pressing expectations, and manages to silence their past, not only would the annual problem of drawing major Free Agents have a chance to be overcome, but DeRozan could start thinking that max-dollars isn’t an absolute necessity.
But then again, cash really does rule everything.
One last thing before I go:
Question: Is this view awaiting your weekend arrival?
Crack an Old Style Pilsner for me when you get there.
Raptors, Nets or another team? Discuss
In today’s Grantland column, there’s an interesting note about Nicolas Batum and his desire to play in Toronto:
“Batum is an impending unrestricted free agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum’s people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources. He is a flight risk, even though both Cho and Chad Buchanan, the team’s assistant GM, know Batum well from their days in Portland. “We are very comfortable given that Chad and Rich know Nic well,” Polk says.”
Batum was traded to the Hornets as Portland didn’t like their chances of re-signing him to an extension, and got whatever they could in return. He’s set to make $13M this upcoming season, before lining himself up for a huge raise in the NBA’s increasing salary cap. The Raptors could be able to make a play for him, but keep in mind they have their own free-agents to worry about, namely extending DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas (Basketball Insiders Salary Page).
With DeMarre Carroll set to play a part at power forward, the versatile Frenchman, who is an excellent defender and a career 36% three-point shooter, could be a perfect fit for that small-ball we crave.
Update: some Twitter reaction from Batum denying, and Lowe insisting:
— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) July 28, 2015
@SamediBenjamin No, they're not. He tweeted something today. In the recent past, and often, his people have said something else.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 28, 2015
Masai Ujiri’s biggest move this summer was to acquire DeMarre Carroll, who will start in place of Terrence Ross at small forward. With Carroll onboard, four starting spots are spoken for: point guard, shooting guard, small forward and center.
That just leaves power forward, with no ideal candidate to fill the position. Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson — all best suited for backup positions — will split minutes at the four, while Carroll might sneak in for certain smallball lineups.
It’s unclear as to which player has the inside track. The team will likely use training camp and preseason as a tryout. But head coach Dwane Casey might have tipped his hand when he spoke about Patterson’s effectiveness off the bench.
“We still have Patrick Patterson who I feel is better coming off the bench, he gives us that firepower off the bench, the three-point shooting off the bench, the energy.”
There are some valid concerns with starting Patterson, starting with his ineffectiveness alongside Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors conceded a defensive rating of 109.9 when the two shared the court last season, per NBA WOWY. That mark would have ranked dead-last in the NBA, barely nudging out the Minnesota Timberwolves who posted a 109.6 defensive rating.
I’m not entirely clear as to why the pairing rated so poorly on defense, but it likely starts with defensive rebounding. Patterson is a weak rebounder for his position and lineups featuring Patterson and Valanciunas grabbed 1.6 fewer rebounds per 100 possessions as compared to league average, per Basketball-Reference. Granted, a decline in rebounding was a common feature in most of Patterson’s lineups, but still, it was a problem.
Furthermore, Patterson’s greatest strength as a defender is his mobility, which made him a favorite in Casey’s scramble system. Patterson often closed games in favor of Valanciunas, as his ability to guard the perimeter and to switch was viewed as an asset alongside Amir Johnson (or even Tyler Hansbrough). Patterson posted a 107.5 defensive rating with Hansbrough and a 107.2 mark with Johnson. By no means are those numbers pretty, but it wasn’t unbearably awful as Patterson’s work with the plodding Valanciunas.
The argument can also be made that keeping Patterson on the bench could lend continuity to a substantially revamped second unit. Ujiri parted with several key bench pieces this summer, with Hansbrough, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams changing jerseys. That leaves Patterson and James Johnson — two underused options from last season — as the only holdovers. The Raptors’ bench was a huge component of their success last season and keeping Patterson to maintain a shred of continuity has merit.
The bench could also use Patterson’s offense. Aside from Ross, there won’t be much shooting on the Raptors’ bench. Putting Patterson on the court would suck a big from the paint, opening up lanes for Johnson and Cory Joseph to slash to the hoop. Granted, some of these problems could be solved by staggering Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes, while avoiding all-bench units, but Casey has shown favor towards hockey-style lineup changes.
Having said all that, Patterson should still get the first crack at starting.
Pairing Valanciunas with Patterson was unbearable on defense last season, but that could change. Both Ujiri and Casey have spoken about changing up the defensive scheme to accommodate Valanciunas. Employing a system that requires less rotations and more time in the paint for Valanciunas would go a long way. The Raptors signed longtime Bulls assistant Andy Greer (who made his bones under Tom Thibodeau) to run the defense, which presumably means a change from scrambling to ICEing pick-and-rolls. On Valanciunas’s end, he’s working on improving his quickness, which will help him improve on defense regardless of schemes.
Rebounding should also improve. Carroll is miles better than Ross on the boards, which should help offset Patterson’s deficiencies. Carroll gives the Raptors four plus-rebounders in the starting unit, which would easily cover for any drop-off from Patterson.
The Raptors also don’t have a better defender to pair with Valanciunas. Johnson and Scola are both imperfect options as well. Scola is very smart and is a master of verticality (only being able to jump 10 inches helps with that), but he’s painfully slow and can’t block shots. Johnson gambles too much on defense, which would increase the defensive burden on Valanciunas to cover up for mistakes, when what he needs is the opposite.
However, unlike Scola or Patterson, starting Patterson would translate to a huge boon for the Raptors’ offense.
As a function of starting both Valanciunas and DeRozan, the Raptors sorely lack spacing. Patterson would give the Raptors three floor-spacers on the court, unleashing a dangerous pick-and-roll attack with Valanciunas serving as the roll man. Patterson can pull a big away from the basket, greasing the wheels for DeRozan’s drives and Valanciunas’s rolls.
Since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have posted a sterling offensive rating of 113.4 with Patterson on the floor. As expected, Patterson’s shooting has the greatest effect on frontcourt players. Valanciunas has posted a true-shooting percentage of 59.7 with Patterson. Amir Johnson bumped his mark to 64.9 percent. Even Tyler Hansbrough notched a mark of 59.7 with Patterson.
(Source: NBA WOWY)
There’s also the point about the Raptors’ future. Patterson is 26 and likely near his prime, but he represents the Raptors’ best long-term solution at power forward. Scola signed a one-year deal to fill a need and Johnson is on an expiring deal. Patterson might not be perfect, but at least he has a chance to become a mainstay.
Altogether, starting Patterson is no slam dunk, but in lieu of a better candidate, the starting power forward position should be Patterson’s job to lose. It’s not a perfect solution, but he’s the Raptors’ most talented power forward and that’s the job of the coaching staff — to make it all work.
It’s a solo show as we replay key Raptors talk from the recent Grantland podcast, and tackle low and high-hanging organic fruit in a short but packed podcast.
- Team Canada Basketball talk
- Zach Lowe and Jared Dudley
- Small ball talk
- Power forward position
- Everybody sees Valanciunas’ importance
- Organic growth
- Importance of health
- “Losing” Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez
- Corey Joseph money
- Loss and acquisition of ball-handling
- Ujiri and Casey with specific intent
- Summer-time content
- Ross talk in context of recent article
- DeMarre Carroll – hustler with talent
It’s not difficult to see the ways in which the fan base has grown tired of Terrence Ross. Scanning the comments section of this site, or reading the opinions of its writers, the narrative comes together quite easily. Dude has a resting grumpy face, lacks aggressiveness on the court, doesn’t take advantage of his wildly impressive athleticism (or hasn’t learned how to yet), and, very plainly, hasn’t been able to play up to the ‘D’ part, of being a 3-and-D wing. For a recent example of such criticism, check out the first half of Zarar’s podcast with Tim Chisholm, where they intellectually shit all over the former eighth overall pick.
But there are some things we’re not talking about.
In my opinion, it never seemed as if he was put in a position to succeed. Met with groans on draft night, the fan base treated him as if he was Rafael Araujo, as we watched Andre Drummond slide by just like Andre Iguodala had years ago. The parallels between those two situations were glaring from the beginning. I thought the pick didn’t make sense for other reasons.
Terrence Ross is a shooting guard and one look at his wiry, slight frame suggested he was always going to be better suited to guarding 1’s and 2’s, as opposed to 2’s and 3’s. Except, when we drafted him we already had a defensively limited off-guard in DeRozan, who despite obvious effort and improvement from season to season, never projected as someone big enough or laterally quick enough to guard a position other than the two. Not to mention, despite Ross’s three point shot, and DeRozan’s funky mid-range, foul-baiting game, not much ever separated their physical profile and abilities. Both have shown ball handling and passing/court vision weaknesses, both are dunkers who excel on the break, and both were sold as athletic and raw, high ceiling prospects. From the beginning, it seemed like the pick was redundant.
A few years later, and our collective patience has almost run out with the 24-year old role player. We’ve seen what he has to offer and been there to watch his pull-up jumper get blocked time and time again. I practically scream at the television in these moments, thinking, ‘Doesn’t he know he needs to have a quicker release if he’s going to shoot in traffic?’
As a slasher, with the ball or without, I’ve only seen him be successful in transition, and along the baseline, the latter of which he’s shown the capability to succeed off of back door cuts, rising up for alley-oops or reverse dunks. His ball handling is very suspect, he has no shake, no change of pace, and he struggles to navigate against physical contact. He also doesn’t get to the free throw line, which is where DeRozan makes a living. These are pretty much things we’ve all been talking about for a while now.
The one thing I refuse to cite as a negative though, is his social media presence; I understand that people generally have no sympathy for professional athletes when they appear childish, I on the other hand am fighting for the side that says its okay for them to act like they’re human every once in awhile.
It’s very clear, he’s our scapegoat.
Every team needs a scapegoat, and he’s ours. It’s a tough role, but it’s actually a necessary one. David Lee was the Golden State Warriors scapegoat last year, Chris Bosh was the scapegoat for some of those Miami teams, J.R. Smith has spent time scapegoating just about everywhere he’s been. While it’s easy to hate, we shouldn’t forget that these ‘types’ of players, Terrence Ross included, still have a potent skill set when on the court.
One look at his basketball reference page, and you can see there are some nice stats. Specifically PER36, for his career, Ross has made 2.4 trey’s per game at a .373 percent clip. Those are very good numbers. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t boo him off the court. He’s still battling with Patrick Patterson for the position of team’s best shooter and the space he creates on offence is needed.
Not to mention, and stay with me here, I think Terrence Ross would come back to haunt us if he were traded; If I’m Danny Ainge or Sam Hinkie, or maybe even Daryl Morey, I’m licking my lips at the chance of Terrence Ross. I’d take a glimpse at the resume, make note of the dunk contest and the 51-point game, and see that he’s a shooter whose been playing in a system not suited to his strengths. He seems like he could be a good candidate to rebound elsewhere.
There are grumblings about him being a sour puss, a locker room wart, but it’s hard to know what to make of that. There are also no clear off the court problems in the typical domestic assault, substance abuse vein. I’d wager that there are at least a few GM’s willing to bet that if he was asked to play his actual position, in a pace and space offence, he might find more success offensively, which could lead to less distractions and more focus on the defensive end. Not to mention he’s also maintained his health his whole career, and he’s still just twenty-four, with room still left to work out the kinks. Doesn’t he sound like the type of player who would get traded and come back to haunt us?
I’m not sure what to make of him this upcoming season. Dwane Casey has mentioned that he’ll look for Terrence Ross to reprise a bit of Lou Williams’ role from last season as a bench scorer, although that makes very little sense. There is one thing that I am sure of though, and it’s that we’re coming up to the crucial point, the deciding line that will tell the rest of his future with the club. It doesn’t look very promising as he’ll likely be asked to be more productive with less opportunity, but don’t preclude him from success just yet.
(Just look at it, it’s real, you can see it, you’re allowed to dream it can happen again)
On a completely unrelated note, I had the good pleasure of watching in-person our Canadian Men’s basketball team win 96-76 against Mexico Thursday night in the preliminary round of the Pan Am games. Here are some observations:
- Sim Bhullar is almost comedic on the court in his huffing and puffing. His hands were on his hips for most of the game, and he was a step slow almost everywhere on the court. He has a lot of work to do physically if he wants to get into the league.
- Jamal Murray impressed, showing great handles, passing awareness and offensive instincts. He’s long and athletic, and has size for his position. Although, his shot release is low near his chin and he showed hesitancy attacking left when there were open lanes to do so.
- Brady Heslip is a talented offensive player and showed a lot of polish, I hope he sees a ten-day somewhere this season.
- Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson both played well, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by either. I was expecting more from Bennett.
Tim Leiweke will continue his current role as president and CEO of MLSE for up to another year until a successor is found, according to Sportsnet’s Bob McCown.
“I am told that [Leiweke] will remain with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for one more year in the absence of finding anybody suitable to take his place,” McCown said Friday on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
When reached for comment, MLSE did not immediately respond.
There is nothing official about this report of course – unfortunately. Even if it’s true, Leiweke’s departure is imminent.
For Raptor fans, the longer Leiweke stays, the better. The franchise has prospered under Leiweke’s watch. In his brief stint, he’s shifted TFC, the Leafs, and the Raptors into stable and promising positions with big hires at the management level. On top of that, he’s successfully re-branded the Raptors – making Toronto a bigger destination for free agents, and has also landed the all-star game in 2016.
First up, a little awareness and ask for help for a solid basketball program being run in high-need communities in Toronto. Do us a favor and help if you can.
The hopes of the Raptors wing defense rely on DeMarre Carroll, so I thought for this morning’s edition of “what to write since it’s the off-season but we do run a Raptors site so people need something to read while they browse their phone on the bus”, I thought we take a look at some ways Carroll can influence the game by getting steals a variety of ways.
Here it’s about quick hands. He’s pressuring the guard at the top and playing a good angle while obstructing the pass back out to the weak side. He reads that the point guard is about to lift his hand to pass and raises an arm with the hopes of getting a steal. It pays off. Many times it doesn’t but this is the advantage of having active hands and never stopping to play defense.
Recognition of opponent
Here’s some good ‘ol recognition of who’s dribbling the ball. He sees Gortat messing about with a high dribble, and dumps down quickly to get the steal. The nuance of this play is that he’s also making the passing lane for Gortat back out to Pierce difficult. If he aggressively doubles, Gortat just picks up the ball and passes it to Pierce. Instead, Carroll’s only ‘showing’ the double which baits Gortat into dribbling some more, and that’s when he attacks:
Here’s some situational awareness where Indiana’s just too casually bringing up the ball. Carroll sees that the guard isn’t really looking behind him and blindsides him with the steal. Indiana players should’ve probably called and helped their teammate out, but they didn’t and Carroll takes advantage:
Carroll has deceptively long arms, and in this GIF you see how easily he picks off the intended pass to the big. Granted, it’s not the best pass in the world but the fact that Carroll didn’t just stick with his man on the perimeter, but actually helped his teammates by dropping down is what the point here is.
Pressure up top
Here’s one where he’s guarding pressuring LeBron James up top into a mistake. He forces him to pick up the dribble in hopes of relieving pressure by making a pass, and is right up on him to get the steal:
Post-defense against bigs
Here’s Carroll in the post being backed down and recognizing that he’s got a size disadvantage. He uses those long arms to poke it out from behind. This play shows his versatility and how you don’t have to worry about him if he gets pinned by a big, because he’s got enough size and smarts to come away unscathed in most such situations.
That’s it from me today!
Dwane Casey’s got to have a couple conversations stat. Like, sign into his hotmail account ([email protected]) and send some meeting invites.
First, he’s got to bring James Johnson into the fold. This relationship is teetering right now and the only reason it hasn’t blown up is because James Johnson happened to have found Jesus a few years back and has learned to keep it cool. They have to clear the air man-to-man, not just have a contrived version of the father-son talk, but talk. Starting off, Casey’s needs to straight-up tell James Johnson that he screwed up. Acknowledge the mistakes of last year, whether it be refusing to matchup in key moments, or just benching the swingman altogether. Just come out and say that things weren’t executed properly and not handled right, and that Casey just spoke too openly about James Johnson’s perceived flaws.
At this point, James Johnson will rub his cross, stand up, and give Casey a hug. A single tear will run down Casey’s left cheek and a new relationship will form. All is forgiven, let’s move forward.
Up next, hit up Kyle Lowry on Twitter and see if he responds. If he does, ask for a follow so you can DM him and set up a brohim-to-brohim meeting at a public place like the Harbourfront (you never risk these things getting out of hand, and there’s safety in numbers). With Lowry, you can’t just lead directly into the main topic, you have to beat around the bush and then hit him hard. Start with some small talk about how over-priced that CN Tower Walk is, how some streets really shouldn’t be one way, and lament about the Toronto housing market, and then bring up the main point of discussion. Kind of like:
Casey: “Isn’t it crazy that that 18ftx60ft house costs $1.2M and it doesn’t even have a room?”
Lowry: “True, coach,, I don’t even know how people afford houses anymore”
Casey: “You need to stop gambling on defense.”
Ice. Broken. Now’s the time to sit on that park bench, hold his hand, and tell him that you need him to pay attention on defense, and that he doesn’t have cart blanche to play free safety, because that hurts the team. Explain to him that he’s one of guys that needs to stay home because the team already has two sub-par defenders in the starting lineup, and that if he goes rogue, all hell breaks loose.
Lowry: “But, but coach…the housing market..”
Casey: “Hell with the housing market. We’re talking defense”.
Explain to him that he’s the leader of this team no matter what, and that he’s got to lead by example by 1) staying disciplined and not complaining to the refs constantly, 2) sticking to the plan on defense, and 3) picking your spots to dominate and preserving energy.
In every relationship, openness is key. And this is where Casey will open up about how he didn’t take care of Lowry’s minutes last season, and didn’t manage the injury well, and that it’ll never happen again. Simple heartfelt apology while maintaining eye contact and holding hands. Lowry will do the same. That’s all. Air cleared.
After having dealt with one star player, Casey will surprise DeMar DeRozan at the Drew League. “DeMar, can we grab a some Baskin Robbins after the game?” “Sure thing, coach, cotton candy flavour for me all the way”.
As you’re driving to Baskin Robbins, take a sharp turn and hit the highway, drive for 80 miles in absolute silence without responding to DeRozan’s pleas for mercy. Pull into a deep wooded area, open up the trunk and get out the laptop with video fo DeRozan being shut down by a half-decent wing. DeRozan won’t watch at first, but after a while he’ll realize that there’s nothing else to do in this swampland than watch the video.
As they watch in silence, Casey’s hand once again reaches for DeRozan, and softly utters, “See what I mean?” DeRozan won’t respond, but will nod. More video is watched and finally DeRozan speaks and says, “But coach, you designed these plays where I took a 22 footer with a guy draped all over me, am I really to blame?”
Moment of truth.
Casey proceed to admit that the plays weren’t great, but that DeRozan didn’t help matters by doing what the defense wanted them to do. They talk openly, blame stuff on Lou Williams and agree that next year it’s going to be different: DeRozan will give a shit on defense, and will improve enough to shed defenders instead of taking bad shots. Casey will agree to design more motion heavy plays that have DeRozan catch the ball in positions of advantage instead of having it all to do. As they’re heading back to the car, Casey pauses, takes out a blue cooler from the trunk, opens it and gives a cotton candy ice cream to DeRozan. This is how friendships are formed.
Finally, it’s onto Terrence Ross and a simple text will do here: “Your ass better be in shape and ready to go come training camp or you’ll be playing 40 minutes for Raptors905 next season”.
Kyle Lowry looks a little out of shape, everyone’s uncomfortably ignoring it. Dwane, you concerned? “Nah, he hides his muscles well *smiles nervously*”.
Jonas Valanciunas lean as hell after playing in Europe, there’s talk of a bigger role on offense. Coach, is Jonas going to get a bigger role? “The last guy to get off a potato truck doesn’t win the rodeo, and I’ve ridden some buses but that right there is a barn door”. #MakesNoSense, Next day Toronto Star headline: “Coach Casey has wise words for Valanciunas”
DeRozan’s been eating with his left foot all summer, nobody knows why but there’s talk of a wicked crossover in the arsenal. NOBODY SEEN IT. Being guarded by Norman Powell in practice and Powell cornered about it after, “Tell us Norman, have you seen this crossover?” Can only shake head and mutter expletives in way of response. Legend of crossover grows.
Terrence Ross been working on his drive game, says Carroll been mentoring him on D and shit. Fuckin’ right! First pre-season game, bright lights are on. Time to exorcise them demons. 0-8 FG. Benched in second quarter. Back to the drawing board.
Bruno Caboclo runs this town. Gets his name chanted at Dairy Queen. #MadeItInLife. Walks into movie theater. Free tickets. Strolls into Brass Rail. Upper Brass, son. DeAndre Daniels tries to tag along. Access denied.
Opening ceremony of #Raptors905. Hazel McCallion cuts the ribbon. “Where’s George Mikan at?” Not here, he long dead.
Reporter asking softball questions to Cory Joseph. “You excited about being back in Toronto?” “It’s an honor to be paid $7 million for being born in Pickering”.
Late October evening, no games. Where’s Bismack at? Nobody can find him. Driving Uber. “Yo man, I thought you in the NBA”. “For now. For now.”
Post-practice scrum. Everyone exhausted, sweating. James Johnson bone dry. “How so, James?” “Cannot get playing time in practice”. Casey, why that? “It’s a matchup thing”.
Rumor there’s a video of DeRozan’s crossover leaked on Instagram. #LeaguePassAlert! Grainy video surfaces of 20 pixels moving in the direction of 20 other pixels which form a rim if you look at it from the right angle. Crossover hype at peak levels.
Dwane Casey: “Luis Scola will be the starting PF”. Everyone scratching their head. Scola literally scratching head. Raptors.com softball interview, “Was Scola’s experience and maturity the reason you chose to start him, coach?” Casey: “There are guys who make hay with a haymaker, and there are guys who make hay with grind. We need a little bit of wind at the back and Scola’s got the lunch pail mentality of getting that dinner done quick” Next day Toronto Star headline: “Dwane Casey: Tactical Genius”
Valanciunas can now shoot threes. “He’s a modern-day Draymond Green”, says coach. Opening night. Valanciunas given 8 feet of space to shoot three. Fakes. Nobody moves. Fakes some more. Arena quiet as fuck. Takes two steps forward. Big problem, wasn’t dribbling. Turnover.
Kyle Lowry gambling on defense. RR Blogger: “He’s got to be more disciplined”. Posts screenshots of Lowry gambling. Pornhub tab visible in background. #Exposed
October 6th: Blake Murphy drops article of the century. 10,000 words, 40 GIFs, all kinds of graphs and shit. All about Ronald Roberts. October 7th: Ronald Roberts cut. October 8th: Blake Murphy: “It was worth it”.
Flashback to DeMarre Carroll, July 3rd, “Hopefully it’s not too cold up there”. Present day, October 18th: -26 with the windchill. “What the shit is this?” #WelcomeToCanada
Masai Ujiri took another flyer on a training camp player.
The Raptors have reached agreement with Louisiana Tech's Michale Kyser on one-year deal with partial guarantee, league source tells RealGM.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 20, 2015
Kyser is a 6-foot-10 power forward who played four years at Louisiana Tech. This past season, Kyser averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and four (!!!) blocks per 40 minutes, while shooting 60.6 percent from the field, good for a PER of 20.7.
Based on his highlights, Kyser seems like a springy four who mostly traits in finishes around the basket. His size is less than ideal for a frontcourt player (only weighs 205 pounds) but it lends to him being extremely quick. As shown in the clip above, Kyser routinely sticks with players on the perimeter before engulfing shot attempts with a tremendous wingspan.
Kyser played in a limited capacity with the Raptors in summer league. He averaged 3.5 points and four rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. That’s an incredibly small sample and I wouldn’t read anything into those numbers. The coaching staff probably liked what they saw out of Kyser in practices and decided to give him an extended look.
Given his contract, Kyser will likely battle Ronald Roberts for a chance to grab the 15th spot on the roster. Kyser and Roberts both fit the mold of hyperathletic undersized power forwards. Giving Kyser a partial guarantee (probably $25,000 like the Raptors gave Will Cherry last year) also likely sweetens the pot for Kyser to sign with the Raptors 905, although that’s pure speculation on my part. The Raptors also signed French swingman Axel Toupane to a partially guaranteed deal last week.
For more on Kyser, check out Draft Express.
Tim Chisholm joins the Rapcast to see if Norman Powell can beat out the already beaten down Terrence Ross for playing time.
Trail Blazers 72, Raptors 64 — Box Score
Despite entering the playoffs as the top seed, the Toronto Raptors bowed out in their first elimination game on Thursday at the hands of Doug McDermott and the Chicago Bulls.
However, since Summer League is almost entirely set up for the purposes of development, the Raptors played yet another game on Friday, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a consolation bracket.
Both teams rested their key starters. The Trail Blazers sat breakout sensation Noah Vonleh and 35-year-old Keith Bogans among others, while the Raptors held out Delon Wright (hamstring), Norman Powell (already reached God status) and Ronald Roberts (hopefully working on his free throws).
What was left were the dregs. The game mostly featured a battle of third-string summer league invitees duking it out in front of a sparsely attended Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The few who did show up mostly came to watch Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira, who I’ll discuss shortly.
As for the game itself, the Raptors played solid defense, but struggled to generate offense in the halfcourt without Powell and Wright. The only capable floor general was Phil Scrubbs, who consistently made nice reads to keep the offense flowing. Toronto led for most of the game, but their offense dried up in the fourth quarter. They shot a ghastly 3-of-17 from the floor, including a sparkling 0-of-7 from deep. Their defense kept them in the game until the last minute, but Trail Blazers guard Andre Dawkins exploded for 12 points in the fourth, including a key triple to put his team up three. He finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.
On to the Brazilians.
Statline: 4 points (2/3 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 TO, 23 minutes
Bebe’s impact was bigger than what his modest statline suggested. He continued to shine as the Raptors’ interior defender. He showed good help instincts in rotating over and protecting the paint on drives, or when he had to make up for blow bys. He was out-muscled by Daniel Orton (who has a solid 30 pounds on Bebe), but was solid otherwise.
The most impressive aspect of Bebe’s game on Friday was his passing. He effectively operated as the Raptors’ high-post option, a role played by Amir Johnson in recent years. He made smart cuts off pick-and-rolls and swung the ball effectively to keep the offense moving. He had a strong grasp of how the offense worked and it led to some pretty dimes.
This one is my favorite. The Raptors run HORNS action, with an initial pick-and-roll. The swing comes to Bebe, who quickly reverses the court. He fluidly moves into a pick-and-roll, before spotting the Blazers’ trap. So, instead of screening for the ball in tight quarters, Bebe moves into open space, catches a nice bounce pass from Drew Crawford, which forces the Blazers’ big to step up. With that, Bebe fires a quick pass to his man in the dunker’s spot along the baseline.
The actual Raptors ran a lot of HORNS action with two bigs up top. Read more about that here.
Here’s another one of Bebe’s assists.
The impressive part of this play is Bebe’s ability to turn and face the defense, making a move and elevating, before throwing a dump-off in mid-air. It doesn’t look like a lot, but it takes a lot of dexterity, control and vision to make a play like this.
My overall impression of Bebe is the same as I had last year. I think he has shown enough ability to merit a chance at the rotation. He certainly still needs to work on his strength, but he’s a massive hurdle for opponents at the basket on defense and he can rebound quite effectively. Throw in his abilities in pick-and-roll scenarios, and a dash of passing vision, and Bebe could turn into something useful.
Statline: 12 points (4/16 FG, 2/12 3FG, 2/3 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 TO, 31 minutes
Again, it’s a case where Bruno’s play looked better than his horrid shooting line would suggest. It was certainly an off-night with the jumper, but he showed some flashes.
First off, Bruno continues to wield an incredibly quick trigger finger. As soon as Bruno gets the ball, Bruno shoots the ball. It doesn’t matter if the defender is right in his face — if he catches the ball on the perimeter, the shot is going up. That’s why the statline looks so poor.
Quite frankly, I think it speaks to his unfamiliarity with basketball. Most of the time, the mental calculus for Bruno seems very linear, in that he understands how plays operate, but he doesn’t have the intuitive ability to salvage plays if they’re well defended by going to secondary options on the sets.
But there were some encouraging signs. He showed great awareness on this post-up play, as he catches his defender ball-watching. Bruno makes a backcut and finds himself an easy layup.
Here’s another encouraging sign. It looked somewhat awkward, but Bruno managed to push it all the way to the basket on a fast break using his shaky handles before getting to the basket with a slick lefty finish.
Bruno also busted out a nice Eurostep move, which led to some free throws.
Defensively, Bruno remains somewhat of a mess. He has trouble scaling around screens and sometimes gets beat off the dribble when he plays too close. He’s mostly fine when he sags off, which he can afford to thanks to his hilarious wingspan.
The above clip is a good example. Bruno shows great help instincts by showing help on the drive. But when the Trail Blazers guard finds a spot-up shooter on the perimeter, Bruno is somehow able to make an effective contest despite taking off with one foot inside the paint. The instincts may or may not come, but the length will definitely play.
With that, the Raptors wrap up Summer League with a 3-2 record. Things might have been different had Wright now tweaked a hamstring, but it’s a silly tournament anyway. What’s most important is that we caught a rare glimpse at Bruno and Bebe, while players like Powell and Wright were able to make strong first impressions on fans.
After a humbling and humiliating end to last season, the Toronto Raptors had two specific items on their agenda for the summer.
The first was to improve their defense, which ranked 25th in defensive rating. The second was to make a significant upgrade at a forward position, which saw too many listless performances from Terrence Ross at three and too few healthy games from Amir Johnson at four.
Enter: DeMarre Carroll
Flush with cap room, general manager Masai Ujiri spared no expense. He grabbed the best small forward on the market (LeBron James was never going anywhere) and he paid him handsomely. Carroll will receive $60 million over the next four seasons, an exponential raise his over his last contract worth $5 million over two years. After being the lone Atlanta Hawks starter to not make the All-Star game, Carroll now comes to Toronto as its highest-paid player.
There’s a reason why Ujiri bet big on Carroll. It’s rather obvious, actually. Carroll’s two-way game is exactly the type of player that the Raptors have been hoping to acquire for years. Carroll gives the Raptors an elite 3-and-D player, something the Raptors have lacked over the last 10 seasons. Seriously, look at the list of wings who played more than 1,000 minutes in a season over the last decade:
Alan Anderson, Landry Fields, Jorge Garbajosa, Rudy Gay, Joey Graham (x3), James Johnson (x2), Jason Kapono (x2), Linas Kleiza (x2), Jamario Moon (x2), Morris Peterson (x2), Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright, Terrence Ross (x2)
Carroll brings an end to settling. Last season was all about having too many imperfect players leading to too many tradeoffs. Ross brough shooting but his defense was terrible and was too weak to guard bigger threes. James Johnson had the size to check bigger wings and was much more effective on defense, but he couldn’t shoot and clogged the floor. Carroll marries the best of both worlds.
Everyone credits the Hawks’ textbook offense for their 60-win performance, but their defense was just as strong (they ranked sixth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). And just as the Hawks didn’t have a go-to scorer to carry the offense, they also lacked an all-consuming rim-protector to anchor the defense. They relied on smarts and schemes to make it all work. Head coach Mike Budenholzer drilled discipline into his players and to their credit, his players executed to perfection.
There were two main shifts that proved to be integral in the creation of the Hawks we see today: first, a dedication to helping each other on both sides of the floor and second, good offense starts with better defense. The entire team has bought into these ideas, which has resulted in the transcendent play we’ve enjoyed on the court.
– Tony Papa, Peachtree Hoops:
Carroll was as close as the Hawks came to a defensive anchor. He drew the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis. In the playoffs, Carroll checked Joe Johnson, John Wall, Paul Pierce and LeBron James. As Budenholzer described him, Carroll “set the tone” for the Hawks on defense.
We talk a lot about the only way we are going to be good is if we are good on both ends of the court. DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.
– Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, from Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Carroll represents the ideal combination size, quickness, strength, intelligence and tenacity as a defender. Standing at 6-foot-8, Carroll has quick feet to stay in front of guards, while having enough bulk to stand up smallball fours. He switches seamlessly and he has great instincts with when to provide help.
Since their bigs were undersized, the Hawks loved to send help from their wings. In the play below, Carroll rotates over to hand Paul Millsap a lifeline against a charging Marc Gasol, before rotating over to challenge Tony Allen’s shot off Gasol’s pass. Carroll then tips the ball to Kent Bazemore to spark the break.
(Courtesy: Peachtree Hoops)
Carroll has excellent awareness. He keeps his head on a swivel while surveying the defense. He doesn’t gamble for steals but when there’s an opportunity to pounce, Carroll is a terror in passing lanes. Here, Carroll carefully watches as the play develops. He’s in position to send help on Tim Duncan when Tiago Splitter first has the ball, but he resets to Danny Green, who drives into the teeth of the defense. Green is met by Millsap, who comes up to take away the lane. That coaxes a pass by Green, but Carroll makes an interception.
The second half of the clip depicts Carroll’s tenacity. The loose ball squirts to Green who somehow spots Kawhi Leonard in the corner. But before Leonard could get off a clean look, Carroll flies in from the paint, before Korver backs him up. Tenacity is a big part of Carroll’s effectiveness. He refuses to quit on plays. That’s why he carries around the moniker of “Junkyard Dog,” because he’s not shy of contact and he’ll straight-up maul opponents.
But it’s not just effort with Carroll. Technique, positioning and discipline play a huge part in Carroll’s success. Despite guarding the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis, Carroll committed just 2.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season. Opponents also shot 4.3 percentage points worse on average on 3-pointers against Carroll. His mark ranked sixth-best in the NBA and easily beat out the Raptors’ wing corp.
Carroll will be asked to reprise the role of go-to stopper for the Raptors. Perimeter defense was a sore spot for Toronto last season, and while Carroll can’t fix that on his own, he gives the Raptors a player to check the best wing scorers in the league. No more Ross on Joe Johnson or Amir Johnson on Paul Pierce. That will be Carroll’s responsibility.
Carroll: "I told Demar he didn’t have to fight with LBJ or KD anymore – 'You can just go out there and take this team to the promised land'”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) July 9, 2015
Carroll knows his role. His number one priority is the defensive end. Play hard, fight for loose balls, create deflections, rotate on defense and everything else will take care of itself. After being humbled through his first few seasons in the league, Carroll came to understand his role, which was something like Bruce Bowen.
[Bruce Bowen] knew that was the way he was going to stick in the NBA, that was how he was going to play, that was how he was going to get paid. That was his ticket. No matter how you were raised, no matter how many 30-point games you had, at some point you have to figure out a way you are going to survive and get on the court. Some people, they figure it out and [learn] that is their best way to stick in the league and to play in the league and, hopefully, play on good teams in the league.
– Carroll, from Chris Vivlamore of the Albany Herald
No disrespect to Bowen, but the Raptors need a little more than that from Carroll. Bowen’s only move on offense was to make an open layup, or to shoot corner threes. He was certainly useful and helped the Spurs win three championships, but the Raptors need more production than that out of Carroll.
The Raptors pitched Carroll on a bigger role in the free agency process.
I think the biggest factor for me was the role on the team. Basically, Masai came in, coach Dwane Casey came in, told me I’m (gonna) have a bigger role. They wanna involve me more in the offense. You know, defense, that’s my calling card, but they want me to play a lot of offense, too. I’ve never had a team really come at me and make offense be a focal point, too.
The Raptors’ pitch jives with something Budenholzer told Carroll earlier in the year. Coach Bud tweaked his offense to squeeze out a few more opportunities for Carroll. He received 43 frontcourt touches per 36 minutes rather than 39, while his usage rate increased (15.2 to 16.9 [nice]) despite the return of Al Horford. For Bud, it was about making Carroll more versatile.
I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I could see a lot of times in practice my game got a lot better. When coach [Budenholzer] brought me in he wanted to label me the Bruce Bowen guy. And now he’s switched it and wants me to be more like Kawhi [Leonard].
– Carroll, from Sekou Smith of NBA.com:
But Carroll’s role effectively stayed the same. He was the fifth option and he hardly ever had the ball. Over 70 percent of Carroll’s possessions came within the flow of the offense, either with spot-ups (34.9 percent), cuts (10.9) or in transition (25). Compare that to isolations, which comprised of just 2.5 percent of his possessions last season.
It’s unclear as to how Carroll will adapt to playing in Toronto. The Hawks and Raptors were polar opposites in terms of sharing the ball. Atlanta ranked third in assist opportunities per game at 49.5, while the Raptors were dead last with 39. Certainly, Carroll will see some decline from the his sparkling numbers from last season, where he posted a true-shooting percentage of 60.3 while turning the ball over on just 9.3 percent of his possessions.
There won’t be many looks like this in the Raptors’ offense.
But that’s not to say Carroll can’t shoulder a bigger role on the offense. For one, Carroll will now become the Raptors’ go-to spot-up option. With the Hawks, the first choice was always to find Kyle Korver, but that made sense given Korver’s superhuman accuracy. But Carroll was pretty good at spotting up last season, scoring 1.18 points per possessions, which ranked him in the 91st percentile.
Here’s an example of Carroll being looked off. Millsap grabs a steal and starts a fast break before hitting Jeff Teague. The obvious pass is to Carroll wide-open on the wing, but Teague never even looked his way. Instead, he finds a trailing Korver.
In Toronto, Carroll will play the role of “Black Kyle Korver,” while operating in many of Terrence Ross’s go-to sets. That’s how Carroll will increase his role. He won’t be a plus-20 usage rate wing scorer, but by moving up a rung on the offense, Carroll should see an uptick in touches from last season.
However, there’s a difference between Korver’s threes and Carroll’s. Most of Carroll’s threes were launched with his feet set off a pass, whereas Korver (and Ross for that matter) caught on the run after running through screens before launching a shot. It’s a slightly different skillset, but Carroll should be up to the task. He has steadily improved his jumper in each of the last two seasons and for a hard worker like Carroll, picking up Casey’s sets shouldn’t be too difficult.
Carroll can also put it on the deck against flying closeouts. He can step in for the pull-up or he can get all the way to the basket and finish. That’s a huge step up from Ross, who loves uncorking a soft push-shot because he avoids contact like the plague. Carroll relishes physical play and isn’t afraid to withstand a hard knock in exchange for two free throws.
Finally, the addition of Carroll should help the Raptors’ transition offense. Again, unlike Ross who never attacked the basket, Carroll is a capable ball-handler who can drive against a defense in transition. He won’t pull out any flashy Eurosteps or crossovers; he prefers to bully his way to the basket with line drives. Still, Carroll is effective on the break, scoring 1.15 points per fast break and he shot 63.1 percent in the restricted area.
Carroll’s role with the Raptors
The Raptors don’t have any grand illusions for Carroll. They’re not asking him to become an all-world scorer or a point-forward playmaker because they don’t need him to be one. The first and second option will still be DeRozan and Lowry, with Valanciunas ranking a distant third. Although they paid a hefty price, the Raptors will ask Carroll to play a familiar but important role: to guard the opponent’s best wing scorer on any given night, to hit open threes and to sprinkle in the occasional drive to the basket against rotating or transitioning defenses.
It’s not a lot, but Carroll will give the Raptors something that the franchise has lacked for the past decade. He’s gives the Raptors a hardworking two-way wing and he should slot in as the perfect role player for this team.
You can read the recap and view select GIFs, and for more detail check out the videos below.
Lucas Noguiera Highlights
Bruno Caboclo Highlights
Norman Powell Post-Game Interview
Lucas Noguiera Post-Game Interview
Jesse Mermuys Post-Game Interview
Bulls 84, Raptors 80 – Box Score
The Raptors were eliminated by the Bulls from the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night after they blew an 18-point first half lead.
The Raptors started strong and jumped on the Bulls early through Noman Powell and Bruno Caboclo, the former continuing his Vegas onslaught, while the latter found his shooting touch. Powell ended up cooling off, finished just 5-16 FG and surprisingly sat for an extended stretch while the Bulls made their run to come back. He did display glimpses of play that will make you think he’ll be playing meaningful minutes this season.
The Raptors actually shot the higher percentage, dominated the glass but playing without Delon Wright, the main problem for them was TOs, which they committed 19 of and were run back by the Bulls to good effect. The Raptors had no answer for Doug McDermott who had 28 points on 11-25 shooting, with the majority coming in the second half, and a lot of them against Bruno Caboclo. They also couldn’t cope with Diante Garrett attacking Gary Talton consistently, and creating shot opportunities for guys like Bobby Portis and Cameron Bairstow.
The Raptors will play a consolation game on Friday to round off summer league.
Let’s start with Norman Powell as usual, and let’s focus on skills that are transferable to the NBA, which he displayed plenty of:
Here’s a sweet give-and-go, which you can run with any big. Picture this being run with Patrick Patterson or Luis Scola as part of a horns system, or more simply, on an ad-hoc basis to get a free shot. Powell’s got a drive game so the defense would prefer to go under, and he’s shown this summer league that he can hit that mid-range jumper with confidence.
Here’s a catch-and-shoot out-of-bounds play where he executes that slight step-back at the end to create space and rise over the defense. He gets shot-ready very quickly by taking one purposeful dribble taking him away from the defense. This is a sign of decisiveness that every effective scorer needs to have and, even though it’s just summer league, Powell’s shown he knows what it takes.
The next two plays are him getting blocks via that 6’11” wingspan and pure awareness of what the offense is trying to do. In both situations he’s not the primary defender but has read the situation and has come over to help in the nick of time. He’s clearly an intelligent player that doesn’t just hide on defense by sticking to his man, and is confident in making plays when the initial setup breaks down:
Finally, much has been made of his range and here he knocks down a confident three by lining it up. He shot 32% in college from distance, and this will be what people will force him to do so it’s nice to see him drain one:
Here’s a couple Bruno Caboclo highlights to whet your appetite. He had 15 points on 4-7 shooting and went 6-7 from the stripe which was an improvement. He put it on the floor a lot, and that speaks to his confidence because that is something that wasn’t happening at all last year. I tell myself that it’s the thought that counts when I look at his fluky finish in the second video. He’s moving his feet defensively and there’s clear instruction from the coaches for him to angle offensive players into his arms so he can use them to contest the shot, rather than they going into his body to draw contact. I can’t say it was successful against McDermott, or in general, but at least I believe there’s some coaching going on. The guy just doesn’t have the strength whatsoever to hold off offensive players right now, and once he gets that, then his length advantage will come into play. Right now he’s just getting pushed around too easily.
Up next, it’s Lucas Noguiera and today he was all about the pass. The Raptors ran a ton of screen ‘n rolls for him and it seemed that passing was his preferred option, even when he could’ve done something else. To his credit, he’s a nice passer and has chemistry with Ronald Roberts and Caboclo, so I give him credit there. I just wonder if he has the confidence to score himself against a defense by pulling off a move or two. I really haven’t seen any of that, but I’ll focus on the positives by showing you instances where he did pass to create:
Here’s a pass he made where I thought he shoud’ve just spun and finished it himself:
Finally, this is where he’s best – basically where he has a free dunk available to him and there’s no defense within shouting distance. This is the low-hanging fruit which is great, but we need him to be a little more decisive and skillful in finishing against defenses.
My favorite Bebe play, though, was the one where they dared him to shoot (with audio):
We’ll round off with some random clips. Here’s Roberts pulling down a pretty impressive rebound over Bairstow. Roberts is a bruiser who struggles to finish in close quarters, and appears to require some runway to utilize that self-proclaimed 46″ vertical. I haven’t seen him go up in traffic and finish strong yet, mainly because he’s usually grounded by his lack of skill in doing so. If you see him as a replacement for Greg Steimsma, he’s a definite upgrade:
During the second quarter when this game was very up-and-down, Jordan Bachynski had a few good moments in a row where he got a couple blocks, got a pass from his teammates (a very rare occasion), and then proceeded to finish. It’s probably the highlight of his career:
Here’s Drew Crawford with a nice play:
This dude faked a FT, I kid you not:
That’s it from me, time to hit the sack. Check more post-game video highlights and interviews here.
Axel Toupane signed with Toronto Raptors a partially guaranteed contract, per sources. He'll go to training camp & try to make the team
— Sportando (@sportando) July 16, 2015
As per reports, the Raptors have signed French small forward Axel Toupane (plays for Strasbourg) to a deal which would see him get a training camp invite. Blake has you covered on what a “partially guaranteed” deal really means:
A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.
Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.”
Toupane was undrafted in 2014 and has played two games in summer league averaging 11.5 minutes, 4.5 points and 1.3 rebounds. He went undrafted This would bring the number of guaranteed and partially-guaranteed players to 16 since they signed Ronald Roberts to the same deal. So, at this point we have one training camp cut guaranteed. Here’s a little bit more about the native of Mulhouse, France:
The French guard has made a name for himself by playing hard-nosed defense. With his excellent wingspan, he is a great on-ball defender who can put pressure full-court over stretches. He is very active in the passing lanes and can generate early offenses with his aggressiveness. Offensively, Toupane does a bit of everything but he needs to become more regular as a shooter. He can attack the basket but his jump shot is shaky despite a very high release point. In catch-and-shoot situations, he is more regular but he often loses his balance when going for the pull-up jumper out of the dribble. Toupane’s future could be in a 3&D role on the highest level if he can develop his shooting percentages to a different level as he has all the necessary physical tools to play in the NBA.
There’s also more on Axel Toupane at Scout Basketball:
Masai Ujiri answered your prayers and signed summer league breakout star Norman Powell to contract!
@Raptors have signed 2015 second-round draft pick guard Norman Powell.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) July 15, 2015
Terms of the deal were not released, per team policy. Let’s hope Powell signed a 3-year deal, because that would give the Raptors full bird rights to retain him when he develops into
the second coming of Dwyane Wade a solid rotation piece. Summer league connoisseur Blake Murphy has you covered with the logic in locking up Powell.
That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.
As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.
It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).
Blake (who is NOT Powell’s player agent, in case you were wondering), also wrote up an excellent player profile on Powell on Monday.
Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.
Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.
Powell has been the Raptors’ best player in summer league action, helping the team to a 3-0 record. Powell drafted with the 46th pick, which the Raptors acquired through the Greivis Vasquez trade. The 22-year-old Powell played four years at UCLA before making the jump. Depending on how the rest of summer league and preseason go, Powell could see some minutes as a backup wing next year.
Jonas Valanciunas said last week that he’s working on improving his quickness and honing his jumpshot. The Raptors have called in Seattle Supersonics legend Jack Sikma to help with Valanciunas’s training.
Here’s Sikma on Valanciunas:
Q: What are you working on with him?
A: Talking with coach Casey, the Raptors would like to see him expand his game, where he has something facing up, not just a back-to-the-basket game. That’s the way I played. I’ve had quite a bit of experience teaching young kids in the league by coaching two or three teams.
Q: Your take on him speeding up his game?
A: There’s two ways to approach that. Number one is physically. I’m sure with the support of the staff, he’s going to get stronger, with his core strength. The other one is to recognize situations, and anticipate a little better, try to get there a little earlier. It’s not just reacting to a situation, but getting to the right spot before it happens and anticipating when it will happen. For bigs, it’s really important and the more time they have in the league, the more time in the league that they have, the more experienced, they better get that. To be in the right position at the rim when there’s someone penetrating, to recognize that it’s coming and to get there in time is really important.
Q: How do you view bigs and the trend of smallball?
A: Well they want to open the floor up. Again, there’s usually one guy inside and Jonas, fortunately, is a good free throw shooter, has good range, it’s not like you have to work on his shot, it’s more working on his balance and pivoting and understanding where these open slots are going to be. And then, to be confident enough to [take the jumper]. I think because of his size, he’s been taught to bang and bang and get close to the basket – and that’s good thing and he’s effective doing that – but he needs more than that if he’s going to last in the game a while.
For all the youngsters (like myself) who aren’t familiar with Sikma, let’s run down his credentials.
Sikma was a seven-time All-Star in the early Eighties with the Supersonics. He was a gifted offensive center who flashed an inside-out game. To give an idea of Sikma’s skill with the jumper, he shot 84.9 percent from the free-throw line and led the league in accuracy at 92.2 percent in 1986-67. Remember, he was a 6-foot-11 center. He even developed a 3-point shot towards the end of his career.
For his career, Sikma averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 33.4 minutes per game. For more on Sikma, I refer you to Sonics Rising:
During that span, between 1978 and 1985, only eight players averaged at least 17 points and 11 rebounds. They were Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Artis Gilmore, Jeff Ruland, Robert Parish, and finally, Jack Sikma. With the exception of Ruland, who had only three seasons where he played half the games, all of the rest have been inducted into Springfield.
When you include a three assists criteria into the mix, only Bird, Ruland, and Sikma remain. Throw in one assist and one rebound, and Sikma stands alone.
For those who are not content with a mere look at his prime and place a premium on career totals, Sikma scored 17,287 points (79th in NBA history), gathered 10,816 rebounds (30th) and blocked 1,048 shots (78th). Only twelve hardwood legends ever put up 17,000-10,000-1,000. Eight of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Three of them (Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett) will surely be. And then there’s Sikma.
Since his retirement, Sikma has served as an assistant head coach for the past decade with the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Supersonics (RIP). He worked with Yao Ming, and if Jonas could come anywhere close to Yao’s game (or Sikma’s game, for that matter), we should all be delighted.
In a bit of unfortunate timing, Delon Wright missed Monday’s Las Vegas Summer League game due to a sore right hamstring. Following full profiles of Bruno Caboclo and Norman Powell in the first two games, the plan called for Wright to get that treatment after the Toronto Raptors took care of the Houston Rockets.
Not surprisingly, the Raptors struggled to find their offensive footing early without Wright, coughing up the ball 11 times in a 14-point first quarter. They lacked cohesion, they played out of control, and while they eventually settled down, the path to baskets was more arduous than it had been in the first two games. Wright was solid in those games, scoring 19 points on 16 field goal attempts, dishing 11 dimes, and grabbing four rebounds and three steals. He got to the line effectively, only committed two turnovers, and his troublesome 0-of-4 mark from outside was really the only complaint you could lodge.
Because free agency opened so quickly after the draft, the chance never arose to finish and publish the post-draft scouting report on Wright that I had prepared. I had went back and watched a bunch of Utah video, re-watched their battle with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, and dug further into Wright’s profiles (as a reminder – I’m our draft lead at theScore, so I was already well-versed with most prospects in the draft, Wright included). With two strong Summer League games submitted and a bunch of material that never got published, consider what follows a post-draft scouting report on Wright, solidified with some recent Vegas highlights.
And man, is Wright unique.
I hate player comparables in general, but it would be particularly tough to come up with one for a skinny 6-foot-5 point guard who never drives the same way twice, jitters all over the court, in and out through seams in the defenses, and willingly bounces off of defenders as you’d expect from someone built far more solid. He’s a very interesting study and comes across as someone difficult to gameplan for, as his success is based a great deal on seeing angles and reading the movement of the opposition, rather than a particularly singular skill or ability.
The first thing that stands out after a few possessions, particularly in transition, is that Wright varies his speed to throw defenders off in pursuit or catch them backtracking too aggressively. This is something Raptors fans should be familiar with from the Jose Calderon days – straight-line speed is great, but varying the pace of an attack and introducing stutter-steps and hesitation dribbles can be just as effective in opening up space in the teeth of a defense.Direct Link
Aiding him in that same regard – and this will come up again on defense – is that Wright has great anticipation. He has a knack for reading the bodies of defenders, knowing when they’re on their heels, or when their weight is off balance, and using that as an opportunity to gain an edge.Direct Link
It’s not just speed that Wright will vary. He’s almost the anti-Norman Powell in terms of drives, never taking a straight line to any point, instead opting to float in and out of alternate pathways as openings present themselves. Raptors fans may have grown tired of watching players coax defenders into fouls, but dribbling like an amoeba is an effective way to get to the line, one of Wright’s primary strengths.Direct Link
He’s not perfect in this regard, of course. He has a tendency to pick up his dribble too early, particularly with his back toward the basket. He’s creative enough and sees the floor well enough to get out of some of these situations, but it’s a bad habit that pops up occasionally.
The more complex the movements and the more steps in the path, the more room there is for error. Wright is generally lauded for his composure and playing in control, and we’ve seen that so far, but defenses are likely to instruct their back-end defenders to employ active hands to combat the constant compass changes, and they’ll get physical with Wright to discourage him from inviting contact.Direct Link
One of the major knocks against Wright was his weight, which stood at 181 pounds at the combine. That could leave him susceptible against bigger guards on defense and limits his potential to play the two to a degree, despite a 6-foot-7 wingspan. It also renders him unlikely to finish well in traffic against NBA defenses.
He has a handful of tricks to try to work around this. He uses his length well to protect the ball, holding it very high at the peak of his jump, something that should make him more difficult to block.Direct Link
He’ll also bounce away from help defenders as he gathers, which is both good and bad. It may limit his chances of getting blocked, and he looks in control as he fades or leans from contact, but it also increases the difficulty of the shots he’s taking.Direct Link
Wright’s also developed an awesome floater game. Seriously, I’d add a caveat or worry about him getting them off over length, but it’s such a fun weapon, I don’t want to. (That’s called “journalistic integrity” in the biz.)Direct Link
It’s great that Wright has all these nifty tricks to score in close despite a strength deficiency and draw fouls, because the bulk of his scoring comes insider the 3-point line.
The biggest offensive concern with Wright is whether or not he’ll be able to knock down the NBA triple. The shot itself doesn’t look bad, but he’s incredibly hesitant pulling it up off the dribble, and even in summer league, he’s seemed to be looking for a driving lane when a defender goes under a screen. He’ll need to get far more decisive letting it fly when given that space and, probably more importantly for his rookie season, more confident quickly releasing catch-and-shoot jumpers. The Raptors employ Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, and Wright’s going to need to play alongside them to get run a as a freshman. I think they can comfortably get away with it on defense already, but they’re shaky spacing duos – Joseph has had success in small samples, Lowry hit 35.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks (a little below average), and it’s the biggest concern with Wright’s offense.
His two years at Utah were encouraging in terms of the development of his stroke. He shot 22.6 percent from outside in 2013-14, then 33.3 percent in Nov-Dec of 2014-15, then 36.7 percent from January on. They’re all small samples, but they’re trending in the right direction. His strong free-throw shooting also suggests that he may eventually improve, as free-throw shooting adds predictive value in determining future 3-point percentage for college players.
It’s also possible Wright will lead as a ball-handler even in some two-point guard lineups. The Raptors love sets with dual pick-and-roll threats, and Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams thrived operating dribble hand-offs and swings to get a defense moving horizontally before one of them attacked.
Wright’s a solid ball-handler and a very creative passer. One of the benefits of being a tall point guard is being able to see over defenders more easily, and Wright uses that to his advantage. In concert with his long arms, he’s able to find and execute through difficult passing lanes.Direct Link
He’ll also vary the height at which he’s dribbling to see through help defense, get defenders crouching, and then pop up for a quick dish.Direct Link
That includes keeping his gather high, allowing him to swing over and around defenders, particularly in transition. He has a solid Eurostep game, and it’s a primary asset in drawing disorganized help, creating easy baskets for others.Direct Link
And in general, he’s a creative passer with a really good feel for passing lanes and the timing of cutters and dive men.Direct Link
A lot of the same assets that present themselves on offense show up on defense, too. Much the same way Wright extends high to try to finish in traffic or protect the ball when gathering in transition, he extends well when rebounding, and he’s one of more productive rebounding guards in the draft.
The same timing and anticipation he shows driving and passing manifests itself on defense. “Feel for the game” is a tough thing to describe and capture, but Wright decidedly has it. His ability to read the play leads to a lot of his steals – he’ll get some on the ball, too, but he also takes calculated gambles when he sees a player starting to pick up his dribble with the ball unprotected, or the opportunity to jump a passing lane arises. The latter particularly applies in the backcourt, where he’s a hawk on inbound plays like that annoying friend in 2K.Direct Link
His strength will be a concern, both on the ball and fighting through screens, but he’s game to try, and he’ll hit the deck to draw a charge.Direct Link
His length also helps him closing out on shots, and Wright averaged more than a block per game over his two years at Utah. He blocked 3.5 percent of opponent 2-point field goal attempts when he was on the court, 25th among all players classified as guards who played 500 minutes over those two seasons.Direct Link
There remain concerns with Wright. That should be obvious, considering he went 20th overall. He’s 23 and a senior, which teams take to mean the upside is limited. The fact that his numbers declined some in 2014-15 is a little concerning considering his usage rate climbed, though Utah also played at a slower pace, and Wright’s per-100 possession numbers weren’t all that different. His 2-point percentage dropping off is alarming given the trouble some see him having finishing at the NBA level, and his bag of tricks may not work against the longest and smartest defenders. The clearest areas for Wright to work on are his strength and his 3-point shot. It doesn’t matter how herky-jerky your attack, an 82-game schedule is going to be hell at 181 pounds, and bulking up would help him in his areas of strength (drawing fouls) and weaknesses (finishing, fighting through screens).
We need to see more from Wright in an NBA setting to better understand him. When you’re primary assets are feel for the game and basketball IQ, the biggest litmus test is applying those assets against the very top competition. Summer league isn’t that, and while Wright playing surgically is a positive, we don’t really know more than we did a week ago.
The Raptors were said to be very high on Wright, even though they felt the need to add a high-priced backup point guard, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The defense is there, he’s a smart pick-and-roll operator, he’s a lot of fun on the move, and he has the smarts and savvy that make it clear why he was thought to be “NBA-ready” (as much as anyone can be, which is not very much outside of the very elite prospects). it should be fun to see how he responds to better, longer, stronger defenders and more intricate defensive schemes at the next level.
The Toronto Raptors earned the top seed in the tournament portion of Las Vegas Summer League, finishing 3-0 in the round robin with the best “quarter point score” of any undefeated team. The bracket was tough to figure with a 24-team field and just a three-game round robin, but landing as the top seed makes things a little easier.
The Raptors get a bye through to the second round of the elimination stage, which means they won’t play until Thursday (good news if you’re hoping Delon Wright’s sore right hamstring will be good to go). They’ll face the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Chicago Bulls, whom the Raptors already beat, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Thursday’s game will tip at 10 p.m. ET and will be available on League Pass. I couldn’t confirm if it’s at Thomas and Mack or Cox, or whether it’ll be televised on NBA TV (you’d hope so).
Should the Raptors win, they’d move on to play again Saturday. And then Sunday. And then the championship comes home Monday.
By this point, Norman Powell has obviously won your heart. One of the breakout stars of Las Vegas Summer League, Powell has turned in three productive games, surprising many with his ability to dominate on the offensive end, and confirming that he can be an active and disruptive defender.
He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness. He’s throwing down everything and helped carry the Raptors to a win on Monday even without point guard Delon Wright in the lineup. He’s stood out since the tournament opened, handling the ball far more than expected in the opener and earning the full player breakdown treatment following his game two performance.
If you want to know more about Powell the player, I recommend clicking that last link, which goes really in depth. As a quick refresher, he’s a great straight-line driver who uses his length and his strength well to initiate contact and finish better than his 6-foot-4 height would suggest he can. He’s smart moving around picks and times his ridiculous first step well to catch defenders off balance or on their heels. He gets some tunnel vision once on the move, but he’s a willing enough passer in the pick-and-roll, and he recognizes safety valve opportunities when he meets traffic inside. Defensively, he uses his near-7-foot wingspan to stay in front of ball-handlers and poke balls free, and his athleticism allows him to make some unexpected blocks and savvy steals. Because he’s quick laterally, uses his length well, and has a strong lower half, it’s not inconceivable that he could help guard three positions at the next level.
The reasons he slid to No. 46 in the draft are fairly obvious: He’s not a great shooter, and he’s a 22-year-old senior. The shot doesn’t look bad at all, and he opened his senior year flashing improvement before regressing. Some organizations believe shooting is one of the more developable skills, and if the Raptors can work to make him even a remote corner threat, then his five-man lineup possibilities expand.
That’s getting ahead of ourselves. Powell should be playing well in Summer League, because he’s either more experienced, more physically developed, or more talented than most of the competition he’s facing. Plenty of players have had Summer League success and failed in the NBA – it’s a small sample, and it comes against weaker competition. In Powell’s case, a 2-of-5 mark from outside means almost nothing, and LVSL opponents haven’t afforded him the opportunity to prove he can finish against NBA length and cut into the teeth of a sophisticated NBA defense. Failure is far more telling in this environment than success is, which is why I’ve tried to focus on specific skills in the player breakdowns rather than just performance. And Powell’s impressing.
His north-south, bowling-ball style probably won’t work against starting-caliber players, but it should be effective enough to draw fouls against bench units. And his defensive versatility and on-ball play should make him a useful piece down in the rotation.
To be entirely clear, none of Powell’s performance suggests he’s going to be a star or even a top-eight rotation player. He’s been very good, and it’s encouraging, enough that you’d be justified in thinking he’s deserving of a roster spot, as I do. Don’t get carried away, though, and start suggesting he’s better than DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross. Rookies, by and large, struggle, and Powell will face an adjustment period in the NBA if he makes it.
But as a 12th man of sorts – he’d probably be ahead of Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira on the depth chart, and I’m not sure Ronald Roberts’ partial guarantee means anything as far as the regular season goes – he could have a place. If the Raptors don’t want to run two-point guard sets, Powell’s path to playing time is more clear, otherwise he’d likely be the fifth or sixth wing in the rotation.
PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira
For a guy taken midway through the second round, that’s still a good landing spot, and teams are generally thrilled to find any useful player with a second-round pick. I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.
That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.
As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.
It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).
I’d also consider adding additional guaranteed salary for 2015-16, since the Raptors have cap space they seem unlikely to use. The hope would be that by adding salary in year one, Powell becomes more amenable to non-guaranteed second and third years.
There are other options, too, like guaranteeing the first two years at the minimum to secure two non-guaranteed seasons in years three and four, and the team may value a cheap fourth season over maintaining his RFA status after year three. That’s a tough trade-off to navigate for Powell, as he’ll be in his prime at age 25 in his fourth year – his RFA rights would be great, but a season at the peak of his development curve, at $1.1 million after the cap explodes, is enticing.
But a lot of this depends on whether the team feels the need to offer anything but the minimum in non-guarantees, how high they are on the player, and what Powell’s risk preference and willingness to go overseas are.
Powell may prefer a shorter deal if the Raptors aren’t willing to offer guaranteed money in year two and three, but the Raptors hold most of the leverage here. K.J. McDaniels took a risk in signing his one-year, non-guaranteed retention offer with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, making him a restricted free agent this summer, but that’s incredibly risky. The Raptors are only required to offer Powell a one-year, $525,093 contract without any guarantee to retain his rights, but he’s made a case for more security than that, and he may opt to play internationally if that’s all the Raptors are offering.
The team knows better than I do how valuable that modicum of cap space is relative to the flexibility of having Powell’s Bird rights, but that’s the path I’d take right now. Powell should be able to contribute as a defender and transition threat deep in the wing rotation, and if his jumper comes along, it’s not inconceivable that he could work his way to backing up a position full-time down the line. Finding a player who can contribute in any role is the goal with second-round picks in most cases, and locking Powell up with the type of friendly deal teams enjoy with second-round picks is a logical next step.
Norman Powell: Quickly becoming That Dude at Las Vegas Summer League.
The UCLA product turned in another strong performance Monday as the Raptors improved to 3-0, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and adding five rebounds and a pair of blocks. He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness.
Zarar did a nice job catching you up with the game recap, including several impressive Powell GIFs. Our man Dawkins has come correct with a full video highlight package, including several of Powell’s awesome dunks:
I did a full player breakdown/scouting report on Powell following the team’s second game, and little has changed since. He should be playing well given he’s a physical 22-year-old senior playing against less experienced and/or less talented players, but it’s been very encouraging nonetheless. Powell has a terrific straight-line drive, moves well around picks, and is a terrific multi-position defender.
I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.
Raptors 95, Rockets 87 – Box Score
The story of the summer league so far had been Norman Powell and it continues to be so. He had 19 points, 5 rebounds and shot 7-11 FG as the Raptors survived a lethargic start where they were down a dozen early to come back and take care of the Rockets. They were without rookie Delon Wright (sore right hamstring), and it looked early on that the shaky point guard play might cost them the game, with the Raptors committing 14 turnovers and giving up 17 points off of them inside the first 10 minutes.
Things soon normalized as Houston couldn’t keep up their frenetic early pace and pressure, and the Raptors talent helped them ease ahead. The game got tight late but some key plays from key players gave the Raptors enough of a push to see through, even though they ended the game on a low. I think Blake has pretty much covered all that’s needed to be said about Powell, so I’m left with scraps to work with. Hence, I’ll resort to video to paint a picture of what the Raptors, and specifically Powell, were up to.
We’ll start with Bruno, who misses a shot here but man, is this guy playing with some confidence? There’s no hesitation in his catch-and-shoot moves, and he’s comfortable going left when the defense shades him that way.Direct Link Direct Link
Here’s something you would’ve never seen last year – Bruno catching it, nailing it, and then staring down a bench.
Speaking of going left, here’s Powell who is simply more mature and experienced than anybody else on the court. Back-to-back Sweet Sixteen experiences and that senior pedigree is paying off. I realize that he’s “supposed to” be better than a lot of these players just based on experience, but he’s looking like a man amongst boys out there in terms of skill, composure, and even athletic ability. I had picked him to be a non-factor in summer legaue and I was flat-out wrong.Direct Link
If end-to-end drive’s are your thing, he’s got you covered. I don’t think it’s premature to say that he’s impressed enough in just three games that if he doesn’t land on the Raptors roster, he’s going to find a home on an NBA team, so with two spots remaining, I say they belong to Roberts and Powell.
Andrew had made a great point on the latest podcast about how his 6’4″ height doesn’t really matter on account of his reach and wingspan, which stands at 6’11”. There’s no better play to illustrate that than this block he got at the end of the half despite being in a disadvantageous position. He also pulled down some contested rebounds and really surprised everyone with his activity levels, even though after two games they should’ve seen it coming:Direct Link
And if that sort of athleticism isn’t enough, he took it to the next level on the break by cocking it back and tomahawking it, which put any questions about his lack of height being an issue to bed when it comes to finishing hard:
Glen Rice Jr. (7-18 FG, 11-11 FT, 28 points) kept the Rockets in it and they were hovering around 7-10 points, but it was plays like these that helped pull the Raptors through. First, some great big-to-big passing between Roberts and Noguiera, which materialized in a great bucket after the former attacked the open space at the top of the key:Direct Link
There was Bruno actually venturing inside the paint and getting a fortuitous put-back:Direct Link
Here’s my favorite play, though. Bruno tries to dribble it up the court, gets trapped and loses it. Instead of pouting about a foul, he charges back and gets a great block and makes it look rather easy:
The Rockets made a run to cut it to three, but it was Lucas Noguiera that had the final say. First, after finishing again on a big-to-big pass with Roberts, and then staying home and making a sound defensive play – both of which are seen in the video below:Direct Link
Some quick thoughts:
Powell: Great at driving, excellent composure and seems to be a step ahead of everyone in reading what’s happening on the court. He only had one assist, and honestly, probably didn’t look to pass much either. He’s very hesitant on his three-point shot and prefers to drive, but I don’t think it’s going to keep him from the NBA this season. I would’ve liked to see him cover Glen Rice Jr. and see if he could bother him on defense, and it would allow us to get a slightly better sense of his defensive abilities, but really, he’s shown enough already.
Bruno: Long, lanky, full of confidence and totally afforded to play through his mistakes. He’s like a free-range cow, allowed to roam and do whatever he wants in the interest of getting fat, and it’s great. A poor shooting game from him (3-11), but at least he doesn’t look like completely lost out there. He moves his feet well on defense, and you can tell that he’s being coached to play the angles so that he can make use of his reach to contest the shot. Would like to see a bit more drive from him instead of settling for that three, but that very well could just be instruction as integrating him as a 3-point shooter is probably the easiest thing for the coaching staff to do at this point.
Bebe: Very active, positionally aware, and staying home on defense (4 blocks). The timing is a bit off on the rebounds but it doesn’t really show in summer league where he can just reach over guys to get the rebound as he did 13 times tonight. In the NBA, he’d get pushed around a lot more and definitely needs to get stronger to compete in the paint more. His mobility is great and he was able to pressure guards up top and recover, but that could be a false positive since the offenses here aren’t exactly efficient and take forever to move the ball, affording Bebe ample time to recover and setup.
Roberts: Smart player, willing passer, and very aggressive in tight quarters. He’s perfect end-of-the-bench material. Sorry, Chuck, but you’re out.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Talton had a nice run, finishing over traffic and setting up Powell a couple times. Phil Scrubb had his best game going 3-5 for 10 points, and doing some excellent ball-handling all game long, and negotiating Houston’s pressure well. Good luck to the Canadian.
Opposition: Obviously, Glen Rice Jr. stood out with his shooting and ability to draw fouls using that fake. Montrezl Harrell started slow but persisted and his physical presence is such that once the Raptors defense wore down, he was able to chew them up inside as Houston guards drove to deliver short passes in the paint. The guy could end up being a beast in the league and reminded me a little of a young Ben Wallace, or maybe Nene. I don’t know, it’s 1AM and Ramadan is kicking my ass.
Summer league has a five-game guarantee, so two more games to go at the minimum.
Last but not least, there were a couple Raptors fans in the arena who were loud and clear with their chants, purple jerseys intact.
They also interviewed Jonas Valanciunas in the first half and the big man spoke about extending his range, which was cute. It appears he’s being encourages to become a “modern NBA center” and move his game away from the rim. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that, except I don’t feel too good because we might be doing a square peg/round hole thing here.
Update: Full Norman Powell and Lucas Noguiera Highlights:
JV was standing around the edge of the court at summer league and somebody found him, butchered his name, and asked him a couple questions.
Luis Scola talked to the media, and the questions I’ve transcribed below aren’t far from what was asked.
Why you come here?
I feel like they really wanted me. I always like your team. Last couple teams you guys had great teams. Played really, really well. The city’s amazing.
How come you not a broken down piece of metal by now?
Nothing really special, trying to stay healthy. Working hard, I believe working hard is the key to everything. It’s been working for me latestly, let’s se [if it still works].
I have a few injuries but for the most part, I stay healthy.
You mind being the old badass sumbitch? Wutyougon do here?
I’ve been the oldest guy the last couple of years, so kind of makes sense. It’s going to happen more and more. It doesn’t really matter. As long as I can play, I can practice, and contribute to the team that’s all that matters.
I’m not sure. Probably will be doing the same things I’ve been doing all these years. I believe that pretty much everyone knows what I’m going to bring to the team. It’s going to be along the lines of what I’ve been doing on other teams in the past. AT 35, I’m not goint to get extremely better, and I believe I’m not going to get extremely worse.
You talked to coach?
I spoke with him before signing. We crossed emails after.
You sure you can play?
I think I can play, I feel like my legs are OK. I don’t think I have limitations. We’ll see, we have a talented team and there needs to be minutes for everybody.
You sad about gettin’ minutes slashed?
For the last couple years, it was a little frustrating to play less minutes than I’m used to, but it makes me grow, focus more on what you do when you’re playing instead of how much I play. I expect to be a big part of the team, I expect to be a big part of the rotation.
A little bit, you just got to get used to the time of the game you’re playing. What changes is when you play less you have to produce when you play your first minutes, and that’s sometimes a little challenging.
Toronto, you like?
I was always impressed by Toronto, I believe Toronto is a great city. Not only a beautiful city in terms of buildings and what the city offers, but also culturally it’s great. People from all over the places, people from around the world, people who know about different cultures and know how to interact with them.
So, being a guy that is from another country and having a family [like] one of my kids is American, one of my kids is Spanish, and two of my other kids are Argentinian, so Toronto could be a great fit for us.
Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action.
Norman Powell dropped 19 in an 81-66 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday – read a full recap with player breakdowns and GIFs here – two days after putting up 20 in a 90-68 victory over the Sacramento Kings. In 52 minutes of action, he’s scored 39 points on 15-of-26 shooting, hit 2-of-3 from outside, taken 10 free-throw attempts, grabbed nine rebounds, made three steals, and blocked three shots, all while committing only three turnovers.
That’s very strong production, particularly since he’s also playing some of the best perimeter defense of the tournament, though that’s hardly a high bar. He’s been very impressive, and for those who entered Summer League already believing Powell to be an NBA-caliber player, he’s done little to dissuade. For those who didn’t – and it sure seems there were plenty given the number of people who inexplicably thought DeAndre Daniels was a better bet to make the regular season roster – it seems he’s been doing some convincing. My phone, my twitter mentions, and my DMs all contained plenty of Norm talk through the weekend, and fans from hardcore to casual have been impressed.
I was higher on Powell than most entering draft season, primarily because I’m a UCLA fan and got a good, long look at him defending the top wings in a quality Pac-12 conference. I thought he was worth a second-round flier on the chance he develops an outside shot, something he flashed early in his senior season but seemed to lose as the year wore on. The three-year shooting sample is large enough and poor enough to be worrisome, and the Raptors know all too well how tough it can be to give wings who can’t space the floor heavy run. Role players without a jumper exist, and the defense and finishing ability were intriguing enough that I had Powell going at No. 47 in my final mock draft for theScore.
So when the Raptors took Powell at No. 46, that seemed about right. Earlier in his career, his stock had pushed toward the fringe of the first round, and word was that he had shot the ball well in the pre-draft process. Considering how well he likely worked out against other guards and wings – I can’t imagine many prospects more impressive in an intimate setting that favors athleticism and motor – and how his profile reads like the inside cover of head coach Dwane Casey’s trapper keeper, Powell seemed a good flier, and for as much as any rookie can really be NBA-ready, his being a 22-year-old didn’t hurt.
All of that is to say, his success this weekend isn’t all that surprising. At 22, as a senior, with body and athleticism as primary attributes, Powell should have been expected to succeed. I always maintain that success at Summer League is less encouraging than failure is discouraging – lol, Terry – but that doesn’t mean good performances mean nothing. Powell’s playing very well in the situation put before him, and he’s taken on a bigger role than I expected given the number of NBA-caliber players on the roster.
The biggest thing that jumps out about Powell is his straight-line driving ability. With a ridiculous first-step and serious strength for such a compact frame, Powell barrels downhill at defenders, putting them on their heels and leaving them with little recourse with which to defend. There’s some concern that a north-south approach won’t fly against NBA starters, but he should be able to put lesser defenders in a position to foul, especially if he gets a favorable matchup (not unrealistic given his perceived lack of shooting).Direct Link
That same driving approach manifests itself in transition, where Powell was one of the most effective scorers in college basketball. He has a good eye for seams in an unset defense, and while his 6-foot-4 stature makes it tough to get visible looks in tight, he uses his length very well to keep the ball protected.Direct Link Direct Link Direct Link
The Raptors have given him plenty of opportunity to show in Summer League that he can work as a secondary ball-handler, too. Even with Delon Wright on the floor, Powell has been tasked with running the pick-and-roll. He’s not the most adept passer – he can identify drop-off opportunities when in close but can miss good passing lanes once he starts his drive – but he’s deadly if given the space to pick up steam against a flat-footed defender or with a big switched on to him.Direct Link
These are all things we knew Powell could do relatively well. Most encouraging, in the smallest of sample sizes, has been his ability to can jumpers. Defense and drawing fouls are great, but playing a wing who can’t shoot – especially on a roster that already has DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson – is tough to work around. Eminently talented players are worth making such lineups work; role players probably can’t ask a team to sacrifice or be flexible on their behalf.
Powell’s shooting pulling up off the bounce was serviceable, if inconsistent, at UCLA, and he’s seemed comfortable in that regard in Vegas.Direct Link
Powell also knocked down an open catch-and-shoot transition three Sunday, and his release looked improved from his time at Pauley Pavilion.Criticized some for releasing his jumper too late (on the way down) – a death knell for an undersized player – Powell is now letting fly closer to the peak of his jump.Direct Link Direct Link
If Powell can regularly can open looks – and again, he shot 31.4 percent on threes over four years, so that’s not a certainty – he should be able to carve out a roster spot. His ball-handling isn’t the sharpest but it’s clearly an area the Raptors have him working, and his attack game could make him a valuable second-unit piece.
It’s his defensive that got him drafted, though. The 6-foot-4 height makes him seem undersized even for the two, but with great lateral quickness, a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and an 8-foot-7 standing reach, Powell is functionally much bigger. He’s strong, too, and fights through and over screens well. He can get a little too reachy or lungy when he senses the opportunity for a steal, but he does so while staying in front of his man rather than jumping his check.Direct Link
And the gambles he does take are worthwhile. He averaged nearly two steals as a senior, and with his open-floor abilities, the occasional jumped lane is a worthwhile risk.Direct Link
He’s also a smart shot-blocker, though he rarely makes a rejection on the ball. He’s not Dwyane Wade or anything, but the threat of a side-swipe or late-help block is there, and if he can pick it clean, he’s gone.Direct Link
Analytic models didn’t love Powell because of the lack of an outside shot, a good but non-elite steal rate, and his advanced age. Models can only go off of the inputs available, and so it’s not like Powell becoming a rotation player would be an indictment on that analysis. He does do things well that are hard to quantify, particularly that he can be a good and versatile man-to-man defender. There may also be something to be said for role similarity between college and the pros, as Powell wasn’t “the guy” at UCLA and may more easily adapt to playing a more narrowly defined role in the NBA.
Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.
Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.
Blake Murphy and Andrew Thompson join the Rapcast and we round up all the signings, trades, and summer-league happenings. There’s too much content here to describe in a list but I’ll spend a minute doing so anyway, here you go. BTW, Blake does not sound like Darth Vader in real life, that’s just his mic doing things.
Some of the topics in a packed three-part Raptors Weekly.
- DeMarre Carroll signing and impact
- Did Raps overpay for Cory Joseph?
- Can Dwane Casey actually use the new players to good effect?
- Lou Williams not being re-signed, or even offered a contract
- Ross taking over Lou as scorer role, Casey quotes
- Luis Scola the new starting PF?
- Norman Powell taking no prisoners in summer league
- Summer league performances – how to read them
- Bruno Caboclo update
- DeAndre Daniels’ NBA feasibility
- Bismack Biyombo and whether he can catch a ball
- Did the Raptors actually improve as a team? Expectations for next season
- Enes Kanter and Robin Lopez contracts and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas’ upcoming deal
- Much more
The Toronto Raptors have reportedly signed Ronald Roberts to a partially guaranteed contract. We broke that signing down here earlier, and a commenter posted the following video of Roberts that we just couldn’t let live in the comments section alone.
This is a video of Roberts’ dunk exploits from Team Flight Brothers, who I believe were also tied to Terrence Ross around the time of his Slam Dunk Contest win.
So yeah, check it out. And if nothing else, the 6-foot-8 Roberts, who claims to have a 46-inch vertical jump, can participate in the Dunk Contest if he’s on the roster come February.
Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action. After dethroning the defending champion Sacramento Kings on Friday, Raptors 702 were at it again Sunday, defeating the Chicago Bulls 81-66. The Summer Raps are now 2-0 with their final group stage game set to go Monday at 10 p.m. ET against the Houston Rockets with a bye into Round 2 of the elimination portion of the tournament right there for the taking.
Of course, Summer League results don’t matter a great deal. Wins are better than losses, but the only tangible value in victory is that it affords you more chances to play. The further a team goes in the tournament, the more reps their young, developing players get.
So, as we did with Game 1 on Friday, we’ll focus far more on the relevant prospects than the flow of the game or specific in-game strategy, except where it pertains to Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell. As a reminder, DeAndre Daniels suffered a Jones fracture in a pre-tournament practice and won’t be suiting up, while Philip Scrubb is a CIS player no matter how much you may want to see him succeed, and the rest of the team has little in the way of players with a chance to make the NBA roster. Save for Ronald Roberts, who has a shot, too, apparently. Game 1 saw us give Bruno the full breakdown treatment and hit the others more briefly.
Tomorrow morning, Norman Powell gets the full breakdown. Here’s everything else from Game 2.
This Raptors team is good. Seriously. Having a pair of senior rookies, a high-performing D-Leaguer, and a pair of raw sophomores in their second go-round of the tournament has Toronto looking far more poised than the two teams they’ve ran into. They’ve played very under control, forced a lot of turnovers on the defensive end, and generally outworked Sacramento and Chicago. Sunday saw the Bulls make a bit of a comeback attempt when Doug McDermott got red-hot, but the Raptors won every quarter but the third and cruised through the final mintues of the game.
At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern. And once again, there was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Sunday.
Ronald Roberts plays his way into a deal
The Saint Joe’s product and D-League rebounding machine has impressed enough through two games to land a partially guaranteed contract. Read more about him here.
Bruno Caboclo: Ballin’ out, swear he used to be shy
The nice thing for Jesse Murmuys down at Raptors 905 is that he’ll never struggle trying to get Bruno Caboclo to shoot. Shammgod love him, Caboclo wants to let it fly every single time he touches the ball. Which is awesome, really. The games he’s playing in now and the reps he’s getting are low-leverage ones, and I’d argue it’s far better to have to reign a developing player in than get him to be more aggressive. Caboclo is one a point in his development curve right now where all that really matters is reps – he’s spent a year learning the language, adjusting to a new country, watching NBA basketball for the first time, and refining his skills, and the next year will be all about getting him playing time he’s had precious little of in his career.
Caboclo took 13 shots in his 30 minutes Friday, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-13 and a 3-of-8 mark from outside. He didn’t do a whole lot else, adding two rebounds and a steal, and overall it wasn’t quite as impressive a performance as Friday. The 3-point shot really does look good though.