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Since the trade deadline, the Minnesota Timberwolves have become one of my favourite League Pass teams to watch. Kevin Garnett wearing a #21 jersey has just the right amount of nostalgia and Ricky Rubio is healthy and dropping dimes that make me jump off of my couch.
But what has really caught my attention has been the emergence of Andrew Wiggins. Sure, he won Rookie of the Month the first three months of the season, but his game was plagued with inconsistency and hesitation.
During the month of February, Wiggins announces his arrival to the NBA by averaging 16.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Even though it’s been fun to watch Wiggins grow and develop this season, it has been a bittersweet experience because it hasn’t happened in a Toronto Raptors jersey.
Last season the Raptors almost got into the Riggin’ for Wiggins sweepstakes when they traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a bunch of spare parts and they had a deal in place to trade Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks. When the Knicks had a change of heart at the last minute – better known as buyers remorse for getting burned and giving up too much for Andrea Bargnani – they bailed and Toronto went on a surge which would see them win the Atlantic Division and have a first round series which won the hearts of basketball and sports fans across Canada.
Andrew Wiggins struggled out of the gate during his rookie season averaging 12.3 points in November while shooting less than 40% from the field. Despite struggles adjusting to life in the NBA and the pressures of being the top overall pick, Wiggins was still named Rookie of The Month in November, December and January.
On the flip side, Toronto raced out to a 22-6 record to the season and one of the best records in the entire NBA. Fans across Canada were quick to jump on Toronto’s bandwagon.
For a short, brief period of time, fans forgot how close they had come to landing the hometown kid. Toronto had one of the best teams in the NBA while the local prodigy was struggling to adjust to life as a pro.
But things have flipped since the start of February.
The Raptors limped to a 4-5 record in February while Wiggins stole the show during the Rising Stars challenging during all-star weekend. I posted a picture on twitter of Wiggins rocking a Canada flag on his jersey and fans of the Raptors ate it up.
Kyle Lowry stole some attention during all-star weekend when he started the game after being voted in as an all-star due to fans and a couple of key Canadians rallying for his support. But the issues facing the team weren’t masked by some flash during all-star weekend.
Toronto had big wins against the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks in February, but losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and a New Orleans Pelicans team missing Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson stung.
Ending the month on a five-game losing streak highlighted by a loss to the Knicks didn’t help instill any faith that the team was turning things around.
Toronto is now sinking in the standings while Wiggins is starting to take flight. The combination of those two things has left fans of the franchise frustrated and bitter that the team doesn’t have a bright future while Wiggins would look great in purple or red.
Last season DeMar DeRozan was an all-star when he averaged a career-best 22.7 points per game while shooting 42% from the field. This season his scoring has dipped to 17.8 and he’s shooting 38% from the field.
Kyle Lowry started off the season great, but he had to rest against the New York Knicks and he missed the game against Philadelphia to help rest his body. The rest is much-needed as Lowry averaged 11.9 points and 5.3 assists in February.
One of Toronto’s core building blocks for the future, Jonas Valanciunas, has found himself stuck to the bench for most fourth quarters this season. Despite being an analytics darling, he is only averaging 26.3 minutes per game this season.
Fans have gotten frustrated that Valanciunas hasn’t been able to carve out a niece for himself on the team this season despite showing flashes when given the chance to play through mistakes.
Toronto’s other young building block, Terrence Ross, lost his spot in the starting unit and was rumoured to be on the market leading up to the trade deadline.
So, while Toronto has floundered on the court, their two young pieces, Valanciunas and Ross, don’t appear to offer much hope in the near future of being pieces Toronto can count on during the stretch run this season.
Wiggins, meanwhile, is looking like the kind of star an NBA team can build around.
As Blake Murphy wrote about earlier this week, fans are now realizing that chemistry isn’t always sustainable.
William Lou also addressed the current lack of leadership on the team.
In short, Toronto now finds themselves in a mess, despite leading the division. I also look like an idiot for last week saying that February would just be a blip on the radar that is an 82 game season.
Masai Ujiri faces an interesting summer when the team has a lot of cap room – if they renounce the rights to Amir Johnson and Lou Williams – and the possibility of hosting a first round series in the playoffs for the second straight season.
However, despite some success on the court this season and the potential to make big moves this summer, fans are starting to wish the team had tanked last season so they could have had a shot at Wiggins.
There’s likely to be a lot of angry and bitter fans if Ujiri elects to rip things apart this summer and go with a rebuild when if he had done that 18 months earlier the team could have had a chance at Wiggins.
A report from Marc Stein of ESPN links the Raptors to recently waived center JaVale McGee.
- Record: 38-24 (7-3)
- Eastern (4)
- Central (2)
- 110.6 ORTG (4)
- 106.1 DRTG (18)
- 92.4 Pace (24)
- 74.2 DRB% (17)
- 0.551 TS% (5)
- LeBron James 26.2 ppg
- Kevin Love 10.2 rpg
- LeBron James 7.2 apg
- Timofey Mozgov 1.7 bpg
- J.R. Smith 1.8 spg
- Record: 38-22 (5-5)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 110.8 ORTG (3)
- 106.6 DRTG (20)
- 93.3 Pace (19)
- 73.3 DRB% (23)
- 0.55 TS% (6)
- DeMar DeRozan 18.3 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7 apg
- James Johnson 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
After LeBron’s Cavs lost to the Heat on his return to Miami on Christmas day, Cleveland was sitting in the 5th spot in the East and there was a rumour that LeBron had said to Dwyane Wade, his former teammate, that if things didn’t get better with the Cavs that he would return to the Heat. They both denied this, but it spoke to the state of LeBron’s present team.
During the offseason, when he returned to Cleveland to great fanfare and then the team traded for Kevin Love, many had them pencilled in as the Eastern Conference representatives in the Finals in June. By Christmas, though, there were a lot of doubts about the Cavs’ future. The loss against the Heat was followed by the Cavs going 2-9 and falling to .500, a game behind Milwaukee and just ahead of his old team Miami, in the standings. Many questioned whether trading for Kevin Love was a mistake, especially considering how well Andrew Wiggins is playing in Minnesota.
While Christmas Day wasn’t a good day for LeBron and the Cavs, things couldn’t have looked rosier in Toronto. The Raptors were sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, half a game ahead of the surprising Atlanta Hawks and on pace to win 62 games.
Things have changed quite a bit for both teams since then.
The Cavs have gone 19-4 in their last 23 games and a win against the Raptors would put them in a virtual tie with Toronto and Chicago for second place in the East.
Meanwhile, while the Raptors have not been a disaster since Christmas, they’ve certainly struggled. Their win Monday against Philadelphia gave them a .500 record in 2015 and they’re now in danger of dropping to the fourth seed (thankfully, with their Atlantic Division lead secure, fourth is as low as they will fall). Only Washington has had a worse turnaround than Toronto since New Year’s.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
When Will Kyle Lowry Play Again?
Lowry has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury, and at the time I write this, it’s unknown whether he will play tonight. A better question than “will he play”, is whether or not it would help. As has been discussed at length, Lowry has struggled mightily in 2015 and that’s coincided with the team’s struggles. To make things more complicated, Greivis Vasequez has actually outperformed Lowry since New Year’s and it will be interesting to see if the team starts to play better the longer Lowry sits out.
Lowry is in uncharted territory for him. He’s an All Star and for the first time he’s considered the team’s present and future at point guard. It was unreasonable to think he could keep up the level of play we saw from him in December, but his poor play hasn’t seen any signs of recovering, and it’s likely the Raptor’s coaches and head office hope the time off will help. We’ll see, since the Raptor’s success has been so closely tied to Lowry’s play.
Should Valanciunas’ Role Be Increased?
Raptors Republic’s own Andrew Thompson wrote a fantastic article last week that took a look at the curious case of Jonas Valanciunas, and I highly recommend reading it. With the Raptors in a slump, it might be time for Casey to try and experiment a little and perhaps expand Valanciunas’ role, especially on offense.
Despite what it may seem, Valanciunas does play in the fourth quarter a pretty average amount for his position around the league. In fact, he plays the same amount in the fourth quarter as Andrew Bogut and more than Omer Asik, Marcin Gortat and Kevin Garnett. It would be nice, however, to see him play more while the Raptors try and find their way.
Has Kevin Love Finally Found His Groove?
When Love was traded to Cleveland, it seemed like a match made in heaven. The thought of him running pick and rolls with LeBron gave the rest of the league nightmares, but he never seemed to fit in and look comfortable on Cleveland as the team struggled. His three point shooting, which was supposed to help open up the middle, didn’t seem to make the trip over from Minnesota and his defense was even worse than advertised.
Love’s certainly not playing at the level expected still, but he’s shooting much better and his defense has been slightly less horrible in the last month. If the Cavs really want to contend this year, then Love has to play at a level at least similar level as he did in Minnesota.
LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are all playing at a higher level than anyone on the Raptors.
Cleveland has more playoff experience on their bench than the Raptors have on the entire team, and the addition of Kendrick Perkins gives them a tough post presence and another player with a ring. Along with that experience, they have a few young players, including Canada’s own Tristan Thompson, who give them a boost as well. The Raptors have more firepower, but the Cavs are actually a little deeper, as long as everyone is healthy.
David Blatt was a risky and somewhat surprising hire considering the fact that Cleveland
had already signed planned on signing LeBron. Most thought Cleveland would choose a more established coach and one who had experience coaching in the NBA. Blatt had a great reputation in Europe, but most realized there would be a steep learning curve transitioning to the NBA. He brought with him a European-style motion offensive that was in-vogue after the Spurs romping the Heat in the Finals. That seemed to be abandoned quickly, as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate.
It’s still difficult to tell whether Blatt has what it takes to stay as a head coach in the NBA, which is also true for Dwane Casey, who fans are already talking about replacing this summer.
While the Cavs are
coming off back to back losses 1-2 in their last three, the loss against Indiana was without LeBron and Sunday’s loss against Houston was a nail-biter in overtime that could have gone either way. These are two teams that seem to be headed in two different directions and even at full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Raptors. Without Lowry, and without him playing like he was in December, it’s difficult to imagine the Raptors pulling out a win, on this one.
Score: Cavs 101 – Raptors 97
Now, with Lowry resting — there is no timetable for the all-star’s return to the lineup, but there is no urgency to get him back until he recovers from an assortment of ailments — Vasquez is the starting point guard. And he is the starting point guard on a team that has struggled to move the ball well. “That’s my goal from now on, if I start or if I don’t start: trying to get 10 assists. That’s my job,” Vasquez said. “That’s what I do best. We’ve all got to do what we do best, whatever role you have. At the end of the day, we’ve got to eliminate those one-on-one plays, the selfishness. “We were coming in with so much pressure, trying to solve the whole situation [during the team’s five-game losing streak]. Everybody was trying to get the answer. We did it a bit selfishly. I put myself first; I took some bad shots. I made some mistakes.”
Then along comes a win over the host 76ers and all is well in Raptorland. It would be foolish to assert such a statement, but wins, no matter the opposition, breathe life into a team that was clearly struggling with its identity. Philly made 52.6% of its shots with the visiting Raptors needing a season-high 35 points from DeRozan to produce the win. Vasquez has never lost sight of the big picture, even as the bandwagon began to swell. Toronto isn’t equipped to win an NBA title this season, but Vasquez knows the franchise is pointed in the right direction. And when it comes to his role, he’ll do whatever it takes. “I just want to win,’’ said Vasquez. “I just want to play in May.” Whether it’s Vasquez or any other player in the NBA, the difference between starting or coming off the bench is mental. When one starts, one is virtually assured minutes, barring early foul troubles, getting into a rhythm made easier given the nature of a starter’s role.
Ironically, Toronto’s defence has been better of late. Though the Raptors gave up a whopping 103 points (on 52.6 percent shooting) to a crew of relative unknowns in Philly, the team had been better at locking opponents down of late. Even during the five-game losing streak (which included blowout losses to Houston and Golden State) Casey’s crew had crept back to the middle of the pack in many defensive categories.
Starting to get the picture? The isolation heavy offense that the Raptors resort to is significantly unsustainable and inconsistent. If DeRozan, Lowry, or Lou cannot create offense on any given night, the Raptors offense goes kaput. Thus, the Raptors winning or losing seems to heavily rely on these three, and given how inconsistent have been offensively, it’s lead to an inconsistent Raptors offense. DeRozan is an interesting case, because we all know what he’s capable of (H/T last night). His injury really has taken away from his aggressiveness, and the shooting slump has been concerning. However, DeRozan is the type of player that improves as the season goes on, and he should start to pick it up. We’ve seen Kyle Lowry save the Raptors many times, and I think anybody could have told you that the team needs him more than anyone in wins. Given that, Lowry is also relied upon to bail the Raptors out, and he’s usually trying to be a hero when the Raptors are on the verge of a loss. The spike in his field goal attempts exemplifies this. The huge drop-off in Lou Williams’ production is particularly interesting. His FG% in losses is substantially lower than in wins. Does that mean Lou is the x-factor here? Potentially. It also means that he needs to shoot a lot less and stop chucking in situations where the Raptors are in a hole.
“Every team in this league goes through it. We feel it’s magnified because it’s us,” said Casey, whose Raptors won the Atlantic last season but were bounced by the Nets in the first round. “All the good teams go through it. But it’s how you come out of it and learn from it. If you go through it and don’t learn anything, you just get your butt kicked.”
The Raptors have the 20th-ranked defense in the league, which is far less than ideal. Teams with true title hopes tend to have their defense lying at least in the top 15. To go along with that, DeRozan has been having a rough season (poor shooting, groin injury) and Kyle Lowry has dropped off significantly ever since he ran out of gas in the game against Portland back on Dec. 30. But all is not lost! Toronto does still hold the third-best offense in the league, and they’ve got a deep bench that will be extremely helpful in the slower paced games of the postseason. And, hey, would you look at that! They also won’t have to play any teams from the Western Conference unless they make it to The Finals. So that’s a bonus. It’s still going to be one heck of a struggle though, make no mistake. If the playoffs began right now, Toronto would be playing Miami, which is a scary team to have to play in the first round. And yet maybe this is all just as DeRozan said after the win against Philly.
By January, things for Toronto were on the upswing. The team was working on an eventual five-game win streak and had dug themselves out of an aforementioned hole in the early season. They went into New York and their big name free agent Hedo played a monster game: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 8-for-16 shooting, 3-for-8 from 3, 7-for-9 from the free throw line, two assists, two steals, a block and only one turnover in 34 minutes. This was what around $10 million a season got you. It may have been a weird team, but it was a good weird at the time. After the comeback win (against a Knicks team that was 18-26 at the time, but never mind that), Hedo gave us his most indelible moment, an interview with Jack Armstrong that came to define his protracted Toronto career.
Photo by Casey Campbell
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Ah…this feels familiar. After months of winning, and a season that saw the Toronto Raptors jump out to an Eastern Conference leading record of 24-7, Toronto has hit a serious speedbump. Now? Toronto lost five in a row prior to their win last night in Philadelphia, and struggled through a February that ended as their first month without a winning record since Rudy Gay was shipped out.
4-6…February was not kind to Toronto. February saw four games where Toronto scored less than 90 points (only one was a win), a game where the Raptors were absolutely destroyed by Golden State, and a pathetic showing to a New York Knicks team that started a frontcourt of Lou Amundson and Andrea Bargnani.
Outside of a narrow victory against the San Antonio Spurs, and a blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors must be thrilled to see the calendar flip over to March.
And it all felt familiar. Winning early in the season was amazing, but after 20 years of mostly losing efforts it felt rather foreign. Most fans, myself often included, seemed to be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something had to eventually go wrong. After all, they’re the Raptors.
So much is going wrong as of late for the Raptors that it’s tough to narrow down what exactly the root of the problem is. Just as when it was all going so well earlier in the year it was tough to point toward any one thing the Raptors were doing so well.
The truth of the matter is that the Raptors aren’t the team that blew away the competition early in the year, just as they aren’t the team that can’t seem to buy a bucket as of late. What they are is likely somewhere in the middle.
Despite the recent string of loses, Toronto is still on pace for a franchise record 52 wins, has the fourth highest rated offense in the NBA, and has a 12 game lead on Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division.
Life could be worse….it could also be better at the moment…but it could be a lot worse.
After all, outside of Cleveland, Atlanta, and seemingly Indiana (I love Frank Vogel), every team currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture has its own set of problems.
The Chicago Bulls have lost Derrick Rose to another knee surgery, and as of yesterday have lost Jimmy Butler for 3-6 weeks due to an elbow sprain. We can now expect to see heavy minutes from players like Kirk Hinrich.
Washington is still missing Bradley Beal and was one of several teams to have a worse February than Toronto, finishing the month with a record of just 3-9.
The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to incorporate a new starting point guard in Michael Carter-Williams after trading Brandon Knight for him at the deadline, had to go through a difficult process recently with Larry Sanders, are missing Jabari Parker for the season, and list Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo as day-to-day.
The Heat will be without the services of Chris Bosh for the remainder of the season due to blood clots in his lungs, have Josh McRoberts sidelined due to knee surgery, and trade deadline acquisition Goran Dragic is dealing with a troublesome back issue.
Basically, life currently sucks for almost everyone in the Eastern conference playoff picture, and for many of these teams life sucks more than it does for Toronto.
Small level of comfort in that, but it’s true. Toronto isn’t dealing with any serious injuries (assuming Kyle Lowry is truly day-to-day), is not trying to fit any new players into their system, is seeing considerable development from Jonas Valanciunas as of late, and is still on pace for the best season in franchise history.
Life as a Raptors fan has historically not been kind, but let’s try to accept this current stretch as a mere blip on the radar that can be worked through.
The history of the franchise makes it seem like the sky is falling whenever the team enters into a small losing streak, but in reality it’s just a raining at the moment. The Raptors still have 22 games to get things sorted before the playoffs; let’s hope the clouds part before April.
It’s time to empty out the mailbag.
Is Toronto’s hardcore Rap-act back in full effect? Or was it due to the fact an inferior opponent was in the building? The rub lies somewhere in the realm of the latter receiving a slight edge, but a bottom line still remains; the 5-game funk has officially come to an end!
The defence remained highly problematic — the Sixers scored 54 points in the paint, shot 53% and notched an absurd 32 assists (Golden State leads the NBA at 27 per game) and Jonas Valanciunas was ignored down low all too frequently, but that can be dealt with later. Greivis Vasquez had 12 points and five assists in place of Lowry and Lou Williams was good off the bench, scoring 21 points, along with five assists and no turnovers. DeRozan exploded for 15 points in the first quarter, his top scoring 12 minutes of the season and had 18 by the break, the most he had scored in an entire game over the past week. “I was out six weeks without playing basketball, that was the longest I’ve ever been out since I’ve been in the NBA, and just getting accustomed to playing night in and night out my typical minutes, my style of play and everything. My rhythm was a little off,” DeRozan said of the slump. Now, he hopes all of that is over with.
“I’m taking my time and [the] coaches wanted me to get some rest and some time off and I think in the long run, this will help me and help the team out.” Lowry’s wounds seem to go beyond general mid-season bumps and bruises. They’re more significant than most realize. Among them are a series of injuries to his right (shooting) hand. The guard dislocated his right ring finger in a January loss to Memphis, also suffering an abrasion to the same hand when diving for the ball against Washington a few weeks later. Casey believes that could be partially responsible for his shooting woes – Lowry shot 34 per cent from the field last month, 24 per cent from three-point range. True to character, Lowry has kept his injury report in house, often declining to share that information with the media. Even some of his own teammates are unaware of what’s been ailing him specifically. “He won’t let anybody in on it,” said Patrick Patterson. “I’m surprised he lets the trainers in on it. Kyle is such a hard worker. He’s such a bulldog. He doesn’t show any weakness. He doesn’t show any pain. He may be hurt, he may have bumps, cuts, bruises on his body and I’m sure he does right now, which is why he’s taking some time off because he’s in pain, but whoever we play, whoever the opponent is, whatever the circumstances are, Kyle doesn’t let anybody know, whether it’s his teammates or the opposition. Kyle, he just keeps it all to himself and just focuses on the game.”
Throw in a Raptors team that has been mired in its worst slump of the season, and sitting and watching becomes even harder. But the fiery point guard says he’s had to learn to think about the long game. In this case, the NBA post-season. For the second straight game, Lowry sat out as the Raptors played his hometown Philadelphia 76ers Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Against the woeful Sixers, it turns out they didn’t need him after all, as they snapped a five-game losing streak with a 114-103 victory. If left to his own devices, Lowry admitted, he probably would have been out on the court. “At the same time, you are getting older in your career and you’ve got bigger plans than to try to go out there and force and force something, especially when you have bumps and bruises, where you can take some time to get healthy, the long term is the plan, the long term for our season is really the goal in mind,” said Lowry. Without Lowry, the Raptors lost to the league-worst New York Knicks 103-98 Saturday night, extending their losing streak to five games. Against the Sixers, the Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter for their first win since Feb. 20. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 35 points.
Worst performance: Sixers rookie Jerami Grant had four points in more than 28minutes, shooting 2 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 4 from beyond the arc.
Eight different players attempted at least seven shots for the Sixers on Monday night with four players getting between 10 and 13 shots. Then again, with starters Jason Richardson and Robert Covington out with nagging injuries, the Sixers needed to move the ball. “I think Ish did a fantastic job,” Noel said. “He was moving the ball and keeping the defense honest. I think the whole team is playing well and I think the team play opens up everything for me.”
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, a former all-star himself, made up for the loss of Lowry. DeRozan exploded for 35 points. For good measure he added nine rebounds and five assists. “It didn’t matter who we got this win against, we needed this win to get the monkey off our backs and get our confidence back,” DeRozan said. It’s amazing that even a team that is 16 games over .500 like the Raptors can slowly lose confidence with a bad stretch. As for the Sixers, they continue to play hard because every time out on the court is another audition. Players like guard Ish Smith (19 points off the bench), Robinson and others are trying to make a favorable impression.
The teams exchanged scoring runs in the third quarter, but when DeRozan decided to stop settling for long-distance jumpers and resume his onslaught on the defenceless rim, the Raptors really started to take off. Entering the final frame, the visitors had built up a seven-point cushion. In the fourth, Toronto’s superior talent put the pedal to the metal, establishing a healthy double-digit lead. That would be all she wrote as the 76ers dropped their seventh game in the last eight outings. With the win, the Raptors swept the season series for the second consecutive year.
No Kyle Lowry? No problem for the Toronto Raptors. They snapped a six-game losing streak and continued their dominance of the 76ers, notching a 114-103 win behind a standout performance from DeMar DeRozan. Despite the best efforts of Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and the rest of the Sixers lineup, DeRozan poured in 35 points and did his best to make up for the absence of Kyle Lowry. The formula for Sixers games has tilted since the trade deadline, with defensive regression traded for a boost on the offensive end. A number of contributors emerged off the bench tonight, with newcomers Thomas Robinson and Ish Smith chief among them.
There aren’t many fingers to point at here for the loss, it was just a team that the Sixers don’t have enough power to beat. The Sixers managed to shoot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, although missing six foul shots did hurt. Regardless of the outcome, there were a lot of positives to take from this game. The Sixers scoring 103 points without Robert Covington and Jason Richardson is a good sight.
lthough the plunging Raptors snapped their five-game losing streak, Philadelphia brought out several solid performances from a variety of players. The offense was uncharacteristically efficient tonight, shooting 52.6% from the floor and assisting on 78% of all field goals. A strong performance by DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors bench ultimately pummeled the Sixers, but the flow and efficiency of the offense leaves a positive mark. The Sixers will hope to build on tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder on Wednesday.
Never a good sign when your team allows 100+ points to one of the worst scoring outfits in the association (90.1 ppg). I could not name three starters on the 76ers but developed a better understanding of their personnel when I would see the likes of household names Ish Smith, Henry Sims and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scoring easy baskets. Fortunately, the Raptors were bailed out defensively by forcing turnovers against an inefficient offense amassing 16 by night’s end, leading to 19 points. As a whole, the defensive unit held the Sixers to 52.6% shooting.
“Deebo is a shot-taking, scoring guard in this league so we need him to take shots,” Vasquez told the Sun Monday, using DeRozan’s nickname. “Some of those shots, people might not like them, but we do like them and he has to take those shots, he’s our guy and when he makes those shots, we are good and so far it’s working pretty good. We’re still second in the East right? It’s not like we ain’t going to the playoffs. I told Deebo, he’s the franchise and franchise players, sometimes they go through struggles, but that’s when they find their character and he has a big-time character.” DeRozan is mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, but seems content to try to shoot his way out of it. Earlier this season, the 2014 all-star posted a number of big assist games, usually without many turnovers and the offence was operating in a far more efficient way when that was happening, but the Raptors seem to prefer DeRozan acting like a true-and-true scorer. You might think it doesn’t make much sense, but it does to them.
Identifying the problem is one thing. Solving it is a much more difficult proposition, especially for a roster with so many players whose offensive game is predicated on creating one-one-one against their defender. Per Synergy, the Raptors have three players — DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams — who rank in the top 30 in offensive isolation possessions. While Lowry is shooting 44.4 percent in iso possessions, DeRozan and Williams are both shooting below 36 percent. As a team, Toronto has the fifth highest offensive isolation possessions in the league, but it is near the bottom 10 in team field goal percentage in those situations. The Raptors are a perimeter-oriented team, and while ball movement can help the team create easier shots, this is Toronto’s identity. The Raptors rely on their top options on offense to create for themselves and the rest of the team to hit its open shots from beyond the arc. With 22 games left in the season, the team’s offensive approach isn’t going to change. And despite all the criticism of how they’re scoring their points, the Raptors are still fourth in the league in offensive efficiency. But the amount of isolation possessions, especially in the fourth quarter, and the team’s reliance on low-percentage shots, make the Raptors a very volatile team, as we’re seeing right now. It does not bode well for the playoffs. In their 37 wins this season prior to Monday’s win against the 76ers, the Raptors shot 47.0 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from three, averaging 21.9 assists and 12.4 turnovers. In their 22 losses, they’re shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 28.7 percent from three, with 18.4 assists and 14.5 turnovers in those games. During that aforementioned five-game losing streak, the Raptors shot 40.4 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from three. They’re a jump shooting team, and as simple as it may sound, when the shots aren’t falling in, they’re not going to win many games, because the ability to create those easier shots they speak about just isn’t there.
Well, my wife tells me I can’t pick my nose in the airport anymore—too many people watching! I really love to interact with fans as much as I can, but you’re right: it’s pandemonium. Family grounds me. I try to spend as much time as possible with my two princesses—my wife and my baby girl, who just turned one.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 27 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +4 +/-Tried his best to pull the Raptors’ team defence up by their socks in the first quarter, but couldn’t do much to stop the Sixers’ parade to the basket. He didn’t do anything poorly, per se, but just didn’t have the kind of impact you’d expect him to have in a game where he’s essentially playing Nerlens Noel and a bunch of undrafted projects. Kind of invisible.|
|James Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +1 +/-Quite a “meh” game, though the team intentionally looked away from him on offense in what appeared to be a concerted attempt to get Valanciunas and DeRozan going. His two blocks were nice, including one huge chase down effort, but those were negated by his two turnovers and three fouls. We shouldn’t be expecting Johnson to carry the offensive effort, but his drive/low post game are both easy scores against Philly. Just wasn’t needed tonight.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | +12 +/-As usual, the Raptors made an effort to get him going early, and he showed a couple nice post moves that resulted in a score and a couple trips to the line. After that, though, he totally disappeared offensively as things shifted back to the outside. He gave up a ton of open midrange shots to Henry Sims and Jerami Grant that they converted, but I’m willing to overlook that tonight because he was the only thing coming even close to rim protection that the Raptors had. He was probably worried that it’d just be a parade to the hoop if he left the paint. He may have been right.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | 0 +/-Good shooting numbers, and he did a solid job of facilitating the offence, getting the ball into the hot hands on the court and generally making the right decisions. He was eviscerated on defence by Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan, however, which was a big reason why the Sixers seemed to live at the rim for the first few quarters. A Jekyll and Hyde performance. Come back soon, Lowry.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 12-24 FG | 10-10 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 35 PTS | +13 +/-A complete game for DeRozan, and one that was sorely needed. It came at the expense of his team at time, but that’s what teams like the Sixers are for. Got to the free throw line regularly, but picked his spots, hitting the midrange when it was there and smartly moving the ball around the court when lanes weren’t open. A very nice bounce back performance after some rough outings.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 6-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +7 +/-An ugly start – missing his first two wide open looks – gave way to an extremely efficient second half, where he made pretty much every shot he took. Inside, outside, you name it, he had it. Defensively, I would have liked to have seen some more aggressive work at the rim, but it’s important to keep in mind that when he plays in a rotation with Hansbrough the two of them are essentially taking turns playing out of position. A strong effort tonight, and one nearly as necessary as DeMar’s.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1 +/-Really liked how he went at Nerlens Noel despite his size disadvantage – wound up with a big block and a nice dunk for good measure. He’ll always have his own physical limitations playing as what is essentially an undersized 5, but did all he could tonight with what he had. Good work.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +10 +/-Apart from some rough Jerami Grant rim stuffery, was essentially relegated to spot-up three point duty with DeMar and Patterson carrying the bulk of the scoring load. He did fine from out there, hitting 4 of 7 three point attempts.|
|Louis Williams, SG 30 MIN | 6-15 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 21 PTS | +9 +/-I was actually quite pleased with his work facilitating early – he seemed to be making a big effort to not take as many YOLO shots as necessary and fed the ball to DeRozan and Patterson on the regular. Then he went “hey wait, I’m Lou Williams!” and started jacking up early in the shot clock 3s. He got to the line enough to be a net positive tonight, but when you’re 2 for 9 from 3, that’s entirely too many 3s. He can put up points, though, and helped carry the scoring load when DeRozan was on the bench.|
I don’t have a lot to criticize from a coaching standpoint other than the effort in what was a must-win game. Early on, the Raptors seemed to be waiting for Philly to give them the ball, giving up the lane on what seemed to be every possession. The intensity turned up about halfway through the third, and won’t kill you against a team like the Sixers, but the defensive lethargy was concerning. Beyond that, though, I thought he did a solid job managing rotations and guiding the ship to the finish line.
Four Things We Saw
- 54 points in the paint from a team like Philly is just unacceptable, doubly so when it seemed like the reason they were so plentiful was because of general disinterest in defending the hoop. It made watching the first half defensively quite difficult at times, and it was only because of the fact that the Sixers are barely an NBA team that they got away with it for so long (then again, that might be why they did it, too).
- Don’t let that make you think this game wasn’t a good win, though. Sure, it could have been a huge blowout if all things went well, but in the end, this was a much needed wire to wire win that featured a much-needed bounceback performance from the guy expected to carry the load for the team with Lowry out. Winning against Philly might not mean as much as it would over say, the Cavs, but a win of any kind is important at this point.
- It would have been nice to see Hayes, Stiemsma or even Nogeuira get some run tonight against the Sixers with the team struggling to guard the rim. This is the kind of matchup where you can get away with having one net zero on offence, and against Philly there shouldn’t be a reason to have to stick with a 9 man rotation.
- I really liked what I saw from both DeMar and Patterson tonight. Two very complete games (DeMar threatened a huge triple double before his assist numbers tapered), and seeing that consistently will be essential to challenging the conference’s top teams until Lowry returns (and after, obviously).
Somewhat expected news here. Kyle Lowry will continue to rest and will not play against Philadelphia tonight.
In 2015, the Raptors have a losing record (13-14). What better way to get back up to .500 this year than a trip over to Philly?
Yeah, the opening paragraph is in no way intended to comfort you. Actually, it’s probably worse than you initially thought.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) March 1, 2015
Thankfully (for the sake of being well-seeded), the Raptors blitzed through the initial part of the season and then started off the ‘8-games from hell‘ with a 4-0 record. With that cushion and an Atlantic Division clinch, it really doesn’t matter that the Cavs – who are all of a sudden looking like contenders – are just one game back of the Raptors. Really, the Raptors will live with being interchangeable between 1st and 4th. What matters most is fixing their current issues in time for the post-season.
Those problems, in large part, have been discussed to death. Blake’s got you covered.
The Raptors are in Philly tonight for another game in the Eastern Conference’s abyss.
What you need to know about the 76ers..
Beleive it or not, the 76ers are currently better than the Knicks, and more likeable to. They are basically a collection of Jason Richardson and young (and partly injured) talented players. They are also absolutely littered with future draft picks and have zero aspirations for the 2014-2015 season apart from player development.
After acquiring Javale McGee along with a 2015 first-round pick before the trade deadline, the 76ers waived McGee last night.
As a whole, the 76ers can be unpredictable, because regardless of how bad they are, they give it their all every night. After blowing out the Wizards by 18 points on Friday, they went to Indiana last night and were blown-out by 20, losing leading scorer Robert Covington in the process due to an elbow injury.
Yes, at a whopping 13.2 ppg, Covington leads the 76ers in scoring. Of course, this has a lot to do with the departure of Michael Carter-Williams who is averaging 14.6 ppg.
Covington scored a team-high 18 points in Philadelphia’s last meeting against the Raptors in January. Nerlens Noel – a potential future cornerstone for the franchise – had a career-high 14 rebounds.
Frontcourt: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas vs Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims. Edge: Raptors.
I use the term ‘edge’ loosely. It should really read ‘eclipse’. Noel is a great prospect but he’s still raw and Amir Johnson should get the better of him. Ditto Valanciunas vs. Sims.
Backcourt: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, DeMar DeRozan vs Isaiah Canaan, Jason Richardson, Robert Covington. Edge: Raptors.
Still no word (at the time this was written) on Lowry and Covington’s status for tonight. Regardless, the Raptors are vastly superior in this department. DeMar is notorious for his shot selection this season, but against the 76ers, he shoots a solid 52% on the year. Jason Richardson has torched the Raptors in the past, but he’s on the very tail end of his career now. Shut him down. No excuses.
The edge off the bench goes to the Raptors as well. Although Philly has a solid second unit (10th in the league in scoring), they face injury concerns. Tony Wroten is out for a while, and the loss of MCW and McGee makes their squad pretty thin.
Tip-off is at 7 pm EST.
It took me a long time to get started when I sat down to write this. I knew the general tone of what I wanted to say, which is just something I’ve tweeted out a few times when the Toronto Raptors have struggled this year:
When your success is based on an ethereal chemistry that can’t be described or quantified, it’s sudden disappearance is difficult to remedy.
But I couldn’t get going. I toyed with the idea of writing an entire diatribe about the team’s recent struggles using lyrics from Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Alkaline Trio and other bands of that ilk. I thought about doubling down on a mid-January piece about the team’s across-the-board defensive struggles. I thought about just bailing on the 9 a.m. slot altogether.
The difficulty with beginning to write something that tries to figure this team out amid an abjectly terrible five-game losing streak is that I never quite knew how to write about them when they were succeeding.
It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot over the last 14 months, as the success of the Raptors has caused quite a bit of cognitive dissonance on my part.
I firmly believed, as many did, that the trade of Rudy Gay was the beginning of a tear-down. I liked Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson enough, but I definitely didn’t think the deal made the Raptors appreciably better. The 2013-14 season was the most fun I’ve had in seven seasons blogging about the team and I fully embraced it as it was happening, but there were times I was left debating myself about their true talent level.
In the macro picture, I don’t love the way the Raptors play. Their offense can be uncreative and repetitive, and it’s hardly an aesthetically or philosophically pleasing way of operating. A talented player beating a defender one-on-one is kind of the core of basketball, but the game can be so much more beautiful, strategic, and entertaining than that.
Much as fans have enjoyed comparing the Raptors’ offense to the San Antonio Spurs, the comparison is wholly laughable. The Raptors move the ball sometimes, but they run Loop 4, a few wrinkles out of their standard horns set, and a handful of other pet plays and otherwise design their offense around clearing space for one-on-one attacks. They rank among the league’s most ball-dominant teams and they don’t do a noticeably effective job creating efficient looks for each other.
Disliking their style is a personal preference, and the Raptors have succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations playing as they do. That’s where some dissonance has come in. It also creeps in because I don’t really believe how they operate on offense is all that sustainable.
Teams appear to be figuring things out, and those talented players the team relies on so heavily have been struggling. Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and DeMar DeRozan have taken the most shots on the team this season and have shot a combined 40 percent. The next two highest in shot totals – Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez – are shooting 40.6 and 40.5 percent, respectively. That’s not good, and it’s been even worse for the big three since the turn of the calendar.
Field goal percentage isn’t a very good way to evaluate an entire offense. Williams, DeRozan, and, to a lesser degree, Lowry, are among the league’s best at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Williams also hits threes (Lowry does, too, but he’s at 31.6 percent for the year), Lowry creates for others, DeRozan has grown as a facilitator (recent forcing of shots not withstanding), and all three players turn the ball over less often than they notice Jonas Valanciunas with a mismatch in the post, which is to say they rarely turn the ball over. These reasons are why the offense has succeeded despite poor overall shooting marks.
The issues with such a strategy are several fold, and it’s concerning that warts are already being exploited in February. Come playoff time, teams will have stronger individual defenders for one-on-one battles and stronger team defenses overall. They’ll also have the benefit of detailed scouting, which will make those assignments even easier. A first-round opponent is going to be shading Williams heavily to drive left, and they’ll have a rim protector ready to employ the concept of verticality every time Lowry sets up for a high pick-and-roll at 35 feet for his north-south acometida. Not that he’ll get the ball much, but teams will also know that Valanciunas reacts to double teams in the post like George Michael Bluth reacting to keys being thrown his way.
Defensively, the team’s system just doesn’t fit the personnel. The success of the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense, with all that length and athleticism? That’s great, and it’s been done using basically the same defense the Raptors use. But Toronto lacks the length, individual perimeter defenders (Aside: How good is Khris Middleton defensively? Damn.), and rim protection to pull it off capably. The Bucks don’t have terrific rim protection, either, but it becomes a far bigger necessity when the Raptors’ perimeter defenders parar. For a while, the defense worked. For a much longer while, it hasn’t.
On the season, the Raptors rank fourth in offense and 17th in defense. Since Jan. 1, those ranks are 13th and 21st, respectively. They’re 37-22, second in the Eastern Conference, and on track for the best regular season in franchise history.
The current slide warrants patience, like the earlier four-game skid did. Things could very well turn around on a dime, as they have before.
The issue, I guess, is that I’ll have little explanation as to why. A lot of this team’s success has been built on an intangible chemistry, a chemistry the organization bet on in the offseason and bet on again at the trade deadline, believing the synergy between these pieces will re-emerge despite warning signs that it maybe shouldn’t have existed in the first place. The issue with anointing your ineffable chemistry as sacrosanct is that chemistry in basketball often times seems tenuous and fleeting. Chemistry is incredibly valuable to a team, but something that can’t really be explained or understood can’t really be relied upon as sustainable.
(Brief aside: I worried that introducing James Johnson into the locker room would risk messing with the chemistry, another cause for dissonance on my part. I’ve loved Johnson on this team and he’s been one of their most consistent two-way producers. But even in his case, his success is a little tough to accept on its face. He’s shooting 67.8 percent on drives! That’s by far the best mark for anyone in the league who’s made 100 drives, more than 10 percentage points higher than the next best player and 11.9 percentage points higher than LeBron James. He’s been awesome.)
There’s a cliché that what’s not broken should not be fixed. There’s not a companion cliché for what to do with something that’s broken, but you can’t describe how it’s broken, and you never had the blueprints for how it was put together in the first place. That’s where I’m at with the Raptors, wondering what to prescribe to get them back to a state I couldn’t describe in the first place.
I’ve been told I’m at times pessimistic about the team because as a writer and fan, doing so is a win-win – either they win and I’m happy, or they lose and I was right and I have more to write about. I think that might be true to a small degree, if I’m being visceral. I think the larger element at play is that I’m logical and analytical by nature, and I like things to have tidy explanations. My inability to explain what makes the Raptors work is admittedly difficult for me to reconcile at times. But I don’t know how electricity works, either, and I still believe in it.
The Raptors stumbled upon something without really meaning to, and it’s been incredible. Every moment watching the team at their high points has been amazing, enough that when there are low points, it’s easy to remember the good times and just trust that they’ll come back and that will be the dominant feeling. And that might be the case. It’s a romantic notion that the Raptors will emerge from another valley to once again become the team none of us expected to believe in a little over a year ago.
I want that to be the case. I want to be that romantic. If it does happen, I may not have any idea how they fixed it, but I’ll be damn glad.
An 0-4 week serves as the backdrop of a podcast where DeMar DeRozan’s selfishness, Dwane Casey’s planning (or lack thereof) is front and center.
“We’re good though,” Johnson interrupted a questioner after Saturday’s loss in New York City who was pointing out things have not gone well during this five-game losing skid. “We’re still good … We can’t feel sorry for ourselves even though we’re losing.” DeRozan said the team would be a “scary sight” when it gets rolling again. Greivis Vasquez put the current situation bluntly, though: “Our confidence, our swagger is just gone,” he said. “We are going to gather ourselves and talk. It is not going to be easy. It is time for us to be men and face the situation. This is when you find out who is who. We have a solid team. Now we have to show what we are made of. “We are second in the East we beat some good teams. Five teams from the West. They were good wins for us. We have proven we can do it.” Now, they will have to prove it again.
“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Greivis Vasquez told reporters afterward. Sure, they did. Everyone said that. It isn’t the play sets, or offence, or effort, per se. Confidence is part of it, but the Raptors’ main problem is existential. At the beginning of the season, this team knew who it was – an outsider with a puncher’s chance. Now, it has no idea. The erratic, up-and-down performances started the moment the Raptors began to consider everyone else’s notion that they might be a dark-horse championship contender. They aren’t. They aren’t even close. They’re two or three players away. A point of order – 20 NBA teams are two or three players away from a title. What the Raptors need now is to rediscover who they are. If America is the native country of basketball, Toronto is its Island of Misfit Toys. There isn’t a player on this roster that hasn’t, at some point in his career, been an afterthought. Most have had their skills or character or basic make-up loudly doubted by their employers. A few have just been ignored. Most have been effectively fired. It’s a patchwork crew of guys who at some point were weighed and judged and found to be second-rate. But it all works together. Ujiri and Lowry were both right. The Raptors time is now. The question is “Time for what?”
Part of the reason for the fall, said Vasquez, is that the Raptors no longer have the element of surprise they did earlier this season. There’s no longer any flying under the radar for a team that made the playoffs last year and got off to a strong start this season, Vasquez explained. “The season narrows down. Games start getting harder. Teams prepare for us. Now we’re not the Cinderella team any more. Teams are really preparing for us,” Vasquez said. The Raptors also need to get back to talking and working together the way they did in more successful times. “It’s a collective effort. I don’t think we’re doing it collectively, and that’s the bottom line. We have to play defensively help each other out, offensively we have to move the ball,” said Vasquez.
Covington overcame a 5-for-15 shooting performance to score a team-best 18 points in the loss to Toronto in January. Noel had a career-high 14 rebounds and 12 points while the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was held to eight points on 4-of-14 shooting. DeRozan, scoring 17.8 points per game, averaged 25.8 in his previous six matchups but enters this one in a shooting slump. The guard has connected at 33.7 percent in his last 12 games and missed 38 of 52 attempts in his past three contests.
The Sixers have used 26 different starting lineups this season.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
On the surface, the Raptors improved upon their dumpster-inferno display just one night prior. For the most part, ball-movement was present, the one-on-one selfishness dissipated (sans DeRozan), and wealth was shared with six players reaching double-figures. But eventually, their inconsistent past and current way of life reared its ugly head. At this point, wins and losses take a backseat to the Raps overcoming their demons. But with the losing-streak now hitting five games, re-embracing the fundamentals that got them here is this squad’s new reality.
Chicago has caught up, and now officially holds the East’s 2-seed. With Cleveland currently in the midst of a league-wide assault, and the Wizards separated by a mere 3.5 games, prospects of losing home-court advantage are dangerously close to the edge.
In the 24 hours leading up to Saturday night’s tilt in NYC, it’s fair to say Raptors’ fans held one of two mindsets. The population was either eagerly awaiting a chance to erase the burning imprint of incompetence shown against Golden State, or in a form of protest, chose to sit this one out entirely.
I wouldn’t place any fault if you fell in the latter category, Friday’s collapse was certainly cringe-worthy. Not to mention this matchup wasn’t exactly #LeaguePassAlert worthy on paper. The Knicks’ have failed in every respect to live up to their city’s “Mecca” moniker, as New Yorkers are currently suffering from depression, waiting patiently for the Triangle Offense to take shape.
But hopefully we all remained hardcore, and continued to sift through the Raps’ rubble.
Before we investigate what went down in the Big Apple, a moment of remembrance and recognition calls for the spotlight.
Anthony Mason passed away on Saturday, after ongoing heart problems. The former Knick, and bruiser-in-the-paint with underrated touch and passing skills provided basketball fans annual entertainment during his run in the 90’s. The kind of player who was beloved at home, and hated on the road. But the type that every fan secretly wished played for their team.
He was just 48-years-old. May he rest in peace.
Speaking of a franchise’s former players. They may be far removed from Toronto’s current state of affairs but fans will always remember the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon suiting up on Canadian soil. The forever hard-working and fan-favourite, JC, was forced to the shelf with an Achilles injury, but “Baby Dirk” Bargnani must have had this contest circled on his calendar. Perhaps the latest Primo Pasta edition.
As we all know, Bargnani is capable of teasing a fan base with occasional outbursts. With the Knicks’ victory and Bargs’ 19-point effort now in the books, you can chalk-up a tidy average of 20.3 points, 7.0 boards and 44 percent from the field in his last three games.
If only he wasn’t labelled this city’s hardwood-saviour so early on, things could have been different.
And I will now begin to put down the whiskey glass (a useful distraction from Friday). Proceed with caution New York!
But as much I would like to sit here and rag on the Raps’ 1st overall pick in 2006, credit is due. At least for one night, the 7-foot Italian saved a little bit of his dignity.
A shout-out to Quincy Acy as well. He may have been a DNP on this evening, but Acy had his moments in a Raptors’ uniform; at the very least, worthy of acknowledging.
Two key aspects dropped just before tipoff. Kyle Lowry was given the chance to relax as a resting spectator (giving way to Greivis Vasquez receiving the starting nod), and the insertion of Amir Johnson back into the starting lineup after the “matchup” switch against the Warriors.
Whether K-Low endured too many moments of overcompensation during DeRozan’s extended absence earlier this season, or the floor general is dealing with undisclosed ailments, one can’t deny that this was a welcome idea. Let’s face it, Lowry is flat-out gassed on multiple levels. The deterioration in gameplay is no longer the elephant in the room that nobody speaks of.
It came at a snail’s pace, but it’s about time the city as a whole has spoken up in regards to No.7. He is the leader of this squadron, a well-deserved All-Star, and everybody loves his skill-set and tenacity. But it seems as though his fandom bought him silence on the subject for far too long, as if Lowry was deemed untouchable from criticism.
I get it, Lowry is the poster-boy for turning around this organization. Doldrums of inadequacy have been replaced with supreme optimism in a short timeframe. But if we can’t call out the team’s captain, we are not doing our jobs correctly. We are not just happy to be here anymore.
Overall, Vasquez did an adequate job filling in. Although, a little overshadowed by his run-in with the heat-check gods, who usually reserve their presence to whisper in Lou Williams’ ear from time to time. A few timely 3-pointers in the second half helped mask his overall 38 percent from the field.
But GV did most of his damage in the facilitating department. Six assists won’t have him featured on Smitty’s Top Five but Vasquez continued to implement lane-penetration. The once dynamic part of Lowry’s game that has recently found its way on the back of a Toronto milk carton. Perhaps a view from afar can result in Lowry getting his act together. Word has it that KL might also be on the sidelines Monday night in Philly.
As for the starting lineup moving back to its regular scheduled programming, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Pattterson’s name being announced with the starting unit. Especially considering the fact that Amir Johnson is simply playing through pain on a nightly basis.
JJ at the 4, and PP at the 3, or an intertwined vice-versa can open up a new ideas for this team, ones that certainly deserve more attention than just matchup-based nods. Let Special Agent Johnson cement himself under the rim even further (there isn’t anyone on this roster that employs his post arsenal), while Patman creates the space that is so desired more so than already provided.
This recap cannot end without singling out Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan. Two players on opposite ends of notoriety against New York. Well, actually a continuation of the Raptors’ other fallen star.
It was another day at the office for DD’s shooting woes. Add another 20 percent (3-15) to his recent resume. And make it a grand total of 34 percent over his last 10 (54-158).
But what was most alarming was DeRozan’s lack of awareness. On the fast break, and in the half-court set.
Sure, missed dunks happen all the time, but the embarrassing missed slam on what was an easy transition bucket transformed into an 360-attempt suggests a non-committal vibe of getting back to those aforementioned fundamentals. With the club’s current sub-par status, dropping the easy two and getting back on defense should be the leading mindset.
It’s passable, as in 9 times out of 10 he makes it, but the moment didn’t call for the sideshow.
Then came JV mishap. With Valanciunas capitalizing on the mismatches down-low, DeRozan took it upon himself to selfishly neglect the big-man and turn the possession into another one of his mid-range jumpers.
One has to question where DD’s head is currently at, especially when allowing Tim Hardaway Jr. to elude him time and time again on defense. Which actually caused Valanciunas to foul-out while in help mode with just over 3 minutes to go in a game still up for grabs.
As for JV, the punch-clock continues, but the act of getting this squad’s force in the middle more involved remains sketchy at best.
While we’re examining recent stretches, you can add another night of efficiency to JV’s campaign. 75 percent to go along with his 56 percent over the course of his last 10 (35-68). To the camp of naysayers that repeatedly suggest Valanciunas benefits greatly on put-backs and tip-ins, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his game is evolving. It’s just up to Casey and company to promote the process.
Up next: A trip into the Wells Fargo Center to face another bottom-feeder in the form of the Philadelphia 76ers. But if we’ve learned anything from Saturday night, there is not a team in the league that can now be taken for granted or deemed inferior going in.
Ok, deep breath. The anger will subside, but the frustration will likely never come to an end.
Feel free to join in on this stress-releasing exercise,
After a close but ultimately humiliating loss to a Knicks roster resembling a D-League squad, Dwane Casey, Amir Johnson, and DeMar DeRozan spoke to the media.
|Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -2 +/-Knows Andrea Bargnani well and it showed early on with his highlight Statue of Liberty dunk on the pasta eating Knick. Shortly after though Bargs drove into Amir hard which had Johnson holding his shoulder afterward. But, like many of you say “we don’t need excuses” and our man Amir won’t bring any. He held Bargs at bay but was sapped with early fouls which kept him off the floor for big portions of the game.|
|James Johnson, PF 33 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-3 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +4 +/-Seriously can anyone jump as high as JJ from a standstill. At 3:31 of the second quarter he rebounded ball and took it the length of the court. Cleanthony Early got blocked by him twice in the first half (2 of JJ’s first half 3 blocks). At times it felt like there were two James Johnson’s on the floor he was EVERYWHERE.
The 2 three balls he took early 3Q aren’t his shot but given how well he was doing everything else it’s hard to complain. He was the best player on the court AGAIN
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 6-8 FG | 4-6 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -6 +/-Looked early like he could dominate his counterparts getting easy rebounds, but he picked up 2 quick fouls sending him to the bench courtesy of the Italian we love to hate.
The team finally starting going to him and Tony Brothers & crew responded by doling out 3 quick fouls which took him off the floor again.
To Casey’s credit he sent JV back in, but playing with 5 fouls meant the big man was tentative on defense. He stayed in the game until 3:11 (when he fouled out)
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +4 +/-This opportunity to rest Lowry coincided with Vasquez desperately seeking to recover his gravy. Put up a few YOLO’s but for the most part mission complete. I wondered to myself as he fed Amir in the post if Jose was reminiscing on the side line “I used to do that” (poor guy)
Two big 3’s by Gravy brought them back within 6 with time remaining.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 40 MIN | 3-15 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -1 +/-Um, missed 360 dunk … Embarrassing much? That will end up on Shaqtin a fool for sure. I was torn between thinking is he feeling that good? or he better bring it now and post some big numbers so “the dunk” isn’t what we focus on post game. He had 9 points at the half and provided essentially ZERO defense on Hardaway Jr. electing to go under screens (WHY?)
One specific play in the 3Q where he went up in the paint (missed) for a contested shot and JV was just to his left wide open had me screaming at my TV : PASS THE BALL DeMar! Ditto for the 4Q when JV yelled for the ball and DeMar ignored him for a contested bad shot. I mean seriously at the end of the day forget the 3 of 15 that dunk said it all.
Just after writing the above point, DD made his best move of the game stealing the ball and driving it hard to the basket then Patterson grabbed the rebound and scored to pull them within 2 with 33.2 seconds remaining. (still, it wasn’t enough to erase that missed dunk, his poor defense or worse his poor shot selection)
|Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | -6 +/-After going down on a play early left the floor limping (that knee still isn’t right)
Hit two big threes at crucial moments in the game.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | 0 +/-Hansbrough entered sporting a lovely red scratch line from his Ezeli encounter last night and immediately brought the Hansy touch to the floor, flailing about for rebounds and pushing his opponents out of the way. Shouldn’t we create some sort of key stone cop music for him at the ACC? Just saying|
|Terrence Ross, SF 16 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14 +/-As much as we berate him for not attempting to drive he did so last night and he did it again tonight. He seems to (dare I say it) finally be understanding he won’t get the calls until he does it on a nightly basis. He made a huge gaffe at the end of 3Q by not going for the rebound, but watching the replay back it looks like he was preparing to jump when Thomas pushed him forward so I’ll cut him some slack.|
|Louis Williams, SG 33 MIN | 6-16 FG | 8-9 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | -4 +/-He must have heard that he dropped to third in the NBA for points off bench because he hoisted a couple of “no, no.. yes” shots. The fact remains Lou is going to shoot us into games and shoot us out of games on this night his 12 first half points helped bring us back from down 10. I can’t give him below a B- because he scored 22 points and had 2 rebounds and 3 assists|
Glad he’s finally chosen to give Lowry rest to allow those pesky injuries to his elbow, thumb (and whatever else we don’t know about) to heal or at least improve. Now he needs to keep doing that and find the same rest periods for Amir through to season end. Use these last games wisely Mr. Casey.
Also give him credit for shifting JJ onto Hardaway Jr. to start the 3Q. Honestly though how much of this falls on Casey on how much on the players? That is the question
Five Things We Saw
- The fact the Knicks took the first quarter and led by 7 (22-15) didn’t worry me… hey they are the Knicks. but then the game kept going and things didn’t improve.1Q Raptors shot only 31.6% to NYK: 41.2%, Neither team hit a 3 pointers, Knicks were +3 on assists and +4 on rebounds
2Q: Raps improved FG% to 40%, Knicks shot 41%, Toronto also got their 3 ball dropping hitting 5 in the quarter, they closed the rebound gap and had only 5 turnovers at the half. As low as the 7 assists seemed they only had 2 in the first quarter so it was a gradual improvement. However, it does beg the question DeRozan had ZERO assists at the half…. what happened to the assist master that returned from injury????
- 3Q: Raps shot 41.7% and lowered Knicks to 39.7% were +1 from 3 had 6 fewer free throws, and tallied 5 4 assists in the quarter keeping their turnovers down at 8Raptors played with more energy on defense which was immediately evident based on the Knicks getting repeated 24 shot clock violations or late shot clock attempts.
The Raptors found themselves in hot water in the front court with Patterson and both Johnson’s having 4 personal fouls each. Regardless of the zebra’s & Tony Brothers continued dislike for our front court this game shouldn’t even have come down to the 4Q.
- 4Q At 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter our starting 5 had as many personal fouls as the entire Knick team. JV had some good minutes but the fouls ended up hurting him. Casey can’t control what the zebra’s will call or whether they’ll dole out equally punishment for similar tasks so that’s not on him. It does make me wonder though if the team took it hard at the Knicks to start the game if this might have been called differently.
- Does any other NBA team get toasted by their previous players as badly or frequently as the Raptors? Bargs jumped into the Hot Tub Time Machine taking full advantage of every second Amir wasn’t on the floor to go off for one of his better outings. Good thing Calderon wasn’t playing or it could have been a long night! To that end, the Raptors always seem to play down to their competition which is a dangerous habit to continue with 16 sub .500 teams on tap and many of them fighting for a playoff spot. They got a second life with the missed dunk by Amundson on the same bucket DeRozan missed on. That’s 2 more blocks by the NY rim than most of the players had.
- Remembering Anthony Mason: He was a big hulk of a man who was a surprisingly good passer and nimble on his feet. When he fouled players it looked like they would feel it for days. And he had one of the most infectious smiles ever to grace the court. Gone too soon, may he rest in peace.
- Record: 37-21 (4-6)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 111 ORTG (3)
- 106.3 DRTG (17)
- 93.3 Pace (18)
- 73.1 DRB% (24)
- 0.55 TS% (7)
- Kyle Lowry 18.3 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.7 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7.1 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.5 spg
- Record: 11-46 (2-8)
- Eastern (15)
- Atlantic (5)
- 101.3 ORTG (28)
- 110.5 DRTG (28)
- 90.6 Pace (28)
- 72.5 DRB% (28)
- 0.512 TS% (28)
- Carmelo Anthony 24.2 ppg
- Amar’e Stoudemire 6.8 rpg
- Jose Calderon 4.7 apg
- Samuel Dalembert 1.3 bpg
- Iman Shumpert 1.3 spg
After a truly hellish stretch of opponents that included no fewer than 6 title contenders (and the Pelicans), the Raptors will get a little respite on the second half of a back-to-back, as they travel to New York to face the saddest organization currently in professional sports. It’s a break that’s sorely needed after last night’s thrashing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors (and no, I’m not going to overreact – unless there’s trouble tonight).
Seriously, look at this roster. The Knicks’ depth chart is currently topped by a Cleveland castoff (Lou Amundson), a second round rookie (Cleanthony Early), a 10-day callup turned key roster cog (Langston Galloway), plus Jason Smith and Jose Calderon, two guys who I feel genuinely sorry for but probably shouldn’t be starting at this point in their NBA careers. Andrea Bargnani led this team in scoring the other day. Andrea Bargnani!
Bargnani and Calderon (and Quincy Acy) are probably the part of this game that bring the most interest to Raptors fans from an opposing team standpoint – while they were in Toronto, all had stretches of extreme popularity of varying lengths, but were moved in order to make way for the current, more well-balanced roster. It’s particularly sad to see Calderon stuck in this mess, as he’s one of my favourite Raptors of all time, personally, and one of the team’s most well-respected alumni. It’d be nice to see him finish his career out in a place where he can contend for a title, but alas. Acy, as well, probably deserves better than this, and Bargnani, well… Let’s be honest, this is exactly where he should be.
In the middle of a back to back, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about matchups, but the Raptors should win this game in a walk if all goes according to plan. The Knicks will certainly get up for a division rival, but the disparity in talent here is huge, and barring a random massive game from someone like Tim Hardaway Jr. (who’s certainly capable of doing so), it’s difficult to see where they will find the points to be competitive. That means that the Raptors only path to a loss is through a lack of effort or a poor shooting night – two things we’ve seen against the Knicks this season in a December matchup. They were able to pull that one out, 95-90 in overtime, which likely bodes well for tonight, as it’s likely the bottom of an expected performance spread.
I apologize for not offering more poignant commentary and analysis here, but it’s difficult to analyze a team who’s best player is out for the season and who just jettisoned their other top scoring option in order to try and finish at the bottom of the barrel. I may be eating crow tomorrow, but I’ll say Raps by 15 despite their inconsistent play as of late, and I feel like I’m being pessimistic.
(Seriously, though. Poor Jose Calderon. Maybe the Raptors can sneak him onto the team plane at the end of the night.)
The Raptors need a leader.
My eyes still hurt from staring into the flames of burning garbage for two hours as the Raptors were spanked like naughty school boys in front of 20,000 fans last night at the Air Canada Center.
The game started off with a ferocious James Johnson block and then fell off a cliff immediately thereafter. The Raps had the worst first quarter in franchise history, shooting an abysmal 1 for 19 from the field. Instead of working the ball inside after a rough start from the field, Lowry and DeRozan continued to fire away, missing 12 of the Raptors first 15 shots before being pulled from the game. Jonas had one shot attempt in the quarter. On top of the terrible shooting, the team also turned the ball over 6 times. Despite only shooting 34.8 percent on the quarter themselves, the Warriors were up 27-11 after one.
The second quarter was actually pretty okay for a fleeting moment in time, as the second unit brought the game within ten. Vasquez made a concerted effort to move the ball, Terrence Ross was aggressive and hitting his shots, and for a second there it looked like the Raps might make a game of things. But, alas, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes checked back in and the smack down continued as Golden State went on a 27-14 run to close out the quarter. T. Ross led the way for the Raptors in the quarter with 7 points.
Things went from tragedy to farce in the third as the Warriors absolutely toyed with their hapless opponents. The Raptors gave up 44 points in the quarter, allowing the Warriors to shoot a ridiculous 18 of 22 from the field.
Dwane Casey was so disgusted with the team’s energy that he pulled his entire starting unit with 8:45 to play, after they were outscored 13-2 to open the quarter. There were, however, a couple of entertaining nuggets from the quarter. For example with 3:05 to go in the quarter the Raptors had 48 points, Curry and Thompson had 47. The most exciting moment came courtesy of Festus Ezeli and Tyler Hansbrough, who got a little salty with each other after Festus gave Hansbrough a throat chop.
Strangely enough Terrence Ross continued to go ham, dropping 10 in the quarter.
The Raptors actually played pretty well in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t matter because they were down 41 to start the period and no one cared. All of the starters returned to open the final period except for Lowry. Jonas played really hard and did this.
The real highlight was watching Chuck Hayes and Greg Stiemsma man the court together for the final six and a half minutes. It was as wonderful as you’d expect.
Things got super strange to close out the quarter, as everyone was basically waiting for the game to end and Jack Armstrong started cracking jokes about newspaper obituaries.
- This was embarrassing. The Raptors didn’t lead once the entire game and frankly they didn’t even put up a fight. DeRozan and Lowry are in some kind of funk and they’re trying to hammer their way out of it by taking turns forcing the issue, rather than moving the ball and letting the offense work for them.
- If it took a huge loss to help Ross get some of his mojo back moving forward, then it’s a win in the long run.
- We’re in a rut. We’re tired. Our stars need to regain their confidence. A couple of bounce back opportunities against New York and Philly will give them a chance to do that before another big test at home against Cleveland. How we respond to this embarrassing loss will say a lot about our team.
DeMar DeRozan seemed to take recent criticism of his shot selection to heart, making several forays into the paint. So, instead of missing contested mid-range shots, he was deterred by Warriors shot-blocker Andrew Bogut closer to the rim. The starting lineup, which featured Patrick Patterson replacing Amir Johnson, managed just one assist in 112 total minutes of playing time. That is basically impossible. The second unit was better, but still lacking. Terrence Ross had 18 points, his best offensive outing in weeks, but a lot of it was just the result of making difficult shots. At one point, Ross tried to take defensive player of the year candidate Draymond Green on in isolation, had the ball poked away from him, re-collected it tried the same thing again. The shot missed, the just result for a poor idea. The contrast with the Warriors was stark, if predictable. One first-quarter possession had the ball move from side to side back to the original side, resulting in a totally open three-pointer for Klay Thompson. It was the first of three consecutive possessions that ended up in clean looks for Thompson, only one of the best shooters on the planet. It is not a matter of bad scouting on the Raptors’ part; just, when a team moves the ball that well, the other team can get whatever it wants. When a team does not move the ball crisply, a player has to make an excellent play on his own. One of those things is tougher than the other.
ounds like fun. Friday night was an incredibly one-sided show, but it was a show. The Raptors, of course, usually score with iso basketball. The Golden State scouting board read, “much of what they do reverts to 1-on-1.” “We didn’t share the ball the way we usually do. When we share the ball, that’s where we’re at our best,” said DeMar DeRozan, who spent too much time attacking alone. “Golden State showed a great example of it. They moved the ball extremely well . . . that’s the way we’ve got to get back to playing, not be so stagnant. For myself, too.” Iso may yet become Toronto’s fatal flaw. Of course, Friday night, everything was fatal. But at least the killers were fun to watch.
Friday night’s debacle against the Golden State Warriors was the ugliest yet. They went 1-of-19 in the first quarter of their 113-89 homecoming defeat. Their frigid start set a franchise record for offensive futility for a period, and it was entirely on merit. This was not a case of a team missing makeable shots. This was a case of a team consistently forcing the ball into the teeth of a very good defence and missing one highly contested shot after another. If you’ve been to an amusement park and watched bumper cars, you know what the Raptors looked like when they had the ball. All teams slump and the Raptors have kept theirs short this season, but even when rolling up their 37-21 record which remains the second best in the Eastern Conference, there were warning signs that not all was well. The Raptors three most frequent shooters – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams – are shooting a combined 40.3 percent on the season. According to Basketball-Reference.com there are 90 players who average at least 11 field goal attempts a game this year, Among them Lowry, Williams and DeRozan rank 67th, 80th and 81st in field goal percentage. Lowry leads the trio at 41.6 and his success rate his falling like a stone.
The personnel change made no difference, and then, trailing by 41 points with five seconds left in the third quarter, Tyler Hansbrough flew at Golden State’s Festus Ezeli with fists flying, and was immediately ejected. Video review showed Ezeli shoving Hansbrough in the face first after the two tangled under the basket, and the Warriors centre was also ejected. If nothing else, the heated exchange brought the fans back to life, as the capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 erupted in chants of “Let’s go Raptors!” Fans half-heartedly cheered a Jonas Valanciunas dunk that pulled Toronto to within 30 points midway through the fourth, but most of them were well on their way out the door by the final buzzer.
Lowry wasn’t the only one to play like trash Friday night. The entire starting unit played well below expectations as the Raptors laid a collective egg in this humiliating defeat. It was Toronto’s fourth straight loss, tying the season high for futility, and a night of many lows. Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were no match for the vaunted Splash Brothers, outscored 47-18. And that included an eight-point fourth quarter by DeRozan. Toronto’s starting backcourt went a combined 5-for-23, while Curry and Thompson shot a combined 17-for-31. In the opening 12 minutes, the Raptors sank one shot on 19 attempts. It was that kind of night.
By the time a Raptors’ player (Terrence Ross) reached double figures, Golden State’s dynamic backcourt duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson each had 20. When Curry’s three-ball put the visitors up by 40 moments later, the restless Air Canada Centre crowd voiced their displeasure, only to cheer up briefly after Tyler Hansbrough was tossed for getting into it with Warriors’ centre Festus Ezeli. It was ugly and although this is just one night, one loss, an expected one against the league’s best, the more pressing concern lies in their lifeless offence, something the Warriors were able to exploit with ease. “Not enough,” Casey responded pre-game, asked if his team is moving the ball to his liking. “That’s who DeMar is, he’s a semi-postup player and he’s going to be in that situation. But it’s up to his teammates to make sure they get to their spots, get the proper spacing. If they see their man cut, relocate. We have certain position on the floor when he is in the post and it’s up to them to get to where they are. But at the end of the day we do have to do a better job of moving the ball.”
The Raptors insisted that the unexpected move to insert Patrick Patterson in the starting lineup in place of Amir Johnson was in no way responsible for the awful start. “ I don’t know. It doesn’t matter who starts, you’ve got to keep (everything) together,” Valanciunas said. “Amir or maybe tomorrow somebody else, every day you don’t know who is going to start. It’s not an excuse to be down the way we were down — 20 points. It’s not an excuse. But it’s on us, we’ve got to bring it back.” Valanciunas was in no mood for post-game pleasantries. He wants to see the team come out more aggressively and take it to the opponent, the same way Casey does. “We were kind of soft, too soft,” Valanciunas said. “We’ve got to man up and show that we can do it.” Valanciunas had 12 rebounds and Terrence Ross had 18 points, about the only two bright spots for the Raptors.
It Was Over When…The Raptors shot 1-for-19 in the first quarter. While the Golden State Warriors led 27-11 after one, a pair of Klay Thompson 3-pointers put them ahead 22-5 and they never looked back in a wire-to-wire win. “We were getting a couple of stops in the first quarter but we missed a lot of shots,” said DeMar DeRozan of the start post-game. “We got stagnant a little bit and they ran away with it.”
Casey on Tyler Hansbrough mixing it up: “I love it. Again, I don’t want to see a guy get into a fight, but I was glad to see somebody ready to hit somebody. If we can get 13 or 14 other guys to have that kind of fight and fire and passion we’ll go with that.”
The Raptors meanwhile continue to mystify. Over their last eight games, they’ve now gone into full WTF mode. This stretch, starting with the Clippers game and ending tonight, was to be a test. It was a run of quality opponents and tough road games. Many wondered how the team would do, given its relatively up-and-down play in 2015. After the first four games, with wins over the Clips, defending champion Spurs, Wizards and East-leading Hawks, the Raptors looked poised to wage a war on the world. This was the team we loved. But then… then came the next four games: A loss to an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans team (for the second time in the season), an ugly beat down by the Houston Rockets, outgunned by the Mavericks and now this, mercy killed by the Warriors. Four steps forward, four steps right back. Despite the .500 play as of late, the Raptors are still 37-21 and second in the conference. We know they can’t win a championship. We know this for sure. Other than that, total mystification. Nothing else makes sense.
The only sign that the Warriors were playing for the second night in a row was that seldom-used Ezeli and Justin Holiday got early minutes. The Warriors showed no fatigue in displaying a swarming defense and racing out in transition from the opening tip. The Raptors set a franchise low, making just 1 of 19 shots in the first quarter as they fell behind 27-11. The Warriors went on to lead by as many as 26 in the first half and skipped into the locker room ahead 54-31 as the Raptors had more turnovers (12) than field goals (nine). Thompson needed only 133 seconds to score the Warriors’ first 11 points in the third quarter. Toronto head coach Dwane Casey was so angry that he benched his entire starting lineup in unison at the 8:45 mark of the quarter. He probably wanted to bench the entire second unit at the 4:05 mark, but he didn’t have enough players. At that point, the Warriors were just goofing around and throwing each other lobs while piling up an 86-46 lead.
The bench as a whole was nearly as bad. With Andre Iguodala sidelined for scheduled rest, it was a golden opportunity to see the extended bench in action. But we got a quick reminder why some of these guys are on the bench. The fourth quarter started with only two points in the first seven minutes and thirty-three seconds. It’s tough to get upset with a team letting some or most of a 41-point lead slip away, but it is clear that the bench is not playing as well as the sum of its parts. Fortunately, most NBA teams don’t get to enjoy hockey-style fourth quarter substitutions. Those only happen when you’re doing really, really bad, or really, really well. Despite Thursday night’s disappointment, the Warriors have proven to be pretty darn good at the latter…especially on back-to-backs. One more feather in the Warriors’ cap: an NBA best 10-2 on the second game of a back-to-back.
The fourth quarter consisted entirely of garbage time, as the Warriors’ bench played the entire quarter, and — despite making just one field goal in the first seven minutes of the quarter — finished off the big win.
Klay Thompson scored 25 points, and Stephen Curry had 22 as both needed to play only three quarters for the Warriors to know they would win by a comfortable margin. The defense-fueled demolition of Toronto began right from the start as the Raptors set a franchise low with a 5.3 shooting percentage in the 11-point first quarter. Advertisement The Warriors led by 16 after the quarter and extended the lead to 54-31 by halftime as the Raptors made nine field goals while committing 12 turnovers in the first half.
2nd Quarter: The second unit has been deployed to give the starters rest. The Raptors began to crawl back and find energy as the lead shrunk to 27-17. Mo Speights continues to drain midrange jumpers between 17 and 20 feet to make the most of his minutes. Draymond continued to make three balls pushing his percentage to 75%. Thompson’s midrange shot pushed the Warriors lead to 22. With a tad less than 4 minutes to play, Curry re-entered for Livingston and quickly drained a shot.
The problem lies particularly with Johnson and Patterson, who are both not carrying their weight in the rebounding department. Though neither have ever been particularly prolific rebounders, they have both turned in better efforts than this year’s mediocre totals. Patterson earned 5.8 rebounds per game while in Sacramento to start the 2013/14 season. Johnson, easily the better rebounder of the two, earned 6.6 rebounds per game a season ago and 7.5 the season before. With age and ankles that progressively resemble paper mache, Johnson is simply struggling to bring the ball down. The problem is serious. Only two above .500 teams rank below the Raptors in rebounding: the Atlanta Hawks (!) and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors get consistently out muscled by opposing bigs, leading to second chances. For example, against the Houston Rockets (Feb. 21), the Raptors were out-rebounded 52-39 en route to an ugly 98-76 loss. In that game, Donatas Montiejunas earned 11 rebounds and Corey Brewer earned 10 for the Rockets.
Photo by Frank Gunn (AP/CP)
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
DeMar DeRozan was 4-16 against the Warriors, and was allegedly ball-hogging like there was no tomorrow:
Not even sure if Rudy Gay hogged the ball as much as DeRozan is right now. This is something to see.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 28, 2015
Not passing to Valanciunas was one thing, now, it seems DeRozan won’t pass to anybody.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 28, 2015
Warriors had Raptors well scouted. White board pre-game said they easily revert to 1-on-1 and said DeRozan “rarely passes.”
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 28, 2015
Here are his 16 FG attempts against the Warriors – you decide if he’s being selfish.
My view is that he feels the team needs him to save them, and is trying to pull off a November/December Kyle Lowry to return the favor, now that Lowry’s struggling. DeRozan needs to chill and understand that his scoring is dependent on him catching the ball in the right areas and then making a move, not by him initiating the offense.
When he’s initiating the offense, the best he can hope for is a trip to the FT line, and when a team like GSW has Bogut in the middle and a defender like Thompson guarding you, even that’s hard to come by, especially when you’re coming off a groin injury.
The Raptors received an absolute pasting at home on Friday night as the Golden State Warriors humiliated Dwane Casey’s side in a rout. The Warriors were up by as many as 41 before settling for a 24-point margin, 113-89.
Kyle Lowry continued his poor play going 1-7 in 19 minutes, with no assists and two turnovers. In February, Lowry is shooting 34% overall, 24% from three, and is averaging 5.3 assists and 2.9 turnovers. When prompted in his post-game press conference about whether Lowry’s continued ineffectiveness is a concern, Dwane Casey said:
It’s a concern just because it’s fatigue-driven. He’s got aches and pains that are bothering him, we’re going to find out a away to get him some rest, and get him healthy.
The Raptors also started Patrick Patterson instead of Amir Johnson, and Casey explained the rationale:
[It was because of] the matchup with Draymond Green. That was the reason why, a smaller matchup, gives us an offensive punch that we didn’t get.
On the game overall:
They’re a very good team. That was just a good ‘ol fashion woodshet butt-kicking, no excuses for that type of performance. Most of it was them and the other part was us, it’s just an old-fashioned butt-whooping from start to finish.
On Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s shooting:
I thought [DeMar] had some good looks, some good clean looks and he just missed them.
I thought Kyle had good looks in the first quarter, for whatever reason, they weren’t falling.
The Raptors face the Knicks in New York on Saturday night, and I hate to tell Matt Devlin but:
Knicks beat the Pistons in double OT tonight, so the back-to-back excuse goes out the window for tomorrow. CC: @Matt__Devlin
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 28, 2015
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson after Golden State beat Toronto 113-89. (more…)
That was ugly…
|James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -15 +/-Johnson had a few impressive blocks (including one to open the game), but outside of that was merely present in the game. He provided some good defense, and hit the Raptors’ only field goal of the first quarter. Despite having the best field goal percentage in the league since February 1, James somehow attempted just three shots on a night where none of his teammates could hit anything.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -24 +/-Didn’t shoot well, didn’t defend well, didn’t attack the boards, and easily had the worst plus/minus on the team if not for garbage minutes at the end of the game.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 27 MIN | 2-4 FG | 3-6 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -10 +/-Valanciunas missed some shots at the rim, but he battled hard on the boards and finished with a team high 12 rebounds. I’ve liked the recent development that we’ve seen from Valanciunas. Fighting hard for position, defending the pick and roll less aggressively (getting beat less, but still able to challenge due to length), and making some smart passes to open shooters.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 19 MIN | 1-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -31 +/-Lowry played like garbage, just like almost everyone else. The difference is that we expect more from him. He has played terrible as of late, but this was his worst of the bunch. Toronto needs Lowry to fix this, and should hope he can find his game against the Knicks and 76ers over the next few days.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 26 MIN | 4-16 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | -12 +/-DeRozan made a concerted effort to get to the bucket early in the game, but unfortunately Andrew Bogut exists and was available for the Golden State Warriors tonight. Bogut shut down the paint and provided the Warriors with exceptional help defense, challenging every shot at the rim.
DeMar missed his first 10 shots, but hit a spinning mid-range jump shot for his first basket of the night. 4-for-16 just won’t cut it.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -7 +/-Had a plus/minus of minus 5, which was good for the team lead, but most important actually took a swing at Ezeli. I liked the running effort on the swing. Psycho-T was the only Raptor to have legitimate fight on the night.|
|Amir Johnson, PF 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -18 +/-Felt weird to see Amir come off the bench. The starters appeared to struggle without his screen setting to help them, but Amir made up for it by contributing an illegal screen/offensive foul his first time down the court.
Amir even managed to score a bucket for the Warriors early in the second quarter. It wasn’t his best night, but I still like the Raptors bringing him off the bench for the time being.
|Terrence Ross, SF 24 MIN | 7-14 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | -9 +/-I don’t know who was wearing Ross’ jersey tonight, but I liked what I saw. He chased Klay and Steph hard around screens, attacked the basket (even committed an offensive foul), and had his outside shot falling. There were positive signs all over Ross’ game tonight, and he was easily the best Raptor on the court (outside of Hansbrough…but that’s just because he tried to take a swing at someone). For reference, midway through the second quarter Ross had as many field goals as the rest of his teammates combined (3).|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 7 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +6 +/-Well…Greg played.|
|Chuck Hayes, C 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +6 +/-…So did Charles.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -2 +/-Didn’t shoot well, but also didn’t force much. His four assists would have likely made him and Amir the only Raptors with more than one, if not for a few late assists earned by Lou Williams. When Vasquez looks like the team’s best point guard in a game against a Western Conference powerhouse, it’s safe to say that the Raptors did not walk away feeling good about their game.|
|Landry Fields, SG 5 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +2 +/-Was nice to see Fields make it into the game. Would have liked to see him attempt at least one three pointer with his left hand…couldn’t have been worse than his teammates.|
|Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 2-7 FG | 7-8 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -6 +/-Lou’s shot wasn’t falling, and he doesn’t provide the team with much else. Williams got to the line a team high 7 times, but the rest of his game was non-existent.|
Casey got in my good books the moment he bench the entire starting lineup just 3:33 into the third quarter. The Raptors played with no intensity and failed to show up. I have my beefs with Casey, but I liked a lot of the things he did tonight, starting with putting Patterson into the starting lineup. I can’t blame tonight’s dumpster fire on him. Plus, I’m impressed that he didn’t force his way into two technical fouls so that he could take the night off like the rest of his team.
Five Things We Saw
- Raptors went just 1 for 19 in the first quarter, and somehow managed to be down by just 16 going into the second. Impressive accomplishment considering they shot just 5.3 percent to open the game. No team has shot a worse percentage in a quarter (non overtime) since 2010
- Draymond Green managed to get himself a technical despite being up 22-9. That’s a special level of intensity from the soon-to-be restricted free agent. He would fit incredibly well on this Raptors roster, but it won’t happen. I just wanted to write this because the night didn’t suck enough.
- The Raptors honored Mo Pete as part of their 20th Anniversary, and it was the only opportunity the fans in attendance had to applaud. What made it all the more fitting on a night where few things went well, was the fact that Rod Black was attempting to interview Jon Montgomery courtside at the same time.
- With over four minutes remaining the Raptors had a lineup of Lou Williams, Landry Fields, James Johnson, Charles Hayes, and Greg Steimsma…
- Shout-out to Zarar for the very fitting lead picture.
Steve Kerr talked with me about what has impressed him while watching tape of the Toronto Raptors. Also, he praised the team for how they gelled last season after the trade with Sacramento.
The statistical tealeaves of Jonas Valanciunas’ season paint an interesting picture.
With Mark Jackson at the helm of the Golden State Warriors, he guided them to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than 20 years, and even coached them to the second round in 2013. He helped turn them into one of the best defensive teams in the league. And then he was suddenly fired.
Enter Steve Kerr, who had to choose between the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors. Amazingly, he chose the franchise that hadn’t given away all it’s first round picks for the next 50 years, won just 37 games and traded for Andrea Bargnani the season before.
Kerr brought with him five championship rings from two different teams and a Spurs-like offensive strategy. And with “the best shooting backcourt in NBA history”, the Warriors now sit with the best record in the league and are the odds on favourite to make it to the Finals in the league’s toughest conference.
While the Warriors still have one of the best defenses in the league, they now also have one of the top rated offenses. Steph Curry has put his ankle problems that plagued him early in his career far behind him and is neck and neck with James Harden in the race for MVP. Curry is one of the best ball handlers, shooters and passers in the league, and is also arguably one of the most entertaining players, as well.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Is There Something Wrong With The Raptors?
After starting the season 22-6, the Raptors have gone 15-14 in the last 29 games. In those first 28 games, the Raptors scored 100 points or more 23 times. In the last 29, they’ve scored 100 points or more just 15 times. Notice a pattern?
The Raptors are still one of the top rated teams offensively, but they are showing some cracks. In wins, the team is scoring 108.6 points compared to just 97.5 points in losses, so obviously the Raptors need to score to win, especially since their defense is still below average.
Those scoring struggles can be directly tied to Lowry’s decline in productivity in the last two months. Since December, when Lowry was not just playing at All Star level but was in discussions as a fringe MVP candidate, there’s been a sharp decline in production from Lowry across the board. In December, Lowry peaked at 22.3 ppg, 8.9 apg and 4.2 rpg. In February, Lowry saw his averages dip to 12.8 ppg, 5.9 apg and 3.2 rpg and his offensive rating bottom out at 90 (after being weel over 100 for most of the rest for the season). He’s also shooting 36% from the field and less than 30% from three in January and February.
Without Lowry playing like he did at the beginning of the season, the Raptors are a mediocre team.
Is The Warriors Backcourt Really The Best Shooters Ever?
When Mark Jackson made the claim that Curry and Thompson were the best shooting backcourt ever, many fans and experts alike scoffed. It sounded a like a coach trying to hype his own players, but he may have been right. Right now, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are scoring a combined 46.1 ppg with a gaudy true shooting percentage of .624 and .598, respectively and could both end up shooting more than 40% from three for the season.
Since the advent of the three point line, the only backcourt to come close to that, shooting-wise, were John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek, of the Utah Jazz. But they weren’t even close in scoring.
At this point, I’d say backcourts like Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, and Walt Frazier and Earl Munroe have to be considered better overall. None of them have Curry and Thompson beat shooting-wise.
Will Home Cooking Help The Raptors?
After losing three in a row on their recent Western Conference road trip, the Raptors return to the Air Canada Centre. They’ve only lost more than two in a row one other time this season, back in at the beginning of January with their last Western Conference road trip. They lost three in a row on the road and then lost their return game at home against the Charlotte Hornets.
The Raptors have been unpredictable lately, both at home and on the road. They recently lost against Milwaukee and Brooklyn at home, but beat both the Spurs and Hawks, in Atlanta. The only thing predictable is that if the Raptors are able to score, they tend to win. But they are going against a better scoring team AND one of the best defensive teams in the league.
The Raptors have one of the best backcourts in the league, but the Warriors backcourt is better. While Valanciunas is a better offensive player than Andrew Bogut, he’s not the defensive anchor or passer that Bogut is. Draymond Green may be undersized for the power forward position, but he’s an excellent role player who can step out and hit the jumper, and is also a triple double threat.
The Raptors bench may not be scoring like they did in the first half of the season, they are still up there. The Warriors aren’t much farther behind, with former All Stars Andre Iguodala and David Lee both coming of their bench. However, Iguodala is the only bench player to play more than 20 mpg, partly because the Warriors’ starters are so good, but also because the bench isn’t incredibly deep. They do have some talent, though, and it’s comparable to the Raptors.
At this point in the season, either Steve Kerr or Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer are the favourites to win the Coach of the Year Award. While there were questions about Kerr at first because he’d never actually coached in any capacity before, his performance on the bench so far has erased any doubts.
The Raptors have lost three in a row compared to just one for the Warriors. One of them will win tonight and break their losing streak.
Interestingly, of the Warriors eleven losses, six of those came back-to-back. That could mean that they are vulnerable, but the Raptors have scored at least 100 points just twice in their last nine, and that’s not going to cut it against a team like the Warriors. Then again, while the Warriors are an excellent defensive team, they play an uptempo game and let their opponent score and average of exactly 100 points.
What does this all mean? Who knows. For those of you following, I’m 0-4 for predictions in my last four, despite going with the favourite every single time. So why change my strategy now…
Score: Warriors 118 – Raptors 102
There are certainly factors that make a DeRozan shot look better or worse — how many passes have come before it, how many seconds are left in the shot clock, whether a second defender is hedging his way, leaving a theoretically open pass — but it is not as if DeRozan has been widely out of character lately. He is just missing a lot this year. Compare that to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the aptly named Splash Brothers, whose league-leading Golden State Warriors visit Toronto on Friday night. “There’s no such thing, with those guys, as bad shots,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Golden State, they walk in the gym and it’s a good shot for those guys.” If Curry pulls up from 30 feet away from the basket, nobody is going to question it. It does not have to be a so-called “heat check,” when a player has made a few shots in a row and is trying to determine if it is possible for him to miss. It does not have to be late in the shot clock, when there are no other options left. An offence that consisted of nothing but contested three-pointers for Curry would probably be one of the best in the league, so long as the opposition still had to play as if he might pass.
But when shots aren’t falling and when a record begins to go south, teams get exposed and that’s where the Raptors find themselves. Prior to Thursday’s gathering at the team’s Air Canada Centre practice court, Casey and his staff spoke about the team’s recent troubles on defence and the team’s inability to step up defensively in the fourth quarter. “Maybe our rotation,” said Casey when he addressed the media. “We may have to look at our rotation, the people we have in there defensively. “I thought that’s what has hurt us. It’s what we talked about. We could always depend on the fourth quarter defensively to get stops, to get on a run and close it out in the fourth quarter.“We’ve got to look at who is on the floor that time to put a finger in that dike.” Casey wasn’t about to point fingers, but he doesn’t have to name names when so much can be laid to bare in the game’s crunch time when solid team defence, rebounding, ball security and taking good shots within the offence are required.
DeRozan averaged 16.6 points in January and 17.4 in February, his worst scoring months since January and March of 2013. In his six seasons, he has never had a lower field goal percentage for a month than February’s. Lowry has gone from one of the five or six best players in the entire league over the first two months of the season to troublingly poor, and here is where the honesty comes in. Asked to describe his game at the moment, Lowry had a quick response: “Me? I’m trash,” Lowry told reporters. “I’m trying to figure it out right now, to be honest with you. I don’t know (how to fix it), that’s why I’m in here, working hard and trying to figure out what to do to get myself back on track.” DeRozan did not duck away from that assessment of the status of his own game. “Right next to the trash can (that Lowry’s) is. Both trash,” DeRozan told the Sun, matter-of-factly as he signed merchandise following his media scrum. DeRozan and Lowry clearly are frustrated, but while Lowry is searching for answers, DeRozan seems more confident that things will fall into place. “I don’t know what it may be, find a rhythm (after missing so much time due to injury), whatever it may be, but it happens,” he said.
More than anything else, Lowry’s frustration lies in his missing jump shot. The all-star point guard is shooting less than 30 per cent from the field during Toronto’s three-game losing streak, hitting just three of his 22 three-point tries. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he’s not alone. DeRozan is shooting the ball at a 34 per cent clip over that same stretch, with the two of them combining to go 4-for-18 in the fourth quarter of those contests, as Toronto has given up leads of 18 and 13 points in back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Dallas. “It happens,” DeRozan said. “You’re going to have some type of drought at some point in the season. It just happens. It can be many sorts of things, fatigue, or whatever it may be.” Neither player has seemed right, at least not consistently, since DeRozan returned from a 21-game layoff due to injury in early January. While the Raptors’ swingman has worked his way back from the first serious ailment of his career, Lowry has looked spent at times having carried the team on his shoulders in DeRozan’s absence. Their work in February has reflected that. Both guards are shooting below 37 per cent from the field and a combined 16-for-72 (22 per cent) from long distance this month. Of greater concern, they both seem to be settling, particularly late in games.
In his past 12 games, the 28-year-old All-Star is averaging 13.4 points and 5.9 assists with 36.3 percent shooting, including 26.2 percent from 3-point range. “I don’t know,” Lowry replied when asked why his numbers have dropped. “That’s why I’m in here working hard and trying to figure out what to do and trying to get [myself] back on track.
Kyle Lowry’s per. month averages this season: November: 19.7 points, 6.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds – 44.7% shooting December: 22.3 points, 8.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds – 46.3% shooting (DeRozan was injured all of December) January: 16.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds – 37.4% shooting February: 12.8 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds – 35.4% shooting
Kyle Lowry has proven that he’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, but these Synergy stats aren’t all that kind to him. He ranks 24th in the league in points scored in transition (181), but only does so at a rate of 0.98 points per possession (PPP). That places him in the lowly 26.8 percentile of the NBA in terms of efficiency on the break. He fares slightly better in isolation (0.92 PPP, 72.6 percentile) and pick-and-roll situations as the ball handler (0.83 PPP, 66.5 percentile), but doesn’t really stack up to other All-Star guards in those areas. He does well coming off screens (1.07 PPP, 81.6 percentile), but that only makes up 5.1% of his offensive possessions. In other words, volume is Lowry’s friend, but he’s not overly efficient in the most common situations point guards generally find themselves in.
With Johnson on the court, the Raptors do quite well. This unit outscores its opponents by 10.4 points, shooting 8% better from the field. That’s huge. There are two big reasons for why the first goal difference is so large. First, Johnson does not shoot a ton of 3-pointers. Instead, he is a graceful finisher around the rim. Second, Johnson is one of the team’s best defenders, which can be dabilitating to a foe’s offence. This unit has also outshot their opponents by a whopping 20% from the charity stripe. I don’t really have an explanation for that, aside from simply noting that Johnson has touch. This unit also exemplifies strong ball-security, coughing up the rock 2.4 less times per 100 possessions than their opponents.
The Warriors are in the middle of a six-game road trip that has already seen them play worthy opponents such as Indiana, Washington and, on Thursday night, LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Heading into that contest, Stephen Curryall-star guard Stephen Curry had scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games, anchoring a steamrolling offence that’s averaging an NBA-best 110.4 points.
“You’ve got Steph and Klay coming in here, the No. 1 team in the league so the buzz in the arena is going to be around and I think we’re just trying to get back to our winning ways,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. Lowry is averaging 14.7 points on 29.8 percent shooting in this slide, which is one game shy of a four-game skid Dec. 30-Jan. 8 for the Raptors’ worst. Toronto has been outscored by 27 and shot 32.3 percent in the fourth quarter of the three defeats, which capped a four-game road swing. Lowry is 2 for 8 for six points in that quarter. The Raptors’ last two opponents have combined to shoot 64.9 percent in the fourth quarters. “We always could depend on the fourth quarter defensively to get stops, to get on a run and close it out in the fourth quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “So we’ve got to look at who’s on the floor at that time to put a finger in that dike.”
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have both been in a funk – and perhaps the only good that has come out of it is the fact that they’re self-aware of the whole issue.
When posed the question by the media on how he’s playing, Lowry responded by calling himself ‘trash’. Not too long after, DeRozan took a slice of humble pie and followed suit.
Where do you see your game right now? Lowry: "I'm trash. I'm trying to figure it out right now, to be honest with you"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) February 26, 2015
Well, awareness is a good start. The next step would be to realize that ‘figuring it out’ is actually easy to do. On this three-game skid, Lowry has shot 29.8% from the floor and has had a +/- of -9. 21 of his 44 shots have been from behind-the-arc, and just 11 of those shots have been in the paint.
Lowry’s assists are also down by two dimes in the past three games in comparison to his season average. First step to ‘figuring it out': Realize you need to take good open looks, and start moving the basketball. Patrick Patterson hinted at this yesterday.
“We build up strong leads and I think we’re just getting too lackadaisical, getting too comfortable, getting a lot of iso situations rather than keep moving the ball, sharing the ball, keep executing our offence,” Patterson said.
DeMar DeRozan to Sun on where his own game is: "Right there in the trash can beside (Lowry)."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 26, 2015
In DeMar’s case, it’s more of the same. He’s shot 34% during the losing streak, but surprise, once he gets into the restricted area, his percentage jumps up a notch – or three.
Take it to the rim, DeMar. Your strengths are finishing around the basket and hitting the open mid-range jumper;
Believe it or not the Raptors have completed the most difficult portion of their schedule having returned from their last extended trip out West. The best news entering today is the magic number for the Raptors to clinch is 12!
They have two trips remaining to the opposite coast one a single game (Minnesota) and one a 2 game trip (Thunder/Spurs). That’s not to say their hard work is over. Rather, this timeframe becomes the tweaking period of their schedule as they prepare for what is an inevitable second consecutive post season berth and Atlantic Division Title.
With that in mind I reviewed the remaining 25 games, compare the Raptors Eastern counterparts and detail the areas the team should specifically look to improve.
In review of the above information there are some notable benefits as well as some down sides for the Raptors:
- Only 8 games against West
- Only 8 games against teams currently above .500
- While they’ve lost 3 games in a row they have played the hardest schedule of all the teams over the past 25 percent of games. This is significant when you consider the 2 teams with the best record over the last 10 games (Cleveland/Milwaukee) have played the easiest schedule other than Miami
- Most of our road games are focused in the East
- While the Raptors have lost games to teams they should beat (all the top teams have) they tend to take care of business versus lower seeded teams
- A 50 win season is as close to a certainty as the franchise has ever been. They need to win just slightly above 50% to do so. Given they have completed the harder portion of their schedule with a 65% winning average it looks like a done deal.
- Raptors finish the season on two back to back series within 6 days
- Of the 17 sub .500 teams we play, ten games are against teams still competing for the 7th and 8th playoff seeds: Boston x 2, Charlotte x 3, Indy, Miami x 2, Detroit, Indy and Nets
- A further 3 games are facing teams trying to establish themselves for next season and play spoiler: Minnesota x2, Orlando
Several teams they will face in the lower seeds are all competing to make the playoffs, and of these teams there are a couple games/teams Toronto should attempt to send a statement to:
- With 3 games remaining against Charlotte, now is the time to sweep those games in case they end up facing us in the playoffs. It’s an important message for the Raptors to send and for their own psyche.
- Of the 2 games versus Miami the one on April 11th should be considered a must win as the Raptors need to get over the hump of not winning in that building.
Obviously things could be worse given the status of Miami (Chris Bosh) and Chicago (Derrick Rose) though there are definitely some players who require some down time. Coach Casey needs to balance winning with getting his core group rest. Specifically, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson need to be well rested entering the post season. On the recent road trip Lowry began a game sporting a wrap around his hand and thumb. I think it’s safe to say he’s banged up and it’s affecting his shot. Going back to the Portland game, Lowry took a couple of very hard falls in that loss. Coincidentally we can marry his field goal percent regression almost exactly back to this game.
DeMar DeRozan is not completely back to health although there are encouraging signs from him given the couple of dunks we saw on the Western trip. It’s common for players returning from injury to be antsy about making quick cuts or moves in fear of re-injury as they gain self trust. Further, though he is healthy enough to play that doesn’t mean he has regained his strength in the injured area which effects his leaping and movement skills.
I wanted to point out, in addition to the Raptors having played the hardest schedule in the past 25 percent of games they also made some significant roster changes. Although this doesn’t address some poor shot selection there are some factors we need to consider in terms of the additional turnovers the team has been currently mired with. Several of the writers on the site spoke to why the Raptors were hesitant to add James Johnson to the starting line-up. It’s not because we don’t see his value, we do.
You need look no further than Toronto’s improved defense or lower opponent scoring to see the benefit he brings. However, with the defense improving there is a down shift in our offense which can be directly related to floor spacing. With only one 3-point shooter on the floor (Lowry), teams are able to shift off James Johnson and provide help coverage or double teams on DeRozan and Lowry which adds a wrinkle to being able to drive the paint or swing the ball.
Barring a sudden shift in confidence from Terrence Ross which would find him reinserted as a starter (unlikely), Casey and his staff will need to utilize practice to address this concern. Either they elect to involve Valanciunas more or they address the player and ball movement issues which the lack of floor spacing presents.
To that end, the Raptors remaining schedule affords them three windows of opportunity for practice (more than a single day off between games):
- March 11, 12
- March 28, 29
- April 5, 6, 7 (a rare 3-days off)
- April 12,13
The last date may need to be rest days given how closely that falls to the end of the season.
Although Blake and Will covered why it was wise for the Raptors to not make any knee jerk moves at the deadline, I did want to touch on this from my perspective. All you need to do is watch a team like Washington play to see how valuable chemistry is. Last night they led Andrew Wiggins Timberwolves by 15 points and lost by 20. It was evident watching John Wall on the court that he is not amused and the player interaction is anything but chummy. I’m not sure if this is a player or coach related issue, however it does highlight how much chemistry makes a difference.
There is also an established precedent to follow in regards to building the core and knowing when your window of opportunity to make a move is.
Portland: Arguably the Trailblazers have the best starting five in the NBA, but for years their bench has been lack luster. They added Steve Blake and Chris Kaman in the off season and based on a second consecutive season in the West’s upper tier decided to give up draft picks to grab Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to add the required extra roster depth. Toronto is at least a year from making a move like that.
In terms of the youth they added Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Reggie Jackson of which only Ibaka remains. Similarly to how Toronto is trying to build around Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas.
The first year OKC broke through to make the playoffs they didn’t make any rash moves other than bringing in Perkins for his leadership and they dispersed of the youth as they determined they either weren’t a fit or weren’t within their budget.
This is where the comparison makes sense. Although it doesn’t seem like that long ago the first season Durant and Westbrook went to the playoffs was 2009-10. Can you believe it was 5 years ago?
The following season (2010-11) the Thunder lost to eventual champions: Dallas Mavericks and followed that up in 2011-12 with their first trip to the finals. Last year injury took it’s toll with Westbrook out for a majority of the season and Ibaka getting hurt versus the Spurs.
Now, 5 years after their inaugural trip to the post season they made their big trade deadline move, using an existing asset that didn’t fit (Jackson) with the chemistry or identity of the team to completely rebuild their bench and fill in their weaknesses.
I guess my point is, if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can see the wisdom to be patient, build the core through continual growth I think the Raptors current plan to do the same is wise.
Side note: in a Bill Simmons Grantland article he shares a discussion regarding Tracy McGrady’s leadership or lack there of citing Daryl Morey’s response to who the leader was (this might surprise you).
From the article:
After Morey fired Van Gundy before the 2007-08 season, new hire Rick Adelman was hoping McGrady would take on a bigger leadership role. Adelman was a more laid-back coach, Morey explains, someone who’d rather delegate to his players. So they met with McGrady to tell him that they needed his help.
What happened? McGrady politely turned them down. He just wasn’t wired that way, he told them.
“So who did everyone consider the team’s leader during your 22-game winning streak?” I asked Daryl.
“Probably Chuck Hayes,” Daryl said.
Now, hindsight is 20-20 because who knew Chris Bosh would be lost for the season, or that Derrick Rose (poor guy) would tear the same meniscus again. Sure it feels like we may have missed the window of opportunity, but given how low Terrence Ross’ stock is right now we wouldn’t have likely improved dramatically.
And, the opportunity still exists for the Raptors to grab the bull by the horns (no pun intended) and gain valuable post season experience. It sounds simplistic, but there is a path to growth over the final 25 games which could position them well for April:
- continue to build upon their recent defensive improvements
- get Lowry and Amir Johnson some rest
- utilize the practice sessions to work on weaknesses
- send Terrence Ross to a sports therapist IMMEDIATELY
- capitalize on the 17 lower seeded teams they’ll face to master the areas of their game they need to tweak
Everyone knows I’m the ultimate optimist, but honestly I see a clear path for Toronto to make the second round and possibly even the Eastern Conference Finals. With Rose and Bosh both out it’s a pretty strong likelihood Cleveland go to the Finals (sorry excuse me while I gag), but who will play them prior? Seeing Al Horford sporting a padded shoulder vest isn’t quite the same as Amir doing so. With his history of pectoral muscle tears and the fact Paul Millsap is also undersized their front court is vulnerable. Besides our ideal pairing is Atlanta or Washington given our record versus them.
Suffice to say, the Raptors have completed the hard stretch of their schedule and now can focus in on a slow steady build to the post season.
So let’s all sit back and enjoy the history making ride!
DeMar Derozan’s shooting woes continued in Tuesday night’s loss to the Mavericks. On the season he’s shooting a dreadful 39.4 percent from the field. In the month of February he’s been even worse, connecting at a 36.4 percent clip. So, what’s going on? How has the groin injury affected DeRozan’s shot selection and what can he do to right the ship?
Strangely enough, DeRozan’s pre-injury/post-injury field goal percentage numbers are exactly the same, as you see below:
His shot selection and aggressiveness, however, have been affected by his decreased explosiveness:
|Pre-FGM||Pre-FGA||FG %||% of FGA||Post-FGM||Post-FGA||FG%||% of FGA||Net diff. % of FGA|
|> 5 feet||40||72||55.6||27.8||36||54||66.7||17.9||-9.9|
|10-14 ft||19||46||41.3||17.7||22||53||41.5||17.5||- 0.2|
|20-24 ft||7||30||23.3||11.6||14||55||25.5||18.2||+ 6.6|
|25 feet >||0||2||0||0.07||0||9||0.0||3.0||+ 3.0|
So, basically DeMar is shooting a lot less shots close to the basket and settling for significantly more long twos. His preferred range is the 15-19 foot range, where he takes about 34 percent of his overall attempts on the season. From that zone, DeMar is second in the league, putting up 5.3 attempts per game. The problem is that he’s only shooting 32.8 percent. If we compare that to his mid-range-loving peers, we find that he doesn’t stack up well.
|15-19 feet FGA per game||15-19 feet FG%|
The most significant difference that we’re seeing in DeMar’s game since coming back from injury, however, is that he’s getting to the line a lot less.
|FTA per game||7.8||6.3|
|Free throw percentage||82.3||76.8|
If we take this one step further, we find that DeMar’s inefficient ways aren’t such a problem, so long as he gets to the free throw line:
|FTA per game||7.8||4.9|
|Free throw percentage||81.5||72.2|
In conclusion, the numbers are basically supporting the eye test. Since coming back from injury DeMar has gotten to the basket less and settled for significantly more long twos. Mid-range jumpers are a part of DeMar’s game and that isn’t going away any time soon. The problem right now is that he takes too many contested jumpers (according to player tracker, he leads the team in contested field goal attempts almost every game) and he’s not mitigating his shooting woes by getting to the free throw line. During the last three losses he’s gotten to the free throw line 5, 4 and 3 times, respectively. During the three wins to open the “death stretch,” DeRozan shot poorly from the field but got to the line 13, 12 and 10 times, respectively. The key take away here is that while DeRozan lacks some of the explosiveness that we saw before the injury, he is still capable of getting to the line, if he commits to doing so and capitalizes on his improved ball handling skills.
All data for this piece provided by NBA.com/Stats unless noted otherwise
The basketball world may never witness Derrick Rose attack the rim with the same vengeance ever again. A shout-out to the Raps’ rival is in order, as the NBA hardwood is a much better place when D-Rose is an active participant. But in a twisted parallel-universe kind of way, news of his potentially season-ending injury dropping on the same night Toronto once again squandered their talents against Dallas was eerily fitting. A representation of frustration on both ends of the spectrum. Let’s just hope the negative omens have a temporary residence going forward.
Four games in five nights is a justifiable excuse, I’m buying what the masses are selling, to an extent. Especially considering the brand of hoops we all know and love made cameo appearances.
Only 25 games remain until this city gets to experience playoff madness part-two, but despite the Raptors’ 37-20 record, and setting the pace to crack the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history, issues on the both ends of the floor still exist.
Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, facts are facts no matter where a team sits in the standings. This squad occupies a spot in the league’s upper echelon, and deservedly so, but it also goes to show what this team could truly be capable of when firing on all cylinders.
Actually, who am I kidding; fire away. One can’t deny the inevitable.
Toronto’s Mission: For Coaches, Players, And Fans
The following expedition will be broken down into two sections. The first concerning a combination of coaching decisions and style of play, featuring the Raps’ two biggest assets going forward. And last but not least, surveying the landscape of this city and its supporters.
The main objective for both: Loose ends that are in need of tightening up in order for that postseason hysteria to reach its maximum potential. On and off the court.
1. Too Much Freestylin’, Not Enough Written Raps
The JV Situation:
Living day-by-day in the NBA is a dangerous proposition when a roster is not precisely equipped for the task. The issue of the Raps’ frontcourt misusage, specifically Jonas Valanciunas, now needs to forced. It’s time to implement a more balanced attack.
Gaining employment is mainly about who you know in the real world, but to get that opportunity in professional sports, one must earn their keep; so I get Casey’s allocation of JV’s minutes on the surface. But when you dig deeper, there comes a point where the big picture must come into focus.
Are the Raps prepared for halfcourt warfare? The second-season will hold that type of combat above all else. Even by today’s pace and behind-the-arc regular season standards. Does Toronto not want its troops up front to be battle-tested?
A fine line exists that a team crosses when becoming truly elite. At the expense of nightly matchups, especially late in the game, the time has come to stop taking what’s given and start being the dictator. If this squad wants to be a superior unit, act like it.
I think the consensus would gladly trade a few sticky situations and potential defeats if it resulted in JV’s learning curve being sped up.
JV needs to be fed in the post early, often, and throughout the stretch run if any prolonged playoff success is going to occur.
It’s no secret that Kyle Lowry’s play has taken a step back. Let’s look at the drop-off in numbers from earlier in the season. But be on the lookout for Jack Armstrong, although I would arguably take Jack’s numbers rant over another one of Matt Devlin’s overused calls of where a 3-pointer was hit from in the province of Ontario. Especially when the Raps are down by 15, and it’s still used with an embellished enthusiasm.
The reference point will be December 17th, before Brooklyn flew into town for the first time since the now infamous playoff series. It was Drake Night to be exact. Remember that one time, when Lowry torched the Nets to the tune of 20 points, 12 dimes, and went 7-13 from the field? A time when MVP chants were worthy of discussion.
- Win Shares – Then: 6th overall (4.0), Now: 19th (6.3)
- Assists Percentage – Then: 12th overall (36.4), Now: 22nd (33.8)
- PER – Then: 9th overall (23.0), Now: 60th (19.6)
- Boards Among PG’s – Then: 7th overall (4.7), Now: Tied for 6th (4.6), Had to throw in some deserved props in that department.
- VORP – Then: 7th overall (5.9), Now: 10th (3.1)
- Free-Throw Attempts – Then: 10th overall (144), Now: 16th (271)
Faith in a rebirth should be kept, as Lowry has overcome obstacles his entire career. Once again, all that really matters is getting his act together for Round 1. But one does pause when listening to his recent post-game comments after the fourth-qaurter debacle in New Orleans:
“We’re a 3-point shooting team. There’s no hiding it, we shoot threes. If they’re falling, they’re falling. If not, we have to find a way to win defensively”
Now, this is factually correct. New ground is not being broken suggesting the Raps rely on their outside shooting far too often. But what holds cause for concern is the questions that follow: Is this the philosophy being cemented by Casey? Was the comment made out of frustration, attempting to get the interview over with as soon as possible? (I definitely wouldn’t blame him), or is this Lowry’s new-found lackadaisical mindset?
A third overall offensive rating of 111.0 is a sight to behold during the regular season, but that factor diminishes greatly when put in a postseason bubble. Setting up shop on the outside will throw your hat in the playoff ring, but it can spit you back out at a moment’s notice.
Additionally, this freestyle way of executing has trickled down to the pick-and-roll on both sides of the ball. Where the success rate on offence plummets when you improvise off the pick one too many times leaving the roll ending up in the wrong position. On D, the help is at times, in no man’s land.
2. City Vibes
It wouldn’t feel like home if there wasn’t ongoing drama attached to this city’s sports scene. A hockey organization who’s tickets are spoken for no matter the caliber of the product, and a baseball franchise who’s given us nothing but a combination of ineptitude and false hope for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, disappointment comes with the territory. We are all jilted lovers in some capacity.
As for the reality of Toronto’s hardwood, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest the Raps are currently this metropolis’ saving grace. Regardless of the anxiety that comes along for the ride.
Toronto may have recently been voted the world’s No.1 city to live in, although tell that to anybody attempting to rent a decent apartment for under $1200 a month, or the notion of experiencing a ride on its public transportation system; looking at you Ossington-63 Bus To Liberty Village!
For the population of fans I just tuned out, picture a cluster f**k of epic proportions.
Then comes the city’s nickname. The “T-Dot” is in dire need of an upgrade, and “The 6” doesn’t quite inspire, either. Any suggestions?
But it’s the lively debate that keeps this city on its heels. A difference of opinion is always welcome, if it leads to actual conversation, that is. As with any sports market, the odds of two sides being able to “hear Jimi” simultaneously are of the slim variety.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear, this may be a platform to express myself, but don’t mistake it for a self-anointed pedestal. We’re all in the trenches with this franchise.
Which brings up the issue of criticizing criticism:
- Hasn’t a higher standard of expectations been set? Supporting the team no matter what happens is the default setting in all of us, so critiquing a squad is only logical when success is wanted by all parties involved.
- We’ve been through the ringer since this team’s inception. It’s time to live in the now, if a fan base isn’t holding its team accountable, what are we truly after here?
- If an assessment is unjustified, by all means, troll away. But this city is way past leaving flaws on the table.
- Besides, this is Raptors Republic, not the Republic of Blatant Homerism.
Kudos go out to all that made the ACC (inside and out) a nightmare for Brooklyn last season. And a North American headliner to boot. It held some of the most exciting moments this city has seen in quite some time. At least one tenant of that building is holding up their end of the bargain.
If the playoffs began today, a matchup with the Miami Heat would be on the docket. With the way the East is trending, and if the Raps are able to fend off Cleveland and Chi-Town, we might just be able to place it in ink soon enough. The potential of facing off with Chris Bosh would have provided must-see entertainment, but the addition of Goran Dragic Johnson makes Miami more than a formidable opponent. A series that has 7 games written all over it, especially if the Raps continue their Jekyll-and-Hyde personality.
Up next: The Splash Brothers on Canadian soil, and part two of the Raps’ redemption tour.
This message will self-destruct if anything short of an appearance in Round 2 takes place.
3-12 in last 25 games. 1-3 in last 4. Alot of fingers being pointed. What gives?
“We build up strong leads and I think we’re just getting too lackadaisical, getting too comfortable, getting a lot of iso situations rather than keep moving the ball, sharing the ball, keep executing our offence,” Patterson said. “I think we rely too much on just one, two passes and go straight into an iso. And whenever the opposing team makes a run than I think people try to pick up the slack and put everything on their back. And it’s hit or miss, it’s 50/50, it either goes in or it doesn’t go in and when it’s not going in they come back and I think that’s what’s happened the last couple games.” Of the three consecutive losses to close out the trip, the middle one in New Orleans was clearly the worst. The Pellies were without their go-to guy in Anthony Davis and also without starting point guard Jrue Holiday and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson. The trio of Alexis Ajinca, Norris Cole and Luke Babbitt put a stake in the Raptors, probably the first time that trio has knocked off anyone. The iso situations Patterson speaks of are definitely there, but that’s not always the plan.
Ross’s game has regressed so far over the past few weeks that the recent franchise building block not only became the leading name in trade rumours around last week’s deadline, but saw his trade value plummet to an all-time low. So where does that leave Ross in the franchise’s plans? Having this conversation after last season—when Ross’s efforts almost singlehandedly brought his team back in the final minute of game seven against the Brooklyn Nets—would have seemed insane. Even a scant few months ago, when this season was just getting started and Ross appeared to be picking up where he’d left off, it was idiotic to openly wonder if the third year swingman would have a role on this team going forward. But here we are. Ross is in a truly tough spot. At a pivotal time in his development, he’s now playing for a team that can’t afford to be patient and simply let that process play out. Which wasn’t the plan, of course. The Raptors’ rebuild and subsequent turnaround wasn’t supposed to be quite so abrupt. It wasn’t supposed to happen with one trade (and, more importantly, one non-trade). But the Raptors—last three games notwithstanding—are rightfully in win-now mode, and that’s not always a healthy environment for young players to improve.
Last two nights in New Orleans and Dallas had consistent issues that will need to be cleaned up to avoid frustrating collapses. Offensively, turnovers and shot selection are problems which have derailed them while defensively screen and roll coverages and controlling dribble penetration are paramount. The good news is that they’re all correctable errors. The concerning news is that these issues have popped up on and off during the season. Gotta get to the point where they are steady and consistent with these areas. If they get it fixed, they will be fine but it has to get better.
Here we find the crux of the issue. Not too long ago, the Raptors were an offensive juggernaut, overwhelming opponents by limiting turnovers, spacing the floor and drawing fouls. A large part of that stretch came without shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who missed 18 games with a groin injury. However, with DeRozan back in the lineup since Jan. 5, the offense has lost its mojo. Since he returned, the team’s three-point percentage has dropped from 36 percent to 33 percent and the team’s overall shooting percentage has seen a similar decline. The return of DeRozan and his dribble-happy ways has also led to an increase in turnovers. Before the new year, the Raptors had the lowest turnover rate in the league, failing to get up a shot just 11.9 percent of the time. Since then, they’re No. 22 with a 15.5 percent rate, and in February that number jumps up to 15.9 percent. For a team that doesn’t have elite shooters or scorers, not wasting possessions was a big part of their success. These days, the team is turning the ball over like any other offense and it’s led to some unfortunate consequences.
Let’s take a look at an example of a team that boasts its own D-League team. The San Antonio Spurs have been able to use the Austin Spurs (formerly the Austin Toros) to breed players since 2005. On a perennial contender like the Spurs, Canadian guard Cory Joseph was not going to get much run. Recognizing this fact, San Antonio sent him to Austin for two seasons to sharpen his skills. Over his D-League career, Joseph averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 assists and earned an all-star berth in the 2012-13 campaign. The 23-year-old is now on Greg Popovich’s roster and is averaging 13.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per 36 minutes. He filled in admirably in the Spurs’ starting lineup when Tony Parker went down with an injury. Joseph has now cemented himself as a rotation player on one of the most heralded teams in the league. This example demonstrates the value of having your own D-League franchise at your disposal. Wolstat reports that Raptors executives had productive talks over the all-star break about obtaining an affiliate as soon as next season. While the location will not be in Canada, we could see a team somewhere in New York State. The close proximity would allow for a similar partnership to what the Toronto Blue Jays have with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
Join Eric Koreen, the National Post’s basketball writer, and Holly MacKenzie, who writes for Raptors.com and chronicles the NBA for various sites and publications, for The Post-Up — the National Post’s weekly(ish) basketball podcast. In our sixth episode, Koreen and MacKenzie discuss the Toronto Raptors’ offensive struggles, the importance of Lou Williams and Russell Westbrook’s incredible month.
The NBA is just like anything in life –- things recycle, players get older, and new players replace them. Our favorite players growing up — like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird — all eventually retire and make way for the new generations. I know some people get sad or nostalgic about that cycle, but I personally find it exciting. Who knows what’s out there –- until last year, we thought LeBron James will easily be the best player of our generation. Then comes Anthony Davis barging onto the scene. Who knows anymore what could happen? That’s the beauty of the NBA –- there’s always something different and something new. We constantly have players changing the “prototype” of what a player or position should be. Both Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry are superduperduperstars, yet they play completely different brands of basketball. Is one way “correct”? No, of course not. There is always space in the NBA for all types of players.
Two center prospects taken in the same draft who both have similar capabilities as scorers, but JV is clearly significantly superior defensively and on the glass. Yet… Enes Kanter plays with Westbrook, Ibaka and Kevin Durant, yet somehow has averaged about 11 FGA per game since going to OKC. Valanciunas plays with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry… yet he averages 8 shots per game with the Raptors. Somebody please explain to me how the **** that’s acceptable. Casey needs to go.
In 1999, Toronto acquired a future first-round pick from Minnesota as part of the three-team trade that put an end to Chauncey Billups’ brief tenure as a Raptor. That pick, 21st in 2000, was and still is the lowest they have ever selected in the first round. It also turned into one of the franchise’s most important players. Coming off a national title at Michigan State, Peterson was already experienced beyond his years and made an immediate impact on a team that was trending upwards at the time of his arrival. The swingman played meaningful minutes (just over 23 a night) in 80 games as a rookie, starting more than half of them and contributing to the Raptors’ first and only playoff series victory that season. He still leads the franchise in games played.
Turns 29 in March; bargain contract (four years, $48 million); elite defender; above-average creator and rebounder; slumping on 3s this season (32.1 percent); has a slightly higher game-to-game ceiling; the second-most intimidating on-the-court point guard after CP3; formerly moody/abrasive/brooding, now mostly cheery/supportive/intense; helping to carry the torch for the Tougher-Than-Tough Philly Basketball Legacy; beloved in T-Dot.
There’s very little consistency. Playing that many games in such a short period of time is obviously a burden, but excuses only run so far. Their 37-20 record is second-best in the Eastern Conference and seventh in the NBA, yet no one talks about the team as a force to be reckoned with. It’s been a never-ending struggle for respect. As solid as they’ve been been for the majority of the year, they haven’t made the transition from good to great in the eyes of many. With 25 games remaining, the Raptors will need to focus on fixing some of their glaring issues if they want to get out of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
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I was driving to football last week when a friend raised a great point: Fans of Toronto’s sports teams don’t know how to handle success.
The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the Raptors have only won one playoff series in their 20 year history and the Blue Jays last won a World Series in 1993.
I’m not counting the Toronto Argos winning a Grey Cup in 2012 because the CFL isn’t a global league like the NHL, NFL, NBA or MLB are.
That’s a long drought waiting for a winner that has left a lot of fans in Toronto starved for a winning team to cheer for.
So when a team like the Raptors burst out of the gate with a 24-7 record to start this season a lot of “fans” jump on the bandwagon. Or, younger fans get excited about their team playing well.
There’s a false sense of optimism that the team will continue at the stretch and it rises expectations higher than they should be.
When the Raptors struggled during a stretch of tough games at the end of December there were some concerns that Toronto’s strong start was due to playing a lot of home games against weaker competition.
Now that Toronto is stuck in a stretch of games where they have gone 4-5 during the midst of a hellacious month, social media and talk radio is exploding with fans and talking heads picking apart the team.
The reality is this will be a challenging month in the schedule and the team is working on things on the defensive end. Through these growing pains the team might only pick up a couple of wins.
A rough month is okay. It won’t sink their chances of winning the Titanic, um, Atlantic Division.
There’s no possibility that Dwane Casey will be fired during this season.
Masai Ujiri was wise to hold his cards and let the trade deadline pass by instead of swinging for he fences.
Yes, blowing a 18 point lead against a New Orleans Pelicans team missing Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson is something that should make fans cringe.
Losing home games earlier this month to Brooklyn and Milwaukee wasn’t the best start to this month.
But those games are just blips in the marathon that an 82 game season represents; there’s going to be tons of peaks and valleys for any team.
When this season started the goals were to win the division and a playoff series. By winning the division – something that is still a virtual lock even if they don’t win again until February 28th against the Knicks – they will have March and April to continue to work out the kinks on the defensive end prior to the playoffs. The Raptors have home court in the first round of the playoffs and a great chance to win at least one playoff series.
Nobody wants to see Toronto limp February, but, even if happens, there’s no reason to sprain an ankle jumping off the bandwagon. The Raptors currently have a winning percentage (64%) that would mark the highest the franchise has ever had (last season is the current highest at 58%).
NBA seasons have an ebb and flow where teams get hot or cold, but by the end, things tend to even themselves out. A team like the Atlanta Hawks will likely hold onto the top of the Eastern Conference after winning 19-straight games, while a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers can turn around a season after winning 12-straight games shortly after making two trades.
For the most part, teams get hot and cold during different parts of an NBA season, and things even themselves out over the course of a full season.
The reality for the Raptors is their goals of winning the division and a playoff series can and will survive a horrible month where the team only wins one or two games in February. Fans just need to keep those goals in perspective and not get too high with strong stretches or too low when bad months like February hit.
Fans of the Raptors would be wise to apply the advice Aaron Rodgers gave fans of the Packers earlier this season when he told them to R-E-L-A-X.
This month is likely going to be brutal for the Raptors, but that isn’t any reason for fans to panic.
He’s only been a starter for a little over two weeks, but James Johnson has already had a significant impact on the Toronto Raptors. (more…)
In their fourth road game in five nights, the Toronto Raptors ran out of gas in the the fourth quarter and the Dallas Mavericks jumped all over them. Dallas would come back from nine down to win, 99-92. (more…)
This one came down to mistakes and where the Mavs were turning the ball over through the first half and giving up points like they didn’t care, that generosity was repaid in kind and then some by the Raptors over the final two quarters on the way to a 99-92 win. Playing their fourth game in five nights eventually seemed to take their toll on the Raps who were at least ahead through much of this one for three quarters. “Our fatigue turnovers got us,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “The turnovers were crucial, they were brutal. They led to baskets at the other end. Some of them were forced but some of them were unforced. I thought that was the difference in the second half.” What also didn’t help was the Raptors top two scorers went almost stone cold in the final two quarters. Between them, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were a combined 3-for-16 in the second half. Mix that with the 20 points off 12 turnover in the half the Mavericks were gifted and it’s pretty easy to see how a game that had looked so good for the Raptors for three quarters could wind up in the loss column.
After squandering an 18-point advantage in Monday’s loss to the Pelicans it was deja vu the following night. Facing one of the West’s top teams in the Mavs, Toronto raced out to another promising start, shooting 53 per cent from the field in the first half, including 5-of-12 from three-point range. As Dallas began to gnaw away at its deficit in the third, like New Orleans had done 24 hours earlier, the Raps fell apart down the stretch. Why? As usual, Patrick Patterson put it best. “Maybe just getting too comfortable,” the candid forward said, attempting to explain similar collapses on consecutive nights. “We build up strong leads and I think just getting too lackadaisical, getting too comfortable, getting in a lot of iso situations rather than keep moving the ball, keep sharing the ball, keep executing our offence. I think we rely too much on just one, two passes and go straight into an iso. And whenever the opposing team makes a run, then I think people try to pick up the slack and put everything on their back. And it’s hit or miss, it’s 50/50, it either goes in or it doesn’t go in and when it’s not going in they come back and I think that’s what’s happened the last couple games.”
A big bench showing in the second half helped the Mavericks to a 13-point comeback win against the Raptors on Tuesday. The major storyline from this game may be Rajon Rondo’s third quarter benching, and perhaps it’s hard to untangle the two consider Dallas started their comeback after he sat. However, this recap will focus on the win itself, an important one with a tough trip to Atlanta coming on Wednesday. Discussion about Rondo and Carlisle can be funneled here. The Mavericks really did need this win. Playing the Hawks on the road on the second night of a back-to-back is as close to a schedule loss as you can get. By beating Toronto, the Mavericks move into sole possession of the no. 5 seed in the Western Conference and earn two wins without Chandler Parsons, whose importance was clearly seen in his absence for stretches of this game. It was a bipolar performances for the Mavericks, who looked dominant for stretches with strong defense, and inept at other moments with self-inflicted turnovers. The Raptors stretched their lead to 64-53 early in the third quarter before Dallas finished the quarter 19-14 to close within three.
“They’re playing their fourth in five nights, so they’re a little worn down. We just needed to keep the pressure on them and we had to keep attacking – which we did,” Carlisle said. Five players scored in double figures including 20 from Ellis and 18 from the Big German. Barea scored eight of his 13 in the final quarter while Devin Harris and Richard Jefferson added 14 and 11 points, respectively. Aminu grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds while Dirk added nine. He came in with an average of 6.1 on the season and nine in his past four games.
Toronto came out with energy tonight, doing all of the positive things required for a team to be successful on the road. They were feeding the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas, they were attacking the paint and getting to the line and their offence was getting good looks thanks to their defensive intensity. Everything looked good until the Mavericks defence clamped down on Toronto, forcing them into many difficult shots and rushed possessions. Kyle Lowry‘s struggles continued through this game as he finished with a line of just 11 points & 6 assists. With the Splash Brothers coming into town, we’re going to need KLow7 to return to his all-star form.
James Johnson, who’s been given the task of trying to guard the opposing team’s top players as he’s cemented his spot in the Raptors’ starting five over the last month or so, has no shame in admitting he admires Nowitzki. “Dirk’s upside is just ridiculous. The way he creates space, the way he can shoot in tight spaces, and the way he competes every night. It’s a blessing just to be on the opposing team with him,” said Johnson, shaking his head in awe while discussing the Mavs’ big man. Together with Amar’e Stoudemire, picked up in a deal with the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline last week, the Mavs have a formidable front court. One that Johnson says his younger self would have been thrilled to be around. “Man, two guys that I idolized growing up. Those guys have been doing it for a long time,” said Johnson.
Tonight, the Raptors once again fell apart down the stretch, The Mavericks took the game 97-92, after the Raptors gave up 25 points in Q4 and only earned 15 points of their own. Another come from behind loss generated by poor defending and uninspiring offence. The Raps needed a hero, much like Kyle Lowry often made himself during DeMar DeRozan’s extended injury absence. They needed someone to make big plays and fire the whole team up. Alas, the hero never came.
So DeRozan is fantastic in transition (and in cuts and putbacks, but those are very small samples), which makes up only 10 percent of his possessions. His spot up shooting is bad though. Now let’s take a look at the play types that are indicative of a play that either is run for the player, or has the player initiating the offence. These include isolation, of course, along with pick-and-roll ball handler, post ups, hand offs and off screen plays. (These last two are pretty much the same thing, the difference being when they get the ball – before or after the screen. These two plays are the Raptors’ bread and butter as they run Horns quite often, though some of those plays get filed under pick and roll). Notice the pattern? Outside of post ups, he’s consistently inefficient, between 72 and 78 ORTG for isolation, pick and roll, hand off, off screen and even spot up shooting. As a note, only Vasquez is less efficient in isolation (he’s also done it only a third as much, in 20 more games). That includes JV and his 10 isolation attempts (80 ORTG). Only Terrence Ross is worse in pick and roll. Only Vasquez is worse in hand off situations (turns out GV is kind of bad). No one is worse in off-screen situations.
“A lot of the stuff we did the other night (in Houston) was (because of) physical fatigue but mental fatigue also. Some of the mistakes we made were very correctable,” said Casey. The Raptors have also been battling some injuries. Saturday, they struggled from the floor without the sharpshooting skills of Lou Williams, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle. In Monday’s late 100-97 collapse against the Pelicans, they were without small forward Patrick Patterson. The second-unit stalwart, and occasional starter, was out with a sprained knee. Raptors opponents have also been shorthanded. The Pelicans were missing Davis and his replacement Ryan Anderson, who were out with a sprained shoulder and sprained knee, respectively. The Rockets were missing perennial all-star Dwight Howard, sidelined since late January with an edema in his knee. (One common cause of edema, according to the Mayo Clinic, is prolonged sitting in one position. Houston is typically one of top flying mile teams in the league. Last season they were 10th, with over 40,000 miles travelled during the season).
Photo by LM Otero/AP
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Raptors head to Dallas following a stinker against New Orleans.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lowry played OK but forced shots in crunch time, DeMar was fine but played weary of driving, James Johnson was awesome, Valanciunas was very solid but mysteriously absent down the stretch and Amir’s ankles were a visible problem. That’s been the storyline too many times in 2015 to not be frustrated by it. Scheduling circumstances make it seem forgivable to concede a game played as the third in four nights on the road against winning teams. While that assuredly played a role, it conveniently ignores the fact that last night was a very winnable game that the Raptors let slip through their fingers.
Patrick Patterson was out for last night, and his absence was felt. His minutes were mostly split between Valanciunas and Special Agents Johnson and Johnson, no relation. James Johnson continued to play more than adequately during his time at power forward, driving to the basket methodically, using his body, coming up with a block and several deflections on defense and even hitting a three (and badly air-balling another, but shhhhhh). Valanciunas finally got the minutes that fans have been clamoring for him to see, and the results were impressive. 17 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block and 10 free throw attempts. Jonas dominated both Asik and whichever of New Orleans super tall, super awkward backup 7-footers they threw at him between Withey or Ajinca. The same cannot be said, regrettably, for Amir Johnson. After a solid first half that saw Amir playing an efficient role in the offence rolling to the basket with the ball off of high screens, his second half was a defensive disaster. Amir fell to the ground early in the 3rd quarter simply trying to follow a Dante Cunningham cut inside, his ankles betraying him. It’s worth wondering whether he might have sat for most of the second half in a game where Patrick Patterson was healthy. As it was without him, Johnson had a very hard time guarding Ajinca or Asik, both of whom holding considerable height advantages over Amir who seemed unable to challenge their shots or rebounding vertically and was a step behind helping on defense. I’ve been the biggest Amir fan boy out there; I’m not trying to damn a player I know to be a pivotal part of this team. But his being unable to let his ankles get healthy because there simply isn’t anyone to take his minutes in the meanwhile is most likely going to be a problem down the stretch.
Casey’s recognition of Amir’s restrictions is another issue. In a game where Amir was a -12 and Jonas was a +10, Casey pulled Jonas from the game with about 7 minutes remaining, and didn’t put him back in until the final minute when the Raptors had already surrendered the lead. Jonas was winded and worked when he came out, having already played 35 minutes by that point. I understand the substitution. The problem is the inability to think ahead enough to balance your minutes accordingly. Valanciunas demonstrated an ability to dominate the Pelicans bigs all game, giving the team their biggest advantage. He was also the only one able to contain the size of the Pelicans centres, something that opened a hole inside in their defense when he was out that not only surrendered put backs and rebounds, but also lead to the rotation breakdowns that created a trio of wide open looks for Babbit in the corners. Casey needs to be able to recognize that if Valanciunas is his weapon, he should probably organize his minutes so that he’s able to play the most important 5-minute stretch of the game. Minute distribution and lineup management has been and continues to be a big problem in an otherwise good season from Dwayne Casey.
It’s not a surprise that the Raptors would get outplayed in the second half of a game when they’re on their third in four nights. For what it’s worth, the team played great in the first half on both ends of the court. But in the second half, Vasquez made himself unplayable by forcing every opportunity he found for a shot, Lou Williams went cold and Patrick Patterson wasn’t playing. Ross was the only backup player that brought anything in the second half, with a solid defensive effort and a couple of threes. It was hard for the Raptors to try and steal a schedule loss type game without a bench to contribute anything for them in the second half. The bench lost the lead, and the starters simply couldn’t get it back. Ultimately, it’s frustrating but understanding. Understandable given the schedule and circumstances, but frustrating in that it’s reasonable to imagine that a little bit better lineup management and just a little bit more responsible decision making from the bench unit could have still snuck out a win. The Raptors are now 4-3, with one game left on this brutal stretch where they would have been happy to go 4-4, so there’s that at least, if you’re looking for a glass half full type rationalization to leave on a happy note.
Against the Pelicans, you could see why. In a lot of ways, Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans is like a smaller version of Brooklyn swingman Joe Johnson, the Raptors’ tormentor a year ago: He is very effective at using his backside to gain positioning, putting his defender behind him in pick-and-rolls. Evans did that against Johnson, but Johnson was often able to use his combination of size and nimbleness to get back into position. Evans shot just 5-for-13 from the field. However, Evans beat Johnson to the rim for a layup with 1:23 left that put the Raptors in a fatal three-point hole, and beat him again to set up Alexis Ajinca for the game-winning basket in the final minute. Johnson’s promotion was a move a segment of the Raptors’ fan base wanted for weeks before it happened. Yet there were reasons, beyond his shooting limitations, that it did not happen earlier. His tendency to lose track of the play when he is not guarding the ball can be, at times, problematic. “James, if he sees somebody else not doing something, he’ll try to help get the block,” DeRozan said. “He’ll try to go beyond what our defensive principles are. Sometimes he’ll try to make a play. There’s a positive in that: He’s just active on the defensive end.”
Casey didn’t use “embarrassed as he talked to the media after this one but he certainly wasn’t thrilled. “I don’t even want to hear about the next team that doesn’t have a player playing,” Casey said. “I think those other guys came in and played hungry. Their bench had 50 points (55 actually). That’s the worst thing you can do, play against hungry guys trying to (get their) opportunity in this league. That’s what they did. You talk about guys that are talented — Norris Cole and Alexis Ajinca came in and made their mark on the game.” Between them Cole, Ajinca, and Luke Babbit combined for 49 of those 55 points. For Ajinca it was his second beatdown of the Raptors. In the first win over Toronto, Ajinca had 22 points. Monday night he had 16 and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. “He knows where to be in his spots,” Amir Johnson said of Ajinca. “When their guards drive he is definitely in the right spot. He’s so tall he is able to hit that jump hook or jump shot.” As for why he seems to save his best for the Raptors, Johnson had no idea nor did anyone else in the Raptors locker room.
Without their star player and focal point of their offence, the bench saved the day for the Pelicans. While so many times this season the Raptors have been saved by their second unit, this time the Toronto backups were outscored 55-21, something made all the more remarkable by the fact the Raptors had Lou Williams back in the lineup. Williams, who had missed Saturday night’s 98-76 loss in Houston with a sprained ankle, was largely ineffective, going 1 of 8 from the field.
Coming off one of their most lopsided defeats of the season, they looked like themselves – the good version – throughout the first half. The league’s top defensive team over the span of their last four contests, they held the Pelicans – missing their injured all-star and MVP candidate Anthony Davis – around 40 per cent and did an equally admirable job scoring the ball. Then, just as quickly as the Raptors regrouped to begin the game, they reverted back to the team that was run out of Houston two days prior. Led by the likes of Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt, career journeymen, New Orleans hit 21 of its 33 shots in the second half, holding Toronto to 36 per cent, 2-of-13 from three-point range, and outscoring them 56-41 to complete an unlikely comeback. “Tough loss,” DeMar DeRozan admitted when it was all said and done. “We should’ve had that one, being up so much, should’ve contained the lead but they fought. They hit some big shots.” “This one was pretty bad. It sucks, especially coming off a loss like we had, to lose tonight, it was definitely tough.” The breakdown was in equal parts offensive and on the defensive end. The Pelicans hit some tough shots but took advantage of just as many good looks. Tyreke Evans and newcomer Norris Cole got into the lane, Babbitt found open jumpers and Ajinca had his way in the paint.
Dallas enters the finale of a three-game homestand at 2-0 after a victory Friday over Houston (111-100) and Sunday over Charlotte (92-81). … The Mavericks are 19-5 against the East. All five losses have occurred at American Airlines Center — to Miami, Indiana, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago. … This is the fourth game in six days for the Mavericks and the first leg of a back-to-back. The Mavericks are 7-6 in back-to-back openers. … Dallas won in Toronto 106-102 on Nov. 28 when Monta Ellis scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. … Amar’e Stoudemire contributed 14 points and three rebounds in just 11 minutes in his debut Sunday.
“I thought we got three point happy a little bit. We were shooting 21%. We were in transition, we have to take it to the basket starting in the fourth quarter. Again, you always have to drive it to the basket. We have to recognize those and some nights your threes aren’t falling, that’s when you drive it. We have to recognize that when your shots aren’t falling and you’re tight there. For whatever reason we decided to take some quick threes and they converted those.” – Dwane Casey talking about his team’s offensive woes in the second half
The part of the Pelicans’ performance tonight that should not be overlooked was the change in defensive intensity in the second half. In the first two quarters, the Raptors made 20 of their 42 field goal attempts, rebounded 10 of their 22 misses, and attempted 16 free throws (some a direct result of those offensive boards). The second half was an entirely different story, as Toronto shot just 35.7% from the field, including a horrific 5-26 outside of the paint. The Raptors missed a few open shots, but the Pelicans also did a much better job on the defensive glass, holding Toronto to just 6 offensive rebounds compared to 24 defensive rebounds for New Orleans. The result was only 5 second chance points for the Raptors in the second half, a crucial statistic considering both how strong they usually are on the offensive glass along with how thin the Pelicans were down low without Davis or Anderson.
Once again, the defense was going to have to come up huge. Never mind that it had already allowed 4 points in the previous 2:30. Never mind that the opposition sports the second best offensive rating in the league. Well, when you’ve got Omer Asik, it really is no problem. The Raptors final shot attempt, another one by Kyle Lowry, was a thing of beauty…if you’re a fan of Asik’s defense. Seriously, the Turkish delight not only stayed with a starting guard from the All-Star game, he swatted his shot attempt with ease. After a couple of Fredette free throws, Lowry was forced to take a difficult 27 footer to tie the game. It missed the mark rather easily.
DeMar DeRozan was only occasionally interested in attacking, and settled for a lot of off-ball action and fadeaway jump shots on his way to a 6-for-15 night. Amir Johnson had a great first half with eight points, but disappeared as the Pelicans made their run down the stretch, going scoreless in the final 24 minutes. The Raptors seemed to be in control of this one after the first half, leading 56-44. A sloppy offensive third quarter by the Raptors allowed the Pelicans to chip away, though, and a 10-2 run to start the fourth tied it up. From there, the vaunted Smoothie King Center fans rose to their feet (no doubt a delayed sugar high from all the strawberries and bananas), playing a role in making the finish that much more frantic. The Raptors will now play their fourth game in five nights tomorrow in Dallas before returning home for Golden State on Friday. Big picture, the Raptors are 4-2 on this gruelling eight game stretch. That’s not bad. Given the roster of their opposition tonight, though, this game has to be up there with the November 30 overtime loss to the Lakers for worst of the season.
Other than the individual performances of Valanciunas and James Johnson, the Raptors don’t have much at all to hang their hat on when it comes to the offensive side of the ball coming out of tonight’s game. The team shot a very poor 41% from the field and an abysmal 5 for 23 from beyond the arc. While shooting touch may come and go, the team has absolutely no excuse for the lack of ball movement. The team was only able to muster up a measly 13 assists for the entire ball game. The Raptors chance to take the lead late is a a microcosm of their performance. Kyle Lowry took the ball and went full ISO mode, only to get stuffed at the rim by Omer Asik. Finally, while forcing 17 turnovers is a great sign, only scoring 13 points off of them shows a lack of execution. Plain and simple.
Omer Asik was relatively quiet without Davis in the lineup—a fact that many would assume might kill the Pelicans. However, Alexis Ajinca kept the team afloat inside, offering a 16-point, nine-rebound performance in which he saw the team’s crunch-time minutes. With him leading the post, New Orleans saw its greatest stretches of success. Even with Valanciunas excelling in the opening half, Ajinca went toe-to-toe with him whenever on the court. With New Orleans’ frontcourt depth severely depleted, Ajinca’s big night was needed desperately. Though it was a team victory, it’s hard to imagine them pulling away without his services.
For their part, the Raptors have had to go through this gauntlet three times this year. They went 3-1 in November with games in four different cities (including Toronto) and 4-0 in January. The Raptors split a back-to-back set in Atlanta and Houston on the weekend, and travel to Dallas on Tuesday. In general, the Raptors have been very good on back-to-backs this year. However, competitiveness is not really the point, since every team battles a similar number of schedule quirks. Patterson was questionable to play on Monday because of a sprained knee. Teams are lucky to make it through the year with one or two of their rotation players pushing 80 games. On Monday, for example, the Pelicans were prepared to play without three of their starters. Some of that is injury luck, but it has been pretty definitively proven that the schedule is too tight for athletes to endure most seasons. Then, there is the quality of play. Think back to Saturday’s game in Houston, when the Raptors and Rockets, both on the painful end of a back-to-back set, combined to turn the ball over an obscene 50 times. “Something has to give whether it is the product on the floor or the players’ bodies,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “All we can do is make that known to commissioner Silver. He has been great as far as knowing what is best for the game. My humble opinion I think it [would be] good for the league and good for the game.”
If you want to get into Casey’s doghouse, not being ready to play when its time to start the game will do it. The Raptors coach was not a happy man postgame. “When you don’t come out in this league ready to play mentally and physically, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your behind handed to you,” Casey said. “Tonight we didn’t come out with the right mind set. They were the hungrier team. They did all the hard and grimy things that we did Friday in Atlanta.” Casey summed up Saturday night’s game in a nutshell, the Raptors were not physical. When they have trouble shooting from the floor, they have to play hard physical defense or they don’t have a chance to win.
There aren’t too many teams that can field a starting five with two seven-footers, but Mavs centre Tyson Chandler is seven-foot-one and star power forward Dirk Nowitzki is seven-feet. … Nowitzki is averaging 17.9 points and 6.1 assists per game. . . . Chandler’s averaging a double-double: 10.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
The Raptors’ defense hasn’t been consistent but the team has the third most efficient offense in the league, thanks to a high free throw rate and few turnovers. They attempt 25.3 free throws per game and draw a trip to the stripe on 23.5 percent of their field goal attempts. These marks rank them fourth and third in the league respectively. Dallas doesn’t commit a great deal of shooting fouls but they will have their hands full with the Raptors. Dallas will have to keep players like Lowry, DeRozan and reserve guard Louis Williams off the free throw line. And the Mavs will have to do a better job rebounding the ball than they did in that November meeting, when Toronto kept the game close in part thanks to 15 offensive rebounds.
Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP
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Pelicans missing three starters? No problem. Raptors blow an 18 point lead, and get swept by NOLA.
The power rankings are out and the Toronto Raptors are on the up and up.
The Raptors sure did miss Lou Williams in Houston, so it’s good that they won’t have to live without him any more:
The Toronto Raptors look to get back on the right track on Monday in New Orleans when they take on the shorthanded Pelicans at 8 p.m. on TSN.
There are several ways to look at the absences facing the Pelicans on Monday, and they paint a conflicting picture for the Raptors.
Jrue Holiday remains sidelined with a stress reaction in his right leg. The Pelicans are 4.9 points per-100 possessions worse without Holiday, one of their secondary scorers and one of the very best defensive point guards in basketball.
Ryan Anderson left Saturday’s game and will miss a few weeks with a sprained right knee. The Pelicans are 4.9 points per-100 possessions better without Anderson, but he’s a nice depth piece, most of that on/off has to do with him backing up Anthony Davis, and he and Davis represent an impossible offensive duo.
Davis also left Saturday’s game and will miss a couple of weeks with a bruised right shoulder, something that is becoming a bit of a longer-term concern at this point. The Pelicans are 12.7 points per-100 possessions worse without Davis, one of the league’s midseason MVP candidates.
The Pelicans traded John Salmons at the trade deadline. They were 14.3 points per-100 possessions better without him.
Add it all up, and we’re left with only one conclusion: The Pelicans will never lose again because they’ve rid themselves of Salmons.
A week or two ago, Monday’s game looked like a potential schedule loss, the third of a four-in-five stretch, on the road against a potential Western Conference playoff team. While that’s a poor description of the Pelicans without Holiday, Davis, and Anderson, this team also can’t really be taken lightly.
Back on Jan. 18, the Pelicans stole a win in Toronto without Davis and Holiday, leaning on 26 points from Tyreke Evans and 22 from Alexis Ajinca, as this season continues to be all about former mediocre Raptors lighting the team up. They also hammered the Heat in Miami on Saturday despite losing both power forwards early on.
Likely because of the injury news coming down Sunday about Davis and Anderson, this game currently doesn’t have a spread or money line published (this is being written late Sunday evening), so it’s tough to get a strong gauge of how others see this game. It should certainly look like a win to the Raptors, and surely will be if they play like they had in their last four games before Saturday’s abomination, something that’s hopefully just a blip in an otherwise strong overall trend.
Here’s what the Pelicans should look like with all of their injuries on Monday:
PG: Tyreke Evans (yes, he’s been playing out of position at the point, and doing it fairly well on the offensive end), Norris Cole, Jimmer Fredette
SG: Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter
SF: Dante Cunningham, Luke Babbitt
PF: Alexis Ajinca
C: Omer Asik, Justin Hamilton, Jeff Withey
Out: Holiday, Davis, Anderson
It’s pretty clear that the Raptors need to make hay on the offensive end with dribble attacks, as the Pelicans are pretty short on quality man defenders. Asik stands as a nice back-end rim protector and a strong rebounder, and he should give Jonas Valanciunas some trouble with his post game, but for the most part this is an attackable defense. When Davis hasn’t been on the floor, they’ve given up 112 points per-100 possessions, a mark that would rank dead last in the NBA by a mile.
The status of Lou Williams will dictate how well the Raptors can execute to some extent, but even if 6 Man’s wonky left ankle keeps him out again, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should be primed for strong games. Patrick Patterson should have an edge at the times Ajinca mans the four, too, and James Johnson will have an advantage whenever the Pelicans go small and he shifts there, as well.
On the other end, it’s largely about stopping Evans, as the majority of their offense runs through his probing of the defense when Davis sits. Evans ranks second to only James Harden in the number of team points created off drives each game (13.2). Evans only shoots 41.7 percent on his drives but he drives a league-high 12.4 times per game, something that should be far easier to gameplan for without Davis threatening as a dive man or Anderson spotting up outside.
Ajinca provides some matchup issues because he’s an 8-foot big man who can shoot, but h
Real talk: I’m submitting this Sunday night at a little over 900 words and the plan is to double back for a bit more context when the Vegas line comes out and we know more about Lou Williams’ status, but failing that, allow me this. The Raptors should win this game, and as much as no road game, especially in the middle of a trip against a team with some decent pieces, can be called a sure-win, this is a prime opportunity to ensure a .500 record on a hellacious four-game stand. Dallas won’t come easy on Tuesday as they round back to full health and Golden State won’t be a friendly guest on Friday, and the Raptors could use a bounce-back after Saturday’s ugly outing. It’s just one game, but it should be one the Raptors are really up for after this same shorthanded crew stole a win in Toronto a month ago. A win would also give the Raptors 11 in their last 14, and even if some of those have been uninspiring, that’s one hell of a way to enter the stretch run.
Get after it, Raptors.
Will, Andrew, and Zarar (Oxford Comma, son) tackle a huge win, a disappointing loss, a host of Twitter questions, and wonder why people don’t die when they get dunked on. This, and a lot more on a PACKED Raptors Weekly.
You see Patterson isn’t interested in a career that doesn’t involve sports. He’s pragmatic enough to realize the playing part can’t go on forever but leaving the field of professional sports isn’t something that appeals to him. So when he signed with Excel Sports Management this past summer, an agency that just happens to be a founding partner of the Players’ Tribune, an opportunity was presented to him. The Players’ Tribune is a relatively new media platform founded by former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter that offers athlete’s a chance to tell their stories in the first person. There are podcasts, and videos, but what caught Patterson’s attention was the opportunity to write. “They asked me what role I wanted and I told them I wanted to be a contributor whether that was writing some things or whatever,” Patterson said. To date, Patterson has submitted three posts for the site, his most recent one (and the one he admits kind of blew up because it got so popular) on what it feels like when a professional athlete is traded. Patterson has experienced that twice already and as he points out in his story, it never gets easier.
When you come to the Game or see me out in the streets, Yell #WETHE3
— James Johnson (@IamJJ3) February 22, 2015
Masai Ujiri might be very smart, but let’s also remember that he constructed the Nuggets team that’s currently in fiery shambles (i.e., the team that just had to trade a first-round pick to get rid of JaVale McGee). And the greatest thing to happen to the Raptors in the past two years is Kyle Lowry, a player Ujiri tried to trade for a 2018 first-round pick. His two biggest moves have been dumping bad contracts on the Kings and Knicks, two teams on which, it turns out, it’s pretty easy to dump bad contracts! In the meantime, he’s had a very good team for two years now, but the rotation is too big and probably not good enough to actually contend in the East, and he hasn’t done anything to even try to change it. The Raptors are still in good shape, but it’ll be interesting to see when “credit for Raptors success” turns into “blame for Raptors shortcomings” for Toronto management.
[Masai has] had a very good team for two years now, but the rotation is too big and probably not good enough to actually contend in the East, and he hasn’t done anything to even try to change it. The rotation is “too big”??? That’s a problem how, exactly? As for contending; we’re in second place. That’s 14 of 16 Eastern teams looking up at the Raptors. Why do we need a change? The Raptors are still in good shape, but it’ll be interesting to see when “credit for Raptors success” turns into “blame for Raptors shortcomings” for Toronto management. How about “never”? Look, Masai isn’t perfect. I continue to worry about the front court, where the Raps are paper-thin. Our GM could have found some cheap help by now. Hassan Whiteside was on the scrap heap a few months ago. Why didn’t we sign him? Now he’s putting up whacky rebounding numbers for the HEAT. Tarik Black was on waivers. Why not him? That’s legitimate criticism, not the shallow noise Sharp cooked up.
Heading into the All-Star break, the assumption was that the top three seeds in the East would coast through a breezy first round match-up while the fourth and fifth seeds engaged in a bloodbath of a series, sending a very good team home early. But with the Miami Heat completing a blockbuster move to secure Goran Dragic, giving up only Shawne Williams, Danny Granger’s mangled knees and Norris Cole’s horrendous 38.6% shooting clip, the road to the second round and beyond might be slightly more treacherous for Toronto, even if they grab a top-three seed. Miami isn’t loaded with the kind of bench depth the Raptors possess, and they have been a banged-up bunch; only Mario Chalmers has played every game for the Heat this year. At the same time, even with the unfortunate circumstances arising around Chris Bosh’s health, a Heat line-up featuring Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Hassan Whiteside would present a host of problems for the Raptors in a playoff series. Whiteside’s presence on the boards (15.8 REB/36 minutes) and the scoring ability of Dragic and Wade from the backcourt are both elements that can exploit the Raptors’ biggest weaknesses over the course of seven games.
Even without Davis in the lineup, the Raptors aren’t taking the struggling Pelicans for granted. The biggest reason? The last time the two teams played, in mid-January, Davis was also out. The Pelicans won anyway, squeaking past the Raptors 95-93 at the Air Canada Centre. They’ll be using that home court defeat as motivation, said Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. “Especially the way we lost to them; I think it was a two-point game. It was one of those tough games we thought we should have won and we will be looking to redeem ourselves,” DeRozan said. The 95-73 drubbing handed to the Raptors by Houston Saturday night should also help motivate them, DeRozan said. “We got to be ready. If Anthony Davis isn’t playing or if they got their whole team we just got to be ready and understand that we can use the fuel from this game and this loss going into New Orleans and get a win,” said DeRozan.
The depleted Pelicans are going to need someone to get hot if they want to have a chance at stealing the win. Gordon, who is 2nd in the league in 3pt%, has been on fire since returning from injury. Amid all the injuries, this team will look towards him and Tyreke to carry the offense. Whoever can get hot has to keep getting the ball, e.g Ajinca vs the Raptors earlier this season shot 10-13 from the field.
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Slick ball-movement, hard-nosed defence, pick-and-roll precision, and two squads from opposing conferences going toe-to-toe in an all-out battle of attrition. — The Bulls-Suns game was awesome!
As for Saturday Night’s Main Event, otherwise known as the Raps falling flat in Texas, I’ll let Jerry and Kramer chime in:
A hideous performance, indeed. The unimaginable was almost even attempted by yours truly, as thoughts of switching over to the Leafs’ game were inching ever so closer. But then again, this humbling defeat held enough torture for one night.
To be fair, both teams came out excruciatingly sloppy. A grand total of 50 turnovers were committed, evenly split. But only the Raps prolonged their bad habits to the point of no return. So much promise was brought forth with an impeccable brand of basketball just one day prior down in Atlanta, only for that momentum to experience a letdown for the ages up in Space City.
The overall intrigue coming into this clash held plenty of compelling subplots:
- The salivating thoughts of AJ and JV exploiting Houston’s Howard-less interior.
- In the wake of Lou Williams’ sudden ankle injury, a chance for Terrence Ross to get back on track.
- How would Toronto contain James Harden?
Well, let’s break em’ down:
WARNING: In case you did make that Leafs switch, then proceeded to wake up at 2pm to the hangover this contest caused, all that vested interest transformed into heaping pile of false hope.
The tables were turned on that exploitation. As a 54-32 advantage in the paint came to the Rockets’ aid. Not to mention a 52-39 edge in the board department. Even more alarming when taking into consideration that both squads shot so poorly. Houston’s finishing act of 41.7 percent from the field only masks their first-half woes of 32 and 36 in respective quarters.
When 17 of those 25 giveaways take place in the first half, it only magnifies the lack of emphasis Toronto owns when establishing an early inside presence.
I’ve been critical of Sweet Lou in the past, but if the weekend is any indication, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this club is going to rely heavily on his secondary scoring for the stretch run. An 11-1 record when the 6th-man nominee leads the way has broken the seams of any small sample sizes.
However, tough love is still required when one is taking ill-advised fall-away floaters that eliminate any chance of positional rebounding. Half the time, Williams symbolizes the identity of this team: live by jumper, die by the jumper.
Which brings us to Terrence Ross.
As well as the assumption that all parties involved can now agree that his bench role should officially be considered full-time.
The decline is evident:
- 38 percent from the field over his last ten games, 15 percent over his last five.
- 8 free-throws over that same ten. For those who shun the notion that Ross needs not to venture the charity stripe, I’m assuming you’re content was his one-dimensional existence? He’s capable of so much more.
- But it’s not just the numbers, as they don’t tell the entire tale. The body language presents an overwhelmingly negative vibe. Timid through the offensive set, and jittery ball-handling to boot.
- The fact that a trade was not made is now in the rearview mirror. I get it, the future is set up to make a splash. But not only has that starting spot been taken away, the list of teammates leapfrogging the youngster in the rotation is growing.
- This overall team effort is an improper evaluating meter, but remnants of those characteristics were present once again in Houston.
- There’s still time to justify Ujiri having T-Ross’ back, but it’s dwindling.
- This is not to beat a dead horse. This is simply a call to action.
James Johnson: Making The Best of Bad Situation
The lone bright spot throughout this 32.5 percent team-shooting debacle. Not to mention the 24 points triggered off of turnovers. JJ has firmly made a statement that he belongs with the first unit. Book it for the rest of the season. Last night’s career-high 27 points and four apiece in the thefts and rejections department, is just the latest contribution.
Kudos can be handed out once again on the defensive end. Holding Harden to 4 points in the first half should be considered a monumental effort. In case you need a refresher course on why the Beard should be feared: Ranked 1st in PPG, 1st in FTA, 1st in Win Shares, 1st in VORP, 3rd in SPG, and 11th in APG.
An outburst was a given no matter who was on patrol. The fact that the Raps were miraculously within striking distance when his 16-point kibosh occurred in the third quarter just twists the overall dagger that much deeper. Ross gets a pardon on Harden’s patented step-back maneuver.
Switching back to offence, and dating back to the insertion to the starting lineup on February 8th, JJ is flirting with a 71 percent shooting resume.
The highest regard should go to his versatility. That drum needs to be beaten on an endless instrumental track. Cutting to the rim, physicality in the paint, finishing the break, and displaying that Raptors team-mentality even on nights when there is a lack of attention-to-detail elsewhere.
This matchup was not about winning. At this point in the season, considering a top-4 playoff spot is all but a guarantee, all this fan base should be focused on is the quest for a consistent effort on a nightly basis. Players may be analytical robots on paper, which are immensely important in terms of evaluation, but an 82-game grind gives the benefit of the doubt to taking nights off.
But to raise the “second night of a back-to-back” flag after such such an extended layoff, that excuse holds very shallow water.
I’m of the belief that a deep postseason run is in this squad’s future. On the other hand, if the discrepancy between future efforts is anything resembling this drastic of a drop-off, a Brooklyn-deja-vu will be challenging the Raps to a staring contest.
As for Patrick Beverly. K-Low mastered that routine all the way back at Villanova. He should know better.
Get mad, rage, do whatever you need to do to release that anger. A 37-18 record still resides, and the panic room remains closed. For now.
This always helps me, and as of this moment, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.
|Amir Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/-Had 7 rebounds at the half and made some uncharacteristically poor passes which attributed for 2 of the 17 TO’s of the first half.
I know people get on him for the moving screens, but I personally enjoyed the hard screen (he was called for) on Beverley who had already delivered a couple of cheap shots on Lowry. I keep waiting for someone to just lay Beverley out because he delivers the most cheap shots in the league.
|James Johnson, PF 35 MIN | 10-16 FG | 6-8 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 4 STL | 4 BLK | 2 TO | 27 PTS | -9 +/-Scored 11 of 18 first quarter points and even he missed shots in that crazy, sloppy rusty start. He had 16 of the 36 points at the half. Still, he was (as usual) the best 2-way player on the court. He also held James Harden to 4 points in the first half.
Only real positive on the court tonight. Scored 27 points with 5 rebounds and sweet intangibles of 4 steals and 4 blocks
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 3-5 FG | 5-5 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | 0 +/-Not sure why the team wouldn’t try to establish him inside early (he got just 2 shots in first quarter) given he was facing fellow Lithuanian Motiejunas who we’d expect him to get pumped to face. Still, he continues to look better defensively making me wonder if that light bulb has gone off.
He was 1 of only 3 Raptors who didn’t have a turnover in first half (Hansbrough, Hayes).
Felt he could have established more of presence, however he was in the upper tier of performers tonight
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 2-13 FG | 7-10 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 7 TO | 11 PTS | -14 +/-I’ve noticed he has a really nice chemistry with James Johnson and in the past few games he’s delivered some bullet passes to Johnson threading the needle. Of course tonight in this turnover plagued game he wasn’t immune to the epidemic coughing the rock up 5 times just in the first half (7 total) BUT he managed to get to the line 6 times and score 9 points so besides JJ, he was the only one helping keep the Raps in it.
He let Beverley get to him. Write it off as a bad game after many great ones.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 38 MIN | 4-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 5 TO | 10 PTS | -11 +/-He got hit and went down hard a couple of times early which made me wonder he was hurt but he was fine, just really rusty & sloppy like the rest of his squad. Lowry and DeRozan combined for 9 of the first half turnovers while scoring just 14 points between them (of which DeMar had 5).
Both Lowry and DeRozan allowed the theatrics, cheap shots and sometimes scrappy defense of Beverley to bother them but DeMar let it bother him more.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -17 +/-He started off terrible offensively which reminded me he didn’t play like his typical self versus Sacramento either. Unlike Lou Williams and James Johnson who get up to play former teams maybe Patterson pushes a little too hard for these games.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9 +/-We got something different from Tyler tonight… he’ll be on the Starters for getting a dunk wedgie!
Was it just me or was anyone else hoping Tyler would straight arm Beverley?
|Terrence Ross, SF 21 MIN | 2-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -13 +/-He grew up with Terrence Jones so I thought maybe the match-up versus his buddy would bring out the Hot Tub Time Machine high school rivalry between them. Jones got the better of him early, but at least he had 3 rebounds. He went to the basket in back to back possessions (got fouled by Smith without a call and then came right back and got the call. Progress?|
|Lucas Nogueira, C 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-Got on the court, has the same cool hair style!|
|Greg Stiemsma, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-So he plays in blow-outs in either direction I guess|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 22 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -27 +/-I barely noticed him on the court and I guess that’s a good thing, but the fact he was a team low minus 26 speaks for itself.|
He tried to keep calling time outs to settle his team and in the first half it worked since they were only down 4 after 17 turnovers and shooting 36% from the field. The struggles carried through to the second half. My biggest beef is what the hell was DeRozan who seemed off all night doing on the floor with under 4 minutes remaining in a blow-out?
Three Things We Saw
- I’ve got a migraine, so I watched this game with one eye open therefore apologies if I missed major or key plays. I’m lucky I could see anything, but with all the turnovers and sloppy play that probably was the one benefit of having a migraine.
- Rocket GM Daryl Morey is the main advocate of analytics (just ask Charles Barkley). Given that fact it’s interesting the Rockets under his reign have traded away: Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Aaron Brooks and Jeremy Lin and their starting point guard is PATRICK BEVERLEY!
- Sloppy, brutal, only thing worse than having to watch this game was the migraine that’s blinding me right now. The positive is they’ve won 4 great games prior to this stinker. Teams combined for 46 turnovers, YIKES. Hey you know it was a terrible game when I give scores this low. And does this mean Lou Williams is that essential to our team? OR was this simply one of those games.
The Raptors drop into Houston fresh off a satisfying team win last night in Atlanta.
That was fun! It’s good to have Toronto Raptors’ basketball back in our lives, and there is no better way to start the unofficial second half of the season then a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
If almost anyone had been asked to predict the top two teams in the East at the All Star break, almost no one would have picked Toronto or Atlanta, let alone both. Yet both have shown why they deserve to be talked about among the best the league has to offer, and each showed it despite some noticeable rust after an extended break.
Both teams showed some struggles from long distance (save for Lou Williams, but more on that later), but that has been a common theme during the initial games after All Star. Despite these shooting struggles though, the game had a great pace and was incredibly entertaining to watch. All-in-all, a great way to kick off the final drive toward the playoffs.
And to top it all off, Toronto demolished Atlanta and turned a four point halftime lead into a 25 point victory. Tough to write much about a game that goes that well, but here goes anything.
The Raptors came to Atlanta as the only team to have beaten Atlanta more than once on the season, and left it accounting for 25 percent of Atlanta’s losses this year (3 of their 12 losses), and 50 percent of their home losses (2 of 4).
Atlanta fans must have left the building last night fearing a playoff match-up with Toronto, as Toronto has by far given them their biggest challenges this year.
With that being said, Atlanta didn’t do much to help themselves in a game that Toronto ended up running away with. Atlanta shot a season low 33 percent from the field, their fourth lowest three point percentage at just 21.1 percent, and even shot 10.8 percent below their season average.
Much of Atlanta’s struggles can be contributed in part to Toronto’s defensive intensity, as the Raptors forced Atlanta into 15 turnovers, but it wasn’t just a matter of Toronto stopping Atlanta. The Hawks missed plenty of shots that they would normally hit, and Kyle Korver was the biggest example of this problem.
Korver hit just two of his 11 attempts from long distance, making last night the first time since 2006 that he missed at least 9 such shots. James Johnson did provide the Raptors with some solid defense on Korver, but plenty of these misses were wide open attempts. It was very weird to watch. I kept expecting him to turn it around, but it just never happened.
This defensive resurgence has been a theme of late for the Raptors after several months of struggling. Toronto’s last four opponents make up some of the toughest in the league, and the Raptors have made it look surprisingly easy.
Raptors last four opponents (LAC, SAS, WAS, ATL) have a combined record of 146-72 (67%). Raps margin of victory is 12ppg. Wow!
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 21, 2015
Last night was another reminder of Masai Ujiri’s heist this past summer, when he acquired Lou Williams and Lucas Noguiera in exchange for John Salmons’ corpse/expiring contract. Lou dominated the Hawks in a game that seemed extremely personal for him. Williams scored 26 points in just 24 minutes, while shooting 9-of-14 from the field and 7-of-10 from three. 70% from three!!!
While Lou was pivotal in helping the Raptors run rampant in Atlanta, it was DeMar DeRozan who carried the Raptors early as he scored the team’s first eight points. His game was simple and smooth, as DeMar played wholly within the flow of the offense.
Outside of Terrence Ross, it’s tough to find a negative talking point.
If the Raptors play even close to how they did last night, the rest of the season will be a treat to watch. With 30 games remaining the Raptors are now just 5 games back of Atlanta in the loss column. It may be a little bit too late, but the Raptors could make a final push for the top seed.
No matter what though, life is good for the Raptors, so let’s sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride!
Indeed, talking points might well be the end of us all. There may be no talking point with a grander tradition, at least for an ascendant team without a long history of success, than the statement game. Occasionally, they are referred to as measuring sticks — games that prove if you are a contender or a pretender. This is a seemingly endless conversation with the Toronto Raptors, particularly of late: Friday’s game, a 105-80 thrashing of the first-place Atlanta Hawks, was the fourth of eight against teams that are better than .500. (They are now 4-0 in the stretch.) Each win is a confirmation. Each loss is an indictment. As the season is 82 games and nearly six months long, a variety of statements, both positive and negative, is assured. Taken as a whole, it is absurd. “I do laugh sometimes,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, before throwing the assembled throng a lifeline. “It’s a good question. It’s a fair question. It’s 82 games. I’m from the old school: If you put too much weight on one game, no matter who you are, you have another one looming the next night.”
A huge part of the Hawks success has been their effectiveness in sharing the basketball. Coupled with that, as it has to be in order for that sharing to be effective, is the team’s ability to hit shots. The Raptors trumped them in both areas with 27 assists and a 45% success rate from the field. The Hawks totalled 19 assists and shot just 33% from the field. They also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 23 times, leading to 30 points. The three-point line, which has been the home for the Hawks regardless which building they are playing in, was more like foreign territory, going just 8-for-38 from distance while the Raptors were chugging along at a 43% clip (13 for 30. Williams led the scoring and the three-point barrage with 26 points and seven makes on his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. The win means the Raptors have now defeated Atlanta three times in four tries this year ,accounting for 25% of the Hawks losses this season. They also secured the tiebreaker if things come to that at the end of the year.
Toronto led by as many as 35 points, with fans heading to the exits early in the fourth quarter. It was a shocking game against a Hawks team that had been on a 12-game home win streak at Philips Arena before running into the Raptors. Their last previous home loss came Boxing Day against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors did it with defence, forcing the usually sure-handed Hawks into 23 turnovers, which they converted for 30 points. They also had nine blocks, including five in the third quarter alone. They did it with some sublime shooting, including 43.3 per cent from three-point range. Lou Williams led the way offensively for the Raptors with 26 points. DeMar DeRozan added 21. “You’ve got to give them credit. They were so ready to play. They really took it to us,” said Hawks big man Al Horford, who led Atlanta’s blowout win at the ACC in January with 22 points, but was held to seven Friday.
Although the Hawks missed a number of shots they’re used to see falling – particularly Kyle Korver, a 51 per cent three-point shooter, who missed nine of his 11 tries from long distance – Toronto’s defence was on point all night. They communicated, they rotated, they were active and ran out at Atlanta’s shooters, causing chaos in the third quarter when the game was broken open. As Kyle Lowry struggled through most of the game, it was Williams and DeMar DeRozan that stepped up offensively while others dug in on defence. That’s become their calling card, one they share with the Hawks. “That’s how it goes,” said DeRozan, who scored 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. “There’s going to be a lot of nights like that. That’s why we have the personnel like we do, because any given night any guy, whether it’s a bench player or a starter, can carry us.” With all their weapons, both teams are a nightmare to game plan for. Focusing in on one or even two players won’t guarantee your victory. While they differ in several facets of the game – no team has executed with the precision of the Hawks over the last two months – they share this quality, something that has assured their success in the midst of the league’s transition to parity.
After the All-Star break, and with no changes to their roster during the crazy trade deadline day, the Raptors came into this game looking to build on their strong three game win streak. The first half was a neck-and-neck battle between both squads. But in the second half, Toronto took off, scoring 28 points in the third quarter alone. Leading the pack was Lou Williams who scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting along with seven three-pointers. DeMar DeRozan had 21 points and eight rebounds.Toronto, having already defeated the Hawks twice this season, also used their defense to steal the game away. Williams had four of the Raps’ 15 steals. And, oh yeah, the team also blocked nine shots.
“The third quarter was rough … It was a microcosm of the whole game.” The visual images were more shocking than the stats as Toronto expanded a 49-45 halftime lead to 77-58. Korver also committed two turnovers in the third quarter as did fellow starter Teague (also an All-Star) and starting forward DeMarre Carroll. This was bizarro world. Early in the quarter, a Paul Millsap steal lead to a point-blank shot by Carroll that was blocked by James Johnson. Millsap rebounded, only to be blocked by Jonas Valanciunas. Moments later, Millsap blocked Amir Johnson at the other end. A couple minutes after that, the Hawks went 10 consecutive possessions where they turned the ball over five times, had two shots blocked, made one shot, missed three others and missed 1-of-2 free throws.
The NBA is a “game of runs” and while that is one of the great cliches of the sport, it was beautifully true in the first quarter. The visiting Raptors raced to a 14-7 lead to begin the evening, but that was just the beginning, as Atlanta followed with an 8-0 run to take the lead. From there, the teams traded spurts, with Toronto scoring 9 straight and the Hawks countering with 11 straight, and when the dust settled, it was (fittingly) a 26-26 score after 12 minutes. Following that comical lack of symmetry, the second quarter wasn’t quite as uneven, but the Hawks struggled to find their way offensively. In the first half, the Hawks shot just 38% from the floor and 29% from 3-point range, and with 11 turnovers on top of that (against just 11 assists), it was the moral opposite of much of the season’s success.
The Hawks trailed for much of the first half but never more than by eight points. It all fell apart in the third quarter. The Hawks scored just 13 points, a season-low for the third quarter this season. They shot just 18.8 percent from the floor on 3 of 19 shooting, including 0 of 8 from 3-point range. They had just one assist, had five shots blocked and committed nine turnovers. By the time the period was over, the Raptors led by as many as 23 points. The rout was on. “We just didn’t play good at all,” Al Horford said. “It’s hard to explain. I felt like we missed some shots there early in the third and got a little discouraged. You have to give them credit. They were so ready to play. They really took it to us.”
The Raptors’ offense was yet again predicated on isolation set plays and threes in the early going, but heated up in the second half, thanks in large part to the aforementioned Williams. Toronto finished the night on 44.8% shooting and hit a ridiculous 43.3% of their threes attempted (13-30). Living and dying by the three is Toronto’s bread and butter but the points in the paint (48) was a pleasant surprise. Williams, Lowry and DeRozan were the only members who scored in double digits for the Raptors.
“I think you have to give Toronto a lot of credit. They gave it to us good tonight. There are a lot of reasons that we didn’t play well. They are a big part of that so credit to them. We need to be better in a lot of different areas.”
“I think it’s up for grabs, honestly,” Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. “If you ask me, there’s no solid pick, I don’t think — in the whole league period, not just the East but the West as well. It all depends who goes out there and plays consistent basketball every single night. “That’s why I said that: Anybody can go out there and beat anybody.” Even though it might not feel like it, each team has something to fret about. The Raptors and Cavaliers are ranked 18th and 23rd defensively, respectively. Washington is mediocre offensively, and falls apart with John Wall on the bench. The Bulls are constantly injured. Even the Hawks — the beautiful, commendable, selfless Hawks — are fretting about their rebounding. All of which is to say is that each Eastern Conference team has pockmarks. The Raptors and Wizards might have more than their competitors, but they are not without legitimate hope.
Their stat lines are nearly identical this season, but Lou gets the edge in most of the advanced efficiency-based metrics (PER, Win Shares per 48, nERD) because he generally makes more out of his possessions (his free throw rate of .448 crushes Crawford’s .329, and his 55.8% true shooting percentage edge’s out Jamal’s 53.4% as well). Factor in the that the Raps are a full 7.2 points per 100 possessions better in the 24.6 minutes per game that Lou is on the floor, compared to the shocking 9.3 points per 100 possessions the Clippers are worse in Jamal’s 26.9, and the decision is easy.
While a player like Crawford may score slightly more per game, he does it by playing nearly two more minutes per game than Williams does and he does it less efficiently by shooting a lower percentage with less free throw attempts than Williams gets. Despite Lou’s 39% shooting and (sometimes painful) eye test he is a more efficient offensive player this season than Crawford, the perennial favorite, is. Here’s a quick efficiency summary of Lou Williams vs. Crawford: (via basketball-reference.com)
Patterson’s minutes continue to creep up as Casey has seen the effect his energy and effort can have on the game. He has even played Patterson at center in small lineups recently, although that is really taking the forward well out of his comfort zone. An undersized center converted to forward in his last year of college, Patterson has evolved into an excellent three-point shooter and it’s the skill he takes the most pride in, but it’s his defense that has made him stand out. Patterson is a big man that can cover the perimeter and has the speed, quickness and awareness to get back in time to influence plays made in the paint. “At the end of the day, shooting is what I want to be known for,” Patterson said. “There is still so much more I need to improve on, but as far as being a shooter, that is what I want to be known for, that is what I want to continue to get better at.
Cleveland is rising up as a contender, OKC is out for blood in their quest to keep that elusive eight seed, San Antonio often “turns it on” after All-Star weekend and Chicago is one of the East teams looking to move up in the rankings. If Toronto can survive those games as they have for the season so far, then they might be better off than I’m making out. The remaining 17 games on the schedule, then, are all against sub .500 squads who the Raptors should beat every single time if they’re locked in. They do have to play most of these games (11) on the road, but unless most of their opponents are looking to play spoiler in some way, they might already be looking ahead to the idea of tanking for a higher pick in this year’s draft, which contains some good prospects.
Terrence Ross will be back chucking up three-pointers as the starting small forward before the season is up. I wouldn’t be opposed to James Johnson keeping his current spot for the foreseeable future, but I don’t think Dwane Casey is thinking along those lines. Opposing teams will put more of an emphasis on Ross around the perimeter than they would Johnson. No one would complain if Ross got his job back, but Johnson wound up with more minutes and more playing time near the end of games.
The Rockets are also on the second leg of a back-to-back, having faced intrastate rival Dallas on the road Friday night. . . . This game could mark the home debut of Pablo Prigioni and K.J. McDaniels, picked up by the Rockets in a pair of deals at Thursday’s deadline.
Oh, and is #WeTheNorth still a thing? Aren’t Raptors fans tired of it? I’m not even a Raptors fan and I feel like I see that everywhere to the point where it’s annoying. It’s like a Cliff Paul commercial, only it doesn’t completely suck and make me want to pop open a vein. But that’s a different story. As for a prediction, I expect Houston to claw their way to a win. The Raptors are riding high and have the kinds of players that could kill the Rockets, but I’ve predicted a lot of losses lately and it hasn’t helped. The reverse jinx is over. We’re almost at the point where we’ll need cheerleaders to get us back on track.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The Raptors had a little extra motivation heading into their big win in Atlanta. Speaking after blowing out the Hawks, several players spoke about how the previous loss in Toronto had them geared up for this one.
Lou Williams on how much the win meant:
A lot. Any time you lose to a team, especially the way we did lose to them. We lost to them big at home.
It was one of those games where we felt we were embarrassed on our home court, so we wanted to come out and play with that on our minds.
Amir Johnson on whether this win meant a little bit extra:
Absolutely. They’re at the top. We beat them a couple times already but we definitely wanted to pay back for that time they beat us in our house. Feels good, feels good every time.
DeMar DeRozan on the win:
It means a lot, especially against the #1 team in the Eastern conference, and the run they’ve been having. And especially after how they beat us last time we played them. So it definitely meant a lot, and we just tried to come out and be aggressive.
The Raptors are now 3-1 against the league-leading Hawks this season, and remain 5 1/2 games back in the East.
You read that score right.
- Record: 36-17 (8-2)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 112.2 ORTG (2)
- 107 DRTG (20)
- 93 Pace (20)
- 73.2 DRB% (24)
- 0.555 TS% (5)
- Kyle Lowry 18.6 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.6 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7.2 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg
- Record: 43-11 (7-3)
- Eastern (1)
- Southeast (1)
- 109.8 ORTG (6)
- 102.8 DRTG (6)
- 93.8 Pace (16)
- 73.6 DRB% (21)
- 0.57 TS% (2)
- Jeff Teague 17 ppg
- Paul Millsap 7.9 rpg
- Jeff Teague 7.5 apg
- Al Horford 1.3 bpg
- Paul Millsap 1.8 spg
Oh, yes. They also play basketball in the NBA. After one of the most head spinning NBA trade deadlines in recent memory that the Raptors (and Hawks) completely sat out, Toronto plays it’s first post-All Star game against the Eastern Conference leading (and 2nd place in the league) Atlanta Hawks.
Over the last 7 years, the Hawks have become the face of mediocrity, winning between 37 and 54 games and never making it past the second round. That changed this year, for seemingly no reason.
Despite returning with basically the same roster as last season, when they won just 38 games, the Hawks have become one of the leagues best teams. Yes, Al Horford is finally healthy, after missing most of last season with injury, but much of the responsibility should go to head coach, Mike Budenholzer, who worked his way up the ranks in San Antonio to become an assistant coach there and learning under Gregg Popovich, for 17 years.
Hiring Budenholzer was roundly praised, as he was widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the league. In his first year he had the Hawks winning until Horford went down with his injury. And while their record didn’t show it, this was a much better team than the one that played isolation-heavy ball under Larry Drew and Mike Woodson. Budenholzer brought the Spurs system with him and after a season of getting used to it, it appears to have sunk in with the players.
Atlanta jumped from the 18th rated offense last year to the 6th this year and the 14th rated defense to the 6th, and are currently on pace to set a franchise record for wins. Like the Spurs, they play a team-first style of basketball that relies on passing and cutting.
It’s hard to decide who is the team’s best player. They sent four players to the All Star game, but no one on the team averages more than 17 ppg. A case could be argued for any of the four players, including Kyle Korver, the lowest scorer of the four, because of just how much he he affects opposing defenses just by being on the floor, and he doesn’t even have to touch the ball to do it. It’s actually astounding.
It’s hard to say whether or not the Hawks are real contenders to win the title. In my article a couple of weeks ago, I discussed why this could be considered a ‘gap year’ which would work in the Hawks’ favour. If they played in the West (or if the Eastern Conference was better), they certainly wouldn’t have the record they do, but they’re still a very good team.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Will Terrence Ross Respond To Not Being Traded?
With so many rumours flying around about Ross possibly being traded, Masai Ujiri decided to stick with what he had, and keep Ross. Sometimes, this tacit nod of approval can give a player like Ross a mental boost and you will see improved performance after not being traded.
Ross’ problem is certainly not talent. He’s got the ability to be a very good two-way player, but has lacked consistency and aggression.
Can the Raptors Continue Their Winning Ways Against Winning Teams?
After struggling for a couple of months to win against .500+ teams, the Raptors went into the All Star break beating the Clippers, Spurs and Washington. If the Raptors want to make any noise in the playoffs, they have to learn to beat good teams on a semi-consistent basis (especially if they meet up with the improved Miami Heat in the first round).
Beating Atlanta IN Atlanta would go a long way to convincing doubters the Raptors are a team to be reckoned with.
Will Kyle Korver Hit A Three Point Shot?
Kyle Korver has the record for most consecutive games hitting a three, with 127. This year he’s hit more three point shots than he’s attempted from two point range and he’s on pace to blow away the all time best three point percentage in a season (he’s currently shooting .523). In fact, he’s on pace to become the first player in NBA history to shoot 50% from the field, 50% from 3 and 90% from the line.
There’s a reason that opposing defenses fear him despite the fact he only scores 12.7 ppg.
Atlanta sent four starters to the All Star game. You could certainly argue that Kyle Lowry is a better player than Jeff Teague (it’s debatable, but a worthy argument) and that DeMar DeRozan is a better player than Kyle Korver (I would argue no, because of what I wrote above, but it’s also a worthy argument), but for the rest of the starters, it’s not much of a contest.
While the Hawks starters are incredibly strong, there’s a reason they all play at least 30 mpg. Atlanta doesn’t have a bad bench, with some decent to good players, but the Raptors have one of the highest scoring benches in the league for a reason. Toronto has 9 players that play at least 20 mpg as opposed to just five for the Hawks.
Budenholzer isn’t in Popovich’s league just yet, but he’s still better than Casey.
Despite my last three predictions being wrong, I’m still at .500 for the season, so I’m going to stick with my gut and go with the Hawks in this one. They are the better team, are looking to get back on track after going 3-3 in their last 6, and the Raptors are playing them at home, where they’ve lost just 3 games all season.
Score: Hawks 118 – Raptors 112
The Toronto Raptors bet on chemistry once again at Thursday’s trade deadline, eschewing the chance to make any minor deals that may have been available and instead keeping the same roster in place that’s been here since opening night.
That’s an easy strategy to accept when sitting second in the Eastern Conference, especially given some of the realities facing the Raptors.
Realities like the fact that what could have been their best asset (Terrence Ross) completely depreciated its own value over the last three months. Or that there didn’t appear to be players available that would have moved the needle much in terms of the team’s expected outcome for the 2014-15 season. Or that the assets they could have moved – their own 2015 first-round pick, the lower of the Knicks or Nuggets picks in 2016 – are potentially more valuable than the return they would have brought (that, or I’m guilty of anchoring).
Looking at what happened with some of the names the Raptors were attached to makes the Raptors’ inactivity even more understandable. The Utah Jazz fetched a first-round pick, a second-round pick and cap relief for Enes Kanter, who was a bad fit in Toronto anyway.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 18, 2015
Kevin Garnett was dealt, but he cost a useful roster player and had to waive his no-trade clause, something it was said he would only do for the Timberwolves. The Pacers stood pat with David West, the Celtics with Brandon Bass, and the Bulls with Taj Gibson, with none of those names even popping up in rumors on deadline day. The Denver Nuggets got a good haul for Arron Afflalo and didn’t budge on a two-firsts asking price for Wilson Chandler, so Kenneth Faried likely would have cost the farm.
Today was a ton of fun. I’m beat now. All of today’s deadline action, with links to story/analysis for each deal – http://t.co/tCy2ArnQNS
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 19, 2015
On the buyout front, Amar’e Stoudemire landed in Dallas without much hesitation, it doesn’t sound as if Larry Sanders will play this season, and while the Raptors could have fit a veteran minimum contract in under the luxury tax line after waiving Greg Stiemsma (or anyone else), neither of those names were all that realistic. The Raptors can still keep an eye on the buyout market but it’s tough to think of a good fit that would be amenable to a quick stop north.
It’s easy to point to other deals and wonder why the Raptors weren’t involved – a second-rounder and Isaiah Canaan for K.J. McDaniels, are you serious? – but it’s rarely as simple as that kind of post-mortem analysis feels.
In making no moves, the Raptors don’t get any better or any worse, and their future flexibility and outlook remain unchanged.
That doesn’t mean the Raptors aren’t in a worse situation this morning than they were on Thursday, because they are, just not alarmingly so.
In shooting down a lot of Raptors rumors earlier this week, I wrote the following about why I would be hesitant to part with appreciable assets for a marginal upgrade:
I’d also be hesitant to surrender any future assets for anything that’s not a clear and demonstrable upgrade to the eight- or nine-man rotation. Not to be overly pessimistic, but the Raptors would be paying to move from “likely to win one playoff series and then lose in round two” to “likely to win one playoff series with a little more certainty and probably still lose in round two.” If a deal manifests itself that changes the second-round outlook, sure, but the deals being floated don’t really do that.
I would still classify the Raptors as “likely to win one playoff series,” but that status grew more tenuous on Thursday. The Raptors are likely locked in to a seed in the East between two and five, which just a few days ago suggested the rest of the season would be a fight to keep a top-three seed, thus avoiding the other top-five teams in a four-five match-up. The line of demarcation between the top-five and the others still exists, but the bottom of the conference has gotten stronger.
Taking a look at No. 6 through No. 12 in the East, almost every team made an acquisition or is set to.
Milwaukee (30-23): The Bucks are almost surely locked in to the six-seed, and they may now be the preferred opponent if things shake out a certain way in the next two spots. The Bucks are terrific defensively and can frustrate a great deal with their length, but Thursday’s swap of Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams represents a present-term offensive downgrade, something the team could ill afford. In adding Miles Plumlee (and I suppose Tyler Ennis), the Bucks improved their depth, and Carter-Williams has taken appreciable strides defensively, but the Bucks may be the least equipped of any playoff team to take advantage of the Raptors’ sometimes-porous defense.
Charlotte (22-30): The Hornets may have been left behind by Thursday’s moves, even though they added Mo Williams ahead of the deadline. They’ll get Kemba Walker back sometime during the stretch run, but they may have lost their hold on a playoff spot by that point. Even at full health, and even with their track record of having the Raptors’ number, this would be one of the preferred match-ups for Toronto.
Miami (22-30): If the idea of Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh running pick-and-pops ad nauseam while Dwyane Wade lurks off the ball doesn’t terrify you, you have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to the Raptors’ defense. Two future firsts is a steep price, and the loss of Danny Granger and Shawne Williams will hurt their depth some, but this team is built for the now, and their window is now open a crack further. The paucity of depth – that could be aided through the buyout market, as Miami’s a popular destination – and lack of contingency for any injury to Dragic, Bosh, or Wade leave the Heat on shaky footing in the big picture, but for seven games they’d be pretty scary. Related: Hassan Whiteside.
Brooklyn (21-31): Oh good, Joe Johnson is still around. The Nets probably aren’t good enough to steal one of the final two playoff spots, but if they do, Thad Young would have more utility against Toronto than Garnett would. Given the Nets-inspired skeletons in the Raptors’ closet, even their certain favorite status in such a season would have us all quietly terrified. This is unrelated, but how fun is Garnett returning to Minnesota?
Not sure if I want Rubio, Wiggins or Shabazz in the Marbury spot in the 2015 re-shoot more pic.twitter.com/HCJ0AYQ3gt
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 20, 2015
Boston (20-31): The Celtics would probably prefer to miss out on the playoffs given their long-term goals, but adding Isaiah Thomas should help balance the offense-defense dynamic in the guard rotation. Boston plays really hard and can be a frustrating opponent, one that could at least wear the Raptors down some heading into round two.
Detroit (21-33): It looked as if the Pistons’ playoffs hopes died when Brandon Jennings went down for the season, but their post-Josh Smith momentum was given new life at the deadline. The Pistons gave up a pair of second-round picks, the bane of my existence in D.J. Augustin and a decent depth wing in Kyle Singler to land Reggie Jackson from the Thunder. I’m not a huge fan of the Jackson at the numbers being thrown around for his potential restricted free agency this summer, but for now, this is a low-cost move that stands as a significant upgrade for the Pistons. The Raptors would still be a favorite, but the Pistons are back on the radar as a possible opponent.
Indiana (21-33): The Pacers stood pat, likely because of the reports that Paul George could return in the middle of March, adding a recovering All-Star to their roster for the final 15 games or so. George likely won’t be his old self in time to lift the team’s offense where it needs to be, but Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert have kept the defense respectable in George’s stead. A rounding-into-form George and this defense would at least be a concern.
None of this is to say the Raptors are no longer a favorite to make the second round of the playoffs. They are, and like I was before the season, I remain confident they’ll win a playoff series for the second time in franchise history. I also still believe they’d beat Washington in a four-five match-up or if the Wizards sneak into round two (they’re a terrible matchup for the Bulls if that lands four-five), though I’m more pessimistic about showdowns with Atlanta, Cleveland, and Chicago.
All of this is just to say that several potential first-round matchups now look more daunting. The Heat – the likely seven-seed now – in particular have moved themselves from tough out to appreciable threat in round one, and many of the potential eight-seeds are a little better than they were 24 hours ago.
But hey, there’s a reason the Raptors felt confident sticking it out with the roster as is. This is a pretty good team, one that appeared to be finding a nice groove again before the All-Star Break and one that should see DeMar DeRozan round back into top form eventually. There’s no cause for hand-wringing over the lack of a deadline deal.
Thoughts on post trade deadline: Happy or disappointed that Masai didn’t do anything to change the team’s dynamic?
By doing nothing as Thursday’s trade deadline, the Raptors probably hurt their odds of winning one series. At least one potential opponent — Miami, who acquired Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns — got better in the short-term. Milwaukee, another potential matchup, got even longer and more athletic (but not necessarily better) by trading Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. And the Raptors did nothing to make a victory over Cleveland, Chicago or Washington, should they end up in the 4-5 series, more likely. These Raptors are capable, as currently assembled, of winning a first-round series. It is a proposition, however, that is not as certain as their 36-17 record would indicate. In the words of Casey and general Masai Ujiri, a message became clear: winning one series this year is not essential. Ujiri’s vision, even if the Raptors should repeat as first-round losers, goes far beyond this season.
For me, no,” he said. “It’s not kind of how I think or operate. We’ve made a commitment I think, trying to give this group a chance and then we are a summer team I think. In summer, you can do more due diligence. You can study more and you have a little bit of (cap) space, you have guys to re-sign, you have the draft. We have future picks … I think we have good placement for now and then in the summer we will evaluate again.”
He said sitting second in the Eastern Conference at 36-17 is a good position. Even with the East down this season, he wasn’t tempted to make a move for short-term gain. “Teams are going to get better in the East,” Ujiri said. “That’s why we have to build a program here that is going to sustain long term.” Ujiri said he didn’t want to mess with the Raptors’ chemistry now, and would re-evaluate again in the summer.
Ujiri and the team’s front office staff fielded calls in the hours leading up to the deadline, garnering interest in some of their young players, draft picks and expiring contracts but, ultimately, they opted for continuity, a philosophy they have emphasized throughout the last 12 months. “We feel confident in this team in terms of growth, in terms of growing,” Ujiri said. “We’re still a long ways away, we understand that, but a lot of things that were put in front of us were things that maybe… makes you slightly better now, but it also takes away from younger guys continuing to grow.” “We felt it wasn’t the time. Yeah, a vote of confidence to our players, team, coach. Keep plugging away.”
“We believe in Terrence, I’ve said that all along,” Casey said. “Just because he’s coming off the bench right now, he’s still a big piece of what we’re doing, he and (Jonas Valanciunas) both. Because he wasn’t moved, any of our guys who weren’t moved, means we still believe in them and still want to see them grow.” Whether that is the long term plan or a stay of execution until the next trading window comes open in the summer, only Ujiri can know for sure. If nothing else, Ross and every other would-be trade chip in the organization has been given a platform to make their case for long term employment over the next 21/2 months. “We’re going to have to make some decisions at the end of the year of who is going to be here, who’s not, or if we have to make any moves at all,” Casey said. “But it’s up to our guys and this is a great platform for them to show what they can do. We’re making a commitment to them as an organization so in turn (they need to) give it to us and take us as far as we can go this year.”
Toronto wasn’t alone in standing pat. In fact, the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers were quiet also quiet as Thursday’s deadline passed. The Washington Wizards made a minor move, swapping Andre Miller for Ramon Sessions. The big trades in the Eastern Conference came further down the standings. Most notably, the Miami Heat picked up point guard Goran Dragic while the Milwaukee Bucks sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix in a three-team deal and received Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia and Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis from the Suns. Two of Toronto’s potential first round opponents just got better.
When I started getting to know Toronto, I fell in love with the city. If you come here, you will too. When free agency rolled around, I explored my options, but ultimately it wasn’t a hard call to remain in a Raptors uniform. I knew I was a part of something special here. I learned a lot about the business of the NBA from these experiences, and a lot about myself. You’re not going to immediately love everything about a new job. But you still have to go to work every day and do your best. The less time you spend concerned with circumstances beyond your control, the more time you have to adjust and adapt. This I learned the hard way. Out of respect, I think NBA teams should let players know if they might potentially be involved in a trade. Yes, the NBA is a business, but I think that would be a better way to treat its employees. If you told me two years ago that I’d be a Toronto Raptor, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am, freezing my ass off, smiling and winning basketball games. I’d call that a fair trade.
As a realist Raptors fan, I’m all but assured that Toronto’s current roster would lose to Chicago or Cleveland in a seven-game series. As for Washington, the Raptors have played them 3-0 this season, but the Wizards played through Nene and Marcin Gortat far more in last year’s playoffs than they do now. If they go that way again, in the slower pace of the playoffs, Toronto’s lack of frontcourt depth could sink the ship. I have hopes Toronto could win against Washington, but I’m certainly not convinced. So, if the Raptors want to meet their goal, the ideal is to hold on to a top-three seed and avoid Washington, Cleveland or Chicago in the first round. That too raises an interesting conundrum, though – of those bottom three teams, who would we rather play? There are five teams I think are most likely to take the six through eight seeds. The Raptors have had varying success against them this season, for many different reasons.
The all-star break wasn’t much of a rest for the Atlanta Hawks. Four of their five starters were on the Eastern Conference roster in New York. The odd man out? DeMarre Carroll. . . . Kyle Korver leads the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, with a gaudy 52.3 per cent mark from beyond the arc.
After an 89-88 loss to Boston in its final game before the break Feb. 11, Atlanta will try to avoid its first back-to-back losses since mid-November. It’s looking for a 13th straight home win, which would give the club its longest such streak since a 20-game run in the 1996-97 season. ”We were just going through the motions, weren’t really playing hard,” forward DeMarre Carroll said of the loss to the Celtics. ”So that’s what happens when you take any NBA team not seriously.” The Hawks aren’t likely to make that mistake against Atlantic Division-leading Toronto (36-17), which is seeking its first five-game road win streak since Nov. 14-Dec. 1, 2001. The Raptors, with an NBA-high 14 1/2-game division lead, were also quiet at the trade deadline after winning nine of 11 en route to the best record at All-Star weekend in the team’s 20-year history.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Why Masai Ujiri bypassed the trade deadline without making a major move.
As one scrolls through the Republic’s Morning Coffee, it will quickly sink in that today officially holds the potential for a substantial change in the Raps’ roster. The NBA trade deadline has finally arrived, and it undoubtedly holds more significance to this city than in years past. This just got real.
But Will That Reality Rise To The Surface?
The odds of Toronto staying quiet (or simply making minor adjustments) as the clock ticks towards 3pm are quite favourable, so be prepared for an uneventful Thursday full of expiring-contract tweaks and Radio/TV filler. Although the latter won’t need much in the way of preparation.
- For a more in-depth look at Masai Ujiri’s recent statements, which have led us to believe the Raptors will be minimal participants, William Lou has you covered.
- If you want to get creative, and are not employed by this city’s Fun Police, Tim W. has your fix.
- In respect to salary cap implications and overall options attached, Ryan McNeill can be your guide.
- Ross supporters can also get their kicks with Garrett Hinchey’s take on why he should not be dealt.
- To catch up on all the supposed big-man rumours, Blake Murphy is out of his meeting, he will see you now.
Living In The Moment:
When whispers around the league quickly transform into downplaying by the powers that be (shocker, I know), the main focus should be able to shift to this club’s upcoming opponents. The beginning of a stretch run that features clashes with the league’s elite in four of their next five games. Not to mention the opportunities for redemption along the way against the likes of Atlanta and Golden State.
A 36-17 record should be celebrated. Hell, this squad is on pace for its best record in franchise history. So feel free, drinks are on the house. But the previously embarrassing run-ins with each Conference leader have displayed the ugly side of Toronto’s season. And make no mistake, one does exist.
But let’s pump the breaks for a second. This wouldn’t be the first time a team’s upper-brass followed up a statement of team direction with shifting gears altogether. This is also not the fan base’s first trade-deadline rodeo. But to Ujiri’s credit, one has to respect his ability at keeping team-intel close to the vest. Predictability is never fruitful on a day like this. There’s only enough room for one T-Ross in this organization.
Van Gundy Casey and company can get back to on-court business, Ujiri has the floor.
Assets Realistically In Play:
The Demarcus Cousins pipe-dream probably won’t occur, but optimism is recommended!
A slew of impending Unrestricted Free Agents reside on this roster. Let’s count them down from the level of impact currently provided along with the likelihood of leaving town:
- Biggest Attributes: A tireless worker at both ends, and one of the Raps’ better pick-and-roll enforcers.
- Biggest Drawback: The concerning downward trend in his Rebounds Per 36 minutes. His last three seasons: 9.5, 8.2, 7.7.
- Odds of leaving: Below 50 percent. A re-signing remains probable with the lack of troops up front.
- Biggest attributes: A potential game-changer anytime he steps on the court with the ability to compensate for any poor shooting from the starting unit.
- Biggest Drawbacks: That ability can also be his downfall, as the heat-check gods have possessed Sweet Lou one time too many. Which leads to unwarranted attempts and easy transition opportunities going the other way.
- Odds of leaving: Slightly above 50 percent. The much ballyhooed future cap space won’t be as flexible if the Raps are looking to retain both AJ and Williams. One of them is not built for this team’s future.
Tyler Hansbrough – Landry Fields – Chuck Hayes:
- Biggest attributes in order: Toughness, defence, and locker room presence. A show of respect to what these three bring to the table in limited time on the court is overdue. However, no tears will be shed if come Friday they’re all breaking in new colours. Ok, a few for Chuck. As the chemistry of this squad is the underrated glue holding it together.
- Biggest drawbacks: The negatives on the offensive end simply outweigh the intangibles brought elsewhere. Not to mention Fields’ unfortunate battles with nerve damage to his hands.
- Odds of leaving: All above 60 percent.
Now It’s Time For The Star Of The Show:
Speaking of the rumour mill. If any move of notable substance is made, look for T-Ross’ name to take center stage. The once untouchable “fan favourite” could be packing his bags by lunchtime.
Even the impenetrable nature of the pro-Ross camp is now experiencing moments of doubt when surveying his decline in production. Well, at the very least, Ross’ fandom is rapidly morphing into a realm of impatience.
This possible trade scenario presents a few dilemmas for management and fans alike. Is it too early to ship the third-year pro out of town? As amidst the bouts of inconsistencies, flashes of top-tier talent have been in attendance.
Has the opportune chance to move Ross faded? With Ross’ value at a career-low, the principles of asset management would be working against this organization.
Suspect Stats: (Otherwise known as re-enacting episodes of Lost)
- Offensive Win Shares last season: 2.0, this season: 0.9
- Defensive Win Shares last season: 2.2, this season: 0.8
- Overall Win Shares last season: 4.2, this season: 1.7
- Free-Throws: A grand total of 8 over his last 10 games. And six of those contests resulted in a goose-egg. A tragic misuse of athletic ability.
- “A box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player.” Otherwise known as Defensive Box Plus Minus. Not to mention being impossible to say five times fast. But it also holds a telling tale. Last season: -0.7, this season: -1.7
Charles Barkley’s side of the equation might just hold the reason why. Over the course of Ross’ rookie campaign, 91 percent of his minutes played were at the Shooting Guard position. 81 percent during his second-year growth spurt. Fast forward to what seemingly should have been his breakout year, and that percentage has dipped all the way to 24.
Ross may very well being staying put in Toronto, but it’s time for his three-spot role to be re-examined. Interchangeable positions for some, but something has to account for the damage done.
I never did catch the ending of that Series, did they ever get off that island? If not, T-Ross just may have been doomed from the start. Hey, the basketball overlords work in mysterious ways.
Nevertheless, let the games begin, and the drama unfold. May Kenneth Faried’s flight land on schedule for Friday night!
There is a bigger picture, though. The Raptors will have salary cap space open up in the summer — fare thee well, Marcus Camby’s cap hit — and only have Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Bruno Caboclo on the books for 2016-17, when the new TV deal could send the salary cap from $68 million or so to something like $90 million (all figures U.S.). By then, the Raptors will have hosted next year’s All-Star game, should still have general manager Masai Ujiri’s rock-star aura to work with, and will chase bigger fish. Anything that compromises those two windows wouldn’t be worth it, unless the Raptors can somehow conjure a star. And there isn’t currently a deal that would adequately marry the short-term and the long term, so Thursday isn’t expected to be quiet and polite. Marc Gasol isn’t walking through that door, Raptors fans. Neither is Kevin Durant in a couple years, barring some act of god. Miami, not being a fan of comedy and story arcs, isn’t repatriating Chris Bosh.
Rather strangely, DeRozan has proven to be a significant help to the defence, a fact Casey explained away by noting his tenure with the team and the coach’s systems. Per nba.com, the Raptors have allowed 102.1 points per 100 possessions when DeRozan is on the floor this year, and 105.9 points when he is off of it. This has been a trend all season long, before and after DeRozan’s injury. However, things have not been as good on the other end. Even if he had been healthy all year, it is questionable whether or not DeRozan would have repeated as an all-star with the season he is having. His player efficiency rating is just a tad above the league average, while his true shooting percentage — a figure that takes into account three-pointers and free throws — is the lowest of his career, despite never having attempted more free throws per field goal try. He is shooting a miserable 32 per cent on pull-up jumpers, a shot type that represents nearly half of his attempts. Last year, he connected on 36 per cent of those attempts, and relied less on them, as well. Which is to say, DeRozan can be a lot better offensively. “[There] is still another level to reach,” DeRozan said.
“I think that’s one thing that got us off to such a good start, continuity,” Casey insisted after Wednesday’s long practice. “The theme of today was to continue to get better. No matter what happens these next 29 games, every time we walk in the gym, whether it’s shoot-around, practice, we’ve got to get better.” Some may contend that the Raptors have a unique opportunity to swing for the fences this season in a wide open conference and having all but wrapped up their division. But the danger in going out to get that “missing piece”, assuming he’s out there, is it will more than likely come at the expense of the team’s prized chemistry and/or its promising future. “Masai has got to make the decision as far as what’s going to make the team better and for us to continue to grow as a team,” Casey said. “You don’t want to sell the farm to win a series this year. We’ve still got to look at the big picture. That’s the thought process going into the trade [deadline].”
Nurse is in his second season with the Raptors, and like many coaches in his role across the league, he fulfills his duties in relative anonymity. Everyone is familiar with the players, the head coach and—in Toronto’s case—the general manager, but assistants are also crucial to a team’s success, especially in making sure their team is prepared for its next opponent. Their path to the NBA isn’t as celebrated as the players, who are written about extensively from a very early age, but making it to basketball’s biggest stage requires the same blend of hard work and dedication. Nurse’s story is a great example.
think he’s the player that you see. Do I think he’s shot will always be this reliable? Probably not, but he’s under contract for the next 2 years, and should be a good big for us off the bench. I think what you’re trying to get at is if he’s a starter? I don’t see it. He’s better coming off the bench and spreading the floor. He’s a nice change of pace big for us. I think a lot of times we overvalue our bench players and believe they all can be starters. Sometimes an orange is really just an orange. It might be the tastiest orange you’ve ever had, but doesn’t change what it is.
It will be on /r/nba just giving y’all a heads up!!
So that leaves us with Atlanta and Toronto in the Conference Finals. Toronto leads the season series 2-1, but Atlanta took the last meeting in Toronto by 21 points. The Raptors have an advantage on the offensive end of the floor, as they boast the league’s second-best offense, compared to the Hawks’ sixth-best. But, defensively the Hawks are far superior as they rank sixth in the league in Defensive Efficiency. According to the numbers, chalk holds and the Hawks, who have an 18.0% chance to win the title, head to the Finals.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Fans of the Toronto Raptors were whipped into a frenzy earlier this week when Zach Lowe write in-depth about who the Raptors could move or add at the trade deadline.
When Lowe brought up names like Kevin Garnett, David West, Enes Kanter, Kenneth Faried, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Gerald Green, it got fans excited about adding those kinds of players to the roster.
What was lost in the hysteria is that Lowe buried this in the first paragraph of the section on the Raptors when talking about Masai Ujiri: He vowed that he would not do any trade that sacrificed even a small piece of the future for a one-season upgrade.
It’s the smart move by Ujiri not to go all in this season despite being tempted by the Eastern Conference being there for the taking. Ujiri has been wise to go with a slow, sustainable rebuild of the franchise and he won’t get greedy and make a foolish move leading up to the trade deadline to risk this season being Toronto’s only season to make noise in the playoffs.
Where things could get interesting – and it might result in Ujiri swinging for the fences – is if he feels despite having a lot of cap room in 2016, players won’t look at Toronto because the salary cap is going to bounce up approximately 30 million dollars and “flashy” franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and New York Knicks will be able to steal some of the players Toronto would normally have a chance with.
In that case, making a trade for a player like Faried makes sense. It also fits the mold of not renting a player, rather adding a piece that will be with the franchise for an extended period of time.
Toronto has expiring contracts like Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Fields is likely a player Toronto would be willing to part with (despite his cap room being valuable this summer), but Chuck Hayes still plays a huge role in the locker room and can be a defensive presence when called upon.
Amir Johnson starts for this team but he has a cap hold this summer so it’s possible, but not likely, Toronto packages him with a player or draft pick.
Lou Williams is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award, so there’s little chance he’s moving anywhere.
Fields is one of the few players likely to be moved in a smaller, minor deal. Two trades that makes sense would see Fields traded to Boston for Brandon Bass’ expiring contract (another big man Dwane Casey could use) or to Utah for Enes Kanter. Kanter is intriguing because he would be a nice bump up from Tyler Hansbrough and as a restricted free agent this summer, Toronto could match any offer he gets if it’s a good value deal.
Terrence Ross has been linked to a lot of chatter and buzz, but it wouldn’t be wise for Toronto to sell him when his stock has been the lowest of his NBA career.
Clowns like Alex Kennedy who reports Toronto is willing to package Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross to snag a star don’t know what they are talking about. Any rumour you hear involving Toronto packaging both of those players you can write off as being bogus.
There’s also the good chemistry vibe that Toronto has right now. For some reason, when the trade was made with Sacramento last season, all of the players bonded and they started playing without egos. There’s the risk that if Ujiri were to make a move mid-season that Toronto could face a similar fate that the Indiana Pacers had last season when they traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner.
Fans can enjoy the buzz leading up to the trade deadline, but don’t get your hopes up too high for Toronto to make a big splash by the deadline tomorrow afternoon.
And, as Ryan Wolstat reminded fans, don’t believe some of the outlandish rumours coming out this week.
The reality is Toronto would be wise to hold onto their current pieces and wait until this summer to make a big move or two.
No blowouts, no practices on the horizon means no time for Caboclo to see the floor.
Looks like Terrence Ross is staying put.
The NBA trade deadline is a day away, and that means rumours – and speculation – are flying fast and furious around the league. Pretty much everything you read at this point can, as a rule, be dismissed out of hand (can anyone else not wait for fake Wojbombs?), with Raptors rumours fitting into this category more than most, due to the well-documented secrecy of the front office.
With that being said, one rumour does have enough credibility attached to it that it bears discussion in this space – that courtesy of Grantland’s Zach Lowe, who explained in his trade deadline primer that the Raps are listening to offers on third-year swingman Terrence Ross, possibly in a move for a veteran big like David West or Kevin Garnett. Lowe, generally, is quite reliable and doesn’t reveal information like this without some strong basis (I’m looking at you, Ric Bucher), and so, again, it bears discussing: should the Raptors trade Terrence Ross?
The cases for trading Ross at this point are academic, and numerous: after a promising second-year campaign, he’s disappointed in his third season. He’s found his way out of the rotation with the emergence of James Johnson, the addition of Lou Williams, and the expanding game of DeMar DeRozan. He’s still under team control for two more years at a reasonable salary, and has some promise, giving him value to trade partners. He’s a former slam dunk champ with a 50-point game under his belt who’s an easy sell to contending teams’ fans as a potential marquee late-season addition.
With that all being said, this is my plea, as a fan: don’t trade Terrence Ross.
It’s not that I fault Masai Ujiri and the front office for listening to offers on Ross – that’s their job, after all. I’d be disappointed if my general manager took anyone off the table, particularly a player who, at this point, has found himself on the outside of the team’s core nucleus, looking in. It makes perfectly rational sense to dangle your best/most expendable asset in order to improve a deep, contending squad.
With THAT being said, there’s another, perfectly rational reason not to move Ross: stock management. It comes straight out of Economics 101 and was touched on by Blake yesterday, but the general argument goes something like this: buy low, sell high. Masai’s done this excellently just this season with the Lou Williams trade (though, to be fair, the Bargs and Gay trades might make him the master of “buy low, sell low,” too).
If you didn’t get the gist from Blake’s column yesterday, the argument goes somewhat like this: Terrence Ross’ value, as it stands right now, is at the low point of what can be expected from him in the future. Unless the guy’s knees explode, he’s bound to, at the very least, keep up this pace of play for the foreseeable future (if not improve), at which point he’ll be far more valuable of a chip for the Raptors to move, if he’s still expendable. I expect that Masai has thought this far ahead, but the fact that Ross is even being thrown in rumours for a half-season of washed-up Kevin Garnett demonstrates just how far his value has fallen (also, unless you’re a masochist or hate Ross for some reason, why would anyone want to see him playing in Brooklyn?). On a purely economic level, this is not a good time to move Ross unless you’re desperate for the small improvement his current trade stock can give you (potentially bundled with picks and/or expirings).
“Fair enough,” you say: “we need that improvement. It’s got to come from somewhere.” Yes, indeed it does, say I, which is why a second important consideration that needs to be made here is the opportunity cost of moving Ross: the possibility that he is, without a doubt, the roster’s best chance for internal improvement THIS season (as opposed to the long-term improvement of the Brazilians).
I’m of the mind, as is most of the fanbase, that James Johnson has rightfully played his way into the starting lineup and should stay there for the foreseeable future, but a rejuvenated Ross could give the Raptors a fearsome bench trio of scorers with Vasquez and Williams – three guys who could, conceivably, lead their team on scoring on any given night, or singlehandedly shoot the Raptors to a win.
Ross has always been moody and prone to swings of good or bad, but last year, his game picked up after the All-Star break: his per game scoring average jumped a point and a half (from 10.3 to 11.8 – that first number drops to 9.5 once you take out his 51-point explosion). Out of all the Raptors on the current roster, he’s the only one of significance whose game could be expected to improve just given the law of averages, and if he can find a way to change his fortunes just a tad, consistency could be closer than we think.
This, of course, leads to the maturity argument, which is the crux of every “trade him, don’t trade him” argument surrounding Ross: the guy IS moody, slips in and out of games, and has been in the league long enough that his lack of consistency can hardly be considered a fluke. This, admittedly, is a tougher case to rationally argue against, but the counter theory is simply this: he’s 23. In an alternative universe, Ross is a rookie, and at this point in his career, it’s not as if he can be labelled a “bust” based on his accomplishments. I won’t drop a statistical comp, but there are good ones here to Jason Richardson and Paul George.
Put simply, despite Raptor fans’ collective malaise at Ross’ play, the guy is still a lottery ticket with a low ceiling and salary. He’s choosing door A or B, and Kevin Garnett is trading a choice to pick for the 500 bucks in Wayne Brady’s hand. Yeah, you could use the money, but, really, isn’t it more exciting to take the gamble?
And, of course, to extend the analogy, that 500 bucks is still going to be there at the end of the season, or next year, or whenever. But, let’s be honest: if the Raptors are really going to make a run this year, a consolation prize isn’t going to be the addition that gets them there.
But that Ferrari behind door A? Maybe that will.
There have certainly been tell-tale signs of a team headed in that direction going into the break. Wins over the Clippers, the Spurs and the Wizards were stellar at times, but it’s still not second nature to this group like it was a year ago. Atlanta will provide the perfect test Friday night to see whether that defensive improvement before the break was a step in the right direction of just another blip in a season that has seen the Raptors yo-yoing from good to bad to indifferent defence throughout the course of the year. It may also be interesting to see whether his first all-star experience has changed Lowry in any way. It’s no secret the Raptors starting point guard and leader has worked long and hard to gain that sort of acceptance in the NBA. Now that he has it, which way does he go. Best guess is it’s only going to make him stronger and more driven to make the next logical jump to playoff mainstay.
Kicking off their trip to the U.S. south, the Raptors face the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena, where the team’s four all-stars—Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver—have lead the way to 10 straight wins in front of their home crowd. The Hawks lead the Eastern Conference with a 43-11 record after racking up a perfect January, and are 6 ½ games ahead of the second-place Raptors (36-17). From Atlanta, they’ll through Houston, New Orleans and Dallas, where they will meet three more teams well above .500. They don’t catch much of a break when they come home, either: On Feb. 27, they merely have to face the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry, a top contender for league MVP.
For about a calendar year, teams were reticent to deal their own first-round picks. In October 2013, Washington dealt its first-round pick to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat. Then, a deep freeze set in, with no more 2014 first-round picks being moved. This year, things have opened up, if only a little bit. New Orleans moved its pick in the summer for Omer Asik; Dallas traded its pick as part of a package for Rajon Rondo; Cleveland moved its pick and a future selection for Timofey Mozgov; the Thunder funnelled their pick through Cleveland to Denver for Dion Waiters. Undoubtedly, the relative openness of the championship chase has made teams more aggressive. Would the Raptors do the same before Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline? The Raptors’ pick is all but guaranteed to fall somewhere in the 20s, where yielding a player of much substance is at best a 50-50 proposition. Or would they give up on Terrence Ross, with his value the lowest it has ever been, to improve the rotation?
“I would be shocked if we did something with Terrence,” Ujiri said Tuesday night. “Trust me. I can’t tell you more how I totally don’t think that would happen before Thursday.” It’s not that Ujiri is entirely enamoured with Ross’s play of late: He was removed from the starting lineup on Jan 19 and has regressed slightly both offensively and defensively this season. But Ujiri remains confident that Ross can provide what every team in the NBA needs: an athletic wing player who can stretch defences and who can guard their own position and perhaps one more. They’re hard to find, so Ujiri is loath to send Ross away for the crime of only doing it in spurts so far in his young career. “How many guys on our team can raise up and make a shot with someone in their face, like Terrence? They aren’t many in the league,” said Ujiri. “He’s had lapses on defence but that’s something you grow out of with experience. He is really a two-way player; he has ability to stay in front of guys, he can hit a shot; he’s athletic as hell and he can hit threes. Every team is looking for players like that.
But over the past eight games, DeRozan has had an awakening of sorts. He’s posted a 25.2 AST%, while keeping his always good turnover rate at a tidy 10 percent. In those eight games, the Raptors have gone 6-2 against some pretty decent competition (WAS twice, LAC, SAS, BKN twice, MIL; all project to be playoff teams, plus SAC who has been a matchup issue for the Raptors). They’ve posted an average offensive rating of 112.3 points per 100 possessions. That would rank second in the league. If DeRozan can keep this up, as well as rediscover his own offense (his true shooting percentage has dipped well under .500 of late), and the team continues improving defensively with James Johnson playing significant minutes, the Raptors could be in for a very successful second half of the season.
Modern day analytics says that long 2’s are a big no-no in today’s game, and the Raptors seem to believe in that, as they are in the bottom 10 in the amount of attempted long 2’s, per basketball-reference.com. Maybe it has to do with the decrease in shooting at the rim. After shooting a career-high 71.2 percent at the rim last season, DeRozan is only shooting 62.1 per from there. Not the worst of his career, but a pretty steep drop-off. One thing that has killed DeRozan’s shooting percentage is the amount of shots he has assisted. He’s had every 3-pointer he’s made assisted (mind you he’s only made nine so far this season), but his 2-point shots are a different story. He’s had only 44.6 percent of his 2-pointers assisted, a career low, and a far-cry from his career average of 55.2 percent. And, miraculously, despite 2 of their 3 leading scorers (DeRozan and Lou Williams) shooting under 40 percent, the Raptors are in the top-10 in field goal percentage, clocking in at 9th on 45.7 percent shooting.
Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Ryan McNeill joined Roger Lajoie on Sportsnet Fan 590 to talk about moves Toronto might make leading up to the trade deadline this Thursday, if Dwane Casey is the coach to lead the Raptors to success in the playoffs and what teams might provide tough match-ups for Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.
The NBA trade deadline is just two days away and the Toronto Raptors don’t seem likely to make much of a splash. That can be frustrating for fans to hear because the Raptors are 36-17, sitting second in the Eastern Conference and appear, to some, to have a legitimate chance to make a rare NBA Finals run.
The reality – call it an unfortunate reality if you’re in the crowd itching for an upgrade – is that there aren’t a lot of moves out there that make sense for Toronto. The Raptors have some assets in the form of Terrence Ross, all of their own first-round picks, each of their own second-round picks from 2017 onward and, of course, the lesser of the Knicks or Nuggets first-round pick in 2016, a major asset. They also have a handful of sizable expiring contracts and, if the right deal manifested itself, I suppose, Jonas Valanciunas.
As nice as some of those assets are to have, moving them doesn’t make a great deal of sense. You’d only move Valanciunas in a package for a serious difference-maker. It’s piss-poor asset management to sell at the absolute bottom of Ross’ value, especially with one more year of evaluation time available before you need to pay him. The Knicks/Nuggets pick is a huge bullet that shouldn’t be used on a minor deal. Their own firsts are likewise strong currency, and though I’d be amenable to dealing the 2015 pick – Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira will be de facto rookies again next year – the rising cap and steady rookie scale will make rookies much more valuable, in relative terms, at least for 2016-17.
I’d also be hesitant to surrender any future assets for anything that’s not a clear and demonstrable upgrade to the eight- or nine-man rotation. Not to be overly pessimistic, but the Raptors would be paying to move from “likely to win one playoff series and then lose in round two” to “likely to win one playoff series with a little more certainty and probably still lose in round two.” If a deal manifests itself that changes the second-round outlook, sure, but the deals being floated don’t really do that.
That leaves the expiring deals – which sadly don’t hold as much value under the current collective bargaining agreement, with so few teams holding on to cumbersome long-term salary commitments – and the future second-round picks, which limit what the Raptors can do. I’m not ruling out Masai Ujiri doing something under-the-radar and making a big splash, but the tea leaves that reveal themselves to me suggest the biggest deal the Raptors will make is an Expiring + Future 2nd for Marginal Upgrade deal.
I’m on board with a move like that, but I find the names being linked to the Raptors to be a little curious. Through various outlets, we’ve heard the Raptors linked to names like Amar’e Stoudemire (consider me skeptical this report was accurate), David West, Kevin Garnett, Kenneth Faried, Taj Gibson and Brandon Bass (which was a suggested destination, not a report).
Several of those names are offense-first frontcourt players, which wrinkles my brain.
If you were to make a list of the issues plaguing the Raptors, it would take a while before you reached a single one that focused on the offensive end of the floor. The Raptors rank fourth in the league in offensive efficiency and tops in the East. I could see the argument that a little more offensive balance would be preferred, and adding an additional post-up threat who can make plays from the elbow would help diversify a fairly predictable attack, but I’d hardly call the conference’s best offense an area where improvement is needed.
The price tag on Bass would likely be small, perhaps as low as flipping Landry Fields’ slightly less expensive expiring deal for Bass’, but he’s kind of a poor man’s Patrick Patterson. He’s not big enough to play backup minutes at center, he’s hit five threes in his career, he’s not a very strong rebounder, and he struggles defensively. For a cost of nothing, an additional depth piece makes sense, but I would be surprised if he saw run over Patterson or Amir Johnson.
Stoudemire remains a strong finisher in the pick-and-roll and a competent offensive weapon, but he’s never been good defensively and has declined from that never-lofty perch. He’s at least big enough to mascaraed as a center and would come relatively cheap, but he doesn’t fill much of a need and it seems incredibly unlikely he’d choose Toronto over the other interested contenders.
The price tag for Faried, both in terms of the assets the team would have to surrender and his four-year, $50-million extension that kicks in next year, would require far more evaluation than this article will provide. On his face, he’s a curious fit with the current roster but one with some enticing upside. His development has disappointingly stalled, particularly on defense, which makes a four-plus-year commitment scary. This is one to revisit in the offseason if you’re a Faried fan, not a gamble to make in February to win a playoff series.
The name that seems to have most fans intrigued is West. Nevermind that Indiana is close enough to a playoff spot that he seems unlikely to move, but there are two major sticking points to a potential West deal: The Pacers are said to have asked for a first-round pick in the past, and the 34-year-old has a $12.6-million option for next season that would effectively kill the Raptors’ cap space. Both of those notes would be acceptable were West still at his prime, when he was a 17-foot assassin and a strong defender at the four, but he hasn’t looked like that guy this season. He can still shoot the long two well, rebound better than Patterson and create for teammates better than any of the Raptors’ bigs, but his defense has slid, and that extra offensive weapon doesn’t seem worth the price tag. I’m not sure he’s an overall upgrade on Patterson and Amir Johnson right now, though acquiring him would effectively upgrade the backup center spot by sliding Amir Johnson there.
People have clamoured on Twitter for Enes Kanter, too, which kind of blows my mind. He’s an offense-only big who is atrocious on defense, isn’t a clear upgrade to the frontcourt rotation, would cost a fair amount in trade, and will be seeking to get paid as a restricted free agent this summer. If you mention Jason Thompson and that contract to me, I’ll punch you in the face.
If the Raptors are going to add a piece at the margins, the focus should be on the defensive end of the floor. Toronto ranks 18th in team defense and have often times looked worse than that rank would indicate. The solutions on defense aren’t exactly clear, with the team struggling in most areas without an obvious hole to fix or single element to hone in on, but a defensive-minded backup to Valanciunas seems the most logical place to upgrade, assuming they won’t flip Ross for a 3-and-D wing upgrade.
Garnett could possibly be that guy, were he willing to come and play a somewhat limited role. He remains a strong two-position defender who grades out well by advanced metrics like Real Plus-Minus and Win Shares, and opponents are shooting a respectable mark at the rim when he’s defending, though he doesn’t contest enough shots there to be a net-plus in terms of rim protection. I haven’t seen a trade framework that makes a good deal of sense for both sides, but at least a move like this would focus on an area that needs improvement.
Gibson would work toward the same end and would represent an upgrade but the price is likely to be high and his name hasn’t been in the rumor mill much of late. Another unspectacular but intriguing, defensive-minded name who could be available for Hansbrough, Hayes, or Fields and a future second-round pick is Darrell Arthur, but he, too, can’t really play center. Sure can play defense.
Someone should trade for Darrell Arthur pic.twitter.com/jznUScQuMC
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 27, 2015
Scanning the rosters of teams who could be sellers this week, there aren’t many obvious defensive frontcourt players on the market. That’s unfortunate, and I wouldn’t fault the team for eschewing filling a hole and making an upgrade just to make one, if the cost is low. But I don’t really understand the debate, hand-wringing, and excitement over some of the names floated, especially given the potential asking prices.
The most likely case seems to be that the Raptors stand pat with a flawed and inconsistent but overall pretty good roster, or they make a move we didn’t see coming. That’s really just fine.
The Pacers do want to make the playoffs this year, and the notion of their best player returning so quickly means that getting into the postseason is within their grasp. The idea of moving David West for Ross is further complicated by West’s $12.6 million player option for next summer. That’s a huge sum for someone his age that he is unlikely to sniff on the open market, so the smart money is West picking it up. So the Pacers moving him now for a younger player makes sense — if the team is in fact starting to prioritize, say, the 2017-18 season over 2015-16.
With Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to lead their frontcourt, and a plethora of wing players like Ross going through the rotation, the Raptors don’t look like a team in dire need of a trade. Ideally, they need another All-Star quality player to become a true title contender, but certainly not to the extent that a ‘panic trade’ should take place. Especially when there is no such talent on the market right now anyway. Even though Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson may not be the best big men in the league, they at least bring a certain level of toughness, size and hustle to make an impact. Or in the case of Patterson, provide some shooting ability to help space the floor (he’s actually shooting 40 percent from three-point range this year). That being said though, the Raptors are reportedly considering a trade that would send Ross to Indiana in exchange for the Pacers starting power forward, David West.
DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning shot against the Washington Wizards was further evidence that the Raptors’ all-star from last season has fully returned from the injury that kept him out for 21 games. Beyond his clutch play, the best indication that DeRozan is back on his game has been the number of free throws he’s attempted in Toronto’s last three games. DeRozan has taken 35 shots from the charity stripe in that span, converting on 32 of them. This stat is telling, as it shows that he’s regained his old aggression in going to the hoop that he may have been a little wary of before coming off a groin tear.
Both Derozan and Ross has a “secondary” value of either volume scoring or floor spacing that makes their teammates more efficient. There isn’t a conclusive way to determine which one is more valuable. However I do believe the “primary” value of Ross using 10 possessions a game at a league average efficiency is more valuable than Derozan using 20 possessions a game at a clearly below average efficiency, therefore to me Ross has something of a head start before deciding whether their volume scoring or spacing is more valuable. There are other ways to impact the game. Both are similar rebounders with Derozan averaging 4.6 total rebounds per 36 minutes to 4.4 for Ross and defensively they are hard to pick out. Ross has faster feet as the more dynamic athlete however Derozan has a strength advantage and plays a steadier, headier game on defense. Derozan is more experienced therefore if he has a defensive advantage right now Ross could catch up in a few years. Derozan is a quality passer at 3.5 assists per per 36 minutes to 1.3 for Ross, however Derozan turns the ball over 2.3 times per 36 minutes to 1.2 for Ross. In the stat ORTG where Ross had an edge at 104 to Derozan’s 102 assists and turnovers were accounted for in overall possession efficiency. I do not know whether Terrence Ross is a better player than Derozan right now because I can’t quantify the value of their spacing and volume scoring against each other. But I believe there is at least a strong case that Ross is as valuable or more. It isn’t a “no brainer” in favour of Derozan.
Invariably these sources have come from outside of Toronto as the Raptors organization has been one of the more tip-lipped franchises in the Association. However, with the opportunity to make significant noise in a weak Eastern Conference this season, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has been talking with a lot of other GMs about what could be possible at the trade deadline this season.
For the right player(s), I’d cheerfully give up our first-rounders this season or next. Note I’m not including the Knicks’ 2016 first-rounder we acquired as part of the Andrea Bargnani trade. GM Phil Jackson has belatedly recognized what everyone else knew: the Knicks are a mess, and he needs to rebuild. They are odds-on to endure another dreadful season in ’15-’16, and their first-rounder will be a huge value. Bargs is being mentioned as a buy-out candidate by the thoroughly unimpressed Knicks. The always bloodthirsty New York press will have a field day if that happens. The Knicks will have lost a single-digit (#1?) draft pick in exchange for a player they had to pay to go away.
Lowry would be selected No. 24 by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2006 NBA Draft, after two successful years at Nova. He also made a stop in Houston for a few years before finding his home in Toronto, where he has helped resurrect a franchise that has not been relevant since the turn of the century, and has been selected to his first All-Star Game this year as a starter for the Eastern Conference. Since entering the league, Kyle Lowry has had his share of ups and downs but has been able to not only sustain his career but rise to stardom using he same formula he used when it all began: Heart. Hustle. Toughness. Grit. Resilience.
“The feeling right now is that the Raptors have arrived,” said Dave Hopkinson, chief commercial officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Leafs and the Raptors. “It’s our 20th season so it took us a little longer than we might have liked, but it’s undeniable that it’s here now.” The team’s fans have given back, doubling merchandise sales, giving the Raptors the fifth-best attendance in the 30-team league and selling more new season tickets than any club except LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, Hopkinson said. Sabrina Monaco, a long-time Leafs fan who works in finance, paid C$10,000 ($8,000) for Raptors season tickets after watching a play-off game last year. Unreal Vibe “The vibe in the Air Canada Centre was unreal, nothing like I had ever seen before and it got us so pumped and excited to see the game,” Monaco said. “I literally went home that night and started researching season tickets.” Forbes valued the Raptors at $920 million this year, up 77 percent from last year and the 14th-most valuable NBA team as tickets sales increased 7 percent. Forbes values the Leafs at $1.3 billion, the NHL’s most valuable team.
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As we’re gearing up for a trade deadline, here’s a quick look at Masai Ujiri’s Raptors transactions and how he’s fared.
As per Grantland:
The Raps blazed into the All-Star break, but their defense is shaky and they have two expendable expiring contracts in Landry Fields and Chuck Hayes. Those guys alone won’t get you anything, but the Raps have a couple of future assets that have declined enough in value that Ujiri might include them in the right deal: their own first-round pick and Terrence Ross. (The same doesn’t apply to the 2016 Knicks first-rounder Toronto owns thanks to the ridiculous Andrea Bargnani heist.) Their own pick is a lock to fall in the mid-20s, and though this front office could absolutely nail a pick that low, the odds are always against it.
Ross has been coming off the bench since mid-January, and though he can shoot, the rest of his game has stagnated — especially his defense. The Raps are listening to incoming offers on Ross, per several league sources, and a couple of power forwards on borderline playoff teams stand out as intriguing targets: David West and Kevin Garnett.
This exact scenario of packaging Fields and Hayes, with a declining asset in Ross was coincidentally discussed on the podcast this morning as well. If packaged with Hansbrough as well, the Raptors have about $15 million in expiring contracts, which could be attractive for teams.
Word of caution, though, Masai Ujiri ahs explicitly stated that wouldn’t do any trade that sacrificed even a small piece of the future for an interim upgrade. So, if Ross is to be dealt, then Ujiiri has to really feel that there is no upswing in Ross’s game. Tim W discussed a number of trade scenarios that could improve the team, however, dealing with contenders is always tricky because, after all, why would Chicago trade you Taj Gibson?
Having said all that, of all the players that the Raptors could ship out, Ross is the least riskiest in terms of the chances of him blowing up to be a star in the league.
Personally, I’d see if the Grizzlies might be interested in Terrence Ross for Kosta Koufos. They have a strong defensive unit, and they might think that Ross could flourish in their system, especially under a veteran like Tony Allen.
With All Star Weekend now a memory, the next big date on the NBA calendar is this Thursday, February 19th. The NBA trade deadline.
The Raptors have historically been busy at the trade deadline, but most of their trades have been small deals for lesser players that have made little to no impact. Last year, Ujuri seemingly pulled one over on the Spurs by dumping perennial disappointment, Austin Daye, on them for a player who could actually play, Nando deColo. Although Grantland’s Bill Simmons is convinced that the Spurs only made the deal to convince the other teams that they screw up once in a while, so other teams will still make trades with them.
They’ve also traded for Sebastian Telfair, Patrick O’Bryant, Primoz Brezec, Juan Dixon, Shawn Respert and Sharone Wright.
That’s not to say they haven’t made a few deals that have made some waves. In 2001 they traded for Jerome “JYD” Williams and Chris Childs. In 1998 they made a couple of blockbusters that nabbed them Alvin Williams and Chauncy Billups. And in 1996 they were able to acquire Doug Christie a couple of days before the deadline.
Not even Ujiri knows whether the Raptors will make any deals this week – even if he’s not looking for a deal, if he’s offered something that will improve the team, he’s unlikely to turn it down. The Raptors have gone 9-2 in their last 11 after going 3-8 in their previous 11. They’re tied with the fourth best record despite having the 10th youngest roster in the league. And they’re on pace to win the most games in franchise history.
That isn’t to say the team doesn’t need to make some improvements, as most teams do. They’re the second highest rated team in offense, but ranked 20th on defense and in assists and have been a below average rebounding team all season. They’re also middle of the pack in 3 point percentage and in blocks.
The Raptors have the 6th highest scoring bench in the league, with the 4th best differential, and have 9 players playing at least 20 minutes per game, so they can afford to package some talent to increase their talent level if they choose to.
Lou Williams is probably the most likely Raptor to be traded. He’s got an expiring contract and is playing as well as he’s played in years, right now. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see either Patrick Patterson or Amir Johnson moved if the right deal comes along. They need defensive frontcourt help, and getting another big man will mean less time for one or both of these guys. Amir is in the last year of his contract and we’ve probably seen the best from him. Patterson’s ability to stretch the floor from the PF position, and his reasonable contract, should make him valuable if the Raptors decide to keep Amir.
There are a number of players who are on the block on other teams, and we’re going to look at which ones might be a good fit for the Raptors and which ones might not be.
MILES PLUMLEE (Phoenix, 26 years old, 13.1 PER, $1.6 million per season)
One of the biggest needs the Raptors have is a frontcourt rim protector, and while Plumlee is no Anthony Davis, he’s a good defensive big man who rebounds well and can play both the 4 and 5. He’s also just 26 years old, athletic and his stock is probably lower than it should be right now. On the downside, he doesn’t shoot from outside, which means playing him alongside Valanciunas won’t help the team’s spacing all that much.
Plus, the Raptors might also be able to acquire Tyler Ennis, currently languishing on the Suns bench, who they tried to draft last June.
Phoenix isn’t going to give Plumlee away, and his small salary would probably mean also having to take on someone like Gerald Green, who’s fallen off the depth charts for the Suns in the last month and a half and whose contract expires this summer. The Raptors would have to give up someone like Terrence Ross and another piece to get the deal done.
If the Raptors can acquire both Plumlee and Ennis, as well as Green or another player to make salaries work, and just give up Ross and maybe a second round pick, then it’s definitely worth it. It’s also a deal I can see Ujiri making. However, it’s unlikely the Suns wouldn’t ask for more than just Ross in return.
TAJ GIBSON (Chicago, 29 years old, 15.9 PER, $8 million per season)
Gibson’s name has been thrown around as not just being available, but also in connection with the Raptors. In a lot of ways, he’d be a good fit. He’s a veteran presence who is a very good defensive player and he’s got an underrated post game. RR’s own William Lou looked at how Gibson might not be as good a fit as he appears a couple of weeks ago, and I would tend to agree with him on this.
Chicago is definitely open to trading Gibson, but would want an expiring contract in return, so they can give the money to Jimmy Butler this summer. I’m guessing they’d also either want a first rounder, a backup center and/or backcourt help in return. I can see them being interested in Lou Williams and his instant offense, as well as Bebe Nogueira to match salaries.
Gibson may not be the best piece to go after, and while it would be smart to sell high on Lou Williams, the Raptors would be losing a lot of offense for Gibson. Still, grabbing Gibson might be similar to when the Raptors grabbed Charles Oakley and Antonio Davis, and be a big addition to the Raptors’ roster. Williams’ contract expires this season, so it might be wise to get what they can for him now, and Gibson would be a very good return.
NIK STAUSKAS (Sacramento, 21 years old, 5.7 PER, $2.7 million per season)
In what should have been a tipoff to just how disastrous Sacramento King’s new owner, Vivek Ranadivé, was going to be for the franchise, he lead the charge to select shooting guard Nik Stauskas, despite having drafted shooting guard Ben McLemore in the previous draft, over Elfrid Payton, a much better fit and the defensive point guard they desperately needed (plus, a player with a higher ceiling). His excuse was that the Kings, who had won just 28 games the previous season, needed 3 point shooting.
When your team wins just 28 games, three point shooting is probably the least of your worries.
In what has to be one of the most awkward post-draft moments, Ranadivé has the war room welcome Stauskas in a cringe-inducing way.
Despite him being completely wrong for the Kings, I’m a big fan of Stauskas (whether or not he’s Canadian), but he was a bad fit on the Kings from the start and his three point shooting and play making ability would be perfect for the Raptors.
I haven’t heard what the Kings are looking for in return for Stauskas, but it’s likely a starting PG and/or starting PF who can play defense and spread the floor. Coincidentally, the Kings gave up two players to the Raptors who fit that description in exchange for Rudy Gay last season. Vasquez probably isn’t much of an upgrade over what the Kings have now, but Patterson might be something the Kings would value in addition to another piece.
If Ujiri gets creative, he could bring in Phoenix and get Plumlee, Ennis and Stuaskas, with Goran Dragic going to Sacramento. Obviously the details would need to be worked out, but it could be something that would work for all three teams.
Unless Stauskas’ value is less than anticipated, or Ujiri throws in an Amir Johnson or someone else unexpected, it’s hard to see the Raptors having the right pieces to pry Stauskas away without including another team in the process. If they can, a player like Stauskas could end up being a major asset that would be worth trying to deal for.
KENNETH FARIED (Denver, 25 years old, 17.3 PER, $2.3 million per season)
This has been another player the Raptors are rumoured to be interested, probably because Denver is willing to trade just about anyone on the roster, at this point, and because Ujiri drafted him three and a half years ago when he was the GM of the Nuggets.
Faried is an exciting, athletic four who hustles, runs the floor and is a good rebounder. But he’s also undersized, can’t shoot beyond five feet, isn’t a very good defender, especially in the post, and his massive extension kicks in next season.
Denver knows it’s done for the season and is in rebuild mode (a season or two too late), so probably will only take back expiring contracts, young players or draft picks. The Raptors could probably pry Faried away if they also agree to take JaVale McGee and his huge contract and send back Terrence Ross in return, but would have to also send expiring contracts like Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough to match salaries. That’s a lot, plus it keeps the Raptors right at the luxury tax threshold.
It might seem like a fair deal for the Raptors, who bolster their frontline and get a rim protector in McGee, if they agree to take him, but Faried is simply not an upgrade over Amir and McGee has never been liked by coaches for a reason.
LANCE STEPHENSON (Charlotte, 24 years old, 8.9 PER, $9 million per season)
Stephenson is young and definitely talented, but he’s a ball dominator who would work horribly alongside Lowry and DeRozan, and his 3 point shooting makes DeRozan look good by comparison. And then there are the problems above the shoulders.
JOE JOHNSON (Brooklyn, 76 years old, 14.5 PER, $23 billion per season)
Brooklyn is ready to trade just about anyone on the roster and would LOVE to be able to trade away Johnson and his gargantuan salary. I’m not sure why I’ve read Raptor fans bring up his names because he’s a VERY old 33 years old and is a shadow of the player he used to be. He can’t really defend, anymore, is just an average shooter and is owed more than $24 million next season. I mean, would anyone really be surprised if he he had a precipitous dropoff next season?
I’m sure the Nets would give up Johnson for cap relief or just another player who can breath, but the Raptors would have to include Vasquez, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hanbrough just to match salaries. And that not only kills any cap room the Raptors might have this summer, but would mean re-signing Amir would put them into the luxury tax. And it also wouldn’t make them a better team.
ANDREW WIGGINS (Minnesota, 19 years old, 12.8 PER, $5.5 million per season)
Trading Lou Williams for Taj Gibson is probably the deal that would be easiest to make work, makes the most sense for both teams and would help the Raptors immediately. However, I’d love to see Stauskas, Plumlee and Ennis in Raptor uniforms even if it’s a more complicated scenario and is aimed more for the future.
Looking back at the 20 minutes of actual action in the 72 hours that is the NBA All-Star Weekend. And Raptors talk.
- Lowry dunk and overall performance
- LeBron trying hard
- Relating to Steph Curry
- Moneyball Rack!
- Zach Lavine YouTube vs All-Star Night
- Wiggins dunking in Toronto next year
- Wiggins making Cleveland regret
- “Dreaded” 8-game stretch
- Williams and Vasquez break up
- Raptors assets at the trade deadline
- Finding fits with contending teams
- End the Kenneth Faried talk
- Stoudemire rumours
- Drake mixtape shoutout
- Grig Steemzma
- Atlanta’s preview + their weakness
- Barkley analytics rant
- Barkley Cousins beef
- Should a player like Cousins be consulted for caoching hires?
et there he was, an all-star game starter. That’s all that mattered. It took him nine years and three teams. He got beaten out by Mike Conley in Memphis and pushed aside by Goran Dragic in Houston and had to wait his turn behind Jose Calderon in Toronto, but he was finally where he always believed he belonged among the league’s stars, and now he was. “I thought I was as good as them,” he said of the years his peers were getting the recognition he felt capable of earning on his own, given the chance. “Of course every year I tried to get better and continue to grow as a player – but of course I thought I was as good as those guys. “Once the opportunity came [in Toronto] I took advantage of it. Before the opportunity came, I was just trying to figure out when the opportunity was going to come. I had some ups and downs along the way, but I knew if I kept working as hard as I knew I could work I’d get here.”
Lowry, looking visibly nervous, struggled early on, tossing up a couple of air-balls, but eventually he found his place, working the ball around for assists and even throwing down an extremely rare dunk on the way to a 10-point, eight-assist, four-steal evening in the East’s 163-158 loss to the West. “It was great,” Lowry said went it was over, his young son Karter sitting on his lap. I missed too many shots that I thought I should make (he went 4-for-13 from the floor) but I had fun, that’s all I care about.” After the shaky start, things came together, just like how Lowry’s NBA career has unfolded. The proud day for Lowry was the culmination of hundreds of hours of hard work. Of determination, maturation and self-improvement both on and off the court.
I’ve never been much of an All Star game enthusiast myself, but found myself tuning in to see how Kyle Lowry would perform as a starter. Right off the bat, it was evident that the nonchalant play all-around wasn’t suitable for Lowry’s skill-set as he got off to an 0-5 start from the field. Stephen Curry was dazzling us with his handle, LeBron James and John Wall were showing us their athletic prowess, but poor Kyle Lowry had no charges to take.
Lowry would be selected No. 24 by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2006 NBA Draft, after two successful years at Nova. He also made a stop in Houston for a few years before finding his home in Toronto, where he has helped resurrect a franchise that has not been relevant since the turn of the century, and has been selected to his first All-Star Game this year as a starter for the Eastern Conference. Since entering the league, Kyle Lowry has had his share of ups and downs but has been able to not only sustain his career but rise to stardom using he same formula he used when it all began: Heart. Hustle. Toughness. Grit. Resilience.
Back to my original point. Toronto isn’t short on people, it’s short on basketball interest, or at least it was. The playoffs last year put Toronto on notice that this team is not a joke. The seven game series against the Brooklyn Nets was one that showed heart and grit. Re-signing Kyle Lowry only shored up a sense of hope and optimism in the 416 (or if you’re a Drake follower it’s simply “the 6”). Drake signing on with the team too shows a level of celebrity involvement that the team hasn’t had before. The Los Angeles Lakers have Jack Nicholson. The New York Knicks have Spike Lee. Toronto needed someone at the games all the time that showed that this team was worth taking note of. The other big thing that has helped the Raptors this year is the continued mediocrity of the Leafs. Last year, the Leafs were sitting at home watching the playoffs, the Raptors were playing in the postseason, and the city took notice with their heart as well as their wallets. Team gear is flying off the shelves, season tickets are being sold in record numbers, and attendance is up. In 2006, the Raptors ranked 17th in the league with 17,056 fans per game in attendance. In 2011 that number dropped to 19th with 16,566 fans per game. The team is ranked 5th with 19,731 fans per game for 2015. When you consider the capacity of the Air Canada Centre is 19,800 for an NBA game that’s a pretty sterling number.
For the right player(s), I’d cheerfully give up our first-rounders this season or next. Note I’m not including the Knicks’ 2016 first-rounder we acquired as part of the Andrea Bargnani trade. GM Phil Jackson has belatedly recognized what everyone else knew: the Knicks are a mess, and he needs to rebuild. They are odds-on to endure another dreadful season in ’15-’16, and their first-rounder will be a huge value. Bargs is being mentioned as a buy-out candidate by the thoroughly unimpressed Knicks. The always bloodthirsty New York press will have a field day if that happens. The Knicks will have lost a single-digit (#1?) draft pick in exchange for a player they had to pay to go away.
I can haz you linkz??! [email protected]
It’s getting to be about that time when rumors fly.
Our boy Lowry did things during a spirited pick-up game.
Here’s Kyle Lowry’s moment from the 2015 All-Star Game. Apparently, he hadn’t dunked since the Nixon era so it’s good he put an end to that drought. What’s next for Kyle? Search for the Higgs-Boson.
The way the Toronto Raptors have played during the pre-All-Star portion of the season, they would probably prefer to forego the All-Star break for at least a couple more weeks. But the midseason showcase must go on, and the Raps will have to settle for having an extended break to enjoy the most successful pre-All-Star Game record in franchise history.
The Raptors won eight of their last 10 heading into the break, and betting lines have consistently favored the Raptors in all but the most competitive games.
Kyle Lowry has been the team’s undisputed MVP over the first half of the season and is well-deserving of his first ever All-Star Game nod. But perhaps the break caught him at the right time. Since the start of 2015, Lowry’s production has dropped nearly across the board, particularly his points (15.7) and field goal percentage (37.6 percent).
That may be just Lowry regressing to the mean after his superhuman effort while DeMar DeRozan was out injured. Here’s hoping Lowry doesn’t get too worked up during the game and the Skills Competition and gets enough rest over the weekend.
It should be a promising sign, though, that the Raptors’ offense hasn’t missed a beat even with their star struggling. Through the last 10 games, the Raptors have maintained their pace as the top-five offense they’ve been for most of the entire season. DeRozan’s return to form has certainly been a big factor, but it also speaks of the team’s depth that they’re navigating Lowry’s slump so well.
James Johnson’s return to the rotation should only help that depth as the Raptors enter the break with more or less a fully healthy roster. Over half the job is done and so far so good. The challenge now is to go from good to great after a surprisingly timely layoff.
Detroit was what Casey wants his Raptors to be right now, and Billups believes Toronto has what it takes to get there. “There are some similarities in our teams,” he said. “One, they have a very strong leader with the ball in his hands in Kyle (Lowry). DeMar (DeRozan); fortunately he’s back going and getting himself back together. They got two guys that can close games. “Defensively, they communicate, they talk (and) the effort’s there so they do it. They have a very good nucleus. They’ve got something beautiful going on.” Billups knows from experience that a championship run won’t happen overnight. It’s a process. But if the right pieces are in place and the ultimate X-factor — gelling — happens quicker than expected, anything is possible. “I really believe in that team,” said Billups. “I believe in great leadership, I believe in talent, and (the Raptors) have both.”
Johnson’s inherent explosiveness, knack for timely cutting, post play, and ball-in-hand playmaking is truly a rare package of skills for a man 6-foot-8 (in shoes) and 250 pounds. His impact and presence is felt almost immediately every time he steps foot onto the court; good, bad, or otherwise. As such, his style of polarizing play is eerily reminiscent to Memphis Grizzlies’ guard, Tony Allen — affectionately dubbed as “Trick or Treat Tony” by Boston fans during his days of wearing the Celtic green. More specifically, both Johnson and Allen can infuriate their coaches with their precarious play. In particular, in an era that stresses speed and spacing, the twosome provides plenty of speed but little-to-no spacing. Explicitly, Johnson is a 26.1 percent career 3-point shooter and has only converted on seven of his 32 tries from beyond the arc this season — good for 21.9 percent.
Back to my original point. Toronto isn’t short on people, it’s short on basketball interest, or at least it was. The playoffs last year put Toronto on notice that this team is not a joke. The seven game series against the Brooklyn Nets was one that showed heart and grit. Re-signing Kyle Lowry only shored up a sense of hope and optimism in the 416 (or if you’re a Drake follower it’s simply “the 6”). Drake signing on with the team too shows a level of celebrity involvement that the team hasn’t had before. The Los Angeles Lakers have Jack Nicholson. The New York Knicks have Spike Lee. Toronto needed someone at the games all the time that showed that this team was worth taking note of. The other big thing that has helped the Raptors this year is the continued mediocrity of the Leafs. Last year, the Leafs were sitting at home watching the playoffs, the Raptors were playing in the postseason, and the city took notice with their heart as well as their wallets. Team gear is flying off the shelves, season tickets are being sold in record numbers, and attendance is up. In 2006, the Raptors ranked 17th in the league with 17,056 fans per game in attendance. In 2011 that number dropped to 19th with 16,566 fans per game. The team is ranked 5th with 19,731 fans per game for 2015. When you consider the capacity of the Air Canada Centre is 19,800 for an NBA game that’s a pretty sterling number.
The Toronto Raptors pair the second most points scored per 100 possessions (112.2) with a top 10 shooting performance (51 effective field goal percentage), giving them a 72 percent chance at the No. 2 seed. Then things start to get murky. Among the four other “sure things,” any one of them could be as high as the No. 2 seed or fall to No. 6.
Photo Credits: David Dow/NBAE, Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE, Noah Graham/NBAE, Brian Babineau/NBAE, and Tyler Kaufmani/NBAE via Getty Images
I can haz yo linkz??!! [email protected]
Kyle Lowry destroyed Dennis Schroeder in the skills-challenge, by making all his shots and even doing some show-boating after drilling the “winning” three.
Having reached the All-Star break, teams have dispersed in what is an extended break this season. All save for the lucky few who’ve been voted or invited to participate in the annual All-Star festivities.
While the first place Atlanta Hawks have sent a third of their team to participate in New York the second place Toronto Raptors have just a single representative in Kyle Lowry.
Note: The Hawks have 5 players and legend Dominique Wilkins participating in events. The only event they don’t have someone featured in is the Slam Dunk.
This season Kyle Lowry has grown as a player and a leader which was best demonstrated during the 21 games DeMar DeRozan was out injured. Arguably no Raptor beside Amir Johnson could use this break more than Lowry given the toll the extra workload has taken on his body. But, observing how much Lowry is enjoying the festivities vindicates fans who saw fit to rally and vote Lowry in deservedly as a starter.
He appeared on Jimmy Fallon, had a candid interview with ESPN’s Bill Simmons and an All-Star press conference. Do yourself a favor and watch the video’s Zarar posted and I’ve linked above, especially the latter two.
While watching these interviews I kept thinking how different Lowry appears now than when he first arrived in Toronto. In 2012-13 the demeanor the baby faced assassin displayed on the court was not too distant from what he seemed like off the court. Now he appears so much more at ease with who he is and it shows outwardly. Perhaps it was the natural transition in maturity or fatherhood, however something Bill Simmons said resonated with me.
“It’s kind of the perfect city for you though, because you were under appreciated for a couple of years. And even this summer they talked about marquee free agents and you were kind of this next level. Meanwhile I watch basketball and I’m like if I had money I’d go sign Kyle Lowry“
Lowry’s response spoke volumes
“I think I stayed in the right situation.You say under appreciated but I love it. I love Toronto and they showed me the attention I wanted, and it seemed to work out great”
While some people feel this weekend is mostly a popularity contest that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, I feel it does. It’s important for players, especially of Lowry’s ilk who demonstrate loyalty to receive it back. The vote in accomplished that and Raptor fans will reap his undying repayment for the duration of his time here.
In his interviews he has appeared laid back, humorous and intelligent repeatedly speaking of how much he loves Toronto, Canada, his team and the Raptor fans. He has embraced the role of ambassador and I found myself proud that he was our representative as he spoke of his excitement for next year when these festivities will move North of the border.
Tonight Lowry will compete in the Taco Bell Skills competition and my gut tells me he’ll approach it with the same tenacity he does everything. I remember coach Casey saying in Lowry’s first training camp that he hates to lose even one drill, it’s innately in him to want to win. So, he’ll try to win because he’s a competitor, but he has extra motivation to win as a gesture to say thanks for voting him in.
Then he’ll lace up his sneakers for Sunday’s big event as a starter. We’ll have no idea how many minutes he’ll play, and since it’s his first All Star Game it’s difficult to guess. In coach Budenholzer’s interview he basically confirmed his players indicated at some point Sunday they want to embrace this rare experience by simultaneously coming on the court.
That’s a good thing from where I sit, because aside from how well the Hawks have played I have hopeful visions for next year when Toronto will host the All-Star weekend. If the Raptors achieve their goal of continual growth one would imagine there will be a upper tier free agent addition this summer. Then the possibility exists for Toronto to have multiple representatives in the Sunday game. Should my dream become reality the difference would be unprecedented as these Raptors would be entering an All Star game on their home court. Looking back at the playoffs, imagine how loud the ACC would be if 3 Raptors walked onto the court together at the All-Star Game in Toronto!
For a franchise still in it’s infancy in comparison to the “Mecca” of New York, imagine the historical significance of something like that occurring.
Weekend Events & Notes:
BBVA Compass Rising Stars:
- The reformatted World versus U.S. game was more entertaining than previous years as there was National pride at stake. The World won and Canadian Andrew Wiggins won the MVP (despite the heckling from the Brooklyn crowd).
- Upon receiving the award Wiggins said “this” (MVP award) was for the World team and most importantly for Canada! (Man, I love that kid).
- As per above, I found the pregame interview with the captains quite humorous as Victor Oladipo cockily continued his talk that the U.S. would win. In response Wiggins coyly responded how excited he was to play with his World team mates some of whom he’d played with at the Hoops summit. For those unaware Wiggins was on the World team with Schroder, Embiid and others who beat the States 2 years in a row which was a first.
- When asked about the All Star Game coming to Toronto, Wiggins got a huge smile on his face and said he has a goal of playing on the Sunday in his home town and will be working hard to earn that right. (I did note he avoided Rick Fox’s question about whether he would enter a future dunk competition, though he did say Zach LaVine has something other worldly planned).
- Here is his post game media interview
State Farm Saturday Night: Event details and participant listed here via nba.com
Degree Shooting Stars:
- Is it just me or does anyone else find it really crazy Chris Bosh is part of the 2-time winning team? (must be Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash’s shooting)
- Prediction: Bosh’s team won’t 3-peat. My initial instincts said father and son Curry, but I just can’t go against Russell Westbrook who is teamed with Penny Hardaway and Tamika Catchings. It won’t surprise me if Westbrook hits the half court shot on his first attempt. Then again I’ve never seen Westbrook play without that repressed anger, so he might not be as inspired.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge:
- Keeping up with all the players who have pulled out has been a challenge:
- Out: John Wall, Michael Carter-Williams, Jimmy Butler (Lowry’s first round opponent)
- Replacements Patrick Beverley, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Schroder (who is now Lowry’s first round opponent)
- Should Lowry beat Schroder he’ll play the winner of Trey Burke vs. Brandon Knight
- The big change this year is the actual course will feature both players on court simultaneously, and they have to finish by running the length of the course with the ball and hit a 3-point shot
- Prediction: As the NBA Game Time crew discussed the advantage goes to speedy players who can shoot 3-pointers which gives Isaiah Thomas the edge. However, if he falters on the passing portion watch for Lowry to pull it out Hey, I didn’t vote every day to get him to All-Star weekend to turn my back on him now!
Foot Locker 3-Point Contest:
- Many are calling this (not the Slam Dunk) the premiere event of the night and for good reason. The 8 player field is the deepest ever assembled. The first round shooting order determined by a blind draw is listed below (Belinelli automatically shoots last as returning champion). The video of Kenny Smith drawing the names and accompanying Game Time crew prediction of three who move on is kind of funny.
- Wesley Matthews
- J.J. Redick
- James Harden
- Kyrie Irving
- Stephen Curry
- Klay Thompson
- Kyle Korver
- Marco Belinelli
- Prediction: Thompson, Curry and Korver NOTE: I changed my mind several times, I mean come on. My bottom 3 was easier: Irving, Belinelli and Redick. I kept going back and forth on Matthews and Harden who shoot early allowing them to put pressure on the others, but ultimately I went with who I thought has the purest shot. Either way, this will be exciting.
Sprite Slam Dunk:
- Zach LaVine
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Victor Oladipo
- Mason Plumlee
- This season the dunk competition returns to the previous format including two rounds, two advance, 2 dunks each and only 3 chances to make your dunk. The judges will be the only voters.
- There’s been quite a bit of trash talk (Oladipo & Plumlee both said they expected to win, LaVine simply said I won’t lie I’m confident).
- Many predict LaVine can’t lose. Andrew Wiggins was the most excited I’ve ever seen him in predicting LaVine will win. Warning: if you don’t want to ruin the surprise, don’t watch the following video. (It’s from a high school dunk competition!)
Prediction: I’m calling for a performance the likes of which we haven’t seen since Vince Carter with LaVine destroying the competition and Antetokounmpo surprising everyone by taking second.
- Raptors first game back will be versus Atlanta. Toronto remains the only team to have beat the Hawks twice. The Hawks have lost 2 games in a row twice (early) and were 3-3 in their final 6 games prior to the break. To say this is a big game is an understatement.
- In the last ten games Atlanta’s record is 7-3, Toronto’s is 8-2
- LeBron James fans and media pundits are back on the band wagon loudly proclaiming the Eastern final should be Cleveland versus Chicago. Since J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov joined Cleveland they have posted the 4th best offense. James claims it is their improved defense that is winning them games, however the reality is they ranked 23rd on defense prior to the trades and now rank 23rd! Meanwhile everyone has been talking about how poorly Toronto was playing defensively yet they rank 18th.
- Strength of schedule over last 25% of games:
- Cleveland: 44.3%,
- Toronto: 51.8%
- Washington: 47.3%
- Interesting: 2 original Canadian teams (Raptors/Grizzlies) are each ranked second in their conference and each team has one lone All-Star.
I’m sending out a Happy Valentine’s Day to you all and hoping Kyle Lowry get’s his own sweet win tonight
He spoke glowingly about the all-star weekend coming north a year from now: “It’s going to be crazy. Book your tickets now.” He unfailingly deferred credit for his squad’s unprecedented success to others: “One man goes down and the next guy’s got to step up. That’s how we roll on our team.” And he talked, too, about the game he uses as an escape from his day job. He said that as much as his competitive streak serves him well on the golf course — Curry said Lowry “talks a lot of smack about his (golf) game” — an 18-hole round demands a distinctly different focus than is required in leading, say, a fourth-quarter comeback. Said Lowry: “You go from trying to run everyone over and going fast to being patient, slow, and having time to think about what you want to try to do.” He repeated those last few words making air quotes — “Try to do” — and then he laughed.
“I am super (proud),” Ujiri said, before boarding a flight to New York for the weekend’s all-star festivities. “I texted him yesterday and I told him, I’m so proud of him.” “People made all this stuff up, once he takes the contract, he’s going to take the contract and run, he’s going to come back out of shape, blah blah blah,” Ujiri said. “It’s not easy for people to keep hearing all this stuff, I think Kyle has handled it really well, I’m really proud of him.”
The 29-year-old Lowry has taken a longer, bumpier route to this weekend’s all-star game in New York than the NBA superstars he’ll be dishing out assists to. There were stops in Memphis and Houston, and by the time he arrived in Toronto he’d been painted with the reputation of being a tough guy to coach. Toronto has brought out the best in Lowry. He’s averaging a career-high 18.8 points a night, and continues to endear himself to fans with his heart and hustle. He is the team leader in taking charges, a lunging and diving example of a putting one’s body on the line.
Quick: Who has been the second-best Raptor this year, behind Kyle Lowry? The default answer is DeRozan, an all-star year ago, but he missed 21 games with a groin injury (and has not played up to his level of a year ago when he has been healthy). Lou Williams has been better than the Raptors could have hoped, and he scored 27 points against Washington on Wednesday, but he is mostly a one-dimensional player (but what a dimension). Jonas Valanciunas has the second highest player efficiency rating on the team, but remains a defensive liability. Amir Johnson is a different player from one night to the next. James Johnson’s role has varied too much to consider him. That leaves … Patrick Patterson? Patterson’s per-game averages of 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds are ordinary, and his PER is just slightly above average. However, he is adaptable and the most agile big-man defender on the team — key for the Raptors, who struggle to stop the ball at the first line of attack. “He’s probably playing the most consistent basketball defensively and offensively as anybody for us individually,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
After each game, everyone in the family room makes the short trip down the ACC concourse to a secondary one across from the Raptors locker area, where players and coaches greet their families before heading to the parking lot. Brenda Casey describes the area as “like a doctor’s waiting room”—only with far more comfortable seating. It’s a Sunday night, and the Raptors have just lost a heartbreaker to the New Orleans Pelicans, coughing up a nine-point lead late in the fourth. With 1.6 seconds remaining, DeRozan got a decent look for a game-winning triple, but the shot didn’t fall. “He was fouled,” his fiancée, Kiara, says moments afterward, “but [the refs] wouldn’t call that.” Within five minutes, the “waiting room” has filled with friends and families, who sit in near-silence. The tension is palpable; an NFL playoff game on television offers a much-needed distraction. DeRozan is the first player in the room. He offers a few terse greetings to familiar faces, and then makes a beeline for his two-year-old daughter, Diar, and Kiara, who is celebrating her birthday (Doyle’s granddaughter baked cupcakes and decorated the family room for the occasion). DeRozan picks up Diar, plants a huge kiss on her cheek and plops down in a chair, holding his daughter firmly in his lap.
It’s those huge games that Williams can put up coming off the bench that stick with the fans, his teammates and even the coaches. Williams has scored over 30 points twice this season and set a new career high of 36 points against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. In the 18 contests Williams has scored 18 or more points, he is shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three point range, getting to the free throw line over 7 times and the Raptors have a record of 15 wins to just 3 loses. When Williams is hot, the Raptors win games by over 9 points on average. However, when Williams is cold, Toronto is often headed for a rough evening. The good news has been Williams has only failed to score in double digits 12 times this season and the Raptors still managed to win five of those games. On those dozen cold nights, Williams shot 18.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three-point range and he was taking almost 4 long range bombs before shutting it down or being shut down by Casey. A shooter has to believe the next one is going in, but when it isn’t happening, it can be painful to watch.
The Raptors have been up-and-down defensively, and if this was displayed on a chart quarter by quarter, the graph would be all over the place. The Raptors have been switching on all perimeter screens, which was a reason for some easy scores, and players getting into foul trouble. There were various situations where screens were being switched, and Jonas Valanciunas would end up guarding Jarrett Jack at the top of the 3-point line, or Kyle Lowry would be stuck trying to out-muscle Nene with his back-to-the-basket. Neither of those scenes are ideal in any case, so why are the Raptors consistently finding themselves in bad situations? Only reasons to think of are either the unwillingness to fight through screens, or poor communication. Since their 13-3 start to the season, the defence had significantly dropped in it’s communication. They’ve got to start fighting through screens, blitzing, hedging, and communicating when things go array. The team had settled to turning it on and off. Since already mentioning the “turning it on and off,” the Raptors have acted and played with an attitude as if they’ve already won an NBA championship; they’re only 19 games over .500. They’ve allowed teams to get back into games, and they’ve come back from large deficits. It’s allowed them to survive bad starts, but it’s also thrown great starts and great runs right out the window. A lot of what fans and analysts are seeing from the team when adversity hits is the team’s inability to have a consistent mindset and attitude; they’ve lost some of the hunger which made this team so dangerous. Again, the Raptors have proven to be one of the league’s best teams, but they’ve accomplished nothing but an un-guaranteed high seed in the temperamental Eastern conference. Their hunger must be revived in order for them to continue on the path that’ll lead them to success into the play-offs.
By the end of December, the Raptors were 24-8 and leading the Eastern Conference, the first time they had ever done so that late in the season. Lowry was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month after averaging 22 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game (he’d eventually get voted in as an All-Star starter as well). Everything was going right. Raptors fans were overjoyed, and in a foolish display of hubris, they let their guards down.
Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Drake did this.
Playing for Canada:
Our fan base in Toronto is crazy. Every night we sell out. They do a great job of coming out, cheering loud, showing their passion, and electrifying the building. Canadians are all over the world. When they get a chance to support their team, they do it. When our fans are in other people’s building, they’re chanting our name.
The advantage of playing in Toronto is that you don’t just play for Toronto, you play for Canada. We know that, and we appreciate it. You’re not just playing for one city in Toronto, you’re playing for Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, you’re playing for the whole country.
On succeeding despite DeRozan’s injury:
We got a good team. We got a core group. One man went down, next guy’s got to step up. That’s how we roll on our team. One guy goes down, we’re not out of it. One guy goes down, next man steps up. That’s what makes a good team.
On Dwane Casey:
Casey’s all about defense. He really wants us to always focus on defense, and hang our hats on defense. At the end of the day, that’s how you can win games, and that’s where he’s come from. He’s a defensive-minded guy.
On players wanting to play in Toronto:
Winning changes the culture and image of a place. If you win, and you keep on winning, players will come and want to play. They’re going to come and want to join that.
Bruno’s going to continue to get better. He’s so young you can’t pinpoint what he’s going to be. He’s work ethic is unbelievable, he’s in the gym two times a day. I think he has the work ethic that you need.
Jonas Valanciunas development:
[Jonas] been very instrumental to our team. He’s been a great rim protector, he’s had more double-doubles this year than any other year so far. I think he’s only going to keep developing. He’s only 21, 22 years old, he’s going to continue to get better, figure out his game, and have fun with it. Once he’s learned to have fun with it, he’ll be really good. [He can be an All-Star], it’s a tough position to be with the center position. He has an opportunity to be an All-Star because he can be dominant.
Chauncey Biillups as a mentor:
I’ve kind of modelled by game after him. I’m much more athletic than him, though….Me and him are going to sit down together this weekend. He’s a guy who wants me to be very successful, and just growing and take advantage of the opportunity.
Relationship with DeRozan:
[DeMar’s] like a brother. Not just on the court, it’s about other things. We talk about basketball all the time, but we also talk about real life things…if the team’s going to be successful, it’s going to be on our shoulders.
On the NBA All-Star game in Canada:
It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a different All-Star game. My expectation is definitely to be there, just to represent our country, my team, and the country of Canada…It’s going to be an unbelievable show. It’s going to be a good time.
On Marcus Smart:
That kid’s good, he has the ability to really grow into a lead guard, and be a leader. I think he has that toughness and mentality to be a leader. He’s really going to keep growing and keep developing.
On basketball growth in Canada:
The growth is amazing. People are starting to come up there to recruit. The kids are putting more passion, and more work ethic in, they see you got two #1 picks back-to-back, they see that if you put the work in, anything’s possible.
On what’s great about the city of Toronto:
The culture. I think that’s one of the things that people don’t get to experience. The culture is so great there. The diversity of people, my son goes to school, and he’s in class with all kinds of different people. It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable. My kid hadn’t had diversity, and right now it’s awesome.
On Andrew Wiggins:
He’s playing really well. He’s probably going to be rookie of the year. His confidence is getting higher, and he’s just starting to fill out his abilities.
On his on/off court personality:
On the court I’m fiery, I want to win. I take no BS. But when I’m at home with my family, I’m a pushover.
On speaking with Bieber since he campaigned for him:
I haven’t talked to [Justin Bieber].
On Stephen Curry relationship and golf:
He’s better than me [at golf]. We share a passion, every time we get together we talk golf. [I’ve been playing] for a couple years. It’s mentally strengthening for me.
Family does matter. You can tell that they have genuine chemistry, and it shows on the floor now.
Kyle Lowry gave an interview to Grantland and Bill Simmons.
I love DeMar DeRozan.
I said it, and I’m sure I’m going to get ripped apart by commentators, but it’s true: I love DeMar.
He has his flaws/weaknesses, but DeMar has consistently added to his game and developed in a way that few would have imagined when he was drafted in 2009. The Raptors got one of the top shooting guards in the league with just the ninth overall pick.
When he was drafted DeRozan was selected almost entirely based on his athleticism. After a somewhat underwhelming freshman year at Southern California, DeRozan declared for the draft with the expectation of being selected somewhere in the lottery. After all, many of the decisions made in the lottery are based solely on potential.
DeRozan could leap out of the building, but could do little more than that. He shot 56.2 percent from the two point range (many of which were taken near or around the basket), attempted just one shot from long distance a game (which he hit just 16.7 percent of the time), drained only .646 percent of his free throws, and assisted on just 1.5 buckets per game.
Not exactly numbers that leap off the page.
But what has defined DeRozan’s career to date hasn’t been his limitations, but rather his work ethic. DeMar has entered each season of his career having added to his skillset. He has extended his range, learned to draw fouls at a near league leading level, turned his handle from a liability into a significant weapon, learned what to do when being sent a double team, and has even become one of the better help defenders on the roster.
His game is barely recognizable when compared to what it was upon entering the league, and that in itself it something to appreciate.
Work ethic is an underappreciated ability due to the simple fact that it is impossible to measure. We don’t have stats to back up what we read, and we don’t even have a firsthand eye test because we don’t get to see the work that is put in outside of game situations.
We just have the results to go from, and with DeMar it has been a steady six year transformation to get to this point. Changing himself from a raw rookie, to a key starter on one of the top teams in the NBA and an All Star too. It hasn’t always been pretty (in fact, it often hasn’t), but it’s been a treat to watch.
But what I have especially loved about DeMar of late is his transformation into a point forward of sorts for the Raptors. His play making since returning from injury has been one of the true highlights of an already highlight filled year.
Prior to his injury DeMar’s assist ratio (the number of assists a player averages per 100 possessions) was just 10.8. Since returning against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 14, DeRozan has an assist ratio of 16.2.
His assist percentage has also increased from 13.2 percent before his injury to 20.2 since his return. This leap in playmaking by DeRozan has gone a long way to improve the Raptors overall ball movement.
All that said, I understand the complaint in regards to DeRozan’s shot selection. I don’t understand the trade demands that often come from fans due to this selection, but I do understand the initial complaint. The mid-range jumper is known throughout the analytics world as the least efficient shot one can take, and DeRozan takes a lot of them.
In fact, these shots have been even more prevalent since DeMar returned from injury, as DeRozan has taken 132 mid-range shots over this time. This is compared to just 39 shots in the restricted area, and 39 shots in the paint (non restricted area). In fact, the mid-range shot has made up 41.6 percent of DeRozan’s shots over the last 16 games, a number that needs to be lowered.
Thankfully, DeRozan’s playmaking and ability to draw contact make his shot selection more palatable, and the threat of his jumper does open up opportunities for teammates. It may not be the traditional way to stretch the floor, but it can have a similar impact.
What has shocked me the most though is DeMar’s impact on the Raptors defensively. DeMar has always been thought of as a below average defender, but might now be the team’s top help defender. It was shortly after his injury that the Raptors began their quick descent towards the bottom of the defensive rankings. Since his return to the line-up the Raptors have been steadily improving in this regard, and are ranked 15th in the league (since January 14) for points allowed per 100 possessions. Not great, but better than without him.
Yes, DeRozan has flaws, but I still love him…and you should too.
Interview Excerpt (paraphrased a bit)
JB Smoove: They label you a hero to Toronto!
Kyle Lowry: I think it was more that I went back, and I didn’t leave, and they’ve had people leave them before and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be there; I wanted to show my commitment.
JB: Right. Right.
JB: What is your super power since they’ve already labelled you a super hero? What would be your super power is Samuel L. Jackson shows up to practice and says that he needs you?
Klow: I’m your leader; I’ll lead you to victory.
JB: But what is your power? Are you invisible? Can you fly? Do you turn into an ant?
Klow: Fly. I gotta fly.
JB: Are you strong and you can fly? Or a regular dude who can fly?
Klow: I’m strong and I can fly. Yea yea.
Why Patrick Patterson is integral to the Raptors’ success.
For the second year in the row, the guys at Talking Raptors return to the “Talking Raptors Space Station” for an All Star extravaganza. Nick and Barry welcome friend of the show and fan favourite, Curt Russo back to the podcast. They discuss the All Star break/festivities and make some second half predictions.
Kyle Lowry, along with a bunch of other players turned up at the Tonight Show – here’s the video:
This year, they’ve become a basketball teeter-totter and, while that may be fun in a playground, that isn’t what Casey wants or demands. His team’s record surprises him, but not as much as how they’ve gotten here. “I’m surprised by how much we’ve gotten better offensively, and how much we’ve dropped off defensively,” he said. “It’s like a pendulum. We’ve got to find a balance. When our ‘D’ drops, our offence seems to pick up, and when our offence drops, our ‘D’ has picked up. “I still think defence has to be our calling card in the playoffs. If we learned anything last year, it was once the playoffs start, it’s a different game. To get to 50-plus wins is the hardest step to take in basketball. I don’t know if our guys realize how hard it is. We have a lot of work to do in the second half.” He sounds like a coach fighting for a playoff spot, not one that has a 14.5 game lead in the Atlantic Division. There are 29 games to play in this somewhat spectacular season. To stay at their .679 winning clip, which is unlikely, that means winning 19 of their final 29 games. That would be 55 wins and, considering the schedule, seems next to impossible.
For every complaint about Casey’s coaching decisions during this season, there is hard evidence in the team’s record that should give even the most ardent doubter pause. Outside of the top team in the East and the top two teams in the West, no one can claim to be doing better than Casey. Toronto is taking care of home court, winning 70 percent of their games at the Air Canada Centre. However, they are almost as tough on the road winning 65.2 percent of their away games. Their record against Eastern Conference teams is a solid 70.6 percent and against the supposedly superior West, the Raptors have won 63.2 percent of the time. Casey receives almost constant criticism for his team’s record against +.500 clubs. The Raptors are 14-12. In the East, Atlanta is 17-11, the Bulls are 14-11 and no other team is above .500. In the West, Golden State at 17-7, the Grizzlies 17-11 and Houston 15-14 are the only teams with winning records against +.500 clubs. Your reality check is in the mail.
More than anything, this is what Toronto — never mind just Raptors fans — crave. A reason to tear it up in the spring, with hope that the Toronto Blue Jays give the city something to latch on to through the summer. Ujiri has played this right from the start of the season, saying that all he wanted to see was progress, and suggesting that there were ways of measuring progress beyond a playoff win. He’s right, of course; the sports world is full of teams that make a surprise playoff appearance and then take a step back before achieving full bloom. And while the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a juggernaut, there are matchup minefields for the Raptors — specifically, the Cleveland Cavaliers (now that they’ve found their sea-legs) and the Chicago Bulls. But the Charlotte Hornets can be a trip-wire, too. So can the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lowry, at first, seemed to live up to his troubling reputation in Toronto as he battled Jose Calderon for minutes. He has called his relationship with coach Dwane Casey “rocky.” But the Raptors cobbled together a special chemistry last season, with Lowry as their leader. He led them through a playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets that captured the imagination of fans across the country. Then he signed a four-year, $48 million US contract extension in the summer to stay in the city that he once couldn’t wait to escape. And still, there were critics who predicted Lowry would get a fat body to go with his fat new contract. “People made all this stuff up, once he takes the contract, he’s going to take the contract and run, he’s going to come back out of shape, blah blah blah,” Ujiri said. “It’s not easy for people to keep hearing all this stuff, I think Kyle has handled it really well, I’m really proud of him.” Ujiri doesn’t take credit for Lowry’s growth in Toronto. He simply gave Lowry the opportunity, he said. Lowry did the rest. “He took the challenge. To give Kyle the credit, he challenged himself and he saw some of the things that he did well and some of the things he didn’t do so well, and he just challenged himself,” Ujiri said.
While he is having fun being around the best players in the world, Lowry’s teammates are vacationing in various spots. He hopes they take a mental break from it all to come back fresh when the schedule resumes next Wednesday. “I want guys to shut their minds off on basketball this whole week and enjoy their break and then come back ready to work, and I think that’s what the mindset’s going to be,” Lowry said Wednesday. Before each of the Raptors took off though, they gave Lowry a message in the dressing room after the game. “Kyle’s an All-star, he has nothing to prove, we all wished him luck in there,” said head coach Dwane Casey. “He’s our all-star. He just has to play his game, play for his teammates. That’s the message going into the second half of the season — play for each other, play together and all the other accolades and wins will come.”
Should he or shouldn’t he? That was the underlying debate going into the 2003 All-Star Game when Vince Carter – who had only suited up in 15 contests for the Raptors to that point – faced pressure to give up his starting spot for Michael Jordan, playing in his final NBA season. Carter had been injured for the bulk of the season’s first half but was voted in by the fans for the fourth straight season – he had been the league’s leading vote getter in each of the previous three. Meanwhile, Jordan – 13 years his elder and fellow North Carolina alum – was putting the finishing touches on his legendary career. This decision was not an easy one for the 26-year-old Carter and wasn’t made official until just before tip-off when, at the urging of his teammates, he stepped aside so Jordan could have one last chance to start.
Although Lowry’s numbers have dropped since DeRozan’s return — in that 16-game span, he’s shooting only 38.2 percent from the field, which may be related to calf, hamstring, and finger injuries — in general the Raptors have survived, currently holding the No. 2 seed in the East. In the process, a new kind of trust has emerged. Lowry once clashed with Raptors coach Dwane Casey, but the trust between them has grown such that not only does Lowry have the freedom to attack the paint out of the pick-and-roll, and run the offense the way he knows best, but Casey told reporters that he’d be willing to get in a “physical fight” with the other East coaches if Lowry wasn’t named an All-Star reserve. As Lowry has delivered for the Raptors, Canada has noticed. Lowry became an All-Star starter by fan vote, which was the product of a nationwide campaign with contributions from the prime minister — Stephen Harper — as well as the likes of Drake and Justin Bieber.
And still, there were critics who predicted Lowry would get a fat body to go with his fat new contract. “People made all this stuff up, once he takes the contract, he’s going to take the contract and run, he’s going to come back out of shape, blah blah blah,” Ujiri said. “It’s not easy for people to keep hearing all this stuff, I think Kyle has handled it really well, I’m really proud of him.” Ujiri doesn’t take credit for Lowry’s growth in Toronto. He simply gave Lowry the opportunity, he said. Lowry did the rest. “He took the challenge. To give Kyle the credit, he challenged himself, and he saw some of the things that he did well and some of the things he didn’t do so well, and he just challenged himself,” Ujiri said.
DeRozan will be honored by his alma mater and the Compton Unified School District (CUSD) when his jersey will be retired during tonight’s game against Cabrillo High School, which marks the final game of Compton High’s season. The 2014 All-Star will also receive a framed varsity jersey before hoisting a banner bearing his No. 23 jersey up to the gym’s rafters during half-time. During his senior year at Compton High, DeRozan averaged over 29 points, nearly 4 assists and almost 8 rebounds per game over the 2007-08 season.
“He’s been up-and-down,” said Casey. “He’s one of the best athletes in the league. But he needs to take advantage of that. Defensively, first, that’s where we need him to be top-notch. That’s the first thing. And I think, offensively, I’ve opened the reins up too much. … We need defence from him first. If he does that, that one thing, he can help us.”
The Toronto Raptors have little experience in playoff games, especially series that are past the first round. Over the years in the NBA, we’ve repeatedly seen that experience in the playoffs is crucial to success. We’ve seen it with the San Antonio Spurs a number of times. LeBron James didn’t win a title until his third appearance. Teams that win championships usually have a few guys that have played for a title and can lead the younger players. When looking at the Toronto Raptors, it’s tough to find that type of experience on the roster. Indeed, the team is absolutely loaded with young talent. However, I’d be shocked to see the Raptors play for a conference title this season simply because of how valuable experience is come playoff time.
The Chicago Bulls ranked second in defensive efficiency last season and 28th on offense, but they are currently 9th on offense and just 13th on defense. Teams that contend for a championship in the NBA typically are in the top-10 in both categories, or are particularly dominant on one end of the floor. The current top-10 in efficiency differential consists of the Warriors, Hawks, Clippers, Mavericks, Blazers, Grizzlies, Raptors, Spurs, Rockets and Cavaliers. The old/young distinction is based on the average age of players who play 15 or more minutes per game.
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DeMar DeRozan’s returning to Compton to get his high-school jersey retired.
In the NBA, as in most professional sports, there are cycles, especially among the Championship teams. The best teams tend to have five to ten year windows where they are able to contend, and that usually coincides with the lifecycle of their best player. And speaking of which, in the last 55 years, only five Championship teams did NOT feature a former, current or future MVP on the roster who was still playing at a high level. And there were five teams that featured more than one.
There’s a reason there and it’s a belief that you need a franchise player to truly contend for a Championship, which is generally true.
Except once in a while when it’s not. Let me explain. As I said, in the last 55 years, a former, current or future MVP have been featured on the Championship team 49 times. It’s those six other times that we’re going to look at.
From 1957 to 1969 (that’s 13 years), the Boston Celtics won 11 titles. Their decline coincided with the rise of the Knicks, the peak of Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers and when the Bucks had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. But after those great teams declined, it was several years before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird helped the Lakers and Celtics dominate the 80s.
The decline and retirement of players like Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Bob Cousy, Jerry West and John Havlicek was magnified by the chaos the ABA and its eventual merger with the NBA during the late 70s caused. It was during this time when the Seattle Supersonics won their only title, despite no MVP caliber player on the roster and Golden State won with Rick Barry (who did make 5 All-NBA First Teams).
Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics and Dr J’s Sixers won 9 titles during the 80s, but while Michael Jordan was still learning how to win with the Bulls, the Detroit Pistons won a couple of titles, without an MVP on the roster. Yes, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman were great players, but none were in the same league as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon.
Over the next 13 years, the NBA saw Jordan and the Bulls, Hakeem and the Rockets, Tim Duncan and the Spurs, and Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers all win multiple titles each. But in 2004, the NBA had another “gap year”. While the Spurs and Lakers were still winning, injuries derailed the Spurs’ chances in the playoffs, and infighting killed any chemistry the Lakers might have had, which then lead to Shaq being traded to the Miami Heat.
Even the standings looked off that year, with Minnesota, Indiana and Sacramento taking advantage of a league in flux and setting franchise records for wins. Jordan, Hakeem, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson, Gary Payton and even Shaquille O’Neal were either retired or well into their twilight years (Shaq was still an All-Star, but not the dominant player he had been).
It was this year that the Detroit Pistons, this time lead by Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace, both great players but neither MVP quality, won their Championship.
Fast forward ten more years, during which former or current MVPs led their teams to the next ten titles, and we come to another season in flux.
One look at the standings will tell you there’s something odd about this season. Of the teams with the four best records in the league, not one finished in the top seven last season or made it past the first round of the playoffs
(Atlanta didn’t even make the playoffs) and only Golden State won at least 50 games.
Last year’s Champion, the Spurs, have struggled with injuries, and their opponent in the Finals disbanded, with LeBron heading to Cleveland to try and build something there. The second best player in the league, Kevin Durant, has missed more than half his games due to injury and his team is still on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
Not one player on Golden State, Atlanta, Memphis or Toronto (currently the top four teams) have a player on the roster that has ever made an All-NBA First team, let alone been in the running for the MVP Award.
I think it’s safe to say we’re looking at another “gap year”, where a dark horse team could end up hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
So with the Raptors sitting with the fourth best record, could this be their year?
First, let’s look at the previous “gap year” teams that have won titles.
Let’s take 1975’s Golden State team out because they they won it when the ABA was at its peak and the NBA was seriously depleted of talent, and they only won 48 games.
1979’s Supersonics won just 52 games, but it was in one of the most balanced seasons in league history, with no team winning more than 54 games and only two teams winning fewer than 30 games (29 and 26). The Sonics had the league’s second-best record and won with the league’s best defense, anchored by perennial All-Defense team member, Dennis Johnson.
Fast forward to Isiah Thomas’ Pistons, and they had the league’s third and second best ranked defense when they won their titles (in fact, their defense was so dominant that it ended up changing the way the NBA played defense since). The 2004 version of the Pistons had the second ranked defense, as well, anchored by four-time Defensive Player of the Year award-winner, Ben Wallace.
Of the top four teams currently, only the Raptors do not have a top ten ranked defense, and their defense is barely ranked in the top 20.
Seattle and the two Detroit teams not only were ranked in the top 5, defensively, they also featured some of the best defense players the league has ever seen in Dennis Johnson, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace, players that wreaked havoc on the defensive end.
Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry are two of the Raptors’ best defensive players, but neither are game-changers, defensively.
And lastly, the ’79 Supersonics, the ’89 and ’90 Pistons and the ’04 Pistons also had another thing in common: A Hall of Fame coach. Lenny Wilkens (when he still cared – NOT when he coached the Raptors), Chuck Daly and Larry Brown were all near or at the top of their profession. While Dwane Casey is certainly a respectable coach, it’s hard to foresee him ever becoming one of the best in the league.
So while it’s nice to enjoy the Raptors’ current success, one must keep things in perspective and not expect too much come the playoffs. While the Raptors do have the fourth best record, it’s still hard to imagine them beating a healthy Atlanta, Cleveland, or even Chicago team in a seven game series to get to the Finals. And if they do make it to the Finals, they simply aren’t on the same level as Golden State, Memphis or a healthy San Antonio.
The NBA All Star festivities are only one sleep away! Basketball fans across the globe are giddy with excitement as the league prepares to showcase its biggest stars.
Watching the Raptors play basketball down the stretch of close games is kind of like watching a Rocky movie. Last night, Toronto extended their win streak to three games going into the all-star break with a gritty back-and-forth 95-93 victory over the Wizards.
The Raptors used free throws to overcome a dominating display in the paint from Washington to take a 27-25 point lead after the first quarter. The Raps were outscored 22-6 in the paint in the quarter (Wall was 4-4 at the rim) but held on to the lead by hitting 8 of 9 free throws. Lou Williams made an immediate impact, scoring eight points in the period. Both teams were pretty sluggish in the opening stanza, committing 11 turnovers collectively.
Toronto built a 36-27 lead by hitting three consecutive threes to open the second quarter and then basically went ice cold thereafter. Despite the fact that the Raptors only shot 29 percent in quarter, it wasn’t actually one of those stretches of stale iso-ball that makes you want to rip your eyes out. The Raptors moved the ball and created a number of open shots for themselves, they just didn’t hit them. They also stopped the bleeding in the paint on the other end (minus two for the quarter) and only committed one turnover. It was generally a small ball quarter all around, Jonas didn’t play at all and Gortat and Nene logged three minutes between them.
It looked like Washington might run away with things as the Wizards, who shot a blazing 63 percent on the quarter, built a 73-63 lead with 3:18 to play in the third. The Raptors, however, had other plans. Following timeout with 2:53 to play, the Raptors bench led a ballsy defensive stand to bring the Raptors back within one on a 12-3 run to close the quarter. Lou Williams made two huge steals during the run and Patrick Patterson blocked the shit out of Marcin Gortat as he massively fouled DeRozan attempted to put back an offensive rebound.
Vasquez, who otherwise had a pretty quiet game, scored five points during the run.
If the Raptors were nervous about the fact that they blew an 18-point fourth quarter lead last time these teams met, it didn’t show. Toronto carried their stout defensive play into the fourth, holding the Wizards to 31 percent shooting for the quarter, as the two teams slugged it out down to the final possession. Lou Williams hit two big treys down the stretch to put the Raptors up three before John Wall hit a three of his own to tie the game at 93 with 2:10 to play. Both teams missed their next three shots and the Raptors gained possession with 35 seconds to play after Patrick Patterson pulled down a big-time rebound over Drew Gooden.
While the Raptors bench brought them back into the game, their all-stars took them home. On their final offensive possession the Raptors ran an isolation which saw DeRozan matched up against Paul Pierce. After two dribbles and a momentary fumble, DeRozan pulled up and drained a jumper over Pierce from the right elbow to put the Raptors up two with 12.9 seconds to play.
After the big jumper from DeRozan, the Raptors had to make one last defensive stand, which they did in resounding fashion. First, John Wall tried to take it to the basket with eight seconds to play but Kyle “Mutumbo” Lowry stayed with him and came up with a huge block at the rim sending the ball out of bounds.
During a Wizards’ timeout Dwane Casey brought Jonas into the game for the final possession with 8.5 seconds to play. It turned out to be a good decision as the Wizards ran a screen for Wall at the top of the arc which took Lowry out of the play and left Wall to shoot and miss a last-second three over Valanciunas’s outstretched arms.
- There’s no stat to measure intestinal fortitude but if there was the Raptors would rank near the top of the league. Hell of an effort down the stretch and a great way to go into the All-Star break.
- Best record going into the break in franchise history.
- Lou Williams was not only a savior offensively; he also made a major impact on the defensive end. A really tenacious effort.
- Speaking of defense, Patrick Patterson was downright awesome in the second half. Don’t let his stat line fool you. According to Player Tracking, Wizard players shot 2 of 7 at the rim when defended by 2Pat.
- Kudos to Kyle Lowry who not only made the huge block with the game on the line, he also racked up an impressive number of floor burns in the fourth.
- While it was another bad shooting night for DeMar, according to Player Tracking only 9 of his 18 attempts were “contested.” On a different night a lot of those misses would have fallen.
- The Raptors won the free throw battle big time, going 22 of 26 from the line (Wizards 10-16). Lou and DeMar went a combined 17 of 17 and, interestingly enough, Amir, Lou and DeMar took 24 of the Raptors 26 FTAs.
- The Raptors have now swept the Nuggets, Clippers, Kings, Jazz and Wizards on the season.
Indeed, the victory was win no. 36 for the Raptors. And of all of the victories, it might have been the one that most accurately summed up how the team has posted such a fantastic record. Remarkable night from Lou Williams, who scored a game-high 27 points, off of the bench? Check. A few key defensive plays from Patrick Patterson? Check. A spurt from Greivis Vasquez that spanned the third and fourth quarters? Check. Unreliable play from the team’s two third-year contributors, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross? Check (and sigh). And then there were the exploits of DeMar DeRozan, who has had a wildly uneven season, beyond his 21-game absence caused by a groin injury. DeRozan missed 12 of his 18 field-goal attempts, taking some questionable shots. The only way he has stayed halfway efficient is by getting to the free-throw line — he took and made 10 from the stripe. With the score tied 93-93, however, DeRozan had the ball, and then he almost did not. He fumbled the ball as he tried to create separation between himself and Paul Pierce, and saw John Wall reaching for it.
But if the Raptors have shown anything this year, it is that they can battle with the best of them, regardless of how poorly they are shooting the ball or how badly they are getting beat up inside. And things were going pretty poorly in both areas on this night. The Raps got through the first three quarters shooting just 40%, were getting pounded on the boards and almost doubled up on by the Wizards in the points in the paint department. Despite all that and despite being down by 10 with only a couple of minutes left in the third quarter, the Raptors went into the fourth down by just a point. In the fourth, a lot of what the Raptors were missing started to come back, beginning with the three-point shot and, with that boost to the offence and a couple of key stops down the stretch, it was enough to get them into the break on a three-game winning streak thanks to a 95-93 victory.
Was DeMar DeRozan’s game-winner exactly what he was looking for? A contested, fading-elbow jumper over Raptor killer Paul Pierce that DeRozan barely got off after losing his dribble? No. Do you want to have to rely on Lou Williams coming off the bench for 27 points, including eight in the fourth quarter to help erase a 10-point third-quarter deficit? No, but it’s a nice option. Do you want to be down 10 in the middle of a lifeless third quarter? Again no. But so far this season the Raptors have found a way more nights than not, and Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre was another example. The result is a 36-17 mark before the moment in the season all Raptors other than all-star Kyle Lowry enjoy a franchise-record nine days between games that puts them on pace for 56 wins this season. That’s the Raptors people. 56.
To the obvious dismay of Raptors fans, Pierce — the six-foot-seven guard who was showered in boos pretty much every time he touched the ball Wednesday night — came on strong in the third quarter, draining a couple big threes and yanking down some rebounds as the Wizards maintained a thin lead over Toronto. He finished the night with 17 points, including some late-game baskets that enraged the home crowd and nearly gave the Wizards the edge. After the game, Pierce was nowhere to be seen in the visitors’ locker room. “It’s a dog fight in their own house,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “We had a lot of unforced turnovers … that’s what hurt us.”
“I think after my first year, after I really got a chance to be thrown out there in the fire, I took note of that,” DeRozan told the Toronto Sun as he made his exit post-game. “Corey Maggette, I remember when he was with Golden State, he used to lead the league in free throws and he would just tell me that that was a major part of being a scorer. If you want to be a scorer, you’ve got to get to the free-throw line, so, even if you can have off-nights, you can still have 20 and 25 (points) if you get to the free throw line enough. Ever since then, that’s a big deal to me.” Though he didn’t attempt a free throw in the final quarter — coming close to getting fouled on a couple — DeRozan still managed to hit the game-winning jumper, an extremely tough shot.
The Raptors entered the fourth quarter behind by one point, shooting 40 per cent from the field with the Wizards nearly doubling their production in the paint. Lowry’s dive was just one example, Toronto made winning plays on both ends of the floor, salvaging another less than perfect outing and coming out on top. “There were stretches tonight when you might think we already left for vacation,” Dwane Casey said, “but what I liked is they kept grinding. We’re not going to out-talent anybody, we’ve got to do it collectively. If we don’t grind it, get on the floor for loose balls – like when Kyle dove on the floor from like 15-feet and hurt his hand, those are the plays we need to make.” Overall, Lowry had a quiet night. Williams was the catalyst offensively, pouring in 27 points two days after his first scoreless game as a Raptor. DeRozan hit just six of his 18 jumpers, shooting under 40 per cent for the sixth contest in a row, but made all 10 of his free throws – he’s been to the line 35 times over the last three games – and hit the winner over the outstretched arm of a familiar foe, Paul Pierce.
“We have done a good job of just going into the games and being as consistent as we possible could. We had our one stint where we didn’t playing well and then lost two in a row after we had won six. Our mindset is just play as consistently as we can. I think now the proof is in the pudding that we are pretty solid basketball team. For us to win basketball games we all have to be on the same page. After the break we have to step it up one more notch when everyone comes back fully rested.” – Lou Williams on how the first half of the season has gone
The Wizards were dominating on the boards. They were controlling the paint. Somehow, undermanned without Bradley Beal and Kris Humphries, an elusive victory over a quality Eastern Conference foe — and a matchup nightmare — was procurable at Air Canada Centre. But a carelessness-infused combustion promptly vaporized the cushion and ignited a fourth-quarter tussle. By the end of it, DeMar DeRozan’s jumper with 12.9 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner after Wall’s three-pointer bounced off the back iron as the buzzer sounded in a 95-93 Wizards’ loss to enter the all-star break. “When you are on the road and work yourselves up to a 10-point lead, there’s got to be precision,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said.
John Wall pushed the pace, found open players, made the game as easy as possible for his teammates, and, when he saw an opportunity, he sprinted past the entire Raptors team for buckets. Wizards watchers will remember this game (for a few days) as the one where Wall missed a desperation 3 at the end of the game, after Wittman’s “elevator doors” went absolutely nowhere (no respect for execution). But the Washington’s best player led the team in scoring for the 23rd time this season and, two minutes before the final buzzer, hit a 3 to tie the game at 93. “We just have to do a better job of closing out quarters,” Wall said. Totally. (Having your starting center in the game might help in that regard.)
Coming into this game, the general feeling was that if Washington won, they’d officially be “back” and out of their slump. While they didn’t win tonight, it’s certainly not a sign that things are crashing down and that panic should be setting in during the break. The Wizards played the Raptors close for most of this game, staging multiple small comebacks, and were a crazy DeRozan shot away from at least taking this one to overtime. All of that without Beal or Humphries. Marcin Gortat continues to play himself out of his personal slump, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds, while Nene shot an amazing 7-for-8. On defense, Lou Williams and DeRozan both had huge nights, but Kyle Lowry was held in check for most of the night by Wall and the frontcourt did an excellent job of protecting the rim. Frankly, this game came down to the fact that the Wizards failed to score in the final two minutes, that they turned it over 16 times and that their perimeter shooters just weren’t knocking them down tonight. That doesn’t mean they’re still in some sort of a slump, or that their past two wins against the Nets and Magic meant nothing.
Again, the second unit ruined whatever momentum the Washington Wizards gained. Garrett Temple committed two dumb fouls on Lou Williams and it seemed like the Wizards were throwing up prayers every time up the court. When Kevin Seraphin is your best offensive option off the bench, you’re probably going to have a tough time sustaining leads. The second unit’s offense consisted of Seraphin 20 foot jump shot, Rasual Butler fadeaways, and Drew Gooden tip-ins.
Casey: “You would think we already left for vacation tonight on a couple of possessions. What I liked about tonight is they kept grinding and it’s a grind-it-out league. Things are not easy. We have no easy games. If we don’t play the way we played down the stretch we aren’t going to beat too many teams. We aren’t going to out-talent anybody. We’ve got to do it collectively. That play where Kyle (Lowry) dove on the floor from about 15-feet or whatever it was and wrecked up his hand… those are the kinds of plays we need to make. The charge I thought that Amir (Johnson) had that David disagreed with? Those are the kind of plays we have to make.”
The Raptors of the final 15 minutes or so were a team that could do no wrong. They were a team whereby every shot Lou Williams, human fireball, took went in (he finished 8-for-16, 4-for-8 from 3, 7-for-7 from the line for 27 points); where Patrick Patterson – despite shooting 1-for-8 – will make key defensive plays everywhere on the floor; where Kyle Lowry can win a foot race with the lightning fast John Wall; where DeRozan can shoot 6-for-18, take a myriad of awful contested jumpers and still hit the game winner (over Paul Pierce, no less; how’s that for dramatic stakes?). They are a team that has now won the season series 3-0 over the Wizards. The Raptors now head into the All-Star break at 36-17, their best record ever as a franchise. This is a team of ups and downs; that’s undeniably true. But it is also a team that wins more than it loses. “At the end of the day we won the game and I’m excited,” said Lowry. “We won the game and we are going into the break on a high note.”
The defence from Toronto was solid tonight. The Wizards present a tough matchup at nearly every position until they start reaching into their bench. The starters for the Wizards carried the load as expected, but Toronto was able to force Washington to commit 16 turnovers. Another key to winning this game was the collection of errors by Drew Gooden III, who was in control the final few Wizards possessions. The Raptors next test is a ways away, but you better believe that Atlanta team will be prepared for the Raptors.
Interestingly, while he was considered a swingman coming out of Wake Forest and was played as such during the earlier periods of his career, up through his stint in Memphis, Johnson has primarily been a frontcourt player in Toronto, logging 97% of his minutes at the 4 or 5. The results have been marked. His on/off split stands at +9.1 points per possession, and his WS/48 stands as the fourth highest on the Raptors at .162. All of this combined to make James Johnson the perfect Alternative All-Star. There’s no way a defensive bench forward would ever get real consideration for the actual All-Star Game, but as it stands, he’s one of the best players on one of the best teams in the league and, above all, is incredibly fun to watch when he’s on, which is what this whole thing is about, right?
To be more specific, during the month of December, a 31-day span in which Lowry enjoyed his most productive month as a pro, producing a gaudy line of 22.3/4.2/8.9 on 57.5 percent TS% — in spite of the absence of All-Star teammate DeMar DeRozan — the Raptors managed to lead the league in Offensive Rating scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions, while doing so on a true shooting clip of 56.2 percent as a team, per NBA.com; flaunting their way to a highly impressive 11-4 record. Similarly, in November, Lowry, alongside a healthy DeRozan, was able to put up a 19.7/5.2/6.4 line on 56.2 percent true shooting as the Raptors started the season off with the second best offense in the league, sporting an Offensive Rating of 110.6 on 56.0 percent TS% as a team, as Toronto won 12 of their 16 contests during the month. Conversely, as the Raptors’ season took a turn for the worse, a worn-down Lowry would average a pedestrian 16.6/5.1/6.8, during the month of January, on an uninspiring 47.7 percent TS%. Consequently, Toronto’s offensive efficiency dropped to 105.3, and likewise, their TS% to 53.0 percent, as the Dinos had to scratch and claw their way to a 9-7 record.
It’s just not working out for him here maybe he can be dealt at the trade deadline for something useful. He’s not some young player with upside he’s a lost inconsistent 24 year old with no heart or any desire to get better. Bruno can’t be that much worse than him at this point…. Hopefully the Raps will stop that bad habit they have of reaching for guys in the draft
He was the odd man out after Casey tweaked his starting lineup by shuffling around Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez. A hamstring injury cost him a couple of games in between, but it was revisions in the rotation and DeMar DeRozan’s return from injury that primarily kept Johnson on the sidelines. Never fear, though. After two strong showings as a starter against the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs this month, Johnson shouldn’t have to worry about his playing time fluctuating anymore. He scored 36 points on a combined 15-of-17 shooting as Toronto knocked off two Western Conference powerhouses in a matter of days. “With J.J. out there, he’s going to be just as aggressive as me and Kyle,” DeRozan said after the Spurs game on Feb. 8, per Eric Koreen of the National Post.
Young players and drafts picks are like wasting assets. If you can’t use them, you can lose them for nothing. There is almost no way Ujiri can keep all three of his upcoming first round draft picks, his two rookies (that aren’t playing) and use the draft rights to his second rounders. That’s five to seven players who aren’t ready for prime time on a contending team and the Raptors simply don’t have room for all of them on a 15 man roster. Ujiri has grease to burn on the hot list.
Kyle Lowry gave an interview to Rick Kamla, Jerry Stackhouse, and Dennis Scott on NBA TV and spoke about a bunch of subjects. He was also asked about his block on John Wall, and he quipped:
“I’m just like Dikembe Mutumbo sometimes. John’s an extremely fast guy, and I knew he was going to try to get to the basket and sneak drive. I just happened to get to the right position to get the block”
My bigs and my teammates did a great job on that last possession. JV contested a three late. It was a great win for us. I’m extremely happy and we’re going into the break on a good note”
Asked about winning when you’re not shooting the ball well as a team:
DeMar does a great job of getting to the line. Lou does a great job of getting to the line. We got guys who know how to draw fouls and make free-throws at the same time. It’s the type of game you got to win. You got to win the games where you’re shooting the ball well, but more important and more special are the times when you win a game when you’re not shooting well, when things aren’t going your way. You got to find ways to win games, grind them out, and that’s what we did.
Here’s the play:
Here’s the video:
Bonus Lowry Vine!
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry after Toronto held on to beat Washington 95-93.
It wasn’t pretty, but proved entertaining. The Raptors head into the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak.
Some pre-game audio to get you in tune for the Wiz.
Jonas Valanciunas is written about constantly, and still remains a mystery to be figured out. At 22 years of age, Jonas is already in his third year in the NBA and is central to the Raptors goals, both immediate and future.
As a fan, it’s tough for me to keep perspective. I keep expecting him to make ‘the leap’ into the star that I fully believe he can become, and yet the progress appears slow and steady even at the fastest moments.
Glimpses are available. We get to watch him light up the Detroit Pistons and Andre Drummond to the tune of 20 points and 11 rebounds in just 28 minutes in their most recent match, or their previous game that saw Jonas get 31 points and 12 rebounds.
Of players who have attempted a minimum of six shots per game, Jonas currently has the sixth best field goal percentage on the season (minimum 20 games played). Of these players, only Dwight Howard (11FGA) has attempted taken more attempted more shots than Jonas’ 8.1 per game.
The five players who rank ahead of Jonas? DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, Amir Johnson(!!!), Mason Plumlee, and Dwight Howard.
His efficiency is incredible and should be celebrated, and extends to the free throw line as well. Despite attempting just 3.7 shots per game from the charity stripe (comparable to DeAndre’s 3.8, far fewer than Plumlee’s 4.6 or Dwight’s 6.9), only Dwight Howard from this group has made more free throws on a per game basis than Jonas. This is due to the simple fact that Jonas hits his free throws at a rate of 80.6 percent, while all others from this group (save for Amir) have failed to break 56 percent.
His offence has been brilliant, and this despite the number of times he gets looked off by the Raptors’ guards.
But what has held Valanciunas back so far in his career has been his defense. He has clearly struggled at times on the season, has the third worst fourth quarter +/- on the Raptors (ahead of only Landry Fields and Lucas Nogueira), and has been slow to rotate in help situations.
This is the reason why Casey has barely played minutes in the fourth quarter this season, having appeared in the fourth quarter just 35 times this season, compared to the 51 games he has played.
And as Casey has been apt to remind us of, his players need to earn their playing time through their defense (and yet Vasquez gets a free pass…).
Some of that appears to be changing though. Valanciunas has shown significant strides of late in regards to his defense, as the last five games as shown an elite level of rim protection from Jonas.
Opponents have shot 30% at rim (9-for-30) against Jonas Valanciunas past 5 games. Ultra elite stretch since 45% considered solid, 35% great
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 9, 2015
Even if you extend this range to six feet from the basket, Jonas is still allowing his opponents to shoot just 38.1 percent over the last five games. This means that he is forcing his opponents to shoot 23.2 percent below their season averages within six feet.
Look at the players that Valanciunas has battled during this stretch. Marcin Gortat, Nene, John Henson, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee, Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Aron Baynes, Tiago Splitter, and Tim Duncan.
This current run isn’t against second rate players. Valanciunas has more than held his own against some potent offensive players, while also increasing his rebounding rate form 18.5 percent to 20.8 percent.
Small sample sizes be damned sometimes. It’s just five games, but when talking about a young player it’s important to recognize moments of growth…and this might be one of them for Jonas.
If Jonas can develop into an elite (or even near elite) rim protector (his law of verticality is getting much improved this season), the Raptors could be transformed as a team.
No one can reasonably expect Valanciunas to continue to provide this level of rim protection, considering he has allowed his opponents to shoot 55.4 percent within six feet on the season. But even if Jonas can find a middle ground between these season long numbers and his elite numbers form the last five games, the Raptors will have to consider this season a success for Jonas’ development.
I find myself browsing to the NBA standings page quite frequently these days. If I’m waiting at a bus stop I’ll just pull out the nba.com standings, knowing full well what they are, just to see the ridiculous 35-17 the Raptors have next to them. It’s like I’m prolonging this moment knowing that I’m going to get hurt again. The nitty gritty stuff about losing to the Bucks and Nets at home is dwarfed by the sheer magnanimity of being 35-17. 35-17!
Do realize that this is a franchise that has been so horrible, so hard to watch, and so mismanaged over the years, that failure wasn’t something you dreaded or feared, it was expected and anything other than abject disaster was met with a healthy sense of scepticism. It’s like those spam phone calls you get with an automated message telling you that you’ve won a cruise to the Bahamas. You know it’s complete BS and you hang up immediately. Only this time, you’ve actually won a cruise to the Bahamas.
There is no denying that there is a huge element of luck to the Raptors success. In fact, Masai Ujiri tried very hard to do stupid things to this team by trying to blow it up and almost trade Kyle Lowry, only to pull off a Homer Simponesque escape. It’s much like that Simpsons episode where Homer’s throwing trash out his window and piling it up in his lawn, only to become Sanitation Commissioner. That luck, though, has been long overdue and something that I’ve come to accept.
Right, we were talking about 35-17. The Raptors happen to have accumulated that record with zero contribution from their 13-15 guys, and marginal appearances from there 11-12 spots. It’s hard to recall the 13-15 spots in a Raptors roster providing this little of a contribution. This is in large part due to the rotation being set and the first 10 guys having enough talent that you don’t need anybody from that deep in the bench to contribute. Even then, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, and Greg Steimsma, are so entrenched on the bench that they’ve become comic book characters more than NBA players.
The 22-year old Lucas Nogueria is the one that puzzles me, especially because Hassan Whiteside had shown a hell of a lot more than him in summer league, but Nogueria’s illusion of potential trumped the 25-year old Whiteside’s product. Among Ujiri’s many moves, this one is a head-scratcher because, even at the time, it was fairly obvious that Whiteside had more to offer. No point in crying over spilt milk, though.
Those bottom three have combined to play a total of 83 minutes, which is less than half of Chuck Hayes’ 176. On a team that’s lacking a big and seemingly has one with a skill-set that Dwane Casey likes (i.e., hedges out, recovers, covers ground in long strides, apparently block shots), I keep having to remind myself that the reason Nogueira isn’t getting any time is because he’s simply not ready.
Him and his Brazilian teammate are children. Then again, I second guess myself and say why not? Why can’t we throw this 22-year old (which isn’t exactly young – he’s three months younger than Valanciunas) into a fire a little bit? Why can’t we hold him to the high standards we hold Valanciunas to? After all, both are international players who have played professionally overseas. Or is Noguiera the Todd Cleary of the roster, where you sort of have to hide him because he’s so embarrassingly bad?
Throughout this season and starting in the summer there’s also been the whole “best backcourt in the East” BS that’s been going around. This is a discussion that it’s entirely fuelled by Twitter, because people need something to talk about and the games just aren’t enough. Is it DeRozan/Lowry, is it Beal/Wall, or is it Whogives/Ashit? I suppose we’ll never know, and the answer will probably come from how far the teams go in the playoffs. Yesterday, though, James Johnson threw some more fuel to the fire (in a voice that you don’t really associate with him – he’s got a David Beckham thing going):
The game itself should be a good one, as it always is with Washington. They never end up using their bigs to hurt us, so despite there being a perceived advantage on paper, it never fails to materialize since they’re very much an outside-in team than one that likes to leverage their bigs to set their offense up. Come playoff time this all may change but for now their approach to the Raptors has been something we’ve been able to handle easily.
A key player in the Raptors winning 8 out of 10 has been Patrick Patterson, who has made two adjustments to his approach of late:
First, he’s stepping in from the three-point line and is not strictly a floor-stretcher. In a way, he’s putting the four back in the stretch four. In the last 10 games, 48% of his shots have been threes, which is down from 54%. This is a big change which has made him more versatile on offense, and able to contribute in initiating a play, or being part of the middle sequence of it, rather than just finish with a three. Much like inserting James Johnson into the starting lineup, it’s a very obvious tactical shift that was made quite late in the season, but better late than never.
In this stretch he’s also improved his rebounding from 5.3 to 6.2 a game, and one of the other reasons he’s been effective on offensive is that he’s playing more with Jonas Valanciunas, which means he’s not constantly overmatched on the boards and can conserve his energy for closeouts, chasing guys through screens (see Kawhi Leonard in the fourth), instead of getting physically overpowered on the glass.
The key observation here is that if you install Valanciunas in the middle, you can afford to switch 3/4 with Johnson and Patterson, making the Raptors defense more suitable for prevention rather than recovery. Instead of fighting through screens and always getting caught, the Raptors have been switching 3/4 a lot more (and even 2/3/4 in some scenarios – see Clippers), thus conceding fewer wide open perimeter looks. The sample size here isn’t very big to comment on, so this is one to keep your eye on.
Final thought to Dwane Casey and his isolation heavy offense and poor defensive ranking. The only theory that makes any sense here is that he’s adapting to the players he has, and not letting his defensive instincts make the team more rigid. For a guy often accused of rigidity, maybe, in some weird sort of way, he’s showing the ultimate sign of fluidity in letting the offensive talents on his roster dictate the play, rather than instilling a slower pace which he’s proved he’s been able to implement and succeed in (his first season with the Raptors).
My gut tells me that this offense can’t hold and be productive in clutch playoff situations because it relies on one individual beating their man one-on-one on almost every possession, and does not have enough ball and off-the-ball movement. For a team that’s currently 25th in assisted twos, and 29th in assisted threes, introducing a change to a team-oriented, assist-heavy style of play is impossible at this point in the season. Instead, what Raptors fans should hope for is that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are able to elevate their games in the playoffs, and that they get the respect from the officials. Because once teams get physical against DeRozan, unlike last year, there’s not much of a team fallback. And if you think Lou Williams’ individual guard play is going to win you playoff games, you’re sadly mistaken.
Let’s worry about that then. For now, we’re 35-17.
Toronto and Washington meet in a battle for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. (more…)
Toronto had obvious flaws that became exploited in DeRozan’s absence but haven’t been erased by his return. Casey is still trying to find a consistent rotation or a lineup he can trust. Terrence Ross was recently benched in favor of Greivis Vasquez, and Jonas Valanciunas has been such a liability that Casey usually keeps his promising but still-developing big man on the bench in the fourth quarter. The Raptors were one of two teams to rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency last season but Casey’s plans of picking up the pace have led to them making slight improvements on offense and plummeting on defense. They rank fourth in the league in offensive rating (109 points per 100 possessions) but are 19th in defensive rating (104.4). Lowry has a reputation for being a tenacious defender but hasn’t been able to expend as much energy on that end with more scoring responsibility. And now, when it should be his turn to relieve Lowry from that exhausting 21-game stretch without his all-star backcourt mate, DeRozan has been in a season-long shooting slump.
“But he’s getting much, much better at leading with his chest and hitting with his chest. Those are on the vertical jumps specifically. Where you make contact chest to chest. If you turn even a little bit, which he turned against the Clippers, they’ll call it. I thought it was close and said ‘I’ve been working with him on that,’ (the ref) said, ‘he turned at the last minute coach, I wasn’t going to call it, but he did.’ JV argued with me when I showed him on the film,” Bayno said with a laugh. Bayno sees Valanciunas getting better and better at the skill as he gets older and wiser. The team wants him to hang out down low for longer, using as much as the time he is allowed down there before being whistled for a violation — and they are even fine with the odd three-second call as well — because the tradeoff will be that Valanciunas will be in position to deter driving opponents more often. It is already happening, according to Bayno, who is the staffer that spends the most time developing Valanciunas (legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich recently praised Casey’s staff for the job they have done developing players. Valanciunas was singled out). “Getting him to err on the side of over-helping and overprotecting, which is what teams are doing to us, I think that’s gotten better,” Bayno said.
[The first component], which everyone is talking about: This league is going small. You look at a lot of games—especially down the stretch of games—teams are keeping one big on the floor and that big is not a true big, it may be a power forward, and everyone is trying to play quicker. That’s just the evolution of this league. So players like [Valanciunas], Andre Drummond and other bigs really get hurt in that situation. But—and, arguably, this may be the most important: Valanciunas has to demand the basketball. When guys have taken three or four crazy shots, he has to go up to his guards and grab them by the shirt and say, “Give me the damn ball. Now.”
Talk about making an impact! The last two games vs the Clippers and Spurs he’s been huge. Bottom line; they don’t win either game without him. He has that next level talent that when he plays under control can take his team to another gear. His versatility at the 3 and 4 spots is impressive. Sooner or later you knew he’d earn back some minutes and it couldn’t have come at a better time. If he can stay consistent in his approach, it will really help this club. They need what he brings because in many areas they don’t have enough of what he has. When he’s right, they are a dangerous team.
Quick Stat Hits: How Does The Raptors’ Perimeter Offense Check Out? | Raptors HQ
Again, catch and shoot here looks good (this includes jumpers and shots near the rim). Same goes for a one dribble escape or drive – 49 percent eFG% is pretty good. Those account for 57 percent of the Raptors’ shots. The other 43 percent break down into isolations of varying degrees – making a quick move against a defender, lining a defender up, or basically dribbling out the clock. Note that the Raptors are actually pretty good relative to other teams in isolation, but the bar for isolation success is pretty low – no one is good at it. So taking almost half your shots off the dribble, including a full third of them in blatant isolation, is a little problematic. Even worse, looking at the Raptors’ three point attempts, one in three of them are off the dribble. One in three! And off the dribble, the team as a whole shoots 29 percent on pull-up 3’s, versus 39 percent on catch-and-shoot 3’s.
In our fifth episode, Koreen and MacKenzie assess the Raptors ahead of the trade deadline, get friendly with Zach LaVine and praise Gregg Popovich’s skill at mind games.
They could use an upgrade at the power forward position, and they have numerous expiring contracts — Amir Johnson ($7 million), Landry Fields ($6.25 million), Chuck Hayes ($5.95 million), Lou Williams ($5.45 million) and Tyler Hansbrough ($3.32 million). They have been basically treading water since starting the season en fuego, and general manager Masai Ujiri knows that the championship window is more open this season than many might have expected. Yes, the Cavs are starting to play like everyone expected (only took 3 months), and the Hawks are a spectacular assemblage of well-fitting parts, but it is not like either of those teams could not be knocked off in a seven-game series. In my preseason preview I listed David West of the Pacers as the most likely good player to be traded, and it would not surprise me if some combination of expiring contracts plus a No. 1 pick (the Raptors would give up their own in 2015; but not the one they have coming from the Knicks in 2016) would be offered to Indiana for a player who can produce points and rebounds out of the 4 spot more consistently than Amir Johnson.
The matchup showcases the two starting guards for the East in Sunday’s all-star game. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry will line up with Washington’s John Wall at Madison Square Garden on Sunday – Lowry a first-timer, Wall making his second appearance but his first as a starter. Many eyes will be on the exciting young stars. Similarities don’t end there. On their respective teams, Wall and Lowry are part of potent backcourt duos, though Wall will be without Bradley Beal in Toronto on Wednesday – the shooting guard is expected to miss his third game with a toe injury. That’s a costly absence since Beal was averaging 15 points and 3.8 rebounds a night. Lowry’s backcourt mate, DeMar DeRozan, is hitting his stride after returning last month from a lengthy layoff due to a groin injury. “It’s a team that is very up-and-coming, just like us,” Lowry said of the Wizards. “Wall and Beal are really good, both young and talented – they’re right up there in ranking. One is an All-Star starter, and the other I believe will be a future all-star.”
The Wizards are a bit beaten up; a sore toe has kept Bradley Beal out of their last two games and Kris Humphries lasted only four minutes of game Monday before he crashed to the floor and hurt his back. Neither is a sure thing to go Wednesday night … Toronto’s going for a season-sweep of the series, having beaten Washington twice already … Matchup of the Eastern Conference all-star starting backcourt of John Wall and Kyle Lowry … Wall leads the NBA in total assists and total steals
Washington ranks among the top defensive teams in the league with 97.4 points allowed per game and is 17-0 when holding the opposition to 91 or fewer. Toronto sits among the NBA’s best with 105.8 points per game. After averaging 84.0 over back-to-back losses, the Raptors bounced back Friday with a 123-107 win over the Los Angeles Clippers before grinding out an 87-82 victory against San Antonio on Sunday. “We are trying to get where they are and where they’ve been,” Lowry told the team’s official website of the Spurs. “It’s a great test for us. They know every night that they are getting every team’s best shot because of who they are. “For us, it’s a stepping-stone.”
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As per this, the Raptors will be sporting four regular uniforms. A standard home and road, plus two alternates, one of them Drake themed. Here they are, and I highly doubt that this leak is reliable just because how plain these jerseys look. I mean, I could come up with this stuff in Photoshop, and even most of the candidates of our rebrand contest were better.
Note that Drake may not have anything to do with these, because you may recall that he explicitly denied any involvement in the logo redesign by tweeting: “This redesign was executed without me. My collaboration with Mitchell & Ness comes out next season.”
Also, where’s the purple? Do you not realize how awesome purple is? In fact, get rid of the red completely and start experimenting with rainbow colours.
Update: Another Leak!
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 11, 2015
“He’s been great. He understands. I spoke to him briefly earlier, he understands that when DeMar came back, somebody’s minutes was going to decrease,”
– Dwane Casey on James Johnson’s lack of minutes, January 29th
That notion that James Johnson’s lack of playing time was down to DeMar DeRozan’s return is a myth ready to be debunked on its own. Prior to DeRozan’s injury against the Mavericks in November, JJ was averaging just over 18 minutes per game. At the time of Casey’s above quote, those minutes had dropped to 11.4 per game since DeMar’s return against the 76ers.
The drastic change in time-distribution didn’t have so much to do with DeMar’s return, but to accommodate Greivis Vasquez who’s emerged back to his old form. It was indeed Vasquez who benefited most from James Johnson’s demotion during those stretch of games. Vasquez is averaging 8.8 more minutes now since DeMar’s return than he was prior to DeMar’s injury in November.
The experiment to reduce James Johnson’s minutes after DeMar’s return spanned about nine games (not factoring in the games he was inactive due to injury). The Raptors went 6-2 when Johnson played less than 15 minutes. All six wins came against teams with a sub .500 record. The two loses came against the Pelicans and Grizzlies. The debate to play JJ against both of those teams has been beaten to death, so we won’t go there.
Amidst all those games, James Johnson played over 15 minutes just once – it was in the blowout loss to Atlanta at home. That’s deceiving. In 26 minutes, James Johnson was one of only three Raptors who didn’t have a negative net rating in that game. He also shot 7/11 from the floor and tied Jonas for a team-high six rebounds.
Most recently James Johnson bounced back from injury to lift the Raptors with two huge wins against two Western Conference foes where he shot a combined 15/17 from the floor.
That’s astounding. Even if it’s a small sample size, it’s astounding.
His shooting percentage in the past two games is no fluke, it’s actually a manifestation of his entire season which proves he has taken good shots all year. Among all players in the league (not just qualified), JJ ranks 16th in FG% at 61%. Obviously, the longer the range, the worse his shooting percentage is; but around the basket he’s an absolute stud. Once Johnson gets inside the restricted area, he converts 71% of his attempts.
Beyond that, he helps the team. Johnson has the fourth best PER on the team after Lowry, Jonas, and Lou. Players like Lou put up good stats against opposing bench players. On the flip-side, although Johnson is typically a bench player, he gets a lot of his stats against some of the most elite players in the league. Take Friday’s game against the Clippers as an example. While Blake Griffin and the Clips’ were rolling in the early-goings of the game, James Johnson came in and stopped the bleeding by putting a body on Griffin and making it difficult for him on the offensive end.
Against the Spurs it was more of the same. As a starter, Johnson held Kawhi Leonard to just 5/17 from the floor.
His defense in general is just something to be reckoned with. Among all qualified players on the roster, Johnson has the best defensive rating on the team at 104.
“It gives us a physical presence with him in there,” Casey said. “I was worried about his minutes but he was OK. We were keeping an eye on that but he came through with flying colours. I thought he did an admirable job defensively and he got that big rebound for us at the end. That’s what we need him to do in that position — make those gritty plays.”
Currently, JJ has started eight games this season, and the Raptors are 5-3 in those games. Only one of those games have been since DeMar’s return – the other seven have been when the Raptors weren’t at full strength. What I would love to see is for Dwane Casey to keep rolling with this experiment, if only to have a more accurate statistical analysis of just how much he makes this team better with a bigger role.
Dwane Casey deserves a lot of credit for inserting James Johnson into the starting lineup for the game Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Only two of those changes to Toronto’s starters weren’t due to trades or injuries.
That means Casey is the kind of coach that likes his rotations and sticks with them through hell or high water. It was just last week I wrote about this here on Raptors Republic.
Casey being a coach that sticks with a set starting unit and rotations isn’t a bad thing as last season the Raptors set a franchise mark for highest winning percentage and this season they are on pace to eclipse that mark.
Clearly Casey knows what he’s doing and the Raptors are having success with him at the helm.
The interesting thing is both of those Casey’s changes to his starting five that weren’t due to trades or injuries have happened over the past month.
The first occurred when Terrence Ross was moved to a bench role and the second time was yesterday when James Johnson was given a chance to move into the starting line-up.
Johnson had been inactive for four games before he helped Toronto steal a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. He also racked up two DNP-CD’s earlier this month.
Johnson played a shade under 19 minutes against the Clippers and chipped in 16 points (while going 7-7 from the field), five rebounds and two steals. He had a plus/minus rating of +14 and he did a great job getting under the skin of Blake Griffin.
Johnson was moved into Toronto’s starting five yesterday and he rewarded Casey with 20 points (8-10 from the field) and a team-high plus/minus rating of +20. All while guarding the MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals.
Fans have been clamouring for a starting unit of James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. What’s interesting is that Casey seemed to be getting a sample size with those five playing together as they played 10 minutes together against the Spurs.
The experiment worked as they had a plus/minus rating of +16.
It’s a small sample size – 10 minutes and one game – but it’s still good enough for the third best +/- rating for any NBA team over their past game.
Those five players have the fourth best +/- rating this month of any five-man unit in the NBA despite playing less minutes than any of the pairings with a higher rating.
Also worth noting is the fact Casey let Jonas Valanciunas play late in the game yesterday. This it’s been baffling to watch Valanciunas play big minutes in the first and third quarters, sparse minutes in the second quarter, and then not see the court in the fourth quarter.
The fact Casey allowed Valanciunas to play big minutes in the fourth quarter – well deserved minutes, by the way – and started James Johnson shows that Casey is starting to go with his gut more and show a willingness to switch things up.
It also shows he’s willing to match up against certain players or give a player with a hot hand more minutes late in a game.
This kind of growth is a welcome change from Casey.
While Terrence Ross’ starting spot has been in a state of flux lately, the other four starting spots are firmly locked in place and working well. There’s very little worry about the core four there. The small forward spot though has been a problem for the team this year (and last year as well). The bench has been up and down as well. With the surging Cavaliers and a Bulls team that could return from the break healthy and focused, where do the Raptors stand on shoring up their vulnerabilities down the final third of the season?
It’s as if the answer to the Raptors matchup and lineup problems at the 3 spot was right there, waiting, on the roster the whole time. James ‘Bloodsport’ Johnson. Yes, his listed nickname on basketball-reference.com is ‘Bloodsport.’ Just when you thought you couldn’t like him even more. Dwayne Casey was maybe the last holdout in the city to come around on James Johnson, but he seems to have finally gotten there. There was some understandable reason to the hesitancy to put Johnson in the starting lineup. He can’t shoot 3s. He’s a career 26% shooter from deep. Starting a 3 in Johnson beside a 2 in DeRozan who both can’t shoot can seriously cramp the teams spacing. But that worry ignores two important factors. 1) Johnson has been quietly acceptable from 3 the past two seasons as long as he’s shooting from the corners. 2) James Johnson is awesome, so who cares. His decision making on when to cut, when to post up, when to drive and when to shoot when he gets the ball has been borderline flawless. He can be a beast at both ends, especially at the small forward spot, and offers tremendous flexibility at the power forward spot too, as evidenced by his success in the both the win against San Antonio, and his efforts in shutting down Blake Griffin against the Clippers. A healthy diet of James Johnson is just what this team needs. Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan are too undersized to play the 3 against the league’s elite, bigger scoring forwards. Landry Fields has been a large net negative whenever he’s been on the floor this season in proof of life situations. And Bruno is a pipe dream for this season. A glorious, wonderful and exciting pipe dream; but still, one that totally isn’t happening this year. And that’s ok, because Bruno is young. Like, crazy young. When Bruno was born, Zach Morris and Kelly Kapowski had already celebrated the one-year anniversary of their wedding in Las Vegas. For anyone for whom Saved By The Bell doesn’t play an appropriately dominant pop culture role, I’ll put it another way. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky began having sexual relations in the Oval Office a month after Bruno was born. The kid is young, so it’s ok to expect a long gestation period. In the meantime, we ride with James Johnson. He’s a very good defender, with the ability to body larger forwards and switch on to any position. He’s not a great shooter, but there is evidence that he’s at least an adequate enough one from the corners, and his smart style of attacking the basket, cutting and moving the ball fits in perfectly with the team oriented ball the Raptors starters use when they’re playing their best.
The bench unit started the season out like gangbusters. Since DeRozan’s hip injury, there has been a fair amount of variance in the bench lineup. When the bench is on, they’ve been a tremendous advantage. Another of saying this, really, is that when Lou Williams is on, the bench has been great. We’ve had good Lou Williams this year, and we’ve had bad Lou Williams. The highs and lows have been polarized. He can go 1 for 13 with bad defense for two games, but then he can put in 17 points in 15 minutes as well. Bad Lou is the price that you pay for the good Lou, and the benefits of good Lou have far outweighed the cost this year. Remember, Lou Williams is essentially John Salmons. That’s a giant wad of found money.
Tyler Hansbrough has been more or less frozen out of the last two games, both wins, over tough Western Conference teams. With James Johnson playing some minutes at power forward, it allowed Casey to roll with the three-man rotation of Valanciunas, Patterson and Amir Johnson. If Valanciunas can play more minutes and James Johnson gets some run at power forward, it could go a long way towards solving the team’s lack of depth at centre that exposes itself on the bench unit. A bonified back-up centre would be great, but there are a dozen other teams in the league who feel that way too. Size has never been tougher to find, as evidenced by Cleveland paying two first round draft picks just for simple big man competency in Timofey Mozgov.
On the whole, the bench unit has actually been fantastic this year. The Raptors are outscoring opponents by the largest margins in the 2nd quarter (+2.4 margin, 3rd best in the league), which is typically when the bench plays its longest stretch of minutes together. Having a bench that can extend your lead or get you back into the game is an absolutely huge regular season weapon. The bench has been a far and away benefit whenever they’ve played against other teams backups. They’ve gotten the team into a spot of trouble here and there whenever Casey has ridden out their good play too long, letting them matchup wholesale against the opposing team’s line of starters once they’re put back in the game. There is something to rewarding good play, and something to riding out the hot hand, but Casey has gotten burned a few times this season by having the bench unit give up the lead they had safeguarded against opposing backups to the starters they’ve been left out against. That’s a misuse of the bench unit, not an inherent problem of it though. Casey has been a little better about integrating the starters back into the lineup sooner and more staggered lately to positive results. It will be interesting to see how that balances out moving forward. There is still a lot of season left, and despite the long all-star break, there will be a real grind to it. Getting the most the most the team can get from their bench can add a few important wins in the right column down the stretch. Getting the most possible minutes out of the bench to keep the starters healthy and fresh is another part of this, but Casey needs to make sure that it doesn’t come at the cost of winnable games or digging a hole for the starters to fight out of in the final seven or eight minutes of the game.
With James Johnson playing full minutes at small forward with the starters and power forward in dynamic small ball lineups and to help stretch out the minutes of the bench, the Raptors are a tougher team to beat. The bench unit isn’t going to have it every night; Grievis Vasquez and Lou Williams can combine ice cold shooting with bad defense and a fast pace at times. That’s a devilishly bad cocktail. But they can also extend leads or get the team out of a hole and back in a game in a hurry. They can score in a hurry. Allowing your starters to play less minutes keeps them healthier, and there is a very real inefficiency to exploit if you can score efficiently with your bench units. Once again, points count for the same amount no matter when you score them. The bench matters. Every position on the floor matters. The Raptors aren’t perfect, but they’re looking to be in good shape on these two fronts down the stretch.
With Johnson in, the Raptors now lack that sort of long-range accuracy. With Johnson starting, the Raptors do not have a single player shooting above the league average of 35 per cent who takes those shots at a high frequency. (Amir Johnson has actually hit 49 per cent of his three-pointers this season, but he has taken only 29 of them.) Teams respect Lowry’s shot, even though he is hitting only 33 per cent of his team-high 281 attempts this season. Opponents will not be running out to contest the shots of either of the Johnsons nor DeRozan. And that will create issues as DeRozan and Lowry look to get to the rim, just as it did in that key possession against the Spurs. However, Johnson has something going for him in those instances. He might not be able to make defences pay by shooting over them, but he can take the ball right at them. “Just keep attacking,” Johnson said. “Because they’re backed up, that means I’m going to get closer to the basket. They’ll bring another guy to help pack paint and somebody’s going to be open.”
“You never know how many minutes you’re gonna get, when’s your next opportunity to play, so you just have to stay ready. Give a lot of credit to [assistant coach] Jama [Mahlalela], always coming up there, sacrificing some dinner times with me, coming up there at nighttime. It’s working out.” This has become part of Johnson’s regular post-game routine. Mahlalela has been working with him individually for weeks. “We’ll actually go up after the games,” Mahlalela told TSN.ca in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “He’ll literally just change out of his uniform and into practice clothes and we’ll go up and spend anywhere between 20 minutes and 30 minutes, it’s never that long. But really just honing his craft. “We’ve been doing that I think every game since he’s been back,” he continued. “And then also we come back in the evenings on an off-day, so a night like tonight and tomorrow night we’ll get him back in the gym. And then we’ll spend about 30-45 minutes and get a volume of three-point
“I accepted (my role). I knew what my role was going to be before I signed that contract (with Toronto). You can’t come to a job expecting to get $5 and then want more because you work harder than everybody else. You know what you signed up for and that’s what I did. I signed up for the defensive part and I am an opportunity scorer, so I deal with that.”
James Johnson is getting more minutes. The Raptors tried to go with offence over defence in using Greivis Vasquez rather than Johnson or even Terrence Ross, but the defensive drop-off was just too great. Athletically, Johnson can help a defence by just being on the floor. On top of that, he brings a physical presence that can intimidate and make an opponent think twice about going to the rim.
It’s never a good time for a team to lose a star player, but this is the point when teams generally make their moves to solidify spots in the standings and being at full strength is paramount. An injury early in the year can be withstood, but there are times when teams need to be whole. Like the Raptors are now. They were able to tread water for the quarter of a season they were without DeMar DeRozan and the half-dozen or so games after his return, when he was just getting back to full speed. Now they have everyone and they know it’s time to keep moving forward. They took what they think was a giant step with Sunday’s stirring victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. “I think we set the bar high, and we’ve got to keep going to that standard,” James Johnson said after starring in the Spurs game. “We can’t go back to playing (like we did) in that little slump. We know what we’re capable of. We’ve got to keep playing that way.”
“That’s our goal,” Casey said at the time. “Right now, we’re working to get back there, whether we get there or not, we may be a different team. “We may face the reality that we are a different team, different style of play according to who we are this year. We’re going to strive to continue to get there and we’ve shown flashes of it but the reality is, we may be a different type of team. “I do know we’ve got to continue to work to get better if we’re serious about making a run in the playoffs,” Casey said. “Chicago’s going through the same thing, a lot of teams are more offensive, whether we want to admit it or not. I know that defence wins and that’s who we (were) and who we want to be but we’re probably slanting more to the offensive side right now.” Now, somewhere within the past two weeks, that ‘slant’ has become less pronounced. At the risk of putting too much emphasis on the past two games, the Raptors appear to have relocated some of that fight, some of that nastiness that had gone missing from their game and that leads directly to keeping opponents from scoring at the levels they have been of late.
Whether the sponsorship is a function of great timing or of Lowry’s inherent appeal as a pitchman, George Brown College sports marketing professor Peter Widdis says the Lowry sponsorship embodies the kind of synergies that get sports marketers fired up. The Raptors’ We the North campaign inspired Sport Chek’s My North, and Adidas pitchman Lowry gets to bring those sponsorships together. “You connect those dots and it’s the perfect marriage,” Widdis says. “You have Sport Chek activating a campaign in pure harmony with our strategy, and you have a player brand in Kyle that has Canadian relevance. It brings a nice face to the label.”
“It just shows I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere,” said the 28-year old veteran, who’s in his ninth NBA season. “I’m getting support from my country – the country of Canada – like getting voted into the all-star game and now striking a deal with Sport Chek. It’s a testament to me being excited to be back here.” The advertising campaign makes Lowry the face of Sport Chek’s grassroots #MyNorth campaign, launched in conjunction with the Raptors and MLSE to spotlight Toronto’s basketball culture. He also joins Sport Chek’s Jumpstart Charities, which help financially disadvantaged kids get involved in organized sports.
Sport Chek will be announcing a new sponsorship with Kyle Lowry. To celebrate this deal, Sport Chek will host a basketball practice through its grassroots #MyNorth program that will feature Sherman Hamilton and Kyle Lowry with players from Markham Unionville Minor Basketball Association. Launched in partnership with MLSE and the Toronto Raptors earlier in the year, the #MyNorth platform was created to celebrate the city’s rich, deep-rooted basketball culture, provide unique opportunities for young players and share the real stories of the city’s basketball scene – from the local heroes to the first-time ball players.
Casey came aboard during the 2011-12 season after an impressive championship run as an assistant in Dallas. He was credited with designing a defense that brought out the best in Dirk Nowitzki and it was hoped he could do the same for Andrea Bargnani in Toronto. Casey came in preaching defense and used his mantra “Pound the Rock” to inspire consistency in his team. He definitely had his work cut out for him, both because of Bargnani’s lack of defensive ability and the fact that he inherited a rebuilding team with a roster full of question marks. The former Dallas assistant did not quite get the memo that the team was trying to rebuild and like other Raptor coaches before him, went about winning as many games as he could leading the team to a better than expected record and much lower draft choice than anticipated. This was an impressive feat especially considering the lack of obvious talent on the team, but certainly not what the front office wanted. There was a clear lack of communication between Casey and GM Bryan Colangelo.
The Markham players and coaches were at the centre of the action on the Toronto Raptors Practice Court at the Air Canada Centre on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. It appears getting the chance to meet Lowry was a surprise for the youthful basketball enthusiasts, who reacted accordingly. “Their reaction was priceless,” Lowry said. “Whenever you get the chance to have that kind of reaction from the kids, it’s always a good time.”
Patterson’s free throw attempts haven’t increased – yet, but with more shots in and around the painted area, that is something that should take care of itself. “It’s just all about what you do in the summertime,” Patterson said. “Each and every one of us changed our game in the summertime and you are seeing different aspects of it and you are seeing the improvements that we made.” The next step in Patterson’s game will be to simply take more shots when he is open and use his newly developed abilities to blow by defenders to get into the paint with and without the ball more often. It is starting to happen, but he could do more. It might take some careful observations to notice the improvements to Patterson’s offensive game, but on defense, it is becoming a lot easier to see just how much Head Coach Dwane Casey has come to rely on him.
It’s no secret that the Toronto Raptors will be undergoing a jersey redesign and rebranding this coming summer. And with the recent release of an alternate logo, and possible teaser for things to come, we thought we’d try our hand at some possible Raptors redesigns. BarDown artist blkoutln designed a few possible Raptors redesigns and a couple bonus redesigns just for fun.
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As first announced by The Forzani Group which owns SportChek, Kyle Lowry’s first big Canadian endorsement will be SportChek.
He gave an interview where he spoke about opportunities coming left and right at him, partially because of being in Canada and being an All-Star, and how he’s got to be selective.
You had one or two deals. Now you have a lot more, because I do play in Canada which is a country [with] a big market out here. There’s a lot of deals that are thrown at you. Before, if you’re an average player you don’t get these type of things. Being an All-Star you get a lot more attention, and you can get partnerships as [corporates] want to reach out to All-Stars and get higher quality deals.
“It just shows I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m getting support from my country – the country of Canada – like getting voted into the all-star game and now striking a deal with Sport Chek. It’s a testament to me being excited to be back here.”
Good for Lowry and the Raptors. Him getting the All-Star nod because of the #NBABallot movement and subsequent deals with national brands definitely helps when making free-agent pitches. As much as Lowry and SportChek are a fit, we still think Hedo Turkoglu and pizza, and Andrea Bargnani and pasta, were just too good to top. Maybe next time, Kyle.
What made both these commercials great is that this isn’t just them pretending to do a commercial. This was their exact approach towards being an NBA player.
Conventional wisdom carries a lot of baggage. It becomes conventional because, over time, it is proven accurate often enough that people just start generally accepting it as truth. The baggage comes in, though, with the lack of scrutiny that wisdom is then subjected to.
Case in point: James Johnson should not be a suitable starter for the Toronto Raptors because he can’t hit three-point shots (Sunday’s corner bomb notwithstanding, Johnson has been awful from three this year, connecting on just 19.4% of his tries). With DeMar DeRozan a veritable nonentity behind the arc and Kyle Lowry struggling from three this season (33.2%, down from 38% a season ago), the thinking was that the useable floorspace would simply be too clogged if Johnson was slotted into Toronto’s starting unit. I wrote so myself only a few weeks ago.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway.
What Johnson has proven in his two games back since his hamstring injury (and in several games earlier in the season) is that the bag of tricks that he brings to the table, even if it doesn’t include an effective three-point shot, is plenty full enough to make it work with Toronto’s first unit. He’s more than his crappy three-point percentage to this team.
One has to remember that three-point shooting is not the only thing that the Toronto starting five lacks. When you have DeRozan, Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas on the floor together, you are also stocked with guys that love to go one-on-one with opponents, which means a lot of standing around and waiting for the ball. You also have precious little ball movement, with guys typically only looking to pass to once they’ve been bottled up (DeRozan and Lowry both make nice, effective passes, but they do not excel in keeping the ball moving).
And let’s not even start on the perimeter defence.
Johnson, however, changes the look on the floor by addressing several of these issues. He is one of the most willing cutters off of the ball that this team has, and he has good hands and can catch the ball on the move and make a play with it. He has always been a more than willing passer, but he’s added a level of judiciousness with the ball and a much tighter handle to operate with. Both of those skills instantly create a lot more movement when he’s on the floor, and his footwork makes him both effective at knifing his way to the basket and also serving him well on post-up opportunities. He makes quick reads with and without the ball and he has the requisite skills to make those reads useful, which helps make the first five more effective.
However, all of those effective traits are secondary to his ability and willingness to play defence on the perimeter. He helped hold Kawhi Leonard to 5-17 shooting on Sunday and only 11 points. He also played tremendous defence at the power forward spot on Friday against Blake Griffin and the Clippers. The Raptors have been a fairly effective offensive team this year, even if they do go through some ugly droughts in-game, but they need all the help they can get defensively. While Johnson may not be up to Dwane Casey’s standard when it comes to executing all of the team’s defensive schemes, right now he just needs perimeter players that can stay in front of their man and body them up. On this iteration of the Raptors Johnson is far and away the best option in that category, and if they want to do anything in the postseason they are going to have to accept that they need what he brings on the defensive end more than they need what Terrence Ross (or Greivis Vasquez) bring on the offensive end from behind the arc.
Now, this is a very easy perspective to take after two games, both wins, even if Johnson had a massive hand in making both of those wins possible. By playing heavy minutes at power forward on Friday and starting the game unexpectedly on Sunday, both the Clippers and the Spurs were probably caught a little off guard and off the script from their scouting reports. Johnson is not about to become a nightly 20 ppg scorer, nor is he likely keep shooting 87.5% like he has since he came back. However, it has become clear that Ross’s ability to space the floor does not do enough to mask the utter lack of supplementary skills he has to offer, just like it is clear that Greivis Vasquez is too slow-footed to continue guarding starting one’s and two’s. This isn’t a case of Johnson being the perfect starter for the Raptors for now and forever, but given what Dwane Casey has to work with he certainly appears to be the most capable fifth starter that he has at his disposal.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was cool on the prospect of the Raptors bringing Johnson back last summer. His flameout with the team was fairly complete when he was traded away back in 2012 — he had made it pretty clear he saw himself as a scorer first, defender second — and while he had played well in spurts with the Memphis Grizzlies last season it didn’t amount to a ‘must have’ when free agency rolled around.
It’s clear now, though, that Johnson has dedicated himself to becoming the player that both Jay Triano and Dwane Casey had hoped he’d evolve into during his first stint with the club. He uses his array of skills to make the team look good first, rather than himself, and he’s significantly reduced gambling (on both ends) that made him equal parts thrilling and enervating to watch back when. It became clear even during something as superficial as his reactions from the bench when he was hardly playing and his refusal to complain about it in the media. Maturity has many forms and Johnson has demonstrated it at just about every opportunity since re-signing with the organization.
Now we just have to wait and see what happens with the adrenal elixir of coming back from injury and getting inserted into the starting lineup wears off. When teams have had a chance to scout this lineup and figure out how to punish it for its lack of floor-spacing.
Because, sadly, if teams start forcing the Raptors to beat them with long range shooting, then suddenly that conventional wisdom starts poking its head back in the door. Johnson may be more than his crappy three-point percentage, but now he and the team have to make sure they are maximizing all his tools, every single game, so as to not get trapped by their limitation beyond the arc.
Hey, Hot-lanta: Don’t start poppin’ champagne just yet!
If this game-of-the-year nominee is any indication, the East’s home-court advantage is still up for grabs. If anybody has a problem with that notion, direct your concerns to the Raps’ resident Lithuanian lieutenant. Otherwise known as the beast unleashed!
The Raps are seven games out of top-spot with 30 to go; stranger things have happened. Ok, deep breath…..How about we begin with the even-keel approach, and go from there.
Chances are, any fan’s desired storyline came to fruition in Sunday night’s clash with San Antonio. If the issue of consistency was on the docket, you still endured frustration, but came away pleased overall. How about an uptick in James Johnson’s minutes? A resounding affirmative is sure to follow. Or, if you’re in the business of predicting the future, Jonas Valanciunas transforming before our very eyes was a sight to behold.
It’s no secret this team currently has on-court issues, but the Spurs held a perfect opportunity for a pop quiz. A test against elite fundamentals, superior ball-movement, and the league’s 4th-ranked rating on defense. Oh, and just that minuscule intimidation factor of the defending champs stepping into the building.
If there is one scenario the faithful should always be able to expect, it would be anything resembling stability. But as we’ve all become accustomed to, on any given night, you can flip a coin as to which version of the Raps will show up. Friday night’s battle with the Clippers reminded us all that this tends to transpire on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
However, kudos must be handed out. The last-laugh on Blake Griffin’s blatant elbows-up mentality was accomplished. A disastrous 23-8 start morphed into a 115-84 celebration the rest of the way. Even though the relationship between Raptors and Zebras remains untrustworthy.
Let’s breakdown Sunday’s action into the aforementioned three sections. Leading off with the latter:
1. Valanciunas’ breakout performance:
The notion that JV needs to start demanding the ball, or as some have coined it: “The onus is on Jonas”, is only worth a 50 percent grade. The other half is hogwash.
Sure, every squad needs their most prominent big-man to make their presence felt. But last time I checked, traffic isn’t directed down on the blocks.
Even though 16 boards (a season high, with 9 in the third quarter) and four rejections are displayed in the boxscore, this night was not about statistics. The most impressive representation was JV seemingly breaking out of his shell. The at-times timid 22-year-old brought physicality and emotion throughout, in one of the best defensive showings of his young career.
If it takes non-call aggravation to awaken his progress, it was worth it. It may not be the vocal approach, but fourth-quarter minutes moving forward were earned on this night. Make it happen, D.C.
2. James Johnson to the rescue:
In a surprise move, JJ was inserted into the starting lineup at the three-spot. Shifting DeRozan back to shooting guard, while banishing Vasquez to the bench. Insert an entire city’s happy dance, here.
Casey: You’ve totally redeemed yourself! … Actually, that was 100 percent sarcastic! … Those recent DNP’s are unforgivable!
It didn’t take long for Johnson to pick up where he left off vs. the Clippers. Causing havoc at both ends while dropping a season-high 20 points (8-10 from the field) in the process.
Pick your positive poison: lane penetration (I could have sworn Sade’s “Smooth Operator” was playing in the background with every drive), low-post moves (there is no player on the roster that can match), or the versatility to guard a team’s 1 through 5. Whether straight-up, or helping on a switch.
Too many variables open up when JJ is on the court to let him go astray once again. Now, Casey stated in his post-game presser that the insertion into the starting unit was for defensive purposes. At this point, even D.C. must be seeing the light. If not, prepare for war Coach. This city is not opposed to friendly fire.
A true offensive identity has yet to be formed. It makes one wonder if team practices are just exaggerated scrimmage sessions. Players have to execute, but that mentality can only be an extension of the Head Coach. When shots are dropping, inefficiencies can easily play the background. But therein lies the problem, fans have been spoiled by the outside shot. When clanks start to rear their ugly head, it’s almost as if the Raps have no fallback options.
Fast-break opportunities should be taken whenever possible, and pace is important, to a certain extent. But when it comes at the expense of pulling-up behind the arc with nobody in position to create a second-chance reset, what positive does that provide? Not to mention the caught-in-the-act openings it produces for the opposition.
The correlation between attempts from downtown and a team’s success in today’s NBA is not top-secret intel. As it stands, nine out of the top 10 in three-point attempts and percentage are all playoff bound. This is where it gets tricky for T.O. They rank 5th in long-distance chucks, but also slot in at 15th in terms of productivity.
A balance needs to be struck. If the first pick-and-roll deems unsuccessful, swing that rock to opposite end and try again. Lowry and DeRozan must be able to penetrate, but where’s that extra pass after the initial dime is made. This is not Rucker Park, too many freestyle isolations will come back to bite in the end. Although, i’m sure even 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard involve the front-court more than the Raps do.
The defense, in rare occurrences, can be ferocious. Problem is, most of the time this unit simulates quicksand. Casey enjoys preaching the team concept, but screen recognition, lazy help, and getting caught watching the paint dry in transition have burned this club all season.
- Held the Spurs to their lowest shooting percentage (33.3) of the season. But 93 Field Goal attempts were allowed. Raps: 74
- A 20-6 disparity in Offensive Rebounds, in favor of San Antonio.
- An even split in Points in the paint: 40/40.
- Fast break points: 14-5, with the Raps leading the way.
- As much as this matchup offered a playoff atmosphere, both squads committed 14 turnovers.
- Lowry is becoming increasingly careless with the basketball.
- Sweet Lou’s individual style of play is turning into a detriment
- A welcomed ratio of 24 free-throws to 13 attempts from downtown
- But most importantly, increased ball movement, and an enhanced effort on defense are back, at least for now.
A mixed bag is still ongoing, however.
But will the Raps’ upward trend continue? Well, let’s go best-of-seven. Call it in the air.
Wednesday’s tilt with the Wizards, who really should still go by their former “Bullets” moniker. D.C.’s crime-rate isn’t what it once was. Surely influenced by Toronto’s former Ford administration — regardless, Washington will be out for 2-seed blood.
Followed up but a four-game road trip. Headlined by a backbone-check down south, and thoughts of James Harden’s step-back jumper that are sure to cause chaos. If recent debacles against Brooklyn and the Bucks are worrisome, an ATL film session is a recommended reminder.
In closing, a couple items:
Dean Smith: May you rest in peace. Basketball fans everywhere are in mourning.
Lastly, an episode in confusion. I know the Raps’ rise in popularity is more than just an influx of a new generation. But that must explain the crowd’s actions at halftime against the Clippers. One would think that when a legend such as Phife Dawg grabs the mic, a more enthusiastic reception would have taken place.
Do old-schoolers not attend games anymore?
A little Monday pick-me-up: Can the Raps kick it?…Yes they can!”.
Andrew and Zarar convene after the Spurs win and celebrate the inevitability that was James Johnson entering the starting lineup.
- Reaction to Spurs game
- James Johnson no-brainer
- Jonas Valanciunas gets emotional…in a good way
- Pump-faking his way to greatness
- Beat the Clippers/Spurs, lose to Bucks/Nets – what gives?
- Kyle Lowry free safety role
- James Johnson v Blake Griffin
- A real win which you can build upon
- Halftime coach vs assistant coach interviews
- Terrence Ross progress…but with no results…but that’s OK
- Marco Belinelli
- Casey showing signs of not being rigid
- Key Patterson for Vasquez sub vs Spurs
- DeMar DeRozan’s subtle, highly effective ball-handling changes
- Butch Carter comments on DeMar’s shooting
- DeMar DeRozan’s trips to the line against good defenders
- Ciroc Height of Celebration
- Dwane Casey looking back on the Raptors win over the Bulls in ’96?
- Washington preview
- Wizards big men aren’t really big
- Skills challenge not challenging
- NBA video games
- Betting on Lowry picking up that charge in the ASG
In his post-game press conference, Dwane Casey was prompted about James Johnson, and he shed some light on why Johnson started.
Asked why James Johnson started:
It wasn’t for the three. It was for defensive purposes, to matchup with Kawhi Leonard, to give us a physical presence with him. I was worried about his minutes, but he was OK and his hammy was OK. We were watching that, but he came through with flying colours.
I thought he did an admirable job rebounding defensively. He got that big rebound in the end. Those are the things that we have to have him do at that position, to make those gritty plays.
Asked how he was able to get his points, despite teams slacking off of him:
He was attacking the rim, he was going to the basket and taking what the defense gave him. It was a good job on his part of reading. If [Spurs] backed up, he did a good job of taking up the slack and going to the rim. It was a good job on his part.
No word on whether this is a permanent move, which it obviously should be. Actually, Johnson should’ve been starting right after DeRozan went down with injury (readers agree), but we’re just glad it’s better late than never.
James Johnson is your basketball overlord. Toronto puts in a great defensive performance and Popovich will have to wait to hit 1,000 wins.
- Record: 32-18 (8-2)
- Western (7)
- Southwest (4)
- 106.4 ORTG (13)
- 102.3 DRTG (4)
- 93.3 Pace (19)
- 77.5 DRB% (4)
- 0.546 TS% (8)
- Kawhi Leonard 15.9 ppg
- Tim Duncan 10.1 rpg
- Manu Ginobili 4.9 apg
- Tim Duncan 1.9 bpg
- Kawhi Leonard 2.1 spg
- Record: 34-17 (7-3)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 112.7 ORTG (2)
- 107.5 DRTG (22)
- 93.1 Pace (21)
- 73.5 DRB% (23)
- 0.556 TS% (5)
- Kyle Lowry 18.9 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.5 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7.2 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg
Last June, the Spurs put on one of the most incredible displays of basketball the NBA has ever seen when they thoroughly beat the reigning two-time NBA champions, the Miami Heat. A team previously derided as boring suddenly made passing and teamwork exciting and trendy. The pounding the Heat received was so thorough that it may have been one of the main reasons LeBron decided to leave Miami to return to Cleveland.
The Spurs domination goes well beyond last season. In the 38 years the Spurs have been in the NBA, they have missed the playoffs just four times, and three of those times were in the 80s. They’ve been past the first round of the playoffs 26 times and have won five titles. Since the Raptors came into the league, the Spurs have missed the playoffs just once.
They’ve also been one of the most stable franchises, in large part due to it’s success on the court. Gregg Popovich has been the head coach of the Spurs for 18 years. In that same time, the Raptors have gone through 7 coaches.
To put it mildly, the Raptors and Spurs are two teams with two VERY different histories.
While the Spurs had a playoffs to remember, I’m sure most Spurs fans would like to forget most of the season so far. Just their starters have missed a total of 62 games, and that doesn’t include guys like playoff hero, Patty Mills, who missed the first 31 games of the season, due to shoulder surgery. Ironically, the team’s two oldest and usually more injury prone players have been relatively healthy. 38 year old Tim Duncan and 37 year old Manu Ginobili are both playing the most minutes they played in years, mostly due to the injuries of their teammates, but they’re also not nearly as productive as they usually are.
Despite all this, the Spurs somehow are in the thick of the playoff race in the tough Western Conference, sitting in the 7th seed with a record just slightly worse than the Raptors. They’ve been able to do it by getting back to their roots and playing some of the best defense in the league. And with a healthy roster, they’ve been able to win 9 of their last 11 games, but have only scored 100 points or more in 4 of those games.
What may be most surprising about the Spurs, this year, is that they only have one player scoring more than 14.6 ppg and that’s last year’s Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, who’s only averaging 15.9 ppg.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Will The Raptors End Their Streak?
Ironically, the last time the Raptors beat the Spurs, Marco Belinelli was playing for the Raptors. They haven’t beat them in more than five years, and in that game, the Spurs trotted out a starting lineup of Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson, Keith Bogans, Antonio McDyess and Tony Ratliff (although both Duncan and Ginobili did come off the bench).
How Good Is Kawhi Leonard?
After winning the Finals MVP and outplaying the best player on the planet, in the final three games of the playoffs, many predicted Leonard would take his place among the best players in the league, this season. While he’s definitely played well, and missed 18 games due to injury, his play has not been as dominant as many hoped or expected. In truth, Leonard is actually playing at a level better than he did in the playoffs, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever become a top 10 scorer in the league, as he simply doesn’t have a scorers mentality.
While he wasn’t in the All Star conversation, Leonard is a devastatingly dangerous 2-way player who has the potential to be a huge thorn in the Raptors’ side.
Is James Johnson Back?
After being one of the most important Raptors during the first two and a half months of the season, Johnson fell off the map after a big loss to Atlanta on January 16th. In the last ten games before the Clippers game, Friday night, James Johnson had 6 DNPs and in the four games he did get on the floor, he played less than 10 minutes.
And then he came into the game against the Clippers and proceeded to hit 7 of 7 shots, grab 5 rebounds, dish out 3 assists and rack up 2 steals on the way to a resounding 123-107 win.
Is the 18 minutes Johnson played simply a blip, or is he out of Casey’s doghouse?
The Spurs won the title last year, in large part, due to their starters. They have a former multiple MVP and 15 time All Star, a 6 time All Star and Finals MVP and another Finals MVP who hasn’t yet hit his prime.
While the Raptors have one of the better benches in the league, the Spurs were able to withstand the previously mentioned 62 games missed by starters because of the strength of their bench. And they have future Hall of Famer, Ginobili.
Gregg Popovich has won five titles, three Coach of the Year Awards, the Spurs are consistently one of the best coached teams in the league. Casey has been to the playoffs once and hasn’t been through an entire season where his coaching skills haven’t been questioned.
While the Spurs have a record that is slightly worse than the Raptors do, they are a better team that is healthy for the first time this season and have had the Raptors’ number for most of their existence. To make matters worse, the Raptors have struggled against the better defensive teams. In games where they have scored fewer than 100 points, the Raptors are 5-7, and the Spurs have held their opponents to fewer than 100 points in 8 of their last 11 games.
Score: Spurs 101 – Raptors 92
Raptors linked to Taj Gibson by reports, the five types of Raptors fans and DeRozan’s passing.
Well, that was fun. The Raptors came out looking like hot garbage, and then delighted us with three beautiful quarters of basketball in a 123-107 home victory over the Clippers.
The reason the doubts have begun to creep in – and why they have some credence – is Raptor’s significant drop on defense this season. Last season, Toronto was one of only two teams in the NBA to finish among the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, ranking ninth in both categories. This season, the offense has improved, shooting up to fourth in the league by averaging 109 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com – trailing only the Clippers, Warriors and Mavericks. But the defense has fallen sharply, ranking 21st by giving up 104.6 points per 100 possessions. For Casey, a coach who prides himself on success at the defensive end of the court, it’s a frustrating development. “We’ve kind of flipped the pendulum,” Casey said. “We wanted to get better offensively, and I think we took it to playing fast. And when you have that philosophy, or that emphasis, and I think our defense has given in a little bit. “We’re trying to get a balance.”
The Raptors outscore opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions when Williams is on the floor, and he has proven integral to their success. Following Friday’s game, the Raptors are 17-6 when Williams scores above his season average of 15.2 points, and an ordinary 17-11 when he does not. When Williams is good, the Raptors are very good. When he is bad, though, it is ugly. In losses against Milwaukee and Brooklyn earlier in the week, Williams a combined 2 for 23, 16 of those attempts coming from three-point range. Yet, he played 50 total minutes, and kept shooting and shooting and shooting. And, well, missing and missing and missing, with no second thoughts. “You have to live with some of his shots,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s who he is. He was that way in Philly. He was that way in Atlanta. Again, he just has to be smart in those situations, which he is, and make good decisions when teams are trying to take the ball out of his hands.”
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey gave the lion’s share of the credit to his bench as a whole. Williams and Johnson carried the scoring load, but all five off the bench played a role taking back momentum with stops and good, old-fashioned hard play defensively. “We need that spark from the bench,” Casey said. “We have to start getting quicker starts (from the starting five) … but I loved the way we bounced back. I loved the fight and the tenacity we had defensively against one of the top scoring teams in the league. I loved the way the guys responded.” Patrick Patterson, who would finish with 11 points, made his biggest contributions on the defensive end. Between himself and James Johnson and Amir Johnson, that trio set the tone defensively the remainder of the night. Casey singled out Patterson’s willingness to stand in the lane and take a crushing blow from a driving Blake Griffin as perhaps the turning point in the game. The fact that Patterson was called for a foul on the play (he actually did it twice and was whistled for a foul both times much to his own disbelief) didn’t matter in the least to Casey.
This wasn’t an example of a head coach whining about officiating. Far from it. Rather, it was an acknowledgement of the type of effort that spurred the Toronto Raptors to a 123-107 win over the Clippers at the Air Canada Centre. Patterson had just drained a three to bring the Raptors to within 11 points with 9:14 remaining until half-time. Hustling back, he stared at Blake Griffin as the Clippers forward peeled away from everyone and drove the lane, reared back for one of those dunks. So Patterson jumped – straight up, it seemed, to everybody but the officials. There was no way Griffin was going to shove it in anyone’s face. No way, no how. Griffin made his two free-throws, but the point was very much taken. It was one of those “not in our house” moments that had been lacking in the first two games of this home-stand. “I just made a point to (the) team about it,” Casey said, noting he had reviewed the tape and felt Patterson had provided a textbook, letter-of-the-law block. “We teach them all the time that’s how to do it. It was huge, him (Patterson) going up. It takes a lot of … kahunas … to go up and do that. It’s what we teach when we talk about what it takes to protect the rim. I love Patrick … he’s a warrior.”
Patterson likes the way he and starter Amir Johnson complement each other. When they’re in a game together, there’s chemistry. Amir averages 26.6 minutes, 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Patterson’s comparable numbers are 26.5 minutes, 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Patterson feels he learns from his teammate’s strengths. “Me and Amir are almost the same as far as on the defensive end, as far as talking and communicating, trying to protect the rim (with height and strength) and an occasional block here or there,” Patterson said. “As far as energy on the defensive end, (it’s about) communication, talking amongst ourselves and teammates and just trying to be a vocal leader and an energetic leader out there.”
Then, last but not least, there’s James Johnson, who returned from a four-game absence with a hamstring injury after spending most of the last month at the back end of Casey’s rotation. The versatile forward made an immediate impact, mostly playing out of position (if you can call it that, given his size) at the four and guarding Griffin. “He showed it,” DeRozan said of Johnson, who scored 16 points in 19 minutes, hitting all seven of his attempts, all from inside two-feet. “He came out and he played amazing. Guarding Blake, being real efficiency, cutting, being in the right places at the right time on the court.”
Lead by twelve points (on perfect 5-for-5 shooting) from James Johnson, the Raptors outscored the Clippers 38-25 in the second quarter on the way to a suddenly close 59-57 game. Read that sentence again to let it sink in. Johnson, the lost legend of Toronto, surrounded by injury talk and possible conspiracy, returned from exile played just shy of 19 minutes in the game, shot a perfect 7-for-7 (all his plays were at the rim) for 16 points, tucked in five rebounds and three assists, and frustrated everyone from Blake Griffin to Chris Paul on defense. It was the story of the game – but not the only story of the game. Lost in Johnson’s folk lore building appearance (and disappearance; JJ went to put some shots up immediately post-game and was not available for questions afterwards), was the giddy explosion of Raptors offense and defense that hasn’t been seen against a quality opponent for some time. In the second half, the lead only grew.
The other thing to talk about before we get into the real meat and potatoes portion is that you have to give credit to the other team in this game. Toronto didn’t panic after a dismal first quarter. They started running their sets, got back into the game against the horrific bench defense, and then kept it going the rest of the way as the Clippers couldn’t figure out how to stop them. They got great contributions out of nearly everyone. Kyle Lowry’s third quarter propelled them, DeMar DeRozan’s march to the free throw line sustained them, and James Johnson’s minutes were invaluable as ever. Even Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez showed up, knocking down a combined seven threes. Their defense picked up but mainly their offense did the work. They stopped turning the ball over, moved more, and the Clippers couldn’t get the mismatches in transition and secondary breaks like they did in the first quarter. Their final three quarters were some of the best basketball you’ll ever see.
As a native of the East coast, I love it when good Eastern Conference teams beat good Western Conference teams (I’m on the lonely island that doesn’t want the playoff format to change, but that’s another story). I’m not saying it was great to see the Clippers get stomped on for the second straight night. But the Raptors swept the Clippers this year, and in convincing fashion. That’s a good basketball team, and it’s the second time this year they cleaned out the Clippers after getting outscored in the first quarter.
You’ll quickly realize that the theme of tonight’s post-game report card is the night and day performance of the Raptors before and after the opening frame. Something clicked with Toronto after the first intermission. The switches were much better, the communication improved, and most importantly, the intensity level was cranked up a few notches. Amir Johnson, James Johnson, and Patrick Patterson all did their part in ensuring that the Clippers bigs wouldn’t come away with the easy looks they were able to generate early on. Blake Griffin still had a huge night statistically, but in the grand scheme of things, the emphasis on protecting the paint ultimately changed the direction of the game. The perimeter defense of the Raptors (after the first quarter) wasn’t half bad either. After getting anything they wanted in the first 12 minutes, the Clippers offense slowed down drastically, and the team simply couldn’t get enough to keep up with the Raptors after the momentum shift.
It’s hard to see much in there that would get the Pacers’ front office frothy with anticipation, especially knowing how much they value David West. But Amir Johnson is a good player and every team needs more future draft picks.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Canadian Press, Nathan Denette
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Huge comeback from 23 down.
With Toronto off to the best start in the history of the franchise, I wanted to ask Doc Rivers what has impressed him about the team while he’s been watching game tape and preparing for the game tonight.
Rivers is impressed with DeMar DeRozan and boasted that he’s an all-star, but what really impressed him is how Toronto plays as a team.
They have some All-Stars. DeRozan’s an All-Star, not this year, but we know he’s an All-Star, we know that. They play so well together, they share the wealth, they have a great team spirit. They’re not the Pistons of Tayshaun Prince but they remind you a lot of that. They play hard, they’re tough, they defend…tough to prepare for.
Here’s audio of Dwane Casey chatting with the media about DeMar DeRozan passing too much and how he hasn’t had much luck working officials to get calls.
After watching Casey’s latest media scrum, its evident that he counters/dodges questions regarding the team’s competence level with remarks such as “It’s a process”, “We’re nowhere near where we have to be”, “We’re not a finished product..” and so on. So the question is simple: How much more time do we give Dwane Casey to complete this “process”, so that we can officially know what the “finished product” is?
- Record: 33-17 (7-3)
- Western (5)
- Pacific (2)
- 113.3 ORTG (1)
- 105.8 DRTG (14)
- 94 Pace (14)
- 76.2 DRB% (6)
- 0.57 TS% (2)
- Blake Griffin 22.6 ppg
- DeAndre Jordan 13.6 rpg
- Chris Paul 9.6 apg
- DeAndre Jordan 2.4 bpg
- Chris Paul 1.9 spg
- Record: 33-17 (7-3)
- Eastern (2)
- Atlantic (1)
- 112.3 ORTG (2)
- 107.3 DRTG (20)
- 93.1 Pace (22)
- 73.3 DRB% (24)
- 0.553 TS% (6)
- Kyle Lowry 18.8 ppg
- Jonas Valanciunas 8.5 rpg
- Kyle Lowry 7.4 apg
- Jonas Valanciunas 1.2 bpg
- Kyle Lowry 1.6 spg
It’s a struggling Toronto Raptors team against an impressive Los Angeles Clippers team. It’s a Friday night home game with a now-unusual 7 p.m. tip-off. It’s on ESPN (and Sportsnet One). It’s kind of a big deal.
The Clippers are an interesting opponent for the Raptors right now considering how things looked the last time the two sides squared off. Rewind to Dec. 27, and a DeMar DeRozan-less Raptors team went into Staples Center and took a 110-98 victory from the Clippers, quite possibly the team’s high-water mark for the season. They were 23-7, and after beating the Nuggets in Denver the next night, things went off the rails.
Friday’s match-up no longer looks like a battle between top-two offenses (to be fair, the Raptors remain fourth), it no longer looks like a battle between the best point guards in each conference (sorry, Kyle Lowry, but you haven’t been that guy since), and it no longer looks like even a long-shot Finals preview (it probably never did). The Raptors haven’t played well in over a month, and though the Clippers have dropped a few winnable ones of late, they’re in a much better place, even with J.J. Redick’s sore back highlighting their paucity of wing options.
On the bright side for Toronto, the Clippers were in Cleveland on Thursday and could be tired, explaining why the Raptors enter as two-point favorites. Based on home court numbers for the season, that implies the Raptors are within roughly a point of the Clippers on neutral ground, which I think is a bit friendly to Toronto. As has often been the case in the past few weeks, I’m somewhere south of confident, but let’s break it down.
Blake: The Clippers have the league’s best offense, but how seriously is threatened if J.J. Redick misses significant time with back spasms?
Roscoe: The Clippers arguably run six-deep so losing one of those six is always going to hurt. Redick is one of the best role players in the league and is an integral part of the Clippers’ offense. More than just a shooter (43% from deep), Redick runs defenders ragged, coming off of countless screens in the half court. Just from a familiarity perspective, Redick missing a substantial chunk of time will hurt the Clippers continuity. In 46 games, the Clippers’ starting unit has played nearly 300 more minutes together than the next closest team. The offensive rating for that group is 117.2 points per 100 possessions. The good news? When Crawford replaces Redick with the starters (as is often the case in the fourth quarter) the offensive rating is even higher. Long term, there are red flags surrounding Redick’s longevity too; a shooter on the wrong side of 30 with back problems (he missed 47 games last year) is not a good sign.
Roscoe: Both the Raptors and the Clippers lost to the Nets this week, for which team was the loss more troublesome?
Blake: I don’t think the loss is that troublesome for the Clippers, who lost Redick and just generally had a poor outing. Wednesday’s game for Toronto was just one game, too, obviously, but stood to back up a lot of concerns that were beneath the surface during the team’s recent six-game winning streak. Basically, the Raptors haven’t played well since late December but have benefited from an easy stretch of schedule. An ugly loss to Brooklyn – less than a week after coughing up a 17-point lead to that same team and needing overtime to win – affirms that Toronto has lost its way some.
Blake: What the hell has Doc Rivers, the executive, been thinking, and how much better could this team be with a few small non-moves?
Roscoe: Maybe it was all part of his master plan to save his son’s NBA career? Maybe he’s trying to piece together a roster of former Celtic heroes from 2009? Who knows? One thing is for sure, Doc’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations with the Clippers has been marred by one mistake after another. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but unfortunately, the roster as it stands now has spiralled out of Doc’s first deal when he traded Eric Bledsoe away for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Without taking you on a tour of Decisions of Doc’s Past, let’s just say he whiffed on four moves this off-season alone: Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ekpe Udoh. If one of those had worked out (and there is still time for Hawes) then maybe Doc’s GM-ing abilities wouldn’t be in the firing line so much.
Roscoe: Should we get used to Terrence Ross coming off of the bench long-term?
Blake: I’m not sure about long-term. He hasn’t really been any better on defense since his demotion but his offense has come around a bit, and the team needs him for spacing. Basically, the team has to start one of Ross, Greivis Vasquez or Patrick Patterson at one position lest they wreck their spacing, and re-inserting Ross for Vasquez requires the least shuffling of deck chairs if Dwane Casey wants a slightly more effective defensive look. Personally, I’d be willing to experiment with a James Johnson-Patterson three-four pairing (Amir Johnson has done nothing wrong, he just can’t start with a DeMar DeRozan-James Johnson wing pairing), but failing that, I’d rather Ross start than Vasquez.
Blake: Blake Griffin has become much, much more versatile offensively, but his overall numbers remain largely unchanged. Does his evolution raise the Clippers upside, even if it’s not shown in the numbers, and if so, how?
Roscoe: Absolutely. The Griffin who jumped over cars and turned players into verbs is a distant memory. For a long time Griffin relied upon his strength to barrel into the lane but with DeAndre Jordan’s range about as long as his arm, spacing had been an issue. Griffin’s worked tirelessly to rework his jump shot (40.6% on mid-range jump shots), which has opened the offense. While his rebounding has dipped to career low numbers (partially a scheme thing and partially a being a further from the basket thing) his play-making abilities have been outstanding. He’s the only player in the league averaging more than 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game. His combination of ball-handling, strength, size and vision has turned him into one of the most difficult players to stop. If the Clippers want to make a run to The Finals a lot will depend on Griffin carrying them there.
Roscoe: Who’s more likely to win Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford?
Blake: Their raw production has been pretty much the same, with Williams owning a slightly higher PER but Crawford creating for teammates a little more. Williams also has a substantial positive impact on the Raptors whereas the Clippers are worse with Crawford on the floor, but that’s a terribly unfair comparison given the quality of the Clippers’ starters and the quality of players Williams generally shares the floor with. I’ll play the homer and give Williams a slight nod – in part because his resurgence and some voter fatigue for Crawford may make Williams the actual favorite – but I believe less in Lou’s ability to maintain this level of play than J-Crossover’s.
This is going to be a tough one, especially on the defensive end, where the Raptors have been terrible for the better part of the last six weeks. Lowry can’t stop Paul, nobody can stop Crawford, Jordan can neutralize the edge Jonas Valanciunas provides, and Blake Griffin is a serious problem. The Raptors do have an appreciable depth edge, so if the Clippers enter tired, it’s a winnable home game on a major stage. That would hopefully serve to change the momentum in the opposite direction for Toronto, something that’s sorely needed at the beginning of this ridiculous stretch of schedule.
The hope that DeMar DeRozan’s return from injury would cure the defensive issues has died. Before Thursday’s NBA games, the Raptors ranked 17th in the league in points allowed per possession since DeRozan came back on Jan. 14. That is an improvement on their performance without DeRozan, but it is also an incomplete truth: Of the 13 games that they have played during that stretch, four have been against teams in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency, while nine have been against teams in the bottom half, including two against Philadelphia, the NBA’s worst scoring team. The Raptors’ defence has performed in mediocre fashion against largely tepid opposition. Meanwhile, the Raptors’ next eight games come against teams with above-average offences. The Clippers, who score more efficiently than any team in the league, visit Toronto on Friday. If the Raptors’ defence does not take a huge leap over the next few weeks, it will be exposed in an embarrassing way.
DeMar DeRozan, in particular, took offence to the notion that the floundering Raptors, a team that has been awful defensively for much of the season, though quite solid offensively most of the time, need a boost from the outside to get back on track. “We’re still second in the East,” said DeRozan, an incredulous smile pursing his lips. “We’re not a team fighting for the playoffs, in 10th place. We don’t look at that factor playing in anything right now. If it happens, it happens, then we have to deal with it then, but I think we’re not panicking or nothing like that.” Asked if he believes Toronto has the pieces to be a contender, DeRozan was direct. “I think so, but our job is to go out there and play and perform. We leave all that other stuff and question marks to whoever needs to fulfill them … The position we are in now, it’s not by accident, it’s the hard work and the talent and the guys that we’ve got here. Granted, we had a couple of injuries here and there — me being out, (James Johnson) missing a few games — but I think once we’re back on our feet, we’ll get back to how we were at the start of the season.”
“You look at history where teams have been in a positive situation, they’ve been winning or maybe they’re lost but they’re in a great situation as far as standings go, but then they make a trade and the next thing you know that trade messes up the chemistry,” said Patterson after a short practice with Ujiri looking on from the sidelines. In short, Patterson said, trying to fix things via the trade route can backfire. Without good chemistry — something the Raptors have touted as a strength this season — a little slump can rapidly become an ugly downwards spiral, he warned. “It causes them to play horribly, to have problems in the locker room, resulting in a horrible season after that and losing in the playoffs too early. You look in the past, that’s happened a number of times,” said Patterson. Besides, Patterson added, the team already has the right mix of players to make a deep playoff run; dealing someone away ahead of the Feb. 19 trade deadline just isn’t necessary.
On the season, the Raptors are a top five team in offensive efficiency, but have lingered near the bottom ten in defense all year. They’re currently ranked 21st in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 104.6 points per 100 possessions. In January, a month in which they went 9-7, the Raptors were a bottom five defensive team. Casey often talks about finding a balance on both ends of the floor. To achieve this balance, and to try and address the team’s ongoing defensive woes, 22-year-old starting center Jonas Valanciunas has found himself on the bench in the fourth quarter of games, as was the case on Monday against Milwaukee. In his third season, Valanciunas is averaging 17.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s shooting 56.4 percent from the field and has improved his post-up game and play around the rim. Casey’s defensive schemes require his big men to show on pick-and-rolls and rotate, and Valanciunas’ lack of quickness means he’s not the best option on the floor on some nights. The stats support Casey’s choice to opt for a frontline that excludes his starting center. On the season, when Valanciunas has been on the floor with either Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson, the team has produced a negative net rating. Meanwhile, the combination of Johnson and Patterson on the floor has produced a +11.5 net rating in 273 minutes. If you narrow those numbers to the fourth quarter, the Johnson-Patterson pairing has a +15.6 rating in 109 minutes.
As part of this year’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, four lucky teens will be paired with the NBA participants. Through the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, $120,000 will be donated to local Boys & Girls Clubs in support of educational scholarships and teen empowerment. Each teen participating in the Challenge will receive educational scholarships between $10,000 and $30,000.
After the game, DeRozan had mentioned that he wasn’t pleased with the way some of the Nets had been celebrating during the course of the game. Speaking of the game in general, DeRozan admitted after practice on Thursday “a little frustration kicks in when things don’t go your way.” Head coach Dwane Casey didn’t think DeRozan had done anything too untoward. “You never want to have a frustration foul. I don’t think DeMar intended to hit him or hurt him, the young man that went down. I don’t even know if he hit him that hard. I think he might have been trying to sell it to official,” Casey said, admitting he liked the fire. “You don’t want anybody to come into the gym and show you up or anything like that. (But) you don’t want to take your frustration out and take the chance of being suspended. I don’t mind hard fouls as long as you don’t let the guy score. But don’t put yourself (in a position) to hurt the team. And I don’t think DeMar did that last night.”
DeRozan agrees and says he wants to be the one the kids look up to while learning it’s important to get an education. “Reading is a skill they’ll need for life and key to their success,” he told the Town Crier in email. “When I was a kid, I wanted someone to look up to and I want to be that person these kids look up to.” Rutledge says DeRozan is “a big part of the success of this program,” beyond merely lending his name to it. While DeRozan says his favourite part is the day he comes to the kids’ gym to visit and “hang out and talk with them,” he’s also been vital to seeing the program continue. One year, in which funding cuts to after-school programs threatened the book club, DeRozan didn’t hesitate in giving $15,000 to keep it running. “I didn’t want the boys to lose out,” he said. “They were improving their reading skills and the program was gaining momentum so it was a no-brainer to me to step up and donate the money.”
Our own Daniel Hackett made his case for starting Patrick Patterson last week. Today, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun suggested inserting Patterson along with James Johnson (when he returns from his groin injury) into the starting lineup. Of course, the counterpoint here is that it would send Amir Johnson to the bench. No one will ever call Amir a selfish player, but you have to wonder how he’d take a “demotion” to the second unit, especially as he enters free agency this offseason.
It’s unlikely the Raptors look at anything involving Williams, but it seems that any combination of the others would get traction from Toronto’s side. The Raptors do own almost all of their future picks both in the first round and the second round, with their 2015 second going to Atlanta as the only traded pick at this point. The Raptors do have a couple of pick swap options, but for the most part they have draft picks to play with if so inclined. There was a long running rumor that Raptors swing man Terrence Ross could be the chip that gets a deal done, however league sources continue to say Toronto won’t engage on anything involving Ross.
As the Raptors only true center in Head Coach Dwane Casey’s rotation, there have been a lot of calls lately to get Valanciunas more playing time against a broader variety of opponents. However, Casey has been reluctant to leave his young center in games against more mobile big men that like to hang out on the perimeter and Valanciunas trusts Casey’s judgment. “I trust Coach and Coach trusts me and that’s it,” Valanciunas said. “I am still learning and sky is the limit. I still have a lot of things to learn and we’ll see what I can do.” This isn’t just a response to the recent deluge of questions from the media about his role. Valanciunas has been consistent about his expectations for himself and what he can and can’t do. “I am happy right now,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “For me personally it is way better to play against a typical center, a big guy who is in the paint wrestling because I do the same thing, for me (that) is much easier. I am not used to going (out to) the three-point line and cover stretch big guys who can really shoot the ball. I just don’t like that. I am not fast enough.”
The Clippers arrive in Toronto to wind up a back-to-back that began Thursday night in Cleveland . . . Note the unique starting time, necessitated by the fact ESPN will broadcast the game to the entire United States . . . The Clippers are by one measurable standard the best offensive team in the league, scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions to top the offensive efficiency rankings . . . Intriguing matchup between Jamal Crawford of the Clippers and Toronto’s Lou Williams, two guys who would get consideration today for the Sixth Man of the Year award .
Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP
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According to a tweet (that’s how we do things now), Kyle Lowry will participate in the skills competition:
Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry will participate in the All-Stars Skills Challenge in New York, league sources tell RealGM.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 5, 2015
What this basically means is that he’ll be trying to throw an unobstructed bounce pass through a large spherical object, make a short jumper, dribble around some pylons, and to prove the ultimate skill, make a layup.
Here are seven ways things could be made a helluva lot more interesting in the skills competition:
- Blindfold the players
- Have one foot in a wooden bucket
- Turn off the lights in the arena
- Not have the skills competition
- Play HORSE
- Pick skills competition spots from non All-Stars, winner gets to play in the All-Star game
- Have Katy Perry participate
DeMar DeRozan was fined $15K for his Flagrant 2 foul on Bojan Bogdanovic, as per Yahoo sports:
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for making excessive contact with Brooklyn Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Here’s the Vine:
The Raptors are one of several teams sniffing around for a roster upgrade, specifically at the power forward spot. A few names continue to surface around league sources when talking about Toronto, the biggest being Indiana’s David West, the next is Chicago’s Taj Gibson, then Denver’s Kenneth Faried and then there is a long list of B and C tier names that Toronto might consider at the deadline if all else fails.
The Raptors are not offering much and that’s likely why there has been so little traction. There has been a long running joke among hoop heads that when Raptors president Masai Ujiri calls, you should say you are busy as you are about to get fleeced.
Some things to note about this:
- Masai Ujiri is extremely tight-lipped about potential moves
- There are no quotes in this article
- It sounds like pure speculation based on our lack of depth in the frontline
The assets of some value that the Raptors could possibly afford to part with are Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, and Lou Wiliams. You could argue that the two players with the most value happen to have so due to their contract situations (A. Johnson, Williams), and those two are currently integral parts of the lineup.
I can believe that the Raptors are open to trade Ross, but I just don’t think that’ll fetch you something like Taj Gibson, which is what the article was hinting at. Also, it’s unlikely Ujiri will throw in first-round picks to sweeten the deal, so my guess is that this is complete BS and the roster we have is the roster that sticks.
Who should start?
Dwane Casey’s response to get Terrence Ross out of his funk was to bench him in favour of Greivis Vasquez, the latter started off well in his new role and has taken a step back in the couple games. The former has had two good offensive games in that role. There’s been talk that Lou Williams is being compelled to shoot more because he’s the only scorer coming off the bench now. There’s also concerns about giving Amir Johnson’s health, and whether the Raptors should “save” him for the playoffs. Of course, there’s also James Johnson, who prior to his injury, saw his playing time reduced to near nothing, who many feel can contribute a lot more.
With the team coming off two bad losses at home, and about to enter a ridiculous 8-game stretch of facing the Clippers, Spurs, Wizards, Hawks, Rockets, Pelicans, Mavericks and Warriors (combined 268-126, .680), what do you think the Raptors best starting lineup should be? And more importantly, why?
If it’s possible for a team that’s 16 games over .500 to hit rock bottom, this was it. Other than the first quarter this was a continuation of the Bucks game, made more painful by former players drilling daggers and the Raptors responding to adversity by doing the opposite of what they should be doing.
There are some obvious issues with this team. They don’t play defense, and worse, they don’t know how to play defense. At least not in the “system” that Casey has put in place, which is thoroughly juxtaposed to the strengths of the roster. There are egregious decisions being made on defense which fly in the face of common sense that happen to go unmitigated. There’s too many examples to give, I’ll just pick the ones I have Vines for:
Both defenders backing off of Joe Johnson on a screen ‘n roll
A center forced to make a rotation to a wing player at the three-point line
Not having any idea of how to close-out shooters
Inviting the opposing point-guard to pick up a head of steam and drive right at the heart of your defense
Trust me, there are a lot more of these plays in this game. If it didn’t look so stupid for a grown man to be filming Vines on his TV while his wife shakes her head, I’d give a lot more examples of our defense than what’s here. And this isn’t even counting the silly tactical errors of presenting the Nets with a matchup of Brook Lopez against Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson, thus immediately conceding offensive rebounds and losing the early momentum the Raptors had gained.
This is not a team simply in a funk which they can easily play themselves out of. Their offense has dried up and their defense doesn’t hold water, which means the only way they know how to get back into games is jacking up one-on-one shots, and that too threes. So it’s not surprising that in a four-point game heading into the fourth, the Raptors idea of winning this one was to go 1-10 from three, and that lone three was an inconsequential one hit by Ross on the last possession of the game. Instead of doing the hard thing which was looking at each other in the huddle and realizing your’re getting your ass handed to you by the Nets, buckling down on defense, playing inside-out, they just decided to take lazy, low-percentage shots to get themselves out of trouble. I almost looked around to see if Sam Mitchell was coaching the team.
Dwane Casey didn’t do much to stop this sort of play and instead chose to call it out after:
“If you don’t make shots, you really got to go back down and tie it back on the defensive end. That’s why defense is so important in any sport. We want to go and out-score people and you’re not going to win many games in this league doing that.”
Well, this sort of play was happening right in front of his eyes in the second-half and he was waiting for TV timeouts to happen instead of actively stopping it, nor did he make any sort of adjustments to see what the response might have been. It’s easy to complain and point out what went wrong after, it’s what you do during the game to fix a problem or pattern that counts.
My “favourite” moment of this game had to have been Lou Willams getting a steal, and then pulling up for three with a sea of black jerseys underneath the rim. This might be one of the most selfish plays you’ll see this year. This is from a guy who was 1-10 in the game and was getting lit up like a 4th of July firecracker. Check the play and tell me if this doesn’t make you shake your head:
The sad part is that this won’t be called out as a bad shot, but something like “Hey, that’s Lou, when he’s hot he can win you games, but sometimes he has off nights”. The problem isn’t that he has off nights (which he will just because of the sheer iso nature of his entire game), it’s that in the case where the offense has an off night, there is not really a system underneath that can manufacture efficient looks. It’s feast or famine.
I’m not just picking on Lou Williams either. I saw three Bruno Caboclo D-League games, and I can honestly say that Kyle Lowry, right now, would get torched in the D-League if he plays the way he is. Pretty much everything he’s doing is wrong: biting on pump-fakes, angling defenses right into the paint with no help present, conceding dribble penetration on every possession, etc. As great as he is at moving his feet and picking up charges when others are driving, his footwork when guarding his own man are at Bargnani levels. Then there’s the Jonas Valanciunas story. It’s the same old, same old. Last night, Mason Plumlee had shown nothing to say that he was able to guard Valanciunas:
The man was 3-5 in the game, and was completely ignored in the fourth quarter in favor of YOLO three-pointers. He was the only blatantly clear mismatch the Raptors had in this game, and despite showing that he could produce out of his matchup he was cast aside, and this time there was no foul trouble or poor defense to use as an excuse. I am at a loss to explain this. Why would you not establish him inside against Lopez or Plumlee, especially after he showed early that he was up for it?
If I’m Valanciunas, I’m seriously considering leaving Toronto because in order to get paid big in the league, you need to showcase yourself (much like Lowry did last season), and it’s unlikely it’s going to happen here. He’ll forever be treated as the step-sister and an after-thought on offense because, 1) Dwane Casey has a crazy notion that Valanciunas is ill-suited in a matchup where he’s not guarding a very similar player, and 2) his offense isn’t seen as valuable as Lowry or DeRozan’s, despite it having a greater impact in balancing the offense (i.e., establishing an interior game).
I’m tired of talking about Valanciunas because it’s the same story every time.
DeMar DeRozan, out of frustration, picked up a Flagrant 2 for this viscous foul, which he got rightfully ejected for:
It’s pretty stupid, but if it sparks the team in some weird sort of way, sure. Let’s not forget that he’s as culpable as anyone else for letting Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson (combined 16-23 FG, 46 points) to go off. Offensively, he shot poorly again (5-13) , had six assists, and had some good interplay with Ross, with the latter having a strong shooting night (first since Milwaukee) for 23 points on 9-16 shooting.
Picking between the soul-sucking offense and the soul-destroying defense is tough, but I have to give the edge to the defense. I’ll suspend my disbelief and say that the Raptors can find their shooting strides, and once DeRozan is fully healthy, their FTs will go up and they’ll become a better fourth quarter team. Maybe it dawns on Casey that the people who were 7-9 FG in this game (Johnson, Valanciunas) need more touches going to the rim and that the PnR is simply too perfect of a fit here. The defense, though, that worries me because it’s not a question of effort but more of planning and execution.
I honestly feel Casey is getting a good effort out of these guys, and this is a group that genuinely wants to compete and be great, and is willing to expend the effort required. It’s just that what they’re being asked to do is beyond their natural abilities, since none of them are great defenders (with the exception of a healthy Amir Johnson and James Johnson). Casey, though, boils it down to effort:
“If you don’t com