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Tim Chisholm swings by the RR headquarters with a bag full of opinions on how the season’s been going.
- DJ Augustin strikes again
- DeMar DeRozan getting back to normal
- JV always owning Detroit
- JV’s progress this year overall
- Tactical reasons for not playing JV
- The inconsistency of how James Johnson is being dealt with
- Are criticisms levied against Dwane Casey’s offense justified?
- The mystery behind the pick ‘n roll
- Patrick Patterson’s role coming into better shape
- Memphis announcers on Lou Williams
- Kyle Lowry selection to All-Star team
- Recruitment impact of Canada getting Lowry in
- Dwane Casey’s impact on individual players’ defense
- Can the Raptors ride Lowry to a playoff series win?
- Sweeping the next three games – what we have learned from the last week?
- The East is tougher than expected in a weird sort of way
- Matchup preparation
- Argument that Dwane Casey can only take the team so far
- Position to strengthen the most heading into deadline
- Terrence Ross’s Raptors fit
- Where will Ross be in five years?
- Bebe getting some pod time
The struggles say as much about Valanciunas’s uneven defensive development as anything else, but he is not being demoted from the starting group anytime soon, so it is irrelevant. As Valanciunas slaughtered the Pistons offensively for the second straight time, it was easy to see why the team is still high on him. Valanciunas had 20 points and 11 rebounds, but was still on the bench in the late stages of the game. Head coach Dwane Casey does not trust him to play against the type of perimeter attack the Pistons were using late. Offensively, Patterson should create more space for Valanciunas to go to work in the post (as well as opening up driving lanes for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan), and it has mostly worked out that way. The Raptors score a middling 103.3 points per 100 possessions with Valanciunas and Johnson, and 109.4 points per 100 possessions with Patterson and Valanciunas. Of course, that group struggles defensively, something that could possibly be bolstered by sliding James Johnson into the starting group for Greivis Vasquez if Patterson ever replaced Amir Johnson. (James Johnson has barely played since Vasquez entered the starting lineup, so this is not close to happening, by any means.)
Sunday night against a game Pistons club, the offence relocated its shooting touch and some of its form while the defence, while not superlative by any means, was good enough to get the job done. Jennings’ loss was offset very nicely by former Raptor Augustin, who had a career-high 35 points in a game that will serve the Pistons’ psyche very well at such a tough time. Greg Monroe chipped in with 21 of his own, but the Raptors were not about to let this one slip away. Not with DeMar DeRozan relocating his shooting stroke and slowly starting to get back to the free-throw line, where he lived for much of the season before his seven-week injury. Post-game he was asked if he felt like himself again. “Yeah, for the first time,” he said. “I almost forgot how I used to get to the free throw line. But it felt good. I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive. Came in last night and got some work in, working on my rhythm, working on a lot of in-game shots I always take.”
But there’s little risk in saying this: They’re going to need a little from everyone and a lot from a few. Sunday night held hope they might get the help necessary. As the Raptors swooned it became apparent that they were missing DeMar DeRozan, who proved his value as a foundation piece both in his 21-game absence and in his sluggish performance in his return. The good news for Toronto is that ever-so-slowly DeRozan is beginning to look like himself. After shooting just 6-of-34 in his last three games back DeRozan’s game-high 25 points on 14 shots — and in particularly his 10 trips to the free-throw line to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals against no turnovers — suggests that he’s getting closer to mid-season shape after his unscheduled break. He credits a solo Saturday night spent on the ACC practice court for getting him back on track. “I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive. I came in last night and got some work in, working on my rhythm, working on a lot of in-game shots, just trying to find a rhythm,” DeRozan said.
And the coach was far more calm after his team dispatched the Detroit Pistons 114-110 at the Air Canada Centre than he was after a victory Friday in Philadelphia, because Sunday’s win held out promise in all facets of the game. “I get upset one time and everybody’s like, ‘He’s frustrated, he lost his cool.’ No,” he said. “That’s me every day most of the time. “This is the NBA and all of us are professional. Players know when they don’t give it to you, or they’re not in tune or locked in and playing the game the right way. They know it. Every now and then you have to remind them, but most of the time they know it. They’re smart people, and you’ve been around us long enough to know they know it. “I thought today they responded to the last game.” The response was delivered all over the floor. Casey was impressed with his team’s defence — the exception being a couple of late-game possessions that cause a few tense moments — and the offence got totally on track. DeMar DeRozan, after being held to single-digit scoring for three games in a row, exploded for a team-high 25 and sealed the game with a couple of late free throws and one key basket.
“This is the NBA and all of us are professionals,” the Raptors’ coach said after his team’s 114-110 victory over Detroit. “Players know when they don’t give it to you or they’re not in tune or locked in and playing the game the right way. They know it.” “Every now and then you have to remind them but most of the time they know it. They’re smart people and you’ve been around us long enough to know they know it. I thought today they responded to the last game.” The Raptors had fallen behind by 15 before scoring a point in Philadelphia but jumped out on the Pistons, leading by nine early, extending their advantage to five at the half and gaining some separation to begin the third quarter. Uncharacteristically, they had been held under 100 points in five straight games for the first time this season but on this night they looked like the team of old, the one that put up conference-best offensive numbers for most of the campaign’s opening months. “That’s how we’ve got to play,” said DeMar DeRozan, who also enjoyed a bounce-back outing, scoring 25 points, more than double his total from the previous three games combined. “When we play together like that and get everybody going we’re tough to beat. That’s how we played last year.”
Toronto struggled to decisively put Detroit away in the closing minutes. Up by as much as eight inside the final two minutes, they allowed the Pistons to surge back within two inside the last 12 seconds. As Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope banked a last-second three-point attempt off the backboard, Ross was there to pounce on the rebound and secure Toronto’s victory. “Until those last few possessions, I thought our defensive intensity was decent, we’ve had it the last couple of weeks and I knew our offence was going to come around,” said Casey. “DeMar was going to find his legs at the right time, and he did tonight.”
While the Raptors offence responded after a sluggish win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, the team still has issues to solve defensively if they’re serious about competing for a top two or three seed in the East. They allowed an undermanned Pistons team – starting point guard Brandon Jennings suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon Saturday and will miss the rest of the season – to shoot nearly 54 per cent from the field in the first half, while backup point guard D.J. Augustin’s career-high 35- point night left one Toronto columnist questioning whether the Raptors have an issue containing point guards. “We have issues everywhere defensively,” Casey said. “Sometimes you have to pick your poison as far as three or the tough twos, but we’ve got some situations. In our pick-and-roll scheme it’s not just one person. It’s the big and the small. We’ve got to get better.”
Augustin, who scored a career-high 35 points and added eight assists, did everything possible in his first start since Brandon Jennings’ season-ending injury. I still think the Pistons will face a downturn in point guard production (one that could have happened even if Jennings remained healthy), but it didn’t happen tonight. Augustin drove to the basket, taking the shots available as Toronto played him to pass to his talented big teammates. Keeping the Raptors even more off balance, Augustin made a season-high five 3-pointers on eight attempts. Augustin didn’t show much defensively, but curiously, Kyle Lowry (11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and eight assists) didn’t look too interested in capitalizing on the apparent matchup advantage.
An Anthony Tolliver triple with a touch under five minutes remaining in the fourth cut the Pistons deficit to five, capping an 8-2 Detroit run. The Pistons eventually whittled the lead down to three with under a minute remaining, but the Raptors were able to seal the deal at the free throw line. In all, Augustin was 12-20 from the floor, 5-9 from the arc, and a flawless 6-6 from the free throw line. He also chipped in 8 assists and 4 rebounds for good measure. Greg Monroe contributed 21 points and 16 rebounds.
After a stretch of games where they played solid defence, this was a major let down for the Raptors. D.J. Augustin had a career-high with 35 points on 20 shots. He was able to drive to the basket with ease; Lowry still looks a step slow defensively. The Pistons, on the second night of a back-to-back, were able to shoot 46% from the floor and hit 12 threes (Granted, this is their first loss on the second night of back-to-back since they cut Josh Smith.) There was too much penetration allowed by the Raptors, something they really need to focus on cleaning up.
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It got hairy at the end, but Toronto grinds out a win against Detroit.
|Amir Johnson, PF 28 MIN | 7-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | -1 +/-Amir was listed as questionable coming into the game but he provided what the Raptors needed. He got his shots around the hoop, had one nice drive in the third quarter, and played bothersome defence down the stretch. The two rebounds are a concern though, and the All-Star break couldn’t come sooner.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 9-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 20 PTS | +11 +/-No surprise: JV played well against the Pistons. He couldn’t guard Monroe and was stapled to the bench for nearly all of the fourth quarter. The Pistons were running a lot of their plays through DJ Augustin pick and rolls, so I can understand why Val didn’t get any run.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 37 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +7 +/-DJ Augustin dropped a career-high and Lowry’s defence was a contributing factor. Augustin was feeling it, hitting 12-20 shots, including 5-9 from three. But Lowry wasn’t fighting through screens and it created chaos for the defence. His fourth quarter was forgettable too, with a combo of bad passes, bad shots and fouling a jump shooter.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 24 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +4 +/-Vasquez started the game guarding DJ Augustin, and the Texas product dropped 11 in the first quarter. The rest of the stat line looks good, but the Pistons stayed afloat by attacking Vasquez.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 35 MIN | 8-14 FG | 8-10 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 25 PTS | +2 +/-This was DeRozan’s most complete game since his return from injury. He hit his jump shots while also driving to the hoop to force foul calls. Not sure how this game would have went without him.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 1-3 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +6 +/-He couldn’t guard Monroe, but Hansbrough was effective enough on the other end. He had a good and-one finish off a pick-and-roll. Role players fills role effectively.|
|James Johnson, PF 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +6 +/-Don’t really know why he didn’t get more run. When the perimeter defence is as bad as it was tonight, Casey should give Johnson a longer leash.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -6 +/-Decent defensive night. Toronto’s pick and roll coverage wasn’t great, but Patterson was hedging well and recovering to his spots. His commitment to rebounding is a welcome sight. Now, can he pair it with some shooting?|
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -9 +/-Typical night for Ross; invisible for stretches while providing glimpses of defensive potential. Ross still struggles when chasing an opponent off the ball, electing to guess where an opponent is going instead of following them. Those clutch free throws help his case for an otherwise underwhelming performance|
|Chuck Hayes, C 5 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-Chuck attempted a spin-move lay-up in the third quarter! Very cool moment during a dull period of the game.|
|Louis Williams, SG 22 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +2 +/-Brutal first quarter. Lou died on screens, missed lay-ups and turned it over. He bounced back throughout the rest of the game and even passed it on a play at the end of a quarter. Progress!|
The glaring coaching impact from tonight: JV’s fourth quarter minutes. You can drop this into a ton of quick reactions and tonight’s was especially puzzling. The Pistons were running with Tolliver and Monroe down the stretch. In Tolliver, you have a stretch-four who Jonas can’t guard. Monroe had already beaten JV. But still, Casey didn’t even attempt to put Jonas in, and the Raptors squandered their 10-point lead anyways.I’m also docking points for not throwing different defenders at Augustin. Did DJ need to go Klay Thompson to illicit a coaching decision?
Two Things We Saw
- Masai Ujiri had an interview with Sportsnet’s Eric Smith, and Smith asked him if the Raptors will be active as the trade deadline approaches. Ujiri gave a non-answer, saying his “BlackBerry Passport is on” but the Raptors won’t ruin the future of the team.
- Lowry got hit on his right arm, adding to the laundry list of ailments he’s battling. The Raptors aren’t playing at a high enough level to pull a Spurs move and rest some of their starters while also getting a win, but Casey may want to consider it. The first time All-Star played 37 minutes tonight, leading the team.
After a rough stretch that saw the Raptors have their worst couple of weeks in over a calendar year, this team is looking and sounding like they’ve realized that they can’t play in a manner that underestimates any opponent. Coming dangerously close to dropping their Friday night matchup against the mostly professional basketball team from Philadelphia helped remind them of that. Detroit is far from a circled win on the calendar now. Stan Van Gundy is an elite coach, Andre Drummond is a freaking freight train, Greg Monroe is playing for a max(ish, very ish) contract and they’ve plugged functional shooting into the many holes on their roster.
Unfortunately, as the Lord giveth by taking away for the Pistons, he also taketh away by takething away. What was first reported as an ankle injury looks like an almost certainly torn or ruptured Achilles for Brandon Jennings. That’s devastating for Jennings, the Pistons and any fan of fun basketball things. Jennings has been BALLING for Detroit in the fifteen wonderful games since the Pistons got immeasurably better by paying Josh Smith to never play for them again. Immeasurable isn’t technically the best article of hyperbole to make my point, because their improvement is completely measurable. With Josh Smith the Pistons were 5-23, without him, and without adding any replacement short of his absence, they’re now 12-4. With Josh Smith off the court the Pistons have been 12.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense and have given up 5.1 less points per 100 possessions on defence. That’s a -17.4 rating, which given the Pistons average of pace of play, is good for about 16.5 points a game. Those are significant measurables. And so are Brandon Jennings 20 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals on 44-40-83 shooting splits. Those will be missed.
This is not the same Pistons team that the Raptors handled by double digits back in December. Having said that, this isn’t going to be the same Pistons team that has gone 12-4 either, as Brandon Jennings was leading the team in points, assists, steals and onions. DJ Augustin inspires about as much confidence as his replacement as a lead threat as Josh Smith did.
The bench unit was troublingly absent in the Raptors January 12th loss to Detroit, but a key part of Toronto’s success in the first matchup. They’ll play an important role again in this matchup. Stan Van Gundy has been plucky in spreading out his lineups as of late around either Monroe or Drummond and barraging shots from outside. Moving players around to pick up Jennings minutes will make that a little trickier for him, opening up the chance for the Raptors 2nd unit to take advantage of an opportunity to create separation on the scoreboard. Jodie Meeks and Kaldwell-Pope are not ideal full-time ball handlers, and DJ Augustin has been much less reliable from 3 than Jennings. Detroit is amongst the team’s most disciplined defensively in terms of giving up free throws, taking away a big weapon for DeMar and Lowry, and making the bench scoring all the more relevant.
Monroe is the kind of low post scorer that Amir Johnson has done well enough against, but against whom Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough have had trouble with. Monroe-lead bench units could result in some run for the Chuck-wagon, calling upon Hayes ever-reliable post defence. Drummond is an interesting matchup for Valanciunas. Big Val has played well over the last two weeks, and win or lose, matchups against big, aggressively rebounding centers always seems to bring out the emotionally engaged Valanciunas. I’m a big personal fan of the battling, angry and active Valanciunas who Tiger Woods fist-pumps whenever he gets foul calls instead of looking timidly over the bench for the hook after a mistake.
Some Key Matchups:
Kyle Lowry vs. DJ Augustin (yikes!)
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Andre Drummond (YES!)
Tyler Hansbrough Vs. Spencer Dinwiddie (kidding)
Terrence Ross vs. Jodie Meeks (not kidding)
DeMar DeRozan vs. 5.5 Free Throw Attempts (Need the over)
Line: Toronto -6.0 Total: 204.5
I like Toronto by 6, but not by much more. If they’re focused, which has become a stronger if lately, they should be able to separate from a Detroit team that’s reeling from the loss of Jennings on a back-to-back. I would take the under too. Toronto is focusing on defence, and they would be ill served to make this a high paced game against the offensive rebounding and three point shooting of Detroit. Detroit’s offence is going to be a work in progress, and their game against Milwaukee last night did little to inspire confidence.
Philadelphia has spent the past few years attempting to be as awful as they possibly can, but despite their best efforts they still find themselves ahead of both the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Think about it, Philadelphia used three first round draft picks in the last two years on players who they knew wouldn’t play during the year following the draft (Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric). Sam Hinkie has turned tanking into an art…you know…outside of actually finishing with the worst record.
The 76ers came into the last night’s game against Toronto ranked 30th in almost every offensive category: field goals made, field goal percentage, three point percentage (despite attempting the third most per game), free throw percentage (67.9%…ouch), turnovers, and points. They are also ranked 29th in assists per game.
And to make matters even worse better for Hinkie, last night Philadelphia was once again without leading scorer Tony Wroten, who, as announced yesterday, is scheduled to undergo surgery on a partially torn ACL in his right knee.
Simply put, the Raptors are just a more talented team and it’s not even close…which is what made the first few minutes last night so painful to watch. Philadelphia jumped out to a 9-0 lead just three minutes into the game, forcing Dwane Casey to use his first timeout.
Actually transcript from first timeout:
Casey: …what….what the hell is wrong with all of you!?!?
Bruno: English no so better, Coach.
Casey: Look at them…look at who we are playing.
Tom Sterner: *passionately weeps while staring at the camera*
It got worse before it got better. The 76ers scored the first 15 points of the game before Jonas finally broke the goose egg with a free throw.
In fact, I’m done talking about the first quarter. Raptors were down 30-22 after one quarter…it sucked and my soul is in too much pain to continue reflecting on that piece of garbage.
Fine…one more thing. The Raptors managed to finish the first quarter strong thanks to a Vasquez floater as time expired, as Toronto managed to go the full length of the court with just two seconds remaining.
As bad as the first quarter was, the second quarter was close to being that good at least much better. Toronto started to exert their power and at the forefront of their attack was their star point guard…Greivis Vasquez?
Vasquez was fantastic during this stretch. He got to the basket at will for easy lay-ups, and made a number of very smart passes to Old Cement Hands Hansbrough during some hitchy pick and rolls, most of which resulted in lost balls by Tyler.
Outside of an atrocious pull-up three with just over six minutes remaining in the quarter (while Toronto was on a 3-on-2 fastbreak), Vasquez was the back-up point guard that Toronto needs him to be.
After being down 28-14 during the first quarter, Toronto outscored Philadelphia 34-13 through the remainder of the first half, and took a 7 point lead into the break. The Raptors even ran an actual play to end the second quarter, instead of their traditional Lou Williams clear-out.
Philadelphia handed the game to Toronto during the first half, allowing 20 first half points off their 14 turnovers. In many ways, it was less a matter of Toronto playing well, and more of a matter as to how atrocious Philadelphia actually is.
(Second side note: Am I the only one who laughed hysterically watching Jack Armstrong climb bleacher steps for a full minute during halftime?)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Toronto needs to be conscious of who their opponent is. This isn’t to say that they can play down to their opponent, as they did at the start of the game. What I mean by this is that the Raptors need to be conscious of what the other team wants to do on offense. Toronto spent the entire night frantically chasing any Philadelphia shooter off of the three point line, despite the fact that they are the worst three point shooting team in the league.
The constant chasing meant that Philadelphia almost always had an open shooter, and it was often their best three point shooter in Robert Covington. Covington started the game 4-of-8 from three, but would miss his last three attempts.
The game was a track meet between two teams that were seeing who could miss more shots. The fourth quarter didn’t hurt my soul in the same way as the first quarter, but it felt like a hard slap to the face.
Overall, there is little to write home about from last night’s game. Toronto did just enough to win, and made the 76ers look far better than they actually are. After the first quarter, it never felt like the Raptors didn’t have the game in hand. Even when Philadelphia went on a small run to take a 70-68 lead with eight minutes remaining, it felt like little more than a formality…you know…until it wasn’t a formality anymore.
Philadelphia pushed their lead to 77-68 and life was terrible until Kyle Lowry decided to show up. Lowry took over when they needed him most in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the quarter, and hitting a ridiculous fade-away three in the process. Lowry managed to go on a personal 13-4 run to tie the game at 81.
Lowry saved his best for the end of the game, but to me Patrick Patterson was the MVP on the night. Pat-Pat finished with a double-double of 14 points (6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-4 from three) and 13 rebounds, while also adding 3 assists and two steals.
While there isn’t exactly panic surrounding the team, there’s no question the Raptors’ rosy start has turned comparatively sour. It’s hard to overlook that the only wins for this team in 2015 have come against the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers (the NBA’s cure-all) and the Milwaukee Bucks, who share a combined record of 43-81. Facing an most important stretch of the season headed to the All-Star break, the announcement couldn’t have happened at a better time.
I give Philadelphia credit, they came out, they competed, they played hard but that’s unacceptable … If we’re serious about being a playoff team or getting out of the first round or whatever, of if we’re satisfied with where we are now, we’re going to continue to play like we are now.” The sad-sack Sixers, just 8-35, gave 28-15 Toronto many scares, but as is their wont, found a way to lose in the end, mostly because they don’t have a talent like Lowry, who willed the Raptors to the victory, with a lot of help from Patrick Patterson. “I just didn’t want us losing tonight,” Lowry said. “I think my teammates were kind of counting on me and we needed somebody to pick up the energy and I felt like it was my time to pick up the energy and go out there and do my job … This is one of those games you’d look at in April and say, ‘damn we gave that one up,’” he said.
Nowhere more than the first quarter was Toronto’s malaise more apparent. The Sixers scored the first 15 points of the game, they hung a 30-point quarter on the Raptors and simply played harder, quicker and with more intent than Toronto did. It was that attitude, that “hey, we’re good” mentality that rankled Casey the most. “It’s not just one guy, it’s quite a few guys that have to come out serious about earning their money,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the way we came back or not. It’s one of things where it started at the beginning of the game. We come out, we think we’re just going to walk out and beat somebody? That’s not going to happen in this league, I don’t care who you are and we haven’t done anything yet.” Casey did make one lineup move that helped, replacing Amir Johnson with Patrick Patterson to start the third quarter. Patterson responded with eight of his 13 rebounds in the second half and also contributed 14 points.
Mired in a month-long shooting slump, Lowry leaned on his teammates more than usual through three quarters in a dreary, back and forth contest with the lowly, eight-win 76ers. Hitting just two of his nine attempts after 36 minutes and with DeMar DeRozan also struggling, Lowry deferred until he had little choice but to take over. The Raptors came out flat on Friday, trailing 15-0 before scoring their first bucket. Despite a second-quarter run, they found themselves down by nine nearly halfway into the fourth. They hadn’t scored a point in over five minutes when Lowry went off. The point guard bullied his way into the lane, earned and hit two free throws before knocking down his first three-ball of the night, followed by another, followed by a third. Lowry scored 13 straight Toronto points, forcing a tie with three minutes to go. He finished with 17 of his game-high 21 points in the frame, leading the Raptors to an ugly, but necessary, win.
“I just didn’t want us to lose tonight,” Lowry said. “I think my teammates were kind of counting on me and we needed somebody to pick up the energy, and I felt like it was my time to pick up the energy and go out there and do my job.” Robert Covington made 4 of 11 three-pointers to pace the Sixers (8-35) with 18 points – with 16 coming in the first half. Nerlens Noel added 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Michael Carter-Williams had 12 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. The Sixers extended this current losing streak to four games. It was also their seventh consecutive series setback to the Raptors.
“As a group we have had so many discussions on passing and playing together,” Brown said. “I saw so many signs of improvement tonight. K.J. [McDaniels] came to play. As a group they did a really nice job of playing together. Nerlens had 14 rebounds. We had six guys in double figures — that is rare for us. I give that group a lot of credit for responding to the areas we targeted over the past few days.” This team plays hard. They aren’t satisfied with moral victories, but they take positives from experiences like Friday night. “It was back and forth,” Carter-Williams said. “They made big plays, we made big plays. It was an all-around great game but we came up short.”
There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in Lowry’s game since he was bulling his way to the rim at Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova. He is as much of a bulldog as ever on the floor, shouldering through defenders and barking instructions to teammates. He is a Philly point guard through and through, which made this whole All-Star announcement so special for him. “I just take pride in being an All-Star, and being from Philly is definitely is special,” he said. “Being from here and even being mentioned with Wilt [Chamberlain] and Kobe [Bryant] is . . . Those guys are unbelievable, they’re greats, they’re legends, they’re Hall of Famers. For me just to be even to be able to say that [like them] I’m from Philadelphia as an All-Star is pretty cool.
After playing a very entertaining and competitive 47 minutes and 50 seconds against the Toronto Raptors Friday night, the Sixers had 10 seconds to figure out a way to make up three points on the scoreboard. Odds are, Brett Brown did not draw a play on the greaseboard requesting that center Henry Sims, who had hit four 3-pointers all season, chuck up a bomb as soon as the ball was inbounded. But that’s what happened. The shot came about two feet short of everything, and after a replay showed the ball went out of bounds off the Sixers they trudged from the Wells Fargo Center court with a 91-86 loss to the Raptors. The failure to execute anything worthwhile on that possession spoiled an impressive crunch-time performance by Michael Carter-Williams. The second-year point guard, who spent most of the night running the offense and setting up teammates to do the scoring, took charge at the end, nailing a 3-pointer, then driving into the lane for a layup that gave the Sixers an 86-85 lead with 41 seconds left. The Raptors responded when Greivis Vasquez drove to the hole to put Toronto back up by a point with 26 ticks remaining. MCW again took charge, but as he drove into the lane he tried to hand off a pass to Nerlens Noel in traffic that never got to the center. “It was the same play we beat Brooklyn with,” Brown said. “That game he makes the pass and he’s a hero. This time, it just didn’t go our way.”
Of course, nothing is more Toronto than Vince Carter in a Raptors uniform and as we know, Allen Iverson is Philadelphia. At the time of this game in 2001, the Sixers were 30-10 and the Raptors were 22-19. As some may remember, these two eventually met in an epic seven game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. So, let’s take a trip back to January 21, 2001, when Vince Carter and Allen Iverson faced off.
Philly was without leading scorer Tony Wroten, yet the final margin of victory was just five points. Another trending issue among Raptor supporters is the dwindling appearances of James Johnson. Mr. “Cocked-That-Joint-Back” played a measly nine minutes in tonight’s game. His defensive presence would have made the final minutes a bit more comfortable. Additionally, the Sixers’ frontcourt trio of Robert Covington, Luc Mbah a Moute and Nerlens Noel combined for an impressive 40 points. Toronto was outscored 40-36 in the paint. Put two and two together and you have a glaring problem- lackluster interior D. It wasn’t a horrible defensive outing for the Raps but you have to expect better from a top-tier team.
You know what, it’s a testament to all of the hard work I feel I put in throughout my career. Just to know people kinda noticing you for what you do is always good. You know I don’t do this for the recognition, I do it for the love of the game. It is always good to have recognition, just like what you do: When a reporter does a great article, he might not do it for the recognition; they do it because that’s their passion, but when they do get recognized for it, it’s always amazing, always an amazing feeling. And you can say, “OK, it’s cool that people recognize that I’m putting in this work and I’m doing the right things, and I’m saying the right things because I care about it so I want people to pay attention to it.” So for me, to be able to put the work in that I put in and for people to recognize me, it’s always good to get that love back sometimes.
A game day at home starts off with a trip to Sunset Grill for Hayes. He orders an omelette and French toast, and goes unrecognized. He then heads back to his 18th-floor condo near the Air Canada Centre, to send a good-morning text to his wife, Rochelle, and his seven-year-old son, Dorian, who live in Houston. After some rest, he will head to the arena to do a cardio workout and watch film before the team’s 4:45 p.m. walk-through. (Since last year, the Raptors have eschewed the normal NBA practice of morning walk-throughs at home, opting instead to do them three hours before game time.) “It’s kind of like it’s the last thing you see, you remember,” Hayes said. “At 4:45, when we go to film, we’re locked in, instead of coming in, coming here, going over everything at 10 o’clock in the morning, leaving, and coming back and going through your pre-game ritual. This way, it’s fresh in your head.” About an hour later, Hayes goes through his individual workout at the same time as Amir Johnson. Their routines are starkly different. While Johnson sets screens and takes jumpers right around the three-point arc, as he usually does in games, Hayes works almost exclusively within 14 feet of the rim. Hayes practises the 10-foot floater that he misses in the game, off of a feed from Lou Williams, repeatedly. That is no accident — he and Jama Mahlalela, the assistant coach who is responsible for player development, put together his routine before the season based on the shots that would be available to him within the Raptors’ offence.
The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are among four NBA teams that have shown an interest in swingman D.J. Kennedy, a leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player award in the top German league, sources told RealGM. Kennedy, a two-way player at 6-foot-6, played in two games for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2011-12 season. He has since played overseas in Israel, France, Russia and now Germany.
“I basically felt that Vince was the guy for us,” Butch Carter said in an interview Thursday at the St. Thomas Sports Spectacular. “And I had no idea that he’d turn out to be as great as he did. But at that point we needed someone who was very athletic and clearly he was that. “And in the workout he showed us – when I made an adjustment on his shot – that he was coachable. “He listened and he could execute after being told something.” Vince was the centerpiece as the Raptors became relevant for the first time, making their first playoff appearance in 2000 with Butch Carter as coach. Vince became an eight-time all-star, the first real superstar in franchise history. And while Butch Carter was along for only part of that ride, he championed a style of play that that emphasized back-door cuts and alley oops. “Style of play was extremely important, because young kids are mostly bored if they’re watching something too long that’s not exciting,” Butch Carter said. “And so I think without a doubt, the style of play led a lot of young kids to want to go out and shoot the basketball, especially in a country where it’s pretty cold in the winter.”
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Raptors/Yoshi mashup credit: AK47_Studios
|Amir Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | -21 +/-A total non-factor tonight, besides one nice pick and roll in the third quarter. He was benched to start the second half in favour of Patrick Patterson, which I understand, but here’s the thing: why wouldn’t you do the same thing for Lowry or DeMar? What’s the point of having to earn your minutes if your team leaders don’t? Really rough game for Amir, though, who had trouble with the more nimble Robert Covington and couldn’t take care of the ball (3 turnovers in 17 minutes). It physically pains me to give him an F.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 26 MIN | 3-5 FG | 5-7 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +1 +/-Was perhaps the biggest positional advantage the Raptors had, and got his looks in spurts. I’d normally be complaining about his lack of shot attempts, but there were a lot of points in the game where he just looked lackadaisical, giving Nerlens Noel easy buckets or boards. If you want those touches, earn them, big fella. You should be putting up 20 and 10 against the Sixers.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 5-14 FG | 8-8 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | 0 +/-Don’t let the decent shooting percentage fool you – he was absolutely BRUTAL for the first 3 quarters of this game, taking poor quality looks and forcing shots that were a big reason why the Raptors blew their lead in the 3rd. On his way to an F grade. That said, in this case, his fourth quarter makes up for his first 3 – he lit up, hitting everything, and as much as I hate the “I got this” style in the fourth, you can’t criticize it on nights where it works. The team wouldn’t have won without him.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 33 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +4 +/-One of his better games as a Raptor offensively, and boy, the team needed it. We saw some glimpses of the court vision that made him an assist machine in New Orleans, particularly on a full-court skip pass that led to a wide open Patterson 3 in the 2nd. Hit a buzzer beater at the end of the first, and, unlike Lowry, let the game come to him, finding holes in the Sixers defence instead of simply bulling through them.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 29 MIN | 4-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -4 +/-Like Lowry, he was brutal for the first 3 quarters. Unlike Lowry, he wasn’t redeemed in the fourth. Props to him for deferring to his teammates when he realized he wasn’t scoring, but the Raptors need him to put up points, and he didn’t tonight, with a lot of his scoring issues attributable to shot selection. He’ll bounce back, but it was not pretty tonight.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 15 MIN | 0-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PTS | +5 +/-Surprisingly effective as a rim protector against the Sixers bench, which says as much about the Sixers as it does about his effort tonight. Wasn’t a factor offensively, but rebounded well and played passable defence. Better showing than some of his teammates, for sure.|
|James Johnson, PF 9 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -1 +/-Only got 9 minutes of blow, played the 4 exclusively, and was excellent (of course). He’s got great discipline with the ball – he shoots when he’s open, drives when he can, and passes out of sticky situations, but, of course, he’s glued to the bench in crunch time. We learned today via the coaching staff that there’s no blow-up with him and Casey – his low playing time is just a result of putting Vasquez in the starting lineup. If you think that’s a good enough reason for him to get less than 10 minutes of run, well, you’re going to be surprised at Casey’s grade.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 30 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-1 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +26 +/-The one guy who seemed to truly give a shit for the entirety of the game, and tonight’s MVP. His offensive versatility was on display, scoring from all parts of the court, and taking advantage of his propensity for 3-point shooting by pump faking and taking the ball to the rim on a couple occasions. He’s not a great rebounder, but he’s simply willing himself to these double-digit games, and it’s great to see, and necessary on a night where half his team didn’t seem to care what happened.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +3 +/-His energy level has gone up noticeably in the last few games – he flies in for weak side rebounds and had a couple nice blocks tonight. Wasn’t a huge factor in the offence with Patterson, Williams, and Vasquez carrying the scoring load for the second unit, but we’re starting to see some of the value-added stuff we’d hoped for, which is nice. Still doesn’t justify why he got 21 minutes and James Johnson got 9.|
|Louis Williams, SG 25 MIN | 3-11 FG | 5-6 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +12 +/-Played his typical YOLO style, and, along with Patterson, was a catalyst for the second quarter run that erased that ugly 1st. Unfortunately, he went cold in the second half, but continued to shoot. Those 3 steals are a nice addition, but he was rightfully benched down the stretch. On another note – I can’t accept the fact that we’re still running the “Lou dribble and shoot” play at the end of quarters. Even the Leafs scout team have figured it out by now.|
I don’t know if he just assumed the Raptors were going to cruise in this game, or the flu he’s dealing with has him a bit loopy, but here’s my thing: inserting Patrick Patterson into the first five for the second half, citing that he earned the spot, and then only playing James Johnson, who was your most effective player tonight besides Patterson, is inexcusable. It shows why all the anti-Casey guys are getting fed up with him – the evidence is starting to mount that the right decisions he makes are by accident, and not by design. The team’s lackadaisical start and intermittent effort can’t all fall on him, but some of it has to. He’s lucky we were playing the Sixers tonight.
Four Things We Saw
- Yes, a win is a win is a win, but this team has some serious issues to deal with. I think they’re doable, and mostly system related, but, for one, the amount of 3 pointers being taken needs to be reined in. You can’t just keep blaming these poor performances on bad shooting nights – at some point, you need to change your game plan when things aren’t working (the Raps were 6 of 24 from 3 tonight).
- I don’t know if it was just this game putting me in a bad mood, but weren’t Matt and Jack especially brutal tonight? Despite the Sixers being in the game for the duration, they spent the first half talking about how bad they were, the third quarter talking about everything but basketball, and the fourth quarter raving about Lowry, with no mention of his ugly first 3 quarters. I don’t expect much, but at least talk about the game, guys.
- Let it not get lost in all this negativity that Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, and Greivis Vasquez were both excellent tonight. The bench unit, generally, was quite good, and the second quarter run where the Raptors actually looked dominant was characterized by patient offence, which was a breath of fresh air.
- Learning that James Johnson was simply lost in the shuffle, and his minutes being limited wasn’t a result of some sort of dispute between him and the coaching staff actually made things worse for me. At least I could understand a benching due to disagreement. For a team who’s constantly saying you need to earn your minutes, benching the guy who’s been your most consistent performer for the last month plus is just unacceptable. #FreeJJ
Could this of been the turning point to our season so far? Safe the say we haven’t been the same since. Thoughts?
More hot roundtable content from the RR crew. This time we’re talking trade deadline deals, tinder, most improved player and playoff prognostications.
1. Most Improved Player?
Tamberlyn: Patrick Patterson: I pull out my hair because he doesn’t get enough touches, but he has incorporated a move to the basket this season from his time spent this summer with Olajuwan. He also is much better on his rebound positioning and he’s shown improvements defensively. Obviously Valanciunas is improving, but I think we all expected that.
Matt: James Johnson has exceeded every one of my expectations from when he was signed this summer. Solid defence, playing within the offense, and a generally positive influence. Great value for $2.5M/year. Runner-up: Patrick Patterson.
Tim C.: James Johnson. He plays way more under control than he did in his first stint with the club, and he’s one of the best on the club at finding driving lanes to the basket and trying to make plays for others. His wing defence, even if it is a bit foul-y and gamble-y, is still better than any other wing on the team. If only he could hit that corner three…
Nick: Ross! Just joking. I think JV has taken a large step forward. He’s coming into his own and starting to look like the monster we all want him to be. Except in the 4th quarter when he is not allowed to play.
Tim W.: Lou Williams doesn’t count since he wasn’t with the team, and a month ago the answer would have been Terrence Ross, but the last month has changed that. So I would say Landry Fields, who has gone from a guy who looked like his career was done to a guy who looks like he might not be done. He’s already started more than 4 times as many games as last year, his shooting percentage went from .403 to .529 and his free throw percentage increased from .636 to .833, showing he might be able to shoot again eventually.
Sam: Lowry has elevated himself to top-15 (maybe top-20) status. He seems more mature, thinks the game a bit more, and has done his best to carry a heavy load with DeRozan out. #beiber err…what was it again? hashtag-play-in-the-all-star-game!
Garrett: Jonas Valanciunas. There’s still work to be done, but that’s exciting, given how often this year we’ve seen short stretches of sheer dominance on the offensive side of the ball.
Barry: JV continues to evolve into a great big man. With each game he looks more comfortable around the rim and has developed some nice low post moves that don’t involve pump fakes. He’s still a step or two slow on defence sometimes but he’s young. Definite upside to his game, looking forward to watching more of his growth in the second half.
William: There’s no obvious candidate. Lowry has been given the opportunity to do more and he has delivered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s improved. Valanciunas has taken a few baby-steps towards being a better team defender. James Johnson has been significantly better in his second stint with the team.
Scott: James Johnson. He’s been great, but the competition wasn’t really steep either. Lowry is the other candidate but it’s hard to say he’s improved when he was just given more possessions to use.
2. Have you matched with Terrence Ross on Tinder?
Tamberlyn: No, I don’t tinder (sorry folks)
Matt: I go back and forth on Ross, but if he were to be traded I would be disappointed until I got a good concept of the return. For me, ideally Ross would come off the bench in a Lou Williams like role, with a legitimate small forward in the starting line-up.
Tim C.: No. Ross is in a regression phase, but he was never that good to begin with. He can’t pass, he can’t dribble, he can’t rebound, his man-to-man defence has fallen off and his understanding of the team’s defensive schemes is as bad as it was last season. I just don’t think he does enough to be an NBA starter.
Nick: Hahahahha. I’m gonna try to catfish him. Will let everyone know.
Tim W.: I don’t even know what that means.
Garrett: He hasn’t come up yet, but when he does, I’m swiping right. He still has far too much promise to give up on – I fully believe his issues are all mental and have nothing to do with ability, and a 23 year old having emotional struggles is, you know, pretty normal. I may eat my words, but I’m confident he’ll figure it out.
Barry: We all need to swipe right for Terrence. The man is a fragile bird and needs any help he can get to boost his confidence. Now that the #NBABallott campaign is done we can start a new one: #SwipeRightForRoss
William: Based on the first picture alone — that being his shooting and athleticism — you’d definitely swipe right on T-Ross. But if you click through and view more pictures, you see the inconsistent effort, the passivity and you ultimately decide to swipe left after uttering a heavy sigh.
Scott: No, but I would let him slide into my DMs.
3. Will Ujiri make a move at the deadline? If so, what will he do?
Tamberlyn: Add backup vet center via Landry Fields salary dump. I don’t envision other huge moves because he’ll have money this summer to add pieces and attract free agents. The team is committed to seeing Ross and Valanciunas through their growth period (my guess is they’ll reevaluate after playoffs) prior to making any big decisions/moves. Plus, with so much activity out west this year and team parity there aren’t copious available prospects. Either teams are looking to upgrade themselves, are committed to growth or want draft picks. The only teams really in play to apple pick from are Denver, Brooklyn and maybe Sacramento or Indy.
Matt: With the arms race that we’ve seen to date on the season, I expect Ujiri to sit out the trade deadline. Expiring contracts aren’t worth much, and that’s primarily what we have to offer. Hopefully the market has slowed, and the Raptors can make a move for some wing help.
Tim C.: Maybe. Two weeks ago I thought there was no way, but if Ross is out of the starting lineup then the rotation has gotten all mucked up. The club really needs a starting small forward that can hit threes, play defence and facilitate ball movement. Of course, those players are both really rare and really expensive. Good luck trying to land one on the trade marker.
Nick: I don’t think he makes a move. I think he let’s this team sail these choppy seas and inspects the boat when the tides calm.
Tim W.: If Colangelo was still in charge, the answer would be yes, definitely, but I think Ujiri stays with this team unless they continue to struggle at a similar rate they are now. And I don’t think they will. If they do trade someone, I could see Ujiri taking advantage of Lou Williams’ value or possibly either Amir or Patterson.
Sam: Unless Cousins becomes inexplicably available, it’s unlikely. The Raptors chemistry seems to be off, and introducing yet another player might make things worse. If he did, I would like a starting PF/C…Cousins, for example…
Garrett: Depends who’s available and for what price. The market is skewed this year (2 first rounders for Mozgov??), but the Raptors really need a backup centre. As much as I enjoy Tyler Hansbrough’s antics, I think he, and maybe a package of picks, will be the ones on their way out.
Barry: Adding some rebounding would be nice. If there’s anyway to add a decent big man in exchange for some expiring contracts that would be great. Kevin Garnett is a good option. He’s averaging 7 boards a game right now and is still crazy enough to head but guys. His contract expires this year too, could be a good rental for the second half.
William: I’ve been pedalling the idea of acquiring Ed Davis or Jonas Jerebko as a cheap, short-term move that could help the team in areas in which they’re weak. I’d prefer Masai to keep his chips for the summertime.
Scott: Nope. Ujiri said as much in Zach Lowe’s feature. This team got too good too quick and has outpaced the development of younger pieces. Teams respect “process” far more than the average fan (see: The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri for an example).
4. Assuming the team’s current structure, how far will the Raptors advance in the playoffs?
Tamberlyn: Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Chicago, Memphis, Cleveland and Houston are all either currently dealing with injury, trades or are in the same situation as Toronto. Adversity makes good teams better and this current phase will make the Raptors stronger while ensuring they return to their defensive identity.
To that end, the goal was always to advance to the second round, continue to grow and gain experience. Looking back at question 7, I think of Detroit who picked up Rasheed Wallace at the deadline and went on to win the championship and am reminded this season (especially in the East) anything is possible. Ultimately, if Toronto reaches the second round we are on track and if they can win a game 7 en route or go further its gravy.
Matt: Assuming current structure of team, I expect a hard fought exit in the second round with an off chance at the Eastern Conference Finals. The East is wide open, but it will largely come down to match-ups within the top five teams.
Tim C.: They should be able to get out of the first round given how bad the bottom of the East’s Playoff standings are. Cleveland won’t stay in sixth, so Toronto has to worry about a team like Milwaukee, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Detroit or Miami. If they can’t knock one of them out in seven games then it will be a busy summer for the men upstairs.
Nick: Despite this disaster stretch. I still deal like this is a second round team.
Tim W.: It depends on first round matchups. They could end up going against Cleveland, which would be the worst case scenario, but Miami, with their playoff experience, could also be trouble for them. Teams with as predictable an offense and as inconsistent a defense don’t tend to go far in the playoffs, so I would say the second round is their limit unless injuries to their opponents occur.
Sam: Depends who they get in the first round. A motivated LeBron is bad, an experienced Miami team is also bad. If the Raptors regain their mojo, I’m more confident, but as it is, a second round birth isn’t guaranteed.
Garrett: 51 wins likely gets the Raptors the 3rd or 4th seed, and, possibly, a first round matchup against the Cavs, which scares me for entirely LeBron-centric reasons. I’ll say a second round exit after a tough series, though. Right on schedule.
Barry: Based on the first half of the season play this team can still win a round in the playoffs. They’re struggling now but it’s a long season. They’ve got time to figure everything out and get back to their winning ways from earlier in the year. The recent losses have shown they’re not an elite level team but still talented enough to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
William: Raptors need to fight like all hell to finish with a third seed or better so as to avoid facing one of Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland or Washington in the first round. The Raptors have it in them to take down Detroit, Charlotte, Brooklyn or the Bucks. A second-round series win is possible against the Wizards.
Scott: They can make the second round, but I fear a match-up with Cleveland. There is nothing more “Toronto sports” than the Raptors running into that powerhouse in the playoffs.
What’s to say about Philly other than they’re Philly? They’re the team that in-sources player development and tanking, so other teams can get a more developed player and don’t have to suffer through the rookie years of guys who should still be in college. I always wondered how it felt like being a Philly fan these days so I asked one:
Me: Hey Philly Fan, how does it feel supporting a team that’s so horrible that it lost to the Knicks at home?
Philly Fan: I think about hurting myself every day.
This is obviously not a healthy environment to be living in, I do hope the guy gets some help soon.
The Raptors have beaten Philly twice this season, the last time being in DeMar DeRozan’s return. This is a game where if you lose, the sky will fall, but if you win it’ll be dismissed as a game that you better have won, making this is a lose-lose situation for the Raptors.
More importantly, this marks the return for Kyle Lowry – freshly selected to the All-Star team – to his native Philadelphia. His All-Star selection is a pretty good story in the context of an undeserving guy like Kobe Bryant making it. Whereas fans did the “wrong” thing by selecting Bryant over James Harden in the West, they did the “right” thing by not going by Dwayne Wade’s reputation and selecting Lowry over him. I get that the push to get Lowry in was at a national scale in Canada and fans didn’t necessary reflect on their selection too much, but it’s good when someone gets their due.
Lowry does not get in to the All-Star game as a starter with the same numbers and same impact if he had played for, say, the Pacers. This was a situation where playing in Canada helped him tremendously at a global scale, and I don’t know if that’s ever happened before? That’s something good to feel about, and I’m sure it’ll be used as a pitch when recruiting more free agents in the summer and going forward.
Dwane Casey’s been getting heat as usual, and I’ve been part of that as well. Whether it be mocking his clipboard or questioning his in-game decisions. I, like many other, are guilty of subconsciously ignoring any good a coach does, and focusing on the negative. After all, good coaching decisions are rarely talked about because they’re subtle in nature, whereas the errors are often glaring and cause an immediate inflammation for fans. This effect is heightened when it’s a close loss where a decision here or there could’ve made all the difference.
I sometimes wonder how a more experienced coach with a winning track record might handle the confidence conundrum that is Terrence Ross, or Jonas Valanciunas (though I don’t think there’s much to handle there, just give him the requisite PT). The raised expectations of this season has meant that the younger guys are expected to produce at a higher clip than if we were still in ‘rebuilding’ mode, and Casey’s approach has reflected that. We as fans, and Casey as a coach, are often trying to find a balance between the need for development which means playing through mistakes, and winning now. However, in Jonas Valanciunas’s case, they’re the same due to the dearth of options at the center. For Ross, the matter is more complex because James Johnson is currently the better player.
I don’t know what’s up with James Johnson, I would’ve thought he’d have played more against Memphis, his former team. Someone suggested that he may be in a doghouse for suggesting that Jeff Teague was the best point guard in the league. I don’t buy it. I’m guessing Casey values three-point shooting more than driving the ball right now, since he already has two guys who can attack the rim with DeRozan and Lowry on. There’s something to be said for floor spacing as well which is imperative when your offense is structured around clearouts. Diversifying things at this point in the season could be tough, and I don’t expect Casey to dole out plays with back-cuts, misdirections, heavy use of pick ‘n roll, and all that sexy stuff. Our hope is that whatever the Raptors are doing right now, they simply do better.
Tonight is another step in a very long NBA season. A not very interesting step that we may as well get over with.
The Raptors are favored by 10 points which is the most they’ve been favored on the road this season.
On Thursday evening, Lowry was named an all-star starter in the Eastern Conference. He trailed 10-time all-star Dwyane Wade by about 100,000 votes as of two weeks ago, but Raptors fans helped Lowry erase that deficit over the last 10 days of voting. The Toronto point guard will start alongside Washington’s John Wall. He joins Vince Carter and Chris Bosh as the only two Raptors to ever be selected by fans to start in the game. DeMar DeRozan and Antonio Davis also played in the All-Star Game as Raptors. Undoubtedly, the Raptors’ push to get Lowry elected by the masses was the biggest reason this happened. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory all tweeted votes for Lowry, with retweets of those missives counting as votes as well. (Justin Bieber also voiced his support, but forgot to add the essential “#NBABallot” hashtag. That tweet had 46,305 retweets as of Thursday afternoon. The thousands of retweets made Monday’s voting deadline were lost votes. This was the unquestioned highlight of the campaign.)
“Woooooo That Boy Good!!!” congratulations not only on making it but starting @kyle_lowry7 #WeTheNorth #CanadaStandUpPhillyToo Ein von @iamamirjohnson gepostetes Foto am
It was a development that no one could have seen coming. While a year ago Lowry was in the midst of the best season of his nine-year career up until that point, he was passed as a reserve in voting by NBA coaches, in part – it was thought – because the tightly-knit coach’s fraternity held against him his reputation as a prickly malcontent that followed him from stops in Memphis and Houston. His stock was low enough in the summer of 2012 that then-Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo was able to acquire Lowry from the Houston Rockets for a first-round pick in the 2013 draft. In his first year with the Raptors he chafed at having to share playing time and starts with Jose Calderon and by the middle of last season current general manager Masai Ujiri had worked hard to trade Lowry only to have deals with the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors fall through or not quite get to the finish line. The Raptors were poised to rebuild and Lowry was a piece that could be leveraged for future assets. In the space of a year, everything is different.
When asked on Wednesday how he’d react if named a starter, Lowry — in his third season with Toronto after being acquired in a bit of a heist by Bryan Colangelo — replied, “I don’t even know. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know what to say. I’d be shocked but we’ll see. I’m not really banking on it, I’m just going out there. I know the Canadian fans did a great job of voting for me and I appreciate them. Hopefully, they did their job and something special happens from it.” Something special happened indeed, even though Justin Bieber messed up a tweet that would have given Lowry about 40,000 more votes and even though team global ambassador Drake declined to back the team’s best player. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support got lowry 15,000 votes through retweets.
Lowry has felt slighted, under-appreciated and overlooked for most his playing career, even before the Grizzlies selected him with the 24th overall pick back in 2006. Only recently has he channeled that passion into becoming the player, person and leader he is today. “He’s relentless, he’s gritty,” DeRozan said of his teammate and good friend. “That’s one thing he brings every single day and it shows in his play every time he’s out on the court. That’s his personality. The same way he plays, that’s how he approaches working out, film, every single thing. It all carries over.” “I mean it’s definitely amazing,” he continued. “I know the feeling firsthand, from last year. Just to see how hard he worked. I think every player in this league has the goal to be an all-star. That’s a great accomplishment. It’s just a credit to the hard work he put in last summer. He carried the team while I was out and proved his worth. It’s been great to see.”
For Lowry, his first selection to an all-star team caps a dream two seasons with the Raptors. Once deemed a bit of a problem child because of a streak of stubbornness that led him to bounce from Memphis to Houston to Toronto, the Philadelphia native has matured into a true team leader with the Raptors, who are comfortably on their way to a second straight Atlantic Division title and were third in the East with a 27-15 record heading into play Thursday. Lowry was unavailable for comment Thursday night because he was hosting a dinner for teammates and club officials at his Philadelphia home. “Thank you to the wonderful Raptors fans across the NBA, especially in Canada! I am amazed by your passion for our team and the support you have given me,” he said in a press release put out by the team. “When I re-signed here this summer I said one of the great things is being able to play for an entire country. This is further proof how really special that is.”
The Raptors fan base, in support of Kyle Lowry, came through to get their guy in, while ousting Dwyane Wade at the same time.
But Kyle Lowry is the engine behind the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors, putting up career-high numbers in nearly every important category and carrying the team to the third-best record despite all-star DeMar DeRozan missing almost half the season with a groin injury.
In Memphis, Conley joined a roster that was already crowded at his position. The Grizzlies’ point guard backlog featured Kyle Lowry, who’d been the team’s first-round pick in the previous year’s draft, and then 12-year veteran Damon Stoudamire. “It’s funny because I was there at the draft party,” Lowry said. “I didn’t understand what the situation was going to be … I love Mike. Mike’s my guy. We play golf and I always knew Mike would be as good as he is. But you never understand the politics of no matter what you do, you’re [drafted] 24. He’s four. He’s going to be given the opportunity.” As much as the players liked each other, professional pride and ambition was bound to come between them. Whichever point guard Memphis chose as its future leader was bound to get more chances to prove his worth, to play well, and to increase his market value for his next contract.
The best-case scenario for the Raptors would be to trade Ross, and maybe Landry Fields (who also has an expiring contract) for a big man and a reliable backup point guard. If the Raptors received the latter, it would allow Vasquez to continue to play starter minutes and Lou Williams wouldn’t have to control the second unit. Williams would be able to play as the second-string shooting guard and look for open shots instead of running plays, as the only play he knows how to run is isolation. In terms of the trade market, Miles Plumlee would be a valuable addition to the Raptors lineup. At 6’11” and 255 pounds, he has the ability to protect the rim and finish around the basket. Plumlee’s playing time has dwindled for the Phoenix Suns this season and it seems to only be dropping with the addition of Brandan Wright. Therefore, a new home may benefit the third-year center exceedingly.
Rumor has it that the Toronto Raptors are interested in the struggling center. It is a more complicated deal as Plumlee will come along with Gerald Green in exchange for Terrence Ross, Tyler Hansbrough, or Landry Fields.
The Raptors are listing Jonas Valanciunas as questionable with a sore left calf, an injury that popped up in Wednesday’s game at Memphis. . . . At 8-34, the Sixers are not the worst team, record-wise, in the NBA and “won” a vital draft lottery ping-pong ball game by losing to the Knicks on Wednesday. . . . Of those eight wins, only three have come at home for Philadelphia, 3-17 at the Wells Fargo Center. . . . Sims hurt his ankle in that game against New York and is listed as questionable. . . . Guard Carter-Williams is averaging 20 points and shooting 44 per cent from the floor in his last six games.
The early results of this lineup change has been indicative of Ross’ career thus far – flashes of the top flight athlete and slasher one night, totally invisible the next. T-Ross dropped 16 points and five boards in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, but importantly, he looked as relaxed as he has been in a while, with confident drives to the rim. Coach Dwane Casey rewarded his young swingman with crunch time minutes, and he delivered with two clutch buckets in the final minute. The next game, Ross put up a predictable dud, going scoreless in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Now the big question is how will the former Slam Dunk Champ respond to this new found adversity? Will he finally find some consistency and continue to play with the same attacking style like in the Milwaukee game?
Casey stated he “can’t play everybody” in his post-game presser. Newsflash: Johnson is not Tyler Hansbrough, you are benching a player who is worthy of being inserted into the starting lineup. The Bucks rank 27th in total rebounding per game, and one of the team’s most active and disruptive players is not installed in the game-plan? … Tough crowd, indeed. Alloting just 7:43 of playing time in the Grizzlies follow-up now resides as an insult. To the players, and to the fans. With an annoying scale that almost reaches levels of You Tube Ad’s with no “Skip” button.
“We can’t hesitate,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We have to walk into our shots – shots we normally make – and knock them down. The shots will fall.” That was the case for DeMar DeRozan for in his first three games back from a torn left abductor. He averaged 22.3 points and 54.0 percent shooting, but in the last two he’s totaled six points on 2 of 20. A rare positive during the rough stretch has been Toronto’s play in the paint. The Raptors have produced 41 offensive rebounds and 41 second-chance points in the last two games.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
After all that voting, after all that hoopla, Kyle Lowry made it.
He overtook Dwayne Wade and was second behind John Wall. Here’s how Lowry, Wade and Wall matched up:
Rk Player Age G MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
1 Kyle Lowry 28 42 34.8 .428 .329 .799 4.9 7.5 1.6 0.2 2.6 19.8
2 Dwyane Wade 33 32 32.5 .489 .319 .732 4.0 5.5 1.1 0.5 3.2 21.8
3 John Wall 24 43 35.5 .457 .311 .776 4.3 10.0 2.1 0.6 3.7 17.0
Congratulations to Kyle Lowry! Fully deserved! He’s easily the most valuable player to his team amongst these three, and I’m glad he was able to overcome the Raptors recent slump. I’d say the fans more than righted the wrong of last season. He overcame a 100K deficit to catch Dwayne Wade since the last voting results were announced. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes to Wade’s 789,839.
Side note: Jonas Valanciunas was 8th.
Here’s the specific clip of the announcement and the TNT crew reaction:
Couple snippets from the NBA.com press release:
In the most recent results, announced two weeks ago, Lowry had leapfrogged Irving to move into third place but was still over 100,000 votes behind Wade, with 406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326 . But the Raptors campaigned hard for Lowry, with social media support from people like hip-hop star Drake and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which apparently rallied enough support to push the 28-year-old Lowry, who has never been an All-Star, into the starting lineup. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes to Wade’s 789,839.
Kyle Lowry, Raptors — In his ninth NBA season, for the last few seasons Lowry has been the Eastern Conference player probably most deserving of an All-Star nod that never came. This season, Lowry is averaging 19.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 4.9 rpg, career highs across the board.
Statement by Lowry:
Thank you to the wonderful Raptors fans across the NBA, especially in Canada! I am amazed by your passion for our team and the support you have given me. When I re-signed here this summer I said one of the great things is being able to play for an entire country. This is further proof how really special that is.
Some pics via Instagram, Lowry’s house before the announcement:
Lowry’s house after:
This season has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. And that’s only in part because of the team. Toronto sports fans are some of the most passionate, loud, excited and emotionally invested human beings on the planet.
They are also some of the most irrational, eternally disappointed, insecure, preposterously quick to judgment and emotionally invested human beings on the planet. I love you guys. I am one of you guys. Let’s none of us pretend it isn’t true. Because as far as the dominant sports narrative around the city (and really the province) has been this year, the Raptors have somehow been the best team in the league or the worst team in the league, the greatest offensive team of all time or the worst defensive team anyone has ever seen, a group of loyal, eternally hard working players who really care or a bunch of overpaid bums who don’t play for each other and don’t care, reliable veterans or unproven young players, brilliantly coached or stupidly rudderless, and the most popular team in the country signaling the meteoric rise of basketball’s new dominance in Canadian culture or a passing bandwagon fad in a hockey-crazed country with a tiring Game of Thrones inspired marketing plan.
It’s been a lot to handle. I pity any new fan who naively ventured out into the unknown territory of a Raptors related comment section or forum lately, not knowing the kind of escalating, unending and oddly personal argument they were about to accidentally insert themselves into. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
But where is all of this coming from? Has the Raptors play this season really inspired this kind of all over the place overreaction? They’ve been very good, and they’ve been fairly bad. That much is true. But is that what’s causing Raptor’s nations’ response? The team is hardly behaving outside of reasonable expectation. Something else is going on. This kind of attitude and emotional vitriol has dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs fan base for decades. Now we’ve got it. It was inevitable with the team’s success causing massive waves of new converts.
There’s no inoculation for it. We’ve got Maple Leafs fanitis; where the immediate sports talk radio overreaction is the dominant storyline. If we win three straight games, we’re the best team ever and it’s an outrage that major US media outlets don’t give us credit for being the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s not exactly a subtle inferiority complex. And when we lose two games in a row, it’s time to trade everyone, because they’re overpaid bums who don’t play with heart, don’t want to be here and I don’t exactly understand what the rules are because this game is stupid, just like Phil Kessel. We are the North; but we are also the crazy.
I don’t know what to do about the crazy bit. My sports fan base psychology PhD only goes so far. But I think it’s worth noting, if we can take a few deep breaths for a moment, that managing expectations might be helpful here. The Raptors are not a bad team. In fact, they’re almost the same team they were a year ago, when they not surprisingly had nearly the same roster. And while they certainly have things they need to improve and get back on track, they’re far from in trouble in the Eastern Conference standings. John Hollinger’s projection system on ESPN still has the Raptors projected to win 50 games, finish in 3rd place outright and gives them a 99% probability of making the playoffs. The Las Vegas pre-season over/under on wins for this team was 48 ½, which they’re on pace to go over on. In other words, they’re still on pace to exceed expectations.
Take the Atlanta Hawks out of the discussion, and nobody else in the East is making Toronto look bad. The much feared Chicago Bulls have lost 6 of their last 8 games, and neither Derrick Rose or Joakim Noah have looked like themselves. Lebron and the Cavaliers are fighting to stay over .500. The Wizards, the other team ahead of Toronto, is on pace to slightly exceed their win projections by a similar amount as Toronto. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on pace to miss the playoffs entirely down in Miami. But it’s not just that the Raptors are the brightest of all the dark spots. The Raptor’s SRS, a stat called Simple Rating System that combines strength of schedule with margin of victory, is still second overall in the East by a mile kilometer and sixth overall in the league. The may have struggled against some of the West’s top teams, but the advanced stats still have them as one of the more competitive overall teams on the year. There’s no cause to burn the house down yet.
I’m not ignoring the faults and concerns of the last six weeks. I’ve talked and written about them extensively. I’m just reiterating the importance of looking at them in the light of reasonable expectations. Did anybody think that this Toronto team would go an entire season without injuries, bad shooting streaks and team slumps? Even good teams go through these; it’s unreasonable to think the Raptors would have been immune. Next, what are your expectations as far as the players and coaching staffs ability to adjust and improve? Even if you don’t hold a high personal opinion of either, we’re talking about professionals who have risen to the top of their industry for a reason. It’s a lot more likely to expect them to adjust positively over time than it is to think that this is a steadily sinking ship.
In the last week, the Raptors have managed to bump up their defensive efficiency numbers a bit. The numbers are still bad, but they’ve moved a few points per 100 possessions away from Minnesota Timberwolves bad. The last month has seen the offense continue to wan, shooting slump, and curiously, their pace of play notably increase. For a bad defense that’s slumping offensively, increasing your pace of play is far from a helpful strategy. On the bright side, their defensive rebounding numbers have edged their head slightly back above water in the last few games. It’s nothing to celebrate, but improvement is positive, especially if it turns into a continuing trend.
No, this team isn’t playing the same way they were last year. That point conveniently ignores that they’ve been much better on offense this year than last season though. They’ve dropped 11 spots in defensive rebounding, they’re playing at a faster (which is different than fast) pace and they’re gambling for turnovers much more often while yielding a smaller number of them. Those little differences can make up the gap between the 22nd and the 11th ranked defence.
It’s also not mentioned when looking at expectations that yes, Toronto was a much better team after the Rudy Gay trade. But they were actually a better defensive team before that trade, and no small part of that is lineup related. Even so, this is still the team from the second half of last season that is perfectly capable of improving their numbers from this January’s efficiency to that of January 2014. Toronto wasn’t a better defensive team last season because it had an elite rim protector, lost a top defensive minded coach or changed the way that they guarded pick and rolls with their bigs. Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are still the key cogs in the middle. While Valanciunas is still not a great help defender and is slow to both recognize and then move into space when he needs to rotate or step into the lane, he isn’t a bad defender.
The Raptors are not the best team in the league. They’re not even close. But they’re a hell of a lot closer to the best team overall than they are the worst team. They’re probably the third best team in the East, somewhere around the tenth or eleventh best team in the league and they’re still both young and improving. That’s living up to a reasonably optimistic pre-season expectation. There are at least a dozen things this team needs to address immediately if they want to contend, but this is a season where close to a dozen different teams have a reasonable chance of making it to the finals. Things don’t look as outrageously bad on paper as they sound on sports radio. I know it’s hard, Leafs fans; I do. I grew up here too. But let’s try not to throw things, try not to expect the world, and see where this goes.
The Raptors have crossed the midway point of the season, which means it’s time for hot #content. Part 2 comes out tomorrow.
1. Best surprise of the year?
Tamberlyn: James Johnson: His offense is greatly improved, specifically his ability to drive the paint. I knew he would be a defensive asset, but I didn’t expect his offensive growth as well as his maturity as a team player. (even though he’s currently in the dog house).
Matt: If anyone had told me that at the start of the season that the Raptors would be 27-14 at the midway point of the season, despite the absence of DeMar DeRozan for 21 games, I would not have believed it. Shocking and unbelievable!
Tim C.: Obviously the start to the season. The Raptors spent two months atop the Eastern Conference playing an unconventional style (in this modern NBA era of passing and Thibs-style D), and even stringing together wins during the first half of DeMar DeRozan’s injury absence.
Nick: James “Beast Mode” Johnson. Hasn’t been getting a lot of run lately… Don’t know why. Dude is a major factor and plays hard. Hope it’s because Dwayne Casey is crazy.
Tim W.: There haven’t been any really big surprises this year, but probably the biggest one is Lou Williams getting back to his pre-injury form. Atlanta obviously didn’t think he had much left and gave him up for peanuts, but he’s been one of the most important Raptors for most of the season.
Sam: How quickly this team went from good to elite to vulnerable.
Garrett: Everyone expected James Johnson to be a solid contributor, but nobody expected him to be arguably the second most valuable player on the team behind Kyle Lowry. His recent benching notwithstanding, Johnson’s offence, in particular, has been a revelation – he’s far quicker than most bigs his size, makes good decisions, and might have the best post game on the team.
Barry: James Johnson has been a beast. Hopefully whatever drama is going on behind the scenes is cleared up so he can go back to his regular playing minutes. Need more joints cocked back for the second half of the season.
William: The effectiveness of the offense. Their performance against the Grizzlies was ugly, but on the year, the Raptors have 3rd-best offense in the league. Casey’s system is far from Spursian and assist numbers are terrible, but with a cache of premier shot-makers, the Raptors have made it work. The question still remains: can it work in the playoffs?
Scott: James Johnson. It was a nice addition in the offseason, but I doubt anyone expected him to threaten for a starting position. Part of that is due to Terrence Ross’s sub-optimal play, but still: damn JJ.
2. Pick one player or coach. What does he have to improve on in the second half of the season?
Tamberlyn: Coach Casey to implement everything I want:
- Valanciunas: closing 4Q minutes/touches.
- Ross: first priority is defense. First play every game – go hard to basket (to adjust his mindset/make it habit).
- Passing drills: ball gets passed 10-times before shot (something Spurs do).
- Options for end of quarters based on how opposition aligns or by who has player opponent advantage.
- Add plays for James Johnson.
- Get Amir Johnson some rest so he’s strong, rested and healthy for playoffs.
Matt: Kyle Lowry has been exceptional so far this season and kept the team afloat without DeMar, but his defence has taken a noticeable slide this season. The Raptors need to prevent dribble penetration, and Lowry needs to refocus his attention on this with DeRozan’s offensive return.
Tim C.: Jonas Valanciunas has to start understanding and executing the basic defensive concepts that this team employs. As the last line of defence he has to have a way better sense of what the team is trying to do in their schemes, both considering his status in the team’s future plans as well as his status as the team’s only legit big man.
Nick: Dwane Casey has to draw some sort of plays. Our offensive game plan has to be more than “shake ur defender and score bro.”
Tim W.: Valanciunas needs to improve his consistency. For example, he’s had five 20+ point scoring games this season, and after four of them, he scored less than half his point output the very next game. And there was only one three game stretch where he got consecutive double doubles.
Sam: When it comes down the wire, hero-ball mentality hurts this teams ability to execute. Casey needs to do a better job of 1) creating a play book 2) making sure those plays are ran during the game…also, play Valanciunas a bit more. Basically, I need Casey to start doing his job better…
Garrett: Terrence Ross, my friend – take a breath. Our much maligned dunk contest winner is still oozing with potential, but he’s proven what a lot of people guessed: he’s SO emotional, and he’s prone to riding slumps much more than a veteran would. Consistency from Ross would go a long, long way in balancing out the lineup.
Barry: Casey has to start drawing up plays. Anything. For the love of God and all things holy please design a play that doesn’t involve a Lou Williams isolation to end the quarter.
William: Valanciunas needs to become smarter on defense. If the Raptors are going to do damage in the playoffs, it’s going to need to come with Valanciunas on the court. He needs to show strides on defense to earn minutes.
Scott: Terrence Ross, I beg you to feign interest in the sport for 30 minutes a game. Players consistently shoot better against him and his net rating when on the floor is 1.5. The only rotation player with a lower net rating is JV.
3. How many wins will the Raptors finish with?
Tamberlyn: I said 52 preseason and now I think we’ll surpass that. My guess is 54, but to be completely honest I just want the 50 wins, so the team can check off that milestone.
Matt: I’m going to stick with my initial prediction of 53-55 wins. We’re right on pace and still have nine games remaining within our division, which currently sports a combined record of 44-116 for a .275 winning percentage. Anything less than 50 wins will be a disappointment.
Tim C.: Lets say an even 50. The team has been slumping lately but they are still mostly beating the bad teams they need to beat and they amassed a nice cushion to start the season. Just like they weren’t as good as they were to start the season they aren’t as bad as they’re playing now.
Nick: I said 53 at the beginning of the season because I am a huge homer. Reality has set in a bit more and 48 is my new number.
Tim W.: I believe I guessed 50 wins at the beginning of the season and I’m going to stay with that estimate.
Garrett: I said 49 at the beginning of the season, and they’d only have to go 22-18 the rest of the way to do that, which seems a teense modest even given the recent slump. Let’s bump it up to 51.
Barry: They’ll still get to 50 wins. It’s gonna happen. Stay positive.
William: I said 50 before the season and I’m sticking to my guns. Raps need to go 23-17 over the remainder of the season.
Scott: 47. The East still sucks, there will be some positive regression to the mean.
4. Most Valuable Player?
Tamberlyn: Kyle Lowry — Carrying the squad has taken a toll on him, but he’s still taking the critical charge, sensing the need to pick up the pace or hit a key shot. Even prior to DeRozan’s injury, Lowry was the catalyst for the majority of our wins. He’s grown as a leader specifically in his patience and guidance, especially with Valanciunas. I’m happy he’ll be an All Star, crazy thing is this year he could really use the time off to rest.
Matt: I’m trying to figure out a way to answer Terrence Ross just to read the outraged comments, but the clear and obvious answer is Kyle Lowry. He has been the leader that Toronto’s needed and kept the Raptors near the top of the East despite missing DeMar for 21 games.
Tim C.: Kyle Lowry. His legs look dead right now but for the first half of the season he carried this team on his back. He has the team’s best ‘sense of the moment’, which not only means hitting big shots but also who to involve in the offence when and what needs to happen to the pace of the game to best benefit the Raptors.
Nick: Kyle Lowry. Do I really have to explain this? Imagine if Demar went down and the keys to this team were in YOLO Vasquez or 2 girl Lou’s hands. The car would wrecked in a ditch.
Tim W.: While Lowry still frustrates me with his penchant for hero ball, he’s the main reason the Raptors have the record they do. He’s been able to turn the chip on his shoulder to his advantage by never giving up and never letting his teammates give up.
Sam: It has to be DeRozan. The unexplained success came to a halt when he was out with injury; his absence from the line-up has hurt the teams chemistry and mojo.
Garrett: Kyle Lowry. The criticisms about his hero-ball in the fourth quarter are valid, but there’s no way this team is sitting where it is without him. He might even have been TOO valuable, potentially burning himself out as he willed the team to win after win while DeMar DeRozan was injured.
Barry: The way Kyle Lowry carried the team while Derozan was injured along with his presumed All Star nod reiterated his position as the team leader. James Johnson’s defence and ability to create on offence has been great too. Lots of value from Johnson but Lowry is the obvious choice for MVP.
William: The answer is Lowry. I should have done a better job with crafting questions.
Scott: Kyle Lowry. We (both the team and the fanbase) wouldn’t be able to function without Lowry’s play during the DeRozan stretch. KLOE forever.
The #FireCasey hashtag is trending now. OK, well maybe not where its supposed to via Twitter, but it certainly is here at Raptors Republic.
We shot 31.8% and lost. What did you expect? How may times does a team shoot that low of a percentage and win? Never. Well, 21 times in NBA history to be exact, but that’s just semantics. The Raptors were engaged in this game from start to finish, and the physical effort level was solid on both ends. In key moments, though, the offense was left wanting and the defense failed.
This game can be summed up in one stat: three-point shooting. The Raptors shot 5-28 from three which is good for 18%. The Grizzlies were actually worse, they shot 14% except the difference is that they were 1-7. They knew when to pass on something when it wasn’t working and the Raptors, because of their recently fractured offense didn’t know what else to turn to. That one three Memphis did make was a case of Kyle Lowry begging Mike Conley Jr. to ice the game by playing some horrific Hardenesque defense. BTW, follow us on Vine and Instagram for more game clips.
Memphis is a team that knows what their strengths are. They’re 20th in the league in three-point percentage, and 29th in the league at attempting threes so they don’t rely on it, and they don’t need to since they have an established interior game. The Raptors at the halfway mark of the season still haven’t found a balance on the court where they can switch up their look, and this game was a prime example of just how one-dimensional their offense can be.
I think Dwane Casey may not have thought through the matchups tonight, because with Greivis Vasquez starting ahead of Ross, Memphis switched Mike Conley Jr. on Vasquez, Tony Allen on Kyle Lowry, and Jeff Green on DeMar DeRozan. So DeRozan ended up being guarded by a bigger defender, while Lowry ended up being matched up with their best defender! I’m not saying Ross would’ve made a world of a difference, but at least you would’ve forced Memphis (who I presume would’ve put Green on Ross at the three-spot) to have a think on which one of DeRozan or Lowry to put a great defender like Alllen on. Instead, Casey made it plain and simple for them and unwittlingly helped them matchup their two best defenders against our two best offensive players. FACEPALM!
The Raptors were in this game for two reasons. First, Memphis is not a good three-point shooting team which means the Raptors can get away with murder on defense. The Raptors love to trap, collapse, and then rotate, which they are free to do against Memphis since they can’t make them pay. So, off the Raptors defense went trying to swipe at Randolph and Gasol, drop down and disrupt their screens designed to free up wings for short jumpers or passes to bigs underneath. The Raptors had a lot of success here, and they ended up forcing Memphis into 1-4 clearouts for Randolph against Valanciunas, which the Raptors defense couldn’t help on and ended up paying the price since Randolph delivered. You might’ve heard Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins go on and on about how the Raptors defense had “showed up” without mentioning this key detail – this matchup perfectly suits the style the Raptors defense is designed to slow down.
Second, the Raptors rebounded the basketball which offset some of that shooting. Patrick Patterson, who is now just a taller, blacker version of Jason Kapono on offense, is making a real effort to help out on the boards. Casey’s featuring of him alongside Tyler Hansbrough against the Pelicans saw both of them get overrun by Alexis Ajinca, and this time around Patterson was making the glass his first priority on defense. This was certainly helped with him not having to cover the full width of the court on defensive rotations since Gasol and Randolph never venture out that far, and he made the most of it by collecting 9 rebounds. On offense, 6 of his 7 shots were threes, and he went 1-6. Dwane Casey either doesn’t know how to manufacture points out of Patterson’s excellent mid-range game and off-the-ball movement, or he very strongly feels that Patterson is a player more closer to Channing Frye than Boris Diaw. In summary, the Raptors were +5 on the glass, and won the second-chance point duel 20-14 (they had 21 offensive rebounds). That is what kept them in it.
Of course, being in a game for a prolonged stretch is very different than actually winning it. When push came to shove and the fourth quarter started with the Raptors up 1, Memphis went to Gasol and Randolph in isolation situations and they delivered combining for 17 points on 6/8 shooting – everything going towards the rim. The Raptors big guns? They kept running predictable action where you knew it was just to get Lowry a couple of feet of space, at which point he’d go into hero-mode which works far less frequently than it used to because 1) teams know it’s coming, and 2) he’s usually driving into contact and the refs aren’t buying it. In the fourth, the Raptors and their jump-shooters featuring Lowry, Vasquez, Williams, and Ross shot 5-19. DeRozan didn’t even attempt a shot in 7 minutes of action because Memphis had him covered and there was nothing on Dwane Casey’s clipboard that could free up arguably our most efficient fourth quarter player (although he was struggling on the night). Memphis prevented DeRozan from catching his dribble-handoffs, and pushed him further out so in essence he had to start every touch in a face-up than going with momentum towards the rim.
I thought Terrence Ross and James Johnson’s minutes management was bizarre. Ross came in with six minutes left in the first and left 30 seconds into the second, contributing nothing. At this point I assumed his night was done, but Casey called on him at the 3 minute mark of the third and he didn’t leave the game till almost the 3 minute mark of the fourth. He played a full crunch time quarter and did nothing, while James Johnson rode the pine the entire second half and played a total of 8 minutes. Was Johnson’s 8-minute spell so much worse than Ross’s first-half stint, that Johnson (our best driver of the ball at the three) can’t even get a sniff? This is a guy who has played hard and played smart all season long and relishes a physical challenge, which is the exact opposite of Ross. I get that Casey was trying to spread the court, but at some point maybe you should abandon the three (Raptors were 3-10 3FG in the fourth) and go for something else.
You can insert the general Jonas Valanciunas misuse comment here, after going 3-4 FG for 6 points in the first quarter, he took 4 shots the rest of the game. I get that he was being touched up by Randolph, despite Casey trying to give Randolph and Gasol different looks (fronts, ball-denial, showing help, doubling on the dribble). Does that excuse not establishing an interior game through him? Even the Memphis announcers (great crew, BTW) were infatuated with Valanciunas and perplexed why he wasn’t being used more. I don’t buy the argument that this guy freezes up in the fourth quarter, it’s more that his management has been so bad that the fourth quarter his now become a stigma for him and everyone involved psychologically. Yeah, he tries to look tougher than he probably is and does get shaky at times, but let that not detract us from his actual basketball talent, which needs to be developed with far more diligence than it is.
My favorite Memphis broadcast tidbit was when Lou Williams took a hero-ball end of quarter shot and missed, which prompted them to drop this gem (live call can be seen here): “That is kind of an odd possession, to just hold it and put up a 27-footer. We’ll take it. Lou Williams, with the three-point miss!” So relax Raptors fans, you’re not the only people who think that’s crazy.
DeMar DeRozan had a poor shooting game, ended up going 2-11 and played 33 minutes. Somewhere here there’s a double-standard issue with how Valanciunas, Ross, and James Johnson are on short leashes, but DeRozan gets away with doing all the things that get others benched. Let me be clear, I’m not advocating benching DeRozan, I’m advocating being fair to everyone else as well. This sort of personnel management is what ends up losing the lockerroom, and with the Raptors now firmly in a funk, the last thing we can afford is a chemistry implosion.
Coaches tend to get vilified when specific decisions they make go south (Vasquez guarding Evans), and they don’t get enough credit when their tweaks actually work (Ross coming off the bench in Milwaukee). I get he’s done some smart things this year, and has always gotten good effort out of the squad. With due respect to him, I don’t think I’m jumping the gun or being overly reactionary when I say we’re a very unorganized group on offense, and as discussed on the podcast, making large scale change mid-season is very difficult. So Dwane Casey’s hoping that the problem lies in the execution, not the plan. Let’s hope he’s right because evidence thus far has been to the contrary.
Filling in for Sam, so this is the bare-bones edition.
1) I wanted to explain to Jeff Green that James Johnson was just a fling. Yes, he’s an athletic forward too, but we just went slumming for a few weeks last year because his neck tat made him seem dangerous and cool, but we’d never bring him home to Mom and Dad. You’re different, Jeff. You’re for real. (But we do keep that vine of The Dunk under our pillow.) 2) Speaking of Jeff Green, he finalized his onboarding process by fouling a three-point shooter in the first quarter. Someone put his certificate in the mail — he’s officially a Grizzly. 3) The Raps finished 5-28 from 3-point range, but the Grizzlies committed three three-shot fouls. Progress?
The Grizzlies started the 4th quarter on a 11-3 run to take a 71-64 lead. Nick Calathes, Jon Leuer and Marc Gasol all played a role in the run. With 5:51 left in the game, the Grizzlies led 71-67. The Raptors countered the Grizzlies run with a 6-2 mini run of their own pulling back to within 3 at 73-70. However, the big fella, number 50, Z-BO, scored two straight buckets to put the Grizz back up 7 with 3:34 to go. The Raptors would not get any closer until the final buzzer and the Grizzlies closed the game winning 92-86, splitting the season series with the Raptors, 1-1. Former Grizzlies player, James Johnson played 8 minutes and did not score or attempt a FG in his return to FedexForum. Toronto’s three starting wings/guards Vasquez, Lowry and Derozan were a combined 10/43 from the field, 2/13 from 3P, and scored 29 points in the game.
The Toronto Raptors ranked 14th on Forbes Magazine’s annual list of the most valuable teams in the NBA with an assessed value of $920 million. This year’s ranking marks a four-spot leap for the Raptors, who are worth a whopping $400 million more than they were in 2014. The team’s operating income is $18 million and revenue is $151 million, according to Forbes. Those numbers were $29 million and $149 million, respectively, last year. Making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 “fueled a 25 per cent rise in TV viewership and seven per cent gain in gate receipts,” Forbes said, while sponsorship revenue jumped from 11th best in the league to seventh.
Since DeRozan made his return to the team, Lowry’s production and efficiency has dropped significantly on both ends, though more so on offense. He’s averaged 13.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.0 steals on an ugly 36.5 percent shooting from the floor and an even worse 17.9 percent shooting from downtown. What enlarges the importance of the disturbing drop in his three-point percentage (33.2 percent for the season) is the fact that over the last four games he’s taken seven attempts per contest. Seven! That means Lowry is settling for a lot of jumpers and getting to the rim far less. This is a guy who takes 15.9 shot attempts a night. So nearly half of those have come from deep during this most recent slump. As the old saying goes, you live by the three, you die by the three. Or in this case, the Lowry.
“I think right now we’ve hit that full reset button and our defence is completely ahead of our offence,” said Kyle Lowry. “That’s one of the things we’re struggling with right now. I think once our offence catches up with our defence we’ll be back to a hell of a team, going out there and winning more games. “It takes a while. We’re just getting our all-star back in DeMar and we’re trying to figure it out again. Like I said, we hit the reset button, we started really focusing on defence and I think our defence is way ahead of our offence and once everything comes together we’ll be all right.”
There may be an argument for putting DeMar DeRozan on some sort of minutes cap going forward. For the second straight game, he didn’t look like he had his legs under him. He played 33 minutes nonetheless, going 2-for-11 for just six points. Keep in mind, the former All-Star is coming back from his first injury of any kind, and may need additional in-game rest before he’s back to form.
“Yeah, a lot of people don’t understand that we get paid in American money, than it gets converted over to Canadian or Canadian money gets converted to American money,” Raptors forward Patrick Patterson told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday. “That sucks that the dollar is going down,” he added, speaking for Canadians in general, not himself. “It’s definitely impactful as far as my contract and my salary goes, as far as getting paid from that standpoint,” he added.
I’m not sure who Ming Wong and HOOPmag is, however if this is true, this means that Kyle Lowry will be starting the All-Star game. For the sake of all Toronto Raptors fans, let’s hope that this is true.
Here’s another stunning stat: the Raptors are shooting better than 50% (50.4%) from within the arc. They have only averaged higher than this season’s mark once (2009/10), when they shot 51.2%. This is huge for a team that shoots as much as they do, because it means they can count on half of their two-pointers to fall. It’s hard to imagine a team losing often with 50/50 shooting.
HoopsHype – The worst bobblehead fiascos in the NBA
The Toronto Raptors ranked 14th out of 30, up from their #18 spot in 2014, and increased their value from $520 to $920 million. The average NBA team’s value rose to $1.1 billion from $634 million last year, a jump Forbes said was driven primarily by the NBA signing expanded national media deals with broadcast partners Walt Disney Co and Time Warner Inc. There are now 11 NBA teams worth at least $1 billion, up from three a year ago, Forbes said in a statement. The colossal rise in average team value is the biggest one-year gain since Forbes began tracking team valuations in the four major U.S. sports leagues in 1998.
Today I’m living a very different life than in Spain. In Spain last year I was playing 30 minutes a game. Now I don’t have a chance to jump out onto the court. But it’s not making me give up, it’s making me have more motivation to work hard and stay ready for my opportunities. I don’t want to stay on the bench. Still, I know that might not change soon. But I can’t give up. I have to understand that this is a process, and that every rookie has to go through this—especially being on a successful team like us. I know that maybe a rookie on an unsuccessful team might get to play more, but if you’re playing for a good franchise you don’t always have the same chance to play. I have friends on other teams, like Nene, Barbosa, Al Horford, Pau Gasol. They talk to me, help me, and explain that everyone goes through the same process at some point, and to stay ready, relaxed. Just keep working and don’t give up. So I’m Ok.
Lucas Nogueira, forward/centre 5 games, 1.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 29% FG, 6.0 PER Incomplete Nogueira’s hair and personality suggest he is the life of the party. He is the Funny One to Caboclo’s Shy One (if the Raptors were a boy band, of course). On the court, he is a world away from production, although you can see a glimmer of rim protection when he plays.
All post-game videos here.
Dwane Casey’s end-of-quarter use of Lou Willams in isolation sequences with no other movement on the floor is getting old and annoying. Even other broadcast crews are openly wondering just what in the world is going on:
Here’s what the guy said:
That is kind of an odd possession, to just hold it and put up a 27-footer. We’ll take it. Lou Williams, with the three-point miss!
Grizzlies out-grind Raptors.
|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 4-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | -3 +/-Played his heart out. Scored well in pick-and-roll, did a nice job managing Marc Gasol. Didn’t have enough ups to grab boards but held his own. It’s a shame to see his effort wasted. It’s the same story every time: it’s all about the health.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 29 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -9 +/-Did all he could against Randolph, who hit a litany of tough shots. Had a few defensive slip-ups, but deserved the minutes he got. Looked a little winded in the second half after playing relentlessly in the first half. Didn’t get any looks in the post, which is understandable given the Grizzlies’ frontcourt. Scrapped and fought for a few putbacks.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 40 MIN | 7-23 FG | 4-7 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | -1 +/-Suffered a dislocated finger in his shooting hand in the first quarter and had no jumper for most of the first half. But he fought hard to push the issue on offense, sacrificing his body on reckless drives. Don’t buy too much into the assist numbers. The Raptors offense was solely designed for Lowry to isolate. No movement, no solid screen setting, nothing. That’s on Casey.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 22 MIN | 1-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -6 +/-He couldn’t shoot. At least four of his missed three’s were open. Moved the basketball well and had a few drives into the lane, but he lacked the finish on his floaters. Had a decent showing defensively in the first quarter before settling into his usual level of unspeakably terrible on-ball defense.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 33 MIN | 2-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -8 +/-Couldn’t drive to the basket. Completely neutralized on offense. Couldn’t work in the post against the Grizzlies’ bigger wings. Couldn’t do anything right. The team needed him and he came up completely empty.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 11 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9 +/-Grizzlies’ defense completely ignored him, which made it hard for him to find court time. Played with energy in limited time on the court, grabbing a few rebounds. Was stuck defending Marc Gasol, which was an obvious mismatch.|
|James Johnson, PF 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0 +/-Wasn’t very effective when he played as he failed to generate any headway on drives to the basket. Looked like his recent benching took all the piss out of him. Played passively, which was a first this season.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 2-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | +9 +/-Strong effort defensively, if not excessively at times, but he really battled. Jumper wasn’t on, which is becoming an ugly trend. Without a reliable shot, the Grizzlies bigs could afford to treat him like they did with Hansbrough, overloading on the inside.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 18 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -1 +/-Yeah…he couldn’t make a discernable impact on either end of the floor. Bricked a few ill-advised jumpers with the second unit, which really doesn’t suit him. He needs to be set up to be effective offensively and the second unit is pretty much everyone fend for themselves.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 6-15 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | -2 +/-He came out gunning. It worked to start, jumpstarting the offense with a few made three’s, but the Grizzlies eventually figured out that he only ever sways over to his left and started to play him away from where he was most comfortable. The shooting line doesn’t look great, but he was a source of much-needed offense. Wasn’t too hot defensively, but that’s nothing new.|
Hard to critique without being unfair. He got the defense to clamp down, which is huge, but drew up nothing on offense. I love grit-and-grind as much as anyone, but the offense was simply to hand the ball to Lowry and to watch him kill himself trying to piece something out of nothing. It’s on Casey to draw something up. The James Johnson thing is still fishy.
Five Thing We Saw
- Back to the James Johnson thing. There must be more to the story that the Raptors aren’t letting on. Casey said it wasn’t a personal issue, but slashing the 5th-most productive player’s minutes to zilch, when the wing rotation is in tatters, would otherwise be insane. Something is up.
- It was a frustrating and ugly game to watch, but it’s encouraging that the Raptors were able to keep it close for 40 minutes on the road against the battle-tested Grizzlies. Valanciunas and Amir Johnson tried their best, but the Grizzlies’ bigs eventually proved too much. It sucks, but it’s an encouraging showing for what had been a terribly inept defense to date.
- The Raptors can’t afford for DeRozan to be invisible. It just cannot happen. It was always going to be a tough matchup for him, but DeRozan needs to find a way to impact the game when his usual schtick isn’t working. I’d rather he press the issue and fail, then to disappear altogether. That’s what stars do. They can’t fade.
- This game was reminiscent of last year’s playoff series against the Nets in its tight and physical nature. The biggest takeaway should be that the Raptors’ offense needs to find a way to be effective. Someone else needs to bridge the gap between the bigs in the post, and the wings on the perimeter. It can’t just be Lowry. It can’t. He’s getting driven into the ground at this rate.
- Just for the record, I am not on the camp that wants to fire Casey. I appreciate that he’s done a great deal of good with the franchise. He’s instilled a culture of hard work and the team. He gets a lot out of the players. Consider Lowry for example: He’s never played harder for any other coach. These pointers and grades aren’t a veiled “shot” at Casey. I’m not so jaded as to call for his job because he’s earned far more rope than this. But the team does have a lot of holes, some of which is up to Casey to fill.
Hat tip to Dime Magazine for trolling through Instagram comments:
One of the first games I ever “covered” for Raptors Republic was a Grizzles/Raptors pregame tilt during the 2012/2013 season. Quotation marks are necessary, there, because I didn’t see a second of the game. Not only was there no Canadian TV coverage, there was no US TV coverage – literally blacked out across the country – and so I ended up writing a brutal box score “reaction” for the pre-Rudy Gay era Raps that was rightly torn to pieces on here.
I tell this story not because it’s relevant to tonight’s game (it’s not), or because it was particularly memorable (it wasn’t), but because it’s a good reflection of how far we’ve come in such a short time. Covering the Raps – hell, being a fan of the Raps – was hard. The team was stuck in a year-after-year cycle of non-contender, non-tankiness, some of the games literally weren’t televised at all, and, for the ones that were, you had to watch Andrea Bargnani. Again, this was two years ago, which seems impossible when you’re looking at this year’s iteration of the team, and the expectations that have come along with it.
It’s thoughts like that that keep me sane when I watch Dwane Casey pine Jonas for no apparent reason in the fourth quarter, or Kyle Lowry hero-ball another team back into the game in the fourth quarter. Having meaningful discussions about strategy and personnel are things that real, contending basketball teams do, and this current slump the Raptors are going through illustrates that perfectly. There are expectations now – perfectly viable ones, no doubt – but it’s important to keep in mind that that’s cause for celebration, along with the disappointment and frustration that comes with not having those fulfilled. No more blacked out games and box score quick reactions for us!
Instead, we get posts about Bieber tweets. New world, baby.
Tonight, the Raptors (27-14) are in Memphis to face the Grizzlies (29-12), a Western Conference power buoyed recently by the return of Mike Conley after a two game absence. The Grizz lost to Dallas in Conley’s return game, but he still wound up with 22 and 4, so don’t expect much rust on his part when the two teams take the floor at FedEx Forum (8 EST, SN360).
That’s a problem for the Raps, who could have used the significant backcourt advantage that a Conley-less Grizzlies team would provide. The Raptors beat Memphis 96-92 at home almost two months ago to the day (AKA the Chuck Hayes game), but the Grizzlies were missing three players to the flu, including Tony Allen and Courtney Lee, and so it’s difficult to read too much into that result, other than it should provide the Raptors some much-needed confidence as they head into an unfriendly building. These guys know they can beat Memphis, which should give them a chance.
On-court, the Grizzlies are loaded with talent, boasting five average-to-plus defenders in a potential crunch-time five of Conley, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, wing strength in the form of Courtney Lee and Vince Carter, and fun-but-effective-European/European Americans in Beno Udrih and Kosta Koufos. On paper, this is a loaded group, with few weaknesses to exploit.
There are a few weaknesses, though, most notably when it comes to outside shooting. The Grizzlies attempt the fourth-fewest threes in the league, and for good reason, as their team percentage hovers at 34.7%, the 18th lowest in the association. As anyone who’s watched basketball in the past few years knows, they compensate for this by feeding things through their twin towers of Randolph and Gasol, and by using their above average passing abilities to find mid-range looks and slashing wing players.
For the Raptors to win tonight’s game, they’d do well by forcing the action outside, perhaps by hedging down towards the opposing big on switches, and taking their chances with Memphis’ outside shooting. Conley, Lee, and Carter are decent shooters, yes, but they’re not Randolph and Gasol. Whether the Raps have the personality to stifle Memphis’ bigs remains to be seen, as evidenced by the much-maligned lack of size on our second unit, in particular. Expect to see a healthy dose of Chuck Hayes tonight, as he gets up for opponents like this given the challenge and is remarkably impressive in using his stumpy little body to at least make things difficult for traditional bigs like Gasol.
Memphis is known for their defence, and rightfully so, but offensively, there aren’t a lot of things that the Raptors need to do differently than any other game. Execution, as always, will be the key – if the ball keeps moving around the perimeter and Amir/Patterson can suck one Memphis big at least a little bit away from the basket, this game will come down to individual match ups, which the Raptors do have the ability to win, particularly when it comes to Lowry and DeMar.
Like any road game against a good opponent, this game is going to be a battle if the Raptors are to win, and a potential blowout if they aren’t (Memphis is favoured by 5 in Vegas). That’ll depend on whether or not the team – and the coaching staff – decides enough is enough and puts their foot down when it comes to disciplined execution, because that’s the only thing that’s going to work here. Colour me optimistic (and hopeful), but I’ll still take the Grizzlies by 8. And hey, worst case, at least there’s TV cameras (and no Bargnani) at this one.
So funny and yet so incredibly true. Read on for a good laugh.
There’s no rattling Raptors’ Ross | Toronto Sun
Casey told Ross sometime Monday morning that he was moving back to the bench. The reaction from the third-year swingman? “Cool.” It was no big deal for Ross, even though he had started 102 straight games. He didn’t take it as an attack, just something that had to be done and something he would roll with. Does it change anything, how he prepares for games, his mentality heading in? “No, it’s how I started off in the league. I’m used to it,” Ross said after he made two key baskets to seal a win over the Bucks. The redemption tale meant a horde of media was camped out by his locker. To say Ross does not enjoy the attention is an understatement. This is a guy who looked genuinely stunned last season when the media swarmed him after his surprising 51-point game against the Clippers and he looked like he would rather have been doing pretty much anything else instead of talking to us after the Bucks game.
A video posted by Terrence Ross (@3tross1) on
“He wants to prove to the world that he is an NBA player and a starter in this league,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told Bob McCown and Arash Madani on Prime Time Sports Tuesday. “I’m not saying him coming off the bench is a permanent move but it’s something I think is good for him right now.” As a result of the decision to have Ross come off the bench and Greivis Vasquez start, Casey’s rotation must be re-arranged and on Monday the odd-man out appeared to be James Johnson. Casey says that while the team does want to focus more on Ross, there will be games when Johnson will return to his usual rotational minutes.
While it’s only one game, Ross’ first outing in his new role gave hope that Casey’s experiment with his rotation will bring positive results. He scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds in 22 minutes as the Raptors escaped the BMO Harris Bradley Center with a 92-89 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 19. His final two baskets late in the fourth quarter, including a breakaway jam with 15.9 seconds left, helped seal the victory.
Approaching the Feb. 19 trade deadline, Ujiri does have options. He has expiring contracts worth about $27 million he could deal and an extra future draft pick obtained from the New York Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani trade. The question is does he want to spend his 2015 summer free agent money in February in a trade or wait until a larger group of players is available in the summer? Ujiri is loathe to take on long-term contracts, though, so it’s unlikely he’d add significant salary past the 2015-16 season for a couple of reasons. He has to figure out what, or if, to do with some current players, Amir Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are up for contract extensions. Locking into a player now who would limit what he can do this summer or when a great class of free agents is available in 2016 is not something he’s interested in.
The Raptors reach the official mid-season in some turmoil, although the win over Milwaukee helped soothe the sting. Internally, they have talked about overconfidence creeping in, only to turn around and come out on Sunday as flat as flat can be against a New Orleans Pelicans team that was missing its two most effective starters. They are turning the basketball over at a rate that wasn’t even remotely close to how protective of the basketball they had been earlier in the season when the wins were coming. All that being said, we go back to the opening of this article: They are the same group that has made this best-ever first half in team history possible. This season marks just the sixth time in their 20-year history that the Raptors complete the first half with a winning record.
The Raptors are 16-1 when holding teams to under 100 points and 14-2 when holding opponents to below 45 percent shooting from the field. When they fail to achieve these defensive targets, the Raptors are effectively a .500 club.
The Raptors go 23-18 the rest of the way, finish with 50 wins, the Atlantic Division title and a top-four seed. After that, who knows? A lot of it will depend on the playoff matchup, and the health of the team. This team has been frustrating to watch lately, but they’re on pace to finish where we expected them to be at the start of the year. They need to play better, there are lots of areas that need fixing, but perhaps the panic comes from elevated expectations based on the team’s fast start. It was nice when we were first place in the East, and everyone wondered about us. Now, no one’s really talking about us again, which is fair. But this current roster was never constructed to win a championship this year. We’ll get some more definitive answers on the progress of Ross and Valanciunas as key contributors to this team in the long run over the course of the next 41 games, and surely, we’ll be able to better evaluate Dwane Casey as a coach and what this roster needs to move ahead and become a legitimate contender for the title. So, still on course. Even with the struggles of late, I’m still pretty excited to see where this all ends up.
In the near dystopian Eastern Conference, the Raptors are a beacon of light. Sure, they badly need to improve on their defence, which is ranked 21st in the league. They are often out rebounded, sometimes looking painfully passive anywhere near the hoop on defence. Some players who were supposed to be defensive strengths have been weaknesses this season, like third-year Terrence Ross. And, most frustratingly, the team often relies on the crutch that is small-ball in the fourth quarter. But, just the thought of their offence is enough to remind me that there is hope in Toronto.
First of all, if you’re a team that only plays the Toronto Raptors a couple of times per year, you need to realize that this isn’t the same team from last year. That crisp ball-movement that led to so many uncontested shots last year? Gone. If you don’t want to trust my perception from watching the games, then let’s look at the percentage of baskets that were credited with an assist this year compared to last. (# of Assists/# of FGs) Last year, 58% of the Raptors’ baskets came off of an assist. This year, that number is down to 54%. The league average is over 58%. This is just one of their weaknesses that was overlooked early on this season while the team was winning.
On top of what’s been a very rough few weeks for the Raps, that dagger from Tyreke last night still has me feeling extra salty today. But let’s not get too down on our boys just yet. There is a big part of me that believes this past stretch of games is no reason to panic. First of all it’s better to struggle now as oppose to later in the season/ heading into the playoff. Second, adversity builds character in the long run, and humbles a team like the Raps who were sitting in 1st for so long that we may have gotten big heads. Finally, it’s still gonna take another 2 or 3 games for everybody to re-adjust to Demar being back in the lineup. If we are still playing like this over the next 6-8 games than maybe it’s time to shake things up. Anyways, I just wanted to try and cheer up some of you guys who have been feeling a bit down about our team and tell you all to be patient. Tell all your friends who joined the bandwagon last year not to jump off just yet. Let them know it’s only a matter of time before this team reminds us of the heart they have, and why T.O (and Canada) isn’t the Leafs city anymore, we The North.
Antetokounmpo needed minutes in Milwaukee; he needed a lot of them. He averaged nearly 25MPG in his first season with the Bucks and he benefited from the experience greatly. This year he is averaging close to 30MPG and is arguably the Bucks best player many nights. There is no way Caboclo will get near that kind of playing time in Toronto, but he could in a different situation. The Bucks are reaping the rewards of Antetokounmpo’s time learning on the job, so could Caboclo not benefit from time in Europe? It worked out for Jonas Valanciunas when he played in Lithuania before arriving in Toronto. It wasn’t the Raptors ideal plan, but it certainly worked out and it worked out because Jonas was able to get more experience on the court and become a more confident player.
(shows stat for 4th Q minutes when he’s actually played in the 4th quarter). This includes an astounding 13 games where’s he played ZERO 4th quarter minutes. At this point, this is becoming a running joke. To put it in perspective, that’s just 10 more total 4th Q minutes than Tyler freaking Handsbro.
The most important trade in Raptors’ history was merely a formality. Yes, Toronto selected Jamison, who would switch hats with his college teammate on draft night, but it was Carter the Raptors had targeted all along. Of the two, Jamison actually had the better body of work at UNC and was known to be the Warriors’ preference, selecting fifth overall. So Grunwald, drafting for the first time as general manager, nabbed the forward with the fourth pick, immediately swapping him for some cash. Sold after watching his pre-draft workouts, Grunwald saw something in Carter and his instincts didn’t deceive him. While Jamison would go on to have a very good 16-year career, Carter was the franchise-altering star the Raptors desperately needed coming off a horrendous season.
“We need television that’s in high definition and low on the dial,” says Carter, who coached the Raptors from 1997 through 2000 and now lives in Toronto. “We’re not selling (investors) the concept of a league. We’re selling the concept of a profit/loss statement.” The past two decades have seen several minor pro basketball leagues appear and then vanish in Canada. The seven-team National Basketball League lasted less than two seasons before folding in 1994, and a decade ago the Ontario Professional Basketball Association didn’t even survive its first campaign. And if you weren’t aware they’d ever existed, well, that’s the point. Starting a pro sports league requires deep-pocketed owners who are patient enough to lose money for a few seasons, as well as a long list of eager sponsors. Pro basketball start-ups in Canada often fail on both fronts. “What every one of these things come up against is that they’re completely underfinanced,” says sports sponsorship consultant Brian Cooper, CEO of the S&E Sponsorship Group. “They’re reliant on ticket sales. They’re selling not the top level of basketball but the second level in markets outside of the core, avid fan base of basketball in this country.”
Demar Derozan’s return to the lineup from an extended stay on the bench, because of injury, is a welcome addition for the Raptors at a crucial time in the season. The Atlanta Hawks seem to be slowly starting to pull away from the pack in the Eastern Conference, and there is a need for other top teams to stay close as we head into the All-Star break fairly soon. The second half of the season will seem a lot more promising with some moment heading into the break and perhaps a 2nd or 3rd ranking in the east.
A different Memphis team awaits the Raptors than showed in Toronto in November when Courtney Lee, Tony Allen and Beno Udrih sat out with a flu bug; two other backups also sat out the 92-92 Raptors win . . . Vince Carter is shooting 33.7 per cent from the field for Memphis, averaging 6.1 points and 16.7 minutes per game . . . Both Lowry and Vasquez were originally drafted by the Grizzlies before wending their way to Toronto .
t doesn’t get any easier either. Toronto brings in nimble and active big men like Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough. They aren’t that skilled but they are deep which gives everyone time to rest. That allows them to run with abandon knowing someone has their back.
The Grizzlies were missing a bevy of players in the first meeting, and the Raptors were performing at a much higher level at that time compared to how they enter the rematch Wednesday night in Memphis.
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We’re in a rough stretch at the moment. Life as a Toronto Raptors fan has always had its ups and downs, with the ups paling in comparison to the incredible downs. That might be what makes this current down stretch so difficult to accept. Just a few months ago the Raptors looked like a completely different team than they do now.
Fans are reacting in the exact way that one would expect after years of torture: begging for a tank, calling for firings (both Casey and Masai…don’t ask me why Masai), calls for the hiring of people like Mark Jackson, etc. The Stockholm Syndrome runs deep within all long-term Raptor faithful. The deep passion for a team that has so many times let us down, but that we are perpetually faithful to despite so much evidence to the contrary.
I don’t know what’s more foolish, to ask for Masai’s job, or to think that someone like Mark Jackson could be the solution for a team that often appears to need more creativity.
The absurdity of the current situation is that it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with the Raptors. Why the sudden downfall? Why is it that after months of competing against some of the top teams in the NBA, Toronto suddenly can’t even take advantage of a Pelicans’ team that was missing both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday?
2015 has been an absolute mess, and the majority of the attention to date has been about the Raptors struggle on the defensive side of the ball. They allow straight line drives to almost anyone, no matter how slow or uncoordinated, and regularly lose track of key offensive players (Kyle Korver being left wide open in order to cover Thabo Sefelosha).
These defensive issues, coupled with the turnover increase leading to fastbreak points, have been a serious handicap for Toronto, but the offensive side has been equally problematic in recent weeks.
Since January 1, the Raptors are scoring 6.7 fewer points per game than they had earlier in the season. This number becomes even more drastic when looking at scoring based on per 100 possessions. Prior to January 1, Toronto was scoring at a rate of 111.7 points per 100 possessions, while they are now scoring just 101.9 points per 100 possessions…a difference of 9.8 points.
It’s not just that they are scoring less; the efficiency has also taken a serious hit since the turn of the New Year. Granted, the negative turn started gradually before this date, but when looking at stats I wanted to just focus on the immediate problem at hand.
The more things seem to go wrong for Toronto, the faster they seem to play. Since January 1, Toronto is using an average of 98.86 possessions per game, good for the 5th fastest pace in the NBA. Prior to January 1, their average was just 95.37 possessions per game, the 12th slowest pace during the same period.
Toronto’s style and effectiveness have dwindled over the past few weeks as their pace has quickened.
|Possessions||Shots Hit||Shots Missed||% of Shots from 3||FTA/Game|
|Prior to Jan. 1||95.37||44.06||51.31||28.9||25.9|
|After Jan. 1||98.86||44.98||53.88||32.6||21.9|
More shots, more forced shots from deep, fewer free throws.
Their struggling offense plays a big part on their defensive woes. The less efficient the offense (more missed shots, fewer free throws, faster pace, etc.) means the less opportunity the Raptors have to get set in their defensive rotations.
At least part of the reason for Toronto’s newly struggling offense is coaching. The Raptors run a rather simple scheme that relies heavily on screens from the wing, and based on recent play I can’t help but feel that other coaches have caught on to what the Raptors are trying to do.
But even bigger than coaching might be pace. The Raptors have been rushing and pace is one of the biggest statistical changes the Raptors are facing. Toronto just doesn’t seem equipped to play at such a fast pace, and needs to show some patience in their game.
*Note: all stats are from prior to last night’s game against in Milwaukee
Interesting take and opinion on why it might not be so easy for the Raptors to fix things via a trade right now.
The power rankings came out yesterday and the Raptors have fallen a bit since the last time but thanks to the weak East remain top four in the conference.
These rankings don’t take into account Monday night’s games, which include the Raptors win over the Bucks.
|Publication||Overall Rank||Eastern Rank||Overall Change||Comment|
|NBA.com||13||4||Down 3||DeMar DeRozan’s return hasn’t stopped the bleeding, and the Raptors have lost seven of their last nine games, playing pretty poorly on both ends of the floor. With the anniversary of his 51-point performance coming on Sunday, the struggling Terrence Ross should note that he had more free throw attempts in that game (10) than he’s had in his last 16 (eight).|
|ESPN||8||2||Up 1||When DeMar DeRozan makes it back from that groin tear, he’ll return to find that Kyle Lowry has grown in stature. The latest illustrations: Lowry’s recent 39-point eruption in Utah, his robust PER of 23.22 and all the Chauncey Billups comparisons he’s been sparking as a Billups-esque late bloomer.|
|Hollinger||11||3||Down 1||RAT 105.078, SOS .460, +1.10|
|USA Today||10||3||Down 2||Kyle Lowry can’t do it all, even though he did for a while. DeMar DeRozan needs to find his rhythm quickly.|
|CBS Sports||11||4||Down 4||The team with the third best record in the East needed a players only meeting to get their heads right this week after Friday?s loss to the Hawks, then went out and lost the next game to the shorthanded Pelicans. There is no easy fix to their defense and they need role players to be stars game by game. They need to find their mojo from earlier in the year.|
James Johnson DNP-CD, DeRozan goes scoreless, Terrence benched … and the Raptors won?
I have no idea how the Raptors won.
Seriously, how did the Raptors win despite being playing horrendously on offense? The Raptors shot just 40 percent from the field which includes just 6-of-24 shooting on 3-pointers. For good measure, they missed 10 free throws as well, because the struggle was just that real. Despite all that, the Raptors outlasted the Bucks to win 92-89.
Some of the credit has to go to the Bucks’ defense, which featured an endless line of skinny, long-winged defenders pressuring the ball at all times. The Bucks’ length forced the Raptors into taking difficult jumpers and forced 15 turnovers, five of which belonged to Valanciunas. Giannis Antetokounmpo made DeRozan’s life hell, holding him scoreless on nine empty field goal attempts. It was rough. There was a whole lot of this:
Kyle Lowry fared no better. He shot 8-of-25 and committed three turnovers against just three assists. His jumper abandoned him in the second half and he tried to take over late in the game, veering into heroball at times. Lowry eventually shifted away from jumpshots to attacking the basket at all costs, but it he looked exhausted which led to some silly decision-making. The odds were also stacked against him, as the Bucks packed the paint with athletic shot blockers.
Valanciunas had a strong showing in the first half, recording a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 13 minutes. His defense was shaky to start, outwitted often by the veteran savvy of Zaza Pachulia, but Valanciunas did a great job of ending defensive possessions by snagging contested defensive rebounds. He was consistently stripped when operating off the post, as he still struggles immensely when faced with double-teams, but he mixed in a few put-backs to justify his time on the floor. In the second half, the Bucks played more smallball and Dwane Casey promptly countered with his own smallball unit. That left Valanciunas with just six minutes played in the third quarter and none in the fourth, but that’s nothing new.
DeRozan was a non-factor. He looked tired playing on the second night of a back-to-back and didn’t attempt a single shot inside the paint. Antentokounmpo did a fantastic job of bodying up on DeRozan as soon as he crossed into the midrange area (a technique perfected by Jimmy Butler in neutralizing DeRozan) and his size prevented DeRozan from playing out of the post. The end result was an ugly 0-for-9 from the field.
With so many of the Raptors’ pillars struggling, Terrence Ross emerged as the unlikely hero. Ross came off the bench for the first time since Dec. 9, 2013 and played like he took the demotion to heart. Unlike the last two weeks or so, Ross didn’t appear disinterested or timid, opting instead to drive the ball when he had the opportunity and hitting a pair of three-pointers. Ross also put his athleticism to good use, grabbing a few key defensive rebounds while using his quickness to keep abreast with the Bucks’ guards.
Most importantly, Ross nailed a clutch jumper with under a minute left to give the Raptors a lead they would not relinquish. Yes, you read that sentence right.
Credit should be given to the Raptors’ defense. The Bucks lack a dominant scorer and as a result, they rely heavily on spot-ups and running in transition. The Raptors did a good job on both regards, making hard closeouts out onto shooters. The smallball unit of Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson did a good job making timely rotations on the perimeter, while recovering diligently to collect rebounds.
The Raptors outrebounded Milwaukee 54-43, including a 20-11 margin on offensive rebounds which led to a number of second-chance points. The Raptors attempted 14 more field goals than Milwaukee and recorded 21 second chance points to the Bucks’s five. The Raptors rarely win the rebounding edge, but their bigs did enough to punish the Bucks for going small.
Ultimately, it’s an ugly win, which has to feel good for the squad. Although the score was tight and the offense was hideous, it has to come as a relief that they won in spite of everything that went wrong. Finally, it should be noted that James Johnson was curiously absent from the game, receiving a DNP-CD. After the game, Casey told reporters that it wasn’t a benching and that he just liked how the players in the rotation played, but that’s hardly enough reason to justify the benching of the Raptors’ fifth-most productive player this season.
One last parting shot:
Someday, Kenyon Martin will have to deal with being a 50 year old with a pair of lips tattooed on his neck. — William Lou (@william_lou) January 20, 2015
To the credit of Ross, the third-year swingman responded with his best effort in ages. In the first half alone, he drove into the paint for a layup, made a great pass with the shot clock winding down and threw down his first dunk in weeks, a monster one-hander that got the crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center buzzing, and hit a three. While his defence still left much to be desired, Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Raptors will take his revitalized offensive game. “Everybody goes through it. You’ve got to play through it, if you don’t, it will never go away,” Ross said of his slump. Ross showed something, by stepping up, but every ying has a yang, and the reaction to this action was someone had to drop out of the rotation. The wheel landed on James Johnson, one of the team’s best defenders and a solid player all season. Casey said there just weren’t enough minutes to go around. Casey made it clear that the Ross move was not final, that it was more to get Ross going.
With less than a minute remaining and the Raptors trying to hold off the charging Bucks, Ross was back in the spotlight. He didn’t start but thanks to a strong showing in response to his benching – his best in weeks – the 23-year-old closed the game for a struggling DeRozan. Amir Johnson saved a broken possession with some crafty ball handling, finding Patrick Patterson, who swung it to Ross in the corner. Ross put the ball on the floor, something he did with regularity on this night, pulled up and drained a 14-footer. Moments later, after Brandon Knight cut Toronto’s lead back down to one, Lowry found Ross leaking out for the slam dunk in transition. It would turn out to be the dagger. “He played with a lot of confidence, relaxed,” Dwane Casey said of Ross following a 92-89 win. “I thought he came in in the first half and got us jump-started off the bench. I don’t know if it’s a permanent thing but I liked the way he came in and played, especially on the defensive end.”
The defence was at least average tonight, as the Raps managed to out-rebound the Bucks and keep them off the offensive glass. In addition, the defensive rotations were there, albeit against a Milwaukee team that doesn’t exactly have a prolific offence. It was fitting that tonight Terrence Ross, who has been playing at the equivalent of a dumpster fire recently, hit the dagger late on a baseline jumper further continuing the enigmatic saga that is Terrence Ross’ 2014-15 season. By far the decision on his future will be the toughest facing Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri into the off-season.
“It’s a loss,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We wanted to protect home, and we had a great opportunity to do that. We let one get away from us in the sense that we had a chance to tie it without playing our best. They’re one of the top teams in the East.” Trailing by nine coming out of halftime, 53-44, the Bucks couldn’t quite get over the hump in the third quarter. They trailed, 68-62, when Kidd was whistled for a technical foul for jawing at the officials just prior to the end of the period.
Another interesting development in the game was the healthy scratch of James Johnson. While the Raptors made a significant lineup change by starting Greivis Vasquez and moving struggling young guard Terrence Ross to the second unit, it’s still baffling that the Raptors’ best wing defender by a mile and a legitimate slasher in Johnson received the coach DNP. Of course there is the history of clashes between Casey and Johnson and character concerns in his other NBA stops, but saying the two are related is purely speculation at this point, Stay tuned.
Kyle’s jumpers weren’t falling; he’s made 1 of 18 attempts from beyond the arc in the last 3 games. His chances of being a coaches’ selection to the All-Star Game are circling the drain. DD had lots of open looks, but clanked all 9 shots he tried, and was yanked midway through Q4. Greivis Vasquez, starting in Ross’ spot, had a modest 10 points, but only 3 assists. The Raptors had but 20 helpers on the night, which is what happens when your scorers aren’t making splashes. The Raps pulled down 20 offensive boards, and we hope it will be some time before those numbers match again. We want assists, not O-boards.
People are in cahoots over the absence of James Johnson, and I certainly for one don’t understand the move. It very well may be as simple as Casey just wanting to play other guys and trying something different, but it strikes me as odd because JJ is our best defender by miles and defense is what we stink at currently. If we lost this game, there’s a good chance Raptors fans go and try to egg Casey’s house. Conspiracy theory: to further prove a point, after choosing to not put in Johnson to guard Tyreke Evans last night, Casey metaphorically stuck out his middle finger to everyone by not playing Johnson at all tonight. Maybe he also didn’t like Johnson’s technical yesterday. Maybe I’m over thinking. Probably.
This is my biggest issue right now. Somewhere along the path from Oct 1 to now this group has taken some shortcuts and it’s showing now. Seems like this club only plays at optimal level when it feels challenged. The ‘Backs to the Wall’ mentality they display is terrific, I just don’t see it as their daily makeup yet. I look at the best teams and they sustain sound habits and demand the optimum from themselves for long periods. This group can do it. Commitment time.
“Pat Patterson was a man on the boards,” Casey said. “His energy on the boards was the difference.” Patterson tied his career-high of 13 rebounds with 10 in the second half as the Raptors dominated the glass by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and out dueling the Bucks 54-43 on the boards. The Raptors needed those offensive rebounds to escape Milwaukee with the win. They shot 40 percent from the field as a team and DeMar DeRozan legs were gone in his first back-to-back game since returning from injury. He shot 0-9 from the field for 0 points. Lowry also couldn’t find the mark, going 8-25 to score 18 points, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over this game with 5 boards, a steal, a block and charges drawn. Lowry was a force.
Skip to 18:05 ..according to The FAN’s Megan Robinson
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|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +7 +/-Started game with energy again, but there are still signs he is suffering from injury.
OBryant got a wide open bucket when Amir went to help hedge on an outside scorer. Not sure if it was all on Amir or JV forgot to switch, but since everyone thinks I never see him clearly I thought I’d add it under Amir. (see note in 5 things regarding my penchant for Amir).
Made some crucial “intangible” plays I dote over like blocking shots at the rim, knocking away passes and getting key rebounds (including 5 offensive boards)
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 5-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 5 TO | 11 PTS | 0 +/-Started game with energy especially on the glass. Had a huge block against the Greek Freak late 1Q. I felt coming in he had a real advantage in size and skill up front and he delivered right out of the gate witha huge first quarter: 8 points, 7 rebounds (3 offensive) plus a steal and a block. Had a double-double before the half.
Curiously he played only 6 minutes in the second half. Not sure why.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 8-25 FG | 1-4 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +5 +/-Began game with defensive intensity, but continued to have problems with his shot falling. You could just see in his eyes this game was not going to be played with anything other than intensity from start to finish. He went up for rebounds against the trees and defended opponents much taller and won most of the battles!
While he missed a bunch of shots he still made some critical shots at key points. He gets the game ball for willing his Raptors to the win and working in tandem with Amir and PPat to make sure the defense remained focused for 48 minutes.
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 31 MIN | 4-10 FG | 1-3 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -2 +/-Fun just to see Gravy actually get under K-Mart’s skin, lol. He loves the opportunity to start and didn’t make the silly passes or turnovers he does when he comes off the bench. BUT.. he still makes lapses defensively like not blocking out his opponent and led to easy scores for the Bucks. Still wondering if Masai wants to keep him or this is just some sort of exercise to showcase him so they can make a trade for missing pieces. I guess time will tell.
Start of 2H my eyes bugged out over his aggressive defense in combination with Amir and Lowry as they forced a shot clock expiry by Bucks. On a whole his presence didn’t hurt the final outcome or allow any of the Buck’s back court to go off so it’s a win-win.
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 26 MIN | 0-9 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +6 +/-Shot not falling early. As much as he has led team in scoring all 3-games back it still feels like he is getting back his legs. Mind you having the Greek freak guard you can’t be easy given his go go gadget arms and length.
Not sure why he was taking 3 point shots since his shot wasn’t falling, but I guess it worked to space the court.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 19 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | 0 +/-I know all the negatives he isn’t tall enough for his position, he can’t hit an outside shot, but it’s hard not to appreciate the energy he brings every game and the effort. Had a big block 1Q|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -1 +/-Keep hearing how he isn’t contributing like last year by the announcers, but if they aren’t going to pass him the ball how the heck is he suppose to score? 0-0 in 1Q.
He was active defensively and big on the boards. Had a beautiful pass to Amir for an easy put in. Literally put the team on his back on the boards garnering 13 rebounds.
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 7-12 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | 0 +/-First time playing as a reserve: the very first play went to him and he took the ball inside and scored.
Don’t know about anyone else but seeing him jam that dunk would’ve been enough for me to forget I ever had issues scoring! Also he made several drives into the paint resulting in great passes to his team mates (one sent Amir to line & i think the other was to JV) and he was hot from outside. In his first 11 minutes on the court he hit 50% of his 3’s (2-4), had 10 points, 2 rebounds and an assist.
Took a foul against Mayo late second half, but it stood out because he was AGGRESSIVELY defending him.
With seconds remaining on the clock he received the pass from Patterson that allowed him to go in and put Raptors up by 3 points. Then Lowry found him on a leak out that once again put them up 3. Great confidence builder for the youngster.
|Louis Williams, SG 28 MIN | 4-12 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | 0 +/-Lowry seemed more focused to start the game, but Williams was the one who was forcing passes giving up 2 turnovers in 1Q. Like a lot of games Lou Williams is one of those players who can have a terrible half and follow it up with a much improved second half. He was cold in the 1H today but hit two 3’s in the 3Q to break out of his funk.|
|James Johnson, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | +/-Curiously didn’t play at all in 1Q. Player order off bench: Williams, Patterson, Hansbrough, Ross. Made me wonder if JJ is hurt or back in Casey’s dog house. Maybe they felt his unnecessary Technical Foul cost them the game vs. New Orleans!|
I wondered about him keeping James Johnson out of the game and then thought maybe this is his way for punishing JJ’s lackluster effort vs. New Orleans and silly Technical that altered the momentum and zebra’s whistle late. Given the problems these 2 had in their first stint I have to say I understand him showing JJ there is no wiggle room because he isn’t a rookie or youngster anymore.
Given this was a back to back I have to acquiesce to my peers in regards to his lineups and minutes. With 7 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter JV had yet to see the court and neither had James Johnson.
Five Things We Saw
- Raps shot over 55% in the first quarter but gave up the ball 7 times via silly turnovers. By the end of the half the field goal percent had dropped to 52.6%, but they only had one additional turnover and had held the Bucks to 39.5% while building a 9-point lead.
- My note to Terrence Ross:Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then. John Wooden
- For those of you who constantly comment I’m blind to Amir Johnson please take a look back to the posts where I called for Paul Millsap to be targeted to come to Toronto long before he left Utah. What you should know is I feel Amir Johnson remains our best defender up front (for now) and is a solid team vet with 10 years experience that is useful in helping to develop Valanciunas and Patterson.That’s not to say I would be adverse (or would Amir I’d bet) to coming off the bench, but in the absence of a quality defender available at Power Forward with intangibles he is who I bank on.
Moving forward I don’t see Millsap leaving Atlanta but in his absence there will be two players available this summer for Ujiri to target: LaMarcus Aldridge is likely a pipe dream (but worth the pursuit) and a name not on the tips of everyone’s tongues who would be awesome is Draymond Green from Golden State who does it all: passes, rebounds, hits threes and defends. If Ujiri could get Green it would give Toronto the option of starting James Johnson or upgrade at the SF and bring Ross, Patterson and both Johnsons off the bench!
- While the third quarter was ugly with neither team scoring 20 (Bucks 18 vs. Raps: 15) and they forced 7 Bucks turnovers.I’ll take this type of lock down defense because the Raptors need to work on consistently bringing their best defensive effort for the second half of the season and rebuild the effort that saw them excel last season and early this season.
- Likely no one wants to hear it, but you have to marvel at Jason Kidd whose team was playing poorly behind the strong Raptor defense. Immediately after he picked up the Tech all of sudden the Raptors were getting called for every touch foul and the whistles got put away on the Raptors offensive end. In one specific intense a Buck was literally holding Williams arm while he shot but no whistle came, cut to the other end where a touch foul led to a basket and a whistle.That said, the Raptors have to control their own fate and not allow any outside influence to factor in the outcome. AND, I’ll reiterate an oft point of contention for me when it comes to Casey: just once I want to see him pull a Kidd and take a tech for his team so the zebra’s do us the same favor! We could have used it in Portland and in Chicago just to name a few.
Here’s something to take your mind off the recent losing. I suppose we all forgot to account for the teenage girls vote when figuring out if Kyle Lowry was going to make it to the All-Star team. While Drake’s been tight-lipped, a long-forgotten and somewhat annoying Canadian has stepped up to the plate, and missed:
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) January 19, 2015
See, the problem is that he didn’t use the hashtag #NBABallot, which means that technically, none of his RTs can be counted. With a 100K difference between Lowry and Wall, this could end up being the deciding factor.
So thanks Biebs, but….you f***ed up. Unless the NBA has some mercy, of course. Now if Lowry misses out by, say, 10K votes and Bieber’s votes don’t count, he just may have unwittingly made himself a villain in a movie that he’s not even in.
I also like how he referred to Lowry as his “buddy”, which I’m sure Lowry’s thrilled with.
Today’s loss against Ajinca’s Pelicans was another big exodus of morale in the Raptors locker room – a room which gets more gloomy with each passing loss.
Any confidence that Terrence Ross had left quite possibly just vanished completely. An emotionally rattled and fragile T-Ross stood around his locker, getting dressed quietly and eating his troubles away with a bag of spicy BBQ sunflower seeds when a few reporters surrounded him. You could barely get anything out of him.
“I dunno.” was the most common response to anything asked of him.
“Gotta stay positive.” was his most lengthy response.
Valanciunas was more talkative, but not any more enthusiastic.
Then, just when most of the media had left the room, Greivis Vasquez sat there like a shining lamp in an otherwise somber room. You could swear he wasn’t talking about basketball – just optimistically spewing words about team unity and love.
“We knew we were going to face some adversity at some point, at this time of year it’s good to find out what type of team we are. We gotta stick with each other and we got to figure it out,” a wise Vasquez told reporters after the game. “We’re not losers. We wanna win. We go out there and we play hard.”
“It hurts, and it bothers us the way we’re losing but it’s part of the NBA. So whoever wants to roll with us it’s cool, but whoever is not, it’s cool too. Y’know, we have a foundation over here, we’ve built that from last year so I feel like we gotta stick with each other right now because I feel like people want us to win the whole NBA being undefeated.
“Ain’t nobody gonna do that.”
“We gotta change, and we do know that…. We care about each other.”
Then the inspirational juices started spurring inside of Greivis.
“We gotta get our energy back, we gotta get our love for the game back, and we will. We need to struggle. You know, this is good for all of us, because now we see who is with us. Ever since we started winning everyone was so happy, saying ‘yeah, they’re so good, they’re so great’. But now we’re seeing really who is gonna go through the struggle with us. We gonna see who is real and who is not.”
“We’re going to struggle in the playoffs, and we’re going to struggle in life, and we brothers. We are a family here.”
And then Vasquez called out the fans even further.
“I find it discouraging when they boo us, it’s not nice. We’re playing hard for them and representing the city, and we’re one of the best, and we want to win. That’s why we have meetings, we have practices. We’re human, we’re going through struggles, and we’re going to start winning. We WILL start winning. We’re not losers. We’re not going to stay like this. We’re not going to sleep, we’re not happy.”
“I’d rather struggle right now than struggle later on when everybody is at their peak. I think we haven’t yet found our peak, and timing is really important. I still believe 100% about our team and the things that we can do throughout the season and I still believe that this could be a special, special season. We all believe that too.”
“We just want our fans especially to ride with us, through these struggles, because we win together and lose together.”
“You guys have been here for a while. This team actually started to win last year. You guys haven’t seen any struggles since we started winning. Everything was blue, beautiful, clear, and now you’re seeing some struggles. I remember Atlanta two and a half months ago were struggling. Now they’re probably the best team in the NBA right now. And good for them, credit to them.”
“Like I say man, as one of the guys that’s been here for the past year or two, we still believe in ourselves. It’s not a lack of confidence, we just have to get our energy back and play like we use to, passing and hitting our shots, and playing good defense.”
“I can’t guarantee you we will win 30 games in a row, but I guarantee you we will get better.”
And then he ended the whole mini scrum with gold.
“Alex Ajengas or whatever his name is just came over here and killed us.”
I’m scared of this one because it has the potential to turn ugly. The Raptors are playing their worst basketball and the Bucks have won 3 out of 4, albeit against Philadelphia, Minnesota, and New York. The latter being in the UK where they took the time to humiliate the Knicks on a whole other continent.
The Raptors are making disbelievers out of believers lately. Their early season success is a distant memory which is now fogged by an extreme case of one-dimensional offense and a defensive disconnect that has gone from being an item of concern to a systematic problem. The latter is made more appalling by the advertised nature of this team: one that is built from the back and looks to defense to carve its identity.
As disingenuous as the defensive masthead is, common-sense tactics shouldn’t be above the line of expectations. Against the Pelicans we saw the Raptors put the notoriously slow Vasquez on Evans, only to get burned (Casey’s explanation, discussion on podcast). It was another game where the Raptors got out-rebounded with their best rebounder (Valanciunas) playing the same minute as their worst defensive player (Vasquez). The Lithuanian was also glued to the pine with the game hanging in the balance while the opposing big (Ajinca) went to town against Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough.
Tonight against Milwaukee, I fully expect the Bucks to remember the 42-point shellacking they received at the ACC earlier in the season and try to right that wrong. The Raptors, embarking on a 3-game roadtrip and a stretch that sees them play 4 of 5 on the road, are there for the taking. They’re like fattened cows being led to the slaughter, and the well-rested Bucks await.
Well, one Buck won’t be there and that’s Larry Sanders who was suspended by the league for 10-games for violating the league’s anti-drug program. I don’t watch much of the Bucks (planned to and then Parker got injured) but I do know that Brandon Knight poses much of the same issues as Tyreke Evans did – he can’t shoot but can drive and the Raptors aren’t very good at stopping that. I can’t see the Raptors making a change to effect that overnight, even against a Bucks team that received news that Kendall Marshall would be out for the season on account of a torn ACL. If the Raptors can’t beat the Pelicans missing Davis and Holiday at home, there’s no reason to believe they can beat Milwaukee’s B-team the way they’re playing.
Right now it seems that all it takes to beat the Raptors is for the other team to show up, and the Bucks’ modest 21-19 schedule sometimes betrays the amount of decent NBA players they have on the roster: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley, O.J Mayo, and Jerryd Bayless. The way the Raptors are playing defense, any of those guys are capable of having a 30-point game, and odds are one of them will.
Milwaukee is the league’s fifth best defensive team, and the Raptors offense is ranked 19th in their last seven games, The Bucks, over that span, have the league’s second-best defense so this is a matchup of a team figuring out their optimal defense against one that’s perplexed as to what it’s missing on offense. And figuring out what’s missing seems a hard nut to crack, as Blake pointed out:
When your success is based on an ethereal chemistry that can’t be described or quantified, it’s sudden disappearance is difficult to remedy.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 18, 2015
Words of wisdom, indeed. Looking deeper at it, the turnover on this team was so low that you would think chemistry would not be an issue. All we did was flip John Salmons for Lou Williams, and acquired James Johnson who has been great. So unless you’re telling me John Salmons, Nando De Colo and Steve Novak were the glue that bound us together last year, I’m not buying the chemistry dip.
The introduction of Lou Williams into the fold has impacted matters. Last year due to a lack of a great scorer off the bench, the Raptors were forced to play team basketball, and this year they’ve been blessed with a player who is a good offensive player who can create his own shot. This injection of talent may have inadvertently impacted the overall approach Casey has taken, because it has seen a shift in roles.
The most surprising of which is Patrick Patterson, who is now reduced to a three-point shooter and no more. Last year 30% of his shots were threes, and this year 54% of his FGAs are from long range. He has seen dips in PER, TS%, DRB%, ORB%, STL%, BLK% and huge dip in usage rate (17.9 to 12.6). We have taken a versatile stretch four and turned him into a poor man’s Steve Novak, and it’s largely because of the nature of our second unit’s offense: more focused on individual production rather than making use of everyone on the floor.
I’ll save all that for another piece since this is supposed to be a Bucks preview. I don’t do individual matchup analysis because matchups change and players never end up guarding who they’re “supposed” to be guarding. This is especially the case with Dwane Casey in charge. I will say this though: the Bucks are the higher energy team and the Raptors are barely a team. The Raptors advantage in talent is more than negated by their current form.
The one saving grace of the Raptors is that they force a lot of turnovers at #11 in the league (which they don’t convert to points so it doesn’t really matter). However, the Bucks are better at even that because of their length, and they’re ranked #2 in the league at forcing 15.5 turnovers per 100 possessions. Shaky ball-handling which has been a staple of the Raptors over the last few games is going to be put to test again, and if the Bucks get running off of turnovers and get a modest lead early, this tired Raptors team playing on a back-to-back doesn’t have the belief, energy, or guts to come back.
At the very least, Vegas still believes in the Raptors as they’re a 1.5 point favourite. Let’s go Raptors, please.
Read more from RR today:
Now isn’t the time to panic.
They all missed the point and came across as short-sighted.
Sure, going 4-8 over the past stretch of games isn’t flashy or sexy, but it’s also a period of games where DeMar DeRozan was missing for most of those games and the team went through a brutal six-game road trip against some of the top teams in the NBA.
Towards the end of this stretch they finally had DeRozan back, but he is shaking off rust and the team is still adjusting to having him back on the court.
It also wasn’t the time to get too excited when the team ripped out of the gates to a 22-6 start to the season. That lofty start was in large part due to Toronto playing a lot of home games (17 of those games were at home) and against weaker competition (eight of those win were against teams that currently have winning records).
Even when Toronto was at the top of the Eastern Conference, head coach Dwane Casey was quick to remind the media that he had concerns with the team and there were a lot of issues he was hoping to fix.
The reality is the Raptors will win the Atlantic Division with ease this season and once again earn home court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. If they can win a playoff series this season that counts as progress and it would make the season be viewed as a success.
Plus, the Raptors are still ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers and tied with the Chicago Bulls in the standings. If you had asked any fan back in October if they would be content with that come mid-January they would have been elated.
A strong start to the season shouldn’t have raised expectations beyond winning a playoff series just like a rough patch in the middle of the season shouldn’t extinguish the excitement that has been building over the past 12 months over the team.
All that’s needed is a quick dose of reality and the realization that Masai Ujiri is building this team for long-term success, not just a quick fix or a run at the Eastern Conference crown in a rare season where a trip to the NBA Finals is genuinely up for grabs.
This summer Ujiri will be loaded with a bunch of cap room if he relinquishes the cap holds on Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Despite both players playing prominent roles with the team this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ujiri rolls the dice and do that so that he can flirt with prominent free agents this summer.
But this summer isn’t what Ujiri’s end game is. This summer is like a high school freshman or sophomore learning how to flirt with the gorgeous girls in class. They more than likely will strike out, but it’s that experience of being shot down that will pay dividends when they are a senior or in college.
Cathal Kelly wrote a great article last week explaining how Ujiri and the rest of his front office staff have the entire NBA mapped out.
According to Kelly, “a large, colour-coded board that acts as a map of the NBA. It’s updated daily by interns – every guy on every team, where he stands on the depth chart, where he is in his current deal.”
Fans caught a glimpse of this epic chart and Ujiri’s war room on a recent edition of Open Gym.
Would Marc Gasol look great as a Toronto Raptor next season? You betcha’! But, the reality is Toronto will likely swing and miss when it comes to recruiting him this summer. That doesn’t mean the experience of recruiting a premium free agent like Gasol will be for naught. Instead, the chance to woo and try to lure Gasol will pay off in the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant and a handful of other prominent players will be free agents.
Toronto is slowly building cap flexibility for that time and if they can continue to build each season they will be a very tempting location for free agents to consider in the summer of 2016. This means the team just needs to get better each season without making any rash decisions when it comes to free agency of trades.
Sure, Toronto should flirt with Gasol this summer. But not signing him won’t break the hearts of Toronto’s front office. Gasol is just be a pawn in a much larger game.
Losing in the second round of the playoffs this season might sting for the players and fans, but the reality is it would represent it would equal the farthest a Toronto team had advanced in the playoffs. That would then place this years team in the discussion as one of the best teams – if not the best – in the history of this franchise.
Toronto needs to keep making baby steps leading up to the summer of 2016. It’s not like they need to make one big dinosaur-esque leap all in one season or summer.
Ujiri sees the big picture and the franchise is better off for his vision and patience.
The Raptors have a number of important decisions to make after falling 95-93 to a Pelicans squad coming off a 15-point loss to the 76ers and playing without superstar Anthony Davis and starting point guard Jrue Holiday.
One can only wait patiently for the Raptors to right the ship for so long. Dropping four of six on a tough western conference road swing was certainly nothing to panic about. DeMar was on the verge of recovery and a long, therapeutic home stand would give the Raptors plenty of opportunities to turn things around. The problem is that the 6-game homecoming hasn’t made things better; in fact, it’s made them worse. The Raptors — who are now 2-4 over their last six games and have lost seven of their last nine — aren’t simply slumping, they’re unraveling before our eyes.
Yesterday’s game was sort of a perfect microcosm of the problems that have plagued the Raptors of late. They’re not only failing to stop teams, they’re also struggling mightily to score. They scored a season low 14 points in the opening period on 5 of 19 shooting. The offense looked both stagnant and unsure of itself. Both teams got off to a sluggish start but instead of fixing the problem by moving the ball and working for high percentage shots at the basket, the Raptors largely stood around and watched as guys took turns going one-on-one and firing up threes. For the quarter the Raptors only took five shots in the paint, while going 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. On the other end of the court the Pelicans waited for Toronto’s defense to over rotate itself into yielding an open driving lane or an easy basket at the rim. 16 of their 22 first quarter shots were in the paint and seven of their ten made baskets were assisted.
The second quarter was a bit better offensively but the Raptors could not stop Tyreke Evans, who repeatedly got to the basket and finished with 13 points on five of six shooting for the quarter. The Raps went into halftime down 50-36, a season first half low.
Things went very well for the Raptors in the third quarter after they came alive defensively around the 8:40 mark. The Raps outscored the Pelicans 35-14 for the quarter, while forcing nine turnovers and shooting a scorching 63.6 percent from the field. Greivis Vasquez, whom Dwane Casey started in place of Terrence Ross to start the second half, was a huge burst of energy – finishing with eight points, four assists and two steals on the quarter.
It looked as though the Raptors were going to come away with a win as they had turned a 14-point deficit into a 12-point lead by the mid-way point of the fourth quarter but, alas, they found a way to lose. After extending the lead to start the quarter, the Pelicans went on a 9-0 run to put the game within two points with 3:13 to play. New Orleans then essentially relentlessly attacked the basket for the final three minutes of grind-it-out basketball. Casey opted to play Patterson over Valanciunas from the 3:13 to the 0:42 mark. During that stretch the Raps surrendered two lay ups from Pelican guards, an Asik dunk and a 5′ jump hook from Ajinca, while DeRozan kept the Raptors afloat with a jumper and a pair of free throws. After a missed Eric Gordon jumper deflected off of DeMar DeRozan’s hand out of bounds with 21.9 seconds to play, the Pelicans had the ball with the shot clock turned off under their own basket with the game tied at 93 for a final play. Everyone and their mother knew that the ball was going to be in Tyreke Evans’ hands for the final shot but for some strange reason Dwane Casey opted to have Greivis Vasquez guard him and things went as predicted. The Pelicans spread the floor as Evans dribbled down the clock at the top of the key before ultimately blowing by an isolated Vasquez for a driving layup with 1.6 seconds to play.
- The Raptors were outscored 62 to 34 in the paint. The inability to stop guard penetration is a problem. The lack of front court length is a problem. The constant rotational breakdowns from a group of guys not built to play Dwane Casey’s style of defense is a problem.
- Terrence Ross was benched for the second half.
- Ajinca played the entire 4th quarter, scoring 10 points and going a perfect 4 of 4 from the field. Valanciunas played 2 minutes and 44 seconds.
Ajinça finished with 22 points yesterday. Previous career high was 17. Did stuff like this: https://t.co/upYVrbmdFO
— Greg Mason (@VotaryofHoops) January 19, 2015
- Lowry really needs a game off. His defense was not good and he basically did nothing in the 4th quarter: 10:33 min, zero points, zero rebounds, 1 assist, zero steals, 0-2 FG.
- I hope we see a trade this week. It’s time. This is more than just a team slumping, it’s a team with some pretty serious holes that can’t all be solved internally. The Miles Plumlee and Wilson Chandler type talent available on the market isn’t going to magically solve all of the Raptors’ problems, but it’s a start.
- Games like this, lost in large part as a result of bad coaching down the stretch, are huge reason why I have little faith in Dwane Casey’s ability once the playoffs get here. I like him. I like this team. They’re kind, charismatic and loveable but something needs to change.
Andrew and Zarar maneuver their way through a terrible week and ponder where it’s all gone wrong, and more importantly, how to rescue a season of promise that is falling apart faster than a Dwane Casey drawn play.
- Sports day so far
- Vasquez guarding Evans
- Dwane Casey game management
- Terrence Ross – tough love or confidence killing
- Alexis Ajinca killing us
- Atlanta’s masterclass and that second quarter
- Raptors emotional response to losing
- Over-confidence and lack of adaptation
- DeMar DeRozan’s time watching the game has helped
- Jonas Valanciunas’s great game against Detroit and getting no touches
- Why has the offense dried up?
- Drag screens easy to stop
- Kyle Lowry’s trying to do too much?
- A support system when individual offense fails
- Defensive issues relating to trapping
- Larry Sanders loves weed
- Memphis, this time not with half the team missing
- Matt Moore on our side
- We’re not talking about Philly again
- Joel Embiid is fat
- Not talking about Detroit
- Will Dwane Casey get fired? Is this Sam Mitchell repeated?
- The bar being raised with Casey
- Expectations for the week – bare minimum that needs to happen
The Raptors, from top to bottom, are having a crisis of confidence. Following a 95-93 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a team playing without its all-world forward and its starting point guard, the Raptors look like a shell of their former league-destroying selves. They have lost seven of their last nine games, and are showing almost zero signs of reclaiming their former contender status. The only time when the Raptors looked good on Sunday was when they went away from their identity at the start of the third quarter — cheating in passing lanes, pressing before half court, trying to create fast-break opportunities the other way. When the game slowed down, they looked completely broken. It was a game where almost everybody deserved some blame. With the game tied, Raptors coach Dwane Casey decided to put the slow-footed Greivis Vasquez on Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans, leaving designated stopper James Johnson on the bench. Casey said he had liked Vasquez’s defensive effort during the game, but defensive possessions like that are why Johnson is on the roster. Evans beat Vasquez for a layup with 1.6 seconds left, winning the game.
If this isn’t rock bottom, it is getting pretty close for the Raptors. Toronto stumbled through another listless first half, made a furious rally, than bumbled away a highly winnable game on Sunday, losing 95-93 to New Orleans on a Tyreke Evans layup in the dying seconds. Toronto has now dropped seven of its past nine contests and fell to the Pelicans, despite the absence of superstar big man Anthony Davis and star point guard Jrue Holiday due to injury.
Coming off a 15-point loss to lowly 76ers, New Orleans was playing without the injured Davis and Jrue Holiday in what seemed like an advantageous opportunity for Toronto to get back on track, or at least boost their fleeting confidence. Instead, they came out flat once again. They scored 14 points in the opening 12 minutes, a first quarter season-low, and had just 36 at the break, fewest they’ve registered in any half this year. As they marched off the court following a lifeless 24 minutes of play, Vasquez noticed and took issue with the spattering of boos he heard from yet another sellout crowd at the Air Canada Centre. “Fans have to be patient,” the 28-year-old guard said. “Discouraged how they boo us and stuff like that. I don’t think that’s very nice because we are really playing hard for them and representing the city. We want the best and we want to win.”
This game was as close as it’s going to get to a gimme for the next five weeks. Instead, the Raptors end a deflating 2-4 homestand bleeding confidence and, for the first time this year, cohesion. The goat was Ross. That’s becoming so regular a spot for him, he might as well buy himself sturdy, travelling horns. “It wasn’t all T-Ross’s fault …” coach Dwane Casey said afterward, apropos of nothing. Which means it is his fault. Short of shooting on his net, Ross did just about everything wrong on Sunday afternoon. Offence, defence, transition, positioning. All wrong. At least this time, he was given limited opportunities to dig a hole for everyone else. He played eight minutes in the first quarter, two in the second, and then no more.
To start the third quarter, with Vasquez and Lowry on the floor together, DeRozan began to heat up, feeding off the energy of the two guards. Humping up with solid D and 35 points, the Raps took their first lead of the game, 60-58, with 4:25 left. DeRozan had 13 points in that third 12 minutes, while Vasquez provided a spark in place of Ross with eight points and four rebounds. So, does that decision to bench Ross for the final 28 minutes mean there’s a change in the starting lineup at Milwaukee? “We’ll see. We’re not giving up on him,” Casey said. “He’s a young man and all those players, they’re going to be up and down. We just have to help him whatever way we can. Whether it’s extra work, or if coming out of the lineup is going to help his confidence, whatever it is, we’ve got to get his mojo going because we’re playing for something and it’s an important time for us to come out of it.”
”I’m not sure. We’re playing in mud right now. Confidence wise, we have to come out believing that you’re going to make a play offensively or defensively. I know that last rebound coming down and it’s falling through everyone’s hands, but we have to play with that type of confidence, that type of belief that you can get it done. We feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Somehow someway, we have to get back to playing basketball and not feeling that weight on our shoulders.”
The New Orleans Pelicans played this game without Anthony Davis and without Jrue Holiday, and yet the Toronto Raptors couldn’t take care of business at home. This is just not an acceptable loss in any way, and that’s not necessarily a slight against the Pelicans. They made the game ugly and they played exactly the way a team without their best players needs to play. They grinded out a victory after catching their opponent off-guard in the first half. That’s on the Raptors to avoid that situation though. Perhaps they believed the Pelicans would just go away at some point. Toronto settled for a lot of jumpers in the first half and they weren’t connecting. We also had Alexis Ajinca (more on this later) outscoring the dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined in the first half (12-9).
Today saw the Raptors come out to as sluggish a start as they’ve had this season, with only 36 points scored. The Pelicans, emboldened by the play of the aforementioned Ajinca (22 points on 10-for-13 shooting, I can’t believe it either), looked in control. The Raptors stormed back, as they have been known to do, with some timely shooting from DeMar DeRozan (22 points), Lou Williams (17 points) and Greivis Vasquez (16 points and nine assists). Even the recently slumping Patrick Patterson got into the mix, dropping 10 points and a pair of 3-pointers. As bad as the first half was, the third quarter saw the Raptors outscore the Pelicans 35-14 to take a lead into the fourth. Unfortunately, still stuck in the mud for the Raptors: Kyle Lowry (a meager 8-5-5), Jonas Valanciunas (an invisible six points and seven boards), and, good lord, Terrence Ross (hopeless today with one solitary rebound). In fact, Casey opted to play Ross only 11 first half minutes. “We are not giving up on him [Ross],” said Casey after the game, in a statement sure to rile up many of Toronto’s fans.
The first half offense was atrocious. Toronto dropped a whole 14 in the first quarter. Considering this team is supposed to have an ‘elite’ offense, that isn’t going to cut it. Kyle Lowry struggled again, scoring a mere 8 points paired with 5 assists. Those #NBABallot’s aren’t going to continue to pour in at this rate. DeMar DeRozan scored 22, however it was on 7-18 shooting. There was a ton of iso-ball tonight, which resulted in a pathetic 18 assists for the Raps. This is a problem. The Raptors two most efficient players, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 12 shots. Their two least efficient, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, combined for 23. Go figure.
“We had talked about putting James (Johnson) on (Evans),” Casey said. “Greivis did the best job, other than that last possession, of all our guys during the game and that’s why we stuck with Greivis on (Evans). He did a good job of containing him, making him score over a big body, I thought he did a good job (overall).” Casey didn’t have a lot of other options to go to than Vasquez in this game. Ross was M.I.A. and James Johnson was having an off game as well. Johnson is the Raptors best wing defender and Casey went to him to start the fourth quarter and he promptly turned the ball over twice and picked up a technical foul in 3.7 minutes. In hindsight, Casey should have brought him back in as the Raptors lead was unraveling, but it’s pretty easy to understand why Casey didn’t believe this was Johnson’s night. There is no time to mourn another game that got away. The Raptors are in Milwaukee on Monday to face a pretty solid Bucks team that’s a couple of games over .500 on the season.
I don’t blame Vasquez – he tried his hardest, and was restricted by his own limitations defensively. Tyreke Evans made a hell of a play, and 3 Raptors were on him by the time he put up his shot..but the initial blow by, you can’t help but ponder what would have transpired if Johnson, or really, anybody other than Vasquez was on him. At half time, my friend Malin texted me “change the name of the blog back”, referring to, the original blog being “Mediocre Forever”. *Facepalm*
Players like Jonas Valanciunas aren’t being utilized a lot, even if the Lithuanian center is playing better and better during the last stretch of games. Coach Dwane Casey prefers the smaller (and less talented but more aggressive centers as Tyler Hansbrough (mostly), Amir Johnson and Chuck Hayes (he has almost the same amount of 4th quarter minutes as JV). We’ve never (or almost never) seen Greg Stiemsma on the floor. The play with the 3 guards (Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez) is not effective but they share much time together on the floor (especially Lou and Greivis aren’t the best defenders this team has). Now the team is expecting DeMar DeRozan to return, to do what? Defend? Of course he can help the team overall, but defensive plays are Casey’s responsibility. He’s the defensive minded coach that we all believe. But, until now, this team doesn’t play any kind of effective defence.
Terrence Ross is the new Jonas Valanciunas. Assuming the title of Toronto’s most polarizing basketball figure. Questions of whether or not JV would ascend to the next level are decreasing rapidly, while concerns (depending on what part of town you’re from) over T-Ross are now travelling in the opposite direction. A kryptonite representation to a select portion of Toronto’s fan base. At times, any second guessing, tongue-lashing, or simply pointing out flaws in his game have been met head-on with resounding resistance. Well, folks … The time has come to stop treating Ross with kid gloves. Besides, a demotion to the bench doesn’t necessarily mean a stoppage in contributions. But it does, at the very least, aid the Raps in optimizing their production.
It was a contest of sorts, where the fans could not only see DeRozan wearing their very own design if it was one that was chosen, but they’d also receive the pair they designed if they submitted a winning selection. DeRozan picked out the winners, the first of which was designed by Kevin Xie (@Xie888 on Twitter) and features the “moonwalk” print designed in Raptors colors.
It’s the Bucks’ first game since they beat the New York Knicks in London, England, last Thursday. . . . Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders is out, serving a minimum 10-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program. . . . Game marks the midpoint in the season for the Raptors. . . . Dwane Casey was non-committal when asked Sunday whether the second-half benching of Terrence Ross was a permanent move or a one-night message. The options would be Greivis Vasquez or James Johnson and it won’t be known until game time which way they go. . . . DeMar DeRozan has scored at least 20 points in all three games he’s played since coming back from injury.
Few teams have turned things around as well as the Bucks. The NBA’s worst team in 2013-14 with 15 wins, Milwaukee, under Jason Kidd, already has 21 wins, is in the thick of the playoff hunt in the East and is 12-11 on the road, after winning just five times away all last year.
“We’ve just got to be there for him the best way we can, help lift him, just like we do everybody else,” DeRozan told the team’s official website. “We’ve all been there, playing in this league, everybody’s been there in some type of way. We’ve just got to help him out the best way we can, and get him back on his feet. Once he gets rolling, it’s going to be something he definitely needed when he looks back at it.” The season series against Milwaukee started much better with a 124-82 home win on Nov. 21 to extend the Raptors’ winning streak in the series to five after 10 consecutive losses.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
You might have seen the play by now, here’s a really crappy Vine if you need a reminder:
Casey was asked in his press conference if he had considered putting the team’s best perimeter defender, James Johnson, on Evans. Casey’s response:
We did. Greivis did the best job, other than that last possession, of all our guys during the game, that’s why we stuck with Greivis on him.
He did a good job of containment, making him score over a big body. I thought he did a good job other than the last play. Guys like that [Evans], one-on-one playeres going to make plays. We had talked about putting James [Johnson] on him.
This makes me a little more angry than before. I can accept him forgetting to put a better defender than Vasquez on Evans, whether it be James Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, or the nearest usher, after all we all make mistakes and need to be given a break.
BUT, he specifically considered having James Johnson guard him, and then dismissed the idea!
Casey was contemplating doing the right thing and then some part of his brain said: “Naah, Greivis can do a better job than James. Better go with him.”
Aargh. There are so many things about this game that you can pick apart, Ross’s play, Valanciunas being benched again, lack of structured offense, and most of all, whatever happened to our defense? It’s like our winning ways were entirely due to the adrenalin rush of being so efficient at one-on-one offense, and now that that well has dried up, we have nothing to hold us together.
The ironic part of all this is that our foundation as a team is supposed to be our defense, and I’m struggling to come up with one thing we do well on that end. The Raptors are 22nd in defensive rating, 24th in rebounding, and the only thing they do relatively well is force turnovers where they’re 11th in the league. However, they’re terrible at scoring off of those turnovers so it becomes a moot point.
|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 6-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -16 +/-Standard Amir game of late: played well, not great; ran the floor well, finished plays; couple dunks; drew a charge; couple rebounds, but had WAY too much trouble with Ajinça. I can’t get over that. That knocks him down a lot IMHO.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 11 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -11 +/-The Good: did a good job of getting himself two good looks in the 1st quarter. The Bad: came off a mid-screen with full intentions of always shooting it, caught the ball, bobbled it a bit, shot an airball in the 2nd quarter. Sat for the rest of the game. I don’t want to rip into him when he’s obviously so down, but man…MAN!|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 28 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | -4 +/-HIs defense was much better than his offense. Was a real force in the paint changing shots and blocking two. Asik got the better of him more than Asik has any right to (3 times by count). His offense swung between me nodding my head, and shaking it in disgust. His footwork isn’t refined enough, I think..no, that’s what it is. He needs to take ballet or something.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 8 PTS | -2 +/-He’s trying to hard to make things happen for the team at the expense of his own game. Such a cliche to say, but he didn’t play his game, and the Raptors struggled. What was concerning was he missed shots he normally makes, and played out of control on multiple possessions. I don’t know what it is, but that mojo has seemed to have disappeared with this All-star push (based on zero stats, just gut feeling). Drew a KEY charge on Tyreke Evans in crunch time on reputation (feet were moving), but he had the right idea. Should have done more considering Holiday was out of the game.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 36 MIN | 7-18 FG | 7-9 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | 0 +/-Clutch 4th quarter: jumper and two free throws. Could have used more cowbell from him in demanding the ball and forcing a bit more on offense, but this is the new, measured DeRozan we’ve been geeking out on. I thought that three was going in, really did…|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 12 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3 +/-Raptors needed guys who could swing the ball and score, so had limited run. However, drew a charge a couple charges and grabbed a couple boards in limited time.|
|James Johnson, PF 11 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 0 PTS | 0 +/-Head wasn’t in the game at all. Sloppy turnovers; dribbled ball of his foot; technical. Wasn’t working hard.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +13 +/-Patman got out of his shooting funk, but his defense was critical in that 3rd quarter run that put the Raptors up. Could have used him more in the 4th. Hopefully this is what he needs to get back on track.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 5-14 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +7 +/-Took it upon himself to make good for the evening. The spark off the bench in the 2nd that started things rolling in a positive trend with 8pts and 5ast. The assists were key since before that point, the Raptors had like 2. That third quarter though, he was magnificent. Running the floor, pressuring the ballhandler, forcing turnovers, finding the open man, and hitting timely shots. You could make the case that he deserves an A+ since he willed the team into sharing the ball and making shots, but I wont.|
|Louis Williams, SG 21 MIN | 4-9 FG | 9-10 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | 0 +/-Took a few poor shots, but did a great job of getting to the free throw when the Raptors needed easy buckets. All his offense came at the expense of ball-movement. In a game screaming for it, he kinda hurt us a bit, but did what he needed to do off the bench.|
The fact that the Raptors couldn’t hit a shot in the 1st wasn’t on him. Made the right adjustment in the 3rd by not starting Ross. That promptly led to a 35-14 quarter. BUT FOR ALL THE GOOD THAT BLOODY DID. WHERE WAS HE IN THE FOURTH WHEN THE RAPTORS NEEDED SOME GUIDANCE?? The lineup of Lowry/Vasquez/DeRozan/Amir/Valanciunas should have played the entire time. That’s just me.
The New Orleans Pelicans are the perfect example of why you need a good plan BEYOND getting a franchise player.
Back in 2011, the New Orleans Hornets, as they were called then, were a team in ruins. The franchise was owned by the NBA after the previous owner was forced to sell the team, they were directionless and their prospects were so bad that their best player, Chris Paul, forced a trade and no one blamed him in the least.
The next year, with their roster decimated by injuries, as well as mediocre players, they won just 21 games and the lottery during a year when there was actually a franchise player available.
Anthony Davis, fresh off leading Kentucky to a National Championship, had every scout drooling with his size, agility, focus and potential on both ends of the court. And New Orleans got him.
It’s what they did afterwards that should have made every NBA fan shake their head.
In every draft, there always seems to be a player that everyone dislikes, but some team stupidly ends up drafting and then regrets it. In 2012, Austin Rivers was that guy. And the Pelicans bypassed a number of much more highly regarded players that have had much better careers to draft Rivers 10th. And just to clarify, this is a guy who had one of the worst shooting rookie seasons of all time, did not have his option picked up by the Pelicans, and then was traded to his father’s team earlier this week. Apparently his father was the only one who wanted him.
Unfortunately, that’s not all the Pelicans did.
After what they considered a disappointing season, the Pelicans decided to try and speed things up by trading their 6th pick (Nerlens Noel) and their 2014 first rounder for a 22 year old All Star point guard. Good, right? Well, Jrue Holiday was coming off an All Star season, but there were many around the NBA who felt he was not much more than an average point guard and his advance stats seemed to back up that argument. Plus, the fact that Philadelphia was so willing to give him up should have been a warning sign.
Even so, it’s a HUGE gamble for a lottery team coming off a 27 win season to give up one definite lottery pick and a possible one the next season (who ended up being Elfrid Payton), for a player who had only made one All Star team.
To make matters worse, they threw all their money at Tyreke Evans, a combo guard who had gotten worse every year since his rookie season, had never displayed an ability to shoot consistently from outside, needed the ball to be effective and wasn’t a good defensive player. And the Pelicans already had Eric Gordon on the roster, which meant they were paying their backcourt $34 million a season.
From the outside, it looked like the Pelicans were simply trying to throw a bunch of decently talented players together without any plan on what to do with them. And had no problem overpaying them at the same time.
They did make some decent moves, but even those were somewhat questionable.
They stole Ryan Anderson from Orlando, and he went on to play better than anyone would have guessed, but they signed him AFTER the drafted Anthony Davis, another power forward.
They also traded for Omer Asik, certainly a position of need, and he has played fairly well as their starting center.
And after all that, the Pelicans are hovering around .500 and are currently a bubble team for the playoffs. They’re not a bad team in the least, but they’re also not a very good one, and that’s especially true when Davis is out of the lineup.
As a basketball fan, it’s difficult to watch such a talented player toil on such a mediocre team. Kevin Garnett can surely sympathize.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
How The Raptors Respond
The Raptors are in a slump. They’ve lost 6 of their last 8 games, their defense has gone for bad to worse and even their offense has looked stale lately. For the first time in more than a year, the fans are grumbling and questioning the team. After the loss to the Hawks, there was a players only meeting, which usually results in a bump in play. If it doesn’t, it could be a sign things are worse than we thought.
Can Valanciunas Have Some Consistency?
After possibly the best game of his career, in a loss against the Piston, Valanciunas has had two rather forgettable games. If he’s going to be the player he wants to be, he needs to be consistent. Having a good game every third or fourth game isn’t going to cut it.
Will Anthony Davis Play?
After sitting out a loss against the lowly 76ers, Davis is questionable for the game today. If he plays, Raptor fans will be treated to one of the best players in the league right now, and he’s only 21 years old. And the Raptors will face a pretty good Pelicans team who are probably anxious to put the embarrassing loss against Philadelphia behind them.
With a healthy Davis, the Pelicans have a talented starting unit that can score and have two of the league’s best shotblockers. While Ryan Anderson is no slouch, he’s nowhere near the talent Davis is. And Holiday is also questionable for the game.
Edge: Pelicans, if Davis and Holiday are healthy, Raptors, if at least one sits.
One of the reasons the Pelicans are such a mediocre team is their bench is incredibly weak, and it only gets worse when Anderson starts.
Both Monty Williams and Dwane Casey are on the hotseat, but Williams is lucky he’s still got a head coaching gig.
Expect the Raptors to come out hard and not let up on a team that has talent, but they really should beat.
Score: Raptors 105 – Pelicans 92
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made a point of hammering home that the effort he was seeing from his team was not in question. But obviously something changed. You don’t go from a team that is playing at an elite level to one that struggles to put away Philadelphia and allows Detroit, even a rejuvenated Detroit, to come into your building and leave with a win to say nothing of what they let happen Friday night. “We can go either way,” veteran forward Amir Johnson told reporters Saturday. “It’s a marathon in the season. We can either step it up, or drop down to the eighth seed and play a team we don’t want to see in the first round. We know we have to pick it up. I think everybody’s ready to start playing. Nobody’s frustrated. We just know what we have to do.” This players’ only meeting sounded like a team finally accepting that things weren’t the same anymore, that they had slipped and it was time to get back to where they were.
The Pelicans fell to lowly Philadelphia on Friday, largely because stars Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday missed the game due to injury. Both are questionable for this one. Holiday had returned from missing most of last season in stellar fashion and the hope is his injury troubles have not resurfaced. The Pelicans recently got back talented shooting guard Eric Gordon who gives them another high-level offensive player. Tyreke Evans has been excellent as an undersized small forward and New Orleans has managed to go 19-20 in the tough West. In the East, they’d be fighting for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Centre Omer Asik has been a disappointment, while Ryan Anderson continues to provide firepower off of the bench. The team scored only 34 points in the second half against Philadelphia and committed far too many turnovers.
The Pelicans list Davis and Holiday as questionable for the game. Davis missed Friday’s 96-81 loss at Philadelphia because of a sprained toe. Holiday sat it out with an ankle injury. . . . At 19-20, the Pelicans are hanging around the Western Conference playoff race, ninth before Saturday play and 3.5 games behind eighth-place Phoenix. . . . Some raw numbers on how dominant Davis can be: He’s had nine games of 30 points and 10 rebounds, 10 more of 20 and 10, and four times he’s had at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in a game.
The Pelicans suffered one of their worst losses of the season on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, 96-81. The Pelicans were outplayed from start to end. They turned the ball over 20 times, trailed by as much as 19 in the fourth quarter and made only 38.7 percent of their shots for the entire game. Philadelphia came in as the worst shooting team in the NBA, making only 41.1 percent of their shot. But in the third quarter they made 66.7 percent of their shots to extend their lead to 17. The Pelicans have lost two of the first three games on their five-game road trip that concludes on Monday against the New York Knicks, who have lost 16 consecutive games. The Pelicans have lost six of their past seven road games. They are 1-8 against Eastern Conference teams on the road. Starting forward Anthony Davis (sprained left toe) and point guard Jrue Holiday (inflammation in right ankle) both sat out Friday night’s game. Their status has not been determined yet for Sunday’s game. Without them, the Pelicans starters were outscored 75-44 by the 76ers starters.
The Raptors have the offense in both their starting lineup and bench rotation to make this an ugly game. New Orleans needs to have capable defenders out there to make sure this doesn’t become a blowout. The coaching staff, mostly Monty, needs to make sure to call timeouts when he sees the Toronto offense clicking. Throw your best defender on Lowry, Pondexter/Gordon on shooters and make sure this doesn’t end quick.
The New Orleans Pelicans continue their inconsistent ways by losing four of their last six games. On the season, the Pelicans are averaging 100.8 points on 45.6 percent shooting and are allowing 100.7 points on 46.4 percent shooting. Tyreke Evans is averaging 16.7 points and 5.4 assists while Ryan Anderson is averaging 15.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. Omer Asik is grabbing 10.1 rebounds and Dante Cunningham is producing 3.3 rebounds. The New Orleans Pelicans just can’t get on the same page this season and string together some victories to improve in the standings. The good news is that the Pelicans are shooting 37.4 percent from deep in their last five games. The bad news is that Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are both questionable for this game with injuries.
The Pelicans have a formidable bench, highlighted by stretch-4 Ryan Anderson, and versatile Tyreke Evans, a former Rookie of the Year. Those two will likely play as much or more as several starters. [20-second timeout: Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are both listed as questionable for today’s game. If either, or both, can’t answer the bell, this preview goes out the window, and the Pels will be scrambling their lineups.] Others from the grab-bag Pels roster who may see action include ex-Raps John Salmons and crazy tall Alexis Ajinca, and college star/pro washout Jimmer Fredette.
“Every year he has brought something new to the team. Our first year here (he was) more of a volume scorer, he had to get up so many shots to get his points. Then teams started double-teaming him and then he developed his passing. He is still developing a consistent three-point shot – that will come. I think the older you are, the easier that becomes, but he has brought something new offensively – another way to score to the table each and every year and it’s of his own doing.” Starting last season, DeRozan finally figured out how to get to the free throw line in a big way and he was one of the top players at getting to the charity stripe prior to his injury this year. “Shoulder hitting, creating contact, attacking, being aggressive, going to the basket, being physical and going to the rim, I think that’s another side of his offensive maturity,” Casey said. “I think that’s a big plus for him getting to the free throw line – him being the aggressor and not fading away and bailing the defense out.
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“We just started to get a little overconfident. We started taking it to heart that we were a good team and we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
– James Johnson
Post-game, Raptors vs Hawks
That overconfidence was bizarre to begin with. The Raptors came home on their flight from Phoenix with a sense of alleviation. Ten of their next 17 games were scheduled to be at the Air Canada Center – 13 of them against sub .500 teams.
How distressing to know that three games into their ‘softer’ schedule, the Raptors have a losing record. It’s mentally straining – each loss is a domino effect that adds to battered morale.
It’s not always easy to measure confidence levels, but you can sometimes observe it – as was the case in the locker room tonight after the game. The difference in mood tonight as oppose to Wednesday night was like night and day.
No jokes, no laughter. Even getting a murmur out of the players outside the scrums was difficult. None of the players really wanted to talk. The last time the Raptors were given a proper beat-down at home was in November against the Bulls. That night the Raptors had a similar conquered-attitude about them. Losing is one thing, but losing to an opponent you know is just better than you is another.
Dwane Casey didn’t try to sugarcoat anything, everyone from 1-15 and the entire coaching staff is upset.
“You should be frustrated if you’re getting your butts kicked,” Casey said. “We’re all frustrated and you should be. If you’re a competitor you should be frustrated, but there’s no frustrating in pointing fingers, it’s everybody.”
When asked more about it, Dwane Casey compared it to being hit by a wall – one that requires a sledge hammer to demolish.
“Whatever wall we hit, we hit it, and we got to get a sledge hammer and bust through it together. There is no one person in there you can fault, it’s not that, it is all of us in together. It’s something we got to fight through and grind out.”
That wall the Raptors have hit can be explained to an extent. Decision-making with the basketball has been questionable. Turnovers have been a huge issue.
The other main problem is the inability to rotate quick enough on the defensive end. Five defenders collapse and the opponents can usually swing it around quickly enough to the weak side for an open look. That’s been a headache all season. Against a team like the 76ers you get away with it, but against the Hawks you’ll get torched.
As Dwane Casey noted, the effort is there, but the decision-making isn’t. There are things beyond Casey’s control, one of them is Terrence Ross’ inability to score the basketball despite having good looks.
When asked about Ross’ slump, Casey could only say so much.
“He’s getting good looks.”
Something else beyond the coaching staff’s grasp: The efficiency in which teams dissect them through tape. Particularly now that they’re on the radar.
Outside of the scrums, James Johnson nailed it.
“Everyone is scouting us now.”
DeMar breifly talked about it too.
“I think it’s just teams putting more pressure on us.”
So how do the Raptors get back on track? A trade might inject some life back into the team. The need for a rim protector has been discussed to death.
A trade is always a risk though. The Raptors are still in a good place in the East – depending on what your expectations are – and putting a bucket down doesn’t fix the leak.
According to DeMar it’s just getting back to doing things the right way – the way they started the season when he was around to propel the Raptors to the top of the conference.
“We just have to regroup and look at the things that we may not be doing right. With me coming back and playing my second game, it’s just getting back involved and getting back to how we were playing at the beginning of the season.”
So, that didn’t go very well. If you haven’t watched the game and you’re just checking in to see how it went, let me put it this way: the good news is, you didn’t have to watch it. Everything else is bad news.
Last night’s game against the Hawks was difficult to watch for anybody who hasn’t jumped on the burgeoning Atlanta Hawks bandwagon. There are two major problems that have presented themselves in the recent 10 game slump culminating in last night’s loss: the offence, and the defense. Since there’s no special teams in basketball, as much as last night felt like the punt team spent long stretches on the floor, that pretty much encapsulates the entirety of the game. The Raptors looked bad everywhere, with bright neon bad body language. They looked closer to the mid 90s teams that lived in those purple throwback jerseys than they did to the team that evoked irrational 1st place confidence just a few short weeks ago.
The best way to oversimplify what happened is to say that this team doesn’t play like a team executing together. For weeks there’s been talk about how DeMar’s return would buoy the defense, offer a release valve for an offense lacking diversity and bring back the side-to-side action that the Raptors were lighting the basket on fire with to start the season. DeMar looked to have his touch back offensively last night to be sure, scoring 25 points on 11 of 18 shooting, but the ruts the team has fallen into on both ends did nothing to get better.
This team played like they got big ideas of who they were and too used to watching Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams do their things individually. The motion has slowed. The game has become a bad version of everybody get theirs. The Raptors offense was always designed as less of a Spursian passing machine and more of a niche product designed to get each guy open shots on the spots of the floor they like best. But the actions that led into those shots are either missing, half-assed or now telegraphed to a league that was always going to eventually adapt. The free throws are gone, the offensive rebounding and put-back baskets of a season ago have declined and any attempt to manufacture offense seems to be individually based, instead of creating for each other. It doesn’t look selfishly motivated; more detached.
The Raptors have now fallen to the second lowest assist% in the league, finding baskets for each other just 53.8% of the time. Atlanta, to the surprise of nobody who watched them tack up 30 assists against the Dino’s last night, lead the league in this particular stat at 67.9%. The Raptors have good shooters, and their offensive philosophy isn’t without merit. But the open shots they generated the first time they played and beat Atlanta were more often than not well challenged or taken away this time. Atlanta has gone 23-2 since that home loss because they’ve adapted how they’ve played and been otherworldly focused. The Raptors have completely failed to adapt, and played last night like, for the first time in a very long time, they didn’t think they could win.
The Dinos got popped defensively again last night, even worse than the less than subtle 110 point, 21-point deficit final score implies. Decry the ineffectiveness of Jonas Valanciunas verticality approach, Terrence Ross’ checked out decline and the lack of inside presence as much as you’d like from last night’s game. They’re all true. But the problem is much bigger. The defensive scheme doesn’t fit the personnel and it’s an even worse fit for the effort level. The madman scrambling style that made Dominik Hasek a hall of game NHL goalie has the opposite effect in the NBA. Teams are shooting the lights out against Toronto because they’re getting wide-open shots. Opposing teams with great shooting and ball movement, like the Suns, Warriors and, clearly, the Hawks, have set the basket on fire from above the break and the mid range.
The Raptors defensive scheme is designed in part to encourage those mid-range shots. And they’ve done a passable job of taking away the league’s most desired shot in the corner three. But there is a difference between accepting mid range shots and forcing three point attempts out of the corners and above the break and leaving them wide open. The Raptors play a frantic scheme with very aggressive trapping on the sides, rushing out to run three point shots off the line and switching when necessary. This kind of operation requires an extremely athletic lineup, and highly precise timing. OKC and the Lebron Miami heat ran very similar schemes in the past. Both were torched by superior ball moving teams, i.e. the Spurs, when length and athleticism simply couldn’t keep up with the precision pace, space and shooting. Toronto doesn’t have the personnel those teams had, nor the comfort in the system, and those teams still lost. There’s a clear point here. Raptors are now down to a 110.1 DefRtg in their last 10 games. Since dropping their matchup against the Bulls on Dec. 22, the Raps have gone 4-6 while giving up 110.1 points per 100 possessions. That number would tie them with the worst defense in the league with the woeful Timberwolves on the season.
The loss resulted in a closed-door players meeting where it’s been reported that the team discussed the issue of them getting too big for their britches. Focus alone and recognition of what the problem is could go a long way. We’ll see. Self-awareness would be the only moral victory you could possibly find in that 110-89 drubbing.
It was enough of a disaster to cause a players-only meeting, called by Kyle Lowry, who declined to get into the details of the meeting. “We had a long talk,” James Johnson said. “It’s going to stay internal. But we just got a little over-confident and we started taking to heart that we’re a good team and we haven’t accomplished nothing yet. “It was what we needed to hear.” Moments later, Johnson pointed out that the Raptors are still, halfway through the season, in a perfectly fine spot. He is right. The Hawks are running away with the conference, five games up on the pack. The Raptors are still jumbled up with the Wizards and Bulls, with a nice cushion on the rest of the field. Toronto has also clinched the Atlantic Division, spiritually speaking.
The day before the Atlanta Hawks arrived, head coach Dwane Casey was already downplaying a potential blow to the Raptors’ psyche. If it was a premonition, it was a spot-on one. “It’s one of 82,” Casey said. “(This) game isn’t gong to make or break our season. It’s a big game because they are one of the best teams in the league right now. But we’re not going to judge who we are and who we are not by one game.”
The Raptors seem content lately to just launch three-pointers or go one-on-one and it is not working. Whereas once they spread out the offensive load, for a while, they’ve been intent on taking silly shots, especially ones from way out. The return of DeRozan has encouraged them to pass the ball even less frequently. Sure, the Hawks looked every bit the team that has gone 25-2 for the past couple of months, but they got help from the foibles of the home side. It has become clear that something needs to be done to give the moribund Raptors a jolt. Whether its replacing the invisible Terrence Ross (just three points on 1-for-8 shooting and a number of defensive errors) in the starting lineup, a trade by Masai Ujiri or something else, the status quo is not working. Something needs to be done, and soon.
Either the Hawks are really good -– like NBA champion good, which they may be — or the Raptors have sprung some leaks that are badly in need of patching. Both explanations are absolutely in play. The Hawks looked every inch a Finals contender in a game that was a blowout midway through the first quarter and never deviated. The Hawks may represent a new(ish) model for NBA team building. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has based his program on the San Antonio Spurs where he was an assistant coach for 17 years and has, at the very least, proven that good basketball can travel. The Hawks/Spurs approach -– where a deep team of good if not great players (we’re talking late career Tim Duncan here) completely committed to ball movement and team play has proven to be incredibly effective and now transportable. It might be the ultimate antidote to teams operating under the increasingly restrictive NBA salary cap. Teams built around a ‘Big Three’ have been the ideal in the NBA since the days of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, but now it’s harder than ever to keep elite threesomes together (Miami) and even more difficult to surround them with the necessary depth (Cleveland).
“That team is a well-oiled machine,” Casey said after the game. “They are hitting on all cylinders and we shake their hand because they are playing the game the right way on both ends of the floor.” The loss, which was Raptors sixth in their last eight games, led to a long postgame discussion amongst the players, and though he wouldn’t reveal the details of that conversation, James Johnson did give his opinion on what he feels has gone wrong the last few weeks. “We just started to get a little overconfident,” Johnson said. “We started taking it to heart that we were a good team and we haven’t accomplished nothing yet.”
On Friday, they were overmatched against a very good team that played nearly flawless basketball – an excusable loss in and of itself. But that storyline is sounding all too familiar. While the Hawks have been victorious in 11 of their last 12 contests against teams at or above the .500 mark, Toronto has dropped eight of nine to winning competition. Though the Hawks are beginning to separate themselves in the conference – now five games up on second-place Washington, five and a half ahead of Toronto – the East is still very much up for grabs. The Raptors may not be the team that many hoped they could be after that hot start to the season, but they’re right to believe they are better than this. At some point, if they are to contend in the conference and take another step as an organization, they have to start hitting back against the league’s heavy weights. They have to find themselves again.
The Hawks should be in disarray. Their off-season was roiled by a racial row involving GM Danny Ferry. The club’s up for sale. Instead, they are a multi-layered behemoth. Al Horford is such a nightmare around the basket, Jonas Valanciunas essentially gave up trying to guard him five minutes in. Then Toronto coach Dwane Casey gave up on Valanciunas. It didn’t get any beter. Shootist Kyle Korver could throw a ball from the International Space Station and it would land in a cup on top of the Empire State Building two days later. As you roll down their bench, it just gets deeper and deeper. Casey suggested as many as four Hawks could be all-stars. By the half, they’d run Toronto ragged with their relentless commitment to passing the ball no fewer than ten thousand times between shots. The Raptors did not lead at any point in the game, and were hammered 110-89. The East may not be any good, but the Hawks are very, very good.
For what he accomplished while DeMar DeRozan was out, Lowry — if you see him every day — deserves it. But consider that since Chris Bosh in 2010, only one Raptor, DeRozan last year, has made it onto a mid-season all-star team. Here are some of Lowry’s statistical arguments in terms of per-game production. Among the nine listed above as point guard candidates in the East, Lowry ranked second to Irving in points (20.3), fifth in minutes (34.6), second to Wall in assists (7.8), second to Carter-Williams in rebounds (4.9) and first in trips to the foul line (5.4). In the entire NBA, Lowry was 18th in scoring and sixth in assists. But ultimately it’s a team game, and on Friday night Teague and his Hawks had their way with the Raptors defence. There is no panic in Raptors camp, but with DeRozan back and healthy — albeit not at game speed — they are 1-1, and overall have lost six of the last eight since Dec. 30.
Many in Toronto were hoping tonight things would go differently. Instead, the narrative stayed flipped: the Hawks are now the Raptors of November and December. They are the underrated surprise of the Eastern Conference, and possibly, the entire NBA. They are, in short, for real. Led by the definitely all-the-way-healthy All-Star Al Horford and his perfect 8-for-8, 22 point performance, the Hawks exhibited a balanced and disciplined attack from start to finish. All five starters scored in double figures, all of them save Horford (who had a toe-on-the-line two go down) hit at least one three-pointer. The team as a whole shot 61 percent.
Atlanta went to Canada Friday night and turned Toronto’s ‘We the North’ slogan upside down.
When the Raptors switched on defense, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder backed up nearly to midcourt, got a head of steam, and drove hard to the rim against the Raps bigs. And unlike the last Toronto game, Dennis didn’t get into foul trouble trying to guard the Raptors sizable point guards, Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez.
The Hawks used another run to end the first half to do in an opponent. They ended the second quarter on a 14-6 run for a 52-38 advantage at intermission. The rout was on.
Atlanta used a balanced attack offensively led by Al Horford who led six different Hawks players in double figures with 22 points. Horford was a perfect 8-8 from the field and was 6-7 from the free throw line. Paul Millsap added 16 points and eight rebounds while Jeff Teague and DeMarre Carroll logged 13 points each. Teague handed out a game-high nine assists and turned the ball over just once. The Hawks recorded 30 assists on 42 made baskets while making 61 percent of their field goal attempts including 12-23 shooting from three-point range. Atlanta held the Raptors to 43 percent shooting from the field and turned 19 turnovers into 24 points.
As it happens, it was against these Raptors that the Hawks last looked truly mortal. On Nov. 26, Toronto stopped into Atlanta for a 126-115 win, which turned out to be the finale of a six-game streak. Back then, the Raptors were the beasts of the East—a 13-2 juggernaut that shot 51.2 percent against the Hawks defense in a contest that put Toronto a full five games up on Atlanta in the standings. Check the standings now, and you’ll find the Hawks right where the Raptors used to be, five-and-a-half games ahead of the NBA’s neighbors to the north. Their win in Toronto was their 11th in a row, their 24th in their last 26 outings overall and their 13th in 14 road games. It was also, arguably, their most impressive result yet in what’s been an unbelievable six weeks for the Hawks.
James Johnson on what’s missing right now with the team: “Our mental aspect of the game… we’ve got to get there. We can’t go out there and think we’ll out-athletic anybody or out-shoot anybody. People are scouting us and they are scouting us pretty well. We need to change things up and get back to where we were.”
he Raptors allowed Atlanta to shoot 60.9% – not for a quarter, but for the game. Toronto gave up 30 assists to Atlanta while letting them drop 12 three-pointers on over 50% shooting. There was absolutely no resistance on the defensive end from anyone in a purple jersey tonight. Dwane Casey and his team need to do some serious soul searching before their next tilt against the New Orleans Pelicans.
When a team who’s red-hot can slip past outer defenders, sneak into the paint and then create easy looks off of kick-outs every single trip down also gets help from the opposing team by watching them shoot themselves in the foot via turnovers, it’s pretty hard for them to lose. Not to mention that after all of this we didn’t even get to see Bruno get any action. Instead, we were gifted with the sight of Elton Brand playing garbage minutes.
It feels like the Raptors played too good too early in the season, while the other contending east teams were just slightly behind, but are just now hitting their stride. The good news is, it is almost the midway point – it would be a true crisis if this was just before the playoffs.
0-2 FG tonight, 27.8% FG and 5.8 ppg for the past 5 games while averaging 25.8 mins. Significantly below where his numbers were before. What is going on with this dude? When we’re flaming GV, Ross, and (sometimes) JV and Lou, I can’t see how this guy should be let off the hook especially when you can make an argument that his numbers and production could be the lowest out of anybody else.
Lowry’s going to make the team, either as a starter or a backup. He deserves it. Everyone knows that by now. He got screwed last year. Everyone knows that, too. The world realizes the Raptors are a very, very good NBA team. At some point the inferiority complex loses its charm.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan after Toronto’s 110-89 loss to Atlanta.
Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (07:30, 7 MB). Or just listen below:
|Amir Johnson, PF 23 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 8 PTS | -24 +/-Amir opened the scoring for Toronto with the slowest three pointer in league history, but that was one of the lone bright spots for Amir. Horford and Millsap feasted on the Raptors, going for a combined 38 points on 14/17 shooting. Amir did an admirable job battling in the post, and was once again the best post defender that Toronto had. Unfortunately for him, that had as much to do with his atrocious teammates as it did with his post efforts.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 26 MIN | 1-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -17 +/-I hate Terrence Ross. He played 25 minutes tonight and I still wanted to give him an incomplete grade. ‘F’ doesn’t seem low enough after a stinker like this. Ross is quickly becoming the whipping boy for all Raptor fans, and is doing little to discourage the insults that are coming his way. His shot has gone the way of the dinosaur lately, and his defense is more an empty display than anything else.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 23 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -17 +/-Valanciunas was absent during the first half. Despite playing 13 minutes in the first half, Valanciunas attempted just two shots and missed them both. Horford pulled the chair out from under Jonas early in the first quarter, and Jonas appeared to keep his distance from that point on. He did lead the team in rebounding, because someone had to.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 32 MIN | 5-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -21 +/-Lowry has not been himself recently. His reputation as a defensive stopper is all that’s left of him on that side of the ball at the moment. In a game that Toronto needed him to be one of the top players, Lowry managed to be just the third best point guard in the game, having been outplayed by both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 32 MIN | 11-18 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 25 PTS | -27 +/-DeRozan was the best Raptor tonight, which in itself is not something to celebrate. That being said, he was the best for a reason. DeMar was the only player on Toronto who was able to consistently create his own shot. Without him, this game would have gotten ugly even uglier. DeRozan did his best to put his team on his back, but wasn’t nearly enough on a night where almost everything went wrong against the league’s hottest team.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +6 +/-He is what he is. Hansbrough looks terrible when he is asked to do things like back his way into the post, but he does manage to pull down some very significant rebounds. Early in the second quarter Hansbrough manhandled his way into a rebound which lead to a James Johnson and-1.|
|James Johnson, PF 27 MIN | 7-11 FG | 3-3 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 17 PTS | 0 +/-This man is quickly securing a place in the deepest part of my heart. To date on the season, James Johnson has been everything that I had hoped him to be when Ujiri signed him this summer. How is this man making just $2.5 million. The only glaring weakness in his game is an almost complete inability to shoot…which when you think about it is a pretty significant weakness. Despite that, James was the second best Raptor tonight after DeMar.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 20 MIN | 0-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -1 +/-Did anyone see Pat-Pat tonight? I kept waiting for Casey to play him, and then realized that he was already over 20 minutes. He was completely absent and a non-presence. It feels like it has been weeks since he was a 10+ points per game scorer, while also shooting +40% from beyond the arc. Like many of the Raptors, his game has taken a step off a cliff recently.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +2 +/-Happy Birthday, Greivis! Hope you have a great party tonight, because you played like you had already pre-gamed beforehand.|
|Louis Williams, SG 21 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -6 +/-5 points is not what you expect from Sweet Lou when he’s matched up against his former team. He looked a step slow, and seemed mostly disinterested in the outcome of the game.|
|Dwane Casey With 1:40 remaining in the first quarter, Toronto was inbounding from under Atlanta’s basket. Atlanta forced Toronto to kill a timeout, out of which Dwane Casey ran a play for a Tyler Hansbrough post-up. Tyler promptly traveled. This, coupled with Casey’s inability to run any type of play to end a quarter, is what dooms him in my eyes. Overall, I like his rotation tonight, but his play calling and defensive system were a terrible fit against a deadly Hawks team.|
Five Things We Saw
- Kyle Lowry started the game by accepting his Player of the Month award for December. It was the most successful moment for him on the night.
- Two games into his tenure as a Raptors commentator, I already want Morris Peterson gone. It pains me to say it. I love Mo Pete and have fond memories of his time in a Raptors uniform, but the mic just doesn’t suit him. He has somehow managed to come across as bland and annoying. His time on Raptors’ broadcasts should have ended the moment he called Kyle Lowry the “Broad Street Bully/Broad Street Bulldog”. I suppose he must be forgiven though considering that Devlin says things like “Muggsy-Sanity”.
- Atlanta entered the game 24-2 since their loss against Toronto on November 26, and are now 32-8 on the season. Toronto got blown out by a brilliant basketball team, and one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the NBA. If you’re looking for a positive on a night like tonight, the only one that I can think of is that 25% of Atlanta’s losses on the season have come at the hands of the Raptors.
- Toronto jumped at almost every pump fake that Atlanta showed them. They were desperate to try and block everything that Atlanta showed. At several points they even cheated off of Kyle Korver to try and block someone like Thabo Sefolosha. You should never leave Korver to guard Sefolosha!!! Toronto runs a very active defense, but they could slow down and simply be smarter with their rotations. Due to their switch-happy defense, more than one occasion Jonas was forced to cover Kyle Korver at the three point line, while Lowry was at times being posted up by Pero Antic.
- Turnovers. Toronto gifted Atlanta with three straight odd man fastbreaks…all due to careless passes or sloppy dribbling. Toronto and Atlanta each committed 17 turnovers on the night, the difference was that the majority of Toronto’s turnovers were quickly taken the other way due to where and how they were committed. Toronto needs to get back to their early season play in regards to taking care of the basketball.
The Raptors are getting crushed by the Hawks at home, 85-68 at the end of the third. We have no offensive or defensive game plan and everything is #freestyling. Some of the gems we’ve seen tonight.
Let’s get to single digits by the six minute mark?
JV guarding Korver
Then there’s this
Al Horford dunking on Amir Johnson
A little turnover action
No interior D
How about a pass, bro?
Given the Raptors are a slight favorite tonight against the 2015-undefeated Atlanta Hawks, and that they themselves have lost 5 of 7, I thought I’d look at how the Raptors have fared against the spread. Here are the results:
|10/29/2015||Atlanta Hawks||-4.5||199||Won 109 – 102||Win / Over|
|11/1/2015||@ Orlando Magic||-6||195||Won 108 – 95||Win / Over|
|11/2/2015||@ Miami Heat||2||197||Lost 102 – 107||Loss / Over|
|11/4/2015||Oklahoma City Thunder||-11.5||192||Won 100 – 88||Win / Under|
|11/5/2015||@ Boston Celtics||2||203||Won 110 – 107||Win / Over|
|11/7/2015||Washington Wizards||-4||195||Won 103 – 84||Win / Under|
|11/9/2015||Philadelphia 76ers||-13.5||205||Won 120 – 88||Win / Over|
|11/11/2015||Orlando Magic||-11||198||Won 104 – 100||Loss / Over|
|11/13/2015||Chicago Bulls||-2.5||196||Lost 93 – 100||Loss / Under|
|11/15/2015||Utah Jazz||-11.5||202||Won 111 – 93||Win / Over|
|11/19/2015||Memphis Grizzlies||-6||192||Won 96 – 92||Loss / Under|
|11/21/2015||Milwaukee Bucks||-9||199||Won 124 – 82||Win / Over|
|11/22/2015||@ Cleveland Cavaliers||3||204||Won 110 – 93||Win / Under|
|11/24/2015||Phoenix Suns||-4.5||210||Won 104 – 100||Loss / Under|
|11/26/2015||@ Atlanta Hawks||-3.5||204||Won 126 – 115||Win / Over|
|11/28/2015||Dallas Mavericks||-3.5||211||Lost 102 – 106||Loss / Under|
|11/30/2015||@ Los Angeles Lakers||-7||209||Lost 122 – 129||Loss / Over|
|12/2/2015||@ Sacramento Kings||-2.5||204||Won 117 – 109||Win / Over|
|12/3/2015||@ Utah Jazz||-3.5||201||Won 123 – 104||Win / Over|
|12/5/2015||Cleveland Cavaliers||-4.5||209||Lost 91 – 105||Loss / Under|
|12/8/2015||Denver Nuggets||-10||214||Won 112 – 107||Loss / Over|
|12/9/2015||@ Cleveland Cavaliers||6||206||Lost 101 – 105||Win / Push|
|12/12/2015||Indiana Pacers||-9||196||Won 106 – 94||Win / Over|
|12/14/2015||@ New York Knicks||-6.5||200||Won 95 – 90||Loss / Under|
|12/15/2015||Orlando Magic||-7||198||Won 95 – 82||Win / Under|
|12/17/2015||Brooklyn Nets||-12.5||198||Won 105 – 89||Win / Under|
|12/19/2015||@ Detroit Pistons||-7.5||198||Won 110 – 100||Win / Over|
|12/21/2015||New York Knicks||-12.5||196||Won 118 – 108||Loss / Over|
|12/22/2015||@ Chicago Bulls||4||201||Lost 120 – 129||Loss / Over|
|12/27/2015||@ Los Angeles Clippers||4.5||214||Won 110 – 98||Win / Under|
|12/28/2015||@ Denver Nuggets||-2.5||213||Won 116 – 102||Win / Over|
|12/30/2015||@ Portland Trail Blazers||3.5||209||Lost 97 – 102||Loss / Under|
|1/2/2015||@ Golden State Warriors||4.5||216||Lost 105 – 126||Loss / Over|
|1/4/2015||@ Phoenix Suns||1||217||Lost 109 – 125||Loss / Over|
|1/8/2015||Charlotte Hornets||-12.5||197||Lost 95 – 103||Loss / Over|
|1/10/2015||Boston Celtics||-11.5||209||Won 109 – 96||Win / Under|
|1/12/2015||Detroit Pistons||-5.5||208||Lost 111 – 114||Loss / Over|
|1/14/2015||Philadelphia 76ers||-18||202||Won 100 – 84||Loss / Under|
Overall, they’re 20-18 against the spread – 10-11 at home and 10-7 on the road. They’ve been the favorites 29 times out of their 38 games, which is 76% of the time. The Raptors are getting plenty of respect from Vegas, so the inferiority complex that we so confusingly crave isn’t there.
If you’re picking over/under, the ‘over’ is winning 22-16. In the two wins against the Hawks this season, the Raptors have covered the spread and the point total has been over. So, bet your house on the Raptors winning?
There’s no debating the Toronto Raptors are enjoying a great season.
There’s no debating the Toronto Raptors are enjoying a great season.
They have enjoyed the top record in the Eastern Conference for most of the season before a recent “slump” that has seen them fall to third in the conference.
But, with most of the teams in their division tanking and the Brooklyn Nets being a mess, Toronto essentially has the division and home court in the first round of the playoffs locked up.
Toronto is on pace to set a franchise record for wins in a season. And, if they can win a series in the playoffs, it will arguably be the best season the team has ever had.
With the instant success the team has enjoyed this season there has been a lot of chatter online, in print and on talk radio about Masai Ujiri needing to go all in and make a big trade or two prior to the trade deadline next month.
Not so fast.
While Ujiri will listen to offers leading up to the trade deadline in February, he would be wise not to panic and make a trade just to make a trade.
“You read about it and hear about the East, the East, the East,” Ujiri recently told Zach Lowe. “And you have to think about it sometimes. Is this a rare time? Is this period — the next year or two — something we have to take advantage of? That’s a question I can’t answer. It depends on what’s there. But I won’t make decisions that are going to shorten our growth and help us only this year.”
While adding additional help may be wise in the short-term – Toronto needs another big to provide rim protection – the reality is the team isn’t ready to compete for an NBA Championship as currently constructed.
Toronto has played eight games so far this season against teams that have legit chances to win a championship and they have a 2-7 record in those games.
They have lost twice to the Bulls and Cavaliers, had a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks and they were thumped by the Warriors.
One of their wins, against Memphis, was a game in which most of the Grizzlies were DNP’s due to a nasty stomach ailment that ripped through the team. And even then Toronto barely hung on for a 96-92 win.
They also fought back for a big win on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that was when the Cavs were still trying to form their identity.
Heck, the Cavs are still trying to form their identity roughly 30 games into the season and might not even be title contenders this season and since that win Toronto has lost twice to Cleveland.
Toronto has beat Oklahoma City – without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook – and the current Eastern Conference top team Atlanta Hawks (but on the first game of the season). I’m not counting either of those wins because the Hawks were far from a title contender when the season opened and without their franchise players the game against the Thunder was far from a true litmus test.
Arguably their signature win so far came back in early November when they beat the Washington Wizards. An impressive win, but not one that shows they are ready to compete for a championship.
Teams that win championships are generally strong on the defensive end. Toronto is struggling there this season giving up 101.4 points per game while allowing opponents to have a true shooting percentage of 55%.
When they do get defensive stops, they are allowing teams to grab 26.7 offensive rebounds per game. That puts them in the bottom third in the NBA in giving up offensive rebounds.
When you dig a little deeper into the advanced stats you’ll find opponents are attempting 30.5 shots within five feet of the rim.
Of those field goal attempts, teams are shooting 57%.
Toronto’s efficiency on the offensive end (they are leading the Eastern Conference with 101.4 points per game) won’t be able to mask their defensive issues in a best of seven series. Good coaches and teams will be able to exploit Toronto on the defensive end while formulating schemes to slow the team down on the offensive end.
Plus, when Lou Williams, Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan go cold for a quarter or a half the team falls into an immediate funk. Toronto has relied too much on “hot” shooters this season instead of creating a offensive philosophy that is sustainable or reliable.
Again, racing out to a great start to this season is fun for the fans and it has created a buzz in the Air Canada Centre and around the city.
However, Ujiri is wise to not panic and risk Toronto’s future financial flexibility, draft picks or current young players for what appears to be a relatively short-lived playoff run this season.
Patience is a virtue, and Ujiri is wise to slowly build Toronto without mortgaging their bright future. Toronto would be wise to fight the urge to go all in this season despite the fact the conference is wide open and theirs for the taking.
The league’s hottest team rolls into town.
Apologies for the shortened post. I’m at the NASH CUP conference in Ottawa at the moment and the lunch break is only one hour. Bear with me here.
Who would have thought that the Atlanta Hawks would be this good? Like, 31-8, winners of their last ten and 24 of 26, good?
People knew that the Hawks would be pretty good, topping out to sub-contender status in the Eastern Conference. Playing without all-star center Al Horford for much of last season, the Hawks barely qualified for the playoffs with a record of 38-44. They played an aesthetically pleasing style of basketball touted by former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, but it was thought that a lack of starpower would ultimately trump the Hawks’ intricate sets and disciplined players.
And then this season happened. 24 of 26 happened.
The Hawks have vaunted themselves into elite status by building and perfecting their sets. Watch a Hawks game. You’ll see that every player is disciplined, orchestrated and following orders. Every cut, every screen, every drive — it’s all for a purpose. Only, it’s never easy to discern for exactly what purpose. A ball screen by Horford could be a pick-and-roll. Or he could pop and shoot the jumper. He is, after all, one of the league’s best mid-range shooters. Or, Horford could then set a down screen to free up Kyle Korver for three. Or Teague could drive and attack off the bounce using his quickness. Or they could throw it to Millsap in the post while shooters dart around the floor, attacking the defense’s pressure points with pinpoint precision.
The result is this: the Hawks are 9-3 against the top-12 teams in the league, better than teams like the Warriors (7-4) and Grizzlies (9-6). They’ve even dominated on the road, boasting a record of 15-5. That includes wins against the Wizards, Blazers, Clippers, Rockets, Mavericks and Cavaliers.
So in short, the Hawks are good. Really good.
But they Raptors are 2-0 against them this season. It’s hard to explain the Raptors’ success, but I’d point to the Raptors’ hyperactive defensive scheme as an ideal defense for many of Atlanta’s pass-heavy sets. The Raptors won both contests by a combined margin of 18 points, scoring an average of 117.5 points per game, but it wasn’t a case of someone catching on fire. Vasquez dropped 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the second outing, but that’s the only notable outlier from either game.
Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder
The return of DeRozan should lighten the load on Lowry, which should theoretically free Lowry to turn up the intensity on defense. Lowry has been terrible in preventing dribble penetration this season and he’ll need to stay in front of Teague and Schroder, who are both lightning-fast guards.
DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, Terrence Ross, James Johnson vs. Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha
Can DeRozan play at full speed? Can he operate in the post against Carroll? Can Ross stick with Korver around screens? Call me skeptical, but given Ross’s recent malaise, given that DeRozan is returning from an injury, my answer would be no to each. I really hope I’m wrong.
Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough vs. Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Pero Antic, Mike Scott
Every member of the Hawks’ frontcourt can shoot, which spells trouble for Valanciunas. My guess is that Casey will try to match by playing a faster frontcourt. The onus then falls onto Amir to be healthy enough to defend reliably and for Patterson to nail his outside shots. James Johnson could be useful as a smallball four in spots.
Raptors are at home, which likely explains why they’re favored by 1 point by Vegas. For me, it comes down to their defense, which has been terrible (28th-ranked) for months. They’ll need to rotate without being too aggressive, and shut down the Hawks’ potent 3-point attack. Good luck with that.
Raptors 102, Hawks 109
DeMar’s back. Time to right this ship. Nick and Barry welcome friend of the show and all around great guy, Gareth Wheeler. Gareth is a TSN radio personality and lends the always, much needed credibility to the Talking Raptors podcast.
The guys discuss:
– Our Prince Demar Derozan’s return.
– OG Morris Peterson joining the TSN broadcast team.
– Young Terrence Ross and his continuous struggles.
– Trade deadline approaching… do we stay quiet. Do we make moves?
– Andrea Bargnani… yep.
– Drizzy Drake finally gives King Kyle Lowry some social media love.
The guys, as always, let Chuck Hayes know how much he is appreciated. They also take a look around the league into things like the resting of players that is plaguing and much more!
As always, Thank you for listening and we hope you enjoyed!
Make sure you follow Gareth @WheelerTSN.
I’m just like all these fans in Toronto, I love to dream about the team’s future. In private conversations, I’ve laid out the elaborate path of how Durant will eventually join the Raptors. You see: we win 50-plus games this season and next, make a couple of deep playoff runs, Durant comes to Toronto for All-Star Weekend next year and Toronto fans absolutely shower him with love in what turns out to be a recruiting pitch before he hits free agency, Bruno Caboclo shows real signs of being the next actual Kevin Durant, and we had into the summer of 2016 as a legitimate contender in the East, and we happen to have the Knicks first round pick which turns out to be the second overall pick. Durant looks at all this and signs. You see how easy that is? To just manufacture any scenario and talk yourself into a path that makes sense because it fits what your end goal is. That’s why I hate any Wiggins-to-Toronto narratives being spread and worst, being discussed.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for everybody,” Casey said. “For Kyle (Lowry), for Terrence (Ross), for James (Johnson), all of our wings because, when your Queen Bee comes back, everybody has to adjust. “Everybody did a heck of a job when he was out, but now we have to come back to our old rotations, our old play calls and our old sets for the way they are intended, with DeMar running them. Everyone is going to have to make adjustments and it’s not easy. They have had kind of free run a little bit, but again, it’s about the team. It’s not about one guy. It’s not about DeMar or Terrence. We have to go with the guys whose feet are in the circle. If his feet aren’t in the circle, we’ve got to go with other guys. It’s very important to all of us to have our feet in the circle.”
“I do, I do follow (All-Star voting),” Valanciunas said. “It means a lot to me. I want to be there if that’s possible. I am eighth in the frontcourt, so I still have a chance. “(Fans) giving that effort and showing that love for me, that’s amazing. I like it and I feel support from outside and that’s great, that’s what we need. That’s what I need as a young player.” Valanciunas is an outgoing and fun-loving young man who came to the NBA from Lithuania with a history of playing to the fans and for the fans outside of what’s expected of him on the court. He revels in a crowds’ enthusiasm and he wants that excitement for his teammates as badly as for himself. “(Kyle Lowry) is close and I hope he is successful in getting voted in,” Valanciunas said. “I wish him good luck. It means a lot (to get voted in by the fans) because this shows the face of the team to have players in the starting five at the All-Star game. It is better for us.”
Tonight’s radio not very good, did not know Eric switched. Not very good. How do you put Eric in a position to fail? He has never done p/p
This gets at the problem of playing the Hawks: It is difficult to know where to put your defensive focus, because there are too many players to worry about. Since they lost 126-115 to Toronto on Nov. 26, the Hawks have gone 24-2, with winning streaks of nine, five and 10 games. During the stretch, which has included wins on the road against the Rockets, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Clippers and streaking Pistons, the Hawks have played the league’s sixth-best offence and best defence. The latter has coincided with Horford’s return to full health following last season’s torn pectoral muscle. The former has to be the bigger concern for the Raptors. The Hawks have attempted the seventh-most three-pointers in the league, and connect 38.5 per cent of the time, second to only Washington. It is Korver’s shooting — a ridiculous 53% on 219 attempts — that contorts and destroys a defence’s integrity. The shooting threats are all over the floor, though, from starting shooting guard DeMarre Carroll to Millsap to reserve big man, Mike Scott.
The Hawks gave Al Horford and Kyle Korver a night off for rest on Wednesday but both are expected back . . . Their absence didn’t mean a thing, as the Hawks extended their NBA-best winning streak to 10 games by beating Boston . . . Despite Atlanta’s lofty record, the Hawks have lost two games to Toronto already this season . . . This is the latest in a season that Atlanta’s led a conference since 1993-94 . . . Not only have the Hawks won 10 in a row, they’ve also won 10 consecutive road games.
I can haz yo links??! [email protected]
Despite playing just 20 minutes tonight, Valanciunas was relatively upbeat in the locker-room following Wednesday’s win over the 76ers. As always, he’s full of jokes.
After accidentally bumping into Lowry, JV says “Sorry, foul on me”. About 60 seconds later he throws a towel into the laundry basket and it hits someone in the head.
That was the end of that.
From across the room, Terrence Ross is taking advantage of the surrounding media to get some thoughts on the NFL.
“Who you think ‘gon win the Super Bowl?”
Someone says Patriots.
“Shit, I don’t think they got it in ‘em.”
Meanwhile, from across the room, James Johnson is yelling something about ravioli – honestly, I have no idea.
The last media scrum was with Lou Williams. When asked about beating his former team, he smiles, seemingly surprised by the question.
“I don’t know if I’ve lost to them since I’ve left.”
Everyone laughs. Lou realizes his comment may have come the wrong way – he backtracks.
“And that’s not like a jab or nothin’, but at this point, it’s been four years now.”
Yes, the locker-room was full of gold tonight, but Dwane Casey killed it in the post-game presser too. He also killed us with the disproportionate use of the word ‘man’.
“He’s gone from a young man to a man,” Casey said of DeRozan. “He’s gone through the process, he’s gone through the rigors of the NBA, he has learned from it and he has grown as a man.”
“I asked him how he was feeling and he said he felt great, and he told me he is playing like an old man, you know the slow man’s game when you’re not getting too high off the floor.”
Take a deep breath… We’re not done. Casey continues.
“That’s where he is now; he’s playing like an old man.”
The media briefly chuckled at that last line. But as Casey elaborated, it was clear what he meant. DeRozan plays like an old man in the sense of how much wisdom he’s integrated into his game since his rookie year. His improvement in both his character and skill-set from year-to-year is almost perfect – you can’t ask for more as a head coach.
What has been questionable this season though is DeRozan’s shot selection. What made him so good last year was his slashing and improved – but tamed – three-point shooting. This year he’s been doing less of those efficient things, and for whatever reason he’s been settling for long-range contested jumpers.
He’s far too talented for that.
Tonight was a perfect demonstration of what he should be doing.
His 20 points came off of 9/14 shooting. What the stat sheet doesn’t tell you: His 14 shots were all good looks. Dwane Casey talked about DeMar’s need to let the game come to him tonight – that’s something DeMar clearly took to heart.
“I wanted to come out and play and not try and do too much. Just play within the rhythm of the game.”
If only that was his motto every night.
DeMar DeRozan didn’t break a sweat in his return from injury and notched 20 points on 9-14 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Here’s how his offense fared against the Sixers.
The Raptors beat Philadelphia 100-84 in Demar Derozan’s first game back from a 21-game absence due to a groin injury. The game was a largely forgettable affair but it was nice to see Derozan back in action. Here’s a quick breakdown of how things went down:
1st Quarter: Raptors 34 – 76ers 19
The Raptors jumped out to an early 13-0 lead on 6-of-7 shooting. Derozan connected on a tough turn around jumpshot to get the ball rolling and finished with 6 points on 3-of-4 shooting in the quarter. The Raps pretty much owned this quarter, shooting 63.6 % from the field and connecting on 8 assists while holding the Sixers to only 19 points.
2nd Quarter: Sixers 27 – Raptors 16
This was an ugly quarter for the Raptors, who were way too relaxed after building an early 15-point lead. Instead of settling for outside jumpers, like they did in the first quarter (1-5 three-point shooting), the Sixers came out attacking the rim. They scored 18 of their 27 points in the paint for the quarter on 9-of-12 shooting. The Sixers guards took advantage of the Raptors slow-footed 2nd unit to start the quarter and our starting squad failed to provide much additional energy in relief. Nerlens Noel used his superior length against Tyler Hansbrough, scoring 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting. The lackadaisical Raptors settled for a number of long jump shots and turned the ball over five times in the quarter. They went into halftime up 50-46.
3rd Quarter: Raptors 21 – Sixers 15
Aside from a three to start the half, this was generally a pretty ugly quarter. The Sixers got away from attacking the rim (partially bad shot selection, partially improved defense from Toronto) and as such shot only 27.3 percent for the quarter. The Raptors faired only slightly better, shooting 8-of-22. Derozan hit a couple of timely jumpshots to keep things a float, but generally this was quarter was nothing to write home about.
4th Quarter: Raptors 29 – Sixers 23
Things continued to slog along until about midway through the 4th when Toronto started moving the ball and looking like the Raptors of old. Kyle Lowry was excellent, connecting on a couple of big threes and dishing out four assists in the quarter. Derozan got to the rim at will, going 4-of-5 for eight points in the quarter. Remarkably, all ten of their made field goals in the quarter were assisted.
- It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
- The Sixers lack shooting and skill players but they sure are long and athletic. Carter-Williams vacillates between moments of brillance and moments of being wildly out of control. He was 1-7 in the 3rd, often driving against two or more Toronto defenders.
- The Raptors came into the game averaging 17 turnovers a game over their last 5 and last night they turned the ball over 17 times, once again. They wasted a lot of possessions going for the homerun ball instead of making the easy pass. They’ll need to be much more focused against Atlanta
- I’m not going to over think this game. It was mostly ugly and sluggish but I liked the passing in the first and fourth quarters and it was great to see Derozan back in action. His rhythm and touch both look good.
- I maybe would have considered resting Lowry for this one, if I was Dwane Casey.
- Good to see the Raptors hold the Sixers to 84 points, even if some of the Sixers offensive woes were self inflicted.
It was a low-stakes game against a bad opponent, which made it a great game to bring DeRozan back. Still, it was surprising to see him look so smooth — 9-for-14, three assists, and some smart passes. The Raptors had 26 assists on 38 baskets, far ahead of their usual assist rate. (As for the other end, the 76ers shot just 39 per cent, but they are also the worst offensive team in the league by a mile.) “Quiet as kept, he’s been working for quite a while to get to that point,” said Raptors reserve Lou Williams, who had to come back from his own serious injury, a torn ligament in his knee, last season. “He’s done a great job with being patient with the rehab process. He might feel like he could have played a couple of weeks ago, but he’s very patient with the process. It showed tonight. I think it paid off for him.”
Understand, DeRozan doesn’t have an off button when it comes to the game. In his first five seasons in the league, he missed just 11 games total. Long before the end of the season, DeRozan has pinpointed an element of his game he feels he needs to improve and has already designed an off-season of activity devoted solely to addressing that deficiency in his game. Which is another way of saying DeRozan lives and breathes basketball even when there are no scheduled games. So shutting it down while his teammates played games for seven weeks wasn’t just tough, it was agonizing.
Last night was not a game for framing. Toronto jumped out to a 34-19 first quarter lead, allowed the Sixers to cut the lead to four at half time and never quite succeeded in blowing them out, which was fine as it gave DeRozan a meaningful fourth quarter to play and he responded with eight of his Raptors-high 20 points as he went nine-of-14 on the night with four rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. But mainly DeRozan’s presence was the equivalent of returning home to a clean house and dinner in the oven. Things seemed right.
After the longest and most frustrating enforced absence of his NBA career, DeRozan returned to the Toronto lineup on Wednesday night and there were moments when it looked like he’d never been away. He finished with 20 points in 28 minutes, the usual array of mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket as the once-again-whole Raptors held off the Philadelphia 76ers 100-84 at the Air Canada Centre. Operating with his usual calm after sitting out 21 games with a torn tendon in his hip-groin, DeRozan helped take care of a solid start and a big finish as the Raptors won for just the second time in their last seven games.
DeRozan looked like his old self – confident, decisive and active. On his second shot of the night, he came off a screen and drained a step-back 14-footer. Later in the frame he split the defence and got to the rim for an uncontested layup. Even when he wasn’t scoring, his presence was felt. Doubled in the corner, DeRozan made a difficult diagonal pass to Patrick Patterson who found Greivis Vasquez for a floater in the lane. “[It was] very comfortable,” said Kyle Lowry, happy to have his backcourt partner back on a night in which the point guard recorded 18 points and 12 assists. “[He got] some guys some open shots, [took] some attention off me, and it’s always good when you get your all-star back, a guy who can get 20 points on 14 shots in such an efficient way.”
It was nice to see DeRozan’s return, and you could instantly see the pressure it takes off Lowry. There’s a better balance on offense with DeRozan back in the lineup, and with Jonas Valanciunas now starting to assert himself in the low post, you can envision this Raptors team being more efficient on the offensive end moving forward.
Rumors of Lowry’s demise, however, were greatly exaggerated, as he decided at the end of the fourth quarter that he was tired of playing basketball and buried two threes to put the dagger in the Sixers, who fell 100-84. The story of the game for the Sixers was their shorthanded status. When they needed a timely bucket, the one that would often be provided by Covington or Wroten, they either had to rely on MCW making something happen, or one of the many Sixers not usually suited for creating their own offense. While it’s a loss, it falls into the good loss category. MCW played one of his most productive games of the season, and carried the team offensively. Nerlens Noel had a solid outing on both ends of the floor. K.J. McDaniels was flying all over the place.
Credit the Sixers for fighting a hell of a battle tonight against the Raptors on a back-to-back, but it wasn’t enough. The Raptors were the better team and they proved it tonight. Philly was able to stick with Toronto throughout most of the game after letting the Raptors get off to a 13-0 start, but it fell apart in the fourth quarter. Still, there were a lot of positives to bring from this loss.
“I think we’ve made great improvements from last time we played them,” Nerlens Noel, who finished with 12 points in the loss, said. “We came out and played a lot harder. It was closer to the effort we want, not all the way there, but definitely a little bit closer. “I think we played hard tonight, that’s what it’s all about.”
Worst performance: I couldn’t avoid giving this award to Greivis Vasquez. The Raptors reserve point guard had more personal fouls (four) than assists (two). He also finished with two points on 1-for-5 shooting in 24 minutes, 3 seconds.
But, in the end, another loss. An upset victory was briefly within reach for the 76ers last night. But in the end, they lost, 100-84 to the Raptors for the second time this season. The Sixers, 7-31 on the season, couldn’t burst through the ice when they saw the light. They competed hard in front of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre, sure, but never seriously contested the Atlantic Division leaders for the win.
A massive media scrum was waiting for DeMar DeRozan at his locked which prevented Kyle Lowry from getting to his own locker. Lowry then proceeded to take a few minutes to joke around and chirp DeRozan about being a big star due to all the media waiting to talk with him. It’s great seeing this side of Lowry. I have a feeling Lowry’s teammates see this side of him all the time on team flights, in practices and on road trips.
Despite the poor second quarter by the Raptors, Toronto never gave up the lead through 48 minutes. Lou Williams added 19 points, which included a three-pointer to end the first quarter and a four-point play conversion to begin the fourth, while Amir Johnson recorded 10 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. Overall, it seems Raptors fans were pleased to see DeRozan return to the lineup. Other than committing a few turnovers he certainly looked good. Toronto sported a 12-9 record in his absence, which included losing five of their last six before tonight’s win. The real test will come on Friday night in a home tilt with the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have won 24 of their last 26 games and 10 straight on the road after a 105-91 win tonight versus the Boston Celtics.
Realistically, it shouldn’t be too difficult to shut down the 76ers, and according to the numbers that’s exactly what the Raptors did. Holding the 76ers to awful shooting percentages across the board and only 84 total points on the night. However, there is often more to a game than just the boxscore. The Raptors allowing a 27 point quarter to such an offensively inept team is a reasonable cause for concern. Certainly something to keep an eye on.
Just tonight, the Raptors took a “gimme” against the overtly-intentional draft tank mission that is the Philadelphia 76ers. In tonight’s 100-84 win, the Raps were sloppy, giving up 17 turnovers (near 5 above their season average) and they just looked tired. Though they led the entire game, the lead seemed to fluctuate with the very inconsistent energy and focus of the team. Toronto’s lead seemed to fall from 13 down to 5 half a dozen times throughout the night. It was the least convincing 16-point victory I have ever seen. Despite the weak ‘W’, the Raptors were pleased to see the return of their 2014 All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, to the lineup after missing 21 games with a torn adductor longus. DeRozan dropped a cool 20 points on 9/14 shooting in 28 minutes of play. Though certainly a reassuring performance from the guard, DeRozan’s first true test will come Friday night when the Raptors take on the first place Atlanta Hawks.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams after Toronto beat Philly 100-84.
Our hero spoke after the game. DeRozan was instrumental in the Raptors tough win at home against the Sixers.
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 15, 2015
DeMar DeRozan returns as the Raptors beat the Sixers after labouring for a large part of the game.
|Amir Johnson, PF 32 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 16 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +11 +/-Out-hustled by Noels at times and looked tired in stretches, which is the norm for him. Philly’s energetic forward kept him on his toes, and he coped well enough, though I still think he’s a minus on D too often this year. His movement after setting screens was intelligent and could’ve gotten him a lot more FGs if only the guards recognized that Johnson is a pretty damn good finisher.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +8 +/-He’s like the guy who comes into a small tight space, lays down a serious level 9 fart, and backs out slowly. No defense, no offense, no energy, no intelligence, so what’s really left? I’m not advocating him getting benched, I think he just needs to be even on defense. Right now there’s a defensive and offensive cost that the team pays when he’s on the court, and that can’t happen. Got benched early after some very, very poor defense.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-6 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +4 +/-His approach to most situations he found himself in was correct, and that’s a big leap from early in the season where he looked unsure of what to do every time he caught the ball. As is customary, had good offensive possessions, some which left short, most he finished. Could’ve done better on the boards but the guy lacks a second and third jump on those rebounds, and Philly bigs were like pogo sticks tonight.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 6-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 12 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 18 PTS | +20 +/-He’s making uncharacteristic plays. Like going for a 2-for-1 and leaving only a one second differential on the clock, thus essentially giving Philly the last shot of the quarter. Against a Philly defense you should be able to get what you want if you be patient, and that’s the last thing Lowry was. He needs to dial it back a little because there’s no need to play at a 90mph pace all the time. Taking pull-up threes and quick shots only serve Philly because it just gives them one less defensive possession to play on a back-to-back. Did hit some huge shots in the fourth to put Philly away.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 29 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +18 +/-Paced himself well, picked his spots, and was big in the early third quarter when the Raptors looked like having a repeat of Detroit. He looked far more integrated and comfortable for a guy who hasn’t played in a month and a half, and that’s got to be a pretty big positive. Very happy to have him back.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +9 +/-Played a bit until Casey realized that Noels was too tall for him. He also got bumped on the head which looked like a bit of a concussion, but he was OK. It’s not that the pace of the game didn’t suit him, it’s that he’s not very good at providing help defense and the Raptors need to help on practically every possession which puts Hansbrough in vulnerable positions too often.|
|James Johnson, PF 15 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +2 +/-Saw his minutes go down with DeRozan back, so it’s good that his rate of production isn’t dependent on how many minutes he plays. Had a great cut to dunk the ball, played good help defense whenever MCW drove, and was his usual consistent self. I can’t believe he’s the most fundamentally sound Raptor.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 2-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +8 +/-Continues to bomb away from three and scramble on defense with nothing specific ever being called for him. To his credit, his effort level has been fantastic and he’s simply following the instruction from the coach. I really feel we’re seeing about 60% of what he has to offer on offense.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 24 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +4 +/-The word YOLO is used a lot to describe his offense, which I’d agree with for the most part. Defensively, his energy closely resembles the guy at the party who passed out on your coach after over-estimating his ability to handle a water bong. Such poor defense that I have trouble looking past that.|
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-4 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | -4 +/-Had one of his ‘on’ games which included a 4-point play. Honestly, his approach to every single game has been the same. The grade only reflects how many of his one-on-one shots went in.|
Managed DeRozan’s minutes well and ultimately that was a huge part of the reason we won. Did good to bench the unproductive Ross, and hand those minutes to DeRozan. I was a bit surprised we didn’t test Philly’s three-point shooting more and play more zone since they’re the worst in the league at shooting the three. Didn’t ignore JV, so that’s good. Overall, no major complaints, but he needs to do better to get the team up for these games.
Six Things We Saw
- 17 turnovers by the Raps, many unforced. This is a problem that you can get away with against the weaker sisters, but will be the reason you’ll lose the big games. I’m not advocating a more conservative brand of basketball, just that we don’t try to make Hail Mary plays when there’s no need for them.
- This game became a problem in the second quarter when Philly shot 50% (a miracle for them) and were +11. The killed us 20-6 in points in the paint, and the Raptors obliged them with 5 turnovers and only 4 assists.
- DeRozan’s presence on the court tends to give everyone some confidence because they can go to a guy who’ll just milk the clock and get a relatively high percentage shot of. We’re not relying on Lowry, Vasquez, or Wiliams as much, because all those guys have been maxed out over the last six weeks.
- I think we need to do a level-set for Ross. Let’s just ask him to do two things and nothing more: 1) park on the wing and wait for a pass to hit a three, and 2) play even defense. Not 3-and-D defense, just don’t be a negative. I’ll settle for that because his three-point shooting is actually valuable, but we can’t even afford to keep him on the court due to his D.
- This was a closer game than what the final score reads because of Toronto’s late run, with Philly being within six in the fourth. The Raptors, on account of their defense and suspect shot-selection allowed Philly to stick around, which doesn’t fill you with confidence for Atlanta. Against Philly, you can get any shot you want as long as you’re patient and have even a moderately good playbook. Against Atlanta, it’ll be 10 times as difficult.
- High tension to end the game. With the score at 98 and 18 seconds left, the pizza was a basket away until Kyle Lowry lost the ball. Philly scored and the Raptors got it back with 12 seconds left, and you’d think they’d just run it out. Then, Philly fouled and Lowry got two pizza-winning FTs, thus staving off starvation for another day. Not today, starvation, not today.
Hang on to the edge of your seat.
Major technological advances throughout the course of history stand as a testament to humankind’s thirst for knowledge and hunger for achievement. We are a species that never ceases to probe and in doing so have uncovered the great mysteries of our universe. We have landed on the moon, sent a Lego car to Mars, and though it’s not public, I’m sure the US Military is actively working on a project designed to extinguish the sun and replace it with a string of energy-efficient pot lights.
Today, on the 14th day of January in the year 2015, we have answered an answerable question: where do most Raptors users on Twitter live? Scroll down for the answer.
Now, the question becomes. What are you going to do with this knowledge?
Where 2014 could not have come with more success for the Toronto Raptors, 2015 could hardly have started any worse. Losers of four of their first five games of the year, Toronto is desperate for something positive to change their current fortunes.
But what exactly is the problem? What needs to be fixed for the franchise to get back on track?
Perhaps the biggest problem currently facing the Raptors is the lofting expectations of the fan base. After starting the year 24-7, expectations were sky high for what the franchise could achieve this year. Toronto was running away with their division (still are), was at the top of the Eastern Conference, and were surrounded by underperforming teams.
With the health questions surrounding Derrick Rose the Chicago Bulls have been fairly inconsistent; and the Cleveland Cavaliers have dealt with their own health concerns, with both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving facing their own injury concerns.
The Eastern Conference was wide open, and the Raptors were starting to look more and more like a legitimate contender for the Eastern Conference Finals, and perhaps even the NBA Finals.
After years of having so very little to celebrate, Raptors fans finally had a winning team to be proud of. And to top it all off, they were doing it in large part despite the absence of DeMar DeRozan.
Everything was finally coming together…and now this. Only one win to start 2015, losers of 7-of-10, and a team that now has the 20th ranked defense in the NBA. If you currently read the majority of Raptors articles, blogs, and fan forums, you would assume the sky is falling on what was once a promising season.
Here’s some good news though: the sky isn’t falling.
The Toronto Raptors are not who they have appeared to be in 2015, but they also aren’t the team that started the season winning 77% of their games. In truth, they are somewhere in between.
This current losing streak doesn’t erase the fact that the Eastern Conference is still wide open. The Cavaliers are playing below .500 basketball at the moment, the Bulls are still inconsistent (much like our Raptors), and the Atlanta hawks…okay…the Hawks are looking fantastic.
A small losing streak does not remove the chance that Toronto no longer has the ceiling we once hoped for from this season. The Raptors are still running away with a historically bad Atlantic Division, are basically assured to have home court advantage in the first round (if not beyond), and they are on the cusp of DeMar DeRozan returning to action.
Let’s all just take a moment and recognize what we have. The Toronto Raptors are on pace to exceed the 50 win plateau for the first time in franchise history, and remain a likely threat in the playoffs.
All of this despite the fact that the Raptors are currently starting two players in their third year, who both still show their youth/inexperience on a regular basis.
As an organization, the Raptors are ahead of where anyone could have expected them to be. The goal was always to build towards competing in 2016-17 and beyond. Toronto remains a few years away from their desired championship ceiling.
This season is about seeing if the timeline can be quickened at all, while enjoying the glimpses of the high future that the organization appears to have. Just look at Jonas Valanciunas’ performance from Monday night’s loss to Detroit. Jonas finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 1 block, while shooting 14-of-15 from the field, and 3-of-4 from the line.
If Raptor fans had been given the option at the start of the season, every single one would jump at 50+ victories, a top three seed, and a chance to advance in the playoffs. All this while still having two high ceiling rookies on their roster, slowly developing for the future.
Losing perspective is an easy thing to do when we all clearly have emotional attachments to the Raptors, but let’s just take a step back from the ledge and enjoy the ride.
Tonight’s matchup finds two teams who’ve recently fallen off their perches atop the conference. The Raptors have slipped out of first place in the conference with their recent woes, while Philadelphia’s climb towards double digit wins has taken them out of top spot in the lottery odds. The Philadelphia 76ers have been vying with the LA Lakers all season for the title of being the most fascinating least interesting basketball team of all time. Philadelphia comes up in storylines all the time. This is not to be confused for Philadelphia’s on court product being a great storyline. The Sixers are mentioned for being the most blatant tanking effort since George Costanza’s campaign to get himself fired. They’re mentioned for stashing first round picks that sit with injuries, prolonging the teams tanking process. For filling their dormant cap space with the bad contracts of worse players from half a dozen teams desperate to free up space in exchange for all of the second round picks. There are good things about this team. Nerlens Noel shows athletic spurts of defense that are a lot of fun. His name is also fun to say. KJ McDaniels is a walking block party, which is crazy for a rookie 2nd round pick wing player. He’s averaging more blocks per 36 minutes than some starting centers. Michael Carter-Williams looks like a legitimate starting point guard, as long as he isn’t shooting. Tony Wroten has been buoying fantasy teams all season. Speaking of, unfortunately, if you have him starting for you in a daily league, he’s doubtful to play tonight after hurting his knee last night against Atlanta. Joel Embid is arguably the most interesting player on the Sixers, but that has a lot more to do with asking out Rihanna and Kim Kardashian in Twitter, speaking his mind, the schmoney dance and playing the what if game with his potential than anything he’s done on the court, since he hasn’t yet and isn’t likely to play this season. Basically, you’re watching this one for the Raptors.
The Raptors could really use an easy opponent to get back on track and find some rhythm on defence. They’ve used the 76ers for just such a purpose before, winning by 32 points over them in early November. But as the 76ers slipped grasp on last place has shown, they’re not without the ability to occasionally win. The raptors defence should look better for 2 reasons. First, because they’ll be able to play two big men without fear of Philly punishing Valanciunas or stretching the floor with shooting. Second, because the turnover prone 76ers are awful from beyond the 3point line, reducing the likelihood of the Raps getting killed for the wide open 3s that have resulted from the aggressive defence trapping scheme they’ve been playing this season. The Raptors have lacked the ability to take away the second or third pass 3 pointer that opens up after trapping hard. The Sixers are the worst distance shooting team in the league though, putting up 29% as a team. That’ll help.
There’s a chance that DeMar DeRozan comes back tonight. That would be as tremendous a feeling for us fans at home as it would be for the team that has struggled recently without him. The starting unit has slipped hard without DeMar’s defence, ball handling and free throw attempts. The second unit has stumbled as well between a regression in shooting percentages and a lack of lineup consistency. DeMar’s return and the punching bag quality of Philadelphia’s league worst offence should help both. James Johnson is most likely back to the bench with DeMar back, though hopefully still with the expanding role he’s been taking on as of late.
As much as DeMar’s return will be a good thing, there is also going to be a period of adjustment as the team returns to the style of play they began the season on. Kyle Lowry has absorbed a much higher role in the teams offence without DeMar, putting up the highest usage rate of his career. A little more rest and a little more diversity of shots will be good for the team, but Lowry has also earned himself a bigger piece of the offensive pie, and both players will have to adjust to the new reality there. Ross will be happy to have the pressure off of him to put the ball on the floor with DeMar running those sets again. It’s too bad that Terrence won’t have that pressure forcing him to grow his game, but it’s become clear that he’s simply not comfortable trying it. Valanciunas is likely to get another chance to shoot early and often, and continue the offensive steamroll that he opened the Piston’s game with.
There really isn’t a lot of value in doing a specific roster breakdown for 76ers matchups. Here, I’ll explain thusly. Let’s play a fun little game. I’ll name 6 people.
Now, see if you can tell me which 3 of them played for the 76ers last night, and which 3 are random names of kids I went to kindergarten with. I bet you can’t. If you can get it right, you’re either the biggest, most obsessed fan of the NBA out there, or a stalker with terrifyingly specific knowledge about my childhood.
If the Raptors lose this game, they run the serious risk of finding out why Toronto Maple Leafs fans are the worst. Thus far, the Raptors fans have mostly reserved their internet based loathing and insanity for NBA writers. If this losing stretch gets even worse with a loss to the 76ers, the madness could turn inwards. Godspeed, Dinos, godspeed.
Casey could put DeRozan next to Lowry in the backcourt, and roll with Johnson, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas up front. Johnson has proven to be one of Toronto’s better defenders and he’s not going to back down, physically, from any player or matchup. Offensively, he’s no longer a guy who’s trying to prove he can shoot—at least not anywhere/everywhere. He has recognized what his greatest asset is: driving to the hoop. And he has not only shown a solid ability to finish around the rim (or throw down some ridiculously nasty dunks as well) but his foot work has been fantastic too. Terrence Ross needs to rip a page out of Johnson’s book and become more aggressive in getting to the basket. He can’t always rely on long jumpers and his perimeter game.
Over the 21-game stretch, Lowry is averaging 35.6 minutes, which is actually less than he played last season. However, his usage percentage — the percentage of possessions a player uses with a shot, turnover or trip to the free-throw line — is up to 28.7 per cent during the DeRozan-less stretch, compared to 22.6 per cent last year. Simply, these minutes create higher stress for the point guard. Anecdotally, Lowry has looked worn down late in close games against Portland and Detroit. “The situation with Kyle is he has had so much,” Casey said. “He has had to carry our defence. He has had to carry our offence since DeMar went out. That wears on you. It’s not an excuse. But it does wear on you and we have put a lot of load on him. What we have to be careful of is that it doesn’t have a cumulative effect where the minutes pile up, the pressure piles up, and the burden piles up. It’s good that DeMar is coming back. He’s not gong to be the cure-all right away, but it will take some of the pressure and some of the load off of him.”
When DeRozan is operating as he was before the injury, Lowry can dump the ball into him in the post and let him go to work. More often than not DeRozan either gets to the rim and gets a bucket or gets fouled and heads to the line. This aids the Raptors offensively with points and defensively by allowing the defence to get back and set up. Lowry pointed out that more recently both Jonas Valanciunas and James Johnson have shown an ability to do this but for the bulk of DeRozan’s absence when the Raptors have needed a bucket it has fallen to Lowry to create for himself. Through much of December he did just that and has the numbers to prove it but the work load has taken its toll. Lowry no longer has the energy reserves to carry that weight which makes DeRozan’s anticipated return all the more important. Bottom line, Lowry has done what he can on his own. Now he needs the other offensive head of this machine to return and give him a bit of a breather.
“In film sessions he’s been there, he’s been practising with the team,” Casey said of the slow process. “He just hasn’t been able to play. He’s been a leader from that standpoint. Even in film sessions this morning he was vocal and stated some things that he was seeing. He’s said he’s seeing more from having that time away as he has, moreso than when he was in the fray trying to play.” The Raptors are 12-9 in DeRozan’s absence but are 1-4 since the tail-end of the West Coast road trip. There have been some positives but too many negatives existing within the same 48 minutes. Against the Pistons, the Raptors had 29 assists but also had 19 turnovers, which is a statistic DeRozan’s presence will help reduce because they can then return to a more half-court offence, with the opposition having fewer possessions and the defence playing with more chance to stay energized.
Dwane Casey acknowledged before the game that the Raptors wanted to “get Kyle off the ball a little bit … not have him chasing around on screens,” could it be that Lowry is running down a bit? That’s perhaps being a little dramatic, but at the very least the Raptors were at times hiding Lowry defensively. That may not be surprising, since as colleague Michael Grange noted last week the absence of DeRozan has had an impact on the team’s defence as well as its offence. Without him, the Raptors tend to be more free-flowing — “random,” in Casey’s words — and have morphed into a team that takes fewer free throws and more 3-point shots per game, which means the game stops less and forces the expenditure of energy to get back defensively.
Gasol probably won’t give up the money. But a future 26-year-old Wiggins – knowing he will get more than one max deal – may do it for the team he loves. That’s what the Toronto brass hopes. This is the multilayered plan that underlies all the current decisions made by the Raptors: Be good now. Be very good in two years time. And then extend that run into dynastic terms by raiding other NBA teams for their Canadian talent. This much is beyond doubt. No one is watching the rise of Toronto-based players more closely than the Raptors. It’s the subliminal message buried deep in the We The North campaign. The Raptors look at these kids and think that, while other teams will do the work of developing them, the very best of them are eventually coming home.
The good news: the Raptors’ offence is pretty great. So great, in fact, that the Raptors rank first across the league in offensive rating. By virtue of acquisitions like Lou Williams and James Johnson, as well as the further emergence of Kyle Lowry as a star, the Raptors are hardly having any problems scoring. They score the third most points per game of any team. They even sink an average of 104 points while losing. With DeMar DeRozan coming back very soon, the Raps should look to keep up the good work on offence. They shoot a lot, and it works. DeRozan has no problem releasing shots in bunches and sinking many of them, so the team’s offensive success should sustain. They need to work on defence, and allowing far less points per game. Considering head coach Dwane Casey has been traditionally regarded as a defensive-focused strategist, the team’s struggles this year have been surprising. The Raps will be looking to DeRozan for help.
While the rest of the Atlantic Division seems to be floundering and overturning their rosters, the Raptors have remained in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. They play four games in the upcoming week, all at home in their Air Canada Center. They suffered a narrow defeat in their first affair this week against the scrappy Detroit Pistons. Toronto will try to bounce back after a tough loss against the Philadelphia 76ers (7-29) Wednesday, which as mentioned above should also culminate with a Raptor win. The third game they play this week will come against the Atlanta Hawks, who present much more of a challenge for the Raptors. However, much like the first two contests this season between the teams, the Raptors have the offensive firepower to edge out the Hawks in what will likely be another high-scoring affair.
Offensively, his shots start to flatten down the stretch. His explosive first step is not nearly as effective, and you can just tell he has to work extra hard for every bucket. Defensively, he has been quite bad at what arguably is the most important position. Allowing Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings, Eric Bledsoe, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and more penetrate at will really affects the defense’s ability to set up and play man to man D. On top of that, I can’t remember the last time the 2013-14 league leading Lowry took a charge. With that being said, the people blaming Lowry for the losses are delusional. The alternative to letting Lowry operate is far worse, and this team would not win many games without him. And that’s the real issue here.
The Raptors are currently mired in a stretch of 3 wins and 6 loses and Williams struggles with increased playing time have only become more blatant. Over the past nine games, Casey has been giving Williams 28.6 minutes per game and Williams has been averaging 16.1 points, but his shooting has dropped to 37.9 percent and his three-point shot is missing-in-action at 24.1 percent on 6 long bombs per game. It appears that more hasn’t been better for the Raptors when it comes to Williams, but this is a problem that should fix itself once DeRozan returns to soak up his 34 minutes per game at shooting guard. Williams should get better looks with DeRozan around and Casey should find it easier to park Williams on the bench if his veteran doesn’t have going that night. The only concern is Coach Casey’s tendency to turn to his veterans when things aren’t going well even when the veteran he is turning too doesn’t have it going that night either. There were signs Casey was starting to buy into the myth of Williams before DeRozan was hurt. Hopefully this latest stretch of games has driven home the point that the myth of instant offense isn’t the reality every night and Casey needs to look a little deeper into that bench of his when Williams hasn’t got it.
Robert Covington is one of six players with at least 20 games played who averages more than two three-pointers a game while shooting better than 40 per cent from beyond the arc . . . Sixers backup Tony Wroten has scored 20 points or more in six of nine games before Tuesday.
he 76ers, who opened the season with 17 straight losses, have surrendered 113.0 points per game during their skid versus Toronto. They allowed an average of 92.3 points while winning three of four before Tuesday’s 105-87 loss to the Hawks. “To have to go on a plane and now go to Canada and play another hell of a team – that’s the nature of our beast,” coach Brett Brown said. “You’ve got to wake up and you have to back it up.” Michael Carter-Williams, who had 20 points and nine rebounds, missed the first meeting with Toronto due to a shoulder injury. He totaled 39 points, 13 assists and 12 boards in the last two matchups last season. Tony Wroten, averaging a team-best 16.9 points, isn’t expected to play after he suffered a right knee sprain against the Hawks. That certainly doesn’t help matters for a Philadelphia team that hasn’t reached 100 points in its last 14 games.
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Not to be alarmist or overly pessimistic, but the Toronto Raptors’ defense is currently very, very bad. A top-10 outfit a season ago, they’ve fallen all the way to 22nd on the season, allowing 105 points per-100 possessions, on par with that mess of a Denver Nuggets team and the oft-derided Cleveland Cavaliers allow.
Things have been even worse since Nov. 28, when the Raptors lost DeMar DeRozan to a groin injury that has kept him out for 21 games and counting. DeRozan alone does not make the defense tick, but the Raptors ranked ninth at that end before he hit the shelf. Part of the decline is due to the absence of DeRozan. While James Johnson has assumed some of his minutes, so have Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams, far inferior defenders who put undue pressure on the rest of the defense by getting beat at the initial point of attack.
But it may also be that the defense was over-performing, and the last six weeks have been an exercise in regression. I don’t necessarily believe the Raptors are a bottom-10 defense based on talent and scheme, but I’m also far from believing they’re a top-10 team.
The primary issue with the defense is that there is no primary issue. The Raptors are performing poorly all over the floor, whether it be defending perimeter attackers, cleaning up their own glass, or executing schemes. Certain issues on the offensive end have made things more difficult on defense, too.
If there’s no clear area that needs improvement most, how does head coach Dwane Casey go about attacking the problem? DeRozan’s return, which could come this week, will help some, but there are other issues that go well beyond a single, average wing defender.
The best defense is a strong offense?
You score a basket, play slows, and the opponent inbounds the ball from their own baseline while your defense has time to retreat and get set. Scoring less hasn’t been an issue in general for the Raptors since Nov. 28 – we’ll use DeRozan’s date of injury as a somewhat-but-not-quite-arbitrary endpoint for the defense – with the offense scoring just 0.1 points per-100 possessions fewer in the last 21 games.
But how they’ve come about the offense has been a bit of a problem. For the purposes of setting your defense, the only thing better than a made basket is a trip to the free throw line. Those trips have been far less frequent of late, with the Raptors falling all the way from second to 22nd in free throw rate. That’s an enormous drop, and those 7.3 fewer attempts from the line may translate to an additional four or five possessions per game where the defense isn’t set.
|To Nov. 28||29.4||2||0.354||2||10.5||5|
|Since Nov. 29||22.1||20||0.254||22||12.1||10|
Adding to the offense-induced burden, an additional possession per game is being gifted to the opponent by way of a turnover. The Raptors still control the ball very well, but opponents are getting nearly two additional points off of turnovers now compared to when DeRozan was healthy. Between the additional fast break points and the points off of turnovers, the Raptors can account for 3.5 points per game.
|To Nov. 28||11.6||3||11.9%||3||13.3||4|
|Since Nov. 29||12.8||4||13.1%||4||15.2||10|
The best defense is probably just a strong defense
The offense isn’t doing the defense any favors, but the defense probably wouldn’t do much with those favors of late, anyway. The Raptors’ defense has taken a step back in terms of keeping teams from making shots (opponent effective field goal percentage has climbed from 51.5 percent to 52.3 percent), but the shot mix they allow hasn’t actually changed much or deviated a great deal from the league average. They still force fewer mid-range shots than average and a few more above-the-break threes and shots at the rim, but the differences aren’t extreme.
|Segment||Restricted||Paint Non-Rest||Mid||ATB 3||Corner 3|
|To Nov. 28||33.0%||16.0%||23.3%||7.8%||20.0%|
|Since Nov. 29||33.1%||15.3%||25.7%||7.6%||18.3%|
Again, the problem is that the team hasn’t done a good job keeping teams from scoring in some of those areas. In particular, the Raptors, for whatever reason, allow teams to shoot a very high percentage in the mid-range relative to the league average. This would make sense if the Raptors gave up a lot of these shots, dropping back in the pick-and-roll to coax teams into long jumpers, but that’s not at all the case. Instead, there’s little explanation beyond poor coverage and perhaps some unfortunate variance.
|Segment||Restricted||Paint Non-Rest||Mid||ATB 3||Corner 3|
|To Nov. 28||60.0%||37.6%||42.5%||37.8%||35.2%|
|Since Nov. 29||58.3%||41.5%||45.8%||38.2%||33.8%|
So if the Raptors aren’t getting the stops they require but aren’t doing anything too egregious elsewhere, what’s the issue? The Raptors have always been a foul-heavy defense, something that remains the case and helps out opponent offenses (as their own offense would attest).
The team’s defensive identity late last year and early this year was that of a chaotic defense that forces a ton of turnovers. A defense doesn’t need to be great if it cleans its own glass and forces turnovers, shortening opponent possessions rather than snuffing them out with misses, and the Raptors are no longer making hay by making opponents cough up the ball.
|To Nov. 28||0.312||21||17.6%||3|
|Since Nov. 29||0.278||16||13.8%||21|
Allowing teams to make shots at roughly league-average rates with roughly league-average shot locations while fouling a lot and declining to force turnovers any longer sounds like a bad recipe for a quality defense.
The best defense doesn’t force itself into defending more often than it needs to
This one should be self-explanatory, but a defense that gets a stop and then gives up an offensive rebound hasn’t done its job completely. An offensive rebound extends a possession for the opponent, and hey, you guessed it, the Raptors have dropped off in that regard as well. It’s dropped off so badly that the Raptors actually find themselves giving up the third-most second-chance points in the league and the most in the league since DeRozan went down.
|To Nov. 28||74.1%||16||12.2||10|
|Since Nov. 29||71.8%||28||16.5||30|
So, what do they do from here?
If I knew the answer, I’d have probably led with it. As it stands, I really don’t know what to suggest. The offense is putting undue pressure on the defense, the defense is struggling in its own right, and even when they get stops, they’re giving up additional chances on the glass. It’s a holistic decline that doesn’t have an easy band-aid or schematic change.
DeRozan’s return will help with dribble penetration and tighten up the wing rotation. Amir Johnson has looked better on the defensive end of late. Maybe Jonas Valanciunas begins to speed up his rotations and improve his reaction time. It’s possible this has been an exceptionally poor stretch, and regression will bring the Raptors back near the league average in a lot of these categories.Casey may also nees to recognize that his scheme as currently constructed – with Kyle Lowry playing below his standard defensively, some of the wings helping and rotating poorly, and their rim protector not being secure enough an option to stand as end-line relief in such an aggressive system – doesn’t fit the personnel that well and needs to be made more conservative.
Whatever the adjustment, the Raptors have plenty of time to figure it out. There’s not a great deal of urgency yet. The defense is a red flag, but the offense is good enough to carry them in the interim while the defense drags along. That won’t fly in the playoffs, though, and if it persists until then, it risks costing the Raptors a better first-round playoff matchup, as they’re in a three-way tie for second in the Eastern Conference, with the four-seed likely drawing the Cleveland Cavaliers.
A quick note on strength of schedule
I’ve heard a few mentions that the schedule has been tougher of late, which I thought was worth exploring. It’s not a perfect measure by any means, but by average opponent offensive efficiency, there’s been little difference in difficulty before and after the Nov. 28 cut off.
|Segment||OppAvg O-Rtg||Tor D-Rtg|
|To Nov. 28||103.0||100.9|
|Since Nov. 29||102.8||108.1|
Not a great night for Mr. Hashtag NBA Ballot.
I’m sick to my stomach over this loss. You should be too. It was a stinker.
I have pages of notes about how well the Raptors were playing in the first half. Had the game ended right there, this recap would be littered with GIFs of how the Raptors played perhaps their most complete half of the season against the Pistons.
Good Lou Williams showed up, driving and pillaging whenever he wanted. Williams didn’t just blindly launch shots. He picked his spots when they were presented to him. He attacked in transition, he attacked Joel Anthony when he got him on a switch and best of all, when the Pistons’ defense clamped down, he found open shooters like Greivis Vasquez for threes.
Good Amir Johnson showed up too, if only for the first half. Johnson settled the Raptors’ defense and freed up space for the Raptors’ guards to operate. He ripped down a few tough rebounds in traffic, which was promising because he’s been so poor on the glass for much of the season. There were even a few sweet alley-oop dunks and pick-and-roll finishes.
Improbably, even Good Greivis Vasquez showed up. His shot was pure as he connected on 7-of-9 field goal attempts. He had his fair share of head-scratching decisions (a wayward alley-oop pass to Jonas Valanciunas comes to mind) but he almost single-handedly kept the Raptors’ offense afloat with nine points in the fourth quarter.
good God Jonas Valanciunas showed up and proceeded to lay the wood on the Pistons. You can always tell when Valanciunas is going to have a good game by how he performs in the first quarter. Valanciunas played like a man possessed out the gate, outmuscling the Pistons’ behemoth frontcourt. He raced down the floor in transition, he fought for and won deep post position and his finishing touch was on-point. It wasn’t just the standard post ups with Valanciunas on the right block, either. He knew where to situate himself to get open and recorded a double-double by halftime. God Valanciunas finished with a career-high 31 points on 14-of-15 shooting, while recording 12 rebounds and a block in 36 minutes of thorough dominance.
And yet, even with healthy Amir for a half, even with Lou Williams making the right calls, even with Vasquez’s hot hand, even with Valanciunas’s incredible performance, the Raptors lost to the Pistons 114-111.
When I had originally sat down to write this recap, I had more than just a sour feeling in my stomach. I had fire in my belly, ready to torch the Raptors for dropping a game in which they held a 12-point advantage at halftime in the ACC.
But I’ve come down a bit, and I’m now just stuck on how the Raptors keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.
I know many readers don’t like it when the writers shine the light on the Raptors’ problems, especially not amiss a potential franchise-high in wins this season. But the same things just keep cropping up. Things like Kyle Lowry hijacking the offense in close contests, things like Lowry struggling to cover quick guards, things like the Raptors’ overactive defense being bested by patient and clever offenses, things like Dwane Casey going away from what had worked, and trotting out inventive (if not stupid) lineups. These are themes that we have touched upon all season.
Let’s go in order, starting with Lowry. On a night in which the Raptors handed out 20,000 “Vote Kyle Lowry #NBABallot” pins, the little motor that had powered the Raptors all season broke down. He started off well, making a number of clever passes and routinely finding the open man. Lowry recorded eight assists in the first seven minutes as the Raptors’ offense was positively buzzing.
But then it all went to shit. Emboldened by gambles that paid off, Lowry started testing his luck. It was fine when he was playing with house money (what’s an errant alley-oop pass in a double-digit lead?) but when that ran dry, like an addled gambler, Lowry just kept raising the stakes. He started taking pull-up long twos. He started to gambling for steals. He started hoisting 28-foot threes.
Hell-bent on recouping his winnings, Lowry forgot he was a point guard and lost the game for the Raptors. I’m not turning my back on Lowry over one game. The man is our MVP and the Raptors would be knee-deep in a tankjob had he not emerged as the unlikely white knight last season. I’m not being petty, I promise. Not with Lowry.
But he lost the game for the Raptors, especially in the fourth quarter. He took nine shots (making three) and committing two turnovers, while the trio of James Johnson, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas (who earned fourth quarter minutes only to be ignored entirely) attempted just four shots in total. Valanciunas was clearly the hot hand, but he attempted just two shots (making both), one of which was a putback — ironically off a missed shot from Lowry.
There was also Lowry’s defense on Brandon Jennings, which was laughably bad. Lowry has struggled all season in checking quick guards, which is understandable given his heavy usage on offense. No one can blame Lowry for taking the intensity down a few notches in the regular season while DeMar DeRozan is out. But he allowed Jennings to probe the paint at will and in the process, put his bigs between a rock and a hard place on pick-and-rolls in needing to check both players. To be fair, Jennings torched whomever Casey assigned to check him, but Lowry did nothing to slow him. Jennings finished with 34 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. Lowry counted with 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, 12 assists and seven turnovers.
On the topic of defense, the Raptors were terrible, yet again, posting a defensive rating of 113.3. Sadly, that’s actually a marginal improvement over their last 23 games, in which the Raptors boast the third-worst defensive numbers in the league. Their gamble-heavy, help-happy scheme worked reasonably well in the first half, but completely fell apart in the second half. Shooters were left wide open repeatedly as the Raptors scrambled themselves into exhaustion. Their unsettled defense also led to an inordinate number of free throws for the Pistons. Detroit was happy to merely sit back and take whatever was given to them, which was more than plenty.
Their defensive woes dared Casey into being inventive in his futile search for answers. Hindsight is 20/20, but myopic foresight was the problem. Trying to find answer is understandable, but lineups like playing Tyler Hansbrough at small forward, or asking 250-pound James Johnson to check 160-pound waterbug Brandon Jennings was just silly. That’s to say nothing of shunning Valanciunas either, but it’s unclear as to whether that was a lack of coaching directive, or insubordination by Lowry.
Alas, it’s one loss in a long season. It’s probably best to not get too hung up. But it’s incredibly frustrating to see the Raptors try — and fail — for the same reasons, over and and over again. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction, I promise. There are season-long problems that need to be corrected.
It is impossible not to see the similarities between the Pistons and last year’s Raptors, as Casey mentioned. They both made a mid-season roster-altering move — the waiving of Smith was less predictable than the trading of Gay, but it was easy to figure out Detroit would try to move either him or Greg Monroe by some means — and they both improved immediately. The style in which they are succeeding is all different, though. Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy has turned the Pistons into a copy of his teams in Orlando, based around a dominant big man and three-point shooting. Monday was not a good example of that, as it was point guard Brandon Jennings’ all-around performance, resulting in 34 points, 10 assists and a dominance of Kyle Lowry in his positional battle, that was the difference. In general, this is not a guard-dominant team.
The Raptors, coming off of a win over Boston after four straight defeats, got off to a rare fine start, survived a tremendous Detroit third quarter, and nearly pulled out the nail-biter thanks to the play of Valanciunas, reserve guard Vasquez, who scored 16 points, and James Johnson, solid again as a starter with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. The Raptors had been outscored in nine of 11 first quarters heading in and allowed opponents to shoot an NBA-worst 50% in opening quarters — building a 12-point lead on 24 points in the paint. The Pistons had no clue how to stop Valanciunas down low, allowing him to score 14 quick points. “He was 14-for-15 on the night, the guy crushed us,” said Van Gundy. Detroit still couldn’t stop Valanciunas in the second, he added eight more points, but the interior duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond sprang to life and roughed up the Raptors inside.
And Lowry, for as good as he’s been in what is sure to be an all-star season, was one of the Raptors who struggled mightily all night. He had no points — and just three field-goal attempts — through three quarters and finished with 10 points. He had nine assists in the first quarter alone, but only finished with 12 and his seven turnovers ranged from inadvertent to ghastly. It was not one of his best games by any stretch of the imagination. “That was uncharacteristic of him. That was one of those tough games for him,” said Casey. “To have seven turnovers is very strange for him. You’re going to have nights like that, but again, we’ve got to make sure we back him up and take care of the ball. “He wasn’t the only one turning it over. Other people were giving it away, too. As a team, collectively, we’ve got to value possessions a lot more than we did.” While Lowry was average, his Detroit counterpart was tremendous. Brandon Jennings, despite facing myriad Raptors defensive looks, got loose for 34 points while also dishing out 10 assists.
Memories of the Canadian flag and being taunted by Toronto Raptors fans at The Palace likely stuck in Brandon Jennings’ head as he bodied up on Kyle Lowry while Lowry tried in vain to set himself up for a potential tying 3-pointer. The anger and determination was undeniably tattooed on Jennings’ face as he stripped Lowry with seconds remaining, then triumphantly bounced the ball high in the air in front of a Raptors crowd he had silenced, exacting revenge for an embarrassing loss at home on Dec. 19 with a 114-111 win at Air Canada Centre Monday.
In a see-saw fourth quarter affair, it would be the Detroit bench who would leave a lasting impression. First, back-to-back Jonas Jerebko jumpers swung the lead back in the Pistons favor. Then, protecting a one point lead with just under a minute remaining, things began to look dire. As Brandon Jennings was double teamed at half-court, the Raptors forced a loose ball, nearly coming up with a turnover and potential open-floor opportunity. Instead, Jennings scrapped, found possession, and somehow was able to find Jerebko up top, who then swung the ball seamlessly to Jodie Meeks for a dagger triple, pushing the Pistons lead to four. The Raptors would fight back, even earning an opportunity to regain the lead with 10 seconds remaining, but a Kyle Lowry floater went long, leading to a Toronto foul and two clinching Kentavious Caldwell-Pope free throws.
Jennings got the better of the matchup against Lowry, who some say deserves an All-Star nod. Lowry didn’t score until the fourth quarter in being limited to 10 points and 12 assists. Jennings was able to get the steal from Lowry in the closing seconds before the Raptors could get chance to tie.
Strangest of all: Kyle Lowry had zero (as in, none) points after three quarters. And, while he did finish with 12 assists, seven rebounds and 10 points, at times it felt like Lowry forced the action. In fact, it seemed like Lowry was tiredly trying to do too much; his seven turnovers seem indicative of that. This is the story of the Raptors right now. They can look to a multitude of talent to make a difference in a game, but they also can collectively look tired, out of sorts, or worse, careless. In Saturday’s game against Boston it was a slow first half, and a stick of dynamite second half. Tonight against Detroit, the Raps looked to be cruising on the carry over energy. They started the game with a 60-48 half, while shooting 60 percent from the field (and holding the Pistons to a mere 43 percent shooting). Jonas was unstoppable and while Greg Monroe (22 points, 10 rebounds for the game) and Jennings kept the Pistons around, it looked like Toronto’s game. But Detroit is also in a strange situation. “Totally different,” said coach Dwane Casey about the Josh Smith-less Pistons. “A lot like we were last year after the [Rudy Gay] trade. Totally together.” And so it was in the second half as the Pistons charged back, hit shots and managed to discombobulate the Raptors just enough for the win.
And it continues. The Pistons got punched in the mouth early. They had righted the ship by halftime, but looked significantly less talented than the Raptors. So even though a 12 point deficit isn’t huge, it looked like a tall order to climb back. And then, in the second half, the Raptors continued to look more talented. But the Pistons looked calm, focused, and disciplined and forced Toronto into a couple sloppy quarters. I don’t know when I last saw Detroit win a game by playing a more controlled game than them. Climbing out of a two-game hole isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds in the NBA, especially when mired in a pack of seven teams with similar records vying for just two spots. But the Pistons haven’t played a single bad game out of the 10 (including a 3-1 record against very good teams) since cutting Smith and I now genuinely expect them to make the playoffs. That is an insane turnaround that I couldn’t have imagined less than a month ago.
The Pistons wound up outscoring the Raptors by 15 in the second half. The craziest thing is that the Raptors were still the better shooting team. The Pistons came back by taking better care of the ball (two turnovers to Toronto’s 10), hustling after offensive rebounds (five more), attacking the rim (10 extra free throws), and hitting a couple extra clutch threes (5-3). Despite shooting only 42 percent in the second half, the Pistons still managed to score 66 points. (!!!)
The Raptors became the latest victim, falling to 25-12 on the season. The team tonight for many stretches, particularly in the 3rd frame looked like the wounded team they are. Despite a career night for Jonas Valanciunas who put up 31 points and 12 boards while shooting an outrageous 14/15 from the field, the team just could not rally around the big man in the middle. It was an uncharacteristically pedestrian night for Kyle Lowry (#NBABallot) who didn’t put up his first points until the 4th. The Baby Faced Assassin is clearly labouring out there without DeMar Derozan shouldering some of the offensive burden. Lowry went 3-12 from the floor and had little lift on the potential go-ahead layup. Let’s break it down.
Valanciunas’ career night was still enjoyable. He put up 31 points, 12 rebounds and shot 14-15 from the floor. Williams had 15 points in 23 minutes, Vasquez added 16 and Amir Johnson recorded 12 points, 10 boards, five dimes and two blocks.
Jonas has played in 35 games this season, but has only appeared in 22 fourth quarters. In those 22 games, Jonas has averaged 5.5 minutes in the fourth. This means that JV averages fewer minutes in the fourth quarter than Chuck Hayes (in those games that Chuck has played in). Yes, this Chuck Hayes. Of the 8.5 shots per game Jonas averages, only 1.3 shots are taken in the fourth quarter. Pretty meager numbers for our future center, huh? Some will argue that the fourth quarter should be the time when the team is focused on winning, not on developing our young players, which could be an explanation for Jonas’s absence in the fourth. When the small-ball offense is working, the rationale for sitting JV makes sense. But when the perimeter guys are throwing up contested bricks, getting Valanciunas into the post seems like it could be a good idea. Hey, at the very least, why not try something new?
For Johnson, the Raptors have become a new family; he’s valued for his bubbly locker-room personality and for what he can do on the floor as well. “Not seeing (my family) is the toughest part. I got so much on my mind, but you have to let that go,” he said. “That’s why I love basketball so much. You forget about all of that and everything that’s going on in the outside world when you’re playing or hanging around with these guys. It’s a blessing to have the support of the guys on this team that know I’m not like that.” On the floor, Johnson’s impact has been undeniable. He’s got the best defensive rating among Raptors regulars, and he showed in his start against Boston on Saturday that he can provide a spark at the other end, too, as he finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
In particular, note his blocks. He records more than a block per game, which is just an indication of how key his defence has been this year for the Raptors. Aside from being an elite perimeter defender, Johnson can also show his toughness inside. He can cover shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards because of his quickness and strong instincts. During last year’s playoff series against Brooklyn, the Raptors had no answer for veteran Joe Johnson. Well, (James) Johnson is more than an adequate answer.
As you can see, it doesn’t matter if you’re using Player Efficiency Rating, True Shooting %, Free-Throw Rate, Total Rebound %, Assist %, Steal %, Win Shares, or Value Over Replacement Player. They all show that Terrence Ross is performing near the bottom of the Toronto Raptors roster. He’s a 3-and-D guy that’s not truly exceptional at 3ing or Ding. He’s really good (38th in the league) at shooting 3s, but his defense isn’t as good as most fans would like to believe. In particular, he gets destroyed by more physical wings. This is a sad realization for me, because I’ve been a huge supporter of Terrence Ross since he joined the team, but it’s been getting more and more frustrating watching him sit out at the 3-point line and almost never attack the basket. I really believed that with DeMar DeRozan out, this would be Ross’s time to shine, but he just hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity. Now the question comes of what Ross’s role should be on this team going forward.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 30 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -14
Good finishing around the rim and had a big defensive rebound in traffic late, but all that had me almost forget that the rest of his game was sprinkled with missed defensive assignments, and a general slowness in reacting to what’s happening in the paint. He covers it up by picking up a charge here and there, but let’s be real here: this position needs to be upgraded pronto.
|James Johnson, PF 35 MIN | 3-3 FG | 5-6 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -6
He always has a purpose in what he’s trying to do on the court. He cuts hard, he posts up with intent, he slashes well, and he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties, which included a bunch of in-traffic rebounds tonight. If only Casey was dynamic enough to use him sooner on the hot-hand (Jennings) to contain the immediate threat rather than stick to the matchup as he had drawn up before the game started.
|Terrence Ross, SF 23 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +1
Started off hitting a couple threes, after which the offense dried out mostly because he can’t create his own shot. His response wasn’t to drive, get to the rim and settle down his nerves, but to jack up even deeper threes which missed, and eventually earned him a spot on the bench. On defense, he was asked to check Jennings who twisted him inside out, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got a groin injury.
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 36 MIN | 14-15 FG | 3-4 FT | 12 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 31 PTS | -14
One of the best games of his life. Period. Beast to start the game and converted on everything after getting great positioning on both ends. Post-up, turnaround, face-up, everything was working. As you would expect after having a strong first half, his touches decreased as the game went along. The Raptors essentially chose to suppress their best offensive player of the half in favor of a lot of YOLO. The guy went 2/2 in the fourth quarter yet practically everyone else took more shots. From the 8 minute mark of the 3Q until the final buzzer, Valanciunas attempted just 2 FGs. Damn. Little known fact: he’s got a PER of 20.3 this season.
|Kyle Lowry, PG 33 MIN | 3-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 12 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 7 TO | 10 PTS | -8
Had 10 assists early in the game but gave it all back by trying ridiculous alley-oop and high risk passes. Got burned by Jennings all too frequently, and turned the ball over with the game on the line, right after missing on the possession before. Terrible leadership by example from Lowry, a game to forget with 7 turnovers, of which 5 were easily avoidable. That’s the game right there.
|Patrick Patterson, PF 24 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +15
Poor bastard. He went 1-7 and 0-5 from three. Casey has ruined this guy and he’s now strictly a three-point shooter that can’t do much else on offense. Somebody run a pick ‘n pop with this guy, he’s practically begging for it.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +3
He was deployed as a small forward for like 7 minutes in this game which I found a little odd. Given that SF is not his natural position, I’d say he fared OK.
|Chuck Hayes, C 1 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3
Should’ve played a lot more in a game where we struggled to control the boards. Actually, I have no idea why he was even brought in late in the game. Shits and giggles?
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 25 MIN | 7-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -1
The 7-9 FG were very welcome because they seem to bail out poor Raptors possessions, but man, does he ever give it back on D? I can’t find too much fault in his game because all those “no, no, no, yessss” shots he takes all went in, so we’re all good.
|Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 7-14 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | +6
Hot in the first half, cold in the second. That’s how he rolls. He hit two end-of-quarter shots which were nice, but quite literally 80% of the plays he’s involved in don’t have a head or a tail. It’s all #freestyling and I hate it.
What a joke. The lineup of JJ, Patterson, and JV that was so good in the last game was nowhere to be found. He can’t get this team to play a single sound defensive possession, let alone sustain it for a full game. I have no idea why he can’t just play inside-out throughout the game rather than rely on his guards so heavily. His misuse of Patrick Patterson’s talent is criminal, he was way too late to try different schemes on Jennings, and I’m now convinced that Jonas Valanciunas is succeeding despite Casey, not because of him.
Five Things We Saw
- The Raptors don’t have a clue of how to defend. Even with a 12-point halftime lead, there was no sense of comfort because we’re two jacks and a slip up in transition D from having the game tied and that’s exactly what happened. They also conceded 25 second-chance points (-9) and were out-rebounded 46-42.
- I’ve said it already, but how Jonas Valanciunas is not made a focal point of our attack given what he’s done over the first three quarters is baffling. It’s not even like he was a defensive liability, so I’m dumbfounded.
- How susceptible we are to quick wings was on display today – Jennings burned us every time. There are too many soft spots on the perimeter with Lowry, Ross, and Vasquez that after probing a few times, he found just enough penetration to collapse the ENTIRE Raptors D to get the drive-kick-kick movement started.
- The Raptors should have tried the zone against Jennings, and forced him to shoot. That’s one of his main weaknesses and I don’t mind us losing with Jennings having 45 points on jumpers, but it’s the 10 dimes he dropped that killed us.
- We might be one of the most undisciplined above-500 teams in the league. SVG called a timeout in this game at 4-2 because he didn’t like the defense Munroe played on Jonas Valanciunas, and here’s Casey letting Lowry throw 45-feet alley-oop passes which hit the backboard and go out of bounds. We had 18 turnovers to their 8, and they have Brandon Jennings, how does that even happen? I’m just pointing out one instance of indiscipline, but there’s so much more.
We are in the midst of a much more active trading season than the one that lead into the 2014 trade deadline last February. From Rajon Rondo to J.R. Smith to Corey Brewer to Timofey Mozgov to whatever we’re calling the Josh Smith saga, this has been a feverishly active lead-up to mid-February, with no real signs of slowdown on the horizon.
Despite the flurry of activity, though (14 teams have participated in at least one trade since October), don’t expect the Toronto Raptors to jump into the fray between now and Feb. 19. Despite a couple of obvious needs, the timing and the personnel don’t scream ‘time for change’, and the timetable that the organization appears to be working from clocks the Raptors in at ‘ahead of schedule’ given their early success this season.
It’s useful to remember that the Raptors aren’t in any hurry to be tremendously better than they are right now. Despite their recent four-game losing skid, and despite their pitiful defence of late, they are still sitting near the top of the east, within spitting distance of the shockingly effective Atlanta Hawks, and look to be in a good place to make it past the first round for only the second time ever. DeMar DeRozan’s return is imminent, which should help stabilize the team’s attack, and the organization has to learn how well this group stands up to adversity before they start making moves because a good lot of them are still pigeonholed as core pieces for the future.
Plus, as a team gets better, finding an ideal trade becomes harder and harder. For most of the Raptors’ existence, just going out and completing a trade for a competent basketball player was enough to move needle in a positive direction for the club. Nowadays, however, there are legitimate fit issues that have to be contended with, as well as cap ramifications and questions about chemistry.
For instance, let’s say you want to find a replacement for Terrence Ross in the starting five (a move that could almost be called an inevitability if it weren’t so hard to find a logical replacement). First you’d look up and down the existing roster and work out that the only possible replacement is James Johnson, because at least he gives you some size and defensive acumen on the wing, both areas that Ross struggles in. The problem with that arrangement, as has been discussed ad nauseam, is that Johnson can’t shoot a lick from distance (he’s shooting a career-low 19.4% from three this season). If DeRozan could hit threes that wouldn’t be an issue, but DeRozan is that rare star shooting guard that can’t hit from behind the arc, so accommodations must be made elsewhere in the starting five to make up for that deficiency. So, while Johnson ticks a couple of boxes that puts him ahead of Ross, he would not be a longterm solution, either.
That means that the club would have to look elsewhere for a replacement for Ross. Well, it’s exceedingly hard to find a player that is a) big enough to be legitimately called a small forward, b) cover the wing defensively in Dwane Casey’s schemes and c) shoot a respectable clip from beyond the arc.
There are twenty-one small forwards in the NBA that are shooting above 35% from three this season, so lets use that as our list of possible replacements (actually, there are twenty, because Ross is on that list, so we’ve already removed one).
Let’s first remove the players that are simply not going to be traded by their current clubs: LeBron James, Rudy Gay, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Paul Pierce. Okay, so now we’re down to fifteen options. We may as well knock Joe Johnson off of the list, as well, since Toronto is not absorbing that contract. So, now we have fourteen options.
Next to go are players aren’t going to live up to the defensive needs of the Raptors at that position: Luke Babbitt, Rasual Butler, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams, Robert Covington and Kyle Singler. That brings us down to seven options. Let’s break down each one, in the order of three-point shooting percentage.
Harrison Barnes — This would be an amazing fit for Toronto, but given how well Golden State is going he really should be on the ‘not going to be traded by their current clubs’ list. After all, this is the guy that Steve Kerr likes so much in his starting five he pushed Andre Iguodala to the bench. It would take a knockout offer to pry him from the Warriors and it doesn’t appear the Raptors have one that makes sense.
Mike Dunleavy — He’s been a tremendous asset to Chicago at a rock-bottom salary, but bringing him in would be a band-aid solution for Toronto given his age and injury history. The Raptors need someone who has a few more years left in the tank. They aren’t yet at the title window where they’re just looking for one-year pieces to help put them over the top.
Tobias Harris — Harris looks to have finally found a place in Orlando’s rotation and it remains unclear how interested the Magic would be in moving him without getting something pretty meaningful in return. He’ll be in line for a rich extension this summer, but the Magic bottommed-out so that they could collect young assets like this. There isn’t much of a reason for them to move him along.
Matt Barnes — The guy the Raptors almost once illegally signed falls into the same category as Dunleavy: too old to act as more than a one-year fill-in. The Clippers would probably move him, though, if the Raptors were more eager to make a move than they outwardly appear to be.
P.J. Tucker — A bit undersized for the small forward spot and just signed a three-year extension in Phoenix. The Suns probably aren’t looking to push him out of town so quickly, and his $5.3-million annual salary should give teams pause.
DeMarre Carroll — There is little-to-no reason for Atlanta to mess with what they’ve got going on for anything less than a star coming back their way. Trading an effective role player for another role player at the risk of upsetting their chemistry would fly totally in the face of what put them at the top of the east.
Wilson Chandler — He’s the worst three-point shooter on this list (35.4%) and he’s not the greatest defender at his position but he’s got good size and offensive skill. He’s also probably pretty available, but there is a reason that’s the case. Chandler has never managed to capitalize on his ascension with the Knicks and his injury history would give any GM anxiety about acquiring him.
So, to replace Ross you’re left with is maybe being able to extract Tobias Harris from Orlando, but probably not, maybe making do with an imperfect solution in Wilson Chandler or chasing a one-year fill-in. At that point you may as well just let Ross and Johnson split the duties because the it’s not like the wheels have come off the wagon yet.
If they were desperate to make a move the Raptors could go chasing a new starting power forward, also, but a whole new set of issues present themselves. Because Valanciunas is such a horrid defender you’d need an elite defensive option beside him, someone who excels at setting screens and finishing on the pick-and-roll and, since you’d want improvement, someone who consistently boxes out and keeps his man off of the offensive glass. Again, these are not common assets, and teams that have them aren’t exactly desperate to trade them away.
This Raptors team is sort of a weird assemblage that, for the most part, allows the whole to function because the various parts fill in a lot of random holes that their teammates create for them. That’s how team building works, and after the Rudy Gay trade the Raptors would up with a pretty effective, complimentary grouping. However, that makes pulling pieces out to replace them with superior options difficult, because it would be upsetting a balance that is deceptively shaky in terms of roster makeup. At some point Ujiri will have to pull on a thread because the team isn’t good enough yet to consider themselves elite, but the moves that he does make must be carefully thought out. Just look at what happened last year when the Pacers jettisoned bench wing Danny Granger for bench with Evan Turner. When you get to a certain level of success you don’t make moves just to make them because each piece means something in a successful whole. It is very difficult to successfully replace one. That’s why you shouldn’t put any money on the Raptors making a move this winter. They’ve got more to find out about themselves before they start making trades, and with a design that sees them targeting 2016 as the year to make moves, 2015 may have to stay quiet to make that work.
With the return of their All-Star looming, the Raptors (25-11) match up tonight against Stan Van Gundy, the Drummond-Monroe rebounding monster, DJ “hey, remember when Casey bolted me to the bench?” Augustin and rest of the white-hot Detroit Pistons (13-24), who’ve won 8 of their last 9 with a tight loss to the unstoppable Atlanta Hawks their only blemish. Tip time is at 7:30 EST on TSN2.
(Before we go any further, read that graf back. The NBA in 2015: weird, but awesome.)
Of course, Detroit’s reversal-of-fortune began after the decision was made to release Josh Smith, eating over $26 million in the process. It’s a narrative that the Raptors are, of course, intimately familiar with after the addition-by-subtraction Rudy Gay saga last year, but you could at least point to the depth of talent on that reformed Raptors squad as a reason the team may improve (indeed, many pundits, including a few RR writers, guessed the Raptors would improve after the trade, though not to the extent we saw). Smith was a different reaction altogether, an inefficient player, yes, but a white-flag thrown up on the then 5-win Pistons’ season, nonetheless.
Obviously, the opposite has happened, and the Pistons are surging up the Eastern Conference standings en route to a playoff spot. But how? Some have cited the subtraction of Smith as removing a square peg from a round hole – the Pistons have plugged Kyle Singler into Smith’s spot in the starting lineup, a more traditional 3 as opposed to the lane-clogging Smith/Monroe/Drummond trio Detroit seemed determined to make work. The removal of Smith opens up more shots for other, more efficient scorers, as well, players like Monroe, who have seen their usage rates and averages jump considerably since his departure.
Obviously, though it’s more than just Monroe and Drummond finding room in the lane that’s spurred the resurgence. The Pistons are more of a Stan Van Gundy team now when one of Monroe or Drummond is off the floor, using stretch big men to great effect and playing a free-wheeling style that’s become increasingly 3-point reliant (43 attempts against Atlanta, including 16 from Anthony Tolliver). Jonas Jerebko, in particular, has benefited from the Ryan Anderson-style stretch four role, having his best year since his rookie season, and with Drummond on the inside, the Pistons can afford to play smaller players at the wings knowing the rim will be protected.
With that all being said, it’s tough to look too deeply into these teams’ previous meeting, a 110-100 win by the Raptors on December 19th that was characterized by a lack of urgency for 3 quarters and a devastating fourth that included this monster jam by James Johnson. Those Pistons were a sad mass of basketball talent, a directionless group just playing out the string; these Pistons are one of the hottest teams in the league and likely coming for revenge after being embarrassed on their home floor (“home” floor – man, Raps fans travel well).
The biggest Raptor-related storyline comes in the possible return of DeMar DeRozan from a torn tendon that’s seen him out for 20 games thus far. As of writing this Sunday evening, no announcement has been made, but DeRozan would obviously be a huge boost for a Raptor team that has floundered somewhat as opposing teams have figured out their iso-heavy offence. DeMar doesn’t necessarily change that all that much, but he is a solid crunch time option, a decent wing defender, and you can count on him to get his points and get to the line, which isn’t necessarily always the case with his various replacements. It’ll also give the ACC crowd a huge motivational boost, something you can’t remove from a one-game analysis.
The key for the Raptors will be similar to when they played the Warriors last month: wing players will have to work their asses off rotating off screens to keep Pistons shooters from getting open looks. I’d prefer to force the Pistons to force things through their bigs, who are both solid players but struggle at the line and can be stymied with solid one-on-one defence. Offensively, the Raps would be smart to run a steady string of pick and rolls with the intention of getting Drummond (first) and Monroe (second) in foul trouble – without them, it’s a lot harder for Detroit to spread the floor with wing-heavy rotations. I’d love to see Jonas get a ton of touches in this game, though it’s hard to hold my breath for that (except in the first few minutes, for some odd reason).
Rebounding will also be key, as always. The Raptors have struggled at times in that department this year, but for my money it’s been a lack of consistent effort that’s led to their woes. Pick a body and box out, and your team will rebound more often than not. Forget (Patrick Patterson comes to mind as doing this a lot, but he’s not the only culprit), and you run the risk of being blown by by Pistons wings on the 3-point line and having Monroe and Drummond do their thing down low. The Raptors should have a size advantage on the wings even if DeRozan doesn’t suit up, and it would behoove them to make the most of it – I’d love to see Lowry bully Augustin, for example, or James Johnson bully whichever poor sap draws that assignment.
Yes, Detroit is on a major hot streak, but this game is extremely winnable – with a bit of discipline and some smart coaching, the more talented Raptors can easily come away with a win, DeMar or no DeMar. Vegas has the Raptors favoured by 6, which sounds about right, but for a mutual observer, I have a hard time picking against a streak. Pistons by 3, and I hope I’m wrong.
The King of the Morning Coffee joins the pod as we keep it light after a light week, and muse on Matt Devlin, Facebook, and the upcoming schedule which features the East’s elite, bottom, and in-between teams.
- Other good Raptor blogs
- Facebook tags
- Thaddeus Young crush
- Lowry’s defense
- Boston talk
- Stats, stats and catch-and-shoot stats
- JV playing looser
- Bad Raptors blogs
- Devlin yelling Hastag NBA Ballot
- Yelling out city names is not original
- Philly and Hawks talk
- Anticipating instead of reacting to the Hawks
- The problem with the Raptors and the pick ‘n roll
- New Orleans light preview
- Cleveland trade talk
- Celtics trade talk
- Austin Rivers
Valanciunas made seven baskets on Saturday against Boston — tied for the team high — blocked three shots and showed improved vision with the ball. “Jonas was big-time, on the boards, rebounding,” Dwane Casey said afterward. “He was dominating the boards, being a physical presence and setting good screens for Kyle (Lowry) in the pick-and-roll situation.” He also found Terrence Ross for two three-pointers, after going many games this season without picking up even a single assist. “He’s seeing things better, he made a great pass out (Saturday night),” Casey said of one of the finds.
“It’s getting easier [to trust them] because they’re learning,” Casey said. “They’re not making as many mistakes. Just trying to get them going both at the same time has been the most difficult thing. Usually Terrence has a big game and JV doesn’t or vice versa. They’re young. We want them to be a 10-year vet yesterday but that doesn’t happen in this league.” Still, if the Raptors are going to make as much of this year as they would like, they are going to need Ross and Valanciunas to both make leaps that they have yet to make. The Raptors need their skill sets. Casey might have to learn to live with a few more of their mistakes. For the most part, however, the onus is on the players to earn that trust. At some point, they are no longer kids.
The Raptors are not nearly good enough to look past any opponent, they have to play against a team and not that team’s record because a lackadaisical approach will bite them in the collective butt regardless of their opponent. So it is near certain that Casey will make the same point — publicly and privately — ahead of Monday’s game against the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons may only be 13-24 — down among the bottom-feeders of the Eastern Conference — but they are red-hot of late, winners of eight of their last nine games and playing as well as any team in the conference. And with Toronto having lost four of its last five, taking the Pistons lightly would be folly.
The Pistons are relying on the 3-ball to a surprising extent for a team with a formidable front line of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. They made 17 long balls against Cleveland, and tried 43 against Atlanta. Van Gundy appears to have solved the Pistons’ floor-spacing issues with Smith’s departure, so young gunners like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have the green light from anywhere. Point guard Brandon Jennings has always issued himself a green light, and has made enough recently to warrant the license. Monroe must be more comfortable also, as he’s registered double-doubles in his last six games. Drummond ranks second in the NBA in rebounds, with 13 Per Game. To the relief of the other 29 teams, he’s not a prolific scorer. In particular, he’s a bricklayer (41.4%) from the charity stripe. Kyle Singler, their small forward, is Kirk Hinrich’s younger brother…well, not literally, but he’s another one of those guys who seems to run around with little impact.
Andre Drummond vs. James Johnson: They don’t guard each other, but it will be interesting to see if they renew hostilities at all after the Dec. 19 dustup at the Palace. Johnson had been showboating a bit after torching the Pistons and after throwing down the dunk of the season on Drummond. Drummond nailed him with a cheap shot elbow not long after, setting off a melee. They said all was good afterward, but both were hot and Johnson wanted to have a few words with Drummond in the tunnel post-game. Kyle Lowry vs. Jennings will be a great one-on-one battle.
The Pistons have won eight of their last nine, losing only to red-hot Atlanta, and are now firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race. . . . Monroe is averaging about 17 points and 13 rebounds in his last seven games. . . . Detroit’s also won its last five road games, but will be playing its fifth game in seven nights.
Since Dec. 26, the Pistons are 5-0 on the road and 3-1 at home, losing only to Southeast-leading Atlanta 106-103 on Friday. They bounced back the next night at The Palace, downing Brooklyn 98-93 behind 20 points and 11 assists from Brandon Jennings and 17 rebounds from Greg Monroe. After owning the NBA’s third-worst record on Christmas, Detroit now finds itself just three games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 games to play. “It was big,” Kyle Singler said of Saturday’s win. “Coach (Stan Van Gundy) said something after the game last night saying we’re not falling back into losing and going backwards. This was big for us.”
I joined Sportsnet Tonight to chat about the Toronto Raptors. We talked about DeMar DeRozan’s imminent return, if Masai Ujiri should make a big trade prior to the trade deadline and Toronto snapping out of their losing streak.
Cutting Smith sent shock waves through the NBA. He was arguably their best player and had two years and some $27-million (U.S.) left on his deal, and the Pistons got nothing for him. He was averaging 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, but had a dreadful true shooting percentage and was widely considered inconsistent and mercurial. But now few are questioning the bold call made by first-year coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy. Without Smith, the team has improved to 13-24 and is drawing crowds back to a building that has been cavernous. The Pistons sit a couple of games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Smith’s departure has coincided with the return of Jodie Meeks from a back injury. It has also created more space on the floor for big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and shooters such as Meeks, former Raptor D.J. Augustin and Brandon Jennings. During this nine-game stretch, it has become routine to see upward of six Pistons score in the double figures each game. That happened just three times through the 28 games they played before Smith’s release.
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In case you don’t listen to the excellent ESPN Lockdown podcast (you should), there was some Raptors tidbit on there this week, with Kevin Pelton suggesting that the Raptors should rescue Thaddeus Young. Have a listen – he’s proposing a trade of Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, and a pick (assuming second round obviously). He likes the idea of moving Amir Johnson to play backup center.
Raptors are struggling to execute Dwane Casey’s hyperactive defensive schemes.
In the world of NBA writing, you seek out Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski for breaking news. For analysis, you turn to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.
Like most fans, I’ve been perplexed by the Raptors’ abhorrent defense which has ranked 28th overall since DeMar DeRozan’s injury. Why is one a top-10 defense from a season ago suddenly failing to stop teams like the Charlotte Hornets?
Lowe’s diagnosis, as he wrote in his weekly column on Tuesday, points the finger at Dwane Casey’s frenetic system. Lowe’s breakdown is far more concise and insightful than mine, but in short, the Raptors play a style of defense built on an endless stream of quick rotations, especially in defending pick-and-roll scenarios.
The aim of Casey’s scheme is to pressure the ball, then to rotate. The effect it creates amounts to something like a zone defense. When opponents run pick-and-roll, Casey prefers for his bigs to show hard. Kyle Lowry said as much to Lowe.
“That’s our scheme,” Lowry says. “We show. We rotate. It’s what coach teaches us. It’s hard work, but it’s what we do.”
The ideal outcome for the Raptors’ frantic defense looks something like the following. It’s a marvel to watch. Five defenders seemingly on a string, making rotations one after the other. James Johnson flies all across the court for closeouts, Patrick Patterson executes a perfect hard show on the baseline, Lou Williams helps the helper and Tyler Hansbrough shifts seamlessly between guarding the perimeter to contesting a layup.
Showing hard and sending double teams comes with its costs. In willingly dislodging defenders from where they are most comfortable, the entire endeavor pits the offense and defense against one another in a race between rotating players and ball movement. Having a big come to the top cuts down on the ball handler’s options, but if he manages to pass out of the double, can another defender rotate in time to cover for the big? And who will help the helper?
Like every other team, the Raptors get into trouble when they’re caught between rotations. It’s tricky because help defense is a double-edged sword. If the defender is indecisive and a step slow, teams feast off an on-ball defender without backup. Conversely, if they’re overactive and a step ahead, opponents simply find the open man. There’s absolutely no room for error.
As Lowe also points out, opposing teams have clued into the Raptors’ aggressive schemes and have started turning Toronto’s activity against itself. Making good rotations requires equal measures of aggression and diligence. Close out hard, but make the right closeouts to the right measure. On the play below, James Johnson, who is as aggressive as they come on rotations, is burned for being too eager, helping on Mason Plumlee when there is no need.
That’s to say nothing of defensive rebounding. The Raptors rank 25th in defensive rebounding rate. Snagging rebounds is easiest when bigs are situated in the paint when shots are launched. However, the Raptors’ bigs are often deployed up high, necessarily out of position, and it doesn’t help that Amir Johnson is routinely hobbled. Another solution could be to ask guards and wings to crash the glass, but aside from Kyle Lowry and James Johnson, the Raptors’ wings rank as average to below-average in terms of grabbing boards.
Plays like the following, where overactivity leads a big out to the perimeter, is not altogether uncommon. Here, both Patterson and Valanciunas are drawn to the perimeter by a stretch four in Marvin Williams, leaving Ross to box out a big. Predictably, the Hornets capitalized by grabbing the offensive rebound. This is an issue that dates back nearly a month, something Blake wrote about here.
Although the Raptors have struggled to execute, it needs to be said that nothing wrong with Casey’s tactic itself. Aggressive defenses are just as successful as their Thibodeau-ian conservative schemes. For every Celtics in 2008, there’s a squad like the Heat between 2010-14. The strategy itself isn’t necessarily wrong.
But just with any other strategy, it’s all dependent on personnel. The best tactics in the world don’t mean squat if the players can’t execute.
Take the two-time champion Heat squad. Like Casey, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra prefers his players to fly across the court. Switches and double teams formed the backbone of the Heat’s defensive dominance.
The scheme was brilliant, but Spoelstra also had the right players to pull it off. They had aggressive guards that were willing to be physical on the perimeter. They had an interchangeable do-it-all defender in LeBron James and a lesser version in Shane Battier. Most importantly, they had a mobile center like Chris Bosh who was clever enough to blitz pick-and-rolls, quick enough to rotate and big enough to protect the basket. It was a perfect union between scheme and personnel.
I’m not trying to hold the Raptors to an unrealistic standard by using the Heat as an example. My point is this: the Raptors, as currently constructed, do not have the manpower to play the style of defense that Casey demands. It’s something Zarar pointed out on Friday, but the issues run deeper than just offensively (which is fine, IMO).
The Raptors don’t have the pieces to play so aggressively, at least, not without making concessions.
It starts with Jonas Valanciunas, who is too slow to show and recover to Casey’s liking. His troubles are further complicated by his poor decision making, which always seems a step behind as if the game were too fast for him. It’s no surprise why the Raptors’ defense is significantly better with him off the floor, or why Valanciunas routinely benched (he plays the least clutch minutes out of any starter). When the Raptors’ defense notches into top speed, Valanciunas’ limitations leaves him in the dust.
But the Raptors don’t have a true center to play in place of Valanciunas. Chuck Hayes, bless his soul, is way too short and he’s slow. Greg Stiemsma is a foul machine and Bebe Noguiera playing basketball is akin to Bambi learning to walk.
That necessitates a small frontline like Hansbrough and Patterson (which has been effective in certain spots), or relying heavily on Amir Johnson’s creaky ankles. All three can rotate and execute Casey’s gameplan, but there’s a price to be paid in terms of rim protection and rebounding. None of the three rank as particularly strong shot blockers or rebounders, which, incidentally, happen to be two of Valanciunas’s strengths.
It doesn’t help that the Raptors’ wings are generally rather soft on defense. Kyle Lowry and James Johnson are exceptions, but Lowry has noticeably dialed back his defensive intensity in an effort to fill in for DeRozan’s absence on offense. Terrence Ross is quick, but he often plays out of position and is easily overpowered by bigger players. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez are just lost causes altogether. One is too small, the other is too slow, and both of their priorities clearly lay on the offensive end.
Casey told reporters after Thursday’s loss to the Hornets that lack of effort was a problem. That’s true to some extent. Plays like the one below, where a guard outright fails in containing the ball-handler, betrays everything the defense is trying to do. That’s on the players.
The caveat should also be added that DeRozan’s return will help. Not only will he stabilize the defense by shooting free throws, DeRozan is a familiar player in Casey’s system who knows which rotations Casey expects. No one will confuse DeRozan with a shutdown wing, but he makes the right decisions far more than his replacements have. Perhaps DeRozan helps the team climb back to average, but it’s hard to see the mismatching scheme produce a result better than mediocre with no shutdown wing or rim protector.
But even at full strength and effort, the Raptors don’t have the pieces necessary to execute Casey’s system to an elite level, not as currently constructed. Their wings aren’t great at limiting penetration and their bigs are either too slow to rotate, or too small to contest. That could change if Ross and Valanciunas develop, but expectations have grown for the Raptors after a blistering start. Right now, it’s a problem.
This leaves Casey and the Raptors in a tough spot: either adapt the system to fit the players, or find players who will fit the system.
Celtics 96, Raptors 109 – Box
The Raptors snap a four-game losing and thank the heavens for that because if they had lost to the Celtics, Armageddon was next.
The Celtics are always a tough game because they play hard. It’s a credit to their coach that he can get a team that’s destined for a lottery play with this sort of effort despite the depleting trades they’ve made. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the Celtics, their fans, their city, their weather, and every other sports team within a 100 mile radius of their arena. Just thought I’d give Brad Stevens due respect, because if you’re front-office tanking, he’s the perfect coach.
After another poor start marred by permeable defense, the Raptors ended up straitening things out midway through the second and ended up cruising against a Celtics squad that was taken to OT by Indiana the night before. This was a game that would mean a lot more if lost but not so much if won, so chalk this one up in the “job done, let’s move on” category. Powered by the three-pointer, a 12-0 run towards the end of the second and a 17-4 run in the middle of the third is what doomed the Celtics, who if you’ve watched even a little of this season know that are prone to offensive droughts like few other teams. The Raptors were up by 20 in the third making the fourth a a formality since the Celtics, despite gas being pretty cheap, were very low on it.
You can check the Quick Reaction and find out that James Johnson – starting in place of Landry Fields – was superb in this one and used his size against the smaller Celtic wings to power his way to the basket, and guarded Avery Bradley limiting him to 6-15 shooting. Tyler Hansbrough’s cameo, despite appearing in the box score as an 0-3, was something I felt increased the intensity for the Raptors after another sluggish start. Any time someone bails out bad offense by keeping the ball alive and getting the offensive board earns my respect, so Tyler’s good there.
“He covers up a lot of mistakes. He covers a lot of floor, a lot of ground. His effort has been unbelievable this season and we need him to keep it up. We love his energy, we love his enthusiastic nature and what he brings to the table.”
– Kyle Lowry
The Raptors had 20 second chance points (to the Celtics’ 13), out-painted them 54-42, and were a +5 on the glass. If you put up those kinds of numbers you can get away with shaky guard shooting, as the Raptors did – Lowry, Vasquez, and Williams were a combined 15-39 for 38%. The rest of the team was 50%, and by rest I mainly mean Jonas Valanciunas (7-11, 15 points), James Johnson (7-12, 15 points), Amir Johnson (6-10, 15 points), and Patrick Patterson (4-7, 10 points).
You can’t ready much from a game like this, given the opponent and their circumstance, though a couple trends emerged that are worth a mention and might be something that tickles Dwane Casey going forward.
In the midst of all the talk about going small, getting murdered on the boards, and shooting aggravating long jumpers, Casey may have stumbled upon a lineup that may be more sustainable. I’m referring to the front-court of James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Jonas Valanciunas, featured in the second and third quarters where the Raptors were a huge plus.
I like it for a few reasons. First, you get defense at the three through Johnson, who doesn’t neglect rebounding, provides a post-up game and does this more consistently than Ross. You lose out on the three-point shooting Ross brings, but there’s enough of that with whoever the two guards are on the floor. Second, it keeps Jonas Valanciunas on the court as a rebounder, and if he does come out to help, Johnson or Patterson are mobile enough to make a rotation down low, much more so than when Casey’s got three guards out there or when the crocked Amir Johnson is playing.
Third, having Valanciunas and Johnson on the court relieves some of the pressure of rebounding from Patterson, who can be more engaged on playing defense rather than having half a mind on boxing out midway through every possession. Fourth, when the guards do inevitably jack up shots, there’s increased rebounding on the floor to get offensive rebounds. Fifth, there’s enough offense in those three that you’re not solely dependent on guard scoring.
The key component in all this is that Jonas Valanciunas is on the floor. The Raptors usually throw him a couple bones early and he executes a few post-ups, and when the pace of the game increases, Casey goes away from him. In this game he stuck with him which was surprising because Valanciunas didn’t fare well in his early possessions, so credit to Casey for not only persisting, but featuring him on offense way more than he has been all season. He had post-ups, ran a side pick ‘n roll, was used as a passer in the high post, played some give-and-go, and even got this to work. Naturally, he was more inclined to play defense, banged on the glass and played big all game, compensating for that poor guard shooting.
“I thought our defensive mojo was back. I saw guys moving their feet, cracking down, rebounding, doing the things we needed to do with activity and anticipation.”
– Dwane Casey
I realize it’s the Celtics who feature Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, so again, the opponent isn’t great. That doesn’t render the idea of having a bigger front court out there void, and using your big man a lot more, not just because it improves the court balance but because, you know, he’s actually not that bad of an offensive option if you hone him a little.
This win shouldn’t paper over the cracks because the Raptors still cannot defend anyone (check out this next level over-helping). They’re very prone to guards getting in the lane because on high screens we’re not good at hedging, preventing the guard from turning on the screen, stopping the pass back to the big, or sagging back and challenging the drives. I’d say the Raptors are a 3/10 in every single category and their de facto approach on every possession is to collapse, help, and rotate/close-out. Against a good outside shooting team that is suicide, and fortunately the Celtics only shot 6-18 from three.
To their credit, the Raptors do respect the scouting reports and play individuals as per the book (e.g., sagging off Bradley, playing Sullinger to go right), it’s just that when the opposition takes a mind to getting to the rim, there’s little the Raptors defense has been able to do to stop them.
Somewhat random note here on Patrick Patterson who had a productive stint against Brandon Bass. Last year with the Raptors 30% of his shots were threes, and we saw a more well-rounded offensive game where he read the action and dropped down for shorter jumpers after his man had gone over to help. This season, 53% of his shots are threes. That is a very dramatic shift in his use, and though I don’t particularly like it, he’s backed it up by upping his three-point percentage from 41% to 45%. So, yeah…
Up next it’s the Pistons on Monday who have won 8 of their last 9 without Josh Smith. It’s a game that has quickly gone from one where the Raptors are expected to win, to one where a win would do well to regain some lost confidence.
Vasquez be like that kid stoned in class and teacher ask him a question pic.twitter.com/WMUjh1cPhc
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 11, 2015
|Amir Johnson, PF 27 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | -4I’m really starting to get concerned with his health (feels like he’s 35 but doesn’t turn 28 till May). Ran the court well early, made great cuts to the rim, and was rewarded with the ball. Called on in the 4th to provide stability with a corner three, and brought it home. Great stuff. He done had a good game.|
|James Johnson, PF 36 MIN | 7-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 10 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +10His game game has really come along with his ability to push the ball in transition, post it up, and see the floor; also doing much better in picking the spots offensively. Probably his best game of the year, and a frankly, the key factor in the win. On the other side of the ball, his man-d, rotations, and shot blocking, coupled with his ability to crash the boards makes him a scary player if he can get it together on a consistent basis.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 21 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -1Did well in catch and shoot scenarios, but nothing/nowhere else. Kept Turner off balance, but how hard is that? Really disappointing game, and finished the game on the bench, where he’ll start seeing more of once DeMar comes back and minutes get tight on the wing.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 26 MIN | 7-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +9Potential for his night to be derailed with two early fouls in the 1st quarter, but did an admirable job on both ends of the floor in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. He was able to get great position on the block, that either got him the ball, or a damn good look at an offensive rebound (that he usually grabbed). Very decisive on offense, sure footed on defense, and focused on the glass.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 7-17 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +16He’s had better games, but was utterly hounded all night by Smart, Bradley, and Turner. Stepped up in the 4th when the Celtics were starting to make a run with tough shots, and clean passes to the right man. Is it me, or is Devlin’s hashtags really cheapening his All-star game bid?|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +16His defense and shooting off the bench in the 2nd quarter couldn’t have come any sooner. He controlled Bass when no one else had an answer and saved me from a heart attack (I’ve hated Bass since college for unexplained reasons). A great recovery game after four sub-par showings.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 0-3 FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +5I honestly can’t recall anything of note, but the boxscore tells us he rebounded well, so….B- sound good?|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +2Felt like he was on a bit of a shorter leash with respect to his offense, but I have no complaints. Corner three during that 3rd quarter double-digit push, then finding Patterson in the same spot on the next play were huge. The beard is also coming in nicely.|
|Louis Williams, SG 30 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-8 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +12He always shoots 2-3 really bad shots a game, but is so crafty, and wiley that he makes up for it in other ways (drawing a foul on a three point for example; he does that a lot). Add a couple steals and assists, and our boy is laughing all the way to a fat contract in the off-season.|
Did a great job of refocusing the guys defensively in the 2nd quarter. Managed everyones minutes well, and sat Ross after giving him ample opportunity to recover and contribute.
Some interesting numbers thrown around here. Don’t underestimate DeMar’s value to this team.
No, Raptor fans, the sky is not falling. It only seems like it right now.
Just as the team was not as good as their 13-2 record to start the season seemed to indicate, they’re also not as bad as their 2-5 record in the last seven games. With their current winning percentage, over an 82 game season, they would win 56 games. That’s better than most predicted at the beginning of the season, so while a four game losing streak is a cause for concern, let’s keep things in perspective, here.
The Raptors do have their problems. Back at the beginning of December, I mentioned three areas the Raptors needed to improve: Passing, defense and rebounding. On the plus side, their passing has improved slightly, but on the downside, both their rebounding and especially their defense has gotten worse. In fact their defense, in the last month, has gone from the top ten to the bottom ten.
There is obviously work to be done, but it’s not time to panic, yet.
Thankfully, the Celtics are coming to town tonight, sans Jeff Green (Memphis) and Brandon Wright (Phoenix), who were traded yesterday (on top of Rajon Rondo obviously heading for Dallas last month). Boston isn’t devoid of talent, especially young talent, but they’ve won exactly half the games the Raptors have in less than half a season. And they’re probably not even as good as that record.
Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller are all decent, young players, but it’s doubtful any of them would start for a good playoff team. Tayshaun Prince most likely won’t be making the trip, and Jameer Nelson is shooting just 22% since he came from Dallas and hasn’t been effective on defense since Orlando was a contender.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
The Raptors Defense
This is the worst the Raptors defense has been since Dwane Casey took over, and while preaching defense is one things, practicing it seems to be something else. Inserting Landry Fields into the starting lineup after DeRozan went down was obviously an attempt at improving the defense, but since coming back from a concussion, he hasn’t nearly been as effective and has played limited minutes because of it.
While the front court has had to cover for the perimeter players more than they should, they’re still not blameless. No one in the league is shuddering at the thought of driving in the paint against any Raptor big man and if Ujiri does decide to upgrade, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amir, Hansbrough or Patterson move on.
After a four game losing streak, no one would be surprised to see a change in the starting lineup to shake things up. Replacing Landry Fields with either Lou Williams or James Johnson is a possibility, but the team was no better when Fields was out with injury, so it’s possible only Lowry and Valanciunas are safe.
Casey is under real fire for the first time since his first season with the Raptors. And undeservedly so. He needs to make some adjustments, to be sure, but he also needs to be given a little more time before people start calling for his head.
Let’s be clear, the Celtics roster doesn’t compare to the Raptors, starters, or bench. Brad Stevens is a good coach, but he’s handcuffed by the lack of talent, and it’s only getting worse as Danny Ainge ships off all the veterans worth trading.
This certainly could be a danger game for the Raptors. After four straight losses, and a depleted Celtics team on the second game of a back-to-back, it would be too easy for the Raptors to assume things will finally go their way and not put up the effort they should. That’s something Casey or Lowry can’t let happen.
Score: Raptors 108 – Celtics 97
Following most of Toronto’s games this season, Amir Johnson has found himself wrapped in ice.
It has been a regular occurrence to walk into the locker room to see an ice pack on his left shoulder and for him to be soaking his feet and ankles in a big bucket of ice and water.
Then, when he’s done icing and talking with the media, he will usually limp to the shower.
There was speculation last month among the media that Johnson would – or should – take a game or two off to rest his body during a stretch of easily winnable home games against Denver, Indiana and Orlando.
Dwane Casey quickly dismissed that idea when it was brought up during one of his pre-game media scrums in December. Partially because the team needed Johnson’s grit, but probably just as likely that he wouldn’t want to shut it down for a game.
“For me, if it’s really devastating I will sit out,” Johnson told me. “If not, I keep on playing. That’s just what my attitude is.”
Johnson started every game for Toronto in December but he only averaged 27.4 minutes. His scoring (9.9 points per game) and his rebounding (6.1) weren’t flashy.
All of this while Patrick Patterson took off averaging 10.6 points while shooting 55% from the field and 52% from beyond the arc.
Battling through injuries is something Johnson should be credited for; it shouldn’t be an excuse to rip him for the subsequent dips in his stats or even expect his removal from Toronto’s starting five.
Despite playing banged up all season, Johnson is still the heart and soul of this team and a player his teammates rally around.
“He’s a big piece for our team,” Vasquez glowed. “He’s our x-factor. He does that little things that don’t always show up in the stats. He means so much to us. We love him. That’s our brother. We know what he’s bringing to the table every night.”
Johnson is a player Dwane Casey has a ton of respect and admiration for because of all the intangibles he brings to the team.
“His point per possession the last seven minutes of the game are some of the tops on our team offensively and defensively,” Casey explained to me.
“He’s a beneficiary of rolling to the bucket and teams double-teaming Kyle (Lowry), Lou (Williams) or DeMar (DeRozan). Going to the bucket he gets offensive boards and defensively he’s one of our best rotators, especially if we are applying pressure in the game.”
There is a group of fans that are quick to praise Johnson; something that I discovered and appreciated after writing some Quick Reactions for Raptors Republic last month.
It appears that respect is growing past Toronto’s locker room and a few hardcore fans into the mainstream media, too.
Earlier this season a writer for ESPN wrote an article that listed Johnson as one of the most under-rated players in the NBA.
While his traditional stats like scoring and rebounding aren’t flashy, Johnson is making his mark on the court and in the stat sheet while using non-traditional stats. This season he has a plus/minus of +133 for the season.
Or, when you break that down per game, it’s 4.3 per game.
While his scoring and rebounding may be down, he’s still making a big impact on the game when he’s on the court.
It’s a shame more fans aren’t able to look beyond traditional stats to see all the Amir Johnson brings to the Toronto Raptors.
At least Johnson’s coaches and teammates have his back.
Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge has informed the 6-10 center that he’s on the block and should expect to be on another team. That’s why Wright had a head-scratching DNP this week on a team that could use his skill set. The Wizards would have to execute a trade to bring him on board and he has an expiring contract that pays $5 million.
Wright should be pretty easy to move for the Celtics because he’s got an expiring deal and plays at a position which is pretty thin across the league. So, right of the bat if you’re thinking of dangling Landry Fields’ expiring contract, it’s not going to happen. The Raptors would almost have to part with a pick or some young talent, perhaps Terrence Ross to get Wright.
Positionally, the center is the Raptors biggest need right now since Amir Johnson is hobbled and Dwane Casey just doesn’t trust Jonas Valanciunas for whatever reason. Wright would be more of an offensive signing than a defensive one, which would require Dwane Casey to actually call plays for his big men. Very unlikely.
Here’s a quasi-scouting report on Wright – if you click through there’s also some video:
Wright is a 6-10″, 205 lb. power forward, who usually plays center for the Mavs, who possesses extraordinary athleticism, a lofty yet seemingly pretty jumper, quick hands around the basket, and a keen basketball IQ.
Areas in which Wright struggles: defending bigger post players, rebounding on either end, and he all too often just gets lost when the lane gets crowded, as if it’s easy to push him around due to his slender frame. During the 2013-2014 campaign Wright showed improvement by putting up career highs in the following categories: ppg( 9.1), rpg( 4.2) , and minutes played per game( 18.6). What it all comes down to for Wright is that if he can defend and rebound a little better, then Coach Carlisle will make sure he sees more minutes at both the four and the five, and the rest of his game should flourish as well.
Make no mistake, Wright’s value is not as a defensive or rebounding stalwart, but as someone who can block shots in one-on-one situations, finish using lobs, and finish in traffic after the guards set him up.
So…what does Ujiri do? Pass or pursue?
Boston is finalizing a trade to send forward Brandan Wright to the Phoenix Suns, league source tells Yahoo Sports.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 9, 2015
Four losses in a row does not a happy fan make. You accept the three losses on the roadtrip, though the manner of them is concerning – no defense, YOLO offense. Then there’s the Charlotte game which you can choose to chalk it off to the “first game back from a long roadtrip” trap, except that the team had three days off before it, and were facing an undermanned Charlotte side.
Understandably, the porous defense which is conceding 114 points per game over this losing streak will come into question, even more so when the Raptors boast a defense-first coach in Dwane Casey. Whenever a team is playing defense this poorly, or more correctly, not playing defense at all, you might question the players’ execution of the schemes set up by the coach. That they’re abandoning instruction for baser tastes.
Unfortunately for Casey, that line of reasoning goes out the window when we see lineups featuring Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and Kyle Lowry for extended periods of time while the team is getting crushed on the boards. That, to me, doesn’t look like a coach relying on his defense, but hoping to gun his way back in a game that’s separated by only four possessions.
There’s something to be said about going with what’s worked – i.e., Williams, Vasquez, and Lowry being allowed to play one-on-one, in the hopes of either scoring or getting fouled, both of which they’ve been efficient at. Now that that well seems to have runs out, and it was bound to run out because teams adjust, what’s next for the Raptors? That’s where Casey is right now, at a crossroads of figuring out whether the presently #1 ranked offense is sustainable the way it is, or whether tweaks are needed that bring it in line with last year’s post-trade offense which was much more team-oriented and less guard-dominant. It’s no surprise that the Raptors are presently 29th in terms of assisted FGs (53%) since they’re offense is so individualistic. Last year 58% of their FGs were assisted, and that number is skewed because it includes the pre-trade games.
DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Lou Williams (contract year, don’t forget) are all in the top 15 in the league in pull-up shots attempted. The Raptors are also 27th in the league in front-court touches, which basically means that once the ball crosses the half-court line, the Raptors don’t like to pass it around much. Complaining about offense seems silly because we are the top-ranked offense in the league, it’s just that the cracks are beginning to show and there aren’t any easy baskets to be had. Even worse, it’s influencing our defense.
In the hopes of chasing offensive nirvana, the Raptors are paying the price on defense. On a team with poor individual defenders such as Terrence Ross, Lou Williams, DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez, it makes it even more important to have some sort of defensive structure in place, especially given the sheer amount of minutes they play. You can also add Kyle Lowry to that list as well, who despite having a great offensive season has been very shaky on defense, which is not surprising given how much the team is relying on him – the man leads the team in minutes played by a huge stretch.
In the absence of that defensive structure, the players are left to their own devices which, in the simplest of terms, is to chase the ball, i.e., rely on making multiple rotations and put even more pressure on their already banged up Amir Johnson, and the inexperienced Jonas Valanciunas to protect the rim, neither of which is working out.
In an NBA defense, you always have to concede something because the offenses are that good. The problem is that the Raptors are conceding everything. They can’t stop drives, they can’t block shots (23rd in NBA) , they can’t stop the three, and they can’t control the pace of the game. They’re scrambling and presently have no defensive identity, so when Casey makes a comment such as “we’ve got to find seven or eight guys who are interested in competing at a high level”, I find it odd because effort isn’t a problem with the Raptors, and Casey has done a remarkable job of getting consistent effort out of the team, save for a couple games (ahem, Phoenix). His profanity-laced encouragement doesn’t necessarily get you to play smart, but it does get you playing harder.
I don’t see DeMar DeRozan’s absence serving as a huge asterisk to any analysis because we’re talking about the idea and structure of the offense, not necessarily poor production from any one individual that can be countered by DeRozan’s return. Defensively, DeRozan won’t make you better or worse.
One of the problems is that players like Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson aren’t being utilized enough of offense, creating a guard-heavy imbalance on the court, and are being put into defensive situations that they’re not suited for. It’s now obvious that there’s very little interest in the Raptors running pick ‘n rolls, either through Johnson or Valanciunas, which is bewildering given Vasquez’s size and passing ability. Patterson, who was brilliant in getting open in mid-range situations last season when he cut below the three-point line for open jumpers after the interior defense had gone up to trap the guard on a pick ‘n roll, has been reduced to a three-point shooter. To me, having Terrence Ross or Patrick Patterson on the court is the exact same thing on offense, because all they provide is mild court spacing.
Defensively, Patterson has been found out as a rebounder in small ball lineups, and it’s clear that unless the offense is operating at a phenomenal clip, lineups that feature Vasquez, Williams, and no Jonas Valanciunas, will concede everything on the boards. And that’s the pinch: the trade-off which conceded defense for offense in the second unit isn’t paying back.
The Raptors need to dial back Williams and Vasquez and reduce the amount of one-on-one offense those two play, and utilize Vasquez’s strength as a pick ‘n roll ball-handler, which would also bring bigs into the offensive fold. Instead of Valanciunas being offered two possessions in the block to start the game and then reduced to a screen-setter for the rest of the game, make him a consistent thread in the offense regardless of how he’s doing. If Casey can give Lou Williams cart blanche on any type of shot, surely he can afford Valanciunas even half that freedom, even if it’s in the name of development.
As the second half of the season gets underway, the question now shifts from whether the Raptors are any good, to whether their ways are sustainable. The East and the league remains wide open, and the losing streak isn’t a sign that the record is hollow, it’s that teams are adjusting. Casey has never been in this situation before, one where he’s in charge of a team that other teams are gunning for. Prior to this, the Raptors were just another dot on the long NBA schedule, where if you showed up and played a half-decent game, you would likely get the win. Teams are zoning in on individuals, looking at the ample game tape available and discovering that the Raptors are a one-trick pony on offense, and that once you reduce their efficiency to even league average levels, the defense is so bad that they become beatable, rather easily.
It’s Dwane Casey’s move, the worst he can do is do nothing.
Last night’s 103-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets was like bad sex: a couple of exciting moments but mostly limp, listless and disappointing.
The Raptors dropped their 4th straight game in their first game back from a 2-4 road trip. It was supposed to be the game where the Raptors righted the ship but ultimately the team, and the coach, failed to bring the requisite energy and effort level to make it happen.
The Raptors started the game going 3-9 from the field and falling behind 18-8. They crept back slightly with successive threes from Vasquez and Lowry but ended the quarter down 31-23. The Raptors failed miserably at stopping penetration and gave up a number of easy drop-off dunks and layups, allowing 18 points in the paint for the quarter. Moreover, they lost the rebounding battle 16-8 and turned the ball over three times to the Hornets’ zero.
In the second quarter the Raptors started moving the ball and clawed their way back into the game with an early 9-0 run that was capped by a 3-point trey from Tyler Hansbrough. The Raptors took a 52-50 lead into halftime by digging in on defense, denying penetration and forcing Charlotte into 38% shooting for the quarter. Their improved ball movement led to 4-of-9 three-point shooting and big Jonas led all scorers with 8 points (and 6 rebounds) for the quarter.
Much like in the Golden State matchup, things went to Poo-Poo Town for the Raps in the third. Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson took over the game as Charlotte started the quarter on a 14-1 run while the languid Raps shot 0-of-8. Lou Williams decided that ball movement was overrated and went full on Staggy P to the tune of 1-of-6 from the field and 0-of-3 from beyond the arc. In fact, the entire team was pretty uninspired, connecting on only 4-of-18 shots for the quarter. On the other side of the court, Walker and Henderson went a combined 9-of-12 and scored 18 of the team’s 25 third quarter points. Despite having his way with Biyombo in the second quarter, Jonas checked out with 6:01 remaining in the third quarter and didn’t return.
The Raptors made a fight of things in the 4th by going on a quick 7-0 run to start the quarter, but ultimately they lost the battle of attrition to Henderson and Walker’s relentless stream of drives and step-back jumpers.
- We really, really miss Demar. I have some major issues with the way Casey is managing games lately but just as importantly, there’s a real talent shortage without Demar and that’s a tough storm to wade in a talent-driven league.
- Lowry #NBABallot is exhausted and that really showed on defense tonight.
- I was not a fan whatsoever of Amir’s body language. He was totally expressionless throughout the game, didn’t hustle up and down the court and generally seemed pretty disinterested. He had a couple of really careless handoffs early and he was called for an unadvised hip check on Gerald Henderson when we were only down five with 4:01 to play. Not sure what’s going on there…
- It’s pretty clear that opposing teams know that our guards have trouble denying entry into the second layer of the defense. The easy penetration early really got things going for the Hornets and gave Henderson and Kemba the confidence to catch fire as the game went on. The pair went 15-23 in the second half for 39 points.
- James Johnson was great and made a number of excellent athletic plays throughout the game. Landry Fields was terrible. He literally contributed nothing in 10 minutes of play.
- This was the quietest that I’ve heard the Air Canada Centre all season. The players simply didn’t bring it enough to infuse energy into the crowd.
An overtime loss in Portland was almost commendable. A loss in Golden State, after a half of contending, was understandable. A loss in Phoenix … well, that one was bad, but it was the end of a long trip. You could forget about it and move on pretty easily. Thursday’s 103-95 home loss against Charlotte, who were on the unfriendly end of a back-to-back, however? The same Hornets that were missing both their starting centre and his primary back up? That was, without any qualifiers, brutal. This must be the adversity that coach Dwane Casey has been promising again and again. “We sucked as a team, and we’ve got to figure it out soon,” Kyle Lowry said succinctly.
It all added up to a frustrating night for the locals who would claw their way back into a game only to see whatever progress they had made disappear as soon as Walker came back. The fact that he played 41 minutes made it a tough night all around for the Raptors. They made a valiant run at this one getting the deficit down to four in the final minute but Walker would not be denied. He scored seven of the Hornets final nine points, assisted on the one bucket he didn’t get and got a big steal off of Kyle Lowry with about 12 seconds remaining that sealed the game. The Raptors will see Walker and the Hornets two more times this year, but the much bigger issue is stopping this four-game losing skid, the longest since the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento over a year ago.
“The lack of intensity, lack of focus, lack of will out there was just as baffling to me as to anybody else on this team,” Patterson said, moving on from there to the post-game mood among the players. “Just frustration, disappointment, anger. Everyone’s just frustrated with the way we’re playing right now. It’s not like we’re not trying, that’s the thing. It’s not like we’re giving up.” The Raptors, entering the game, had every reason to feel optimistic about their chances to end a mini-three-game skid. They had returned to the ACC after an extended road trip, with three full days off following their final game in Phoenix. Casey had been upbeat on Wednesday about the homestand. But then came this debacle and even though the Raptors made it close late, they couldn’t seal the deal. “I wouldn’t say disappointing,” Casey said, measuring his words. “You’re disappointed when you don’t have the energy, when you’re flat. Again, I don’t think it’s the guys from lack of trying or working. You hit lulls in the season and we’re in a lull right now.
The Raptors bench contributed 49 points, more than half of the team’s scoring output on the night, while they got next to nothing from three starters – Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields. Meanwhile, Lowry and Lou Williams combined to shoot 11-for-37. With DeRozan’s return pushed back until sometime next week, Casey hinted at a possible lineup change that could shake up the rotation ahead of Saturday’s game at home to Boston. “I thought the second unit came in and competed,” he said. “For whatever reason, we’re not getting that energy at the start of the game, the start of the third quarter. Those were backbreakers. Whether it’s a lineup change or whatever it is, we’ve got to find an answer for it.”
Down two at halftime, the Hornets came out of the break on a 14-1 run to take a lead which stretched to as much as 15 with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter. Toronto would battle back to cut the Hornets advantage to 87-84 with just under five minutes remaining in the game. Charlotte would never surrender the lead though as Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker combined for 15 points in the final 4:26 to seal the 103-95 road win for the Hornets.
While the Raptors defence was terrible in it’s own right, Walker and Henderson were hitting jump shot after jump shot to keep the Raptors an arm-length away all game. The Hornets led this one almost from wire to wire, save a short spurt of brilliance from James Johnson in the second quarter to give the Raptors a 52-50 lead at half time. From that point on, it was the Kemba and Gerald show as the Hornets never looked back after holding the Raptors to 14 points in the third quarter.
In what was easily the biggest win of the season for Charlotte, the duo of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson combined for 60 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (eight from Kemba), and only two turnovers, both from Henderson. Both players were given the green light to attack at will for a Hornets squad that’s currently decimated by injuries — only nine Charlotte players dressed, with Al Jefferson out as usual and Cody Zeller being a late scratch. And attack they did. I’ve admittedly been critical at times of Henderson’s propensity for over-dribbling and shooting contested, inefficient mid-range jumpers. On Thursday night, he was as good as I’ve ever seen him. He wasn’t settling for his jumper, although it was falling. Instead, he was taking the ball with a purpose to the basket and posting up inferior defenders when the right match-up came.
The Hornets seem to have bucked their trend of blowing fourth quarter leads, for the time being. Charlotte would pull away late to defeat Toronto 103-95 . Toronto cut the Hornets lead to 4 points with only 42 seconds remaining, but a Kemba Walker three-pointer would serve as the dagger Charlotte needed to close out the win. Walker was spectacular once again. He finished with 29 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. With the way he is playing he might start garnering consideration for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
The defense is becoming a glaring issue for the Raptors and it was yet again evidenced tonight. The Hornets, without go-to scorers Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson, had no difficulty getting baskets in every possible fashion against Toronto’s porous defense (allowing a league high 114.2 points per 100 possessions). Open looks, easy drives and minimal rim/paint protection were commonplace and the Raptors had no solution for the electric Kemba Walker and sharpshooting Gerald Henderson, who combined for an impressive 60 points. Dribble penetration was just too easy for the Hornets. Charlotte torched Toronto in the opening half, especially in the first quarter with 31 points, posting a 45.8 FG %. The Raptors had another poor outing in the third quarter and just couldn’t stop the duo of Walker and Henderson. Charlotte scored on 47.7% shooting on the night which is unacceptable considering the extent of their injuries.
The third quarter was disastrous as Charlotte opened up the second half with a 14-0 charge and held the Raptors to zero field goals until Kyle Lowry broke the drought with just over six minutes to go in the frame. Lou Williams somewhat salvaged some pride for the Raptors in the quarter by hitting three free throws after drawing a foul on Gary Neal at the buzzer. That play gave the Raptors some life and ignited them to an 8-0 run. They were always in the rear view mirror though, despite facing a depleted Hornets’ roster playing without Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, and Cody Zeller.
Most turning points in a season only become clear in hindsight. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now. The Raptors have gotten used to beating on inferior Eastern Conference talent. This was the first time this season they found themselves seriously wanting in that regard. As such, it may be time to begin a serious reappraisal of priorities. As in, why has getting Lowry into the All-Star Game as a starter suddenly become a national statement of purpose? Toronto Mayor John Tory’s all over it on Twitter. Ditto the premier. Even the prime minister has shoe-horned “Lowry: Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?” into his briefing notes between “Oil: We’re screwed on that front” and “Terrorism: Still happening.” Lowry certainly deserves to go to the NBA’s pointless mid-season showcase as a starting guard. So does Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. Neither is likely to make it.
A three-game losing streak hardly calls for the panic button, but the fall from grace on defense is an alarming one. On DeRozan’s last night in uniform, the Raps sat at a cozy ninth overall in points allowed per possession, only to witness the monumental drop to 22nd with last season’s All-Star on the shelf. But this not an exact science, defensive mishaps are far from the result of one player’s absence. Not to mention the fact that one wouldn’t mistake DeRozan for Scottie Pippen‘s stunt-double anytime soon. What the Compton, Calif., native brings is stability. The trickle-down effect cannot be overlooked. Isolations in the post will aid the game’s pace, pumping the brakes when needed. Overuse (by default) of role players taking on bigger personalities with fall back into their rightful place. Terrence Ross, prepare yourself for conflicting court time in the weeks ahead. On the contrary, and perhaps most of all, this team is on the verge of reclaiming its identity. With the East about to embark on a wild ride, the timing is perfect. Still, action without No.10 persists, and there is no time like the present for a reality gut-check.
ESPN will ditch the Knicks-Brooklyn game on Feb. 6 in favour of a Clippers-Raptors game. In addition, it will show the Raptors game against Chicago on March 25, tossing a Clippers-Knicks game into the dumper. Even taking into account the Knicks woeful record, and their current 13-game losing streak, this move says a lot. American networks aren’t keen on showing Canadian teams in any sport, mainly because they lose the ratings generated by the hometown audience. Since Canadian viewers aren’t counted in the ratings, there’s a potential loss of at least half the audience. And the Knicks, being in the largest TV market in the U.S., bring with them built-in ratings. Add in Americans’ general indifference to all things foreign and ESPN’s decision to show a Canadian team makes a bold statement. In other words, the Raptors can truly say that ESPN likes them, really likes them.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
Here’s audio from Dwane Casey, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez after Toronto lost 103-95 to Charlotte.
Party’s over sunshine, the real Raptors are back.
|Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | -15No idea why he didn’t play more in our “small” lineup when we were getting killed with Hansbrough and Patterson on the boards. Not that it would’ve mattered much I suppose since he has zero burst in his step and moves like a whaleship anchored at port. As a fan starved of seeing the pick ‘n roll, and also since it’s common sense to run that play given we have a guard like Vasquez, I’m perplexed why he isn’t involved more in the offense.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -14He gets very few touches when he’s playing with Williams and Vasquez, and is strictly a bystander parked at the three-point line with a unique view of the court. It’s a shame too, because he drove the ball twice in the first quarter and got good results out of it. Didn’t see any of that from that point forward, and his defense, much like almost everyone else is horrible.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 3-9 FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -16Benched for the entire fourth quarter. I don’t get why he wasn’t a staple of our offense tonight instead of Lou Williams jacking up long twos. He started off well but, as has been the case throughout the season, Dwane Casey abandoned him in favor of exotic lineups that can’t stop anyone on defense, and are streaky on offense. Valanciunas’ misuse is quickly becoming the story that won’t go away. I mean, it’s not like we were playing Golden State where he wasn’t a good fit, we’re playing a depleted Hornets squad.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 36 MIN | 7-22 FG | 6-7 FT | 7 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | -15The lack of structure in the Raptors offense is emboldening people into making poor decisions. Now that Lowry’s being overplayed and carrying a burden of responsibility that ideally should be shared by the team, his shot is suffering and he’s looking poor. Teams are also now ready for his drives and have come to terms with the individualistic nature of the Raptors offense, and Casey hasn’t quite adjusted. His defense, though, has been excruciatingly poor all season and that continued tonight against Walker who lit him up.|
|Landry Fields, SG 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -21So many zeroes in that box score. Couldnt’ stop Henderson, hell, couldn’t even slow him down.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 19 MIN | 4-4 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +11Good second quarter stint where he even hit a three, grabbed some rebounds, but when he was tried again in the third quarter the energy in the Raptors offense wasn’t there and his shortcomings as an offensive player were in full view. To be fair to him, he’s the last guy you want playing center in a small-ball lineup, but Casey insists it’s a fantastic idea despite evidence to the contrary.|
|James Johnson, PF 23 MIN | 3-5 FG | 1-3 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +12The only guy who played any sort of defense, though even he couldn’t stop Henderson when it counted. By that time, Henderson was red hot, so I forgive him that. I thought Casey should’ve moved Johnson on him a long time ago, since he really was the only wing threat the Hornets have. Had a nice dunk.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 29 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +5What a waste. Nobody runs plays for him or passes him the ball, especially when he’s playing with three guards for some reason. His off-the-ball movement in tight spaces, which was a great strength last season, is completed thwarted by our selfish guards who aren’t even looking to pass inside unless the play starts with an interior post-up. The way Casey’s used him on defense – asking him to rebound against bigger frontlines in smaller lineups – is criminal.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 30 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | +13Good offensive punch off the bench, but I’ll bust out a line I used to use on Jose Calderon: he gave it all right back on D. Maybe if he kept his mouth shut after made baskets or didn’t moan at the refs after every missed one, he’d be more aware defensively. The lack of two-man big/small action we run when we have a guy of his passing ability and size on the court mystifies me.|
|Louis Williams, SG 28 MIN | 4-15 FG | 7-8 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | 0Terrible shot-selection and what angers me more is that it all seems to be part of Casey’s plan – he wants Williams shooting contested long-twos, even when we’re chasing the game. I won’t even talk about his defense, let’s just say he looks a little better than Vasquez because he gambles more, but it’s not by.|
His #1 rated offense is about to go down the toilet now that teams have figured out how Williams, Vasquez, and Lowry operate. It’s Casey’s turn to adjust and tweak, and probably introduce more team-oriented plays, and right now he’s got no answers. Trying more of the same isn’t going to work, because Williams has already come back down to earth and Lowry is winded. He hasn’t been able to get the most out of Valanciunas, which is a huge problem and there’s no end in sight there.
Five Things We Saw
- The Raptors officially lost this game in the third when the Hornets made a big run right out of the gate and Casey responded with a delusional lineup of Hasnbrough, Patterson, and doesn’t even matter who else. We got crushed on the boards 14-6 and the Hornets assumed control.
- The Raptors had to game plan for two people: Kemba Walker and Gerland Henderson. They did neither. At the very least, I would’ve liked to see Ross check Walker so he couldn’t get his step back away with such ease. The thought never even crossed Casey’s mind.
- I’m so tired of hearing people talk about “Dwane Casey always preaching defense”. Well, if he’s preaching it and it’s not happening on the floor, maybe there’s a problem. Either he’s not really serious about it or his players aren’t able to execute. This idea that we can somehow drop down to help after the guards are beat, and then make three perimeter rotations is not holding up. We’re not a team composed of good defensive players, and now that we don’t have a defensive system to fall back on, the players are getting exposed.
- Poor Valanciunas – the guy is being put in some very, very difficult situations by his teammates. I can’t count how many times he’s come four feet to meet a guard, with chaos ensuing. There’s no interior rotation being made so offensive rebounds and dump-offs for layups have become the norm. I realize we can’t stop penetration up top at all times, but if we’re that leaky, maybe we need to shore up what’s underneath. Right now, we have ZERO interior defense and no shot blocking from our bigs. Our leading shot blocker is James Johnson and his blocks are of this variety. This needs to be addressed.
- I don’t get the point of playing Lowry, Vasquez, and Williams all together. Does Casey think we’re going to out-gun teams who now know EXACTLY what’s coming at them? Does he not get the rebounding implications of this lineup? Especially when our leading rebounder is on the bench? I thought he was a defensive coach that believes in defensive solidarity getting you back into games, not gun-slinging? I’m confused. And out.
Kemba Walker and the walking wounded visit the North.
The Hornets, who currently sit at 13-24, have been a disappointment by all stretches of the imagination.
In 2013-14, the Bobcats pieced together an elite defense (5th ranked) around a workable offense centered by Al Jefferson and a cast of willing team players. That formula, headed by rookie head coach Steve Clifford, amounted to a playoff berth after finishing the regular season 43-39.
In the offseason, the Hornets (nee Bobcats) looked to take a step forward by rolling the dice in free agency. They bet strongly on team structure by shipping out a key glue guy in Josh McRoberts and gambling on an undervalued asset in Lance Stephenson. In Lance, the Hornets found themselves a multi-talented wing who could create in the backcourt, bridging the gap between Kemba Walker at the point, and Jefferson in the post.
It hasn’t quite worked. Stephenson inexplicably lost his jumpshot, while becoming more of a malcontent, and is currently out indefinitely with a injured pelvis. Dropping McRoberts has also left a void at power forward, as his supposed replacement in Marvin Williams has struggled as a smallball four. The end result has been the same terrible offense (28th-ranked) while taking a step back on defense (16th).
But there’s still hope for the Hornets. They’ve been snakebitten by injuries (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al Jefferson, Stephenson) and there’s more than half a season left to play. Young prospects like Cody Zeller have looked strong and there’s simply too much talent on the roster to piece together anything less than a low-playoff seed.
Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts
Walker is quick and long, but he really can’t shoot consistently and ranks no better than average for his position. Lowry is playing like the top point guard in the East this season, and that’s saying nothing of the huge edge Vasquez has on Roberts.
Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, James Johnson, Lou Williams vs. Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
The Hornets’ wings are similar to the Raptors’ current assortment. It’s a bunch of one-dimensional players. Kidd-Gilchrist is an excellent defender, Neal is a microwave type scorer and Henderson is a smart spot up guy.
Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson vs. Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams
Zeller has looked solid this season. He has good size, is mobile and can reliably hit a midrange jumper. Biyombo can’t do anything offensively and is only good for a block or two. Marvin Williams can shoot threes but isn’t big enough to contend for rebounds. Jonas should have his way.
Prediction: Raptors 97, Hornets 88
The first Talking Raptors episode of 2015! So Happy New Year! Nick and Barry sit down and discuss the Raptors rocky road trip.
-Kyle Lowry Eastern Player of the Month and his All-Star bid.
-Terrence Ross running his mouth on instagram.
-The prime minister showing love to Kyle Lowry… But wheres Drake?
-The Maple Leafs are in shambles… how does that affect the Raptors?
-Demar’s return… is coming. Not soon enough.
-Tom Sterner gets some much deserved love.
The guys also go around the league and check out whats going on in Cleveland and New York. They inquire about Larry Sanders and his brain.
As always Mr Chuck Hayes gets his shine and Nick and Barry give some Social Media Shoutouts.
As always thanks so much for listening and we hope you enjoy!
“I don’t know if our personnel is going to allow us to be a defensive juggernaut, a stopping team,” Casey said last week. “But we can be better defensively as far as our schemes are concerned, and our rotations and pick-and-roll defence. I think we’ll be better than that with time.” That gets to the strangest thing about this all: DeRozan’s individual defence has been criticized throughout his career. It is bizarre that his absence would single-handedly destroy the Raptors’ defensive integrity. It is likely that DeRozan’s absence has impacted the team’s ability to stop their opposition. They have problems that go well beyond him, too.
In their last two games on the West Coast they gave up 126 and 125 points, respectively. In the 18 games they’ve played without DeRozan Toronto has allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions, which is the third-worst in the NBA over that period, better only than the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves. That the Raptors miss DeRozan defensively is counterintuitive because the perception is that part of his game has been a step behind his offence throughout his career. When he was hurt he was Toronto’s leading scorer. He made the all-star game last season on that basis. But as the Raptors’ points allowed totals have increased without DeRozan – they have averaged an NBA-worst 111.1 points per 100 possessions over the 18 games — Toronto forced a re-examination of what having DeRozan on the floor has meant to the way the Raptors play. Even he had to smile at the idea that his absence was having a bigger impact on the way the Raptors have defended.
“I haven’t had any setbacks, I haven’t had any soreness. Everything feels good, I’m not in any pain. I just don’t want to hop back out there. I think this is my third or fourth practice and I just really want to get a solid seven practices in and really get my rhythm and timing back so I won’t have to learn on the go once I come back because there’s a lot of new plays they’ve put in that I still have to get down pat.” If you do the math of ‘getting in seven full practices’ (in Toronto where the Raptors play six straight),’ that would put DeRozan’s return date at next Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers or Friday against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks, but DeRozan wouldn’t be specific, only saying he would be back “sometime next week.” DeRozan, who was injured on Nov. 28 against the Dallas mavericks, said it has been difficult to sit out so long.
He has watched the team’s varying results, mostly from behind the scenes – he’s said that sitting on the bench makes him anxious. The Raptors are 11-7 without DeRozan but 10 of those wins have come against inferior competition – they’re 1-6 when facing winning teams over that span. “I think it’s bigger than me,” he said. “Besides the last couple games the team lost, they’ve been playing well. They have their rhythm and like I said, I don’t just want to hop back out there.” “There’s a lot of new plays they put in that I still got to get down pat – plays for [Terrence Ross], plays for Kyle [Lowry] and everything. So I want to make sure I get all that down pat before I come back so there won’t be [any] learning on the [fly].” During that time, Lowry has put the team on his shoulders, running many of the plays that are generally called for DeRozan, as the primary option on offence.
However, if there is such a thing as a silver lining, DeRozan insists that while he was sidelined, he has begun to see the game from a whole new perspective that will make him a better player. “I think I’ve grown mentally when it comes to basketball,” DeRozan insisted. “Just watching the game and really understanding the game from this level — other ways that I can figure out how to be better out there. I see a lot of times, late-game situations, if the game’s going too fast, got to get to the free-throw line, slow down the momentum, try to switch the momentum our way. Just little things like that. Being in the right spot defensively. “I’ve learned from (the coaches). I’ve learned how they game-plan. Situations they look for. Late game situations against certain teams, matchups. I really pay attention to that. I try and think like a coach and a player at the same time. Just me making observations on my own, watching the game.”
DeRozan said it’s been funny to watch Lowry running plays that would normally be his. “He’s playing my position, so next game, every play he runs is my play. . . Just tell him, stop running my plays,” DeRozan said. “It kind of (makes) me happy though. . . but I tell them ‘One thing y’all can’t do is get to the free throw line.“’ The Raptors are averaging about seven fewer free throw attempts per game without DeRozan. His value in getting to the free throw line is one of those lessons that he said has really sunk in, watching his team from the sidelines. “Especially in late-game situations with the game going too fast, I understand you’ve got to get to the free throw line, slow down the momentum, try to switch the momentum to our end,” DeRozan said.
It’s freezing, but you’re telling me New York, DC, Philly aren’t? I went to school in Maryland, and it’s just as bad as it is here.
Offensively, he’s a player opponents must honor, which will make life easier for Lowry. In addition, Terrence Ross’ role should shrink back down to the more limited one his game warrants, and the Raptors rotation can generally get itself back in order. Toronto was 13-3 when DeRozan got hurt and has gone 11-7 since. Let’s not overthink this; DeRozan makes them a better team.
First, the difference between the first 14 games and the most recent 20 games is pretty stark. In the first 14 games, the defence gave up a paltry 97.8 points per 100 possessions. That would be good for second best defence in the league right now. In the 20 games since, 109.1, good for third worst in the league. So, where are those 11.7 additional points coming from? First, we have to look at who they’ve played. In the first 14 games, their opponent’s average Offensive Rating (ORTG) was 102.8. Since, it has been 104.1. So, applying that difference to a league average Defensive Rating (DRTG), that means they’ve actually performed as a 98.6 DRTG team in the first 14 games, and a 108.6 DRTG team in the last 20.
Hansbrough is certainly not the first guy to transition from stardom in the NCAA to mediocrity in the NBA from a statistical standpoint. But given the nature of the league, there is a place in the NBA for serviceable players like Hansbrough. The Raptors sure felt that way when they exercised their team option on him and paid his full $3.33 million salary for the 2014-15 season. And while there is a place in the league for players like Hansbrough, at least Hansbrough is in fact in the league. There are plenty of 6’8” to 6’9” players who shined in their college careers only to barely make it through a couple of NBA seasons before being waived due to irrelevancy. Do names like Sean May, Tyrus Thomas or Adam Morrison ring any bells?
Al Jefferson, an offensive monster in the low blocks, is also out with injury, so Charlotte has patched together a funky starting lineup which has managed three straight wins. Bismack Biyombo, the world’s longest-serving project player, tries to play centre. He’s small for the spot, but there’s no one else, and he’s a willing defender and rebounder. His offensive game can’t be found with a microscope. Youthful Cody Zeller might be rounding into form as a traditional banger at power forward. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson has always struck me as a player who should be better – one of those “next season” guys. However, it’s his sixth year. How long do Hornet fans have to wait? Point guard Kemba Walker has been terrific virtually since the moment he stepped on an NBA court. With Jefferson out, he’s their best player by miles and miles. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the #2 pick in the draft in 2012, but has not lived up to expectations. I think he’ll stick as a useful rotation player, though finding minutes for a small forward with a 16.7% career rate from beyond the arc may be difficult. He’s an athlete, not a ballplayer, at least for now.
They may have to continue that effort to extend their run at home to a half-dozen for the first time since last January. They’re also looking to snap a four-game losing streak against the Hornets (13-24) in the opener of a six-game homestand. Toronto will likely focus on containing Walker after he finished with 31 points and hit an 11-foot jumper off the glass with 1.4 seconds left to lift Charlotte to a 98-94 home victory over New Orleans on Wednesday. With Al Jefferson sidelined due to a strained groin, Walker has been the team’s primary scoring option with 31.3 points per game on 23.7 field-goal attempts in his past three. He scored 29 points in the most recent meeting in Toronto on Dec. 18, 2013, sinking a jumper at the overtime buzzer for a 104-102 victory.
Hornets F Al Jefferson is out for at least a month with a strained groin. . . . The Raptors and Hornets are playing for the first time this season. . . . The Hornets, after starting the season 3-3, lost 16 of their next 19 games, before righting the ship. They were 7-6 in the past 13 games, headed to Wednesday night’s road clash with the Pelicans and had won two straight. . . . The Hornets are last in the Southeast. . . . Heading to New Orleans, G Kemba Walker has averaged 37.1 minutes and 22.6 points the last 10 games, both leading the team. . . . The last time the teams played the Bobcats beat the Raptors 100-95 on Jan. 20, 2014 with DeMar DeRozan scoring 25 points in 38:46 minutes.
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The Toronto Raptors have a big problem on their hands. Not a large one—let’s take a breath; they’re 24-10, first in the Atlantic, second in the conference and they’re about to get their leading scorer back in DeMar DeRozan. Things have been going fairly well, relatively speaking. But the numbers and recent results on the court seem to indicate that Coach Dwayne Casey has a problem on his hands with the team’s bigs. I’m talking about Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and, occasionally, Chuck Hayes (While I acknowledge the existence of Greg Stiemsma and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira as big men technically on the roster, we’re going to be ignoring the 63 forgettable minutes they’ve cumulatively played so far this season). The Raptor’s defensive numbers are way down, having dropped from the 11th ranked defense a year ago to the 23rd ranked squad so far this year. Echoing those numbers fittingly is the team’s drop from 12th to 26th in defensive rebounding. The play of the team’s big men has been a big part of that. The team has struggled to rebound, struggled to find lineup balance, gotten brutalized by small ball teams and seen their efficiency dip. The question is, what’s accounting for this, and how do they fix it?
The bench bigs have been a mixed bag so far. Chuck Hayes has an elite skill that keeps his spot in the NBA: guarding bulky low post scorers. When you face on, as the Raptors did in their one game against Memphis, he can be essential. There aren’t many of those dinosaurs left though. As a traditional every day big man, it quickly becomes apparent that Hayes is the same height as Grievis Vasquez. His rebounding, help defense, rim protection and scoring are all problems, which is why he isn’t the answer to anything that isn’t a low post scoring machine.
Hansbrough is nothing close to a centre, which is a problem, because with Patrick Patterson being as effective of a weapon as he’s been offensively, the Raptors really need a backup 5 for the 2nd unit. Hansbrough is not that type of player. He’s undersized for the 5 spot and not much of a leaper, as his 51.8% opponent field goal percentage at the rim insinuates. Kyle Lowry has put up more efficient rebounding and rim protection numbers than Hansbrough has this season. This isn’t meant as a dump on Psycho-T, so much as it is a reality check. Because neither he nor Patterson can play centre, Casey has tried to stretch out either Amir or Valanciunas for the first 12-14 minutes of games, and the results in the final 2-4 minutes of first quarters has reflected their fatigue.
Patrick Patterson has been absolutely lethal offensively, ranking near the league leaders in 3pt% and offensive rating. The team’s splits have been very good when he’s played with Amir Johnson or as part of an all-bench second unit. But Patterson isn’t good enough to contain opposing bigs or rebound at anything close to what his position requires. He’s also not quick enough to guard small forwards against small ball lineups, where the Raptors have gotten killed. While coming off the bench, Patterson is averaging the same amount of minutes as Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. While his offence has been great, playing an equal share of minutes has reflected in the teams rebounding and defensive numbers, as Patterson’s real plus minus has him at -1.74 on the season.
Amir Johnson has not looked himself this season playing on hobbled ankles, but he hasn’t really been the problem either. Offensively, he’s been dynamite when used. He’s shooting 58% from the floor, 38% from 3, taking an attempt about every other game now, with the 5th best effective field percentage in the league. However, his numbers have slipped across the board defensively and on the boards. Amir’s rebounding numbers have dropped from grabbing a healthy 51.7% of available rebounds and putting himself in position for 12.6 rebounds a game in 2013-14, according to nba.com’s player tracking data, to scooping just 48% of available rebounds while being in position for 11.5 boards a game so far in 2014-15. Part of that decline can be attributed to his positioning further away from the basket. Amir is also playing about 2 full minutes less a game this year than last season. That could account for being out of place for an extra rebound this season. Amir is also grabbing 54.1% of contested rebounds, the 9th best such mark in the league. So it’s not the contested rebounds he’s missing out on, so much as the easy ones. That suggests that the answer is more likely a combination of scheme and other teammates either being in a closer position for rebounds or more enthusiastic for empty stats.
There have been two holes in Amir’s game this season though. Once a fantastic rotation help player and an underrated rim protector, Amir’s numbers guarding the basket have dipped hard this year. His rim protecting stats in opponent field goal percentage at the rim have fallen from a team best 47.9% a year ago to 51% now. There is no attributing that stat to positioning away from the rim or minutes played. Ankles perhaps, but the difference has hurt.
Ankles have been the real problem with Amir Johnson’s game though. Less because of the drop in rebounding and rim protection, and more because they’re not allowing him to play the minutes the Raptors need him to play. Amir has been nothing short of essential to the team’s performance, but he has only been able to play 26 minutes a game, down from 28.8 last season. His career minutes had previously been hamstrung by fouling rate, as Amir’s always impressive per 36 minute stats were asterisked by a rate that always had him fouling out before he could get to 36. But Amir is averaging just 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes now. The problem is his health. The Raptors need Amir Johnson on the floor. Jonas Valanciunas has been a big net positive when he’s been on the floor with Amir, and a complete disaster whenever he plays with Patterson or anyone else. Despite a down season, Amir is still the 22nd best player in ESPN’s real plus-minus stat, with a +2.15 defensive rating. The Raptors don’t need Amir to change his game to improve defensively; they just need more of it.
The real conundrum has been Jonas Valanciunas. His rebounding, rim protection, scoring, fg%, foul rate, free throw attempts, ft% and turnover percentage are all notable improvements from last season. That’s great news, and genuinely impressive. He’s better this year across the board. Except that his minutes are down and his on/off splits are now at a disastrous -12.3. That’s very bad news. But how are these two things happening?
Valanciunas is getting to the line 4.4 times a game on just 8.4 shots. That’s very good. He’s also hitting 54% of those 8.4 shots, another very good mark. He’s passing very little out of the post, but he has offset that some with both his efficiency, and a reduced turnover rate. Even the on/off numbers are deceiving, as the Raptors have scored 111.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, a better number than the 4th best offence Golden State Warriors average. It’s just that they’ve managed to score 117.5 without him, a number that would blow the league best Dallas Mavericks offence out of the water.
Valanciunas’ defensive splits are far more of a concern, with the Raptors holding teams to a respectable 104.4 points per 100 possessions without Valanciunas, a number in line with their 11th best defense a season ago. With him on the court, they’re getting dinged for 111.8, a number worse than the New York Knicks, who I’m not even sure are an actual basketball team anymore. Again, on/off splits can be deceiving. Valanciunas plays mostly against the opposing teams starters, so it makes some sense that the team’s defense is better against opposing 2nd units. For all the maligned criticism of Valanciunas new focus on verticality defense, the results suggest improvement. Jonas is holding opponents to 49% shooting at the rim on 8.2 attempts per game. That’s not a Hibbertian 38% by any means, but its not awful, and it’s well down from his 51.4% a season ago. Valanciunas is also grabbing the same percent of contested rebounds as Marc Gasol, Kenneth Faried and Dwight Howard, and among the league leaders in rebounding opportunities despite only playing 26 minutes a game.
It’s tough to make sense of the numbers for Valanciunas. He’s improved across the board, but he’s getting yanked from games earlier and more often than a season ago. Jonas has been productive playing with Amir, as the two are +5.4 points on the season in 543 minutes together. The starting and closing lineup isn’t the problem; it’s everything in between. Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson have been outscored by -4.1 points in 274 minutes together and Hansbrough and Valanciunas got marley-whopped in their 11 disastrous minutes together, dropping -27.3 points. Lineups are at the heart of Toronto’s big problem. Valanciunas and Amir can’t get enough time together, either because of injury or a quick hook against small ball teams. Dwayne Casey has opted to react to other team’s strengths in facing small ball so far this season, sitting Valanciunas altogether sometimes and struggling to find 5-man groups that can contain space and pace. It hasn’t worked. The team has gotten badly outrebounded whenever they’ve abandoned the two big frontcourt, and their 3 point defense and opponent assist rate hasn’t been any better when they’ve gone small. It seems worth trying to make teams adapt to them, and learning how to punish small ball teams with size. Valanciunas dominated Phoenix in Toronto for 27 and 11. He hardly played at all in the rematch until the game was already well out of hand, when he used the 4th quarter to get to 21 and 10. Dwayne Casey has done a fantastic job this season, but he has seemed to willing to let other teams dictate the matchups. If the Raptors are going to make a run come playoff time, it won’t be because the answer to Valanciunas’ -12.3 split is Jonas sitting on the bench. It will be because they’ve figured out how to balance their frontcourt rotations and utilize the frontcourt weapons they have. The bigs are a problem now, and if it isn’t figured out, it could turn into a very big problem down the line.
DeRozan needs more time to improve conditioning.
DeMar DeRozan provided an update to reporters on Wednesday with regard to his recovery from a torn adductor. DeRozan’s leg is healed, but he will need more time to regain conditioning after missing more than a month.
DeMar DeRozan won’t play tomorrow after all. He and staff want him to get a few more practices user belt. Targeting next week.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) January 7, 2015
DeRozan’s groin injury is fully healed & he’s been cleared but both he & the docs feel he needs to get conditioning back before he returns
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 7, 2015
It was originally reported by Yahoo Sports that DeRozan would return on Jan. 8 against the Charlotte Hornets. Should DeRozan indeed target a return next week, he would also miss a Saturday Jan. 10 contest against the Boston Celtics. The week thereafter, the Raptors face the Detroit Pistons (winners of 6 straight since waiving Josh Smith), Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans.
Easing DeRozan back into the rotation is a wise move. A shorthanded squad should be able to defeat the Hornets and Celtics (combined record of 23-47).
The Raps have an extra first-round pick in the bag (thanks, Knicks!), a bunch of midlevel expiring contracts to throw around, and a close relationship with one team — the Nuggets — that appears to be nearing the realization it cannot make the playoffs this season, per several league sources. “You read about it and hear about the East, the East, the East,” Ujiri says. “And you have to think about it sometimes. Is this a rare time? Is this period — the next year or two — something we have to take advantage of?” Would the Raptors deal their first-rounder in exchange for someone who could help today — an extra dose of rim protection for a bottom-10 defense, a hybrid forward, or some scoring juice to slot ahead of Amir Johnson at power forward? “That’s a question I can’t answer,” Ujiri says. “It depends on what’s there. But I won’t make decisions that are going to shorten our growth and help us only this year.”
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey summed up the mood at the end of the trip rather succinctly. “I think we’re mentally flat,” he said. “Some of the mistakes we’re making are just mental flat mistakes. All the yelling and screaming in the world is not going to change that. It’s a byproduct of a long season, you’re going to have stretches like that in an 82-game season. “Some of the mistakes we’re making have nothing to do with the pace of the game — getting to your spots, making sure you get into the gaps defensively, what we call rear-view challenging shots, going under when we should be going over. Just mental things that we went through yesterday in practice that we were just flat on. We’ll get back to basics and we’ll get it corrected. It’s a long season, no time for panic.” In short, the Raptors hit a bit of a wall. It might have been different if they had got that game in Portland, the one they lost in overtime, but that wasn’t the case. They come home with their first three-game losing skid of the season.
Together at home in Toronto for the first time since Dec. 21, the travel-weary Raptors had a short but intensely competitive practice, focusing on defensive fundamentals. The team has played a more offensive style while trying to manage without DeMar DeRozan, who has been out since he suffered a groin injury on Nov. 28. But as the star swingman works to return to the lineup this week, the 24-10 squad is recommitting to defence, and coach Dwane Casey hopes the team will show off its tougher side. “If we’d compete in games the way we do in practice, we’d be a much better defensive team, so we’ve got to carry that over to the games,” said Casey. “We had to adjust [without DeRozan], and the way we did that was playing a little faster, which in turn affected our defence. So we have to get a little more deliberate, play a style that will travel, a style that will produce in the playoffs. I have never seen it yet – an up-and-down, fast-break style team that wins a championship.”
“No, no, not at all,” Lowry replied when asked if he thought it was a successful trip as, despite the losses, the Raptors took some very good teams down the wire. “We had a losing record. When you have a losing record on a road trip, it’s generally not successful. We won a couple of games, but we wanted more. We wanted to win them all.” Lowry carried the load, like he has in DeRozan’s absence, but that can’t be expected of him all the time. The Raptors defence was also exposed because, without DeRozan in the lineup, they were forced to play a different kind of ball. “Since DeMar has gone down, our offensive style has changed a little bit, we’re more of a running team, we play a little faster and, again, I think that affected our defence somewhat,” Casey said. “DeMar coming back will give us more of a slow-down, semi-postup game which in turn will help our defence. “We had to survive (without DeRozan) and our offence stepped up and carried us in the games we won on the road trip and before that. We had to adjust, and the way we adjusted was playing a little faster which in turn affected our defence. We have to get a little more deliberate, play a style that’s going to travel (work on the road), play a style that’s going to produce in the playoffs.”
“The last time I checked, we beat them here at our place,” Casey said, in reference to the Raptors’ 104-100 win over the Suns on Nov. 24 at the Air Canada Centre. “Those types of things put a chip on our shoulder. Kyle being fourth in voting, that should put a chip on our shoulder. (Hornacek) saying they should have beat us, how weak the Eastern Conference is, that should put a chip on our shoulder. “Because the last time I checked, we beat them at our place, and they beat us at their place, no matter what the score was. Karma is something in this league. We’ve got to play with that edge, and that type of edginess to make sure that we prove that we’re for real.”
First, the difference between the first 14 games and the most recent 20 games is pretty stark. In the first 14 games, the defence gave up a paltry 97.8 points per 100 possessions. That would be good for second best defence in the league right now. In the 20 games since, 109.1, good for third worst in the league. So, where are those 11.7 additional points coming from? First, we have to look at who they’ve played. In the first 14 games, their opponent’s average Offensive Rating (ORTG) was 102.8. Since, it has been 104.1. So, applying that difference to a league average Defensive Rating (DRTG), that means they’ve actually performed as a 98.6 DRTG team in the first 14 games, and a 108.6 DRTG team in the last 20.
All right I’ll vote Conservative
Between his play on the court, Harper’s backing, and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey’s threat to fight opposing coaches should they leave Lowry off the All-Star team, expect to see Lowry take his deserving place next to the Eastern Conference’s elite next month in New York.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper took to Twitter on Tuesday to tell his countrymen and women to log their votes for Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry for the NBA All-Star Game. Harper also used the hashtag #NBABallot so his vote would be logged on Twitter.
No one thinks of Johnson as an offensive player, and he’s not. But he does enough to make an impact. Most big men are taught to run to the rim in transition to get early deep position for easy buckets. For example, Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies is one of the best at scoring easy layups by running the floor in transition and posting up. What I love about Johnson is that he knows what he cannot do. He’s not a post scoring threat like Randolph. You don’t give Johnson the ball in the post and let him score using post moves. That is not the type of player he is. He is an agile athlete who can outrun most big men in the NBA. In this play, Johnson simply outruns Brandan Wright to put himself in a better position to grab an offensive rebound or score an uncontested layup.
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Terrence Ross or James Johnson? Why can’t the Raptors play defense? Should the Raptors make a trade?
Without a definitive topic to write about, I turned to Twitter and the Raptors Republic Forums to solicit questions for a mailbag. In the future, if there’s anything you would like me to write about, hit me up at william (at) raptorsrepublic.com or @william_lou. A huge thank you goes out to anyone who submitted questions.
@raptorsrepublic with the return of DeRozan …should James Johnson maybe stay in the starting lineup and T-Ross be moved to the bench?
— Richard Pietro (@richardpietro) January 5, 2015
Before I answer this question, I just want to speak my peace on Terrence Ross. He was given the perfect opportunity to step up in DeMar DeRozan’s absence and he failed to step up. That’s not to say that he sucked — which is untrue — but he produced just as he always did, save for a slight uptick in rebounding. As I mentioned in this week’s Raptors Weekly podcast, Ross is a fine player if we accept his limitations, specifically with regards to driving to the hoop. After all, over the span of 2.5 seasons, it’s become clear that Ross doesn’t have a strong desire to attack the basket.
However, it’s hard to accept Ross’s limitations because he will flash moments of great potential. The 51-point game comes to mind, but as J.M. Poulard pointed out last week, Ross has all the makings of a star talent. His jumpshot is pure and he has seemingly boundless athleticism. But I think we get too caught up on fixating on the frustrating chasm between potential and production. Ross is far from perfect, but he can stretch the floor and he’s probably the Raptors’ quickest perimeter defender. Those are important skills that the Raptors — and the starting lineup as a whole — desperately needs.
Swapping out James Johnson for Ross would probably result in an upgrade defensively, but it would kill spacing in the starting lineup, as Lowry would become the only viable 3-point threat on the floor. Moreover, the Raptors have specific sets designed for Ross (eg: double-pin down) which simply cannot be run with Johnson.
Ross also seems to function best when decisions are made for him in a structured system, as the starting lineup provides. He needs to be set up to score (unless you particularly enjoy his pull-up midrange shots) and the second unit is like the basketball equivalent of the Wild West. A free-flowing system suits James Johnson well, as he’s a much more intuitive player who can pick up scraps on broken plays — think timely cuts to the basket — than Ross.
The Raptors are in a nice position to make a trade. They have a surplus of 1st-round picks and a few expiring contracts to match salaries (notably Hayes and Fields). The only real concern with respect to flexibility is the luxury tax.
In my opinion, the Raptors should target a spare big and perhaps a spot-up wing who can reliably guard small forwards. That’s perhaps a lot to ask for, but with a wide gap between the have’s and have not’s this season, a number of players on wayward teams should be available.
Two guys I’d target are Ed Davis and Jonas Jerebko. They’re far from sexy names, but they fit well with the Raptors’ immediate needs. Davis is familiar to fans as a decent shot-blocker who can play in the pick-and-roll, which makes him a perfect complement to Greivis Vasquez’s game. Offering up Tyler Hansbrough and a 2nd-rounder might be enough to entice the Lakers. Jerebko, on the other hand, is a heady wing defender who can knock down wide open treys. He’s big enough to guard both forward positions and he’d be a great option to have for 10-15 minutes per game. A straight-up swap of Landry Fields and a 2nd-rounder makes sense for both teams involved.
However, I would be leery of making a big trade mid-season for two reasons. One, the Raptors are 24-10. They’re doing great. There’s no need to make a huge change to something that is clearly working well. Two, a play for a free agent in 2015 would be the Raptors’ best bet because it would only cost cap space instead of squandering prospect capital.
Blake is writing about the Raptors’ defensive woes tomorrow, so check back on Wednesday for a far more detailed diagnosis of what ails Toronto.
As Ryan Ellis notes, the Raptors’ defense is poor, really poor. In the 18 games since DeRozan’s injury, the Raptors’ defensive rating clocks in at 108.6, which ranks as the third-worst defense in the league, just ahead of the Timberwolves (108.9) and Knicks (110.2). On the season, the Raptors’ defense ranks 22nd.
By shot location (including free throws), the Raptors’ performance as viewed by NBA rank is shown below.
The takeaways from the chart above are not abundantly obvious. The Raptors don’t allow a opponents to shoot a particularly high proportion of shots from the ideal spots (FTs, at the rim, 3-pointers), though they don’t excel in guarding any particular area, either. The only quirk that stands out is that opponents are tremendously effective in the midrange area against Toronto, which is annoying, but altogether benign.
As for Valanciunas specifically, his issue is two-fold. First, he’s simply not quick enough to make rotations. Second, he doesn’t yet have the awareness to consistently make the right rotations. He’s fine when he’s just asked to guard the basket, but put him into motion and Valanciunas’s flaws start to emerge. Teams have made a note of Valanciunas’s immobility and exploited him in pick-and-roll scenarios. This puts Dwane Casey in a bind, as he prefers his bigs to be aggressive in hedging and helping, something Valanciunas is not yet able to pull off.
But the dilemma with taking Valanciunas off the floor is rebounding. He’s the Raptors’ best rebounder by far and with Amir Johnson rebounding at the rate of a small forward, the Raptors are susceptible to second chance points.
Furthermore, Valanciunas is the Raptors’ only true rim protector. Valanciunas is the only big who is holding opponents under 50 percent shooting around the rim, which makes sense as Valanciuas is the only 7-footer in the Raptors’ rotation.
Having said all that, the Raptors’ defense has been significantly better with Valanciunas on the bench. As noted by Eric Koreen of the National Post, the Raptors allow 100.4 points per 100 possessions when Valanciunas sits as compared to 109.1 when he plays. For reference, that represents the difference between the 4th-best defense and the 2nd-worst defense in the league.
In short: the Raptors are between a rock and a hard place with respect to Valanciunas.
Lightning round for the forums:
Q: What do you believe is the absolute upside for TRoss. And where do you realistically think he lands (player comparisons).
A: Absolute upside: Jason Richardson. Realistic outcome: Courtney Lee.
Q: What do you believe is the absolute upside for JV. And where do you realistically think he lands (player comparisons).
A: Absolute upside: Marcin Gortat. Realistic outcome: A slightly quicker Nikola Pekovic.
Q: What are the odds that Landry Fields gets a contract next year?
A: He’s pretty much in the same camp as Ronnie Brewer, that being a smart wing player who can defend and make cuts, but can’t shoot whatsoever. Brewer is unsigned, so, this appears to be the end for Landry too, that is, unless his elbow magically heals. If so, then he absolutely gets a deal. If this is the last we see of Fields in the league, however, I’m sure he can spin his fame and Stanford education into something great. I’m pulling for him.
Q: How much better does PPat get?
A: Not much better? He’s 25 and he’s made the most of his skills. He worked tirelessly to become a reliable 3-point shooter and he’s a decent defender who can blitz pick-and-rolls with hard hedges. That’s pretty solid.
Q: How important is Alex McKechnie to the Raps?
A: The Raptors are one of the healthiest teams in the league and DeRozan’s groin injury was the only serious ailment to afflict this team in the past two seasons. Find even one other organization that can hold the same claim. He’s a miracle worker.
Q: Which player is most important for righting the suddenly sub-par defense, and how does the team compensate for his wonky ankles?
A: There’s no in-house replacement for Amir. For what it’s worth, the Raptors are significantly better defensively when he’s on the floor, bad wheels and all.
Q: How have the best offenses generally fared in the playoffs?
A: A quick review of the last four championships and their offensive rating (in brackets). 2011 Mavericks (8th), 2012 Heat (8th), 2013 Heat (2nd), 2014 Spurs (7th). Defense wins championships, but not without a top-10 offense, it seems.
Q: How is it that DeMar (someone we see as a sub-par defender) makes this team a top 10 defense?
A: A fascinating question. Two things. One, the Raptors are not really qualitatively good enough to be a top 10 defense as currently constructed. Two, DeRozan makes the correct rotations most of the time and his free-throw shooting really helps to limit transition opportunities.
Q: Is this team being hurt by its relative lack of veteran presence? Conversely, with so many younger players getting playing time (entire starting line-up (save for Amir), Patterson, James Johnson, Vasquez… even Fields), how much more room for growth and improvement is there by the time the playoffs begin?
A: First question: No. The leadership structure on the team seems solid from afar. Second question: Improvements could come on defense. The Raptors proved last year that they could produce at a top-10 rate on defense. They should be able to bounce back to at least average defensively.
Q: Does Stiemsma have anything to offer this team at this point besides being a fifth big?
A: He does great bench celebrations.
Q: Is Tom Sterner’s upside Dick Clark, or is the next Ryan Seacrest the best we can hope for?
A: Don’t you dare sully the honest name of Tom Sterner with the likes of mere mortals. Sterner is a Machiavellian of the highest accord.
Q: Why is it so hard to find a hat that fits Casey’s head?
A: My hat size is 9, so I feel Casey’s pain.
Thanks again to everyone who sent in questions.
Kyle Lowry ended 2014 with a bang. Forced into an even bigger role with the Raptors in the absence of the injured DeMar DeRozan, Lowry played well enough to be named the NBA Eastern Conference player of the month for December. He’s just the second Raptor to be named player of the month: Chris Bosh got the honour in December, 2007.
Only twice over the past 10 years has a player that was awarded player of the month honours in November, December, and January not been named an All-Star: Zach Randolph in 2010-11 and Chris Webber, who was traded mid-season, in 2004-05. Don’t expect Lowry to join that short list. The Raptors’ point guard has been playing at an All-Star level all season and he elevated his game when DeRozan, an All-Star last year, went down.
Lowry posted averages of 22.3 points, 8.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 15 games last month and help the Raptors to an 11-4 record. He shot .463 (119-for-257) from the field and .405 (30-for-74) from three-point range. Lowry led Eastern Conference players in scoring through the first week of December with 29.3 points and was named Player of the Week. He was the only player in the NBA to average 20.0+ points and 8.5 assists in December. Highlighting Lowry’s month was a career-high 39-point performance December 3 in a 123-104 win at Utah. It was one of three 30-point scoring nights posted by Lowry, all on the road. He also recorded a season-high 14 assists December 9 at Cleveland and matched a career high with six steals December 14 at New York. Lowry scored a team-best 25 points December 27 against the L.A. Clippers, snapping the Clippers’ eight-game home winning streak. Through 33 games this season Lowry is averaging a career-best 20.7 points, 7.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds. He has led the Raptors in scoring 12 times and posted nine double-doubles.
With co-star DeMar DeRozan out for the entire month of December, Lowry has had to put the team on his back some night to get out with a W. It hasn’t always been easy for Lowry, but he has met his challenges with a Sensei-like level of focus. It seems like nothing has been able to distract Lowry on the court, regardless of whether fouls have been called for him or against him. While playing against a seemingly endless collection of elite point guards in the last fifteen games (Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, etc…), Lowry has never backed down.
The hope is that DeMar DeRozan’s return to the lineup from a groin injury, coming against Charlotte on Thursday, will help. The Raptors were 28th in defence while DeRozan was out, ahead of only the abysmal Knicks and Timberwolves, and it was clear that some players were overextended in his absence. The Raptors also took pains to give Lowry some rest on defence while he was out, such as when he guarded P.J. Tucker instead of point-guard dynamos Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, on Sunday. There was a trickle-down effect created by DeRozan’s injury that the Raptors never really figured out how to account for, at least on defence. That is worrisome in itself, though. Ross showed a little offensive progression, but he remains shy of being the consistently above-average perimeter defender that the Raptors want him to be. Not many players can keep Suns speedster Bledsoe in front of them, but he burned Ross often on Sunday. Across the board, the crux of the Raptors’ defensive struggles has been an inability to keep a ball-handler out of the paint. Unless you have a Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert or Serge Ibaka, that is tough problem to fix.
“It is what it is. We lost some games we could have won. We won some games that were good wins but we didn’t build off it,” was point guard Kyle Lowry’s assessment after the Raptors were manhandled 125-109 by the Suns Sunday night. The Raptors need to shake off the losses (which came with DeMar DeRozan sidelined by injury) and look to get a spark at home, added Lowry, voted the Eastern Conference player of the month for December. “We can’t dwell on it. It’s a tough stretch and without our all-star, it caught up to us a little bit. But we have a few games where we have to make up for it on the home floor,” said Lowry.
Much of this uncertainty can be attributed to the absence of DeRozan, who has missed over five weeks’ worth of games with a torn tendon in his groin, but is expected to be back in uniform when the Raptors return to the court at home to the Hornets on Thursday. Toronto has gone 11-7 without its leading scorer – 10-1 against sub-.500 competition, but just 1-6 versus winning teams over that stretch. The Raptors have lost three games by 10 points or more this season – all of them without DeRozan, with two coming on this trip. They’ve squandered three games in which they held a lead going into the fourth quarter – twice on the trip, all without DeRozan. This is not to say, with any certainty, that he is the sole cause of, or the easy solution to these problems. Even with DeRozan, the Raptors had their share of difficulty against elite competition last season (they were 16-25 against winning clubs), prone to late-game offensive droughts similar to the ones that spelled recent disaster in losses to the Bulls and Blazers. If nothing else, getting DeRozan back should help decipher whether or not these are big-picture concerns.
I joined Roger Lajoie tonight to chat about the Toronto Raptors. We talked about DeMar DeRozan’s return to the team this week, Toronto’s tough road trip and if Masai Ujiri needs to make any trades.
So, what would be the ideal seeding to finish at? It seems like a strange question since the number one seed guarantees home court throughout the East playoffs, but I’d venture to say any of the top-four teams would prefer to avoid the Cavaliers in the first round, and if possible, avoid the bracket that would set up a potential second round matchup with the Bulls. The Cavs have been a mess on the defensive end so far this season, and have a very thin roster. But if they hit the playoffs healthy, they still have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. I would personally prefer to face off against a younger team like the Milwaukee Bucks, or a team with much less talent overall like Brooklyn.
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Kyle Lowry over everyone else in the East for the month of December.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, our very own Kyle Lowry (deservedly) took home player of the month honors for the Eastern Conference in December, as reported by Raptors Media Relations. Lowry joins Chris Bosh (2007) as the only Raptors to have captured a player of the month award.
Lowry’s production alone was worthy of merit. In 15 games played, Lowry averaged 22.3 points (57.5 TS%), 8.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while leading the Raptors to a record of 11-4.
However, it’s the context of Lowry’s performance that is truly of note. Lowry kept the Raptors humming without DeMar DeRozan in the lineup. Under Lowry’s guidance, the Raptors’ offense ranked as the league’s best offense despite the absence of their lone all-star, clocking in at an offensive rating of 112.9.
With DeRozan reportedly returning the lineup on Thursday against the Charlotte Hornets, Lowry’s raw production will likely take a step back, although his effectiveness should see an uptick.
Congrats again, Lowry.
Well, that was terrible.
Let’s start with the positives.
Okay, now that those are out of the way, we can get into the meat of the Toronto Raptors’ 125-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. It was, for my money, the worst effort the team has turned in all season, even ranking below the overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Sloppy offensively, disastrous defensively, stinking of a team who just wanted to get home, this was thoroughly disappointing.
That’s especially so because the Raptors had made the most of a tough stretch to this point. They started a hellacious six-game trip at 2-1, dropped an acceptable narrow defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers, and hung with the world-beating Golden State Warriors for a half. The second half against Golden State was understandably poor, and the hope was for a quick rebound to end the trip on a high note, possibly even with a winning record on the west coast portion.
It was also the team’s final game without DeMar DeRozan, who will return from his 18-game absence on Thursday. While the defense had suffered in his absence, the offense played well enough to carry the team, and a strong showing Sunday could have let DeRozan return knowing he didn’t have to put a major weight on his shoulders or save the team from anything dire.
One game shouldn’t change macro outlook, but Sunday certainly reshapes how the trip and DeRozan’s absence look. The trip was a mild disappointment at 2-4 and included six of the worst quarters the Raptors have played all year (the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls, the second half against the Warriors, and the first three quarters against the Suns). The team now returns home to an easy slate needing to rediscover solid footing rather than trying to build on established momentum. DeRozan also returns to a team on a three-game losing skid, one that went 11-7 without him but saw their defense slip to 28th since he hit the shelf. Despite the 24-10 record, it feels like there’s pressure on the team to really solidify themselves on this home stretch, something that feels odd to think or need or request given what they’ve done so far. The sky is hardly falling, but the ship needs some righting.
All of that can be discussed later, I suppose, since I owe you a post-game. By putting a picture and title on this post, I put in more effort for this article than the Raptors did on Sunday. It really was frustrating, with the team looking completely disinterested in defending and appearing to have no clue how their offense operates.
Some of that may be teams figuring the Raptors’ offense out. Lou Williams doesn’t like to be forced right. Williams and Greivis Vasquez both struggle when guarded by long-armed wings. Most of them team’s plays are designed to get a guard moving with a head of steam, north-south toward the basket, to draw a foul or draw attention for a kick-out. It’s not particularly complicated, tough though it may be to contain.
Those are things the last three opponents have keyed in on, but Sunday’s outcome had much more to do with the team’s 21 turnovers, most of them of the careless variety. The Raptors employ a terrific offense that doesn’t actually produce field goals at a high rate but instead relies on decent offensive rebounding, a great free throw rate and impeccable ball control. None of those elements provided an edge on Sunday, and only Jonas Valanciunas (beasting on Alex Len) and James Johnson (the only Raptor other than Landry Fields who seemed to give a single damn Sunday) playing well on that end of the floor.
Here are some examples of the excellent offensive decisions and outcomes that we were treated to:
Nope, I don’t have any clue, either. And offense wasn’t the team’s biggest issue by a long-shot, even if Phoenix did generate 30 freaking points off of turnovers.
The real issue was defense. Again, we turn to some footage for examples.
I had countless plays circled in my game notes from the second quarter to dissect, but there’s really not a point. Phoenix hanging 125 on 109 possessions is ugly. Their shooting 53.9 percent is ugly. Their having their way, no matter the attacker or shooter, is ugly. All of it was ugly. Tyrone Hill looks like an 8 compared to this defensive showing.
The Raptors just lacked the requisite effort, full stop, which is exceedingly rare for this team. The Raptors are among nine teams who have lost by 15 or more two or fewer times. It just so happens they’ve been the last two games. Even when certain players made decent defensive stands, the help was slow or nonexistent, or the switch a poor matchup. Tyler Hansbrough had no business in a game like this defensively, Vasquez has little business in any game defensively, and short of Fields forcing three turnovers on his own in the first quarter and James Johnson taking every possession personally, I didn’t at all get the feeling the Raptors saw this as a winnable game worth trying in.
Head coach Dwane Casey did, obviously, because that’s the only way to explain why Kyle Lowry played 34 minutes in a game that was decided by half. Actually, that still doesn’t even explain it, because at one point Lowry shared the floor with Bebe Nogueira, which should literally never happen in the 2014-15 season. There is absolutely no explanation for your most important player and your human concession of defeat to be on the court together. It makes no sense.
Hey, at least Bebe had a nice high-low feed, a dunk and got to foul three times. It’s no Bruno Caboclo sighting, but his entire being is a plea for levity at the end of a horrid outing.
It’s tough to say much else here. There are certainly excuses to make. This was the final game of a long road trip, the team had just played their guts out a few times in a row, Phoenix is the perfect opponent to take out a weary team, and so on. None of that really excuses such a thoroughly vacant performance, and I don’t care to make those excuses for them, but it is what it is.
The Raptors have capably battled through some adversity this season, but they’re now faced with rebounding from a losing streak for the first time. Three days off, the return of DeRozan, and the start of a six-game stint at home should be exactly what they need. Personally, I just don’t want to think about this Suns game anymore. Onward and upward, or whatever.
The podders reflection of a winless week includes an examination of what’s up with Dwane Casey’s infatuation with getting killed on defense.
- Phoenix reaction – no D
- Going small against GSW, benching JV
- Zach Lowe on giving JV some burn
- Will’s audio quality
- JV playing less minute than last season
- Compensating for DeRozan’s FTA
- Changes in Terrence Ross’s game over last 6 games
- Lou Wiliams and Greivis Vasquez – second-unit efficiency
- Rebounding issues with the second unit when going small
- Finding a big who can play pick ‘n roll in the second unit
- Vasquez’s shooting a lot in pick ‘n roll situations
- Getting more out of James Johnson
- Portland OT defense
- Portland officiating
- Charlotte preview
- The reason behind Bismack Biyombo’s struggle
- DeRozan’ returns vs Charlotte, but so does Gerald Henderson
- Celtics preview
- Terrence Ross’s go-to shot
- Bruno update
The Raptors were a step slow all night as the Suns turned corners and went unimpeded to the basket. The 17 turnovers a couple of nights earlier in Oakland that were so egregious looked decent in comparison to the complete disregard the Raptors had for ball safety last night. By halftime, they had already turned it over 13 times, leading to 25 points and a first-half high for an opponent in points with 70. They finished the night with 21 turnovers which led to 30 points. It was not pretty in any shape or form and it resulted in the first three-game losing streak of the Raptors season. But this team has built itself a cushion knowing these times were ahead. So the post-game locker room was not the doom-and-gloom you might expect.
The Raptors were collectively dead from the neck up from the opening tip as they lost a third straight game for the first time since December, 2013. The Suns hung a 43-point second quarter on them to assume a 70-53 halftime lead and render the second half basically 24 minutes of inconsequential play. It was the second straight ugly first half for Toronto — the Warriors dropped 66 on them Friday in Oakland — and that’s a troubling habit developing. But not enough to cause the players too much angst. “We can’t worry about what happened two games ago or a game ago,” said Kyle Lowry. “Tonight we got our butt kicked, and we have a long homestand to go home to and prepare for and that’s what we should focus on.”
““I think we’re mentally flat. Some of the mistakes we’re making are just mental, flat mistakes. All of the yelling and screaming in the world is not going to change that. It’s just a byproduct of a long season, you’re going to have stretches like that in an 82 game season so there’s no room to panic or anything like that. We got to get back to Toronto and get back to the basics defensively. We’re going to start from scratch, we have to. But again, mentally we got to get rev back up again and turn it back on again and not let the grind of a NBA season grind us down.” – Head coach Dwane Casey, on a tough end to the trip for the Raptors
There were no lead changes after the first quarter. The Suns used their second-quarter surge as a knockout punch and then made sure their opponent never got up again. Phoenix has longed to show the killer instinct they know is necessary to become a surefire playoff team. Sunday night, against the second-best team from the East, they showed it. “We started the game with a vengeance and we finished with it,” Bledsoe said. “You couldn’t ask for a better game.”
Valanciunas finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, this after a career-high 27 points in the first meeting against Phoenix this season. I’ll probably repeat this over and over again, but in certain matchups — most of them, really — the Raptors need to get their big man involved early, and then stick with it throughout. Valanciunas is proving that he deserves the additional touches, and the team has to adjust accordingly to make sure we’re maximizing his minutes on the offensive end
The Suns did a great job of getting out in transition, scoring a season-high 30 points off 21 forced turnovers and knocking out a season-high 15 steals, led by five from Isaiah Thomas. Phoenix blitzed Toronto in the second quarter when they scored a season-high 43 points in the quarter by shooting 78% from the field. The hot shooting gave the Suns a 17 point lead at the half, and never allowed Toronto to have a hint of hope. After the game, Hornacek was impressed by the way his team was able to keep the pedal to the medal all night and not allowing the Raptors back into the game. “Most times we’ll get up by 15, 16 and then kind of put it on cruise control for a little bit and let it get back down to eight or 10,” Hornacek said. ” And then we will go again, but they had the foot on the gas the whole night. If they play like that, we’re going to win a ton of games and have a chance.”
Raptors looking for a reason to give up on final game of long, 6 game road trip before heading back to Toronto…Suns are providing it.
With the exception of the team totalling 20 turnovers and Kyle Lowry going 6 for 17, the Raptors’ offence may have been the only positive for the team tonight…barely. Toronto shot 45.8% from the field and were able to get large scoring contributions from the second unit. Lou Williams and James Johnson both had good games. Johnson with his constant efficiency, and Williams with his uncanny ability to continually get to the line. The addition of DeRozan in the next few games should see a real shift in the dynamic of this team’s offence as they’ve been quite successful without him.
A problem that has plagued the Raps all season; albeit causing limited damage (so far), is not only taking what the defense gives them, but on many occasions they’ve allowed their counterparts to control the majority of the tempo. When Dwane Casey decided to go small in the second-quarter (sending Jonas Valanciunas to the bench), catching up to the game’s feverish pace was the right move. However, JV’s 11 total minutes played (with one personal foul) tells a story of an overall miscalculation. In-game adjustments are a battle of give and take. After you give in, at least make an attempt to take back control! …
What’s going on here in Phoenix is that there is a logjam of better, more experienced point guards ahead of him. The Suns, who didn’t have any guards under long-term contracts when they drafted Ennis after one year at Syracuse, now employ a talented trio ahead of him. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe start and they have Isaiah Thomas coming off the bench, leaving no room for Ennis as a fourth guard. That’s why the 20-year-old has yo-yoed between the NBA and the D League. In just six NBA games, he’s averaging 3.7 points and 1.7 assists per game; in a half-dozen D League contests, he averages more than 18 points per game. He may eventually find a way to stick with the Suns, but not until they can free up a roster spot and some playing time.
Lowry had a 23.7% usage rate and attempted 13.8 field goals per game during the first 16 games with DeMar in the fold and those numbers have skyrocketed to 29.2% and 17.8 respectively in the 17 games that the Raptors have played without DeRozan. Those are huge bumps that are almost certainly going to normalize once DD rejoins the Raps and they have to lean a little less on Lowry. It might not be right away, but betting on at least a slight Lowry regression would be pretty safe at this point. Of course, Kyle should still maintain the solid early-round value he was posting prior to DeRozan’s injury, so you shouldn’t be selling him just for the sake of it. You should be targeting first-round assets and nothing less, considering that’s exactly what Lowry has been for you for the past month or so.
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|Amir Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -12Following a play on the defensive end where neither Lowry or Valanciunas could get the whistle he made a huge block on Markieff Morris which ended in a transition 3-pointer by Ross. When he returned late 2Q the Raps went on a run. Coincidence? I don’t think so, his defense makes that much of a difference and he still sets the best screens on the team.Fortunately Casey limited his minutes (letting him rest those ankles) when he saw what direction the game was headed.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 27 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -16He still looks like a colt learning to stand when he tries to drive the paint. Whether it’s fear of being hit or simply the awkwardness he feels doing it. The point is he’s attempting to do it. Go back to the first 15 games and I bet he drove the paint once a game, tonight he had 3 drives in his first 9 minutes.To that end, I was impressed with his strong move to the bucket and score 3Q (8:12) followed by drawing back to back fouls on Dragic and Tucker for aggressive drives. He’s learning people.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 33 MIN | 9-14 FG | 3-4 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | -12Got out to another good start with 6 points and 3 rebounds in 10 minutes. Wasn’t very successful at stopping his opponent: Alex Len who had 6 points and 4 rebounds in the same time frame.He got his minutes this game, but showed where he needs to grow (on defense) as he let trailers easily pass by and often was either late or didn’t even bother to rotate. Still, he’s also learning and improving.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 34 MIN | 6-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | -5Thankfully DeRozan is slated to be back (reports are Thursday/next game) and Lowry needs him back the most. The wear and tear of leading and having to carry the Raptors is taking a toll. That bump on his arm is nasty and of late the zebras aren’t giving him any calls (not sure why).Once again he tried to put the team on his back but just didn’t have enough in the tank to do it by himself.|
|Landry Fields, SG 16 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -6In his first 3 minutes of play he had an offensive rebound, 3 steals, 2 turnovers and 2 points. Talk about someone making an impact (good and bad). The turnovers came on entry passes to Valanciunas.One thing I note when Fields is in the starting line-up is Ross moves more on the offensive end imitating Fields movement.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2Though he had lapses defensively in a game where fatigue is a factor (like in Denver) his energy is important. Despite him giving up some buckets in the paint to Suns he still grabbed 4 rebounds (2 offensive) and scored 2 points in first half.Fact he can’t be a volume shooter kept him off the floor second half when Raps were trying to mount a come back.|
|James Johnson, PF 26 MIN | 7-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +5Played just 4 minutes in the first match-up against the Suns. This time Phoenix learned early how much he brings to the court. He backed down Markieff Morris like a paper doll and when Raps fell behind by 16 he had a huge dunk to try to spur them on.Made a bullet pass to JV who missed the chippy then alertly darted in to grab the rebound and made a difficult put back. Immediately after he was the first guy down the court to steal the Suns long court pass. Best player on court first half with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.
Took up where he left off in second half with energy, great defense and was given a tech for making a motion with the ball. Still, best player on court besides Lowry tonight
|Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -14Kept hearing how he wasn’t scoring but he hasn’t been getting any touches the last 3 games. This game they finally found him and he connected on 2 of his first 3 attempts. Second half they stopped going to him again (go figure).Decent defense on guys bigger than him. I think he needs to talk to JV and figure out a way for them to communicate as he has fewer problems with Amir and Tyler which feels like it’s a matter of communication and trust.|
|Lucas Nogueira, C 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +4Nice to see him get some run. I like his height and motor. Hope the next time we see him it’s because we’re blowing someone out!|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 22 MIN | 0-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | -15Led the team with a minus -17 by the half and had a stat line that featured 1 rebound, 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Up until he came into the game it was the front court who the Raptors were having trouble containing. When he and Williams came in the back court caught on fire.Lowry, James Johnson and Lou Williams all looked to be trying to ignite a comeback and on three different occasions a bad shot, bad pass or failed defensive coverage by him led to shutting down any momentum the other 3 had gained. Is there a score lower than F?|
|Louis Williams, SG 28 MIN | 4-10 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | -7Teams have adjusted for him and now they are all shutting down his movement to the left (his preference)Second half he got called for a tech for TALKING to a ref. Seemed to put a spark under him as he starting scoring right after.|
Looked visibly frustrated trying to spur on his team. Not sure exactly what he is suppose to do to elicit more energy from a team who is obviously fatigued. As much as you hate to lose especially heart breakers like Portland, the loss in Golden State and today will help him to refocus the team.Only time I questioned his rotations is I felt James Johnson could have had more minutes earlier in the second half. And I wasn’t sure why he kept Lowry on the floor with them down 20, but knowing Lowry he probably refused to leave as he was still trying to mount a comeback with less than 4 minutes remaining.
Five Things We Saw
- Raptors looked tired from the onset as they seemingly tried to play faster than their bodies could move. Suns scored 70 points in the first half and led by 17. Raptors fatigue was most noticeable in the paint where they repeatedly didn’t block out which resulted in lay-up after lay-up.
- Despite losing the Raptors have the most wins versus the West with a 9-5 record
- Prior to the trip most of us thought we’d be lucky to come back 2-4 which is what we did. Personally, I felt we were robbed in Portland which could have been the third win. Now we return home to play 6 in a row at the ACC and get back DeMar DeRozan and 3 very much needed days of rest prior to their next game.
- This trip resulted in two records falling that had stood since the trade: it’s the first time they’ve lost a game by 20 points (14 was the previous high) and also the first time they’ve lost three games in a row.As much as I hate seeing those records fall I think it will help Casey refocus the team into committing on the defensive end again.
- I’m known for handing out high scores, and granted the team is tired but when you lose back to back games by double digits no one deserves an A or A+.
Raptors’ brutal six-game road trip concludes with one final stop in the desert.
Full disclosure: I caught very little of the Raptors’ last five games. I have been on vacation and apparently, when given the choice between windswept beaches and sneaking peaks at the Raptors game on a tiny laptop in a hotel lobby, the former is more preferable. This preview is being written in a muggy gate at LAX while the Raptors currently trail the Warriors 66-61 at the half.
The Suns are pretty transparent in their plan of attack: they’ll play smallball to the extreme. Everything play the Suns run comes from their backcourt. Whether it’s Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic running an endless stream of pick-and-rolls, or Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green sharing duties playing ISO, everything starts from the perimeter.
To complement their attack-oriented wings, the Suns like to spread the floor with at least four shooters at all times. Players like P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris will often camp in the corner on the weakside, ready at all times to punish the defense should they decide to send help on an initial pick-and-roll. The key will be to help appropriately and to rotate diligently. The Suns make a killing off the temporary lapses in a defense’s rotation, as evidenced by their 4th-ranked offense.
Defensively, the Suns are weak, ranking just 20th in defensive rating. Bledsoe is a hound at the point of attack, but very little resistance awaits at the rim — a product of Phoenix’s smallball strategy. The Suns allow the 5th-highest opponent field-goal percentage at the rim while allowing the 3rd-most attempts at the rim per game. Simply put: the Raptors should be able to get to the rim at will.
The Suns compensate for their lack of shot-blocking by sending help and pressuring the ball whenever possible. They don’t exactly have the personnel to pull it off, but Dragic is smart and players like Bledsoe and Tucker are physical and play above their size. Over-dribbling and lazy passes will be punished.
RR: Prior to back-to-back losses to the Pelicans and Kevin Durant’s 44-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist outburst, the Suns were winners of six straight. What were the main factors behind the winning streak?
Sreekar: The most obvious difference is Alex Len being moved to the starting lineup. They’re 7-3 now with Len starting alongside Bledsoe, Dragic, Tucker and Markieff and those three losses have been by a combined 9 points. He’s only playing 22 minutes per game even as a starter but he’s putting up 7 points, 7 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks in just those limited minutes. He fits in better with the starting unit than Miles Plumlee, who has regressed a bit this season and is also better coming off the bench. Len is also leading the league in fouls so him and Plumlee each playing about 20 minutes works well for this team.
Another big difference is that all three point guards—Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas—are healthy and playing better with each other.
Overall, the Suns defense has actually slipped over the last 10 games but their offense has been elite, leading to more wins.
RR: Tell us about Markieff Morris, because that’s the shit that I do like. How has he adapted from being one of the league’s best sixth men in 2013-14, to being a consistent starter in 2014-15?
Sreekar: Markieff has arguably been the most consistent player on the Suns. He quietly gets his points and he possesses the most reliable weapon the team has: his mid-range jumpshot, which he can get off with a variety of moves and typically converts at a relatively high rate. Markieff doesn’t space the floor like Channing Frye did last year because his three-point shooting is pedestrian at best, but he’s one of the league’s best jumpshooters inside the arc.
His weaknesses include help defense and rebounding, the latter of which probably won’t ever be very great because of his small wingspan and average athleticism. Still, Markieff has the team’s highest individual +/- on the season and the second-highest defensive win shares. He’s adjust well to his starting role and is putting up numbers at the same as last year.
RR: What’s up with Goran Dragic this season? The Dragon won over the hearts of many last season with a stellar 2013-14 campaign, capped off with an All-NBA Third team selection. He’s had trouble replicating that success. Why is that?
Sreekar: Goran hasn’t played at an All-NBA level this season but after a slow start to the season, he’s actually adjusted well and is looking much like the Dragon from last year. After averaging just over 14 points and 3 assists in November, Dragic put up 20 points and 5 assists on 54% FG and 41% 3PT in December–numbers that very closely resemble his All-NBA campaign.
On the season, he’s averaging about 3.6 less points per game than last year. The biggest reasons for this are that his three point shooting this season is down from 41% to 36%, and he’s also getting to the free throw line less. His usage rate is also down a few percentage points as Jeff Hornacek has tried to figure out how to best use all three point guards. However, all these numbers are trending up after a tough start to the season so we’ll see if Goran can continue to play better, much like he did last season.
RR: Raptors fans are curious about the Canadian kid on your squad. How is Tyler Ennis doing? Will he ever see the light of day? And if not, why did your GM snag him one spot before the Raptors could at no. 20?
Sreekar: With guys like Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas on the roster, there was pretty much no way Tyler Ennis was getting much playing time this year. He’s amassed 51 minutes of gametime this season so we can’t really judge him on that quite yet (he did score 11 points in 10 minutes the last time he played, though). He recently had his second 3-game stint with the Suns’ D-League affiliate and he put up 15.7 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game.
Jeff Hornacek has praised Ennis a lot and the Suns obviously like him. Ennis looks like he has the tools and poise to be a solid NBA point guard so we’ll just have to see what kind of role he might have next year.
Or maybe the Suns just like drafting Canadian point guards.
Last game: Raptors 104, Suns 100 (Nov. 24, ACC)
In their last contest, the Raptors survived a torrid fourth quarter barrage from the Suns. Jonas Valanciunas thoroughly dominated whomever the Suns pitted against him. Valanciunas dropped 15 points in the first quarter (5-of-5 shooting) while landing Miles Plumlee in foul trouble just two minutes in (remember: Suns can’t guard the rim). Valanciunas finished the game with 27 points (10-of-11 shooting) with 11 rebounds in just 32 minutes played as the Raptors looked strong through three quarters.
Desperate to spark his squad, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek trotted out a five-out unit to attack the Raptors’ bench. The Suns shot 7-of-10 from deep and nearly took the lead in the final two minutes, but Lowry forced Thomas into a turnover and ended a nail-biting collapse.
Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas vs. Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams
Both teams are loaded in the backcourt. The Raptors will be at a disadvantage having played last night in Golden State, but even with all things equal, the Suns have a slight edge here. Lowry is playing out of his mind this season, and Dragic has slipped some, but it’s just too much to overcome. With DeMar DeRozan, the matchup would sway in favor of Toronto.
P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green vs. Landry Fields, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson
Although the Suns pack a heavy dose of three-point shooting with their 3/4s, their defensive shortcomings simply cannot be overcome. The Raptors are shorthanded, but they have the personnel to handle smallball lineups between James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and potentially even Tyler Hansbrough making speedy rotations around the perimeter. Look for Patterson to log heavy minutes.
Advantage: Raptors, but it’s close
Miles Plumlee, Alex Len vs. Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes
I really cannot envision a scenario in which Chuck Hayes plays a meaningful part against the Suns. He’s too slow to rotate out to the perimeter. Luckily, Valanciunas has been balling of late, and if the Raptors are wise, they will prioritize Valanciunas in the post, or even a few pick-and-rolls to spice up the mundane (but effective!) mid-block, pump-fake x 10,000, sweeping right hook in the lane move. Let’s hope for more of this:
Prediction: Raptors 110, Suns 106
Playing the last game of an exhausting road trip over the holidays is not easy, but the Raptors have looked resilient in each game. Against teams like the Bulls and Blazers, it wasn’t enough. Against a sub-contender like Phoenix, the Raptors should have enough in them to out-gun the Suns in a shootout.
Hot damn, the Warriors are good.
The Raptors were simply unable to keep up with the torrid pace unleashed in Oakland last night. Forced to go small in the absence of big men Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, the Warriors started the game by dropping consecutive threes en route to a season high forty-point first quarter. In the opening period the Warriors shot 70 percent from the field while hitting 5-of-7 threes and connecting for 13 assists and only one turnover. Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas led the way for Toronto in the first, finishing with 11 points and 8 points, respectively. Despite Valanciunas’s effectiveness offensively early on Dwane Casey decided to go small most of the game and consequently Jonas only saw the court again for a 2:25 second stretch to start the second half.
The second quarter was a bit of a rollercoaster. Down nine to start the quarter, the Raptor’s bench unit closed the gap to four on the back of a hot-shooting Vasquez. The Warriors responded with a mini-run of their own that saw a lot of easy looks at the rim courtesy of some nifty Iguodala passes and overly aggressive steal attempts from Hansbrough. Once Lowry returned to the game, the 3-guard Raps forced a series of turnovers and went on a 21-5 run to go up 59-57 before Steph Curry commandeered a run of his own to put Golden State up 66-61 at the half. Gravy Vasquez was simply awesome, scoring 13 of his 16 first half points in the quarter.
The third quarter was basically the knockout punch for the Raptors. The Warriors opened the half at a frenetic pace, going on a 17-2 run that put the Raptors down big. While the Raps were able to claw back, as they tend to do, the Warriors went on a final 14-0 run in the fourth to ice the game.
- In some ways in not totally sure what the Raps could have done. This was just one of those games where everything clicked for Golden State. The Warriors’ commentators were consistently noting how guys like Speights and Green were drilling tough step backs that aren’t usually part of their arsenal.
- On that point, this was one of Golden State’s most efficient offensive performances in a decade. According to ESPN Stats and Information: “The last time the Warriors had a game with at least 125 points, 35 assists and 10 or fewer turnovers was March 1, 1993 vs Sixers.”
- Steph Curry really loves the Raptors. Prior to last night he was averaging 28.1 points, 53% FG and 8.5 assists against the Raps. These are all team-high opponent averages for him. Last night he padded those stats with 32 points and 12 assists on 10-of-18 shooting.
- Draymond Green posted his first career triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and a rather astonishing 13 assists. Not bad for a second round pick.
- I do question the decision to totally neglect the size advantage. I watched the Warriors feed and their announcers couldn’t believe that Casey chose to sit Valanciunas for most of the game. He was effective in the paint and feeding him in the post helped slow the game down.
- The Raptors fell to second in the East behind Atlanta with this loss.
“They shot the hell out of the ball man, but that’s how that team is built,” Williams said. “They got a lot of guys who can make shots. They’re not called Splash Brothers and all these different nicknames for no reason. “Steph Curry is one of the most elite shooters in this league and when you have to pay so much attention to him and you have other guards around him who can make shots when you’re focused on him, it makes it difficult to guard,” he said. Casey certainly didn’t enjoy the outcome but he knows a good team when he sees one and gave the Warriors their proper due. “That’s a well-oiled machine, their small lineup is one of the best in the league,” Casey said. “I thought we competed in certain areas but every mistake we made, they cashed in on it. That’s why I always talk about attention to detail against a great team, that shows you right there. You make one mental mistake and they make you pay for it.”
As good as they are offensively, the Warriors are almost equally adept at defence. Even without a big, tough interior presence, they scramble the game with switches because they are so athletic and force teams like Toronto out of their comfort zones. “Our turnovers are what killed us. We had 17 turnovers, 25 points, that’s the ball game right there,” said Casey. “Again, against a switching defence, you can’t dance with it, you have to move the ball and attack. When we did that, we scored. And for whatever reason, every once in a while we’d get the ball and it’d get stuck and we couldn’t go by them. What we have to do is make sure when we get a switch either attack or move it, make quick decisions. That’s what got us tonight.”
When I was 12 years old, my community basketball coach preached that the most important part of a basketball game was the first five minutes of the second half. I’m not sure if he ever talked to the Golden State Warriors, but they certainly heeded that message Friday night. Leading the Toronto Raptors by five at halftime, they went on a devastating 20-5 run to start the second half, then rode it out to a 126-105 win. The Raptors got a signature night from Greivis Vasquez, maybe his best game of the season so far, as he put in a team-high 25 points with seven assists and five rebounds. Kyle Lowry added 22 points and eight assists. The Warriors, now 26-5, were led by Stephen Curry, who was simply phenomenal with 32 points, 12 assists and five boards. Draymond Green had a triple-double in support with 16 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Also not to be forgotten, Marreese Speights had the soft touch all night for 26 points and eight rebounds.
Maybe it’s arguable whether the absence of DeMar DeRozan or Andrew Bogut leaves a bigger hole, but I’m pretty sure where everyone here stands on this one… With Festus Ezeli out as well, Kerr has shown a tendency to double in the post, having an outside guard or wing come in to help. From what I’ve seen this seems to be working: we’ve been forcing the ball out of the post, and recovering on switches pretty well. Don’t get it twisted, Marreese Speights had a grown man game tonight. 12 for 19 from the field, 8 rebounds (4 offensive), and at least one drawn charge (did I miss some?), all the while showcasing a very smooth midrange jumpshot. Someone here recently made a comparison to LaMarcus Aldridge, no? While this may be a bit far-fetched, there are certainly some similarities. And drawing charges has to be undervalued – essentially a steal and a foul for the opposing player. Mo’ is tied for second behind Kyle Lowry, what a coincidence.
The Warriors came out to play defense in the second half. They scored nine points in the first two minutes and a half and the Raptors couldn’t buy a bucket. They only scored two points in the first five minutes and the Dubs pounced on them. The Warriors scored 21 points in the first six minutes of the quarter and their lead ballooned to 21. The Raptors then went on a 9-4 run and they kept fighting back. Steph Curry then made the crowd explode with a posterizing dunk. A few buckets from the Raptors cut the Warriors lead to 13 and once again this was a game.
A 23-5 Warriors run in the third quarter opened up what had been a tight game up until that point. It was evident that they made adjustments coming out of the half, picking Toronto apart with crisp passes. With just a little over four minutes left in the third quarter, Andre Iguodala stole the ball and led Stephen Curry on the break who electrified Oracle Arena by throwing down a powerful dunk over fellow MVP candidate Kyle Lowry.
While turning a five-point game at halftime into a 23-point laugher during the third quarter, the Warriors got 10 points from Klay Thompson and eight from Marreese Speights, five dazzling assists from Green and a thunderous dunk from Stephen Curry that left the point guard pounding his chest under the rim. “I couldn’t even stop screaming when Steph did it,” Green said. “I was just out there yelling.” Curry scored a team-high 32 points to lead five Golden State players who scored in double digits. He also had 12 assists, pushing him past Warriors legend Al Attles for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. He had zero turnovers as the Warriors tied their season low with nine. Green stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, a career-high 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. “I wouldn’t argue with that,” Kerr said when asked if Green could be the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. “Draymond has to be mentioned for a lot of different things because of the impact he’s had. Most Improved Player would be a possibility. I don’t know if he’s going to make the All-Star team, but he would have my vote. He’s just been brilliant, and he represents kind of who we are as a team — the versatility, the scrapping, the toughness.”
Many feared this would be a tough game with no one to defend Toronto’s big man Jonas Valanciunas. But the Warriors held Valanciunas to eight points and zero rebounds. Speights, with help from Harrison Barnes and Green, were able to to keep the seven-footer out of the paint most of the night.
But at the finish, it was still Stephen Curry commanding the biggest spotlight. Curry led all scorers with 32 points and added 12 assists and five rebounds while not committing a single turnover. For good measure, he had a rare breakaway throw-down dunk over Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry during a blistering Warriors third-quarter run in which they expanded a five-point halftime lead to 23. The dunk, which came off a turnover, was something akin to a pitcher hitting a home run while pitching a shutout, a bonus to a fabulous night. “When I caught the ball I got a little adrenaline kick and figured I could turn my hand over and get it over the rim,” Curry said. “I jumped a little higher than I thought, which was nice. Then I lost my mind for a good 20 seconds. That was my first dunk with some oomph to it.”
It usually isn’t fair to be too hard on a team whose defence isn’t exactly up to task against such a scorching offence, but the Raptors tonight were absolutely carved up. Coach Dwane Casey, a strong proponent of the defensive side of the ball, will certainly have a lot to dissect when reflecting on tonight’s affair after his team allowed 40 points in the first quarter and 66 points in the first half. While the Raptors did make an impressive defensive stand midway through the 2nd to take a 2 point lead, the tide would change greatly once the second half began. The Warriors would burst out to a 22-3 run and would not look back.
Oh, and classic move by Casey: Valanciunas highly effective in the first quarter, so what does coach do? Why, pull him, of course. I get Speights was going off, but Speights ended up going off the entire night, anyway – leave JV in there and let him figure him out. Don’t be so afraid to try and set the pace, instead of always matching the opponent’s.
Patterson’s instincts, specifically on the defensive end of the floor, have been honed since arrived in Toronto from Sacramento in a blockbuster trade in December 2013. He has become particularly adapt at the “principle of verticality” that allows defenders at the rim to contest shots without fouling by going straight up and down rather leaning into or away from attacking opponents. Patterson is quick to credit coaches with starting him on that path. “That all came from Jesse (Murmys) and Jama (Mahalela),” he said, citing two of Toronto’s assistant coaches for basketball development “When I first got here, I tried to block shots, I’m not typically a shot-blocker with my height but I tried to block shots then Jesse and Jama introduced me to the vertical.
Terrence Ross, the nominal small forward in the Raptors’ typical starting lineup, fills his spot more for his offensive purposes than his defensive attributes. Other than reserve big man Patrick Patterson, Ross is the team’s best three-point shooter, connecting on 38.4 per cent of his team-high 172 attempts. While he does not possess the stronger, more substantial body type that James Johnson can use against the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, his shooting gives all of his teammates more space. In particular, he makes it far easier for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to get into the paint, because Ross’s defender cannot abandon him to help stop whichever Raptors star has the ball. All of that being said, it has still been interesting to watch Ross function without DeRozan.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
As widely speculated, the Raptors’ star shooting guard is slated to return on during the start of a six-game homestand.
According to a report from Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, DeMar DeRozan will make his return from a torn groin on Jan. 8 in Toronto against the Charlotte Hornets.
An earlier report from Eric Koreen of the National Post corroborated as much, noting that DeRozan was targeting a return sometime during the Raptors six-game homestand between Jan 8-18.
Assuming that DeRozan does return against the Hornets, DeRozan would have missed a total of 19 games (including the loss to the Mavericks) which marks the longest continuous absence of DeRozan’s career. The original prognosis of DeRozan’s injury called for him to miss between 4-to-6 weeks. This timeline puts DeRozan’s return towards the latter half of that healing schedule.
The Raptors have accumulated a record of 11-7 without their all-star, during which time they boasted the league’s best offense (116.6 OffRtg). However, the Raptors also posted the 4th-worst defense, epitomized by Friday’s debacle against the Golden State Warriors, conceding a defensive rating of 108.3 in their last 18 games.
A return to full health, coupled with a softer schedule, should see the Raptors make up ground against the Atlanta Hawks, who currently hold the best record in the Eastern Conference, a distinction the Raptors owned or held a share of for nearly the entirety of the season thus far.
Prior to his injury, DeRozan averaged 19.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 33.6 minutes per game, good for a PER of 16.7, while scoring at a true-shooting percentage of 49.4.
|Amir Johnson, PF 31 MIN | 6-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -4For long stretches tonight, he was the only big on the floor, and put in a heroic effort, running the floor like a 22-year-old and making up for Toronto’s lack of size with his rebounding. He slowed somewhat in the second half, which wasn’t surprising given the role he was asked to play, but I was really impressed with what he was able to accomplish out there.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -19His shot simply wasn’t falling, and yet he continued to shoot at every opportunity, to the point where I was yelling at my TV every time he hoisted up another contested 3. Did as well as he could defensively against the nightmare matchup of Curry and Thompson, and reigned himself in somewhat during the Raptors’ fourth-quarter push, but this wasn’t his best effort.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 11 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -14Extremely effective offensively early, as the Raptors looked for him repeatedly, taking advantage of his size against Marreese Speights. The issue, though, is that Speights couldn’t miss on the other side of the court, and his lack of mobility necessitated him sitting for the majority of the game. Bad matchup for him.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 35 MIN | 8-17 FG | 4-6 FT | 5 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | -19This is a tough game for me to evaluate for him. On the one hand, he scored buckets he had no business finishing, contributing his usual brand of tough-nosed ball and keeping the game closer than it had any reason to be with Golden State shooting the lights out. On the other hand, he let his emotions get the best of him, taking the ball unabashedly into larger defenders and getting T-ed up after arguing with the refs all night. The next step in his development will be finding a way to harness his attitude as simply that – an attitude – rather than letting it manifest itself negatively through his actions and play.|
|Landry Fields, SG 16 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -18A good effort returning to the lineup after missing a few games with a concussion. He knows his limitations and the ball doesn’t stick in his hands on offence. That’s all we can expect of him, and he delivered that just fine tonight.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -5Brought in with Patrick Patterson in the second quarter to try and counteract the Warriors’ mobile forwards, and did a decent job at the outset, using his energy to stay with his man and pull down some strong boards. Then he switched on David Lee, and was overmatched, giving up some easy buckets. Was rightly pulled in the second half in favour of a guard-heavy lineup. Got a few points in garbage time.|
|James Johnson, PF 12 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3He was basically invisible offensively for the entire game, yet was the only Raptor to slow Curry and Thompson with any consistency (early in the fourth quarter). With that being said, the real question here: why did he only play 12 minutes?|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 26 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -15This is the kind of team where we need Patterson to step up, whether it be switching against opposing guards or stretching the defence, and he was basically invisible out there tonight. It’s tough to critique his defence when Golden State was hitting what seemed like everything in sight, but we need more than 2 points from him in 26 minutes if we’re going to ever have a chance against a team like the Warriors.|
|Lucas Nogueira, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +2Got in in garbage time, didn’t do anything of note, positively or negatively.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 34 MIN | 10-19 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 25 PTS | -4The guy is trick or treat, and tonight, he was all treat. Vasquez was the only Raptor able to consistently counter the Warriors’ red-hot 3 point shooting, and used his floater smartly to keep the defence at bay. He was victimized by Steph Curry on defence, but it’s hard to dock him for that; after all, you could say the same thing about any other point guard in the NBA.|
|Louis Williams, SG 33 MIN | 6-14 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -6His shooting slump continued in the first half, but he smartly changed things up by taking the ball to the hoop against bigger checks, getting his points at the rim and the line and then bringing things back outside. It was a smart move, and it seemed to rejuvenate him offensively – we’ll see if it carries over to the next game.|
It’s hard to give Casey too hard of a time for the result here – he made smart lineup decisions, rightly pulling Valanciunas in favour of a guard-heavy lineup, and called timeouts when they were sorely needed. That said, a little work needs to be done on the playbook – too many Raptor plays are designed to end up with guards in the lane in an ISO-type situation, and that just doesn’t work with Golden State’s wing liability. I still can’t figure out why James Johnson was glued to the bench, either.
Four Things We Saw
- Guys, Golden State is really, really good. They shot 54% for the game, hit 12 threes, and went through quarter-plus stretches where it seemed like they couldn’t miss a thing. They can be hot and cold, yes, but don’t let the final score tell the story of the Raptors’ defensive effort. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t as bad as 126 points against might make you think. The Warriors just hit everything.
- A crucial coaching decision was made by Casey in the 2nd quarter, where he counteracted a Golden State run by substituting a four-guard + Amir lineup and focusing on jumping passing lanes for steals, rather than chasing shooters around the perimeter. The switch worked, with the Raptors even taking the lead at one point, and I’m surprised we didn’t see it to start the second half.
- Process over outcome is a cliche, but do keep that in mind while you’re dissecting this game. The Raptors were in it against the best team in the league for 3+ quarters, and it’s hard to argue that a healthy DeMar DeRozan wouldn’t have impacted this game somewhat, giving the Raptors another wing scorer to enter into a rotation that was taxed by the end of the game.
- That Golden State crowd was really excellent. Circle your calendars for February 27th – that’s when the Dubs come to Toronto, and you can bet both the Raptors and their fans will have revenge on their minds.
We love Tom Sterner, he’s like the JYD of coaches.
The Toronto Raptors will continue their road trip with the toughest test of their season to date on Friday when they visit the world-beating Golden State Warriors. The game tips off at 10:30 on Sportsnet and promises to be incredibly entertaining.
The Warriors own the league’s best record at 25-5, and while they’ve dropped three of their past seven games, they remain incredibly dangerous. No team is playing better, and even the continued absences of Andrew Bogut (knee) and Festus Ezeli (knee) don’t make this game anything close to easy. The Raptors, third in the NBA with a 24-8 record themselves, enter as five-point underdogs, which feels right and perhaps even a bit generous.
The Raptors have been playing well on the trip, so I wouldn’t fault you for talking yourself into a potential minor upset. After losing by nine to Chicago, the Raptors emerged from the holiday break with impressive victories over the Clippers and Nuggets and were then edged in overtime by the Blazers, the league’s second-best team by record. To go 2-2 over that stretch of schedule, with a +12 total margin, is pretty remarkable. They’ll need to play just as well as they have been and better to hang with Golden State.
Playing without Bogut and Ezeli means the Warriors are somewhat exploitable inside. They’ll start Mo Speights and maybe give minutes to Ognjen Kuzmic, relying on David Lee to stand in as the de facto backup pivot. That means Jonas Valanciunas could be the difference for the Raptors, because it’s tough to imagine them getting an edge at any other position. Valanciunas has been great of late, averaging 15.1 points on 52 percent shooting over his last seven and 12.9 on 50.3 percent since DeMar DeRozan went down injured. He should be able to beast inside against the likes of Mo Gotti and Lee, neither of whom are particularly adept defenders.
Speaking of DeRozan, this may be the game in which his absence looms largest. We’ve seen that the team’s offense can hang in there without him, but the defense has suffered. Going up against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson – with Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala off the bench, no less – the Raptors’ guards will be tested a great deal. There’s no containing Curry, Thompson has evolved into a terrific two-way weapon, and both reserve wings mentioned cause serious mismatches in the post. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez have their work cut out for them, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see head coach Dwane Casey eschew offense for an extra wing defender for stretches.
Of course, Williams, Vasquez and Kyle Lowry also do damage at the other end of the floor. It would be tough to ask them to keep up with the Splash Brothers, but at the very least they’ll require both to work hard at the defensive end. Thompson is a great defender and could be given the Lowry assignment, but head coach Steve Kerr has been more willing to challenge Curry with guarding opposing point guards than his predecessor Mark Jackson was. In any case, Curry won’t have an easy check when the team plays two guards together, and he should be the secondary point of attack after the center position.
That leaves the forward spots, where things are a little more…boring, I guess. Harrison Barnes is a nice player, Draymond Green has become a terrific two-way piece, and Iguodala gives the second unit an embarrassment of talent, considering Lee remains a reserve, as well. Terrence Ross should be up for this one given the frequent comparisons between himself and Barnes, but the same could be said both ways. Ross has been showing encouraging signs with DeRozan out, and we’re all falling in love with his little push-shot, but he needs to get more aggressive drawing contact off the bounce, full stop.
The interesting thing about this matchup – other than that it’s a battle between the league’s top two teams by Adjusted Net Rating – is that both have flexible rotations, and the five-against-five matchups are mostly endless. The Warriors will play smaller given their lack of centers, and they have enough long wings that they’re basically interchangeable two-through-four on defense, if Lee is off or at the five. They’re not dissimilar in that way from the Brooklyn Nets of last season, so some of the matchup issues should look familiar.
That’s not to say the Raptors can’t cause issues of their own. They fell from the best offense of all-time to the sixth-best after the Portland game, and their attack remains deadly. The Warriors have so many damn good defenders and such a great system that it’s not reasonable to expect an outburst, and the Blazers may have provided a blueprint on how to limit the Raptors by throwing length at their shot-creating guards. Still, every time there’s a reason to doubt this offense, they find a way to score, so faith is justified even against the league’s best defense.
One thing is almost certain: this won’t be a blowout. The Raptors have lost just a single game by double-digits this season, and the Warriors hold too much firepower to get beaten handily. Just think back to Dec. 3 of last season if you need a reminder of that – that was the night the Warriors erased a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit to steal a win from Toronto. The Raptors avenged it in March at home and showed they can beat this team, but that victory was almost entirely on the shoulders of DeRozan.
This one should be a lot of fun. Buckle in, everyone, and happy new year. Go Raptors.
I’m a little nervous because the human instinct or the natural way that guys come back from injury is by doing too much. That’s going to be a hard thing for him, to pull back from trying to be the DeMar that he was before injury instead of letting the game come to him. We’ll have those conversations. I think that a lot of our stuff, a lot of our offensive packages are built around DeMar and Kyle. We’ve kind of moved Kyle into his spot in our stuff, when Greivis [Vasquez] is in or when Lou is in. We’re not doing anything new. It should be pretty easy for him. Will his production be as high as before he left, with his conditioning and timing to work on? We’re expecting that [rust]. It is a concern, but not a huge concern.
First joking question of the New Year’s Day scrum with the injured Raptors shooting guard is whether he’ll play Friday night in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors. “No, no,” he laughs. “I’ll be watching.” Fast forward five minutes or so and the conversation circles back to if he has a firm date in mind to return from a groin and hip tendon injury that’s already robbed him of 16 games. “We could have, but we probably won’t say nothing,” he said. “We could have, we couldn’t have. Everybody will know when everybody knows. It could be tomorrow.” But wait, didn’t he just say it wouldn’t be Friday?