Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Oct 20, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Oct 20 – Preseason All-Star Reserves Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 20, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 20 Sam Holako
Oct 18, 14 Promotion: Free open practice, Raptors mini-packs on sale William Lou
Oct 18, 14 Terrence Ross shines as Raptors rout shorthanded Thunder William Lou
Oct 18, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Injury vs OKC Thunder Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Thunder 90 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Thunder Garrett Hinchey
Oct 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 17 Sam Holako
Oct 16, 14 Who Will Be the Raptors 15th Man? forumcrew
Oct 16, 14 Shorthanded Raptors top Celtics William Lou
Oct 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 16 Sam Holako
Oct 15, 14 Reaction: Raptors 92, Celtics 89 Scott Hastie
Oct 15, 14 [GIF + Video] Lou Williams Hits the Game-Winning Three at the Buzzer Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross Throws it Down on the Break with Authority (Plus all the GIFs) Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Celtics (again) William Lou
Oct 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 15 Sam Holako
Oct 14, 14 PHOTO: Bruno and Bebe preparing for their first winter in Canada William Lou
Oct 14, 14 [Video + GIF] James Johnson and Dwane Casey Incident after J.R Smith Fouled Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 Raptors Exercise Fourth Year Options on Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 The quintessential preseason game William Lou
Oct 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 14 Sam Holako
Oct 13, 14 Raptors vs Knicks: Look, GIFs…GIFs Everywhere Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 81, Knicks 76 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 [GIF] Lou Williams to Bruno Caboclo for the Slam! Raps up Late in NY Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Can DeMar Surpass Harden? forumcrew
Oct 13, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Press Pass Tim W.
Oct 13, 14 Raptors Weekly (Mini) Podcast, Oct 13 – Yao Ming to Vancouver Conspiracy Theory Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 11, 14 Preseason: Raptors Beat Celtics after Kyle Lowry Gets Serious Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 Quick Reaction: Celtics 109, Raptors 116 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Undresses Kelly Olynyk on the Block Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan Passes to Himself for the Layup Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 A Peek into DeMar’s Summer Training Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Bebe has a serious groin injury; it’s for real Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Preview: Celtics at Raptors William Lou
Oct 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 10 Sam Holako
Oct 9, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Oct 9 – Working Out The Kinks Nick Reynoldson
Oct 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 9 Sam Holako
Oct 8, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Conversing With Jonas Tim W.
Oct 8, 14 Raptors’ defense fails to stop Kings’ offense William Lou
Oct 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 8 Sam Holako
Oct 8, 14 Reaction: Raptors 106, Kings 113 William Lou
Oct 8, 14 GIF: Bruno Caboclo blocks Omri Casspi William Lou
Oct 7, 14 Injury update: Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson will miss tonight’s preseason game against Sacramento William Lou
Oct 7, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Kings preseason, Oct. 7 Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 14 Tales from Training Camp: All About Bruno Tim W.
Oct 6, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Welcome to Vancouver Tim W.
Oct 6, 14 Raptors 2nd unit shines in preseason opener Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, October 6 – Steiming Start to Preseason; Vegas Over/Under Odds Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 6, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 6 Sam Holako
Oct 5, 14 Terrence Ross Injury Update + GIF Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 Collector’s Item GIF: Tyler Hansbrough with the Corner Three Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 Quick Reaction: Kings 94, Raptors 99 – Bruno Chained Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 WOOT WOOT! The Raptors Are Back! Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 3, 14 PHOTO: DeMar DeRozan responds to Bradley Beal’s “best backcourt” claim William Lou
Oct 3, 14 Raptors’ only camp battle a dance between disparate options Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 14 Player Preview: James Johnson and Landry Fields Tamberlyn Richardson
Oct 2, 14 Player Profile: Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes William Lou
Oct 1, 14 Landry Fields: Familiar Problems, Fresh Perspective Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 14 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry Tim Chisholm
Oct 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 1 Sam Holako
Sep 30, 14 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas Garrett Hinchey
Sep 30, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Sep 30 Sam Holako
Sep 29, 14 FACT or FICTION: Toronto Raptors Edition forumcrew
Sep 29, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 29 – Emotional Connections in West Coaching Game Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 28, 14 Raptors Pre-Preseason Mailbag Blake Murphy
Sep 27, 14 Player Preview: Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams Tim Chisholm
Sep 26, 14 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo & Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira Tim W.
Sep 25, 14 Raptors Square renamed “Ford Square” William Lou
Sep 25, 14 Player Preview: Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson William Lou
Sep 24, 14 Player Preview: Terrence Ross Garrett Hinchey
Sep 23, 14 Kyle Lowry receives the Jonathan Abrams treatment William Lou
Sep 23, 14 Player Profile – DeMar DeRozan Tamberlyn Richardson
Sep 22, 14 Raptors Weekly Wordcast – Eastern Conference Coaching Game Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 20, 14 Weekend Roundtable: Biggest weakness, win projections, most likely to breakout William Lou
Sep 19, 14 Weekend Roundtable: Most impactful offseason transaction, Patterson or Amir? William Lou
Sep 16, 14 Highlights from Greivis Vasquez’s Reddit AMA William Lou
Sep 15, 14 Greivis Vasquez will do a Reddit AMA at 9:30 a.m. ET tomorrow William Lou
Sep 15, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 15 – Economy of Movement Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 12, 14 Crowdsourcing: An extension for Amir Johnson William Lou
Sep 11, 14 FIBA World Cup Semifinal Recap: USA 96, Lithuania 68 William Lou
Sep 11, 14 VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins has thoughts of an assassin, nearly punches Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Sep 11, 14 Masai Ujiri responds to Hawks GM Danny Ferry’s “African” comment William Lou
Sep 10, 14 VIDEO: Greivis Vasquez working on his handles William Lou
Sep 9, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap: Lithuania to face USA in semifinals William Lou
Sep 9, 14 PHOTO: New Raptors court design for 2014-15 is awesome Blake Murphy
Sep 9, 14 Sorting out the 15th roster spot candidates Blake Murphy
Sep 8, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 8 – Ball In Europe (@bie_basketball) Breaks Down FIBA Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 7, 14 Jonas Valanciunas and Coach Kazlauskas Reaction after New Zealand Win Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 7, 14 [GIF] Jonas Valanciunas sinks jumper, does the finger wag William Lou
Sep 5, 14 VIDEO: Mike Tyson in a Toronto Raptors Jersey William Lou
Sep 5, 14 Breaking it Down: Tracking Jonas Valanciunas’ defensive progress William Lou
Sep 4, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap no. 2: USA dominant, Lithuania wins nail-biter William Lou
Sep 4, 14 Raptors sign Greg Stiemsma William Lou
Sep 3, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap: Valanciunas shines, DeRozan improves William Lou
Sep 2, 14 DeAndre Daniels (elbow) underwent surgery William Lou
Sep 2, 14 Q&A with @LithuaniaBasket about Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Sep 1, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, September 1, Diametrically Opposed Play Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 DeRozan scores 6 points in USA’s 114-55 Rout of Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 Jonas Valanciunas With Strong Showing at FIBA vs Mexico Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 28, 14 Breaking it Down: The Raptors’ Clutch Playbook William Lou
Aug 27, 14 The Raptors and The Lean Startup Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 25, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 25 – Leiweke Hates the 9-to-5 Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 23, 14 [OFFICIAL]: DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA William Lou
Aug 21, 14 Tim Leiweke to leave MLSE by 2015 William Lou
Aug 21, 14 What is the benefit of continuity? William Lou
Aug 21, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring with 13 points William Lou
Aug 20, 14 Beyond the Raptors: New York Knicks Sam Holako
Aug 19, 14 Reports: Bruno eating 6,000 calores per day, Tim Leiweke leaving? William Lou
Aug 19, 14 Yakkin’ About The Raptors: Brainstorming Kevin Durant Bars For Drake Blake Murphy
Aug 19, 14 Terrence Ross Throwing Down at Seatle Pro AM Sam Holako
Aug 18, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 18 – All-Time Frustrating Team and Tired Camels Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 17, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas Dominates New Zealand with 15 Points in Fourth Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 15, 14 The problem with #WeTheNorth William Lou
Aug 14, 14 Report: Raptors reach 1-year agreement with Jordan Hamilton William Lou
Aug 14, 14 William Lou asks: Who is Lou Williams? William Lou
Aug 13, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Schedule – Live Thread Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 What’s Your Starting 5? forumcrew
Aug 13, 14 Key Adjustments Needed Despite Majority Roster Returning for Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 Raptors looking to add Rochester RazorSharks as D-League affiliate William Lou
Aug 12, 14 VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas drops 19 points, 8 rebounds against Australia William Lou
Aug 12, 14 DeMar DeRozan’s Value as a Free Throw Shooter RR
Aug 11, 14 ESPN summer forecast projects Raptors to win 3rd seed with 47 wins William Lou
Aug 11, 14 Drake’s First Contribution to the Raptors: A $25,000 Fine Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 11, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 11 – DeMar’s Getting Low Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 10, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas – 20 points vs Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 9, 14 Raptors Second Round Pick DeAndre Daniels to Play in Australia Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 8, 14 How will the Love-for-Wiggins trade impact the Raptors? William Lou
Aug 7, 14 DeRozan’s new handles Sam Holako
Aug 7, 14 Why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket? William Lou
Aug 6, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Pre-Season Schedule Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 6, 14 Mild Musings on Guard Lineups Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 5, 14 A totally scientific assessment of #KDtoTORONTO2016 William Lou
Aug 4, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 4 – Solo Effort Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 3, 14 Raptors officially sign Lucas Nogueira Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Raptors Fans and the Galvanization of the ACC Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Aug 1 Sam Holako
Jul 31, 14 Q&A with Chris Faulkner of Grizzlies Bear Blues on James Johnson William Lou
Jul 30, 14 Report: Raptors Sign Will Cherry Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 30, 14 So You Drove the Ball to the Net. What next? Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 29, 14 Summer Mail Bag Vol. 1 – Amir vs. 2Pat, 2015 Free Agents William Lou
Jul 28, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Morgan Time Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 26, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan jumps over Kyle Lowry for the alley-oop slam William Lou
Jul 25, 14 [Pic] Amir Johnson Shaved His Head Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 25, 14 10 Questions Basketball Analytics Needs to Answer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 Terrence Ross throws down a 360 dunk in the Philippines Sam Holako
Jul 24, 14 Jonas Valanciunas’ Roadmap to NBA Legitimacy Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 ICYMI: Lou Williams Can Spit Sam Holako
Jul 23, 14 The New James Johnson’s Potential Impact on the Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 21, 14 Ushering in the Golden Generation of Canadian Basketball William Lou
Jul 21, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 21 – Eastern Conference Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 19, 14 Reports: Diante Garrett Waived, Dwight Buycks likely signs in Europe William Lou
Jul 19, 14 Report: Raptors Waive Dwight Buycks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 18, 14 Summer League: We Like Where He Strokes It Tim W.
Jul 18, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan’s evolution through shot-charts William Lou
Jul 18, 14 The Raptors and the NBA’s Shooting Revolution – the Nylon Calculus Shot Charts RR
Jul 17, 14 ICYMI: Lucas Nogueira Chases Luke Hancock Down For The Dunk Sam Holako
Jul 17, 14 Audio: Dwane Casey Summer League Interview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 17, 14 Recap: Buycks and Bruno shine, Summer League is strange William Lou
Jul 16, 14 LVSL Game Thread: Raptors vs. Rockets William Lou
Jul 16, 14 Raptors 2014-15 Projected Wins forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Can the Raptors Compete for the #1 Seed in the East Next Season? forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, July 16 – Summer League Barry Taylor
Jul 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 16 Sam Holako
Jul 16, 14 Raptors play Rockets in LVSL Wed at 8:30, date with Wiggins awaits RR
Jul 15, 14 Breaking: Drunk Driving Charges Against Jonas Valanciunas Dropped Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 15, 14 ICYMI: Caboclo Welcomed to Summer League Sam Holako
Jul 15, 14 Scouting Report: Say Ayy to Bebe Nogueira William Lou
Jul 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 15 Sam Holako
Jul 14, 14 Summer League: Raptors Shoot 30%, Commit 30 Turnovers, Lose by 31 to Mavericks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 What’s Next For The Raptors? Tim W.
Jul 14, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 14 – Stonewalling and Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jul 14 Sam Holako
Jul 13, 14 Summer League: Raptors 79 Nuggets 110 Sam Holako
Jul 12, 14 Welcome Back, LeBron James Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 11, 14 Raptors win LVSL opener, Bruno looks much closer than “2 years from 2 years away” Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 14 Summer League Game Thread: Bruno debuts RR
Jul 11, 14 Summer Tweetbag Volume 1: KD in TO, Making the pieces fit, and more Garrett Hinchey
Jul 10, 14 Report: Raptors Interested in Anthony Morrow Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Raptors Update: Salary Cap, Roster and Rotation Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 14 Press Conference: Raptors Announce Kyle Lowry Signing, Bebe Coming, And More Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Report: James Johnson Returns to Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Summer School Tamberlyn Richardson
Jul 10, 14 3 reasons why the Greivis Vasquez deal makes sense William Lou
Jul 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 10 Sam Holako
Jul 9, 14 Breaking: Greivis Vasquez Re-Signs with Raptors – $13M/2yr Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 14 PHOTO: Bruno Caboclo officially signs William Lou
Jul 9, 14 Landry Fields: Last Shot for the Man with No Shot Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 9 Sam Holako
Jul 8, 14 Report: Andray Blatche Meeting Raptors in Vegas Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 8, 14 Jonas is Lithuanian dancing machine Sam Holako
Jul 8, 14 Getting creative with the mid-level exception William Lou
Jul 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 8 Sam Holako
Jul 7, 14 Raptors Waive Julyan Stone Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 14 Woj: De Colo off to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 14 Bruno, Kabongo headline Raptors Summer League roster (schedule within) Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 7 – Dominating Free Agency Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 14 Report: CSKA Moscow Offer Nando De Colo $4 Million/2 Year Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 14 Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Update – Post-Patterson Signing, Novak Trade Blake Murphy
Jul 5, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Jul 5 Sam Holako
Jul 4, 14 Report: Steve Novak Traded to the Jazz Sam Holako

With the regular season around the corner, the podders look at what Dwane Casey and his men have been upto in preseason, including how the second-unit is shaping up and just what to do with Jordan Hamilton and Landry fields, amongst many other Raptorsy topics.

Part 1:

  • Kyle Lowry’s ready
  • Vasquez’s slow pre-season
  • Pre-Season All-Star Bench Five
  • Dwane Casey/James Johnson incident
  • James Johnson – change of style since last go around?
  • Jordan Hamilton – how to get him a roster spot?
  • Wing or Backup C – where’s the depth issue?
  • Concerns about Vasquez?

Part 2

  • NBA TV Canada not carrying preseaosn games
  • Dwane Casey’s player management in preseason
  • Bruno Caboclo’s early impressions and lowered expectations
  • Amir Johnson injury

Part 3

  • Open practice on Sunday
  • What do Landry Fields and Dr. J have in common?
  • Bradley Beal injury impact on Raptors
  • David West injury impact on Raptors
  • Has Drake been cheating on the Raptors?
  • Did Drake’s shot in Kentucky’s shootaround go in?
  • Why we need Drake

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 (47:02, 45 MB). Or just listen below:

Photo Credit: Turner/NBA

Tim Leiweke, Masai Ujiri talk about futures, MLSE board issues and Drake

The Toronto-raised musician was named global ambassador for the Raptors in an announcement last fall. “I think Drake is phenomenal,” Leiweke said. “He loves the Raptors and he loves Toronto. I love being around him. I’m not embarrassed at all about what he has said or what he does on our behalf.” Drake earned the Raptors a US$25,000 fine for tampering earlier this month after appearing to recruit reigning MVP Kevin Durant during a concert in Toronto. “I think both Masai and I are unbelievably grateful — grateful — he has given us what he has given us,” Leiweke said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

NBA denies it asked Toronto Raptors to drop Drake as global ambassador

“As the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake must follow our anti-tampering rules,” Tim Frank, the league’s senior vice-president of basketball communications, said in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “At no point did we suggest his title be removed but we were clear that as long as he acted as a representative of the team, he is subject to the league’s rules.” Whatever Drake’s impact on the Raptors’ image — he was brought on as part of the team’s efforts to rebrand the team — he is generating some buzz about the Raptors on both sides of the border.

Raptors amazed by fan support at open practice

With just over a week to go before opening night, Casey continues to try to get the Raptors ready for the regular season, which starts Oct. 29 against the Atlanta Hawks. He does not like to tip his hand, so has left out various defensive schemes and strategies throughout the pre-season. Time is running short though to implement everything. “We haven’t put in probably three or four new things that we want to keep for opening night and for the season. We have to get those in, have to get our zone work in,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff to get in these next few days that we haven’t worked on. “It’s not going to stop once the regular season starts, it’s going to be a continuous work in progress. We’re not in the elite status yet, and until we get there, we’ve got to work and claw and scrap and scrape to progress until we get there.”

Terrence Ross – Will he be Ray Allen or Sonny Weems?

During the first two seasons Ray Allen was a consistent starter: 81/81 games at his rookie season, 82/82 games as a sophomore. Since his rookie season, he was playing much (30.9 Minutes per Game) and even more during his sophomore one (40 mpg). His actual stats? From 13.4 points per game the first season to 19.5 the second one. From 4 to 5 rebounds per game and from 2.6 to 4.3 assists. His 3pt percentage? From 39.3% to 36.4%. These numbers may cause vertigo if we try to compare them with Terrence’s and, of course Sonny’s ones.

I can haz yo Raptors related links? [email protected]

Free practice and cheap Raptors tickets? Yes!

A friend of the blog from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has passed along a pair of ticket packages. The offers are listed below:

10 Game Packs

  • Single game playoff access
  • Post game meet and greet
  • 1 free game
  • Two sets (All Star Pack, MVP Pack) of games to choose from (see below)

Raps-10GamePack2015-750

3 Game Tip-off Pack

  • Season opener (Nov. 29 vs. Hawks)
    • Lowest price on StubHub for the season opener is currently $65
  • Starts at $99 per pack

If you’re interested in purchasing or further inquiries as to the promotions, please contact [email protected].

Finally, there’s also an open practice at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday Oct. 19. The event is free, but you must first sign up here. Doors open at 10 a.m. and practice starts at 11 a.m.

Terrence Ross drops 22 point against a team bereft of capable wing players.

Yours truly only caught half of the game on an expedited scan through League Pass at 1:00 a.m., so if this recap might be short on coverage. I ask for your patience. It’s preseason for everyone.

Preview | Quick Reaction | Highlights

Raptors’ 3 stars of the night

terrence-ross

First star: Terrence Ross

It was just one of those games for Terrence Ross, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field. He came out gunning, consistently looking for his shot and although many were ill-advised, Ross’s stroke was consistent, so many of his pull-up long-twos splashed through the net. I’m not entirely happy with the process, but the result is that he busted out of his funk, which is good.

Ross wasn’t really tested defensively, as he mostly spent his time closing out on the Thunder’s endless supply of spot-up shooters on the wing.

Second star: Kyle Lowry

Lowry looked solid, and like the rest of the team’s veterans, he can’t wait for the season to start. He went toe-to-toe with Westbrook, building off his performance from last season, in which he dropped 22 points, nine assists and four steals in a December win against OKC.

Lowry also hit Westbrook with a nasty crossover, before drilling the pull-up (see below). Defensively, Lowry held Westbrook in check, which is really all that’s needed to stifle the Thunder’s offense in Kevin Durant’s absence.

Third star: Tie — Lou Williams and Jordan Hamilton

I couldn’t decide between Williams and Hamilton, who both continued to impress in their stints off the bench. The Raptors’ offense slowed down last night, so they weren’t just running relentlessly in transition. Instead, we got a chance to see Williams and Hamilton play in halfcourt. The key was decisiveness. They didn’t hesitate in making their decisions, either opting to attack right away, or pull-up which gave them the opportunity to catch defenders on their back heels. Notice that I didn’t mention passing, but they really aren’t out there to pass.

Hamilton’s play puts a bind on Masai Ujiri, who must decide whether or not to keep Hamilton or Greg Stiemsma. On merit alone, Hamilton deserves the spot, but Stiemsma fit a bigger need, though it’s one I personally feel Chuck Hayes, Bebe Noguiera and Amir Johnson can fill. Wings who can score are hard to find whereas big bodies are a dime a dozen. I’ve also enunciated this point repeatedly in my last few posts because there’s only so many thoughts a man has in his head about the Toronto Raptors.

Quote of the night

“He’s one of the toughest kids in the league. He will take your head off in a good way and I like that. He’ll be a good test for JV.”  — Dwane Casey on Thunder center Steven Adams (via the Toronto Sun)

Thoughts on the enemy

kevin-durant

Thunder in trouble without Durant

As one could have expected, the Thunder struggled on offense without Durant. Westbrook launched 15 shots in 27 minutes, but he at least potted eight assists to keep it level. However, I’m not totally convinced that the Thunder can even stay above .500 without last year’s MVP.

Look at their wings. Jeremy Lamb will likely start, and his shot is inconsistent at best. Anthony Morrow could also make a case, but he’s too thin to defend anyone at small forward. Beyond them, it’s Andre Roberson, who lacks any semblance of a jumpshot and can only service as a defense-first (though not great) wing. There’s not a single starting-calibre wing between the three. Unless they play Reggie Jackson full time at shooting guard, this team will be hurting on the perimeter.

Consider their head coach, as well. Scott Brooks deserves credit for being able to develop so many excellent players, but his playcalling leaves much to be desired. He has Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka, yet his schemes are rudimentary. He has 64 crayons in his box but chooses to only paint with red, yellow and blue. That’s fine when you have an exceptional red in Durant, but Brooks’s task now is to make do without one of his complementary colors. Can Scott paint a sunset without red? Does my analogy make sense? Who paints with crayons?

He could prove me wrong, and all the other doubters wrong, but he’ll need to if his team is to survive in the ruthless Western Conference. Durant can’t return fast enough.

Thunder hit bull’s eye with sharpshooter Morrow

Morrow scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also did a decent job defensively, though Ross sunk a number of tough shots over him. Given OKC’s shortage of wings, Morrow is probably a good fantasy options for those who missed out on Kyle Korver.

Parting shots

Steven Adams Moustache
  • If Lowry could fight his contemporaries, he’d start with Marcus Smart, then go to town on Westbrook.
  • Steven Adams is incredibly physical, almost needlessly so. I see why so many players take exception to his playstyle. He fouled out last night because of course. It’s hard to dislike him, though, because look at that moustache.
  • I’m not sure if these extra looks for Valanciunas is because it’s preseason, or if it’s a product of the Raptors’ coach staff being more confident in his game. He’s looked solid in one-on-one scenarios, though he’s as robotic as ever.
    • How to play the post like Valanciunas:
      • Step 1: Throw a half-hearted pump fake.
      • Step 2a: Drive to the middle for right-hook.
      • Step 2b: Spin over left shoulder and shoot 10-footer.
      • Step 3: Profit.
  • This is going to shock you, but Amir Johnson left the game after twisting his ankle. Who would have thunk it? He appears to be fine, but I say just rest him until the season starts. He doesn’t need this. (video here)
  • How is Bassy Telfair still in the NBA?
  • The Thunder have a dude named Taliba Zanna, who is a real person who exists (maybe).
  • Greivis Vasquez sat out because he was hit by a ball during shootaround
  • Bullet point
  • Over-under on James Johnson’s technical fouls this season — 8.5. Thoughts?

Amir Johnson injured his right ankle/knee towards the end of the first half in Friday night’s win over the OKC Thunder. He limped off and didn’t return for the second half. The word from the Raptors is a “sore left foot”.

Here’s the play as it happened- keep an eye on his right leg:

Here’s the replay available via the Thunder’s broadcast network:

The culprit?

jordan

The Raptors laid the smack down.

Toronto Raptors 109 Final
Recap | Box Score
90 Oklahoma City Thunder
Amir Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2

If there’s one guy on cruise control this pre-season, it’s Amir. Missed a dunk on the break and soon after the coach figured that there’s little point in extending him after he tweaked an ankle, especially since he’s one of the few who hasn’t taken a complete game off this pre-season. Update: GIF of injury

Terrence Ross, SF 26 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | +1

Sometimes you lace up your shoes just right, have your legs in sync with your jumper, get the right amount of lift on the springer going either way, get your handles in sync with the ball, and have enough feints in your game that the defense doesn’t know how to handle you. This was one of those games for Ross.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 4-7 FG | 6-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -1

Some nice post-moves, fought for a contested rebound and then threw it down, displayed some guile using a left-handed hook (which missed), and was too much for a Thunder frontline which saw Ibaka play limited minutes. Good stuff, real games can’t start soon enough.

Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +3

That pull-up three tells me that that his legs are back which is all I care about. Traded punches with Westbrook (who looked like a ball-hog taking 15 shots in 27 minutes) and came out looking better. Is it just me or does he look like he has more pace this pre-season than ever before?

DeMar DeRozan, SG 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 9-11 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +1

A type of game that will be overlooked on account of the poor shooting, but the 11 trips to the line in 23 minutes tells you that the defense can’t really handle him. And the impressive part of that is that the defense KNOWS that he’s trying to draw the foul, and yet can’t stop him.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 21 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | +17

He’s had some shitty offensive lines this pre-season yet I feel that his movements within the offense have been fruitful. If only he could hit an elbow-jumper. He, sort of, reminds me as Josh McRoberts in Charlotte last year as in the ball, at some point, goes through him on successful possessions. BTW, chew on a game-high +17.

James Johnson, PF 8 MIN | 3-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +16

Limited minutes in his return from exile, was part of the unit that slashed the Thunder lead and built the Raptors one in the second quarter. His role in that was hustling, hitting the glass, and giving everyone contemptuous looks.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +19

Passed up looks that I thought he should take. Only took two shots in 21 minutes but did play some defense, including getting a block playing help defense.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 14 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +2

This guy loves his threes, which I get since they’re basically unblockable. Runs the floor well and people should trust him to catch the pass and put it on the floor. Sure, he’ll screw up and look silly half the time but this season is all about getting familiar with how an NBA ball bounces on an NBA floor.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 23 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 13 PTS | +16

Another solid game of the spot-up, pull-up and driving variety. I say cut Fields, eat the salary, and give Hamilton a chance.

Greg Stiemsma, C 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +5

Got hit in the face, supplied rim-protection etc. Doesn’t matter, he could take a dump on center-court and still make the team, the Raptors are that thin at backup C.

Will Cherry, PG 10 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +3

Texted Dwight Buycks asking about cheap places to rent in Valencia.

Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +15

See Ross. This guy’s getting tuned up and I like what I’m seeing. The Raptors have always had a scoring-type backup guard, but this guy’s different because he’s got deserved confidence in his game. Excited.

Landry Fields, SG 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0

I don’t feel sorry for him. He’s made more money than I will in my life.

Dwane Casey

Managing minutes well this pre-season. Nobody’s over-extended, players are getting time off, and there’s enough of the main lineup being played together to get a sense of true progress. Gave Vasquez the night off (head injury) and seems to have found a role for Williams, and more importantly, seems to have gotten Williams comfortable with the rest of the team.

Four Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors had 6 guys in double-figures. This was the type of game that we saw over-and-over again after the Rudy Gay trade. These are the Raptors that we all got excited about last season – a team built around teamwork, not reliance on a particular individual.
  2. The Raptors ball-penetration can be a dangerous thing. With Lou Williams, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and even Terrence Ross capable of breaking down defense, we’re going to get a lot of three-point attempts, like 24 in this game (38%).
  3. Hey, anyone know why my FIFA is lagging on the PS4 when I play online? I got NAT Type 2, which should work, but damn, I keep getting lag and it’s costing me goals. BTW, my handle is recroad on there so add me.
  4. The Raptors offense, man, I think it’s great that we have so many initiators on the court. The threat can come from four out of five guys on the court, and they can all draw doubles.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Pre-empted by the possibility of Game 6 of the NLCS (as I write this, the Cards lead 3-2 in the 6th), European Qualifiers Matchweek and WWE Smackdown, your Toronto Raptors will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in an exciting preseason matchup… and you won’t be able to watch (legally).

Blake’s already ranted about this a bit earlier in the pre-season, and I do understand that this is, after all, preseason, but you’d hope that there’d be a place on the Friday broadcast schedule for Westbrook, Ibaka and the gang. The Raptors aren’t exactly playing the Sixers here, and these scheduling decisions were made long before Kevin Durant’s recent injury.

Alas, though, here we are. Might as well take solace in the fact that this will be the last game of the season you have to pirate the home team’s feed for, enjoy the night off from Matt and Jack, pop your favourite brew, and sit down to that sweet, sweet, low-quality stream from whatever your favourite streaming site of choice is. Friday night basketball, everybody!

*Note: It’s been pointed out in the comments section that the game will indeed be broadcast on NBA TV Canada. If you’ve got the channel, you’re good to go.*

The Game Itself

Durant’s injury is the A story here, obviously. Zach Lowe did a great job breaking down what it means for the Thunder earlier this week, and he’s far better at this than me, so take a read there if you want to know what to expect from Oklahoma City’s top guys.

This is the preseason, though, and we’ll have plenty of time to digest the Thunder sans KD. The preseason is about taking a look at some of those rookies and deep bench guys you don’t get a chance to watch once the games start to count. For the impartial fan, the carrot for the Thunder was probably first-round pick Mitch McGary, but he’s out too with a foot fracture after impressing in his first appearance, which made me sad. Dude has moves.

Instead, take a look at which Thunder players emerge as a viable secondary scoring threat to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Assuming those two play (and they didn’t the game before), Scott Brooks will likely be trotting out a few different lineups as he looks to replace some semblance of floor-spacing, scoring balance, and all-around amazingness that is the Slim Reaper.

The favourite in the clubhouse is probably inconsistent wing Jeremy Lamb, and he’ll get plenty of touches to try and give the coaches ANY excuse to up his minutes this season. However, look for Anthony Morrow to get his, too – the Raptors were interested in signing him during the summer, and he’s a deadly corner shooter who can help space the floor out for Westbrook.

REALLY deep bench more your thing? How about Talib Zanna, the 24 year old, 6’9″ centre from Pittsburgh fighting for a roster spot? Longtime-Euro-league-guard Michael Jenkins? No? Not at all?

Fine. Read Lowe’s article, then look at Steven Adams’ moustache.

Steven Adams Moustache

You are now ready for Oklahoma City Thunder preseason basketball.

The Raptors

With only three games left on the preseason docket, expect Casey and the coaching staff to start to work some rotational kinks, moving slowly but surely toward the games and decisions that matter. Both DeRozan and Lowry received ample rest against the Celtics Wednesday and I’d imagine they’ll end up playing closer to 20 odd minutes or so tonight, but the Raptors may decide to sit them out until their last two games before the regular season, both in Toronto. Who knows? It’s the preseason.

The most important on-court battle here, save for “will Bruno block more threes than Tyler Hansbrough attempts?” is obviously the fight for the fifteenth roster spot. Expect all three contenders to see significant playing time, though consensus seems to be that the battle is largely between Greg Stiemsma and Jordan Hamilton. I prefer Stiemsma if we can only have one, but I’m quite partial to the idea of potentially waiving Landry Fields and giving Hamilton his roster spot.

Also, typing that made me sad. Sorry, Landry.

Honestly, though, it’s the preseason. The games are meaningless, there’s very little to take from them, save the occasional fun highlight and the joy of watching good basketball again on a Friday night (ROGERS!!!!!!!). Enjoy the game, however you manage to watch it, pray for no injuries and a 60-point night from Bruno, and check in here for full post-game coverage afterward.

 

Raptors working on being better in crunch time | Toronto Sun

The Raptors were a very good fourth-quarter team a year ago, outscoring opponents by 195 points in that final frame, easily the biggest edge they had in any quarter. But when it came to close games, the Raptors were vulnerable. In game decided by five points or less the Raptors were 7-14. In games decided by three or less they were 3-8. In seven overtime games, the Raptors managed just one win against six losses. So when DeRozan is asked what he wants to see his team show over these final three pre-season games, which continue here tonight in World Series-fevered Kansas, before the question is even out DeRozan is replying “showing some consistency closing out games.” According to DeRozan it was a topic of conversation on Wednesday night among the players as they made their way from Portland, Maine, to Wichita in one of the less-travelled road trip routes in NBA history. For DeRozan it’s the one area where his team can trump last season.

The League’s New TV Deal Could Mean A Very Rich Contract For DeMar DeRozan | Raptors HQ

So, while DeRozan is an above average player at his position, and an important part of this Raptors team as currently constructed, he’s still flawed in some aspects, enough so that it would be hard to see him as a max-level player. But the jump in the salary cap means there will be an adjustment in how each level of free agents are viewed in terms of total dollars. You could argue that DeRozan might not be worth $20 million annually, but how much a player is worth — aside from a LeBron James, or Kevin Durant — is entirely dependent on how they fit within the particular team. If the Raptors move forward with this current core of Lowry, DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas (who will both be due for raises soon), with the escalating salary cap, it might make sense for DeRozan to be paid double what he’s making now, perhaps even more.

Five things for Raptors fans to watch | Toronto Star

It’s early to sound any alarms but the team’s starting front court — Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas — hasn’t been good enough often enough for anyone’s liking. They were basically manhandled in two games against the Sacramento Kings and struggled against the Boston Celtics at times. Johnson is a notoriously-slow starter and Valanciunas is getting over a busy summer and might have a small amount of lingering fatigue. But size is an issue with the Raptors and they have to get more consistent production out of the starters.

Toronto Raptors: Lessons from the First Half of the Preseason | Bleacher Report

Greg Stiemsma seems to suit an organizational need. Averaging 1.25 block per game throughout his career, “Steamer” would help the Raptors who do not have a true shot-blocker. Stiemsma has been sluggish throughout camp, but Jonas Valanciunas is the Toronto Raptors’ only true center.  The smart money is on Stiemsma earning the last bench spot, though the remaining games in training camp will help Masai Ujiri in selecting which of these players will remain with the club.

Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Season Preview | Raptors Cage

The core group remains the same, the coaching staff is in tact and the Raptors are looking to build off the 48 wins they had last season. The depth the Raptors have this season is incredible. I don’t believe there’s been a team in the Raptors’ history this deep, which will help take a load off the starters and alleviate injury worries.With that being said, there are certainly some questions to be answered on who will be a rotational player and who’ll be giving high-fives for 48 minutes. Will players such as Lou Williams and James Johnson  fit in with the synergy the team had both on and off the court? Will the Raptors have the same drive as they did last year to prove that they belong?

Can Raptors James Johnson Accept His Role In Toronto? | Pro Bball Report

“I accepted (my role),” Johnson said. “I knew what my role was going to be before I signed that contract. You can’t come to a job expecting to get $5 and then want more because you work harder than everybody else. You know what you signed up for and that’s what I did. I signed up for the defensive part and I am an opportunity scorer, so I deal with that.” Johnson needs to work hard. Once again Casey sees him filling a dual role at both the three and the four. Johnson has to learn where to be on the court offensively and defensively for both forward positions and be able to switch roles even within the same game. “Offense is usually the hardest part to know where you have to go to get guys open or to get out of guys way,” Johnson said. “Knowing where I have to set the screens, knowing if I have to be in the dunking spot or the far corner. I can spread it out a little bit at the four, I just need to know when I have to be in the dunk (spot) or when I am able to spread it out.

Know Your Raptors: Landry Fields in men’s socks | Sportsnet.ca

Eric Smith wrote on Fields’ injury and fight to overcome it in depth here, but the short version is Fields is still far from fully recovered. Expect him to continue to bring defensive intensity in limited minutes off the bench, as well as a charismatic presence in the locker room. But a return to the offensive form he flashed early in his career looks highly unlikely at this point. When thinking of Fields, Raptors fans may best remember 2014-15 as the year his three-year, $18.75-million contract finally came off the books.

Statzzzzzz on Twitter

I think Toronto is gassed up and DeMar DeRozan is overrated. There are freshmen in college better than him right now

I can haz your Raptors links? [email protected]

I’d hate to be Casey and his coaching staff in the next week or so. Some tough decisions to be made soon. No offence to Will Cherry, but I think its safe to say that it’s going to come down to Greg Stiemsma or Jordan Hamilton for the last roster spot. Who do you think makes the cut?

No DeRozan and only 10 minutes of Lowry? No problem.

Highlights | Quick Reaction | Preview

Positives

Jonas Valanciunas’s post-ups

At long, at last, the Toronto Raptors decided to feed their young franchise centre a steady diet of looks in the post. It doesn’t matter that it only came as a result of necessity in the third quarter while the Raptors two main guns — those being Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — sat out. What matters is that we finally know what the offense would look like if it ran through Valanciunas in the post.

So how did he do? Fairly well, thank you very much. Valanciunas scored consistently in one-on-one coverage over both the bigger Kelly Olynyk and the quicker Jared Sullinger. Against Olynyk, Valanciunas took his time and dropped his sweeping right-handed hook in the lane. Against Sullinger, Valanciunas turned over his left shoulder and dropped a short 10-footer. His other basket came on a free-throw line jumper created out of a pick-and-pop. The Celtics eventually countered by sending a second defender his way, but Valanciunas mostly stayed calm, dutifully kicking the rock out to the perimeter and finding the open shooter. On two occasions, Valanciunas found Greivis Vasquez open from deep, but both attempts clanked out. Otherwise, Valanciunas would have added a pair of assists to his line.

It’s clear that when Lowry and DeRozan are on the floor, Valanciunas posting up isn’t a priority, but it’s nice to see that he has the capability to score when guarded in one-on-one scenarios. More promising, even, is his passing. Over the first two seasons of his career, Valanciunas often huddled up in response to pressure from help defense, rather than calmly assessing the situation and throwing the kickout. This new development makes him a more effective option which may force head coach Dwane Casey into tossing more possessions his way.

Lou Williams’s fit

Williams’s name was highlighted in my game notes long before his clutch pull-up triple which spared everyone from bonus preseason ball. His final line doesn’t look terribly impressive — 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting is decent — but it’s the context of how he played is what qualified Williams as effective on the night.

As the preseason trudges on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Raptors are emphasizing driving to the basket and pushing the pace in transition. So far, the Raptors have been mediocre on both accounts, mostly because Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez are both struggling (more on them below), but Williams has stepped up in their stead.

Williams got to the basket at will against the Celtics, especially with the benefit of a ball screen. His quickness and long arms allowed him to generate and finish consistently on attempts around the basket. To be fair, the Celtics aren’t exactly stocked with intimidating rim-protectors, but Williams’s ability to create with his dribble was key, especially when his fellow wings looked off.

But none of this should be surprising. As I wrote in my player breakdown on Williams in the offseason, Williams thrives as a ball-handler who can create looks for himself. As a member of the Atlanta Hawks in recent years, Williams mostly made his hay through free throws and three-pointers, but Williams’s willingness and ability to attack the basket is a positive sign, especially in the context of his continued recovery from an ACL tear.

And don’t get it twisted — Williams isn’t going to be this good every night. There will be nights when he’s a defensive turnstile who just won’t stop shooting. But the process of how he gets his looks, and his fit within the Raptors’ offense should be an asset for a squad in need of his skillset.

Jordan Hamilton’s case for the 15th spot

In a vacuum, Hamilton gets the final roster spot. No question about it. He’s outplayed Greg Stiemsma and Will Cherry. Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise, showing the ability to catch passes and either spot-up, or attack the paint. This helps tremendously in both halfcourt sets and in transition.

But the Raptors’ roster isn’t a vacuum. The 15th spot will most likely go to the player who best offsets the valleys found in the contours of the Raptors’ team design. The Raptors have Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields and Bruno Caboclo as options on the wings, while Valanciunas, Bebe Nogueira and Chuck Hayes man centre. It’s a matter of which combination you trust more. Quite frankly, given what I’ve seen out of Hamilton, I’d take him over Stiemsma’s foul-fuelled rim-protection.

Check out Hamilton’s plays in our highlight reel.

 

greasy

Negatives

Greivis Vasquez’s lack of pace

What has happened to Greivis Vasquez? I’m not reading into the deflated statlines; I promise. Rather, my concern stems from his total lack of footspeed and ineffectiveness in leading the second unit.

I get it. Vasquez isn’t exactly running the pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin and he’s never been quick to begin with. But it is concerning to see Vasquez driving to the basket, only to be totally smothered by Tyler Zeller. Huh? Zeller might be a strong 7-footer, but Vasquez should be able to make something happen in a straight drive to the basket. His lack of explosiveness, both in terms of speed and elevation, led him to either have his shot stuffed, or to put up an awkward floater. Both failed tonight.

Hopefully, it’s just rust on Vasquez’s part. The good thing is that he’s still rather effective as a passer in the pick-and-roll and his shot looks fine (tonight notwithstanding), but Vasquez will be counted upon to generate offense, especially in leading the second unit. Maybe more work with Patrick Patterson stretching the floor is the answer, but every half-decent shot-blocker is Vasquez’s kryptonite right now.

Rim-protection

Namely, there is none when Johnson and Valanciunas aren’t on the floor. Hayes provided none, Patterson little and Tyler Hansbrough’s correct positioning was betrayed by his short arms and smaller build. The Raptors’ rim-defense was embarrassing in the second quarter, allowing Zeller to run rampant on rolls to the basket. He scored on three possessions to bring the Celtics to a tie at halftime.

Here’s the problem: every big is flawed in some way. Hansbrough’s reach isn’t long enough to deter shots; same with Patterson and Hayes. Stiemsma can block shots, and Nogueira’s 9-foot-6 standing reach definitely fulfills the physical requisite, but Stiemsma will throw a hard foul at the first opportunity and Nogueira’s slender build betrays his ability to hold his ground.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. Limiting penetration would be a start, though.

Terrence Ross ain’t cut out for this transition life

At this point in his career, Ross’s comfort zone on offense is limited to finishing in transition and darting around screens for spot-ups. When he’s dribbling, it’s a win for the defense.

Mostly, Ross’s struggles circles back to the limitations of his dribble-drive game, which I touched on in another article over the summer (see all the good stuff you miss when you sleep on Raptors Republic in August?) Ross loves pulling up when attacking to his right, and he straight-up sucks when dribbling to his left. He rarely makes whole-hearted drives to the basket, settling instead for twisty finesse layups. He drove less than Andrea Bargnani last season and as a result, Ross almost never shot free-throws.

Right now, Ross’s weakness puts the Raptors’ offense in a bind. If the Raptors want to run more in transition, Ross will need to dribble more often, and attack the basket with verve. As for the starting lineup, Ross is the Raptors’ most logical option as a finisher. Valanciunas is the team’s best defensive rebounder, but he’s wholly unwilling to throw the outlet pass, so one of Lowry or DeRozan will need to stay back to accept the hand off. This leaves Ross as the lone ranger up ahead.

Bruno gets start, then gets schooled against Celtics | Toronto Sun

Despite his struggles, this was an excellent learning experience for the 19-year-old Brazilian. “It was a good lesson, he’s going against Jeff Green, who is a big-time player,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “I don’t look at the points or any of that (Caboclo didn’t score), I thought he held his own.” Caboclo was not overly excited, despite being told before shoot-around in the morning that he would start and did not spend the rest of the day fretting about it. “I think I don’t play bad, better than the other games. I only not score. Defence, I’m more comfortable, I felt so much better,” Caboclo said.

Raptors Win Ugly Against Boston 92-89 Thanks To A Late Lou Williams Three | Raptors HQ

Not much to praise tonight as very similar to Monday night, almost every player was missing their shooting stroke, besides Williams, who looked very sharp tonight as he scored 15 points on four for 11 from the field and six of seven at the line while slicing and dicing through the Celtics defense. Lowry vs. Smart was very short lived, as Kyle didn’t see the floor after the first quarter, but things did get heated early as chasing a loose ball a slight hip check from Lowry prompted Smart to give him quite the shove towards the sidelines. That put a charge into Lowry, who proceeded to play like a man possessed for the rest of the quarter, giving the Raps a jolt to get going. Also there was a #BrunoSighting as he started in place of DeMar DeRozan who took the night off to rest. While looking confused and being late on defensive rotations, Caboclo did use his length to recover and even recorded a steal

Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors: 92-89: Celtics lose near comeback to Raptors | CelticsBlog

The ugly play continued into the 2nd half.  The Celtics had a whopping total of 2 points in the first 8 minutes of the 3rd quarter.  Both teams shot poorly, so the fan in me wants to blame the horrendous offensive output on the “rims and lighting” of the location.  After scoring 2 minutes in the first 8 minutes of the 3rd quarter, Turner scored the next 7 points for the Celtics before getting ejected.  Turner was putting together a solid game before the ejection with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in just 26 minutes.  He was ejected for getting 2 technical fouls for supposedly running his mouth to a referee.  After Turner went out, the third quarter went downhill in a hurry.  The Celtics closed out the 3rd quarter down 68-56.

Recap: Celtics bench nearly steals one from Raptors | Red’s Army

Of course, there were a lot of rebounds to be had tonight… because the Celtics shot 41% and the Raptors shot 42.5%.  In a game with 95 missed field goals, I’d like to think the bigs would be able to rack up a few.

Taj Gibson Could Be Toronto Raptors Trade Target | FanSided

While the Toronto Raptors have Patrick Patterson on their roster, there’s been whispers suggesting they’re looking to add additional help to their front line….There’s no denying that the Toronto Raptors have some nice pieces to make a deal though it remains to be seen if they’d have enough to acquire Taj Gibson who’s value is sky high. It’s also not known if the Chicago Bulls would even entertain the thought of trading him within the conference if they were to make such a move.

NBA Trade RUMORS: Taj Gibson A Possibility For Toronto Raptors? | Headlines & Global News

“There aren’t a lot of top-flight power forwards available right now (everybody’s super optimistic about where they stand right now), but there’s no way the Raptors are going to get someone great without giving up some assets,” Brigham wrote Wednesday.  “(Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri) has been great about accumulating picks, so he’s got some things to work with, but getting a top-flight PF won’t be easy.  Taj Gibson might become available, and he’d be a fun guy to have in there.” Toronto might not have the assets to convince Chicago to part with Gibson, but that doesn’t mean Gibson won’t be playing for another team this season.

Lewenberg: Johnson embraces second go-around with Raptors | TSN

Whatever happened in a late-season practice that caused a fracture in the relationship between Johnson and then first-year head coach Dwane Casey, the team kept it under wraps. Whatever led to his two-game suspension and forced the deal that sent him to the Kings the following summer appears to be water under the bridge. What we do know is that Casey has always valued Johnson as a defender, no surprise given the forward’s unique combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism, and Johnson hasn’t always taken kindly to the role that Casey had assigned him. “I think [it was] just his view of how he was playing and how he was being used,” Casey said. “He’s not different than probably 10 other players in the locker room, and especially young players coming in. They feel like their value is not being taken advantage of and that was James. He just felt like at that time, [at] that point in his career, he should have been doing more.”

Landry Fields Is In Danger Of Falling Out Of The NBA | Business Insider

‘There have definitely been times that I’ve thought about the contract and you look at the production and it doesn’t quite add up,’ he said. ‘But at the end of the day, I didn’t give myself this contract. The Raptors came and took a beautiful, wonderful chance that I’m forever going to be grateful for … Whatever I can do for this team is what I’m going to do. Some people will never understand that but I have to be okay with that, otherwise I’ll send myself into a mental frenzy.’ ‘One of the scariest moments this summer [was thinking about] life after basketball,’ acknowledged Fields. ‘That’s in no way, shape or form me throwing in the towel right now. It’s just natural. It just popped in my mind. In 21 years of playing basketball, this has never crossed my mind — that life could be without [basketball].’

Your guide to 2014-15 NBA coaches and their futures | USA Today

Talk about a turnaround. After going 57-91 in his first two seasons in Toronto, Raptors coach Dwane Casey not only survived the front office change from Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri but earned a three-year extension after the Raptors became one of the Eastern Conference’s surprise stories last season (48-34 and a seven-game loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.

Scott Hastie makes his debut on Raptors Republic as Toronto downs Boston thanks to a clutch three from Lou Williams.

Toronto Raptors 92 Final

Recap | Box Score

89 Boston Celtics
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +1As the line suggests, a non-descript night from Amir. Had some good passes from the post that could have been assists, but the jumpers didn’t fall. Of all the Raptors, Johnson was the only one with solid pick and roll defence tonight.

Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -7Yeah, this scoreline isn’t pretty and it’s actually a friendly representation of his game. Questionable pull-up jumpers in the halfcourt were all too common. Granted, he had to play in some weird line-ups because DeMar didn’t play but it’s becoming clear that Ross should not be relied on to handle the ball.

I’ll be surprised if a Raptors video co-ordinator isn’t cutting tape right now of Ross dribbling into traps on the baseline.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 13 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9His one steal was a strictly because of wingspan. Bruno’s man back cut on him, and Bruno threw his arms up without really knowing where the ball was going and ended up with it. Seeing him in the starting line-up graphic was the highlight of his night.

According to Wolstat, Caboclo dribbled into a corner and the bench asked “Where’s he going?”

Jonas Valanciunas, C 18 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -2The squad was feeding him post-ups in the third and JV made mostly good decisions. His passing out of the post was crisp, and outside of one bad attempt, the kid looks like he could be a decent post-up option.

Didn’t see much outlet passing from rebounds, but if the Raptors want to push the ball, they’ll need Jonas to improve that aspect of his game.

Kyle Lowry, PG 9 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +8Limited minutes but showed intensity. Excited to see him play real minutes in a couple weeks.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +6“How did Hansbrough score so many points in college?” is a question asked at least five times a game. No Psycho-3s though.

Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +2Nothing seemed to be drawn up for Patterson tonight. Maybe that’s by design or just by chance, but Patterson’s shots came on transition looks. He was also hampered by weird line-ups and was forced to play in situations we won’t often see in the regular season.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 21 MIN | 6-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +8If Hamilton can consistently provide that kind of performance, he is the 15th man. His cuts were smart, his defence is fine and he made good decisions with limited touches. Hamilton seemed to spear a Celtic at one point, which probably endeared him to many Raptor faithful. Ujiri and Casey have a tough decision at the 15 spot.

Chuck Hayes, C 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | 0Hayes scored tonight! He was Chuck Hayes! We know what we have in him.

Greg Stiemsma, C 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -1Poor defence in the pick and roll. His foot speed just isn’t there to play against Olynyk or a popping Brandon Bass. A forgettable night for the guy trying to earn the contract.

Will Cherry, PG 7 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9Didn’t have much of an impact on the floor. He needs some extended run in-game for the team to evaluate his ability.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 3-14 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 9 PTS | +1Bad night from Vasquez, continuing his troubling preseason. Bad passes, poor shot selection and ill-advised drives. Marcus Smart gave him hell, but Vasquez needs to be better with the ball as the back-up point guard. Hopefully this rough stretch is just getting the rust off.

Louis Williams, SG 21 MIN | 4-11 FG | 6-7 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +5Basketball Twitter is falling in love with Lou again, and that was before that pull-up three. He has bounce, he can get to the net and draw contact. Some bad pull-ups, but in a game lacking offensive weapons for the Raptors, we should look past that. It is nice to have a player coming off the bench that could just destroy young defenders.

Landry Fields, SG 15 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -6Landry’s brain in another player’s body would be a dream come true. The guy got a basket tonight off a nice floater, but you can’t watch him play without wondering what could have been if that nerve injury didn’t happen.

Dwane Casey
Maybe it’s preseason, but Casey let two quarters end without calling a timeout to make a play out of the final possession. He also drew up a Lou Williams pull-up three at the end of the game.

Casey wasn’t thrilled with the performance, but the Celtics played their starters a ton.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Marcus Smart is damn good on the ball. Vasquez was baited into a dumb turnover where Smart reached out and just took the ball away. He had a number of poke aways while also irritating opposing point guards. Not thrilled to play against him for the next few years.
  2. We didn’t see a lot of the court because of the low camera angle. Get us to the regular season, please.
  3. All the GIFs here – Lowry’s drive, Ross’s dunk, Hansbrough’s rebound, Hamilton’s Js, Landry’s pass, Lou’s three, Jonas’s screen

Terrence Ross gets it from Lowry and throws it down against the Celtics the Raptors are up early. Check the box score for the latest.

Bonus GIFs

Kyle Lowry dribbles through entire Celtics roster for the score:

Jordan Hamilton with the move

Terrence Ross elevates for the alley-oop slam

Great commitment! Jonas continues to set screen well after being called for illegal pick

Nobody falls for JV’s pump-fake so he busts a move

Early Landry Fields highlight seems him dribbling, and then dribbling some more, before passing

Jordan Hamilton with a confident looking jumper, makes a case for that roster spot

Jordan Hamilton with another three, and Landry gets the assist

Jordan Hamilton drains another shot as Dwane Casey looks on pondering

Tyler Hansbrough is PUMPED about getting a rebound

Lou Williams hits the game-winning three!

The Confessions pt. II to last Friday’s Burn

Due to sloppy scheduling on my part, the responsibility of writing this Raptors vs. Celtics preview has once again fallen upon yours truly. You may recall (but probably not) that I wrote the preview for their earlier match-up, in which the Raptors won 116-109. In the interest of not double-dipping on the same content, I’ll direct you to our coverage from last week’s game.

PreviewQuick Reaction | Recap | Highlights

Instead, allow me to use this space to opine on three impressions I came away with after watching the Celtics lose in the ACC last week.

Brad Stevens never stops coaching

Celtics Camp Basketball

Watching the game last Friday, I was struck by Boston head coach Brad Stevens’s commitment to coaching.

Here’s an example: the Celtics were trailing by nine points with a minute left in the fourth quarter, but instead of letting the inevitable play out, Stevens burned a timeout to draw up a play. He did that once more 16 seconds later with the Celtics down seven. I booed at the time, hoping for a swift ending to the game, but in retrospect, Stevens was just making the most of his opportunities.

I’m sure everyone here is sick of the griping by writers of the banalities of preseason. I’m sick of it too. It’s annoying to watch a game, and not be able to trust in any of our observations because a giant caveat looms over every event that takes place on the court. We can’t trust the play calls, the minute distribution, the lineup combinations. It’s annoying.

But preseason is a valuable tool for coaches to drill their players while the stakes are non-existent. Stevens’ goal wasn’t necessarily to help maximize the Celtics’ chances of winning. He called timeout because they were opportunities for his team to learn.

After the first timeout, Smart caught a quick hand-off from Kelly Olynyk and drove hard to the basket against a smaller defender in Lou Williams. Smart scored the layup and dutifully completed the and-one.

On the second, Boston ran a similar play. The ball was inbounded to Olynyk in the high post, and Marcus Thornton ran through a pair of pin-downs which trapped his defender Terrence Ross. Thornton then caught the hand-off from Olynyk and had it not been for Amir Johnson’s rotation off Olynyk and onto Thornton, the Celtics would have netted themselves another easy bucket.

The point of this is not to blow smoke up Stevens’s ass. He just did what he was supposed to in that situation. I was, however, disappointed with his counterpart Dwane Casey’s wasteful treatment of those same opportunities. On the Raptors’ final possession of the first half, Casey called a timeout to draw up a play, which amounted to nothing more than DeRozan taking the ball up the court and pulling up for a long two against Gerald Wallace. No screen, no movement. Nothing. DeRozan’s shot drew front iron.

Marcus Smart’s aggression

I like players like Smart who have a chip on their shoulder. They’re all over the court, trying to make every play, trying to deflect every pass, hounding ball-handlers up and down the court. It’s what endears us to Kyle Lowry.

Smart reminds me of a young Lowry. The bulldog mentality. The constant scowling. The sheer tenacity in getting to the basket because they have no jumpshot. It’s all there, except Smart stands at 6-foot-3, weighing 227 pounds.

Perhaps as the ultimate sign of respect, Smart actually managed to goad Lowry into a brief one-on-one battle, which culminated in Lowry landing in foul trouble for much of the game. This play in particular really summed up everything there is to know about Smart’s tenacity.

Keep at it, yungun. Of course, you come at the king, you best not miss. Lowry finished the game with 18 points, six assists and five steals to Smart’s nine-point, seven-assist effort.

Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton: Two-man trojan horse

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Boston Celtics

Many pundits scratched their heads at the Celtics’ offseason additions. Taking on Thornton made sense — swallowing his salary added another pick to Boston’s saddle bag. But signing Turner, then playing him out of position at point guard was baffling to be sure. Why task a shooting guard who isn’t a good passer nor decision maker with ball-handling and distributing responsibilities?

Simple: to preserve Boston’s tankjob.

Turner, and to a lesser extent Thornton, aren’t useless players. When put into the right system with the right players, the two can prove to be useful, especially on offense. Turner has an uncanny ability to get to the hoop (albeit his touch around the basket is rather poor) and Thornton is a carbon-copy of J.R. Smith, capable of heating up enough to keep an entire offense afloat.

But on this team, with the way they’re being used, Turner and Thornton are liabilities, which is the plan. The rest of Boston’s players, although less talented, are disciplined to the point where if a few things go their way, Boston has a shot at making the playoffs, which would spoil Boston’s lottery odds. That’s where Turner and Thornton come in, masquerading as young veterans to safeguard Danny Ainge’s precious lottery balls, a play straight out of Greek history.

Match-ups

Predicting the outcome of preseason games is a silly practice. Assuming that the entire roster is healthy, the Raptors should come out on top.

One key to victory is the success of Patrick Patterson, who was highly effective off the bench, scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. His contributions helped make up for Lou Williams’ 2-for-10 shooting off-night. As long as the bench can produce enough after the starters reach their respective minute allocations, the Raptors will be fine.

But again, it’s preseason. As long as this game doesn’t end 81-76 like the last one against New York, we’re all winners.

Raptors keep high expectations in check | Toronto Sun

While head coach Dwane Casey is trying to keep his charges honest, insisting they have not proven anything yet and should not yet be considered juggernauts in the making, he finally opened up this week that yes, internal expectations are high. “Hopefully go farther in the playoffs,” Casey said simply of the team’s assignment this season. “First get to the playoffs and win a round in the playoffs, that’s our next step, our next goal, then go farther. That’s what we consider the next step, but that’s probably the most difficult thing to do in sport. As a developing team trying to get up to the elite level, it’s hard to do.” Casey is couching expectations with caution, but he is not wrong in doing so.

Lewenberg: DeRozan talks his summer, Team USA and the upcoming season | TSN

TSN.ca: DeMar, for you and Kyle both it seems like you’ve hit the ground running, a seamless transition from the season to playoffs to the summer and now to camp. How important has it been for you, not just this year but throughout your career, to make sure you’re in game shape when you come into camp each season? DeROZAN: It’s definitely important, man. It’s big because me personally, I never like playing catch-up. I’d rather do that on my own time, when I first start working out after the season. Me and [Lowry] understand we carry a big load and we’ve got to lead by example. So if we come into training camp out of shape or whatever, it’s going to look bad and might carry over for the rest of our team. We’ve got to push them and show them we’re working extremely hard. We’ve got to be the toughest dudes out there when it comes to working hard. That’s our mindset and it’s been going well.

Toronto Raptors: The Health Advantage | Hoops Habit

After all, the general consensus is that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the East, closely followed by the Chicago Bulls.  This thinking leaves the Wizards and Raptors to battle for third in the East and for what is generally a favorable first round opponent..  During their summer forecast for the Eastern Conference standings, ESPN even predicted that the Wizards and Raptors would both finish with a record of 47-35. Barely over a week into the season, the Wizards will visit Toronto for a game on Nov. 7.  Without Beal, the Wizards will be forced to go with a shooting guard rotation that features Martell Webster, Rasual Butler (formerly of Raptors lore), and Glen Rice Jr. All of this could matter very little to Toronto if a Raptor suffers a significant injury in the four remaining preseason games.  Casey can do everything he can by limiting the minutes of key players, but all it takes is one fluke play in either practice or a game, just as Beal has already reminded us.

Stop this senseless nonsense known as the NBA pre-season | Toronto Star

It is blatantly unfair to ask the unsuspecting public to pay big bucks when there’s a better than average chance that a team’s top players will get the night off or play sparingly, when the main hope is to get through the night unscathed, when coaches are basically experimenting with lineup combinations and winning or losing is basically an afterthought. The players have little enthusiasm for the games – trust me, the ones that get the nights off aren’t at all put out by that – and it shows in the effort. Luckily, I couldn’t actually witness that mess at the Garden last night but by all indications from everything I read and was told, there was a lot of “going through the motions” going on. Sure, guys may have thought they were putting out maximum effort but it’s impossible to when they know there is nothing on the line.

Know Your Raptors: Amir Johnson sings Celine Dion | Sportsnet.ca

A player demonstrating awareness of his weak outside shooting by quintupling his attempts from downtown may not seem to make sense at first, but Johnson’s spike in three-point attempts came alongside a 10.71-percent drop in his mid-range looks. If a bad deep shooter is going to take a deep shot, it follows that it’s better for that shot to be worth three points than two. Plus, Johnson still took 69.61 percent of his shots within eight feet of the rim, his highest concentration since 2010-11.

Reviewing The Tape: A Closer Look At Bruno Caboclo’s Performance Against The New York Knicks | Raptors HQ

The one thing that immediately jumps out at me watching Caboclo on offense is how quickly he makes his first move. He’s shown range with his jumper, as evident here on a catch-and-shoot corner three. Again, without hesitation, in rhythm. He was very quick with his decisions on the other possessions where he got the ball, whether he was dribbling to a spot on the floor for a step-back jumper, or driving baseline to the basket and drawing a foul. Again, this is very early, but if Caboclo can develop a consistent jumper, it’s going to open a lot of other things up for him, and he seems ready to mix it up on the offensive end.

Through the Looking Glass: Greivis for Quincy | 3sob.com

As evidenced by the fact that he has been included as part of two subsequent transactions, the Grizzlies aren’t the only team that have viewed Greivis as replaceable. To this point, though, replacing him in Memphis has been easier said than done, which has been by far the most aggravating part of watching him achieve even relative success in his following destinations while Quincy is taking time to develop and racking up DNPs. The Grizz have called upon a messy collective of Jeremy Pargo, Josh Selby, Gilbert Arenas, Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten, Keyon Dooling, Nick Calathes, and Beno Udrih to spell Mike Conley some minutes, to little avail up until the flip of this calendar year. The promise of Nick Calathes has eased up on this concern, but it’s not entirely safe to say we’re out of the woods just yet. So when you put it like that… If it isn’t obvious by now, to say that I didn’t love the trade at the time would be a gratuitous overstatement of my exuberance. I miss you, Greivis.

Raptors Bruno Caboclo Is The Happiest Guy In Toronto | Pro Bball Report

Things are very different for Caboclo since he left Brazil to begin his journey to the NBA. He has gone from a player on an under-19 team who saw spot duty on the “big club” with Pinheiros Sky that the Raptors and his agent didn’t want him to “blow up” on to playing with NBA hopefuls in Summer League and then working out with NBA players for most of the summer afterwards. An NBA training camp and preseason games is a whole other level for Caboclo.

Rookie hazing done right.

Both Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira hail from the tropical climates of Brazil, where the winter isn’t all that bad. Here in Canada, however, things are different. That’s why Jonas Valanciunas took the time to outfit the rookies with spiffy — yet warm — hats.

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Winter is coming in Canada soon. Good thing rookies have warm hats :)) #RTZ #Raptors #WeTheNorth

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In Monday evening’s pointless affair in New York, James Johnson was called for a foul against J.R Smith which he did not agree with. Johnson was pretty peeved and his coach attempted to restrain him, and Johnson’s response was to shrug him off. Or at least that’s what many fans suggested. As you look at the GIF and video below, I don’t think that “push” is intended for Casey but a demonstrative measure against the ref. Either way, Johnson is out of line but I don’t think this talk that’s surfacing about him disrespecting Casey holds water.

Here’s the GIF and the full video is below:

Straight from the source:

No surprises here. Jonas Valanciunas will make $4.7M next season while Terrence Ross will earn $3.6M. Valanciunas’s qualifying offer stands at $6.2M, whereas Ross’s is at $4.8M. For more details, check out the Sham Sports salary page.

Raptors top Knicks in a game of basketball, sort of.

How to summarize the abomination that took place in Madison Square Garden last night?

Here’s how: New York Knicks point guard Jose Calderon, who is as accurate of a spot-up three-point shooter as there is in the NBA, curled around a down screen in the middle of the third quarter, cleanly caught a pass, had an wide-open look at the basket, and launched a shot that hit nothing but air. His attempt veered wide right of the basket and landed out of bounds.

Ordinarily, when a game ends 81-76, the low tallies point to a grind-it-out defensive slugfest — something out of a nineties playoff series between the Knicks and Pacers. Last night’s contest was not a well played defensive showdown. It was a sloppy match between two teams who wanted nothing no part of basketball on a Monday night.

Positives

Lou Williams’ breakout game — We finally caught a peek of #LouTrillVille at his best. He came off the bench and poured in 21 points in 24 minutes of play. He was one of the few players who successfully managed to push the pace — something the coaching staff is drilling into the team — and operated effectively in the pick-and-roll. Aside from Carmelo Anthony and DeMar DeRozan, Williams was the only player who could make something positive happen on the court.

The most impressive aspect of Williams’ outburst was the seven free throws he attempted. Williams isn’t very efficient when he shoots the ball, but his herky-jerky way of manoeuvring around picks allows him to create decent separation from his defender, and with his slight frame, it’s not hard for him to sell the most minimal of contact.

Games like this is why Williams makes for a smart gamble. He cost almost nothing to acquire this offseason, but could potentially fill a big deficiency on the team. Williams provides a mix of ball-handling and the ability to drive, something the Raptors lack outside of Greivis Vasquez, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Williams’ contributions will often come with the sunk cost of ill-conceived pull-up jumpers, but he has the ability to buoy the offense for a backup unit.

¡ Bruno ! — Finally, our prayers for #FreeBruno were answered. Dwane Casey took him off the leash and allowed him to roam free for 13 minutes, mostly in the fourth quarter. He canned an open corner triple, he dunked on a leakout in transition, and he swipped a steal.

Altogether, the bar is admittedly low for Bruno. He just needs to show what he did last night — the ability to function as an NBA-level player. The occasional flashes of promise and the talk of endless wingspan is great, but he’s still on the court for the same reason everyone is, which is to play basketball. That’s what he did. He sunk his open three-pointer and did his best to defend a tricky player in J.R. Smith, who shot 4-for-12 in the game.

Hamilton’s ability to attack — I continue to be impressed with Hamilton’s game. He has just enough quickness, athleticism, ball-handling and spot-up three-point shooting ability to keep defenses on their toes. He was one of the few players who actually could execute the Raptors’ plan to attack in transition for easy buckets. Although he only scored one basket and finished with a measly six points, Hamilton stood out as a difference maker.

 

Negatives

Ross’s decision making — Terrence Ross tried to push the ball in transition. It was obvious effort made on his part. He dribbled with a purpose, and that purpose was to shepherd his squad down the court.

However, doing so much attacking and ball-handling clearly took him out of his comfort zone, leading to mistakes being made. He looked timid when attacking the basket as he tried to dodge defenders rather than aiming to draw contact. The trade-off wasn’t great, as he finished 2-for-12 on the night, including just 1-for-8 from behind the arc.

Ross does deserve some credit for his four steals, which is partly why he found himself in position to push the tempo so often. He got bullied by ‘Melo, though that’s to be expected. Squaring off against big wings has always been a problem for him.

Raptors’ bigs not being threats to roll — Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are exempt from this. They can roll, it’s just a matter of whether the guards can find them or not. Johnson sets great screens and makes himself present whereas Valanciunas tends to slip instead of setting a solid screen, but they can finish when given the responsibility to.

This, however, does not apply for everyone else: Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Greg Steimsma. A big part of why the Raptors’ second-unit looks stifled offensively is because the defense faces almost no recourse in doubling and trapping the ball-handler. Without the bigs being a threat to roll, there’s little motion generated and it doesn’t provide much opportunity for Williams or Vasquez to create. Patterson helps tremendously as a pick-and-pop option, but he too is limited heading towards the basket. Without the bigs presenting a threat to score, the second unit offense is liable to devolve into Williams and Vasquez pounding the rock for 20 seconds before heaving up a shot.

James Johnson brushing off Dwane Casey — There’s no excuse for Johnson brushing aside Casey in the final minute of the game. It doesn’t matter that the call against him was a bad one. You don’t push the coach aside, ever. Not cool.

Hansbrough committing flagrants in preseason — Come on, man. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s preseason. Not cool.

My splitting headache — Also not cool. It’s keeping me from writing a semi-decent recap.

Raptors top Knicks in New York | Toronto Sun

Nobody seemed overly interested in putting the round, orange ball into the hoop, particularly in a first half that saw the Raptors score 31 points and shoot 1-for-10 from three and the Knicks put up a mildly more impressive 36 on 38.1% shooting. It was so bad in the opening 24 minutes that one person on press row fled the scene and nearby fans pleaded with the media to change the channel on the monitors to the NFL game. At the half, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson had hit 6-of-10 combined shots, Williams and Chuck Hayes 2-of-3 each. The rest of the Raptors? One-for-20. Even by pre-season standards, that’s poor. Luckily, things got moderately better from there. The Raptors found their shot in the third, putting up 29 points to New York’s 18, to take the lead for the first time since early on. The fourth was mostly uneventful.

Raptors edge Knicks | Toronto Star

he Madison Square Garden crowd saw some familiar faces and some new ones and got its first look at the Knicks’ new triangle offence Monday night. In the end, the Toronto Raptors prevailed 81-76. With Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry sitting this one out, Lou Williams started and led the way with 21 points in 24 minutes. Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas also got the night off, while former Toronto No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani of the Knicks sat out with a strained right hamstring. Coach Derek Fisher said Bargnani might play Tuesday against Philadelphia, though the medical staff might prefer he gets a little more rest.

Raptors, Knicks Agree to End Preseason Game with Toronto in the Lead 81-76 | Raptors HQ

The Raptors won without Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (for the second half). The team got minutes and production from the entire roster (even Landry Fields hit a shot). We can assume that some credit for the Knicks’ horrid shooting can be given to the Raptors defense.

Lewenberg: Raptors to limit DeRozan, Lowry’s minutes in preseason | TSN

“We’re going to be smart with it,” Casey said Sunday, promising to monitor the minutes of his prized backcourt – DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry – closely for the duration of the pre-season. The list of recently fallen star players serves as further proof that injury prevention is not a simple proposition. High performance athletes, like anyone else really, can get hurt anywhere, at any time, whether it’s the result of overexertion or simply bad luck. “You can slip down the stairs and hurt yourself,” DeRozan noted. The Raptors were fortunate with good health a year ago, losing just 52 games to injury or illness, fewest in the NBA. While Toronto’s training and medical staff, one of the league’s finest, deserve credit there are far too many variables – some of them luck dependent – to count on that good fortune repeating itself in 2014-15. For a team with their sights set on April and May, the risk of setting an impact player back before games begin to matter is just not worth it.

Where’s The Hype Around Terrence Ross? | The Sports Quotient

He jumps like Andrew Wiggins, shoots as well as Bradley Beal (yes, look it up), and possesses at least average defensive potential, yet he garners little coverage from the media and receives sparse adoration from NBA fans. Why don’t we talk about him? More importantly, why should we?

67RIEFNS No. 14: The mysterious and unexpected Bruno Caboclo | ProBasketballTalk

Maybe it Caboclo – the most unexpected first-round pick in recent memory – was a reach. Maybe there’s a reason no public talent evaluator was so high on him. Or maybe Toronto sees something else nobody else did and will reap the rewards. I love the idea of the daring risk Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri took. The NBA is a more interesting place when people break the script. Ujiri set fire to the pages. Will it work? I have no idea. I want it to work. I want teams to be rewarded for thinking unconventionally. At this point, some of the mystery is gone. It’s just up to Caboclo to play well.

Catching up with former Raptor Jose Calderon | Toronto Sun

Casey, who refused to write off the Brooklyn Nets after a terrible start last season and ended up being correct, believes the scoring options the Knicks possess will keep the team in the hunt. “I look at New York as a talented team. You’ve got some bonafide scorers J.R. Smith, you’ve got Carmelo Anthony, you’ve got some big-time scorers on that team and some good role players,” Casey said Monday. “I think Jose Calderon is one of the best pass-first, shoot the three second point guards in the league. People dismiss them and I don’t see it that way. It’s going to take them some time to learn the Triangle and that system, it takes time, if you’re committed to it it works.”

Who Has The Best Backcourt In The NBA? | If I Were a GM

Lowry and Derozan are coming off great seasons, and are defensively one of the best backcourts in the game. Offensively, the only thing that stands out is Derozan’s lack of 3 point shooting ability, but overall these two paired together is a balanced backcourt that can be effective in a variety of different ways.

Lucas Nogueira Is Not Quite Ready To Play For The Raptors | Pro Bball Report

“Nogueira can block shots and he’s played in the in the ACB which is the second best league in the world,” Ujiri told Pro Bball Report. “He played a good role there when he was healthy. He is a big player that is very mobile and can protect the rim and he can rebound. His body is still a-ways-a-way, but we’ll get him there. Contributing consistently, he’s still a-ways-a-way, but we plan to develop him.”“I have a lot of advantages because I have a 7’5 wingspan and I can jump, so I am huge,” Nogueira said. “But NBA has a lot of guys like me and I never played in the NBA, so I hope to (be able to) do the same things that I did in Spain.”It has been rough on Nogueira personally since joining his teammates ahead of training camp because of the groin injury.

Toronto Raptors Preseason: What have we seen so far? | Raptors Rapture

The team keeps having defensive ups and downs. They start strong, they become “lazy” during the second and third quarter, letting the opponents to score many points, and they bounce back during the last quarter. This “tempo” reminds me a lot last season. We’ve experienced many games with this type of defensive awareness. Consistency is important in order to achieve great things, so they have to be focused on this part. Lou Williams is still trying to find his “mojo”.  He may score above 10 points per game but his stats were very low during the first 3 games. He bounced back although tonight, scoring 21 points against the Knicks with 6-9 Field goal attempts. When he feels more confident and comfortable with his new role in this team, he will be an offensive threat. James Johnson seems to have matured. He’s impressed everybody so far, he knows his role and he’s OK with this (at least for now). He will be an important player coming from the bench, more defensively but also offensively.

Toronto Raptors 2014/2015 Season Preview | The Runner Sports

One other knock on the Raptors is that they’re a bit like the Denver Nuggets have been recently since the Carmelo trade, in that there’s no real superstar on the team.  It’s hard to win in the playoffs without that A+ All-Star.  When the going gets tough, who gets going?  Is it Lowry?  Will DeMar DeRozan make that leap?  Or is Masai Ujiri, the former Nuggets GM and current Raptors GM, going to prove that he can win with superior depth?  Like all NBA seasons, all we have are questions and we have to wait for tip-off to get the answers.  For some of those questions, we’ll have to wait until a final buzzer.  This season, Toronto fans will be happy to root for a regular season winner.  And maybe the year after that, as well.  At some point, though, the expectations are going to shift and more of these questions will need answers.  I guess I’m looking a bit too far forward now, though.

Check out the Quick Reaction here – post-game in the morning. GIFs below.

Bruno’s slam on the break:

Raptors beat the Knicks.

Toronto Raptors 81 FinalRecap | Box Score 76 New York Knicks
Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 4-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -3He’s like Saffron. You just need small doses of him to make the cup of tea that much better. He really is in mid-season form and the only thing stopping him from a career-year is injury. Even dished one out to Chuck Hayes.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | 0Got the start as Jonas was resting and got outplayed by Samuel Dalembert. The highlight of his night was picking up a flagrant foul which the refs took 20 minutes to review. He looked about as comfortable as a starter as Will talking to a pretty girl.

Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 2-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -3Total brickfest. Missed a lot of clean looks and took some shots that were so contorted that his intestines had to be in his elbow. Did make a key shot which sparked the comeback, and handled the ball well again, but no product at the end of his possessions.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 6 PTS | +8Got the start with Lowry resting, and had some trouble dealing with the Knicks’ perimeter length and quickness. Still managed to run the offense relatively effectively, and once the Knicks’ trash/second-unit came in, he exploited them well. He’ll be fine.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 11 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -1Probably pissed he wasn’t selected for a night off. Didn’t play in the second half and only notched 11 minutes, but a great 11 minutes including a steal and dunk and a sweet spin move. I have no doubt that had he played 28 minutes in this game he’d have 35 points.

James Johnson, PF 18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -6Very patchy game but did defend ‘Melo well on a couple possessions, and supplied good help defense. He doesn’t just stand around and worry about his man, tends to read the offense and supply help where he can. Good so far this preseason, but that was a bad foul on the three-pointer on J.R Smith.

Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +10Not too good tonight including an airball at the end of the first half. Wasn’t as energetic as against Boston, and the shot wasn’t falling. Forgettable outing.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 16 MIN | 1-3 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +4Second-half introduction and made a mark by hitting the game-tying three and getting to the line for some FTs. One thing’s for sure, he understands that in order to stay on the court he needs to play defense and he’s zoned in on that end, even though the results weren’t always there.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 13 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +4Second-half appearance for him as well. Hit a three and ran the break to be found by Lou Williams. When he’s calling for the ball on the wing he looks like a chopper about to land. Those arms have robotic extensions on them, I swear.

Greg Stiemsma, C 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +13I’m going to plead the fifth and say that I didn’t really notice much of what he was upto, but I’m sure he provided rim-protection. Don’t matter, though, the 15th roster spot is all his now that Bebe is crocked.

Chuck Hayes, C 9 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -8Missed a layup, got the rebound, put it back.

Will Cherry, PG 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | -1A disastrous first spell where he was doing Will Solomon impersonations was followed by a moderately effective second, where he scored early in the fourth quarter to get some momentum back for the Raptors. It’s difficult to see him getting minutes ahead of anyone, because it means that a guy like Williams, Vasquez, or Ross would be on the pine.

Landry Fields, SG 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2Man, oh man. How about that drive to the rim and the reverse layup? I thought that kind of an effort would deserve more than three minutes, but Casey had other ideas. Did a great job of reminding us that he exists.

Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 6-9 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | +6That’s the Lou Williams I’ve grown to casually admire! Good on-the-ball offense, enough herky-jerky moves to carve open the soft Knicks defense, and some good three-point shooting as well. I’d say bottle this game up and replicate for the entire season.

Dwane Casey
I’m giving him a moderate grade because he didn’t let us see Bruno enough, and for having us suffer through Tyler Hansbrough in the starting lineup. Probably a good move to rest up Lowry and DeRozan, at least he’s making an effort to manage his players, can’t recall that ever happening in preseason, certainly not to this extent.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Painful game to watch where the Raptors shot 40% and the Knicks 38%. The big guns played limited minutes meaning this was essentially a game which resembled a blowout game. And Andrea didn’t even play which meant there was absolutely no reason to watch this. Other than Bruno, of course.

The Raptors have come back late in New York, and this rebound-pass-dunk combo has got the momentum swinging on their side. Stay tuned!

With the gradual improvements that DeRozan makes from year to year, do you think he’s almost at the point in surpassing a player like Harden in overall quality level? Come and discuss.

If you haven’t already, you can read (and watch) parts one, two and three.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, this was my first experience as a member of the media at an event like this, and in this, the final chapter, I’m going to touch on the fine line media members have to walk on.

The relationship between the media and NBA teams and players is an interesting and complex one. While each side needs one another, it’s also a bit of an adversarial relationship, as NBA teams and players try to control access and message, and the media, if they’re doing their job, try to get beyond the canned interviews and sound bites they’re so often given.

Most teams and players realize they need the media on their side in order to market themselves fully, so they put up with having to deal with the interview requests and the same questions over and over again (well, unless you’re Gregg Popovich).

And most of the media realizes that they need to walk a fine line between placating to the desires of the NBA teams and players to ensure a good relationship, and writing the real story that may in fact be more critical than the team or player may wish.

Some reporters, especially the beat reporters or announcers, travel with the team and spend so much time around them that they end up building relationships with the players, coaches and executives they see nearly every day. Under these circumstances, it can be difficult to not only remain objective towards people who are like co-workers, but to be able to say the things that need to be said when you have to face these same people day after day.

Imagine being hired to write a blog at your work about your co-workers, some of whom you might even consider friends. You’re probably not going to be as critical as you would if you were writing about people you didn’t know very well and who you didn’t have to see every day. And that might mean that you aren’t as willing to publicly rip the guy in accounting who made a major screwup even though it’s your job to. Therein lies the problem with much of the media.

Ask a reporter privately his or her opinion on something and you’ll often get an answer that they would never say publicly and one that is often more aligned with the truth. But publicly, they have to measure their words, and not just to keep their relationship with the players intact, but because the people they work for may have loyalties of their own.

2014-10-03 13.56.35

When ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar in a podcast, ESPN suspended him for three weeks. And many believe the reason for and length of the suspension was because of the close financial relationship ESPN has with the NFL. Obviously this was an extreme case, and there were other issues, but an example closer to home is Michael Grange.

When Michael Grange was writing for the Globe and Mail, he was often critical of the Raptors. That mostly stopped when he was hired by Sportsnet as an on-air personality, appearing at halftime of Raptors’ games. Like ESPN, Sportsnet has a financially lucrative relationship with not only the NBA but with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, who also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As a blogger who is not beholden to anyone, and until training camp had never met any of the Raptors players, coaches or executives, I’ve been free to express my opinion without fear of repudiation or harming relationships with those I write about.

Now, there are some readers who have felt that I have been overly critical of the Raptors over the years, and many have made their objections known. Back on my old blog, I was quite critical of Andrea Bargnani from the day he was drafted, not because I didn’t like him as a person, but because I never felt he would ever become the type of player who could help a team win. I could do this because I never met him and never thought I would ever meet him, so I didn’t have to censure my opinions of him.

At training camp, while I was a member of the media, I certainly never felt like an insider. And I’d like to think of that as an advantage. At least for what I do.

It was interesting to get to talk to many of the people I have written about, and I genuinely liked the ones I spoke with one-on-one. They all seemed to care about their job and work hard at it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to criticize them, and you, as fans, shouldn’t want me to stop. This is what makes blogs often more entertaining reading than many of the traditional media outlets. We tend to be able to write a little more in depth and we’re generally not beholden to anyone, so you get a view that may not be sponsored by the NBA.

Speaking of the traditional media, while Jack Armstrong may be an employee of the Raptors, he’s also a very knowledgeable basketball fan who had a few words to say about what he’s most looking forward to seeing this upcoming season for the Raptors:

Writer’s note: Due to some technical difficulties, some footage, including an interview with Terrence Ross, was deemed unusable by my computer, so you will, unfortunately, never see it.

Super-quick pod this week on account for Thanksgiving, and perhaps we’ll even be back before next Monday with another. In this pod I talk to Vancouver-native Tim W about what he got to see at Raptors training camp and whether the city of Vancouver is ready for a basketball team. There’s also a quick recap of the week that was, and that’s about it.

Enjoy your long weekend.

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 (19:06, 18 MB). Or just listen below:

Celtics 109, Raptors 116 – Box

There’s already a reaction post for this game which is all a pre-season game deserves, but there are traditions to follow so here goes a post-game report.

The Raptors beat the Celtics despite playing in a low gear for most of the evening.  Dwane Casey extended Kyle Lowry to 31 minutes, including the full fourth quarter, to test out how he was coming along and the results were fantastic.  Lowry hasn’t been going full throttle the first two games of the preseason, often drifting in and out of possessions and taking shots that seem to be born out of boredom rather than constructed out of rigour.  Last night, though, it was a return to form for Lowry who inundated the Celtics with his tenacity and zeal for playing both sides of the court, as he manifested himself into the battering ram of a player he’s capable of being.

The question surrounding DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas is whether they’re able to maintain the forward progress of the summer, and on both counts the matters are affirmative.  DeRozan’s mid-range game looks more refined, and it has more to do with him simply practicing the jumper.  He’s peeling off screens very well, going the right direction on the picks set for him, and making incisive decisions in favor of having lingering thoughts about what to do. There’s nobody on the Celtics, and certainly not Evan Turner, who can stay with DeRozan in a face-up or post-up situation.  With his recent experiences as a ball-handler with Team USA, when sizing up the opposition he’s now able to see beyond just what his options are, but reflect on where on the court he needs to be to operate optimally for the pass out or the drop underneath.   Looking past the lack of execution at times, you have to be pleased with the thought process DeRozan is displaying on offense.  Defensively, he was never quite put to the test.

For Valanciunas, it’s all about converting Dwane Casey’s defensive message to action on the floor.  His offense is definitely quicker and more deliberate, and in a game like this his size becomes an automatic factor on the offensive boards and in the block.  However, it’s what he does defensively that will ultimately dictate his minutes since the coach isn’t shy about benching players who aren’t pulling their defensive weight.   Watching this game, you would have noticed Valanciunas always trying to establish rebounding position on any shot that went up, and that’s something you may not have seen last year.  Instead of vaguely pretending to be active on the boards, he’s trying to cut his way through players into the paint and it’s naturally causing disruption.  He may not always get the boards, and may even look silly trying to maneuver against more coordinated players like he did last night, but he forces a defender (or even two) to box him out, opening up rebounding opportunities for guards venturing underneath the three-point line, or other bigs.

There’s also plenty to be pleased about some of the secondary players.  Patrick Patterson looked to have recovered from his earlier injury issues as he picked up where left off from last season.  The movement off the ball, the confident long-range jumper, and the controlled yet forceful drives to the rim were a welcome sign.  At 25, he’s soon to be entering the prime of his career and if his improvements over the last 12 months are any indicator of the progress he’s doing to make over the next three years of his contract, Raptors fans have a lot to look forward to.  People tend to forget that he’s also a capable defender who can move his feet, and as part of a second-unit that involves James Johnson, he can be a force on both ends.

Speaking of James Johnson, he’s gradually easing into his role of a floor stretcher, garbage man, and defensive specialist.  He made a few attempts to come up with offensive rebounds by crashing in, and met with success a couple times.  He tended to cut to the rim where he thought he had a chance, but with Greivis Vasquez operating and looking for a big to cut right down the middle, you could sense that Johnson didn’t want to get in the way of the play and hung on the perimeter instead of perhaps following his instinct.  The positive is that he appears to know what his role on the team is, and if he sticks to that, there’s enough support on the team that his skills will shine through.

The same is true for Lou Williams, who despite going only 2-10, had a positive impact on the game due to his presence and reputation.  He’s a player that teams have to respect, whether it be turning on a screen, pushing in transition, or simply stepping back for a jumper.  When you look at the second unit, which has undergone a big change with Johnson and Williams stepping in, you have to feel positive about the balance on the court.  The Celtics, missing two of their better players in Rondo and Green, aren’t exactly a measuring stick of any kind, so watching the Raptors second unit tilt and twist their defense isn’t indicative of too much.  What we can take away from the game is Vasquez and Williams have an understanding of each other’s roles, and both being relative veterans instead of unbroken players, has a lot to do with it.  There’s a balance of offense and defense in that unit, that if fine tuned, could produce some great results, especially when you throw in a starter (like we usually do) such as Terrence Ross into the mix.  It should be noted that Vasquez was quite bothered by Pressey’s defense (great name for a defender, BTW) because he didn’t expect Brad Steven’s side to show that kind of pressure that early.  This isn’t concerning because we’ve seen Vasquez excel in negotiating this kind of pressure to good effect.

Ross’s ball-handing isn’t necessarily better so far this season, it’s that that area of his game seems to have been made a focus by Dwane Casey.  We saw him be the primary ball-handler on offense with Lowry and DeRozan on the court, and he did well to handle Avery Bradley’s pressure, and allowed Kyle Lowry to play off the ball, thus increasing the latter’s three-point threat.  The main benefit of Ross assuming this role is that it gives the defense a look that they may not have been used to during the course of the game, and when you present something like this in the fourth quarter, it forces the opposing team to make an adjustment. It’s like a card in Casey’s hand which, I’m sure, he’d love to play more often.  Sort of reminds me when Phil Jackson used to surprise teams with Toni Kukoc at the point, or a more recent example might be Manu Ginobili handling point-guard duties,

Defense is one of the last things to come around because that’s where the need for communication is the highest.  So, when I see Valanciunas being unaware of a cutting guard, or a guard not dropping down to help on a beaten big, or Williams trailing a screen instead of anticipating it, I’m not too worried.  I have some faith in Dwane Casey that he can instil the required rigour in his players, and that over time we’ll see the weaknesses of players concealed, and their strengths emboldened.  The Raptors did allow the Celtics to shoot 49% on the night and 50% from three-point line including 14 threes, which is poor.  Too many players were beaten in one-on-one situations, and the confusion on perimeter and interior coverage responsibilities was blatantly evident, but that’s exactly what preseason’s for.  I’d rather the Raptors go .500 in pre-season and identify their weak points rather than go undefeated thinking they’re infallible.

There was no Bruno Caboclo, Jordan Hamilton, Will Cherry or Greg Steimsma (concussion) and I’m sure all will feature in New York on Monday.  To sum it up, this was a night where the Raptors were rather casual with the Celtics for most of the night, but when they decided to take things seriously, the Celtics had no chance.

Finally, our own Lou Williams William Lou was at the game and offered up some observations:

  • I’m very impressed by Brad Stevens. His team was very well-coached, and executed a concerted strategy on both ends of the floor. He also used timeouts and late quarter scenarios to practice running sets.
  • The Raptors, by comparison, looked rather sloppy on defense, and wasted a few opportunities to practice plays. For example, Casey called a timeout at the end of the first half only to run a straight iso for DeMar. Why does that even need to be practiced?
  • Marcus Smart reminds me of a larger version of young Kyle Lowry. Dogged competitor, a bit of a bully, and can’t shoot yet.
  • Kelly Olynyk can only shoot the three if he does a little hop first. It’s a tell that gives his intentions away.
  • For a preseason game, there was a lot of excitement. Good crowd, all things considered.

Kyle Lowry plays extended minutes as Raptors come back to beat Celtics rather comfortably in the end.

Boston Celtics 109 FinalRecap | Box Score 116 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 25 MIN | 5-9 FG | 3-6 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -2Old Mr. Reliable, get him the ball within 5-feet of the rim in a two-man situation, and he invariably knows how to contort and maneuver his body into getting a score. You could take this game and project it out to the rest of the season, and that’s how he’ll go. Slight confusion on the defensive coverage against driving guards, but that was a general issue and not limited to him. Unfortunately, he remains the most under-used pick ‘n roll option on the team, and I long for the time when Vasquez and him develop a chemistry that he had with Calderon. It’s coming, I know it.  He also undressed Kelly Olynyk.

Terrence Ross, SF 28 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -4Lots ‘o ball-handling. Clearly Dwane Casey sees him as a way to utilize Lowry off the ball, much like he used Vasquez last year. The good thing about Ross is that he tends to keep his head up when dribbling (because he’s confident in his handles), which makes him more available to make passes and create. If he continues on this improvement trajectory, there’s little reason to believe that he can’t be an effective point-forwardish option. He’s more active defensively too, often calling out other players into position and taking more of a leadership role on defense than being a bystander.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 5-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 11 PTS | -7Did well not to get shoved off the block and used his size well in rebounding positions. Sullinger proved a bit of a problem and Jonas adjusted well to take away the angles instead of conceding the open jumper. Working very hard defensively and you can tell by the rebounding numbers. Offensively, sound against a Boston frontline that doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of resistance. So far, he’s on course.  Here’s him getting a nice put-back.

Kyle Lowry, PG 31 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 5 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +16Struggled with the shot early until he looked at the scoreboard, looked at who they were playing, and decided enough is enough. He’s so much better than who he was going up against that it was only a question of whether he wanted to expend that energy to pull this game though. In the second half, he did, and there was nothing Marcus Smart or even the excellent Avery Bradley could to to keep up with his aggressive spin moves and disruptive defense.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 23 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +5I’m not cringing when he shoots the long-two because it looks like it’s got some lift, and it happens to go in. Was a bit indecisive in some post-up situations against Turner, but has enough fade and arch in his release that he’s still able to get a clean look off. You couldn’t say that in previous years. Going to the rim was never a problem, and he did hit two threes which made me happy. He’s coming along nicely and pacing himself really well ahead of the season opener. Even when things aren’t working out for him, things end up working out.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 23 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +5In a fluid team like the Raptors, Hansbrough stands out like a sore thumb. Not necessarily in a bad way, just that he tends to be rather awkward in anything he does. He basically ran up and down the floor with great zeal and vigour, only to do nothing, and I figure it’s because the pace of this game and the matchup against Olynk and Sullinger is a bit much for him. One is just bigger, the other has one too many step-back moves.

James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +7What a pleasant surprise, he’s doing everything as advertised. Not being annoying, not making silly faces, just playing ball without hogging it. I wish I could just project this game over the rest of the season for him. His defense and off-the-ball movement in the fourth was key to the comeback.. Well done.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +18Fantastic in the first half, where his energy invigorated the team. The matchups suited him as he got to play on the perimeter outside-in, and hit a couple threes while always moving well without the ball. With his talent and effort levels, only good things can happen.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 20 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | -11Bit shoddy defensively in the second quarter but other than that, it was regularly scheduled programming. He’s so predictable on offense yet remains extremely effective. The floater is in effect and so is his vision, and his ability to pass over the defense on account of his height can’t be overstated.

Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 2-10 FG | 6-7 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +8Suspect in the first three quarters, better in the fourth. He’s missing his floaters and runners, but you just know that’s a question of coming back from injury and finding your rhythm and place. Much like Vasquez, suspect defensively in that second quarter but worked really well on offense as part of the bench unit that you have to think that good things are abound.

Dwane Casey
Managing minutes well. The plan was to give the starters a lot of minutes today to get some rhythm going (as confirmed by Lowry in the post-game interview), and reduce them in later games. A bit disappointed not to see any of Caboclo, Hamilton, etc., but hey, we got to see the “real” lineup for an extended period, so thank you. The team needs to figure things out defensively, especially when guards are driving as there’s lots of confusion on who has to drop down and who has to stick to the wing. Early days.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Casey extended the starters to get as much of a “real” game simulation as possible, and the results were great. Whenever the Raptors were trying in this game, they were able to do what they wanted with ease.
  2. The second-unit offense was quite fluid with Vasquez running things and flanked by James Johnson and Patrick Patterson. Even though Williams didn’t have a great shooting night, going 2-10, his presence on the court opens up the defense creating space for Vasquez to operate and dissect.
  3. Have to be happy with the +10 rebounding, something the team should make a point of emphasis this year, especially against teams that don’t have great frontlines. They ended up taking 11 more shots than the Celtics which is significant, and that’s also partially due to them forcing 16 turnovers and committing only 11.
  4. Lowry’s defensive impact was evident in the fourth quarter. He’s so aggressive on the perimeter that he’s bound to cause havoc, and when he has Valanciunas and Johnson in position to cover for him, it affords him the defensive freedom he loves. Some props need to go out to Hansbrough as well for sticking to his position on defense instead of coming out to trap without reason, thus maintaining the balance on the floor.
  5. The Raptors went through stretches where they didn’t look good defensively, and I think when you have Williams and Vasquez on the floor at the same time, it’s going to happen. The key is to maintain efficient offense during those stretches and have enough help defense on the floor. Casey definitely needs to tune his second-unit defensively, and I think this is where someone like Steimsma will really help (can’t believe I wrote that), or even a healthy Bebe (if he does end up panning out).

Did he mean it? Probably not, but it still looks pretty. DeRozan’s in the middle of having a pretty good game against the Celtics, I actually felt comfortable with him taking a deep two because the shot looked more natural than ever.

His less-than-inspiring summer league performance is starting to make more sense:

“He’s got a very serious strain, a groin strain,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s for real. The MRI showed us. It’s a very tedious thing. What we don’t want to do is rush him back where he re-injures it and then he’s out for another eight weeks or something. It’s something we have to be very careful with.”

We can chalk his impotent performance against NBA hopefuls up to an injury and not him sucking. This is actually good news for me since I didn’t know much about him and had to go by what I saw. The Raptors wont be rushing him back, but with Stiemsma and Patterson on the injury block as well, Chuck Hayes and Psycho-3 will be relied on more than we’d like in the short term.

The pre-season grind trudges on.

On Friday, the Boston Celtics (2-0) will face the Toronto Raptors (1-1) at the Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m. NBA TV) . Yours truly will be in attendance, courtesy of blogfather Zarar, sitting perched in the upper bowl.

First, a state of affairs for the Celtics, who have fallen on hard times since making the gut-wrenching decision to rebuild by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2012. The only remaining core piece of their former championship roster is Rajon Rondo, who recently broke his hand. The injury will sideline him for the next two months, providing broadcast crews plenty of opportunities to pan over to a despondent Rondo audibly counting down the days until the trade deadline.

Without Rondo, the Celtics’ roster looks much like their 2013-14 iteration, one that won just 25 games. Their roster is light on NBA-quality talent, as swingman Jeff Green and Avery Bradley represent their most name-worthy players. Green and Bradley are fine players, certainly useful in their own right, but are ill-fitting for the part of leading man.

Past that, the Celtics trot out an assortment of fading and faded stars. That includes Evan Turner — who is being trotted out at point guard; makes sense, he’s not good at dribbling or making the right pass — and a washed-up version of Gerald Wallace. There’s also Marcus Thornton, who has bounced around the league since being a useful gunner off the bench in New Orleans between 2009-2011. Brandon Bass is still floating around, serving as a three-pointer-less version of Patrick Patterson and Joel Anthony inexplicably still has claim to a roster spot in the NBA.

What the Celtics are banking on, however, is not for solid contributions from their veterans. It’s the opposite. Boston is hoping for their veterans to flop, but to provide just enough value to serve as desirable trade fodder so the Celtics can continue with their rebuild.

They’re off to a decent start with a few quality prospects. The crown jewel is this year’s sixth overall pick Marcus Smart, a heady alpha lead guard laying in-wait for Rondo to vacate his spot in the starting lineup. Smart has good size and posted impressive numbers at Oklahoma State.

The problem, however, is that the Celtics lack more talent with the ability to develop into (wait for it…) transcendent players. Tyler Zeller has potential as a third big on a decent team. Jared Sullinger is an intriguing mix of girth and shooting, but will most likely remain too big of a liability to stick as a starter long-term. Vitor Faverani could one day develop into a gigantic version of Tas Melas of the Starters. Dwight Powell is intriguing as a versatile forward, but he’s a second-round pick. James Young can’t (yet) shoot enough to stick as a wing. Kelly Olynyk is certainly skilled as a center prospect, but will most likely remain too slow to not be a massive liability on defense, a Spencer Hawes redux of sorts.

Guards – Raptors

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry scored a combined 48 points for the Raptors in their recent loss to Sacramento. The pairing represents one of the most formidable backcourt combinations in the league.

The Celtics have Evan Turner at point guard.

Wings – Even

At the time writing (Thursday afternoon), an update on Terrence Ross’ health has not been put out by the team, so going with rule of preseason, I’ll assume he’s sitting out. That leaves Landry Fields, James Johnson and a surprisingly decent Jordan Hamilton holding down the fort. Not exactly the most inspiring collection of wings.

The Celtics counter with a solid scorer in Green and their own version of Fields in Wallace (insert obligatory ‘Where’s Wallace?!’ joke here). This is a good test for James Johnson’s purported ability to defend larger wings, as Green is a solid 6-foot-8, 240-pounds.

Bigs – Raptors

Not having Patrick Patterson is going to hurt. The Celtics’ bigs aren’t shutdown defenders by any means, but they’re disciplined and stay at home on defense, meaning the Raptors may encounter resistance in their efforts to crack the paint without a floor stretcher. This also isn’t a great game for either Chuck Hayes or Greg Stiemsma as the Celtics lack a dominant inside presence — barring Sullinger exploding for another 20-20 game — so this would theoretically be a good time to #FreeBebe. Or, maybe it isn’t because Bebe has a minor injury of sorts. Should Bebe be put in the corner? No one puts Bebe in the corner. What are you even reading?

Bench – Raptors

If the Celtics’ starters are Turner-Smart-Bradley-Sullinger-Olynyk, just imagine how putrid the bench must be. The Raptors aren’t looking so hot with Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez reduced to hoisting bombs without an offensively viable big to play pick-and-roll with, but there’s enough talent to trump Boston’s collection of prospects.

Prediction: ???????????

Remember Whose Line is it Anyway? Yeah, the points don’t matter. It’s preseason.

Toronto Raptors want Jonas Valanciunas to become best defender in the league: ‘We want that as a goal’ | National Post

“One of the big focuses for us to advance in the playoffs is that he’s got to be the best rim protector — block shots, [legal] vertical [jumps] and being able to get over to that weak side early on any [dribble] penetration,” said Bill Bayno, the Raptors assistant coach who has worked extensively with Valanciunas. “At times he was great at it last year. … But we want it every night, 82 games.” By “best,” one assumes that Bayno meant he wants Valanciunas to be the best help defender he can be. “Best in the league,” Bayno clarifies. “We want him to be No. 1 in the NBA. We want that as a goal. Right now, [Pacers centre Roy] Hibbert is the best. We want him chasing Hibbert. If he comes up a little short, hopefully he’s going to be elite, one of the top five in the league.”

Lewenberg: Casey looking for “sense of urgency” on defence | TSN

The Raptors have a lot invested in third-year centre Jonas Valanciunas, hoping he can grow into the anchor of their defence but understanding he still has a ways to go. Amir Johnson has served in that role for years but has taken a physical beating. Although it’s still early and it generally takes longer for big men to re-adjust to game speed at this stage of camp, they’ve both stumbled a bit out of the gate. “[It's] not only Jonas, it’s everybody,” Casey insisted. “It’s everybody, all the interior people. We’re just not there yet. These games don’t matter, whether we win or lose, but the habits we create now are very important.” “[There's] no sense of urgency on the defensive end,” he continued. “We’re scoring the hell outta it. Everybody’s shooting the ball very well but that’s not going to win in this league.”

Raptors defence needs ‘better focus’ | Toronto Sun

“We’re not anywhere near the defensive intensity we need. We need a better focus, a better interest in playing defence and I don’t see that as a team,” Casey said. “I don’t expect us to be in February form, but we have to get out of the summer league, summer-time, one-on-one, no-interest-in-playing-defence mindset.” The Raptors were the only team in the Eastern Conference to rank in the league’s top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions), but clearly the offence is far ahead of the defence right now. “We’re scoring the hell out of it, everybody’s shooting the ball very well, but that’s not going to win in this league,” Casey said.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry winning war for respect | theScore

The extra lining in their pockets hasn’t made Lowry and DeRozan complacent. As they enter the 2014-15 season with increased expectations, they realize they are the leaders. There’s no struggle to be the Alpha, though, just as there wasn’t when the two vouched for each other instead of themselves ahead of last season’s All-Star selections. “After that,” DeRozan said in July of the team’s heart-wrenching Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, a series best described as trench warfare. “I looked at Kyle as my friend, my brother outside of all of this basketball stuff … The way I was looking at it was that I trust my dog. You trust your best friend.” They are dissimilar people but with similar chips on their shoulders. Lowry’s oft-prickly demeanor is well-documented, but DeRozan, too, uses every slight as motivation.

Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan could cash in on NBA TV deal | National Post

“I think it’s pretty cool just to see where the league is going,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely amazing. I went through a lockout year [before the shortened 2011-12 season]. A lot of teams and owners were screaming out that there wasn’t [any] money. Just to see it come back around in this type of way, to where it could be in the favour of the players, it’s definitely amazing.” In 2017, it is like the two sides will haggle over their share pie, as it is becoming more and more caloric. In 2016, though, players will get to cash in a little early. Even if DeRozan cannot negotiate a maximum-value contract, which would possibly earn him more than US$25-million annually, it would not be a surprise to see him double his current salary.

Bruno Caboclo finding his fit with Toronto Raptors | Toronto Star

“It’s different, but I feel OK. It’s normal,” said Caboclo. Figuring out how to spend his first NBA paycheque? That’s a much different story, he admitted, after having taken some good-natured teasing from Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire over his impending riches during practice. “I don’t know yet. It’s so much money,” said Caboclo, who signed a rookie deal with the Raptors through the 2015-16 season. There are two team option years after that.

This season will be about learning for Raptors rookie Caboclo | TSN

“He plays the passing lane well, he can change shots at the rim, he’s long, can rebound. . . those are qualities that you can obviously see on him,” said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan. “He’s done great. He’s still young out there, he’s got a lot to learn, not just with basketball, but just getting comfortable speaking English, learning the language, learning everybody on the team,” DeRozan added. “Everybody has that little feeling when they first come into the league, being shy, you don’t want to say too much. But he’s done great.” Caboclo, who has two older sisters who grew up playing volleyball, works with an English tutor a couple of days a week, and teammate Greivis Vasquez helps facilitate communication in practice by speaking to Caboclo in Spanish. The Brazilian conjures memories of a young Jose Calderon, who arrived in Toronto Raptors training camp speaking little English in 2005. Not knowing the word “teammates,” Calderon referred to them as his “friends.”

Know Your Raptors: Chuck Hayes on Wagon Island | Sportsnet.ca

The 10-year vet didn’t see a ton of court time for the Raptors last season, but when he did, it was often at crucial moments. Despite giving up half a foot or more to most of his opponents, Hayes is one of the league’s most dependable post defenders. Whenever Valanciunas or Johnson was getting beat up badly down low, Hayes checked in and put out the fire. Toronto allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions with Hayes on the bench in 2013-14 and 100.3 with him in the game—roughly the difference between Miami’s 11th-ranked defence and San Antonio’s unit, which ranked fourth.

New Faces in New Places: Atlantic Division | Basketball Insiders

After a brief stint in the D-League, Johnson returns to the Raptors a changed player. Johnson left the Raptors a couple of years ago after an incident with Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and appears to have put that in the past and is ready to provide the Raptors any type of role that they need. Now that the Raptors have stars in Lowry and DeRozan, Johnson knows that he won’t be the star in Toronto and accepts his role off of the bench. Johnson also brings an element of defense with him that will help when the team faces off against the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

Nick and Barry are back! Sort of… They are in podcast preseason, working out the kinks and getting in game shape for the fast approaching season.

On this episode they chat about the challenges we all collectively will face going into and throughout the season.

They touch on:

-Raptors vs Leafs… Can the Raptors take the place as the “city’s team?”

-The Raps are starting to get some respect… some.

-Predictions on how the season will unfold.

-What constitutes a successful season this go around?

-Who’s our scariest competition in the east?

-CHUCK HAYES!!!

Check it out and as always, thanks for listening.

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 (31:45, 30 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors look to improve defence | Toronto Sun

“They had 56 points in the paint and we put them on the free throw 50 times,” Casey said. “That just tells me we are not down in a defensive stance with a defensive focus. But the most important thing is protecting our paint and we just got pushed around.” Casey realizes this is early in the process and he expects his team that returns almost intact from a year ago when it finished ninth overall in defensive efficiency will get back to what served it so well a year ago. But at the same time, he hasn’t seen it and that is concerning. “I’m looking more for the overall identity as far as protecting the paint and rebounding and we didn’t do all those things,” Casey said. “We didn’t play the style we need to play.”

Hungry DeRozan not satisfied with last season’s success | NBA.com

When Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri met with DeRozan after the World Cup, the first thing DeRozan wanted to talk about was his newfound respect for the challenges faced by bench players. “He treats them great anyway, but he said he has more respect and would treat them with more respect because of what they have to do night in and night out when they’re called upon,” Ujiri said Monday. “I thought that was great maturity on his part.” Perhaps the best part of the international experience was the chance to swap secrets and strategies with the cream of the NBA. DeRozan found plenty to talk about with Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, comparing notes on how to get through traffic in the paint and finish at the rim.

DeMar DeRozan | The Evolution of Elite

“I just go out there and play” says DeRozan getting ready to face his fellow Team USA teammates DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in a preseason game at Rogers Arena. “I’ve always been the type of guy that if I’m putting in the work, does everything I’m supposed to do. Work to be a great player like I’m supposed to, everything, all that will come into place and speak for itself, honestly.” Vasquez explains that DeRozan’s talents aren’t just what make him a special player. “He’s a very smart player, very smart guy that understands his situation right now” the second year Raptor says with conviction. “He’s realistic. (So) that’s why he’s our best player.” Humility comes easy for DeRozan, but don’t confuse that as a weakness, because as humble as the All-Star forward is, as Vasquez explained, DeMar is realistic about the titles that are placed upon him.

Jonas Valanciunas’ busy offseason included trips to Oregon for sprint training, Spain for FIBA World Cup | Eh Game – Yahoo Sports Canada

“We were all talking about getting JV with some sort of track coach where his footwork and his speed could be worked on,” explained Weltman. “I think they did want to make him more efficient and not just in his running but in general being on the balls of his feet, his balance against contact. It wasn’t just so [he] could run a faster 40-yard dash.” “Speed is the priority. High knees, form, technique, how to run, how to use less energy, how to turn with less steps,” Valanciunas said was the focus of his sessions with Radcliffe. “It is difficult. I still catch myself doing old habits but I’m working on it.” These subtle changes will pay dividends on both ends of the court. Improved speed and an efficient running style will help Valanciunas run the floor and establish deep position in the post before his opponents get set up.

WNBA Star Lindsey Harding Invited to Observe Raptors’ Training Camp | Raptors HQ

If Harding wants to be an NBA coach, she’s going about things the right way. She’s making connections, forging relationships, learning the ropes and bringing noticeable value. She’s an asset with a high basketball IQ and superb knowledge of the game. That’s all Casey sees and that’s all his players see. Slow and steady wins the race, though. Harding is well on her way.

Raptors Bruno Caboclo Is Not 2 Years Away From 2 Years Away | Pro Bball Report

Casey wants to bring Caboclo along slowly and there has been plenty of talk about sending him to the NBA D-League to get playing time once the season starts. However, Caboclo is showing signs of being sneaky good and President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri truly believes that the best way to find out what you’ve got in a young player is to throw him into game action and see. Caboclo shouldn’t be expected to crack the rotation early in the season, but the kid Tolzman didn’t want to blow up in Brazil might be ready to play in the NBA on his own schedule and that could come a lot earlier than anyone anticipated.

You can read parts one and two of the training camp series.

When Jonas Valanciunas was selected by the Raptors with the 5th pick, in 2011, the reaction among Toronto fans, as well as many in the media, was mixed, to say the least. In fact, many were downright incensed, even going to far as to label Valanciunas Bargnani 2.0. Let me be clear, I was not one of them. Jonas has always been the player I felt was most important to the future of the franchise, not just because of his potential, but because of the position he plays.

While there has been a lot of discussion about how the game has changed and the big man era is over in the NBA, San Antonio doesn’t win their Championship last year without Tim Duncan anchoring the team. And Dallas went from a contender to a first round fodder when they lost Tyson Chandler. In fact, the only team to win a Championship without a dominant big man (at least dominant defensively) since Jordan’s Bulls did it are LeBron’s Miami Heat.

Notice a pattern there?

Yes, you can certainly win a Championship without a dominant big man, but you need the best player of his generation to do it.

Now, I’ve been criticized by suggesting that Valanciunas does not have superstar potential, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he can’t become a great player. A player I’ve compared him to in the past has been Brad Daugherty, who in just eight seasoned (his career was cut short due to injury) he made the All Star team five times and helped lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to 57 wins twice and the Eastern Conference Finals once.

Valanciunas still has a ways to go to get to Daugherty’s level, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t.

The last couple of training camps, Valanciunas’ name has been one of the first mentioned. Obviously when he was a rookie, the spotlight was on him because he was new and the next great hope for the Raptors. Last year, with the team still a lottery team, but without a draft pick, Valanciunas was still a source of discussion, wondering how much improvement he’d make in his second season.

This year is different. With the success of the team last year, there is more of a focus on how much overall improvement there will be, how DeMar DeRozan will perform after his success with Team USA and how the team will react to the higher expectations people now have of them. Basically, the kind of questions winning teams get.

For once, Valanciunas is, at least slightly, out of the limelight. But that doesn’t mean he’s taking a break.

As you will hear, Valanciunas has had a busy summer getting stronger and doing a lot of work to improve his game, including going down to Houston and working out with Hakeem Olajuwon. Terrence Ross claimed that Valanciunas had gained more muscle than any other Raptor, over the summer, and the eye test would certainly back that up. Valanciunas looks strong. Very strong, and nothing like the skinny 19 year old the Raptors drafted just three years ago.

In this short segment I had a conversation with Valanciunas that covered a variety of topics, the highlights I’ve included in this video.

Tomorrow, I will wrap up my training camp series.

It’s going to be a short recap tonight.

I’ll be forthright about this: it is currently 1:30 a.m. in Toronto, and having already endured two-and-a-half hours of preseason basketball on top of writing a 900-word quick reaction post, this recap will be light. Let’s break it down into parts.

 

Offense – B

For all intents and purposes, the Raptors’ offense was solid considering what they had to work with. Terrence Ross (knee, ankle) and Patrick Patterson (hand) both sat out last night’s largely meaningless game, which left the Raptors without a pair of floor-spacers at premium positions. Ross not being available meant the insertion of Landry Fields into the starting lineup, and no Patterson meant another two three-point tries for Tyler Hansbrough (swished one, airballed the other).

The first quarter saw the Raptors repeatedly call DeMar DeRozan’s number. After Jonas Valanciunas filled his usual quota of three looks in the post to begin the game, DeRozan became the focal point of the offense. He was guarded by Nik Stauskas, and DeRozan spared no pittance on the rookie, opting to flash the entire arsenal. He ran Stauskas through pin-downs, attacked him in the pick-and-roll, posted up a few times. To his credit, Stauskas held his ground for the most part and actually did a good job of funnelling DeRozan to help defense whenever possible, but DeRozan still managed to score 23 points on an impressive 9-for-15 shooting display.

Once the bench came in, the Raptors offense sputtered. Without any shooting capabilities from their bigs, the Kings opted to pressure the ball-handler, knowing that the Raptors’ bigs weren’t much of a threat to score. The result was a slew of poor possessions from Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams trying to attack a well-planned defense without much space. Again, Patterson would have helped tremendously in this regard.

The Raptors’ starters remained hot to start the third. Lowry, who finished the first half with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, cooled off slightly, but DeRozan stayed hot. He confidently spotted up twice from deep on consecutive possessions, sinking both. It’s obvious through two games that DeRozan has kept himself in top-form this offseason.

This is how hot Lowry was in the first half. He made this shot:

The fourth quarter saw the Raptors empty the bench. Will Cherry and Jordan Hamilton saw extended stretches of playing time, affording them a fair shot at the fifteenth spot. Admittedly, I didn’t catch too much of Cherry, but I did see Hamilton repeatedly attack the basket with strong, decisive drives, which surprised me. In Denver, Hamilton was primarily used to spot-up on the wing, but his dribble-drive game could prove to be useful for a team largely bereft of drivers like the Raptors are. Unfortunately, given the Raptors’ need for a third center, Hamilton’s odds of winning the spot is slim.

 

Defense – D

The Raptors’ didn’t bring it on defense. Plain and simple. There are times when offense is simply unstoppable, as DeMarcus Cousins proved to be in the third quarter, but the Raptors’ failures weren’t solely a product of Cousins’ dominance. There were missed rotations, a lack of closeouts, and a tonne of missed defensive rebounds. It was systematic — both the wings and bigs were at fault.

More than anything else, transition defense was pitiful. The Raptors’ bigs were consistently getting beat running down the floor and the Raptors’ guards were more or less left helpless under the basket. Darren Collison did a great job pushing the pace and Cousins was keen to throw the quick outlet pass out of a rebound, but the Raptors simply didn’t hustle enough, nor did they adjust their strategy of sending two bigs to crash the boards. The frustration is understandable — the Raptors’ bigs weren’t getting involved much on offense, so they took to the basket hoping for put backs, but it wasn’t the best trade-off.

The one positive from the defense? This block from Bruno Caboclo. What part of 7-foot-7 wingspan did you not understand, Omri Casspi?

Miscellaneous observations

  • The Kings’ broadcast crew was high on DeRozan-Lowry as backcourt pairing, calling them the “best in the East”, and a contender for best in the NBA. Take that, John Wall and Bradley Beal!
  • Greg Stiemsma and Bruno Caboclo both landed hard going for rebounds. The Raptors have already suffered one injury due to preseason.
  • Speaking of Stiemsma, he might know where to be on defense, but he’s also a foul-machine. He committed four fouls in 10 minutes after fouling out of their first game.
  • Bebe Noguiera was the only DNP-CD. It’s time to #FreeBeBe
  • DeMarcus Cousins has a bone to pick with not only Valanciunas, but the entire Raptors’ team. Jonas shouldn’t have thrown that elbow. I don’t think I like Boogie when he’s mad.
  • Lowry looks to be in great shape. Someone in the comments was chiding him for his weight. He’s fine. No post-contract bump on him. This isn’t a Hedo Turkoglu situation.
  • If DeRozan can shoot triples, the Raptors’ offense becomes all the more deadly.
  • Amir was tasked to check Boogie for much of the third while Jonas was put on Reggie Evans. Weird decision. Jonas wasn’t giving much help either.
  • Alright I’m done. This is enough.

Raptors fall to Kings | Toronto Star

He started slowly, but made a couple of three-pointers in the fourth quarter — his first two field-goal attempts — and finished with six points and no rebounds; he picked up two fouls, blocked a shot that the stats crew did not give him credit for, and just got his feet wet against full-speed NBA competition. His second stint — with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter — was eventful. And painful.

Game Recap: Raptors Fall 113-106 In Sacramento | Raptors HQ

Tyler Hansbrough hit another three-pointer, so it seems like resisting the #PSYCHO3 movement is futile at this point. The Raptors allowed 32 points in the second quarter and 33 points in the third, so the defense needs some brushing up.

Raptors fall to 1-1 in pre-season with loss to Kings | Toronto Sun

A rare pre-season trip to Sacramento confirmed one thing: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan could start the season tomorrow. But there were a few less positive signs as well in the Raptors’ 113-106 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night. Lowry and DeRozan managed to score 48 points between them, 25 by the point guard, but that was the end of the good news.

Too early to judge at least a couple of things about the Raptors | Toronto Star

Bruno makes his NBA debut, goes six minutes, doesn’t score, doesn’t hurt ‘em, doesn’t look totally lost, I put it out there and not a minute later some person sends a note that says: “So, NBDL is what the future holds.” That’s the kind of quick, senseless over-reaction that we live with. Anyway, the kid wasn’t bad, he wasn’t great, he was a 19-year-playing at full NBA speed for the first time in his life and Dwane was quite complimentary after the game. The coach was impressed with his quickness, the fact he didn’t get lost too often on defence, and, of course, his length. I like the fact he bounced right back up after a tough hard fall in the fourth quarter and stayed in the game. Casey told us after the Bruno mostly had the wind knocked out of him and there was no way he was coming out if at all possible. “The young man came in and played well,” was how Casey put it. “His length. The kid is going to be a heck of a player once he gets some time in this league.”

Press Box Report: Kings 113, Raptors 106 | Cowbell Kingdom

After a foul plagued first half, DeMarcus Cousins got hot in after the break. Toronto had no answer for the Sacramento Kings center who scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter before sitting out the fourth. Cousins finished with only four rebounds and picked up a questionable technical foul, but he gave a solid, if not spectacular 18-minute performance for coach Malone.

Kings 113, Raptors 106: Kings push the pace and spread the wealth in preseason win | Sactown Royalty

Despite the offensive outburst, Coach Michael Malone probably wasn’t too thrilled with Sacramento’s defense. Toronto shot 48.8% from the field and 41.7% from three. Sacramento also didn’t have any answer for Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 25 and 23 points respectively. When they came out of the game for good in the 3rd quarter, they had been responsible for 48 of Toronto’s 66 points (72.7%).

Instant Replay: Cousins, Casspi lead Kings past Raptors | CSN Bay Area

With 1:07 to go in the half, Nik Stauskas gave Sacramento the 52-48 lead with a four-point play and a Rudy Gay bucket at the first half buzzer extended Sacramento’s lead to 56-50. Kyle Lowry exploded for 20 points for the Raptors in the first half and Sacramento was paced by Omri Casspi’s 10 off the bench in the first 24 minutes.

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan eager to improve after career year, spends offseason working on game | Fox News

DeRozan, a first-time all-star last season who also played for the USA’s gold medal-winning team at September’s World Cup, probably won’t rest until he can crank out a letter-perfect alphabet as easily as he drops in a left-handed layup. After posting career highs of 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists for Toronto’s first playoff team in six seasons, he isn’t about to rest on his laurels. “I’m never going to get comfortable with the accomplishments I’ve made,” DeRozan said. “There’s always going to be something.” Besides trying to become ambidextrous, DeRozan has also worked to develop his voice, establishing himself as a leader in Toronto’s locker room. “He’s getting older, he’s getting mature,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s understanding what he has to do and he knows he’s a franchise player.”

DeMar DeRozan 2014-2015 Season Outlook | Fantasy Basketball Talk – Rotoworld.com Forums

Agreed. Role is solidified, franchise player, better and better Anything passed 40-45th pick I’m cool with

Resting On The Raptors | The Sports Quotient

Ujiri did his job by putting a lot of good players on the team and now it is up to Dwayne Casey to determine which players should play the most and which rotations work. For my money, Casey has proven himself to be a good coach this far, primarily due to his ability to build a top-10 defense last season. They had a good defensive roster, but scheme is primary to defensive performance. Casey will, obviously, be vital to the Raptors taking that next step as a team, especially with all the new faces.

Raptors’ defense can’t contain Kings’ onslaught.

Toronto Raptors 106 Final
Recap | Box Score
113 Sacramento Kings
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -2Got eaten alive by DeMarcus Cousins. To be fair, Cousins has a major size advantage and was a beast, but Johnson provided zero resistance. Wasn’t much of a threat to score either. His best contribution was playing the two-man game with DeMar DeRozan.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +3Strong in the post to begin with, but got no love thereafter. He played sparingly to give others look at center. Wasn’t very noticeable. Had a habit of slipping instead of setting an actual screen, which wasn’t used to great effect by the ball-handlers. Had a nice weakside block but didn’t provide enough help for Amir when Boogie was going off.

Kyle Lowry, PG 24 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | +3Dude was on fire to start the game. He sunk his first four triples and hit a wide and-one on a no-look, back-to-the-basket prayer. Stayed hot into the second half. He’s ready for the season to start.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 24 MIN | 9-15 FG | 3-6 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 23 PTS | +3Strong game overall. His numbers — especially some of the turnovers — are sullied by the Raptors’ sheer insistence to feed him the ball in the first quarter. DeRozan used nine possessions out of the Raptors first 8 minutes.

Once he settled in, DeRozan was on fire. He attacked off pin-downs, pick-and-rolls, post-ups, transitions, everything. The most promising sign was his two triples, of which he confidently knocked down.

Landry Fields, SG 14 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +10I’m like most people. It’s sad to see Fields’ career reduced to what it was tonight. He’s a free pass for the defense.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -2He was 1-for-2 from deep. He swished one and airballed the other. This floor-stretch thing is a work in progress. Was surprisingly bad on the boards, allowing Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans to run wild.

James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -12Active defensively, though a little too overeager at times. Shot a surprising amount of times, though I’m guessing most of those came in the fourth quarter while I was busy writing this recap. Definitely lacking the harness that Memphis head coach Dave Joerger had on him.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 15 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +8Played sparingly, mostly in garbage time in the fourth. Didn’t look that behind in terms of readiness. Sunk a three and recorded this ridiculous block on Omri Casspi. Looks much stronger than when he was drafted. He wasn’t much thinner than most of the guards out there.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 20 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +1Was surprisingly spry and aggressive. Drove to the basket repeatedly and forced the issue. Definitely not a Julyan Stone-type. Not very sound decision-making on defense though.

Chuck Hayes, C 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -12The game ain’t in me no more, man. None of it. — Cutty/Hayes tonight

Greg Stiemsma, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7Fouling is going to be an issue. He clearly understands where to be defensively, but commits too many fouls. Didn’t do much rim-protecting or rebounding tonight. Took a hard spill late in the game.

Will Cherry, PG 17 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +1Yeah, he played.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 10 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -17Offensively, Vasquez is ready. The shot is good and his passing is crisp. Trouble is, his defense on Collison was downright embarrassing, allowing Collison to blow by on numerous occasions. I’m not sure that would change as the season continues. Foot-speed has always been a problem for ole’ YOLO.

Louis Williams, SG 17 MIN | 3-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -12Good lord he makes some questionable decisions. Perhaps that will change when the season starts, but I didn’t see a single move he made that was necessarily in the flow of the offense. He’d benefit a lot from sharing the floor with Patrick Patterson because he needs room to operate.

Dwane Casey
The team was a mess defensively, but it’s hard to slag a coach during preseason. The lineups without Patrick Patterson are a mess in terms of spacing and the Raptors’ offense would have looked a lot worse had it not been for DeRozan and Lowry’s hot shooting. Disregard the grade because it’s preseason.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Stauskas. Can. Shoot. With his handles, size, quickness and ability to shoot, Stauskas looks like a solid pick at 8th overall. He was 5-for-5 to start the game and masterfully ran DeRozan into screens to get open.
  2. Cousins looked like a mix of Chris Webber and Shaquille O’Neal tonight. That’s not an exaggeration. He literally affected every possession on both ends. He punked the Raptors and no one could stand up to him. Luckily, he’s one of a kind, because defending hulking centers is definitely a problem for the Raptors.
  3. Jordan Hamilton made a strong case for the 15th spot. He’s quicker and more offensively versatile than I previously saw out of him in Denver. Stiemsma is still the overwhelming favorite, but Hamilton has a shot.
  4. Recap coming out tomorrow in the AM.

Injuries sustained during meaningless games. Why is preseason so long?

The Toronto Raptors will be shorthanded in tonight’s tilt against the Sacramento Kings, as both Terrence Ross (knee, ankle) and Patrick Patterson (hand) will sit out. The news comes to us courtesy of TSN’s Josh Lewenberg.

Ross injured himself in the closing minutes of the Raptors’ first preseason game (GIF here). Without Patterson and Ross in the lineup, expect Tyler Hansbrough to continue filling the role of floor-spacer.

Didn’t get enough of the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings in exhibition action on Sunday night? Yeah, me neither. Luckily, the Raptors have travelled down the Pacific Coast Highway from Vancouver to Sacramento, and the two sides will square off once again on Tuesday, at 10 p.m.

Wondering where to find it? Let’s have a look…TSN has an NHL fantasy draft special, helping approximately zero people since it’s one day before the NHL opens up….TSN2 has CFL action…TSN3 has a hockey season preview edition of The Reporters…TSN4’s got that fantasy special again…TSN5 has the Reporters thing…Sportsnet has playoff baseball…Sportsnet1 has baseball…Sportsnet360 has a highlight show…NBA TV has Warriors/Clippers preseason action…oh, okay.

So yeah, you can’t watch this game without an illegal stream of a Kings broadcast here in Canada. Terrific. I know it’s “just” the preseason and all, but it took me about 15 minutes from when the preseason began to become annoyed with the treatment of the team, at least on television. And this isn’t just on TSN and Rogers – I’m told the Raptors could elect to put the game on NBA TV Canada if they wanted to, but decided against it.

Right, because why would you want people watching your product and getting excited for the season?

We keep getting reminded how this team engaged the city in last year’s playoff run, and how they brought the whole team back, and how expectations are high, and how the excitement is palpable. And then we get Rod Black opening the first broadcast of the season with “Heeeeeee’s baaaaaaack” (and also just existing), and then the second preseason game is blacked out for those in the local market. Yes, ratings for a 10 p.m. preseason game probably would have been low, and every broadcast costs money to produce, but this just seems so counter to the tone and language of the preseason so far.

I digress. I’ve fully accepted that I live in the wrong country (in terms of sports fandom…Canada is the greatest, otherwise…and hockey and baseball are more than cool, they may even be equal with basketball…but…sigh).

So there’s a basketball game, surely similar to the one we saw on Sunday. If you stream it illegally or happen to live somewhere that it will be broadcast, you’ll probably see a lot of the same things you saw on Sunday. The Raptors starters will play minutes in the low 20s, head coach Dwane Casey will experiment with different second unit looks, and the players on the bubble for rotation spots will be put in opportunities to perform their expected role (not just go HAM).

There are two differences I’d expect in this game, though they certainly fall more under the umbrella of “what I would probably do” than “what I think Casey will do.”

For one, I’d be playing the starters a little less through the first three quarters and letting them close out the game. I know we’ll pull our hair out if someone gets injured in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, but I do believe there’s value in your players practicing closing out games. They already know the system and many of the sets Casey will employ late, but letting the final five get some reps in those spots is important over the course of eight friendlies. The team has a few days before their next game, too, so pushing them into the low-20s for minutes isn’t egregious or anything.

Remind me I wrote that when Kyle Lowry tears an ACL with a minute to play tonight. Sorry.

The second difference I’d expect to see: 

I have no idea if Bruno Caboclo’s calf is well enough for him to see run (or if Terrence Ross’ knee or Patrick Patterson’s hand will allow them to play…it’s early, keep an eye on Twitter), but if he is, it’s pretty hilarious that it will go unseen by the fanbase. That doesn’t really matter, but it’s painful to think about.

Anyway, enjoy the game if you can find a way to watch it! We’ll have a quick reaction right after and a proper post-game in the morning. Hey, at least the game not being broadcast forces you to come here and find out what happened.

If you haven’t read and watched part one of this series, please check it out.

Much has already been written and said about how much of a mystery Bruno Caboclo was before Adam Silver called out his name at the 20th pick, so there’s no need to get more into that here. But attending training camp did give me an opportunity to maybe find out a little bit more about the Raptors’ mystery man, which is why he was high on my list of people I wanted to talk to, despite not being sure just how much he would even understand my questions.

This was the interview he gave to the press two days after he was drafted, on June 28th:

So when the media liaison said his English wasn’t great, that’s close to what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by his level of English. He’s certainly not fluent, and he was sometimes confused by my questions, but there was no translator there and it was just the two of us. And, quite frankly, I’ve got a couple of neighbours who I have more difficulty communicating with than I did with Bruno, so I thought he did well.

Considering he’s also been kept busy with training all summer, it’s impressive that he could learn as much English as he did.

The two days that I was at training camp, Bruno was one of the last players to leave the court, which shouldn’t be surprising, since his work ethic was apparently one of his great strengths. You can’t be as unknown and raw as Bruno was, and still get picked in the first round without having a good work ethic.

And both players and coaches raved about his ability to pick things up quickly, despite the language barrier.

As you can imagine, most of the conversations I heard with players and coaches would eventually get to the 19 year old (who turned 19 just a couple of weeks ago), and while most were diplomatic they all appreciated Bruno’s ability to affect the game at both ends of the court and his willingness to learn.

For a guy who was completely unknown to most of the world just a little over three months ago, he seems to be handling things well. Despite the throng of reporters watching him, he claimed the extra attention didn’t bother him in the least, and it didn’t appear to.

It did seem that everyone was tempering expectations for Bruno as much as possible, whether to ease some of the pressure on the rookie, or because of a directive from above, and it’s really unclear, at this point, how much he’ll play in the big league next season. He’s got talent, definitely, but even the few dribbles he was asked to take during shooting drills were somewhat sloppy and it’s not difficult to see NBA defenders feasting on that weakness were he to play too many minutes against them.

I would expect Bruno to have several short visits to the Development League, so he can come back and work on things he learned and the staff can make sure he’s developing properly and under their watchful eye.

In the second of the video series, we hear from DeMar DeRozan, shooting coach, Jama Mahlalela, and trainer Alex McKechnie had to say about him before we get to hear from the man himself:

Tune in tomorrow for then third part and a discussion with Jonas Valanciunas.

Thanks to our very own Zarar, and some rather incriminating pictures of several Raptor executives I was able to photoshop, I was somehow able to secure media credentials for the Raptors’ training camp in Vancouver, this past weekend. Having never been a member of the media at an event like this, it was a new and interesting experience for me, one which I will do my best to share with you, the loyal readers of Raptors Republic, over the next few days.

After waiting in the media room with the likes of Doug Smith and Eric Koreen, we were finally let into the closed off gym at the Fortius Sport and Health Facility, where the Raptors were holding their training camp. Having never been to one of these things, I wasn’t quite sure what the protocol was, so I hovered and watched as the more seasoned reporters did their thing.

media_veterans

Without knowing what else to do, I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures and video of the players that were left on the court, being taken through their paces by the assistant coaches and trainers. This was a lot of the individual work that goes on before and after games and practices, and it’s the main way a lot of the younger players can improve during the season, when there really isn’t time for regular practices.

Eventually, Terrence Ross was ushered towards the waiting horde for a media scrum, and he regaled everyone with his rather canned and practiced answers to the regular questions thrown at him. It was obviously something he had worked on after last season.

Wanting more that just the same answers these players give hundreds of times, I had worked on some questions that I figured would cut through the crap and get the player or coach to actually think for a moment. I asked Ross what he thought the teams biggest weakness was last year and what the team was trying to do to improve on that.

He didn’t seem impressed with the question, and rather dismissively said, “Closing games out”.

Next.

Not much of a sound bite, there.

Next up, I flagged down trainer Alex McKechnie, whose work I had admired, and talked with him for a few minutes. He was MUCH less guarded than Ross had been, and was happy and willing to answer my questions in depth. We discussed everything from what he’s doing to help make Bruno Caboclo physically ready for the NBA to why he chose the Raptors when the Lakers released him, along with much of their staff, in order to save money during the previous lockout.

It turns out that while McKechnie was courted by some more glamorous and successful teams, he was most impressed by the pitch the Raptors gave, and especially the fact that they basically created a position for him which allowed him almost autonomous power over the training of the players, something he never had with the Lakers, and something that had been non-existent around the league before he joined the Raptors.

In fact, it’s a something that has since been copied by other teams around the league.

He also discussed the different things that they focus on during the season, including looking at sleep patterns, diet and how analytics can be used for training and not just coaching and player development.

Just as we were wrapping up our conversation, the media liaison pulled me aside to tell me I could talk to Bruno and Jonas Valanciunas, now, which are the two players I had expressed interest in interviewing earlier.

He had warned me that Bruno’s english was not very good, but he seemed to have made a vast improvement over the summer, and while I had to keep my questions fairly simple and not speak too quickly, he was more than willing to answer any questions I had for him. It seems he hadn’t be jaded by the media, just yet.

I’ll get more in depth on Bruno, as well as Jonas, who I interviewed next, in the next couple of instalments of the series.

DSC03457

After the two interviews I had most wanted, I noticed Dwane Casey talking to a couple of people, waited until they were done, and then asked if I could have a few words with him. He was friendly, talkative and asked about Zarar, describing him as the “older guy” who also writes for the Raptors Republic.

Casey was extremely personable and seemed like the kind of guy who could discuss basketball for hours with anyone who was interested. Probably the only thing preventing that was the media liaison who was trying to usher Casey away, as all the other players and coaches had already cleared out and were apparently waiting for him. You never felt that Casey was rushing or in a hurry, though.

It was clear that the best place to talk to any of these people were away from the media scrums where the bright lights and the number of microphones and cameras aimed at you obviously causes the defences to go up and the canned responses to come out.

For some of that interview and more, watch my first episode of Raptors Training Camp:

Check back tomorrow for part two, a deeper look at the Raptors’ 20th pick, Bruno Caboclo.

Raptors 99, Kings 92 – Box | Quick React

It’s never easy to separate signal and noise in the preseason, especially in a preseason opener that stood out far more as a marketing tool than 48 minutes to help the Toronto Raptors get ready for the upcoming season. The starters didn’t top 25 minutes, the rotation went 12 players deep, and sets on both end of the floor were rather inconsistent and seemed focused on getting a few reps of everything in rather than execute a specific gameplan.

All of that is more than fine. It’s what the preseason is for. It’s why the preseason is unbearably long (there are seven more of these). There’s plenty of time to work on anything you could want to work on. It doesn’t mean that we can’t watch the games critically, though, and try to establish an understanding of how things may go when the lights go on and the games matter.

On Sunday night – and really, thank Shamgod that basketball is back, even if the preseason is excruciatingly drawn out – the Raptors were finally in action, and the fruits of a relatively quiet offseason were on display.

The big takeaway on Sunday was that this team runs deep. We knew this, but even with Patrick Patterson sidelined, the team comfortably rolled out 12 players, 10 of whom got at least 17 minutes of run. The 10-man crew – the starting five, and then a second unit staggered featuring Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greg Stiemsma – was an effective mix of talent and grit, and of offense and defense. Figure Patterson back into the mix when his sore hand is better, and the Raptors look like a team that’s going to be really tough to play against in the middle of an 82-game grind.

Some of the preseason discussion so far has been about the specifics of the rotation, and who will get minutes where. Fair to wonder, of course. For fans who don’t have to make the decisions that Casey does, there’s comfort in knowing the team has a dearth of bad options. I count 11 players I’d be okay with seeing in a regular season game (the 12 from last night, less Jordan Hamilton and Chuck Hayes, plus Patterson). That’s appreciable, and the Raptors are fairly well-insulated in the event of short-term injuries at any position but center.

What’s more, the early returns indicate the secondary players are strong fits. Williams, in particular, found comfort in his role as a second-unit ballhandler and shot maker, especially as the game wore on. This is a guy who has averaged 14.9 points off the bench before and was known as Mr. 4th Quarter, and he’s somewhat of an afterthought when the full squad going up. Sunday, it appeared he’ll get his minutes at the two, and that the team is comfortable with DeMar DeRozan sliding to the three in those cases. He won’t find his way to 28 minutes when the starters are playing a full load, but the preseason is important for Williams, more than anyone else, to carve out a role.

Speaking of carving out a role, Stiemsma is getting the 15th-man job. He played 17 hard-nosed minutes, did the things that make Stiemsma Stiemsma and seem to endear one to Casey. He and Tyler Hansbrough – now known as Psycho Three or #Psycho3 – formed a bruising duo. They won’t see a lot of run together when Patterson’s back, but they represent a nice fourth-line style look, and bring more size in the role than Hayes does.

James Johnson also seemed a good fit, though he remains as frustrating as his last go ’round, it seems. He was incredibly active on both ends of the floor, and I appreciate the hell out of his motor, but it doesn’t appear he’s gotten all the role recognition stuff worked out.  He made a couple of abjectly terrible passes, including the worst alley-oop throw I’ve ever seen, but he also helped create transition opportunities with his length and hands – the lineup with Terrence Ross at the two, Hamilton at the three, and Johnson at the four was handsier than Zarar at the last Raptors Republic meet-up – and kept plays alive with tips and rebounds on offense.

The reserves also got to “learn to win,” something that I put in dick-finger quotes but actually believe matters. Vasquez and Williams were refreshed on creating late-game offensive looks, Johnson began to learn how he’d fit at the end of the game, and the bigs played their roles fine. We’ll never see all five try to close a game out together, but if they appear one or two at a time late in games, the familiarity with how the Raptors operate late in a game should be helpful.

When the season gets underway, we may find ourselves frustrated at times with the five-man units Casey employs in tight games. There are, depending on the opponent, up to nine players at Casey’s disposal late, which means a guy or two you like will be on the bench. Keep that Jack Armstrong quote in mind, and have some patience early in the season as Casey determines his “best five” against his “five best.”

I realize this is kind of a weird post-game. There’s been little talk about the flow of the game, but does anyone really care? The preseason is about process over results in the wins and losses sense, but the micro-level results on Sunday were very encouraging.

Quick Notes

  • Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t looked to much on offense, but his outing was encouraging. His two baskets were both refined versions of what he’s shown before: one saw him unable to establish a deep post on DeMarcus Cousins and instead flip an impressive hook shot in, and the other saw him pull up from about eight feet as he was rolling to the rim, which is a new wrinkle for him. He sealed the baseline off well on drives and showed familiarity with the “verticality” rule that’s been getting preached to him.
  • DeMar DeRozan was DeMar DeRozan. Amir Johnson was Amir Johnson. Kyle Lowry was a more passive version of Kyle Lowry. Just getting the feet wet for these guys.
  • Terrence Ross was impressive offensively, though the team struggled some with him on the floor overall. He was coming off pin-down screens quickly and cleanly, creating far more separation than we’re used to. Nik Stauskas was the guy chasing him around, though, so there may not be a takeaway here. That, and a knee contusion that may sideline him for a few days.
  • The Raptors play the Kings again on Tuesday in Sacramento. Maybe things will get heated? Maybe Bruno?
  • I’ll leave the discussion about the Vancouver atmosphere for Tim W., who was live on location and should have a report Monday or Tuesday.
  • It’s really nice to have basketball back.

Will and Andrew tip-off the preseason podcasting with a rundown of the Sacramento game and the entire East.  There’s everything from Jonas being taught how to walk, to Kelly Olynk’s NBA projection.

Part 1:

  • Sacramento win breakdown
  • Steimsma love/hate
  • Tyler Hansbrough jumpers are coming
  • Best backcourt in the East banter

Part 2:

  • Bruno Caboclo benching in Sacramento game
  • #FreeBruno and players we’ve tried to “free”
  • East over/under analysis

Part 3:

  • East over/under analysis

Part 4:

  • Jonas learning how to run

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 (43:36, 42 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors still have work to do to tighten up defence | Sportsnet

“We still have a lot of work to do on the defensive end,” said Toronto’s head coach. “I was disappointed. Whether we win, lose or draw is not important in these types of games. But what is very important is our defensive [effort]. I thought we didn’t do it; we didn’t come out in the third quarter — with our starters — with that defensive intensity and that zeal that you have to have if you’re building for something.”

DeRozan looks great as Raptors win pre-season opener | Toronto Sun

“It probably didn’t look like it, but I was out there second-guessing a lot of things, I could have made it a little bit easier. It’s something I’ll get more comfortable with as I continue playing.” DeRozan looked unguardable for most of the night in one-on-one situations in the pre-season opener for both the Raptors and the Sacramento Kings. All that work with his left hand in the off-season, sitting at the dining-room table with his daughter as she learned her alphabet and dad learned how to write it out left-handed is already paying off. In 21 minutes he scored game-high 21 points, much of it effortless as the Raps put the first pre-season game in the win column with a 99-94 victory over the Kings.

DeRozan, Raptors down Kings in NBA pre-season opener | Toronto Star

“We’re going to watch his minutes. He’s not going to play his normal amount of minutes,” Casey said of DeRozan. “We definitely want to see Lou (Williams) play bigger minutes, also our younger guys (like) Jordan Hamilton, make sure we get a good look at those guys. “As it gets toward the end of exhibition, we can ramp up DeMar’s minutes.” That will be hugely important to the team’s fortunes. Kyle Lowry may be the emotional leader of the team, its combative presence. Amir Johnson may be the guy who makes more people around him better by his presence. DeRozan is, has been and likely always will be the most complete offensive force on the roster.

Toronto Raptors open pre-season with a win over Sacramento Kings in Vancouver | National Post

The oversimplified scouting report held up: Stauskas cannot be left alone on the perimeter, going 4-for-8 from the field, dusting Raptors guard Lou Williams before hitting his first shot, a corner three-pointer, near the end of the first quarter. He finished with 12 points. On the other end, Stauskas frequently got caught up in a web of Raptors screens. Terrence Ross burned him for eight quick points in the second quarter, including a dunk that was a result of a poor pass from Stauskas. Ross left the game late in the fourth quarter, appearing to be favouring his right knee or ankle.

Raptors GM is sold on Kyle Lowry | Toronto Sun

He does have a presence,’ Ujiri said of Lowry. “ He plays hard. He has the edge. That’s the honest truth — he does have an edge. You can call him what you want. He does this or he does that. He has the edge. And he wants to win. He’s very competitive every single game. The Raptors chart every nuance of the game within the game counting win shares. Whether it’s a battle for a loose ball or a rebound or a steal of the basketball, there is a winner for every battle and they are charted. The Raptors did that while working out prospective draft picks this summer and are doing it again in training camp. “All of the competitions and stuff that they do, whether it’s shooting or 3-on-3, whatever it is they do, (Kyle’s) team is always on top. … There’s something about winning. He’s very competitive.”

NBA Saturday: Who Has The NBA’s Best Starting Backcourt? | Basketball Insiders

Like Lowry, DeRozan had a career year last season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. After the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, DeRozan became the go-to-scorer for the Raptors, and ultimately finished tenth in the league in points scored per game. But beyond scoring, DeRozan showed significant improvement as a playmaker, jumping his per game assists averages from 2.5 to four last season. However, moving forward DeRozan will need to improve his three-point shooting. DeRozan’s three-point percentage has risen virtually every season, but he still shot just 30.5 percent from range last season. If and when DeRozan starts hitting from distance at or around 35 percent, he will have a valid claim to being the best shooting guard in the NBA

Raptors try to turn Jonas Valanciunas into Usain Bolt and keep him away from DeMar DeRozan’s trash talk | National Post

With his arms chugging and his head down, Valanciunas’s running gait was not a particularly efficient one. So, the Raptors sent him to Eugene, Ore., to work with the University of Oregon’s head strength and conditioning coach, Jim Radcliffe. Valanciunas is trying to get his knees higher in order to create a more fluid motion. Success, in theory, would lead to Valanciunas both improving his speed and conserving some energy. “It is difficult,” Valanciunas said. “I still catch myself [using] old habits. I’m working on that.” “A lot of times you can expend so much energy by using too much of your arms and kind of flailing all over the place,” coach Dwane Casey added. “That was one of the main things: run lighter, more efficiently, arms tighter to the body.

Kings At Raptors In Vancouver Postgame Show | Pro Bball Report

Click to watch podcast

Terrence Ross appeared to hurt his right ankle towards the end of the Kings game.

The latest update was that it was a “right knee contusion” and he’s day-to-day. Ross had a strong first half, and ended up with 11 points on 5-10 shooting, on a night where his mid-range game was in full view and the feathery tough as feathery as ever.

Let’s hope he shakes this off because the last thing you want from preseason is injuries.

Here’s where the injury occurred:

The fall of the Berlin Wall. Man lands on the moon. Cold War starts. Cold War ends. Tyler Hansbrough hits a three. Hansbrough had 11 points and 3 rebounds, and partnered well with Vasquez in two-man situations to push the Raptors through in crunch time. Read the Quick Reaction.

Alternate angle:

DeRozan had this to say:

Sacramento Kings 94 Final
Recap | Box Score
99 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +7

Took this guy about five minutes to get into mid-season form. Doesn’t look like he’s carrying a piano on his back when he’s running, nor does he favor his ankle. Ready for the season to start.

Terrence Ross, SF 25 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-3 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | -12

Lot of people were wondering what he’s been upto this summer, and as he showed in the first half, he’s been busy working on his mid-range step-back game and ball handling. Miss that feathery touch, good to see it there early. Hurt his ankle in the end, was in some pain.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 8-8 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +2

Good moves against Boogie early before his possessions got a little bumbly. Still got some issues with handling the ball and dribbling too high, but still, looks more ready than he did at this point last season.

Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +3

Didn’t get fat. Whew. Jumper wasn’t there, his will to pass was. Get ‘em next time.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 21 MIN | 7-16 FG | 6-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +2

Clearly the guy who tried the hardest in this game. You can totally tell he’s way ahead of everyone else in terms of fitness and readiness. Ready for the season to start. Didn’t play crunch time which shows you what this game means.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 20 MIN | 3-4 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -2

Hit a three. His free-throw form seems to be improved and other than that, it’s regular scheduled programming for TylerHans. Looks to be more a little more reliable in two-man games than before, certainly seems to be putting a little more thought in his play than just using all force and grit.

James Johnson, PF 26 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -1

Didn’t force the game, and instead hit the glass and tried to expend effort on defense in a pre-season game (that’s difficult to do). Cut to the rim well, seems to have some chemistry with Vasquez. So far, so good.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 8 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +10

Hit a bank shot without calling it. I think he’s the new Antoine Wright, whatever that means.

Chuck Hayes, C 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -3

You know that guy at work who always looks stressed but nobody knows what he does, but since he’s so stressed they just leave him alone? Yeah…

Greg Stiemsma, C 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | +7

Brings whatever Hansbrough brings, no idea why we’d need him other than 15th man insurance. Bah..keep him, he reminds of a Swedish tourist who got left behind on the tour bus.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 22 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +3

Deployed as part of a two-PG backcourt with Lou Williams, did well to pull the Raps back in it with some nice quarterbacking play with the second-unit. Doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat.

Louis Williams, SG 28 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +12

Tested his jumper early from all angles, wasn’t really dropping. Did a bunch of ball-handling but was most suited playing off Vasquez as part of the second unit.

Dwane Casey

Didn’t play Caboclo, likely sending a message that nothing is guaranteed. Same for Bebe. I figure both will feature heavily in the next one.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Raps looked pretty composed and in-tune given that it’s the first game of the pre-season. Probably the most cohesive pre-season game you’ve ever seen. I’d even say it was somewhat entertaining.
  2. Canadian Nick Stauskas got in the game and hit a couple shots, thus already surpassing Jimmer Fredette’s NBA career.
  3. The Raps were ahead comfortably at half-time, the Kings made a third quarter run, even took the lead in the fourth, which is when Vasquez got serious and there was enough talent on the floor for the Raptors to pull through, despite operating at 50%.
  4. Blake will have a full post-game tomorrow AM.

At Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. If I were using that microscope right now and pointing it directly at the Raptors pre-season schedule, I still wouldn’t be able to locate any interest in the games (sauce).

My #1 question right now is just where Tim W is. The man, by some freak galactic event which involved Mercury’s retrograde, managed to get a press pass and was last seen getting his head bashed in by Tyler Hansbrough.

He promised to write a couple pieces on what he witnessed, who snubbed him, who he pissed off, and how he got escorted out by security, but nothing so far. Still, I retain my faith in Tim and his ability to to purge out 2000 repetitive words, so watch out for him at some point today.

The Raptors are playing the Kings in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena at 7pm today, and it’s a bit of reunion of Team USA. First, we got DeMar DeRozan going up against Rudy Gay, who now plays no position because the Kings are exploring something called “positionless basketball”. This brand of basketball essentially entails nobody on the court having any idea on what they’re supposed to be doing, meaning this should be very easy for the Kings to pick up.

There’s also DeMarcus Cousins reuniting with DeRozan, and of course, the guy he almost tried to murder, Jonas Valanciunas. In that game Valanciunas did outscore Cousins by playing twice the minutes, which for this game means absolutely nothing. I just figured I’d mention it.

I’ll keep my eye on DeRozan’s ball-handling, Valanciunas’ post-moves, Ross’s shooting and Lowry’s speed and movement, but that’s run-of-the-mill observations. My eyes are going to be James Johnson, because he is one of the two new signings the Raptors have made this year, and any improvement outside of “growing up” will have to come from Johnson or Lou Williams, so I’m curious to see what his attitude and approach to a meaningless game will be. I figure it’ll be telling of what his approach to the season may be.

Casey, who coached Johnson in his first stint with the Raptors as well, noticed some changes in Johnson’s approach:

“At that time of his career, he wasn’t ready to accept the role he was in. It wasn’t that it was personal or anything. I’ve got a different approach with James this time. He’s at a different place in his life as a person and doing a great job of really, really staying within his lane, keeping the game really simple and making the easy plays. That’s going to be his growth pattern and the more he is able to continue doing that the more he is going to grow as a player.”

Translation: Johnson has come to terms with his talent level and is more focused on using his valuable, but limited, skill to the benefit of the greater good rather than Jamario Moon his way through life. Good on you, James, good on you.

There’s also the intrigue surrounding Bruno Caboclo, where lots of questions remain unanswered. What’s his wingspan? Is wingspan one word, or two like wing span? Is the best use of wingspan to change a light bulb on a 9-foot ceiling? How will Caboclo look with NBA players around him? What’s rawer – ISIS underground footage, or Caboclo’s jumper? Shrouded in mystery, Caboclo remains the type of swing where you can’t yet tell if the ball’s fair or foul, only time will and that time starts tonight in Vancouver.

I also watched the Lou Williams interview for you guys and fair warning, don’t try to play a drinking game where you take a swig every time he says “focused” when describing how this training camp is unique.  He’s got a shifty look throughout this interview and doesn’t make eye contact with the questioner, kind of reminds me of that time I stole a CD at HMV and this staff member engaged me in a conversation about Metallica’s Harvester of Sorrow, while I sweated profusely.

Williams mentioned that the team is taking these pre-season games “very seriously”, which is a lie, but he did drop one interesting line:

“We’re very clear on what every guy brings to the table at this point.”

This is important.  There’s always question marks surrounding certain players and where they’ll fit into the rotation and what their usage will be.  If expectations are managed accordingly and there’s a sense of responsibility and accountability for every player, then that’ll directly result in a more cohesive unit where roles are well-defined.   When this element is missing you’ll often see players stepping out of their strengths because it’s termed OK to experiment since your job isn’t defined and enforced.  There’s a need for rigour and discipline in every basketball team, and the Spurs are obviously the best example.

The Raptors should be closer to this ideal than most other teams because they’ve retained the key group and added supplements that have very niche roles.  When you examine the risk of uncertainty on this roster, it’s probably at fringe positions.  The flip side of the coin is that whenever you have defined roles and pecking order, competition at spots decreases.  Who really will challenge DeRozan, Lowry, or Valanciunas for their starting spots? No one.  The power forward and small forward are slightly more competitive, but a rather natural order sorts itself there as well.

I don’t really see an issue with three out of the five starters remaining unchallenged, because all three players aren’t the type that settle into a comfort zone and coast.  All three have something to prove.  DeRozan needs to prove that the All-Star thing wasn’t a flash in the pan and that he can be a legitimate top three SG in the league.  Lowry’s got the contract to justify, and Valanciunas has to answer to the hype that FIBA was another coming out party and that he’s a candidate for second-best center in the East.  I’d say motivation’s quite high.

So there you go, the wait to watch NBA basketball (or at least a lower form of it) is over.  Let’s go Raps!

TWITTER BEEF

On Monday, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards claimed to USA Today that he and John Wall are “definitely the best backcourt in the league.”

This, of course, sparked a maelstrom of discussions around the league. Story-starved pundits jumped all over it, and even a few NBA players like Dion Waiters chimed in.

Now, add Raptors’ shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to that mix:

Caption: They said what, haha!!? We will see…

As for my two cents, it really doesn’t really matter because there’s no wrong answer. Both backcourts are good, albeit in different ways. For the upcoming season, their production should be similar, but Washington’s backcourt has more potential, especially if Wall develops a three-point shot.

The two teams are set to square off on Nov. 7.

There’s never a paucity of things to prove in an NBA training camp, but the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors’ preseason is staggeringly short on competition. The starting five probably won’t be tinkered with, there is clarity of role for most, and so the only battle comes at the absolute margin, with three players vying for the 15th and final roster spot.

Ahead of the preseason, the Raptors signed Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, and Greg Stiemsma to partially guaranteed deals. The message seemed clear: even for that 15th roster spot, the Raptors are willing to forgo a modicum of cash and a little flexibility on the books to make sure they find the best player for that role.

The issue for the players and, to some degree, the coaching staff, is that the three players invited couldn’t be less alike. There’s somewhat of a journeyman, a prospect who hasn’t quite panned out, and a player trying to get his first shot in the league. There’s a rim protector, a shooter, and a lockdown perimeter defender. There’s a center, a forward, and a guard.

The tough part for all three is that they may not necessarily be competing against each other, but trying instead to argue the validity of their individual roles. One player can certainly look better or worse than the others, but it will be an apples-to-oranges comparison. Before the preseason, the merits of keeping each were explored, and they’ve changed little. Who you prefer to get the final roster spot likely depends on how you evaluate the rest of the roster.

“I just try to control what I can control and do what I do,” Cherry said, a defense-first point guard who has impressed in D-League and Summer League action. “Those two dudes that I’m kinda going up against are great.”

Based on comments from head coach Dwane Casey earlier in the offseason, Cherry may have the inside track on a job. Casey likes to have a third point guard on the roster, and it remains unclear if the team considers new recruit Lou Williams as a shooting guard or a combo guard. Even if Cherry were unlikely to play big minutes, there’s certainly value in a tenacious defender pushing your players in practice every day.

“In our league, that position is hard, it’s really deep. It goes two-to-three players now,” Cherry said. “That gives you a little leeway, but naw, not at all. Those are two great players beside me. Greg is a great big man and Jordan Hamilton, he’s been in the league already. I’ve watched his game, and I played against him in high school, so I already know what he can do.”

What Hamilton can do at the NBA level is still a matter of question to many, if not Cherry. Acquired in a draft-day trade by Masai Ujiri, then with the Denver Nuggets, in 2011, Hamilton is yet to put his obvious gifts to consistent use. On talent alone, he’s probably the best player of the three, but he also faces somewhat of an uphill battle given that Stiemsma and Cherry more obviously fill holes.

With his fourth-year rookie-scale option declined and his services dealt in the middle of last season, Hamilton seems to understand that “first-round pick” no longer carries cache. On a team full of players who have had to work hard to prove doubters wrong, Hamilton has found kindred spirits.

“I’m around a great group of young guys and they seem like they’re gonna all play hard,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I’m about…Shooting, I’m a shooter. Defense. Coach wants guys to go out there and do all the intangibles and I feel like I can be that guy.”

It’s little surprise that defense is a recurring theme. There has never seemed a better way to ingratiate yourself to Casey than by working hard to stop the other team rather than getting your own numbers. If the scouting report on Cherry is top-flight defense and Hamilton has great potential on that end, it’s Stiemsma who has actually proven his worth at the NBA level.

“Definitely rim protection,” Stiemsma said of his potential role with the team. “This has been a defense-first team, rim protection is important for these guys. When you start breaking down some of the numbers, not a huge shot-blocking team but still a pretty good rim-protecting team.

“I think they were top-10 in defense last year and we obviously want to improve on that. There’s always room for improvement when you start breaking down film.”

Stiemsma is spot on: the Raptors were ninth in points allowed per-100 possessions despite ranking just 24th in blocks per minute, with a middle-of-the-pack mark in opponent field goal percentage at the rim. It’s one area the defense can stand to improve, and the roster is a little thin on centers with that ability. Behind Jonas Valanciunas, there’s the under-sized Chuck Hayes, the raw Bebe Nogueira, the inconsistently-deployed Tyler Hansbrough, and Amir Johnson, who the team probably hopes to avoid burdening with too many minutes at the pivot.

There’s always the chance an additional backup center presents himself on the trade market later in the season, but for now Stiemsma seems to fit a need more than his competitors – he’s averaged 2.8 blocks per-36 minutes for his career and held opponents to a respectable 51.5 percent shooting mark at the rim last season.

If Stiemsma’s reputation hasn’t preceded him in Toronto, it doesn’t seem like it will take long for fans to get behind him. The city of Toronto loves itself a tough guy, and Stiemsma is hardly shy in the paint.

“I’ve had a couple of physicals lately,” Stiemsma said. “One of the first questions is ‘have you had any concussions?’ And I always kinda joke, ‘well I’ve given a few but I’ve never had one.’ Hopefully I can keep that mentality of being a physical guy. That’s always kind of been my niche – nothing malicious or anything intentional, but I feel like the game should be played a certain style. That physical nature just comes out when you’re in the post, and sometimes somebody ends up on the floor and hopefully it’s not you.

“Maybe if I was missing a tooth, I’d fit in a little better.”

Casey and the Raptors’ brass have four weeks to figure out just how well Stiemsma, or Cherry or Hamilton, fit. With the roles the team sees them in, with the rest of the roster, and with the culture and attitude the team discovered last season.

On the reality that two of three will be cut
Stiemsma: The more we (he and his agent) talked about it, the more we kept going over scenarios, we just felt like this was the best fit and I have the confidence that this is where I’m gonna stick.

Hamilton: It might sound kinda crazy but I feel like things for me are already destined in line. If it’s not here, then I feel like something else is gonna be a great fit for me. I’m not gonna hang my head over anything, it’s the NBA, things happen.

Cherry: I just gotta control what I can control. At the end of the day, when I do that, I’m happy with the decision they make, just knowing I gave it my all. No regrets.

Arguably there is no greater disparity between two Raptor players than James Johnson and Landry Fields. One has physical gifts and natural athleticism and one has high game I.Q. and a solid locker room demeanor.

 

About the only thing they have in common is each has been challenged by external burdens. Both enter this season with the goal of overcoming their encumbrance to carve out a niche in order to sustain a prolonged NBA career.

On the surface that goal looks far easier for Johnson to achieve given his affliction centered on his inability to accept a role within a team whereas Fields is contending with a physical limitation in an expiring contract year.

This article marks the wrap-up of our player preview series as we gear up for the season. My focus will primarily be on Johnson as Blake’s wonderful article on Fields pretty much covered the bases.

 

Landry Fields:

2013-14:
It’s fair to say Fields had the worst season of his 4-year career stemming from the ulnar nerve injury and subsequent two surgeries to repair it. Though his 3-point shot is shelved due to the nerve issues, the greater concern I have is his hesitation to shoot at all. In the rare moments we saw him on court (322 minutes total last season) he brought his defensive intensity, but on the offensive end his reluctance to shoot or perhaps lack of confidence took a toll on the Raptors’ offensive flow.

Outlook 2014-15:
Expect to see Fields utilized in short stints off the bench specifically as a defensive stopper or to add energy. Ross is likely to see his minutes increase and Vasquez will surely be utilized in late game situations in tandem with Lowry. With the additions of Williams and Johnson it’s hard to envision Fields racking up any significant or consistent presence on court.

Potentially the area Fields can add his greatest value will be in practice sessions. Accepting this role to help prepare the team for opponents and stewarding youngster Bruno Caboclo may in fact be the greatest benefit he can bring to the table. The other more obvious benefit is the cap space which will be created via his expiring contract.

James Johnson:
With news the team had signed James Johnson to a 2-year contract this off season I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in speculating: what if. Looking back at the quandary behemoth Joe Johnson created for us in the playoffs it’s easy to speculate how much different the outcome of the series may have been with James Johnson on our roster. On the other hand some people were caught off guard by the signing as his abrupt exit came about due to issues stemming from malfeasance toward Coach Casey.

It’s easy to draw a line of similarities between James Johnson and Kyle Lowry; each felt they were not being utilized to their full potential and each garnered reputations for being difficult because of their frustrations in communicating that drive and passion. The difference is Lowry is a starter, a potential All Star and a point guard who is a leader on and off the court. Johnson though a physical specimen is better suited as a role player who offers multiple intangibles.

Following his departure from Toronto, Johnson spent time with Sacramento and Memphis and even a brief spell in the D League with the Rio Grande Vipers. The latter stint was pivotal in helping him mature and recognize that being a role player was an equally important position on any NBA team. He brought his new attitude to Memphis, and made the most of his opportunity which was instrumental in him earning a 2-year contract back with the team and coach who first pinpointed his talent as a defensive specialist.

 

2013-14 Accomplishments:

  • Highest FG% of career: 46.4%
  • Highest FT% of career: 84.4% (up from 59.7% year prior)
  • Stats: 7.4 Points, 3.2 Rebounds, 2.1, Assists and 11.5% PIE
  • Post All Star Break, Grizzlies Coach, Dave Joerger increased Johnson’s minutes resulting in: 8.5 points, .05 – 3-pointers, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes per game.
  • Memphis is known for their grind house mentality and emphasis on defense. Marc Gasol won Defensive Player two seasons ago and Tony Allen is a perennial candidate. Yet it was James Johnson who led the Grizzlies in on court production with +5.5. (see chart as per 82games.com)
  • His plus/minus of +1.8 was only bested marginally by Conley and Randolph.

 

Grizzlies Production Table

 

Outlook 2014-15:
Though Johnson experienced growth in Memphis, statistically his overall best season occurred during his first term in Toronto. Initially, he was a Casey favorite who earmarked him to be the team’s defensive specialist. Certainly his 258 lb, 6’8” frame offers a luxury the Raptors haven’t had coming off the bench arguably ever. Moreover, Johnson’s size while a huge asset is coupled with speed, a rarity that offers tangible benefits as he’s versatile enough to shut down virtually any opposing guard or forward.

Like Lowry before him, this season will be a testament to how far he has grown as a person and his ability to transfer his words into actions. If he falters don’t expect Coach Casey, GM Ujiri or the players to tolerate it. On the other hand should he bond with the existing Raptor clan he would form part of the most versatile benches in the Association. And, I can guarantee you who his assignment would be if we draw Brooklyn again this April.
In a perfect world:

  • Landry Fields wakes up one morning to find his arm suddenly feeling normal again (you never know with nerve damage, it’s that unpredictable).
  • James Johnson reconnects with his inner child who loved playing the game of basketball for the pure joy of it and embraces his Raptor fraternity.

The average NBA career is 5-years; Johnson passed that milestone last season and Fields enters his fifth year this season. While both are looking to make their mark on the Raptors with an eye to the future, the reality is the progression of one will probably come at the expense of the other.

The irony is if we could meld these two players into one, we’d have the epitome of the perfect NBA role player. Perhaps a season spent together in close proximity on the bench will allow for a natural osmosis to occur. Stranger things have happened and after last year I’m not ruling anything out of the spectrum of possibility.

Don’t forget the consummate professionals.

There’s an old-timer in every workplace. Perhaps they’re a little outdated and their work lacks flash or pizzazz, but they show up on time, they work hard, and you can count on them to get the job done. They ask “How are ya?” when they walk by your desk and always participate in office pools. They’re a part of the company, if only in the background.

For the Raptors, that’s Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes. They’re far from cornerstones, but they stay in their lane and work hard. They’re afterthoughts, deep bench pieces on a good team, but a trusty option when called upon.

Tyler Hansbrough – Strengths

Hansbrough is stuck in a bad place with the Raptors. He should be the third big in a middling team, but he’s trapped behind two players in Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson for power forward. Hansbrough isn’t big enough and can’t effectively protect the rim, so center isn’t an option, but he deserves to be more than just an insurance policy, as he is here.

Hansbrough’s skillset is comprised solely of his effort. That’s not a knock against Hansbrough, as despite his talent and physical limitations, his presence on the court never goes unnoticed. He batters opponents going for stray rebounds and loose balls which frustrates players to no end. He’s a pest.

Being a pest really works for Hansbrough. Despite having little semblance of a dribble-drive or post game, Hansbrough attempted nearly a 1-to-1 ratio (0.944 FTr) between free-throw and field-goals attempts last season. He averaged 6.8 free throws attempted per 36 minutes played last year, topping the likes of Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony.

Hansbrough’s hustle also translates into stellar rebounding numbers. He grabbed 17.1 percent of rebounds available while on the court last season which places him in the company of Zach Randolph (17.4) and Kenneth Faried (16.9).

Tyler Hansbrough – Weaknesses

Hustle is great, and the extent to which Hansbrough works certainly qualifies as a skill, but it doesn’t compensate for his shortcomings. He doesn’t do much else aside from post-defense, drawing fouls and grabbing rebounds.

Take his shooting, for example. Hansbrough can’t shoot. Here’s his shot chart from last season courtesy of Nylon Calculus. The size of the squares indicate quantity of attempts, and the color represents points per shot.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.44.15 PM

There’s also the matter of Hansbrough’s passing. The Raptors’ offense doesn’t feature bigs facilitating out of the high post the way Memphis (with Marc Gasol) and last season’s Bulls (with Joakim Noah) does, but Hansbrough’s aversion to passing is a problem. He averages just 0.6 assists per 36 minutes last season, which is terrible even for a big. Hansbrough is in Andre Drummond and Chris Andersen territory, and those two only get set up for alley-oops. Hansbrough actually posted up quite a few times to start last season.

Finally, Hansbrough can’t really guard the rim. He’s undersized at power forward which lends him to be fairly ineffective at protecting the basket. He follows rotations well and he can reliably hedge and recover on pick-and-rolls, but Hansbrough also allowed opponents to shoot 53.4 percent at the rim last season which places him alongside turnstiles Pau Gasol (54.8 percent) and Spencer Hawes (53.3 percent).

This poses a problem for Hansbrough in the current era of the NBA. Bigs who can’t shoot and can’t defend the rim just don’t hold much value. It’s great that he works so hard and he’s definitely effective enough to deserve a place in the league for many years to come, but he won’t have a significant role on any playoff team.

Chuck Hayes – Strengths

Hayes’s strength is literally that — he’s really strong. He’s the immobile object built to withstand the other teams’ unstoppable forces. Despite standing at just 6-foot-6, Hayes is one of the league’s best post-defenders. It looks ridiculous when he’s matched against hulking giants like Pau Gasol, but Hayes simply refuses to concede ground.

Defense is Hayes’ specialty. He’s like Matt Stairs off the bench — he’s only here to pinch hit. When Valanciunas and Johnson are getting demolished in the post, Hayes comes in to steady the ship. Sometimes it works, like it did when Gasol was eating Valanciunas alive last January. Sometimes it doesn’t, like when DeMarcus Cousins demolished the Raptors.

In short, the clip below summarizes Hayes’ skills in their entirety.

 

Chuck Hayes — Weaknesses

Here’s a GIF of Hayes’ lone make from beyond 10 feet last season.

2014-15 expectations

Look, if Hayes and Hansbrough are called upon for more than 800 minutes each, the Raptors are in serious trouble. If Johnson, Patterson and Valanciunas stay healthy, there really isn’t a great need for either player to factor significantly into the outcomes of games.

Hansbrough, for example, is injury insurance. He’ll only find minutes if someone goes down. He might not even be ahead of James Johnson in terms of depth at the four. I predicted this last season with Hansbrough and it didn’t come to fruition, but look for Hansbrough to be moved at the trade deadline. He’s a solid bench piece, but the Raptors have much better options.

Hayes, on the other hand, will continue to spot minutes. As far as backup centers go, Hayes actually isn’t bad. He’s a savvy vet who knows where to be on rotations and he can help lockdown post-up players. That should come in handy in the Eastern Conference, where bigs like Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson and Nikola Vucevic have historically posed problems for Valanciunas. For that, and his leadership, Hayes will likely remain with the squad through the season, pitching in whenever possible.

You just read 900+ words on Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough. You love the Raptors way too much. Get help.

As the book opens on another Toronto Raptors season, the talk is about taking steps forward from an encouraging, breakthrough 2013-14 season. For Landry Fields, though, the offseason was all about taking a step back after the most disappointing year of his career.

It’s been a trying two seasons for Fields since arriving in Toronto on a three-year, $18.75 million contract. It seemed an overpay initially and has felt like an albatross at times since. He played just 322 minutes last season and another 26 in the playoffs, relegated to the bench due to injury and ineffectiveness. The promising young rotation piece of two offseasons ago has become an afterthought against developing players, intriguing rookies, and a pair of veterans brought in to fill reserve wing roles once thought to be his.

You’d forgive Fields for entering camp with a chip on his shoulder, but his attitude at media day on Monday suggested otherwise. Fields was reflective, upbeat, and optimistic about the coming season.

“It’s amazing,” Fields said. “We’re doing the best job in the world. It’s always great to be back.”

Unfortunately, the Stanford product returns to Toronto without a clean bill of health and facing similar questions to those of last fall following a disappointing Raptors debut.

Just five games into his tenure with the team, Fields required surgery to address an issue with the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. The nerve issue caused his right hand to clasp involuntarily when he attempted a shot, and the offending nerve was transposed to correct the matter. Again last January, Fields had surgery on his right arm to try to fix it.

“I was kind of up and down with everything,” Fields said. “Playing, not playing, and the whole rehab process. It takes much more out of the game that I had before than a lot of people really understand. It’s difficult to transition into kind of a new player, really. Just trying to find my mode with that, mentally, it was very frustrating. It still is at times. But if I let that encompass my world, it kind of takes over everything outside of basketball.

“And this year I refuse to let that happen.”

Fields saw his 3-point and free-throw shooting drop off dramatically in his sophomore season with the New York Knicks, and the Raptors had bet heavily he would bounce back to his 2010-11 rookie levels. If the nerve issue was fixed, there was a good chance Fields could be the player the team had been expecting.

That didn’t happen after either procedure. The nerve issue remains a complication.

“In terms of shot and the arm, it’s still an ongoing thing,” Fields said, acknowledging it’s still not 100 percent. “It’s just trying to play the best I can with it and coming to terms with it, trying to be the best I can with it. That’s just finding areas where I can be most successful. I think getting away from that (the 3-point shot) is something that will help me. At the end of the day, I’m still working on it, still trying to bring it back to 100 percent and I’ll be doing that until I’m done playing basketball.”

Trying to be the best player he can be without an effective jumpshot is easier said than done. Over two seasons with the Raptors, Fields has shot just 44.5 percent overall and 10.5 percent from long range. Last season, he all but eliminated the 3-point shot from his game, going 0-for-5 on the year. Without that tool in his arsenal, it’s been difficult for him to hold down a consistent role. He plays off the ball well and provides solid defense at multiple positions, but spacing becomes a major issue when defenders can cheat off the 3-point line against your wings.

“We have some ideas on it,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the team’s first practice on Tuesday. “One that we told him about is he can let his cutting be his penetration. He’s one of the best cutters in the league. I told him don’t even worry about the 3-point shot, don’t even think about that.”

The Raptors hope to deploy Fields on the baseline in the “dunker” role more this season, but such a strategy requires careful rotations. Casey mentioned “inverting the floor” when Fields plays, meaning pairing him with someone like Patrick Patterson, who can help maintain the team’s spacing and let Fields play inside the 3-point line. That’s not something the Raptors got to experiment with much last season, as Fields played just 13 minutes with Patterson (and 62 with the similarly rangy Steve Novak).

With James Johnson acquired to essentially fill the role once thought to be his – a versatile defender off the bench – Fields doesn’t have a lot of time to get comfortable with his limitations. Casey indicated that Landry’s familiarity with the system is a plus, but that Johnson’s size is something the team really needs.

What that likely means is that Fields is no longer being looked at as a key contributor, something he’s taking in stride.

“With me, and anybody, it’s probably just a pride thing and understanding if you are a utility player, be the best utility player you can be,” Fields said. “Everybody wants to be the main guy, but with this team I don’t see that as my role. If I come to terms with that, I can be the best at that and be the best complementary player for everybody.”

That’s not necessarily an easy attitude to have at any time, let alone in the final season of a contract. Fields will hit unrestricted free agency next summer having just turned 27, and there’s a very real possibility his resume will have consecutive seasons thin on playing time. His defensive reputation should remain intact, but without the requisite floor time to show the changes he’s made to his game, the market may be unfriendly.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s one Fields has little control over. With a new wife and a one-year old son to focus on – he cops to the fact that “my wife will kill me” if he takes his basketball frustrations home with him – a broader perspective on life appears both a blessing and a necessity.

“The secret is actually to be willing to lose everything, and that way you can focus on the here and now,” Fields said. “Tomorrow, I can’t control. But I do understand the contract might not be the same, I might not be in basketball after this year, you never know what’s gonna happen. So really, the more you can almost be okay with that, and I know it sounds brutal to say, but in my own mind, my own psyche, it helps. The fact that now I’m free to really enjoy the season.

“At the end of the day, basketball is just something I do. It doesn’t define me. As long as I’m keeping it like that, it’s not so devastating.”

That’s not to say Fields is resigned to a year at the end of the bench and an uncertain summer. Injuries happen, he could find his stride as an off-ball assassin, and, as he put it, “defense is defense.” Training camp brings with it the opportunity for new beginnings, and it sounds as if Fields has found his.

With all due respect to DeMar DeRozan and the fantastic All-Star season that he posted last year, but it was Kyle Lowry that propelled the Raptors to arguably their best season in team history. Lowry handily led the team in win shares, offering an estimated 11.7 wins for the club last season (over DeRozan’s 8.8 according to basketballreference.com), which was good for 8th in the NBA, and his leadership gave the team its identity, its never-say-die attitude. Last year’s was one of the most balanced rosters that the organization has ever fielded, but it achieved what it did last year because Kyle Lowry pushed them there night after night.

He posted career-high’s in nearly every measurable category: points per game (17.9), assists per game (7.4), rebounds per game (4.7), free throw makes and attempts per game (4.0 and 4.9), PER (20.1), True Shooting Percentage (.567), three-point percentage (.380), turnover percentage (13.4, his lowest ever), etc etc etc — the team needed Lowry to step up his game and he did it by giving the team the best version of himself that he’s ever offered. This was the version of Kyle Lowry that the Raptors had envisioned when the brought him in to run the show in 2012, and it’s the version of Lowry that they needed to lock-up in the summer of 2014.

To that end, the Raptors acted swiftly in free agency to secure Lowry with a four-year deal. At $48-million, Lowry is now Toronto’s highest-paid player, but since his deal is still well short of the max, he leaves the Raptors with plenty of breathing space in the coming years to extend new deals to fellow starters Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.

So with the band back together the expectation is that the Raptors are ready to soar even high than they did with Lowry last season. In fact, if there is any fear about Lowry going forward its only that he might not be able to replicate his breakout ’13-’14 campaign. This isn’t for fear that his weight may balloon again or that he’ll renew his clashes with Dwane Casey, it’s simply because Lowry offered the Raptors a season that seemed to max out his talent in every measurable metric and that kind of output is hard to bank on year after year.

The fact of the matter is, if Toronto’s plan had been to simply ride Lowry to that degree every single season going forward they’d be in trouble, but fortunately for Raptors fans that isn’t what the plan for the future is. The club spent lavishly to bring back Lowry’s primary backup, the quasi-starting-calibre Greivis Vasquez, and traded John Salmons to acquire scoring guard Lou Williams. Both of those guys will be tasked with providing some statistical assistance around the fringes should Lowry’s numbers take a small step back this season — reason would expect them to do so — while also helping to back-off of the career-high 36.2 minutes per game that Lowry logged last season (a concern, though not a grave one, given Lowry’s notable injury history).

The Raptors will also apply more pressure to Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, expecting them to shoulder more responsibilities, so that the club isn’t as dependent on Lowry (and DeRozan) having dominant games in order to win, especially against the league’s cellar-dwellers.

That said, Lowry will continue to act as the engine that makes this car go. Even if his minutes are trimmed ever-so-slightly and even if his usage rate dips a tad going forward, this team is really only going as far as Lowry can take them. DeRozan may be the All-Star, the World Cup gold medallist, but even he needs Lowry to be at his best to improve upon what the team accomplished a season ago. All of those fourth-quarter comebacks last season? That was Lowry’s personality personified throughout the roster. There is a reason that he was the one entrusted to take the last shot of their season last year, and even though he flubbed it, you can bet that Casey would put the ball right back in his hands if the Raptors find themselves in that same position next April.

That’s why the organization was so insistent upon re-signing Lowry this summer. It’s why Tim Leiweke was willing to go on television three months before free agency and insist that the team was going to bring him back. Lowry is this iteration of the Raptors. The club may be devoid of any transcendent, super-duper-stars in its current form, but in Lowry they have a player that the organization is willing to model the entire club after. Even if the Raptors had lost Lowry and somehow managed to replace him with a similarly skilled player, let’s say Ty Lawson, the structure of the team would be completely different. The personality would be totally turned on its head. The continuity in the rest of the roster wouldn’t matter nearly as much because the head of the beast had be torn off and that would mean starting well behind where the club had finished a season ago.

Lowry may not be as dynamic as Vince Carter or as consistent as Chris Bosh, but he is no less important to this version of the Raptors than they were to their’s. If the team is going to achieve new heights this season, it’s going to be because Lowry pushed them there. He has a wonderfully intriguing and talented support system around him to help make it happen, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t all still start with him. This team goes where Lowry is going to take them, and it should be pretty exciting to see how high that can be.

Toronto Raptors starting from scratch to prepare for season, coach says | National Post

“We’re going back to scratch,” Casey said on Tuesday after the team’s first practice, a marathon outing. “You want to skip a few letters of the alphabet but what we’re doing is starting from scratch like we normally do, building from there. We’ll build a little bit quicker from [a defensive] standpoint, but we don’t want to skip any letters, even for the older guys. [They need] to get that muscle memory back of being where they’re supposed to be and that type of thing.” To spruce up training camp, however, Casey brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to the team on Monday evening. He said he was planning on bringing in other outsiders to speak to the team throughout the year. Dwane Casey brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to the team on Monday evening. He said he was planning on bringing in other outsiders to speak to the team throughout the year. “It was really empowering and very interesting,” Casey said of Monday’s guest speech.

Raptors’ DeRozan won’t rest on laurels | Toronto Sun

“I was trying to be more ambidextrous, somewhat, try to get more comfortable with my off hand, finishing with my off hand, doing a lot of little things that probably go unnoticed. I’m just trying to find new challenges, honestly, within myself to find something else to get better.” And that’s what separates DeRozan from players, both those with more natural talent, and those with less. DeRozan had many holes in his game when he entered the league, but has diligently worked to address them and the results have clearly paid off. But he’s not done, and his teammates will help him take the next step as well. “I think he can just be more aggressive,” said Kyle Lowry. “Be more of the guy. He’s our all-star, he’s our scoring threat. He’s just going to keep getting better, keep making better passes. I think overall he has to get better at every aspect of the game.

Raptors Media Day: Masai Ujiri Interview | Raptors HQ

Masai acknowledges the team still has a lot of young players and he’s always thinking about how to improve the team. He’s happy with the team now but will see where they need to add depending on how the team performs at the start of the season. Another huge theme for Masai is continuity. He believes that consistency is important for winning teams. Says that formula has proven to work in the league and he hopes it works for the Raptors. Stresses that the guys like each other and compete for one another. Also says they’re not a selfish team.

Raptors Media Day: Dwane Casey Interview | Raptors HQ

Was asked, as everyone else were, about the heightened expectations for this season. Casey says the team should embrace it, and should act like defending Atlantic Division champions and play like it every night

Raptors Media Day: Jonas Valanciunas Interview | Raptors HQ

Valanciunas was asked about the experience of making the playoffs last season, which he called positive. He was also asked about the expectations on him this season, but mentioned that at the end of the day it’s a team sport and all the guys on the court have to contribute in their own way

Raptors Media Day: DeMar DeRozan Interview | Raptors HQ

He doesn’t think the national media gives the Raptors the respect they deserve, but he thinks players around the league respects them. Points to conversations he had at the FIBA World Cup when he heard from other players about how difficult it was to have to play against Toronto

Raptors Media Day: Kyle Lowry Interview | Raptors HQ

Kyle Lowry, no. 34 #SLAMTop50 | SLAM

Lowry will have plenty of motivation this season as he can use his snubs from last year’s All-Star and All-NBA teams to push him. Although these are all individual goals, Lowry’s selfless play and leadership is what inspires his teammates. There is no drama coming from Lowry in Toronto. He is all business and his teammates follow his lead.

If not the Wizards, who has the NBA’s best backcourt? | USA Today

The Raptors came closer than any team to having two All-Star guards last season, as DeRozan broke through for his first appearance and Lowry was a clear-cut snub. But both are coming off career years, and in Lowry’s case, it came in a contract season and landed him his big new four-year deal. They could be the best. Or they could regress a little bit without hurting the deep, talented Raptors too much.

Kelly: Raptors’ DeRozan an unsung hero, but don’t blame him for that | Globe and Mail

In a town that needs constant reassurance and kind words, Toronto’s boldface names are the dads who sit there in their armchairs, night after night, silently nursing the same glass of scotch. They only talk when you get between them and the TV. In each case, with relative differences, it’s been an imperfect pairing. Maybe this is why Toronto turns so quickly on its heroes. They never get properly attached to them in the first place. Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is here to heal those wounds. By allowing himself to talk, he’s teaching a gun-shy city to love again.

Raptors’ Lou Williams looking to rebound after difficult year | Toronto Star

“I’ve played basketball all my life and I know in the back of my mind what I’m capable of doing and just having that confidence in myself, knowing at one point that light bulb is going to click back on and I’m going to be back to my normal self, that’s what kept me going.” If there is a way to describe Williams so early in his Raptors career, it’s that he’s a true professional who understands what he’s good at and works at it. Talking to teammates and team officials and people who have known him, a consensus quickly emerges. “Lou’s a pro, he’s going to help us a lot,” said DeMar DeRozan. “He’s going to be a great teammate and he gives us something we need,” said Masai Ujiri. “He might be under the radar with some fans but in the NBA he’s not, we all know what he can do,” said Chuck Hayes.

Raptor of the Year: Preseason Power Rankings | Raptors Watch

T-Ross has immense potential, as shown by several outbursts last season, most notably his franchise-tying scoring spree against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which he dropped 51 points on their collective heads. Ross needs to get a bit stronger (says he did this offseason) and work a bit on when to snatch at the ball so that he’ll stop fouling as much on defense. Other than that, he’s a very good defender and has a beautiful stroke. Basically, he’s got the entire guard package in a raw form. As he enters his third season, most Raptors fans are expecting a breakout year from T-Ross. And if he is able to live up to those high expectations, watch out.

Coach Casey Wants Jonas Valanciunas To Learn How To Dance | Pro Bball Report

“Like I always said, it’s like dancing. Playing in the post is just like dancing. You got to have a rhythm. You got to be light on your feet or you are going to look the part if you are not careful – and if you saw JV’s wedding video, you saw where he needs to work with his feet a little bit more.”

Budding big man Jonas Valanciunas, as was to be expected from Raptor fans and NBA insiders in general, posted a landmark 2013/2014 campaign. The kinks in the armour weren’t completely ironed out – it was, after all, his second season in the league – but a number of important boxes were checked that demonstrated it wasn’t just blind faith leading the fanbase’s belief that he could, indeed, become the cornerstone of a frontline not seen in these parts since Chris Bosh (and defensively, maybe ever).

That being said, like fellow soph Terrence Ross, it’s the steps that he will (hopefully) take this season that will help push this Raptor squad to the next level. I’d argue that Jonas’ internal development will likely be the storyline of the Raptors’ season, personnel-wise – with the franchise relying on continuity to pay big dividends this year, nobody has a chance to step up quite like Jonas. Unlike Ross, Jonas’ ceiling seems to be the third star that the Raps desperately need to contend with the conference’s big boys, and if his offseason is any indication: working with Hakeem Olajuwon, a few trips down to the Drew League, and an impressive performance in the FIBA World Cup; there’s plenty of reason to be excited.

Before we move on to this year, though, let’s take a quick look at the season that was for Mr. Valanciunas:

2013-14 Stats Recap:

Regular Season:

  • PPG: Increased to 11.3 points (from 8.9)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Decreased to .537 (from .557)
  • Attempts per game: Increased to 8.3 (from 5.9)
  • Rebounds Per Game: Increased to 8.8 (from 6.0)
  • Minutes: Increased to 28.2 (from 23.9)

Post Season:

  • Averaged 10.9/9.7/0.3 in 28.6 minutes per game, on .633 shooting. Dominated the Nets’ bigs at times and was a major reason why they chose to go small for much of the series.

Highlights:

Only one real option here:

Strengths:

Jonas isn’t a particularly elite player in any aspect of the game (yet), but is solid in all aspects. His rebound positioning was something that really stuck out to me last year – his numbers aren’t elite quite yet in that department, but he would gobble down boards in bunches while he was out there, giving a perimeter-oriented Raptors squad a license to bomb away. His offensive game wasn’t quite what you’d call refined, but was certainly effective. Let’s be honest: if you can tell me how this pump fake works so often, you’re either lying or a basketball savant. For the most part, his points came off put-backs and drives to the hoop, which is certainly a positive in that a) it’s quite consistent from night to night and b) indicates that his game on that end of the floor will continue to improve as more tools are added.

Growing into a bigger role on the defensive end, Jonas showed some positive signs on that end, as well, particularly in man coverage. He’s still prone to getting blown by by wing players and biting on the fakes of some of the league’s most skilled big men – it’s part of the reason why the defensive-minded Amir Johnson is still likely a better frontcourt partner for him than Patrick Patterson – but there are certainly indicators that he could one day become the anchor the Raptors need (his quick feet, for one – the guy moves so well, for a big man).

At the FIBA World Championships, Jonas showed off what he can do as the focal point of the offence (albeit against lesser competition), averaging 14.4 points and over 8 boards a contest. He also showed off some versatility in the post that we didn’t see often last year, and got into a hilarious shoving match with DeMarcus Cousins.


Areas to improve:

As stated earlier, the Raptors’ development this season relies largely on Jonas’ ability to internally improve. Working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game is a great first step – an added versatility on the offensive end will force him into more of a focal role on offence, which is imperative in providing balance to the team’s wing-dominant scoring. Defensively, Jonas will need to be far better in help situations without increasing his foul rate. It’s hovered at about 3 per game over his first two season in the league, which is fine, but with his minutes almost surely increasing (we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s imperative that it stays there while he takes on a bigger role defensively. The best version of this Raptors showcases Jonas as a real two-way threat, and while he’s close, a little bit of polish is likely all it will take for him to hit the marks needed.

2014-15 Outlook:

As Jonas goes, the Raptors go. It’s that simple, really. The team’s lack of depth at centre has been well documented in this space and others, and barring a massive surprise from Lucas Nogueira, Jonas will need to take the lion’s share of the minutes in order to keep the Raptors without a below-average player on the floor for stretches (and to limit Amir’s minutes).

To do that, he’ll have to do a few things, namely improving his defensive presence under the rim in more perimeter-heavy lineups featuring Patrick Patterson at the 4 – he averaged less than a block a game last year, which just won’t cut it. His effectiveness at sliding over to help opposing cutters will also help keep offensively effective, yet defensively deficient players like DeMar DeRozan and (kind of) Terrence Ross from being exposed. Keep the scorers on the floor, and you score points, which means you win games.

It would be fantastic to see offensive improvement, as well, as that’s likely going to be what establishes Jonas as a pillar of the franchise. I’d love to see the team feature him more often in post-up situations, but that’s a two way street – you have to earn your touches. I’d argue that he’s earned more than he’s gotten in year one and two (and Casey’s sometimes head-scratching rotations don’t help), but showcasing an ability to do more than pump fake (maybe even hit a few mid-rangers?) and crash the rim hard is a simple and expected, yet essential, step forward in his development.

Expect big things from Jonas next year. Season 3 is typically when everything starts coming together for NBA bigs, and Jonas’ shortcomings can be easily filled with a focus on development, which has never been a red flag in his case. The floor here is a solid starting centre, so work upward from that: can he be Roy Hibbert? Andre Drummond? Better?

Be excited, Raptors fans. You should be excited. The hype train was cranked up to max last season for Jonas’ development, but this is the year he really starts to take it home. Barring injury, it’ll be great fun to continue to watch one of the game’s budding stars figure out how to go from “solid with great potential” to simply great.

Raptors must build on last season’s euphoria: Arthur | Toronto Star

“Hell, yeah,” said DeMar DeRozan, fresh off a summer on Team USA’s gold medal-winning group at the World Cup. “Yes, it do. Just the energy and the positivity of everything, and not the, ‘what ifs,’ so much. It definitely do. It do feel different.” He told a story about talking to Kyle Lowry from a plane headed to the Philippines when Lowry was re-signed — “I spent $45 talking to him,” said DeRozan — and Lowry, for his part, turned up Monday looking less like the fire hydrant he’s sometimes compared to, and more like the pit bull he’s often compared to. General manager Masai Ujiri says he’s never seen his point guard in better shape. “Those people who thought I’d (be out of shape), they’re idiots,” said Lowry. “The people who were expecting me to come back in shape, they’re smart.” “I never was worried,” said DeRozan. “I never gave him a sales pitch throughout the same time, there, because I was just trying to be there for him honestly as a friend.

Raptors’ Lowry won’t slack off after big deal | Toronto Sun

“Kyle Lowry has been phenomenal,” said general manager Masai Ujiri, who inked Lowry to his new deal. “He’s in unbelievable shape. These guys, they took the summer seriously. You win games in the regular season, but you get better in the summer.” Lowry, far more comfortable with the media and in Toronto than he was just two years ago, definitely subscribes to that school of thought. “Me, I like to work, I like to actually put work in, it’s fun. I mean, this is my job,” Lowry said. “I like to get in the gym, I like to lift weights, I like to play basketball, I like to do everything, I like to just get better.” Getting better than he was last season will be a challenge. Lowry emerged as one of the NBA’s premier point guards and should have been named an all-star.

Raptors still working on getting respect | Toronto Sun

Casey is confident that the Raptors will take another step this season, and hopefully win the Atlantic again and move on to at least the second round of the playoffs. And aside from players like DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross improving because they have another year of experience in the NBA, Casey is looking for two key factors in helping his club develop into a true elite NBA side in 2014-15. For one, he wants to his club to play like they don’t get any respect around the league, which historically they haven’t. “That’s huge for me right now,” said Casey. “The greatest 16th man on our roster was we felt like the league didn’t respect us and we were scratching and fighting for respect. “And we still don’t have the total respect of the NBA, so we’ve got to make sure we gain that respect and keep that respect,” the fourth-year Raptors head coach said. “We’re the only ones who can control that.”

Lewenberg: Raptors embrace target on their back as camp opens | TSN

“You have to embrace it,” Casey said, holding court during Monday’s festivities, held on the upper level of Real Sports Bar & Grill, across from the ACC. “This is the first time this organization, since even before I got here, had heightened expectations, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s something we’ve got to embrace, we’ve got to take it and run with it, because it’s going to be there. There’s no pressure, it’s good pressure. We’re defending division champions and we have to go out every night and play like it.” “I don’t do predictions, unfortunately,” said Ujiri. “We’re hoping to win and grow as a team. The NBA is full of surprises, issues, growing pains, adversity. We’re ready. It’s our job to fix [problems]. We’ll keep grinding it out.” Like the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs – the model for sustainable success in basketball and throughout pro sports – the Raptors are banking on continuity and internal growth to take them to the next level.

No room for complacency for Raptors this season | Toronto Sun

They’ve already lost the one playoff series they should have won, the only playoff series we’ve seen in the Dwane Casey and now Masai Ujiri era. Playing well, entertaining people, turning Maple Leaf Square into a playground, is a wonderful goal. Winning is more important than that. Establishing a winning culture, year in year out, a team that can challenge for the Eastern championship, a team that should win in the 50-game range (something no Raptor team has ever done) is not just important, it’s necessary. “We’re going to win in this city,” said Ujiri, the general manager, without a single expletive in his sentence. “We’re going to win big. “We’re still a young team, young guys. The question is, what did we gain from the experience of last year? How much did we learn? Anybody can win one year. Our job is to do it every year.”

Raptors’ Williams ‘excited to be here’ | Toronto Sun

Williams is an elite scorer and has spent the majority of this career coming off the bench and scoring in bunches. He doesn’t see anything changing in Toronto. “I’m excited to be here,” he said. “I’m happy to be with a group that wants me. These guys really respect what I have done over the course of my career and I look forward to getting started. I’m ready. I’m back to 100% now. Last year was probably one of the more difficult seasons I have had in my career. I’m excited to get this season going and get back on track.”

Raptors Media Day: A View From The Scrum | Raptors HQ

Beginning at around 10am for the first time at Real Sports Bar & Grill, the hoi polloi of Toronto’s sports media were on hand to meet and greet this year’s team. The majority of the morning, however, felt like something of a reunion. The Raptors approach the coming season with most of last year’s team intact and momentum on a definite upswing. The event had a fairly loose and informal air to it, but the question of expectations seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

Ranking The Top 7 Small Forwards | Mike’s Mind

DeRozan is looked upon as a shooting guard by many, but the reality is, him and Terrence Ross are essentially interchangeable, with either one having the ability to guard all the twos and threes in the present day association. The 25-year old from from Compton, California is coming off a career year, scoring 22.7 points a night, though his field goal percentage is lacking the beauty that one might be expecting from a top five player, at his position. He has continually improved his defensive game, one that should continue to be on an incline, and there is little question that his effort is fully given, every night. The Raptors have the possibility of ending up being a surprise team in the East, taking care of the favorite Bulls or Cavaliers.

 

DeMar DeRozan talked with me about being irked by the ranking he was given by Sports Illustrated and ESPN, playing in the Drew League with Terrence Ross this summer and how the World Cup helped him grow.

Raptors Are A Team That Is Still Developing Core Players | Pro Bball Report

From the start of last season, right up to and including the seven-game playoff series with the Nets, Casey insisted the Raptors focus was on developing Ross, Valanciunas and DeRozan. DeRozan earned an All-Star nod, but Ross and Valanciunas were going to play significant minutes even with a playoff series on the line and more veteran players available on the bench. Not much has changed for Casey this year except last year’s sophomores are more experienced. “That’s the funny thing,” Casey said. “We are talking about taking the next step with third year players and DeMar is further down the road (now), but those two guys are core guys (that) still got to get better and develop, so that hasn’t changed at all.”

Toronto Raptors: An Interview With Bruno Caboclo | Hoops Habit

“The picture I have in my mind from what I watched on TV from my house in Brazil is the Raptor’s fans going wild supporting the team. Sold out games, outside at Maple Leaf Square hundreds of people cheering. So, my ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment will be in our first home game, when I come out from that lockeroom wearing my No. 5 Raptor jersey and see all that people supporting us. Then I would feel my stomach cramping and think, ‘this is it.’ If I get some playing time and the fans scream my name, oh man, this will be an indescribable feeling.”

Hard work paying off for DeRozan | Toronto Sun

You know how the game is played. Come make a statement on this upcoming Raptors season and decide whether you think its “Fact” or “Fiction”.

The pod returns with a bang and by bang I mean Andrew and Tim W., who finally reveals what the W stands for. There’s the Western Conference coaching game, predictions, ESPN power rankings and a whole bag of apologies:

Part 1

  • Win total over/under = 45
  • ESPN power rankings
  • Tim’s fresh access to the Vancouver training camp
  • International players being better interviewers

Part 2

  • Most intriguing player heading into training camp
  • Raptors overtaking the Leafs – National Post article
  • Will Cherry’s becomes the 12th Raptor player ever to wear #1
  • Raptors overtaking the Leafs on Facebook, what does it mean? Are Leafs using MySpace?

Part 3

  • Fastest Raptors players according to advanced stats
  • The rebounder who converts the most chances
  • Western Conference coaching game

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 (39:10, 37 MB). Or just listen below:

It’s a Sunday afternoon in September, so the chances anyone is reading a Toronto Raptors-related post are probably pretty slim. For now, that is. At this time next week, we’ll be gearing up for the team’s preseason opener in Vancouver. This week, we’ve rolled through some player-specific previews, as we’ll do again this coming week. We’ll also have a presence at Monday’s media day, and a presence for the Vancouver portion of training camp, so look out for that.

Over the coming weeks, preseason games, coach’s comments, and context clues will answer a lot of questions about this team for us. In the interim, we opened the floor to readers and commenters to fire questions our way.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 6.04.06 PM
From: The comment section.

On the surface, the answer to an Ennis-for-Caboclo swap should be yes from the Raptors’ perspective. The team was said to want Ennis badly enough that they tried to move up a few spots in the draft to grab him. When they failed to do so, balking at an asking price from the Suns that was said to be exorbitant, they rolled the dice on Caboclo, knowing he wouldn’t slide to their next pick at No. 37.

In other words, they valued Ennis enough that they would have used more than just the No. 20 pick to get him, and wanted Caboclo at No. 37 but took him earlier in case he didn’t slide. Obviously, then, Ennis was higher on their draft boards. In the time since the draft, Caboclo has proven a very fun project and galvanized the hyper-active portion of the fanbase online, flashing some encouraging signs at Summer League. Ennis, meanwhile, struggled at Summer League and has become expendable in Phoenix through no fault of his own, though a handful of summer exhibitions are hardly enough to drop one’s stock (or see him lose his Canadian passport, for those of you for whom such things matter).

The problem with a retroactive trade scenario is that the Raptors carried out their offseason with Caboclo, not Ennis (would the team have re-signed Vasquez if they had landed Ennis, for example?). For that reason, and because of the perhaps unexpectedly positive response to Caboclo, I don’t think the Raptors would make the swap. Personally, I’ve never been that high on Ennis (I see him as a good backup eventually, but as a starter you’d always be looking to upgrade), and the Caboclo experiment is just going to be way too entertaining. Plus, at the end of the roster, I go upside over floor all day.

My instinct is that Caboclo knows better than to make enemies in training camp, so he’ll keep his instrument holstered for the early part of practice sessions. A guy like Amir Johnson isn’t going to take kindly to some rookie getting Deez in his face on a poster, and Caboclo seems too respectful a teenager to do such a thing. So unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until about three minutes into the preseason opener before seeing Caboclo shove it down some sucka’s throat (looking at you, Boogie). #WingspanWarning #CabocloCountdown


Related question from Navin Vaswani: What, honestly, is a successful season next year?

I’m pairing the best and worst scenarios with the success question, because the best case and the goal are obviously related.

This team is going to tell you throughout the preseason that they believe they can stake a claim as the best team in the Eastern Conference, because they have to. A year after making a surprise run to an Atlantic Division title, management, the coaches, and the players aren’t going to set a goal in line with last season’s results, and they surely feel as a group they can improve. A successful season from their perspective, then, may be 50 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

If all parties were to be a little more honest and self-aware, the goal is the second round of the playoffs. The franchise has won a single playoff series, ever, and doing so again puts any Raptors team in the discussion as the best ever. While a run to the ECF isn’t entirely unrealistic, the Raptors slot in quite obviously as the No. 3 team in the conference, having already answered more questions than some of the teams after them but not matching up with Cleveland and Chicago on talent. Aggressive goals are appreciated, but a “successful season” sees the team make the second round of the playoffs and giving Cleveland or Chicago a run in the second round.

A “best case,” then, is some injury luck or an unexpected trade or breakout sees the Raptors competing in the ECF. The worst case? Well, the chemistry could dissipate, injuries could strike, and the young players could fail to develop, leaving the Raptors to compete for a playoff spot instead of a specific seed and putting the core of the franchise into question moving forward.

I’ve bunched these questions together because they all kind of point to the biggest improvement the Raptors have made this offseason: their depth. The team’s top-seven remain unchanged, but the names that should get run beyond that core group are vastly improved over last season.

Look at who was getting minutes behind the starting five, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez from Dec. 8 (the night of The Trade) onwards:

Player Minutes
Salmons,John 1281
Hansbrough,Tyler 613
Hayes,Charles 575
Novak,Steve 396
De Colo,Nando 193
Fields,Landry 113
Stone,Julyan 47
Buycks,Dwight 44
Daye,Austin 21

John Salmons is gone! Ya done, son. Get the hell on. Not only is Salmons’ ungodly minutes total being spread elsewhere, two key bench additions see some other, only marginally-useful players, slide down a peg on the depth chart:

Before After
Salmons,John Johnson,James
Hansbrough,Tyler Williams,Lou
Hayes,Charles Hansbrough,Tyler
Novak,Steve Hayes,Chuck
De Colo,Nando Fields,Landry
Fields,Landry Stiemsma,Greg
Stone,Julyan Caboclo,Bruno
Buycks/Daye Nogueira,Lucas

Salmons’ minutes will go to both Ross (in an increased workload) and Johnson, who is a very obvious improvement, especially on the defensive end against bigger wing players. Salmons was a veteran hand that Dwane Casey trusted on defense and who wouldn’t turn the ball over, but it can’t be overstated just how bad he was at basketball. Johnson is erratic and Ross’ development isn’t a given, but we’re talking 20 minutes a game off the bench that are being shifted to appreciably better players. That’s enormous.

While Williams’ role is less obvious – he’s the nominal backup shooting guard, but the team runs two points too often for that to be a sizable role – he shores up the depth at either guard spot in the event of injuries, meaning the team no longer has to fear the Buycks and Stones of the world getting on the floor.

The interior depth hasn’t really improved much, but slightly more minutes for Valanciunas and Patterson will require less from those reserve bigs. There’s an obvious hole at backup center if the team is hesitant to spot Amir Johnson there at times (it’s a tricky trade-off given the desire to keep him healthy in the long-run), but maybe Hayes, Stiemsma and Nogueira can patch it up until mid-season, when the team can re-evaluate what they have and make a play for some rim protection on the trade market.

The team is deep, far deeper than they were last season, and you can feel pretty safe with the likely nine-man rotation (plus whichever extra big Casey ends up trusting):

depth

(That doesn’t mean Amir Johnson is a reserve, just the easiest way to show him filling two roles.)

Comparing depth across teams is difficult – the Bulls have an insane frontcourt, for example, but are somewhat thin on the perimeter – but the Raptors absolutely shored up the deeper roles in the rotation. Johnson will frustrate but has a very specific set of skills, Williams is a substantial upgrade at the guard spots (even if he’s used little to start), and who knows, maybe Fields can be a thing again. Other than the center spot, this team runs deep and has acceptable contingencies in place in the event of struggles or injury, which couldn’t be said at any point last season.

Note: If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered ahead of preseason action, drop them in the comments and I’ll double back with another mailbag on Saturday.

 

Remember the start of last season, when the reserves in Toronto’s backcourt were D.J. Augustin, Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks? Sorry, did I just open an old wound?

To say that the Raptors’ cupboards were bare of quality reserves this time last year would be a terrific understatement (it’s worth remembering, too, that through the first month of last season it wasn’t like Kyle Lowry was exactly lighting the world on fire, either). Heading into the ’14-’15 campaign, however, the backcourt has been remade, and it provides the most likely area of external improvement on a roster that otherwise saw continuity prioritized over remodelling.

It’s basically impossible to talk about the re-signing of Greivis Vasquez without discussing the acquisition of Lou Williams, just like it’s basically impossible to discuss the acquisition of Williams without talking about the re-signing of Vasquez. The two guards and their roles on the team this season will be inextricably linked, primarily because they’re both used to being the primary backcourt reserve whenever they’ve been tasked with coming off of the bench, and that means that both men will have to adjust the expectations of their roles heading into this season.

For Vasquez this may be a harder adjustment. After all, he chose to stay in Toronto this summer (though something tells me the two year, $13-million contract helped make that decision easier), and he is the one coming into this season with tremendous chemistry with the pre-existing roster. He was the one that came from a starting situation, accepted a bench role with zero fuss and spoke as passionately about playing in Toronto as any player since Jerome Williams. The idea that he should have to make any sacrifices for Williams probably feels a bit absurd.

Here’s the thing, though: whether he wants to or not he’s going o have to adjust. There are only so many minutes available behind starters Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, and that time is cut even thinner for Vasquez and Williams because neither one is suited to playing the small forward position. Vasquez was already down to a four-year low in minutes per game last season (21.5), and that’s with him logging nearly 20% of the team’s available shooting guard minutes (a position he was much better suited to playing on defence, by the way, holding his opponents to an 8.5 PER at the two over a 14.2 PER at the one, a discrepancy owing greatly to his unimpressive foot speed, according to 82games.com). In fact, there was a point around midseason when Casey was using Vasquez more as a pure point, rarely teaming him with Lowry except in certain end-of-game scenarios, and Vasquez’s production dropped-off precipitously. He worked best getting some minutes beside Lowry before taking the reins of the offence in Toronto, a situation that may be complicated by the arrival of Williams.

Williams is not a point guard. He does not come close to approaching Vasquez’s ability to run an offence, execute in the pick-and-roll or make the ‘right’ pass. He’s a terrific scoring guard, though, and that means Dwane Casey is going to find minutes for him at shooting guard this season.

Now, Vasquez still gets priority in Casey’s rotation. Casey likes to lean on players that he is familiar with and that he trusts to execute his schemes, and Vasquez grew into a trustworthy player as last season wore on. Williams, though, brings skills to the table that the Raptors sorely need in their rotation. The biggest is his ability to create shots off of the dribble and get all the way to the basket with the ball in his hands. The Raptors have precious few players who can do that, and basically none that come off of the bench. Williams is that kind of change-of-pace scoring guard that can help pull a squad out of scoring droughts while also helping to ignite flurries of scoring for the team himself. There were countless incidents in the Playoffs last year where the Raptors simply didn’t have enough firepower to score against Brooklyn’s targeted defensive schemes, and a guy like Williams can have a huge impact in those areas. At this point the Raptors have to be looking ahead to building a roster that can survive the microcosmic world of the NBA Playoffs because just making it there isn’t an accomplishment anymore.

This is assuming, of course, that Williams is fully recovered from his 2013 ACL tear and his nagging hamstring problems from last season. Williams has only played above 75 games once in the last five seasons, and his two-year stint in Atlanta (both pre-injury and post-injury) showed a marked decline in productivity over his years in Philadelphia. While early indications are that he’s put his injuries behind him, that doesn’t mean that Toronto is going to be inheriting the best version of Williams this season. The expectation should be that Williams replicates what Leandro Barbosa gave Toronto in his brief stint with the club, with the hope being that he’s able to offer (a lot) more when he’s up to speed on what the team likes to run.

To that end, he may be up against a steep climb to steal too many to minutes from Vasquez in Toronto’s rotation, and there is no telling how Williams would respond to a minutes-cut like Vasquez experienced last season (he hasn’t played fewer than 22 mpg since ’06-’07). Like Vasquez, Williams is used to receiving minutes at both guard spots, which almost assuredly won’t be happening on a regular basis in Toronto, and we should remember that that defensive-minded Casey may not appreciate the considerable ten-point per 100 possessions defensive drop-off Atlanta experienced last year when Williams was on the floor. Williams has skills, though, that Toronto is going to need to lean on, just like Vasquez does. For a roster and rotation that is returning more-or-less in tact this is a rare minutes battle worth keeping an eye on.

Of course, considering where the Raptors were at this time last year, they’ll happily take the headache of sorting through too much backcourt talent over trying squeeze useful backup minutes out of Augustin, Stone or Buycks.

Bruno Caboclo

When the Raptors took Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick in the draft, the selection was such a shock that it wasn’t just fans that were left scratching their heads. There were even some GMs that were apparently asking who this guy was. And probably because of that, he became one of the biggest stories of the draft. A complete unknown who reportedly had a 7’7 wingspan, could shoot the three and was given the unfortunate nickname of the Brazilian Kevin Durant (because he apparently needed more pressure on him).

And until he walked onto the court in the Las Vegas Summer league, the only footage of him were a few clips so grainy it made the famous bigfoot footage look like high definition.

So just about every Raptor fan was waiting with baited breath to actually see him play in a semi-real NBA game.

As most of you know, his play in Las Vegas was something to be optimistic about, even if it wasn’t always that impressive. For a guy who is only 19, had only played sparingly on the Brazilian League team he played on, Bruno didn’t look out of place, but he didn’t make you think he’d be vying for Rookie of the Year honours, either.

Right now, Bruno’s biggest strengths are his physical attributes, his ability to shoot and his willingness to work. And he’s not that great of a shooter, yet.

So the question is, what exactly is his role going to be this year?

When DeMar DeRozan was drafted in 2009, he was placed into the starting lineup in order to make sure he was given consistent playing time in order to develop. Terrence Ross wasn’t given a starting position, in his freshman season, but did end up playing 17 mpg, only 4 mpg less than DeMar did in his rookie season.

Unless Bruno has made an unheard of developmental leap between Las Vegas and Vancouver (where the Raptors training camp is being held this year), don’t expect him to average anywhere close to 17 mpg, for several reasons.

raptors_wingspan4july.jpg.size.xxlarge.promo

One, he’s just not ready yet. DeRozan was polished as a rookie compared to what Bruno is, and one of DeRozan’s biggest weaknesses was his lack of polish. Bruno isn’t 2 years away from being two years away, as was famously suggested on draft night, but he is a year or two away from having the skills to be more than just a project.

Two, the Raptors also expect to be competing for a top seed in the playoffs, this year, after winning the Atlantic Conference and getting the 3rd seed in last year’s playoffs. I’m betting Coach Casey won’t want the mistakes that Bruno will inevitably make hurt the team’s chances.

Three, the Raptors are possibly as deep as they’ve ever been, and there just won’t be a lot of minutes available to him. His most likely future position is small forward, and with DeRozan, Ross, Landry Fields and the newly-signed James Johnson all expected to get minutes there, playing time will be scarce for Bruno. At least in the NBA.

Where Bruno might end up seeing far more time in the NBDL, which is probably best for him. He’ll be able to get minutes without being overwhelmed and without the pressure he’d get playing in the big leagues.

STRENGTHS

Besides his ability to shoot, which probably looks better than it actually is, Bruno’s biggest strength is what he brings on the defensive end. He’s got length, yes, but he also moves very well for a player his size and could one day end up being in the top ten in blocks. He’s also got quick hands and good defensive instincts for a player with his lack of experience. He also isn’t afraid to mix it up and grab rebounds on both ends of the court.

On offense, he doesn’t shy away from contact, but he’s also a turnover waiting to happen. Watch his NBA opponent’s eyes light up when Bruno puts the ball down on the floor. But he knows it’s a weakness and he’ll probably just end up being a spot-up shooter for the first season or two before he gets more comfortable with his ball handling.

WEAKNESSES

Offensive skills.

Well, he does have some skills, especially shooting and he does see the floor fairly well, but he’s also got a LOT of work to do. Thankfully, he’s a willing worker and you should expect to see major improvements over the course of the season.

Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira

url-24

I remember hearing about Nogueira years ago when he was a 16 year old physical freak with big hair and a smile to match. Well, not much has changed except he’s now 22 and will get front row seats to A LOT of NBA games this season.

I’m not suggesting Bebe doesn’t have some abilities. He does, but they just aren’t all that refined and there are a lot of things he LOOKS like he does well, but actually doesn’t. Like Bruno, Bebe is a physical specimen who has length and athletic ability that Rafael Araujo would have killed for.

STRENGTHS

Bebe is 6’11, has a wingspan almost as long as Bruno’s, and is quick and explosive for a player his size. That makes him a threat to block any shot near him. While he’s an intimidating shot blocker, a player of his size and athletic ability should be more dominant, on that end. Still, he will probably be the best shot blocker the Raptors have, this season, depending on Greg Stiemsma’s ability to step it up.

And Bebe while should never take a shot outside of five feet, he understands this and rarely does. He also moves fairly well without the ball and is a good offensive rebounder, so he tends to shoot a high percentage.

WEAKNESSES

Intense is probably not a word you’d use to describe Bebe. Easy going. Relaxed. But not intense, and that has hurt him during his career. He’s got the physical tools, but if he wants to stick in the league, he’s going to have to work a little harder than, say, Patrick O’Bryant, another physically gifted big man who Bebe should look at as a cautionary tale.

As mentioned, you aren’t going to get a lot of point with Bebe, either.

SUMMARY

Both Bruno and Bebe should see a lot of time in the NBDL, which will do them both a lot of good, but don’t expect to see them get a whole lot of playing time with the Raptors, this year. While Bruno has a lot in common with another physical freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Giannis had the advantage (?) of playing on a team devoid of talent and devoid of any hope of making the playoffs, so was given as many minutes as he could handle.  That might not have been the best thing, though, as he no doubt has picked up some bad habits along the way, something Bruno will be less likely to do.

No, not after the politicians.

The Raptors made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. The accomplishment rallied fans who gathered in droves in the square in front of the Air Canada Centre. National and local media outlets capitalized on the spectacle, often panning to capture footage of the fervent crowd — a coming out party of sorts for the Raptors’ fanbase. The square was affectionately named “Jurassic Park,” a nod to the origins of the Raptors’ franchise name.

The name was corny, but it at least held ties and a meaning to the fanbase. “Ford Square,” as it will now be called for the next five years, is neither. It’s soulless, and yet another example of MLSE’s relentless push to prioritize capitalization over humanity. Thanks for putting the fans first, guys!

sarcasm

Two halves of one whole.

As compared to basketball, platoons are more prevalent in baseball. The strategy is as old as the game itself. Some hitters dominate righties, but are helpless against lefties, vice-versa for others. It only makes sense to pair up two players with complementary skillsets. Two otherwise flawed players can combine to make a position of weakness into a strength. The Boston Red Sox successfully rode the pairing of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava sharing duties in left field to a World Series in 2013.

Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson are the Raptors’ basketball equivalent of a platoon. Neither player has demonstrated over the course of their careers that they can shoulder a full-time starting power forward workload, and both players have their flaws. But much like a platoon, their strengths complement one another, allowing for their impact to be maximized through smart in-game management.

Strengths on offense

 

Patterson is a floor-spacer. He sunk 41.1 percent of his three-pointers last season, a mark on-par with the elite at his position. Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans connected on 40.9 percent of his triples. Channing Frye of the Suns sunk 37 percent. The ability to stretch the floor from a front-court position helps open up driving lanes for his teammates by pulling his defender out of the paint. Ian Levy recently wrote about Patterson’s impact on his teammates on offense. Long story short, most players shot a higher percentage with Patterson on the floor including DeMar DeRozan, who experienced a 6 percent bump in Patterson’s presence. Even though Patterson isn’t a good passer or dribbler, his shooting helps make plays for the Raptors.

Johnson, on the other hand, is sometimes hard to notice on offense because he’s so often involved in facilitating the process of plays, rather than producing the result. He’s the opposite of DeRozan, in that sense. Johnson is one of the league’s best screen-setters, and runs a wicked two-man game with DeRozan. Johnson is crafty and understands how to open up space. He’s also a tremendous finisher in the pick-and-roll. He scored 1.09 points per pick-and-roll last season, placing him in the 90th percentile.

Strengths on defense

 

Patterson isn’t necessarily a bad defender. For the most part, he’s in the right place and stays attentive. Having said that, defense for front-court players has evolved to the point where the majority of possessions are help scenarios. That’s where Patterson struggles. He allowed 1.15 points per pick-and-roll from the opposing big last season. Patterson is also a fairly ineffective rim-protector. Opponents sunk 54.5 percent of their baskets around the rim last season in Patterson’s presence. On the whole, Patterson is average. His ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, for example, is 1.11, on par with relative blasse defenders like Frye (1.17) and Zach Randolph (1.03).

Johnson is the superior defender. By DRPM, Johnson ranked 5th among all power forwards who played more than 20 minutes per game. He especially excels in help defense scenarios, where Johnson placed in the 99th percentile in terms of points allowed per pick-and-roll. Johnson slides himself into the right position to provide help and challenge shots. Despite being undersized and playing a fair share of his minutes at center, Johnson held opponents to 47.9 percent shooting at the rim. Johnson isn’t given credit for his rim-protection because he doesn’t record very many blocks, but consider this: Tim Duncan (47.6 percent) and Dwight Howard (48.1 percent) posted very similar opponent field-goal percentage at the rim figures. Not bad company for Johnson, who only stands at 6-foot-9.

Statistical Profile

0000

 

Division of labor

 

In all likelihood, Johnson will be the starter and Patterson will back him up, though it’s a fair bet that both will share the court at some points as well. Although Patterson helps open up room for Valanciunas to operate in the post, Johnson provides a much needed presence in help defense scenarios. Valanciunas has developed to the point where he’s comfortable in staying at home to guard the rim but someone needs to play the role of active helper.

The luxury of having a platoon situation, however, is the ability to mix-and-match. If the Raptors are facing a rim-protector like Serge Ibaka, Patterson should play to open the interior. If instead, the Raptors are up against a pair of creaky, immobile defenders — like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani for example — Johnson might be a better choice. Head coach Dwane Casey has options.

Best case scenario

 

Patterson — The career-high three-point percentage from last season wasn’t a fluke and he continues to excel in a bench capacity, garnering Sixth Man of the Year votes. A full training camp pays off and Patterson adapts to Casey’s defensive schemes. More time practising offense leads to more plays for Patterson than simple pick-and-pops. He duplicates Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris’ performance from last season.

Johnson — Miraculously, Johnson doesn’t twist his ankle every single game. He hits his prime at age 28 and plays a pseudo Tyson Chandler circa. 2011-12, shutting down pick-and-rolls while moving opposing defenders like pawns with his cutting. With Patterson playing so well, Casey doesn’t feel the need to overplay Johnson, and is therefore healthy for the playoffs.

Worst case scenario

 

Patterson — Fun fact: Patterson has only ever managed to play a full season once, and that was in a lockout shortened season. Injuries hit Patterson and he misses 20 games. His hot shooting from last year also turns out to be a mirage. He’s back to being just a pick-and-popping mid-range player, more Brandon Bass than Channing Frye.

Johnson — Real talk: Amir twists his ankles until his legs are nothing but twizzlers. He only misses five games, but plays hurt for much of the season. Patterson’s injury and the hole at back up center forces Amir to top 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career. As a result, he’s worn out by the time the playoffs come around and the Raptors have one less body to throw at an overrated sixth-seeded Charlotte Hornets.

Realistic projection

 

Patterson — Misses 10 games due to minor injuries. Produces a similar rate to last season, but three-point percentage dips. 10 points, 5 rebounds per game on 38 percent shooting from deep.

Johnson — Misses 10 games due to minor injuries. Plays fewer minutes per game due to Patterson and Valanciunas’ increase in roles. 10 points, 7 rebounds on 58 percent shooting overall. Attempts 100 threes, mostly from the corners.

Despite a difficult playoff run leaving a bitter taste in some Raptors’ fans mouths (that steal, though), Terrence Ross’ sophomore campaign represented an important leap for the 23 year old. Statistical gains across the board were the important, yet silent markers, but it was the more trivial ones that earned him a place in Raptor lore.

What remains to be seen, though, is how we will remember Terrence Ross. Will it be as a 51-point scoring/slam dunk contest winning/Kenneth Faried life-ending highlight factory? Or as a key cog in a young, talented Raptors team that went to heights the franchise has never seen before?

It’s an interesting question, and the one that ultimately divides Raptor fans’ discussions of Ross: yes, he’s only 23, but is what we’ve seen – perhaps a more polished, less mistake-prone version – what we’ve got? Or is there still a switch to flip that will allow T-Dot Flight 31 (and the Raptors, by extension) to soar to even greater heights?

Everyone’s got an opinion – but this year, we’re bound to get some answers. On a team that is largely relying on internal improvement to jump to the next level, perhaps nobody on the roster this season outside of Jonas Valanciunas has more to offer in that respect than Ross.

2013-14 Stats Recap:

Regular Season:

  • PPG: Increased to 10.9 points (from 6.4)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Increased to .423 (from .407)
  • 3 Point Percentage: Increased to .395 (from .332)
  • Rebounds Per Game: Increased to 3.1 (from 2.0)
  • Assists Per Game: Increased to 1.0 (from 0.7)
  • Minutes: Increased to 26.7 (from 17)

Post Season:

  • Averaged 5/2/0.3 in 22.6 minutes per game, on .298 shooting and .167 (yuck) 3 point shooting.

Highlights:

  • THE GAME
  • THE DUNK
  • THE STEAL
  • THE OTHER DUNKS

Strengths:

At the moment, Ross’ strengths lie mostly in his offensive game – specifically, his 3 point shooting, which squeaked up near 40% last season, a solid mark for a “3 and D” swingman. Ross benefited greatly from Kyle Lowry and DeMar’s drive-heavy offence by making sagging defences pay near the line at a clip much closer to what fans expected following his selection than we saw in his rookie season. His place on opposing teams’ scouting reports likely still consists of three point shooting and dunking, but role players in the NBA don’t need to be all things to all people, and the fact that Ross was a consistent offensive performer – as opposed to his rookie season, where his minutes fluctuated due to a logjam at the position, inconsistent play and some odd substitution patterns – meant a great deal to a Raptors squad that saw its offensive identity evolve to finding open shooters on the perimeter.

Ross hasn’t quite evolved defensively the way many fans would like yet, and still has trouble with larger wings – as evidenced by his supreme difficulties with Joe Johnson in the playoffs – but his efforts on that end were markedly better than his rookie year, particularly in team situations. It was nice to not see him being blown by effortlessly every other game like we did the year before, and being able to be a net-zero on that side of the ball was enough to make him a significant positive factor on a nightly basis.


Areas to improve:

Being passible on the defensive side of the floor, though, is not what the Super Saiyan version of this Raptors squad needs Ross to be. As constructed last year, the team had significant difficulties with larger wing players, and the best possible outcome for the Raps is for Ross to evolve enough to fill the void. The team signed James Johnson in the offseason to provide some support – a player who should be an offensive upgrade from the Salmons/Fields combo we saw last year – but will still be significantly less dynamic on the offensive end than Ross. If Ross can play well enough defensively to stay on the court for real starters’ minutes (30+ per game), and if he can evolve to a point where he’s a net positive on D, the sky’s not only the limit for him, but the Raptors, too.

Offensively, Ross has carved out a nice niche for himself as a 3-point bomber, but it’s always aggravating to see him refuse to drive the ball given his athleticism (he shot 82 free throws last season, as many as Draymond Green and one less than Omri Casspi). Mixing things up on the offensive end could not only lead to more efficiency, but also a more difficult check for opponents, allowing Ross to more easily evolve into a legitimate third scoring option behind Lowry and DeRozan.

2014-15 Outlook:

Look, here’s the thing: Terrence Ross is really young, and for someone who made such strides from year one to two, it’s hard to not see him improving again this year. It may remain to be seen whether we will remember him most for his on-court play or for his YouTube reel, but any player with a 51-point game has already established himself as more than just a replacement-level wing.

Regardless, though, for this team to succeed, Ross only has to be the fourth or fifth best starter on the Raptors any given night. It may be a hedge, but in lieu of any specific individual predictions, I’ll say that the amount of minutes Ross earns this season – and those will come based on his man-to-man defensive prowess – will serve as a strong barometer for the team’s improvement as a whole. If he is who we saw last season, this team’s ceiling, while still high, is considerably lower than if he’s able to take the final step towards becoming a complete two-way player. If he can, though, who knows?

(And I mean, if he can’t, there’s still the 51-point game, Slam Dunk Contest, and Faried-ening. Man, I can’t wait for the season.)

Over at Grantland, features writer Jonathan Abrams charted Kyle Lowry’s career arc.

Writing is really hard. I know this because I struggle with it on a daily basis. I have the occasional moment where I succeed in not sounding like a moron. Those are few and far between. I’m here because I’m a basic content clown.

Jonathan Abrams of Grantland, on the other hand, is not a content clown. He’s one of the best sportswriters around. On Tuesday, Grantland published a piece Abrams wrote on Lowry. Here’s an excerpt, but take my advice and read the entire piece. It’s well worth your time.

After the game, Lowry sat in the locker room, sullen and solemn as minutes ticked by. He called for his 2-year-old son Karter. “The loss stung and the shot, the play stung,” Lowry said. “But I didn’t ask for nothing but my son. I know he doesn’t care about what happens. He don’t care about nothing but his daddy.” Lowry scooped up his son and finally made his way to the postgame media conference. He crossed paths again with Pierce. “You’re an animal, dog,” Pierce said. “You’re an animal.”

That stubborn confidence was the fuel that gave Lowry steam on the court, and also the hindrance that threatened him from reaching his potential. And he knows it. “You do this interview with me when I’m younger, you wouldn’t even want to be around me,” Lowry said, recalling the way he’s felt on teams that haven’t given him the trust and responsibility that Toronto has, back to the days when he came off the bench for his AAU team. “It makes you sad. It makes you say, Damn, what else can happen? What do I have to do to prove that I can be somebody? That I can actually play basketball? That I’m actually better than this person or I can actually help a team win? No matter what level it is.”

Reflecting on the rise of the Toronto Raptors in 2013-14 perhaps the player who best paralleled the record breaking season is DeMar DeRozan.

Having spent his entire NBA career as a Raptor, DeRozan suffered through four-losing seasons, the loss of their franchise player (Bosh) and annual trips to the lottery.  From the onset, what stood out was DeRozan’s dedication to improvement.  Late night trips to the practice gym and a laser focus in the off-season resulted in his constant progress.  In addition, his relationship with co-captain: Kyle Lowry on and off the court seemed to catapult the teams’ cohesiveness which resulted in a myriad of records set by the franchise and DeRozan personally.

2013-14 Accomplishments:

Regular Season:

  • Career best point per game average: 22.7PPG,* up 4.6PPG
  • PPG – Ranked 9th in NBA
  • Career best free throw attempts per game: 8 FTAPG, *+2.8 attempts
  • FTA – Ranked 7th in NBA
  • Increased assists per game from *2.4 to 4.0
  • Career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, 3-Pt shots made and minutes played

*over previous season

Post Season:

  • First appearance in playoffs
  • Free throw attempts: Ranked 1st – 11.3PG (Howard 2nd: 10.7)
  • Free throws made: Ranked 1st – 10.1PG (Westbrook 2nd: 7.6)
  • Points per game: Ranked 7th – 23.9PPG
  • Led team in scoring  – most points in 4 of 7 games
  • Led team with most free throw attempts in 6 of 7 games

Personal:

  • First selection to NBA All Star Team
  • First time selection to Team USA who won Gold Medal at FIBA World Championship

Strengths:

While the natural assumption would be to attribute DeRozan’s offensive improvements to increased touches following Rudy Gay’s departure, it simply isn’t the case. In fact, his field goal attempts decreased while his scoring and free throw attempts went up. This progression had more to do with added bench depth, better ball movement and DeRozan’s commitment to playing aggressive.

Team depth is important on every squad due to injuries, and in this regard DeRozan is the Raptors’ Iron Man. In 5-seasons he has only missed 11-games (five in his rookie season). Considering the effect an injury to super stars like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Paul George can have on their respective team his durability cannot be over looked.

Another key factor is the chemistry between DeRozan and Lowry. While Lowry is demonstrative, DeRozan leads by quiet example which results in them guiding arguably the most unified group in the NBA.  A look at the top backcourts in the Association shows this tandem ranking first or second in all key categories.

Back Court Points Assists Rebounds
DeRozan/Lowry 40.6 11.7 9.0
Curry/Thompson 42.4 10.7 7.4
Dragic/Bledsoe 37.7 11.4 7.9
Wall/Beal 36.4 12.1 7.8

 

Areas to improve:

DeRozan is a gym rat who is constantly working to expand and enhance his game. Each October it is a veritable certainty he’ll return to camp with a new tool in his repertoire. Given the advancements he made on his offense this past season its likely this summer was spent with greater emphasis on the intangibles he can add to help improve team performance. Specifically ball handling and passing are areas requiring upgrades and as we learned in the playoffs will be key in late game situations.

At the season ending press conference there were reports Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson were scheduled to spend time with big man Hakeem Olajuwon to work on their post game. The pleasant surprise was learning DeRozan was included in this group.

Now that DeRozan has tasted the post season he knows defense is the major area of his game where the greatest strides can be made. Given DeRozan is a natural athlete it’s puzzling he hasn’t witnessed similar growth on the defensive end. Perhaps this is partially due to the offensive load he’s carried or the lure to improve the sexier offensive skills.  Continuity is important for defensive schemes, so as the core group enters their third year together the results should mirror their comfort with the system.

2014-15 Outlook:

Though DeRozan saw little playing time on the US team, when he was on court his passes were crisp and his decision making was quick and decisive. Look for DeRozan to take the lessons learned from being on a winning squad and pass them on to the Raptor youth.

To that end, having reached the upper echelon this past season DeRozan now finds himself at the next stage of his career. His growth will now be measured on maintaining his 2013-14 output, improving defensively and through his ability to improve those around him.

After a magical season don’t expect DeRozan to be satisfied with simply getting to the playoffs or making an All Star Team. He may be the quiet yin to Lowry’s loud yang, but both players have the same goal: taking the Raptors deeper in the playoffs!

 

I screwed up the audio recording of the podcast and lost everything.  All my fault, no other way to put it. Given that there’s no audio, let me just tell you what we discussed which some of you prefer anyway.

I had Will and Andrew on and Will basically ripped Greg Stiemsma for being a goon.  People who don’t bring basketball value and rely solely on “toughness” to keep their place in the league have no place in Will’s heart.   Somehow though, Tyler Hansbrough remains a certifiably decent human being in our books and brings enough on-court value to look past his rather unsavory on-court behaviour.   Andrew mumbled though this segment and when I quizzed him about Stiemsma being a guy you hate playing against, but want on your team, he gave an example of Tony Allen who is the type of guy I was referring to.  Big difference there.

I’d rather have had Andray Blatche than Stiemsma, but the point was made that Stiemsma could just be a training camp body, whereas Blatche would have to be a year-long signing, most likely.

We also discussed the Hawks race scandal and decided that the over/under of current racist NBA owners stands at 1.5, but if you include scouts and everyone else, probably a lot higher.  Danny Ferry’s “more African in him” was classified as a racist statement but didn’t necessarily make him a racist, just a really odd user of stereotypes.  Basically, not a fireable offense, but definitely punishable.

We discussed DeRozan’s placement in SI’s list and his reaction of being disrespected, and decided that guys like Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Gordon Hayward, and Chandler Parsons had no business being ahead of DeRozan, but at the end of the day it’s just a list put out by SI to keep the summertime #content flowing.

Part 2 started with the roundtable question of who should start: Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson.  It was unanimous that Johnson should start for reasons such as more defensive cover for Jonas Valanciunas, and Patterson needing more shots to be effective, which the bench role affords him.  Will also pointed out that there’s only a two-year age difference between them and that Patterson can’t really be thought of as an eventual replacement for Johnson.  I added a point that Johnson played a career-high in minutes last year despite carrying injuries, and that perhaps this year we could use Patterson more so Johnson is fresher for the playoffs.

The other roundtable question was whether Dwane Casey was a weakness, as some had suggested.  I offered that if he had a PER rating it would be 15, at which point we played an adhoc game of rating Eastern Conference coaches, and deciding whether you’d want them over Casey.  The results were as follows:

  • Atlanta Hawks, Mike Budenholzer: He showed enough quality and creativity with the Hawks offense that we termed him as an up-and-coming coach that we’d pick over Casey
    Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens: No
  • Brooklyn Nets, Lionel Hollins: No, he’s stuck in the 80s
  • Charlotte Hornets, Steve Clifford: Showed a few flashes, but Casey’s ahead of him
  • Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau: We’d take him over Casey, he kills his players but is a tremendous coach
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, David Blatt: No, doubt he’ll survive his first year
  • Detroit Pistons, Stan Van Gundy: Emotional coach that we’d all love to see on the Raptors – sorry, Dwane
  • Indiana Pacers, Frank Vogel: Showed a lack of creativity running the offense in the playoffs, and we all feel he’s a bit over-rated, what with the whole “came from the film room” background
  • Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra: No, we’ll see how he does without LBJ
  • Milwaukee Bucks, Jason Kidd: Haha, no.
  • New York Knicks, Derek Fisher: Only if Phil Jackson comes with him
  • Orlando Magic, Jacque Vaughn: Not sure why he’s still an NBA coach, or why was ever given the job
  • Philadelphia 76ers, Brett Brown: Don’t matter if he came from the Spurs system, he’s out
  • Washington Wizards: Randy Wittman: Even the Wizards fans wouldn’t pick him ahead of Casey

There you go, three Eastern Conference coaches ahead of Casey: Mike Budenholzer, Tom Thibodeau, and Stan Van Gundy.

Sorry again for deleting that audio file by accident, see you next week.

Part two of our roundtable, where Blake, Zarar and Will get together to create that honest-to-goodness content.

All the memes are true. The struggle is real for these here Raptors bloggers. We turned to the roundtable format on Friday in part one, where we discussed Amir vs. Patterson, most impactful offseason transaction and the battle at eighth-man. I guess this is part two (of my confessions, just when I thought I said…)

1. Biggest weakness?

 

1297408963484_ORIGINAL

Zarar: There’s not much over at center after Valanciunas. Bebe is too raw, very unproven, and has not been well-reviewed. It’s difficult to see him being a defensive anchor for the second-unit, and he has no discernible offensive talent beyond 1-foot. On the positive side, we haven’t gotten any worse, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

Blake: I don’t think the team has a roster hole so much as a tactical weakness at certain times. While the offense was effective overall last year , the team’s most heavily used fivesome has a bit of a floor spacing issue (see question two). With DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas all on the floor together, Lowry and Ross are the only 3-point threats. That lineup managed an O-Rating of 106.7 and shot an unlikely 40 percent from long range last season, but from an Xs and Os standpoint, it’s a tough group to scheme for.

Said differently, “NO WEAKNESS SUCKA.”

Will: The biggest weakness on the Raptors is that they don’t necessarily excel on either end of the floor. The Raptors are a fringe top-10 team on both offense and defense, but are prone to bouts of ineffectiveness. That owes in part to their relatively blasse talent level. Not to spark the “transcendental talent” debate (no, really, don’t start that again), but the Raptors are a well-balanced team with many good talents, though none great. Put it another way, I’m nit-picking, and the team is fine.

 

2. Most likely to breakout — Jonas Valanciunas or Terrence Ross?

 

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Zarar: Jonas Valanciunas, because he doesn’t let one bad game affect a stretch of games. Ross’s bounce-back time from having poor games seems much higher, and since shooting is all about confidence, Ross is more likely to stammer his way through the season than Valanciunas, who is also buoyed by his showing at FIBA.6. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

Blake: Do we want to play linguistic gymnastics? Valanciunas is now a known commodity and Ross is perhaps further from his ultimate ceiling, so Ross has the largest capacity to grow and “breakout.” He’s also probably a more important piece, given the team’s general strength at other positions and need for Ross to develop into, at worst, a more reliable 3-and-D guy. That said, Valanciunas has a higher overall ceiling and has a clear path to improvement with more touches and defensive experience. I’d say Valanciunas’ numbers take a bigger jump, but Ross’ development is more appreciable.

Will: The biggest jump for Valanciunas to make is on the defensive end, and that is a steady process that comes with age, so I’ll go with Terrence Ross. Small forward was a position of weakness for the Raptors last season, owing in-part to Ross’ inconsistency and inflexibility. Ross made good on his promise as a three-point shooter last season, so the next step is for him to start driving. Here’s a fun fact: Andrea Bargnani averaged more drives per game than Ross did last season. Bargs, with his stupid pump fake + drive + travel/death/missed layups drove more often than Ross. If Ross can actually start attacking the basket, he’ll become much more dangerous on offense.

3. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

 

Lowry brushes shoulder off

Zarar: 46 wins - Some of the extremely shitty teams in the East mask the overall competitiveness of the conference, and I’m thinking the chemistry the Raptors have offsets some of that, so I’m going to pick a win total shade under last season.  They win a round – I’m calling a defeat of the Heat in five games.

Blake: Let’s keep last season’s optimism rolling: while the Bulls and Cavaliers are a step above the Raptors, they manage to take care of the dregs of the conference and maintain their 2013-14 chemistry. They take a minor step back with a 47-35 record but still win the Atlantic and, most importantly for the franchise, they win their second playoff series ever before bowing out to the Bulls in round two.

Will: Let’s go with 50 wins. Excitement is high in Raptorsland, and there’s good reason for that. But it’s also important to not lose perspective. Yes, the team did go 42-22 after the Rudy Gay trade, but they were also the league’s best fourth quarter team, which was likely due in large part to luck. Last year’s squad also dodged major injuries to their starting staff, and I have my concerns about Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson’s health. Having said all that, I still think they snag the third seed and beat the Hornets in a hard-fought first-round playoff series. Then, they push the Bulls to six games before bowing out.

Zarar, Blake and Will get together to create a little content for the weekend.

I’ll level with you here, precious readers. Things are dire here in Raptors Republic. We’re hurting for content. There’s not much going on in Raptorsland at the moment. The two weeks that separate now and the start of preseason is a haunting abyss. We’ll have individual player assessments, win projections and a whole lot more in store, but in the meantime, we turn to the generic roundtable gimmick to fill these unspent columns. Cheers.

1. Most impactful transaction of the offseason?

lowry-kyle

Zarar: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. It set the tone for the rest of the summer and was the first domino to fall in the Raptors bringing the rest of the group back. If he would have gone, the questions that would’ve been asked were going to be about what DeMar DeRozan would do when his contract is up. Instead, we’re talking about winning and moving forward.

Blake: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. Every other move was made at the margin, and while they improved the team and Lowry technically didn’t (since he was here last year), his loss would have been far greater than any gains the team could have made elsewhere. Not only is Lowry a great talent on both ends of the floor, his return also keeps the team chemistry and identity in tact, for as much as that’s worth. He’s the team’s best player and the franchise’s branding strategy’s avatar. This was paramount.

William: The correct answer is Lowry, but just to buck the trend, I’ll tab the re-signing of Patrick Patterson. I’ll admit, after seeing shooters like Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon inking deals at exorbitant prices, I thought a young floor-stretching big like Patterson would be priced out of the Raptor’s budget. Instead, Parrerson is back in-tow at a reasonable price. He gives the Raptors a different look at the four, and helps balance offense in the second unit. To top it off, he’s in his prime. A tidy bit of business for Masai Ujiri,

2. Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson? Who would you start at power forward?

patrick-patterson-amir-johnson-nba-playoffs-brooklyn-nets-toronto-raptors-850x560

Zarar: Amir Johnson. Patterson’s energy is better suited off the bench, and I’m a fan of playing Johnson and Valanciunas together. I find that Valanciunas isn’t mature enough as a defender to be played consistently as the lone big in a small-ball rotation, at least not yet. There’s also a better chance of good hi-lo play between the two, then it would be between Patterson and Valanciunas.

Blake: Johnson is superior defensively and in the pick-and-roll, but Patterson’s floor spacing is a major asset to the entire offense. In terms of the starter, I’d pick Johnson in a vacuum as he’s the better player, but Patterson is probably a better fit with the starters on offense (and Johnson can play some limited reserve five, where the team’s a bit thin). That said, Johnson and Valanciunas have a nice chemistry and Johnson is nice to have for experience alongside Valanciunas, and there’s no clear reason to break up the band. Really, though, last year they averaged 28.8 (Johnson) and 23.3 (Patterson) minutes; as long as those numbers are close to even, this matters little and could be match-up dependent.

William: There’s really no wrong answer. The numbers point to Patterson as the superior option offensively, but Johnson is far better defensively. For the sake of not rocking the boat, Casey should keep Amir in the starting lineup, but as they did last season, a mid-first quarter substitution should break up the pairing of Valanciunas and Johnson. Match-ups should also play a factor. Granting the bulk of the minutes to Patterson against a rim-protector like Roy Hibbert is a must to help open space for drives.

3. More impactful bench performer — James Johnson or Lou Williams?

LouWilliams-MD_original

Zarar: My vote goes to James Johnson because it’s easier to make a defensive difference than an offensive one, and he doesn’t have to battle back from injury like Williams does. Johnson actually has a role to fill in the rotation, whereas I’m still struggling to see where Lou Williams fits into the picture, but I’m all for a pleasant surprise.

Blake: Bruh…BRUH. Bruno Caboclo, next question.

Seriously, I’d figure Johnson will have the bigger impact, though it may only manifest itself in certain match-ups. I used to love Williams, but he’s here for depth and as a flier, and his path to playing time is very crowded with Lowry, Vasquez and DeRozan dominating minutes in the backcourt. Johnson fills a need as a three who can body up bigger small forwards, and as frustrating as he’ll surely be – he hasn’t ironed his wrinkles out much since he left – there will be games where he’s an appreciable asset.

William: I’m hoping for big things from Terrence Ross this season, so I think James Johnson will see limited playing time (no more than 20 per game). Williams should reduce the amount of minutes DeRozan has to shoulder, which isn’t to be discounted if the Raptors have eyes for a post-season run. Williams is a good ball-handler and has a decent track record of thriving in two-point guard lineups. That makes him an ideal backcourt partner for Greivis Vasquez, though that also introduces concerns defensively.

Look for Part Two to drop tomorrow morning. In the meantime, drop us a line about our shiny new page design.

Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit.

Pertaining to the Toronto Raptors

Q: My question is: What are some funny/interesting stories you can share from behind the scenes that fans probably wouldn’t have heard about?

A: One time we are traveling from some city and one time the flight was really bumpy. And Chuck Hayes was throwing up all over the plane. And we were like what the?

Q: Aside from yourself, who is your favorite raptor? And why is it Kyle Lowry?

A: DeMar DeRozan!

Q: My question is, which player would you say is the wildest in the locker room?

A: Myself!

Q: What’s it like playing with Kyle? And, on the subject of towel waving and bench cheering, who is the biggest cheerleader on the bench?

A: It’s my goal as a player, but i’m all about the team. So, I can give up the things that I want because I love winning. And Kyle is a great mentor for me and has done a great job helping me out.

Q: Favourite pre-game meal? Post-game meal? Bonus question: Which Raptor has the deadliest farts?

A: Amir Johnson (presumably for both)

Personal Questions

Q: Hey Greivis what is your favorite pre game meal/food?

A: I love penne pasta with white sauce and grilled shrimp. With some red peppers

Q: Where do you get your hair cut?

A: Finch and Milvan. Dominican guy, Alberto!

Q: Which international NBA players are you close/friends with?

A: Marc Gasol (they were teammates in Memphis)

Q: What is your relationship with Masai Uriji like and how well did you know him before the Raptors? (Basketball without Borders)

A: We have a great relationship, he’s more than a GM, he’s a mentor for me.

Miscellaneous

Q: Hey Greivis, do you think they should retire Vince Carter’s jersey in Toronto?

A: I think eventually they should!

Q: How is Drake in person?

A: He’s a great guy, very humble. Very business oriented and knows how to handle himself

Q: Who has more swag on-court you or Swaggy P?

A: Different kind of swagger (yeah but who’s dating Iggy tho?)

Q: Favorite player growing up?

A: Jason Kidd

This is your chance to ask Greivis Vasquez a question on the interwebs.

Exciting news! Remember when Terrence Ross did his Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session earlier last season? Well, Vasquez will be following in his footsteps and doing the same tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The deal with AMAs is that it’s hosted on Reddit, which means that the top voted comments will rise to the top, and are therefore more likely to be answered. It’s imperative to submit your answers early so they have more time to accumulate “upvotes”.

A recap of his answers will be posted tomorrow, although chances are good that commentor/Vasquez aficionado “asifyouknow” will plaster his answers all over the site anyway.

 

Tim Chisholm (@timpchisholm) checks in for duty and gives his take on FIBA, the Raptors off-season moves, Adam Silver, and hypothetical scenarios. We hear from DeMar DeRozan fresh off his World Championship win, and round it all out with NBA talk, plus so much more. A peek:

Part 1

  • Jonas Valanciunas exceeds expectations
  • Tim’s view on key changes to his approach from last year to FIBA
  • DeMar DeRozan impressive in limited minutes
  • Spain/USA – The matchup that never was
  • Who is the Raptors best player?
  • Hearing from DeRozan on what he takes from FIBA into the Raptors season
  • Dwane Casey hires, sort of, Coach K

Part 2

  • Amir Johnson’s contract situation
  • Comparing Johnson to the new age power forwards
  • Lou Williams’ X-Factorish role is tough to define
  • What jersey is Tim buying this year?
  • Will James Johnson turn the page and finally accept his role
  • Money to be made playing defense

Part 3

  • Andrew Wiggins – playing time vs winning team
  • How many more racist NBA owners?
  • Adam Silver’s heavy-handedness
  • Chicago Bulls – top team or a self-destruction job waiting to happen
  • Is an 80% Derrick Rose any good?
  • Rose for Rondo – would Bulls pull the trigger?

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 (52:42, 50 MB). Or just listen below:

What do you give the man who’s given everything to the city of Toronto?

Let’s hop in the time machine real quick.

It’s the summer of 2010.  All eyes were fixed on unrestricted free agent Chris Bosh. Hopes were high that he would re-sign in Toronto, but sources around the league whispered the possibility of a Big Three — Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — forming in Miami. The 2009-10 season didn’t exactly end on a positive note, as broken nose kept Bosh out of the lineup for what turned out to be a failed playoff push. But still, hopes were high.

Lost amiss all the fretting about Bosh, another Raptors power forward was also on the market, that player being Amir Johnson. At the time, Johnson was a third-big with promise but he averaged just six points and five rebounds per game. He was a darling of the analytical community having posted excellent plus-minus and advanced statistic figures, but 2010 was a slightly darker time, and “six points and five rebounds” was a damning sentence against Johnson’s case.

Therefore, it was no surprise to see the public outrage over his five-year, $30+ million extension.

“BC did it again. Over Paid a half trick pony. He is paying Amir almost 7 million a year. Wow, just wow. This is like Jose and …. all over again.” – Raptor4Ever

“This is a horrible contract …34m for Amir…i like the kid buy they overpaid…who in their right mind was going to give Amir anything close to that…so now we just added one more cap eating contract for a bench player…another good Colangelo…hope your fired soon” – Dennis

“This is the reason the raptors suck. . . Because they overpay role players. . .” – M .J

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In looking back, Amir’s extension was one of former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo’s better moves. Johnson continued to develop and easily shed the label of being “just a bench player.” Four years into the deal, Johnson has produced 23.2 win shares, tops among all Raptors players over that time. Based on his on-court performance, the deal was nothing short of a steal — that’s to say nothing of his tremendous commitment to the Greater Toronto Area, either.

But the free ride is soon coming to an end. Johnson only has one year left on his contract for 2014-15 — a club option for $7 million — which puts current Raptors GM Masai Ujiri in a bind. What’s a fair price for a soldier like Johnson?

Fair is the operative word. While contract negotiations between teams and players are oftentimes a zero-sum game, there’s something to be said for loyalty and team culture. No other player — other than perhaps DeMar DeRozan — has embodied the best of what the Raptors organization represents. That should play a factor in negotiations. It has to be a good deal for both the Raptors and Johnson.

At this point, there shouldn’t be a need to review what a player like Johnson brings to the team. He’s the team’s defensive anchor, the rare power forward who excels on defense. He’s not a Roy Hibbert-type rim-protector, and he isn’t quite a flying pterodactyl like Anthony Davis — Johnson is simply smart and always in the right spot to provide help or challenge shots. In a season wherein he battled various ailments, Johnson still managed to post the sixth-highest defensive real plus-minus among power forwards who played over 20 minutes per game.

His contributions on offense aren’t to be overlooked either. I’d like to think that we’re out of the dark woods of yesteryear, where “six points, five rebounds” was the definitive statement on Johnson’s performance, because almost every “advanced” metric paint a rosy picture for Johnson. True-shooting percentage? Amir’s career figure is .603. Finishing in the pick-and-roll? Johnson consistently scores well in synergy data. Even the little things like setting screens or playing the two-man game with DeRozan — Johnson is much more than his per-game averages.

Amir Johnson;  Blake Griffin

But even having said all that, Johnson isn’t an All-Star. He not on the same level as Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge — not even close. He’s at the bottom of the second tier, that which is populated by the likes of Serge Ibaka (who is one step removed from the top tier), Paul Millsap, David West, Greg Monroe, David Lee and Nene. He can neither anchor an offense, nor a defense, on his own.

His age and propensity for injuries is also something to consider. Johnson was the last player ever to go straight from high school to the pros, meaning he’s old for a 27-year-old. If his loses his quickness and mobility due to age, it’s reasonable to question whether or not he can remain as effective on defense. Johnson also runs into more than his fair share of minor injuries — at no time were Johnson’s ankles not sprained last year — though he selflessly plays though them. Can he still endure the pain as his career trails into his thirties?

So the question remains — how much should Ujiri pay to retain Johnson?

The most that Johnson could sign for right now is a three-year extension worth just over $24 million. Such a deal would carry through to age-30 for Johnson, which would effectively serve as his last chance at a big paycheck.

Personally, I would be entirely on board with paying Johnson between seven and eight million per year for the next three seasons. Even if his game ages and he never manages to play more than 30 minutes per game (something he hasn’t yet done for an entire season), Johnson’s skills shouldn’t entirely evaporate with age — he’s not Amar’e Stoudemire, for example.

But will $24 million be enough to rope in Johnson? Half the league is set to have significant cap space next season, and the possibility exists for a team offering Johnson an eight figure per-year deal to buyout the remainder of his prime. Jordan Hill, a worse player on all accounts, received a two-year, $18 million deal this summer.

There’s the Raptors’ cap flexibility to consider as well. Locking up Johnson long term reduces their wiggle room for 2016-17 — the prodigal summer of Kevin Durant’s free-agency — which also happens to be when Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are slated for extensions. That’s also the year DeRozan can opt out of his $10 million deal — and he will absolutely opt out in hopes for a raise — meaning the Raptors’ $18 million in committed salary for 2016-17 is more restrictive than it would appear on the surface.

And finally, there’s a new CBA looming on the horizon. With the NBA set to sign a new TV rights deal worth nearly double their current figure, the cap will almost surely skyrocket. Salary figures are relative so it’s hard to gauge value without knowledge of the financial minutiae of the new CBA.

So what say you? What’s a fair deal for Amir Johnson and the Toronto Raptors?

USA blew it open in the third to advance into Finals.

Lithuania vs. USA – Game Recap

Well, it was at least close for the first half. Foul trouble and a lack of energy bogged down the Americans to begin the game — a trend that’s afflicted them throughout this tournament. Lithuania were sure to be the aggressors, but wonky officiating also played a factor. Lithuania found themselves in the bonus just three minutes into the first quarter.

Lithuanian guard play was strong, led by the continuing upstart play of fill-in point guard Adas Jusekevicius, who pushed the tempo early in transition to help land the Americans in foul trouble. Late in the first quarter, Lithuanian head coach Jonas Kuzlauskas made a surprising move to bring little-used wing Mindaugas Kuzminskas into the game. The move bolstered Lithuania’s athleticism on the wing and Kuzminskas even flashed some surprisingly decent ball-handling skills.

Team USA, on the other hand, looked bothered by the physicality and the officiating. Their offensive execution wasn’t great, but having a Anthony Davis at center single-handedly neutralized Lithuania’s interior weapons. This included Jonas Valanciunas, who scored most of his points on free-throws. Davis’ steady presence at the rim allowed USA’s guards to be more daring and aggressive on defense. They held Lithuania to 1-of-8 shooting from deep in the first half, and forced 12 turnovers.

But still, the score at half was 43-35, a decent result for Lithuania. They were within striking distance and the Americans didn’t look their best.

And then the third quarter happened.

A layup from James Harden. A triple by Stephen Curry. A layup from Anthony Davis. Another three-pointer, this time by Harden. In the span of under two minutes, the Americans went on a 10-0 run to start the third. And with that, the game was effectively over. Harden finished with 16 points in the quarter. Team USA finished with 33. Lithuania scored just 14.

With the win, the USA will face either Serbia or France in the Finals. Godspeed to either of those two teams. The American team is a flying buzzsaw.

Lithuania vs. USA – Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan’s assessment

DeRozan’s boxscore: 0 points (o-for-1 FG), one assist in eight minutes

Valanciunas’ boxscore: 15 points (2-for-5 FG, 11-for-13 FT), seven rebounds in 27 minutes

There’s nothing to say about DeRozan. He barely played.

Valanciunas, on the other hand, struggled when it mattered. Davis’ length completely shut him down, especially in the post. Lithuania tried to prioritize Valanciunas on the block in an effort to goad Davis into foul trouble and while that strategy worked to some extent — Davis ultimately fouled out during the second half — Valanciunas also got thoroughly dominated. A sidelines pick-and-roll resulted in a block. A straight-on pick-and-roll drew a foul. A post-up resulted in another block for Davis.

That’s to be expected for Valanciunas. He didn’t have the size advantage, and quite frankly, Davis looks like the second-coming of Kevin Garnett.

The more important story was the feud between Valanciunas and Cousins. The two found themselves embroiled in a second quarter dispute. Boogie was overtly physical, but Jonas didn’t back down. The back-and-forth went on for most of the quarter and ultimately culminated with Cousins almost taking Valanciunas’ head off after Jonas threw an elbow to his throat.

The incident earned Boogie a tech, but that didn’t end the dispute. Bad blood continued in the second half, with Boogie outright hounding Valanciunas on every opportunity he had. After he fouled out, Boogie was seen mocking Valanciunas by pretending to throw elbows while talking to Harden. It didn’t even stop there, with a small skirmish breaking out after the game had ended.

Look, throwing an elbow to the throat is clearly dangerous and it shouldn’t be done, but lobbing ‘bows is a practice as old as the game of basketball. It happens. Valanciunas does make a habit of getting his arms high. But while Valanciunas moved on and played the rest of the game unfazed by the entire ordeal, Boogie’s frustration for the remainder of the game was apparent, and it hampered what was otherwise an excellent performance.

And of course, the incident brought out the worst of the internet.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.18.03 PM

Who’s scared of the Boogieman?

Late in the second quarter of the FIBA World Cup semifinal between the USA and Lithuania, things got heated while battling for a rebound. Jonas Valanciunas threw a bow at DeMarcus Cousins’ throat (to be fair, Boogie was trying to punk Jonas for much of the quarter). In response, Boogie did the following:

Score one for Jonas, though. It was Cousins who got himself whistled for a tech.

A classy move from a classy GM.

As you may have heard, the Atlanta Hawks are wrapped up in a bit of a controversy, stemming mostly from racist sentiments asserted by a two members of their front office.

First, an email sent by part-owner Bruce Levenson, containing various racially insensitive comments regarding African-Americans, was released. He has since agreed to sell the team.

A day later, a report surfaced concerning Hawks GM Danny Ferry, in which he said the following to describe then free-agent Luol Deng (now a member of the Miami Heat).

He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him, and I don’t say that in a bad way other than he’s a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.

Ferry and the Hawks have since apologized for the incident, and he has been reprimanded, though he will remain the GM of the Hawks for the time being.

On Thursday, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri — who is of African descent — responded to Ferry’s comments in a story for the Globe and Mail. Follow the link to read his words in its entirety. Listed below is an excerpt.

When I first heard it, I wondered, “What does that mean?” I am an African from Nigeria. Luol is an African from South Sudan. We’ve worked together across our home continent, holding our own basketball camps, as well as in those organized by the NBA.

I remember an instance, in Kigali, Rwanda, when Luol honoured a commitment to show up despite being seriously ill. He didn’t want to disappoint any of the children who were expecting him.

Is that “a little bit of African”?

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

DeMar DeRozan isn’t the only one working on his dribbling this summer.

H/T Asifyouknow (yes, he’s back!)

Jonas Valanciunas’ Baltic Giants will take on DeMar DeRozan and the mighty Americans in the semifinals

Lithuania 73, Turkey 61 – Game Recap

I only caught the second half, so I got nothing on what went on in the first twenty minutes. Lithuania led 33-28 at halftime, buoyed by a 5-for-11 shooting performance from deep.

The third quarter was a see-saw affair, with Turkey’s interior defenders smothering Lithuania’s post-oriented attack. Jonas Valanciuans repeatedly posted up against Turkey’s Omer Asik, but the crafty New Orleans Pelicans center was strong in the post, stopping Valanciunas on multiple occasions. This, along with ticky-tack foul calls, frustrated Valanciunas which culminated in a technical foul and a trip to the bench.

Turkey’s attack stemmed primarily from the pick-and-roll. Lithuania’s perimeter on-ball defense was poor, so the bigs in pick-and-roll were asked to trap. This left, however, the easy over-the-top pass to the roller, which resulted in a number of easy baskets. When the occasional help defender rotated from the corner to help the roll, Turkey drained their corner three-point tries.

Lithuania’s lead was lost at one point, but the Baltic Giants managed to regain their advantage thanks to a barrage of three-pointers.

The fourth quarter saw Lithuania adjust their pick-and-roll defense, which helped them stop Turkey’s main weapon. A second big would rotate off his man to help the roll, and since Turkey’s bigs weren’t adept at making the extra pass, Lithuania’s extra big could recover in time to help and crash for rebounds.

The offense also opened up for Lithuania in the fourth as they dropped 26 points in the final frame. The torrid three-point shooting continued, aided along by better play from their bigs with Asik resting on the bench.

The victory puts Lithuania into the semifinals, likely to face the US, and in position for a medal finish.

Lithuania 73, Turkey 61 – Jonas Valanciunas Assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (5-of-9 FG, 2-for-2 FT), 13 rebounds, one assist, one block

From what I saw, Valanciunas struggled to solve Asik on offense. Asik is one of the league’s premier interior defenders, so that’s to be expected. Valanciunas got some surprising run as the facilitator in the high post which was a first, and netted mixed results. He found Darius Lavrinovic on a nice high-low for a score, but turned it over on the following possession. Personally, I’d like to see what Jonas has to offer as a high-post passer.

Defensively, Valanciunas was put in a bad spot. He doesn’t look the most mobile right now and he was asked to trap pick-and-rolls, so his man often scored because he couldn’t recover fast enough (not that any help was coming either). When Lithuania eventually switched up their strategy, he fared much better – crashing in for rebounds, shot-contests.

USA 119, Slovenia 76 – Game Recap

Same story different game. The U.S. get off to a slow start, but blew it open in the second half. There’s not even much to analyze at this point. Slovenia put up a good fight in the first half and the Goran brothers played well. But then the Americans pulled up their pants in the second half and it was over.

Some things to note for the players themselves

  • Kyrie Irving was visibly grimacing after a fall on his way to the basket in the first quarter. He was immediately subbed out for Derrick Rose, but came back later in the game and kept driving. I’m sure LeBron is thrilled about his all-out effort, and not at all worried about his health for a potential championship run in Cleveland
  • Derrick Rose looked better. After his bold proclamation on Monday, in which he essentially said “chill out, I’m a really good player”, Rose scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field
  • James Harden had a rough night. Referees weren’t biting on his blatant foul-seeking drives to the rim, thus leaving him with a hideous 4-for-14 shooting performance. He didn’t exactly make up for his lack of scoring with his defense, either
  • Klay Thompson continues to impress. Don’t be surprised if he’s included on Team USA’s 2016 Olympic squad. He’s played like the best wing on Team USA thus far
  • Zoran Dragic is an NBA-quality player. He has good size, he can handle the ball and sink three-pointers
  • No player assessment for DeRozan because he didn’t see any meaningful minutes. He shot 3-for-3 and grabbed two rebounds in nine minutes.

Per Lowe’s latest at Grantland, the Toronto Raptors will have a new court design for 2014-15, and it’s pretty badass.

Lowe ranks it as the No. 10 court in the NBA, but upon first glance I’m inclined to suggest it should be higher. I love the black base with silver text, the We The North print and relative simplicity of the playing surface. And hey, no 3D!

The Toronto Raptors will enter training camp on Sept. 29 with 13 players on guaranteed contracts, a number that is, for all intents and purposes, 14, since there’s no way that Amir Johnson’s partially-guaranteed deal is going to be waived off the books at any point.

In a move that should surprise nobody, the Raptors have added three additional bodies on deals that are only partially guaranteed (almost surely with no little in-season guarantee [see Dan H's comment below], and the guaranteed portion representing a de facto camp salary). Camp, then, has a three-man battle for a 15th roster spot lined up. A team is free to bring as many as 20 players to training camp, and it’s possible the Raptors will add even more bodies to the mix before camp, though a 17-man group is enough bodies to withstand even a few nicks and scrapes during the all-too-long preseason.

Each combatant in the race for the 15th spot that we’ll all care far too much about brings something different to the table, and who ultimately lands the gig will speak to how management and the coaching staff feel about certain players on the roster.

First, as a reminder, here are the 14 names that will surely break camp with the Raptors (and note that the deadline has passed for the team to use the stretch provision on Landry Fields or Chuck Hayes, though such a move wouldn’t have made a great deal of sense anyway):

PG: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams
SF: Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Bebe Nogueira

(Note: Earlier in the offseason, I took a very crude shot at estimating playing time given this roster.)

While guard ostensibly seems like a need laid out as such, the fact that Vasquez and Williams are both essentially combo-guards, and that Ross and DeRozan are interchangeable at the wing spots mean the depth at the two is far deeper than two names.

As a final note before looking at the players, salaries don’t really matter here. While varying experience levels mean varying minimum salaries, the collective bargaining agreement is such that veterans only count as a two-year veteran minimum for luxury tax purposes as a means of ensuring veteran jobs, so the effect is minimal.

Will Cherry, PG, D-League by way of Montana (2013)

will-cherry

The Raptors signed Cherry back on July 30 in a move that brought the Raptors roster to 15. While I admittedly haven’t seen more than maybe 300 minutes of Cherry playing – between this year’s Summer League with Cleveland, his time with Canton in the D-League last season, and vague memories of his Montana days – there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be excited about with the man William Lou will surely dub Trill Cherry.

What Cherry does offer is someone who can play point guard, an important consideration in the eyes of head coach Dwane Casey, who is on record as wanting a third point guard on the roster.

Working against Cherry is that the team already has two capable starting point guards and a flier in Williams who has spent plenty of time at the one in the past. While Williams isn’t a natural distributor or someone you’d be comfortable with running the entire offense for major minutes, as far as third options go he’d be more than serviceable. If Cherry were to get the 15th roster spot, it would probably signal that Casey either isn’t comfortable with Williams running the point, or that he’s still no closer to looking like Philadelphia “Mr. 4th Quarter” Williams than he was last season in Atlanta.

If you’re curious as to the book on Cherry, he averaged 12.8 points, four rebounds and three assists in Summer Legaue this year, averaged 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the D-League last season, and averaged 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists over four years in college. Nothing I’ve seen really shouts NBA player, but he’d represent a fairly safe option, limiting turnovers and providing above-average defense. Defense and ball protection are what would earn him the job in camp, two things Casey values and Cherry can provide, but I’d guess his candidacy comes down entirely to how Williams looks.

Jordan Hamilton, SF, DEN/HOU by way of Texas (2011)

Jordan-Hamilton-Unlocked

If Cherry was a move to appease Casey, the team’s signing of forward Jordan Hamilton on Aug. 14 was undoubtedly a Masai Ujiri move. Ujiri selected Hamilton 26th overall on draft night in 2011 after acquiring the pick from the Dallas Mavericks, clearly seeing upside in the Compton native (so you know DeRozan is on board).

Over three seasons, Hamilton has struggled to deliver on that promise but at times flashed an enticing skillset. In 126 games, he’s averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in just 13.3 minutes and shot 35.8 percent from long range, but he’s been hurt by an inability to hit two-point shots at a decent clip, though he’s taken 46 percent of his shots from downtown.

While it’s never smart to rely on the wisdom of experts, the fact that Ujiri and Daryl Morey have both seen something in Hamilton, and that he’s still just 23, make him an intriguing player despite the lack of performance. Along with the three, he brings good size for the three, something the team needed desperately before signing James Johnson but isn’t necessarily a weakness anymore, and he hasn’t translated that size into noticeably effective defense (yet).

As with Cherry, Hamilton’s candidacy could come down to how ready to contribute a guy like Bruno Caboclo looks, or how a Landry Fields looks ahead of a make-or-break season. Ujiri very clearly sees something in Hamilton, but Hamilton’s in a tough spot – he isn’t quite as productive as the team surely expects Johnson to be, and while he has upside remaining, Caboclo is the key development project on the wing.

Greg Stiemsma, C, NO/MIN/BOS by way of Wisconsin (2008)

Greg-Stiemsma

 

The latest signing may be the most interesting one, with the Raptors inking Greg Stiemsma on Sept. 14. Stiemsma not only has the hardest name of the three to spell, annoying me immediately, he is also the most established of the three players, albeit the one with the least upside.

Already 28 years old despite just three seasons in the league (he played overseas and in the D-League for three years after a four-year college career), Stimesma is what he is at this point. What he is is a 6-foot-11, 260 pound shot blocker who offers almost nothing else.

In 186 career games, Stiemsma has 232 blocks, good for 1.2 a game, 2.8 per 36 minutes and 4.1 per 100 possessions. His block percentage is the fifth-highest among players with 1,000 minutes played in that three-year span, trailing established rim protectors Serge Ibaka, JaVale McGee, Larry Sanders and Chris Andersen. Further, Stiemsma held opponents to a respectable 51.5 percent shooting mark at the rim.

That is a skill, and a valuable one, so one wonders why he’s available on a camp deal. Well, Stiemsma has averaged just 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 minutes as a pro. He has shot 63.8 percent at the rim, somewhat unimpressive for a near 7-footer, and is essentially unusable on offense beyond that distance.

With his limited utility established, his ability to protect the rim in spot minutes at the five means that he’s the favorite to land the 15th spot. The Raptors have three centers, but one of those is the ground-bound Hayes and another is the largely unproven Nogueira. If Valanciunas were to suffer an injury, the only option who could be relied on to provide rim protection would be Amir Johnson, in what would be a sub-optimal use considering his talent defending the four and on the move.

In short, while the roster position breakdown may suggest otherwise, in terms of functional role on the team, Stiemsma is the most obvious peg to fill a hole (I’ve used “fill a hole” too many times now, it’s uncomfortable).

Hamilton and Cherry seem like decent pieces, and the former in particular probably belongs on an NBA roster for another season or two to make good on the upside, but the Raptors are already carrying two developmental projects in the Brazilians. Over the course of an NBA season, a team is going to need 13 contributing bodies in all likelihood, and that has to give Stiemsma an early edge.

A lot can change between now and the season opener, and performance in camp will surely count for a good deal, but early signals suggest Stiemsma would be the logical choice.

Emmet Ryan from Ball in Europe joins the pod and talks FIBA, Jonas Valanciunas, and DeMar DeRozan. Some of the topics include:

  • Jonas Valanciunas vs New Zealand – Check out his post-game reaction talking about his big role
  • Valanciunas’s development over the last three years – Check out his coach talking about how his game has evolved
  • Whether he can translate his FIBA dominance to the NBA
  • DeMar DeRozan’s play so far
  • Team USA composition and surprises
  • Gap between Team USA and the rest of the world
  • France/Spain analysis
  • Is there a chance of a non-USA/Spain final?
  • Surprise players in the tourney – we know about Gustavo Ayon, who else?
  • Best FIBA fans
  • Guess which former Raptors brother is on the France National Team
  • Lucas Nogueira NBA projection

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 (30:06, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

Couple of fantastic clips coming from Barcelona thanks to Ball In Europe (@bie_basketball on Twitter). The first is Jonas Valanciunas reacting to the New Zealand matchup where he dominated, while talking about his increased role with the national team.  He had 22 points, 13 rebounds on 8-11 shooting – box.

After that we got his Coach Kazlauskas describing his evolution as a player.

Raptors Weekly airs tomorrow on RR with Emmet Ryan from Ball in Europe breaking down the FIBA action, but for now you can hear it on Soundcloud.

Jonas Valanciunas dropped 22 points (8-of-11 shooting), grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded three blocks to help Lithuania top the Kiwis.

But most importantly, Valanciunas did this:

[H/T: reddit user BilboBanginz]

Last season, the Toronto Raptors posted a top-1o defense for the first time in a decade.

Much of the credit goes to head coach Dwane Casey — a reputed defense-first coach — for finally getting through to his squad. His mandate over the past three seasons has consistently centered around building a sound defense, but he was betrayed by his players. Last season, having finally shed defensive sieves like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, Casey’s vision of a strong defensive club finally came to fruition.

Like most coaches, Casey’s defensive scheme centers around a defensive anchor. In Minnesota, Casey had Kevin Garnett. As an assistant in Dallas, Casey had Tyson Chandler. Casey doesn’t have a Chandler or Garnett-type in Toronto. He only has an overworked Amir Johnson and a 22-year-old Jonas Valanciunas. If the Raptors are to improve into becoming an elite defensive club, it will have to come on the backs of young Jonas.

My first article on Raptors Republic was a wordy 2,500 article on Valanciunas’ rookie season. I profiled his defense, and found that like most rookies, Valanciunas struggled. His size was the culprit, as he lacked the strength to contend with centers in the post (example 1, example 2.) On the whole, Valanciunas was a poor defender at a pivotal position, and his shortcomings significantly factored into the Raptors’ 22nd-ranked defense.

In an effort to improve as a post defender, Valanciunas bulked up last summer. As Zach Harper of CBS Sports observed, Valanciunas looked 15-to-25 pounds heavier at Summer League. The most obvious result of the added bulk came on the offensive end, as Valanciunas easily overpowered opponents in the post en route to a well-deserved Summer League MVP award.

The added size also factored in defensively. Valanciunas improved in guarding post-ups. Per Synergy Stats, Valanciunas ranked 55th in points allowed per post-up last season, a substantially better mark than his 145th ranking in his rookie season.

Season Usage PPP NBA Rank
2013-14 45% 0.75 55
2012-13 51% 0.84 145

 

It’s still a stretch to call Valanciunas a strong post defender, but he’s improved to the point of being solid in that regard. In short, Valanciunas is massive and he doesn’t bite too often on fakes in the post. He does a great job of holding his ground, keeping his hands high, content in allowing opponents to tackle the challenge of finishing over a seven-foot giant.

In staying down in the post, Valanciunas trades blocks for contests. He averaged just 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes last season, but managed to hold opponents to 51.4 percent shooting at the rim, a mark good for 32nd in the NBA among players who faced over five attempts per game. That mark isn’t terrific, but ranks on par with the likes of Marc Gasol (51.2 percent) and Chris Bosh (53.1 percent.) He’s nowhere near Bosh and Gasol’s level defensively but his post defense at the rim was strong.

However, despite his improvements in the post, Valanciunas still doesn’t grade out as a good defender in most boxscore statistics. Notably, in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Valanciunas ranked 64th out of 74 players that qualified as centers last season, thus saddling him with a ho-hum -0.48 Wins Above Replacement. Why didn’t his improved post-defense translate overall?

One theory is his that his lack of blocked shots hides his true value in a boxscore-based forumla. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus formula is proprietary, so I can’t accurately comment on how it’s calculated, but the origin of RPM is said to follow in the lineage of Adjusted Plus-Minus, of which includes Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus, which has a boxscore component. If so, a lack of blocks could be to blame, although the RPM leaderboard isn’t exactly filled with shot-blockers.

The more likely explanation traces back to how defenders attacked Valanciunas. As the season wore on, teams shifted their strategy, opting instead to play pick-and-pop against Valanciunas rather than attacking him in the post. Proportionally, Valanciunas faced 19 percent more spot-ups last season, with teams readily launching shots from outside the paint in an effort to lure Valanciunas out the the lane. However, the added bulk weighed Valanciunas down, thus making him slower on closeouts as compared to his rookie season, hence the spike in points per play (PPP).

Season Usage PPP NBA Rank
2013-14 25.90% 0.95 165
2012-13 21.70% 0.81 38

 

To some degree, the increased emphasis on floor-stretching for bigs also played a factor, but opponents weren’t just launching from deep. Over 61 percent of spot-ups against Valanciunas were fired from two-point range. It largely came in response to the way Valanciunas was asked to guard pick-and-roll, dropping back to concede the jumper out of deference for a drive. In the play below, he gives Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris an open look after sagging back to hedge against a potential drive from Eric Bledsoe.

Conceding open looks from midrange is a trade-off Casey is willing to make in order to take away the drive, but making a concerted close-out is still important. To his credit, Valanciunas is willing to make the effort, but the added weight has slowed him down a step, thereby forcing him to leap a tad early on closeouts. All it usually took was one easy pump-fake to get Valanciunas off his feet on closeouts. He gets schooled in the clip below by Anderson Varejao, for example.

Given the way Casey wants bigs to defend pick-and-rolls, Valanciunas will have to learn the balance between due-diligence and over-excitement on closeouts. As of right now, Valanciunas is too willing to leave his feet, something he doesn’t necessarily need to for most shooters. It’s contextual. Leaping at a knockdown three-point shooting big like Channing Frye makes perfect sense. Flying out against a sub-40 percent midrange shooter like Varejao doesn’t.

Finally, Valanciunas also made strides as a help-defender. He mostly stays rooted in the paint where he’s most comfortable, but he will leave the paint if his man isn’t the a threat to score. His help defense on the perimeter isn’t great because he lacks quickness, but he will make smart rotations near the rim because, quite frankly, that’s where he’s usually situated. In the play below, Valanciunas recognizes that the Thunder’s biggest threat is the Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka pick-and-roll, so he leaves Steven Adams — who isn’t much of a threat to score — to help on Ibaka.

That being said, unless his quickness improves, Valanciunas will likely remain limited in a stay-at-home rim-protector role. With a (when healthy) rangy Amir Johnson by his side, Valanciunas’ limitations as a help defender is partially masked. He’s improved from being an awful defender in his rookie season to being decent as a sophomore.

But, in order for the Raptors’ defense to reach elite status, Valanciunas will have to continue to improve. That means sounder decision making and improved quickness while remaining strong in the post. It’s a lot to ask of a young player who is still feeling his way through the NBA game, but that’s the bind Valanciunas finds himself in. With the team’s core locked in for the foreseeable future, it’s up to players like himself and Terrence Ross to improve and therefore elevate the Raptors into a higher status as contenders.

Both Lithuania and USA emerged as the winners of their respective groups.

Day 6 of FIBA World Cup action saw the Americans victorious once more, capturing a comfortable 95-71 victory over an upstart Ukrainian team while the Lithuanians fought tooth-and-nail for a come-from-behind 67-64 point win over Goran Dragic and the Slovenians.

USA vs. Ukraine – Game Recap

Full disclosure, I was only able to catch the second half of this match because from time to time, I actually attend lectures. Based on scrolling through Twitter and perusing the first half boxscore, the Americans struggled to score in the first quarter and actually trailed 19-14, but carried a 44-32 point edge into halftime. The Americans getting off to slow starts seems to be something of a trend to watch for as the tournament carries into the knockout stage.

Onto what I did watch.

The Ukrainians put up a good fight. Like most teams in this tournament, they’re light on talent, but their play is well-organized, which is undoubtedly attributable to head coach Mike Fratello. Although the Americans were easily the more impressive team, their execution — especially in the halfcourt — was at times sloppy, and their boisterous totals were surely inflated by their turnover-driven play. They thrive on forcing opponents into making mistakes, though they’re not without their mistakes of their own. My impression is that Team USA will struggle against a slow, meticulous half-court team that takes care of the ball (read: Spain).

On an individual player level, Derrick Rose continued to struggle with his shot, sinking just 2-of-9 field goal attempts. The blazing speed and wicked athleticism is still there, but his timing is off. His play is schizoid, reminiscent of his brief 10-game stretch last season before he succumbed to a second knee injury. Stephen Curry also looked frustrated as his shot still isn’t falling enough to mask his abhorrent defensive shortcomings. His teammate Klay Thompson looked good (aside from when he was dribbling), excelling in a three-and-defense role. Kyrie Irving landed hard on his hip near the end of the game, but he looks more hurt than injured.

USA vs. Ukraine – DeRozan’s Assessment

Boxscore – 5 points (1-for-2 FG, 0-for-1 3FG, 3-for-4 FT), 13 minutes

Again, I didn’t watch half the game, so I can really only comment on his brief fourth quarter stint which lasted little over three minutes. He missed a three-pointer, but scored on two other occasions, once drawing free-throws on a dribble-drive to the rim, and another on a clever set with DeMarcus Cousins.

In the play, DeRozan set a back pick for Cousins in the post to force a switch. Cousins then received a post-pass, and since a switch was forced, both Cousins and DeRozan’s defenders opted to double Cousins in the post. DeRozan alertly rotated to the free-throw line and canned an easy jumper from Cousins on the shortened kick-out.

Lithuania vs. Slovenia – Game Recap

This match was nothing short of a classic. Right from the get-go, tension and energy in Gran Canaria were high. A fast-paced first quarter saw Slovenia open with a small lead, as the play-style was more to their liking. Slovenia’s lead ballooned to eight points at the half and carried a seven-point edge into the fourth, but Lithuania managed to hold them to just two points in the fourth to escape with the narrow 67-64 victory. With the win, Lithuania secure first-place in Group D and avoid a potential semi-final matchup with team USA.

As usual, Lithuania boasted a size advantage with Donatas Motiejunas and Valanciunas towering over their counterparts. Therefore, the Slovenians opened the game with a bigger than usual starting lineup. However, this took away from Slovenia’s identity as a small-ball, run-and-gun team, so a second quarter switch to a more free-flowing lineup saw Slovenia carry a lead into the half. Lithuania countered with a small-ball lineup of their own in the second half, subbing out both Motiejunas and Valanciunas with the Larinovic twins — who also happen to be seven-feet, only they can shoot — thus matching Slovenia’s strategy. The increased mobility helped in guarding Slovenia’s potent pick-and-roll attack, culminating in a come-from-behind victory.

Darius Larinovic beat the buzzer with a running hook shot with just over a minute left to put the Lithuanians up four. Slovenia had a chance to take the lead with 15 seconds left when Goran Dragic found Miha Zupan wide open at the top of the key, but his three-pointer rimmed out.

Lithuania vs. Slovenia – Valanciunas’ Assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (5-of-7 FG, 2-for-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 17 minutes played

Valanciunas played nearly the entire first quarter and looked visibly gassed after a 10-minute run. He was effective during that time, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. He was dominant in the post (guarded at times by former Raptor Uros Slokar, remember him?), scoring twice on post-ups including a driving dunk over two defenders. He continued to demonstrate good chemistry with Motiejunas, as the Houston Rocket found Valanciunas in the post coming off an well-run dribble hand–off with a Lithuanian guard.

Defensively, Valanciunas looked decent. On one occasion he hedged way too high, thus allowing his man to finish an unguarded basket at the rim. Otherwise he looked strong, serving as a general deterrent at the rim.

He didn’t play very much in the second half as Lithuania shifted to a small-ball strategy. He cheered exuberantly from the bench.

There’s already an unguaranteed wing and a point. Why not add a big into the mix?

The Toronto Raptors have signed free-agent center Greg Stiemsma to a reported 1-year deal at the minimum. It’s believed that the contract is unguaranteed (it almost certainly is), though the official press release put out by the team didn’t specify.

In Stiemsma the Raptors add another training camp body, although one that carries more NBA-experience than your average Julyan Stone or Dwight Buycks-type. Stiemsma profiles as a shot-blocker, averaging an impressive 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes over three seasons thus far. He’s spent stints in Boston, Minnesota and New Orleans to date.

With this signing, the Raptors are now slated to have 17 contracts going into training camp, but 14 are guaranteed, meaning the final spot will likely be handed to one of Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton or Stiemsma (barring a trade or waivers). On the surface, it appears as if the team is covering all its bases — one wing, one point and one big — but there are other factors like potential and performance to consider as well.

The 28-year-old Stiemsma stands at 6-foot-11 and weighs 260 pounds. He also has a reputation for being a *ahem* enforcer.

Lithuania takes down Korea, USA topples the Dominican Republic.

Day 5 of FIBA World Cup action wrapped up with both Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and DeMar DeRozan’s (USA) teams emerging victorious. Lithuania beat Korea 79-49, while the United States toppled the Dominicans 106-71.

Lithuania vs. Korea – Game Recap

As one could have expected, the Koreans were no match for the Lithuanians. The most obvious discrepancy was height — the Lithuanians boasted four 7-footers, while Korea had none — though the Baltic Giants were also the more skilled team.

Size dictated Korea’s style of play. Without any discernible bigs to speak of, Korea relied on a five-out, pick-and-pop offense built around generating open spot-ups with some neatly designed sets. The smallball strategy worked in the first half with Lithuania’s bigs struggling to rotate out to the perimeter, but a clever halftime adjustment saw Lithuania opting to switch liberally. As a result, the Koreans were held to 2o points in the second half.

Lithuania eschewed their size advantage by opting to play mostly on the perimeter. Despite both Donatas Motiejunas and Valanciunas boasting in excess of four inches and 30 pounds on their respective defenders, Lithuania ran only a small handful of post-ups. To their credit, Lithuania’s wings played well, connecting on 9-of-21 triples (three were missed by Motiejunas).

Lithuania vs. Korea – Valanciunas’ assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (6-for-7 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 22 minutes played

In some respect, this game reflected many played by the Raptors last season. Valanciunas’ first move on offense was always to establish post position — a perfectly sensible move given his size advantage — yet not once did Lithuania opt to deliver him the ball to set up a post-up. Not once. Valanciunas mostly fed off a diet of put-backs, pick-and-roll buckets and a pair of high-low feeds from Motiejunas. Valanciunas was noticably frustrated at the half, presumably by the lack of opportunities.

Where Valanciunas was most effective was on defense. Of Korea’s 48 field-goal attempts, only eight were attempted inside the paint. Granted, Korea’s prioritization of spot-ups certainly played a factor, as did Lithuania’s strong guard play, but Valanciunas did provide strong rim-protection. He was also solid in closeouts, though his limited foot speed did at times draw the ire of his head coach.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – Game Recap

Welp. It wasn’t much of a game. The States only led by three points after the first quarter due to some extremely sloppy play from the starters, and would have likely lost the quarter had it not been for the non-stop hustle from Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis. From thereon, the States went on to win the final three quarters by a combined 32 points en route to their second rout of the Dominicans in two weeks.

Having now played four games, the United States’ style of play is pretty clear — they’re relying on speed and athleticism to force turnovers and score in transition. Their play isn’t necessarily well-coordinated, nor meticulously executed, but it’s been tremendously effective in overwhelming their opponents thus far. Ironically enough, their biggest hurdle is Team Spain, whose style of play is the diametric opposite, reliant on precise playmaking and deliberate movements. It will be fascinating to see which of the two countries — and therefore styles — wins out.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – DeRozan’s Assessment

Boxscore – 11 points (5-for-8 FG, 1-for-3 3FG), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 3 steals, 18 minutes played

On the whole, it was DeRozan’s best showing thus far in the tournament. The 1-for-3 three-point shooting and five turnovers blemished what was otherwise a good performance. As me, Andrew and Zarar noted on the last episode of Raptors Weekly, DeRozan looked shaky and somewhat hesitant over his first three games. That was to be expected, as his role and teammates were both foreign to him. Therefore, DeRozan figured to improve with more games and minutes played under his belt.

He looked comfortable on Wednesday, making a few timely cuts in transition while making solid decisions in the pick-and-roll. He was diligent on defense, with the three steals coming as a result of cutting passing lanes rather than poorly thought-out gambles. Most of his contributions came in a blowout against a team with no NBA talent (Francisco Garcia sat out to rest an injury), but DeRozan’s calmer demeanor can only bode well for both himself and the States going forward in this awful tournament.

Someone learned a thing or two from James Harden.

Second-round draft-and-stash pick DeAndre Daniels had a small bone fragment in his shooting elbow.

In preparation for his upcoming stint with the Perth Wildcats, it was discovered that Daniels had a small bone fragment in his right elbow. Daniels successfully underwent surgery and is expected to return in four-to-six weeks. The Wildcats sent the update in a press release.

There were two treatment options available for the injury — maintenance or surgery. Daniels could have possibly played had the former been chosen, but opting for the surgery route appears to be the sounder long-term option.

The Australian National Basketball League (NBL) season tips off in five weeks.

 

Five questions on Jonas Valanciunas’ performance thus far in FIBA World Cup 2014.

Editor’s Note: Simonas Baranauskas (@LithuaniaBasket) is an expert on all things related to Lithuanian basketball. Raptors Republic reached out to Simonas for his insight on Valanciunas’ performance thus far in the FIBA World Cup.

1. Grade Jonas Valanciunas’ performance through three games thus far. What has stood out in terms of where he’s improved or regressed?

It would be really easy to forget how good Jonas was in the first two games after an absolute no-show in the last game against Australia, but I’ll start with the good.

The first two games went really smoothly for Jonas. He dominated the paint offensively against inferior opposition with incredible efficiency. Comparing to previous summers, teammates weren’t afraid to feed him the ball in the post and he delivered, making 12-of-15 shots in the first two games. Although the games weren’t necessarily all that easy for Lithuania, Jonas looked confident and in control.

In the last game against Australia, it all turned upside down — partly due to the swarming Aussie defense, partly due to some carelessness on Jonas’ part. He couldn’t cope with Aron Baynes’ physicality on the defensive end either, leading to him being benched in favor of experienced big man Darjus Lavrinovic, who managed to turn the tables around and played a crucial role in Lithuania’s comeback in the second half. Jonas had a very hard time establishing any presence on either end of the court and was basically a non-factor.

2. How is Jonas Kazlauskas (Lithuania’s head coach) using Valanciunas in the offense? Defense?

Valanciunas has been an important figure in coach Kazlauskas’ game plan. When Jonas made his debut in the national team in 2011, he was mostly a pick-and-roll threat, now Kazlauskas is utilizing him as a post-up option quite a lot.

Other players aren’t hesitating to feed him the ball, though the lead-up to those post-looks is pretty basic – usually just a simple back-screen in the paint trying to get a switch, which would result in a mismatch. Obviously, he’s still running a fair share of pick-and-rolls and setting screens on offense, the lack of a good playmaker on the team limits the efficiency in pick-and-roll situations.

Valanciunas still has some work to do to improve defensively and was caught over-helping his guards on pick-and-roll situation. In the first two games he asserted himself as a solid post defender, but he wasn’t playing against very strong opposition, though he did shut down Mexico’s Gustavo Ayon for most of the game.

3. Australia pulled off an upset over Lithuania on Tuesday afternoon. Valanciunas wasn’t particularly effective, scoring zero points, committing two fouls and two turnovers in the first half before finishing with four points overall. Why did he struggle?

Lithuania as a team didn’t play well and it would be unfair to single out the poor game by Jonas. Nothing was going for the Lithuanians, as the guards struggled to avoid turnovers, often struggling to get past half court against a zone-press by Australia.

Jonas’ direct match-up Aron Baynes started the game really actively and went at Jonas hard from the get-go. Jonas picked up an early foul in the very first possession of the game, which resulted in him trying to avoid a second foul. He was subbed out quite early in the game.

It has to be said, that that the entry passes into the post were poor and it’s hard to blame Jonas for some of those turnovers that were counted against him. Every single time Lithuania tried to get the ball inside to Jonas, he’d be swarmed by two or three Australian players.

4. Is the schedule wearing on Valanciunas? He did play three games over three four days.

I don’t think it’d be fair to say the schedule already had its toll, since they had a day off before today’s game against Australia. They’ve played three games in four days, which isn’t all that bad, considering Jonas did have a fair bit of rest in the first two games, playing an average of 25 minutes per game. The schedule might be an issue further down the road in the tournament.

5. What are Lithuania’s chances of finishing with a medal in this event?

Before the injury of starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis, I was pretty confident this team would be good enough for a bronze medal. But losing the captain and possibly the most important player on the team just a couple of days before the start of the tournament is a game-changer. Lithuania’s side of the bracket is relatively easy, with USA, Lithuania, Australia and Slovenia as the best four teams on paper.

In order to avoid USA until the semifinal (providing Lithuania gets there), the team needs to finish first or third in Group D, which looks like a realistic scenario. As long as we manage to stay out of USA’s way for as long as possible, which is the semifinal, I think we still have an outside-shot at a bronze medal or at least a chance to play for one in the third place game.

September is upon us so we got about a month’s worth of these podcasts before we can start talking some Raptors ball. Until then, though, the duty is to analyze and over-analyze whatever’s happening in Spain and what’s going through idle minds.

Part 1:

  • DeRozan and Team USA
  • Valanciunas and Team Lithuania

Part 2:

  • Is Hakeem Broke?
  • Raptors All-Clutch Team
  • Raptors All-Choke Team
  • NBA League Pass
  • Balls and Streams

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 (30:14, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

OK, Team USA just beat Finland 114-55 (box). Someone hasn’t taken such a beating since I destroyed Sam in one-on-one at the RR tournament.

DeRozan went 1-6 for 5 points and went 3-4 from the stripe with 4 assists and three steals. He missed an open corner three to start, and then did some ball-handling where he facilitated PnRs and got a couple assists. Got a bit of run in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand, and executed one of those step-in twos which he clanked. He also tried a lob pass which went south.

On one instance, he got killed by a screen (no communication on it) and had a late contest which led to FTs. He tried another lob to Drummond, which despite being of sub-par quality, was finished off by Drummond. I thought he made some pretty sweet runs in transition but was looked off, with teammates opting to shoot threes, since this became an exhibition game quite fast. To cap his night he missed an open corner jumper.

All in all, he wasn’t really needed and his dribbles looked better, and he appeared to be a willing passer in two-man situations. He’s still looking to drive and get to the line, but is measuring up his move more carefully then before, and using his dribble to set up his attack a bit better.

That’s all I got.

Jonas Valanciunas – 8-8 FG, 17 points, 5 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Final score: Lithuania 87, Mexico 74 – box. I caught a bit of this game online and he operated out of the post quite a bit, knowing Mexico didn’t have the personnel to handle him inside. The same comment from the warmup games holds: he’s showing very little hesitation in any move he makes.

Here’s a game highlight pack which shows Valanciunas scoring, picking up an offensive, foul, clenching fists on the bench, and celebrating. What makes the video special is the tune played in the background. DeMar plays later tonight.

Tie game with less than a minute left. What play do the Toronto Raptors turn to?

Fun fact: The Raptors were a league-best +195 in the fourth quarter last season. That’s 32 points better than the San Antonio Spurs, who ranked a distant second, and 63 better than the lowly third-place Miami Heat. If my memory is correct, the Heat and Spurs didn’t accomplish very much in 2013-14.

Much of that differential speaks to the Raptors’ depth, and Dwane Casey’s unwillingness to concede games. Most teams elect to play their bench units for the start of the fourth quarter in an effort to rest their the starters. The Raptors had the luxury of capitalizing with two starter quality pieces — Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez — and DeMar DeRozan’s superhuman ability to endure strenuous workloads. Put two and two together, and fourth-quarter comebacks were something of a specialty for the Raptors. They had a fair bit of luck on their side.

Oddly enough, despite their overall fourth-quarter dominance, the Raptors were actually quite average offensively in “clutch” (+/- 5 points, less than 5 minutes left) scenarios, ranking just 13th in Net Rating. Depending on how you manipulate the clutch goalposts, the Raptors fared a tad better or a bit worse, but for the most part, the general theme was that the Raptors’ were a pretty average squad late in games.

In particular, the Raptors shot just 35.1 percent from the field with under a minute left in close games. That made me wonder, which clutch plays worked, and which ones didn’t?

Worked: Sidelines inbound to Amir Johnson

For this post, I looked at 97 clutch plays by the Raptors with the designation of clutch meaning with the score within 5 points under a minute left. Feel free to peruse the video yourself by clicking though this link.

The Raptors pet play in the clutch involved an sidelines inbound to Amir Johnson. The inbounder would input the ball, and look to run towards the middle with Johnson facilitating out of the high-post. From there, Johnson had multiple options at his disposal which made the play difficult to defend.

Variation 1: Hand-off, pull-up

The play starts with Terrence Ross setting a down screen on the player (Kemba Walker) defending the inbounder. Lowry inputs the ball to Johnson and uses the down screen from Ross while flashing to the top of the key. Johnson then turns for a hand-off, setting a second down screen in the process. It’s a thing of beauty when run correctly.

The strength of this play is two-fold. First, Lowry is a fantastic shooter from above the break. Second, the suddenness of the play tends to catch opponents off-guard. Forcing Lowry’s defender to run through two down screens in quick succession creates a lot of drag, which basically ensures that Lowry to be open unless everything is switched. Even if everything is switched, the play still yields a mismatch with Amir’s man on Lowry.

Variation 2: Fake hand-off

Just as with the first play, the ball is inbounded to Amir and the inbounder flashes to the ball, but Amir drives intead of making the handoff, hoping to catch opponents off-guard. This works especially well when the defense anticipates the hand-off, and the big shades towards the inbounder.

In the clip above, Udonis Haslem defends the play correctly until the last second. He doesn’t cheat towards DeMar and stays with Amir step-for-step. The key to the play is the element of surprise, but of course, a little luck helps too. Given that the Heat struggled on the glass, it was a smart play-call to place the two Raptors bigs in the paint at the time of the shot. Amir misses, but Jonas Valanciunas is positioned on the doorstep, and easily collects a putback.

Variation 3: Blatant fouling

Hey, John Salmons could use all the help he could get. Amir deserves two assists on this play.

Failed: Isolations for DeRozan

Oddly enough, the Raptors’ best one-on-one scorer was also its worst option in the clutch last season. DeRozan connected on just 33.6 percent of his field-goals, giving way to this Red Wedding-inspired shot-chart. Note that the vast majority of his attempts came from the dreaded mid-range area.

Shotchart_1409172277147Yes, he shot 4-for-29 from the right side of the court

This is not to say that DeRozan isn’t clutch, because the existence of “clutch” altogether is nebulous at best. There’s context to consider. DeRozan was almost always covered by the opposing team’s best defender(s). Even though he largely struggled to score for himself, DeRozan at least soaked up valuable defensive attention of which could have been deployed elsewhere. The results were what they were, but it wasn’t just DeRozan at fault. For example, the playcalls for him weren’t great either.

Variation 1: Basic Isolation

Nothing to see here. DeRozan gets the inbounds and everyone clears out. He then tries to beat his man one-on-one, and it just didn’t work whatsoever.

There’s so much to critique on this play. First, why isolate DeMar and give him nothing to work with? Why not at give him a screen, and hope for a switch? Okay, bringing Joakim Noah onto DeMar might not actually help all that much as compared to Jimmy Butler, but then at least spread the floor. Note how Salmons, Lowry and Hansbrough are all crowded in the same quadrant of the court, with none of the three posing as actual threats to score. It’s hard to blame DeMar too much for this one.

Variation 2: Giving DeMar the ball in optimal matchups

To be fair to Casey and his coaching staff, the straight isolation sets for DeMar were rare. Take the play below for example. DeRozan receives two screens and ultimately ends up in a battle with Swaggy P, who is a pretty terrible defender. All in all, it’s not a bad playcall.

This one is on DeRozan. He cuts too close to the ball, which allows Swaggy to catch up to the play after being momentarily slowed by screens. DeMar tries to attack baseline, but Pau Gasol alertly leaves Chuck Hayes to protect the basket. DeMar then resets, but instead of hitting Hayes with the pass when he’s in a bad spot (note that Hayes has Ross wide open with an easy swing pass,) DeMar takes an ill-advised contested shot.

As a whole, DeRozan’s skills may not be best suited for the role he was given. He’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket. He is fantastic at drawing fouls and has the ability to finish at the rim through contact. However, teams often anticipate this and clog the paint, which takes away DeMar’s strength. The consequent leaves players open, but Patterson is the only stretch four on the roster, so defenses aren’t sacrificing very much to guard the rim. Altogether, play-calling can only do so much — they can’t substitute for a player’s skills. DeRozan falls victim to this.

Worked: Lowry in the backcourt

This one was by far my favorite. I only saw two examples of this play, but it’s rather ingenious in its simplicity. The ball is inbounded to Lowry in the backcourt, and he charges head-first to the basket, aided along by a high screen from Johnson. This gets Lowry going one-on-one with Johnson’s defender, whose only option is to back up to the basket with his hands in the air.

I’m a fan of the play because there are easy outs built in. The primary defender on Lowry in this play is Amir’s man (Paul Millsap), and when Lowry is in full gallop, it’s hard for any big man — even a mobile four like Millsap — to deny penetration. It’s also hard to send help on the play because the Raptors put three-point shooters in the corners (left: Steve Novak, right: DeRozan). Even if Lowry’s layup doesn’t fall, Amir is able to crash the glass with a small (Lowry’s man) vying for the boxout. Plus, with Lowry’s ball-handling ability, he can keep his dribble and reset if the matchup isn’t right. The play is extremely simple, but it’s effective.

Leiwekaayyyy! The man is gone. Spent a couple years in town, shook people down and is now heading out. What’s his legacy in Toronto? He hired the big-named Brendan Shanahan for the Leafs because everything he does is BIG. He got Drake to shine the Raptors brand with golden pixie dust, which was right after he fired Bryan Colangelo before he even took on the job. He hijacked Masai Ujiri backed to Toronto and rode the Rudy Gay-trade to #WeTheNorth, and somewhere in between managed to win the 2016 All-Star game sweepstakes and get approval to build a brand new practice facility on city land, despite the Ford brothers pompously objecting. He didn’t just take care of the “big” sports either, and got TFC out of obscurity and at least back into the conversation of being a proper MLS club by signing well-fitting free-agents at prices that make statements.

Tim Leiweke did a lot in a short amount of time, and may be if he got along with his bosses at Bell and Rogers, and the MLSE board, he could’ve done more. The Raptors are on the up-and-up from an on-court product perspective, and their reputation around the league has improved. Certainly, Drake, the All-Star game, the Kevin Durant rumours, and the home crowd in the playoffs have all helped in recovering a reputation that was arguably at an all-time low under the wavering leadership of Bryan Colangelo, who will be remembered as the Donald Rumsfeld of MLSE: all lies.

Leiweke has resuscitated the Raptors in his short tenure.  The club wasn’t exactly in need of life support, but they most certainly had their legs broken, jaw busted, and spleen split open before Leiweke arrived on the scene with a gold-crusted first-aid kit. Though he’ll fall short of his promises to execute a carefully orchestrated parade that would culminate with him taking a wind-aided, sine curve piss from the top of the CN Tower, pound-for-pound, Leiweke has been one of the most influential personalities the Raptors have ever employed.

As well as the Raptors have done and as high as the organization is on the pungent smell of hope, there is a bubble here that could potentially burst if the on-court product fails to live up to expectations. In an increasingly competitive East the strategy of bringing back all free-agents is a safe one which counts on 1) improvement based on continuity, and 2) tactical ability to counter adjustments teams will make. If both hold true, the Raptors should be able to at least meet the required levels of success to pass the enthusiasm and good feels to the following season. The minimum threshold for a relatively successful season, in my view, is a first-round win. It would be the first time in 14 years the Raptors would have won a playoff round, and would at the very least endorse the steps Leiweke has taken, while planting even more seeds of enthusiasm on their way to the All-Star game the following year.

If things fall by the wayside and disaster strikes for whatever reason, there’ll definitely be a sourness around the club, except that a pivot is much easier to make due to the Raptors salary structure. The Raptors will be owing $47M in salary for the 2015-16 season, and will have plenty of assets to make moves. Fast-forwarding another year, they only have $30M in guaranteed contracts. The idea of having shorter time windows where a product is tested, feedback received, and adjustments made is much preferable to committing a big percentage of the cap to two or three players over a long period of time. That model is close to being obsolete and is being replaced by a shorter feedback loop which, based on intelligent cap management, allows room for tinkering without long-term risk. Basically, the opposite of what the Knicks have been doing for the last 15 years.

This whole thing reminds me a little of the Lean Startup: Idea -> Build -> Product -> Measure -> Data -> Learn.

The way I see it, the Raptors have finished the first iteration, and started iteration two. Here’s how it plays out:

  1. Iteration One
    • Idea: Instead of a Rudy Gay iso-heavy offense, let’s create a socialist structure based on chemistry and ball-movement
    • Build: Pull Rudy Gay trade, install guys like Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez as rotation players. Free Terrence Ross
    • Product: A team that conforms to the idea
    • Measure: Let’s see how the team performs post-trade and in the playoffs
    • Data: Good enough to take the Nets to 7-games
    • Learn: Need more defense at the wings; need scoring off the bench; Kyle Lowry is legit; Build around DeMar DeRozan
  2. Iteration Two
    • Idea: Address what we learned in Iteration One.  Let’s swing for potential in the draft, take care of the wing defense on the cheap, and give another shot to the same group
    • Build: Get James Johnson for the defense part, swing for the fence with Bruno Caboclo; get Lou Williams for scoring
    • Product: ?? This is where the Raptors are, they’re about to form the product in the first half of next season

I like the model as long as you retain the ability to pivot, and that requires a lean cap structure which Ujiri has done a masterful job of creating.  In fact, this might be the only model that can work for small-market teams who are forced to try different formulas and combinations until they find a winning one.  Having movable assets of all different sizes and shapes is what will breed success in the new NBA, and this will be even more relevant in the post-2016 CBA.  Second-round picks, partially guaranteed expiring contracts, trade exceptions, protected first-round picks, front-loaded contracts, mid-level exception splits and other kinds of investment vehicles are becoming increasingly critical to being relevant in the NBA.  Ujiri may not have made loud free-agent signings, or pulled off big summertime trades, but he’s positioning the Raptors in a way that allows him to hedge his bets while having the assets to make a significant move, as long as he sees it taking the Raptors to the next level.

It’s all about remaining competitive in the short-term while retaining the option to change in the medium-term, provided you’re in line with long-term success.

Blessed is any news so we thank DeMar DeRozan and Tim Leiweke, who both took different steps to get the headlines on this weeks’ Rapcast, which sees Andrew, Will and myself usher in the final week of August.

Part 1

  • DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA
  • What’s his role on the team?
  • Canada Basketball future
  • Is Wiggins the type who’ll play for his country?

Part 2

  • Tim Leiweke leaves MLSE
  • His legacy – what he did well and what he did hilarious
  • Article referenced in the Globe and Mail National Post

Part 3

  • Analysis of Love/Wiggins trade

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 (36:51, 35 MB). Or just listen below:

Despite not playing in Friday’s exhibition game against Puerto Rico, DeRozan survived the final round of cuts.

It’s late, so this post will be short. Toronto’s very own DeMar DeRozan has indeed made Team USA. DeRozan joins Jonas Valanciunas as the only members of the Toronto Raptors participating in the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Spain.

For all the hand-wringing about DeRozan’s lack three-point shooting or defensive prowess, USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski must have seen things differently. At the start of training camp in Las Vegas, it was expected that Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Paul George would factor into the team’s plans. Therefore, players like Kyle Korver and Chandler Parsons — those with skills befitting of a role player — were valued. DeRozan only appeared in one of three exhibition games, but he impressed in his lone game against the Dominican Republic, posting 13 points (on 6-0f-9 shooting), five rebounds and six assists.

However, with each of Griffin (back injury), Durant (rest), Love (rest) and George (leg injury) withdrawing their candidacies, the value of shot-creation likely increased, making DeRozan’s skillset — ability to play the wing, create in the pick-and-roll, draw fouls — more appealing. It should be noted that Team USA is apparently looking to mostly rely on a eight-man core to shoulder the bulk of minutes, but the tournament leaves little time for rest (Team USA will play five games in six days in the preliminary round), meaning all 12 players should all see the floor at some point.

As an aside, I’d like to use this space to congratulate DeRozan. While I’m breaking the erudite code of being an impartial journalist, I think it’s important to take account of how far DeRozan has come. After seeing him struggle through his first four mostly uninspired seasons, I was among the doubters. Never would I have thought that within a year’s time, DeRozan would qualify for both the All-Star team and Team USA. He certainly still has his flaws, and for long-time watchers of DeRozan like myself, we’ve been conditioned to count his flaws and see him for what he’s not, but in looking back, DeRozan has surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. Lots of players talk the talk about hard work and being committed to improving. DeRozan has actually gone out and done so. Speaking as a fan, that’s the type of attitude and leadership I want on the Raptors. Congrats again, DeMar!

Team USA’s final 12-man roster looks as follows (can you tell they’re worried about Spain?):

rosterCover photo credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This time it’s been confirmed by the organization.

So much for “100 percent untrue.”

As relayed by the Toronto Star, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke will be leaving his role with the organization by Jun. 30, 2015, or when a new successor is named.

If the earlier reports are to be believed, a myriad of factors might be at play with his decision. There’s hints about the brutal weather being a factor, as well as the possibility to latch on with a potential NFL group looking to relocate to Los Angeles.

The news is certainly a disappointment, as Leiweke’s work with the Raptors has been mostly positive. While it’s unclear as to how much hands on impact he really had on the day-to-day operations, he did bring on Masai Ujiri and Drake, won the 2016 NBA All-Star game bid, and launched a highly successful media campaign.

Masai Ujiri brought the band back together. Is that a good thing?

The Eastern Conference, as compared to its Western counterpart, saw a fair bit of shuffling this offseason. In addition to a trio of All-Stars — Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez, Al Horford — returning from injury, seven of the eight playoff teams (and Cleveland) underwent major makeovers.

Atlanta will have a revamped perimeter and a healthy Al Horford. Charlotte shed Josh McRoberts but added Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson. Brooklyn lost two rotation pieces in Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce. Washington snagged Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza. The Bulls lost out on Carmelo Anthony, but won the Pau Gasol sweepstakes and Derrick Rose is on the mend. Indiana lost both Stephenson and Paul George. The Heat lost LeBron James, but plugged holes by inking Luol Deng and McRoberts. And, of course, the Cavaliers sunk everyone’s battleship by landing LeBron and (eventually) Kevin Love.

Why even bother? The East is ours.

By contrast, the Raptors were the only playoff hopeful that stood pat this offseason. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri elected to re-sign Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry, but save for some minor adds, the 2014-15 Raptors projects to look very similar to the previous iteration.

There was logic behind each transaction. Vasquez, Lowry and Patterson were all key cogs in the post-Gay squad that went 42-24, a record besting the East over that stretch. Lowry returns as the team’s leader, Patterson reclaims the floor-stretch half of the platoon at power forward, and Vasquez is back to lead the second unit.

Not adding anyone of significance isn’t the whole story. There’s also something to be said about addressing needs. Ujiri didn’t acquire anyone significant, but he did try to plug holes using his limited budget. The playoffs exposed the need for a wing stopper; enter James Johnson. Ball-handling was also an issue to the point where John Salmons had to play the seventh-most minutes last season. Lou Williams reprises that role, and fits nicely alongside Vasquez. If the Raptors get anything from Bebe Nogueira or Bruno Caboclo, that’s gravy.

But for the most part, the biggest advantage the Raptors had over their shuffle-happy competitors is continuity. Aside from the Wizards, every other playoff team drastically changed their team structure.

Rose and Pau should command nearly 50 percent of possessions when they’re on the floor. Charlotte brought in two new starters, including a ball-dominant Stephenson to replace an excellent facilitator in McRoberts. Brooklyn goes from being a smallball team to a plodding post-oriented squad. Atlanta adding Al Horford means they can no longer field five three-point threats. The Pacers’ entire playbook went out the window. Teams rarely click right away. There will be some growing pains.

That’s where the Raptors should theoretically have an edge. Eight of the top-nine in minutes played last season — DeMar DeRozan, Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Vasquez, Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — have been retained, with the lone substitution being Williams for Salmons. The team should have the schemes down pat. Lowry knows that if he’s running the fast break, Terrence Ross will flash to the corner for an open triple. Amir knows to hand-off and screen after DeRozan tosses him the rock in the high-post.

The same applies in the locker room. The guys all know each other, and there’s no need to awkwardly suss out a pecking order. DeRozan and Lowry are the leaders, it’s their team. If someone steps out of line and Lowry calls them out for it, no one will bat an eye.

We never made big moves. We just win.

I can’t speak with any authority as to how much continuity really matters. The obvious example is the San Antonio Spurs, but that’s the outlier not the norm. With all due respect, the Raptors’ foundation isn’t nearly as solid as the Spurs’ for reasons that should be obvious. And for every team-oriented championship squad like the Spurs or Pistons, there’s a superstar-laden winner like the Heat or Lakers.

But having a per-established culture and system has to inherently hold some value, even if it just translates to two or three extra wins to start of the season. In the Eastern Conference, where the homogenous set of sub-contenders — Raptors, Wizards, Hornets, Hawks, Heat — aren’t ostensibly distinct in terms of talent, every win should count for something. In that respect, perhaps Ujiri not rocking the boat with a splashy acquisition is his biggest addition of all.

Did DeRozan book a spot on Team USA with a 6-for-9 shooting performance?

Nothing is guaranteed, but DeMar DeRozan saw extended playing time on Wednesday in the USA’s 105-62 victory over the Dominican Republic. In 23 minutes of play (second to Damian Lillard in court time), DeRozan scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, and chipped in with five rebounds and game-high six assists. His efforts, in part, can be seen below.

Currently, Team USA has 16 players on the roster, and rumors are that final cuts for the upcoming FIBA World Cup (starting Aug. 30) will be made by week’s end. DeRozan faces staunch competition at the wing, but his scoring ability suddenly becomes more valuable in the absence of Paul George and Kevin Durant. While DeMar doesn’t have the defensive and three-point shooting tools to excel as a role player, DeMar has the ability to drive and score the ball, which is somewhat of a rare commodity apart from the point guards on USA’s roster.

In the first instalment of this series, we look at the teams of the Atlantic division, and get a sense for the teams that the Raptors play a combined 16 times while jockeying for home-court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs. First off is the Knickerbockers.

Even if the hiring was expensive and questionable, GM’s across the league let out a collective groan when Dolan gave Phil Jackson that ridiculous deal to run the Knicks. He’ll only be working every two months out of three, not travel much, and attend games as he sees fit, but you know he wont be managing the Knicks like a fantasy team making optimizing moves like picking up Mike Dunleavy for a week because he plays one more game than Terrence Ross…or trading for Bargnani after a 54 win season and a ECF loss to the Pacers. We all chalk that up to Ujiri being Ujiri, but how many GM’s would have made that trade at that cost?

For Raptors fans, this isn’t so big a deal anymore since Ujiri has done nothing but clean up and improve this team since he got here; 12 more months of Hayes and Fields will work itself out considering the cap space we get at the end of the season.

The times are a changing, and with them, we have to assume the Atlantic will only get more competitive as you don’t spend that kind of money on a president and not expect improvement.

They already have a top-10 player in the league, a few promising youngsters, and finally able to see the light of day after a decade of mismanagement.

Off-Season Transactions

IN OUT
Phil Jackson Mike Woodson
Derek Fisher Jim Todd
Kurt Rambis Darrell Walker
Jose Calderon Herb Williams
Shane Larkin Tyson Chandler
Samuel Dalembert Raymond Felton
Quincy Acy Shannon Brown
Travis Outlaw Jeremy Tyler
Cleanthony Early
Jason Smith

 

So maybe we can’t totally write-off Phil. You question how much he paid to install a puppet-coach (always thought those came cheap), but turning Chandler into Dalembert and Smith at half the cost AND getting Calderon for Felton PLUS two 2nd rounders in the draft…that’s a damn good trade.

A lot happened in that single transaction: you shed the team of Felton’s fat (literal and figurative); avoid watching Chandler decompose for another season while in theory replacing his production; and you actually receive two 2nd rounders. All the while masterfully managing the cap with respect to short and long term contracts.

All that remains is keeping this team competitive enough in the short term, while adding key pieces, to keep Melo from forcing his way out of town. Moving that contract becomes less and less difficult as basketball related income increases year-over-year and the salary cap rises, but the older Carmelo gets, the harder that conversation gets.

That’s what we know and can decipher, but to try and get a better sense for this team, I had a long conversation with David Vertsberger (you can follow him on Twitter: @_Verts) of Knickerblogger about this team:

One of the most polarizing moves the Knicks made was hiring Phil Jackson to right the ship. What sense are you getting about how he is settling into his new role (new coach, Carmelo contract, etc.)?

For me, it’s a bit too early to get a good grasp of Phil Jackson’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations. One thing that concerned me was Jackson’s process (not the actual hiring, but the process) of hiring Fisher. He fixated on Steve Kerr for weeks, with the few other names coming up in conversation also being former co-workers of Jackson at one point or another. It seemed as if he didn’t extend his search beyond his inner circle, something that reminisces of poor Knicks leadership of the past. There was plenty to like, though. With many players losing tons of trade value in the 2013-14 season and the team’s financial situation in a complete bind, Jackson still managed to be considerably active during the offseason. But again, we still have a ways to go in regards to getting an accurate reading on the Zen Master.

Ignoring the boring Fisher questions of his ridiculous contract and an absolute ceiling of Jason Kidd IMHO (you see what I did there)….actually I can’t ignore this: give me something that will make Raptors-fans happy that he will be coaching the Knicks instead of anyone else that was available.

Hmm. I like the hire, so this is a bit difficult. I guess Raptors fans can be happy that the Knicks are probably going to run a semi-antiquated offensive system in the triangle? Sure, let’s go with that.

Doesn’t that sort of semi-antiquated system fit Calderon and Melo very well though?

Hard to find a system that Calderon couldn’t fit in, but I’d argue that putting Melo in a system that’s high on mid-range shots and post-ups is taking away from his improved catch-and-shoot game. Adding a deadly three-point shot turned Anthony into one of the best stretch fours in basketball, but it looks like Fisher’s plan is to have him play the three this season. I’d prefer the Knicks milk the hell out of their lone All-Star’s talents this season, not have him settle for 18-footers and get blown by defensively.

Which could be a big concern considering Calderon is also a poor defender. While Dalembert and Smith can easily replace Chandler’s production on offense at half the cost, probably, replacing everything he does on defense will be a challenge (altering shots, precise rotations). How are the Knicks going to cope with his loss? Please start your answer with “Bargnani will be looked to to…”

Tyson Chandler was not 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler last season. He wasn’t even sometimes-Defensive Player of the Year 2013 Tyson Chandler. And he was still the Knicks’ best defender by a mile. And now he’s gone. A fun exercise is asking overly optimistic Knicks fans to name this team’s best defenders. Iman Shumpert is always, and correctly, the first name that comes up. The second? Take your pick! Samuel Dalembert, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni… You catch my drift. How are the Knicks going to cope with Tyson’s loss? Not sure they can. If he remained healthy, he might have been able to keep them out of the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency this season. Without him? It’s going to get ugly. Also, in regards to Bargnani, did you hear he’s a former first overall pick? He’s a big that can shoot. Your team should trade for him.

Stretch fours are all the rage I hear…man that trade hurt you guys. It was so lopsided that we all were waiting for the catch; even days afterwards we thought it would be rescinded, amended, anything really. Speaking of Bargnani, after only one year of him, do you see him getting another contract in the NBA?

I don’t know, can I just respond with this? (Yeah, some team will be silly enough to think they can salvage him, but I figure he’ll sign overseas for a bigger contract.)

It’s telling that failing to trade him this summer, all Phil Jackson could muster to talk him up around the league was “We have a couple of guards he likes to play with, Jose (Calderon) and Pablo (Prigioni), and I think he’s going to be a surprise and a pleasant one for our fans,” but I digress…going back to Carmelo as a devastating stretch four; I get they have a system they want to implement, but forcing a system and not playing to their best players strengths feels like the only tool Phil has in his belt is a hammer and every problem looks like a nail.

Well, we’ve yet to see the Knicks play a game yet, so I don’t want to jump to any sort of conclusion like that one. But yes, Jackson is notorious for wanting things done his way, which is understandable considering he’s had a bit of success in the game of basketball. Like I mentioned before, some of what he’s done resonates with what’s hurt this franchise in the past. But I’d like things to play out a bit more before we label Jackson.

Impressive amount of restraint for a Knicks fan; you guys are usually good for aggressive knee-jerk reactions to everything. So lets talk about things that we can answer, namely the Knicks line-up. Top to bottom, there isn’t a lot of talent, and even in a weak East, it will be quite tough to make the playoffs. Discuss…

I don’t think the Knicks are making the Playoffs. It’s not impossible, but it’ll take a good amount of things to go their way. The new system will have to be implemented quickly, not an easy task when you have the triangle offense. New York will have to stay relatively healthy, while teams above them suffer major injuries. The Knicks will be fighting with Brooklyn, Indiana and Detroit for that eighth and final spot. They have to flat-out be better than all three of those teams, which won’t be easy. They have no defense, so shooting their way past the competition is their only means of making the postseason. In a new offense, with possibly less spacing if Melo plays the three, I don’t see it.

And Carmelo must have known this signing that contract. Barring any trades that net them real value for Bargnani and Ama’re, they are going to play out their contracts and just walk, opening up ~$33m in salary. With the other free agents, the Knicks should be around the $40m mark with nine roster spots to fill. At this point, unless they can move a combination of Calderon, Smith, Shump, Hardaway (who else has value?) for a second fiddle to Melo, they have, what, ~$16m+ to fill nine roster spots (if my guerrilla math is not totally off-base). The bright side is that there are quality free agents, and players with player-options next year, but why come to a fringe playoff team with a franchise player who will be on the wrong side of 31 before he will see his next playoff game? How long can Carmelo possibly wait for help before he Denvers his way out of New York? Knee-jerk God-dammit!!!

‘ll say this about next summer: It’ll be a real test of what’s really changed in this front office. Old Knicks teams would overpay for a guy like Greg Monroe if they couldn’t find a strong running mate for Anthony. A smart team would not splurge all of their cap space away, but sign low-risk high-reward deals, short-term movable contracts, try and gather assets, maybe have another go at it in 2016 or get a second All-Star through a trade. Which side of the fence will the Knicks be on? We’ll have to wait and see.

Oh right, knee-jerk. Um. Drake’s softer than my pillow.

…and Carmelo? How patient is he? All his peers have championships or competing for one…

C’mon, if he really cared about winning as much as he says he does, he wouldn’t have re-signed with the Knicks in the first place. This summer was his moment to putting winning in front of everything else. I’m sure it was still a factor for him, but money/family/location won Melo over.

So he plays out this season, see’s Cleveland fail because they need a third star to beat the Spurs/OKC/LAC, forces his way to Cleveland for Waiters/picks/parts, then wins? Is that what we can expect?

You’re not getting a typical Knicks fan overreaction answer out of me, Sam. Stop baiting me.

Over/under on games won?

36.5 I would say. And I’d take the under.

Finish this sentence: “This season will be a success for the Knicks if they …”

This may seem like cop-out or sappy answer, but to me, after last season’s egregious display… I just want the team to play like they give a shit for 82 games. For a team that had championship aspirations last season, they showed so little fight, so little will and disgusting amounts of complacency even when in the hunt for the eighth seed. That 51-point quarter the Lakers dropped on New York? Happened in the final stretch of the season, when the Knicks should have, what’s it called… competed for a Playoffs spot? So that’s it for me. Win 40 games, 30, 20, whatever, just give it your all for 82 nights. Make me feel proud of the team I’m cheering on, even if they’re a pile of dung. That’s a success in the shadow of last year.

I couldn’t break the kid…

Next up: Brooklyn Nets

A few news tidbits to pass along on an otherwise gorgeous Tuesday afternoon in Toronto.

1. Raptors have Bruno Caboclo (205 pounds) on a special diet

Let’s not read too much into this. Most pro-athletes are on ridiculous diets to bulk up or slim down. For the record, 6,000 calories is equivalent to more than 15 McDonald’s Junior Chicken sandwiches, and given that Bruno is just 19 years old, it’s not entirely impossible that he’s meeting his quota by chowing down on some McDicks.

2. Tim Leiweke might flee for warmer weather

There’s conflicting reports on this, but CBC’s Elliot Friedman (and other outlets too) is reporting that Tim Leiweke is looking to leave Toronto and return to Los Angeles. Word is, it has to do with weather. That makes sense — after all, who moves from Los Angeles to Toronto? It’s almost always the other way around.

 

 

Leiweke flatly denied the rumor, so there’s that too. I’d elaborate and update the story, but I’m on my way to work. Sam, Zarar or Blake will be around to pass along relevant information as they emerge.

Just as a passing note, losing Leiweke will certainly be a huge downer for the Raptors and MLSE. In only a year’s time, the Raptors have greatly improved in standing, both on the court and in terms of public perception. He helped bring Masai Ujiri back to the franchise, got us hooked on that Drizzy Drake and won the bid for the 2016 All-Star game. Most importantly, his skills as an account man rivaled that of Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell combined, as evidenced by the acquisitions made by TFC, Maple Leafs and Raptors. Let’s hope it’s just a rumor.

Just talked to Tim Leiweke re: rumours he’s leaving MLSE: “It’s not true. 100 per cent not true. I’m fully committed to the season at hand.”

Raptors HQ has a new chief in Steven Lebron, and while we here at RR already know him well (and we ain’t scared, homie), we thought this a good chance to try some back-and-forth between the sites. It is mid-August, after all, and we still have to sacrifice at the altar of the content gods. On this instalment, we try our best to move on from a very awkward Nathan For You intro into a conversation about Game 7 against Brooklyn, the whole Kevin Durant tampering thing, and more. Enjoy. (PS. this entire series is inspired by the Yakkin’ posts over at The Classical)

Alex Wong (aka. steven lebron): Just to be clear. I’ll be tucking you in.

Blake Murphy: Let me be clear, Alex. I will tuck you in. Also, this.

A: Do you know what I’ve been doing lately, probably because it’s August: thinking about that Terrence Ross steal. I think I’m over the Game 7 loss, and I’ve decided to narrow down my memory of that series to that one play and to take all the happiness and joy from that one single moment.

B: I’m unable to do that. When I think back, the only thing that really pops up is the final play of Game 7, where it was drawn up for the wrong side of the floor. I know it doesn’t really matter considering Miami awaited anyway, but what if the play is drawn up correctly, and Kyle Lowry drove right? Patrick Patterson is diving on his stronger side, Ross maybe doesn’t forget he’s supposed to be in the corner, and it ends differently. Or it doesn’t. If ifs were fifths, and all. I should be over it, but man, it still stings.

A: Do you really think that it didn’t matter? I mean, first seven game series win in franchise history? I feel like the city would have been really something in the second round, a kind of nothing to lose attitude against Miami, a weird we’re-going-to-be-eliminated-but-let’s-celebrate-anyways vibe. Also, great breakdown of that last play, to be honest I was in a fetal position on my dog’s bed at that point, I just wanted to press pause on that Ross steal. I’ve bounced around the idea of having someone (with a lot of time, and owes me a ridiculous favor) to edit the series to look like we won it right there, some real delusional shit.

Aside from that last play, I think about Game 3 — the Patterson free throws or even Game 6, which was kind of a throwaway. Or if Amir hadn’t fouled out in Game 7. Or if Ross was better in the series. Okay, I lied, I’m totally still thinking about this.

B: I only mean it didn’t matter in a super-macro way as in: what’s sports, anyway. It mattered to me, clearly. I watched the game a second time the next morning, on my birthday. I dragged myself through that series a bunch. They tied through seven games, basically. You can literally go through the series and pick out ten things either way that could have swung it. Unfortunately, I can’t just tip my cap: Fuck Brooklyn, forever.

A: Okay, enough of the past, are you in on this Kevin Durant to Toronto in 2016 conversation? Do you not want to talk about it at all? Would you like to get roped into it because we’ve never even been in the conversation for the top free agent on the market?

B: Umm, of course I want to talk about it. It’s going to be the greatest. It’s not going to happen, and the whole thing is hilarious and kind of ludicrous, but if there’s even a one percent chance it could happen then why not have some fun with it? As long as people don’t actually think he’s coming and plan as if that’s the case, I don’t see the harm in wild hypotheticals

A: For me, I think it’s absurd to think that Drake can influence a free agent like Durant to choose Toronto for anything other than basketball reasons. Remember when Jay Z and Mikhail Prokhorov tried to recruit LeBron in the summer of 2010, and ended up with this? I’ve come around on the whole Drake-as-ambassador thing. I think it’s great for the credibility of the team and the city.

But then I remember Drake making fun of Jay Z for eating fondue and how Durant is part of Roc Nation Sports!!! No way the Raptors even get a meeting in 2016. Trust me, rappers have long memories (as I ignore the fact that Jay made up with Nas after everything he said on Ether). But no, let’s keep talking about how Greivis Vasquez was Durant’s high school teammate and how he grew up wanting to be a Raptor.

I’m in on talking about this until it actually feels like we have a chance. Then I want to back off because it’s going to get a little too real. I don’t need feelings involved.

B: Agreed. A lot of parallels you can draw to real life where the low-stakes investment is fun but if it gets too real, it’s too real. Drake’s involvement has never really been for me, anyway, it’s just kind of fun to joke about and clown on.

I’m a big fan of his music, but as people who are heavily involved with the team, we’re not exactly the on the fence fans who will be drawn in a little more by a celebrity. If he helps drum up interest, by all means. And I can’t wait for the rap referencing the fine. Suggested line: “Only thing finer than my girl is 25 from the commish / That ain’t nothin’ just one less Rolex for the wrist.”

A: I came up with a couple bars too. I think Drake needs to fire a couple bars that go: “KD loves Toronto he needs no reminding/ I talked to Silver, I’m all about the linings/ It’s all love, you know KD is my guy/ we the north, not even Pac survived after he said Fuck Brooklyn, all hail to Masai/ We’ll get a couple assets from the Knicks, you know the routine/ laugh about the view from the six with Leiweke over some poutines.”

B: I don’t know about a whole verse. A line here and there is a bit more subtle, maybe the new album art with shouts to Durant somehow. I do love that Silver Linings line though, that’s fire. Maybe we should just release a track?

A: Let me clear some room in my Dropbox and we’ll make it happen. Another thing you should know: I put some money on the Raptors to win the East at 30-1, and did you know I’m totally going to be biased in my opinion and any analysis this season because of it. Do you see a scenario where they can come out of the East, assuming Cleveland and Chicago are healthy?

And Atlanta. For some reason, I think Atlanta is going to be really good this season.

B: Assuming health? No, they can’t get out of the East. They would need the Cavs to not mesh well and Derrick Rose to come back well below 100 percent. You can make a case that neither of those teams are a sure bet to stay healthy (it’s tenuous for Cleveland), and if that’s the case you can begin to craft a path, but it’s a stretch, man. 30-to-1 is great odds and I don’t fault you for laying money down, but I think there’s a clear one-two in the East, and then the Raptors are in a wider second tier scrapping for the third seed.

A: This is why I never win when I gamble. I like to make bets for good conversation. First impressions on the just released schedule for next season?

B: Eh, I don’t look into it too much. The four national games — nine if you count NBA TV, which some do but you really shouldn’t — is an awesome nod to the work the franchise has done and the reputation the fanbase has carved out. It sounds cheesy, I guess, but for real, if you’re reading this, you helped the team get those national games.

Other than that, there’s not much to complain about. Via Ed Kupfer, the Raptors actually have things slightly in their favor in terms of games against teams on back-to-backs and games with more rest than their opponents. Also, they start the season with a pretty heavy home schedule. So, not a lot to complain about.

I know you’re based in New York now some of the time. Any games you’ve already circled as ones you may try to get back for?

A: Well, it sucks they have that huge home stand right off the bat. I guess I’m not complaining that I’m going away for ten days in November to Italy with my wife for an unofficial honeymoon), but I was hoping to schedule a trip back to Toronto around a homestand where I could come back for two weeks.

I’ll probably just play it by ear and come back when it makes more sense later in the season. And of course, assuming things don’t go absolute haywire and we make the playoffs, I plan to come back and soak in the Jurassic Park vibe. It’s always nice — and so rare — to see a Toronto fan base that’s actually optimistic.

I went to the playoff games in Brooklyn this past season, but it obviously would not compare to being in Toronto.

B: It’s a beautiful thing, man, and it could make for a beautiful season. Keep in mind, though, that to hope is to risk pain.

A: Alright, I’m tucking this conversation in. Talk to you soon, my man.

Recorded in the wee hours of Monday morning, Andrew, Will and myself hold your hand as we walk you through the abundance of Raptors news while extolling and trolling through the following subject matter, which is capped off by naming of the Raptors All-Time Frustrating team.

Part 1:

  • Schedule Analysis – Advantage Raptors?
  • Jonas Valanciunas is devouring people in International ball
  • NBA being all whiny and inconsistent about fining people

Part 2

  • Jordan Hamilton makes it even in training camp
  • DeMar DeRozan registers a DNPCD with Team USA
  • Amir Johnson doesn’t have a contract

Part 3

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 (52:48, 51 MB). Or just listen below:

No children were hurt during the filming of this video. Only Kiwis who now know what it feels like to have the wrath of Jonas Valanciunas struck down upon you.

We’re Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians.

The Toronto Raptors capped off arguably their most successful season in franchise history four months ago. An surprisingly upstart team led by breakout campaigns from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan set a franchise-high in wins, pushing the team into the post-season for the first time in six years. The squad came within a Lowry floater away from winning their second-ever playoff series, nearly upsetting a well-stocked Brooklyn Nets team in the process. By all accounts, it was a very good year.

This offseason, general manager Masai Ujiri successfully retained all of his key free-agents, including highly sought-after point guard Kyle Lowry. Although Lowry ultimately ended up with a deal nearing full market value, there’s something to be said for a star opting to remain in Toronto long-term. As much as anything else — perpetual losers, where Vince Carter started his career — star players leaving in droves is a cursed insignia stitched into the team’s fabric. In that regard, Lowry’s return is a loose strand, symbolizing the hopeful unraveling of the Raptors’ patchy history.

And yet, with so much hard-earned momentum on its side, many fans (captained by members of the media) remain ardent in another chase altogether, shamelessly angling for fantastical moves to acquire Andrew Wiggins. Blow up the squad to land Wiggins. Trade picks for Anthony Bennett, or Tyler Ennis, or Andrew Nicholson, or Corey Joseph? Why not take a flyer on Melvin Ejim or Myck fucking Kabongo? When will Maple Jordan come home like LeBron James?

It’s nauseating.

Put aside for a second that Wiggins is largely unattainable. Who cares about the harsh realities of the CBA when the flimsy narrative of Wiggins coming home is so easy to parlay? Who cares if the franchise is building towards a perpetual contender reliant on continuity and a team-first identity? Why doesn’t Masai deal three-fifths of the starting lineup for Wiggins? Hey, not sure if you knew, but Wiggins is Canadian, eh?

I get the fascination with Wiggins, I really do. If your argument is that this current team has a limited ceiling, and that it lacks a pivotal transcendent talent, it makes some sense to trade for Wiggins. There isn’t a clear-cut future All-NBA caliber player on the team, and while youngsters like DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas could conceivably reach that level in due time, Wiggins boasts A-grade prospect cache and boundless athleticism. The physical foundation for a future star is there.

And yes, it would be exciting to have a home-grown star leading Canada’s only team. Unlike previous episodes with Chris Bosh and Carter, Wiggins’ ties to Canada should grant the Raptors a leg up in negotiations for once. If Lowry sticking around is a loose thread in checkered fabric, Wiggins developing into a full-fledged superstar in Toronto would be a red-and-white satin spreadsheet to cover up the hideous identity of old.

But where I get off the boat is when fans go overboard with the second idea. It’s one thing to hope for a rebuild, but Wiggins’ talent alone doesn’t account for the fervor of trade speculation. There’s almost no talk from fans in the acquisition of Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid — two players of roughly equivalent draft standing. Fans want Wiggins because he’s Canadian first and foremost. His talent comes second.

That’s my beef with the fetish for Wiggins — the Raptors are Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians. The franchise exists to eventually win championships, not to act as a safe refuge for Canadian basketball players. It’s not up to the Raptors to be the face of Canadian basketball or inspire Canadian youngsters to try their hands at the sport. That’s what Canada Basketball is for. The Raptors are an NBA team and the goal of NBA teams is to win NBA games.

If the thinking behind a play for Wiggins — or whichever Canadian player — is that he’s the best option to help the Raptors win, make the move. I don’t care if he’s Canadian, American, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentinian, Chinese, Haitian, Jamaican or a dude from the Monstars; if he can help the Raptors win, I’m all for it. Citizenship be damned.

This is the second time Masai Ujiri has made a move to sign Jordan Hamilton

According to a report from RealGM’s Shams Charania (a fairly reputable reporter), the Toronto Raptors have reached a one-year agreement with forward Jordan Hamilton.

The 23-year-old small forward was drafted 26th overall in 2011 by the Dallas Mavericks, and was dealt on draft day to the Denver Nuggets in a three-way trade. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri oversaw the deal, and it appears he has now inked Hamilton for a second time.

Hamilton boasts career averages of 5.8 points. 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 13.3 minutes per game across parts of three seasons. On a per-36 minute basis, those translate nicely to 15.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and two assists, which is more than respectable. His career PER averages out to 13.9, which is approximately league average.

Based on my personal observations on Hamilton, he reminds me of a discount version of Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green. Like Green, Hamilton has great size for the position of small forward, standing at 6-foot-7 weighing 220 pounds. He also boasts a perimeter-oriented game, having attempted 46.2 percent of his career field-goal attempts from three-point range, of which he sunk at a respectable 35.8 percent clip.

This move, however, would bring the Raptors’ roster to 16 for next season. There are currently 14 guaranteed contracts on the roster, with only point guard Will Cherry’s deal as potentially unguaranteed. Given that this is the second time Ujiri has acquired Hamilton, it’s safe to guess he’s big on Hamilton’s potential. However, head coach Dwane Casey previously noted the team’s need for a third point guard, so it’s unclear as to which faction will win out. Ultimately, it’s a matter of the 15th man on the roster, meaning it’s largely inconsequential.

The possibility also exists for the team to use the stretch provision open another roster spot, but that seems unlikely. Landry Fields would be the most likely candidate if such a move is to be made. It’s also possible that a trade is the endgame here. The possibilities are endless in accommodating this bit-move.

Here’s a highlight reel of Hamilton’s rookie season. Hey, it’s the offseason so what else are you going to do with your lunch break?

UPDATE – 11:50 p.m. - Ryan Wolstat confirms deal is unguaranteed, training camp battle likely ahead

 

I’ll never get over how weird this name thing is.

For the most part, it’s been something of a dull summer for the Toronto Raptors.

While other teams in the conference made sizable roster moves — Chicago landing Pau Gasol, Charlotte nabbing Lance Stephenson, Cavaliers signing James Jones — the Raptors largely stood pat. General manager Masai Ujiri doubled-down in betting on chemistry and development, electing to re-sign Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez. Save for the addition of James Johnson, the eight-man rotation is mostly unchanged from last season.

The conversation of whether or not it was smart for Ujiri to stand pat will be had on another day. Clearly, he felt confident in the team’s current core to compete, and opted to make marginal improvements elsewhere. The gamble on Johnson is a perfect example — if he’s the player he was for Memphis last season, the Raptors land themselves a big perimeter stopper on the cheap.

The same practice of marginal improvements also applies to his other notable offseason acquisition, that of Bebe Nogueira and Lou Williams, which came by way of the Atlanta Hawks in a trade for John Salmons. I touched on Bebe (wow that sounds awful) in a post earlier. This here is a profile for my namesake Lou Williams.

lou-williams-back

Age: 27

Position: Combo guard

Stats profile: 10.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists in 24.1 minutes per game

Nickname: Sweet Lou

Twittersphere nickname: LouTrillVille

Williams is a scorer, first and foremost. He likes having the ball in his hands, and despite being undersized by weight (175 pounds) and height (6-foot-2), Williams has a large wingspan which coupled with his ball-handling and quickness, allows him to be an effective scorer.

With Williams, there’s a point to distinguish between isolation scorer and ball-hog. While Williams isn’t the most inclined to pass out of a double-team — preferring instead to take side-leaning floaters — he has posted eight-straight seasons with an assist percentage of over 20 percent. In comparison, DeRozan’s career-high is 18.9 percent, which came last season. Williams’ mark ranked 53rd last season, which is far from good, but for a score-first combo guard, it’s reassuring that he does occasionally set up others.

The second thing to note is scoring efficiency. Williams isn’t a good shooter from the field (shot chart below), but by shooting a decent number of free-throws (36.3 FT rate) and three-pointers (46.9 3PTA rate), Williams manages to notch his true-shooting percentage to just above league-average. Last season, Williams only shot 40 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from deep, but he still managed a TS% of 54.7. For an off-the-bench, isolation combo guard, scoring at an league average rate is useful. We’re not dealing with Alan Anderson, for example.

shot chart

Shot chart courtesy of Nylon Calculus

This brings us to how Williams scores his points. Quite simply, he’s the prototypical bench scorer. In an interview with Basketball Insiders, Williams disclosed what the team expects of him.

They just want me to be in shape, they want Greivis [Vasquez] and I to come off the bench and give them energy, score the basketball and play with excitement

Williams mostly makes his living in the pick-and-roll, which accounted for over a third of his possessions last season, according to Synergy Sports. Of his 182 possessions, Williams pulled up for three approximately a third of the time, connecting on 42.2 percent of his tries. On the whole, he scored 0.88 points per pick-and-roll, which ranked 34th last season.

Before rupturing his ACL, Williams used to challenge shot blockers with the occasional dunk. His play lasts season was far more conservative, as he opted instead to finish his drives with floaters and running jumpers. It’s an alright shot, and allows Williams to finish at a respectable rate. He sunk 47.1 percent of his tries from 3-t0-10 feet, and surprisingly netted 67.2 percent between 0-3 feet, though that could in-part be inflated to his propensity to leak out for Corey Brewer-esque cherry-picked buckets.

Williams makes it work in the pick-and-roll with craftiness. He’s has great ball skills and he’s quick, which permits him to get by defenders. He also has a subtle herky-jerky change of pace game, which also helps in drawing fouls. He averaged 4.5 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, a mark that ranked 29th amongst guards last season, besting the likes of Mike Conley, Tony Parker and Reggie Jackson. He knows how to leverage his skills to draw contact, then sell it effectively. Being slight also helps in that regard.

Williams also doubles as a spot-up shooter, which in-part helps him to thrive in two-point guard lineups, something he should see plenty of in Toronto alongside either Lowry or Vasquez. He attempted 98 spot-up three-pointers in Atlanta’s three-point happy scheme last season, connecting on a respectable 36.7 percent. The season prior, Williams knocked down 50.8 percent (31-for-61). His true ability on spot-ups likely sits somewhere in-between.

In two-point guard lineups, Williams should serve as an effective outlet after an initial pick-and-roll. He likes to attack off the dribble or simply launch threes from above-the-break. He should reprise the role filled by Salmons last season, only he can, y’know, play NBA basketball.

However, offensive capabilities aside, Williams struggles on defense. It’s a two-pronged problem — he’s both undersized and inattentive. He’s serviceable in on-ball scenarios, having forced turnovers on over 20 percent of his pick-and-roll defensive possessions, but he really can’t defend spot-up scenarios, allowing an alarming 1.1 points per possession.

The off-ball thing is a worry because he spends a fair amount of time trailing behind two-guards, getting lost in screens and whatnot. Almost a third of his defensive possessions last year came via spot-up, of which he allowed opponents to connect on 48.8 percent of three-point tries. Take the play below for example. What is he thinking helping out on a Rubio drive, when there’s a help defender in Gustavo Ayon rotating over to protect the rim? His curious decision gives up a wide open corner triple.

Nine years into his professional career, the defensive issues won’t correct themselves, especially given Williams’ declining athleticism. For what it’s worth, he says he doesn’t even think about his knee 90 percent of the time, but having suffered a serious injury just 18 months ago, his durability will always be a question. If he’s having to trade pull-ups for forays to the basket, he’ll unfortunately blend into the blase of jumpshooters that currently paints the squad. Like with any guard, Williams is most effective when he operates in an even mix of drives and spot-ups.

And if his health does fail him, the Raptors are only tied to him for a year, making this season a test-trial for both him and the franchise. If he steps in and provides the Raptors with a much-needed fourth ball-handler while keeping his heat-checks in tow, he’ll net himself a lucrative deal — either here or elsewhere — to continue gunning. If he instead becomes a black hole who no longer sinks enough triples to offset his low field-goal percentage, the Raptors could easily sever their ties. It’s a gamble that could pay dividends for a roster looking to improve on its previous standing.

Oh, and he’s from the ATL, so you know he can spit that fire. Look for Williams’ latest verse to drop in Full Court Press, Vol. 1 which also features fellow NBAers Shawn Marion, Iman Shumpert, Charlie Villanueva and Stephen Jackson.

The schedule is released at 6pm tonight, and so far all we know is that the home start time is now 7:30pm instead of 7, which just pushes everything out by half an hour, and in my opinion is plain silly.  But, as long as it means more dinner specials being ordered at the ACC, that’s really what matters.

So as we wait for the schedule, here’s some thing we generally look out for and come 6pm, I’ll just fill in the blanks – let me know if I’ve missed any key events.

UPDATE: 6PM EST

NBA.com releases schedule, but ESPN’s is much better formatted (scroll down for full schedule too).  You can also download the schedule as a CSV file or, better yet, subscribe to it via iCal (which work with Google Calendar as well).

  • The Raptors play Miami, Indiana, Washington, and Milwaukee three times each next season.
  • Raps are on TNT versus Chicago on Nov 13, a Thursday
  • ESPN games are @ Charlotte April 8. Charlotte @ Toronto April 15
  • NBA TV Schedule: v DEN Dec 8, v SAS Feb 8, at NOP Feb 23, v HOU Mar 30, at MIA  April 11
  • Busiest months are November and January with 16 games each
  • 19 back-to-back games (last year we had 18) – 7 of the 19 are road back-to-backs.

Games by Day:

  • Sunday: 13 (7 home, 6 road)
  • Monday: 11 (6 home, 5 road)
  • Tuesday: 10 (2 home, 8 road)
  • Wednesday: 17 (11 home, 6 road)
  • Thursday: 2 (2 home, 0 road)
  • Friday: 19 (10 home, 9 road)
  • Saturday: 10 (3 home, 7 road)

The official dot com broke some info down too and here’s ESPN’s excellent NBA-wide breakdown.

What? When?
Season Opener Oct 29 at home vs Atlanta
First Road Game Nov 1 in Orlando
US National TV TNT: v Chicago on Nov 13, ESPN:  @ Charlotte on April 8, v Charlotte on April 15
Nets v Raptors Rematch in Toronto Dec 17
Nets v Raptors Rematch in Brooklyn Jan 30
Longest Roadtrip 1 6-game road swing between Dec 22-Jan 4: Chicago, Clippers, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Phoenix
Longest Homestand 7-game homestand between Nov 7 and Nov 21 – Washington, Philly, Orlando, Chicago, Utah, Memphis, Milwaukee
Second-Longest Homestand 6-game home-stand between Jan 8 and Jan 18: Charlotte, Boston, Detroit, Philly, Atlanta, New Orleans
Western Swing 1 3-game trip between Nov 30-Dec 3: Lakers, Kings, and Utah
Western Swing 2 Par of the 6-game roadtrip between Dec 22-Jan 4
Christmas Schedule 5-day break between trip to Chicago (Dec 22) and trip to Clippers (Dec 27) between
New Years Schedule Raps don’t play on NY Eve or NY Day – NY starts in GSW on Jan 2
All-Star Break Schedule 9-day break for the Raptors with nothing between the Washington game on Feb 11 and in Atlanta on Feb 20
Season Ending Schedule Season ends on April 15 at home vs Bobcats, preceded by a trip to Boston
Andrew Wiggins Return March 18 – long ways away
Vince Carter Return Nov 19
Chris Bosh Return Mar 13
Jose Calderon Return Dec 21
Andrea Bargnani Return Dec 21
Rudy Gay Return Jan 28
Kevin Durant in Toronto Nov 4
LeBron James in Toronto Dec 5
The Champs, San Antonio Spurs in Toronto Feb 8
Date Opponent Time
Wed, Oct 29 vsAtlanta 7:30 PM
Sat, Nov 1 @Orlando 7:00 PM
Sun, Nov 2 @Miami 6:00 PM
Tue, Nov 4 vsOklahoma City 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 5 @Boston 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 7 vsWashington 7:30 PM
Sun, Nov 9 vsPhiladelphia 7:00 PM
Tue, Nov 11 vsOrlando 7:30 PM
Thu, Nov 13 vsChicago 8:00 PM
Sat, Nov 15 vsUtah 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 19 vsMemphis 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 21 vsMilwaukee 7:30 PM
Sat, Nov 22 @Cleveland 7:30 PM
Mon, Nov 24 vsPhoenix 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 26 @Atlanta 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 28 vsDallas 7:30 PM
Sun, Nov 30 @Los Angeles 9:30 PM
Tue, Dec 2 @Sacramento 10:00 PM
Wed, Dec 3 @Utah 9:00 PM
Fri, Dec 5 vsCleveland 7:30 PM
Mon, Dec 8 vsDenver 7:30 PM
Tue, Dec 9 @Cleveland 7:00 PM
Fri, Dec 12 vsIndiana 7:30 PM
Sun, Dec 14 @NY Knicks 7:30 PM
Mon, Dec 15 vsOrlando 7:30 PM
Wed, Dec 17 vsBrooklyn 8:00 PM
Fri, Dec 19 @Detroit 7:30 PM
Sun, Dec 21 vsNY Knicks 3:30 PM
Mon, Dec 22 @Chicago 8:00 PM
Sat, Dec 27 @Los Angeles 3:30 PM
Sun, Dec 28 @Denver 9:00 PM
Tue, Dec 30 @Portland 10:00 PM
Fri, Jan 2 @Golden State 10:30 PM
Sun, Jan 4 @Phoenix 8:00 PM
Thu, Jan 8 vsCharlotte 7:30 PM
Sat, Jan 10 vsBoston 7:30 PM
Mon, Jan 12 vsDetroit 7:30 PM
Wed, Jan 14 vsPhiladelphia 7:30 PM
Fri, Jan 16 vsAtlanta 7:30 PM
Sun, Jan 18 vsNew Orleans 3:30 PM
Mon, Jan 19 @Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Wed, Jan 21 @Memphis 8:00 PM
Fri, Jan 23 @Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sun, Jan 25 vsDetroit 7:00 PM
Tue, Jan 27 @Indiana 7:00 PM
Wed, Jan 28 vsSacramento 7:30 PM
Fri, Jan 30 @Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Sat, Jan 31 @Washington 7:00 PM
Mon, Feb 2 vsMilwaukee 7:30 PM
Wed, Feb 4 vsBrooklyn 7:30 PM
Fri, Feb 6 vsLos Angeles 7:30 PM
Sun, Feb 8 vsSan Antonio 7:00 PM
Wed, Feb 11 vsWashington 7:30 PM
Fri, Feb 20 @Atlanta 7:30 PM
Sat, Feb 21 @Houston 8:00 PM
Mon, Feb 23 @New Orleans 8:00 PM
Tue, Feb 24 @Dallas 8:30 PM
Fri, Feb 27 vsGolden State 7:30 PM
Sat, Feb 28 @NY Knicks 7:30 PM
Mon, Mar 2 @Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Wed, Mar 4 vsCleveland 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 6 @Charlotte 7:00 PM
Sun, Mar 8 @Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Tue, Mar 10 @San Antonio 8:30 PM
Fri, Mar 13 vsMiami 7:30 PM
Sun, Mar 15 vsPortland 7:00 PM
Mon, Mar 16 @Indiana 7:00 PM
Wed, Mar 18 vsMinnesota 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 20 @Chicago 8:00 PM
Sun, Mar 22 vsNY Knicks 4:00 PM
Tue, Mar 24 @Detroit 7:30 PM
Wed, Mar 25 vsChicago 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 27 vsLos Angeles 7:30 PM
Mon, Mar 30 vsHouston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 1 @Minnesota 8:00 PM
Fri, Apr 3 @Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Sat, Apr 4 vsBoston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 8 @Charlotte 7:00 PM
Fri, Apr 10 @Orlando 7:00 PM
Sat, Apr 11 @Miami 7:30 PM
Tue, Apr 14 @Boston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 15 vsCharlotte 8:00 PM

For some of you, its clear as day as to who your starting 5 for the Raptors would be for next season. For others, its still up for debate. Who do you have in your starting 5 next year?

Third seed. That seems to be the general consensus where this team will finish next season. Right on top of the craptastic Atlantic division which now features a slimmed down Carmelo Anthony who, despite losing a brick-ton of weight, will no doubt use his new-found shape to execute even more pointless jab-steps before launching a jumper that’ll make Phil Jackson wish he was smoking a peace pipe in Montana while Jeanie Buss belly-danced to the tune of Black Magic Woman.

The loftiness of the Raptors aspirations do appear to have a hard ceiling, with the Bulls forming the popcorn part and the Cavaliers the brand new shingles.   Most Raptors fans are quite comfortable with this, knowing in their heart of hearts that though the Raptors are a good team, they’re not that good.  It’s much like settling for a job that pays above the median salary but well below what the executives make. It’s a good feeling where you want to pat yourself on the back, buy a barbecue, and perhaps even start a family where the kids’ names all start with the same letter.  That’s where the Raptors are,  snug in the top half of the Eastern Conference, perched up like a gargoyle just below two other gargoyles.

Not so fast, though.  There are threats in the conference which make that third seed look like a bit of a trap.  I’m sure I don’t need to remind the esteemed reader that both times the Raptors finished third in the conference, they lost, once because Jose Calderon couldn’t weigh a pass, and the other because Paul Pierce forgot to trim his fingernails.  If you look at the teams that are likely to be 4-8, it’s a shuffle between Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, and one of Brooklyn, Indiana, and New York.  There are no guarantees in the first batch, and the second isn’t even worth talking about since they’re just prey for Chicago and Cleveland.

If the goal of next season is to climb out of the first round, the Raptors will have to beat a pretty good team.  Miami is obviously going to be decent, though I do think they’re going to get off to a slow start, mostly due to the shock of realizing that Chris Bosh is now their cornerstone.  Atlanta was fantastic last season and had firm grasp of the third seed right up until Al Horford tore his pectoral muscles like a dry twig.  Washington actually won a playoff round and arguably have the best backcourt in the East, the fastest with-the-ball end-to-end guard in the league, an experienced frontline, and can match the Raptors for that oh-so-special intangible of chemistry.  Charlotte, well, Charlotte could be had, and I’m thinking Charlotte becomes last year’s Washington for the Raptors where the Raptors would be angling to want to face them in the playoffs.

I have little doubt the Raptors will win the Atlantic and finish with home court, but even getting that far and throwing yourself into the playoff mix as described is going to be tough.  Why? Because teams aren’t going to let the success of last year simply repeat without doing something about it.  Adjustments, is where I’m going with this.  You got to make them as you grow older and realize that you can’t scale two steps at a time, and so do other teams when they face the Raptors.

The first adjustment teams will make is to test DeMar DeRozan’s jumper.  The 39% he shot between 10-16 feet is not going to cut it, or at least, shooting that percentage from that area isn’t going to net him 8 FTAs per game.  Teams will make him prove that he can shoot it before allowing him to drive.  The two wings that shot more FTs than him, Kevin Durant and James Harden, shot 44% and 46% from that range, and that’s probably where DeRozan will need to take his game to, in order for his drive game to open up, which Greg Mason talked about yesterday.  His tighter handles may yield him more blow-buy opportunities, but ultimately it’s his jumper that’ll need to improve.

Kyle Lowry will be game-planned for more than ever.  The man has enough talent to score against most defenses so I’m not worried about him getting his points – he has enough of a first-step, reads the defense well, and is physically able to bump off defenders to create space for a shot, even if he’s a tad bit off-balance.  Watching the tape, he was simply not respected enough as a three-point shooter last season.  Teams tended to cheat off him, especially in two-guard lineups allowing him to settle in behind screens for jumpers that he drilled at a 38% clip from three.  They will close him down more which doesn’t bother me much because his drive game is good enough to negotiate that.  Last year he took a whopping 6.3 threes a game, which was 2.2 threes more than the year before.  Long story short, he took more threes than he’s ever taken and hit them very efficiently, and if I noticed that, you can bet that NBA scouts did.  A reduction in 3FGAs is a certainty, it’s whether Lowry can compensate for that loss in points through other areas that’s going to be key.

Terrence Ross shot close to 40% from three last season and 54% of his shots were threes (Random comparison: 64% of Kyle Korver’s shots were threes and he shot 47%).  Having two guys like DeRozan and Lowry on the floor helps Ross tremendously, because there’s only so many players you can game-plan for.  Ross came into last season shooting only 33% from downtown in his rookie year, so he wasn’t considered a three-point threat for a big chunk of the season, with defenses  testing his shot more than seriously contesting it.   Given his success last season, you would think that that will change a bit, and as William Lou mentioned, he may be capable of the drive-and-punish more than he’d led us to believe.  One thing which is known is that he’s going to be treated like a three-point shooter coming into next season and will have to put the ball on the floor more than he has so far in his career.  Much like Sam at the Rail, Ross now likes to park himself in the corner, eye the game from a wide angle, and pounce when opportunity presents.

From a bench standpoint, Patrick Patterson’s preference to step-out for a the mid-range jumper, and Greivis Vasquez’s inclination for the floater, are now known more than ever.  What’s comforting as a Raptors fan is that both these guys are smart basketball players who can adapt to what a defense is giving you rather than continually forcing their game.  In truth, it’s one of the reasons I really like this team: there aren’t any dumb guys like Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Andrea Bargnani, etc., that try to fit a square peg in a round hole without stopping to think, ‘Hey man, I’m trying to fit a square peg in a round hole’.

From an offensive setup, teams will try to get the ball out of Lowry hands and force DeRozan or Ross to initiate the offense.  Casey could respond by promptly inserting Vasquez, but it remains to be seen how sustainable a strategy that is, and it also depends much on what Lou Williams has to offer (Will’s got a thunderf**k of an article about him tomorrow).   My comfort-level in watching the offense run though DeRozan has increased because he’s shown he’s capable of either making the right pass and, other than the playoffs, gives the ball up when he needs to.  He’s may not ever be a point-forwardish ball-handler like Scottie Pippen or Kevin Durant, but he knows how to prevent the ball from being stuck (again, other than the Nets series).

Ross happens to have a tighter dribble than DeRozan and will find himself in positions where he’s going to be asked to more than just catch-and-shoot, which accounted for 52% of his shots last season.  He averaged 1.7 drives per game and 1 assist in almost 27 minutes a game.  Those are not flattering numbers, and to be fair, his role was strictly catch-and-shoot last year.  As his game evolves, the next step for him is to use that soft, feathery release in a pull-up or floater, because he has enough of a first step that he can evade a defender to get into the 7-12 feet range on either side of the court.  Rather than having to rely on Vasquez to move Lowry off the ball, it would be a tremendous luxury for Dwane Casey to have Ross be a ball-handler.  It should be noted with a fountain pen that James Johnson is an adept ball-handler as well, and could be used similarly, but simply doesn’t stretch the floor as Ross does.

Much like this lump on my chest, the defense is difficult for me to diagnose.  The Raptors were 5th in the NBA in January and February, but fell to 17th in the final quarter of the season, and finished the season at a respectable 10th place.  That poor defense carried over into the playoffs which didn’t bode well, and serves as a mild warning heading into next season.  On that front, James Johnson should help.  How the overall defense changes also depends on Bebe Nogueira’s impact off the bench and whether his rim-defense can start fast breaks (like JaVale McGee) , or whether his pick ‘n roll defense can force guards to pick up dribbles and cause short-clock situations.

At the very least, the Raptors have to improve their defense of the corner three, which they were bottom-third in defending from a percentage perspective in that miserable last quarter of the season where teams shot over 42% from the corners.  When you think about it, that three is a by-product of the opposition moving the ball well, usually after some amount of dribble penetration. As the season wore on, guys like DeRozan and Lowry paid the price for playing a career-high in minutes with 38.2 and 36.2, respectively.  This partially led to a leaky perimeter defense both in the later stages of the season and the playoffs, which lends some credence to the idea that their minutes should be monitored rather than being played to death as if Tom Thibodeau was head coach.   Ideally, you’d like to bring down DeRozan and Lowry’s minutes to around 32, which would mean they’re fresher for when it counts, and are also able to go harder on defense the time they’re on the court.  Obviously, the Spurs model of everyone playing under 30 minutes is ideal, but the Raptors may not have the depth to pull that off.

Heading into next season, there are tweaks to be made and preventive measures needing to be taken.  Most of all, let not the familiarity of the roster make us believe that key adjustments aren’t required.

This is great news. No more sending guys like DeAndre Daniels to Perth, Australia.

It’s 2 a.m. so this is a short report. According to Time Warner Cable News in Rochester, the Toronto Raptors are looking to enter into an agreement with the Rochester RazorSharks. From the report:

The Rochester RazorSharks basketball team is in talks with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, according to sources within the RazorSharks front office, who said the Raptors are looking for a NBA Developmental League affiliate.
The keys to note are the following. The Raptors are currently co-affiliated with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants team along with 12 (!!!) other teams. Currently, Rochester is not a part of the D-League, so the Raptors’ push looks to be adding the RazorSharks into the fold. It makes sense geographically, as Rochester is just a 50 minute flight from downtown Toronto.
For more on why the Raptors should acquire a D-League affiliate, read Blake Murphy’s excellent breakdown.
Editor’s note: the original headline read “Razorbacks”. Apologies for the oversight. No more blogging at 2 a.m.

The Aussies boast the likes of Aron Baynes and former Raptor David Andersen.

But Jonas has little regard for those minions. He continues his dominant performance in international ball, scoring 19 points while grabbing eight rebounds. If someone could link to the boxscore of this game in the comments below, that would be appreciated. I can’t, for the life of me, find it.

 

UPDATE: Jonas scored 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. He also drew 7 (!!!) fouls in just 26 minutes of play. Props to commentor imvaid for hunting down the boxscore.

 

 

Ed’s Note: This article is written by Greg Mason, who is a regular guest on The Doctor Is In Podcast.  Follow Greg on Twitter at @VotaryOfHoops.

A few weeks ago I wrote a shooting breakdown of the Raptors using the Nylon Calculus shooting charts. In the piece I was fairly critical of DeRozan’s high volume mid-range game.

I realized soon after the post hit the site that I sold DeRozan short by failing to bring a major part of his game into the discussion: free throw shooting.

A good 3-point shooter is sexier than Shakira’s gyrating hips in today’s analytics-driven game. In addition to the obvious fact that 3s count for more than 2s, good shooters also space the floor and open driving lanes to the basket. This is good and well but one important fact has been obfuscated by the love of the 3 ball: getting to the free throw line is actually more valuable than shooting a three. On this subject Andrew Johnson notes: “In the NBA last year, players made just under 36% of the 1766 three pointers taken, for an average of 1.078 points per three point attempt. Players made 75.6% of their free throw attempts for 1.51 points per shooting foul drawn on a two shot. And for those doing the math at home, yes 1.51 is greater than 1.078.”

This brings us back to DeRozan. While I still feel that his game would be well served by cutting down on long mid-range jumpers, part of the high volume, low efficiency critique waged against him is mitigated by the fact that DeRozan is among the league’s best at getting to foul line and making free throws. Last week Zarar offered up ways that DeRozan can improve driving to the basket and noted that DeRozan is 20th in the league in drives per game and 12th in points per drive. While DeRozan is likely too singularly focused on getting to the free throw line when he drives, his ability to get to the stripe nevertheless provides a hell of a lot of value to the team.

Last season DeRozan was 4th in the league in FTM per game behind only Love, Harden and Durant. He not only got to the line frequently, he also converted at an 82.4 % clip. Notably, DeRozan has improved at getting to the free throw line each year in the league. Last season he beat his previous career highs in free throw attempts and makes by 203 and 164, respectively. As you see below, DeRozan also got better at getting to the free throw line as the season went on:

GP FTM FTA FT%
October 1 0.0 2.0 0.0
November 14 5.0 6.1 81.4
December 14 5.2 6.7 77.7
January 15 6.5 8.3 78.4
February 12 7.8 9.2 85.5
March 16 8.1 9.3 86.6
April 7 7.9 9.1 85.9

He not only increased his attempts and makes per game, he also improved his percentages. By the time the playoffs rolled around, DeRozan was a veritable monster at the line. DeRozan led the playoffs in FTM per game by a wide margin at 10.1 makes per contest. Russell Westbrook was the next closest challenger at 7.6 FTM per game. Even more impressive, DeRozan improved his free throw shooting to 89.9% in the playoffs.

Another particularly impressive feature of DeRozan’s game is his ability to get to the line when it matters most. Per 82games.com, DeRozan was 5th best in the league at 18.5 free throw attempts per 48 minutes in clutch time last season. Clutch is defined here as any stat accumulated in the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than 5 minutes left, where neither team is ahead by more than 5 points.

Last season DeRozan was fouled on 16.4 % of his field goal attempts. In the clutch, however, DeRozan increased his already impressive rate of drawing fouls to 21.5%. This was a major jump from the 2012-2013 season where DeRozan was fouled on 13.7 % of his FGA and 14.6 % of his FGA in the clutch.

As a team the Raptors had the 7th-most FTA in the league last year. What’s significant there, aside from the high PPP value of getting to the line, is that teams across the league shot about a 5 percent lower eFG% after ‘stopped ball’ events such as made baskets, turn overs, fouls and time outs.

As we see, getting to the free throw line is valuable to a team in many ways. It’s not only a highly valuable shot in terms of points per possession. It also puts other teams into foul trouble and stops the ball, which enables teams to get back into their defensive sets and cuts down on fast break points allowed. Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and the first person to be hired as a full-time statistical analyst by an NBA team, determined that getting to the foul line frequently is one of the four most important keys for success in team basketball along with shooting a high eFG%, limiting turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds.

DeRozan’s FG% this season was a less than desirable 43 percent. His true shooting percentage (53.2%) however, which takes into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws, was his highest since his rookie season and only a hair below the 53.89% league average. There are certainly downsides to DeRozan’s hyper focus on getting to the foul line such as taking bad shots in an effort to draw fouls and a tunnel vision which sometimes prevents DeRozan from finding open teammates and disrupts the flow of the game. Having said that, if we think about DeRozan’s offensive game holistically and take the time to appreciate the multi-faceted value of getting to the free throw line, we gain a more well-rounded understanding of what DeRozan brings to the Raptors.

The queen bee (no, not Lorde nor Lil’ Kim) has spoken. Now what say you in this hive of worker bees?

Every summer, the fine execs at ESPN try their best to fill the haunting void between the end of free-agency and the start of the preseason. For the most part, their solution is all-NFL, all-the-time, but they do cater to die-hard basketball fans as well. For those of us who prefer the elegance of putting leather balls through 10-foot hoops rather than the savagery of watching 300-pound humans smash into one another without reproach for humanity, the mothership offers Summer Forecast, which aims at predicting team standings, award winners, etc etc. As is the rule of sports media, if you can’t break news, generate discussion. This is the latter (though ESPN is just one Woj away from corralling the former).

An esteemed panel of 210 writers and analysts were polled, and their responses were aggregated to generate the forecasts. Laying our cards on the table, Raptors Republic’s very own Blake Murphy’s vote was counted, so direct your ire towards him. Without further ado, here’s where the Raptors ranked (full post here).

Overall Record: 47-35, First in Atlantic Division, Third in Eastern Conference

Feel free to discuss below. We’ll have our own write up on how the East will shake out next season in the coming weeks. The Raptors Weekly crew of myself, Andrew and Zarar touched on the subject a few episodes back. We also ranked the Raptors third.

[crotch grab: RaptorsHQ]

Drake’s comments on his OVO event were:

“My brother Kevin Durant was kind enough to come to the show tonight and watch us,” Drake said to his audience. “I just want him to see what would happen if he were to come play in Toronto.”

Here’s video of the whole thing:

The NBA would have likely let this slide hadn’t Drake been officially part of the Raptors organization in his role as Global Ambassador where his primary duties include attending games whilst trying hard to look absorbed. As it stands, this is clear tampering. RR does find it funny that the NBA comes down hard on this but doesn’t have a problem with players blatantly colluding (ahem, Miami) to form partnerships. Something’s amiss.

Read William Lou’s analysis of KD in Toronto.

The pod motors along with Will and myself taking you through slim pickings in a diabolically masterful fashion.  How we filled up 33+ minutes while slicing this baby into three parts will remain one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Part 1:

  • Wiggins for Love is unofficially official which means #UnleashWiggins
  • Brian Scalabrine is coming home
  • What’s the deal with Eric Bledsoe?

Part 2:

  • DeMar DeRozan’s chances of making USA team – Rudy and DeMar reunite
  • Better DeRozan rest or get some USA experience?
  • How does it affect his training camp?
  • The “evidence” of DeRozan working on his handles

Part 3:

  • Jonas Valanciunas played vs Finland and played well
  • DeAndre Daniels is off to Australia
  • Jays talk

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 (33:50, 32 MB). Or just listen below:

According to a report in the Herald Sun (Australian site), Raptors second rounder DeAndre Daniels will be joining the Perth Wildcats. The report states:

Almost a year to the day after signing James Ennis, who has returned to the US to play with the Miami Heat, the Wildcats have pulled off a similar coup by landing Daniels.

“I’m going to Australia for four months, a long vacation, and I’m going back and will be with the Raptors,” Daniels was quoted as saying.

“I’m just going to go out there and not look at it as a negative, but look at it as a positive.

“I’m just going to go out there and get better.”

The 6’8″ Junior from UConn had a decent showing in the Vegas summer league (recent interview here). Daniels 10 points, 6.2 rebounds, and .4 steals while shooting 36% from the floor in the Vegas summer league. He also shot 26% from three, while taking 23 threes in the five games.

Here’s his Twitter.

Is Andrew Wiggins two years away from two years away from being a Raptor? (No)

On Thursday morning, the NBA’s oracle Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves had agreed to a trade, in which Cleveland would send Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected first to Minnesota for Kevin Love.

The deal itself is nothing short of historic. Trading a 25-year-old superstar in his prime is almost as crazy as severing two back-to-back first picks in one fell swoop. And yet, the deal makes sense for both teams. Love joins LeBron James to form the most formidable team in the Eastern Conference, while the two prospects gives Minnesota a foundation in which to build on for the future. Both teams got what they wanted.

But this is a Raptors site, and being that it is such, we don’t care about the well-being of the Timberwolves, nor Cavaliers. Minny squandered over a decade of Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, while the Cavaliers inexplicably lucked into four (!!!) number one overall picks in the span of 11 years, over which time they’ve landed LeBron twice. TWICE! Fuck the Cavs, and to a lesser extent, fuck the Timberwolves as well.

That being said, this deal does pose both short and long-term implications for our beloved Dinos. How could it not? The trade will see a title contender in the East get even stronger, while Maple Jordan and his disappointing side-kick Maple Bill Wennington (wait…) flock Westwards.

close

Short term: the crack in the Raptors’ window has closed (entirely)

Had the Cavaliers just rolled into the season with LeBron, Irving and a rag-tag cast of spare parts, I could have been convinced the Raptors had a shot to maybe win a game or two against them in the playoffs. It could have been argued that LeBron might have needed more time to gel with his teammates, and that their ball-starved offense would fail to mask their non-existent paint defense. If that were the case, the Raptors’ superlative chemistry and depth had a fighting chance.

But then again, one team had LeBron. And now they have Love.

I realize that the general opinion on Love’s abilities is somewhat divided. Some believe him to be a perpetual loser who pads his stats and plays James Harden-esque defense. Others believe Love makes up for his lack of rim-protection by being a phenomenal rebounder, and is an uniquely talented force on offense. One of those two groups is dumb (hint: it’s the first.)

If you have any doubts about the new holy trinity in Cleveland, answer me this: say LeBron runs a pick-and-roll with Love. LeBron’s too dangerous when he drives, so the opposing big sags back in the paint while LeBron’s man shades him towards the help. But then LeBron pops a pass to Love, who slipped the screen and is now wide open above-the-break. However, the defense is alert, and another defender on the wing quickly rotates over to Love so he can’t get the shot off. Love sees this, and being the gifted passer that he is, he alertly swings it over to Irving, whose man rotated over to Love. Now Irving is headed to the basket with a full head of steam and no one in front of him. Meanwhile, Love has a mismatch and LeBron is crashing the glass. Oh, and Mike Miller and another three-point shooter is parked in either corners, so send help at your own peril.

Good luck.

Barring any injuries (which is the biggest chink in Cleveland’s armor), the Cavaliers should run away with the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol joining the Bulls is somewhat interesting, but aside from them, no one else is close, and that includes the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry is a cute tandem, but come on.

WIGGINS

Long Term: OMG Raptors can haz Wigginz?

If I’m not mistaken, here’s how the theory of how this helps the Raptors’ chances of landing Wiggins in the future: Wiggins wouldn’t have passed on a chance to play with LeBron in Cleveland, but now that he’s on the shitty Timberwolves, he’ll want out! His contract runs out after four seasons which means…OMG WIGGINS TO RAPTORS IN 2018!

Except, that assumes Wiggins hates playing in Minnesota/loves the Raptors so much that he turns down a max extension in year three, and again in year four, signs his qualifying offer for year five just to reach unrestricted free-agency, and then sign a smaller maximum with the Raptors at that point. If that’s the path he chooses, his agent should never represent another client ever again.

If anything, the move to Minnesota affords Wiggins more room to grow. All three of LeBron, Waiters and Irving boasted usage rates over 25 percent last season, which is a complicated way of saying Wiggins would have never saw the ball in Cleveland. In Minnesota, he gets to cut his teeth without respite — it’s not like the Timberwolves are contending anytime soon. He’ll have a point guard in Ricky Rubio who is willing to spot him the ball, and in rather spectacular fashion (Rubio even made Derrick Williams look good!) Under the guidance of an above-average coach in Flip Saunders — or whomever he bills as his replacement — Wiggins can live the life of a regular lottery-selected rookie. He can fly without fear of falling.

And if Wiggins does indeed pan out like the superstar many think he’ll become, why would he turn down tens of millions to jump ship to Toronto? Who knows how the Raptors will look in four years? Will they have enough cap room to accommodate Wiggins? Who else will still be on the team? Or if he’s a bust, why would the Raptors want him? Or more importantly, ask yourself when was the last time a number one pick (who didn’t bust) took the fast-track to unrestricted free-agency to sign elsewhere under the last two CBA’s? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The likelier path for Wiggins to land in Toronto would have been if he stayed on Cleveland, and saw his stock diminish from not having the ball. Then, provided that the Raptors had something of value to the Cavaliers, they could have worked out a trade. Of course, the Cavs were smart and quickly dealt for Love, an asset worth more than anyone currently on the Raptors (except Bruno, because y’know, Brazilian KD). That window has closed too.

But hey, Bennett is probably up for grabs. Anyone interested in him?

This is Terrence Ross, owner of two NBA slam dunk trophies.

This is Kenneth Faried, a power forward who has at least 30 pounds on Ross. Colloquially known as “the Manimal”, Faried is as much — if not more — of an athletic marvel as Ross. On a fateful night in January, the two players collided on a fast-break. This was the ensuing result:

Which brings me to my premise — why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket?

Let’s add some context. Last season, Ross averaged just 1.7 drive field-goal attempts per game, which ranked well outside the top-100. On those drives, he scored just 2.1 points per 48 minutes placing him among fine company in Andrea Bargnani and Kirk Hinrich.

The simple rebuttal is that Ross doesn’t drive because his role in the offense is to spot-up. That certainly explains half the story, as his average of 1.7 drives per game did rank similar to spot-up shooters like Courtney Lee and DeMarre Carroll. But Ross isn’t a run-of-the-mill shooter. Go ahead, watch that Faried dunk again.

Rather, the answer might be even simpler — Ross just isn’t good at attacking the basket.

First off, Ross really can’t attack the basket going left because he heavily favors his right hand. He’s actually not a bad ball-handler (with either hand) for a wing, as he can reasonably navigate around defenders using his quickness to offset his slightly high dribble. But, when he does drive left, he tends to pull-up instead of dribbling all the way to the hoop because he’s not a good finisher with his left hand.

This is the typical outcome when Ross goes left:

He also tends to get tunnel vision when he does drive. Ross doesn’t receive very many touches (less than 30 per game), but he averaged less than two assists per 100 possessions last season, an impossibly low figure for a wing player.

Take this play, for instance. The Magic’s defense plays it well, and stays with him to the point where he’s trapped in the paint. But instead of kicking it out to Amir Johnson for an open jumper, or just resetting by using Amir as the release valve, he takes an ill-advised fadeaway. To his credit, he nailed the shot, but process trumps results. Ross rarely creates for anyone when he does attack.

And lastly, Ross is sometimes timid when he attacks, which is strange because his athleticism should allow him to finish over-top opponents. He loves settling for the elbow jumper even when he has a driving lane. Again, this isn’t a Kyle Korver-type — Ross has the tools to finish overtop rim-defenders, or at least draw contact in his attempts.

The reliance on elbow jumpers is a problem for two reasons. One, it’s not a good shot to take. To his credit, Ross doesn’t attempt too many, but that circles back to the central thesis about his driving. He’s also just not great at sinking them, albeit the sample size to draw conclusions from is rather small. The problem does seem to trace back to his rookie season too, however, as he shot a combined 19-for-61 (31 percent) from the elbows in 2012-13.

Shotchart_1407303909929Ross’ 2013-14 shot chart

Two, Ross almost never draws fouls on mid-range pull-up attempts. Unlike his teammate DeMar DeRozan, who catches plenty of attention from referees, Ross’ jumpshot simply doesn’t yield foul shots. As a whole, Ross averaged the second-fewest number of free-throw attempts on a per-36 minute basis among all guards last season. That’s a problem for the Raptors’ offense, and it’s inflexibility puts pressure on the Raptors’ offensive schemes.

Take the play below, which unfolds much like the first GIF. The Thunder overload on DeMar’s drive, as he draws the bulk of defensive attention. When his screen play with Hansbrough produces nothing fruitful, he’s forced to reset by swinging it over to Ross. It’s an extremely basic action that almost every organized basketball team employs.

The action creates a rare one-on-one opportunity for Ross to breakdown the smaller Reggie Jackson, who to his credit, is in perfect position to help. Had Jackson reacted a second slower, Ross would have likely took the open three. But Jackson is alert, and is positioned smartly at the nail, allowing him to closeout on Ross without needing to leave his feet. But the reality is still that a defender was on the move, and Ross should had him dead in the rights, provided he could get past him.

And yet he didn’t, which speaks to a larger problem. Once the defense was able to snuff out DeMar or Lowry’s initial action, the ball would have to swing to Ross — who can’t really drive, nor distribute — which is a huge win for the defense. The Raptors then face a choice between reseting with half a shot-clock, or have Ross try to create. This is an easy choke point, something the Nets fully exploited to their advantage in the playoffs. It even helps explain why John Salmons played so much. He could at least get into the paint and create movement in the defense, albeit to a limited degree.

Improving his dribble-drive attack should be Ross’ next step in his development. There are plenty of wings that can spot-up, but they’re also limited in what they can do. Opposing defenses, especially in playoff series, exploit every weakness they can. Ross already got a taste courtesy of the Nets. Not only will it help Ross stay effective in the face of close-outs, it would also give the Raptors’ attack another dimension.

Ultimately, the onus falls on Ross to improve. The physical tools are there: he’s quick, he’s explosive, and his ball-handling skills are promising. It’s up to him to develop the next part of his game — driving, drawing fouls, hitting the open big when defenders collapse — just like his idol Kyle Lowry did. When Lowry first started, he could barely shoot threes. All he did was drive hard to the basket hoping for contact. He evolved to the point where last season, he was the second-best standstill three-point shooter in the league. If Ross were to take a similar step, the Raptors stand take a huge leap forward. Here’s hoping he does so we can see more of this next season:

The Raptors have announced their pre-season schedule in image format:

The venues are obviously of note with games being played in Vancouver, Wichita, and Montreal. From an opponent perspective, we play Maccabi Haifa who actually beat us at the ACC on an Anthony Parker jumper over Mo Pete. I’m an idiot.  

Kyle Lowry and Greivis vasquez arguably form the best 1-2 PG combo in the league, making the point the Raptors’ strongest position. Unlike other formidable (relatively speaking, here) PG combos like T.J Ford and Jose Calderon in 2007-08, this lineup’s effectiveness isn’t so much when one backs the other up, but when they play together.

Playing Vasquez at the point and Lowry either at the off-guard or as a third guard has a couple key benefits. First, it puts Lowry in better catch-and-shoot positions. Instead of shooting and driving off the bounce, he gets to read the play and position himself to receive a pass, which, being a point guard himself, gives him the best sense of where to be so that the pass for a driver like DeRozan or Vasquez is made easier. It’s no surprise that he was second in catch-and-shoot percentage on the team, only behind Steve Novak.

stats

For a Raptors team that was 18th in three-point field goal percentage, having a switch like this on the team is a luxury for Dwane Casey, and also gives Lowry a break from ball-handling duties and the responsibility of running the offense.

The other key benefit of this is that it opens up Lowry’s drive game. He was second on the team in production from drives at 4.1 points per game (on 6.2 drives per game), both behind DeRozan. The reason for this isn’t that he’s blowing by defenders in one-on-one situations. By being played off the ball and possessing a great set-shot opens, the floor opens up for him, in particular as defenders run at him for close-outs. He’s fearless on his drives and given a step, he’s capable of taking it all the way.

From Vasquez’s point of view, he’s getting an extra shooter on the floor while being guarded by a weaker wing defender. Chances are that if DeRozan is on the floor and all things being the same, the defense is likely to put the third-strongest wing defender on Vasquez, and given the latter’s 6’6″ frame, it’s easier for him to make passes over the defense. We saw this in the Nets series when DeRozan was being guarded by Anderson, Lowry by Johnson, and Vasquez by Livingston.

Dwane Casey increasingly used the two-guard lineup as the season wore on, which meant that the lines between the bench and starters was blurred when it came to point guard play. Casey now has an option to take this a step further and give this lineup even more time. Last season a Lowry/Vasquez lineup played a total of 159 minutes (about 13 quarters).   I’ve always liked this setup because it results in ball-handlers who also happen to be willing passers, meaning the ball does not get stuck.  If this lineup is played with Valanciunas, it means Vasquez – a great pick ‘n roll player – can play a two-man game with Valanciunas while having the floor spaced by Lowry and perhaps Ross, with Patterson ready to step out.  That is a potentially very effective ensemble.

Where Lou Williams fits into this is interesting  because I wonder if Casey sees him as a primary ball-handler, because if he does, then it could mean more time for a Vasquez/Lowry setup with Williams manning the point in a more defined role as a backup PG.  Williams, when healthy, is an excellent ball-handler but not a great distributor.  His career AST/TO is 2.2 which is not terribly worse than Vasquez’s 2.6, it’s his shot-first style that Casey could see as being undesirable in a backup point guard.  He also happens to have significantly more experience playing the off-guard than the point.

So, as we chug through summer it’s these kinds of thoughts that pop in and out my mind.  I’d be very keen on seeing a Raptors lineup which has three guards, a stretch four in Patterson, and someone like Valanciunas and Bebe out-gunning their check up and down the court.  We tried to play this style of ball with Andrea Bargnani at times with horrible results, I happen to think now we have the players to pull it off.  I’m not suggesting we’re Phoenix East, just that there’s another dimension to our offense than the traditional 2-2-1 setup.    The Raptors have enough versatility at each position that I’d even go far as suggesting that this could be their competitive edge.

Zarar is getting the day off, meaning you’re stuck with an incredibly strange figment of my wretched imagination. You’ve been warned. Don’t read this if you’re not prepared to have your time wasted.

Kevin Durant is a professional basketball player. Sometimes professional basketball players are freed of the shackles of exploitative labor restrictions and are permitted to choose their employer. A number of professional basketball employers would like to employ Durant when he finally earns the freedom to change employers in 2016.

You see, Durant happens to be very good at professional basketball. Perhaps the best, even, according to complicated boxscore aggregate formulas like PER. He also happens to be young, perpetually healthy and extremely gifted at threading basketballs through basketball hoops.

He also once did this to the Toronto Raptors, which broke my heart for a night, for I love the team too much and myself too little. I would like that to never happen again. The Toronto Raptors would like to ensure that he never does that again. This can only be achieved by contractually obligating him against future infractions through lucrative employment.

But as would every other team in the league (except the Timberwolves, who presumably prefer Klay Thompson). Other teams offer glitz, glam, and most importantly, other professional basketball players, so the Raptors face a modicum of resistance in their chase. But their odds aren’t nil, which thereby necessitates an entirely scientific inquiry into quantifying said chance. You can trust my findings. I have earned multiple science credits from a respectable higher institution, and I’m on basketball twitter a lot. I got this.

- 53% – Greivis Vasquez plays here

Here’s an actual series of texts exchanged by Vasquez and Durant, of which came to my possession via my imagination.

Vasquez: Sup bro! Haven’t talked to you since high school. Whassup??

Durant: nm

Vasquez: Word! Congrats on that MVP trophy by the way!

Durant: thx

Vasquez: Cool, cool. Man, we’re like best friends. You’re now the captain of #TeamVasquez. Congrats bro!

Durant:

Vasquez: So…wanna play for the Raptors?

Durant: …nah

Vasquez: :*(

Vasquez: Pls

Vasquez: Pls…

+ 10% – Durant was a fan of the Raptors as a child

Our childhood experiences shape our lives in unexplained ways. I was once stuck in China with my family on vacation, and stumbled onto Raptors Republic out of sheer boredom. Now I’m littering these pages with mindless rambles.

Will Durant follow a similar path to fulfilling his childhood dreams? Presumably he already has, what with the fame, fortune and that super-cool BBVA commercial to his name. But there’s one thing left on the career bucket-list: play for his childhood favorites in the Toronto Raptors.

Durant was 12-years-old when the Raptors won their first and only playoff series in 2001. Lenny Wilkens was the coach, and the Raptors were a team on the rise. The paint was anchored by Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley, while their attack was supplied by a perimeter combo of Morris Peterson, Vince Carter and Alvin Williams. Save for a clanked corner triple by some dude in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Raptors enjoyed arguably their most successful season ever.

Soaking in every second was a pre-pubescent Durant. There, at his local school playground, a purple-clad gangly teenage practiced shimmying his shoulders before rising up to shoot, repeating the ritual for hours on end until his craft was perfected. His goal was to not miss that shot when it came time for him to fire.

- 400% Vince Carter is not the Toronto Raptors

Yeah, let’s be honest. Durant wasn’t a Raptors fan. He liked Vince Carter, just like every other fan with eyes in 2001. You did too, before he unceremoniously left. And now that he’s gone, and snubbed the franchise in leaving, it looks bad on both sides. Now no one cares about the Raptors. It’s sad but true.

+ 25.8% – Brazilian Kevin Durant is here

Durant’s probably tired of the narrative surrounding his career, that being he’s the only consistent superstar leading the charge in Oklahoma City. He’s their leading rebounder, second in assists, their best go-to-player and he’s even become a strong defender. He does everything.

Here in Toronto, Durant can take the load off and defer to his clone Bruno Caboclo. What’s that? Time’s expiring and someone needs to sink the game-winning basket? Pass it to Bruno. Or, someone needs to shut down LeBron for a possession. No problem, put Bruno on it. Durant needs a towel? Get one for Bruno too. He’s exhausted from not being able to play basketball at an NBA level just yet.

+ 3.7% – Bebe is also a member of the Raptors

Hey, he’s probably better than Kendrick Perkins.

+ 416% – Drake is from Toronto

No word of a lie, Drake might be the Raptors’ best chance of landing Kevin Durant, who is clearly a fan as he showed up to OVO fest on Monday. The Toronto-born hip-hop artist is a huge name in the business of sports and entertainment and while he can’t necessarily give Durant an NBA ring, nor the national spotlight, Drake can certainly grant Durant connections unthinkable to plebeians like you and I. This ain’t the same kid who used to take the Acura at 5 a.m. to go shoot Degrassi up on Morningside. We’re talking about a man who turned innocent lint-rolling into an IKEA-sponsored fad.

Overall: + 2.5% chance Durant comes to Toronto

Real talk: Toronto is most likely not atop Durant’s wish-list in 2016. He basically has his pick of the entire league, and if so, will he really want to come here? He could, say, join LeBron in Cleveland. Or, become the king of New York by signing with either the Knicks or the Nets. Ditto with the Clippers or Lakers in Los Angeles.

At the crux of it all, Durant is like most superstars. He’ll want to win, and be marketable while doing so. Durant has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of LeBron as the template for modern mega-athletes. As two examples, LeBron owns a small stake in a huge soccer club in Liverpool F.C., and reportedly earned $30 million in stock holdings alone in Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats by Dre. Winning and finding a place in championship lore is important, but that’s a fantasy world that’s perpetuated by mindless fandom. Making money like LeBron, and reaching his stature is a real possibility for Durant. He’ll go for that.

And that’s why Drake, and to a less obvious degree Tim Leiweke are the Raptors’ best recruiters. It won’t be childhood nostalgia or Greivis Vasquez that lures Durant. He’ll only be drawn to powerful figures, capable of catapulting him to the rarefied heights of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, be it through on-court success or through upper-class connections. As Stringer Bell once said, “there’s games beyond the fucking game.” That’s why a 12-year-old Durant shimmied his shoulders from dusk till dawn — so he could play in that game.

Everyone may be gone for the long weekend, not me, though. I’m binge watching Netflix and recording pods that are “so low” in news that Will Cherry makes the headline.

Part 1:

Part 2:

  • Looking at the depth – strongest and weakest positions
  • Jonas added weight?
  • Bench scoring
  • Paul Jones and the play-by-play

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 (15:15, 15 MB). Or just listen below:

Man, in that picture above he looks like this guy:

Just woke up from a lazy nap to see that the Raptors have signed Lucas Noguiera (fingers crossed spelling is right, typing this on a phone).  This takes the roster to 15 and sets the team up for the season.

Bebe had a mild summer league where he looked good in flashes, moved well defensively, and appeared to have some value. He was acquired as part of the Salmons deal, so basically everything he does is a bonus.

He will make $1.47M next season and 1.54M the year after as part of the rookie scale.

Here’s the depth chart:

PG: Lowry, Vasquez, Cherry
SG: DeRozan, Williams
SF: Ross, J. Johnson, Fields, Caboclo
PF: A. Johnson, Patterson, Hansbrough
C: Valanciunas, Nogueira, Hayes

Back to bed, more later. Hey, it’s the long weekend.

The Raptors are working hard on their brand identity through Drake, the All-Star game, bringing purple back, and all that jazz.  The #WeTheNorth differentiator worked for the playoffs, but then again the playoff atmosphere of any Toronto sports team has never been a problem. It’s very easy to drum up support and enthusiasm when an often crappy team makes the post-season, and that’s even more so the case in a success-starved city like Toronto.  You could have had the Better Marriage Blanket infomercials playing before and after the game on TV and the ACC, and we’d still have the support we enjoyed.  Getting people excited about the playoffs requires very little creativity from the MLSE marketing and promotions staff because it just happens, pretty much, automatically.  It’s what you do in the regular season that matters.

Going along with being different and hailing from the “north” (even though Minneapolis is north of Toronto), the Raptors have the chance to truly make their home support something different and unique.  So far the arena production consists mostly of distracting people from watching the game on every possible occasion.  The regular season basketball experience is hardly immersive, and unless it’s a tight game late, or one of those rare games that holds tension, it’s frankly quite blah.  Keep in mind that I’m speaking from a hardcore basketball fan perspective, not from a family of four going out to the Raptors game because the Dad’s boss gave away his tickets on account of his wife leaving town and his mistress becoming available.

At the very least, there needs to be a Raptors supporters group, much like TFC has, which is very similar to most soccer clubs.  These are often run in association with the club, usually at an arms-length.  The Raptors could benefit from such an organized initiative on a few fronts – improved home support, fan engagement, player perception, NBA differentiation, and more.  The closest thing that’s ever happened to this are shitty gimmicks like the 416-zone where boisterous fans are stashed away where they’re least heard from. The old Sprite Zone section was a good idea, but in never graduated to a lower-bowl version, likely due to financial reasons.

Most NBA teams have atmosphere issues which they simply accept because stirring the financial pot rarely makes sense.  To suggest the Raptors allocating somewhat-prime real estate in the arena to a supporters group, who receive the tickets at a reduced price and guarantee that, say, 95% of seats never go empty, would be unheard of.  An organized group owning and making that space their own would result in an emotive atmosphere backed by clever chants, loud noise, and a permanent mini-spectacle.  This would be great for the club and if organized well, a differentiator much stronger than a hashtag.  Of course, these are just random thoughts, a half-baked idea, but I feel that there’s something in it.

I was in Italy last year and I happened to attend a Serie A match in Rome where AS Roma were hosting Napoli.  The entire north end of the stadium was covered in flags, flares, smoke, and intense noise for the majority of the game.  That entire section is essentially run by supporter groups.  I don’t know the details, but when I looked at something like that and compared it to the NBA, I felt a little sad.  We have fans in Toronto that are equally passionate about the sport, perhaps even more so, but their isn’t a permanent, highly visible avenue where they can channel that energy. That’s waste.

Social media hasn’t really helped.  If anything, it’s hurt because people are Instagramming and Tweeting at games more often than watching it. I’m with Mark Cuban on this one: anything that distracts from the game in front of you is a bad thing.  I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any social media setup which unifies the fans at the game, i.e., instead of taking selfies of your pimpled face with hot-sauce dripping from your mouth, there needs to be an app/whatever which organized and galvanizes the fans at the arena.  For example, imagine if the entire ACC crowd, in the middle of a regular season game and at the same time, started a DeMar DeRozan chant similar to this:

That would be awesome.  I don’t offer any concrete solutions, and only want to point out that:

  1. There is a lot of passion, energy, and enthusiasm that many Raptors fans bring to the game that stays locked in.
  2. If more passionate fans were allowed affordable access to the lower bowl, the atmosophere would improve
  3. Having #1 and #2 done in an organized manner is important, otherwise it’ll be chaotic

That’s basically it – your thoughts are welcome.  I can’t believe I managed to get through a whole post without mentioning Dwight Buycks or Will Cherry…oh shit…

Wanted by Many, Kyle Lowry Forges New Bond with Raptors Team He Almost Left | Bleacher Report

Lowry was never supposed to be arguably the most sought-after free agent this offseason after James and Anthony. He was never supposed to be the initial focus of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who, on July 1 at 12:01 a.m.—just one minute after free agency began—was in Lowry’s hometown of Philadelphia sitting down with him for a face-to-face meeting. And he was never supposed to be the dream starting point guard for the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, who were hot in pursuit, according to a source close to the situation. You see, Lowry was only a first-round draft pick away from being traded to the New York Knicks in mid-December. It was this close to happening.

Kyle Lowry says Raptors weren’t immediate favorites in free agency | Distinct Athlete

“[The Raptors] weren’t always the favorite, but Masai wanted to get the deal done, and it made it a lot easier,” Lowry said in Las Vegas recently after a workout. “[Miller and I] approached it as a business and so did [the Raptors]. At the end of the day, I didn’t wait for [the other teams]. I wanted to make my decision for myself.”

Toronto Raptors coach feared losing Kyle Lowry to Miami Heat | FanSided

As Pat Riley mentioned on Wednesday, he spoke to free agents with the belief that LeBron James was returning to the Heat, so it’s understandable why Casey was nervous, despite Miami’s financial limitations. Instead, both James and Lowry didn’t sign with the Heat. In what could have been an offseason in which Miami put together a Big Four, they will leave it with just a Big Two in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Most Underrated Player on Every NBA Team Heading into 2014-15 Season | Bleacher Report

Patrick Patterson is the definition of a solid rotation player in today’s NBA. He can shoot threes, defend multiple positions and serve as a steadying influence in the locker room. Patterson did all of thsoe things well enough after joining the Toronto Raptors via the Rudy Gay trade to earn himself a three-year deal worth upwards of $18 million dollars this summer. As a Raptor, Patterson poured in 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds while nailing 41.1 percent of his threes.

NBA Predictions 2014-15: Win-Loss Projections for Each Team, Post-Free Agency | Bleacher Report

The Toronto Raptors aren’t just a destination for overlooked players to go to anymore. Kyle Lowry re-signing, Greivis Vasquez never showing any desire to go elsewhere and the acquisition of an underrated contributor like James Johnson all saw to that. Now, the Raptors are poised to continue what they started after Rudy Gay played his last game for Toronto on Dec. 6 and was subsequently traded to the Sacramento Kings.

Nav Bhatia honored by United Sikhs Organization in Washington DC | CanIndia NEWS

Nav Bhatia known not only as the superfan for his love of the Toronto Raptors and Owner of both Mississauga & Rexdale Hyundai dealerships, he is also recognized for his community involvment. On July 26 2014 Mr Bhatia was an honouree at the United Sikhs Gala for his continuous hard work and dedication to the Sikh community.

What does Grizzlies Guard Will Cherry Bring To The Raptors? | Pro Bball Report

Cherry had an “an undeniable defensive presence” and was “vital for an offense in college” according to Myron Medcalf of ESPN, however, he sprained his wrist prior to the start of his senior college season and on his return, he broke his foot causing him to miss seven games. His scoring dropped by 3 points per game, his field goal percentage fell from 45 percent to 40.3 percent and his three-point shot vanished going from 38.3 percent as a junior to 26.3 percent as a senior. After going undrafted in 2013, the 6’1 Cherry joined Canton in the NBA D-League where he averaged 11.9 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 3.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.5 steals. His three-point shooting improved to 30.1 percent. His efforts earned him a spot on the Cavaliers NBA Summer League team where in 5 games he averaged 12.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 25.2 minutes. He shot 52.1 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from beyond the arc and had two 21 point scoring games.

Raptors news is sparse this time of year; send me anything PUHLEASE!!! [email protected]

Five of your most deep-seated questions regarding newly re-acquired forward James Johnson.

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Chris Faulkner is the managing editor of Grizzly Bear Blues, your one-stop-shop for all things Memphis Grizzlies. Follow him on Twitter on @FaulknerMemphis.

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1. After averaging 20+ minutes a game from December to February, Johnson barely played in the month of March, averaging just 11.3, with four DNPs. What happened there?

Chris: To start I’ll say that his playing time didn’t dip due to fans calling for it — he was a monster hit in Grizz Nation and a lot of people were expecting to see more of him as the season progressed instead of less. There were several things that played into it: the return of Tony Allen from injury, Dave Joerger’s dedication to Tayshaun Prince and JJ’s penchant for chaos all immediately pop into my head.

2. How would you rate his perimeter defense? In Toronto, Johnson was often over-active, conceding defensive stances and opting to bite on pump fakes. Does that still apply?

Chris: I’d say that over-active is still a fairly active description of Johnson just because he seems to want to affect every single play on the court. But he’s probably matured in that regard compared to his first Toronto stint, doing a pretty solid job against a lot of elite wing players not named LeBron or Carmelo. I can’t confirm this 100%, but he very likely led the league in blocked 3PA last season. He also had a knack for getting into foul trouble albeit not from biting on pump fakes.

Will’s note: The fact that Johnson is jumpy isn’t always a bad thing. He is still over active, as Chris notes, but he’s also a freak athlete, possessing tremendous size and athleticism. According to Synergy Stats, opponents shot 18-of-64 (28.1 percent) from three when guarded by Johnson in spot-up situations last season, owing in great part to plays like these:

3. He posted a career high in true-shooting percentage last season, grading out to over average for the first time. Was it a systems thing? If so, how did Dave Joerger optimize his offensive performance?

Chris: Johnson did a great job of getting to the free throw line and executing the shots last season (13% higher than his career avg). Most of his offense was created by himself, angling in from the perimeter and using his freak athleticism to slice through multiple defenders. And the rest was usually generated from his activity on the offensive boards. If you want to get the most out of JJ you need other perimeter threats on the court to open up the lanes because he’s not going to give you much in terms of jump shooting.

Will’s note: Here’s a great little play-breakdown from Grizzly Bear Blues on a curl-action play Joerger ran for Johnson last season. Although their offense only graded out to average (15th in OffEff), it was only propped so high by Joeger’s strict coaching, which included running a strong mix of sets. Transitioning from Memphis, to Toronto’s more fluid system is a bit of a worry, but Casey doesn’t necessary need to play him, which should act as a deterrent against poor decision-making.

4. Something every Raptors fan wants to know: Joe Johnson single-handedly knocked Toronto out of the playoffs, as he averaged 22 PPG on 52.3 FG%, mostly because he’s Jesus Christ (and also because the Raptors simply couldn’t guard him). Could James guard Joe, and other similarly large wings?

Chris: If James were in absolute peak physical condition he might be able to hang with Joe Johnson, but you’re more likely to get better results matching him up on an athletic PF rather than a SG with better lateral speed. He could give him a good look out on the arc — it’s the paint that would concern me on that matchup.

Will’s Note: Okay, maybe he doesn’t have Paul George’s quickness on the perimeter, but Joe Johnson didn’t beat the Raptors with quickness — he did it with post-play. Remember how the Raptors had to double-team him every time down the court? And remember how every time he drew a double-team, he kicked it out until the Nets eventually found an open three-point shooter, or a slasher? They won’t need to double with James Johnson. Check out his work in the post in the post below. He’s strong, he shades well, and he doesn’t leave his feet for the block, opting to hold his position instead. For the record, that’s LeBron James, Anthony Davis (x2) and Blake Griffin in the video.

5. In your opinion, is Johnson’s attitude something of concern? His reputation isn’t the greatest, and there was the (now dismissed) domestic assault charge earlier this year.

Chris: His attitude would have to leave a least a few lingering worries, but he got along with everyone in Memphis very well and always presented himself as a team player. He’s an intense person so that’s inevitably going to provide some intense moments, both good and bad.

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For more on James Johnson and his potential impact on the Raptors, check out Zarar’s piece on the matter.

That’s the Raptors third string point guard right there.  The 23-year old attended McClymonds High in Oakland, then played 116 games for the Montana Grizzlies in Division I, before going undrafted in 2013.  Then he played on the Pelicans summer league team in 2013, before doing the same for Cleveland this summer.  Last season he was with the Canton Charge of the D-League.

His DX profile doesn’t stay much but on the evidence of watching him at Summer League he’s a quick little guard at 6’0″ who can distribute the ball in spots and has that herky-jerkyness about him that is reminiscent of T.J Ford.  He’s unlikely to get too many minutes and is here entirely for injury purposes.  He does play some aggressive defense and you can see Dwane Casey using him in situations where full-court pressure might be warranted.

His shooting stats won’t blow you away – 45% in D-League and only 30% for three.  He’s here for his defense and ball-handling, that’s about it. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.5 assists in 30.3 minutes per game.

If Lucas Nogueira’s contract is bought out, this would bring the Raptors roster to 15.

NBADraft.net sums up his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths: Tough player who prides himself on his defense … Good on-ball defender … Great in the passing lanes, one of the premier theft artists in the NCAA during his time at Montana … Very good nose for the ball, contributed on the glass well for a PG … Played big minutes through most of his career while mostly guarding the other teams best player … Has some penetrating ability offensively … Got to the line quite a bit, aggressive … Cut down fouls by a nice margin as a senior … Showed improvement as a passer, gets his teammates involved … Showed leadership qualities, led the Griz to two straight NCAA Tournament berths out of the Big Sky … Solid quickness with and without the ball … Wiry strong, not afraid of contact, competitor

Weaknesses: After seemingly improving as an outside shooter as a junior, struggled greatly as a senior, particularly from 3 point range … Turned the ball over at a very high rate … Despite the recent success of Damian Lillard, the Big Sky does still tend to bring up question marks surrounding ones level of competition faced … Sat out teams first 7 games with a broken foot, than missed some more time when he reinjured the foot in early March … Relatively small and can have trouble with size, particularly on the offensive end … Has struggled when facing NBA level PG opponents during his time at Montana

It’s a two-year minimum salary deal, so $507,336 and $845,059 (thanks, DanH).  No word on whether the second year is guaranteed, highly doubt it.  Here are some highlights, courtesy of commenter DDD:

Here I am waiting in the lobby as my car’s getting an oil change and I remember that I got to write something for this Wednesday.  If it weren’t severely off-topic, I would write, in great detail, about how the early-30s salesman is hitting on the young cashier without success.  He’ll probably go home still thinking about her, whereas she’ll be out with her 20-something friends at a Boston Pizza in the suburbs “living it up” and Instagramming the whole experience, filters intact and the camera angles tailored to hide her lesser features.  Maybe I’m too quick to dismiss the feasibility or the potential of this union – maybe she should pause and cater to the advances made, and contemplate what, in the grand scheme of things, this chap has to offer.  A steady income at the very least, maybe even a house, and most certainly a car.   Something to think about, though he’s likely married.

Back to basketball and I’ve got to thinking about driving the ball.  On observation alone you are likely to make a case that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the two main drivers of the ball on the Raptors.  You would be right as DeRozan ranks 20th in the league in drives per game at 7.2 and Lowry sits at 35 with 6.2 drives per game.  A drive here is defined as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks”. Not surprisingly, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, and Monta Ellis are the top drivers of the ball in the NBA.   That’s all well and good, but what is the effectiveness of those drives?  If you look at how many points their respective teams get from their drives, the same three lead the pack again.  OK, so these players drive a lot and their teams reap the benefits.  Simplistic stuff.

Where things get interesting from a Raptors perspective is when we consider points per drive, i.e., irrespective of how many drives a player makes, how many points per drive does their team get out of it? Among players who drive more than five times a game, Lowry ranks fourth in the NBA getting his team 1.27 points per drive.  That’s only behind Kevin Durant (1.45), LeBron James (1.32) and James Harden (1.29).   This, at the very least, indicates that Lowry driving the ball is hugely beneficial to the unit.  The difference  between him and, Durant and James is that when the latter two drive, they tend to finish at the rim at a much higher percentage than Lowry (Lowry is at 50%, whereas Durant and James are at 59% and 64%, respectively).  That’s acceptable because Lowry is a smaller player who will look to pass more often than try to finish among the trees.

DeRozan is 12th at 1.22 points per drive.  DeRozan, on average, drives one more time than Lowry and has a lesser yield.   Why? Partially because he shoots 48.7% on drives which is slightly lower than Lowry’s 50%.  You might have also surmised that this is because he doesn’t pass well out of drive situations.  Assists alone aren’t a good indicator of a player’s effectiveness in these situations because in most cases the defense makes the initial rotation, and it’s the second rotation they fall short on, which is what the “secondary assists per game” stat tell us (basically, a hockey assist).  Kyle Lowry is at 1.5 hockey assists per game (18th) whereas DeRozan is at 0.8 (86th).  Keep in mind that it’s awfully difficult for shooting guard’s to keep this stat high, for instance, the first non-PG to appear on the list is Gordon Hayward at 27th, followed by LeBron James at 28th , both at 1.3.

In the absence of a statistic correlating drives with hockey assists, if we focus on this aspect of the offense, i.e., what DeRozan does after he drives, it may be a constraint we can exploit to good effect.  DeRozan is already excellent at getting himself to the paint, it’s what he does next, or what the court setup allows him to do next, that can be examined here.  I found that when he got to the lane, he often had one outcome in mind: getting to the FT line.  It’s a solid strategy and it carried the Raptors last year as he averaged a 8 FTs which was good for 7th in the NBA.  To elevate his game, though, Dwane Casey has to structure the court in a way that there are multiple outcomes on his drives and that they don’t do or die solely on the basis of him getting to the FT line.

Adding a slasher like James Johnson will help in this regard because he provides a moving option on the court, which is what Landry Fields was supposed to be.  Throwing Lou Williams into the mix should also help in terms of court-spacing and a full year with Patrick Patterson – excellent at presenting himself – should help in this matter.  What the Raptors have here is a great weapon that attracts and collapses a defense.  Last year I thought the Raptors did the bare minimum in taking advantage of such a skill, and next season they have to make this a focal point because as DeRozan gets stronger and gains more experience, his ability to attract defenders will only improve.  It’s what he does next that’ll heavily influence the Raptors offense.

Answering your questions to fill the haunting void that is the offseason.

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If you ever want a topic to be broached on this forum, send me an email at [email protected] or on Twitter @william_lou. Thanks for your help.

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oo7: How different do we play with 2Pat at the 4 instead of Amir?

This is a great question. Thanks to their relatively even playing time distribution (28.8 MPG for Amir Johnson, 23.3 for Patrick Patterson), there’s actually data we can use to answer this question.

For the most part, the stats back up the eye-test. Amir is the defense-first half of the platoon, while Patrick Patterson is the offensive sparkplug. The Raptors attempt more three-pointers, shoot more free-throws and shoot a higher three-point percentage while the starting unit (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas) plays with Patterson, but in comparison, rebounding, turnovers and assists suffer.

johnson pattersonUnits measured in Net (own – opponent) per 100 possessions. Data from basketball-reference.

What’s more interesting, however, is how those numbers came to be. The biggest difference is the trade-off between three-pointers and free-throws. The jump in three-pointers is obvious — Patterson is a stretch-four — but the big change in free-throws attempted is a bit perplexing.

My theory is that Amir is the superior defender (3.13 vs. 1.10 defensive RPM), and therefore concedes less foul shots to the opponent. This is corroborated by data from nbaWOWY, which shows that opponents shot 0.303 free-throws per possession while Patterson was on the floor, while Amir conceded 0.244. On a shallower level, Amir also has a higher free-throw attempt rate.

But despite conceding more free-throws, Patterson helps the cause by increasing the rate of free-throws attempted by his teammates. Valanciunas, Lowry, Ross and DeRozan all post a higher free-throw attempt rate with Patterson as opposed to Amir, which likely traces back to Patterson’s floor-stretch abilities. With Patterson drawing an opposing power-forward to the perimeter, there are less defenders clogging up the paint, making the onus on opposing centers to rotate and contest shots, which often leads to fouls called.

mcHappy: Post Gay trade, didn’t Raps have best record of eastern team versus west?

Not entirely sure about how their inter-conference record stacks up, but their post-Rudy Gay trade record against the West was 15-7. As a whole, I feel that Raptors’ post-Gay record is not being fully appreciated. With Gay, the Raptors held a record of 6-12. In the 64 games after he left? 42-22. Here’s how that record stacked up as compared to the rest of the NBA.

  • 4th in win-percentage (65.6 percent)
  • 1st in Eastern Conference win-percentage (closest was the Heat at 62.9)
  • 5th in plus-minus
  • 9th in Offensive Efficiency (second in East)
  • 9th in Defensive Efficiency (fourth in East)

Arbitrary end-points in the schedule are often abused and massaged in sports media to accentuate rises and falls. It’s often an irresponsible practice, as meaningless snap-shot of randomness fails to capture what’s real.

However, in the Raptors’ case, there was an inciting incident — Rudy Gay (30.8 USG, 46.8 TS%) was dealt for three productive players and John Salmons. That’s real. And what’s more impressive, the turnaround came mid-season, and the team had to adopt an entirely new offensive scheme. It wasn’t a mirage. The Raptors were legitimately great for almost four-fifths of a season.

So having said all that, here’s a pro-tip: Vegas has the Raptors as 25-to-1 odds to win the East. It might make for a cheap hedge bet, in case that’s your thing.

puffer: How about a look at the assistant coaches. Who actually does what?

I don’t have any insider access, so this is really just a research project on my part. As per their official team page, the list of Raptors assistant head coaches are listed below. Their responsibilities, as described by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, are listed thereafter.

  • Nick Nurse – offensive coordinator (likes up-tempo, credited with the three-point shooting game)
  • Bill Bayno – player development (worked particularly with Jonas Valanciunas)
  • Jesse Mermuys – player development
  • Tom Sterner – defensive coordinator
  • Jama Mahlalela – player development

Mack North: Who are some of the realistic attainable free agents the Raps can sign in ’15 or ’16?

If my estimations are correct, the Raptors should have approximately 18 million in cap room next season, which is just about the amount needed to offer a free-agent the 30% maximum (there’s different tiers, as described in section 16 in Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ). The list of available notable free-agents that fit that bill are as as follows:

Smalls Wings Bigs
Rajon Rondo Arron Afflalo Paul Millsap
Goran Dragic Luol Deng (P) Al Jefferson (P)
Tyson Chandler
Roy Hibbert
Marc Gasol
DeAndre Jordan
Kevin Love (P)
LaMarcus Aldridge

Out of the aforementioned names, it seems implausible that the Raptors acquire any of the names marked in red. While it would be nice to bolster the front-court with a player like Love or Aldridge, they’re likely settling in more visible locales, or markets closer to championship contention.

Personally, I think grabbing a player like Paul Millsap for three seasons for $45 million would be a great deal. He’s the embodiment of the modern four — able to play inside-out, mobile on defense, can shoot threes, can pick-and-roll, facilitate out of the high post — he’s a well-rounded player. He averaged 17.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season, with an above-average TS% and a PER of 19.8. He’s best suited as a second or third option, but with Lowry and DeRozan stacking the hierarchy, he slots nicely into the team.

And in 2016, there’s a dude name Durant, and another named LeBron available. I say the Raptors should try those two.

kopite91: How the Kevin Love saga affects the Raptors.

Easy. If he goes to Cleveland, they become the team to beat in the East. If he goes to Boston, they’re a dark horse to improve mid-season with a trade for some real wing or a defense anchor in the paint. Otherwise, it doesn’t affect the Raptors at all.

If your idea wasn’t broach here, there’s a chance it’s been pocketed, and will be touched on down the line. Thanks for the questions. As always, shoot me an email or tweet me anytime.