Last 200 articles shown.
|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|
|Jul 4, 14||Report: Raptors, Patrick Patterson agree to 3-year, $18 million deal||William Lou|
|Jul 4, 14||Report: DeAndre Daniels Likely Off To Europe||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 4, 14||Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Review – Post-Lowry Signing||Blake Murphy|
|Jul 4, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 4||Sam Holako|
|Jul 3, 14||Roundtable Reaction: Kyle Lowry & Free Agency||Sam Holako|
|Jul 3, 14||Kyle Lowry: King of the North||Sam Holako|
|Jul 3, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 3||Sam Holako|
|Jul 3, 14||Lowry re-signing: Remember to savor this moment||William Lou|
|Jul 3, 14||Photo: Kyle Lowry Wearing Purple Raptors Uniform||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 2, 14||Breaking: Kyle Lowry Signs 4 year, $48M Deal With Toronto Raptors||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 2, 14||Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez Free Agency Update||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 2, 14||Why Kyle Lowry will take his sweet time||William Lou|
|Jul 2, 14||Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 2||Sam Holako|
|Jul 1, 14||Raptors Free Agency Recap: The Kyle Lowry Saga With a Touch of Greivis Vasquez||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 1, 14||2014 Raptors Summer League Roster – Early Preview||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jul 1, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 1||Sam Holako|
|Jun 30, 14||The Decision – Latest on Lowry: He’ll Take a “Few Days” to Make His Decision||William Lou|
|Jun 30, 14||Report: Raptors among 5 teams interested in Vince Carter||William Lou|
|Jun 30, 14||Developing: Kyle Lowry Watch is ON with Stein, Grange, Aldridge (no more $14.5 million offer)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 30, 14||Mighty Woj: Expect Ujiri to bid on Lowry at midnight (5pm Grange update: Lowry’s staying)||William Lou|
|Jun 30, 14||The Caboclo Acquisition: Raptors Bet on Bruno||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Jun 30, 14||Raptors Pick Up 2014-15 Option on Tyler Hansbrough||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 30, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 30 – Caboclo Tease, Totally Not Jose Calderon||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 30, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 30||Sam Holako|
|Jun 29, 14||OFFICIAL: John Salmons traded for Lou Williams and Lucas Nougeira||William Lou|
|Jun 29, 14||Bruno Caboclo Situation Parallels Tracy McGrady||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 28, 14||ESPN: “Most likely Heat’s #1 choice will be Kyle Lowry”||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 28, 14||Raptors Extend Qualifying Offers to Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Nando De Colo||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 28, 14||2014 NBA Draft Report Card – All The Analysis||Tim W.|
|Jun 28, 14||10 Things We Learned About Bruno Caboclo on Saturday||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 28, 14||On Bruno Caboclo and Mysteries||Prospect|
|Jun 28, 14||Morning Coffee – Sat, Jun 28||Sam Holako|
|Jun 27, 14||Ric Bucher Apologizes for Ridiculous Lowry Rumours||Sam Holako|
|Jun 27, 14||It’s Time To Embrace Toronto’s Oddball Drafts||Tim Chisholm|
|Jun 27, 14||ICYMI: Masai Ujiri Post-Draft Press Conference||Sam Holako|
|Jun 27, 14||Bruno Caboclo the Latest Raptors Draft Pick to Raise Eyebrows, Which is Cool||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 27, 14||Chad Ford hates the Raptors draft||Sam Holako|
|Jun 27, 14||Doc Is In Podcast, June 27 – Draft Reaction – They Call Me Bruno||Steve Gennaro|
|Jun 27, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 27||Sam Holako|
|Jun 27, 14||Why you should calm down about the Caboclo pick||William Lou|
|Jun 27, 14||Recap of Dwane Casey’s Post-Draft Press Conference||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 27, 14||Raptors draft Xavier Thames with 59th pick, trade to Brooklyn||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jun 26, 14||Raptors draft Bruno Caboclo 20th overall||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jun 26, 14||Caboclo Tweets, let the lovin’ begin||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jun 26, 14||Raptors draft DeAndre Daniels 37th overall||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jun 26, 14||You call that a rumour? This is a rumour.||Garrett Hinchey|
|Jun 26, 14||The 2014 Running Draft Diary||Andrew Thompson|
|Jun 26, 14||Stein: Raptors In Hunt for No 22 Pick to get Tyler Ennis||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 26, 14||Pre-Draft News, Rumours, Predictions and More….||Tim W.|
|Jun 26, 14||Toronto Raptors and Canadian Prospects Poised To Make History at 2014 NBA Draft||Tamberlyn Richardson|
|Jun 26, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 26||Sam Holako|
|Jun 25, 14||Trade Idea: John Salmons for Omer Asik?||William Lou|
|Jun 25, 14||Talking Raptors Podcast, June 25 – Offseason Jibberish||Nick Reynoldson|
|Jun 25, 14||Toronto Raptors Draft History Over Last Decade (With Hindsight)||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 24, 14||Who Should The Raptors Take?||Tim W.|
|Jun 24, 14||Morning Coffee – Tue, Jun 24||Sam Holako|
|Jun 23, 14||Masai Ujiri: We’re going “full force” after Kyle Lowry||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 23, 14||Source: Masai Ujiri to Use Draft Picks, But Might Trade Them…Or Not||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 23, 14||Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 23 – Payne Points and Circular All-Stars||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 20, 14||The Kyle Lowry Contingency Plan||William Lou|
|Jun 20, 14||Dr Is In Podcast, June 20 – Pardon The Interruption||Steve Gennaro|
|Jun 19, 14||Prospecting: Clint Capela||Tim W.|
|Jun 19, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 19||Sam Holako|
|Jun 18, 14||Brace Yourself, Kyle Lowry Could Leave||Zarar Siddiqi|
|Jun 17, 14||Report: Kyle Lowry to the Heat?||William Lou|
|Jun 17, 14||Prospecting: Jerami Grant||Tim W.|
|Jun 16, 14||3 More Thoughts to Fill Another Column||William Lou|
|Jun 16, 14||Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 16||Sam Holako|
|Jun 13, 14||3 Assorted Thoughts on a Friday||William Lou|
|Jun 13, 14||The Dr Is In Podcast, June 13 – The Real 2.0 Big Board||Steve Gennaro|
|Jun 13, 14||Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 13||Sam Holako|
|Jun 12, 14||Prospecting: James Young||Tim W.|
|Jun 12, 14||Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 12||Sam Holako|
|Jun 11, 14||Report: Raptors interested in Euroleague’s Damjan Rudez||William Lou|
|Jun 11, 14||Remembering 2013-14: Waking up from a dream||William Lou|
Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit.
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?
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)
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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]
Mike Tyson wants you to see his one-man show on September 10th in the Air Canada Center.
In case you were curious, the list of Toronto Raptors who have rocked the no. 14 are as follows:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Hey, John Salmons could use all the help he could get. Amir deserves two assists on this play.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?):
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.
|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|
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.
Bruno says Raptors have him eating 6,000 calories a day.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 19, 2014
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.
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.
Hearing MLSE president/CEO Tim Leiweke will be leaving the company soon. (1/2)
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 19, 2014
Not sure of where he’s going, but hearing the reason is he is looking for a new challenge.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 19, 2014
I’ve heard Leiweke has been eyeing the exit door, just in case. Been reframing expectations for a while. And his family hated the winter.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) August 19, 2014
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.”
— cathalkelly (@cathalkelly) August 19, 2014
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.
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.
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?
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
Also, was disconnected from the world all day. Jordan Hamilton has signed a partially guaranteed deal with Raptors. Odds of making team long
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 15, 2014
@william_lou Could well tryout more guys for that spot.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 15, 2014
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.
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 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.
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).
Games by Day:
|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|
|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 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.
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:
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.
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).
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]
Hearing Raptors fined $25,000 for comments Drake made at a concert about Kevin Durant that were seen as violation of anti-tampering rules
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 11, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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??
Vasquez: Word! Congrats on that MVP trophy by the way!
Vasquez: Cool, cool. Man, we’re like best friends. You’re now the captain of #TeamVasquez. Congrats bro!
Vasquez: So…wanna play for the Raptors?
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.
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.
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.
Hey, he’s probably better than Kendrick Perkins.
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.
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.
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.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 3, 2014
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:
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…
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.
“[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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
For more on James Johnson and his potential impact on the Raptors, check out Zarar’s piece on the matter.
Former D-League Canton guard Will Cherry has agreed in principle to sign a two-year minimum deal with the Raptors, a source told Yahoo.
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 31, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Units 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
|Rajon Rondo||Arron Afflalo||Paul Millsap|
|Goran Dragic||Luol Deng (P)||Al Jefferson (P)|
|Kevin Love (P)|
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.
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.
Sam and Zarar deal with the Will Cherry news head-on, and pay an ode to Morgan Freeman in the form of LeBron’s letter. There may be zero Raptors news out there, but we can’t stop, won’t stop, podcasting.
Yeah, we know it’s a slow day, so whatever. Here you go. Amir Johnson’s shaved head. Deal with it. Source is Instagram.
Basketball Analytics, aka, different ways to tell us information that we already sort of know. From PER, to WS48, to plus/minus, to real plus/minus, to shot charts, to shot charts with smaller dots, to David Berri, to John Hollinger, to whoever the latest dude is who figured out you could enter basketball data in R and get it to spit out stuff. It’s all been quite fun and worthy of a few clicks here and there, but when are you guys actually going to tell us something useful? I mean, actual useful information that can be actioned and not just casually and sparingly glanced over in a long-form article only to be forgotten a week later.
Here are a few basketball problems that need addressing, or at the very least, should be talked about more:
Risk of Injury
Tell me when a player is likely to be injured, and tell me early. Figure out what his bone density is, what force (mass times acceleration) his joints can take, and then relate that information to his on-court movements to project how long he’ll last. For example, you can tell that the way Derrick Rose players he’s prone to injury – quantify that for every player, preferably before he’s drafted.
Come up with a mathematical way of measuring effort without falling back to vanilla statistics like distance ran and speed. Figure out what the player’s “capacity” is using tests, and then determine how much of that capacity he’s using during different parts of the game. Pro Tip: If Andrea Bargnani isn’t dead last in this category, your work is wrong.
Grading the Coach
We measure players a lot, we don’t measure coaches enough. Much like how baseball is a game of probabilities, so is basketball, the math just happens to be a little more complex then pitching a lefty against a lefty. At the very least, there needs to be a binary indicator of whether the coach made the statistically correct move in late-game situations. For example, given the inbounder, the four other offensive guys on the court, the side at which the ball was being inbounded, the time on the clock, the score in the game, the venue, is it a statistically correct decision to not pressure the inbounder and sag?
Quantifying High Basketball IQ
We got an IQ test, how come we don’t have a basketball IQ test? All the data is there and it’s a question of sifting through it. Any decision on the court can be – based on all the other happenings on the court – retrospectively graded as right or wrong. A player with a highest basketball IQ might make the highest percentage of good decisions, as opposed to bad ones. I want to see if Landry Fields is what he’s cranked up to be. Or Matt Bonner for that matter.
This idea that having John Salmons camp out by the fire in the corner means he’s stretching the floor needs to be validated. How much does a person’s reputation and past/in-game performance influence the defense’s opinion of him? How many threes does James Johnson have to hit before he causes a shift in the defense? By what factor does a particular player stretch the floor and how does his in-game play change that factor? I would think this is a straightforward one to figure out.
What is the Perfect Free Throw?
Based on a person’s height, what’s the ideal release point, force, angle, trajectory? Figure it out for every player and give them their particulars – watch them shoot 90%+. Seriously, I’m shocked that there are professional basketball players that shoot 50% from the free-throw line, that’s got to change.
Strategic Technical Fouls
Profile a player to determine what series of events cause them to pick up a technical. Then try to replicate that sequence in hopes of throwing him off his game. This can be extended to essentially influencing a player’s mental state negatively through pure basketball play. And poking them in the right places when nobody’s watching.
Figuring out Full Court Pressure
Teams get burned by full court pressure all the time. In the hopes of forcing a turnover, they end up creating a hole in the defense which ironically puts the offense at an advantage. Given a set of offensive players, their approximately positions, and the inbounder and ball-handler, there has to be an optimal defensive configuration that is most likely to cause a turnover while minimizing risk of defensive breakdown. Figure that out. As a bonus, come up with suggested defensive configurations which increase the chance of causing a turnover, while understandably increasing risk of defensive breakdown.
Optimizing Minutes Played
What is the ideal rest pattern for a player so that they can last an 82-game season and the playoffs? If they’re extended in one game for 44 minutes, how should that influence their playing time in the next game so as to not cause harm over the course of, say a roadtrip. Obviously, a player’s body needs to be analyzed, then correlated with the type of movements on the court, the pressure exerted, the effort expended, and likely a host of other factors. Put them all together, shake the box, and out you get a number telling you how many minutes DeMar DeRozan should be playing on the second night of a back-to-back having played 42 minutes the night before.
Players have money, money gets you shiny things, it also brings distractions and problems, which can influence a player’s on-court state of mind. Remember Keon Clark? Yeah, money did him no good. There’s got to be a way to measure a player’s psychological state before a game, and then see what, if any, impact that has on his game. Once you got that, adjust lifestyle to tune psychological state, thus improving his game. I’m talking girl problems, alimony, size of posse, everything. That all affects a player’s psychological state.
So there you have it – some questions that I always ask myself, knowing that very well that I can’t answer them, so maybe #analytics can?
Do you need a dominant big man to win the NBA title? The Heat’s two titles say otherwise, but they remain an exception due to having LeBron James, much like Michael Jordan’s Bulls who won with Luc Longley in the middle. The Spurs (Tim Duncan), Lakers (Shaquille O’Neal), Heat without James (Shaquille O’Neal), Detroit Pistons (Ben Wallace, a 4-time DPOY) and Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowtizki) have had dominant front-court players who are arguably the best at their position.
History has shown that you can make do without them, but you better have transcendental wing players – we’re talking first-ballot Hall of Famers – if you don’t. Obviously, the Raptors in their quiet but hopeful quest for a title (or at the very least, an Eastern Conference crown) don’t possess either. They do have good players at every position and are allegedly constructed to rely on defense first with Dwane Casey at the helm, yet they lack that one player who dominates his position.
When you examine the roster and see which player has the potential to get there, the debate can possibly boil down to DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, or if you’re really hopeful, Terrence Ross. I’m not going to add Kyle Lowry to that list, because as great as he’s been, he’s a known quantity in the league that may very well improve, but whose ceiling is probably known and it’s not at Chris Paul-levels.
DeRozan may very well elevate his offensive game to Kobe Bryant-levels, though entering his sixth year it’s probably a long-shot, but I remain hopeful mostly because he has been working very hard over every summer. The enigma here is Jonas Valanciunas, whose projection remains very difficult to make because despite having performed well, it’s hard to pin down just what his go-to strengths are. He’s done many things very well, and yet I remain stumped as to what part of his game can be scaled to reach a dominant level.
There’s already strong evidence that his sense for the game is excellent. Other than occasions where he’s caught unaware of patrolling guards trying to swipe at him, his positional awareness with and without the ball is very good. His hesitation on the mid-range jumper aside, Valanciunas knows what areas on the court he needs to be in to get his points. Take this play for example, where he reads the Patterson drive and shifts from the baseline to the middle, which makes all the difference:
His highlights are littered with this sort of subtle, intelligent play which is found lacking in big men at his stage of development. No matter how impressive this sort of game awareness is, this alone cannot turn him into an elite player, one that could be the center-piece of a title winner. Excelling in these areas means that you’re going to have an NBA job for years to come, not make the All-Star team year in and year out. More than anything, it means that he can make reads which is fundamental to future success. Without this baseline understanding of how the game is played, a player, no matter how talented, will be destined to be a by-stander than an active participant as the action happens.
This is especially true for big men because as guards continue to dominate the ball, big men are relying more and more on making themselves useful on offense through their off-the-ball movement than simply waiting for the ball to be passed to them. Those days – the Patrick Ewing days – are long gone. In fact, even Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are starved for touches these days.
Pick ‘n roll play is another area where Valanciunas is exceptional, and one where he hasn’t been involved nearly enough given his capacity for the play. What is not talked about enough is that Valanciunas is equally proficient at the play from either side of the court. His aforementioned positional awareness and tendency to find the seam without picking up an offense foul is greatly underplayed. As long back as when he was in Europe did Valanciunas show that he was a capable option in two-man situations. Take this skill over to the NBA where there’s a defensive three-second rule prohibiting defenses to clog up the paint easily, and this becomes a major advantage of Valanciunas. Take for example this play where he’s set a great screen, rolled well, shielded the ball, and brought it to the other side for a layup.
I’m not going to dwell on his jumper much, because that is a matter of practice. A mid-range jumper might be the easiest aspect of his game to enhance because his shooting motion is adequate, he’s hit 34% of his mid-range shots last year (down from 41% his rookie year), which is not great but enough to build on.
It’s his back-to-the-basket game that can take him from being a good player to a great one. If he develops this section of his arsenal and his jump shot improves linearly and becomes average, a projection like Pau Gasol doesn’t sound like total madness. The good news is that it certainly appears that he’s got the mentality and foundational moves to be a good post-player. His up-and-under, turnaround, spin, and hook shots are of good quality, and that’s all in addition to his excellent (and I can’t overstate this) finishing ability from every angle near the rim – the man simply knows when to use glass, and when to not, which alone has proven to be a downfall of many a big man. Here’s a great move against Zach Randolph, which leaves you wanting for more:
The bad news is that he currently plays on a very guard-dominant team and has a relatively short leash. Take a look at his front-court touches per game, which basically eliminates the case where he touches the ball when in-bounding after made baskets.
You see that he’s behind players like Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and John Salmons – this needs to change. The verdict on his passing isn’t out yet, and the Raptors need to test just how capable he is and whether he’s able to play a role similar to Josh McRoberts when he was in the high-post in Charlotte, or even Tyson Chandler or Dirk Nowtizki in Dallas – because, if Valanciunas excels at that, the Raptors socialist offense takes itself to a whole new level.
There’s another area of his game where he’s improving at a steady rate, and that’s transition. He looks to beat his man down the court, notably in the first half of games. He may not do it against mobile big men like Chris Bosh, but if he spots someone like Marcin Gortat checking him, he’ll make the push to get down after missed baskets. Something small, but important to note.
His defense is probably a topic for another post, and I’ll be the first to admit that he’s far from being astounding in this category. As a rebounder, he tends to get caught watching the play and doesn’t know when to switch from ball-defending mode to rebound-positioning mode, which leaves him susceptible for giving up offensive rebounds. If you tell Valanciunas that his #1 job out there is rebounding, he’s able to get the job done to a high degree of quality because he’ll basically shut off any help-defense sense that he has and focus entirely on positioning and likely beat out his man. It’s finding the right balance that he hasn’t mastered yet.
What the Raptors have here is a plant that needs water, lots of it. There were some reports that next year would be the one where Dwane Casey would finally hold Valanciunas accountable and make him pay for his lapses. I feel that that’s a very unwarranted approach for two reasons: 1) He already gets the hook when he plays badly so accelerating that hook would be harsh, and 2) He’s shown enough in a limited offensive role that he deserves to be a larger part of the offense, and with that come growing pains where a heavy hand may not be the best approach.
Valanciunas, entering his third season, still needs time and patience. He hasn’t been afforded the zero-pressure seasons that DeMar DeRozan or Chris Bosh had where they developed their individual games in meaningless seasons. He’s had to do his development entirely within a team setup and that will invariably slow it down, again, especially for his position. What the Raptors have here is pure potential, and more importantly, a player that has already validated many an assumption made when he was drafted. Give the man time, he’ll shine.
James Johnson, the most underwhelming and, at the same time, understandable signings made this summer. Ujiri dipped into his back pocket for spare change, threw it in the air, and out of the bushes leaps James Johnson to snuff the pack of quarters before they even hit the ground. There’s your defensive specialist for you, there’s the guy that’ll stop next year’s Joe Johnson, and that’s the guy that’ll push Ross for minutes.
For a $2.5 million salary, a player of Johnson’s caliber is about what you’re going to get and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the constraints Ujiri was operating under. Over the last couple years Johnson has matured into a different player than what Raptors fans may remember from his time between 2010-12. He remains a horrendous three-point shooter, shooting a woeful 25% while taking a career-high 1.7 threes per game last season, meaning the rumours that he’s here for his floor stretchability are vastly exaggerated (even from corner positions as seen below).
He remains a player who will only be as good as the system he plays in. Put him in a situation where he’s allowed freedom on offense, and he’s liable to kill you with his propensity to look for his shot, like he did under Sacramento’s lax playbook. Put him in a defined role, like Memphis did, and you get a player that moves very well without the ball, has a very serviceable pump-fake, and can finish while contested, at least when he’s attacking from the right side of the rim. Despite being a poor three-point shooter, there is one area on the court where he’s above the league average and that’s on the right wing. If the Raptors are able to position him on the court well, he may be able to space the floor just a little, but it’s not something you can count on. In that sense, he’s very much like Landry Fields, a guy whose offense you cannot rely on but whose defense can be valuable. The following play against the Spurs is a good example of the type of off-the-ball movement that Johnson has improved in over the last year:
Comparing him to John Salmons, he’s a worse three-point shooter but moves better without the ball. He’s more liable to cut to the rim from the weak-side than Salmons (partially because he’s now realized that he’s a bad shooter) , and is physically stronger than the latter when facing contact or pressure.
Where Johnson beats out the incumbent Fields and the departed Salmons is his defense. Once he realized and accepted that no matter how much he tried, it wasn’t his offense that was going to cut him an NBA cheque, Johnson made a concerted effort to focus on the defensive side of his game, where his 6’9” frame comes in handy, and was greatly helped in this regard by Memphis’s defensive setup.
With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph manning the paint behind him, Johnson was able to play tight defense on the perimeter, knowing that there was cover waiting in case he was beat. His long arms, good stance in isolation situations, and ability to play the correct angles was an asset to Dave Joerger’s 8th ranked defense which was comfortable funnelling drives to the rim. Applying pressure on the perimeter knowing that there’s a second line waiting is a comforting thought for a coach, and a formula that the Thunder follow to good effect with a healthy Serge Ibaka. Memphis takes that approach to the extreme.
This is not to discount Johnson’s defensive qualities, he affords his coach the luxury of slowing down an opposing threat without having to structure the whole team’s defense around it. Though the narrative has been played out, the Raptors against Joe Johnson and the Nets was a good example for a need for this type of player. We saw how valuable a defensive asset Trevor Ariza was to the 7th ranked Washington defense as he guarded three positions on his way to disrupting offenses. Even he benefited from having a strong defensive frontcourt to bail out any over-commitments on the perimeter, now he departs to Houston where Dwight Howard plays a similar role. Something tells me Ariza knows what to seek out in a team to make himself appear better.
Back to Johnson, though, in Toronto he’s going to have to adjust his game to be less aggressive on the wing since the Raptors don’t have the rim-protection Memphis does. Instead of blocks and at-rim contests, the Raptors (who were 23rd in blocks) rely on wing players stepping inside and big men stepping out to pick up charges and divert play. It’s a strategy that relies much more on timing, team communication, and game awareness, rather than pure athletic ability and reach. As much as Johnson’s defensive value is in covering key offensive players in one-on-one situations, it’s how he fits into this fluid Raptors defense that will ultimately determine whether he’s successful or not.
Johnson should also, at the very least, influence Raptors practices very positively. One of my major peeves in the Bryan Colangelo era was the lack of depth at key positions, which meant that practices for players like Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon were a relative breeze. Adding a lengthy defensive player like Johnson into the mix means players such as DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross will have to work that much harder in practice, thus getting more out of them. Once Rudy Gay was traded there wasn’t any real competition for Ross on his way to the starting lineup. While this helped get Ross more playing time and develop faster, it also meant that he didn’t have to look over his shoulder much which led to him getting a little lackadaisical at times. Johnson isn’t going to uproot Ross, but he will make him fight for his place harder than a combination of Salmons and Fields would, which in turn should fuel Ross’s engine that bit more.
The Raptors have a rotation where they don’t need to hide many players on defense, which makes lineup construction that much easier for Dwane Casey. The only players you can make a case for being bad defenders are Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan. The former can pose problems on account of his size, while the latter, well, the latter is a bad defender whose offensive value far exceeds his defensive shortcomings. Replacing Salmons with the seven-year younger and two inches taller Johnson means that the Raptors rotation has improved defensively, affording Dwane Casey options. Johnson’s size and rebounding would lend itself well to small-ball lineups, or in situations where defensive pressure needs to be increased. Presently, the best Raptors defensive lineup is Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, and possibly, Jonas Valanciunas or Bebe Nogueira, depending on if you’re looking for rebounding or shot-blocking. Conditional on how far along Ross is with his offense, that is a lineup that could be used to change games from a defensive standpoint without sacrificing too much offense.
James Johnson is the very definition of exploiting a constraint – a small tweak that could have a large impact. This James Johnson isn’t about what the previous James Johnson was about:
“Playing defence, being an opportunity scorer, just doing the little things. Every day, practice hard and try to get our guys to the next level with team defence. I’m just more mature about my game. I’m doing the little things, finding my niche nowadays. Getting opportunity to score when I can and if not, don’t worry about the offensive end.”
Defense? Opportunity scorer? Practice hard? Team defense? Little things? Niche? Don’t worry about the offensive end? Those are phrases you never would’ve associated with James Johnson 2010-12.
Quotes from Day 2 of Canada Basketball’s practice at the Air Canada Center.
The Golden Generation of Canadian Men’s Basketball isn’t here yet, but it’s on the way.
With names like Tyler Ennis, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Nik Stauskas, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins selected in the first round of the NBA draft over the last three years, it’s hard not to be excited for Canada’s basketball future. At this rate, the day will soon come when Canada has to say no to an NBA player. Imagine that.
Excitement for basketball in Canada is reaching a precipice. Coupled with the recent success of the Toronto Raptors, the nation is starting to take notice, bringing newfound intrigue, and expectation for the incoming class of youngsters. It’s all about what comes next — everyone is excited about the future.
Only, the future isn’t here yet. It’s on the way, but that’s a process. Before dreams of Ennis throwing alley-oops to Wiggins becomes a reality, they’ll first have to learn how to play and win together. It’s a process.
And the process is being shepherded along by the team’s longstanding veterans and coaching staff. The organization currently stands at a low, having failed to qualify for the FIBA World Cup this summer, but their heads hang high with their sights firmly set on the future. They’re all pulling in the same direction — towards becoming one of the best teams in the world.
They’ll take their first step starts this summer, when the Canadian Men’s National team embarks on an 11-game exhibition tour across Europe. They’ll take on five of the world’s top-15 ranked teams in Spain, Turkey, Serbia, Slovenia and Angola.
“We want to play the best competition in the world,” said head coach Jay Triano. “We’re going to learn a lot of lessons while we’re over there, but that’s what these players need. We need to learn the international game, and that’s why we’re playing these games this summer.”
“It’s all about the experience,” says general manager Steve Nash. “It’s about as good of a tour as you could possibly imagine, playing against great teams. It’s an awesome tour for these guys to gain a lot of experience and to see what the benchmark is for top-level international basketball.”
It’s not just Nash and Triano leading the way for Canada’s future stars. Veterans like Carl English are lining up to take on leadership roles, helping to walk the talk put forth by coaches and management.
English is a mainstay in Canada’s system. His service traces back to 2000, and was a member of the 2009 roster that finished fourth in the FIBA Americans championship. Although he is only 33-years-old with plenty left in the tank, English is embracing his role as the wise sage on the squad.
“I’m very vocal. I think a big part of being a leader is keeping everybody together, keeping everybody positive – every practice, not letting things get you down,” said English. “You can be a leader on those things alone and having a positive attitude. And sometimes, it’s not always good to hear your coach speaking. If your peers hear it from you, and from each other, they tend to be more accountable.”
He also wasn’t shy to set the bar high for himself, and the future members of Canada’s team.
“I say is that our goal for 2016 is to become a top-10 team. I’m not afraid to say that the next one could be beyond my time, but I’ll be very disappointed if these guys aren’t a medal team. They’re a fantastic team, and every year there’s more guys coming. If you just take the class now, the last five years, and give them five years to grow together, it’s going to be fabulous.”
Ranking in the top-10 and medalling will be a tall task. Currently, the team ranks 25th in the world and finds themselves on the outside looking in. National programs like the USA, Spain and Argentina have set the standard for international men’s basketball, and it’s one English would like to see his team reach.
Like everyone, English is excited about the incoming crop of talent in the pipeline, and although age may catch up to him before any podium finishes does, English is more than happy to help guide the team along.
In his eyes, English envisions the team adopting a team-oriented identity, with the team boasting a strong 12-man roster. He cited the San Antonio Spurs as an example.
“The example here is San Antonio. Everyone’s talking about Miami vs. San Antonio. They beat Miami because they’re the best team, and that’s what we’re trying to be. We want to have guys – when you’re playing 10 times in 11 days, guys cant play 35 minutes. No one does that at the international level, not even the Dream Team.”
And for up-and-comers like Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk are listening intently, trying to learn from every experience.
“It’s really a blessing,” Powell opined. “The amount of knowledge [the coaching staff] have to impart on us is unlimited and it’s our responsibilities as players to act like sponges and soak up as much as we can. They’re really mentors.”
“Build on coming together, chemistry, build that chemistry as much as we can,” said Olynyk about the team’s upcoming tour.
But no matter the talent on the roster, ascending to the top of the basketball hierarchy will be difficult. The international game vastly differs from the NBA game, or even the NCAA game. With the prevalence of zone defense and the heavy emphasis on three-point shooting, the experience will be “eye-opening”, as Triano notes.
“For some of these guys, it will be eye-opening, to see how passionate their fans are in their countries, and how fine-tuned these teams are. Because the World Championships, in a lot of these countries, is bigger than the Olympic games where more teams participate and more teams have the opportunity to compete.”
And that’s why their upcoming exhibition tour is important. It’s about a young team getting their feet wet as they look to take their first step. And before they take the leap expected of them, they’ll have mainstays like Nash, Triano and English to help them along.
The schedule for their upcoming 11-game tour can be found here. Final roster announcements to come.
Free-agency’s winding down, the roster’s are taking shape and the major pieces in the East are set. The pod takes a moment (well, more than hour to be precise) to examine the state of the Eastern Conference with an analysis of every single club, right from the depths of darkness to the summit of glory. Tune in as Andrew, Will, and Zarar take you through a journey starting at Luke Ridnour and ending at LeBron James. There’s also
deep analysis mention of the Dwight Buycks and Diante Garrett waivers.
Teams are grouped in six categories and the individual and average predictions are below:
|10||New York||Boston||New York||New York|
Masai Ujiri is shuffling around the end of the bench.
Two pieces of news to pass along. First, Diante Garrett was waived by the team, along with fellow point guard Dwight Buycks.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) July 19, 2014
Furthermore, Buycks is likely on his way out of the NBA, as a number of European clubs are in hot pursuit.
Soon-to-be FA guard Dwight Buycks has offers from Euro-power teams Olympiacos and Valencia, agent @ChrisPatrickJr confirms.
— David Pick (@IAmDPick) July 19, 2014
First off, this leaves the Raptors’ roster at 14, assuming Bebe Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo sign and play this season, while DeAndre Daniels waits overseas. The Raptors are either in the market for a veteran center, or a third point guard, which Dwane Casey revealed earlier this week.
Second, the finances. Waiving Buycks and Garrett shaves a little over $1.7 million off the books, which puts the Raptors’ even further from the luxury tax. A full breakdown, penned by resident cap (wannabe) expert Blake Murphy can be found here.
Garrett was acquired by the Raptors in the Steve Novak-to-Utah trade. His contract was fully unguranteed, meaning the Raptors could cut him without financial cost. The same for Buycks, although the deadline on his deal becoming guaranteed was tomorrow.
My personal feeling is that the roster is pretty much set. There’s not nearly enough money to bring in an impact free-agent, and quite frankly, there isn’t an open job on the roster that needs to be filled. The Raptors are two-deep at each position, and have a number of interchangeable players who can fill multiple voids.
Therefore, the most likely outcome is for Masai to sign a player to the veteran minimum – a point guard or center — and to keep costs to a minimum. It’s best to keep some leeway from the luxury tax line, maintaining flexibility for a potential trade.
According to that guy, Buycks has been released which, to be fair, is a pretty obvious course of action to take. With the Raptors already fielding Lowry, Vasquez, and Lou Williams at the point, Buycks has become dispensable. Any chance that the guy might have had of making the team probably went down the drain when he approached summer league as a shoot-first tournament instead of trying to quarterback the team. There was some hope of him making the team after Nando De Colo left for CSKA Moscow, but clearly it wasn’t enough.
Given that Williams isn’t a true point guard, it puts a little bit of pressure on Casey to make sure that Vasquez is indeed backing up Lowry instead of playing with him in a two-guard lineup. Perhaps DeAndre Daniels has shown enough to warrant Bucyks’ spot? We’ll see.
He was due $1.15 million if not released which now comes off the cap. Chances are Daniels can be had for the minimum if the Raptors choose to go that route.
Buycks averaged 3.1 points and 0.7 assists in 14 games last season while playing 10.4 minutes. RR wishes Dwight Buycks the best of luck in his future endeavors, as he was more or less benign.
For those of you that thought that losing in the playoffs meant you were done, we bring you the Las Vegas Summer League, where the Raptors lost in the playoffs against Houston, but then, for some reason, played again today.
Summer League games aren’t always the most beautiful thing and this game didn’t try and rock the boat. For those of you who missed this game, let me just run down a few numbers to give you an idea of what you missed.
- This was the second-lowest scoring game of the Las Vegas Summer League, only being saved from being the worst on a three in the last seconds of the game.
- The Raptors and Clippers shot a combined 34.7% from the field.
- The Raptors shot 13% (3-23) from three, only to be eclipsed by the Clippers who shot 10% (1-10). Although, perhaps the Clippers should be applauded for taking fewer threes considering they weren’t hitting. Hard to say, 13% is better than 10%, but 9 misses is better than 20 misses.
- Both teams combined for 6 assists in the first half. Six in twenty minutes.
- The Raptors “won” by outscoring the Clippers 64 to 60.
The Spurs-Heat this was not.
There was almost no flow on offense and obviously little passing. Too many guys trying to force things. This is the problem with Summer League play. Most players are trying to impress, and so they want to standout, but when you try and standout, you often end up going away from the team concept. It’s a catch-22.
For those that actually care about the game, the Raptors were losing up until midway through the second quarter when they went on a 16-0 run and stayed ahead the rest of the game.
For most fans, the interest in Summer League is focused on individual play. This is a chance for us to see rookies in a professional setting, and evaluate players who may or may not have a chance at making the roster.
This game gave some of the players who hadn’t had seen much action previously some playing time. Scott Machado got a chance to start with Buycks sitting out this game. TJ Bray disappeared in his first start. And Myck Kabongo got a chance to see some extended minutes for once. We also might have seen the last of Hassan Whiteside, who also sat out the game.
Without any big name rookies in attendance, there was a lot of discussion about Bruno, and one of the Barry boys and the other commentator had a lot of nice things to say about him when they weren’t talking about Rick Fox’s scarf and, well, they talked a lot about Fox’s scarf for some reason.
The best comment was when Barry said, and I quote, “We like where he strokes it”, when talking about Bruno’s form on his shot (and not his length). He obviously caught the double entendre and backtracked a little, but that might have been the highlight of the game.
While Bruno didn’t shoot well, especially from three, he continues to impress with his potential. He’s still got a LONG way to go, but continues to have a big impact on the defensive end and shows flashes of an offensive game that is probably still three or four years away.
Bruno seemed to start the game with a slightly different mindset and looked to initiate a little more, but mostly failed miserably. He dribbled out the shot clock twice and one play, where he was isolated on the wing, was uncomfortable to watch as he fumbled the ball and then proceeded to dribble out the clock.
He also tends to fall for a pump fake WAY too often, especially considering a guy with his length shouldn’t even need to leave his feet. He also coughs up the ball under pressure, which is probably why I counted only a few times when he dribbled the ball more than twice.
Still, for the youngest player on the court and a guy who no one had heard of just a few weeks ago, Bruno impressed as much or more than anyone on the court. He doesn’t shy away from contact, has good form (despite not hitting in this game), and can be a game changer on the defensive end. On the very next play after the failed isolation attempt, Bruno used his length and anticipation to steal a pass and dribble the length of the court for a layup.
He played a team high 33 minutes and was a big reason why the team won.
The more I watch Bruno, the more I like Ujiri’s selection of him at 20. While no one should expect anything from him next year, I would say he’s definitely got more potential than anyone who was selected later and, at the very least, can become a good defensive player who can hit the three.
Bebe got to play extended minutes and did show some things, but he also showed he’s got a lot of work to do.
He looked about a foot taller than anyone out there, and he’s not a stiff. With his physical tools, he’s got a chance to have an NBA career, but there are a few things that might prevent that.
Bebe might be the longest player in summer league (that’s just a guess, but he’s got 9’6 standing reach, so I think it’s probably a good guess), but he’s only got three blocks in five games. He should have gotten twice as many without even leaving his feet. And therein lies the problem. While Bebe is a willing defender, he’s not a particularly good one. Well, some of the time he is, but for a guy as agile as he is, opposing players seem to go around him almost at will at times. He’s not good at defending pick and rolls and will over-commit far too often.
And while he ended up getting 10 rebounds against the Clippers, there were far too many times when a smaller player came out of the pack with the rebound instead of Bebe. And considering the number of misses in this game, I guarantee there were more than ten rebounds available for Bebe.
Bebe’s got great size, yes, but he simply doesn’t use it enough. He is active, but doesn’t always play very smart. Now, apart from the physical tools, Bebe is a willing, if not always pinpoint passer. He’s actually got a decent drive to the hoop for a player his size, and finishes fairly well around the basket.
He’s a project, but he’s a project worth gambling on.
Funniest incident of the game: While running up the court, Bebe apparently asked the ref if he could stop and tie his shoe. Do they stop games in Brazil for that?
Daniels was the leading scorer (15 points), rebounder (14 rebounds) and shot blocker (2 blocks) for the game, and definitely played fairly well.
He was active on the boards and on defense, but he did take 15 shots to score those 15 points, so it’s safe to say efficiency was not a strong suit. There were a number of times when Daniels seemed to have blinders on and forced the action rather than pass to an open teammate. It’s like he knew this was the last game to impress the Raptors and wanted to show something, but showing he could pass would have been something.
I was anxious to see Kabongo get some burn and was happy to see it happen. Kabongo has always had a reputation as a great ball handler and good passer, but his big weakness is his lack of a jumper, and all of that was on display in this game. Kabongo outplayed starter Machado, even dishing out a game-high 3 assists (?!?!?!). He showed some sneaky moves around the basket and was able to get into the lane almost at will.
But that jumpshot.
He’s been away from Texas University for more than a year and he obviously hasn’t spent enough time on his jumpshot. He was 0 for 3 from three and not one of them was close, even airballing one.
I still was impressed enough with him that I would like to see the Raptors bring him into training camp. He’s actually 22, which is older than I thought, but he’s got talent.
Daniels has no real shot at catching on with the Raptors, but since he was the ONLY Raptors to actually hit a three (he went 3-6) which I thought was worth mentioning.
In just 12 minutes, Holman actually looked like a fairly decent prospect. He’s not tall but showed a good post game and grabbed four boards in his limited time.
That’s it for Las Vegas. Next up, training camp. In three more months.
Piggy-backing off Greg Mason’s work.
DeMar DeRozan making improvements to his game, year after year, has become the defining narrative of his career. His love for the city, coupled with his reputation as a gym rat, has rightfully endeared him to many fans. And while he’ll never play a style of basketball that perfectly aligns with the analytical axioms of efficiency, DeMar has improved many aspects of his game, especially with respect to getting to the free-throw line, and facilitating offense.
But his shooting, strictly speaking, remains largely unchanged. There’s still work left to be done.
Shot charts courtesy of Nylon Calculus, yet another excellent blog on the Hardwood Paroxysm network.
Thanks in large part to the analytics movement, shooting is at a premium in the league now more than ever. Look no further than the Channing Frye signing for evidence as to how much teams value guys who can space the floor and create lanes to the rim. Successful teams make a lot of shots at the basket and they make a lot of threes. San Antonio and Miami led the league in shots made within 5 feet, 382 and 311, respectively (the Raptors made 109 shots, good for 12th), and both teams finished in the top 5 in 3 point field goals made. Teams who couldn’t space the floor, see Detroit and Utah, were a train wreck. The Raptors were slightly better than middle of the pack as shooters last season. They finished 13th in the league in 3FGM and 15th in 3FG%.
This week Austin Clemens (@AustinClemens2) of Nylon Calculus (part of the Hardwood Paroxysm network) compiled VERY cool and HIGHLY addictive shot charts of every player from the 1996-1997 season forward.
I’m skeptical that DeRozan will ever become a league average 3-point shooter, but he’s proved me wrong before. One thing that he can certainly work on this season is cutting down on mid-range jumpers. The Raptors are essentially a slightly above average shooting team in the league. There are several guys on the team who can stroke the three at a respectable clip (Lowry, Vasquez, Ross, Patterson) but they lost their one elite shooter when they sent Novak to Utah for salary relief purposes. They’ve added two below average shooters in Williams and Johnson and lost Salmons who was wretched inside the arc but among the best three point shooters on the team. Bruno has a nice shot and his go-to move so far in summer league has been the step back three (lessons from Lowry already?) but I don’t expect him to be a rotation guy at this juncture in his career. Simply put, on paper the Raps are a worse shooting team than they were last season but probably not in a particularly meaningful way. If they shoot well and create the requisite space for driving lanes to the basket, the personnel by-and-large does a good job of finishing in the paint.
Data for this article was provided by basketball-reference.com.
Dwane Casey joined Rick Kamla and Brent Barry during the Raptors/Rockets game, which Will has recapped along with key portions of the interview. Below is the full audio of the Casey interview where he touched on a number of topics included Bruno Caboclo, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and even Dwight Buycks.