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Date Title Author
Feb 22, 17 Deadline Week Mailbag: Yeah, we’re gonna talk some trades Blake Murphy
Feb 22, 17 Rumor Roundup: Raptors’ offer for Cousins, Tucker competition, and more Blake Murphy
Feb 21, 17 Raptors assign Siakam, VanVleet, and Caboclo to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Feb 21, 17 Lost in the Shuffle? Anthony Doyle
Feb 21, 17 The Expendable: Jared Sullinger Matt Shantz
Feb 21, 17 Report: Raptors ‘eager’ to add another piece, may have inquired on Drummond Blake Murphy
Feb 21, 17 Are Raptors contenders for any awards? RR
Feb 20, 17 A mid-season review of the Toronto Raptors RR
Feb 20, 17 Raptors Rotations and What Drives Their Success Alex Gres
Feb 20, 17 One of Them Good Problems: Fitting Ibaka Into the Frontcourt Gavin MacPherson
Feb 20, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – A farewell to Ross and welcoming Ibaka Blake Murphy
Feb 20, 17 Raptors haven’t killed title chances yet RR
Feb 19, 17 Kyle, DeMar and the East all-stars lose a laid back shootout to the West Shyam Baskaran
Feb 18, 17 Lowry fails to advance in Three-point contest Anthony Doyle
Feb 18, 17 Stackhouse wins, Tavares gets double-double, and Jordan loses dunk contest Vivek Jacob
Feb 18, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E11 – God Bless The Break Nick Reynoldson
Feb 17, 17 Breaking Down the Last 5 Minutes of CHA v TOR Cooper Smither
Feb 17, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 17 Sam Holako
Feb 17, 17 New-Look Raptors still DeMar DeRozan’s Team Cameron Dorrett
Feb 17, 17 Delon Wright Adds Versatility To Raptors Backcourt Options Spencer Redmond
Feb 17, 17 NBA All-Star Weekend Primer RR
Feb 17, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 17 – Welcoming Ibaka and maybe more moves Blake Murphy
Feb 16, 17 Ibaka Trade: Hope for Now, but Preparing for Worst Matt Shantz
Feb 16, 17 Wright, Poeltl, and the unlikely savior of depth Blake Murphy
Feb 16, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 16 Sam Holako
Feb 16, 17 Some Interesting Heroes Emerge For The Toronto Raptors Warren Kosoy
Feb 16, 17 Raptors-Hornets Reaction Podcast – Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl save the day Blake Murphy
Feb 15, 17 Quick Reaction: Hornets 85, Raptors 90 Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 15, 17 VIDEO: Serge Ibaka introduced ahead of Raptors-Hornets Blake Murphy
Feb 15, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka introduced but won’t play, Powell starts Blake Murphy
Feb 15, 17 What are the Raptors getting in Serge Ibaka? Scott Hastie
Feb 15, 17 Raptors Playbook: Horns Triple Cooper Smither
Feb 15, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 15 Sam Holako
Feb 15, 17 Gameday Hornets @ Raptors, Feb. 15 Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 15, 17 The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago Andrew Thompson
Feb 15, 17 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri discusses Serge Ibaka acquisition Blake Murphy
Feb 15, 17 Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – No life, no leadership Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Bulls 105 Anthony Doyle
Feb 14, 17 Antwaine Wiggins energy and CJ Leslie lift 905 to second-half surge past Knicks Vivek Jacob
Feb 14, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Toupane named D-League All-Star, Patterson game-time call Vivek Jacob
Feb 14, 17 Serge of Confidence Anthony Doyle
Feb 14, 17 Should They Stay or Should They Go? Gavin MacPherson
Feb 14, 17 Reaction Podcast – Raptors trade Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Raptors have to believe they’ll come out the other side better for struggles Kevin Yeung
Feb 14, 17 Raptors acquire Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a 1st-round pick Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Amidst the Chaos: Starring Contract Kyle Mike Nelson
Feb 14, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Feb. 14 Blake Murphy
Feb 14, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 14 Sam Holako
Feb 13, 17 VIDEO: Lowry, Carroll, and Casey discuss Sunday’s frustration at practice Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Asking For Help Anthony Doyle
Feb 13, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 13 Sam Holako
Feb 13, 17 What’s Your Raptors Story? Alex Gres
Feb 13, 17 Raptors collapse again, and it’s reverberating in the locker room Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Let’s make a deal Blake Murphy
Feb 13, 17 Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Casey’s playcalling needs work Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 VIDEO: Frustrated Lowry says ‘something gotta change,’ DeRozan open to help Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 Quick Reaction: Pistons 102, Raptors 101 Shyam Baskaran
Feb 12, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka, Gallinari, and Millsap rumblings; Patterson remains out; Poeltl starts Blake Murphy
Feb 12, 17 Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Feb. 12 Blake Murphy
Feb 11, 17 905 crush Charge with three-point barrage Vivek Jacob
Feb 11, 17 Pre-Deadline Mailbag: A lot of Ibaka, plenty of other trade talk, Wrestlemania, and more Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 17 Jared Sullinger headed back to Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Feb 10, 17 The Raptors have been struggling in the clutch lately, but will it last? Scott Hastie
Feb 10, 17 Quest To Find Toronto’s Ultimate Raptors Bar Gets Wild Barry Taylor
Feb 10, 17 Calling on Cory Cameron Dorrett
Feb 10, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 9 – Halfway down The Road to The Six Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 905 maintain theme of a balanced attack to put away Bulls Vivek Jacob
Feb 9, 17 Raptors reportedly interested in Ibaka (and some All-Star Weekend notes) Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 3 Players The Raptors Should Look Into At The Deadline Warren Kosoy
Feb 9, 17 Don’t Panic Gavin MacPherson
Feb 9, 17 Raptors let another one slip away in Minnesota Blake Murphy
Feb 9, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 9 Sam Holako
Feb 9, 17 Raptors-Timberwolves Reaction Podcast – This one is on Casey Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Wolves 112 Vivek Jacob
Feb 8, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson out again as Raptors visit Timberwolves Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Fighting for Minutes: Norm vs Ross Still a Thing? Matt Shantz
Feb 8, 17 Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense Cooper Smither
Feb 8, 17 Norman Powell Is Fighting The Raptors Depth Chart Spencer Redmond
Feb 8, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, Feb. 8 Blake Murphy
Feb 8, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 8 Sam Holako
Feb 7, 17 Jarrod Uthoff revenge game leads Mad Ants to victory over 905 Vivek Jacob
Feb 7, 17 Comparing Toronto Raptors schedule to opponents offers room for optimism Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 7, 17 Fred VanVleet was ready when called upon, and will be again Blake Murphy
Feb 7, 17 Raptors continue to get their act together in victory over Clippers Mike Nelson
Feb 7, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E10 – Hotline Bling Nick Reynoldson
Feb 7, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 7 Sam Holako
Feb 6, 17 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – DeRozan back in a big way Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Quick Reaction: Clippers 109, Raptors 118 Kiyan Sobhani
Feb 6, 17 Kyle Lowry becomes Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan in, Patterson out against Clippers Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Edy Tavares named to D-League All-Star Team Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6 Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Lowry’s triple-double lifts Raptors to much-needed victory over Nets Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Can a trade fix the Raptors? Blake Murphy
Feb 6, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 6 Sam Holako
Feb 5, 17 Raptors-Nets Reaction Podcast – They finally got a win! RR
Feb 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Nets 95 Matt Shantz
Feb 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry to play, DeRozan and Patterson sit, LeVert out Blake Murphy
Feb 5, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Feb. 5 Blake Murphy
Feb 4, 17 Raptors Poor Stretch Continues With Loss To Orlando Spencer Redmond
Feb 3, 17 Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – Not again, dammit RR
Feb 3, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Magic 102 Cameron Dorrett
Feb 3, 17 Patrick Patterson leaves game, will not return Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan misses another as Raptors visit Magic Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Lucas Nogueira Has Taken His Game To The Next Level Spencer Redmond
Feb 3, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Magic, Feb. 3 Andrew Thompson
Feb 3, 17 The Missing Ingredient Alex Gres
Feb 3, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 2 – It’s not last call yet Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Kyle Lowry to participate in 3-Point Contest Blake Murphy
Feb 3, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 3 Sam Holako
Feb 2, 17 Why Ignoring Player Ceilings Is Costing The Raptors Warren Kosoy
Feb 2, 17 Pint-Sized Super-Human Isaiah Thomas Carries Celtics Over Raptors Gavin MacPherson
Feb 2, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 2 Sam Holako
Feb 1, 17 Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – Make your free throws RR
Feb 1, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Celtics 109 Anthony Doyle
Feb 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Bradley, Olynyk, and DeRozan sit because this ‘rivalry’ can’t have full squads Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 17 Raptors Playbook: Rip Punch & Counters Cooper Smither
Feb 1, 17 It’s time Toronto Raptors get serious about Norman Powell Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 1, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Celtics, Feb. 1 Blake Murphy
Feb 1, 17 Redemption? Well, Not Exactly: Raptors survive overtime fight vs. Pelicans Mike Nelson
Jan 31, 17 Raptors-Pelicans Reaction Podcast – King Kyle saves the day RR
Jan 31, 17 Early Bruno and Brady show leaves Charge in the dust Vivek Jacob
Jan 31, 17 Quick Reaction: Pelicans 106, Raptors 108 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 31, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan to sit 2 more games, Evans out, Stackhouse to coach All-Stars Blake Murphy
Jan 31, 17 Trade Assets: What the Raptors Have to Offer Matt Shantz
Jan 31, 17 Gameday: Pelicans @ Raptors, Jan. 31 Blake Murphy
Jan 31, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 31 Sam Holako
Jan 30, 17 VIDEO: Lowry, Ujiri speak on ‘bullshit’ U.S. travel ban Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 Mini-Mailbag: Making sense of this ‘bad stretch,’ Delon Wright, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 The Warriors Three Anthony Doyle
Jan 30, 17 Raptors defence continues January swoon in loss to Biyombo’s Magic Vivek Jacob
Jan 30, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – The future of Norman Powell Blake Murphy
Jan 30, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 30 Sam Holako
Jan 29, 17 Raptors-Magic Reaction Podcast – This is inexcusable RR
Jan 29, 17 Quick Reaction: Magic 114, Raptors 113 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 29, 17 Pre-game news & notes: 905ers recalled, DeRozan returns, Fournier sits Blake Murphy
Jan 29, 17 Gameday: Magic @ Raptors, Jan. 29 Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 17 Sullinger gets his reps, 905 defeat 87ers for 9th straight win Vivek Jacob
Jan 28, 17 Raptors assign Jared Sullinger to D-League Blake Murphy
Jan 28, 17 A New Day – Raptors Beat Bucks, End Skid Alex Gres
Jan 27, 17 Raptors-Bucks Reaction Podcast – End of the losing streak; come down off your ledges RR
Jan 27, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 102, Bucks 86 Anthony Doyle
Jan 27, 17 905 Take down Knicks to Remain Perfect on the Road, Win 8th Straight Overall Vivek Jacob
Jan 27, 17 Raptors 905 trade Jarrod Uthoff for Christian Watford, pick Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan misses third in a row as Bucks visit Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Real or Imagined? Anthony Doyle
Jan 27, 17 Relax, Everything is Going to be Alright Andrew Thompson
Jan 27, 17 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, Jan. 27 Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 27 – Lowry and DeRozan almost form one Joe Johnson Blake Murphy
Jan 27, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 27 Sam Holako
Jan 26, 17 Put Respek on the man’s name: Kyle Lowry, 2017 All-Star Sam Holako
Jan 26, 17 VIDEO: Vice goes shopping with DeMarre Carroll Blake Murphy
Jan 26, 17 Optimism in the Midst of Awfulness Matt Shantz
Jan 26, 17 Raptors Can’t Control Gasol In Fifth Straight Loss Spencer Redmond
Jan 26, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 26 Sam Holako
Jan 25, 17 Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Lowry’s comeback falls short RR
Jan 25, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 99, Grizzlies 101 Anthony Doyle
Jan 25, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan Stays Home, Green Out, Parsons doubtful for Grizzlies Vivek Jacob
Jan 25, 17 Raptors 905 win 7th in a row in Wright’s debut Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 Raptors Playbook: Iverson Series Counters Cooper Smither
Jan 25, 17 Gameday: Raptors at Grizzlies, Jan 25 Cameron Dorrett
Jan 25, 17 Better not good enough as Raptors cough up 4th in a row Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 VIDEO: How Lowry became an elite shooter Blake Murphy
Jan 25, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 25 Sam Holako
Jan 24, 17 Raptors-Spurs Reaction Podcast – Signs of encouragement RR
Jan 24, 17 Quick Reaction: San Antonio Spurs 108, Toronto Raptors 106 Kiyan Sobhani
Jan 24, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Patterson probable, Leonard, Simmons, and Parker sit for Spurs Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 17 D-League Showcase another victory for Raptors organization Blake Murphy
Jan 24, 17 Valanciunas’ pick and roll defence at the centre of Raptors struggle Scott Hastie
Jan 24, 17 Gameday: Spurs @ Raptors, Jan. 24 Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 24, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 24 Sam Holako
Jan 23, 17 Raptors not panicking, even with DeRozan set to miss two games Blake Murphy
Jan 23, 17 Toronto Doesn’t NEED a Trade Matt Shantz
Jan 23, 17 Suns hand Raptors third straight loss in 4th quarter meltdown. Cameron Dorrett
Jan 23, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – DeMar DeRozan gets his due Blake Murphy
Jan 23, 17 Raptors-Suns Reaction Podcast – Lowry’s meltdown RR
Jan 22, 17 Quick Reaction: Suns 115, Raptors 103 Shyam Baskaran
Jan 22, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira clears concussion protocol, Patterson remains outs Blake Murphy
Jan 22, 17 Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, Jan 21 Spencer Redmond
Jan 21, 17 Raptors humbled by Hornets amid injury woes Scott Hastie
Jan 20, 17 Raptors 905 hang on against Nets, move to 2-0 at D-League Showcase Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 Raptors-Hornets Reaction Podcast – No show in Charlotte RR
Jan 20, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 78, Hornets 113 Anthony Doyle
Jan 20, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan thoughts, Wright returns, and a lot of injury updates Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 The Odd Couple Gavin MacPherson
Jan 20, 17 Give me a Minute! The Raptors Rest Problem Cameron Dorrett
Jan 20, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Hornets, Jan. 20 Joshua Priemski
Jan 20, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Jan 20 – Midterm grades Blake Murphy
Jan 20, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 20 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Fans get it half-right: DeRozan voted to start in the East Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Mini-Mailbag: Sullinger’s role, 905 call-ups, #FreeBruno, and more Blake Murphy
Jan 19, 17 The Five Year Outlook Andrew Thompson
Jan 19, 17 Raptors Fall as The Process Levels Up Alex Gres
Jan 19, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 19 Sam Holako
Jan 19, 17 Raptors-76ers Reaction Podcast – Trust the Process RR
Jan 18, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 89, 76ers 94 Spencer Redmond
Jan 18, 17 DeMarre Carroll leaves game with neck injury, won’t return Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger to make season debut, Nogueira sits Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Raptors 905 open D-League Showcase with high-octane victory Blake Murphy
Jan 18, 17 Raptors Playbook: Chin Pick & Roll Cooper Smither
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Deadline Week Mailbag: Yeah, we’re gonna talk some trades

The trade deadline coming up on Thursday at 3 p.m., which means it’s cause for the latest #RRMailbag.

Contrary to popular belief, my annual “dump on all the trade ideas” mailbag is actually one of my least favorite to write (that there were multiple installments last year almost killed me). I love trade hypotheticals, and at this time of year it’s to the point that I don’t even need the trade machine for most potential deals. Unfortunately, the answer far more often than not with trade stuff is “no.” It just takes a lot – salaries matching, incentives matching, the other team thinking like you think and liking your assets, on- and off-court fits, and so on. And then even if you use your best objective analysis, teams like the Kings and Knicks exist to muck things up. So I don’t shoot down ideas with joy – trust me, our coffers could use another couple days of traffic like the Serge Ibaka trade caused – I’m just trying to be realistic.

And I hate fun, obviously.

You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, which likely contain a question about a trade target of your liking if it wasn’t covered within this column.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Les Cousins Dangereux

The Kings are dumb, the trade is objectively terrible, and we’ll see over the next couple of years that, while both parties surely deserve blame, DeMarcus Cousins was not the problem in Sacramento. Poor Buddy Hield.

I can’t answer the “would he have wanted to” part – I heard conflicting things about the Raptors’ potential interest in Cousins. (Personally, I would have been aggressive even with the character concerns, given the immense talent at play and the strength of the Raptors’ own culture.)

With that said, I’m sure they would have at least inquired to see what the asking price was. Now, could the Raptors have offered a better package? Objectively, yes. Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, and a first-round pick, for example, is a much better haul. But the Kings reportedly wanted little salary back, and Valanciunas is under a long-term contract. Valanciunas is also a divisive figure from a value standpoint, so the Kings may or may not have been in love with him, even if they were fine with the salary. From there, the pick the Kings received stands to be slightly better than the one Toronto could have offered.

Now here’s the big thing: Vivek Ranadive is reportedly insanely high on Buddy Hield, thinking he could become Steph Curry-adjace. However silly that seems, trades aren’t made in a vacuum – if the Kings’ owner liked Hield best as an available prospect, there’s nothing Masai Ujiri or Jeff Weltman or Norman Powell or Delon Wright can do about that. The Kings are dumb, and all objectivity goes out the window when you’re dealing with a franchise like that. The Kings also hand-picked the teams they were dealing with and froze others out, according to Adrian Wojnarowski’s most recent podcast.

So yes, the Raptors could have trumped the offer. Every team probably could have. But the Kings are outliers of stupidity.

A few different suitors have been floated, but it definitely wasn’t the Raptors. The Lakers seem to be a popular choice, the Nuggets would have made sense, the Suns were in the mix, and so on. Vlade Divac admitting he had a better offer two days earlier makes this all the more ridiculous, and I only hope we find out the exact offer they passed on.

The Raptors already rank 10th in technical fouls per-game, and Cousins leads the league in that stat (Kyle Lowry is 11th, DeMar DeRozan is 15th). So, yeah, I think they’d be right up there, although somehow Phoenix is averaging a tech a game, a tough mark to match. Maybe the three Olympians together would have made them all super happy and agreeable, though?

Probably, yeah. You can have a preference between the two, and Cousins is obviously more talented, but Serge Ibaka was available at a reasonable price, and the Raptors jumped. It’s tough to fault them coming away with perhaps the second-best piece that will be dealt near the deadline, especially if a Cousins deal was never in the cards. The Ibaka trade is a good one, and the Cousins deal doesn’t change that (and the Celtics didn’t get him!). Had the Raptors not made the Ibaka move, there would probably be a little more outside pressure on them to make an Ibaka-like move this week, and people probably would have (unfairly) used the Cousins’ deal as a low market-setter.

Anyway, they got Ibaka, which is great.

This is a great question, and one I don’t have a perfect answer for, because you rarely hear about these things. My guess is that the player probably continues their charitable efforts in their original city in the short-term before transitioning to their new city (if it’s a permanent home) over time. In the case of Cousins, it’s even harder to guess, because he’s vigilante about keeping all of his substantial charitable endeavors private. This is a nice piece from Zito Madu that touches on the human aspect of such trades – Cousins is a major loss for the Sacramento community.

Other Trade Talk (Oh god, there’s so much trade talk)

The Raptors’ assets aren’t limited, no. Not only do the Raptors still have a first- and second-round pick in every draft in perpetuity, they also have Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet to dangle as pieces. Their near-term second-round picks probably aren’t worth much since they’ll likely come in the 50s, and they may not be open to dealing first-round picks for rentals, but there are a number of ways to construct a deal for a back-of-the-rotation addition.

What’s more, they also have Jared Sullinger’s salary to attach to an asset to help make money work. That’s big, and keeps a lot of possibilities (especially for players making under $10 million) open.

Do you guys want me to list some potential trade targets, or…?

Not to direct you guys elsewhere, but I wrote about just such a thing over at Vice on Friday. As a Cliff notes: P.J. Tucker would seem to be the most likely name on the market, Bojan Bogdanovic and Nick Young are interesting names to help with shooting, Gerald Henderson could be a low-key addition, and other teams deciding they’re out of the playoff race could open up names like Marco Belinelli or Tony Snell. (I go into more detail in those linked pieces.)

More generally, I think the Raptors would like a wing player capable of defending either wing spot (I don’t think they really need a combo-forward or combo-guard type) and knocking down some open threes. Unfortunately, 3-and-D types who aren’t lacking in one or the other aren’t really on the market and, if they were, would likely be expensive. If the Raptors add a player, he’s likely to be the fourth wing in the rotation – a matchup specialist, depth insurance, etc – so the piece they get doesn’t need to be a perfect, seamless fit.

My guess is that any deal would be Sullinger paired with either a pick or a young player, and if it’s the latter, the Raptors would become likely players on the buyout market or with a G-League call-up. The hope should be Sullinger-and-a-second gets something done, but that is probably unreasonably optimistic. The team’s in the tough spot of their seconds not being enough and their firsts being too much for a rental.

And no, not Mike Scott. Did NOT expect to hear a question about the regional manager. The Raptors really don’t need another big, especially one who can’t even get on the floor for the Hawks.

Swaggy P, obviously. You asked who I, Blake, would rather have, right? I’d get content gold out of Young here. One of my favorite interviews I’ve done in my career was with Young. I could do a daily feature here just shooting the shit with him.

If I’m the Raptors, though? Oh yeah, Lowry and Dwane Casey would very likely murder Young. For the Raptors, Tucker is probably the guy that fits the necessary role best – he can defend multiple spots, he requires very few touches, he brings toughness, and I’ve heard good things out of Phoenix in terms of the locker room. He’d probably embraced the limited role, too, given the chance to compete. That he’s only a mediocre shooter is a concern, but Young is a character risk, Bogdanovic is mostly just size on defense, and Wilson Chandler is reportedly going to cost a lottery-protected first, a pick-swap in another draft, plus two pieces to match salary. Gerald Henderson is fine and perhaps available, too.

Again, it’s important to understand that the Raptors aren’t adding a no-brainer rotation piece to bump Norman Powell from the rotation or anything. It’s a depth addition, a matchup look, something to give them an extra option off the bench.

Tucker feels like the most likely.

Ben McLemore can shoot. And that’s about it. He’s not big enough to guard the three, and he really doesn’t provide a ton else other than a jumper. If he cost little, I guess, sure, but there’s not a ton to be excited about there. (Someone should take a flier to try to wash the Kings stink off of him and see what he’s got, it just seems an odd undertaking for a pseudo-contender.)

Afflalo has long felt like a potential Raptor given his reputation as a 3-and-D guy, and Kendrick Lamar would probably have some fun with Compton natives teaming up. And Afflalo can still shoot the hell out of the ball – he’s at 38.5 percent for his career, exactly the same as his mark over the last two years – but he’s not at his prior levels by any means. (He actually ranks 97th among 100 shooting guards in Real Plus-Minus, if you like that as a metric, and his defensive metrics haven’t really lived up to his reputation the last couple years.) More than anything,  Afflalo’s expensive at $12.5 million, making salary matching a little difficult without paying a significant price for him – are you really giving up Cory Joseph or two prospects with the Sullinger contract to get him?

If I’m the Sixers, I’m probably not giving Robert Covington away without getting a pick or a prospect back. It’s not that he’s great, or anything, but he has a $1-million salary for this year and a $1.6-million team option for next year. A player who is remotely productive on that type of deal is exactly the kind of piece the Sixers were looking for in their Sam Hinkie-era roster churn. Maybe Bryan Colangelo feels differently.

The issue with Covington for the Raptors is that he’s not all that good. He shoots a ton of threes, but he’s only at 35.4 percent for his career and 32.7 percent on a heavy volume this year. There’s some nice defensive talent given his size and versatility, but he’s mostly an offensive zero. At last call at 2:55, sure, make a call. Philly probably wants a pick or a better prospect than Covington in return.

I answered this one on Twitter but thought I’d put it here, too – this would depend on what the Bulls got for Jimmy Butler, both in terms of position and timeline. McDermott is old for a prospect, but he’s young, cheap, and a good enough that the Bulls might want to keep him either as a rebuilding piece or as an inexpensive bench contributor if their focus was more near-term. So, I guess this is a wait and see, but I doubt it.

(As a side note, the idea of acquiring a Raptor-killer always amuses me. It’s half the reason I included Gerald Henderson above.)

Doubtful. The Nuggets want a lottery-protected first and a pick-swap right, per Zach Lowe, and he’d also take more than just Sullinger for salary matching. So you’re giving up a lot of assets for a guy who no longer fills a massive need – Toronto needs wing help, but prior to the Ibaka deal, a combo-forward like Chandler was an even more attractive piece. Now, acquiring Chandler likely means cutting into Powell’s time this year and next, when the Raptors would have $27 million committed to a pair of small forwards.

He’s a nice piece. I just think he was only an option pre-Ibaka.

The Pacers say no. They’re not going to move Paul George…right? Reports make it sound unlikely at this point. If they did, the Raptors aren’t a natural trade partner unless DeMar DeRozan is on the table – the Pacers have Myles Turner at the center position, and the Raptors don’t have the high-end picks or blue-chip prospects it would take in Indiana’s disaster scenario.

But yes, you should always shoot your shot. Ujiri and Weltman would have to make that call. And you should shoot yours.

I’d say the odds are pretty good they look to deal Valanciunas this summer, but I’m not sure where you’d be able to put money on it.

Particularly if the team plans to retain Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson, someone will have to go to avoid a Cavaliers-sized luxury tax bill, and Valanciunas’ contract helps the most in that regard. The Raptors would then be left with Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, and Ibaka as their centers, with Ibaka, Patterson, and Pascal Siakam to cover the power forward position, and finding a sixth big would be fairly easy on the cheap. Maybe the team doesn’t intend to keep both Ibaka and Patterson, but even if they don’t, salary may have to be shed, and since it’s unlikely they’ll find a home for DeMarre Carroll without paying to do so and Cory Joseph’s salary might not be enough of an unload.

Not that Valanciunas has to go, or anything. But he seems like the most obvious odd-man out if someone from the core has to be outbound this summer.

#BuyoutSZN

Hardest of no on Barnes. I got asked about this one so much on Monday, and I can’t really figure why. Yeah, sue, he’s tough and can still defend. But he’s also an offensive zero who hasn’t shot well on a high volume of threes for two seasons running now, and he turns 37 next month. More than anything, he comes with an enormous amount of off-court red-tape – he has a pending legal case, he’s been fined a ton, and while there are plenty of teammates who seem to like going to war with him, his personality would seem like an unnecessary risk. You know how in How I Met Your Mother, Barney had the hot-crazy scale? Well, the NBA should have a talented-problematic scale called The Markieff Morris Diagonal, and anyone below the Morris line isn’t worth the risk. Barnes is just too problematic given what he could bring.

I don’t see the fit for Langston Galloway, either. He can shoot, but he’s a combo-guard, and the Raptors aren’t really hurting for guys who can man the guard spots, and Galloway can’t slide up a position to help. Tyreke Evans is an interesting piece if bought out, even if he’s not a clear defensive fit, just because the talent level is so much higher with him than the other options likely to be available. But you’re hoping fora buyout and then competing with Cleveland for him, so good luck.

Omri Casspi went to New Orleans in the Cousins deal.

Andrea Bargnani is averaging 9.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 17.6 minutes with Baskonia in Spain, shooting 45.3 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent on threes. I have no idea how he’s rebounding so little. Anyway, though you’d want to know. Sadly, Baskonia is doing fairly well and is unlikely to free Bargnani for a return to the Raptors.

I wouldn’t say it’s most likely, but I definitely think it’s on the table. If the Raptors can’t make a move by the deadline, it’s possible that they waive Sullinger in order to not only open up a roster spot to add a wing, but to give Sullinger the chance to catch on somewhere he might play for the remainder of the year. Sullinger seems the type to play the role of good teammate if not, but it might wind up being the best thing for the team and the player.

If they go that route, they’d probably look at NBA buyout candidates before turning to the G-League. Axel Toupane is a guy I’ve liked for a long time and the organization is high on defensively. He can guard three, maybe even four positions, and he’s a terror in transition or working as a secondary ball-handler. The issue with Toupane, unfortunately, is that he can’t really shoot, something multiple non-Raptors scouts mentioned to me as a potential call-up sticking point at the D-League Showcase. J.P Tokoto isn’t a lights-out shooter, either, but he’s improved and passed Toupane in that regard.

I’d think the team leans Toupane and accepts the limited shooting if they do reach down to the G-League – there are benefits to calling up your own guys in terms of convincing guys to play for you in the future – but that step is a few down the line rather than the “likely next” step right now.

Raptors Miscellaneous

I’d imagine Dwane Casey will probably take some time experimenting with the best staggered units for a few games still. There are big question marks in terms of who takes up Terrence Ross’ role in those groups – Norman Powell is the rotation piece but doesn’t provide the same kind of shooting – and how big a role Lucas Nogueira may have now that Ibaka can take some of the minutes at the five. The specifics of the rotation will be fluid for some time, but the Raptors now have the luxury of an extra two-way piece to deploy when one of their stars hits the bench.

There are number of ways Casey could go, but here’s a very early and very rough stab at what the rotation could look like, based on how I’d deploy things (Cory Joseph holds on to his spot here because I’m assuming that change isn’t coming yet):

That’s maybe closer to a playoff rotation given how tight it is, but the minutes totals feel roughly right. And there are some issues. Nogueira has earned more minutes than that, the fourth-quarter rotation will probably be a gameflow/matchup decision each night, and I’ve broken Casey’s normal mold by going a bit small early and trying to sneak Lowry an extra rest period. Still, this seems like a rough approximation of how things may work. As for the specific questions, as to how effective they may be, Ross’ shooting will be missed, but you hope to get some of that back with Ibaka, or by utilizing Valanciunas as more of an option against bench units. And your defense should be more consistent across units now.

It’s an interesting spot to be in. This is a lot of fun, and Casey has a ton of options now. But there are only 25 games to figure it all out, so there is an urgency in scrutinizing how different lineups perform, and small samples become all the team has to evaluate off of.

Yes, it would be. Even with Joseph being a solid backup, he’d be among the lower-end starters in the league (and hasn’t been particularly good this year). And Lowry owns one of the most pronounced on/off impacts in the league – few teams fall from as high to as low with the removal of one player. Letting Lowry walk would mean a return to fighting just for a playoff spot, and at that point the better path is to perform a major overhaul.

There’s also the risk of damage to the progress the organization has made by letting Lowry walk. It’s not the most analytic way to approach things, but the Raptors have been able to build to the point where Woj mentioned them in the same breath as the Spurs as a quality organization this week. It’s important to be good, not just a contender, and a return to mediocrity or the nuclear option risk walking back a lot of the organizational equity that’s been built.

The more likely scenario in my mind, should Lowry choose to stay, is that the emergence of such point guard depth allows them to lessen their tax bill by sending out Joseph with a succession plan in place, or dangle Wright as attractive trade bait.

The new collective bargaining agreement will see the NBA add two “hybrid” roster spots. So teams will have their 15-man roster that will continue to operate in the same way things do now. They’ll also have two of these additional spots for young players. The hybrid spot allows a player to come to camp, earn an NBA salary until D-League training camp begins, go down to the D-League at a higher D-League salary, then return to the NBA on an NBA salary once the D-League season wraps up. In between, they can also spend 45 days on the NBA roster. Players can also have their deals converted to NBA contracts.

What this does is allow teams to develop more players, with some sense of ownership of their prospects. It also sweetens the deal for players who can earn more than the D-League salary overseas. As examples: Right now, the Raptors run the risk of losing Toupane to any NBA team, whereas if he were in one of these hybrid spots, he couldn’t sign elsewhere. He also could have been recalled to help with wing depth right now; Drew Crawford went overseas after getting cut by the Raptors because his earning power overseas is significantly higher than the current paltry D-League maximum. Under the hybrid rule, he probably wouldn’t have loved being in the D-League still, but he’d have been able to stay close to an NBA roster with a salary potentially closer to his actual value.

In terms of assignments/recalls, this gives the Raptors more options, for sure, so long as they can find players to sign these hybrid deals who prove worthy of calling up to get a look at.

It’s unclear exactly how these deals may play out, how willing players will be to sign them, whether they kill 10-day contracts, and so on. Would Fred VanVleet have signed one this offseason, or sought out a proper NBA deal like the one he got from the Raptors? Would it change how the Raptors approach the draft, particularly their second-round selections? As with all new CBA wrinkles, it’ll take an offseason before we really know how teams will handle them.

He is not, no. If the Raptors were to continue on their downward spin and flame out in the first round of the playoffs, I do think Casey’s seat would be pretty warm. But Rex Kalamian and Nick Nurse are both closer to being head-chair ready. Stackhouse has done a very nice job with the 905 and will surely have some suitors, but the jump to an NBA bench is extreme. Jesse Mermuys took a promotion from the 905 to be a No. 2 assistant. Nurse is incredibly well-respected around the league and has head coaching experience all over, including the D-League. And most of all, Stackhouse might be best suited with a young, up-and-coming team – he’s clearly got some player development skills, and his approach to the 905 (particularly the long practices) might wear on a veteran team. That’s not to say he can’t or won’t shift with a different roster, I’m just not sure the Raptors would be the team to try him out so soon when they have other strong options on their own bench.

Stackhouse is going to be an NBA coach somewhere in the next couple of years, though. Which will be a lot of fun.

Probably on the block right now to be honest. Just gotta get Danny Ainge to finally include Terry Rozier.

(I know you’re joking, but to be clear: DeRozan isn’t a demonstrative bench guy, so I get why some saw his lack of celebration with the rest of the bench last Wednesday as a bad thing. He was encouraging in other ways, though. Delon Wright mentioned to me after the game, for example, that DeRozan was talking to him at each timeout and telling him it was his game to close out, not to worry about coming out, and so on. You can be supportive in different ways.)

This is a question for Doug Smith and Ryan Wolstat and Eric Koreen. They’ve been banging that drum forever, to no avail. I am unbothered by the noise.

I have no inside information on it or anything, but looking at the sponsorship partners around MLSE, BMO stands out as a logical fit.

Definitely not. For one thing, the standings will probably be tight enough that even if they wanted to, the Raptors wouldn’t be able to wiggle into a spot with any certainty. If they happen to draw Cleveland in the second round by accident, that would be unfortunate, but the race for first and race for third could see them try to do that and end up with the wrong matchup, anyway.

It’s far more important for the Raptors to spend the next 25 games getting back to a place where they look like they can win a first-round playoff series. Because they haven’t looked like that in over a month, and it won’t matter who a second-round opponent is if the Raptors don’t figure things out. I think the goal is probably the No. 3 seed, with maintaining home-court in the first round a priority, but their focus will be primarily on figuring themselves out.

This is an excellent question. I’m going to go with DeMarre Carroll. I don’t necessarily think he’d be a plus-plus baker, but his flair for fashion would give him a major edge in terms of presentation, which probably goes a long way if everyone’s cupcakes are just OK.

Right now, Nogueira’s is the most consistent and trustworthy. Poeltl and Siakam work on corner threes a lot but are still in the process of finding that range. Valanciunas can hit the top three and has promised me he’ll hit one at some point this season. It’s probably never going to be a major weapon for Nogueira or Valanciunas, but there’s plenty of time with all four, particularly the rookies. Long-term, I’d say Siakam needs it the most but Poeltl has the best chance of making it a reliable weapon (based on current form).

Deserves? Yes. Joseph has struggled on defense for the bulk of the season, and Wright could eat into his minutes if that continues. If the team doesn’t make a move, Wright also slots in as their fourth wing thanks to his length and Toronto’s flexibility with multi-guard lineups. I’ve long been a major Wright fan, and am confident he’s a capable NBA regular right now.

Gets? I don’t think so. Joseph will have a decent leash given the level he played at last year and the likely preference to do what they can to get him right by the playoffs. Any change in depth chart at the point would probably be temporary. And that fourth-wing role would be pretty limited based on matchups and gameflow, so that’s not a promise of big minutes, either.

While it’s true that 3-and-D wings are very valuable (look at the names we’re talking ourselves into this week), Carroll will be 31 this offseason and has a lot of injury red tape. He’s improved as the season’s gone along, but there’s not convincing evidence he’ll ever get back to being an elite defender, maybe just a good one. He’s also short of elite from long-range, settling in more as good (he shot 39.3 percent over 2014-15 and 2015-16 but is down to 35.2 percent on a heavy volume this year.

There would be a market, but I’m not sure Carroll would get major term. If he wanted three years, a team might only go to $10 million or so annually. Maybe he could get more on a shorter deal. Then again, someone gave Luol Deng four years and $70 million, so who knows, right?

More to the point I think you’re getting at, Carroll having two years and $30.2 million left on his deal after this year is not a major albatross. You’d probably have to give a team a sweetener to take his contract on, sure, but it’s not the worst deal in basketball or anything. For the Raptors in the short-term, it’s better to have Carroll than not given how little he’d bring back. It’s something they can reevaluate in the summer as a luxury tax crunch comes their way.

Non-Raptors Miscellaneous

I’m not touching this one. But #LOLRomanWins, obviously.

If you haven’t yet, check out Riverdale. It is so bad, but in that perfect, endearing, so-bad-it’s-good way. It’s exactly the kind of dumb, mindless nonsense I occasionally need. I am not going to make a guess here as to who the killer is in the event my opinion spoils some of the first four episodes for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet, but Eric, I will DM you my latest theories. Interested to hear everyone else’s in the comments, too.

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

Have a safe and happy new year, everyone!

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Rumor Roundup: Raptors’ offer for Cousins, Tucker competition, and more

It was a pretty quiet Tuesday as far as the Toronto Raptors and the rumor mill are concerned. That’s not all that surprising – Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman like tight lips to be kept around the organization, and it’s usually a safe bet the information beforehand is coming from an opposing team or agents, anyway. The Raptors don’t let information slip until after the fact. That doesn’t mean there aren’t nuggets out there, though, because other organizations can be a little leakier.

Here are a few brief notes from Tuesday.

Competition for P.J. Tucker

We went deeper on the Raptors’ reported interest in Phoenix Suns wing P.J. Tucker yesterday, and he remains the only name being consistently tied to the Raptors. They have competition, though – Michael Scotto lists the Hawks, Clippers, Wizards, Celtics, and Jazz as teams all interested in Tucker, too, which could make things complicated for the Raptors. Phoenix has been trying to land a first-round pick for the rental piece, and while that would seem like too large a price tag, if six teams are interested, maybe someone jumps. (The Timberwolves are also said to have offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker.)

What this does for the Raptors is make it more likely they either have to pony up a first or a prospect. Their second-round picks don’t hold a ton of value given where they’d come, and while the teams mentioned with them will pick in the same range, Atlanta and Boston both own additional second-round picks likely to fall in the 30s this year, and the Jazz own an extra second, as well.

So, yeah, there’s competition there.

Lowry tidbit

Another note that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone comes from Steve Kyler, who passes along that word at All-Star break was that Lowry is “all in” with the Raptors, and part of the reason for acquiring Serge Ibaka was to help convince Lowry to stay. Expect the Raptors to give Lowry the DeRozan treatment and present him with a substantial offer of July 1, unless things go south between now and then.

Raptors offered Valanciunas and a first for Cousins

On the latest Lowe Post podcast, Zach Lowe revealed that the Raptors reportedly offered Jonas Valanciunas and a first-round pick to the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins.  As discussed a bit yesterday and later today in my mailbag column, it’s really difficult to be upset with the Raptors or 28 other fanbases for not getting a Cousins deal done – the Kings sound like they wanted a very specific offer (expirings, a prospect, and picks), and they significantly overvalued one particular prospect. It probably wouldn’t have made much difference if the Raptors tossed in Norman Powell, too, if the Kings either don’t love Valanciunas or weren’t willing to take on his salary.

In any case, it’s nice to hear that the Raptors remain active on star-level players.

A note on Valanciunas-Drummond

I got asked a bunch about Sports Illustrated’s reported Valanciunas-for-Andre Drummond package yesterday, and I remain fairly skeptical there were serious discussions. I added it in this space yesterday, but it was a small note at the end, so here it is again. (Also: The discussions happened pre-Serge Ibaka.) Drummond is a nice, exciting piece who’s a ton of fun to watch and may grow to be even better than he already is. But he’s also nearly 50 percent more expensive than Valanciunas moving forward, and the Raptors are about to find themselves in a serious luxury tax crunch. Drummond brings similar defensive issues, the centers are comparable rebounders, and Valanciunas’ ability to hit the mid-range jumper and knock down free-throws are important to the Raptors, as is his willingness to accept the specifics of his role.

Drummond’s cool, but it’s probably not worth paying him way more and surrendering assets to make the swap for what may not even end up an upgrade within the context of the team.

Poor Valanciunas, though. His name will probably be in the rumor mill again closer to draft night, if the Raptors wind up looking to trim salary.

Jared Sullinger, master troll

The Raptors’ big man got in on the recent trend of NBA players teasing moves through the use of emojis on Tuesday, riling up the fanbase a bit.

The eyes are famously a sign of “something happening,” and the deuces are an obvious goodbye. Really, though, the Raptors are all returning to Toronto right now and will have their first practice on Wednesday, so Sullinger was likely just having some fun as he set to come back.

If the Raptors make a move, Sullinger is the most likely outbound piece, but he was probably just being a troll here.

Assorted

*Shout out to Lou Williams, who is on his way to Houston. The Lou Williams Experience is something every fanbase should get to go through. His time here was so much fun.

*The Nets lowered the price on Brook Lopez, the Suns want Derrick Favors, and there’s still a market for Jahlil Okafor. None of this impacts the Raptors, but any deal with bigs could inform the market, particularly for the summer.

*Larry Sanders has been spotted in Cleveland. I got asked about him a lot when it was reported that he was coming back. The Raptors don’t really have a frontcourt need any longer with seven bodies there, and without knowing Sanders personally, it’s difficult to judge how the fit may be in regards to what he needs off of the court. I’m sure it’d be fine, and the talent is obvious, I’m just not sure they’d unload one of the rookies to land him (and they’d probably target a wing, if anything). Here’s hoping Sanders’ return is successful.

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Raptors assign Siakam, VanVleet, and Caboclo to Raptors 905

One of the trickle-down benefits of the Serge Ibaka acquisition is about to be realized: Rookie Pascal Siakam can return to a normal development plan.

Siakam was one of three players the Toronto Raptors assigned to Raptors 905 of the D-League on Tuesday. The No. 27 pick this year, Siakam has been forced into a large role earlier than anticipated, a necessity of the team’s injuries at the power forward position. Originally pegged to be the fifth or sixth big man in the rotation, Siakam instead became the team’s opening night starting power forward, ultimately starting 38 games and making 48 appearances overall.

Siakam’s energy is infectious, and his defensive potential obvious, but asking a rookie to play such a big role for a pseudo-contender isn’t exactly fair. Despite Siakam’s best efforts, the Raptors struggled while he was on the court, and his pairing with Jonas Valanciunas proved untenable. Overall, the Raptors have been 11.3 points per-100 possessions worse when Siakam’s on the floor. In 16.8 minutes, Siakam’s averaged 4.4 points on 50.3-percent shooting, chipping in 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks.

Again, it’s not on Siakam that the required experiment with him seeing heavy run wasn’t an abject success. He works his tail off and could always be counted on for high-octane minutes. He’s going to be a quality defender once he figures out the nuances of NBA defense and the game slows down a bit. His range has improved since draft time. But again, late-first round picks aren’t normally counted on to start for 56-win teams for a reason.

Letting Siakam continue to work on his game with the 905 is a nice development for his long-term outlook. NBA minutes are great, but he’ll be able to work on a lot more at the D-League level, get more consistent minutes, and catch up to the game at a more deliberate pace. The 905 have done wonders for other Raptors prospects over the last two years, and in no way should this be looked at as a demotion for the freshman – this was always the most logical plan for him, the team was just forced by injuries to change course.

Joining him with the 905 will be Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo. With the return of Delon Wright, VanVleet is now the No. 4 point guard, and he’ll get the chance to continue to show he’s ready for more than D-League action (he is). Caboclo, meanwhile, will likely spend the bulk of the season from here with the 905. He’s shown tremendous defensive progress this year, and while the offense has seriously plateaued, the defensive development is probably more encouraging than the offense is discouraging.

The 905 play at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga on Thursday, then hit the road for a game Saturday. They also have four games next week. So the prospects will have plenty of opportunity to knock any rust off and work on their games as the team comes out of the All-Star break.

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Lost in the Shuffle?

With Patrick Patterson injured, and Bebe, Pascal Siakam and Jared Sullinger all having their issues in recent weeks, it’s opened the door for Jakob Poeltl to establish himself as a rotation player in the NBA. He’s grabbed that opportunity by the horns, delivering two solid starts, despite losing both games, and then working as the lone big man on the floor in a masterful fourth quarter comeback against Charlotte surrounded by guards.

Poeltl has demonstrated that he has solid instincts on both ends of the floor contesting shots on the defensive end and using his length and quickness for positioning, while on the offensive end despite his thin frame he manages to often be in position to grab key offensive boards for putbacks and to reset possessions. He’s not the athlete that either Siakam or Nogeuira is, but he reads the game well and plays within himself. Over the last five games, the team has a +16.6 net rating with Jakob on the floor and a -8.8 net rating(team worst) with him on the bench.

This leads into the next question for Jakob, with Patrick Patterson getting healthy and Serge Ibaka incoming, where does he now fit in the rotation? While it’s easy to be excited about Patterson’s return, given how easy he fits beside nearly any center, and even can play center in certain small-ball groups, and Ibaka brings a similar skillset, leading to many drooling over the possibilities with both forwards on the floor together, Poeltl might become the forgotten man in Toronto, relegated to garbage time minutes and time in the Gatorade League while the team tries to get back on track after a dismal start to 2017.

On the other hand, if there are minutes to be found for the Austrian big man, there are certainly some enticing possibilities with Ibaka in the fold and Patterson back to being healthy. Thus far this season, Poeltl with Patterson has been underwhelming, but many of those minutes came earlier in the year when Jakob looked overmatched and out of place, and perhaps with him looking more comfortable of late they could turn those numbers around. However, where I really see potential is with Poeltl playing alongside Ibaka. Both players have solid defensive instincts, and Ibaka spaces the floor on offense, shooting a fantastic percentage from behind the arc, where Poeltl’s good passing instincts can come into play to create opportunities for the team.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for Jakob to jump any of the big men ahead of him in the rotation, but Bebe has shown signs of late that he doesn’t have the strongest instincts on the offensive end, often getting caught setting illegal screens and not putting himself in position to receive passes on the roll. On the other hand, Poeltl has shown an aptitude for finding space after setting picks and making the correct decision once he has the ball. If Bebe isn’t going to establish himself as a threat on that end of the floor, that’s a road the Raptors might not be able to afford to go down, and Jakob also has the second best rebounding percentage on the squad behind just Valanciunas, and the team best on the offensive boards.

We’ve been down this road before as an organization, with a rookie showing signs of promise in minutes earned while others missed time due to injuries and then relegated to the bench and getting nothing but DNPs while others at times struggled, with Norman Powell over the year, who now gets his opportunity with Terrence Ross in Orlando. Powell’s struggles for minutes became a focus of the fan base, and now he gets his opportunity to shine. It would be silly to expect Poeltl to become a focus for the team, but he shouldn’t be the forgotten man. He’s proven over recent opportunities that he has a skill set that compliments the rest of the roster well, and it would be a mistake to let him get lost in the shuffle over the excitement of the new strength in the frontcourt.

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The Expendable: Jared Sullinger

At the time this article goes live there will be 55 hours until the trade deadline.  I love this time of year, as it feels like anything can happen.  The Raptors have already made a big move in acquiring Serge Ibaka, and DeMarcus Cousins was literally traded during the All Star Game for a guy who punched him in the nuts just a few days earlier.

The NBA, where amazing truly does happen.

In all likelihood the Raptors are most likely done trading for the season.  This prediction is not due to a lack of effort on Masai Ujiri’s part, but due to the simple fact that no trade is easier to pull off that a trade.

Inertia is easier than movement.

With that said though, why not spend the next 55 hours with all the blind speculation that the NBA trade deadline should carry?

By trading Terrence Ross and the lower of their 2017 first round picks, the Raptors’ front office effectively sent out their likeliest trade assets in one deal.  If you any trade rumor this season that involved the Raptors, Ross and the 2017 picks were consistently mentioned.

But Toronto is still left with a wealth of prospects and picks that could dig up interest in their search for a wing.  They’ve got young players like Delon Wright, Fred VanVleett, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Noguiera, and Jakob Poeltl, all of their own picks moving forward, and a large(-ish) expiring contract in Jared Sullinger.

The question then becomes whether it is worth it?  Should Toronto give up depth and youth to have the luxury of an additional wing?  After all, the Raptors likely have the following 10 man rotation:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph

SG: DeMar DeRozan, Delon Wright

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell

PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Noguiera

Delon is clearly the 10th man and his minutes will likely be spotty (He’s the new Norm.  His minutes will fluctuate from game to game despite showing promise, and it will drive me absolutely crazy), but with Cory and Norm each being able to see minutes at SG the Raptors basically have three options at every position and can show a wide variety of different looks.

The depth chart shows that an extra wing would more of a luxury than a necessity.  Add in free agency for Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson this summer and the Raptors’ would likely need an expiring contract to upgrade their wing rotation in a trade.  I’m not comfortable giving up a valuable draft pick (any of our first round picks moving forward) or one of the youth squad at the end of the bench (Fred VanVleet is my one possible exception, but even then I would likely hesitate considering roster uncertainty moving forward) for what would amount to a player destined for limited minutes.

While I think a trade seems unlikely, that’s not to say the Raptors will finish the season as presently constructed.  With a full roster the Raptors can’t just sign a player outright, but the acquisition of Ibaka provides depth in the front court that makes Sullinger all the more expendable.

Although he was Toronto’s big free agent signing in 2016, a broken foot has sidetracked his entire season to date.  While he was expected to be their opening night starting power forward, Sullinger has seen almost as many minutes with the 905 (55 minutes) as he has with the Raptors (118 minutes) this season.

With Ibaka providing Toronto with a new starting power forward, and the flexibility to move him to centre as needed, Sullinger becomes completely expendable.  If the Raptors don’t find a way to use his salary in a trade, buying out Sullinger to open a roster spot could be the likeliest outcome.

Toronto would then be in position to try and sign any of the bought out wings that are sure to come on the market, a player currently playing internationally who is ready to make the move back to the NBA (Did you hear Jimmer recently scored 73 points in China?), or to grab a proven D-League G-League player for added depth (Hi, Axel!).

While Sullinger likely doesn’t hold any trade value around the league, he is likely still the key for the Raptors as they look to re-balance their roster after the Ibaka trade.

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Report: Raptors ‘eager’ to add another piece, may have inquired on Drummond

Most of the attention during and coming out of NBA All-Star Weekend was justifiably paid to DeMarcus Cousins, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the flaming tire fire that is the Sacramento Kings organization. Even with that blockbuster drawing the bulk of the headlines, though, there’s plenty to be gleaned from Monday’s smattering of reports. All-Star Weekend preceding the trade deadline makes the annual showcase an executive summit of sorts, and Monday is usually the day most tied-in reporters come firing with plenty of information.

Perhaps nobody does a better job of that than ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who somehow blended sharp analysis, humor, and excellent reporting seamlessly in a mega-dump of information yesterday. (Shocking that Lowe continues to be the best, right?) From a Toronto Raptors perspective, there are a few relevant notes, although none of them should surprise you. Let’s have a quick look.

The Raptors want to make another move.

Lowe writes:

Toronto and Washington are both eager to add another rotation player, per several league sources. The Raps roster is a little heavy on bigs after the Ibaka deal, and they still have trade chips — all their own picks, and some interesting young guys. They have the maximum 15 players under contract, but if necessary, they could waive Jared Sullinger to clear a roster spot.

Any deal involving an expensive Drakes veteran will probably wait until the summer, when the team faces a severe luxury tax crunch.

Basically, the Raptors would still like to add a piece, and they’re not out of assets yet. I wrote last week following the Serge Ibaka acquisition that the Raptors still had the assets to make a move – Masai Ujiri still has a phone, as he pointed out – and that Jared Sullinger’s salary seemed like the most logical outbound piece to attach to an asset (a prospect or pick) in order to help match salary. The idea of waiving Sullinger outright is something I had only really considered if the Raptors couldn’t make a move and wanted to play the G-League/buyout market.

(Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times adds that they’re likely after a swingman, which, yeah, of course.)

Lowe noting that a Raptors’ veteran likely won’t be heading out means you can probably scratch Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll off your trade scenarios. Joseph has a line of succession behind him at point guard, but while I really like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet, it would be difficult to enter the playoffs needing 8-10 minutes from them at a minimum, given their limited experience. And Carroll’s probably going to cost you an asset to unload, which makes little sense with where the Raptors are at this exact moment.

This all makes sense. It’s what we laid out following the Ibaka deal as the most likely scenario. So while some want the Raptors to keep swinging for the fences, a more muted, lower-tier rotation move always seemed like the most likely follow-up to Ibaka. A bigger move isn’t impossible, there just aren’t many names on the market. Speaking of which…

The price on Gallinari/Chandler is high.

Prior to the Ibaka deal, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari were names that made sense for the Raptors on paper. Personally, I thought the Ibaka deal eliminated them as targets – the Raptors no longer have Terrence Ross to dangle, and without him, the Denver Nuggets are a bit of an odd trade partner. What’s more, Chandler has $12 million on the books for next season, and the Raptors no longer really need another forward who can slide up a position since they figure to play small less, which would mean that’s a commitment of $27 million to the small forward position next year. Gallinari just figured to be too expensive after already surrendering assets.

Well, if the Raptors wanted to get involved, Lowe notes that the Nuggets want “a lottery-protected first-round pick and swap rights on another pick.” That’s not exorbitant, but factoring in the pieces that would need to go out for salary matching, it likely takes the Raptors out of the market for them, anyway.

P.J. Tucker, though.

On Friday, I wrote about some potential trade targets for the Raptors. At the top of the list was P.J. Tucker, in whom the Raptors showed interest at last year’s deadline, too. The Phoenix Suns are one of the league’s few sellers, and if the asking price on Tucker comes down – initially it was reported to be a first-round pick – then he’s a nice rental for the end of the season. He provides solid defense across three positions, shoots well enough to keep opponents honest, and he brings a degree of toughness and physicality on the perimeter that the Raptors could use.

Lowe offers that Tucker is the most likely Sun to be moved and to “watch the Raptors and Clips, among others.” The Raptors’ second-rounders don’t have much value as picks in the 50s, but perhaps the Suns like one of the Raptors’ prospects?

Valanciunas-for-Drummond, what?

According to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated, the Raptors have left no stone unturned in their quest to improve. Fischer writes:

As much as Toronto needs to find depth behind its current frontline, the Raptors are also still skeptical about Jonas Valanciunas. Before they acquired Serge Ibaka, the Raptors called the Pistons pitching a package centered around Valanciunas for Drummond, according to a league source.

Well, that’s certainly interesting, if true. The Raptors probably would have had to offer more than a straight swap, and Andre Drummond making more money would complicate the Raptors’ future, but it’s interesting nonetheless. If nothing else, it’s telling about Valanciunas’ potentially tenuous future with the team beyond this season, especially if Serge Ibaka is retained.

A note on DeMarcus Cousins.

I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about the Raptors not getting involved on Cousins. I tweeted a bunch about it and tomorrow’s mailbag has a ton of Cousins questions, but this reporting from Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer more or less sums up why it’s difficult to be mad at the Raptors (or any team) for not being able to top what is, objectively, a bad package. Here’s O’Connor:

League executives are just as baffled as you are by the Kings’ decision to trade DeMarcus Cousins for not much of anything. “They gave Cousins away for a three-piece meal at Popeyes lol,” one source texted me Monday morning. Said another: “It’s just a disgrace.” Kings general manager Vlade Divac will shoulder the blame for botching this trade, especially after he admitted the Kings had a better offer for Cousins two days ago.

But the fault is on Kings ownership. Vivek Ranadivé believes Buddy Hield has Stephen Curry–level potential, a source explained; they view him as the equivalent of a top-five pick with superstar upside — a franchise-altering piece. “People don’t realize that teams get fixated on certain players and do deals specifically to get those players,” said a league executive. Trades require ownership approval, and in Ranadivé’s eyes, Hield was by far the best available asset being offered.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry; it doesn’t make sense to anyone. It was not the most orderly or rational process by the Kings. “Vlade needed a huge haul to get Vivek to sign off [on a different deal],” said the Eastern Conference source. “They needed a home run deal to get past Vivek.”

Basically, the Kings’ owner got obsessed with Hield, the Kings didn’t want to take on money or older prospects, and so Hield, expiring deals, and a couple mediocre picks became the best package. It’s easy to say “Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, and a pick” is a better package, because it is in an asset-value vacuum, but it requires the Kings to feel the same way. Before even getting into any fit or chemistry/personality things with Cousins, you have to acknowledge that a) the Raptors’ best “prospect, picks, and expirings” offer isn’t very good if the Kings think Hield, who is not good, is the next coming of Steph Curry, and b) that the Kings are run terribly, make no sense, and all objectivity has to go out the window with them.

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Are Raptors contenders for any awards?

It’s two thirds of the way through the NBA season, and as the final trimester gets set to tip off and the trade deadline passes, focus will eventually turn to debate over end-of-season awards. The Toronto Raptors are in a long, one-season drought on that front, with no player bringing home individual hardware a season ago.

Still, last season’s franchise-best year saw the team make out well in the voting. A refresher:

MVP: Lowry finished 10th in voting
Most Improved: Lowry received a vote
Defensive Player of the Year: Lowry received a vote
Sixth Man of the Year: Patrick Patterson received a vote
All-Defense: Lowry received three votes, Bismack Biyombo received one
All-Rookie: Norman Powell received three votes
All-NBA: Lowry named to Third-Team, DeRozan placed 21st
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey placed fifth
Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri placed third

Media Relations award: Raptors were a finalist
PBWA Rudy Tomjanovich award: Casey won
NBA sportsmanship award: Luis Scola won for Atlantic Division
Teammate of the Year award: Luis Scola finished ninth

D-League Most Improved: Axel Toupane won
D-League Sportsmanship award: Scott Suggs won

That’s not a bad season by any means. This year, the Raptors are probably in tougher – they’ve played worse, Casey is definitely not in consideration, their rookies have played sporadically, and their sixth man has missed nearly a quarter of a season due to injury. It seems unlikely anyone is going to take home a major award, but Lowry and DeRozan both have shots at All-NBA nods, and a lot can still happen over the final 25 games of the season.

As it stands now, Lowry’s a long-shot even for MVP consideration, despite is profound on-off court splits. DeRozan actually has better odds, coming in anywhere from 100- to 250-to-1, while Lowry is in the 150- to 250-to-1 range. Neither are anywhere close to the top, where James Harden and Russell Westbrook look to be battling it out, with some major names not too far behind. Casey, meanwhile, is 8-to-1 for Coach of the Year. The Raptors, meanwhile, are anywhere from 25- to 45-to-1 to win the NBA Championship. (Odds aren’t yet listed for other awards.)

Of course, with so much time left, it might be worthwhile to head to casinoUK, collect some sign-up bonuses, and bet with long odds on a turnaround in any of these areas. There’s a lot of season left, and if the Raptors were to push back toward their previous perch, maybe Lowry, DeRozan, or a healthy and back-to-the-bench Patterson can get some love.

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A mid-season review of the Toronto Raptors

With two months left to play in the regular season section of the 2016/17 NBA it is currently the Cleveland Cavaliers who are leading the field in the Eastern Conference – with the Golden State Warriors the front-runners in the Western Conference. The Toronto Raptors sit in fifth spot in the Eastern Conference just now, but what has their overall form been like during this first five months of the season?

Given that they were placed in second spot in their conference at this point during the 2015/16 season, their current status has to be considered something of a disappointment. Last season was a good one for the Raptors as they secured 50 league wins for the first time, finishing second in the conference and first in the Atlantic Division, before eventually losing out in the Eastern Conference Finals stage of the play-offs. As with last season, the Raptors stand-out performers during their inconsistent season thus far have been offensive ones – notably DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The latter is regarded by many observers as the jewel in the crown of the Raptors squad, and it is hard to argue against this assessment based on his performers once again this season – but DeRozan’s stats are equally impressive. The backcourt player has produced an average of 28 points this season, which represents an all-time career best when it comes to shooting, and this has contributed significantly to keeping the Raptors in contention. The team also benefits from having decent strength in depth, with Patrick Paterson and Cory Joseph being probably the strongest impact subs in the Eastern Conference.

The major problem with the Raptors, and the reason why they lag behind favourites for the NBA title such as their Eastern Conference rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Western Conference’s Warriors, is their defence. They have largely been able to get away with this in past season’s, thanks to the quality they have in offence, but their poor stats – 29th overall when it comes to defensive rebounds – will be an issue when it comes to the crunch. The Raptors are currently rated +2500 to win this season’s NBA championship, compared with -150 for the hot favourites the Golden State Warriors, and +275 for second favourites the Cavaliers – suggesting the bookies also recognise that their defence is not championship-winning class.

A lot of fans do like to place bets on the individual games, and the title winner, to up the excitement levels. However, there are several different betting choices and, if you are a diehard Raptors fan, the Slam Dunk NBA slot game might be more enjoyable.

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Raptors Rotations and What Drives Their Success

I delved into some 5-man lineup statistics courtesy of NBA.com, with the aim of discovering if the most successful combinations have played the most games and minutes together. Then, I compared the plus/minus rating of those lineups to their corresponding traditional statistical categories, in hopes of finding what drives a successful group on the floor. Feel free to post your own impressions from the data in the comments section.

I trimmed down the lineup combinations and (hopefully) removed small sample size bias by excluding any that have appeared in less than 4 games this season, and have played less than 3 minutes per contest. 23 5-man lineups made the cut.

ARE THEY PLAYING ENOUGH?

The first worrying conclusion is hard to miss – far and away the team’s most used lineup (31 games and 11.8 minutes per game) happens to have the team’s worst plus/minus so far this season at -2.9. This was the starting group for some time, with Kyle, DeMar, DeMarre, Pascal and Jonas. This highlights the reason for Casey’s mid-season change, even going so far as putting his eternal sixth man in the starting five at one point. Ibaka’s acquisition here is of paramount importance, as his insertion into the starting group should immeasurably improve the output of that team-worst lineup.

Meanwhile, the club’s most efficient lineup at +5.5 of Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Patterson and Nogueira was used in only 8 contests and only 4.1 minutes in those games (13th most used in both categories). It’s the team’s best iteration by a wide margin (1.6), leading to the question of why it doesn’t figure more prominently.

While DeRozan and Lowry appear in many of the lineups due to their high minute count, it’s worth noting Patterson features in 3 of the team’s 4 best plus/minus lineups, while showing up in only one of the bottom 5. Carroll may surprise some as well, showing up in 4 of the team’s top 5 lineups, and in only 2 of the bottom 5.

The graphs appear to show no significant correlation between games played/minutes as compared to plus/minus. This can point to a number of things, but chief among them is that the best lineups do not necessarily get the most minutes.

Assists

General Lowry features in all top 11 of the team’s most assist-happy groups, while being nowhere to be seen in the bottom 3, lending further credence to his team engine status. In other predictable news, DeRozan can be found in all of the bottom 3 groups, while showing up in only 2 of the top 5. But does the increase in assist output manifest itself on the scoreboard?

Kind of, but not really. Two of the top 5 groups in assists per minute (both without DeRozan, in fact) post a negative plus minus, though things even out a bit the rest of the way.

Shooting Percentages

Here we can see the strongest correlation yet. It makes sense though, considering one needs to put the ball in the basket in order to win a game. Still, some nuggets of information can be gleaned from this.

Lowry and Nogueira (that alley oop combo can’t hurt) appear in all 3 of the team’s top 3 field goal percentage lineups, while DeRozan is in 2 of the 3. Three of the team’s best plus/minus lineups feature in the top 5 of the category as well. Disappointingly, Canada’s own Cory Joseph is in 3 of the bottom 4 lineups for field goal percentage (or all 3, if the surprisingly-heavily-used garbage time group of VanVleet, Powell, Caboclo, Siakam and Poeltl is excluded).

The correlation in shooting percentages to plus/minus indicates the importance of two main things – having quality shooters (I hear Masai is working on another trade) and creating open looks. The Chicken or the egg…

Steals

With the prospect lineup firmly at the top of the list, the next three all feature Ross and Patterson. This is an interesting one though – most of the team’s best lineups have a lower steal rate. The lesson appears to be that the more conservatively Toronto plays, the more success they’ll have.

Blocks

The correlation is back on this one – the more blocks per minute a lineup gets, the better the plus/minus, for the most part. Somewhat unexpectedly though, Lowry and DeRozan can be found in five of the team’s top 6 blocking lineups, while Nogueira (you know, the guy who actually blocks the shots) is only in 3 of those groups. The small-ball squad of Lowry-DeRozan-Ross-Carroll-Patterson is the most shocking, producing 0.23 blocks per minute played together, good for 3rd best.

Perhaps it’s the porous perimeter defense of the two All-stars that forces whoever is at the backline to make more block attempts? I’m not really sure what to make of this, except that blocks mean stops, and stops mean wins. Welcome, Serge Ibaka.

Turnovers

The Raptors have 3 lineups that turn the ball over at an extremely low rate, and Lowry is in all of them, while Joseph joins him in two of them. The graph seems to indicate common sense – for the most part, as the turnovers creep up, the plus/minus drops, and vice versa. Not much to report here.

Free Throw Attempts

DeRozan finds himself in each one of the team’s top 9 free throw attempting lineups, a staple of his game. Eight of those lineups have a positive plus/minus, which makes sense – when DeMar gets the calls, he often makes the shots and the Raptors get to set up on defense.

The graph supports the raw evidence, pointing to the uneasy fact that much of Toronto’s success hinges on trips to the charity stripe.

CONCLUSION

While Dwane Casey’s much maligned rotations have some room for improvement, the team should get markedly better with the addition of Ibaka and reintegration of Patterson, though Ross’ shooting prowess will be missed. What will the Raptors’ new extinction lineup be?

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One of Them Good Problems: Fitting Ibaka Into the Frontcourt

Masai Ujiri played the long game and finally got his man. After 2 years of fans begging for an upgrade at PF and wondering why Ujiri hadn’t made a move for one yet we can finally see why it took so long: the price simply wasn’t right. Like most great deal makers he always has a price in mind and won’t extend beyond that, willing to wait until the market adjusts and gives him what he wants. We probably could have been watching Ibaka in a Raptors uniform from day one this season but we would have been doing so with a depleted backcourt, which would have been disastrous after injuries sidelined Delon Wright and DeMar DeRozan. Ujiri’s track record continues to be incredible and the Raptors are fortunate to have him at the helm.

The trade does give the Raptors something I’d describe as a “good problem”: their frontcourt is really crowded now. They have 96 minutes to divide up at center and  power forward and they have four players who all deserve 25-30 minutes plus some developing young talent in the mix.  Obviously how this plays out depends on performance and chemistry but this is a preliminary look at who should be playing and, should it come down to it, who should be kept if the Raptors decide that they can’t keep all four veterans this offseason.

The Originals

The Raptors existing frontcourt trio was already fairly potent in their minutes together, with the Patterson/Valanciunas combo probably being the best offensively, Nogueira/Patterson being the best two way lineup and Valanciunas/Nogueira being the best defensive lineup by virtue of their ability to force misses and also rebound them, something that the lighter Nogueira/Patterson duo struggles with.

As long as some combination of those three has been on the court the Raptors have been an elite team, they’ve just been derailed a bit by odd rotation decisions and injuries.

Adding Ibaka is great because it protects against continued injury problems and saves the Raptors from the temptation to throw out lineups that are clearly not working – there’s no reason to play Siakam or Sullinger with Valanciunas ever again.

Where Does Ibaka Fit?

Here’s a quick statistical comparison:


You can see that Ibaka is kind of an amalgamation of Nogueira and Patterson. Physically he’s not as quick as Patterson or as long as Nogueira but he’s the best floor spacer of the bunch and while Nogueira is more prolific at generating blocks and steals Ibaka is no slouch there either. The three are all roughly the same on the glass, putting up mediocre rebound numbers while Jonas Valanciunas is the best rebounder on the team by a large degree and remains one of the elite rebounders in the NBA, ranking 7th in the league in total rebound percentage.

Ibaka and Valanciunas are the best offensive players of the bunch and have similar scoring and efficiency numbers, but the similarities end there because how they do their damage on offense is very different. Ibaka is a catch and shoot/pick and pop specialist with 51% of his shots being catch and shoot jumpers. His percentages are solid on both his two point(48%) and three point(37%) catch and shoot attempts, making him a potent weapon that should fit perfectly into the Raptors screen-heavy attack. Valanciunas remains the Raptors best interior scorer with 75% of his attempts coming inside 10 feet, even though he does make a solid 48% of his catch and shoot jumpers from outside this season. He’s one of the best roll men in the league, with a Valanciunas catch in the paint being one of the Raptors most efficient offensive options. Ibaka could end up being a slightly better version of Patterson, one with the individual numbers to go with the intangibles, but Valanciunas brings something on that end that nobody else can.

Ibaka fits wherever they need him to, these big men all work together well already and he doesn’t do anything dramatically different than any of them. With a week off to get acquainted with what the Raptors like to do on both ends he should fit in seamlessly.

What Happens When the Season Ends?

This is a big question with both Patterson and Ibaka being up for new contracts and both figuring to take in a lot of money. There’s nothing in the collective bargaining agreement preventing the Raptors from keeping both but they gave a max contract to DeRozan, likely have another one ready for Lowry and they didn’t trade a pick and Ross for Ibaka to let him walk so we can assume he will get close to that as well. With another $30 million already committed to Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll it’s tough to see the Raptors being willing to commit to Patterson should his offer get up into Biyombo/Mozgov territory unless they move somebody to free up some money first.

A lot of people would probably like to see Valanciunas moved to free up money but barring dramatic changes in style of play or production from Nogueira, Patterson or Ibaka this would be a mistake because he brings valuable things to the table that the Raptors won’t be able to get anywhere else. Building a team isn’t just about the throwing best players together, you need to make sure you have complimentary skillsets and make sure that your team is able to field balanced lineups. You need to be able to score inside and out, defend the perimeter and the paint and protect the glass, and Valanciunas is the only option that provides two of those to the team. We all see how bad it can get on the defensive glass when Patterson and Nogueira are out there and Ibaka is on the same level as them; the team will consistently struggle to end defensive possessions if those are the three big men getting the bulk of the minutes.

If they move Valanciunas to create room for Patterson that also takes away their best dive man and interior scorer, meaning their interior offense will be DeRozan post ups and Nogueira rolls to the rim and everything else will come from the outside in. Ibaka helps but the Raptors simply don’t have the perimeter shooting to do that with Ross gone: Powell hasn’t shown he can consistently make them at the rate necessary, Wright’s outside shot is a mystery for now and DeRozan and Joseph are both well below average for their careers from outside. Unless a Valanciunas deal brings back some premium perimeter talent or a comparable but cheaper big man the Raptors will be almost entirely dependent on Lowry and DeRozan driving into the paint, which doesn’t seem like a recipe for success based on recent history. The Raptors need more diversification, not less.

Moving Carroll is the other possibility but his value is a total question mark and with their perimeter depth chart already kind of thin they would need to get something of value that is less expensive in return, make a separate move involving one of their draftees from last season or have complete confidence in their ability to draft perimeter help that is able to contribute immediately with their late 2017 first round pick. Any scenario where that works out involves a lot of moving parts and/or a lot of luck; if anyone can do it Masai can but it’s not something that you’d want to bank on.

All of this could change as the season goes on. Maybe somebody steps up on the glass to make Valanciunas’ dominance on the glass a little less important or Nogueira becomes more reliable on the roll to make his interior offense expendable. Maybe Wright and Powell step up and manage to shoot from outside consistently enough that giving Carroll away becomes a possibility. But if it does come down to keeping three of their four frontcourt contributors Patterson should be  the one to go. Keeping Nogueira is a no-brainer, he’s still locked up on his rookie deal and making significantly less than his market value. Ibaka is likely going to get whatever he wants with the resources sent out for him. It really comes down to Patterson vs Valanciunas and while Patterson is probably the better overall player Valanciunas is the only one of the foursome who brings anything unique to the table.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – A farewell to Ross and welcoming Ibaka

Host William Lou is joined by our very own Kiyan Sobhani to discuss the trade deadline and the week ahead.

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Raptors haven’t killed title chances yet

Things have been bad for the last two months. Like, really bad. Once the toast of the NBA for their historic offensive efficiency, the 22-8 Raptors have spiralled in the season’s second third, looking like first-round fodder for weeks. The truth is that their talent lied somewhere between those extremes and, as was predicted when they started hot, some regression to the middle was to be expected.

The All-Star break presents a nice line of demarcation with which to re-calibrate expectations moving forward based on what’s happened so far. That the Toronto Raptors acquired Serge Ibaka before steering out of their spin complicated projections until we know more about how the new piece fits, but it can really only be a positive. If the Raptors were a fair bit to right the ship as previously constructed, their final 25 games with Ibaka should, in theory, show a return to form – qualitatively, they may still be the second best team in the Eastern Conference on paper.

The issue, though, is that the losses have mounted up, and the Raptors have fallen in the standings. Significantly. That doesn’t change the on-paper analysis of their talent, but it does shape their playoff future. They’re seven games back of the top of the East, and catching Cleveland is decidedly off the table. Even catching Boston, a 4.5-game gap, seems terribly unlikely.

To wit, the Celtics are -400 favorites to win the Atlantic Division, while the Raptors are at +280. If you’re feeling particularly optimistic, bonuscodes are available to make some money off of a Raptors turnaround.

But that’s the division, and winning or not winning it doesn’t dictate the Raptors’ playoff chances. Maybe they can only hope for the three-seed, home court in the first round, and to avoid Cleveland in round two (if they hold on to the top spot). The big question is what they can do in the second and third round, and oddsmakers are more optimistic – the Raptors are +1000 to win the conference, the third-best odds in the conference but still worse than Boston’s +575. The Cavaliers are still heavy favorites, and the existence of LeBron James and the Warriors has the Raptors at +2800 to win the title, a shade worse than Boston at +2000 and seventh in the league overall.

And of course, there’s more to this than just projections. Boston is a big market, and the amount of action effects the price. The Raptors still have a better full-season scoring margin, a better indicator of future performance, and they match up well with Boston if a second-round series were to take place, even without the benefit of a Game 7 at home. It’s entirely possible the lines for the two teams move closer to even as the Raptors turn a new leaf with Ibaka.

However it plays out, Toronto’s fall from grace hasn’t coincided with a major shift in odds. They were always a long shot to take the conference or title, and they’ve been downgraded from “presumed No. 2 in the East” to “fighting for No. 2 in the East.” No surprises there, and there’s plenty of time to change that back before mid-April.

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Kyle, DeMar and the East all-stars lose a laid back shootout to the West

After the start of a much needed break for Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, it was all fun and smiles for the duo at the 66th annual NBA all star game in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lowry and DeRozan joined forces for the Eastern Conference all-star squad for the second time in their careers (DeMar flew solo at the 2014 all-star game, while Lowry did the same in 2015), and unfortunately, they experienced another loss for the Eastern Conference squad who have now dropped 3 straight all-star games to the Western Conference. Not that anyone is really keeping count.

The game was kicked off by the rhythmical stylings of the Roots, who’s silky smooth flow and elegant command of beat made for an awesome intro led by Black Thought – even the players couldn’t resist nodding along:

If the first quarter was any early indication, it was obvious that this game, like so many of its previous iterations, was going to be an absolute shootout. The score was 53-48 at the end of 1, and both teams kept up their blistering offense in light of the hilariously lethargic defense. Here’s a summary of the contest, the first all-star game to ever to combine for over 370 points.

Final Score: East 182, West 192

All-star game MVP: Anthony Davis

Combined FG shooting: 162/280 (57.9%)

Combined assists: 103

Leader – points: Anthony Davis (52)

Leader – assists: Kyrie Irving (14)

Leader – rebounds: Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol (10)

DeMar Derozan watch

After splashing two 3’s at last night’s celebrity shootout for the Sager Strong foundation (what an idea by the NBA), DeRozan’s shooting at the Smoothie King Center for all-star weekend was already off to a good start (Check out the full video here)

In reality, there wasn’t much more defense was played in tonight’s game. Aside from an early turnover which found its way in Kawhi’s hands for a fastbreak dunk, DeMar was able to have his way for an easy 16 points on the night, including a first quarter rim-rocker:

DeRozan’s passing was also on display, with an open court alley-oop for LBJ.

DeMar’s statline

Points: 16

Field goals: 8-15

3 point field goals: 0-0

Rebounds: 5

Assists: 6

Plus/minus: +6

Kyle Lowry watch

Kyle came off of the bench late in the first quarter, starting things off by hitting a tough turnaround 3 in the corner:

Lowry came on strong in the second half, with a few easy layups and open 3’s to total 19 points, to go along with 3 boards. Lowry had 16 of his points in a third quarter flurry that included 4 3’s. He could’ve probably used some of that shooting touch last night in the 3-point contest.

Kyle’s statline

Points: 19

Field goals: 7-11

3 point field goals: 5-9

Rebounds: 3

Assists: 0

Plus/minus: -4

Lookahead

The Raptors will enjoy a much needed extended break over the course of the next four full days, as they look to integrate Serge Ibaka into what is expected to be a revitalized roster, hopefully ready to rid itself of its shooting and defensive struggles. A rangy and shot-capable Ibaka, combined with the now multiple-time all-stars in Lowry and DeMar can look to make their mark in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. The rest and practice can only do so much at this point, because if they’re going to have any chance against the red hot Celtics who are coming to town to kick things off on Friday night, mental toughness, defensive grit, and a sharp touch from outside will be vital.

On the bright side, the Raps are 2-1 against the Celtics this season, who are 17-12 on the road, 8-3 in the division, and are averaging just over 108 points a game. And yep…Isaiah Thomas still leads the league in fourth quarter scoring, with a crisp 10.7 points per game in the final frame. In other words, if this thing is even remotely close well into the second half, expect a lot of annoying wrist-staring and tapping from the mid-season MVP candidate. The Raptors will be coming in winners of only 4 of their last 16, but are likely to be energized on Friday, with what’s expected to be a raucous ACC behind them.

Tip time is 8:00 pm Friday, on Sportsnet ONE and ESPN (US).

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Lowry fails to advance in Three-point contest

Kyle Lowry struggled in the three-point contest Saturday night, managing just 9 points after air-balling his first shot and only hitting one on his first rack. Lowry tends to have his best brought out in game situations with the pressure on, so maybe it’s not surprising to see him struggle in an exhibition like this. On to Saturday night for the Raptors where DeRozan will start and Lowry will come off the bench!

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Stackhouse wins, Tavares gets double-double, and Jordan loses dunk contest

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

East Roster: Eric Moreland, Quinn Cook, Shawn Long, Anthony Brown, Alex Poythress, Jordan Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones, Abdel Nader, Edy Tavares, Axel Toupane, Alfonzo McKinnie.

West Roster: Cory Jefferson, Vander Blue, Justin Harper, Josh Magette, Dakari Blue, Reggie Williams, Joel Bolomboy, Dennis Clifford, Keith Benson, Briante Weber, Okaro White, Justin Harper.

East NBA D-League All-Stars def. West NBA D-League All-Stars; 105-100 | Box Score

Coach Jerry Stackhouse carried over his winning ways to New Orleans by helping lead the East D-League All-Stars to victory over their Western counterparts on Saturday afternoon. Edy Tavares also did himself a favour by picking a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Quinn Cook took home the MVP honours, pouring it on in the second half with 15 of his 18 points. He added 12 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals to his name, and the team win meant there was no other choice.

Starting the game, Tavares scored four of the East’s first six points by first beating his man down the floor and catching a lob by Quinn Cook ahead of the pack for the easy layup. His second bucket came off another lob inside, leaving the 905 centre with an easy hook from a couple of feet out. The early start got him a little too hype, as he then had the audacity to attempt a straight-on three towards the end of the half. It caught nothing but air.

Tavares showcased exactly what he brings to the table, but it was hard not to ignore that bigs like Alfonzo McKinnie and Eric Moreland are better suited to today’s NBA climate with their athleticism.

Okaro White of the Sioux Falls Skyforce threw down a nasty windmill in transition to give the West an early 13-12 lead. White was later in a giving mood, throwing a lob to Justin Harper for the throw down. Harper made his MVP intentions clear in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Some NBA teams did their call-ups a favour by sending them back down for this game, which was a nice touch. Among them was Briante Weber, recent call-up for the Golden State Warriors, and he looked more interested in staying healthy for the big leagues.

Axel Toupane checked into the game with Tavares’ second run at about the 5:40 mark in the first half, and did what he does best, driving inside and getting to the free-throw line. He missed his second free-throw, but after the East collected the offensive board, Toupane found Tavares for a dunk for your 905 connection of the game. Toupane only saw seven minutes of action in the game, a bit of a surprise, but Stackhouse did show a preference for better spacing options such as Abdel Nader. Nader finished the game with 16 points off the bench in 19 minutes of action.

With Quinn Cook taking complete charge in the second half, the West never really looked like taking the contest, despite staying within striking distance for most of the game. Coach Stackhouse and the rest of the 905 will now be able to enjoy the rest of the weekend and take in the sights of what should be an exciting Saturday night.

2017 NBA D-League Skills Competition

The 905’s John Jordan went head-to-head with Iowa Energy’s Troy Williams in the final of the dunk contest, and the defending D-League Slam Dunk Champion fell well short of the lofty standards he set last season.

After two attempts to go between his legs, Jordan had to settle for a lob to himself for a 180 dunk that earned him a 39. Williams responded with a windmill off his own lob to take the lead after the first round.

For his second dunk, Jordan brought out the Canton Charge’s Eric Moreland, but to little effect. They wasted about 15 seconds of the allotted 30, before it ultimately ended with a simple lob to Jordan that you’re more accustomed to seeing in game action.

Troy Williams then sealed the contest with a two-handed 360 and you can see the best dunks from the afternoon here.

Scott Wood of the Santa Cruz Warriors defeated Devondrick Walker in the three-point contest final by a score of 23-21. Brady Heslip leads the D-League in three-point makes at 122, one ahead of Wood. Heslip declined his offer to participate.

Notes:

  • The D-League did a cool video feature on 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. You can check it out here.
  • It was a bit strange to see Stackhouse on the sidelines and not barking out instructions or getting on the referees. “NO MIDDLE!” has been a staple of the 905 games, and I thought we’d get at least one here. No such luck.
  • Here’s the dunk that took John Jordan to the Finals, and probably his best dunk on the night:

  • The 905 return to action on Thursday, Feb. 23 against the Erie Bayhawks at the Hershey Centre. 7:30pm EST start time.
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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E11 – God Bless The Break

The Talking Raptors is back with a new episode after a stretch of the worst basketball we’ve seen the franchise play in years. Also after a week that featured some of the biggest changes the franchise has seen in years. Nick and Barry get together and talk about what they’ve noticed and what they hope to notice soon.

On this weeks episode:

– Serge Ibaka our saviour.

– Dwayne Casey not our saviour.

– Delon Wright arguable current season and future saviour.

– DeMar DeRozan, can he save himself?

– Talking Raptors Hotline Talk.

– Nick and Barry go on Tour.

All this and more, as the guys take a look at some of the stupid stories happening around the league.

As always thanks for listening and we hope you enjoy.

Hit us up on the hotline.

(877) 207-8611

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Breaking Down the Last 5 Minutes of CHA v TOR

Intro
With just over five minutes remaining, the Toronto Raptors were down by one point after making a miraculous fourth quarter comeback. They proceeded to outscore the Charlotte Hornets 13-8, while simultaneously breaking their 5 game losing streak of games that were classified as “clutch” (within 5 points in the final 5 minutes). By examining their offense and defense, it will be illustrated how they made that comeback.

Offense

Without the presence of Cody Zeller, the Hornets depended on Frank Kaminsky to play centre for much of this game. While he took advantage of both Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira, the Raptors took advantage of his defensive limitations down the stretch.

This was done by forcing him to defend in space while guarding against the Raptors’ high pick and roll

The first play features the Raptors running Wedge Stagger, but as a result of Delon Wright probing for a moment too long, the advantage gained was neutered. Lowry then proceeded to demand a screen in the middle of the floor, where Kemba Walker was forced to trail over the top to prevent an off-the-dribble three pointer. This was done in concert with Kaminsky showing relatively high in a softer drop above the nail. Knowing that he was attacking a back-pedaling and slow-footed Kaminsky downhill, Lowry flashed an effective hesitation dribble to freeze Kaminsky before snaking into the middle of the floor. After gaining the half step needed, Lowry made an acrobatic finish against the poor rim protector.

On the next high pick and roll, Lowry slowed down a bit after using the screen. Now understanding that he has to recover and position himself in front of Lowry sooner, Walker over committed and became the second Hornets defender to succumb to Lowry’s hesitation dribble. That crafty maneuver opened up the space needed for Lowry to attack Kaminsky one-on-one, forcing him to step away from Jakob Poeltl, leading to the eventual dump off and finish.

The second key element to the Raptors’ success in the fourth quarter was stationing Lowry away from the ball while Delon Wright handled the ball.

The first play in this compilation showcases the Hornets’ aggressive defensive coverage, a reaction to the previous plays where their more conservative “drop” in the pick and roll was ineffective. The Raptors are no strangers to aggressive traps late in games and wisely put Lowry, their best shooter, away from the ball to create on the secondary attack.

As the Hornets aggressively forced the ball out of Wright’s hands, they were forced to send Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as weak side help to “tag” Poeltl’s roll to the rim. Lowry and Joseph proceeded to exchange positions in the weak side corner as the ball was swung away from the trap. This forced Kidd-Gilchrist to aggressively closeout once the ball found its way to Lowry, who drew an And-1 as he attacked the basket.

While the second possession, a SLOB (sideline out of bounds) Zipper Pick and Roll, did not net the Raptors any points, the process and principle were the same, as the Hornets were forced to aggressively close out to Lowry after loading up on the strong side of the floor, leaving him unattended and primed to attack the rim.

An important feature of this strategy is Wright’s awareness and ability to read the floor. Knowing when to force his dribble so he could continue to probe, versus quickly swinging the ball was key for the Raptors utilizing Lowry off-ball.

Once again, Wright’s ability to make incredible reads while driving to the basket were impressive. Making a cross-body pass to the opposite corner for an open three-pointer is John Wall-esque. Understanding when to reject a screen, as he did there once Nicolas Batum leaned too far one way, opened up everything for him as well. He made a series of heady plays down the stretch that should intrigue Raptor fans, regardless of the Raptors’ ability to convert.

While all the previous possessions were crucial for the Raptors to succeed down the stretch, it was ultimately Poeltl’s decision making that cemented the comeback.

The Raptors went back to a straight 1 / 5 pick and roll with Lowry and Poeltl, something that worked wonders earlier. Lowry promptly drew two defenders on the ball and dished it to a properly positioned Poeltl, who had presented himself on the roll. As he made the catch on the short roll, Poeltl was met by Batum’s late tag, which he instinctively identified as he dished it to DeMarre Carroll for an open three pointer. Many plodding big men never reach the point where they can be both an effective screen setter and passer in 4 on 3 situations, but in Poeltl’s young career, he has established that he has the ability to do both.

These 4 on 3 passes after a short roll have become second nature to Nogueira, but Poeltl also has the ability to make the difficult read. The two young bigs have somewhat similar skill sets, as they are both low-usage screen setters that can finish on the roll and dish it once they are pressured. They are also both effective offensive rebounders, but I would lean towards Poeltl’s cerebral analysis of the floor in that aspect. The difference between the two offensively is that Nogueira’s gravity as a roller is much greater than Poeltl’s because of his lob-catching prowess. The other end of the floor is easier to see, as Nogueira’s shot blocking stands out, while Poeltl’s footwork and ability to defend in space is greater.

Defense

As noted earlier, the Hornets’ ability to go small and space the floor with Kaminsky at the 5 shaped the game greatly. It’s not a coincidence that the two plodding centre’s that the Raptors used earlier in the game had trouble keeping up with Kaminsky. Luckily, Poeltl’s ability to show high and contain Walker, while also recovering to Kaminsky, changed the game for Toronto.

On this possession, Walker was able to force Poeltl to show just a moment longer than usual, but still was able to impede his progress. Wright compensated for Poeltl by stunting towards Kaminsky, dissuading him from taking the jumper, while also recovering back to his own man to tip away the pass.

Another crucial aspect of Toronto’s defense down the stretch was their willingness to switch assignments in transition when Charlotte pushed the tempo.

For instance, on this possession where Wright was tasked with defending the larger Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets attacked quickly. This forced Poeltl to help and stop the quick duck-in post up attempt. As a result, Carroll was left to defend two perimeter players and unwisely dug down into the paint. Once the ball was swung his way, he had to aggressively close out, creating the opportunity for Marvin Williams to hit a three.

However, It was not cut-and-dry, as The Raptors’ versatility also aided them.

Here, Lowry and Wright switched a simple step up ball screen. Lowry’s low centre of gravity did not allow for Batum to gain an inch of post position. He proceeded to poke the ball away and force a turnover. This was done rather than have Lowry hedge the initial screen and trail Batum on the perimeter, an obviously inferior scenario for Toronto.

The Raptors continued to be hit-and-miss while defending the Hornets in the half-court, but they trended in a positive direction.

Here, the Hornets ran the same set play in back to back possessions. It was a simple staggered screen to free Batum on the catch. This freed Walker up to set a pindown screen for Kaminsky on the weak side of the floor. It’s quite an unusual action, but the shooting prowess of Kaminsky makes it interesting. The result of the inverted nature of the play made Poeltl’s first attempt at defending it poor, as he is not used to negotiating a screen from the perspective of the shooter’s defender.

The next time the Hornets ran the play, Poeltl was more prepared and trailed Kaminsky. However, Poeltl’s ability to learn quickly did not matter, as his fellow Ute alum learned even quicker and deflected the entry pass towards the main action.

The final Hornets possession was insignificant from the perspective that the odds of tying a two-possession game with 10 seconds left are small. Regardless, the Raptors defended the SLOB play well. It was a simple screen-the-screener action that Wright fought through well, forcing a tough Batum heave.

Conclusion

The Raptors did not really have the personnel to play against a spacy Hornets team that gives them trouble on the healthiest of nights. While the ability to come away with a win is nice, the promise showed by the Raptors’ youth is even nicer.

All of these things pale in comparison to Serge Ibaka’s impending arrival.

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Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 17

Wright, Poeltl, and the unlikely savior of depth – Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog

DeMar DeRozan was perhaps the least demonstrative on the bench, sitting the entire fourth quarter. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a big part of the support, though. DeRozan is not a particularly demonstrative guy in general, and his support was more subtle. After the Hornets called a timeout to try to stop the bleeding, DeRozan pulled Wright aside and let him know that this was his comeback to run with.

“It helps. As I was in there, DeMar was telling me don’t worry about coming out, coach is sticking with you right now, so just continue to play hard. He was encouraging me, so it felt good,” Wright said.

New-Look Raptors still DeMar DeRozan’s Team – Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog

A night after being ejected against the Chicago Bulls during arguably his worst game of the season DeMar DeRozan was expected to respond against a listless Charlotte Hornets team back home. Decked out in Nostalgic Huskies blue, with new teammate Serge Ibaka watching and the Raptors playing their last game before the All-Star Break, expectations were high for DeRozan and Co.

The company part of the equation showed up. Derozan didn’t.

Proud of this kid right here.. Officially no longer a rook. More success to come. #raptors

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Raptors Lowry, DeRozan know how to enjoy NBA weekend | RAPTORS | Raptors | Sport

This being No. 3 for both, there is little that is going to surprise them or catch them off guard. Both enjoy the weekend immensely and both go into it with similar mindsets.

Specifically, enjoy it, but don’t overdo it.

DeRozan cuts right to the chase when asked what two previous all-star trips have taught him in terms of getting the most out of the weekend.

“The amount of stuff you can say no to, that you never knew before,” he said. “Being able to sit back and enjoy it, not cram everything in, do this, do that, do this. Really just understanding to enjoy being around the guys, whether it’s practicing, spectating the Skills Challenge, really just being a fan and enjoying being part of it instead of just running around all the time.”

https://twitter.com/NBA/status/832356497405382661

Raptors Trade Tree: How Rudy Gay turned into Serge Ibaka – Sportsnet.ca

Don’t be fooled — that wasn’t Ujiri’s plan. Gay had been acquired less than a year earlier by Ujiri’s predecessor, Bryan Colangelo, in a last-ditch effort to infuse a weak roster with marketable talent. As explained in Tuesday’s trade tree (or, you know, as you surely remember), it didn’t pan out.

By Dec. 8, 2013, the Raptors had won just six of their first 18 games. Acknowledging the fact that Gay was a poor fit alongside DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Ujiri sent him and the $37 million remaining on his contract to the Kings.

It was, by all common logic, a tank move. The 2014 draft class was a promising one, headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid. While the Raps were intent on staying competitive post-trade, those looked like tantalizing consolation prizes.

But sometimes you have to get lucky to win, and by unloading a star-level player (or close to it) in Gay and two peripheral pieces for four role players, the Raptors set an unknowing course for the most prosperous period in franchise history.

Raptors’ Ibaka deal sparks NBA trade deadline buzz | Toronto Star

The Serge Ibaka trade had been reported but not finalized on Tuesday, and already the NBA was buzzing about its implications.

One of the first texts on it was succinct: “Arms race?”

Perhaps.

With less than a week to go before the NBA’s trade deadline, the Raptors have fired the first salvo in what might be an explosive time for last-minute roster manipulation.

One last thank you to the 6. Always gone be home for me.

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Ibaka stunner shows Raptors mean business: Arthur | Toronto Star

But these Raptors had been playing all season with a one-legged DeMarre Carroll and a collection of young big men that made Patrick Patterson indispensable, and Ujiri decided that the team deserved a shot at success, at an acceptable price. At the draft Oklahoma City had asked for the No. 9 pick, Norman Powell, Cory Joseph and Patterson for Ibaka. The Raptors passed. As the teams talked last week, Orlando’s price looked similar to what Atlanta wanted for Paul Millsap last month: Patterson, Ross, a first-round pick and a young player. The Raptors weren’t interested. They waited.

And with Ross and Powell to choose from, and an extra first-rounder from the Clippers, the path opened up. The Raptors can now roll out a lineup of Lowry and DeRozan, a suddenly sharpshooting Carroll, Ibaka — shooting 38 per cent from three-point range this year — and Jonas Valanciunas. And when teams go small, Ibaka can play centre and switch pick-and-rolls, the way Bismack Biyombo did last season.

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New-Look Raptors still DeMar DeRozan’s Team

A night after being ejected against the Chicago Bulls during arguably his worst game of the season DeMar DeRozan was expected to respond against a listless Charlotte Hornets team back home. Decked out in Nostalgic Huskies blue, with new teammate Serge Ibaka watching and the Raptors playing their last game before the All-Star Break, expectations were high for DeRozan and Co.

The company part of the equation showed up. Derozan didn’t.

Still feeling the effects from a poor-shooting night against Jimmy Butler DeRozan went away from his game against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the results were disastrous. He finished the night just 5-19 from the field including three misses from deep and ended the night on the bench with a -14 rating. Everyone is going to have poor shooting nights, and they get exaggerated when they fall on the shoulders of an All-Star, but those shoulders have started to slouch. Instead of using his frustration to fuel him DeRozan seems consumed by it. His already creative game has started to mimic Kobe’s farewell tour. His bad pull-ups and attempts at drawing fouls are mixing in with his questionable fade-aways and lacklustre defense. DeRozan’s game is not meant to be played with frustration, and yet here he is: frustrated.

Make no mistake, this is DeRozan’s team. While him and Kyle Lowry may sure the workload, the responsibilities are different. Lowry isn’t sitting on a five year, $139 million deal. The two of them may be driving in the same car, but the damage waiver went under DeRozan’s name. That responsibility can be daunting, and frustrating in itself. Perhaps that’s why he mimicked Lowry’s sentiments about needing change, and whether his comments were influential or not, change came his way in the form of Ibaka. DeRozan may have felt a sense of relief when Ibaka landed in Toronto but his responsibility doesn’t change and the pressure doesn’t shift.

That’s what makes these last two game so troubling, and the All-Star break so important. There are few teams in the league that sit their highest paid player on a brand new contract who is completely healthy for the entire fourth quarter in an important game. There are even fewer teams that get the win. Yet that’s where the Raptors found themselves after the unlikely tandem of Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright injected an energy that had been missing for weeks into this Raptors team and carried them to a victory in a fourth quarter for the ages. The lasting image should be Wright’s goofy smile taking center stage among a cast of excited teammates in the locker room. Instead, it’s DeRozan looking on from the bench as his, yes his team won without him.

He said all the right things in the locker room, praising his team for their effort, the different looks they gave the Hornets and of course, Wright’s play:

“for him to go out and handle the ball for the majority of the fourth quarter, that’s big, I’m happy for him,….especially for me I’ve been knowing him since he was a kid, since he was a baby, so you know it’s cool to actually see it”

And he still found time to  joke with Lowry about the upcoming All-Star game after some instigating by the point guard: “I hope you ain’t in the game cuz I ain’t passing you the ball”

His handling of the media has grown as much as his game and he has all the tools to be the true leader of a team in desperate need of one. He is having a career best year, and doing it like no one else. He takes pride in his footwork, long jumpers, and ability to get to the basket. He knows the three is taking over the NBA and yet he’s averaging a career-high 27.3 points while taking less shots from beyond the arc than he did a season ago. His confidence in himself is unwavering, but his confidence in his team needs to be equally high, because at this point they’re one in the same.

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Delon Wright Adds Versatility To Raptors Backcourt Options

The Raptors addressed a huge problem within their rotation when they made the move to add Serge Ibaka, the frontcourt situation has been stretched thin this year with Patrick Patterson missing some time with a knee contusion. The Raptors will absolutely miss Terrence Ross’ three point shooting ability, but the departure of Ross also frees up minutes for some players log jammed in the Raptors deep backcourt. Ross became expendable when Norman Powell showed his ability to play great defense, drive to the basket with incredible speed, and an improving three point shot. With one trade, the Raptors frontcourt became much improved, and didn’t create a major hole in the backcourt.

Much like Powell did last season, Delon Wright is a player who is starting to emerge and could help relieve some of the minutes of Raptors point guards Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. Going into the All-Star break, Lowry leads the league in minutes per game at 37.7, the Raptors rely heavily on Lowry and maybe too much at times. If the Raptors have any aspirations of playing in May his minutes will have to be reduced, and some rest games (especially on back to backs) will have to be given. Most Raptors fans have Cory Joseph in their bad books right now, he’s not playing well defensively or doing a great job running the offense at times. If Cory continues to struggle, it might not be a bad idea to give Wright some of his minutes as well.

Before you call the sample size police on me, I understand Wright has only played 266 career minutes, and only 9 minutes this year before his big role in the fourth quarter comeback against the Charlotte Hornets a few nights ago. I’m not here to talk about his numbers, but what Wright possess is a unique and different skill set he could bring to the Raptors rotation at the point guard position.

The Raptors have struggled almost all season defensively, and recently it’s gotten even worse. Down the stretch in games, coach Dwayne Casey struggles to find five players who want to play hard defensively. The Charlotte game was an example of this, after poor play from some of the regular rotation players, Casey rolled with Lowry/Joseph/Wright/Carroll/Poeltl, three points guards, a wing, and a rookie centre for the entire fourth quarter. This lineup weirdly worked, Lowry and Joseph worked their butts off guarding the backcourt pieces, but it was the versatility of Wright’s defensive game that was a game changer on the defensive end.

Wright is a big point guard, standing 6”6 with a 6”7 wing span. That wiry frame allows Wright to switch onto bigger defenders with ease, even when guarding the much bigger Nic Batum, his lateral quickness and length isn’t a detriment to the defense when switching onto a bigger player. We praise Patterson’s ability to be an extremely effective defender in one on one situations, his ability to guard much smaller wings, and having the strength to guard low post players. Wright offers a lot of the same abilities Patterson does but for the backcourt, while both Lowry and Joseph are good defenders, Wright offers a different kind of versatility to the Raptors defensively, he can guard much faster point guards, even some of the bigger wings.

Offensively, it was encouraging that the Raptors kept giving the ball to Wright to allow him to run the offense, his unselfish play allowed Lowry to play off the ball as a very effective spot up shooter. Wright is spectacular at driving and dishing to open shooters out of the pick and roll, in the video below there are two examples of his ability to change speeds when attacking defenders in the pick and roll. With his height at the point guard position, he has no problem seeing over defenders to hit open shooters in the corner. In the second clip, Wright draws multiple defenders driving to the basket, and is able to see over all the action to hit Lowry in the corner. The third clip in the video, is Wright back in his college days at Utah. Drawing two defenders up top, Wright’s court awareness and height allow him to see over the defenders and hit the cutter for the open dunk.

He is also a very capable scorer out of the pick and roll when driving to the basket, this makes the pick and role not so predictable. Wright has shown the ability to finish through contact, and be a crafty scorer around the rim. In the video below Delon snake’s the pick and roll getting Jeremy Lamb on his back baiting him into a foul. The Hornets defense may have expected a pass out of Wright, but he keeps his dribble catching Lamb and the rest of the Hornets defense on their toes while he gets a very efficient layup off.

Wright has a great defensive mind, a very long and athletic body for his position, great court vision, the ability to finish around the rim, and he played four years in the NCAA so he’s experienced and NBA ready. The only knock continues to be whether or not he can be a consistent shooter. Through watching some 905 games and his minutes last year, Wright is still woking on his shot in both spot up positions, and when working in the midrange.

Like most young players, there are holes in their offensive game that need to still develop. Wright’s shooting could be a problem if playing time is increased, defenses will adjust to his skill sets the more they see him play. For now, Wright is a very capable point guard, his age put his basketball IQ far beyond someone who is in their second year in the league. While his offensive game is still improving, Wright shows a ton of promising attributes he could bring to the Raptors rotation right now.

As Blake Murphy said in his article yesterday about the positives and negatives to having depth which you can read here. It’s unlikely that Wright sees more time in the second half of the season. He has missed almost a full calendar year of basketball recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The game against the Hornets was definitely his coming out party, at least now we know Wright is the kind of player that can alleviate some of the regular rotation players minutes in crunch time situations. Whether Wright see’s a promotion in the second half is unknown, Coach Casey hasn’t mentioned much about resting players down the stretch of the season, or what the Raptors rotations will look like with the addition of Ibaka and the subtraction of Ross. Depth is a good problem to have, options are nice, and Wright is the a unique player to have on the depth chart.

Follow – @Spenred

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NBA All-Star Weekend Primer

It’s NBA All-Star Weekend!

More than just a break for the Toronto Raptors, it’s an opportunity for the organization’s best to represent the franchise on a wide, international stage. It’s not as big as last year, of course, when the city of Toronto hosted a wildly successful instalment of the annual showcase, but it’s a nice opportunity for a few of the Raptors’ best to show their stuff.

Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s events, and the Raptors content involved with each.

Friday

Celebrity Game, 7, ESPN: Kyle Lowry will be an assistant coach under Jemele Hill for the East celebrities. Opposite Lowry on the West celebrity team will be former Raptor tryout Master P, DeMar DeRozan’s USC legacy mate Romeo Miller, and Candace Parker. You can check out the full rosters here.

Rookie-Sophomore Game, 9, TNT/TSN: The Raptors have no representatives as the best first- and second-year players represent the U.S. and the World.

Saturday

D-League All-Star Game, 2:30, NBA TV: Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse and staff will coach the Eastern Conference, led by 905 center Edy Tavares and call-up replacement Axel Toupane. The 3-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest take place at halftime of the game, and while Brady Heslip declined a 3-point invite, John Jordan will defend his dunk title.

All-Star Saturday Night, 8, TNT/TSN: The crown jewel of the weekend was unbelievable last year thanks to the introduction of bigs in the skills challenge and one of the greatest dunk-offs of all-time. It will be tough to replicate that this year, but last year’s runner-up Aaron Gordon will do his best against an exciting field that includes Derrick Jones Jr., Glenn Robinson, and DeAndre Jordan. The skills challenge is kind of just whatever, but the idea of Nikola Jokic taking two hours to complete the course but doing every element perfectly is enticing. And, of course, there’s some Raptors content.

According to My Top Sportsbooks, you can count on Kyle Lowry to be heavy competition for Klay Thompson during the 3-Point Shootout.

Thompson is the favorite at 5:2 odds, but Lowry comes in third at 6:1, and he’d probably be even higher if pull-up 30-footers were allowed in transition. Kyrie Irving, C.J. McCollum, Swaggy P, and more fill out the field

Sunday

All-Star Game, 8, TNT/Sportsnet: Lowry and DeMar DeRozan suit up for the East, with Lowry threatening to take “17 threes” instead of dunking this year (he also requested his locker be placed far from DeRozan’s). The East squad are a slight underdog, but maybe DeRozan will cook as a starter the way he so often has in the first quarter for Raptors. Carmelo Anthony, not Delon Wright, is replacing Kevin Love on the East squad, by the way.

We’ll have coverage of the Raptors-related events throughout the weekend.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 17 – Welcoming Ibaka and maybe more moves

Will and Blake break down the addition Serge Ibaka, then look ahead to the trade deadline.

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Ibaka Trade: Hope for Now, but Preparing for Worst

After years of fans clamoring for it, Masai Ujiri has heard the deadline pleas from fans and has acted.  The Raptors made a win now move in February and accelerated their timeline for winning.  The goal is now.

Patience, and years of evaluating what the Raptors are/have came to completion in a way the moment Masai traded Terrence Ross and their worst 2017 First Round pick (either their’s or the Clippers’ pick) for Serge Ibaka.

While the expectation is that Ibaka should help right the currently sinking ship that is the Toronto Raptors, we can’t know for certain until we begin to see the on court results.  At least on paper he solves many issues.  For years the Raptors have been best when Patrick Patterson shares the court with Kyle Lowry, and Ibaka should functionally be a supped up version of Pat-Pat in what the Raptors do.

He also should be able to share the court with Patterson, providing the Raptors with two defensive bigs, who can switch easily and can both hit open shots.

He can block shots, he can guard on the perimeter, he can stretch the floor (hitting 38.8 percent on the season), and he stylistically suits what the Raptors want to do.  He should be a natural fit, with the goal to still challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Right now the Raptors are far from the Eastern Conference Finals, but that’s the goal at least.  To be in position to go a step further than last season.

But I’m not here to write about how getting Ibaka should help the Raptors both now and in the future (goal is to resign him in the summer).  I’m here to discuss the beauty of the trade itself if things go as bad as they possibly could.

My big fear when it came to making a win now acquisition is that there is a hint of desperation in it.  Desperation can be motivating and helpful, and it can also cause you to do something incredibly stupid.  We see it again and again in the NBA.  A team thinks they are one or two pieces away, and they make a big move (or a series of moves) to mortgage a little (or a lot) of future for the glory of now.

And then they don’t win, but the mortgage still needs to get paid years down the line.

Coming off of a 54 win season the New York Knicks gave up a piece of their future for Andrea Bargnani.  This was just plain stupid, but I’m guessing that they were desperate for a certain type of player and Masai took advantage.

The Los Angeles Lakers were desperate to win while Kobe still had a some years left on his body, and they are still paying for the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash deals (Philadelphia owns their 2017 First, top 3 protected, which was originally sent to Phoenix in the Nash deal).

A new owner who was desperate for immediate contention with the Brooklyn Nets sent their entire future to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Desperation can lead to stupidity, and that was my fear.  The Ibaka trade showed careful planning on the part of Ujiri.  Outside of the clear benefits that Ibaka should provide on the court, the trade also prepares Toronto well for the future even if he is simply a rental option.

By keeping the better of their two 2017 First Round picks the Raptors will still have an opportunity to add another young player to their growing youthful bench mob.  With cheap youth at the end of the bench, Ujiri is creating a succession plan as the team salary grows.

Cheap contributors like Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Jakob Poeltl (all of which played key roles in last night’s come from behind victory against Charlotte.  Seriously.  Delon and Jakob were amazing.), the Raptors may have a shot to resign their three key free agents in Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson.

Not only that, but Masai also maintained all their own picks moving forward.  He didn’t bet the future of the team on a slightly improved chance of winning immediately.  If a doomsday scenario sees Toronto lose two of Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson (or, heaven forbid, all three of them), the Raptors are not at risk of losing a high end pick in the near future.

Between free agency, aging players, ebbs and flows in a team’s in-season success, and the possibility of a devastating injury hitting a team, trading future draft picks (even protected picks) can be a painful experience.

In one move, Masai Ujiri not only improved the Raptors’  chances of winning this season (at least in theory), but he also continues to safeguard them if the worst were to happen.

The Raptors now have the most talented team in franchise history, are deep with young talent, and maintain control of their future if the bottom falls out.  What a sweet combination to have.

I should know by now to simply trust in Masai.

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Wright, Poeltl, and the unlikely savior of depth

A hoodie pulled over his thin frame, Delon Wright could not stop sweating. Under the beat of the light from multiple cameras, Wright’s shower hadn’t quite taken, and his customary nervous energy manifested in a beady brow as he struggled to give earnest answers to serious questions through a barrage of interruptions.

Lucas Nogueira reminded Wright that Jamaal Magloire had said the sophomore was “too cute to play in this league.” Jared Sullinger roared with laughter as Wright sheepishly credited a halftime shoe change with his fourth-quarter surge. Patrick Patterson looked on incredulously as Wright was handed a towel to combat the perspiration by a staff member. Norman Powell perked up with a “Huh? Space the floor?” when Wright tried to explain how his role changed playing with other point guards, jabbing at the biggest perceived weakness in his friend’s offensive game. Nogueira commandeered a microphone and slowly inched it closer to Wright’s face from afar before tapping him on the cheek and causing the entire scene to break down.

These scenes happen throughout the course of the NBA season. A locker room converges on a single target to razz them, to give them a hard time. It’s a rite of passage of sorts, especially when a player a little further down the depth chart contributes and gets the so-called podium game treatment. Fred VanVleet got accused of being “big time” when he had his first. Nogueira was “graduated” from the group that normally defines the end of the bench. Later, Jakob Poeltl would have to conduct an interview with Nogueira literally breathing down his neck. The goofiness is a celebration of a player’s emergence, a not-so-implicit nod that a young player has done well. Often, the players deep in the rotation are complicit in these shenanigans.

“It’s a good thing,” Wright explains. “I’m not the guy that likes the attention like that, so I get a little shy. But when they’re playing good, I mess with them a lot. I haven’t had too many games where I was able to show what I can do.”

These moments have been somewhat rare over the last two months, though. A breakout performance in a loss isn’t cause for positive energy, and more often than not, the Raptors’ locker room in 2017 has been quiet and sullen. For a significant portion of Wednesday night, it appeared that would be the story once again – the Raptors were well on their way to losing a fourth consecutive game, one that would have dropped them to 32-25 entering the All-Star break, all of their hopes during a long mental reprieve being pinned to the acquisition of Serge Ibaka and the return of Patrick Patterson. A win wouldn’t change how poorly the Raptors have played over their last 27 games, but it would at least offer the relief of wrapping the unofficial first half (first two-thirds, really) on a note that’s not cause for widespread panic.

Cue Wright and Poeltl in the fourth quarter, keying the unlikeliest of comebacks in the unlikeliest of lineups. Stretching for any spark at all, head coach Dwane Casey tabbed three point guards, DeMarre Carroll, and Poeltl to provide a change in energy. The specifics of the comeback aren’t really all that important, however fun they were. What was more striking was how the simple formula of five guys who seemed to genuinely care, who weren’t willing to accept defeat, and who played a wholly team-first game stood in such stark contrast to the bulk of the Raptors lineups since things went south on Dec. 28. As the Charlotte Hornets continued to pile up missed shots, the Raptors kept pushing the pace, sharing the ball, getting into ball-handlers, and generally playing the annoying brand of basketball that once defined them as one of the league’s up-and-coming pests. Wright was an enormous factor at both ends, and Poeltl was as solid as has come to be expected, capping things with a beautiful pass on the dive for Carroll’s game-sealing triple.

All throughout the comeback, the Raptors bench was ridiculous. First they got loud. As a small run turned into a 15-0 run, they got active, jumping out of their seats with every make and every stop. As the run extended to 24-2 and the Raptors took the lead back, every possession resulted in a wave-like eruption from the sidelines. Wright was all smiles. Poeltl was all screams. Lowry played the proud floor general slash father figure. Nogueira brought the hugs. And Casey kept trusting them, eschewing the normal urge to bring starters and stars back into the mix once the game got close.

DeMar DeRozan was perhaps the least demonstrative on the bench, sitting the entire fourth quarter. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a big part of the support, though. DeRozan is not a particularly demonstrative guy in general, and his support was more subtle. After the Hornets called a timeout to try to stop the bleeding, DeRozan pulled Wright aside and let him know that this was his comeback to run with.

“It helps. As I was in there, DeMar was telling me don’t worry about coming out, coach is sticking with you right now, so just continue to play hard. He was encouraging me, so it felt good,” Wright said.

Casey’s decision to keep DeRozan shelved ruffled no feathers. Maybe DeRozan was frustrated with his own performance, which would be justified. From a team perspective, though, DeRozan was as happy as anyone to see things turn out the way they did, lighting up after the game when asked about Wright’s growth over a season-and-a-half.

“He just understands what he can do, his abilities, being creative with the ball, using screens, one-on-one, getting to the basket,” DeRozan said. “He’s got great size and length to him on both ends and he’s got a knack defensively for that ball. It sucks that he had to sit out half of the season with injury, but something like this is good.”

Something like this is good. But something like this is also hard. Depth is incredibly important over 82 games, but depth isn’t stationary. Players are humans, and sitting in wait for an opportunity is not an easy task. The job description is to stay ready, and players don’t necessarily deserve pats on the shoulders for doing so. Assuming they can and will, though, is unrealistic, and so it can be a gamble to call out a player’s number when it’s been games – in Wright’s case, almost an entire calendar year – since they’ve gotten action. The speed of the NBA game is tough enough to adjust to as a young player, and even occasional spot minutes if you’re Poeltl or D-League minutes if you’re Wright might not prepare you. Being deep in the rotation is a difficult mental and physical place to exist and thrive.

That the Raptors have solid depth isn’t a secret. Wright’s been healthy for a month and waiting for the opportunity that’s come the last two games. Poeltl’s played well enough when called upon as the third center that he’s been used out of position at the four to try to plug a gaping hole at the team’s thinnest spot. After the break, it’s unlikely these two players figure to be major rotation pieces any longer, but Casey will know he can lean on them if necessary. (To be clear, Wright probably figures in as the team’s third point guard and fourth wing if they don’t make another deal, which would put him in the pre-Ibaka trade Powell role as the spot-duty 10th man.)

The other difficult thing about depth is that, while it is objectively a good thing, its existence over a long season can lead to overthinking. Maybe a player on the bench too long will atrophy. A third-string playing well is cause for him to jump the back-up. Strength at one position should be dealt to fix a weakness elsewhere. With competing goals for the longer term, rotations are not always strict meritocracies, and the human nature of players makes constant juggling or reactionary changes untenable on a day-to-day basis. Depth, then, sometimes only exists on paper, and appreciating it – and the uncertainty of its necessity – isn’t always a straightforward mental exercise.

But it’s going to be needed at some point. The season is long. Players struggle. The postseason takes all bets off in terms of presumed roles (see: Indiana, Game 5). Performances like the ones turned in by Wright and Poeltl on Wednesday lend faith to that depth and make it easier and easier to lean on it, if necessary. Dormancy has not taken a toll on the Raptors’ young players, and while they’ll probably need to fight it off once again when the team’s back to full health, confidence should be high that they will.

As Wright wiped his face one more time, Sullinger used a high-pitch squeal to mock him in good nature. “I’m nerrrrrrvous.”

Maybe in front of the cameras, sure. That didn’t carry over to the court Wednesday, though, and the Raptors can enter the break with a weighty exhale because of it.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 16

10 things I saw from Raptors-Hornets (15–2–2017) – The Defeated – Medium

5. Breakout performance: Delon Wright played the role of Norman Powell if we’re continuing those Game 5 vs. Indy comparisons. Wright was a two-way force. His 6–5 frame and savvy game sense allowed him to guard three positions, while also serving as the primary point guard on offense. He did clever stuff like snaking the pick and roll and collapsing the D, or rejecting the screen and blowing by his man, while also occasionally serving as a secondary attacker. Wright was also active in the passing lanes and produced two steals leading to transition layups.

6. Alpine Jesus: Huge performance from Jakob Poeltl. He executed the defensive gameplan to perfection: show high on Kemba Walker to take away the three, rotate back to tag the rolling big, then box out for the rebound. He managed this perfectly while also setting 2–3 ball screens per play on offense without a break. That’s exhausting. He also made a great pass (see below) and got a layup.

‘Crazy’ first day with Raptors: Ibaka | RAPTORS | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“For me it’s kind of going up again, going back in competition again and playing for something. I’m very excited,” said a tired Ibaka pre-game.

“I’m a Raptor now. I had a great time there and then things didn’t work the way all of us were thinking but things happen. I have an opportunity to play for a great team, a great organization and great city so I’m very excited.”

Ibaka already was a fan of Toronto, but talks with ex-Raptor and now former Magic teammate Bismack Biyombo also sold him.

“Yeah, yeah, since we met, me and Biz, he always tell me great stories about the city, the fans here, the team. He loves it here,” Ibaka said.

Raptors’ problems looking like more than a one-man fix – Sportsnet.ca

But just as important are the two full practice days the Raptors will have with their new and full lineup after the all-star break, which begins Thursday for those not named Lowry and DeRozan, who are headed to New Orleans to take part.

As much excitement as there is about adding a player of Ibaka’s pedigree – he’s been a first-team all-defensive player three times, led the NBA in blocks four times and has turned himself into a 39 per cent three-point shooter – reality was beginning to set in even as the buzz around the move faded.

The Congo native isn’t joining a well-oiled machine, just trying to fit in. That would be nice. Instead the 33-24 Raptors are teetering on the edge of a top-four seed in the East after coasting along in second for all of last year and the first half of this one.

Ujiri: I wasn’t waiting for Raptors players to tell me we need help – Sportsnet.ca

Raptors president Masai Ujiri says that’s not the case.

“Everybody thinks this is because (Raptors players) were saying this,” Ujiri told Bob McCown and Arash Madani on Prime Time Sports Wednesday evening. “Because DeMar said we need help, now, ‘OK now I got them help.’ I’m not waiting for DeMar to tell me that we need help or tell the media that we need help. That’s not even close.”

Raptors wait for Serge Ibaka to break into lineup | Toronto Star

“As soon as we get back, he’s gonna be the first thing,” Casey said Wednesday of Ibaka. “We’ll get back here and have a couple of good practice days before we hit the second stretch of games. It’s a great time, for he and Pat to come back. Getting those guys back (can’t come) soon enough.”

Having two starting calibre veteran power forwards will give Casey all kinds of new options to explore. But to see Ibaka and Patterson as a panacea for all that ails the Raptors is foolish, which is why two full days of practice after the break and before a Feb. 24 game with Boston is so important.

“One guy is not going to be a magic wand,” Casey said. “It’s going to be everybody collectively, coming together and doing their job and I think everything will fall in place. As you can see, when you pull one thread out, it has a ravelling effect so getting him put in there, getting Pat back into the second unit, getting that back to a semblance of normalcy is going to be very important for us.”

Lowry, Wright spark Raptors’ rally past Hornets | Toronto Star

Jakob Poeltl is used to standing on the sidelines cheering alongside fellow Toronto Raptors youngsters, cheering on his teammates as old hands such as DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas get the job done.

But the roles were reversed on Wednesday, as fresh faces such as Poeltl and Delon Wright put in a veteran fourth-quarter performance to ensure a 90-85 win over Charlotte Hornets, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process.

DeRozan and Valanciunas were on their feet on the bench as Poeltl, Wright, Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph outscored the Hornets 32-10 in the final 12 minutes.

“Today it was the other way around and I think it’s amazing that our veterans that didn’t play at the end still cheered us young guys on like that,” Poeltl said.

What Is The Best Trade in Raptors History? – Raptors HQ

Like any team in the NBA, the Raptors have made their share of transactions. Some have been big, some of been small, some have been small but then become big, and some have been big but then become small. (That about covers it.) With the trade for Serge Ibaka yesterday, it felt like time to go back into the Raptors archives and decide: What is the best trade in Raptors history?

I’ve got a list of my candidates, with a bit of commentary for each. There may be some debate here, but I think this list sums up the absolute highs of the Raptors on the trade market. (Much thanks to Basketball Reference and Real GM for the assist.)

Raptors ride wonderfully weird lineup, beat Hornets 90-85 – Raptors HQ

Casey was glowing over the play of Wright and Poeltl down the stretch, but the duo’s play shouldn’t overshadow Lowry’s clutch threes, Carroll’s tenacity on the glass as a small-ball four, or Cory Joseph’s excellent secondary playmaking in that final frame. Every member of the Raptors’ new leading lineup in the NET Rating column (screw off with your small sample caveats) chipped in to Wednesday’s oddball victory.

While Casey noted that Toronto’s young guys might be in the running for more minutes after the All-Star break, he expressed the need to rediscover the standard M.O. that this team has thrived on in recent seasons.

Three things we saw when the Raptors beat the Hornets | Toronto Star

Just the right play

Sometimes it’s the simple things that work and it was a basic, rudimentary basketball play that sealed that win.

High pick and roll, find the roller going to the basket, lane clogged, kick to a shooter, shot made.

Simple, one-two-three and the fact that was Kyle Lowry and Jakob Poeltl and DeMarre Carroll shouldn’t matter.

Every team in the game everywhere runs that set, it’s just having the presence of mind at the NBA level to do it that set last night apart, as Dwane Casey said.

“The pass that Jakob made to DC on the wing was huge, big-time. To have the presence of mind to be going to the basket, the guy was in front of him, the defence stopped him and he had the presence of mind to find DC and, like I said, it’s a make or miss league and DC made the shot.”

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Some Interesting Heroes Emerge For The Toronto Raptors

It was looking like another grim night at the Air Canada Center for the Toronto Raptors going into the 4th quarter, but an unexpected unit went on a massive run to come back and win the game 90-85.

The Raptors started this game off hot, and it was a well deserved starting nod for Norman Powell, who carried over the momentum he had with the starting unit from the 2nd half against Chicago. This got the Raptors off to a booming start as they led the game 31-20 after the first quarter.

The nice lead remained in tact through the second quarter, but the lead really did not feel safe as the Raptors were struggling on offense, and were consistently relying on Derozan to hit tough and contested shots against one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. Charlotte was really chipping away slowly at the lead and cut it down to three at half time.

The third quarter began and it was the Frank Kaminsky and Kemba Walker show. They were simply hitting everything, and you could hear a pin drop in the ACC as the third quarter buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing 75-58.

Demar Derozan was downright awful in this game, and the Raptors started the 4th with a lineup with him sitting out, as per usual to begin the 4th. Derozan went 5-19 with ten points and that is simply inexcusable from your star player, especially when most of these shots were forced low percentage looks and were downright frustrating to watch as a fan. Derozan, who is usually so good at getting to the line, took just two free throws and missed both of them. He has really looked bad lately, and the Raptors only hope of getting back in this game was with him off the court.

Lowry, Joseph, Wright, Carroll and Jakub Poeltl began the 4th quarter in a game that kind of felt like it would feature Wright and Poeltl closing for all the wrong reasons along with a few other end of the bench players.

As per nbawowy.com, this unit had never played together before coming into the night, but the chemistry and ball movement they displayed was simply outstanding.

The quarter started off great, as Delon Wright was simply everywhere on defense, and the Raptors ball movement was suddenly back for the first time in ages. The Raptors had just 10 assists in the first three quarters, and they recorded 9 assists in the fourth alone. Having three ball handlers out there who can put the ball on the floor, along with a big man who knows his place on the court and sets great screens was an interesting look.

The group started on fire, and the ACC slowly began to get loud again. For the first time in a long time, the ACC fans got to see some great ball movement, picture perfect offense, and some inspiring defense. Charlotte did not make a field goal for nine minutes, while the Raptors went on a 22-2 run to take the lead.

Joseph, Wright and Lowry were a really interesting look, and Delon Wright is the first “small forward” the Raptors have had this year on the court who can put the ball on the floor and have the ability to find a teammate or his own shot with ease, and his defense was simply outstanding. His length is an incredible tool for this team, and it was nice to see Casey look in his direction.

The Raptors built their lead up to 87-82 with 30 seconds left when Nicolas Batum drained a really tough three pointer to make it a game again. The first thing that ran through my mind was that the Raptors were going to run an iso and dribble out the shot clock, while Lowry takes a hero ball shot. Thankfully, I was wrong, and the theme of unselfish play from the Raptors continued to show itself. A high pick and roll from Poeltl was executed perfectly, and help came, which led to Poeltl showing off his passing ability and finding Demarre Carroll for a three pointer to seal the game.

The unit had one less assist than points allowed, and it was simply inspiring basketball. The Raptors continue to be an impressive team with Demar Derozan off the court this year, and despite his great scoring ability, games like tonight from him are extremely concerning and becoming more prevalent. If his shots aren’t falling he provides nothing on the defensive end and really not much else positive. He is a great scorer, but hopefully he observed a thing or two tonight and realized that sometimes it can be someone else “getting his” for the sake of the team.

Delon Wright gets the game ball from me tonight, as his 11 points and 2 steals didn’t really tell the tale of the impact he had on this game. Also there needs to be a ton of credit given to Jakub Poeltl, who was very sharp in the fourth quarter after being cold for three quarters of sitting on the bench. Kyle Lowry had 21 points, and despite shooting poorly, Demarre Carroll grabbed 11 rebounds and poured in three three pointers.

It was a fun night at the ACC, and with the all star break here now, this fourth quarter led by some unexpected heroes could be the turning point of the season as the team heads into the break with this style of play engraved in their heads. With Patrick Patterson and Serge coming back, there will be more room for Derozan and perhaps two trustworthy hands he can pass to rather than forcing up a contested shot.

Without trying to overblow this game, as the first three quarters were very ugly, this game could help turn the Raptors season around, and it will help head coach Dwane Casey sleep easy for now.

Enjoy the all star break everybody, and let’s hope that Serge Ibaka lives up to expectations in his first game. There are no games until February 24th, but it is a big one against the Boston Celtics at home, where Serge will make his much anticipated debut.

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Raptors-Hornets Reaction Podcast – Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl save the day

Host William Lou recaps a confusing, thrilling, necessary win over the Charlotte Hornets.

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Quick Reaction: Hornets 85, Raptors 90

Charlotte 85 Final
Box Score
90 Toronto

B
D. Carroll39 MIN, 13 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 4-13 FG, 3-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 16 +/-

The problem with Carroll tonight wasn’t that he played bad, but that he cooled off significantly after a hot start. As always, he did little things like having active hands in passing lanes and had his motor on constantly.

Oh, and of course, he was part of the death lineup to close this one out.

C
D. DeRozan31 MIN, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 5-19 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -15 +/-

My goodness, if MKG didn’t completely subdue him tonight. DeMar tried to diversify his offensive game tonight — even camped out behind the arc on a few occassions and went 0/3 from three — but he could barely breach the MKG roadblock.

Even the buckets he scored were all remarkable — extremely difficult and laborious. I imagine that things will get easier for him when Patterson and Ibaka unplug the lane; but the Raptors made their huge run in the fourth with DeMar on the bench.

B-
J. Valanciunas20 MIN, 10 PTS, 11 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -5 +/-

He, um, only played 20 minutes in a game where the Hornets didn’t have any centers. In those minutes early on, he gave Kaminsky all he could handle with rebounds and put-backs, but the Raptors didn’t go to him much, and Casey opted to roll with Bebe (who played well), and then Poeltl (which worked out) to close this one out.

He could have had better hands in the post, but there really wasn’t anything particularly negative about JV’s game tonight.

A
K. Lowry41 MIN, 21 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 8-20 FG, 4-11 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-

He got turnt real quick. A cold start was followed by a superstar fourth quarter where he hit contested threes and got to the rim. He also stopped the bleeding from Kemba in the fourth.

B+
N. Powell28 MIN, 17 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 3 STL, 5-12 FG, 3-7 3FG, 4-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -17 +/-

After Lowry, he was the next scoring punch. He is so good at what he does — getting into the lane and getting defenders to collapse on him. My only criticism was that he missed a few open shots.

I’d say the Norm era is off the a pretty good start.

A
D. Wright28 MIN, 11 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5-6 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 11 +/-

Dear me, we have a player on our hands. What a blessing. This game bore the fruit of Delon and I imagine we will partake in its glory for years to come.

Delon can defend, slash, pass, get to the rim — he’s a breath of fresh air. I even love his aesthetics.

Welcome to the death lineup, Delon.

B-
C. Joseph25 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-6 FG, 2-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Back-to-back threes in the fourth was huge. I had a lot of fun watching the backcourt three-PG lineup. Ball-handlers, slashers, and good defense. CoJo did his part down the stretch.

C+
L. Nogueira16 MIN, 0 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 2 TO, -12 +/-

He provided some good minutes before the Poletl show got underway. Lots of chatter on Twitter with complaints about Bebe eating into JVs minutes, but I don’t have a problem with Bebe protecting the rim as well as he does. He only played 15 minutes anyway.

A
J. Poeltl12 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 22 +/-

A team-high +22! All his minutes came in the fourth quarter. And though he has some wrinkles, he makes so many intelligent cuts and defensive plays. An unlikely hero tonight.

A-
Dwane Casey

Ok, there’s a lot here.

Should he have given JV more touches to start this game? Probably — but to his credit, he had the Raptors going inside early and often to take advantage of Charlotte’s lack of rim protection.

Should he have rode the JV train longer and down the stretch? Probably, but, in hindsight — no. It took some extra cojones to roll out the Lowry / Joseph / Wright / Carroll / Poeltl line-up to close this one out, and my goodness did it work well.

Nice to see coach roll with smaller lineups. Carroll at the four makes sense in a game like this, and I’m just glad he didn’t bite on the JV/Bebe shared lineup tonight.

He did what he had to do. Even called a timeout 90 seconds in the third to stop the bloodbath that Charlotte was unleashing on a helpless Raptors team. In the end, his ballsy death lineup saved the day.

Things We Saw

  1. Bad shooting night overall. Lowry / DeMar / Norm / Carroll combined for 22-of-64 from the field. Some of this was down to really, really good defending by the Hornets in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and the rest was down to missing open looks. In retrospect, the Raptors should’ve had way more than 19 assists considering how many good looks they had with some really good ball movement.
  2. All that ball movement really was good. It did stop a bit when DeRozan handled it, but I really did enjoy a lot of offensive sequences tonight.

    The Raptors are still struggling, and this victory doesn’t necessarily mask it, but at least they are trying to get out of this slump the right way.

  3. Again, the biggest problem remains the inconsistency, and the extremity in the slumps and heat checks are staggering.

    The Raptors started this game on fire and finished it guns blazing. In between, they were outscored 55-27. The fourth quarter was ignited by a 24-2 run. None of this really makes sense.

  4. Key contributions from the Hornets came from MKG’s defense, Kemba hitting some impossible shots, and Frank freakin’ Kaminsky going off for a career-high 27 points.

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VIDEO: Serge Ibaka introduced ahead of Raptors-Hornets

The Toronto Raptors made their new power forward available ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. A few hours before tip-off, Serge Ibaka held court with the press.

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Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka introduced but won’t play, Powell starts

So, uhh, yeah. That awful Chicago Bulls loss last night? A distant memory now. No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t out of the mud yet, and they continue to dig themselves a deeper hole to eventually pull out of. But Wednesday is cause for excitement, because Serge Ibaka is here. Prior to the regular game-day availability before games, Ibaka spoke with the media.

The presser was a little rushed, pushed back about 15 minutes as Ibaka had just finished his physical with doctors. He also had to leave for the team’s walkthrough in short order, the first time he’ll be talking to Dwane Casey and his teammates. Asked about a potential learning curve, Ibaka said that you don’t have to learn to play hard, which is a nice quote and a good attitude. He also said the presence of Rex Kalamian, a former Thunder assistant, should help with his learning curve. Beyond that, and Ibaka noting that Bismack Biyombo told him a lot of good stories about the city and fans, there wasn’t much to what he said. Ibaka also wasn’t sure, as of 5:15, if he’d be able to play tonight or not.

UPDATE: He won’t.

I spent a lot of time today watching Orlando Magic footage. You’ve probably read enough about Ibaka and his fit at this point, but here are my three biggest takeaways:

  • The Magic are awful. That’s not to be mean, but it is always more difficulty to evaluate a player properly in a bad situation. He was an ill fit with Vucci Mane on defense and with Biyombo on offense, the Magic have terrible spacing, like, always, and he was used sub-optimally for the most part.
  • Ibaka was often guilty of giving what looked to be less than 100 percent effort. It’s not a good look, but there’s reason for optimism that a more engaged Ibaka will look even better than he did in Orlando, especially on the defensive end. That should help make up for a perceived loss of athleticism, particularly defending in the pick-and-roll.
  • He’s going to be a nice fit with what the Raptors are going to ask of him on offense. The above-the-break threes as a pick-and-pop threat should come more regularly than he’s used to, and they should be cleaner with bigger ball-handling threats feeding him. He’ll find his way to the corners more often, where he rarely shot from this year but should, theoretically, shoot even better with a larger sample. He won’t need to do it much, but he can attack a closeout and create for himself a little bit. He’s also a quality screen-setter, though he’s not particularly effective on the dive (a lot of the Raptors dual- and stagger-screen action will have him popping, not rolling, anyway, and he’s a good enough mid-range shooter to short-roll to mix things up).
    • And yes, I think Patterson-Ibaka lineups could be really good. You sacrifice a lot on the glass, but there should be a ton of spacing, and they’ll be really switchy on defense.

Anyway, we’ve talked about all of this a ton by now. Don’t let Tuesday’s awful game mute your excitement for Ibaka. Just hope he’s the spark the rest of the team needs to shake off their funk.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on TSN and Sportsnet 590. Here’s the full game preview.

Raptors updates
The big question facing the Raptors is, quite obviously, whether either of their power forwards will play in the final game before the All-Star break. Serge Ibaka is waiting on both himself and Terrence Ross to pass physicals, while Patrick Patterson is still on the mend with a knee injury. Considering Patterson has gotten in multiple practices and continues to sit, it seems maybe the team is holding him out through the break, which would be justifiable. They could also reverse course and play him here, looking to get one game in with their full rotation to at least get themselves a feel for it and some tape to go over. If Ibaka can play, awesome, because the adjustment to a new team with new terminology is tough, even for an experienced, intelligent player.

If those two can’t go, the weird power forward rotation will continue. The Raptors could start small against the Hornets, but doing so would require a commitment to playing small for most of the game, since they’d essentially have to bench wings if they start three. Failing that, Jakob Poeltl looked good in one game and bad in another, Pascal Siakam continues to be a poor fit with that group, and Lucas Nogueira probably isn’t the best matchup against a downsized power forward. Thank shammgod this is the last game we’ll have to worry about what’s going on at this position for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: Ibaka won’t play. There’s nothing wrong with his physical, but the team opted to keep him out anyway, citing the fact that he’s a human being and will take some adjustment time. Patterson is also out, but Casey talked about him as if he’s back Feb. 24.

UPDATE II: The Raptors are starting small, with Powell at the two, DeRozan the three, and Carroll the four. It makes sense opposite Williams at the four, but it leaves the Raptors pretty thin on wings.

For what it’s worth, I’m toying with the idea of beginning to list Delon Wright as the backup shooting guard instead of the third point guard and bumping Norman Powell to the three. Yes, Wright is still a point guard by trade and by style, but with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph entrenched in their roles (at least for now, with the latter), Wright’s likely to see the bulk of his time in two point-guard sets in the near-term. Beyond that, the Raptors are suddenly super thin on the wing, and Powell’s likely to see heavy time as a smaller three than at his more natural shooting guard spot. None of this really matters – the depth charts I do here are kind of archaic given the more fluid nature of modern NBA rotations, but, yeah, if you see that change out of the break (assuming no other deals), that will be why.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF:DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo
PF:DeMarre Carroll, Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira,Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT:Patrick Patterson, Serge Ibaka

Hornets updates
The Hornets will be a little thinned out in the frontcourt, but I have some good news: As a generic looking white guy, I plan to just throw a jersey on and check in for them at some point, and it’s unlikely anybody will notice. You’re telling me Steve Clifford can tell the difference between me, Miles Plumlee, Cody Zeller, Mike Tobey, Chris Andersen, and Frank Kaminsky? Not a chance…I’m white, I’ve got a beard, I’ve got tattoos, I’m goofy looking…I’ve got all the boxes checked off to blend into the Hornets’ big-man rotation seamlessly. And sure, I’m maybe a foot too short, but I’m “sneaky athletic” and “make the most out of my limited natural ability.”

In seriousness, Plumlee (calf) and Zeller (quad) are out for this one, as is Ramon Sessions (knee surgery). They have reinforcements in the form of a pair of D-League call-ups plus the recalled Christian Wood, but they’re still going to be a little thinned out up front. That might be fine for them, given their ability to downsize thanks to guard and wing depth, and the Raptors are now a little better suited to defend lineups like that (if Ibaka and Patterson play, anyway). What the Hornets do in the starting lineup isn’t entirely clear, but starting Kaminsky would seem to be the logical move, especially opposite Valanciunas.

It’s hard to figure exactly how the Hornets will look here – their three most-used lineups on the season are off the table (two include Zeller and one included the outbound Roy Hibbert), meaning their most familiar fivesome, the presumed starters, has spent just 100 minutes together this year. They’ve been outscored by 3.9 points per-100 possessions in those minutes, too, with the additional spacing not helping goose the offense at all (small sample caveats apply, as always).

PG: Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts, Ray McCallum
SG: Nicolas Batum, Marco Belinelli, Treveon Graham
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb
PF: Marvin Williams, Christian Wood
C: Frank Kaminsky, Mike Tobey
OUT: Ramon Sessions, Miles Plumlee, Cody Zeller
TBA: None
ASSIGNED: None

Assorted

  • Bruno Caboclo was with Raptors 905 last night but was recalled in time to sit on the bench here. The 905 are off until Feb. 23 due to the All-Star break, which will see the coaching staff, Edy Tavares, Axel Toupane, and defending Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan all heading to New Orleans. With the Raptors nearing full health, expect Caboclo to spend the bulk of his time with the 905 out of the break.
  • In honor of Terrence Ross, I made this supercut of him skying for uncontested defensive rebounds:

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites, according to the lines at Betfaircasino.com, with an over-under of 213. Your guess is as good as mine how the Raptors will play with or without Patterson and/or Ibaka, so maybe hold off throwing down your New Orleans budget on either side until you know who’s playing and you somehow take a deep spiritual look inside the soul of this Jekyll and Hyde outfit of late. (I’m feeling optimistic regardless, but this game has the vibe of a sort of pre-vacation exhibition, and so it’s a little hard to peg down how it’ll go.

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What are the Raptors getting in Serge Ibaka?

The Toronto Raptors are going for it.

Kyle Lowry made a statement after the latest Raptors collapse and two days later, Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in Raptors history. Acquiring Serge Ibaka addresses the team’s biggest need for a relatively low price tag.

Given his success with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ibaka has a reputation among the average fans. He led the league in blocks per game in 2012-13 with 3.03 a contest but the numbers have fallen since then. In exchange, Ibaka has grown as an offensive option. I want to break down some of his strengths and weaknesses, as well as provide some visual context to the common traits discussed.

One of the major caveats to this evaluation is the team Ibaka was playing for this season. The Orlando Magic are awful. Their front court options limits Ibaka’s operating room on the floor. If Ibaka played with Nikola Vucevic, he was stuck to theperimeter to create space for the post-up specialist. When paired with Bismack Biyombo, teams would bail on the former Raptor and force Ibaka to give up the ball. Defensively, the influx of stretch-fours took Ibaka further away from the rim, which compounds Ibaka’s diminished athleticism.

Strength – efficient offensive game

Gone are the days closing one eye when a Raptor power forward tries to take anything but an open three. Ibaka can finish around the rim and beyond the arc at an efficient clip. He’s not going to drive from distance and finish at the rim a ton, but Ibaka can pump fake, dribble and take a pull-up.

In his first season with the Orlando Magic, Ibaka’s usage climbed to 21.0% — a career-high. His numbers around the rim improved to 72.5% and he’s hitting a career-high 38.8%. All of this comes despite a fewer percent of his two-point field goals being assisted. Essentially, Ibaka improved on offence when all signs point to a decline.

Weakness – decline in athleticism

Ibaka is definitely an upgrade over the current options at power forward but no one should expect him to reach the same heights he did when he was a defensive player of the year candidate.

Like a number of his stats, Ibaka’s blocks have been on a decline over the past three seasons. A calf injury in the 2014 playoffs seems to have robbed the 27-year-old of a lot of his explosiveness. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh noted in the Feb. 14 TrueHoop podcast, Ibaka ranks as the 10th worst rim protector by opponent FG% in the league. An important note to this: the Magic don’t offer much perimeter defence and it’s difficult to stop guys who are flying to the rim full speed.

In 2015-16, Ibaka ranked as one of the best rim protectors as opponents shot 43.3% with Ibaka at the rim. It’s more likely Ibaka falls somewhere in the middle for rim protection when he has a better team around him. The flying blocks may be gone, he still has quick hands and good IQ. 

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On the TrueHoop podcast, ESPN’s Tim McMahon said he watched Ibaka play against the Mavericks and Ibaka looks as old as Dirk. There was a hint of sarcasm in the comment, sure, but it piqued my interest. Here’s an example of a play where Ibaka looks old, though not from that game specifically: 

But how much of that is effort? You have to think Ibaka will play with more urgency for a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals than he did for Orlando. There are hints of it last year, though.

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The early containment is good, but he looks so slow when trying to relocate Lamarcus Aldridge.

Strength – excellent pick and pop threat to compliment Lowry and DeRozan

Toronto’s All-Star backcourt feasts in the pick and roll. Ibaka is not a threat as a roll-man, as Sportsnet producer Chris Black notes in his post: “of 35 players with 100 possessions as the roll man in a pick & roll, Ibaka’s 0.95 points per possession ranks 25th.”

This is fine because Ibaka is still a capable screener and an excellent pop threat. According to NBA.com/Stats, he’s shooting 39.8% on above the break threes. Teams absolutely cannot leave him to help on the Lowry or DeRozan drive because he will make them pay. That should create even more space for the NBA’s greatest bromance to get buckets.

Currently, Toronto doesn’t have a big that offers that kind of shooting. Patrick Patterson shoots 34.2% on above the break threes.

I’m not a masochist, so I don’t watch Magic games. But when I was looking at Ibaka’s made above-the-break threes, it seems that a lot of his makes come on kick-outs vs. pick and pops. By my count, four of his 20 threes in this reel were from pick and pop, and the rest came on kick outs by guys like Elfrid Payton or Evan Fournier. Replace those two with Lowry and DeRozan and you’re taking an already-great offence and adding another lethal layer.

Weakness – not aggressive on offence

Ibaka isn’t going to get to the free throw line very often. He averages less than two free throws a game and his free throw rate speaks volumes to what kind of player he is. He has one of the lowest free throw rates at 12.9% among NBA players and the other players around Ibaka’s mark are mostly catch-and-shoot specialists. It’s not unusual to see Ibaka pull up for a jumper in transition or take a jumper over a guard in the post. Ibaka is efficient, but still, free throws set your defence so a couple more trips to the charity stripe is never a bad thing.

Strength – can contain on the perimeter

The Thunder held a 3-1 lead on the Warriors last playoffs and their super-switchy defence was a staple of their strategy. Ibaka was a big part of that, capable of switching as needed even though he’s not as athletic as he was before.

I’m curious to see how Dwane Casey employs Ibaka in pick and roll defence. When watching film from this season and last, Ibaka was asked to hedge fairly often. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that Ibaka was not comfortable playing in Orlando and was not comfortable with the defence.

If Toronto wants to switch more with him, that could be an interesting look. Though this isn’t an initial switch, the defence on Harrison Barnes is an impressive example of his footwork: 

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Ibaka gives Toronto a second frontcourt player who is capable of a variety of different defensive looks. As others have written, an Ibaka-Patterson frontcourt gives Toronto a ton of flexibility and would address the Channing Frye-LeBron James pick and pop that’s killed the Raptors ove the past two season.

**

Ibaka’s move will be a net-positive, yet there are a few areas of intrigue for Raptors fans to watch for. How Toronto uses Ibaka on both ends will be fascinating to watch over the next couple months and into the playoffs. He’s a piece that the Raptors have coveted for years. Let the experiment begin.

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Raptors Playbook: Horns Triple

Raptors Playbook: Horns Triple

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors every Wednesday. This week, we’ll focus on Horns Triple. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.


This play, coming out of Horns formation, starts by the point guard making an entry pass to a big man situated at the elbow. The guard then proceeds to the corner, where he sets an off-ball screen for a wing (typically this is DeMar DeRozan).

The wing player will proceed to use that screen to make their way to the perimeter, while also utilizing a combination of a DHO (dribble handoff) and a screen from the bigs at the elbows.

With his defender now in a precarious situation, as they are either trailing or far beneath the forest of screens, DeRozan can pick apart the defense as he sees fit in the area of the floor he is most comfortable in – the midrange.

Depending on what the defense does, DeRozan can either attack the paint with the momentum he has built up or he can rise up for a jumper. His vast arsenal of floaters and flip shots are useful for tight spaces such as this. Additonally, if DeRozan is confronted with an aggressive defense, whether it be a trap or a hedging big man that he can string along, he has shown the ability to thread the ball to the slot for an easy finish by the rolling screener.

This play is incredibly simple, as its purpose is to get DeRozan a quick hitter in his comfort zone. It also has a low risk of turning the ball over, a principle the Raptors incorporate into almost all of their sets.

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Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 15

10 things I saw from Raptors-Bulls (14–2–2017) – The Defeated – Medium

PO mentality: Dwane Casey said before this game, “We’ve got to come in with our hard hats on, playing with a purpose, playing with a sense or urgency. A pissed off mentality … At some point we got to say, ‘Ok, enough.’” … and the Raptors were out-hustled, out-worked, and outscored 58–39 in the first half. Way to respond to the coach. Raptors didn’t show any fight until midway through the third.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago – Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog

If you spent your Valentine’s alone, watching this game, then I am very sorry for you. Your night was sad and deeply unsatisfying. If you were annoyed to miss this game because of the societal pressures to buy some useless sentimental crap from Shoppers Drug Mart and then go out for an expensive dinner just because it’s February 14th and Hallmark is really good at marketing, well, rejoice! Because even if you forgot to try and make reservations until the afternoon of and your girlfriend or boyfriend seemed passive aggressively annoyed all night because of the long wait for a table at a second-tier restaurant because they’re not an idiot and know it’s because you completely forgot to make a reservation or, worse still, forgot about Valentine’s day altogether, at least you didn’t have to watch that embarrassing horror-show of a loss against the Bulls.

Raptors have to believe they’ll come out the other side better for struggles – Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog

Maybe if you give Lowry and DeRozan more of a break during games, they can give you a little more at the end of the close ones that the Raptors have been blowing lately. But they’ll almost definitely give you more through April, May and, if you’re lucky, June. That is, after all, when the games really matter.

As for the games now? It doesn’t not matter, but this is the time to struggle a little bit and to get a little angry and to have ideas and to remember, if you needed to, that isolating DeRozan does not win a lot of games. The Raptors should start playing good basketball again. I’m getting worried too, but they will start playing good basketball again.

They’ll get over this, and once they do, one would really like to think they’ll be better for it. If not, we can worry about bigger stuff then.

Magic trade Serge Ibaka to Toronto for draft pick, Terrence Ross – Orlando Sentinel

“I think as we’ve watched our team play over the course of the season, clearly something’s amiss,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “And we’re all frustrated by the way our team’s performed to date, and we felt like it was necessary to try to shake things up somehow, someway.”

Magic officials concluded that they had to trade Ibaka before the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline or risk losing him for nothing in free agency in July. Ibaka gave the Magic no assurances that he intended to re-sign with them.

Ibaka has landed. #WeTheNorth

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What’s Next For The Raptors’ Norman Powell?

“My main focus is getting back to where we were last year and capitalizing on that,” said Powell. “I’m not really focused on individual success so it’s all about the team. It’s still a bittersweet feeling for me, in my first season, to make it all the way to Eastern Conference Finals, and be two games away. It’s tough. So that’s my focus.”

Should the Raptors accomplish that feat this season, many will look to Ibaka’s addition as a major part of that success. But Powell’s expanded role, and the added benefit that his backcourt mates will reap as a result, will likely be a significant factor even if that goes unnoticed and unheralded. Powell will still focus on the work and the consistent chance to prove it pays off.

And you get the feeling that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Harper: With Love Hurt, Raptors Pounce By Acquiring Serge Ibaka

Assuming health for the rest of the Raptors’ season, this should add more versatility to what Dwane Casey is able to do with his rotation. Toronto has been missing the interior presence of Bismack Biyombo this season. That’s caused them to be much more reliant on Jonas Valanciunas, who is an offensive force but not the back line defender Toronto craves. Lucas Nogueira has been a nice rotation big, but Ibaka gives the Raptors the versatility to play big or small.

If Ibaka’s rim protection struggles were a product of the apathy of being in Orlando, being back on a contender could turn back the clock for him. Let’s say that happens right away in Toronto. He’s invigorated by “We the North” chants and poutine. That allows the Raptors to go small without sacrificing anything on the offensive or defensive ends.

Throw Ibaka at the 5 with DeMarre Carroll and DeMar DeRozan as the 4 and the 3, respectively. Then you can either go with the dual-point guard lineup of Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, or you pair Lowry and Norman Powell together.

‘We just didn’t play hard’: Raptors fall to Bulls, continue to struggle | GANTER

“We just didn’t play hard, honestly,” Kyle Lowry said after the game in yet another hushed locker room, something that is becoming the norm for this team. “We just have to figure out a way to do it consistently. Right now we’re a way below .500 team, we’re playing really bad basketball, it’s crazy right now. We went from this to that.”

Normally a tilt with the Bulls ends in dejection and a lot of head shaking. This time it was so one-sided at the half, the only expected emotion was disgust of the internal variety.

Raptors’ Powell should be in for bigger role thanks to Ross trade | RAPTORS | Ra

CHICAGO — It’s hard to imagine a current member of the Toronto Raptors who has the potential to benefit more from today’s trade than Norman Powell.

The second-round pick who has worked his way into the hearts and minds of Raptors fans everywhere with his gutsy, two-way play in just over a year and a half should see his court time bolstered substantially.

It comes at a significant personal price though for Powell, who was very close with Terrence Ross, the only loss from the roster in the trade for Serge Ibaka. Ross is a guy Powell leaned on tremendously for guidance as his NBA career was getting started.

Why Ibaka addition raises stakes for Raptors organization – Sportsnet.ca

But the move brings with it the risk of high expectations. The downside is failing to meet them. At this point, Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman and the rest of the Raptors management team are off the hook. They’ve done their job. It’s hard to imagine another playoff team making as significant of an addition before the Feb. 23 deadline. The price was right and the timing was right.

If this group fails over the next two months? Then things can get really crazy and they would be able to justify a teardown rather than reinvesting in a core that doesn’t look like it can win big.

Now the heat lamp shifts elsewhere. Lowry and DeRozan made their dissatisfaction with the Raptors direction known in recent days, and while Ujiri says their comments Sunday didn’t precipitate the deal, it’s safe to assume they lent urgency to getting something done before the all-star break.

Ibaka stunner shows Raptors mean business: Arthur | Toronto Star

But these Raptors had been playing all season with a one-legged DeMarre Carroll and a collection of young big men that made Patrick Patterson indispensable, and Ujiri decided that the team deserved a shot at success, at an acceptable price. At the draft Oklahoma City had asked for the No. 9 pick, Norman Powell, Cory Joseph and Patterson for Ibaka. The Raptors passed. As the teams talked last week, Orlando’s price looked similar to what Atlanta wanted for Paul Millsap last month: Patterson, Ross, a first-round pick and a young player. The Raptors weren’t interested. They waited.

And with Ross and Powell to choose from, and an extra first-rounder from the Clippers, the path opened up. The Raptors can now roll out a lineup of Lowry and DeRozan, a suddenly sharpshooting Carroll, Ibaka — shooting 38 per cent from three-point range this year — and Jonas Valanciunas. And when teams go small, Ibaka can play centre and switch pick-and-rolls, the way Bismack Biyombo did last season.

Raptors look lost against Bulls | Toronto Star

“It starts with our leaders, me and DeMar,” Kyle Lowry said after the Raptors were listless and effort-free for almost three entire quarters. “We have to figure it out, find ways to push our teammates to be better and push ourselves to be better.”

Or maybe it starts higher up the food chain.

“This game is tough. If you’re not ready mentally, physically ready to start the game and be in a tough mindset, the game gets away from you quick, and we weren’t ready to play,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I take the blame for that, not having the guys jacked up and ready to play the first half.”

Evaluating the Salary Cap Impact of the Ibaka Trade – Raptors HQ

The move also clears salary from the cap this summer. Ross’ $10.5 million disappears, as does the cap hit associated with the pick. It will be the lesser of the two picks this summer, which right now projects around a $1.5 million cap hit. So that clears about $12 million from the books, a good start on clearing enough room to re-sign Ibaka and Kyle Lowry (and maybe Patrick Patterson) without paying an incredible amount of taxes.

Three things we saw when the Raptors lost to the Bulls | Toronto Star

What’s next?

That was the big question floating around last night, even before Masai dropped his “I still have my phone” line on the masses gathered at the Biosteel Centre.

There are those in the organization who were whispering last night that they think there’s one more move to be made and there are people on the bench who think that it’s definitely needed.

No question there’s a roster imbalance still, they have four point guards and three centres, at least one too many of each, especially when you consider that Dwane held out the chance that Ibaka could guard some fives and the fact Patterson plays there in pinch.

They have expiring contracts (Sullinger and Patterson) that might be attractive, they have young kids who don’t make any money but who have some promise and that glut of point guards.

No names were really associated with what’s to come; the dream list would be two players long: Denver’s Wilson Chandler and Phoenix’s PJ Tucker but I don’t know what they could offer either organization to pry them away.

But know this: Masai’s not done trying. His line may have been a throwaway but people I talked to before and after the game figure he’ll double-down to make one more transaction before the Feb. 23 deadline.

Gonna make for a fun-filled few days in NOLA, I bet.

The Toronto Raptors Reportedly Just Got Serge Ibaka for a Huge Bargain – The Ringer

The Caveat: It’s time for some gaaaaaaaaame theory! Maybe Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing when he gave up the at-the-time highly regarded Victor Oladipo and the newly drafted, also highly regarded Domantas Sabonis. Maybe Serge was never supposed to be a building block and was just a distraction from Hennigan’s real plan. Maybe Terrence Ross was the target all along. Maybe this is just the first in a multipart plan to immediately rebuild the Magic roster with a series of daring deadline moves that gives Frank Vogel all the tools he needs to challenge in the Eastern Conference.

Psych. I know one Magic fan. His name is Kevin Clark, and he is saying words like “sad” and “horrifying.” Orlando is a junkyard of old parts — D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Wilcox, Jeff Green — rusting on top of what were once-hyped younger players like Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon, the latter of which is basically the only thing of value the Magic possess. The Raptors or Clippers pick is likely to fall outside of the prime talent pool of this year’s draft. Hennigan better have a next move here, because otherwise he’s not going to be around to use the pick. Orlando has no discernible direction or identity.

Trade Breakdown: Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors – FanSided

The Raptors are facing impending luxury tax complications however. They have $76,749,940 committed to nine guaranteed contracts this offseason, but that doesn’t include Lowry, Ibaka, or Patterson’s upcoming free agency. Lowry, about to turn 31, is eligible for a tier three max contract of five years, $207,060,000 (!!!!!), one that he will almost certainly get (or close to it). Pair that with either Patterson or Ibaka netting a sizable deal and the Raptors will already eclipse the $122 million luxury tax threshold. The Raptors will likely have to tinker with their roster, shedding either Valanciunas or Carroll this offseason, but that task comes secondary to Toronto’s primary motivator in this deal, which is to improve short term.

There are also issues of course re-signing Ibaka, as we don’t know his actual age, and his athletic regression doesn’t do anything to quiet that worry. But even if Ibaka is just a rental for the Raptors the price is still more than justifiable.

Toronto Raptors Acquisition of Serge Ibaka Puts Cleveland Cavaliers on Notice | Bleacher Report

The Raptors’ 17th-place defense is at its most vulnerable around the basket. They rank in the top 10 of opponent field-goal percentage at the basket, but they’re allowing more of those looks per game than any other team.

Bigs have carved them up when operating near the bucket. The Raptors are 29th in roll-man defense, and they’re similarly ineffective when guarding against cuts (19th) and off screens (22nd).

Ibaka is a deterrent in many of these problem areas—someone who, unlike Toronto’s other bigs, forces offenses to adjust before ever attacking.

Opponents are shooting 52.9 percent when challenging him at the rim, an uncharacteristically high number. Orlando’s clunky rotations force almost everyone to defend out of sorts; dating back to 2013-14, Ibaka had never allowed a point-blank success rate higher than 45.1 percent.

Though he has never been the ideal pick-and-roll defender and isn’t the middleman you want switching onto evasive ball-handlers, Ibaka does a nice job of preventing off-ball cuts. If Toronto allows fewer looks at the rim and posts a defensive rebounding better than their 26th-ranked mark (75.1), he’s done his job.

Serge Ibaka is just what the Raptors needed, but now the stakes are raised – CBSSports.com

While Ibaka will help the offense, that’s not the major reason for this trade. Casey is a defense-first coach, and his team has let him down on that end all year. The most important part of Ibaka’s job description will be protecting the rim, containing pick-and-rolls and defensive communication. The Raptors will ask him to switch onto smaller players and recover to shooters the way he did last May for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They hope that he’ll be doing that in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers.

Consider this 5-man unit: Lowry, DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patterson and Ibaka. Throw Cory Joseph or Norman Powell in Carroll’s place if you’d prefer. This is a lineup built for 2017: smart, athletic, versatile and able to defend the paint. It will also likely be how Casey chooses to finish most games.

For Raptors president Masai Ujiri, this is the biggest acquisition of his tenure. When he arrived in the summer of 2013, he inherited Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas. All three of them have re-signed or extended their contracts — no small thing! — but Ujiri has chosen to tinker with the composition of the supporting cast rather than drastically changing the core. This is a break with that trend: Ujiri is making a big bet on Ibaka, as the plan is clearly to re-sign the big man (and Lowry) long-term in July.

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Gameday Hornets @ Raptors, Feb. 15

Toronto Raptors await a special delivery as they play host to the Charlotte Hornets in their last game before the All-Star Break.

If misery loves company then the Toronto Raptors welcome the perfect companion to the Air Canada Center this evening in the form of the Charlotte Hornets. Both teams enter the night on 3-game losing streaks. Neither squad has relished 2017, with the Raptors registering a 10-14 record, and the Hornets suffering an even more abysmal 5-16 record.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room – -when I selected my Eastern Conference playoff seeds in the preseason I had no doubt the Charlotte Hornets would sit among the masterclass. (Bet you didn’t think that was where I was headed –don’t fret, we’ll get to that shortly).

Charlotte completed last season as one of only two East teams ranked in the top ten on defense (9) and offense (9). Cleveland was the second and the Raptors missed the defensive cut by one spot. Surely, this Hornets squad I thought, would be among the East’s major players in 2016-17. Defensive stalwart, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was healthy, the immensely talented Kemba Walker was ascending, plus critical free agents Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams had been retained. Moreover, Steve Clifford, one of the few coaches with no discernible weaknesses was back at the helm.

Despite maintaining thier core continuity, the Hornets have inexplicably floundered.  Hey, it wasn’t as if I was out on a limb alone in this prediction. You would be hard pressed to find a reputable pundit who didn’t forecast success for Charlotte. Considering what was expected and where they are, from my perspective, the Hornets have been the most disappointing East squad to this point in the season. Still, the Hornets have been extremely adept at playing possum. Last season they went on a 2-10 streak to start the year before flipping a switch to turn their season around.

Comparing the teams’ efforts versus last season demonstrates how much offenses have ballooned in 2017. No doubt, the escalation of perimeter scoring plays a role, but the defensive end of the floor is also dramatically altered.

In 2015-16 the Raptors finished ranked fifth offensively (107.0) while the Hornets were ninth (105.1). Those levels this season would rank 13th and 18th respectively. In terms of defense the Hornets completed 2016 ranked ninth defensively (101.8), while the Raptors ranked 11th (102.7). In this new three-ball dominant era, these performances would place Charlotte and Toronto second and fourth on the defensive ladder.  I bring this up to highlight how quickly the game is evolving, and the many facets of the game which have to be accounted for.  And, while ‘old school’ fundamentals like field goal percent, assists and rebounding speak to consistency, ball movement and defensive aggression there is much more to consider in the modern game.

Hornets handed Raptors worst loss since Casey’s inaugural season:

It would be hard for the Raptors to have forgot their last meeting versus the Hornets when they handed Toronto their worst loss of the year (113-78). In fact, in the Duane Casey tenure the Raptors haven’t lost by this wide of a margin since his inaugural season.

Toronto did have major disadvantages entering the contest missing Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira, and of course Jared Sullinger still wasn’t active. Not that Sully would have offered much assistance in stopping the mastery of Kemba Walker as he picked apart the Raptors lack of interior defense.  When he wasn’t driving, he put Jonas Valanciunas through his paces in his least favorite activity of defending the pick and roll. The guards weren’t very successful at stopping the Hornets in transition either. By far, it was the worst game the Raptors have played all season. The irony is despite the big moves made Tuesday and a Patterson sighting at shoot around, there is no guarantee the lineup tonight will be any different then the one we saw last night in Chicago.

Changes in Rosters since January 20th:

Both sides have altered their lineups since their last meeting. The Hornets off loaded Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert to the Bucks in exchange for Miles Plumlee.  In addition, the Hornets took the injured Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen off the Cavaliers hands for cash and a second round pick.

As for the Raptors – oh right, the other elephant in the room. Mr. Ibaka.

So, I’m chatting with a colleague yesterday on line who happens to always be in the know about trades. I ask him, “be straight up with me what are the odds the Raptors can get Serge Ibaka without giving up the farm?” He responds “well who would that entail for you?” My response was (and keep in mind this was at 11:00 AM): “Well if the Magician (Masai) could dangle one of the two first rounders, Terrence Ross and I guess we might have to throw in Fred VanVleet, though I love that kid,  I think you’d have to call that a steal.”

Eight minutes later he messages me and asks if I’m psychic. Suffice to say I’m pretty amped about this trade. Serge Ibaka will afford our lineup so much more versatility and the defense should reap immediate benefits.

I played arm chair coach all day imagining the iterations of lineups the Raptors can utilize, and had visions of the block brothers: Nogueira and Ibaka clogging the paint, Jonas fulfilling a similar role to that of Steven Adams (albeit less so defensively but better offensively) and absolutely salivated over the prospect of Patterson and Ibaka in late game situations.

Is there now a depth issue at small forward? Absolutely. But, far less worrisome than the issues the Raptors have had at the four. Besides, I can’t very well keep chirping about Norman Powell needing to get consistent minutes and then complain when he will.  It’s also reasonable to assume Masai Ujiri will still be looking to add depth back at the small forward position and in the form of a proficient shooter. My preference would be to target Al Farouq Aminu,  who doesn’t necessarily meet the Raptors shooting needs, but he has a well developed skill set, is a character guy and is on a reasonable contract. Neil Olshey has to do something to lower the second highest salary, so why not take a stab.

Bottom line, I’m excited to see this squad on the floor, and equally pumped the break comes precisely at this moment. Beyond the Raptors needing to recharge, having a full week to get a jump start on working Ibaka into the system is a huge bonus.

Toronto Raptors vs. Hornets Statistical Comparison:

Review of the teams key stats pinpoints areas to focus on. Charlotte don’t turn over the ball, but they also rarely create steals.  They are one of the poorest shooting teams from the field and from the perimeter.  The key will be staying in front of Walker and forcing him and his cohorts to shoot. The area of focus will be rebounding where the Hornets rank second on the defensive boards.

As much as the Hornets have won just  once in their last 11 outings (and that was against the lack luster Nets) this team is one that matches up well against Toronto’s deficiencies. Would that be a complete different story if Patterson and a certain big man are in the line-up – probably, but we can’t count on that. Another oddity, the tenth place Hornets continue to rank top ten on defense (7), despite not translating that asset into victories.

Downward Spiral Contagion:

Let’s be clear, our favorite team in red is definitely in a slump and the frustration has led to uncharacteristic mistakes, and losses of a nature fans haven’t witnessed since before the magical run began. There have been some extenuating circumstances over this period. Of the 14 losses Patterson has not been in the lineup for half. His absence has been especially difficult on team defense. Moreover,  the bench has suffered with players flitting in and out of the starting lineup.

Presumably the switch to Jakob Poeltl came for one of a number of reasons: Patterson (or management) isn’t ready to bring him back yet, Sullinger isn’t in game shape yet, Siakam isn’t providing enough on either end of the court (can we please get him some time with Stackhouse and the 905, by the way) or perhaps it had something to do with the impending Ibaka deal. To wit, could Masai Ujiri be looking to feature players to pique GM’s interests for potential additional trades prior to the deadline. Read: let’s assume Ujiri may still be looking to add depth at the small forward position, and may be shopping some of the young assets for that purpose.

Tidbits:

  • Of the Raptors 12 back-to-back sets this season all but four of their opponents were awaiting them on one to three days rest. Charlotte like two other teams (Golden State, Houston) were sitting in Toronto awaiting the Raptors return. Side note: both games the Raptors played in Boston they were on the tail end of a back-to-back series with the Celtics resting. Although that has no relevance to the ‘Hornets, I thought it was an interesting tidbit to share given Boston now occupies the seed the Raptors had for the majority of the season.
  • Of the Raptors 14 losses since the New Year, half have been by less than 3 points or lost in overtime.
  • Kyle Lowry is playing the most minutes per game in the NBA. To that end, Delon Wright sure looked great in his brief stint on the court in Chicago. Here’s hoping for an expeditious uptick in performance with the revamped roster, so Raptors fans can see a lot more of Wright.  Not only will an increase in playing time be helpful for Wright to gain in game experience, but his presence should allow Casey to rest primarily Lowry, but also Joseph.

RAPTORS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Power Forward: Jakob Poeltl (see notes)
Center:Jonas Valanciunas

RAPTORS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
Shooting Guard: Norman Powell
Small ForwardBruno Caboclo (see notes)
Power Forward: **Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, Pascal Siakam
Center: Lucas Nogueira

Notes:

  • The past two games Casey has gone with Jakob Poeltl at the four, which is frightening specifically against Walker (and given Valanciunas pick and roll defense).
  • Though we’ve witnessed Patterson on the practice court and looking fit, there is no update on if he”ll play or the team will choose to rest him through the break and get him as close to 100 percent (which no player is at this point in the season).
  • The burning question on everyone’s mind is whether Serge Ibaka will be able to process through a physical, and required paper work in time to suit up. And, even if he does get clearance, it’s possible the Raptors will wait until after the break, so they can have him go through some practices with the team.
  • It’s a stretch but could Casey be forced to utilize Bruno Caboclo (nah). But, with the lack of depth at small forward the young Brazilian’s growth under Stackhouse  will undoubtedly draw more attention again. And, could Bruno himself recognize the window of opportunity has opened wider? It’s unlikely to transpire this season, but there is definitely more incentive for Bruno now that Ross is gone.

HORNETS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Kemba Walker
Shooting Guard: Nicolas Batum
Small Forward:Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Power Forward:Marvin Williams
Center: Frank Kaminsky

HORNETS RESERVES:
Point Guard:  *Ramon Sessions, Ray McCallum Brian Roberts
Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli
Small Forward:Jeremy Lamb, Treveon Graham
Power Forward: Christian Wood
Center: Mike Tobey

Notes:

  • Miles Plumlee is listed out until after the break with a sore calf
  • Ramon Sessons is listed as out until today, so he could suit up
  • Cody Zeller played last Thursday after missing seven games in-a-row due to an injured quadricep, but he’s since missed the past two games and is expected to miss tonight’s match as per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
  • The loss of Zeller is significant as per John Schuhmann of nbacom: “They’re 2-13 without Zeller, with one of the two wins being a four-point victory (on Tuesday) against a team (Brooklyn) that has lost 23 of its last 24 games.”

Game Specifics:

Recent History: The Hornets hold the all-time record 41-30. Over the past nine games which goes back to the 2014-15 season the Raptors hold the slight edge 5-4.  Toronto’s most recent contest versus Charlotte resulted in the Raptors worst loss of the season (they lost by 35 points).

Referee Assignments: Sean Corbin (#33), Tyler Ford (#39), and Josh Tiven (#58)

Fan Data:

The Venue: Air Canada Center, Toronto, Ontario
The Tip: 7:30 PM EST
TV: TSN
RadioSportsnet 590 The FAN

The Line: The  line opened with the Raptors favored by 6.5 points and over-under of 213 but dropped to 6.0 and 212.5 this morning.

Make sure to check back 75 minutes prior to game start for Blake’s News and Notes Game Updates. In fact, it would behoove you to stay in touch with Raptors Republic all day as Blake will surely be updating on the progress of Serge Ibaka through the process of arriving and any updates to his status.

Follow me on Twitter @TTOTambz and my facebook page Tamberlyn’s Tip-Off. When I’m not writing for Raptors Republic I’m passing my days as Editor for Thunderous Intentions as well as 16 Wins A Ring. My articles appear at both sites and coming soon, I’ll be relaunching my podcast at 16 Wins A Ring.

 

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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago

The Chicago Bulls, now ranked in 7th place, still two games under .500, have been embroiled in controversy and dysfunction this season. Rajon Rondo has been benched and publicly critical of both the coaching and the outspokenness of Wade and Butler. Butler and Wade, for their parts, have both called out the team and been punished for having done so. Trade rumors have swilred, their head coach has been widely criticized and their developing pieces like Mirotic and Bobby Portis have taken big steps back. They also came into this game on the heels of a 3-game losing streak. I bring all of this up to emphasis how big of a deal it is when a Chicago Bull was asked about the Raptors post-game and said, “man, they have some issues.” The Bulls are mired in a terrible relationship, but they went out on Valentine’s, and the Raptors were that couple they saw having an embarrassing fight in public to make them feel better by thinking, ‘well, at least we’re not as bad as them.’ They haven’t gone full Knicks yet, but something appears to be deeply wrong in Raptorland. Don’t let the final score of the game fool you, this was a badly played blowout.

The second quarter of last night’s game exemplified the need for Serge Ibaka that prompted yesterday’s trade. While pulling away to 19-point halftime lead, the Bulls had 5 dunks. Most of those came in semi-transition or early halfcourt sets where Poeltl simply lost track of Taj Gibson, Jonas was a few feet out of position and just watching and the rest of the team seemed disinterested in deterring anyone in a Bulls jersey from taking a free lane to the basket.

Bebe faired better defensively than Jonas or Poeltl, leading Casey to leave Jonas glued to the bench through the 4th quarter when the Raptors needed scoring. While he was better defensively, Bebe might have had his worst offensive game of the season last night. He routinely passed up easy shots to instead look for an often-difficult pass. It’s unclear if perhaps he was just trying to impress Rajon Rondo in doing so, but what is clear is that he had 4 turnovers in the process and left a handful of easy buckets on the floor by looking for anyone else to shoot the ball.

DeRozan had 18 points, but did not have a good game by any stretch of the imagination. He was ejected from the game with 25 seconds left after sounding off to the referee. His anger has been palpable on the court recently, and he has struggled to harness it into anything productive. When he’s not getting the foul calls that he expects, we’ve now seen two consecutive games where instead of locking down on defense, moving the ball in response or realizing that the refs aren’t calling it, his frustration results in him becoming obsessed with getting his own game through those attempts at fouls and bad pull-ups that weren’t working in the first place. Anger can be an effective tool on the basketball court (see: Westbrook, Russell), but only when you use it to fuel your effort and focus, not when it becomes pouting, a disinterested almost protest against defense and a selfish focus on proving something by taking over the offense (see: Cousins, DeMarcus). From a body language perspective, this game was about as bad as the Raptors have looked all season, and that starts with the team leaders in DeRozan and Lowry as well.

If you spent your Valentine’s alone, watching this game, then I am very sorry for you. Your night was sad and deeply unsatisfying. If you were annoyed to miss this game because of the societal pressures to buy some useless sentimental crap from Shoppers Drug Mart and then go out for an expensive dinner just because it’s February 14th and Hallmark is really good at marketing, well, rejoice! Because even if you forgot to try and make reservations until the afternoon of and your girlfriend or boyfriend seemed passive aggressively annoyed all night because of the long wait for a table at a second-tier restaurant because they’re not an idiot and know it’s because you completely forgot to make a reservation or, worse still, forgot about Valentine’s day altogether, at least you didn’t have to watch that embarrassing horror-show of a loss against the Bulls.

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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri discusses Serge Ibaka acquisition

The Toronto Raptors officially announced the acquisition of Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. You can read everything you need to about the deal here.

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke with media at BioSteel Centre on Tuesday evening to discuss the trade.

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Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – No life, no leadership

Host William Lou recounts yet another loss to the Chicago Bulls.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Bulls 105

Toronto 94 Final
Box Score
105 Chicago

C+
J. Poeltl18 MIN, 4 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -3 +/-

It’s not Jakob’s fault, really. He’s being asked to play out of position, and start when he’s clearly not ready, and not being involved enough to be a difference maker.

C-
D. Carroll40 MIN, 4 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -10 +/-

With Ross gone, Carroll has to knock down his shots, because there aren’t a lot of guys on the roster who can space the floor anymore. He didn’t do that, and wasn’t good defensively. Rough night.

A
J. Valanciunas22 MIN, 12 PTS, 9 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 6-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -16 +/-

Jonas was the best Raptor on the floor tonight, by a large margin. Somehow still sat on the bench in the fourth and wasn’t really involved in the offense after the first quarter. They have to use the big man more.

B-
K. Lowry38 MIN, 22 PTS, 3 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 8-17 FG, 4-11 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 5 TO, -4 +/-

Lowry tried to get the Raptors back into the game with some late heroics, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he wasn’t good for a long portion of the game and struggled defensively.

F
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 18 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 5-19 FG, 0-1 3FG, 8-9 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -13 +/-

This was probably DeMar’s worst game of the season, and he just didn’t bring anything on either end. Couldn’t hit his shots, wasn’t playing defense(aside from one nice play on Butler in the fourth), complained to the refs constantly, and got himself ejected.

C
C. Joseph28 MIN, 10 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4-8 FG, 1-1 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Cory was good offensively, and wasn’t the liability he’s been lately defensively. Still, not the player he was last year and needs to be for the team to succeed.

C-
L. Nogueira25 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-3 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 0 +/-

Bebe has struggled on the boards lately, and just hasn’t been tough enough, getting bullied by smaller players frequently. Shouldn’t have even been on the floor to close the game.

A
N. Powell18 MIN, 13 PTS, 2 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 4-8 FG, 0-3 3FG, 5-6 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

If JV wasn’t the best Raptor tonight, Norm was. Finding guys off penetration for easy assists, creating his own shot. The only thing he didn’t do was hit his 3s, which, like Carroll, he needs to do now with Ross gone. For some reason, wasn’t on the floor to close the game.

A
D. Wright10 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 6 +/-

Delon gave the Raptors some fantastic second half minutes, played strong defense and generally looked comfortable. Really needs to see more time on the floor.

D
P. Siakam5 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -11 +/-

Doesn’t -11 in 5 minutes kind of say it all? Still doesn’t seem like he’s comfortable with the NBA game.

D
Dwane Casey

Completely inexplicable rotations tonight. Not enough JV, or Norm, or Delon late, and too much DeMar. Even with Ibaka coming, and Patterson coming back, his playcalling and rotations of late have been a huge problem and neither power forward will fix it.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors lost to the Bulls again, and did it in heartbreaking fashion. Of course. Bulls players who can’t shoot kept hitting 3s(Rondo went 2-2), and it just generally felt like the game was never going to be in play for the Raptors.
  2. 16 turnovers and 15 assists is a problem, and you can’t attribute this to the missing forwards. They have to move the basketball better, and play better in general.
  3. With the Raptors only hitting 5-20 from three tonight, it felt like Terrence Ross was missed, and this is something to watch going forward. Can enough guys find consistency from long range with the number of backcourt players on the roster who aren’t great from behind the line?
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Antwaine Wiggins energy and CJ Leslie lift 905 to second-half surge past Knicks

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (25-9) def. Westchester Knicks (14-20); 105-99 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905).

After a listless first half, Antwaine Wiggins started the second half and gave the 905 the jolt Ibaka will be hoping to give the parent club in a 105-99 victory over the Westchester Knicks.

If the last game against the Canton Charge was a lesson in fluid and aesthetically pleasing offence, tonight was one muck and grind. One of the concerns of a white-hot night offensively, is that there’s usually an equal and opposite cold night around the corner. The 905 missed their first seven shots and shot just 38% in the first quarter to quickly suggest that this would be the night. Although Westchester started slowly as well and knocked down just three of their first 11 shots, they hit six of their last seven shots in the quarter to drop 29 in the frame on 50% shooting.

Bruno was blocked twice in the first quarter, once on a lay-in after a smart weakside cut, and then a second time on a three-point attempt with his man all over him. The first one was tough as he was trying to sneak the lay-in off the cut quickly before his man, Courtney Fells, was there, but Fells got it anyway. The second was a force with the shot clock under 10, and Bruno should have shown better awareness to get a better shot off. Von Wafer also had a dunk in his grill a bit later. Bruno moved on to the next play on the other end. Make of it what you will.

John Jordan brought some good energy off the bench for the 905, playing with aggression on both ends. He had a smart up-and-under move about five minutes into the second quarter, although he may have traveled. John Jenkins found his game in the second quarter

The second quarter didn’t go much better for the 905, finishing the half making just 19 of their 50 field goal attempts. The Knicks could only manage 40 attempts from the field, and so their 52.5% field goal percentage could only garner them an eight point lead at the half. Edy Tavares was the main reason they stayed in the game, as the Knicks had no answer for his size and length. He finished the game with a wild five steal, five block night, in addition to his 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Jerry Stackhouse replaced CJ Leslie with Antwaine Wiggins in the second half, and he brought the desired impact Stackhouse was looking for. He made a couple of acrobatic layups on either side of back-to-back threes from Bruno to help the 905 tie game. He then blocked a jumper that led to a Brady Heslip three, giving the 905 a 62-59 lead. The momentum shift changed the game, and Wiggins’ imprint was much larger than the 14 points and five rebounds he accumulated tonight.

Bruno added another pull-up jumper before pulling off his move of the night. Receiving the ball at the three-point line on the left elbow, he quickly dribbled left and took off from just inside the free throw line with his man all over him. He switched from looking like he was going to flip it up with his left hand to banking the ball in with his right. Tough, tough, score. He had 10 in the quarter.

CJ Leslie got his game going after that, scoring eight straight points inside to extend the 905 lead to as many as 10. Leslie ended the night with an impressive 25 points and 13 boards, and looked like he had for much of the early season. All those buckets meant the Mississauga squad finished the quarter with 39 points and a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

John Jordan made a bullet pass to Yanick Moreira to start the fourth quarter, extending the lead back up to 10 a minute into the final period. Jordan then brought it on the defensive end, taking what looked like a blatant charge with eight minutes remaining. The referee called the blocking foul though, much to the ire of Stackhouse. Stackhouse let the referee have an earful, and then got the call overturned courtesy of a coach’s challenge.

The 905 started playing a bit more carelessly with the double-digit lead, and the lead was whittled down to two with under a minute to play. In need of a bucket, Heslip dribbled out the clock before hoisting a three from the left elbow that popped out. CJ Leslie saved the game though with his seventh offensive rebound of the night, and slamming home after gathering himself.

Coach Stackhouse and his staff now depart to New Orleans on a winning note, and the players alongside them will be Edy Tavares and Axel Toupane. John Jordan will be looking to electrify New Orleans with his dunks, and if you don’t know what he’s all about, I suggest you look up last year’s dunk contest where he cruised to victory. All in all, this is now a well earned break for the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Notes:

  • With Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright both with the Raptors in Chicago, Brady Heslip was back in the starting point guard role with John Jordan serving as the primary backup.
  • With Jared Sullinger also returning to the senior squad and Will Sheehey and Axel Toupane still injured, CJ Leslie drew the start.
  • Negus Webster-Chan gave Stackhouse more good minutes tonight with eight points to boot, and this is probably the best extended stretch he’s had this season.
  • The Raptors 905 are now off for the All-Star break, and will return to action on Feb. 23 against the Erie Bayhawks. Start time is scheduled for 7:30pm EST.
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Pre-game news & notes: Toupane named D-League All-Star, Patterson game-time call

After the darkness of 10 losses from their last 14, the Toronto Raptors received a major infusion of light today; Serge Ibaka is a Raptor. Damn, that feels good to say.

What does that mean for tonight’s game? Probably not a whole lot since the Bulls have had the Raptors’ number over their last ten games and it would only be fitting for Chicago to add to the heartbreak on Valentine’s Day. If you’d like to depress yourself over what’s transpired in those ten games, Blake Murphy has you covered with this mini-breakdown of the past:

In all seriousness though, it will be interesting to see if the Raptors play with some extra energy after surely being thrilled by the news of the trade. Sure, they lost Terrence Ross, but co-captains DeRozan and Lowry called for help and change respectively, and now they have it. Masai has put the onus squarely on the players, and it’s up to them to make the most of this roster over the remainder of the season.

The game tips off at 8 on TSN 2 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates

Serge Ibaka will not play tonight, though the deal is now official. Masai Ujiri did say in a presser that he hopes to have Ibaka in Toronto tonight to complete his physical and be eligible to play tomorrow. Patrick Patterson has still not been confirmed for tonight’s game, and personally, I’d rather see him sit out through the all-star break. Health is key at this time of the year, and with Ibaka potentially in the lineup as soon as tomorrow, I’d rather see him take an extra week off.

Spacing could be an issue tonight, especially if Patterson is absent. Ross is naturally out, and so Lowry and Carroll will have to do the bulk of the long-distance lifting. With the breath of fresh air that the trade provides, the Raptors players must be chomping at the bit to right the wrongs of the past month and a bit.

Patrick Patterson (ankle, questionable) – TBD
Serge Ibaka (just acquired) – Out

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jared Sullinger
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: Serge Ibaka

Bulls updates

The Bulls are missing Wade and Mirotic, but Jimmy Butler is reason enough to believe they can defeat the Raptors tonight. As you saw with Blake’s tweet, Butler has gone off against the Raptors time and time again, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again.

Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant are expected to start tonight, and both will likely take turns guarding Lowry and DeRozan. The Raptors have caught quite a few breaks this season, but that hasn’t necessarily translated to wins.

Dwyane Wade (wrist) – Out
Paul Zipser (ankle/food poisoning) – Out
Nikola Mirotic (back) – Out

PG: Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo
SG: Michael Carter-Williams, Denzel Valentine, Isaiah Canaan
SF: Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott
PF: Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
ASSIGNED: None
TBD: Paul Zipser
OUT: Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic

Assorted

  • Not sure if you heard, but the Raptors made a trade today.
  • Bruno Caboclo is the lone Raptor on assignment with Raptors 905 as they play a Valentine’s Day home game in Mississauga.
  • Speaking of the 905, Axel Toupane has been added to the D-League (soon to be G-League) All-Star Game as a replacement. He should have been on it in the first place, but all’s well that end’s well. He’ll join teammate Edy Tavares and the 905 coaching staff in the game, while John Jordan will provide the halftime Slam Dunk Contest fireworks.
  • The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report indicated that DeMar DeRozan was, in fact, fouled on the final possession of regulation Sunday. Maybe it’s better they paid the price for their fourth quarter, anyway, though escaping with a win sure would have been nice. Anyway, you can’t leave it to the refs.

  • The Raptors are -4.5 favourites to beat the Bulls tonight. The over/under is at 208.0.
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Serge of Confidence

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” There’s been a lot of cursing done among Raptors fans recently, but this morning Masai lit a candle.

I’m not going to lie, I’m going to miss Terrence Ross. He brought a dimension to this team the last two years that they needed at times, and I wish him all the best in Orlando. Norman Powell now gets the minutes to develop that he’s earned, and the pressure that comes with it. Powell’s had the benefit of low expectation thus far in his career, as when he was asked to step up it was always because someone else had either been injured or disappointed. That’s about as negative as I’m ready to go here today though, because there’s so much more to talk about on the positive side of things.

Ibaka is such a natural fit for the Raptors, and he’ll slide in to the starting lineup beside Jonas Valanciunas to replace the revolving door the team has had at the position this season. Ibaka defensively brings a mobile presence who can block shots and will be a solid help defender and should buoy that end of the floor where the team has struggled recently. On the offensive end, Ibaka is a fantastic spot up shooter at the position, in the 74th percentile this season averaging 1.09 points per possession. As a post-up player he has struggled this season, but a year ago in Oklahoma City he managed 1.00 PPP and placed in the 87th percentile. Ibaka is also shooting 38.8% from three-point range this season, and might even improve on that mark in Toronto. Earlier in his career the majority of his attempts came from the corners, where he’s taking just 5.6% of his long range attempts this year, and he should see an increase in these attempts with the offense the Raptors run where they often use their forwards as outlets off penetration by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Even more than the fit with the starting lineup though, the bigger attraction of Ibaka lies in the versatility he brings, where you can use a multitude of lineups with varying combination of big men to match up against opponents. Ibaka can play next to Patrick Patterson to create a quick, defensive lineup that can switch on the perimeter against smaller teams, with both players being excellent defensive presences. Played next to Bebe, you end up with a shot-blocking group that can deter any attacks at the rim effectively. It’s easy to imagine, against teams that use a bigger player at the small forward position, you could utilize Ibaka at the power forward spot and Patrick Patterson beside him as the other forward in a bigger group, where Patterson has been effective guarding players such as Serge Ibaka and Paul George at times.

This move also allows Patrick Patterson to maintain his presence coming off the bench when he returns from injury, where Dwane Casey prefers him, and with Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira keeps the team’s strong bench intact. This is especially meaningful with the team having struggled over the last two years whenever Patterson wasn’t on the floor, whether he started or came off the bench, and it would be reasonable to expect that being able to have Ibaka for the minutes Patterson sits should mitigate that. This would also allow Patterson to not have to play long stretches of minutes, such as in the playoffs when he frequently played 12-18 consecutive minutes due to the lack of good options at the position. This should allow Patterson to become a more effective player, even aside from pairing the two forwards together.

The other benefit on the offensive end is that it allows the Raptors to maintain a shooter in the frontcourt at all times that the defense has to respect, which should open up space for Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas to work in the paint as well as helping them punish opponents for over-committing when double teams do come.

I’m not going to pretend this solves all the issues for the Raptors – as I wrote yesterday, the team simply needs better playcalling in late-game scenarios regardless of the personnel on the floor. But Ibaka will help on both ends of the floor in many situations, and should the playbook open up in those tight fourth quarters, he’s another very, very good option to help the Raptors win close games. This is the forward-thinking move the team needs to compete this year, and let the salary concerns of the summer wait until we see how far this group can take the Raptors.

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Should They Stay or Should They Go?

I specifically said not to panic but after blowing a huge 2nd half lead against the Pistons you can see it creeping in everywhere. You can tell the players are frustrated when listening to their postgame comments; when they have time to collect their thoughts they’ll walk back some of the things said but nobody is talking about staying the course anymore. More and more fans are out for blood, calling for coach Dwane Casey to be fired and some even going as far as suggesting that it may be time to part ways with beloved President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri. Some of this talk may be triggered by emotion, and if that’s the case it will die down when the team plays well again and Raptors fans will once again sleep restfully while visions of division championship banners dance in their heads, but while this is a hot topic it’s worth examining.

I’m on board with the Raptors parting ways with Dwane Casey barring a massive turnaround and postseason success. To be clear, this is not reactionary – I’ve been questioning whether Casey is the coach for the Raptors for a long time. I thought extending him after getting upset by the Nets was a mistake, and extending him again to congratulate him for taking 7 games to win what should have been a 5 game series doubled down on it. It has always been a minority position because there was always one thing standing in the way of any frank discussion of Casey’s coaching: the Raptors kept getting better, and in the NBA the coach tends to get credit for that even if a lot of it is roster improvements or personal growth from players. Now, with the team on pace for 48 wins and possibly taking a significant step back from last seasons success it’s more than fair to question if the Raptors have already peaked under Casey.

None of this should be interpreted as an overall indictment of Casey’s ability – he’s clearly a good coach who has done a lot for the franchise. A mistake that we frequently make is assuming that there are only good coaches and bad coaches and that any coach we classify as “good” needs to be kept in perpetuity, but there are levels to this. There are coaches who can take a bad team and teach them good habits and discipline but lack the tactical acumen to get that team over the top; there are also coaches who know the X’s and O’s of the game inside and out but struggle to instill elements like work ethic and discipline. Neither of these is bad, per se, it just means that you need a certain type of coach for a certain situation. Casey seems squarely in the first camp; he took a talented bunch with effort and discipline issues and taught them a thing or two about giving it their all and accountability. There are a lot of highly regarded coaches who have struggled with that when in similar situations and Coach Casey should be commended for it. The Raptors roster improvements have been great but I don’t think Jay Triano or Sam Mitchell would have gotten this roster to this level. He’s the best coach in franchise history and every fan owes him a debt of gratitude so even if we think it’s time for the team to move on we should show make sure we show the man the respect he deserves.

That said, when strategy and tactics become more important Casey seems to struggle a bit. The Raptors can hang with great teams due to sheer force of will but they always struggle to get over that hump and in the playoffs, when teams are able to focus on and prepare solely for you, the Raptors have underperformed every single time. It’s not difficult to find points to criticize with him – the Raptors offense has generally been predictable and his rotations have always been questionable at best.

There is a history of Casey either abandoning lineups that were clearly working or sticking with ones that clearly aren’t for way too long. The 2014-15 bench unit is the most notable example of the former. As preposterous as it may sound, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough used to kill teams. They would finish the 2014-15 season with a net rating of +17.7, good for 6th in the NBA among units with 200+ minutes played.  It seems like an unlikely combination of players but Casey threw it out there and it worked so he stuck with it, but only for a short while. That season started out much like this one, with the Raptors getting off to a blazing start before getting derailed, dropping from a stellar 24-7 to a still-pretty-good 42-30. One of the things that I remember most from that extended stretch of below .500 basketball is Casey going 6 whole weeks without playing that potent bench lineup for even a single minute. They played a bit down the stretch run and performed very well again(in only 44 minutes spread out over 9 games), but Casey didn’t play them a single minute in the postseason as the team was embarrassed in the first round. There was never a point in time where they stopped producing and they were all healthy for most of the season, Casey just abandoned a very effective lineup.

The flip side of that is sticking with Luis Scola as a starter for 76 games last season. It was pretty clear once we got to the season’s halfway point that Scola was a situational player at best and should never, under any circumstances, be paired with Jonas Valanciunas but there they were, out there to starting every game long after it was obvious that the duo was a liability. There was a similar issue this year with Pascal Siakam, who was still allowed to start for longer than necessary but Casey mercifully pulled the plug on that before too much damage was done.

Lately his questionable rotation decisions have included pairing a still-recovering Jared Sullinger and Valanciunas, benching Valanciunas down the stretch as the team gets killed in the paint and on the glass and throwing Norman Powell in as a crunch time saviour after not playing him at all to that point. He seems to have some issues with identifying what works and what doesn’t and lacks a feel for adjustments. If you watch the Raptors 02/01/17 loss to the Celtics one of the things that stands out is how easily the Raptors scored when attacking Isaiah Thomas and his notoriously weak defense in the 1st half and how rarely they did that in the second half as their lead slipped away. The team had something that yielded results and abandoned it because everything had to run through Lowry, who was busy being smothered by Marcus Smart. Lowry got his buckets because he’s Lowry but nothing came easy for him and the team offense struggled to get anything going consistently while Lowry fought for space against Smart’s tenacious defense. If Thomas had to fight through screens for the entire quarter while also carrying the offense the Raptors may have come away with a win. That’s an unforced error; Casey let something as simple as cross matching derail the offense because he can’t seem try anything other than “Lowry and DeRozan make things happen” on a consistent basis.

But perhaps most importantly, there are some indicators that Casey may be losing the team. Even if they were made in the heat of the moment the comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll show that the team is not just frustrated with the losing but with how they’ve been losing. Neither player went as far as calling out the coach by name but when you’re questioning tactics it’s obvious who the target is. It can be difficult for a coach to keep hold of a locker room for an extended period of time, especially one as hard-nosed and demanding as Casey is said to be. Sometimes a coach can be good and know how to motivate players but lose the locker room if it feels like forward progress has stopped; everyone at this level is hyper-competitive and if they feel like they’ve done everything asked of them and it hasn’t yielded the results they want or expect at some point the coach will be tuned out. That’s not a knock on Casey, that’s happened to a lot of good coaches over the years.

Casey has done very well to maximize DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry(and former Raptors like Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams and Tyler Hansbrough) but he may have elevated this team as high as they will get with him and it may be worth looking for new leadership that can build on what Casey has done and maximize the potential of some of the other players on the roster. No disrespect, just one of those times when a good team and a good coach do not seem to be a good match going forward.  It’s not a situation where they need to get rid of him immediately but feelers should be put out for potential replacements at some point so this can be pursued in the offseason.

The case with Masai Ujiri seems a lot simpler: nobody has been better at guiding the Raptors from the front office and what he has done has been remarkable. You can nitpick individual decisions and point out some lucky breaks but he has made correct decisions most of the time and gotten great value in the deals he’s made. Some dissatisfaction is understandable –  the teams upward trajectory has suddenly stopped and the fanbase is hungry for more success. It looks like there may be a ceiling on how good the Raptors can be with this core barring a series of lucky breaks but this isn’t something that you can really put on Ujiri nor does it outweigh the positives of his continued stewardship.

First, the Raptors not being true title contenders is not a failure on his part because he is doing exactly what is asked of him: building a team that can be good for a long time. They may not reach the heights that some fans want them to reach but they’re also unlikely to sink down to 22 wins any time in the near future. It can be frustrating to watch a team be good-but-not-great over and over again but it’s far better than watching a team be bad-and-sometimes-terrible over and over again which is how most Raptors seasons went before Ujiri came to town; the team missed the playoffs 12 times in 17 pre-Ujiri seasons. The direction he has taken the team over the last 2 seasons has been intentional and if you have a problem with that your beef should probably be with his bosses.

Second, this is not the time to be criticizing if you were on board with him giving DeMar DeRozan a max contract in the offseason because after that signing it was obvious that the focus for the team was going to be on maintaining this 50ish win pace and escaping the 1st round if possible. The Raptors had cap space, prospects, a high draft pick and some moderately priced assets to seek out big moves and the team didn’t even pursue that. If you applauded staying the course then you shouldn’t be critical now because this is exactly what you were applauding. And that’s not a bad thing for the franchise nor is it a failure on Ujiri’s part, he’s just doing exactly what was asked of him. It’s not the direction I wanted to see the team take but there is a lot of merit in going the safe route when a half-decade in the draft lottery is still visible in your rear view mirror.

Third, culture does matter and that has completely changed since he came on board. What he’s brought to the franchise goes beyond mere wins and losses, he’s built an infrastructure and cultivated a culture around the team. The Raptors had looked into having a D League affiliate as early as 2008, but it didn’t get done until Ujiri was on board. He then turned it into a successful farm system that is yielding significant results after only one full season of operation, having turned Norman Powell and Bebe Nogueira(and possibly Delon Wright),prospects who were not particularly highly regarded, into NBA rotation players much earlier than anyone anticipated. His charisma and generosity have strengthened the teams ties to an already devoted fan base to the point where the Raptors fan base is one of the more celebrated in the league. The infrastructure to develop talent and the kind of reputation that makes players want to come to town is in place and that didn’t really exist before Ujiri came along.

Like everyone else Ujiri is certainly not above criticism but any negatives are going to drown in a sea of positives, especially if you look at the totality of his moves instead of trying to find mistakes. He turned Andrea Bargnani into a 1st round pick. He turned John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez into a 1st round pick, Norman Powell, Bebe Nogueira and Lou Williams – that’s four legitimate assets acquired for two guys who have played a total of 47 games since leaving Toronto. Through a series of moves he turned Rudy Gay, a piece that many felt had no value, into the core of one the best bench units in the league(Patterson, Vasquez and Williams were all acquired directly or indirectly via that deal) He may have missed out on some top talent in the draft but the draft is basically a crap shoot; if you’re expecting someone to draft the best player every time your problem is your own expectations. Outside of that and not being able to trick teams into another half dozen lopsided trades to get the team over the top there really isn’t much to criticize.

So I’m bullish on Masai Ujiri and bearish on Dwane Casey. There’s no real issues with Ujiri unless you’re expecting a cycle of trying to build a contender and then tearing it down to start all over again as soon as that is not realized. The team is positioned for longterm success with a lot of assets and should be a player should any significant assets come available over the next couple of years; that seems a lot better than where they were and where most of the league currently finds themselves. It’s a different story with Casey, who has done a good job to date but may actually be one of the barriers to that title contention we all want to see from the Raptors. The lineup problems, offensive predictability and tendency to underperform in the playoffs all stand out as areas of opportunity for the coaching staff and if he doesn’t show any growth in those areas it may be time for the team to move on to somebody who can do a better job in those areas.

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Reaction Podcast – Raptors trade Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka

Host William Lou giddily breaks down the Raptors’ win-now trade for Serge Ibaka.

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Raptors have to believe they’ll come out the other side better for struggles

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Part of playing poorly is that, well, you can only really solve it by playing well again. All of the things that you can say about Jonas Valanciunas’ defense or the reliance on Patrick Patterson are perfectly valid, but still some degrees removed from the point. The flaws are going to be what they are, but to get right, you start with the simple stuff — like good players playing good basketball again. Winning a few games in the right-now solves all of those existential questions for at least a little while.

That said, part of the way you can get right are to throw some different looks at the wall to see what sticks, and what can jumpstart a return to the good stuff. And struggling for a stretch of the season can be healthy in the long run, because then you learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t. (Actually, Playing Bad Is Good.) This is Toronto, so of course I’m drunk listening to Marvins Room and saying you could do better.

The worry is becoming legitimate, that this slump is indicative of the things that are going to doom the Raptors in the playoffs, or something like that. The lineups that were working earlier on in the season aren’t working now, and that’s kind of the difference between a hot start and a cold stretch. You’re going to overreact both ways, but somewhere in between, the stuff you do want to tinker with is right there showing itself. Dwane Casey has been searching, and maybe not perfectly, but I never thought he was perfect. I thought he was just really good.

Pascal Siakam is not a solution. He makes things happen because he’s overflowing with energy and good vibes, but he’s not a player yet. The Raptors shook it up with Jakob Poeltl starting on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, and Poeltl can be pretty consistent within his role, but he doesn’t do a whole lot yet because soft hands and quick feet also don’t make a player. I also have a sneaking suspicion that Jared Sullinger might actually be washed up at 24, but either way, the point here is that the Raptors lean on Patterson to an uncomfortable degree.

Lucas Nogueira looks pretty good when he plays next to Jonas Valanciunas, which seemed unlikely, but Nogueira sees passes through cramped space and mostly makes his close-outs. They can be really effective together on the glass. It’s fun for me to watch, but I don’t know that Patterson and Nogueira is the power forward rotation you really want.

Maybe this slump is what it takes to send Masai Ujiri over the edge and make a trade that doesn’t have to be an outright steal to get another power forward. That’d be pretty cool.

I’m starting to wonder when Norman Powell might get a look as the starting small forward, which, I realize, is a damn Raptors panic cliché. Backing up a little bit, DeMarre Carroll looks like he’s slowly starting to put it back together — just reaaaaally slowly. His jumper is falling and he’s starting to get comfortable within the offense, which would be nice if the Raptors didn’t need him for his defense. It’s unfortunate, then, that his mobility is still bust.

Especially with Patterson out, it looks like the Raptors have just two or three good perimeter defenders. Powell has to play, right? In expanded playing time during DeMar DeRozan’s injury absence, the guy we saw was an inconsistent shooter (both in taking and making) and still a little too improvisational at the rim. But he’s a reliable player, and you know the Raptors will have their offense; any extra gains they can add on defense will matter a lot more.

All the Raptors need from Carroll is for him to get right by the playoffs, and nobody would be a better two-way guy than a healthy Carroll. But should you just keep waiting on him until April? Powell wouldn’t start yet in any perfect world (nor close, as evidenced by the Minnesota loss), but you know you’ll at least get defense from him, which would go a long way towards stabilizing. Powell’s played well, and he deserves the chance to get better in actual minutes as much as Carroll deserves the chance to get right. I think I’ve been pretty careful about not saying this as a knee-jerk thing.

You always want to ease the burden off DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, anyway, so this tenth-man-in-a-nine-man-rotation thing shouldn’t stick. Even Terrence Ross has played better than Carroll (Ross has played pretty well), but it doesn’t have to be an either-or. Any two of the three play well together, and since we’re so worried about power forward, you could even get a bit of mileage out of Carroll at that position. I never loved that idea, but it’s worked well before.

The problem with sitting Lowry and DeRozan is that they do so much for the offense that it really goes to crap without them, especially since Cory Joseph has been as hard to trust as anybody else on the roster. The apologist in me is coming out, but it seems like it makes a lot of sense to increase Valanciunas’ post touches in those minutes. The world has beat out any hope left in me of Valanciunas ever being actually complementary to Lowry and DeRozan — Nogueira showed us what a fit actually looks like — but he can probably give them a good reprieve in the middle portion of games.

(It’d be nice, though, if Casey would keep him in when he’s feeling it. It’d also be nice if he could consistently get after it on the offensive glass, where he doesn’t need structured touches to be a monster. Goes both ways. It’s a tough situation.)

Maybe if you give Lowry and DeRozan more of a break during games, they can give you a little more at the end of the close ones that the Raptors have been blowing lately. But they’ll almost definitely give you more through April, May and, if you’re lucky, June. That is, after all, when the games really matter.

As for the games now? It doesn’t not matter, but this is the time to struggle a little bit and to get a little angry and to have ideas and to remember, if you needed to, that isolating DeRozan does not win a lot of games. The Raptors should start playing good basketball again. I’m getting worried too, but they will start playing good basketball again.

They’ll get over this, and once they do, one would really like to think they’ll be better for it. If not, we can worry about bigger stuff then.

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Raptors acquire Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a 1st-round pick

Masai Ujiri is making his move.

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to send Terrence Ross and the lower of their 2017 first-round picks to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Serge Ibaka, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. (The team has since announced the trade.)

This is, of course, enormous news. Ibaka immediately fills a hole the Raptors have been trying to fill since Chris Bosh left, with the starting power forward position a constant pain in their side. Patrick Patterson’s emergence as a starting-caliber four has been fun to watch, but the acquisition of Ibaka makes the position’s depth chart strong and unquestionable, and Patterson can return to his super-sub sixth-man role that he’s thrived in over the last few seasons. Ibaka can also spend minutes at the center position to provide depth behind Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira, and lineups with a Patterson-Ibaka frontcourt could be deadly at both ends of the floor against certain matchups.

From a skill perspective, Ibaka brings most of what the Raptors have been looking for in a third piece. While his numbers have plateaued some over the last few years and his defense no longer appears elite, qualitatively or quantitatively, Ibaka is an agile, rangey, switch-able defender who can provide additional rim-protection and isn’t a negative on the boards when at power forward. At the offensive end, he has enough of a post and face-up game for the Raptors to go to him there once in a while, but the biggest thing he brings at that spot might be his shooting – he’s a career 36.5-percent 3-point shooter and has knocked down 38.8 percent of a high volume of looks so far this season, a good portion of them from above the break. He’s also a solid offensive rebounder, though he’s declined in that regard and the Raptors probably won’t ask him for much of that when he’s at the power forward position.

Ibaka is a fairly seamless fit on both ends of the floor, and he’ll act as a nice third option and safety valve for the team’s stars as well as a versatile piece that should let them try some different things on the defensive end. Toronto doesn’t exactly want for offense outside of the last few minutes of the last few games, and the defensive addition is a larger, more important gain. That’s long been their weakest area, and they’ve not fortified the four and five at that end of the floor. This team is now more capable of defending elite bigs and switching across more positions, and Dwane Casey will have a few more options down the stretch of games. He also brings a wealth of playoff experience, which can’t hurt.

Looking ahead further, the Ibaka acquisition is somewhat less obvious of a slam dunk. A 27-year-old who has shown some modest signs of decline, Ibaka stands to command a large salary in free agency this summer. The Raptors will be facing a luxury tax crunch so long as Kyle Lowry sticks around, and they’ll have to be careful just how much they commit to Ibaka long-term. Shedding Ross’ salary helps in that regard, but retaining Ibaka and Lowry would likely mean the end of Patterson and perhaps one other rotation piece this summer, too. The team is confident they’ll be able to re-sign Ibaka, who likes the city and has a relationship with Ujiri, but they’re going to be in a complex situation in terms of salary commitment – You can’t max out everyone, and even a push back to the Eastern Conference Finals would result in the Raptors having to negotiate hard and make some difficult financial decisions.

Still, Ibaka holding an expiring deal gives the Raptors some flexibility in the summer, and the nuclear option to blow things up if the acquisition doesn’t work out will remain in tact. And if it does work out, well, there was just no means of adding a player of Ibaka’s talent level in the offseason, anyway. There was no path to cap space, sign-and-trades could be rare under the latest collective bargaining agreements, and the Raptors’ young assets get older and less shiny by the day. By acting here and acquiring Ibaka’s Bird rights, the Raptors have put themselves in a better position to compete while the Lowry-DeMar DeRozan window is firmly open, even if it does mean trying to bite at the heels of LeBron James a while longer. And again, they’re better today, full stop.

The Raptors have been interested in Ibaka dating back to this offseason, when the Oklahoma City Thunder were requesting a king’s ransom in the form of Cory Joseph, Patterson, Norman Powell, and the No. 9 pick. The Thunder instead dealt him to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the No. 11 pick, but the fit with the Magic and the threat of Ibaka’s impending unrestricted free agency led Magic general manager Rob Hennigan to explore options to not only recoup some assets, but build the team for a little further down the line.

That Ujiri and Jeff Weltman were able to swoop in and get Ibaka for a small fraction of the offseason cost is a nice piece of business, even if the 55 games without Ibaka would have been a little better with him. That the Raptors jumped here, before the All-Star break, with the team struggling and its stars calling for help, is nice timing, too. The Magic were reportedly hoping to wait until closer to the Feb. 23 deadline to make an actual deal while waiting for the price to come to where they liked it, but the Raptors clearly made a push for action earlier, and the timing really couldn’t be better. It sounds like the market for Ibaka was fairly cool, too, and Ujiri and company were smart to just come correct with an offer rather than quibbling at the margins of the price and risking losing out over the next 10 days.

Ibaka comes with a cost, of course. The lesser of two first-round picks in a deep draft is a nice trade chip, but with the amount of youth and depth the Raptors already have – as well as the other pick, likely to be in the mid-20s – it’s a pretty easy asset to let go of. Toronto will keep whichever pick is higher (“better”) between theirs and the Clippers’, meaning they retain the better of the two assets.

Ross is a much tougher pill to swallow, as he remains a productive bench piece on a very affordable deal with two more years left on it beyond this season. It’s easy to see why the Magic would want him in the return given their dearth of shooting and creation from the wings, and while Ross sometimes got a worse wrap from Raptors fans than his play would warrant, he’s a nice return if the Magic accepted that they weren’t getting anything close to what they gave up for Ibaka in return. Hennigan has also long been a Ross fan, and Ross stands to be given even more opportunity to grow in Orlando. Ross has been a member of the team’s core for years, ranks third in 3-pointers made, won a pair of dunk contests, and leaves us with the memory of his 51-point game.

More importantly for the Raptors, Ross leaves a pretty substantial hole in terms of shooting, and Ross is their best non-Kyle Lowry marksman and their most reliable second-unit scorer. The Raptors don’t necessarily have the shooting to replace him, but they do have a rotation-ready wing in the form of Norman Powell who has steadily made a case for greater playing time. With multiple point guards capable of handling minutes and Dwane Casey’s willingness to play two at a time, plus the continued emergence of Powell, the Raptors probably won’t hurt too much for depth on the wing. Powell has earned a bigger opportunity, and it’s his play that likely made the Raptors finally willing to part with Ross. Powell’s not the shooter Ross is, but he’s a better attacker and a more consistent defender.

It’s possible, too, that the Raptors aren’t done making moves yet. They still own their full contingent of draft picks moving forward (they owned an additional first from the Los Angeles Clippers, via the Milwaukee Bucks from the Powell trade), and they have the salary of Jared Sullinger they could pair with a pick or prospect in order to add some shooting, and perhaps size, back to the wings. Even if they don’t make another move, the Raptors have made a heavy splash here, and they’ve improved their talent base and roster balance without sacrificing too much in terms of near-term production. Ibaka is a better, more important player than Ross to this team, and the Raptors will figure out the requisite trickle-down effects as necessary.

This puts the team back in a position of stability to push for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, too. Or at least, it will once Ibaka has adjusted and been acclimated. That might not be immediate – it’s unclear if Ibaka will pass physicals quickly enough to play Wednesday, but it’s possible (Tuesday is almost certainly out of the question) – and the Raptors may have dug themselves too deep a hole to fight for a higher standing in the regular season. The news that Kevin Love will miss six weeks after a knee scope probably doesn’t weaken the Cleveland Cavaliers enough for the Raptors to make a push for the top spot, but if Boston falters, Toronto might be able to fight their way back to their prior perch.

Even if they don’t, Ibaka pushes the Raptors floor higher and – more importantly – their ceiling higher. It’s easy to lose sight of given their recent play, but the Raptors were once presumed the biggest threat to challenge Cleveland, and they may once again be the best challenger on paper. They’ll need to see how everything fits and hope, obviously, that their recent malaise turns around. Ibaka should help in that regard, as should the boost of adding a third major piece.

The Raptors are better today than they were yesterday. They made their move. They’ve bucked inaction to make a push. They’ve gotten their stars help. Today is a good day.

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Amidst the Chaos: Starring Contract Kyle

To start, a little housekeeping:

Put it this way: At least MLSE and the ACC security staff are still on good terms with Charles Oakley. Not to mention the fact that Masai Ujiri (as far as we know) hasn’t been subtweeting about DeMar DeRozan’s recent shot selection in the fourth quarter. Simply put: Even though the Knicks are somehow fresh off a victory over the Spurs (that was real life, right?), things could be a lot worse.

To be fair, and before the DeRozan-can-do-no-wrong crowd calls for my head: Kyle Lowry does deserve a bit of the same call-out treatment.

However, there’s a few sides to the 4th quarter story:

It’s not as if DeMar and Kyle shouldn’t be able to freelance. They’ve earned that right — set isolations included. But when you throw in a coaching staff that hasn’t exactly experimented with crunch-time creativity, even the league’s second best Offensive Rating will often come up short when it matters most. Perhaps the real problem is this: When predictable shots fall, the masses still tend to heap praise. When predictable shots fail, an uproar ensues. Shouldn’t we be calling out this team whenever their gameplan leaves plenty to be desired either way?

Nevertheless, there are aspects to consider before taking part in this fan base’s intervention:

  1. A meltdown can only occur after a team originally imposed their will.
  2. With so many close calls, the mood surrounding this club could realistically be flipped on its head.

Should we be buying what those are selling, though?

Well, we were all waiting for this team to get back on track, and the progression shown from the Brooklyn game to the clash with the Clippers seemingly provided the evidence needed. But as bad habits crept right back into the picture vs. Minny and Detroit, there’s only so much back-and-forth a fan base can take before a backlash begins.

Still, considering that over 30 percent of the regular season has yet to unfold, and the needed All-Star/mental break has yet to work its potential magic, my own personal truth lies somewhere in between “pressing the panic button” and “patience is a virtue.”

With that said, an underlying issue should be rising to the forefront instead of what’s currently grabbing the headlines:

Contract Kyle:

A little over a month ago, in a column debating whether the Raps should pull the trigger on a trade or roll with the status quo, I touched on both sides of another argument: Kyle Lowry’s potential departure as soon as this offseason. Allow me to quote myself:

“Why would he leave a perfect situation? A situation where he owns the master key to an entire country’s worth of basketball fans. He essentially rebuilt this franchise — a team that just re-upped his partner in crime for 5 more years and already roams the ranks of the league’s top 5. His upcoming contract (he’ll be 31 at the time) will be, by all likely accounts, his last chance at signing a max-level deal, but that’s all well and good considering the Raps will, by all likely accounts, fork over the cash without hesitation.

On the other hand, not so fast: We may have gone through this same “hometown calling his name” scenario with DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same. It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at Philly’s roster to see that quality pieces are in place for the future, they just need a floor general to hit fast forward. Leading your hometown, a once proud basketball market, back to prominence isn’t a gig to scoff at the way we once did. And as much as we all like to pretend that we know where a player’s head is at, we don’t know these guys on a personal level. 

There is a bright side to this speculation, however, cause either way, the Raps should take the opportunity to pounce on a window. Lowry’s skills aren’t diminishing (you could even say he hasn’t even peaked by the way he’s producing), but the wrong side of 30 comes sooner rather than later for every player. Even if any trade acquisition doesn’t re-sign, chances are you solidified Lowry’s return by actually showing you’re willing to go for it with Lowry at the helm. If disaster strikes and neither player re-signs, well, you’ll have the available funds to rectify the situation.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the landscape has since shifted with the aforementioned possibility opened up that much further. And even though Lowry has taken the tone of his now-infamous post-game comments on Sunday night down a notch, it would be naive to think that it’s still not a possibility that they were directed at Dwane Casey or someone higher on the food chain. If you still choose to scoff at the notion of Lowry leaving, just think of how real this could get if the team’s downward spiral continues. By the way, how real has that possibility become?

We also need to look at it from management’s perspective, cause Lowry and this year’s trade deadline have an interesting connection:

Cory Joseph is among the group of assets that can help make a deal work salary wise, but how can he realistically be dealt if Lowry’s future is uncertain? Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet have promising futures but potentially losing both Lowry and Joseph can’t be something Masai and company are willing to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean a deal can’t get done, but it does add another obstacle to an already difficult marketplace to navigate through.

At the same time, if nothing gets done and the Raps do decide to carry on with the status quo, that could very well send a message that Masai doesn’t think this team’s current window is worth going all-in on. But more to the point: It could ultimately mean that MLSE is not even planning to be Lowry’s top bidder in the offseason — especially when the Power Forward position would still be without a concrete solution. And last time I checked, either scenario would infuriate the majority of this fan base.

But hey, what’s a relationship without a little tension. Wait, you mean today’s Valentine’s Day? Uh oh…

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Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Feb. 14

The Toronto Raptors have blown two games in a row. They’ve dropped 10 of 14 overall. They’re 10-15 since their 22-8 start. They’re 1-9 in games that go into clutch scenarios over their last 15 total games, and they’ve been outscored heavily in those stints. They are blowing winnable games, coughing up leads, digging themselves early holes, failing to put 48 minutes together, and generally playing the worst basketball we’ve seen from this team since April and May of 2015.

You know all of this already. It’s bad, and the team is conceding concern, talking openly about the need for help or the need for change or the need to simply, somehow, just be better. And so of course, they visit the Chicago Bulls next, the one team that no matter how shaky or thinned out or downright bad they’re playing will always, always beat the Raptors. The Bulls have been blown out in three consecutive games, are dealing with four key injuries, and may be in just as bad a place as the Raptors, only lower in the standings.

Naturally, the Bulls are huge favorites (psychologically, if not actually) to right their ship against Toronto. Need a reminder why? Have a look, but have some ambient music or a yoga mat nearby for decompression afterward.

  • Feb. 19, 2014: 94-92 home loss; trailed all game, cut lead to one late, DeRozan blocked by Butler on final possession.
  • Nov. 13, 2014: 100-93 home loss; led for 20 minutes early, outscored 35-14 in third quarter.
  • Dec. 22, 2014: 129-120 road loss; went six-plus minutes scoreless, gave up 49 in fourth quarter.
  • March 20, 2015: 108-92 road loss; pretty thorough bell-to-bell beating, as Bulls led for 40 minutes.
  • March 25, 2015: 116-103 home loss; led for 39 minutes, outscored 39-21 in fourth quarter.
  • Dec. 28, 2015: 104-97 road loss; squandered Scola scoring 12 in the first when Snell scored 16 in the fourth.
  • Jan. 3, 2016: 115-113 home loss; The Jimmy Butler Second Half Game.
  • Feb. 19, 2016: 116-106 road loss; Valanciunas goes 11-and-6 in first, then McDermott drops 30 and Bulls take second half 64-48.
  • March 14, 2016: 109-107 home loss; McDermott drops 29 again, Raptors don’t lead over final 47 minutes, DeRozan blocked by Butler on final possession.
  • Jan. 7, 2017: 123-118 OT road loss; Butler scores 32 over second half and overtime as Raptors blow 13-point lead in final seven-plus minutes of regulation.

There was also The VaLINtine’s Day Game the last time the Raptors played on Feb. 14, and if you don’t think Denzel Valentine is going to spin pun-headline gold here, you don’t know these two teams.

The game tops off at 8 on TSN 2 and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage for the game, we reached out to Sean Highkin of The Athletic Chicago, who kindly helped us out.

Blake Murphy: It’s hard to tell which team is in a worse place right now, the Raptors or the Bulls. If nothing else, though, as the Bulls’ tailspin continues, the “RAPTORS” light has just turned back on in the cabin. With a completely stoppable force and a very movable object coming head-to-head, fortune has to favor the weird voodoo the Bulls have over the Raptors, yes? 

Sean Highkin: I would think so, but the Bulls have gotten blown out in three consecutive games to end their six-game road trip. It would be the most Bulls thing ever to go into the All-Star break with wins over the Raptors and the Celtics after that forgettable stretch. But I’ve given up trying to predict what they’re going to do.

Blake Murphy: In historical terms, Jimmy Butler is the Raptors’ father. He sat Sunday with a heel issue, though, and would seem questionable for Tuesday’s game. If Butler can’t go, who stands to be tasked with the challenge of guarding DeMar DeRozan?

Sean Highkin: I guess Michael Carter-Williams? Paul Zipser if he’s healthy? There aren’t a ton of options. It could get ugly.

Blake Murphy: Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Paul Zipser are all dealing with injuries (or illnesses) of varying severity. Depth isn’t exactly the Bulls’ strong suit, but assuming they’re thinned out and need to lean on him, what has Denzel Valentine been able to show in limited action? Is he a candidate to be the “random Bull that goes off against the Raptors” here?

Sean Highkin: Nobody is ever a bad candidate to be the “random Bull that goes off against the Raptors.” With that said, Valentine hasn’t been very good in the few opportunities he’s gotten. Outside of a breakout game against the Wizards last month, he hasn’t shot the ball consistently and doesn’t have the athleticism to stay in front of most guards defensively. The one skill of his that’s translated to the NBA level is playmaking, and that’s something the Bulls have no shortage of options for.

Blake Murphy: Bobby Portis has barely played for weeks, then suddenly comes in and scores a season-high 16 points in 31 minutes Sunday. Obviously, he’s not Fred Hoiberg’s favorite right now, but is there still hope he becomes a productive rotation big on a good team? It seems too early to write him off or downgrade his potential NBA role.

Sean Highkin: Portis is a guy a lot of people were high on after the draft, and he showed some signs his rookie year, but he’s taken a big step back this season, or at least hasn’t developed the way many in the organization anticipated. Sunday was probably his best game of the year, but he’s still got a ways to go. His defense is a train wreck and he has potential to be a stretch four, but the consistency and decision-making aren’t there yet.

Blake Murphy: Raptors fans will be mad at me if I don’t at least ask – Is there any chance the Bulls are open to moving Taj Gibson? The Raptors apparently had a deal for Gibson in the offseason (something like Gibson and Tony Snell for Terrence Ross, if I recall correctly) until Dwyane Wade opted to head to Chicago, so the two sides are familiar. Is there a Gibson-to-Raptors deal you see that makes sense both ways? Because I can’t really find one.

Sean Highkin: I think there’s a decently good chance they move Taj at the deadline, considering he’ll be 32 this summer and doesn’t make a lot of sense to re-sign at the price he’s going to command. The tricky part is, they’re still trying to make the playoffs, so they’re not going to give him away for absolutely nothing. A deal I’ve been thinking about lately that would make a ton of sense for both the Bulls and the Raptors would be Gibson for Jared Sullinger’s $6 million expiring contract (as salary filler) and one of the Raptors’ two first-rounders (either their own or the Clippers’ pick they own). It would be worth it to the Bulls to get a first-rounder back, and the Raptors get a significant short-term upgrade at power forward while still keeping one of their picks. I don’t see a lot of downside in that deal for either side.

Blake Murphy: I’d do that in a heartbeat.

Raptors updates
Patrick Patterson got a good practice session in on Saturday but then sat Sunday following a game-time decision tag. He practiced in full on Monday, but that would seem to tell us little – the Raptors could reasonably just sit Patterson for the final pre-break two games, getting him a total of 10 days more rest before their next action. They need him back, though, as he helps stabilize the defense and the rotations, and it would probably be a nice psychological shot in the arm. But it could go either way at this point. I wouldn’t fault the Raptors for just keeping him out to insure he’s all the way right, or for getting him back in there since he seems healthy.

Who knows what the plan would be at the four if he can’t go. Jakob Poeltl looked good in that spot on Sunday, but he’s not necessarily a logical fit across from Taj Gibson, given the physicality. That might give Jared Sullinger or Pascal Siakam the edge, and the Raptors could probably even afford to go small. All these different options every night? This is part of what Patterson’s return will help with – not just his play, but the role certainty it will help re-establish. No, a role player shouldn’t be that important, but there are trickle-down effects everywhere right now. The Raptors literally didn’t play a natural power forward on Sunday. They have a ton of issues right now, and that’s definitely among them.

Bruno Caboclo was sent back down to Raptors 905 for Tuesday’s home game, by the way.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jared Sullinger
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: None

Bulls updates
The Bulls could be seriously shorthanded for this one, which simply means there will be more opportunity for weirder and weirder Bulls to go off. Dwyane Wade is dealing with a right wrist injury and is being considered doubtful, which would probably open the door for Michael Carter-Williams to start at the two. A position over, Jimmy Butler is dealing with a heel issue, something he practiced through Monday but that cost him Sunday’s game. If the Bulls play it cautious, Doug McDermott is liable to go for 50 in his stead. The very impressive Paul Zipser may, too, except that he’s dealing with an ankle injury and food poisoning and is considered doubtful here. And just for good measure, Nikola Mirotic didn’t even practice Monday due to a back issue and can probably be considered doubtful.

So, what will the Bulls rotation look like? Who knows. If none of the players in question can go, they’ll be thinned out, giving a lot of minutes to youngsters and likely staying big throughout. That makes for a fun game, and a window for the Raptors to win, but I literally can’t bring myself to expect a Raptors win given the opening bullet list above. I’m not even mad. It’s just amazing at this point.

PG: Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Rajon Rondo
SG: (Dwyane Wade), Denzel Valentine, Isaiah Canaan
SF: (Jimmy Butler), Doug McDermott, (Paul Zipser)
PF: Taj Gibson, (Nikola Mirotic), Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
Assigned: None
TBD: Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic
Out:

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites as of this writing, up from an opening line of Raptors -5, so apparently the faith of oddsmakers isn’t as shaken as mine is given the Bulls’ voodoo. Realistically, if the Bulls are down four rotation players, the Raptors have to be favorites. But is there any Raptor fan confident in calling this a victory? The over-under is at 205.5. Check back before tip-off for an updated line based on injury updates.

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 14

Bulls loss comin’

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VIDEO: Lowry, Carroll, and Casey discuss Sunday’s frustration at practice

Normally we don’t just drop video of scrums from practices here, but given the biting nature of comments from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan after Sunday’s game, this feels like a time for it. (I also wasn’t at practice to contextualize, as I was out reporting on something else, so I want the quotes to exist in their full context.)

As expected, the Raptors walked things back a bit, conceding frustration but pulling back together with a message of unity and the need to get things done with what they have. This is always how Monday’s media availability was going to play out, and maybe it’s not the worst thing that Lowry was able to vent a bit of frustration following yet another loss. And for whatever it’s worth, Josh Lewenberg of TSN passes on that 5-on-5 practice was quite spirited (the session also included Patrick Patterson).

So, yeah, make of all this what you will. Things are still bad and need to change, but maybe the airing of grievances and another day of practice will help. Or not! I am not a sports psychologist.

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Asking For Help

On January 17th, the Toronto Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets 119-109, ringing in the third straight double digit victory, fourth straight win and looking like they’d returned to their early season form. They’ve won games since then, including beating the Los Angeles Clippers(who were without Chris Paul at the time), but a 4-10 record since the visit to Barclay’s hasn’t inspired confidence in the fan base, and with a growing clamor to make a move, to acquire the talent that would bring the team back to the heights of just a year ago when the team was considered a championship contender as they marched through January looking like world-beaters. While the roster isn’t perfect, and it would be foolish to pretend it is, with the gap at power forward becoming more and more glaringly obvious with each game Patrick Patterson sits, it’s definitely worth looking internally for improvement at the same time.

First of all, let’s talk about that power forward situation. Because there’s been five players used as the front-court partner for Jonas Valanciunas in the last 14 games, and of them, only two pairings have truly struggled, Pascal Siakam and Jared Sullinger. The response I’ve then seen is that Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira are centers, not power forwards, so using them at the 4 only highlights the team’s lack of depth at the position, but to some extent, I’m just not sure that matters. If it works, whether or not we think it should be necessary seems on some level irrelevant, because it works. When the team has lost 10 of the last 14 games and you still have pairings with a +31.5 net rating(Patterson), +23.7 net rating(Poeltl), or +5.7 net rating(Nogueira), that should be more important than which guy is supposed to be playing which position.

At the end of the day though, even the front court pairings are immaterial to the larger problem of late game execution. A season ago, the story with Toronto was that they were a weak first and third quarter team, and the bench had to claw the team back into games after the starters would squander leads. Over this last 14 game stretch, the opposite has been true. The Raptors have been the 8th best first quarter team in the league, with a +7.5 net rating, and assisting on 51% of field goals made in the first frame. The defensive numbers still aren’t good in the opening quarter, but the offense has been good enough to make up for it. As the game progresses, both of those numbers drop, however. The team has a +1.0 net rating(17th) and 45.7% assist rate in the 2nd quarter, a -2.1 net rating(18th) and 41.2% assist rate in the third quarter, and a -18.7 net rating(30th) and 44.1% assist rate in the fourth frame.

Last night’s game, in particular, the Detroit Pistons managed their biggest comeback in franchise history as they clawed their way back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit and outscored Toronto 36-19 in the last period, and the Raptors offense failed to execute. The narrative through the course of the last two years has been that when the Raptors struggle, it’s because Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan don’t get enough help from the supporting cast, and at times that’s certainly been true as different guys have struggled both with consistency and injuries at times, but it wasn’t the case last night. DeMarre Carroll knocked down 15 points on just 9 shots last night while Jonas Valanciunas scored 17 on 14 attempts. Both players were also on the floor for much of the fourth, and Valanciunas managed a put-back off an offensive rebound for two points while Carroll missed his lone attempt in the quarter(a three-point shot with 7:13 remaining) and had a turnover in the last two minutes.

DeRozan and Lowry are All-Stars, and they’ve earned that honor with their impressive play the past few seasons and the load they carry on the offensive end. The credit they were given when the Raptors offense was clicking at a historic rate earlier in the season was certainly deserved, but this is a team not lacking in offensive talent, with Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas each having topped 20 points this season. And while none of those complementary players has the ability to carry the load DeRozan or Lowry does on a regular basis, they can certainly be leaned on more than they have been in late game scenarios. Whether it comes in the form of Dwane Casey calling better plays to create opportunities for the other guys, or Lowry and DeRozan finding ways to involve them, it simply must be done, because otherwise this team is headed towards a fourth straight playoffs during which they look eminently beatable.

Even last season during the playoffs, as the Raptors made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the offense sputtered during the first two rounds, frequently reverting to simply the All-Star guards taking turns attempting to beat the other team singlehandedly while the other players functioned as screen-setters and decoys at best, or observers at worst. Casey’s reputation when the team hired him to helm the bench wasn’t that of someone known for offensive prowess, but we’re now six years into his tenure and there have been comments over the years that could certainly be read as indication that the team’s plan is nothing more than let the two stars do what they want to on that end and focus on the defensive end.

The problem then comes when players are asked to be completely focused on stopping the other team at one end while asked to have no involvement at the other. While it’s easy to say these guys are professionals and should be able to do so, and if they aren’t it’s simply not living up to their roles, they are also human, and it’s easy for any of us to get discouraged when we feel uninvolved.

As I said at the top of the piece, this roster is flawed, there’s no question. Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, or Danilo Gallinari could each bring an aspect to this team not currently present. They’d certainly improve the on-court talent in late game scenarios. But as long as the play calling is what it was last night, that might not matter. Because last night Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan made sure that the other three players on the court for the Raptors wouldn’t matter, no matter who they were, and that applies whether it’s DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, or even Paul Millsap standing in the corner and watching a DeRozan isolation decide games. In order for an improvement in talent to matter, the team first has to acknowledge that there’s talent right now that they’re rendering irrelevant. If the Raptors All-Stars want help, they need to show they know how to ask for it, first.

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Morning Coffee – Mon, Feb 13

Not great, Bob!

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What’s Your Raptors Story?

What is it that makes one a devoted sports fan? What cruel twists of fate condemn millions of regular people from all walks of life to allow the literal playtime of a few well-off athletes to affect their daily mood and demeanor? In these days of uncertainty in Raptor land, where heated arguments regarding our beloved team’s future rule the day, it is as good a time as any to reflect on how we got here; to look back to the honeymoon days of that fiery, passionate love story that has brought us a measure of happiness, but also much anguish and undue stress. We all have a story of becoming a Raptors fan, and I’m going to share mine. I would encourage everyone to post theirs in the comment section, so that we may remember the good (or funny, or awfully bad) moments that unite us all in the common thread of Raptors fandom, notwithstanding our many differences. To remember in these trying times, that despite it all, we’re all on the same side.

I wasn’t always an NBA fan. Living across the pond in the old continent for much of my life, I grew up with football as my main source of entertainment, along with a side dish of Euroleague basketball. Having begun playing organized basketball myself, that side dish became my main, and quite quickly, ball became life. Meanwhile, I missed a wildly exciting era of Raptors basketball – the famed Vince Carter days, catching only his occasional highlights on the local sports news edition. The little I did follow of the NBA consisted of watching a certain tough, undersized (much like myself at the time) scorer from Philadelphia. A scorer who, ironically enough, eliminated Vince Carter in the second round in 2001, a result I was quite happy with at the time. Funny how time changes things.

The Euroleague, unlike the NBA, is generally the domain of hard-nosed head coaches. The coach’s word is law, and no star, no matter how talented, is above the team. That, along with the fact that the most gifted players hone their craft in the NBA, means the entire game overseas is more team oriented. With all that considered, the rare occasion when a true star shines above all the others is that much more special. And for a number of years, that star was Anthony Parker.

Anthony Parker was the ultimate role model – a talented, hard-working basketball player, that was also a humble and genuine human being. He came to Europe after an unsuccessful four-year stint in the NBA, and did not look down on his new teammates. Instead, he worked on his game, determined to return to the big leagues, while giving full effort for his club’s fans. And he became a star. Parker won 2 consecutive Euroleague titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004 and 2005, leading a historic destruction in the 2005 final, beating Italian powerhouse Skipper Bologna by an unfathomable 44 points. That iteration of Maccabi Tel Aviv was one of  the most exciting teams in Euroleague history, and Anthony Parker was its most valuable player (he won Euroleague MVP in 2005 and 2006). He even drained a game winning basket at the Air Canada Centre as Maccabi defeated the Raptors in one preseason (a REALLY big deal for a European team at the time).

All the while, Parker remained candid and warm in every interview, and was a uniting presence in his locker room. His ego could have grown leaps and bounds based on his achievements and star status, but it hadn’t. At this point you may have an easy time deciphering that Parker was my favourite basketball player. And in 2006, he signed for Canada’s struggling team – the Toronto Raptors.

I had immigrated to Canada (Calgary) myself in 2003, and was still adjusting to life in a new culture and nation the following few years. I tried to get into hockey, the only legitimate sports franchise in town, but it was not to be. A pleasant surprise it was then, when I read about Parker’s arrival to Canada. I would now once again have a chance to watch him play without a significant time difference, and satisfy the pangs of nostalgia in the process. It would be a little taste of home.

And so it was, that the Toronto Raptors became a fixture at my place two to four times a week. At first I was only watching Parker, hoping he gets his minutes, gets his touches, gets his points. And he did quite well. Soon enough though, I started noticing other things. Chris Bosh, another highly talented and team oriented star was hard to miss – fighting bigger and stronger men than him in the post, rattling powerful dunks as well as stroking it beautifully from mid-range. Running the offense with a distinctly familiar European flavor off the bench was Jose Calderon, whose team-first attitude was impossible to dislike. His Spanish counterpart with an Everest high basketball IQ in Garbajosa completed a group that immediately made me feel like I was watching an evolved version of Euroleague ball. I couldn’t resist it.

It didn’t hurt that the 2006-07 season marked a franchise record for wins and an Atlantic division title. The playoffs saw a painful exit to the Nets and good ol’ Vince Carter, which no doubt hurt most of the fanbase much more than it did me at the time, but I felt the sting nonetheless. By the beginning of the following season, Anthony Parker’s exploits were no more than an aside to the second coming of Nowitzki in Bargnani; to the arrival of the Raptors’ very own version of Reggie Miller in Kapono; to the unearthing of the diamond in the rough, a former Harlem Globetrotter and future NBA hall of famer in Jamario Moon.

With none of those prophecies fulfilled, there was always another around the corner. The addiction was in the system, and it wasn’t going anywhere. I still watched Parker when he took his talents to Cleveland once in a while, but the Toronto Raptors were the mainstay. There have been some truly dark years for the Dinos in between the early period honeymoon and the current rough patch, but the organization has grown leaps and bounds since then. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a multitude of things to criticize about the current roster’s play; it doesn’t mean that anyone is definitely right or definitely wrong in any of their Raptors opinions, since we all come from different backgrounds and have potentially different definitions of success or what constitutes quality basketball.

What it does mean is that we love our Raptors enough to have such strong opinions one way or the other, and that we want (our version of) what’s best for the team. So, what’s your Raptors love story?

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Raptors collapse again, and it’s reverberating in the locker room

Raptors 101, Pistons 102 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Lucas Nogueira sat at his locker in his underwear, head down gazing into his phone. Patrick Patterson hurriedly got dressed. Norman Powell and Delon Wright spoke quietly, solemnly. Across the room, DeMar DeRozan removed his ankles from an ice tub and began the trek into the showers, flanked by a stoic Jonas Valanciunas on his right and a seething Kyle Lowry on his right.

Lowry, usually the last player through treatment and back for media availability, was already adorned in an orange hoodie, making it difficult not to see the same color burning in his eyes as he spoke defiantly, choosing biting words carefully.

“Huh. Everything. Everything,” when asked what went wrong. “Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.”

The frustration here is clear. The Raptors have dropped 15 of 25, and their Sisyphean attempts to pull themselves out of the spiral have caused more consternation than camaraderie. They’ve gone from being one of the league’s most clutch outfits over the last few seasons to a team that can’t get out of its own way late in games and is deserving of their poor record in close games. For the second game in a row, the football of positive steps forward and semblances of a turnaround were right there, but rather than Lucy pulling it away time and again, the Raptors just keep shanking it wide right.

Something, then, as Lowry says, needs to change.

“I have an idea but I’mma keep my mouth shut, keep it professional,” he said.

The suggestions are endless. Acquire Paul Millsap. Trade for Serge Ibaka. Lower expectations and just get anyone who can help raise the floor. Simply persevering through this and waiting for the All-Star break and the return of Patrick Patterson isn’t going to cut it. Too much damage is being done, not just in the standings, but, for the first time it would seem, in the locker room. The collective psyche is showing cracks, and the team’s stars are speaking openly about their concerns. DeMar DeRozan is welcoming of help. Lowry is conceding worry.

“Yeah. I am. I’m starting to get worried, yeah,” Lowry said. “It’s not going the way we’re supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so yeah, I’m starting to get worried.”

Again, potential solutions abound, but there’s no clear and obvious fix for well over a month of disappointing play. The Raptors are still playing up to quality opponents more often than not, but with the schedule drawing easier and easier, their level of play is also coming down to meet the competition. They’re coughing away games against mid-level teams, no-showing against bad ones, and generally leaving themselves guessing which version of themselves is going to show up on a given night.

Or a given quarter – the Raptors played three good ones at the Air Canada Centre, looking like they had put the Detroit Pistons away and taking a 16-point lead into the fourth. The third quarter was perhaps their best since mid-December. The defense was clicking. Role players were contributing. Jakob Poeltl, asked to be the solution at power forward in place of an actual power forward, stepped up in a major way. Nearly everyone, save for Cory Joseph, was having a quality outing. And then it unraveled. The Pistons pushed. Lowry hit his usual momentum-stopping pull-up three in transition. And then the Pistons just kept coming. Another winnable game, another ugly loss, this one the largest comeback the Pistons have ever accomplished in a fourth quarter.

“At the end of the day, we gotta play harder I guess. I guess that’s what will be said,” Lowry said. “We gotta got out there and find ways to execute down the stretch.”

Beyond just executing down the stretch, Toronto needs to foremost start putting themselves in better positions to succeed. DeRozan is one of the league’s best scorers, the Raptors one of the league’s most effective teams in isolation attack. But there is a redundancy and a cutting predictability to how the Raptors operate late, and as playoff opponents have shown, it makes life easy when the script is right there for a defense to see. To be clear, there is an equilibrium point at which setting Lowry and DeRozan up to attack one-on-one makes sense on a certain number of late possessions. On Sunday, Dwane Casey simply decided to run more or less the same action ad nauseam.

On nine occasions in the final 5:43 of play, the playcall was for DeRozan to attack. He went 1-of-6, was fouled once, once he dished to DeMarre Carroll too late to create, and once he fed Lowry on a slip-screen, only for Lowry’s turnaround to rim out. On the game’s final possession, everyone in the building knew what was coming, and the Raptors ran a fairly typical set with little off-ball action beyond a decoy pin-down for Lowry in order to get DeRozan attacking Marcus Morris. He pump-faked, tried to draw the foul, didn’t, and the Raptors had lost again.

“It was a play we’ve run in the past for DeMar,” Casey said when asked about the play-call after the game. “I have to look at it on film to see if he got contact or not, usually vaulted up and makes that shot but the defender did a good job of staying down, staying on his feet, not leaving his feet.”

It shouldn’t matter whether DeRozan drew contact or not, really. The Raptors should have been nowhere near a situation where they needed a game-winner. If they did, some variety in their offense could have gone a long way – in the final 5:50, the lone field-goal attempt that didn’t come from Lowry or DeRozan attacking one-on-one was a Jonas Valanciunas put-back. Detroit is a good, not great, defensive team, and they have little business bottling the Raptors’ stars up to such a degree, lent a hand by Toronto’s own ineffective play-calling. And at the other end, the stout early defense simply gave way, with Tobias Harris and Ish Smith doing what they pleased and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope dining on open jumpers.

“They kind of got everything they wanted every time down,” DeRozan said, disappointed with another effort that failed to span 48 minutes. “I think it’s a sense of playing differently. Other teams make adjustments and we have to be prepared for that and not get caught off guard.”

The word adjustments came up a few times after the game. DeRozan slagged Toronto’s, while Lowry not-so-subtly praised Detroit’s.

“They made great adjustments,” he said. “They made very good adjustments. Tobias Harris played very well, and they did a good job of adjusting and making plays against us.”

It was difficult to hear the comments from Lowry and DeRozan and not feel like the poor play is beginning to reverberate in the locker room. For weeks, the Raptors had excuses, not to lean on but to at least prop up their confidence that things would turn around. There was a tough schedule. Then it was a dense schedule. They were dealing with injuries. Their underlying numbers suggested some misfortune late in games. The longer this goes, though, the less any of that means, and the more it looks like the Raptors are just a mediocre team playing poorly.

And so they’re left searching for answers. Fans are left to digest whether Lowry was throwing shade at his head coach (if he was, he had good reason for the second game in a row). Pressure is mounting on the front office to do something, while they’re left to figure out if a trade can even get this team back to where they need to be. At some point, something will break: A trade, Patterson’s return, a game that goes the right way and frees them of the constant specter of collapse.

Or maybe the Raptors themselves will break. This is the first time since the Washington playoff series where they’re outwardly showing cracks, their head coach unable to point to let the positives carry the message, their stars speaking candidly about the reality that this team just isn’t as good as they can be with nearly enough consistency. DeRozan wants help. Lowry is channeling Owen Hart in saying enough is enough, it’s time for a change. And now Chicago awaits, usually the cause of more panic than the team to assuage concerns. There’s a very real possibility the Raptors will enter the All-Star break still searching, still seething, still shrouded in uncertainty. That they’re being open about it says more than the specific words could ever convey. The Raptors are against the ropes.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Let’s make a deal

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave (@iamharshdave) to discuss potential deals the Raptors could make ahead of the trade deadline.

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Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Casey’s playcalling needs work

Host William Lou breaks down yet another collapse, this time at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.

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VIDEO: Frustrated Lowry says ‘something gotta change,’ DeRozan open to help

We don’t normally throw up post-game quotes just as they are, but Kyle Lowry’s comments following Sunday’s frustrating loss to the Detroit Pistons were interesting – and biting – enough to warrant sharing. We’ll post the video when it’s up on YouTube in a bit, but here’s the transcription of Lowry’s post-game chat. I’ve bolded the most interesting pieces:

(Execution down stretch. What went wrong?)

Huh. Everything. Everything. Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.

(Any idea what?)

I have an idea but I’mma keep my mouth shut, keep it professional.

(Getting worried?)

Yeah. I am. I’m starting to get worried, yeah. It’s not going the way we’re supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so yeah, I’m starting to get worried.

(Fixable in the room?)

I don’t know. We ain’t got no choice but to go out here and work as hard as we possibly can for each other in this locker room.

(Scheme? Personnel?)

At the end of the day, we gotta play harder I guess. I guess that’s what will be said. We gotta got out there and find ways to execute down the stretch.

(Couldn’t stop it?)

Yeah. They made great adjustments. They made very good adjustments. Tobias Harris played very well, and they did a good job of adjusting and making plays against us.

DeMar DeRozan didn’t exactly hold back on his feelings, either:

Pretty bad, they kind of got everything they wanted every time down.

(Good for three quarters?)

It’s been like that lately. We have to put 48 minutes together.

(Do you know what has to change?)

Nah. Something.

(Can they get out of it?)

We can, but we have to be quick. 27 more games, that’s going to fly by. We don’t have much time. When it comes to practice time, you know, we have to be able to take things on the go and run with it.

(Do they need help?)

I mean, help is always beneficial. I never look at help as a negative thing at all. So if help is an option, why not?

Also of note from after the game, I asked Dwane Casey about the play call on the final possession, and he had this to say:

It was a play we’ve run in the past for DeMar. He pump-faked … I have to look at it on film to see if he got contact or not, usually vaulted up and makes that shot but the defender did a good job of staying down, staying on his feet, not leaving his feet.

So, yeah, that was the call. (DeRozan added that he had the option to drive and that Lowry was coming off a pin-down elsewhere, but the replays show the typical inactivity and telegraphing of the play.)

And given the comments from Lowry and DeRozan, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s some tension between roster and staff, or if the prolonged losing stretch is at least leading to some finger-pointing or blame assignment. Everyone chose their words very carefully, but there is some subtext there to sort out over the next little while.

Sorry for the lack of additional context – on post-game duty, so just dropping these now quickly for you. Take them how you will.

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Quick Reaction: Pistons 102, Raptors 101

Detroit 102 Final
Box Score
101 Toronto

A-
D. Carroll36 MIN, 15 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 2-4 3FG, 1-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -5 +/-Played an almost flawless first half, hitting both his three-pointers and all 4 four field attempts to go along with 2 assists, and continued his strong play to start the third quarter with some slick mid-range moves as well. Had a terrible fourth quarter turnover, that got bailed out be a DeMar block. I’m just hoping for some sort of consistency for DC, who’s long distance shot and defense is essential for any sort of Raptors success.

B+
J. Poeltl20 MIN, 5 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 2-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 8 +/-Didn’t really look out of place for any stretch in the game, which at this stage for Poeltl is all we’re asking from him, with the occasional put-back or rebound. The Raptors held their own against the better rebounding Pistons, and Poeltl’s +8 and 4 boards on the night sure didn’t hurt.

A-
J. Valanciunas34 MIN, 17 PTS, 9 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 7-14 FG, 0-0 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-Was dominant for many parts of the night, but didn’t get the nod from the officials on most scraps inside the paint, as is becoming typical for JV. The Raps made a clear and concerted effort to get him involved early, and it seemed to pay off but in the second half, that game plan was pretty much ripped up and thrown out by Casey.

A-
K. Lowry36 MIN, 15 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 5-10 FG, 4-6 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 2 +/-From the tip, this one felt like a game where Lowry would have to do a little bit of everything to keep the Raptors at a safe distance from Detroit. And while he added 15 points, the Raptors need gargantuan efforts from their back court to be competitive against seemingly anyone. And apparently this just doesn’t cut it.

B+
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 26 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 10-21 FG, 0-1 3FG, 6-7 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 6 +/-Came out firing in the first half with 12 points on 6/11 shooting. Even when he was missing, he got it in, as Drummond’s field goal interference gave DeMar a freebie. The second half seemed to be more of the same initially, but it got progressively worse for DeMar, who hijacked the offense down the stretch leading to empty trips.

B-
L. Nogueira32 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 4-4 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-Had 2 slick blocks in the second quarter – one in the paint, and one out on the perimeter. But I still don’t like Nogeuira’s defensive rebounding ability or overall toughness inside; replacing Biyombo with Bebe has made this team noticeably softer, and it’s starting to show.

C
C. Joseph19 MIN, 8 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -17 +/-Hot garbage for Cory once again. I liked the offensive punch he showed (he even hit a three!!). But a -17 is disgusting – and is becoming somewhat of a norm for the Pickering product.

C
T. Ross18 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -6 +/-A strong first half with a three pointer and soft floater as part of a surge in the second quarter, but didn’t offer much of anything in the second half. The see-saw of emotions dealing with Ross has become unbearable at this point.

B
N. Powell8 MIN, 2 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-You gotta love Norm’s willingness to contribute anything and any time necessary, but at some point you’ve got to point to Casey’s sporadic lineup tendencies and hold that against him. You just can’t expect anything out of the guy when he has no continuity in and out of the lineup.

D
Dwane Casey While it looked like the Raptors would come out strong and having taken advantage of their three days of rest, it was all just a big lie. The Raptors once again came out FLAT in the fourth quarter, holding a lead and showing no ability to execute on either end. The defense in the fourth was basically a mad scramble, allowing the Pistons to shoot 13/19 in the fourth quarter, while the offense was just hand the ball to DeRozan and hope for the best – all that led to the Pistons outscoring Toronto 36-19 in the final frame. That’s just pathetic.

THINGS WE SAW

  1. Hero ball – The Raptors went to DeRozan almost every trip down the stretch of the game, leading to empty trip after empty trip, with almost no movement in the offense, and no chance at offensive rebounds. It was a pathetic offensive showing from the Raptors and Casey, who showed no ability to creatively keep the Pistons on their heels defensively.
  2. Why not keep feeding JV? Despite the physicality the Pistons offered up with Drummond and Baynes, JV asserted himself early and should’ve really gotten more touches down the stretch. The shooting numbers didn’t exactly stand out, as JV settled for a couple of jumpers in the first half; but in the post, Jonas was able to easily carve out space.
  3. Lack of command – The Raptors once again fizzled away a lead down the stretch, and this time to another sub-par team. The Pistons are 9 games below 500 on the road, and the Raptors still allowed Ish Smith, Tobias Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shred their defense time and time again. With no offensive answer, the Raptors fell into a nightmare-like spell. That was about as ugly a finish to a Raptors game I’ve ever seen.
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Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka, Gallinari, and Millsap rumblings; Patterson remains out; Poeltl starts

It feels like it’s been forever since the Toronto Raptors played. In reality, they only had three days off, but that’s a veritable lifetime given how dense the schedule has been to this point. And as discussed in the pre-game, it probably provided a much-needed break – physically and mentally – for a struggling Raptors team. They’ll look to right the ship now with three games in four days before the All-Star break, starting when the Detroit Pistons visit on Sunday.

There’s a lot of news to touch on below, and I had you covered in the pre-game, so let’s get on with it.

The game tips off at 6 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Sunday stands as a really nice test for the recent play of Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is enjoying one of his best two-way stretches since his post-season injury, and he and Andre Drummond always have some fun battles. Defending Drummond on the dive and on the block, exploiting him on the other end, and playing even on the glass would put Toronto in a good position to beat Detroit. It’s not all on Valanciunas – Kyle Lowry admitted Saturday the team needs to do a better job keeping him involved – but Valanciunas can’t allow inconsistency to set back in, either. In his last seven meetings with Detroit, he’s scored 31, 20, 12, 8, 15, 11, and 32. Feed him.

The lone question mark for the Raptors beyond who draws inactive is whether or not Patrick Patterson finally returns. Dwane Casey will likely update Patterson’s status in his pre-game availability – I’m posting these notes earlier than usual because of the trade rumblings below – so check back for that. You know the drill by now with Patterson: If he goes, he’ll stabilize the starting unit defense and help the second lineup by allowing Dwane Casey to find some consistency there, particularly with lineups to start the second and fourth quarters. If he can’t, the rotation at the four will remain exceptionally fluid, left to play out based on matchups and game flow.

UPDATE: Patterson is a game-time decision. Casey said he looked good in practice Saturday, but a determination won’t be made until afetr he goes through his pre-game work.

UPDATE II: Patterson is out again. At this point it might just make sense to sit him through the break.

UPDATE III: Jakob Poeltl starts at power forward. This is a very interesting look opposite Jon Leuer, and it will be Poeltl’s first extended run at the four. He’s played almost exclusively center so far, even when alongside Lucas Nogueira, and he’s only played a handful of minutes with Valanciunas. Poeltl’s shown nice flashes in the limited minutes he’s been given, and this should be a good opportunity for him to make a case for more run even when Patterson returns.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Patrick Latterson

Pistons updates
The Pistons are the picture of health. Also, Boban Marjanovic is enormous. I mean, I’ve seen him play live before, but we just walked past each other in a hallway, and he is, umm, significantly larger than your boy. Anyway, the Pistons have their full contingent available, and while most of their top lineups have performed poorly, their starting group has begun to find a nice chemistry together.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Beno Udrih
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
INJ: None

Assorted

  • Per Marc Stein of ESPN, there is “a growing sense” that Serge Ibaka could be moved ahead of the deadline, and that “Sources say that Toronto and Miami are among the Eastern Conference teams that have expressed interest in Ibaka this month.” The plan is apparently for the Magic to field options up until the deadline, then choose the best package. We covered the Ibaka stuff here and here.
    • In the same piece, Stein says there is skepticism about Paul Millsap being off the market. The Hawks are “adamant” he’s staying put, though. I’ll believe it at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23. More of my Millsap thoughts are here and here.
  • NOT covered here elsewhere but included in Stein’s news dump: The Raptors, among others, are monitoring the availability of Danilo Gallinari. I’ve long lusted after Gallinari as the quintessential Third Option for the Raptors’ offense, writing before the season that he may wind up the best consolation prize the Raptors could hope for if big names didn’t hit the market. While the fit wouldn’t be seamless with him and Carroll splitting forward duties (Gallinari is not an elite defender), and offense isn’t exactly a pressing need, he may wind up the most talented name on the move, if he can be had. He’ll almost surely opt out this offseason to become an unrestricted free agent, and there’s a fair amount of injury red tape in his past, so dealing assets to acquire him under the assumption he could be re-signed long-term comes with some risk. Still, when it comes to a player that talented who fits the Raptors’ timeline for contention, and who may not cost the farm in terms of assets, he’s definitely worth a call on. If nothing else, it’s nice that there are apparently more second-tier names to call on than originally expected.
  • Jared Sullinger, Fred VanVleet, and Bruno Caboclo were all recalled from Raptors 905 for this one. Sullinger had a really nice outing last night (I caught it this morning), really embracing his role as a connector and letting a red-hot set of shooters around him cook while getting his shots within the flow of things. Expect Caboclo and one of the point guards to be assigned again afterward, as the 905 have a home game Tuesday when the Raptors visit Chicago.
  • Some cool “this day in history stuff for the Raptors.

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites, up from 6.5 this morning, as predicted. The over-under has nudged higher to 212.5 from 211. I’ll wait on Patterson’s status to make a firm call on a score, but the Raptors are winning this game.

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Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Feb. 12

Sometimes, maybe you just need a break. Tasked with the most dense schedule in the NBA so far in 2017, the Toronto Raptors sure looked like they could use one after they dropped a winnable game to the Minnesota Timberwolves, falling to 10-14 over the last six weeks in the process. With a physically demanding slate dotted with injuries to key players, the Raptors not only looked physically downtrodden at times, but mentally spent. After years of leaning on chemistry and resiliency, the sudden absence of those traits seemed to take a psychological toll, and the team’s constant grasping at a return to form only producing brief flickers of hope proved a difficult cycle.

Rest finally came. The Raptors have had three days off, an opportunity not just to get healthy and rest bumps and bruises but to escape from their own heads. They celebrated Terrence Ross’ birthday. They slept in. They visited MLSE Launchpad (can I get an invite, please?). They practiced, too. Twice. Time that’s been incredibly scarce over the last little while. These breaks are important, especially when rare, and it seems like it came at the right time.

Now, whether that can help turn the Raptors around is another question. The Detroit Pistons visit Sunday, and then the Raptors have a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday before getting another eight days off for the All-Star break. That additional rest is a major positive, but there is a risk that, if the Raptors don’t at least go 2-1 on this three-game set, they’ll enter a second break in a row searching for answers. It would be a nice building block for them if they could clean up the unofficial first segment of the season on a high note, removing the bad taste the last month-plus has had them trying to chase away. It starts Sunday with the Pistons, a game but beatable opponent. Let’s see if the rest did them well.

The game tips off at 6 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: A record of 25-29 might not be quite what the Pistons had hoped for at this point in the year, but they’ve really settled in of late, winning four of six and 10 of 19. As currently constructed, how confident are you that the Pistons can hang on to a playoff seed in a fairly competitive Eastern Conference picture?

Dan Feldman: 52%. The Pistons haven’t put it all together — but neither have most of the teams around them in the playoff chase. Detroit is deep with solid talent, and the second-half schedule shapes up well — especially with the team getting healthy. Still, it’s a crowded field, and that always gives pause.

Blake Murphy: One of the biggest surprises – maybe it shouldn’t have been – has been the success of Jon Leuer. He’s always seemed like a nice player, but the role he’s been able to take on and the efficiency at which he’s been able to perform in it has been a huge swing factor for Detroit. Has Leuer added things to his game? Is it just natural growth? Or is this another Stan Van Gundy system success story?

Dan Feldman: Leuer has not been the prototypical Van Gundy stretch four. Yes, his range extends beyond the arc. But that has been more of a threat than an actual weapon this season. Leuer has excelled at driving past closing defenders to convert easier shots inside the arc. The Pistons might have signed him to stretch the floor more, and Leuer’s career suggests his 3-point accuracy could trend upward.

Blake Murphy: Van Gundy’s system leans heavily on the Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll, one of the most difficult to stop in the league. And yet that pairing hasn’t been at all effective, getting outscored by 6.3 points per-100 possessions when they share the floor. Have defenses started to figure that action out, or is there something else at play here?

Dan Feldman: Defenses figuring it out is part of it. Another aspect: Jackson missed the start of the season due to injury, and it took him a while to regain his burst (not sure he’s all the way back yet). The chemistry just isn’t as sharp as last year, for whatever reason.

Blake Murphy: Stanley Johnson has taken a significant step back in terms of raw statistical production and role as a sophomore. Is it time to re-calibrate expectations for the former No. 8 pick, or can he still be a high-end defender with some solid secondary skills on offense?

Dan Feldman: Can he be that player? Yes. But it’s fair to reduce the likelihood he gets there. That said, Johnson has played better lately, coinciding with him shedding weight. I’m more inclined to believe a change in production is sustainable when it’s tied to a logical explanation, like getting in better shape.

Blake Murphy: Do you think the Pistons will make a move by the deadline?

Dan Feldman: 18%. They’d probably like to upgrade at point guard, but it’s tough to find viable trade partners. It’s more likely they just hope Reggie Jackson plays closer to how he did last year. A smaller trade option: Dealing Aron Baynes. He’ll be a free agent next summer, and not only do the Pistons plan for him to walk, they already have a ready-to-go replacement — Boban Marjanovic — on the roster. Might be better to get something, like a backup wing or draft pick, for Baynes now.

Raptors updates
The most tangible by-product of the time off may be the return of Patrick Patterson. While there’s an argument to be made that Patterson should just be kept out through the break to make sure he’s fully healthy once he’s back, it’s also sounded like he’s near a return for some time now. This is a new injury, just to the same knee, and it’s one he can not only play through but that won’t get worse if he does so. That might not even be a consideration if it’s fully healed by now. In any case, the Raptors could use him back, and his return would help stabilize the starting lineup’s defense as well as Dwane Casey’s rotations.

If Patterson can’t go, the Raptors will be left to rotate any number of backup power forward options. Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, and Lucas Nogueira have all spent time there of late, and Sullinger has looked really good so for in this Raptors 905 game from last night that I’m watching as I write this (his passing and vision is kind of obscene for a big man). One of the benefits of a Patterson return would be stability at the backup spot, too, since the starting position won’t be as fluid (at least, in theory).

Sullinger is still technically with the 905, with no official recall announcement yet, but expect him and Fred VanVleet to be recalled before the game. It will be interesting to see, with VanVleet drawing the assignment last night, whether it’s him or Delon Wright inactive and in the third point guard role. The plan was initially for them to trade off stints up and down, but VanVleet has been really steady in that third guard slot. Wright is ready, too. It’s nice to have so much depth, but it’s tough to watch these guys sit.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, Jared Sullinger
OUT: None

Pistons updates
The Pistons are fully healthy with no players on assignment, which must be nice for them. #FullSquad and all. And as Dan pointed out above, it’s taken them some time to rediscover chemistry due to earlier injuries. Van Gundy is still figuring out his best groups, and three of the Pistons’ four most commonly used lineups have been outscored on the season. Watch out for the current iteration of the starters, though – they’ve been a positive in 247 minutes, a decent sample, and it makes sense given the amount of shooting and playmaking that’s around the Jackson-Drummond pick-and-roll as constructed. Having a shooter without a conscience in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a pair of brutes who can punish wild closeouts at the forward spots could force the Raptors to stay at home on their men, a tough task given the difficulty of the initial 1-5 action.

It’s a big Jonas Valanciunas night, as it always is opposite Drummond.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Beno Udrih
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
INJ: None

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites with a 211 over-under. I’d expect that line to nudge to Raptors -7 throughout the day, especially if word comes out that Patterson’s a go. They should take this one. They need it.

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905 crush Charge with three-point barrage

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (24-9) def. Canton Charge (18-15); 118-88 | Box Score
Assignees: Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo (905). Jared Sullinger (905)

The Raptors 905 used a spectacular offensive performance that included 17 three-point hits at a 47.2% clip to halt the Canton Charge on Saturday night.

There was a terrific atmosphere at the Hershey Centre tonight, as one of the Toronto FC supporters’ groups (pretty sure it was The Inebriatti) made it out for the game, and deserve credit for chanting the 905 to victory.

Jared Sullinger opened the game with a face up at the top of the key and and spun around his defender, before dishing a pass to Edy Tavares for the finish. Sullinger then found a cutting Tavares again from the left block for the flush. Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet then hit back-to-back triples to give the 905 an early 10-0 lead.

VanVleet then showed his chemistry with Edy Tavares, finding him on three consecutive possessions to give Tavares the easiest 10 points he’ll score in a quarter on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting. VanVleet was in a giving mood all night, finishing the game with 11 assists.

Yanick Moreira made his presence felt as well with a pair of offensive rebounds upon checking into the game and then a monster block on the other end. More on him later.

Brady Heslip Curry then checked into the game and knocked down two more three-pointers before Negus Webster-Chan joined in on tickling the nylon from deep with one of his own just before the quarter ended. Heslip finished with 18 for the game, ending his streak of consecutive 20 point games at four.

The 905 shot 65% in the quarter for a 33-16 lead after one.

They were able to keep up their offensive consistency in the second quarter, but struggled to keep the Charge quiet. John Holland scored 12 of his 22 points in the first half to help them outscore the 905 28-27 in the second quarter.

With the defence returning to form in the second half, the Charge just couldn’t live with the 905 on this night. They were outscored 58-44 by the 905 over the period, handing the season series to the 905 as well.

One thing I’ve taken notice of lately is Stackhouse’s willingness to use Bruno as an inbounder. This makes a lot of sense, as he’s not only got the height to see the floor, but also the length to negate any space the man guarding the inbounds tries to take away. On the downside, I’ve talked a bit about how Bruno does settle for the three a bit too much, and nine of his 15 attempts from the field came from behind the line tonight. He shot 26.6% from the field for the game.

I liked the way Sully played tonight. He could have come in and made this night about him and getting his game on track, but with the team executing so well offensively, he stayed true to the team’s cause and played a well-rounded floor game (no pun intended). He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, and you wouldn’t expect a veteran looking to get reps to give up good looks so that his teammates can get great ones. Unlike his first D-League appearance where he attempted 19 shots and seven from long distance, he took 11 shots in this one; making both his long-range attempts. Everything he did was well within the flow of the offence.

All-Star to be, Tavares, had another big night with 16 points and 10 rebounds on eight field goal attempts, and really fed off the attention VanVleet and Sullinger attracted. Moreira is another big that had himself a night, feasting inside for 13 points and eight boards. He’s looked better on offence over the last two games, playing with more conviction on that end.

For those of you in Mississauga, the Raptors 905 only have five games left at the Hershey Centre, so now’s the time to get out there and catch a game.

Notes:

  • Axel Toupane and Will Sheehey continue to sit with hamstring injuries.
  • Negus Webster-Chan gave Stackhouse some good minutes tonight, and it’s been good to see Antwaine Wiggins and CJ Leslie start to string some notable performances together with consistent minutes.
  • The 905 will next take on the Westchester Knicks at 7:30pm EST on Valentine’s Day (Tuesday).
  • The game should feature two to three assignees for the 905 and if you wanted to go to the game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Pre-Deadline Mailbag: A lot of Ibaka, plenty of other trade talk, Wrestlemania, and more

Three days in a row off for the Toronto Raptors means it’s time for another #RRMailbag. (They take a lot of time to put together, so I need the extra day turnaround time.) Or something. You can find all of the previous editions here, though I don’t know why you’d bother. You’ll probably get another pre-deadline one during the All-Star break, too.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Sorry, just setting the tone for what’s to come.

Serge projector (no Ibakaing out now)

Before answering the proper question, I’d like to just iterate that I don’t believe Paul Millsap is fully off the market. Yes, the Hawks are 31-23, fifth in the East, and mostly trending upward. They’re also in a market where they’ve been gun-shy about looking like they’re rebuilding in the past, and dealing Millsap would at least signal a step back. It’s why I was never all that confident a deal would get done, because the asking price is going to have to really make sense for them. But if the offer is right? It’s a 32-year-old impending unrestricted free agent who doesn’t fit the rest of the team’s timeline and who likely won’t see them past the second round, anyway. You could convince the Hawks to reconsider. More of my Millsap thoughts are here and here.

As for Serge Ibaka, I wrote a fair amount about it here. Yes, the Raptors should be making calls on Ibaka. I don’t think he closes the gap with Cleveland in a meaningful way, but he does make it much more likely that the Raptors meet Cleveland in the Easter Conference Finals rather than bowing out before that point (or drawing a 4-5 seed and seeing the Cavaliers in the second round). Ibaka is also 27 and a pending free agent, and Toronto would seem to be a good longer-term fit for him, at least as much as a city can without knowing the player personally – there’s a Masai Ujiri connection, a great city, a franchise moving in the right direction, and two stars to allow Ibaka to once again thrive in the No. 3 role.

There would be tax complications that would likely see Toronto have to lose a piece to retain him (counter: the team has no means of acquiring a player anything close to this good in free agency), and he’s going to cost you at least two assets on the trade market. I suggested in that write-up that Orlando would probably ask for one of Terrence Ross/Cory Joseph, one of Jakob Poeltl/Pascal Siakam, and one of the 2017 first-round picks (you’d hope to get him for just two of those pieces, but Rob Hennigan is likely trying to recoup a fair amount of the value he surrendered for Ibaka in the first place. But it sounds more and more likely that Ibaka is the best piece available on the trade market, he’s a good on-court fit at both ends with what the Raptors are trying to do, and they’ve long needed an upgrade in the frontcourt to help solidify themselves as Cleveland’s biggest threat.

You have to give something up to get something, and smart teams will see Norman Powell as a major asset. I’m not positive the Magic fall into that group given their desperate need for shooting on the wings, and Powell’s tiny salary makes the math a lot tougher than Ross does. Because you’d have to pair Powell with either Joseph or two other pieces to make the salary matching work, a deal suddenly becomes a lot more complex than just swapping out Ross for Powell. In theory, Powell is not untouchable, but I struggle to find a deal for Ibaka that would make a great deal of sense both ways unless Orlando is only really after Powell and one of the prospects (something like Powell, Jared Sullinger, and Poeltl works).

I answered the first part above. I’d go as high as three assets: One of Ross/Joseph, one of Poeltl/Siakam, and one of the 2017 first-round picks. And I’d be hoping to get away with just two of those pieces. There are other ways to construct a deal, though, and I’d be fine giving up multiple picks if it meant being able to slide Sullinger’s salary in place of Ross/Joseph.

I don’t think you’re going to find a deal involving DeMarre Carroll, though. Given the injury track record and current performance, you’d probably have to pay a team in picks just to take Carroll into cap space right now, let alone to get Ibaka back in a deal, too. This isn’t meant as a dig on Carroll, who is trying, trending in the right direction over the longview of the season, and who, when playing well, brings some important things to the table that no other Raptor player brings. It’s a contract matter, and the fact that Carroll matters more to Toronto than he would to another team – yes, he’s blocking Powell some and hasn’t been at his best, but what he brings does less for a team further away from contention, and his salary would be tough to swallow when trying to rebuild.

There aren’t many teams I see willing to take on Carroll unless a deal gets very large. And that’s fine. It’s a bit of a sunk cost at this point. I understand the frustration of fans, too, but a suggestion: Accept the contract as one that will likely end up looking bad at its conclusion, and focus on what Carroll can bring. The team’s being patient with his role for a reason, and if he’s struggling come the playoffs, Powell will eat into his minutes more significantly.

If the Raptors wind up sending out Joseph in a larger package for Ibaka, C.J. Watson wouldn’t be the worst piece to bring back (nor would Jodie Meeks). The Raptors aren’t wanting for guard depth even if they send Joseph out, but in a multi-player deal, it doesn’t hurt to get back an experienced piece who can really shoot the ball (even with back-to-back shaky seasons from outside, Watson is a 37.6-percent career 3-point shooter). The complicating factor here is that one of the biggest benefits of an Ibaka deal is that he doesn’t make a lot, so salary matching is easy – throw in Watson, or Meeks, or whoever, and the Raptors have to send out more and more. An Ibaka deal makes the most sense to me as a smaller one.

If the team is going to acquire Ibaka, re-signing him this summer would absolutely be part of the plan. Ditto for Millsap. They’re not selling off future pieces just for the right to lose in a tighter series to the Cavaliers, and so acquiring the Bird rights to Ibaka is a big part of the draw here. The deal wouldn’t be a rental in the traditional sense.

The Raptors are going to face a tough salary crunch with or without Ibaka, though, and keeping him would likely mean that Patrick Patterson is done with the team this offseason. Barring a tear-down or some major offseason salary dumping (or, and I don’t even want to mention it, the loss of Kyle Lowry), the Raptors probably figure to be a tax team next year. They’re willing to do that, but don’t be surprised if keeping Ibaka (or even just keeping Lowry and Patterson, depending on the market) requires some maneuvering in the offseason. Masai Ujiri has the green light to go into the tax, but they’re not going to amass a Cleveland-sized tax bill unless something changes where they’re suddenly a legitimate title contender.

(More of) The usual trade talk

This is kind of a tough question to answer, because as with any deal or trade season in general, it requires more than just the Raptors to be willing to make a deal. You need the right players to hit the market. You need a team to be a trade fit. You need another team to not swoop in and overpay for the same piece. Considering there are maybe 25 teams who, at present, can talk themselves into playoff contention, it stands to be a seller’s market, except those sellers don’t have a lot of pieces to offer.

So on the one hand, no, the Raptors can’t really afford to sit back. They’re not as good as they’d like to be, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need help, the window isn’t exceptionally wide open given the age of their two stars, and the threat of Lowry leaving this summer becomes far more obvious if the Raptors bow out in the first round of the playoffs again. They’ve built a ton of great momentum as a franchise over the last few years, and anything less than at least one playoff series win would be a fairly significant step back, perhaps giving the impression the unprecedented success they’ve achieved was a bit of a fluke, or came with the fortune of good timing. The Raptors need another strong performance this year, not just to help retain Lowry and insure the near-term health of the organization, but to make sure the important progress they’ve made so far isn’t undone. A deal would help.

On the other, though, you have to be realistic about the market, so it’s not reasonable to take a trade-or-bust mentality. For as much as Toronto needs to do well now, they also can’t sacrifice the health of the franchise moving forward just to lose to Cleveland by a little bit less in May. Prospects are food stamps in baseball, but in basketball, with limited rosters and a salary cap, they’re also a source of cheap labor and upside, something that’s hard to come by if you sell the farm and become a tax team. You know how top-heavy teams stay good? They have productive, inexpensive players at the end of the roster.

It’s a tough balance to strike, where the Raptors absolutely do need a trade, but because there’s no player that’s going to push them over the top available, they also can’t just significantly overpay for a marginal move. Ask Orlando how that worked out. I wrote about this conundrum a bit more here.

We’ve seen the ceiling of this team. It’s a gritty two-way outfit that can defend capably and score as well as anybody. Led by two All-Stars flanked by players excelling in smaller roles, they can patch together enough defensively to let their offense carry them. At their best, they can probably be a shade better than the team that took Cleveland to six games last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. That level of play still exists within this group, even if it’s been a while since it’s presented itself.

The floor, however, is what’s more concerning. The floor isn’t quite as low as the 2014-15 team everyone likes to compare this one too – the stars are better, the roster deeper, the individual defenders more capable – but it’s as low as the same outcome, a first-round playoff exit. The East has improved enough to where Toronto isn’t a certainty to advance, especially if they wind up in the 3-5 range in the standings. We’ve seen over the last six weeks that the floor is a team that struggles defensively, can’t get contributions outside of their top two players, and relies to heavily on just a few pieces to win games.

If they make a deal, it’s probably about the floor as much as the ceiling. Maybe Ibaka is a ceiling play, but given the gap between Toronto and Cleveland, any move less splashy than that would be aimed at ensuring the bottom doesn’t fall out.

Now, will they? It always makes more sense to bet “no” on a trade.

I’d prefer a combo-big to a combo-forward. The Raptors already have a combo-forward in Carroll and the additional guards and wings to make such a lineup work, and while they’re often much too small across the floor with those looks, they’re at least moderately effective. Getting another combo-forward is nice Carroll insurance, but it wouldn’t change those looks from being too small, and it would serve to further cloud the path to playing time for Powell, something a lot of people are (understandably) concerned about.

The frontcourt rotation of Patterson-Valanciunas-Nogueira perhaps doesn’t need fortifying when you factor in a tightened playoff rotation and the ability to go small, but given the presence of Ross and Powell off the bench on the wing, it would seem a more reasonable position to attack. Sullinger, as currently constructed and the rookies would have little business playing in a playoff series, and Toronto could probably use some insurance up front in the event they meet an opponent they can’t permanently downsize against.

To be clear, though, a move that makes them better makes them better. If a four-five isn’t there, or a three-four makes more sense given the asking prices, you get the best pieces possible and figure out the fit as you go along.

At last I heard, the Suns were trying to get a first-round pick for P.J. Tucker, a strong, physical wing who can play some small four and would add some necessary toughness to Toronto’s bench. Sullinger makes sense from strictly a math perspective, but Phoenix likes having veterans around as their young players learn and grow, so it’s unclear how open they may be to letting Tucker go for a modest return. My guess: You’d have to part with either one of the young bigs, Delon Wright, or a first-round pick to get him. I don’t think salary ballast and the No. 55 pick is getting it done.

There’s almost no scenario in which the Raptors would be able to clear cap room to sign Ibaka in this scenario. Even without adding Chandler (who has about $12 million on his deal next year), the Raptors are in a cap situation where it’s almost impossible to carve out space for a free agent.

Now, if they dealt for Ibaka (I’m a little confused at the wording of the question, my apologies) and used their Bird rights to re-sign him, they don’t need to clear cap space to do so. Deals of, say, Ross for Chandler and Joseph+Poeltl+pick for Ibaka (just random examples, not saying they’re deals that would work) neutralizes some of the salary increase moving forward, but even then, the Raptors would be up against a serious luxury tax bill and waiving goodbye to Patrick Patterson. Even if Patterson walked and Ibaka/Lowry only made a combined $50M next season (unlikely), the tax bill would be pushing $10M, even before factoring in any other rookies or free agents.

In other words, it’s all absolutely possible, but their salary situation is almost surely going to require some tough decisions and some juggling next summer, no matter what they do.

It’s possible, depending on your goals for these deals. Those guys don’t life the ceiling any higher, but both are tough, defensive-minded players who can help lift the floor and maybe help right the ship from a defensive attitude perspective. The issue I’d see with those pair of acquisitions is that you’d suddenly be significantly older – the Bulls would probably want Ross, the Nuggets Joseph, both may want prospects, and Gibson is about to enter free agency at an age where paying him long-term is at least a difficult question. Those two players, assuming Ross went out in one of the deals, would also leave the Raptors desperately light on shooting.

It would depend, obviously, on the asking prices. I like both players, but even in tandem they don’t make the Raptors a threat to Cleveland, so balancing the now with the next two-to-three years would be important.

My ranking: Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Siakam, VanVleet, Caboclo.

You can quibble with this, of course. It’s based on a few different things, and it’s always hard to marry upside and floor. For example, I think VanVleet is absolutely an NBA rotation player, but I’m not sure he’s ever a starter, whereas Siakam has immense defensive potential but also a higher likelihood of not turning out a steady, productive player. I’m certain Wright is an NBA backup right now and that Poeltl will be, at worst, a capable backup center, but Wright’s game has a bit more to it in terms of what he could become.

Tiering them might make more sense: Powell, Wright/Poeltl, Siakam/VanVleet, Caboclo.

Raptors miscellaneous

I wouldn’t say the defense isn’t good. I mean, it’s not, but it can be. Despite all of their struggles, the Raptors grade out as almost exactly league average on that end of the floor so far, and they can absolutely play better than they’ve shown when Patterson returns, if Joseph rediscovers his form, and if guys lock in when the postseason draws near. But yeah, I had them down to finish in the 12-15 range on defense before the year (they’re currently 17th), and that’s fine but not good enough to legitimately contend.

I don’t think DeRozan’s comments were anything to make a big deal out of, though. DeRozan’s grown to the point where he just keeps it real 100 percent of the time in interviews, and he’s not going to piss down your back and then tell you it’s raining. He knows the team is struggling and doesn’t have it on the defensive end right now. Sure, it’s a little odd to hear him say help would be welcome rather than rallying up the team with a “we’ve got what we need in house” comment, but he’s a) just being honest, and b) being a leader by letting the team know how they’ve been playing isn’t good enough.

It’s definitely looked like a bigger hole because of Patterson’s absence. He’s an important piece to the starting lineup and bench-heavy units, and he’s their best team defender and defensive communicator. His absence has had a trickle-down effect in the rotation, too, and it’s forced Dwane Casey to go deeper into the bench, experiment, and use guys in spots they’re not ready for. The hope is that, like last year with Carroll’s absence, the team winds up better for it in the long-run, but it’s a little concerning that a role player who barely touches the ball on offense has this big an impact on a team that fancies itself a threat. No disrespect to Patterson, whose game I’m a huge fan of, but he shouldn’t be the swing factor between conference finalist and first-round fodder, the two extremes the team has played to with and without him (there is, admittedly, a lot else going on, too).

Sullinger’s injury, though, doesn’t require qualification. Because while the team will get Patterson back, there’s no assurance Sullinger’s going to be able to play his way into what he was supposed to be. Nogueira has eaten into his role as a sometimes-backup center, Patterson has established he should start, and Sullinger, even if at his best, would be fighting to carve out a spot in the rotation. The power forward spot, then, remains a hole because it’s still not clear what and when Sullinger will provide – the Raptors can’t go into the deadline assuming Sullinger is their de facto acquisition.

If the latter were true and players were ignoring him, it would mean he’s doing a poor job, yes. But there’s a lot more nuance to the situation than that, namely that Casey empowers Lowry and DeRozan to read defenses and make calls on the fly, and that sometimes, your best intentions just don’t turn out.

There’s also a bit of a misnomer about Casey’s late-game playcalling: While it’s certainly redundant and relies heavily on one-on-one attacking, the Raptors run actions to get the best matchup possible, then attack it. That’s just how their built, and it puts a lot of onus on Lowry and DeRozan to score tough baskets against defenses that know where the Raptors are trying to attack. But DeRozan attacking Isaiah Thomas or Tyus Jones relentlessly, or Lowry hounding switches against a slow-footed big, those are good advantages to exploit. Still, this needs some cleaning up, and the Raptors have at times shown they can get more creative and create late-game looks for other players (my suspicion is that if they did so and a Joseph or Carroll missed a clean look, people would then rip Casey for not calling a play for one of his stars).

It probably remains Casey’s biggest weakness as a coach, his late-game execution. He is not a bad coach, though. Coaching is a 365-day job, and it’s unwise to evaluate someone’s performance on one element of that, even if it’s the most glaring and obvious (and to be clear, I was very critical of Casey after the Minnesota loss). He does more good than harm. Steering the team out of this skid will be a good test of that more macro-level stuff that’s harder to identify and quantify.

This has been a point of frustration for me for a little while now. The Raptors tweaked their system before last year to ask less hedging from Valanciunas, instead having him drop back more often. That included a more conservative approach to side pick-and-rolls. Personnel has changed some of the approach – Bismack Biyombo’s biggest strength was his versatility in this regard, and both Nogueira and Poeltl have strengths hedging in different parts of the floor – and for whatever reason, Casey’s also asked Valanciunas to high-wall the side pick-and-roll more often. (High-walling is what you see when Valanciunas essentially goes perpendicular to the sideline to impede a guard’s progress toward the baseline. It is also where, I think, like, 40 percent of Valanciunas’ fouls come from.)

The thing is, Valanciunas is a step slow and isn’t the swiftest at recovering back to his man in the middle of the floor, so not only does it require aggressive weak-side help to tag his man near the nail, there’s a chain reaction as Valanciunas tries to lumber back into position. It hasn’t been particularly effective, and while there’s an argument to be made for continuing to try it to see if the team will figure it out, they’re even using it against guards who can’t shoot now, which doesn’t make a ton of sense (you’re really afraid of Ricky Rubio pulling up if Valanciunas drops back?).

Whatever the reason behind it – likely experimenting because the defense has been bad and they need to try something – it’s probably something that would only be used as a matchup-specific look in the postseason. Or so I’m telling myself.

Absolutely they should. 100 times yes. Sadly, the Knicks don’t visit again this year.

https://twitter.com/TDotNorm/status/830080783763271687

I miss him in the locker room and as a quote, that’s for sure. I’m sure the team misses a bit of that leadership, too.

As for Scola himself, well, by the end of last year he wasn’t playing particularly well, and at 36 years old, playing the mentor role for a rebuilding team is probably a nice fit. Brooklyn paid him a little more than his likely market value, too, and he might even have another season in him with this same role, given how beloved he is. Luis Scola forever.

It seems like we might be getting close. Wright’s now had five D-League games, and it looks like the rust is off. What’s more, it’s VanVleet, not Wright, down with the 905 for tonight’s game. The initial plan when Wright got healthy was for the two young guards to trade stints in the D-League back and forth, and while VanVleet has shown himself absolutely capable of handling NBA minutes, the team probably wants to see what Wright has, too. Minutes will still be hard to come by unless Lowry or Joseph get a night off, but it seems like he’s at least temporarily in the PG3 slot.

This question is probably best revisited in two weeks when we see if the Raptors have done anything at the deadline.

His physical and psychological development have been great. He’s not nearly as big as he’ll ultimately need to be, but he no longer looks like a kid, and he’s held up to playing power forward for the bulk of his minutes with the 905. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse seems to have helped with the mental side, too, as Caboclo is wilting from competition far less frequently, bouncing back when he has poor stretches, and showing some nice fire on the defensive end. These are *expected* developments, but it’s still a positive that they’re happening.

On the court, Caboclo’s taken immense strides as a defender. His awareness of team defensive concepts has improved, he’s using his length better in man situations, he’s become much smarter in help-and-recover, and he’s more keenly aware of how to use his length beyond just flailing at shooters. He’s really coming along on that end. I wish I could say the same for his offense. Even with an extra year of experience and a smaller role, his efficiency is down, as are his raw numbers. He’s plateaued there, and while it’s concerning (especially the dip in 3-point percentage), the steps on defense outweigh the offensive stagnation, I think.

He’s still extremely young by NBA standards and has a season-and-a-half before the experiment is expected to show returns. I’m not convinced he’ll be a useful NBA piece yet, but I absolutely see why the team has kept their faith in that process.

I don’t really have a good answer for you, as I haven’t been to a game as a fan in a few years now. I’m not sure what kind of stuff there is before games. I would say, though, that making sure you’re in a little before game time is probably a smart move, as watching warmups usually gets you a few fun dunks (I used to always go early just to catch the nightly Jose Calderon warmups dunk to make sure he could still do it). Powell and Ross, in particular, usually throw down some ridiculous stuff, and you can probably get down pretty close until it starts to fill up.

Last year, Valanciunas promised me he’d hit a three at some point this year. I asked him about it the other week and he said “we still have half a season, right?” So it’s coming. Or a three is coming, anyway. He’s capable of hitting them, but he’s never going to be a “stretch” five in the sense that the Raptors ask him to shoot many and defenses react to it. It’ll probably only ever be a show-me weapon he can unleash as the trailer in transition or if an action stalls out late in the clock.

NBA miscellaneous

Hooked On A Feeling. The Jays have to bury that song.

I’d coach one of the celebrity teams this year. The East side has White Chocolate, Oscat Schmidt, and reigning MVP Win Butler, plus I’d have Kyle Lowry on my coaching staff and would get to talk smack to Mark Cuban, Baron Davis, Draymond Green, and Master P on the other side. (I would have loved to coach against Drake last year. Can’t believe Kevin Hart got my spot.)

I think the new CBA probably slowed the market a bit. It came out early enough for teams to have plenty of time to digest the new rules, so I don’t think there’s necessarily an uncertainty aspect, but the new CBA has a few wrinkles that teams are probably still digesting and figuring out the best way to attack. The biggest thing it did was firmly take DeMarcus Cousins off of the market, and if he had been even remotely in play, that probably would have had trickle-down effects everywhere.

The bigger reason it’s so quiet is that everyone’s still in a playoff race. It’s one of the minor drawbacks of greater parity.

Non-basketball miscellaneous

This is a tough question, since I’m lucky enough to get to meet a lot of athletes as part of my job. Other than interviewing Steve Nash for the first time a few years back or talking beard care with Russell Martin at spring last year, there aren’t that many occasions where I still kind of geek out. It’s never going to happen, but I will say that if I had one interview request, it would be to talk wrestling with noted WWE fan Vince Carter.

I don’t think we’re going Randy Orton-John Cena. I think Bray Wyatt is going to win the Elimination Chamber, and then the Orton-Wyatt story they’ve been telling most of the last year will wind up being a major match. That slow-burn has been phenomenal, and it’s worth of a big spot on the card. Both guys have also shown they can step it up in a match they care about, especially a really physical one, so it should be fun. I wouldn’t be opposed to Luke Harper staying in the story and being thrown int he mix, either.

As for Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, meh. It’s not for me. I don’t think it needs the title to be important and I’d rather Kevin Owens-Chris Jericho feud over the belt, but I understand why Lesnar-Goldberg has appeal to casual fans and kids. Not everything on the card is there for everyone, so I’ve kind of just accepted it.

It would be immensely disappointing, yes. A.J. Styles has been their MVP and should have a match where he can go out and put on a show and culminate one of the best debut years in WWE history. I’m not sure exactly who or what that story is – Smackdown is a little thin on guys unless they called someone up or gave him Cena again – but Shane McMahon is ill-suited for anything other than a gimmick match/storyline at this point. I’m not sure what the answer is if they insist on getting Shane on the card, though, or who Styles would go with otherwise (Samoa Joe? Shinsuke Nakamura?).

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Jared Sullinger headed back to Raptors 905

Jared Sullinger is headed back to the D-League.

The Toronto Raptors assigned Sullinger and Fred VanVleet to their minor league affiliate on Friday. Those two will join Bruno Caboclo on assignment, while Delon Wright has been recalled. The 905 play at 7:30 p.m. at Hershey Centre on Saturday.

Sullinger requested an assignment on Jan. 28 in order to help him continue to work his way back into game shape after missing months following foot surgery. His performance to that point had been shaky outside of a quick burst in his debut, and the frustrated power forward told Raptors Republic that if he didn’t figure it out soon, he needed “to sit down, period.” He looked as uneven as expected in his lone game with the 905, dominating physically but showing a bit of rust in terms of his jumper, ball skill, and defense. Following that game, he’s appeared in six of Toronto’s seven games, and is now averaging 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 10.7 minutes over 11 outings, shooting 31.3 percent.

Given his vague initial timeline for recovery, his progress remains right on or even ahead of schedule. The repetitions he’s been able to get in so far haven’t been terrific, but some feared he’d be out until the All-Star break, and he’s at least been able to get a bit of time in, working on his conditioning and his understanding of the system. In two of his recent appearances with the parent club, he looked solid, and the team did not look worse off for having him out there. That’s damning with feint praise, perhaps, but it’s a measure forward from where he was before his first assignment.

Saturday marks another opportunity for Sullinger to get work in with the Raptors off for three days, and he should once again see a steady diet of touches and upwards of 30 minutes. As discussed at the time of the initial assignment, Sullinger deserves a world of credit for bucking convention and any remaining D-League stigma in becoming one of the first veteran players to accept a rehab assignment after already returning to NBA play.

Now, whether that turns into anything of use for the Raptors is yet to be seen. Sullinger has looked like as awkward a fit next to Jonas Valanciunas as expected, and the backup center spot Sullinger was in part expected to fill has been capably run with by Lucas Nogueira. Sullinger will likely be able to get himself to playing at a higher level than he has to date, but he remains in a tough place in terms of the Raptors’ rotation and his role. Toronto has also continually had him pop or trail above the arc rather than getting him into the corners or short-roll to the elbows, and his shooting has suffered as a result.

Presumed the starting power forward and small-ball center, his role as the team presently shapes up would be that of backup power forward, playing smaller minutes, and even then he’d only be tenable there in certain matchups. The Raptors, meanwhile, continue to reportedly hunt for a power forward upgrade, and if they wind up making a smaller-scale deal, Sullinger’s salary would be a prime chip for salary-matching. In other words, the size – and mere existence – of his role on this team for the remainder of the year remains very much up in the air, hard though he may by trying.

The flip of Wright and VanVleet is interesting. Wright’s appeared in five games as a sort of tune-up or rehabilitation since being cleared, and as he did last year, he’s looked too advanced for the level. So, too, has VanVleet, though, and VanVleet’s been successfully filling in with meaningful spot minutes for the Raptors. It’s not clear if this swap suggests Wright may get the next look if Toronto needs a third point guard, or if this is just keeping VanVleet fresh and adhering to the initial plan, which would have seen the two point guards trade time in the D-League back and forth. It will be interesting to see, then, who draws the inactive spot on the Raptors’ roster Sunday alongside Caboclo, assuming nobody is out injured.

(Both VanVleet and Sullinger seem likely to be recalled for Sunday’s home game, as the 905 are off until a Tuesday game in Mississauga.)

Caboclo remaining with the 905 is little surprise. He continues to take major strides defensively while stagnating on the offensive end, the former of which is probably more important given his ultimate NBA role, should he reach that level. He’s still among the 20 youngest players in the NBA and a ways away from being leaned on as a contributor.

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The Raptors have been struggling in the clutch lately, but will it last?

The month and a half before the All-Star Game is always a weird time in the NBA and no team knows this more than the 2016-17 Toronto Raptors. They have stumbled through the start to 2017 with a 10-12 record. Seven of the losses have come by five points or less in that time.

Since Jan. 15, the Raptors have a net-rating of -24.3 when the game is in the last five minutes and the score difference is five or less. That mark is good for 26th in the league and uses a decent sample size of nine games in that period. For what it’s worth, that’s tied for third-most “clutch” games in the league during the time period. Unsurprisingly, the Raptors are 1-9 in clutch games in that time frame.

All of this has to be said with the caveat of injuries. Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan are in and out of the line-up and that has a real impact. The point of this is to take a long look what is happening and evaluate if we should expect this to continue.

The old adage is that you need a go-to player who will hit shots down the stretch to win close games. On paper, the Raptors have two of them in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Part of the problem is that the team adheres to the #narrative that Lowry and DeRozan are the guys who can win close games. The other part is that this team can’t lock in and defend.

Let’s start with the offence at the end of the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Raptors ran the exact same play three times in a row: DeMar dribbled at the top with Andrew Wiggins guarding him. Norm Powell, with Tyus Jones guarding him, set a screen for DeRozan to drive right. Here’s the result: a made mid-range baseline jumper going to his right over Jones, floater over Karl-Anthony Towns (with Wiggins lurking) and a missed mid-range jumper over Wiggins after he went under the screen:

When Toronto mixed things up after that, they found success. Lowry used a high screen from Bebe Nogueira to take three that spilled out. It seems like a bad shot, but he’s shooting 51 per cent on pull up threes this year. DeRozan had a great drive and finish through contact after an out-of-bounds play too.

Toronto’s predictability down the stretch is the downfall. The squad falls in the trap of picking at a weakness over and over, assuming the returns will be the same. Problem is, there’s another team that is trying to win too. When the Wolves adjust, what do the Raptors do? Lately, they have not done enough.

The defensive story isn’t that much different than the rest of the game. With Patterson out, the Raptors are pretty limited in the frontcourt. Bebe and Jonas Valanciunas is a bad defensive frontcourt, especially against any team with bigs that are comfortable on the perimeter.

Toronto can try going small as long as Patterson is out, but they run into rebounding troubles when they do that.

And as whiney or hacky as it sounds, the Raptors are suffering on defence because of a lack of effort. Players are getting back cut, blown by or not hustling back on defence, and it leads to cheap points at the worst times.

 

I cut that DeRozan clip when rewatching that fourth quarter just to see my guy William Lou tweet a couple screen grabs of the infraction. These mistakes are so obvious and easy to fix that it leaves me frustrated yet optimistic.

Can they fix these crunch-time issues?

I say yes. They were a top-ten net-rating team in the clutch when healthy. The offence doesn’t need to be reworked for the final minutes, the team has to attack out of ball movement instead of just relying strictly on isolation plays from All-Stars to get buckets.

When they were a top-ten team, they had the third-lowest clutch AST% at 29.1%. (For context, their AST% is at 47.1% for the season.) To me, that suggests the Raptors don’t need to run beautiful sets; run your stuff, attack mismatches and let Kyle Lowry do his thing in the pick and roll. You’ll be fine.

The bigger improvement needs to come on defence. Prior to Jan. 15, they had a 99.3 DRtg in the final five minutes of close games. It’s been at 115.0 in the last month, a mark that would be five points worse than the worst defence in the league. 99.3 would be the best mark in the league (and yes, I know, small sample size, this is just for context).

I think this will improve with Patterson back, as everything seems to. Patterson alone can not fix the effort issues, but his presence will restore integrity to the frontcourt defence. He’s an excellent communicator and a way better pick and roll defender than anyone we have playing right now. There’s an addition-by-subtraction factor at play since Patterson’s availability means Casey doesn’t have to even consider the Bebe/JV frontcourt in the final minutes.

And it could be a good thing in the long term to get some of the younger guys the clutch time run. Norm Powell has made some great plays down the stretch (like that steal against the Magic), but his focus has also wavered. Powell got back cut in the Wolves game and maybe Casey shows that in a film session the next day and the sophomore learns from it.

It’s a long season, and they haven’t been healthy. The clutch performances have been troubling but there are reasons to be optimistic about the Raptors steadying the ship before playoffs.

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Quest To Find Toronto’s Ultimate Raptors Bar Gets Wild

My journey to find the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto got pretty wild with a trip to Wild Wing at Yonge and College.

Chain restaurants/bars have a different vibe than independent ones. Independent bars offer a more unique atmosphere but there’s a standard of quality and consistency that can make franchise bars like Wild Wing a worthwhile destination. I’d walked by the one at Yonge and College a couple times when different sporting events were happening and the place is often packed with energetic fans. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked.

Bar: Wild Wing
Location: 431 Yonge St

Criteria: Atmosphere
Grade: B-

The night of this reconnaissance the Raptors were playing the Orlando Magic. It was a Sunday evening in January and there were only a handful of people in the bar. This was expected as the weather and timing likely had more people watching the game in the comfort of their homes. There’s only so much excitement that can be built up for a game like this.

In terms of function this bar is set up perfectly for viewing sports. It’s a long venue with a row of booths directly down the middle and tables and chairs lining the sides. There’s twelve flat screens along the walls and back bar with two hanging over a booth in the middle row. At least one screen can be seen from every seat in the place.

As I entered the bar, ten of the twelve screens had the Raptors game on while the remaining two had post game coverage of the NHL All Star Game. The sound was up at a good level throughout the bar and the majority of people who were there were focused on the game.

As a big fan of wings I’ve spent more than a few evenings at various Wild Wings. This one was clean and had the standard look. There wasn’t any specific Raptors art or paraphernalia hanging on the walls to suggest it was a Raptors specific bar but there was definitely a sports vibe throughout the place.

*this photo was taken on another night

Criteria: Drinks
Grade: D

It’s called Wild Wing not Wild Beer so the lack of selection is understandable. There were a few major breweries on tap like Coors Light, Canadian and others but few if any craft beers to be found. On this particular night I wasn’t drinking and ordered a soda water. I like soda water but I’ve had friends look at me like I’m a serial killer when I order it at a bar. The server may have had the same reservations because she told me the pop gun wasn’t working and it wasn’t an option. There was beer or whatever canned drinks they had in the fridge. I settled for non-soda water. And then wrote her name on ‘the list’.

Criteria: Food
Grade: A-

Wild Wing has a gigantic menu. Who knew? There are a ton of food options available but with all due respect to the Fish + Tenders, I chose to stick with the food that the business is based on.

Wild Wing’s selection of wings is absolutely glorious. There’s 101 different varieties to choose from and as a personal goal I’ll take down everyone before I die. On this night I went with a pound of Some Beach and a pound of the standard Hot. Each pound was excellent when it came to flavor and serving size. The wings were an average size but each order had at least twelve and came with their own dipping sauce. The order also included a basket of seasoned fries, which were great. It was a very filling meal.

If there’s one area for improvement at this Wild Wing it’s the amount of carrots and celery sticks that come with their wings. My order only included a total of three per order. This isn’t something that’s unique to Wild Wing. Wing places in general seem to serve far fewer vegetables with their orders now. What happened? There needs to be an industry standard amount of carrots and celery per pound of wings. Ideally there’s four of each. If a political candidate ever decides to include this in their election platform they’ll be guaranteed my vote, no matter the party.

Criteria: Clientele
Grade: B

The crowd was small but mighty. There were definitely Raptors fans in the bar as cheers could be heard after big plays as well as frustrated yells during a bad call. Everyone was civil but brought a decent level of rowdiness to the bar. There was a nice sense of unity between the fans throughout the night.

There were a lot of couples at the bar on this particular night. For the record, if you’re a woman who likes chicken wings and the Raptors there’s a good chance I’ll marry you. Not much else required really. Hit me up with your favourite wing spot and all-time Raptors player and we can figure out a time to go ring shopping.

Criteria: Staff
Grade: B+

There was one server working while I was there and she had the place locked down. Extremely efficient and projected a genuine personality. The food was prepared in great time as well and – as mentioned was delicious – so kudos to the kitchen staff. If I owned a restaurant I’d hire them in a second.

There was only one issue and it’s a minor one: I felt a bit rushed after I finished eating. The bill was brought right away. There’s a good chance this is overanalyzing but this is the kind of dedication and commitment this feature promises to bring to the Raptors Republic community.

Criteria: Bathrooms
Grade: NA

I forgot to check out the bathrooms. This is partly due to the aforementioned rushed feeling I got after my meal but more realistically it’s result of the lack of alcohol consumption. Let this be a lesson, avoiding alcohol results in sloppy reporting. So to all you aspiring journalists out there, respect the craft and drink up.

Criteria: Price
Grade: C+

For the two pounds of wings and fries my order came to $28.25. This may seem a bit steep but for a Toronto bar in the heart of downtown it’s fairly reasonable when considering the quality and quantity of food.

During certain times of the week Wild Wing will offer wing & beer deals that make it a little easier on the wallet.

Overall Grade: C+

If this were a search for a great Toronto Sports bar the grade would be higher. When it comes to functionality the Wild Wing at Yonge and College provides some of the best sight lines of any bar in the city. It’s simple but very effective.

But this is the search for the ultimate Raptors bar in Toronto. A place where Raptors fans can gather and know that the Raptors will always take precedence over other sporting events. This Wild Wing doesn’t offer that assurance.

In terms of personality, there’s no unique art like at Homestand or salute to acid-tripping pitchers like The Doc Ellis. It’s a plain, functional bar with a few beers on tap, excellent wings, great staff and perfect views. It’s a good sports bar but for now, the journey will continue.

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Calling on Cory

Cory Joseph is not happy.

His team stinks, his coach hates him and he sucks at defense. That’s how it feels from the arm-chair warrior’s perspective. After watching his minutes plummet against the Magic and then wiped away entirely against the Nets it looked like the handsome Canuck was done skating by on his perceived toughness.

CoJo’s struggles were quietly swept under the rug with each passing game. A player brought in for his defensive tenacity and leadership was beginning to look lost on basic pick and rolls. He missed assignments, failed to stay in front of his defender and lacked any of the physical presence we were used to seeing just a season ago.

It wasn’t just eye test either. Joseph has just 0.7 win shares thanks to his defense so far this season and his defensive box plus/minus rating is at a lowly -1.1. His lack of production in an area he was brought in to specifically help improve forced coach Dwayne Casey’s hand.

Casey questioned his mental toughness and after Joseph said nothing was wrong the Raptors’ coach quickly backtracked:

“Never worried about Cory for one second,” Casey said. “A lot was made to do about nothing. He’s what we’re about, his hard play. (I) just wanted to give him some rest. I used the word ‘mental’ and I shouldn’t have used that — he just needed some rest like Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) and like (Patrick Patterson) is getting some rest. Guys go through that.

Guys certainly do go through that, but rarely as a back up point guard losing minutes specifically for not playing proper defense. Joseph doesn’t have the luxury of taking nights off on the defensive end of the floor. He has the style and swagger of a 7th year noon-ball university hero with a broken jump shot and unless he;s hustling to lock down his man it’s time to ride some pine.

His attempts at being more successful on the offensive end of the floor have actually led to a slight uptick in efficiency, but not production. He’s increased his scoring average of 8.5 from last season to…..8.6, and we wouldn’t expect that number to climb much higher.

The real Cory Joseph is adored by his coach for his toughness, lauded for his defense and is an integral part to a team stuck in a slump but still trying to do something special. That’s why he came out against the Clippers and bodied dudes. It’s why he finished with a +9 rating (his highest since January 17th at Brooklyn) and four rebounds (another high since the Nets).

He followed that up with a +1 rating against the Timberwolves and while Casey seemed confused with his rotations all game Joseph still carved out a much deserved 22 minutes of playing time. In an interview before  that loss to the Wolves Joseph spoke on how much the team needs to help each other, and the energy it takes to play great, not good defense:

“We still have to better of course, tonight’s a different day, different game, different team, we’re going to have to bring our A game against a young team that comes out and plays hard and we’re going to have to match that intensity or bring even more”

The Raptors couldn’t bring more, and watched the Wolves crawl back for a heartbreaking 112-109 win.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are excellent ball players, but their scoring prowess has allowed them both to earn free passes when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. If Joseph doesn’t know it yet, his impact is felt across the entire team the moment he locks down on D.

Here’s hoping Casey’s mandatory vacation for number 6 paid off.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Feb 9 – Halfway down The Road to The Six

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

The Extra returns to catch up with Raptors 905 and look ahead to some necessary rest for the Raptors.

(more…)

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905 maintain theme of a balanced attack to put away Bulls

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 (23-9) def. Windy City Bulls (13-17); 113-104 | Box Score
Assignees: Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo (905). Jake Layman (Bulls)

Brady Heslip caught fire early, but a balanced attack overall helped the Raptors 905 blow away the Windy City Bulls 113-104 on the road.

Back to the bench after coach Jerry Stackhouse started him alongside Delon Wright, the split allowed each of them their time to shine. Delon Wright was relentless in attacking the rim and scored 11 points in the first half courtesy of a perfect 7-of-7 at the free throw line. He finished with 19 points and nine assists for the game. Heslip provided the outside threat once he checked in, knocking down three triples in the first half on his way to 11 first half points and the duo was mainly responsible for the 16-point lead the 905 built up at halftime. Heslip added a further 11 in the second half.

I mentioned in a podcast that will be up for Raptors Republic Friday morning that Heslip is at his best when he can play off the ball, and the freedom he has to throw up hay makers with Wright running the point makes him even more of a threat than he usually is at the point.

Antwaine Wiggins got the start tonight and rewarded Stackhouse with some inspired play. He scored six points early on, impressing with his face-up game. He finished with 10 in the half and 17 for the game on 8-of-10 shooting. CJ Leslie got a good chunk of playing time, and showed a level of focus that he has struggled to keep consistently high. He threw down a wicked two-handed jam with about three minutes remaining in the first quarter after no one seemed to want to guard him at the top of the key, before finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.

Bruno Caboclo was forced to check out of the game early in this one after picking up two fouls in his first six minutes. I thought he was unlucky to get called for a foul when making what looked like a clean block inside. More on him later.

The only bright spot for the Bulls in the first half was Jack Layman. He can really shoot the ball. He hit a step back three and a long two on back-to-back possessions to cut the 905 lead to three, and his stroke was picture-perfect on both of them. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter. In case you’re wondering, he’s on assignment from the Portland Trailblazers.

Yanick Moreira was a bit of a surprise tonight offensively, even scoring with a hook shot from about 10 feet out. He was tightly contested going to his right from the left block, but somehow managed to finish the play going away from the basket. He scored all of his seven points in the first half.

Edy Tavares started the second half with some straight disrespect, rejecting an Alfonzo McKinnie dunk attempt with force after the Bull looked to have the all clear for the slam. It was one of his two blocked shots on the night and added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Bruno came alive in the third quarter and had one of the best stretches I’ve ever seen from him. He knocked down a triple from straight-on, and then went left to attack his man off the dribble and finished with the right hand for the and-one. He followed that up with two perfectly timed blocks inside, and closed the stretch the way he started it, with a three-ball. He finished the game with 14 points, seven boards, two blocks, and a steal and is really starting to come on strong in the latter half of the season.

That stretch saw the 905 go up by as many as 29, and you would think the game would be a mere formality thereafter. Inexplicably, the 905 allowed the Bulls to score 41 points in a fourth quarter that saw their healthy lead cut to just seven with 1:15 to play, before a pair of Heslip free throws helped the 905 pull away. Coach Stackhouse will be thrilled that the team was able to get back on track in the final game of a road trip, and they can now look forward to the not-as-friendly-as-the-road confines of the Hershey Centre. They are now 12-2 on the road, but just 11-7 at home. Get out and show this team some love!

Notes:

  • The 905 will take on the Canton Charge at 7:30pm EST on Saturday in their first game back home after a four-game road trip.
  • E.J. Singler had a really solid floor game, but just struggled to hit from the outside. He finished with seven boards, four assists and three steals, but shot just 2-of-8 from three despite getting some great looks.
  • Jarrell Eddie impressed for the Bulls, dropping 26 on 13 shots, including 5-of-9 from long distance.
  • The game should feature two to three assignees for the 905 and if you wanted to go to the game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Raptors reportedly interested in Ibaka (and some All-Star Weekend notes)

Just a few notes to drop that didn’t warrant their own post. Until the first one camp up. I’d say temper your reactions, but let’s be realistic: This is fun and you won’t anyway, so go nuts.

Raptors interested in Ibaka, or someone like Ibaka

It is an open secret that the Toronto Raptors are interested in landing an upgrade at the power forward position. It was actually a condition of their expansion agreement when they entered the league that they would always be in need of an upgrade at the power forward position, and they were quietly punished when Chris Bosh ended up being good. For the time since, the Raptors have had some really solid contributors at the four but have always had their eye on a potential upgrade. Whether it be Paul Millsap (reportedly off the market but probably not really) or DeMarcus Cousins (almost definitely off the market) or even Markieff Morris a year ago, if you are 6-foot-9 and have at least one basketball skill, Masai Ujiri or Jeff Weltman have likely made a call on you.

This past summer, they made a call on Serge Ibaka, only to find the Oklahoma City Thunder’s asking price to be ridiculous. Rather than give up Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson, and the No. 9 pick, the Raptors passed and watched the Orlando Magic send out Victor Oladipo, the No. 11 pick, and more for a year of Ibaka. Fast-forward half a season, and the Ibaka deal has worked out about as poorly as expected for the Magic (given that they also lavished Bismack Biyombo with a major contract to crowd a frontcourt with ill-fitting pieces), and there’s speculation that Ibaka could be had in a trade.

Logically, since the Raptors were interested in Ibaka before, still have a need at his position, and the asking price should theoretically be lower, the Raptors should be interested now. And they are, according to Marc Spears of The Undefeated. Or they might be, depending on how you interpret his wording:

Toronto has had its eye on landing a power forward like Orlando’s Serge Ibaka before the trade deadline, a source said.

I mean, is that the most vague report yet this trade season, or what? Not only is it obvious – the Raptors want a power forward? Quelle surprise. – but the wording makes it unclear if the Raptors are actually interested in Ibaka himself, or just a power forward upgrade and Ibaka makes sense. This isn’t meant as a dig at Spears, who is generally tied-in and reliable, but given the Raptors’ shroud of secrecy and the vagueness of the report, it’s unlikely this is coming from Toronto’s side.

That’s not to say it’s not true. The Raptors should and likely do have interest in Ibaka, who would be a solid fit at both ends of the floor as either a power forward or a small-ball center. He can space the floor enough to play alongside Jonas Valanciunas without issue, and he would immediately become the team’s best rim-protector. There’s a lot to like in the 27-year-old’s game, even if he’s yet to fully regain the form he showed in his best years with the Thunder. He’d be a substantial upgrade, and the Raptors would be acquiring his Bird rights with a strong chance of re-signing him this offseason, given the cap advantages of having those rights, the presence of Ujiri, and Toronto’s upward swing as a franchise.

(It is unlikely, however, that the team will be able to afford re-upping Kyle Lowry, Patterson, and Ibaka, and even keeping two would likely necessitate the shedding of salary elsewhere, lest the luxury tax bill get too ridiculous for a team that would still only be a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not a favorite to jump them.)

Ibaka also comes with the luxury of a low salary this season, which makes constructing a trade easier. Since he’s earning just $12.25 million, the Raptors would only need to send out $8.1 million in salary to make a deal work. That means Terrence Ross would get it done, from a salary standpoint, or Cory Joseph and any of the youngsters not named Fred VanVleet. That makes coming up with trades a lot easier than it has been for some names in the past, though it doesn’t make an actual deal easier – what, specifically, the Magic would be after is unclear. Ross and Joseph both make sense for the Magic given their current roster construction, but the medium-term plan there is unclear, which makes it hard to nail down what they may be looking for. There’s also the fact that general manager Rob Hennigan could fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy, looking to recoup far too much in a deal in order to ‘save face’ after giving up so much to get Ibaka, or simply because he now values Ibaka based on the payment price. It’s easy to say the Magic should deal him for a package, it’s another entirely to convince the Magic of that.

Still, the two sides would seem to be reasonable trade partners. The Magic have a few mid-level salaries for useful players to kick in if the deal needs to get larger (C.J. Watson, Jodie Meeks, or The Swag God Mario Hezonja, if they’ve given up on him), and the Raptors are flush with young players on rookie deals and draft picks. A late first maybe isn’t going to mean the world, but if the market for Ibaka is somewhat cool, a rotation player, a prospect, and a pick might be the best the Magic can hope for. Toronto could probably even justify playing hardball and offering less if the deal is just for Ibaka straight up.

What’s the most you’d be willing to give up for Ibaka? Does he move the needle enough to surrender three assets, as outlined? He’d certainly re-establish the Raptors as Cleveland’s likeliest opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, a worthwhile goal, but he wouldn’t put them on the level of the Cavs. I haven’t quite decided the maximum I’d be willing to surrender for Ibaka (I think one of Joseph/Ross, one of Poeltl/Siakam, and one of the 2017 firsts is probably “worth it” in a vacuum, but I’d be hoping to negotiate such that only two of the three going out), but the Raptors should be aggressive in pursuing such a piece, regardless. Your thoughts?

More Raptors All-Star representation

Kyle Lowry will be one of Jemele Hill’s assistant coaches during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on the Friday of All-Star Weekend. Lowry, Hill, and Fat Joe will be tasked with helping keep a team that includes reigning MVP Win Butler, Bucks owner Mark Lasry, Sweet Sweet Peter Rosenberg, and basketball legends Oscah Schmidt and White Chocolate Jason Williams ahead of a Mark Cuban- and Baron Davis-led West team coached by Michael Smith, Rosci Diaz, and Draymond Green. This should be a lot of fun.

The next day, reigning D-League Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan of Raptors 905 will defend his crown in a loaded field that should make for one heck of a dunk contest. Brady Heslip is not in the 3-Point Contest, and considering he’s leading the league in makes and hitting at a 42.5-percent clip, he must have turned an offer down.

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3 Players The Raptors Should Look Into At The Deadline

With the season approaching the much anticipated trade deadline, the Raptors should begin to recognize that they need some help if they want to make a deep run this year.

None of the players I will look at are going to be fantasy draft style trades, and they are not going to change the fortune of the season, but rather they are guys who can help the Raptors to improve slightly and improve some areas where the Raptors are struggling.

Richaun Holmes 

Holmes is an unknown young player, but he has a lot of raw athleticism and talent that has always surfaced itself with minutes. Holmes has averaged 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36, but it is his hustle and athleticism that gives opponents problems. Holmes is a fantastic screen setter and is very good at catching and finishing at the rim on the pick and roll. The Raptors really lack a big like this who can fly up for alley oops with consistency. Having a threat to catch a lob, as well as some shooters around the perimeter will give Lowry and Derozan much more room to operate on the offensive end. Holmes’ rim protection would also be a welcomed site on a team that is really struggling to fill the lost void of Bismack Biyombo.

Holmes is young and talented, but he is also buried on the 76ers depth chart. With Embiid, Noel, and Okafor, perhaps Philly could afford to part ways with Holmes for a lesser cost than he might ordinarily receive in a trade.

In a game with Embiid and Okafor out two weeks ago, Holmes got a chance to showcase his talent against the Clippers.

Courtney Lee

It is no surprise that the Knicks have fallen apart. While the entire NBA is talking about where Carmelo Anthony will wind up, I think Courtney Lee could be the more intriguing piece that a team can look to acquire without potentially messing up the chemistry. Lee is shooting 41% on 3 pointers this year, and has been the Knicks most consistent defender this year as well. Lee may not have eye popping numbers, but he only has a 13% usage rate. Lee is a guy who is content playing off the ball, but he is someone who can create his own shot when he sees a plus matchup.

Lee has 2.6 win shares this year, and would be an improvement on the Raptors spacing and defense. He may not cost too much, but he could be a very sneaky acquisition if the Raptors choose to go after someone on the Knicks, who are very likely to be sellers.

Wilson Chandler

Chandler is a really intriguing player and is someone who can immensely help the Raptors. Chandler is someone who came out as unhappy with his role the other week, and has been promptly given 40 minutes in 3 of the last 4 games with Danilo Gallinari injured. He has responded well to this increased role by putting up a few massive games in his absence. Chandler is a 35% 3 point shooter, and although that is not great, he can also create his own shot, and is a solid defender.

Chandler would be a definite upgrade on Demarre Carroll, and he is better suited to play the 4 when the Raptors choose to go small. Chandler may be a little costly, but he could certainly put this team up another level. Also, shifting Carroll to the bench would allow for a Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Carroll-Patterson type of lineup for the bench unit.

Chandler can take a little of the ball handling duties away from Lowry and Derozan, and attract some more defensive attention, while also being able to shift into the stretch 3 and 4 duties when Lowry and Derozan are ball dominant.

All three of these guys could possibly make an impact and fill a void of the Raptors really needing a three and D wing, better perimeter defense, 3 point shooting as well as a pick and roll threat. The first two options will likely come at low cost, while Chandler is a bit of a longer term investment. We’ll see if the Raptors decide to make a move.

What do you guys think? Who are you guys hoping the Raptors target at the deadline?

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Don’t Panic

Things have not been going well for the Toronto Raptors lately. Expectations were high for them going into the season, and rightfully so – the team was coming off the best regular season and deepest playoff run in playoff history, went through the offseason without losing anyone significant(sorry Biz!) and their all-star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan spent the offseason striking gold in the Olympics. Coming into this season the only debate about the Raptors was about whether they would be the clear 2nd best team in the East or if they would have competition from a revamped Celtics squad. The question wasn’t whether the Raptors would be good, it was whether they were a contender alongside the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Clippers or if they were merely the best of the rest.

The beginning of the season went more or less according to plan, with the Raptors already potent offense taking it up another notch and easily dispatching the competition they were supposed to beat while standing toe to toe with the league’s elite. It was a continuation of last season, except with an offense that was challenging the league’s all time great offenses(made necessary by a mediocre defense, of course). Because it wouldn’t be a Raptors season if it didn’t generate at least a little big of angst that train has since been derailed, and the promising start and good feelings that came with it have been replaced by an extended string of mediocrity and weeks of torment for the fanbase. The negative feelings are understandable given the teams play of late, and the return of DeRozan hasn’t fixed what ails them, but there’s still a lot to be optimistic about provided you look at things from the correct angles.

Was the Raptors strong play an illusion?

For some reason this question always seems to come up as soon as the Raptors stumble, and I honestly don’t understand why. I can’t think of anywhere else in life where a change in results would be said to invalidate everything that happened before. If you were performing an experiment and got a statistically significant sample size of results within a certain range and those results suddenly changed in subsequent tests you wouldn’t just assume that the first set were incorrect. If your car consistently did 0-60 in under 7 seconds and it suddenly started lagging a bit to 10 seconds you wouldn’t just adjust your expectations because the new results were the “real” results. In both cases you would endeavour to find the reason for the change.

In sports, and especially with the Raptors, that’s not how it works. It seems you’re only as good as your last game and as soon as you stumble that now defines who you are. Those 56 games you won last year? That was last year. That 28-13 start? That was three weeks ago. As soon as the Raptors started to stumble there was talk of regression and paper tigers, like most teams don’t go through ups and downs like this. Obviously there is some reason to give greater significance to recent play but nobody pretends that the Washington Wizards were never a mediocre team because they’ve found their groove lately so we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that this is what the Raptors should have been and will be all year. I don’t think there has ever been a team that has played at the same level for an entire season with no ebb and flow, and if there has been they are the exception and not the rule. There is a very good chance that the Raptors bounce back from this. The team has steadily climbed the ranks for 5 years now, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt and a little patience.

What’s changed?

It’s tempting to chalk it up to injuries that and has certainly been part of it. Patrick Patterson is the teams second best 2 way player and DeMar DeRozan is the teams offensive workhorse – both have missed significant time. The pair has been fairly durable during their time in Toronto but have taken turns missing games in the new year, sharing the court for only 3 games in the 2017. The loss might not seem that significant at first glance – neither is the best player on the team and Patterson doesn’t start most of the time – but losing your best overall defender is always a significant blow and it can be tough for players to make up for DeRozan’s usage on the offensive end with little preparation.

That’s only part of the story, however. The Raptors struggles started before either player got injured, when the team was in the midst of their extended west coast road trip. Part of it was inevitable, their hot shooting to start the season was never going to last, at least not with the long range bombers on this roster. There’s more to it than just cold shooting, though. The team has struggled to find a consistent rotation all year long, with a few core lineups that work but a lot of lineups that are inconsistent at best and quite a few questionable player combinations getting heavy minutes. They might be the best team in the league whose most played lineup is a significant net negative, currently sitting at -79 for the season.

The Raptors also lack the defense necessary to survive any extended cold streaks; for better or worse this is a team that will live and die by their offense and in the new year that offense has been failing them more often than not.  The Raptors have actually taken a significant step back on that end in the new year, which really highlights just how valuable Patrick Patterson is to the team; you can argue that the offense falling off is mostly due to the absence of DeRozan but the defense is typically better without him and it’s 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse in the new year. Every game that passes with Patterson out of the lineup and the Raptors struggling as a result strengthens the argument for Patterson being the teams second most valuable player.

Why isn’t the sky falling?

This bad stretch has been really frustrating to watch but there are some encouraging things to take away from it, assuming the Raptors are learning from their mistakes and paying attention to what has worked. Being forced to play atypical lineups with DeRozan and Patterson in and out of the rotation has revealed two important truths for the team that can make a big difference going forward.

1 – the team can survive without Lowry and DeRozan on the floor. The trio of Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Terrence Ross have shown that they can hold their ground for stretches, especially with Lucas Nogueira manning the middle; the 4 most played lineups with that foursome are all significant positives. Obviously the sample size is small and you wouldn’t run with them for a full game but if it means giving Lowry and DeRozan some extra rest the team should feel comfortable throwing them out there for an extra 4-5 minutes per game and saving some mileage on the two stars. This is important because the durability of each of them is now a legitimate question mark and getting them a bit of extra rest is crucial. A legitimate fear right now is that coach Dwane Casey may panic and shorten the rotation and neither of the Raptors star guards will be operating at full capacity come playoff time.

2 – long thought to be the teams biggest area of need, if used properly the frontcourt may be their biggest strength. The Raptors have three very good frontcourt players in Valanciunas, Patterson and Nogueira who don’t have a lot of overlap in their strengths and weaknesses which allows them to trot out a solid pairing for almost any situation. Valanciunas is the only one who we could call a good rebounder and post scorer, Patterson is the best shooter as well as the  smartest and most versatile defender defender while Nogueira is the longest and most athletic of the bunch. Need to put up some points? Put Valanciunas and Patterson out there, the Raptors score 119.2 points per 100 possessions(and post  a net rating of +14.4) with the pair on the floor together. Need to compete with a small ball unit? Nogueira and Patterson are more than up to the task, using their length and mobility to help and recover while holding offenses to a stingy 102.7 points per 100 possessions(and posting a net rating of +16.7) Need to defend a bigger lineup or having trouble keeping teams off the offensive glass? The Valanciunas and Nogueira pairing holds offenses to an incredible 95.4 points per 100 possessions while grabbing 82.2% of their defensive rebounds and posting a net rating of +9.3. There’s a big man combination for every situation, ranging from elite offense with average defense to elite defense with average offense. When the team is healthy that trio can easily take up most of the big man minutes – if they each average 28 mpg the team only needs to fill in 12 minutes with DeMarre Carroll at the 4 in a small lineup or with one of their other big men. The Raptors have been terrible with Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger or Jakob Poeltl on the court,they should now realize that they don’t need to play any of them significant minutes on a regular basis and their insistence on forcing one of them into the regular rotation has been costing them games.
It wouldn’t be a Raptors season without some ups and downs but there is no need to blow up the team just yet. Their lineup is versatile if used correctly and their recent injury issues have uncovered utility in valuable places where I don’t think anybody really expected to find it; the Valanciunas-Nogueira pairing makes no sense on offense but manages to get by while everyone has always assumed the offense would just fall apart without Lowry or DeRozan on the floor and that hasn’t been the case. The big question, of course, if whether the team sees this and will adjust their lineups accordingly. Given what we’ve seen recently that’s certainly in doubt, with Sullinger and Poeltl both getting significant fourth quarter minutes in a tight game while Valanciunas inexplicably rode the bench, but there’s no urgent need to blow up the roster and rebuild if the major issue they face is less about who is available to play than it is who ends up playing and when. That 56 win, Eastern Conference Finals team from last year and the 28-13 team from this year is still in there somewhere.

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Raptors let another one slip away in Minnesota

Raptors 109, Timberwolves 112 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Free from the constant talk of the daunting schedule, fatigue, and the woes of going so long without a semblance of consistency, the Toronto Raptors had a prime opportunity to build some momentum heading into an extended stretch of rest. With just three games on tap over the next 15 days, and with only Patrick Patterson still missing from the rotation, the Raptors visited a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves team dealing with a lot of injuries of their own, including the devastating, season-altering loss of Zach LaVine. Games are not given, and the Wolves are simply too talented to pencil a victory in against, but the Raptors have been at a loss for good fortune and the opportunity to put wins together of late, and here it was.

The Raptors are, apparently, unwilling to accept such breaks, unwilling to take advantage of such opportunities, and perhaps unable to string together strong performances right now. A third consecutive win sitting in their hands for the entirety of the game, a litany of curious decisions saw the Raptors hand it right back to the plucky young Wolves. And when the Wolves stumbled, and dropped that precious ball (of yarn, as it were, in KAT’s case), well, the Raptors were right there to hand it back.

Coaches have bad nights, and Dwane Casey iss still navigating life without Patterson, a reality that’s left him with imperfect options at the starting power forward spot and a juggling act with the team’s entire frontcourt rotation. It’s a difficult situation, and most nights it has Casey using five or six bigs, as he did Wednesday. It is not, however, an excuse, because for as real as Toronto’s extenuating circumstances have been, Casey does not let his team use them as excuses and thus can not do so himself. Plus, he’s had weeks without Patterson to try to figure things out and continues to deploy the bigs sub-optimally at times. Case in point in this one: Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas both turned in strong first halves, but things started to unravel quickly after the Raptors opened the second half with a 10-point lead, and the leash on that pairing was quite long.

Lucas Nogueira then found himself in foul trouble in support, which completely took Nogueira off his game defensively, yet Nogueira was the choice at center through the bulk of the fourth quarter. Valanciunas appeared to jam a finger at one point and is dealing with a sore shoulder, but there was little on-court reason for him to sit the bulk of Minnesota’s comeback. No, he’s not an ideal check for Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng, but the other bigs were all struggling, too, Valanciunas is the team’s best rebounder by a remarkable margin, and Valanciunas had made terrific use of his touches to that point. It’s telling that Casey eventually relented and put Valanciunas back in the game. Too little, too late, it turned out, but Valanciunas has been playing some of his best ball of late and deserved the look late with Nogueira’s play dropping off down the stretch.

Now, one of the primary options for the Raptors with Patterson out has been to downsize and go small. They opted to do that, but not until very late, and the extra body initially belonged to Norman Powell. Yes, the Raptors have been able to use Powell in this de facto closer role to strong effect so far, but it’s never been particularly logical for a player to sit all game and be expected to come in and close. This isn’t baseball. Powell’s frustrating usage is in part understandable given other, longer-term goals, but asking even the ever-ready Powell to enter the game cold and lock down players the ilk of Andrew Wiggins is unfair at best and reckless at worst. With Terrence Ross turning in an ugly outing, there was opportunity to get him comfortable earlier, too. Some nights, Powell thrives like this despite the tough draw. Here, he quickly traveled, over-helped to allow a back-door cut, got shot over by Wiggins, and messed up a fast break. As it turns out, there’s a reason literally no other NBA team uses a player this way. It’s cool that Powell can do it sometimes, but it’s unreasonable to expect it nightly.

(By the way, you could add going for a quick two down three with no timeouts left to this list, but upon review, Minnesota defended a UCLA action really well to prevent a three, and the Raptors quickly took a Valanciunas two. Not ideal, but watching it back, they made the best of a well-defended set.)

This is not to say everything falls on Casey here. The Raptors’ defense as a whole remained suspect, and on Minnesota’s game-winning triple, far too many players collapsed toward a trap against Wiggins, leaving Tyus Jones free to morph into Winnus Jones. Kyle Lowry’s hot shooting start fell off and he finished the game 6-of-19 and 1-of-11 in the second half, one of his lesser performances on the year. Even DeMar DeRozan, who was relied on heavily down the stretch seeking Isaiah Thomas-like switches against Jones, needed 30 possessions for his 30 points. They needed him to use every one of those, but the Wolves did a nice job at least making another strong scoring night as difficult as possible. (He also didn’t get the whistle on what pretty clearly should have been an and-one late, but there were gripes to be had on both sides.) And the Raptors missed six of their 20 free-throw attempts, a reasonable number but one that always leaves what-ifs on the mind.

The thing with games like this – or really, most NBA games – is that a lot happens in the margins. The Raptors had a lot break well for them here. DeMarre Carroll was lights out on offense and solid on defense. Valanciunas gave them a ton of cheap points. DeRozan was DeRozan. But the Wolves answered those calls. Wiggins was terrific with a 31-5-6 performance that made me, his father, proud. Towns was Towns, dropping a seamless 29-and-14 despite strong efforts from a gaggle of Raptor bigs tasked with trying to guard him. Shabazz Muhammad was everything I’ve always thought Shabazz Muhammad could be off the bench. The Raptors couldn’t have been expected to blow this team out on their own court, and so with each side getting a similar number of pluses and minuses up and down the rotation, a lot of the game fell to those tiny swing factors, like free-throws, ill-timed turnovers, or errors in rotation judgment.

Again, the loss is not Casey’s fault, but he’s culpable. Any one of the decisions listed is justifiable, and alone probably wouldn’t matter much. The game swung on those elements, though, because the Raptors aren’t at their best when they can simply trudge through mistakes and still come out fine. Here, they had every chance to execute better throughout and didn’t. They also did some things pretty well that lend encouragement moving forward, particularly on the offensive end. It’s not surprising that the team’s two biggest issues here (the power forward spot and guarding Towns) are both made less egregious by the presence of Patterson. This is not a sign of doom or a fall back to their play a few weeks back. This was a better effort than a lot of their recent performances, and with what essentially amounts to a much-needed spring break (“Woo!” /flashes camera), there’s reason to believe they’re inching closer to the earlier version of themselves. But they’re not there yet, and it’s probably still a couple of weeks away.

In the interim, it can be incredibly frustrating to watch them fumble through the same issues game after game, losing to lesser teams, coughing away close games, and denying themselves the positive of at least having escaped with a narrow victory. It’s been a tough six weeks, and they probably need more of those. They had one Wednesday, and a litany of mistakes on the court and on the bench precluded it. The way out remains the same, they’re just opting to take a more circuitous route.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 9

The Raptors have become adults (and that’s why they’re not fun anymore) – The Defeated

Winning is now the expectation and nothing else will do. Even losses to the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers feel devastating. We know the Raptors aren’t on that level yet but they’re supposed to be. Being reminded of that gap is every bit as disheartening as their surprise wins over Cleveland were encouraging. It’s a glass half-empty approach because we expect it to be filled eventually.

Lowry and DeRozan have matured into perennial All-Stars who form the second-best backcourt in the league. They also serve as the parents for the younger generation that stocks №9–15 on the bench. It’s beautiful to watch them flourish like never before, but there’s also a laborious quality to their work. I get the sense that rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam want to help, but they’re little kids too small to do the chores. Lowry and DeRozan have to take care of everything every night and it looks exhausting.

Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll do their best to help but they’re limited. Both players are smart enough to be on the same wavelength as Lowry and DeRozan, only Patterson succeeds because he knows his limitations, whereas Carroll fails in spite of good intentions. Their roles are to play defense and to hit open shots. There’s nothing sexy about being a middle manager but they’re important to the operation. Patterson is great in his role, while Carroll is ultimately doomed by poor health.

Valanciunas and Ross are trying to get on that level, but both players lack awareness and consistency. Neither one has the mental capacity to focus on anything beyond their own games, and that limits them to being role players. But the potential is there — they’ll occasionally put it together for a few weeks. Hopefully they’ll click in time for the playoffs, but for the regular season grind, Lowry and DeRozan can carry them when they’re having off-nights.

10 things I saw from Raptors-Timberwolves (8–2–2017) – The Defeated

Coaching failure: Pin this loss on Dwane Casey. It’s on the players to execute, but it’s on Casey to choose the right players to execute the right game plan. He failed on both accounts tonight. He benched Jonas Valanciunas in the fourth when the Raptors struggled to rebound. He put in an ice-cold Norman Powell who made costly mistakes. He had the Raptors trap when they needed to protect the basket. Casey fucked up.

10 observations: In frustrating loss, DeMarre Carroll shows why Raptors cannot give up on him – The Athletic

It was not the only time Carroll made an excellent play on the move: He found DeMar DeRozan open in the corner for a 3-pointer later in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he had an impressive layup on the move.

One of Carroll’s best offensive games of the season came in a rather annoying Raptors loss, a 112-109 defeat in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. There was a lot to dislike down the stretch, including Carroll’s defence on Andrew Wiggins. However, if Kyle Lowry’s 3-point attempt that was in and out stayed down, or Norman Powell does not lose his man on a cut, or Cory Joseph does not get sucked down low on a Wiggins drive or Patrick Patterson is healthy, the result very well could have been different. This was one of those games that could have turned on a few dozen different moments.

However, in the macro sense, Carroll’s play was the one thing to really take away from the game. Carroll hit all five of his 3-pointers — in a halftime interview, he credited an injured finger that is healing — and finished with 19 points in total. He also had nine rebounds, the second-most he has had all year, proof of increased activity. He had a few cuts that were reminders of his days in Atlanta, too.

And this is why, as irrepressible as Powell has been, the Raptors cannot quite give up on Carroll and let his US$15-million sit on the bench. The best version of Carroll, right now, is still a crucial element of the Raptors if they want to have success. From that perspective, his performance, at least on one end, was heartening on Wednesday night. However, if he cannot help the Raptors put together more stops reliably, it will not matter that much.

Raptors defence to blame for loss against Timberwolves | Toronto Sun

“We play ‘sometime’ defence and we can’t do that,” Casey said after the loss. “We’re not going to be a good team if we play ‘sometime’ defence and think we’re going to outscore them. We shoot 53% and we thought it was just going to be a tit-for-tat game. We didn’t have the force or togetherness. One breakdown here, one breakdown there and now you give them confidence.

“Until we, collectively, together, play in our schemes, in our rotations and do what’s right, it’s one breakdown here, one breakdown there. We’ve just got to get it together.”

If you’re reading that and thinking you’ve heard it before, you are not wrong.

This has been going on for some time. Periodically, the Raptors will snap out of it and have a decent defensive game, but it has yet to last for any length of time.

“It’s everybody, it’s not just one person, it’s all of us,” Casey said. “Every guy that went in had breakdowns and until we start collectively doing our job on each possession — ‘my bad’s’ get you beat and that’s kind of what we’re adding up right now. We’ve got to have seven or eight guys — and if we can’t play nine, we can’t play nine — who are going to play hard, together.

Takeaways: Raptors continue to struggle against weaker opponents – Sportsnet.ca

DeMarre Carroll is back

On the plus side, Carroll had a solid night. The 30-year-old finished with 19 points shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-5 from three with a team-high nine rebounds. Carroll made great off-the-ball cuts, provided great spacing and had good lift on his jump shot.

Against Minnesota Carroll looked like the man Dwane Casey envisioned having at his disposal when he signed in Toronto as a free agent.

Where is JV?

Jonas Valanciunas didn’t miss a shot and was playing well through three quarters bat sat virtually the entire fourth quarter, only entering with 33 seconds left in the game. Valanciunas scored 16 points shooting 7-of-7 from the field. This game ends J.V.’s three-game streak of 13 or more shots in a game, the longest such stretch of his NBA career.

Raptors fall to Wiggins and Timberwolves | Toronto Star

It was the same old, same old here Wednesday night, a solid offensive game done in by a spell of atrocious defence and just enough breakdowns to lose, this time 112-109 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game the Raptors lost far more than the hosts won.

“It’s been old,” Kyle Lowry said. “Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something. We just have to figure it out ourselves.

“When I say something has got to give, we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

For the Raptors, the breakdowns came late in the game this time, after they had seemingly taken control. They allowed the Timberwolves to score on seven straight possessions down the stretch to complete a 59-point Minnesota second half.

“Once we did get a stop, they got the boards,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s putting your finger in one hole and another one opens up.

“ ‘My bads’ get you beat, and that’s kind of what we’re adding up right now. We’ve got to have seven or eight guys — and if we can’t play nine, we can’t play nine — who are going to play hard, together.”

Game Rap: Raptors 109, Timberwolves 112 | Toronto Raptors

WOLVES COMPLETE COMEBACK

Minnesota saved its best for last, shooting 56 percent in the fourth while holding the Raptors to just 21 points. Opponent reserves coming off the bench to make a difference late has been a problem for Toronto in recent games. On Wednesday it was Shabazz Muhammad to score 11 in the final frame while Towns added eight points and Wiggins scored seven. A Wiggins jumper gave the Wolves a one-point lead with 47.6 seconds on the clock. Although DeRozan would tie the game with a layup with 29.5 seconds remaining, Wiggins assisted on a huge three-pointer from Tyus Jones to put the Wolves up three and despite the final possession of the game in a one-possession game, Toronto was not able to connect at the buzzer.

Raptors Collapse Late, Fall to Timberwolves 112-109 – Raptors HQ

The biggest question for Raptors fans will be Dwane Casey’s usage of Jonas Valanciunas. JV has been on a hot streak of late (20.3 PPG and 9.3 rebounds in the last three games) and played great for the first three quarters, but Casey sat the Lithuanian in the fourth until the last 33 seconds of the game. Old habits die hard, and we’ve seen this from Casey before, but the bench boss’s lack of confidence in his starting center shot the Raptors in the foot tonight.

This game was troubling for a number of reasons, but the reality is the Timberwolves are a very beatable opponent. The sky is the limit for a Minnesota roster that’s loaded with potential, but the Raptors are clearly the better team right now, and these are games they need to win. Prior to tip-off, Toronto had won 22 of its last 24 meetings vs. the Wolves.

If you’re wondering how important Patrick Patterson is to this team, this contest is a great example of why. Patterson’s absence was felt throughout the game, but it was painfully obvious how much his contributions were missed during the ugly second half collapse. Heal up, Patman.

Stephenson, reserves help Timberwolves close out Raptors – StarTribune.com

“That’s what you dream of, the go-ahead shot in an NBA game late like that in the fourth,” Jones said. “You spend hours and hours in the gym and shoot thousands and thousands of those. You can’t let it affect you. My teammates and coaches kept telling me to keep shooting it with confidence. You just have to trust them, like Wigs trusted me by making the pass.”

Like Stephenson, Jones played the entire fourth quarter because he was part of the group that brought the Wolves back from a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter.

Until then, the Wolves trailed by as many as 13 points and were down by 10 at halftime before their starters began the second half with an 18-7 burst.

“We were flowing,” Wiggins said of the fourth-quarter finish. “Coach let that lineup rock.”

Wiggins played both shot-maker and playmaker Wednesday, a night when he scored 31 points and also had six assists.

“Andrew was great,” Thibodeau said. “He has really grown in that area, and he has to do more. He has to do more.”

Wolves 112, Raptors 109: There’s a lot more to this – A Wolf Among Wolves

A quick story about Lowry – at around the 7:00 mark of the third quarter, he drove to the basket and didn’t get a whistle. The Wolves collected the rebound, and as Ricky started to make his way up the floor, Lowry quickly fouled him. AS LOWRY WAS FOULING RICKY, he was saying something to the ref. The entire time the ref signaled to the scorekeeper, and prepared to whistle the ball back in play, Lowry stood there to belabor the point that the official had missed a call. Lowry literally committed a foul just so he could get some one-on-one time to quibble with a referee.

Timberwolves Wrap: Late-game heroics down Raptors – Dunking with Wolves

The Timberwolves crunch time lineup featured Jones, Stephenson, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, and Towns. It was clear that Tom Thibodeau did not want to play two below-average three-point shooters next to each other in the back court in Stephenson and Rubio, although the run that Lowry and DeRozan went on with the diminutive Jones always guarding one of the two of them made it tough to see Rubio still riding the pine.

But the Wolves’ defensive scheme held tight while Muhammad made 2-of-4 free throw attempts after being fouled on consecutive possessions, and the Raptors answered and tied the game on a tough DeRozan layup with 29 seconds left.

After a Minnesota timeout, Wiggins predictably received the ball at the top of the key and, just as predictably, drove to his right. The Raptors trapped him on the baseline and the Wolves’ star made the correct play, dishing to the opposite wing and an open Tyus Jones. The second-year point guard canned the open jumper, giving the Wolves a three-point lead with just over 19 seconds remaining.

On the other end, the Raptors scored on a dunk from Jonas Valanciunas to draw within a single point. Wiggins made a pair of free throws after being fouled, and a combination of he and Stephenson forced the Raptors into a tough dribble-hand-off with Lowry launching a contested corner three that clanked harmlessly off the rim as time expired.

It was an impressive comeback by a team that looked discombobulated for much of the evening. The defensive issues continue to be very real, although the Raptors are a team that executes with consistency and were forced into tough shots for much of the second half.

Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry reflects on career achievement | Toronto Star

Lowry became the franchise’s leader in three-point field goals made on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, surpassing Morris Peterson’s total of 801, the first all-time mark Lowry has established in his fifth season with the team.

“It means I’ve done something to help a franchise grow, I’ve done something individually,” Lowry said Wednesday morning, the first time he’s spoken about the record since he set it.

But personal accomplishments are more to reflect on later rather than relish right now.

“I mean I’ll look at my individual accomplishments once I’m done and retired, but it does mean something, just like DeMar (DeRozan) having the all-time leading scoring mark. It means something to you and to your franchise.”

Lowry will have some time coming to quickly reflect, as the Raptors don’t play again until Sunday. And even though he’s logging more minutes than anyone in the league — 37.7 per game before Wednesday’s meeting with the Timberwolves — he’s not complaining.

“It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun,” he said. “At times you’re like ‘I want to sleep in longer,’ but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon . . . the turkey bacon.”

Los Angeles Lakers owners, front office grappling with next steps for the franchise – ESPN

Will the Lakers approach another team to get permission to make a Godfather offer to a big-name GM such as RC Buford, Masai Ujiri or Bob Myers? Is there a dynamic assistant GM out there — such as OKC’s Troy Weaver or Michael Winger, Boston’s Mike Zarren, Orlando’s Scott Perry or Golden State’s Travis Schlenk — who could become the next Buford, Ujiri or Myers?

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors-Timberwolves Reaction Podcast – This one is on Casey

Host William Lou rants about a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Wolves 112

Toronto 109 Final
Box Score
112 Minnesota

A
D. Carroll34 MIN, 19 PTS, 9 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 7-9 FG, 5-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -1 +/-

That this Carroll night goes to waste is a shame. Showed great decision-making on offence for a change. Shot 5-5 from three. Only thing that could have made this night an A+ night is if he locked down Wiggins.

C
P. Siakam20 MIN, 3 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-4 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -9 +/-

Would have given a higher grade if he finished that dunk with 2:39 remaining in the first half. The missed free throws and struggles when matched up against KAT were hard to ignore, especially once they lost.

B+
J. Valanciunas26 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 7-7 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

He played well overall, as he has over the past four of five. I was annoyed he didn’t take more offence to Wiggins trying to clown him after a dunk attempt. Not sure what holding his legs was supposed to achieve, but he made up for it with a pump fake and dunk where he hung on for a little extra. Earned more time than he got in the fourth.

B-
K. Lowry37 MIN, 20 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 6-19 FG, 4-13 3FG, 4-5 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -8 +/-

Wasn’t in usual KLOE mode for most of the night. Misfired on a couple of big possessions late, and hit the side of the backboard on the potential game-tying shot.

C-
D. DeRozan38 MIN, 30 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 12-25 FG, 1-4 3FG, 5-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -2 +/-

Yeah, he put up 30, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way he played tonight. Too many forced shots for my liking. There was a stretch in the third where it seemed like he took every shot. Well below the high standard he’s set for himself this season.

C+
C. Joseph22 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 1 +/-

Cory wasn’t great tonight, but these are now two positive games after his short stay in the dog house.

D
L. Nogueira21 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 5 +/-

Wasn’t a memorable night for him, finished with one rebounds and zero blocks. Still, Casey used him for the majority of the fourth.

C+
J. Poeltl16 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Did his job. Grabbed some boards, made his shots, and had a nice dime to Carroll in the corner for a three.

D+
T. Ross14 MIN, 11 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 5-9 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

Anonymous first half. Made an important three towards the end of the third that pushed the Raptors lead to seven. Frustrated thereafter and sucked you back in with a transition dunk.

N. Powell7 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -7 +/-

Asked to step up in a tough situation. Had a bad travel violation with about 3:30 to play in the fourth. Cheated on defence and conceded a wide open dunk afterwards.

C
J. Sullinger6 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

It’s always a challenge to be productive in limited minutes, even more so when you’re coming off an extended time out due to injury. He’ll get there. Whether “there” actually benefits the Raptors remains to be seen.

C-
Dwane Casey

The Raptors should not have lost this game. The Wolves kept edging closer, and Casey wasn’t proactive in shutting down the comeback. He turned to Powell later than he should have, and kept rolling with Bebe on what was a rough night for him. The defence was a disaster.

Things We Saw

  1. Casey is still searching for answers at the four-spot in the absence of Patrick Patterson. Siakam, Poeltl, and Sullinger all saw time there without making a significant impact. Eventually, Casey even turned to Norm there in the fourth.
  2. Powell didn’t play much and obviously Carroll playing great contributed towards that. Still, this is just a waste of a legitimate NBA talent. He’s a pro’s pro, so the positive is that you know he’ll be ready when called upon and won’t pout.
  3. The Raptors only forced eight turnovers against a team that coughs it up 14.5 times a game on average.
  4. The Raptors won’t win many games where Lowry shoots 6-for-19, and they didn’t tonight. Missed some good looks tonight, so presumably this was just an off-night.
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Pre-game news & notes: Patterson out again as Raptors visit Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins! Karl-Anthony Towns! Lance to make ’em dance! It’s the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they’re hosting the Toronto Raptors ahead of the Raptors getting some much needed rest. I made like 12 typos writing out that intro, so I’m either way too low on sleep (correct) or need to just drop the intro and get on with the updates. I’ll opt for the latter, because Zach Harper and I went deep on the Wolves in the pre-game, and not a lot has changed since.

But hey, maybe a third win in a row here, yeah?

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Other than a pair of 905ers, the Raptors have a chance at a #FullSquad, a rarity over the course of this season. I believe it’s only happened once all year, and DeMar DeRozan aggravated his injury in that Orlando game. So, if Patrick Patterson returns here, expect doom and terror to follow, because why would the Raptors be allowed to be at full strength? With three days off coming up, benching Patterson one more game would be justified, but if he can go, he can go. If he can’t, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and however many other bodies will fill the void. The stability a Patterson return will bring should be nice, especially with a few full practice days upcoming to get some additional work in.

UPDATE: Patterson is out. It makes sense to me, given the time off coming up, to just give him the extra time. No word who starts yet, but it’ll be Siakam or Nogueira, with Siakam getting the edge due to inertia.

UPDATE II: Siakam starts.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: Patrick Patterson

Timberwolves updates
Lance Stephenson officially signed his 10-day contract with Minnesota today, so it seems as if he’ll be ready to go by tip-off. That would mean less Brandon Rush, though it would be a surprise if Tom Thibodeau opted to start Sephenson out of the gate. He was Born Ready, though, so it’s tough to put anything by Stephenson. In any case, he’ll probably see a few minutes to get acclimated, but the Wolves’ rotation will mostly look like it has the last few games.

Said rotation has sadly not included Zach LaVine, who has a torn ACL, Nikole Pekovic, who’s been out forever, Adreian Payne, who is suffering from thrombocytopenia, and Kris Dunn, who’s missed three games with a hand injury. Dunn was available if disaster struck Monday and practiced Tuesday, but he’s questionable for this one. Should Dunn go, he’d be fighting with Tyus Jones for backup point guard minutes and with Stephenson for some minutes off the ball.

However it shakes out, the Wolves have precious few lineups that have played significant minutes together without LaVine. The current and presumed starters have done quite well, though, sot the Raptors will need to come out of the gate strong in each half.

UPDATE: The Wolves confirmed that Stephenson is active and didn’t mention Dunn with the inactives, so assume both are available. (Kyle Ratke reports that Thibodeau said he is “unsure” if Dunn will be used.)

PG: Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones
SG: Brandon Rush, Lance Stephenson
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne

Assorted

  • Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo remain with Raptors 905, who have a road game Thursday before returning home. At that point, the pair may reconnect with the parent club, but they’ll definitely be down with the team for Saturday’s home game. It’s possible a third name gets assigned, too, given everyone is in Toronto and the Raptors have three days off.
  • Good read here from my son William Lou.

The line
The Raptors have held around 3.5-point favorites all day, and the over-under has been steady at 212. There just may not be a lot of action on this game, or the original lines were just really sharp. It will be interesting to see if Dunn or Patterson edge the line, but 3.5 is a tough line to budge, given the marginal value swing going to three or four presents.

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Fighting for Minutes: Norm vs Ross Still a Thing?

Toronto entered the season with very few positional battles on the roster.  Returning the majority of their key contributors from last season, and using almost half the roster on mostly unproven players, the Raptors rotation appeared to be largely set.

The big questions entering the season were about who would back up Jonas Valanciunas (first it was Bebe, then it was Poeltl, and now Bebe has taken control for the foreseeable future), who would start at PF (assumed to be Sullinger, but injury changed this), and who would be the first wing off the bench.

Terrence Ross vs Norman Powell.  It’s been a key subplot as each player has provided key contributions.  Ross’ shooting can be a difference maker for a roster in desperate need, but Norm’s ability to actually be focused for an entire game is a great asset.

At least when it comes to playing time, Ross has been the clear winner of the battle through 53 games.  He’s only appeared in three more games than Norm, but he has also played 316 minutes more.

Ross’ stats (Per 100 possessions to find a balance for their minutes) are also just a touch better than Norm so far too:

description of the table for interested parties
Player G GS MP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS ORtg DRtg
Norman Powell 49 14 858 17.2 .456 5.5 .351 4.5 .776 5.7 2.9 2.0 0.6 2.2 4.5 21.1 109 110
Terrence Ross 52 0 1174 19.9 .438 10.7 .376 2.1 .820 5.7 1.8 2.2 0.9 1.4 3.3 23.2 112 109
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/8/2017.

Ross provides a higher Win Shares (per 48 minutes), Box Plus/Minus, and Value Above Replacement Player.  For $9,000,000 more this season, Terry is currently winning the battle by a hair.

As each game passes though, the battle between Ross and Norm is becoming less and less significant.  Both have clearly earned minutes on a team that has a surprising number of players needing minutes on the wing, and have been an efficient pairing when played together, and more than each other the competition for each of them is now with DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll hasn’t looked like his old self since returning from knee injury.  He still finds ways to contribute, but there is an inconsistency to his game that is hurting the Raptors.

No one individually can be blamed for the Raptors struggles as of late, but Casey is clearly open to taking drastic steps to try and solve the problem.  He benched Cory Joseph for a undrafted rookie point guard.  He is barely playing Jared Sullinger since his minutes have hurt the team.  He is trying line-ups that uses both Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl together in the front court.

After many years of fans saying that Casey was too rigid in his line-up decisions, there is clear growth in that regard from the coach.  We are seeing new and different line-ups being tested, and it may just be a matter of time before Carroll’s role is the one experimented with.

Norm could well be the Raptors starting small forward by playoff time if Carroll can’t find the consistency that Toronto needs to be successful.  If DeRozan and Lowry are each dominating, the Raptors can compete with anyone if they can get a third player to chip in.

Powell showed last spring that he could be this difference maker.  Attacking the basket, hitting open shots, hawking passing lanes, plays that energize/engage his team, and getting into anyone who tries to score on him.

With the current shortage of positive front court options (Oh Pascal…you’re just not ready yet), there would still be plenty of minutes available for Carroll.  He could still see some minutes in a reserve capacity at small forward, while playing the majority of his minutes in a small ball line-up.  He is strong enough to battle the majority of the PFs the Raptors will face, and his apparent limited explosiveness since returning from injury would be less of a liability against non-wing players.

While most of this is conjecture, what is clear is that the Raptors have to bench wings that are each deserving of more minutes.  This could be solved in a redistribution of minutes as the season progresses, or it could be solved by a trade in the 15 days before the trade deadline.

Lots can happen in the coming weeks and months, but for a team with so many unproven players on the roster, it’s encouraging to see that both Ross and Norm are starting to stake their claim to more minutes.

There hasn’t been a clear winner in the preseason battle of Ross and Powell, which is a good sign for the Raptors as a whole.

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Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense

Raptors Playbook: ICE Defense

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors every Wednesday. This week, we’ll focus on the Toronto Raptors ICE Defense. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

Before the 2015-16 season, the Raptors infamously hedged to defend a large portion of the opponents pick and rolls. While this frenetic defensive system benefited some of the personnel, such as Patrick Patterson, it hindered and alienated others on the roster, like Jonas Valanciunas. To alleviate the fundamental issue of a core franchise piece being unable to defend the most common offensive action under the team’s preferred method, the Raptors altered their primary pick and roll coverage by deciding to “ICE”, which reflected the preference of the rest of the league.

The main principle that guides ICE defense is to not allow the middle of the floor while attempting to keep all side pick and rolls on the side in which they started. The reason for this is that once a pick and roll is able to maneuver into the middle of the court, it inherently becomes more effective. In the season before the Raptors decided to ICE, side pick and rolls that went towards the middle of the floor scored 3 more points per 100 possessions relative to pick and rolls that were contained to the side.

To stop side pick and rolls from entering the middle of the floor, the Raptors’ guards are responsible for disallowing the ball-handler from utilizing the screen, while simultaneously directing the offensive player towards the sideline as well as downwards towards the baseline where the secondary defender is positioned as they wall off the paint.

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Norman Powell Is Fighting The Raptors Depth Chart

Last week in an article about Lucas Nogueira, I mentioned that Masai Ujiri is the master in the art of trade making. One of Master Ujiri’s best trades in his tenure with the Raptors came on draft night two years ago, when the Raptors traded backup point guard Greivis Vasquez, for Norman Powell who was selected 46th overall in that years draft, also the Clippers first round draft pick in the 2017 draft.

Powell a four year player out of UCLA, was known for his hard nosed defense, and athletic offensive abilities, but his inconsistent shooting form, and raw offensive game held him back from being selected higher in the draft. For a good part of last year, Powell spent time with the 905, working on his shooting form, trying to become a more consistent shooter from beyond the three point line and making his offensive game not as one dimensional.

When Powell saw court time on the NBA stage, he impressed everyone quickly. He showed poise offensively, a much improved shooting form, and the aggressive defense he was known for was good enough to guard some of the NBA’s best players. That aggressive smart defense, was good enough to even guard some players much bigger than Powell’s 6”4 215lb frame. In the playoffs, Powell showed he could guard high caliber players like Paul George. While George got the best of most Raptors sent his way in that first round series, and even though George is much bigger than Powell, he was the man on the roster who stepped up to the challenge and was most successful.

Entering this season, some were excited to see what Powell’s game could look like full time in the rotation, but there was a small group who were unsure if they hadn’t seen enough of Powell to make a decision. In these past few weeks, the latter group has officially been quieted. At this point of the season, Powell has played in as many games as he did last year. He has taken leaps forward in his game and now the narrative has become, “how do we find him more minutes?”.

Right now Powell is log jammed behind starting small forward DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and Cory Joseph. The Raptors have a lot of talent in their backcourt, and not having enough minutes for an up and coming talent is a weird problem to have. Looking at it from the team’s perspective, it speaks to the great depth the Raptors front office has constructed.

Off the bench this season, Powell’s place in the rotation is only finding him 11.8 minutes per game but he has stayed a constant professional, never complaining about his role, and is always ready to step up when he is needed to. When DeRozan went down with ankle an injury, or even earlier on in the year when Carroll wasn’t playing the second night of a back to backs, it was Powell who got the starting spot. In his 14 starts, he’s averaging 31.9 minutes, scoring 14.7 points per game, which has to be put into some context because some of these starts are without DeRozan, so there are a lot more of available shots on the floor.

When Powell does have full reigns to score within the offense, he’s taken a lot of strides forward this season. He is still his most effective when running downhill to the basket (mostly in transition), but in the half court Powell’s ball handing has improved to where he is very effective coming off screens and using his quick first step to shake his defender off just enough for a path to the basket. In the play below, Jonas Valanciunas sets a high screen for Powell, who automatically recognizes the speed advantages he has over Greg Monroe who is going to have to back pedal an awful lot to keep up with the quick Powell. Using extremely crafty footwork, Powell is able to get to the basket with ease and finish.

While using his amazing athleticism to get to the basket is one of his greatest skills, scoring at the rim is something he could improve on. Since 43% of Powell shot’s are coming at the rim, he’s finishing those shots at 57%, which is a hair under league average. The area that could improve is his free throw rate, which sits at is 25%. With the amount of shots he’s taking at the rim, you would hope to see Powell get to the line a bit more. Once those calls start coming, and he finishes a little more efficiently at the rim, Powell driving to the basket will be a massive headache for defenses.

The Raptors don’t rely heavily on three point shooting, but Powell has improved on his shot enough that a lineup where he shares the floor with players like DeRozan who work mostly inside the three point line, Powell can space out to the three point line and effectively hit open jumpers. On catch and shoot threes, he’s shooting 36.3%, his most effective area being in the left corner, where 30% of all his three point attempts are coming from, shooting a blistering 45% from that area. Corner snipers are vital in an offense, they space out the floor from the middle pick and roll action. Their defenders are usually the first help when someone penetrates through the middle to the basket. They are usually the player who gets the most kick outs, and when a kick out to a corner happens and the defense does rotates they initiate the perimeter ball movement.

While having Powell in corners is important to the offense, the fact that his three point shooting continues to improve adds just another offensive weapon to his game. Other than Lowry, Powell is probably the second best player on the Raptors at being to work his game from three, but also have the ability to get to the basket with ease. The encouraging part to Powell’s game is the fact that you can see there is room to grow, and the development he’s already shown in his short time in the league makes you think that the raw talents he’s showing now have the potential to blow away what people’s expectations of Powell were before he entered the league.

With an offensive game that’s blossoming, it’s Powell’s defense that continues to be one of his greatest strength. His defensive IQ for his age is off the charts. He applies pressure on ball handlers without committing fouls, his lateral quickness inhibits ball handlers driving to the basket, his freakish 6”11 wingspan, mixed with his speed always seems to find it’s way into passing lanes. All these skills make up a defender who’s willing and capable of guarding multiple positions, from quick point guards, to much larger players like LeBron James.

Powell is one of the Raptors most exciting players on the roster right now. He’s still developing his game, yet he is making an impact on a regular basis right now. Like a majority of young players in their early 20’s late teens, Powell is prone to making mistakes that young players make. He can also disappear into the background at times, where open layups at the rim don’t fall and nights when his defense just isn’t quite there. Looking at games where his game is on full display, you can see that many of the right tools are there to make a future productive player.

The main setback with Powell continues to be the Raptors minutes conundrum. Both Carroll and Ross hold positions over Powell in the depth chart right now, while moving him into the starting small forward spot seems logical, the Raptors don’t seem ready to give up on their investment in Carroll just yet. The Raptors will hopefully figure out what they have in Powell before he hits restricted free agency by 2018. With Carroll and Ross also locked up long term, Powell’s minutes in the future will remain up in the air unless a move is made. With the raw skills he has now, there’s no doubt that teams will be willing to throw large offer sheets at Powell, sending the Raptors very deep into the tax if they chose to match. For now, Powell will most likely have to fight for some of his minutes, continue consistent play, and hopefully steal some minutes once the playoffs role around. For now, lets just continue to enjoy this video..

Follow – @Spenred

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Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, Feb. 8

There is, mercifully, some rest coming. Charged with one of the most dense schedules of the NBA season so far and a very compressed ledger of late, a banged-up and tired Toronto Raptors team is about to get a reprieve. Starting Thursday, they’ll play just three games over 15 days, including three consecutive days of this week, a virtually unheard of mid-season break. First, though, they have to visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, who present an opportunity for the Raptors to enter their siesta with a bit of momentum and much higher spirits.

Winners of two in a row for the first time in weeks, the Raptors draw a Wolves outfit that’s coughed up four straight, including two in a row at home. Minnesota is a much tougher challenge than their 19-33 record would suggest, but the loss of Zach LaVine has them reeling some, and a Raptors team that’s nearly back to #FullSquad status should sense an opportunity to pounce, taking advantage of being on the good side of the injury/momentum ledger for the first time in a while. But again, the Wolves are hardly an easy out, so the Raptors can’t afford to do what they did against this team before the All-Star break last year and look past them, getting punished as a result.

This also presents another opportunity for Canadian basketball fans to check in on the progress of Andrew Wiggins. As a comparison point, in his third season he’s a little younger than DeMar DeRozan was at the same time, and through that lens, it looks like he’s doing just fine. DeRozan is a completely unique player development case, and his ascension can’t be assumed for anyone else, but from a raw production standpoint, Wiggins still firmly seems on his way to a good place.

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Zach Harper of FanRag Sports and A Wolf Among Wolves, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Zach LaVine’s torn ACL is still making me sad. Losing a player that dynamic and exciting sucks for the entire league, and from the Wolves perspective, it’s a loss of important development time. How big a setback is the injury, not from a playoff-push standpoint, but from a more macro “this core figuring it out” perspective?

Zach Harper: It sucks. This isn’t saying a whole lot but he’s already the best 3-point shooter in Wolves history. No disrespect to Shane Heal. He’s going to set all of their records within a couple of years from beyond the arc and was on pace to obliterate their single-season best for makes (Kevin Love, 190). While the ACL tear isn’t the killer it used to be, it puts the Wolves in a couple of precarious situations. The Wolves’ starting lineup is the most used lineup in basketball right now. Tom Thibodeau has been trying to get them as many reps as possible to work out their many issues defensively. On offense, they lose their best floor-spacer and a guy that is killer in transition. To miss those reps with LaVine just delays them figuring it out. Also, he’s up for his extension off the rookie deal in October and he probably won’t be back until November. Not a huge deal but you probably have to commit a lot of money before you see him on the court.

Blake Murphy: The lone bright spot from LaVine’s injury: Lance Stephenson! I’m fully expecting the newly signed Stephenson to drop 20 on the Raptors here, because that’s what players like Stephenson in situations like Stephenson’s do to the Raptors. It’s science. Where are your expectations for Stephenson, and is this a short-term depth filler or a potential piece for the rest of the year? (Also, Zach, this headline, amazing work.)

Zach Harper: I expect him to give us one epic .gif during his 10 days. It wouldn’t shock me if he played defense just well enough to get a second 10-day and a rest of the season deal, but I have zero hopes that he’ll contribute. He’s a veteran presence that you break the glass for in case of emergency. The LaVine injury is the emergency. I guess this is why they had the open roster spot.

Blake Murphy: Outside of Stephenson, Kris Dunn figures to maybe see more time with LaVine out, at least once he’s healthy. He hasn’t exactly blown the doors off in his rookie season, but are there reasons for Wolves fans to remain encouraged with Dunn as a prospect?

Zach Harper: Absolutely. He’s been very good defensively for most of his rookie season. You rarely expect that from a rookie, and especially a rookie point guard. He’s been torched a few times, but he’s mostly excelled at harassing dribblers, getting deflections, and even blocking shots inside. Offensively? Hey, did I mention how good he’s been on defense? Offensively, it’s been rough. His passes are sloppy. His shot is broken. He’s not driving to the basket consistently. I think these things will improve the rest of the way, but he’s got a long way to go until he deserves Ricky Rubio’s spot.

Blake Murphy: You and I have spoken a handful of times about the perception that Andrew Wiggins doesn’t have “it” or the “killer instinct” or whatever other personality trait people like to ascribe to more demonstrative players. For the most part, I think this is silly, and the accused *lack* of these things often seems like a crutch for explaining why someone just doesn’t love a player’s game, or can’t explain why they’re not at their full potential yet. Wiggins is 21 years old, averaging 22 points on moderate efficiency, showing an evolved in-between game, and lines up fairly well with DeMar DeRozan, statistically, at roughly the same point. The defense hasn’t come consistently yet, because again, he’s 21. All of this is a rambling way of asking: Andrew Wiggins is still on track to be very good, yes? 

Zach Harper: Yeah, he’s really good for a player in his early 20’s. If you expected LeBron James and you get what Wiggins is then you’re trying to disparage him for you miscalculating what he should be. He’s still a good on-ball defender, who struggles with off-ball stuff. That’s improved this season but a lot of the blow-by situations you see typically come with confusion on help from the bigs in Thibs’ system. That communication is on both parties, but the perimeter player is the one usually getting blamed for it because it “looks” worse aesthetically for them. The criticism of Wiggins typically comes from League Pass tourists parachuting in and focusing on the bad moments. I guess that’s part of the game with analyzing players but if you watch him every night and don’t come away impressed with this 21-year old while recognizing there is room for improvement, it’s just hard to take you seriously.

Offensively, the handle is getting better and he’s passing a lot more. The passing has improved quite a bit but has a lot of room to grow in pick-and-rolls. He’s fearless taking late game shots and he’s been pretty successful at them as of late. People say, “he can’t be the No. 1 guy on a title team.” Good thing they have Karl-Anthony Towns then.

Blake Murphy: Higher or lower: Number of headshot kills in John Wick 2 or Ricky Rubio trade rumors from here until the end of his deal?

Zach Harper: If there are readers of yours who haven’t seen John Wick, go do yourself a favor and watch it before John Wick 2 comes out this weekend. John Wick is the best action movie and the best action movie character I’ve ever seen. Yes, you’ll scoff at such high praise of a Keanu Reeves movie. Just go see it. I haven’t had one person I’ve recommended it to not come away in complete awe of how good it is. Nobody gets more headshots than John Wick. Not even Sears. John Wick 2 headshots will far surpass Rubio trade rumors. Mostly because I think Rubio will be traded this summer, but also because it’s #HEADSHOTSZN.

Raptors updates
With DeMar DeRozan back, the Raptors only need to worry about the status of Patrick Patterson. Patterson is dealing with a contusion to the same knee he previously strained and missed significant time with, and so while it’s not a re-injury, the Raptors are being careful. It’s sounded for a few days now like Patterson is ready to go, but with three more days off coming up, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Raptors just try to fight through one more game without him. If he can’t go, Pascal Siakam or Lucas Nogueira could start, while Dwane Casey’s bench units will continue to be fluid and, quite often, weird. A Patterson return could really help bring some rotation stability here.

For anyone wondering – and a few have asked – the team-level numbers still aren’t any kinder to Siakam despite the up-tick in performance over his last stretch and the team winning games with him as a starter. Correlation does not equal causation, it turns out. The starters with Siakam have still been outscored by 7.3 points per-100 possessions over 345 minutes, not a criticism of the rookie but of the fit of those pieces. Toronto’s best non-Patterson lineup might be the dual-center starting look, which has held up remarkably well in 96 minutes, playing to a plus-13.5 net rating in protected minutes against only certain matchups.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Patrick Patterson
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: None

Timberwolves updates
Already down Nikola Pekovic for the year, the loss of Zach LaVine is a huge hit to the Wolves, and to NBA fans in general. His absence pushes Brandon Rush into the starting lineup and necessitates the signing of Lance Stephenson (which is not official as of this writing), but it could also open up more minutes for rookie Kris Dunn. Dunn’s been sitting with a hand injury, but he practiced Tuesday and was available in an emergency Monday, so there seems a good chance he’ll be given the nod in this one. Adreian Payne also remains out indefinitely due to thrombocytopenia.

As Zach mentioned, the pre-injury starters were the most used group in the NBA, which means all of Minnesota’s rotations are going to feel a little unfamiliar now. LaVine was a member of Minnesota’s three most common lineups, and the most regularly used one without him has played just 98 minutes together. As a comparison, the Raptors have three lineups that have played together more than that (although only one that doesn’t feature Patterson). Look out for Minnesota’s new starting group, too – in 79 minutes as a unit over 10 games, they’ve outscored opponents by 12.8 points per-100 possessions.

PG: Ricky Rubio, (Kris Dunn), Tyus Jones
SG: Brandon Rush, (Lance Stephenson)
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill
TBD: Kris Dunn, Lance Stephenson
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne

The line
The Raptors are 3.5-point favorites on the road, which is always a nice nod of respect to the visiting side. The over-under sits at 212.

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Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 8

Four lessons we learned about the Raptors while DeMar DeRozan was out – The Athletic

In the seven games DeRozan missed, Jonas Valanciunas averaged 10.3 field-goal attempts and 3.1 free throws per game. For the season, Valanciunas is averaging 9.2 field-goal attempts and 2.9 free throws per game. His usage percentage crept up from 19.0 per cent with DeRozan in the lineup to 22.1 per cent while DeRozan was out.

All of which is to say Valanciunas absorbed some of the missing offence that was usually supplied by DeRozan, but his role increased incrementally, and not in a major way. When the Raptors were considering a future without DeRozan, had the guard left this past summer in free agency, it was thought Valanciunas’s touches would go way up. That just did not happen without DeRozan.

“He has to go with his opportunities,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the Raptors’ win in Brooklyn on Sunday. “Jonas, I think he does a better job when plays are not called for him. The ball kind of finds him and he does a better job.”

The Raptors posted Valanciunas up slightly more often with DeRozan out: Before DeRozan’s injury, his shots followed two or more dribbles 15.9 per cent of the time, and he held the ball for two or more seconds 32.5 per cent of the time; those numbers bumped up to 19.3 per cent and 33.3 per cent after DeRozan’s injury.

Again, that is a small increase. However, the Raptors did not fundamentally change how they used their starting centre

Considering the Raptors’ Salary Cap Future, and Trades in the Present – Raptors HQ

The big question becomes, how much tax are the Raptors willing to pay? Lowry is eligible for up to a $35.7 million starting salary. And Patterson will likely see offers in at least the $12 to $15 million range, if not higher. Add about $48 million to that projected cap amount above (plus an additional $3 million for those picks) and you are looking at a total salary of $141 million. That’s a projected $19 million above the tax line, which would translate to a tax bill of an additional $41 million, leaving total team salary cost at $182 million, about $75 million more than they are paying this year. That’s… a lot. Though not quite as much as we assumed last time we did this review.

So, maybe a Terrence Ross or a Cory Joseph fall by the wayside and get moved for futures or cheaper salary and the bill goes down a bit to a more manageable level. Probably easy enough to manage, and even if they stand pat, maybe they get enough of a discount from the two free agents that the tax payments are reasonable, especially if the team has another deep playoff run this spring.

So, that’s the straightforward option. Let’s look at what they might do if they manage to pull off a deadline deal for a power forward upgrade.

DeMar DeRozan, Raptors ready to push past midseason blues – USA Today

DeRozan believes there’s a chance for a healthy Raptors team to make a push down the final stretch of the regular season, though, especially with the NBA All-Star break looming, which will provide a resting period for most players.

“The last couple years we always dealt with injuries, always figured out a way how to fight through it,” DeRozan said. “It sucks not having your full team. Especially key guys like that. Once we get (Patterson) back and guys get a sense of rest and once All-Star break comes hopefully we can take off running right in time.”

With a growing level of confidence birthed out of being back on the winning track, the Raptors goal is to regain the footing lost in the standing when victories were more difficult to come by.

DeRozan said he’s confident that can happen.

“We had a tough couple weeks and we’ve been fighting to try to get out of that,” DeRozan said. “We’ll exert the energy we have now going into these next two weeks and use that rest wisely and after All-Star break just run away with it.

Raptors, Cory Joseph committed to defence | Toronto Sun

Joseph’s numbers were slipping. Not his offensive numbers, which will never be the measure of the success of his game, but the defensive numbers when he is on the court.

Joseph is a defence-first guy, a player who earns his minutes by helping make things difficult for the opposition to score.

He’s quick and agile and just determined enough to get in the way of opponents and hold down scorers.

For whatever reason that has not been the case this season. Casey has been critical of his pick-and-roll defence, his NBA calling card until this season. When talking about the need for improvement in that area didn’t bring about the anticipated corrections, Casey played the only card a coach can play in a league ruled by players. He cut his playing time.

Nothing motivates a player like not playing when he feels he should be playing.

Casey would not get into the particulars of why Joseph’s effectiveness had fallen off even suggesting the why didn’t matter. All he wanted was change and Monday night he got it.

Joseph’s level of physicality picked up and with it so did his effectiveness.

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NBA Metrics 101: The Best Playmakers in the NBA, According to the Numbers | Bleacher Report

No NBA player does more as a scorer while making it so hard on himself.

DeMar DeRozan doesn’t rely on his virtually nonexistent three-point stroke, instead preferring to attack the basket and launch constant mid-range assaults. While many modern players turn up their noses at lengthy twos in favor of working from more efficient zones, DeRozan has made his living on pull-ups and turnaround jumpers from those very spots.

But that’s not all.

He also creates an inordinate number of his own looks. Though 87.5 percent of his sporadic triples come after a teammate’s feed, he requires assists on just 21.1 percent of his two-pointers. Rather than cutting and spotting up, he prefers to back down an opponent or dribble into his looks, taking advantage of his strength and vastly improved touch while fighting through contact.

Only James Harden and Russell Westbrook score more unassisted points per game, and they each do so while using far more possessions. DeRozan has become the unabashed master of providing nontraditional—and still valuable—offense, which allows him to emerge as the league’s top playmaking shooting guard with room to spare.

Decoding the enigmatic Terence Ross – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson and Josh Lewenberg are joined by Raptors 905 Assistant Coach David Gale to discuss Terence Ross and what kind of untapped potential he could still have.

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Updating the Raptors’ Win Total Projections with 30 Games Left – Raptors HQ

That projects to a 5.9-4.1 record over the next ten games.

Spacing out before the game #wethenorth

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Toronto Raptors Must Make A Decision With Delon Wright – Hoops Habit

On paper, Wright brings the Raptors a lot of what they’ve been missing. A player that can be disruptive to the opposition, attack the rim, and create for himself and others. Allowing a talent like Wright to sit on the bench without being utilized would be a waste.

He’s already 24 years old and should be entering his prime.

Unfortunately for Wright, his uphill battle for minutes isn’t just impacted by the talent Toronto has at his position, but Dwane Casey’s insistence on playing Lowry heavy minutes. Lowry averaged 38.4 minutes in January and 39.5 so far in February.

Despite the point guard depth, the trust factor still isn’t there. Resting Lowry and giving more opportunity to Wright, among others could help keep Lowry fresh and prepare guys so that they can step up in the playoffs. But that does not appear to be the game plan at this point.

Ultimately the Raptors can’t be inactive when it come to their point guard position. Keeping the logjam in place without fully using their depth is unacceptable.

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Raptors 905: Becoming good men as important as reps – Video – TSN

Home Court host Meghan McPeak & co-hosts Duane Watson and Josh Lewenberg are joined by Raptors 905 Assistant Coach David Gale explains how time spent with the 905 isn’t solely about players getting reps to be ready for the big club.

Tall Tales: The Raptors share their best Kevin Garnett stories – Sportsnet.ca

Jared Sullinger (played with Garnett during his rookie season in Boston): Ok, I’m going to leave some names out of this…

It’s the fourth day of training camp and we’re in Istanbul, Turkey. We’re scrimmaging and KG gets fouled, and the guy who fouled him yells— excuse my French, mom— “Hell no, that ain’t no f***ing foul!” KG was at the free throw line, dribbling the ball and about to shoot.

He turns his head and goes, “What the **** did you just say?” to his teammate. He threw the ball back to the ref and says, “Hold on— I have more f***ing turnovers than you have minutes played in this mother******* league. Don’t ever f***ing talk to me like that again.” I was just, like…frozen. I thought to myself, “Welcome to the NBA, Jared.”

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Ujiri Serves As Camp Director At Basketball Without Borders Global Camp | Toronto Raptors

The NBA and FIBA hosted the inaugural BWB Global Camp at NBA All-Star 2015 in New York City, beginning an annual All-Star tradition. BWB, the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, has reached 2,690 participants from 133 countries and territories since 2001, with 43 campers drafted into the NBA. Twenty-three former BWB campers were on opening-night rosters for the 2016-17 season, including Dragan Bender (Phoenix Suns; Croatia; BWB Global 2015), Maker and Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets; Canada; BWB Global 2015). “The Basketball without Borders Global Camp is a great opportunity for the top male and female prospects from around the world to compete against one another, learn directly from NBA and FIBA players, legends and coaches, and experience the excitement of NBA All-Star,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations & Head of Elite Basketball, Brooks Meek.  “The Basketball without Borders program was founded on the belief that basketball brings young players from different backgrounds together and transcends cultural boundaries.”

“We look forward to the Basketball without Borders Global Camp taking place in New Orleans and tipping off another exciting year of the BWB program,” said FIBA National Federations & Sport Director Zoran Radovic. “The camp, which brings together youth players from across the globe, has already gone from strength to strength in a very short period of time and provides campers with the experience of a lifetime, both on and off the court.” Current NBA assistant coaches Joe Connelly (Denver Nuggets), Jay Hernandez (Orlando Magic) and Fred Vinson (New Orleans Pelicans), along with Brooklyn Nets scout and NBA D-League Assistant GM Matt Riccardi, will also serve as BWB Global coaches. Patrick Hunt (President of the World Association of Basketball Coaches; Australia), Gersson Rosas (Houston Rockets; Colombia), Marin Sedlacek (Philadelphia 76ers; Serbia) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors; Nigeria) will serve as camp directors. Former NBA trainer Wally Blase (U.S.) will serve as the camp’s athletic trainer.

Wednesday game day: Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves | Toronto Star

KEY MATCHUP

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors, vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves. The Minnesota centre averages 23.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, shoots about 55 per cent from the floor and 35 per cent from three. It’s a true matchup dilemma for Valanciunas, who will have to guard Towns all over the floor.

Flexin' #wethenorth

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Scouting Report | Wolves vs. Raptors | Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Matchup: Andrew Wiggins vs. DeMar DeRozan

Chances are Wiggins will be matched up against DeRozan, Toronto’s best scorer.

In his third season, Wiggins is averaging a career-high 22.2 points to go with 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s also shooting a career-high 34.3 percent from the 3-point line on 3.5 attempts per game. In five career games against Toronto, Wiggins is averaging 23.4 points and 4.2 rebounds.

DeRozan is averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game and is headed to this third All-Star game this season. He’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field and is making a career-high 7.5 free throws per game. In 14 games against the Wolves, he’s averaging 19.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Three things we saw when the Raptors beat the Clippers | Toronto Star

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Jarrod Uthoff revenge game leads Mad Ants to victory over 905

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Fort Wayne Mad Ants (19-10) def. Raptors 905 (22-9); 105-92 | Box Score
Assignees: Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo (905), Georges Niang (Mad Ants)

In a battle of the top two seeds in the Eastern conference, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants used a whole lot of Jarrod Uthoff to hand the Raptors 905 their second straight defeat.

Uthoff finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds, SIX BLOCKS, three steals, and a couple of assists to slam the door on his past with the 905 shut in style. He had his outside game working with three perfect attempts from long-distance, and appears to fit in quite nicely on a Mad Ants roster filled with athleticism and rim rockers.

Jerry Stackhouse elected to go small in the backcourt tonight with Brady Heslip starting alongside Wright. Willy Sheehey and Axel Toupane both missing tonight’s contest through injury were obviously factors in the decision, but I’d like to think that John Jordan’s play of late added to coach Stackhouse’s confidence in doing so.

Wright was assigned to the 905 yesterday, and continued to show he’s ready to play. Wright brought out the oohs and ahhs from the sparse crowd with a Westbrook-like attack off a made bucket by the Mad Ants midway through the first quarter. Fort Wayne looked like they had numbers back but Wright kept coming, reaching that point of no return and somehow doing a 360 in the air before flipping the ball up for two of his eight first-quarter points.

Bruno had a lively start in this one; blocking Georges Niang inside, and then keeping two possessions alive for the 905 on the other end. He hit his beloved corner three, after hitting the side of the backboard on a drive and fade from the left baseline. You can’t win ’em all. He finished the game with eight points, seven boards, two steals and a block, but shot just 3-of-11 from the field. For those of you keeping track of the upgraded personal swag, he wore a right elbow sleeve tonight.

Despite the initial blocked attempt, Niang caused all sorts of problems for the 905 early; abusing Edy Tavares in the pick and roll. Niang finished the quarter with nine points, but was quieter after Stackhouse countered by checking Yanick Moreira into the game. It worked, as the 905 cut an early deficit to just two points entering the second quarter. Niang scored just two points the rest of the way.

The 905 quickly unraveled in the second quarter, finding themselves down 45-30 after a 24-11 run to open the quarter. Jarrod Uthoff (remember him?) capped off the run with five points on jumpers of consecutive possessions. The man he was traded for, Christian Watford, had a quiet night with just two points after catching fire in the previous game with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

After scoring 22 for the 905 in their previous game, Heslip kept up his hot shooting in the first half with 15 points that included three makes from long distance. He finished the game with 20 points, but failed to collect a single rebound or assist.

Not for the first time, my Facebook Live feed gave way with about five minutes to go in the third quarter, before returning with the score at 80-73 in favour of the bad guys with 8:54 to play. The 905 tried to chip away at the lead, but their attempts were put to waste by a determined Uthoff. He drained a couple of triples late to keep the 905 at bay, before Alex Poythress ended E.J. Singler’s career with a poster dunk that gave the Mad Ants a 103-88 lead with about a minute to play.

The 905 let an 18-point lead slip against the Grand Rapids on Saturday, and it appears they’ve hit a bit of a lull. This marks the first time all season that they’ve lost consecutive games on the road. Their largest losing streak this season has been three, so Stackhouse will be determined to stem the tide as soon as possible. He missed Saturday’s game in order to attend services for his childhood friend and former NBA player Charles Shackleford, who was found dead on January 27th.

Notes

  • The Mad Ants bench outscored the 905 reserves 54-33, not a line you see often.
  • Antwaine Wiggins was a solid contributor tonight with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He had a really nice move in isolation in the first half, crossing over to create some separation, before sneaking in a lay-in under the outstretched arm of the defender.
  • Julyan Stone dropped the hammer on Moreira towards the end of the first half. It was nasty.
  • The 905 will take on the Windy City Bulls at 8:00pm EST on Thursday to complete their four-game road swing.
  • The 905 have another road game Thursday before returning home Saturday for a game that should include two, maybe three Raptors assignees. If you wanted to go to Saturday’s game – or any of the handful of remaining home games – you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the Air Canada Centre game in March).
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Comparing Toronto Raptors schedule to opponents offers room for optimism

The Toronto Raptors have survived the toughest part of their schedule and have reason to be cautiously optimistic heading into the All-Star Break.

Following a free flowing offensive win the Toronto Raptors appear to have weathered the storm of life without DeMar DeRozan. Certainly the body language on court last evening points to the Raptors’ swagger being back. What can’t be denied is from top to bottom, the entire roster functions more smoothly when both All-Stars are in the lineup. So, with just 4 games remaining until the All-Star break, the focus can shift to finishing strong and getting to the break healthy.

During DeRozan’s absence the Toronto Raptors went 3-4 and suffered some humiliating losses. Meanwhile, their opponent last night has gone 2-7 since the loss of Chris Paul. Granted, he is the Clippers facilitator, but LA still boasts core contributors Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. The fact they are losing at a 77% clip speaks to how quickly tides can turn with the loss of one key asset. And, for as much as Raptors fans voiced reasonable concerns over January’s skid, review of their competition spotlights equal struggles and reasonable explanations for successes.

Dog Days:

The period in the NBA schedule which covers Boxing Day through the All-Star break is referred to as the ‘Dog Days’. It’s no coincidence most players and teams despise this portion of the schedule. At season start there is the excitement of a new campaign, post All-Star break teams are refreshed and eager to get back to business and April offers inspiration to finish strong in preparation for the post season. But, the 6 weeks leading up to the break are when teams/players are dealing with nagging injuries, have undertaken long alternate coast – road trips (for the most part), and dealt with the natural let down that comes after the holidays.

It’s also common during this segment of the schedule for young, inexperienced, lottery ranked teams to catch seeded teams off guard.
To wit, in the five weeks since the calendar turned to 2017 the Sixers achieved 10 of their 18 wins, Denver 9, Minnesota 8, and Phoenix has 7 wins.

Moreover, the Toronto Raptors aren’t alone in their struggles over this period. Diving into the upper echelon of the Association the Spurs suffered half their losses in the New Year (6 of 12 losses) while the East’s top seeded Cavaliers have lost 8 games (15 total on season) during this period.

Breaking down Raptors’ Eastern counterparts New Year performances:

With the Raptors victory over the Clippers and the Cavaliers overtime win over the Wizards, Toronto have reclaimed the third seed and been given a full game cushion over Washington.  To get a better idea of how the schedule has effected the East’s main seeds let’s dive into their schedules in terms of how they fared during the ‘Dog Days’ and what they can expect returning from the All-Star Break.

Looking further into each team offers some additional insight:

Cavaliers: 35-15

The Cavaliers will play two back-to-back sets prior to hitting the break facing:

  • @Pacers
  • @OKC
  • Nuggets
  • @Wolves
  • Pacers

Of those four are seeded teams. Cleveland holds the 3-0 record versus Toronto and will play them once more in the final game of the season.

Notes: in the 8 games Cleveland have played versus the Western Conference on the road their record is 2-6. This may play a role as they complete their schedule given they have 7 more games to play out West.

Celtics: 33-18

Heading into the break the Celtics have a West road trip with one back-to-back set:

  •  @Kings
  • @Blazers
  • @Jazz
  • @Mavs
  •  Sixers
  • @Bulls

Notes: The Celtics still have a number of games to play on the opposite coast where they have demonstrated issues with a 2-4 record. With 9 games still to be played on the opposite coast it could play a big factor in the final win-loss column.

Wizards: 30-21

Games until All-Star Break:

  • @Nets
  • Pacers
  • OKC
  • @Pacers

Notes: like the Cavs and Celtics the Wizards have not fared well versus the Western Conference posting a 1-5 record. Out of the top 4 seeds however the Wizards may take the greatest hit given they have 2 major West Coast trips to complete.

Hawks: 30-22

Games until All-Star Break:

  • Nuggets
  • @Kings
  • @Blazers
  • @Clippers

Notes: Hawks boast one of the better WC road records having gone 5-5 to date

Pacers: 29-22

Games until All-Star Break:

  • Cavaliers
  • @Wizards
  • Bucks
  • Spurs
  • @Cavaliers

Notes: Toronto has yet to face the Pacers with all 3 games from their regular season scheduled after the break.  Not to disparage the 7-game win streak Indy are currently on, but they played the Rockets and Pistons who are struggling and OKC with them on a back-to-back without their key reserve offensive player Enes Kanter.  Of the top teams the Pacers have fared better out West, but still have a losing record of 5-7.

Bulls:

Games until All-Star Break:

  • @Warriors
  • @Suns
  • @Timberwolves
  • Raptors
  • Celtics

Notes:  If there is one team the Raptors need to beat just for the psychological edge, it is the Bulls. Accordingly, Chicago is mired in chemistry issues, upper management fiddling with in game decisions and could be on the precipice of trading away their cornerstone asset.  Obviously the upcoming game would be a great time for Toronto to take advantage of the current state of the Bulls.  That said the only East team in the top seeds with a winning West Coast record is the Bulls who boast a 6-5 record.

The Others:

Pistons:

From my perspective the Pistons have been the most disappointing team to this point in the season. I envisioned them competing for a home court seed, not clinging to eighth. However, their record against playoff seeds is telling- 10-18 versus their 14-10 record against non seeded teams.

Hornets:

Another perplexing team is Charlotte, who seemingly had the goods to compete on both ends of the court. They’ve struggled worse than the Raptors or Cavaliers during the dog days of the schedule. Worse, they’ve had a full complement of healthy bodies, so there aren’t any excuses to point to. With 31 games remaining 18 are against playoff teams, plus 2 each versus the Heat and Bucks who are embroiled in the mix to capture the final playoff seed.

Bucks:

Of all the teams chasing the lower playoff seeds the dark horse may be the Milwaukee Bucks. Now news (directly from) Khris Middleton will return this week may give the Bucks the shot in the arm they need to finish the season strong. Given the issues Cleveland has versus long, athletic teams Raptors fans should be pulling for the Bucks to be the first round Cavaliers match up.

Heat:

Not to be overlooked, especially considering their current 11-game win streak with 5-wins versus playoff seeds including the Warriors, Rockets and Hawks. Toronto won the lone meeting this season and have 3 games left to play in their series. The Heat have 15 games (13 post break) remaining against playoff seeds including 3 games each versus Toronto and Cleveland as well as 2 each versus the Pacers and Wizards

Knicks:

New York is sitting 4.5 games back of the eighth seed. Worse of their 29 remaining games 18 are against playoff seeds (plus 2 vs the Heat). Suffice to say, I’m feeling confident in my preseason prediction the Knicks were lottery bound.

Toronto Raptors Schedule Notes:

Bottom line there are positives to pull from the schedule. The fact Toronto has registered a .500 road record (6-6) out West for example.  Many of the teams in the mix with the Raptors for the top seeds have a much harder schedule heading into the break so with DeRozan back the question is whether the Raptors can build upon their current 2-game win streak. The loss of Zach LaVine may make the Timberwolves slightly vulnerable and then the Raptors have 3 full days to prepare for the Pistons.  The true test comes in the back-to-back set at Chicago and then home to the Hornets.  These final 2 games should require no extra inspiration, given the Hornets handed Toronto their widest margin of defeat this season and the Bulls –  – well I think we all know why the Raptors want that win.

Post All-Star break the Raptors schedule is one of the easiest relative to their competition with the fewest games against the West. There is still ample time for Toronto to fix the issues they had in January and the schedule offers opportunity to do so.

In Closing:

Although the Cavaliers have been without the services of J.R. Smith the reality is the Raptors suffered the greatest set backs injury wise losing Patterson for 11 games, DeRozan for 7 and Jared Sullinger who is only recently back on court. None of their competitors had 2 key contributors out for this amount of time.

In addition, while Boston has youth, the Raptors are the only top team utilizing three rookies in critical roles with viable playing time.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the Raptors want to follow the template set by the Spurs and Gregg Popovich. In fact, with the hardest part of their schedule complete getting Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet playing time while also utilizing Norman Powell and reintroducing Delon Wright could offer them experience while giving the core the rest it needs heading into the post season.

Bottom line, in review of the schedules the Raptors, (at least on paper) have the easiest route to staying in the upper tier with the possibility to still challenge for that top rung. As the Raptors prepare to close strong heading to the break, let’s also hope they learned valuable lessons during the January skid.  If they did, the Raptors final 29 games will be spent improving their defense in preparation for April.

For those interested you can follow me on Twitter @TTOTambz in addition to articles on Thunderous Intentions and articles/podcasts on 16 Wins A Ring.

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Fred VanVleet was ready when called upon, and will be again

Fred VanVleet could offer only a smirk. Looking up from his chair inside the Toronto Raptors’ locker room at the Air Canada Centre last Tuesday, the undrafted rookie had no other recourse as Jared Sullinger needled him. While Sullinger had drawn another DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) as he works his way back into game shape and into the rotation, VanVleet avoided the dreaded acronym with a whopping 0.5 seconds of playing time.

“That’s gonna hurt your averages,” Sullinger laughed.

Incredibly brief appearances have become somewhat commonplace for VanVleet, who finds himself third on the team’s depth chart at the point in a loaded guard rotation. A week prior, he’d played just 4.5 seconds. On 11 other occasions, he’s played fewer than five minutes. And, of course, he’s drawn 32 DNP-CDs of his own. That’s VanVleet’s lot as a freshman – sporadic but important late-game appearances, a lot of individual work, and some time with Raptors 905 in the D-League – and it’s one sophomores Norman Powell and Delon Wright can relate to. It’s taken some time to get comfortable following years as the go-to guy at Wichita State, but VanVleet’s figuring it out.

“I think I’ve gotten better. Early on it was tough, just trying to get adjusted to the NBA life in general,” VanVleet said Monday. “But I think now I’m good with it. The off-day work and the time when you’re not getting ready for the game is most important for me – to workout and eat right and stay ready – in that sense, so when you’re thrown out there, now you just gotta switch the mental switch and go out and perform.”

With the exception of a game Kyle Lowry sat for rest and one Cory Joseph sat for illness, this is VanVleet’s role, and it’s one he understands how to thrive in now.

Or it was his role, rather.

On Friday morning, head coach Dwane Casey gave VanVleet the heads up that he was being moved to the No. 2 spot in the point guard rotation. With the team wanting to give the struggling Joseph a bit of a reprieve (mental or physical or both), VanVleet was going to be Lowry’s primary backup when the Raptors took on the Orlando Magic. VanVleet’s done well to stay ready for his spot minutes to date, but the knowledge that he’d be playing a more substantial – and certain – role necessitated a slight change in mental approach.

“Luckily, before I played in Orlando, we talked about it in the morning, about me playing at night, so I had a little bit of time to, you know, just get more mentally locked in,” VanVleet said Monday. “It’s a different sense if I know I’m playing second point guard, I’ll just know in my mind that alright, under three minutes to go first quarter, that’s my first run. That type of stuff, versus alright, if I get in when we’re a blowout, I’m ’bout to try this, this, and this. You know what I mean? I visualize it the same way, I watch film the same, just probably a little bit more detail.”

The change in preparation goes beyond just the few hours before the game, too. While a full depth chart might mean deep bench players can go a little harder in practice or cheat on a meal on the road here and there, the knowledge that important minutes are coming shifts the approach over the entire 24-hour preparation cycle.

“You may sleep a little bit longer. Your naps become more important than trying to skip a nap to watch a show or answer the phone. You get a little bit more strict with your routine. You kinda can fall out of line with that sometimes when you’re getting a bunch of DNPs,” VanVleet explains, giving a nod to have life at the back of the rotation is different. “I’m definitely not eating burgers and milkshakes before the game if I know I’m going out there. I mean, you may stay up to watch that late West coast game, or, you know what I mean, you might talk to mom a little bit longer on the phone instead of taking your nap. Just little things like that you tweak here and there.”

However VanVleet prepared, what he did worked. Despite not playing more than 10 minutes since Jan. 17 and without a D-League tuneup since Jan. 10, he gave the Raptors 23 quality minutes. Offering steady defense and flashing some smart, crafty passes, VanVleet also poured in 15 points, and while he admits he was a little gassed at the end of each of his stints, he was pleased with his performance. The Raptors were, too, it seems, as despite turning back to Joseph late in that game, VanVleet was once again in the backup role Sunday. Again, he impressed with his defense and ability to run the offense, and not even a 2-of-10 shooting mark could keep him from grading well. All told, VanVleet scored 25 points with six rebounds, seven assists, and a plus-2 mark over those two games.

“I thought Fred did a good job with us resting or giving Cory a blow. I thought he took advantage of those minutes,” Casey said. “I think it’s something where Fred has done an excellent job but Cory is our energy backbone, plug him in and he’s ready to go. I think just to give him a rest physically will do that.”

For now, VanVleet seems to have accomplished his task, giving Joseph a breather. On Monday, Joseph was back in his usual role while VanVleet drew a zero in the minutes column. Vanvleet knew this might be coming, and there’s little he can do about it for now. Given the opportunity, he showed he can be trusted if Joseph stumbles again, if Lowry needs a night off, or if injury should strike. In the meantime, he’s learned a bit about how to get and stay ready in a different job, and that should prove valuable. The chance to play meaningful minutes outside of don’t-call-it-garbage time is also important for VanVleet’s own development, giving him not only experience but actual film to study

“Yeah, it’s good and bad,” VanVleet laughs. “When you get up there in blowouts scoring five points in two minutes, it’s a little bit easier to feel good about yourself than playing 25 and making 100 mistakes. I’m glad that I’ve played and have some film to break down and see where I can get better at.”

When VanVleet will be needed next is unclear. Because he can’t control it, there’s not a lot of sense in focusing on it. That doesn’t mean ascending the pecking order once again isn’t on VanVleet’s radar, though. After all, he had to scrap his way to a camp invite, then to make the roster and to keep four point guards with Wright healthy. The end-goal is loftier than a roster spot, but for now, VanVleet’s just trying to prove himself chance by chance, perhaps inciting some competition that will make everyone better off in the process.

“Yeah, I mean, all of those things were my focal point from Day One. But you gotta do one before you can do the other,” he said. “I can’t challenge Cory without making the 15, right? Now it’s just a matter of being the type of player they hate to leave on the bench, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I’ll adjust to whatever role and whatever it is.

“I also think it’s healthy. Not healthy for him to not play, obviously, ‘cause I’ll probably be in that position one day, too, and I don’t want that to happen to me. But healthy for him to…not relax, you know what I mean? We don’t talk about it, I don’t know what the reasoning was, I don’t question the coaches at all. I just trust that they know what they’re doing, and if they ask me to play, I’ll be ready, and if not, fine.”

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Raptors continue to get their act together in victory over Clippers

Clippers 109, Raptors 118 | Boxscore | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Believe me, the frustration over the Raps’ recent stretch of uninspiring basketball is mutual — and I’m not just saying that because I’m still in disbelief over the Patriots covering the spread without holding a lead the entire game. Note to self: Bet with your gut, not with your rooting interest.

However, if you’re willing to look beyond the mediocrity and shift your focus to the big picture, there’s plenty of room to make the best out of a bad situation. Perhaps your shortlist of positives would look similar to mine:

1. What were the odds of Masai pulling the trigger on a deal before this team’s mini-collapse took place? Better yet, what were the odds Masai would fulfill the wishes of the vast majority…Well, while the level of likelihood is debatable, the probability percentage has since skyrocketed.

2. DeMar DeRozan’s time on the shelf coupled with Cory Joseph’s episodes of inconsistency certainly contributed to the Raps falling back to the pack. Food for thought, though: How important was it watching Norman Powell, and to a lesser extent Fred VanVleet, fill the void? I’d say it’s reassuring on two different levels but both revolve around roster flexibility:

A) Whether through injury or trade (the latter specifically referring to Terrence Ross and/or Cory Joseph), both Powell and VanVleet can help soften the blow from any potential loss at their respective positions.

B) Joseph has done too much for this team to think his benching in favor of FVV was anything more than Casey sending a message, so this is particularly directed at Powell’s playing time: Powell not only held the fort down while DeMar was out, he set up shop like it was business as usual. So much so that this team’s rotations (even when fully healthy) should officially be reexamined. He’s forced his way into this squad’s current core whether DeMar was ready to come back or not — there’s room to get creative. Which reminds me, I’ll need to touch on DeRozan in a bit; hint: he might have come back with a bang.

3. Let’s give the Eastern Conference shakeup a bit of perspective. Bad news first: As most of you already know (coming into Monday night), the win column for Boston, Washington and Atlanta all hit 75 precent or better over their last 20 games. The Raps over the same span: A disappointing .45. Hell, even the Pacers have snuck back into the conversation as a seven-game winning streak has brought them back to life and helped close the gap that separates the East’s second and sixth seeds to just 4 games.

The good news: For the foreseeable future, there’s no such thing as a meaningless game. Whether the Raps are facing a bottom-feeder or a member of the elite, we’re bound to get our money’s worth each and every night. I mean, the players and coaches still have to hold up their end of the bargain in the effort department, but simply put: the season’s just getting good!

Sunday’s matinee vs. Brooklyn offered some quality patchwork after falling apart in Orlando, so it’s as good a place as any to provide the starting point for a hopeful reboot. Now, with that “shortlist” out of the way, did Monday’s clash with the Clippers follow suit?

Win or lose (though it’s getting tougher to say that as the East gets more chaotic), all I was personally looking for were signs that promoted the mission of this team getting their act together, and vice versa.

Should I include the second-night-of-a-back-to-back asterisk? Not when both teams would need it, so feel free to toss that convenient caveat out.

Encouraging Signs:

With the team struggling to gain their footing out of the gate, particularly by failing to stay with 3-point shooters and having little to no success in the pick and roll, I can only assume preparing for the worst was a common theme among onlookers. But, satisfaction came shortly after as the Raps got out of their own way far more quickly than in numerous games over the past few weeks — communication began to make sense and passing lanes started to get disrupted. The latter was highlighted by Bebe’s denial at the top of the key which he followed up with a one-on-one fast break dunk that showed off just how athletic of a big-man he is.

Enter DeMar DeRozan:

His individual isolations can have a negative effect when the game is on the line (the supporting cast can’t exactly learn to be clutch when they’re never really given the chance), but if you needed a reminder of just how many quality opportunities open up for the rest of team when DeMar is on the floor, Monday brought it all back. Individually, DeMar picked up right where his midrange/floater/get-to-the-line game left off. He even added a couple threes to reminds us that if he ever hit from downtown consistently, Isaiah Thomas wouldn’t be hogging all the darkhouse-MVP spotlight. DeMar was present for a reasonable amount of the club’s recent slide so I’ll stop the gushing and hold him accountable, but there’s no denying what he means in the grand scheme.

Now, where to start in regards to Jonas Valanciunas… First off, kudos to the gameplan for making sure he was highly involved from the very beginning for the second consecutive game. JV actually had his jump shot falling throughout the game’s entirety. And if that wasn’t enough to get excited, even with the mini-run of success he’s currently enjoying, I can’t recall a game where his footwork, hands, and one-on-one confidence against above-average defenders in the post operated at such a high level. Let’s just hope involving the guy, who still has a chance to develop into this team’s missing third piece, with so much regularity becomes the new norm — even if he struggles! He feeds off the level of confidence the people around him have in him.

As for Lowry, a regular day at the office of doing damage from downtown while pushing the pace when it needs to be pushed is always encouraging. A shoutout also has to go out for passing Mo Pete to become the franchise’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. Though, perhaps his biggest impact last night was made on Cory Joseph. A player at the same position will snap out of a funk eventually with Lowry setting the example on a nightly basis. And on this night, Cojo got back to his calculated and determined self.

Vice Versa:

This matchup will never be confused with a defensive battle — 130 combined points in the first half and a 97-82 Raps’ lead entering the 4th is a good indication. But I can’t sit here and say the final outcome was all the Raps’ doing. Other than Blake Griffin using his physicality to will his way to a triple-double (not to mention furthering the notion that this team needs help down low), the Clippers never made a concerted effort to mix it up inside.

That makes sense when you rank 8th in threes per game and 4th in percentage. But what’s discouraging is other than DeMarre Carroll making life tough for J.J. Redick, the Raps seemed content with giving L.A. the opportunity to shoot themselves out of an off night.

Mind you, if a team continues to be ineffective, why stand in their way? Well, when one of a team’s defensive weaknesses is stopping their opponent’s strength, an opportunity to make progress shouldn’t be taken lightly. Besides, with the Raps’ tendency to lose their intensity after mounting a sizeable lead, the Clippers could very well have been in a position to steal the win.

Some might say that’s nitpicking, or even trying to find a hole that wasn’t there — especially on the aforementioned second night of a back-to-back. I’m definitely open to hearing you out but when you add in all the easy buckets that missed 3-pointers can (and did) cause, the Raptors were just playing with fire when they could have really sinked their teeth into the defensive side of the game. But I digress.

Last but certainly not least, I doubt anyone will have mixed feelings on this issue:

I get that there’s a rotational pecking order, and I get that playing time often comes down to the size of a player’s contract. But either get creative or get on the phone — Norman Powell CANNOT go back to the role he had beforehand. Not after what we’ve all recently witnessed. And don’t tell there’s no room with DeRozan back. Powell comes with too much positional flexibility for that to remain a valid counterpoint. I’d even go as far to say that Powell is now third in line when it comes to creating his own shot, and that probably could have been said months ago.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of this fan base as we all waited for Powell to make an appearance. Perhaps this sounds familiar: The 10-minute mark of the 4th quarter with the Raps up by double digits won’t cut it anymore! Like clockwork, though, he promptly hit a three, played sound defence and executed a near halfcourt alley-oop in the limited minutes he received.

But hey, it’s a good problem to have, right? While that may be true, even good problems eventually have to be addressed.

In the meantime, T.O. is seemingly back in business. Perhaps I should learn to take what I can get.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E10 – Hotline Bling

Hello Raptor fans! After some time away the boys are back at it again with another episode of Talking Raptors. However this time the landscape is a much different one since the last podcast. Nick and Barry sit down together and try to make sense of it all.

They discuss:

– What. Is. Happening. With this team.

– Cory Joseph and his up shaky play.

– Is a trade looming?

– Drake on Coach Calipari’s podcast.

– Kyle Lowry and All-Star Weekend.

-Introducing the Talking Raptors Hotline. CALL US! Seriously.  (877) 207 – 8611

All this and a bit more.. Hopefully the team starts trending in the right direction and we can all relax a little bit.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy and we thank you for listening.

Don’t forget to give us a call on the brand new Talking Raptors Hotline Voicemail to share your thoughts on the team.

Hit us up (877) 207 – 8611

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Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 7

10 things I saw from Raptors-Clippers (6–2–2017) – The Defeated

Welcome back: No rust whatsoever for DeMar DeRozan. He scored 13 in the first quarter and it just kept on coming. Working off the high screen to get into the lane, drive and dish to his bigs, floaters with either hand in the lane, getting to the foul stripe. He even drilled two threes: pull-up off a screen, corner look to beat the buzzer.

DeMar DeRozan’s return reawakens hunger in Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

It’s troubling to imagine what Monday’s loose, defence-free first quarter would have looked like for the Raptors without DeRozan around to pour in his first 13 points. The Raptors started slow in their own end, struggling to keep up with an endlessly cycling Clippers offence and allowing L.A. to hit six of its first eight shots. When the Raptors took their first timeout less than four minutes into the game, the Clippers already had a nine-point lead.

But after missing his first three attempts DeRozan started getting to work. Pivoting off a much-needed injection of energy from Nogeuira and centre Jonas Valanciunas, DeRozan’s shots began to fall and he found his way to the free-throw line seven times in the quarter, putting those early misses behind him with a steady string of buckets.

Once Lowry—who had an excellent start himself—finished his early shift, DeRozan dragged the Raptors through the end of the first, finishing it with a ringing put-back after Jakob Poeltl’s contested fast-break lay-up rimmed out. After trailing by double digits minutes earlier, the Raptors were finishing the opening frame up by four.

Finally healthy DeMar DeRozan helps Raptors break out of losing funk | Toronto Sun

DeRozan finished the game with 31 points including two three pointers but his return wasn’t just the return of a polished scorer. His presence just seemed to settle everyone in the lineup as the Raps won this one rather handily 118-109.

“It kind of put things back in the pecking order,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s funny how things go, you have so many talented young men but it’s still a pecking order. Guys know the rhythm with DeMar back in, how we play offensively, how we play defensively.”

In DeRozan’s absence, Lowry has been a rock, shouldering the load without his backcourt mate and keeping the Raptors afloat in trying times with both DeRozan and for a good chunk of his absence, Patrick Patterson out of the lineup too.

But with DeRozan back, Lowry looked more like his old self, not quite so frantic and not needing to be.

DeMar DeRozan’s return puts Raptors back in their rhythm | Toronto Star

“It kind of puts things back in the pecking order,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s funny how things go, you have so many talented young men but it’s still a pecking order. Guys know the rhythm with DeMar back in, how we play offensively, how we play defensively.”

How the Raptors played was well, at both ends of the court. They had a season-high 70 points in the first half, shot 49 per cent from the field and limited the Clippers to just 47 per cent shooting, a number more impressive when Blake Griffin’s 11-for-19 night is taken off the total.

“I think tonight we did the best job of passing out of double teams of any time this year,” Casey said. “We didn’t make shots but we made the right decisions and I think in time those shots will fall.

“I thought (Jonas Valanciunas) caught it in the middle and made good decisions, Lucas (Nogueira) got it in the middle (and) made good decisions and we still have to make the shots. And Kyle and DeMar willingly, on time and on target, gave up the ball and that’s so important. That’s a sign of growth.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQMvX2SgVGw/

Game Rap: Raptors 118, Clippers 109 | Toronto Raptors

FINISHING STRONG

Prior to the game, Dwane Casey talked about his team’s effort levels as they recently lost eight of 10 games saying that the effort was there, but the team needed to find a way to extend their stretches of defensive intensity. By the mid-way point of the quarter, free throws from Jonas Valanciunas stretched the lead to 20 points. Although Toronto would be outscored 16-5 in the final 6:30 of the game, the defensive effort throughout the game in building the 20-point lead allowed them to pick up their second consecutive victory after dropping eight of 10 games.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQLgCe6FWbx/

Blake Griffin’s triple-double is not enough for Clippers, 118-109 – LA Times

The Clippers never got a handle on DeMar DeRozan (31 points), who had missed seven of his last eight games with a sore right ankle, or Kyle Lowry (24 points, eight assists), or Jonas Valanciunas  (21 points, 12 rebounds).

In their last 10 games, the Clippers have the worst defensive rating (116.7) in the NBA.

“I don’t know why, but we’re pretty [bad] right now,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said after being limited to just 24 minutes 47 seconds because of foul trouble.

And why is the defense so porous?

“I think it’s multiple efforts,” Jordan said. “Locking into the game plan and just having some urgency and some fight.”

First half views (1/3). #WeTheNorth

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February 6, 2017: Clippers 109, Raptors 118 – Los Angeles Clippers Blog

X-Factor: The Raptors dominated the Clippers from the FT line. Toronto made 26-of-29 FTs (89.7 percent), while the Clippers made only 12-of-18 FTs (66.7 percent). That’s a 14-point differential, the second-worst of the season for the Clippers behind only their December 30 game in Houston. DeRozan and All-Star teammate PG Kyle Lowry combined to make more FTs (14-of-16) than the Clippers did as a team.

@normanpowell4 can fly. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Clippers Fall to Raptors, 109-118 – Clips Nation

Free throws really plagued the Clippers throughout this game. The Raptors are an excellent team at both drawing and converting foul shots, so it was crucial for the Clippers to prevent any Raptors players, particularly DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, from getting to the line. By halftime, the Raptors were 19-22 at the line, versus the Clippers’ 5-7. And by game’s end, though the Clippers had managed to close the margin, 7 of DeRozan’s game-high 31 points and 7 of Lowry’s 24 came from the free throw line. As a team, the Raptors shot 89.7% from behind the line, making 26 of 29 attempts.

By contrast, the Clippers, also a great team at drawing fouls this season, only made 12 of 18 attempted free throws, good enough for just 66.7%. As bad as that was, the larger issue at hand was defending the Raptors without initiating contact. DeAndre Jordan, the defensive anchor for the Clippers, had committed his second foul less than four minutes into the game; he would find himself in foul trouble for much of the rest of the game. And his replacement, Marreese Speights, had also committed two costly fouls before the first quarter was even finished. The Clippers fouled plentifully, a result of poor-timing and being a bit over-zealous on the defensive end. The Clippers discovered an opportunity late in the second quarter by getting the ball down-low to Griffin in the post, where he drew three straight fouls in less than a minute. But for some reason, this tactic wasn’t employed in the second half.

First half views (3/3). #WeTheNorth

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Raptors start slow, cruise to win over Clippers 118-109 – Raptors HQ

Valanciunas, meanwhile, continued his strong stretch of play. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting 9-of-13 from the field and pulling out every trick in his offensive playbook. Valanciunas scored on putbacks, floaters, post-moves and a series of spins and drop steps. He even had the jumper working (with minimal pump fake involvement — Casey, when prompted, called him “decisive”). On defense, Jonas did what he could to keep DeAndre Jordan (6 points, 12 rebounds) from his usual thunderous finishes, and kept the team’s pick-and-roll defense relatively sound (Lucas Nogueira, 8 points and 6 boards, helped in this regard too). Sure the Raps gave up 60 points in the first half — but they scored 70, so all is forgiven.

First half views (2/3). #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Raptors this week: As deadline looms, it’s now or never to add to core – Sportsnet.ca

With this reality staring Toronto in the face just fourth months from now, it’s likely this season will be the last with one or even both of these players. Lowry’s departure would obviously hurt the most, but, as has become very apparent this season, Patterson is almost as important for what the Raptors want to accomplish.

Therefore, Masai Ujiri and Co. have to make a deadline move or they may as well abandon this Raptors team as constructed and look to begin to tear it down.

Ujiri has been incredibly conservative during his tenure with Raptors. Other than trading Rudy Gay, a move that accidently set into motion this period of Raptors prosperity, and drafting Bruno Caboclo, a pick that’s done absolutely nothing to help this current Raptors team, Ujiri has opted for slow and steady team building.

It’s a strategy that’s worked thus far, mainly because of how friendly the team’s core players’ contracts have been. But starting with DeMarre Carroll’s four-year $60-million deal – a contract that keeps looking worse and worse because of his diminishing skills – and continuing with DeRozan’s mega deal this past off-season the Raptors’ cap situation is an issue.

The team’s financial situation should spur Ujiri and his staff into action, one way or the other.

Toronto Raptors Two-Man Game: Depressing January – Tip of the Tower

Panic, no. Concerned, yes.

The Raptors have their issues right now, but I’m not quite ready to panic yet. Let’s keep in mind that both DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson have been in-and-out during this stretch of losing and they are key cogs for the team. With them in the lineup, the Raptors are averaging over 100 points per 100 possessions and we’ve seen this team struggle to score without them.

Of course, there are glaring issues like their shooting slump, inefficiencies on the glass, big-man rotation, Cory Joseph‘s play and constant defensive lapses, to name a few, but I won’t panic until we see this team at full strength. If they’re losing with a healthy roster, then, yea, smash the panic button with reckless abandon!

Frustrated? Yes, but the Raptors Aren’t Panicking – The New York Times

When Dwane Casey, the coach of the Raptors, was asked about his team’s level of confidence before Sunday’s game against the Nets, he used the word frustrated four times.

“Everybody’s frustrated,” Casey said. “When things are going good, everybody’s excited and happy. And then when you lose a few games in a row, it does test you. A lot of guys are frustrated. You want them to be frustrated. I want them to be frustrated. Nobody’s jumping up and down and chirping and whistling Dixie or whatever.”

Still, Casey seems to have solid perspective on such matters. Whenever he feels susceptible to the seductive tug of despair, Casey thinks back to when he was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2010-11 season. After running out to a strong start, the Mavericks went one stretch in which they lost nine of 11 games.

“We thought the end of the world was coming,” Casey recalled, “but we kept fighting, we kept practicing and we stayed together.”

Court Squeaks: Lowry solidifying his place in Raptors history – Video – TSN

Matthew Scianitti and Josh Lewenberg discuss DeMar DeRozan’s impressive return to the Raptors’ lineup and explain how he makes the job easier for everyone else on the team, what Kyle Lowry’s franchise record for three-pointers means for the All-Star, and weigh in on Cory Joseph’s recent struggles.

Patterson critical to Raptors’ success – Video – TSN

The importance of Patrick Patterson should not be overlooked by Raptors fans. His field goal percentage may be the worst of his career, but this year he has the 11th best plus/minus in the NBA. Leo Rautins has more on how critical he is to Toronto’s success.

Walter “Edy” Tavares named D-League All-Star – Raptors HQ

Tavares is currently averaging 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 28 games played. Tavares was not initially on the 905 roster as they claimed him off waivers after the Atlanta Hawks cut him. Nevertheless, he’s been a huge part of the team’s success so far this season, particularly on the defensive end.

Tavares currently ranks 5th in the D-League in shooting percentage at 60.6 percent (though most are dunks) and 3rd in blocks per game. He continues to be a very large man.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – DeRozan back in a big way

Host William Lou breaks down an encouraging win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Quick Reaction: Clippers 109, Raptors 118

LA Clippers 109 Final
Box Score
118 Toronto

C
P. Siakam16 MIN, 2 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Siakam had his struggles defensively tonight, particularly when wheedled into switches. Though he did have his moments – like that time in the first quarter where he brilliantly pushed Griffin away from the basket and denied a post-entry pass.

C
D. Carroll23 MIN, 9 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-

He had the Reddick assignment tonight and was chasing him into the earth’s core. Sometimes he snuffed out Reddick’s space; other times he couldn’t prevent JJ from getting open. It looked taxing physically.

This one drives me nuts:

A
J. Valanciunas32 MIN, 21 PTS, 12 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 9-13 FG, 0-0 3FG, 3-4 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Ok, there is some good stuff happening here lately.

Jonas has put together an impressive string of games. Despite DeAndre Jordan playing good post-defense on him on a couple sequences, JV had his way on offense — automatic from the mid-range and decisive in the post. I swear, this stuff didn’t exist a year ago:

D. DeRozan38 MIN, 31 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 11-22 FG, 2-3 3FG, 7-9 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

DeRozan looked rusty to start (missed his first three field goals and first two free throws) then started taking Rivers to school and getting his teammates involved.

The Raptors, um, look better offensively when he plays.

A
K. Lowry38 MIN, 24 PTS, 4 REB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 6-14 FG, 5-8 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 4 +/-

Hit some tough shots against pesky defenders in Felton and Reddick. I don’t know. I’m kind of desensitized to how good Lowry is.

B+
L. Nogueira26 MIN, 8 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 3-6 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 2 +/-

Apart from letting Speights have miles to shoot early on from deep, Bebe improved defending the perimeter by disrupting the passing lanes. This might be one of my favorite Bebe plays of this season. Dude is an octopus:

Love how he’s always rolling to the rim and manifesting himself for a layoff at the rim:

B-
C. Joseph20 MIN, 12 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 0-3 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 9 +/-

Glad to see him back, but he’s still not the the Cory Joseph we know despite having some nice dribble penetration throughout.

It is harsh on him to be too nit-picky, given how hard he works on the floor, but he needed to play smarter when closing out shooters outside. This happened a couple times:

D
T. Ross19 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1-4 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 23 +/-

Immediately gave the Raptors life when he came in off the bench (when the Raptors desperately needed it). He was making good decisions, baiting defenders, and slinging the extra pass.

Then, Terrence Ross happened. All of those good habits were ensued by two turnovers and two bad shots.

Now here’s the ultimate twist: He had a team-high three turnovers, but was also a team-high +22. I can’t exactly pin point this now, it will require some extra film watching tomorrow.

B+
N. Powell12 MIN, 5 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -6 +/-

Immediately came in to convert an alley-oop and hit a 3. Give. Him. Minutes (more than a quarter).

C+
J. Poeltl9 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-

Poeltl tonight — very aggressive playing defense on Blake Griffin, and he’ll never get the benefit of the whistle during those situations. But here’s an example of him harnessing that aggression in a way that’s conducive to the Raptors’ success:

Also did well to protect the rim on a couple occassions where DeRozan was blown-by, and did a respectable just denying Speights on the outside.

J. Sullinger6 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

He put a body on Blake for 5 minutes and took a seat.

A
Dwane Casey

None of these comments are to grade him, they’re just observations:

– Coach went deep into the rotation tonight, and went to his bench early.
– Cory Joseph is back (as of now) as the team’s back-up point guard, with Van Vleet going back to his third string role after a poor outing against the Nets.
– Norman Powell loses out, as expected, now that DeRozan is back.

And here’s my last note related to Casey tonight: Norman Powell needs to be given the keys, even when the squad is healthy.

Things We Saw

  1. Not stringing 48 minutes is still a problem — but it also isn’t, because the Raptors ultimately trumped their bad start with a gargantuan 2nd quarter. The Raptors showed awful defense to start the game (down 17-6); with the Clippers shooting 6 of 8 with very little fight from the Raps’.

    Then the Raptors surged, DeRozan woke up, and the Clippers looked gassed. Job done, and the Raptors picked up a really ‘feel-good’ victory tonight — a blowout against a tough opponent to remind them how good they are.

  2. Uh, the amount of bad luck this Clippers team goes through is nuts. Their free-fall is going to make the first round match-up in the playoffs insanely interesting when Paul comes back.
  3. The Clippers hit a lot of tough threes tonight, particularly from Rivers (4/6), Griffin (2/3), and Speights (3/7). They shot 37.1% from three overall. They just didn’t any other faucets of the game where they dominated.
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Kyle Lowry becomes Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter

With his third 3-point field goal of Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Kyle Lowry passed Morris Peterson as the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leading 3-point shooter.

Lowry is tied for third in the NBA this season with 167 threes made, and his current 81-game pace of 260 would easily blow away the franchise record for a single season that he set last year (212), breaking his earlier franchise record from 2013-14 (190). He also ranks 11th among qualified shooters with a 41.9-percent mark from outside this year.

UPDATE: Lowry would hit two more threes to finish 5-of-8, giving him 804 in his Raptors career.

Now, as friend of the site Chris Black pointed out last week, it’s difficult to compare 3-point shooting across eras (Terrence Ross ranking third speaks to that), and the increase reliance on the triple in today’s game makes all long-range records tenuous at best. Still, Lowry passing Peterson in 196 fewer games is pretty remarkable, and any player storming to a franchise record in just five seasons is impressive. Plus, Lowry has little chance of catching DeMar DeRozan for points or games played, so it’s nice to get him on the leaderboard somewhere – he’s still well behind Jose Calderon for assists and probably won’t pass Doug Christie for steals until late in the year, if at all.

Anyway, if nothing else, a reminder that Lowry is the greatest, even in these tough times. Kyle Lowry Over Everything.

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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan in, Patterson out against Clippers

If it feels like you’ve been watching a lot of Toronto Raptors basketball of late, imagine how the team must feel. And also, I’m so sorry, because it hasn’t been the greatest of weeks (or months) for the team. It still beats doing a lot of other things with your time, though. Anyway, tonight marks the team’s fifth game in seven days as the Los Angeles Clippers visit, and I’ll share this graphic from the pre-game once again to highlight just how heavy a stretch it’s already been.

Given how poorly they’ve played of late, the Raptors probably aren’t willing to use fatigue as an excuse for any game. It is a reality, though, one the tired Raptors just have to play through tonight. At least the Clippers are on a back-to-back, too. It would be interesting to hear Dwane Casey’s message to the locker room, and whether they talk about powering through the fatigue or ignore it entirely. He didn’t give much away in that regard before the game except to point out that everyone is going through that and injuries this time of year.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson were both listed as questionable once again, and the lack of a shootaround (because of the back-to-back situation) meant to update until Dwane Casey’s pre-game media availability. Unfortunately, a walk-through in place of shootaround has pushed that availability to 6:15, a little later than usual, so you’ll have to check back for updates.

As covered in the pre-game, if DeRozan can’t go, Norman Powell will continue to start and see a steady diet of touches, with Terrence Ross tasked with providing a bigger scoring punch off the bench. If Patterson can’t go, the power forward position will remain extremely fluid, with small lineups, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and Jared Sullinger all candidates to fill some of the 48 minutes.

UPDATE: DeRozan will return, while Patterson will sit again. Powell then shifts to a bench role, allowing the Raptors more options going small. That could be necessary, as Patterson’s absence leaves a gaping hole at the four. Patterson, by the way, is dealing with a different injury than the one that sidelined him before. Same knee, separate issue, although they’re likely related. No word on who starts yet, but the guess here is Nogueira. (Siakam is listed as the starter, but that’s usually subject to change.)

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: Patrick Patterson

Clippers updates
The Clippers remain without Chris Paul and Brice Johnson, while Diamond Stone is on assignment.

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Austin Rivers, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Diamond Stone
OUT: Chris Paul, Brice Johnson

Assorted

  • Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo were both with Raptors 905 for practice Monday. The 905 hit the road for a game on Tuesday, and it’s conceivable both players will be with the team then. Caboclo isn’t likely to be recalled much over the next while, so long as the parent club stays somewhat healthy, and Wright is still waiting for an opportunity to get NBA minutes with Fred VanVleet playing well in Wright’s perceived role. Until I physically see them here, I’ll assume they hit the road with the 905.
    • UPDATE: Both are on the road with the 905.
  • Speaking of the 905, Edy Tavares was named to the All-Star Game today.
  • Jahlil Okafor is reportedly close to being dealt to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca and a protected first-round pick. I share this because a lot of people wonder about Jonas Valanciunas’ trade value, and I think an Okafor deal informs Valanciunas’ potential market. Valanciunas is a better, more established player at this point, but he also costs about three times as much (although he does have two extra years on his deal). In other words, if you have scenarios in mind where Valanciunas is routed somewhere, mute your expectations on the return, unless the market for Nikola Vucevic reveals something new.

The line
The Raptors have held fairly steady around 6-point favorites (they opened at -5 but it jumped quickly), with the over-under inching up from 213 to 215. The DeRozan news has bumped the line to Raptors -6.5, and the over-under has edged even higher to 216. DeImpact!

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Edy Tavares named to D-League All-Star Team

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 center Edy Tavares has been named to the Eastern Conference D-League All-Star Team, the league announced Monday.

Tavares will head to New Orleans with his own coaching staff, who get the honor of coaching the East side thanks to owning the best record in the conference ahead of the break. That should mean a lot of post-ups for Tavares, who head coach Jerry Stackhouse has fed regularly during the first half of the season. Tavares is averaging 10.1 points on 60.6-percent shooting to go along with 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks,a nd the 905 outscore opponents by 18.4 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor.

Given his immense size, soft touch around the rim, and smart use of his length when not asked to travel laterally on defense, Tavares is likely an intriguing name to NBA scouts. His name came up pretty frequently in talking with league personnel at the D-League Showcase, and while it’s not clear if his defense will translate against fast, smart, modern NBA offenses, he’s definitely done his best to make a case for another NBA opportunity.

Conspicuous by his absence on the All-Star roster is Axel Toupane, who has been Raptors 905’s best player and who remains their best NBA prospect. The 2015-16 Denver Nuggets call-up is averaging 16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals while guarding three, or even four positions and working as the team’s late-clock creator. The on-off impact has been somewhat less pronounced because Toupane leads second units

It’s possible Toupane could be in line to replace Yogi Ferrel on the roster, now that he’s on a multi-year NBA deal.

In other 905 All-Star content, it seems likely that Brady Heslip will get a chance to participate in the 3-Point Contest, and John Jordan will likely defend his Slam Dunk title.

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Gameday: Clippers @ Raptors, Feb. 6

The Toronto Raptors are set to play their fifth game in seven nights on Monday when they host the Los Angeles Clippers. There is a lot wrong with the Raptors right now, from injuries to defense to a seemingly floundering chemistry, but it’s unlikely there’s a bigger obstacle to their performance Monday than this compressed schedule. When the game ends, the Raptors will be one of just six teams with 53 games already in the books, and they’re wearing the resultant fatigue like a scarlet letter right now.

There are some who view talk of the schedule and fatigue as merely excuse-making, and that’s their prerogative. But there is a great deal of science showing what a compressed schedule or heavy travel can do to players and teams, and however you feel about fatigue’s role in the Raptors’ recent slide – it certainly does not explain the entirety of a 9-13 stretch, to be clear – it’s nice that rest is coming. Eventually. After hosting the Clippers on Monday, the Raptors are off to Minnesota for Wednesday, after which they’ll play just three games in a 15-game stretch thanks to the All-Star break and a weird three days off later this week.

That’s great, but in the meantime, the workload Kyle Lowry is under is growing worrisome. I’m always torn on complaining about minutes because “minutes” is just one number available publicly, while the team’s sport science staff has a wealth of other information available to them in making decisions. But with Lowry second in the NBA in total minutes and already at 164 minutes over the last six days – !!! – that rest period can’t come soon enough. If not for him, then for me, because my Lowry-related anxiety is through the roof right now.

Perhaps I should set aside the worrying for after the Wolves’ game, though. The Raptors won Sunday but are still very much reeling, and it would seem unlikely that they just punt a game against the Clippers while they’re struggling. And again (he tells himself), minutes played is but one piece of data. So, hey, yeah, the Clippers.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to noted Drake enthusiast and ESPN NBA editor Jovan Buha.

Blake Murphy: First thing’s first: How big an advantage is it for the Clippers to have played in Boston last night? Yes, back-to-backs are generally tougher, but it kept a certain someone from a certain establishment in a certain so-called White Vegas (just the worst nickname for a place).

Jovan Buha: I like how creatively you tied this in. It’s never a good thing to play a back-to-back, especially against two of the best six or seven teams in the league. But we all know what happened when Blake Griffin went out in Toronto around this time last year, so it’s progress has happened by the time of me writing this. I’m excited to see if any Raptors fans find a way to troll him at the game.

Blake Murphy: The Clippers had a nice seven-game winning streak rolling despite the absence of Chris Paul but have since dropped six of eight. Has their been a change in the way they’ve been playing, or is this just a case of a tough schedule – 10 of 11 on the road, are you serious? – and a couple of meetings with Golden State? Any concern here?

Jovan Buha: There’s plenty of concern, but that’s only because the Clippers are missing Chris Paul and enduring their most grueling stretch of the season. Take the best player off any team and there will obviously be a stark drop off. Throw in a road-heavy schedule against playoff teams — including three matchups with the Warriors — and you have the recipe for a team spiraling down the standings, which is exactly what’s happening to the Clippers right now. That said, if the Clippers aren’t going to be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, dropping to No. 6 or No. 7 — and avoiding the Warriors in the second round — isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Blake Murphy: I mentioned Paul being out. With him not getting the nod to the All-Star Game (where he could have then been replaced, giving two players the shine instead of one), has he wrestled the crown of League’s Most Underrated Star Point Guard back from Kyle Lowry?

Jovan Buha: Yes and no. (You could throw Mike Conley in that conversation too.) Paul isn’t the most underrated point guard in the league right now — it’s still Lowry — but he’s probably the most underrated star point guard of all time. Outside of a championship, his statistical resume matches up with basically any point guard in NBA history — including Magic Johnson. I obviously wouldn’t put him on that level yet, if ever, but he’s earned his way into top-five PG distinction at least.

Blake Murphy: One more on Paul – how has the point guard play shaken out with him on the shelf? It feels like too much Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers. But then again, any amount feels like too much Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers. (I know Rivers has primarily been playing off ball and is putting up career numbers, but let me get these shots in.)

Jovan Buha: Austin Rivers’ development has been one of the lone bright spots this season, but it’s not because of his point-guard play and playmaking skills. He’s a 2, and in small lineups, a 3. Raymond Felton, meanwhile, has been a revelation as possibly the best backup PG in the CP3 era — a group that includes Eric Bledsoe and Darren Collison. He’s played heavy minutes, defended top opposing point guards relatively well (Steph Curry notwithstanding), and helped guide a second unit that’s filled with guys looking to shoot. He isn’t Chris Paul, of course, but he’s filled in well.

Blake Murphy: The Clippers have improved from one of the worst rebounding teams in the league to roughly average. It’s always seemed a bit weird that they rebounded poorly, and so even getting to respectability at each end of the floor seems like an important step. With the Raptors’ struggling on the glass right now, would the Clippers shift their approach, particularly on the offensive glass, or are they locked in as a send-one-guy-and-get-back attack?

Jovan Buha: The Clippers always have and always will be a send-one-guy-(DeAndre Jordan)-and-get-back. That’s just how Doc Rivers rolls — he did the same thing in Boston. The Clips’ transition defense can still be atrocious at times despite this strategy, as the roster lacks rim protection and energy defenders. I expect Jordan to have a big rebounding performance and exploit the Raptors’ rebounding woes, but I doubt it will come from a change in the Clippers’ game plan.

Raptors updates
The back-to-back scenario means no shootaround, which means no update on DeMar DeRozan (ankle) and Patrick Patterson (knee) until closer to game time. If DeRozan can’t go, you’re familiar with the deal by this point: Norman Powell plays well in his absence, and one of two Terrence Rosses shows up in support off the bench. If Patterson sits, my guess here would be that Lucas Nogueira, not Pascal Siakam, starts against the tough Clippers frontline, but the starting power forward position is obviously quite fluid without Patterson. That’s made the backup four-spot fluid, too, with Dwane Casey occasionally opting to go small (DeMarre Carroll), regular-ish (Jared Sullinger), or big (Jakob Poeltl, with Nogueira sliding to the four) in the Jurassic Five iterations at the top of the second and fourth quarters. They’re still figuring life without Patterson out, and since he and DeRozan both did partial practices Saturday, hopefully they don’t need to for much longer.

The other question facing the rotation is how long Cory Joseph’s mental break is. Joseph was playing poorly on the defensive end more or less all season, and Fred VanVleet has temporarily jumped him in the point guard pecking order. VanVleet has been steady in those minutes, but Joseph will get another chance at regaining his job at some point. Delon Wright, meanwhile, has been assigned to Raptors 905, likely to get a practice session in ahead of the team’s Tuesday road game. He could conceivably be recalled to sit on the bench Monday night, though he remains fourth on the point guard depth chart. (I realize that’s a point of frustration for some, but VanVleet has been really solid and Wright only got three games to work some rust off. Wright’s really good, and the depth isn’t a bad thing.)

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Cory Joseph
SG: (DeMar DeRozan), Norman Powell, (Delon Wright)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: (Patrick Patterson), Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright
OUT: DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson

Clippers updates
It’s not as if the Clippers aren’t a little tired here themselves, having played in Paul Pierce’s emotional final game in Boston on Sunday. But they had two days off before that, and other than Chris Paul – as big an absence as there is – and Brice Johnson – perhaps the smallest – they’re nearly at full strength. Diamond Stone, who has looked really nice the few times I’ve seen him in the D-League this year, is on assignment.

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Austin Rivers, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Diamond Stone
OUT: Chris Paul, Brice Johnson

The line
The Raptors are 5-point favorites, which seems kind of odd to me given the fatigue and injuries and all. The Clippers are without Paul and DeRozan/Patterson sound like 50-50 bets, so maybe the oddsmakers just have faith in the restorative power of two of the team’s three or four most important players returning. A reason to believe! The over-under comes in at 214. I’m going to hold off on a prediction until we know the status of the Raptors’ two starters – I doubt they can win this game without at least one of them, unless Lowry’s going to just blow past 200 minutes in one week and remain Over Everything. Guess we can’t put it past him.

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Lowry’s triple-double lifts Raptors to much-needed victory over Nets

Raptors 103, Nets 95 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Kyle Lowry was exhausted and emotional after Friday’s loss, declining to speak with media for the first time all season as a result. On Saturday, he missed practice due to an illness that threatened to keep him out of Sunday’s game. With DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson also sitting, though, Lowry opted to tough it out. Naturally, he was cut by a stanchion camera early on and would require four stitches in his right arm. Of course, these circumstances only sometimes matter, and in fact seem to spur him on at times.

Such was the case Sunday, when not Lowry turned in a virtuoso performance despite the constraints of illness or fatigue and despite the absence of his 3-point shot. Lowry was magnificent, at times willing the team to larger leads and gripping firmly to prevent them from slipping away. It’s not really a terrific Lowry performance without the element of obstacles, and so it made sense that the better Lowry played, the longer the Nets hung around.

It mattered little in the end, beyond extending the point guard to 39 minutes once again. That fact is probably cause for major concern given the pattern it is a part of and with the Raptors set for their fifth game in seven days on Monday, but there is at least the glimmering light of rest up ahead. In this case, with the Raptors reeling so plainly, hurting so obviously, and showing cracks so openly, maybe it’s worth looking past. Yes, it was “just the Nets,” as it was always going to be, but it was also a victory, one the Raptors seemed to need pretty badly. It’s been a long time since the players on the team spoke as openly about being at a loss, about their inability to rediscover their footing, about genuine concern about their play. Having dropped 13 of 21, eight of 10, and two in a row, the Raptors kind of just needed a win, however they got there.

How they got there was Lowry putting up a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double, the ninth of his career and his seventh as a Raptor. (That he has seven of the 19 triple-doubles in franchise history seems fitting.) This wasn’t the singular scoring dominance he’s flashed in some 30-point outbursts this year, when the gravity of his deep threes stretches and snaps a defense, or when his forays into forests of arms near the rim somehow continue to produce and-ones. Instead, this was one of Lowry’s craftier performances, one that saw him hit a few sneaky shots, throw a couple of incredible passes, and generally keep a high-effort Nets defense in disarray, constantly unclear of when to switch and whom to follow. Lowry was Nashing the pick-and-roll in semi-transition, throwing lobs for his big men, threading bounce passes to the roll-man, and setting up (mostly unwilling) shooters.

This was the height of “you have to really watch Lowry to appreciate his dominance” games, and while the Raptors actually managed to outscore the Nets when he was off the floor, there’s little chance Toronto closes this out without him. And, in fact, it seemed like at one point they may try in the fourth, but Brooklyn quickly punched back. Brooklyn punched back often, actually, with their high-variance, triple-heavy approach letting them make a couple of quick comebacks that a tight and perhaps tired Raptors rotation struggled to contain. The Raptors defended well enough on the whole, to be clear, and even 13 threes still saw the Nets score just 96.5 points per-100 possessions, but there were a few troubling comeback runs and definitely the threat of a stolen game late. But again, it wouldn’t be a peak Lowry performance without every last ounce of potential adversity.

Lowry did not do it alone, though, and the players who stepped up to help him are not only worthy of recognition given the team’s thinned-out top-half here, but they’re performances worth noting in a more macro sense because, for a few players, regardless of quality of opponent, this was the kind of game people have been asking for. That scoring punch off the bench in the typical sixth-man role, heating up quickly and adding secondary playmaking? That was Terrence Ross, who poured in 17 quick points in 26 minutes and probably should have been fed even more when Lowry sat. Meeting the challenge of Brook Lopez on the opposite side and asserting himself as a serious post-up and dive threat? That was Jonas Valanciunas, who had one of his best two-way performances of the season – his defense has trended upward the last couple of weeks – in outscoring Lopez 22-20 in fewer minutes. Valanciunas shook off some early foul trouble and what appeared to be a stinger to his shoulder later and was a beast setting screens and rushing hard through the paint. And those Lowry-less lineups that succeeded? Look in part to Fred VanVleet, who for a second game in a row took Cory Joseph’s spot in the rotation and delivered a solid, steady performance. He shot 2-of-10, but he also got to the line a handful and dished some smart, creative passes for teammates (including Lucas Nogueira, with whom he’s formed a quick chemistry). DeMarre Carroll had a really nice two-way game, too.

Things weren’t perfect. If they were, the Raptors wouldn’t have won by just eight, and the game wouldn’t have come down to somewhere near the wire (even if the latest threat wasn’t all that legitimate). With Patterson out, Dwane Casey trimmed the rotation, with Jakob Poeltl and Jared Sullinger sharing the ninth-man role that was abandoned fairly quickly. Pascal Siakam started and played as well as could be hoped, but Patterson’s absence is felt throughout the rotation, and tightening it, while making sense, is risky given the compressed schedule they’re playing under right now. There’s also the fact that VanVleet being ahead of Joseph isn’t exactly the best-case scenario, that the Raptors needed to task Lowry with such a load while ill, that the team-wide shooting slump persists, and that despite all of these strong performances that they still narrowly beat the Nets.

This win does not take them out of the woods, or anything close to it. As I quoted before the game, “It won’t get better, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna get any worse.” The Raptors beating the Nets without two of their most important players kept things from getting any worse, and that’s definitely important and meaningful right now. They can build on it. They can exhale. They can fly home Sunday with a bit of the weight off their shoulders. Monday will come quickly, though, and the Clippers won’t be nearly as forgiving. For a day, though, this is what they needed.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Can a trade fix the Raptors?