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Date Title Author
Dec 12, 17 DeMar DeRozan, Dropping Dimes Joshua Howe
Dec 12, 17 How Lowry’s Heart, Legs, Whole Body Grew Three Sizes Katie Heindl
Dec 12, 17 No More Parties in LA – Raptors get out worked by Clippers to snap 6-game win streak Cameron Dorrett
Dec 12, 17 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – We blew it Blake Murphy
Dec 12, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 91, Clippers 96 Blake Murphy
Dec 11, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Gallinari sits, Teodosic returns for Clippers Blake Murphy
Dec 11, 17 Are the Raptors fun now? Tim Chisholm
Dec 11, 17 Raptors 905 waive Richard Amardi Blake Murphy
Dec 11, 17 Which Atlantic team’s fountain of youth is best? Vivek Jacob
Dec 11, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Dec. 11 Blake Murphy
Dec 11, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 11 Sam Holako
Dec 11, 17 DeRozan finally wins in Sacramento, Raptors take 6th in a row Blake Murphy
Dec 11, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Where do we stand in the East? Blake Murphy
Dec 10, 17 Raptors-Kings Reaction Podcast – Finally dethroned Kings Blake Murphy
Dec 10, 17 Quick reaction: Raptors 102, Kings 87 Scott Hastie
Dec 10, 17 Raptors 905 adding Fuquan Edwin Blake Murphy
Dec 10, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Hill & Trill sit, Wright progresses to 3-on-3 Blake Murphy
Dec 10, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Kings – Dec. 10 Shyam Baskaran
Dec 9, 17 Grizzlies comedown too early, Raptors fix little things in comeback Blake Murphy
Dec 9, 17 Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Comebacks are fun Blake Murphy
Dec 8, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 116, Grizzlies 107 Joshua Howe
Dec 8, 17 905’s first half struggles continue, fall to Drive Vivek Jacob
Dec 8, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Naismith Cup redux Blake Murphy
Dec 8, 17 Open Gym Ep. 8 Blake Murphy
Dec 8, 17 A Wayward Offense, a Wayward Season Louis Zatzman
Dec 8, 17 Morning Coffee – Fri, Dec 8 Sam Holako
Dec 8, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Grizzlies, Dec. 8 Blake Murphy
Dec 8, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast – Flying solo Blake Murphy
Dec 7, 17 Raptors Mailbag: The kids are fun and people want to talk about them Blake Murphy
Dec 7, 17 The Rudy Gay Trade Assets: Building a Contender Matt Shantz
Dec 7, 17 The State of the Atlantic Louis Zatzman
Dec 7, 17 Raptors Youth Movement Transitions To Modern Basketball RR
Dec 7, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E8 – 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! Nick Reynoldson
Dec 6, 17 A Top NBA Coach: Time To Finally Give Coach Casey His Due Sahal Abdi
Dec 6, 17 Raptors Playbook: Horns Double Cooper Smither
Dec 6, 17 Mid-Morning Coffee – Wed, Dec 6 Sam Holako
Dec 6, 17 Raptors’ ball movement fuels 4th consecutive victory Blake Murphy
Dec 6, 17 Raptors-Suns Reaction Podcast – Routine win Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Suns 113, Raptors 126 Cameron Dorrett
Dec 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Poeltl feeling better, Monroe starts for Suns Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 17 Raptors 905 drop finals rematch to Vipers in front of record ACC crowd Blake Murphy
Dec 5, 17 Did You Miss Me? Anthony Doyle
Dec 5, 17 Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, Dec. 5 Blake Murphy
Dec 4, 17 Raptors reinvention another Dwane Casey accomplishment Scott Hastie
Dec 4, 17 Looks and Long Shots: Outfit Power Rankings From The Raps City Social Katie Heindl
Dec 4, 17 Steady Freddy Shyam Baskaran
Dec 4, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – A general assessment Blake Murphy
Dec 3, 17 Raptors 905 topped by streaking Long Island Nets Blake Murphy
Dec 3, 17 Grand Schemin’: The Butterfly/Domino Effect Mike Nelson
Dec 2, 17 Raptors edge Pacers in entertaining shootout Blake Murphy
Dec 2, 17 Do the Raptors Really Need Valanciunas? RR
Dec 2, 17 Raptors-Pacers reaction Podcast – A foul is a foul Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 17 Quick Reaction: Pacers 115, Raptors 120 Sahal Abdi
Dec 1, 17 Maine Red Claws Sink 15 3s to Defeat 905 Louis Zatzman
Dec 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira has torn calf muscle, Turner plays Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 17 Hello! Jack Armstrong has added hats to his t-shirt line RR
Dec 1, 17 Open Gym Ep. 7 Blake Murphy
Dec 1, 17 On the Third Quarter Thrashings Joshua Howe
Dec 1, 17 Gameday: Pacers @ Raptors, Dec. 1 Blake Murphy
Nov 30, 17 Building a Bench Anthony Doyle
Nov 30, 17 Raptors top Hornets but unhappy with another shaky third Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 17 Raptors-Hornets reaction Podcast – Kyle Lowry Over Everything Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 17 Quick Reaction: Hornets 113, Raptors 126 Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 29, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Walker out as Hornets visit Raptors Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 17 Making their Marc – Evaluating the Rumour of Gasol to the Raptors Cameron Dorrett
Nov 29, 17 Raptors’ Minutes Update Matt Shantz
Nov 29, 17 Raptors 905 waiving Moute a Bidias, Flemmings Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 17 Dissenting Opinions and Big Men Atique Virani
Nov 29, 17 Gameday: Hornets @ Raptors, Nov. 29 Blake Murphy
Nov 29, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E7 – Random Ramblings Nick Reynoldson
Nov 28, 17 The Long Game Anthony Doyle
Nov 28, 17 Basketball Losers Katie Heindl
Nov 28, 17 OG Anunoby is the Raptors small forward of the present and future Josh Weinstein
Nov 27, 17 Canada falls to 1-1 in FIBA qualifiers with loss to Dominican Republic Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 17 Shevon Thompson makes quick impression with Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Nov 27, 17 Checking in on early-season storylines Scott Hastie
Nov 27, 17 A Tribute to 113 Alex Gres
Nov 27, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Out with the old, in with the new Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 17 Raptors 905 snap three-game skid, blow out Drive Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 17 Raptors bounce back with head-clearing blowout of Hawks Blake Murphy
Nov 26, 17 Raptors-Hawks reaction Podcast – Regression Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 112, Hawks 78 Sahal Abdi
Nov 25, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Miles out again, Muscala and Babbitt sit for Hawks Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 17 Raptors 905 come up short in comeback attempt against 87ers Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Hawks, Nov. 25 Blake Murphy
Nov 25, 17 Raptors outpaced in Indiana for second straight loss Shyam Baskaran
Nov 25, 17 Raptors-Pacers reaction Podcast – Jonas benched Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Pacers 107 Cameron Dorrett
Nov 24, 17 Canada tops Bahamas in 1st senior men’s home game since 1994 Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Miles away from Raptors, Turner plays for Pacers Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 17 Open Gym Ep. 6 Blake Murphy
Nov 24, 17 Spotting Up Anthony Doyle
Nov 24, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Pacers, Nov. 24 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 24, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov. 24 – Talking through it Blake Murphy
Nov 23, 17 Raptors Playbook: 2/1 Pick and Roll Cooper Smither
Nov 23, 17 Third Quarter Dumpster Fire Dooms Raptors Against Knicks Matt Shantz
Nov 23, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 23 Sam Holako
Nov 23, 17 Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – What the third was that? Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 100, Knicks 108 Josh Weinstein
Nov 22, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Powell returns but Anunoby stays in starting lineup Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 17 Delon Wright will not require surgery; expected to miss a month Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 17 Making the Case for OG Anthony Doyle
Nov 22, 17 Iblocka No More: The Decline of Serge Ibaka Joshua Howe
Nov 22, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Knicks, Nov. 22 Blake Murphy
Nov 22, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E6 – Zarar’s Revenge Nick Reynoldson
Nov 21, 17 Jumpers and Jump Starts: The Case for Recalibration Katie Heindl
Nov 21, 17 Where Are They Now: Raptors Edition Sahal Abdi
Nov 21, 17 Are the Raptors coming full-circle? Vivek Jacob
Nov 20, 17 Raptors 905 Crushed by Greensboro Swarm Louis Zatzman
Nov 20, 17 DeMar DeRozan named Eastern Conference Player of the Week Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 17 The Emergence of Siakam Matt Shantz
Nov 20, 17 Bruno Caboclo – G League star, till further notice Vivek Jacob
Nov 20, 17 Raptors avenge ugly loss to Wizards, win 4th in a row Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Good problems Blake Murphy
Nov 20, 17 Raptors-Wizards reaction Podcast – Siakam’s energy Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 17 Quick Reaction: Wizards 91, Raptors 100 Louis Zatzman
Nov 19, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Powell out, Ibaka returns, Wall sits Blake Murphy
Nov 19, 17 Gameday: Wizards @ Raptors, Nov. 19 Shyam Baskaran
Nov 18, 17 Raptors 905 come up short in matinee against Magic Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 17 Shorthanded Raptors take care of Knicks in spirited two-way performance Blake Murphy
Nov 18, 17 Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – Making it look easy Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 Quick Reaction: Knicks 84, Raptors 107 Anthony Doyle
Nov 17, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Wright to see specialist next week, Powell and Ibaka sit Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 Raptors 905 acquire Shevon Thompson; 3 players recalled Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 VIDEO: Open Gym Ep. 5 Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 Frontcourt Combinations Anthony Doyle
Nov 17, 17 Making a Point Guard Louis Zatzman
Nov 17, 17 OG Anunoby Offensive Game Already Showing A Ton Of Promise Spencer Redmond
Nov 17, 17 Canada releases roster for FIBA qualifiers Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 Gameday: Knicks @ Raptors, Nov. 17 Blake Murphy
Nov 17, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov. 17 – Catching up Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 17 Delon Wright has dislocated right shoulder Blake Murphy
Nov 16, 17 A Good Team In Search Of An Identity Tim Chisholm
Nov 16, 17 Optimism Alert: The Raptors are Good. Cameron Dorrett
Nov 16, 17 Raptors Start Slow, Proceed to Dismantle Pelicans Zarar Siddiqi
Nov 16, 17 Raptors-Pelicans Reaction Podcast – Taming Boogie Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 125, Pelicans 116 Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 17 Delon Wright leaves game with right shoulder injury, to be evaluated in Toronto Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Powell sits, Anunoby starts again Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E5 – Chicken Little Nick Reynoldson
Nov 15, 17 Dreaming of Bruno Matt Shantz
Nov 15, 17 Raptors 905 add Kuran Iverson and Chris Flemmings Blake Murphy
Nov 15, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Pelicans, Nov. 15 Josh Weinstein
Nov 15, 17 Raptors siphon Rockets’ fuel for a commanding win Katie Heindl
Nov 15, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 15 Sam Holako
Nov 15, 17 Raptors-Rockets Reaction Podcast – OG Anunoby shuts down James Harden Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 129, Rockets 113 Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Powell sits with hip pointer in Houston Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 17 Fred Van Vleet: NBA Closer? Louis Zatzman
Nov 14, 17 Raptors 905 come back to beat Knicks for 2nd time in 3 days Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 17 Canada releases preliminary list for FIBA qualifiers Blake Murphy
Nov 14, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Rockets, Nov. 14 Alex Gres
Nov 14, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 14 Sam Holako
Nov 13, 17 Closing Time Anthony Doyle
Nov 13, 17 Rookie Rising: Time for OG Anunoby to Start Joshua Howe
Nov 13, 17 Raptors lose heartbreaker to Kyrie-less Celtics Shyam Baskaran
Nov 13, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Where are we? Blake Murphy
Nov 13, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, Nov 13 Sam Holako
Nov 12, 17 Raptors recall McKinnie, Powell on crutches Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 17 Raptors-Celtics Reaction Podcast – Different culture, same ISO Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 94, Celtics 95 Cameron Dorrett
Nov 12, 17 Knicks lose rhythm to scoreboard delay, fall to 905 Vivek Jacob
Nov 12, 17 Norman Powell leaves game with hip pointer, will not return Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Irving sits, Horford returns for matinee Blake Murphy
Nov 12, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Celtics, Nov. 12 Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 11, 17 Norman Powell: Time For A Bench Role Sahal Abdi
Nov 11, 17 VIDEO: Open Gym Ep. 4 Blake Murphy
Nov 11, 17 Remembrance Day Reflections/Checkpoint Mike Nelson
Nov 10, 17 Mad Ants cruise past 905 team still figuring it out Vivek Jacob
Nov 10, 17 Alfonzo McKinnie: A G-League Star Training for NBA Success Louis Zatzman
Nov 10, 17 Raptors Bench Unit Already Showing Some Interesting Trends Spencer Redmond
Nov 10, 17 Raptors edge Pelicans in high-scoring thriller Blake Murphy
Nov 10, 17 #707 – Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov. 10 – Mailbag Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 17 Raptors-Pelicans Reaction Podcast – Glad we got the win Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, Pelicans 118 Vivek Jacob
Nov 9, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Davis & Cousins present big challenge for Raptors frontcourt Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E4 – Culture Change Nick Reynoldson
Nov 9, 17 Reevaluating success for Serge Ibaka Scott Hastie
Nov 9, 17 Should Jakob Poeltl start for the Raptors? Josh Weinstein
Nov 9, 17 Gameday: Pelicans @ Raptors, Nov. 9 Blake Murphy
Nov 9, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 9 Sam Holako
Nov 8, 17 Raptors 905 lock down Nets in home opener Blake Murphy
Nov 8, 17 The Stability of Delon Wright Matt Shantz
Nov 8, 17 Raptors Playbook: Stack Pick and Roll Cooper Smither
Nov 8, 17 Raptors Blow Big Lead, Scrape by Bulls Late Joshua Howe
Nov 8, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 8 Sam Holako
Nov 7, 17 Raptors-Bulls reaction Podcast – Back in the flow of things Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 17 Quick Reaction: Bulls 114, Raptors 119 Sahal Abdi
Nov 7, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Portis returns from suspension for Bulls Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 17 Raptors assign Bruno Caboclo to G-League Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 17 The Small Forward Situation Anthony Doyle
Nov 7, 17 Edy Tavares signs in Spain Blake Murphy
Nov 7, 17 DeMar DeRozan: The Leopard Who’s Subtly Changing His Spots Louis Zatzman
Nov 7, 17 Gameday: Bulls @ Raptors, Nov. 7 Katie Heindl
Nov 7, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 7 Sam Holako
Nov 6, 17 Late-game rotations, hindsight, and playing through it Blake Murphy
Nov 6, 17 Raptors Start and End Poorly, Lose to Wizards Matt Shantz
Nov 6, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Consistently inconsistent Blake Murphy
Nov 5, 17 Raptors-Wizards reaction Podcast – Poor start, poor finish Blake Murphy
Nov 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Wizards 107, Raptors 96 Scott Hastie
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DeMar DeRozan, Dropping Dimes

While the new offensive system has had its challenges (most notably concerning three-point shooting), it has also led to some tangible improvements. One of these improvements is the passing, which has led to the Toronto Raptors playing some of the most beautiful basketball in franchise history.

Last year, the Raptors were 30th in the league in assists, making 18.5 per game and mostly standing around and watching as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played isolation basketball. This year, they’ve bumped themselves up to 14th in the league, averaging 23.2 dimes per game.

After a horrific loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last night, the Raps’ six-game winning streak has come to an end. During the streak, however, the team was third in the league in assists (26.2), trailing only the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Yes, improved passing has led to Toronto sitting pretty with the league’s fourth-best offense, and none has ameliorated their overall game better than one DeMar DeRozan.

If you’ll recall, many (including myself) were dubious about how well DeRozan would adapt to the new system. The thought was not that he couldn’t figure it out, but that it would probably take him a while to figure out and therefore greatly impact the Raptors’ offense in the meantime. DeRozan’s iso-heavy, midrange-happy game of the past several seasons doesn’t jump out as a hallmark for a modern NBA offense.

But lo and behold, DeRozan has, as he is wont to do, worked his game relentlessly to improve in all facets while still keeping his midrange game very much alive. When DeRozan is coming down the floor with a mindset to pass, he doesn’t necessarily need to be a three-point threat. He creates space by waltzing his way to at least the free throw line and then whipping out a pass to whoever is left open as opponents move to collapse on him. As such, he’s found his own method of peaking within the offense without having to totally alter his game to become something he simply isn’t.

Over his last seven games, DeRozan is 11th in the league in assists, averaging 7.1 per game, per NBA.com. There are just nine players in the entire NBA who are posting at least 20 points, four rebounds, and five assists this season. DeRozan is one—his company includes the likes of James Harden, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. Not bad.

DeRozan’s newfound level of passing comes in a myriad of ways. There is, of course, the example I mentioned above, in which DeRozan works in the half court by penetrating and then expertly kicking out to the wide open man.

The Raptors shooting guard has also been great in the pick and roll as the ball handler, working with a plethora of bigs who are adept at scoring rumbling towards the rim. DeRozan is the ball handler in pick and roll situations at a 41.6 per cent frequency this season (Lowry has only been ball handler at a 28.1 per cent frequency), and finds himself in the 81st percentile playing that role.

In transition, DeRozan is more deadly than he has ever been. While he has always been a serious threat to score, he now makes much better reads on the fly and, if there’s a teammate who will have a wide-open look, he almost always finds him.

The new offense requires a lot of off-ball movement to be successful, and when guys make intelligent cuts, things become easy. OG Anunoby (isn’t he just the greatest?) is good at this—like, 96th percentile good at this. DeRozan has developed an eagle eye for noticing when his teammates have broken loose and are headed towards the rim.

DeRozan’s confidence offensively is off the charts right now. His stellar passing seems to have awoken him to how best score himself. He is better at picking his spots and choosing when to attack, and when he decides to score at the basket he can do so at will—he’s shooting 64.9 per cent within three feet of the hoop. His overall true shooting percentage is sitting at a career-high 56.5 per cent.

This is the sort of refinement and attitude that can have a real effect for DeRozan come playoff time. If he continues to play this way, there is simply no way to shut down his game entirely. A more well-rounded player, he can find ways to leave an imprint on the game without necessarily having to drop an insane amount of points.

So keeping dropping dimes, DeMar. It only makes the Raptors richer.

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How Lowry’s Heart, Legs, Whole Body Grew Three Sizes

Well he’s gone and done it again. Kyle Lowry, the versatile master of layering his game, has added some new stripes to his pebbly, leathery, reptilian skin. While talk was still centred on whether or not Lowry was “fitting in” to the new-look, new-outlook Raptors, the point guard with the greatest smile in all the league has been quietly adding to his defensive arsenal in ways that make him a more nuanced team leader and add depth to the defensive mindset of the team overall.

The biggest, most visible shift by the numbers is that Lowry’s defensive rebounds are up to 5.8 from his previous season’s overall average of 4.0. We’re also very generous people here so, rounding up a tiny bit, that’s basically an average of 6.0. It’s a huge jump for Kyle and it shows depth and versatility in finding areas of improvement that tend to get overlooked. So much emphasis has been put on the 3-point game (in general) and passing (Raptors specific) that this is where everyone’s eyes are. While Kyle can be a reliable 3-point shooter when he’s tuned in, he’s always been the one to figure out the other deficits and do what he can to go the extra mile and deliver. We see this in his drives to the basket, in the crafty plays he deploys with DeRozan, and in the relentless way he defensively dogs opposing teams, especially those that outmatch the Raptors on paper. It’s been most comforting in playoff situations and I can remember more than a few choked breaths I could release watching Lowry outwork the Wizards defence, or the Cavs (both years, for a time). Basically he’s a tinkerer, someone expertly adept at plugging the slow leaks for each iteration of whatever Raptors team he’s been on to elevate their overall performance.

His uppage in defensive rebounds also means he’s continuing to lead the team, and is taking play-making as serious as ever, even with the heightened role of DeRozan and Miles. I like that Lowry hasn’t relaxed his grip on being the one to just throw his body out there and go for it, even when there might be a big nearby who could more nonchalantly extend an arm and simply pluck the rebound from around the net. Lowry leads, but he does it in a way where he never stops playing. He doesn’t make calls while rolling back on his heels, or resting on his laurels. Granted, even though the Raptors are showing some steady, heartening progress in their playmaking and reliable wins lately, getting comfortable with anything is not a luxury this team has ever really had. Lowry especially has never been one to relax, and that tenacity is what’s been on the job in these seemingly smaller, careful ways he’s working on his game.

The more obvious addition to Lowry’s defensive arsenal is in the way he’s putting his whole body out there, quite literally, almost every night. He’s now the league’s leader in taking charge of charges taken, with 19 under his belt so far this season. Drawing a charge is not as delicate a move as executing an expertly timed mid-air pass to dunk conversion, say, but it’s sure as hell a bold one. DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and Marc Gasol, all barreling at the basket, is a pretty clear indicator that one ought to get out of the way, but Lowry’s upped his already high ante of being a rubber band man, and by that I mean a man made out of rubber bands.

And his pain most always translates to team gains. Specifically in forcing reliable turnovers via offensive fouls. It might not be the most nuanced ways of getting stops but I’d argue that it’s a more powerful one. Though the motion itself is not the subtlest, the message it sends to his teammates and the opposing team is clear: he’s committed, he’s in it with his whole body. There’s no guarantee that he won’t end up hurt each and every time he takes a charge, and in a season so far rampant with some pretty awful injuries, odds and general bad feelings might seem against him.

As it’s been reported, in a sort of doomsday “what-does-it-really-mean” angle, Lowry’s minutes have decreased this season. His overall athleticism, however, hasn’t lessened along with them. It takes a unique type of mental preparedness and physical poise to take a hit from 200-plus pounds of pure athleticism, to play bigger than your body in every single game, and it puts Kyle in his own class of a new kind of strictly cerebral big man. Not to get entirely Zen but sometimes the competitive advantage comes in harnessing energy being thrown at you, or in Lowry’s case colliding with you, and channeling it back into your own actions. Lowry has admitted it’s a game changer, as in being able to shift the momentum of the game in real time. And for a team that can so often get into their own heads it feels like this could be the added advantage, the extra gear that was missing for the Raptors in the last few bouts of playoff letdowns. However these extra tools in Lowry’s defensive kit lend to the overall prospects for the team going into 2018 remain to be seen, but in the meantime I hope the team has got some really excellent masseurs on call, and/or Casey is getting Kyle a spa day for Christmas. I’m talking about renting out a Body Blitz location here, something with a plunge pool. If we want Lowry to continue playing like a Brinks truck with legs, we’re going to have to treat him right.

@wtevs

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No More Parties in LA – Raptors get out worked by Clippers to snap 6-game win streak

Raptors 101, Clippers 106

Relocation.

That’s the word Jonas Valanciunas continued to repeat during his first half interview after leading all scorers with 17 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting after two quarters of play. He seemed to be the only Raptors capable of hitting a shot early on as the Raptors struggled to find their legs following a win the day before in Sacramento. Thankfully, JV and his relocation carried Toronto long enough to give the Raptors a 53-51 lead entering the third quarter.

Valanciunas was aggressive early and often, making a variety of moves at the rim and continuing to knock down his free throws. He even drained a three to give him three makes on seven attempts on the season.

Unfortunately his energy wasn’t exactly contagious. When Casey (inexplicably?) pulled JV and the rest of the starters (minus DeRozan) late in the first quarter the Raptors bench unit looked uncharacteristically bad. They were -16 in the first half and with the exception of proud new papa C.J. Miles – no one seemed willing or eager to make a shot. Everyone had trouble guarding Montrezl Harrell which isn’t exactly a sentence that felt great to write and their two point lead seemed on the verge of crumbling at any moment.

Enter Serge Ibaka. The piece that was supposed to make the Raptors a contender in the East last season has been more of a model of inconsistency than anything else this season, yet has started to come on as of late. With 19, 21 and 20 points in three straight before Monday’s contest, it was Ibaka who again kept the Raptors afloat in the third quarter. He was dynamite on both ends of the floor and had three finger-waving-worthy-blocks before the final frame including this one.

After a Lowry lay-up with 1:18 left in the third ( his first make of the night) he sank another long two to give Toronto a four point lead entering the fourth.

Casey ran with his bench to start the fourth quarter but every offensive possession seemed to end with a botched attempt at the rim by Norman Powell. After Poeltl and Harrell got into a bit Casey took out his young-big man in favour of Valanciunas…for about five minutes. That same word Valanciunas used to explain why him and the rest of his teammates had success scoring in the first half came back to haunt him: Relocation.

JV was relocated to the bench in a move that even William Lou had to question:

Casey put him back in with the game basically out of reach despite Valanciunas having matched his season-high in rebounds (15) and points (23). The Raps chucked up shots that had no business being taken, with the ultimate insult coming when Ibaka’s excellent night was ruined in about three minutes. Ibaka couldn’t box-out Jordan and his mid-range game was..err..lacking. The rest of the team could barely move up and down the floor and it’s hard to pin the loss on any one person, with the exception of maybe Casey. The decision to take JV out after he started the 4th quarter with two consecutive baskets to help the Raptors go on a 7-0 run was puzzling enough, but then to completely mishandle Jordan on the other end with the game on the line was inexcusable as well. He left his bench players on for far too long (they were outscored 50-17!!!) and he had no answer for the Clippers inside.

Call it a “scheduled loss” if you want – but keep in mind that the Clippers essentially played a team that lacked a single household name with the exception of Jordan. Thankfully their next game comes against the lowly Suns, but if this version of the Raptors shows up don’t get too comfortable.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – We blew it

William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ frustrating loss to the Los Angeles Clippers

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 91, Clippers 96

Toronto 91 Final
Box Score
96 LA Clippers

B+
S. Ibaka33 MIN, 17 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 7-17 FG, 2-7 3FG, 1-2 FT, 3 BLK, 1 TO, -1 +/-

One of two primary bright spots for most of the game, Ibaka is in a nice groove providing necessary secondary scoring right now, even if he’s shooting a bit too much (like when he missed an open Valanciunas under the basket moments after finding him on the exact same play). Had a few nice hustle plays defensively that came after moments of frustration. Not really his fault for the rotations late, but he has to do better on the glass.

C+
O. Anunoby26 MIN, 3 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-4 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-

Fairly quiet night for the rookie, who didn’t really have a top guy to focus on defensively and didn’t see many touches at the other end. Showed some nice spunk attacking from the corners and had a big offensive rebound early. He was unspectacular, and that he had the team’s best plus-minus doesn’t signal much here.

A+
J. Valanciunas28 MIN, 23 PTS, 15 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 8-10 FG, 1-1 3FG, 6-6 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

I mean…what? Valanciunas was the team’s most energetic player, their most efficient scorer, and their best rebounder – by far – against an elite rebounding center. This was easily his best game of the season, continuing a pretty strong stretch over the past few weeks. He even played pretty well defensively. I can’t wrap my head around him sitting late. (A reminder: I am a JV moderate, not beholden to either side of this endless argument. He was great, and I can’t figure this out. Casey said it was for offense, and while the team did get some good looks they couldn’t stick, Valanciunas had the best offensive rating on the team and they were killed when he wasn’t in for defensive rebounds.)

D
K. Lowry35 MIN, 14 PTS, 3 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 4-13 FG, 0-8 3FG, 6-8 FT, 0 BLK, 5 TO, 0 +/-

There are games when Lowry’s shot isn’t falling and he can do enough other things – hustle plays, playmaking, defensive stops – to make a difference. This game kind of tested those limits, as Lowry went 0-of-8 on threes for just the third time in his career and coughed up five turnovers. He had some nice moments where he willed his way to points, to be sure, but it was a tough one overall.

B
D. DeRozan36 MIN, 17 PTS, 5 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL, 5-13 FG, 0-0 3FG, 7-10 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 0 +/-

Had a tremendous first half moving the ball, dishing six assists and picking his spots well. He had a handful of solid defensive plays, too. His scoring touch evaded him a bit in the fourth after abusing Sam Dekker most of the night, as he shot 1-of-5 down the stretch without a free throw.

C-
F. VanVleet23 MIN, 2 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-6 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -7 +/-

Had a Lowry-like game where he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well but was able to make a difference at the defensive end. Still, with the way the bench is playing on offense right now, they somewhat unfairly need him to do some scoring.

A-
C. Miles18 MIN, 13 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 5-9 FG, 3-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -7 +/-

Shook off a cold stretch by hitting three threes and attacking closeouts aggressively, which was nice to see. Was almost literally the only source of scoring the bench had but only got an offense-defense sniff when the offense stalled out late.

D+
J. Poeltl13 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -9 +/-

Picking up five fouls and a -9 in 13 minutes is tough, and while Poeltl’s often been the victim of an unfair whistle, that wasn’t really the case here. Harrell and Jordan were problems for everyone, but especially so for Poeltl, who also missed his lone field-goal attempt at the rim. Some nice moments as a rim protector, at least.

C-
P. Siakam13 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Early foul trouble seemed to take Siakam out of his flow, and he played sparingly, taking just one shot in 13 scoreless minutes. He still managed to force a turnover with his energy and dish two assists in that span, because hustle doesn’t slump, or something.

D
N. Powell11 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-6 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -15 +/-

He’s in a bad way right now, and his minutes may be at risk of getting even shorter when Delon Wright is healthy. Going -15 in 12 minutes is really, really tough in a five-point game, and Powell earned it with some forced shots and a blown transition layup. Not a banner game, which is somewhat unexpected given how good he looked with the bench initially. He’ll bounce back.

Inc
L. Brown2 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -2 +/-

Foul trouble for the bench bigs in the first half and the back-to-back scenario got Brown a brief cameo in the first-half rotation. This will be hard to believe, but he didn’t shoot.

D
Dwane Casey

Look, Casey is a fine coach, and for about 44 minutes, he managed the game pretty well. He had multiple bigs in foul trouble on the second night of a back-to-back, he didn’t want to overwork his stars by propping up bench units, and he gave an effective Valanciunas 28 minutes. I can not, for the life of me, figure out some of the decisions in the closing minutes, though. Valanciunas absolutely should have been on the floor down the stretch, in general and specifically on free throws where a rebound was paramount. The Raptors also botched a trap on Lou Williams late. Before you get going, they do not make Casey a bad coach (stop), but it was a bad night. As Will put it in his notes, “the players didn’t show up but Casey made it so much worse.”

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors once again came out with a great energy and asserted their talent advantage often. They railed off a 12-2 run after the game’s opening bucket, played to a +8 as a starting unit in that segment, and held the Clippers to 32% shooting in the first quarter to build a 30-19 lead. That start didn’t exactly sustain, but it’s encouraging to see them starting games consistently well. The starters finished the game a plus-15 and now own a net rating of +13.2 on the season.
  2. The bench continued to struggle, which is becoming a bit of a concern (long-term, you can mitigate it some by staggering the stars more, but it’s probably not necessary on the second night of a back-to-back against a bad team). Siakam and Poeltl both had quick foul trouble in the first half, which certainly didn’t help, and they struggled to create offense. The all-bench unit was a minus-2 in three minutes here and this particular iteration now has a -12.4 net rating on the year.
  3. The Raptors will talk a lot about their energy level, which was admittedly poor. If you’re a believer in tired legs showing up in jump shooting, well, the Raptors were a woeful 7-of-29 on threes. They were also destroyed on the glass, particularly when Valanciunas wasn’t in the game. The team’s assist percentage was 56.3 percent still, at least.
  4. This snaps a six-game winning streak for the Raptors, and while it’s understandable that they’d drop one game on a four-game road trip, it’s tough not to feel like they squandered an opportunity to build some real momentum here. Bad games happen, tired games happen, and ugly games happen. They’re a lot easier to take when the team can steal a victory, especially against a team as beat-up and disjointed as the Clippers. This is a bad loss. It happens. I don’t know.
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Pre-game news & notes: Gallinari sits, Teodosic returns for Clippers

Already this season, four NBA teams have railed off winning streaks of at least seven games. The Boston Celtics more or less came out of the gate with a 16-game streak, the Golden State Warriors fit a seven-gamer in during that stretch, and the Cleveland Cavaliers responded with a 13-game run of their own. The Houston Rockets have won nine in a row right now, the longest active streak in the NBA.

Don’t look now, but the Toronto Raptors could be joining in. It’s fitting, too, considering the Raptors appear to be considered somewhere around the fifth (maybe sixth) best team in basketball right now. They’re fourth in record, third in net rating, third in offensive rating, ninth in defensive rating, and have done all of that against a roughly average schedule. All of that is to say, they belong in the discussion near the top, at least in the second tier, and pulling off a comparable win streak to those other teams would probably help their case, no matter the competition – presently, the Raptors have won six in a row, and while only one of those games came against a .500 team, three have come on the road. If they stretch it to seven or eight, those next wins will come against losing teams at home, including one on the second night of a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.

It’s not a sure victory, of course. If the Raptors do win, though, it will be just the fourth winning streak of seven games or longer in franchise history. A quick refresher on their best streaks:

  • 1999-2000: Raptors win seven in a row over February and March to help push to 45-37 on the season, good for the franchise’s first playoff appearance. Sophomore Vince Carter averages 31.6 points on 50.9/54.3/74.1 shooting on the streak, adding six rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.9 steals.
  • 2001-02: Raptors win nine in a row in March and April to salvage a 42-40 record and a playoff berth, doing so without the help of Carter. The Raptors had gone on a 13-game losing streak earlier that season and needed this hot close to the year to edge into the playoffs by just one game, where they pushed Jerry Stackhouse and No. 2-seed Detroit to five games.
  • 2015-16: Raptors win 11 in a row, covering most of January, on their way to the best record in franchise history at 56-26. Jonas Valanciunas averages a 13.2-10.5 double-double with 1.6 blocks, DeMar DeRozan goes 24.5-5-4 and shoots 37 percent on threes, and Kyle Lowry somehow tops him with 21.9-5.6-5.7 on )62.2-percent true-shooting with 2.5 steals.

Toronto has a way to go before sniffing that last streak. They can make this one of their best runs ever if they maintain the plot on what could otherwise be a sleepy SEGABABA.

The game tips off at 10:30 on TSN 1 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Everything should be pretty much as it was yesterday. In a back-to-back scenario, the Raptors didn’t have shootaround today, and they won’t practice tomorrow. That means the next meaningful update on Delon Wright (cleared for 3-on-3) or Lucas Nogueira (now shooting) won’t come until Wednesday at the earliest, in all likelihood. Both players are out again here and are the only names on the injury report.

The 10-man rotation will be fairly similar to the rest of the six-game streak, then, though Dwane Casey may be losing patience with an all-bench unit that has looked lately like it could use some starter staggering. Neither Norman Powell or C.J. Miles have looked their best of late, and while Fred VanVleet remains the plus-minus god, he needs at least one of those two to be on point to help carry the offensive load. Wright’s return threatens to cut into someone’s minutes eventually, and how the next couple of games play out could determine whomsts minutes those are.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo

Clippers updates
With Blake Griffin and Patrick Beverley already out, the Clippers are going to be rolling with mostly unfamiliar fivesomes that have played sparingly together. The impending return of Milos Teodosic is a nice boost, though, a reintroduction of a vivacious passing flair that will make a top-10 offense exponentially more enjoyable (and a bottom-three defense even worse, but let’s focus on the beautiful positives). Teodosic has been out for weeks with plantar fasciitis, and a return was hinted at over the weekend, leading to a questionable tag for this one. Well, he’s playing, and he’s returning to the starting lineup, albeit with a minutes restriction. Rejoice, Clippers fans.

Of course, because this is the 2017-18 Clippers, that good news can’t come without some bad. Danilo Gallinari will sit due to a glute injury, per Dan Woike. That will keep him out for at least a few games. It’s unclear who will get the starting nod in his place, but the Clippers could just shift everyone down a position with Teodosic returning at the point, rather than using a two-way player or Montrezl Harrell at power forward.

UPDATE: Jamil Wilson is starting at the four.

PG: Milos Teodosic, Jawun Evans
SG: Austin Rivers, Lou Williams
SF: Wesley Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams
PF: Jamil Wilson, Sam Dekker
C: DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed
OUT: Patrick Beverley, Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari
TBD: None
Agua Caliente: Brice Johnson

Assorted

  • Here’s an interesting quote from James Johnson when asked about the difference with Miami’s culture, in this feature from friend of the site Michael Scotto: “Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches. They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.” Take that for what you will. It’s probably not worth making much of right now, and it’s nothing new, really, but I’m sure there are a few of you who will appreciate being kept abreast of such comments.
  • Toronto FC had a championship parade today. In downtown Toronto. For winning a championship. I need this for basketball. One day.
  • The Raptors are holding another design contest for game-day graphics.

The line
The Raptors opened as 5.5-point favorites, and the line has shrunk a bit to Raptors -5. The over-under opened at 215 and currently sits at 214.

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Are the Raptors fun now?

So, are the Raptors fun?

It was sometime during the early fourth quarter of the game against Sacramento when this notion popped into my head. Pascal Siakam finds Jakob Poeltl in the corner, behind the arc, and not only did I find myself thinking he might take the shot, I was kind of rooting for it. Now, in years gone by, you root for that shot because it’s sort of silly. You’d root for it in the way that you root for a three-point attempt by Amir Johnson, as a peculiar sideshow subplot, but now you root for Poeltl’s three because it’s part of the team’s personality, and that personality is kind of fun — and that isn’t a word you’ve been able to use to describe the Raptors in a very long time.

Now, fun is different than good. The Raptors have been good for years. They have played a style of basketball that has allowed them to accumulate more regular season and Playoff victories than any iteration of this team has every attained. That makes them good, and there is a version of fun in being good. It’s that tortured sort of fun, though. That fun you describe having had out of obligation. That fun you had a friend’s wedding. Things that aren’t actually fun, but you call them fun because they should have been fun, or because you’re supposed to call them fun. The Raptors being good should have been fun, but it wasn’t. It was nice to see them be good, but good doesn’t have to mean fun. Watching the brutal isolation ball was not fun. It was effective, and it garnered wins, but it was not fun. Watching tortured Playoff series victories was not fun. They won, but it was not fun.

Poeltl’s three, though? That was fun. As were DeRozan’s nine assists. As were Lowry’s barrage of charges taken. As has been Serge Ibaka rediscovering the old Iblocka. Watching the good Raptors no longer carries that tinge of obligation. It no longer feels like eating your vegetables. Watching the Raptors now is like watching the game you love played in an entertaining way that also leads to winning. That’s fun. You no longer switch from a Raptors game to just about any other game on League Pass and think “oh, that’s how good basketball is supposed to look.” You get that from the Raptors now, and it’s fun.

The Raptors are second in the East, while possessing the conference’s best point differential at +7.8, and they are in the midst of a six-game winning streak. They are playing a wacky 12-man rotation (when healthy), one where they allow Siakam to create offence, a rookie to guard five positions, and Jakob Poeltl to shoot corner threes. Dwane Casey, long sneered at as a basketball relic that oversaw the club where fun went to die, has unleashed a brand of basketball on Toronto that not even his stanchest supporters could have imagined him overseeing. He’s embraced a level of chaos that seems totally at odds with the dogged, disciplined, “Pound the Rock” practitioner that Bryan Colangelo hired nearly seven years ago. Yet here we are, with the Raptors fifth in assists per game, seventh in secondary assists per game, sixth in three-point attempts per game, and eleventh in pace. All this while the team remains top-ten in defensive efficiency and top-three in offensive efficiency. So yes, the Raptors have been let off of the leash, but they are rewarding their coach’s trust with efficiency and wins.

It’s changed the tone in people’s voices when they describe the Raptors now. While no one is predicting that they’ll upset Cleveland (or even Boston) in the postseason, the sneering derisiveness about the team has abated. You can actually have a conversation about the Raptors without it devolving into a referendum on isolation basketball, or DeRozan’s lack of efficiency, or the club’s inability to retain free agents (remember those debates?). They can now just a be a team that probably won’t make the Finals, but be enjoyable to watch the rest of the time, anyway. It’s amazing how much a fun squad stops people from wanting to nitpick them to death. When you throw out an absurdly young second unit for long stretches, reduce the heavy minutes on your star players, pass the ball a lot, and let your centres fire away from behind the arc, the enjoyment level seems to quiet the need to dissect each of those characteristics to death.

Now, does it actually matter if a team is fun? Well, that’s the $64, 000 question. On the one hand, sports are only valuable as a fan-serving spectacle, and so entertainment value should mean a lot, especially considering how expensive it is to be a fan of professional sports. However, sports also have a very regimented pass-fail structure: you win, you pass, you lose, you fail. If you don’t ultimately pass, then you have failed. If that’s the lens that you want to view professional sports through, then fun is at best secondary, if it is a factor at all. In that paradigm, whatever it takes to win justifies itself, and if fun happens as a side-effect then so be it. If that’s how you interact with sports, then whether or not the Raptors are fun probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to your enjoyment.

For what it’s worth, I am not in that camp. I think fun has a value, even if you can’t quantify it in the same way that you quantify wins and losses. For me, it would be a lot easier to watch this team, playing this way, lose in the second round than it was to watch last year’s club do the same thing. If the result is the same regardless, I’d rather enjoy the journey than not.

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Raptors 905 waive Richard Amardi

Raptors 905 are waiving Richard Amardi, Raptors Republic has learned.

The 905 needed to clear a roster spot for Fuquan Edwin, who they signed Sunday. Edwin is a really nice piece, a former All-Defense First Team player in the D-League and an elite ball-hawk at the NCAA level, the type of player a G League team has to make tough decisions for.

It’s still disappointing to see Amardi go, though, as his basketball journey to this point is one that’s incredibly easy to root for. The Oregon product had spent the last three seasons in the NBL before being added as a local tryout player to the 905 roster this season. He also saw time with Canada at the FIBA Americup this summer, a nice nod to the progress he’s made.

In 12 games with the 905, Amardi averaged 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds, shooting 42.6 percent. His energy proved infectious early in the season, and he had a couple of games providing a major spark off the bench in second quarters. His versatility also saw him play some center when the 905 were thinned out, though he’s more of a combo-forward. There’s a chance his play will get him a look from another G League team, and any number of NBL teams would probably jump at the opportunity to add him to the mix.

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Which Atlantic team’s fountain of youth is best?

The Boston Celtics are the defending Atlantic division champions and are currently on pace to repeat. The Toronto Raptors were their main challengers last season and should give them a run for their money this season as well. Philadelphia is the ultimate future challenger, New York has a flying unicorn, and with Brooklyn trading for Jahlil Okafor, I thought now would be a good time to look at just how strong the youth movements across the Atlantic are.

For this outlook, I wanted to focus on players currently 25 and under, as that allows the inclusion of some players whom teams need to make decisions on over the next couple of summers. The aim is to get a feel for how these teams will look to set themselves up in the future, and which among them are best equipped to do so.

Brooklyn Nets

Average youth squad age: 22.3 (youngest).
Potential franchise centerpieces: D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor.
Position distribution: 5 guards, 2 wings, 2 bigs.

Sean Marks has done a terrific job as general manager since taking over in 2016. To have no future first-round picks in sight and now have the second and third overall picks from the 2015 NBA draft speaks to his business acumen and ability to create something out of nothing.

Both D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor haven’t had the greatest starts to their career, but will both have chips on their shoulder after being given up on so early in their careers and will be eager to prove their worth. Russell showed signs of doing so before his injury, averaging 20.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists while shooting a career-best 46.3 per cent from the field.

Okafor, on the other hand, is in with the new vogue of athlete vegan diets and has dropped 20 from his 278-pound frame last season. He is easily the most talented big on the roster now, and should have every opportunity to prove that he was merely a victim of circumstance in Philadelphia. With both players at 21 years of age, this seems a worthwhile gamble on Marks’s part and the secondary pieces should complement them over the coming seasons.

Spencer Dinwiddie has proven himself an able backup point guard that can adequately fill in as a starter when needed. Now in his fifth season, Allen Crabbe is a 40.8 per cent career three-point shooter, and gives them additional ball handler that can spot up as well. Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Jarrett Allen have all shown signs that they can be strong contributors when assigned specific roles.

Nik Stauskas and Isaiah Whitehead are probably the most unlikely young players to have a long-term future with the Nets.

What does the future hold?

Figure out what D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor are. The best thing about a rebuilding team playing at a fast pace is that numbers can look inflated and thereby increase their trade value. Continue to have head coach Kenny Atkinson build a culture of hard work and team ball, and if the pieces fit, roll with it.

The Nets have lacked stability since the day Mikhail Prokorov took over and that is what they should seek out first. Even if Russell and Okafor don’t have a ceiling near the combination of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, bringing back consistency and sustained success to this franchise would be a huge step forward.

Best case

D’Angelo and Jahlil combine to become an incredibly effective 1-2 offensive punch, the complementary pieces can defend well enough to make up for their stars, and they become a fun, potential home-court in the first-round type of team.

Worst case

Okafor is unplayable defensively, Russell can’t find a way to focus consistently, and the Nets are a mediocre team by which point they should at least have their own first round picks again. Not too shabby, but only in relative terms.

Ceiling grade: B
Floor grade: C-
Youth depth grade: C+

New York Knicks



Average youth squad age: 23.2 (T-oldest).
Potential franchise centerpieces: Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina.
Position distribution: 3 guards, 2 wings, 3 bigs.

The Knicks are plenty of fun, at home. When you watch them play at Madison Square Garden, where they’re 12-5, it’s hard to fathom how they’re 1-8 on the road.

Perhaps, this is just the growing pains of a team that has just been freed from the shackles of Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson still in the process of figuring things out. They have an offensive rating of 109.2 at home, but that number whittles all the way down to just 97 on the road. New York shoots 36.3 per cent from three in the friendly confines of MSG, but 33.2 per cent away from home. They average a steal more per game at home, and turn it over a couple of times more per game on the road.

To me, those numbers are reflective of a team that thrives on the energy of their home fans and finds those familiar looking rims just a touch bigger. These are weakness that are curable with experience.

Kristaps Porzingis clearly has potential to be one of the game’s greats at this point and so it’s a matter of finding the right pieces to build around him both on the court and the sidelines. Frank Ntilikina has the makings of a lockdown defender at a position where scoring can separate good from great, but his own offense still needs work.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has surprised people by living up to the big payday he received over the summer, but they won’t have the type of success they’ll need to keep Porzingis around with him as their second or third-best player. Doug McDermott has been as inconsistent as ever while Enes Kanter probably isn’t someone they should have significant money committed to long-term. Ron Baker will likely not fit into the grand scheme either.

What does the future hold?

They are limited by a lack of cap flexibility courtesy of the Joakim Noah and Hardaway Jr. contracts, and so must make good draft choices. A home run would be nice, but some solid singles to build depth in this roster would go a long way. I’m not sure that Jeff Hornacek is the long-term answer for this franchise, but finding a better option shouldn’t be a major issue with coaches likely lining up to coach Porzingis.

Their cap situation is similar to the Raptors, in that they will be at their most flexible by the summer of 2020. If they can have Porzingis and Ntilikina build a reputation as a strong duo by then, it makes swinging for the fences that much easier.

Best case

James Dolan sells the team. Ntilikina and Porzingis are great together, a star at the wing position joins them, and Hardaway Jr. is a fourth option. This probably gets them near the level of a conference finalist, and anything can happen from there.

Worst case

James Dolan continues to asphyxiate this franchise, they’re unable to secure a big name free agent, and Porzingis sees no hope and leaves the first chance he gets.

Ceiling grade: A
Floor grade: F
Youth depth grade: C

Philadelphia 76ers

Average youth squad age: 22.5
Potential franchise centerpieces: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz.
Position distribution: 4 guards, 3 wings, 3 bigs.

They already look like a nightmare playoff matchup when healthy, and that remains the biggest question mark.

Joel Embiid has been sensational in his 22 games, averaging 23.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and two blocks per game in just 30 minutes per game. He’s only had to miss four games, but the stigma is still there as fans hold their breath with every fall to the ground. A late scratch from the lineup due to back concerns like the one he had Sunday night don’t help either.

Ben Simmons is on course for one of the greatest rookie seasons in NBA history, and after sitting out last season, looks like a freight train ready to bust through anyone that dares to stand in his way. His vision, timing and placement of passes, and his size make him an absolute freak.

Markelle Fultz has had an unfortunate start to his career, but at 19-years-old, the best is yet to come. The 2017 draft class has been great as a whole, and I fully expect him to carve out a suitable fit as one of Philadelphia’s big three over time. Hopefully, he goes back to his old shooting form before the shoulder injury.

Beyond those three, the Sixers have some nice pieces in Robert Covington, J.J. Redick, and Trevor Booker for now, but these are not necessarily the pieces that will be around when their stars are at their peak. Dario Saric was good enough to win the Rookie of the Year award last year and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has shown signs of being a solid role player. Same goes for Justin Anderson.

T.J. McConnell and James Michael-McAdoo would do well to remain a part of this group.

What does the future hold?

A big reason why J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were offered extra money for a one-year deal was so that the team could maintain enough cap room for a big free agent signing in the summer of 2018. The newly acquired Trevor Booker is also an expiring contract and so the future is indeed, now. It really is that simple.

Best case

The Sixers land the biggest fish in the 2018 free agency window, LeBron James. Joel Embiid continues to put his injury history in the past to become the best big man in the league, and Ben Simmons maintains his current trajectory. Markelle Fultz and Robert Covington become lethal shooting options to complement them. A 10-year championship window that puts all of Danny Ainge’s best efforts to waste.

Worst case

Embiid suffers more injury problems over the course of the 2017-18 season and free agents grow concerned about their ceiling without him. They struggle to acquire a big name and settle for secondary guys, and Embiid can’t buy a healthy season. Still, I believe Simmons, Fultz, and Saric can form a good enough core to be a playoff team.

Ceiling grade: A+
Floor grade: B
Youth depth grade: B+

Boston Celtics

Average youth squad age: 22.9
Potential franchise centerpieces: Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown.
Position distribution: 4 guards, 3 wings, 2 bigs

Much like the 76ers, the Boston Celtics have put themselves in position to win both now and in the future. Of course, their present appears a lot brighter than the City of Brotherly Love. They’ve been better than expected without Gordon Hayward, with Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combining to form one of the best duos through the first quarter of the season.

The most surprising aspect, though, is just how easily both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped in to fill the void of Hayward. Keep in mind, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley had their share of success in starting roles prior to this season, and to nullify those losses as well is truly impressive.

Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart have both had their shining moments this season, and so they probably won’t have to worry about the guard and wing positions for a while now.

This bodes well for future success as Al Horford enters the latter stages of his career, so frontcourt depth is probably their biggest area of concern.

What does the future hold?

Irving, Hayward, and Horford as the present will allow Tatum and Brown to ease into the stars they will eventually become. What will be interesting to see is if Irving’s pursuit of “perfecting his craft” and Hayward entering the fray from next season could impact the ceiling of Tatum and Brown. Either way, we’re probably looking at a bunch of incredible playoff series between the 76ers and Celtics over the next decade.

Best case

Tatum and Brown become among the best two-way players in the game while becoming legitimate threats to drop 30 on any given night. Brad Stevens continues to remain in Boston, Marcus Smart learns to shoot, and Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele become consistent difference makers off the bench. Like the Sixers, they could be looking at a decade of elite-ness.

Worst case

Tatum and Brown struggle to acclimate playing off Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward and get jealous they’re not able to perfect their own craft. Yeah, I struggled to believe that as I typed it as well. This franchise seems destined to return to its glory days, something I’m sure the NBA would love. There’s no stopping that.

Ceiling grade: A+
Floor grade: A-
Youth depth grade: B

Toronto Raptors

Average youth squad age: 23.2 (T-oldest)
Potential franchise centerpieces: OG Anunoby
Position distribution: 2 guards, 3 wings, 4 bigs.

I admit, it is a bit strange to see Delon Wright as the senior-most youth member at just a couple of weeks older than Jonas Valanciunas. In the cases of the Lithuanian and Bruno Caboclo, they are victims of exposure. Just by virtue of being ever-present in the Raptors day-to-day proceedings and having all their flaws exposed for several years now, it pushes people to place ceilings on them and be held accountable for their NBA experience rather than their age. Wright has been around for less time, and despite being the oldest, is viewed as someone with just as high a ceiling as any of the kids 23 and under.

I see both sides of it. You want players to take advantage of the opportunity that’s given to them, but, in terms of assessment, you also want to be mindful of their age and the fact that everyone’s development timeline is different. I just find the difference in perception fascinating and merely wanted to point it out.

Anyway, this entire exercise makes the Raptors’ outlook a sobering thought relative to the rest of the division. Unless OG Anunoby becomes a superstar on the offensive end to complement his already stellar defense, the ceiling with the youth doesn’t look too high. It also brings a greater appreciation for the Bruno pick and why you really have to swing for the fences from time to time in the hopes of elevating the team’s ceiling.

What this group does have is maturity and winning environments that some of the aforementioned teams lack. To a degree, the maturity stems from the fact that they are a relatively older bunch. A winning environment also helps them to be more accepting of their roles, and look to maximize the opportunities given to them, rather than complain about playing time.

It may just be that their best days are with DeMar DeRozan driving and Kyle Lowry riding shotgun. At best, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl figure to be starters one day, but despite what some tweets may suggest, neither appear headed to the hall of fame on their current trajectory.

Poeltl possesses strong defensive potential but his offensive game is dependent on others creating for him. In a game that is growing more skilled by the minute, his shooting touch is a long way away from being reliable. Siakam shows a bit more on an individual basis, but struggles with his shot as well, currently at 51.9 per cent from the line and 18.5 per cent from downtown for his 78-game career.

What does the future hold?

The way Masai Ujiri has the salaries set up, it indeed looks as though he will look to see exactly what this young core possesses over the next couple of seasons. Fred VanVleet presents a dilemma with his expiring contract coming up on the back of looks to be an impressive sophomore campaign. What happens with Nogueira looks to be a bit of a mystery as well, but his overall inconsistency may push the front office to get a fresh face in. Whether it be the summer of 2019 or 2020, that’s when he’ll have to make big decisions on what to do with a Lowry/DeRozan/Ibaka core, and what the core should be going forward.

The opportunity is there for these players to stake their claim, it’s just a question of who can maximize it. Not many would have had either of Lowry or DeRozan as franchise cornerstones five years ago.

Best case

OG Anunoby becomes a two-way beast. Kawhi Leonard comes to mind, but even he needed the developmental utopia that is San Antonio. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl become as reliable as you can find two-way bigs, and Norman Powell finds his niche as the future shooting guard of the franchise. Wright would complete a formidable two-way starting five, but one whose ceiling is similar to the current iteration. Bruno becomes a rotation player?

Worst case

Anunoby is more 3-and-D than a dominant force at both ends of the court. The growth of Wright and Powell stagnates by virtue of having to play behind Lowry and DeRozan. Ditto for Siakam and Poeltl behind Ibaka and Valanciunas. Outside shooting becomes a major achilles heel for this core in a league that is now predicated on the jumper.

Ceiling grade: B+
Floor grade:  C
Youth depth grade: A

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Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Dec. 11

It’s been some time since the Toronto Raptors were forced to deal with any sort of fatigue. After a road-heavy and somewhat condensed start to the season, they played three times over a 13-day span, a welcome stretch with which to rest minor injuries and continue to work on changes at both ends of the floor. Refreshed, the Raptors have won six games in a row, including the first two on a four-game road trip.

There are no easy road trips, though, and Monday presents the Raptors’ first challenge in a while coming in the form of a back-to-back. The Los Angeles Clippers are nobody’s idea of a juggernaut down multiple key pieces and looking like a team that maybe should have hit the eject button on this core during the offseason, and still, they’re a reasonably rested team playing at home, hosting a team on a back-to-back, three time zones from home and adjusting from a 12:30 local start on Sunday to a normal one here.

None of these are excuses. The Raptors remain favored and, on paper, should be expected to beat the Clippers. This is all just to say that circumstances arise over 82 games, and a perfect four-game sweep away from home shouldn’t be taken as a given, even if it looks light. It should, however, be the goal, and the Raptors would surely love the momentum of an eight-game winning streak when they return home later this week, the kind of stretch that can be held up next to double-digit winning streaks for their conference benchmarks in Boston and Cleveland. How the Raptors come out Monday night should be telling as to how their mental investment in establishing an East hierarchy weighs against a modicum of fatigue.

The game tips off at 10:30 on TSN 1 and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Jovan Buha of ESPN, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: After being linked together as the East/West version of each other (shouts to The Great William Lou), the Clippers and Raptors find themselves in very different positions. Is this leading to the end of this Clippers run as we knew it?

Jovan Buha: The Clippers’ run as we knew it ended on June 28, 2017 when they traded Chris Paul to the Rockets. This team was never going to contend with this roster, with the best-case scenario being a sixth- or seventh-seed finish. Things have obviously played out in a worst-case scenario — Blake Griffin going down for two months, and three of the other five starters also suffering long-term injuries — so the Clippers’ situation looks worse than it probably is, but it’d be foolish to make any further comparisons between the Clippers and Raptors (unless, of course, you want to compare their tortured recent pasts).

Blake Murphy: Blake Griffin hitting the shelf probably kills any chance of him being dealt this year. DeAndre Jordan, then, is the crown jewel to be had if the Clippers try to take a step back. Nearing in on free agency, what kind of return would the Clippers be looking for to part with Jordan?  

Jovan Buha: The first question the Clippers need to answer when deciding DeAndre Jordan’s trade value: Do they want to re-sign him this summer? If not (which is what I suspect), they should move him, and the sooner the better (unless they want to wait until the 23rd hour of the trade deadline). Jordan has quietly had a slightly down season by his standards — he hasn’t been as efficient, and his defensive effort isn’t passing the eye test — and given his impending free agency, and the small number of teams that need a center (maybe the Raptors?), the exact market for Jordan is unknown. That said, the Clippers should be looking to acquire young assets, whether it be a young player with potential or a first-round draft pick, and not take back any unnecessary long-term salary.

Blake Murphy: I know Lou Williams has much more value as a Sixth Man on a good team than on one just kind of getting by, but have you enjoyed the Lou Will experience so far?

Jovan Buha: I got some of the Lou Will Experience with the Lakers — whom I also cover — and with Jamal Crawford on the Clippers over the past few years, but it’s been enjoyable nonetheless. Without Lou, the Clippers would likely have a historically bad offense. I don’t think the Clippers envisioned him becoming their No. 1 option, but that’s just how the season has gone. I’m still amazed defenders fall for his pump fakes — stay down!

Blake Murphy: Milos Teodosic sounds like he’s nearing a return. Milos Teodosic sounds like he’s nearing a return! Does he bring enough fun back to the proceedings to help make the Clippers’ lot in life a little more palatable short-term?

Jovan Buha: Yes. In his brief NBA career, Teodosic has been must-see TV. He’s the flashiest passer the league has seen since a young Jason Williams, and it’s an absolute joy to watch. I mean, who else makes passes like this? (Against the Raptors, no less.) He won’t save the Clippers’ season — it ended the moment Blake Griffin went down against the Lakers — but he’ll make them a #LeaguePassAlert team once or twice a week.

Blake Murphy: You’re a noted Drake fan. Two-parter, then: Will Drake come down from Calabasas for this one, and where does More Life rank on your unofficial year-end album list?

Jovan Buha: I don’t think so — Drake hasn’t been frequenting Staples Center the past couple seasons as often as he used to, and I doubt that changes for this game (I’m trying to reverse-jinx this). And as for the second question, c’mon man … More Life is the album of the year.

Raptors updates
The Raptors should look pretty similar to what we’ve seen over the last few games. There’s not a strong incentive to change a lot during a pretty dominant six-game winning streak, and the one thing they could probably stand to tweak – limiting the all-bench group’s time together in favor of more of the typical star-led second units – might not be palatable a night after both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played 35 minutes. Otherwise, there shouldn’t be many workload concerns here. Serge Ibaka was third on the team with only 28 minutes on Sunday, it was an afternoon game that gives them some extra cushion between outings, and the team entered this four-game trip very well-rested.

As an update of sorts since it was a talking point a few weeks back, the starting lineup has been quite good together since OG Anunoby checked in. They’re a plus-10.3 net rating in 178 minutes, and while some of that is floated by an unsustainable offensive rebounding rate, it’s good to see them really hammering opposing starters (plus-25.8) over the last six games.

To repeat updates from yesterday, quickly: Delon Wright is playing 3-on-3 now, Lucas Nogueira has progressed to shooting, and Bruno Caboclo (with Raptors 905) is dealing with a minor ankle injury that isn’t believed to be serious. With no practice between games and an off day tomorrow, there probably won’t be any sort of update until Wednesday’s shootaround.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo

Clippers updates
As Jovan and I dove into a bit, the Clippers are somewhat of a mess right now. Blake Griffin and Patrick Beverley are out long-term, which takes away two of the team’s best and most important players – in general defensively, in personality, and in offensive construction in the case of Griffin. It’s a rough road. Adding to it has been the extended absence of Milos Teodosic, who head coach Doc Rivers said could be back any day now. Teodosic is dealing with plantar fasciitis, which is a terrible thing to have to deal with. He’s also returned to practice and could play as soon as Monday, though he’ll be eased back in.

As it stands, the Clippers’ most used lineup that is available to them Monday has only played 30 minutes together this year. That’s how thinned-out and stretching they’ve been. So it’s all a beautiful mess they’re still storing through, with some interesting looks they could throw at Toronto to try to trip them up. They’ll also be the more rested team here.

PG: Austin Rivers, (Milos Teodosic), Jawun Evans
SG: Sindarius Thornwell, Lou Williams
SF: Wesley Johnson, C.J. Williams, Sam Dekker
PF: Danilo Gallinari, Jamil Wilson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed
OUT: Patrick Beverley
TBD: Milos Teodosic
Agua Caliente: Brice Johnson

The line
Despite the back-to-back scenario, the Raptors are 5.5-point favorites. The over-under is at 215.

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Morning Coffee – Mon, Dec 11

10 things I saw from Raptors-Kings (Dec. 10) – The Defeated

Unstoppable: Every so often the Raptors come across a team that is just completely unequipped to deal with DeMar DeRozan. This was one of those games. DeRozan got to whatever spot he wanted to, the midrange game was money, defenders bit on his up fake, and he tossed a handful of gorgeous passes when extra attention came to him to OG Anunoby for a dunk, to Jonas Valanciunas on the roll, and to a red-hot Serge Ibaka for open threes. Season-high nine assists is nice.

Takeaways: Kings have no answers to Raptors star power – Sportsnet.ca

As for Lowry, his shot was decidedly not falling like it had been recently (4-of-17, including 3-of-12 from deep), but he still managed three daggers from beyond the arc — and more importantly made an impact in just about every other aspect of the game.

He put his body on the line and drew two charges, a category he leads the NBA in. He also handed out six assists and grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds while taking every opportunity he could to take advantage of his matchup versus a pair of rookie point guards in De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason.

The Kings responded with Randolph, whose workman-like effort and come-at-me-bro confidence (during a 35-point performance in a win in the Kings previous game, cameras caught him telling DeMarcus Cousins that “Where I’m from the bullies get bullied”) seems to have spread to Sacramento’s young roster. Twenty-five-year-old rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic (15 points, four three-pointers) played hard and didn’t back down after initiating a brief shoving match with noted tough guy DeRozan (side note: The video review for this “altercation” took what honestly seemed like six years. No fouls were called. The NBA’s replay system needs to be reconsidered). Other Kings, like 24 year-old JaKarr Sampson, who scored in double figures for the first time this season, played with an edge, too, even if it couldn’t make a difference in the end.

Randolph led the Kings with a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, but as DeRozan and Lowry continued to make plays down the stretch Sacramento didn’t have a response.

Sunday’s performance continues a stretch of near-dominant play from the Raptors’ starting backcourt. During their current six-game streak, Lowry is averaging 19 points, eight rebounds, and just over seven assists per game. DeRozan, in addition to the scoring output we’ve come to expect, is averaging seven assists in that span.

Kings 87, Raptors 102: A Comedy of Errors – Sactown Royalty

It has almost become a tradition at this point for the Sacramento Kings to spot opposing teams 10+ points before scoring themselves. Today was no different, as Toronto came out strong while the Kings once again seemed unprepared to play.

To add to the frustration, the Raptors gave the Kings plenty of chances to get back in this game. After trailing 17-2 in the early minutes, Buddy Hield and JaKarr Sampson came in off the Kings bench to provide a nice lift and cut Toronto’s lead to just 5 after the first quarter. Hield ended up scoring 14 of his 17 points in the first half alone.

Unfortunately for the Kings, they couldn’t seem to take care of the ball at all though. Hield had a solid shooting night but also ended up with 6 turnovers. Rookie De’Aaron Fox had a real rough go of it, with 7 turnovers to just 2 assists, and not making a basket until the second half. The Kings as a team had 21 turnovers to just 15 assists, and threw the ball away multiple times down the stretch with the game still in reach.

The Kings had no answer for DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan scored 25 points on just 15 shots and also added a game-high 9 assists. Garrett Temple only played about 12 minutes and didn’t take a shot because guarding DeRozan had him in early foul trouble. Kyle Lowry on the other hand wasn’t nearly as effective, scoring 15 points but going just 4-17 from the field. He did however end up with a game-high 12 rebounds, impressive for a Point Guard.

Kings: Raptors’ Kyle Lowry too much for rookie point guards | The Sacramento Bee

Fox’s seven turnovers were the most by a King this season. Fox was especially off his game in the first half, when he had three fouls and committed six of those turnovers.

“Sometimes that can be general fatigue, you know traveling around, flying around, playing a bunch of games and you’re 19 years old,” Joerger said. “Sometimes it’s just like, ‘Whoa.’ I thought there were some turnovers that you just don’t see very often.”

Lowry’s lessons for Fox including confusing him on defense. Fox has only played in 26 NBA games, so there is still a lot to learn.

When Fox wasn’t turning the ball over, Lowry made sure it was tough for Fox to find his game. Fox said the Raptors did a lot of switching on defense later in the shot clock to keep him off balance.

“Kyle would come and and stay with me for about one dribble and then go to Z-Bo (Zach Randolph), so it was kind of different playing against that,” Fox said. “I’ve never seen that before. At the end of the day, I just have to be aggressive.”

Raptors win sixth in a row, beat Kings 102-87 – Raptors HQ

Surprisingly, it was the usually reliable second unit that wavered first. An all-bench lineup of Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl struggled to score. On the other side, a frenzied effort by the Kings bench, led by the sharpshooting Buddy Hield, got them back in the game. Hield would finish with 17 on 7-for-13 shooting, and was more timely than anything in keeping the Kings at the Raptors’ heels.

Toronto’s bench struggled to win minutes in this one, overall — and I give credit to Sacramento for that. Their defense was excellent at packing the paint, with Kosta Koufos presenting size and the flailing arms of JaKarr Sampson making life difficult for Siakam and Poeltl inside. Many of those brilliant VanVleet-and-a-big pick and rolls that usually work for Toronto were stifled, as the Kings collapsed and allowed Powell and Miles space to shoot. Miles was just 1-for-8 from three, and that was a major reason why the unit struggled.

With just an eight-point lead at half, Dwane Casey staggered Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes more in the second half. A long, painful review early in the third quarter (DeRozan exchanged some shoves, nothing was called) allowed Toronto’s starters some active rest, and allowed them to play over eight uninterrupted minutes. Finishing the frame was DeRozan and the bench. DeMar helped draw attention and create breathing room for the young guys, and that helped spur the Raps to a 10-1 run.

They were able to hold the line in the fourth quarter. Zach Randolph made a valiant effort, plowing through Valanciunas, Poeltl, Ibaka, and Lowry in that order to put up 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. If the Kings had gone to Randolph more, the Raptors might’ve really been in trouble.

Raptors, DeRozan finally win in Sacramento | Toronto Sun

As usual, DeRozan had help from Kyle Lowry, who shot only 4-for-17 from the field but still might have been the best player on the floor. Lowry, definitely one of the smallest, led all with 12 rebounds, added six assists and took his 18th and 19th charges, nearly twice as many as anybody else (10) has managed in the NBA.

“That type of energy he brings to the table, you just can’t put a number on it,” said head coach Dwane Casey, victorious in his 500th career game with the club.

“One thing about Kyle, if his shot isn’t falling, he’ll effect the game in so many other ways that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” added DeRozan.

The entire starting Raptors group was strong in perhaps its most complete performance together so far this season. An energetic Serge Ibaka scored 20 points, Jonas Valanciunas had nine points and eight rebounds, OG Anunoby was +24 and the group needed it all, since the reserves had a second rough outing in the past three games, this time against the NBA’s highest-scoring bench (Sacramento’s reserves outscored Toronto’s 41-28).

“Serge had a good shooting game and DeMar had a good shooting game and (Jakob Poeltl) had a good shooting game. Everything else was like, ‘Ugh,’ but that’s a good win, man,” Lowry said.

“That shows a team effort.”

Woz Blog | Toronto Sun

There was considerable talk post-game about how Lowry can lead the Raptors even on nights where his shot won’t go in and this was one of them. Whether it was taking a couple more charges (that’s 19 now, more than many teams and nearly twice as many as anybody else), perfectly illustrating the verticality rule in preventing what could have been an important Bogdan Bogdanovic layup (all of the other guards holding opponents to 43% or less at the rim are far shorter than Lowry) or grabbing every 50/50 ball in sight, Lowry simply got it done.

“Kyle was a great player, even when he’s not scoring a lot, he’s just not making mistakes,” said Kings rookie D’Aaron Fox, who had a rough night, largely thanks to the work of Lowry in throwing him off-kilter.

Meanwhile, Kings defenders had no clue how to slow down DeMar DeRozan. Either he got to the line whenever he felt like it, or expertly picked out his teammates for easy shots (DeRozan has only eclipsed nine assists three times in his career and this was only his third game with nine assists and only one turnover).

DeRozan became the 12th player since 1985 to score 12,000 points exclusively for one team. He’s an incredible story and the most loyal player Toronto has had.

Sacramento coach Dave Joerger is impressed with the Raptors.

“I really like this team … I think they have set themselves up very nicely,” Joerger said.

“They’re so big, 6-8 at the two and the three and athletic at 6-10, 6-11 three-point stretch fours. They are well put together.”

Raptors streak hits six with bucket full of surprises | Toronto Star

Call it a quirky-stat afternoon at the Golden 1 Center. While DeRozan was enjoying an odd career first, teammate Jakob Poeltl was hitting his first career three-pointer on his first career attempt.

“I’m trying to stay that way now — 100 per cent,” Poeltl said with a laugh.

Jonas Valanciunas, meanwhile, was also 100 per cent from three-point range — one for one, his third career triple. Add those unlikely makes to Serge Ibaka’s 4-for-7 work from behind the arc and Toronto’s big men combined for 6-for-9 gunning from deep. The rest of the lineup, meanwhile, missed 23 of 28 three-point attempts.

“Our secret weapons,” is how Kyle Lowry described the three-point contributions of Valanciunas and Poeltl, adding a sarcastic roll of his eyes as he spoke the words.

“Oh yeah, you’re not going to hear the end of it now,” DeRozan said of the Valanciunas-Poeltl contributions from distance. “But it’s something they work on, not surprising. I’m glad Jak finally hit his first one and I’m pretty sure that won’t be his last one.”

The Raptors Advent Calendar – Days 16 through 9 – Locked On Raptors

No uniform number in Raptors franchise history carries as much per capita importance as 15. In 23 years just four players have worn it, but each and every bearer of 15 is a part of the Raptors story that could not be left out of any sort of definitive literature about the team.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch for Anthony Bennett and his 19 game stint with the club. The other three no. 15s, though, yeah, they’re important to the Raptors’ story.

Jorge Garbajosa was emblematic of the outside-the-hemisphere approach Bryan Colangelo and Maurico Gherardini took to team building during their early days in Toronto. Looking to work around its unsexiness as a free agent destination, the new front office opted to mold the team in the multinational city it plays in. Between José Caldéron, Anthony Parker and Garbajosa, Colangelo mined three core contributors to Toronto’s rebirth in 2006/07 from Europe’s top leagues. Garbo might have been the least important of the three, but he may have also been the most beloved during his one full season. Starting 60 of 67 games as a quirky, over-sized three, he put up 8.5 points, 4.9 boards and 1.9 assists, earning an All-Rookie First team nod. He was a bastion of hope for every schlubby-looking dude with a jump shot who hoped to one day stumble into playing pro. When his NBA career was cut short by that gruesome knee injury he suffered in Boston, some of the joy was washed away from that era of Raptors hoops.

A man who helped restore some happiness was Amir Johnson, quite possibly the most universally beloved player in franchise history. He was an original Young Gun, a soldier through the darkest post-Bosh days, and a supporting star in the 2013/14 rise to relevance. On the night of the Rudy Gay trade, Amir carried a short-handed squad to the first of many uplifting victories that year, putting up a career-best 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 board, two steals and two blocks because he was a boss of the highest order. The poor Lakers didn’t stand a chance.

Later that year it was the plus-minus God who led the Raptors’ Game 7 comeback against the Nets with 20 and 10 on 9-of-12 shooting. That game has gone underappreciated thanks to the final result (screw Paul Pierce, forever), but it was perhaps Amir’s most eye-popping game over a long career of quiet-but-masterful dirty work.

Oh right, and there was another number 15. Just retire his goddamned number already.

Are OG Anunoby and Jakob Poeltl Locks for the Rookie-Sophomore Game? | Toronto Raptors

Jakob Poeltl

Turtles are slow. Jakob Poeltl is fast. Don’t disrespect unless you want to regret the past. Poeltl effort and mobility this season has been outstanding. When was the last time you saw a Raptor chase down offensive boards? Jakob is a modern center. As mentioned he rebounds well, but he also defends well and is able to make switches in a split second. Jakob Poeltl may not be an elite rim protector, but he’s still pretty good and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became one with how hard he plays. The one mark against Poeltl is his free throw shooting. However, currently, he’s only attempting roughly 1.5 free throws a game. Until Hack-A-Poeltl becomes a thing that isn’t something to even be concerned with. Again, if you want to reward winning put Poeltl in the rookie-sophomore game. He’s clearly a future NBA starting center.

Vince Carter diary: Chapter 20, Part II – The Undefeated

Of course, I’d like for [the Raptors] to retire my jersey. You’d always like your jersey retired. That is where it’s started. There have been talks about it. People talk about it, and I’m very thankful for it. But for me, I try my best not to think about it because I am still of service in this league. At the end of the day, every player’s end result is to see their jersey hanging in the rafters somewhere. That is where it started. Hopefully I will get that opportunity.

Game Preview: Clippers Play Host to Streaking Raptors – Clips Nation

Tonight, the Toronto Raptors present the Clippers with yet another talented backcourt that they’ll struggle to contain defensively without Patrick Beverley. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both elite talents, and while Austin Rivers will be overmatched by whichever assignment he draws, both Teodosic and Williams will be major liabilities in their inevitable time guarding Toronto’s All-Star guards. It’s something the Clippers will just have to get used to, as they’ll spend the rest of the season shorthanded defensively at the guard positions in a league full of talented scoring guards.

The Raptors are surging right now, at 8-2 in their last 10 games with a six-game winning streak and halfway through what they hope will be a perfect 4-0 Western Conference swing. In a unlikely twist, the Clippers actually present Toronto with their toughest test of the trip as their other opponents are Memphis, Phoenix, and Sacramento, who all have worse records than the Clippers—and L.A. is likely better than their record as they get players back from injury.

Still, it’s going to be a difficult one for LAC. Toronto has the third-best margin of victory in the NBA behind only Houston and Golden State, and their normal core of Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, and Valenciunas is bolstered by quality depth that includes new signee C.J. Miles and a variety of prospects who are coming into their own. The most notable young contributor is O.G. Anunoby, who has worked his way into the starting lineup after being selected 23rd overall in last June’s draft. The Raptors’ rotation also features Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Jacob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira (who will miss this game with a calf injury) and Delon Wright (who will miss this game with a shoulder injury)—a collection of homegrown talent that is likely unrivaled in any other NBA team’s rotation.

Monday NBA game preview: Toronto Raptors at L.A. Clippers | Toronto Star

With power forward Griffin out since Nov. 28 with a sprained knee, the Clippers have struggled mightily, going 1-4 while compiling the worst defensive rating in the league . . . Speaking of defensive liabilities, ex-Raptor Lou Williams continues to be an instant offence machine off the bench, scoring 35 points in 37 minutes in a win over the Wizards Saturday that broke a four-game losing streak.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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DeRozan finally wins in Sacramento, Raptors take 6th in a row

Raptors 102, Kings 87 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

There’s something to be said for just getting it done.

During a stretch where the Toronto Raptors will play far more bad teams than good, there will be nights when they look completely unstoppable, because they’re the much better teams. There will be nights when they stumble, and only look unstoppable for the stretch it takes to recover, like they did Friday. And there will be games like Sunday afternoon, when the Raptors visited a Sacramento Kings team that has always – always – randomly had their number no matter how large the talent disparity in either direction, when the Raptors are take a more workmanlike approach to a game, winning because they should win, without a ton of flair or narrative.

So it was that they came about a 102-87 victory that they started and finished strong around some forgivably sleepy mid-game play. It wasn’t the bench providing a raucous comeback or an unexpected contributor changing the game or elite ball movement and high-volume shooting, or anything else the Nu-Raptors have done. It was just the Raptors doing what they do best, relying on their primary pieces, and beating down an inferior team.

It looks like there would be the customary Sacramento weirdness when the start of the game was delayed due to an uneven rim. The weirdness that followed, though, was the Raptors getting off to a blazing start at 12:30 local time in Sacramento, something they’ve rarely, if ever done. It was perhaps a good omen when Zach Randolph missed a pair of early free throws. Or that Jonas Valanciunas was forcing point guard turnovers. Or that the Kings were getting whistled for offensive goaltending. Whatever your bellwether, Toronto opened up a 13-0 run over the first three minutes, a stretch that included a nice Serge Ibaka drive (with a Valanciunas pseudo-screen), a very confident OG Anunoby transition three, and the usual DeMar DeRozan offensive work (he had five assists in the quarter)

The idea of a sleepy Sunday start was swatted out of mind like Ibaka chasing down errant passes with blocks, in other words. Anunoby had a great cut for a dunk, and a second would have sent the Kings running for a second early timeout had Anunoby not taken off from just a little too far, which drew a smile from the rookie. That didn’t turn momentum Sacramento’s way immediately, as DeRozan continued drawing fouls at will, Ibaka drilled a corner three, and the starters were a plus-13 by the time a first sub checked in. Toronto came back down to earth with the bench, in part because Sacramento finally started finding the net and in part because their defense started holding a block-party. C.J. Miles was rejected twice, Pascal Siakam was turned away by JaKarr Sampson, and a Jakob Poeltl offensive foul saw the Raptors up five at the end of the quarter despite the Kings having more turnovers than field goals, and after once leading by 15.

The Kings’ bench continued frustrating the Raptors’ second unit, trapping effectively on the side of the floor. A slow 10-6 mini-run over four minutes brought Sacramento back within one, and Siakam getting blocked at the rim sent Frank Mason the other way, drawing a foul against Fred VanVleet and giving the Kings their first lead of the game. Dwane Casey called on Kyle Lowry to stabilize things, and they immediately ran a Lowry-and-bench pet play to get Miles a three. Lowry came up lame on a play shortly after to provide a bit of a scare, only to stay in the game and then deliver a four-point play. Buddy Hield finally missed after six consecutive makes, and the Raptors pulled back away on a 12-3 run with threes from both Valanciunas (!) and Ibaka, the latter coming on a terrific dish from DeRozan.

Sacramento pushed back with extra effort on the offensive glass, only for the Raptors’ stars to keep them at arm’s length with a hearty shove back. DeRozan continued his terrific first-half playmaking and guarded Skal Labissiere in the post, and Lowry drew his league-leading 18th charge to slow the attack (he’s draw another later). The Raptors were back ahead eight by the break, with all five starters having turned in quality minutes and the group as a fivesome being a whopping plus-19. It’s not quite Sacramento-level strangeness since it’s happened more often of late

The second half opened with a delay, like the first, with officials needing to review some shoving on a jump-ball between DeRozan and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The extended break really gummed up the pace, and the Raptors relied almost exclusively on free throws for their offense for a few minutes. Lowry was forcing a little bit, so DeRozan picked up that slack, and Lowry looked for Valanciunas for a strong rim-run in transition to draw another foul. Sacramento’s hot 3-point shooting helped them hang around within striking distance, just not enough to get over the hump DeRozan was proving to be as a scorer and playmaker. DeRozan scored 13 in the quarter, and he and the bench had a 12-1 run late to put the Raptors back up double-digits heading into the fourth.

The first few minutes were all Sampson, who stuck a long two, drew a charge on Siakam, and forced a jump-ball against Norman Powell. Big a Sampson fan though I am, that was bound to slow down, and a Poeltl corner three (!!) put an end to a short Kings push-back. The bench bigs really picked up the defensive intensity from there, and Siakam found Miles twice inside the arc before taking a seat.

Poeltl got the initial close-out nod in place of Valanciunas, only for Casey to opt for VanVleet as an extra ball-handler in response to the offense stalling out and letting Sacramento creep back in. That settled things, with Lowry adding a bucket to his low-scoring-but-very-good night sandwiched around a DeRozan jumper and a DeRozan floater. The Kings wouldn’t go away, though. Randolph bullied his way to a put-back, and a careless out-of-timeout turnover for the Raptors kick-started De’Aaron Fox in transition, where he’s quite dangerous.  They ran out of time, a screen-the-screener action getting Ibaka an open three that represented the dagger.

All told, Ibaka has 20 points again, DeRozan scored 25 points quite efficiently and dished nine assists, and Lowry sputtered to 15 points but was a huge difference-maker with 12 rebounds and six assists. Valanciunas battled Randolph admirably, too, and every starter was at least a plus-17. The bench cracks are a little worrisome, and Lowry and DeRozan played 35 minutes each on the first leg of a back-to-back, if you find the need to pick nits; maybe the 93.1 defensive rating will soothe you, a mark that should see the Raptors back in the top 10 at both ends of the floor now. There was mostly good here.

Two Raptors centers hitting threes while Lowry and Miles struggled from outside, stoppages to start each half, a genuine JaKarr Sampson game, and the starters heavily outperforming the bench. This may have flowed mostly like a normal game. The devil, though, is in the details, and this mostly held true to the Raptors-in-Sacramento environment that’s been established. The big difference here, of course, was the Raptors winning, just the fourth time they’ve done so in 21 visits and the first time with DeRozan in the lineup.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Where do we stand in the East?

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave to break down another week of Raptors basketball.

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Raptors-Kings Reaction Podcast – Finally dethroned Kings

William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ win over the Sacramento Kings.

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Quick reaction: Raptors 102, Kings 87

Toronto win in an instantly forgettable game.

Toronto 102 Final
Box Score
87 Sacramento

B+
S. Ibaka28 MIN, 20 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 8-13 FG, 4-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 25 +/-

Ibaka continues to shine in December and also playing so well when he’s coming off multiple days of rest. Much more confident than he was a month ago.

B-
O. Anunoby27 MIN, 5 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-

His cutting abilities off the ball make a real difference. Continues to make threes.

B
J. Valanciunas22 MIN, 9 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-3 FG, 1-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 17 +/-

Zach Randolph is an ideal matchup for JV and he played well. DeRozan and Lowry found him around the rim for easy scores. Jonas even hit a three!

A-
K. Lowry35 MIN, 15 PTS, 12 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 4-17 FG, 3-12 3FG, 4-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 23 +/-

Vintage all-around Lowry game though he left points on the court by missing easy shots. He came up limping after a play at the rim, shook it off and took two charges after that.

A+
D. DeRozan35 MIN, 25 PTS, 3 REB, 9 AST, 0 STL, 9-15 FG, 0-1 3FG, 7-11 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 19 +/-

Nine dimes. Solid defence. Schooling young guys. A fun game from DeMar, who got his first-ever win in Sacramento.

B
J. Poeltl22 MIN, 9 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-5 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -13 +/-

Crowned Frank Mason in transition and played some decent defence. Banged a corner three. Big Jak is easy to root for.

C
F. VanVleet21 MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 6 +/-

Fred’s had better nights. He was fine, which is really all Toronto needed.

C-
C. Miles21 MIN, 11 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 5 STL, 5-14 FG, 1-8 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -9 +/-

Five steals is impressive, even if it came against Sacramento. Also gave Toronto a late scoring boost when they needed it.

C-
P. Siakam19 MIN, 2 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 1-7 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -7 +/-

Flew around and created some second chance situations with offensive rebounds, but not a great night of finishing.

D-
N. Powell9 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -10 +/-

Not a good night from Powell. Struggled to when attacking the rim because he couldn’t turn the corner.

B
Dwane Casey

Fine job by DC in his 500th game. Not much to get too upset about, not much to praise.

Things We Saw

  1. Raptors just couldn’t put the Kings away. Time after time, they built seven and eight point leads but chased that with bad defensive possessions.
  2. Dave Joerger might have the worst haircut in the league. What a sin.
  3. De’Aaron Fox cooked us in the last six minutes. He’s as fast as advertised, though a bit underwhelming to do your damage in the dying minutes of a decided game.
  4. Quirky record set by Kyle Lowry tonight:

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Raptors 905 adding Fuquan Edwin

Raptors 905 are adding Fuquan Edwin, according to a report from Chris Reichert of 2 Ways and 10 Days.

A 26-year-old out of Seton Hall, Edwin should help a top-three 905 defense get even stronger. Not only was Edwin a Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, he was also named to the All-Defensive First Team in his lone D-League season, back in 2014-15. Edwin spent that year with Sioux Falls, averaging 13.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 47 percent overall and 40 percent on over two 3-point attempts per-game.

Over four years in the NCAA, Edwin averaged 2.3 steals (a ridiculous 4.7-percent steal rate; he even led the NCAA in steals one season), proving enough of a ball-hawk to get a Portsmouth Invitational nod and a pair of Summer League looks from Oklahoma City and New Orleans. In the time since, the 6-foot-6 wing has played in Venezuela, Israel, Australia, Kosovo, and Finland. He entered the player pool this week after leaving his Finnish team after five appearances.

The 905 adding Edwin is contingent on him passing a physical, which is expected to take place Monday, per a source. The 905 would have to waive a player to make room on the roster for Edwin, as they’re at the 10 allowable, excluding two-ways and assignees. Here’s how the depth chart looks at present, excluding NBA talent:

PG: Kaza Keane, Kethan Savage
SG: Davion Berry, Aaron Best
SF: Negus Webster-Chan, (Fuquan Edwin)
PF: Kuran Iverson, Richard Amardi
C: Shevon Thompson, Kennedy Meeks, Andre Washington

There’s a tough decision to make there, and Edwin’s position would suggest it might be one of the power forwards let go. Wherever the 905 land, adding Edwin at this point in the season is the type of opportunity you make those decisions for.

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Pre-game news & notes: Hill & Trill sit, Wright progresses to 3-on-3

The NBA sure has a knack for timing.

It was a little over a year ago when the Toronto Raptors last visited the Sacramento Kings. Surely, you remember the game. The Raptors got down early, fought back to take a lead, squandered it in the third, and found themselves staging a fourth-quarter comeback. Down three, Terrence Ross appeared to deliver the game-tying shot. Upon review, though, officials determined that the clock had started late, and that Ross’ shot therefore came after the buzzer should have sounded. No basket, and the Republic did not take it particularly well. The Last Two Minute report was delayed, the Raptors protested, and the NBA released an explanation that wasn’t at all satisfying. A loss for the Raptors, and an ugly, albeit mostly inconsequential, mark for the NBA.

Naturally, right as the Raptors visit the Kings again, nearly the exact same thing happened. On Saturday, the Washington Wizards were in a nearly identical situation against the Los Angeles Clippers. Bradley Beal hit what would have been a game-winning jumper, which was waived off because the clock started too soon. Rather than waive off the basket entirely, though, the officials opted to give Washington the ball back and re-do the play, which is exactly how most Raptors fans felt last year’s scenario should have played out (at worst).

Now, other than the timing be exceptionally funny (none of us are mad, it’s funny to us, never been owned, etc), this should be a positive, shouldn’t it? I’ve seen some angry comments and had some angry tweets come my way about it, and I get it. It sucks the Raptors didn’t get the same opportunity to replay a possession in the same scenario. But isn’t this what we want from the NBA, in general? The Raptors got jobbed, everybody agreed the logic was backwards, and so the league corrected their approach next time around. It doesn’t put the 2.5 seconds and overtime back on the clock last year, obviously. It does show an acknowledgement that the Raptors got a raw deal, and it shows the league’s improved their handling of such situations.

Really, though, I won’t feel better unless at 3:20 today, Terrence Ross puts on a Raptors jersey and fires up a three from on crutches to send last year’s game into overtime, retroactively making the Raptors 52-30 last year.

The game tips off at 3:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Delon Wright and Lucas Nogueira remain sidelined for the Raptors, who are otherwise healthy. Lorenzo Brown and Malcolm Miller are both with the team and active, though the latter is yet to make his NBA debut. You know what to expect from the rotation at this point, at least until someone plays poorly and falls out or one of the injured pieces returns.

Wright has progressed to playing 3-on-3, per Ryan Wolstat, by the way. He’s still without a timetable, but usually the steps after 3-on-3 are 5-on-5 half-court, then an approval for contact. Nogueira has also started shooting (after biking earlier in the week) and is likewise without a timeline.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo

Kings updates
Despite being armed with a million centers, the Kings have been playing smaller of late. Zach Randolph got the starting nod at the five in a victory against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday (bullies get bullied), and two-way piece JaKarr Sampson was starting alongside him at the four. They’ve also used a lot of Vince Carter as a small-ball four, particularly with Willie Cauley-Stein out. Things could change Sunday with three players recalled from the G League, including intriguing long-term forward/center prospect Skal Labissiere.

However the Kings line up off the bench, they present some challenges despite an 8-17 record and a bottom-five ranking at both ends of the floor. Namely, they force a lot of turnovers, and since transition defense has been Toronto’s biggest weakness to date, that’s a little concerning. Mitigating that some is that the Kings shoot threes fewer than any team in the NBA, though with a team-wide 38.1-percent clip and the potential for some smaller, faster lineups, getting back to shooters after miscues should be a point of emphasis. And don’t sleep on De’Aaron Fox despite modest rookie numbers – he has some real skill and is a monster in semi-transition.

Complicating matters for Sacramento on Sunday is that George Hill will miss the game for personal reasons, per Sean Cunningham. No word on who starts yet, but Buddy Hield would be a reasonable guess, unless the Kings opt to slide Garrett Temple up and add some size to the unit.

UPDATE: Bogdan Bogdanovic starts for Hill, while Skal Labissiere starts in place of JaKarr Sampson. That makes for a pretty interesting fivesome for the Raptors to match up with.

PG: De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason
SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Malachi Richardson
SF: Garrett Temple, Vince Carter, Justin Jackson
PF: Skal Labissiere, JaKarr Sampson
C: Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Georgios Papagiannis
OUT: Willie Cauley-Stein, George Hill, Harry Giles
TBD: None
Reno: Jack Cooley

Assorted

  • Shout out to Toronto FC on their championship victory yesterday. That makes it Raptors 905, the Wolfpack, the Argos, and TFC all winning championships in the city over the past few months, and while your mileage may vary on the value of each title individually, it’s been really cool to see the city’s sports scene pick up some momentum, even if some of that has come at the fringes. With the Raptors headed for a fifth straight playoff appearance, the Leafs returning to serious relevance, and the Marlies looking like a championship favorite, 2018 looks nearly as promising as 2017. Now, if the Jays could pick a lane on their competitive path, we’re cooking. Seriously, I’m very, very happy for TFC fans, as they’re one of the best fanbases going, in any sport at any level.
  • Raptors 905 are off today, but a minor update on Bruno Caboclo: The ankle roll he suffered Friday is not thought to be serious, and it’s expected that unless he has a setback in practice this week, he’ll be good to go Wednesday at Hershey Centre.
  • Read my son on Fred VanVleet. I’ve stayed trying to tell you all about Fred VanVleet.

The line
The Raptors opened as 7-point favorites and the line has bumped to Raptors -8.5. The over-under has been around 206.5-208 and sits at 207.5 right now.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Kings – Dec. 10

The Sacramento Kings have been an interesting opponent for the Raptors to say the least. As a franchise overall, the Kings have been terrible for basically the better part of the last decade. And yet, every season, a disappointing loss to the Kings seems to manifest itself for Toronto. The Raptors have obviously been the kind of team that plays up and down to their competition in recent years, but new highs always seemed to be reached when facing the Kings. Sacramento has won the past 4 meetings against the Raptors in a streak that stretches back to November 15, 2015 (a game in which Boogie Cousins erupted for 36 and 10). The streak also had 2 ugly Sunday evening home losses, and of course, the game in Sacramento last season that ended in controversial fashion when Terrence Ross’ potential game-tying 3-pointer was voided, granting the Kings yet another win.

The feeling coming into this one though…just feels different. First of all, the Kings don’t have a beast big man down low anymore (though the way JV seems to play against DeMarcus Cousins these days, that might not have been the worst thing in the world). Not to mention the Raptors are playing a somewhat significantly different style of play compared to the last couple of years. It’s a style that features a tad less of its all-stars in isolation, and rather a more passing-oriented offense that uses it’s bench and young players to give it a boost. But things seemed good going into each of the last 4 games the Raptors lost to the Kings…and yet, things didn’t end up working out.

If the Kings are going to have any shot against the Raptors this time though, their play on both ends of the court is going to have to be significantly better than it’s been so far this season. Sacramento ranks second last in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and point-differential in the entire league. That’s just awful. Granted they’ve played a mostly road-heavy schedule so far, but the Kings’ 4-6 record at home doesn’t exactly make you scared as a visiting opponent. The Raptors will certainly have the confidence to the win this game, but will they have the 48-minute effort requisite for a win? That’s the real question for me.

I will say though – those “effort lulls” this team has shown against some weaker opponents these past few seasons, is something they’ve really improved on avoiding this year. 4 of the wins in this 5-game Raptor winning streak have been against teams with a losing record. And the Raps will have to get used to this kind of approach, with 9 more games coming in December against teams with losing records. It’s about approaching each game the same way regardless of the opponent.

Key storylines

One of the main bright spots we’ve seen in the past 5 games is the stark increase in passing, spearheaded by the playmaking of Kyle and DeMar. The Raptors as a team in the past 5 games have averaged 27 assists a game, meaning 60% of their field goals have been assisted. That’s a startling statistic, especially considering they’ve shot it at over 50% from the field during this stretch with 13 3’s a game. That’s an amazing turnaround for Dwane Casey’s offense, which averaged less than 19 assists a game last year. As we’ve written about here at Raptors Republic, this season has been a new level of achievement for Casey. For all the criticism he’s gotten, he deserves a ton of credit for the early-season turnaround.

One of the Raptors primary off-season additions, C.J. Miles, has been an up-and-down feature of the Raptors bench. From hot streaks, to cold streaks, to illnesses, to being away for the birth of his child, to all kinds variability in playing time, we’ve seen all sides of the C.J. Miles experiment so far. But after an 0-4 performance (all beyond the arc), going scoreless in just 8 minutes of action against the Grizzlies, I’d be interested to see how Dwane Casey plans on using the sharp shooter. Given that the Kings give up over 12 3-pointers a game (26th in the league), I’d expect the Raptors to be aggressive behind the 3-point-line – and you’ve gotta figure C.J. Miles fits into that strategy. It’ll be important for the Raptors to get his confidence back for the long term as well, so I wouldn’t expect too many nights with under 10 minutes of playing time for him.

The Raptors will be also facing off against Vince Carter for the first time in a Kings uniform. The celebrated ex-Raptor veteran, in his 20th year in the league, recently revealed some of the reasons he decided to join the Kings this off-season, and be part of a rebuilding situation. Watching VC play never gets old for me personally, but it’s been a different season thus far, even for Vince, who you’d think has seen it all in this league. In what’s been his lowest usage season of his career thus far, Vince is averaging 3 points a game in just over 13 minutes for Sacramento. Embracing the mentorship role is something that’s clearly important to him and I can still respect that. And unlike probably any other 40-year-old in league history, VC is still in decent enough shape to throw down a windmill.

Game details

Tip time: 3:30 p.m.

Venue: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA

Probable starters:

  • Raptors: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
  • Kings: George Hill, De’Aaron Fox, Garrett Temple, JaKarr Sampson, Zach Randolph

Keys to the game

  • The bench’s impact: The bench has obviously been the most pleasant early-season surprise for the Raptors. After an early let-down against Memphis in the second quarter on Friday night, they bounced back big with a strong close to the third. The Kings surprisingly have one of the most productive benches in the league, averaging over 50 bench points a game. But a soft defense for this unit has led to a net rating of -4.9 (good for 23rd in the league). The Raptors meanwhile boast the best bench net rating in the league, by almost a full point. Guys like Frank Mason, Garrett Temple, and Skal Labissiere (each of whom average over 8 points a game, but are not especially known for defense) are part of that Kings bench, so I fully expect FVV, Norm, CJ, Pascal, and Poeltl to give it to those guys.
  • Contain Z-Bo: Zach Randolph leads the Kings in scoring…seriously. As funny as that is in itself, it kind of makes the game plan easy: if the Raps can stop Z-Bo down low from getting comfortable, or from getting enough space to hit his mid-range jumpers, it should be smooth sailing from there. While De’Aaron Fox is obviously a threat to drive to the basket with his quickness, he’s still just not a shooter at this point, so I don’t think it would be too difficult for Lowry to stay disciplined there. Randolph is traditionally a back-to-the-basket player, but can occasionally knock down the 15-17 footer. I’d expect to see Serge or Pascal on him most of the night,.
  • Continue what’s been working: The key to the Raptors success of late has clearly been the passing and quality shot-selection (in many instances, passing the good shot to get the great shot). If this winning streak is going to hit 7, 8, or 9 games, and the Raptors really want to make noise in the surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference, consistency in everything they do is going to have to be a mark of this team. We saw some of that in the 56-win team a couple of years ago, and we have to start seeing that again. This new offense thing, to me, isn’t a thing until it’s being done consistently. In first quarters, in crunch time, and in the playoffs.
  • Rest: With a back-to-back looming against the Clippers in LA tomorrow night (albeit against a Blake Griffin-less team), Coach Casey and the Raptor reserves will have to do their best to hold serve and push Raptor leads, in order to give the starters adequate rest. If we can pull off the win with Kyle and DeMar playing under 35 minutes, and Serge under 30, I’d consider that a major step forward for tomorrow. The Clips will be coming off a big victory last night against the Wizards that featured a game-winner from none other than Lou Williams.

The line and prediction

The Raps come in at a -7 for the game. I’ll take them to win this by a comfortable 8-10 points. We saw them get off to a bad start against the Grizzlies, so I expect Toronto to come out strong. They’ll need to get ahead early and stay ahead if they want to give their starters some rest heading into the back-to-back tomorrow. But as we’ve seen the past two seasons, handling the lowly Kings isn’t always that simple.

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Grizzlies comedown too early, Raptors fix little things in comeback

Raptors 116, Grizzlies 107 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

A Friday night road game against a struggling team with a tenuous psyche. Friday night’s visit to play the Memphis Grizzlies was exactly the kind of game the Toronto Raptors, as currently constructed, should dominate, and exactly the kind of game fans have grown to fear some, the team susceptible to poor starts or quarters or halves. At a time when the how matters more than the how many, getting by narrowly, even on the road, isn’t always a panacea for the minutes that come before the victory.

At the same time, basketball is an entertainment product first, and even at their most frustrating, the Raptors are an immensely entertaining team. Friday’s 116-107 Raptor victory, then, while marred by a terrible seven minutes or so that threatened to put a magnifying glass on Toronto’s occasional lethargy away from home, was enjoyable all the same. The Grizzlies felt their Comedown from a great run too early, the Raptors fixed the Little Things that plagued them, and while the Monkey still remains on their back in terms of dominating as they maybe should for full games (which, really, is an overstated occurrence league-wide), this was the kind of Friday-night affair with enough fun and flair that a recap can ham-fistedly work in a bunch of references to annoy a friend who doesn’t think Machinehead should be GameOps fodder when it absolutely should be.

Anyway, the starters didn’t come out of the gate completely devoid of Testosterone. They didn’t exactly gome out a house afire, either. The offense produced some solid looks against an aggressive Grizzlies pick-and-roll scheme, the Raptors just missed some shots or carelessly turned the ball over trying to do a bit too much. The defense was less on point, with Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans running fairly free. Jonas Valanciunas did his best opposite Gasol, but the combination of Gasol’s multifaceted offensive game and OG Anunoby biting on Evans’ tricks twice, the Grizzlies were able to get into a comfort zone scoring, something they don’t exactly do often.

The bench bigs stabilized things for a short period, the introduction of Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl accidentally introducing a few minutes of chaos. The Raptors pulled within one after trailing eight, only for the Grizzlies to pull back away with a 9-0 run opposite a DeMar DeRozan-led bench group. It was largely the fault of miscues and inattention, with Ben McLemore running free toward the end of the first quarter and then starting the second quarter hot, too. Memphis shot 14-of-19 in the first, giving the Raptors an 11-point uphill Swim, exactly the kind of start they’ve been talking about avoiding at the top of halves.

The all-bench unit was unable to stabilize things, which has become more of a trend of late (that particular fivesome has a negative net rating on the year). Dwane Casey was forced to use a third angry timeout within the first 14 minutes of the game after a careless turnover led to yet another easy Grizzlies bucket, and he turned back to three starters much earlier than he normally does. That smaller group included two point guards, two wings, and Serge Ibaka, and the extra space helped open up the middle for Toronto a bit, while Anunoby continued to be a high-energy impact-maker. The rookie had a great cut for a dunk in the first, forced multiple turnovers with his energy, and made a number of high-IQ defensive plays in the half to make life tougher for Memphis.

Comeback momentum was tough to find despite the shift in effort level. Gasol hit a three after a long break, then forced a turnover to send McLemore on a break. Had McLemore not missed a wide-open 360-jam – a genuine “no, thank you” to the Raptors’ apparent effort to make McLemore a star for a night – Memphis may have pulled away further. As it was, the starters defended fairly well in their second stint as a unit, Valanciunas was a factor around the rim at both ends (he and Ibaka did a nice job tag-teaming Gasol here), and Anunoby drilled a Bomb from the corner as part of an 11-2 run to pull back within four. Memphis could only push it back to five by the break, a great spot for Toronto to be in after the bench was pummeled.

The third quarter remains an issue, though, and the Raptors lost a lot of their progress immediately, coughing up a 6-0 run that saw Casey use yet another quick timeout. Things settled back in from there, though it wasn’t without frustrating moments, like Anunoby getting whistled for an Evans rip-through four-point play or Evans and JaMychal Green finishing tough shots against Ibaka contests at the rim. Still, they stemmed the tide long enough that an Ibaka jumper, Valanciunas post bucket, and the obligatory Kyle Lowry takeover stretch kept them within striking distance. DeRozan had a terrific cut to draw a foul (he and Ibaka were both at 20 points at this point), Anunoby made another terrific play digging in to help Jakob Poeltl against Gasol and force a turnover, and a Fred VanVleet three gave the Raptors their first lead since the game’s opening points.

Memphis would take a one-point edge back entering the fourth, once again a deficit Toronto probably felt comfortable with given their oft-shaky play to that point. Casey trusted the all-bench unit despite the shaky performance earlier, and they rewarded that faith with a terrific stretch. VanVleet found Poeltl with a pair of ludicrous bounce passes, the defense forced Memphis into the type of shots they want opponents taken (and by whom), and VanVleet drilled another three to cap a 10-4 run that gave Toronto their biggest lead of the game at five. Lowry came back in for a struggling C.J. Miles, and the run extended to 11-0 after Poeltl and Siakam did a nice job on Gasol and then Siakam had a strong baseline cut and a transition run-out off a nice VanVleet pass.

In other words, the bench gave its usual dose of Glycerine, taking all of five minutes to explode and more or less make up for earlier. The starters filtered back in, and a lot of the psychological damage had been done by the 28-point swing. Casey rolled with a defense-heavy group to close, and Memphis couldn’t chip their way back into things, which bled over. Gasol and Evans even picked up a technicals as the Grizzlies pushed their way to 16 turnovers, completely losing the handle on any chance of coming back and giving DeRozan more opportunity to dap up his imaginary friends. (Gasol was incensed after the game.)

When the final buzzer sounded, DeRozan had another all-around, 26-7-6 night, and Lowry chipped in a loud 16-6-8, and while the team only tallied 21 assists, those two combining for 14 is always a good sign. At 36 and 37 minutes, it’s maybe a little harder on the Body than is ideal, but those workloads are not Alien to them, and they’ve been far less frequent this season. The young bench players had strong second halves, VanVleet in particular, Anunoby looks more and more the part of a legitimate present-term piece by the week, and Ibaka had a great first half offensively, then figured things out with Valanciunas defensively in the second (the Raptors’ starters are the best unit in basketball over the last five games, respect to all caveats, and now a noticeable positive on the season).

It was another game where the Raptors would surely love to clean things up, getting into better habits in terms of 48-minute play for when the competition is stiffer (and less fragile). For the time being, though, the schedule is light, and there’s a feeling of Everything Zen when they’re consistently fighting the extra gear to put away inferior teams despite not having their complete best every night out. There are more of those games to come, which is at the same time an opportunity to iron out the wrinkles and more assertively win those games and some insulation that even if they don’t, the wins will probably still be frequent. There’s a comfort in that, affording the opportunity to be analytical and search for the predictive while also enjoying some entertaining games.

Uhh…they’re now Sixteen Stone and seven. Or something. Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Raptors-Grizzlies Reaction Podcast – Comebacks are fun

William Lou returns to break down the Toronto Raptors’ comeback win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 116, Grizzlies 107

Toronto 116 Final
Box Score
107 Memphis

A-
S. Ibaka27 MIN, 21 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 7-12 FG, 4-5 3FG, 3-4 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 4 +/-

It’s a good thing Ibaka makes his shots most of the time, because as soon as he gets the rock, he’s shooting it. He had 18 points in the first half tonight, one of the few reasons that the Raps were as close as they were at halftime. His defense was spotty, but the effort was there for the most part. The rebounding struggles continue.

A+
O. Anunoby34 MIN, 8 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 3-5 FG, 2-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

Game ball goes to the kid. OG was all over the place, working his butt off on defense early on when the rest of the Raptors were trapped in invisible quicksand. He was draped all over his man all game long, and was right there each time on help defense. He had two key steals and made more effort plays than you can count on both hands. He also made a great cut that led to a monster dunk (which he finished, Ben McLemore!) and drained a couple of nice threes.

B+
J. Valanciunas18 MIN, 8 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 8 +/-

Valanciunas got punked by Gasol early on, but in the second quarter he adjusted and actually started playing the Spaniard really well on defense, changing the flow of the game at that point and getting the Raps out on the break. He didn’t score much, but he rebounded well and stood his ground in the paint. Solid performance.

A
D. DeRozan36 MIN, 26 PTS, 7 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 6-15 FG, 0-2 3FG, 14-14 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 5 +/-

This was another great showing by DeRozan, whose game has improved in various ways this season outside of scoring. He did a little bit of everything again, making good passes and getting on the glass. His defense was subpar in the first half, like most of the team’s, but he turned up the intensity later on. The funny thing is, this felt like a quiet DeRozan game, and yet he still had 26 points. Huh.

A+
K. Lowry37 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL, 5-14 FG, 4-9 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 18 +/-

Lowry was typically brilliant, taking over at several points in the game to hit his patented PUJITs (pull-up jumpers in transition), make savvy passes, and direct traffic. He, too, picked up his effort on defense after a slow start, and ultimately was the major cog in tonight’s victory.

B+
J. Poeltl24 MIN, 8 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Poeltl had a tough task coming in to deal with Gasol when Valanciunas hit the bench, and for the most part he did quite well. The effort is always there with Jak, and he is almost never out of place. He got beat on the glass once or twice, but otherwise was his usual impressive self.

A
F. VanVleet22 MIN, 12 PTS, 1 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 4-8 FG, 3-6 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -6 +/-

The fourth quarter is his time, huh? VanVleet was quiet most of the game until the final period, in which he dropped eight points and even made a fantastic play on transition defense, stopping Parsons (with the help of Lowry) by ripping the ball free from his hands without fouling. Just another night at the office for the net rating king.

B
P. Siakam20 MIN, 8 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Siakam came in with Poeltl and gave the effort we’re used to seeing from him. Nothing spectacular tonight, but that’s not what we expect from Siakam. He came out and gave solid minutes, per usual.

B
N. Powell15 MIN, 9 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5-5 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 4 +/-

A relatively quiet game from Norm, but he had several strong drives and got himself to the free throw line to get his points. He put in the effort defensively in the fourth when the bench made their run, and was generally solid.

D+
C. Miles8 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-4 FG, 0-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -9 +/-

Not much of a night for C.J. Kilometers. Casey didn’t play him much after he bricked a few threes early on and didn’t help the sedentary defense that allowed the Grizz to run wild. These nights happen.

A
Dwane Casey

Casey was searching early on, trying to find somebody (other than OG) who would kickstart his team. Credit to him, he eventually found the lineups he was looking for and stuck to his guns. He called timeouts at the perfect moments tonight, letting his team hear it for their lacklustre effort.

Things We Saw

  1. Imagine the thing you love the most. Now imagine that thing is hanging off the edge of a cliff and hanging beside that thing is OG Anunoby. You can only save one. … You’d save OG, right? Me too. The kid’s a national treasure—he’s so much more poised than a rookie should be, and continues to impress with every passing game. Tonight was a perfect example of why his impact is so much greater than what appears on the stat sheet.
  2. You can say that the Raptors should have come out and smacked the Grizzlies, but any NBA team on any given night can beat another, and Memphis shot better tonight than they usually do. It was an impressive display by Toronto to fight their way back into the game (taking multiple Grizzlies runs in the process) and close things out on the road. Good win.
  3. Boy, things really suck for Marc Gasol right now, huh?
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905’s first half struggles continue, fall to Drive

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Raptors 905 87, Grand Rapids Drive 101 | Box score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905)
Two-ways: Luis Montero, Dwight Buycks (Drive)

If the darkest day is just before the dawn, the Raptors 905 must be hoping this was it.

The Grand Rapids Drive took full advantage of an anemic second quarter offense from the 905, outscoring them 28-11, before going on to win 101-87. The Mississauga squad has dropped seven of their last eight games now.

This was supposed to be a matchup of two of the worst offensive teams in the G League, but only one lived up to the billing. The Drive came into Friday night’s game with a second-worst offensive rating of 97.5, just a smidgen below the 905’s mark of 97.7. The two teams are in the top five in defense and bottom three in pace, so it wasn’t unreasonable to expect an old fashioned grind-it-out slug fest. At least, I thought so.

Instead, the first quarter served as a good reminder of why the games aren’t played on paper. There were 15 combined attempts from beyond the arc, as Derek Willis came alive for the Drive with three makes for himself. The six-foot-nine forward showed a pure stroke from the outside, but considering he came into this game shooting 33.8 per cent from deep on 5.1 attempts per game, 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse would have been shaking his head over the hot hand opponents have been able to find against his ball club.

Bruno Caboclo, Kaza Keane and Negus Webster-Chan kept things interesting in the opening quarter by combining for 18 of the 905’s 24 first quarter points, Caboclo and Webster-Chan knocking down a pair of three-pointers each. Lorenzo Brown is with the Raptors on their road trip, and Keane looked comfortable in a starting role. He knows his game, plays within himself, and runs the offense as the prototypical floor general. Nice to see a Canadian connection like this, too:

The second quarter is tough to explain. The 905 missed their first eight shots, struggled to build a flow to their offense as the Drive only added to their woes with some crisp passing for open looks. Point guard Kenneth Smith was the chief architect, finishing with 15 assists, and 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting.

If not for a couple of scores from Caboclo before a nice feed from Keane to Kennedy Meeks, the 905 would have come pretty close to mimicking their parent club by being inflicted by a 28-0 run.

After those buckets, they went 1-for-4 the rest of the way with three turnovers. Before you knew it, the Drive had made nine of their 15 three-point attempts in the half and shot 54 per cent overall to take a commanding 57-35 lead into the halftime break.

Through 11 games prior to this one, the 905 had a league-worst net rating of minus-23.1 in the opening quarter, but even when they’ve been able to stand firm through the initial onslaught, the second quarter has hit them hard. Their minus-17 mark in the second quarter is also a league-worst mark, and so the consistency in digging themselves holes early hollows the force with which they’ve played second halves to cut into these deficits.

Once again, they outscored the opposition in the second half — 52-44 — but opponents are able to sit back and protect what they have after they’ve built up such large advantages. The positives were, to me, empty calories.

With a team dinner for American Thanksgiving and a Zumba lesson a couple of weeks ago, Stackhouse may be running out of ideas off the court to help get this team in a groove and functioning in unison. He does have four days off to make use of now, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go the tough love route to get this team to push this team beyond the levels they’ve achieved thus far.

Notes:

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo finished with 17 points, four rebounds, a steal and a block.
  • 905 notes
    • Nice Canadian moment seeing Kaza Keane, Aaron Best, and Negus Webster-Chan all start for the Raptors 905. Richard Amardi came off the bench.
    • After hitting on those two 3-point tries early in the first quarter, Webster-Chan scored one point the rest of the way.
    • Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown are both with the Raptors on their road trip, and the 905 sure could have used them.
    • They may have found something in Shevon Thompson. He finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, and has answered the call after the 905 struggled to get anything out of Andre Washington previously.
  • Drive notes
    • Dwight Buycks was an inactive member on the roster.
    • Derek Willis finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, and five 3-pointers.
  • A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Pre-game news & notes: Naismith Cup redux

The Toronto Raptors are visiting the Memphis Grizzlies, and because I already wrote a lengthy pre-game and not much has happened since, I went back through the history of the Naismith Cup. I’m visiting family in Drumbo, ON, right now. There is not a lot to do. Anyway, the Naismith Cup was originally awarded to the winner of a Raptors-Grizzlies preseason game when the latter were based out of Vancouver. It later became, the series sort of transitioned to the NBA Canada Series, but for the purposes of this pre-amble, it’s Raptors-Grizzlies.

Let’s re-write history and assume the Cup has been eligible changed hands whenever the Raptors and Grizzlies (either iteration) have met in the regular season. That’s 43 meetings, in which the Raptors are 20-23. The Grizzlies are currently in possession of the cup, having won the last meeting between the teams to snap a three-game Raptors winning streak. The Cup must be returned to Canada, for the sanctity of basketball in this country. It is imperative.

When the Raptors play a struggling Grizzlies team on Friday, then, it won’t only be the Raptors’ four-game win streak and their confidence in their ability to avoid trap games on the line. No, the future of Canadian basketball and the legacy of Dr. James Naismith are in the balance.

Or something.

The game tips off at 8 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Everything looks as expected for the Raptors, with Delon Wright and Lucas Nogueira still out, Bruno Caboclo still with Raptors 905 (who tip off at 7), and everyone else available. Malcolm Miller is technically with the Raptors, too, though he’s still ramping up from offseason ankle surgery and missed the 905’s last game with a bruise on his other ankle. This would represent his first time being active for the Raptors this season, though he’s been around the Air Canada Centre and BioSteel Centre plenty.

This all means the rotation will probably be the 10-man look head coach Dwane Casey has stuck to for a few games now, including a starting lineup that’s been better with OG Anunoby and over the last stretch and an all-bench unit that hasn’t quite figured it out as a fivesome just yet:

  • Lowry-DeRozan-Anunoby-Ibaka-Valanciunas – 138 minutes, +4.2 net rating
  • VanVleet-Powell-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl – 28 minutes, -3.4 net rating

Since Powell returned from injury (to the bench) six games ago (all of which Wright has missed), here’s a quick look at how the minutes have broken down:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo

Grizzlies updates
With injuries to Mike Conley, Wayne Selden, and even Brandan Wright, the Grizzlies have had some of their best potential lineups taken away from them. Conley is obviously an immense loss, an underrated borderline All-Star – I say underrated because he was almost properly rated, then got paid handsomely, and has since become underrated again because of the contract as a point of reference – and Selden is a really fun piece, Wright a capable backup with a specific matchup skillset. Memphis doesn’t have their two most commonly used lineups available for this one, then, and the three lineups they have available that they’ve used the most are somewhat awkward on paper.

They’ve also been major negatives in small samples:

  • Chalmers-Brooks-Parsons-Green-Gasol – 65 minutes, -4.3 net rating
  • McLemore-Evans-Brooks-Green-Gasol – 59 minutes, -25.0 net rating
  • Chalmers-Evans-Brooks-Green-Gasol – 28 minutes, -48.4 net rating

Tyreke Evans was also a late addition to the injury report with right hip soreness, so some of these lineups could be thrown out, as well. Still, the Grizzlies are a gritty bunch, and Gasol is spectacular enough on his own to dictate playing terms and take over games, regardless of the rest of the lineup.

UPDATE: Evans is playing and starting, but Andrew Harrison is drawing into the starting lineup for Ben McLemore.

PG: Andrew Harrison, Mario Chalmers
SG: Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, James Ennis
SF: Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons
PF: JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin
C: Marc Gasol, Deyonta Davis
OUT: Mike Conley, Wayne Selden, Brandan Wright
TBD: None
Memphis: Vince Hunter, Kobi Simmons, Ivan Rabb

Assorted

The line
The Raptors have held as 5.5-point favorites most of the day. The over-under has bounced between 200 and 202 and currently sits at 201.

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Open Gym Ep. 8

Open Gym is back, featuring the team’s reaction to Delon Wright’s injury.

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A Wayward Offense, a Wayward Season

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

The offense of the Raptors 905 is troubled. Despite posting a top-3 defense, the team has struggled to a 4-7 record mainly on the back of their fourth-worst offense. What’s going on?

First and foremost, the 905 have lacked consistency. Last year’s offense was dominated by departed stars Brady Heslip and Axel Toupane, as well as NBAers Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet in the playoffs. To partially replace their contributions, the team brought in Kyle Wiltjer, who unexpectedly signed in Greece just before the G-League season began. Coach Stackhouse lamented before the home opener this year that much of his playbook would have to be thrown out the window; it had been designed to take advantage of Wiltjer’s incredible shooting stroke from the power forward position.

The 905 have instead been led by G-League all-stars: (and fringe NBA players in their own rights) two-way Lorenzo Brown and assignee Alfonzo McKinnie. I’ve delved into both players in great depth already: Brown here and McKinnie here and here. But those two do not have enough help; the 905 lack enough quality shot-creators to run an offense. When Brown is on the bench or away with the parent club, any 905 offense comes in fits and starts.

The offense often relies on post-ups from Kennedy Meeks (who has missed a few games due to playing with the USA FIBA team). He has skill creating for himself and others. In this play, a Kethan Savage-Bruno Caboclo pick and roll creates nothing, so the ball eventually finds Meeks in the post. He surveys the court, and finds Aaron Best in the corner for a 3. Caboclo saunters over to screen Best’s man, running an improvised version of a hammer play to get extra time for Best to trigger.

Best is only shooting 30% from 3 on the season, but he has a fast trigger and feathery stroke. Part of his low percentage is that he’s had to bail out stymied possessions by launching end-of-clock, contested heaves far too often. Opponents respect his shot, and his catch-and-shoot prowess can give the 905 some juice.

Meeks can also create for himself. He has size, and he can usually displace his defenders with his back to the basket. He has nimble footwork and can finish with both hands:

However, a Meeks post-up is not an efficient first option for a high-level offense. He is frequently blocked due to his poor lift. He only shoots 45% from the field – a meagre number, especially for an old-school, bruising big. Too many of his post-ups have little spacing around them, and defenders can dig down and force Meeks into awkward shots:

The easy answer to avoiding a half-court slog is to keep the ball out of the half-court. The 905 have had great success running in transition. Against the Rio Grande Vipers, the 905 scored more baskets in transition or semi-transition than any other method; by my count, a full twelve of their forty-five made field goals came in transition or semi-transition. But Stackhouse is hesitant to run; the team is last in the G-League in pace (94.5). Far too high a percentage of their half-court points come from garbage baskets: broken plays and put backs on offensive rebounds.

Alfonzo McKinnie will naturally boost a team’s scoring from put backs (he’s an offensive rebounding machine), but he has been a quandary in the half-court. McKinnie’s attacking game comes in fits and starts. He was primarily a spot-up shooter and cutter last year. His dribble drives can lack intensity, and he has frequently been met at the rim this year. He has trouble creating for others, and even at the G-League level he has not proven himself to be a primary option.

Here he drives into a crowd and forces a shot instead of swinging the ball to an open Lorenzo Brown.

This is a new relatively new skill for him, and McKinnie has to make improvements. He’s shooting below 50% on 2-pointers on the season after shooting 57% on the same shots last year. This is of course due to his expanded game, but McKinnie has thus far not proved himself to be a reliable shot creator.

Bruno Caboclo is still not a primary option, either. He’s long and skilled, but he has poor ball-handling skills and has trouble creating even half-decent looks for himself. His drives frequently end like this:

He is blocked too often despite his length. Watch the end of that clip again: Caboclo turns and argues with the ref despite the clean block instead of turning to play defense. Caboclo started the season hot. However, when he’s cold, he’s an iceberg. Against the Maine Red Claws, he shot 4/20, including 0/7 from 3. He remains more of a question for the 905 at this point than an answer.

Lorenzo Brown has been the answer to most of the questions plaguing the 905 offense. He has his deficiencies: occasional tunnel-vision, a tendency to take difficult midrange jumpers, and a high turnover rate. But Brown can dominate. He had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in a loss to the Rio Grande Vipers.

Brown excels when he pushes the pace or runs after a steal (he leads the team with 2.9 a game). Getting out in transition can keep defending bigs from rotating over to help on Brown drives, and he can struggle to finish among a forest of arms. But he’s the best option even in the half-court, and he knows it: “[My role is] basically just running the team and being a leader on and off the court.” Brown leads the team with 18.6 points per game (on an inefficient 15.6 shots), but the team needs him to shoot as much as he is. Without him, the offense often fails to penetrate or create a hint of daylight for shooters.

The 905 struggle when even their best scorers like Lorenzo Brown or Davion Berry isolate and create without any help. A good offense will use its best options in ways that leverage all of their skills at the same time. Ben Falk has highlighted how the Thunder can use all of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony with their creative hawk cut; the team ran it 9 times in their final 10 half-court possessions against the Jazz on December 5th. The 905 get the most out of their offensive when they use their best shot creators together on the same possession.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Against the Rio Grande Vipers, the 905 shot themselves back into the game by running pick and rolls over and over again with Meeks or Shevon Thompson, another skilled big, screening for Brown. In the second half, they turned primarily to the pick and roll in the half-court, and Brown was unstoppable.

Here Caboclo initiates the offense by running a cross screen around the free-throw line for Best to get the defense rotating. Their defenders stick close to them throughout the play because the original action is believable, earning extra space for Lorenzo to work. They even finish the play by Best setting a back screen to free Caboclo in the corner; their movement keeps any help defender honest, unable to stunt away from the action on their side of the floor. Meanwhile, Meeks saunters up to screen for Brown. Meeks’ defender hedges far too high, and Brown immediately attacks downhill with only his own man – who has to navigate the hefty Meeks screen – to beat. McKinnie’s man has to respect his shooting ability from the corner, so Brown faces no resistance.

This is simple basketball, but it harnesses 905 offensive players to be more than the sum of their parts. Meeks is an excellent screener and roller, and he keeps the defense engaged by rolling intelligently to the rim, always keeping the passing lanes open like a miniature Marcin Gortat. The other three 905ers are – ostensibly – knock-down shooters doing things instead of standing still.

This is good and well-timed offense, but interestingly Coach Stackhouse blamed poor defense when I asked him about it after the Vipers game: “We just try to take advantage of what’s going on. If our bigs have an advantage, as they had an advantage in the first half, we’ve got to pound it down, and that’s why we wanted the paint game. They were really bad in the pick and roll coverages [in the second half], and were pretty much allowing Lorenzo to get downhill and pretty much get whatever he wanted. The rotations never came, so he didn’t really have to make sprays to 3-points shooters. They were content to allow him to have a big game and kind of keep the 3-point shooters out of the game. It’s a strategy.”

Brown is not supposed to be the team’s offensive fulcrum. He’s supposed to be one of a series of tools that allow the 905 to adapt to any defense while crushing their opponents with a vice grip defense of their own. That’s just not happening. Part of the 905 struggle to score has been the constant conveyor belt of bodies moving into and out of the roster; last year’s championship team’s rotation was more consistent. Some struggles must be blamed on poor execution and shot-making; the team is collectively shooting below 30% from 3, despite boasting a bevy of capable 3-point shooters in Aaron Best, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malcolm Miller, Kaza Keane, and Davion Berry. Some struggles must be blamed on poor play calling; against the Maine Red Claws and without Lorenzo Brown, Coach Stack allowed Davion Berry to isolate on six of the final 10 possessions of a close game (excluding offensive rebounds). He scored four points, all on free throws, and missed three contested jumpers.

What remains is a team with championship aspirations that is losing far too many games because of their poor offensive numbers. Lorenzo Brown can’t be the only successful shot creator for a successful offense, so despite an early season full of changes, more must occur for the 905 to even dream of repeating as G-League champs.

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Morning Coffee – Fri, Dec 8

Gasol’s skill-set would be a welcome addition to Raptors roster – Sportsnet.ca

In Marc Gasol the Grizzlies have one of the best passing big men in the game, and, who knows, he may even be available at some point this season.

Imagine how much better the Raptors passing game might be if they had, say, a player like Gasol— or Gasol himself— playing centre?

It will be a fun— or painful— sidebar to Friday night and hard to ignore whenever Ibaka holds the ball and the other nine players on the floor come to a standstill, or every time Valanciunas bulls his way through traffic as his teammates can simply watch. The contrast at the other end with Gasol is threading backdoor bounce passes to cutters left and right will be hard to ignore.

Clearly Toronto is managing, regardless. They depart for a trip through the lower reaches of the Western Conference on a four-game winning streak and in possession of the fourth-best offensive rating in the league, behind Golden State, Houston, and Cleveland.

Meanwhile the Grizzlies are struggling mightily, having lost 12 of their last 13 games, a slide that precipitated the firing of second-year head coach David Fizdale and sparkied rumours that the veteran-laden club, coming off their seventh straight playoff appearance, could be thinking rebuild.

Marc Gasol will be a ‘bigs’ test for Raptors | Toronto Sun

With the league trying to preserve its players, there aren’t as many back-to-backs as there has been in the past, the days of playing four games in six nights proving too taxing and forcing teams to rest their marquee players for nationally televised tips, which is not good for business.

For the Raptors, the business at hand begins with Marc Gasol, an elite centre and clearly the centre of attention in Memphis.

Gasol hasn’t been shooting the ball well. He got slapped with a $15,000 fine when he dropped the f-bomb during a TV interview following a win over Minnesota, the first for Memphis following 11 straight losses.

On Wednesday night in New York, his right knee locked up and he left the game against the Knicks with roughly five minutes remaining in the opening half, awkwardly landing following an attempted block.

Gasol has a high basketball IQ, can play inside and out, the offence runs through him and he’s very good in his decision making when he’s away from the basket and asked to make the proper pass.

Casey confided that part of Thursday’s practice involved more ball- handling from the team’s bigs, namely starter Jonas Valanciunas and backup Jakob Poeltl, who would later be interviewed by a visiting news outlet from his native Austria.

Even the combined skills of Valanciunas and Poeltl can’t match up with Gasol, who is a finished product, but today’s bigs, given how the game has evolved, need to be able to facilitate an offence from the top of the circle, step out and make threes and in general make good decisions with the basketball.

Raptors meet the Grizzlies in Memphis: Preview, Start Time, and more – Raptors HQ

Trap Game
Few games in the upcoming schedule have more potential to be a trap game for Toronto than Friday evening in Memphis. Typically, the Grizzlies have been the grittiest team in the league over the last seven seasons, and this year is no different. It’s just a way of their nature to be hardworking and competitive as hell. When you lose as many games as Memphis has over the last month, guys start to get desperate and especially motivated.

Before defeating Minnesota last week, Memphis almost stole a game from the streaking Cavaliers, before getting out to a big lead in the first quarter against the Knicks on Wednesday. The point is, despite their bad rankings in various offensive categories this season, the team will always have a bite and can really do damage if their opponent isn’t diligent with their lead.

Rewind to Tuesday night at the ACC: Toronto played at about 50 percent of their ability and never managed to put the boot on the Suns’ throat until there were about three minutes left in the game. If it weren’t for Phoenix’s complete ineptitude on both ends of the floor, they might have worked their way back into the game. Toronto cannot afford to lose focus at any point in Friday night’s matchup.

GBB Five Questions with Raptors Republic – Grizzly Bear Blues

Who on this struggling Memphis roster worries you most heading in to tonight’s game whose name isn’t Gasol or Evans?

I’m not sure if other fanbases know this, but my son William Lou created what’s called The Gerald Henderson Award, which he gives out on his podcast after every game. Basically, the Raptors are so well known for “Random Player X on Struggling Team Y” going off on them, there’s a nightly nod to one. The easy answer with Memphis is Dillon Brooks, because there’s nothing that would grate fans more than an unheralded Canadian gem falling through the cracks to another team and then killing the Raptors. I’m a really big fan of Brooks’ potential as a role player, so while I’ll note the bias here, he’s my pick.

Million dollar question: Who is @demar_derozan giving the ghost shakes to?

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Raptors developing good habits for young core with new style of play – Sportsnet.ca

On the whole, the Raptors are averaging 23.6 assists per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA. Last season they were infamously dead last in that category. What’s more, the team has been successful in moving the ball while the players are far more active on any given offensive possession. In short, there are far fewer plays in which a player (like DeRozan) dribbles out the shot clock trying to create a shot for himself. The Raps are seventh in the league in field-goal attempts in which the shooter had the ball in his hand for two seconds or less.

These are all positive signs for what the team hopes to accomplish. But just because it’s working so far, Ujiri remains wary of his team getting too comfortable, a problem he identified when first clarifying what, exactly, a “culture reset” entailed.

“One of the things when I said ‘culture reset’ was complacency. We can’t be complacent. We’re not good enough. We’ve not done anything to be complacent. We haven’t achieved anything. The goal is a championship and to build towards that. Not to make the playoffs, or be at the top of the East. Last year there was a level of complacency — from all of us … We have overcome that, and need to go out and challenge and compete.”

There’s still a lot of ball to be played, he warned, adding that the 2017-18 Raps still are “not anywhere close … [but] in terms of progress hopefully, slowly, we continue to build as a team and individually as players.”

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Summer workouts helped Raptors’ second unit build quick chemistry – TSN

A quarter of the way into the season, the Raptors’ second unit has been a revelation, the unexpected strength of a team that improved to 15-7 on Tuesday. They haven’t just been good, they’ve been historically good. Toronto’s bench is outscoring opponents by a league-best 11.3 points per 100 possessions. Over a full season, only one team (the 2011-12 Chicago Bulls) has produced a better bench net rating in the last 20 years.

With Dwane Casey employing an expanded rotation for much of November, eight different players have made regular contributions off the bench and, outside of Miles, they’ve each been in the league for less than five years. What they lack in experience they make up for in familiarity with each other and the team’s new system, which they all credit to the time they spent together over the summer.

“I think it translates a lot,” Norman Powell told TSN earlier this week. “When you spend time with guys you see their sacrifice and struggle with the game, you’re able to connect, become closer. You start to care for one another and want to see each other do well and succeed.”

“It just helped that we were all together,” said Pascal Siakam. “We had those little camps in L.A. and stuff where we were all together, just hanging out. We just enjoy each other’s company. So it’s easier on the court just to play, because we know each other.”

In mid-June, about six weeks removed from last year’s second-round playoff elimination, most of the Raptors’ young players reconvened in Toronto to begin a three-month-long off-season training program, the bulk of it held in Los Angeles and Los Vegas.

They spent the first half of July in Vegas, where the NBA hosts its annual Summer League. Soon-to-be sophomores Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet participated, along with Alfonzo McKinnie, who was working to make the club. Powell, Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo had graduated from Summer League but were all around the team, as was recently drafted rookie OG Anunoby, who was still recovering from a knee injury.

Proud africans… Blessed to represent Africa from Toronto with Masai Ujiri #wethenorth #weareafricans

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Five surprising stats from the Toronto Raptors season so far – Sportsnet.ca

This piece could’ve been entirely built on surprising Anunoby stats. How about: 22 games played (a.k.a. 100 per cent NBA attendance).

Or: 10 starts.

Or: 41.7 3P%.

Anunoby wasn’t supposed to be recovered from ACL surgery in time to start the season (a major reason why he fell to the Raptors in June’s draft), and he wasn’t supposed to be much of a three-point shooter either — he shot just 31.1 per cent from the shorter college line in his shortened sophomore season.

“The biggest key to Anunoby’s ability to find an offensive role at the NBA level will be his jump shot, which is somewhat of a question mark at this stage,” Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote before the draft.

But while his quick recovery and better-than-expected long-range game have both been noteworthy, his mature shot selection and new-age-NBA offensive mindset stand out even more.

Anunoby has taken 109 shots in his rookie year, and 105 of them have come in the immediate basket area or from three. That’s in stark contrast to the Raptors of recent years, who were so often blasted for taking low-percentage long twos.

His shot chart is a prototypical-three-and-D-man thing of beauty

Podcast – The state of the Grizz w/ Keith Parish – Locked On Raptors

In Episode 242 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley chats with Keith Parish (Fastbreak Breakfast) to discuss the state of the Grizzlies ahead of tonight’s match-up in Memphis. They touch on how things have changed since Dave Fizdale’s firing, the future of Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons sorta kinda getting back on track this year and the Grizzlies’ inability to identify and develop young talent.

Did I miss anything? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Gameday: Raptors @ Grizzlies, Dec. 8

The Toronto Raptors are at a point in the schedule where, if they can fight off lethargy or complacency, they may be able to put a serious winning streak together. Already winners of four in a row, the Raptors visit a struggling Memphis Grizzlies team on Friday. It’s the first of four consecutive road games against sputtering competition, and while road games and road trips are rarely easy, the Raptors may be favored in each. As far as road trips go, getting the team’s last four-game stretch away from home out of the way against easier competition is a nice break.

The light part of the schedule can be momentum-building season, then. It can also be trap-game season, as the Raptors are aware, and a recent three-game trip against middling opponents serves as a recent reminder that Toronto can’t begin thinking they’ve accomplished anything yet.

“Every game for me is a trap game. I don’t look at the records. I look at every opponent the same,” head coach Dwane Casey warned at practice Thursday.”I wouldn’t say we’re on a roll. We’ve won some games in a row. Cleveland’s on a roll, winning 13 in a row. When we get to that point, we’ll celebrate.”

Something tells me they wouldn’t even be celebrating then, though there’s a path to winning double-digit games in a row without a .500 team on the schedule in the next while. They have to take care of this four-game road-trip first, and it starts in Memphis.

The game tips off at 8 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, Joe Mullinax of Grizzly Bear Blues and I exchanged some questions.

Blake Murphy: The Grizzlies are out to a tough and frustrating start, marred by injuries, with ownership questions hanging over the team, and now a coaching change. At 7-12 and following a somewhat public disagreement with Marc Gasol, it feels, from the outside, that David Fizdale got a bad shake in being let go. The Dead Coach Bounce hasn’t even come through to right the ship for Memphis. Was moving on from Fizdale the right move, or was this scapegoating at its worst?

Joe Mullinax: Moving on from him is what had to be done. Fizdale and Gasol’s issues go deeper and have lasted longer than just that public incident- it was the worst-kept secret in Memphis that they didn’t get along or see eye to eye. Fizdale made a major error (or a calculated one, depending on who you ask) in making that beef public in benching Gasol in what was a competitive game in the 4th quarter against the Nets. The organization had to decide between Gasol or Fizdale, and the best player in Grizzlies history won out. He may not be LeBron James, but he is OUR LeBron James…if that makes sense.

Fizdale had questionable schemes and rotations at times, but he was only a head coach for 107 total games including playoffs. He was inexperienced and is young, and is well liked and respected in NBA circles. He will get another chance down the road as a HC. Hopefully he better manages the personalities of his star players at his next stop.

Blake Murphy: Raptors fans have been thirsty for Marc Gasol for years, so while I can’t see Memphis possibly liking a package Toronto can offer, I’m obligated to ask: Does Fizdale’s removal signal that Gasol is off the market for the time being? (If he was ever on it in the first place.)

Joe Mullinax: If anything, for the time being Gasol is more off the market. The firing of Fizdale is an attempt to save this season, which isn’t too far gone, believe it or not. Memphis is only 4 or so games out of the playoffs, and with Mike Conley hopefully returning in the next two or so weeks they could theoretically make a push for the 7th or 8th seed still. While that sounds like a silly goal to some, remember that the Grizzlies value their current seven-season playoff streak and are also all-in with the core of Conley, Gasol, and Chandler “If Healthy” Parsons. It would take a longer absence from Conley, or a complete collapse, for Marc to be available…or for him to ask for a trade out of Memphis, as his brother Pau did a decade ago.

Toronto specifically would need to at least include Valanciunas and a 1st round pick or two for Memphis fans to even consider it, and even then it would probably not be enough unless the Raptors were willing to part with Norman Powell or someone like that as well, which they probably would not be.

Blake Murphy: Dillon Brooks looks to be a terrific find for Memphis, the type of player they haven’t been able to land in the draft consistently of late. What have you liked about Brooks’ game through a quarter of a season?

Joe Mullinax: His versatility, especially defensively, has been a nice surprise. He defended Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler at times against the Timberwolves and did pretty well, and that has been the story all season long. He has a confidence about him that you don’t typically see from rookies, much less second round selections. He has drawn Draymond Green/Kobe Bryant comparisons in that confidence department. It isn’t always warranted- he is worst on the Grizzlies among players who have played at least 500 minutes so far this season with a -14 net rating- but he is a rookie after all, and he is playing outside of his ideal role due to injuries.

He is the best young player on this team…which is kind of sad and promising at the same time.

Joe Mullinax: At this point in the season Toronto is clearly one of the top-3 teams in the Eastern Conference. How have the Raptors been able to build an early advantage toward a high playoff seed?

Blake Murphy: A large part of it is continuity, even with the changes to their system. They’re carrying over two stars, four starters, a head coach, and a few rotation pieces. Yeah, guys are in new rolls and have different responsibilities, but especially early in the season, familiarity and chemistry help. On top of that, the offensive changes they promised have taken hold faster than I think anyone expected. There have been maybe only two or three games where fans got to groan ‘same old Raptors,’ they’ve already topped 30 assists more this year than in the past four seasons combined, and the 3-point shooting has settled in close enough to league average for the offense to once again be a top-5 unit. The defense is a work in progress, particularly in the transition game, and even that’s sitting right around top-10. So in general, it’s a good team off to a good start, to where a 15-7 start is still within the band of expected outcomes (55-win pace), if a bit of an over-performance.

Joe Mullinax: How is our old friend Kyle Lowry doing with his new contract in hand?

Blake Murphy: Quite well, thank you. Lowry had a pretty shaky October as he tried to figure out his new place in the offense (he’s touching the ball much less and running fewer pick-and-rolls), shooting poorly from outside and drawing next to no fouls, two areas that usually make him quite efficient. Since the calendar turned to November, he’s been regular old KLOE – he’s averaging 17.8 points on 68.5-percent true-shooting, dishing 7.1 assists, and grabbing 6.5 rebounds, all while the team keeps his minutes as low as they’ve been in years. He’s probably more of an opportunity defender than a lock-down guy right now, but his rebounding percentage is in double-digits for the season (historic for a guard his size), and he’s drawn more charges (17) than a lot of entire teams have. All of this is to say, he’s been awesome. Pick your metric for further evidence.

Joe Mullinax: Lowry and Derozan get the majority of the attention, but who on this Toronto team is underappreciated, in your eyes?

Blake Murphy: The real answer is probably Dwane Casey, but nobody really likes reading about coaches, so I’ll say C.J. Miles. Lowry and DeRozan get the press, and everyone has been raving about how well the young players (Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl, mostly) have stepped into bigger roles. Miles has been a terrific find, too, and it’s the spacing he provides on offense that lets the all-bench unit Casey’s been rolling with survive at that end of the floor. He’s quickly emerged as a leader, too, essentially quarterbacking a very inexperienced second unit as the Veteran Presents. Miles is shooting 39.3 percent on 12.2 threes per-36 minutes, and there’s a good case the former could go higher if he sees more time with the stars and in the corners (most of his threes have been above the break, with lesser shooters stationed in the corners). And yes, that 3FGA/36 number could be infinity and I’d be okay with it.

Joe Mullinax: Who on this struggling Memphis roster worries you most heading in to tonight’s game whose name isn’t Gasol or Evans?

Blake Murphy: I’m not sure if other fanbases know this, but my son William Lou created what’s called The Gerald Henderson Award, which he gives out on his podcast after every game. Basically, the Raptors are so well known for “Random Player X on Struggling Team Y” going off on them, there’s a nightly nod to one. The easy answer with Memphis is Dillon Brooks, because there’s nothing that would grate fans more than an unheralded Canadian gem falling through the cracks to another team and then killing the Raptors. I’m a really big fan of Brooks’ potential as a role player, so while I’ll note the bias here, he’s my pick.

Joe Mullinax: Why is Toronto so mediocre on the road, and how can the Grizzlies take advantage and beat the Raptors tonight?

Blake Murphy: I think part of their 6-6 record on the road had to do with early circumstance – they went 3-3 on a very tough west-coast trip to open the season, and while two of the losses were frustrating (close ones against the Spurs and Warriors), only one (Nuggets) was a “bad” loss. Then they took two of three on a Bos-Hou-NO four-day trip, which is more than fine. It’s really just the back-to-back awful showings in New York and Indiana two weeks back that stand out, and those were largely the Raptors beating themselves by coming out complacent and entitled for long stretches. That’s not exactly something Memphis can force on the Raptors, so they’ll need to focus on Toronto’s areas of relative weakness – the boards and transition defense. The Raptors are a little below average rebounding at each end, and teams have really been able to run out on them off of misses and turnovers, getting to the rim or spraying to transition shooters. I know Memphis isn’t build for speed or high-volume 3-point shooting, but that’s the way to catch Toronto inattentive or frustrated.

Raptors updates
Everything is as it’s recently been for the Raptors, who will probably be without Delon Wright and Lucas Nogueira a few games more but hopefully not too long. Wright is already shooting threes and building his cardio back up, and Nogueira has progressed to using the stationary bike. Where each fits in the rotation when healthy isn’t immediately clear since nobody has struggled in their absence, but there will surely be opportunities for both at some point, particularly Wright. There’s still no timeline for either, though Wright’s been out more than three weeks on a one-month estimate and could conceivably be back on this trip. The team, of course, will take all precautions with the long-view in mind and no immediate need for either to rush back.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Grizzlies updates
The Grizzlies are a little banged up at the moment, missing a few key pieces. The team is still taking things cautiously with injured point guard Mike Conley, which as led to a lot of time without a true point guard on the floor. Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans sort of split the duties with the starters, with a lot of offense running through Marc Gasol, and Mario Chalmers and Andrew Harrison factor in off the bench. It makes the team fairly big and switchy in the backcourt, but there’s not a real two-way point guard in the bunch. Kyle Lowry likes playing against big opposing guards, so this should be a fun one for him. Obviously, the defensive focus has to be on Gasol, as a playmaker, a shooter, and a driver.

“I don’t know if you’re going to deny him touches. You’ve got to make sure you guard him,” Casey said. “Our bigs’ one-on-one defense, whether it’s in the post or on the perimeter, versus him, they have to have a plan of how you want to approach him, how you want to guard him. He’s one of the best big men in the league, inside and outside.”

Wayne Selden is also out with a multi-week quad injury, a tough blow on the wing given how much potential Selden has flashed. Brandan Wright has also been ruled out with a groin injury, which means backup center minutes fall to Deyonta Davis, giving some Raptors fans who prefered him to Jakob Poeltl before he slid wildly on draft night an extended look.

PG: Ben McLemore, Mario Chalmers, Andrew Harrison
SG: Tyreke Evans, James Ennis
SF: Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons
PF: JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin
C: Marc Gasol, Deyonta Davis
OUT: Mike Conley, Wayne Selden, Brandan Wright
TBD: None
Memphis: Vince Hunter, Kobi Simmons, Ivan Rabb

The line
The Raptors are 5.5-point favorites with a 202 over-under.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast – Flying solo

Due to technical difficulties, fill-in host William Lou is forced to do a solo podcast answering your questions. I will be back next well and it will be a lot better.

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Raptors Mailbag: The kids are fun and people want to talk about them

It’s been a little while since the last one, and I have some time to kill while visiting family out of town, so I figured a smaller #RRMailbag to pass the time was in order. In retrospect, I really should have branded this The Blake Murphy Open Challenge. Anyway. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

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.

This is a fun question because in researching context for an answer, I remembered that Tyler Hansbrough dropped a 20-piece for the Raptors not that long ago. Here are the number of players to score 20-plus in recent seasons for the team:

2013-14: 9
2014-15: 8
2015-16: 7
2016-17: 8

So let’s say seven is a reasonable baseline, since last year’s eight and 2013-14’s nine were both made possible in part by mid-season trades that sent out and brought back 20-point scorers. Already this year, though, six Raptors have scored 20 points – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, and Pascal Siakam. Entering the season, you probably would have guessed the first five.

I think on top of those names, Norman Powell is a pretty safe bet to have a 20-point night. He’s had eight over the past two seasons and his usage rate has jumped from 18.1 to 23.1 percent since his move to the bench, and he’s scored between 15 and 19 five times already. I’m also going to give Jakob Poeltl the nod here, even though he doesn’t fit the profile of a 20-point scorer as a low-usage option. He’s shooting 70 percent overall and averaging 13.3 points in his last four games, and while the team’s not going to funnel touches his way just because, I think he could accidentally get 20 on rim-runs and put-backs at some point, particularly if there’s another stretch where Jonas Valanciunas misses time.

And that’s it. I’m keeping the number at eight. No disrespect to OG Anunoby, who’s already had 16 points twice, but that feels like something close to his cap in this offense unless there’s a blowout (he went 3/4 and 4/5 on threes in those two games). Eight out of 14 players on the roster hitting 20 points in a season is pretty impressive, especially since you could probably make a case for Anunoby and Fred VanVleet (if Lowry were to go down, in particular), too.

Somebody not currently on the roster. Five years is just so far out to project, that I think the safe bet is just taking the field. Let’s look at a quick snapshot:

Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas: Probably not here. Ibaka won’t be in a place where it makes sense to re-sign him for a big role when his current deal is up, and I can’t imagine Valanciunas wanting to stick around once his current deal is out.

Kyle Lowry: He hasn’t really slowed down at age 31, but he’ll be 36 then. If he’s leading the team in scoring, he’s either a miracle of science or things have gone awry.

DeMar DeRozan: Probably has the best chance of anyone since age 33 is still at the back end of prime scoring years. Still, he’ll be on his next contract at that point, so not only would DeRozan need to maintain his scoring ability, he’d also have to want to stay to transition the team into the next era, and the team would have to be built such that he’s still an offensive focal point.

OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam: The highest all-around upsides of the young core, each has been much better offensively than even robust expectations would have pegged them to be at this point. There would still need to be a ton of development from either to become a top offensive weapon instead of a complementary one. It’s tough to get against these guys, though.

Norman Powell: The team’s bet on him with his autumn extension suggests they see him as a long-term piece, and Powell’s attacking ability is unquestioned. If the Raptors were in the midst of transitioning to a new, younger core and taking a step back in the interim, Powell could possibly slide into that top-option void. He hasn’t shown a ton of growth yet this year, though, and the fact that he’ll be the team’s best trade chip (when factoring in player value and salary matching) this summer kind of looms over things.

Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl: Really nice pieces with games probably not built to be the top option on a team. Again, if the team is rebuilding five years from now, any veteran holdovers could fill that top-scorer role, and each looks to be a part of the near-term future plans, it would just require the player to take a big step forward and the team construct to shift.

Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lucas Nogueira: All nice pieces, but if any become a consistent 20-point scorer, it’s a heck of a player development story.

The field: Free agency, a trade for a younger core piece, a draft pick that hits…A lot can happen in five years.

Bruno Caboclo is off to an up-and-down start to his fourth G League season. He came out of the gate really hot, and his shooting has dropped off significantly over the last six games or so. What’s encouraging is that his offensive inconsistency hasn’t really bled into his defense, and he’s doing a much better job of mentally fighting through bumps without letting it sink his game entirely. For the season, his scoring volume is way up and he’s posting the best true-shooting percentage of his career on his highest usage since Fort Wayne, his rebound- and steal-percentages are way up and his turnovers down, and he has the second-best net rating on a team that really shouldn’t be the No. 3 defense in the league, on paper. He’s still not there, but there are signs he’s at least nudging toward G League All-Star level.

The best performance outside of Caboclo so far probably belongs to Jerry Stackhouse. There was some curiosity as to whether Stackhouse’s team would be able to repeat last year’s success with a much less experienced roster (last year’s team was loaded, to be frank), and while they’re off to a shaky start in terms of record, he’s really getting a lot out of these guys defensively. They lost Edy Tavares after one game, have had two players gone for FIBA qualifying, rolled with an injury-shortened roster most of the season, and haven’t had as much of their two-way players as hoped, and they’re still No. 3 in defensive efficiency. That’s really encouraging, both for Stackhouse’s coaching resume and for what this team could look like once they get some roster continuity with everyone back healthy (they’ve yet to play a single #FullSquad game).

Outside of those two, I think everyone knows Lorenzo Brown and Alfonzo McKinnie are beyond the G League at this point, and are just waiting for their NBA opportunity. Malcolm Miller is still ramping things up after offseason ankle surgery, and while he hasn’t shot the ball well in limited action, his game pops as much as promised when he’s on the floor. Shevon Thompson, Davion Berry, Kennedy Meeks, and Kaza Keane have all looked good, as well, and are worth keeping an eye on as the sample grows and their roles stabilize, though none are on the call-up radar as things currently stand.

Not crazy, no. I think we all have biases like this. #JVHive, or however Jonas Valanciunas fans identify, are surely guilty of overlooking some of his limitations or the externalities of forcing additional touches into the post, just like his detractors undervalue defensive rebounding and the value of screens and roll-threats. Valanciunas is still a good player – an elite rebounder, a strong finisher, a great screen-setter, and a decent post defender – he’s just also a very poor pick-and-roll defender and hasn’t quite fit as well in the new offense as it looked prior to his injury. At this point, he’s very much a known commodity and someone who will clearly do better in some matchups than others.

It happens with a lot of players – the Jakob Poeltl hype might need to come down to earth a bit, for example, and as a fanbase we probably need to do a better job of recognizing that OG Anunoby is a very good defender in only some situations right now. Both are young and exciting players beating expectations early, so it’s easy to get carried away (this happened with Norman Powell as a rookie, too, when there were frequent Russell Westbrook comparisons in the comments. I think psychologically, we’re probably wired to focus on the positives more than the negatives when faced with noisy information we can’t efficiently summarize. Positives are much more gratifying than negatives.

So no, you’re not crazy. Valanciunas is a useful piece, but a limited one. And if it’s not Valanciunas, there are probably some flaws somebody else is overlooking with their favorite player.

This is an old question I never got around to asking that I still think is pretty interesting. Last year, the Raptors toyed with super-sized lineups out of necessity, starting Lucas Nogueira at power forward for a handful of games and occasionally using Jakob Poeltl with another center. It made sense given the team’s thinned out forward rotation, and it actually worked pretty well in a matchup-dependent sample (plus-7 net rating in 273 minutes with two of the three centers on). It’s something I don’t think Dwane Casey would hesitate to go back to if the opponent allowed for it, as Nogueira and Poeltl can both do enough at each end to, on paper, play with another center so long as an opponent can’t go five-out. It’s not quite as big as Nathan is asking about (he mentioned Serge Ibaka at the three in a follow-up tweet, which shouldn’t ever happen), but the team’s played Pascal Siakam at small forward for brief stretches, too.

It’s definitely there as an option. With the team’s young forwards doing better than expected right out of the gate, the necessity probably isn’t there to try it too much, and the team would have to be careful when and against whom they use it. I’m in favor of small minutes of twin-tower looks and the return of Bebe-Poeltl at some point, though.

I don’t really have many qualms about it. I didn’t like the full five-man bench units at first, because you can stagger starters minutes to avoid it, and you won’t play that way in the playoffs, but it’s worked well enough and has really done wonders for keeping the minutes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan down. That’s kind of the only area I’m focused on in terms of a breakdown, and the fact that neither is in the top 40 for minutes has shut me up about it this year. So if nothing else, they’ve accomplished that. I’d be okay with Serge Ibaka’s minutes coming down even further, too.

Elsewhere in the rotation, I’d probably be getting C.J. Miles more minutes alongside starters, because that’s going to be a potent look they need in the playoffs. Miles could probably see his minutes go up, anyway, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping a 30-year-old at 20 minutes when things are going well. The much tougher question is what happens when the team is healthy again, because Delon Wright was playing well enough that he’ll probably get a chance to earn minutes again, and I doubt the team wants to go back to an 11- or 12-man rotation. (Lucas Nogueira, by the way, is probably on the outside looking in unless Jakob Poeltl stumbles while Nogueira’s out. Sigh.)

If there are minutes complaints, they’re probably nit-picky. Which is fine, people are allowed to do that, and everyone has their favorites when 12 players have legitimate cases for playing time.

This question would require me to do a pretty deep data dive that’s beyond the scope of this mailbag. It’s a study all it’s own, and a pretty in-depth one to control for the number of starters on the floor for each team. (Nylon Calculus used to track this, which was very helpful, but I don’t have the programming chops to scrape the necessary play-by-play data.) Anecdotally, they’ve done the bulk of their damage against opposing benches, sometimes with one or two starters still out. That’s kind of what they’ve been – a great bench that beats up on bad benches. They shouldn’t be expected to outperform opposing starting units, and Dwane Casey’s managed the rotations well to put the bench in good positions to succeed.

I recently wrote about how good the bench has been for The Athletic, as well as about how much that will even matter in the playoffs, when rotations shorten and there aren’t opposing all-bench groups to beat up on. Hopefully what you’re looking for with this question is answered in there.

Apparently, Nikola Mirotic is going to be this year’s Kenneth Faried as the trade target I get asked about a ton that just isn’t going to happen. Yes, Mirotic probably wants out of Chicago, doesn’t come with long-term salary (there’s a team option on his deal for next year), and he’s a big who can shoot moderately well (35 percent from three for his career). He’s also an underrated defender when not guarding quicker wings. He’s a nice piece.

But he makes $12.5 million and would be joining a team that already doesn’t have room for all their frontcourt players in the rotation. He’d have to approve the trade, and to make the money work, the Raptors would either have to send out Jonas Valanciunas (which Chicago isn’t doing, given the presence of other centers and their desire to keep the cap sheet clean) or send out four of the younger players (Norman Powell can’t be traded until the summer). Plus, the Raptors are perilously close to the luxury tax, so adding salary would cost them exponentially more than the salary alone, and they have to be careful about flirting with the tax apron (they’d have to sign multiple players to get to the roster minimum if they deal three- or four-for-one).

There would just be so many moving pieces – and surely the need for a third team – to make anything start to work. The Raptors really aren’t in a great position to make anything but a fringe trade between now and the deadline, unless a team is excited to take Valanciunas in a deal (which is probably only true for a handful of teams). (Or Serge Ibaka. Ha.)

Now, in a vacuum where you’re just asking how I’d rank those three players in terms of my willingness to trade them, I probably go Poeltl, Siakam, and then Anunoby. Obviously, parting with any of them would be difficult, but Anunoby is the crown jewel of the young group, and Siakam is a little cheaper with a bit more versatility and upside than Poeltl (who is a great piece, too).

https://twitter.com/Cavsanada/status/938762852546088960

I’m 94-percent sure Justin only asked this question so I’d ask it back to him, since he has the best hair among any Canadian sportswriters not named Alex Wong. Personally, I’m not a big hair guy. I have very thick, coarse, and straight hair, so I can do, like, one thing with it. I get out of the shower and just run a tiny bit of wax through it, and however it ends up, it ends up. (An aside: The first thing my mom said to me when I came home to visit yesterday was, ‘Wow, you need a haircut.’ I’m 31.)

Now if you want to talk beard grooming for those Winnipeg winters, I can help you out.

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.

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The Rudy Gay Trade Assets: Building a Contender

January 30th, 2013 was a day of mixed emotions for Toronto Raptors fans, as Bryan Colangelo contributed to a six player (and one draft pick) trade that brought Rudy Gay (and Hamed Haddadi) to Toronto.  While he was far from perfect, Rudy Gay instantly became the most talented Small Forward the Raptors had had in years and looked to be a significant talent upgrade despite being a less than ideal on-court fit with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

At the time though, the Raptors were just searching for an identity, while aiming to find any type of positive relevance in the NBA.  After all, it had been 4.5 years since their last playoff appearance and they were still saddled with Andrea Bargnani.

Only the most optimistic of Raptors fans fully believed the Rudy Gay acquisition would help nudge the Raptors into the role of quasi-contender, while others were more cautious in their hope, but I doubt any fan would have expected him to contribute to the team’s trajectory in the way he did.

It wasn’t Gay’s arrival in Toronto that prompted four straight playoff appearances, or the four winningest seasons in franchise history, or the team’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals…it was Rudy Gay’s departure that triggered this success.

What truly is amazing though, is that outside of the core of Lowry and DeRozan, you can track the majority of the Raptors’ success directly to the fateful day of December 9th, 2013 when Rudy Gay was sent to Sacramento.  He played just 51 games in a Toronto uniform, with none of them coming in the playoffs, but Gay was a key in creating the Raptors as we know them now.

December 9, 2013:

Toronto Trades to Sacramento: Quincy Acy, Rudy Gay, and Aaron Gray

Sacramento Trades to Toronto: Chuck “Booty” Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Greivis Vasquez

What better place to begin than the trade that started it all.  At the time that Rudy Gay (along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray) was banished to Sacramento the Raptors were floundering with a record of 7-12.  Their .368 winning percentage was good enough for 22nd in the NBA and the conversation was starting to turn quickly towards tanking.

While the Raptors were struggling, on paper they still had enough talent to make the playoffs.  The atrocity of the Eastern Conference also helped, as their record was still good enough for 9th in the conference.  A crappy record and yet knocking on the playoff door.

The Gay trade was supposed to change all of that.  The tank had begun, and other parts were surely to be traded so the tank could gain steam.

Then the Raptors started winning, and a trade featuring Kyle Lowry was rejected by James Dolan.  It would have been a steal for the Knicks but James Dolan let his fear of Masai Ujiri prevent them from pulling the trigger.

Toronto quickly rattled off 7 wins in their first 10 games without Rudy and were fourth in the conference at the start of 2014 with a .500 record.

The Raptors would go on to win a then franchise record 48 games, with a .650 winning percentage after the trade.

Each of the rescued former Kings found a role of some kind with Toronto, and gave the Raptors the type of depth that they had rarely had in the team’s history.  Patrick Patterson had a resurgence and showed to be at least a capable stretch-PF with good defensive instincts, finishing the year with one of the highest net rating son the team (+10); Chuck Hayes provided the kind of grit/sandpaper that had been missing; and Greivis Vasquez gave Toronto a real back-up point guard so they didn’t have to rely on players like D.J. Augustin and Dwight Buycks.

John Salmons meanwhile was a -8 point per 100 possessions in his 21.4 minutes per game in Toronto.  He became the new punching bag for many Raptors fans, but for a team starved for wing play he was almost a necessary evil.

Which brings us to the next step in the Rudy Gay Asset Map…

June 29, 2014:

Toronto Trades to Atlanta: John “Partially Guaranteed” Salmons

Atlanta Trades to Toronto: Lucas Nogueira and Lou Williams

While Salmons was far from valuable on the court, his contract was a perfect asset to own.  Entering the off-season Salmons had a partially guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 season.  While his total contract was worth a total of $7M, he could be paid $1M to simply go away.

Just a few days following the 2014 NBA Draft, Toronto flipped Salmon’s partially guaranteed deal to the Atlanta Hawks for Lou Williams and Bebe Nogueira, the 16th overall pick in 2013.

Atlanta promptly waived Salmons to help open up additional cap-space, and the Raptors took on a young prospect in Bebe and took a gamble on Lou Williams returning to form following his season ending ACL injury.

He did just that.  Lou Williams had a career year in Toronto and walked away with the 6th Man of the Year award in his one season in Toronto.  Lou wasn’t ideal, but the cost-to-benefit ratio was a big win for Toronto.  He even patented the Lou-for-One at the end of each quarter, which was an incredible sight to watch when it actually worked.

Masai then let Lou Williams walk in the summer as a free agent.

The long-term goal of this trade initially was likely to develop Bebe.  While he hasn’t quite lived up to his billing when drafted, he continues to show potential in passing and some elements of defense, and has largely been a net-rating darling when he has received minutes.

Which brings us to stage three of the Rudy Gay Assets…

June 15, 2015:

Toronto Trades to Milwaukee: Greivis Vasquez

Milwaukee Trades to Toronto: Norman Powell (Pick 46 in Draft) and 2017 First Round Pick From Clippers

I’m still trying to understand how Masai made this trade happen on draft night.  Out was Greivis Vasquez with just one year remaining on his contract, and in was pick 46 and a future 2017 First Round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers.

In a vacuum, those picks were not expected to be of great value in the first place.  Second round picks are frequently used as trade filler and a late first round pick is most often a bust or a bench role player.

But outside of a vacuum those two picks yielded much greater value than that.  This trade was finalized late enough on draft night that Toronto did not get to announce the 46th pick on their own, but instead would have told the Bucks who to select.  They picked Norman Powell.

In the matter of months Powell went from being unlikely to make the final roster, to having a partially guaranteed three year contract.  He has since been a spot starter, and most importantly has almost single-handedly changed the momentum in three playoff series.

From 46th pick to a key rotation piece.

To take it a step further, trading Vasquez opened up the salary cap space to sign the unexpectedly available Cory Joseph, who went on to provide capable minutes at back-up point guard and in dual-point guard line-ups beside Lowry.

If not for Vasquez being in Milwaukee, there would have been no chance to sign Joseph.  This trade also gave Toronto the flexibility of having two first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, their own and the Clippers (if we’re being legalistic, the pick was the worse between the Clippers and the Nuggets, but that’s splitting hairs).

Although the trade could have been made on its own, having these two picks created additional flexibility when acquiring Serge Ibaka as the Raptors sent the worse of their 2017 first round picks in the trade.

The Raptors would retain the Clippers’ pick after sending their own to Orlando to complete the Ibaka trade, which meant entering draft night with the 23rd pick.  Falling into their hands was a 19 year old defensive phenom SF/PF that can guard 1-5, has a developing jump shot, and a 7’2 wingspan.

OG Anunoby became the current culmination of the Rudy Gay Trade Assets.  He wasn’t even expected to play until January as he recovered from knee surgery while at Indiana, but he has been getting minutes since opening night and successfully stole the starting Small Forward position while Norman Powell while out injured.

OG has guarded everyone from Kevin Durant, to Kristaps Porzingis, to Bradley Beal and James Harden.  He has already earned Casey’s trust when it comes to guarding the league’s top scorers and is currently shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three (on 2.7 attempts per game).

His passing has been a pleasant surprise, and each game OG is showing glimpses of his high basketball IQ.  Between OG and the rest of the Raptors’ recent draft picks, the Raptors and Masai have managed the difficult task of competing while rebuilding on the fly.

Each year since the Rudy Gay trade the Raptors’ depth players have looked drastically different, and each year they have added a young prospect (or two, or three…) to try and develop into a contributor.  The majority of this depth over the last four years can be traced in direct line to December 9th, 2013.

Now that’s how you use assets.

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The State of the Atlantic

For years, the Raptors have ruled the roost in the Atlantic. Their dominance has been unquestioned and unparalleled, with an intra-division record of 52-16 over the last five years. The Raptors have happily feasted on their weak Atlantic compatriots, as over the last five years, several of the franchises have been pathetic.

Brooklyn won some games a few years ago with their palliative stars Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. (Doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago?) However, they traded their soul for those stars, and like Robert Johnson they have been paying the devil (Danny Ainge, I guess, in this comparison) ever since. Philadelphia has been throwing games like the Chicago Black Sox, but without the punishment (unless you count the league-mandated crucifixion of Sam Hinkie). While New York and Boston have been unimpressive during the last five years, their Atlantic records have somehow approached relevance; this is more a statement on the doldrums of the Atlantic itself than on Knicks and Celtics’ recent talent levels.

But things have changed. The Raptors already have as many Atlantic losses (2) this year as they had total in 2016-17 or 2015-16. Every team in the division at least has hope, not to mention actually useful NBA-caliber players. So let’s rank ‘em. We know where the Raptors stand – at the top, until further notice. Furthermore, the Raptors have skillfully managed their cap sheet so that Kyle Lowry’s 33 M, Serge Ibaka’s 23 M, and Jonas Valanciunas’ 17 M expire at the same time in 2019-20. DeRozan has a player option to potentially end his deal in that year as well. When the Raps turn fully to their youth movement in 2019-20, who will steal the Raps’ crown? Are there any Atlantic threats to the Dinos?

5) Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Nets have been a disaster until quite recently. With the ouster of Billy King, they’ve tried to salvage their dignity (and watchability) by playing modern, up-tempo basketball. Without talent – or the hope of talent influx via their own draft picks after losing seasons – the Nets have struggled to win games. Despite these struggles, the Nets have nonsensically managed to compile some impressive NBA players.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a perfect player for the modern NBA. Drafted 23rd overall in 2015, he was traded to the Nets for Mason Plumlee (and the now-relevant Pat Connaughton(!)). With his quick bounce, incredibly long arms, and activity on both sides of the ball, Hollis-Jefferson has turned into a foundation for the Nets. He can play both forwards spots and even a little center.

Spencer Dinwiddie has proven to be equally impressive this season. After injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, the ball has practically been forced into Dinwiddie’s hands. He’s responded like Jafar to wishes-come-true. Since Russell’s injury on November 11th, Dinwiddie has averaged 16 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, and only 1.3 turnovers. His assist:turnover ratio has been second to only Chris Paul in that time period. He can shoot, play terrific defence, and at 6’6” he has the size to see over the defence and make plays that few points guards can. Plus he’s on my fantasy team. And he retweeted me the other day! Life is good.

The Nets are fun, and they have some fun players. That being said, they don’t look like they have a path forward to being a great team (without their own pick again this year). The Raps should son them at least until 2019-20.

4) New York: Kristaps Porzingis. Respectable NBA writers are… rather high on Porzingis. He is massive – taller than Shaq. He’s 5th in the NBA in scoring, shooting over 40% from range, and 4th in blocked shots. Dude scores more than Kevin Durant and blocks more shots than Anthony Davis. Plus he’s actually winning! He has a positive net rating for the first time in his career, dragging a would-be (read: should-be) tanking team all the way to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Knicks aren’t a threat to the Raptors in the near future, but the Large Adult Son of Every Writer at The Ringer can at least shoot his team into any game in the world. Good thing the Raptors have two guys who can guard him. I ain’t scared until 2019-20.

3) Boston: Kyrie Irving is finally a star, playing well on both sides of the ball. The Celtics have two young wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who could both become top-20 players in the league. Al Horford is a genius, and Brad Stevens is a better coach than Gene Hackman in Hoosiers. Their defense is intimidating. I still take the Raptors over the Celtics for now, but the Celts will receive a huge boost next year in the form of Gordon Hayward, back from injury. And a seemingly-unlimited trove of picks (with an impressive draft resumé).

The Celtics are a strong team already, but the Raptors aren’t scared; both teams are great and competitive. The Raps lost to the Celtics by one on November 12th despite a horrible game from every one of their starters with the exception of Kyle Lowry. The Raptors should be competitive with the Celtics until 2019-20. KLO3 > Bill Simmons.

2) Philadelphia: I wasn’t bullish on the Sixers coming into this season. I didn’t trust the process – and why would I have? The Sixers have done nothing but lose for practically as long as I can remember. Jrue Holiday, Thad Young, and Spencer Hawes? Who? And then the season started, and Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid started doing their thing, and god damn was I wrong.

Ben Simmons is basically John Wall in Karl Malone’s body (or something like that…). He’s as fast as anyone I’ve seen with the ball, and his size allows him to make passes other point guards wouldn’t attempt even if they were living in Groundhog Day. He can’t shoot – and that’s ok! He’s a defensive terror due to his length and anticipation, and he’s already a net positive on both sides of the ball. And he’s not even the best player on his team.

Joel Embiid – if we’re for some reason putting hall of fame players into other hall of fame players’ bodies – is basically Kevin Garnett in young Shaq’s body. He is perhaps second in the league to Lebron James in total number of plays in which he makes gigantic and strong and determined humans look frail and tiny and pathetic. He can do everything, and he’s even funny and loveable. I pray for his health.

The Sixers have built a young core with more potential star power than even the Raptors’ youth squad. If they develop properly, stay healthy, and are able to sign players the caliber of J.J. Redick in upcoming free agencies, the Sixers could feasibly de-throne the Raptors even before Masai Ujiri’s three-year window closes. I already don’t want the Sixers to play the Raps in a playoff series.

Conclusion:

The Atlantic Division has finally become a strong division in the NBA; it has more total wins than any other division in the league! It’s not particularly close, either, as the Atlantic has four more wins than the Northwest (which, bizarrely, has Oklahoma City in last place at the time of this writing). The Raptors may not be leading, but this is a historical outlier (recently) rather than a trend.

When Ujiri’s three-year-plan finishes, the Raps are perfectly positioned to let their youth have the run of the team. The twilight of the Lowry-DeRozan years is perfectly timed to preempt the rise of young studs like Philadelphia’s Simmons and Embiid (hopefully). When other currently-tanking teams like Atlanta, Chicago, and Phoenix begin rising in three years, Ujiri has kept his options open in regards to a difficult decision regarding franchise direction. One thing is certain though: the levels of the Atlantic will only continue to rise.

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Raptors Youth Movement Transitions To Modern Basketball

By Kent Tukeli

Our friends at Canada Sports Betting break down the Raptors transition to a more modern style of basketball, offering insight into the benefits of such a move.

Last year, the Toronto Raptors performed well during the regular season, earning their second straight 50-win season.

Toronto made the Conference Finals in 2016, earning a pair of tough wins over LeBron and the Cavaliers before bowing out to the greatest player of our generation.

In comparison, the 2017 playoffs were a nightmare. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks surprised the NBA by jumping out to a 2-1 first-round lead against the favoured Raptors. The Cavs disrespected Toronto in round two. This included the infamous LeBron perimeter ball-spin in the mug of newly-acquired Serge Ibaka, a perfectly shareable, yet angering, social media moment.

Jason Kidd was able to scare Toronto with Giannis and a group of overperforming youngsters by leveraging a combo of length and three-point shooting, traits which Toronto simply didn’t possess.

Kidd adjusted his lineup by giving Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Greg Monroe and Matthew Dellavedova big minutes. These players mostly dwarfed the size of the Raptors rotation. Giannis ran wild and Khris Middleton showed why he’s an underrated swingman.

Excepting Monroe, these Bucks were able to pop enough threes to force a six-game series. Things were so bad for the Raptors that DeMar DeRozan didn’t hit a single field goal in game three, creating justifiable panic in the North.

The Raptors would eventually bear down and feast on the Bucks inexperience and lack of depth, but Toronto’s offseason revealed a desire to trend towards modern basketball.

Out With The Old, In With The Huge

No disrespect, but the best offseason moves in 2017 were additions by subtraction. GM Masai Ujiri rejigged by jettisoning DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and P.J. Tucker. These players simply weren’t draining threes at an acceptable rate, and most were undersized compared to competing guards and forwards.

Signing C.J. Miles brought joy to Toronto basketball nerds, bringing a legit three-and-D presence in from the rebuilding Pacers. Additional responsibility was assigned to players farmed from the Raptors strong talent development scheme, which combines superb scouting, patience, and the ability to provide playing time via the 905 G League squad down the QEW.

Coach Casey switched up starters over the first quarter of the 2017-18 campaign, giving Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and OG Anunoby the chance to excel.

Most notably, OG has started eight in a row, averaging 21.6 minutes and 7.4 PPG on .605/.435/.750 shooting splits. Anunoby’s complimentary stats aren’t spectacular, but he’s earned a 3.4 plus/minus during his time as a starter.

OG, Pascal, Delon, Norman average more than 18 minutes a game, while Poeltl and VanVleet pitch in more than 15 minutes. Jakob is the only youngster out of the group who doesn’t shoot threes. The rest hit at least 0.5 three-pointers per game.

More importantly, all these players possess length, reach and quickness. This allows the Raptors to play “positionless” basketball, giving coach Casey the ability to deploy switching when needed.

Despite a cohort of youngsters, the Raps are top ten in defensive rating, as per Basketball Reference. The offence hums along as usual, leading the Raptors to the third best net rating in the association, behind the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Even the 21-4 Boston Celtics remain a full point behind the Raptors in net rating, promising a season of continual improvement from Toronto’s youngsters.

Certainly, the Raptors go as far as Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka will take them, but Toronto’s big three will carry a lighter load because of GM Ujiri and coach Casey’s focus on turning to modern basketball in the North.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E8 – 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!

Nick and Barry are back again with a new episode. This week the guys celebrate the 8th consecutive episode, a feat not even they thought was possible. They also give opinions on whats been going on in Raptors news.

They discuss:

– Dwayne Casey

– DeMar and his love life.

– Arnold and Siakam.

– More Euro League life.

– NBA2K18 Update.

– Twitter questions.

All this and a bit more. Thank you so much for listening and we hope you enjoy!

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen below:

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A Top NBA Coach: Time To Finally Give Coach Casey His Due

Dwane Casey is a top ten coach in the NBA. Point, blank, period.

Most dissenters are already counting the coaches in their head as they read this. There’s Gregg Popovich in a tier of his own. You’ve got Kerr, Carlisle, Spoelstra and Stevens who are definitely above Casey. That gives you five coaches. I’ll accept Thibodeau (ugh) and D’Antoni. That’s seven. You know what, let’s accept Budenholzer too, for arguments sake. Eight. Van Gundy? Nope, not now. Stotts? Nah. Clifford? Hell no. Snyder? Too early. Scott Brooks? Dude’s been blessed with Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Wall, Beal and Porter and still doesn’t have a single ring to his name? Next. Well what about Doc Rivers? Maybe three years ago. Doc has just never proven he can do more with less, a test he’s currently failing with the LA Clippers. What about that Tyronn Lue guy? With all due respect, LeBron is the GM, coach and best player on that team. Dan Gilbert might as well give up his seat, too.

You won’t catch me here proclaiming Casey as a top five NBA coach who nobody seems to ever pay attention to. I have him firmly in that 7-10 range, whereas most pundits and fans alike rank him in the 12-15 range.

We’re talking about a man that rarely receives praise from his local fanbase, despite leading the best team in franchise history for a half-decade. When you step out of the bubble, which is hard for many fans to do, you begin to realize that the Raptors organization has been quite lucky to have Casey lead this team. Now, when I bring up just how lucky the Raptors are to both friends and family, they come with the same arguments I’ve been hearing for years:

  • The Raptors success is mainly attributed to their players, rather than Casey.
  • Throughout his Raptors tenure, Casey severely lacks a ‘creativity’ attribute that other coaches in the league have manifested into their systems.
  • Casey isn’t a personable head coach, but rather reserved, stern and sometimes standoffish.
  • Casey constantly mismanages lineups and rotations.
  • Casey cannot develop young NBA prospects like other coaches can.
  • Casey has zero clue of what a modern NBA offense should look like.

Shall I continue?

I’m sure you’ve heard all, if not most of these arguments (unless you were the ones shouting them, of course). Don’t get me wrong, Casey isn’t an infallible head coach  by any stretch and definitely comes with his handful of downfalls. Another thing that’s important is, some of these criticisms are totally conceivable.

Are the players more responsible for franchise success than the coaches? Probably. I mean, common sense tells you in any sport that when your roster is talented, coaches generally have success. There’s one caveat though. Regardless of the sport, coaches must have the ability to simultaneously tailor their system to the players they have at hand while not straying too far from their own foundational principles. It’s a tough task to handle, but in Casey’s case, he’s done an incredible job of doing just that. It first started with his pound the rock principle, where he got his players to buy into the meat-and-potatoes of what his system embodied— toughness, mental fortitude and defensive awareness. Once Casey instilled these central facets, it was about giving leeway into what his stars (Lowry and DeRozan) did best — iso ball (with your general pick and roll/pop concepts). It became a drive-and-kick system that put Toronto at the top of most regular season offensive metrics. Then, the playoffs came around where DC struggled to adapt. In fact, most of Casey’s criticisms stem from his playoff struggles with Toronto. Again, fair criticism.

Let’s keep it straight, Casey’s offensive systems throughout the years have looked bland, chock-full of isolation sets with little to no ball movement. Also, there are times where Casey botches lineup/rotation decisions during games, however that explicit criticism can be applied to just about every NBA head coach. For me, to make a claim of that nature is subjective as there’s no discernable statistic to prove Casey has more mental lapses than your average NBA head coach.

Some of you are reading the third-listed criticism like “Really? You just made that one up”. Believe it or not, I’ve heard this countless times when I find myself defending Casey’s coaching credibility. First off, there’s no way one can make judgement on Casey’s character as a coach when the only time 99.9999% of fans (Hey, Blake) can observe him is when he’s in a 6XL suit on the sidelines arguing with referees. Casey’s known by local media and former/current players alike (minus James Johnson) to be respectful, mindful and sociable in almost all situations. Yes, he may lose his cool at the occasional referee and menacingly glare at his players every so often after a defensive breakdown, but is this really what we’re talking about? Coach is a former NCAA player who thoroughly understands player perspective and easily relates to the group of men he coaches on a nightly basis.

What about Casey not being able to develop his young prospects? Ed Davis has carved out a significant role in the Blazers rotation and is one of the best pure rebounders in the NBA. Valanciunas has been a solid NBA center, somehow staying relevant in a league that’s abandoned the big man. Terrence Ross turned out to be a more-than-useful NBA player (in what turned out to be a horrendous 2012 Draft). Lucas Nogueira was acquired for almost nothing (Sorry, John Salmons) and turned out to be a welcome addition to the Raptors bench rotation. Delon Wright has gradually improved into what is probably one of the better backup PGs in the NBA. Norman Powell is widely recognized as the biggest steal of his respective draft, being selected 46th overall by Milwaukee (technically Ujiri advised this selection, as there was a trade in place involving Greivis Vasquez). Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam have been a breath of fresh air for Toronto, showing significant improvements from Year 1 to Year 2. That one Anunoby kid seems to be doing alright. I mean, people also forget Casey did a fair job with a 22 year-old DeMar DeRozan, too. The only blip on the radar seems to be Bruno Caboclo, who up until now has plenty of success in the NBA G League, but struggles badly in the NBA. So what is it that we’re talking about? Is the ultimate standard we’re setting for Casey fair? Are we subconsciously hoping every player he coaches up becomes an All Star or future Hall of Famer? And again, we can’t play a game of double standards where it’s “He doesn’t develop anyone!”, but when tons of names are mentioned like the ones above, it becomes “Well, they all developed on their own!”. It’s give-and-take with player development at a young stage. It’s unanimous that most of it falls on the player, but the coaching staff in place definitely has an effect on the overall learning curve.

Casey has long been the scapegoat for Raptors fans who pounce on him for his failures and shortcomings, but wholeheartedly neglect his accomplishments and overall success relative to other NBA coaches. According to basketball-reference.com, out of 324 possible head coaches who’ve coached in the National Basketball Association, Dwane Casey falls at 73rd overall in winning percentage (.530 win %). Again, out of three hundred and twenty four possible coaches. Take away those who have coached in less than 500 NBA games (Casey is currently at 619 games coached), and Casey rises from 73rd in winning percentage to 40th — of all time. Despite his hefty accomplishments, DC has been a punchline in Toronto and across the NBA pond with many pointing his playoff struggles. On the other hand, you have Budenholzer (widely believed to be a superior coach to Casey) who won 60 games with the Atlanta Hawks in 2015, but got swept in the Eastern Conference Finals and was literally a John Wall wrist injury away from losing in the EC Semi Finals. Where exactly do we draw the line between Casey and these other coaches? Because if it’s team success, Casey is right there with them.

For a refresher on Casey’s resumé, even before his Raptor days, Rick Carlisle revealed Casey was the mastermind behind the Dallas Mavericks neutralizing LeBron James and the Miami Heat — eventually winning the 2011 NBA Championship due to their stingy defense. In Toronto, DC set the Raptors all-time franchise record for regular season wins not once, twice, but three different times in the 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons. Most home and road wins in a single season? Check and check. Longest winning streak in franchise history. Got it. Most points scored in a season? Casey was coaching. Biggest margin of victory ever? Dwane was there — and still probably yelling. He was the first head coach in Raptors franchise history to win a game 7 in a playoff series. Also, the first to lead his team past the second round of the NBA Playoffs, entering the Eastern Conference Finals and ultimately falling short of the NBA Finals by just two games.

Dwane Casey is well known in NBA circles for his impeccable defensive acumen, but this season has been totally different. Introducing a new offensive system prior to this season while learning from his preceding mistakes, Casey has made momentous strides to becoming a more well-rounded NBA coach. One of Casey’s biggest criticisms — his team’s offense — has abandoned their isolation-heavy past and currently ranks 6th overall in team assists per game. This wasn’t a case of major roster turnover, but rather a total mentality change that Casey and the Raptors stuck to. The offense looks extremely fluid, with both backcourt stars sacrificing scoring for constant ball movement — a team characteristic that translates directly to playoff success.

We saw the year-by-year win total improvements by Casey and the Raptors from 2011 all the way up until 2015. The Raptors went from 23, to 34, to 48, to 49, to 56 wins until finally dropping down to 51 wins in the 2016-2017 season. Casey has put it all on the line with his job previously being in jeopardy — succeeding in what many deemed for him an all-or-nothing season in Toronto. Earlier in the offseason, Masai Ujiri made it public information that he wanted to see clear systematic differences in the Raptors offensive identity. Casey has taken that, like any other challenge he’s endured in Toronto and approached it head-on. The results thus far are exceedingly promising.

It’s about time we start putting some respect on Dwane Casey’s name.

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Raptors Playbook: Horns Double

Raptors Playbook: Horns Double

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors. This week, we’ll focus on Horns Double – a tandem ball screen that is often preceded by a Zipper cut. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

For those who cannot read lips and interpret the signal Dwane Casey repeatedly calls out in the video, this play comes out of Horns formation. The Toronto Raptors call for this play is Horns Double because both of the big men situated at the elbows (a defining characteristic of Horns formation) are used as a double ball screen by the ball handler.

Before that point comes, the ball handler often makes a Zipper cut from the baseline to the perimeter. To ensure that the eventual ball handler is freed up from their defender, they utilize a down screen from one of the big men situated at the free throw line. As can be seen starting at 0:13, the prospective ball handler will pivot back to the middle of the floor upon receiving this entry pass from the wing.

Both big men situated near either end of the free throw will then turn in the same direction (and somewhat illegally join arms) to set a double screen, or tandem ball screen, for the ball handler. One of the screeners will dive to the rim, putting pressure on the lone weak side defender to negotiate positioning between a corner shooter and a rolling big man, while the other pops, ensuring that the ball handler has a free pathway to the rim against the backpedalling screen defender.

As with many pick and roll scenarios, this action creates a pick-your-poison scenario for the defense when executed properly. Most important among these is that it forces the defense to almost always have a slow defender momentarily guard the ball handler before any play-defining decision is to be made. This gives the Raptors’ guards ample time to survey the floor while they probe going towards the paint.

Included within the video compilation are instances when the Raptors opted against using a Zipper cut and decided to have the ball handler walk the ball up the court and simply use the double screen. The slight differences both have merits, as the Zipper cut can be argued as overcomplicating a simple action and wasting precious moments on an action that is not going to directly produce any scoring opportunities. In contrast to that line of thinking is that the Zipper cut forces the eventual on-ball defender to move up the floor before being pushed back down and through a second set of screens. The differences are as minute of a detail that can happen in an NBA set play, but it seems fitting given what this series is about.

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Mid-Morning Coffee – Wed, Dec 6

10 things I saw from Raptors-Suns (Dec. 5) – The Defeated

Confident: OG Anunoby is not afraid to shoot, or at least not anymore. He matched his career-high with 16 points thanks to four corner threes. Anunoby’s shot preparation was solid as he got his feet set, which helps a lot since his regular shooting motion features a lot of moving parts. Anunoby also worked in two dunks, including a putback near the end of the game.

Toronto’s Youth Movement Is Keeping the Raptors From Extinction – The Ringer

Casey is in a tough spot because of the financial commitments Toronto has made to Ibaka and Valanciunas. The Raptors will likely have both players on the hook for the next two seasons, and neither would be comfortable coming off the bench. The Raptors have been trying to trade Valanciunas for a while, but there’s not much of a market for a traditional center owed as much as $50 million, depending on whether he picks up his player option for 2019–20. There’s no urgency to make a move. Toronto is the no. 3 seed in the East, and they have the third-best net rating (plus-7.6) in the league. They could muddle through in the regular season without changing their lineup. However, if they fall behind in a playoff series, Casey will likely bench Valanciunas, just like he did last season.

He could go in a lot of different directions. The Raptors have more talented players than they can use. As Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright sit out with injuries, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet have been able to step right in without missing a beat. Poeltl, the no. 9 pick in the 2016 draft, and VanVleet, an undrafted free agent from Wichita State whom they signed last season, have been plus-minus machines. Poeltl is a skilled 7-footer who can score and make plays out of the pick-and-roll, while VanVleet is a knockdown shooter who moves the ball and always seems to be in the right spot to make a play.

Their most interesting lineup might be putting a perimeter-oriented big man like Pascal Siakam, the no. 27 pick in the 2016 draft, next to Ibaka. At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Siakam can play as a 4 or a small-ball 5, and he’s comfortable in a free-flowing offense. His assist rate (11.3 percent) is higher than Valanciunas and Ibaka’s combined. He’s not a good 3-point shooter, but it wouldn’t be hard to hide him in a lineup with so many other perimeter threats. On defense, he’s capable of switching screens and staying in front of smaller players, and he can block shots and compete on the boards

Raptors stick to gameplan, defeat Suns | Toronto Sun

“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Jakob Poeltl said of the focus on ball movement. “We’ve worked on it a lot and it’s paying off. It’s as easy as that. It’s not like (Lowry) and (DeMar DeRozan) are the only guys scoring on our team. Everybody is scoring. We are moving the ball and it’s fun to play that way.”

The game featured a career-high four three-pointers from rookie OG Anunoby, who finished with career-high tying 16 points, but was probably most impressive locking down Devin Booker, who he held scoreless from the field in the first half.

Booker would leave the game late in the fourth, carried off with what team officials were suggesting was an adductor muscle tear, similar to the one DeRozan had three years ago.

The Raptors also made franchise history in this one holding the Suns without an offensive rebound in the game.

“During the film session before the game and even yesterday we really talked about that,” Poeltl said of the Suns penchant for going hard on the offensive boards. “They really tried to have us dialled in on their bigs and boxing them out. I guess we just got good bounces and good boxouts tonight.”

Raptors beat very bad Suns 126-113 for fourth-straight win – Raptors HQ

In yet another instance of Toronto embracing its new egalitarian approach to offense, seven Raptors hit double figures for the second-straight game. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the way, as they do, with 20 each. Lowry’s first quarter was particularly delightful as he reveled in the pronounced height advantage he had over Suns starter Tyler Ulis, roasting the teeny tiny man boy for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the opening 12 minutes.

With 15 threes on 36 attempts and 30 assists, and a 115.6 offensive rating, the Raptors are well past surprising anyone with their revamped offensive system. It’s become predictable in the best way possible.

What might not have been expected about Tuesday’s game was Serge Ibaka’s performance. Serge this year has been … let’s say … selectively attentive. His activity rises and falls, typically in line with the height of leverage in a given game. So naturally, he played his heart out against the daunting front court matchup of Marquese Chriss and Greg Monroe.

With Dikembe Mutombo in attendance for Giants of Africa Night at the ACC, Ibaka paid the four-time Defensive Player of the Year plenty of tribute, racking up three blocks, one of which inspired this Mutombo shout out.

For the moment, Raptors’ starting wings DeMar DeRozan and OG Anunoby are studies in contrast – The Athletic [subscription]

Anunoby, on the other hand, is giving the Raptors a ton on defence. His one-on-one defence is tremendous. Devin Booker was terrific against Philadelphia on Monday, but Anunoby helped set the tone on him early, mirroring him as he tried to take it to the rim. The Raptors mixed up their coverages, but Booker shot just 4-for-15 before suffering a scary adductor injury late in the game. Anunoby was a big reason why. You cannot half-ass anything against the kid.

Anunoby is still not perfect. He has not been very effective against smaller, more slithery wing players such as Washington’s Bradley Beal and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. He is better against bigger, more physical players.

“Guarding the pick-and-roll. Guarding those actions, pick-and-roll actions, pin-down actions, multiple schemes, you know, pin-down into a pick-and-roll, (knowing) which direction are you sending him: All those things that he’s learning to do,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Stationary, he’s good. Just playing one-on-one in a stationary situation, he’s got that. But learning those multiple actions and then guarding, that is his next level.”

Casey speaks the truth. Anunoby picked up his second foul in the first quarter after trying to split through the pass and the screen, barrelling into T.J. Warren as a result.

By simply playing and staying healthy, Anunoby has already exceeded expectations. However, he has also been a pleasant surprise on offence, mostly staying in his lane. He is now hitting 38 per cent of his three-pointers, most of which are well-selected.

What’s preventing Demar DeRozan from making that leap into a Superstardom like Harden years ago? – RealGM

He’s one of the most skilled players in the League in terms of shotmaking ability, footwork & getting to the line, he’s also a master in the midrange like Kobe. In terms of getting buckets I can’t think of many perimeter players better than him at it.

Yet it feels like something’s missing in his game. His advanced stats aren’t the best & I feel like he should be averaging 29/30 PPG easy with his talent.

Free Association: Has VanVleet earned a permanent spot in the Raptors rotation? – Sportsnet.ca

Donnovan Bennett and J.D. Bunkis deliver a one-stop shop for all your Toronto Raptors talk and take listeners around the NBA with assists from the biggest names — and one-of-a-kind characters — from across the Association.

Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis discuss the strong play of Fred VanVleet during the absence of Delon Wright.

The guys tip off the show by talking about the Raptors’ impressive record and upcoming soft schedule (2:25).

Later they debate who the NBA’s MVP frontrunner is thus far (7:10).

At the end of the podcast the guys discuss the play of VanVleet (12:10) and which Raptors player would be the last man standing in a Royal Rumble (29:25).

Podcast – Young Guy Upside Projections – Locked On Raptors

In Episode 239 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley chats with Joe Wolfond (The Score) about what they think the upside — and downside — of Toronto’s six-most intriguing young guys might be.

Raptors’ Pascal Siakam might never be out of position | Toronto Star

“I’m definitely a basketball player and I can play a lot of positions, especially if I can guard people,” the six-foot-nine Siakam said. “I’m working on my lateral quickness and things like that. That’s just going to help me the way the game’s going right now, just to not have a position, you know? Just play and be able to guard different positions. And as my shot evolves, it’s going to give me more things to do.”

It’s how also how coach Dwane Casey sees it after suggesting Siakam might eventually be able to play against what’s known today as shooting guards or small forwards.

“He was able to guard (Indiana’s) Lance Stephenson on the perimeter and I think that’s his future, to be more of a long, two-three defender as well as a four,” Casey said. “He’s got the skill set and the athleticism to be able to do that.”

Siakam doesn’t possess the shooting skills yet to play too many positions but his defensive skills and athleticism do make him a multi-dimensional defender.

“I don’t want to limit myself to just be an energy guy or whatever it might be,” the 23-year-old Siakam said. “I want to expand my game, and I’m a hard worker, so I believe that all the time I spend in the gym, I might as well use that to develop my game. If you think about it, I started playing basketball late, so I have a lot of things I have to learn, and I’m still learning every day.”

Ujiri explains why he’s inspired to keep doing more with Giants of Africa – Video – TSN

Raptors president Masai Ujiri held another tribute to Nelson Mandela with his Giants of Africa organization and talks about the things and people that inspire him to continue his efforts.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors’ ball movement fuels 4th consecutive victory

Raptors 126, Suns 113 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

When the Toronto Raptors promised a new style of play this season, it sounded great on paper. More ball movement, more threes, and more players involved. The NBA’s move to pace-and-space can be aesthetically pleasing if done right, and after four years of a largely stagnant approach, the promise of change was enticing. Tuesday was another strong example of what that offense can look like in practice when things go well, with turnovers standing as the only impediment to a free-scoring, 126-113 victory over a tired but game Phoenix Suns team.

The Raptors came out with the right energy out of the gate, with OG Anunoby’s active defense setting the tone and the team getting out in transition for a few easy scores. The returning Jay Triano needed to call an early timeout to refocus his young team, and the game balanced out some from there, the two sides going back-and-forth without a ton of concern for defense. Valanciunas was fed steadily but was uncharacteristically shaky finishing, missing is his first five shots, while the rest of the starters were 11-of-17 in the quarter. (Valanciunas wouldn’t factor in much later; he did a nice job on Greg Monroe defensively.) That included a pair of Anunoby triples and some efficient scoring from the stars, who also combined for six assists in the frame, finding the right balance between attacking and facilitating against an overmatched defense.

The bench brought their customary spark, building a double-digitedge in an instant thanks to some great second-effort from Pascal Siakam and a pair of threes from Kyle Lowry. The chemistry between Siakam and Jakob Poeltl continues to be a lot of fun, and they worked a nifty post give-and-go for a Poeltl mid-range jumper. Lowry drew his league-leading 16th charge before the Raptors shifted to the full Bench Mob Or Whatever We’re Calling Them Today, and that group closed out the final two minutes of the quarter to a draw to open up a 36-23 lead after one.

That unit had a bit of a tough time scoring out of the gate, maintaining the lead largely by forcing a number of Suns turnovers. One such turnover saw Siakam throw C.J. Miles an outlet pass far enough ahead that only Siakam could have gotten to it. No matter, as the final tally over their five-minute stretch was a raucous 10-8 deficit. It did give the Suns some juice, and back-to-back Alex Len rim-runs caused a mini-run the Raptors snuffed out fairly quickly with starters staggering back in.

Lowry continued his hot first half and Miles kicked in a pair of threes – those two are responsible for the Popeye’s promotion dying – and Poeltl briefly provided a stabilizing force on defense until his night went a little awry at that end. Toronto couldn’t quite pull away to a comfortable level, as Jared Dudley sparked the Suns’ offense with some heady quarterbacking. Serge Ibaka blocked Dudley to temporarily put an end to that and send DeMar DeRozan the other way, but 2015 OVO Bounce standout Mike James threw down a transition dunk in response, the Raptors ran into some foul and turnover trouble, and the Suns pulled within nine at the break. The Raptors losing a second quarter wasn’t believed to be possible prior to this, so at least it was a part of scientific discovery.

Coming out of the half, Raptors assistant Rex Kalamian told the broadcast that the Raptors would stick to a strategy that turned Devin Booker into a playmaker to some degree (he was 0-of-7 with four assists), and Booker responded promptly with his first three of the night. Anunoby, meanwhile, had the full experience in the first two minutes, drawing an offensive foul on a Warren leg-kick, committing a travel, and then hitting his third three of the night. The defense settled in with Lowry’s 17th (!) drawn charge of the year and another big block from Ibaka, Anunoby hit another three, and frustration started to set in for the Suns, who picked up their second, third, and fourth technicals in short order (Warren was ejected).

“I thought he played excellent tonight,” head coach Dwane Casey said of Anunoby after the game. “Didn’t try to do too much. Games like tonight guys try to do too much. He didn’t. He took what the game gave him. He took the shots – what was he, four of five from three? – and the ball just seems to find guys like that.”

A rotation tweak offered a very brief look at Miles with the starters, just long enough for one Lowry step-back before Poeltl re-entered. The Poeltl Power Minute then took place, with the sophomore going foul-nice finish-foul, a tradition unlike any other. Toronto lost their edge a little as the quarter wore on, once again letting Phoenix hang around thanks to continued turnover issues and too many Suns trips to the line. Josh Jackson put Poeltl on skates for a dump-off to Len, and it seemed to wake Toronto back up – Poeltl responded with an offensive rebound for an and-one and then a filthy Euro-step, and the lead stretched to 18 entering the fourth. Booker would end up with 19 points

“We tried to mix it up. We tried to mix up the blitzes, we tried to mix up the switches, matchups,” Casey said. “You don’t stop a young man like that, I thought we just made him work for what he got.”

Phoenix tried to pick up full-court to introduce some chaos from there, and the frenetic play a near-20-point game introduces played to their favor for a bit. Some Raptors sloppiness saw the lead come down to 10, a rare stretch of ineffectiveness for the all-bench group. (And yes, that was a strong third to follow a bad second and then the bench giving up some of the lead. Bizarro Raptors, these.) The Raptors also found themselves in the penalty with eight minutes to go, the kind of board setup that lends itself to nonsensical comebacks.

Casey went back to some starters looking to reassert an early ending, and then shifted small with Ibaka at center and two point guards on the floor, Fred VanVleet essentially in Valanciunas’ spot. VanVleet scored a pair of quick buckets to make Casey look wise for the call, and a Lowry transition three felt like a dagger, back up 14 with five minutes to play.

The Lowry three also gave DeRozan eight assists for the third time this year, marking the first time he and Lowry each had eight or more in the same game this season. They finished with a combined 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 18 assists while taking just 29 field-goal attempts, a regular update in this space that continues to impress. The Raptors as a team assisted on 68 percent of their field goals, and while they committed 18 turnovers it’s encouraging that they’ve already reached 30 assists three times this year, something they accomplished just three times in total over the last four years.

Just a willingness and spacing, most of all understanding,” Casey said. “That’s what we emphasized all through training camp and the guys have done a great job of buying into that. Looking for their teammates, trusting their teammates and now it’s on their teammates once they catch it to make good decisions.”

The rest of the game played out as most double-digit-but-not-quite-a-blowout games do, the Suns attempting to get it to a manageable margin and the Raptors keeping them at arm’s length. There was a scary moment late, with Booker falling to the ground looking frozen and ultimately needing to be carried off the court (carried, not supported) by teammates. That sapped most of the remaining energy from the crowd and the Suns, and Anunoby punctuated it with a put-back dunk late. That cleared the way for the bench to empty, and the Raptors closed out from there.

It wasn’t the most seamless of endings, to be sure. They could have finished things earlier, handed things over to the bench sooner. Still, Lowry and DeRozan played modest minutes, and there were plenty of positives to draw from. Controlling for pace, the defensive performance wasn’t nearly as bad as the 113 points suggests, working out to 103.7 per-100 possessions, and even that number is fueled heavily by the 24 points Phoenix scored off of turnovers. In the halfcourt, the Raptors locked things down, and they allowed zero second chances on the night. That’s a little random (and the box score stats had some disagreement on the exact number). It also speaks to an attention to detail that was present whenever the defense could get set.

The areas to clean up can remain a focus over the coming four-game road-trip, each game coming against struggling opponents. Caveats will apply given the competition and dull stretches need to be ironed out, naturally. The Raptors have won four in a row and have a real chance to make some noise in the win column the next month, a positive goal so long as the wins keep coming in comfortable, sustainable fashion.

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Raptors-Suns Reaction Podcast – Routine win

Sam Holako and Vivek Jacob recap the Toronto Raptors’ routine win over the Phoenix Suns.

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Quick Reaction: Suns 113, Raptors 126

Phoenix 113 Final
Box Score
126 Toronto

A
S. Ibaka33 MIN, 19 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 8-13 FG, 2-5 3FG, 1-1 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 10 +/-

FINGER WAVE ALERT! Ibaka may have still been a bit of a ball-stopper (just one assist) but it hardly matters when you make 8 of 13 field goals and block three shots (four if we count that ridiculous goaltending call). This is the Ibaka the Raptors need every single night. Aggressive on both ends of the floor and confident taking open looks instead of dribbling the air out of the ball.

A
O. Anunoby24 MIN, 16 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 4-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 13 +/-

Are we having fun yet? OG was awesome tonight on both ends of the floor. He spent considerable time guarding Booker in the first half and finished four of five from downtown! The more confident he gets the more he’s going to shoot. That may be bad news for Norman Powell (16 minutes tonight) but it’s good news for the Raptors. He’s just so damn strong.

C
J. Valanciunas18 MIN, 4 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 0-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 8 +/-

GAHHHHH – The frustration is just so very real. When JV doesn’t score (he didn’t make a field goal tonight!) he really doesn’t do much else and it’s so painful to watch. He was a ghost again in the second half and while the rebounding was strong early on he looked horrifically slow. His stock is trending in the wrong direction almost every single game.

A
K. Lowry35 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 7-12 FG, 5-10 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 24 +/-

KLOE has officially arrived and it’s so nice to see. When Lowry is at the top of his game he makes this team so much better. He was red-hot from downtown and was barking at everyone, including his teammates. He chewed out JV for not going straight up with the ball on one occasion and was actively seeking out his own shot. This is the Lowry the Raptors need.

A
D. DeRozan34 MIN, 20 PTS, 7 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL, 7-17 FG, 0-1 3FG, 6-7 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 17 +/-

Three rebounds and two assists shy of a triple double is incredible for DeRozan. His shot wasn’t falling with as much consistency as usual, and the calls weren’t going his way. So what did he decide to do? Pass. It worked out extremely well. Oh, we also got several “ghost high-five sightings” thanks to the techs the Suns wrapped up and that’s always a good time.

A-
J. Poeltl23 MIN, 13 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 0-0 3FG, 3-3 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Poeltl will not be stopped. He was awesome off the bench…with the exception of his typical fouls, and he’s become a player you can trust every single time. His ability to catch and finish at the rim is still somehow underrated. He made all three of his shots from the line too!

A
F. VanVleet21 MIN, 13 PTS, 0 REB, 6 AST, 0 STL, 4-10 FG, 1-5 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 0 +/-

It’s going to be interesting to see what Casey and the rest of the coaching staff do with FVV once Wright gets healthy. He’s just been so damn good in his new role as number one back-up PG. He’s so unafraid of the responsibility and it’s damn refreshing for a team that lacks aggression off the bench sometimes.

A-
C. Miles18 MIN, 15 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-7 3FG, 4-5 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-

The Raptors shot a ton of threes tonight and Miles was a big part of that. He finished three of seven but it was his confidence that was the most impressive. 15 points in 18 minutes is exactly the type of production the Raptors were banking on when they singed Miles in the offseason.

D+
N. Powell16 MIN, 4 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -14 +/-

Yikes. Powell may be trying to do too much with OG taking over in his spit, but either way this was one of the worst games of his season. He was the only Raptor to finish with a negative rating (-14!!!) and missed both his attempts from three. He also coughed up the rock four times in an effort to do a little too much on the offensive end.

B-
P. Siakam15 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 3 +/-

Siakam was his usual bundle of energy, but it didn’t translate to a ton of success. He still grabbed six boards in limited minutes and didn’t try to force too many shots.

A-
Dwane Casey

This was a cakewalk for Casey from the opening tip, but he still managed everyone’s minutes well and repeatedly got the matchups he wanted.

Things We Saw

  1. Lowry chewing out JV to just go up with the damn ball was necessary and refreshing. This is the type of leadership we expect from Lowry and the type of guidance JV clearly needs.
  2. I feel bad enough for the Suns as it is..but Booker had to be literally carried off the court by his teammates and if he has a significant injury that’s just downright unfair. Prayers up for Booker tonight.
  3. DEROZAN GHOST HANDSHAKES WILL NEVER GET OLD
  4. Jay Triano pacing the ACC was….unsettling?
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Pre-game news & notes: Poeltl feeling better, Monroe starts for Suns

The Toronto Raptors are good, and they’re incredibly well-rested. The Phoenix Suns are much less good, and they couldn’t come in more fatigued. Tuesday night’s game at the Air Canada Centre would, on paper and based on all research about rest advantages in basketball, seem like a terrific opportunity for the Raptors to extend their winning streak to four and continue building some positive momentum with both their starting lineup and second unit.

It’s natural, at this point, to be worried about such games. on an 82-game schedule, teams can over- and under-perform with some regularity, and the Raptors have been perceived to play down to their competition some the last few seasons. Even as the league’s lone undefeated teams against sub-.500 competition, the Raptors are trying to stay vigilant when it comes to giving the matchup the respect it deserves, lest it look like the dreaded trap game in retrospect.

“I think it’s both ways, actually. ‘Cause when you’re on the road for a long trip and it’s the last game, sometimes guys just trying to get home to their family, they’re tired from being on the road. At the same time, you’re kinda coming in expecting them to be tired, and they might not be,” C.J. Miles said at shootaround. “When you’ve got a young team that’s doing it, especially, you call ’em almost trap games in the NBA. All they’re trying to do is prove themselves. That’s all they’re doing, is trying to prove themselves and show everybody that they’re supposed to be here and they have a chance to be good in the future. And that’s what we’ve gotta be able to know and show: That we are here, this is what we do right now.”

Toronto has shown it can take care of their business in proper fashion. They have seven double-digit wins, five or six of which contained garbage time and two of which were immense blowouts. They’ve also looked much less convincing at times, so proper caution is warranted before shutting off the TV in a 12-point game tonight. This should be a win, and it would be great to see the Raptors heed Miles’ rally cry and put a tired Phoenix team away early.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Some minor updates out of shootaround: Jakob Poeltl, who missed practice Monday due to illness, was at shootaround and will play. Lucas Nogueira was doing some work on the exercise bike as he makes his way back from a tear in his calf. Delon Wright has progressed to shooting, if you missed that update earlier.

In other words, everything should look as it did when the Raptors last played, which feels like it was about three weeks ago at this point. It seems as if Dwane Casey has settled on a 10-man rotation with Wright and Nogueira out, something he can do comfortably with the amount of rest the team’s had of late. If the Raptors take care of their business, the rotation should expand further, with Lorenzo Brown and Alfonzo McKinnie seeing their second games of the day.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Suns updates
Despite playing their sixth game in 10 days, the Suns aren’t as banged up as that trip might suggest. To be clear, they’re down three players longer-term in Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, and Alan Williams, but there’s been only one casualty of the current stretch. That would be Alex Len, who’s a game-time decision here with an ankle sprain. He’s been rotating in and out of the center rotation over the last two weeks, and if he can’t go here, Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe would absorb more minutes.

Phoenix will roll with mostly the same starters that beat Philadelphia on Monday. That means less Mike James and more Tyler Ulis, a matchup Kyle Lowry can make hay in (Ulis is a nice piece but small even by the standards of Toronto point guards). They’ll start Monroe rather than Chandler opposite Jonas Valanciunas, however, which is probably to the Raptors’ advantage. The bigger concern is the standard starters, namely Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, both of whom can score in a hurry and will probably draw OG Anunoby and DeMar DeRozan, respectively.

“It’s going to be a big assignment for him (Anunoby), for Norm, for DeMar, all of our wing players,” Casey said before the game. “OG is learning to guard dynamic players like this, that use the pick-and-roll. You used to have the power threes but those guys, Carmelo moved out, and we haven’t seen James yet from Cleveland. So his matchups are kinda guys that are like Booker. It’s gonna be interesting to see. I know he had Beal earlier and did a decent job, as well as you could with a young player on him, and this’ll be another learning experience.”

UPDATE: Len said he’ll play, which probably means Chandler rotates out of the three-man group with a DNP-Rest, if recent patterns hold.

PG: Tyler Ulis, Mike James
SG: Devin Booker, Troy Daniels
SF: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson
PF: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley
C: Greg Monroe, Alex Len, Tyson Chandler
OUT: Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, Alan Williams
TBD: None
Northern Arizona: Alec Peters, Derrick Jones Jr.

Assorted

The line
The Raptors have hovered around 13.5- or 14-point favorites most of the day. The over-under has come down from 224.5 to 223.

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Raptors 905 drop finals rematch to Vipers in front of record ACC crowd

Raptors 905 109, Rio Grande Valley Vipers 117 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), Chinanu Onuaku, Tyler Lydon [via Nuggets] (Vipers)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller [inj], Lorenzo Brown (905), Monte Morris [via Nuggets] (Vipers)

When a team finds itself sliding a little bit, there are opponents and circumstances that can be a welcome change. The chance for Raptors 905 to play in front of a record crowd at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday morning provided half of that, and the visiting Rio Grande Valley Vipers, winners of 10 straight coming in, made sure the slump-busting formula came up a little short.

The Vipers proved too tall a task for the 905 in this one, pulling ahead big early on and then staying just far enough away to prevent a spirited comeback attempt in the second half. While a loss to a streaking opponent isn’t exactly what the 905 were looking for here, there were decidedly some positives for them to move forward pushing off from.

It looked more dire than that at first. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse didn’t want to let anything build early on, calling a quick timeout after a few shaky offensive possessions saw the 905 behind 4-0.

“I think just our effort to start the game. Focus, attention,” he said. “Come right out, had to call a timeout early because we got a straight-line drive to the basket, just watching them play.”

That’s obviously a quick talking over, but it seemed to help. Alfonzo McKinnie shook off a poor start with a put-back to get Toronto on the board, Lorenzo Brown was able to get into the defense, and a spicy high-low feed from Bruno Caboclo to Shevon Thompson pulled the 905 even halfway through the quarter. The home side continued looking to the post to try to take advantage of a four-around-one Vipers approach, feeding Kennedy Meeks and grabbing a few early offensive rebounds, though Rio Grande Valley’s floor spacing proved challenging at the other end.

Even with middling outside shooting for Rio, the league’s top offense managed 27 points in the quarter against the league’s No. 3 defense. Stackhouse knew the task was tall coming in, and he probably wasn’t happy with a Vipers run against his bench and first-quarter production roughly to the tune of 117 points per-100 possessions. Meeks had a terrific tip-in of an air-ball to beat the shot clock late to help keep the gap in single-digits, and if the crowd was ever going to be able to provide the 905 with a boost, their noise level for free t-shirts between quarters would have done it.

Davion Berry came out with a three to try to set a tone, only for Isaiah Hartenstein to hit right back with one, and then block Meeks. A Kethan Savage turnover produced a high-flying Tyler Lydon dunk in transition right after, and R.J. Hunter followed it up with a late-clock three he had little business making, pushing Rio ahead by 14. There was no sense of panic for the 905, which is encouraging, and the starters filtering back in helped get a bit of an offensive rhythm going. McKinnie had a couple of nice takes sprinkled around Brown and Thompson baskets, most of the work coming in semi-transition after producing stops, always a key for this team’s scoring potential.

The push-back was short-lived. The energetic response was there, but the Vipers’ offense can be dispiriting, and they pushed to 55-percent shooting by halftime. That was the major factor in their 66-45 lead at the break, led by 16 from Danuel House and 15 from Hunter. The 905 shot 44 percent in the half, which is fine by their standards, and it would finish at 49 percent. The 2-of-13 mark from outside wasn’t nearly enough, though, even with Brown and McKinnie playing well offensively.

“We did some good things offensively today,” Stackhouse said “Good to see our field-goal percentage get up to a really respectable number. We’re making shots. Still would like to get the 3-ball going a little better. With a team like that, that thrives on shooting threes, you’ve gotta find a way to make a few.

Caboclo and McKinnie helped the 3-point mark out of the tunnel in the third, Brown continued to use his smooth dribble-penetration to strong effect, and a few forced turnovers conspired to make sure it would be a game for the second half rather than a pull-away blowout. All told, it was a 15-4 run that could have been even wider had Caboclo not truck-sticked Lydon on a drive (this is a positive, even with an offensive foul call). Things became more of a standard back-and-forth from there, the 905 fighting to cut further into the deficit and fueled in large part by Caboclo, McKinnie, and Brown, who combined for 33 in the quarter.

“Obviously, our talent pool was high today,” Stackhouse said. “I thought the effort in the second half was great. Everybody came in, really played hard, worked their minutes hard. Some real positives from the second half.”

That set up a fourth with the 905 down 13 heading in, the Vipers having given themselves a little extra cushion late in the third. As with most of the third, the fourth saw the 905 chip away and look as if they were getting over a hump, only for the Vipers to score in a hurry and put them back at arm’s length. If there was a primary edge for the 905, it came on the offensive glass, which combined with Meeks and Thompson gave the 905 a major advantage in the paint while Rio shot jumpers. Brown’s slicing to the rim helped there, too. Twos are less than three, became the issue, and the Vipers seemed okay with conceding some space in the paint if it means keeping the 905 off the free-throw line and keeping Brown from spraying to shooters.

The 905 finally cut through to single-digits midway through the fourth on a Brown drive, and it was Brown pulling them within seven shortly after. Strong interior collapsing forced a House miss, and a McKinnie triple the other way – securing a triple-double for Brown – forced the Vipers to try to calm themselves with a timeout, what was once a 22-point lead down to just four with four-and-a-half minutes to play. The comeback stalled out there, though, with Hunter hitting a three and then drawing a goaltending call. Caboclo couldn’t answer with a triple and McKinnie was whistled for an offensive foul on the put-back attempt, and there was simply too much ground to make up in the final 90 seconds at that point.

“The fans are great here all the time. Whenever we’re in this building, it’s a real home-court advantage for us,” Stackhouse said. “We gotta find a way to send ’em home happy. We’ll get better.”

The 905 have low dropped three in a row and six of their last seven. It’s been a tough stretch, and Tuesday’s loss at least brought the encouraging signs of progress on the offensive end and a close, hard-fought game against one of the best teams in the G League (the Vipers are now 11-3). This also drops the 905 to 2-3 at the ACC, so expect a bounce back to .500 on Feb. 25. There are a lot of positive signs lying beneath a tough stretch in terms of results.

Notes

  • Raptors 905 broke their own G League record for attendance at a game with 18,900 here. It’s pretty incredible that they continue to be able to push that number higher for these school-day games.
    • This might be the cap on it, though, unless they’re going to have two kids to a seat. I think the scoreboard might shatter if the decibel level were to get any higher at that pitch, too.
  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo continued a rough stretch of shooting with a 5-of-14 night. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, a block, and a steal, playing to a plus-3 in 38 minutes. He really wasn’t bad outside of the cold 3-point shooting (2-of-9) and was an active defender during some key stretches of the near-comeback.
    • Alfonzo McKinnie had one of his best games as a 905er, absolutely dominating the offensive glass to help save and extend possessions. Nine of his 16 rebounds were offensive, and he added 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting, plus two assists. He’s still putting it all together toward becoming a finished product, and there’s good evidence he’s progressing in that regard.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Lorenzo Brown was tremendous, posting a 36-11-11 triple-double. Obviously, a triple-double or a 36-point game on their own stand out, and doing both together really requires someone to be at their best. The bulk of the 905’s offense came from Brown’s ability to get into the teeth of the defense, and his decision-making was better than the seven turnovers would suggest. There remains absolutely zero doubt about his ability to dominate at this level or help lead the 905 on that end of the floor when assigned. He was also a team-best plus-6.
    • Shevon Thompson was a major factor inside once again, scoring 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds in 29 minutes…Kennedy Meeks has nine points and six rebounds, and is maybe the most fun player to watch go to work in the entire G League.
    • Malcolm Miller missed the game with a sore ankle after being kicked earlier in the week. It was not the ankle he had surgery on this summer and was considered a precautionary move…The 905 have yet to have a full squad for any one game this year.
  • Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright were sitting baseline for a stretch after shootaround, as were a number of Raptors staffers. Lucas Nogueira hung around most of the second half.
  • Vipers notes: Danuel House’s offensive game is still pretty one-dimensional, but he can really fill it up when looking to attack for himself…R.J. Hunter had 30 points and is coming off of a Player of the Week, but he still doesn’t do enough things or do the one thing he does well well enough to really be on the radar…Monte Morris had 25 points and 12 assists and was probably Rio’s best player overall. He hit a ridiculous floater over an outstretched Thompson at one point, too, and got to the line at will.
  • The 905 now hit the road for one before returning to Hershey Centre on Dec. 13. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Did You Miss Me?

It feels like a long time ago, but at the beginning of the season there was a lot of concern about Kyle Lowry. If you looked at his shooting numbers through the first handful of games, it would’ve been understandable to worry a little bit. Lowry, after all, had been the rock of the Raptors franchise for a few years now, and seemed like he just couldn’t score. Through the first six games of the season in October, the Raptors had a respectable 4-2 record with tough, but understandable, losses to the Spurs and the Warriors, two of the league’s elite, but KLOE had yet to be seen, shooting just 36.8% from the field and 33.3 from downtown. While backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan seemed to be fully embracing the new offense with his assist rate and scoring efficiency up from years past, Lowry didn’t look as comfortable, his usage dropping and not hitting the shots he did take, often deferring to other guys.

The hot takes came through as well, with speculation on everything from “Playoff Lowry arriving early” to “old age showing up”, and with Lowry on a new 3-year, $90 million dollar contract, there was some worry about whether the team would also see some decline if their three-time All-Star couldn’t figure things out.

Then November showed up. Sure, there was two rough games against Washington in which the Raptors got the split, and a 4-12 game at Houston where the Raptors blew out the Rockets, who are now viewed as one of the best teams in the league. Aside from that though, Lowry has looked like his old self(but not an old version of himself), making it look almost too effortless. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been much fanfare about his return to form, because he doesn’t blow the doors off with highlight reel plays when he’s on. It looks almost too easy for him, whether it’s 36 points on 18 shots against Charlotte in a win that he never really allowed the Hornets back into, or 22 points on 12 shots in a blowout victory over the Knicks, a near triple double against the Pelicans where he missed by an assist, it’s simple dominance.

There has been some debate in the basketball statistics community over how a 50/40/90 season should be calculated. Is it field goal percentage, or two-point field goal percentage? If you use the base field-goal number, it seems to punish guys who take a large number of their shots as threes, as Lowry’s 61.7% three-point attempt rate this year can attest to. It’s not that his only hitting 45.2% of his field goals is a low rate, it’s just that when nearly two thirds of your shots are threes, it’s hard to do much better than that. However, when he does take it inside, he’s finishing 51.6% of his two point attempts, and 65.5% of his attempts at the rim.

Lowry has always been a little shortchanged when it comes to award talk, whether it’s because the Raptors are seen as overperforming expectations year-in and year-out or because he splits the attention with his backcourt partner, but if he can keep up his play of late, he might suddenly find himself back in some of those conversations, or at least he should. There will always be flashier guys, players who get more attention due to obvious fourth quarter heroics or massive scoring outputs, in bigger markets. I’m not sure, though, that there’s a tougher point guard in the league than Kyle Lowry.

Whether it’s putting the team on his back taking over when the offense is struggling or defending a post-up where he gives up a foot and a hundred pounds off a switch and forcing the ball-handler to pass out because they can’t gain ground, Lowry always gives everything on the court, and that can be a tough experience as a fan. It’s hard watching him take hard falls on what feels like a nightly basis and always worrying about the potential for him being sidelined by injury, but that’s what makes him the leader he is.

KLOE returned in November. Maybe you missed it, maybe you didn’t, but the narratives around the league don’t seem to have caught up yet. DeMar DeRozan hasn’t lost his passing touch, the new Raptors bench is great and the kids are fun, but this has always been a team that rises and falls with their diminutive guard who doesn’t stop fighting, and if he can be this guy the rest of the way it’s going to be a fun season in the north.

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Gameday: Suns @ Raptors, Dec. 5

The schedule is about to turn easy for the Toronto Raptors, with eight consecutive games against sub-.500 opponents. On the bright side, that’s a nice balancing out that could allow them to gather some momentum in the win column and really cement themselves in the conference standings. Conversely, for a team that has sometimes lacked energy out of the gate or a second-half killer instinct, the schedule could be looked at as a series of potential trap games.

Tuesday will see the Phoenix Suns visit on the second night of a back-to-back, playing their sixth road game in 10 nights. So not only are the Raptors up against a 9-16 team that owns the worst defense in basketball, they’re going up against a tired 9-16 team that owns the worst defense in basketball. Toronto is trying not to think that way, because they have a lot of things internally to focus and work on.

“You watch that, you see that. You understand the schedule, how many games you’ve played in a number of days,” head coach Dwane Casey said Monday. “But again, you’ve got to take care of who we are. This team has come in the last couple years and beat us. And at that time, they weren’t playing particularly well. One year, they came in on a back-to-back. We didn’t come in and take care of business. No matter who we play, whether it’s Phoenix or whoever it is, Cleveland, Boston, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to come in with a sense of urgency that our backs are against the wall. Because if you look at the Eastern Conference, it’s tight. A couple bad games and you’re outside looking in.”

And it’s not as if the Suns are a total cakewalk. They beat the Philadelphia 76ers 115-101 on Monday, and the Sixers are hardly an easy out, especially at home. Rest advantage or not (and boy, should the Raptors be well-rested), the Raptors have to take care of business, lest Devin Booker and T.J. Warren combine for 70 and the game come down much closer to the wire than it should.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Rod Argent of Bright Side of the Sun who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy:  Former Raptors head coach Jay Triano seemed to give the Suns a bit of a post-Earl Watson spark, but things have really normalized since. What kind of a job is Triano doing? Or is this a case of him being tough to evaluate since he’s largely playing babysitting until a more clear plan is established?

Rod Argent: I think Triano has done a good job since taking over. The so called “dead coach bounce” was certainly real when he first took over but the players seem to have responded well to him and his ‘no hustle, no play’ philosophy, especially on the defensive side. They may not always play good defense but they play hard now on D. And there’s definitely more passing and off the ball movement on the offensive side. Those things haven’t translated into more wins yet but they’re healthy changes for a young team.

Blake Murphy: Dealing Eric Bledsoe came shortly after the Watson firing. What were your thoughts on the return? Is Greg Monroe a buyout candidate?

Rod Argent: Most fans weren’t too happy with the return but I thought it wasn’t bad under the circumstances. Monroe might be a buyout candidate but I would be shocked if it happened before the trade deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised if he remained on the team throughout the season if another team has interest in a mid-season trade for Tyson Chandler but the more obvious trade candidate is Monroe. Whatever happens with Monroe, I doubt that he is in the Suns’ long-term plans and he won’t be back next season.

Blake Murphy: I saw a lot of people trying to write off Dragan Bender last year, even though he was still 19 at the time. What kind of a step forward has he taken as a sophomore? Has he shown enough to maintain optimism long-term?

Rod Argent: Some people are still writing him off even though he just turned 20 about 2 weeks ago. His problem is mostly inconsistency. He will look very good in one game and then almost disappear in the next. He missed a good portion of his first season after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs which I think slowed down his development. I certainly haven’t given up on him but I think he needs to show continuing improvement – and consistency – over this season to maintain my optimism.

Blake Murphy: I don’t know why the Suns would want Jonas Valanciunas, but can the Raptors please have Jared Dudley, somehow?

Rod Argent: LOL. Duds is a marvel, just the kind of a player you want in the twilight of his career. He’s an extra developmental coach for the younger guys plus someone you can always count on to come into a game and make a few smart plays whenever you need them. I like Valanciunas but the Suns are trying to shed long-term salary, not add it… and we already have too many centers (Monroe, Chandler, Alex Len & Alan Williams).

Blake Murphy: OVO Bounce standout Mike James has been awesome for the Suns. How much fun has a big find like that – on a two-way deal (for now), no less – been for a team that absolutely needs a win or two like that?

Rod Argent: I’ve liked what Mike James has brought to the Suns so far but a lot of fans have soured on him as of late. The reason for that is, since the departure of Eric Bledsoe, the Suns have found themselves without a starting caliber point guard. James is good but not that good and many fans vent their frustration with the team on him. Mike is still finding his way in the NBA and will have good and bad games. Unfortunately, many fans seem to mostly focus on the bad ones as the losses continue to pile up.

His time on the two-way contract will be up on Dec. 6 and the Suns don’t presently have an open roster spot to use to convert his two-way into a standard NBA contract. The Suns are going to have to either waive someone or pull off a trade that will open up a roster spot by then or let him walk as a free agent. Since he is one of only two point guards presently on the team, I can’t see them just letting him walk but something is going to have to happen very soon if they plan to keep him.

Raptors updates
The Raptors had some updates on the positive and negative sides of the ledger coming out of Monday’s practice. The big news was that Delon Wright has progressed to shooting, which is good to hear. Originally expected to miss four-to-five weeks, Wright’s been on the shelf for just shy of three weeks to this point. Fred VanVleet has been great filling in with an expanded role, and Wright returning sometime around Christmas could be an additional boost to the rotation that helps keep the minutes of the stars down.

Elsewhere, there’s no timetable for Lucas Nogueira’s return. Nogueira tore a muscle in his calf last week and received a PRP injection, and this type of somewhat vague injury can have varying recovery timelines. That Nogueira hasn’t proven the quickest healer in the past seemed to color Casey’s outlook when asked. Adding to the center issue is that Jakob Poeltl was sent home from practice Monday due to illness, and his status is up in the air for this one. If both Poeltl and Nogueira couldn’t play, it would be a huge Jonas Valanciunas game, and Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam would maybe see time at center as well. Poeltl’s illness could be of the 24-hour variety or he could be able to play through it, so there’s not much cause for alarm yet.

Kyle Lowry also missed practice Monday but it was for an excused absence that’s been set for weeks. Alfonzo McKinnie was sent to Raptors 905 for their 11 a.m. tip at the Air Canada Centre and then he and Bruno Caboclo could both recalled for the night game. For the time being, they’re with the 905.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, (Jakob Poeltl)
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: Jakob Poeltl
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie

Suns updates
Phoenix might be coming in a little tired. They just played Philadelphia on Monday, and this will be the sixth game of a six-game, 10-day road-trip. That’s a tough stretch, and any team could be forgiven for being gassed, even a young one. What’s worse, three of their starters played 37 minutes or more last night and another played 34, so almost none of their primary pieces come in well-rested (though veterans Greg Monroe and Jared Dudley drew DNP-CDs  on Monday and could draw in to the frontcourt rotation in the back-to-back scenario).

On top of the fatigue, the Suns are operating with three players out long-term in Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, and Alan Williams. Even with Mike James up on his two-way deal, the Suns have just 12 players at their disposal. Expect Jay Triano to roll with the same starters coming off of a good win but to go deeper into his bench.

PG: Tyler Ulis, Mike James
SG: Devin Booker, Troy Daniels
SF: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson
PF: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley
C: Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, Alex Len
OUT: Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, Alan Williams
TBD: None
Northern Arizona: Alec Peters, Derrick Jones Jr.

The line
The Raptors are 13.5-point favorites with a 224.5 over-under.

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Raptors reinvention another Dwane Casey accomplishment

Take a step back from the granular Casey decisions that infuriate the fanbase week-to-week and look at the results. Toronto is humming along with another solid start to the season: they’re 3rd in offence and 12th in defence despite playing the 7th toughest schedule, they’ve weathered injuries to the starting small forward and back-up point guard, and the team is still 14-7. This is the same season where Toronto has completely remade their offence too.

The Raptors have been remarkably consistent during Casey’s tenure. But as RR colleague Sahal Abdi’s tweets from last week point out, the fanbase is always ready to fire Casey and find someone else. Those who call for his job have zero understanding of what Casey brings to the table.

Firing a coach to push the team over the top has been a mixed bag historically. If you’re hoping the Raptors find a different coach, you would probably point to Steve Kerr in Golden State as the prime example of what can happen by changing coaches. And you would be right: making a coaching change was the difference. Kerr deserves credit for creating an offence that played to the roster’s strengths and finding the perfect role for Draymond Green.

The flipside is that Mark Jackson was a bad coach. He wanted to play a dated style of basketball and limited Steph Curry’s shooting. By simply not being Mark Jackson, Kerr was going to be an upgrade.

You can’t make this argument for Dwane Casey now. After last season, you could have said the similar things: Casey’s offence was not effective and the game had passed him by. Instead of running things back, Casey adapted. Toronto has ramped up the three-point shooting, shooting 30% more threes per game than last year, and used DeMar DeRozan as more of a creator in the offence.

And he addressed another legitimate complaint: he uses a deeper bench now to trim the minutes he puts on his stars. This has the added bonus of developing young players who can step in when injuries inevitably happen (see: Fred VanVleet) while keeping DeRozan and Kyle Lowry healthy. Casey has acknowledged some of his faults and evolved from them.

The glaring area of weakness is late-game execution. The Raptors rank 24th in clutch offensive rating this season. Toronto does not create good scoring opportunities in clutch minutes, reverting to old habits from the by-gone offence. Their passing falls off a cliff and they rank 30th in assist percentage in those situation.

If we can find those stats, so can the coaching staff. You could read that as a negative because it feels like I’m pointing out an error that has yet to be resolved, but I don’t view it that way. Casey and his coaching staff have shown that they’ll identify problems and adapt to find solutions, and I think we’ll see this begin to get addressed now. This team has finished top ten in clutch offence for three straight seasons, so there’s a reason to believe they turn it around.

And that “reason to believe” is why I don’t understand how people want Casey fired. How many coaches can completely change their philosophy and succeed? Adaptation is not something coaches find easy. They’ve made it to this level because of their conviction and philosophy. To change is to admit they were wrong. It doesn’t happen that often and Casey has shown a willingness to do it.

If you think Casey can be let go and the team can just find a Steve Kerr, well, I admire your optimism. I’ll keep the guy who has delivered back-to-back 50 win seasons and four straight seasons of top-ten offence over the next Terry Porter or Jeff Hornacek.

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Looks and Long Shots: Outfit Power Rankings From The Raps City Social

The Raps City Social is an annual charity event where, to the best of my knowledge, one pays a lot of money for a ticket and you may or may not get to wear novelty props and take photos with a forlorn looking (what else is new) Bruno Caboclo. There’s also the infamous rookie karaoke competition. All proceeds from the night support the MLSE Foundation.

Much like the Oscars and Grammys, big-ticket events like these were what the mechanics of the criticism machine was built on. Indeed, if a gala event falls on a weeknight and there’s no one there to judge the outfits, did it even happen? So I present to you the official, Raptors Republic Outfit Power Rankings of your 2017-2018 Toronto Raptors (who were present).

To keep things concise there are only two categories and they are Look or Long Shot. A Look is an outfit that can be daring, a biiit of a stretch, but above all, one that’s been pulled off. A Long Shot is unfortunate, and the opposite. Try to suspend your player favoritism as you peruse these rankings as, regrettably, moral character and basketball talent do not always translate into style, or more generally, clothes that fit.

C.J. Miles

First up we’ve got the Bench Dad and new, Actual Dad, C.J. Miles. What I like about C.J.’s choice here is that he has instantly made himself about eleven feet tall. Miles is a modest 6’4” but the wide, vertical stripes of this reverse Freddy Krueger jacket have made him larger than life. I don’t want to take any wild stabs into your dreams or mine (Freddy Krueger—get it?) but the fabric also looks to be, dare I say, velvet?

Rating: Don’t go to sleep because this assured Look is here to slay.

DeMar DeRozan and Alfonzo McKinnie

Next up we’ve got the Raptors squad leader and an overwhelmed intern from Google. DeRozan kept it casual but elegant in a black button-up that my fingers are ghost grazing the fabric of and it feels as soft as the air they are actually touching. I could take or leave the hat but I like the implication that DeMar was probably busy with being a franchise leader and threw it on last minute. McKinnie on the other hand likely had a lot of time to figure out what he was going to wear and still chose a t-shirt from a mall kiosk.

Rating: Look to DeMar, always. This might as well be a tall tee cause it’s a Long Shot for me, Alfonzo.

Delon Wright

Leader of the pack, over here! McKinnie could take a page out of Delon’s book, which is still a casual tale but has just enough emphasis on the plot points of intrigue. Please note the perfect visible slice of shirt sleeve tugged out just so from inside his leather jacket at the wrist. It’s all about understated details here. But let me overstate that I basically have this same jacket and that I am thrilled for us, Delon!

Rating: A Look done the Wright way.

Fred VanVleet

Heaven called and it’s letting one angel stay out past curfew. Fred looks stunning and is probably the only person qualified to have the twinkle on his understated, personal brand chain match the one in his eye. Unfortunately that’s all I can say about this photo because if I look at it any longer I’m going to hyperventilate.

Rating: Look, no further.

OG Anunoby

I’m happy to report that my early inclinations of OG’s on-court short length preference would translate to personal style, because we’ve got a fashionista on our hands. I love the motorcycle meets Blade Runner meets vintage black denim of the lower half meeting if NASCAR sponsored a rugby league of street wear brands of the top. I almost didn’t see that OG had a casual hand on his phone because it’s merging into his sweater.

Rating: A Look but replace the two o’s with the wide emoji eyes.

Kyle Lowry

Just when you thought it was getting a little too casual, here comes K-Low looking so put together that even the DJ forgot what he was doing back there. If there was ever a case to prove the old adage, “It’s always better to be overdressed” here it is, effortlessly. So what if he’s still adapting to the new system, passing seems a little overrated when faced with a lapel like that.

Rating: Endless, open Looks.

Norman Powell

Powell brought… a basketball? Can somebody get our guy a coffee and let him know that he can take the night off work, just this once?

Rating: His faraway look says it all—Long Shot, also maybe narcolepsy?

Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

While I like that these newly minted BFFs are into doing everything together, I don’t love that they’ve acquired the services of the same, shoddy tailor and both went for “last dudes on the wall at the dance”. Also, a little bit, “pajamas”.

Rating: A double Long Shot, but what a combined wingspan.

@wtevs

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Steady Freddy

Toughness is a word that gets thrown around a lot in sports. And sure…basketball, unlike hockey, football, boxing, or mixed martial arts… is not a contact sport. But toughness, both physical and mental, is still an enormous part of the credit analysts and fans give to the best basketball players. Guys like Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Patrick Beverley, or former greats like Allen Iverson, Gary Payton or MJ were constantly lauded not only for their physical abilities, but their physical and mental fortitude which allowed them to peak when everyone else was down.

But maybe our definition of toughness is just a little skewed toward skill. Those guys were more good than they were tough. At least the way I view it, toughness in basketball is the ability to overcome physical and mental stress easier than others. From a physical perspective, it’s often times the little guys (below-6-feet) that often have to show the most toughness on the floor given what they’ve had to overcome to even make it to the league. While we all knew Kyle Lowry embodied toughness since the first day he landed in Toronto, a surprising turn has been what we’ve seen from that other guy playing point guard these days. That’s right, Fred VanVleet. Or as C.J. Miles likes to aptly calls the second year pro, ”Steady Freddy”.

In what is emerging as one of the most surprising early-season stories for the Raptors, VanVleet has nestled into a pretty firm rotation spot for now. The moment Cory Joseph was traded this past July, we all knew this team was ready to pass it’s point guard duties to the young guys in Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet. But after Wright’s early-season shoulder re-injury, as sad as that was, a huge opportunity was created for FVV. And he’s been lights out since taking over as the full-time back-up point guard, averaging 9.1 points to go along with 4.7 helpers and 2.6 boards in just over 20 minutes a night. He’s been a +10 throughout that time. That’s not bad.

But what’s been more impressive above all of that has been VanVleet’s relentless spirit and toughness on the court, usually best displayed in second quarters of games alongside Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl off the bench. He’s been a major cog in the Raptors bench, which consistently and thoroughly outplay opposing teams’ benches in second quarters, either catapulting the Raptors back from slow starts or by continuing to pile it on against weaker opponents. The Raptors have had the luxury of easily the best bench in the league this season, with a net rating of +12.0. And like it or not, Fred VanVleet has been an enormous part of those lineups playing just over 16 minutes a night (21 minutes the past 7 games).

But as many fans know…what Fred has in toughness and skill, he lacks in physical stature. That means potential defensive letdowns, turnovers, or however else a lack of physical size may manifest itself in a game. But VanVleet’s toughness, basketball IQ, and ball-handling makes his mistake-free style of play a welcome part of the Raptors second unit. Averaging less than a turnover a game is pretty good for someone who’s playing more than 16 minutes and dishing out more than 4 dimes a game.

The reality is that this is the kind of play VanVleet has staunchly developed from a young age, and in college during his time at Wichita State. As an undrafted summer-league and training-camp addition to the Raptors roster in 2016, VanVleet’s style of play since he got here has always seemed to acknowledge a lower margin of error, and seek to make those plays that guys of a bigger size just may not bother to make; a certain chip on his shoulder seemed to always be present.

This style of play showed itself best in games like the comeback home win against the Bulls during the latter stage of last season. That was a game where Fred VanVleet closed the fourth quarter, and the Raptors outscored the Bulls 34-19 in the final frame to force overtime, and ultimately go on to prevail in the extra session. With only 6 points, VanVleet’s defense and subtle impact on the game still led to a team-high +16 in 20 minutes of action. Whenever Dwane Casey needs a shake-up in the rotation, or something fresh off the bench, VanVleet has been serving as sort of a mysterious decoy addition that seems to throw some teams off with his effort level, shooting stroke and defensive tenacity.

His ability to shoot the 3 (which has improved after some early season struggles to just over 36%) obviously makes him a floor-spacer, but what has really impressed me this year has been the ability to score in the paint. He’s got a certain strength about him that allows him to finish easily in the paint amongst big men (see plays at 0:08, 0:38 and 1:30 in the video below), VanVleet shot just 35% on 2’s last year, but has improved that to nearly 40% this year. That’s still not nearly good enough, but it’s trending in the right direction, and in the past 7 games, we’ve seen him shoot it at over 46% from the field.

It’s been Fred’s improved ability to finish on tough drives to the rim that has made him much more effective. We certainly saw that on Friday night at the ACC against the Pacers in the fourth quarter. VanVleet repeatedly drove hard to the rim, absorbed contact on what appeared to be blatant missed foul calls, and still finished easily despite the contact. And rather than hang his head after the missed calls, VanVleet’s kept his composure, kept on doing his thing and finished the game strong. It was tough as nails.

Perhaps VanVleet’s most revealing category of stats though are his per-100-possession numbers (he’s the per-100 God after all). He’s upped his averages in this category (which was already impressive last year) to around 18 points, 9 assists, and 5 boards. Not to mention he’s doing that with over two 3’s made and shooting those at nearly a 40% clip! No matter what your opinion might be about Fred or his limitations physically, you have to admit…that’s pretty awesome.

Dare I say, VanVleet’s numbers and playing style (low turnovers, smarts on both ends, improving shooting efficiency as well as driving ability) are usually the kind that translate well in playoff situations. But obviously, depending on matchups (such as against the Bucks last year where size became a priority), the usage of VanVleet could be little, if anything at all. But whatever the situation may be – against the 8th seed or the 1st seed, at home or away, you can bet that if his number his called, you’re going to get everything the guy’s got.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – A general assessment

Host William Lou is joined by Zarar Siddiqi to discuss where the Raptors are at the quarter-mark of the season.

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Raptors 905 topped by streaking Long Island Nets

Photo credit: KarynStepien.com

Raptors 905 88, Long Island Nets 95 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905), Isaiah Whitehead (Nets)
Two-ways:Malcolm Miller (905), Yakuba Ouattara, Jake Wiley (Nets)

For whatever reason, they opted not to air this game on Facebook Live. It was only available on NBA TV…in the United States. Canadian subscribers to NBA TV or to League Pass were thus blacked out from watching. On top of that, there were no live in-game stats due to a connection error in Long Island, only a box score well after the end of each half. On top of which, I only managed a reliable illegal stream for the second half. So, there is no recap, we’re just doing a notes post.

For posterity, the game will air on NBA TV Canada on delay (ha), so I’ll get a proper look at the first half later. Here’s me, trying to watch this first half:

1st half – Nets lead 50-42

  • Andre Washington drew the start at center with Shevon Thompson unavailable and the team wanting to protect Kennedy Meeks from foul trouble.
  • Meeks (11 points, four rebounds) and Kaza Keane (10 points on 10 field-goal attempts) led the 905 in scoring. Bruno Caboclo was out to a quiet low-usage start but had two assists.
    • The bench outscored the starters 31-11.
    • Raptors 905 shot 40 percent and committed nine turnovers for eight points.
  • Keane is an absolute pest defensively. He might be the most fun player on the team to watch on that side of the ball. The Nets broadcast was pumping up Tahjere McCall as “G League Patrick Beverley,” but McCall might not have been the most Beverley-like player in this game. Keane’s performance wasn’t enough for the in-arena P.A. announcer to pronounce his name correctly, though.
  • No Nets player scored in double figures but nine different players scored, and one of their scoreless players (Prince Ibeh) was a game-high plus-10 in the half. Long Island shot 51 percent.
  • Raptors 905 shot 40 percent and committed nine turnovers for eight points.

3rd quarter – Nets lead 74-66

  • Meeks staarted the second half in place of Washington after going without a foul in the first half.
  • Head coach Jerry Stackhouse came out to midcourt to argue a missed call on a 24-second shot-clock reset, and he earned a technical for his troubles. While Stackhouse initially joked about how many techs he may get, he’s generally done a good job keeping his money in his pocket. I’m not sure if the first half had some shaky officiating or if this was just a tough moment or what.
  • The 905 went on a 15-7 run to start the half and tie the game. That stretch included Caboclo finger-wagging after a block on Ibeh, which was incredible. He had some really good minutes to start the half.
    • The Nets pushed right back with a run that put them ahead seven, punctuated by Jake Wiley earning a delay of game warning for hanging on the rim after a dunk. They’d edge that lead to eight by the end of the quarter.
  • Nets assignee Isaiah Whitehead left the game with an apparent injury.

4th quarter – Nets win

  • Long Island began pulling away early, getting up 13 before Caboclo grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back to stop the bleeding. The 905 fought back enough for the Nets to use a challenge on a Shannon Scott foul call, up nine with seven minutes to go. The Nets lost the challenge, were charged the foul and a timeout, and their lead was back down to seven.
  • Out of a break with four minutes to go, the 905 went small-ish with three guards (Keane, Aaron Best, and Swiss army knife Davion Berry), Malcolm Miller (and later Caboclo in that spot), and Meeks. They trimmed the lead to five at one point.
  • The 905 just didn’t have that one last push in them. Long Island got an and-one, then a three for Wiley, and then a beautiful hesitation dump-off from Milton Dotle to Kamarl Murphy. Berry had a three bounce in and drew a foul during that run, and the 905’s defense frustrated the Nets into some late mistakes, but it wasn’t nearly enough, and the end-game fouling couldn’t close the distance.
  • The 905 have now lost five of their last six. They need that Air Canada Centre crowd to get their backs in a major way Tuesday, because the Texas Legends are solid and the 905 could use a win. That’s four wins in a row for the Nets, the first time in franchise history they’ve pulled off such a streak.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo had 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and was a minus-1 in 31 minutes.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Malcolm Miller was 2-of-12 for six points, five rebounds, and three assists. The shooting obviously looks a certain way, and he continues to work his way back into game shape. He does a lot of encouraging things that portend well for his prospects once he’s back at 100 percent…Meeks finished with a 16-and-11 double-double and is basically automatic on a post-up with position established at this level…Keane scored 19 and was the team’s best player for the minutes I saw.
    • Shevon Thompson was not with the team due to VISA issues.
    • Jerry Stackhouse’s vest game is unspeakably good.
  • Nets notes: I didn’t catch an update on Whitehead on the broadcast, but here’s hoping his late-game absence was only a precaution…McCall and Murphy were the Nets two best players in the minutes I saw, and Wiley provided a nice bench spark….Ibeh remains an intriguing mega-long-term project.
  • The 905 now return home for an 11 am tip-off at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Grand Schemin’: The Butterfly/Domino Effect

It’s Sunday, the weekend’s winding down, and we’re smack dab in the middle of a three-day break. It’s moments like these that call for a deep breath. In other words: a deep dive into the grand scheme of things.

For starters, how bout a little local perspective. Note: I fully realize that this community spreads far outside the city of Toronto, but also considering how hardcore this community is, something tells me the following will be relatable no matter where you reside.

Now, it may seem trivial to some (mainly if your fandom is new), but as far as where the Raptors rank in Toronto’s sports scene, oh, it matters. Especially to those who have been around since the Raps suited up on the Sky Dome floor. And what’s the verdict, you ask? Well, this might be a good time to pour that Sunday morning cup of coffee.

Needless to say, it’s a conversation that has many layers. In the forefront, though (at least in my mind), is just how much this team’s spot in the city’s hierarchy has evolved. To paraphrase a line from the movie Steve Jobs: “Coach now arrives on the runway at the exact same time as first class.”

If you haven’t followed this squad since its inception, I’m referring to the shift in fandom from years past. Better yet, the historical precedence of the Raps playing third-fiddle to the Leafs and Jays has essentially become history in itself. I’ll never forget those Sky Dome glory days, though, even if in this case the definition of “glory” might be in the eye of the beholder.

As for the reasons behind the shift, here’s my personal list. Feel free to agree, disagree or add to the discussion with something I’ve overlooked. Like I eluded to before, this topic tends to take on a life of its own:

1. With the influx of the younger generation’s overwhelming level of enthusiasm, the Raps have soared to an even playing field. Just an FYI to cable companies: Those “rating shares” don’t exactly paint a proper picture these days. I mean, how many people are currently loading up their cord-cutting alternative as we speak?

2. Staying with the new generation (but it’s also a way of life that’s creeping into the older crowd as well), the fact that a single NBA game only takes up 2 hours and 30 minutes of a person’s time, fits right in with the way attention spans wants to consume it. For example, I wrote this article on a desktop but how many people are actually reading it on one? And while NBA Social Media is a highly entertaining force on its own (most of the time), it only makes sense that the shortest sport going has become part of pop culture’s elite.

3. The rise (slowly but surely) of Raptors 905. Not only has the D/G-League played an important role in grooming much of the Raps’ roster, it also offers something tangible fans can sink their teeth into when it comes to minor league affiliates — a face to the future, if you will. Sure, the Leafs have the Marlies to serve that purpose, but the birth of 905 couldn’t have come at a better time in order to capitalize on the Dino’s spiking popularity.

4. Last but certainly not least, the Raps took full advantage of becoming successful (even if luck played a part) when other options continued to scuffle. With the business side of all five Toronto teams currently booming at optimum levels, it’s easy to forget how the Raps were recently the only franchise keeping this city relevant in the sports world conversation. Alright, the Argos still need to rebuild their brand but winning the whole damn thing cuts them some slack.

However, can there be a conversation about Toronto’s sports scene without a few flip sides? The answers to that question are a) Hell and b) No.

With that said, the Raps’ status in this city is rather unique. Cause along with the shift in mainstream love, there’s also been an uptick in dissension among this fan base that has come along for the ride. When compared to the rest, it’s really not even close, albeit it’s probably just the nature of the beast. Hear me out:

When a franchise loses for so long, fans are just happy to cheer for something again. And I’m betting that most Leafs fans remain in homer mode for the foreseeable future, as most aren’t exactly ready to hold players accountable for any extended stretch of poor play. The success is too fresh.

In addition, when a franchise is relatively speaking “the new kid on the block”, one that will forever battle a three-headed monster for attention (yes, I understand TFC has a cult-like following), there’s little room for a negative narrative. And at the other end of the spectrum (AKA: The Argos), a consistent audience (not just people who threw a Grey Cup Party) is needed before it can even enter the discussion either way.

The Jays are the closest thing to the Raps in this scenario. Their recent success called for one and all to hop on a bandwagon where criticism was few and far between. But once cracks in their short-lived resurgence began to surface, and then manifested into failure, that bandwagon took on a whole new meaning. It’s a domino effect that no team is immune from.

The good news is that even though the Cavs and Celtics represent another uphill climb for the Raps to surpass what they’ve already accomplished, they’re built with longevity in mind. On the other hand, there is a line fans tend to draw in the sand. A team can only exist in a league’s top tier for so long until that aforementioned dissension turns into overwhelming demands. Becoming somewhat stagnant has its ups and downs. Case in point: the Raps current way of life. Toronto is no different than any other major sports town, though, so I’ll let a White Men Can’t Jump quote sum up that familiar cluster you-know-what:

“Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie. And sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose.”

Indeed, Gloria, indeed. Perhaps one day we’ll all be able to “hear Jimi.”

Raptors

Still, how bout an outside the box exercise? As a number of events represent what could have been. Realistically speaking, this team could have looked a hell of a lot different right about now, for better or for worse. Let’s indulge in that butterfly effect, shall we. Again, feel free to add anything I’ve overlooked. There’s plenty of alternate universes out there.

In order of impact:

1. The fact that Kyle Lowry was a last minute decision away (James Dolan) from becoming a New York Knick. And with Bargnani’s contract unloaded on the same organization who passed on T.O.’s future leader, talk about a couple game-changing moments.

2. We don’t know the details in terms of just how plausible either storyline was, but the potential impact of each makes the list by default. I don’t think anyone would consider Marc Stein as anything less than a credible source so those 2013 trade rumours that involved Eric Bledsoe coming in return could have changed the entire vibe of this organization. One also has to think that DeRozan jumping ship in Free Agency was more than just a possibility.

Word had it that it was the Clippers who turned down that trade so I can’t exactly commend Masai for his restraint, but on the other hand, DeRozan’s decision to stay put and see things through in an era of “super teams or bust” can and should be applauded. Well, at least until $28 Million a year reminds me not to go overboard.

3. The trade that sparked the movement. Masai didn’t intend to build a new foundation so quickly, so he likely would have made that Sacramento deal regrardless. But what if he didn’t pull the trigger? The margin between a new-found identity and a complete tear down was slim at best.

4. Just think, where would OG Anunoby be right now if he didn’t tear his ACL in college? The slept on Kyle Kuzma would have still been on the board, but it’s safe to say that divine intervention had the Raps best interests in mind on draft night.

5. Delon Wright vs. Bobby Portis. At the time, and perhaps there’s still some who would have preferred a Portis selection, the Delon draft pick was treated in prime fan base fashion: a 50/50 split. If Portis came to Toronto, would his Bulls baggage have come with him? A different atmosphere can breed a different attitude but there’s no denying there’s now a hindsight factor of risk to be added to the Wright vs. Portis debate. Not to mention how the following draft could have drastically changed:

6. As a result, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam could very well be suiting up for different teams. Which leads to a bunch of names to sort through to fill in the blanks. With a point guard and another frontcourt option likely on the wanted list, along with the probability of the same draft slots, we could have been watching and dissecting Domantas Sabonis, Skal Labissiere, Tauren Prince or Dejounte Murray this entire time. All offer ample upside, mind you, but the past three drafts might be one the very few things there’s now a consensus on.

7. Whether the inconsistencies of both Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell are temporary or not, does either Orlando or Milwaukee say no to a time machine to up their asking price?

8. The cutting of Hassan Whiteside from the 2014 Summer League squad. I can picture it now: three years worth of Jonas Valanciunas arguments wouldn’t haven’t been nearly as heated if the Raps thought more of Whiteside at the time.

Ok, let’s take another deep breath…

Attempting to quantify how every alternate direction would have ultimately shaped this team is inevitably impossible. But overall, the majority lend themselves to an appreciation for the dominoes that actually fell in reality. And whether you think of Masai Ujiri as a calculated strategist or more of a benefactor of luck, accomplishing the rarity of being all-in and building towards the future at the same time (at least for now) deserves kudos. Especially amidst the usual mixed bag of optimism one day, cynicism the next. Hell, even though I’m still holding on to the thought (also known as losing my grip), this squad’s even built to eventually make the need for JV to evolve a thing of the past.

So, where does all this leave us? I’ve come up with a handy equation:

Versatility + Assist Ratio + Situational Impact  ÷  Lowry’s minutes – Turnover Ratio + 3-Point %  = ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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Raptors edge Pacers in entertaining shootout

Raptors 120, Pacers 115 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors are entering a stretch of schedule where there may not be a real sense of urgency. Already off to a quality start, the Raptors won’t see many threatening teams over the month of December. Their wins, then, may not always be enough, alone, to signal progress and growth. They’ll need to win in ways that seem repeatable against better competition, and they’ll need to iron out some wrinkles and sustain some positives. Those are things they’re more than capable of doing, and it looks like a good month for padding the record as some other teams come down to earth.

Friday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers wasn’t that, though. Not only are the Pacers off to a quality start of their own, proving themselves once again to be a potential threat to be a low-seed and a plucky out in the Eastern Conference, they’re also a team that nearly sent the Raptors into a bit of a tailspin just last week. This one, then, stood as a test both in terms of being a regular game against a quality opponent and in how the Raptors could respond to a dispiriting performance in short order.

If the Raptors were looking for a good harbinger about their third quarter from the performance of their starters in the first, they found it in the opening minutes. The opening play of the game saw DeMar DeRozan tip a pass and then bait a foul at the other end, and Serge Ibaka settled in with a three shortly after. Myles Turner stretched the defense out with a long two and a corner three, a concern that stood out less with the Raptors’ offense generating good looks every time down. Even Jonas Valanciunas, who struggled last time these sides met and was blocked on a dive to the rim, bounced back with a nice contest on a switch on Bojan Bogdanovic and then a sweeping bank shot posting him up at the other end (Valanciunas continued with a nice defensive effort, primarily guarding Thad Young to keep him off of Turner).

The Pacers found an offensive groove out of a timeout, with Victor Oladipo getting to work and the Raptors making a couple of turnovers to fuel Indiana the other way, a major problem in the last meeting. One of those turnovers allowed Ibaka to obliterate a Bogdanovic layup, so it wasn’t all bad. It was just mostly bad, with the Pacers pulling ahead with a 14-0 run that came against the starters and through three different Raptors substitutions, and saw Jakob Poeltl pick up two quick fouls.

Naturally, Fred VanVleet’s entry into the game stopped the run, with the plus-minus monster swinging a ball to C.J. Miles for his first three of the night. The last few minutes of the quarter played out like a Too Mainey highlight mix of the bench’s best moments, with a stop leading to a VanVleet transition basket, Pascal Siakam cutting and finding Poeltl for a dump-off, and Poeltl putting back an offensive rebound. Poeltl ended the quarter by pinning Lance Stephenson to the backboard, and Stephenson responded by picking up a tech to trim Indiana’s lead to four.

The all-bench unit continued rolling into the second, highlighted by Norman Powell blocking T.J. Leaf faced up on a jumper. Nate McMillan opted for a quick timeout and a move back to his starters, but the Raptors’ second unit still wound up a plus-six during their time as a fivesome, led by VanVleet’s seven points. Cory Joseph tried to answer the call and settle things, stopping Powell one-on-one and then hitting a pull-up jumper after a crossover against VanVleet, symptomatic of a run where the Pacers stuck jumpers in response to Siakam and Poeltl effectively sealing off the paint.

“It’s good man, it’s always good battling against Cory,” VanVleet said. “I came in the league battling against him all summer and  last year in practice, learning and absorbing from him, but obviously on the biggest stage, it’s good to just compete and play against Cory, who I think is one of the best guards coming off the bench in the league. It’s a lot of fun.”

Things went awry for the Raptors with their starters back in, with Oladipo going on a personal 6-0 run amid some sloppy Toronto play. Valanciunas responded in the post, and each of the other four starters followed with points of their own to stem the tide and prevent an single-handed pull-away (Oladipo finished the half with a ridiculous 20 points on 11 field-goal attempts, Indiana’s primary source of offense). Valanciunas would close the half with a strong stretch, too, blocking Oladipo, securing a tough defensive rebound, flirting with running the break, and then making a rim-run as a trailer for an and-one to send the Raptors into the break up seven, armed with confidence in their starting group.

Just how bad have the Raptors’ third quarters been? McMillan saw fit to talk things over in response to an 8-6 mini-run for Toronto, because it felt like 16-0 compared to the last third quarter between these sides. DeMar DeRozan scored six quick points and set up Valanciunas for two more, Lowry hit a triple to keep up his obscenely hot shooting, and Valanciunas took Turner into the post for a sweet turnaround. Outside of Oladipo still cooking (cooooking), it looked like a different third-quarter Raptors team. That Lowry avoided a technical despite protesting after being cheated out of two layups provided additional evidence that a third quarter really can be okay, and Ibaka hitting a three he picked up off of his shoelaces reiterated the point.

The quarter wasn’t perfect. Oladipo was a problem they had little solution for, and Indiana still scored 31 points. The Raptors even lost the quarter, technically, when Joseph hit a late three. There’s work to do at the defensive end in general, and it’s not as if one decent third is the end of the discussion. This shouldn’t even be a persistent talking point, really. Still, they came out with energy, tweaked the gameplan for the Ibaka-Valanciunas frontcourt, and may have been able to kill that cloud hanging over them every time they come back out of the tunnel.

“Much better,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “The force we were playing with, running the floor, just the pace we set moving the basketball. We had, what, 29 assists? I was really pleased with the way we came out in the third quarter. Now we’ve got to create a habit. It was one game we’ve got to make sure we create a habit of coming out, playing with force, running the floor, moving the basketball starting the third quarter. We came out with the right mindset tonight.”

Casey rolled with the all-bench group at the top of the fourth, and McMillan countered by getting Oladipo minutes against them. It was Powell against Oladipo from there, with the Pacers guard continuing his ludicrous night and his Toronto counterpart going for an and-one, a three, and then a tremendous dunk. Poeltl was a major factor, too, reaching a career-high 18 points and completely dominating his matchup all night. Casey made a light schematic shift, asking Poeltl to corral Oladipo a bit more, resulting in a scoreless closing six minutes after the budding star checked back in.

Lowry’s return saw him take yet another charge, and a VanVleet push the other way nudged the lead to nine. It was 13 less than a minute later. The VanVleet-Siakam-Poeltl trio is truly unstoppable, with a plus-9 in this game and a net rating of plus-27.8 in 99 minutes on the season, and if the Raptors are going to roll Lowry-and-bench again soon, it looks like that should be just fine, too.

That bench trio earned the closing nod despite a long stretch of time on the floor, and Casey rode those three with their stars in largely meritocratic fashion. A lead hovering around double-digits didn’t soothe any tension that had been bubbling most of the game, though, and Lowry picked up a technical foul on behalf of VanVleet (the ball did not lie). Indiana kept pushing, trimming the lead back to five with under two minutes to go, forcing the Raptors to talk things over.

With Poeltl having played over 14 minutes straight, Casey went to Ibaka at center, and it looked shaky when he immediately missed a 20-footer and then had a defensive rebound go off his hands out of bounds, then had the ball bounce off of his hands a couple more times. The Pacers missed three consecutive shots around it, though, and while Toronto’s offense couldn’t produce much but chewed up clock, the free-throw end-game helped them close things out.

“We understood the moment,” DeRozan said. “The guys that were out there understood the moment. We can’t give this up on our own floor. We got to use that to our advantage especially late in the game. The crowd got behind us, gave us energy, we got it going and just took care of business.”

DeRozan padded what felt like a quiet night (but really wasn’t) there, and he and Lowry finished with a combined 37 points on 32 field goals. That seems light, but their 12 rebounds really helped the bigs, and their 13 assists were a driving factor in the team posting a 60.4-percent assist rate with just 12 turnovers.

All told, it was another solid home win with areas to clean up, fairly similar to the Charlotte performance and probably similar to a few more that will come in an easy December. The defense can be better than the 111.5 points per-100 possessions they surrendered here, and they’d surely like to pull away earlier in some of these outings (though Lowry and DeRozan continue to see reasonable minutes totals). This time of year is for continued growth, and the Raptors are good enough to beat even solid teams like Indiana while they’re finding their best selves. The offense was terrific, the bench is unspeakably good, and it was a very fun Friday night game.

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Do the Raptors Really Need Valanciunas?

The Toronto Raptors might be defying the odds as it’s slowly improving its standing in the NBA. With the help of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors finally revived their glory days years after Vince Carter dominated the scene.

But as good as it sounds; the Raptors are still struggling a bit. Analysts are pointing their fingers at Jonas Valanciunas. Sure, he’s a big man who has above-average rebounding skills. But he’s criticized for his slow-footedness.

And in a time when big men need to be flexible enough to play as athletic rebounders and shooting towers, one can clearly see that the Lithuanian is in deep trouble.

JV’s playing time lessened

As of now, the Raptors management realized this problem and decided to lessen his playing time. The initial decision was to demote him to the bench, but they realized that it was a bit unethical, and so he was just used a lot less. There are even reports that he might even be traded to another team, a proof of his dwindling use in the team.

Need a concrete proof of his seeming string of unfortunate events? Well, take for example the recent 107-104 loss of the Raptors to the Pacers. Halfway through the game, Dwane Casey pulled Jonas out of the bench for Pascal Siakam. It was his chance to regain the trust of the team (and the world as well). But unsurprisingly, he failed to do just that.

His rhythm was off and his lack of enthusiasm to prove that he’s a legit star is starting to wane off. Add into the equation the Raptors’ defeat at the hands of the Knicks. It was supposed to be a game changer. But still, the 25-year-old baller was pulled early from the game. While Serge Ibaka finished the game off on the center position without bearing any fruit.

Can he make up for his dwindling legacy?

With it, it’s pretty clear that Valanciunas is up for some big-time trouble as his legacy hangs in the balance. In an interview, the Lithuanian surprisingly accepts his fate as he agrees with Coach Casey’s decision. He says that Casey prefers to play with a smaller but agiler lineup because he wants to try a new approach.

And he completely understands why that’s happening. Dwane Casey will do whatever it takes to get the team’s bearing right, even if it means hurting the feelings of its valuable players in the process.

In an interview with Casey, he says that they need to prefer speed over height. However, he also clarifies that there was nothing wrong with Jonas Valanciunas. The 5th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft was just doing his job, and there was nothing more he can do as his fate depends on his natural physical structure.

Valanciunas is still needed

With this, one can conclude that the Raptors are cool in having Valanciunas in the team. But his set of skills and rebounding process is not their priority (as of now). Casey adds that they need to outrun their opponents down the floor, implying that Valanciunas has no way of doing that.

The coaching staff’s decision to put Ibaka at the center position seems to work at first, when their game against the Knicks started smoothly. But even the new approach wasn’t that effective as it eventually resulted in a 108-100 loss to the Knicks.

The Valanciunas-Ibaka tandem

Valanciunas might be the root cause of the issue. But the real problem is really with his and Ibaka’s playing time together. Out of the 222 minutes the two big men played together, the team had a -1.8 for every 100 possessions, a proof that they’re not in sync with each other.

This is one of the reasons why the Raptors struggled a few minutes after tip-offs and even in a handful of third quarters, as these are the times when Valanciunas and Ibaka play together.

Based on NBA.com’s statistics, the Raptors have a bit of improvement whenever Ibaka plays at the center position. Contributing a 110.2 offensive rating out of the 109.9, and a 96.9 defensive rating out of the 103.6, it’s very evident that the improvement is not that much, but at least it’s working.

This means that the Raptors are constantly improving even though it’s not that much. With this, it makes perfect sense for you to bet on them. But in doing so, make sure that you use a promo code, just like the William Hill promotional code 2018, to increase your winning chances.

But then again, it’s not just about the betting game that we need to consider. The team’s camaraderie also comes to play here. And it boils down to Dwane Casey’s patience to keep up with the trend.

Even though the improvement may still be considered insignificant, it’s nonetheless tilting towards the bright side. And that’s with the help of Valanciunas sitting down on the bench.

Yes, the Raptors need Valanciunas, but not that much.

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Raptors-Pacers reaction Podcast – A foul is a foul

Host William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ gritty win over the Indiana Pacers.

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Quick Reaction: Pacers 115, Raptors 120

Indiana 115 Final
Box Score
120 Toronto

B
S. Ibaka25 MIN, 15 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 6-10 FG, 3-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 0 +/-

Serge started this game off incredibly. Looking for his shot (the usual), but was also very active on defense. In what was probably the play of the game, Ibaka sent Bogdonavic’s shot to an unknown rural part of Indiana (yet to be found). The last few minutes, Ibaka played like he was sedated. Not a great finish from Serge.

B
O. Anunoby20 MIN, 5 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 3 +/-

OG was tasked with a difficult one tonight, defending one of the conference’s best guards thus far, Victor Oladipo. Victor had an incredible game, but that doesn’t all fall on OG. He made plays offensively and showed off his underrated passing ability.

A
J. Valanciunas21 MIN, 13 PTS, 7 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 6-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-1 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 5 +/-

What stood out for me in this game was JV’s post-defense. Jonas challenged various Pacer players at the rim, time after time after time — and won. Keep in mind, that was never a weakness for JV, but big stops defensively for him translated to an energetic output on offense.

A
D. DeRozan34 MIN, 26 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 9-21 FG, 0-1 3FG, 8-10 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -4 +/-

DeRozan knew the Raptors needed him to show for this one. He was aggressive early, recording a 12/4/3/1 stat-line in the 1st half. That could’ve easily been a 20/4/3/1 line if the referees… never mind. Deebo had some clutch FTs late, closing this one out for good.

A-
K. Lowry35 MIN, 11 PTS, 7 REB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 4-11 FG, 3-9 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -5 +/-

The engine. The motherboard. The beating heart. Kyle makes plays for this team nightly where you silently sit there, reflect, and appreciate his existence. His box score didn’t look inspiring, but he had a hand in many of the game’s most crucial plays.

A+
J. Poeltl25 MIN, 18 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 8-8 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-5 FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-

William Lou put it perfectly. This guy is solidly unspectacular. Goodness gracious. He gave Sabonis and the Pacers’ bigs fits all night long. A career-high in points for the Austrian. Toronto truly lucked into drafting this kid (and the other children, of course). Love you, Yak.

A+
F. VanVleet24 MIN, 11 PTS, 4 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 5-9 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 9 +/-

Van Vleet came into the game in the 2nd quarter and took full reins of the bench unit, leading the entire team with a +10 rating in the 1st half. He had some memorable dimes and crucial plays and is quickly proving he’s more than just a third string PG.

A
P. Siakam24 MIN, 4 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 2-7 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 5 +/-

It’s getting tiring (in a good way) writing the same thing every night about Siakam. He gives it his all offensively and defensively, providing game-altering plays for Toronto. I particularly liked when he crushed Joseph’s layup attempt in his own version of a “welcome back” greeting.

B-
C. Miles16 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-7 FG, 2-7 3FG, 1-1 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-

If CJ Miles has a conscience, remind me where it’s at. All seven of his field goals came from beyond the arc, hitting only two. CJ will have these nights, but he’s still shooting 40% on the season. His solid defense versus the Indiana swingmen was a definite plus.

B
N. Powell15 MIN, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 4-8 FG, 1-5 3FG, 1-1 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-

Norm shot 1 for 4 from the field (0-3 from 3PT) in the first half, as Casey abandoned him for the entire 3rd frame. I don’t blame DC. Norm looked flustered out there but did gain confidence as the game continued. Oh, and he had a nasty one-handed hammer on Sabonis.

A-
Dwane Casey

Casey made some excellent rotation decisions throughout the game. Everyone seemed fresh and ready to contribute. Casey’s late-game lineup was genius, putting his full trust into Van Vleet and Poeltl. The only questionable decision was going back to Ibaka late in the game. He almost fumbled the game away (literally, with his cinderblock hands).

Things We Saw

  1. Ola, Ola, Ola, Ola. Olaaa, Olaaaa. Ok, I’ll stop. Victor Oladipo is having a coming out party this season, going absolutely berserk tonight in the first three quarters, recording 31 points versus Toronto. ‘Dipo is well on his way to his first-ever All Star berth in what is surprisingly a very good crop of Eastern Conference players to choose from.
  2. Thank you Austria, the University of Utah, the Traiskirchen Lions (yes, research that), Mr. and Ms. Poeltl and everyone else responsible for Jakob Poeltl. Once again, we doubted Masai and our doubts were crushed by Ujiri’s impeccable drafting ability. Poeltl had arguably the best game of his career, shooting a perfect 8 for 8, with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks (seemed like 5), and a steal. What a performance for the young big.
  3. I have a very serious question: What exactly did DeRozan do to these referees that we’re not aware of? I’m rarely the one to blame anything and everything on referees, knowing just how hard their jobs are in this sport but… This was something else tonight. It’s not normal when the majority of DeMar’s free throw attempts come when he’s being intentionally fouled. Not normal at all. The guy got hammered all night long with constant looks of confusion towards to the referees.
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Maine Red Claws Sink 15 3s to Defeat 905

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Raptors 905 93, Maine Red Claws 102| Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905), Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader (Red Claws)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller (905), Jabari Bird, Allen (Red Claws)

The Raptors 905 fell to 4-6 against the Maine Red Claws (7-3), who seemed to hit every 3 they attempted. The 905 desperately missed primary shot creators Lorenzo Brown and Alfonzo McKinnie, who were with the parent club against the Indiana Pacers.

The 905 began well, even leading after the first few minutes. Aaron Best offered much of the offense for the team, scoring 7 of the team’s first 9 points, including a sweet-looking jumper from range. His speedy stroke is an important source of offense for a team that can look stuck in the mud at times at that end of the floor.

However, the Maine Red Claws shooting was not to be outdone; they made 8 of their first 10 shots from range, and they quickly took the lead with balanced scoring from practically every player on the floor. They could all shoot! The Red Claws had multiple possessions where they stretched the generally-solid 905 defense past its breaking point, swinging extra pass after pass around the perimeter until the right shooter found himself wide open.

For the 905, Negus Webster-Chan checked in for the first time for the 905, and he was able to provide positive, if unspectacular, minutes. He was able to hit a 3 pointer in the second, providing some of the only shooting for the 905 along with Kaza Keane, recently returned from Team Canada playing at the FIBAs.

While the Red Claws had a full roster of top-level talent with two assignments and two two-way players, the 905 only had one of each. The only Raptor, Bruno Caboclo, struggled to impact the game. Though he contested shots well around the rim (the Red Claws only made their first 2-point shot with 4 minutes left in the first quarter), Caboclo struggled to put points on the board. This would continue throughout the game, even reaching laughable extremes (more on that later).

The 905 were only down 28-22 going into the second quarter, which was perfectly manageable considering the flame throwing from their opponent; one would hope that it would slow down. However, in the second quarter, the Red Claw talent started to shine. Jabari Bird hit some 3s and threw down three massive dunks – two one-hand tomahawks and one cock-back reverse – to put the Red Claws in the driver’s seat. Halfway through the quarter, the Red Claws’ lead had swelled to 11.

The score would between 5 and 11 for the rest of the game as any 905 momentum would be met with timely Red Claw buckets.

The 905 found some consistent offense from Malcolm Miller, who was able to score by attacking the rim. He finished a few contested layups on the right side, and he even drew a few fouls on the Red Claw two-way player Kareem Allen, one offensive and one defensive, to keep the 905 within striking distance. At that point, the Red Claws had hit 11/19 from 3 – the 905 only 4/19.

While the 905 struggled to create behind the arc, Kennedy Meeks (also returning from FIBA) provided some nice buckets in the post. He is a stable offensive force, and any G-League defender will struggle to defend his skill, touch, and size. Despite solid effort from Meeks and Kaza Keane, the 905 entered the halftime break down 8, 42-50.

The third quarter began with dreadful offensive execution from the Raptors 905. They clearly missed Lorenzo Brown – and his ability to create something from nothing in the halfcourt – a huge amount. Bruno Caboclo missed shot after shot, especially on quick-trigger 3s. Possessions mercilessly stalled out as any 905 action was bested by impressive and in-sync Red Claw defense; Caboclo missed a wild hook and Berry missed a hanging jumper as the offense tried to beat consecutive shot clock violations.

The 905 were only kept in the game as Kaza Keane forced several offensive fouls and Berry put some points on the board. I continually was confused by how the 905 were only down single digits, but there they were, still in the game. Webster-Chan sandwiched a Davion Berry 3 with two of his own, and the 905 were only down 5 near the end of the third quarter.

Kadeem Allen, who had been in foul trouble throughout the game, began the final quarter with dunks and 3s galore. When he drew a foul on Kennedy Meeks – his fifth – the Maine announcers intoned: “the MEEKS shall inherit… the bench”. It’s the G-League for everyone.

Even though the 905 got back into the game due to Red Claw misses, it was simply too little too late. Worth noting: the 905 offense devolved entirely into isolation attempts with the game on the lane in the last few minutes, as Davion Berry attempted to win the game through heroics alone. He failed, and that is partially on Coach Stack. The game may have been close, but the 905 were outplayed wire to wire, and they continually are left searching on the offensive end. They simply do not have enough shot-creators.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo … Caboclo couldn’t shoot. He finished 4/20 from the field (0/7 from 3), and it was tough to watch at times.
  • Other 905 player notes:It’s huge for the 905 to have Keane back. He competes harder than anyone on D, often throwing his body on the ground and taking charges like a regular ol’ Kyle Lowry. His shooting gives some oxygen to an offense that often looks like it’s asphyxiating…Negus Webster-Chan back in the house! His stroke looked fine, as he finished 3/5 from 3. Look for him to contribute more as he shakes the rust off…Berry tried to isolate time and again at the end of the game, and even though he sometimes looks too talented for the G-League, it just wasn’t working. It’s nice to see the 905 put the ball in his hands, but he needs to find a way to take better shots. …Malcolm Miller finished 10/10 from the free throw line! He’s another guy working his way back from injury who will only get better.
  • Injury notes: None? Webster-Chan is back and Moute a Bidias was released to make room for returning Kaza Keane.
  • Red Claw notes: Jabari Bird is very athletic. He can throw down huge dunks, hit the glass, and he can even step back and stroke the 3. The Celtics gave him time in pre-season, but they seem to be conditioning him in the G-League for now. It’s what the league is for. He should be an NBA contributor at some point.
  • The 905 are on the road again Sunday before returning home for an Air Canada Centre game on Tuesday. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Pre-game news & notes: Nogueira has torn calf muscle, Turner plays

We’re gonna keep things tight off the top here because I did the preview this morning and because there are a lot of smaller notes to get to underneath. Need a refresher on where the Toronto Raptors are at as they set to host the Indiana Pacers tonight? They’re in a fine spot – they’re 13-7 and could be even better had they not squandered a quarter or a possession here and there, they’re top-10 on both ends of the floor, and they’re about to hit a stretch of schedule where the biggest threat to their record will be their own focus and energy.

A good example of this was on display the last time the Raptors played the Pacers, just a week ago.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s a blueprint, but I know one part of the blueprint that’s not good, and that’s 20 turnovers,” head coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “That’s a recipe for any butt-whooping that you’re gonna get.”

The Raptors should have that fresh in their minds, and it will be interesting to see if the persistent talk about coming out of the gate better in each half will lead to a more consistent 48-minute effort in this one. As we know, the Raptors are good enough to win a lot of games even when they don’t have that figured out, but they’ll want to sort it out regardless, if only to quiet the questions about it.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 1/4 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Some tough news came down before Friday’s game, as Lucas Nogueira has torn a muscle in his calf. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection to aid with healing, and there’s no timeline for his return. Despite some inconsistencies, Nogueira had been playing quite well, grading in elite territory in terms of block- and steal-percentage and shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. His absence will mean Jakob Poeltl has a full-time handle on the backup center position, and it could mean more minutes playing small with Serge Ibaka at center. Nogueira was averaging 12 minutes and had played rotation minutes in four of the last six games, so this is a bigger hit than the loss of a third-stringer would normally be.

Delon Wright also remains out recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Everyone else is good to go, although some are still figuring certain fits out.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Pacers updates
Myles Turner’s status is still up in the air, with the Pacers’ center a true game-time decision. If Turner can’t go, it’s unclear if Al Jefferson or Domantas Sabonis would start, but either would represent an easier matchup for Jonas Valanciunas, and both could see an expanded role along with T.J. Leaf. The Pacers also have Ike Anigbogu around for depth in the frontcourt, although their game notes show him as in the G League (the official transaction log has him with Indiana, so who knows? I haven’t physically looked for him yet).

Turner’s status will swing the tactical matchup and possibly the betting line. It’s Lance Stephenson, though, that people wanted to talk about before the game, because the last couple of meetings between Stephenson and the Raptors would suggest he’s taking up some residency in their heads.

“Lance is a very dynamic person, personality, and dynamic player,” Casey said. “So if that doesn’t get you excited to play against him, and understand what you’re going against, something’s wrong. So I think our guys know, they understand that he’s a different personality. Like I said, a dynamic personality. ‘Cause if he’s on your team, he can get you going, he can juice you up a little bit. For us, we’ve gotta make sure we’re solid, don’t get caught up into that, just play solid, physical basketball on both ends of the floor.”

Lance, man.

UPDATE: Turner is playing.

PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Joseph Young
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Damien Wilkins
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Ike Anigbogu
OUT: Glenn Robinson, Edmond Sumner
TBD: None
Fort Wayne: Alex Poythress

Assorted

  • DeMar DeRozan was given an honorable mention for Eastern Conference Player of the Month. LeBron James took home the award.
  • Over at The Athletic, I’m doing a mini-series on the bench. Part one (why they claim to be the best in the league) and part two (how the bench was constructed) are up. Part three goes Monday. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription at this link.
  • Over at Vice Sports, I wrote (quickly) about Fred VanVleet becoming the NBA’s plus-minus king.
  • I’ve mentioned this a ton the last while, but John Schuhmann at NBA.com quantifies it – the Raptors have an absolute cake schedule for December. The Raptors currently sit top-10 on both ends of the floor, and that’s against the toughest quarter of their schedule. For December, they’ll play only three games against teams above .500 and 11 against teams below (the Raptors are yet to lose to a sub-.500 team). Even their four-game road-trip is against wholly shaky competition. They do have three games at a distinct rest disadvantage, and still this is looking like a good month to make up some ground.
  • Bruno Caboclo remains with Raptors 905, who play at 7 in Maine.
  • Speaking of 905, a nice Q&A with Jerry Stackhouse from our man Vivek Jacob over at Sportsnet.
  • The Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts will be int he building tonight.
  • Cory Joseph is back! He indicated at shootaround that he’s had a ton of ticket requests (teammates have helped him out) and will have 30-40 people in attendance tonight. He seemed genuinely pumped based on the shootaround video. Joseph is just the best human.

The line
The Raptors have moved from 6.5- to 7-point favorites, and the over-under has nudged up from 215.5 to 218.

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Hello! Jack Armstrong has added hats to his t-shirt line

One of the most affable figures around the Toronto Raptors franchise is extending his t-shirt line to include hats for the winter months, just in time to stuff stockings.

Raptors analyst and colour commentator Jack Armstrong has teamed up with Entripy to release a number of hats bearing Armstrong’s “Hello!” catch phrase, supplementing earlier t-shirt releases. The translation of Armstrong’s energy from the broadcast booth to the hats and shits is seamless, and at $15-25 a pop, they present an affordable way to diversify your Raptors wardrobe.

One of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, Armstrong initially seemed taken aback that people loved his catch phrases so much, let alone were willing to wear them. “I hope that folks enjoy them,” he said when the t-shirts first dropped in April. “I’m honoured that people would have the enthusiasm to wear them.”

You can find the hats here.

Jack also did a Reddit AMA yesterday.

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Open Gym Ep. 7

Open Gym is back, with some virtual golf in Houston.

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On the Third Quarter Thrashings

How difficult would it be to sneak a probe into the Toronto Raptors locker room at halftime? What wonders would we behold? Does the team perform karaoke? Do they not speak at all and get lost in daydreams? Do they play poker?

Whatever it is the Raptors do in that locker room, it needs to change.

When the team last played the New York Knicks (whom they’d defeated handily only five days prior), they led 59–48 at halftime. A comfortable margin, especially when the Raps had built up an understandable level of confidence after their last meeting. But that confidence swiftly faded as the third quarter began—the Knicks ratcheted up their intensity and the Raps failed to meet it, turning the ball over and ceasing the beautiful passing and ball movement they’d displayed earlier in the game. Suddenly, things were unraveling into an all-time spiral, with Toronto giving up 41 points in the quarter and scoring a mere 10 of their own.

Needless to say, it is now a franchise record.

Sadly, this was not and continues not to be an isolated incident. Over their last 10 games, the Raptors have only had a positive plus-minus in the third quarter twice—once against the New Orleans Pelicans and once against the lowly Atlanta Hawks. In fact, the team has only had a plus-minus better than +10 three times all season. On average, they give up 28.5 points per game in the period, good for 27th in the league.

It’s a truly bizarre thing to watch, mostly because the Raptors are a very good second and fourth quarter team.

Per NBA.com, Toronto has outscored its opponents in 11-straight second quarters, averaging 30.6 points and shooting 53.9 per cent from the floor. They also boast an NBA-leading  +6.8 scoring margin (Utah is second in this regard with a +3.3), and are a defensive powerhouse, holding opposing teams to 23.8 points and 42.5 per cent shooting in the frame. They have the league’s second-best defensive rating in the frame (94.8), the best net rating (25.7), the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.79), and the best true shooting percentage (65).

Here’s something even more strange: The Raptors’ current starting lineup of Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry have an incredible offensive rating of 129.7 and defensive rating of 90.1 in second quarters. But in third quarters? That same lineup suddenly has the sixth-worst defensive rating (129.1) of units that have played at least 20 total minutes together, as well as the eighth-worst net rating (-26.3).

Evidently, it’s not the lineups that are the issue. It’s simply a matter of the team not playing with the resolve they were in the second quarter (and then typically return to in the fourth). Everything has looked so lethargic to start third quarters that one might think the pace the Raps are playing at drops off significantly, but that’s untrue—instead, the pace actually increases slightly. In second quarters, Toronto plays with the 17th-fastest pace in the league, and in third quarters they escalate to playing the 15th-fastest.

This may be due in part to the amount of turnovers and therefore fast breaks that occur as the opposing team seems to switch places with the Second Quarter Raps. When opponents turn up their defensive pressure to start the third (usually because they are behind by a fair margin), the Raptors don’t respond well. Seeing their open, simple passes now cut off, they become stagnant and still until either Lowry or DeRozan try to bail the team out, or the ball is stolen off of a bad pass or a move into traffic. Toronto’s assist-to-turnover ratio during this time drops to 14th (1.46) in the league, far off from their aforementioned second quarter rank.

Of course, that’s not the only drop-off Toronto deals with in third quarters. The most major plummet lies in their defensive rating—falling from their spot at second-best in the NBA to the worst spot at 30th overall (115.3). And again, this appears largely to be the product of lackadaisical effort—reacting sluggishly on rotations, not boxing out, arriving late on closeouts, getting caught on or beneath screens during switches. All things that were handled perfectly well during the 12 minutes prior. 

The whole thing looks like an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-type scenario. The Raptors just lack the energy in third quarters that they apparently are able to muster throughout the rest of the game. It leads to sloppy plays and less overall movement such that opponents are able to fight their way back into games (often within the first few minutes) and, consequently, kickstart the Raps into playing hard again to try and close things out.

So whatever it is the Raptors do in their locker room during halftime, whether it be karaoke or poker or something else, they better find something to replace it, because these third quarter efforts have cost them games and, if nothing changes, could very well cost them more in the future.

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Gameday: Pacers @ Raptors, Dec. 1

It was less than a week ago that the Toronto Raptors visited the Indiana Pacers and dropped a dispiriting decision. While it’s nice to have a rematch in short order to try to correct that, there’s been little traction toward a solution to the team’s third-quarter problems. They own the league’s worst third-quarter defense, and while some of that is born from unseasonably hot opponent 3-point shooting (on a similar breakdown of contested and uncontested shots to other quarters), it’s clear the Raptors are worried about the trend.

“It’s still bad and a trend, I was told by the analytics people that in the previous games we were a plus-25 or 27 or something like that and those three games were a minus-58, I think it is,” Dwane Casey said Thursday. “It’s a trend in those three games, a bad trend so we’ve got to make sure we correct it, whether it’s offensive focus taking care of the ball. But I do know in the third quarter we’re 30th in defense, and in the fourth quarter, we’re first. That tells me something right there from a defensive standpoint where we stand. It’s about focus, it’s on the starters to have the focus, the energy to come out in the third quarter with that. In t hose three games, it was the biggest problem.”

The Raptors have been mostly winning despite the poor third quarters. They grade well by ESPN’s BPI metric (fourth in the league, second in the East), and they’re once again among the league’s best net rating teams. All you need to know about online betting is that the Raptors are 7-1 at home and 12-8 against the spread so far this season, so there’s reasons to think they’ll correct course against the Pacers back on their own court. At least for the first, second, and fourth quarters.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 1/4 and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Ben Gibson of 8 Points, 9 Seconds who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Cory Joseph is missed as a human here in Toronto, even if the team’s point guard play has been strong and C.J. Miles has been a godsend. How have Indiana fans taken to Joseph, and does he have the crispiest fade in the entire midwest?

Ben Gibson: Y’all probably miss Cory like I miss C.J. In some ways the new player replaced or even improved on the old, but that doesn’t mean you don’t look out the window longingly at times. CoJo’s given the bench something the Pacers haven’t had there in years, and that’s a reliable point guard. Sometimes things get weird when he plays with Lance Stephenson since they both need the ball in their hands, but Joseph’s defense helps tide things over even when he isn’t scoring as much. I don’t think the average fan appreciates him fully, but when he hits some 3-pointers and builds the lead, they’re slowing learning to love him.

Blake Murphy: The Pacers were able to frustrate the Raptors to such a degree last week that they altered their starting lineup for the second half (to no avail, mind you). Have the Pacers given more traditional lineups problems fairly often, or was this just a case of them having the Raptors’ plodding frontcourt pretty well figured out?

Ben Gibson: Indiana matches up well with the Raptors, and on a certain level, I think they get in their heads. Ultimately though, the Pacers offense can quickly get teams out of sorts with their Zerg Rush approach. When the shots are falling they’re absolutely overwhelming and can beat other teams in the paint as well. Indiana’s shooting the ball well, but as we’ve seen in their two losses to the Rockets, they don’t have the makeup to beat down teams with the 3-point shot.

I won’t be surprised if Indiana loses on the road to the Raptors. While their record isn’t a fluke, when teams take them out of their comfort zone we’ve seen things go off the rails quickly.

Blake Murphy: I know Myles Turner’s numbers are more or less the same this year, but he seems to have taken a qualitative step forward. It’s also insane how young he still is. Do you think he’s unfairly left as a secondary consideration when everyone’s listing off the league’s unicorns?

Ben Gibson: I understand why he doesn’t get the same sort of love. For one, he doesn’t take enough 3-pointers to really make you think of him as a unicorn. They’re more of a shot of convenience in his game than something that feels like it is in his playbook. He will crush team’s on pick and pops, sure, but he isn’t creeping out and launching them as much as some like.

It also hurts he really is off to a stop and go start. He missed seven games with a concussion and had struggled since then. I see that as an anomaly more than a real concern. There is no reason to think at 21-years old he’s not going to get better. He could stand to beef up his core, work on defense in pick and rolls, but he’s the focus of Indiana’s future, either way, unicorn or not. He’s still years away from his peak, so everyone chill.

Blake Murphy: Can Lance Stephenson please sit this game out?

Ben Gibson: CUE THE AIR GUITAR!

Blake Murphy: Victor Oladipo was able to play Monday, which must have been a big relief since he’s been rewarding the Pacers and those who maintained their faith in his game (/raises hand) all year. Has Oladipo exceeded your expectations so far this year?

Ben Gibson: Of course he has. He was expected to play better than he did in Oklahoma City, but I don’t think it was realistic to expect him to shoot the lights out like he is right now. There’s concern the numbers are going to fall back to earth, but right now he and Sabonis are making Kevin Pritchard look pretty smart.

As long as he playing something like this all season long, then it’s great. It’s like he combined his driving game from Orlando with the shooting from OKC, but then leveled up those and the other parts of his game. If nothing else, he’s been a lot of fun. And in a season where there isn’t a ton to look forward to after having hopes of contending for the past 5 years, fun is good enough.

Raptors updates
The Raptors come in mostly healthy once again, and they’ll be armed with C.J. Miles, who missed the last meeting. Delon Wright remains out without a timeline for his return, and Lucas Nogueira, who suffered a strained right calf on Wednesday, is not listed on the injury report. In Nogueira’s case, it’s probably something to keep an eye on leading up to game time.

The other question, of course, is whether Casey makes changes, either to the starting lineup or just for the third quarter. He’s threatened to do so if the out-of-break slippage continues, and he’s had a quick hook for those groups, including eschewing them altogether in the second half last time out against Indiana. Starting small isn’t particularly tenable unless the Raptors are going to change their starting lineup opponent by opponent, so it will be on the starters to find a better groove against the Pacers and then maintain it. It’s probably not a big Jonas Valanciunas game, though there are always some things he can do to tilt the matchup his way, like he did against Indiana in the playoffs two years ago.

“It’s something I know we can be better at. We’ve got those veteran players that are in the game in that situation, there’s no reason to be makings some of the mistakes. And I don’t think it’s effort,” Casey said.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, (Lucas Nogueira)
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: Lucas Nogueira
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Pacers updates
While he’s not on the team’s game notes injury report, Myles Turner is questionable with knee soreness. If he can’t go, the matchup changes noticably, as the Pacers aren’t exactly deep in the frontcourt. Usually, Domantas Sabonis is the only other natural big seeing time, and their replacements for Turner are Al Jefferson, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu, all varying levels of threatening on only one side of the ball (if that). If Turner plays, well, surely you remember the matchup problems he can create.

This also marks Cory Joseph’s return to Toronto, so let’s take a second to just listen to Raptors rave about him.

DeRozan: “His smoothness. Cory was the smoothest guy who’s came through the organization. For him to be from here, you got that sense that this is his city. This is his town, his country and everything. It was great to have him over here. The energy he brought, his vibe and everything was always a positive. You rarely saw Cory being upset or mad about anything. When you have that kind of aura around you, it’s contagious on the court and off the court.”

Casey: “Cory’s just a beautiful young man. He’s from a great family from here in Toronto, he’s Canadian, he wore that badge with pride which is great. That’s something you really respect about him, just who he is. He’s won a championship, and there’s not a lot of those guys walking around the NBA that has a ring. That’s something I always drew from because I knew he had been through the wars, he’d been through pressure, he’d been through tough situations and that’s something I always respected about Cory. That’s something we miss, our young guys are getting it now, the hard way, they’re learning, going through the fire, making mistakes, going through it with the same type of passion. They learned from Cory. I thought Cory did a good job of teaching Fred and Delon and them emulating him. I see some of the similar traits with these guys that Cory had. We miss Cory. Like I told him the other day, we’ll miss him except for four nights a year, we’ll try to beat his butt.”

VanVleet: “Cory’s just a great guy on and off the court, a great teammate. Just what it takes to come in and be prepared. Obviously the basketball aspect, little moves and tricks and things that he does that I picked up on. So it’s a lot of things that you can learn from a person on and off the court. I always give Kyle a lot of credit but I don’t try to leave Cory out, he was just as good for me last year to learn from. I couldn’t have picked two better guys to learn from in my first year…He started off slow so he understood where I was at last year. Just the  encouragement day-to-day, even when he wasn’t playing well, and for a guy in his position with me and Delon kind of on his heels a little bit, he never had a bad attitude about it. He was helping us along the way, which was really rare to find a guy in that position, to help the young guys that were kind of coming for his spot. He was still helping us…Our relationship was great in that sense. He was a big part of my growth last year.”

PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Joseph Young
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Damien Wilkins
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: (Myles Turner), Al Jefferson
OUT: Glenn Robinson, Edmond Sumner
TBD: Myles Turner
Fort Wayne: Alex Poythress, Ike Anigbogu

The line
The Raptor s are 6.5-point favorites. The over-under sits at 215.5.

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Building a Bench

It’s no secret that once again this season, one of the big areas of strength for the Toronto Raptors has been their reserve units. Despite the departures of staples like Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph, and no longer having the edge that PJ Tucker brought to the team late in the season last year, the kids have stepped up and fulfilled their roles with apparent ease, often running opponents off the court in early second and fourth quarters often with no starters accompanying them. It’s an understatement to say this was unexpected, with many writers(including myself) expressing concerns during the offseason about how the bench would adapt without those veteran presences, and with CJ Miles as the only journeyman left among the team’s reserves.

To make things more interesting, Delon Wright, expected to be one of the brightest spots in that young bench, has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury, and stands to be out a few more weeks yet. Wright had shown signs of brilliance during the early season, but also struggled for stretches, and his numbers didn’t blow anyone out of the water. Fred Van Vleet has had to step up and fill the minutes Kyle Lowry sits in his absence, and has been nothing short of brilliant. The Raptors this season have four primary ballhandlers, in Lowry, Wright, Van Vleet and DeMar DeRozan. Of the four, only Van Vleet has played significant minutes without one of the other three accompanying him, and the team has been great in those minutes with him running the show. Lorenzo Brown and, more often of late, Norman Powell have of late been filling the role of secondary ball handler beside Van Vleet in the all-bench groups, and Powell seems to have found his comfort again back with the bench, looking better and playing more in the flow of the offense.

However, the team has been running an eleven or twelve man rotation in the majority of these games, and with a crowded bench frontcourt with Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl all playing quality minutes along with the depth at the guard spots, it’s hard to figure out how to pare down the number of players in the rotation, something the team may need to do as we go down the stretch of the season towards the playoffs. Once you reach the postseason, it’s in a team’s best interest to maximize the minutes of their stars and slim down the number of players getting play to just those who stand the best chance of winning the minutes they are out there for.

To start building a more singular bench unit, we’d need to go to the staples, and along with Van Vleet, who seems to have solidified his role as a central figure in the second unit, you’d have to include CJ Miles, who’s shooting has been key for the Raptors this season. With Serge Ibaka as the definite starter at the power forward position and OG Anunoby seeming to have locked down the other starting forward spot, that leaves Pascal Siakam as the man beside Miles. Siakam has grown leaps and bounds this season in terms of both confidence and capability handling the ball, scoring in transition getting ahead of the defense on a nightly basis as well as showing the ability to take a defender off the drive, to go with his improved outside shooting and defensive quickness.

Now, the problem here is that leaves us with Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Jakob Poeltl, and Lucas Nogueira, and only two spots left in that particular lineup. Each of these players has definable strengths and deserves minutes in the NBA. This isn’t an attempt to criticize any of these players, as they all have bright futures ahead of them. Interestingly, the threesome of Van Vleet, Miles and Siakam hasn’t played a significant number of minutes with any particular fourth, with just four 4-man lineups over 20 minutes, and none of them having a negative net rating. Powell would clock on at the best net rating at +19.1, with Wright at +16.7, Poeltl at +12.9, and Bebe at +4.3. All of those sample sizes are tiny though, with Bebe’s 36 minutes being the most, and must be taken with a massive amount of skepticism because of that.

It’s my belief that Wright is going to have a solid career as a starting point guard in this league, and that he’s closer to being that player than he showed early in this season. He needs to work on his outside shooting, but he excels running the pick and roll, especially when playing beside former college teammate Jakob Poeltl, and his length can cause fits for opposing guards on defense, especially combined with his seemingly tireless work effort.

On the other hand, Norman Powell came into the season as the de facto starter at small forward for the Raptors, and an injury forced him out of the lineup. In his absence, OG Anunoby stepped up and earned the coach’s confidence to hold down that spot, at least for now. Powell is a terror on the dribble and a decent enough catch and shoot guy from outside. His smaller frame for a wing he makes up for with a huge wingspan and quickness, and when he’s engaged he can be great there. As a rookie he was a huge part of the Raptors playoff series victory over Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, and last season his move to the starting lineup with Jonas Valanciunas going to the bench gave the team a small look that was a big part of them beating Milwaukee. On the other hand, he can sometimes get tunnel vision going to the basket, and hasn’t quite mastered the change of pace, preferring to go full speed nearly all the time, and if he can learn to slow down sometimes it will allow his drives to become yet more dangerous for the defense.

There really is no wrong answer between Powell and Wright, I think, because both have earned there time in the NBA, but if it came down to one of them being the bench constant and the other as injury insurance, I think I’d lean towards Powell at this moment. There is the possibility that the team will need him to step back into a starting role later in the season if Anunoby shows his youth, and if that’s the case, he needs to keep getting playing time to remain at the ready and keep developing his tools. Wright would then likely step back into more bench minutes, but all this also depends on Wright’s recovery from injury, as for the moment this spot would belong to Norm by default, with Delon out.

That leaves us with the question of the center position. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Jakob Poeltl’s game, but Bebe has also had a strong season and brings a shooting presence that Poeltl simply doesn’t have. As with Powell and Wright, this is a case of two right answers, and it really does come down to preference. Do you prefer the stable hand of Poeltl, the player where you know what you’ll get every night, and who brings a strong offensive rebounding presence and solid, though unspectacular, defensive presence, or the enigmatic Nogueira who brings explosiveness in both his game and output, with tremendous athleticism showing in both his blocked shots and dunks, punctuated by his three-point shooting?

On the balance, I’d lean towards Jakob here, but mostly because the data seems to back up that he works well with the other staples. When paired with both Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam, Poeltl has played 78 minutes thus far this season, and that group boasts a +31 net rating in those minutes while grabbing 57.9% of all available rebounds.

So that leaves us with a primary bench unit of Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl. All of this is mostly a moot intellectual exercise at this point of course, with Dwane Casey seemingly committed to the larger rotation for the time being. But should he look to shorten the bench at some point this year, especially with the playoffs in mind for a franchise that has to be focused on finding sustainable success once we get past the regular season, that’s the direction that I would recommend, at least based on what we currently know.

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Raptors top Hornets but unhappy with another shaky third

Raptors 126, Hornets 113 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors became post-moral victory years ago. They’ve now entered the stage of their growth as a group where they’re post-all wins are good, the greater emphasis on how the team will look in April and May making even a 13-point home victory in November a potential rallying cry for a message that’s just not getting through.

Opposite a Charlotte Hornets opponent without star point guard Kemba Walker, the Raptors started and closed strong but sleptwalk through another third quarter. That they’d end up winning 126-113 was of little concern to head coach Dwane Casey after the game, when he requested the Open Gym cameras be turned off so that the team could be reminded, without filter, that not all wins are good wins. Not in Year Five of being a playoff team, and not in a season where the how is being preached as more important than the how many.

The Raptors came out with an apparent edict to get their two slumping starters going, with Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan combining to take 12 shots in the first five minutes. Valanciunas’ energy level was in the right place, rendering Dwight Howard mostly a screen-setter and, oddly, a jump-shooter early, but Valanciunas’ own stroke was wayward. He missed a free-throw jumper on the short roll he’s normally good for and struggled inside, though he and Serge Ibaka were still a plus for their activity on the glass. DeRozan, meanwhile, decidedly shook off his three-game mini-slump, scoring on a terrific cut, unleashing a euro-step floater, shaking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a turnaround elbow jumper, and finishing with 10 points in the opening quarter.

The Raptors did a nice job on the Hornets at the other end, owing in part to Michael Carter-Williams’ ineffectiveness as a lead guard. OG Anunoby saw time on Kidd-Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Marvin Williams, and the starters as a whole did a nice job of sealing off the paint. (Let’s just not talk about Anunoby’s spin move into a waiting Howard.) Howard did beat Valanciunas for a dunk on a nice post-up, with Valanciunas getting him right back and more with a tidy up-and-under, stopped him on a mid-range face-up, then scored on him in the post once again.

A driving Ibaka dunk straight out of his Thunder days sent the Hornets running for a timeout down 10 early, before the Raptors had even gone to the bench. If that’s not a positive sign for this team, one doesn’t exist. Casey smartly tethered Valanciunas to Howard and went to Jakob Poeltl as the Hornets went to their bench, and a DeRozan-lead bench group drew another timeout out of Steve Clifford. The Hornets finally had some shots dropped and closed the gap to 32-25 at the end of the quarter.

Frank Kaminsky happened for a while in the second quarter, because it’s Kaminsky and it’s the Raptors. He scored eight in a hurry at the top of the second despite decent defensive effort from the home side, and Malik Monk joined him from beyond the arc. The Raptors’ second unit was firing back with the drive-and-kick game, led by Norman Powell and C.J. Miles, each of whom had a three and a great take to the rim. Valanciunas returned opposite Howard and quickly scored on a nice cut, and then Lowry took a turn taking over for a stretch, finishing the half with 19 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

Valanciunas picked up a third foul with a little over three minutes to go, leading to some time with Poeltl on Howard, and Howard went right to work driving past him and dunking on a helping Ibaka. Poeltl picked up a third foul himself right after, which meant Lucas Nogueira minutes. Nogueira missed a rim-run in transition but picked up a deflection and saved a loose ball shortly after, and Anunoby got a turn guarding Howard in the post on a switch and helped force a turnover on a kick-out. The Raptors’ offense remained just too much for the Hornets in the penalty, and they pulled away heading into the break, stretching their lead to 19.

The third quarter was a Raptors third quarter, with the Hornets opening on an 8-0 run. Howard faced up for another long two and tipped in an offensive rebound, and Toronto helped their cause with some disorganized offense. Casey didn’t give it time to build, calling a timeout less than two minutes in only for the team to commit an over-and-back violation right after. Valanciunas earned the hook after a fourth foul, and after Lowry took a hard shot to the head, Carter-Williams played his best two minutes on offense since his rookie year. Poeltl promptly picked up his fourth, too, and the Hornets run had extended to 19-2, the Hornets scoring on nine consecutive possessions and the lead dwindling to just two.

“I don’t have words,” Casey said. “We’re not going to win anything if we come out with that attitude, if we don’t fix it. Again, we’ve talked about, I don’t know, start another five to start the second half? It’s just mind-boggling. And on top of that, we give them 38 free throws. We’re playing defence, fouling, reacting, not be proactive defensively.”

The poor start to the half eventually dissipated. DeRozan ended the drought with a pair of buckets and Carter-Williams came down to earth, allowing the Raptors to stabilize things momentarily. Charlotte punched right back with another 6-0 mini-run that took a wild Miles floater to stop and Fred VanVleet’s steadiness to keep at bay, and the back-and-forth through the end of the quarter had Toronto up just eight entering the fourth.

The all-bench group got the nod again at the top of the fourth, and Nogueira and Powell threes sent Charlotte to a timeout within the first two minutes this time around. The Lowry-and-bench group that hasn’t been used much this year held the lead steady for a few minutes, with Lowry’s hot scoring night carrying the load and some nice activity from the reserves keeping Charlotte at bay.

Casey opted to go starter-heavy to close, with Powell the only bench piece. Valanciunas even re-entered for Nogueira, who had three fouls and suffered a strained right calf to close a solid night, the Raptors wanting a big body for Howard and a strong screen-setter for their guards. That was tenuous, with Lamb and Batum both connecting around misses for the Raptors frontcourt, setting up a five-point game with just under five minutes to play. VanVleet re-entered for additional ball-handling and security at the cost of a size mismatch at both guard spots, and whether that worked or the tides turned naturally, the Raptors finally pulled back away.

A Lowry pull-up three against Kaminsky putting the game back to double-digits, and not even Howard pushing to 20-and-10 territory was enough to mount yet another comeback. DeRozan and Lowry closed out the scoring to finish with a combined 66 points on 40 field-goal attempts and 12 assists, and the clean close-out kept all five starters in the positive for plus-minus for a second game in a row (and plus-1 as a fivesome). Lowry set a career-high with eight made threes, too, and VanVleet set a career-best with nine assists.

“Yeah, you just trying to find him,” VanVleet said. “I think I had one I could have shot and I saw him, I gave it up right away. 8 for 11 from three is pretty impressive and when he’s got it going like that, it’s pretty hard to guard.”

Still, the mood was somewhat tense after the game, with Casey’s disappointment in the third quarter hanging over things. This stretch for the Raptors, where they’ll play a home-heavy schedule with ample time off and 10 of 11 opponents under .500, will have a heavy focus on winning the right way. Winning games isn’t necessarily a big enough positive on its own if the wins are coming in a way that will prove unsustainable when the leverage is much higher and the Raptors are actually being measured, and so fits of lethargy and a 116 defensive rating, even in an eventual 13-point win, will stand out.

“We’re happy we won the game but not happy with the performance,” Casey said. “We’ve got to fix it. We talked about it, other than start five other people I don’t know what to do.”

Lowry and DeRozan have often been good enough for poor stretches and mental lapses to not matter, and the bench being as terrific as it has been has helped paper over some larger issues. That buys the team some rope to figure things out without too much concern for their record, it could just make for more nights like this where the team isn’t thrilled about what looks like a fine win in the box score.

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Raptors-Hornets reaction Podcast – Kyle Lowry Over Everything

Host William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ win over the Charlotte Hornets.

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Quick Reaction: Hornets 113, Raptors 126

Charlotte 113 Final
Box Score
126 Toronto

B
S. Ibaka29 MIN, 8 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4-12 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 14 +/-

You know players come to Toronto and think they’re going to get a bigger offensive role, and when they get it, they’re sort of hit and miss. Mostly miss. DeMarre Carroll’s the latest example. I’m not saying Ibaka’s in that category by any means, but the dude takes liberties with possessions he shouldn’t be taking and it hurts the team in key stretches. Couple nice blocks and got dunked on by Howard, but overall was more out of the game than in it.

B-
O. Anunoby19 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 3 +/-

He could just do jumping jacks all game on defense and the fans would love him. Wasn’t much of a factor on either end, and you usually expect a little more from him defensively. At the same time, it’s impossible to be critical of a rookie thrust in the starting lineup who’s been playing well overall.

A-
J. Valanciunas22 MIN, 12 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 6-11 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 9 +/-

I can’t figure out how to analyze JV anymore because everytime I see him, I wish he played in the 90s where he’d be a little more appreciated. Decent offensive game where he cleaned up some spills, made a sweet up-and-under, and rolled to the rim religiously without getting the ball. The matchup with Howard was even when they faced each other, so no complaints on my end. Carry on.

A+
K. Lowry36 MIN, 36 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 12-18 FG, 8-11 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 12 +/-

Seemed like he could’ve dropped 50 tonight if he tried. Played the game on casual mode, hitting threes, hesitation-moving his way into the paint for leaners, and doing what was comfortable for him. Going up against MCW instead of Walker has its benefits. The only complaint was defensively he let in a bit too much penetration, but given his offensive game, all is forgiven and then some.

A-
D. DeRozan35 MIN, 30 PTS, 4 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 14-23 FG, 0-3 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 17 +/-

I remember lauding him for his off-the-ball game when he came into the league, and that still remains true. With Norman/Lowry at the point and DeRozan playing off him instead of initiating offensive, the Raptors offense is a different beast because it allows DeRozan’s ancillary skills like curling to the rim and catching-and-shooting to come to the fore.

B+
F. VanVleet18 MIN, 8 PTS, 1 REB, 9 AST, 0 STL, 3-6 FG, 2-2 3FG, 0-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 13 +/-

Can someone put a space between Van and Vleet because it drives me nuts? You know, kind of like Van Persie, or Van Nistelrooy. I like Steady Freddy, he’s the most efficient Raptor in terms of what he does handling the ball – never a wasted second, doesn’t over-dribble, doesn’t under-dribble, passes when he needs to and doesn’t play hero-ball. Roko Ukic take note, this is what you could’ve been, you horse-faced killah!

B+
P. Siakam18 MIN, 4 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-

Gotta love how the announcers always call out how Dwane Casey’s strategy is “go, go, go”. Some strategy, but whatever the hell it is, Siakam follows it like his life depended on it. When he grabs the rebound, he also covers half the floor with his dribble giving the second unit a tempo burst on the possession. Lost Frank Kaminsky a couple times but overall, effective. Is a three-point shooter? Legit question, haven’t seen the Raptors much of late.

A-
J. Poeltl17 MIN, 8 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 4-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -7 +/-

What a great roller this guy is? His blunt moves really smoke the defense until there’s nothing but a roach left. His tight, smooth rolls make a lasting impression on anyone, and makes you wonder what you’ve done with your life. They even make you hungry.

B+
N. Powell17 MIN, 10 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-7 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -4 +/-

Dude’s just a ball player with great decision-making instincts. His play in the second quarter where he ran the show for a bit was exquisite. He might be one of the most (if not the) well-rounded players on the Raptors in terms of defensive and offensive contribution.

B
C. Miles17 MIN, 7 PTS, 0 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 4 +/-

Added a little offensive punch to the second unit despite being poor from three. I’d say having Norm and him along with Siakam is a pretty balanced second unit giving you a bit of everything. We just need to find this guy a consistent, predictable role by the time the playoffs role, because we’ll need his shooting when DeMar and Kyle are being blanketed by J.R Smith.

C+
L. Nogueira8 MIN, 3 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-3 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 13 +/-

Blew two layups and hit a three. Now has face tattoos in case he didn’t stand out enough. Left the game late with a strained calf.

B+
Dwane Casey

Didn’t do anything that would put us in a position to lose the game. Could argue that he should’ve gone to the bench sooner in the third, but c’mon, can’t be yanking starters because they have a couple turnover-riddled possessions.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors were in control of this game even though Charlotte had a few spurts where they cut the lead to around half a dozen. The only real danger (that I felt) was at the start of the third where they made a 14-2 run to cut it to 7ish. That was the moment where this game could’ve gone either way, but the Raps responded.
  2. Drake is a funny color commentator. He was more entertaining than Devlin and Leo have been in 10 years. Bring the guy back.
  3. I like this team. I think they have enough balance on them to be a real threat against anyone. This team, more than any other that I can remember of late, doesn’t really have to be dependent on DeRozan and Lowry to provide. If we can recognize that and balance our offense accordingly, we’ll be a more multi-faceted team in the post-season.
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Pre-game news & notes: Walker out as Hornets visit Raptors

Another game, another elite point guard the Toronto Raptors will miss. John Wall has already missed two visits to Toronto, Chris Paul was out of the lineup when the Raptors visited Houston, and the Raptors’ loss to Boston came without Kyrie Irving on the opposing side.

Add Kemba Walker, a noted Raptor killer, to that list. Walker will miss Wednesday’s game with a shoulder injury, leaving the Charlotte Hornets at a noted disadvantage against a home side that’s had three days off with which to prepare for them. The Raptors can’t take the Hornets lightly, of course, but missing Walker is a big relief if all they’re concerned about is the victory – Walker has scored 115 points over his last four games against Toronto, with a very nice 69-percent true-shooting. Charlotte’s won two of those games, too, ending Toronto’s strong run in the matchup.

With the Walker threat neutralized, the trap game threat may be ratcheted up, what with a team down their star and a very light schedule during the current fortnight. While you’ll sometimes hear that too much time off can disrupt a team’s rhythm, that’s not how the Raptors are viewing their brief siesta.

“No, if anything it makes you more hungry and you want to get out there and play,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround. “It’s been so long watching everyone else play, practicing. You kind of get a little more anxious you want to get out there and play.”

It sounds like the Raptors plan to have an energy about them to start this one, which they’ll hope can help with the recent shaky starts to halves.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
With C.J. Miles back (maybe just a bit tired from the early days of fatherhood), the Raptors have a pretty clean roster sheet, save for the rehabilitating Delon Wright. There are frontcourt starter and rotation questions that won’t rear their head in a matchup against Dwight Howard but are, as always, worth monitoring moving forward. It seems as if OG Anunoby will continue starting, too, which looks like a good fit. Norman Powell has no qualms about shifting to the bench, by the way.

“It doesn’t matter what my role is. It’s just playing my role to the best of my abilities,” Powell said. “Me coming off the bench, it doesn’t matter. I’m not mad, I’m not upset. It’s my role and I’m going to do what I have to do to help the team win. They put me back in the starting lineup I’m going to do what I have to do to help the team win, just trying to be as productive as I can and make winning plays as much as I can.”

There’s always been a strong case for Powell as a Sixth Man type, and it will be interesting to see if he and Miles can find a quick chemistry that would seem obvious, stylistically, on paper.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Hornets updates
Kemba Walker was ruled out due to a shoulder injury at shootaround, which means Michael Carter-Williams will draw the start and play his largest role in some time. Carter-Williams is a solid defender who poses a challenge with his length, but he remains a fairly ineffective scoring option, shooting below 30 percent on the year and often looking hesitant to even look for his own shot. He’s a willing passer and has solid vision, the Raptors will just know what to expect on a lot of action. Helping things is that Julyan Stone was upgraded from out to probable and could see his first action since two games into the season in a backup role.

Frank Kaminsky (foot sprain) was listed as probable and Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) wasn’t on the injury report at all.

UPDATE: Carter-WIlliams starts, Stone and Kaminsky are active.

PG: Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone
SG: Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk, Treveon Graham
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, Dwayne Bacon
PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
C: Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller
OUT: Kemba Walker
TBD: Julyan Stone Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb
Greensboro: Marcus Paige, Mangok Mathiang

Assorted

OG.

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The line
The Raptors opened as 8-point favorites, and the line has since nudged to Raptors -7.5. The over-under is at 204.5 after starting around 206.

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Making their Marc – Evaluating the Rumour of Gasol to the Raptors

The NBA and Trade Rumours go together like the Toronto Raptors and Marc Gasol. See what I did there? Call it Memphis Day at Raptors Republic after Anthony Doyle wrote a beautiful piece on the Raptors’ sustainable (if unfortunately forgettable) core in the wake of the Grizzlies mess. It’s time to address the rumours, however veritable that Toronto could indeed be a possible landing spot for Marc Gasol.

The “Big Burrito” (this was his nickname in a Memphis high school – can we please start using this in regulation again?) was visibly upset after being benched in the fourth quarter last week and his coach was promptly fired. This isn’t to say Gasol was the reason Fizdale was let go, but the fact remains that Memphis is in a tailspin and the Raptors are rumoured to be itching to take advantage.

These rumours have basically snowballed from one source. NBA Insider Mitch Lawrence listed Toronto as one of several teams interested in landing the 32-year old All-Star so before everyone gets too excited it’s important to know this isn’t exactly a Woj Bomb. Among the teams Lawrence listed as being interested are the Raptors, Cavaliers and Celtics. If that sounds to you like it could shape into a bidding war then you’re absolutely right. The Raptors and Celtics have the most to offer, and the most to gain as both teams try to set up for a clash with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. While it’s important to remember that these rumours are just that, RUMOURS – let’s take a look at what it would take if this thing ever gained traction.

Assuming Memphis is aware of the King-of-Trades resume, chances are they won’t take Ujiri lightly. That means emptying the coffers for Gasol, and yet the Raptors draft picks are virtually non-existent. Where does that leave Toronto in their pursuit for the Big Burrito? Jonas Valanciunas. Yes, everyone’s favourite lightning rod will have to the be at the centre of any discussion in a deal for Gasol. He’s essentially a smaller, slower, softer…(you get the picture) version of the Grizzlies’ all-star so it’s time to start adding on some pieces. One of Jakob Poeltl or Lucas Nogueira is almost guaranteed to be involved in any package and even that is unlikely to be enough. Start scanning down the bench and your eyes might land on the recently signed Norman Powell…or Pascal Siakam.

Giving up JV is hardly difficult for Raptors fans to stomach. With his obituary in the bag (S/O to William Lou!) the only heartbroken fans belong to the indefensible JV Hive, and even they would have to appreciate the upgrade to Marc Gasol. The situation isn’t as black and white as a few young players and JV (Gasol comes with a $10 million dollar trade kicker after all) but if anyone is possible of making it happen, its Masai. So what would the Raptors look like if Toronto pulled off the heist?

A starting lineup of Lowry-DeRozan-Ibaka-Gasol with Anunoby or Powell (assuming neither find themselves in the trade). They would improve drastically on defence in a heartbeat, and receive an intelligent and dominant big man in the post on offence. As the shift to small ball spreads across the league, Gasol remains a lighthouse giving hope to other big men trying to survive the storm. He’s averaging 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists to go along with 1.7 blocks and 0.5 steals. He’s shooting a career-worst 42% from the field but has had to carry more of the load with Mike Conley out and is a 49% career shooter. He’s on a three-year contract that lines up beautifully with Lowry and Ibaka’s and would firmly put Toronto in a position to legitimately challenge Boston and Cleveland in the postseason. The Raptors are in a beautiful position of contending on a nightly basis while building for the future, yet a trade of this magnitude would instantly shift that balance. Is it worth it? Here’s a video of Gasol dominating the Raps to watch while you ponder.


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Raptors’ Minutes Update

The fact that Andrea Bargnani remains a likely top 10 player in franchise history says a lot about what the Raptors have achieved in the NBA.  Bargnani remains top 10 in categories like games played, points, and 3 point field goal attempts.  To put matters into even more blunt perspective, Bargnani is somehow 6th for both total rebounds and blocks.

Bargnani was certainly a problem, but he was also a symptom.  Yes, he was terrible and it’s perfectly fair to try and forget his existence, but the Raptors have also just generally sucked.  It took 21 seasons before the Raptors had their first 50 win season in 2015-16, a feat which the repeated last year.

It feels like I start the majority of my articles with this type of introduction, as the current expectations and enjoyment of the Raptors is read by the fiery wreckage of their past.   To recognize what the Raptors have built it’s important to first recognize the original foundation.

Masai took over a 34 win team in 2013 and the Raptors have successfully won 48, 49, 56, and 51 wins respectively, and are currently on pace to 52.  The last four years have been the most successful in the team’s history, and expectations are now higher than ever.

While adding another 50 win season certainly won’t hurt, the Raptors have now reached the point that success will entirely be weighed by what happens in the playoffs.  This was largely the case last year when they were coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but each year the need for continued playoff success grows

What helps is that the Raptors under Masai have seemingly become deeper each and every season with him at the helm.  Each year Toronto loses a series of veterans that have helped in contributing to their success, and each year depth remains a strength.

Pascal Siakam is fast becoming the exact player that we all wanted Patrick Patterson to one day become.  Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet are successfully replacing Cory Joseph’s point guard duties.  And OG Anunoby has filled the place in our hearts left by the departure of PJ Tucker.

Toronto is easily three deep at every position and has the type of line-up flexibility that has eluded them almost entirely over the last 22 years.

But while depth is a massive help in the regular season, its biggest benefit is the impact it has come playoff time.  Playoff rotations generally shrink to a maximum of 9 players, but the Raptors can thankfully use at least 10-12 players each night during the regular season.

More players means less minutes overall, and playoff success will largely be decided by the play of the team’s top players in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka.  Kyle Lowry in particular should benefit from a little less playing time, as he seemingly enters the playoffs each year with some type of injury that has impacted his play.

Take a look at Lowry’s regular season stats from the last three years:

Per Game Table
Season G MP FGA FG% 3P% 2P% eFG% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2014-15 70 34.5 14.9 .412 .338 .457 .476 4.5 .808 4.7 6.8 1.6 0.2 2.5 3.0 17.8
2015-16 77 37.0 15.6 .427 .388 .461 .516 6.4 .811 4.7 6.4 2.1 0.4 2.9 2.7 21.2
2016-17 60 37.4 15.3 .464 .412 .518 .569 6.1 .819 4.8 7.0 1.5 0.3 2.9 2.8 22.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/29/2017.

Now compare that to his playoff production:

Playoffs Per Game Table
Season G MP FGA FG% 3P% 2P% eFG% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2014-15 4 32.8 14.3 .316 .217 .382 .360 2.8 .727 5.5 4.8 1.3 0.0 3.0 4.5 12.3
2015-16 20 38.3 16.5 .397 .304 .464 .461 5.2 .750 4.7 6.0 1.6 0.2 3.2 3.7 19.1
2016-17 8 37.5 11.6 .462 .342 .545 .532 4.1 .818 3.1 5.9 1.5 0.5 2.1 3.3 15.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/29/2017.

It was clear while watching it and the stats make it painfully obvious, Lowry has failed to match his regular season performance come playoff time.  While targeting 50 wins and a top playoff seed is important, keeping Lowry healthy entering the playoffs should be a much higher goal.

Lowry averaged at least 37 minutes in each of the last two seasons, the second highest average in the league each year.  The more minutes played, the more wear and tear that happens.  Compare that to this season where Lowry is playing just 32.3 minutes per game, good for 51st in the entire league.

DeMar’s minute reduction has not been as pronounced as Lowry’s, but by playing 1.2 minutes less than last year he moved from 14th in the league in 2016-17 to 26th in the league this year.

Seeing these minute reductions is another reminder of Casey’s growth as a head coach.  He uses his rotations better, has installed a new offence, trusts young players with significant minutes, and now is prioritizing the rest/health of his best players.

Regular season success and high seeding is still a goal, but the minutes played for Kyle Lowry is another reminder that the Raptors are now viewing the regular season as a warm-up of sorts for the bigger goal at hand: winning in the spring.

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Raptors 905 waiving Moute a Bidias, Flemmings

Photo credit: KarynStepien.com

Raptors 905 have waived Roger Moute a Bidias and Chris Flemmings, the team will announce Wednesday.

With Kaza Keane and Kennedy Meeks returning from FIBA qualifiers, the 905 had to cut two players from their roster. Keane appeared in both of Canada’s games, scoring three points with an assist in nine total minutes as the Canadians went 1-1. Meeks saw similar time for a 2-0 USA Basketball side, scoring four points in six minutes.

When the 905 lost Keane and Meeks, they scooped up Flemmings and Kuran Iverson from the available player pool and traded for Shevon Thompson to fill an existing open roster spot. It appeared that Flemmings and Iverson would only be short-term stop-gaps, but Iverson impressed in a fairly sizable role over four games, averaging 4.3 points in 12.2 minutes and offering some nice defensive versatility for head coach Jerry Stackhouse. Thompson has been a revelation in his two games with the team, which left a tough decision for the team.

Waiving Flemmings was fairly predictable, even though he appeared in four games with the team. Moving on from Moute a Bidias is more surprising, as he’s a player the team liked from open tryouts, enough to keep him on the roster entering the season despite a knee strain. While Moute a Bidias was said to be progressing well in his recovery, it’s difficult to keep two injured players (Negus Webster-Chan is also yet to play this year due to an IT band injury) on a roster that can shrink as small as 10 when two-way players and assignment players aren’t with the 905.

Wednesday’s moves bring the 905 roster back to the normal formation, with 10 players, plus two-ways and assignees. Here’s how the roster shakes out coming out of the FIBA period, wit the 905 at 4-5:

PG: (Lorenzo Brown [two-way]), Kaza Keane, Kethan Savage
SG: Davion Berry, Aaron Best, (Negus Webster-Chan [injured])
SF: (Alfonzo McKinnie [assignee]), Malcolm Miller (two-way)
PF: Bruno Caboclo (assignee) Richard Amardi, Kuran Iverson
C: Kennedy Meeks, Shevon Thompson, Andre Washington

The 905 are next in action on Friday in Maine.

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Dissenting Opinions and Big Men

If you haven’t yet done so, I urge you to read William Lou’s piece on Medium tackling Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas issue. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions (spoiler alert: I don’t), Will is a necessary read when he dives deep into the Raptors. The issue of JV is a polarizing one in the Raptors community, and it tends to divide fans into two sides that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Since Will provided a well-reasoned take from his side of the spectrum, I thought it only fair that I do the same for my side. There were a few criticisms that I wanted to rebut, namely the idea that Valanciunas hasn’t grown in his years in the league, and the idea that a player like him is becoming obsolete in the “modern” NBA, and unplayable in high leverage situations.

To understand JV’s growth with the Raptors, it’s first essential to understand his role with the team. Although he was the team’s hope for the future when they drafted him at #5, luck and the brilliance of Masai Ujiri meant the Raptors became a really good team in his second season. This meant that, unlike other young players who got the blessing and the curse of all the possessions they could handle on putrid teams, Valanciunas was expected to play a heavily regimented role that would help the team win games. It’s within that role that his growth has come.

One of the main criticisms of JV’s game has been his lack of passing ability. And it’s true that he hasn’t flashed the sort of vision that his idol, Arvydas Sabonis had in his brief years playing in the NBA. But that’s largely by design. Before this season, Casey’s management of his offense was largely laissez-faire. Although Nick Nurse garnered deserved praise for the breadth and depth of his playbook, Casey was willing to let his two stars dictate the offense for the majority of the game. And since those two stars are score-first players, that meant that everyone else on the team took on a complementary role. As we saw in the playoffs the last 4 seasons, that approach didn’t work. In fact, there’s evidence that it seemed to stifle the creative tendencies of those complementary players. Luis Scola, James Johnson, DeMarre Carroll, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, even Bismack Biyombo – these are players who saw their Assist% jump when they left the Raptors and Casey’s (lack of an) offense.

In fairness to Casey, he’s done a much better job this season of instituting more motion and more involvement for complementary players in the offense. And, lo and behold, it’s served to help Valanciunas’ passing as well. His current Assist% is the highest of his career, and second highest among rotation big men on the team, ahead of Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, and (of course) Serge Ibaka. With this information, combined with his blossoming into one of the best rebounders in the NBA (top 8 in Rebound% the past 3 seasons), a premier roll man (83.3rd percentile on the roll this season, 92.2nd percentile last season, and 90th percentile in 2015-16), as well as the fact that he’s become a reliable midrange shooter, it would be fair to say that JV has shown growth within the role prescribed to him by the organization.

You might note that all of that growth (save rebounding) that I mentioned was on the offensive end. And it’s obviously true that Valanciunas isn’t a great (or even good) defender. That largely leads into my second issue, the idea that Valanciunas is obsolete in the modern NBA. I think this idea is pure bunk, honestly. There will always be room in the NBA for big men who can draw scads of attention when they roll to the basket, finish at the rim at an elite rate, and rebound the hell out of the ball. Valanciunas does all of those things, and we’ve seen that it’s possible to build good defensive lineups with him on the court as well. That’s because Valanciunas is actually a pretty good rim protector, and when he’s placed in a conservative scheme, with a smart, quick big man next to him, the Raptors have experienced their greatest success. As sexy as it may be to say that the big man is going extinct in the NBA, the simple truth is that a large part of Toronto’s success over the last 4 years has come because of, not in spite of, having Valanciunas in the lineup.

According to NBA.com, 12 5-man lineups played more than 50 total minutes for the Raptors last season. Of those 12, 8 lineups had positive net ratings. And of those 8, 6 included Jonas Valanciunas, including the 4 best lineups, and 6 of the top 7. This trend was present in 2015-16 as well. Out of 15 lineups with greater than 50 minutes played, 8 had positive net ratings, and the 3 best lineups all had Valanciunas at center. Simply put, JV is more than just a role player for the Raptors. In fact, he seems to be one of the keys to maximizing the team’s potential, and although it’s true that he’s struggled at times this season, it might surprise some to learn that, if you relax the requirements from 50 to 20 minutes this season, the best lineup that the Raptors have put on the court, by net rating, has included Valanciunas, albeit in a ludicrously small sample size.

This disconnect between what we expect and what actually happens brings me to my last point: the misconception that JV going to the bench in the Milwaukee series won the Raptors the series because of addition by subtraction; namely, that the Raptors won because JV was no longer on the court and messing everything up for the other players. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s important to realize that in that Milwaukee series, outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s obvious superstar, the best Buck came off the bench, in the form of Greg Monroe, and in the first 3 games, Monroe ran roughshod over the Raptors, largely because their bench bigs weren’t strong enough to stop him. Even though it may not have been his intention, when Casey brought Valanciunas off the bench starting in game 4, he matched up his best post defender and rebounder with Milwaukee’s best post scorer and rebounder, and essentially stymied him for the rest of the series. It’s somehow become commonplace to talk about the latter half of that series as though Valanciunas played no part. In fact, in the pivotal game 4, when the Raptors were battling back to tie the series after getting blown out in game 3, the center that was on the court to close out the 4th quarter was not Ibaka, but Valanciunas. And in game 5, Ibaka didn’t come into the 4th quarter until there were 5 minutes left and the Raptors were up by 18 points. Make no mistake, JV played a pivotal role in winning that series.

I don’t say all of that to say that Valanciunas has been blameless this season. He’s been extremely inconsistent, and it seems clearer and cleared that he isn’t a good fit with Ibaka, and more worryingly, DeRozan, and considering his contract status and his hierarchy with the team, that makes him the most obvious candidate to be shipped out in a trade. And honestly, I’d be fine with that. As a fan of JV the person and the player, I’d like to see him in a new market, partially because I want to see him spread his wings, and partially because the daily debate about his value to the Raptors is getting torturous. But from a strict asset management standpoint, unless an unforeseen suitor for Valanciunas becomes available, it makes sense for the Raptors to hang onto him and use him to maximize the effectiveness of the team. After all, the team has looked its best over the past few years when Valanciunas has been an involved and engaged member of the offense and defense. And considering that Joel Embiid, the best post scorer in the NBA, looks like the newest scary threat in the Eastern Conference, having an expert post defender could be useful.

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Gameday: Hornets @ Raptors, Nov. 29

It feels like it’s been a minute since the Toronto Raptors were last in action. Coming off of three days off, amidst a stretch of just three games in 13 days, things feel almost casual, with a sort of training camp vibe to them. The schedule turning lighter and home-heavier is unquestionably a positive, but the disruption of routine does pose somewhat of a threat, one the Raptors are aware of and ready to neutralize.

“It’s just different. You’ve got to adjust,” Fred VanVleet said Monday. “It doesn’t disrupt anything any more than a back-to-back or four games in five nights, it’s just different. You have to adjust to the rhythm of how things are going and like I said, it’s game time, practice, time, film time, treatment and just trust your work will carry over into games.”

There shouldn’t really be trap games considering how the Raptors lost two games last week, and they’ll need to bring the appropriate energy to take care of the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. Even at 8-11 and possibly down Kemba Walker, the Hornets are the type of smart, well-coached team that can take advantage of a listless opponent, and they’re not really willing to make the kind of mistakes that let you back into a game. Nobody turns the ball over less frequently than Charlotte, they’re among the league’s best rebounding teams, and they play a conservative defensive style that’s going to force the Raptors to beat them with shot-making rather than the transition game or free throws. It’s a nice challenge after a little break.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Josh Priemski of At The Hive, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: The Hornets acquired Dwight Howard for very little this offseason, with Steve Clifford betting he could get more out of him than his last few stops were able to. It was a reasonable gamble, given the cost, and while the Hornets are out to a tough start, Howard’s been pretty good, at least on defense. How pleased have you been with Howard’s impact? Or is this a case of a move that’s been fine in results but is disagreeable in terms of the initial reasoning behind it?

Josh Priemski: Howard, on the whole, has been a huge positive for the Hornets. His (long) history with Hornets head coach Steve Clifford was a major reason the Hornets felt he was salvageable, and thus far Clifford’s done a tremendous job of incorporating him into the offense.

Of course, adding Howard has also had its downsides. For example, the Hornets are currently 29th in free throw percentage solely because of him. In fact, if you squeeze Dwight out of the team’s stats, the Hornets would rank fourth in free throw percentage at 80.8 percent. That’s a big deal when the Hornets are losing games by an average of about nine points and Howard’s attempting nearly nine free throw attempts per game.

His defensive impact, on the whole, is huge. I mean, only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker have higher defensive ratings this season, and those two play the majority of their minutes alongside Howard. There are some issues with effort at times–dude does check out as his rep suggests–but he’s been a boon to Clifford’s defense-first approach.

Frankly, it’s hard to gauge just how good the Hornets are with Howard when they’ve only been completely healthy for a few games this season. Everyone’s back now, though, so we should figure that out soon.

Blake Murphy: Why is it so lonely on this Michael Kidd-Gilchrist bandwagon? Everyone’s left me. Hello?

Josh Priemski: I wish I knew, man. Still love me some MKG.

He missed several games to start the year because of his grandmother’s declining health and upon returning looked a little rusty. He looks like he’s lost a bit of weight, too, which is concerning because he wasn’t that big to begin with.

But with each passing game he’s looked more and more comfortable. I was worried he might struggle with how Howard occupies the interior on offense but his jump shot has been–and I know this might come as a surprise–quite good. He’s not shooting 3-pointers at all, mind you, but he’s shooting 57 percent from 10-16 feet on roughly three attempts per game and 37 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line.

He’s still an unbelievable defender and can single-handedly will his team back into a game with his effort alone. I wouldn’t sell. Dude has at least another five years ahead of him before he peaks.

Blake Murphy: Nicolas Batum is back after an early season elbow injury that must have scared Hornets fans given the varied nature of the reported timelines. How much of a difference does Batum make for this team, both as a shooter and a defensive weapon? Has he looked like himself since returning?

Josh Priemski: Hornets fans sometimes debate whether Kemba or Batum is more important to the Hornets’ success, and I think that’s indicative of just how well he fits on this team.

He’s not going to score 30 points every night or slam on defenders all that often, but Batum facilitates everything the Hornets want to do offensively with ease. He makes the correct reads, breaks from plays at the perfect time, and by and large knows how to make himself useful in mostly any lineup he finds himself in. This is especially helpful for Kemba, whom prior to Batum’s arrival handled the ball on mostly every possession. With Batum (and Dwight, for that matter), the Hornets’ offense is a little more difficult to predict. It’s nice to have options.

He’s shot the ball miserably this season, but I’d attribute that to the rust that comes with injuring your elbow. Given time I think we’ll see his shooting percentages rise.

Blake Murphy: Cody Zeller: The best of the Zeller-Plumlee big-man tree by a large margin, yes?

Josh Priemski: I’d think so. He’s seldom going to impress you with his box score stats, but he’s undoubtedly a pretty good player.

Offensively, Zeller not only sets some of the most brutal screens in the league but he’s adept at using his body to create space for others more generally. He’s also reckless and not afraid of a good elbow to the nose if it means he can recover the ball for his team. I’ve lost count, but dude’s broken his nose at least twice and is good for a handful of bloody noses each season. He gets after it.

I half-jokingly suggested he might be better than Dwight earlier this season. Not necessarily individually–Dwight’s the better scorer, rebounder, etc–but with regard to how he fits into a lineup and makes things easier for his teammates, I think there’s a real case to be made. Cody’s a winner.

Blake Murphy: Malik Monk is off to a cold shooting start, which is a little surprising, but it’s not hard to see that outside stroke stabilizing with more reps and a larger sample. How has he looked beyond just the 3-point shot? Are you still happy with landing him at No. 11?

Josh Priemski: His playing time dropped off a cliff when Batum returned.

There’s little doubt Monk can score. No shot is a bad shot in his eyes, and that’s largely the reason his percentages are so poor. He has no issue whatsoever with launching a contested 3-pointer from 26 feet with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. My summation is that once he gets some more reps he’ll calm down some and make a bigger impact.

Defensively, though, he’s not great. He’s small, he’s thin, and his awareness leaves a lot to be desired. He’ll surely improve with time but that’s the primary reason Clifford’s moved away from him. In fact, Clifford’s played Dwayne Bacon over him for most of this season and Bacon was drafted in the second round.

I think what’s most surprised me about Monk is that I thought he’d be a better ball handler. Earlier this season the Hornets had no one to play point guard behind Kemba and we saw Monk fill in as a backup. I expected him to be kind of Lou Williams-ish in that he’s a scorer that can facilitate somewhat when necessary but he’s not there yet.

He’s definitely worth the 11th pick. Just needs time.

Raptors updates
With C.J. Miles back after two games off for the birth of his child, the Raptors enter this one mostly healthy. Delon Wright is out but is already back to dribbling and doing conditioning work with his injured right shoulder, and DeMar DeRozan returned to practice Tuesday after getting Monday off, having banged his left knee on the weekend. The Raptors are in the midst of a stretch of just three games – all at home – in 13 days, so it’s a great time for everyone to round back into health and rehabilitate any minor issues that have been plaguing them.

The big thing to watch Wednesday will be the battle inside, as Jonas Valanciunas draws a more natural opponent in Dwight Howard. Valanciunas has historically done a decent job opposite Howard, averaging 10.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in seven career meetings, although only one has been a victory. They met three times last year, with one game being a minor disaster for Valanciunas offensively, one seeing Howard go off offensively, and the other being played roughly to a draw. Given his oscillating role against centers he’s less suited for in recent games, Valanciunas is looking forward to the chance to bang inside here.

“Yeah, you know, every night is different, different guy. Now tomorrow we have Dwight Howard, which is playing inside more,” he said Tuesday. “So it’s always good to battle somebody like me.”

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Hornets updates
The Raptors’ run of meeting teams down a key player could continue here, as Kemba Walker is doubtful due to a shoulder injury. Walker hurt the shoulder on Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs and, while he returned to that game, he missed practice Tuesday and had his status downgraded. Obviously, if he can’t go, that’s an enormous loss for Charlotte’s offense, as Walker is a dynamic scoring threat and playmaker who’s shown a flair for the dramatic against the Raptors in recent years.

If Walker sits, Michael Carter-Williams will draw the start at point guard, according to head coach Steve Clifford. With Julyan Stone also on the shelf, that would leave only Marcus Paige (who we can probably assume will be called up from the G League) or an out-of-position player (Malik Monk? Nicolas Batum?) as depth. A former Rookie of the Year, Carter-Williams is averaging 10.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.9 steals per-36 minutes, shooting a paltry 24.2 percent from the floor. He’s a long and game defender, though.

Elsewhere, Frank Kaminsky is expected to play through a sprained right foot. Jeremy Lamb also left Saturday’s game with a hamstring strain, but the Hornets haven’t released game notes yet for us to know if he’s on the injury report.

PG: (Kemba Walker), Michael Carter-Williams
SG: Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk, Treveon Graham
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, Dwayne Bacon
PF: Marvin Williams, (Frank Kaminsky), Johnny O’Bryant
C: Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller
OUT: Julyan Stone
TBD: Kemba Walker, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb
Greensboro: Marcus Paige, Mangok Mathiang

The line
The Raptors are 8-point favorites with a 207.5 over-under.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 E7 – Random Ramblings

On this episode of Talking Raptors, the guys do things a bit different. Nick and Barry get together to discuss their views on the random basketball thoughts they’ve had so far this season. They leave the team alone this week and try answer some existential ball questions.

They Discuss:

-Euro League Superstar vs NBA Bench bum.

-Shaq.

-Best way to win a game.

-Best non player job in the NBA.

-Best food to eat at a game.

-Half Time Shows.

This and a bit more. As always thanks for listening and we really hope you enjoy!

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The Long Game

The grit and grind era in Memphis appears to be at an end. With the departure of David Fizdale and the team reportedly looking to trade Marc Gasol, it really feels like the Grizzlies have accepted the inevitability of a rebuild. Thinking about this, and the consistency with which they’ve pushed great teams to the edge, brought me to the question of how will the Grizzlies be remembered? History is cruel, and also tends to cut what it can to tell the story it’s looking to tell, forsaking the unremarkable for the surprising. With Memphis, that story that keeps them in history might end up being the 2012-13 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder when Russell Westbrook was out, but more likely it’s their six-game series win over the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in 2010-11.

Maybe it’s wrong that a seven-year run full of adversity will likely be reduced to those anecdotes, but at least the Grizzlies can claim those moments, those points where they have to be mentioned because they escaped the narrative that was supposed to be told in those seasons. Fans in Memphis will remember more than that, but the general NBA memory doesn’t have space for all of those stories for every team, only for the remarkable.

That brings us to this core of the Toronto Raptors. This team wasn’t supposed to be good, and Raptors fans will likely remember the failed attempt to blow it up when the Knicks changed their minds on trading for Kyle Lowry and the team starting winning when they weren’t supposed to, making the playoffs and forcing the organization to stick with it, see what this team could do. Four winning seasons later, three playoff series wins, six All-Star berths and an All-NBA selection apiece for their backcourt, it’s unquestionably the best run in franchise history and one that will stick in the minds and hearts of Raptors fans for years after this core ages out of relevance.

DeMar DeRozan has improved every year, Kyle Lowry outgrew a reputation as a locker room problem to develop as a leader and one of the best players in the conference. Masai Ujiri has continued to excel at finding gems in the draft and fill the back end of the roster with talent while winning trades with consistency, and Dwane Casey has done an admirable job keeping players ready at the end of the bench and finding ways to win games.

Yet, thus far this is remarkable in Raptors history only. Teams rise and fall, there has to be good teams to offset the great and the bad ones, and that’s not in and of itself impressive. The Raptors playoff series victories were over teams lower in the standings, series that the Raptors were supposed to win. This isn’t a knock on the team either, taking care of business in the postseason is no easy task, but every playoff series has to have both a favorite and a winner, and when those two coincide, that becomes something that’s not mentionable in the course of league history.

Perhaps there is one notable moment belonging uniquely to this core, but it would be the one they’d rather forget. Still, to this point, the only team to be defeated in four games in a first round series as a higher seed is the 2014-15 Raptors, the second season of this team’s success when they collapsed in the playoffs against a game Washington Wizards team that was ready to take advantage of every mistake the Raptors made, and they gave the Wizards no shortage of opportunities. It’s not a moment that Raptors fans want to re-live, but it’s probably the most significant NBA memory they’ve created. Every time a higher seed goes down 0-3 in the first round from now on, there will be a graphic on your television mentioning that series.

The Raptors have decided to keep being good until this core can’t sustain it anymore, and clearly stated that through the extensions of DeRozan, Lowry and Serge Ibaka, which is an understandable decision, because getting to good isn’t easy in this league. It’ll be a fun several years while they maintain that. The challenge for this team isn’t to be good, because the talent can do that. The challenge is, even if you can’t win a title in the age of LeBron and the Warriors, be memorable. Find a way to be remarkable and ensure that no matter what, history cannot forget this core of the Raptors when it’s time comes to an end.

The nature of what that would look like isn’t clear, and it’s not an easy ask. Things that are memorable have to be difficult, have to be rare challenges, or else they aren’t remarkable. It wouldn’t be easy to take down LeBron James in a playoff series, to come out of an Eastern Conference that’s looking suddenly much tougher than was expected to make the NBA Finals. But it would be impressive, and it wouldn’t be something that would be easy to forget.

As a Raptors fan and writer, I won’t easily forget this core. It came out of a tough time in Raptors basketball, and in the organization’s history there isn’t a long list of positive moments to lean on. I don’t think the rest of the league should forget this period either, and that’s up to the team to make sure they don’t. Memphis is showing right now that the end can sometimes be closer than you think, and sometimes you don’t see it coming until it’s there. The Raptors should seize the moments they have in front of them while they can to create those lasting impressions.

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Basketball Losers

To be fair, it’s hard to keep the Raptors haters straight. There are just so many. Basketball writers, entire sites dedicated to impartial NBA coverage, even some Raptors beat writers: haters. Players on rival teams, players on teams not particularly in any kind of rivalry with Toronto, players with their forwarded contracts barely in the hands of a new GM, desperately grasping for a parting shot (hint: starts with a ‘D’ and ends in ‘eMarre Carroll’), players who land in a beach city and cite sudden weight loss as the result of a rigorous new training system rather than living where it’s summer 24/7 (rhymes with ‘Blames Swanson’): haters.

The list goes on: coaches, sports broadcast personalities, some dude in your office who just started watching basketball last week, your dog when you skimp on its evening walks because you don’t want to miss tip-off, Leafs fans, Toronto FC fans, and honestly? Sometimes yourself. Haters, all.

But for the most part, that kind of trash talk is just that—garbage. It stinks for a bit and if it’s particularly ripe it might hang around the air for a while but for the most part, it’s easy to put in the proper mental receptacle and move on from. Being a Raptors fan, it comes with the territory. In the immortal words of DeMar DeRozan, “It’s nothing new.”

That’s why, as a seasoned sifter of trash talk, I was surprised when the tweet by Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, didn’t just get compacted along with the rest of the mental refuse piles I’d accumulated last week.

For one, I heard it late. Which is weird because I pride myself on getting unduly riled up at stupid things said in and around basketball at all times. But it was primarily because Morey’s “comments” (tweeted URL) were so off the mark, so insular, and failed at the multiple levels he’d hoped, that he truly entered a new territory well beyond the one marked within the familiar lines of haters. He’d become a basketball loser.

In a pro-sport with so many opinions fluctuating by the hour it’s a difficult feat. Everybody is capable of being a bonehead sometimes, but a basketball loser is different. A basketball loser has to have all excuses and capacity to know better, and to still insist on behaving like a moron. More than that, there has to be some real intent in the judgment one passes, and in Morey’s case this was in his weird joke-not-joke of implying not just that he was one up on everyone else—including NY Times writer Scott Cacciola, who might I add released his story on the Raptors retool the very same day I did—but that he had known all along some secret of the universe that he was going to let everyone in on when it came to, of all things, the Toronto Raptors, albeit smarmily.

Like, guy, we get it. We’re fans and writers and fans who write and believe me, we all understand intimately the sweet, frustrating, infuriating, wonderful, tireless, “oh god not again” nature of this team. Daryl Morey did not do us or frankly any other basketball person paying one mote of attention any favours. What’s more is that it didn’t even work! He tweeted a Wikipedia URL and then, five minutes later, tweeted a full explanation of what his ultra casual link was supposed to clearly illuminate the first time.

And it doesn’t just fail because it states the obvious in such an overwrought, unnecessary way—who doesn’t understand that an athlete, that anyone, is more likely to get featured after a hot run, a good performance, or generally perceived as being successful—it’s that he’s not even right. What Morey suggests is that the mean the Raptors will inevitably regress to is a bad one, or more specifically, blowing it. Case in point, a glowing NYT feature (and an even more blinding Raptors Republic one) outlining all the ways Toronto is achieving success with a new mindset, focus on the core, developing the bench, and trying new things. But this is just generally a true thing, happening right now, and it doesn’t seem overly plausible, or even smart, for the team to somehow regress to the style in which they were competing last year. Moreover, they literally are not the same team. There have been key factors—Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson—that were shed during the summer, and crucial additions—C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl—plus the sharpening focus on the existing parts and how to best use them that underline where the focus on the team reset has really crystalized.

So while Morey got a lot wrong with a seemingly asinine series of tweets, what he missed the mark on by a mile was assuming he even knew the so-called mean that the Raptors would return to. He doesn’t. No one really does. The team has shifted so far from their old core gameplay that they’re circling an entirely new centre. However Toronto closes out this season the path to that place will have been so radically different—it already is—that there’s no going back to the habits of season’s past.

It’s nice, though, that Daryl Morey, by trying to appear the cleverest man who ever liked stats, exposed his own mean in the process and moved right back to it. Plus, the Rockets lost.

@wtevs

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OG Anunoby is the Raptors small forward of the present and future

The biggest revelation for the Toronto Raptors so far in the 2017-18 season has to be OG Anunoby. Honestly, this young man is the real deal. If you ask Warriors superstar Kevin Durant, he’d agree with you.

During a YouTube video posted on his personal account last week, Durant mentioned Anunoby as one of the rookies that have caught his attention in the early part of the season.

“I like OG Anunoby from Toronto,” he said.

He plays hard, he can shoot it, he rebounds well. He’s gonna be really good in the future.”

Really good in the future? C’mon Durant. How about really good already?

While his traditional offensive numbers, particularly his 6.7 points and 2 rebounds per game, don’t jump off the page at you, what does is Anunoby’s captivating athleticism and length. Both of those physical attributes have allowed the tantalizing forward to already become a well-above-average NBA defender, one that can guard positions 1 through 4. Anunoby’s defensive prowess is welcomed with open arms by a Raptors organization that’s struggled to find stability at the small forward position for well over a decade now. Who remembers the likes of Landry Fields, Jamario Moon, and Joey Graham? How about Jorge Garbajosa? I sure do.

How many teams could say their best defender just finished off his teenage years? It’s hard to fathom that at 20-years-old, Anunoby is already Toronto’s primary defensive stopper. He’s listed at 6’8” and has an impressive 7’2” wingspan, so it’s no secret as to why the former Hoosier gives his matchup fits regularly. Oh, and did I mention he’s still not 100 percent physically after tearing his ACL last January?

In his first 19 games, the Raps 2017 first round pick has already been tasked with guarding a variety of crafty all-stars, including James Harden, Anthony Davis, Al Horford, and Bradley Beal. That shows just how much head coach Dwane Casey believes in his abilities, but more importantly, how much he trusts him to shut down an opponent’s best player in the crucial moments of a game. Normally it takes more than a quarter of a season for a rookie to gain the trust of his coaching staff the way Anunoby has.

After Norman Powell suffered a right hip pointer against the Boston Celtics back on November 12, Anunoby was entrusted with starting small forward duties. In the seven games since Powell’s injury, he’s fit in well by providing strong play on both ends. He’s also been surprisingly effective on offence. His 115.5 offensive rating ranks 16th in the Association during that span, which proves how efficient he’s been at creating offence for his team with limited opportunities. If you include Anunoby’s 12 games coming off the bench, he ranks 10th league-wide in offensive rating (113.5). And if that wasn’t enough to convince you the kid’s got game – and an efficient one at that – his true shooting percentage of 62 should. Considering he hasn’t quite added a consistent jumper to his repertoire, these numbers so far should be very, very encouraging for members of Raptors nation and the team’s brass. Additionally, even if Anunoby isn’t quite the offensive weapon that Powell is, the starting unit already has enough scoring punch in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka to stay afloat; what that unit needs most is defensive improvement.

Casey and his assistants are undoubtedly thrilled with the Missouri native’s play to start his NBA career. Something else they’re certainly pleased with is how smooth Powell’s return to the bench unit has been so far.

Powell has shot 50 percent or better and scored in double-figures off the bench in the three games since returning from injury. His positive impact on the reserves has already been felt, especially in the absence of Delon Wright. Not only does Powell play his role within the offence to a tee, but he’s able to bail out the group if need be by creating shot opportunities off the dribble. Having a player of his calibre who’s willing to adjust his role – and play fewer minutes – for the betterment of the team speaks to the maturity and character of the 2015 second-rounder.

Given Anunoby’s four-inch height advantage over Powell (6’4”) – which aids him far more when it comes to defending swingmen –  expect Casey to continue rolling the former out as a member of the starting five. After all, he’s the clear-cut choice to start at the position in the years to come. That’s not a knock on Powell by the way, but rather a testament to Anunoby’s enticing potential.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has had many successes as an NBA executive over the years. Just in his tenure with Toronto, he’s traded away Andrea Bargnani, drafted Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl, and re-signed all-star level players in DeRozan and Lowry.

Drafting Anunoby may end up being Ujiri’s greatest success yet.

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Canada falls to 1-1 in FIBA qualifiers with loss to Dominican Republic

Canada 76, Dominican Republic 88 | Box Score

Despite all of the momentum of basketball in Canada, things never seem to go smoothly for Canada Basketball’s senior men’s team for long.

The qualifying process for the 2019 FIBA World Cup couldn’t have started out much better for Canada than it did Friday, when they rolled Bahamas and looked like a potential threat, even without the benefit of NBA, NCAA, and EuroLeague players, to make noise in the Americas continent. Monday would bring more challenges, the Canadians squaring off away from home this time and doing so against a much more experienced Dominican Republic outfit that beat U.S. Virgin Islands (who beat Canada at the AmeriCup this summer) on the weekend. That proved too monumental a challenge in the team’s second game together, as they were largely run off the floor in Santiago de los Caballeros to the tune of 88-76.

The game got out to a bit of a slow start, the flow gummed up by a steady diet of early non-shooting fouls, sloppy turnovers, and some Dominican misses near the rim. Joel Anthony got things going with a mid-range push-shot, the game’s only scoring in the opening 100 seconds and Canada’s only field goal until Phil Scrubb sank a three over three minutes in, enough of a drought to have them behind 8-5 early on. Dominican had gameplanned for Brady Heslip better than Bahamas on Friday, when he hit six triples, staying in man coverage, selling out to contain him and looking to attack him at the other end of the floor, taking him out of the game and daring is teammates to beat them. It took Xavier Rathan-Mayes charging to the rim to get some offense going for the visitors, and even that proved only temporary.

Head coach Roy Rana looked to his bench for a boost and had to concede a timeout shortly after to figure things out (and drop a few expletives the broadcast caught), down 15-5 with ball control and foul issues keeping Canada from any kind of rhythm. The energy level picked up, if nothing else, and a number of second chances saw Dyshawn Pierre get on the board and Rana breathe a sigh of relief (Pierre being the only Canadian breaking through on offense was a running theme). An Olivier Hanlan bucket followed, and the Dominicans hit pause to prevent a more significant run. It didn’t really work, as Canada had settled in, improved their ball movement, and closed the 10-point gap to three by the end of the quarter despite shooting 39 percent with eight turnovers.

READ MORE: USports’ Steady Rise Is Helping Power the Growth of Canadian Basketball

The Dominican opted to stay fairly small even as some Canada’s starters filtered back in, and the Canadian starters once again lost the handle on the game. Their frigid shooting continued, putting them on the wrong end of an 14-4 run and leading Rana to try some new combinations. Grandy Glaze and Thomas Scrubb brought some nice energy, and both sides once again became fairly erratic in a messy back-and-forth stretch. Heslip’s cold shooting took away one of Canada’s primary weapons (he was 0-of-4 and 0-of-3 on threes in the half and was a minus-19, better than only Anthony Bennett), and Canada’s transition game couldn’t produce much off of turnovers, a glaring edge for the Dominican.

The deficit swelled to 14 at the half, and Canada had the difficult challenge of finding a sense of urgency while also settling down their frenetic play. The Dominicans, meanwhile, had a cushion and home court, led by Rigoberto Mendoza de la Rosa’s 13 points off the bench, as many as Canada’s top two scorers combined. The contrast to Friday at both ends for Canada was stark, at the same time disappointing in general and encouraging about how a second-half turnaround might look.

It didn’t go well out of the gate, with Rathan-Mayes missing Bennett in the corner out of bounds for yet another turnover. Bennett found Anthony for a layup shortly after, at least, only for turnovers to continue rearing their head. That led to some frustration, with Bennett picking up an unsportsmanlike foul and getting the hook, Canada’s deficit extending to 19 in the process. It kept pushing wider, with Eulis Baez helping anchor a stout defensive front that allowed Canada points almost strictly off of broken plays, scrambles, and second chances. To their credit, the Canadians hung around and played some active defense to try to mount a legitimate comeback, and Phil Scrubb even hit from outside to break through the lid on the basket. Still, the hole was so deep to climb out of, and Rana was left to find a way to make up 16 points in the fourth when his team hadn’t topped that mark for scoring in a quarter yet.

In a format like this, point differential matters, especially since first-round results carry over to the second round. When the Dominican stretched the lead to 24, then, there was still plenty at stake to play for, and Rana responded by trying to trap to get some sort of run going. Canada looked somewhat comfortable pressuring the ball like that but lost control of their own glass, surrendering back-to-back second-chance buckets. Heslip got on the scoresheet with a couple of threes, at least. It was difficult to find positives, and while emptying the bench for a late spark and mini-push would have been understandable, the main pieces got the nod given the importance of the final score and played a decent last couple of minutes.

To that end, Canada had managed to trim the final deficit to 12, leaving their point differential for the first stage of qualifiers at plus-12 (the Dominican is tops in the pool at 2-0 with a plus-22). The Canadians coughed up 22 turnovers, and while they shot much better as the game went along and did a great job grabbing their own misses, they were shaky on their own boards and allowed the Dominicans to shoot 49 percent. There’s work to do between stages, and doing that work will be a little difficult as everyone goes their separate ways for a few months.

Canada will now sit tight until February 22 and 25, when they’ll host the U.S. Virgin Islands and rematch with Bahamas on the road, respectively. The hope is surely that the roster will look quite similar, with the chemistry carrying over and no major changes to availability taking place. As a reminder, Canada has to finish in the top three of their four-team group (which wraps in early July) to move on to the second round next September through February 2019, and while they’re likely to push through, results here carry over, so every game is important.

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Shevon Thompson makes quick impression with Raptors 905

It took all of a couple of seconds for Shevon Thompson to make an impact.

Playing in his first game as a member of Raptors 905, just days after being acquired, Thompson was given the nod as the team’s starting center by head coach Jerry Stackhouse. Thompson showed why in short order, grabbing an offensive rebound and putting it back. He’d score on a driving and-one on the next possession, then hit a hook shot, pouring in seven of the team’s first 10 points in under two minutes.

For as impressive as it was, it raised an early question: Why in the world was Thompson even available to the 905?

It’s a question that’s hard to answer. Thompson’s rights were owned by the Lakeland Magic (after the Erie Bayhawks transitioned to the Magic in a somewhat messy expansion juggling), but Thompson wasn’t in their plans. The Magic were already employing Adreian Payne on a two-way contract, were expecting to see plenty of assignment time with Khem Birch, and had two other centers on the roster. From a roster-building perspective, it makes sense that one of the centers would be the odd man out, and the 905 were surprised and pleased that they were able to pry Thompson away on the cheap. (The 905 sent the final year of returning player rights to Scott Suggs to Lakeland in the deal, but Suggs isn’t currentlyexpected to return to the G League this season.)

That no other G League team beat the offer is curious. It seemed, when Thompson signed back into the G League player pool, that Lakeland had gotten lucky and might be able to secure a meaningful asset for him, but it now looks as if general manager Anthony Parker was just trying to find Thompson a good home quickly. Consider the 905 thrilled to be the beneficiaries.

Thompson is an intriguing piece coming off of a strong rookie G League season with Erie. While he only played 17 games, he made a pronounced impact, posting five double-doubles and averaging 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 21.3 minutes. He posted a 58.2 true-shooting percentage and grabbed nearly 20 percent of available rebounds when on the floor. The Bayhawks were bad, but they were only outscored by 1.2 points per-100 possessions when Thompson was on the floor, much better than the team’s -6.2 net rating overall. It was enough to get him a Summer League look with the Los Angeles Clippers and then draw interest internationally, eventually signing in Lebanon for a brief stretch.

Prior to entering the G League, Thompson had traveled a difficult path. After leaving his home of Jamaica for the first time at age 19 to pursue a professional career, he spent time at two junior colleges over two seasons before landing at George Mason. He averaged 11.2 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in two seasons there, shooting 56.5 percent and earning an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational.  While there, he measured at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and a 9-foot-3 standing reach, dnd with a 245-pound frame, the physical tools Thompson has to build from are obvious. He’s still just 24, and it doesn’t take much squinting to see how he could fine-tune his approach and production to become a viable long-term prospect.

Already through two games, Thompson’s shown plenty. In 55 total minutes, he’s scored 33 points and grabbed 22 rebounds. In the process, he’s flashed a number of intriguing skills that the 905 might be able to build with.

The most glaring need the 905 have had with the loss of Edy Tavares and Kennedy Meeks being with USA Basketball for FIBA qualifiers has been a post presence. Thompson’s shown real potential there against quality opposing bigs like James Michael McAdoo, Landry Nnoko, and Zeke Marshall. He has the strength and body control to clear space for himself to operate, can bump his man off of his back or shoulder, and has a soft touch spinning toward or away from the rim, particularly when leaning forward after initiating contact to make space for his floater. He even showed some nice passing instincts, an area he’ll need to improve to keep the offense flowing as cutters whirl around him.

“He was a presence for us,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “On the offensive end, we were able to throw it down to him and he can finish and make plays for us. He’ll get better. I think when we’re whole, then we’ll have a combination of him and Kennedy at that five position. I think we’ll be really, really solid. It’s great. It opens up a lot of stuff for us. We can’t take the big-man out the game, man. The big man still has a role. And I think we have a couple guys now that feel comfortable with doing that.”

Stackhouse feeding Thompson in the post wasn’t surprising given his philosophies, and it’s probably the easiest play type to make a contribution in while still getting up to speed on the offense. It wasn’t the only area he showed promise, though, scoring or drawing fouls on a number of plays as the roll-man. Thompson shows nice instincts slipping into space after making contact on a screen and presents himself to the ball-handler really well. Armed with a quick first step toward the rim and an ability to go up strong while protecting the ball, he’ll be an option the 905 guards will learn to look to more and more as they develop a chemistry.

The 905 will also be asking Thompson to carry an offensive rebounding load, something he’s done well at most levels. As with many bigs, Thompson’s first instinct is to go right back up after securing a rebound, and since he’s often pushing bodies out of his way to grab the board, he’ll have some space to do so. He’s averaged an offensive rebound every 11 minutes through two games, and he’s scored off of a number of them, showing a deft touch at the rim and even thinking on his feet for a quick spinning mini-drive on a long rebound.

Perhaps what surprised most about Thompson’s performance was his face-up game. He’s never flashed much range, but he’s very comfortable putting the ball on the floor from 15 feet out and beyond. He has a decent crossover dribble for a center his size, will draw a lot of fouls going north-south, and is quick enough to get enough of a step on opposing bigs to get to the rim.

His first two games weren’t perfect, of course. Thompson committed eight turnovers, which has been a persistent problem for him, his turnover rate flirting with 20 percent last year and surpassing it in college. He also picked up 10 fouls in his 55 minutes, taking himself out of his first game with foul trouble that wasn’t entirely his fault (a number of them were committed while trying to cover up for a teammate) but is still worth monitoring (he averaged 4.4 fouls per-36 minutes last year). Thompson’s instinct is also to drop back against most pick-and-rolls, and the 905 will probably want him to come up higher on those in time and trust his agility to get back to the rim.

He should improve. He’s a worker, with the lack of gym access in downtime one of his biggest gripes with his time in Lebanon. Even Sunday, on the second day of a back-to-back, Thompson was getting a weight-lifting session in shortly before tip-off. He’s an eager student who knows he does some big things well but has a ways to go on the finer points of the game, and he and Stackhouse have found a quick chemistry (a predictable match given Thompson’s work ethic and Stackhouse’s penchant for playing through the post).  The soft-spoken center isn’t particularly enthusiastic talking about himself as an individual, and he conceded that Sunday’s win let him relax a little and appreciate his good start.

“I feel better today, yeah. Yeah, I’m starting to feel more comfortable. I’m just trying to put myself in the best position to help these guys to win, help this team to win,” he said. “That’s the main goal right now. They won a championship last year, I wanna keep that going, you know?”

He’s come along at the right time, proving an immediate fit with the 905 through two games. And yes, he’s tried Shandra’s in Mississauga to help make the fit feel like a good one off the court, too.

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Checking in on early-season storylines

The Toronto Raptors are nearly a quarter of the way through the 2017-18 campaign. The overhauled offence and a better-than-expected bench have led to a 12-7 start, good for fourth in the conference. What are the key storylines so far?

Trouble in the frontcourt

If you thought the Jonas Valanciunas debate was in the rear-view mirror, well, sorry. It is alive and well, fuelled by Toronto’s continued first-quarter struggles. The starting line-up of Lowry-DeRozan-Powell-Ibaka-Valanciunas is -8.5 in the first quarter, while the same line-up with OG Anunoby instead of Norm is -11.5. Those numbers are not JV’s fault alone, but his defensive limitations are quickly exposed.

Over the past five games, Valanciunas has not played more than 20 minutes. He’s down to a career-low 20 minutes per game too. The starting centre we’ve come accustomed to over the last five seasons may find himself in a new role, and soon.

The power forward spot is a question mark too. Serge Ibaka has been a confounding player this season. His effort has ranged from good to pathetic and more often falls into the suboptimal category. Shifting Ibaka to centre could help. His athleticism was a question mark last year and he’s done nothing to make you feel good about it through a month and a half of play this season. But his foot speed is still solid enough to be a better defender in pick and roll situations. The problem that could be exposed is Ibaka’s rebounding regression. He’s down to 5.4 rebounds per game, the lowest since his rookie year. Playing beside an elite-level rebounder is a factor here, but Ibaka averaged 6.8 rebounds per game with Valanciunas last  year.

Offensively, Ibaka’s decision-making has been frustrating. 45.4% of his shots have been threes and he’s shooting 33.8%. The criticism is not the volume of threes but the times he decides to shoot them. Ibaka will take contested threes when he doesn’t need to or pass out of open opportunities. Perhaps he’s still feeling out his role in this system, which is the third he’s learned since the start of last season, but it’s holding the team back at times.

Young players are creating good problems to have

Masai Ujiri’s magic has put Toronto in the rare spot where they can build for the future while winning in the present. The team has largely nailed the draft picks and OG Anunoby is the headliner here. The rookie has drawn praise from national media and superstars alike: Zach Lowe has had nothing but positive things to say and Kevin Durant gave him a shoutout earlier this week.

Anunoby’s value is both overt and subtle. Right away, you can see how long Anunoby is. He’s sixth on the team in deflections, but everyone ahead of him plays more minutes. OG is already a defensive difference-maker, a title that is not given out quickly and especially not for rookies. And OG has shown a great feel for the game, making smart and quick decisions on offence. There are times where he buffers a bit, most notably on threes, but he’s shown growth in that area too.

The development on Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright has been encouraging as well. Poeltl plays with confidence, excelling as a roll guy with exceptional hands. He’s a weapon that doesn’t need the ball to have an impact, an invaluable trait in a roster like this. Wright’s shoulder injury sets back what was a strong start. Thrust into a back-up role after the departure of Cory Joseph, Wright offered a different look at the point guard position and showed creativity and craft while leading the bench units.

With strong play from bench players comes inevitable debate. Poeltl’s play has created a very real argument for taking Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting line-up. Anunoby deserves minutes and the Raptors already have C.J. Miles and Norm Powell as wing options. It will be fascinating to watch how the coaching staff tinkers with roles and rotations to maximize the talent on this roster.

Looking ahead to April

For me, there’s a bit of a cloud hanging over the season. Toronto’s regular season success has gone from something that is celebrated to something that is expected. As fun as it is to discuss to improved play of the young guys and the fluidity of the new offence, I find myself asking how much these things will matter.

In the playoffs, Toronto likely won’t go as deep into their rotation as they have so far. It’s great to see the group play well, but if Toronto is playing the all-bench units in late April, we’re overthinking things.

And while the offence has changed and generally made for a better viewing experience, I’m a bit concerned about late-game execution. It has been a weak spot for years: Toronto defers to a DeRozan isolation play over a real play that at least attempts to compromise the defence. We’ve seen it a few times this year, most notably in the narrow loss to the Golden State Warriors. It’s a particularly weird blind spot for this coaching staff because they’ve already acknowledged the limitations of that style of play through changing the offence. Why swap what you’ve been doing only to go back to it when the game is on the line?

So far, I haven’t seen enough to believe that this season will get significantly different results than before. There’s still three quarters of the season for me to change my mind.

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A Tribute to 113

DeMar DeRozan’s regular season streak of 113 straight games of scoring 10 or more points ended Saturday night against the Hawks. Though the statistic doesn’t mean much on its own, it earmarks a nearly 21-month era that lasted from February 28, 2016 to November 24, 2017, representing arguably the best basketball of DeRozan’s career. And so, here’s a subjective top-10 list of DeMar’s most explosive moments throughout this period, containing some truly awe-inspiring performances:

10) A Bounce-Back in Utah (Nov. 3, 2017)

On the heels of the club’s hard-to-watch season-worst thrashing at the hands of the Nuggets, DeRozan was determined to set things right against a Jazz squad that always presents a challenge on their home floor. He led the way with 37 points (50% from the floor), including three triples and a perfect 14/14 output from the charity stripe. He also added 2 assists and 6 rebounds to give the Raps a 9-point win, erasing the bitter taste of the blowout in Colorado.

9) A Scorching Playoff Preview (Mar. 12, 2016)

The Raptors faced the Miami Heat in what would become a preview of the Eastern Conference semi-finals and DeRozan set the tone in the 8-point victory. He poured in 38 points on 50% shooting, went 12/15 from the line, shared the rock with 7 assists, scooped up 10 rebounds, and chipped in with two steals and a block for good measure. A statement game for both DeMar and Toronto ahead of their longest playoff run in franchise history.

8) Gritting and Grinding in Tennessee (Apr. 1, 2016)

It was never easy to play in Memphis throughout their Grit N Grind era, and although the 15/16 season wasn’t their best, they were still a playoff team in the high-octane Western conference. DeRozan had the unenviable task of getting past Tony Allen, one of the league’s finest wing defenders. Despite a low scoring game overall, he put in 27 points (8/17 shooting, 10/11 from the line), 4 assists and 6 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a scrappy 99-95 win.

7) Bouncing Back (part 2), the Wizards Edition (Mar. 3, 2017, Nov. 19, 2017)

Ever since the embarrassing sweep in 2015 in Washington’s favour, these two clubs have developed something of a rivalry, as they vied for the honors of being recognized as the East’s 2nd best squad. Not only that, the two franchises feature the two best back-courts in the Eastern Conference, adding more fuel to the fire. Both of the above games had come soon after two Wizard victories, and on both occasions, DeRozan led the Raptors to revenge wins. He averaged an impressive 32.5 points on 58% shooting, 5.5 assists and 10.5 rebounds in the pair of contests, including a massive dagger 3 to seal one of them.

6) Someone Tell This Man He’s About to Break a Record (Mar. 4, 2016)

Just like Lowry elected not to mention anything to his backcourt mate about his 114 vs. DeRozan’s 113 record on Saturday, it appears no one told him he was on the verge of an NBA perfect free throw shooting record held by Dominique Wilkins in the dying moments of Toronto’s 2-point win against the Portland Trail Blazers that night. He had gone a remarkable 24-for-24 from the free throw line that evening as part of his 38-point outing (opposite Lillard’s 50), stepping to the line for a final attempt. It was probably for the best (as far as the team is concerned) that he missed his 25th on purpose, since it took enough time off the clock to deny Portland a chance to win the contest, and he did break a different NBA record for most consecutive free throws made in a single game. But still.

5) A Typical Stretch of Mastery (Jan. 7 – 17, 2017)

In a period of six games that was as impressive and steady as we’ve come to expect from DeMar, he led the Raptors to a decent 4-2 record with wins over the Celtics, Knicks and Nets (twice). The level of competition may not stand out apart from Boston, but the wins exemplified Toronto’s growth into a club that consistently takes care of contests that they’re supposed to, sprinkling in a statement win here and there. During the stretch, DeRozan averaged a shade over 33 points on just over 50% shooting, 3.3 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and 9.5 made free throws.

4) Playing Playoff Spoiler (Mar. 23, 31, Apr. 7, 2017)

Playing without Kyle Lowry in two of the three contests, Toronto won all three against the Heat (twice) and the Indiana Pacers, two teams that had come in playing desperate and efficient basketball in their battle for the 8th and final playoff spot. Miami’s two losses consigned them to missing the postseason, in large part because of DeMar’s incredible performances. In those three games, the USC product averaged 39.3 points (47% shooting), 3 assists, 7 rebounds, and 12.3 made free throws, acting as the Eastern Conference playoff gatekeeper.

3) Breaking the Curse (Mar. 21, 2017)

11 games. 11 disappointing, strange and miserable losses to the Jimmy Butler-led Chicago Bulls, that had many a Raptor fan terrified at the prospect of facing the club from Illinois in the first round of the playoffs that year. And with Toronto down 15 heading into the final frame, number 12 appeared to be on the horizon. And yet, buoyed by Ibaka and Lopez’s scuffle, the Raptors clawed back. Playing without his back-court buddy and fellow All-Star, DeRozan poured in 42 points on 44.7% shooting, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block, including two crucial buckets in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime. The Raptors’ momentum carried them through in the extra period, and the accursed streak was finally over.

2) An MVP-Calibre Stretch (Oct. 26 – Nov. 18, 2016)

What a start to the season it was – DeRozan scored 30+ points in 10 of the team’s first 12 contests, and hit 40 twice, as the Raptors went 8-4, including marquee wins against the Thunder and Wizards, alongside some very tight losses to the Warriors, Cavaliers (twice) and the Kings (sigh). It was an unprecedented all-time run for a Toronto Raptor, as DeRozan averaged 32 points (49% shooting), 3.6 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 8.5 made free throws per contest over the first dozen games. If it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook’s even more astonishing start (and middle, and finish) to the season, he’d likely have been mentioned in the MVP race considerably more often during that period.

1) On Top of the World (Feb. 24-27, 2017)

This 3-game stretch may not have been the first on the list if not for its final moment, yet there it was. And yes, he averaged a monstrous 37.7 points on 53.6% shooting, 3 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 12.3 made free throws in those three games. But that alone would not be worthy of his top regular season moment in the last 21 months if not for that final play. Coming on the back of noteworthy wins against the Celtics and Blazers, Toronto delivered a very lackluster first half on the road against the New York Knicks, heading into the break down 13. It didn’t get any prettier in the second half, but once again without the comforting presence of Kyle Lowry, Mr. Toronto was there to bail out his teammates. With the Raptors down 1, the clock running down, guarded by Derrick Rose, DeRozan made a play that he will one day proudly show his grandkids. Backing down a former league MVP, DeMar took a game-winning fade away shot that met nothing but net, sealing Toronto’s win in the world-famous MSG.

To DeMar DeRozan’s next 113!

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Out with the old, in with the new

Host William Lou is joined by Sahal Abdi and Asad Alvi to discuss a disappointing 1-2 week for the Raptors.

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Raptors 905 snap three-game skid, blow out Drive

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Raptors 905 119, Grand Rapids Drive 83 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Drive)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (inj) (905), Dwight Buycks (inj) (Drive)

“I’m getting 30.”

It seemed an innocuous enough comment before the game, a post-warmup revelation of confidence or perhaps an attempt to increase it in combat of fatigue. It could have been any number of players, based on their play, though the person who uttered it decline to have their prediction on the record.

It could have been Alfonzo McKinnie, who didn’t land in Toronto until about 2 a.m., joining Raptors 905 on Sunday morning following a three-game road-trip with the Toronto Raptors that saw him help close out a blowout victory in Atlanta the night prior. It could have been Bruno Caboclo, who was well more than halfway to that number by the end of the first half. It could have been Shevon Thompson, who scored 20 in his debut the day prior, or Davion Berry, who’s already gone for 20 three times this year. In reality, what was important was not any prediction but the air of confidence about the 905 following three tough losses, on the second day of a back-to-back and showing no signs of mental or physical fatigue.

McKinnie scored 11 points in the first quarter, hitting a pair of threes, driving to the rim for an and-one, dished an assist, and playing infectiously active defense at the other end. The energy proved team-wide early, with the 905 getting out to their best start in some time. Looking to snap the mini-losing streak and fueled by the McKinnie (and Lorenzo Brown) reinforcement, the 905 got up by nine early on, their largest lead since Nov. 8. Caboclo chipped in seven points early, Malcolm Miller brought a great spark off the bench with a silky catch-and-shoot three and a massive block in transition, and Andre Washington closed the quarter out with an emphatic dunk on a hand-off to take a 27-20 lead into the second.

“Good to get those guys back,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said of the assignments and two-ways. “Obviously, our talent level goes up when we have those guys. But it was more the execution of the gameplan that was the key. ”

Grand Rapids made a nice push from there, attacking the offensive glass with former 905 tryout Zeke Marshall, who looks much improved. Washington and Shevon Thompson had a handful of nice defensive plays opposite him and an attacking Speedy Smith, Davion Berry continued his hot weekend, and Caboclo stroked a corner three to help keep the Drive at arm’s length. Caboclo hit another out of a Grand Rapids timeout to push the lead to 15, the 905 firmly on the opposite side of where they’ve found themselves in both wins and losses lately. The Raptors’ fourth-year forward would push his first-half point total to 19 by the end of the quarter, playing a major part in the 56-39 halftime edge.

To their credit, the Drive fought out of the break, briefly getting a little warmer than their 41-percent first half and threatening to take the game back into single-digits. McKinnie got right back into a flow, taking over again with a massive block and a triple, then a pair of twos. Landry Nnoko kept the Drive close with some strong work inside, then nearly brought things to a screeching halt as he and Washington had to be pulled apart from a shoving match. (Washington received a flagrant foul, and Washington and Smith were each assessed a technical.) The 905 held steady even as they went back to the bench, a bigger hybrid look stymying the Drive inside without sacrificing the transition game the other way. Some of the 905’s bigger lineups of late have flashed some real potential, and the addition of Thompson has given Stackhouse another piece to play through inside and protect the rim to build those groups around.

“Going back and watching the film, our whole focus was on us today,” Stackhouse said. “We didn’t look at one edit from Grand Rapids, didn’t look at none of their sets, didn’t look at anything they did. When we come out and we dictate and execute our schemes and how we wanna play defense and how we wanna share the ball offensively, as you see, things kinda take care of themselves.”

Sensing the chance to pull away and avoid any late-game slippage, the 905 came out hard in the fourth, quickly pushing their lead beyond 20 and sending Grand Rapids to a quick timeout to try to salvage any remaining window. Marshall answered the call only for Thompson to get the basket right back against him. An Aaron Best lob to Kethan Savage and a missed Jamel Morris layup on a great cut probably extinguished any remaining comeback potential, and a beautiful Caboclo turnaround in the post poured water on the embers.

An overturned call in favor of the home side led to a foul on Caboclo that made it a 30-point game, and the only questions from there were just how large the final gap would grow and whether the player in question – or any player -would actually reach the 30-point marker. The answers, in order: 36, and no, though Caboclo’s 27 marked a season-high and were only four off his career-high.

“Bruno was huge for us,” Stackhouse said. “He didn’t shoot it as well as he could. Some of those looks I thought were going down for him. But those are the ones we want him to continue to take. I thought defensively, he was engaged.”

The 905 finished the game shooting 54 percent with just 11 turnovers and holding Grand Rapids to 39 percent, a strong showing at both ends and the kind of two-way performance Stackhouse has been telling the players would come if they stayed the course.

“”I look down, holding a team to under 40 percent, 22 percent from three. More like the numbers I like to see,” Stackhouse said. “Turnovers, our ball security was really good, too. So we were able to get looks at the rim and conversely, we shot the ball pretty well ourselves.”

There was a great moment late, too, where Washington was feeling himself a bit after a late bucket and mugged to his own bench, leading Miller and Richard Amardi to stand up laughing and Stackhouse to shake his head with a smirk. It’s the type of thing that’s bound to happen in a blowout, and for a team that’s been hanging their heads at the end of games for a week now, it felt like some much needed catharsis to cap off a resounding and pressure-relieving victory.

How’s that for symmetry with the parent club?

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo finished with 27 points on just 16 field-goal attempts and was a factor defensively, playing his more natural forward position instead of masquerading as a center. Coming off of his two worst outings of what’s been a mostly good start to the season, it was nice to see him have a major two-way impact and put those games behind him. He added six rebounds and three blocks and was a plus-25.
    • Alfonzo McKinnie was really terrific here, and has really found a comfort zone whenever he comes down. He was maybe a little over-aggressive shooting after his hot start, but that’s hard to fault him for when shots are dropping on a team that’s often been in need of offensive punch. He finished with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting, hit three threes, and added seven rebounds. With the Raptors schedule turning easier from here, it would be nice to see him get some more garbage-time run.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Lorenzo Brown has been dealing with some left ankle soreness and, given he’s a fringe piece of the Raptors’ rotation right now, the 905 watched his minutes closely here. He had 13 points and eight assists in 24 minutes…Davion Berry continues to provide a nice offensive spark, scoring in double-figures for the eighth time in nine games. He’s averaging 14.2 points despite cold outside shooting…Shevon Thompson had 13-and-10 and has really fit in quickly in his first two appearances. He was a team-best plus-33 in 34 minutes…Kethan Savage had probably his best game of the year.
    • Negus Webster-Chan (IT band) and Roger Moute a Bidias (knee) missed their ninth consecutive games. Richard Amardi sat with an ankle sprain he suffered in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.
  • Drive notes: Luis Montero remained with the Pistons and Dwight Buycks was inactive, so the Drive had zero two-ways or assignees here…Zeke Marshall and Landry Nnoko both had nice games doing work inside, and Derek Willis had a few explosive plays, but otherwise it was fairly apparent that this was a team down both of its two-ways and without assignees.
  • The 905 are away from Hershey Centre for a while now. They’ve got two on the road, an Air Canada Centre home game on Dec. 5, and then another road game before they’re back in Mississauga (Dec. 13). A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Raptors bounce back with head-clearing blowout of Hawks

Raptors 112, Hawks 78 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors needed a win. Coming off of two losses that seemed to be leading to some soul-searching or rotation tumult, anything short of a dominant victory against a lowly but spirited Atlanta Hawks team could have threatened the team’s psyche ahead of three days off, a gap that can sometimes be too long if it’s spent in one’s head.

Dwane Casey opted to go back to his primary starters, which makes sense even if everyone is a little worried about slow starts to halves. It’s going to take a while longer for a move like that to become permanent, and the Raptors tried to maximize that look by using Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas heavily on offense. That duo’s been more than fine offensively, and an apparent edict to get Valanciunas plenty involved early to get his rhythm back made sense. Valanciunas got an early look on a dive, had a mid-quarter elbow post-up called for him against Dewayne Dedmon, and was rewarded for an offensive rebound with a clear-out opportunity. It wasn’t perfect, with Valanciunas committing a couple of turnovers trying to catch dump-offs and Ibaka firing up six shots in six minutes while the stars hardly shot. It made sense to try.

It didn’t necessarily help the defense pick up, necessarily. Dedmon had a couple of nice touches but was a little too eager to shoot, and Dennis Schroder was always going to be a problem going downhill against the Raptors’ starters. Neither is ever at fault alone, it just continues to be a tough starting five to defend effectively with. The Raptors also made the odd decision of subbing Ibaka and Valanciunas out as a pair rather than staggering their minutes with more complementary pieces. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl did bring a nice energy together, and Siakam and Fred VanVleet both had a pair of nice buckets toward the end of the quarter to take the lead back at 28-25.

What happened next, well, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Raptors bench went on an 8-0 run early in the second quarter followed closely by an 11-0 run. VanVleet quarterbacked the group well, finding Poeltl and Norman Powell for clean looks and knocking down a three from a Siakam pass, having a hand in all eight points on the first run, mand Powell scored eight himself in the second push. The Hawks went nearly three minutes without scoring thanks to energetic defense, including a Siakam block on Schroder and a steal on a pass through the paint, and by the time the Hawks tried to talk it over, their deficit had swelled from three to 19.

Casey rode with the bench group longer than usual, and when Kyle Lowry eventually subbed back in, he immediately hit a pair of threes, then found Siakam on an outlet. Right at home with a bench unit, as it turns out. VanVleet would eventually check out with a plus-27 mark in 11 minutes,  Poeltl at plus-27 in 14 minutes, and Siakam a plus-31 in 16 minutes, as best a summary as you’re going to find for this half. The Raptors took a 28-point lead into the break, which even for them of late felt pretty secure. The question would be whether they took their foot off the gas again and let Atlanta back into it or tried to end it emphatically.

The starting bigs looked to have their own fun in the third, with the quarter opening with an Ibaka jumper, a Valanciunas dunk after sealing Marco Belinelli in semi-transition, and a Valanciunas bucket on a dump-off, sending the Hawks to an early timeout. An 8-0 run was eventually broken by a ludicrously deep Taurean Prince three, and then the Raptors went right back to work re-posting for Valanciunas to draw a foul. The starters continued to stretch the lead out, with OG Anunoby and Valanciunas in particular looking strong.

The stars accepted facilitating roles to keep the other starters getting theirs and feeling good, combining for 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists through three quarters. Had Valanciunas feeling light on love or confidence, a 12-point, five-rebound third quarter probably helped. DeRozan lost his streak of a 113 straight double-figure games, and it didn’t matter at all. Entering the fourth, every Raptor to play was at least a plus-10, and the starters had just won a quarter together quite handily. Hawks caveats apply and all, but it was about as well as things could have gone to that point.

Casey turned the 41-point lead over to the full-bench group in the fourth, and that eventually included a good chunk of run for Alfonzo McKinnie and Lucas Nogueira. Not only did the starters get held to a maximum of 28 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back – DeRozan’s knee is said to be fine after he banged it in the third, by the way – but all 12 players got to shake off any rust, and pretty much to a man, everyone had some good moments. A Nogueira three is always a good way to take a game home. Best of all, that deep bench group didn’t really let Atlanta flirt with momentum or even pad things by shrinking the final margin in any significant way.

Again, it went as well as the Raptors could have hoped. No, it doesn’t erase an embarrassing third-quarter performance against the New York Knicks or an unnecessary loss to the Indiana Pacers, nor does it act as a panacea for any issues the starting lineup may have been dealing with. There was always work to do even when the team was sitting pretty at 11-5, and they’ll have to continue to do that work as the schedule continues to provide some potential trap games against lesser teams. Still, the Raptors can only beat the team in front of them, and only respond in the environment they’re playing within. To that end, shaking off a pair of ugly games with a rousing buzzer-to-buzzer dismantling of any team, when the stars were able to kick back and do the little things rather than carry the scoring load, is the proper step back in the right direction.

The question now becomes how much they can iron out with plenty of practice time in an upcoming stretch that will see them play just three games in 13 days. This game was a head-clearer to enter that fortnight in a better mindset than they may have 24 hours ago.

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Raptors-Hawks reaction Podcast – Regression

Host William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 112, Hawks 78

Toronto 112 Final
Box Score
78 Atlanta

B+
S. Ibaka19 MIN, 12 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 5-11 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 12 +/-

What can you say, Ibaka just loves to shoot his shot. Six shots in the first six minutes. Ibaka moved around well and saved the guards with some stellar defensive help.

B+
O. Anunoby17 MIN, 11 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-4 FG, 3-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 17 +/-

Second night off a back-to-back meaning OG’s minutes were carefully monitored. In limited minutes, he did the more than the usual (good defense, unselfish ball movement, constant off-ball motion). He shot the ball effectively, as well.

B-
J. Valanciunas20 MIN, 16 PTS, 8 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 7-9 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 5 TO, 10 +/-

Almost every Raptor looked great in the 1st half, JV was… Not so great. In the 2nd half, Toronto made it a mission to get him re-involved and succeeded. Nevertheless, four turnovers is far too much for a center on limited touches — especially in a game like this.

A-
K. Lowry27 MIN, 15 PTS, 12 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 4-9 FG, 4-7 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 21 +/-

After having enough time to take a nap on the bench in the 1st half, Lowry returned totally energized and looked to put the dagger in Atlanta early. Oh, and he led the team in rebounding in just 27 minutes.

B+
D. DeRozan28 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 8 AST, 1 STL, 1-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 20 +/-

DeMar was in a giving mood early, recording three assists in the 1st frame and three in the 2nd. He didn’t have to fill up the box score in this blowout.

A
N. Powell31 MIN, 17 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 7-13 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 17 +/-

Norman shot the ball incredibly well, slashed to the rim and had several hockey assists. Jack Armstrong said it multiple times, but boy does this kid look more comfortable off the bench.

A
P. Siakam31 MIN, 13 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 6-9 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 26 +/-

Death, taxes and Siakam giving 150% on the floor. That is all.

A+
J. Poeltl19 MIN, 14 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 7-9 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 21 +/-

Since JV’s return from injury earlier in the season, Poeltl has been the odd man out in the rotation. Common sense tells you it’s difficult to generate consistency on just 10-15 minutes a game. Today, Jak thoroughly impressed on both ends of the floor. He dominated tonight.

B
L. Brown18 MIN, 2 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-

Lorenzo didn’t do anything terribly wrong or amazingly well. His play didn’t disrupt the Raptors ball movement and he was steady defensively. That’s good enough on a night that qualified as a must-win.

A+
F. VanVleet16 MIN, 5 PTS, 0 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 2-6 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 21 +/-

Coming off his best game as a pro, FVV came in late in the 1st and instantly impacted the game. That continued throughout as he’s fully embracing the backup PG role. This kid is as confident as ever.

Inc
L. Nogueira7 MIN, 3 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -1 +/-

Bebe played so few minutes tonight, but did look energetic while doing so. This game needed more face tattoos.

Inc
A. McKinnie7 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -1 +/-

Alvo! This would be a game where I’d love to see McKinnie get tons of run. Unfortunately, this was not the case tonight.

A
Dwane Casey

Casey knew it was crucial giving his bench extra run tonight on this back-to-back. They rewarded him with exceptional play led by FVV and Poeltl. Finally, Casey and the Raptors had the mental fortitude to hold onto a large lead.

Things We Saw

  1. BENCH MOB, MOBILIZE. The Raptors possess a top-ten-scoring bench unit in the NBA. They saw extended minutes tonight for three primary reasons. One, it’s the second game off a back-to-back. Two, you can afford to play them often versus an Eastern Conference minnow like Atlanta. Three, they’re really, really damn good.
  2. Let’s talk about this Fred Van Vleet kid. My goodness, are the Raptors lucky to have two capable backup PGs in Wright and FVV. The kid has been aggressive, confident and has had a hotter-than-hot hand since Wright went down. He’s been a real floor general offensively while being a total pest defensively. He’s earned every minute Casey has given him.
  3. Height Doesn’t Measure Heart. Kyle Lowry has been rebounding like an absolute monster in these last several games. Since the New Orleans Pelicans game on November 15th, Lowry’s rebounding numbers have been 11, 8, 5, 10, 10, 12.
  4. The Raptors needed this. After a disappointing loss in Indiana, Toronto decimated Atlanta off a back-to-back. Beating the 4-16 Hawks shouldn’t be anything to fawn over. Still, the Raptors badly needed a pick-me-up as they head home for a three game home-stretch.
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Pre-game news & notes: Miles out again, Muscala and Babbitt sit for Hawks

There’s not much more preamble necessary having already done the preview this morning. The Toronto Raptors need a victory, and the Atlanta Hawks, while out to a rough start, aren’t going to lay down and give it to them. It’s incumbent on the Raptors to show a consistency of force and energy that’s been lacking the last two games. Let’s see it.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
C.J. Miles will once again be missing for the Raptors, for the best of reasons. His first child was born Thursday night, and he’s been given the weekend to be with mother and daughter. If another person gets in my mentions calling this a problem, I’m going to lose it. It’s basketball, and it’s family. One is exceedingly more important than the other.

With Miles out, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell will continue to see expanded roles. Anunoby has been fine as a starter, though Dwane Casey’s search for a better energy with the starting group could eventually see him look to make a change there, given it’s the easiest spot to make a move (in political and rotation balance terms). Powell is still getting his footing back after missing four games, shooting well in his first game back and then attacking well in the second. He remains a good fit on paper with bench groups while Delon Wright is sidelined, and him playing in the second unit can help Casey tighten the rotation.

As for who starts in the frontcourt, the guess here is that it’s the usual suspects, even though Casey went away from it Friday. It’s hard to start small and have three centers off the bench with no forward depth, and Atlanta will start big with Luke Babbitt down, anyway. It’s a tough spot, with the starting lineup clearly not working but every potential solution inviting some trade-offs. At a certain point, they’ll probably need to try something.

UPDATE: Starters are the starters.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright, C.J. Miles
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Hawks updates
The Hawks will be down three pieces on the second night of a back-to-back in which 10 players were a part of the rotation, so they’ll at the same time be relatively fresh for the circumstances (nobody topped 35 minutes) but a little light if they come out tired. Isaiah Taylor remains on the shelf, and day-to-day cases Luke Babbitt and Mike Muscala have both been ruled out for this one after sitting Friday, too.

Mike Budenholzer has tweaked the periphery of his rotation at times, as you’d expect with a young team with some G League up-and-down. If it plays out like it did Friday, it means some Josh Magette and Tyler Cavanaugh sightings and annual can-the-Raptors-trade-for candidate Ersan Ilyaosva seeing some minutes as a center. John Collins will start again with Babbitt down, presenting a tough challenge if the Raptors do go Serge Ibaka-Jonas Valanciunas – Dewayne Dedmon is a fine enough matchup for Valanciunas defensively but Dennis Schroder will use him as a screener plenty, and Collins has a lot of energy for Ibaka to match.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Josh Magette, Malcolm Delaney
SG: Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Tyler Dorsey
SF: Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry
PF: John Collins, Tyler Cavanaugh
C: Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, Miles Plumlee
OUT: Mike Muscala, Luke Babbitt, Isaiah Taylor
TBD: None
Erie: Nicolas Brussino

Assorted

The line
The Raptors were initially 7-point favorites and the line has since come down to Raptors -6. The over under dropped from 210.5 to 209.

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Raptors 905 come up short in comeback attempt against 87ers

Photo credit: MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 92, Delaware 87ers 98| Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo (905), None (87ers)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller (905), Devin Robinson [via Wizards], James Michael McAdoo (87ers)

When it rains, it pours.

That was head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s sentiment after a third loss in a row for Raptors 905, in response to an opponent getting hot from outside early on once again. This time, it was the Delaware 87ers, who used a 13-of-27 night from long-range, several of the makes the high degree-of-difficulty kind, to steal their first victory of the season from the 905, a 98-92 final in front of 1,802 fans in Mississauga.

Looking to shake off the last two performances, Stackhouse opted to roll with a significantly different starting lineup. That meant starting Kethan Savage in Lorenzo Brown’s absence and giving Shevon Thompson the nod at center, sliding Bruno Caboclo and Malcolm Miller up a position without Alfonzo McKinnie. Those changes were out of necessity with fewer Toronto Raptors, to be sure, though Stackhouse was also looking for a better energy out of the gate, anyway. He got it here. Thompson was a revelation in his first appearance with the team, scoring on an offensive rebound on his first possession and then following it up with an and-one and another finish inside, with nice post defense against James Michael McAdoo mixed in. Savage hit an early three, too, and the 905 were out to their first good start in some time with a 10-6 lead.

The new look was short-lived with Thompson getting into quick foul trouble, leaving Richard Amardi and Caboclo to share the center duties. They were beat on the same play twice in short order, which resulted in a quick hook for Amardi in favor of Kuran Iverson. Caboclo hit a three to briefly stymie an 87er run, only for Delaware to lock down on defense, with Emeka Okafor stabilizing them at that end and James McAdoo blocking what initially appeared to be an open driving dunk for Miller. Caboclo had another nice moment, shaking off a falling turnover by saving what looked like a sure pass into my lap with his length and then taking it for a shot-clock-beating layup. That was enough to keep the 905 within one after a quarter, not entirely where they wanted to be but better than in recent outings.

The 87ers began pulling away in the second, opening on an extended 15-7 run as they hit nearly everything and continued getting to the line. Thompson picked up a quick third, too, taking away some of the team’s presence inside, and Stackhouse has been adamant that he doesn’t want to get gimmicky in relying heavily on switching across positions instead of defending well within the scheme initially. They did, however, zone up a bit to try to slow Delaware down, something Devin Robinson was happy to break with a late-clock three. A timeout didn’t settle them down, with Caboclo getting his pocket picked for a dunk the other way and then getting back-cut by Christian Wood as Delaware stretched the lead out to 14.

It got worse from there. The deficit swelled to 26 by the end of the half, with James Webb hitting a couple of tough shots and Aaron Best fouling James Webb for a four-point play. Even with some extra push off of the stops they did get, the 905 struggled to produce good looks and dealt with turnovers once again. The 87ers shot 14-of-21 in the half and 8-of-11 on threes, the kind of shot-making that can’t sustain and sometimes doesn’t need to when it builds such a substantial lead.

“It’s the same story. Whether it’s the first quarter or the second quarter, just coming out ready to play,” Stackhouse said. “Focus, get rid of some of these mental errors early on in the games,e executing our plays, executing our stuff. It’s a lot of random, I don’t know, we get in the heat of the moment and guys can’t seem to focus on doing their jobs right now. We did a lot better job in the second half of it, and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come here in the near future.”

Thompson was once again a factor to start the second half, driving baseline for a dunk, drawing a foul the next time down the court, and then busting out a spin move. It seemed to energize the 905, who dialed up the defensive intensity tipping passes and drawing charges. Thompson’s foul trouble got Andre Washington some quality minutes, the team ironed out some early quarter turnovers, and a full-court press really frustrated the 87ers for a few minutes. That helped narrow the gap to a more manageable 21 entering the fourth, a large hill but decidedly better than the 29 it once stood at.

“I thought Andre Washington was really a key for us. He came in and gave us a spark,” Stackhouse said.

The pressure sustained in the fourth, with Delaware starting the quarter with an eight-second violation. The Hershey Centre began to wake up as a sequence of a Caboclo put-back, Washington block at the rim, and Washington jumper made it a 15-point game, and Delaware had to burn an early timeout to try to stem the tide. The 905 pushed to 12 before Webb nailed a three – just their second field goal in seven minutes – and dropped some unkind words, only for Caboclo to answer back with a three and then Thompson to make it a 10-point game with a dunk.

The 87ers eventually started scoring, and with the 905 running out of time, an ankle injury for Amardi came at a rough time. That left the 905 to close bigger, with Caboclo, Iverson, and Thompson, length that helped slow Delaware down but couldn’t keep them off of the offensive glass. Two long rebounds were tipped out and, while they only led to one 87er point combined, it ate precious clock. When Davion Berry responded with a transition push for a bucket-and-foul, the 905 only had 87 seconds to come back eight points. Berry promptly sank a three and Iverson and Savage converged for a steal, but the 905 ran out of time when they couldn’t connect down the stretch, a pair of turnovers negating some shaky 87er shooting.

“We found a way to get close in each of ’em, but sometimes when you dig a hole like that, the deficit just becomes a little bit too much,” Stackhouse said.

Coming up short in the comeback is surely disappointing, and the 905 will lament the second quarter that did them in. At the same time, the second-half fight they showed in coming back is notable given they tried two games prior but weren’t able to close the gap despite better play out of the breaks. It’s progress, and they may have found a mix and an energy that worked for them.

“We have enough,” Stackhouse said. “We have enough in this locker room to get it done. Until this starts to hurt a little bit and we start to feel a little bit of discomfort from coming in with our heads hung like they are right now, it’ll continue. But I think we’ve got some guys in there, they’ve got some pride, the way they showed there in the second half. If we can try to put that together for 48 minutes, I’ll be able to live with the results a little better than I am right now.”

Any moral victory sentiment won’t keep them warm, in other words. They’re disappointed, and maybe a little frustrated. Still, the strong push back that ran out of time rather than effectiveness could be the sort of intangible that carries over into Sunday’s game. The Grand Rapids Drive perhaps represent a tougher test than the 1-8 87ers (who are better than that record would suggest), and so the 905 will need to bring this same intensity for four quarters to snap their mini-losing streak.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo had a shaky first half on the defensive end and a poor shooting night (4-of-15) for the second game in a row. He picked it up in the second half and was a factor down the stretch outside of the shaky shooting, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, and an even plus-minus.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Shevon Thompson was a revelation in his first game with the team, scoring 20 points with 12 rebounds. He’s a physical presence the 905 don’t have anywhere else with Kennedy Meeks away at FIBA qualifiers, and the quick first impression Thompson made, combined with his numbers in this league a year ago, are curious considering he was available for a song in trade…Davion Berry led the team with 24 points, his third 20-point game of the season…Richard Amardi had 12 points off the bench but appeared to injure an ankle late.
    • Negus Webster-Chan (IT band) and Roger Moute a Bidias (knee) missed their eighth consecutive games.
  • 87ers notes: Emeka Okafor plays for the 87ers, and it was fun to see him out there…James Webb shot the ball exceptionally well, something he normally doesn’t do, and got to the line at will. Really nice game for him…Christian Wood still hasn’t put all of his tools together but has at least improved as a decision maker, racking up five assists here…James Michael McAdoo is still someone worth watching as a long-term NBA piece despite a 2-of-10 day here…David Gale was back as an assistant for the 87ers and, as their defensive lead, knew how to attack Caboclo off the ball early.
  • The 905 are at home again tomorrow before they hit the road again. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
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Gameday: Raptors @ Hawks, Nov. 25

Well, the Toronto Raptors could use a win. After a thoroughly disappointing performance against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, they responded Friday with an uneven, oft-listless showing against the Indiana Pacers, resulting in a second consecutive loss for just the second time this season. Toronto’s yet to lose three in a row, and while the Atlanta Hawks look like a good opponent to right the ship against, it’s the third road game in four nights and the Hawks bring the type of effort that makes upsets a nightly possibility despite a lack of high-end talent on paper.

The game can be looked at through a strategic lens, sure, but it’s really about the focus and energy level of the Raptors. When they’re executing the new offense and trying on defense, they can look unbeatable for long stretches. It’s when they abandon those principles and rely on their talent alone, losing the plot from a team perspective, that things have gone awry. There aren’t Xs and Os explanations for persistent 12-0 runs, let alone a 28-0 run. They should be coming in ticked off.

If they play to their identity, they should be able to make hay on the offensive glass, force plenty of turnovers to kick-start the transition game in the second unit, and keep Atlanta off the line without conceding quality looks to do so. Atlanta is not a particularly stout defense, though they can frustrate opponents into miscues with their activity level. Again, though, the Raptors are better than the Hawks by a significant enough margin that this is really more about the intangible factors that have sunk them two games in a row.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Brad Rowland of Peachtree Hoops, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Happy thanksgiving, my American friend. How was yours? Given you’re in Atlanta, where it`s exceptional, can I trust that you fall on the correct side of the “mac and cheese is the best side and could really be the meal on its own if done right” conversation?

Brad Rowland: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well sir. I am firmly in the pro-mac and cheese camp and, frankly, can’t see the other side. It’s a culinary treasure and will always be.

Blake Murphy: The Hawks are off to a bad start, and there’s no nicer way to put that. It was entirely expected, though, and it seems to be following their long-term plan. So, tough, but for the best. It’s super early for this, but if their a prospect in the draft you’re most intrigued by, should Atlanta land the No. 1 pick? And 2 Chainz has to be the draft lottery rep, this is not debatable.

Brad Rowland: I’m all in on 2 Chainz as the lottery rep and, while it was always likely that Hawks fans would be looking ahead to the 2018 draft, it’s starting even earlier than most believed. I’m personally keeping tabs on Luka Doncic first and foremost and I think he’s a safe bet as this year’s top player. He may not have the unadulterated upside of Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton or a few others but Doncic has the look of an All-Star in the league and that is a nice starting point.

Blake Murphy: A rebuild has meant the young players are getting more of an opportunity to play through mistakes and grow this year. I know you’re surely as disappointed as I am that DeAndre’ Bembry has missed significant time, but how have the other youths looked? Taurean Prince and John Collins look like nice pieces.

Brad Rowland: Bembry’s absence hasn’t been fun because I enjoy him quite a bit but he’s finally beginning to get integrated again and that is a good thing. As for the other guys, John Collins has exceeded any rational expectation and he looks like an absolute heist at No. 19. There are some questions about his defense and ultimate position but Collins is a terror on the glass and he’s already uber-efficient as a 20-year-old. I’m rightly excited. Prince has been a little bit uneven this year and seems to be struggling more on defense than I imagined but he is also flashing some offensive upside and that position (as a two-way wing with real size) is so valuable that even a league-average starter there is great.

Blake Murphy: You have to figure the Hawks to be sellers of any vet the market may want come deadline time. The bigger question may be whether they try to move on from Dennis Schroder. I know that’s a polarizing idea. Where do you stand on shopping the 24-year-old and the three years remaining on his deal beyond this season?

Brad Rowland: I’m not pro-Schröder as a long-term building block. He’s probably the best player on the team now but, despite his age, I don’t see a ton more upside to explore. Personally, I’ve been more disappointed by his defense (especially effort-wise) than anything and he has the feel to me as a player who will always put up bigger raw numbers than his actual impact suggests. I certainly wouldn’t trade him just to trade him but the new GM (Travis Schlenk) inherited Schröder and it wouldn’t be a stunner if he looked to move on.

Blake Murphy: It’s been a hell of a year for Atlanta hip-hop (evergreen comment, I realize). Can you even pick a favorite this year out of 21 Savage/Metro/Offset, 2 Chainz, Gucci, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, and the Future/Thugger collab?

Brad Rowland: This is an impossible question and I think you know this (#ATLShawty) but I’ll roll with Gucci if forced to choose. Candidly, I’m old and washed so there are better people to ask but this is one man’s opinion, after all.

Raptors updates
What, exactly, the Raptors plan to do about their poor first and third quarters is unclear. On Friday, Dwane Casey opted to start a different group out of the half, giving Pascal Siakam the nod over Jonas Valanciunas. It didn’t really work and was matchup-specific to a small-ball Pacers outfit, but it’s telling that the change he attempted to make was at the center position. Valanciunas has had nice stretches this year peppered around some bad ones, and more than anything about Valanciunas the individual, his fit with Serge Ibaka on defense continues to look worrisome. At the same time, it’s been a fairly consistent energy issue, not really anything tactical, and so any change there is hardly a guarantee to fix the issue. Valanciunas looked and sounded absolutely dejected in his post-game scrum.

Elsewhere in the rotation, it’s unclear if C.J. Miles will be back with the team. He left Thursday to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, and as of this writing, there are no game notes to check his status in. The guess here is that he’s still at home, because that kind of thing is just way more important than a back-to-back in November (or any game ever). If he’s made the trip for a last-minute appearance, awesome. If not, it’s on Norman Powell and OG Anunoby to pick up the wing slack and on Casey to find some lineup combinations that can score without the spacing he offers.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, (C.J. Miles), Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright
TBD: C.J. Miles
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Hawks updates
Atlanta likewise enters on the second night of a back-to-back, having defeated the Knicks at home on Friday. The Hawks are running 10-deep right now, so nobody was particularly overused in that one, with Dennis Schroder topping out at 35 minutes. They are coming in with some injuries, though, as Isaiah Taylor is out and Luke Babbitt and Mike Muscala both missed Friday’s game (they have back and ankle issues, respectively). If Babbitt can go, he may factor back into the starting lineup, though John Collins has looked fine in his place. Muscala might slot back in as the backup center if he goes, a spot Ersan Ilyasova has been playing in some as a stretch-five.

Josh Magette is up with the Hawks for additional guard depth due to the Taylor injury and Malcolm Delaney’s ineffectiveness, DeAndre’ Bembry is rounding into form after a few weeks out of the lineup, and you can bet Marco Belinelli is going to drop 30 off the bench here and take home the Gerald Henderson award for the night. The Hawks are pretty fun despite their record.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Josh Magette, Malcolm Delaney
SG: Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Tyler Dorsey
SF: Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry
PF: (Luke Babbitt), John Collins, Tyler Cavanaugh, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Dewayne Dedmon, (Mike Muscala), Miles Plumlee
OUT: Isaiah Taylor
TBD: Mike Muscala, Luke Babbitt
Erie: Nicolas Brussino

The line
The Raptors are 7-point favorites with a 210.5 over-under.

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Raptors outpaced in Indiana for second straight loss

Final score: Raptors 104, Pacers 107

Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction podcast

The Indiana Pacers had won 4 straight games coming into last night. The Raptors, on the other hand, were coming off of a disappointing loss to the Knicks, in which inconsistent quarter-to-quarter play handed them a narrow defeat. So…no matter what the final score would end up being in this one, it was safe to expect a full 48-minute effort from the Raps…right? Wrong.

It was a lethargic defensive start once again, with the front-court of JV and Serge looking as bad as they’ve looked to start the game. The backcourt defense on Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo wasn’t much better either as it seemed any Pacer wing could get their shot off whenever they wanted, with Bojan Bogdanovic, Lance Stephenson and others also taking turns from beyond-the-arc. Five 3-pointers later, the Pacers raced out to a 27-14 lead.

Dwane Casey, searching for answers, took JV out of the game earlier than usual, opting for a smaller lineup with the quicker and more mobile Pascal Siakam in place of Jonas. While the change helped slightly, at the end of the first quarter, the Raptors were immediately reminded of their problems. This slow start thing was happening again.

But, not surprisingly, the Raptors did what the Raptors do. Casey went to a bench lineup with VanVleet, Lowry, Powell, Siakam, and Poeltl. And just like that…that unit began to claw their way back into the game. Outscoring friendly face Cory Joseph and the Pacers 35-21 in the second quarter, the Raptors seemed to seize control of the game at that point. But they came out to start the third quarter exactly the way we were afraid they would. Despite starting the half with Siakam in place of JV, which I honestly thought would help, Indiana still started on a quick 5-0 run and continued to turn the tables on Toronto for the rest of the quarter outscoring them by 11 in the third and grabbing an unexpected 1-point lead heading into the final frame.

The Raptors certainly displayed the effort throughout the final quarter to win the game, but they had a ton of breaks go against them. The most notable ones came from Lance Stephenson, who burned Toronto repeatedly down the stretch hitting clutch back-to-back 3’s to put the Pacers up 11 with just over 4 minutes left. And after the Raptors came all the way back to bring it within 3, Stephenson got away with a blatant foul, pushing DeMar DeRozan trying to grab a rebound, and then hitting a dagger 3-pointer at the other end to put the Pacers ahead 106-100. Throw in a missed Serge free throw, a couple of missed calls on DeMar drives to the cup, and it was all over.

Every loss has it’s positives and this one was no different. First was the play of Kyle Lowry, who seemed to have the lift back in his long-range jumper, and was playing with the kind of energy, IQ, and overall feistiness that we’re used to seeing from him. The Raptors also got a huge lift from Fred VanVleet who was a +19 with 16 points in 23 minutes. FVV was a key member of the second quarter and closing lineups that brought the Raptors back from two separate double-digit deficits. There’s something about this guy that brings the Raptors back in games, but whatever it is…it’s not the permanent answer. I love the guy, but you can’t be relying on Fred VanVleet to basically carry you to victory, I’m sorry.

Besides the late-game officiating, which was an absolute joke, the Raptors did have one legitimate excuse. It was evident by the end of the game that they sorely missed CJ Miles. Miles was with his wife Lauren as she gave birth to their first child. That’s about as good as reasons get when it comes to missing a day on the job, so we wish CJ and his family all the best. Under normal circumstances though, I think Miles could’ve been the difference last night. His game would’ve provided some added bench scoring as well as some shooting down the stretch for the Raptors who hit a below-season-average nine 3’s on the night (Lowry had 5 of them). Unfortunately, for the Raptors who did play however, the inconsistencies continued.

DeMar DeRozan was completely outplayed by the Pacers wing combination of Bojan Bogdanovic (19 points on 8/16) and Victor Oladipo (21 points on 8/15, before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury). For a 3-time all-star like DeMar, that’s just not good enough man. You can’t get outplayed like that. I’ll give DeMar a pass just for this game given how well he’s played overall this season, but last night was ugly.

The Raptors also were extremely sloppy handling the basketball with 18 turnovers, including a couple from Kyle Lowry late in the game. That opened the door for Lance Stephenson who, in a way, grabbed this game right out of the Raptors hands. Stephenson’s erratic and somewhat crazy style of play paid dividends for the Pacers. He was jawing at the Raptors after every made shot and was a clear spark plug for the Pacers fans who responded to his energy. It created exactly the type of recipe Indiana needed to close the game.

In many ways, last night showed every type of Raptors team we’ve seen thus far this season. We saw every single story of the past couple of weeks unfold before us…all in one game. Slow starts have been a thing, and we saw a slow start. The bench outplaying the starters was a thing, and we saw the bench outplay the starters for large chunks of the game. Starting the third quarter slowly was a thing (since Wednesday at least), and of course…we saw a slow start to the third quarter. Not to mention Serge and JV didn’t play great (-8 and -20 respectively), and the Raptors defense just seemed slow. It really was all on display.

No matter how the Raptors play to close out games or how many wins they get away with in the regular season, this inconsistency just isn’t good enough. It’s not a mark of a good team. This is the NBA. I don’t care who you’re playing or what national holiday it was the day before…if you don’t at least start games, halves and quarters with the effort to want to win…you probably won’t. So as a fan, I sat there after each of the first three quarters thinking…even if we somehow wound up winning this one, would it even feel good? Wouldn’t it just mean that we could see an effort like this bite us in the ass against the Hornets next week? Or the Kings the week after? Who knows.

A mini 3-game road-trip continues against the Hawks tomorrow to complete the second half of Toronto’s second back-to-back of the season. Yeah, the Hawks are terrible this year…but they still have Dennis Schröder, they’re playing with nothing to lose, and they’re coming off a big win against the Knicks…nothing is easy.

The Raptors will get their fair share of rest after that though with a 3-day break before returning to the ACC to take on Kemba Walker and the Hornets on Wednesday. After last Sunday’s home win against the Wizards, things were looking up for the Raptors. We probably thought all of these were winnable games that could extend our 4-game winning streak at the time (or at least I did)…but with how incredibly up-and-down the Raptors are playing these days, every night will be a grind.

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Raptors-Pacers reaction Podcast – Jonas benched

Host William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ loss to the Indiana Pacers.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 104, Pacers 107

The Pacers are not a good basketball team. They won anyways. Discuss.

A little more active in the paint tonight, still a bit of a ballstopper when the offense is struggling. Needs to pass quicker.

B+
O. Anunoby27 MIN, 8 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -20 +/-

Looked in charge on defense again and had some strong takes around the rim. It was awesome to see him thrive with bigger minutes tonight.

C-
J. Valanciunas14 MIN, 6 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -20 +/-

Brutal on defense (as per usual?) but still finished off some nice passes in the paint. His 14 minutes are all you really need to know about whether or not he was a factor in this game.

C-
D. DeRozan39 MIN, 13 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 6-16 FG, 0-3 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -6 +/-

One of his worst games as a Raptor in a very long time. Was brutally fouled twice late in the ballgame and showed some rare visible signs of frustration.Three ball wasn’t even close tonight.

A
K. Lowry40 MIN, 24 PTS, 10 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL, 6-12 FG, 5-9 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -5 +/-

great game from KLOE, took some charges, drained some threes and was one of the few raptors actively looking for his shot.

A+
F. VanVleet28 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 6-10 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 18 +/-

Wow! Career high in points, helped the Raptors make this a game when they were down 11 and looks more than ready to fill in for Wright’s absence.

B+
N. Powell27 MIN, 16 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 7-14 FG, 1-5 3FG, 1-3 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 16 +/-

Can this guy make a layup? Please? Still so excellent off the bounce, but continues to be insanely frustrating at the rim. Lost Lance on a three that proved to be the dagger late.

C
P. Siakam22 MIN, 5 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 2-6 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

Ate up a ton of minutes tonight but couldn’t find his shot and took too many threes for not making any of them (okay 1)

B+
J. Poeltl12 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 16 +/-

Should have played WAY more than the 12 minutes Casey gave him. They need to figure out what the hell they’re doing with their three young big-man rotation. Fast.

C
Dwane Casey

I know people are hurt, I get it, but at what point do you find a rotation and STICK to it?

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Canada tops Bahamas in 1st senior men’s home game since 1994

Canada 93, Bahamas 69 | Box Score

Canada has been waiting over two decades to host a senior men’s basketball game with stakes. Both the fanbase and the roster played accordingly on Friday, with Canada blowing out Bahamas 93-69 in front of a raucous crowd of over 7,000 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Even in a lopsided affair, Canada kept the plot in trying to set a playing style and create an identity for the qualifiers to come over the next two years, and those in attendance made a fine case for more international competition making its way back outside of just the three World Cup qualifying games.

It didn’t take long for Roy Rana to establish how Canada wants to play in these qualifiers. He opted to start three guards in Phil Scrubb, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Brady Heslip, opted for a stretchy four in Anthony Bennett, and gave Joel Anthony the nod rather than downsizing too much. The reasoning showed itself quickly, with Canada’s ability to space out the Bahamas defense leading to ample offensive rebounding opportunities for the bigs. Heslip hit a pair of early threes, Rathan-Mayes had plenty of room to work his in-between game, and short of Heslip losing his man on a cut, there wasn’t a huge defensive trade-off for going small against an opponent heavy on shooting at the expense of size.

If there was any cause for concern, it was when the rim proved friendly on a flailing Shaquille Cleare shot at the end of a shot clock. Owen Klassen was caught napping shortly after, leading to a Jaraun Burrows alley-oop, but the Acadia product was able to respond by getting to the free-throw line from beating the defense over the top in transition. The bench offense stalled out a bit for Canada otherwise, the team relying instead on their defensive activity level picking up at half-court and forcing five Bahamas turnovers in the quarter. Grandy Glaze, who impressed at FIBA AmeriCup this summer and is representing St. John’s of the NBL here, closed out the frame with a quick finish inside, pushing the home side’s lead to 21-11, Rana having already gone 11 deep in the rotation.

READ MORE: USports’ Steady Rise Is Helping Power the Growth of Canadian Basketball

Rana went back to several fresh starters in the second looking to extend the lead, and Heslip got back to doing his part from outside. A 9-0 run could have been larger if Anthony still had a little more bounce in those legs. No matter, as Bahamas finally breaking their five-minute scoreless streak saw Heslip answer with another triple. And then another. Heslip would finish the half 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, Bahamas coughed up six more turnovers in the quarter (while shooting 29 percent), and Canada entered the break with a comfortable 28-point lead.

https://twitter.com/FIBAWC/status/934227460928954368

Rolling 12-deep and tasking only Scrubb with playing more than 14 first-half minutes, they were in good shape to keep their foot on the gas in the second, a not insignificant consideration in the event point differential ends up mattering. It won’t if Canada keeps playing like they did here, quickly extending the lead to 30 and never really taking their foot off the gas on defense. Scrubb continued his nice two-way play as the team’s floor general, Heslip turned the pressure along the arc against the defense to free himself for mid-range looks or trips to the line, and Rathan-Mayes looked good attacking as a secondary ball-handling option. Bahamas held even around the 30-point mark for most of the quarter, cleaning up their turnover issue and playing their best offensive quarter so far. They even hit their first three of the game, only for Heslip to answer with a seventh of his own, keeping the lead at a comfortable 28 entering the fourth.

Bennett set a nice tone in the fourth, throwing down a two-handed dunk and then blocking a shot, not that there was much concern of slippage at this point. It was fairly clear that Rana was trying to make sure there were no mental lapses or any stretches of inattention, because Canada knows their margin for error will be slim at times during the qualification period, and the program is well aware of how small-sample disappointments can rear their heads. Making that message land and fostering a commitment to detail every possession is important, even with long breaks between qualifying sessions. Still, score effects exist, as does variance, and Bahamas flirted with the 20-point mark until Thomas Scrubb sent them into a timeout with a triple that probably killed any remaining hope of an unlikely comeback.

It was a fairly rote close-out from there. Rana got some of the bench pieces a little more run, with all 12 players eventually playing at least seven minutes and scoring, nobody playing more than 27, and the team finishing with a nice 46.9/37.9/71.0 shooting line. Bahamas would finish shooting 45 percent overall, sunk by a 2-of-16 mark from long-range and 16 turnovers. Heslip led the way with 22 points (and six threes), both Scrubbs made strong impacts at both ends (combining for 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists), and Rathan-Mayes continues to look like a legitimate piece the program can pencil in moving forward if he doesn’t get an NBA call-up.

Canada will now head to the Dominican Republic for a game there Monday. The Dominican Republic defeated the U.S. Virgin Islands by 10 earlier tonight, so a win for Canada on their court would give them a nice edge atop the pool before teams break until February. This is as good a start as Canada could have hoped for.

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Pre-game news & notes: Miles away from Raptors, Turner plays for Pacers

The Toronto Raptors should be angry. Coming off of an ugly loss to the New York Knicks that included the worst margin of defeat in a quarter in franchise history, it would follow that the Raptors will want to erase that taste from their mouths as quickly as possible. Thanksgiving can only do so much in that regard.

To do so, they’ll have to contend with a tough Indiana Pacers team that’s out to a 10-8 start, is really firing on offense, and represents a decent enough test at the other end thanks to a very good rim protector. Victor Oladipo is having a breakout year, Domantas Sabonis looks much better than as a rookie, and Myles Turner has been about what he was last year – which is quite good – when healthy. Add in some savvy veteran pieces around them, some unseasonably hot 3-point shooters from a few players who aren’t normally this good (the Pacers rank No. 1 in the league in 3-point percentage but 28th in how often they take them), and the Pacers look like a fringe playoff team in the East once again despite the loss of Paul George.

There are areas for the Raptors to attack. The Pacers run fairly thin, utilizing a tight rotation, and it’s a rotation that’s a little weak on the glass. Nate McMillan’s defensive system also runs conservative, with the Pacers fouling less than any team in the NBA. That’s a challenge for a foul-magnet team like Toronto but also an opportunity, since the Pacers aren’t adept at forcing turnovers (the Raptors have struggled defending in transition) and because that strategy sometimes requires conceding decent looks to stay at home.

The Pacers aren’t an easy out, and the Raptors will have to turn in a much more consistent effort than Wednesday to secure a win that feels pretty necessary, silly though that might be in November.

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

Raptors updates
While the Raptors got good news with respect to Delon Wright and Norman Powell on Wednesday, some even better news has them shorthanded once again Friday. C.J. Miles and wife Lauren welcomed their first child into the world last night, and Miles is away from the team for that joyous occasion. Our congratulations to the beautiful family on the birth of their daughter.

With Miles down, it should mark a big opportunity for Powell to see ample run and try to get a rhythm back. He was solid shooting the ball in his first game back after missing four due to a hip pointer, but he looked a little out of sorts otherwise. It’s unclear if him coming off of the bench will continue indefinitely or only until he’s back to 100 percent, but it would make sense for him to play a reserve role here given the imbalance in scoring between the two units. That would mean OG Anunoby continues to start, tasked with either chasing Bojan Bogdanvoic around the 3-point line or keeping a red-hot Victor Oladipo in check.

Elsewhere, Jakob Poeltl would seem a better matchup against a rangy Pacers team than Lucas Nogueira, but the real key here might be giving Jonas Valanciunas a quick hook so that he can match up for some bench minutes opposite Al Jefferson, should Jefferson play. That’s a look the Raptors will need Valanciunas’ rebounding for and one he’s well-suited to take advantage of at both ends of the floor. Turner is a real challenge in the starting lineup, too, and the Pacers will play small with Domantas Sabonis at the five, so there’s additional benefit to splitting Valanciunas from Serge Ibaka early on and giving both some time with bench-heavy groups so they aren’t tethered together.

UPDATE: Anunoby is, indeed, starting.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Delon Wright, C.J. Miles
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo

Pacers updates
Indiana enters mostly healthy, with Myles Turner saying earlier in the week that his tweaked ankle will be “fine” for this one. Turner missing the game would be an enormous loss for a Pacers team that’s beating expectations early in large part because of how their young pieces are meshing, and while Turner hasn’t taken a statistical leap forward, he’s a big part of that. He’ll be a real challenge, the type of center with enough bulk to work inside, enough length to provide serious rim protection, and enough range to take centers away from the basket. He’s also had a fine chemistry with Thaddeus Young in the smaller starting lineup, though he and Domantas Sabonis have been a bit of a mess in a tiny sample together.

Nate McMillan keeps a pretty tight rotation, with only eight players factoring in outside of garbage time the last few games. It’s the starters, super-sub and old friend Cory Joseph, Sabonis as the third big, and Lance Stephenson as a roving stop-gap everywhere else.

PG: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Joseph Young
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Damien Wilkins
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf
C: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson, Ike Anigbogu
OUT: Glenn Robinson
TBD: None
Fort Wayne: Alex Poythress, Edmond Sumner

Assorted

The line
The Raptors are 2-point favorites with a 216 over-under and the majority of action going their way.

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Open Gym Ep. 6

Open Gym is back, with a sixth episode that focuses on the end of a long west-coast trip.

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Spotting Up

I was a little concerned coming into this, DeMar DeRozan’s 9th season in the NBA, with him hitting 28 years old, that historical context for players with his offensive profile said that he might begin to show signs of aging earlier than some other players. After all, in the three-point era, there are so few examples of guys who don’t shoot threes and rely on getting to the free throw line often having elite scoring seasons at his age, with most players who score in that fashion falling off in their late 20s. In the last 20 years, the only players to have seasons with better than a 35% free throw rate, less than a 20% three-point attempt rate, and more than 28% usage at the age of 28 or older are Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson.

So the task ahead of DeRozan was simple and yet difficult, change up his game, establish himself alongside those players in terms of aging gracefully, or face his own decline. After all, those benchmarks are being generous for DeMar, whose three All-Star campaigns came with no three-point rate higher than 2013-14’s 14.9% and no free-throw rate lower than 2016-17’s 41.9%, and at least 28% usage in all three seasons.

Yet, through the first 20% of this season, DeRozan is having his most efficient year in the league, with career highs in both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting, while also hitting a career high in assist rate. Perhaps you could quibble with his still erratic defensive performances, or some of the late-game execution, but the overall numbers are clear, at an age when many players(aside from a selection of All-Time greats) with his game have fallen off, he’s getting better, leaving the question of how he’s managing to defy what you’d normally expect from him at this point in his career. His scoring might be down a touch from last year, but with him getting those points more efficiently, this looks like a better version of the player, helping the team’s offense at the expense of his own numbers.

The simple answer would be to simply assume that he’s just doing what he’s always done, but doing it smarter, and there’s certainly anecdotal evidence to support that. DeMar has always had an easy grace to his offensive game, an ability to make difficult shots look simple with brilliant footwork, and create highlight reel buckets out of nothing. While isolation basketball can struggle against more capable defenses as the last few playoff runs have shown, when facing a less capable defense it can be aesthetically brilliant the way DeMar can eviscerate a team.

This year, however, his numbers in isolation and are down. Last year DeRozan fell in the 86th percentile of NBA players at 1.02 points per possession on isolations with 4.6 possessions per contest, making it a solid option any trip down the floor. This year he’s lost nearly a possession per game, down to just 3.8 isolations per game, and his efficiency has plummeted, down to 0.78 PPP, good for just the 29th percentile.

But, as was pointed out above, this has been by far the most efficient season of DeRozan’s career, and if he’s scoring less on what has been his bread and butter in years past while his scoring as a pick and roll ball handler has remained largely the same(0.96 PPP this year vs. 0.97 a year ago), the task becomes finding where the jump in efficiency has come, and the culprit is that he’s a much, much better shooter when the team is creating shots for him.

A year ago, DeRozan was in the bottom half of the league as a spot-up shooter, which really doesn’t come as a surprise, given that he’s not known as a catch and shoot player. DeRozan is recognized as a guy who likes to have the ball in his hands and dictate the offense for the team, creating those shots for other guys instead. This year, however, he’s in the 87th percentile as a spot-up shooter and coming off screens, becoming a reliable scoring option for the team in motion.

This improvement is also visible elsewhere statistically, where we can look at numbers like effective field goal percentage versus touch time. Last season, DeMar excelled on longer possessions, posting his best percentage(at 50.6%) when he had the ball in his hands for 6+ seconds, which accounted for 31.9% of his shooting possessions. This season, that’s still 30.5% of his possessions thus far with similar efficiency, at a 49.4% eFG%. However, on the shorter end, when he has the ball in his hands for two seconds or less, his efficiency has jumped massively, to 69.4% eFG% from 45.7% last year.

When you watch the games, what you see is that this isn’t just a case of DeMar having improved his jump shot and selection, which he has both, but it’s also a case of him initiating the offense and helping keep it in motion, whether the ball is in his hands or someone else’s. Part of the Raptors’ problem in years past has been stagnation, having four guys watching while one player handles the ball, and the offensive decision making has been slow to develop, often with a single player dribbling in place for several seconds before anything develops. This year, when the team is really rolling, the decision making is happening quicker and it’s helping catch defenses off guard, creating mismatches and then exploiting them.

This all begins with DeRozan, as the player who has most frequently had the ball in his hands, and he’s been much better this year at making those quick decisions and then initiating the motion in the offense, which has paid off not only for other players who have been the beneficiaries of the better looks DeMar is creating with his passing, but also has paid off for him when the ball swings back in his direction and he’s been hitting those open shots created for him. It’s still early in the season, so it’s entirely possible that there’s noise here and he’s due for some regression, but the eye test seems to say this is sustainable, this is simple him embracing the new Raptors offense and the offense, in exchange, embracing DeMar.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Pacers, Nov. 24

The Toronto Raptors entered week six having swept the previous week’s opponents and riding a high. A loss in the Mecca punctuated by an embarrassing third quarter collapse resulted in Toronto floating back to earth. Clearly, there is still ample work to be done, particularly on the defensive side of the hardwood.

Losing to the Knicks serves as an important reminder any team on any given night can steal a victory, even by winning a single quarter. Appropriately this is a timely lesson for the Raptors who are about to embark on a far easier portion of their schedule. Eventually the East leading Celtics will travel to the opposite coast. Whether Boston continues to win at the same clip won’t be known until the spring since their West travel is the complete reverse of the Raptors (back end loaded).

Diving deeper into the schedule, aside from today’s opponent (who they play again Dec. 1), Toronto won’t face another top ten offense until January 11. Furthermore, in the next 12 games the Grizzlies are the only top ten defense (10th) on tap. Therefore, the Raptors must tackle the upcoming teams without taking any one for granted. The wins captured now may not push them ahead of Boston or the suddenly charging Cavaliers, but come spring when those teams will have to win out West the victories Toronto accumulate now could make a difference.

With that, let’s examine today’s opponent, the Indiana Pacers.

Post Paul George Era:

It was rumored Pacers General Manager, Kevin Pritchard had more lucrative offers on the table from the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers than the deal he eventually accepted with the Thunder.

The overwhelming majority of pundits felt the George trade was won by the Thunder and Pritchard had gone this route to avoid having to face the small forward four times a season by virtue of trading him to an Eastern competitor. In retrospect, given how well hometown native Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis have integrated perhaps the Pacers GM knew something others didn’t. Albeit it’s a small sample size, but the two players are central to the team’s production and will grow with the core.

Additionally, Pritchard added several new players to the roster:

  • Former Raptors reserve point guard Cory Joseph
  • Three point sharp shooter Bojan Bogdanovic
  • Starting point guard Darren Collison
  • Veteran center Al Jefferson
  • Rookie T.J. Leaf

Indiana is currently on a four-game win streak and will play eight of their next eleven games at the Fieldhouse. Just as the next schedule segment is key for the Raptors, the success of the Pacers over this period may pay dividends down the road.

McMillan utilizing shortened bench:

Head Coach Nate McMillan made adjustments to his rotation utilizing far fewer members of the reserve unit. During the Pacers current four-game win streak only eight players are receiving action. Aside from the starting unit Cory Joseph, Domantas Sabonis and Lance Stephenson are the only bench members getting significant minutes. This playoff-like shortened bench means rookie T.J. Leaf (oft considered a potential candidate for the Raptors in the draft) isn’t getting any run.

The Pacers who haven’t played since Monday will likely go this route again, barring the Raptors shutting down those eight Pacers and building a large lead.

Raptors Killer Bogdanovic:

Bojan Bogdanovic has feasted on the Raptors regardless of what jersey he’s sported. In the last two seasons he’s had at least one big game versus Toronto.

Case in point:

  • 2015-16 Nets:  29 points hitting 7-10 from deep. (per game average: 11.2 points/1.5 threes)
  • 2016-17 Nets:  23 points, connecting on 5 of 8 three-point shots. (per game average: 14.2 points/1.8 threes)
  •  2016-17 Wizards: 27 points hitting 6 of 7 perimeter shots (per game average: 12.7 points/1.7 treys in 26 games)

Much of the new shortened McMillan rotation has to do with Bogdanovic’s increased playing time. During the four-game win streak he’s averaging 20.8 points (26 points in each of the last two games versus the Heat and Magic). From the perimeter during this period the forward has connected on 18 of his 29 attempts for a blistering 62.0 percent. Considering his previous success versus Toronto, no doubt he is likely anxious for tip-off.

Given his recent explosion from the perimeter Dwane Casey will need to prioritize a defensive strategy specifically to address him. Notably, one caveat to the forward’s excellence on offense is he’s also a minus 2.1 defensively.  Logically the Raptors will try to limit his touches and force him off the line into drives.  Another practical choice will be to run much of the offense at Bogdanovic to force McMillan into a decision of whether his offensive prowess outweighs his defensive liability.

Raptors Front court depth could be a factor:

Like Bogdanovic, Myles Turner is also capable of shooting from deep. On the season he’s averaging two attempts and connecting on 35.4 percent. Precisely how Casey chooses to match up individual defensive pairings will be interesting. Certainly Serge Ibaka will be employed to cover one of the big men and Pascal Siakam will also get run versus one or both.

Although Valanciunas will logically be matched up to defend Turner there is also the matter of his Lithuanian National Team experience. Sabonis and Valanciunas are extremely familiar with one another; therefore it may behoove Casey to allot some time for JV to match up versus his younger Lithuanian teammate.

Raptors backcourt could feast:

Indiana’s starting backcourt (Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison) has excelled during the win streak. Historically however, the Raptors All-Star backcourt has registered big games facing them.  Although Oladipo has produced some quality outings versus DeRozan, the same can be said of the Raptors shooting guard who rarely logs back to back subpar performances.

Moreover, depending on whom Casey decides to task with guarding Oladipo the Indiana native could be in for a heavy dose of OG Anunoby or a combination of Lowry, DeRozan, Anunoby and Powell. Since Collison is on the shorter side it also allows for VanVleet to have a more comfortable matchup. Its unfortunate Delon Wright is injured, as I was eager to see Cory Joseph and his protégée guarding each other.

Lowry versus Collison:

  • Dec 12, 2014 at Sacramento: Collison- 4 points, 4 assists, -22 | Lowry – 27 points, 13 assists, +20
  • Jan 28, 2015 at Toronto: Collison- 12 points, 2 assists, -14 | Lowry – 13 points, 7 assists, +15
  • Dec 20, 2015 at Toronto: Collison- 11 points, 1 assists, -11 | Lowry – 27 points, 13 assists, +20
  • Nov 20, 2016 at Sacramento: 15 points,9 assists, +2 | Lowry – 25 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, +12

DeRozan | Oladipo:

Notably in previous games against Oladipo (both with Orlando and Oklahoma) DeRozan’s rebounds and assists skews higher than his average. This, perhaps because Oladipo defends DeRozan tightly, affording him time and opportunity to move the ball. With the new high assist offense it may be a harbinger for a big assist night from DeRozan.

  • DeRozan: Nov 9, 2016: DeRozan – 37 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists,  3 steals, +20
  • Oladipo: March 16, 2017 (brutal loss vs. OKC with Lowry out): – 23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, +18

The Stat Comparison:

Arguably an area the Raptors can exploit is paint scoring, however Turner missed time due to a concussion, so the Pacers lack of success defending the rim may be due to his absence and the small sample size.

Expect the Raptors to come out with focus and aggressiveness. Although the Pacers are playing with confidence, the depth and better defense of the Raptors should translate into a win. There’s also the little matter of Lance Stephenson’s nonsense to collect on (as per below).
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New Papa C.J. Miles will miss game:

Following the Knicks game C.J. Miles flew home to be with his wife (per Blake) as she gave birth to the couple’s first child; a little girl.  Miles clearly is among the players who has a good relationship with the media in Indiana (see Scott Agness tweet). Wishing Miles and his family congratulations on the birth of their daughter.

Rotations:

TORONTO RAPTORS STARTING 5:
Point Guard:Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: OG Anunoby
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
Center:Jonas Valanciunas

TORONTO RAPTORS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
Shooting GuardNorman Powell
Small ForwardBruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
Power ForwardPascal Siakam
Center: Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira

OUT:

  • Delon Wright (shoulder – expected out minimum of month)
  • C.J. Miles (personal – birth of child – although not confirmed it is expected Miles will miss the game)

INDIANA PACERS STARTING 5:

Point Guard: Darren Collison
Shooting Guard: *Victor Oladipo
Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
Center: **Myles Turner

INDIANA PACERS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Corey Joseph, Joe Young
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson, Damien Wilkins
Small Forward: Alex Poythress
Power Forward: T.J. Leaf
Center: Domantas Sabonis, Al Jefferson

OUT:

  • *Victor Oladipo listed as probable after taking a hit to head versus Magic
  • **Myles Turner listed as probable after tweaking his ankle versus Magic
  • Edmund Sumner – knee – no timetable for return
  • Glenn Robinson III – ankle – surgery on medial and lateral ligaments Oct 14 (expected to miss three to four months).

Game Details:

Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana, Indianapolis

Game Time: 8:00 PM ET

TV: Sportsnet One, NBA TV

Radio: Sportsnet 590 The FAN

The line: Raptors are favored by 1.5 with an over/under of 216 points.

If you want to keep in touch you can follow me on twitter, or catch me waxing poetic about the OKC Thunder at Thunderous Intentions or All NBA at 16 Wins A Ring.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Nov. 24 – Talking through it

The Extra reads the mail.

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Raptors Playbook: 2/1 Pick and Roll

Raptors Playbook: 2/1 Pick and Roll

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors. This week, we’ll focus on the 2/1 Pick and Roll – a small-small variant of the common action. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

A pick and roll is by no means an intricate action, but the tactical though behind this specific action deserves some level of attention. By primarily utilizing DeMar DeRozan as a ball handler and Kyle Lowry as a screener in a side-to-middle pick and roll, the Raptors are able to involve their two most talented offensive players.

Starting at 0:02, examples featuring Lowry slipping and fading as the screener are shown. Lowry is able to free himself for easy looks in the strong side corner because the defense is so preoccupied with how they are supposed to defend this action. The reason the Raptors use this action is to force the defense to decide whether they are comfortable with a point guard defender being switched onto DeRozan. If they are not, an awkward negotiation process occurs where two defenders are often drawn to DeRozan. In that instance of hesitation, Lowry often hunts an open look for himself by prematurely slipping the screen and fading to the corner. Still images of the awkward negotiation process the defense routinely engages in is featured in the low quality images below.

While Lowry’s heady reads are often effective to free himself for the shot, it is sometimes more effective for him to actually commit as the screener. In those instances, the defense will often have the smaller defender hegde, momentarily showing and impeding the progress of DeRozan, and attempt to recover back into the original matchup.

Since DeRozan has ample experience as a pick and roll player, he generally is prepared for this coverage. He often drives pauses his forward momentum for a split second, coaxing the hedging defender into recovering back to the original assignment, before reengaging his drive to the rim against his original matchup that has dropped several feet into the paint. DeRozan’s knack for drawing fouls is anything but absent in this action, as he often rips through the hedging defender’s outstretched arms to secure a trip to the free throw line. Examples of this can be seen starting at 0:25

Just as any defensive strategy, attempting to hedge and recover against this action is problematic. To avoid the confusion and hesitancy of this coverage, some teams opt to switch their point guard defender onto DeRozan. As one of the premier post players in the league, scoring 0.98 points per possession on nearly three post ups per game (which is a drop from his league leading 1.13 PPP a year ago), DeRozan routinely welcomes this strategy by isolating against the smaller defender on the low block. Examples of this are shown starting at 0:58.

While the Raptors never heavily rely upon this action throughout the course of a season on a nightly basis, they will use it with increased frequency down the stretch of games when matchups allow for it. Hunting down the Isaiah Thomas’ and Kemba Walker’s of the world sometimes stalls the offense, but it is hard to deny that any action makes more intuitive sense than creating an instant advantage for the offense by utilizing the team’s most talented players.

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Third Quarter Dumpster Fire Dooms Raptors Against Knicks

Writing a recap for a game like last night is no easy task.  This is my second attempt, as the first one read something like a play-by-play of sorts that looked at the ebbs and flows of the game itself.  I didn’t want to subject anyone to read that after what the Raptors had just done.

Quarter by quarter the game changed.  The Raptors easily handled the first 24 minutes, but led by just 11 at halftime due to a hot shooting performance by Tim Hardaway (19 first half points on 7-of-12 shooting) and a 0-for-7 display by Serge Ibaka.

From there things turned bad.  If you didn’t watch it yourself, please try and avoid any footage that is available.  The Knicks went on a 28-0 run in the third quarter and the Raptors failed to score a field goal until there were 3.5 minutes left in the third quarter.  In total, New York won the third quarter 41-10, which doesn’t do justice for how awful it was to watch live.

It was the worst quarter I’ve ever witnessed the Raptors play, which is an impressive statement considering their history.  They not only failed to score, they failed to simply create any type of open look.  They not only failed almost every time in stopping New York from scoring, they failed to get the rebound if they did.  The only things they found success at in the third quarter were repeatedly throwing it out of bounds without a Raptor anywhere nearby and somehow making Doug McDermott look like an elite defender.

The fourth quarter was an improvement of sorts, as Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam helped trim the lead to 6 at the midway point.  From there the Knicks lead moved freely anywhere between 6 and 12, but Toronto never got any closer.

It was an admirable attempt at a comeback in the fourth, but the fact that they were in that position should be embarrassing.  And that’s exactly what I expect the players themselves are feeling right now: embarrassment.

In many loses there are moments where blame can easily be placed, but yesterday didn’t feel that way.  It wasn’t a matter of a few players who were missing their assignments or failing to hit shots.  It would be easy to place some of the blame on Serge Ibaka for missing all seven of his first half shots, and having zeroes in every statistical category except for blocks (2) and fouls (2) at the break.

It’s not that simple though.  Yes, Ibaka struggled on offence and it hurt the Raptors attack as a whole, but he was far from the only Raptor who hurt the team.  Each player struggled to find their game for long stretches, including each and every player who saw the court during the decisive third quarter.  It was a collective apathy and lethargic nature that doomed the Raptors, not the play of just one player or a few individual moments.

12 minutes of awfulness.  For a full quarter they looked like a little league team against a group of professionals.

To sum it all up…last night sucked.

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Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 23

10 things I saw from Raptors-Knicks (Nov. 22) – The Defeated

So, wtf happened? They didn’t play with intensity to start the second half and couldn’t turn on the switch until it was too late. I want to blame them for doing this, but the first two quarters were so easy for them that it’s somewhat understandable. Most of the run was the Raptors running stagnant sets on offense that led to bad shots and turnovers which sparked the Knicks’ transition game.

Awful third quarter sinks Raptors in loss to Knicks | Toronto Sun

“That sh– was a blur,” point guard Kyle Lowry said of the third quarter. “It was a blur to me. We had seven turnovers, missed some good looks. They started out aggressive, made shots. That pretty much won the game for them. You have to tip your hat sometimes. For a team to get going like that, they did an unbelievable job. For us, we had seven turnovers. I missed a couple of shots, DeMar (DeRozan) missed shots, Serge (Ibaka) missed some shots, JV (Jonas Valanciunas) missed a layup. It happens man.”

Lowry played down the loss. Dwane Casey did not afford himself the same luxury.

“We did that to ourselves,” the head coach said. “I give the Knicks all the credit, they are playing well, especially here at home, but we talked about that. We have to match their energy and we did not do it except with that stretch with the second unit. The first unit did not match their energy defensively or offensively. We didn’t play with any force, any pace, any toughness to warrant anything.”

On three different occasions in that fourth quarter, the Raptors got the lead down to six points, but each time the Knicks pulled away.

Podcast – Raptors/Knicks was incredibly weird – Locked On Raptors

In Episode 232 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley and Sahal Abdi (Raptors Republic) recap a wonderfully bizarre Raptors/Knicks game in which MSG was rocking, the Knicks went on a 28-0 third quarter run, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam shone, Serge Ibaka coasted except when he didn’t, and DeMar DeRozan had two wildly different halves.

Takeaways: Atrocious third quarter costs Raptors in New York – Sportsnet.ca

It’s hard to understate just how atrociously the Raptors played during the third quarter of this game. They had little cohesion on offence, they bricked shot after shot after shot (Toronto went 1-of-16 from the field in the quarter), and they turned the ball over repeatedly, more than once throwing errant passes to vacant spots on the floor.

Meanwhile, at the other end, New York got absolutely anything it wanted on offence, scoring from mid range, from beyond the arc, and in the paint. The Raptors provided very little resistance throughout, and looked like a group simply waiting for the quarter to end.

The Knicks ended up going on a 32-3 run in the third (including 28 consecutive New York points), forcing Casey to frantically shuffle his rotations in search of any solution to stop the bleeding. But he couldn’t find it, and by the time the dust settled, the Raptors finished the quarter down 20 after coming into it with an 11-point lead.

Don’t put an asterisk on this one: This was a Knicks statement win | New York Post

Not after the Knicks held off the inevitable Raptors comeback in the fourth quarter, a surge that was eerily reminiscent of what the Cavaliers had done here nine days earlier and elicited a sound among the 19,812 people that approximated nausea.

And not after vanquishing the Raptors, who had outclassed them in Toronto last Friday, who had won eight in a row over the Knicks dating to early in the 2015-16 season, who may not be the Celtics, but are in that rung just below them in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have won plenty of confidence builders this year.

This was for something else. This was to prove they belong, that they really can play with anybody. They hinted at that against Cleveland, but couldn’t close the deal that night. They closed this time.

“We challenged the guys at halftime,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We played hard in the first half, but that’s a great team with a lot of energy and they really got after us. But we told them to put the pressure on and make nothing east and they responded in that third quarter. They were great.”

Hardaway especially, who poured in a career-high 38 points and added seven assists and has become in every way the team’s unquestioned emotional core. It was Hardaway (12) and Courtney Lee (11) who combined for 23 points and fueled the brunt of that 28-0 third-quarter explosion, one that came with Kristaps Porzingis contributing only a couple of free throws on offense.

“This is such an unselfish team,” Hardaway said.

Raptors endure worst quarter in franchise history, lose to Knicks 108-100 – Raptors HQ

No, you didn’t read that incorrectly — it was a 28-0 run. Toronto started the quarter shooting 0-for-a helluva lot, and at one point it looked like the starting group was losing composure, jacking up ill-advised shots, taking unnecessary risks on defense and offense, and really allowing New York (the team and the city) to get in their heads.

After shooting 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3 in the first half, the Raptors would hit 1-of-16 shots in the third, good for 6 percent from the field. Again, this was a quarter to forget, as the Raptors finished the frame down twenty, good for a 31 point swing on the score board. They were outscored 41-10. Incredible.

Tim Hardaway absolutely torched Toronto, as he finished with 38 points (OG Amber alert) on 13-of-27 overall, 4-of-9 from distance, while managing to make 8-of-10 free throws. Oh, he also added six boards and seven assists. This was the Hardaway show through and through. Toronto had no answers for him as they focused the second half on stuffing the post.

In the 4th, Toronto thankfully began playing with a tenacity and energy completely missing in the third quarter. Multiple times, thanks to defensive stops and rebounding the ball, they were able to chip the lead down to 6, only to miss a crucial shot, followed by another, to let the Knicks once again take control.

It wasn’t until the final frame that Ibaka, who played one of his most forgettable games as a Raptor tonight, made three jumpers in a row to give Toronto some hope. Kyle Lowry, who appeared to be the only Raptor playing with urgency throughout the game, also hit some cold-blooded shots to scare the Knicks, who watched a 20 point lead evaporate in under five minutes in the fourth quarter.

Is DeMar DeRozan playing his best basketball as a Toronto Raptor? – The Athletic

There was a lot of talk about the need for DeRozan to add the three-point shot to his arsenal this summer. It’s his play-making that’s always seemed a little more important. Threes are great, of course, and DeRozan is putting them up this season with greater regularity than ever before, but the Raptors will rarely want DeRozan in the corner, and his reluctance to pass has often proven to be the team’s stylistic bottleneck.
That appears to be changing. For several playoff series now, DeRozan’s dealt with heavy trapping and blitzing, with opponents selling out to get the ball out of his hands. His success has been uneven, and it’s clear he made dealing with those scenarios a focus of his off-season work. With greater responsibility, DeRozan is getting a greater sense of how defences respond to him, and he’s using the attention he draws to manipulate that defence rather than just respond to it. Through 16 games, he’s averaging a career-high 22.9 per cent assist rate, good for 4.6 per game.
“I know I can score, I know I can do this, but I want to make everybody around me even more comfortable,” DeRozan said. “That’s been kinda my mindset and it makes it a lot more fun, especially for me. I tell guys all the time, I don’t care if I pass you the ball 20 times in a row and you miss 20 shots in a row, I’m gonna pass it 21st-second-third time, every time down, you know? And just to give that confidence, that go a long way. I really don’t pay attention to the assists, they just come. That’s just the confidence I got in my teammates.”
His teammates are shooting 33.9 per cent on threes he sets up and 55.3 per cent on twos. The former is still a smallish sample size that could improve with more time alongside C.J. Miles or better shooting from Lowry. The latter is the best on the team (yes, even better than Lowry’s 53.5 per cent). Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas have been the primary beneficiaries, combining for a 24-of-40 mark inside the arc following a DeRozan pass. His turnover rate is up in conjunction with the heavier passing emphasis, but he remains one of the game’s more sure-handed high-volume players.

Raptors benefit as DeRozan delivers on vow to evolve as a playmaker – Sportsnet.ca

It’s his improving ability to make plays for those around him that jumps out, and bodes well as DeRozan gets into the heart of his prime, where players with true staying power evolve and find ways to continue to thrive even as their athletic ability ebbs ever-so-slightly.

“As far as passing the basketball, making plays, [the] quasi-point guard mentality, he’s done an excellent job and that’s what we need him to do,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who has coached DeRozan for seven seasons and can easily recall a player who panicked when facing double teams in the post, or was clunky and pre-programmed when teams tried to trap him coming out of pick-and-rolls.

That’s not the case now, as DeRozan trails only Steph Curry and Bradley Beal among players who generate a scoring opportunity as the primary ball-handler in a pick-and-roll, per NBA.com. His assist rate– he’s assisting on 23.9 per cent of his teammate’s field goals this season after averaging 14.7 per cent for his career to this point— is at all-time high too.

“He’s setting other people up, he’s taking what the game’s giving him,” says Casey. “ And with a dynamic scorer like him, if you have that other facet of the game going, where you’re making plays, seeing other people, it makes you more effective.”

In the course of the Raptors mission to modernize their offense and make it less predictable and more even-handed, DeRozan was approached about taking on added responsibilities as a playmaker. Not only did he say he was open to it, he’s followed through with his actions.

“I think it’s just me being a critic of myself, understanding how I can be better and make everybody around me better,” he said after practice at the BioSteel Centre before the Raptors headed out on three-game Eastern Conference road trip beginning Wednesday night in New York against the Knicks and including a stop in Indianapolis Friday and Atlanta on Saturday. “That’s always been my approach, especially coming into this season. I know I can score, I know I can do this, but I want to make everybody around me even more comfortable. That’s been kinda my mindset and it makes it a lot more fun, especially for me.”

Sohi: It’s time to talk about swapping Pascal Siakam in for Jonas Valanciunas in the Raptors’ starting unit – The Athletic

The Raptors are 17.7 points per possession better with Siakam in the starting lineup than Valanciunas. They clamp down defensively, allowing just 98 points per 100 possessions. It’s a small sample size, but one that certainly passes the eye test. Siakam provides defensive versatility that Valanciunas, or any of the other big men on the roster, simply cannot. On the defensive end, he is Lucas Nogueira’s upside paired with Jakob Poeltl’s consistency.
Last season, Siakam’s motor powered his offence. When Kyle Lowry’s eyes shoot up the floor after corralling a defensive rebound, it is Siakam’s stride he is looking for. In the halfcourt, though, he was a major liability. This season, however, he’s added just enough to his game that defences can’t ignore him. His corner three-pointer remains iffy, but he’s whipped out a spin move as of late — it’s wobbly and occasionally anxiety-inducing, but it’s improving.
“I love the way he’s playing now,” said Casey. “He’s so much more improved from last year as far as handling the basketball, making decisions, reading situations, and not just out there just using all that motor. He’s really thinking the games. He’s playing hard.”
His game is, on both ends, growing. I’d like to see how it progresses buoyed by the cushion of playing with the starters, with less (read: absolutely no) attention paid to his offence.
The risk of this move — and it is no small one — is disrupting the current chemistry of the bench unit. Toronto’s second unit lineup (with Delon Wright) is outscoring opponents by 12.6 points per possession. They manage this by being utterly destructive on the defensive end, allowing a game-curdling 88 points per 100 possessions, and running off misses in transition. Siakam, of course, figures heavily in both categories. Valanciunas decidedly does not.

DeRozan reboot more than a passing fancy | Toronto Star

“I tell guys all the time: I don’t care if I pass you the ball 20 times in a row and you miss 20 shots in a row, I’m gonna pass it a twenty-first, -second, -third time, every time down, you know?” DeRozan said. “And just to give that confidence, that goes a long way. I really don’t pay attention to the assists, they just come. That’s just the confidence I’ve got in my teammates.”

Confidence matters here, for sure. And maybe a team-wide lack of it contributed to the Raptors averaging a meagre 23 three-pointers a game, ninth-fewest in the league. This year, with the ball moving and the green light always flashing, they’re jacking up about 31 a game, fifth-most in the league. If they can figure out a way to make a few more — they’re among the bottom 10 teams in three-point accuracy — they could get dangerous. As it is, in the midst of a four-game win streak that has run their record to 11-5, they’ve made do impressively enough.

“We’re getting so many open looks,” Casey said. “We’ve got to get in a rhythm to knock them down.”

DeRozan is among those taking more three-pointers — not that anyone is going to confuse him with a Splash Brother. He’s averaging nearly three attempts a game, a career-high pace.

Still, it wouldn’t be a leap to suggest that the increased threat that DeRozan might take a three — coupled with the increased threat that he might actually do damage with a timely pass — is making it easier for him to do what he does best. Yes, the mid-range game remains his pet tendency. He has launched nearly a third of his field-goal attempts from between 10 and 16 feet, according to Basketball-Reference.com, on pace for career-high volume from this familiar pocket. And if that could be considered counter to the cause — because surely shooting more mid-range jumpers wasn’t part of this season’s grand plan — DeRozan is providing a saving grace. He’s shooting 50 per cent from the field from between 10 and 16 feet — a career-high pace in yet another category. That number suggests he’s getting easier shots, or maybe taking better ones.

Ranking the 5 Best NBA Contracts at Each Position Right Now | Bleacher Report

5. Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors ($1,645,200)

Now in his third professional season and still operating on his rookie-scale contract after the Toronto Raptors chose to pick up his team option for both this season and 2018-19, Delon Wright has developed into everything the Canadian franchise could’ve wanted from its backup point guard. Well, he “had” developed into that player prior to dislocating his right shoulder—the same troublesome body part that has kept him out of action in the past.

But assuming Wright returns to his early-season form when he re-enters the lineup, he’ll continue to serve as a tremendous value off the Toronto bench.

His three-point stroke isn’t there, as he was shooting only 28.6 percent from downtown prior to his injury. But his growing work as a facilitator, physical defense against both 1- and 2-guards, solid work on the glass and scoring acumen around the basket still made him quite valuable. Last year, the Raptors posted a 4.71 net rating with Wright playing and Kyle Lowry on the pine, per PBPStats.com; this season, that number has swelled to 7.18.

Has rookie OG Anunoby made a case for inclusion in the Raptors’ starting lineup? – The Athletic [subscription]

In the last week, Anunoby has been tasked with guarding Harden, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Al Horford for different stretches, a remarkably diverse mix that speaks to head coach Dwane Casey’s emerging trust in the rookie. Getting key crunch-time assignments against the opponent’s hottest or most dominant scoring threat is a role generally saved for more experienced, proven defenders, and yet Anunoby has already vaulted toward the top of that pecking order. It says a lot, too, that Anunoby was asked to play the final nine minutes of the close-out, blowing past his earlier season-high in minutes by more than 30 per cent.

Anunoby has now played 28 minutes with the starters over three games. That group has outscored opponents by 23.7 points per-100 possessions, the best mark of any five-man unit the Raptors have deployed for more than 12 minutes this season. The Raptors have defended well when he’s on the floor – his 97.8 defensive rating is second only to Fred VanVleet among regulars, he owns the best net rating (plus-16.3) and early, small-sample advanced metrics like Box Plus-Minus or Real Plus-Minus grade him favourably in the small window he’s played.

On paper, playing Anunoby with the starters makes some sense. He might be the team’s best perimeter defender at a number of positions, something the starting lineup has desperately needed for some time and something Powell or C.J. Miles can only offer against certain player types. He’s a low-usage option who doesn’t require the ball – his usage rate is at a modest 14.8 per cent through 13 games – but he reads the floor well enough to cut into space effectively or make a pass to keep the ball moving along the perimeter. He’s been eager to attack closeouts, shows a willingness and ability to create for others on the move, and has even knocked down 14 of his 34 three-point attempts, good for 41.2 per cent overall and 42.9 per cent in the corners.

He may introduce some spacing concerns, with opponents likely more willing to let Anunoby beat them than Miles beyond the arc or Powell attacking from the corner. Anunoby has proven solid in his role on offence, but there’s a bit of an offence-defence trade-off looming.

The Toronto Raptors youth has a bright future – FanSided

Anunoby, on the other hand, profiles as exactly the type of defender who can take on those larger wings. Standing about 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and weighing 232 pounds at the 2017 NBA Draft Combine, Anunoby has the physical tools to be a high-level wing stopper. The mental side is lagging behind a little bit, but that’s to be expected from a rookie just a handful of games into his career. He got his crack at Harden, as almost every Raptor did in Tuesday’s game against Houston, and there were certainly some mixed results. Multiple times in the first half, Anunoby failed to execute the Weak scheme and let Harden get to the middle of the floor with his left hand, where he’s at his best. Things improved in the second half and those sorts of inconsistencies will be ironed out as he continues to mature on the floor.

Offensively, Anunoby is and almost certainly will always be extremely limited. He looks incredibly awkward with the ball in his hands, especially if he has to dribble with his left hand. There’s very little chance he ever develops into a secondary creator unless there’s a complete transformation in his future. Still, he can be a useful offensive player as he is; he can knock down the corner 3 and drive past an overzealous closeout to finish at the rim, which should be all the Raptors will need him to do on that end of the floor. He showed off both skills against the Rockets, hitting six of his eight shots en route to 16 points and a game-best +22.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com.

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Raptors-Knicks Reaction Podcast – What the third was that?