Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Sep 4, 15 Top 10 Reasons Why Durant Will Be a Raptor Next Summer! forumcrew
Sep 4, 15 Cory Joseph and The Hometown Bonus Matt Shantz
Sep 3, 15 Kyle Lowry Talks About Weight Loss and ‘Extreme Pilates’ Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 3, 15 100 Miles And Runnin’: Featuring the road ahead for DeMar DeRozan Michael Holian
Sep 2, 15 The Number 15 Barry Taylor
Sep 1, 15 Video: Luis Scola Dominates as Argentina Beat Canada in FIBA Americas Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 31, 15 Red Hot Canadian Team Seek Olympic Berth at FIBA Americas Tamberlyn Richardson
Aug 31, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 31 – Exit Visas Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 15 Predicting every game of the 2015-16 Raptors season (Part 2) William Lou
Aug 30, 15 Week in Review: Aug. 30th Edition Sam Holako
Aug 29, 15 Ujiri Resting Heavily On Maintaining The Status Quo Tim Chisholm
Aug 28, 15 Anybody still have faith in Terrence Ross? forumcrew
Aug 26, 15 Predicting every game of the 2015-16 Raptors season (Part 1) William Lou
Aug 25, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 25 – Valanciunas’s extension, milestones for success and no guests William Lou
Aug 24, 15 Masai Ujiri: ‘We’ve had a little bit of discussions’ of extending Terrence Ross William Lou
Aug 21, 15 Jonas Valanciunas’s $64M extension: Why it makes sense, and what it means for the future William Lou
Aug 20, 15 Raptors and Jonas Agree on 4-year, $64million Contract Extension Sam Holako
Aug 20, 15 Who do you think Casey uses as his Starting 5? forumcrew
Aug 20, 15 Raptors 905 select Dahntay Jones, Earl Clark, Ricky Ledo, and others in D-League expansion draft William Lou
Aug 18, 15 Jonas Valanciunas: An Extension of a Deal Matt Shantz
Aug 17, 15 Report: Jonas Valanciunas Offered Long-Term Contract by Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 17, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 17 – With Matt Devlin Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 14, 15 Crowd Control: Feelin’ the Pulse of Toronto’s Sports Scene Michael Holian
Aug 13, 15 Report: Markieff Morris Would Consider Toronto Because of Kyle Lowry Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 15 Report: Raptors could make strong bid for Markieff Morris Kiyan Sobhani
Aug 12, 15 Raptors release regular season schedule; will play Pacers in season opener William Lou
Aug 12, 15 Breaking It Down: Cory Joseph’s Assists Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 10, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 10 – The Hourglass Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 9, 15 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan Dunks on James Harden in Drew League Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 8, 15 Looking Ahead: 2016 Free Agency forumcrew
Aug 8, 15 Jonas Valanciunas may get a max-deal despite not fully deserving it Kiyan Sobhani
Aug 6, 15 #DougBomb: Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola To Play International Ball in September Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 6, 15 Report: Raptors Sign Undrafted Ohio State G Shannon Scott to Partially Guaranteed Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 5, 15 PHOTO: Kyle Lowry has really slimmed down William Lou
Aug 5, 15 Patterson on starting forward position: “It’s mine to lose” Kiyan Sobhani
Aug 5, 15 DeMarre Carroll Fantasy Basketball Player Ian MacKinnon
Aug 4, 15 Report: Jonas Valanciunas ‘a Lock to Demand Max-Level Extension’ Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 4, 15 PHOTO: DeMar DeRozan with Kevin Durant at OVOFest; Durant to Toronto Confirmed! Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 3, 15 PHOTO: Raptors unveil new jerseys for 2015-16 season William Lou
Aug 3, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 2 – Jerseys for Bedtime Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 31, 15 3AM Writing: Starting Lineups Don’t Matter Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 30, 15 Raptors Announce Rex Kalamian, Andy Greer and Jerry Stackhouse as Assistant Coaches Sam Holako
Jul 30, 15 WINTER IS COMING: Questions and Expectations for the Raptors’ Reboot Michael Holian
Jul 29, 15 If Vince Carter is inducted into the Hall of Fame, what team does he choose to represent? forumcrew
Jul 28, 15 Report: Nicolas Batum’s People say Nicolas Batum Wants to Play in Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 28, 15 Tuesday musings: Patrick Patterson should start at power forward William Lou
Jul 27, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Organic Jonas Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 25, 15 Some Countercultural Ideas About Terrence Ross RR Prospect
Jul 25, 15 Report: Tim Leiweke could be staying another year Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 24, 15 Breaking It Down: Ways in Which DeMarre Carroll Gets Steals Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 23, 15 Three Conversations Dwane Casey Needs to Have Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 21, 15 Training Camp Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 20, 15 Report: Raptors agree to terms with Michale Kyser on partially guaranteed 1-year deal William Lou
Jul 20, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 20 – No, not that Tim Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 18, 15 Shorthanded Raptors wrap up Summer League with a loss William Lou
Jul 17, 15 The perfect role player: A deep dive into DeMarre Carroll William Lou
Jul 17, 15 Post-Game Video from Raptors vs Bulls Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 16, 15 Bulls Eliminate Raptors From Las Vegas Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 16, 15 Report: Raptors Sign Axel Toupane to Partially Guaranteed Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 15, 15 Raptors sign everyone’s favorite second rounder Norman Powell William Lou
Jul 15, 15 Supersonics legend Jack Sikma working with Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Jul 15, 15 The idiosyncratic Delon Wright Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 15 Raptors get bye in Summer League, play Thursday at 10 Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 The case for signing Norman Powell to a 3-year (or 4-year) deal Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 VIDEO: Norman Powell has another huge Summer League game Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 Raptors Hold Off Rockets Behind Powell, Bruno and Bebe Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Video – Jonas Valanciunas: I’m Working on Extending My Range Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Quotes: Luis Scola’s Here to Play Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Norman Powell, your new favorite Raptor Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 13 – Norman Power! Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 12, 15 VIDEO: Watch new Raptors signing Ronald Roberts throw down Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Raptors 702 improve to 2-0 with win over Bulls Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Report: Raptors hire Andy Greer as assistant, will run defense Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Report: Raptors finalizing partially-guaranteed deal with Ronald Roberts Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Toronto Raptors Optimist Searches To Rediscover “It” Tamberlyn Richardson
Jul 11, 15 Wright and Powell shine as Raptors win Summer League opener Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 Bruno Caboclo looks more comfortable in 2nd Summer League debut Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 DeMarre Carroll on Raptors lacking IT: “We’ll see Paul Pierce again, we’ll see if he say that then” Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 DeAndre Daniels has Jones fracture in right foot Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 Dwane Casey: Patrick Patterson and James Johnson to Come Off Bench as Fours; Ross is the new Lou Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 15 Reasons to Keep an Eye on Raptors Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 10 Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Raptors Summer League Schedule: Kings, Bulls and Rockets Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 VIDEO: Bruno Caboclo draining corner threes William Lou
Jul 9, 15 Who Would You Prefer As A Starter? forumcrew
Jul 9, 15 Notes and Quotes: Raptors Introduce DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Dwane Casey got his players, now what can he do with them? William Lou
Jul 9, 15 Raptors Waive Luke Ridnour Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Post-moratorium Toronto Raptors salary cap and roster update Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 15 Talking Raptors Podcast, July 9 – Dedicated to Tom Sterner Nick Reynoldson
Jul 9, 15 Luis Scola signs reported 1-year, $3-million deal with Raptors William Lou
Jul 8, 15 Salary Cap Rises to $70 Million; Raptors Could Have $5M in Room Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 8, 15 Sonny Weems is BACK! (With Suns) Tim W.
Jul 8, 15 Three realistic power forward options Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 8, 15 Jonas Valanciunas says he’s working on his quickness: ‘Not like slow center’ William Lou
Jul 8, 15 Three-Point Play: Examining The Raptors’ New Trio Michael Holian
Jul 7, 15 Raptors905 Hire Dan Tolzman as GM, Jesse Mermuys as Head Coach Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 15 Who’s That Paul Pierce Type Veteran We Could Get? forumcrew
Jul 7, 15 DeMarre Carroll: “I’m the Black Kyle Korver” Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 15 Luis Scola, Markieff Morris Out There; Terrence Ross Trade Value Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in Corpse of Carlos Boozer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Summer League Roster Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Power Forward Prospects forumcrew
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 6 – Greeting DeMarre, Courting LaMarcus, and Grieving Amir William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Cory Joseph to sign reported 4-year, $30-million deal with Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 15 Report: Spurs withdraw qualifying offer for Cory Joseph, Raptors expected to ‘kick the tires’ William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Lou Williams signs with the Lakers, Raptors’ bench looks questionable William Lou
Jul 4, 15 Raptors ink Bismack Biyombo to a cheap, short-term deal Sam Holako
Jul 3, 15 News and Rumors: Raptors sign Delon Wright, linked to Will Bynum William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Greivis Vasquez thanks fans in classy farewell letter William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Why the Raptors will never win the bidding wars Andrew Thompson
Jul 3, 15 Report: Dallas Sign Wesley Matthews, Ending Raptors Pursuit Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 DeMarre Carroll: “I play with a log on my shoulder” Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Kings Join Wesley Matthews Race; Mavs Think DeAndre Jordan is Key Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 An ode, a few parables and a heartfelt thank you to unsung hero Amir Johnson William Lou
Jul 2, 15 Report: LaMarcus Aldridge Unlikely to Choose Raptors Despite Meeting Going ‘Well’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Moving Forward in Free Agency With Trust Matt Shantz
Jul 1, 15 Let’s get weird: Raptors ‘locked in battle’ for Wes Matthews, and why I’m on board Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 DeMarre Carroll: Raptors promised larger offensive role Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Free Agency Opening Night Live Blog, Q&A Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Goodbye Amir! forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Amir Johnson Signs with Celtics Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Early Analysis of DeMarre Carroll Signing Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 ALL THE SOURCES: Raptors Meeting with Wes Matthews Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Report: Raptors to renounce rights to Amir Johnson Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 1, 15 Welcome DeMarre Carroll forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Raptors sign DeMarre Carroll Scott Hastie
Jul 1, 15 Canada Day Vibes: Raptors’ Road To Redemption Michael Holian
Jun 30, 15 LaMarcus Aldridge would be one of the best signings in franchise history Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 30, 15 Report: Raptors Hire Jerry Stackhouse as Assistant Coach Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 BREAKING: Thunder Trade Luke Ridnour to Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 Can Raptors Recruit LaMarcus Aldridge ? forumcrew
Jun 30, 15 Report: Wes Matthews drawing interest from Raptors William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Bismack Biyombo on Raptors Radar Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 29, 15 Raptors extend qualifying offer to Nando De Colo William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Raptors to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Raptors to hire Rex Kalamian as assistant coach Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 29, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 29 – Offer Sheets For Everyone Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Raptors905 Press Release and Logo Leaked; Looks Better Than Raptors Logo Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in 6’9″ SF Al-Farouq Aminu Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 No Matter What DeMar DeRozan Makes, the Questions Remain the Same Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 27, 15 Report: “Whispers circulate” that DeMar DeRozan will seek max deal (worth $25.3 million) next summer William Lou
Jun 27, 15 So what was Greivis Vasquez all about? Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 26, 15 Who’s Delon Wright? forumcrew
Jun 26, 15 Ujiri makes “Wright” decision as Raptors build with flexibility in mind William Lou
Jun 26, 15 Raptors Select 6’4″ UCLA Senior SG Norman Powell with 46th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 Quotes: Dwane Casey on Delon Wright – “It was unanimous” Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Toronto Raptors Select Delon Wright with 20th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Greivis Vasquez Traded to Bucks For Future 1st and 2015 2nd Round Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 We Think The Raptors Will Draft One of These Four Players Tonight Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 The Doctor Is In – Pre-Draft Podcast – What Should the Raptors do? Steve Gennaro
Jun 24, 15 Report: Raptors secure D-League team for next season; will be named ‘Raptors905’ William Lou
Jun 24, 15 A look back on a week of rumours heading into tomorrow’s draft Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 23, 15 Ujiri speaks: ‘We’re open for business,’ D-League, second-round picks, ‘Greivis says a lot of things’ William Lou
Jun 23, 15 Report: Raptors pursuing Rex Kalamian, Andy Greer for assistant vacancies William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Report: Timberwolves, Rockets interested in Greivis Vasquez William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 21 – Live at Summer Slam Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 21, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Learning from the Warriors, the sky isn’t falling and mysterious Bruno William Lou
Jun 20, 15 Five Things the Raptors Could do with the 20th Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 18, 15 Three Low Key Unrestricted Free Agents That Could Help Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Report: Kings, Lakers, Knicks and Nets to Pursue Lou Williams Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Dwane Casey: “The day of the centers has gone by”, and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Jun 16, 15 Casey On Board With Small Ball Philosophy of the NBA Finals forumcrew
Jun 16, 15 Interview with 2016 Draft Prospect George Lucas de Paula Matt Shantz
Jun 15, 15 Report: Spanish national team head coach Sergio Scariolo turns down Raptors’ assistant offer William Lou
Jun 15, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 15 – TSN = Tom Sterner Network Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 Tom Sterner Breaks Silence; Says Nice Things Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, June 11 – Happy Happy, Joy Joy Steve Gennaro
Jun 11, 15 Remember Tyrus Thomas? He’s on the Raptors Now, Sort Of Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 11, 15 Raptors need to build and develop with ‘playoff basketball’ in mind William Lou
Jun 10, 15 For Those Who Want To Keep Our Core And Add To It forumcrew
Jun 10, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Worst Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Dwane Casey speaks: ‘I wasn’t worried about my job, never have been, never will be’ William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Best Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 8, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 8 – JV Over Tristan All Day Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 5, 15 Raptors to possibly add Jerry Stackhouse to coaching staff Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 5, 15 Are Raptor Fans Too Willing To Settle? Tim W.
Jun 4, 15 Raptors Offseason Primer: Cap, Assets, more Blake Murphy
Jun 3, 15 The Dr Is In Podcast, June 3 – Weighing in on DeMar Steve Gennaro
Jun 2, 15 Tom Thibodeau’s Available…Just Sayin’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 1, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 1 – Would you trade DeMar DeRozan for _______? Zarar Siddiqi
May 29, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Free agency, D-League affiliate, Thibodeau, Williams and AmirTV William Lou
May 29, 15 There has never been a better time to rebuild than right now. forumcrew
May 27, 15 Raptors D-League Team to be Based out of GTA in Upcoming Season Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 Pictures: NBA and Raptors Unveil Toronto 2016 All-Star Logo Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 3 Things Jonas Valanciunas needs to work on this summer William Lou
May 26, 15 Freestyle Raps: Featuring Tristan Thompson Michael Holian
May 25, 15 What will be Masai’s next move? forumcrew
May 25, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 25 – You’re Too Damn Cool Zarar Siddiqi
May 23, 15 Terrence Ross undergoes surgery to remove bone spurs from left ankle William Lou
May 23, 15 The Raptors Are NOT Young forumcrew
May 22, 15 Report: MLSE to Appoint John Cassaday as Tim Leiweke’s Successor Zarar Siddiqi
May 22, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, May 22 – Live Mock Draft Steve Gennaro
May 21, 15 An early look at draft prospects available around No. 20 Blake Murphy
May 20, 15 Video: A Tribute to Tom Sterner #Memories #Love Zarar Siddiqi
May 20, 15 Should the Raptors Give the DeRozan/Lowry Combo Another Shot? Zarar Siddiqi
May 19, 15 Raptors Make Terrible Mistake By Firing Tom Sterner … forumcrew
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Tom Sterner Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Bill Bayno Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 18 – “That wasn’t us” Zarar Siddiqi

#DreamsCanComeTrue.

Newly signed Toronto Raptor Corey Joseph (right) addresses the media along with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri at the Air Canada Centre on July 9, 2015. Joseph is one of the many free agents the Raptors have aquired during the off-season. Brian B. Bettencourt / Toronto Star Brian B. Bettencourt/Toronto Star

And here we are.  September has come, training camp is still weeks away, the roster is likely set, and we have largely run out of news to discuss.  We truly are in the dog days of summer and NBA basketball can’t begin soon enough.

All that’s left to do is to dream about what this roster could do and how they could play together, while hoping (praying?) that they have improved enough to not lose in the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row…or embarrassed for the second year in a row.

The starters will still feature the likes of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, with DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson likely to join them.  These two new entries will certainly change much about the Raptors, but it is on the bench where the biggest changes are now found.

With Patterson likely joining the starting lineup, the seldom played James Johnson is the one bench hold over from last year who actually saw the floor.  Lou Williams has taken his NBA Sixth Man award to the Lakers in an attempt to share the ball with Kobe Bryant and Nick Young, while Tyler Hansbrough has taken his agitation of opponents and fans to Charlotte.  Greg Stiemsma and Chuck Hayes will no longer ride the pine in Raptors’ jerseys, and Landry Fields and his left handed shooting has also moved on (although to nowhere in particular).

Lou Williams helped define the Raptors style of play last year.  He was the ultimate gunner who dominated when he was hot, but continued to shoot even when nothing was falling.  The Raptors become one of the top offensive teams in the league, but also became a collective group that prioritized scoring over defence.

This wasn’t all on Lou, and he certainly wasn’t the only culprit, but it was a visible pattern.

All of this culminated in the Raptors getting destroyed (to put it kindly) in the first round by the Washington Wizards.  What had started as an exciting and hopeful season, ended with disappointment and a new objective by Ujiri to improve the Raptors defensive focus.

Hence the changes to the roster for 2015-16.

As intriguing (see: scary) as it is to see what Terrence Ross can do as a primary weapon off the bench, perhaps the biggest change to the second unit is the signing of Cory Joseph for four years at $30 million, with a contract starting at $7M for 2015-16.

Joseph will be tasked with the role of primary ball handler off the bench and will be asked to replace all of what Greivis Vasquez provided, as well as some of what Lou Williams did (with Ross hopefully providing the rest).

So how do Joseph and Vasquez compare statistically, and how can Cory go about fulfilling the role that he has been brought in to play?

For starters, Joseph brings a much higher offensive rating compared to Vasquez (115 to 105), and a lower defensive rating (104 to 110).  Joseph is a net positive on the court, while Vasquez was a negative for the Raptors last season.  Although it’s a rather low bar to exceed, Joseph showed himself to be a far more valuable contributor than Vasquez.  Just look at their advanced stats.

Player MP PER TS% 3PAr FTr TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP
Cory Joseph 1444 15.5 .564 .107 .348 7.5 19.7 1.6 0.9 12.4 17.0 4.5 .149 0.2 0.5 0.7 1.0
Greivis Vasquez 1991 12.6 .514 .484 .091 6.3 23.9 1.2 0.4 13.6 19.8 2.8 .066 1.0 -2.1 -1.1 0.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2015.

Joseph has a higher player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, total rebounding percentage, steal percentage, block percentage, offensive wins share, defensive win shares, win-shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, and value above replacement, all while having a lower usage rate and turnover rate.

Cory Joseph truly is an advanced stats darling based on his 18.3 minutes per game last season, and helps to answer many of the questions that Ujiri needed answered this summer.

Despite all of that though, Joseph has yet to show that he is capable of replacing the three point shooting that Vasquez provided.  He may have shot just 1.5 percent less than Vasquez from long distance, but he also took less than one three point shot per game (0.6 to be exact).  Vasquez meanwhile attempted 4.3 such shots per game.

The hope in Toronto is that Joseph will be able to maintain his shooting percentage from last year, while also increasing his three point attempts, and that he can do so while extending his minutes played.  A tough task to say the least.

There’s one more stat that Joseph now has on Vasquez: a higher annual salary.

Joseph’s contract starts at $7M in year one, while Vasquez is entering the final year of a contact that will earn him $6.6M.  In the grand scheme of things, $0.4M isn’t a large gap between the two, but in a salary cap world every dollar matters.

On the surface it feels like Joseph is getting well overpaid, so much so that it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that a hometown bonus was included to bring him back to Toronto.  A hometown bonus for a player who brings a championship ring back to the place where he grew up, and can be marketed as such.  After all, the Raptors have long dreamed of having a Canadian player to sell to their fanbase.  This was one of the main reasons that Steve Nash was so appealing when he last entered free agency (I love Nash, but I’m thankful each day that we dodged that bullet).  Despite the Nash overtures though, Joseph is the first of what the team hopes is many players who could fulfill this dream for the Raptors management.

But $7M seems awfully high for a back-up point guard.  How does this salary compare to other back-up point guards around the league?

Jarrett Jack is making $6.3M for Brooklyn, while Cleveland is paying Mo Williams just $2.1M.  J.J. Barea gets $4.1M annually, and Shawn Livingston is paid $5.54M.  Patrick Beverley is now paid $6.5M after re-signing with Houston this summer, and Darren Collison gets $5M.

Back-up point guards have a wide split when it comes to salary, but Joseph’s contract is certainly on the high end of the scale despite being at least in the same area as many other back-up point guards around the league, many of who have already hit their ceiling as older players while Joseph still has room to grow.

But let’s use Shawn Livingston as an example.  I’m picking him due to the role he played in Golden States run to the championship last year, as well as his rather middle of the road contract (compared to other back-up point guards that are not on rookie scale).  Livingston originally signed with the Warriors in 2014 for the full mid-level exception, with a first year salary of $4,673,825, a number substantially lower than Joseph’s first year salary of $7M.

Joseph’s first year salary is 44 percent higher than that of Livingston.  The hometown bonus seems insane at this point, but this is without factory in the new economic landscape that includes the new TV money.

When he was signed last summer, Livingston accounted for 7.4% of the $63.2M salary cap.  The first year of Joseph’s contract accounts for 10 percent of the 70M salary cap.

Yes, his contract his high, and Joseph is still a relatively unknown player who has yet to prove himself as a focal point of a roster, but his signing isn’t nearly as large of a gamble as his starting salary makes it out to be.

An argument can be made that Joseph didn’t get any hometown bonus, but rather the normal youth/potential bonus that many young players with proven track records receive.  He’s a young player with room to grow who has already played a role for a championship team.  These type of players get paid.  And based on the new economic landscape, taking up an additional 2.6 percent of a team’s salary cap space (when using Livingston as an example) could easily be explained by his youth and not his nationality.

He is a ball-hawking defender who makes opponents work for every inch of room they can get, and when given the opportunity he has shown to attack at will.  If he can improve his three point shooting then his contract could very easily become a bargain in a year or two, instead of being mildly overpaid at the moment.

With the signing of Joseph, the Raptors have a back-up point guard that could one day become a starter, and did so without breaking the bank.  You can’t do much better than that when it comes to free agency.

Now, let’s get this season started already…

Kyle Lowry was asked about Instagram pics and his weight loss, here’s one of the questions he answered where he revealed it started from a comment made by his wife.

What made you decide to drop weight?

It started during [last] season, and even before that. I was talking to my wife, and she said “You were always your best at your college weight.” The saying is, the older you get, the lighter you’ve got to be. I thought Ray Allen did a great job of that, and Chauncey Billups too. I’m getting to the point where I’m a little bit older. I’m still young, but I’m a little bit older, and I can pick and choose how I want my body to look and feel. It’s good to understand your body. I want to be special. At the end of the day it’s all about me and how I feel and what I can provide for my team and my family.

Follow the link for the full interview (auto-playing video).

This weight loss has gotten me more excited than all of our signings combined.

Rushing to judgement is a character flaw in all of us. Some are just better at hiding it than others. But these days I’m striving to buck that trend, particularly when it comes to possibly jumping the gun on a player who still has room to grow. I’m sure most can relate, as often times our fandom gets the best of us. Only to come back and haunt in some form or fashion.

A caveat counteracts that notion, however. As one investing their emotions is half the fun. I guess the constant tug-of-war will always exist, but as we continue to evolve as fans, letting a scenario play out to its fullest potential is almost always the best course of action. Even though the frustration endured over a player not reaching the level their skill-set was pegged for fast enough is another trait we all have in common.

This way of thinking certainly applies when you survey the Raps’ roster. A squad that owns plenty of talent trending upward with the best yet to come. Yes, even Bruno.

If the current “core” ultimately fails to become anything more than simply “being in the conversation” of the league’s elite, names like Co-jo, Powell, Delon, DeMarre and Valanciunas offer optimism that the Raptors’ reinvigorated movement of recent years will remain afloat. The backcourt trio is just getting started, while Carroll, who turns 30-years-old next summer is set to embark on the most prominent role he’s ever received. Rumblings of an overpay were and are inevitable, but late-bloomers are always welcome. Opportunity just had to meet his talent halfway.

To a lesser extent, PP and JJ own that same opportunity. It would be wishful thinking to believe either can catapult themselves into a higher class of player, but handing out concrete minutes can work wonders. Of which both are about to receive.

With what could be a future of guard-heavy assets – much like the present – the JV extension not only makes sense, but may very well turn out to be a godsend down the line. At times, his play can be puzzling, that’s not a top secret evaluation. But he comes with more pros than cons. Which results in a landslide victory considering the lack of depth up front. Besides, even with the questions that cloud his progress, there are too many other what-ifs surrounding this franchise to not solidify a part of the future at a much needed position.

And let’s not underestimate the positive impact Louis Scola can have on JV’s development. A complimentary piece when on the court together, and a possible mentor off of it. Scola’s skill-set represents the parts of JV’s game he needs to work on. No matter how deteriorated it may now be. You can get a taste of what Louis has left in the tank, here. It may have been the FIBA Americas, but quality competition nonetheless.

Now, if there is any credibility to the Tristan Thompson rumours, the roster moving forward will need to be reconstructed. Same goes the for the club’s finances.

As for K-Low and T-Ross, well, one gets put into a category all his own, while the other borders on being the exception to the rule. Have we already seen Lowry at his optimum level? In order for the masses to hold complete faith that whatever untapped upside remains can be reached, he must first find his former self.

When it comes the once most polarizing player on this team, Ross has perhaps the steepest climb ahead of him. It’s most likely time to enter the mindset of we’ll take what we can get. A selfish deviation from my own mission statement, but I’m in the process of a learning curve myself.

Which brings us to the headlining act.

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Boom or Bust?

Over the course of DeMar DeRozan’s six seasons, we’ve witnessed moments of stardom mixed with ugly spurts of inconsistency. Carrying this team over extended stretches has not gone unnoticed, but neither has his inevitable shooting inefficiencies.

Still, DeMar also represents the perfect combination when looking at the big picture. There’s no other player in the lineup that can match his set of tools, or own the potential to make such a sizeable leap in contributions. Lowry can make a push to be in the same sentence, but with his wear and tear, he gets pushed down a notch.

When one looks back at the mistakes made in the 2009 draft, where Hasheem Thabeet was selected one pick before James Harden, Johnny Flynn before Steph Curry, and Jeff Teague sliding all the way to 19th overall, it’s safe to say DeRozan has been a great investment.

But now is the time for that investment to reach a higher profit margin. If a next-level jump is realized, the progress of his supporting cast moves that much quicker along with it. That’s a two-way street, however. But if not, this franchise will remain in status-quo limbo.

Let’s take a look at what DeRozan has working for and against him heading into the season.

Positives:

  • Pieces in place: Masai did an admirable job adding to the puzzle. An encouraging sign moving forward. Most of whom are capable of helping to boost DeRozan’s production. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. A lineup consisting of DeRozan, Lowry and Joseph on the floor at the same time can be highly beneficial. DeMar can utilize his strengths more when he doesn’t have to worry about directing traffic by default, or at inopportune times.
  • Contract status: I don’t think there’s any doubt his player option will be exercised. Adding to notion that we’ll get to see DeRozan at peak levels. As of this moment, I would push all-in on the Raps offering a max-type deal, but the onus still would reside on the player to earn that “slam-dunk” decision. With an effort to stay fully healthy to boot.
  • All-Star Game / 3-point improvement: One would think a second All-Star nod is high on his to-do list. Especially when it’s being played on his home court. Word has also been making the rounds that DeRozan has been sharpening his downtown skills throughout the offseason. Though with an entire career that has never seen his threes-per-game register over the 0.8 mark, and a percentage that has hit over 30% just once, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Negatives:

  • Shot selection: His propensity for long-twos and mid-range work has been well documented. So has his dip in FG% over the last three seasons, as well as his chaotic swings in the True Shooting department. This is where his supporting cast hopefully steps in. There doesn’t have to be a monumental shift, as even incremental improvement on pick-and-rolls, fighting through screens, interior presence, and shot-clock awareness can allow DD to take charge in other areas, while not overcompensating for others. Slashing to the basket while being hit in stride can benefit almost every facet on the offensive side. Keeping his free-throw rate in tact is imperative, but offering others better position for offensive rebounding can be a tremendous added bonus. But of course, DeRozan must aid the process with a little more unselfishness.
  • Contract status: His impending situation also comes with a downside. A new crew, with a new mentality (especially on defense) may take time to reach an all-systems-go personality. Perhaps not even until the following season. Well, his probable payday suggests the Raptors’ brass and fans alike might not have the luxury of witnessing that full effect until after the loot is handed over. He’ll either get paid as a justifiable franchise player or still exist as the type best suited to be a secondary option.

The upcoming season holds as much potential as it does questions. But now with the logistics out of the way, let’s move in a different direction.

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Comin’ Full Circle

Sports commentary and analysis has undoubtedly shifted towards treating players more or less like analytical robots. And the movement is here to stay. It acts like a truth serum of sorts when it comes to an individual player’s value. It also lends itself to evolving, which is always a good thing. Furthermore, it has now created a space where the human element has been pushed into a subsidiary role.

How about a compromise?

As long as we’re still keeping an open mind, let’s implement an outside-the-box connection. When you mix the fact that we’re still in the midst of the offseason with the long weekend fast approaching, it’s a perfect time to contemplate and reflect. Not to worry, though, there’s plenty of time to dive deeper into True Shooting Percentages, Win Shares, VORP, PER, and how many times Terrence Ross turns the ball over Per 100 Possessions once the season starts.

Still with me? Just checking.

I’ll save some of you the trouble of pointing out that the angle of DeRozan hailing from Compton has been used before by other outlets. I fully acknowledge that. But that’s not going to stop me from moving forward with a narrative that’s been brewing for quite some time. There’s always room for hitting a topic another way, as the similarities go well beyond growing up in the same hometown. And as N.W.A.’s 1988 hit single encourages us all to do: “Express Yourself”.

Give it a spin to set the backdrop. And feel free to bust out the Running Man.

The new N.W.A. movie, Straight Outta Compton, will be our reference point. A story that represents an entire generation whether you were a fan of the legendary group or not. You would have found yours truly walking to school as a youngster sporting my gigantic yellow Sony Sports Walkman (remember those?) popping in cassette after cassette.

I’ve yet to watch the film, though, as I fear the outcome. I fear a glossy hollywood take on something with such raw roots. I’m optimistic yet skeptical. Much like the way I’m preparing for such an important Raps’ campaign.

A strong musical influence is not unlike a sports team one grows up with. You can critique both, take issue with a new album or team direction, but in the end, one craves the best out of each.

Rushing to judgement is the same in any arena. So I’m trying my damnedest to stay neutral when it comes to the movie. Even though I recently caved by seeking out a review. An enjoyable piece written by Wesley Morris at Grantland. Though the positive reinforcements I was looking for weren’t exactly present.

While reading the piece, a few quotes made me think of the Raptors. What can I say, it’s only the offseason in theory.

 ” In the end, Straight Outta Compton seems almost terrified of the power it has.”

How many times have the Raps failed to impose their will on an opponent? Only to “take” what’s given to them. The pieces are arguably in place to achieve much more, they’re just not buying in to what they can accomplish. Or better yet, not getting out of their own way.

“It seems terrified to more directly connect that music to both its human and societal sources. It’s easier to make the hip-hop Avengers. Something that group did struck a raw nerve. But now everybody responsible for that moment seems content to remind us that they also struck it rich.”

Last season was supposed to be about building on success, whether it was warranted or not. A movement took place two seasons ago that lit this city on fire, but the way the second half of last year and first round of the playoffs went, contentedness was seemingly in the air.

To represent that previously stated limbo this franchise is in, with DeRozan at the forefront, I’ll finish off with with another classic record. And the reason why I chose my headline. This track was released after its strongest member, Ice Cube, left the group, and the crew slowly started its downward trend soon after. Let’s hope DeMar’s game dictates a better situation, and we get to see this thing to the end.

100 Miles And Runnin’: Here’s to that headline being spun in a more positive light. I’m thinking the morning after the Raps advance to round two.

But they really are Straight Outta Excuses.

The Raptors’ 21st season is approaching and it’s set up to be a beauty. With an upgraded roster and the NBA All Star weekend coming to the city there is much for Raptor fans to be excited about.

It’ll also be nice to move on from the 20th anniversary celebrations. There were some great moments that came with the festivities last year. The throw back jerseys and salutes to former players during games were awesome. Having to watch Dwayne Casey talk about the time the Raptors beat the 72-10 Bulls every other commercial break was a bit tough. But that’s what comes with a franchise that hasn’t accomplished much, you’ve got to focus on what little success you’ve had.

Vince Carter’s tribute at the Air Canada was great. Seeing him well up during the ovation tugged at the heartstrings of even the most bitter fan. It felt like there was closure. Carter was sorry and appreciated the fans and we forgave him for the messy exit with the team. Everything was settled and it was time to move on.

But with all the All Star hype coming this year, at some point the debate will return on whether Carter’s number should be retired. The answer is no. Carter put the franchise on the map. He inspired a generation of young Canadians to become the best crop of basketball talent this country has ever seen. But he also quit. He became soft and selfish. Everything associated with his departure was a disaster.

In order for a player to have his number retired there needs to be an overwhelming positive connection with the franchise. Someone who fans can reminisce about and unequivocally say, man I loved that guy.

It just so happens that another former Raptor who embodied the heart and soul worthy of a jersey retirement also wore the number fifteen. As a Toronto Raptor Amir Johnson was everything Canadian sports fans love. A hard-working, blue-collar guy who showed up every night and gave 100% no matter how poorly the team struggled. When most players around the league wouldn’t even consider playing north of the border, Johnson embraced it. Off the court he was Mr. Toronto, wearing Leaf Jerseys to events, buying up all of Drake’s CDs and never once complaining about his mediocre teams or sore ankles.

While Vince Carter had the skill and accolades to deserve the jersey retirement he doesn’t have the heart and soul to make it happen. Amir Johnson has the heart and soul but his in-game statistics aren’t there. Which brings us to the natural solution: joint-jersey retirement.

When both players retire, hang the number fifteen from the rafters of the ACC with Carter and Johnson’s names on the banner. It’s the perfect salute to the greatest star that ever wore a Raptor uniform and one of the greatest quiet leaders the team has ever had.

The joint-jersey retirement will appease everyone. The Carter fans that are adamant his number be retired will get their wish. The Raptor fans who want to acknowledge the Carter legacy but aren’t comfortable with the way things ended will have a reason to justify the number hanging from the ceiling.

Think of the conversations the joint retirement would spark…

Son:     Was Vince Carter the greatest Raptor ever?

Dad:    He was amazing, son.

Son:    Wow, I want to be like Vince Carter.

Dad:   Actually, towards the end of his tenure he turned out to be kind of a pussy. Your mother and I would be happier if you became someone like Amir Johnson. But Vince was very good, yes.

Or

Guy From Scarborough:          Yo guy Vince Carter was the best player ever. They should take Amir off that banner.

Other guy from Scarborough:  Yo Vince was awesome but he quit on the team. Amir is buddies with Drake.

Guy From Scarborough:           True. Amir was awesome too. Let’s get a Jamaican patty.

It makes too much sense. An Amir/Vince combo jersey retirement is the way to go. For those who think such a banner would be out of place in the ACC rafters, keep in mind there’s one already hanging for Bon Jovi. We’re good. See you at the ceremony.

Cory Joseph may have dished out 7 assists, but it was Luis Scola that dominated the headlines with 35 points as Argentina beat Canada to open the FIBA Americas tournament. Here’s some video of Scola’s performance which included the general bag of veteran tricks. If you notice closely, you’ll even see him jumping at one point:

Canadian Men’s Basketball on precipice of becoming a world player

It’s been a productive summer for the Men’s National Basketball program as they continue to build confidence on the international stage. At the Pan Am Games in Toronto they won the silver medal losing their only game to the gold medalist Brazilian team. Along the way they shocked the U.S. squad, knocking them out in the semi finals and created history with the first Men’s Basketball medal ever won at a Pan Am Games..

The youngsters are also faring well in tournaments proving Canadian Basketball is on the rise with a solid foundation in place to maintain a presence in the future. The Under 16 Men’s Team finished second at the FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina. The player to keep an eye on as he rises up the ranks is 15 year old 6’6″ Rowan Barret Jr.

He’s the son of Rowan Barrett who along with Steve Nash forms the brain trust of the Canadian Men’s Senior National Team. R.J. has been surrounded by basketball his entire life and Nash is his godfather. Barrett Jr is ranked second in North America in his age group and with his natural athleticism may well be what many have already coined him as “Canada’s next Andrew Wiggins“.

Despite a 6-1 record the Under 19 squad finished fifth at FIBA World Championships in Greece losing only to Croatia in the quarter finals.

The player who stands out in this age group is 18 year old 6’4″ Jamal Murray who was kept off the U19 team to gain experience with the senior team at the Pan Am Games. Wise beyond his years the point guard led the Canadian squad to the upset of the US team at the Pan Am Games which ultimately took them to the gold medal game.

He’s getting compared to some big names in the NBA and his recent 30 point performance at the NIke Hoop Summit equals a mark set just twice previously by Kevin Durant and Nicolas Batum. This year Murray heads to Kentucky where he’ll hone his skills en route to his inevitable entry into the NBA the following season.

When I watched the Hoops Summit (global all-star game) out in Portland earlier this year he had 30 points, and I was reminded after the game by Nicolas Batum that only two players prior to that had 30 points in that game,” said the coach. “They were Nic Batum and Kevin Durant, so I knew he was in good company with the way he played in that game and the poise he had on the big stage – Triano.”

This past week in a warm-up to FIBA Americas, the Senior Team won the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup in Puerto Rico posting a 4-0 record.Brimming with confidence and the roster trimmed to 12 they arrive in Mexico primed to compete for the title. The goal is a a top 2 finish which will guarantee them an Olympic berth next summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tuto Marchand Results

August 23: Canada 85- Argentina 80

August 24: Canada 80- Brazil 64

August 25: Canada 86- Dominican Republic74

August 26: Canada 78- Puerto Rico 72

Showcasing how much Canada has grown both in the NBA and internationally they have 9 NBA players on the roster and that doesn’t include 2 players who’ve participated internationally previously (Tristan Thompson and Tyler Ennis).

Cavalier rebounding specialist Thompson is likely focused on finalizing his free agency as he remains the top unsigned free agent and Ennis is recovering from off season surgery. Both would be strong possibilities to be a part of the Olympic roster should the Canadians earn a berth at the FIBA Americas Cup.

FIBA Americas Canadian Roster

Canadian Roster for FIBA

While Canada will face some of the same teams in Mexico City the rosters will likely change as this tournament has greater importance given the Olympic qualifying stakes. At present 4 teams have clinched their spot to Rio:

  • United States – Gold Medal, FIBA World Championships in Spain 2014
  • Brazil – Olympic Hosts
  • Australia – Gold Medal, FIBA Oceania
  • Nigeria – Gold Medal, FIBA AfroBasket 2015

Ten countries will compete for these two spots up for grabs in Mexico City including Argentina,Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and our Canadians. Although Canada enters the tournament on a high from their summer performances and Tuto Marchand gold medal they recognize the need to stay focused since many teams didn’t utilize their “A Team” in the warm up to the Americas event running August 31 to September 12, 2015..

FIBA Americas Canada First Round Schedule

The tournament has three rounds of play, round one features games versus Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico (2 of those teams they beat this past week)

Tuesday September 1, 2015 – Canada versus Argentina 3:30 pm

Wednesday September 2, 2015 – Cuba versus Canada  3:30 pm

Thursday September 3, 2015 – Canada versus Venezuela  7:00 pm

Friday September 4, 2015 – Puerto Rico versus Canada  7:00 pm

All games are Eastern Standard time and have a pre-game show beginning a half hour prior. TSN is running all games from the tournament with the first game (Cuba versus Venezuela) tipping off today at 1:00 pm.  .

The obvious goal will be to place as high as possible in the first round as placement determines the second round opponents with games September 6th -9th. To wit, the team finishing atop the first round will play teams finishing 5-8 in the second round making an entry to the medal rounds easier. The top 4 teams will move on to the final round with 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3 on Sepember 11th to determine the gold medal round to be played September 12th.

Young Canadians Gaining Experience

While the goal is to win the Americas Tournament there is much more these young Canadians can draw from these events. Namely experience, not just on the world stage, but also in terms of building leadership skills. Last summer Stephen Curry and James Harden led the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships and translated that experience into a one-two finish in the MVP race. Harden specifically sites the experience he gained from leading the US team a prime reason for his ascent into a better leader this past season.

Andrew Wiggins and Cory Joseph will likely be tasked with taking on this responsibility for the Canadian squad (with Thompson likely added to the mix in Rio should they gain a berth) and this will benefit the Timberwolves and Raptors specifically in the coming season.

Others like Anthony Bennett, Nik Stauskas and Andrew Nicholson can use the event to build confidence for the upcoming season. Bennett who also participated in the Pan Am Games appears to fit the international game well, arguably better than the NBA game. No doubt these events will help him with his professional career which up til now has been underwhelming as he initially dealt with a myriad of injuries and subsequently tried to translate his skills to an NBA court.

And, for players like Melvin Ejim this experience may bolster his confidence as he attempts to turn his summer qualifying contract into a a full time position with the Orlando Magic.

Toronto Raptors and NBA Players at Tournament

For Toronto Raptors fans they can look forward to becoming more familiar with the games of Cory Joseph and Luis Scola who captains his Argentinian squad. Other NBA players who’ll play in  Mexico City by team are:

Argentina:Luis Scola (Toronto Raptors)

Brazil: None,

Of note: if Brazil were not the Olympic host city they would likely have several players participating such as Anderson Varejao (Cavaliers), Tiago Splitter (Hawks), Leandro Barbosa (Warriors), Bruno Caboclo (Raptors), Nene Hilario (Wizards),and Cristiano Felicio (Bulls).

Canada: Andrew Wiggins  (Minnesota Timberwolves), Cory Joseph (Toronto Raptors), Anthony Bennett (Minnesota Timberwolves), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers) and Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic) Melvin Ejim (Orlando Magic), Kelly Olynyk (Boston Celtics), Robert Sacre (LA Lakers),

Cuba: None

Dominican Republic: Francisco Garcia who last played for the Houston Rockets

Panama: None

Mexico: Jorge Gutierrez (Milwaukee Bucks)

Puerto Rico: J.J. Barea (Dallas Mavericks) and Maurice Harkless (Portland Trail Blazers)

Uruguay: None

Venezuela: None

NOTE: There may be additional NBA stars playing for their countries like former Raptor and Venezuelan Guard Greivis Vasquez but the FIBA Americas site does not list him on their roster.

Taking into consideration the Canadians bring a young squad to Mexico the 9 NBA players and their success this summer bodes well for the squad giving them reason to be confident. Regardless of the talent on the team they’ll need to maintain focus and humility as they face squads who have the benefit of playing together internationally for years.

A top two finish at this tournament would make up for a snub to last year’s World Championships when a Finnish Team bribed their way into a wild card seed ahead of the Canadians and a few other deserving countries. Looking down the pipeline there is reason to be optimistic Canada is just now entering what could translate into the golden era of Canadian basketball.

The first step toward that goal is to take care of business in Mexico City and earn a berth on the Olympic stage.

Will and Zarar take you through the last week of August and into September with talk of Tristan Thompson’s future, DeMarre Carroll’s present, helluva lot more, and even a peek across Europe in a way that’s unusual to the pod.

Some topics:

Part 1

  • Tristan Thompson rumours
  • Jonas Valanciunas contract in absolute terms
  • Precedence for overpaying Canadian players
  • Tim’s article
  • Masai Ujiri inheriting Bryan Colangelo

Part 2

  • Twitter questions
  • DeMarre Carroll’s All-Star candidacy
  • Last hurrah for Vince
  • Bebe’s role next season
  • Why we love scrubs
  • Soccer talk

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (45:02, 43 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors go 47-35 on the year, finish fifth in the East, face Washington in the first round.

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The Valanciunas Extension

This much money I wantAnother win in an already successful off-season for the team, especially considering a 4-year max contract extension would have been in the $93m ballpark once the salary cap rises next season. (read more)

Jan 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors center center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee (22) at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Raptors 125-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsEven still, the present-day Valanciunas is still a rather useful player. He’s somewhat awkward and his game is inflexible, but he’s good at what he does. He was tremendously efficient while operating in the post and held opponents to a respectable 46.5 percent shooting at the rim last season. If that’s the baseline for his production, Valanciunas is off to a good start. (read more)

What about Ross’ Extension?

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (L) of Lithuania prepares to shoot around Charlotte Bobcats power forward Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of Congo during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)Is burning dollar bills a better use of money? (listen to pod)

Terrence-Ross2After toiling in his development last season, Ross is not a popular figure within the Raptors’ fanbase. The idea that Ross might be retained for the long haul is not a pleasant thought. However, if Ujiri can manage to lock Ross into a reasonable figure, an extension might not be such a terrible idea. Ross’s price will never be lower. (read more)

Is Ujiri: Status quo or moving the needle?

Masai Ujiri Resting Heavily On Maintaining The Status QuoBut is the team better? After all, DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas struggled on defence last year, but they’ll still be getting the bulk of the minutes for the club at their respective positions. Patrick Patterson is expected to slide into the starting five to replace Johnson, but his defensive bona fides aren’t really anything to write home about, either. So is the idea here that Carroll starting, Joseph backing up the 1 and the 2, and Biyombo playing spot minutes is all going to amount to a defensive turnaround for the club? Are they meant to vault the Raptors from the basement back into the top ten, or just into the middle-of-the-pack defensively? (read more)

Masai Ujiri has become surprisingly content with the status quo. He has barely touched the young core that he inherited from Bryan Colangelo when he took over the club. He has likewise kept the controversial coach Colangelo left for him. His most recent transaction was to lucratively extend the contract of a slow-footed post player, another Colangelo holdover. His team was bounced from the first round of the Playoffs in two consecutive years and yet the biggest import he’s made during this tenure is for a 3-and-D role player to help augment his pre-existing core.

Basically, Ujiri has done as little as possible to upset the status quo of the Toronto Raptors since he took over the club just over two years ago, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who’d criticize him for the totality of that strategy.

That has a lot to do with the aforementioned Colangelo and the wild swings he would take to try and push the team forwards by leaps, often face-planting in the process. Those inside and outside the organization watched as he tried to chase every name player that hit free agency or the trade market, and so its no wonder that Ujiri’s willingness to mostly ride the same wave year-in and year-out has been met with a certain amount of calm-induced acceptance.

That said, heading into year three as GM of the Raptors, it’s hard to say that the team has meaningfully improved since the one major trade Ujiri pulled off in the first months of his tenure, the one that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento for an impressive haul of role players (the one that accidentally put the team on the course it’s on now). Ujiri has mostly looked to tweak the fringes of a roster that sits decidedly below the elite in the NBA — that is when he’s not re-signing his own free agents to new deals — and the moves he’s made this offseason seem to imply that he’s further hitching his wagon to this version of the club rather than looking at how to significantly improve it.

Take a look at this summer’s transactions: he replaced Amir Johnson with Luis Scola, he replaced Tyler Hansbrough with Bismack Biyombo, he replaced Grievis Vasquez and Lou Williams with Delon Wright and Corey Joseph and he tacked four additional years onto Jonas Valanciunas’ contract. On the whole there isn’t a lot of improvement there, just a redistribution of skills (lose some offence, gain some defence). Of course, he also brought in DeMarre Carroll, and Carroll will sort of replace Terrence Ross by doing what the team wanted Ross to do but do it better, while Ross will be asked to do what Lou Williams did off of the bench but will likely do it worse.

Now, the idea here is not be willfully obtuse. Obviously this is a team that struggled at the defensive end last season and so Ujiri attempted to balance out the roster by importing some defensive options, expecting that DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Valanciunas can help more or less approximate the offensive output of a year ago. This is not a weak strategy and, in truth, it is the kind of iterative approach to filling in holes that Colangelo steadfastly refused to employ, and that went a long way towards sealing Colangelo’s fate two years ago.

But is the team better? After all, DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas struggled on defence last year, but they’ll still be getting the bulk of the minutes for the club at their respective positions. Patrick Patterson is expected to slide into the starting five to replace Johnson, but his defensive bona fides aren’t really anything to write home about, either. So is the idea here that Carroll starting, Joseph backing up the 1 and the 2, and Biyombo playing spot minutes is all going to amount to a defensive turnaround for the club? Are they meant to vault the Raptors from the basement back into the top ten, or just into the middle-of-the-pack defensively?

Put it this way: I think that the club has improved, that the fit of these players will work out to be stronger than the fit the club had last year, but when it comes to the record or the Playoffs I can’t say that this club is meaningfully better year-over-year.

Ujiri has always been an opportunistic GM. He doesn’t wildly overplay his hand, he doesn’t try and take shortcuts when building a team and he rarely makes bad moves. It’s a strategy that netted him a stellar (likely) lottery pick in next year’s draft from New York, it’s a strategy that allowed him to nab Andre Iguodala for Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington when he was running the Nuggets and it’s a strategy that makes him feared by opposing GM’s because he won’t make big mistakes.

However, it’s also a strategy that has kept his teams from advancing past the first round of the Playoffs in five attempts. It’s a conservatism that keeps him nimble enough to execute any trade at any time, but it’s also one that can leave him lying in wait while other, bolder (and, perhaps, more reckless) executives gobble up the bulk of the prey.

Under Ujiri, there is always a sense of ‘yeah, but wait to see what he does next summer!’ Last summer he mostly just re-signed his own players, while everyone looked forward to this summer, when the club would have gobs of cap space to play with. Then, this summer he spent that cap space on role players to augment his controversial core, and so everyone is now looking towards that lottery pick next year and the options made possible by the skyrocketing salary cap. There’s always one eye on the future with Ujiri, which is a great quality, but sometimes the future can look so tantalizing you forget that you still have a present to take care of.

The Raptors being a perennial Playoff team would be nothing to sneeze at, given their history. If this club is going to spend the first years under Ujiri making iterative progress inside of that reality, there really isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s just that, when the growth is too iterative you actually stop improving, you just change. Eventually players just get older, or contracts just expire, and nothing meaningful ever winds up getting accomplished. That’s what it is to maintain the status quo, to accept things more or less as they are. The belief is that Ujiri would make a bold move when compelled to, it’s just a question of what it takes for that compulsion to boil up in him.

There is nothing wrong with this summer’s transactions, just like there was little wrong with Ujiri’s transactions in Denver. It’s just that now that we have five years of data on how he likes to run things a broader pattern has begun to emerge. He likes to massage the fringes of his rosters. He’s never hired or fired a head coach. He likes to maintain rather than discontinue. Year three was his most successful in Denver, but it still resulted in a first round exit and we never got to see how he would have handled that disappointment. For an executive that has never liked to overcommit he’s one DeMar DeRozan extension from doing that with this particular Toronto Raptors roster. I’m not sure if it’s meaningfully better than the one he fielded last year, and if I’m right I wonder if we’re on the verge of seeing the first cracks in Ujiri’s longstanding tradition of maintaining the status quo.

Question is pretty straight forward. Do we give up on him yet?

The Raptors are slated to go 23-18 in the first half of the season.

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Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (L) of Lithuania prepares to shoot around Charlotte Bobcats power forward Bismack Biyombo of the Democratic Republic of Congo during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Charlotte, North Carolina March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

No guests? No problem. Here’s 40 minutes of lukewarm radio goodness.

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The Toronto Raptors might not be finished with handing out contracts this summer.

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Jan 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors center center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee (22) at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Raptors 125-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors made it official on Thursday, as the team announced that it reached an extension with center Jonas Valanciunas. Terms were not released, but Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Valanciunas will earn $64 million between 2016 and 2019.

Here’s why the signing made sense for both teams, and what it means for the future of Valanciunas and the Raptors.

What’s in it for the Raptors?

Center for the future

First things first, they secured their center of the future in Valanciunas. Quality big men are hard to come by – especially 7-footers – and now they have a long-term solution in Valanciunas.

The extension locks in Valanciunas for most of his prime. Player option aside, Valanciunas’s age 24 to 26 seasons will be spent in a Raptors jersey. Given that big men typically peak late, the deal has the potential to grow into a steal. Conversely, potential is priced into the contract, so if Valanciunas has inexplicably already hit his peak, it’s a slight overpay.

Even still, the present-day Valanciunas is still a rather useful player. He’s somewhat awkward and his game is inflexible, but he’s good at what he does. He was tremendously efficient while operating in the post and held opponents to a respectable 46.5 percent shooting at the rim last season. If that’s the baseline for his production, Valanciunas is off to a good start.

There are finer points of minutiae in Valanciunas’s favor. Take health, for example. He missed has missed just three games over the last two seasons. He’s also a strong free throw shooter, having shot over 76 percent from the line in every season to date. Both those qualities are hard to find with bigs.

Granted, Valanciunas has plenty of warts, as well.

On-off data has shown that the Raptors have consistently performed better with Valanciunas on the bench – especially on defense. Part of that is explained by ill-matched schemes, but Valanciunas doesn’t help his own cause by being slow-footed and largely lacking defensive instincts.

Valanciunas, for all his shinny efficiency metrics, could also stand to improve on offense. He’s a woeful passer and generally can’t impact the game unless he’s inside the paint. To his credit, he’s working on upping his quickness and honing his jumpshot with Supersonics legend Jack Sikma this summer.

At his current level of production, Valanciunas is probably worth $8 to $10 million per year. Couple the rising salary cap with Valanciunas’s potential, and his deal becomes far more reasonable than his salary would suggest.

Avoiding free agency

The big downside to signing Valanciunas was how it was going to affect the team’s financial flexibility for the vaunted Summer of 2016. However, Valanciunas signed for just $2.5 million more than what his cap hold would have cost (source). The difference is negligible and it’s a price worth paying for security.

Namely, the security of shielding Valanciunas from free agency.

Securing Valanciunas was never really the problem. Valanciunas was going to become a restricted free agent and the Raptors held the power to match. But what if a team threw a maximum offer at Valanciunas, one that could have cost $93.9 million over the next four years?

Screenshot 2015-08-21 at 2.02.24 AM

Handing Valanaciunas that kind of money sounds silly, but you have to consider the salary climate. The rising cap puts money in everyone’s wallet, and since there’s a minimum salary floor, it means everyone will be looking to spend.

Teams will swing for the big names next summer. Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah (if he can bounce back from injuries), Al Horford, Dwyane Wade and Mike Conley will be out there, although they all seem likely to re-sign with their respective clubs. Those guys will get the max.

Past that? It’s solid veterans like Nic Batum, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, or restricted names like Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones. Valanciunas would have fallen into this group. Some teams will get desperate and spend wildly on these names because with free agency, it’s more about who you can get, rather than what value can be captured. 

Keep in mind this summer’s market saw Omer Asik (no potential, severely limited offensive skillset) receive $60 million over five years, and Enes Kanter (a historically awful defender) command upwards of $70 million over four. Tristan Thompson – a severely limited player by all means – is hunting for the max. Those deals were signed with the cap pegged for $70 million. Bumping that figure to $90 million will only pour gasoline on an already blazing market.

Valanciunas hasn’t quite earned this contract, but he would have got at least this kind of money next summer. As Snoop Pearson said in the Wire, “Deserve got nuthin to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.”

Instead, Valanciunas is now cost-controlled and the Raptors can avoid the headaches associated with constant badgering regarding his future, duck the messy free agency period itself, while paying at or below market price.

It’s a good deal for Toronto.

What’s in it for Valanciunas?

Erm, no. Suhkerrity?!

$64 million is a lot of money. If he manages it effectively, it’s enough to support his family for generations to come. And while Valanciunas could have held out and tried for a bigger contract in free agency, not every dollar is worth the same.

As former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks explains, security holds a lot of sway among players.

Signing for the long run also makes sense as Valanciunas clearly seems to enjoy the city of Toronto. He spoke glowingly about the organization after he signed his deal.

The team is also making a strong statement as to their commitment towards Valanciunas. This, along with reports of the team changing up its defensive schemes to a style that suits Valanciunas, suggests that their franchise center might actually crack 30 minutes per game next season. Long suffering Jonas fans, rejoice. 

The departure of Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez also leaves a void on offense, one that could be filled by Valanciunas. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are already near their capacity in terms of usage, and Valanciunas projects as the most logical third option to fill the void in the offense.

Altogether, Valanciunas will be paid handsomely to remain with the only NBA team he’s ever known, while doors continue to open all around him. The deal makes plenty of sense for him, too.

Building for the future

In constructing a team, the general manager has to plan for different outcomes. Signing Valanciunas gives Masai Ujiri options for the future.

As a hypothetical, let’s say the Raptors decline sharply next season. Lowry isn’t able to recapture his all-star form, DeMarre Carroll turns out to be a system guy, DeRozan continues to top out as a medium-efficiency, volume-scoring two guard, while the team fails to make the playoffs.

In that scenario, having Valanciunas gives the Raptors a piece to build around for the future in the event of a tear-down, similar to how Portland rewarded Damian Lillard with an extravagant extension while they stripped their roster. At the very least, Valanciunas would hold significant trade value if the Raptors opt for a full, bare-bones rebuild. Either way, they managed to secure an asset.

Extending Valanciunas, however, comes with a bit of inflexibility as well. Namely, the Raptors have very little – if any – cap room to work with next summer. This team – with the core of Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas – is something close to the end product, unless they choose to blow it up.

Altogether, the Raptors have $71 million in guaranteed salary next summer. That figure drops by $10 million if DeRozan turns down his player option to become a free agent (which he will). Once that happens, DeRozan be on the books for a massive qualifying offer, while the Raptors also have Ross’s future to consider, along with a pair of first-round picks to come.

That’s why they need Valanciunas to step up.

After years of preaching patience, chemistry, growth and continuity, Ujiri is now betting that his team is on the cusp of reaping a reward. When Ujiri first took over in 2013, it was widely expected that he would dismantle Bryan Colangelo’s creation and start fresh around Valanciunas. But then came the unexpected success, and Ujiri has since changed his operative from purely rebuilding, to building on the fly while keeping an eye to the future.

That has, in part, pushed Valanciunas’s development to the back burner. However, Valanciunas remains central to his plans. He remains the team’s best chance of developing into a star. If he breaks out, the Raptors have a chance to be great. If not, the Raptors might have locked themselves into a decidedly mediocre core.

Now that Valanciunas has his extension, we fans, along with Ujiri, will get to watch which direction he leads the team going forward.

UPDATE: 4-year, $64 million; could escalate to $70 million #bank

The Raptors say they will make it official later today, but apparently both sides have agreed to the deal. Another win in an already successful off-season for the team, especially considering a 4-year max contract extension would have been in the $93m ballpark once the salary cap rises next season.

Jonas opted for security now, which might not have made sense given he’s missed only three games the last two seasons (both for the Raptors and internationally), but it speaks volumes about the type of person he is, and the type of team the Raptors are trying to build with quality people who are also talented.

The terms are still unclear, but even if the deal comes in at 4yrs/$70m, it’s still a steal for a guy who’s heading into the prime of his career after averaging 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 26.2 minutes per game last season while posting a career high PER of 20.6.

Will update as the terms become public, but with this all out of the way, the team figures heavily on Jonas for the future, and it’s on JV to produce and get to the next level.

Basically we already officially know 4 of the starting 5. Who do you think Casey rounds out the starting lineup with at PF?

The Toronto Raptors’ D-League affiliate Raptors 905 stocked their roster by drafting 16 players from across the D-League, the team announced on Thursday.

The team will hold the rights to the following players for the next two seasons. The names are as follows:

1-raptors-table

There’s a few fringe NBA players on the list. The most notable are Dahntay Jones (last played for the Clippers), Ricky Ledo (of Dallas Mavericks fame) and Earl Clark (recently waived by the Brooklyn Nets).

In addition the 16 aforementioned names, prospects like Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Delon Wright and Norman Powell could also see time in Mississauga. The Raptors can only send a maximum of three players down at any time, so they’ll likely cycle players in shifts, or depending on matchups and injuries.

Anyone who thought all the intriguing Raptors’ news was done for the summer was thrown for a loop yesterday, when word came out that Jonas Valanciunas had left the Lithuanian National Team to return to Toronto for a physical, as he is rumored to be closing in on a long term extension with the team that drafted him.

Zarar took a quick look at the extension yesterday, but at the time little was known about the financials of such a deal.  And while nothing is finalized at the moment, we at least have some rumors about about it might cost the Raptors to keep Jonas in the fold for the foreseeable future.

Over the last few months many had assumed that the basic starting point for any Valanciunas extension would likely cost the Raptors something similar to Enes Kanter’s contract.  This summer Kanter agreed to a 4 year, $70+M max contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, a contract that was then matched by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Enes Kanter, one of the worst defensive players of all time, managed to convince two teams that he is worth a max contract. Two teams!!!  And all Toronto fans immediately panicked as to what this would mean for the Raptors.

Enter Mark Stein…

$60+ million for Valanciunas? Even if his contract comes out at $65 million over four years it comes out to an average of just $16.25 million.  This contract would carry him into the start of his prime and give the Raptors added flexibility compared to if they were to wait to sign Valanciunas next summer. Valanciunas’ contract could be structured a few different ways. 

The Raptors and Jonas could agree to a contract with equal payment each year (roughly $16.5M), or could start at a lower rate in the first year with raises of up to 7.5 percent annually. If this were the case, Jonas could start at roughly $14.5M in year one.  Here’s what it could look like:

Year 1: $14,500,000

Year 2: $15,587,500

Year 3: $16,756,562

Year 4: $18,013,304

Total: $64,857,366

The big advantage to structuring Valanciunas’ contract this way is the additional cap space that it would provide the Raptors during next summer’s free agency.  Without a contract extension being signed, Valanciunas would be a restricted free agent and would take up just $11,651,205 of the Raptors cap space due to his cap hold. 

The above structure would secure Valanciunas’ presence in Toronto for the next four years but would only take an additional $2,848,795 (approximately) from the Raptors’ 2016 available spending room. If the contract comes in closer to $60M then these numbers drop even further and provide the Raptors with all the flexibility they could dream of.

As a player with six years or less experience in the NBA, next summer Jonas would be eligible for a max contract that accounts for 25% of a team’s salary cap.  And with the cap ready to explode the numbers would be astronomical.

The rumored contract extension would save the Raptors roughly $15-$20M, keep Valanciunas as a Raptor into the start of his prime years, and could leave Toronto with nearly as much salary space as they would have had with his cap hold.

If the contract comes in anywhere under $70M the Raptors have a heck of a deal on their hands, and if Valanciunas continues to develop the deal could become a steal as the salary cap rises even further.

As per Jonas Miklovas, who covers the Lithuanian national team for basketnews.lt, the Raptors have offered Jonas Valanciunas a long-term contract (Lithuanian article), but have requested that he undergo certain medical examinations.

Now, I have now idea what the credibility of the source is, and if this information is true, it certainly isn’t being leaked from MLSE.  The writer in question does hover around the Lithuanian players a lot, so there might be some truth to this.

The Jonas Valanciunas extension has been covered including his reported desire for a max-deal.

It is in the best interest of the Raptors free-agency aspirations next summer to hold off on a Valanciunas-deal if the amount is under $11/yr (which it won’t be) as that’s what his cap-hold is for next summer.  If they do extend him, they entire next free-agency with more money tied up than if they negotiate next summer.

Either way, the bottom line is that re-signing Valanciunas should be a top priority, and it appears the Raptors want to get that sorted out quickly.

UPDATE – Stein is reporting now:

It’s a $15M/yr deal, which honestly, is quite reasonable given the new salary cap.  Here’s how his cap-percentage looks like:

2016-17: 17%

2017-18 and beyond: 14%

The voice of the Raptors, Matt Devlin, took some time to talk Raptors basketball on a wide-ranging set of topics.

  • 4 games in 5 nights minimized
  • Wale incident
  • Does acquisition of defensive talent warrant change in defensive tactics?
  • Surprised at Lou Williams allowed to walk?
  • Manner of sweep dictating the off-season moves
  • The game that changed the course of last season
  • Kyle Lowry’s off-season fitness
  • Light at PF – how would matchups vs Pau Gasol or Kevin Love work out?
  • Jonas Valanciunas – what’s the one thing he needs to do to get to the next level?
  • Raptors tendency to matchup versus dictating matchups
  • Who was the most vocal player in the locker room, the one providing veteran leadership last season?
  • Paul Pierce comments
  • Who will replace Amir Johnson?
  • Thoughts on Amir Johnson as a person
  • Flying on the Raptors charter
  • Do you get to see the cities when travelling on the road?
  • 2016 free agency – is the Kevin Durant talk crazy?
  • Possibility of Toronto signing a top-tier player
  • Drake effect – players relationship with Drake
  • Raptors fans and their effect on players
  • When does Matt’s Raptors work start?
  • Who’s the Raptors best three-point shooter?
  • Terrence Ross’s upcoming season and expectations
  • Mixing and matching bench/starters
  • DeMar DeRozan improvements

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (54:55, 79 MB). Or just listen below:

If you’re a regular reader of the Republic, chances are my previous piece that touched on a few questions and expectations for the upcoming season rings a bell. If not, well, shameless plugs and the blogosphere go hand in hand these days, so you can check it out, here.

However, self promotion is not the intention. There was supposed to be a section in that article which covered the fan base’s perspective. But I decided not to include the angle for a specific two-part reason:

A) Riding shotgun to those shameless plugs is the audience’s unfortunate act of selective reading. But don’t get me wrong, that’s not meant to troll anyone, as I’m guilty of the same crime. And as I’ve stated in the past, this may be a podium to preach but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a self-anointed pedestal. Although, I do plan on ending this write-up with a temper tantrum. It could get a little awkward, just a heads up.

B) There’s always a risk that the topic won’t receive its proper exposure by getting lost in the shuffle of a 2000-word commentary. You can be a hardcore fan, a casual enthusiast, or the former mixed with the title of Blogger attached to your name, but the amount of time and effort invested by any city’s community deserves a column centered around the ones putting in that very work. A dedicated point of view is long overdue. The “people” are people too.

Now, a few things may have just taken place. I’ve either piqued your interest and you’re ready to read on, or maybe you’re having thoughts of bailing and switching over to your favourite Blue Jays blog. Perhaps one never even made it through the intro, and they’ve since closed this window to open up their Snapchat app.

It’s all good either way, Blue Jays fever is undeniable at the moment, and I’m ready to unwelcome the Yankees to town as much as the next crazed supporter. Hell, a clash for first place in the division with David Price on the mound to open the series on a Friday night, count me ALL IN!

So if you decided to bounce, we shall meet again. If you’ve stayed with me, let’s roll.

image56

Bright Lights, Big City

The central focus will remain court-side, after all you’re here for a reason. But it wouldn’t feel right neglecting the Raps’ brothers from another mother as we go. Not to mention a shoutout being in order to all fans who don’t hail from the Big Smoke. Sorry, I meant Hogtown. Wait, the only other options are T-Dot and the 6ix. Let’s just say a new nickname is my new mission.

Most of the time Toronto is viewed as Public Enemy No. 1 in its own country, but the love comes across in spades when you start talking sports. Well, Leafs fans not so much.

The Bills also play an important role. I will admit that my lifelong fandom of the franchise pushed the scale of whether to include an American city in this scene. What about the Argos and TFC you ask? Let’s face it, NFL Sundays are just as popular here as it is in the States, we just live vicariously through our neighbours across the border to take our passion to the next level. And if the “higher-ups” didn’t make such a mockery of the silver-platter opportunity the “Bills in Toronto Series” presented, this city could have been on its way to following L.A.’s footsteps and making future football stadium preparations.

Word to the wise: If you’re not ready to showcase an NFL-type atmosphere, don’t take on the project. Ridiculous ticket prices combined with a corporatized tailgate party had us doomed from the start (the current Jays’ money grab can’t be viewed as a positive, either). One day Toronto, one day.

The Sky Dome (I hope we all still call it that), should host the Jays, and the Jays only. The plan is finally in the works, but it can’t come soon enough. And one doesn’t have to look much further as to the reasons why with the hysteria currently surrounding the club.

Enter the city’s hardwood, which represents a few parallels, as not too long ago the Raps were in the Jays’ position. Expectations were at their usual low point, outcries over Kyle Lowry’s lack of enthusiasm and highly questioned work ethic were gaining steam, and a postseason appearance was the furthest things from our minds. I may even venture to suggest Lowry was the equivalent to R.A. Dickey at the time. The difference being the Raptors didn’t lose a potential member of the future elite to get him. Yes, I know, Dickey has seemingly turned a corner. R-E-L-A-X.

The skill level that came in return from the now franchise-changing Rudy Gay trade pales in comparison to the value the Jays have wrangled up in recent weeks, but the impact has been similar. The Raps’ upward climb doesn’t come without loose ends, though.

What made the run towards that Brooklyn battle in 2013-14 so special? The word “expectations” pops up yet again. Meaning there weren’t any. Simply put, even though gameplay was all-systems-go, this team and its backers were just happy to be invited to the party. It’s only then when assumptions for the following year begin to translate into you guessed it, expectations.

The next step was at the Raps’ doorstep, and a full throttle beginning only furthered the notion. It’s hard to argue that a step back was the end result. To connect the Jays’ dots, this second-half run has been highly entertaining, but one still gets the feeling we’re all playing with house money all over again. We get to sit back and just enjoy the ride. The Raps’ don’t have that luxury anymore.

To keep the parallel universe alive for a minute, take Season 2 of HBO‘s True Detective for example. If Season 1 didn’t provide such an exhilarating experience, its expectations wouldn’t have been through the roof. And it then wouldn’t have become the most hated show Twitter has ever seen. Similar to the Raps’ second-half swoon and postseason plummet.

The injury argument is valid, but if this squad is an injury away from losing all of what little cohesiveness they have, there’s more problems than we once thought.

In their defense, this city’s sports scene was at a standstill before the Raptors’ resurgence brought it back to life and kept it a float for quite some time. Not only in the eyes of Torontonians, but in the mainstream as well.

As for the finally in the right direction Leafs organization, “Two years away from being two years away” now applies to this city’s ice surface.

Raptors

Collective Perspective

When I say collective, I will attempt to combine my own personal thoughts with what I’ve come across on this site’s comment section. Along with debates on Twitter, and those good old fashioned arguments during time spent at some of Toronto’s fine establishments. I’m sure some can relate. So let’s run down how we as outsiders view the Raps’ central figures.

Masai: Alex Anthopoulos may be the most recent man of the hour, but let’s not forget who played out the same type of scenario during the NBA Draft and Free Agency. With questions quietly popping up in regards to his long-term future, Ujiri seemingly saved the day.

Casey: It’s now or never for DC. If his “defensive calling card” can’t see the light of day with the troops brought in to help, while forming a more organized chaos on the offensive end, Casey’s days will officially become numbered.

K-Low: Perhaps the fear of his new found understudies sparked the fire needed for K-Low to put in some offseason conditioning. Trending on Twitter is one thing, having it carry over to his on-court responsibilities is another. Muck like Casey, this very well could be a make or break year for the now “slender” point guard. The lead is yours for the taking, Lowry.

DeMar: I do tend to agree that in a second-fiddle role DeRozan can ascend to new heights, and as this team’s go-to scorer, we’re most likely in for more of the same ups and downs. But then there’s that bit of untapped upside hiding in his game. Mix that with a hopeful new team concept, and we may not need him to reach upper echelon status. Either way, we’ll likely know the answer to just how valuable DeMar is to this squad just before his contract situation hits the fan.

JV: I must admit, I’ve worn JV-style blinders in the past. Ever since he was taken 5th overall in 2011 I’ve held out a bit of false hope that we would eventually see that supposed mean streak we saw on his international game tape translate in short order. Not to mention a quicker turnaround in his outside game.

Revisiting that draft and the fact that names like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard could have been had doesn’t help matters, either. Still JV represents part of the solution if he can adapt, and the clock his ticking with yet another max-deal possibility lurking the background.

DeMarre: A gem of a pick-up, as Toronto reaped the rewards of Hot-lanta’s role player riches. DeMarre can contribute in nearly facet of the game. The offensive rebounding, defensive prowess, and timely 3-point shooting departments can use all the help they can get. Effort is not a worry, as the only pressing matter revolving around Carroll is how much it rubs off on his new teammates.

PP & JJ: Patterson and Johnson are going to be linked together all season, with a lot riding on the connection to boot. Whether both will be given a true chance to shine and asked to become full fledged members of the heavy-minutes club remains to be seen. There’s also the news of Markieff Morris hinting that Toronto is one of his desired locations.

If a deal does go down, PP or JJ could possibly be involved. So for now, the picture remains cloudy. But in many eyes, a rotation between them sets up an ideal situational-based duo.

T-Ross: By nowmost of the fan base has turned on T-Ross, myself included. Perhaps if we stopped dwelling on what he was supposed to become we’d notice the positives he could bring to the table. A bench scorer capable of getting hot at the right time? A poor man’s Sweet Lou? I’ll have to let that one marinate for a while before I come to my senses.

The Young Guns: As much as I can suggest what ifs from 2011, the draft is hit-and-miss territory for many teams. But by all accounts, Wright and Powell show plenty of promise to hang our hat on, and could be this city’s starting backcourt at some point in the future. Guarantees are seldom, just browse any draft year and notice the massive amount high selections that amounted into very little, or nothing at all. Bruno and Bebe promise to keep the 905ers entertained throughout the first-half of the season, with Bebe likely getting the first crack at a call-up. Something tells me the rebounding rebuild will still be ongoing at that point.

But we can’t forget Cory Joseph, one who can not only run the show in his own right, but can also provide the matchup problems this team covets. When Lowry and Joseph hit the floor together, that does suggest there’s a front-court mismatch giving either DeRozan at the 3, or DeMarre at the 4 a chance to take advantage. With a better defensive lineup going back the other way.

Speaking of getting defensive.

Raptors

And Now, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

I used to be of the belief that it was my way or the highway, but with another season biting the dust, and one now on its way, you tend to realize that different viewpoints are kind of what makes everything tick. Attempting to witness the point you’ve gone out of your way to prove come true is a large part of why I wrote this piece, and write in general. I can only assume it’s also part of why you’re taking time out of your day to read this. If you got this far, that is.

But the good will ends when one suggests how I should go about that very writing, or simply how I should root for my teams. The aforementioned time all of us put in to the Raptors, or any team for that matter, changes that equation. I’m not going to sit idly by and blatantly spit out a homerism point of view. And I’ve come across that kind of backlash one too many times.

If you’re not holding your team accountable for their actions, I question your fandom in the first place.

That’s more annoying than You Tube videos that won’t let you skip the ad after five seconds, more than someone not giving up their seat to an elderly person on the TTC while they’re too busy chatting away on their cell phone, and even more bothersome than the Conservative Party’s commercials/smear campaign against Justin Trudeau literally airing every five minutes.

Luckily I came across an alternate version to ease the frustration.

Enjoy the sold out show tonight, folks. Meaningful baseball in the middle of August? We can get used to this. A playoff birth ending the Jays’ 22-year drought can only provide a high note for the Raps to start on.

JUST DO IT!

This is coming from the reporter who broke the Markieff Morris unhappiness story:

[Markieff Morris] is prepared to do whatever it takes to force Phoenix to deal him. He likes Houston because of James Harden and Toronto because of Kyle Lowry, but he honestly doesn’t care where he gets dealt as long as he is not wearing a Suns uniform.

He is going to tell the Suns he can’t play for them, has too much hatred and animosity built up and that they won’t want him around.

Markieff is not calling back teammates and plans to be very standoffish when he reports to camp. He does not plan on arriving until he absolutely has to, so no pickup games with the boys before camp starts. He is expected to make a circus of media day.

He has told those close to him he can never be happy in Phoenix. That he won’t say a word to any of the Suns’ upper management and will have one word answers for Coach Hornacek. He will keep things short and simple.

Morris is signed to a VERY reasonable long-term contract, and the Raptors have some depth issues at PF, so there’s a natural interest here.

Given that the player is demanding a trade, his trade value is affected and teams won’t break the bank to get him as he’s on the outs anyways.  A Patrick Patterson/Morris swap is something Phoenix would jump at given their predicament, but I would not even go near that trade since Patterson is a better floor-spacer, though not as good a post-player.

At the same time, would love to have Morris in addition to Patterson.  Let’ see if Ujiri can pull something out of his hat.  On the other hand, though, do you really want a player that’s being such a bitch?

From ESPN Insider:

Toronto Raptors

Offer: PF Patrick Patterson
Net value: $19.5 million

Why it works: Legendary sabermetrician Bill James coined the term “challenge trade” for when teams swap players at the same position, hoping to win the exchange of similar talents. Patterson and Morris have largely the same strengths and weaknesses, making this something of a personality/contract challenge trade. The Suns would hope Patterson’s stability would offset any downgrade in talent, while the Raptors would be getting the longer and better contract.

Why it doesn’t: Conventional wisdom holds that Morris is the better player in this swap because of his ability to create his own shot. But that isn’t especially important to Toronto, which has plenty of creators, and Patterson was the more efficient scorer and a slightly better rebounder. So the Raptors might just prefer to keep him and not deal with Morris.

The Raptors need a power forward, and Markieff Morris is a power forward. Once you put those two realizations together, you can probably come to the conclusion that this is just a rumour because it would make sense the Raptors pursue the headcase that is Markieff Morris.

However, would Morris really be an upgrade over Patterson? In certain ways – yes. Morris is bigger, a better post-up scorer and shot-creator; but he is an inferior shooter and rebounder, and his basketball IQ is a notch below PatMan’s.

Taking this one with a grain of salt, because hopefully that’s all it is.

The 2014-15 regular season schedule was released on Wednesday.

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I checked out some of the types of plays Cory Joseph’s been making in San Antonio and had a few observations. You can see the plays below.  Generally, I thought he greatly benefited from from having a very structured offense around him, and guys who could simply make plays and finish in traffic.  He does have it in him to create a shot for someone else out of nothing, but he wasn’t called on to do that with the Spurs too often.  There aren’t many pick ‘n roll plays as the Spurs really do have a very spread-out offense which doesn’t lean heavily towards one particular play.  I found his greatest strength to be delivering pin-point passes to where certain players are supposed to be, and he’s got the ability to drive either direction and make passes with either hand. Check out the plays below:

The pass here is important, but what makes this play is the baseline screen set for Leonard which gives him plenty of daylight to hit a mid-range jumper. Structured, man. That’s what the Spurs are:

The more highlights I saw, the more you see these types of assists, where he gives it up to a guy who has it all to do, but for some reason it counts as an assist. A bit misleading to be honest:

A recurring theme in Joseph’s play-making is how often he actually gives the ball up, sometimes multiple times, in a possession before somehow ending up getting the assist. He also has a tendency to visibly take a few steps back before he charges into the drive, which could give him up a little:

Here’s a very deliberate play where Ginobili is curling around the FT-line screen, expecting to receive the ball exactly where Joseph delivers it. It’s a simple play which warrants a simple pass. In fact, most of the Spurs passing is quite simple and certainly so is Joseph’s. There aren’t any draw-four-defenders-and-kick-out-with-a-behind-the-back-pass assists anywhere in Joseph’s highlight reel. This lends greater credence to the idea that Dwane Casey really has to design a very structured offense to integrate a PG like Joseph:

This is straight-up recognition that Diaw has a lane available and making a quick pass, without even wasting time by dribbling it:

This is a much more bang-bang play than it seems. Love gets screened freeing up Diaw for an instant and Joseph finds him easily. Simple basketball yet again, where Joseph’s reads are easy to make, and so is the pass:

The below is his most common drive-and-kick. He can drive in either direction and can make the pass with either hand. This is a pretty subtle skill, and when used in the context of a spaced out floor with the defense shifting, can be a great asset:

A simple cut to draw an extra defender and pass it back out to a three-point shooter. Imagine this play being run in combination with DeMarre Carroll instead of Ginobili:

This here is a more Raptoresque play, where he’s single-handedly generating a shot for a teammate. There aren’t many such examples in his Spurs highlight clips, as usually the Spurs don’t require heroics like this to generate clean looks. Last year’s Raptors, though, they relied on plays like these:

Man, how is this classified as an assist? I get that he picked out Parker on the curl, but Parker still had two defenders to beat:

He evades four defenders here before dropping off the pass. I get a sense that it’s these types of plays that he’ll be asked to make with the Raptors:

Simple drive and kick back out:

Have a nice humpday!

They said summertime is dead time. They were wrong. Will and I go through the dearth of topics available and produce #content:

Part 1

  • JV max contract talk
  • DeMar DeRozan’s Drew League
  • KD and DD at OVO
  • Lowry losing weight
  • Patterson comments about starting
  • Terrence Ross new segment

Part 2

  • New jerseys
  • Ads on jerseys?
  • Players playing international ball
  • Louis Scola’s durability
  • Shannon Scott

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (32:47, 31 MB). Or just listen below:

Grainy video has surfaced showing DeMar DeRozan somewhat dunking on James Harden in the Drew League.

As with any such play, the true value of the dunk should be judged by the reaction of the victim.  Here we see James Harden trying to inbound the ball in a panic, pretending like nothing happened and suggesting that this game even matters. As if somehow inbounding it quickly will turn the mob’s attention away from him being posterized.  DeRozan does the slow walk away which suggests that he has imposed his dominance on Harden, who at this point, has no choice but to accept his fate.

If this were the animal kingdom, DeRozan would mark his territory by spraying all over the court, and James Harden would be shunned from the pack and never allowed to enter the building or the city. His passport would be revoked, and he would be forced to live with hyenas, who would often laugh at him and remind him of that time he got disowned from the pack.  Harden would have to drink from a separate, somewhat infected, body of water than the rest of the hyenas.  After every hunt, he’s be the last one to eat, feeding off of the scraps of stale wildebeest meat. I realize that this analogy is going off the wall, so I’ll just stop.

Why not discuss it now? The dog days of summer are officially upon us, so let’s all speculate.

After three years, you typically have a general idea of what direction an NBA player is headed. But as Jonas Valanciunas heads into his fourth year in the NBA, there are still questions yet to be answered. Here’s what we know: Valanciunas has improved year-to-year, but has yet to make that big leap. But this year – being a contract year – is a huge year. This is the year where Valanciunas will be evaluated with scrutiny, and only he can decide where his fate lies.

Sure, there are external factors at play. Dwane Casey doesn’t trust Valanciunas a whole lot. Interestingly enough, although Valanciunas’ PPG and FG% rose from his second to his third year, his mpg dropped. Ergo, although his usage has dropped, his efficiency has gone up. Makes sense. Lower field goal attempts usually means higher efficiency.

Although a starting center, Valanciunas now ranks 27th in the league among centers in USG % (usage percentage) at 17.3. Pretty much everyone – and their dogs – ranks higher than Valanciunas in this category, including Cole Aldrich, Jusuf Nurkic, Henry Sims, Alexis Ajinca, Kelly Olynyk, Chris Kaman, and, you guessed it, Andrea Bargnani.

Why?

You’d be hard-pressed to state that any of those aforementioned centers are better than Valanciunas, but somehow they are all heavily more involved in the offensive schemes of their respective teams.

Isn’t Valanciunas’ problem mostly on the defensive end though? If he’s solid offensively, why not go to him more in a season riddled with offensively inefficient nights from the swingmen? Surely his 57.2% field goal percentage (2nd in the NBA) should absorb more of the offensive flow.

Jonas' shot-chart for the 2014-2015 season.

There are three main problems with Valanciunas’ offensive game: Indecisiveness, weak passing, and a limited post-game repertoire.

There is only one way that Valanciunas can score efficiently and often – starting from the left side and cutting in for the running hook. It’s a solid move, one that’s pretty hard to stop. But it’s also easy to predict, which limits the amount of touches Valanciunas can get offensively. If he’s able to add an element to his offensive game where he can post-up defenders on the right side and be more decisive, his game will open up dramatically. Even if he can get more comfortable starting from the elbow and working his way into the paint on a consistent basis, he’ll become far more feared. In essence, this is exactly what he needs to do more of:

Nice footwork, the pump-fake is quick, smooth, and decisive.

Dwane Casey would be just fine if Valanciunas’ FG% dipped if it meant he can consistently add moves like that to his game. Volume means lower shooting percentage – Anthony Davis’ 53.7% at nearly 18 field goal attempts is much more conducive to his team than Valanciunas’ 57% at 8 field goal attempts. That’s the best example, of course, but it’s a general rule of thumb. Be good, be unpredictable, and we can live with a drop in efficiency.

A good post-player that Valanciunas can learn from is Donatas Motiejunas – a silky smooth big man with tremendous footwork and a versatile repertoire.

Apart from his indecisiveness and limited offense, there is another glaring reason why the Raptors can’t go to Valanciunas more often: He struggles with passing out of a double-team. Valanciunas is really efficient at scoring down-low, which naturally means he will draw double-teams. That’s always a good thing.

As per Gregg Popovich:

“One way that big guys are gonna still be valuable is if you have a big guy that demands a double-team. If you have a big guy that you don’t have to double-team? You’re in trouble. But if you got a big guy, he better be somebody who is good enough that he commands a double so it can get kicked, and moved, and you can penetrate or pitch for the threes.”

Popovich, by the way, was intrigued about drafting Valanciunas in 2011. It would have been fascinating to see how much quicker Jonas would have developed under the guidance of Pop and Duncan.

Back to his point.

If the Raptors kick it down-low, they know that they don’t necessarily need Valanciunas to score. De facto, they may even kick it to him expecting him to draw a double-team all the while readying themselves for a dish-out to the perimeter for an open three. But they won’t do that knowing that Valanciunas can’t pass it out.

Plain and simple, his passing needs to improve. Valanciunas ranks dead lasts amongst qualified NBA centers in assists (.5 apg). He’s in the same mould as Ian Mahimi. Telling.

Defensively, Valanciunas has become more than a respectable rim protector. By February of last season, Valanciunas’ rim protection (based on opponents’ FG% allowed) ranked higher than the likes of Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford. By the end of the year, he improved even more, eventually trumping the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Smith, Draymond Green, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Timofey Mozgov, and Andre Drummond.

The final number: Valanciunas allowed his opponents to shoot 46.5% at the rim according to Nylon Calculus. Of course, that number shot through the roof during the playoffs in a disastrous way. In the sweep at the hands of the Wizards, Valanciunas allowed his opponents to shoot 63.6% – one of the worst during the post-season. Unfortunately for the Raptors, it didn’t help that Patrick Patterson’s defending down-low was even worse, as he allowed his opponents to shoot a whopping 69.6%.

Consider this distinction: Marcin Gortat allowed 51.1%. Drew Gooden: 53.8%.

If Masai Ujiri was serious about basing the bulk of his evaluation on how his players perform in the playoffs, those numbers are something he will analyze thoroughly before the trade deadline.

Trading Jonas before the deadline won’t be out of the realm of possibility. Depending on how he performs, Valanciunas may not earn the max – but the reality is he might get it anyway whether it be in Toronto or elsewhere. Knowing that, Masai might not gamble losing him for nothing if his performances aren’t up to par. On the flip-side, the best thing to do would be to stay pat until the end of the season – evaluate the year and match the max offers if need be. If he’s not worth it by then, you let him walk and absolutely forget about tying up more cap room in a big free agent year.

Will Masai want to extend Jonas in order to save money in the off-season? That’s not entirely how it works. Any contract negotiations now would revolve around the max-raise next year. So unless Valanciunas wants to take a paycut this year to ensure a longer contract, a cheap extension is unlikely. Barring a disaster, Valanciunas is going to get paid.

Zach Lowe reported earlier this week in his Grantland column that Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level extension. But at this point, extending his contract early might prove to be a knee-jerk reaction of sorts. Sure, his value is still tremendous. I mean, a talented – and young – starting NBA center is always going to have value.

Patrick Patterson may help Jonas improve this season offensively. When paired with Amir, Valanciunas lost the majority of his touches inside to his power forward counterpart. Patterson doesn’t demand that kind of inside touch. Instead, he’ll stretch the floor and spot-up beyond the arc while Valanciunas can be the go-to-guy down-low.

Defensively the Patterson – Valanciunas tandem really struggled, especially in the post-season. On offense though, it was a good proposition. That duo, per 100 possessions, had a +/- of .8; while the Amir – JV tandem was a -2.6.

There’s still indication that Valanciunas can make a leap this year if he really puts his mind to it. He needs to improve on his deficiencies, but above all, he needs to get to a level where he’s entrusted with 30 mpg – simply because a 25 mpg player is never worth a max contract.

Ultimately, Masai Ujiri may have to decide between letting Casey run the show, or giving Valanciunas a max-contract which would establish him as a 30-34 mpg player, something that doesn’t seem probable with Dwane Casey around.

Hang on to your seats:

I’m told Valanciunas will once again play for Lithuania in EuroBasket next month, you’ll have Cory Joseph to watch with Canada at the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico that starts late this month and there’s every chance Luis Scola will take one more shot with Argentina at the same event, I was told last week.

Valanciunas is a central figure (pun intended) on the Lithuanian team and plays every chance he gets, and Cory Joseph is obviously going to be part of Canada Basketball for some time to come.  None of that is surprising.  What is a bit odd is 35-year old Luis Scola suiting up for Argentina the month before training camp starts.  Keep in mind Valanciunas and Scola have been suiting up for years.  In fact, check out what Scola’s been upto over the last decade plus:

  • 2001 FIBA Americas Championship: Gold
  • 2002 FIBA World Championship: Silver
  • 2003 FIBA Americas Championship: Silver
  • 2004 Summer Olympic Games: Gold
  • 2007 FIBA Americas Championship: Silver
  • 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball: Gold
  • 2008 Summer Olympic Games: Bronze
  • 2009 FIBA Americas Championship: Bronze
  • 2011 FIBA Americas Championship: Gold
  • 2013 FIBA Americas Championship: Bronze

He’s basically played every year for the national team.

For Valanciunas, it’ll give us a good chance to see how his mobility work is coming along.

Jan 8, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott (3) drives the ball past Purdue Boilermakers guard Ronnie Johnson (3) during the 1st half at Mackey Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

He’s undrafted out of OSU. He’s a smallish, fast guard who didn’t look very good with the Spurs in Summer League, and averaged single-digit points in college but was a decent playmaker. He doesn’t have much NBA potential – DraftExpress had him 86th before the draft – but he’s a pretty good defender.

Offensively he’s a “tools but no production” guy. Not sure where he fits beyond just an extra body at PG in camp.

Alex Toupane also signed a similar type of contract, described by Blake as:

A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.

Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.”

We hear this every offseason. X player dropped 15 pounds of fat. Y player added 25 pounds of muscle. Blah blah blah.

But holy shit look how slim Kyle Lowry looks! Pictured below is Lowry posing with Kyle O’Quinn, C.J. Watson and Brian Roberts. Perhaps the black tank and crossed-arm combination is exaggerating the appearance, but Lowry looks noticeably trimmer.

Good AM run with the Fellas!!!

A photo posted by Kyle OQuinn (@kyle.oquinn) on

The picture caught many people off-guard. Reporters like James Herbert of CBS Sports were taken aback by Lowry’s transformation. As was J.J. Redick, who slid into the comment section to ask O’Quinn if that was really Lowry.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 at 5.32.33 PM

To be fair to Lowry, he was never too big, or out of shape. But he did struggle with a back injury that significantly undercut his effectiveness in the second half of last season. As Lowry dropped off, so did the Raptors. Here’s hoping that a fully-fit Lowry can recapture his All-Star form and lead the Raptors to an improved campaign.

While Dwane Casey stated last month that both Patrick Patterson and James Johnson are both better suited to come off the bench, Patterson feels that the starting power forward position is his to lose.

And rightfully so.

As the season ever-so-gently approaches, the possibility of ending the off-season with only two authentic power forwards in Scola and Patterson becomes more realistic.

From the Toronto Star:

“Realistically, that’s the one role that’s not filled yet,” said Patterson, who averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds a game last season. “I see it as it’s mine to lose . . . But it’s all about what coach (Dwane) Casey wants, what (general manager) Masai (Ujiri) sees, and who works hard and who earns it.”

Patterson could certainly guard most power-forwards in the East, while Scola would likely slot in as a starter against the more traditional non-shooting fours in the league. It would be an interesting scenario for Dwane Casey to work with. Starting Patterson at the four would stretch the floor in a way that Amir Johnson never could despite the latter forming a semi-respectable three-point shot last season.

Will-Lou dissected this topic more thoroughly last week:

There’s also the point about the Raptors’ future. Patterson is 26 and likely near his prime, but he represents the Raptors’ best long-term solution at power forward. Scola signed a one-year deal to fill a need and Johnson is on an expiring deal. Patterson might not be perfect, but at least he has a chance to become a mainstay.

Altogether, starting Patterson is no slam dunk, but in lieu of a better candidate, the starting power forward position should be Patterson’s job to lose. It’s not a perfect solution, but he’s the Raptors’ most talented power forward and that’s the job of the coaching staff — to make it all work.

For the last two years DeMarre Carroll has produced in fantasy basketball much like he has in real life. He’s been an efficient role player type, producing well above top-100 value in the aggregate with stats that don’t scream for attention but aren’t lacking either. This is a guy who was available late last year in most snake drafts in the 90-120 range of players taken off the board and was priced accordingly in auction drafts. While he made his name during the 2015 playoffs guarding the likes of King James, fantasy heads knew his stats were valid long before this:

DeMarre1

I was a big in investor last fake season in DeMarre Carroll for a couple reasons. The first is because his value was somewhat sneaky in that his popcorn stats (ie. Pts, Rebs, Asts) don’t jump off the page, but aren’t exactly negatives either. Yahoo, ESPN and NBA.com commonly employ eight or nine statistical categories in their leagues with each category carrying equal weight and importance, so the amateur competitor does well to look beyond the basic stats we’re all drawn to over analyzing for the sake of the larger image; specifically, I’m talking about the Pts category ‘cause, you know, damn, its hard not fixate on that one sometimes. When you take your eyes off the big numbers and take a look at the small, however, DeMarre Carroll shines.

The second reason why I liked him was because of how thoroughly unsexy his name was. Playing for a team like the Hawks that doesn’t receive consistent media attention allowed Carroll’s production in 2013-2014 to fly under the radar. A late first round draft pick in 2009, Carroll also failed to bring with him the hype that surrounds early lottery picks. This is important because terms like ‘superstar potential’ are thrown out about these types players every year, often causing them to be reached on. Dion Waiters, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Trey Burke all serve as recent examples of this phenomenon. DeMarre Carroll’s quiet pedigree along with his subtle stat line indicated to me that there might be a market inefficiency to take advantage of and, luckily, there was.

Unfortunately, the cats out of the bag now and he is no longer so anonymous. Where there was some reason to doubt Carroll last year – as he only had one bonafide season of production under his belt – no such discounts are likely to be available this year. This is especially true if you happen to play in leagues with Raptors fans, as one of your buddies is bound to be just a little too excited at the prospect of drafting him.

But what can we realistically expect from DeMarre Carroll this upcoming season?

During his time in Atlanta, Carroll’s fantasy value was defined by Stls, 3’s and TO’s. His production in these categories was bolstered by efficient shooting percentages and good rebound totals. While most players carry both positives and negatives, Carroll lacked a truly negative stat; His free throw percentage (70.2%) wasn’t great, but this was offset by minimal attempts (2.6 per game) and a good field goal percentage (48.7%).

Moving forward we should expect some things to change. This is always the case when players move teams, the tough part is judging whether or not his stats will improve or show regression. All signs point to Carroll seeing an increased role on offense, but I’m skeptical that this will improve his value. While I would guess that he sees more shot opportunities (perhaps one or two more attempts a game), the quality of the shots he’ll be taking may suffer. Meaning it’s hard to foresee his scoring boosted by more than a point or two per game, with the increased production likely offset by lesser percentages. It’s not out of the question that his scoring will skyrocket, but this would be a genuine shock. I’d also be wary of Carroll reproducing his superb 3-point production from last season, as his shooting percentage was a career high (39.5%) and because he’ll likely see less open looks no longer playing beside Kyle Korver. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 0.5 decrease in 3-pointers made from him this upcoming season as a result.

But there are some definite positives here too. For one thing, as the main defensive cog of Dwayne Casey’s team he is likely to see just as many if not more minutes than he did in either of the previous two seasons. More minutes always equal more opportunity for stat accumulation. Also, with Carroll scheduled to slide over to the power forward spot in certain line-ups it would make sense for his rebounding numbers to improve. This was likely to happen anyways considering that the Raptors are a poor rebounding team and DeMarre Carroll won’t have to battle two above average glass-cleaners in Paul Millsap and Al Horford for boards.

Here are my own projections for him based upon these musings:

(I admit these are based solely on reasoning and not calculus)

DeMarre2

As you can tell his numbers improve in some areas but have fallen in others; while this may look like an even trade off, I suggest for fantasy purposes that his value will be diminished some. This isn’t to say that in real life he won’t meet or exceed expectations, but fantasy isn’t real life. My reasoning? Scarcity. Rebs and Pts are important stats but are less rare than the trio of Stls, 3’s and Blks, something that DeMarre Carroll has been an elite contributor in for the past two seasons. When you factor in anticipated drops in efficiency paired with increased attempts from the free-throw line as well as the field, DeMarre Carroll projects to fall just short of his asking price.

In today’s Grantland piece, Zach Lowe suggested that Jonas Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level contract.  Some excerpts:

Valanciunas is a lock to demand a max-level extension. Large humans get paid, and this large human shot 51 percent on post-ups as a 22-year-old banging against the world’s toughest bigs, per Synergy Sports. He’s a beast on the offensive glass, shoots almost 80 percent from the line, and should develop as a pick-and-roll finisher — both at the rim, and with a soft midrange jumper.

An early max extension would also eat into Toronto’s cap flexibility for next summer. Valanciunas would go on the 2016-17 books at a salary around $21 million. If the Raptors wait, Valanciunas would count as only an $11 million “cap hold” when free agency kicks off.

They could still make room to do that, even with Valanciunas at a big number, by letting both DeRozan and Ross walk. Would the Raptors dare venture as high as four years, $80 million — below the projected four-year, $93 million max — to keep Valanciunas in the fold? That may be too rich for Masai Ujiri’s blood, and if it is, expect Valanciunas to hit the market next summer.

Valanciunas is currently making $4.6M and has a qualifying offer of $6.2M next summer.

As mentioned in the article, the nuance here is what your cap looks like in the first few days of free-agency next summer.  If you sign him to a big deal this summer, he’s counting at $21M, but if you sign him next summer, his cap-hold is only $11M, which is a big difference. In either case, you can go over the cap to sign him since you have his Bird rights.

I believe that you should defer decisions to the latest responsible moment, and signing Valanciunas to a big money contract this year prohibits you from entering any sort of big free-agency sweepstakes next year.  Sure, you might end up overpaying him next summer because you waited, but if that even buys you a 10% chance at landing a free-agent like Kevin Durant, or someone close to that caliber, you simply bite the bullet.

Bryan Colangelo found himself in a similar situation with DeMar DeRozan and inked him to a $10M/year deal, which at the time sounded like over-payment, but in hindsight was a bargain.  The chances of Masai Ujiri pulling a similar sort of deal with Jonas Valanciunas this summer is simply too low, because the market is that much inflated and Valanciunas is a 7-footer with skill.  Even though Valanciunas hasn’t exactly had over-powering seasons, he’s still got enough in him to entice teams to throw money at him.  Whereas we extended DeRozan in his ‘low’ period, Valanciunas, despite Dwane Casey’s best efforts, still has relatively high stock in the league.

Here’s the order of source credibility:

5. Marc Stein

4. David Aldrdige

3. Chad Ford

2. Woj

1. Low-res photo taken in a crowd

Given the above pecking order, RR can safely confirm that Kevin Durant will be signing with the Raptors next summer.

They actually look pretty sweet.

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The importance of the starting lineup is overblown. In a league which is becoming increasingly fluid and where positions are harder to define, where permutation of lineups change the style of play many times during each game, the concept of your starters defining your team is archaic. I’m writing this in the context of the recent power forward debate (if you can call it that) of whether Patrick Patterson should start ahead of Luis Scola, as Dwane Casey had hinted that Patterson is best suited to come off the bench.

The biggest benefit of having a set starting lineup is predictability. Everyone has a general idea of when they’re going to play, when the first sub will happen, who the first sub generally is, and what stretches of play the bench unit will be responsible for (at least in the first half). I get it. At the same time, this sort of predictability can come back to bite you because it’s also easier for the opposition to scout a set pattern. Why would you show your cards at the start of the game if you didn’t have to?

The focus on basketball #analytics has changed a few things, and probably the biggest one is highlighting the value of the three-point shot. One area where it’s hinted at disrupting but hasn’t yet is the concept of starters. If you look at most teams, their most efficient lineup is often different than their starting lineup. For example, in terms of Win%, the Raptors starting lineup last season wasn’t even close to their ‘best’ lineup, yet played the heaviest minutes. I know, there are many other variables at play here, but the point I’m trying to make is that having a defined set of starters and sticking to them is counter to putting out the lineup that’s best for the moment.

On most teams the starters generally consist of your five best players and they tend to start all five together, as if the game is decided in the first quarter. To me, it never made sense to start out with a lineup where all your talent is concentrated when it’s a 48-minute game. If anything, the talent wealth should be spread evenly in the game, and perhaps be more concentrated in the fourth quarter. After all, a basketball game is closer to a marathon than a race. If you happen to have ball-needy players in the starting lineup, you’re also decreasing their effectiveness by playing them all together since they’re basically competing against each other for possessions. Just look at Jonas Valanciunas, we all complained all season how he wasn’t getting enough touches when the real problem was that he was playing with players who need the ball just as much, and are higher in the pecking order. If you move a guy like Valanciunas to the bench, perhaps you can afford to give him the time on ball he deserves?

I get the idea of a starting lineup in something like soccer, where you’re only allowed three substitutions and your starting eleven needs to be carefully picked in anticipation of what the opposition might do. The margin of error there is low. If you start a lineup where your wingbacks like to overlap, but the other team have players who are efficient at operating in wide areas and cutting in, you’ve set yourself up to fail, or at least put a tremendous amount of pressure on your midfielders. Better use a sub, and oh, it’s a 90 minute game where fatigue kicks in real soon and there aren’t any official stoppages of play.

Those constraints don’t exist in basketball. You can make unlimited subs and have a concept of timeouts which afford you tactical flexibility. I’m a little surprised that a coach out there hasn’t debunked the myth that you need to have your 4 or 5 best players in your starting lineup, as if playing them gives you a massive lead at the end of the first quarter which you ride home the rest of the way.

Maybe that’s the next step in basketball. We’ve already done away with differentiating between positions and instead have placed an emphasis that a team should consist of interchangeable parts rather than specialized players who can only be successfully in select settings. Maybe the next bold move is to start Kyle Lowry one game, and Cory Joseph the next. It’ll take some getting used to, but if as a coach you have a plan, it’s the other sideline that’ll be left scratching their head.

The new-look, small-ball, defensive-minded team that Ujiri has been constructing this off-season now has the bench crew to give Casey the support he lacked during the playoffs.

Most notable, Rex Kalamian, who is coming off six seasons with the Thunder (the last two as lead assistant). Having been part of OKC’s great run the last few years, he brings credibility and understanding of what a winning program looks like. If nothing else, having had worked with the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka et al, gives him instant credibility as an elite talent manager.

Andy Greer spent the last 5 years under Thibodeau in Chicago, and is a known quantity to Casey from their time spent in Minnesota together. Defense? Yes! Offense? Probably not, but this team knows how to get buckets.

Jerry Stackhouse rounds out the bench, and brings with him an understanding of what it takes to make it in this league. 18 years as a player is nothing to shake a stick at; we can only hope that he can have an impact with the likes of Ross and Johnson, shaping some of the perceived (or real) problems that they have been manifesting over the last few seasons.

Ujiri has earned some time off IMO.

Full press release here:, here’s a Casey quote:

“I am pleased to add Rex, Andy and Jerry to our coaching staff,” said Casey. “They are established winners at the NBA level, and bring valuable experience and a passion for the game to our team.

“Together with Nick and Jama, we have a group that will challenge our players daily to improve and compete.”

With the August long weekend on deck, two things are certain. Many of us are contemplating whether to use a last minute excuse to book Friday off. I say go for it, most of us deserve an extended vacation. On the downside, the Civic Holiday also serves as a reminder that the dog days of the NBA offseason are in full swing. Here’s to all of us getting a chance to kick our feet up.

Each of these days off can work in our favour, though. Never being able to forget the way the season ended is one thing, but the slow process to something resembling forgiveness can be achieved.

The Draft, Free Agency, and Summer League have all provided a welcome boost to morale. Especially the play of Stormin’ Norman Powell, who so far has the makings of a potential steal at 46th overall. Yes, even with only Summer League action under his belt.

His jump-shot may be erratic, but a rookie with such a defensive mindset is a rare breed, and the separation created on offense he showcased in Vegas point to a bright future with this organization. The kid might even already provide the most hustle on this roster, that is unless K-Low wants back in the ring. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Now, the offseason noise has settled down, and with NBA TV back to running their Hardwood Classics and old-school dunk contests on the regular, addressing the upcoming season will only start to ring louder as we go. Where questions begin to translate into expectations.

Whether they’re justified or simply existing as hope is up for debate. So let’s start the conversation. Feel free to chime in, even if your favourite play is running the pick-and-Troll.

Leading off the Game Of Raps:

Raptors

Question: Will the DeMarre Carroll signing provide the needed domino effect?

Expectations: 

It’s difficult to say when we’ll be able to have a firm grip on what this reboot truly has to offer, at least as far as this season goes. It’s also hard not to let last season’s road trip reference point seep into the discussion. The back-half of the now infamous six-gamer, smack dab in the middle of winter, one that saw the Raps’ fortunes change for the worse. Let’s rehash the experience, as being a glutton for punishment is in our sports blood.

We all remember game 32 in Portland, where Toronto owned a shiny 25-6 record coming in. And to their credit, backed up the notion that they belonged in the NBA’s upper echelon with an all-out, overtime effort. Three days later, the armour began to crack, with Golden State providing the first reality check. Only to be followed up by a Phoenix dismantling. Not to mention the next 31 games after the fact, where 25-6 transformed into a 15-16 disappointment, and a team on the brink of losing its way.

I can’t pretend to sit on a throne here and act like I didn’t get caught up in the false hope, as I will admit that visions of an Eastern Conference Finals’ appearance got the best me before and after that battle with the Blazers.

What contributed to the Raptors’ downward slide? Well, how much time do you have? Injuries, strength of schedule, and the inability to incorporate the frontcourt into the grand scheme (though a scheme without a blueprint wasn’t so grand in the first place). Let’s see, what else can I harp on, oh yeah, the sloppy pick-and-rolls, random moments of actual crisp and unselfish ball movement that weren’t capitalized on, and to hop on the Tulowitzki train for a baseball reference regarding the defence: “Don’t give me this olé bullshit!”.

All of these factors help place blame. But what makes those faults tick? All signs point to a damaged culture and personalities butting heads. Well, in comes DeMarre Carroll, the acquisition who can only help facilitate a change.

With Carroll never surpassing 17 minutes per game throughout his tours in Memphis, Houston, Denver, and Utah, only to catapult close to the 33-mark with the Hawks, some would suggest that the results from Atlanta’s disciplined system won’t be seen in a vastly different environment. A valid consideration, and there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. But where there’s a will, there’s a chance to flip the script.

How does Carroll stack up with those liabilities? As for fighting through injuries, look no further than playing through a buckling knee sprain in the postseason. How about his 6.1 boards Per 36 Minutes and 8.7 Per 100 Possessions while predominantly roaming the 3 and capable of moving to the 4 when needed. Which can only aid the Raps’ rebounding relief effort. The 100 possessions category also comes with 2.2 steals, and he can net them in a variety of ways. Then comes his steady and even increased 3-pointers made, as well as his 3-point percentage from the regular season to the playoffs (1.7 to 1.8 and .395 to .403). The perfect role player? I’d have to concur.

Carroll also directly effects JJ and PP, two players this fan base wanted to see receive a more sizeable role, and we seemingly have gotten our wish. Whether it’s by default over the size of DC’s contract making it difficult to find an upgrade at Power Forward is now a moot point. A rotation between the two with a little Louis Scola mixed in and DeMarre taking over when the matchup calls for it has the potential to hold the fort down at the 4.

Essentially, if you morphed Johnson and Patterson into one player, Carroll would assume the identity. His two-way presence might even rub off on Lowry and bring back his physical brand of basketball. But more on K-Low and his partner in crime in a bit.

This town lost a fan favourite in Amir, but you can pencil in Carroll as the next in line. All of a sudden DC being the team’s highest paid player doesn’t sound so weird. Well, it still kind of does. But it’s how Toronto has to operate if they want to employ anything more than a 4-seed squad with a first-round exit strategy.

Raptors

Question: Will JV and T-Ross finally cement their “core status” or continue to roam the fringe? 

Expectations:

Just when we think a corner is turned, we end up stressing over Valanciunas’ inability to mesh with the league’s new “small ball” direction. As for T-Ross, contributions from downtown are a nice distraction, but we’re left dwelling on his dwindling defensive prowess and extreme lack of assertiveness in the offensive set.

On the surface, both are considered to be part of this team’s core moving forward. Yet when you look at the new makeup and what may come as soon as next year, their potential has to be somewhat realized in short order for that to continue. Especially considering both have impending contract situations.

Ross’ preferential treatment needed to stop, compared to JV at least, as chance after chance has been given. I realize his ankle problems have been making the rounds, but the right move has been made moving him to the bench. The expectation is now for Ross to become Lou Williams’ replacement. How’d that role work out for not-so sweet Lou? Streaky scorers tend to have long careers, but also one that includes many stops along the way. I’m fine with Ross becoming the new stop-gap.

Regressing almost across the board in his Per 36’s doesn’t bode well either. A dip in points, steals, rebounds, free-throw attempts, free-throw %, and 3-pt %. All the while joining the decline party was his overall PER and true shooting percentage.

Optimism could be in order with the Raps’ new defensive mandate, however. It could spark something for the former above average wing defender, though optimism is known for clouding one’s judgement.

Back to JV, who despite his flaws remains a vital cog. He’s feeding the press what they want to hear. Working on a jump-shot, while attempting to improve his quickness, footwork, and predictability. Ok, i threw in that last one. True story, though.

There does come a point where if something is not woking, the current solution may be the problem. If JV can’t defend past the interior, or maintain the pace the Raps want to play at, it makes sense to send him to the bench in important situations. However, how are we ever going to see him evolve if he’s not given the opportunity to fail and learn from it. It’s an uphill climb, I get it, but as much as Toronto wants to emulate Golden State, the personnel doesn’t match the requirements.

Throw in the fact that the annual catch-22 rears its ugly head while attempting to mask one deficiency that only leaves another (on the glass) wide open to be picked apart by your opponent. You do all you can to keep up with a trending league, but at the same time, at least attempt to balance it out if what you employ calls for it.

Here’s two that could help the situation, if they can get out of their own way that is.

Raptors

Question: Are we about to witness K-Low and DeRozan transform into true leaders? 

Expectations:

Remember that time when this duo was closing in on comparisons to the Splash Brothers? Looks like “analysts” were a little to presumptuous on that one. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say this backcourt started to read their own press clippings. The only way all of these scenarios reach their pinnacle is when DeRozan and Lowry totally buy in to what Masai and company are trying to achieve.

Faith should still reside that they’ll reach at least the conversation of the elite once again, but more importantly, the next step in leadership. Motivating factors exist for each to boot. I wrote about Lowry recently in regards to the influx of new faces at his position, as being pushed could be exactly what he needs to turn back the clock. I tend to rip on Lowry more often than not, that’s just tough love, but I won’t stop reiterating his reckless running of the offense until his tendencies move more towards the team. A good starting point would be to stop begging for calls. The other team already scored in transition and you’re still talking shop with the ref?

K-Low: you had this city on lock, and it’s there to take back if you so choose. If you’re not careful, your trade watch part-two could become a thing.

DeRozan might truly hold the keys to this revival, though. His main incentive being monetary based. If fantasy sports has taught us anything, it’s a safe bet to go all in on player with a massive payday ahead of him. Those spurts throughout last year where DeMar took his game to the next level, even adding the title of precise ball distributor to his resume, may very well offer us some extended enjoyment this season. But as always, he’ll have to kick the habit of his ill advised mid-range game.

The trickle down effect on this franchise’s future is also at stake. Carroll’s structured attitude can only stretch so far, and the last thing Bruno and Bebe need is to continue to soak in the status-quo environment. Along with Wright and Powell, who both should see regular minutes as the season moves along.

If Toronto does find a way to answer these questions, meet the pressing expectations, and manages to silence their past, not only would the annual problem of drawing major Free Agents have a chance to be overcome, but DeRozan could start thinking that max-dollars isn’t an absolute necessity.

But then again, cash really does rule everything.

One last thing before I go:

Raptors

Question: Is this view awaiting your weekend arrival?

Expectations:

Crack an Old Style Pilsner for me when you get there.

Raptors, Nets or another team? Discuss

In today’s Grantland column, there’s an interesting note about Nicolas Batum and his desire to play in Toronto:

“Batum is an impending unrestricted free agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum’s people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources. He is a flight risk, even though both Cho and Chad Buchanan, the team’s assistant GM, know Batum well from their days in Portland. “We are very comfortable given that Chad and Rich know Nic well,” Polk says.”

Batum was traded to the Hornets as Portland didn’t like their chances of re-signing him to an extension, and got whatever they could in return.  He’s set to make $13M this upcoming season, before lining himself up for a huge raise in the NBA’s increasing salary cap.  The Raptors could be able to make a play for him, but keep in mind they have their own free-agents to worry about, namely extending DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas (Basketball Insiders Salary Page).

With DeMarre Carroll set to play a part at power forward, the versatile Frenchman, who is an excellent defender and a career 36% three-point shooter, could be a perfect fit for that small-ball we crave.

Update: some Twitter reaction from Batum denying, and Lowe insisting:

Masai Ujiri’s biggest move this summer was to acquire DeMarre Carroll, who will start in place of Terrence Ross at small forward. With Carroll onboard, four starting spots are spoken for: point guard, shooting guard, small forward and center.

That just leaves power forward, with no ideal candidate to fill the position. Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson — all best suited for backup positions — will split minutes at the four, while Carroll might sneak in for certain smallball lineups.

It’s unclear as to which player has the inside track. The team will likely use training camp and preseason as a tryout. But head coach Dwane Casey might have tipped his hand when he spoke about Patterson’s effectiveness off the bench.

“We still have Patrick Patterson who I feel is better coming off the bench, he gives us that firepower off the bench, the three-point shooting off the bench, the energy.”

Dwane Casey, via TSN Radio

There are some valid concerns with starting Patterson, starting with his ineffectiveness alongside Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors conceded a defensive rating of 109.9 when the two shared the court last season, per NBA WOWY. That mark would have ranked dead-last in the NBA, barely nudging out the Minnesota Timberwolves who posted a 109.6 defensive rating.

I’m not entirely clear as to why the pairing rated so poorly on defense, but it likely starts with defensive rebounding. Patterson is a weak rebounder for his position and lineups featuring Patterson and Valanciunas grabbed 1.6 fewer rebounds per 100 possessions as compared to league average, per Basketball-Reference. Granted, a decline in rebounding was a common feature in most of Patterson’s lineups, but still, it was a problem.

Furthermore, Patterson’s greatest strength as a defender is his mobility, which made him a favorite in Casey’s scramble system. Patterson often closed games in favor of Valanciunas, as his ability to guard the perimeter and to switch was viewed as an asset alongside Amir Johnson (or even Tyler Hansbrough). Patterson posted a 107.5 defensive rating with Hansbrough and a 107.2 mark with Johnson. By no means are those numbers pretty, but it wasn’t unbearably awful as Patterson’s work with the plodding Valanciunas.

The argument can also be made that keeping Patterson on the bench could lend continuity to a substantially revamped second unit. Ujiri parted with several key bench pieces this summer, with Hansbrough, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams changing jerseys. That leaves Patterson and James Johnson — two underused options from last season — as the only holdovers. The Raptors’ bench was a huge component of their success last season and keeping Patterson to maintain a shred of continuity has merit.

The bench could also use Patterson’s offense. Aside from Ross, there won’t be much shooting on the Raptors’ bench. Putting Patterson on the court would suck a big from the paint, opening up lanes for Johnson and Cory Joseph to slash to the hoop. Granted, some of these problems could be solved by staggering Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes, while avoiding all-bench units, but Casey has shown favor towards hockey-style lineup changes.hi-res-72ee3a00863dd94741ee880dbba65b25_crop_north

Having said all that, Patterson should still get the first crack at starting.

Pairing Valanciunas with Patterson was unbearable on defense last season, but that could change. Both Ujiri and Casey have spoken about changing up the defensive scheme to accommodate Valanciunas. Employing a system that requires less rotations and more time in the paint for Valanciunas would go a long way. The Raptors signed longtime Bulls assistant Andy Greer (who made his bones under Tom Thibodeau) to run the defense, which presumably means a change from scrambling to ICEing pick-and-rolls. On Valanciunas’s end, he’s working on improving his quickness, which will help him improve on defense regardless of schemes.

Rebounding should also improve. Carroll is miles better than Ross on the boards, which should help offset Patterson’s deficiencies. Carroll gives the Raptors four plus-rebounders in the starting unit, which would easily cover for any drop-off from Patterson.

The Raptors also don’t have a better defender to pair with Valanciunas. Johnson and Scola are both imperfect options as well. Scola is very smart and is a master of verticality (only being able to jump 10 inches helps with that), but he’s painfully slow and can’t block shots. Johnson gambles too much on defense, which would increase the defensive burden on Valanciunas to cover up for mistakes, when what he needs is the opposite.

However, unlike Scola or Patterson, starting Patterson would translate to a huge boon for the Raptors’ offense.

As a function of starting both Valanciunas and DeRozan, the Raptors sorely lack spacing. Patterson would give the Raptors three floor-spacers on the court, unleashing a dangerous pick-and-roll attack with Valanciunas serving as the roll man. Patterson can pull a big away from the basket, greasing the wheels for DeRozan’s drives and Valanciunas’s rolls.

Since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have posted a sterling offensive rating of 113.4 with Patterson on the floor. As expected, Patterson’s shooting has the greatest effect on frontcourt players. Valanciunas has posted a true-shooting percentage of 59.7 with Patterson. Amir Johnson bumped his mark to 64.9 percent. Even Tyler Hansbrough notched a mark of 59.7 with Patterson.

image

(Source: NBA WOWY)

There’s also the point about the Raptors’ future. Patterson is 26 and likely near his prime, but he represents the Raptors’ best long-term solution at power forward. Scola signed a one-year deal to fill a need and Johnson is on an expiring deal. Patterson might not be perfect, but at least he has a chance to become a mainstay.

Altogether, starting Patterson is no slam dunk, but in lieu of a better candidate, the starting power forward position should be Patterson’s job to lose. It’s not a perfect solution, but he’s the Raptors’ most talented power forward and that’s the job of the coaching staff — to make it all work.

https://instagram.com/p/3t-ZXVpw0Y/?taken-by=jvalanciunas

It’s a solo show as we replay key Raptors talk from the recent Grantland podcast, and tackle low and high-hanging organic fruit in a short but packed podcast.

Topics:

  • Team Canada Basketball talk
  • Zach Lowe and Jared Dudley
  • Small ball talk
  • Power forward position
  • Everybody sees Valanciunas’ importance
  • Organic growth
  • Importance of health
  • “Losing” Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez
  • Corey Joseph money
  • Loss and acquisition of ball-handling
  • Ujiri and Casey with specific intent
  • Summer-time content
  • Ross talk in context of recent article
  • DeMarre Carroll – hustler with talent

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (21:49, 21 MB). Or just listen below:

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Ed’s Note: This article is written by Ian MacKinnon who puts on the infamous RR Prospect jacket and acknowledges that by posting this he opens himself up to praise and abuse from the Republic.

It’s not difficult to see the ways in which the fan base has grown tired of Terrence Ross. Scanning the comments section of this site, or reading the opinions of its writers, the narrative comes together quite easily. Dude has a resting grumpy face, lacks aggressiveness on the court, doesn’t take advantage of his wildly impressive athleticism (or hasn’t learned how to yet), and, very plainly, hasn’t been able to play up to the ‘D’ part, of being a 3-and-D wing. For a recent example of such criticism, check out the first half of Zarar’s podcast with Tim Chisholm, where they intellectually shit all over the former eighth overall pick.

But there are some things we’re not talking about.

In my opinion, it never seemed as if he was put in a position to succeed.  Met with groans on draft night, the fan base treated him as if he was Rafael Araujo, as we watched Andre Drummond slide by just like Andre Iguodala had years ago. The parallels between those two situations were glaring from the beginning. I thought the pick didn’t make sense for other reasons.

Terrence Ross is a shooting guard and one look at his wiry, slight frame suggested he was always going to be better suited to guarding 1’s and 2’s, as opposed to 2’s and 3’s. Except, when we drafted him we already had a defensively limited off-guard in DeRozan, who despite obvious effort and improvement from season to season, never projected as someone big enough or laterally quick enough to guard a position other than the two. Not to mention, despite Ross’s three point shot, and DeRozan’s funky mid-range, foul-baiting game, not much ever separated their physical profile and abilities.  Both have shown ball handling and passing/court vision weaknesses, both are dunkers who excel on the break, and both were sold as athletic and raw, high ceiling prospects. From the beginning, it seemed like the pick was redundant.

A few years later, and our collective patience has almost run out with the 24-year old role player. We’ve seen what he has to offer and been there to watch his pull-up jumper get blocked time and time again. I practically scream at the television in these moments, thinking, ‘Doesn’t he know he needs to have a quicker release if he’s going to shoot in traffic?’

As a slasher, with the ball or without, I’ve only seen him be successful in transition, and along the baseline, the latter of which he’s shown the capability to succeed off of back door cuts, rising up for alley-oops or reverse dunks. His ball handling is very suspect, he has no shake, no change of pace, and he struggles to navigate against physical contact. He also doesn’t get to the free throw line, which is where DeRozan makes a living. These are pretty much things we’ve all been talking about for a while now.

The one thing I refuse to cite as a negative though, is his social media presence; I understand that people generally have no sympathy for professional athletes when they appear childish, I on the other hand am fighting for the side that says its okay for them to act like they’re human every once in awhile.

It’s very clear, he’s our scapegoat.

Every team needs a scapegoat, and he’s ours. It’s a tough role, but it’s actually a necessary one. David Lee was the Golden State Warriors scapegoat last year, Chris Bosh was the scapegoat for some of those Miami teams, J.R. Smith has spent time scapegoating just about everywhere he’s been. While it’s easy to hate, we shouldn’t forget that these ‘types’ of players, Terrence Ross included, still have a potent skill set when on the court.

One look at his basketball reference page, and you can see there are some nice stats.  Specifically PER36, for his career, Ross has made 2.4 trey’s per game at a .373 percent clip. Those are very good numbers. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t boo him off the court. He’s still battling with Patrick Patterson for the position of team’s best shooter and the space he creates on offence is needed.

Not to mention, and stay with me here, I think Terrence Ross would come back to haunt us if he were traded; If I’m Danny Ainge or Sam Hinkie, or maybe even Daryl Morey, I’m licking my lips at the chance of Terrence Ross. I’d take a glimpse at the resume, make note of the dunk contest and the 51-point game, and see that he’s a shooter whose been playing in a system not suited to his strengths. He seems like he could be a good candidate to rebound elsewhere.

There are grumblings about him being a sour puss, a locker room wart, but it’s hard to know what to make of that. There are also no clear off the court problems in the typical domestic assault, substance abuse vein. I’d wager that there are at least a few GM’s willing to bet that if he was asked to play his actual position, in a pace and space offence, he might find more success offensively, which could lead to less distractions and more focus on the defensive end. Not to mention he’s also maintained his health his whole career, and he’s still just twenty-four, with room still left to work out the kinks. Doesn’t he sound like the type of player who would get traded and come back to haunt us?

I’m not sure what to make of him this upcoming season. Dwane Casey has mentioned that he’ll look for Terrence Ross to reprise a bit of Lou Williams’ role from last season as a bench scorer, although that makes very little sense. There is one thing that I am sure of though, and it’s that we’re coming up to the crucial point, the deciding line that will tell the rest of his future with the club. It doesn’t look very promising as he’ll likely be asked to be more productive with less opportunity, but don’t preclude him from success just yet.

(Just look at it, it’s real, you can see it, you’re allowed to dream it can happen again)

On a completely unrelated note, I had the good pleasure of watching in-person our Canadian Men’s basketball team win 96-76 against Mexico Thursday night in the preliminary round of the Pan Am games. Here are some observations:

  • Sim Bhullar is almost comedic on the court in his huffing and puffing. His hands were on his hips for most of the game, and he was a step slow almost everywhere on the court. He has a lot of work to do physically if he wants to get into the league.
  • Jamal Murray impressed, showing great handles, passing awareness and offensive instincts. He’s long and athletic, and has size for his position. Although, his shot release is low near his chin and he showed hesitancy attacking left when there were open lanes to do so.
  • Brady Heslip is a talented offensive player and showed a lot of polish, I hope he sees a ten-day somewhere this season.
  • Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson both played well, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by either. I was expecting more from Bennett.

From Sportsnet:

Tim Leiweke will continue his current role as president and CEO of MLSE for up to another year until a successor is found, according to Sportsnet’s Bob McCown.

“I am told that [Leiweke] will remain with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for one more year in the absence of finding anybody suitable to take his place,” McCown said Friday on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

When reached for comment, MLSE did not immediately respond.

There is nothing official about this report of course – unfortunately. Even if it’s true, Leiweke’s departure is imminent.

For Raptor fans, the longer Leiweke stays, the better. The franchise has prospered under Leiweke’s watch. In his brief stint, he’s shifted TFC, the Leafs, and the Raptors into stable and promising positions with big hires at the management level. On top of that, he’s successfully re-branded the Raptors – making Toronto a bigger destination for free agents, and has also landed the all-star game in 2016.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

First up, a little awareness and ask for help for a solid basketball program being run in high-need communities in Toronto. Do us a favor and help if you can.

The hopes of the Raptors wing defense rely on DeMarre Carroll, so I thought for this morning’s edition of “what to write since it’s the off-season but we do run a Raptors site so people need something to read while they browse their phone on the bus”, I thought we take a look at some ways Carroll can influence the game by getting steals a variety of ways.

Quick hands

Here it’s about quick hands. He’s pressuring the guard at the top and playing a good angle while obstructing the pass back out to the weak side. He reads that the point guard is about to lift his hand to pass and raises an arm with the hopes of getting a steal. It pays off. Many times it doesn’t but this is the advantage of having active hands and never stopping to play defense.

Recognition of opponent

Here’s some good ‘ol recognition of who’s dribbling the ball. He sees Gortat messing about with a high dribble, and dumps down quickly to get the steal. The nuance of this play is that he’s also making the passing lane for Gortat back out to Pierce difficult. If he aggressively doubles, Gortat just picks up the ball and passes it to Pierce. Instead, Carroll’s only ‘showing’ the double which baits Gortat into dribbling some more, and that’s when he attacks:

Backcourt pressure

Here’s some situational awareness where Indiana’s just too casually bringing up the ball. Carroll sees that the guard isn’t really looking behind him and blindsides him with the steal. Indiana players should’ve probably called and helped their teammate out, but they didn’t and Carroll takes advantage:

Helping others

Carroll has deceptively long arms, and in this GIF you see how easily he picks off the intended pass to the big. Granted, it’s not the best pass in the world but the fact that Carroll didn’t just stick with his man on the perimeter, but actually helped his teammates by dropping down is what the point here is.

Pressure up top

Here’s one where he’s guarding pressuring LeBron James up top into a mistake. He forces him to pick up the dribble in hopes of relieving pressure by making a pass, and is right up on him to get the steal:

Post-defense against bigs

Here’s Carroll in the post being backed down and recognizing that he’s got a size disadvantage. He uses those long arms to poke it out from behind. This play shows his versatility and how you don’t have to worry about him if he gets pinned by a big, because he’s got enough size and smarts to come away unscathed in most such situations.

That’s it from me today!

Dwane Casey’s got to have a couple conversations stat. Like, sign into his hotmail account ([email protected]) and send some meeting invites.

First, he’s got to bring James Johnson into the fold. This relationship is teetering right now and the only reason it hasn’t blown up is because James Johnson happened to have found Jesus a few years back and has learned to keep it cool. They have to clear the air man-to-man, not just have a contrived version of the father-son talk, but talk. Starting off, Casey’s needs to straight-up tell James Johnson that he screwed up. Acknowledge the mistakes of last year, whether it be refusing to matchup in key moments, or just benching the swingman altogether. Just come out and say that things weren’t executed properly and not handled right, and that Casey just spoke too openly about James Johnson’s perceived flaws.

At this point, James Johnson will rub his cross, stand up, and give Casey a hug. A single tear will run down Casey’s left cheek and a new relationship will form. All is forgiven, let’s move forward.

Up next, hit up Kyle Lowry on Twitter and see if he responds. If he does, ask for a follow so you can DM him and set up a brohim-to-brohim meeting at a public place like the Harbourfront (you never risk these things getting out of hand, and there’s safety in numbers). With Lowry, you can’t just lead directly into the main topic, you have to beat around the bush and then hit him hard. Start with some small talk about how over-priced that CN Tower Walk is, how some streets really shouldn’t be one way, and lament about the Toronto housing market, and then bring up the main point of discussion. Kind of like:

Casey: “Isn’t it crazy that that 18ftx60ft house costs $1.2M and it doesn’t even have a room?”

Lowry: “True, coach,, I don’t even know how people afford houses anymore”

Casey: “You need to stop gambling on defense.”

Ice. Broken. Now’s the time to sit on that park bench, hold his hand, and tell him that you need him to pay attention on defense, and that he doesn’t have cart blanche to play free safety, because that hurts the team. Explain to him that he’s one of guys that needs to stay home because the team already has two sub-par defenders in the starting lineup, and that if he goes rogue, all hell breaks loose.

Lowry: “But, but coach…the housing market..”

Casey: “Hell with the housing market. We’re talking defense”.

Explain to him that he’s the leader of this team no matter what, and that he’s got to lead by example by 1) staying disciplined and not complaining to the refs constantly, 2) sticking to the plan on defense, and 3) picking your spots to dominate and preserving energy.

In every relationship, openness is key. And this is where Casey will open up about how he didn’t take care of Lowry’s minutes last season, and didn’t manage the injury well, and that it’ll never happen again. Simple heartfelt apology while maintaining eye contact and holding hands. Lowry will do the same. That’s all. Air cleared.

After having dealt with one star player, Casey will surprise DeMar DeRozan at the Drew League. “DeMar, can we grab a some Baskin Robbins after the game?” “Sure thing, coach, cotton candy flavour for me all the way”.

As you’re driving to Baskin Robbins, take a sharp turn and hit the highway, drive for 80 miles in absolute silence without responding to DeRozan’s pleas for mercy. Pull into a deep wooded area, open up the trunk and get out the laptop with video fo DeRozan being shut down by a half-decent wing. DeRozan won’t watch at first, but after a while he’ll realize that there’s nothing else to do in this swampland than watch the video.

As they watch in silence, Casey’s hand once again reaches for DeRozan, and softly utters, “See what I mean?” DeRozan won’t respond, but will nod. More video is watched and finally DeRozan speaks and says, “But coach, you designed these plays where I took a 22 footer with a guy draped all over me, am I really to blame?”

Moment of truth.

Casey proceed to admit that the plays weren’t great, but that DeRozan didn’t help matters by doing what the defense wanted them to do. They talk openly, blame stuff on Lou Williams and agree that next year it’s going to be different: DeRozan will give a shit on defense, and will improve enough to shed defenders instead of taking bad shots. Casey will agree to design more motion heavy plays that have DeRozan catch the ball in positions of advantage instead of having it all to do. As they’re heading back to the car, Casey pauses, takes out a blue cooler from the trunk, opens it and gives a cotton candy ice cream to DeRozan. This is how friendships are formed.

Finally, it’s onto Terrence Ross and a simple text will do here: “Your ass better be in shape and ready to go come training camp or you’ll be playing 40 minutes for Raptors905 next season”.

Kyle Lowry looks a little out of shape, everyone’s uncomfortably ignoring it. Dwane, you concerned? “Nah, he hides his muscles well *smiles nervously*”.

Jonas Valanciunas lean as hell after playing in Europe, there’s talk of a bigger role on offense. Coach, is Jonas going to get a bigger role? “The last guy to get off a potato truck doesn’t win the rodeo, and I’ve ridden some buses but that right there is a barn door”. #MakesNoSense, Next day Toronto Star headline: “Coach Casey has wise words for Valanciunas”

DeRozan’s been eating with his left foot all summer, nobody knows why but there’s talk of a wicked crossover in the arsenal. NOBODY SEEN IT. Being guarded by Norman Powell in practice and Powell cornered about it after, “Tell us Norman, have you seen this crossover?” Can only shake head and mutter expletives in way of response. Legend of crossover grows.

Terrence Ross been working on his drive game, says Carroll been mentoring him on D and shit. Fuckin’ right! First pre-season game, bright lights are on. Time to exorcise them demons. 0-8 FG. Benched in second quarter. Back to the drawing board.

Bruno Caboclo runs this town. Gets his name chanted at Dairy Queen. #MadeItInLife. Walks into movie theater. Free tickets. Strolls into Brass Rail. Upper Brass, son. DeAndre Daniels tries to tag along. Access denied.

Opening ceremony of #Raptors905. Hazel McCallion cuts the ribbon. “Where’s George Mikan at?” Not here, he long dead.

Reporter asking softball questions to Cory Joseph. “You excited about being back in Toronto?” “It’s an honor to be paid $7 million for being born in Pickering”.

Late October evening, no games. Where’s Bismack at? Nobody can find him. Driving Uber. “Yo man, I thought you in the NBA”. “For now. For now.”

Post-practice scrum. Everyone exhausted, sweating. James Johnson bone dry. “How so, James?” “Cannot get playing time in practice”. Casey, why that? “It’s a matchup thing”.

Rumor there’s a video of DeRozan’s crossover leaked on Instagram. #LeaguePassAlert! Grainy video surfaces of 20 pixels moving in the direction of 20 other pixels which form a rim if you look at it from the right angle. Crossover hype at peak levels.

Dwane Casey: “Luis Scola will be the starting PF”. Everyone scratching their head. Scola literally scratching head. Raptors.com softball interview, “Was Scola’s experience and maturity the reason you chose to start him, coach?” Casey: “There are guys who make hay with a haymaker, and there are guys who make hay with grind. We need a little bit of wind at the back and Scola’s got the lunch pail mentality of getting that dinner done quick” Next day Toronto Star headline: “Dwane Casey: Tactical Genius”

Valanciunas can now shoot threes. “He’s a modern-day Draymond Green”, says coach. Opening night. Valanciunas given 8 feet of space to shoot three. Fakes. Nobody moves. Fakes some more. Arena quiet as fuck. Takes two steps forward. Big problem, wasn’t dribbling. Turnover.

Kyle Lowry gambling on defense. RR Blogger: “He’s got to be more disciplined”. Posts screenshots of Lowry gambling. Pornhub tab visible in background. #Exposed

October 6th: Blake Murphy drops article of the century. 10,000 words, 40 GIFs, all kinds of graphs and shit. All about Ronald Roberts. October 7th: Ronald Roberts cut. October 8th: Blake Murphy: “It was worth it”.

Flashback to DeMarre Carroll, July 3rd, “Hopefully it’s not too cold up there”. Present day, October 18th: -26 with the windchill. “What the shit is this?” #WelcomeToCanada

Masai Ujiri took another flyer on a training camp player.

Kyser is a 6-foot-10 power forward who played four years at Louisiana Tech. This past season, Kyser averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and four (!!!) blocks per 40 minutes, while shooting 60.6 percent from the field, good for a PER of 20.7.

Based on his highlights, Kyser seems like a springy four who mostly traits in finishes around the basket. His size is less than ideal for a frontcourt player (only weighs 205 pounds) but it lends to him being extremely quick. As shown in the clip above, Kyser routinely sticks with players on the perimeter before engulfing shot attempts with a tremendous wingspan.

Kyser played in a limited capacity with the Raptors in summer league. He averaged 3.5 points and four rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. That’s an incredibly small sample and I wouldn’t read anything into those numbers. The coaching staff probably liked what they saw out of Kyser in practices and decided to give him an extended look.

Given his contract, Kyser will likely battle Ronald Roberts for a chance to grab the 15th spot on the roster. Kyser and Roberts both fit the mold of hyperathletic undersized power forwards. Giving Kyser a partial guarantee (probably $25,000 like the Raptors gave Will Cherry last year) also likely sweetens the pot for Kyser to sign with the Raptors 905, although that’s pure speculation on my part. The Raptors also signed French swingman Axel Toupane to a partially guaranteed deal last week.

For more on Kyser, check out Draft Express.

Tim Chisholm joins the Rapcast to see if Norman Powell can beat out the already beaten down Terrence Ross for playing time.
(more…)

The Toronto Raptors' Bruno Caboclo dribbles the ball up the court against the Dallas Mavericks during an NBA summer league basketball game Monday, July 14, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Trail Blazers 72, Raptors 64 — Box Score

Despite entering the playoffs as the top seed, the Toronto Raptors bowed out in their first elimination game on Thursday at the hands of Doug McDermott and the Chicago Bulls.

However, since Summer League is almost entirely set up for the purposes of development, the Raptors played yet another game on Friday, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a consolation bracket.

Both teams rested their key starters. The Trail Blazers sat breakout sensation Noah Vonleh and 35-year-old Keith Bogans among others, while the Raptors held out Delon Wright (hamstring), Norman Powell (already reached God status) and Ronald Roberts (hopefully working on his free throws).

What was left were the dregs. The game mostly featured a battle of third-string summer league invitees duking it out in front of a sparsely attended Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The few who did show up mostly came to watch Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira, who I’ll discuss shortly.

As for the game itself, the Raptors played solid defense, but struggled to generate offense in the halfcourt without Powell and Wright. The only capable floor general was Phil Scrubbs, who consistently made nice reads to keep the offense flowing. Toronto led for most of the game, but their offense dried up in the fourth quarter. They shot a ghastly 3-of-17 from the floor, including a sparkling 0-of-7 from deep. Their defense kept them in the game until the last minute, but Trail Blazers guard Andre Dawkins exploded for 12 points in the fourth, including a key triple to put his team up three. He finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.

On to the Brazilians.

Bebe Nogueira

Statline: 4 points (2/3 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 TO, 23 minutes

Bebe’s impact was bigger than what his modest statline suggested. He continued to shine as the Raptors’ interior defender. He showed good help instincts in rotating over and protecting the paint on drives, or when he had to make up for blow bys. He was out-muscled by Daniel Orton (who has a solid 30 pounds on Bebe), but was solid otherwise.

The most impressive aspect of Bebe’s game on Friday was his passing. He effectively operated as the Raptors’ high-post option, a role played by Amir Johnson in recent years. He made smart cuts off pick-and-rolls and swung the ball effectively to keep the offense moving. He had a strong grasp of how the offense worked and it led to some pretty dimes.

This one is my favorite. The Raptors run HORNS action, with an initial pick-and-roll. The swing comes to Bebe, who quickly reverses the court. He fluidly moves into a pick-and-roll, before spotting the Blazers’ trap. So, instead of screening for the ball in tight quarters, Bebe moves into open space, catches a nice bounce pass from Drew Crawford, which forces the Blazers’ big to step up. With that, Bebe fires a quick pass to his man in the dunker’s spot along the baseline.

The actual Raptors ran a lot of HORNS action with two bigs up top. Read more about that here.

Here’s another one of Bebe’s assists.

The impressive part of this play is Bebe’s ability to turn and face the defense, making a move and elevating, before throwing a dump-off in mid-air. It doesn’t look like a lot, but it takes a lot of dexterity, control and vision to make a play like this.

My overall impression of Bebe is the same as I had last year. I think he has shown enough ability to merit a chance at the rotation. He certainly still needs to work on his strength, but he’s a massive hurdle for opponents at the basket on defense and he can rebound quite effectively. Throw in his abilities in pick-and-roll scenarios, and a dash of passing vision, and Bebe could turn into something useful.

Bruno Caboclo

Statline: 12 points (4/16 FG, 2/12 3FG, 2/3 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 TO, 31 minutes

Again, it’s a case where Bruno’s play looked better than his horrid shooting line would suggest. It was certainly an off-night with the jumper, but he showed some flashes.

First off, Bruno continues to wield an incredibly quick trigger finger. As soon as Bruno gets the ball, Bruno shoots the ball. It doesn’t matter if the defender is right in his face — if he catches the ball on the perimeter, the shot is going up. That’s why the statline looks so poor.

Quite frankly, I think it speaks to his unfamiliarity with basketball. Most of the time, the mental calculus for Bruno seems very linear, in that he understands how plays operate, but he doesn’t have the intuitive ability to salvage plays if they’re well defended by going to secondary options on the sets.

But there were some encouraging signs. He showed great awareness on this post-up play, as he catches his defender ball-watching. Bruno makes a backcut and finds himself an easy layup.

Here’s another encouraging sign. It looked somewhat awkward, but Bruno managed to push it all the way to the basket on a fast break using his shaky handles before getting to the basket with a slick lefty finish.

Bruno also busted out a nice Eurostep move, which led to some free throws.

Defensively, Bruno remains somewhat of a mess. He has trouble scaling around screens and sometimes gets beat off the dribble when he plays too close. He’s mostly fine when he sags off, which he can afford to thanks to his hilarious wingspan.

The above clip is a good example. Bruno shows great help instincts by showing help on the drive. But when the Trail Blazers guard finds a spot-up shooter on the perimeter, Bruno is somehow able to make an effective contest despite taking off with one foot inside the paint. The instincts may or may not come, but the length will definitely play.

With that, the Raptors wrap up Summer League with a 3-2 record. Things might have been different had Wright now tweaked a hamstring, but it’s a silly tournament anyway. What’s most important is that we caught a rare glimpse at Bruno and Bebe, while players like Powell and Wright were able to make strong first impressions on fans.

After a humbling and humiliating end to last season, the Toronto Raptors had two specific items on their agenda for the summer.

The first was to improve their defense, which ranked 25th in defensive rating. The second was to make a significant upgrade at a forward position, which saw too many listless performances from Terrence Ross at three and too few healthy games from Amir Johnson at four.

Enter: DeMarre Carroll

Flush with cap room, general manager Masai Ujiri spared no expense. He grabbed the best small forward on the market (LeBron James was never going anywhere) and he paid him handsomely. Carroll will receive $60 million over the next four seasons, an exponential raise his over his last contract worth $5 million over two years. After being the lone Atlanta Hawks starter to not make the All-Star game, Carroll now comes to Toronto as its highest-paid player.

There’s a reason why Ujiri bet big on Carroll. It’s rather obvious, actually. Carroll’s two-way game is exactly the type of player that the Raptors have been hoping to acquire for years. Carroll gives the Raptors an elite 3-and-D player, something the Raptors have lacked over the last 10 seasons. Seriously, look at the list of wings who played more than 1,000 minutes in a season over the last decade:

Alan Anderson, Landry Fields, Jorge Garbajosa, Rudy Gay, Joey Graham (x3), James Johnson (x2), Jason Kapono (x2), Linas Kleiza (x2), Jamario Moon (x2), Morris Peterson (x2), Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright, Terrence Ross (x2)

Carroll brings an end to settling. Last season was all about having too many imperfect players leading to too many tradeoffs. Ross brough shooting but his defense was terrible and was too weak to guard bigger threes. James Johnson had the size to check bigger wings and was much more effective on defense, but he couldn’t shoot and clogged the floor. Carroll marries the best of both worlds.

Defensive prowess

Everyone credits the Hawks’ textbook offense for their 60-win performance, but their defense was just as strong (they ranked sixth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). And just as the Hawks didn’t have a go-to scorer to carry the offense, they also lacked an all-consuming rim-protector to anchor the defense. They relied on smarts and schemes to make it all work. Head coach Mike Budenholzer drilled discipline into his players and to their credit, his players executed to perfection.

There were two main shifts that proved to be integral in the creation of the Hawks we see today: first, a dedication to helping each other on both sides of the floor and second, good offense starts with better defense. The entire team has bought into these ideas, which has resulted in the transcendent play we’ve enjoyed on the court.

– Tony Papa, Peachtree Hoops:

Carroll was as close as the Hawks came to a defensive anchor. He drew the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis. In the playoffs, Carroll checked Joe Johnson, John Wall, Paul Pierce and LeBron James. As Budenholzer described him, Carroll “set the tone” for the Hawks on defense.

We talk a lot about the only way we are going to be good is if we are good on both ends of the court. DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.

– Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, from Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carroll represents the ideal combination size, quickness, strength, intelligence and tenacity as a defender. Standing at 6-foot-8, Carroll has quick feet to stay in front of guards, while having enough bulk to stand up smallball fours. He switches seamlessly and he has great instincts with when to provide help.

Since their bigs were undersized, the Hawks loved to send help from their wings. In the play below, Carroll rotates over to hand Paul Millsap a lifeline against a charging Marc Gasol, before rotating over to challenge Tony Allen’s shot off Gasol’s pass. Carroll then tips the ball to Kent Bazemore to spark the break.

(Courtesy: Peachtree Hoops)

Carroll has excellent awareness. He keeps his head on a swivel while surveying the defense. He doesn’t gamble for steals but when there’s an opportunity to pounce, Carroll is a terror in passing lanes. Here, Carroll carefully watches as the play develops. He’s in position to send help on Tim Duncan when Tiago Splitter first has the ball, but he resets to Danny Green, who drives into the teeth of the defense. Green is met by Millsap, who comes up to take away the lane. That coaxes a pass by Green, but Carroll makes an interception.

The second half of the clip depicts Carroll’s tenacity. The loose ball squirts to Green who somehow spots Kawhi Leonard in the corner. But before Leonard could get off a clean look, Carroll flies in from the paint, before Korver backs him up. Tenacity is a big part of Carroll’s effectiveness. He refuses to quit on plays. That’s why he carries around the moniker of “Junkyard Dog,” because he’s not shy of contact and he’ll straight-up maul opponents.

But it’s not just effort with Carroll. Technique, positioning and discipline play a huge part in Carroll’s success. Despite guarding the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis, Carroll committed just 2.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season. Opponents also shot 4.3 percentage points worse on average on 3-pointers against Carroll. His mark ranked sixth-best in the NBA and easily beat out the Raptors’ wing corp.

Screenshot 2015-07-15 at 5.27.28 PM

Carroll will be asked to reprise the role of go-to stopper for the Raptors. Perimeter defense was a sore spot for Toronto last season, and while Carroll can’t fix that on his own, he gives the Raptors a player to check the best wing scorers in the league. No more Ross on Joe Johnson or Amir Johnson on Paul Pierce. That will be Carroll’s responsibility.

Offensive ability

Carroll knows his role. His number one priority is the defensive end. Play hard, fight for loose balls, create deflections, rotate on defense and everything else will take care of itself. After being humbled through his first few seasons in the league, Carroll came to understand his role, which was something like Bruce Bowen.

[Bruce Bowen] knew that was the way he was going to stick in the NBA, that was how he was going to play, that was how he was going to get paid. That was his ticket. No matter how you were raised, no matter how many 30-point games you had, at some point you have to figure out a way you are going to survive and get on the court. Some people, they figure it out and [learn] that is their best way to stick in the league and to play in the league and, hopefully, play on good teams in the league.

– Carroll, from Chris Vivlamore of the Albany Herald

No disrespect to Bowen, but the Raptors need a little more than that from Carroll. Bowen’s only move on offense was to make an open layup, or to shoot corner threes. He was certainly useful and helped the Spurs win three championships, but the Raptors need more production than that out of Carroll.

The Raptors pitched Carroll on a bigger role in the free agency process.

I think the biggest factor for me was the role on the team. Basically, Masai came in, coach Dwane Casey came in, told me I’m (gonna) have a bigger role. They wanna involve me more in the offense. You know, defense, that’s my calling card, but they want me to play a lot of offense, too. I’ve never had a team really come at me and make offense be a focal point, too.

The Raptors’ pitch jives with something Budenholzer told Carroll earlier in the year. Coach Bud tweaked his offense to squeeze out a few more opportunities for Carroll. He received 43 frontcourt touches per 36 minutes rather than 39, while his usage rate increased (15.2 to 16.9 [nice]) despite the return of Al Horford. For Bud, it was about making Carroll more versatile.

I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I could see a lot of times in practice my game got a lot better. When coach [Budenholzer] brought me in he wanted to label me the Bruce Bowen guy. And now he’s switched it and wants me to be more like Kawhi [Leonard].

– Carroll, from Sekou Smith of NBA.com:

But Carroll’s role effectively stayed the same. He was the fifth option and he hardly ever had the ball. Over 70 percent of Carroll’s possessions came within the flow of the offense, either with spot-ups (34.9 percent), cuts (10.9) or in transition (25). Compare that to isolations, which comprised of just 2.5 percent of his possessions last season.

meta-chart

It’s unclear as to how Carroll will adapt to playing in Toronto. The Hawks and Raptors were polar opposites in terms of sharing the ball. Atlanta ranked third in assist opportunities per game at 49.5, while the Raptors were dead last with 39. Certainly, Carroll will see some decline from the his sparkling numbers from last season, where he posted a true-shooting percentage of 60.3 while turning the ball over on just 9.3 percent of his possessions.

There won’t be many looks like this in the Raptors’ offense.

But that’s not to say Carroll can’t shoulder a bigger role on the offense. For one, Carroll will now become the Raptors’ go-to spot-up option. With the Hawks, the first choice was always to find Kyle Korver, but that made sense given Korver’s superhuman accuracy. But Carroll was pretty good at spotting up last season, scoring 1.18 points per possessions, which ranked him in the 91st percentile.

Here’s an example of Carroll being looked off. Millsap grabs a steal and starts a fast break before hitting Jeff Teague. The obvious pass is to Carroll wide-open on the wing, but Teague never even looked his way. Instead, he finds a trailing Korver.

In Toronto, Carroll will play the role of “Black Kyle Korver,” while operating in many of Terrence Ross’s go-to sets. That’s how Carroll will increase his role. He won’t be a plus-20 usage rate wing scorer, but by moving up a rung on the offense, Carroll should see an uptick in touches from last season.

However, there’s a difference between Korver’s threes and Carroll’s. Most of Carroll’s threes were launched with his feet set off a pass, whereas Korver (and Ross for that matter) caught on the run after running through screens before launching a shot. It’s a slightly different skillset, but Carroll should be up to the task. He has steadily improved his jumper in each of the last two seasons and for a hard worker like Carroll, picking up Casey’s sets shouldn’t be too difficult.

Carroll can also put it on the deck against flying closeouts. He can step in for the pull-up or he can get all the way to the basket and finish. That’s a huge step up from Ross, who loves uncorking a soft push-shot because he avoids contact like the plague. Carroll relishes physical play and isn’t afraid to withstand a hard knock in exchange for two free throws.

Finally, the addition of Carroll should help the Raptors’ transition offense. Again, unlike Ross who never attacked the basket, Carroll is a capable ball-handler who can drive against a defense in transition. He won’t pull out any flashy Eurosteps or crossovers; he prefers to bully his way to the basket with line drives. Still, Carroll is effective on the break, scoring 1.15 points per fast break and he shot 63.1 percent in the restricted area.

Carroll’s role with the Raptors

The Raptors don’t have any grand illusions for Carroll. They’re not asking him to become an all-world scorer or a point-forward playmaker because they don’t need him to be one. The first and second option will still be DeRozan and Lowry, with Valanciunas ranking a distant third. Although they paid a hefty price, the Raptors will ask Carroll to play a familiar but important role: to guard the opponent’s best wing scorer on any given night, to hit open threes and to sprinkle in the occasional drive to the basket against rotating or transitioning defenses.

It’s not a lot, but Carroll will give the Raptors something that the franchise has lacked for the past decade. He’s gives the Raptors a hardworking two-way wing and he should slot in as the perfect role player for this team.

Bulls 84, Raptors 80 – Box Score

The Raptors were eliminated by the Bulls from the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night after they blew an 18-point first half lead.

The Raptors started strong and jumped on the Bulls early through Noman Powell and Bruno Caboclo, the former continuing his Vegas onslaught, while the latter found his shooting touch.  Powell ended up cooling off, finished just 5-16 FG and surprisingly sat for an extended stretch while the Bulls made their run to come back.  He did display glimpses of play that will make you think he’ll be playing meaningful minutes this season.

The Raptors actually shot the higher percentage, dominated the glass but playing without Delon Wright, the main problem for them was TOs, which they committed 19 of and were run back by the Bulls to good effect.  The Raptors had no answer for Doug McDermott who had 28 points on 11-25 shooting, with the majority coming in the second half, and a lot of them against Bruno Caboclo. They also couldn’t cope with Diante Garrett attacking Gary Talton consistently, and creating shot opportunities for guys like Bobby Portis and Cameron Bairstow.

The Raptors will play a consolation game on Friday to round off summer league.

Let’s start with Norman Powell as usual, and let’s focus on skills that are transferable to the NBA, which he displayed plenty of:

Here’s a sweet give-and-go, which you can run with any big. Picture this being run with Patrick Patterson or Luis Scola as part of a horns system, or more simply, on an ad-hoc basis to get a free shot. Powell’s got a drive game so the defense would prefer to go under, and he’s shown this summer league that he can hit that mid-range jumper with confidence.

Here’s a catch-and-shoot out-of-bounds play where he executes that slight step-back at the end to create space and rise over the defense. He gets shot-ready very quickly by taking one purposeful dribble taking him away from the defense. This is a sign of decisiveness that every effective scorer needs to have and, even though it’s just summer league, Powell’s shown he knows what it takes.

The next two plays are him getting blocks via that 6’11” wingspan and pure awareness of what the offense is trying to do. In both situations he’s not the primary defender but has read the situation and has come over to help in the nick of time. He’s clearly an intelligent player that doesn’t just hide on defense by sticking to his man, and is confident in making plays when the initial setup breaks down:

Finally, much has been made of his range and here he knocks down a confident three by lining it up. He shot 32% in college from distance, and this will be what people will force him to do so it’s nice to see him drain one:

Here’s a couple Bruno Caboclo highlights to whet your appetite. He had 15 points on 4-7 shooting and went 6-7 from the stripe which was an improvement. He put it on the floor a lot, and that speaks to his confidence because that is something that wasn’t happening at all last year. I tell myself that it’s the thought that counts when I look at his fluky finish in the second video. He’s moving his feet defensively and there’s clear instruction from the coaches for him to angle offensive players into his arms so he can use them to contest the shot, rather than they going into his body to draw contact. I can’t say it was successful against McDermott, or in general, but at least I believe there’s some coaching going on.  The guy just doesn’t have the strength whatsoever to hold off offensive players right now, and once he gets that, then his length advantage will come into play. Right now he’s just getting pushed around too easily.

Up next, it’s Lucas Noguiera and today he was all about the pass. The Raptors ran a ton of screen ‘n rolls for him and it seemed that passing was his preferred option, even when he could’ve done something else. To his credit, he’s a nice passer and has chemistry with Ronald Roberts and Caboclo, so I give him credit there. I just wonder if he has the confidence to score himself against a defense by pulling off a move or two. I really haven’t seen any of that, but I’ll focus on the positives by showing you instances where he did pass to create:

Here’s a pass he made where I thought he shoud’ve just spun and finished it himself:

Finally, this is where he’s best – basically where he has a free dunk available to him and there’s no defense within shouting distance. This is the low-hanging fruit which is great, but we need him to be a little more decisive and skillful in finishing against defenses.

My favorite Bebe play, though, was the one where they dared him to shoot (with audio):

We’ll round off with some random clips. Here’s Roberts pulling down a pretty impressive rebound over Bairstow. Roberts is a bruiser who struggles to finish in close quarters, and appears to require some runway to utilize that self-proclaimed 46″ vertical. I haven’t seen him go up in traffic and finish strong yet, mainly because he’s usually grounded by his lack of skill in doing so. If you see him as a replacement for Greg Steimsma, he’s a definite upgrade:

During the second quarter when this game was very up-and-down, Jordan Bachynski had a few good moments in a row where he got a couple blocks, got a pass from his teammates (a very rare occasion), and then proceeded to finish. It’s probably the highlight of his career:

Here’s Drew Crawford with a nice play:

This dude faked a FT, I kid you not:

That’s it from me, time to hit the sack. Check more post-game video highlights and interviews here.

As per reports, the Raptors have signed French small forward Axel Toupane (plays for Strasbourg) to a deal which would see him get a training camp invite. Blake has you covered on what a “partially guaranteed” deal really means:

A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.

Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.”

Toupane was undrafted in 2014 and has played two games in summer league averaging 11.5 minutes, 4.5 points and 1.3 rebounds. He went undrafted This would bring the number of guaranteed and partially-guaranteed players to 16 since they signed Ronald Roberts to the same deal. So, at this point we have one training camp cut guaranteed. Here’s a little bit more about the native of Mulhouse, France:

The French guard has made a name for himself by playing hard-nosed defense. With his excellent wingspan, he is a great on-ball defender who can put pressure full-court over stretches. He is very active in the passing lanes and can generate early offenses with his aggressiveness. Offensively, Toupane does a bit of everything but he needs to become more regular as a shooter. He can attack the basket but his jump shot is shaky despite a very high release point. In catch-and-shoot situations, he is more regular but he often loses his balance when going for the pull-up jumper out of the dribble. Toupane’s future could be in a 3&D role on the highest level if he can develop his shooting percentages to a different level as he has all the necessary physical tools to play in the NBA.

There’s also more on Axel Toupane at Scout Basketball:

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Masai Ujiri answered your prayers and signed summer league breakout star Norman Powell to contract!

Terms of the deal were not released, per team policy. Let’s hope Powell signed a 3-year deal, because that would give the Raptors full bird rights to retain him when he develops into the second coming of Dwyane Wade a solid rotation piece. Summer league connoisseur Blake Murphy has you covered with the logic in locking up Powell.

That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.

As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.

It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).

Blake (who is NOT Powell’s player agent, in case you were wondering), also wrote up an excellent player profile on Powell on Monday.

Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.

Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.

Powell has been the Raptors’ best player in summer league action, helping the team to a 3-0 record. Powell drafted with the 46th pick, which the Raptors acquired through the Greivis Vasquez trade. The 22-year-old Powell played four years at UCLA before making the jump. Depending on how the rest of summer league and preseason go, Powell could see some minutes as a backup wing next year.

Jonas Valanciunas said last week that he’s working on improving his quickness and honing his jumpshot. The Raptors have called in Seattle Supersonics legend Jack Sikma to help with Valanciunas’s training.

Here’s Sikma on Valanciunas:

Q: What are you working on with him?

A: Talking with coach Casey, the Raptors would like to see him expand his game, where he has something facing up, not just a back-to-the-basket game. That’s the way I played. I’ve had quite a bit of experience teaching young kids in the league by coaching two or three teams.

Q: Your take on him speeding up his game?

A: There’s two ways to approach that. Number one is physically. I’m sure with the support of the staff, he’s going to get stronger, with his core strength. The other one is to recognize situations, and anticipate a little better, try to get there a little earlier. It’s not just reacting to a situation, but getting to the right spot before it happens and anticipating when it will happen. For bigs, it’s really important and the more time they have in the league, the more time in the league that they have, the more experienced, they better get that. To be in the right position at the rim when there’s someone penetrating, to recognize that it’s coming and to get there in time is really important.

Q: How do you view bigs and the trend of smallball?

A: Well they want to open the floor up. Again, there’s usually one guy inside and Jonas, fortunately, is a good free throw shooter, has good range, it’s not like you have to work on his shot, it’s more working on his balance and pivoting and understanding where these open slots are going to be. And then, to be confident enough to [take the jumper]. I think because of his size, he’s been taught to bang and bang and get close to the basket – and that’s good thing and he’s effective doing that – but he needs more than that if he’s going to last in the game a while.

For all the youngsters (like myself) who aren’t familiar with Sikma, let’s run down his credentials.

Sikma was a seven-time All-Star in the early Eighties with the Supersonics. He was a gifted offensive center who flashed an inside-out game. To give an idea of Sikma’s skill with the jumper, he shot 84.9 percent from the free-throw line and led the league in accuracy at 92.2 percent in 1986-67. Remember, he was a 6-foot-11 center. He even developed a 3-point shot towards the end of his career.

For his career, Sikma averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 33.4 minutes per game. For more on Sikma, I refer you to Sonics Rising:

During that span, between 1978 and 1985, only eight players averaged at least 17 points and 11 rebounds. They were Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Artis Gilmore, Jeff Ruland, Robert Parish, and finally, Jack Sikma. With the exception of Ruland, who had only three seasons where he played half the games, all of the rest have been inducted into Springfield.

When you include a three assists criteria into the mix, only Bird, Ruland, and Sikma remain. Throw in one assist and one rebound, and Sikma stands alone.

For those who are not content with a mere look at his prime and place a premium on career totals, Sikma scored 17,287 points (79th in NBA history), gathered 10,816 rebounds (30th) and blocked 1,048 shots (78th). Only twelve hardwood legends ever put up 17,000-10,000-1,000. Eight of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Three of them (Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett) will surely be. And then there’s Sikma.

Since his retirement, Sikma has served as an assistant head coach for the past decade with the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Supersonics (RIP). He worked with Yao Ming, and if Jonas could come anywhere close to Yao’s game (or Sikma’s game, for that matter), we should all be delighted.

In a bit of unfortunate timing, Delon Wright missed Monday’s Las Vegas Summer League game due to a sore right hamstring. Following full profiles of Bruno Caboclo and Norman Powell in the first two games, the plan called for Wright to get that treatment after the Toronto Raptors took care of the Houston Rockets.

Not surprisingly, the Raptors struggled to find their offensive footing early without Wright, coughing up the ball 11 times in a 14-point first quarter. They lacked cohesion, they played out of control, and while they eventually settled down, the path to baskets was more arduous than it had been in the first two games. Wright was solid in those games, scoring 19 points on 16 field goal attempts, dishing 11 dimes, and grabbing four rebounds and three steals. He got to the line effectively, only committed two turnovers, and his troublesome 0-of-4 mark from outside was really the only complaint you could lodge.

Because free agency opened so quickly after the draft, the chance never arose to finish and publish the post-draft scouting report on Wright that I had prepared. I had went back and watched a bunch of Utah video, re-watched their battle with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, and dug further into Wright’s profiles (as a reminder – I’m our draft lead at theScore, so I was already well-versed with most prospects in the draft, Wright included). With two strong Summer League games submitted and a bunch of material that never got published, consider what follows a post-draft scouting report on Wright, solidified with some recent Vegas highlights.

And man, is Wright unique.

I hate player comparables in general, but it would be particularly tough to come up with one for a skinny 6-foot-5 point guard who never drives the same way twice, jitters all over the court, in and out through seams in the defenses, and willingly bounces off of defenders as you’d expect from someone built far more solid. He’s a very interesting study and comes across as someone difficult to gameplan for, as his success is based a great deal on seeing angles and reading the movement of the opposition, rather than a particularly singular skill or ability.

The first thing that stands out after a few possessions, particularly in transition, is that Wright varies his speed to throw defenders off in pursuit or catch them backtracking too aggressively. This is something Raptors fans should be familiar with from the Jose Calderon days – straight-line speed is great, but varying the pace of an attack and introducing stutter-steps and hesitation dribbles can be just as effective in opening up space in the teeth of a defense.

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Aiding him in that same regard – and this will come up again on defense – is that Wright has great anticipation. He has a knack for reading the bodies of defenders, knowing when they’re on their heels, or when their weight is off balance, and using that as an opportunity to gain an edge.

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It’s not just speed that Wright will vary. He’s almost the anti-Norman Powell in terms of drives, never taking a straight line to any point, instead opting to float in and out of alternate pathways as openings present themselves. Raptors fans may have grown tired of watching players coax defenders into fouls, but dribbling like an amoeba is an effective way to get to the line, one of Wright’s primary strengths.

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He’s not perfect in this regard, of course. He has a tendency to pick up his dribble too early, particularly with his back toward the basket. He’s creative enough and sees the floor well enough to get out of some of these situations, but it’s a bad habit that pops up occasionally.

The more complex the movements and the more steps in the path, the more room there is for error. Wright is generally lauded for his composure and playing in control, and we’ve seen that so far, but defenses are likely to instruct their back-end defenders to employ active hands to combat the constant compass changes, and they’ll get physical with Wright to discourage him from inviting contact.

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One of the major knocks against Wright was his weight, which stood at 181 pounds at the combine. That could leave him susceptible against bigger guards on defense and limits his potential to play the two to a degree, despite a 6-foot-7 wingspan. It also renders him unlikely to finish well in traffic against NBA defenses.

He has a handful of tricks to try to work around this. He uses his length well to protect the ball, holding it very high at the peak of his jump, something that should make him more difficult to block.

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He’ll also bounce away from help defenders as he gathers, which is both good and bad. It may limit his chances of getting blocked, and he looks in control as he fades or leans from contact, but it also increases the difficulty of the shots he’s taking.

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Wright’s also developed an awesome floater game. Seriously, I’d add a caveat or worry about him getting them off over length, but it’s such a fun weapon, I don’t want to. (That’s called “journalistic integrity” in the biz.)

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It’s great that Wright has all these nifty tricks to score in close despite a strength deficiency and draw fouls, because the bulk of his scoring comes insider the 3-point line.

The biggest offensive concern with Wright is whether or not he’ll be able to knock down the NBA triple. The shot itself doesn’t look bad, but he’s incredibly hesitant pulling it up off the dribble, and even in summer league, he’s seemed to be looking for a driving lane when a defender goes under a screen. He’ll need to get far more decisive letting it fly when given that space and, probably more importantly for his rookie season, more confident quickly releasing catch-and-shoot jumpers. The Raptors employ Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, and Wright’s going to need to play alongside them to get run a as a freshman. I think they can comfortably get away with it on defense already, but they’re shaky spacing duos – Joseph has had success in small samples, Lowry hit 35.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks (a little below average), and it’s the biggest concern with Wright’s offense.

His two years at Utah were encouraging in terms of the development of his stroke. He shot 22.6 percent from outside in 2013-14, then 33.3 percent in Nov-Dec of 2014-15, then 36.7 percent from January on. They’re all small samples, but they’re trending in the right direction. His strong free-throw shooting also suggests that he may eventually improve, as free-throw shooting adds predictive value in determining future 3-point percentage for college players.

It’s also possible Wright will lead as a ball-handler even in some two-point guard lineups. The Raptors love sets with dual pick-and-roll threats, and Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams thrived operating dribble hand-offs and swings to get a defense moving horizontally before one of them attacked.

Wright’s a solid ball-handler and a very creative passer. One of the benefits of being a tall point guard is being able to see over defenders more easily, and Wright uses that to his advantage. In concert with his long arms, he’s able to find and execute through difficult passing lanes.

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He’ll also vary the height at which he’s dribbling to see through help defense, get defenders crouching, and then pop up for a quick dish.

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That includes keeping his gather high, allowing him to swing over and around defenders, particularly in transition. He has a solid Eurostep game, and it’s a primary asset in drawing disorganized help, creating easy baskets for others.

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And in general, he’s a creative passer with a really good feel for passing lanes and the timing of cutters and dive men.

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A lot of the same assets that present themselves on offense show up on defense, too. Much the same way Wright extends high to try to finish in traffic or protect the ball when gathering in transition, he extends well when rebounding, and he’s one of more productive rebounding guards in the draft.

The same timing and anticipation he shows driving and passing manifests itself on defense. “Feel for the game” is a tough thing to describe and capture, but Wright decidedly has it. His ability to read the play leads to a lot of his steals – he’ll get some on the ball, too, but he also takes calculated gambles when he sees a player starting to pick up his dribble with the ball unprotected, or the opportunity to jump a passing lane arises. The latter particularly applies in the backcourt, where he’s a hawk on inbound plays like that annoying friend in 2K.

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His strength will be a concern, both on the ball and fighting through screens, but he’s game to try, and he’ll hit the deck to draw a charge.

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His length also helps him closing out on shots, and Wright averaged more than a block per game over his two years at Utah. He blocked 3.5 percent of opponent 2-point field goal attempts when he was on the court, 25th among all players classified as guards who played 500 minutes over those two seasons.

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There remain concerns with Wright. That should be obvious, considering he went 20th overall. He’s 23 and a senior, which teams take to mean the upside is limited. The fact that his numbers declined some in 2014-15 is a little concerning considering his usage rate climbed, though Utah also played at a slower pace, and Wright’s per-100 possession numbers weren’t all that different. His 2-point percentage dropping off is alarming given the trouble some see him having finishing at the NBA level, and his bag of tricks may not work against the longest and smartest defenders. The clearest areas for Wright to work on are his strength and his 3-point shot. It doesn’t matter how herky-jerky your attack, an 82-game schedule is going to be hell at 181 pounds, and bulking up would help him in his areas of strength (drawing fouls) and weaknesses (finishing, fighting through screens).

We need to see more from Wright in an NBA setting to better understand him. When you’re primary assets are feel for the game and basketball IQ, the biggest litmus test is applying those assets against the very top competition. Summer league isn’t that, and while Wright playing surgically is a positive, we don’t really know more than we did a week ago.

The Raptors were said to be very high on Wright, even though they felt the need to add a high-priced backup point guard, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The defense is there, he’s a smart pick-and-roll operator, he’s a lot of fun on the move, and he has the smarts and savvy that make it clear why he was thought to be “NBA-ready” (as much as anyone can be, which is not very much outside of the very elite prospects). it should be fun to see how he responds to better, longer, stronger defenders and more intricate defensive schemes at the next level.

The Toronto Raptors earned the top seed in the tournament portion of Las Vegas Summer League, finishing 3-0 in the round robin with the best “quarter point score” of any undefeated team. The bracket was tough to figure with a 24-team field and just a three-game round robin, but landing as the top seed makes things a little easier.

The Raptors get a bye through to the second round of the elimination stage, which means they won’t play until Thursday (good news if you’re hoping Delon Wright’s sore right hamstring will be good to go). They’ll face the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Chicago Bulls, whom the Raptors already beat, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thursday’s game will tip at 10 p.m. ET and will be available on League Pass. I couldn’t confirm if it’s at Thomas and Mack or Cox, or whether it’ll be televised on NBA TV (you’d hope so).

Should the Raptors win, they’d move on to play again Saturday. And then Sunday. And then the championship comes home Monday.

By this point, Norman Powell has obviously won your heart. One of the breakout stars of Las Vegas Summer League, Powell has turned in three productive games, surprising many with his ability to dominate on the offensive end, and confirming that he can be an active and disruptive defender.

He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness. He’s throwing down everything and helped carry the Raptors to a win on Monday even without point guard Delon Wright in the lineup. He’s stood out since the tournament opened, handling the ball far more than expected in the opener and earning the full player breakdown treatment following his game two performance.

If you want to know more about Powell the player, I recommend clicking that last link, which goes really in depth. As a quick refresher, he’s a great straight-line driver who uses his length and his strength well to initiate contact and finish better than his 6-foot-4 height would suggest he can. He’s smart moving around picks and times his ridiculous first step well to catch defenders off balance or on their heels. He gets some tunnel vision once on the move, but he’s a willing enough passer in the pick-and-roll, and he recognizes safety valve opportunities when he meets traffic inside. Defensively, he uses his near-7-foot wingspan to stay in front of ball-handlers and poke balls free, and his athleticism allows him to make some unexpected blocks and savvy steals. Because he’s quick laterally, uses his length well, and has a strong lower half, it’s not inconceivable that he could help guard three positions at the next level.

The reasons he slid to No. 46 in the draft are fairly obvious: He’s not a great shooter, and he’s a 22-year-old senior. The shot doesn’t look bad at all, and he opened his senior year flashing improvement before regressing. Some organizations believe shooting is one of the more developable skills, and if the Raptors can work to make him even a remote corner threat, then his five-man lineup possibilities expand.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves. Powell should be playing well in Summer League, because he’s either more experienced, more physically developed, or more talented than most of the competition he’s facing. Plenty of players have had Summer League success and failed in the NBA – it’s a small sample, and it comes against weaker competition. In Powell’s case, a 2-of-5 mark from outside means almost nothing, and LVSL opponents haven’t afforded him the opportunity to prove he can finish against NBA length and cut into the teeth of a sophisticated NBA defense. Failure is far more telling in this environment than success is, which is why I’ve tried to focus on specific skills in the player breakdowns rather than just performance. And Powell’s impressing.

His north-south, bowling-ball style probably won’t work against starting-caliber players, but it should be effective enough to draw fouls against bench units. And his defensive versatility and on-ball play should make him a useful piece down in the rotation.

To be entirely clear, none of Powell’s performance suggests he’s going to be a star or even a top-eight rotation player. He’s been very good, and it’s encouraging, enough that you’d be justified in thinking he’s deserving of a roster spot, as I do. Don’t get carried away, though, and start suggesting he’s better than DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross. Rookies, by and large, struggle, and Powell will face an adjustment period in the NBA if he makes it.

But as a 12th man of sorts – he’d probably be ahead of Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira on the depth chart, and I’m not sure Ronald Roberts’ partial guarantee means anything as far as the regular season goes – he could have a place. If the Raptors don’t want to run two-point guard sets, Powell’s path to playing time is more clear, otherwise he’d likely be the fifth or sixth wing in the rotation.

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

For a guy taken midway through the second round, that’s still a good landing spot, and teams are generally thrilled to find any useful player with a second-round pick. I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.

That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.

As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.

It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).

I’d also consider adding additional guaranteed salary for 2015-16, since the Raptors have cap space they seem unlikely to use. The hope would be that by adding salary in year one, Powell becomes more amenable to non-guaranteed second and third years.

There are other options, too, like guaranteeing the first two years at the minimum to secure two non-guaranteed seasons in years three and four, and the team may value a cheap fourth season over maintaining his RFA status after year three. That’s a tough trade-off to navigate for Powell, as he’ll be in his prime at age 25 in his fourth year – his RFA rights would be great, but a season at the peak of his development curve, at $1.1 million after the cap explodes, is enticing.

But a lot of this depends on whether the team feels the need to offer anything but the minimum in non-guarantees, how high they are on the player, and what Powell’s risk preference and willingness to go overseas are.

Powell may prefer a shorter deal if the Raptors aren’t willing to offer guaranteed money in year two and three, but the Raptors hold most of the leverage here. K.J. McDaniels took a risk in signing his one-year, non-guaranteed retention offer with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, making him a restricted free agent this summer, but that’s incredibly risky. The Raptors are only required to offer Powell a one-year, $525,093 contract without any guarantee to retain his rights, but he’s made a case for more security than that, and he may opt to play internationally if that’s all the Raptors are offering.

The team knows better than I do how valuable that modicum of cap space is relative to the flexibility of having Powell’s Bird rights, but that’s the path I’d take right now. Powell should be able to contribute as a defender and transition threat deep in the wing rotation, and if his jumper comes along, it’s not inconceivable that he could work his way to backing up a position full-time down the line. Finding a player who can contribute in any role is the goal with second-round picks in most cases, and locking Powell up with the type of friendly deal teams enjoy with second-round picks is a logical next step.

Norman Powell: Quickly becoming That Dude at Las Vegas Summer League.

The UCLA product turned in another strong performance Monday as the Raptors improved to 3-0, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and adding five rebounds and a pair of blocks. He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness.

Zarar did a nice job catching you up with the game recap, including several impressive Powell GIFs. Our man Dawkins has come correct with a full video highlight package, including several of Powell’s awesome dunks:

I did a full player breakdown/scouting report on Powell following the team’s second game, and little has changed since. He should be playing well given he’s a physical 22-year-old senior playing against less experienced and/or less talented players, but it’s been very encouraging nonetheless. Powell has a terrific straight-line drive, moves well around picks, and is a terrific multi-position defender.

I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.

Raptors 95, Rockets 87 – Box Score

The story of the summer league so far had been Norman Powell and it continues to be so. He had 19 points, 5 rebounds and shot 7-11 FG as the Raptors survived a lethargic start where they were down a dozen early to come back and take care of the Rockets. They were without rookie Delon Wright (sore right hamstring), and it looked early on that the shaky point guard play might cost them the game, with the Raptors committing 14 turnovers and giving up 17 points off of them inside the first 10 minutes.

Things soon normalized as Houston couldn’t keep up their frenetic early pace and pressure, and the Raptors talent helped them ease ahead.  The game got tight late but some key plays from key players gave the Raptors enough of a push to see through, even though they ended the game on a low. I think Blake has pretty much covered all that’s needed to be said about Powell, so I’m left with scraps to work with. Hence, I’ll resort to video to paint a picture of what the Raptors, and specifically Powell, were up to.

We’ll start with Bruno, who misses a shot here but man, is this guy playing with some confidence? There’s no hesitation in his catch-and-shoot moves, and he’s comfortable going left when the defense shades him that way.

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Here’s something you would’ve never seen last year – Bruno catching it, nailing it, and then staring down a bench.

Speaking of going left, here’s Powell who is simply more mature and experienced than anybody else on the court. Back-to-back Sweet Sixteen experiences and that senior pedigree is paying off. I realize that he’s “supposed to” be better than a lot of these players just based on experience, but he’s looking like a man amongst boys out there in terms of skill, composure, and even athletic ability. I had picked him to be a non-factor in summer legaue and I was flat-out wrong.

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If end-to-end drive’s are your thing, he’s got you covered. I don’t think it’s premature to say that he’s impressed enough in just three games that if he doesn’t land on the Raptors roster, he’s going to find a home on an NBA team, so with two spots remaining, I say they belong to Roberts and Powell.

Andrew had made a great point on the latest podcast about how his 6’4″ height doesn’t really matter on account of his reach and wingspan, which stands at 6’11”. There’s no better play to illustrate that than this block he got at the end of the half despite being in a disadvantageous position. He also pulled down some contested rebounds and really surprised everyone with his activity levels, even though after two games they should’ve seen it coming:

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And if that sort of athleticism isn’t enough, he took it to the next level on the break by cocking it back and tomahawking it, which put any questions about his lack of height being an issue to bed when it comes to finishing hard:

Glen Rice Jr. (7-18 FG, 11-11 FT, 28 points) kept the Rockets in it and they were hovering around 7-10 points, but it was plays like these that helped pull the Raptors through. First, some great big-to-big passing between Roberts and Noguiera, which materialized in a great bucket after the former attacked the open space at the top of the key:

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There was Bruno actually venturing inside the paint and getting a fortuitous put-back:

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Here’s my favorite play, though. Bruno tries to dribble it up the court, gets trapped and loses it. Instead of pouting about a foul, he charges back and gets a great block and makes it look rather easy:

The Rockets made a run to cut it to three, but it was Lucas Noguiera that had the final say.  First, after finishing again on a big-to-big pass with Roberts, and then staying home and making a sound defensive play – both of which are seen in the video below:

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Some quick thoughts:

Powell: Great at driving, excellent composure and seems to be a step ahead of everyone in reading what’s happening on the court.  He only had one assist, and honestly, probably didn’t look to pass much either.  He’s very hesitant on his three-point shot and prefers to drive, but I don’t think it’s going to keep him from the NBA this season.  I would’ve liked to see him cover Glen Rice Jr. and see if he could bother him on defense, and it would allow us to get a slightly better sense of his defensive abilities, but really, he’s shown enough already.

Bruno: Long, lanky, full of confidence and totally afforded to play through his mistakes. He’s like a free-range cow, allowed to roam and do whatever he wants in the interest of getting fat, and it’s great. A poor shooting game from him (3-11), but at least he doesn’t look like completely lost out there.  He moves his feet well on defense, and you can tell that he’s being coached to play the angles so that he can make use of his reach to contest the shot.  Would like to see a bit more drive from him instead of settling for that three, but that very well could just be instruction as integrating him as a 3-point shooter is probably the easiest thing for the coaching staff to do at this point.

Bebe: Very active, positionally aware, and staying home on defense (4 blocks).  The timing is a bit off on the rebounds but it doesn’t really show in summer league where he can just reach over guys to get the rebound as he did 13 times tonight.  In the NBA, he’d get pushed around a lot more and definitely needs to get stronger to compete in the paint more.  His mobility is great and he was able to pressure guards up top and recover, but that could be a false positive since the offenses here aren’t exactly efficient and take forever to move the ball, affording Bebe ample time to recover and setup.

Roberts: Smart player, willing passer, and very aggressive in tight quarters.  He’s perfect end-of-the-bench material.  Sorry, Chuck, but you’re out.

Honorable Mentions: Gary Talton had a nice run, finishing over traffic and setting up Powell a couple times. Phil Scrubb had his best game going 3-5 for 10 points, and doing some excellent ball-handling all game long, and negotiating Houston’s pressure well.  Good luck to the Canadian.

Opposition: Obviously, Glen Rice Jr. stood out with his shooting and ability to draw fouls using that fake.  Montrezl Harrell started slow but persisted and his physical presence is such that once the Raptors defense wore down, he was able to chew them up inside as Houston guards drove to deliver short passes in the paint.  The guy could end up being a beast in the league and reminded me a little of a young Ben Wallace, or maybe Nene. I don’t know, it’s 1AM and Ramadan is kicking my ass.

Summer league has a five-game guarantee, so two more games to go at the minimum.

Last but not least, there were a couple Raptors fans in the arena who were loud and clear with their chants, purple jerseys intact.

They also interviewed Jonas Valanciunas in the first half and the big man spoke about extending his range, which was cute. It appears he’s being encourages to become a “modern NBA center” and move his game away from the rim. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that, except I don’t feel too good because we might be doing a square peg/round hole thing here.

Update: Full Norman Powell and Lucas Noguiera Highlights:

JV was standing around the edge of the court at summer league and somebody found him, butchered his name, and asked him a couple questions.
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Luis Scola talked to the media, and the questions I’ve transcribed below aren’t far from what was asked.

Why you come here?

I feel like they really wanted me. I always like your team. Last couple teams you guys had great teams. Played really, really well. The city’s amazing.

How come you not a broken down piece of metal by now?

Nothing really special, trying to stay healthy. Working hard, I believe working hard is the key to everything. It’s been working for me latestly, let’s se [if it still works].

I have a few injuries but for the most part, I stay healthy.

You mind being the old badass sumbitch? Wutyougon do here?

I’ve been the oldest guy the last couple of years, so kind of makes sense. It’s going to happen more and more. It doesn’t really matter. As long as I can play, I can practice, and contribute to the team that’s all that matters.

I’m not sure. Probably will be doing the same things I’ve been doing all these years. I believe that pretty much everyone knows what I’m going to bring to the team. It’s going to be along the lines of what I’ve been doing on other teams in the past. AT 35, I’m not goint to get extremely better, and I believe I’m not going to get extremely worse.

You talked to coach?

I spoke with him before signing. We crossed emails after.

You sure you can play?

I think I can play, I feel like my legs are OK. I don’t think I have limitations. We’ll see, we have a talented team and there needs to be minutes for everybody.

You sad about gettin’ minutes slashed?

For the last couple years, it was a little frustrating to play less minutes than I’m used to, but it makes me grow, focus more on what you do when you’re playing instead of how much I play. I expect to be a big part of the team, I expect to be a big part of the rotation.

A little bit, you just got to get used to the time of the game you’re playing. What changes is when you play less you have to produce when you play your first minutes, and that’s sometimes a little challenging.

Toronto, you like?

I was always impressed by Toronto, I believe Toronto is a great city. Not only a beautiful city in terms of buildings and what the city offers, but also culturally it’s great. People from all over the places, people from around the world, people who know about different cultures and know how to interact with them.

So, being a guy that is from another country and having a family [like] one of my kids is American, one of my kids is Spanish, and two of my other kids are Argentinian, so Toronto could be a great fit for us.

Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action.

Norman Powell dropped 19 in an 81-66 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday – read a full recap with player breakdowns and GIFs here – two days after putting up 20 in a 90-68 victory over the Sacramento Kings. In 52 minutes of action, he’s scored 39 points on 15-of-26 shooting, hit 2-of-3 from outside, taken 10 free-throw attempts, grabbed nine rebounds, made three steals, and blocked three shots, all while committing only three turnovers.

That’s very strong production, particularly since he’s also playing some of the best perimeter defense of the tournament, though that’s hardly a high bar. He’s been very impressive, and for those who entered Summer League already believing Powell to be an NBA-caliber player, he’s done little to dissuade. For those who didn’t – and it sure seems there were plenty given the number of people who inexplicably thought DeAndre Daniels was a better bet to make the regular season roster – it seems he’s been doing some convincing. My phone, my twitter mentions, and my DMs all contained plenty of Norm talk through the weekend, and fans from hardcore to casual have been impressed.

I was higher on Powell than most entering draft season, primarily because I’m a UCLA fan and got a good, long look at him defending the top wings in a quality Pac-12 conference. I thought he was worth a second-round flier on the chance he develops an outside shot, something he flashed early in his senior season but seemed to lose as the year wore on. The three-year shooting sample is large enough and poor enough to be worrisome, and the Raptors know all too well how tough it can be to give wings who can’t space the floor heavy run. Role players without a jumper exist, and the defense and finishing ability were intriguing enough that I had Powell going at No. 47 in my final mock draft for theScore.

So when the Raptors took Powell at No. 46, that seemed about right. Earlier in his career, his stock had pushed toward the fringe of the first round, and word was that he had shot the ball well in the pre-draft process. Considering how well he likely worked out against other guards and wings – I can’t imagine many prospects more impressive in an intimate setting that favors athleticism and motor – and how his profile reads like the inside cover of head coach Dwane Casey’s trapper keeper, Powell seemed a good flier, and for as much as any rookie can really be NBA-ready, his being a 22-year-old didn’t hurt.

All of that is to say, his success this weekend isn’t all that surprising. At 22, as a senior, with body and athleticism as primary attributes, Powell should have been expected to succeed. I always maintain that success at Summer League is less encouraging than failure is discouraging – lol, Terry – but that doesn’t mean good performances mean nothing. Powell’s playing very well in the situation put before him, and he’s taken on a bigger role than I expected given the number of NBA-caliber players on the roster.

The biggest thing that jumps out about Powell is his straight-line driving ability. With a ridiculous first-step and serious strength for such a compact frame, Powell barrels downhill at defenders, putting them on their heels and leaving them with little recourse with which to defend. There’s some concern that a north-south approach won’t fly against NBA starters, but he should be able to put lesser defenders in a position to foul, especially if he gets a favorable matchup (not unrealistic given his perceived lack of shooting).

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That same driving approach manifests itself in transition, where Powell was one of the most effective scorers in college basketball. He has a good eye for seams in an unset defense, and while his 6-foot-4 stature makes it tough to get visible looks in tight, he uses his length very well to keep the ball protected.

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The Raptors have given him plenty of opportunity to show in Summer League that he can work as a secondary ball-handler, too. Even with Delon Wright on the floor, Powell has been tasked with running the pick-and-roll. He’s not the most adept passer – he can identify drop-off opportunities when in close but can miss good passing lanes once he starts his drive – but he’s deadly if given the space to pick up steam against a flat-footed defender or with a big switched on to him.

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These are all things we knew Powell could do relatively well. Most encouraging, in the smallest of sample sizes, has been his ability to can jumpers. Defense and drawing fouls are great, but playing a wing who can’t shoot – especially on a roster that already has DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson – is tough to work around. Eminently talented players are worth making such lineups work; role players probably can’t ask a team to sacrifice or be flexible on their behalf.

Powell’s shooting pulling up off the bounce was serviceable, if inconsistent, at UCLA, and he’s seemed comfortable in that regard in Vegas.

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Powell also knocked down an open catch-and-shoot transition three Sunday, and his release looked improved from his time at Pauley Pavilion.Criticized some for releasing his jumper too late (on the way down) – a death knell for an undersized player – Powell is now letting fly closer to the peak of his jump.

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If Powell can regularly can open looks – and again, he shot 31.4 percent on threes over four years, so that’s not a certainty – he should be able to carve out a roster spot. His ball-handling isn’t the sharpest but it’s clearly an area the Raptors have him working, and his attack game could make him a valuable second-unit piece.

It’s his defensive that got him drafted, though. The 6-foot-4 height makes him seem undersized even for the two, but with great lateral quickness, a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and an 8-foot-7 standing reach, Powell is functionally much bigger. He’s strong, too, and fights through and over screens well. He can get a little too reachy or lungy when he senses the opportunity for a steal, but he does so while staying in front of his man rather than jumping his check.

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And the gambles he does take are worthwhile. He averaged nearly two steals as a senior, and with his open-floor abilities, the occasional jumped lane is a worthwhile risk.

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He’s also a smart shot-blocker, though he rarely makes a rejection on the ball. He’s not Dwyane Wade or anything, but the threat of a side-swipe or late-help block is there, and if he can pick it clean, he’s gone.

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Analytic models didn’t love Powell because of the lack of an outside shot, a good but non-elite steal rate, and his advanced age. Models can only go off of the inputs available, and so it’s not like Powell becoming a rotation player would be an indictment on that analysis. He does do things well that are hard to quantify, particularly that he can be a good and versatile man-to-man defender. There may also be something to be said for role similarity between college and the pros, as Powell wasn’t “the guy” at UCLA and may more easily adapt to playing a more narrowly defined role in the NBA.

Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.

Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.

Blake Murphy and Andrew Thompson join the Rapcast and we round up all the signings, trades, and summer-league happenings.  There’s too much content here to describe in a list but I’ll spend a minute doing so anyway, here you go. BTW, Blake does not sound like Darth Vader in real life, that’s just his mic doing things.

Some of the topics in a packed three-part Raptors Weekly.

  • DeMarre Carroll signing and impact
  • Did Raps overpay for Cory Joseph?
  • Can Dwane Casey actually use the new players to good effect?
  • Lou Williams not being re-signed, or even offered a contract
  • Ross taking over Lou as scorer role, Casey quotes
  • Luis Scola the new starting PF?
  • Norman Powell taking no prisoners in summer league
  • Summer league performances – how to read them
  • Bruno Caboclo update
  • DeAndre Daniels’ NBA feasibility
  • Bismack Biyombo and whether he can catch a ball
  • Did the Raptors actually improve as a team? Expectations for next season
  • Enes Kanter and Robin Lopez contracts and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas’ upcoming deal
  • Much more

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (10:35, 85 MB). Or just listen below:

The Toronto Raptors have reportedly signed Ronald Roberts to a partially guaranteed contract. We broke that signing down here earlier, and a commenter posted the following video of Roberts that we just couldn’t let live in the comments section alone.

This is a video of Roberts’ dunk exploits from Team Flight Brothers, who I believe were also tied to Terrence Ross around the time of his Slam Dunk Contest win.

So yeah, check it out. And if nothing else, the 6-foot-8 Roberts, who claims to have a 46-inch vertical jump, can participate in the Dunk Contest if he’s on the roster come February.

Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action. After dethroning the defending champion Sacramento Kings on Friday, Raptors 702 were at it again Sunday, defeating the Chicago Bulls 81-66. The Summer Raps are now 2-0 with their final group stage game set to go Monday at 10 p.m. ET against the Houston Rockets with a bye into Round 2 of the elimination portion of the tournament right there for the taking.

Of course, Summer League results don’t matter a great deal. Wins are better than losses, but the only tangible value in victory is that it affords you more chances to play. The further a team goes in the tournament, the more reps their young, developing players get.

So, as we did with Game 1 on Friday, we’ll focus far more on the relevant prospects than the flow of the game or specific in-game strategy, except where it pertains to Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell. As a reminder, DeAndre Daniels suffered a Jones fracture in a pre-tournament practice and won’t be suiting up, while Philip Scrubb is a CIS player no matter how much you may want to see him succeed, and the rest of the team has little in the way of players with a chance to make the NBA roster. Save for Ronald Roberts, who has a shot, too, apparently. Game 1 saw us give Bruno the full breakdown treatment and hit the others more briefly.

Tomorrow morning, Norman Powell gets the full breakdown. Here’s everything else from Game 2.

This Raptors team is good. Seriously. Having a pair of senior rookies, a high-performing D-Leaguer, and a pair of raw sophomores in their second go-round of the tournament has Toronto looking far more poised than the two teams they’ve ran into. They’ve played very under control, forced a lot of turnovers on the defensive end, and generally outworked Sacramento and Chicago. Sunday saw the Bulls make a bit of a comeback attempt when Doug McDermott got red-hot, but the Raptors won every quarter but the third and cruised through the final mintues of the game.

At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern. And once again, there was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Sunday.

Ronald Roberts plays his way into a deal

The Saint Joe’s product and D-League rebounding machine has impressed enough through two games to land a partially guaranteed contract. Read more about him here.

Bruno Caboclo: Ballin’ out, swear he used to be shy

The nice thing for Jesse Murmuys down at Raptors 905 is that he’ll never struggle trying to get Bruno Caboclo to shoot. Shammgod love him, Caboclo wants to let it fly every single time he touches the ball. Which is awesome, really. The games he’s playing in now and the reps he’s getting are low-leverage ones, and I’d argue it’s far better to have to reign a developing player in than get him to be more aggressive. Caboclo is one a point in his development curve right now where all that really matters is reps – he’s spent a year learning the language, adjusting to a new country, watching NBA basketball for the first time, and refining his skills, and the next year will be all about getting him playing time he’s had precious little of in his career.

Caboclo took 13 shots in his 30 minutes Friday, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-13 and a 3-of-8 mark from outside. He didn’t do a whole lot else, adding two rebounds and a steal, and overall it wasn’t quite as impressive a performance as Friday. The 3-point shot really does look good though. He’s very decisive with letting it fly, which can make it difficult to defend – with his length and a relatively quick release, it could be an unblockable weapon if he’d bring his release point up a little higher.

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The Raptors clearly want to encourage him to shoot from outside, even running a nice play in the fourth quarter to set him up for a corner look.

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His jumper looks good beyond just spot-up attempts, too. While he’s not terribly effective pulling up off the dribble, when he can stay in control enough to get a pull-up off, there’s no issue with his release. Any struggles on that front are handle-related, not jumper-related. He stuck a nice FT-line jumper in a pick-and-roll with Bebe (the future!) early on.

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His handle is something he’ll need to continue putting in a lot of work on. Friday’s game saw him commit a couple of turnovers when his dribble got too high or he was indecisive when he began driving, and he showed Sunday that his dribble can get too wide, too. Long arms are a terrific weapon, but he’ll have to work on keeping the ball tighter to his body to avoid getting the ball poked free.That’s the primary point I would emphasize on offense right now, as the jump shot is coming along and he’s been as heady as you can expect off the ball, making a few decent cuts and recognizing when to float toward and away from the basket as plays develop.

Defensively, he’s still a lot of arms. Those arms are effective, of course, and they can help make up for a lot of minor mistakes. He’s able to sit back off of his man some to help him corral drives, knowing he’ll be able to quickly and effectively close out on any shot. His length also makes it difficult to get too mad at him for leaving a pair of shooters open outside to be the fourth body into the paint on a drive, because things like this wind up being the result:

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In terms of positioning, Caboclo remains quite out of control moving around the defensive end. He’s a bit of a whacky inflatable arm flailing tube man when change positions, and Doug McDermott was able to power through him on a drive because Caboclo’s footwork was all over the place. But as with all things Caboclo right now, the context of his development is important to remember. The fact that he’s recognizing his proper coverages and switches in pick-and-rolls is a diversion from 2014

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Including Sunday, he’s now played 331 minutes between Summer League, preseason, D-League, and NBA ball. At 19 and given where he came from, the fact that he’s showing improvements and looks like one of the better players on the floor is encouraging, even if there’s still a long way to go.

Read more about Caboclo’s Summer League opener here.

Delon Wright outplays his numbers, impresses again

10 points and two assists with 3-of-9 shooting in 20 minutes doesn’t jump off the page, but Wright’s game jumped off the screen for the second outing in a row. The 23-year-old senior already seems too advanced for this level of competition, which means he’s meeting expectations. The reality for a guy like Wright is that he’s in a low-reward environment here. He’s older and more experienced than most of the other prospects, and he’s more talented as a first-round pick than most of the journeymen. The questions about his game – whether the step up in competition from Utah would be tough, whether more physical NBA defenders would limit him, and whether he has upside remaining to tap into, can’t really be answered in Vegas.

But damn if he isn’t trying to win some hearts, anyway.

Wright is a blast to watch. It’s kind of strange to say that about an “NBA-ready” (Note: That term should always read “more ready than other rookies but still a rookie”) point guard who’s heralded for his defense and his in-control style of play, but Wright’s a perfectly entertaining blend of composure and funk. For as steady as he is, he doesn’t do much that looks normal, and it seems to be ingratiating him to fans on Twitter.

Being unorthodox seems to help Wright make up for somewhat middling athleticism. Instead of blowing by guys, he varies the tempo of his drives, stopping and starting to lull and confuse defenders.

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Instead of bullrushing through defenders to the hoop, he uses his length to swing the ball around them and glide past in transition.And instead of leaping over or cramming on defenders, he uses his body to create separation and protect the ball, out-waiting help defense for tricky banks and floaters. That doesn’t always work – he may struggle when longer defenders are waiting at the rim and he had a pair of turnovers – but here’s betting that it will more often than not.

He seems to have a terrific knack for reading the play, and his awareness of the movement of others is striking. Defensively, his anticipation if off the charts, so his elite steal rate wasn’t all based on his length, as he’s able to take calculated gambles. Offensively, his quick changes of direction help him get defenders off balance, and his ability to identify that helps him draw awkward fouls, with his foul rate representing one of his primary assets. He also just does some cool, funky stuff:

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And he fed Bebe Noguiera an alley-oop (kind of), which leads us to…

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Lucas Nogueira has up-and-down night

After his opener was cut short by left hamstring fatigue – head coach Dwane Casey lamented Nogueira’s trouble with minor injuries some on the broadcast – it was somewhat surprising to see Nogueira get 26 minutes Sunday. He shot 4-of-7 for eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds, dished two assists, made two steals, and blocked three shots.

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That’s great production and, like Friday, Nogueira showed some marked improvement in terms of his physicality, his offensive awareness, and his ability to put the ball on the floor a little bit.

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He also showed some hesitation with the ball on the block or in the short corner, often hesitating for several seconds before making a move. He had the ball poked loose on one such possession and nearly caused a shot-clock violation on another, and it’s clear he’s still more instinct than finesse right now.  That’s to be expected given how little he’s ever played with the ball in his hands, but lapses on the defensive end are somewhat less forgivable. It didn’t happen consistently, but getting lost is pretty inexcusable.

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There was also one play where Bobby Portis – who looked terrible (in one game), for Raptors fans still clamoring for him – ran directly into a backpedaling Nogueira, sending him backward and opening up space for a missed shot at the rim. Nogueira’s gotten much stronger, but he needs to work on how to use that in one-on-one situations when the instinct is to wait and try to block the shot.

It was a mixed bag for Nogueira, and I’m probably nitpicking a bit too hard considering I’ve been left to write a lot of positive stuff this weekend. I’d say he’s shown enough, combined with his ACB experience, that the team can enter the season with him as their third center and call it a reasonable dice roll.

Check back tomorrow for a full Powell breakdown – and a podcast! – and then coverage of Monday’s game against the Rockets.

The Toronto Raptors continue to overhaul head coach Dwane Casey’s staff.

The team is set to hire Andy Greer as an assistant, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Greeg joins Rex Kalamian as a recent hire and is expected to handle the role of defensive coordinator of sorts, standing as Casey’s primary defense-oriented charge. That’s great news for the Raptors, as Greer is a member of the Jeff Van Gundy-Tom Thibodeau coaching tree and was one of Thibodeau’s top assistances in recent years. Greer’s been in the NBA since 2001, working as an assistant for the Knicks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Bulls.

The Raptors removed Bill Bayno and Tom Sterner from the staff following the season, and Jesse Murmuys has been named the team’s D-League head coach. Nick Nurse and Jama Mahlalela are the primary assistants held over from 2014-15, and it’s possible Toronto could add another member to the staff before the season begins.

Nov 12, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers forward Tarik Black (10) shoots a free throw during the game against the North Florida Ospreys at FedExForum. Memphis Tigers defeated the North Florida Ospreys 81-66. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE

Dwane Casey wasn’t kidding.

The Toronto Raptors head coach said Sunday that Ronald Roberts has a shot, which was an interesting comment. He’s the fifth-most notable Raptor on the Summer League team, sixth if DeAndre Daniels were playing, and he seemed more like LVSL roster filler than someone getting a legitimate opportunity.

But the Raptors apparently want a longer look.

A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.

Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.” Roberts, who has clearly impressed in summer workouts and ingratiated himself to Casey and the rest of the staff with his motor, will play out the Vegas tournament and probably join the team for training camp in the fall. Which is awesome, but it seems unlikely this far out that Roberts makes the team. They don’t really need another big if James Johnson is being considered primarily a four now and, more importantly, Roberts may be a Quad-A player. That’s a baseball term for someone too good for Triple-A but not good enough for the majors, and I think it’s fitting for Roberts, who doesn’t strike me as an NBA player quite yet.

Roberts is an unbelievable athlete, helping him play power forward despite not being all that big. He’s 6-foot-7 and boasts a 7-foot wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, and his incredible bounce makes for terrific rebounding production. He averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior at Saint Joseph’s in 2013-14 and averaged 17.5 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 69 percent (nice) in the D-League last season. He also got a preseason look from the Philadelphia 76ers but didn’t get enough run to really evaluate him (it was a similar deal to this – three years, $35,000 guaranteed, two non-guaranteed years after that).

Through two Summer League games, he’s played 44 minutes and been off of the ground for all of them. He can really get around the floor and is always jumping, either for a block or a pass or a rebound or a loose ball. His energy seems infectious, and he’s proven a great fit alongside the other high-energy Raptors 702 players. He’s also scored 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting and pulled in 20 rebounds, and shown a real willingness to bang inside, especially on Sunday against some larger Bulls players. He’s flashed a decent offensive arsenal, too, torching Doug McDermott for a few plays and making the most of opportunities underneath the basket.

He has passed the ball exactly zero times so far in Summer League, which may be a bit of a concern. Maybe now that he has a deal, he’ll be more amenable to letting some others shine. The more realistic scenario is that he’s not a particular heady offensive player, which is fine for the role he’d be expected to play if he made the team.

That role, by the way, would be as an energy big off the bench. Use your athleticism, work that unbelievable offensive rebounding talent, bang with opposing bigs, and use up your six fouls. There are a handful of guys each season who carve out that kind of role, and the Raptors generally like to employ one. He hasn’t shown a whole lot of skill, but a fifth or sixth big man doesn’t necessarily need to.

I’m not ruling out Roberts making the team, but I’d rate it as pretty unlikely. Assuming Norman Powell makes the squad, the Raptors already have 14 players, and Roberts would make three rookies to go along with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Noguiera. That’s a lot of untested talent on one roster, and I’d guess the Raptors look at a few veteran journeymen type for that 15th spot in training camp, too.

In the meantime, hey, good for Roberts. He’s a lot of fun to watch, and it’ll be nice to get to keep an eye on his development a few months longer.

Having been starved for a Toronto Raptors win coupled with being severely sleep deprived Friday’s win was a welcome antidote to my blahs. I’m also well aware I’m likely guilty of wearing those same rose colored glasses Blake mentions in his article, but it’s hard not to take positives away from the Raptors first Summer League victory.

To be fair, I’ve been in a bit of a funk since our absolute drubbing in the playoffs. What stung the most was the way we lost the final game of the series. Sure, we’d been slipping defensively arguably for more than a season, but I’d never seen our squad (post Rudy Gay trade) simply give up.

It was obvious sweeping changes were due this summer and that likely one of my favorite players would be sacrificed in the reshuffling. While I’ll miss his ambassadorship and team commitment hearing Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge extol on Amir Johnson I’m happy he’s going to a situation where he’ll be appreciated. (see video below)

Still, the reality is his new contract ($24M) ceiling precluded his resigning, especially considering we’ve added 3 players for an additional $800k (Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph).


Suffice to say, while anxious to get a view of our new rookies and Air B&B’s growth I hadn’t quite shaken off my lingering depression of the post playoff oust and my Johnson departure hangover.

Like many instances in life, entering a situation without preconceived expectations it often produces a positive result. To wit, the progress of the Brazilian youngsters and first look at Delon Wright and Norman Powell renewed my hopes this franchise is evolving.

Granted it’s just Summer League, but here are my observations from the first foray in Vegas:

Focus On 4 Players and The Coach:

Coach Jesse Mermuys: I’ve heard Mermuys has a good rapport with the players and works tirelessly with them to progress their games. He’s set to be the 905 D-League coach, so I watched to see if anything stood out. First, he mentioned in an interview he made things too difficult for the players last season, so he chose to simplify things this time round. Hey what a novel idea, a coach who learns from their mistakes.

I noted he would grab a player as soon as they came off the floor immediately explaining what they’d done wrong. He also called appropriate time outs to stop opponent runs. Overall, it feels like he’ll be a good fit for the 905 squad.

Lucas Nogueira: Bebe was a premature exit having irritated his hammy (he called it hamstring fatigue). The box score says 2 blocks, but it sure felt like a lot more, plus he changed a lot of shots. He rebounded well, set some decent screens and maybe I’m crazy but at times I felt like I was watching a young Amir. I’d like to see him get real minutes this year on the roster and just hope the groin/hamstring issues aren’t a recurring problem.

Bonus: He’s bulked up and appears to have a better handle making a couple of in close passes I wasn’t expecting.

Bruno Caboclo: I was anxious to see Bruno even though I’m not a fan of that coif. His Go-Go gadget arms continue to surprise opponents especially when he defends an inbound pass or his arm juts out to close a passing lane (of note he had 3 steals).

Announcers Chad Andrus and Brent Barry provided my first giggle of the night saying you could tell Bruno’s experience is paying off … um what experience. As I adjusted my rose colored glasses, I mused perhaps a couple of months in the D- League running specific Raptor sets might expedite his acceleration in time to play regular minutes by next spring.

While his 3 three pointers were nice, I saw improved ball handling, loved the Euro step in the paint and his team high plus +25. He’s raw, he’s 19, he needs a new barber, but I’ll excitedly watch his growth anxiously awaiting the time frame when he reaches being 2 weeks from 2 weeks away

Bonus: He gained some muscle, made defensive improvements, his ball handling is significantly better than last season as is his court sense.

Delon Wright: Yeah he needs to work on his shot but in his first outing he dished out 9 assists with no turnovers, scored 9 points, had 2 steals and was a plus +23. In comparison through 13 games in 2 days only two players had 8 assists: Chicago’s Ramon Galloway equaled Wright’s 9 assists, but he also had 6 turnovers. Tim Frazier came close to a triple-double with 8 assists, 9 rebounds and 11 points, yet he also coughed up the ball turning it over 5 times.

Bonus: With the slow paced Summer League game it was easy to spot Wright’s high basketball I.Q. He quarterbacks with calmness and he demonstrates crafty court sense. Case in point, he snatched a rebound away from 7’5″ Sim Bhullar via proper positioning. His calm confidence paid dividends as it permeates the group around him. With Toronto needing to increase their assist total this season it’s not hard to envision him sharing court time with Kyle Lowry or Cory Joseph to facilitate ball movement. And, notably Joseph and Wright represent significant upgrades defensively over Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams.

Norman Powell: Though I’d done my research I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. His body actually looks NBA ready and though it was his defense pundits touted he’s a 2-way player: 20 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, a block and a plus 24. Though there were times I felt he could have passed the ball I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to change speeds, drive the bucket and mix up his offense while shooting a solid 53.3%. His tenacious defense was a welcome respite especially on transition.

Bonus: I forget which analyst said Powell would surprise people and was a veritably steal at 46 in the second round. The draft board called him a tenacious defender with intangibles. Well pardon me but WOW, those are some major intangibles. Sure it’s one game but you can see this kids motor …literally in game.

Other Observations

Raptors In Attenndance:
I expected to see DeMar DeRozan in Vegas who was joined by Jonas Valanciunas and 2 of the new Raptors: Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll. I also enjoyed Carroll’s comments re: Paul Pierce alluding to their possibly being a bit of bad blood “me and Paul got a little history all the way back to the summer in LA, he know what I’m talking about.”

Though Vegas has become somewhat of an annual visit now for the Raptors I did find it interesting neither Terrence Ross nor Kyle Lowry were in attendance. Last year Lowry arrived having just signed his new contract, so I wondered if this is just a coincidence or does this point to potential issues already.

Masai Takes a Shot at Ross?
My second giggle of the night came courtesy of Masai Ujiri. During his interview he pointed to the Carroll acquisition as necessary given how poorly we played versus 3’s (small forwards) for 2 straight seasons.

“Threes have given us nightmares you know throughout the playoffs in the last couple years, going back to Joe Johnson to Paul Pierce. We needed to get tougher, we needed to get bigger…. Hopefully he brings us some mental toughness and defense too.”

He back tracked a little saying we played two SG’s ( DeRozan/Ross) as part of the problem. Still, if the rumor that Ross is expected to replace Lou Will’s role doesn’t work there is a guy in Powell who’ll be more than happy for the opportunity. Powell’s not afraid to drive to the basket and offers a versatile offensive mix. He doesn’t have Ross’ length (Powell is 6’4″ and Ross is 6’7″) or 3 point prowess (yet) but I’d take a kid who’ll give 100% effort nightly. While he might not score 20 points often he’ll probably contribute consistently on both ends. That 2-way consistency for me wins out over sporadic big scoring nights with occasional defense every day.

What New Additions Mean?

  • First and foremost: T Ross has been put on notice! The combination of adding Carroll and 2-way rookie Powell with Bruno’s ongoing development and how easily Masai let Mr Iso-Will walk I bet has TRoss sweating bullets ….and he should be!
  • Bringing in two defensive point guards shouldn’t worry Lowry who’ll be tasked with DeRozan to be the primary scorers. However, it may serve to keep him focused knowing if Wright’s growth is quick it could easily provide Ujiri with a reason to shop Lowry to gain talent where the roster needs to add depth.
  • Regardless, if Powell can back up this first performance with the same effort (especially on defense) he’ll give Casey/Ujiri plenty of reason to consider giving him a roster spot or at worst keeping him close at hand in Mississauga. Ross has to be aware there are young colts breathing down his neck, but will that translate into a summer of progress of spur him into finding some passion?
  • Personally, I’ll hope for one crazy explosive month by TRoss followed be a swift trade with his spiked value. I was an advocate to wait for his development, but the absence of passion and no semblance of a heart have me preferring a less genetically gifted body with a bigger heart.
  • It’s only one game and Summer League at that, but my initial worries about ball movement are feeling somewhat placated given we’ve added Carroll, Joseph, Scola and Wright, all players who are pass oriented and understand the value of ball movement.

Cold War Over?
This week I caught a James Johnson interview with some poignant comments:

“I’ve been in the gym non stop the whole summer. Duane Casey and me been in the gym in the mornings 8AM. Just going back to my fundamentals of my shooting and going back to the basics trying to develop it, to make it faster”

Asked about whether he’ll see time at power forward with the trend of the league going small

“I’m here to do whatever Coach Casey wants of me whether it’s play the 3, play the 4, play the 5 play the bench”

He further explained last season he wasn’t fully familiar with the plays sets required at PF and hints Casey has been working with him on it. Does this mean the cold war is over?

Finding “It”
To reiterate I know it’s only Summer League, but the 4 players delivering on what was promised and then some left me feeling warm and fuzzy about the future potential of our prospects. If nothing else it creates some internal competition and I’m left feeling much more optimistic mid July than I ended the season. Apparently you can’t keep an optimist down and it is possible to rediscover “it!”

Tamberlyn @TTOTambz

The Toronto Raptors are the Linear Summer League Champions.

Raptors 702, as I’ll call them, opened their Las Vegas Summer League slate on Friday by topping the defending champion Sacramento Kings 90-68 in a game that wasn’t particularly close at any point in time. That should have been the expectation considering the Raptors were playing four potential roster players for next season, though the Kings had a lottery pick in Willie Cauley-Stein and a handful of potential end-of-roster bodies.

In any case, game results don’t matter all that much, beyond getting you additional games with which to develop your players. The 10-day tournament is all about development and evaluation, seeing how youngsters stack up in their first game action since the season (or college) and how fringe-NBA players look against tougher competition. At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern.

There was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Friday.

The four players likely to be on the Raptors’ opening day roster (three, if you’re not convinced Norman Powell is making it, which…just wait) largely dominated, particularly Powell and Delon Wright. And that’s great! The game was a ton of fun and a great way to carry over the momentum of a fairly positive free agent period. Rather than a proper game recap, here’s an annotated look at each Raptor, save for Bruno Caboclo, whom I covered in great detail on Friday.

Norman Powell is your new favorite Raptor

I feel it’s necessary to admit that I was already a big Norman Powell guy before tonight, so I may have been looking for the positives. I’m a UCLA fan, and while I wasn’t certain he’d get drafted, I pulled more tape post-draft and have become convinced he’s an NBA player. On defense alone, the No. 46 overall pick has a chance – he can lock down shooting guards, should be long enough for small forwards (he’s 6-foot-4 but has a 6-foot-11 wingspan and is quite solid), and may be quick enough to help on bigger point guards. He’s also a great athlete, the typical “hustle/motor” kind of guy Dwane Casey would probably love, and he can really score around the basket. He isn’t much of a jump-shooter and his range is limited, and his straight-line drives may not be effective against smarter, handsier NBA defenders, but I strongly feel this is an NBA player the Raptors found in the middle of the second round.

No exaggeration, I got two text messages, a Snapchat, and a DM from people during the game raving about Powell on Friday. He was dominant, scoring a game-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and playing strong, active defense. His ball-handling was steady – he initiated the offense more than I expected, especially in the first half – and he made aggressive, decisive, in-control drives, scoring inside and initiating plenty of contact.

A 22-year-old who is as physically developed as Powell should perform well in this setting, especially when they have a clear idea of what their game is.

None of this it to say Powell should be a starter or even break camp in the rotation. He’s a rookie, and even “NBA-ready” rookies struggle. But it’s not just me seeing this, with multiple national draft writers echoing the feelings of me and several anonymous friends.

Delon Wright is a man among boys

Speaking of “NBA-ready” talk, I may be guilty of using that line too often with Delon Wright since the draft. As a 23-year-old senior familiar with the NBA lifestyle thanks to brother Dorell, the proper thing to say about Delon is that he’s probably more NBA-ready than most. Which is to say, there’s still a good reason he’s not second on the depth chart at any position to enter the season.

And like Powell, Wright was expected to play very well at Summer League. He’s older than a lot of the youngsters and more talented than a lot of the journeymen. But he was good. Nine points don’t jump off the page, but he dished nine dimes in 22 minutes and the Raptors were +23 in that stretch. He ran the offense surgically, especially in the second half when he got more decisive navigating the pick-and-roll, and his composure in the oft-disorganized Summer League environment was a stark change of pace if you’ve been watching the Orlando and Utah tournaments.

“It was like watching a 15-year veteran playing in a scrimmage,” friend of the site Zach Harper messaged me from inside the arena. Even Steve Kerr was impressed.

The one area Wright showed weakness was with some trepidation when opponents went under screens, as he hesitated early in the game with the shoot-drive-pass decision. Shooting is probably the biggest weakness on his resume and he needs to get his pull-up jumper off quicker. Even then, teams going under the screen gives Wright small windows of space, and he was terrific at creating and exploiting those pockets at Utah with his unorthodox attacks. He’s very herky-jerky, and it’s tough to tell what he’s doing until his action is complete, making him a really tough check on the move.

Few players can change direction and tempo as smoothly as he does, and he flashed a really nice floater.

Bigger Bebe, better Bebe

Lucas Nogueira showed up in Vegas looking like he’s been hitting the all-you-can-eat buffets. He’s certainly not chubby by any means, but he’s taken the edict to put on size seriously. He looks like a grown ass man now, a scary proposition when your a 7-footer, and an 8-footer with hair included.

He also looked much better than I remember seeing him during the season. While he gets lumped in with Caboclo often, Nogueira is 22 and spent time in the Spanish ACB league, the world’s second-best competitive environment. He’s around the point on his development curve where some NBA time should be expected, and while he’ll spend time in the D-League this year, the team appears set to enter the season with him as the third-string center. Which, hey, why not give it a shot?

With a 7-foot-6 wingspan and 9-foot-6 standing reach, defense needs to be Nogueira’s calling card. He handled his pick-and-roll coverages well for the most part after losing Willie Cauley-Stein a couple of times early on, and he showed a nice second-bounce when working on the glass. And again, he’s huge, so things like this happen:

Nogeuira looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he did during the season, confidently shooting mid-range jumpers and even putting the ball on the floor.  And just look at this!

It’s awareness that needs to develop next for Nogueira, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and two blocks but had his night cut short by left hamstring fatigue. For the most part, Nogueira is size and instinct rather than skill and feel, but that should come with more experience, and he’s doing a few things he probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off – or thought to – last summer. The clip above shows some heady transition play, and I was most impressed by this first-quarter play below, where he corralled an errant pass and made a nice dish to Ronald Roberts for an easy bucket as a double-team came his way.

A few quick notes and Can Con

  • I know this is mostly positive reporting, but it’s Summer League, we’re looking for signs of development, and the Raptors were really good Friday.
  • Notable by his absence for the most part in this write-up is Bruno Caboclo. I did a full, Bruno-specific analysis last night that you can read here.
  • Sim Bhullar is hilarious. Not in a mean way, though his conditioning is an NBA 2K glitch, but in a highly entertaining, I’ll go out of my way to watch him way. His development over the next few years should be really interesting, though he’s nowhere near an NBA-caliber player right now.
  • Apologies for not focusing on the non-Raptors much, but let’s be realistic about why we’re watching Summer League. Roberts is an awesome athlete, though, and Gary Talton’s hair is terrific.
  • DeAndre Daniels won’t be participating in Summer League, unfortunately. He’s suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and is out indefinitely. Read more here.
  • The Canadian content was low enough Friday that the CRTC probably won’t allow the game to be replayed. Former Arizona State shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski had six points, five rebounds, and one block in 18 minutes, and brother Dallin Bachynski got a DNP-CND (see what I did there?). The 7-foot-2 Jordan averaged four blocks as a senior in 2013-14 and 2.2 in 19 D-League minutes last year, but he probably doesn’t have much of an NBA future.
  • Philip Scrubb, the Carleton University stand-out, did not play due to Orlando Summer League commitments. Scrubb flew out of Orlando Friday night, per friend of the site coach Doug Eberhardt, and should be available from here. It seems crazy for a CIS player and he struggled in Orlando, but as some Canadian content for Raptors 905, he could be a fun pick-up. He was the CIS Athlete of the Year and is one of the most decorated players in Canadian university history.
  • The Raptors’ next game goes Sunday against the Chicago Bulls at 6 p.m. EST.

One year is a long time.

At this time last summer, I was glued to my couch, ready to cover every single muscle twitch of Bruno Caboclo’s Las Vegas Summer League debut. The ultra-raw, sparsely heard-of rookie out of Brazil, the kid who could name all of one active NBA player, was about to give us our first look at what could come two years from two years from then. The Raptors won their LVSL debut, Caboclo showed flashes of why general manager Masai Ujiri rolled the dice on him at No. 20, and I wrote way too much about it all.

Fast-forward 12 months, and Caboclo is still the main reason to tune in. He was barely a rumor on the court in 2014-15, a completely expected and reasonable development considering his complete paucity of organized basketball experience. For all intents and purposes, Summer League this year is once again a major evaluation point for fans curious about Caboclo, and while all kinds of caveats apply about the Summer League environment, the next week should prove interesting as we compare Bruno Then to Bruno Now.

Not to adorn with some rose-colored glasses, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what we saw Friday night. It’s far more than just the hair that’s grown, though the development in Bruno’s Cool Factor is definitely the biggest leap he took this year. He also looked far more comfortable on the floor, more aware of what a player’s responsibilities are on defense, and more confident in his jump shot.

Caboclo finished the game shooting 5-of-10 and knocking down 3-of-5 from outside, good for 15 points with five rebounds and three steals in 30 minutes.

The threes are a really nice development, and while I teased all-around good-guy Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun earlier today for hyping Caboclo’s corner-three making ability, it’s a great sign that he’s shown visibly marked improvement. The stroke looks more fluid, he looks far more confident letting it fly, and his length is such that no wing is ever going to block that thing if he’s decisive about shooting it. He let it go off of curls from the mid-range, too, and while he is fading without necessity at times – again, nobody is blocking that thing, anyway – it’s a more aesthetically sound movement than a year ago.

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He also showed a willingness to put it on the floor at times, and twice he drew a foul by cutting toward the middle of the floor off the bounce (he was 2-of-7 from the line). His handle looks moderately tighter, though he’s still guilty on occasion of watching his dribble rather than the defense in front of him. He showed some nice end-to-end speed and control in driving the length of the floor for a transition layup:

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But was also guilty of trying to do too much and getting out of control with a man tight to him. Two of his three turnovers stuck out as mistakes of inexperience, or a modicum of discomfort handling the rock with a non-coach defender in his grill:

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His defense generally looked better than it did a year ago and than it did in brief D-League appearances. The benefit of having obscene length and good lateral quickness is that you can be a split-second late on your recognition and still be just fine. Caboclo seems to have developed a better understanding of how team defense is played, and he made smarter and more conservative switches than the run-after-the-ball Timbits Soccer approach he’s been guilty of on occasion. He also seems to realize that he’s far longer than he is a defensive stopper, and he sagged off of his man even on-ball, opting to give himself additional space to defend a drive, knowing he could quickly get a hand up in the shooter’s face.

That’s good coaching, and while it’s not the type of defender you wan’t him to ultimately become, it’s a smart step in developing his defensive game. It’s necessary to keep in mind – and this is not to carry the team or the player’s water here, it’s just a reality – that Caboclo has little actual basketball experience. He was drafted as an athlete and a body first, with the organization intent on slowly teaching him how to become a basketball player, and those steps are being taken methodically, by necessity.

Dwelling on the negatives would do a 19-year-old with little experience a disservice, but there were some minor, if expected concerns. He has the green light and he knows it. Once he made a few shots, he got a little eager to let fly. His paths to the basket need to either get more creative or more direct and aggressive. He still looks pretty weak and needs to continue to hit the gym, like every 19-year-old and like most 29-year-olds writing this article.

The “two years away from being two years away” statement may have been sensationalism at the draft last year, but Caboclo’s at least a year away from seeing NBA minutes, and that’s entirely fine. Following Friday’s game, he’s now played 301 total minutes across Summer Leagues, the D-League, the preseason, and the regular season. He won’t be 20 until September, and he’s likely slated for an entire season in Mississauga, where he may not even see heavy run to start.

His development curve dictated that last year be more of a personal development season. He moved to a new country, learned a new language, saw NBA basketball up close for the first time, and got NBA instruction for the first time. This season will be about putting some of his skill development into practice while getting him comfortable with the speed of the game. For as fun as it is to joke about Caboclo taking over the NBA, being the superstar, and so on, that fun shouldn’t confuse the fact that there’s no sense in rushing him to the Raptors, and there’s no sense in losing patience with the process.

So yeah, he’s still limited. But his set shot looks great, his confidence looks higher, and defense isn’t overwhelming him beyond reaching for balls. Given where expectations were a year ago, this is positive growth.

And bruh, that hair.

A full game recap is coming for tomorrow morning, if you care about players other than BRUNO.

All of the Toronto Raptors are out in Las Vegas. It’s funny how team functions in that city seem to be easy to get a good turnout for. Jonas Valanciunas is there, Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri are there, and the team’s marquee free-agent signing, DeMarre Carroll, was in the house as well for the team’s Summer League opener on Friday.

Carroll joined the NBA TV broadcast in the fourth quarter, as the Raptors were steam-rolling the defending Summer League champion Sacramento Kings. Among other topics that have been covered ad nauseam by this point, Carroll was asked if he thinks he can fill some of the “it” void that Paul Pierce identified prior to the Raptors’ playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

“We’ll see Paul Pierce again, we’ll see if he say that then,” Carroll said.

The quote doesn’t mean a whole lot, of course – Pierce is now in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Raptors will only see them twice in the regular seasons (and maybe seven times in the NBA Finals). I tweeted it out (incorrectly using “again” in place of “then” – apologies, DeMarre) and Pierce stans got defensive about it, which, sure, they’re entitled, I suppose. And to be entirely fair, Pierce kind of owns one over Carroll, as his infamous “I called game” shot came with Carroll on the bench.

But that’s not really the point here. The point is that Carroll, in his stoic way, is winning the fan base over quote by quote. Granted the “JYD 2.0” title by Jerome Williams, the Junkyard Dog always seemed the type of player Toronto fans would fall in love with. He’s fought through a ton of adversity to get where he is, he’s a defense-first player who brings the requisite toughness fans generally demand here. And he’s definitely not scared of talking a bit of trash, it would seem.

Here’s Carroll to Sportsnet’s Dave Zarum, describing a light-bulb moment in 2011:

That was when I took that jump. That’s when I realized that I could play at a high level, because I was in there playing with guys like Paul Pierce- back when he was still Paul Pierce- Kevin Garnett, Paul George, Tyson Chandler, Elton Brand, the list goes on. Paul Pierce and KG was like ‘We’re going to go back and talk to Danny Ainge about bringing you to Boston because we really need that toughness on our team.’

“Back when he was still Paul Pierce” !!!

Look, none of this matters, at all. The Raptors won’t have a rivalry with Pierce any longer, and Pierce has decidedly gotten the upper hand over the last two rounds. It’s what it signals about Carroll, his personality, and his potential place within the context of this team and this city that’s fun.

Toronto Raptors prospect DeAndre Daniels has suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot, the team announced Friday, explaining his absence from the team’s Summer League debut in Las Vegas.

A Jones fracture is the same injury Kevin Durant suffered on the eve of the 2014-15 season, costing him roughly two months. His particular fracture didn’t heal as well as hoped and he wound up back on the shelf for further maintenance. It’s a fracture of the fifth metatarsale bone, which is the last bone on the outside of your foot (that bone roughly to the bottom-outside of your baby toe), right where the shaft of the toe meets the base. It’s believed to have a higher chance of healing failure than other foot fractures, but incidences of re-injury are relatively low if the fracture is surgically repaired.

This is obviously a tough blow for Daniels, and it effectively ends his offseason. The No. 37 pick out of U-Conn as a junior last year, Daniels appeared in Summer League with the Raptors before heading off to Australia to play with Perth. Performance there is a tough translation, but Daniels, a small forward, ranked second in the league with 7.7 rebounds per game and added 14.8 points, though he shot below 40 percent from the floor and a middling 34.1 percent from outside.

Some had talked about Daniels as a potential body to fill out the final two spots on the roster, but I really don’t see it. He was hardly on the draft radar based on his college resume, but his 7-foot-2 wingspan surely caught the Raptors’ attention for the defensive potential it portends (he also had a 3.9-percent body fat, which is Bruce Lee-esque). While he may have been able to beat out Norman Powell (I assume one of them is making it as a defensive-minded reserve wing), his more likely path to the Raptors was going to include another season overseas or a year in The 905 (ugh).

Whatever his role was set to be and wherever he was set to fill it, this is a tough news for the player and for an organization trying to see what they have in him. He may well be ready for training camp in October, but the loss of several key development months, and Summer League, is disappointing.

Heal up quick, but don’t rush this thing. With Summer League lost now, the focus should be on making sure the injury is 100 percent healed to avoid any risk of re-injury.

Dwane Casey was on TSN radio (pre-Scola signing) and gave a hint to how he sees James Johnson and Patrick Patterson next season:

“We still have Patrick Patterson who I feel is better coming off the bench, he gives us that firepower off the bench, the three-point shooting off the bench, the energy. Also, we’re going to move James Johnson over to the four more this year.  That’ll help us pad that position a little bit more because he can guard those fours.  James, right now, can probably guard some of the fives in the league.  [It’s] probably a better position for [Johnson] offensively and defensively which will give him an advantage.  Especially, the way the league is going, James is a better matchup for guys who switch over to the four [sometimes like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George].”

He also spoke about how the team has improved:

“We’re a better defensive team just by personnel…skill-wise, athletically, quickness, defensive mentality, and also defensive IQ we’re much better.  We’ve added DeMarre Carroll…he’s a guy that allows us to guard guys like James, Anthony, Paul George…guys who can play the three and the four…it takes away from us having to play DeMar at the three, who gets out-manned at the position by 25-30 lbs, and he gives us more rebounding.”

On whether his team is better suited for the playoffs:

The team we’re putting together now is more suited for [the playoffs], size-wise, physicality, defensive mentality.  We were third or fourth in the league in scoring 100+ in the regular season, but it’s a totally different game [in the playoffs]. Size at certain position matters, physical matters, physical mentality matters in playoff basketball, and you got to have those types of guys on your roster to do that. And we added that.  Cory’s been battle-tested at San Antonio, he’s been there, he knows the pressure and the physicality of playoff basketball, and so does DeMarre.  So those two additions alone will help us with playoff mentality.  Now, will we score 103, 104 as we did this year every night? Probably not.  We did have an offensive-minded roster.  Lou Williams was a huge part of our offense last year, and it gave us more of an offensive personality and as we saw it doesn’t really translate [to the playoffs] as much as you try. Guys we brought in will really be more conducive to a playoff style of game, than a regular season style of game.

He also commented on Terrence Ross taking over Lou Williams’ scorer role off the bench:

Terrence Ross will be kind of taking that Lou Williams role off the bench as the scorer. We got to get him back healthy. He had surgery about a month ago and won’t be able to get back on the court till the first of August.  He had [bone spurs removed], which stunted his game a little last year.  Look forward to getting him healthy.

Terrence Ross taking the Lou Williams role just sounds like a bad idea.  One can actually create his own shot and get fouled, and the other likes to dribble it off his feet.  Though I’m sure Casey didn’t mean exactly in that role, and more that the shots Williams would get might go to Ross as a spot-up shooter, etc.  I certainly am not looking forward to Ross dribbling 22 seconds off the clock and launching a fadeaway three every quarter.

Summer league’s usually about taking a look at how your rookies and sophomores are doing, and see if you can round out your roster with some level of quality. Last year we missed out on Hassan Whiteside and instead picked Greg Steimsma, which was arguably Masai Ujiri’s worst decision in Toronto. That decision also speaks to just how well all his other moves have panned out if we’re left with a summer league cut to moan about.

This year it’s first and foremost about Delon Wright. No, not Bruno Caboclo, but Delon Wright. By all accounts and the D-League evidence available to us, Caboclo is still some ways away from finding his way into the rotation, and given his 19 years of age that’s where he should be. Wright is a different animal, because he was drafted with the intent of being a rotation player this season, and though Cory Joseph’s signing technically makes Wright third string, there’s no telling how Dwane Casey might end up using Wright who has enough size to play the two. I also firmly believe that Casey loses track of who he has on the floor and what exactly he’s matching up against, so I’m convinced that Wright just might see minutes based on error, which is great.

Wright shot 35.6% from three last season, which was a 13% increase over the previous year, and he was 50% overall, so this idea that he’s a terrible shooter is unfounded. What we’ll have to keep an eye on is how quickly he can get accustomed to NBA-range, and if he’s able to effectively create any space to get a jumper off, both items that incoming guards find challenging. Whereas shooting is easily able to be judged, defense is a difficult thing to evaluate in summer league. You can judge someone’s effort level and see if they play with a motor, but anything beyond that might be misleading based on the quality of the opposition. Then again, defense is one of those things that you either play or don’t, and Wright’s track record says he takes that end of the court seriously, unlike someone like Terrence Ross (BTW, shouldn’t he be on the summer league roster?).

Bruno Caboclo is going to be in the spotlight again, and we’ll get a sneak preview of his D-League future where he’ll be playing the role of saviour/mascot. What I’m keeping my eye on is shooting, pure and simple. His wingspan and height lends him such a huge advantage that his shot can be unblockable, kind of like Rashard Lewis. If Bruno is simply able to drain his threes and do nothing more, he can get himself some NBA playing time this season. Shooting is something, especially at his height and size, that can easily translate from the practice floor to the court because if he’s got his technique and release right, there’s very little chance a defender will be able to bother him and take away his spot-up shooting game.

In his D-League stint last year he was absolutely brutal on defense, over-committing on every possession, falling for every fake, and committing fouls out of pure inexperience. One thing to monitor might be how well he’s able to just read the offensive player and move his feet. Whether it’s going under/over a screen, rotating to the right person, moving his feet when he’s being attacked, and staying disciplined in foul-prone situations. We all acknowledge that it’s baby steps with him, but now he’s at the point where he’s a toddler who’s expected to take his first steps and not just sit around looking cuddly.

There’s also DeAndre Daniels who’s so-so year in Australia can be redeemed at the expense of Terrence Ross’s regression. The Raptors can use more three-point shooting and defense, and this is as good as an opportunity Daniels will get to make an impression. There are two spots available and assuming one of them goes to a big, he has to have his eyes set on the other one. Ujiri made an excellent decision sending him to Perth where he got minutes and exposure, but now it’s time to see if it translates to the NBA at even a bare-minimum level.

Lucas Noguiera is the guy that I expect to play a role with the big club this year because he’s the kind of player that Dwane Casey really values – he can cover ground, block shots, hedge and recover, set good screens, and clean up the glass. The problem is that Noguiera’s frame is a bit slight, and he just hasn’t had enough experience to develop. The D-League will help, but I get a feeling that he needs to be put to the test and work with Luis Scola on a more consistent basis to kick-start his game. On paper, this is the type of guy that every team these days wants, and the fact that Atlanta gave up on him so easily worries me to this day. I’m hoping that he shows me something which will rekindle my faith in him because right now it’s low  His D-League stint was impressive last year and all reports indicate that the trio of Noguiera, Caboclo and Daniels have been putting in the hours in the gym, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare.

Norman Powell is out there as well, and I just feel the odds are stacked against him. The Raptors have Wright, Joseph, and Lowry already, and Casey prefers taller wings which means Powell’s calling card of defense won’t exactly be enough for him to make it, at least not this year.  He’s got some mid-range shot making but I find that’s not going to be as valuable to the Raptors, since if they needed that they would’ve at least tried to retain Lou Williams. Don’t get me wrong, he could have an NBA future as a tweener somewhere, just not on next year’s Raptors roster.

After that it’s about whether we can get another Canadian, Philip Scrubb, on the team. It’s highly unlikely given the guards we have and this is probably the Raptors doing him a favor and letting him showcase himself a little. The two Canadian centers, Dallin Bachynski and Jordan Bachynski, probably fall into that realm as well, though given that the Raptors could still be in the hunt for a big, they have an outside chance (but not really).

The knockout style tournament which follows the first three games lends itself to some excitement, and gives the team a more “team” feel since there’s something at the end of the line instead of just playing a string of games. Last but not least, there’s the coaching aspect to evaluate. I never paid much attention to Jesse Mermuys before but now that he’s coaching the D-League team which will have NBA hopefuls on it, we’ll keep an eye on his playbook and tendencies as well.

Enjoy the game tonight against the Kings (roster and schedule), and someone will have a report or something later.

DeMarre Carroll grateful for opportunity with Raptors | Toronto Star

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said the team started courting Carroll as soon as he was up for free agency. His dynamism as a player, ability to play on the wing or small forward, and his highly-touted “blue collar” work ethic were huge selling points, Ujiri said. Carroll added that the prospect of joining a lineup with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry made him “drool at the mouth.” Now all he has to do is wrest the No. 5 away from rookie Bruno Caboclo — a foregone conclusion, really — and have a sit-down with Drake. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be in touch,” Carroll said. “Hopefully he’ll put me in a song like he did Lou Will . . . a junkyard dog song.”

Pickering’s Cory Joseph pumped to be a Toronto Raptor | Toronto Star

When Cory Joseph was a little kid, the hoop in his driveway in Pickering became the basket at the Air Canada Centre; the pavement beneath his feet, hardwood. And when he’d pull up to shoot, in his boyhood imagination, he’d be draining a buzzer beater for his favourite team. “You know, ‘Five, four, three, two, one. He scores! Raptors wiiiiinnnn!’ ” recalled Joseph, sharp-dressed and grinning at the centre of a crush of journalists holding microphones in his face. A grown man now, the fancy of a young kid from the suburbs is an official reality: the Toronto Raptors announced Thursday that they have signed Joseph to a four-year contract that’s reportedly worth $30 million. “I’ve always dreamed to join this organization. This one particularly,” Joseph said. “I thought it over in my head, I still don’t know how I’m going to feel when I put that jersey on and I go out and play that first game for the Toronto Raptors. It’s still kind of surreal to me. I got to let it settle in a bit.”

Argentina's Scola joins Toronto Raptors | Shanghai Daily

Argentinean basketball player Luis Scola confirmed on Thursday he will be playing with the Toronto Raptors in the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) from this season. "I'm going to the north. I hope that what happened to Dady (Brieva)'s cousin doesn't happen to me," wrote the player on his Twitter account in reference to a story that an Argentinean actor tells about a family member's experience with the cold and snow in Canada.

Carroll, Joseph newest members of ‘Raptors family’

Carroll started 69 games to help Atlanta to a franchise-high 60 wins and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs last season. He's also a proven post-season performer, which Toronto could use, having been dispatched in ugly fashion by Washington in the first round of last year's playoffs. Carroll was Atlanta's leading scorer through the first two rounds. He had a run of six games with 20-plus points, and recorded 25 points and 10 boards in the close-out game against Washington. He suffered a knee injury in Game 1 of the third round against Cleveland, but said Thursday he was 100 per cent again and ready to play. Joseph spent his first four NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, helping them win the league title in 2014. He played in 79 games last season with the Spurs, averaging 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Both players also pointed to Toronto's fervent fan base as a selling point. "I think they have they have the best fans in the NBA, and I'm not just saying that"

Raptors GM seeks better balance | Wolstat | Basketball | Sports | Toronto Sun

“We are a 49-win team and we didn’t have enough good success in the playoffs, but I think we’re learning, we’re growing,” Ujiri said Thursday. “Our main players, our star players are Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and these (new) guys just come and learn. Cory’s been a reliable backup point guard in the NBA and he’s grown. DeMarre has gone through all the works of the NBA to become the player he is, but he said it there, he’s come to play a role come to fit in and I think he’ll do exactly that. “You never know with these things, I’m always cautious, you add good players, everything looks good on paper, it looks OK, but when the time to play comes, that’s another question too. They have to gel, chemistry, they have to figure it out. Our expectations are minimum, we keep plugging away, if it doesn’t work we’ll try to make it better.”

Boston Celtics Sign Amir Johnson | Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics announced today that they have signed free agent forward Amir Johnson. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. “Amir is a proven, young veteran and an exciting addition to our team,” said Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations. “His length, athleticism, rebounding and shooting ability will help us on both ends of the court.”

Ujiri makes big investment on newest Raptors – Article – TSN

With Wilson Chandler on his way back to the league from China, where he played during the NBA lockout, Carroll was being cut for the second time that year. Ujiri remembers that day well, though it's not his proudest moment. "It was a tough thing to do, and a stupid thing to do," joked Ujiri, now that he's able to laugh about it. "I brought him into my office and he [looked me] straight in the eye. Funny thing was, he thanked me for the opportunity. That resonated so well because he's a good person, good kid." Cory Joseph was a rookie with the San Antonio Spurs that same season. Drafted 29th overall – the second-last pick in the opening round – out of the University of Texas, the Pickering, Ont. native made eight trips back and forth from San Antonio's D-League affiliate in Austin, once at his own request, hoping to go down, get more playing time and hone his skills.

Raptors unveil DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and a new approach – The Globe and Mail

The point of the exercise, driven home by Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, was to emphasize his transformation of the Raptors from offence-first playoff pushovers to hard-nosed defensive demons who will go well into the postseason. And who better than Carroll, described by Ujiri as “one of the toughest players in the NBA,” to showcase the change? Carroll came into the NBA in 2009 as a late first-round draft pick who could not find his way as a power forward. Over the next four years he bounced around the league, getting traded once and waived twice, including once by Ujiri when he was running the Denver Nuggets, before landing in Atlanta.

Toronto Raptors’ off-season signings add intangible qualities they previously lacked | National Post

“I always say this saying: ‘If you see me in a fight with a bear, you better help that bear,” Carroll said. Let it be said that Carroll, in the wake of officially signing a contract that will be worth nearly eight times his previous earnings in the league, contains multitudes. Carroll might evoke (and invoke, too) the true essence of Jerome Williams’ self-appointed nickname, the Junkyard Dog, and adjectives such as “gritty,” but he also came to his introductory press conference with the Raptors on Thursday wearing black shoes outlined by golden sequins. These were not work boots. So you can add “flamboyantly fashion-forward” to his descriptors, too. “I’m a fashion guy,” Carroll said. “So you might see a lot of different things.”

Raptors welcome DeMarre Carroll to town | NBA | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“Finally the blue-collar guy is getting a little recognition,” a smiling Carroll said. Carroll’s wife Iesha was in the front row for the announcement and admitted she was a little surprised to see Carroll let his guard down that way so publicly. “He doesn’t really reflect a lot on what he’s been through but I’ve watched him push so hard through so many things that it was emotional for me to see him get emotional that way and actually acknowledge what he’s been through,” she said. The courting of Carroll was a rather short one. The forward and his family had just returned from Aruba on the final day of June and rather than agree to a meeting just after midnight on July 1 when teams were free to begin to talk to the available talent, Carroll opted for some sleep first and then met with the Raptors travelling party that morning. No other team even got an audience with him.

Toronto Raptors: analyzing the defensive rebuild

Now that Lou Williams, Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are out, and Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo are in, the Raptors should be far stronger on defence. With the exception of Scola, the new additions are defensive specialists, who have made careers off playing hard on the defensive end and making a difference for their team without scoring many points. This team will be a lot better in many ways. Biyombo is a straight up rim protector, who can swat away shots with his ridiculous 7-6 wingspan. He will also grab some rebounds and just simply give the second unit some energy in relief of Jonas Valanciunas. Scola is technically solid on defence, though his athleticism is pretty minimal at 35-years old. Still, he will play hard and he will make a lot of smart decisions. He will be a meaningful player for the Raps off the bench, offering a balanced and calm approach to basketball.

Dream come true for both Joseph and Raptors | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“You couldn’t ask for anything better than what that guy has gone through,” said Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri. “Play for one of the best coaches in the world ever (Gregg Popovich) and one of the best organizations in the world ever. What more could you ask for? I wish I could go there for four years. “It’s a blessing for us that he has gone through that and we are able to get him now. Now it’s another stage where he comes and he plays a role and he figures it out here. But (his San Antonio experience) was a great help for him.” There is no disagreement on that from Joseph. “He taught me a lot from the game to the mental aspect of the game. I’ve learned a whole bunch. I could go on forever about what Coach Pop and all the players over there did for me,” he said. “On the Spurs, nobody gets anything handed to them. I’ve had to work for everything I got."

Ujiri, Raptors mean business with new signings – Sportsnet.ca

The TV lights had gone dim and the gathering of friends, family, media and agents had thinned out and Masai Ujiri was walking through the semi-gloom of the Air Canada Centre having completed a ten-day trial that could go a long way towards defining his tenure in Toronto. He paused to answer a simple question: Is his team better? “I don’t know man,” he said. “You never know until you play the games.”

ITS OFFICIAL!!! I'm a TORONTO RAPTOR!!! NEW hashtag #JYD2.0 #WeTheNorth #Staypositive #CFF #Blessed #5

A photo posted by DeMarre Carroll (@demarrecarroll1) on

Home and family: Raptors introduce free-agent signings Carroll, Joseph

"They included my family. Whenever you include someone's family, that's real," said Carroll. "I didn't only have the negotiations with myself, but also with my family. I felt like that was a big part of it. Beyond this basketball, at the end of the day, all you have is family. "I feel like they took me in as their family and I'm happy to be a part of the Toronto Raptors family." Joseph, 23, of Pickering, Ont., grew up a Raptors fan and couldn't hide his excitement about playing for his hometown team. "I can't wait to put my jersey on," said Joseph, who is expected to back up all-star point guard Kyle Lowry. "I've thought it over in my head and I still don't know how I'm going to feel when I put my jersey on and go out to play that first game for the Toronto Raptors. "It's still kind of surreal to me, so I still need to let it settle in a little bit."

Quick reminder that the NBA Las Vegas Summer League starts on Friday with the Raptors taking on Kings in Las Vegas at 6:30 PM EST. (more…)

Davis, Durant, Giannis, Cabocolo; in that order

Bruno Caboclo is developing into an NBA player (maybe).

(more…)

This discussion is going to have to make a few assumptions in order to work. Click to read on.

There’s a common denominator with this summer’s acquisitions. Trace a line through the Delon Wright pick, the DeMarre Carroll signing, the flyer on Bismack Biyombo the gamble on Cory Joseph and it all leads to one thing: the Raptors are looking to revamp their defense.

Put it another way: Dwane Casey finally got his players. Last season’s roster wasn’t built for Casey’s ideals, especially on defense. They couldn’t run Casey’s system, they didn’t have the speed for it, the strength to rebound, nor the resolve to hustle back on defense amid scrambling rotations. The players didn’t fit the system and it was the team’s Achilles’ heel that ultimately led to a humiliating fall from grace.

Casey made his bones as a tough-minded, defense-first head coach. Carroll, Biyombo, Joseph — these are his kinds of players, the ones who will hustle back, who have the strength to rebound, the speed to rotate. Wright projects to fit the mold as well. It’s too bold to claim that Masai Ujiri acquired these players specifically with Casey in mind, but certainly, the two share the same vision. After finishing 25th in defensive rating last season, the Raptors needed a shakeup.

And so Ujiri shook up the team. The core pieces are still in place, but changes have been made. After re-signing last summer, Greivis Vasquez got dealt. After winning Sixth Man of the Year, the Raptors didn’t even offer Lou Williams a contract. After three years of waiting on potential, Ujiri finally lost his patience with Terrence Ross and brought in an upgrade. In one fell swoop, the Raptors swapped three poor defenders with three premier replacements.

Ujiri moved quickly and quietly to address the team’s biggest weakness. He brought in players who fit Casey’s vision, who can play within his system. Now it’s up to Casey to deliver.

***

Casey’s defensive schemes have been raked over the coals, but the criticism hasn’t always been fair. The system itself is fine — it just didn’t fit the personnel. But the Raptors’ newest additions should fit nicely within Casey’s schemes.

It starts with Carroll, who is an elite wing defender. He’s something that the Raptors have lacked since Shawn Marion’s brief and unhappy tenure with the club. He’s not the type to feign hustle and gamble for steals. He’ll grab his share of thefts, but it comes as a product of razor-sharp instincts and sheer effort. Watch carefully, and you’ll see the genius at work.

Carroll is disciplined. He won’t be caught losing his man through a maze of baseline screens or trailing the play because his man cut into a blind spot. Carroll is dutiful and meticulous. He’s not shy of contact and he understands that he’ll always draw the toughest assignments. He knows the scouting report, he plays the right angles, he grits his teeth and doesn’t concede and inch on defense.

“DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.”

– Mike Budenholzer (via Chris Vivlamore, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

If you want to know what Carroll is all about, watch the Eastern Conference Finals, where the legend of Carroll’s defense was popularized. The Cavaliers purposed LeBron James as a relentless battering ram and Carroll fashioned himself as a stone wall. Carroll conceded 50 pounds to James but he fought with tooth and nail before succumbing to a gruesome knee injury in Game 1. But despite the knee sprain, Carroll managed to play out the remainder of the series, averaging 34 minutes per contest between Game 2 and 4. It was a gritty, heroic and commendable effort that rightfully earned James’s respect.

There’s not even a comparison to be made between Carroll and his incumbent. Ross is soft and lazy. Carroll is the exact opposite.

The same can be said for Cory Joseph, who always plays at full speed. Joseph fit the Spurs perfectly because he was the ying to Tony Parker’s yang. Joseph is a pest on the ball, using his quickness and length to disrupt passes and dissuade drives. He’s not as disciplined as Carroll and he’s prone to making mistakes, but his activity is second to none and you can always trust him to get back into the play. With Joseph on the floor, the Spurs posted a defensive rating of 98.3, a hair shy of Golden State (98.2) for the best defense in the league.

In other words, Joseph is a huge defensive upgrade over Vasquez. Joseph is lightyears ahead in terms of foot speed. Casey’s defense starts at the point of attack, and while conceding the middle on pick-and-roll is often encouraged, it doesn’t necessarily mean dribble penetration is tolerated. The key to bridging that gap is hustle, to have the willingness to swim over screens and stay attached at the hip so that a big doesn’t need to switch, or double. Vasquez and Kyle Lowry failed at this. Joseph won’t.

Finally, there’s Biyombo. He’s raw and he lacks flash. He’ll mostly sit in the paint as he challenges daring drivers to attack the paint. Standing at 6-foot-10 with a standing reach of 9-foot-5, Biyombo is a sky-high hurdle at the basket. He swatted 2.9 shots per 36 minutes and he grabbed a higher percentage of rebounds than Tristan Thompson and Kenneth Faried last season. He won’t do much else, but Biyombo can protect the basket.

Most importantly, Biyombo is mobile and quick, allowing him to react to breakdowns on the fly. Casey asks his bigs to trap and recover on pick-and-rolls. It was too physically demanding for Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson was hobbled by bad ankles and Patrick Patterson isn’t big enough to challenge shots at the basket, nor strong enough to adequately rebound. One way or the other, the Raptors were conceding penetration, or rebounding or shot blocking. Such concessions won’t be necessary with Biyombo, at least not on defense.

The defense will improve. Whether Casey tweaks his system or not, the simple fact is that the Raptors made upgrades in defensive talent. The struggle with Jonas at center will always exist until he catches up to NBA speed, but there’s a better supporting cast in place. Carroll over Ross is a monumental upgrade and the Raptors will finally have someone to pin on big wing scorers — which has long been the most glaring of their many weaknesses. Biyombo should cement the Raptors’ back line and he’s an ideal fit to anchor smallball lineups. Joseph gives them a pesky defender to reduce the wear-and-tear on Lowry. They’re going to be much improved on defense, and specifically, they’ll be much improved within the construct of Casey’s defense.

***

The offense will likely take a step back.

Last year’s offense was “plug and play.” They had a lot of offensively gifted guards who could generate easy offense through high pick-and-rolls. This year, Ujiri cobbled together a collection of players with specific skillsets and it’s going to require a carefully curated scheme to make it work. It’s going to take far more work to create good looks with their new, more inflexible roster.

Playmaking will be a struggle. Joseph can run an offense, but he’s not on Vasquez or Williams’s level. Joseph came up through the Spurs’ system which makes sweet music from an orchestra of finely tuned movements. Joseph’s role was usually to deliver passes to cutters, before making a series of cuts himself. Gregg Popovich leveraged Joseph’s movement into cuts toward the basket or drives against wild closeouts. As a result, nearly 60 percent of Joseph’s field goals were attempted within 10 feet of the basket. Compare that to 34 percent for Lowry, 34 percent for Vasquez and 24 percent for Williams.

The Spurs were smart in creating plays for Joseph to attack the basket because he’s not much of a shooter. He posted a career high in 3-point percentage at 36.4 percent last season, but that was on 44 attempts, most of which were wide open. 77 percent of Joseph’s 3-point attempts were launched without him taking a dribble, 84 percent were attempted without a defender within four feet of Joseph and 94 percent of Joseph’s threes were assisted. His shot is far from broken, but his release is slow and he’s not a threat to pull up from deep — a must-have in today’s pick-and-roll attack.

Finding a way for Joseph to flourish within the offense will be tricky and his fit within their existing schemes is questionable. Playing Joseph as a two-guard will be difficult because of his lack of spacing, but it’s necessary with Lowry soaking up the vast majority of minutes at point. The Raptors will also have to find a way to combat teams going under on pick-and-rolls, which will happen against Joseph. That trickles down to Patterson as well, because it’s much easier to cover the pick-and-pop when the ball handler isn’t a threat to shoot (ie: what happened to Channing Frye upon moving from Phoenix to Orlando). Joseph will make up for it by being a better slasher than Williams or Vasquez, but in order for his skills to be maximized, Casey needs to lay out a strict gameplan, the way Popovich did.

To a lesser extent, the same applies to Carroll, whose career took off under Budenholzer. Carroll was the fifth option where the vast majority of his offense came from transition, cuts to the basket and spot-up 3-point shots. Like Joseph, 94 percent of Carroll’s 3-pointers were assisted, and in order for him to flourish, the Raptors will need to leverage ball-movement and drives into creating open looks for Carroll.

But Carroll will play a different, more expanded role in Toronto. That was part of Ujiri’s pitch to convince Carroll to sign.

“I think the biggest factor for me was the role on the team. Basically, Masai came in, coach Dwane Casey came in, told me I’m (gonna) have a bigger role. They wanna involve me more in the offense. You know, defense, that’s my calling card, but they want me to play a lot of offense, too. I’ve never had a team really come at me and make offense be a focal point, too.”

– DeMarre Carroll (via HuffPost Live)

Carroll posted the highest usage rate of his career last season at 16.9 percent, and with Toronto lacking for offensive talent (at least in comparison to Atlanta), Carroll will naturally draw more opportunities. Carroll will likely take Ross’s spot as the go-to spot-up shooter, but he has the in-between game to attack closeouts and get to the rim. Carroll is also a better weapon in transition and can occasionally run pick-and-roll.

Still, it’s hard to see a scenario whereby Carroll’s usage increases in Toronto, while maintaining a spectacular efficiency. Carroll posted a true-shooting percentage of 60.3 while turning the ball over on 9.3 percent of his possessions. Those are stellar figures and it speaks to Atlanta’s offense. Toronto’s attack is far less imaginative and they can’t play five-out like the Hawks, so it’ll be a challenge for Casey to draw something up for Carroll that expands upon the general confines of 3-and-D, while maintaining efficiency.

Finally, Biyombo will basically need to be spoon-fed on offense. His only viable weapon is the pick-and-roll, but he doesn’t set great screens to free up his shooters, doesn’t quite have the subtlety to move to open spaces to present himself for a pass, he can’t shoot and he’s not much of a post-up threat. He also struggles to catch passes, which makes him a huge downgrade over Amir’s flexibility.

Moreover, it’ll be a struggle to play HORNS with such a weak crop of playmakers in the frontcourt. Amir Johnson was excellent in feeding high-low passes to Valanciunas, he was a great screen-setter in all scenarios and he played a wicked two-man game with DeMar DeRozan. Without him in the lineup, can the Raptors run some of their same sets, or will the offense become even more skewed towards their perimeter players?

Furthermore, passing out of the post is something that hugely benefited Joseph and Carroll at their previous stops. The two make a lot of their moves off cuts, but who will spot these cutters in Toronto? There isn’t a player of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Paul Millsap or Al Horford’s ilk to deliver. It certainly won’t be Biyombo throwing the pass. As currently constructed, Patterson projects to be their only true power forward who can make reads and throw passes in the frontcourt.

Edit: Scola will help in this regard too. He’s a very clever passer. Good move by Ujiri to grab him on the cheap.

***

Maybe this is too much hand-wringing over systems and playmaking. After all, the Raptors ranked fourth in offensive efficiency last year. With a healthy season out of DeRozan and Lowry, the Raptors have the same core pieces in place to repeat as a top-10 offense.

But look deeper at the particulars, and it traces back to coaching. Can Casey design a scheme to accommodate more limited players? Can his training staff help develop these skills? Can the team shake its isolation-heavy focus to something more pass-friendly?

The roster is talented and they have definitely improved their defense. In many ways, the roster resembles something out of Casey’s sensibilities. It’s tough, it’s defensive-minded and they’ve made up upgrades at their weakest spots. Now the question falls onto Casey himself. What can he do with this team?

Note: This was written before Luis Scola signed with the Raptors and has been adjusted to reflect that deal. 

The NBA has officially set the salary cap for the 2015-16 NBA season, and the ridiculous but necessary July moratorium that led to the Clippers holding DeAndre Jordan hostage (take notes for the Andrew Wiggins chase) is over. Signings and trades can now be made official, and the cap situation of every NBA team is now more clear.

The cap came in at $70 million, topping expectations by roughly $2.9 million. That’s great! But it’s great for all 30 teams – those with cap space have a shade more, those over the cap have more room to breathe beneath the luxury tax, and those in the tax have to pay a little (or in some cases substantially) less. The bump may mean the Raptors can get in on a free agent they couldn’t previously, but any teams they were bidding with have likewise been given more flexibility.

Now, nothing is ever simple with the salary cap. What follows is my best attempt at figuring what amount of cap space the Raptors could get to if they needed every penny available. I made a few stated assumptions, I checked with the best online resources, and conferred with some who know the collective bargaining agreement better than myself. The CBA is a beautiful, nearly inconquerable beast, and while the intricacies and complexities are sure to frustrate some, they’re kind of a fun challenge. NBA teams hire full-time employees as capologists, so apologies if this best attempt proves flawed in any way.

Let’s get on with it.

The Raptors can find their way to $2,591,566 of cap space.

The table below shows the team’s current salary commitments, and several important notes follow.

raps cap2

Bismack Biyombo: Was signed using the room mid-level exception, the version of the mid-level given to teams who drop far enough below the cap to lose their other mid-level exceptions and the Bi-Annual Exception (the Raptors have no BAE, is what I’m saying). Biyombo will count for total team salary in trades and any luxury tax considerations, but it does not eat into cap space if the Raptors time things properly.

A quick aside: The “MLE” as most know the term is for teams who are over the cap to sign players up to the tax apron. That’s not afforded to teams above the tax, who get a smaller MLE, or to teams below the cap, who get a Room Exception. Essentially, “exceptions” exist to help teams work around the cap – if you’re under it, there’s less of a need for an exception, and giving the Raps a full MLE would basically be giving them free cap space. Back to Biyombo.

Essentially, the Raptors are likely to delay signing Biyombo until their other shopping is done. If his $2.8-million salary won’t push the Raptors over the cap, then he’s just absorbed into cap space. For now, when considering maximum potential space, he can instead count as a minimum roster charge (because without him and Luke Ridnour, the Raptors would only have 11 players, you have to have 13, and you have to have 12 counting on the cap). It’s minutiae and a little confusing, but basically, Biyombo doesn’t count against the cap unless the Raptors don’t use their cap space before officially signing him.

Luis Scola: The deal is said to be for a hair under $3 million, so maybe the cap room bumps up a bit. He also becomes the 12th player under contract, so no minimum roster holds are required any longer. That doesn’t mean much, but it means his $3-million salary only cut the cap space by about $2.5 million. Also, hey, Luis Scola signed! Happy 1:30 a.m. with a 6:30 a.m. rise to you, too.

Luke Ridnour: Salary is non-guaranteed if waived by July 11. If they can’t find a taker for him in a trade by end of business Friday, he’ll almost certainly be waived.

DeMar DeRozan: Cap hit is $9.5 million rather than $10.05 million, as All-Star incentive is now deemed “unlikely” after failing to make the team last season. (Per the indispensable Dan Hackett.)

Delon Wright: Signing his rookie deal early at 120 percent of scale (something 90-95 percent of all rookies do) pushed his cap number from $1.26 million to $1.51 million, costing the Raps a quarter-million in space.

DeMarre Carroll: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $14.05 million instead of the $14.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $60 million, per Basketball Insiders.)

Cory Joseph: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $7 million instead of the $7.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $30 million, per Basketball Insiders.)

Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross: Get the extend-and-trade idea out of your head. The rules around such deals are far too restrictive and skew too far from a player’s best financial interests to make them a realistic possibility. If the team signs them to an extension to their rookie contracts – the deadline is Oct. 31, otherwise they’ll be restricted free agents next summer – there will be no change to their cap number for this season.

Norman Powell and DeAndre Daniels: Second-round picks do not have cap holds associated with them, and they can’t be signed using a special exception. If either player is to make the team, they’ll need to be signed with cap space or with a minimum salary exception. In this case, either is represented by the minimum roster charge cap hold in the table, as the charge is equivalent to the rookie minimum salary that either player would likely sign for – that amount is not included in the table calculation because the Raptors have enough players signed, but it’s there for informational purposes.

Because I’m a Powell fan, I’d probably consider using some of the remaining cap space to sign Powell to a three-year deal so that the Raptors have his Bird rights. They can sign second-round picks to two-year deals using a minimum salary exception, but using cap space on a three-year deal improves the chances of keeping the player later and avoids the Gilbert Arenas provision. A three-year deal for Powell starting at the minimum would cut another $525,093 from cap space, dropping it to $2 million and change.

Cap Holds: The Raptors had cap holds for all of their outgoing free agents, along with Mickael Pietrus ($947,276) and Nando De Colo ($1.9 million). Pietrus may be an accounting mistake, as teams can no longer sign-and-trade a player who is out of the league, ala Keith Van Horn. De Colo seems unlikely to return to the Raptors but retaining his rights until they absolutely need the cap space makes sense, because why not? The assumption below does NOT include Pietrus and De Colo, as it’s a look at potential cap space, not the exact current state of the cap.

Salary Cap and Luxury Tax: A league memo released Wednesday indicated a $70-million salary cap and $84.74-million luxury tax threshold, which would in turn mean an $88.74-million tax apron. It’s unclear if the exact cap number is an even $70,000,000 or rounded, but we’ll assume all zeros here. The tax line is worth noting but unlikely to impact the Raptors without some serious movement on the trade market or some other unforeseen event.

What else can the Raptors do?

Beyond using their $2.5 million and change on a free agent (I see you, Dorell Wright; I wish I could see you, Darrell Arthur and K.J. McDaniels), the Raptors can also use that space to absorb a player through trade. Because the Raptors are a non-taxpaying team, they can take back up to 150 percent of the salary they send out, plus $100,000, so long as they send out $9.8 million or less. The rules change beyond that amount: From $9.8-19.6 million outgoing, the Raptors could take back that amount plus $5 million; beyond $19.6 million outgoing, they could take back 125 percent of what they send out, plus $100,000; and this would all change if a trade pushed Toronto above the tax.

To keep it simple, and because it’s hard to see what deal would exist that would see the Raptors send out $10 million, what you need to know this this: The Raptors can use their cap space to absorb a player without sending a roster player out (a pick or the rights to DeeAndre Hulett will do), or they can take back roughly 1.5 times the amount of salary they send out in a deal. So there’s a path in which they could use their remaining cap space to sign a player, use the exception on Biyombo, and still add another player by trade

Ridnour, for example, could return $4,225,000 in salary from a team looking to shed a deal, though it’s worth noting he can’t be combined with another player in a trade. A hypothetical Ross-Johnson package could return $9.180,875 in salary. And so on. There are avenues to adding salary through trade, separate of the team’s available cap space.

Exceptions remaining: The Raptors don’t have a BAE (sigh, them and Will Lou both), or the MLE, and they’ve used the Room Exception. They can still sign players to a minimum salary commensurate with their level of experience – all teams can do this to fill out their rosters, regardless of cap or tax status.

Assets

Should they go that route, the Raptors now have several picks in hand to deal. Along with all of their own first-round picks, the Raptors own a 2016 first from either the Knicks or Nuggets (whichever is less favorable), and a lottery-protected 2017 first from the Clippers from the Greivis Vasquez trade. With the cap rising quickly and rookie scale contracts set in stone until at least the summer of 2017, when the CBA can be renegotiated, draft picks have the potential to be incredible values and, therefore, appreciable trade chips in the next few years. Personally, it’d take me a lot to deal first-round picks for this same reason, but if the right deal is there, sure.


Current roster and potential targets

Most of the coverage on the site of late had been about potential targets, specifically at power forward, and the market’s pretty thin and uninspiring. I really, really liked Darrell Arthur as a flier at the four, and while a full case requires it’s own post, he’s a great defender who improved the defensive numbers of every Nuggets frontcourt partner last season, he’s got range out close to the 3-point line, and has improved as a passer. He’ll be 27 when the season starts, it seems likely he’ll come cheaply given how quiet his name’s been on the rumor mill, and while the boxscore stats (and PER) don’t speak highly, I’m a big fan and think he’d be a nice fit. I may have tunnel vision a bit here, but “my guy” last summer was Al-Farouq Aminu, so I’m trusting my gut here.

Alas, the preceding paragraph was written pre-Scola. Now he’s here, the Raptors are at 13 players (14 if Powell makes the team), and have a fairly balanced roster. Without considering another signing (other than Powell) or trade, here’s what the Raptors roster looks like:

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

There’s no longer a clear need anywhere, but depending on how much the team wants to trust a pair of rookies or rely on Johnson, another wing or power forward wouldn’t hurt. There’s also a nice offense-defense balance at several positions, though another frontcourt defender would be a good use of resources (I wish I thought Arthur would come cheap enough). A bit more shooting could help, too. Point guard and center are probably set with three at each spot (sorry, Jeff Withey). My guess, by the way, is that Daniels is headed for the D-League or back overseas (I’m skeptical he’s an NBA player but hope I’m wrong), and that Powell makes the team unless a superior external option materializes.

So, yeah…there’s all of that.

Quick wrap-up

*The Raptors have 14 players under contract, but Ridnour is likely to be waived, making that number essentially 13.

*Only 12 count for the cap right now because Biyombo will be signed using the Room Exception. It’s complicated.

*The Raptors could find their way into roughly $2.5 million in cap space still. They can also absorb additional salary by trade, or fill the roster out with players at the minimum.

*The Raptors have 13 players signed and likely to stay signed, with up to roughly $2.5M to spend, plus any minimum deals, and can add salary by trade.

*There’s flexibility here. They have tradeable contracts and assets, and aren’t restricted by many bad deals or tax concerns or roster surpluses/deficits, so few things are off the table. And the roster is pretty solid as is. Things are good, mostly.

Nick and Barry finally get together in the same room and do a damn podcast.  On this episode of Talking Raptors the guys discuss the off-season so far. We’ve lost some faces and gained some new ones.

Topics include

– So long Sweet Amir Johnson.

– Dearest Tom Sterner. We will miss you. You to Greivis… and Lou too.

– The new cast and our feelings on the new team.

– Leave Demar alone.

– D-League. We made it.

– What’s Coach Casey up to?

If you thought the Chuck Hayes Minute was gone… You were terribly mistaken. The legend gets his shine as always.

The guys also take a look around the league and try to sort it out the best they can.

Thanks for listening and enjoy.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (36:22, 34 MB). Or just listen below:

Luis Scola is set to join the Raptors on a 1 year, $3 million deal. Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP

Did the Raptors just sign veteran power forward Luis Scola?

And confirmed through the words of Woj:

Oddly enough, Scola was Zarar’s top suggestion for an affordable power forward in his piece on Tuesday. Since it’s late, and I’ve got work in the morning, I’ll just steal snippets from Zarar’s piece.

Scola isn’t a great defender but we don’t need him to be.  He is, however, a smart defender that plays the angles, (tries to) move his feet, and doesn’t pick up silly fouls.  Offensively, he’s still a crafty player with an old-man game, has back-to-the-basket moves, and can even play the pick ‘n roll in spots.  His 35-year old body is a non-factor to me because he doesn’t rely on his athleticism to be effective, and in that regard is very much like his countryman, Manu Ginobili.

He played 81 games and averaged 21 minutes last season with Indiana, on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.  He was well-received in the Indiana locker-room and he learned to come off the bench on a team that had hoped to contend before being decimated with injuries. He’s got at least a year or two left in the tank, and with the Raptors carrying inexperienced and development-stunted bigs like Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira, it makes sense to have someone of Scola’s intelligence level on the team.

Also, Zarar should hit up the casino sometime soon:

The 35-year-old Argentinian spent the last two seasons with the Indiana Pacers. He’s a crafty post scorer that has little-to-no bounce. He can nail a midrange jumper and should help bring playmaking to the frontcourt, something the Raptors sorely lack (see my piece later on Thursday). Scola averaged 16.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, which are right in-line with his career figures. That was good for a PER of 16.8.

The move suggests that Patrick Patterson will get the starting power forward gig, while Scola serves as backup. It’s not an ideal situation, especially since Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas sucked as a frontcourt last season, but who knows? Maybe it’ll work since Jonas is improving his jumper and his quickness? Maybe he’ll teach Valanciunas and the rest of the Raptors about the principle of verticality, as he did with the Pacers. His veteranship is also to be mentioned, and there’s a South American connection with Bebe and Bruno, if only so that they can talk about the strange decline of Brazilian soccer.

Scola’s signing brings the Raptors’ roster to 13 (minus Luke Ridnour, who is not gonna stay). The depth chart now looks as follows:

PG: Lowry/Joseph/Wright

SG: DeRozan/Ross

SF: Carroll/Johnson/Bruno

PF: Patterson/Scola

C: Valanciunas/Biyombo/Bebe

At $3 million, the Raptors should still have something around $2 million in cap room. But if that’s the case, just structure the multi-year deals as declining salary scales and grab another two wings on the minimum. Maybe promote DeAndre Daniels if he’s ready? I’m very tired.

Masai Ujiri just got lent some money.

The Raptors look to be a beneficiary of the league’s salary cap set to rise to $70M for the upcoming season.  Initially, the cap was expected to be $67M, but the jump to $70M has one major effect: max contracts are now bigger because those are based on a percentage of the cap.  Secondly, they’re giving teams who were projected to be above to near the cap (like the Raptors) extra breathing room.  The Raptors will likely sign Bismack Biyombo using the “mini” mid-level exception, meaning that his $2.8M first year salary wouldn’t count against the cap. This would free up about $5M worth of money for Masai Ujiri to spend, without resorting to trades.

Given the free-agent pool that’s out there (discussed here and here recently), offering a $5M deal isn’t nothing, and certainly lends more flexibility to Ujiri as he tries to round off his roster.

Check out Basketball Insiders for more detail, as currently they appear to have the best numbers (at least until Sham Sports get their act together).

Blake will have a real analysis of this thing tomorrow.

Sonny Weems’ exile from the NBA is over! The former Raptors, who along with DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson formed the famed Young Guns trio, has signed a 2 year $5.8 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. No word on whether he’s learned to control his penchant for trying to take over games, or not.

Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer (L) celebrates a basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

I just had the chance to go through questions that were tweeted my way last night. Unsurprisingly, they were mostly directed towards the power forward issue that the Raptors currently have. I’ll do my best to dissect these questions.

It’s probably best to get this out of the way first: The Raptors have, reportedly, just over 4 million left in cap space once they waive Luke Ridnour’s unguaranteed deal. Biyombo’s salary does not count towards the cap, as he was signed with the room exception. To further elaborate on this exception, it’s a new rule that allows teams to offer max contracts of two years at 2.5 million without it affecting the cap.

Blake will elaborate on this in an article tomorrow.

4 million is not a staggering amount. One thing is clear: Masai splashed most of the money already on Caroll and CoJo. But there are still some good players out there to grab. The Raptors though, will focus on upgrading their power forward position from here on in. Every other spot is filled at the moment, while the power forward position looks quite thin. I’ll break down three names below.

I’m only listing off three realistic candidates here. Ranked from best to worst in terms of fit with this team.

Terrence Jones

There have been no strong links between Terrence Jones and the Raptors, but if there’s a way to land the Rockets’ forward, the Raptors could find their starting power forward for years to come. Jones is a mobile big who does well on defensive rotations and does a decent job on the glass. His downfall is that he’s a below average 3-point (35.1%) and free-throw (60%) shooter. Jones only played 27 mpg last season, but as a starter, he could easily be a 15-10 guy.

Jones has a really solid interior game offensively. He can finish inside and has an explosive first step which catches opposing power forwards off guard. He has an insane 7’2 wingspan, works his tail off, and is a menace when it comes to cleaning up the rim and getting offensive put-backs.

Although his three-point shooting isn’t exactly feared – Jones can still stretch the floor and draw out interior defenders. Plus, his shot is something that can still be worked on. If Amir Johnson can develop a three-point shot seemingly over the course of a season as a starting power forward, it’s not far-fetched to think a young player who already has the mechanics, to improve into a respectable three-point threat.

Houston already has another great prospect in Donatas Motiejunas at the four, which makes Jones more expendable. But realistically, what do the Raptors have to offer the Rockets? The Rockets will be looking to strengthen their back-court. They need a shooter / scorer-type player who can fill in to take pressure off Harden, and score when Harden is on the bench.

The Raptors have no such player that is expendable, really. Unless you’re willing to package fresh meat like Delon Wright or future draft picks, I don’t think Houston even looks at the offer sheet. Theoretically, a straight up Luke Ridnour + Delon Wright for Terrence Jones would work, but the chances of Houston taking it seriously are slim.

To remind you, here is what the Raptors have in terms of draft picks.

2016 1st round draft pick from New York (worse of Denver/New York)
2017 1st round draft pick from Los Angeles (via Milwaukee Vasquez Trade)
2017 2nd round draft pick from New York (Bargnani trade)

The 2016 pick is an absolute gold mine. The Knicks are going to be awful – again. That’s a potential lottery pick right there. The other two picks are in the air at this point, but I imagine both will be high. The only circumstance where Masai Ujiri should trade the 2016 pick is to acquire a bonafide star. Anything less would be a waste of assets. I don’t believe Masai will touch that pick unless it’s truly a profitable return.

Markieff Morris

Like Jones, Morris has problems stretching the floor efficiently, but he can at least pull-out to the mid-range in a poor man’s LaMarcus Aldridge type of way. His defense is sound – not great, not awful – and he’s not a rim protector. He would probably need to be paired with Biyombo rather than Valanciunas in the starting unit, which becomes problematic because Morris is not a bench player and starting next season he’ll be making 8 million a year.

Realistically, if Morris is acquired, he is going to start at the four regardless of how well he pairs with Valanciunas. Dwane Casey would have to make it work.

Phoenix is making Morris expendable because he clashes with head coach Jeff Hornacek. So what would they be looking for in return? It’s an interesting question, because no one really seems to know what Phoenix is doing. They’re not good enough to make the playoffs, but they’re also somewhat in ‘win now’ mode with their commitment to Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, as well as their recent investment of Tyson Chandler.

With that in mind, the Raptors could entice the Suns with a 3-for-1 trade: James Johnson, Terrence Ross, and Luke Ridnour for Markieff Morris. Anything less than that wouldn’t work, as it would put the Raptors over the luxury tax, and a deal like that would cripple the depth of the team.

Carlos Boozer

Right off the bat I will say that this would be a borderline disastrous move. Carlos Boozer is a corpse of a corpse. He’s regressed every year since leaving Utah, and he does ridiculous things like this:

View post on imgur.com

Yes, when you’re building a young team headed for a playoff run, it’s nice to have veterans on the cheap (if he indeed comes cheap). But keep in mind Boozer is not your typical veteran. He’s not an old guru that inspires young athletes nor has he ever been known as a character guy.

He can give you entertainment value as a neutral – that I’ll give him.

There is one big problem that arises in a Carlos Boozer signing – that he may become a starter in Dwane Casey’s system solely based on reputation and name. The Raptors would collapse defensively.

There is only one way to entertain the idea of signing Carlos Boozer and that is to have him come off the bench. Now that, is an interesting scenario. Boozer still has somewhat of an offensive game, can rebound at a decent rate, and is a good passer. Losing Lou Williams guts the Raptors of scoring off the bench, but having Boozer might replenish that role. Boozer is in essence, the ‘anti-Biyombo’. In that sense, a Biyombo-Boozer pairing off the bench might actually work.

But again, he would absolutely have to come off the bench. If Boozer is the only power forward the Raptors could net this Summer, you’re asking a lot of Patrick Patterson to be your starting four. I’m sure PatMan would welcome the challenge and could guard most power forwards in the East, but it can’t be your go-to line-up.

There are other interesting names out there: Josh Smith, Jordan Hill, Darrell Arthur. I didn’t elaborate on them, because Zarar covered it pretty good yesterday.

If this question came up two or three weeks ago, I would have said there’s a chance DeMar gets moved, but the way this off-season is developing, it’s clear to me that DeRozan and Lowry will both be part of the core this season. There isn’t many realistic scenarios now where moving DeMar is conducive to building a better team. If Aldridge was a possibility, you’d move DeRozan – or whoever, really – in a heartbeat.

It’s hard to predict what happens at the trade deadline now, because how the Eastern Conference unfolds now is tough to predict. The Raptors have improved their core and lost some depth along the way, while there are 5-6 other teams who look just as good – if not better than the Raptors. Masai will evaluate that closer to the trade deadline.

The Raptors are down at Summer League in Las Vegas, which is where center Jonas Valanciunas caught up with Akil Augustine of NBA TV Canada.

“I was working on my shots selection, I was working on my quickness, bringing my game to being like power forward, not like slow center,” Valanciunas said of his summer workouts. “So I’m trying to increase my speed and my abilities to shoot a midrange shot … to be like a quicker guy.”

Valanciunas then clarified that he’s not being instructed to become a power forward (which would make no sense considering that he’s their only viable starting center), and that the goal was to add quickness, to add a midrange jumper, to his current repertoire of post-oriented play.

It’s a great sign that Valanciunas is working on quickness and his shooting. I touched on the need for both in a piece earlier this summer.

On quickness:

Given that he lacks footspeed, changing defensive schemes should help alleviate some problems for Valanciunas. But he wasn’t asked to hedge as much as the Raptors’ other bigs and the Raptors’ guards still insisted on giving up the middle when paired defensively with Valanciunas. The strategy often led to awkward 2-on-1 situations in which Valanciunas had to guard both the ball handler and the roller.

However, hiding Valanciunas will become increasingly difficult. Dropping Valanciunas back to protect the rim works against a traditional big, but teams have often exploited Valanciunas’s weakness by going small, or even by catching Valanciunas on switches. Valanciunas doesn’t have the footspeed to track players on the perimeter and it prompts him to guess on shot-fakes to compensate.

The NBA is also moving away from the uniformity of ICEing pick-and-rolls because the it falls apart against teams with a wealth of 3-point shooting. In response, teams are increasingly warming to the idea of switching, with teams like Milwaukee, Houston and Golden State trotting out lineups of homogenous defenders who are capable of guarding multiple positions. The idea there is a trade-off: switching yields mismatches, but it spares the need for help rotations on pick-and-rolls.

To that end, it’s unreasonable to expect Valanciunas to ever be able to defend any position other than center. But given where the league is trending, Valanciunas will need to — at the minimum — develop enough quickness to adequately brave the perimeter on occasion.

On a midrange shot:

The goal with Valanciunas developing a midrange jumper isn’t so that the Raptors can have yet another starter who lives in the midrange. The idea is to develop a necessary weapon to play out of the high post.

Valanciunas launched 86 of his 652 field-goal attempts from the midrange, knocking them down at a 33.7 percent clip. Owing mostly to his inability to can the shot, opponents completely played off him and dared Valanciunas to shoot. Valanciunas almost never went straight into a shot, opting instead to bait opponents with a toothless pump-fake. And again. And again. And again.

Being able to can the flat-footed shot should theoretically open up a world of possibilities. It makes the pick-and-pop an option. It makes the idea of working Valanciunas out of the high post an option. It makes running dribble hand-offs in the middle of the court easier without a defender sagging off and waiting at the basket.

Valanciuas has good form and is a good free-throw shooter, so he has the working structure of a functional jumper. The next step will be for him to take it with more conviction.

As an added note, you can actually see Valanciunas working on his jumper in the background during Bruno Caboclo’s interview.

A Little Housekeeping Off The Hop

Perhaps it’s my withdrawal symptoms kicking in, but Summer League hasn’t been this watchable for quite some time. Maybe I’m just enjoying Mario Hezonja’s debut against inferior opponents a little too much. Which reminds me, Super Mario looks the part and then some. What happens in Vegas, will most likely begin to haunt opponents in short order.

Orlando has built a group that screams potential, and at the very least they’ve joined the conversation to battle for the 8th-seed. The last thing Toronto needs after taking a step back last season is another up-and-coming team clouding the Conference picture. Yes, you can still label a team a failure despite them setting a franchise record in wins.

The Raps’ schedule doesn’t kickoff until Friday night, where they’ll be suiting up against Sacramento. If you’re one to usually scoff at Vegas Ball this time of year, I can’t take issue with you, its track record isn’t particularly noteworthy. However, a few intriguing factors could change your mind, and your channel.

Among them are a chance to check in on the progression (if any) of the usual suspects, Bruno and Bebe, as well as draftees Delon Wright and Norman Powell, and the one who continues to lurk in the background, the talented DeAndre Daniels.

Not to mention the fact that it’s basketball in raw form. Small crowds with minimal distraction, and an atmosphere where every single participant is trying to prove something. Besides, it starts at 6:30pm, there’s plenty of time for the rest of your evening. Just be weary of HOV lanes, and on the lookout for silver-black-and-white walkers.

It’s probably a good thing the Free Agency chaos has begun to cool off.

Examining how the Raps’ most recent addition, Corey Joseph, potentially affects Toronto’s future direction is the next step. This squad is creeping closer to a trending-north return, at least on paper. And the new-found excitement is helping provide a much needed stress release.

Despite LaMarcus Aldridge existing as a fantasy pick-up all along, the Raptors were dealt a few favours in the process. For starters, a player of his caliber simply holding a meeting can only aid this franchise’s capabilities in the marketplace moving forward. With troubling tax laws an annual roadblock, the lure of Toronto will seemingly always need an outside push.

It also furthers the developing interest in players who don’t necessarily jump ship to the most “mainstream” situation, as basketball decisions are trending upward in their own right. Keep your head up, Knicks’ fans, Kristaps Porzingis offers hope, even with Carmelo’s sabotaging ways.

And hey, at least Aldridge stayed in the West. I’m now looking forward to the upcoming Warriors-Spurs Conference Finals.

Or, as Bill Simmons put it:

Speaking of high hopes. Aldridge’s assistance also trickled down to the Raps’ roster. After his decision was finally made, thoughts immediately shifted to the notion that San Antonio’s new arrival would likely force the Spurs to relinquish Joseph’s rights. In which Masai and company wasted little time benefitting from the situation, landing the underused, yet up-and-coming point guard with the Pickering, Ontario pedigree.

Considering the void in the frontcourt left by Amir Johnson’s departure to Beantown, hopes that Aldridge would ultimately choose Phoenix, where the same scenario could have played out making Markieff Morris available, arguably would have provided more satisfaction.

But in the end, there’s no complaints in acquiring a player coming from a disciplined and ball-sharing environment, while adding more firepower at such an important position in the process. On the surface, the amount of cash forked over caused a number of double-takes. In case you missed it, or bypassed the link above, Zarar Siddiqi quickly put out the fire:

The number looks high now, but the deal will become miniscule in Years 2 and 3. It works out to 8.3 percent of the cap in 2016-17 and 7.4 percent in 2017-18. That’s when Joseph should be hitting his prime, which could make this contract a bargain.

For now, we should be embracing Money Masai making it rain:

Still, in the spirt of the forever roller-coaster of emotions the Raps supply, a sobering dose of reality was required the next morning. It wouldn’t be a Toronto party without one. Which brings in the questions the acquisition of Joseph could eventually manifest into.

kyle_lowry_nets

Back To The Future

Kyle Lowry will remain this team’s leading heart-and-soul moving forward, along with playing an added integral role in the development of the new back-up point guards. How fast the two 23-year-old kids can make substantial contributions largely depends on whether Casey and K-Low can manage a proper mentoring process.

This is where it gets messy, the relationship between Head Coach and floor general doesn’t exactly embody a perfect match, meaning patience is the right course of action for fans and execs alike.

Joseph has has earned his stripes. But what if Wright’s also a quick study, and his defensive calling-card begins to impact games sooner rather than later? Playing all four years in College only backs the thought. Lowry’s service to the team would then be deemed a success, but wouldn’t that also lead to his days in a Raptors’ uniform ultimately being numbered? As per the moment, neither Joseph or Wright translate well to the two.

Well, not necessarily, as there’s room for all three to help each other immediately, and eventually coexist evenly. The Raps’ usage of Lowry roaming off the ball is usually a focal point, and the proposition of the trio forming a two point-guard set rotation would be prosperous. Problem is, by the time Toronto is ready to be considered a contender, the young guns may have already surpassed K-Low.

But wait, the hits keep coming. Off-court obstacles do their damnedest to interfere as well.

DeMar DeRozan’s impending payday represents the team’s most pressing financial dilemma. Judging by the fact that DeMar’s name was bandied about when courting prospective Free Agents, it lends itself to the idea that the plan is to back up the brinks truck and load Derozan’s pockets before the 2016-17 season.

The looming and significant cap rise across the league can ease the burden of where money can be allocated, but mix in those four first-round picks over the next two years with thoughts of going all-in on the Free Agent class of 2016, an elephant in the room will undoubtedly appear.

That Kevin Durant led class includes the unrestricted likes of Joakim Noah and Al Horford, while also featuring the restricted Andre Drummond and Toronto’s own, Jonas Valanciunas. With the state of the frontcourt as we speak, and the fact that the Raps might even go with what they have, one has to think a major play will be made. Which at that point, the Raps might even be interested in moving Lowry’s contract via trade.

Raptors

There’s still a major factor I have yet to give its proper due, and that’s Lowry himself. If his old-self reappears, it can go along away in silencing the idea of him moving on.

I’m referring to:

  • The one who relishes drawing the charge.
  • The point guard who gives the same effort at both ends.
  • An opposite version of the three-year decline in Assists Per 36 minutes.
  • Back, or closer to his 11.8 Win Shares of 2013-14, not the 7.1 level of last year (Offensive drop: 8.4 to 5.1, Defensive: 3.3 to 2.0).
  • The more organized, and less isolation-style example being set (I know, the latter is likely impossible in this offense).
  • The player who didn’t post his worst True Shooting % of his career last season (.527).
  • A team leader who has the capability of seamlessly fitting into the new defensive-minded culture shift that Masai is trying to install.
  • And above all, a completely healthy K-Low (slack is definitely given where it’s due).

With a first-round pick, and offseason money spent at the same position he holds, one would think that can spark the fire of rejuvenation, where most of these attributes can make an appearance once again. Lowry may be superior in talent and experience, but the backups promise might be serviceable enough going forward for this organization to concentrate on filling holes elsewhere.

A little saving grace comes in the form of the timeline the execs actually give Wright. Signing Joseph could be argued as a proactive approach to ensuring Lowry has a quality backup. Though with Bobby Portis still avaialble to draft and aid the club’s most pressing need at Power Forward, that’s a bit of a stretch.

There’s three years left on his contract, but Lowry needs to prove himself once again to see a future extension, or even its final year. He led this franchise’s resurgence to relevance, it would be a damn shame for the ending to have already started.

Happy Summer League, folks. Here’s to a Markieff Morris acquisition in the days ahead.

Jesse Mermuys had us all fooled, and is in fact moving up the corporate ladder.

The #Raptors905 (I think I’m supposed to use a hashtag there) have made their first couple moves:

Jesse Mermuys was on the bench as an assistant coach last season and was basically the backup half-time interview behind Tom Sterner.  He takes on the role of Assistant GM as well as head-coach, and creates a direct link between Dwane Casey’s coaching staff and the D-League franchise.

Mermuys survived the assistant coaching cull which saw Sterner and Bill Bayno fall by the wayside.  The introduction of Jerry Stackhouse and Rex Kalamian had filled those voids, and now that Mermuys is leaving, there may be an additional hire. We nominate Butch Carter. Mermuys also coaches the Raptors summer league teams.

Dan Tolzman was the director of scouting for the team and will be taking over GM duties, which goes hand-in-hand with his previous role.  In fact, it’s an nice transition from identifying players (scouting) to integrating them into a larger system (development).  This D-League movement is a huge step in the right direction and it’ll start paying dividends within a year, and doubly so if it somehow accelerates Bruno Caboclo’s development from backup mascot to 10th man.

I got to say, the Mermuys hire surprised me because he doesn’t exactly come off as well-rounded, and if he was a friend of mine I wouldn’t trust him as a job reference.  He might just blurt out how we stole that DVD player from Best Buy that one time.

Some quotes from Masai Ujiri and Mermuys:

“This is a step on Jesse’s path to becoming an NBA head coach,” said Ujiri. “We have seen first-hand his ability to develop our players and are excited to have him lead our DLeague program.”

“I am extremely excited for the responsibility of developing and helping our young players reach their full potential” said Mermuys. “The opportunity to assist the organization, fulfill my passion for player development while strengthening my leadership skills through head coaching experience is a valuable prospect.

There’s no doubt we lack a little “killer instinct” on this team, a void which could be possibly filled by a Paul Pierce-esque style player. Who’s still out there now which you think could be that player for the Raptors?

Scott Halleran/NBAE/Getty Images

The Players Tribue is one of the best sites out there, and DeMarre Carroll penned a piece thanking the Atlanta organization and fans. Couple of interesting tidbits from that post:

There was this one shooting drill we had in practice, and Kyle would just dominate everybody. It took me a while to even build up the courage to challenge him. I practiced for a couple of weeks and was hitting most of my shots, so I called Kyle over and said I was ready to take the throne. I told him I’m the Black Kyle Korver.

We each took turns putting up five threes, and when I made four out of five, he’d make five out of five. If I hit three out of five, he’d make four out of five. No matter how many times we played, Kyle always found a way to beat me by one if I missed a shot.

He told me to try again next year when I was ready. Well, I’m telling him now that Black Kyle Korver will get his revenge. It’s on.

Jokes aside, he does point to a very key ingredient in his and the team’s success last season:

The biggest reason why I was able to play my best basketball in Atlanta is because of the organization’s player development. All of the coaches worked hard to make every guy on this roster better, and they deserve a lot of credit for our team’s improvement this year.

Kenny Atkinson pushed me to take my game to another level. Darvin Ham shared the tricks he picked up during his long NBA career to help me develop my skills around the basket. And then there was Quin Snyder, who was the first coach who took me under his wing while he was an assistant here.

The big difference between regular NBA players and superstars isn’t just talent, but the way they train. Quin and I just kind of clicked right away when I came to the Hawks, and he began working with me to develop skills that I hadn’t really touched before. His belief in me built up my confidence so much.

This is really important because he’s been a fringe player who found the perfect situation which allowed him to flourish.  He had the right system around him, the right friends, and the right coaching support.  As he points out, it’s not that he’s some highly skilled player that you can transport from one situation to another and replicate production.  It’s vital that Dwane Casey’s staff provide him the support that he clearly needs and expects for him and the team to do well.

We’ve talked about his assisted rate of 82.6%, and how the Raptors were third-last in assist rate last season, and how there’s a system development issue at play here.  He’s also improved as a player as well and gotten a lot smarter.  For example, he increased his three-point shooting from 28.6% in his final year in Utah to 39.5% last season with the Hawks, and during that same time span he reduced the amount of “long twos” he was taking from 31% to 6%.   That speaks to a very specific change in his game that was orchestrated by the Atlanta coaching staff, who saw a problem in the player and corrected it.

The question is whether Dwane Casey’s staff is able to, not just find but, carve a role for him that sees him maintain, if not improve, his current standing.

Luis Scola remains an under-the-radar free-agent who could be had on the cheap. AFP/Scanpix.

SI has done a pretty good job of breaking down available free agents (warning: auto-playing video), and the pickings are slim.  The Raptors have one major need left unaddressed, and that’s power forward.

I have to assume that the Raptors do in fact want to add some bodies there, and that they’re not comfortable with just Patrick Patterson as the starter, with nothing behind him other than Bismack Biyombo.  Then again, this sort of a highly experimental approach is a curious one and would subscribe to the small-ball philosophy, certainly far more than going after Carlos Boozer would.

Depending on your level of crazy, Josh Smith could be an option.  I happen to think that any GM who thinks that Josh Smith playing major minutes would lead to success needs to have his head examined, and I know that not having even offered Lou Williams a contract, Masai Ujiri is not one to throw money at Josh Smith, even if it’s the veteran’s minimum.  The guy is just too much of a wildcard, way too inefficient, and wildly frustrating.

There are names like Jordan Hill and Darrell Arthur available, the former is a good rebounder and nothing else, and the latter an overrated player that doesn’t contribute offensively.  In the limited $4-5M the Raptors have left, they need to do a few things:

  1. Address veteran leadership
  2. Not sacrifice defense
  3. Improve bench offensive
  4. Not spend a lot

Enter Luis Scola, and let’s start with his SI blurb:

At 35, Scola is rounding for third and headed home. His transition to a bench role in Indiana played out fairly well, as the crafty 6-foot-9 power forward managed to keep his per-minute production up even in a reserve role. Although one would think he’s in ring-chasing mode, Scola doesn’t stretch the court and he isn’t an impact defender, so his utility for true contenders might be somewhat limited.

Scola isn’t a great defender but we don’t need him to be.  He is, however, a smart defender that plays the angles, (tries to) move his feet, and doesn’t pick up silly fouls.  Offensively, he’s still a crafty player with an old-man game, has back-to-the-basket moves, and can even play the pick ‘n roll in spots.  His 35-year old body is a non-factor to me because he doesn’t rely on his athleticism to be effective, and in that regard is very much like his countryman, Manu Ginobili.

He played 81 games and averaged 21 minutes last season with Indiana, on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.  He was well-received in the Indiana locker-room and he learned to come off the bench on a team that had hoped to contend before being decimated with injuries. He’s got at least a year or two left in the tank, and with the Raptors carrying inexperienced and development-stunted bigs like Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira, it makes sense to have someone of Scola’s intelligence level on the team.  Who knows, he might even be able to teach them a thing or two?  For example, he was the poster-boy for Frank Vogel when preaching rim defense, and though he’s athletically challenged, it doesn’t stop him from being a sound basketball player.  For more on how he fared in Indiana and what their fans thought of him, 8pts9secs has the details:

Luis Scola had his best season as an Indiana Pacer in 2014-15 amidst the chaos that represented the Pacers’ year. With the blue and gold needing more out of Scola while playing him alongside inexperienced guys like Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill, and Lavoy Allen, Scola delivered modestly. Scola arguably outperformed started David West for a good portion of the season, though he lacked West’s skill as a sneaky passing big man. If we delve into the advanced stats, Scola

  • had the highest PER (16.8) since his 2010-11 campaign
  • had the best Total Rebound Percentage (an estimate of the % of available rebounds the player grabbed while they were on the floor) of his career at 17.5%
  • had the best 3-pt shooting year of his career, at a modest 25% (on 20 attempts)
  • nearly doubled his win shares (an estimate of how many wins an individual player contributed) from 2.5 to 4.4

Luis truly had a solid season across the board, and broke out a ridiculous number of old man style post moves, routinely going under, around, and seemingly through defenders on his way to well defended layups. If we were to look for a place Scola struggled, however, we’d need to look no further than 15 feet from the basket; the free throw line. Before signing with Indiana, Scola’s last two years from the charity stripe were solid; 77.3% and 78.7%, respectively. Since joining the blue and gold, Scola has shot only 71% from the line, including the worst performance since his rookie year last season, 69.9%. Dropping almost 9% over a two year span is concerning, and Luis seemed to have a significant number of 1-of-4 days at the line with big misses.

The Argentinian would instantly be a fan favorite in Toronto because we have a habit of falling in love with his type – all hustle, tons of grit, and wears his heart on his sleeve.  Scola’s always been a player that you hate playing against, and would love to have on your team.  From his perspective, the fact that he hasn’t been picked up yet means the interest in him has cooled.  As the article noted, he can’t space the floor and since that appears to be table-stakes these days, he’s left on the outside looking in.

Though Carlos Boozer is the better offensive player, I find that having a locker-room guy like Scola might be even more valuable, especially since the Raptors acquired young guys in Biyombo, Corey Joseph, and Delon Wright.

Scola made $4.9M last season with the Pacers, and like David West, would likely take the veteran’s minimum if a contender comes calling.  On the other hand, his career earnings are $57M, which isn’t huge, and this is going to be his last contract.  The Raptors could offer him the MLE and see if he bites. In many regards, he’s similar to Amir Johnson in the way he plays, except that you could actually throw him the ball once in a while and run a few plays around him.  The difference is that Scola is likely to come at 1/3rd the price Johnson went to the Celtics for.

The risk here is low – you’re not going to get a much better player from the free-agent pool at this point and a 1-2 year deal could get the job done.  I wanted the Raptors to go after David West, but when he left $11M plus on the table to join the Spurs, you knew the Raptors didn’t stand a chance. The other guy that was available that I liked was Spencer Hawes, who Charlotte (the worst three-point shooting team in the league) acquired as part of the Lance Stephenson deal.

There’s also the trade route to explore, and it doesn’t look like Ujiri is interested in a major shakeup.  Looking at the assets right now, it’s basically Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.  Given the gaping hole a Valanciunas trade would create in the front-court, I’m prepared to rule that out, especially this late in the free-agent frenzy where most teams have already picked out their key players for next season.  We all agree that Terrence Ross isn’t fetching you much, which didn’t stop me from wandering over to the trade machine and drumming this thing up:

marvin

Don’t ask me for extended analysis – just saying that the poor-shooting Hornets get a three-point specialist, and since they already have Jason Maxiell and they’re somewhat interested in Cody Zeller, this might free up some congestion there.  They could also save some money by waiving Ridnour.  For the Raptors, they get a three-point shooting stretch four that also plays defense.  Meh, not the most crazy trade idea I’ve seen.

Another something to think about:

This deal requires more salary to be sent to Phoenix, which I’ll leave for Ujiri to figure out how to do. Here’s not the long-distance shooter his brother is and instead possesses one of the league’s best ‘roll’ actions on the PnR. Definitely worth looking into it you want to increase the punch off the bench, and he’s only one 25 so fits into the long-term plan. Even if you have to shed a first-round pick, this is worth it.

As per SAUCES, the Raptors are interested in the corpse of Carlos Boozer.

The Raptors may have address the PG and then some, shored up the SF, but they have gotten weaker at the PF with the loss of Amir Johnson, so it makes sense they start looking into fixing that. One of the avenues they’re considering is digging up Carlos Boozer’s grave, who was last interred at Staples Center under the watchful eye of the LA Lakers.

Boozer is an unrestricted free-agent who made $3.25M last season. He played 71 games last season and averaged 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 24 minutes as the Lakers played a ton of garbage games where the outcome didn’t matter. Boozer is 33 years old and hails from Germany (betcha didn’t know that).

Boozer could be a serviceable presence off the bench, but it’s hard to see him being the starting answer at PF in any sort of configuration. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had a useful career and could still probably contribute on the offensive end. The question you have to ask is that given all the defensive efforts the Raptors have made this off-season, does it really make sense to inject a poor defender like Boozer in the middle?

Mobility is the name of the game here, and it looks more and more like the Raptors are trying to play GSW East ball, and Boozer simply doesn’t fit. Again, if he’s in a limited capacity supplying “veteran leadership”, fine, and even there I have to suspend my disbelief that he’s able to provide even that.

Delon Wright, one of the Scrubb brothers, DeAndre Daniels, Lucas Noguiera and Bruno Caboclo “headline” the list. Remember, this is a tournament-style competition that, though still horrible to watch, will not make your eyes bleed.

The games are held between July 10-20 in Las Vegas.

At this point there appears to be one very important void to fill still. Masai might have to get a little creative now with the lack of cap space still available. Who are some options at this point?

The pod takes on the developments of the last week head-on.
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BOOM!

And for contract terms, see below. The fourth year will be a player option, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

The power forward spot may be the Raptors’ most pressing need, but that’s not stopping Masai Ujiri from strengthening the point guard position, which is now surely shored up with the addition of Canadian Cory Joseph. This also means that Luke Ridnour’s two percent chance of staying with the team is gone, and he will surely be either released, or traded, by July 11th, which is when his contract becomes guaranteed.

In giving Joseph this deal, the Raptors have pretty much ate into most, if not all, of their remaining cap room. Raptors cap guru Dan Hackett (DanH in the forums) says that the Raptors will have $4 million left in cap room if Joseph and Carroll’s deals are both backloaded. So, it looks like the Raptors will need to go bargain hunting to snag a third power forward. A trade is more likely.

The number looks high now, but the deal will become miniscule in Years 2 and 3. It works out to 8.3 percent of the cap in 2016-17 and 7.4 percent in 2017-18. That’s when Joseph should be hitting his prime, which could make this contract a bargain.

Joseph, the four-year veteran, was drafted by the Spurs with the 29th pick in the 2011 draft, and averaged a career-high 6.8 points and 2.4 assists in 18 minutes last season, making the backup point guard his own in the Spurs’ socialist system.

Joseph would be expected to battle Delon Wright for backup duties here in Toronto, and both offer a little something different. He had a strong shooting season last year when he hit 36 percent of his threes. Joseph can also slash into the defense and use his quickness to get to the basket and a good finisher around the hoop for a 6-foot-3 guard. Again, much like DeMarre Carroll and Atlanta, the Raptors are importing players from very good systems, and it’s tempting to project their numbers forward, but keep in mind that these moves that the constraint to the Raptors success now becomes Dwane Casey and his ability to manage players who have proven to be productive while remaining efficient in previous stops. Similar to Carroll, 94 percent of Joseph’s threes were assisted last season. Compared that with Kyle Lowry at 58 percent.

The Canadian angle can’t be understated here. The organization tried to acquire Tyler Ennis on draft day last year, and have now finally succeeded getting another Canadian into the regular rotation. This will mark the first time the Raptors will have a Canadian-born player on the active roster in the regular season, and there’s plenty of marketing opportunities to play. Knowing how MLSE and the TV broadcasts work, expect the point of Joseph’s nationality to be mentioned ad nauseum.

That being said, cultivating a connection with Canadian basketball is something Ujiri has stressed in the past. He has now made good on a promise he made four months past.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, during my time, even if my time [with the Raptors] is short, there will be a Canadian player on the Toronto Raptors,” Ujiri said.

(Via Eric Koreen, National Post)

Without all that, Joseph brings more than his passport. He made good strides last season and showed a very good ability to drive the ball after finding seams – 39 percent of his shot-attempts last season were at the rim. The Spurs were also +6.6 points per 100 possessions with Joseph on the court, owning mostly to his defensive advantage over a hobbled Tony Parker.

It goes without saying that Joseph will have a bigger role here in Toronto. Assuming that he continues to develop his jumpshot, Joseph should time playing in two point guard units with Kyle Lowry — a favorite of Casey’s. Joseph upped his averages to 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 34.6 minutes across 14 games as a starter.

Contributions to this post were made by Zarar Siddiqi and William Lou.

With the loss of Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams, the Raptors could use some backcourt help in the form of Cory Joseph.

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The reward for a Sixth Man of the Year campaign: 3-year, $21-million deal and a chance to chuck alongside Kobe and Swaggy.

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In a low-cost, low-risk move, Masai-ah has plucked Biyombo off the wire for a two-year $6mil deal:

Not clear if there is an option on his second year, but you have to love this get since the team gets a low usage, defensive-minded workhorse (albeit raw) center who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Lowry and DeRozan can continue to dominate the ball on offense, he doesn’t take any touches away from Valanciunas’, the second unit has a rim protector, and the shift to small-ball looks to be in full swing.

Playing him alongside Jonas is also an interesting proposition, giving JV the luxury of a mobile, athletic, rim protector, who wont get in his way, and who actually compliments him very well.

The offensive drawbacks are many (can’t shoot free throws, no ability to get his shot off, can’t step out and hit the mid-range, a pick-and-roll zero), but most concerning is his total lack of dunking highlights over his short career. Athletic freaks should have at least one, right?

But that’s not why we got him, his ability to defend the rim is near-elite; something we haven’t had…ever:

bismack-blocking-shots

Note that he ranked 17th in blocked shots in only 20 minutes a night.

With the increasing cap, his addition costs the team next to nothing, and affords him the chance to settle into a role that doesn’t demand of him what being drafted seventh overall did with Charlotte.

Solid get by Masai. Solid

UPDATE: According to some folks in the know, Raptors signed Biyombo with their mini-mid-level exception, so there is no impact to their cap space; looking even better now.

Greivis Vasquez thanks the organization, the city and the fanbase for two great seasons.

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The offseason is off to a good start for the Raptors. The front office closely guarded their cap room and future flexibility at the trade deadline and has so far put it to good use, signing Demarre Carroll and pursuing Wes Matthews, who ultimately appears to have chosen Dallas over the Raptors (and the bags of money thrown at him by the disastrous Sacramento Kings). The Raptors being considered a real destination in free agency with their signing of Carroll, discussions with Matthews and their meeting with LeMarcus Aldridge is emblematic of this summer’s new free agent trend of good players seemingly more interested in going to locations with solid foundations where they are a good basketball fit, instead of considering market size, location or glamour. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have swung and missed on everyone they’ve sought after with their considerable cap space. This kind of trend simply hasn’t happened before in the NBA. Players are flocking to a combination of long-term security, the best basketball situation and the most possible money.

Toronto has always had an impossible time getting free agents because it’s a cold weather city, outside the USA and off of the mainstream radar (and TNT/ESPN broadcast schedule). The policy had long since been for Toronto to overpay free agents, or even their own players, as the only way to tempt them to come/stay north. But all that seems to have suddenly changed, with teams like Toronto and Milwaukee being genuine free agency players because of their recent success, solid foundations, positions in the Eastern conference and the pitches of their smart management teams. The Raptors entire pitch is no longer an offer to overpay. The irony is, even with cap space, the thing holding the Raptors back this and next year, all things considered, might be their inability to overpay.

The Wesley Matthews case is a good example. Matthews is reported to have been offered an annual salary of $16 million over four years from the Sacramento Kings of Comedy. He turned that down for a $13 million annual deal from Dallas over four years. It’s just a good business decision to hitch your wagon to Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks instead of the dumpster fire of a franchise in Sacramento. But it’s an incredibly bad business decision to leave an astounding $12 million dollars on the table! The thing is, the two offers probably end up being for essentially the exact same amount of money. California has one of the highest state income tax rates in the US, while Texas has no state income tax. So despite the variance in salary, it very well may be that Matthews takes home the same amount of money at the end of the day. Trust me, this would have been made very clear in Dallas’ pitch to Matthews. There is also no state income tax in Florida, and the Miami Heat have been bringing a finance expert to all of their major free agent pitches for years to explain to players how they’d make a little bit more, even by taking a little bit less, to come and play in Florida. It goes a long way towards helping to build a super team, and it was an instrumental factor in Riley and the Heat’s pitch to Lebron 5 years ago. This ties back in to the Raptors because players coming to play in Toronto are bound to pay income tax to both the Canadian government as workers here and income tax back home as well. It’s the inverse scenario of Texas and Florida. If Matthews is offered $13 million by Dallas, Toronto has to offer well in excess of that amount just to offer him the same amount. In a salary capped league, that’s very difficult to do.

$15 million is a lot of money to pay Demarre Carroll, but there are several teams who in all likelihood would have offered him that same money, especially in light of the salary cap set to explode over the next few years. The Raptors actually got lucky then, that they paid market value for Carroll instead of a premium. It’s also why their pursuit of LeMarcus Aldridge was probably always a mirage. Multiple teams will offer Aldridge max money, and even if the Raptors did that, our max money is ultimately less annual money than what the other teams are offering. The whole reason that the salary cap exists is to create parity and make it so that small market teams aren’t disadvantaged competing against big names like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. It clearly isn’t doing that in this case and is, in fact, making it a tough uphill fight for the Raptors because of their international location. It only seems fair that the league should consider some sort of flexible cap exception for the Raptors allowing them a small amount of extra cap space to compensate for the amount of money it’s players will immediately lose in tax dollars to the Canadian government. It would only be fair, but unfortunately, I can’t see this happening, and I definitely don’t see this happening before the next CBA.

The Raptors have often had to search off the beaten path for free agents, looking for the diamonds in the rough, overseas talent and smaller names. That they are now in the mix for bigger names is exciting, and the result of everything smart on and off the court that team management has done over the last few years. But being in the mix for bigger names means you’re bidding against competitors, and the Raptors are going to have to learn how to make one hell of a pitch, because cap space being equal, they are never going to be able to outbid anyone.

Jan 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) heads down court after a three point basket in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Trailblazers won 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Wesley Matthews has signed with the Mavericks, and in the end the Raptors finished third in the race to get him.  The Kings made a ‘huge’ offer but were rebuffed as Dallas upped the years to four, which was the main advantage being offered by the Raptors.

In hindsight, this may be a move best not made as Matthews is coming off an Achilles tendon injury, and was looking to make closer to $12M a year, which by all accounts would be a bit of a risk to spend on a position where the Raptors already have DeMar DeRozan.

Focus now turns to addressing the power forward position (assuming DeMarre Carroll’s a three) from what’s left of a thinning free-agent pool. Some notable options at four include Jordan Hill, Brandon Bass, Luis Scola, and Darrell Arthur. It might be that Masai Ujiri will have to look to the trade market to see if he can address the position, and see if he can raise the talent ceiling on this team beyond DeRozan and Lowry.

To me, the off-season had three todos:

  1. Find a starting SF
  2. Find a starting PF
  3. Ensure that DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are not your two best players heading into next season

So far, it’s 1/3 in my books.  Still early, but you have to think everything will be sorted out in a few days given the rate at which transactions are happening.

DeMarre Carroll was on TSN 1050 and talked about a few topics.

On the free-agent process and how things transpired:

I had 8 teams call me, and actually the Raptors were the very first team, and they gave me a great impression.

They came to my house at 10 PM, and I had four other teams: Detroit, Phoenix, and New York. The Raptors were the first team to come in, they blew me away with their presentation, they told me about the fan base, they told me about the city, they told me about how my family was going to live there. Last but not least, they told me about the team and I feel I can help this team in a lot of areas.

What he brings to the Raptors:

Defense. I think defensively I got to be the anchor. It has to start with me, my energy, my grittiness, my grit and grind, and everybody can jump on the bandwagon.

The year before the last the Raptors were a really good defensive team, I think last year they kind of fell off. I’m just trying to get Raptor fans something to get us [past the] first round.

On whether he still plays with a chip on his shoulder:

I don’t play with a chip on my shoulder, I play with a log on my shoulder. I feel like I’ve been through a lot, I’ve had a lot of obstacles [to overcome]. I wasn’t given, when first coming into the NBA, a silver platter. I was going to have to work throughout my whole career, my whole life. Once I got into the NBA, I knew I had to start from scratch and [get to] where I am today.

In a different interview (auto-playing video), he also spoke about the Hawks’ passiveness in trying to re-sign him:

“Atlanta, they made a semi-push but not as hard as I thought they would,” he told HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill. “I had four other teams making the big push.”

“They [the Hawks] really didn’t even really come with too much, according to my agent,” he added, noting his agent conducted most of the negotiations without him. Carroll eventually agreed to a deal with the Toronto Raptors.

“I know Toronto came into house and they did a good job of presentation and it kind of wowed me and my family away,” he concluded.

The Raptors are in hot pursuit of SG Wesley Matthews, and their offer of a greater number of years and a sign-and-trade for Portland aiming to reduce Matthew’s asking rate below $15M doesn’t appear to be getting the job done.

Dallas and Sacramento are the primary two competitors. While the Kings’ on and off-court situation is assumed to be unattractive, it simply means that they’ll have to throw bigger money at Matthews to land him, and they’ve created the cap space to do just that.

Dallas’s approach is a little different.  The Mavericks are trying to land DeAndre Jordan, and feel that if they do so, Matthews will follow.  Despite the frenzied opening two days of free-agency which has seen mediocre players get big money, Matthews is apparently willing to wait it out and see if Dallas is in fact able to land Jordan. If so, Dallas is confident of their approach to Matthews:

Once again, the Raptors angle here is an extra year to make it a four-year deal at around $11-12M, while executing a sign-and-trade with Portland to make the numbers work (the Raptors are ~$9M under the cap which is not enough to land Matthews).   Here’s the Raptors cap situation:

The Raptors are apparently contemplating a lineup of Matthews at SG, DeMar DeRozan at SF, and DeMarre Carroll at PF, which would beg the question: what is Jonas Valanciunas’ role in such a lineup?

To Amir Johnson, my favorite Raptor of all time.

(more…)

David Aldridge is reporting something that we all kind of suspected:

Aldridge is likely to choose either the Spurs or Suns.  The former presents a real chance of winning, and the latter apparently impressed in their meetings as they brought Tyson Chandler along.  Also, Phoenix has great weather.

This was always going to be highly unlikely for the Raptors, but just having the Raptors name mentioned in these kind of free-agency discussions is a positive. Not a huge thing, but at least a step in the right direction.  This is important after the playoff exit the Raptors had, which had seemingly washed all the shine off the recent successes of making the post-season two years in a row (granted, in the East).

The ‘get’ of DeMarre Carroll and the pursuit of Wes Matthews lend a bit of credibility to the franchise as well.  Mind you, that in this free-agency period there are a lot of players mediocre/somewhat above-average getting overpaid, and that appears to be a byproduct of the new CBA, and not actual overpayment.  It’s hard for me to digest this bit, but the math adds up here so I’m going to go with it.

What on earth happened yesterday?

Canada Day allowed for me to have the day off and to spend it largely following all of the free agency madness that took place. Despite all of that I still feel as confused as ever…like it was all a half dream of sorts that I can only remember pieces of.

Could there have been a more enjoyable first day? Absolute insanity, followed by an information hangover.

And what of the Raptors? The rumors were flying at a speed that I have never seen before, and yet it was an out of nowhere announcement from DeMarre Carroll on Twitter and Instagram that rightfully made the biggest news.

Carroll immediately became the highest paid free agent contract in Raptors history, while also providing the Raptors with a high level wing who can contribute on both sides of the ball. Outside of the unrealistic options available in free agency (LeBron, Butler, etc.), DeMarre was the top wing on the market and jumped at the opportunity to come to Toronto, passing up previously scheduled meetings with other teams (New York Knicks being one of them).

This news was immediately preceded by a plethora of Spurs moves (trading Tiago, re-signing Green, and meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge) that sent fear into the heart of Raptor fans who had been hoping for Aldridge to call Toronto home this coming season.

Years of training have caused Raptor fans to expect the worst, and many began to worry that Toronto would fail to sign any impact free agents despite being able to easily access over $22 million in cap space.

And then there was DeMarre.

No one had reported of Toronto’s meeting with DeMarre ahead of time. No one seemed to know that Masai Ujiri and company had made the trip to Atlanta to court, and no one knew that they had secured one of the top free agents the team has ever had.

Carroll gives the Raptors some much needed wing defence, while also having shot 39.5 percent from three last season. His shooting percentage jumps to 44.1 percent when taking the corner three.

While it’s very important to consider how DeMarre fits in Toronto, the more pressing question at the moment is “What’s next?”

In the days ahead Toronto has meetings scheduled with former (?) Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews.

Aldridge is this summer’s most sought after Power Forward and had already had meetings with the Los Angeles Lakers (rumors say that he was less than impressed), the San Antonio Spurs (the current consensus favourite…it’s the Spurs!), the Houston Rockets (he was impressed by their analytics), and the Phoenix Suns (who apparently walked away as the current co-favourite, in part due to their acquisition of Tyson Chandler earlier in the day).

Matthews (who is in the process of recovering from a torn Achilles this past year) meanwhile has met with the Dallas Mavericks (who seem to be pursuing anyone and everyone this summer) but is said to have some interest in joining Toronto.

The finances for both are tricky. Without trading away any current players, Toronto can clear roughly $9.6 million in cap space (waiving all of their cap holds, including waiting Lou Ridnour’s non-guaranteed contract). Not nearly enough room for Matthews (rumored to want $15 million per year) or Aldridge ($18.9 million max contract).

The space could be created for either player if needed though. Trading Patterson without returning salary would create the needed space for Wes, while trading both Patterson and Ross could (as an example) create the room to sign Aldridge to a max contract.

Despite the challenges attached, Ujiri still has plenty of options available to him in terms of how he builds the roster moving forward. One such rumor shows the type of out of the box thinking that Ujiri could be considering:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Wes Matthews , DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas…an odd but intriguing lineup possibility. It would provide the team with what should be a substantially improved defence, capable shooting, and low post scoring.

The worry here would easily be Carroll’s ability to hold up at power forward over the length of an entire season. The above line-up would be a great unit to run with for stretches of each game, but likely isn’t a full time solution.

The roster isn’t complete yet. Some financial flexibility remains, a few valuable trade assets are currently on the roster, and free agent meetings remain with both Aldridge and Matthews. The Raptors have always been an afterthought to most of the league, and this has been particularly visible in the acts of free agents each summer…yesterday felt different, and the hope is that today continues that trend with another major free agent decision.

Can Masai shock the world and land Aldridge? Could he convince Matthews to take less than his desired $15 million to compete in the Eastern Conference?

We may be just a few hours away from knowing. One thing is for certain though; the Raptors finally have a General Manager who has earned the trust of the fan base, and Masai Ujiri is bringing credibility to Toronto.

In Masai we trust.

The Toronto Raptors chase of Wesley Matthews is still on. It wasn’t a bluff to drive down DeMarre Carroll’s price. They didn’t hold a pre-scheduled meeting out of good faith. The Raptors are legitimately in on Matthews as a third wing, for a salary expected to fall in the (admittedly vague) $12-15-million range.

And according to Marc Stein of ESPN, Matthews’ options have narrowed to the Raptors and the Dallas Mavericks, who he says are “locked in battle” for the Portland Trail Blazers unrestricted free agent.

The language of other reports floating around suggests that meetings have already happened, with the Raptors trying to drive down Matthews’ desire for $15 million annually by offering a fourth year. DeMar DeRozan is said to have been involved in pitching Matthews, trying to sell him on an intriguing three-wing lineup that would see DeRozan at the two, Matthews at the three, and the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Carroll at the four.

The Raptors have, by my rough estimate, $9.6 million in cap space if they waive Luke Ridnour and renounce the rights to all of their free agents, including Lou Williams. That’s not enough to get Matthews done, but it may be close enough – Toronto could almost surely find a trade taker for Terrence Ross in a salary dump (we’ve all grown tired, but he’s a young player on a rookie scale deal who can hit threes), and Portland’s weird pseudo-hyper-rebuild could make them amenable to a sign-and-trade.

As for Matthews’ fit…you know what? Let’s get weird. Sure, playing Carroll at the four would leave Toronto susceptible in the post against some match-ups, but he’s a tough defender who’s proven capable of guarding hybrid forwards in the past. And there’s value in having three wings on the floor who can switch assignments and cross-match quickly. Matthews is a plus-defender, DeRozan is roughly average and a smart decision-maker, and Carroll’s quite effective. Those three on the floor together, in Dwane Casey’s aggressive scheme, switching plenty, may not hurt the team on the defensive end much at all. And offensively, it could quickly help turn the Raptors from an isolation-heavy, north-south only offense – albeit an effective one – into a more fluid, team-oriented attack. Matthews and Carroll are both strong outside shooters, Carroll and DeRozan move well without the ball, and both Matthews and Carroll are coming from aesthetically-pleasing (and highly effective) offensive systems.

The addition of Carroll and chase of Matthews signal that the Raptors want to move toward a different, and quite frankly better, style of play, and they’re willing to pay the market premium for players who can shoot and defend.

Matthews does those things, to be clear, and while $15 million may seem a bit of a reach, that’s the market the Raptors are operating in. Like with the Carroll deal, $15 million today will seem like roughly $11 million next season, and if the Raptors can negotiate Matthews down even lower, then great. And it’s worth remembering that DeRozan, while likable and a big part of the recruiting process, will likely opt out to hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Carroll and Matthews making, say, $28 million combined doesn’t seem absurd with the cap spiking, DeRozan potentially leaving, and both players contributing at both ends of the floor.

Since going undrafted out of Marquette in 2009 (shout out to Marquette for consistently producing the toughest dudes in the NBA), Matthews has built himself into a roster player, a quality rotation piece, and now a core piece. He averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals this season, knocking down 38.9 percent of his long-range looks, and the Blazers were 5.3 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor. Advanced stats back up his value, too – he ranked above-average at both ends of the floor by ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and was eighth among shooting guards in RPM-based Wins Above Replacement.

The biggest concern with Matthews isn’t fit, but the Achilles injury that ended his 2014-15 season. While Matthews is already back in the gym and is known to be an incredibly hard worker – and prior to his injury, one of the league’s true iron men – the recent track record of players returning from an Achilles injury is spotty at best. Matthews is 28 years old and ranks 18th in regular season minutes played since entering the league, so the tread is somewhat low on the tires. On a four-year deal, with a high-character player and one of the most respected sports science teams in the league, that seems to be a risk the Raptors are willing to take.

Now there’s just the matter of beating out the Mavericks and noted super-recruiter Chandler Parsons. The league’s most handsome man is known to be an ace at luring free agents, and if the Mavericks land DeAndre Jordan, Matthews will probably think long and hard about going to Texas, where the taxes are friendly and the organization has a strong track record of doing what it takes to compete. The Sacramento Kings are also said to be chasing Matthews, armed with fresh new cap space and a plan to add either Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis, plus Matthews, to their Rudy Gay-DeMarcus Cousins core. How you view that threat will depend on how you view a Rondo/Ellis-Matthews-Gay-Cousins core in the West. It’s not bad, but there’s no telling Vivek won’t just blow it up after a 1-2 start.

If Dallas can’t land Jordan, it’s hard to see what could sell Matthews – it’d be Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, an excellent head coach in Rick Carlisle, and not a whole lot else. With the core in place, and in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors probably stand as a more attractive destination for a player looking to make a run beyond the first round of the playoffs. That’s not to get ahead of myself by any means, but the West is hell, and the Raptors would be much better with Carroll, Matthews, and Delon Wright in the fold.

I understand that the fit is going to weird some people out. It’s committing appreciable resources to multiple wings when the team only has one power forward (plus James Johnson) and one center (plus Bebe) on the roster. Landing a marquee four would have been great, but who’s available? Paul Millsap’s gone. LaMarcus Aldridge probably isn’t coming. Kevin Love is gone. Off the top of my head, there’s Josh Smith, David West, Brandon Bass, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Thomas Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Kyle O’Quinn. Your mileage is going to vary with a lot of those names, and it’s not a flashy class by any means. I like Arthur and O’Quinn as potentially cheap fliers, Robinson may have some upside, and I think we all still love Boss Davis. But if it’s a choice between Matthews at this price or someone from that grouping and roster filler, I’ll take the higher end talent every time.

It’s worth remembering, too, that there are 48 minutes in a game. Matthews averaged 33.7, Carroll 31.3, and DeRozan 35. If the team wants to better manage the workload of their players, and they should, the funky DeRozan-Matthews-Carroll lineup is one that could be deployed strategically, for small runs, without requiring either player to see a serious minutes cut. Look at the following minutes-allocation scenario (assuming Ross is moved to create room):

PG: Lowry 30, Wright 18
SG: DeRozan 34, Matthews 10, Powell 4
SF: Matthews 22, Carroll 22, Powell 4
PF: Carroll 10, Patterson 25, Johnson 8, Backup PF signing TBD 5
C: Valanciunas 33, Patterson (let’s get weird!) 5, 3rd string signing TBD 10

That’s really, really quick off the top of my head. It’s sloppy and not well-though out, but it’s an illustration that having three wings doesn’t mean Carroll is a full-time power forward by any means. Casey and his staff could play the match-ups, play the flow of the game, and lessen the load on key players so that the entire team doesn’t look exhausted come late March. It’s entirely workable, and the three-wing lineup could be a lot of fun, versatile on defense, and tough to contain in the open court the other way.

The most important thing for Raptors fans to remember, I think, is that talent is what’s most important. The Raptors don’t have their free pick of the free agent market to neatly find square pegs for square holes, and waiting for the opportunity to do so risks winding up with far inferior players. In the modern NBA, where versatility, fluidity, and positional indeterminacy are growing increasingly more valuable, talent is what matters. Smart two-way players, particularly those with amorphous roles and positions, will never be tough to fit into a lineup or a rotation.

Get the talent, figure the rest out later. That’s the strategy the Raptors should be employing, and it seems to be the course Masai Ujiri has set this ship on. Fuck positions, let’s get weird.

The Toronto Raptors came correct on term and salary to sign unrestricted free agent DeMarre Carroll to a four-year, $60-million deal on Wednesday. But it wasn’t just cash money that the Raps put in front of the second Junkyard Dog in franchise history.

In an interview with