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Date Title Author
Oct 17, 17 Fantasy draft takeaways Blake Murphy
Oct 16, 17 Extension deadline passes for Nogueira and Caboclo; final roster set for now Blake Murphy
Oct 16, 17 Raptors 905 reveal new Nike jersey Blake Murphy
Oct 16, 17 Raptors exercise 3rd-year options on Poeltl, Siakam; 4th-year option on Wright Blake Murphy
Oct 16, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo Josh Weinstein
Oct 16, 17 2017-18 Player preview: Serge Ibaka Shyam Baskaran
Oct 16, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Lessons from preseason William Lou
Oct 15, 17 Jonas Valanciunas: A pre-season star? Louis Zatzman
Oct 14, 17 Raptors waive Davion Berry Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 17 The RAP Game: Revisiting the past, Analyzing the present, Pondering the future Mike Nelson
Oct 14, 17 Goodbye Bulls and Bruno Curse, Hello Bench Dad Katie Heindl
Oct 14, 17 Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – Threes and assists Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 125, Bulls 104 Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka sitting out preseason finale Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 17 2017-2018 Player Preview: OG Anunoby Cameron Dorrett
Oct 13, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Oct. 13 Sahal Abdi
Oct 12, 17 Dwane Casey – ‘Where I Come From’ at Raptors.com Blake Murphy
Oct 12, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Bebe Nogueira Scott Hastie
Oct 12, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Lorenzo Brown Blake Murphy
Oct 11, 17 Raptors sign Davion Berry to Exhibit 10 contract Blake Murphy
Oct 11, 17 2017-2018 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas Sahal Abdi
Oct 11, 17 Idealized Raptors show themselves what could be against Pistons Blake Murphy
Oct 10, 17 Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Flawless performance Blake Murphy
Oct 10, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 116, Pistons 94 Anthony Doyle
Oct 10, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Anunoby available, Powell starts Blake Murphy
Oct 10, 17 2017–18 Player Preview: Norman Powell Joshua Howe
Oct 10, 17 Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Oct. 10 Blake Murphy
Oct 10, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry Shyam Baskaran
Oct 9, 17 2017-18 Executive Preview: Masai Ujiri Matt Shantz
Oct 9, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Preseason takeaways Blake Murphy
Oct 8, 17 VIDEO: Norman Powell talks extension, connection to Toronto Blake Murphy
Oct 8, 17 Thanksgiving open thread Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 17 Raptors cut Wiltjer, Rautins, and Meeks; roster at 17 Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 17 Raptors Republic Fantasy League(s) Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 17 Some Random Lessons from the Clippers Series Louis Zatzman
Oct 6, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: DeMar DeRozan Alex Gres
Oct 6, 17 Raptors wrap west coast preseason swing with loss to Trail Blazers Scott Hastie
Oct 6, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – With Blake Murphy Nick Reynoldson
Oct 6, 17 Raptors-Trail Blazers Reaction Podcast – Need improvement Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 101, Trail Blazers 106 Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan gets the night off, Bruno starts Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 17 Report: Raptors sign Norman Powell to 4-year, $42M extension; It’s good Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 17 Raptors 905 tickets on sale; RR readers get season-long discount Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Pascal Siakam Louis Zatzman
Oct 5, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Trail Blazers, Oct. 5 Blake Murphy
Oct 4, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Jakob Poeltl Anthony Doyle
Oct 4, 17 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – That was ugly Blake Murphy
Oct 4, 17 Raptors fall to Clippers, split preseason Hawaii series Blake Murphy
Oct 4, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 84, Clippers 98 Anthony Doyle
Oct 3, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry rests, Powell sits with ankle injury Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 17 Raptors 905 to face London Lightning in preseason Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: K.J. McDaniels Louis Zatzman
Oct 3, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 3 Blake Murphy
Oct 2, 17 2017-2018 Player Preview: Fred VanVleet Katie Heindl
Oct 2, 17 Raptors open preseason with a win over Clippers, tease new-look offence Scott Hastie
Oct 2, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – It’s almost here Blake Murphy
Oct 2, 17 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – As good a start as any Blake Murphy
Oct 2, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 121, Clippers 113 Joshua Howe
Oct 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Miles gets first start at SF, Anunoby sits, players lock arms for anthem Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 1 Blake Murphy
Sep 30, 17 2017-18 Bold Predictions Thread Blake Murphy
Sep 29, 17 2017-2018 Player Preview: Malcolm Miller Blake Murphy
Sep 29, 17 Battle at the point: Wright vs. VanVleet Vivek Jacob
Sep 29, 17 Raptors Hoping Young Stars Are Ready for the Spotlight RR
Sep 28, 17 Intrasquad Game Notes: Anunoby plays, Team Lowry beats Team DeRozan, and more Blake Murphy
Sep 28, 17 The New Bench Anthony Doyle
Sep 28, 17 2017-2018 Player Preview: Delon Wright Cameron Dorrett
Sep 27, 17 2017-18 RaptorsPlaybook Season Preview Cooper Smither
Sep 27, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: C.J. Miles Anthony Doyle
Sep 26, 17 OG Anunoby progresses to playing 5-on-5 Blake Murphy
Sep 26, 17 2017-18 Player Preview: Alfonzo McKinnie Louis Zatzman
Sep 26, 17 Would NBA Draft Lottery reform help the Raptors? RR
Sep 26, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 26 – Contender or Pretender Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 25, 17 VIDEO: Toronto Raptors 2017-18 Media Day Interviews Blake Murphy
Sep 25, 17 Media Day notes: No timeline for Anunoby, starting SF undetermined, and more Blake Murphy
Sep 25, 17 Raptors comment on athlete activism and protests at Media Day Blake Murphy
Sep 25, 17 The Story Is There Is No Story Tim Chisholm
Sep 24, 17 Sunday open thread Blake Murphy
Sep 22, 17 Raptors signing Andy Rautins to camp deal Blake Murphy
Sep 22, 17 Raptors fan worries are the Norm RR
Sep 21, 17 Raptors 905 announce 2018 G-League Showcase schedule Blake Murphy
Sep 21, 17 Patreon Mailbag: An offseason review of sorts Blake Murphy
Sep 19, 17 Raptors release 2017-18 broadcast schedule Blake Murphy
Sep 19, 17 VIDEO: Raptors 905 open tryout interviews Blake Murphy
Sep 18, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Hoop Talks with Keith Boyarsky Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 17 Nike reveals Raptors first jersey for 2017-18 season Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 17 Read: William Lou mailbag Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 17 What C.J. Miles Brings To The Toronto Raptors RR
Sep 14, 17 How the Raptors stay close to their fans through technology RR
Sep 14, 17 Updated top-100 rankings Blake Murphy
Sep 12, 17 DeRozan lands at No. 36 on this year’s SI Top 100; Lowry 19th Blake Murphy
Sep 12, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – NBA over/under preview for 2017-18 Blake Murphy
Sep 10, 17 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Sep 9, 17 Lithuania falls to Greece in Round of 16 Blake Murphy
Sep 8, 17 Podcast: Atlantic Divison preview Blake Murphy
Sep 7, 17 Raptors updated win total, title odds, MVP odds Blake Murphy
Sep 6, 17 Valanciunas dominant again as Lithuania grabs Group B top seed Blake Murphy
Sep 5, 17 Dominant Valanciunas outing leads Lithuania over Ukraine Blake Murphy
Sep 4, 17 Long Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Sep 3, 17 Lithuania holds off Italy late with Valanciunas heroics Anthony Doyle
Sep 2, 17 Lithuania pulls away from Israel to improve to 1-1 at EuroBasket Blake Murphy
Sep 1, 17 Hoop Talks Sept. 14: Murphy & Boyarsky, William Lou, and 50% off Blake Murphy
Aug 31, 17 Lithuania drops EuroBasket opener to Georgia Blake Murphy
Aug 31, 17 What will the Raptors bench rotation look like? RR
Aug 30, 17 Canada tops Venezuela but won’t advance in Americup Blake Murphy
Aug 29, 17 Air Canada Centre to be renamed Scotiabank Arena Blake Murphy
Aug 29, 17 Canada loses overtime heart-breaker to Argentina Blake Murphy
Aug 28, 17 Canada drops Americup opener Blake Murphy
Aug 28, 17 #675 – Raptors Weekly Podcast – What are you even saying, Bruno? Blake Murphy
Aug 27, 17 Bruno Caboclo removed from Brazilian national team; Bruno apologizes Blake Murphy
Aug 26, 17 Bruno Caboclo posts double-double in Americup-opening win Blake Murphy
Aug 24, 17 Raptors 905 release 2017-18 schedule Blake Murphy
Aug 24, 17 All-time Raptors 2K team revealed; McGrady to be presented by Thomas at HOF Blake Murphy
Aug 23, 17 Raptors 905 lose Daniels and Siakam in expansion draft Blake Murphy
Aug 22, 17 Cavs-Celtics trade reaction open thread Blake Murphy
Aug 22, 17 Canada announces final Americup roster Blake Murphy
Aug 21, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – What’s your Raptors story? Blake Murphy
Aug 18, 17 Raptors 905 to hold open tryouts Sept. 16 Blake Murphy
Aug 18, 17 #KissIPFGoodbye charity game, featuring Nik Stauskas, Raptors Republic Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 17 Raptors sign K.J. McDaniels to partially guaranteed one-year deal Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 17 Canada announces preliminary Americup roster; Caboclo makes Brazilian team Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 17 Podcast: 2017-18 Raptors season outlook Blake Murphy
Aug 16, 17 Some facts and figures on the Raptors schedule Blake Murphy
Aug 15, 17 Raptors 905 announce 2018 G-League Showcase Blake Murphy
Aug 15, 17 Raptors sign Kyle Wiltjer to non-guaranteed deal Blake Murphy
Aug 14, 17 Raptors 2017-18 schedule released: What you need to know Blake Murphy
Aug 14, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Mailbag episode Blake Murphy
Aug 13, 17 Canada wins gold at Women’s Americup Blake Murphy
Aug 12, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E20 – Summer Time Thoughts Nick Reynoldson
Aug 12, 17 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Aug 9, 17 There is a Vince Carter documentary coming to TIFF Blake Murphy
Aug 7, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – FOH win projections Blake Murphy
Aug 5, 17 VIDEO: Lowry, Team World top Ibaka, Team Africa Blake Murphy
Aug 5, 17 Long Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Aug 3, 17 NBA Africa Game conference call notes: Ujiri, Lowry, Ibaka Blake Murphy
Aug 3, 17 Raptors to hold training camp in Victoria; release preseason schedule Blake Murphy
Jul 31, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Interview with Jeff Landicho of Open Gym Blake Murphy
Jul 30, 17 Sunday Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jul 29, 17 Powell and Wright win Nike Crown League Vivek Jacob
Jul 27, 17 Axel Toupane signs in Lithuania Blake Murphy
Jul 27, 17 How might a Kyrie Irving trade shake up the East? Blake Murphy
Jul 25, 17 Raptors sign Lorenzo Brown to 2-way contract Blake Murphy
Jul 25, 17 Pelicans waive Axel Toupane Blake Murphy
Jul 25, 17 Raptors Mailbag: Cavaliers fallout, big-picture questions for 2017-18, and more Blake Murphy
Jul 24, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – DeMarre and Jonas, everyone’s favorites Blake Murphy
Jul 23, 17 Siakam makes appearance at Crown League Week 4 Blake Murphy
Jul 22, 17 Weekend Open Thread: Sports gambling, franchise values, and more Blake Murphy
Jul 21, 17 Trio of 905ers playing for big money in The Basketball Tournament Blake Murphy
Jul 21, 17 Can the Raptors win 50 games again? Online casinos seem split Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 17 Heslip signs in Turkey to start summer of potentially heavy 905 turnover Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 17 Flurry of movement doesn’t change much for Raptors title odds Blake Murphy
Jul 19, 17 Why The Raptors Didn’t Sign Kelly Olynyk, An Investigation Katie Heindl
Jul 18, 17 VIDEO: C.J. Miles press conference; Masai Ujiri speaks Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 17 Raptors officially sign Kennedy Meeks Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 17 Raptors announce C.J. Miles signing Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 17 Malcolm Miller undergoes ankle surgery, out 12 weeks Blake Murphy
Jul 17, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – What’s next? Blake Murphy
Jul 16, 17 Raptors 905 awarded 2018 G-League Showcase Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 17 Weekend open thread Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 17 Olynyk lights up Crown League Week 3 Vivek Jacob
Jul 15, 17 Raptors close out Summer League with overtime loss to Cavs Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 17 Raptors waive Justin Hamilton Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 17 Raptors officially trade Cory Joseph to Indiana, paving way for C.J. Miles signing Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 17 Raptors’ title hopes dashed in dispiriting LVSL loss to Blazers Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 17 Raptors-Blazers LVSL Reaction Podcast – Another bad playoff showing Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 17 Raptors make DeMarre Carroll trade official Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 17 Report: Raptors had reached out on Boris Diaw Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 17 Large Raptors contingent heading to NBA Africa Game Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 17 Raptors Playbook: Zipper Pick & Roll (SLOB) Cooper Smither
Jul 12, 17 Raptors earn top seed in Vegas, tournament bracket set Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 17 Things We Wish We Could See DeMar DeRozan Throw a Basketball At Katie Heindl
Jul 10, 17 Raptors hang on in ugly finish to improve to 3-0 in Vegas Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 17 Everything so far (and DeRozan losing his cool at Drew League) Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 17 Cap sheet update: Trade assumptions, Lowry & Ibaka details, explanations Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 17 A Deep Stats Dive into CJ Miles’ Offense Louis Zatzman
Jul 10, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Looking at the bigger picture Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Report: Raptors to use stretch provision on Justin Hamilton Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Canada wins gold at FIBA U-19 World Cup Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Report & Reaction: Raptors dealing Joseph for Miles in sign-and-trade Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Raptors make Miller & McKinnie signings official Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Raptors sign OG Anunoby Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 The Tracy McGrady Curse Continues Tim Chisholm
Jul 9, 17 Report: Raptors trade DeMarre Carroll, 1st, & 2nd to Nets Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 17 Raptors to sign Alfonzo McKinnie to multi-year deal Blake Murphy
Jul 8, 17 Raptors-Timberwolves LVSL Reaction Podcast, with some DeMarre talk Blake Murphy
Jul 8, 17 Raptors roll Timberwolves to improve to 2-0 in Vegas Blake Murphy
Jul 8, 17 Crown League Week 2 Wrap-up Vivek Jacob
Jul 8, 17 Raptors-Pelicans LVSL Reaction Podcast – FVV is a hero Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 VanVleet’s late and-1 lifts Raptors to victory in Summer League opener Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 Malcolm Miller to miss Summer League with ankle sprain Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 VIDEO: Kyle Lowry re-introductory presser Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 VIDEO: Serge Ibaka re-introductory presser Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 Raptors announce re-signings; Ujiri says he’s a Raptor for life Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 17 Plugging Holes Katie Heindl
Jul 6, 17 July 6 open thread: Moratorium ends; Vince signs in Sacramento Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 17 Raptors sign Malcolm Miller to 2-way contract Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 17 Raptors to wear Sun Life Financial patch on 2017-18 jerseys Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 17 DeMar DeRozan gets Canadian NBA 2K18 cover Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E19 – Return Of The Mack Nick Reynoldson
Jul 5, 17 July 5 free agency open thread Blake Murphy
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Fantasy draft takeaways

As promised, I held four fantasy drafts for Raptors Republic readers last night. Somehow, even as the annual tradition has grown from one league to three and now to four (with the number of teams maxed out), there are still people who end up left out. I apologize for that, but if Monday taught me anything, it’s that four leagues where 300 players get drafted is the absolute maximum that I can handle.

It made for an interesting night, to be sure. I’m not going to go too deep since most people have probably drafted already and because nobody cares about anybody else’s fantasy team. What I am going to do is conduct a quick run-down of how Toronto Raptors were drafted in the four RR drafts relative to their consensus ranking (via Fantasy Pros), their Rotoworld Draft Guide ranking (shouts to Michael Gallagher), and their Average Draft Position (“ADP“).

This should give us a decent handle on how the fantasy market sees each individual and how willing Raptors fans were to reach for players from their team (which I’ve always maintained, even when writing fantasy was a major part of my job, is entirely justifiable since fantasy is an entertainment product first).

Note: The leagues were standard 9-cat, head-to-head, PG SG G SF PF F C C Util Util 5xBN IR, and 20 teams, except the Patreon league which had 16. There’s also nothing on the line in any league but the Patreon league, so keep that in mind (interestingly, the Patreon league had the most extreme Raptors reaches despite an actual prize on the line).

Owned in all formats

Kyle Lowry
ADP: 22
Consensus: 21
Rotoworld: 25

RR Drafts: 22, 22, 24, 25

Not much to say here. Lowry’s a known commodity who is better than 22-25 on a per-game basis but carries some risk for sitting out games late or even missing time. As steady as it goes when he’s out there, from a fantasy perspective, and one of the elite 3FGM contributors, especially if he sees more time off-ball this year.

DeMar DeRozan
ADP: 26
Consensus: 36
Rotoworld: 44

RR Drafts: 33, 33, 34, 36

Remarkable consistency here, too. DeRozan’s a known fantasy commodity, too, capable of chipping in with rebounds and assists to supplement one of the higher scoring lines in the league. I’m not sure his raw FG% will match last year’s, but an extra assist or so per-game could make him a cheap source of 25-5-5 where he’s going.

Serge Ibaka
ADP: 58
Consensus: 46
Rotoworld: 71

RR Drafts: 44, 50, 59, 61

I’d guess a lot of the variance in Ibaka’s market has to do with risk preferences. Ibaka is safe in that the line he’ll put up is mostly known – a few threes from a big-man spot, center eligibility, and the hope of better block numbers if he sees more than spot minutes at the five. But there’s also not a ton of upside here, and some people don’t want to use a top-50 selection on a floor play, even if he’s a safe bet to return something close to the investment.

Jonas Valanciunas
ADP: 69
Consensus: 73
Rotoworld: 104

RR Drafts: 36, 61, 66, 80

Volatility in terms of a Valanciunas projection makes sense. It looks like he’ll be involved in different ways this year, but it’s not immediately clear how that may change his final stat line. He looks better defensively, but that may not mean he closes out games. And so on. Valanciunas is a sure thing for rebounds and is the type of big who will help, not harm, your FT%, so there’s a good floor here. No. 36 feels just as insane as No. 104, though.

ADP outside top 150

Norman Powell
Consensus: 138
Rotoworld: 109

RR Drafts: 97, 117, 123, 136

I was pretty surprised to see our readership draft Miles ahead of Powell a couple of times. One of the big talking points I had with people during the preseason was how the starter/bench trade-off would impact Powell’s fantasy value. His usage when playing with Lowry and DeRozan was around 17-18 percent last year and around 30 percent without them. It was also sky-high in the preseason coming off the bench. As a starter, he’s probably slightly less of a fantasy asset for volume scoring, with the trade-off being that he should score a bit more efficiently and maybe contribute some extra defensive juice.

C.J. Miles
Consensus: 166
Rotoworld: 332

RR Drafts: 101, 102, 125, 153

I’ll have to check with my people at Rotoworld and ask what Miles did to them to deserve this. I get it: He’s 30, he doesn’t contribute anything but points, threes, and low-end rebounds, and a lot of leagues don’t count 3FG% as a category. He’s also a lock to average 11-14 points and hit 2.2-2.8 threes per-game, which should be worthy of a roster spot at least in semi-deep formats. Shortly after 100 is probably a bit high given he’s a scoring-cat guy only. Shortly after 300 is just mean.

Delon Wright
Consensus: 226
Rotoworld: 194

RR Drafts: 186, 203, 209, 218

This feels about right – undrafted in shallower formats and a bench guard in deeper ones. If Wright were showing consistency on his 3-point shot, it would help, because he has most of the other categories checked off: Assists and steals are obvious, he’s a good bet for some sneaky blocks, and he’s a savvy offensive rebounder (this format didn’t count O-Rebs separately, but some do).

Lucas Nogueira
Consensus: 273
Rotoworld: 338

RR Drafts: 223, 243, 260, N/A

If I were detached from the actual team and looking at a scenario where two centers were still in competition for backup minutes, I’d prefer Nogueira’s profile to Poeltl’s. There’s just more upside, from a fantasy perspective, with a strong rim protector who can also chip in assists and even the occasional three (maybe?). Neither will make or break a team, I’m just a ceiling player late in drafts.

Not ranked in consensus top-300

Jakob Poeltl
RR Drafts: 233, 233, 250, N/A

Minutes at the center position are hard to come by, and he has the inside track on 12-16. He’s not a particularly sexy pick given he was the least passed-to player in the NBA last year, but the touches come with a high FG%, rebounds, and maybe blocks. Probably won’t shoot enough FTs to hurt the FT% much, either.

OG Anunoby
RR Drafts: 232, 235, 254, N/A

It’s certainly tantalizing to dream on his multi-cat potential after his two preseason showings. Steals will probably be his biggest asset, he’ll get some blocks, and playing up a position might boost the rebound numbers, though he wasn’t exceptional there in college. The real question is whether the threes and assists have any potential to stick around. Young Fantasy James Johnson deep off the bench?

Fred VanVleet
RR Drafts: 256, 272, 273, N/A

The role might not be consistent, but it’s a reasonable flier for threes and assists so late until we see how the rotation looks coming out of the gate.

Bruno Caboclo
RR Drafts: 14, 220, 282, N/A

I am currently in the process of trying to develop a G-League fantasy league format, so the jokes in the draft chat would land better.

Pascal Siakam
RR Drafts: 242, N/A, N/A, N/A

I really wonder if Siakam would have been selected in all four drafts had Anunoby not had the two preseason games he just had. They figure to be fighting for the same minutes, capable of contributing some blocks, steals, rebounds, and maybe a fourth category (assists for Anunoby, threes for Siakam) in low-volume if the role was steady. As it is, they’ll probably cannibalize each other’s value.

Alfonzo McKinnie
RR Drafts: 293, N/A, N/A, N/A

It’s the 293rd pick. I took Joffrey Lauvergne in one league and own two shares of Tyler Ennis. Do whatever you want here.

K.J. McDaniels
RR Drafts: N/A, N/A, N/A, N/A

Poor guy was the only Raptor not to get picked in at least one RR draft. That’s fair. If he somehow stumbles into playing time and you need blocks on a Sunday, though.

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Extension deadline passes for Nogueira and Caboclo; final roster set for now

The 6 p.m. ET deadline for rookie-scale contract extensions for players entering their fourth NBA season has passed, and it has passed with no extension reported for Lucas Nogueira or Bruno Caboclo.

Both Nogueira and Caboclo are now set to become restricted free agents following the season, if the Raptors submit the qualifying offer for them, which isn’t a certainty. Giving a player the qualifying offer gives the Raptors the right to match any offer sheet the player signs in free agency (and exceed the salary cap to do so), but the player can also just sign the qualifying offer, receive that one-year contract guaranteed, and become an unrestricted free agent the following summer. (The qualifying offer can also be withdrawn any time before the Oct. 1 expiry date.) By declining to work out an extension at this point, both sides push the decision down the line, when all parties will have a better sense of market and player value – it’s not a “goodbye” so much as a “let’s revisit at the end of the season.”

Nogueira’s qualifying offer will be $4.1 million, which the Raptors will probably be fine with putting on the table. Were Nogueira to sign it, the team maybe wouldn’t be thrilled about locking in $4.1 million for a depth piece during a luxury tax crunch, but it’s also a reasonable price for a useful bench big and an entirely movable contract (though Nogueira would have the right to block any trade if he signed the qualifying offer). He’ll be fighting with Jakob Poeltl for the backup center role this season, a battle that could be pretty back-and-forth throughout the year. The Raptors have invested more in Poeltl and have more team control, but Nogueira offers a different skillset and match-up look and had a larger impact during his good stretches a year ago. Depending on how the team’s cap sheet looks come July and how they intend to manage the frontcourt positions moving forward, Poeltl and Nogueira may not be a one-or-the-other decision in the long-run, even if it seems that way a bit now. If it is, the qualifying offer, while not egregious in a vacuum, could prove unpalatable.

The decision might be a tougher question for Caboclo, who has a $3.5-million qualifying offer that exceeds any reasonable expectation for his 2018-19 salary. The Raptors may not want to risk him signing it even on a one-year deal, and so it’s possible that they decline to tender him a qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. They could still sign him if they wanted to extend the experiment,  they just couldn’t exceed the amount of the qualifying offer. This is an important year in Caboclo’s development, one in which he’s not expected to see much, if any, G-League time but also doesn’t figure into the NBA rotation. Three years into a four-year experiment, how Caboclo can show the requisite growth to extend the project is unclear. With a guaranteed contract and a team close to the luxury tax for 2017-18, he’ll at least get the chance to figure that out before free agency next summer.

Both of those decisions are now punted to late June, when the Raptors will not only have a better idea of how good the core is and what their financial situation will look like in the summer, but also of exactly who Nogueira and Caboclo are. One has shown to be productive, if inconsistent, in an important depth role, while the other has shown little at the NBA level but was always a long-term gamble, anyway. Now, their development has implications for their own financial futures and a firm end date for the franchise if either or both don’t continue improving to a degree befitting a potential second contract.

In a follow-up note from Saturday, the Raptors’ official opening day roster includes both Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels. McDaniels is listed as inactive along with Caboclo, though the Raptors can change that at any time and it really doesn’t mean much. As explained over the weekend, there’s no real cost – financial or opportunity – for the Raptors to keep McDaniels and McKinnie a little while longer. That changes around Oct. 28, when their $100,000 guarantees are essentially used up and keeping both begins to have a greater impact on their luxury tax standing.

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Raptors 905 reveal new Nike jersey

Photo credit: KarynStepien.com

Raptors 905 revealed their new jerseys for the 2017-18 season on Monday. Like their NBA counterparts, the G-League switched over to Nike as an official apparel provider, and while the change in the 905 jersey isn’t a dramatic one, it does make for a pretty clean look:

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Raptors exercise 3rd-year options on Poeltl, Siakam; 4th-year option on Wright

The Toronto Raptors locked in several parts of their near-term future on Monday, exercising their third-year options on Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam and their fourth-year option on Delon Wright.

All three players were first-round picks and signed to rookie-scale deals, which give the player two guaranteed years and the team two option years at set salaries. Picking up the third-year option is almost always a certainty for teams, and even the fourth-year option winds up being a no-brainer most of the time. By picking up the options, the Raptors maintain an inexpensive pipeline of interesting talent, most of which is likely earmarked for important duty in the second-unit over the life of their deals.

Poeltl will earn $2,947,30 for 2018-19 and the team will have until Oct. 31 of 2018 to exercise a 2019-20 option on his deal for $3,754,886. Siakam will earn $1,544,951 for next season and the team will have until that same date to exercise a 2019-20 option for $2,351,839. Wright, meanwhile, will earn $2,536,898 for 2018-19 and is slated to become a restricted free agent after that, unless the sides can work out a rookie-scale extension by the start of the 2018-19 season.

Speaking of rookie-scale extensions, the Raptors have until Oct. 16 to negotiate them with Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo, or they’ll become restricted free agents at the end of the season. Fred VanVleet is also slated to become a restricted free agent next summer.

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2017-18 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

Some would call him a Brazilian folklore. Others praise him as an enigma.

As soon as he was shockingly selected 20th overall in the 2014 NBA draft, Bruno Caboclo became one of the more fascinating, tantalizing players in the Toronto Raptors organization. I mean, seriously: who wouldn’t get excited at the prospect of an agile, athletic specimen listed at 6’9” with a 7’7″ wingspan? The São Paulo product was instantly considered a risky long-term project the moment he was drafted, but with those physical measurements, there was at least a glimpse of the man once dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” becoming a potential defensive stopper down the road. If his development progressed according to plan, that is.

Well, since then-general manager Masai Ujiri and his staff embarked on the challenging task of morphing a raw, 18-year-old into a viable NBA rotation player three years ago, Caboclo has only marginally improved. None of his development strides are significant enough for Raptors fans to salivate over, and it’s still unclear how much, if at all, the 2014 draft project can contribute to a contending Toronto team.

It’s unfortunate Caboclo was unjustly thrust into the spotlight at such a young age with such lofty expectations. With a complete lack of basketball experience, in terms of both his fundamentals and knowledge of the game, Caboclo was at a disadvantage from the get-go. Fran Fraschilla famously proclaimed at the 2014 draft that the Raptors’ gamble was “two years away from being two years away.” That fourth year has finally arrived for Caboclo. If Fraschilla’s assessment holds true – and it has so far – the Raptors should start to get a better idea of what the G-League champ is all about this season.

The Brazilian’s snail-like development has occurred exclusively at the G-League level, where he’s been given far more opportunity to hone his craft with ample playing time. In the last two G-League seasons Caboclo has started 68 of a possible 71 games, compiling a 40/33/69 shooting line over that time. If there’s one sign of encouragement to take away from Caboclo’s 905 tenure, it’s that his shooting improved towards the end of last season into the playoffs. During the 905’s championship run, Caboclo improved his shooting percentages significantly (52% on two-pointers, 42% on threes), albeit in a small seven-game sample size. What’s frustrating to many is that Caboclo supposedly is one of the Raptors’ best shooters in preseason shooting drills. If that’s the case, the next step is obviously applying his skill, which is evidently present, in-game.

Aside from his improved shooting, Caboclo displayed a soft touch around the rim with the 905. He showed he was capable of bullying his matchup to get inside position and easy putbacks. The Brazilian also cut inside the lane on multiple occasions to get easy offensive rebounds and high percentage shots around the rim. His movement without the ball shows how Caboclo’s basketball IQ has improved. At the same time, his freedom of movement and the lack of resistance he faces when crashing towards the rim should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, his performances are against G-League competition.

Caboclo showed flashes of his defensive potential. His play on and off the ball improved, in large part because he’s now able to utilize his other-worldly length and athleticism as an advantage (as his forceful block at the 53-second mark shows). The physical traits are all there for Caboclo. Now, the focus should be on developing consistency and improving his recognition of offensive and defensive sets during in-game action.

A chance at a backup role with the Raptors this season seems unlikely, especially since OG Anunoby returned from knee surgery far sooner than initially expected. Caboclo would have to impress Dwane Casey’s staff to the point where he supplants Anunoby in the rotation because, let’s be honest, there’s no way he’ll beat out C.J. Miles for minutes. If Caboclo miraculously did get a shot with the Raps, though, don’t be surprised if he fills in at power forward for short spurts. Caboclo got some experience playing as a stretch-four with the 905. Despite his listed height, the Brazilian has grown to almost 7 feet tall. Given his added length, you can expect him to play at the four more regularly going forward when there’s playing time available.

Caboclo’s maturity, or lack thereof, was brought into the limelight in August. While playing for the Brazilian national team at the Americup, Caboclo refused to re-enter a game twice, prompting his dismissal from the team. It’s important to remember Caboclo is still just 22-years-old. There’s still plenty of room for him to develop, both on the court and off it.

The Raptors face a slight crossroad heading into 2017-18. Since he’s entering his fourth season, Caboclo cannot be assigned to the 905 unless he and the player’s union give the team permission. This presents Casey with a dilemma: should he relegate Caboclo to the bench the way he did when he was a rookie or stagger his minutes with Anunoby so he can continue developing? If Casey decides to keep Caboclo on the bench, expect his development to come to a standstill. Scrimmages and practice drills can only do so much at this point.

Those in Caboclo’s inner-circle should encourage him to inquire about a 905 return, especially if minutes aren’t accessible with the parent club. Another season in the G-League will provide stable minutes and more opportunity to develop under the tutelage of an impressive coaching staff. Regular playing time could go a long way in helping Caboclo turn brief flashes of success on both ends into consistent production.

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2017-18 Player preview: Serge Ibaka

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On Valentine’s Day 2017, I remember when I was at work. I was just going through a usual day, and making Valentine’s plans last minute like every other guy out there. With the NBA trade deadline approaching, I was obviously tuned to my phone for updates, but in a brief break where I wasn’t aware of what was going on, a huge trade had materialized. Serge Ibaka was on his way to TO.

I was a bit stunned when I saw that notification, not only with happiness, but because I was genuinely in a state of shock. Masai Ujiri has made a name for himself in Toronto as a GM. A shrewd propagator of patience, development and building internally, Masai Ujiri had always marketed himself as “not a trade-deadline type of guy.” I mean, if you draft well, develop well, and sign guys appropriately in the off-season, sure…who needs trades. But the way things were going mid-season last year, it was about time the Raptors did something – and Ujiri took notice.

Shipping Terrence Ross and a first-round pick didn’t seem pricey at all for a power-forward that was a clear upgrade from Patrick Patterson; Ibaka was a rangy defender, and someone who can knock down 3’s. Regardless of how this was all going to turn out, at that moment, I know we would’ve all thought “where do I sign?” when the prospect of that deal first surfaced. So for that alone, you had to love Masai’s ability to identify the issue with the Raptors (a desperate need for a starting caliber power-forward), his adaptability from the usual tactic of patience, and whatever you want to say, this was probably one of the best trades in franchise history (from a talent-acquisition perspective) since maybe when the Raptors picked up Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall from the Chicago Bulls back in 2003, both in the twilight of their careers with some ball left in the tank.

In his very first sequence making an impact after being acquired, against the hated Celtics at home post all-star break, Ibaka blocked an Isaiah Thomas shot emphatically and capped it off with a smooth transition jumper on the other end. It was like (pardon the pun) watching magic unfold on the court.

But in the back of our minds, we knew this guy would probably regress to something normal, and he did. Given a green light on offense, Ibaka was often a black-hole and had a quick-trigger, making him a volume outside shooter. This was both good and bad – bad when he’d miss, but good when the space offered could be used as an offensive tactic.

STRETCHING BEYOND THE ARC

Since the 2013-14 season, Ibaka’s fifth year in the league, we’ve seen a remarkable increase in the amount of 3’s taken – both in terms of volume, and as a percentage of his overall shots.

2013-2014 season (with Thunder)

2014-2015 season (with Thunder)

2015-2016 season (with Thunder)

 

2016-2017 season (with Magic/Raptors)

By 2016-2017, 3-pointers accounted for more than 32% of Ibaka’s offensive attempts, and he shot it at a 39% clip (124/318 on the season). He’s a stand-still shooter that takes a bit of time to gather and release, making him an ideal pick-and-pop shooter in Lowry or DeRozan screen scenarios. He was also the beneficiary of passes in the “swing-and-find” plays where an initial hockey assist leads to an open shooter on the next pass. I love Ibaka’s shot when it comes off of that kind of ball movement, but I don’t really want to see those long-range attempts off the dribble or from too deep.

His other “sweet spots” on the court last year were at-the-rim (73% from this area, for obvious reasons) and from mid-range, between 16-feet and the three-point line (49% from this area).

In Dwane Casey’s new three-point-oriented system (at least in theory), we should see a lot more attempts this year for Ibaka, but don’t be surprised if we see similar, or even slightly worse percentages from long-range (maybe 36% – 38%). I’d expect a drop-off in attempts of those mid-range 2’s this year, in favour of shots going toward or at the rim.

As the third-option in the Raptors offense, Ibaka’s consistency will be key in keeping the Raptors in the top-5 in the league on that side of the floor. We’ve seen all-time levels of offense from this team before, so if Serge can keep things up, I won’t at all be worried about our offense…dare I say, even in the playoffs.

DEFENSE

In the immediate month after the trade that brought over Ibaka and PJ Tucker (who also deserves credit), the Raptors shaved nearly 5.0 points from their defensive rating, going from 106.4 points-per-100-possessions in February to around 101.7 in the month of March. About 50% of that credit had to go to Serge’s presence, who’s rangy defensive abilities, combined with his rim-protection offered a fresh look that confused some offenses.

I like the look of Ibaka at the 5 in certain situations (to close games especially), where the Raptors can offer a more versatile look defensively, that can stretch the floor offensively. That would require CJ Miles to slide down to the 4 most likely, leaving questions as to whether the Raptors can naturally fit that with that lineup, as a loss of size has gone on to hurt Toronto in similar situations in the past. There are still some questions there that need to be answered, but I’m confident that lineup can figure itself out by season’s end.

Ibaka’s defensive rebounding will be key, especially if the Raptors plan on playing small-ball. He averaged a total of 6.8 rebounds per game last year, with 5.5 of those boards coming on the defensive end. That won’t be nearly enough if the Raptors hope to play Ibaka at the 5. Granted most of those numbers were with him at the 4, alongside a more rebound-prone big-man playing at the 5. But I still need to see better numbers from Ibaka on the boards – and I think in the situations where it’ll be needed with him at the 5, I’ll be confident that there’s a great chance we will see it.

LOOKAHEAD AND SEASON PROJECTION

I’ve got Serge having a good year this year, but with some caveats. Namely, I think his three-point shooting percentages will see a dip, and we could see further regression on the defensive end (at least in terms of blocks and at-rim presence) as Ibaka attempts to cover more of the floor in a more spaced, and hopefully “switchy” defense.

Having said that, I expect Serge to earn his paycheck’s worth this year. The dude probably won’t be an all-star, but if there was a tier just below all-star, to me, he falls in that category. Let’s go with a projected stat line of about 15 and 7, with just over a block a game. One thing is for sure though – with the increase in 3-point shooting volume I definitely see coming, if he can sustain solid three-point shooting close to 40% or above, the sky will be the limit for the Raptors’ offense.

All stats sourced from basketballreference.com

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Lessons from preseason

Host William Lou is joined by Blake Murphy on the Weekly show.

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Jonas Valanciunas: A pre-season star?

Despite consistent and vocal criticism of Masai Ujiri’s vaunted ‘culture reset’ – especially considering how the movers and shakers of the Raptors’ franchise remain identical in 2017-18 as compared to 2016-17 – some things seem to have been altered, at least in the pre-season. For example, the team is shooting more 3s. While this change has been widely-reported, even as far flung as The Ringer, one player’s shifting style has received less coverage: Jonas Valanciunas.

Valanciunas has been about as polarizing as the infamous white-gold / black-bule ‘dress’ (sidebar: it was white-gold). This is for good reason: his strengths are impressive, but his weaknesses have been, in some situations, fatal.

On offense, Valanciunas is a beast, capable of dominating the offensive boards, finishing around the rim, and crushing on fools’ skulls as the roll man. Incredibly, while JV only finished plays as the roll man in pick and rolls in 2.4 possessions per game in 2016-17 (tied with Dwight Powell and behind Frank Kaminsky…), he offered an insane 1.28 points per possession in those scenarios (good for 92.2nd percentile in the league). He scored in 63.8% of situations and only turned it over 8.5% of the time. In comparison, Lucas Nogueira (also very efficient in pick and rolls) turned it over 15.4% of the time. JV looks like this in the pick and roll:

He sets bone-shattering screens, rolls hard and decisively to the rim, and is a talented finisher in the paint.

However, Valanciunas has sometimes been quite passive on offense, capable of floating through games. Whether that is due to him receiving no passes from his all-star teammates Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan while they isolate against entire teams (very possible) or due to his own lack of effort (also quite possible), who can say? A theme of JV’s career has been fans split between blaming either the player himself or the system around him for his struggles.

On defense, Valanciunas has famously been roasted in the pick and roll by speedy, attacking guards, such as Kyrie Irving, Isiah Thomas, John Wall, or Kemba Walker (notice how each of the top teams in the East seem to boast one of these guards?). Some of this is certainly due to Dwane Casey asking Valanciunas to hedge too high when his man screens a guard, which is a difficult task even for mobile bigs. Here is JV offering the resistance of a pile of wet newspaper against Walker after Cody Zeller lays waste to Lowry with a screen:

Valanciunas was only in the 44.5th percentile in guarding the roll man in pick and rolls last year. Bad, but not worst in the league. Furthermore, JV is a somewhat-effective deterrent around the rim, especially when guarding players his own size. He only allowed 0.76 points per possession when defending post ups, which was good for 77.6th percentile in the league. Not too shabby! His defensive shortcomings have been noticeable but not unfixable.

Basically, JV has offered some useful skills on offense, but a team could always target him ruthlessly in the pick and roll and hunt an above-average shot anytime they so desired. This proved problematic in some fourth quarters, which led to many late-game Valanciunas benchings. He was a good player with flaws, which is true of almost every player in the NBA, including MVP candidates.

Raptors’ fans knew what the team had in JV, for better or for worse. However, in the 2017-18 preseason, Valanciunas has offered a few surprises.

On offense, JV’s assist rate (percentage of his plays ending in assists) has ballooned from a black hole-level 4.3% in 2016-17 to an impressive 11.6% this preseason, which is excellent for a center. That is comparable to 2016-17 superfreak Karl-Anthony Towns (12.7%) and world-destroyer Anthony Davis (11.0%). You could write this off to a small sample size, but the video clips of JV’s passing reveal him making passes he never saw / had the chance to see last year:

This is a simple play, but Valanciunas sees a cutter running the baseline and leads him, in stride, behind the 3-point line. This is progress. He had multiple assists in his first game against the Clippers in which he tracked down an offensive rebound and immediately hustled the ball out to a wide open Miles or Lowry for a 3-pointer. This is not advanced basketball, but it greases the cogs of the Raps’ offense, and it is not insignificant. It is winning basketball.

Speaking about winning basketball, here are some plays worth seeing in case you missed them, or have trouble believing Valanciunas Monstarred the moves of Hakeem Olajuwon or Dirk Nowitzki:

Valanciunas has never been a consistently efficient post scorer, which is true of most NBA bigs; low post isolation attempts were recently discovered to be inefficient shots. Who would have thought!? In 2016-17, JV scored a measly 0.90 points per possession out of post-up attempts, good for 55.8th percentile in the league. Shouts to DeRozan for scoring 1.13 points per possession (96.8th percentile)! JV has always looked competent in the post, even if the majority of his attempts came from the same basic moves: sweeping righty hooks, face-up jumpers, and slow fadeaways. That’s fine. He’s good at those things. But the above plays are new. A dream shake against Drummond and a fluid step-back fadeaway against Lopez, both of whom are impressive one-on-one defenders?  It looks like JV has expanded his offensive arsenal, if the above clips can be believed. Impressive stuff.

On defense, JV seems much better at moving his feet. Watch the play below, and compare it to his death-by-fire in the Kemba Walker clip above. Here Valanciunas moves his feet much more comfortably, chopping his stride to keep up with the attacking Beverley, and walling off the lane even after Lowry is taken out of the play momentarily by a screen. He even switches back onto DeAndre Jordan at the right time to prevent a dump-off pass.

Again, this is not ground-breaking basketball, but it matters for the Raptors. When a player is able to marginally improve his flaws, that matters quite a bit over the course of a season and especially the playoffs. The Cavs are a less dangerous offensive team if their point guards have more trouble creating separation against bigs. Defenses need to rotate shorter distances, and shooters have less space. These things are intertwined, and Valanciunas is making important, if slight, headway.

This pre-season, Valanciunas has remained an efficient player, shooting an absurd 68.2% in the field. He thrives in motion, catching the ball on the move and making decisive gallops to the rim. Here’s JV excelling in space as a roller against the Bulls this pre-season:

He has not always looked this smooth. The man seems to have found his stride (which, sure, has been said before during stretches, like the 2016 playoffs. Don’t ruin my fun). He has played well with both Lowry or DeRozan manning the offense and rifling him passes. I cannot say whether the Raps will revert to their isolation ways during the higher stakes of the regular season, but it seems an oft-maligned player has at least found a portion of success during the games that don’t matter.

All stats taken from nba.com
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Raptors waive Davion Berry

The Toronto Raptors announced Saturday that they have waived Davion Berry.

Berry was signed last week to an Exhibit 10 contract, meaning he’ll receive a $50,000 bonus if he clears waivers, agrees to join Raptors 905, and stays there for 60 days. It’s the same deal that Kennedy Meeks, who was waived earlier in camp, signed. Kyle Wiltjer and Andy Rautins were also placed on waivers last week, though those were standard non-guaranteed tryout deals. Berry did not see any time in the lone preseason game he was on the roster for.

The move trims the Raptors’ roster to 17 ahead of the regular season, where it can stay this year thanks to the presence of two-way contracts. The Raptors have 13 players on guaranteed deals, Lorenzo Brown and Malcolm Miller on two-way contracts, and K.J. McDaniels and Alfonzo McKinnie on partially guaranteed deals.

Today’s news would seem to indicate both McDaniels and McKinnie have made the roster for now, although the lack of guarantees gives the team flexibility to change course any time before or after the opener. The team technically had until the end of the day Sunday to get the roster to 17, but releasing the Berry news alone would seem to indicate they’re set, barring a late change or move on the waiver wire.

McDaniels and McKinnie had been in an open competition for an unconfirmed number of roster spots, with the team having to decide whether to keep one – and which – or both. Based on current estimates, the Raptors will be over the luxury tax if they finish the season with the roster as it’s currently constructed, but neither player’s deal guarantees until Jan. 10, so there is some time still to evaluate and make a longer-term decision without risking flexibility or incurring a meaningful opportunity cost. In terms of real cost, because each is guaranteed $100,000 anyway, the Raptors don’t incur any additional “real” cost until about 12 days into the season. This could be an ongoing discussion for a few weeks or longer still.

Whether either figures into the rotation remains to be seen. If OG Anunoby is going to play as well as he did the last two preseason games, the answer would seem to be no – the Raptors have a more clear depth chart at the wing and forward positions in that scenario. They may, however, want Anunoby to see some time with the 905 to work on his offensive game and get his defensive timing back, which could open up some low-end opportunities. McKinnie is also eligible for G-League assignments, and even though he was an All-Star at that level last year, there’s still benefit to getting him big minutes with Jerry Stackhouse and company.player

Over three preseason appearances, McDaniels played 24 minutes, scoring six points on 3-of-9 shooting, grabbing five rebounds, committing four turnovers, and blocking two shots. McKinnie, meanwhile, totaled 59 minutes over five appearances, shooting 9-of-18 overall and 5-of-11 on threes on his way to 25 points, 16 rebounds, and five steals while picking up nine fouls.

And there are always injuries over the course of an NBA season, which could open up opportunities as well. That the team is so young, and therefore perhaps a little prone to inconsistency, could shift the depth chart as the season wears on, too.

Here’s how the roster looks heading into opening night:

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

Should Berry join the 905 as expected, he’ll combine with Brown, Miller, and Meeks to create an intriguing core for the 905 to build from. THe defending champions will have plenty of turnover, as all G-League rosters do, but those four pieces are nice blocks to build with. If Wiltjer winds up amenable to a G-League season or Edy Tavares goes unsigned and returns to the 905, there may be the makings of another playoff run in Mississauga.

Here’s how the 905’s right sheets look a week out from the draft:

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The RAP Game: Revisiting the past, Analyzing the present, Pondering the future

With the preseason now in the rearview mirror, and the final stress-free weekend before the regular season starts upon us, the time is ripe to have a calm, big-picture conversation. I mean, 159 days and counting has been a sufficient amount of time to get over last season’s disappointing ending, right?

Well, if you’re still looking to vent, I’m sure it’s only a matter of days before Valanciunas dominates a first half only to be given Casey’s cold shoulder the rest of the way… Especially when his defensive limitatons weren’t necessarily going to be exposed. Or, if you prefer, an unimaginative play call with the game on the line that results in the defense keying on a DeRozan isolation is likely on deck.

What? I’m calm… And to the contrary: Even with the rich getting richer, along with the Raps’ notable offseason depatures that’s led to a relatively high percentage of doubters both from afar and in T.O.’s own backyard, I’m actually rather optimistic at what this season can ultimately become.

Which leads to a few thoughts/questions for the masses:

Some would surely say that in a world where assembled “Super Teams” continue to trump any notion of league-wide parity, coming up short is inevitable. But while that sentiment has validity, it really all depends on how you view success. Better yet, how one goes about being a fan.

With that said, what should our expectations be? Are we simply going to be scratching our collective Raptors itch for the next eight months or is a return to the Eastern Conference Finals still a realistic possibility?

While there’s no definitive answers at this point, there’s plenty of solid ground to walk on. But in that same breath, it’s conceivable to think the Raps’ footing can and will get a little shaky. Let’s start with the core:

1. The Make-Shift “Super Team”

I get it, the added reps likely wouldn’t have changed the course of history. It’s a damn shame Lowry got hurt down the stretch, though. Both the immediate and long-term prospects would have been that much farther along. Still, with the Lowry-DeRozan-Ibaka sample size essentially in its infancy stage, the chances at reaping the trio’s rewards remain relatively intact.

Out of the three, though, if there’s one that still has room to take another leap, it’s DeMar. Even with the fact that he’s been suiting up for almost a decade. And no, I’m not refering to the ever-popular demand of DeRozan finally adding a consistent 3-point shot to his bag of tricks. That’s still wishful thinking. I’m talking about his ever-improving side gig creating opportunities for others.

With Ibaka’s truth existing somewhere in between having already peaked and having upside left in the tank (his versatilty should support the latter), the focus then shifts to K-Low. Now, I’ve never doubted Lowry in the past, even when his relationship with this fan base wasn’t exactly on good terms. He’s also become one of the few exceptions where being on the wrong side of 30 hasn’t caused regression, so I won’t be starting anytime soon.

So, what else is there? His minutes? His contract? We’ll have to play the waiting game on both but the two are attached at the hip. If the Raps’ annual plan of keeping his minutes in check actually comes to fruition, it can go along way in deciding whether $100 Million over three years ultimately helps this team get over the hump or eventually hinders this organization’s future payroll.

2. Underrated/Promising Bench:

From free agency to in-house roster construction, one has to wonder where the Raps would be without the luxury of their D-League affiliate. Yes, I realize Gatorade has staked its claim, but just like “Scotiabank Arena”, I’m not in a hurry to add the name change to my vocabulary. By the way, doesn’t “G-League” actually take away of the league’s purpose? Wait, don’t answer that, I’m already giving the corporate takeover too much free advertising. Point is: The Raps have taken full advantage of every D-evelopmental aspect the 905 has provided. Hell, they may have even found their future Head Coach.

Here’s where it gets tricky, though… and we really have no choice but to remain skeptical given this team’s track record. The preseason may have kept its word, but bad habits tend to reappear when the lights go on. Nevertheless, if the “culture reset” that includes much more ball movement and quality shot attempts is here to stay, there’s no way around the need for the graduated 905ers/bench to hold up their end of the bargain.

The conundrum here is messy. Of the numerous pieces being counted on, two in particular (Bebe and Poeltl) will be involved in an interesting catch-22. A point of emphasis for many, including myself, has always been to allow JV a true chance at overcoming his faults. Most certainly over the course of a season’s first half with ample time to correct the decision if need be. Failure would only mean a team knows exactly how to value a player. At the same time, if this team wants their depth to contribute when it matters most (one of last year’s glaring flaws), the kids need reps to get there. Other than when the Raps go small, it’ll have to be at the expense of Jonas. And with the notion of Serge roaming the Five more often, the minute crunch will be that much tighter.

With the job security that comes with 50-win seasons combined with just how much excelling in the playoffs would silence any Jerry Stackhouse noise, it’s easy to see how Casey’s hands are tied. Perhaps it’s even too late to let the experiment take place?

3. “Sound like one of them good problems”:

A heated debate over a starting spot? In other words, what’s old is new again. With the usual suspect named Norman Powell vs. newcomer C.J. Miles representing this year’s edition, not to mention impressive rookie OG Anunoby likely pushing his his way into the discussion down the road, I recommend basking in the number of options at a postion that’s seemingly no longer a revloving door.

Besides, two of the three provide instant offense, two of three provide instant defense, and all of the above (by all accounts) show up to work with a business-like approach. Bottom line: While cohesiveness in a starting five undoubtedly has its perks, matchup flexibilty brings more to the table. In a landscape where “positionless basketball” works its way to the forefront, this franchise is adapting quite nicely.

Hey, Thursday night, first round’s on me.

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Goodbye Bulls and Bruno Curse, Hello Bench Dad

Raptors 125, Bulls 104 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Goodbye Bulls curse and hellooo high scoring game. You may be a preseason game, and the Bulls may have—well definitely—stopped playing defense around the seven-minute mark of the 4th, but I will gladly, enthusiastically, and knowingly take the W.

There’s a lot more riding on this preseason for most teams involved (so sorry, The Nets) given all the wild manoeuvring of this past summer. What might have been akin to warm-up games in preseasons past now have the feel and fullness of everybody from a team’s starters to the sweat-Swiffering teens poised underneath the net fully measuring the other side up to see what’s changed. It’s tense! I assure you you’re not the only one sitting at home watching and wondering why you’ve yet to change into sweats well past the half.

The Raptors are under a new kind of scrutiny, one grounded primarily in fatigue. We’re all watching to make sure the moves the team didn’t visibly make in the offseason are due to a more subtle alchemy at play just below the surface, that the veneer of something shiny and new wouldn’t necessarily be better than retooling what we’ve got and seeing the results of the now ubiquitous, still sort of cryptic, “culture reset”.

So did it work? Tentatively, optimistically, yes.

Seeing Siakam start tonight was the equivalent of a band you’ve seen a few times starting their set out a little sheepishly with the words, “Ok if we have a little fun tonight?” It’s a little bit weird and sort of self-conscious but they’re all into it and more than that, this usually methodical group starts looking a bit lighter, like mmmaybe they are even having fun.

Regardless of Ibaka sitting this game out, Pascal Siakam getting to start was hopefully a signal from Casey et al. that getting dynamic doesn’t need to be so heavy handed, sometimes you can just try shit out and see what happens. (One person who should no longer be allowed to abide by those very same words, however, is JV. It was a nice to be reminded of how good he always looks in Raptors red, but he also revived the unfortunate Julius Caesar baby bangs of early to mid last season. #JVHive, please @ me about this).

From the outset the Raptors looked most definitive out of their 2017 preseason games so far, choosing their spots but more than that, moving the ball. DeMar especially continues to make a concerted effort to get it going around. So much so that you can see it in the slight hesitations where his muscle memory tells him to push for the drive but he pulls up, pauses, and looks to pass instead.

Lowry is trying, too, but he also has to lead. There’s a balance to strike between a change in team dynamic that’s rooted in reorienting plays to push the ball around and build confidence based on everyone contributing and one where the desire to move it only makes everybody play more frantic. With a team that’s going to need to lean hard on its rookies this year the Raptors, especially Lowry and DeRozan, have to tow the line between knowing when to lead with an ISO play and when to prompt that in others.

And speaking of these rookies, is it just me or did VanVleet get faster? He was a bane to the Chicago perimeter for most of the game but ramped it up in the 2nd half with a move that could have been pulled from the pages of what it means to be a bull (the actual animal). VanVleet led with his shoulder every time he went in for a layup—and they were big layups, layups with flourish—and threw his whole body into getting stops and steals. One minute he’d be scrambling for a lose ball and the next he’d be vaulting down the court to make the rebound, then the shot.

There was one particular moment when he got knocked around and came back leading with the same shoulder he’d just landed hard on to go flying through the key for an extended airtime bucket. Less than ten seconds later he was back for another, likely as upset as I was that one of the U.S. announcers called him “Little Fred VanVleet”. Despite all my rage, he’s playing a way more physical game so far this (pre) season and I am here for how comfortable he is in it. He worked for it all summer.

Norman Powell was a solid and steady hand in a few scrappy plays. Pulling his signature move of somehow flying through the air in a grand jeté very calmly to delicately lob the ball up, underhanded, and make the shot, while the defense scrambled around him. It’s good to have consistency. Powell is so seamless in the rotation, fully fading into or running full force out of the background when either or is needed, he didn’t have the greatest shot selection but most always was a compliment to whichever iteration of the line-up he got worked into.

Miles, too, showed up when he was needed, and that was primarily as Best Bench Dad Ever. With 27 points in 20 minutes and the good sense to chill for a second and let the open look corner shots come to him, he’s solidly, so far, leading the bench and looks comfortable doing it. C.J. Smiles would also be just a great, really cool nickname for him.

And the baby bench! Lil bud bench? We’ll work on the name but holy hell were they up for it tonight. Wright and VanVleet on the floor together are so much fun to watch. The looks they set each other up for and the easy passing between them. As for fouls, where Fred’s following in the charging steps of Kyle Lowry, Delon seems to have a cool knack for drawing them, and neither gets bogged down or takes much time to come back from calls. Anunoby was a little shaky to start but it very quickly showed to be a case of working out some early game kinks. By the half his pace had picked up and he was bouncing circles around a beleaguered Arcidiacono, as well as cutting and shooting at a clip.

More than that, maybe more than any of it—Bruno got a lil dunk! Throw in Bebe with a long 3 and we should all feel good at letting ourselves get a little excited about this rematch next week to mark the season start.

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Raptors-Bulls Reaction Podcast – Threes and assists

Host William Lou breaks down the Raptors’ preseason finale against the Chicago Bulls.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 125, Bulls 104

The usual reminder: All grades are based on the player and their expected role, not a generic player in a vacuum. An A for Lowry/DeRozan is not the same as an A for a guy fighting for a camp spot. It’s all relative, and the preseason grades don’t necessarily account for the quality of competition end-of-the-bench guys are facing. It’s also preseason, and so some of us may be looking for/noticing particular (and different) things. It’s grain-of-salt season. Be civil to each other. (Can you tell I don’t love doing the Quick Reaction in the preseason?)

Toronto 125 Final
Box Score
104 Chicago

B
P. SiakamNone MIN, 4 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

Siakam doesn’t lack for confidence in the corners, which is important until the effectiveness catches up with how the shot looks. Otherwise, his biggest offensive weapon is his ridiculous speed, which makes him an automatic outlet bucket. The Raptors switch so aggressively with Siakam, it’s clear they’re very, very high on his defense, and you can really ratchet that up against bad teams like Chicago.

B+
N. PowellNone MIN, 16 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 6-13 FG, 2-7 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

Starting didn’t seem to limit Powell’s usage at all here, and he’s learning how to attack against a defense tilted opposite him. A couple of nice finishes stood out, and despite a poor shooting night, he remains decisive firing up threes.

B+
J. ValanciunasNone MIN, 11 PTS, 10 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Was a bit of the full JV experience here. He continues to play some of the best ball we’ve seen from him, blocking a couple of shots early on and using his soft hands to turn tough passes into baskets. Some of the usual issues popped up – slowish decisions on the short roll, navigating the level to play defending the pick-and-roll – but his camp has been extremely encouraging.

A-
K. LowryNone MIN, 17 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 5-11 FG, 3-8 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, None +/-

When the opposing team’s announcers are crying “Lowry is everywhere” in a preseason game, it’s probably a good sign. Also, you can chill a bit. You don’t need to be fighting to draw offensive fouls. His effort and savvy on defense are such a good example for the team’s other young guards, specifically how he digs down to unsuspecting bigs in the paint. He’s also going to shoot a ton of threes this year when DeRozan is playing primary ball-handler.

A-
D. DeRozanNone MIN, 7 PTS, 1 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 3-7 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Had another really strong first half from a playmaking perspective, and him and valanciunas developing some chemistry could be huge for the starting unit. His assist rate coming in was double his regular-season career high, and he had four assists in 25 minutes again, though he had a shakier third quarter on offense. This was also probably his best defensive game of the preseason, highlighted by some nice fight on post switches, the jumping of passing lanes, and a drawn charge.

A+
C. MilesNone MIN, 27 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 9-14 FG, 6-11 3FG, 3-3 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, None +/-

He sure looks comfortable being the Dad of the youthful second unit. His confidence shooting and communication defensively are huge for that group. I guess it helps, too, when he scores 27 pints in 20 minutes and needs just 14 shots to get there. Heck of a last two games for him. I’m sold on Miles off the bench now.

Inc
L. BrownNone MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Somehow managed four assists in just two minutes of action as the Raptors’ third-stringers pumped the Bulls’ bench. I generally only give INC grades for stints this short, but he made the most of it.

B-
A. McKinnieNone MIN, 3 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1-3 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

Zeal can be a major positive and occasionally a tiny negative. It skewed mostly toward the positive for McKinnie here, as his nine minutes were a part of solid runs, and he was noticeable for his effort level. He didn’t do any one thing that popped, but it was a modest end to a strong preseason.

Inc
K. McDanielsNone MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

It’s hard to say if McDaniels sitting all night is a death knell for him or a sign that the team is confident they know what he can bring. He definitely had a worse performance in games than McKinnie, but we don’t know how they looked behind closed doors.

B+
L. NogueiraNone MIN, 3 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-1 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

If he’s going to continue to hit threes with regularity, maybe the Bebe-at-PF lineups aren’t a thing of the past. Was behind Poeltl for a third time in five games but did a great job once he checked in, immediately turning away a shot at the rim and making a great find for a VanVleet corner three. This battle remains open into the season.

A
F. VanVleetNone MIN, 10 PTS, 1 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 4-8 FG, 2-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, None +/-

It’s a fun argument as to who the smartest player on the floor is when the Raptors’ two bench guards are out together. They’ve built such a terrific chemistry in the early going, trading forays to the rim, and VanVleet’s masterful at recognizing the next pass. He’s also a plus shooter, meaning there could be a lot more of these dual-PG bench looks.

A-
D. WrightNone MIN, 7 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 3-6 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, None +/-

How about that deep range on a late-clock three? Wright shooting any threes with confidence is encouraging, and it seems like his confidence working into the teeth of a defense has grown, too. He’s very savvy drawing fouls against lesser players and has a veteran feel for some of the Raptors’ pet plays and how to use the young bigs.

B-
B. CabocloNone MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

We’ll be kind here because he was a part of a late pull-away and Bruno could use a win. Grabbed a rebound, missed a late-clock three he had no choice but to take, and made his only other attempt. He’s the 14th or 15th man entering the season.

B
J. PoeltlNone MIN, 4 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, None +/-

The lowest-usage man in the game only got two touches in 18 minutes but converted one and was fouled on the other, and it didn’t deter him from being a presence around the rim and on the glass at the other end. He’s probably done enough to hold the backup job entering the year, but he’ll need to show he can bang with bigger centers – Nogueira’s biggest weakness – to ward off a constant shakeup in that spot.

A+
O. AnunobyNone MIN, 12 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4-8 FG, 3-7 3FG, 1-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

What is there to say, really? He’s not going to be ready for the season? Naw. He’ll have rust? Sure, a bit, when it comes to timing and bounce. He can’t shoot? Wait, wait, wait…Anunoby went 3-of-7 on threes, shot with confidence after the first make, drove and cut intelligently, and made a handful of nifty passes (like in his debut) that didn’t produce assists. It’s really hard to put a lid on the excitement right now.

A
Dwane Casey

Other than Ibaka, this looked close to how an in-season rotation may look in Game 1, at least for three quarters. I still don’t think he’ll risk much time with both Lowry and DeRozan sitting, but he’s empowering the kids to make their case for it. And we have to give the credit somewhere – the Raptors have 61 assists over their last two games and the commitment to ball movement looks legitimate. (And hey, let’s see a tiny bit more of that Lowry-JV-bench unit you teased.)

Things We Saw

  1. Serge Ibaka got the night off after playing some of the heaviest minutes on the team through four games. That makes sense, even if it does mean the team only got two games in with it’s full contingent of key players, and only one with the true starting lineup. Ibaka looked good Tuesday after a shaky first three games.
  2. A quick look at the position battles: Poeltl appears ahead of Nogueira, VanVleet has played well enough to force a 3-PG rotation (or Wright on the wing, however you want to say it), Anunoby-Siakam is a toss-up out of the gate, and McKinnie outperformed McDaniels in the action we’re privy to. There are still five days of practice before the opener and three before cuts have to be made, so things could still be up in the air.
  3. The Raptors dished 10 assists to just one turnover in the opening quarter, were hung up by some poor shooting in the second, and lost their way a little in the third. Chicago was threatening to make a game of it until the Raptors’ deep bench mob just destroyed them to the tune of a 38-17 fourth quarter.
  4. If we’re evaluating the preseason as a whole, count me as a believer that the improved ball movement can stick, a moderate optimist the defense can be average or even a shade above, and a begrudging skeptic about how well they’ll shoot. All told, it’s been a pretty positive preseason, with some nice performances and a clear growth in comfort over the five games.
  5. The Bulls are going to be very bad. Take everything from tonight with a cup of salt. And forgive me for being mostly positive on this, the most glorious of days – the end of preseason.

Note: I have no idea why it isn’t pulling the stats properly. You can find the box score here for reference. Apologies.

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Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka sitting out preseason finale

The preseason draws to a close on Friday as the Toronto Raptors visit the Chicago Bulls for their fifth and final exhibition contest. Four games in, there are enough positives to feel warmly about, enough areas for improvement to half-want a longer preseason, and enough mixed signals that, hey, one more game that doesn’t count won’t hurt, right? As for what the Raptors are looking for in this one? It’s pretty straightforward.

“Improvement,” head coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “I thought our last game was closer to a trial run as you’re gonna get. Just improvement defensively, making sure we continue to get stops, executing our defensive pick-and-roll coverages. Again, win, lose, or draw, you just wanna see improvement. And we did, we have, we’ve shown that since the Portland game in practice, in the exhibition game. I thought we had a good day today in what we’re trying to do, moving the basketball offensively, just overall taking steps toward playing good basketball.”

Seems simple enough, right?

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

Raptors updates
Normally, the final preseason game is a time to get a few reps in, get an extended look at players on the bubble, and make sure you head into the regular season as fresh and healthy as possible. The shortening of the preseason by a week, and of the schedule from seven or eight games down to five, has confused that some – there’s still an obvious desire to stay healthy, but teams with significant changes to the roster or the system (or, as in the case of the Raptors, a bit of both) need time to mesh. The four certain Raptors’ starters have still played fewer than 300 minutes together, and while the ball movement is coming along, turnovers and comfort beyond the arc remain works in progress.

“We’ll play. If you’re asking whether we’re gonna play, we’re gonna play people,” Casey said. “We’re gonna play minutes. It does change it because there’s not as many games, and that’s why it’s tough. We had Kyle )Lowry) take out a game and DeMar (DeRozan), and it’s difficult, because you don’t have as many games as you had in the past. We gotta make sure we get those guys as many game minutes as we possibly can to play.”

I still wouldn’t be entirely shocked if someone (Serge Ibaka, were I forced to choose) had a very light night, but it sounds as if the first half, at least, will play out like it did in preseason games one and four. And that’s fine – the starters need to build a chemistry, whether it’s with C.J. Mles or Norman Powell, and the resultant second-unit will need to do the same. The Raptors also still haven’t used any of their Lowry-and-bench or DeRozan-and-bench units, which figure to be prominent once the season opens no matter how excited anyone gets about how the all-bench groups have functioned together against opposing benches.

UPDATE: Serge Ibaka is getting the night off to rest, shifting Pascal Siakam into the starting power forward position, per Doug Smith. Norman Powell remains with the starters, suggesting that’s how the Raptors will approach things when the regular season begins.

Assuming relative health and no rest, here’s how the rotation might look:

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

Check back for any pre-game updates (I’m not sure if any beat writers are on the road, so we may not get a note until game-time.)

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Ibaka 83, Valanciunas 78, Lowry 69, DeRozan 67
Competition 1: Powell 73 (2 starts), Miles 55 (2 starts)
Competition 2: Nogueira486 (2 times as C2), Poeltl 64 (2 times as C2)
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 96, VanVleet 49
Competition 4: McKinnie 48, McDaniels 22
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 67, Caboclo 48, Anunoby 18
Two-Ways: Brown 16, Miller 0
RIP in Peace: Rautins 36, Wiltjer 20, Meeks 3

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Bulls updates
The Bulls are limping into the regular season a little bit here. Zach LaVine is only just starting to progress to more dynamic activity, with a rough December target for a return. Kris Dunn (finger) and Cameron Payne (foot) are rendering a woefully thin point guard position even dicier with injuries that will extend into the regular season. And on top of those, Paul Zipser is now out for Friday’s game with a status up in the air for the season opener on Oct. 19 because of back soreness.

Things could be bleak for the Bulls to start the year. Okay, things are definitely going to be bleak for the Bulls to start the year. But it could be extra bad out of the gate. For Friday, Qincy Pondexter is also questionable, though at least Nikola Mirotic has been deemed good to go (at the three no less!).

PG: Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bronson Koenig
SG: Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Antonio Blakeney
SF: Nikola Mirotic, (Quincy Pondexter), Jarell Eddie
PF: Lauri Markannen Bobby Portis, Jaylen Johnson
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, Diamond Stone
OUT: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser
TBD: Quincy Pondexter

Assorted

  • I was randomly looking through some of DeMar DeRozan’s stats and stumbled on an interesting tidbit as it relates to how turnover-avoidant he is. Since we have usage rate available, there have been 43 player seasons in which a player has used at least 30 percent of his team’s offensive possessions when on the floor. DeRozan’s 9.0-percent turnover rate from last year is the 17th-lowest in the group. If you filter for 34-percent usage and higher, DeRozan’s rate is the fifth-lowest of 11 player seasons. In other words, DeRozan’s in pretty elite company when it comes to protecting the ball, given his usage. Some of that is system-based and related to passing a bit less, sure, but it’s still incredibly valuable.
    • He also ranked 40th in the NBA in total touches last year and 78th in dribbles per-touch
  • The new Raptors Nike gear is now officially on sale at Real Sports and online.
  • Some random prop over-unders from Vegas:

  • Raptors 905 tickets went on sale last week so a friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
  • We’ve passed this along on Twitter, but if you follow us and @GetInTheAction and RT the post below, you’ll have a chance to win two tickets to the home opener. No strings attached other than following both accounts and RTing. We’re exploring more ways to be able to give stuff away during the season, so let’s give GetInTheAction a reason to keep hooking the RR community up.

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board.

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2017-2018 Player Preview: OG Anunoby

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

With a permanent look of indifference spread across his face, it’s tough to figure out whether or not OG Anunoby is happy to be here. A 23rd overall selection after a devastating knee injury ended his college career early, you can’t blame him for being all-business, even on draft day.

In interviews he is curt, sometimes to the point of seeming rude and has no time for questions with obvious answers. OG Anunoby is here to play basketball, and the Raptors are already reaping the rewards. The 6-foot-8 20-year-old out of Indiana has come a long way from his three-star recruiting status in high school. His trajectory towards a top-ten pick was well on it’s way before tearing his ACL in January, and the Raptors feel downright blessed to have gotten him at the position they did. Dwayne Casey said the Raptors “got lucky” to get him where they did, and Masai Ujiri added “We’re excited. We’re super excited and we feel we got lucky to get a player like that where we got him.”

While the Raptors’ front office may feel lucky, Anunoby is relying on his hard work and rehabilitation to make an impact this season. In his first taste of preseason action, he dished out two assists on his first two touches and showed aggressiveness attacking the rim. Despite his shooting woes (1-5) it was a bonus to even see him on the court. He is, after all a “project,” albeit one that can contribute, so what are his expectations heading into the season?

Defensive Potential

With a ceiling of “bigger Kawhi”, Anunoby has all the natural talent of an elite defender in the NBA. He’s quick on his feet given his size and has the ability to switch onto anyone. That same quickness and fast twitch muscles make him near-impossible to shoot over. He’s bouncy on his feet and eager to contain the threat of a pass or shot at any moment.


His size allows him to cover most fours on the interior or exterior and his range makes him a threat to put up some gaudy defensive stats. He finished with 2.2 steals and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes in college and while those numbers are likely to take a hit in limited NBA action, the potential to make a difference is apparent immediately.

FURTHER READING: Raptors draft pick of OG Anunoby an interesting experiment in changing NBA landscape

Developing Shooter

We haven’t seen him find his range yet in the preseason, but his willingness to take open looks is half the battle. He’s a 36.5% career shooter form beyond the arc in college and Casey will need similar numbers from Anunoby if he wants to fit into the Raptors’ new system of bombs away. He’s at his best placing the floor as a four, but that means his shot will need to drop in order to be respected. He put up good catch and shoot numbers at Indiana (1.32 pp) and that skill will go a long way as the Raptors try to create more space for their shooters this season.

NBA Ready

While OG is hopefully a long-term project that terrorizes the Eastern Conference for years to come, he’s also ready to go right now. At 20 years old he has enough experience and maturity (just see how he eats up the press) to fit into the demands of the NBA. His size is already above average and his willingness to learn is evident from his growth as a high school player to college star.


The Bad

Developing Shooter

Wait…didn’t we just list this as a strength? Yes, but keep in mind that “developing” also implies a player has not reached an area of satisfaction just yet. Anunoby is a streaky shooter and while we highlighted his career 36.5% clip from deep, keep in mind that number is a reflection of his average dropping from 45% as a rookie to 31% as a sophomore in college. He struggles from the line (52.2% in college) and will always have trouble getting his shot off without space. These stats are likely to improve with practice and adjustment to the NBA, but any hopes of him being a threat to shoot at will should be left at the door.

Offensive Touch

Onunoby is capable with the ball in his hands, but given all that is expected of him on the defensive end of the floor it comes as little surprise that he needs some work polishing his offensive game. He rarely if ever takes a pull up jumper (just 5 in 50 college games) and looks clunky around the rim against larger opponents. His best case scenario is to attack the basket against smaller defenders, or use the open space his teammates make for him to knock down some shots.

Injury History

Is it fair to label Anunoby injury-prone? No, but it is fair to worry. The NBA has a long list of players (superstars included) whose careers were changed dramatically by serious injuries like ACL tears. Considering Anunoby derives so much of his skill from his leaping ability and lateral movement, his injury will need to be closely monitored and that means his development will be (and should be!) brought along slowly.

The Expectation:

Listed behind CJ Miles (or maybe Norman Powell) on the depth chart at SF, Anunoby is capable (and likely) to play the four as well. He’ll be expected to make an immediate impact on a team that will pride itself on depth. The Raptors are in a unique situation where they get to develop their young talent while still competing for a deep playoff run. If Anunoby can continue to improve on the offensive end while providing above-average defense the Raptors will continue to reap the rewards from their savvy draft pick.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Oct. 13

The final preseason game before heading into the regular season. It’s fitting that the Toronto Raptors travel to meet the Chicago Bulls, against whom they regularly struggle. Lucky for them, this is an entirely different Chicago team. One that is destined for a cellar finish in the weak Eastern Conference. In fact, they are the clear favourites to close with the NBA’s worst record this upcoming season. Jimmy Butler? Gone. Dwyane Wade? Adios. Rajon Rondo? Sayonara. In bitter-sweet fashion, renown Raptors killer, Doug McDermott (or when he faces Toronto, Dougie McBuckets) has left Chicago for the Atlantic Division’s New York Knicks. For all we know, Paul Zipser will step into the McDermott’s shoes and go gamebreaker-mode on Toronto all season long.

Ugh.

In what is likely to be considered a tune-up game for both teams, each will be looking to gain momentum heading into their rematch in the Bulls’ home opener just six days later. Don’t be surprised to see key rotation pieces such as Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, or Serge Ibaka (potentially even more players) play limited minutes in this game for precautionary reasons and to get a longer look at players competing for roles and roster spots. Dwane Casey told reporters Wednesday that “we’re gonna play people” but noted Tuesday’s game was maybe as close to an actual rotation as they’ll get.

Toronto is coming off an encouraging win against the Detroit Pistons, which saw them throttle Andre Drummond and Co. with a 116-94 victory. Toronto held Detroit to 23 points or less in three of the four quarters while limiting them to a pedestrian 44% shooting. Oh, and we all finally witnessed the debut of rookie OG Anunoby, who dazzled and showed promise throughout the game. The Bulls, on the other hand, faced off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their previous preseason game, picking up a well-fought 108-94 victory that showed some unexpected defensive promise.

The preseason finale will be televised on TSN2 at 8:00pm ET.

Raptors updates

*Earlier this week, Toronto signed Davion Berry to an Exhibit 10 contract. He probably won’t factor in much here.

*A report from the Washington Post was released late Thursday night that stated the Raptors would not be staying at Trump hotels this season, effectively boycotting the Trump-owned establishments. Eleven out of the 12 NBA teams who would normally stay at the hotels have stopped, as per reports.

*According to TSN Sports’ Josh Lewenberg, the Raptors appear to view Norman Powell as the starter over CJ Miles as we approach the regular season opener, though that could still change in the coming week.

This preseason game, as mentioned above, will probably be extensively played by the back-end of the rotation. Players like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown, Bruno Caboclo and K.J. McDaniels will likely see the bulk of time on the court. This game may be the final grading mechanism that the Raptors’ staff uses to finalize their regular season roster. It currently stands at 18 players, and will most likely be cut down to 15-17 before the season opener (rosters are 17 players now because of the two-way deals).

This is how the rotation may play out on Friday night:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown, Davion Berry
SG: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
INJ: Malcolm Miller
Potentially limited time: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, CJ Miles, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell

Check back in the pre-game news & notes for the status of OG Anunoby and exactly which Raptors, if any, will be resting Friday night.

Bulls updates

Here’s where I expand on the Bulls’ impressive preseason win vs. the Cavaliers. Justin Holiday exploded with 28 points (on 8/16 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Rookie Lauri Markannen also impressed with 18 points (on 7/12 shooting) with five rebounds and four threes. I want to quickly mention that 15 of Markannen’s 18 points came in the fourth quarter. He got HOT. Denzel Valentine, who the Bulls will surely rely on heavily this season, chipped in with 14 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and a block. Again, very encouraging for the young roster.

Bulls point guard Kris Dunn suffered a dislocated finger injury last week, which will sideline him for roughly two-to-four weeks. Nikola Mirotic will likely sit out with a mild sprained ankle. Fred Hoiberg did clarify that if this were the regular season, Niko likely would’ve continued playing. He’s day-to-day. For what it’s worth, I don’t expect Hoiberg to risk playing him against Toronto.  Cameron Payne is on the shelf for three-to-four months to repair a fifth-metatarsal foot injury. According to K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune, Hoiberg has revealed that guard Zach LaVine has recently been cleared for “unpredictable movements,” but still cannot take any contact. Quincy Pondexter’s been dealing with a hamstring issue, too.

Contrasted from Toronto, I don’t expect the Bulls to rest many players. Maybe old man, Robin Lopez (so he and archnemesis Serge Ibaka can stare one another down when they get bored). Mirotic may also rest and sit out to prevent further risk of injury damage.

This is what I think the Bulls may come out with:

PG: Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bronson Koenig
SG: Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Antonio Blakeney
SF: Paul Zipser, (Quincy Pondexter), Jarell Eddie
PF: (Nikola Mirotic), Lauri Markannen, Bobby Portis, Jaylen Johnson
C: (Robin Lopez), Cristiano Felicio, Diamond Stone
INJ: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne
TBD: Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Quincy Pondexter

The line

Once again, the preseason line stays off the board.

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Dwane Casey – ‘Where I Come From’ at Raptors.com

Raptors.com released a really interesting online profile on head coach Dwane Casey today. There are a lot of voices brought in to highlight where Casey comes from, and what’s made him into the person and coach he is today. It’s an intelligent, in-depth look at the franchise’s most winningest and longest tenured coach, with some fun photos and videos and perspectives brought in to fill out the picture of Casey’s journey to this point.

Strongly recommend checking it out, and hopefully this leads the way to some of the same depth of profiles on other players or members of the organization. Nice work by the Raptors digital team here.

(It probably works better on desktop than mobile, just a heads up.)

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2017-18 Player Preview: Bebe Nogueira

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With a litany of young guys in the fold, it’s easy for Bebe Nogueira to get lost in the shuffle. He’s been on the roster for a few seasons and the results are mostly bland with moments of excitement. Bebe averaged 19 minutes per game last season but those minutes faded as the campaign wore on. This is the final year of the 24-year-old’s contract, putting a pressure on the seven-foot Brazilian that hasn’t really been there in his career.

In 2016-17, Bebe was asked to do more. Bismack Biyombo went to Orlando for that sweet, sweet cash, and Jakob Poeltl was too green for serious back-up centre minutes at the start of the season. It didn’t really work out. Bebe was asked to defend and rebound, standard fare for the role. He struggled in rotations and pick and roll defence because of his below-average mobility. And despite the height and length, Bebe posted a 12.6% total rebound percentage. In isolation, it’s an okay mark, not terrible but not really a strength either. But factor in that he was playing the majority of his minutes with Patrick Patterson, who isn’t a great rebounder either. That’s a problem. Toronto addressed the problem by trading for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to give them some line-up flexibility, and Jakob Poeltl got some more run.

FURTHER READING: Lucas Nogueira is good, so where does he fit?

Bebe’s future is a bit bleak. Toronto has Poeltl, who is young, showing signs of being a good bench player at the least and under contract for a while at a low figure. It’s also tough to create the narrative of why Nogueira makes a jump this year. What significant change has he made that would power him to relevance in this roster? It’s hard to find, but I’m not sure he needs to make a significant change to be a useful player as long as he’s got that length.

What won’t change with Bebe is the physical tools. On a recent podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe talked about how NBA front office people mentioned the impact length has on the game but that analytics haven’t been able to totally quantify yet. (You could argue that there are stats that provide some direction like looking at the change in average shot attempt distance when a player is on/off the court or defensive rating when they’re on the court, but those are really noisy stats.)

Lowe said that length can deter offensive players from doing something they normally do, forcing players to settle. The best example I have of this is the 2016 playoff series between Toronto and Miami. Hassan Whiteside absolutely scared off DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry from driving to the rim.

Whiteside is much more athletic than Nogueira, but there’s a chance Bebe could be a percentage of that in limited minutes. He’s got that 7-6 wingspan and if he just drops in pick and roll coverage, players will think twice when driving. In 2016-17, Bebe had a 7.1 block percentage, a top-ten mark in the league. With the NBA moving towards more and more threes, I could see offences taking advantage of bigs that drop back by taking more off-the-dribble threes that were typically reserved for only gunslingers or the best three-point shooters. Bebe’s advantage is neutralized if this happens.

And I said that what won’t change with Bebe is the physical tools, but it’s a bit of a paradox. Those tools were there last year, and he really didn’t see meaningful minutes past the All-Star Break.

On the other end of the court, Bebe’s a bit more useful. He’s shown decent vision and passing skills, and if the preseason offence carries into regular season, Raptor bigs will be called upon to past out of the post here and there. That’s a sneaky-useful skill, but I’m not sure it moves the needle a ton.

Again, it’s the physical tools that are more important. Nogueira and Lowry have shown good chemistry in the pick and roll because Lowry can float passes where only Bebe can get them. That kind of vertical threat is important for a team that is looking to shoot more corner threes: if Bebe rolls hard to the rim, the weakside defender needs to bump the roller even earlier to make the catch difficult and further from the rim. But even if Bebe’s catch is too far from the rim, that’s where his passing skills come in. He can find the open guy for an open shot. That’s a good formula for a bench offence.

But Bebe has a Poeltl problem: Jak and Delon Wright have shown a good chemistry in preseason, and Poeltl’s got great hands and finishing ability.

In preseason, Casey has given both bigs looks as the back-up five. Poeltl is winning that battle, putting distance between the two in a stellar game against Detroit.

Sure, there’s still an opportunity for Bebe to make up ground against Poeltl against Chicago. But I think his reputation is cemented for this coaching staff: they’ve had him for three years, and there’s very little incentive to give Bebe minutes when his contract is up and Poeltl stands to benefit from the experience.

Here’s the realistic outlook: at best, Bebe flourishes into a lengthy big whose can handle speedy bench scorers looking to attack the rim and cause stress on an opposing defence. I can totally picture #ContractYearBebe being a thing, and I’m honestly rooting for it. At worst, he doesn’t play a ton of meaningful minutes but provides some depth at the position. For Toronto, this is a pretty good situation. Unfortunately for Bebe, that worst-case scenario is a grim one, and looks more likely than not.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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2017-18 Player Preview: Lorenzo Brown

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It is possible that being somewhat of a known commodity, with a set role for the season to come, has proven a curse of sorts in the preseason.

Signed to a two-way contract this summer, Lorenzo Brown had been working out with the young contingent of Toronto Raptors for weeks heading into training camp, taking on some semblance of a leadership role as one of the league’s eldest two-way players and one of the few Raptors with multiple years of NBA experience. In games, though, Brown has been sparse – he’s played 16 minutes in total through four preseason outings, fewest on the team aside from the now-waived Kennedy Meeks – and didn’t even see significant run when Fred VanVleet missed an earlier outing with hamstring tightness.

So what gives? It’s certainly not that the team isn’t fond of Brown, a 6-foot-5 point guard who’s improved his shot a great deal and who could bring a steady hand in an up-and-down role in the organization this year. The 27-year-old was likely selected for a two-way contract because of a combination of experience and leadership, standing as a reasonable fourth point guard on the depth chart for up to 45 days during the season and providing a steady lead-guard presence for Raptors 905 the remainder of the time. That he’s on a two-way deal and has 63 games in the NBA has probably just conspired to allow the Raptors to take longer in-game looks at other players, knowing with some confidence what they have in Brown when he’s needed.

FURTHER READING: Raptors signing Lorenzo Brown might signal NBA-focused two-way contract strategy

What they have in Brown is a guard with great size for the position, one capable of seeing over defenses and using his length to be disruptive at the other end of the floor. In parts of three NBA seasons, Brown’s averaged just 8.9 points per-36 minutes on 41.4-percent true-shooting, but he’s also posted a 26.5-percent assist rate and a 2.6-percent steal rate, solid numbers for his role. It’s also a somewhat small sample (833 minutes), and if his time in the G-League is any indication, his shot’s come along much better than his NBA numbers ever got to show – Brown is a 36.2-percent career 3-point shooter over 75 G-League games, firing up a much larger volume than in the NBA sample. He’s also consistently been a strong free-throw shooter, which generally portends well to extended range (he’s second to only Malcolm Miller on the training camp leaderboard for free throws made out of 100).

The shot remains a work-in-progress, though, the type of skill addition opposing teams won’t necessarily respect in the pick-and-roll until he burns them a few times. That Brown isn’t a finished product at 27 is part of why a two-way contract makes sense for him, providing some financial stability and occasional NBA run while allowing him to develop without the specter of 10-day contract season hanging over him as it may have in past years. How, exactly, the two-way players will be treated is still a bit of a mystery, but Brown’s trying to just go with the flow of things and let the call-ups and send-downs sort themselves out.

“The same as every year I come in,” Brown said at Media Day of how he’ll treat the two-way role. “Take it serious just like any other day. I’m just ready to see what’s next for myself. Two-ways are pretty new so I’m not too sure what to expect. I’m gonna take it serious, play my heart out, and just come ready to do what I have to do, honestly.”

Brown pointing to his effort level is something fans can probably get used to, as he’s earned a reputation as a hard-nosed player, even at a slender 190 pounds. He’ll fight through screens, lunge into passing lanes and scramble back out, and throw his body into contact inside to try to create kick-out opportunities. That he found himself working out with noted gym rats Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet this summer is hardly surprising. (Brown and VanVleet actually share a hometown of Rockford, Ill., though Brown’s roots are mostly in Atlanta now.) Looking to make an impression with that group in the weeks leading up to camp, Brown regaled his attempts to try to beat Powell into the gym only to continually come up short, because, well, it’s Powell.

How Brown’s shown in those workouts and in the abundance of practices throughout training camp is unclear. He’s struggled some in the minutes he’s played, shooting 1-of-9, missing all five of his threes, and committing three turnovers, but he’s also made a couple of solid reads and crashed the glass with abandon. It’s as flawed a sample as any preseason look can be, a continuation of a stop-and-start NBA career that’s shown that Brown is an intriguing piece but never really allowed him to lock down a full-time role or show definitively who he is as a player.

He’ll get those opportunities in time, perhaps as soon as Friday’s preseason finale. Once the season opens, it’s a safe bet that Brown will factor into plans eventually – head coach Dwane Casey has long enjoyed using two point guards together, Kyle Lowry has been known to miss time, and the two other point guards on the roster, while exciting, remain quite young and somewhat unproven. Brown, like Wright, can also provide some help should the wing depth be threatened. Until he’s needed, Brown will likely ply his trade with Raptors 905, where he and newly signed Davion Berry should give Jerry Stackhouse plenty of fun options at both ends, a pair of large combo-guards comfortable guarding up a position and playing on or off the ball.

Don’t let a lack of preseason run take Brown off your radar. Whether as an experienced leader for the team’s development program in Mississauga or as a spot-duty fill-in with the parent club, Brown will have a role to play this season.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Raptors sign Davion Berry to Exhibit 10 contract

The Toronto Raptors are signing Davion Berry to an Exhibit 10 contract, Raptors Republic has learned.

The move comes on the heels of the Raptors waiving Andy Rautins, Kyle Wiltjer, and Kennedy Meeks last week. While it may seem odd at first blush to sign someone to a camp deal at this late juncture, the team could use some additional guard depth as the preseason wears on and bodies grow tired. The team has a lot of practice time left before the season begins, and Berry can drop in to proceedings with relative ease, having played with the Raptors at Summer League in 2016 and with Raptors 905 prior to that. Even with the late start, Berry will have an opportunity to make a strong impression in the event guard depth is needed at some point during the regular season, and there are still technically two roster spots up for grabs.

Signing Berry now also allows the Raptors to shift Berry to their G-League pipeline when camp draws to a close. The 905 already own his returning player rights, but this bit of accounting gives the Raptors the chance to make a return to the junior circuit a little more worth his while. The nature of Berry’s Exhibit 10 contract – the same deal Meeks was on in camp – means he’ll receive a $50,000 bonus should he be waived and spend 60 days with the 905. It’s a nice supplement to the modest G-League salaries, similar to how the Raptors have offered partial guarantees to G-League Affiliate Players (or players whose rights they already held) in the past. The Exhibit 10 can also be converted to a two-way contract, though the Raptors already have both of their two-way slots filled (Lorenzo Brown and Malcolm Miller).

That this will not be Berry’s first time in the Raptors’ system is part of the draw here. Raptors 905 acquired him at the trade deadline during the 2015-16 season for a third-round pick and the returning player rights to Abdul Gaddy. Over the season’s stretch run, Berry played his way into a spot at the offseason G-League minicamp showcase, averaging 17.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 steals in 10 games with the 905. An injury kept him from participating in the mini-camp, but his strong stint with the 905 helped land him a spot on the Raptors’ Summer League team that July, then a deal with Kolossos Rodou of the Greek League and, later, Walter Tigers Tubingen of the German BBL.

He also obviously showed enough for the Raptors to retain interest in keeping him in their development system, and it’s fairly easy to see why, given the strides he’s made as a pro. A bit off-radar coming into the draft after two years at Cal State Monterey Bay, a redshirt transfer year, and two solid campaigns at Weber State – he averaged 17.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists while hitting 40.1 percent of his threes at Damian Lillard’s alma mater, earning a pair of All-Big Sky First team nods – Berry got a quick look from Portland in Summer League, then split his first pro season between Italy and the G-League.

Where his game is now compared to that first G-League campaign is quite a leap, as Berry’s honed his ability to defend either guard spot while shooting well enough to play off-ball (he’s hit 39.9 percent of his G-League threes) and improving markedly as an initiator for others. Still just 25 despite five years in college and three pro campaigns under his belt, the 6-foot-4 Berry offers great size at the point, and he and Brown should be able to mesh well as co-combo-guards in the 905 backcourt. The ability to switch freely between the two spots, at both ends of the floor, is a luxury the 905 haven’t always had without assignment players, and there could be solid enough depth at the position to survive in the event either gets called up should the parent club run into point guard trouble.

If nothing else, looking at the camp roster should provide some optimism that the defending champion 905 will be a little stronger than their offseason talent drain may have initially suggested. Here’s how their rights sheet potentially lines up with the Exhibit 10s and two-ways factored in:

Note: After this writing, the Cavaleirs waived Edy Tavares. The 905 still hold his returning player rights, but it’s possible the canton Charge look to acquire them, or that an NBA team claims him or adds him on a two-way contract.

Of course, the intent with these deals is not normally to re-stock the 905 – players on camp deals are aiming to make the NBA roster, and G-League affiliates/Exhibit 10s want to fight to the NBA level – but continuing to keep the organizational pipeline stocked with talent is a primary goal of the player development arm of the franchise. As the salary cap puts a greater emphasis on finding and developing talent and the collective bargaining agreement and G-League expand to allow greater control and ownership of talent development, fortifying the practice roster and the depth available in camp with interesting short- and long-term prospects takes on greater importance. Adding Berry to the mix in the days before the season is a nice way to round things out to that end.

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2017-2018 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas

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Greetings and salutations, #JVHive.

Jonas Valanciunas. The man, the myth, the legend. Easily the most polarizing figure on the Toronto Raptors roster. Within the local fanbase, supporters frequently fall on one of two extreme sides:

You’re either a big-time Valanciunas critic or part of the well-known group of rabid crusaders known as the ‘JV Hive’.

Before we get into what type of player JV is (and how he can help and hurt this roster), let’s quickly touch base on the upbringing of this supporter group.

THE HISTORY OF #JVHIVE

For some of the readers who have never once heard of this group, JV Hive is a often used term for a considerably large group of die-hard Jonas Valanciunas fans.

This group is known to defend Valanciunas at all costs, even sometimes throwing logic completely out of the window.

For those looking for a real life example, when JV was getting absolutely roasted during last season’s playoffs versus a plethora of small-ball lineups, JV Hive pleaded that “he wasn’t getting enough looks” rather than “he needs to get the %^&* off the court”.

At this point in Valanciunas’ career, rashly anointing someone a member of JV Hive can inflame and instigate without a necessary burden of proof (like given above).

The actual term, ‘JV Hive’ was coined by a man quite popular in ‘Raptors Twitter’ by the name of Harsh Dave (although, he also enjoys being referred to as “5’6 Vijay Singh”) .

https://twitter.com/IamHarshDave/status/861005579531190273

Since earlier this year, the term itself has taken on completely new life. Accordingly, fans of Valanciunas within social media have been (fairly or unfairly) dubbed members of JV Hive.

Putting all lies aside, I myself have taken part in this playful banter amongst the Raptors community. I also have zero regrets.

Whichever side of assessing Valanciunas you fall on (even you logical individuals somewhere in the middle), just know that you’re not alone.

Trust me on that.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Objective viewers of this 7-foot Lithuanian giant can see both the catastrophic deficiencies Valanciunas holds as well as the wildly effective post-player he can be.

It’s unanimously recognized amongst NBA fans, casual or not, that Jonas Valanciunas is a crafty offensive player with defensive limitations.

FURTHER READING: Patreon mailbag: An offseason review of sorts

To set a foundation for those not familiar, the usual questions that follow JV around are:

  • Does he have a higher ceiling, or is this ’12 & 9′ it?
  • What happens when we see Valanciunas play in a system that isn’t dominated by guard-play?
  • Should he play those elusive 4th quarter minutes he seemingly never gets?
  • Should his total minutes on the floor increase heavily, stall or be minimized at all costs?
  • Should he start or come off the bench in a ‘Greg Monroe’ type role?
  • To trade him or to keep him?

STRENGTHS:

  • Crafty, efficient offensive scorer
  • Deft touch in the paint
  • Dominant offensive rebounder
  • Exceptional screen-setter (yes, this is a skill if you do it enough)
  • Above-average deep-post defender
  • Fantastic free throw shooter for his position (career – 78%)

Jonas Valanciunas, at times can be an offensive juggernaut who gobbles up rebounds like leftover Thanksgiving dinner.

At times.

Ranked number 80 on Sports Illustrated’s annual list of top 100 NBA players, JV is sitting pretty in some very solid company.

An indisputable fact is that JV remains an efficient and productive player within the role Dwane Casey has given him. He’s asked to crash the boards, set a billion screens to help kickstart the offensive set and quite frankly, be a nuisance down-low for the Raptors.

With star guards like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on the roster, Valanciunas isn’t given much opportunity to showcase his offensive skills.

In his 5 seasons with Toronto, his usage percentage has hovered between 17 and 20 percent. For comparisons sake, DeRozan had a usage percentage of 34.2% last season while Lowry clocked in at 25%. Thus, Valanciunas has essentially been the 3rd, but sometimes 4th offensive option for Toronto in the prime seasons of his career.

WEAKNESSES:

  • Defensive mobility
  • Wild inconsistency
  • Can’t create on his own, needs teammates who can set him up
  • Easily gets into foul trouble
  • Very little perimeter game (although, he is apparently working on it)
  • Playmaking ability is completely absent
  • Severe lack of offensive post-moves
  • I’m sorry, but JV is Berenstain Bear soft

The foremost reason why Dwane Casey persistently keeps Valanciunas out of the 4th quarter is simply due to his defensive ineptness. The NBA has shifted into a guard’s league. More than ever are we seeing small-ball lineups dominate the NBA where 2’s (SG’s) have becomes 3’s (SF’s) and 4’s (PF’s) have become 5’s (C’s). The emphasis on ball movement and spacing has caused this revolutionary change in how basketball is played in the NBA.

Now, JV is dealing with the consequences.

This upcoming season, Dwane Casey’s small-ball lineup will undoubtedly push Serge Ibaka to the 5 while subbing on a player like Norman Powell or OG Anunoby and ultimately moving everyone ‘up’ a position. That leaves JV out of the mix once again, naturally forcing him to give it his all for the first 3 quarters.

JV is inconsistent in his play (like mentioned above) but also lacks abilities which some big men across the league are beginning to embrace. Valanciunas’ perimeter shooting leaves a lot to be desired as well as his playmaking ability.

Let’s be serious for a second.

When are we going to see JV set a screen, roll to the basket, catch the incoming ball and dish it out to an open man all in one fluid motion?

Will it be this season?

Never?

Gotcha.

This offseason, the Raptors coaching staff has been working with Valanciunas extensively on his ‘third eye’ by trying to improve his passing ability. It’s not that Valanciunas is selfish or doesn’t want to give the ball up, but rather he just isn’t making that defense-unlocking pass that can be the difference between a B+ and an A+ shot attempt.

Also Jonas, please for the sake of all Raptors fans, can we see something other than the triple-pumpfake, aggressive drive right, running hook shot? We beg of you, please.

If the last weakness threw you off, it wasn’t meant to. I was being dead serious. JV is the definition of Charmin Extra Strength soft.

Just follow me here.

Don’t get me wrong, Valanciunas can occasionally be a reckless and violent player on the court (hence, the Charmin ‘Extra Strength’). The problem some have with JV is his penchant to shrivel up when things get real. I’ll keep it short and sweet but this video from a USA-Lithuania FIBA game a few years ago says it all.

Valanciunas has undeniably been an important figure in the Raptors last few playoff runs. In 2016, he absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers and shortly before injury, the Miami Heat (mostly Hassan Whiteside). In 2017, Valanciunas was exposed as a clear defensive mismatch and was nearly unplayable at times.

For the most part, Toronto knows what it has in JV. Now, it’s just fine-tuning the rest of his game to fully maximize his potential.

From here on, it’s on Dwane Casey and the Raptors staff to use Valanciunas in the most effective, safe way as humanly possible.

That means even if JV might have added a 25+ footer to his game, is it safe to allow him to shoot it when left wide-open? Should he maybe just stick to corner threes instead? Will that affect the Raptors spacing positively (the more 3P threats, the better) or negatively (we aren’t really used to this so let’s stop trying this)?

Even approaching his 6th NBA season, with Jonas Valanciunas comes many unanswered questions.

One thing’s for sure. If anyone can successfully split the Raptors fanbase into two diametrically opposed sides, it’s this 7-foot, 255 pound Lithuanian man whose catchphrase we’ll never forget (thanks NBA TV Canada) is “Wictory, baby!”.

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Idealized Raptors show themselves what could be against Pistons

Raptors 116, Pistons 94 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

It is rare, the occasions on which things fall into place perfectly, when every if breaks right, when each of 11 deflected balls hits the right seam in the hardwood, and everything seems to come together. Despite the example often upheld by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, perfect, aesthetically pleasing basketball is not a regularly achievable target, at least for most teams. Passing for the sake of passing can be fruitless, passing without conviction dangerous, and even passing as it should be dependent on capable shooting. In the preseason, in particular, playing to the 90th-percentile outcome stands as a daunting task, weighed down by unfamiliarity and change and unconventional rotations and roster pieces.

The Toronto Raptors were not perfect on Tuesday as they hosted the Detroit Pistons in their lone preseason game at the Air Canada Centre. But they were close, flirting with the idealized version of themselves that was imagined when president Masai Ujiri called for a culture reset following the end of last season. All necessary caveats will need to apply, given that it was an exhibition game against a mediocre opponent inexplicably on the second night of a back-to-back, and that it’s happened but once in four preseason contests (plus a quarter here and there), and still, it’s hard not to come away encouraged from a 116-94 victory laced with positives up and down the roster and the box score.

“Yeah, it definitely came together,” DeMar DeRozan said after the game. “It’s something that we’re gonna be able to look at, understand what we can get better at, put work, hard work, and how we can make things better. So that’s definitely a bonus. Like I said, we made shots, there’s still a lot of things we can clean up.”

They hit the ground running more or less out of the gate with Norman Powell starting in place of C.J. Miles, an ongoing experiment that brought spacing and poise to a youthful second unit and provided the starters with another aggressive attacker to exploit the attention paid to DeRozan and Kyle Lowry by the defense. The All-Stars tilted things in response to that same attention, looking for their teammates early and often – DeRozan would finish with eight assists working as the primary point guard for long stretches, and his willingness not only to respond to but to manipulate the defense was contagious. The Raptors would finish the first quarter with six assists despite Serge Ibaka, playing by far his best game of the preseason, being the only player to hit from outside.

It was that same ball movement that remained the story throughout, the Raptors tallying 30 assists on 41 made field goals and, if player tracking data were available for preseason games, surely a high number of secondary assists as well. Jonas Valanciunas played the different role in the offense he’s getting used to, stretching out and touching the ball a bit more, and he and DeRozan continued growing a pick-and-roll chemistry that hasn’t always been there in the past. Valanciunas scored 18 points with 11 rebounds in 22 minutes, his usual flaying of Andre Drummond, and his best play – a pass on the roll that setup a swing to DeRozan for a corner three – didn’t even show up in the box score. He continues to be maybe the team’s most impressive player in the preseason, and while he’s unlikely to suddenly become an All-Defense piece, his play at that end has been notably improved, too.

The starting lineup was solid up and down, with only Powell shooting poorly and making up for it with a handful of nice dump-offs for assists. Lineup data is not available for preseason games, but all five starters were at least a plus-9 in 22-to-28 minutes, the bulk of them spent together, and owned offensive ratings of no worse than 104 and defensive ratings no more forgiving than 100.5. To call that encouraging, given the relative inexperience of the four set pieces playing alongside each other and with the starters having played well with Miles in the preseason opener, too, would be an understatement. It’s easy to be encouraged by second- and third-units in the preseason. It’s the top groups that need to perform in a week and change when the rotation is culled.

Who exactly makes up that rotation remains a question. Nearly everyone who was given a chance Tuesday made a strong case to be included, though. Delon Wright continued a solid preseason despite some turnover hiccups and Fred VanVleet once again showed he can play with Wright and possibly help trim Lowry’s minutes this year, the two young point guards working like a tandem running back pairing in transition, alternating stylistically opposed forays to the rim and giving the Pistons’ second unit no space to breathe. Miles fit in perfectly there, too, hitting five threes, keeping the ball moving, and setting Wright up for a transition dunk with an unexpected behind-the-back dribble. Paradoxically, Miles may have made the best case for both starting and coming off the bench at times during camp, and a team-best plus-20 in 15 minutes is a strong (if flawed in isolation) affirmation of the fit here.

“I think it was a little easy for me because so many guys had the old stuff. I didn’t have (that), I had a blank slate,” Miles said of fitting into the new offense. “I was just kind of picking up everything. It was easier for me. When coach talked about it, 13 years in, there’s not too much you can throw at me that’s different or I haven’t seen, so it was easy to just play basketball and pick it up and do what I do, which is play, find space, shoot it and pass it. Pretty simple.”

The second unit did most of this, too, without Lowry or DeRozan, the one big change the Raptors will likely employ when the season begins. Head coach Dwane Casey has maintained something closer to full line changes over four games, declining to tip his hand as to whether the DeRozan-and-bench end of first- and third-quarters and Lowry-and-bench start to seconds and fourths from years past will continue.

Who the second unit did have was OG Anunoby, making his first official appearance. Considering it was his first game action against an opponent since tearing his ACL in January, it’s hard not to come away impressed. Anunoby didn’t look entirely comfortable just yet and admitted to feeling like he’s missing some of the spring in his game still, but he looked every bit as good as anyone could have hoped so soon. Detroit doesn’t exactly have the type of attacker Anunoby profiles to lock down, and so his defensive contributions were a little muted, and also maybe a bit scattered. There’s a lot more to see at that end still. Offensively, though, Anunoby looked like he should be fine in the role he’ll be asked to play, if he’s asked to play one – he missed all four of his 3-point attempts and got in some trouble for hesitating to take them, but he also attacked a corner closeout to draw a foul, flashed some nifty footwork on a drive-and-post, and made a small handful of eyebrow-raising passes on his way to three assists.

“The kid’s got a lot of rust but I really liked what I saw, his intensity, his toughness, his ability to switch, he did everything was asked him to do,” Casey said. “The young man has been hurt but, again he’s a top-10 pick. We got lucky wherever we were in the draft to get him, we look at him as a top 10 pick because he’s got that type of talent.”

“It was alright,” Anunoby added in his usual verbose manner.

Going further down the box score – a task for the Quick Reaction, not here – there are more and more positives. K.J. McDaniels got another shot and, while imperfect, had a highlight-reel play at both ends. Jakob Poeltl made the best case either he or Lucas Nogueira have made yet for the backup center position. Nogueira even hit a three late, more or less a perfect way to close out a fun game with so many positives (and oddities), picking up Valanciunas in the lone area he couldn’t deliver (he missed a pair of 3-point attempts). It goes on.

Again, it’s a preseason game against two-thirds of a middling opponent on a back-to-back. There’s necessary context here. The preseason, though, is about more than just the opportunity to extrapolate – the Raptors had talked up that making mistakes right now is good because it gives them things to work on and iron out, and you’d have to think that a successful night like this will resonate as an affirmation of where things can go if they stay the course and continuing buying in. It can lead to 30 assists without a massive spike in turnovers, to a reasonable 13-of-37 from outside where few shots came out of the flow of the offense, to an infectious energy and commitment to sharing and creating for others that’s only occasionally been something this roster’s done in the past.

“It’s always good when you put a product in and you see the results of that product,” Lowry said. “It’s always encouraging to see that what you are trying to do is working.”

Beating Detroit in a preseason game means little. Showing that the Raptors are actually capable of playing high-end basketball within the new paradigm could mean a great deal.

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Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – Flawless performance

Host William Lou breaks down the Raptors’ promising preseason game against the Detroit Pistons.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 116, Pistons 94

Detroit 94 Final
Box Score
116 Toronto

A+
S. Ibaka24 MIN, 14 PTS, 5 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 5-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-

Serge had a great game tonight controlling the paint defensively on opposing drives and also creating space in the offense by hitting his open shots. This is the player the team needs him to be this season, and he delivered tonight.

B
N. Powell23 MIN, 6 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 1-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-

On a night when almost everyone was on their game, Norm was one of the few guys who looked just a little bit off. When he plays with the starters, Norm has to hit his shots, and his three point attempts didn’t look good tonight.

A+
J. Valanciunas22 MIN, 18 PTS, 11 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 8-12 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 10 +/-

Jonas has been the best Raptor throughout the preseason, and he was great again tonight against Detroit. He’s always had good games against Andre Drummond, and he once again was able to get his offense whenever the team looked to him, which was often. His two three-point attempts both missed, but his form wasn’t that bad and as he gets more comfortable that might even be a shot that can go down for him. With the team passing more, JV has to take advantage of his opportunities, and he certainly did in this game.

A+
D. DeRozan28 MIN, 13 PTS, 2 REB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 5-10 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 9 +/-

I’d give DeMar a higher score if there was one. This was a masterful performance, even early on when his scoring wasn’t there. He had four points on just 1-5 shooting in the first half but he controlled the entire offensive flow of the game with his passing. He was creating easy opportunities constantly for everyone around him, and the main beneficiary was Jonas Valanciunas, who DeRozan found again and again in good position near the basket. DeMar’s passing has been a revelation in the preseason, and it’s fantastic to see him opening up the offense for other guys. It came full circle in the second half as well, when the threat of his passing game made his scoring so much easier, because the second defender was reluctant to come over to help on his drives due to the threat of those assists.

A
K. Lowry28 MIN, 7 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 2-7 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 9 +/-

The box score for Lowry doesn’t pop tonight, but this was a solid outing from him. He let the game come from him and largely let DeRozan dictate the offense when the starters were on the floor, which worked great given the way DeRozan was playing.

A+
J. Poeltl24 MIN, 12 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 5-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 9 +/-

If the competition for the backup center spot comes down to who has the strongest performances in the preseason, Jak might’ve locked it up here tonight. Good hands on the passes thrown his way and great positioning to find himself open for his teammates, as well as a strong presence on the boards, it was an all around great game for Poeltl.

A+
D. Wright21 MIN, 10 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 3-5 FG, 1-2 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 5 TO, 10 +/-

I absolutely love the chemistry developing between Delon and Fred Van Vleet in the preseason. The two guards have been fantastic when out on the floor together, and Wright had a great game tonight with his length and athleticism bothering Pistons players on defense, as well as both scoring for himself and creating for others on the offensive end.

A
O. Anunoby18 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 1-5 FG, 0-4 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 14 +/-

It might look strange to give a guy an A grade with that line, but the performance really belies the stat line in this game. OG’s first minutes in a Raptors uniform were good, he was active at both ends of the floor, strong defensively, and once he is a little more willing to take those open three pointers they should start to fall for him. Showed some great passing to create interior looks for the big men.

A+
F. VanVleet18 MIN, 10 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4-4 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-

Fred has to be the best third-string point guard in the league, and he always looks so poised out on the floor. Another great game from him tonight.

A+
C. Miles15 MIN, 19 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 5-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 20 +/-

This is why CJ is here, to hit open threes, be active in the passing lanes, and play defense, and that’s what he did in this game. He really shone in the all-bench lineups, and hitting those outside shots opened up the game for everyone around him.

A+
K. McDaniels9 MIN, 2 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -8 +/-

Despite playing entirely garbage time in a blowout, KJ managed once again to look like the favorite for the 15th roster spot, with some extremely athletic plays in the closing minutes.

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

Siakam seems to have disappeared from the rotation somewhat at this point, which isn’t as much a knock on him as it is a statement of how good the small bench lineups with the two point guards, CJ Miles, and OG Anunoby were tonight.

B
A. McKinnie2 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Only managed to get on the floor for the last two minutes, and didn’t really have time to make any noticeable contributions in this one.

A
L. Nogueira2 MIN, 3 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-1 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

Hit a nice three in the last two minutes of the game.

A+
Dwane Casey

The culture changes on offense really seem to be sticking, at least in preseason, and he gets credit for going to the all-bench lineups that worked tonight. Hopefully Casey sticks with that during the season and is able to use the Fred/Delon groups to reduce Lowry’s minutes, which has been a concern in previous seasons.

Things We Saw

  1. The defense from the starting lineup continues to be a work in progress. Detroit’s offense struggled early, but it wasn’t for lack of good looks. Despite that, the offense for the Raptors was good enough to negate any problems that were there tonight.
  2. The rotation looks to be working itself out at this point. With the starting lineup fitting together, and CJ looking more comfortable off the bench, it’s starting to feel easy to project where the minutes might fall on opening night. This is a deep, fun team right now.
  3. The big question of this Raptors season will come when the games matter, and the first time they face a deficit. Do they continue to play this fun, pass-happy style of offense, or fall back into old habits that have worked to get wins during the regular season? It’ll be interesting to see how that works out next week.
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Pre-game news & notes: Anunoby available, Powell starts

The NBA did the basketball world a significant favor this season, shortening the preseason by about a week and cutting the number of games for each team from seven or eight to five or six. That’s a smart move for maintaining player health by extending the regular season calendar some, and fans will be thankful that games turn meaningful in short order.

It doesn’t mean a five-game, three-week training camp has felt brief, though, even if a team like the Raptors – attempting to change some of their fundamental identity – might benefit from the extra practice time.

“These are the dog days of training camp, up and downs,” head coach Dwane Casey said.

“No. It still feels long,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It still feels long. But this is my ninth preseason, so it should feel long.”

As far as where the Raptors are in the process of tweaking their offense, the team admits it’s a work in progress. Casey noted that the team might have to accept more turnovers with a more varied ball-movement approach, antithetical to their success of the last few years, and that the 3-point volume they’ve had in the preseason will normalize some, likely to around 30 attempts per-game.

There’s also a clear sense it may take some time into the season to iron everything out, though most seem encouraged in the early stages.

“It’s a fun way to play, that’s the way the game is going. It’s harder to scout,” Casey said. “The game is so sophisticated now that teams scout you so well they know exactly what you’re going to do before you even get the rest of the sentence out of your mouth as a coach. They’re prepared because of video, internet, whatever it is, they’re prepared for it. This style, the way we want to go is hard to prepare for. They can’t help on Kyle, they can’t help on DeMar, they can’t double-team them as quickly. They’ll figure it out eventually but it’ll take ‘em a little while if they don’t know where the ball is going.”

Tonight’s just another important opportunity to work through the kinks, then.

“It’s good,” DeRozan said. “It’s something that we all adjusted to, and we continue to adjust to, well. Being able to practice, having another opportunity tonight to play with it, get a little bit more of a feel. It’s great to mistakes now, be able to look at it, work on it, understand where the mistakes coming from, how to fix ’em.”

The game tips off at 7 p.m. on TSN 1/3/4/5. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Casey said prior to the game that all Raptors are available tonight, and that the first half may resemble something closer to a regular rotation. That availability means we could get a hint as to the team’s starting lineup plans and that nobody is resting for tonight.

It also means OG Anunoby is available. He was cleared for 5-on-5 a while back and participated in last week’s intrasquad game but is yet to appear in an exhibition game. Casey was noncommittal on whether everyone would be used, though he did have some positive words to share about the rookie at shootaround today.

“He’s coming along,” Casey said. “He’s a typical young kid that’s not exactly sure what to do but he’s feeling his way through. A talented young man, probably the most powerful young man that we have as far as physicality is concerned…I love him, he’s a sponge, he’s a quick learner, just got to understand it takes time to fully grasp everything and don’t get discouraged when you don’t understand something and you don’t pick up something as quick. Or if you miss a shot, hey, next play. That’s no different than any young player that’s come into this league.”

(I’m assuming Casey’s claim that everyone is available excludes Malcolm Miller, who has only been cleared for halfcourt 5-on-5 as he works his way back from offseason ankle surgery.)

UPDATE: Norman Powell will start with C.J. Miles coming off the bench. So we’ll finally get a look at how that setup looks.

Assuming relative health and no rest otherwise, here’s how the rotation might look:

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

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Ibaka 59, Valanciunas 56, Lowry 41, DeRozan 38
Competition 1: Powell 50 (1 start), Miles 39 (2 starts)
Competition 2: Nogueira 46 (2 times as C2), Poeltl 39 (1 time as C2)
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 75, VanVleet 31
Competition 4: McKinnie 46, McDaniels 12
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 61, Caboclo 48, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 16, Miller 0
RIP in Peace: Rautins 36, Wiltjer 20, Meeks 3

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Pistons updates
The Pistons were pretty shorthanded on Monday and are on the second night of a back-to-back, so they may be unleashing players selectively. Quickly: Drummond has pinkeye and, if he sat yesterday, it seemed unlikely he plays here; Buycks (old friend!) is dealing with a hip flexor issue; Bradley had already been deemed unlikely to play due to a tweaked ankle; Udrih, Harris, Montero, and Leuer were all healthy as far as I could tell.

Drummond is available, according to Stan Van Gundy, which is a bit weird considering (I guess he’s all better?), but should make for a fun matchup inside. Reggie Jackson will play in the back-to-back, too, something there as some question about. Bradley remains out, however, making for an easier night scoring for Toronto’s guards.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Dwight Buycks, Beno Udrih
SG: Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway
SF: Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Luis Montero
PF: Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson, Anthony Tolliver
C: Andre Drummond, Boban Marjanovic, Eric Moreland
TBD: None
INJ: Avery Bradley

Assorted

  • The Raptors had their annual meeting with NBA referees this morning to go over points of emphasis for the year. That figures to impact DeRozan more than anyone else with the alleged crack-down on James Harden-esque foul-baiting, but a) I’ll believe it when I see it, and b) DeRozan is talented enough to continue to get to the free-throw line as remarkable volumes.
  • Some random odds from the latest Vegas update:
    • MVP: DeRozan 60-to-1, Lowry 150-to-1
    • Top PPG: DeRozan 50-to-1
    • Top RPG: Valanciunas 60-to-1
    • Top APG: Lowry 60-to-1
    • Coach of the Year: Casey 30-to-1
  • A reminder for anyone attending games at the Air Canada Centre this year that the security policy has changed:

  • Raptors 905 tickets went on sale last week so a friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
  • We’ve passed this along on Twitter, but if you follow us and @GetInTheAction and RT the post below, you’ll have a chance to win two tickets to the home opener. No strings attached other than following both accounts and RTing. We’re exploring more ways to be able to give stuff away during the season, so let’s give GetInTheAction a reason to keep hooking the RR community up.

  • I’ll also be giving away some copies of Shea Serrano’s Basketball And Other Things tomorrow. Here are details on how to qualify: https://twitter.com/BlakeMurphyODC/status/917884591612055554

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board.

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2017–18 Player Preview: Norman Powell

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

The city of Toronto adores Norman Powell, and it appears the feeling is mutual.

“I didn’t have the mindset that I was gonna get an extension,” the 24-year-old wing said Sunday, “I just knew I wanted to stay here. No matter what happened, whether I got it or I went into restricted free agency, I wanted to stay here. I love Toronto, I love the city, I love the organization, I love my teammates, and I think we have something special here.”

This comes after Powell’s recent signing of a four-year, $42 million extension, a well-deserved deal that is not only positive relative to Norm’s ability, but also allows the Raptors to avoid bargaining with other teams in restricted free agency, which in all likelihood would have seen Powell leave for a team that could offer more money.

If fans were enamoured with Powell prior to last season, they’re just about ready to offer him a 24 carat diamond ring with the promise he showed in 2016–17. During the regular season, Powell displayed a general uptick in his overall performance, scoring a bit more, shooting better on two-pointers, and playing decent defense with his added minutes. Perhaps the most exciting thing was his focus on getting to the rim more than his first year—in 2015–16, Norm took 27.9 per cent of his shots from within 0–3 feet of the basket, while last season he took 41.1 per cent of his shots from there and made 60.6 per cent of them.

Then came the postseason and the first-round Bucks series. It’s safe to say that Norm lost his mind over the first six games, channeling his inner Human Torch and roasting Milwaukee on 55/91/92 per cent shooting and averaging 12.4 points per game. He was a fundamental part of the best lineup the Raptors put out in the playoffs (a +5.3), which also consisted of DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, and DeMarre Carroll.

So what about this season? Well, with a notable subtraction of veterans and an all-in mindset on a plethora of young guys, Norm will need to live up to the expectations that come with his new extension and try to produce a season consistent with how well we have seen him play when he’s at his best. He should see further increase in play time and aim to have a Sixth Man of the Year-type of season, becoming a leader for the second unit as its best shot creator and scorer. His experience will be vital here, since most of the young guys who will be seeing more minutes this year are simply being thrown into the fire after playing as third-stringers (Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, etc.) so far in their careers.

Powell has averaged 24.9 minutes this preseason and jacked up more shots (11 per game) than anyone else on the team. He is averaging 15.5 points, but he’s shooting a mere 40.9 per cent and having some trouble finishing in traffic. As ball handler, Norm loves to wait for a pick (this preseason it’s usually been from Poeltl), curl around it and explode to the rim without any hesitation, for better or worse. For the most part, it’s great—he either scores or gets fouled. However, there are instances in which making the pass to the roll man would be preferable, and there aren’t too many examples of Norm making those passes successfully or on-target.

Even with his performance in the playoffs, there are still concerns over Powell’s three-point shooting as well. Last season he shot a poor 32.4 per cent from deep after draining 40.4 per cent his rookie year. Thankfully, his shooting this preseason has been optimistic, taking three treys per game and nailing 50 per cent of them. He’s also been good on catch-and-shoot triples, which is a great sign for lineups in which he’ll play next to DeRozan—if he can be a legitimate spacer, then the Raptors only become that much more dangerous, especially with how they’re attempting their culture reset and aiming to take (and make) more threes than any season in franchise history.

FURTHER READING: Norman Powell’s extension helps set example for the Raptors’ young roster

There are certainly still questions to be answered about Norm—can he improve his passing (especially on drive-and-kicks and in the pick-and-roll)? Can he sustain a high three-point shooting percentage for a full 82-game season? Can he become a tertiary leader after Lowry and DeRozan? Can he continue to improve defensively and evolve into an athletic “3&D” force? Only time will tell, of course, but with what we’ve seen over his short NBA career thus far, he’s off to a pretty good start.

Come get that diamond ring, Norm, and let’s do this.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Gameday: Pistons @ Raptors, Oct. 10

More than two weeks into training camp, the Toronto Raptors are finally getting their feet wet at home Tuesday, hosting the Detroit Pistons at the Air Canada Centre. It will be the Raptors’ only preseason game at home, which doesn’t really matter all that much. I suppose it’s possible that more games on the home court could be beneficial, or that extended time at home would be good with a six-game road-trip early in the season, but really, most of the important pieces know the ACC well enough and, you know, this is just how it goes.

Speaking of home games, we got hooked up to give away tickets to the home opener courtesy of Get In The Action. If you follow their account and retweet the following, you’ll have a chance to win a pair of tickets to watch the Raptors beat the Chicago Bulls despite 40 points from Paul Zipser or some random create-a-player who’s not even on their roster yet.

I’ll also be giving away some copies of Shea Serrano’s Basketball And Other Things tomorrow, so make sure you’re following me on Twitter and/or Instagram for that. (If you have neither, I understand, and you are likely a better and more well-rounded person than I am. If you don’t have those and wish to be included for a chance at the books, email me and I’ll make sure you get in the draw.)

As for tonight’s game, it’s the penultimate preseason game, and as every game passes, the leverage for certain players ratchets up. The Raptors have only played their likely starters together once so far, and it went fairly well; they’ll probably want more three-quarter speed reps here. The team is also still working through their 3-point volume and figuring out what are and aren’t good shots in the new paradigm. Head coach Dwane Casey suggested Sunday that the team will begin paring down who has the green light from outside and just how many the team wants to shoot (30 seems to be a sticky number), which is a natural progression after going 30-for-123 in three games. (They’re not abandoning plans, it just always made sense to break and create habits with a high volume early and then work the base offense back in, too.)

The Pistons should provide an interesting enough foe, with plenty of battles for playing time raging on and some serious questions about where their contributions are going to come from at each end of the floor. The Pistons probably fancy themselves a playoff team in the thinned-out Eastern Conference, but they’ve locked themselves into mediocrity with poor cap management, and even reaching a 45-win ceiling depends on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond being the 2015-16 versions of themselves, if not even better. It could be an anxious year in their new arena, and that could mean a hungry team most nights.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. on TSN 1/3/4/5.

We’d normally have a back-and-forth with a Pistons writer here but weren’t able to secure one this time around. Preseason, and all. Apologies.

Raptors updates
There’s a bit more clarity for the Raptors now that they’ve made three cuts and have the training camp roster down to 17, the number they could enter the season with thanks to a pair of two-way contracts. Whether they will remains to be seen, and the battle between Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels – whether for a roster spot or a position on the rotation hierarchy on Oct. 19 – is probably the biggest storyline left in camp. McKinnie has played better in a greater share of preseason action. Look for McDaniels to get an extended audition at some point in the next two games, an opportunity for him to shake off a rough outing last time out.

There are other questions still to answer, of course. It would look as if Delon Wright is solidified as the backup point guard – never a real serious question – but Fred VanVleet’s had a strong camp and could shift Wright to the wing more. C.J. Miles has started two games to one for Norman Powell, and it’s hard to get a clear sense of the battle there (if there is one) since they’ve only played in one game together. Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl have traded the backup center spot back-and-forth, with neither running with it or floundering entirely. These are all important rotation questions head coach Dwane Casey has to figure out by next Thursday, and it’s been clear in hearing him talk that he’d like to be able to focus on the nine or 10 players who will be playing meaningful roles when things get going.

Elsewhere, Malcolm Miller has progressed to half-court 5-on-5 but not full-court activity, while OG Anunoby has been playing 5-on-5 and could, at least theoretically, see some preseason action to get his feet wet this week.

Oh, and I’d expect Serge Ibaka to sit one of the next two games given he’s played more minutes than anyone else and is pretty secure in his role, but that’s just my running assumption given that Miles, Powell, VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan have all had nights off, too. One of the games will probably be treated like a dress rehearsal of sorts, the other could see some rest.

Assuming relative health and no rest, here’s how the rotation might look:

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

Check back in the pre-game news and notes for firm updates on the starting small forward and the status of Anunoby.

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Ibaka 59, Valanciunas 56, Lowry 41, DeRozan 38
Competition 1: Powell 50 (1 start), Miles 39 (2 starts)
Competition 2: Nogueira 46 (2 times as C2), Poeltl 39 (1 time as C2)
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 75, VanVleet 31
Competition 4: McKinnie 46, McDaniels 12
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 61, Caboclo 48, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 16, Miller 0
RIP in Peace: Rautins 36, Wiltjer 20, Meeks 3

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Pistons updates
The Pistons have the rare (and ridiculous) preseason back-to-back, and it seems they put a greater focus on Tuesday’s game in Toronto than their Monday affair. That, or a lot of guys will sit both nights. Detroit went without Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Andre Drummond, Jon Leuer, Dwight Buycks, Luis Montero, and Beno Udrih yesterday, and only some of those names had injury or medical reasons for their absence.

Quickly: Drummond has pinkeye and, if he sat yesterday, it would seem unlikely he plays here; old friend Buycks (on a two-way contract) is dealing with a hip flexor issue; Bradley has already been deemed unlikely to play due to a tweaked ankle; Udrih, Harris, Montero, and Leuer are all healthy as far as I can tell. (The Pistons did not hold a shootaround today due to a back-to-back, so I was unable to clarify.)

So, your guess is as good as mine on what the rotation might look like for right now, though it seems unlikely we’ll get to see Drummond and Valanciunas battle again. That’s disappointing, because it’s always a fun matchup and because this year it’s very clearly going to be a war waged on the perimeter rather than inside – they’re a combined 0-for-1 on threes in the preseason, but each team has talked up their center shooting the three ball more.

In other Pistons notes, Stanley Johnson looks to have made some overdue strides on offense that will once again prevent me from giving up on him as a potential impact player, Henry Ellenson appears to be trying to make me eat my words with a really nice camp, and a fully unleashed Boban Marjanovic has been the most fun and terrifying of the last two weeks.

PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, (Dwight Buycks), Beno Udrih
SG: Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard
SF: Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Luis Montero
PF: Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson, Anthony Tolliver
C: (Andre Drummond), Boban Marjanovic, Eric Moreland
TBD: Andre Drummond, Dwight Buycks
INJ: Avery Bradley

The line

The preseason lines remain off the board. A shame. Lemme get these $5 bets off.

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2017-18 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

When the buzzer sounded in Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second-round playoff series last May, there was an empty feeling that emanated in the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors got served in Games 1 and 2, their floor general went down in Game 2, and Games 3 and 4 felt almost academic.

An off-season filled with inevitable questions had officially begun – and this time around, it was a bit earlier than fans wanted. For Masai Ujiri and his team, last year’s playoffs must have felt like that feeling when you’re on vacation and have something to take care of when you get back home that you’re not particularly looking forward to. Except this time, the vacation ended early with terrible weather, and was punctuated with a rocky flight home, and lost luggage along the way.

So it was on to business for Masai, and the first order of business (the first domino, if you will), was re-signing that floor general. The possibility of re-signing Kyle Lowry was something that most reporters and fans legitimately couldn’t get a handle on immediately after that series was over. From the post-game interviews to the locker clean-out press conference, inking Lowry to a deal seemed like a franchise-altering moment that was going to dictate the way the next 3-5 years was going to go. But if there’s anything we’ve learned about Masai Ujiri in the past 4 years since he arrived in Toronto, it’s that he’s patient, calculated, subtle, and appreciates stability. And the way the market was trending, with salaries normalizing and point-guard holes being filled rapidly, Kyle Lowry was almost backed into a corner …. and that didn’t turn out so bad after all. It was a corner that led to a 3-year $100 million contract, and a franchise-leading role with the only team that’s ever really believed in him.

The beautiful thing about Lowry’s contract, and the way Ujiri went about that dreaded off-season, is that it sets up the Raptors core (Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka) for a shrewdly-calculated 3 year window. And at the centre of it, is KLow – the all-star guard that’s been the leader of the “We the North” era, and brought a renewed sense of legitimacy to a mediocre and otherwise forgotten franchise.

What now?

Entering his 6th year as a Raptor, Lowry is at an intriguing point in his career. As a late-bloomer, who made his first all-star game at the age of 28 and in his 9th year in the league, Lowry has relatively low mileage for someone at this phase of his career. But at the wary age of 31, and with huge minutes under his belt the past 4 years, history says the next 2-3 years will likely be Lowry’s last full-fledged all-star caliber years. The question is – how good can he really be now? And what will the Raptors’ ceiling be as a result?

Lowry’s game (while probably the most dynamic on the team) boils down to a few things for me – notably, his three-point shooting, passing game, and overall floor-impact (what Dwane Casey would call the “lil’ things”). Let’s look at some numbers.

Shooting

Despite what Lowry’s age-related trajectory may suggest, his scoring numbers have peaked in recent years and have been steadily climbing. Not that it is certainly bound to continue, but it’s something to keep in mind. This guy hasn’t been the type to take it easy after securing some dough, and I don’t think any dip this year would be due to a lack of effort, conditioning or training.

It’s no surprise that Lowry’s shooting numbers have improved each year in his tenure with Toronto. Despite an increased usage level under Dwane Casey’s system, Lowry has sustained an improving shooting percentage from all over the floor. Aside from a dip in 3-point percentage in 2014-15 (the nagging-injury-riddled year ending in the Wizards sweep), Lowry’s shooting has seen a consistent trend upward.

What’s especially encouraging is to see that Lowry’s usual tough and gritty style, which used to lead mostly in plays at the rim, has transformed into a more shooting-centric offensive game with 3-point field goals increasingly becoming part of the Lowry equation. In fact, he attempted more 3’s than 2’s per game for the first time in his career last year, and while that wasn’t a full year (only 60 games, due to the late wrist injury), that’s still a large enough sample size to see what’s going on. In a contract year, Lowry made the shift into an elite 3-point shooter, and I don’t see why that transformation can’t continue this year; though Casey’s new offensive system putting an extra emphasis on the three-pointer means his percentages may be see a slight decline due to volume.

Passing

Lowry’s assists are a beautiful part of his game, and with a more passing-oriented Raptor offense expected to take shape (we hope), I can see him taking an improved distributor role, while passing some of his scoring load to DeRozan, Ibaka, C.J. Miles or Norm on many nights.

His assists per 100 possessions continues to be above 9.0 (it has stayed that way since his first year in Toronto), and I’d actually expect this figure to climb from the 9.4 level it was at last season.

ICYMI: Lowry’s assist impact stretches off the floor as well. For Thanksgiving, Kyle and his wife gave back to the community, by donating 300 Thanksgiving meals to families in need in the city of Toronto.

Overall impact

Lowry’s always been the kind of player that impacts the floor in so many ways that statistics may fail to realize. So the best we can probably do is look at holistic impact-based statistics.

In Lowry’s last two seasons, his PER, win-shares, and overall box plus/minus have been the highest in his career. It’s his ability to play and lead multiple lineups, knack for the game, basketball IQ,  and clutch shots he can hit that lead to these kind of numbers. The Raptors have boasted 50+ wins in each of the last 2 years after never having done that in franchise history, and it’s no secret why. Kyle Lowry is a top-25 player for a reason.

Season lookahead and prediction

Regardless of what he’s accomplished in the past, I expect this year to be a legitimate test for Kyle Lowry – is his game going to finally regress slightly as we all expect it to at some point, or is it going to be a continued progression for the now 3-time All-star? With how late his rise begun, one would expect a quicker-than-normal fall, right?

The truth is, while the numbers may suggest a continued progression, all of this probably depends on a few simple factors – namely (1) his health (obviously), (2) how much Dwane Casey decides to use Lowry in the offense, (3) whether this new passing-and-shooting philosophy will work, and (4) whether Lowry can do his part in continuing to transition into a passing-and-shooting style of player. And like the numbers indicate in the past couple of seasons, I expect him to do it pretty well.

I’d say the scoring number on a per-game basis will probably dip (let’s say to 18-20 ppg), but the efficiency, three-point shooting, assist ratios and overall plus-minus numbers may look similar, or even noticeably better. With the shape Lowry has kept himself in, and another trim-down apparent this past off-season, I can only see him being better. But as always … time, wins and losses will tell.

 

Statistics provided by basketballreference.com

 

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2017-18 Executive Preview: Masai Ujiri

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

It’s been just over four years since Masai Ujiri’s  introductory press conference in Toronto, which means it’s been just over four years since I fell in love with Masai Ujiri.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for pandering and was hooked the moment Masai talked about coming home to Toronto.

The Raptors were free from Bryan Colangelo and his love of Bargnani, and all indications seemed to point towards a new direction for the franchise.  I believed from that opening press conference that Masai intended to tear down a broken roster and start a rebuild.

And oh how close we came.  If it weren’t for James Dolan’s fear of all things Masai, Kyle Lowry would have been shipped to Toronto in late 2013 following the Rudy Gay trade with Sacramento.

Everyone knows it, but the current Raptors’ team is a happy little accident.  Instead of looking at a complete rebuild the Raptors have instead had the four most successful seasons in their history, have won 50+ games the last two years (having never done that even once before), and even advanced to an Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champs in six games.

If you had told any Raptors’ fan in July 2013 that this would be their future they would have called you a liar and may have never spoken with you again.

Life has been good under Masai Ujiri.  From Fuck Brooklyn, to We Don’t Give a Shit about It, and so much more, Masai has been the rallying cry for fans.  Management that could finally be trusted.

Time and time again Masai Ujiri has double-down on this happy accident, and has opened up a three year window for this current group.  Unlike years in the past the Raptors now have a self-destruct deadline, with Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka all expiring in 2020, with the option still available for Masai (and Bobby Webster) to push the self-destruct button early if things go sour.

All of this makes it very difficult to write a season preview for Ujiri, as the current roster is largely locked in.  He has simultaneously built a core of veterans who are aiming at winning now, while also stocking the back 2/3rds of the roster with young talent to develop, and the success of the next few years is entirely dependent upon those two groups hitting their stride at the same time.

Trading DeMarre Carroll this summer indicates that the Raptors are hoping to avoid paying the tax this season.   If Toronto carries only 14 players on the roster and Lowry and DeRozan don’t hit all of their unlikely incentives the Raptors will barely be below the tax line, meaning that adding salary this season is unlikely.

If a roster move is to be made this season it will almost assuredly be of the minor variety (think Bebe for an equal or lesser paid wing).  Other than the final decision on Alfonzo McKinnie and KJ McDaniels, the roster we see today will likely be the roster we see at the end of the season.

His end of the year press conference last season created a sound bite when Masai talked about creating a new culture.  We’ve seen glimpses of it through three games of pre-season, as the Raptors are playing a faster pace, shooting more threes, and largely ignoring the mid-range shot which has been a staple for them.

And although I think Masai is beyond reproach when it comes to his job, he still has key decisions to make this season that will shape the future of the team.  What’s to be done with Dwane Casey, he of repeated lame-duck status that has only two years left on his contract?  What future do Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, and Fred VanVleet have with the Raptors as all will be free agents next summer?  Is there anyone who is willing to take Jonas Valanciunas without incentive, and how what is the value assessment for trading him rather than keeping him?  How should the Raptors’ value the development of young players like Delon Wright and OG Anunoby compared to the current pressure of an aging core?

Up until now Masai Ujiri has handled the difficult task of building two timelines simultaneously as well as possible.  Since the Raptors have already signed Norman Powell to an extension there is very little active work left to do.  Now we can sit back and wait to see what team Masai chooses to swear at next.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Preseason takeaways

Host William Lou is joined by Vivek Jacob and Harsh Dave on the Weekly show.

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VIDEO: Norman Powell talks extension, connection to Toronto

Norman Powell spoke with media Sunday for the first time since signing his four-year, $42-million extension earlier this week. We’ll post video of his scrum when it becomes available, but in the interim, here are some pretty great quotes from the former second-round pick.

Note: I wrote more about the extension & the example it sets at The Athletic.

On the decision to sign an extension or test the RFA market in July:

Honestly, I didn’t know if I was gonna get an extension or not. My whole focus was just to play out my year and see what happens in restricted free agency. I didn’t have the mindset that I was gonna get an extension, I just knew I wanted to stay here. No matter what happened, whether I got it or I went into restricted free agency, I wanted to stay here. I love Toronto, I love the city, I love the organization, I love my teammates, and I think we have something special here.

On his connection to the city of Toronto:

I think the organization and the city and country as a whole represents who I am. Being the underdogs, being overlooked constantly, especially the organization, we’re always middle-of-the-pack people who are less likely to make it to the finals, whatever it is. I think it’s been me, it’s been my whole career – Less likely to do this, that, make it to the NBA, going to play overseas – I was overlooked and said I wouldn’t make it. I love everything about the organization and my team, and it was just a place I wanted to be.

On his feelings throughout the process:

I was really in shock. it’s a big thing when you’re looking down at the text of what the offer’s gonna look like and how it’s gonna pan out over the four years. It’s crazy, especially growing up the way I grew up, struggling and just trying to make it. The first people I talked to when it was officially on the table was my family. Called them to the room when we were in Hawaii and sat ’em down, got my agent on the phone and had him over speaker, and he broke down everything. I was really just talking to them and then talked to DeMar just to pick his brain on everything and what he thought of it. It was a crazy couple days in Hawaii. It’s still crazy to me now, thinking about it, still getting notifications or comments on social media about it. It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know when it will. It’s a great feeling to have.

On what DeMar DeRozan had to say:

He just broke it down to me. What he thought when he was going through his extension his first time, just taking my time with it, don’t feel pressure, don’t feel rushed, and really think about what you wanna do. It’s a big decision, all the scenarios that could play out, whether I wanted to be here for the next three, four years. Just really breaking down every possible solution and the pros and cons of it. And just enjoy it. He said he’s gonna have my back no matter what decision I make. And that was that.

And here are some angry Powell dunks just because:

Now, enjoy this video of angry @normanpowell4 dunks. #WeTheNorth

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Thanksgiving open thread

Full disclosure: Our schedule initially called for Andy Rautins’ player preview to go in this Sunday 9 a.m. slot. That, uhh, no longer seems necessary, since Rautins has been waived along with Kennedy Meeks and Kyle Wiltjer, trimming the roster to 17 with a week and change left in training camp.

So, we’ll turn our attention briefly to Thanksgiving, like Kyle Lowry and his family did yesterday in giving away 300 meals to disadvantaged families in the city.

Without getting too corny in the “go around the table and share what you’re thankful for” sense, I would be interested to read Raptors-related notes of appreciation, positive memories, and reasons you’re grateful for ball, the Raptors, the community, or whatever. It’s an easy one for me – I get to live a dream job because of you guys reading our site (Speaking of: The Raptors are back in Toronto now and I’m off to practice shortly). So whether it’s Raptors-related thanks, or life in general, or even if you just want to rage that the food at Thanksgiving is actually criminally overrated other than stuffing, here’s your thread for the day.

Have a great long weekend.

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Raptors cut Wiltjer, Rautins, and Meeks; roster at 17

The Toronto Raptors have waived Kyle Wiltjer, Andy Rautins, and Kennedy Meeks, the team announced Saturday.

Wiltjer was in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, your basic summer tryout deal. His early release may raise the most eyebrows, as he shot the ball fairly well during his audition, hitting nine of his 19 3-point attempts if the intrasquad game is included. An exceptionally gifted – and high-volume – outside shooter, Wiltjer fits the mold of a specialist with size, and it was likely that his defensive shortcomings cost him a spot here rather than anything in his offensive profile. Still just 24 and with such an established track record as a shooter, Wiltjer may be a candidate to get a look from other NBA teams, either on waivers or once he clears. Failing that, his G-League rights are unowned, and Raptors 905 would figure to be interested in bringing him on as an Affiliate Players.

Rautins had a less impressive preseason performance, though he was always a bit of a long-shot to make the team. A late addition to camp after some strong workouts in the weeks leading up to it, Rautins hit four threes in the intrasquad game, then went 0-for-7 in his official preseason appearances. He has some nice size for a shooter and the improvements he made overseas as a playmaker were evident in a secondary ball-handling role off the bench (he recorded four assists on Thursday), but his all-around game isn’t quite where it needs to be, especially if his shot isn’t falling. While his G-League rights are unowned, it seems likely he’ll head back overseas to continue a very solid career there.

Things were even tougher for Meeks, who only saw three minutes of preseason action. Coming off of a strong Las Vegas Summer League, Meeks arrived to camp having shed even more weight and feeling comfortable in his transition from interior center to more multi-faceted combo-big, with range he was hoping to show off. His path to a roster spot was always going to be difficult, with the Raptors employing three centers and two power forwards who could pretty seamlessly play there, and with Meeks’ own game still needing some development. Meeks was in camp on an Exhibit 10 contract, which means that he’ll receive a $50,000 bonus if he clears waivers, agrees to join Raptors 905, and stays there for 60 days. Fellow UNC alum Jerry Stackhouse would have a field day using Meeks as a post-oriented scorer and playmaker there, and a year under NBA tutelage should help Meeks’ game become a more clear fit in the modern NBA.

The timing of the cuts is a little surprising, even if the names aren’t. With nearly two weeks until the Oct. 19 season opener, the Raptors had a bit more time they could have used to get a longer look. The quick move suggests a couple of things, namely that they’re pretty confident in narrowing the battle for the final two roster spots down as they have. It may also suggest that they had an agreement or two in place to give someone (possible Rautins) an early release so that they could pursue overseas opportunities or a chance with another NBA team. The Raptors now give themselves some lead time to play the preseason waiver wire themselves, or to sign another player (maybe Davion Berry) to an Exhibit 10 contract, then waive them to help restock Raptors 905.

In any case, the roster is now down to 17. That’s 13 guaranteed contracts, a pair of two-way players, and Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels, both of whom are in camp with partial guarantees. In theory, the roster may now be the opening-night edition. In handicapping the battle for the final spots, I gave McKinnie and McDaniels the best chances of making the team, even perhaps together – while there’s some overlap in skillset, the team is thin at the forward spots, and this could allow the team to effectively extend the battle between the two as long as Jan. 10, when contracts become fully guaranteed. Keeping McDaniels would make a McKinnie G-League assignment hypothetically possible, even if McKinnie would appear to have the edge at this point in time.

There’s also a chance the Raptors opt to keep just one of them and roll with 14 players plus their two-ways, though there’s not really a cost of keeping a 15th player, in terms of flexibility, until that guarantee date. If that’s the case, McKinnie would figure to have the inside edge halfway through the preseason. A more established name, McDaniels struggled in extended playing time Tuesday but has clearly done enough in practices to stick around a while longer. McKinnie, meanwhile, had a terrific two-way performance on Thursday and has impressed with his energy and improved jumper. McDaniels’ G-League rights are unowned but he may not be amenable to joining the G-League after three years in the NBA; McKinnie’s G-League rights would need to be acquired from Windy City if waived, if he even cleared. That both are sticking around a while longer suggests the team has been impressed with both, or at least wants to get to know them a little longer.

Here’s how things look for the remainder of the preseason, which consists of a lot of practice time wrapped around two more games:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown (two-way)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, K.J. McDaniels (partial guarantee)
SF: C.J. Miles, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (partial guarantee), OG Anunoby (injured)
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller (two-way)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl

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Raptors Republic Fantasy League(s)

Last year, we did three fantasy basketball leagues for Raptors Republic readers, up from just one the year prior due to high demand. We even stretching the league to the maximum of 20 teams to fit as many people as possible, so we’ll do the same again this year in an attempt to include everybody.

So, this year, I’m going to host four fantasy leagues for RR readers. The settings/format for each are the same, and there’s no flexibility on the draft date and time – I’m doing my best to accommodate a large volume of readers, but it’s be impossible to find a time that works for everyone, and it’s just easier on my end if the settings are standardized. (There are also no prizes for the non-Patreon leagues beyond bragging rights – some people have gotten good mileage out of those – but I will do my best to try to lock down something to give away during the year.)

Please don’t sign up for more than one of the leagues, as spots will probably go quickly. (UPDATE: Seriously! Stop signing up for multiple leagues, or even two teams in the same league.)

LEAGUE ONE – Patreon Supporters (8:30pm ET draft, Oct. 16)

Those of you who support us on Patreon get your own league. You should receive an email sometime tonight with the relevant details. This league includes a prize, for sure.

LEAGUE TWO – 5:30pm ET draft, Oct. 16

Full.

LEAGUE THREE – 7pm ET draft, Oct. 16

Full.

LEAGUE FOUR – 10pm ET draft, Oct. 16

Full.

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Some Random Lessons from the Clippers Series

Note: Clearly, I am itching to learn lessons from the NBA. I am so itchy, in fact, that the limit of only two games of data will not deter me from writing about the team. I shouldn’t be doing this, but maybe some trends can be inferred. So it is important for me to note here that all of my lessons have small, noisy sample sizes.

1) The Raptors have empowered their shooters to shoot whenever, from basically wherever. Sidebar: pretty much everyone on the team now considers himself a shooter, even Lucas Nogueira! Serge Ibaka jacked up 14 3s in just 39 minutes. He has had a usage rate of over 30 (leads all starters). Some of his shots are incredibly poor choices, such as when he took this leaning, running, contested, mid-range fade away:

While Ibaka shouldn’t be shooting like that, he isn’t the only one shooting a huge number of distance shots. C.J. Miles is also slinging guns like a cowboy, but thus far like a poorly-aimed cowboy. He is shooting 5 attempts per game from 25+ feet and connecting on only 20% of them. Here is an example of Miles shooting off the dribble, coming off a screen, like Steph Curry:

Miles is one of the best standstill shooters in the league, but his percentages plummet as soon as he dribbles as the ball. One more problem with the above shot: as a lefty, coming off a screen to his right, Miles offers his defender the easiest possible angle to contest his shot. Regardless, he should start canning far more jumpers, especially as he becomes more integrated into the Raptors’ scheme and gets more rhythm taking the shots he likes and rejecting the ones he doesn’t.

Furthermore, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have played passively, but that is due to the preseason nature of the games. They don’t need to hone their skills, as they have both played in fine form. Expect their shot attempts and minutes to skyrocket when the season begins and the shot attempts of their supporting role players to decline.

2) The Raptors still have a dearth of playmakers on their roster. Lowry and DeRozan are both elite, tier-one playmakers of the NBA. They can create good shots for themselves or anyone else on the court whenever they please. The Raps can boast at bare minimum a league average offense with just one of them on the court (or far better, in the case of Lowry).

But when those two sit, the Raptors have few players on the court who can create efficient shots for themselves and others. The newly minted $42M man, Norman Powell does his best, but Raptors’ possessions with Powell on the court, and no Lowry or DeRozan, have often devolved into iso ball at the end of the shot clock. It looks ugly when he can’t get to the rim:

Delon Wright and Fred Van Vleet have performed admirably, but neither is comfortable enough yet to guide an offense again starter-level defense into efficient shots, every time down the floor. Can Jonas Valanciunas anchor an offense for 5 minutes at a time? Can enough Powell drives, Pascal Siakam run outs, and Jakob Poeltl screens combine to keep the Raptors’ heads above water? Thus far, the answer is a resounding no. Fortunately, the Raps should never have a minute (barring injury) without one of DeRozan or Lowry on the court, so the ugliest pre-season ball from the Raps shouldn’t carry over to the regular season.

3) Is Nogueira back in the Raptors’ rotation? It sure looks like it! In almost 21 minutes a game, he boasts an absurd 3.0 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. He offers a solid 100.0 defensive rating on the back of his ability to hold opponents to low shooting percentages all across the floor when he’s playing:

Shot Attempts per game Shooting Percentage (%)
Restricted Area 11.0 55.4
Paint (non-RA) 8.0 50
Mid-Range 5.0 40
3 Pointers 7.0 28.6

Ok, ok, yeah, I know. These are craaaazy small sample sizes and most likely have more to do with individual Clippers players and their individual shot attempts than Nogueira himself. But there is still enough here to get excited about.

Poeltl is a good defender because he is smart and leverages his body quickly and smartly into driving angles. Nogueira is a good defender because he creates something from nothing, occasionally snuffing away a sure thing for his hapless opponents. To put it statistically, while Poeltl makes the defense marginally better on every possession, perhaps reducing an opponents’ field goal percentage by one or two percentage points while he is defending them, Nogueira is able to sometimes reduce an opponents’ field goal percentage from 100% to 0% with a swing of his gargantuan arms. Just look at this:

That is some heady defense right there. Bebe blocks two shots on two consecutive defensive possessions, corrals both rebounds, and this leads directly to 5 Raptors points. That is some high-upside basketball! Bring on the season, baby.

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2017-18 Player Preview: DeMar DeRozan

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

Jae Crowder.

Much has been written, debated and dissected regarding DeMar DeRozan’s game throughout his 8-year professional career with the Toronto Raptors. A recurring theme has ever been his dedication to his craft, to coming back to training camp with a couple of new moves, tightening up and enhancing his existing skillset. Last season was no different. In the wake of the longest NBA season of his career combined with the Olympic tournament in 2016 with the USA squad, he had a legitimate excuse to rest on his laurels and take a breather ahead of the 16/17 season.

Instead, motivated in part by SI ranking him 46th among active NBA players, DeRozan worked harder than ever, and took the league by storm in the first month, stringing one 30+ point performance after another like he was grinding for badges on MyCareer in 2K.

He posted the highest output in his career in points (by far), rebounds, free throws made and attempted, and the second highest true shooting percentage behind only his rookie season (while nearly doubling his usage over that year).

But, Jae Crowder.

In the 2016/17 regular season campaign, DeRozan stamped his name over a host of franchise records, including games played, minutes played, points scored and free throws made. He developed a habit of scoring key buckets in the final stretches of close games (shout-out to D-Rose), cracked the All-NBA third team for the first time, was mentioned by Kevin Durant who cited his world-class footwork as the best he’d seen “In a long, long time.” Oh, and he got on the cover of the Canadian retail version of NBA 2K18, for whatever it’s worth.

And yet, all those accolades were not enough to rank him above Jae ‘Bae’ Crowder, according to ESPN. While some of the other players that placed higher than the 39th-ranked DeRozan have unique skills that can be argued by some to be more valuable than DeMar’s, Crowder’s case is difficult to fathom. As last summer’s SI ranking proved however, this whiteboard material may become a blessing in disguise for the Raptors.

In fairness to his critics, DeRozan’s game was not free of blemishes even in his best year as a pro.

His two major weaknesses, defense and three-point shooting once again reared their ugly head in the playoffs. Despite increasing his defensive intensity fueled by the arrival of the all-business P.J. Tucker, the effect was only temporary. And as the season and especially postseason three-point shooting percentages show, that part of his game failed to improve. It was no small miracle that despite a horrendous long-range shooting total (under 7%(!)) and the infamous zero field goals game in Milwaukee, DeMar posted the second best playoff true shooting percentage of his career, a respectable 53.3%. The end result though – the team struggled yet again on most of their offensive possessions, leading to a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.

With the Raptors set to overhaul their offense to rely more on passing and long range shots, it remains to be seen whether DeMar’s game can adapt. Examples could be pulled from nearly every Toronto game showing the ball zipping around the court from player to player, until it reaches DeRozan. There, it would stop, as the USC product would grind the pace down to a halt, and take on his man one-on-one. While that often means a basket or a foul in DeRozan’s favour, it makes the club’s offense highly predictable and relatively easy to plan for. Will DeMar’s game take another evolutionary step, or will he resort to old habits when the pressure is at its highest? While those are fair questions, they are but the newest scions of a deep-rooted tree.

As fans, our emotions often ebb and flow along with the daily performances of our favourite team and players. While that’s a main reason sports fandom is as exhilarating and addicting as it is, it also at times detracts from the larger picture. We live in the age of Kevin Durant’s move from one title contender to its 73-9 rival, Lebron’s Decision, and Neymar and Mbappe’s cynical moves to big-money PSG. These athletes contrast sharply with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Francesco Totti, loyal club icons who have become synonymous with their franchises.

While DeMar DeRozan is nowhere near those legends as of yet, he has plenty in common with them. Vince Carter put the Raptors on the NBA map, Chris Bosh put in a strong seven year stretch before leaving to win titles in Florida, but it was DeMar DeRozan who made The Six his home. He has invested himself fully with the franchise; dedicated himself to improving year after year; signed his latest contract without even speaking to any other club. In his words: “I am Toronto.” He set a franchise standard for years to come, and Norman Powell’s early extension can be partly attributed to the example set by the senior shooting guard on the roster.

Whether he will end up bringing an NBA title to the city or not, DeRozan is growing into the role of a franchise legend now, and the Raptors are growing with him. There will be a time when we look back at this era with fondness, remembering DeMar’s dunks, big shots, and annual playoff appearances. And so let us savor the coming season and enjoy another year of prime DeMar DeRozan.

But seriously, Jae Crowder?

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Raptors wrap west coast preseason swing with loss to Trail Blazers

Well, I hope you didn’t stay up late for that.

The Toronto Raptors fell 106-101 to the Portland Trail Blazers in a typically sloppy affair to slip to 1-2 on the preseason.

DeMar DeRozan and C.J. Miles did not play, both getting nights off for rest. #AnunobyWatch continues as the rookie wing did not play either.

Like the second Hawaiian game, this was a great example of why the NBA trimmed the preseason. The contest felt more like noise than any kind of signal because there were so many green or sub-NBA level players on the court.

There’s a few takeaways, so let’s dive into them now.

Wing depth remains a concern

An early season injury to C.J. Miles or Norm Powell would spell disaster for the Raptors. Really, we knew that by looking at the names in the depth chart, but seeing is believing. Bruno Caboclo started in this game, and he struggled to keep up with the pace of play. Like the first game, Bruno couldn’t make shots, going 0-4 to bring him to 2-15 on the preseason.

Alfonzo McKinnie’s minutes were really encouraging. He hit some threes, he’s got a smooth jump shot and moves like an NBA athlete. He’s intriguing as a wing option, but the preseason context matters and that’s why I’m waiting on saying he could step in to regular season minutes.

Powell, who put pen to paper on a four-year $42 million contract ahead of the game, had moments of expected explosiveness, but wasn’t efficient from the floor.

(I would also like to wish Andy Rautins the best of luck in Europe this season and hope Dwane Casey does not play him again. He can’t turn the corner on anyone and he’s a sieve defensively.)

Frontcourt play: mixed bag

Jonas Valanciunas has impressed in preseason. On multiple occasions, I’ve wondered about JV’s role in the modern NBA, but he’s looked better in the preseason. He’s moving the ball better and feeling the game a bit more than we’ve seen in seasons past. This didn’t show in the box score — he finished with zero assists — but there were a couple of moments where JV made the right pass and the guy didn’t make the shot or the pass was deflected.

His defence remains a liability and there’s really no reason in delving into his struggles on that end. He’s better offensively so far, and that’s a positive sign.

And I’m absolutely not someone who puts a ton of stock in what I see in preseason. However, I do get worried when I see fears actualize themselves. One of those fears: Serge Ibaka’s fading athleticism. There was some commentary about it last year before he was traded to Toronto, and Ibaka looked sluggish tonight. Let’s hope it was just a bit of disinterest on his part because watching 82 games of that Ibaka would be a real struggle.

Bebe Nogueira was the first centre off the bench tonight but it was Jakob Poeltl who made an impact. Poeltl finished with 10 points on 4-4 shooting, with most of those coming out of rolls to the basket. He’s got great hands and continues to show touch around the rim. I’m buying Jak stock, though he’s still getting bullied in the paint when defensive rebounding.

Pascal Siakam earns a quick shoutout for his ability to contain guys in the pick and roll. He’s got quick feet, uses length well and starting to settle down a bit. Siakam just needs reps.

Hope you like threes

The Raps shot 43 threes in the first game, 36 in the second and 44 tonight. The offence done changed.

Problem: Toronto hit 13-44 from three tonight, good for 29.5%. I’ll say this: Toronto’s style makes for a different viewing experience compared to recent seasons. I’m not sure how I feel about it, though. Watching guys who aren’t great three point shooters just get shots up is a bit frustrating because it feels like a concession from the offence.

Granted, Miles is a good three-point shooter and he didn’t play, and guys who won’t be on the roster or play meaningful roles logged significant minutes tonight, so the percentages aren’t reflective of who will be getting shots in the season. I think the three-point attempt number is something to continue to monitor because it’s a high number for any team, let alone a team like Toronto with a dearth of shooters.

The Raptors make their 2017-18 home debut on Oct. 10 against the Detroit. Who will play? Who knows! Tip-off is 7 p.m. Only two more preseason games to go.

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Talking Raptors Podcast – With Blake Murphy

The sweet smell of basketball is in the air and the Talking Raptors gang have crawled out of the woodwork with excitement. On this preseason episode Nick and Barry are joined by the man, the myth, and the legend, Raptors Republic’s own Blake Murphy. The guys sit down and chat about Blake, the Raps and the some of the madness happening around the league.

They chat about:

– Handsome and Hardworking Blake Murphy

– Team Expectations

– Breakout Player

– NBA 2K18

– Offseason Craziness

– Raptor Favourites

All this and a bunch more. As always thank you for listening and we really hope you enjoy it.

Countdown is on for the season and we will be back with weekly episodes.

Lets go Raptors.

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Raptors-Trail Blazers Reaction Podcast – Need improvement

Host William Lou breaks down the Raptors’ preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 101, Trail Blazers 106

The usual reminder: All grades are based on the player and their expected role, not a generic player in a vacuum. An A for Lowry/DeRozan is not the same as an A for a guy fighting for a camp spot. It’s all relative, and the preseason grades don’t necessarily account for the quality of competition end-of-the-bench guys are facing. It’s also preseason, and so some of us may be looking for/noticing particular (and different) things. It’s grain-of-salt season. (Can you tell I don’t love doing the Quick Reaction in the preseason?)

Toronto 101 Final
Box Score
106 Portland

D
S. Ibaka20 MIN, 2 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-5 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, -15 +/-

At some point, Ibaka’s slow, mechanical movements at both ends will become worrisome. I don’t think we’re there yet, but this has been a pretty uninspiring training camp for him outside of a very fancy spinning fadeaway on the short roll tonight. I’m not sure if it’s conservation or easing in or what. It’d be nice to see Ibaka have a strong outing in one of the next two games. Maybe a full contingent of starters will help?

C-
B. Caboclo18 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0-4 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -9 +/-

I wish I had more positives to say. I’m still able to maintain patience, and the context of the entire Caboclo situation is always important to keep in mind. This is three pretty rough preseason games in a row now, though, despite some active hands and a good defensive symbiosis with Siakam. It looked like maybe it’s wearing on him a bit, too. This was at least better than the last. Patience, if you have it, because you can still see signs.

A-
J. Valanciunas17 MIN, 8 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, -14 +/-

Once again looked spry and encouraging on the defensive end, and while he didn’t touch the ball a ton, he made the most of the opportunities. Small samples and all, but he’s been helping better at the rim and looking a little quicker, and the earlier games showed he seemed to be embracing and enjoying some of the offensive tweaks. Solid work through three games.

A
K. Lowry25 MIN, 23 PTS, 3 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 5-11 FG, 2-7 3FG, 11-14 FT, 0 BLK, 5 TO, -5 +/-

This man is out here taking charges from 7-footers down double-digits in a preseason game. I love it, but If he could maybe ease off the gas a bit in meaningless games, my cortisol levels would appreciate it. Anyway, he was awesome and is regular season ready, other than an uncharacteristic number of turnovers, which is something that’s plagued the whole team in camp.

B
N. Powell25 MIN, 15 PTS, 1 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 4-14 FG, 3-4 3FG, 4-5 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -22 +/-

Drawing the start in DeRozan’s place meant Powell wasn’t going to face the limited touches he would normally, and the Raptors leaned on him heavily early on. He was at anything but his best, using 16 possessions to score 15 points, but he also showed a lot of what makes Powell so exciting – hard drives in the pick-and-roll, a bit of shooting, attempts to dunk on 7-footers (heavy pockets weighing him down now). He lost Anthony Morrow a bit in transition, though I’ll need to do my re-watch to see if it was a cross-matching issue or a team-wide breakdown or what have you.

A
A. McKinnie24 MIN, 13 PTS, 8 REB, 0 AST, 4 STL, 5-7 FG, 3-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 12 +/-

Not to overreact to a single preseason game, but McKinnie looks like a pretty clear favorite to win one of the final two roster spots (I had given him the best odds before camp began). Not only did he have his customary putback dunk and show some really nice effort on defense and with loose balls, but he also hit three threes, which is huge for his candidacy. The excitement I’ve seen about McKinnie’s game tonight is warranted – this is who he is, and even if he’s only a modest 3-point shooter, it’s a fun bench piece.

D+
A. Rautins24 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 0-5 FG, 0-5 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 17 +/-

Tough night for the Canadian, who didn’t bring the sharpshooting that got him the camp invite. An empty night from long range is going to happen sometimes, but Rautins isn’t a particularly stout on-ball defender, and short of a handful of pretty solid passes in the first half, his plus-17 rating is a bit misleading. He does provide some gravity, though, because he’ll let it fly.

B+
D. Wright23 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 2-7 FG, 0-5 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 0 +/-

He still needs to be more assertive shooting, either when spotting/pulling up or as a driver, because defenses are sagging back and it makes it more difficult for him to really cause havoc in the teeth. Still, he’s poised and savvy, makes some smart reads that put teammates in good positions, and is impossible in transition. Had a bit of a tough time with C.J. McCollum late.

A
J. Poeltl17 MIN, 10 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 4-4 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 14 +/-

Some really terrific effort down the stretch, even with the competition caveats (Poeltl and Nogueira have both looked better as the third center than the second). He had a smart cut to the rim, showed nice touch on a transition bucket-and-foul, and made something out of nothing attacking the lane late in a shot clock.

B+
P. Siakam16 MIN, 5 PTS, 0 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-3 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

Continues to look good in what will likely be his role in the regular season. Hit a corner three, which is important for the potential frontcourt pairings he can be a part of, showed a nice, if somewhat overeager, first step, and once again showed he can be trusted to switch plenty on the perimeter and use his length to corral and recover.

C
L. Nogueira14 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -5 +/-

Tough one for Bebe, who did a few small things well – some really stout drag screens, scattering back to bigs on short-rolls after hedging, protecting the rim – but seemed to be getting an earful from Casey at every turn, including on a back cut and fouling on a three. Neither center has run with this spot yet, and it could be fluid entering the year.

A-
K. Wiltjer12 MIN, 12 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4-8 FG, 4-8 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 11 +/-

They don’t call him Kyle Wontjer. Wiltjer came in and was basically a human heat check for his 12 minutes, firing up eight triples. Hitting four of them was a big part of the Raptors’ late push, and he developed a nice pick-and-pop chemistry with Wright, thanks in part to his gravitational pull.

C
L. Brown4 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -8 +/-

Plays with great speed and a high motor, though Casey surely cringed at one gamble that left Lillard with a wide-open three. He missed a couple of good looks and never really got another chance. Four minutes has to be disappointing for him on a night VanVleet sat.

Inc
Dwane Casey

I’m not really much for judging a coach based on preseason rotations and sit/start calls. The offense remains a work in progress and the assist total was a little low again (thanks in large part to 30% 3-point shooting Casey can’t control). Feel it’s better to judge Casey at the end of camp, by how the offense has come along and whether the team’s stuck to the changes.

Things We Saw

  1. While it’d be nice to get the starters together for chemistry building purposes, it makes sense to sit the big names out for a game here and there. Yes, preseason is only five games over more than two weeks, but they need to get a longer look at some of the younger players, too, and there’s plenty of practice time to try to hammer home the new offensive principles. I’d expect Ibaka to sit one of the next two games and then the finale to be treated as a one-half dress rehearsal of sorts.
  2. Miles getting the unannounced night off was a little less expected, and the dual wings sitting, while totally justified from a freshness and get-the-young-guys-reps perspective, confuses whether Powell was just filling in as a starter or whether he’s still fighting for that job (we still haven’t seen Miles in the Terrence Ross bench role, where the playbook is already set for him). Fred VanVleet also sat. Some Wright-VanVleet looks with the team light on wings would have been cool, but you can’t do all things in every game. Shout out to the end-of-bench mob making a strong comeback late.
  3. Portland’s offense is a great example for Toronto to try to emulate as they build more motion and ball movement into their system. Terry Stotts’ flow is all about motion with purpose, and rarely does anyone catch the ball flat-footed. That all takes a lot of time and repetitions to build, and the Raptors will have to be patient and avoid the urge to fall back on what’s worked in the past. There are going to be growing pains, because even some of the early motion stuff they’re introducing (re-watch the first quarters of Game 1 and Game 3 for a better idea) take a lot of timing and precision to be effective.
  4. The Raptors had almost nothing in the first half that wasn’t Lowry or Powell. The defense is a more pressing takeaway from the preseason so far, and there are offensive caveats – the system tweaks, some (hopefully) unseasonably cold shooting games, it being the preseason – but this team could struggle to score if one of Lowry or DeRozan missed time. (Which is also a good argument in favor of continuing the offensive change efforts, to attempt to limit that downside risk.) At the same time, the last two games had two of the team’s top-six players sitting, so maybe it’s all just noise.
  5. Jusuf Nurkic has lost 35 pounds and said on the broadcast that the hardest part so far is that he’s “too quick.” We should all aspire to make that kind of change, and we should all be so lucky as to have those kind of hardships. His mid-range stroke looks solid, too, and he’s in for a big year volume-wise. Caleb Swanigan is really nice, as well.
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Pre-game news & notes: DeRozan gets the night off, Bruno starts

It’s been a fun day. A good day. It’s incredibly nice to have basketball back, to have the Toronto Raptors back, to have MLB playoffs and some hot Leafs Process-ing to fill in the gaps, to have just watched an incredible WNBA finals series, and to be drawing nearer to the start of the NBA’s regular season. The last week-and-a-half maybe haven’t taught us a ton about the 2017-18 Raptors just yet – there are patterns that need forging, blips that need to be proven over a larger sample, threes that need to eventually drop – but there’s nothing like basketball to remind you how much basketball’s been missing in your life.

It’s also an annual reminder of how great the RR community is, the Raptors Twitter community is, and how great the communities on RealGM and R/TorontoRaptors are, too. It’s biased and hubristic, but the appetite for even preseason action, content, and opinion from the Raptors fanbase continues to affirm that this is an exceptional fanbase and readership.

(Pander, baby, pander.)

Anyway, let that serve as a preamble since I wrote the preview and covered off most of what we’re looking at.

The game tips off at 10 p.m. on TSN2. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The Raptors will be resting DeMar DeRozan for this one, which was predicted earlier on. They figure to get Serge Ibaka a night off at some point, too, not only to keep established players fresh for the start of the regular season but to continue opening up minutes for younger players to develop and make their cases for roles or roster spots. DeRozan drawing out would seem to suggest Norman Powell will play after missing Tuesday’s game with an ankle strain. Either way, DeRozan sitting and Kyle Lowry returning could mean Fred VanVleet’s minutes come alongside Delon Wright, or that any of K.J. McDaniels, Bruno Caboclo, and Alfonzo McKinnie will see extended run on the wings

Check back shortly for updates on Powell and OG Anunoby, who is yet to make his preseason debut as he eases his way back in.

UPDATE: Bruno is starting! All hail Bruno! Powell is starting, too, giving us a look at him with some starters.

UPDATE II: Miles didn’t play in the first quarter and it appears he might be getting the night off, too.

Assuming relative health and no additional rest, here’s how the rotation might look:

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

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: DeRozan 44, Ibaka 39, Valanciunas 34, Lowry 20
Competition 1: Miles 43, Powell 20
Competition 2: Nogueira 32, Poeltl 23
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 46, VanVleet 31
Competition 4: McKinnie 22, Rautins 13, McDaniels 12, Wiltjer 8, Meeks 3
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 45, Caboclo 34, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 12, Miller 0

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Trail Blazers updates
The Blazers have two starting spots to figure out, and it seems likely they’ll rotate those spots around a bit in the preseason to get a feel for who and what works with their two guards and centers. Evan Turner and Ed Davis drew the starts in their opener, but Turner makes much more sense off the bench as a second-unit creator and Davis is a known commodity comfortable in either role, one they could easily plug in and out as opponents or the performances of the other forwards dictate.

For tonight, Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu draw the starts at the forward spots. That’s a pairing light on shooting but heavy on length and defense, and in that sense they shoul;d prove a nice challenge for the new offensive principles the Raptors are trying to hammer home.

Shabazz Napier missed Tuesday’s preseason game with a hamstring injury but returned to practice Wednesday. C.J. Wilcox has also been dealing with a knee injury and is yet to play in the preseason. Noah Vonleh, as Steve mentioned earlier, suffered a shoulder strain last week and is expected to miss about a month.

PG: Damian Lillard, (Shabazz Napier), Isaiah Briscoe
SG: C.J. McCollum, Pat Connaughton, (C.J. Wilcox), Archie Goodwin
SF: Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Caleb Swanigan
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard
TBD: Shabazz Napier, C.J. Wilcox
INJ: Noah Vonleh

Assorted

  • It’s been quite a day! The big news, of course, is that the Raptors have pen-to-paper on a four-year, $42-million extension with Norman Powell, a great day for the player and certainly one to celebrate for the franchise. You can read all about that here.
  • Raptors 905 tickets went on sale today, so a friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
  • Unrelated to basketball – sorry for pushing my AGENDA – please think about giving blood, if you’re eligible. The country generally runs at a shortage in a handful of blood types, it takes like 45 minutes tops even with the questionnaire and everything (which you can do online beforehand to save time), and they give you cookies after. All the info you need is at blood.ca. It’s important and pretty easy and free cookies.
  • Miss you, James Johnson.

  • We’ve passed this along on Twitter, but if you follow us and @GetInTheAction and RT the post below, you’ll have a chance to win two tickets to the home opener. No strings attached other than following both accounts and RTing. We’re exploring more ways to be able to give stuff away during the season, so let’s give GetInTheAction a reason to keep hooking the RR community up.

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board.

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Report: Raptors sign Norman Powell to 4-year, $42M extension; It’s good

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to a four-year, $42-million extension with Norman Powell, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The figure Wojnarowski is reporting is Powell’s maximum allowable extension under the current collective bargaining agreement. Powell’s considered in the “veteran extension” class because he signed a three-year deal as a second-round pick, whereas first-round picks sign to the rookie scale and qualify for a different set of extension options. Powell could only earn up to 120 percent of the estimated average salary in Year One of the contract, with an annual raise of eight percent of that first-year number, non-compounding.

The extension will see Powell earn roughly $9.4 million for the 2018-19 season, $10.1 million the year after, $10.9 million the year after that, and $11.6 million in 2021-22 for a total of approximately $41.9 million, based on current estimates. The final year of the deal is a player option (which was probably the concession the Raptors had to make to get the deal done, allowing Powell to potentially re-enter free agency at 28.)

Getting Powell to sign the extension would have taken some careful conversations, with market signals pulling Powell’s camp in multiple directions. When Josh Richardson of the Miami Heat signed the same deal a few weeks back, that seemed to suggest a Powell extension was at least feasible, based on comparable players. Powell is a better prospect than Richardson, but their path to this point and their production have been quite similar. The cold restricted free agent market and the coming league-wide financial crunch in the summer of 2018 are also factors, though Powell could have looked at the small handful of larger deals that were handed out to restricted free agents the past few summers and thought he could do better than $10.5 million per-year.

I wrote a lot more about this two weeks back for The Athletic. Basically, it’s the usual trade-off between long-term security and betting on yourself for the chance at a bit more. Powell seems the bet-on-himself type, but he’s also only made about $3 million over his first three years in the league

By signing, Powell not only locks in a great deal of money over the next four years but cements himself as a major part of the Raptors present and future. The Raptors are making a clear statement that Powell is to be considered a part of the core with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka. This isn’t the first signal, either – Powell joined DeRozan and head coach Dwane Casey in visiting Lowry this offseason, too, and he’s long been trusted as a leader of the team’s younger core, a lead-by-example type who has to be begged to leave the gym. There was some concern that the Raptors may not be able to retain Powell long-term, and options for that scenario were explored, and the team’s surely thrilled to have pen to paper at this amount, without risk of a heftier offer sheet seeing him flee for nothing this summer.

In terms of price, it’s hard to argue. It’s about what the market dictates, and depending on your comparison point, it looks like either a modest discount or the right price. There will always be Tim Hardaway Jr. and Allen Crabbe contracts, but with money tight this coming year, those may not have been there. The Raptors could have tried to play it tighter, too, but they’re paying a shade over what the mid-level exception will be for a player they really like, a two-way piece with some remaining upside to tap into. It takes a great deal of uncertainty off the table as it pertains to next offseason, and the entire three-year window for this current core. (That Powell’s deal extends two years beyond that window also suggests the team believes he can be a big piece in the event they pivot to a different timeline, and his deal should be fairly movable whatever happens.)

There are complications that loom, of course. It’s little secret that the Raptors are light on financial flexibility during this competitive window, and locking Powell in to an eight-figure salary figures to push the team deep into the luxury tax next summer. Including options for the players on rookie deals but not including new deals for Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, or Fred VanVleet, the Raptors have about $125 million committed to 10 players (not including unlikely bonuses that could count toward the tax calculation), about $2 million over the projected luxury tax line for 2018-19. Add in deals for the other restricted free agents or roster-filler pieces, and there isn’t a great deal of room to fortify, even if the team’s willing to pay fairly deep into the tax.

That will undoubtedly put eyes on the rumor mill as it pertains to Jonas Valanciunas again this summer, through no fault of his own. He’ll be their best means of ducking back beneath the tax or, if they can add elsewhere, lessening the bill, especially if he winds up having as strong a season as the first two preseason games suggest he may be in for. The Raptors can cross that bridge when they come to it in July, knowing they’ll have plenty of time to get under the tax line before the end of 2018-19, even if they lose some leverage or flexibility in the process.

The No. 46 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Powell became an instant fan favorite in Toronto after being acquired along with a first-round pick for Greivis Vasquez on draft night. Powell turned in an All-Tournament performance at his first Las Vegas Summer League to help convince the team to sign him (they did so to a three-year deal rather than four because otherwise he’d be headed for unrestricted free agency in 2019), then dominated D-League competition before stepping into an important and unexpected role during the stretch run. In the first round of the playoffs, he helped swing the team’s series against the Indiana Pacers, and his open-court dunk in a remarkable Game 5 comeback has quickly risen toward the top of any all-time Raptor highlight lists.

Powell’s sophomore season didn’t go quite as well, given higher expectations and a larger, if still inconsistent role.  He took continued strides as a scorer and as a playmaker, but his 3-point shooting regressed in the regular seasons and he had stretches where he didn’t look like quite the same defender he was as a rookie. His advanced metrics showed a slightly negative impact on defense, though there’s a ton of noise based on his changing responsibilities and generally guarding the best opposing wing when on the floor. His scoring numbers jumped, at the very least, from 5.6 points to 8.4 and from 54.1-percent true-shooting to 55.2. The playoffs saw Powell round back into form and help swing another playoff series, and his ascension as an impact two-way piece allowed the Raptors to proceed about their offseason knowing he’d be in a significant role.

It’s unclear if Powell will join the starters this season or come off the bench as a potential high-scoring Sixth Man candidate. If he starts, his defense will be valuable, and he’ll get to attack scattered defenses as a tertiary scoring option alongside Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, and Valanciunas. It’s a natural fit for him and would allow C.J. Miles to provide shooting off the bench. He may be best off as a reserve, though, where he and Delon Wright have developed a quick chemistry, and where he’d see a far greater share of the touches playing with only one of Lowry and DeRozan for the bulk of his minutes. Powell can lead a second-unit offense as a mean pick-and-roll ball-handler and help forge an identity for a fast, unrelenting, and youthful bench mob, should the Raptors choose to go that route.

In any case, he figures to jump from 18 minutes a game to somewhere close to 30 and should be a part of closing lineups more often than not, whether they’re downsized or not. This is one of the more difficult jumps to make, role player to core piece, and it’s not a certainty Powell can deliver on this deal. Market changes or young players stalling out can make good deals look bad down the line. On balance, this one seems mostly safe, and Powell’s long appeared ready for this next step. This year should be telling, and the Raptors’ optimism is entirely warranted. Risk-taking is a part of getting players locked up, and any risk here seems reasonable.

Should he continue to improve as a playmaker and find the consistency on the defensive end that sometimes takes a while for young players to establish, this contract could very well look like a steal in short order. That goes doubly if his 3-point shot, which has jumped all over but looks about average in the large sample, winds up being a plus-tool. Even if Powell’s development were to stall from here – unlikely given he’s 24 and has an already legendary work ethic – it’s a pretty safe bet from the team side. It’s a bet on a player they loved from pre-draft workouts onward and have helped to develop over the last two-plus years, too, which almost always sends a positive message.

This is a great day for Powell, the next step in a career that’s had him play his way from bit-player at UCLA to college star, and then from second-round afterthought to NBA rotation piece. Given his ascension at each stage, the Raptors likely feel comfortable betting on his continued progress into one of the core members of their franchise.

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Raptors 905 tickets on sale; RR readers get season-long discount

Photo credit: KarynStepien.com

Raptors 905 announced Thursday that tickets for the 2017-18 are officially on sale.

All season long (starting tomorrow), RR readers can use the promo code “REPUBLIC905” at this ticket link to get discounted single-game tickets. For season ticket package or flex pack information, email tickets@raptors905.com. You can find the full schedule for the season here.

The 905 also announced that they’ll raise their 2016-17 championship banner on Nov. 8, and the first 4,000 fans in attendance will receive a replica championship ring.

Photo credit: Reddit

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2017-18 Player Preview: Pascal Siakam

In order to determine what to expect from Pascal Siakam this upcoming season, we first have to figure out what the hell Siakam was as a rookie last year. Without question, Siakam is an impressive athlete, standing 6’9” with a thin, mobile frame, and an engulfing, Bucks-esque wingspan:

Juan Labreche/Associated Press

Thrown into the fire as a starter, Siakam was inarguably overmatched. Lineups in which he played were consistently the Raptors’ worst groups, and Siakam was a bit of a mess on both sides of the ball. He was reverse-Biyombo on defense, twitchy in all the wrongs ways, hyperactive, and often a step too early on rotations. He stepped out towards a driver before the rotation behind him caught up to his man, or he’d leave his feet jumping out at a shooter. Here he is hurling his body, shaking rhythmically left and right like a master salsa dancer, at a Kevin Love pump fake:

For a rookie, effort is a good problem to have. He’s young, and he’ll get smarter with more reps. Some of the mistakes he made are things other defenders can only hope to be able to do, covering wide stretches of the floor in a quick move and possessing the athleticism to at least try to recover if out of position. Rookies are usually bad, and defense takes time to turn potential and effort into impact.

On offense, Siakam showed little more than a knack for running the floor and offensive rebounding (again, really important skills to have, especially as they are difficult to develop). However, his jump shot was mechanical and slow, his passing vision late, and his handle loose. Despite these flaws, Siakam projects to be an important piece for the Raptors in the future. Why? The Raptors 905.

FURTHER READING: Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl lean on friendship in contrasting rookie seasons

For those who weren’t watching (which is almost everyone), Siakam dominated during his brief stint as a 905er. On offense, he baffled defenders with his moves around the rim, finished with touch, and even showed the ability to drain jumpers and floaters from the paint. Siakam even won playoff MVP for the champion 905. He also turned in a handful of terrific games at Las Vegas Summer League. How much of Siakam’s supremacy was due to his ability to finish over smaller, less athletic defenders? If you’ve been watching 2017-18 preseason, you can see a microcosm of Siakam’s rookie season thus far during games: He struggles against starters, but he’s able to accumulate stats and highlights in a hurry against second- and third-string opponents.

That begs the question as to whether Siakam got better while playing in the G-League. Both the numbers and the tape seem to bear out that he did. Importantly, during the second act of the season, Siakam greatly improved his plus/minus per-100 possessions, which at one point hit a low of -11.3 before his demotion to the 905. Those are small, noisy samples, but it speaks to not only his improvements but his fit in a more natural role for a young, developing player.

With the 905, Siakam returned to his originally planned role when the Raptors drafted him: Project. He was never supposed to be a starter out of the gate, but the Jared Sullinger injury early in the 2016-17 year forced Siakam into a position for which he was unprepared. One the 905, he was able to develop the more raw skills in his arsenal without worrying about his plus/minus for a playoff-bound Raptors squad. And he did improve. Watch his timing on these blocks he accumulated in just one 905 game:

Siakam timed these blocks well, rotating properly, and not leaving his feet early. The G-League game is slowed down, and Siakam was much more comfortable with the pace as a 905er. While it will most likely be too much to ask Siakam to be just as comfortable this season in much faster NBA games, he should slowly adapt to the quicker pace, increasingly getting the knack of timing on both sides of the ball, until he is as patient as a finely tuned jazz drummer, or Anthony Davis, or both.

Don’t expect to see Siakam put up his 905 stats of 18+ points and 7+ rebounds per game (obviously), but also don’t be surprised to see Siakam contribute to the Raptors in other ways this  year. His numbers likely won’t improve from his Raptors’ numbers last year (4.2 pts, 3.4 reb, and 0.8 blks), but that isn’t the point. Look instead at Siakam’s plus/minus, which was a horrific -3.0 per 100 possessions (worst on the Raptors other than Sullinger) in 2016-17, and look at how he fits into what will likely be a sizable role in the second unit.

Siakam acknowledges that his role on the Raptors this year will be different, and his leash will be tighter: “I think the rookie days and all that…[are] over.” Barring injury, Siakam will certainly not start, with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas entrenched as bigs in front of him. But Siakam can contribute.

Siakam can block shots, rebound, run, and finish in transition. He could be part of a useful, up-tempo bench mob headed by Kyle Lowry and perhaps Ibaka-at-center. If Siakam’s +/- per-100 possessions can creep into the neutral or even positive range on the season, then consider the 2017-18 campaign a successful development year for the still-developing sophomore. In terms of specific skills, Siakam will have made headway by this time next year if some of the passing chops he showed with the 905 translate to the Raptors or if he raises his corner 3-point percentage to league average levels. Perhaps his handle will tighten, too.

The best-case scenario is that Siakam earns – instead of is pressed into – 10-15 minutes at both big spots and contributes positive minutes off the bench. The worst-case scenario is that Siakam does not play much for the parent squad, again proves entirely too talented for the G-League, and develops incrementally. Both scenarios are possible, and both involve the Raptors’ bench improving, which is a good thing no matter which way you slice it.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Trail Blazers, Oct. 5

From Victoria to Hawaii to Portland, the Toronto Raptors continue their preseason trip up and down the west coast Thursday when they take on the Trail Blazers. It’s funny how being in a really awesome city can seem like much less of a big deal when the team was just in two of the more beautiful places on earth. Shout out to Portland, though, one of the best beer cities out there, a food truck haven, and the owners of a pretty damn fun basketball team .

As always when these sides meet, it’ll be a battle of elite offensive backcourts. It’s just a preseason game, sure, but seeing those four trade buckets in the first and third quarters should be a lot of fun. And the two sides are working on some similar tweaks to their approach – Portland is trying to fully integrate Jusuf Nurkic and maximize his role, while Toronto is looking to better integrate all of their supporting pieces, including Jonas Valanciunas (who has looked better than almost any other Raptor so far in the preseason). Nurkic and Valanciunas could be a lot of fun, too. These teams match up such that their two regular season meetings should rank pretty highly on must-see lists.

Tonight will be much more about the potential depth pieces for each side. There are questions without clear answers, important reps to get in, new principles to make patterns. The Raptors are firing up boat loads of threes and hitting few of them, and they could probably use a good night from outside to make sure buy-in to the new paradigm remains high. The talk of improved ball movement has looked to be legitimate, at least on intention, but poor shooting has muted assist numbers, too.

“You’re gonna have nights like that until we get adjusted to the style of play,” head coach Dwane Casey said after Tuesday’s loss. Trust the process, and all of that.

The game tips off at 10 p.m. (Eastern) on TSN.

To help set the stage for the last game, I reached out to Steve Dewald of Blazer’s Edge.

Blake Murphy: It’s the Blazers and the Raptors, so we more or less have to discuss the “best backcourts in the NBA” thing. Oh, we don’t? Well, thank god. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are, of course, awesome, as are Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. While the Raptors’ duo spends the preseason trying to help build a more multi-faceted offensive style, what are the points of emphasis for the Blazers’ young guards entering 2017-18?

Steve Dewald: Just like previous years, defense will remain the focus for the Lillard-McCollum backcourt. Lillard has lost some weight over the summer, and he is hoping that his decreased size will help him navigate screens better when guarding the pick-and-roll. McCollum appears to be closer to playing competent defense, but he has to improve his consistency.

A more realistic goal for the duo is learning to maximize Jusuf Nurkic’s time on the court. The trio was only able to play a limited amount of games together last season, so it will be imperative that they gel quickly before the start of the season. Finding the right balance of using Nurkic as a decoy and a target will dictate just how deadly this offense can be.

Blake Murphy: Nurkic called Voodoo Doughnuts over-rated. Will he be thoroughly booed at the home opener for that?

Steve Dewald: Definitely trying to get me in trouble with this one. I might be crazy, but his criticism of Voodoo Doughnuts might make Blazers fans like him even more. No true Portlander has time to wait with the tourists for Voodoo, which has led to some residents labeling the institution as a spot for non-locals. As long as the Bosnian Beast doesn’t give Pine State Biscuits a bad review, he is good in my book.

Blake Murphy: Portland would seem to have at least three starting spots locked down, and maybe four if Al-Farouq Aminu can safely be considered the starting four instead of in the battle for the two forward spots. Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, and maybe some dark horses figure to push for that spot and, conversely, a large second-unit role. Who do you prefer as a starting five, and who do you see actually winning the job?

Steve Dewald: The forward spots are completely up for grabs, but I agree that Aminu will find a way to capture one of them. Evan Turner is the highest paid of the group, but his lack of shooting puts serious limits on his upside with the starting rotation. Given Portland’s lack of depth at point guard, Turner is probably more equipped to direct the second unit.

Harkless—who isn’t a great outside shooter himself—is able to complement the players in the starting lineup on both ends of the floor. He can relieve Lillard and McCollum of a tough assignment on defense, and he isn’t dependent on having the ball in his hands on offense.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Portland makes changes to their starting lineup throughout the season, but I am putting my money on Harkless for right now.

Blake Murphy: Noah Vonleh somehow just turned 22, despite three years in the NBA (maybe Bruno Caboclo is The Brazilian Noah Vonleh?) and the feeling that I’ve been excited for his breakout for two seasons now. How big a role does he figure to play this year? Will it be a little more consistent than the last two, where he saw fairly regular minutes but was in and out of the starting lineup? Will my long-term belief in him finally materialize in a meaningful impact for Portland?

Steve Dewald: Vonleh’s season has already endured a setback before the preseason, as it looks like a shoulder injury will cost him the first few weeks of the regular season. The former Indiana standout looked like he was ready to thrive next to Nurkic in the frontcourt, but he will likely return to a rotation that has younger options ahead of him. The Blazers drafted two players that can play power forward in the first round of the NBA Draft, and Caleb Swanigan is looking like he might be a steal.

Vonleh’s contract situation doesn’t make things any easier, as he is headed for restricted free agency this summer. With the Blazers already hurting for cash, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey will likely focus on getting a deal done with Nurkic first.

Raptors updates
The Raptors struggled some in their second preseason outing, down Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell. Lowry was just resting and should be back here, though the strategy of getting him a game off certainly suggests the same might be coming for DeMar DeRozan or Serge Ibaka at some point over the next three games. Powell would have played were it a regular season game, according to Casey, so there’d seem to be a good chance he returns from an ankle strain here.

Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet looked competent in Lowry’s absence but K.J. McDaniels had a tough go in Powell’s slot, so it’s possible another wing gets a longer look here. The Raptors stayed consistent in giving Bruno Caboclo and Pascal Siakam the backup forward minutes, which makes sense given their relative inexperience and the need to find out what they can contribute this year. Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl have traded the backup center spot, with each looking better against third-stringers than primary players (shocker). Nogueira has been a little better overall, and so I’d expect him to get the next shot at that spot. If Powell plays, there’s a case to be made they should at least see how he looks with the starters. C.J. Miles seems like a nice fit through two exhibitions, even without his shot falling.

Assuming relative health and no rest, here’s how the rotation might look:

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

Check back in the pre-game news and notes for firm updates on the starting small forward and the status of Powell and OG Anunoby, who is yet to appear in an official preseason game.

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: DeRozan 44, Ibaka 39, Valanciunas 34, Lowry 20
Competition 1: Miles 43, Powell 20
Competition 2: Nogueira 32, Poeltl 23
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 46, VanVleet 31
Competition 4: McKinnie 22, Rautins 13, McDaniels 12, Wiltjer 8, Meeks 3
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 45, Caboclo 34, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 12, Miller 0

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Trail Blazers updates
As Steve and I discussed above, the Blazers have a lot of questions to answer in camp, and some of them may end up with only temporary answers heading into the season. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are locked in and are varying degrees of awesome. After that, it’s wide open – Evan Turner and old friend Ed Davis got the starting nods Tuesday, but Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and heck, even Caleb Swanigan might have a claim to start at least one preseason game. (Hot take: Since all preseason is garbage time and Jake Layman is the garbage time efficiency king, starting Jake Layman is the best path to winning preseason games). So, who knows how Terry Stotts will trot them out Thursday? One thing’s clear, at least: Archie Goodwin isn’t going to touch the floor after playing negative minutes in the opener:

Shabazz Napier missed Tuesday’s preseason game with a hamstring injury but returned to practice Wednesday. C.J. Wilcox has also been dealing with a knee injury and is yet to play in the preseason. Noah Vonleh, as Steve mentioned earlier, suffered a shoulder strain last week and is expected to miss about a month.

PG: Damian Lillard, (Shabazz Napier), Isaiah Briscoe
SG: C.J. McCollum, Pat Connaughton, (C.J. Wilcox), Archie Goodwin
SF: Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Jake Layman
PF: Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Caleb Swanigan
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard
TBD: Shabazz Napier, C.J. Wilcox
INJ: Noah Vonleh

The line

The preseason lines remain off the board.

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2017-18 Player Preview: Jakob Poeltl

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

One of the most interesting training camp battles of this preseason is the contest for being Jonas Valanciunas’ backup at center, one that never really seemed settled across last season. Lucas Nogueira started the season with the job, but as the season progressed he was eclipsed by rookie Jakob Poeltl, who saw his role continually increase as the season progressed, with double digit minutes in 15 of the last 17 games of the year.

Poeltl, who holds the distinction of being the only lottery pick made during Masai Ujiri’s tenure as general manager of the Raptors, will be one of the young players the team will be looking to this year to show growth and develop into a consistent member of the bench unit. During his rookie campaign, he did show some of the skills that had him drafted 9th overall, with his high basketball IQ and mobility. While he still needs to put on more muscle, he was able to get in position to still have an impressive offensive rebounding rate and showed nice touch around the basket, hitting a solid 61.4% of his shots within 3 feet, as well as 51.9% of his attempts from 3-10 feet.

Some of the areas where he was most impressive don’t show up on the score sheet. Poeltl is great at reading the defense after setting a screen, and showed a high aptitude for rolling into space to either receive a pass from the ball-handler or be in good position for the offensive rebound off a miss. He also showed solid defensive mobility getting back in transition and managing well for a player of his size guarding on the perimeter.

FURTHER READING: Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl lean on friendship in contrasting rookie seasons

Where Poeltl did struggle, however, was in dealing with stronger players who often were able to out-muscle him inside both for rebounds as well as on post-ups, with players shooting slightly above their season average at the rim when guarded by Jak. As well, his foul rate was a concern, with Poeltl averaging 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes and frequently finding himself in trouble shortly after checking into games. Going into his sophomore campaign, that’ll be a big area to look for him to improve, because if he can’t stay on the court he may find himself slipping in the rotation.

As well, during his rookie year, he took less than 5% of his shot attempts from outside 10 feet, and with the Raptors’ bevy of guards who like to attack at the rim, it helps the team tremendously when their big men can be threats from outside the paint to help draw out interior defenders. If Poeltl can manage to establish himself as an effective shooter at least from mid-range, it drastically increases his ability to be an effective offensive player for the Raptors. As well, as a more mobile big man, if he can show that shooting touch, it might enable him to be used beside either Nogueira or Jonas Valanciunas in big lineups, to further increase his playing time. He does have established chemistry with Delon Wright going back to their college days playing together at Utah, and with Wright likely moving into the backup spot at point guard, that may help Poeltl’s case for a larger role this year as well.

It’s clear that for the Raptors, they intend for Poeltl to be an important part of the team’s future, it’s just unclear how quickly that will happen. With Bebe also looking for a bigger role this season, the team may only need to find effective minutes from one of their two young big men, and Poeltl will need to show quickly that he belongs on a NBA court, and can stay out there when he is put in the game. For a team that runs the pick and roll as often as the Raptors do, a big man like Jakob who so adeptly navigates defenses to find himself in good position after setting the screen is a great asset to have, and if he can continue to grow and augment his game this could be a big year for the Austrian center.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – That was ugly

Host William Lou returns to break down the Raptors’ second preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Raptors fall to Clippers, split preseason Hawaii series

Raptors 84, Clippers 98 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Teams are not going to be perfect in the preseason.

That reality was worth keeping in mind for those who stayed up until some 3:30 in the morning to see the conclusion of the Toronto Raptors’ second preseason game, a rematch from Sunday’s victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. It did not go particularly well.

Again, preseason is the right place to get the sloppiness out, and as the Raptors work on fundamentally shifting their offensive identity and working a host of new and inexperienced characters into the mix, there will be a lot of bumps in the road. The first quarter on Tuesday, for example, was full of them, as the Raptors committed nine turnovers and opened the game 1-of-8 on thees and 7-of-20 overall. The quick trigger a lot of the players have clearly been mandated to employ led to some ugly misses from outside, and there were some growing paints in terms of moving the ball – while you can see the intention and even some solid passes (Jakob Poeltl made a nice dish to the perimeter after a Fred VanVleet pocket pass, for example), there are instances where it momentarily feels like the ball should always be in the hands of Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan (like when Bruno Caboclo once again struggles to execute a swing pass along the top).

Lowry, by the way, sat out to rest. Between his absence and the absence of Norman Powell in the second unit, there wasn’t a great deal of shot creating in the early going. DeRozan continued to look like a player trying to grow as a manipulator of defenses and had a beautiful post-up bucket against Danilo Gallinari, but teammates missing shots proved problematic for his final stat line. C.J. Miles hit an extremely deep three but missed two other early looks, and Serge Ibaka threw down a nice hammer but couldn’t otherwise make much of his seven shots in the first seven minutes.

https://twitter.com/Raptors/status/915449311084908544

The bench group – which included Poeltl in place of Lucas Nogueira and K.J. McDaniels in Powell’s slot – couldn’t get much going at all, with Fred VanVleet-led pick-and-rolls the only thing breaking down the defense even a little, outside of some Pascal Siakam theatrics. The stagnant offense in the back half of the quarter had the Raptors down 28-19 early, a number that could have looked better had their problems not also flooded over to the free-throw line, where they were 3-of-9.

Oh, and Milos Teodosic is out here making basketballs fly and hearts swell. How do you not love a guy capable of passes like this?

The second quarter didn’t start any better, with Caboclo struggling at both ends of the floor (patience remains necessary, and he settled in a bit later) and McDaniels joining him with some understandable but ineffective over-zealousness. VanVleet continued to try to be the attacker the unit needed him to be, and he stayed on the floor even as Delon Wright came back in, a potential harbinger of some second units when Lowry needs extended rest. The starters filtering back in did little to help with the lob-heavy Clippers attack, and the absence of Lowry was palpable, even in a preseason game, when DeRozan was off the floor. It’s two games in a row there’s been no look at a potential Lowry-and-bench group, so it’s hard to get a gauge how they might play normally. At least the team did a decent job of continuing to find Jonas Valanciunas (who was once again embracing the new system, by the looks of it), when he wasn’t getting called for fouls for just being large.

The offense picked up with a full starting contingent in again, which is encouraging. DeRozan was DeRozan, Ibaka drilled a three, and Wright made a tough finish through contact, and while stops were still at a premium the other way, they looked more like a reasonable facsimile of themselves with four starters (plus Wright) working together. Miles is a nice fit with this group, by the way, even if there’s a defensive trade-off – he just commands a ton of attention away from the ball, and he’s more of a threat to attack a closeout than the Raptors are accustomed to from their fourth or fifth starter. Wright’s ability to push on the break can be big, too, as he’s tough to keep up with and track on the move in space.

The defense, though, was presented some challenges thanks to the incredibly fun Clippers’ attack, which saw plenty of dunks, Blake Griffin continuing to put the world on notice he’s primed for an enormous year, and Ibaka growing frustrated enough to pick up a technical foul. And Teodosic…just, come on.

All told, the Raptors found themselves in a 62-48 hole at the break, a gap that would have been wider had DeRozan not made a couple of great plays in the closing minute. It was maybe a more reasonably well-played half than the deficit suggests, at least for some players (DeRozan, Valanciunas, Wright, and VanVleet in particular), and there wasn’t enough of the newer (or at least lightly used) motion offensive principles to evaluate. There’s a lot of new stuff to work on, so it’s not all going to be on display and all working every half of the preseason.

The third got off to a better start. The Raptors ran a motion set out of the gate that utilized Valanciunas in a less predictable way (he missed, but that’s not really the point), then the extra pass on a DeRozan-Ibaka pick-and-pop gave Wright a seam to attack, dumping off to Valanciunas for an easy two. The Raptors turned the ball over in the backcourt shortly after, but even then, Ibaka provided some nice defense and the Clippers were forced into a shot-clock violation.

https://twitter.com/Raptors/status/915467570534391808

Things got a little silly at that point. Ibaka and Griffin got into it a bit after fighting for a rebound on a free-throw, and the fault probably falls on Ibaka, who’d been frustrated a fair chunk of the game (perhaps with his own struggles) and was lucky not to pick up a second technical here. He did get a fifth personal. Then Griffin passed to DeAndre Jordan but Jordan literally ducked and the ball went out of bounds. Like I said: It got a little silly. It also caused Griffin to decide to put an end to the competitive portion of the exhibition, hitting a touch bucket in close and then a nice hook shot before Gallinari got to the line and made it an 18-point game midway through the quarter. He followed with a three and a ludicrous spinning mid-range jumper over Siakam’s outstretched arm.

The nice thing about the preseason is that minutes in blowouts still matter, so while Griffin may have called “game” with 17 minutes still on the clock, there were still 17 valuable minutes for the Raptors to play with. Dwane Casey went back to the same second unit as the first half – logical given they want to get a longer look at guys rather than three-to-five minute bursts – and Caboclo rewarded the extended opportunity with a nice dump-off pass to Poeltl for a foul. The speed came out a bit again, with VanVleet pushing in transition or zooming around picks off the ball and Siakam barreling toward the rim but somehow staying in control enough to get his own rebound. Poeltl put himself in position to do some nice things, too, but had trouble finishing at the rim and the free-throw line.

Casey went deeper into the bench late in the quarter, downsizing with Caboclo, McDaniels, and Alfonzo MckInnie as interchangeable wings, which sounds like one hell of a Raptors 905 option for Jerry Stackhouse to smother teams with (all three won’t be down there, but let a Hershey Centre regular dream). They entered the fourth down 28, Lorenzo Brown and Lucas Nogueira came in off the bench, and a combination of depth and regression helped narrow the gap from there. One of my favorite things about these otherwise-garbage-time scenarios is that the minutes still mean a ton to the players playing and to the coaches evaluating, and so the effort level doesn’t really slow, even if the context of the game makes any extrapolation difficult. Give me annoying VanVleet presses and guards crashing the offensive glass to make a good impression and Nogueira getting handsy in passing lanes and Siakam flying over an earlier bedtime any day.

That the Raptors managed to actually make it somewhat of a game requires the contextual factors to be appreciated, but a plus-14 mark as a group over seven minutes and change is always going to be an encouraging result, even if it was much too little and more than a bit too late. Nogueira, in particular, made a strong case to once again be the second center into the game on Thursday, and Siakam had a great stretch. What Casey’s rotation looks like as the games draw closer to dress rehearsals should be really interesting. You can check the quick reaction for more player-by-player evaluation (this is already quite long for a preseason blowout recap, even by my long-winded standards).

It’s still a loss, one in which the Raptors committed 26 turnovers, tallied just 15 assists, and shot 6-of-36 on threes. It was anything but perfect, despite the positive signs at times. Perfect’s not a reasonable expectation right now. Change is hard, and the preseason is notoriously sloppy. The important thing from here for the Raptors will be learning from and building on some of the challenges from this one rather than using them as cause to go back to what’s worked in the past. There should be enough perspective here to recognize that growth is not linear and requires patience. Thursday’s game in Portland should be telling, and there will be a more defined measuring stick for progress after two games, one good and one less good.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 84, Clippers 98

Note: ESPN’s box scores weren’t working tonight, and that’s where the Quick Reaction normally pulls from. So forgive the hand-made notes and grades for tonight, and for any delay in getting them up.

Kyle Lowry – DNP (rest)
Norman Powell – DNP (ankle)
OG Anunoby – DNP (knee)

Malcolm Miller – DNP (ankle)

DeMar DeRozan – 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 6/11 FGA, 1/2 3PA, 2/4 FTA – A+
In a game where not much seemed to go right for the Raptors, this was a great performance from DeMar. He’s really embraced the new offensive philosophies through two preseason games, and has been a willing passer letting the game come to him at that end of the floor, and creating for his teammates frequently. This not only makes the guys around him better, but also makes him a more dangerous scorer by forcing the defense to respect the pass to a greater degree.

Serge Ibaka – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers, 3/9 FGA, 1/5 3PA – D
Serge did have some nice individual moments, including two big blocks and a nice driving dunk early in the game, but overall the team simply needs more from him. His shooting was once again off, and he looked like he was forcing his offense while also having trouble with not turning it over when he passed. Despite the blocks, he wasn’t really a force on the defensive end either.

Jonas Valanciunas- 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 5/7 FGA, 1/1 FTA – A
Next to DeRozan, Valanciunas was the best Raptor for large stretches. The team made a concerted effort once again to put him in a position to succeed on the offensive end, and he converted those opportunities. He didn’t have the four assists he gave the team in the first preseason game, but he does look to be committed to the changes the team wants in their offense.

C.J. Miles – 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1/8 FGA, 1/6 3PA – C-
Miles was acquired this summer to be a sharpshooter to complement the team’s offensive stars, and he hasn’t shown that through two games of the preseason. He once again struggled with his shot despite some good looks, and he didn’t really seem to bring much else to the table.

Delon Wright – 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 3/6 FGA, 0/3 3PA – C
I’m grading on a curve here with Delon a little bit, because Kyle Lowry sitting out the game left some awfully big shoes for him to fill. He worked admirably on the defensive end, but he’s clearly not ready for running the show offensively, and despite working hard throughout the game, this wasn’t his best game.

Fred VanVleet – 13 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 3 steals, 2 turnovers, 3/7 FGA, 1/4 3PA, 6/7 FTA – A
Where Delon struggled to run the offense without one of the team’s stars, Fred has continued to look extremely comfortable. He brought an intensity to the game that helped the end score look much closer than the game actually was, and he might get a look at being the team’s backup point guard if he can sustain this intensity for the remainder of the preseason.

K.J. McDaniels – 2 points, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 1/4 FGA, 0/2 3PA, 0/2 FTA – D
McDaniels was the first camp invite off the bench, and he looked like he was trying too hard to make a big play to make his splash. He was really forcing his game and it just wasn’t working in this game. Needs to let things come to him more and work within the team concepts.

Pascal Siakam – 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, 5 turnovers, 4/8 FGA, 1/2 3PA, 0/2 FTA – B+
Overall a nice game for Siakam, with him showing some nice touch in the first half finishing an awkward alley-oop with a nice layup, and also hitting a three during the late rally to keep the game close. He provided offense on a night when not many guys did. He struggled guarding Blake Griffin in the second half, where he gives up a lot of strength in that matchup and it showed.

Jakob Poeltl – 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 1/2 FGA, 1/4 FTA – C-
Tough night for Jakob, who got the first call at center off the bench. He picked up several offensive fouls trying to barge his way inside against savvy defenders. Poeltl managed to still show his savvy on the offensive boards and had some positive moments, but for the most part just failed to have much of an impact when he was in the game.

Bruno Caboclo – 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 0/3 FGA, 0/3 3PA – D+
Bruno’s first half was a mess, he looked out of place and seemed once again like the game was just moving too fast for him to keep up. In the second half, however, he managed a couple of nice moments including some great positional defense and a nice drive and dish for a bucket from Poeltl. Still a big project, but he did give us a couple moments that showed why the team drafted him. Needs to show more of those moments as the preseason progresses.

Lorenzo Brown – 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 2/8 FGA, 0/3 3PA – B
As the Raptors closed the score in the fourth quarter, Brown played a big role, bringing energy and aggressiveness. Definitely would’ve been nice to see him hit a few more shots, but he looked comfortable on the floor and had a team-high +14. One of the brightest spots of the camp invites tonight.

Alfonzo McKinnie – 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1/5 FGA, 1/3 3PA, 2/2 FTA – C+
McKinnie also gave the team some good minutes late, with a nice put-back dunk and a three during the fourth quarter rally. Showed off his athleticism and played some good defense as well.

Kyle Wiltjer – 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0/1 FGA – C
He played just the last three minutes of the game, and didn’t really have any noticeable impact aside from picking up a foul and missing a three-point attempt.

Andy Rautins – 2 points, 1 rebound, 1/2 FGA, 0/1 3PA – C+
Rautins didn’t make much of a mark on the box score, but his activity was noticeable and he was working hard while he was on the court.

Lucas Nogueira – 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 1/3 FGA, 0/1 3PA – B
Bebe got all of his minutes late in this game, and showed the rim protection that had him playing in the rotation for portions of last season. It wasn’t the most impressive game from him, but through the first two preseason games, he’s shown more than Jakob Poeltl has and may have the upper hand on the backup center position at this point.

Dwane Casey – B+
With Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell sitting out the night, Casey was trying some different things rotationally. Some of it worked, some didn’t, but he gets credit for DeRozan and Valanciunas once again looking in synergy on the offensive end. If he can keep those guys bought in, it should help the offense this year. The team needs to find some defensive solutions though, as they’ve struggled there through these two games.

Things We Saw

  1. Milos Teodosic is a lot of fun. He put on a show dissecting the Raptors defense, and had a gorgeous full-court underhanded pass for a transition bucket. He’s a special passer, and will make the Clippers an entertaining team this year.
  2. The Raptors shooting has been a storyline so far in the preseason, and not for good reasons. After struggling on Sunday, they went 6/36 from deep in this one. It’s just preseason, but there’s only three games to go and they need to find someone who can hit from downtown.
  3. The bench is a concern right now. During the season they’ll likely have DeRozan or Lowry on the court with them as much as possible, but it’ll be hard to keep their minutes from getting out of hand if the team can’t find a way to get minutes where they can sit.
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Pre-game news & notes: Lowry rests, Powell sits with ankle injury

It’s been about 48 hours since the Toronto Raptors topped the Los Angeles Clippers in a fun preseason opener. They’ll look to do the same again tonight while most Raptors fans are either sleeping or fighting to stay awake, weary of the morning that is to follow. A 1 a.m. tip-off time is something else. There’s little sense complaining, though – basketball is back, and a little less sleep has hardly been an impediment to consuming it in vast amounts in the past. Plus, Michael Beasley and the AL Wild Card game were around to get us through to 1. And caffeine. So much caffeine.

What you’re looking for from the Raptors tonight is three-fold: Whether they continue to fire up 3-point attempts at a ludicrous pace or whether that was a two-session blip to get everyone into the shoot-when-open mentality; If the notable improvements in willingness to pass that have been on display for stretches continues, or if additional playing time sees the team regress a bit to its base state on offense; and whether any of the players in position battles get a second consecutive shot at locking them down, or if head coach Dwane Casey is, in fact, trying to get longer looks at a few different guys, effectively flipping some of the second unit in tonight’s game.

And any other reasons for optimism. Obviously. It’s all about the optimism right now.

The game tips off at 1 a.m. on TSN 1 and 4. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Last time out, we saw C.J. Miles start at the small forward position while Norman Powell led a youth-heavy second unit. Powell won’t get a turn at starting or solidifying himself as the sixth man here, as he’s dealing with what the team is calling a right ankle strain. That should open up plenty of opportunity on the wing for K.J. McDaniels, Andy Rautins, Bruno Caboclo, and Alfonzo McKinnie, not to mention OG Anunoby if he plays (his status is yet to be confirmed).

Joining Powell on the sidelines will be Kyle Lowry, who is resting. In other words, he’s already over the preseason, he’s ready to go, and the team wouldn’t mind longer looks at Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet as they look to step into much bigger roles this season. Nothing to panic about here. You can probably expect DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka to sit at some point, too, as the Raptors look to get 20 players involved and keep their stars fresh ahead of Oct. 19.

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

Check back for a firm update on starters and Anunoby.

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Lowry 20ish, DeRozan 20ish, Ibaka 19, Valanciunas 20
Competition 1: Miles 18, Powell 20ish
Competition 2: Nogueira 21, Poeltl 7
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 22ish, VanVleet 12
Competition 4: McKinnie 7, Rautins 5, Wiltjer 4, McDaniels 0, Meeks 0
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 24, Caboclo 20, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 0, Miller 0

Clippers updates
While the Raptors escaped the preseason opener unharmed, the Clippers got a little dinged up  Austin Rivers is out tonight due to a strained glute, which sounds immensely uncomfortable. Brad Turner reports that walking basketball miracle Milos Teodosic is expected to start in his place. Doc Rivers will probably stagger his point guards some, but Teodosic’s fit with the starters should be interesting to watch given the number of ball-handlers and imitators the team will have on the court at once. It should be no issue for Patrick Beverley, at least, who has ample experience working without the ball on the offensive end of the floor.

Here’s roughly how things look under the assumption Teodosic draws into a two-point guard starting lineup:

PG: Milos Teodosic, Jawun Evans, Tyrone Wallace
SG: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Wesley Johnson, Sam Dekker, LaDontae Henton, Jamil Wilson
PF: Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Marshall Plumlee, Willie Reed
INJ: Austin Rivers

Assorted

  • The NBA announced Tuesday that they have tweaked the format for the All-Star Game starting this year. At the suggestion of NBPA head Chris Paul, the league wanted to spice up the proceedings a bit, so we’re now done with East vs. West. Fans will still vote on rosters by conference, and each conference will still have the same number of players represented, but now teams will be determined by two captains picking sides.
    • Yes, hockey tried this and it was pretty lame. Basketball is not hockey. There’s way more personality involved here, and way more potential for fun (and shade).
    • An idea, if I may: Have the captains responsible for not only the Sunday team but the teams on Saturday and Friday night, too. That way, hypothetical captains could be forced with the decision of whether to pick a top teammate, a top rookie/sophomore, or maybe even the favorite in the Slam Dunk Contest to try to give them the best odds of winning the weekend overall.
    • You can almost taste one of the Raptors being selected last and giving them a #ProveEm boost for the stretch run already.
  • NBA Canada sent along the top-selling jerseys for NBAStore.com in Canada for the 2016-17 season:
  • We’ve passed this along on Twitter, but if you follow us and @GetInTheAction and RT the post below, you’ll have a chance to win two tickets to the home opener. No strings attached other than following both accounts and RTing. We’re exploring more ways to be able to give stuff away during the season, so let’s give GetInTheAction a reason to keep hooking the RR community up.
  • I didn’t know where else to put this, so I’ll repeat it from Sunday in case it was missed: As I’ve passed along in the past, Drake’s original deal with the Raptors spanned four years, which means through the 2016-17 season. I can’t confirm whether that deal was extended or re-upped, but the partnership between Drake and the Raptors is once again a “multi-year” one. Expect Drake Night V and the usual OVO tie-in to be announced sometime around the turn of the calendar.

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board. Some others have lines, though, and it’s making me jealous we can’t pretend bet on this one.

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Raptors 905 to face London Lightning in preseason

Poto credit: KarynStepien.cohm

Raptors 905 announced their preseason schedule for the 2017-18 season on Tuesday, and they’ll once again be squaring off with some competition from Canada’s NBL.

The 905 will head to London, Ontario, to play the defending champion London Lightning on Oct. 28 this year. The Lightning are led by former NBA first-round pick and reigning NBL MVP Royce White, who averaged 20.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in 49 games. (I caught up with White at the start of last season, if you’re interested in more.)

The defending G-League champs will then return home to Hershey Centre to host the Eric Bayhawks on Oct. 30. And that’s it! A tidy two-game preseason, and then things officially get under way on Nov. 5.

What the 905 roster will look like is a big question mark at present, heavily contingent on how final cuts with the parent club Toronto Raptors come down.

Date Opponent Venue Time
Saturday, October 28 London Lightning Budweiser Gardens 7 p.m.
Monday, October 30 Erie BayHawks Hershey Centre 7 p.m.
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2017-18 Player Preview: K.J. McDaniels

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

K.J. McDaniels is the embodiment of the American Dream. Coming out after three years at Clemson as a high-flying, shot-blocking wing, McDaniels refused the standard team-friendly rookie deal that the Philadelphia 76ers offered him and instead signed his required tender – a one-year, non-guaranteed contract at the rookie minimum. The concept would be that McDaniels would forgo the traditional three- or four-year deal near the minimum that most second-round picks sign and become a restricted free agent before his second year in the league, allowing him to make far more money. If things broke right. He bet on himself, trying to make millions through sheer will, effort, and 10,000-inch vertical (or something).

However, McDaniels was one of many players whose value may have been inflated over the course of The Process in Philadelphia – Michael Carter-Williams also comes to mind – and he was traded during his rookie year to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a second round draft pick. While he seemingly scored, rebounded, and defended well in Philadelphia, McDaniels quickly fell out of the rotation in Houston. He still signed a 3 year, $10-million contract (effectively winning the bet he placed on himself) that summer, but McDaniels never contributed in Houston. Last year, he was traded to Brooklyn.

While hope was once high for a young McDaniels to become a high-flying sensation, the onus is now on the 24-year-old to prove that he belongs in the NBA. From an un-hyped freshman in college to a highlight star in his rookie year (potentially with the dunk of the year in his self-assisted Kobe dunk) to a partial-guarantee camp-deal vet in just his fourth year in the league, McDaniels has truly followed the rags to riches to rags path.

I don’t usually like to post unadulterated highlight videos just to beef up a piece, but it’s worth including one here just to show how Philadelphia was so easily able to boost the value of the athletic guard:

But is McDaniels anything more than an athlete? Over the course of his young journeyman career, he has had a somewhat high usage rate for a role player, hovering around 19 percent (20 percent is average). He’s a poor passer who’s turned the ball over on more than twice as many possessions as he’s created assists on. And despite a willingness to shoot and a reputation as a potential 3-and-D player, McDaniels has never topped 30.3 percent on 3-point attempts over the course of a full season. He shot just 31.3 percent on threes in college, too, and he’s only ever really had a sustained hot streak during a 16-game G-League stint in 2015-16 (35.3 percent on 85 attempts).

Here is a shot chart for McDaniels from his only high-minute season, his rookie year:

That’s a lot of blue for a so-called shooter and finisher, even if it’s only 150 3-point attempts and fewer than 300 inside the arc. He has shown an ability to get to the free-throw line, at least, with a 29.8-percent free-throw rate, but that’s only been enough to reach league average in true-shooting percentage once. (He also improved notably as a finisher at the rim last year, which helps, and hopefully suggests improvement in that area despite a small sample).

On the other side of the court, his defense has been based more on flash and highlights than consistent effort or smarts. As Blake pointed out last week, McDaniels does own the highest block percentage ever for someone 6-foot-6 or under, it just hasn’t resulted in much of a consistent impact. There’s still a lot to prove there.

At this point in his career, expecting McDaniels to be anything more than a garbage time sensation is probably a bit too much, if he even cracks the squad. Athletic players sometimes are able to put it together later in their careers to become meaningful players, but McDaniels has never shown anything more in his game than highlights, at least on a consistent basis. Until we see him on the floor in the preseason, it’s a bit of a leap to just believe that will have changed in a Raptors uniform.

The Raptors haven’t lost anything by adding him to the training camp roster, and he will be given a fair shot to compete for a roster position. It makes sense as a tryout flier. However, it is unlikely McDaniels will agree to play for the 905 (he can reject an assignment and would probably try to sign elsewhere or overseas if waived). He is in a Raptor-or-bust position. Perhaps his game has changed enough that he can offer a few valuable minutes if injuries strike DeMar DeRozan or Norman Powell. McDaniels should only serve to make more fun the last few minutes of blowout games, which is, in a way, the modern American Dream.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 3

Yes, the Toronto Raptors next preseason game goes tonight, in Hawaii, against the Los Angeles Clippers. No, it wasn’t actually late last night, as a few asked while searching for it on TV. No, it’s not actually Wednesday, which Raptors.com says because the game technically starts very early Wednesday morning due to the time difference between Toronto and Hawaii. This one goes down late tonight, the end of the Raptors’ stay in Honolulu.

And it should be another fun one. The Raptors really pushed the tempo in the meeting between the two teams on Sunday night, firing up 43 threes as they look to break everyone’s collective reticence with the long ball. They didn’t shoot particularly well, but that’s going to happen both as you shoot a high volume of a high-variance shot and as you iron out some new offensive principles. The ball moved a little more freely, there were more nice passes than we’re accustomed to, and most players showed at least a little something encouraging. And they won! Which is obviously the most important thing in the preseason.

Expect a slightly different looking Raptors team tonight as they try to work everyone in and get a good look at those competing for roster or rotation spots. Look for the positives, and let yourself be excited by them. Note the negatives, but don’t get too bogged down by them for now. The preseason is about optimism. Let’s save the dread for the regular season.

The game tips off at 1 a.m. (Eastern) on TSN.

To help set the stage for the last game, I reached out to Lucas Hann of Clips Nation. I’m just going to run the Q&A back, because I doubt much has changed in one preseason game and I’m not sure everyone would have caught it on Sunday.

Blake Murphy: Obviously, there’s been a lot of meaningful overhaul in L.A. this summer. Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are out, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Milos Teodosic (!) are in, and along with some other tweaks at the margins, this should be a fundamentally different looking Clippers team despite two important holdovers. Now that things have settled some, where is your general confidence level with the Clippers repeating the regular-season success they’ve had during the Paul era in their first year without him?

Lucas Hann: I’m not sure that I’m overly confident that the Clippers can repeat their Chris Paul-era success, but I do think they’ll be relatively successful. Their 51 wins last season was their worst total of the Chris Paul era (56 was closer to the average), and I’d be pretty ecstatic to see a 51-31 record out of the Clippers this season. I think that the low 50s is near the best-case scenario for these Clippers, and there’s very few realities where they break into the 55+ range. I’m expecting 46-48 wins this season, which I think is reasonable because the roster remains incredibly talented and deep, despite obviously downgrading from last season. That’s not quite a continuation of recent success, but it’s a pretty strong campaign nonetheless.

Blake Murphy: A big part of the gameplan would seem to be putting the ball in Griffin’s hands more. One of the most talented frontcourt passers in the NBA, he’s rivaled by only Teodosic for playmaking skill on this roster. Gallinari should really help, too. How significant do you think the team’s stylistic changes will be as a result, and what’s going to be their biggest hurdle on the offensive end?

Lucas Hann: One common misconception about Chris Paul is that he plays up-tempo. This may be a result of his high assist totals, with fans assuming that that means he likes to push the pace. In reality, CP3 is a control freak in the best sense of the word–he doesn’t like up-tempo, transition basketball because it necessitates chaos, and he prefers a half-court style where he can control every detail of the offense. Built around Paul and Griffin, the Clippers frequently employed lineups where only those two were comfortable with the ball in their hands–Redick and Jordan simply finished plays with jumpshots and dunks, and Mbah a Moute hid from the ball whenever possible. The Clippers’ new lineups will feature offensive threats at almost every position, and they’re going to push the ball way more. This means there will be more mistakes, but a lot more ball movement and a higher tempo as well.

Blake Murphy: For the last few years, the Raptors and Clippers have had a kind of spiritual kinship, both firmly guarding the second tier in their respective conference with the specter of an elite team blocking their path to the finals. The Raptors are still mostly in that position, retaining Kyle Lowry where the Clippers saw Paul depart. Are our fanbses still united in this sense, or has the lens for Clippers fans shifted for the more or less optimistic? (A clunky way of asking: Are we still doomed together but ready to enjoy it for what it’s worth?)

Lucas Hann: First of all, love you guys (hey Sean!). It really is true to say that in recent years we’ve been Clippers East and Raptors West, respectively. I think in a way, both teams’ situations have gotten worse in the last few months. The Clippers, despite their solid off-season considering the circumstances, got worse this summer. The Raptors, who were already notably short of competing with the Cavaliers, saw a strong summer from the Celtics knock them squarely back in the hierarchy. We’re absolutely doomed in the short term, but I’m going to enjoy both teams this season regardless. Going forward (in the next 3 years or so), both teams are pretty close to breaking through but will need a little bit of luck. In this respect, Lowry’s age is probably a significant negative for Toronto’s hopes.

Blake Murphy: Why didn’t the new CBA contain a clause that requires teams to fly bloggers to any exhibition games taking place in Hawaii?

Lucas Hann: Speak for yourself. The reason I needed three days to respond to this e-mail is because I’ve been on a Honolulu beach under an umbrella for 72 hours straight.

Blake Murphy: I hate you.

Raptors updates
The preseason opener may have tipped head coach Dwane Casey’s hand about plans for the coming season, or at least how he figures to try to line things up initially. If you’re counting at home, that means C.J. Miles starting while Norman Powell plays the Sixth Man role as an important offensive focal point, it means Delon Wright over Fred VanVleet at point guard, it means Bruno Caboclo and Pascal Siakam manning the backup forward spots, and it means Lucas Nogueira ahead of Jakob Poeltl at the backup center spot. Of those notes, Nogueira over Poeltl is perhaps the most surprising given the power of inertia, and while Caboclo in the 10th-man role is something that would take some getting used to (and on-the-job growth), the Raptors probably don’t figure to employ full hockey-style line changes with their two units once the season starts.

Of course, it’s also a preseason game, and there’s a strong argument to be made for getting a few long looks at guys rather than more short looks. Or rather, Nogueira playing 21 minutes on Sunday and Poeltl playing 21 minutes tonight is probably a better evaluation tool than them both playing 10 minutes in each game. Casey could come out tonight starting Powell, playing VanVleet as the second point guard, giving Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels (or whomever) run at the forward spots, and playing Poeltl over Nogueira.

They have four more games to experiment and tweak. There’s probably a sense of urgency for some of the fringe players, though. The Raptors play again Thursday, then return home (finally) for three days of practice before their next preseason game. It would stand to reason that Casey would probably like to have some idea of his in-season plans so the mini-camp can operate accordingly.

In any case, here’s how the rotation looked Sunday:

G: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, K.J. McDaniels, Andy Rautins
SF: C.J. Miles, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie, (OG Anunoby)
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Wiltjer
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Kennedy Meeks
TBD: OG Anunoby
INJ: Malcolm Miller

Check back in the pre-game news and notes for firm updates on the starting small forward and the status of Anunoby.

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Lowry 20ish, DeRozan 20ish, Ibaka 19, Valanciunas 20
Competition 1: Miles 18, Powell 20ish
Competition 2: Nogueira 21, Poeltl 7
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 22ish, VanVleet 12
Competition 4: McKinnie 7, Rautins 5, Wiltjer 4, McDaniels 0, Meeks 0
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 24, Caboclo 20, Anunoby 0
Two-Ways: Brown 0, Miller 0

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that has exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Clippers updates
The Clippers have a lot of similar questions to the Raptors, and they may have found answers pretty quickly. Patrick Beverley starting over Milos Teodosic makes sense to balance playmaking across units, Lou Williams coming off the bench behind Austin Rivers lets Lou Williams be Lou Williams, and their remaining questions are probably going to be fluid battles (mostly at the forward positions) when things get going. The Clippers may also eschew sitting some of their key players out as they work to install some new offensive principles, even if Blake Griffin quite clearly doesn’t need any more tuning up to be regular season ready.

Here’s roughly how things looked on Sunday:

PG: Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Jawun Evans, Tyrone Wallace
SG:Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Wesley Johnson, Jamil Wilson, Sam Dekker, LaDontae Henton
PF: Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Willie Reed, Marshall Plumlee

The line

The preseason lines remain off the board.

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2017-2018 Player Preview: Fred VanVleet

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

Gather round and let me let you in on a little secret I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot of this year of our league lord, the 2017-2018 NBA season: Fred VanVleet is going to be your guy.

Hear me out. He’s already got a successful clothing line and a smile that could be harnessed for generating power. But if those things don’t convince you on the spot, why not let Kyle Lowry take a crack at it.

Lowry spoke candidly during this year’s Raptors Media Day on VanVleet, specifically that he thinks Fred is better than he was at that age and stage in his career. So what does it take to be your favourite Raptor’s favourite Raptor?

FURTHER READING: Everyone on the Raptors is raving about Fred VanVleet’s off-season, except Fred VanVleet

The fact that their playing styles are eerily similar doesn’t hurt. Fred’s drives at the basket when guys give him an inch, how he uses his smaller frame to press into the paint and the way he’ll throw his whole body into the mix almost like an afterthought could all be torn from the book of Lowry. His perseverance, too, and how dogged he can be about disruption and looking for windows to make a steal.

And his perseverance has paid off. In Summer League, VanVleet was shooting around 55 percent, way up from his 35 percent during the tail end of the Raptors regular season. Being on court for longer than a 16 minutes a game helped, but so does his quiet work ethic.

Raptors assistant coach, Patrick Mutombo, referenced VanVleet’s tenacity after his 31-point game during Summer League, “He has a quiet force about him, he gets to the paint and tries to finish. He’s not very tall, so he’s got to be skilled in there. He puts in a lot of work.”

VanVleet’s poised to be the team’s third string guard, coming in after Delon Wright and ostensibly taking whatever minutes are given to him this year, though it would be pretty dumb not to give him at least an even split with Wright for playing time, if only and especially coming in out of this summer of Fred. A lot has been said about the culture reset within the franchise and how much rests on the rookies this year—largely due to everyone who was traded away during the summer, instead of the better reason of the Raptors young dudes finally getting their due—and if we don’t see the bench and co. getting time on the court from game 1, not to be alarmist, but I’d begin to question the depth of the reboot.

There’s another reason to trust VanVleet with more minutes, and it’s how careful and precise a player he can be. Chalk it up to going undrafted, or that he’s considered nearly ancient by rookie standards, but his maturity and unflappability on court make him a solid presence and could transform him into a steady and even-handed playmaker. Even when he’s driving, he doesn’t rush, and he seems to have a knack for knowing when to pull back that even Lowry doesn’t always have a handle on.

Hints of this were evident in the Raptors first pre-season game against the Clippers, with Fred decisively, if a bit probing, leading the bench in the final quarter. He had some solid shots including a rare Raptors 3-pointer, three rebounds, a couple assists, a steal and added eight points to the eventual win, all in a paltry twelve minutes of playing time.

It’s fair if up until now you hardly noticed VanVleet (I mean, it’s been your great loss but it’s fair). He’s plagued by one of the worst afflictions in the current NBA climate: an unassuming playing style and consistency. In a league that just had one of its wildest summers in memory, with huge names making franchise ending and resuscitate decisions, a guy like Fred isn’t going to get a lot of attention. Add to that playing on a team that some might consider made zero off-season moves as the sole focus of the franchise was shoring up its biggest assets and offloading some salary. As an aside I consider that a more interesting strategic measure, given what could be possible mid-season when Masai Ujiri tends to like making his biggest moves anyway. In essence, VanVleet is playing on a team perfectly suited to his style of play and development: a chronically discounted team who has to work twice as hard to get credit and therein creates the perfect conditions for a healthy chip on the shoulder and the bigger desire to prove it. It just takes looking a little harder to see that. And patience. Which understandably seems in short supply, given the last three Raptors season defeats can still feel as fresh as when they happened if you prod them in your memory just so.

So watch Fred VanVleet, that’s all I’m saying. Watch him as he gets subbed into each and every game with a look of determination on his face like it was the last he’ll ever play. Watch him throw his body around in a way that makes you wince, way up in the nosebleeds or balancing a plate of nachos on your lap at home. Watch him watch everything that’s happening around him, check for his guys and a split-second opening to the paint in equal measure. And watch this strange commercial Fred starred in back in his Wichita Shocker days, narrated by Ron Baker, where he went out for dinner with a big, angry, wholly conscious sheaf of wheat, and tell me you aren’t going to drop a bajillion dollars on a custom VANVLEET jersey in the Raptors team shop the first time you don’t eat dinner and have “just one more” drink at a game this year.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Raptors open preseason with a win over Clippers, tease new-look offence

The boys are back.

The Toronto Raptors opened up the 2017-18 preseason with a 121-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Always good to get a win over Austin Rivers, preseason or otherwise.

Toronto’s starters did the heavy-lifting in their first and third quarter shifts and the young talent did their job to get a win at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sherriff Centre.

Kyle Lowry led the way on offence. He only took five shots, four of them were threes, and he made 3. Lowry shot 8-8 from the line to bring his total to 17 points. Jonas Valanciunas was solid, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four (!) assists.

Of course, the necessary “it’s only preseason” caveats apply, but let’s talk Raptors. Here’s what we saw.

Starters look solid

Toronto’s starters put together an inspiring shift to open the season. On average, preseason ball is tough to watch but the Raptors rejigged offence looked coherent to open things. Kyle Lowry, looking fit as ever, was his bulldog self. DeRozan showed his typical crafty play. Some things don’t change.

What stood out was the passing. We won’t get passing numbers because there’s no SportVU data for this game, but the ball zipped around more and the stars were more willing to give it up.

And we have a real player starting at the three, which is really nice. C.J. Miles is as advertised – fluid, quick shot, capable going to the rim. It’s one game, but you can see why he was brought. on. He slots in real nice.

The #JVHive just got some good tape for their boy as Jonas put together one of his finer all-around games on offence. Valanciunas dropped four dimes, an impressive number considering he’s never had more than three in a regular season game. Magic Jonas is the future.

Changes to the offence

One of the big takeaways from media day was the insistence that Toronto would take more threes this season. Casey wasn’t lying: the Raps put up 43 attempts, led by Serge Ibaka with nine looks from distance. 43 is a staggering number: Toronto averaged 24.3 3PA/G last year, and the Houston Rockets took the most threes per game last year with 43. I don’t expect that number to hold, but they made a statement with that attempt number.

Toronto’s assist total is a welcome sight from the first preseason game. After finishing last in assists per game last year with 18.5, the Raptors had 22 on 39 makes. That’s about average compared to last seasons numbers, but it’s a step in the right direction either way.

Retooled bench needs reps (but we knew that)

We will rarely, if ever, see the all-bench units we witnessed and after tonight’s game, I can’t picture any Raptors fans calling for them. Dwane Casey rolled out a Wright/Powell/Caboclo/Siakam/Nogueira line-up multiple times in this game and the results were less than stellar. That shouldn’t be too surprising; Norm is the only NBA-proven shooter, and when he works the pick and roll, the spacing is shot.

There was a special kind of chaos with the bench units in the second quarter. Yes, the ball moved, but not with any purpose. Guys drive beat their man, but lack a plan on the way to the rim, resulting in some unexpected kick-outs. Granted, the Clippers were playing a pretty experienced line-up.

This stretch suggested that one of Lowry or DeRozan will be needed on-court to give the bench guys direction, which is fine in a vacuum, but means there is less flexibility to cut down on their minutes And if the first quarter struggles from recent seasons continue, you don’t have time to test out different line-ups or give guys opportunities to learn because you’re playing catch-up. This isn’t supposed to be any kind of revelation, just saying “hey, some things haven’t changed (yet).”

Norm had some great moments though. The Clippers were intent on ICEing Powell, but his long strides and lengthy wingspan put defenders on their heels and Powell finished well around the rim. I’m not sure how long we’ll seem teams defend Norm this way. His third-quarter dunk is also extremely worth your time.

The wing rotation gets a little clearer

C.J. Miles and Norm Powell both played well and one game does not make or break the rotation, but you could see the thought process from the coaching staff. Miles in the starting line-up gives a quick trigger shooter. Norm comes off the bench as an aggressive scoring punch that you can give the ball to if you need a drive. Powell’s ability as a creator remains a question mark, but I don’t think Toronto needs that from him right now.

Bruno Caboclo’s future is also becoming clearer: he is not an NBA player. He finished with six points on 2-8 shooting, and a good number of those shots were open threes coming from pass-outs following an offensive rebounds. This has to be the shot Bruno makes: if he can’t make an unguarded three catching the ball rhythm, what can we expect him to do? His only two-point field goal attempt was a right-handed lay-up which he air-balled. He had four turnovers. Bruno really doesn’t do anything at an NBA level.

This isn’t a surprising revelation but it is a disappointing one because we still have a hole in the rotation. O.G. Anunoby did not play, and while signs point to the rookie being ahead of schedule, the team has been tight-lipped on his timeline.

Toronto will have to continue to experiment at the wing spot to find out a solution to the lack of depth. Dwane Casey has the opportunity to do that on Wednesday Oct. 4 when they play the Clippers again in Hawaii.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – It’s almost here

Host William Lou files the weekly podcast from Argentina as preseason rounds thre corner.

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Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – As good a start as any

Blake Murphy and Vivek Jacob break down the preseason opener against the Los Angeles Clippers for an absent William Lou.

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 121, Clippers 113

LA Clippers 113 Final
Box Score
121 Toronto

C+
S. Ibaka19 MIN, 12 PTS, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-12 FG, 1-9 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Ibaka had one of the poorer showings in this game, shooting a bunch of triples and coming up short nearly every time. He was much more effective when he moved into the midrange, though he seemed more interested with floating around the perimeter. It’s only preseason, but having Ibaka shoot nine times from deep isn’t preferable.

A-
C. Miles18 MIN, 12 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 5-10 FG, 2-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

Miles is a sight for sore eyes after watching a battered Carroll hobble around last season. He moved well with and without the ball and his trademark marksmanship was in full effect. He’s going to be key to the Raptors spacing this year without the likes of Patterson or Tucker around.

A
J. Valanciunas20 MIN, 10 PTS, 10 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 4-5 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, None +/-

Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant shock in this game, Valanciunas seems to have bought into the idea of a changing Raptors culture more than any other player. He made several stellar passes, not all of which garnered him an assist. Aside from that, his usual rebounding and back-to-the-basket skills were utilized to a pleasantly tactful degree.

A+
K. Lowry16 MIN, 17 PTS, 1 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 3-5 FG, 3-4 3FG, 8-8 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, None +/-

It seemed like Lowry did very little, and indeed he only took five shots, but he was extremely efficient and looked to get his teammates involved with smart and well-timed passes. KLOE looks season-ready.

A
D. DeRozan15 MIN, 11 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

DeRozan also seems to have bought into the idea of a culture changing, which for him must be harder than anyone else given his play-style. He kept the ball moving, only stopping it a few times (to score), and helped keep the pace of the game up, giving him an advantage due to his athleticism.

B+
D. Wright28 MIN, 11 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 4-5 FG, 1-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, None +/-

Out of all the players who hit the floor tonight, Wright seemed to be trying the hardest on defense, and it didn’t go unnoticed! (At least, here it won’t.) He made some good passes and was quick on the boards, pushing the pace when he could and surging to the rim to either score or kick the ball to the perimeter. It was a solid showing for someone competing for a backup spot.

B
N. Powell24 MIN, 16 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 6-6 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, None +/-

While he made some poor passing decisions and wasn’t as much of a terror on defense as some may have desired, Powell eventually fell into a comfortable pace on the offensive side of things, consistently driving to the basket and either drawing fouls or scoring. He also filled his quota of at least one jaw-dropping dunk per game.

B
P. Siakam24 MIN, 5 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 3 STL, 1-3 FG, 1-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Siakam looked more comfortable on the floor than he ever did last season, which was nice to see. He showed off his usual boundless energy and made some savvy steals and aggressive rebounds.

B
L. Nogueira21 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 1-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 3 BLK, 1 TO, None +/-

Some might knock Bebe for his lack of scoring (or that moment when he popped out from a pick to take a three instead of rolling to the rim) and gangly movement, but his rim protection is something the Raps can use come the regular season. As defensive backups go, there are far worse options than Bebe.

F
B. Caboclo20 MIN, 6 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-8 FG, 2-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, None +/-

It pains me to say this, but Bruno was simply awful. From missing shots to dropping the ball on the catch, he just didn’t look ready to be in an NBA preseason game, let alone anything more strenuous. Let’s just all agree to forget this one, okay?

B
F. VanVleet12 MIN, 8 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2-5 FG, 1-3 3FG, 3-4 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, None +/-

VanVleet followed the lead of the other point guards on the team, pushing the pace and attacking where he could. He drove aggressively and showed that he’s also capable of running the team in limited minutes.

C+
A. McKinnie7 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -4 +/-

Another guy who played few minutes, the only remarkable thing about McKinnie was his lack of athleticism. But he didn’t particularly stand out in a bad way, nor a good way. Mum’s the word.

B+
J. Poeltl7 MIN, 7 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 3-3 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-4 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

There are going to be those calling for more Poeltl minutes, especially after a showing like this. Though he only got a little time, Jak crashed the offensive boards like nobody’s business and ran the floor more elegantly than any big the Raps have.

C+
A. Rautins5 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Rautins is fighting for a spot on the team and is known for his shooting. He took one look from way downtown, and missed, but opponents knew to stick with him, which did help space the floor, albeit in garbage time.

C+
K. Wiltjer4 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -8 +/-

A guy who used to be a Clipper, Wiltjer only played a few minutes. At this point, it’s unclear whether or not he’ll make the team—but don’t expect him to become part of the regular rotation.

B
Dwane Casey

It was the first preseason game, so there wasn’t much that Casey needed to do except stick his guys out there and watch them work. Expect to see him test more lineups soon.

Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors are going to struggle with teams that have size at the three. Danilo Gallinari was trouble for them tonight, bulldozing his way into the paint from the perimeter and pounding guys like C.J. Miles (who picked up two fouls early in the first quarter) down on the block. Without Patterson, Carroll, or Tucker around, that’ll be something to keep an eye on this season.
  2. The culture change is real! Well, we knew it was real, but it was on actual display tonight. The Raptors are making a concerted effort to make more passes, push the pace, and shoot more threes—like a modern NBA team. Example: they took 43 threes tonight, and last season they averaged 24.3 threes per game.
  3. This is what preseason is for, but the secondary unit of young guys is a bit of a mess without a veteran presence. With no player like Patterson to anchor them, they’re a little all over the place, and even a bit jittery. Norm is the best player of the bunch right now, and the hope is that he’ll be able to stabilize them sooner rather than later. If he can’t, then it’ll be up to Casey to make some lineup changes.
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Pre-game news & notes: Miles gets first start at SF, Anunoby sits, players lock arms for anthem

Folks. Toronto Raptors basketball is back. I don’t have much more in the way of preamble – we talked a lot this morning, have spent a week gearing up toward tonight, and are closing the book on two or three months of NBA starvation. I’m going to relent with the usual thoughts-of-the-day preamble in this space, drink the customary late-start Monster, and await some important updates I can pass along your way.

Let us.

The game tips off at 10 on Sportsnet One. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
I don’t really feel like I should rehash everything I wrote in the preview, because if you’re reading this at 9 p.m., you surely read the preview earlier, as eager as I am to get going again. Plus, it’s been all the talk of camp so far. The battles, the questions, a big decision for head coach Dwane Casey in his starting lineup. We’ll simply hit pause for now and suggest you check back closer to tip-off for a confirmed starting lineup and a status on OG Anunoby (who I believe is a go but don’t want to assume in case they only want him in team scrimmages for the time being or something).

Outside of the rotations, the obvious thing to watch for will be how the offense functions. How is the ball being spread around? Are they shooting threes as freely as the open scrimmage might suggest? Are Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continuing to grow not just as playmakers when attention comes but manipulators who anticipate that attention and coerce it to the advantage of their teammates? And of course, they’ll run more of their motion offense, as they always do in the preseason. This should be a lot of fun.

UPDATE: Per the legend Doug Smith, C.J. Miles draws the first start at SF. As I’ve written a few times (but not in enough detail yet), there’s a good case to be made for Miles and a good case to be made for Norman Powell, depending on how you prefer to balance units and your own risk-tolerance on the spacing-defense trade-off. It’ll be interesting to see how Miles looks, especially against a large wing like Danilo Gallinari on the other side.

Some additional, non-representative context for those who want Powell to have a large offensive role this year:

UPDATE II: OG Anunoby will not be playing, once again per Smith. This is likely the team just taking extra precautions as he ramps his activity back up and works the rust off. Plus, there are 18 other guys to get minutes for, too. They might need to stagger games, anyway.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, K.J. McDaniels, Andy Rautins
SF: C.J. Miles, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Wiltjer
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, Kennedy Meeks
INJ: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games:

Known commodities: Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, Valanciunas
Competition 1: Powell, Miles
Competition 2: Poeltl, Nogueira
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright, VanVleet
Competition 4: McKinnie, McDaniels, Wiltjer, Rautins, Meeks
The LeBron Stoppers: Anunoby, Siakam, Caboclo
Two-Ways: Brown, Miller

Clippers updates
The Clippers have the same kind of questions as the Raptors, which we covered in the preview earlier. The starter-bench question looms at the guard spots, a few young guys are jockeying for second-unit time, and their offense should look noticeably different from the last few years. Sounds familiar, right?

Elsewhere, the Clippers are in extension talks with DeAndre Jordan, per the Los Angeles Times, which isn’t particularly relevant to tonight but I find myself constantly monitoring the league-wide center market (shouts to the richest of the Plumslee, getting that Valanciunas money). Jordan is making $22.6 million this season and has a player option for $24.1 million for next year that he would seem likely to decline.

Here’s roughly how things look ahead of the season:

PG: Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Jawun Evans, Tyrone Wallace
SG: Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Wesley Johnson, Sam Dekker, LaDontae Henton, Jamil Wilson
PF: Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Marshall Plumlee, Willie Reed

Assorted

  • It feels extremely good to be back.
    • That doesn’t mean I’m not extremely jealous of the Raptors (and staff) in Hawaii the last few days. Instagram’s been killing me. Would give up my right-hand dribble to be able to get a hike in on those mountains. And that’s saying a lot, because I already can’t dribble with my left.
    • We’ll have you covered with pre-game, quick reaction, reaction podcast, and morning recap for all five of the exhibition games. We have to treat the preseason like a preseason for us, too. Iron out the kinks, introduce some new pieces, try some new sets and then revert to the exact way we’ve been playing the last few years anyway. You know how it goes.
  • Candace Parker the god.
  • I didn’t know where else to put this, so I’ll just bury it here as an Easter Egg for anyone reading a West Coast Sunday Night Preseason Pre-Game News & Notes post: As I’ve passed along in the past, Drake’s original deal with the Raptors spanned four years, which means through the 2016-17 season. I can’t confirm whether that deal was extended or re-upped, but the partnership between Drake and the Raptors is once again a “multi-year” one. Expect Drake Night V and the usual OVO tie-in to be announced sometime around the turn of the calendar.
  • All of the coaching staffs are wearing Hawaiian shirts.
  • Once again per Doug Smith, the players on both teams locked arms during the anthems.

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board. Just not a lot of money coming in for exhibitions where 38 guys might play, I guess. For shame, Vegas.

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Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 1

Finally.

After months in the wilderness with only Summer League and EuroBasket to keep us going, the NBA is back. Kind of. Sure, it’s just the preseason getting underway. It was still very nice to have some ball to watch last night, to see NIkola Jokic flinging behind-the-back dimes, to see draft sleepers like Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Bell showing out early, and to finally shift our collective focus from the hypothetical to the tangible.

Tonight, we get to do the same for the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors, who draw the Los Angeles Clippers in Hawaii. The Raptors went from Toronto (Monday) to Victoria (Tuesday to Friday) to Hawaii (Saturday to Wednesday), and boy, has this trip made me a little jealous I’m not on someone’s full-time payroll to get to tag along. Victoria is a truly gorgeous place, and it looks like the Raptors are having a blast in Hawaii. Their Instagram stories have been filled with hilarity – OG Anunoby dancing with strangers on the beach, Alfonzo McKinnie hula dancing, Kennedy Meeks calling everyone “uglass,” Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam continuing their heated FIFA rivalry, and more. Good wholesome fun, all around.

They’re probably also champing at the bit to get down to business. Five days of multi-practice days have probably grown a bit stale already, and there are jobs to win. And games – the Raptors don’t seem the type to take even a preseason meeting with their Western Conference spiritual brothers lightly.

The game tips off at 10 p.m (Eastern) on Sportsnet One.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Lucas Hann of Clips Nation.

Blake Murphy: Obviously, there’s been a lot of meaningful overhaul in L.A. this summer. Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are out, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Milos Teodosic (!) are in, and along with some other tweaks at the margins, this should be a fundamentally different looking Clippers team despite two important holdovers. Now that things have settled some, where is your general confidence level with the Clippers repeating the regular-season success they’ve had during the Paul era in their first year without him?

Lucas Hann: I’m not sure that I’m overly confident that the Clippers can repeat their Chris Paul-era success, but I do think they’ll be relatively successful. Their 51 wins last season was their worst total of the Chris Paul era (56 was closer to the average), and I’d be pretty ecstatic to see a 51-31 record out of the Clippers this season. I think that the low 50s is near the best-case scenario for these Clippers, and there’s very few realities where they break into the 55+ range. I’m expecting 46-48 wins this season, which I think is reasonable because the roster remains incredibly talented and deep, despite obviously downgrading from last season. That’s not quite a continuation of recent success, but it’s a pretty strong campaign nonetheless.

Blake Murphy: A big part of the gameplan would seem to be putting the ball in Griffin’s hands more. One of the most talented frontcourt passers in the NBA, he’s rivaled by only Teodosic for playmaking skill on this roster. Gallinari should really help, too. How significant do you think the team’s stylistic changes will be as a result, and what’s going to be their biggest hurdle on the offensive end?

Lucas Hann: One common misconception about Chris Paul is that he plays up-tempo. This may be a result of his high assist totals, with fans assuming that that means he likes to push the pace. In reality, CP3 is a control freak in the best sense of the word–he doesn’t like up-tempo, transition basketball because it necessitates chaos, and he prefers a half-court style where he can control every detail of the offense. Built around Paul and Griffin, the Clippers frequently employed lineups where only those two were comfortable with the ball in their hands–Redick and Jordan simply finished plays with jumpshots and dunks, and Mbah a Moute hid from the ball whenever possible. The Clippers’ new lineups will feature offensive threats at almost every position, and they’re going to push the ball way more. This means there will be more mistakes, but a lot more ball movement and a higher tempo as well.

Blake Murphy: For the last few years, the Raptors and Clippers have had a kind of spiritual kinship, both firmly guarding the second tier in their respective conference with the specter of an elite team blocking their path to the finals. The Raptors are still mostly in that position, retaining Kyle Lowry where the Clippers saw Paul depart. Are our fanbses still united in this sense, or has the lens for Clippers fans shifted for the more or less optimistic? (A clunky way of asking: Are we still doomed together but ready to enjoy it for what it’s worth?)

Lucas Hann: First of all, love you guys (hey Sean!). It really is true to say that in recent years we’ve been Clippers East and Raptors West, respectively. I think in a way, both teams’ situations have gotten worse in the last few months. The Clippers, despite their solid off-season considering the circumstances, got worse this summer. The Raptors, who were already notably short of competing with the Cavaliers, saw a strong summer from the Celtics knock them squarely back in the hierarchy. We’re absolutely doomed in the short term, but I’m going to enjoy both teams this season regardless. Going forward (in the next 3 years or so), both teams are pretty close to breaking through but will need a little bit of luck. In this respect, Lowry’s age is probably a significant negative for Toronto’s hopes.

Blake Murphy: Why didn’t the new CBA contain a clause that requires teams to fly bloggers to any exhibition games taking place in Hawaii?

Lucas Hann: Speak for yourself. The reason I needed three days to respond to this e-mail is because I’ve been on a Honolulu beach under an umbrella for 72 hours straight.

Blake Murphy: I hate you.

Raptors updates
It feels as if more is on the line in this year’s abbreviated training camp than in recent years. Not only are five players jockeying for two roster positions, but the team needs to figure out their preference between C.J. Miles and Norman Powell in the starting lineup, pairs of youngsters will be pushing each other for backup point guard and backup center minutes, and a trio of somewhat raw prospects may or may not be battling for the ninth- and tenth-man roles. The reality is that most of these situations will remain fluid into the regular season, particularly as you go further down the bench, but you’d think Dwane Casey would like to at least lock down his starting lineup and, by trickle-down, a key focal point of the second-unit offense.

The guess here is that Powell gets the first crack at starting. There are good arguments to be made for both players depending on your preferences for how best to support a starting lineup with four moderate-to-high usage offensive players with varying degrees of defensive utility. We’ll make those arguments another time. I wonder if they’ll each get a chance to start in the preseason or if whoever gets first dibs has the chance to run with it.

On the injury front, OG Anunoby participated in the team’s intrasquad game on Thursday and would seem to be available. Malcolm Miller (ankle surgery) still isn’t back to 5-on-5 play, at last update, and so it would seem doubtful he plays here. Everyone else is, as far as we know, good to go.

G: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, K.J. McDaniels, Andy Rautins
SF: Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Wiltjer
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, Kennedy Meeks
INJ: Malcolm Miller

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five gamesL

Known commodities: Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, Valanciunas
Competition 1: Powell, Miles
Competition 2: Poeltl, Nogueira
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright, VanVleet
Competition 4: McKinnie, McDaniels, Wiltjer, Rautins, Meeks
The LeBron Stoppers: Anunoby, Siakam, Caboclo
Two-Ways: Brown, Miller

Clippers updates
The Clippers have a fair number of questions to answer this preseason, and the rotation is chief among them. There’s probably a reasonably competitive battle brewing at each of the guard spots in terms of who starts and who mans the second unit, and you’ll see a bunch of hungry young players fighting for bench minutes. The three starting frontcourt spots are likely spoken for with Gallinari, Griffin, and Jordan, and Rivers will have to balance some offense-defense trade-offs around that trio, plus do a better job of staggering the minutes of Griffin and Gallinari than he did in the early years of Griffin and Paul, though our boy Lou Williams in the Jamal Crawford spot and the presence of Teodosic should ease the playmaking burden some regardless.

Here’s roughly how things look ahead of the season:

PG: Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, Jawun Evans, Tyrone Wallace
SG:Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Wesley Johnson, Sam Dekker, LaDontae Henton, Jamil Wilson
PF: Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Marshall Plumlee, Willie Reed

The line

You’re not going to believe this, but the line for a preseason opener is off the board.

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2017-18 Bold Predictions Thread

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen some interesting predictions come across my Twitter timeline. Norman Powell will average 20 points. Jonas Valanciunas won’t finish the season a Toronto Raptor. People will finally stop making “X years away” jokes about Bruno Caboclo. (Okay, maybe that last one is me wishcasting.)

It seems as good a time as any, then, here one day before the team’s first preseason game, to fire off some bold predictions for the 2017-18 season. So let’s hear ’em, the bolder the better – the nice thing here is that if you’re right, you can brag, and if you’re wrong, well, the predictions were supposed to be bold (and somewhat unlikely) anyway. No lose!

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2017-2018 Player Preview: Malcolm Miller

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

There was a minor stir of pre-game excitement ahead of the Toronto Raptors’ intrasquad scrimmage on the University of Victoria campus Thursday. A first look at OG Anunoby, the team’s first-round pick who most didn’t expect to be back on the floor in such situations so soon, drew the headlines. Scroll further down the bullet points, though, and there was another injured name who caused a double-take: Malcolm Miller was listed on one of the rosters.

Miller did not end up playing, as it turned out. He underwent surgery to aid in the healing of a severe ankle sprain back in July, and as of Monday’s media day, he had not progressed to 5-on-5 play just yet. That day is drawing nearer, and while it won’t be cause for the headlines Anunoby’s return was, it should still be cause for excitement.

“At this point it’s almost day-to-day. It’s real close,” Miller told Raptors Republic. “We’re just taking it step-by-step and being cautious. Next step: 5-on-5, full contact. I’m very excited. But still patient at the same time. I love playing basketball but I want to play like I can play, not how a hurt version can play.”

FURTHER READING: Malcolm Miller shows potential, promise with Raptors despite rough start to summer

There is not a grand urgency to get Miller on the floor, though it would obviously be preferable for him to have the bulk of camp to mesh with the team, learn the system, and shake off any rust. Signed to a two-way contract this summer, Miller’s spot on the roster is largely secure, and he’ll be a member of the Raptors until the beginning of Raptors 905 training camp (Oct. 23) and again once the G-League regular season concludes (April 11). In between, he can spend up to 45 days on the NBA roster, and should the need arise or Miller impresses, the Raptors hold the option to convert his two-way contract into a regular deal, removing the service time cap.

That’s a consideration for down the line. For now, the focus is on getting Miller healthy, then seeing what he might be able to contribute. On paper, Miller would seem to be a seamless fit to help plug several of the team’s weaknesses. He is a combo forward, capable of playing the perimeter on offense with a solid face-up game and emerging playmaking skills and defending either forward position thanks to his 6-foot-7 height, 7-foot wingspan, and 11-foot-11 maximum vertical touch. He’s also a shooter, which the team could quite clearly use.

To call him a 3-and-D prospect would be entirely fair, and Miller’s consistently shown both the “3” and “D” parts of that descriptor before reaching the NBA, somewhat of a rarity.

Given his length and bounce, it’s not entirely a surprise that he can contest shots well, but his block rates pop – he turned away nearly four percent of opponent 2-point shots when on the floor in Germany last year and nearly three percent of them in the G-League the year before that (in college, that number pushed closer to six percent). Those are elite numbers for a non-center, and even if they come down some against NBA competition and with more time at the three rather than the four, it’s clear he has an NBA skill in that regard.

“I think what he surprised me most with was his shot-blocking,” Raptors assistant coach Jama Mahlalela told RR at Summer League. “He’s a much better shot-blocked than you’d think. He really uses his length and gets out and blocks. I mean, he blocked, I don’t know, four shots a game during each free agent workout. It’s pretty impressive, that really stood out. I was like woah, this is something he can do as a skill, and as an NBA player, that’s something he’ll be able to bring to the court.”

The shooting may pop even more, because it’s a little more plain to see. Miller didn’t shoot a ton of threes early in his career at Holy Cross, ratcheting up the volume as a junior and senior to finish with a 37-percent mark on a modest 284 career attempts. With Maine as a G-League rookie in 2015-16, he had much more of a green light, hitting 39.8 percent of 4.5 3-point attempts per-game. Playing alongside Canadian shooting legend Carl English with Alba Berlin likely helped continue his stroke’s development, and he knocked down 38.5 percent (of a smaller volume) of threes in his lone international season.

If there’s a takeaway from Miller’s offensive game through two professional seasons, it’s that it’s a shock the Houston Rockets have never picked him up. If the Raptors are trying to continue to shift toward a more efficient shot mix, Miller – who rarely shoots anywhere but beyond the arc and in the restricted area – is going to fit right in. Here’s a look at his G-League shot chart from two years back:

International shot charts are a little harder to come by, so we had to go deep into the recesses of the Tableau visualization community to make sure this trend held up as Miller’s role fluctuated in Berlin. Thanks to some terrific data work from @korbanbeter, who managed to visualize shooting data from the German BBL league (Eurocup games not included, so this is about 79 percent of Miller’s 2016-17 shooting), we can more or less confirm:

That Miller hasn’t been able to display his touch or his defense yet has been a little frustrating. He’s kept a cool head, though, instead using the last few weeks to get to know Toronto, bond with teammates – he and Anunoby have apparently had some epic NBA 2K battles of late – and play a supporting role when practice sessions at BioSteel Centre turned to live action.

“Well, first thing and foremost, just being a good teammate,” Miller said. “There’s games when I’m not gonna be playing or there might be other players that are hurt, encouragement is probably the biggest thing I can do right now. So if they’re running sprints and I see a guy falling a little behind, a little bit tired, gotta keep him up. Gotta pick my teammates up where I have the energy to do that where some people might not.”

Miller skews friendly and positive in that support most of the time. When it comes to shooting drills, something he can mostly participate in now without much concern for his ankle, Miller has taken to pushing teammates in another way.

“Oh, you can always trash talk. You can always trash talk,” he said. “We’re all competitive here, so they understand. I’m trying to make the top of the shooting list, too.”

Miller’s been so eager to show off his shot, in fact, that he got in some (light) trouble in Vegas for shooting while still in his walking boot.

Probably don’t understand what I just said if u don’t REALLY boot

A post shared by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

“The form looks good. Obviously all the weight’s on my left side,” Miller said about the photo. “I’mma need that picture.”

Looking at the entire picture here, it’s easy to see what the Raptors liked about Miller. Still just 24, he offers size and shooting, seems a good off-court fit with the rest of the young core, and was amenable to a two-way deal to help continue his development. He might be the forgotten man for the bulk of the preseason given the status of his ankle, but he shouldn’t be off the radar for much longer after that.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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Battle at the point: Wright vs. VanVleet

Opportunity is a fleeting train. Some arrive well ahead of schedule because of the chances they take, while others watch life pass them by as moment after moment slips away. There’s a broad spectrum in between for why things work out for one person and why they don’t for another, but what remains constant is the ticking clock — the time that can never be bought back.

Selected with the 20th pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Delon Wright was projected for backup point guard minutes after the departures of Lou Williams through free agency and Greivis Vasquez via trade. All that changed when the San Antonio Spurs nabbed their opportunity to sign a Raptors target that summer, LaMarcus Aldridge. Heading into the ’16-17 season, Wright knew he would need to pick up some early momentum and build towards displacing Cory Joseph in the rotation, but a labral tear in his right shoulder during Summer League action ruled him out for four months.

The injury gave the Raptors a need to address, and Fred VanVleet an opportunity. From being on the outside looking in as someone who would be the fourth point guard on the roster, the undrafted guard out of Wichita State now had the inside track. VanVleet had an impressive enough resumé and Summer League to earn a partially-guaranteed contract. A composed floor general unafraid of the moment? That’s any coach’s dream.

“They see what I do and they see what I contribute and it’s not the big things,” VanVleet said back then. “It’s the little things that I do to control a game that you really have to know the game to see, the nuances and how I contribute to winning. That’s been reassuring for me — because I always feel like I’m doing the right thing and doing good — but to have somebody in their role and their job say ‘We see it and we like it.’ 

With the relatively favorable commute between Mississauga and Toronto, VanVleet dominated the G-League on the west side while serving as the senior club’s insurance policy on the east side. Garbage time in November December became, in the words of DeMar DeRozan, prove ’em time by January.

VanVleet had made it to Dwane Casey’s good books, and as Joseph’s struggles persisted, February would provide a breakthrough moment. Joseph was benched on the road against Orlando and Brooklyn, and in his new primary backup role, VanVleet didn’t disappoint. Over a total of 43 minutes, he tallied 25 points, seven assists and six boards.

The benching lit a fire under Joseph as he quickly returned to form, but it’s possible the spark got through to Wright as well. After warming up for his return with a couple of impressive showings in the G-League himself, Wright earned 27 regular season appearances the rest of the way at 16 minutes per. His play organically leads to Shaun Livingston comparisons — the trademark shiftiness, suffocating length, and inebriating athleticism — traits that embody all that is modern day basketball.

All, minus a smooth shooting stroke of course.

Wright has just 43 three-point attempts to his name over two regular seasons, and though he’s tickled the twine at a 34.9 percent clip, the lack of volume and fluidity to his jumper indicate a lack of comfort. As with most set-shot shooters, momentum does more harm than good:

He learns quickly here, as the next time he steps into the pull-up jumper, he takes an extra split-second to arrest that momentum, making all the difference.

While VanVleet doesn’t have much of a sample size to offer either with his 29 career attempts from long-distance, the eye test shows a higher degree of confidence. Heck, when the best shooter on the team is willing to give up an open look for you, there’s likely good reason for it.

Lowry has made no secret of his affinity for VanVleet, already claiming that the point guard out of Illinois is better than he was at the same stage in his career. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the toughness with which VanVleet plays along with the similar mannerisms in arresting defender’s movements with his hip/torso off a pick have left an indelible impression on the all-star.

What happens after VanVleet gets himself in good position off a screen is an area he’ll want to improve coming into this season.

VanVleet shot just 34.5 percent at the basket last season, well below the league average of 56.8. Like Lowry, he has a tendency to look for contact on the drive first, taking away from his concentration in making the layup. The big men of the NBA are as athletic as they come, and it may just be a matter of adjusting and gaining more experience and confidence against the biggest trees in the forest.

Size is the clearest advantage Wright has over VanVleet, and Dwane Casey revealed in training camp that the 6’5” guard can fill minutes at the wing position. Wright showed signs of this when he caused problems for both Jeremy Lamb and Nicolas Batum to help fuel a spectacular comeback victory over the Hornets before the all-star break, and that gave Casey the confidence to turn to him as the small forward next to Lowry and Joseph for spot minutes during a crucial Game 6 victory on the road in Milwaukee. On a roster with uncertainties such as OG Anunoby and Bruno Caboclo at the three, his flexibility is vital. It could lead to both Wright and VanVleet sharing the court together, and the history of previous Raptors lineups that cater to ball handling indicate potential success for them together.

It took an improbable Summer League injury to Wright to bring VanVleet into the fold, but he still needed to make the most of it. Though Wright may be just two years and 54 games into his career, he’s already working on borrowed time. At 25 and two years older than VanVleet, the chance he’s been waiting for is finally here, and his to throw away. Where both go from here will be unmistakably intertwined, as they try to outdo each other in isolation, but excel in association.

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Raptors Hoping Young Stars Are Ready for the Spotlight

The Toronto Raptors have one of the best run organizations in the NBA, which is evident by the fact that they have not only managed to remain a perennial playoff team, they have managed to do it while also rebuilding at the same time.

Over the past three seasons, only the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and San Antonio Spurs have won more regular season games than the Raptors. The Cavs and Warriors are also the only teams that have more playoff wins than the Raptors in that span.

After another successful season, the Raptors regular season wins might drop a little this year because they had to let some players go after the team resigned the core group of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Serge Ibaka.

Unlike the Warriors and Cavaliers, the Raptors are trying to avoid paying the luxury tax imposed on teams that go over their salary cap to resign their players, so the team decided to rebuild on the fly again with their main core intact.

Role players like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, and Patrick Patterson, who have 27 years of combined NBA experience and also combined to play 6,093 minutes last season, were let go by the organization during the offseason to make way for younger, less expensive players, who will play the bulk of the minutes the other guys played last season.

With the Raptors opting to go young this year, their player development will be put to the test this season.

At this point, Norman Powell is the most impressive of their young players, and will likely get a lot of minutes or even start this season if he continues impressing the coaches. For some reason, Powell, who was expected to go higher in the 2015 NBA Draft, fell to the Raptors at #46. Looking back at the draft, he should have been taken in the top 10.

Powell reminds the Raptors coaches of DeRozan due to his work ethic and determination. The team wants to see how he responds when he is given a lot of playing time, which is something the rest of the league would like to see as well.

The Raptors can lock Powell up this season with a four-year $42 million deal. However don’t expect Powell to sign before the end of the season because he will be eligible to receive more from the Raptors next summer.

Delon Wright is another player the Raptors are expecting big things from this season. Wright was drafted in 2015, 26 picks before the team took Powell. The team had hoped to use him as their backup point guard, but the team signed Cory Joseph after he was released by the Spurs, which eventually left Wright buried on the depth chart.

Now that the Raptors have cut ties with Joseph, Wright finally has a chance to shine, and the Raptors are hoping he takes advantage of it and becomes the player they though he could be when they drafted him in 2015.

The 6 foot 5 point guard is just 25-years-old and plays good defense. His offense is still a work in progress, but the Raptors are confident he can become the best player of the young group.

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Intrasquad Game Notes: Anunoby plays, Team Lowry beats Team DeRozan, and more

The Toronto Raptors opted not to stream their intrasquad game from the Ken and Kathy Shields Court on the University of Victoria campus on Thursday, but luckily there were enough tweets flying around for us to pass along some notes. Aggregation, baby.

The first note, of course, is that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are now bitter enemies, leading competing teams for the session. Here are the rosters, courtesy our pal Eric Koreen (starters in bold per Michael Grange):

Team Grey (Team DeMar): DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Kennedy Meeks, Lorenzo Brown, Jonas Valanciunas, K.J. McDaniels, Kyle Wiltjer, Alfonzo McKinnie, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright

Team Black (Team Lowry): Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Malcolm Miller, Andy Rautins, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, and Norman Powell

And yes, you’re noticing a few things. Primarily that OG Anunoby played. We only received confirmation Tuesday that he had progressed to 5-on-5 play, and his participation here is quite encouraging. Malcolm Miller, who as of Monday wasn’t cleared for 5-on-5 play, was also listed on the rosters (Update: He did not play.). Also, Bruno Caboclo started. Get after it. What a whirlwind of fun news.

Oh, and by all accounts the crowd at UVic was exceptional, as you’d expect. There was an announced attendance of 2,700. Shout out to non-Toronto-based Raptors fans for always showing so well.

First Half Notes

  • JV hit a three (not even a pump fake!)
  • Kyle Wiltjer, who told me Monday that “shooting is easy,” hit four threes.
    • Andy Rautins also hit a three. Canadians shoot, man.
  • Bruno finished over Valanciunas (Grange called it a “nice pump-and-go from 3-point line with sweeping finish“)
    • Bruno was apparently not the best on defense or handling the ball in the pick-and-roll
  • C.J. Miles shot poorly early on.
  • Team Kyle was up 20-13 after one 10-minute quarter. A lot of threes being thrown up.
  • Poeltl had a tough and-1 finish as the roll-man.
  • KJ was doing KJ things.
  • OG played in the second quarter, getting beat on defense and then getting fouled at the other end. Also a steal.
  • Team Kyle was up 38-34 at the half.

https://twitter.com/Raptors/status/913601151718760448

Second Half Notes

  • Norm dunked on JV. There were a lot of Norm tweets. Norm is too good for practices.
  • JV and Poeltl went back and forth for buckets against each other.
  • Bruno forced DeMar into a shot-clock violation.
  • Lowry was arguing calls.
  • Team Kyle was up 62-51 through three.
  • Wiltjer and Rautins hit more threes. (They combined for nine, if I counted on the TL correctly.)
  • Team Kyle wins 89-63. Don’t even think about comparing Lowry and DeRozan’s plus-minuses.

So to recap: Lowry-and-whoever units are still good, Anunoby is on the court, the Canadians can shoot the hell out of the ball, Bruno is Bruno, and we get no official stats with which to make grand conclusions. But we should anyway, based on the tweets. Norm!

A huge thank you to Eric Koreen, Michael Grange, and Doug Smith for live-tweeting enough of the game for us to put notes together. This bullet form was just easier than embedding all of their tweets. They’re greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: Grange hooked us up with stats. He took a picture, but I’m putting it in a table for visibility.

Team Black

Player Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers Blocks Steals FG/FGA 3FG/3FGA FT/FTA
Bruno Caboclo 30 7 2 1 1 0 0 3/6 1/4 0/0
Serge Ibaka 25 12 5 0 0 0 0 5/11 1/4 1/2
Jakob Poeltl 23 16 5 0 0 0 2 7/9 0/1 2/2
Kyle Lowry 24 11 1 6 3 0 2 3/6 2/5 3/3
Norman Powell 26 17 4 4 0 0 0 6/9 2/3 3/4
OG Anunoby 16 1 3 0 0 1 2 0/3 0/2 1/2
Andy Rautins 16 12 3 1 2 0 1 4/6 4/6 0/0
Fred VanVleet 20 9 3 4 0 0 0 3/5 0/0 3/4
Lucas Nogueira 20 4 3 1 1 4 0 2/2 0/0 0/0

Team White

Player Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers Blocks Steals FG/FGA 3FG/3FGA FT/FTA
Jonas Valanciunas 20 11 4 0 1 0 0 3/4 1/1 4/4
Pascal Siakam 20 4 4 1 1 0 1 2/5 0/2 0/0
C.J. Miles 24 7 4 2 0 0 0 3/11 1/7 0/0
DeMar DeRozan 24 7 1 2 2 0 0 3/7 1/1 0/0
Delon Wright 20 3 3 1 2 0 1 0/2 0/1 3/4
Kennedy Meeks 20 2 3 0 2 0 2 1/5 0/1 0/0
Lorenzo Brown 20 6 3 6 0 0 0 2/6 2/4 0/0
K.J. McDaniels 16 4 1 0 1 1 0 2/5 0/2 0/1
Kyle Wiltjer 20 17 0 1 0 0 0 6/10 5/9 0/0
Alfonzo Mckinnie 16 2 4 0 1 0 0 1/3 0/0 0/0

That is a lot of threes.

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The New Bench

Heading into the new Toronto Raptors season, there’s a lot of hope for the young player who’ve been developing inside the organization that they can step up and fill the holes left by the veterans who’ve departed over the last several years. Two years ago, the Raptors went on a 14-1 stretch through January and February spurred in large part by a lineup consisting of Kyle Lowry and four bench players who routinely dominated early second and fourth quarters with stellar defensive play and teamwork. That group went through many nicknames, but my favorite was always the Jurassic 5. Despite the winning record over that stretch, the starters routinely gave up leads early in games only to have the bench pull them back into it, and those four bench players who accompanied Lowry are now all departed, which brings some urgency to the task of figuring out a new reserve rotation for the team.

While each of those four players brought a lot to the table, from Bismack Biyombo’s mobility, shot blocking and defensive presence, to Cory Joseph’s stability at the point allowing Lowry to play off-ball and preserve energy while Joseph also was a stalwart defender, to Terrence Ross’ streaky scoring and athleticism that allowed him to be a mobile, if not always consistent defender, Patrick Patterson was the rock of the reserve unit. Biyombo and Ross are now in Orlando though, Joseph was moved to Indiana as part of the deal to bring in CJ Miles, and Patterson left in free agency to join the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In four seasons as a member of the Toronto Raptors, Patrick Patterson gave the team about 8 points and 5 rebounds per game each season. He started just 19 games, and despite shooting an effective 37.3% from the three point line, it was never easy to feel comfortable seeing him tee up an open shot from outside, given that he was sometimes subject to what felt like extreme hot and cold streaks as a player. Eight points and five rebounds feels, though, somehow completely inadequate at summing up his impact on the court for the Raptors.

Pat could never seem to quite grab hold of the starting role for the team, despite his being a consistent net positive. In those four years, the differential between his on-court and off-court net rating was never worse than +4.5 in 2014-15, a solid indicator that the team was far, far better off with him out there. There are a lot of factors that have been pointed to as contributors here, from his playing more against bench players due to his own role as a reserve, to the struggles of other players who played the power forward position for the team, whether Luis Scola, Amir Johnson, Pascal Siakam, or Serge Ibaka was starting ahead of him. Even accounting for those things though, one thing is consistently true about his time with the team, and that’s that Patterson frequently had the unenviable task of coming into games where the score was starting to run up against the Raptors and find a way to correct it.

In each of the last two seasons, despite the Raptors being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, their starting lineup had a negative net rating. The frustration was palpable many nights as the starters would once again give up a deficit and the fans would begin to look to the bench for a spark to turn the game around. That, as much as those eight points and five rebounds was what Patterson brought to the table, as his entrance to the game would have a calming effect both for the fans and, seemingly, for the players on the floor as they would turn games around with regularity.

The hope this season has to be that this won’t be an issue to start with. The known starters of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas will be joined by one of Norman Powell and CJ Miles, and either of those configurations has zero starts for the team in previous years, with Miles having only joined the team this summer and Ibaka also being a recent acquisition. Perhaps the new starters won’t have the same struggles as previous groups and the bench will be tasked with merely holding the leads that are built in the early game. But if not, if those familiar struggles of old return, the solution we’ve become accustomed to having at hand is no longer available. Patterson won’t be sitting on the bench, available to bring the game back from the brink of disaster.

I’m a big believer in the young players in the Raptors system, and I think they each have a chance of becoming at the very least good rotation players in the league. Norman Powell has proven himself on the biggest stages in the playoffs, and has more than once changed a playoff series for the team. Delon Wright showed signs of being ready late in the season last year, looking confident and composed running the offense. And in Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and Lucas Noguiera, Dwane Casey has a trio of big men who each have some NBA experience and have shown the ability to play real minutes. This is a good group of players, but they’re still young, and some of those intangibles are much harder to provide for a young player than simply contributing those points and rebounds.

Without him, one of the young players who has been waiting in the wings will have to step up and find a way to deliver. Not to replace Patterson’s eight points and five rebounds, but to bring the team back together and keep them in games that perhaps they shouldn’t be able to bring back. You can find someone to score a few points and grab a handful of rebounds, but that type of leadership from a role player isn’t all that common, and is, at least in my opinion, one of the most interesting questions for the Raptors going into this season. Who becomes that leader on the bench, or is this the season that if the starting lineup for the Raptors can’t get it done, the bench can’t close the gap?

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2017-2018 Player Preview: Delon Wright

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

Delon Wright has appeared in exactly 27 games in each of his first two seasons in the NBA. Add that up and you have just over half a season logged thanks to a shoulder injury last year and a deep and talented team blocking his path to minutes in his rookie campaign. While neither of those seasons are presumably his fault, Wright will be asked to take on a much larger role entering a pivotal year for a Raptors’ organization that expects to contend in the barren wasteland of the Eastern Conference.

With Cory Joseph suiting up in Indiana, the expectations of Wright have grown dramatically. The third-year guard will no longer receive the delayed praise of a player who might be valuable down the road. He’s expected to get the chunk of the minutes left behind by Joseph immediately, despite a strong summer from Fred VanVleet who coach Dwane Casey dubbed a “miniature Kyle”. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a player who has just 54 appearances under his belt. Still, there’s a caveat that comes with Wright’s perceived youth: He’s 25 years old. The list of players his junior contains Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins and Devin Booker, to name a few. Wright does not carry the same league-altering talents as some of his peers, but his maturity level will need to match that of a team trying to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals after a disappointing end to their 2016-2017 season.

How do you develop maturity without experience? You seek it out.


Wright spent his summer in LA working with the likes of Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan in an effort to improve his game, but also his leadership. When Lowry takes a seat this season Wright becomes the first one to touch the ball, and the conductor of an offense that ranked 7th in efficiency last season. This is where Wright will be expected to improve the most. Wright’s Per 36 numbers are what you would expect from a deep-bench player, and those numbers will need to improve in certain areas:

PTS AST TRB 3PA 3P% STLS BLKS
12.1 4.6 3.9 2.4 .333 2.2 0.9

It’s immediately obvious that Wright’s length makes him an above-average defender at point guard, but he’ll need to take on a much larger scoring and distributing role if the Raptors want to be taken seriously as a contender for the Celtics and Cavs. Wright took just 104 shots last season, but it’s still a large enough sample size to see where he needs to improve. According to Michael Grange, the Raptors want to take 30 threes a game this season. With Kyle Lowry’s mind set on taking ten of those, Wright will need to be ready to contribute to the missing 20. Wright has never been a particularly great shooter from beyond the arc, as evidenced by his shot chart from last season below, and never averaging more than 38% from deep in either college or the NBA.

With Casey also calling for a better passing attack (The Raptors ranked dead last in assists per game with just 18.6 in 2017) Wright will need to develop a balance between shooting and scoring, while improving at both. If this sounds like a tough task, it is.

Yet there will be no shortage of opportunities. Many in the organization believe Wright will see time at small forward, a report confirmed by Ryan Wolstat.


If Wright can stay healthy and improve his confidence with the ball he will be a significant upgrade from Cory Joseph on both ends of the floor. All that remains to be seen now is if he’s ready.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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2017-18 RaptorsPlaybook Season Preview

2017-18 RaptorsPlaybook Season Preview

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors. To prepare for the upcoming season, I have compiled ~30 seconds of each play broken down from the 2016-17 season. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and if any plays catches your attention and you wish to get a more in-depth breakdown, click through to that breakdown from the hyperlink provided below. Additionally, several of the plays I plan on covering during the 2017-18 season are featured briefly towards the end of the video. Lastly, remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

Off-Ball Screens

Bench Flow

“This play allows the team’s best shooters […], to come off screens in a fluid manner which also allows for open shots.”

Read breakdown here.

Flex Series

“In most cases, teams run “Flex” because it allows for continuous ball and player movement movement while players interchange positions, eventually forcing the opposition to bend and break as a defensive unit.“

Read breakdown here.

Iverson Series + Counters

“The counters that the Toronto Raptors use out of their Iverson Series evidently stem from an Iverson cut. For the uninitiated, this is when a player, most likely DeMar DeRozan, starts out on one wing and cuts across the free throw line to the other side of the court while using two screens.”  

Read breakdown here.

Elbow Side/Corner Offense

“It’s a great read-and-react set that has great versatility for their personnel. Traditionally, only big men operate at the elbows as passers in this type of set, but Casey has already tinkered with using Lowry in those spots.”

Read breakdown here.

Pick and Roll

Chin Pick & Roll

“This pet play, used with regularity by the Toronto Raptors, comes out of the Princeton offense. At its core, the play is a pick and roll with proper perimeter spacing and just enough movement to keep all off-ball defenders occupied”

Read breakdown here.

Drag Screen

“Drag screens, a pick and roll used in transition, is one of the commonly used actions in the NBA. It should be no surprise that the Toronto Raptors, a team that depends heavily on high-usage guards to penetrate and create for others, would be consistent with such a trend.”

Read breakdown here.

Ram Pick & Roll + Counters

“In its basic form, the “Ram” is a screen-the-screener that’s designed to put the player defending the primary screener at a disadvantage.“

– Blake Murphy

Read breakdown here.

Swing Fist

“The first was a Weave Pick and Roll, which the Raptors refer to as Swing Fist. […] Its simplicity is also what makes it effective, as it forces eventual on-ball defenders into trailing the pick and roll.“

Read breakdown here.

Wedge Pick & Roll + Counters

“This action forces and/or encourages a defense to switch on the guard-guard screen, only to find itself caught switching on the guard-big screen immediately thereafter. Toronto’s ball handlers relentlessly attack these mismatches.”

Read breakdown here.

Post DHO

“The big-man who is not tasked with screening the ball handler will cut across the paint sharply, carving out space in the mid post to present himself as a target for the ball handler. When timed correctly, they will quickly receive the pass and instantly transfer into a dribble handoff with the wing in the corner.”

Read breakdown here.

Horns

Horns Triple

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

Read breakdown here.

Horns Reverse

“The ball handler will then engage in a superfluous side pick and roll with one of the big men rolling to the rim while the other pops. The perimeter big will receive a ball reversal while the wing player, who had previously been stationed in the corner, lifts to trigger a dribble handoff (DHO).”

Read breakdown here.

Post Up

Rip Punch & Counters

“Generally, this sequence is used to isolate DeMar DeRozan’s advantageous mismatch by attacking through the post against a traditionally smaller defender who is uncomfortable defending on the low block.”

Read breakdown here.

Thumbs Up

“This isolates one post player on the left block to attack the potential mismatch. Occasionally, the Raptors have experimented with split cuts above this post up, as well as innovative (and most likely illegal) brush screens on the post player’s defender that somewhat resemble a Snug ball screen.”

Read breakdown here.

Out of Bounds

BLOB Iverson Stagger – “2”

“This play has become one my favourites for the Raptors because of how much it bends and shifts the defense. Not only does it move them side-to-side, a functional goal of all NBA offenses, but it also tugs defenders between the paint and the three-point line.”

Read breakdown here.

Zipper Pick & Roll

“Upon the completion of the entry pass, the point guard will turn into a screen set by the weak side big-man in the middle of the floor. Since the primary defender has had to recover from the zipper cut, they will likely pressure the ball handler tightly and force themselves into trailing over-the-top of the screen.”

Read breakdown here.

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2017-18 Player Preview: C.J. Miles

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

While you could point to a few different factors in the Raptors’ playoff struggles last year, one that certainly stood out was their troubles finding someone to reliably hit open three point shots as they lost a quick second round series to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite there being little shame in losing to LeBron James and the defending champions, with Toronto deciding to run it back with locking up Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka on three-year deals, they needed to address that weakness of shooting on the wings, especially with PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson departing for the Western Conference, and CJ Miles was brought in over the summer to help address that.

Miles is a journeyman who at 30 years old is going into his 13th season in the league, having spent time with the Jazz, Cavaliers and Pacers, and comes in to partially replace the void left with the departures of Tucker, DeMarre Carroll who was sent out in a trade to clear cap space, and Terrence Ross, who was moved at the trade deadline. Each of those players had the role of creating space for the Raptors’ stars to work on the offensive end through hitting their open shots and the natural gravity that came from that threat, and each of those players was also asked to help guard the tougher assignments on the other end. Miles will likely also inherit that assignment when he’s on the court.

FURTHER READING: C.J. Miles is an elite shooter. That’s good news for the Raptors

It’s unclear at this point if he’ll be starting or coming off the bench behind DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell, but Miles on media day seemed comfortable with either role, as he gave an impressive press conference in which he handled himself with ease, navigating questions about how he could help the team with specific answers that addressed how his skillset fit with different members of the team. He came off as a player very aware of who he is and that’ll benefit the team whether he’s asked to fill out the starting lineup or a veteran presence with the young reserves.

Miles is a fantastic catch-and-shoot guy, excelling when able to take his shot quickly with space after the catch, with an impressive 59.9% effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot attempts, and 60.6% on shots taken off 0 dribbles. This trend continues with his eFG% at 69.4% when wide open and 60.5% when shooting less than 2 seconds after receiving the ball. To his credit, Miles played to his strengths last year as well, taking over 80% of his shots on short possessions, and 63.8% of his shots in catch and shoot situations. He also hit 50.8% of his corner three-point attempts, and only took 30.8% of his attempts from there, also hitting a respectable 36.1% of his above the break shots.

Where Miles can struggle is when asked to find his own shot, however, with his percentages dipping sharply when asked to shoot off the dribble or against tight coverage, and the Raptors will need to be conscious of that to find Miles in situations where he isn’t often asked to put the ball on the floor and create for himself. As well, at just 6’6″ with an average wingspan, Miles may have trouble with some of the defensive assignments he’ll be given for the Raptors, and with him and Norman Powell as the primary options beside DeRozan, they may find themselves lacking a bigger defender to use against the bigger forwards in the league, such as LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With a roster relying on so many young guys this year where you need to hope for the best without necessarily knowing what you’ll get, it can be nice to have a player where you know his flaws and strengths going into the season, and with Miles you can definitely say what you’ll get. It’s even better when that player is aware himself of his those same attributes, and Miles has shown an admirable self-awareness and openness. With Patrick Patterson in Oklahoma City, he might be able to fill some of the void left behind not just in shooting but also in terms of locker room presence.

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

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OG Anunoby progresses to playing 5-on-5

Toronto Raptors rookie OG Anunoby has progressed to participating in contact drills and five-on-five activities, Raptors Republic has confirmed. Anunoby mentioned he’d been scrimmaging at Media Day yesterday, but there was some confusion as to the extent of his participation and what his official status was. So consider this verification of that status, at the team level, and apologies for not being able to confirm yesterday.

The No. 23 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Anunoby was originally considered a likely lottery pick until concerns about a torn ACL from January conspired to sink his stock. Sliding to No. 23, many league voices believed Anunoby to have dropped too far, and with the news that Anunoby is already doing five-on-five work eight months and change removed from the injury, those voices may grow louder.

Whatever the value, the Raptors are surely thrilled at the progress. Back in July at Las Vegas Summer League, Anunoby was running, cutting, shooting set shots and even doing box jumps, but updates the rest of the summer were scarce. On Sunday, a report from Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star said Anunoby “may” be back in November, and today’s news should lend optimism toward that timeline.

The Raptors won’t rush Anunoby, of course. Each player, injury, and medical staff is different, and one player’s five-on-five may not be another’s. How Anunoby’s body responds to live play and his comfort level with the knee will likely dictate the timeline from here, and the Raptors have plenty of room to practice patience. They may even prefer to have Anunoby spend some time with Raptors 905 when their season opens in November to build his conditioning back up to full-game levels, shake off any rust, and gain some experience within the team’s systems.

Anunoby factors into the team’s plans in both the short- and long-term and he could play an important part as the season rolls along. If his collegiate reputation and NBA projections hold up, he’ll be among their best and most multi-faceted defenders immediately, potentially unlocking some fun and versatile lineup combinations in bench or even closing units. In time. How his shot has progressed over the summer will be interesting to see, too, as it’s a big swing factor in his eventual NBA upside.

You can refresh yourself on all things Anunoby here.

The team is unlikely to provide much in the way of specifics from here, at least until he’s ready for game action. When that might be is still a matter of question, but the move to five-on-five activities is some of the best news they could have hoped to open training camp with.

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2017-18 Player Preview: Alfonzo McKinnie

You can keep up with all of our player previews here.

Alfonzo McKinnie has been on cresting like a tidal wave over the last year of his still-young career. Coming from overseas to pay to tryout for his hometown Chicago Bulls’ G-League affiliate, McKinnie played himself onto the G-League All-Star team and was rewarded with a partially-guaranteed multi-year deal to try out for a roster spot with the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors (marginally) invested in him and hope to see a return in kind. The question for McKinnie is whether G-League dominance is the extent of his potential, or whether he has the ability to contribute at the NBA level.

For a career arc similar to Jonathan Simmons – both paid to try out for G-League teams to achieve a foothold of some kind – McKinnie also has a skill ceiling similar to that of Simmons (both are athletic swingmen). McKinnie is incredibly bouncy and relatively smooth as a finisher around the rim. His 3-point stroke is somewhat awkward, but he can heat up and hit threes in bunches.

FURTHER READING: Alfonzo McKinnie’s Long and Unlikely Journey to the Raptors

McKinnie averaged 14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 30.5 minutes in 50 games last season during his All-Star G-League campaign, which shows that he is not a dominant scorer, not that the Raptors will ask him to be that. He rebounded well for his position both during the G-League season last year and at Las Vegas Summer League for the Raptors; McKinnie needs only to jump, offering a massive vertical and infinitely-extendable arms, to retrieve a rebound. He competed in the G-League 2017 Slam Dunk Contest, which is often more impressive than the NBA version, as well as the Slam Dunk Contest at the FIBA 3-on-3 World Championships last year.

McKinnie’s skillset is not a finished product, and he has a lot of growing left to do at age 25. He draws nothing but praise from Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman and president Masai Ujiri, the former of who likened him to a young DeMarre Carroll (that’s a compliment, as Carroll bloomed at a late basketball age into a 3-and-D wing player, before kind of un-blooming during his tenure in Toronto). McKinnie could very well follow the career arcs of players like Simmons, Carroll, Danny Green, and others who grew into useful NBA role players in their mid-to-late 20s.

Like with those players, locking down one of the “3” or “D” components is still necessary. Carroll had to begin hitting threes, Green’s defense had to be solidified, and Simmons needed to show dramatic improvement as an outside shooter. McKinnie is no different despite a smooth stroke, as he hit just 30.8 percent of his G-League threes and has never consistently shown that to be a plus tool at any level. Our own Blake Murphy has reported that the Raptors see him more as a wing than a power forward (where he primarily played last year), and knocking down corner threes in preseason will probably be is biggest goal.

Unlike many athletic players who wash out of the NBA, McKinnie tries hard on every possession. Though he has the size at 6-foot-8 to play power forward, he is too slender to spend many minutes banging with NBA starters at that spot. That was less of a concern in the G-League and might not be a problem against opposing benches.

Going into camp to compete for Toronto’s 15th roster spot, McKinnie has difficult competition, including Kennedy Meeks, K.J. McDaniels, and son-of-broadcaster Andy Rautins (plus Kyle Wiltjer). While each player offers a different skill sorely needed by the Raptors, McKinnie presents the most upside as a potential wing who can hit threes, defend on the perimeter, and dunk on anyone’s head (friend or foe). If McKinnie can’t crack the roster but clears waivers, Raptors 905 would need to acquired his rights from the Windy City Bulls in order to keep him in the system.

But if anyone is able to parlay a training camp deal into a roster spot and semi-meaningful minutes for the Raptors in 2017-18 (think Fred VanVleet from 2016-17), bet on McKinnie.

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Would NBA Draft Lottery reform help the Raptors?

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

Change is hard. NBA Draft changes have been especially hard on the Toronto Raptors. Take the 1995 Canadian expansion, which implemented more punishing draft pick stipulations than anything any team faced during the 1987 expansion or after, in 2004. The Raptors won the lottery in 1996 – a draft that featured future Naismith Hall of Famer Allen Iverson as the top prize, along with plenty of pinstriped suits – but they weren’t allowed to enjoy that franchise-altering addition because the two Canadian teams were forbidden from actually selecting first overall in any of the drafts from 1995 to 1998.

A decade later, pinstripes went the way of 8-ball jackets, and tattoos were on the rise when Toronto won its second, and only other, draft lottery. The King James coronation was as advertised and two phenoms were up next. One of them even considered the Raptors his favorite childhood NBA team. That young man’s name was Kevin Durant. However, it was not to be. Months prior, then-Commissioner David Stern changed the minimum age limit from 18 to 19, making both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant draft-ineligible as options to Toronto. General manager Bryan Colangelo decided to select boldly regardless, opting for a different 3-point shooting 7-footer who enjoyed eating Primo pasta meals in the middle of dimly-lit basketball courts.

It’s been a little over a decade since that lottery win, and a fierce battle between a product line called iPhone and a family known as the Kardashians has raged on over who would undergo the most total changes over that span. The NBA wants changes, too. This time they’re the most sweeping set of lottery reforms since the implementation of ping pong balls. A vote on lottery reform is expected by the end of September, and if 23 of the 30 ownership groups side with Commissioner Adam Silver, the changes would be implemented for 2019. (A similar proposal fell six votes short in 2014, but Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, were one of 17 teams who supported reform.)

Essentially, the proposed reform would lower the odds the worst teams have for landing the top pick and smooth those odds out over the last couple of spots in the standings. The idea is to eliminate the push to tank to be the very worst while beefing up the odds for teams in the middle of the lottery, where it’s more difficult (and maybe less intentional) to jockey for better odds.

While we wait for the results of the vote, here’s a table we created exploring the Raptors draft history. In it, you’ll be able to compare the lottery odds the Raptors enjoyed in the past with what they would have enjoyed if this new proposal had been in place. Details of the proposal are still murky but two aspects have been widely reported: The three worst teams in any year would all receive the same flat odds of 14% in their pursuit of the first overall pick, and the remaining odds would then scale down from 4 through 14.

The exact odds of the proposal aren’t public yet, but we do have the aforementioned details, math, and the note that odds will still be fairly low for the teams who just miss the playoffs (to remove any incentive to drop out of a playoff spot). Our estimates for the new odds are based on both. You can see a few years – the 2003-to-2011 stretch stands out – where the Raptors would have been better off from this new proposal, and really only one instance where it would have hurt much (1997, when they couldn’t pick first anyway).

After you’ve looked at the table, we’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section regarding how you view the lottery reform proposal. Do you think they would be beneficial long-term to MLSE’s Raptors based on past history? More punishing? Negligible? There are definitely a few different ways the changes can be interpreted for a team that has laid out a three-year window to be competitive but may want to take several steps back to rebuild from the ground up later down the line. Please, let us know your thoughts.

UPDATE: The reform passed with a 28-1-1 vote on Thursday. The new lottery odds are in Woj’s tweet below, quite close to what Michael speculated:

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 26 – Contender or Pretender

Sam and Zarar tackle a host of topics including:

  • JV is going to the bench and there’s nothing you can do abou tit.
    Different style, same team
    Has-beens, never-were, or could bes?
    Bending the kneee.
    Does Lowry finally show sign of going down?
    What NBA Player’s really make
    RR Tournament
    Reaping the benefits of the 905
    Punk Bruno

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

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VIDEO: Toronto Raptors 2017-18 Media Day Interviews

We have a lot more coming this afternoon and throughout the week, but in the interim, check out the player interviews from today’s Media Day at BioSteel Centre.

Masai Ujiri

Dwane Casey

DeMar DeRozan

Kyle Lowry

C.J. Miles

Serge Ibaka

Joans Valanciunas

Norman Powell

Delon Wright

Jakob Poeltl

Pascal Siakam

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Media Day notes: No timeline for Anunoby, starting SF undetermined, and more

There’s always a ton to sort through with Media Day, and so while we’ll get to more fun, bigger-picture stuff throughout the week, we need to get some minor updates out of the way. You’ll probably like some, dislike others, and roll your eyes in skepticism for most. We’ll have more on a lot of this stuff in the coming weeks.

Starting lineup – Lowry, DeRozan, ___, Ibaka, Valanciunas

Head coach Dwane Casey has never been much for giving things away until he has to, but he more or less confirmed four of his five starters throughout his portion of media availability. Not only did he mention Jonas Valanciunas along with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka at one point, but he specifically talked about the fit with those four when it comes to the competition for the starting small forward spot.

This will probably be the most contentious issue for fans in camp, because there are good arguments to be made in favor of C.J. Miles and Norman Powell. We’ll get into the specifics this week, but there’s an interesting spacing-defense trade-off at play, as well as a serious ripple effect on the style of play the second unit might employ. Again, there are good cases for both that we’ll get into, and there’s no “wrong” answer if the rotation is well-balanced over 48 minutes, but the differing perspectives are sure to come into contrast.

“Who fits? What guy fits with that group?” Casey responded when asked who is fifth starter is. “Norm Powell did an excellent job for us last year, especially in the playoffs. His thing is to be more consistent. He’s probably our best attack player off the dribble, getting to the rim with force. His challenge is to make sure he can make decisions once he does see those roadblocks and see the seven-footers coming towards him, and be ready to make a play off the dribble, because he has it and that’s what he’s been working on all summer, is making the next pass on time on target…That position is gonna have to be a guy that fits with DeMar, Kyle, Serge, JV in that position. I’ve talked to both CJ and Norm, it could be either one.”

For their part, neither Miles nor Powell seem particularly dead-set on being in one role or another. Miles has started 13 or more games in each of his last 11 seasons and come off the bench for at least 20 in 10 of those years, so he’s comfortable either way. Powell, meanwhile, might be best served by finding one role and getting some certainty, but he’s also made a name for himself over two years by being able to thrive without a set role or routine. They’ll both be fine.

“Honestly, I don’t,” Powell said when asked if he cares. “I’ve talked to coach Casey about it and it honestly doesn’t matter to me. I have the same exact approach. I mean, everybody wants to start in the NBA, like that’s obvious. Everybody wants to be an NBA starter. But for me, I’ve always been about the team first.”

“It never was a thing for me honestly,” Miles echoed. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s exciting. You want to start but the second you figure out that your role is what it is and it doesn’t make you a lesser part of the team because of that, then it shouldn’t even be about that. It’s about winning and if me being a starter at the three or a starter at the four, being off the bench at the three or the four, as long as that’s what makes our team go, then that’s what I’m going to do. That’s my approach.”

Casey also mentioned Delon Wright and even Bruno Caboclo as potential candidates to see minutes at the three (it sounded like he included them in with potential starters but listening back, I’m unsure), so it seems everything is on the table early on. It wouldn’t be the worst approach to make that position fluid based on matchups, but Casey’s always prefered a set rotation where possible, and players will give credence to the value of routine.

As for Valanciunas, it only makes sense to start him, even if Ibaka as an individual is best case at center and the Raptors are likely to close games that way. The regular season isn’t about maximizing every minute, but maximizing for 48 over 82, and through that lens, starting Valanciunas is logical – the team is very deep at center and thin at the forward spots, and playing Ibaka at the five out of the gate would mean a couple of useful centers buried and a couple of unproven forwards playing in big roles. It’ll be a different conversation come playoff time.

OG Anunoby and Malcolm Miller updates

There were conflicting answers around injured rookie OG Anunoby. As everyone knows by now, Anunoby underwent surgery on his knee before the draft, and at the last update I received (at Summer League in July), he was able to run, cut, do box jumps, and shoot set shots. That was encouraging! The Raptors aren’t much for putting firm timelines on things, so it didn’t seem likely that we’d get more of an update than “maybe November, maybe December.”

And a report from Bruce Arthur on Sunday suggested that Anunoby could be back in November (it’s unclear whether that meant “back” to the Raptors or “back” to the point of a Raptors 905 rehab assignment). And Anunoby himself made it seem like he’s getting close.

The team’s stance is that there is no official update at this time, but it’ll be something to watch for as camp rolls along.

As for Malcolm Miller, the two-way player who had ankle surgery in July, he’s out of a walking boot and has progressed to participating in some drills, doing a lot of shooting, and doing a lot of trash-talking when he beats his teammates in shooting competitions. Miller doesn’t have a firm timeline, either, and the team wants to stay cautious, but Miller’s closing in on five-on-five work, which is great news.

Offensive changes

There were some pretty good quotes about how the team will change the offense this year, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. DeMar DeRozan probably put it best:

The lip-service is the kind of stuff you need to say and maybe want to hear here. Passing more, and with more zip and purpose. More unique ways to generate threes. Using attention the stars draw not only to pass in reaction, put pass in manipulation of a defense. I will understand if fans of this team for a few years would like to wait and see some proof on the court before they get too excited, though.

“You have to adapt or you die. That’s the thing. You have to adapt to the league, the way the game is changing,” Casey explained. “The tricky thing with that is you’re not going to make some players into something they’re not. DeMar DeRozan is not going to become Klay Thompson overnight. The tricky thing is to make sure we use the strengths of our players, as well as make adjustments, make changes with what you’re doing, while making sure you take advantage of the strengths of your players, how much they’ve improved over the summer, how much their games can adapt to what you’re trying to do.”

So, yeah, count those passes on SportVu in the preseason games, track how much they use their motion offense, see how thick Nick Nurse’s binder on the bench is, and so on. It should be fun to see how much things look different, and how long it lasts.

Player activism and advocacy

You can find comments from the organization on recent athlete protests and activism here.

Assorted

  • Everyone has improved their shot, everyone is in the best shape of their careers, and is primed for a breakout season.
    • Similarly, the Raptors feel overlooked once again and will use it for #ProveEm
  • Delon Wright and Norman Powell spent a lot of time in L.A. working out with Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and DeMar DeRozan. Wright, by the way, looks noticeably bigger through the chest and shoulders.
  • If there was a running theme talking to the young guys who have been here working out for a few weeks, it’s that everyone has been pretty impressed with how good Fred VanVleet has looked. Kyle Lowry even conceded that VanVleet is better right now than Lowry was at the same point in his career.
  • The five-man camp battle for two spots should be a lot of fun. K.J. McDaniels, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, Kyle Wiltjer, and Andy Rautins all bring some different things to the table, and given the multiple holes and varying skillsets here, it could very well be a straight meritocracy for the final cuts. Shooting would seem to be at a premium (Rautins/Wiltjer), but so to are defense and positional versatility (McKinnie/McDaniels). Meeks might be in tough by nature of roster composition, but he’s apparently transitioning to the four/five combo spot well and is down to the lowest playing weight of his career (263).
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Raptors comment on athlete activism and protests at Media Day

At Media Day on Monday, several members of the Toronto Raptors organization were asked about the ongoing peaceful anthem protests, NBA players speaking out in response to the president and racial inequalities, and more. What follows are their comments. I’ll post video when they’re up so there’s additional context as to tone.

Masai Ujiri

On players using their voice:

I’m 110 percent behind our players. I can guarantee one thing: Nobody’s getting fired here. They have a platform. There’s nobody getting fired here. You can quote me. You can write that one. My views are my views and I support all the players and what they said. Divide is not good, in my opinion. So seeing tough places divided, especially with where I come from, it’s not a good thing. I support the players 100 percent.

On ways to make it better:

I’m not a politician. It’s a social issue that’s affecting everybody, and we’re going to speak up about the things that affect us in sports. I think the players have spoken up, I think the Commissioner issued out a statement, and I think it’s fair. It’s a great idea for, I think Bob Myers said they’re going to visit the African American Museum in February sometime. Maybe Obama will show up at the museum the same day or something.

On his reaction to Trump’s tweets:

My reaction is I like the players’ reaction. That was my reaction. I liked LeBron’s reaction, I liked Steph Curry’s reaction, I liked Kobe’s reaction, I liked Curry’s reaction. Because I think they stood up. They stood up for our league. The NBA is the most prominent league now in the world, and these guys stand up and they speak. We that have platforms have to stand up and speak on these issues. I think Canada is a blessing

On being a Canadian team:

A blessing. We’ve always said, there’s something about this place, there’s something about this country that’s special. There’s plenty of things about America that’s special. We’re in a league that plays, in the NBA, and for me we are a big part of it. We want to feel a big part of it. We have players that are Americans and we have to support them 100 percent. When we win a championship we’ll deal with that issue, you know. We’ll deal with that issue. We’ll talk to, I think we’d get to go to two White Houses, right? If we win a championship, hopefully, one day. I think we’ll be fine with Trudeau.

On his advice to players if they want to be advocates:

Speak your mind. That’s what I tell them: Do your homework, know what you’re talking about, and if you’ve done that, and this is something you feel strongly about or affects you in any way – it affects all of us, and that’s the truth, it does affect all of us – speak your mind. Nobody is holding anybody back here. That’s, to me, these issues are serious. Sports bring people together, it’s not supposed to divide people, it’s supposed to bring people together, and our players know that.

Dwane Casey

On athletes protesting:

I talked to so many people yesterday about that and it’s unfortunate that people can even question whether an athlete should have first amendment rights, and coming from our president it’s hurtful. It’s almost like, even though players make a lot of money they’re still people, they’re the best at their profession. That’s what the U.S. was built on, protest. I came through the ’60s and ’70s and it’s eerily getting back to that if we’re not careful. And that’s why we want to take away the divisive words and let’s be inclusive. Whether you’re Canadian, Mexican, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Let’s be together. We breathe the same air, we’re here. But to say that athletes don’t have a right to protest — whatever they want to protest now, that’s a slippery slope, too. You’ve gotta make sure you’re informed, you’ve gotta make sure you’re standing for something. But, believe me, I’ve seen every form of racial injustice there is to see and everywhere from a nice place to a bad place. But again, it’s so much better than it was in the ’60s and ’70s it’s not even funny so let’s not go back to that. I applaud the NFL players, the owners that were out there standing together in unity. It’s not disrespecting the flag whatsoever. That’s what I told our players. You have the right to the first amendment but don’t disrespect the country, the flag, even the office of the president. Even though you may not agree with him, he’s still our president. But, that said, you have a first-amendment right for whatever you want to speak up about and that’s what North America was built on, is built on and let’s not lose that.

On the NBA in particular speaking out:

That’s the thing about it. Guys like Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali they built their lives and careers on that and I think it’s a great thing that the players stepped up for Golden State. Adam Silver, Adam talked to us last week at the coaches meeting about having players having an opportunity to be able to speak and have their first-amendment rights and he encourages that. That says a lot about Adam, that says a lot about our league, that says a lot about pro sports, in general. Again, it hurts because most players, the majority of players are minorities and it’s almost like you have a right to entertain us but you don’t have a right to be able to speak up about something. And that hurts me because I’ve come through that, I’ve come through segregation. And it’s scary to see the perceptions.

Are there lessons here?

Well, all of them. I think these are great lessons for young kids. My kids watch television, they saw the unity, they saw the players come together. I preached to my kids you don’t disrespect the flag, you don’t disrespect the country, the office of the presidency, it stands for something. You respect authority, you respect the work that the policemen do in life but if you feel strongly about something you have the right to speak up about it and I think that’s the example that you’re setting not only for us but for young kids, also. They’re sitting back watching sports and sports is a great vehicle of making sure we show inclusion and not being divisive.

On whether the Raptors may do something to protest:

No, we did not discuss that. And not to be a smart Alec, I wouldn’t announce it. Again, it’s the players’ right or their decision to do that if they want to do that. I’m not in a position to tell them not to exercise their first-amendment right.

Kyle Lowry

On athletes responding to Trump, and speaking out in general:

I love it. I know it’s a big topic. I know sports athletes, male, female, we all have one of the biggest platforms and we have a positive platforms. I think yesterday with the NFL, the players did it and it just shows how we are as athletes. We’re all together We have a small fraternity. We all are on the same page. We all want social injustice to be corrected, we want everyone to understand that. We aren’t just athletes. I’m a man at the end of the day. I did go to college. I did do this, I read, I can read, write. I think everyone in this league, in both leagues and as athletes can do that.

People say, ‘stay in your lane,’ but our lane as human beings is to be human beings, is to be citizens of this great earth, the great United States. Personally, I know we’re in Canada, but I think as athletes, we are citizens first. We are human beings first. We are fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, we are everything and I think that’s our right to show that we are who we are. This is a crazy subject, I could go on and on about it. LeBron stepping up and saying what he did is amazing. Chris Paul, Steph, the owners, and the NFL backing them. Adam Silver, it’s amazing how our great group of individuals, that we have a positive impact on everything. We’re coming together, we’re a really strong unit.

On the political climate, and sticking to sports:

I think my fellow athletes said it well. I think it’s unfortunate that someone that’s the leader of the most dominant country in the world is calling men SOBs, I think that’s unfortunate. That’s just sad. To go on a twitter rant, to be focusing on smaller things, smaller topics, kneeling players, other things that’s going on and not focusing on the social injustices that are going on is bad. It’s really bad. You wake up every day like, ‘alright what’s next?’ That’s not the way you want to wake up. You want to wake up like ‘let’s have a great day.’ Even this morning, you’re like, ‘come on, man.’ It’s like my six-year-old. Why? You should be the leader of the free world. You were voted to be the leader of the free world, to make the world better, the United States of America better. Why not do that?

We are human beings first. The people that are saying we should just be athletes, they bleed just like us. So why would we just stick to being athletes. We just happen to be very good at that. Why would we just tell them to sticking to just being a person? I’m very talented and very blessed to be able to play in the NBA. It doesn’t mean I’m not sophisticated enough to have a conversation about political situations, or what’s going on in the world, or what’s happening, social injustices, police brutality and all of that.

On whether the Raptors will protest in any way:

We haven’t had that conversation yet. One thing about our league, whatever we decide to do, our league will support us. It’s amazing to see all those guys standing, holding arms, kneeling. I think it was a positive impact.

DeMar DeRozan

On NFL protests:

For sure, I’m all for anything that’s right. A lot of them NFL players are doing a heckuva job standing up for what they believe in. It’s great to see all them guys sticking together. Us, as athletes, even though we’re not in the same sport as them but we can help do the same thing as far as spreading positivity, learning, trying to make a change. It starts on us because we have a voice, we could spread so much as a whole as long as we stick together. I’m definitely going to play a part in it, I’m all for it, without a doubt.

On kneeling in particular, and what the Raptors may do:

There are many ways you can go about it, it’s not just a kneel, it’s speaking up, it’s helping, talking, there are so many other things you can do. It’s not just a kneel, I think the kneel started an opening for so many other things we could be able to do by speaking up, by using our platform individually and as a whole. Like I said, I’m pretty sure as a team we’re going to talk about it, figure out something we could do to help shed light on what’s going on in the world, especially in America. Kneeling may not be the exact thing we do but it’s going to be something that shows all of us sticking together through this whole process.

On NBA players reacting to Trump:

I think the President brought a lot of this stuff on himself. He brought it on himself, he brought in on the country when it comes to Americans. It’s something where he’s gotta look in the mirror after making all these statements, saying all these crazy things about guys that’s trying to do the right thing, stand up for what’s right. I feel no player is trying to disrespect nobody, no flag, or anything like that, but we seem to be the ones to get all the disrespect from our so-called leader. It sucks when you see that. Especially when you have kids that you wanna raise in a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world. But you’ve got your president on twitter more than a 12-year-old saying the most outrageous things for people who’s trying to do something right. It’s crazy.

On whether protests should be about police brutality or something else (it was kind of an odd Q):

Everything that’s going on in the world. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve done had friends killed by police officers a couple days after just being at my house. When I was young, and even recently. And it sucks, because vene myself, you can drive a nice car and I’m still being questioned: How’d you get this car? Do you do this? Do you do that? And it’s not fair. At the end of the day, because I always think about, what about, I have my kids in my car. You see all these incidents with things happen on the internet, officers doing things to people and it’s caught on camera, and they still have no repercussions. They still get up the next day like it’s just another day. Things like that, it sucks.

On how growing up in LA shapes his perspective:

For sure. For sure. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It kinda hits home for me in a sense because I grew up extremely tough. I never try to glamorize the way I came up. I always try to be the positive person, no matter what. I never try to dwell on all the negative things. I’m pretty sure you guys see me, I’m the most happiest person when it comes to talking. So that’s one thing I try to spread. It’s all about positivity. Once we put that energy out there, it’ll be easier for us to make the changes we need to make. And that’s the route a lot of us are definitely trying to take.

On the perception of the LAPD when he was a kid:

I could go on for days with that. It was tough when it came to the police, seeing them, not wanting to look ’em in the eye ’cause you didn’t wanna get questioned, you see him and you go in the house. It’s the way we grew up, to where it became we were hiding or running from something, even if you didn’t do anything, just because you didn’t wanna get hassled or get harassed for something you didn’t do. It’s crazy, when I think about it. I had a conversation with my cousin last night, even when we was younger, police are saying you look like somebody just to say you look like somebody else to try to make an arrest or something. We were just kids trying to get to school or get to the candy house or do something like that. To see 15 years later, me being an adult and seeing it transpire, this is definitely crazy.

On this all going on, from a father’s perspective:

Even now, what I try to stress to my kids, is having respect for yourself and for others, no matter who it is. Once you have that respect, you give it as well as you want it received back, you’ll be in a positive place. Carry yourself in that manner. Once you bring disrespect to anybody, it’s gonna be an ugly environment. And you see it from our president with all the disrespect that he’s put out to whoever it may be, women, men, athletes, whoever it may be. It’s crazy.

I’ve intentionally left any editorializing out of this post. While I am not naive enough to think it won’t spark conversation in the comments, I implore you to please be respectful of each other, should you feel the need to engage in (this important and, hopefully, constructive) conversation.

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The Story Is There Is No Story

Not all Raptors fans know this, but their team has traditionally been a very narrative-rich team. They’ve always been a fun team to write about because there was always something _to_ write about.

Well, there used be, anyway. While there is still no shortage of writers offering their opinions on the Raptors’ upcoming season, I defy you to stay awake reading more than a couple of these ‘previews’ (including this one). The Raptors have entered a narrative lull: too consistently good to blow-up and too consistently not-good-enough to win it all. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Lowry and Ibaka re-signed in July, as expected. The team’s biggest free agent import is role player C.J. Miles, and their biggest export was DeMarre Carroll’s contract — neither move has particularly earth-shaking ramifications in terms of on-court play. The same guy is patrolling the sidelines. The same guy is running the front office. The Raptors are still almost assuredly going to finish top-four in the East, and will almost assuredly not reach the NBA Finals, just like the last four years.

In fairness to the Raptors, it would have been hard to make a move that would have garnered much attention in an NBA summer that saw All-Stars traded around like baseball cards while others made a sport of calling out the U.S. president. Still, even within this tempest of an offseason, the Raptors flew well above the storm. That’s been the calming influence of Masai Ujiri’s entire tenure as the head of the organization. Nothing mind-blowing happens (at least not since he got a lottery pick for Andrea Bargnani), just steady, solid stewardship of a highly-functional team that is still trying to find a way to the top without bottoming-out first.

To that end, Ujiri did a commendable job this summer. The highlight was managing to get Lowry and Ibaka back on three-year deals, as opposed to the four or five year pacts that Lowry, at least, was expected to command. Ujiri read the market and saw the he had a ton of negotiating power that many — including Lowry — did not anticipate that he would have when free agency rolled around. Ibaka‘ s deal was pretty “wink-wink complete” before the trade from Orlando, but getting Lowry that far from the max would have been unthinkable when the Raptors were swept out of the Playoffs in early May. For a team that needs to remain flexible in order to have a shot at crashing the NBA Finals in the next couple of years, those deals were a godsend to Toronto’s cap sheet.

The Carroll-Joseph-Miles-Wright situation, and how it affects the team, is really wholly dependent on the mythical new offense that is supposedly in the offing for the Raptors this season. There has been a lot of waffling on exactly how extreme this is going to be from the powers that be, but the intention is that the ball will move more and, presumably, the players without the ball will move more, too.

I’m always skeptical when a team brings bring their coaching staff and core players and says that a new offense is coming. Breaking habits is terrifically hard. Keep in mind, for all of the aesthetic unpleasantness (and Playoff ugliness), the Raptors were a top-six offense in the regular season last year, powered by an abundance of iso-ball from Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. These are two players that have become All-Stars and Olympic gold medalists playing a certain way for the Raptors, and they’ve won a lot of games doing it. The hard part about installing a new offense is that when things get tough, or when a game feels uncomfortable, as a player it is only natural to revert back to what has worked. You can’t even really fault either Lowry or DeRozan if that happens this season. They’ve spent the last five years designing their games to play a certain way, and while it sounds nice to tell them to stop isolating the ball so much, if that’s what they do best (and it is) and they have had success doing it (which they have), switching off the instinct to go one-on-one won’t be as easy as spending two weeks in training camp drilling a new offensive scheme.

One thing that might have helped is if the Raptors could start Ibaka at centre to open up the court, changing up the defense the Lowry and DeRozan see on drives, but the Raptors lost their two best forwards in free agency this summer (Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker) and didn’t replace them with equally adept variants. Sure, you could start Ibaka at centre, but if you play Pascal Siakam next to him in the starting five, you get the same net effect on offense as if you just leave the post-bound Jonas Valanciunas standing under the basket. Defenses will shrink, Lowry and DeRozan will see the same coverages as always, and their instincts will kick in and they’ll be doing the same things they’ve always done to be successful in the past and that will be that. Breaking habits is hard, but it’s fantastically harder when the environment that incubated those habits remains exactly the same.

Of course, maybe this is the year DeMar DeRozan shoots the three consistently…..

Anyone?…..

That’s why it’s hard to evaluate the nips and tucks on the fringes of the roster. Miles is meant to space the floor more consistently than Carroll, which he may do. However, if the offense does change, we don’t yet know what kind of looks he’s going to get, nor how frequently he’s going to get them.

Something similar could be said about Delon Wright inheriting Joseph’s backup minutes. He’s been productive in that spot in the past, but it’s hard to say going forward exactly how the Raptors plan to deploy him. It’s one thing to run schemes designed for other people, it’s another thing to have schemes designed with you in mind. Either way, Miles and Wright aren’t tipping the scales of the season one way or the other, and it’s probably just best to assume a lateral move from last year’s guys to this year’s guys.

The truth is, the Raptors are in a stasis mode. They aren’t expected to suddenly be better this year, that would be a ludicrous assumption given that they’ve shed quality players and replaced them with whatever youngsters they had lying around (the youngsters are good, fine, but still have a lot to prove). What Ujiri is doing is keeping the team competitive while he waits to see if a chance comes along to make the team meaningfully better. One thing this summer should have taught everyone is the value of stability as an organization. Players are getting wise to the game. They know a chaotic situation when they see one. Stability has value now. Consistency has value. Teams that have demonstrated a willingness to win have value to good players looking to improve their situation. It’s still up to Ujiri to cash in on that scenario, but he’s keeping his roster flexible to do just that in the years ahead.

The Raptors have been bad many many times and that has never turned them into world-beaters, so taking the alternate route of trying to be good while they figure things out is wonderfully refreshing. Giving viewers and attendees value for the money and time they are investing in the team is likewise invigorating. Does it also make the team somewhat narratively bereft? Sure. But after so many years of interesting narratives trying to find value in a valueless team, I’m happy that this fanbase is getting a steady diet of Playoffs and winning basketball, even if that may not be that interesting for me to write about.

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Sunday open thread

Media day is tomorrow. This will be the last time until next offseason we need an open thread to refresh the conversation. Be thankful, and let’s go.

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Raptors signing Andy Rautins to camp deal

The Toronto Raptors are signing Andy Rautins to a training camp deal, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports.

The addition of Rautins brings the Raptors’ training camp roster to 20, meaning there will be no late veteran addition. Faced with a potential luxury tax bill should they retain 15 players past Jan. 10, the flexibility offered by non-guaranteed deals and the chance to develop a young secondary core is taking precedent at the back end of the roster. Rautins will be competing with Alfonzo McKinnie, K.J. McDaniels, Kennedy Meeks, and Kyle Wiltjer for one or two spots on the final roster, with the organization surely hoping a few of the names who are cut clear waivers and accept a placement in the G-League.

Raptors Republic has learned that Rautins’ agreement is not for an Exhibit 10 contract – the deal Meeks and Wiltjer are in camp on – meaning there’s no bonus if he’s waived and agrees to join Raptors 905. It’s a fully non-guaranteed camp deal, likely meaning he makes it or heads back overseas.

And there is a chance Rautins makes the team out of camp, given the team’s penchant for keeping a deep guard rotation and need for outside shooting, though their depth needs would seem to lie elsewhere at this moment. A 6-foot-6 shooting guard, the 30-year-old Syracuse product has long been known as a sharpshooter. After hitting 37.5 percent of his threes over his NCAA career, Rautins has proceeded to shoot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc in the G-League (2012-13, even winning the G-League 3-point competition) and anywhere from 38.2 percent to 42.4 percent over his last four seasons overseas. All of that is on a heavy volume, too (around eight threes per-game), and Rautins apparently impressed a great deal with his outside touch in a recent workout. Indications are also that Rautins, initially mostly a spot-up threat, has improved as a secondary playmaker thanks to a larger distributing role overseas.

The No. 36 overall pick of the New York Knicks in 2010, Rautins appeared in five games with the team in 2010-11 but was waived after being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks early that year. In 2012, he signed a camp deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in 2013 he got a Summer League look from the Chicago Bulls. His years have otherwise been spent in Tulsa, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Turkey. Most recently, Rautins averaged 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.2 steals with a 58.4 true-shooting percentage in 43 games for Royal Hali Gaziantep in the Turkish Basketball Super League.

Son of Raptors’ analyst Leo Rautins, Andy Rautins was born in New York but has spent time with Canada’s national program, appearing in eight different events for the senior men’s team, most recently the 2013 FIBA AmeriCup.

Here’s how the complete camp roster will look, with injured played in italics, two-way players underlined, and the players competing for a spot in bold (and yes, a lot of these players are multi-position guys you can bump up or down a spot as you see fit, and depending on how the roster shakes out):

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown (two-way)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, K.J. McDaniels ($100K guarantee), Andy Rautins (non-guaranteed)
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie ($100K guarantee)
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller (two-way)Kyle Wiltjer (Exhibit 10)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, Kennedy Meeks (Exhibit 10)

The camp battle should be interesting. McDaniels adds some toughness and post-hype upside, McKinnie has legitimate 3-and-D potential, and Wiltjer and Rautins can shoot the lights out for their positions. Even Meeks, who wouldn’t seem a fit based on the depth chart, won fans quickly in Las Vegas. It should be a pretty heated battle, and the thinned-out Raptors 905 roster might stand to benefit, too, if a couple of the cuts slide through waivers and are amenable to spending some time there.

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Raptors fan worries are the Norm

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

With training camp fast approaching, there are more questions than answers surrounding this 2017-2018 iteration of the Toronto Raptors. Can they stay healthy? Will a training camp help them make better use of Serge Ibaka on both ends? Will the team’s youngest players fill the void left by the departures of Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph?

It’s one question in particular that seems to be worrying Raptors nation more than B-Rabbit before his final battle at the end of 8 Mile: “If Norman Powell breaks out and gets a huge offer next summer, will the Raptors let him walk?”

It’s easy to understand the concern. If Powell comes anywhere close to averaging the 15.6ppg, 3.7rpg, 1.8apg and .594 true shooting percentage he averaged as a starter last year, the offer sheet put in front of him by another team next summer could look much closer to the 4-year, $71 million dollar sheet that Tim Hardaway Jr. signed and less like the 4-year, $42 million dollar extension Josh Richardson recently inked. The Raptors are already staring down the luxury tax with Norman Powell on a bargain contract. So, something has to give, right?

READ MORE: What would a Norman Powell contract extension look like for the Raptors?

Powell could sign an extension today remarkably similar to the Richardson contract but likely won’t. He and his agent, Thaddeus Foucher, are likely to bet on themselves and the offers they’ll receive next summer being better than that. Can you blame them? In the playoffs, Powell was spectacular for long stretches as a starter, flashing a combination of slashing, 3-point shooting, and defence that reminded at times of a younger Avery Bradley, and rescuing the Raptors from a potential upset for the second season in a row. The U.S. media noticed and Powell dominated the playoff news cycle for 48 hours internationally. He’s never been better known heading into an NBA training camp.

To their credit, the Raptors seem aware of this and have taken steps to ensure Powell feels valued. When Dwane Casey sat down with Kyle Lowry prior to free agency he didn’t only bring DeMar DeRozan with him. Powell was there, too. A reminder to Lowry that this group still has room to grow and a statement to Powell that he is now seen as one of the key assets who’ll drive that growth. Terrence Ross was moved out last year and now DeMarre Carroll is gone. Willing backup C.J. Miles has entered the picture, excited to help anyway he can; He started only 29 games for the Indiana Pacers and was productive in his reserve role. The training camp battle between both men remains intriguing, but it’s Powell’s starting role to lose and it’s alongside the starters where Powell has looked most dangerous.

In isolation, each of these developments might worry Raptors fans. Combined, they trigger flashbacks of Bismack Biyombo’s introductory press conference in Orlando. Is it time to start the clock on Powell? Some think so. They’re wrong. Masai Ujiri bought patience as a penny stock long ago and will ride it into retirement someday. Nobody in the NBA understands the rewards of patience better than Ujiri, and he can be patient with Powell in ways he couldn’t with Biyombo.

Most know that Powell is a restricted free agent. That means the Raptors will have the right to match any offer Norm signs even if it puts them into luxury tax territory. What many seem to have forgotten is that luxury tax isn’t calculated at the start of each year. It’s calculated at the end of them. The Raptors can therefore defer the eventual budgetary issue of Powell’s next contract as late as the trade deadline of 2018-2019 without penalty. In other words, the Raptors could theoretically begin the season after next with both Jonas Valanciunas and a re-signed Powell. Unlikely? Perhaps, given the leverage they’d forfeit as the drop-dead tax date drew nearer. Unprecedented? Not even close.

Valanciunas remains the most likely core asset that will be moved out in order to accommodate Powell’s next raise. With $48 million remaining on his contract and the much more affordable Jakob Poeltl gunning for his minutes, it’s only a matter of time until Valanciunas is back on the block. The game has evolved and the Raptors will be better served allocating their fourth-highest salary toward the perimeter while taking advantage of Poeltl’s bargain deal. The misconception is that this all has to happen as soon as possible. It doesn’t. The Miami Heat began last season in position to pay $11.3 million dollars in luxury tax and ended up paying none of it following 5 separate trades. The last two of which were completed with minutes to go before the deadline window closed.

The Raptors will have at least 18 months to find the right suitor for Valanciunas in a cost-saving measure, and he seems intent on making their job easier. Noticeably trimmer and more decisive at FIBA EuroBasket this summer, Valanciunas could be due for his best season with the Raptors yet. The better he is, the further away things move from the kinds of trade offers Ujiri turned down at this summer’s draft. Ujiri has no intention of giving him away for nothing, or packaging a key asset just to move him. For all his faults, and all of the movement toward small-ball lineups, Valanciunas remains a popular, intriguing and charismatic figure league-wide. It will only take one team to fall in love again and wonder how the new and improved Valanciunas might look like in their situation.

Ujiri’s patience could be rewarded again as a result. Meanwhile, Poeltl continues to grow and prepare to take the reins. There are still many questions to be answered about this iteration of the Raptors, but “Will the Toronto Raptors let Norman Powell walk?” doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

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Raptors 905 announce 2018 G-League Showcase schedule

Raptors 905 announced the schedule for the 2018 G-League Showcase on Thursday, revealing that they will utilize a second court at the Hershey Centre/Mississauga SportZone facility as expected. Game times will be staggered between the main Hershey Centre court and the adjacent secondary SportZone court so that those in attendance can attempt to see as much action as possible.

Taking place Jan. 10-13 and returning to the 905 for a second consecutive season, the Showcase will see all 26 G-League teams play two games in front of plenty of league scouts and executives. For teams, it’s a nice opportunity to forge chemistry in a tournament environment ahead of the stretch run, while players have the obvious opportunity to draw the attention of NBA teams with the 10-day contract window open.

The host 905, who went 2-0 here last year and made it two years in a row in which the (unofficial) Showcase winner would go on to win the G-League Championship, will play Jan. 11 at 12 p.m. and Jan. 13 a 12 p.m.

Broadcast information will be released at a later time, but for now, here’s the full schedule for the week:

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Patreon Mailbag: An offseason review of sorts

With the dead of offseason upon us – I’m not going crazy unsure of how to use free time, not at all – I figured it was time to offer those who support the site via Patreon the smallest of gestures, in the form of an #RRMailbag. Now, I realize this is a fairly silly gesture, given I have never once not answered a mailbag question from any reader yet, but the wonderful people who support us deserve something other than my very conditional love and appreciation. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that our Patreon page can be found at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between (using the hashtag insures I won’t lose track of the question over time, so do that).

Alright, let us get on with it.

Reader: It’s not really an article idea per say, and it’s hard, but with all the Canadians coming through the system maybe an ongoing pinned thing of like how RJ, Lindell, and any other upcoming possibly drafted Canadians are doing. Maybe like box scores of recent games how they are doing in ESPN draft rankings if they are projected to be drafted and a short blurb of how they’ve been playing. Nothing major just a quick ongoing hit on Canadians we can expect to hear from in the future.

Blake: I’ll talk to Zarar about getting some sort of tracker going on a subpage, though it’d probably only be as simple as their recruiting rank, and maybe the stat line for any NCAA players.

As for coverage of the national program in general, it’s something I’ve tried to ramp up over the last couple of years. Last summer, we covered pretty much all of the major events. This summer, we covered the boys U-19 finals, the senior women’s gold-medal game, Canada’s AmeriCup, and any Raptors in international play. We obviously can’t cover everything these guys are doing, but I’m committed to doing major U-19 tournaments and any meaningful games for the senior teams. As best I can, anyway.

I’ll see once the season gets going whether there are enough updates on players to warrant a monthly roundup post.

Reader: Not a question, but a request: Can you update the Instagram and Twitter feeds on your page with the new team members and sub out the old ones? That would be appreciated.

Blake: Done! You can find the updated Twitter list here (or just follow it here) and the updated Instagram list here. (I’ll take the guys who don’t make the roster off later.)

Reader: Who fills the Cory Joseph sized void in Canadian advertising?

Blake: You’d have to think Kyle Wiltjer is angling for that as the lone Canadian presence on the team. It is kind of funny/weird how Joseph was basically in EVERY commercial during his time here. I get it, I just didn’t think local advertisers cared that much about it being a Canadian face. Since it doesn’t look like a Canadian will crack the 15-man roster, my guess is that Norman Powell steps into the marketing void Joseph’s left behind. He’s coming out of his shell a bit and is poised for a big year – advertisers should jump now while he’s still affordable and willing to do, I dunno, like, Maple Leaf Foods ads and stuff.

Reader: A way too in depth scouting report of the player whose useless rights we acquired for CoJo.

Blake: How dare you call the rights to Emir Preldzic useless? Who are you to doubt Emir Preldzic? This is a man who the Phoenix Suns thought enough of in 2009 to select him 57th overall, surely knowing he’d develop into a legitimate prospect over the years. Now 30, Preldzic has been traded in separate deals for cash, Antawn Jamison, DeJuan Blair, Stanko Barac, and, now, Cory Joseph. You don’t command those kinds of returns if your rights are useless.

(In seriousness, his rights aren’t entirely useless, as it’s helpful for teams to have the stashed draft rights to at least one international player at any given time. League rules stipulate that both teams must send something in a trade, and players like Prelzic or DeeAndre Hulett are helpful accounting chips.)

As for the player himself, he once sounded fairly intriguing. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, was playing an important role at a young age for a high-end team in Fenerbahce prior to his draft year, and he looked the part of a potential point forward, according to draft reports from that time. He didn’t quite pan out to the NBA level thanks mostly to never developing 3-point range (until the last two years, anyway), but he’s carved out a really solid international career – he ranks in the top-40 all-time in EuroLeague games and minutes played and top-50 in total rebounds and assist percentage. Now with Galatasaray in Turkey, his offensive role is somewhat diminished and he’s no longer a member of the Turkish national team (he previously played for Slovenia, too).

I hope this is deep enough.

Reader: How does JV fit into the future of this team and by extension the NBA? Is this team better without him?

Blake: The team’s definitely not better without him. He’s not a perfect fit with Serge Ibaka or as a defensive anchor in the modern NBA, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a good, useful player. He’s in a weird place where his most ardent supporters won’t be happy unless his offensive role increases dramatically (it should increase a little on dives to the rim and tricky cuts underneath but not necessarily in straight post-up volume) and his detractors won’t be happy unless he’s banished altogether. The truth is that he’s quite good in the defined role he’s played the last four years – score at a good clip on garbage buckets, set some of the best screens in the NBA, and rebound like hell.

Longer term, his contract being what it is and the team’s asset base looking as it does, he’s probably still not a lock to be on the roster for 2018-19. Unless the Raptors bid goodbye to Norman Powell as a restricted free agent or are fine with an enormous luxury tax bill, some salary will probably need to be shed, and they’ll probably test the market for Valanciunas as a result.

I’ll probably write about this more in the preseason. Until then: Valanciunas being shopped does not mean he’s bad, nor does him being imperfect or an imperfect fit. He’s an entirely useful player.

Reader: Did the team get better this summer? Additions vs subtractions? What are reasonable expectations for the team this year? Is Masai settling with this team? Good but not great? Is that not a contradiction of his mantra of not settling for mediocrity that he pledged when he first took the job? Is there a legitimate chance this team overcomes the Cavs in 7 games?

Blake: This is one I’ve kind of tackled over the course of all of the offseason coverage I’ve done.

Quickly, they’re probably worse at this moment than they were last year, but they have some potential upside baked in with a young back of the roster, and we still haven’t seen Lowry-DeRozan-Ibaka together much. They’ll be at roughly the same level as the last four years – good, not great, a gatekeeper to the second tier, and a team likely headed for a second-, maybe third-round exit if things break right. They’re not beating Cleveland barring injury, and they’ll be hard-pressed to make meaningful additions by trade. They are what they’ve been the last few years.

And that’s entirely fine. Sure, Ujiri said mediocrity wouldn’t be accepted, but I’d argue that building the best stretch in franchise history and turning the team from a bit of a laughing stock in competitive terms into a very well-respected organization is not mediocrity. Being good is good, and given the other options – compete with a half-dozen other teams to race to the bottom and hope to be this good again three or four years down the line – I understand why they did what they did. I understand those who wanted to blow it up for a chance at a better chance at the big victory, too, but all 30 teams can’t be in the two buckets of “tanking” and “true contending,” and the Raptors have chosen to continue to build organizational equity and stay competitive for the next two, maybe three seasons.

Reader: It seems every team has spent up to the tax this summer. What will be the consequences of the ludicrous contracts handed out the last 2 offseasons? How does this affect the raptors? What does the raptors cap sheet look like with their core locked up for the next 3 years?

Blake: I went pretty in-depth on how the shifting market factors caused a greater financial crunch than expected for The Athletic this summer, but as a refresher: Basically, teams in 2016 operated as if the huge cap spike wasn’t a one-time deal, and while it wasn’t, the cap has plateaued much more dramatically than anticipated since that summer. The three- and four-year deals that were handed out all over are still on the books, and contracts with the maximum allowable annual raises are rising at a rate faster than the cap, taking up a greater proportion of it. The market was cool for a lot of guys in 2017, and the way the free agent landscape projects for 2018 is likely worrying a lot of potential free agents (and teams who could have substantial luxury tax bills).

For the Raptors, the biggest impact was the market for bigs turning, making what was once a solid deal for Valanciunas look difficult to move. DeRozan’s contract is at least smoothed out evenly, but Lowry and Ibaka will take up a greater share of the cap moving forward. Those four have a combined $96 million committed to them for next year, and that’s before factoring in any deals for Powell, VanVleet, Nogueira, and Caboclo, all of whom are restricted free agents. That the team doesn’t have any draft picks in 2018 makes this even more difficult, because there’s no (clear) supply of inexpensive labor on the way.

What this probably means is another summer where the team looks to shed some money somewhere, which is why I mentioned Valanciunas taking up permanent residence on the trade block earlier. It would be extremely difficult to keep the top three guys, Valanciunas, and Powell. It is possible, however, depending on what happens in the East landscape (read: with LeBron), and the Raptors may be toeing the luxury tax line for this year with a budget for the next two years in mind. (Hypothetically, they could have a three-year budget for this window, so avoiding tax payments and even receiving tax disbursements this year, when their ceiling is quite clear, could give them a bit of additional flexibility next year.)

In any case, it’s an ugly spot, and it’s one a lot of teams are going to be sharing. Teams with cap space can probably enter the summer looking to extract assets for taking on deals like the Nets did this year, and some free agents could seek shorter-term deals to re-enter the market in a more favorable environment.

Reader: Is Dwayne Casey a sitting duck/scapegoat if things head south this year? How do you feel about Masai sticking with him as long as he has?

Blake: I’ve been fine with Ujiri sticking with Casey. The only year I really thought he was in trouble (and should have been in trouble) was after the Wizards series, when the team seemed to quit a bit and there was no semblance of a defensive plan. At the time, though, it doesn’t sound like an obvious replacement was necessarily available (this is part of what I mean when I speak of organizational equity above – being a good enough franchise to attract high-end candidates). Casey has done a better job the last two years, particularly in terms of the general flexibility of his approach. He is imperfect, of course, but he’s not anywhere near as bad in the macro as some fans make him out to be because of the occasional highly noticeable micro (mostly: redundant end-of-game play-calling). He’s a really solid coach, just not an elite one, and there aren’t elite ones on the market right now.

As for how hot his seat is, you’d have to think it’s at least a little warm, even if it’s only because there’s nothing else the team can really try to change about this core if things go poorly. Ujiri has always been hesitant to make in-season moves, and I think that would apply to the coaching staff, too – it’s going to be hard to attract an outside candidate mid-season when they won’t have an offseason or camp to install their system, it’s probably too much turmoil to promote your G-League coach mid-season, and they’d probably just make Nick Nurse or Rex Kalamian the interim coach (both are good, mind you).

Historically, studies have found that mid-season coaching changes don’t have much of an impact once you account for expected regression. I don’t think it’ll come to this, and will once again be a matter to be pondered in the offseason. A June tradition.

Reader: Why can’t DeRozen improve his defense? I guess first, do the Raptors think his defense is that bad? They must not think its as bad as RPM does (-2.04), or they wouldn’t have given him an almost max contract. You hear about DeRozen getting to the gym early to work on his offense. Does he work that hard on his defense? If not, why not? Because of the obvious reason, that you can get an almost max contract without playing defense?

Blake: The Raptors are definitely aware that DeRozan is a poor defender. Casey has even joked about it in the past, and P.J. Tucker didn’t exactly hide his feelings about it. They surely know the player better than we can with publicly available data, but I’d be shocked if anyone tried to earnestly tell you he’s not a poor defender.

As for why, there are a few things at play, none of which excuse it. The biggest one is that DeRozan carries one of the heaviest offensive loads in the NBA, consistently among the league leaders in minutes played, miles run, usage rate, and free throws (a reasonable enough barometer for how often you’re hit). The Raptors probably don’t want him expending full effort on every defensive possession because they need him so much on offense, which is why he almost always draws the least dangerous perimeter player on the other team. Offense is also just a lot easier to work on in the offseason than defense, I think – you can do footwork drills, shooting drills, dribbling drills and the like on your own or with a trainer, but the only thing you can really do to improve your defense is work on your body/conditioning/athleticism, which he already (obviously) does. On top of all of that, some people are just poor defenders, prone to lapses or without the requisite defensive awareness (or whatever you’d like to call it).

Again, none of this excuses poor defense. DeRozan is big and exceptionally strong for a wing player, and he’s paid like a star. The Raptors need him to be better on that end of the floor, full stop, and he can be (not to the point of being a lock-down guy, but better, for sure). As for how you get a near-max deal while a poor defender, well, market factors, mostly. Buckets, and all.

Reader: Why doesn’t the NBA pay higher salaries for the G league so the good players stay and it acts as a farm system? If you look at the 905 players, many of the good players from last year are off to Europe. I assume because of salary. Couldn’t the NBA devote more money to the G league? Will the two way contracts help this?

Blake: First, they’re definitely heading to Europe for financial purposes. Even the guys who got bonuses for being in camp last year only made about $75,000, and while you can make up that money pretty quickly if you get a 10-day or a two-way deal, guys have to be realistic about their chances of doing so. You have a limited window to make money in your career, and the E.J. Singlers and Brady Heslips of the world can command high-six-figure salaries overseas.

Two-ways will help with this, for sure. A guy can earn nearly $300,000 on a two-way if everything breaks right for them, and those deals can also be converted to real NBA contracts at any point. It’s also two extra roster spots where other teams can’t sign your G-League guys away, which is huge from the team side (your investment in player development isn’t helping someone else).

It’s going to take time for the NBA to get the development system to where we’d like it, though. Not even all 30 teams have a G-League affiliate yet (2019-20 looks like the earliest this will happen), and the NBA is probably right to expand the system in modest increments. The union might also push back if teams get too much control over the NBA chances of prospects, as the AHL and MILB setups can sometimes withhold a player’s agency a little long. Still, I’m confident the G-League is growing fast enough and teams are realizing the importance of player development enough that within five years, everyone will have an exclusive affiliate and NBA teams will be able to focus on the long-term development of at least a handful of players, knowing they’ll reap the benefits.

And yes, base G-League salaries need to increase regardless. Hopefully the “G” sponsorship helps to that end.

Reader: Remember when Demar was going to sign with the lakers because he could get extra money by signing a Chinese shoe deal? I know the whole Houston connection- and Kyle used to have a deal but did it just expire and not get renewed when he came to the raps?  Will Toronto ever get that sweet Chinese shoe money?

Blake: Terrence Ross actually wears Li-Ning shoes, so the Raptors were getting in on that Chinese shoe money not all that long ago.

As for DeRozan, there was also speculation that going to the Lakers would convince Nike to give him his own shoe (not just the Kobe AD10 P.E. he got last year, which was exceptional). These factors absolutely exist, but I think they sometimes get overstated as the cycle of free agency looks for reasons to discuss potential drama. Right now, DeRozan remains Nike and Lowry remains adidas.

Reader: (There were a few similar questions about how the site operates, what our process is, whether Will is my real son or only adopted, how I go about writing a breaking news story or trying to break news, and so on.)

Blake: I’m not going to answer these here, but please know I took note of them and am trying to think of the best ways to answer without writing something naval-gazing. If those people who asked have more specific questions about certain elements, please feel free to follow up over email.

Reader: It seems to me that for the Raps to advance any further, they need at least the threat of three-point shooting.  How can they achieve some, given what they have to work with?

Blake: This is another one I wrote a lot about over the course of the summer. The answer is multi-faceted, but the big one is C.J. Miles, who is a phenomenal fit for the Raptors’ offense. They’ll also hope that DeRozan gets better, that Powell continues improving, that a full season of Ibaka helps, and that some of the other youngsters push to respectability. They’ll also talk a lot in camp about moving the ball more to create better open threes (I wrote about the “culture reset” not too far back).

A lot of it will be stuff you’ve heard before – the energy of the ball, not everyone can be the Warriors, can’t change who guys are, and so on. So skepticism is understood until the season begins.

Reader: Kind of an off topic question but will there be a raptors republic Fantasy Basketball league?  If so (I realize this is a selfish suggestion but…) would patreon contributors get first dibs?

Blake: Absolutely. I’ll be sending out invites for the Patreon fantasy league sometime soon, and making a post on RR for the public leagues around the same time. I finished 4th, 7th, and 9th (out of 20) in the leagues last year, but I would like to reclaim my title in at least one of them.

Reader: During the free agency period, there were a few good teams that would have been a good fit to pursue Kyle, like San Antonio. From what I understand, there was no sniff by anyone of consequence, which was not a knock on Lowry’s talent but perhaps a question mark on his alpha dog mentality to fit in or perhaps take a backseat to the coach and the system. I do not think Kyle would react well to a chewing out by Popovich that he regularly gives any of his players, including his stars. He generally gets his way with Casey. 

So, after this long explanation, does Lowry recognize that and take a further step in his development to address this, or does he still play out as if he knows best? The theme this summer was culture reset and this rests on Casey to change his style of coaching, his play calling and player mix (more Norm…PLEASE!) but Lowry is the biggest person that needs to buy in and change his mindset. He should have been a valuable piece to be pursued, but it did not seem to happen. Thoughts?

Blake: I haven’t spoken with Lowry personally since he re-signed (I was at Summer League when they held the press conference), but all indications are that Lowry knows where he can get better. He wanted a five-year max and, if not that, a four-year max, and while market factors were a big part of those deals drying up, it has to be at least a little humbling and motivating regardless.

Now, I’m not sure your characterization of him is entirely fair – he’s an emotional guy, for sure, and that can look a certain way and have a certain impact on a room, but he’s also usually a quality teammate and a respected leader outside of those moments. That doesn’t excuse it, and he can improve as a leader moment-to-moment, and that matters. I’m sure that was a big part of conversations between him and DeRozan, Casey, and most importantly Ujiri this summer, and I’m sure Lowry would like to do whatever it takes, on the court or off of it, to give them a better chance of winning.

On the court, Lowry probably doesn’t even need to change much. As a strong playmaker, a great pick-and-roll operator, and an elite shooter, he’s the most versatile offensive piece they have. (They did run their motion sets a bit more when he was out, but I’m inclined to believe that was out of necessity than any belief they don’t fit with Lowry.) Whatever style tweaks they make, he should be just fine. He’s very, very good.

Reader: Could the CoJo exception be used to facilitate Jonas-for-Carmelo? What about flipping Jonas for Brandon Knight to use the injury exception to open up space?

Blake: The traded player exceptions the Raptors have from the Carroll and Joseph trades can not be combined or combined with a player to take on even more salary. You can take back what they’re worth, plus $100,000. Useful tools, but they can’t be leveraged together for one major move. (The Joseph TPE could come in handy around the deadline, but my gut is that the Raptors will hold onto them until next July, when they could be much more valuable since the team won’t be subject to the hard-cap any longer.)

As for Knight, only the team a player is on when he gets hurt can apply for a disabled player exception for him. So if Phoenix deals him anywhere, that team won’t get any cap relief/exceptions. Only Phoenix can get that exception.

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

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Raptors release 2017-18 broadcast schedule

The Toronto Raptors released their broadcast schedule for the 2017-18 season on Tuesday, once again splitting the 82 games evenly between the TSN and Sportsnet channel suites. Similarly, Sportsnet 590 and TSN 1050 once again split the radio duties down the middle. All 41 home games will also be broadcast in 4K.

TSN draws the Oct. 19 season opener while Sportsnet gets on the board when the Philadelphia 76ers visit on Oct. 21. Each has a number of marquee games, which shouldn’t surprise.

NBA TV Canada will produce all 82 broadcasts for a 13th consecutive season, Matt Devlin is back for his 10th year as play-by-play commentator, and Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins once again split duties on TSN and Sportsnet, respectively. Eric Smith and Paul Jones have you covered for games on 590, while Jones, Armstrong, and Sherman Hamilton have the TSN radio call.

Based on a quick glance at the schedule – and I’m sure the specific channel assignments are subject to change/flex – here’s the channel breakdown (hope you have Sportsnet ONE):

Sportsnet ONE: 41
TSN: 33
TSN2: 8

The team also announced that all five preseason games will be televised, starting with Oct. 1’s opener from Hawaii on Sportsnet.

The Raptors’ official schedule page should be updated with specific game-by-game TV information shortly.

The Air Canada Centre also released new security policies for the coming season, banning bags or purses larger than 14″x14″x6″ (so, backpacks are out):

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VIDEO: Raptors 905 open tryout interviews

Raptors 905 held their annual open tryouts on Saturday. While I was in attendance, I haven’t written anything up because only about 20 minutes of the entire day was open to the media, so I didn’t get a great feel for any standouts or hidden gems. There were three players who popped a little bit (Richard Amardi, Aaron Best, and Denny McDonald), but there may be some bias in that I knew who they were already and was looking for them to stand out in the first place. There was also at least one name who couldn’t be in attendance who might be an interesting person to slide on the camp roster, if he’s willing.

From here, the 905 can invite four “local” players to their training camp. The players can’t have their G-League rights owned by another team and have to make it through the draft (at the end of October) undrafted, so there are interesting decisions for the 905 brass to make – try to slide a player through the draft and add him as a local camp tryout or use a pick on him to make sure you get him.

In their inaugural season, the 905 had three open tryout players make it to camp, and Ashton Smith and Keanau Post lasted the entire season on the main roster. Last year, Negus Webster-Chan went from the open tryout to camp, then to the roster, then to playing a pretty meaningful role down the stretch. These camp invites don’t have to come from the open tryout – the 905 are free to add anyone who fits the “local” definition (all of Canada, I believe), and so there’s a good chance one or two names not in attendance will show up at camp in November.

Also of note from the session, I met Chad Sanders, who will be taking over as Raptors 905 Manager of Basketball Operations. Sanders was previously the director of the Dominican Republic national team and takes over fort Shelby Weaver, who moved into a player development role with the parent club Raptors. He also kind of looks like Dan Stevens.

Below are some videos the 905 posted from the session.

Richard Amardi

(26 years old; 6-foot-9 forward; Scarborough; Out of Oregon; Spent the last three years in the NBL; Played for Canada in FIBA AmeriCup this summer)

Aaron Best

(25 years old; 6-foot-4 guard; Scarborough; Out of Ryerson; Spent first pro season in Lithuania last year)

Nathaniel Mitchell

(Raptors 905 assistant coach; Canadian senior men’s national team assistant coach)

Dan Tolzman

(Raptors 905 general manager; Toronto Raptors assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel)

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Hoop Talks with Keith Boyarsky

Standing in for William Lou’s weekly podcast this week (he’s on vacation!) is audio from last week’s Hoop Talks event, where I interviewed Keith Boyarsky, the Toronto Raptors vice president of basketball research and strategy.

The interview was mostly made up of reader questions, and while Ketih couldn’t divulge many deep secrets (obviously), he shed some interesting light on the team’s process for uncovering and communicating information, what behind-the-scenes elements are a part of the “culture reset,” and whether Kyle Lowry is, in fact, over everything.

The next Hoop Talks event goes Nov. 16\, and even though Will and I aren’t currently scheduled for it, you should check it out.

As for the podcast, grab iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. Or just listen below:

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Nike reveals Raptors first jersey for 2017-18 season

The switch from adidas to Nike has been rolling out slowly for the NBA, with most fanbases stuck waiting for leaks, official pictures, or reveals with a little more spectacle. Nike and the NBA put some of the waiting aside here 10 days from training camps, rolling out the “statement” jerseys for the new season in an NBA TV special on Friday night.

With the roll out came a look at the Toronto Raptors’ statement jersey, courtesy of model DeMar DeRozan:

The “statement” jersey Nike revealed for each team came along with the announcement that the new wave of jerseys will contain some pretty cool technologcy. According to a report from ESPN, the new jerseys are also “smart” jerseys, which means that scanning the jersey’s tag with a phone will bring up highlights for the player and team on the jersey. Teams can also activate the smart jerseys to offer specific game-day deals or limited-time offerings, and you can even get NBA 2K bonuses by scanning. (You’ll need an app on your phone for these benefits.)

These tags will be present on the cheaper replica and the authentic jerseys, both of which go on sale league-wide on Sept. 29.

The statement jersey is just the first part of the Nike roll-out, though. Each team will also have an “icon” and an “association” jersey, and you can expect those to be rolled out sometime between now and the on-sale date, possibly even as soon as media day on Sept. 25.

Of course, if you have NBA 2K already, then you’ve seen the Raptors’ new jerseys:

We already new the Raptors would have a mostly uninvasive but still noticeable Sun Life Financial patch as part of a new sponsorship agreement (fans will reportedly be able to get jerseys with or without the patch), and there had been leaks of the potential NORTH fourth jersey (the “community” jersey), which I’ve heard conflicting things on the legitimacy of. Whatever the case, we’ll see them all soon enough.

Also, fresh socks!

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Read: William Lou mailbag

Normally, William Lou doesn’t like it when I aggregate his Medium posts, but there are three reasons I’m doing so today with the giant offseason mailbag he published yesterday.

  1. I didn’t get my own mailbag for Patreon subscriber questions done in time.
  2. I really, really wanted to use this picture of Will from Hoop Talks last night (from Ashley Docking’s Instragam – @whatsupd0ck).
  3. Will is really, really good.

So go check the mailbag out, and be sure to give Will some love on Twitter as he heads out on a well-deserved pre-camp vacation. He is the best.

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What C.J. Miles Brings To The Toronto Raptors

When you talk about key additions this summer, the top of mind answers would be Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the Toronto Raptors, the offseason was more of a subtraction than addition.

Filling Up an Important Need

The Raptors lost Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph to either free agency or trade. As for addition, the significant name added to the Raptors’ 2017-18 roster is C.J. Miles to their roster. The Raptors landed Miles by trading Cory Joseph to the Indiana Pacers in July. While Miles may not be in the superstar mold of Butler, George, Paul and Irving, he fills an important need in Toronto.

Last season, the Raptors finished 21st in the NBA in three point field goals made per game with just 8.8 three point makes per outing. And after losing their second ( Caroll ) , third ( Ross ) and fourth ( Patterson ) most productive three point shooters of last season, the Raptors needed help. That’s where Miles comes in.

Improving in Every Stop

C.J. Miles came directly from the Skyline High School for Architecture in Dallas, during the last year NBA teams were allowed to draft high school stars. He spent his first seven seasons with the Utah Jazz before playing two years for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Miles spent the last three season with the Indiana Pacers and if you take a look at his averages, he’s improved every stop he’s made in the league:

Points per Game 3P made per game 3P attempts per game 3P% eFG%
Jazz 8.4 0.9 2.6 .329 .477
Cavs 10.6 1.8 4.6 .388 .523
Pacers 12.0 2.2 5.9 .374 .525

Special mention has to be made for C.J. Miles’ 2016-17 season. That’s because he shot an impressive .413 from three point distance ( 15th in the NBA ) with 2.2 three point makes per game ( 25th in the NBA ). Miles’ 169 threes ranked only second to Eric Gordon for three pointers made by a player coming off the bench. Don’t forget that Gordon was Sixth Man of the Year last season, so Miles is in good company.

Spacing The Floor

Jan 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers forward C.J. Miles (0) shoots a three pointer over Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the second half at Amway Center. Indiana defeated Orlando 95-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

More eye catching is that Miles converted 50.8% of his corner threes ( 2nd to Kyle Korver ) and made 66 corner three pointers ( 2nd to Klay Thompson ). Now we all know that the corner three isn’t just the shortest three point area, it’s also the one that gets the most attention from weakside defenses. Let’s talk about the latter.

The reason why the Raptors didn’t really go after the All-star free agents of the summer is because they have their own All-Star backcourt already. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have made the Eastern All-star team in the past two seasons. We know these two can put up the numbers but when the defenses tightened up in the playoffs, they struggled with their shooting. With an excellent floor spacer like Miles who draws weakside defenses with his three point marksmanship, Lowry and DeRozan have more real estate to work with and thus have better scoring opportunities.

Hopes Are High

No, C.J. Miles will not be a game changer like say Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving with their new teams. But what he does is make life easier for Lowry and DeRozan with his floor spacing abilities. That should make the Raptors’ backcourt more effective, especially during the playoffs.

Likewise, playing with two excellent scorers like Lowry and DeRozan who demand defensive attention should give C.J. Miles more open looks and when both kick out the ball to him, you bet C.J.’s ready to nail those corner threes for the Raptors. With Jonas Valanciunas playing impressive basketball in the current FIBA Eurobasket tournament, the prospect is good for the Raptors.

According to the sportsbookers, Toronto’s odds of winning the NBA title is +6600 ( taken from Betway ) That’s tied with Milwaukee for fourth best in the East after Cleveland, Boston and Washington. That’s almost the exactly same spot they were last season when the playoffs began. Hopefully, the addition of an excellent three point shooter like C.J. Miles is going to make a difference this time around.

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How the Raptors stay close to their fans through technology

There once was a time when the access that fans had to a team was strictly limited to what they could read in the papers or game programmes or by catching interviews on the TV and maybe receiving the occasional newsletter or two.

But technology in general, and social media in particular, has changed all that and the world for a fan today is very different to how it has ever been before.

In touch 24/7

The most obvious way any team stays close to their fans today is through their website and the Raptors are no exception. This gives fans the chance to have 24/7 access to news, information and every other possible fact they could ever want about the squad, the results and even when injured players are due to be back in action. What’s more, before websites became so widespread it also meant that during the closed season there was virtually a news blackout but now fans can keep in touch all year round.

While the website offers a great level of immediacy as it’s updated frequently this is nothing compared with the speed which social media can react to breaking stories and this can only help fans to feel that they’re even more in the loop.

Getting social

The Raptors social media team certainly do have all the bases covered with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram and Pinterest and, as all users will know, the great thing about all of these media channels is that they’re two-way.

So unlike in the past when we were just passive receivers of news now we can react, respond and share everything that we learn from it. And with an estimated network of 1.9 billion Facebook users worldwide it means that there is a truly huge potential audience.

Because Twitter is even more immediate it allows an even faster dialogue between teams and fans – and it can also help to build the personality of the team in fans’ minds depending on the tone it uses. A great example of this is the L.A. Kings who have become almost as famous for their sassy tweets as they have for their play.

It’s good to talk

Of course it’s not just in the world of sport that organisations can use all the tricks of modern technology to get closer to their fans and develop even stronger loyalties. For instance with its Wink Experience, the online gaming company Wink Bingo gives new and existing players a valuable information resource that is relevant, fun and genuinely useful – very important in what is a very competitive area.

The Raptors have also shown themselves to be very good at using technology even in an “offline” environment to engage with fans with two examples being the birthday messages they can request to be shown on the video board at half time as well as  the “Hotline Bling” booth they held on Drake Night in 2015.

It all adds up to a team that’s truly in tune with its fans – a fact that they surely appreciate.

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Updated top-100 rankings

I’m mostly just doing this to start a clean thread, but now that ESPN and SI have both rolled out enough of their top-100 rankings to see all of the Toronto Raptors, here’s an update on the post from the last few days.

Jonas Valanciunas

SI Rank: 80

ESPN Rank: Not ranked

Serge Ibaka

SI Rank: 56

ESPN Rank: 69

DeMar DeRozan

SI Rank: 36

ESPN Rank: 39

Read this quality piece from our boy William Lou on DeRozan’s ranking.

Kyle Lowry

SI Rank: 19

ESPN Rank: 21

You can find the full SI list here and the full ESPN one here.

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DeRozan lands at No. 36 on this year’s SI Top 100; Lowry 19th

Sports Illustrated released their annual list of the NBA’s top 100 players, which means it’s time to argue like crazy here and on social media until the season starts! While Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney are immensely smart dudes who do great work throughout the year, the fact that they ranked (insert player) at (insert number) is (insert insult)!!!

In seriousness, Ben and Rob are terrific and the list is always a lot of fun. You can check 50-100 out here and 50-31 out here, and find the Toronto Raptors-relevant notes below.

Just as a note: A lot of these lists will be released in the coming weeks. This is probably the only one we’ll make note of in its own post here, as there’s obvious relevance after DeRozan’s ranking and reaction a year ago.

Former Raptors

DeMarre Carroll – Snub – Somewhat surprisingly listed among players who didn’t miss the cut by much (with no sign of Terrence Ross, P.J. Tucker, or Norman Powell in that group).

Patrick Patterson – No. 99 – I’m sure this won’t start any debate on Twitter at all.

Current Raptors

Jonas Valanciunas – No. 80 (Last year: 62)

Here’s Golliver pretty much summing up Valanciunas’ Raptors tenure:

There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason.

Getting the nod in the top 100 is still a compliment to Valanciunas, and the slide from a year ago is understandable given the lack of a step forward. Remember: Ranking 80th means you would be, on average, the third-best player on a team in a re-draft vacuum, and while some will argue that number should be one or 15 for Valanciunas, the truth remains that he’s efficient and productive in the role he’s asked to play, one that doesn’t seem likely to change in any dramatic way this coming season.

And sorry, Masai Ujiri, but the SI guys ranked Andre Drummond higher (at No. 50).

Serge Ibaka – No. 56 (Last year: 42)

At times, Ibaka looked like he could repeat his ranking from a year ago after joining the Raptors. Those times were mostly when he was at center, and particularly against the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs. There were other occasions – most of his time in Orlando and the Cleveland Cavaliers series – where there was a genuine question as to whether he belonged anywhere but the back end here. His final ranking splits the difference and might even represent only a conservative slide from last year – he’s still a productive player and even a good third wheel, all things considered, but this is no longer pre-injury Ibaka.

As Golliver writes:

Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and his ability to play both the four and five helped him pull down a three-year, $64 million contract from the Raptors this summer, but even that payday was a reminder of what could have been. Had the 2014 version of Ibaka hit the market this summer, he would have easily commanded a nine-figure deal.

DeMar DeRozan – No. 36 (Last year: 46 and unhappy)

Look, it’s a 10-spot increase, and the guys took the requisite slack for No. 46 last year in stride. No. 36 is sure to draw more “FOH” from DeRozan and Raptors fans alike, an All-NBA player outside of the top 30 entirely. And sure, there are arguments to be made about DeRozan’s overall value in the modern game when both sides of the ball are factored in (especially with the consistent on-off numbers looking negatively on him), but he’s made three All-Star teams and an All-NBA in the last four years, co-leading a very good team in each of those seasons. I don’t really need to be writing this – we’ve discussed this all for years, DeRozan’s unique place in the NBA value landscape, and it’s not entirely worth rehashing once more (though we all surely will).

As Mahoney explains:

Every year we relitigate the case of DeMar DeRozan, perhaps the league’s most polarizing player. Our verdict comes down to this: DeRozan is a refined, impressive scorer whose limitations create real problems. His best skill—and his only one that is above average—is one we’ve seen repeatedly stifled in a postseason setting, leaving us with lasting concerns about the ceiling DeRozan imposes on his own team.

So, yeah. DeRozan surely won’t be happy about this, and it’s going to fire up some debate as to whether more well-rounded but less singularly talented players like Khris Middleton and Bradley Beal belong ahead of him on this list. If nothing else, the basketball world continues to give DeRozan more #ProveEm fuel to drive his ever-improving game. So, thank you?

UPDATE: And right on cue…

UPDATE II: ESPN had DeRozan at 39.

Kyle Lowry – No. 19 (Last year: 14)

We’ll update this when Lowry’s section of the rankings goes up. Consistently a top-20, sometimes even top-10 player based on advanced metrics, Lowry had a down-ballot MVP-caliber start to his season derailed by injury and never quite returned to full form in the playoffs. He’ll be hit with the same playoff-related criticisms as DeRozan, lose points in the eyes of some for a more cerebral style that doesn’t come with gaudy counting stats, and gain an edge for his efficient scoring, playmaking and ability to make others better, and defense. Lowry and DeRozan are co-stars and co-leaders of this franchise, and while Lowry will once again be ranked ahead on this list, that probably matters little to the established dynamic between the two and the rest of the roster.

UPDATE: Lowry came in at 19th, two spots ahead of Kyrie Irving and one behind Mike Conley.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – NBA over/under preview for 2017-18

Host William Lou is joined by Andrew Thompson to carry out an annual tradition where we preview the NBA season by reviewing Vegas win totals.

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Weekend Open Thread

All of the younger Toronto Raptors have made their way back to the city to get a couple of pre-training camp weeks of work in at BioSteel Centre, and they were out to bond last night at the Toronto Blue Jays Game. Shouts to OG Anunoby having a blast, but somebody tell Bruno Caboclo that there is a U in Jose Bautista. Respect the king.

The Raptors have also made a few smaller front office additions on the analytics (Brittni Donaldson), communications (Jennifer Quinn), and scouting (Luke Winn) side, continuing to solidify all corners of the front office. And speaking of the front office, a reminder that I’ll be sitting down with Keith Boyarsky for a chat at Hoop Talks next week, and that you can get half off a ticket here.

Lithuania plays in the EuroBasket Round of 16 today, and we’ll have coverage of that this afternoon.

Otherwise, the only thing out there really is this jersey rumor that I’m not going to spend too much time on because we should know soon enough anyway.

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Lithuania falls to Greece in Round of 16

Lithuania 64, Greece 77 | Box Score

Coming off of a strong round-robin showing and two days off, Lithuania was back in action at EuroBasket on Saturday with a chance to secure a spot in the quarterfinals and continue their path to a third consecutive podium showing in the event. Providing optimism earlier in the day in Istanbul, Turkey, was that a pair of Group B opponents whom Lithuania had beaten – Italy and Germany – won their Round of 16 matches, and by way of earning the top seed, Lithuanian was drawing Greece, the weakest team to leave Group A.

At this stage, though, no team is going to be a pushover. Greece is one of the larger opponents the Lithuanians will see, though they’re only an average rebounding group, and shot better than 50 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent on threes in the group stage. They’d also be keenly aware that Jonas Valanciunas, the tournament’s leading rebounder in the opening phase, was absolutely dominant over the last few games, and that overloading the paint and daring Lithuania to win from the perimeter was at least a moderately effective strategy for opposing defenses for stretched.

Well, Valanciunas was ready, too, opening the game with a thunderous dunk. It was Georgios Printezis, the tattooed and versatile forward whose draft rights used to belong to the Toronto Raptors, leading the countercharge for Greece, scoring eight points in the opening four minutes to build a small lead early. Valanciunas did not look sharp on one of those Printezis buckets, and then Georgios Papagiannis threw a massive alley-oop home from Nick Calathes, sending Lithuania to an early time out. After a few shaky minutes, Valanciunas received a nice feed for an and-one and then posted Printezis up to settle things down some for the favored side. That didn’t last long, with a sneaky Nikos Pappas offensive rebound leading Lithuanian fans to do the poznan and giving Greece an eight-point lead through a quarter.

Greece’s speed and length continued to be a problem for Lithuania’s non-bigs, and a cold start behind the arc (shocking, I know) made things at the offensive end tough. That included an offensive foul for Valanciunas and then a great full-court recovery by Thanasis Antetokounmpo to foul Mindausgas Kuzminskas (dealing with a back injury) on a fast-break, still a positive for Lithuania but a good snap-shot of the Greece speed advantage. Antetokounmpo picking up his third foul shortly after and Greece went nearly five minutes without a field goal, and Lithuania chipped away at what was at one point a double-digit lead. Valanciunas even hit a very athletic spin-and-fade. Still, the tournament’s fifth-best offense (per-game, not per-possession) sputtered into halftime with just 30 points and a seven-point hole.

Lithuania got right back into things on offense with a shot-clock violation to start the second half, and both teams looked a little out of sorts early. Greece figured it out much, much quicker, though, with a Kuzminskas foul on a three and some continued ridiculous outside shooting from Kostas Sloukas pushing Greece ahead 11. As it swelled to 16, the Lithuanians were clearly frustrated during a timeout, at a bit of a loss for how to fix a 2-of-14 mark on threes and a dearth of ball movement. Kuxminskas tried to take on a bigger scoring load and Valanciunas helped push Greece into penalty, a quick 5-0 run proving enough to panic Greece into a timeout to calm down. It mostly worked, with Kuzminsksas hitting a triple right after but the lead holding at 13 entering the fourth.

https://twitter.com/FIBA/status/906602791451459595

Valanciunas turning the ball over on a post-up was an inauspicious way to begin the fourth. Lithuania showed the requisite fight from there, promptly getting the lead to single-digits with seven minutes still to play. Greece sitting down Sloukas for a mid-quarter breather risked the offense slowing down at a time when the offense was already slumping, and Marius Grigonis hit a trailing three with an off-ball foul, a massive five-point play that cut the lead down to four with 5:20 still to play. The five-minute scoreless run for Greece was broken up with an Ioannis Bourousis hook shot into and over Valanciunas, and Antetokounkpo followed with a triple (Greece’s 10th of the game), and just like that, Greece had the lead into double-figures again, Lithuanian seemingly having squandered their best push of the game.

The return of Sloukas and another big three more or less sealed it from there, the gap just too large to make up in the closing minutes. Greece would hang on to win by 13, punching their ticket to the quarterfinals.

It’s a terribly disappointing result here for Lithuania, who shook off an upset loss to rail off four quality games in a row before falling to a four-seed here. Greece is talented, to be sure, but Lithuania believes itself a powerhouse of sorts, even in a transitionary period, and failing to reach the quarters – the first time they’ve exited in the Round of 16 since 2009 – will hurt for some time. That may ring even truer considering they also had a somewhat premature exit, relative to their expectations, at the Olympics last summer. The answer for fixing what’s ailed them the last two tournaments is somewhat unclear, as a coaching change alone can’t fix a major lack of shooting.

As for Valanciunas, it was an uneven start to the tournament with a strong surge late in group play. He was good, if unspectacular here, the usual small handful of defensive miscues dotted around a strong early fourth and his usual rebounding dominance. With a 13-point, 15-rebound double-double, Valanciunas finishes the tournament with averages of 15.8 points, 12 rebounds, one assist, 0.8 blocks, and one steal, with a 60.4-percent mark from the floor, 66.9-percent true-shooting, and a +49 in 163 minutes of play. It’s better than he looked at the Olympics last year, with two dominant games and the general feel of mid-season shape highlighting things. Those looking for him to dominate didn’t quite get that, but he wasn’t at all Lithuania’s primary issue, and he was an elite rebounder with strong offensive efficiency most games. I’m sure that won’t be surprising to most Raptors fans.

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Podcast: Atlantic Divison preview

I joined Sam Vecenie’s Game Theory podcast this week to help tee up the Atlantic Division for 2017-18 season as a part of his season preview series. There was a lot of Toronto Raptors talk, of course, attempts to gauge the rival Boston Celtics and upstart Philadelphia 76ers, and the sweet, sweet comfort of knowing two teams in the division are still largely a mess for the time being.

You can check the podcast out here, and you should really be following Sam if you’re not already.

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Raptors updated win total, title odds, MVP odds

It’s been a few weeks since we did our usual check-in on how the Toronto Raptors are shaping up in terms of perception on the market, and now that the dust has fully settled from the Kyrie Irving blockbuster (except for, you know, the timeline about Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury, which appears to hurt less than the trade itself did), it seems as good a time as any to take a refreshed look.

There remains a lot of optimism around the Cleveland Cavaliers despite Thomas’ injury, and there probably should be. They employ LeBron James, acquired a useful piece in Jae Crowder, probably don’t need to worry too much about getting Thomas back until mid-season, and were starting from a really strong place already. All told, the Boston Celtics may not have actually improved for the 2017-18 season, with a lot of turnover and inexperience and a sudden dearth of elite proven defenders. Even if Irving improves as a playmaker (and the bet here is he will), Boston looks more set on offense than defense, and they could prove weak on the glass once again. The trade definitely opens up their post-James Eastern Conference window more, but until either side shows otherwise on the court, the East still very much runs through Cleveland.

What the net of the trade is for the Raptors isn’t entirely clear. They remain quite good, a team with a long track record of regular season success, with some solid continuity, and an offense that should prove formidable once again. There are questions, though, about the defense, about young players coming through as necessary depth, and about other teams in the East looking to attack their status in the conference’s second tier.

The court of public opinion seems fairly split on the Raptors right now, which is hardly surprising. They’ve been pegged for anywhere from 43.4 wins (ESPN’s RPM-based model) to 50 wins (some other advanced models), and pretty much every spot in between. You can predict anywhere, really, from 45-55 and make a case for the season playing out that way, and there will be a couple of experts who even pick them to earn the top seed in the East thanks to continuity, overall quality, and one of the lightest schedules in the NBA.

More than just a straight evaluation of the team goes into the market, but if we look at betting odds for next Raptors season, we come away with the same rough level of quality. Oddsmakers have the Raptors down for 48.5 wins, but just the sixth-best odds to win the East and 11th-best odds to win the title. The win total looks fine as an over-under, and it’s true that the Raptors haven’t been as good a playoff team as they are a regular season team, but the drop off from perceived quality in terms of win total to playoff chances is a bit striking (they’re really out here crowning the Philadelphia 76ers already). Again, more goes into these things than a straight prediction, but they’re always interesting trends regardless.

Also of note on the book are the odds for Most Valuable Player. The Raptors have a pair of stars who co-lead the team, and debate about which is more valuable or more important are endless (and mostly a pointless exercise, really), and both have been on the MVP radar the last few years. Each has made an All-NBA team in the last two seasons and made three All-Star games in the last four seasons, and if either stays healthy the whole year, it would stand to reason that both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry could be on the back end of some ballots (either taking out the very top names seems a bit of a long-shot, and the best-case for the team would probably have them cannibalizing some of each other’s votes).

They’re at least on Vegas’ radar, with DeRozan on the book at +6000 and Lowry going off at +15000. You’d have to think Lowry is a better bet in pure EV terms at those prices (catch-all metrics have liked Lowry better than his counterpart the last few years, but DeRozan’s numbers are gaudier; and this is strictly a statement on the value in the lines, not the players). If you’re really high on one of their chances, that would prove a nice return. Heck, you could cover your bases and bet on both and still come out well ahead if one of them took it home. Realistically, DeRozan has just the 20th-best odds and Lowry the 28th, so we’re still talking long-shots, but it’s fun to think about anyway.

In terms of other markets, it wouldn’t seem likely that OG Anunoby is worth a Rookie of the Year flier given he’ll miss part of the year, but maybe you like Norman Powell for Most Improved (or even Sixth Man, depending on how Dwane Casey plays things) if and when those markets materialize. Are there any Raptors bets you’re definitely locking in before the season? A win total prediction? Is the uncertainty in Cleveland enough to grab the Raptors at +2800 to go to the NBA Finals?

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Valanciunas dominant again as Lithuania grabs Group B top seed

Lithuania 89, Germany 72 | Box Score

In a short tournament, unsightly losses can stand out and make a huge difference. For Lithuania, an early upset loss to Georgia threatened their standing as a Group B powerhouse at EuroBasket 2017, a disappointing start to the group stage that ratcheted up the leverage in each game that followed. For Germany, it was an unexpected loss to Israel that masked an impressive victory over Italy, possibly spoiling their strong week.

Playing five games in seven days introduces games like that, which can also serve to even things out – as Lithuania and Germany squared off Wednesday, the fact that both sides had squandered a game to keep them from a clean table meant neither had squandered the top of the group altogether. Instead, this final game between 3-1 sides would determine the top seed from Group B, the difference between drawing Finland or France in the next round as the two-seed, or drawing Poland or Greece as the one-seed, a pretty significant drop-off for the Round of 16 that begins Saturday.

Both teams came out with the hunger the stakes would suggest, the two big outfits getting physical early on. Jonas Valanciunas was once again a monster on the glass from the outset, Donatas Motiejunas got to work to continue his solid string of first halfves, and German point guard Dennis Schroder picked up two quick fouls. Meanwhile, Germany’s edge in terms of big-man mobility – both sides are large, but Germany plays what seems like three power forwards, a challenging look for Valanciunas defensively and a potential rebounding neutralizer – didn’t materialize in much until midway through the first quarter, when their ability to crash the offensive glass proved valuable. Schroder continued to score through foul trouble, too, and with neither side able to find any footing on defense, the sides played to an exciting 23-19 mark in favor of Lithuania at the end of a frame.

The second quarter was no less energetic, with the benches continuing the steady back-and-forth in front of a raucous and pro-Lithuania afternoon crowd. Lithuania managed to extend their lead to eight as some of the starters returned, and Valanciunas once again proved a difficult check for the Germans despite not shooting quite as well as he has all tournament, pushing Germany into foul trouble and starting breaks with some intriguing semi-outlet passes off of defensive rebounds. Schroder continued pushing the other way, though, scoring 19 points in the half and almost single-handedly ensuring Germany headed into halftime down just four.

Valanciunas opened the second half with eight points in the opening three minutes, mixing in a jumper, a put-back, and a few post buckets, setting the tone once again that this wouldn’t be a particularly defensive affair. What looked like a pull-away stretch from Lithuania was neutralized by a German counter-run, which included some really nice two-way minutes from 19-year-old Isaiah Hartenstein. Valanciunas hitting the bench coincided with Germany pulling a little closer, resulting in a quick return for the Toronto Raptors center. Over the final few minutes, a Lithuania lead that was once 12 points and was trimmed back to four had grown back to 12 entering the fourth, Valanciunas’ presence having once again swung things.

Lithuania did well to lock things down from there, the second half proving perhaps the best and most complete they’ve looked all tournament. It took Germany nearly four minutes to first get on the board in the fourth, and at that point the lead had swelled to 17. Schroder led a valiant enough push that head coach Dainius Adomaitis wanted to settle his squad down with a timeout with five minutes to go, and it seemed to work out, as Germany never mounted a legitimate threat from there.

Valanciunas returned to wrap up another terrific game, finishing with 27 points, 15 rebounds, and a plus-23 in 32 minutes, proving Lithuania’s most impactful player once again as they cruised to a decisive 89-72 final. That means for the group stage, he averaged 16.4 points on just 8.6 field-goal attempts (and 68.7 percent true-shooting), 11.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, one steal, and 1.2 blocks while playing to a plus-54 in 131 total minutes (26.2 per-game). That’s pretty strong production, especially considering he only took 16 shots in total over the tournament’s first three games. Expect knockout-stage opponents to load up on him and Motiejunas to force Lithuania to win from the perimeter.

The win gives Lithuania the top seed in Group B and four consecutive victories heading into the knockout stage, a very nice turnaround from how things looked in the opener. From here, both teams will await the finish in Group A to determine their respective opponents for Saturday, then head to Istanbul to meet them there. The knockout stage can run as long as Sept. 17 with back-to-backs no longer in the schedule, which should allow Adomaitis to lean on his top players, including Valanciunas, more heavily from here.

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Dominant Valanciunas outing leads Lithuania over Ukraine

Lithuania 94, Ukraine 62 | Box Score

EuroBasket so far had been a mixed bag for Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania. After a disappointing upset loss to Georgia, their play over a pair of bounce-back victories was mostly strong, but a few cracks – turnovers and a lack of outside shooting – persisted enough to cause concern as the leverage of each game ratchets up. After a day off to regroup Monday, Lithuania was in search of an emphatic victory against a lesser team in Ukraine, ironing out the issues that left them susceptible against Georgia and kept them from pulling comfortably away from Israel and Italy. To say they found that emphatic victory might be an understatement, as Lithuania crushed an overmatched Ukraine team to the tune of 94-62, putting their first indelible stamp on EuroBasket 2017.

Valanciunas picked up right where he left off in Sunday’s second half, showing some physical dominance early on. With his personal hero and Lithuanian basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis sitting close by and willing to lend words of advice throughout the game (Valanciunas appeared to get a second wind after talking with Sabonis in the second quarter after looking seemingly disappointed with a few missed opportunities for teammates to find him), Valanciunas once again led his side (and the game) at halftime with 14 points and eight rebounds. He even did a nice job switched onto Viacheslav Kravtsov late. Donatas Motiejunas had a strong start, too, hitting his first three attempts from the floor, and within a blink Lithuania had opened up a 17-point lead.

This seemed like it would be about as much of a formality as Saturday’s second half against Israel was, but some difficulties both old and new reared their head in the second quarter – Lithuania’s lack of shooting dared Ukraine into a two-three zone that it took a few made threes to break, and Lithuania inexplicably came unglued on their own glass. Ukraine used 11 offensive rebounds, the bulk of them off misses from outside, helping them trim the lead to single-digits. It would get extended back out to 44-30 as Ukraine continued to struggle shooting and Lithuania got a handle on their turnover issues from earlier in the tournament, and Lithuania headed into the break back in control.

The second half started out tough for Lithuania, as it appears Jonas Maciulis may have suffered a broken nose when taking a head-butt…as he got whistled for a foul. It looked painful, and Maciulis is a big part of what Lithuania does, so that loomed large. It also seemed to spark Ukraine briefly, as they connected on a terrific alley-oop shortly after, but as has been the case during a lot of opponent runs in the group stage, Valanciunas getting to the line settled things. Valanciunas also took a stiff elbow to the face defending at the rim, but he motored along, continuing to dominate on the glass and near the rim on offense.

(Hire Sabonis for the Toronto Raptors’ coaching staff right now. This was honestly Valanciunas’ best international game since EuroBasket 2015.)

When Valanciunas sat late in the third, the lead was back above 20, and with a back-to-back situation looming, pulling away further would be welcome. Artem Pustovyi tried his damnedest to keep Ukraine in it, but their complete inability to generate offense outside of him – and Lithuania catching fire from outside for the first time all tournament – made for a 25-point lead entering the fourth. For some reason, Valanciunas returned in the fourth for a quick and-one to push the lead to 30. He’d mercifully be pulled, finishing with 22 points on 11 field-goal attempts, 14 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a ludicrous plus-30 rating in just 24 minutes.

Lithuania cruised from there, moving to 3-1 in the tournament and punching their ticket to the Round of 16 later this week. They’ll still need to get through Germany tomorrow, and they’ll want that victory in order to secure the top seed in Group B (the winner of Germany-Italy today will also be 3-1). The bigger-picture focus, though, will be on the continued growth they’ve shown throughout the tournament, something they’ll surely hope continues as they look to peak for the knockout stage. Performances like this from Valanciunas will help a great deal.

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Long Weekend Open Thread

Just posting a new thread for any discussions/rambling/rehashed arguments. Be respectful out there. And have a great long weekend, everyone – only three weeks to training camp after this.

As a reminder, Lithuania plays today and tomorrow, and there’s a ton of great EuroBasket action on, if you’re hoops-starved right now.

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Lithuania holds off Italy late with Valanciunas heroics

The Lithuanians faced another tough test today with a game Italy squad that came out firing early, and went at Jonas Valanciunas right away. He seemed ineffective early in the game and struggled, leaving the court with a -3 plus/minus in the first half. The team stormed back in the second quarter without him, led by Adas Juskevicius and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who both had strong games. Kuzminskas kept them in it in the first quarter with 9 early points including a pair of deep contested 3-pointers, and Juskevicius led the team with 20 points for the game and tied for the team lead at +14.Coming out of halftime, the Italians attacked Valanciunas again right away, but he looked stronger on his defensive rotations, and used his frame effectively on both ends of the court late, coming through in the last couple minutes with a big block on a defensive rotation, and then grabbing an offensive rebound on the ensuing offensive possession to get free throws. He followed that up with a dunk the next time down after using his size to establish space at the rim. Valanciunas finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, a block and a steal, and during the fourth quarter seemed to control the paint at both ends of the court.

Coming out of halftime, the Italians attacked Valanciunas again right away, but he looked stronger on his defensive rotations, and used his frame effectively on both ends of the court late, coming through in the last couple minutes with a big block on a defensive rotation, and then grabbing an offensive rebound on the ensuing offensive possession to get free throws. He followed that up with a dunk the next time down after using his size to establish space at the rim. Valanciunas finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, a block and a steal, and during the fourth quarter seemed to control the paint at both ends of the court. Italy was led by Luigi Datome, who had 24 points including going 4/8 from downtown, but they struggled to find secondary scoring, with Marco Belinelli scoring 14 points on 13 attempts as the only other starter to manage double digits.

Next up for the Lithuanians is Ukraine on Tuesday. The Ukrainians have a 1-2 record thus far, with their lone win being over Georgia earlier in the day today.

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Lithuania pulls away from Israel to improve to 1-1 at EuroBasket

Lithuania 88, Israel 73 | Box Score

After a disappointing tournament-opening upset loss to Georgia, Lithuania was looking to bounce back in quick order Saturday against their group’s host country, Israel. And following a disappointing FIBA Americup performance that saw the U.S. win gold and Canada fail to exit the round robin stage, Toronto Raptors fans were looking for Jonas Valanciunas to take a step forward and fill their September basketball voice. Entering play, it seemed fairly straightforward that Valanciunas and company would have an advantage inside, both on the glass and around the rim, and that Israel would probably try to borrow from Georgia and pack the paint in response, daring Lithuania’s guards to beat them on the perimeter.

Lithuania wasn’t just going to bend to that, though, and they looked for Donatas Motiejunas in the post twice in their first three possessions. Israel’s energy was palpable early, too, though, fuelled by a raucous crowd in the opening minutes, and that seemed to rattle the Lithuanians into a pair of early turnovers (a major issue during a key stretch against Georgia). Valanciunas was heavily involved at both ends, missing a hook shot, drawing a foul on a follow-up hook, and scoring again quickly while sandwiching blocks on Richard Howell and Shawn Dawson around getting beat by a very fun Lior Eliyahu flip shot.

https://twitter.com/FIBA/status/904051722393407493

The Raptors’ center then got an early breather after fouling Gal Mekel, with Dainius Adomaitis tipping his hand that he’d be relying on Lithuania’s depth in a back-to-back scenario. If that depth could, you know, score, it’d be a more tenable strategy. Their outside shooting struggles continued, and while a rebounding edge bought them some additional opportunities, Israel opened up a four-point lead through a quarter.

Adomaitis continued tweaking the rotation, bringing Valanciunas back to start the second, but he promptly picked up a second foul (a very questionable offensive one) and had to sit the remainder of the half. Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Arturo Gudaitis picked up the slack as Lithuania made a methodical push to take control of the game back, eventually opening up a seven-point edge. Gudaitis picked up a third foul, though, forcing Lithuania to downsize a bit, and some otherwise good-looking offensive plans were mucked up by the continued lack of spacing (and some missed free throws). The shooting issues really can’t be overstated – an 0-of-6 half made Lithuania four for their last 28 threes in the tournament. That really allowed Israel to find their momentum again late in the half, storming back from down nine with an 8-0 run, forcing Lithuania into a pair of late timeouts, and cutting the deficit to 38-37 at the break.

Valanciunas’ return helped, and he was at the line again within seven seconds, drawing a third foul on a very effective Howell in the process. Howell got quick revenge, scoring and then stripping Valanciunas on a drive, but Valanciunas drew a fourth on Howell, sending him to the bench and tilting things further in Lithuania’s favor. They even hit a three! Within a blink, the lead was up to a game-high 13, then Valanciunas fed a red-hot Kuzminskas for another Lithuania three to stunt any Israel comeback. As Lithuania’s lock-down bench unit filtered back in, the game started getting out of hand, and Lithuania would take a 20-point lead into the fourth thanks to an Adas Juskevicius heave at the buzzer.

Israel made a mini-run to start the fourth, but like he did in the third, Valanciunas continued to dictate the pace some by getting to the stripe. When Edgaras Ulanovas hit a three and Omri Casspi followed by missing a layup, pushing the lead back to 18 with three minutes to go, that more or less sealed it.

Adomaitis had the chance to get conservative with minutes down the stretch, as Lithuania draws Italy tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. ET, and nobody played more than 27 minutes. That includes Valanciunas, who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks, and a plus-eight in 21 minutes, hardly an MVP showing but a nice performance considering his early foul trouble and minus-10 mark in the opener. It’s a nice response for Lithuania, too, with their shots finally starting to drop a bit and their enormous edge in terms of size producing strong defense and a big rebounding disparity. They’ll need every bit of that size and their perimeter players to show up offensively against the Italians, and at some point they’re going to have to stop turning the ball over so much.

For a day, though, it’s a step in the right direction. Lithuania should bounce back as a favorite according to internet gambling services from here, and over the coming days could wrestle control of Group B back with a few big wins.

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Hoop Talks Sept. 14: Murphy & Boyarsky, William Lou, and 50% off

The Hoop Talks series that both William Lou and I regularly participate in will be making its return on Sept. 14 to help get us all geared up for the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors season. Not that anyone around these parts is ever not in full basketball mode, but, you know, this is a chance to ramp up our collective excitement as a group, in-person, and with the illusion of decorum (like Will’s not going to get fired up at some point).

This installment of Hoop Talks is particularly special because I’ll be conducting a one-on-one sit down with Keith Boyarsky. Initially hired as an analytics consultant during the 2009-10 season, Boyarsky worked his way up to director of analytics in 2013 and was promoted to vice president of basketball strategy and research this summer. He’s one of the front office’s – and the NBA’s – brightest analytic minds, and if you have any pressing questions for Boyarsky, let me know and I’ll do my best to work them into out 30-minute session.

The event takes place Thursday, September 14 at 8 p.m. at Rivoli (334 Queen St. W; show up earlier than 8) and will also feature Will, Sean Woodley (I think), Kayla Grey, Eric Smith, and Paul Jones, and host (and begrudging friend of the site) Ashley Docking.

We’re also happy to pass along a special offer for this event that will get you 50 percent off the ticker price. Use promo code “republic” at check out to turn that $15 ticket into a $7.50 ticket and pocket the rest to buy Will (or yourself, I suppose) a beer. (Technically you could also use the code “murphy” or “lou” for $5 off, though that would be some Van Gundy-like managing of your personal cap sheet.) Whatever code you use, just head over to Homestand Sports to purchase your discounted tickets.

You can find more details here or here. If you’re an RR reader and make it out, be sure to come say hi to me and Will.

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Lithuania drops EuroBasket opener to Georgia

Lithuania 77, Georgia 79 | Box Score

Another summer, another chance for Toronto Raptors fans to track the progress of Jonas Valanciunas in international competition for Lithuanian. So hungry for basketball are Raptors fans that even Valanciunas’ exhibition performances were worthy of following, and so now that EuroBasket has officially begun (and games are easier to watch), we’ll be keeping track of Lithuania’s progress over the next two weeks. That started Thursday, with their tournament opener against Georgia.

And what a start it was for Valanciunas. Within the game’s opening three minutes, Valanciunas had turned away a Sulkhan Tsintsadze shot, finished a beautiful pick-and-roll lob pass from Mantas Kalnietis, and found Mindaugas Kuzminskas in the corner for a three. He followed with a pair of buckets in short order, the second of which came on a difficult catch-and-finish on the roll, then found another 3-point shooter (from the elbow) to push Lithuania to an early six-point lead. Giorgi Shermadini did manage a post-up bucket against the Raptors’ big man to help draw Georgia even at the end of a quarter, but for the most part his defense was solid in the slower-paced international environment (the usual case, particularly in very physical games like this one).

The Lithuanians made a nice run with Valanciunas on the bench to start the second, with a Donatas Motiejunas-led group faring a lot better against Georgia’s depth than they had in exhibition games. That bought Valanciunas an extended rest – he had been a major focal point in the first – and a comfortable cushion for the team in the back half of the quarter. It didn’t take Valanciunas long to get back to work, hauling in a defensive rebound and then drawing a foul on Zaza Pachulia, helping him finish the half with a team-high eight points, game-high six rebounds, and a 39-34 lead built mostly on the defensive end.

What a game! Georgia 🇬🇪 defeat Group B favorites @Krepsinionamai 🇱🇹 79-77.

A post shared by FIBA (@fiba) on

Georgia came out with a clear edict to dare Lithuania’s guards to shoot in the second half, packing the paint and sending extra help on dives and in the post. Lithuania did not respond particularly well, with Georgia opening the third quarter on a 10-3 run before Jonas Maciulis mercifully hit a three to end the drought (part of a 1-of-13 stretch from outside). Valanciunas tried to remain active through the additional attention, procuring a steal and later drawing a foul to slow things down. Motiejunas and the bench returned earlier this time looking to tilt things back Lithuania’s way, but the damage was mostly done with a lead that had been as large as 12 turning to a two-point deficit entering the fourth.

As luck would have it, a couple of threes began to drop, and Lithuania looked like a dramatically different team for a few minutes as a result, promptly taking the lead back. Valanciunas checked back in with six-and-a-half minutes to go in a tie game (one that Kuzminskas had taken over a bit, though foul trouble kept him off the floor some from there). Tornike Shengelia continued his terrific play down the stretch, and the back-and-forth trading of baskets kept things tied into the final two minutes. Down two shortly after, Valanciunas missed a jumper, and then Kalnietis turned the ball over, giving Georgia a four-point edge with 20 seconds to go.

Lithuania was given a huge gift when Kuzminskas was fouled on a 3-point attempt, and then when he hit just one of three, Maciulis managed the offensive rebound and the put-back to cut the lead to one. Michael Dixon Jr. then split a pair, giving Lithuanian an opening at the buzzer, but Maciulis missed a potential game-winner (fittingly landing Lithuania at 8-of-27 on threes for the game and 4-of-22 after a hot start).

It’s definitively a disappointing start for Lithuania, who have eyes not only on the elimination round but on making a deep run here. Dropping a 79-77 decision to Georgia is perhaps forgivable, but the book is once again out on how to defend them early – pack the paint and send help on the roll, because they’re going to struggle shooting the ball. Georgia did well to neutralize Valanciunas after a strong start – he finished with nine points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks, and a minus-10 rating in 29 minutes – and Lithuania will need to find a way to better maximize what he and Motiejunas can provide. That’s an old story, of course, and his detractors will say Valanciunas needs to assert himself more (he took just seven shots) and play through that attention, and the truth, as always, is that the responsibility for that balance falls on Valanciunas, staff, and guards alike.

They’ll have a day to try to figure that out before squaring off with Israel (Saturday, 2:30pm ET).

(Honestly, if the rest of the tournament games are as fun as this one, that’s enough for me for late-summer basketball. It’s nice to have competitive, exciting ball back for a bit. If anyone is hungry for more Valanciunas, this YouTube account has some highlight packages from Lithuania’s exhibition games.)

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What will the Raptors bench rotation look like?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Josh Weinstein.

With the Raptors cutting ties with Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and P.J. Tucker, all key contributors to the Toronto Raptor’s top-ten bench unit a season ago, the team’s 2017-18 bench rotation is poised to undergo a major shakeup.

Aside from offseason pickup C.J. Miles – a swingman bound to get heavy consideration for starting duties from head coach Dwane Casey – all of the Raptors new additions have little-to-no experience on the NBA circuit. That means they’re going to be competing for minutes and recognition from Casey and his staff the moment training camp tips off, and that the rotation could be a work-in-progress to start the year.

Casey will test out numerous lineup combinations in training camp with hopes of determining which of his new, unfamiliar reserves work best with the team’s returning bench players. Further tinkering of the bench unit is to be expected throughout the regular season as well. The Jonas Valanciunas-as-bench-anchor experiment could come into play at some point, for example.

Valanciunas proved through his brief stint this past postseason that coming off the bench would be a suitable role for the Lithuanian. Unfortunately for Casey, though, experimenting with the big man off the bench will be challenging this season. Sliding Serge Ibaka to the five would be the corresponding move to pursue if Valanciunas came off the bench, but isn’t realistic at this point given the Raptors lack of depth at the four (especially compared to center). If OG Anunoby can make an immediate impact as a small-ball four once he returns, that Valanciunas bench experiment potentially could be further explored. Valanciunas also remains a productive rebounder and screen-setter and an efficient scorer in his lower-usage starting role.

Unless Casey is tempted to move Valanciunas to the bench,Given the Valanciunas conundrum, here is the bench group that makes the most sense for himy to utilize during the season. (Note: Anunoby is included, even though he’ll be out of action until around late November-early December…Bruno Caboclo could see time at forward until his return.)

PG: Delon Wright, SG: Norman Powell, SF: O.G. Anunoby, PF: Pascal Siakam, C: Jakob Poeltl

Norman Powell

The Raptors bench will go as far as Powell can lead them (unless he starts). After all, Powell figures to be the most reliable weapon from long-range on the second unit and has proven himself more than any other player in this proposed group. Only time will tell whether Powell is able to handle more of a responsibility for 82 games. As last year’s postseason shows, the swingman seems to thrive in the biggest of moments when called upon. That’s a factor the Raptors hope carries over into 2017-18.

Powell has so far proven himself as a capable shooter from distance, yet one that can be streaky. Take last year’s postseason for example, where he shot an astronomical 44% from long-range, a far cry from his 32.4% mark throughout the regular season. When his shot is on from deep, Powell’s versatility is that much more enhanced. He’s able to glide to the rim past his assignment when they’re forced to respect his range and close out to the perimeter.

Despite the smaller sample size, the key during Powell’s run of postseason success were the consistent minutes he garnered in Casey’s rotation after Game 4 of the Milwaukee series. With DeMarre Carroll and Tucker gone, the path to more minutes is the most wide-open it’s been for Powell since beginning his Raptors tenure. Expect a much-improved Powell this season. (he could even surpass Miles during the season for starting minutes, or beat him for the spot outright).

As The Athletic’s Eric Koreen pointed out in an article back in July, the Raptors’ subtractions over the course of last season and the offseason took with them over half the team’s three-point makes. Considering that with those now-departed players (excluding Carroll, who was a mainstay in the starting five) the Raptors’ bench ranked 18th and 22nd in three-pointers made and attempted, respectively, it’s going to be awfully tough for Casey and co. to match that production this coming season. Powell’s consistency in that area will help make up for the loss of three-pointers, at least from the bench production side of things.

Delon Wright

With Joseph’s departure to Indiana, Wright is now the de facto backup point guard for the Dinos.

Wright, who has moved between the NBA and newly-named G League on countless occasions during his two-year career (to develop as a rookie and to rehab as a sophomore), saw his minutes nearly double in his second NBA season from 8.5 to 16.5, albeit his statistics didn’t improve much. That could be partially attributed to Wright’s shoulder injury and subsequent arthroscopic surgery in the 2016 offseason, which cost him half a season and some development time. When Wright was actually on the court, his production, particularly his shooting stroke and defence, was inconsistent.

Wright’s responsibilities and minutes will increase even more this coming season, which hopefully for the Raptors’ sake will expedite the third-year point guard’s development, making him a more viable option for when Kyle Lowry sits. The 25-year-old’s ability to stay healthy will only help his consistency going forward, as he’s only played 27 games in each of his first two seasons.

Wright, given his experience, stays ahead of Fred VanVleet on the team’s depth chart for now.

O.G. Anunoby

The 23rd overall selection of the 2017 NBA draft was widely considered a massive steal for the Raptors, after an ACL tear triggered the 6’8” forward to slide down teams’ draft boards.

Anunoby’s athleticism and 7’5” wingspan immediately position the Indiana University product as a player who can develop into a stellar defensive stopper. His shot is a work in progress (he shot 31.1% on threes and 56.3% from the charity stripe in his sophomore season), yet his defensive acumen alone should have Raptors fans very, very excited.

Anunoby should be a defensive upgrade over Carroll as a go-to defensive stopper, given how the JYD2.0 experience reaped sour rewards. Depending on how much the 20-year-old progresses during his shortened rookie season, it wouldn’t be shocking if Casey considered including Anunoby in his playoff rotation.

Pascal Siakam

Siakam showed flashes of raw potential in the games he started at power forward last season in the absence of Jared Sullinger, but eventually was replaced by a combination of Patterson, Powell and Lucas Nogueira in the starting lineup until the deadline deal for Ibaka was made. Siakam was a DNP for many of the games following his demotion, but wisely was sent to the Raptors 905 to further hone his craft rather than enter a stew on the bench.

During his 905 stint, the Cameroonian big was brilliant. Siakam averaged 18 points and 7.9 boards along with 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks in seven playoff games, helping the 905 capture its first championship. While thriving against weaker competition was to be expected, it’s the confidence Siakam developed with the development club that stands to help him stay hungry going forward.

Getting yanked out of the starting rotation, then rotation altogether as a rookie couldn’t have been easy, but if his 905 performance is any indication, Siakam has the tools to eventually thrive in the NBA. Developing a reliable jumpshot should be of utmost importance for him.

Jakob Poeltl

The player from last year’s draft declared as the most unlikely to be a bust had a decent enough rookie season, considering how much he actually played and what he was expected to contribute.

Poeltl seemed to get a lot more comfortable by the time the last 15 games of the regular season rolled around. In turn, Casey seemed to show more trust in his big as the season progressed, eventually making it clear by season’s end that Poeltl had surpassed Nogueira on the depth charts as the team’s backup centre.

Expect the 7-footer to continue his upward trajectory this coming season. Developing his jumper could go a long way, considering his height allows him to get his shot off against most defenders. Improving his rim protection is to be expected, too, which should be accelerated by an uptick in minutes.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Josh Weinstein.

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Canada tops Venezuela but won’t advance in Americup

Photo courtesy Canada Basketball

Canada 75, Venezuela 66 | Box Score

As disappointing as their start to the FIBA Americup had been, with an upset loss to the U.S. Virgin Islands and an overtime heart-breaker against Aergentina, Canada entered their final round robin game with a sliver of hope of salvaging the group stage. Beating Venezuela might not be enough – they would need to beat them by a huge margin and then hope Argentina took care of the Virgin Islands to force a three-way tie-breaker. All they could control was what they could control.

For three quarters, it looked like Canada was destined for a similar fate as their last outings (and yes, their last meeting with Venezuela), the game staying far too tight to hope they’d pull away by double-digits in the end.

While the Canadian defense was game in the first half, Venezuela’s offense broke through in the third quarter. All told, though, it was the defensive effort that kept Canada’s hopes alive, with Venezuela shooting just 37.9 percent overall and running into trouble from beyond the arc to the tune of 7-of-26. Despite some trouble on their own glass at times, Canada would manage a rebounding edge overall, and played just a bit better on the break.

They also got deeper contributions than the Venezuelans, once again playing 11 players, with four bench contributors scoring in support of Xavier Rathan-Mayers’ game-high 22 points. Rathan-Mayes was once again the story here and has been, with little question, Canada’s best all-around player in the tournament. On Tuesday, his shot finally started dropping, too, and he added five rebounds and eight assists to his 8-of-17 night, playing to a plus-19 in his 32 minutes. If there’s a takeaway from these games, other than the oddness that the new FIBA qualification procedure is creating, it’s that Rathan-Mayes is a player to watch in training camp with the New York Knicks. That Canada’s offense kept clicking on a cool night for Brady Heslip and on a night Andrew Nicholson met some foul trouble says a lot about Rathan-Mayes’ floor generalship and the supporting roles played by Olivier Hanlan and Dyshawn Pierre.

Despite the strong defense and surviving offense, Canada still entered the fourth quarter in a draw. Winning was on the table, but it would take an enormous effort to secure a margin of victory large enough to move on. They tried, though, and the offense began firing on all cylinders with the sense of urgency dialed up. Canada scored the first five points of the quarter and barely looked back from there short of an abbreviated Venezuel comeback late, slowly expanding the lead down the stretch until it reached a game-high nine just before the final buzzer.

To be clear, beating Venezuela was a nice step forward from their first two games regardless of where they ended up in the pool, and showing the ability to pull away and take the point differential edge against them down the stretch was the best fire they’ve shown all tournament. That growth over the week is important, as are little victories in a tournament that doesn’t mean a ton on the road to proper World Cup qualifiers in November and February.

“A pretty talented group of teams here and there were no easy games,” head coach Roy Rana said. “This is a very experienced and tough Venezuela team, so it was nice for us to get a chance to grow every game. I take tremendous pride in our growth and result from today. Watching our young players get better everyday and watching a group that really began to understand how much we have to fight in every game to win. These games are about passion as much as they are about tactics and strategy. I think we got better and better and it’s been nothing but a positive experience here.”

But the expectation was to advance to the semi-finals, and winning by nine here left them short. Because the three-way tie-breaker only includes point differential in games between the tied teams, no Argentina victory margin against the Virgin Islands would matter – because the Islands had beaten Canada by 12 and both Venezuela games were close, the Virgin Islands were assured of the tie-breaker and a spot in the semi-finals. And so Canada’s tournament ends with a somewhat disappointing 1-2 with some growth shown after a pretty shaky opener. It’s something to build on, even if it’s not the outcome they were striving for.

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Air Canada Centre to be renamed Scotiabank Arena

The Toronto Raptors will only be playing at Air Canada Centre for one more season.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment have reached a naming-rights deal with Scotiabank that will see the Raptors’ home court renamed Scotiabank Arena beginning July 1, 2018. This comes according to a report from Rick Westhead of TSN, who notes that the new agreement spans 20 years and will be worth approximately $800 million in Canadian dollars. That would make it the highest-priced building sponsorship in North American sports history, per Westhead.

UPDATE: MLSE confirmed the report in a release Tuesday evening.

“To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult to find interested suitors,” MLSE COCO David Hopkinson told TSN. “This is already firmly established as Canada’s premier entertainment venue… We felt we had a very good sense about what the market would bear and Scotia and ourselves have agreed on what that number should look like.”

Air Canada had been the name of the venue since 1999 on a deal with an estimated value of $4 million per-year. The ACC currently plays home to the Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Toronto Rock, occasionally hosts Toronto Marlies and Raptors 905 games, and is one of the city’s premiere large-capacity concert and event venues. It’s also played host to four UFC pay-per-view events, the World Junior Hockey Championships, the World Cup of Hocker, the NHL  and NBA All-Star Games, and even a major League of Legends event. It’s had a pretty good run, in other words.

“For the past 18 years, Air Canada Centre has not only been home to the Maple Leafs and Raptors, it has also hosted hundreds of the most popular concerts and events in the industry, helping contribute to Toronto’s well-deserved reputation as one of the top sports and entertainment destinations in the world,” MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum said in a release. “We are grateful to Scotiabank for their continued support and this expanded partnership as we look ahead to what we expect to be 20 of the most exciting years in Toronto sports and entertainment history.”

“As Canada’s flag carrier and North America’s Best Airline as ranked by the Skytrax World Airline Awards, we are proud to continue our partnership with MLSE as the Official Airline of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors,” Air Canada Preisdent of Passenger Airlines Benjamin Smith said. “We congratulate MLSE and Scotiabank as they build on the legacy we helped establish in 1999 and look forward to celebrating with fans and customers during our final season as title sponsor of the Air Canada Centre. Air Canada supports professional and amateur sports throughout Canada and our global hub in Toronto connects that city to the world, driving both the economy and communities.”

Scotiabank also owns naming rights to facilities in Calgary and Halifax and previously held them in Ottawa as they make a pretty clear play to corner that corner of the Canadian marketing space. MLSE has long had a partnership with BMO, including the naming deal for BMO Field (home of MLSE’s red-hot Toronto FC franchise, though it’s owned by the city) and a primary sponsorship with the Raptors, and one would think that would cause some issue as Scotiabank takes over sponsorship of the flagship real estate property. RBC was among the finalists, too, per Kristen Shilton. That may take some ironing out, but there are $800 million reasons to find a way.

Scotiabank will also remain the official banking partner of the Leafs, per a release, and Scotiabank will expand its partnership with MLSE Foundation. The two sides intend to collaborate with SCENE on some promotions, as well, and there are plans for an MLSE Incubator at the Scotiabank Digital Factory.

There’s not a lot to sort through here, really. It’s a corporate shift from one branded partnership to another, and a very lucrative one. While there’s certainly some history to the name (“Air Canada Carter” remains among the more fun Toronto sports nicknames of the last few decades), there’s not the sort of championship pedigree that made some so upset about the name change for SkyDome a while back. This is simply a matter of C.R.E.A.M., with the small cost of all of us having to remember to make the written and verbal adjustment by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around.

(Unless maybe I’m underestimating the degree to which this change will resonate with Raptors fans, in which case, I’m all ears on divergent takes.)

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Canada loses overtime heart-breaker to Argentina

Photo courtesy Canada Basketball

Canada 86, Argentina 92 | Box Score

Canada’s senior men’s national team and the Americup just don’t mix, something the program received further proof of in a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Argentina on Monday night.

Things looked bleak early on, so maybe we should have divested early. Coming off of a dispiriting loss to the U.S. Virgin Islands that essentially made the rest of the tournament a must-win for Canada, they came out fairly flat, once again struggling from the field early on. Brady Heslip hitting an early triple should have been a nice sign, but that bucket, which tied the game at seven, would be the last one Canada scored for four-and-a-half minutes, allowing the host Argentines to pull out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. When the frame ended, Canada was stuck 25-16 and quite clearly reeling.

When Canada limped out to start the second quarter and fell behind 14, their tournament life was barely flickering. Even Nicolas Laprovittola can only dominate without scoring for so long, though, and Canada locked in on defense to buy their offense time to find it’s footing. Argentina scored just 12 points over the final 9:13 of the half, with Canada ever-so-slowly chipping into the lead. An Andrew Nicholson three continued the major run and brought the Canadians within a possession late in the half, and after a pair of stops, Nicholson made it a one-point game from mid-range (he had nine points and eight rebounds in the half and finished with 12-and-18 on the night). They’d even briefly take a lead before entering halftime down just 42-40.

The comeback forced Argentina to turn to a somewhat banged-up Luis Scola to start the third quarter, with the captain getting the chance to show off his top-knot/silver-fox-beard combo (pulling. it. off.) after sitting the entire first half. Unfortunately, Scola pulled up lame just over a minute into the frame and had to be removed from the game, heading directly to the locker room. (Through the very rough Spanish that I know, it appears he has a possible calf tear in the leg that was not already injured.)

https://twitter.com/IsolationNBA/status/902313771628146688

Any momentum Canada had built petered out as the two sides settled into a nice back-and-forth from there, trading leads without the gap extending beyond four points the rest of the quarter. Murphy Burnatowski picked up a pair of quick fouls that brought Nicholson back in, and he promptly turned away a shot, grabbed a rebound shortly after, and kick-started a drive that ended in a go-ahead jumper for Heslip. Heslip and Nicholson both then shot free throws, nudging Canada to a 55-53 lead heading into the fourth.

Head coach Roy Rana opted to roll with his starters for the early part of the fourth (with Olivier Hanlan in Joel Anthony’s place), and the lead continued to nudge larger with four from that group in double-figures. Hanlan even pushed the lead to a game-high nine following another Nicholson block, sending Argentina into catch-up mode with six minutes to go. An awry outlet for Canada gave Argentina momentarily life, but Junior Cadougan responded with a huge and-one to give them their first double-digit lead. The home crowd got behind Argentina as they cut the lead to six, and a Grandy Glaze response could only stem the tide briefly, with the gap trimming to just four with two minutes to play.

The ship did not get righted from there. A miscommunication on offense led to a Canadian turnover, allowing Facundo Campazzo to draw the Argentines within a possession at the free-throw line. Heslip hit a pair of free throws back the other way, but Dyshawn Pierre fouled Patricio Garino on a made basket, Argentina got the offensive rebound on the missed free throw, and then Gabriel Deck was fouled while tying the game. It was full shades of Venezuela from 2015. Heslip hit a massive three to end a 14-1 run, then drew a foul following a Deck layup. He only split the pair, though, and Canada surrendered a fairly easy game-tying layup for Javier Saez on a baseline pick-and-roll, and an inbound play with three seconds to go produced a deep Heslip step-back three that missed (after it nearly produced a five-second violation; Heslip had a game-high 24 points, by the way).

Overtime in a round-robin game in a tournament without much consequence shouldn’t be cause for exasperation, sure, but an illegal screen call on Hanlan did the trick. An up-and-down call when Nicholson was quite clearly fouled didn’t help either. Anyway, the even trading of baskets mostly continued in the extra frame. Canada lost a late lead when Nicholson was whistled for a foul on Deck during a mad scramble for a rebound, and after Pierre and Cadougan were both picked off, Campazzo hit an enormous dagger three as the shot-clock expired to go up four with 10 seconds left. Rathan-Mayes, who finished with 17 points and five assists in another solid showing, missed a quick three, and that more or less ended things.

https://twitter.com/NBAdotBR/status/902328527890120705

“It was a great game for the fans,” Rana said. “It was a classic game with tight big plays down the stretch. A lot of passion and a lot of energy played by both teams. A game we will all remember for a long time. Unfortunately for us we were on the losing side today, but I think we will only get better with the experience…You never like to lose, but I’m very proud of these guys and hopefully we can bounce back and show the same passion tomorrow.”

It’s a disappointing end after a strong comeback effort, and it essentially eliminates Canada from the tournament. They’ll play Venezuela tomorrow, but the best they can finish now is 1-2, which almost surely won’t be good enough to move on to the semi-finals – technically they could win their final game by a large enough margin that if a three-team tie results, they’d move on, but it’s a pretty flimsy hope. Given the momentum that had been built with the entire program of late, it’s a difficult conclusion for the flagship team, even if it’s an understandable one given the nature of the tournament and roster construction.

From here, the team will look to regroup ahead of World Cup qualifiers in November, when the team will be made up of NBL, G-League, and non-Euroleague international players. It’s not the easiest deck Rana and company are playing with over the next few months, but they’ll have to find a way, because World Cup qualification is an absolutely necessary next step for the entire program’s continued ascension.

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Canada drops Americup opener

Photo courtesy Canada Basketball

Canada 71, U.S. Virgin Islands 83 | Box Score

The FIBA Americup, formerly known as the FIBA Americas tournament, is starting to get on Canada’s nerves a little bit. The last time Canada was in this tournament, they squandered an incredible performance in group stage play with a knock-out stage loss to Venezuela, ultimately costing themselves a spot in the 2016 Olympics. This time around, the tournament is fairly meaningless in terms of qualification for the next World Cup and Olympic cycle, but it’s started no less frustrating.

Canada dropped a tournament-opening decision to U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday night, turning in a disastrous third quarter they couldn’t recover from. After they built a small hole early, they managed to play the Islands close through most of the second but took a five-point deficit into the half thanks to some woeful shooting. Things unraveled from there, with Canada’s defense giving way to a 28-point third quarter for the rather anonymous opposition. Canada could muster little in the way of a comeback attempt from there, losing 83-71 and getting their tournament off to an inauspicious start.

Olivier Hanlan led Canada with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, which says a fair amount about Canada’s offensive performance overall. Head coach Roy Rana used all 12 of his players in search of a spark, and while 11 of them scored, Junior Cadougan was the only player to take more than two field-goal attempts and still shoot 50 percent (he was 2-of-3). Brady Heslip, pegged as the team’s offensive fulcrum, had a tough night with a 2-of-11 mark from the field, including 1-of-7 on threes, and played to a minus-11 in his 27 minutes. Xavier Rathan-Mayes was really the only moderate bright spot – despite shooting 2-of-10 himself -0 posting a 5-10-6 line and leading the team in both rebounding and assists.

“We didn’t play well and we have to do a better job of coming out with a lot of energy,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We came out sluggish and didn’t execute the way we should have. We just have to go back and regroup, come back and win two.”

All told, the Canadians shot 31.6 percent from the floor and 7-of-32 on threes and were out-rebounded slightly thanks to the vast difference in defensive rebounding opportunities (the Virgin Islands shot 43.1 percent).

They’ll have to shake this off very quickly in the expedited Americup format. Canada plays host Argentina late today and Venezuela tomorrow, and that could be it – only Argentina and one other team will make it on from this pool, so there’s a real urgency to go 2-0 from here. Canada dropped what was their most likely win

“Tough first game for us at the AmeriCup. We look forward to building this group and the valuable international experience it’s providing our team,” Rana said.

It’s true that the tournament will be valuable experience regardless of finish, considering a chunk of this roster will be playing together when World Cup qualifying games begin in November. That also increases the value of extending the tournament and getting a couple of elimination games under their belts, too.

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#675 – Raptors Weekly Podcast – What are you even saying, Bruno?

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave to mostly banter about nothing.

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Bruno Caboclo removed from Brazilian national team; Bruno apologizes

After a solid debut for the Brazilian senior men’s national team, Bruno Caboclo’s career on the FIBA circuit has gone off the rails quickly.

Reportedly upset with a substitution in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Mexico, Caboclo refused to re-enter the game for the second half. He was allegedly pouting during warm-ups and refused to join the team after multiple pleas. As a result, he has been removed from the national team altogether, with the Brazilian basketball confederation citing an act of indiscipline as the reason.

Here’s the official statement from manager Renato Lamas, through Google translate and via Fabio Balassiano (and thanks to Mil Grau for sending along translated updates throughout):

“The athlete Bruno Caboclo committed an act of indiscipline, refusing to enter the court when the coach requested, was removed from the Brazilian national team. Based on the principles that guide the current management of the Brazilian Confederation, we can not allow any athlete to commit an act of indiscipline of this size wearing the shirt of the Brazilian National Team.”

Lamas expanded further in his post-game press conference, saying he intends to speak with the Toronto Raptors about Caboclo’s attitude:

“I’m very sad, very much. But we just want players who want to be in the national team. If he does not want to be, we will not want him with us. “

Caboclo also temporarily deleted his Instagram account following the game. When he reactivated it, all photos of him with the national team had been removed.

Caboclo had three points and a steal in nine minutes before being removed from the game, one Brazil would ultimately lose. He posted an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double in the tournament opener and had varying degrees of success in the exhibition games, showing more promising signs than bad. Obviously, getting removed from the team is the worst takeaway of all here, though it’s worth keeping in mind that we’ll likely only hear the team’s side in this.

This would not be the first time Caboclo’s emotions have gotten the better of him. He famously got upset when C.J. Fair dunked on him in his first Summer League action, but that was a little more understandable given the age and culture shock he was going through at the time. Even as recently as the G-League Finals last year, though, Caboclo could grow combative or withdrawn when things didn’t go his way, and while his ability to bounce back and re-engage after those moments has improved, he clearly has a long way to come from an emotional maturity perspective. He’s young, yes, but he’s 21 and has three years of traveling the NBA under his belt now – if this is as cut and dry as Lamas and reporters have laid it out, this is a bad look and a disappointing end to Caboclo’s first national team exposure.

UPDATE: Caboclo issued an apology via his Instagram.

" Eu Quero me desculpar com a Confederação Brasileira de Basquete pela minha conduta durante o jogo da noite passada. Respeito meus treinadores e colegas, e deixei que minhas emoções entrassem no caminho dos objetivos da nossa equipe. É uma honra representar o país que amo e humildemente aceito as consequências para as minhas ações. Estou crescendo como um profissional a cada dia e me esforçando para tornar os meus fãs, companheiros de equipe, país e família orgulhosos ". • • • • • • • "I want to apologize to the Brazilian Basketball Federation for my conduct during last night’s game. I respect my coaches/teammates and disappointed that my emotions got in the way of our team’s goals. It’s an honor to represent the country I love and will humbly accept the consequences for my actions. I am growing as a professional each day and striving to make my fans, teammates, country and family proud."

A post shared by Bruno Caboclo (@brunofive) on

Here’s the English portion of his caption:

I want to apologize to the Brazilian Basketball Federation for my conduct during last night’s game. I respect my coaches/teammates and disappointed that my emotions got in the way of our team’s goals. It’s an honor to represent the country I love and will humbly accept the consequences for my actions. I am growing as a professional each day and striving to make my fans, teammates, country and family proud.

Taking responsibility for it is a good first step, at least.

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Bruno Caboclo posts double-double in Americup-opening win

Photo credit: MattAzevedo.com

The official start to Bruno Caboclo’s career with the Brazilian senior men’s national team couldn’t have gone much better than it did late Friday night.

After a mixed bag of friendlies that mostly graded out as at least mildly encouraging, Caboclo looked like one of the best players on the floor for the Brazilians against host Colombia. With smart, quick decisions in the post, willing help-and-recover defense, and force on the glass that’s quickly become his biggest value to this squad, Caboclo looked every bit the part of higher-end player in the watered-down Americup, which is largely where expectations sat for him entering the tournament.

Primarily billed as a small forward to date, the Toronto Raptors’ prospect played a lot of power forward here and even spent some time at center, something he’s done on occasion with Raptors 905, too. At nearly 7 feet tall and with an obscene wingspan, Caboclo can provide some rim protection helping a shorter distance, and this tournament doesn’t have enough size to really punish Caboclo’s still-developing frame (he’s certainly put in the work in the gym to be considered a four, or at least a combo-forward).

All told, Caboclo was one of the team’s most important players, playing to a plus-9 in a 76-74 victory, the second-best mark on the team. That he played 37 of 40 minutes makes this stand out even more – Brazil was outscored by seven points in the three minutes he sat. Caboclo scored 11 points on just seven field-goal attempts thanks to hitting three triples, hauled in 11 rebounds, and perhaps most encouraging, dishes three assists. He also committed four fouls and four turnovers,

You can see highlights from the game here:

You can see the box score here. Brazil plays again tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET, though FIBA does not appear to be streaming full games on YouTube for this tournament, so you may have to get creative to find the action.

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Raptors 905 release 2017-18 schedule

Photo credit: KarynStepien.com

Raptors 905 released their schedule for the 2017-18 regular season on Thursday. The 2017 champions will begin defending their crown in Grand Rapids on Nov. 5 before returning to Hershey Centre to raise their banner Nov. 8.

As noted earlier this summer, the 905 will also host the G-League Showcase again this year, playing two games on a to-be-determined schedule from Jan. 10-13. They’ll play 24 home games and 24 away games on top of that for a 50-game slate that includes three or four games against each in-conference opponent and 10 games in total against non-conference opponents (so there will be teams the 905 don’t play at all). The 905 have just seven back-to-backs on the year and have just one road-trip as long as four games, right near the end of the season.

The playoffs will begin sometime between March 25 and March 27.

You can find the schedule here.

Here are some breakdowns, as passed along by Raptors 905.

Games by Month
November:         9 (6 home, 3 road) December:          12 (6 home, 6 road)
January:            11 (5 home, 6 road) February:            10 (5 home, 5 road)
March:                8 (3 home, 5 road)
Games by Day
Sunday:                 7 (3 home, 4 road) Monday:                6 (6 home)
Tuesday:               6 (3 home, 3 road) Wednesday:          8 (5 home, 3 road)
Thursday:              1 (1 road) Friday:                   7 (7 road)
Saturday:              13 (7 home, 6 road)

As for ticket information, here’s something from the 905:

Season seats for Raptors 905 are available from as low as $400 per seat. New this season, Premium Season Ticket Memberships are available, starting from $700 per seat.  Group and single-game tickets are available from $9.05, while three game flex packs are available from $81. For more details on season tickets, flex packs or groups of 10 or more please email tickets@raptors905.com.

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All-time Raptors 2K team revealed; McGrady to be presented by Thomas at HOF

In advance of the release of NBA 2K18 next month, 2K has been releasing all-time rosters for each NBA team. On Thursday, they released the roster for the Raptors, which was always going to be a difficult task given the somewhat limited history of greatness the franchise has experienced.

Here’s what 2K came up with:

Player Rating Starter/Bench
Kyle Lowry 88 Starter
DeMar DeRozan 89 Starter
Vince Carter 95 Starter
Chris Bosh 92 Starter
Antonio Davis 85 Starter
Damon Stoudamire 86 Bench
Tracy McGrady 84 Bench
Morris Peterson 84 Bench
Jose Calderon 84 Bench
Doug Christie 84 Bench
Jonas Valanciunas 81 Bench
Louis Williams 81 Bench
Amir Johnson 80 Bench
Terrence Ross 80 Bench
Alvin Williams 80 Bench

Again, it’s tough, given the limited history. Terrence Ross, for example, is third in franchise history in threes, 10th in games played, 14th in points, and and 17th in win shares (to use some rough gauges). He was also a key member of the best sustained stretch in team history. Should that be enough? Or the better question: Who else should take his spot, or the spot of, say, Lou Williams, who played just one year with the team? And if that’s the bar, where’s Mike James? The only player who rank ahead of Ross in Raptors all-time scoring who didn’t make the roster is Andrea Bargnani (a funny, if understandable, omission). The same goes for games played. There are some other omissions – Charles Oakley, Anthony Parker, Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall, and even Patrick Patterson – that you could argue for based on longevity, impact, or highest peak, but overall there’s not a lot to get worked up about here, I don’t think.

What would your roster of 15 look like, taking each player’s peak while with the Raptors?

Tracy McGrady, by the way, will be presented at his Hall of Fame enshrinement by Isiah Thomas. Thomas, of course, drafted McGrady ninth overall in 1997 while running the Raptors, and McGrady would later call Thomas a “father figure” for his mentorship. So there will be some Raptor lore heading to the Hall shortly.

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Raptors 905 lose Daniels and Siakam in expansion draft

The G-League held its 2017 expansion draft on Wednesday, with four new franchises selecting player rights from the league’s previously existing 22 teams. The four teams selected 11 players each in a snake format, and each existing G-League franchise could and would only lose two players (after protecting the rights to up to nine).

For Raptors 905, those two players were DeAndre Danies and Jame Siakam. Daniels was selected by Erie in the first round, while Siakam was taken by Wisconsin in the eight round.

The parent club Toronto Raptors renounced their rights to Daniels, a former second-round pick, earlier this offseason. He appeared in eight games for the 905 in 2015-16 as an in-season affiliate player on his way back from a Jones fracture, then spent last season in the Italian second division. Siakam, the brother of Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, was claimed from the player pool at the end of the 2015-16 season but never appeared in a game for the 905.

A year ago, the 905 lost the rights to Keanau Post and Dee Bost in the expansion draft. Neither played in the G-League last season, but the Greensboro Swarm will own their returning player rights for one more season. The summer prior to that, the 905 selected 16 players in the expansion draft, ultimately using those players as trade currency more than anything else. Scott Suggs was a notable piece for the team in its expansion season, and Will Sheehey and C.J. Leslie both played for the 905 a year ago, but they’re the only three of that group of 16 to play for the 905.

The loss of Daniels and Siakam further thins out a 905 rights sheet that is going to need serious reinforcement via the October draft (they have an extra third-round pick, at least), September’s local open tryouts, NBA assignments, and general manager Dan Tolzman’s usual aggression on the trade market. Coming off of a championship season, most of the team’s key pieces have understandably cashed in for overseas raises. Edy Tavares could be a swing piece here, as the Cleveland Cavaliers now have 17 players under contract (they can have up to 20 until the regular season begins, and Tavares may not clear waivers, but it’s worth keeping an eye on).

Here’s how the 905 right sheet lines up ahead of tryouts and the draft:

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Cavs-Celtics trade reaction open thread