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Tom Thibodeau certainly has his issues. As per Jerry Reinsdorf, he’s a control freak who doesn’t appreciate input from anyone else even when it’s wrapped in softer terms like ‘feedback’. Thiobodeau doesn’t know the meaning of compromise, and Sam Smith suggested it might be due to him not having a wife or kids, two entities which force you into both. He’s known to drive his players into the ground, not just during games but in hard practices, which when you’re winning 60 games is great, not so much when you’re struggling and injury-riddled.
There are some parallels to be drawn between Thibodeau and Casey, the obvious one being that both are supposed to be coaches that prioritize defense over all else. The difference is that whereas Thibodeau’s teams embody the talk, Casey’s merely pay lip service to it. Even if you normalize it by considering the talent disparity between the Bulls and the Raptors, you can at the very least say that Thibodeau is far more intransigent when it comes to defense than Casey, who’s willing to let it slide as long as the offense is punching above its weight class.
Where Casey is perceived as being as stubborn due to his insistence on playing a style that clearly wasn’t conducive to the team, Thibodeau can’t be charged with that crime. His sins lie elsewhere. He’s stubborn about dedicating countless hours to detailed game preparation no matter who the opponent, bent on imposing his personality on the team, and when he sees that his standards of preparation aren’t being met, his response is to turn the screws and demand excellence from his team. This comes at the expense of having forged a personality that is best seen as hard-line, and worst as irresponsible.
In today’s player-dictated league, that means he’s not exactly a “player’s coach”. Depending on how you see that, it could be a positive, or a huge negative. Casey, on the other hand, is the player’s coach as long as the player is a ‘star’ on the team. Casey’s far more forgiving and easy to please, casual with the media, and doesn’t seem to mind if you fire his assistant coaches and hire others for him. That act alone would have been seen as sacrilege by Thibodeau.
A coach that sees bad defense as a non-starter is all too common, in fact, there are zero coaches in the league that won’t preach a defense-first approach. The difference between Thibodeau and them is that he means it, and isn’t afraid to implement it through hard measures even if comes at the expense of player backlash. Perhaps that was a sign of inexperience and not being fully aware of the nuances of today’s NBA where player power reigns supreme.
A Thibodeau-Toronto fit is a curious one. Consider this theory: when you evaluate a position, you always consider its past performance, present production, future potential, cost, and culture-fit. If you consider the coach to be a position on the team like no other, and were to stack Thibodeau against Casey in these categories, he wins out in past performance, present production, and arguably future potential as a coach.
The cost of replacing Casey with Thibodeau would be high, since the Raptors would have to pay out Casey’s year and the cost of getting Thibodeau would be upwards of $6M, even though he’s collecting a nice little severance package from the Bulls worth over $9M.
Gauging culture fit is interesting, because Casey’s strong suit has been instilling a culture, if not of accountability across all players, then at least of effort across everyone. This is accentuated by what was there before Casey joined the Raptors, when regular season games were hard to watch. Granted, those teams had Andrea Bargnani play a big role, and whenever he was on the court it just looked like the whole team was tanking it. This is also Thibodeau’s strong suit but you can argue that this isn’t exactly where the Raptors need help and is an area where Casey’s doing just fine. Call it even here.
If the Raptors were to bring in Thibodeau, I feel it would be an upgrade because Thibodeau has shown greater tactical flexibility, especially in the face of injuries. His orchestration of a heavily team-oriented Bulls offense (11th in NBA) last season was nothing short of impressive, and is made even more so by the injuries suffered to key players like Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. He created a motion-heavy system which was beautiful to watch, utilized Noah’s passing game, got production out of an aging Pau Gasol, and had his three-point shooters over-perform. This came with the defense not slipping, and sticking to 11th in the league.
The Chicago fans’ view on Thibodeau isn’t very nostalgic as they accuse him of lineup mismanagement, failure to rise to the big occasions, using particular players as a crutch, and overplaying starters. What they fail to give weight to is a 65% winning rate over that span, including a winning percentage of 57% against the West this previous season. Thibodeau’s teams aren’t flat-track bullies. Their failure to come out of the East in years where there has been an opening to do so shouldn’t be an indictment on a first-time head coach that won four playoff series in five years. Compare that to the previous 12 years in Chicago when the team only won a single playoff round. Oh, and compare that to the Raptors who have won a singular round in their 20 years!
What Thibodeau’s next team will also benefit from is the learnings of his first head coaching experience. You rarely get things right the first time, and Thibodeau will come out of Chicago knowing how to manage the front office better, have a better understanding of how to deal with players, the media, and just about everything else (that’s something Dwane Casey benefitted from after his relatively quick dismissal from Minnesota). As pointed out in the last Raptors Weekly podcast, there are a couple things you can guarantee about Thibodeau’s text team: they’re going to improve considerably on defense, and will never be under-prepared for the occasion. Both to-do list items for the Raptors.
There does exist the uncomfortable question of control, which Thibodeau has known to seek and of course, him holding a grudge (e.g., not drafting Draymond Green). I wonder if he’ll mellow out a little in his next stint, and be more amiable to work with. Personally, I think he will just because he’s a smart guy and he knows that he’ll have to adapt if he wants to stay employed and not go the way of one-and-done coaches. The flip side of the coin is whether Masai Ujiri is a a person who would even entertain having a potential firecracker as a head coach. Dwane Casey is someone he can easily control, not just because of his contract situation but because of his malleable personality, I’m not sure the same can be said about Thibodeau. That perception alone could trump any coaching advantage that Thibodeau would bring, which is unfortunate, for the Raptors.
Amidst some audio issues, Andrew and I talk about the D-League team situation, Tom Thibodeau, and what DeMar DeRozan would fetch on the market by playing a name game.
Welcome to the Weekend 3-on-2, a monthly (maybe) feature that looks at three positive and two negatives with the Raptors and the NBA at large.
Why you say? Click and read on.
After revealing that the Raptors were in negotiations with the NBA about a D-League team, Tim Leiweke revealed that the team will be coming out of GTA next season:
Leiweke mini-bombshell. D-League in Toronto for next season
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 27, 2015
The importance of a D-League team can’t be overstated, and this is great news for basketball fans in the city, who may just get to see Bruno Caboclo play 25 games next year as part of the squad.
Possible locations could be Mississauga’s Hershey Center, Brampton’s Powerade Center, or any one of the other arenas across the GTA.
I’m certainly looking forward to an annual Raptors-vs-their-D-League affiliate game – call it the James Naismith Cup 2. Look forward to seeing DeAndre Daniels there next season, as he’s already in Toronto working out with the younger guys:
DeAndre Daniels, who played in Australia last year, has been working out with Bruno/Bebe in Toronto. Could be in mix for final roster spots
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 27, 2015
Kudos to Tim Leiweke for getting another thing done as he’s heading out the door.
Founded in 20111, the NBA Development League features 17 teams, so this would be the league’s 18th and first in Canada. The D-League season is made up of 50 regular-season games plus a postseason and runs from November to April. The current teams in the league are: Austin Toros, Bakersfield Jam, Canton Charge, Delaware 87ers, Erie BayHawks, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Idaho Stampede, Iowa Energy, Los Angeles D-Fenders, Maine Red Claws, Reno Bighorns, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Santa Cruz Warriors, Springfield Armor, Texas Legends and Tulsa 66ers.
Prediction: Disenchanted Raptors fans after exruciating losses will now make jokes like, “F**k this, I’m done with these posers, I’m about to go buy a Mississauga Mayhem jersey!”
Here it is:
Some info about the logo:
The logo design pays tribute to the iconic CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere and the crown jewel of Toronto’s skyline.
The logo, designed in collaboration with the Raptors, integrates the CN Tower silhouette with the team’s red, white and black colors. Additional secondary logos include a signature NBA “star” logo inside a dynamic maple leaf and an All-Star toque logo, featuring a clawed star, which pays tribute to the popular accessory worn during Canada’s winter months.
Play making, lateral quickness and honing an 18-footer should top Valanciunas’s offseason to-do list.
With the inevitable clash between Cleveland and Golden State closing in (seeing Houston fight back last night was fun to watch, though), and as much as we all enjoy receiving our basketball fix, each passing episode of the NBA Playoffs ultimately leaves an empty feeling within the Raptors’ fan base. Or rather the continuation of the lingering disappointment from Toronto’s first-round exit.
For the most part, the postseason has been competitive and highly entertaining (minus a couple no-shows in each series, T.O. included), but it also serves as another reminder that the Dino’s didn’t earn their keep when it truly mattered the most. It’s hard to imagine any player on the Raps’ roster channeling their inner DeMarre Carroll in the effort department. Depressing, indeed.
Are we somehow supposed to take comfort in the fact that the assistants have been fired? Nothing suggests franchise advancement like backing the man who was in charge of overseeing the ones you’ve just let go. Prepare for yet another season of evading post-game questions, sugar-coating poor play, and in-game adjustments that leave plenty to be desired. A puzzling state of affairs to put it mildly.
Ujiri, while undoubtedly still residing in this city’s high regard, has now left the door open to criticism that could begin to fester. Brian Burke was once the chosen one, there was a time when Alex Anthopoulos could do no wrong, hell, even Bryan Colangelo was treated like royalty at one point. But like clockwork, Toronto’s multiple personality disorder has a knack for turning ugly in a hurry. To kill any growing notions, the summer stage is Masai’s platform.
Well, time can aid our wounds. The offseason always owns potential to lay the groundwork for a renewed sense of optimism. However, we all know to keep that hope at arm’s length with an asterisk forever handy.
Fellow writers of the Republic have hit the ground running. Zarar’s take on the state of this squad’s backcourt, Blake and the Doctor’s coverage of the upcoming draft, and William’s recent edition of the mailbag. All of which provide a great jumpstart to the proceedings.
This contribution to the offseason festivities comes in the form of surveying the Free Agent landscape, and the call for a concerted effort to attain a difference maker.
The list of free agents this summer is rather deep, for a comprehensive guide to the possible movers and shakers, check out the useful page over at Hoops Hype. For the purposes of this article, let’s check in on the highlights.
At the risk of wishful thinking, how about we start with some dream scenarios and work our way down from there. With unrestricted, restricted, and player option designations attached.
Hey, if we’ve learned anything through recent events, anything is possible. Media personalties and Twitter trolls alike actually claiming Steph Curry’s daughter was an annoying distraction, the Leafs actually landing the whale named Babcock, or CBS having nerve to dismantle David Letterman’s historic set just days after his last show.
Tier 1: Dare To Dream, But Stranger Things Have Happened
- Unrestricted: Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan
- Restricted: Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green
- Player Option: Kevin Love, Monta Ellis, Goran Dragic
Let’s not even hint at All-NBA first teamer, Marc Gasol, or All-Defensive first teamer, Kawhi Leonard. There is no reason for either to jump ship and simply a fantasy from Toronto’s standpoint. But two outside shots could be in the form of Butler and Green, the first and second place finishers respectively for the league’s Most Improved Player Award.
Green could very well be an NBA champion by the time Free Agency rolls around, and Butler is a rising star in a prime location. Nevertheless, neither sit atop the food chain within their squads. That’s debatable when analyzing the Bulls’ power structure but with D-Rose’s inconsistent health impacting Chicago’s chances on a yearly basis, along with the now reported rift between the two, Butler could be longing for a fresh start.
Interior help, an upgrade on the wing, passion, grit, and two-way capabilities are what’s sorely lacking in this town, and morphing into top-dog status can entice even the best of candidates. Despite numerous suitors to be, the possibilty remains that T.O.’s camp will pony up and force one of these clubs to decline their matching privileges.
Seven of these nine marquee players are currently employed by perennial powerhouses, one of whom is most likely taking his talents to Hollywood, and the remaining two (Ellis and Dragic), fill positions already held by the Raps’ “leaders”. MLSE’s wallet also looms as a wildcard.
Masai’s master plan remains somewhat of a mystery. Believing in the core on camera is good for business, but a different blueprint could exist behind closed doors. At the moment, nobody is safe from packing their bags.
Unfortunately all of the momentum previously created by this franchise has come to a screeching halt, as two steps back have quieted the noise of the 2013-14 season. Crossing the border was already in question for the majority of players, and everyone involved with this team didn’t do themselves any favours by shrinking the free agent allure.
On to something a little more practical.
Tier 2: Somewhat Realistic Additions
- Unrestricted: Greg Monroe, Paul Millsap, Omer Asik
- Restricted: Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, Iman Shumpert
- Player Option: Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce
What did that nixed Kyle Lowry trade consist of again? A package of Felton, Metta World Peace, and one of either Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. or a 2018 1st-rounder. Thank you for your ineptitude, James Dolan. Reports did surface that Toronto wanted the pick instead of either Shumpert or Hardaway, but back then the timing wasn’t right, whereas the here and now is ripe to jump on a player like Shumpert and what he brings to the table at both ends.
This tier represents help in areas of need without necessarily mortgaging your entire bankroll. Yes, even Pierce. He’s hated on for a reason, and mentality wise, the savvy vet and potential Hall Of Famer is a perfect fit.
I get it, he’s been the enemy for two straight years, but if he forgoes retirement and actually suits up in Toronto, every bit of this city’s distain will immediately transform into elation. Especially since it would mean this team still owns a win-now philosophy.
The more costly commodities of Millsap, Monroe, Jefferson, and Lopez would all be welcomed with open arms. Though investing in underrated skill-sets such as Hibbert’s defense (when he feels inclined to do so), Asik’s rebounding and shot blocking, and the across the board habits of Harris and Middleton could stretch the Raps’ dollar even further. With Asik offering the easiest route as the most attainable unrestricted asset.
Now, it’s the headliner’s turn.
Tier Tristan: The Main Objective
It’s time for that aforementioned priority signing, and look no further than Brampton, Ontario native, Tristan Thompson. Who as far as the Raptors should be concerned, belongs in a tier all to himself.
If the cat wasn’t out of the bag as his young career has progressed, his current postseason run, specifically over the course of his last 8 games (57% from the field mixed with 11.5 boards), has showcased his current and future worth. His Free-Throw clip just touches 56%, but 34 attempts over that same span is an encouraging sign of disruption.
Increased opportunity has put him into the mainstream discussion, as his just under 27 regular season minutes per game have risen to now four straight contests eclipsing the 40-mark. Kevin Love’s injury opened the window, but it’s hard to argue Thompson wasn’t going to enter the spotlight either way eventually.
A number of obstacles stand in the way of the Raps’ scoring such a prize:
- The seemingly inevitability of Love opting out leaving Thompson and his restricted status that much more important to the Cavs’ organization.
- A major role moving forward with a team on the verge of the NBA Finals.
- The fact that LeBron James has found a new best friend. His backing of Thompson is reaching new heights.
- He can start collecting his chips and head to the cashier as his payday looms large. There will be no offer below the already turned down $52 Million over four years.
Not since Jamaal Magloire, has a Canadian born player suited up in a Raps’ uniform. And to kick it old school, this city will always remember Magloire’s rise from Eastern Commerce Collegiate (with partner in crime Colin Charles) to the University of Kentucky, and eventually playing for the Raps in 2011.
Wait a minute, Magloire went from consultant/ambassador to assistant coach. Watch your back, Jamaal!
It was too late for Magloire to make an impact in the final stages of his career, but this is an opportunity to acquire a player who’s just getting started. Hailing from Toronto in itself doesn’t make Thompson’s case, on court decisions are far more important. But the bonus it provides doesn’t hurt the cause either, especially when the hometown approach is this team’s primary selling point. Scratch that, it’s their only selling point. Still, it’s certainly a strong one.
The potential for Andrew Wiggins becoming a member of this organization essentially exists as a pipe-dream. At the very least, it will have to wait until after his first lucrative long-term contract. Thompson represents the next best thing, yet on a different level.
But production and willingness to do the dirty work speaks for itself. The money that can be saved by letting the likes of Amir Johnson and Lou Williams walk (the 6th-man of the year is expendable), can aid the existing cap space for taking a shot at Thompson’s price tag.
One can only hope Toronto’s brass wants to sure up their pick-and-roll chaos, while attempting to put an end to the Raps’ rebounding embarrassment, not to mention eliminating its hero-ball existence. Thompson can only accelerate the process, and transform into one of this city’s next leaders on the hardwood.
Make it happen, Masai.
Given that MU has decided to retain coach Casey to the dismay of most fans, what is coming next? The next move will be a sort of tell re tanking option vs. re-tooling in win now mode. Thoughts?
Long-time reader and commenter, yertu damkule, joins the podcast to talk a range of topics from Andrea Bargnani to Bebe Noguiera, and all that’s in between.
Not much to see here. Terrence Ross underwent surgery in California on Saturday to remove some bone spurs from his left ankle, the team announced. According to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, Ross played through the injury late in the season.
There is no timetable for Ross’s return, but he should be fine before next season starts. His status for the Seattle Pro Am, however, will most likely be in question.
Ross posted a picture of his foot in a boot on his Instagram account on Saturday morning.
Like everyone else, Ross struggled in the playoffs, averaging seven points per game on 37.9 percent shooting from the field. He was an unreliable contributor on offense and woeful on defense. Perhaps that could be attributed to his injury. Let’s hope that is the case.
We keep being referred to as a “young” team, but are we really?
MLSE is reportedly close to finding Tim Leiweke’s replacement, and it will be John Cassaday, former CEO of Corus Entertainment. The MLSE board will hold discussions next week to confirm John Cassaday as its new president and CEO.
Cassaday ran Corus Entertainment, the Toronto based television broadcaster which owns several stations such as YTV and Teletoon, along with radio stations such as 102.1 the Edge, and Q107. He stepped down from that post in March after 16 years.
Tim Leiweke is set to depart on June 30, exactly two years to the day since when he was hired. Leiweke on arrival spoke about rejuvenating the Raptors (another interview) and then demoted/fired Bryan Colangelo after another lottery season. He then hired Masai Ujiri after a short search.
Whereas Leiweke came from a sports background, Cassaday’s history is much different and more diverse. From a Raptors perspective, he inherits a situation far different than Leiweke did, when enthusiasm was low with the team struggling. Though the playoff sweep has left many fans disenchanted, you’d have to think it’s very unlikely that Cassaday could spark executive-level changes for the Raptors.
It should be noted that Cassaday reportedly wasn’t the first choice as MLSE had apparently contacted NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, who rebuffed their advances.
The Doctor and the crew present the live mock draft and welcome newcomer Dave Hendrick.
I love draft season. Chalk it up to being a fan of a team that has spent far more time in the lottery than the playoffs, or baseball fandom that’s heavily rooted in prospect watching, or just a general preference for speculating on the hypothetical over analyzing the actual. Whatever the reasons, I love draft season.
By some combination of good fortune and good timing, my day job around this time last year turned into primarily preparation for the NBA Draft. I’m an NBA news editor at theScore, and last year saw me tasked with writing scouting reports on likely first-round picks and, to pull the curtain back some, pre-writing posts for draft night that would allow us to get news and alerts out in a timely manner. It was a blast, and by the time the draft rolled around, I could have told you more than you wanted to know about most prospects.
I did not even have a draft night post – let alone a scouting report – prepared for Bruno Cabcolo.
That is to say, as much as we may prepare and speculate and read Chad Ford and DraftExpress and so on, there’s never any telling what’s going on behind closed doors at the Air Canada Centre or in the mind of Masai Ujiri.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speculate, hypothesize, and make our own cases for players the Toronto Raptors should take at No. 20 this year. Draft time is a ton of fun, and even if the horse you pick is the wrong one (shameful admission: I liked Jerryd Bayless better than Russell Westbrook back in the day despite being a UCLA fan), occasionally having a correct evaluation or opinion feels great (shameless plug: I was extreme;y high on Kevin Love in that same draft, hated Jonny Flynn, loved K.J. McDaniels last year, and so on).
The purpose of this article is to lay out who you can realistically be looking at and discussing with the Raptors set to pick at No. 20.
There’s always the possibility they move up (though your scenarios of using Terrence Ross or Jonas Valanciunas just to move up in this draft are incredible examples of poor asset management and misevaluation of the value of draft picks), they move down (not sure I see the point with this class), or move the pick entirely (a poor cap-management decision because of the table below but a justifiable competitive one with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira set to be de facto rookies next season).
Way too early for this, but a case for NOT trading any of the Raps’ 3 1st-rd picks in 2015 & 2016. pic.twitter.com/12GjMgUyf1
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 27, 2015
The most likely scenario, as always, is that the Raptors hold steady and pick 20th. That’s not a terrible place to be in this draft. While it’s not the greatest class in recent memory, it appears to be good-to-great at the top and run about 20-25 players deep. There’s a pretty steep drop-off not long after where the Raptors will pick, making reaching somewhat tenuous and the likelihood of a precipitous fall from a top name somewhat unlikely.
I’ll be heading up our draft coverage at theScore again this season, and I spent the whole of March on the college basketball beat rather than the NBA beat. I think I’ve got a solid handle on the top-30 or -40 prospects in the class, and I’ve even tried my hand at a mock draft for the first time (it has the Raptors getting Montrezl Harrell). The nature of the coverage is such that I probably won’t be able to drop a ton of draft stuff here at Raptors Republic, but allow me to set the table for our discussions to come.
Forget about it
The following players are all consensus top-15 picks, in that ESPN’s Chad Ford, DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony, and CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie all have them going in the top-15 in their most recent mocks. A five-pick slide isn’t unheard of, but each of these names should securely be off the board by the time Toronto picks.
The fact that 13 names are near-consensus top-15 picks kind of speaks to the tiers in the draft. The first four names there are a clear first tier, the next four are a second, and from there things start to jump around a little more, getting into team needs and skill preference and upside-versus-floor debates.
Unlikely to be around
The following players are off the board by No. 20 in most mocks but could conceivable slide during the pre-draft process. You can hope they fall if you really like them, but don’t start building free agency plans around the team having secured one of these names.
Kelly Oubre – At this point, the best potential combination of shooting and defense available, though he hasn’t always shown it consistently. He could be a better Terrence Ross, or Terrence Ross, or a worse Terrence Ross.
Sam Dekker – A versatile, high-motor, high-character ball of energy, he’d be in the group above if teams had faith he can hit the NBA triple. Not sure where, exactly, he’d fit, but these are the type of guys you can put on most rosters and find a role for them.
Kevon Looney – Was once as high as No. 6 in Ford’s mock and could be a quality defender who can space the floor a bit. The upside here would be too good to pass up if he slides.
Tyus Jones – The analytics crowd seems to like the mistake-free, high-IQ guard, especially if his 3-point shot carries over to the next level. He wouldn’t be a swing for the fences but he seems a safe bet to at least be a quality PG2.
Bobby Portis – Were he to slip, I think he’s a nice fit. He’s a power forward who does everything well, nothing poorly, and nothing at an elite level, save for his reportedly obscene motor. He’s believed to be the most sure thing to be a rotation player in the NBA, even if he may not ever sniff an All-Star Game. At No. 20, that’d be a major win.
The core group to argue about
Occasionally these players are mocked to be going higher or lower, but they’re generally falling in the 15-25 range and are worth discussing.
Cameron Payne – If you want Lou Williams back, skip over the guards here. If Williams walks and/or the team can find a home for Greivis Vasquez, drafting a PG2 or potentially a combo-guard for the bench makes sense. Payne wouldn’t fit the combo-guard role, as he’s somewhat undersized at the one, but he’d be a solid backup point guard. He can really score, has the makings of an outside shot, and he gets the “crafty” and “pure” tags from Ford. He’s the least likely of these three to be around, it seems.
Jerian Grant – Grant would fit the combo-guard role off the bench well, but his penchant for ignoring his own shot in favor of over-passing would make him a nice remedy to the sometimes-frustraing Williams role. He’s a better defender and passer than Williams and a capable penetrator, but his outside shot is still shaky enough that he’s not a sure-fire lottery pick. Notre Dame’s offense was not dissimilar to the basic pick-and-roll schemes the Raptors run, and at 23, he’ll hit the NBA ready to contribute.
Delon Wright – If fans want a different look from a backup combo-guard, Wright is it. He can capable guard both spots and isn’t a great outside shooter, basically the opposite of the Williams-Vasquez duo. He rebounds well, gets to the line, and piles up steals. Like Grant, he’s 23, and the consensus seems to be that Grant’s got a slightly higher upside, but Wright seems a good bet to carve out a backup role.
Montrezl Harrell – Were I to guess who Raptors’ fans would choose from these nine games, given a poll, Harrell’s the guy. He measured well enough and is strong enough that he could see some time as a backup center, brings defense and rebounding to replace what the team will likely lose from Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough, plays above the rim, and is the type of hard-nosed, all-out player Raptors fans love. Like I said, I had him going to Toronto in my mock, and I think getting a clear rotation player who can help on defense this late would be a win.
Robert Upshaw – The Raptors have Bebe and Bruno, and opted for Greg Stiemsma over Hassan Whiteside (and others) in large part because developing three players on a 15-man roster seems impossible. Maybe a D-League franchise will change that thinking, but if it doesn’t, it’s hard to see Upshaw fitting. He measures incredibly well and has an obvious upside at centre, but he got kicked out of two programs and seems like he’ll need to be brought along slowly.
Christian Wood – A bit of a project at 19, Wood shot up boards somewhat late in the season after making huge statistical jumps as a sophomore. He apparently didn’t interview all that well and there are questions about his commitment and conditioning, but he’s a fantastic athlete and could be a quality two-way player with some effective player development.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Were the team not somewhat starved for shooting as is, this would be my guy. He may still be by the time June 25 rolls around. Short of Cauley-Stein, Hollis-Jefferson is the most clear defensive addition I think a team could make. He can guard every position except for center, tested as an incredible athlete, and is great in the open floor. He can’t shoot a lick, but this late, I think getting a clear one-way asset is still a positive, and he’s going to be very, very good as a defender.
Justin Anderson – Can he shoot? Anderson’s numbers were all over the place from outside because of a torrid streak and then a wrist injury, but it sounds as if most teams are non-believers in his outside game. Without that, he’s kind of an RHJ-light, not quite as good or as versatile defender and someone who will need to eat on offense off of put backs, back cuts, and broken plays.
R.J. Hunter – Can he do anything but shoot? Hunter’s length portends some defensive potential but right now his one clear skill is the ability to put the ball in the basket. I’m not sure that’s a need the Raptors have, even if he would be one of the team’s best shooters. I’m less high on Hunter than most, though, it seems.
Might be a reach
I could understand fans talking themselves into Jordan Mickey (shot-blocking), Chris McCullough (upside, if patient), Michael Frazier (shooting), Terry Rozier (Kyle Lowry Lite), George Lucas de Paula (Kawhi Leonard-like length at point guard), or a couple of other names, especially since the Raptors don’t have a second-round pick and we know Ujiri will go off-board. That’s totally fair, but this group is generally considered to be roughly where the drop-off happens, so don’t fall too in love.
Making assistant coaches scapegoats is the easy part of Masai Ujiri’s summer, and there are far more crucial decisions ahead for a GM that finds himself at a crossroads, where depending on how he fares, he could be a genius or the next Bryan Colangelo.
One of them is whether to give Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan another shot.
DeRozan and Lowry both showed that they can put up individual numbers as long as they remain ball-dominant, and it’s no surprise that were at their best when the other was out. Lowry has always grappled with being a system guy in an offense, and his premature departure from previous stops has come down to personality clashes or lack of fit. In Toronto, he’s been afforded carte blanche and made the most of it, but now that the shine has worn off, what lies beneath the surface is proving to be eerily familiar.
Lowry’s desire to “rescue” the team by taking over the offense is applauded when he hits a pull-up three down 1 with 2 minutes left, but when the same shot doesn’t fall, it reeks of selfishness and speaks to the lack of a reliable offensive system. Individual offense can carry you in the regular season, but in the post-season it needs to be of remarkable quality to even move the needle. We saw better players like Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Mike Conley fail to carry their teams on their own in the playoffs, and it’s foolhardy to think Kyle Lowry could use his brand of individual offensive to lead the Raptors to even moderate playoff success. You need to be operating at LeBron James and Stephen Curry-levels for one man to carry you in any significant manner in the post-season.
Injury-riddled in the second half of the season (mainly due to minutes mismanagement), injury is a concern for Lowry, in not so much that he’ll miss extended periods, but that he’ll be playing at 80% because of his pride and his Amir Johnson-mentality of pushing through. The Raptors will (hopefully) be trying a different system next season, and at 30, Lowry will have to learn anew, and this time he may be asked to play a role where he’s a piece of the puzzle rather than the central focus. The jury is out whether he’s able to abide by that constraint.
His backcourt partner, DeMar DeRozan, is a shooting guard who can’t shoot. He’s shooting 43% and 41% in the last two seasons, and 30% and 28% from three, respectively. He’s got a TS% of 51%, which is quite low and would be a lot worse if it weren’t for his FT attempts. The book is out on the six-year veteran, and though his brief stretches of point-forward play fill you with some hope that he can be a creative force, the sample size says he’s a black hole on offense.
His long-exposed weakness of being susceptible to lanky wings playing him tight has shown little sign of alleviation over the years. Whether it be Otto Porter Jr. or Tony Allen, DeRozan remains a fairly easy player to clamp down on when the opposition in keen on it, and if there’s anyone that would most benefit from a fresh approach to offense, it’s him. Lacking a shot and a quick drive, he’ll invariably look for a hard pull-up which defenses will invite him to take until he hits them at a steady clip, which he hasn’t – he shot 35% between 16-feet and the three-point line (i.e., the long two) which was also his most-taken shot accounting for 34% of all field goals attempted. That is a sign of a player being dared to prove he can shoot and simply being unable to.
Combine Lowry’s desire for the ball, and DeRozan’s need for it, and you’re left with a serious question to answer: can these two ever be part of a team-oriented offense that doesn’t use one-on-one play as a serious crutch. In the second half of 2013-14 (post-Gay trade), both DeRozan and Lowry played well. Sure, they failed in the post-season when the opposition was tuned in, but at least in the regular season they fared well. A big part of that was due to Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez being very productive, and Casey playing a good combination of starter/bench lineups.
This season we saw hockey shifts, Patterson’s role reduced to a three-point shooter, Vasquez taking a step back, and Lou Williams being a giant black hole on offense. This translated to the infectious bench-driven ball-movement that was present the season before being overwritten by one-on-one play, which the coach didn’t recognize as a problem only because early results were positive.
Now that we’ve seen the good and bad side of Lowry and DeRozan, the question becomes how you make them efficient parts of a team. The first step in doing so, if Ujiri is even inclined to do so, is to ensure that DeRozan develops a three-point shot this summer. Without that, the Raptors are in big trouble and DeRozan will continue to be two tiers below where he needs to be for the Raptors. Only once DeRozan is at least a 35% three-point shooter, can you start designing offensive sets where he can legitimately serve as an off-the-ball threat. We talk about summertime assignments for younger players like Bruno Caboclo and Terrence Ross, but those pale in comparison to how important it is for DeRozan to take his shooting up a level. If he’s unable to produce this level of efficiency, then the Raptors may as well just ship him while his value is relatively high (at least compared to what it could be in a year).
If Ujiri chooses to give Lowry and DeRozan another shot, the former’s summertime assignments include 1) getting his head around how to guard his position at an average level, and 2) ingrain himself with the new offense the Raptors will be running, so that he can become a part of it rather than the standard-bearer. It’s noteworthy to mention that every other coach has failed at this.
This is all if you decide to keep the two. If you want to make more than cosmetic changes to the roster, Ujiri will have to package one of them for a bigger player. DeRozan is the one that has a greater chance of intriguing teams because of his work ethic, ability to get to the FT line, and age. Despite his shooting issues, there will be interested parties with enough floor spacing that’ll welcome DeRozan in the hopes that he can improve his shooting to average levels.
DeRozan has a player option of $10.1 million for 2015-16, which he will opt out of, essentially making this his contract year. That comes with an associated decline in market value since he becomes a rent-a-player who never fetch you much.
Kyle Lowry is a tougher proposition to move. He’s got $36 million owing on his deal, is hitting 30, has a reputation of being uncoachable, plays a position he can’t defend, and happens to be playing one of the most stacked positions in the league. He’s got a track record where his welcome wears down, and GMs have enough of a sample size where they’re likely to point to the player than the circumstance as the problem.
The reality is that any real Raptors shake-up will involve shipping one of these two, because replacing Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson or even Jonas Valanciunas, are peripheral changes that don’t change the core of this team, especially if the head coach remains the same.
Why? One of the only things to look forward to next season was Sterner’s halftime spots. Those are irreplaceable. Damn you Masai. Damn you to hell.
Blame game hits overdrive.
The blame game has begun.
Will finally shows his face on the pod to talk assistants getting canned, Terrence Ross blowing up (on Instagram, not on the court), and whether Jonas Valanciunas belongs in the middle-ages.
Time to fill the haunting void by emptying out the mailbag.
Yesterday I had a chance to speak with Jack Armstrong on the phone as he was driving home from a golf trip. I’ve transcribed the phone interview for you below. He had some interesting things to say about where the organization is headed, and in particular how he feels about Kyle Lowry.
Kiyan: Eric Koreen published an article recently where he drew similarities between this team and the team that won the Atlantic Division in 06-07′. The following season, they regressed and lost to Orlando in five games. Panic ensued and the Raptors made some acquisitions (JO -> Marion -> Turkoglu) that perhaps hindered their long term growth. Koreen stated the Raptors can’t fall into that trap again. Do you think there’s a parallel here, and if so, how can the Raptors avoid it?
Jack: Back then there was a greater sense of urgency as you wanted to hold on to Chris Bosh, and in order to keep a foundational player around, you’ve got to continue building a winning vibe. With all due respect to the guys they currently have on their roster now, there’s not a guy on the roster who’s as good as Chris Bosh. So I think that Masai at the trade deadline knew that this was far from a finished product, and decided to punt rather than go for first down. So I think he said ‘okay, let it breathe, let’s see how this season pans itself out, let’s see how this team performs in the playoffs, and then we’re open to any / all moves that come out’.
I think the approach taken was the right approach. You don’t want to start building on a foundation that you’re not convinced in or don’t believe in yet.
People forget that the assistant GM at the time you mention was Masai Ujiri. So again, he has a pretty good sense of what took place, and he doesn’t want history to repeat itself again. I think he has a pretty good sense of this roster, and as crazy as it sounds, I think what happened against Washington might end up being a blessing in disguise, because it gives you an even greater understanding that this isn’t a group to build on top of. There are some pieces that are good to keep, and there are some pieces that could potentially be hazardous for you.
I think it’s been a great two year run. It’s been a lot of fun. Yes, it was disappointing getting swept by Washington, but when you look at the totality of the two years, it’s time now, based on what you learned from that, to go in a different direction. Does it have to be dramatic? No. But I think you’re going to have a different team next year.
Kiyan: How drastic do you think the change will be?
Jack: I think we might see 5, 6, or 7 new faces.
Kiyan: Was it the right decision to keep building this team with Dwane Casey coming back?
Jack: I think #1, when you look at the day Dwane Casey was hired, then you look at it today, with this being his team still – is the Raptors organization in a better place now than it was prior to when he was hired? I would say: Absolutely. Is there still steps that need to be taken? Sure. But does the guy deserve to be fired for coming in and basically improving the situation every year?
When you look at the 20 year history of the Raptors, he’s the best coach they’ve ever had. So before you make that decision, I think you need to let the process breathe.
He’s done a really good job. Perfect job? No. But who does? I think what’s happened is, you’ve had an opportunity to reflect and say ‘okay, there’s things that you could have done better, but do you still believe in the Mayor?’. As a former coach, and having been around the Raptors on a daily basis, not only in Dwane’s time, but for 17 years, I see a good guy who’s a good leader, who deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Will there be modifciations to what he does, the staff, the appraoch, and things you need to improve on? Yes, absolutely. But at the end of the day, I think you’ve got to look at the entire picture and say ‘okay, we’ve got a contractual obligation to him for next year’, so if he was a strong enough leader 12 months ago, what has changed so dramatically in that time?
I do think that the defense has to improve, and there’s a lot of things that have to get better – no doubt. But when all is said and done they (Raptors management) still believe in him, and I absolutely believe in him too. And I’ll say this: I’m convinced that if Paul Pierce was on the Raptors and not on the Wizards, the Raptors are potentially playing game 6 tonight against Atlanta. I mean, that has nothing to do with Randy Wittman or Dwane Casey, that has everything to do with having the right veteran leader in the room, and it’s pretty evident to me – and was pretty evident to me for a few months during the regular season where I’ve stated this publicly on many occasions – the Raptors lack a veteran player in leadership, and that was pretty evident on the back end of the season. It’s not like Dwane Casey didn’t try to bang the drums and say ‘fellas, this approach is going to blow up on us’. But players think they have the answers, and there’s not a player in there that says ‘hey, you know what? Coach is right’. And that’s what Randy Wittman has that Dwane Casey doesn’t.
Kiyan: Why is there such a need for change in the assistant coaches? Is there something going on behind the scenes that we’re unaware of?
Jack: You know it’s pretty common stuff, it happens all the time. When you have a season where you get swept, you look at every area of the organization and say ‘this has to change, or that has to change. I need a different voice in this spot, or a different approach in that spot’. It happens. So does it point to a greater problem? I don’t think so. What it points to is that if there is a potential opportunity in the market to get people to help your organization because you feel that that’s what the team needs, then you go ahead and do it.
I really don’t know if any of the assistant coaches are leaving or not. I have a high degree of respect for all of them, and I hope they’re all back. If in fact, (only) one or two of them are back, then I’m sure it’s been determined that there was a need for a change for whatever reason. I sense though, that there is no issue in terms of a problem or a disconnect whatsoever.
Kiyan: You’ve stated publicly before that you did not like the way that Kyle Lowry handled himself in the post-season presser. Is he a problem?
Jack: I think he needs to mature.
I think he can be stubborn, They’ve (the organization) tried to find that middle ground with him, but there are certain people that you try to give the middle ground to, and they want more than the middle ground. There comes a point where (you have to realize) Kyle Lowry is not a good enough player to hire a coach, and he’s not a good enough player to fire a coach.
He’s a player, and he’s a good player. I think he’s been a tremendous positive story for the Raptors the last few years, and he’s been a tremendous positive story in the NBA. But we’re not talking Lebron James or Magic Johnson here. We’re talking about a good to very good player who needs to run the team and be a more positive voice of leadership in the room, and I was very disappointed in how Kyle handled the post-season press conference.
I’m sorry, I think there were a lot of times in the last few years that (speaking) as a former coach, I’m sure there were moments that Dwane Casey was not pleased with something that Kyle Lowry did or said, and was still publicly very respectful and supportive of him. And in my opinion, when your boss goes out of his way to always sing your praises and to be an advocate for you, I think in turn, you owe that the opposite way to him.
This is not a one-way street. There’s give and take.
I go back to what I said: He’s a wonderful player and I have a ton of respect for his game. At the same time, I think his job is to play, and play well – and he didn’t play well down the stretch.
His job is to be a positive supportive leader and a conduit – a point guard who is a direct reflection in a positive sense of what the leadership of the head coach is. And that to me has got to be a partnership.
All of us who have been in friendships and relationships, marriages or whatever know that nothing is perfect. But ultimately you’ve got to work through that stuff. I think it’s been a pretty good relationship and a pretty good marriage between the two. There’s going to be moments when it gets pretty testy, and I think that’s good, you need that. But in no way shape or form can you say ‘well, it’s more his fault than my fault’.
The organization gave you a long term contract, and the highest paid contract on the team, so much has been given, but much is expected. Your job is to produce. And you know what? You didn’t.
As great as things were a year ago, even though you’ve lost game 7 to the Nets, it was a love-in at the end of the season. But a year later, expectations change and things happen, but you’ve got to stay consistent.
Maybe there are times where I speak my mind too much.
I was very disappointed in how Kyle Lowry handled (the post-season presser). If I were his coach, I’d bring him in and rip him a new one.
I feel pretty confident that he’ll figure it out.
It’s not like you throw him out. He’s a terrific player, he’s the heart and soul of your team. He has so many good attributes. All I’m going to say is that you go through this, and it’s all part of the evolution and growth / maturity of a player. And he’s still evolving.
Should the Raptors write Kyle Lowry off? Absolutely not. These are things that happen as part of the whole process. Guys get frustrated with losing, they’re mad and angry. They claim to want to put it all on their own shoulders, but they’ll only put it on their own shoulders first to a certain degree, then they want to find other places to put it rather than saying ‘hey, it’s truly on me’. It can’t be lip service, you’ve got to walk your talk.
They need him to play better next year over the long haul of the season. And he was sensational in the first half of the season. He was not good, he was great. They need that from him on a more consistent basis, and he’s capable of it.
Kiyan: Out of all the broadcasters that work for the Raptors, you’re probably known most for speaking your mind. When Lowry hears these comments from you, does it affect your relationship with him?
Jack: It doesn’t bother me. I have a good relationship with Kyle. I think I’m a generally overwhelmingly positive person. If I’m saying 98% great things about you – and in my case it’s usually 99% – and if there’s a 1% where I state what I’m seeing, than I hope you’re man enough to say ‘hey, y’know what? Anytime I’m doing x, y, z; this guy’s going out of his way to give me credit for it, this is the reality of someone who calls it like it is’.
Would I want to coach a Kyle Lowry? Absolutely. And that’s my point. This is a temporary issue, and not a permanent issue – a temporary reaction to frustration and failure. I was disappointed with how he handled it, but when I look at Kyle Lowry and his time with the Raptors, it’s overwhelmingly good. So now it’s at a moment where you hope he learns / grows from it, the organization learns / grows from it, and he comes back and is prepared to have a full season that he’s capable of having.
Kiyan: Where are the Raptors in the rebuild process now? Does the playoff sweep mean the Raptors have relapsed further into a rebuild, and does having the all-star game in Toronto next year force Masai to build a good team for next season?
Jack: That’s an interesting question, that I don’t know the answer to. I think the benefit that Masai has is that they’re in the Atlantic Division. So whatever they do, they can still maintain a relatively competitive standing in the division that they’re in.
I’ll say this: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are in the primes of their career. This is not a young team. I don’t buy into that whatsoever. Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are going into their fourth year, they’re the only two guys that are young and even play.
These guys (Lowry and DeMar) are in the prime of their career, I can’t see a rebuild with those two guys. DeMar DeRozan has lost enough in his career, he wants to keep going.
Bottom line is – and I think I’ve said this enough times and I firmly believe it – they need a starting small forward, and they need a starting power forward.
And I’m not saying Terrence Ross can’t be a good player, I think he can be, but I don’t think he’s a starting three man in the NBA right now. I think he’s (better suited) to be on a really good team coming off the bench.
I think Amir Johnson has given them some great years. At the same time, I think he would again be better suited to be on a really good team coming off the bench. If you wanted to keep Amir Johson and he’s your starting four man, then you absolutely have to improve what you have at the three spot.
You can get away with a Matt Barnes because you’ve got Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, a shot-maker in Reddick, and a shot-blocker / rebounder in DeAndre. But if you don’t have ‘off the charts’ guys in two or three spots, then you have to have a better player in that spot.
I think they know exactly where their holes are, now they have to decide how they’re going to go about putting it together. I feel confident in Masai and Dwane, that they know their issues, and now it’s about how many of them you can address.
Kiyan: I think it’s clear what the holes that need to be filled are. Having said that, since you said we may see 5-7 new faces, do you have any hints or names of players going out or coming in?
Jack: The reality is that you have a bunch of guys who are free agents. That’s why I’m saying there’s a potential for change in the roster because of that. But in terms of potential names out there, so much of it is going to come down to how you plan to utilize the draft and things like that. So to me, I think it’s a lot of moving pieces that we’re not really going to have a sense of until late July.
But for me to project if they’re going to go after Paul Milsap or Draymond Green, or this guy / that guy, who knows? A lot is going to depend on budgets and how they decide to use their money, what is the priority, or if you can even get a guy. It’s one thing to have money, it’s another thing to be able to get a guy. In particular, with the way the labour agreement / tv deal is going to unfold, everybody is going to have money. So you can manage your cap beautifully, and think you’re going to be in a good position market-wise to throw money around, and now suddenly your competition for those players is a lot more steep than what it would’ve been. So the recruitment part gets a little harder.
They have some areas that have to be addressed. But the good thing is they’re coming off back-to-back franchise record seasons…. They’ve totally recaptured their fan base, and they’re in a positive position… And they do have the all-star break coming in. So I think they’re in a really good position to recruit, and I think they’re in a really good position to keep a guy or two. They’re in a better position now than they were maybe in past years.
Kiyan: Do you have any input on the rumour that would potentially land Monty Williams in Toronto as an assistant coach?
Jack: I have no idea. I’m sure Monty is going to want to see if he can kick the tires in Orlando, Denver, Chicago. I think he’s going to want to exhaust every opportunity as a head coach before he even considers an opportunity as an assistant. I think Monty did a really good job in New Orleans. He’s coaching in a tougher conference and had a significant amount of injuries. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys in the NBA calling their agents asking to be traded to New Orleans.
He had more losses than wins, but I think he had a tougher job than others. I think he did a pretty job there and I feel pretty confident that he can get another head coaching job in the league, and I think he feels that way as well. I’m sure he feels a lot like Dwane Casey did when he got fired after a 20-20 start in Minnesota. And from the day Dwane Casey was fired until now, what have they done as an organization? Have they ever again been 20-20? My point is, you look at the job Dwane Casey has done in his four years with the Raptors, being given that second opportunity, I think the people of Minnesota know now they actually had a really good coach that they gave up on too soon. I think that Monty will have another chance somewhere else, and he’ll carry himself the same way. He’ll prove that he’s really good at what he does.
Sure, if you’re an organization like Toronto or wherever, and a guy like that is available and is not a head coach at that time and he’s looking to stay on the bench, then I’m sure there will be a lot of teams that are interested in Monty Williams.
It’s like when you look at Nate McMillan, Sam Mitchell, Lawrence Frank, Alvin Gentry – guys like that that have been head coaches – there’s so many guys like that that are on good benches.
It’s been a couple days now since Ross went public via social media with his thoughts, so just curious to see what you the fans think.
Old man Paul Pierce once said that the Raptors don’t have the “it” factor that would push Toronto deep into the playoffs. Well, after the Wizards took Kyle Lowry and company to the woodshed, no one’s questioning Pierce’s words any more.
So what’s next for the Raptors? Should they blow the team up and move forward with a near unrecognizable lineup from what they had a season before? With that said, let’s take a look at three Raptors that could move this offseason.
Kyle Lowry. It’s no secret Lowry was almost exiled to the New York Knicks last year before James Dolan called off the deal. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Toronto, as Lowry led the Raptors to a franchise-best 49 wins this past regular season. But all those wins can’t hide the fact that Lowry fizzled in the playoffs, as he averaged just 12.3 points on an ugly 31.6% shooting in the first round series against Washington. At this point, it’s fair to say that Lowry isn’t the player that will take the Raptors into the next level. At 29 and with a laundry list of past injuries, Lowry must be one of the guys GM Masai Ujiri is contemplating of trading this coming offseason.
DeMar DeRozan. Look, DeRozan can score on a variety of ways. He can create his own shots, and score a truckload of points. The problem is that he also takes a lot of bad shots. In other words, DeRozan is a highly inefficient go-to scorer that is risky to have for a championship contender like Toronto. His field goal shooting percentage has gradually dwindled over the past three seasons. In the 2012-2013 season, he shot 44.5% from the field. Then the season after, he shot 42.9%. Last season, he managed to be even worse with a Nick Young-certified 41.3 FG%. DeRozan has two more seasons on his contract with a 2016-2017 player option. Don’t be surprised if Ujiri deals him away, too. Back in April, basketball betting site TopBet had the Raptors at +5000 to win the 2015 NBA Championship. Will they fare better or worse in 2016?
Landry Fields. We might never see Fields in a Raptors jersey ever again. Landry impacted the team that spent $8.5M last season to see him warm the bench. In exchange for that sum of money, Landry played for nine games and averaged a meager 1.8 PPG. Expect Fields to wound up somewhere else next season, as he’s clearly not the type worth retaining.
Could Masai Ujiri be stacking the deck with regards to Dwane Casey’s eventual replacement?
This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, we continue our draft coverage with the introduction of our Raptorscentric big board. It’s an annual tradition now at Raptors Republic and has been featured in the past on the main ESPN.com website. There is a rumour floating that Chad Ford bookmarks it every year on his iphone. In fact , the big board has become so popular that most sites now post their own version of the big board, but the original and best big board sits right here!
Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we explore what the Raptors might will should do with the #20 pick overall.
Give the pod a listen and check our accompanying write-ups of our choices below.
In last week’s Dr. Is In podcast 6 Degrees of Separation we each took a turn explaining who we might like to see the Raptors take at #20. By the end of the podcast we came to a consensus that Louisville Power Forward and Junior, Montrezl Harrell, would be a great pick. Mock drafts across the internet heard the podcast and made the appropriate adjustments. Harrell now sits as the primary choice for the Raptors on many mock drafts. He remains the consensus choice of the #wwroundtable.
However, the World Wide Round Table brings together some of the sharpest minds in NCAA Basketball and we are never simply satisfied with consensus. So each one of us decided to look deeper, beyond Harrell, and find a player who would be available at #20 and whom the Raptors would do well to select. Here are our choices.
And don’t forget:
If you want to play daily fantasy NBA vs the roundtable be sure to sign up at http://raptorsrepublic.com/fanduel
Throughout the playoffs you can play against all 4 of us in a 6 person tourney. $2 entry. Top 3 take $. Sign up today and check my twitter feed for daily links to play!
The Big Board
Trey Lyles, F, Freshman
Kentucky, 6-10, 235 lbs
Pick by Michael Gennaro, @michaelgennaro
As I put on my Masai Ujiri cap, I know that he will not pick the player that I would (Harrell), even though he is exactly what the team needs – seasoned, hungry, energy, a beast on the boards. Ujiri only sees potential and upside at the expense of the present.
So with upside in mind, Ujiri at 20 picks Trey Lyles from Kentucky. Upside and Kentucky polish will go a long way and I don’t think that Ujiri can pass up on the combination if Lyles is there at the 20. Had it not been for the best college prospect team assembled in history (7 of the 9 Kentucky players will probably be drafted), Lyles would have been a lottery pick. His production in the platoon system of Kentucky hurt his stock as he would have averaged a double-double on almost any other school in the nation. He played most of the time at the 3 (also a hole for the Raps) but has the size at 6’10” and a wingspan at almost 7’4” to guard 3s and 4s. I spoke of acquiring through free agency Brandon Bass on last week’s pod, and Lyles projects to be a similar player to Bass, a perimeter power forward that can guard 3s and 4s. He has a soft touch around the basket but can shoot mid-range jumpers with consistency, 39% this season. He can set screens very well, which will help in the Raps guards in their drive and dish games and improve the offense.
A lot will be said about his defensive deficiencies, like elite quickness and explosiveness for someone his size. As well as a lack of size itself. His rebounding numbers were average at best, but don’t let that fool you. Lyles spent much of the season guarding 3s, while Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein played inside. The fact that he averaged 5 rebounds a game while playing much of his 23 minutes a game with both those monsters on the floor, shows that he has the ability to get rebounds (C-S avg’d 6.4 rpg while KAT Avg’d 6.7 rpg by the way). He also crashes the offensive glass, something the Raps are sorely missing. This is aided by the fact that he has a high basketball IQ and knows where to be on the floor and make space for himself on offense. He can handle the ball well for someone his size. He also runs the floor well and shoots FTs at an almost 74% clip. Here is what we know. He is a skilled inside-outside big man with good footwork and offensive skills that will translate at the NBA level. He can make turnaround jump shots, but also has good ball handling skills and can put the ball on the floor and get past slower defenders. With practice he can extend his range to the 3pt line and become a solid stretch 3/4. But his lack of size might be a problem at the next level.
He needs to put on some muscle as right now he measures 235lbs and will have trouble keeping bigger 4s out of the paint. He didn’t block too many shots in college, but did average almost one a game, and would probably have more had he not been guarding 3s. He had trouble defensively at times and needs to develop a strong work mentality on defense. But in the right system, and playing the right position, can help that. His lateral quickness when guarding 3s will be tested, and he has shown to play poor defense against quicker players – like Sam Dekker of Wisconsin who was able to get past him with ease in the Final Four. His defense will scare many GMs, but his upside will intrigue and he has the ability to be a solid rotation player. But can he stay on the floor long enough, and can he play lockdown D. With his upside and length, I don’t think Ujiri passes up on Lyles if he is on the board, even if Harrell is there with him. His eyes are always on the future and on potential. And the overwhelming reason he gets picked by the Raps, is that Lyles was born in Saskatoon, has played for Canada at the FIBA under 19 championships, and Ujiri reaaaaallllllyyyyyyy wants to add some Canadiana to the team.
Justin Anderson, G, Junior
Pick by Greg Mason, @votaryofhoops
I’m going with the 6’6” swing man from Virginia here. I know he’s not the sexiest pick and that there’s some overlap with James Johnson but I think his skills will transfer well to the pro level. First of all he’s a very good, versatile defender from the squad with kenpom’s top ranked adjusted defensive rating. He’s a solidly built 230 pounds with a 6’11” wing span and can thus defend the two-four positions. Another thing that I really like about his game is his 3-point shooting ability. He shot 45 percent from three-point range on 104 attempts this season. This could be fool’s gold considering he was about a 30 percent shooter from deep coming into his junior season but he totally reworked his mechanics last offseason and so far the results have been promising. You’ll have to listen to the pod for a more in-depth take but that’s a taste to pique your interest
Jerian Grant, G, Senior
Pick by Blair Miller, @TFQuarter
It’s tough to find a true immediate impact player as low as 20 in the draft, but I think Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant could slide that far, and he’s a great antidote to the lethargy that Ross and Greivis Vasquez bring to any small ball lineup for Toronto – a personnel group that is proving to be more and more important in order to contend with the elite teams in the NBA.
Grant is a leader, and a workhorse that played over 37 minutes per game last season for the Irish. His three-point shooting needs work (31.8% last season), but that’s a common knock on athletic guards coming out of college – one which scores of current and former superstars have overcome with hard work. What doesn’t need work is his playmaking ability, with 6.6 assists per game, despite playing alongside another pro-caliber guard in teammate Demetrius Jackson. While shouldering most of the ball handling duties for Notre Dame, Grant turned the ball over on just 14% of his possessions during the 2014-15 regular season, and was a lethal distributor and shot maker during the NCAA Tournament.
A 6’5” guard who is able to make the right decisions in the pick-and-roll is exactly what Toronto needs right now. Regardless of how many fans and front office personnel are willing to admit it, the team is plagued by awful (can we say shitty? Let’s say shitty) shot selection in the pick-and-roll, which is a death knoll for contemporary offenses. It’s unclear whether Grant could coexist with Kyle Lowry. It’s also unclear that Lowry is the medium-to-long term answer for Toronto. He’s undersized, his weight goes up and down like an EKG reading, and he’s the guiltiest of the handful of bad shot culprits on this team. Assuming Grant is already savvy enough to address this problem is too optimistic. But even as a sizeable upgrade to Vasquez in a “similar” role as a one/two guard he’s a tantalizing option – even if his defense can be as flat-footed as Vasquez’s at times.
Oh, and I know I already mentioned his leadership skills, but let’s go back there. Grant has a strong, take-over-the-room personality – one that is both accountable and leads by performance and work ethic. Toronto needs this, Raptorland. Badly. To have a chance to address this issue with a playoff-low first round draft pick is a pretty sweet position to be in.
Kevon Looney, F, Freshman
Pick by Steve Gennaro, @therealphdsteve
Is anyone ever really surprised that I like a prospect from UCLA? However, putting my personal bias aside, there is no good reason why Raptors fans should get excited about the team taking Looney at #20, because there is no good reason as to why he would be available. He was a five-star recruit out of high school (as a point guard by the way) who came to UCLA, grew several inches, played out of position for an entire season, led all freshman in the NCAA in rebounding (including top prospects from Kentucky and Duke), miraculously took UCLA to the tournament, and then guided them to the Sweet 16 while having to wear a Westbrook-type mask for the tournament with a fractured face. Dude can flat out ball.
And yet at this time of year all kinds of small and intricate details can cause a person’s draft stock to drop. For Looney, the negative focus seems to be on his frame being too small to play the 4 at the pro level, his inability to score with consistency in college, his perceived lack of lateral quickness, and the ever famous UCLA player question “just where does he play at the pro level?” (see: Westbrook, Afflalo, Shabazz, LaVine, etc.) The truth is that while UCLA is the greatest school in NCAA history, they tend to “coach down” their talent and make them look very ordinary in a system that highlights team play and not individual skill sets.
However, Looney’s frame is not wire thin but actually well positioned to add 20 pounds. He is 6-9 and while he may still continue to grow, he will certainly grow into his body and become much more comfortable with his new size. He can play the 4 like he did at UCLA, but would make an excellent 3 at the pro level. His rebounding is elite (and that is a skill set that always transfers well to the pro game) and his shooting stroke is pretty. In fact, when you combine his shooting ability with his top flight ball handling skills, you end up with the potential for a point-forward who could also be an excellent pick n’ pop player. Looney in a back court with Lowry and DeRozan would cause other teams to suffer defensively against the Raptors in trying to pick their poison if the offense were to be built around movement and of course high volume shooting! He can be a solid wing defender at the pro level, a fantastic rebounder at the small forward position, and he has superstar potential. At the 20th pick that is more than you can ever ask for, and if it’s available, which it very well could be, it’s a no brainer.
The first offseason domino that was expected to fall will actually remain standing, as Dwane Casey will reportedly return to start a fifth season as head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
After the Raptors limped to the finish line with a regular season record of just 25-25 in 2015 and closed the year with an embarrassing first round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, many expected Casey to be relieved of his duties this offseason. By all accounts though, Casey will be returning to Toronto and will simply have some new assistants to help him along.
Whether you agree with the decision or not is beside the point. The decision has already been made. By all accounts there will be no press conference or formal announcement made (you don’t generally announce that a coach who is already under contract will be returning). Masai Ujiri and Casey will simply go about their business moving forward and prepare for the upcoming season together.
The question now moves from “What do we do with Casey?” to “What does Casey’s return mean in regards to the roster construction?”
Toronto played an ugly, isolation heavy offense and somehow managed to parlay it into the third most efficient regular season offense in the league at 108.1 points per 100 possessions. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors scored at a better rate than Toronto. Even though it wasn’t pretty to look at, and got exposed in the playoffs by a solid defensive team in Washington, the Raptors were a great scoring team in the regular season.
The bad news is that the Raptors needed their offense to be elite as it was their defense that failed them horribly. The Raptors had the 23rd worst defense in the NBA, allowing 104.9 points per 100 possessions. The Brooklyn Nets were the only team with a worse regular season defensive record that still managed to make the playoffs.
This mark is unacceptable for a coach who prides himself on his defensive principles. Casey got stubbornly focused on his strategy to rotate and switch on defense, despite it clearly not working with the roster at hand. This is not to say that the strategy can’t be an effective one, but merely to say that Casey didn’t have the horses to run his desired defense.
With that being the case, one of two things will likely happen moving forward:
- Casey, or one of his new assistants, envisions a way to adapt his defensive philosophies to better fit the roster that he is provided.
- Ujiri shapes the roster at least in part around Casey’s stylistic vision.
My personal belief is that Casey’s return is another indication that significant roster changes may be on deck.
No one would shape an entire roster around a lame duck coach with just one guaranteed year remaining on their contract, let alone a coach without a significant track record of success, but Ujiri will still likely try to provide Casey with some players who better fit his system (see: long and athletic).
As strange as it sounds, bringing back Casey actually gives more credence to the idea of trading Kyle Lowry. The two have notoriously butted heads at points throughout their tenure together, which culminated in some less than glowing comments from Lowry in his season ending interview.
“I respect Casey as a man,” Lowry deadpanned. “He’s a hell of a guy. At the end of the day, like I said, it’s not my choice, not my decision. At the end of the day, yeah, if he’s the coach, I’m a player. I’ve said that a couple of years now. At the end of the day, whoever the coach is, if he’s the coach, then I’ll be back playing for coach Casey.”
Lowry didn’t let up when he added: “There’s a lot of things you can say (publicly), but there’s a lot of things internally that probably need to be fixed. ”There is noticeable tension in Lowry’s words and it’s hard to get around it. The two have issues that they will need to be resolved. If they can’t be resolved, or if there are concerns about Lowry moving forward, then a trade might be the best route for everyone.
Why is this important? Lowry will be turning 30 during next season, plays a style of basketball that could at times be described as reckless, is coming off of his first All Star appearance, and may never have greater value than he currently does. In March Bill Simmons ranked Lowry 16th in his annual NBA Trade Value column. This ranking is easily too high (he was two spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard…pure insanity) but does give a good idea of the type of value that Lowry has around the league.
Would Sacramento trade Darren Collison, Sauce Castillo, and their 5th overall pick (Willie Trill Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow) for Lowry (the Bill Simmons special)? Or would Utah, who desperately wants their young core to make the playoffs next season, be willing to move someone like Dante Exum for that chance?
We don’t know for sure, and can’t foresee what trades will be available, but calls will assuredly be made if the burned bridges can’t be rebuilt by Casey and Lowry.
How did we get here? I just never would have guessed we’d get to a point where Dwane Casey could have greater security moving forward with the Raptors than Kyle Lowry.
The FADER, per ESPN’s earlier story, reports that a black-and-gold uniform will be one of the alleged four permutations for the Raptors’ complete redesign next season. The colorings make sense since they match most of Drake’s OVO merchandise offerings. Outside that, they’re relatively bland—no funky accents or designs decorate them. But Drizzy fans should temper their excitement for the time being. The FADER’s article cites ESPN report as the source for the news; however, Paul Lukas’ report (taking some of its information from leaks that first surfaced on SportsLogos.net in February) never explicitly states these are Drake unis — only the fact that the Raptors’ kits will undergo a complete redesign.
It seemed as if Ujiri was setting things up so that he could replace Casey with his own coach. It is hard to think of any great coach-general manager combinations that were the result of inheritance rather than choice. Yet, Ujiri is open-minded — in his first interview with the National Post after taking the Raptors job, he mentioned how Denver reporters and columnists were constantly speculating that he would fire incumbent coach George Karl, which ultimately did not happen on his watch — and Casey is a survivor. Ujiri made the franchise-altering Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors came together, Casey led them to top-10 efficiency on both ends, and the team won its second division title in history. After last season, Ujiri gave Casey a new two-year contract, with a team option for a third. Now, Casey is back in his position of two seasons ago. With Tuesday evening’s reports that Ujiri will bring Casey back, pushing for some changes to the coaching staff, Casey will almost surely need to surpass expectations, whatever they wind up being following Ujiri’s off-season maneuvering, to last beyond next season. He has done it before, so do not bet against him. Stasis will not be good enough. That is clear.
As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility. Casey has one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, plus a team option. Two years ago, after Casey’s second season at the helm, Sterner was the lone holdover of the original staff as Casey’s good friend and lead assistant Johnny Davis did not have his contract renewed. Micah Nori, Eric Hughes and Scott Roth also moved on. Not long after that, Nurse was brought on board to direct the offence, Bayno and Mermuys followed, primarily in player development roles (Bayno worked closely with Jonas Valanciunas, who took major strides, but still needs time) and Mahlalela was promoted to assistant coach.
I’m not convinced Casey is the man to lead the Raptors to a title. And given Ujiri’s noncommittal stance at the year-end press availability (“everyone will be evaluated”) it sounds like neither is he. I am convinced, however, that the way this season ended does not provide enough data to make that decision. The truth is, Casey was coaching a squad featuring injury-laden top-end talent, and the total talent level of the roster wasn’t anywhere near with the top teams in the league. What were the realistic expectations? The answers to coaching questions aren’t black or white—they’re grey. And it’s in the grey where GMs earn their money, discerning which numbers are fool’s gold and which are golden nuggets.
The sources did not indicate who Toronto might be pursuing or which assistants may be quietly seeking new opportunities. It was expected general manager Masai Ujiri would be looking for an older, more experience aide to Casey, who would have to sign off on any changes before they take place. There was never a legitimate chance that Casey, who has led the Raptors to successive Atlantic Division titles, the best back-to-back seasons in franchise history and consecutive playoff appearances, wouldn’t be back for his fifth season as the team’s head coach.
It’s fair to assume that, with Casey returning, general manager Masai Ujiri will try to shake up the roster. Williams, beloved big man Amir Johnson and several bench players are hitting free agency in July. While Ujiri has shown plenty of patience with team-building, it would be quite a surprise if he brought the whole band back again.
Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk joins Macko and Cauz to touch on Dwane Casey’s reported return, and the questions surrounding Kyle Lowry.
Masai told me he may have to take a step back (lottery) next season in order to get better long term
With so much uncertainty surrounding the roster and how it will take shape in 2015-16, Ujiri would be wise in avoiding drafting another long-term project for the end of his bench. Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, who was taken at No. 20 last year and proclaimed to be “two years away from being two years away” by ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, fills that quota nicely. What the Raptors need is someone who can step in right away and fill a role, whether it be as a defense-stopper, rim protector or rebounder—areas the team noticeably struggled in.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
As compared to the other vacancies around the league, the Raptors’ mess isn’t exactly an ideal landing spot.
Holster your vitriol.
By all accounts, it looks as if Dwane Casey will be the head coach of the Toronto Raptors to begin the 2015-16 season. Reports surfaced Tuesday that after being noncommittal on his status immediately following the season, the Raptors are set to retain Casey and potentially alter his supporting staff.
This, despite a disappointing second half of the season and a downright embarrassing performance in the first round of the NBA playoffs, one that left the Raptors naked as to what they really are at this juncture. Casey was a part of the problem in the series and with the team’s poor defense all season, but he wasn’t the only problem, and his retention is at least justifiable, if somewhat frustrating.
The decision will make Casey just the second Raptors head coach to man the helm for a fifth season, and it all but assures he’ll pass Sam Mitchell as the franchise’s all-time winningest coach. With a 154-158 record in four seasons, Casey not only has the best winning percentage in franchise history but trails Mitchell by two wins, if such things matter to you.
He’s also been behind the bench for the two best regular seasons in the history of the franchise, with this season’s 49-win mark likely making his ouster a tough sell. The roster is not one of a 50-win team or an Eastern Conference contender, and the league sees that. Making Casey the fall man for a disappointing finish risks sending the wrong message about loyalty, something that’s been tough for the organization to receive and something they can ill-afford to short-change others with.
In terms of the fan base, firing Casey may actually be a positive public relations move, sending the message that complacency is not an option, and that mediocrity won’t be tolerated, even if said mediocrity isn’t mediocre relative to the woeful bar the franchise has set over the last two decades. By the end of the playoffs, fans wanted Casey’s head, and a coaching change would be an easy sell in Toronto. It would probably also be an easy sell internally, as Casey has only one guaranteed year left on his deal (plus a 2016-17 team option) at what amounts to peanuts for MLSE (his salary is in the $4-million range).
In keeping Casey, general manager Masai Ujiri is saying a few things about the state of the franchise.
Formost, he doesn’t believe Casey was the sole issue last season, a correct evaluation. The roster isn’t exactly brimming with elite talent, and while the depth was improved a great deal over the previous season, luck caught up with the team in the form of fatigue and injuries, and it prevented them from maintaining their strange, ethereal chemistry over the long haul. They don’t possess a single great defender, their lone serious 3-point threat is the least consistent defender on the planet, their best scorer does so while welcoming difficult shots, and their de facto superstar appears as if he’d be best utilized and preserved at 30 minutes per game.
The roster needs – and will almost certainly receive – tweaking at a minimum, and in keeping Casey, Ujiri may be sending a signal that tumult should be anticipated. Were the team to over go significant roster changes, perhaps with their timeline for high-end competition being altered (a step back to take one forward, as it were), then making the coaching change now isn’t entirely necessary. It would be nice to build with a new coach from Day One, but it’s possible Ujiri’s offseason plans would preclude the Raptors from competing for a desirable coach, or it’s possible Ujiri doesn’t desire any of the available (and willing) coaches out there.
Scott Skiles makes a lot of sense on paper but could get competitive looks from Orlando or Denver; Monty Williams just got the axe, and while his suit game is steady proper, he just got fired for not getting enough out of an Anthony Davis-led core; Tom Thibodeau would probably take the New Orleans job if he left Chicago; Alvin Gentry and Scott Brooks could be available, and I love the former, but it’s not like either is an obviously substantial upgrade. There’s also a non-zero chance that the options better than Casey, particularly Thibodeau, want control of basketball operations, a la a Stan Van Gundy or Doc Rivers, something Ujiri doesn’t seem the type to concede. Each of those names, save for maybe Williams, is probably a better coach than Casey, but if Ujiri has a target in mind, wants to conduct a more thorough search, or simply wants to fix the roster first in order to find the coach that best suits the talent, hanging on to Casey is fine. That’s all it is – fine – but it’s fine.
There’s also a chance that Ujiri values coaching continuity with personnel changes coming, and in keeping Casey another season while tweaking the roster and his staff, the culture that’s been building can carry forward, the schemes refined, and the support pieces improved. Tom Sterner seems likely to go as the last coaching vestige of the Bryan Colangelo era, and so help me god if he’s fired, I will rage. He’s the most electrifying man in hoops entertainment, and I’m the biggest of the millions…and millions of Sternerites. I’d go to war were he my advocate, and he could turn a granola bar into A Beast Incarnate. Bill Bayno and Nick Nurse were Ujiri hires but haven’t exactly overwhelmed, and other assistants could be shuffled. Steve Kerr succeeded this season in large part because he realized that the value of a strong staff outweighed the potential cost of strong threats to his job, power, and authority, and Ujiri may force that attitude on Casey, perhaps even installing a potential heir on the bench.
By giving Casey a stay of execution, Ujiri could curry further control over the day-to-day of the team. I don’t mean to say Ujiri wants to coach – he surely doesn’t – but a lame duck Casey with a stern warning of the thin ice he’s on may be more amenable to coaching to the organization’s goals. This is a minor matter but again, if Ujiri can’t find his guy externally yet, it’s possible he feels he can get more out of Casey next season with a less secure job status and a better staff.
To be clear, Casey was an issue this season, and his removal would have been just as justified as his retention.
His defensive scheme doesn’t quite fit the personnel and he was painfully slow to adjust his strategy to the players at his disposal, and he allowed an effective but tenuous offense to exist as-is because there was little immediate reason to change it. In the playoffs, he was incredibly stubborn, refusing to use James Johnson in a matchup he was brought in specifically for, ignoring adjustments to some basic Wizards sets that they used ad nauseam, and failing to create much of anything outside of the team’s drive-and-hope-to-get-fouled offense. He was far more flexible in last year’s Brooklyn series, and his performance against the Wizards was incredibly disappointing.
Casey’s reputation on defense may be overstated. He’s known as a bit of a defensive mind, but the Raptors have finished 12th, 22nd, ninth, and 23rd in defense under him. He deserves credit for making chicken salad of chicken shit in 2011-12, when the franchise was admittedly tanking, and last season, when he molded a top-10 defense amid heavy turnover and without strong defenders. But averaging a league-average finish on defense over four seasons isn’t all that impressive, and while I like his scheme for some teams – the Milwaukee Bucks run essentially the same defense far more effectively – he needs to grow more flexible.
Jonas Valanciunas has improved, bit by bit, and can be a useful defender when used properly, but the back line of a defense where ball-handlers are intentionally funnelled to the middle is not the right role for him. His reads are slow, he jumps too easily, and he loses his peripheral vision when someone drives north-south in his direction. Part of that issue is the Raptors lacking the perimeter defenders to lessen the burden on the helpers and the centre, but unless that issue is corrected at the roster level, Casey needs to make his system more conservative.
Offensively, Casey’s actually had more success than one might think. The Raptors have been 25th, 14th, ninth, and third in offense under Casey, and while this year’s group didn’t do so in an aesthetically pleasing way, they could really fill it up. He needs to get far more creative for the team to improve or even hold steady at a top-10 standing. The Raptors were dead last in the percentage of field goal attempts that would have been assisted this year, and relying on one-on-one ball and free throws come playoff time just isn’t a tenable strategy. Advanced scouting hurts, and whistles tighten up, plus it appears to be downright exhausting for the team’s best players.
Casey actually has a few pet plays that are effective – Loop 4 is simple but difficult to guard when the Raptors have Ross and either a second point guard or Patterson on the floor – and he occasionally busts out a clever ATO that opponents don’t see coming. But they don’t see it coming in large part because Casey’s content to let his scorers just try to score, a strategy that only works until it doesn’t and has cost Raptors fans several collective heads of hair.
Despite his shortcomings, keeping Casey isn’t the end of the world. I know there are going to be some who can’t understand how that playoff performance didn’t cost him his job, but Ujiri is not evaluating this team on four games. If his desired choice isn’t immediately obvious or available, continuity is an acceptable play, especially if Casey is strongly nudged in the direction of the changes he needs to make.
Plus, these reports suggest the current plan is to keep Casey. MLSE has the pockets to swallow his 2015-16 season if a better candidate presents himself or Ujiri changes his mind later in the offseason. The team’s timeline for eventual contention does not, I believe, include the 2015-16 season as a potential title run year. It’s going to be another building season and frustrating though it may be, leaving Casey at the helm for it is entirely acceptable.
As per Twitter people, the Raptors have decided to retain Dwane Casey and instead clean-up their assistant coaches:
#Raptors' Dwane Casey no longer on hot seat. Per league sources, he’s returning to Toronto for next season, probably with new assistants.
— Mitch Lawrence (@Mitch_Lawrence) May 12, 2015
Clarification on Raps coaching situation. Dwane Casey will return. Management has suggested staff changes. No decisions have been finalized
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 12, 2015
Ah, so it was the assistants all along. I bet it was Jesse Mermuys who made the decision not to matchup with Paul Pierce, and I’m almost positive it was Tom Sterner that was at the heart of the Raptors defensive scheme being horrible in the regular season, and league-worst in the playoffs.
All jokes aside, this certainly seems like blame-shifting to the assistants as per the Leafs model and Carlyle. Granted, they’ve probably been poor but who really knows what happens behind the scenes?
I like the phrasing of management “suggesting” changes to the assistant coaching staff, as these are generally picked by the coach. If this is the case, then it certainly sounds like Masai Ujiri’s making some decisions on behalf of his coach, who at this point doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to making a stand.
Isn’t it weird how a poor second-half followed by a 4-game sweep can completely wipe the optimism that you’d think be generated from a 49-win season?
What should concern the Raps: someone in their inner circle is leaking info before the coaches involved are even aware of their situations.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) May 12, 2015
Damn, this is not exactly a tightly run ship. I just presumed that those coaches would have already known by now, but it turns out this is leaked information that even the soon-to-be-fired don’t know. Having said that, you don’t need to be a genius to put two and two together and figure there’s going to be a house-cleaning, given some of the coaching failures of this season.
Here are the six assistant coaches:
- Nick Nurse, Assistant Coach
- Bill Bayno, Assistant Coach
- Jesse Mermuys, Assistant Coach
- Tom Sterner, Assistant Coach
- Jama Mahlalela, Assistant Coach
- Alex McKechnie, Assistant Coach/Director of Sports Science
My money is on everyone but Alex McKechnie and Tom Sterner getting the sack.
The one consensus among Raptor fans (and media) about what to do with the roster this summer is that there is no consensus. Ask one fan and they’ll tell you to trade the entire roster. Ask another person and they’ll tell you the Raptors just need a coaching change, and they’ll be alright. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
Trading the team’s two leading scorers might seem counterproductive for a team that had just won a franchise record 49 games, but the goal isn’t to win 49, or so, games and possibly get to the second round if everything goes right. And when your two best players make poor decisions, aren’t efficient scorers and are not great defenders, then mediocrity is basically the most you can hope for.
If the Raptors hope to build a team that strives to be more than what we’ve seen so far in their 20 year history, they need to get high IQ players who score efficiently, pass the ball and play defense. So the idea is to trade away players that either don’t fit the mould, or are more valuable as trade bait, and acquire players who do fit the mould.
Unfortunately, most of these types of players can be difficult to find, and harder to pry away. Ultimately, it would be nice to try and find a James Harden-type player that will immediately make your team a near-contender, but I’m not sure there’s anyone out there like that right now. And there are no real superstars, or near superstars, available for a trade.
That does NOT mean I’m suggesting the Raptors tank and go after a superstar in the draft. The chance for that has likely come and gone, for now. What they need to do is try and find some young talent that may be still be struggling finding their NBA legs, but has the talent and desire to overcome it, or one that is losing out in a numbers game (either sitting behind more experienced and talented players or in a team salary crunch). There are a few players that fit this description out there, and these are the players I will look at.
Just to be clear (and to head of one complaint), I am not suggesting the Raptor make the trades I list. I am simply including these trade possibilities to give an idea of what might be required to trade for each player. I’ll leave it up to each of you to decide whether it’s worth it.
TYLER ENNIS (Milwaukee)
The Raptors were famously set to draft Ennis last year at 20 before Phoenix snatched him up two spots before that. Ennis was basically an insurance policy if Eric Bledsoe ended up not re-signing, but then the Suns went out and signed another insurance policy in Isiaah Thomas, pushing Ennis even farther down the depth chart.
A trade to Milwaukee at mid-season did give Ennis a little more playing time, but he was still stuck behind a young point guard who was entrenched in the starting lineup, as well as the more experienced Jerryd Bayless. It didn’t help that Ennis struggled.
To be honest, there’s not a whole lot in his advanced stats to point to in order to make a case for Ennis. He shot poorly, turned the ball over a lot and struggled adjusting to the speed of the NBA. You really have to go back to what you saw before this season to see why Ennis might be a good gamble.
When Ennis started his season at Syracuse, he was not a heralded prospect and not a whole lot was expected of him. But despite being a freshman, Ennis lead Syracuse to a 28-6 record, which included a 25-0 start to the season, and was a semi-finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year. He plays with a maturity beyond his years (his father is a coach) and is the rare pass-first point guard who understands how to make his teammates better.
Ennis would be a good gamble because he likely wouldn’t cost a whole lot (maybe Terrence Ross, who would be insurance for restricted free agent, Khris Middleton), and chances are good he will make big improvements once he adjusts to the league.
Terrence Ross for Tyler Ennis (and possibly Miles Plumlee)
DENNIS SCHRODER (Atlanta)
Just to add fuel to the fire that is hating Bryant Colangelo, the year he traded the Raptors’ draft pick for Kyle Lowry, they were drafting 12th. Oklahoma (who ended up getting the pick from Houston) selected Steven Adams, who is looking like a very good pick, but they could have also chosen Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Gorgui Dieng (21st), Rudy Golbert (27th) or Dennis Schroder (17th)1. This is why it’s always dangerous to trade away first round draft picks. Too many times they come back to haunt you.
Coming into the draft, Schroder was called the German Rajon Rondo for his pass-first and defensive mentality. He had a horrible first year (similar to Ennis) that saw him unable to hit the basket and struggle adjusting the the speed of the NBA. This year saw marked improvement in every area, and he became a big part of Atlanta’s success this year, backing up All Star Jeff Teague.
Prying Schroder away from Atlanta might be difficult, but their struggles in the playoffs and what happens in the offseason might have a huge bearing on how open they are to making moves. They struggled more than they should against the 8th seeded Brooklyn Nets and are currently tied 2-2 with the Wizards, who finished 14 games behind them in the regular season.
If Atlanta loses Millsap to free agency, they might be in the market for a player like Patrick Patterson. Otherwise, DeMar DeRozan might be a possible asset to use.
Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez for Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott
DeMar DeRozan for Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott and Brooklyn’s first round pick
DANTE EXUM (Utah)
Exum might possibly be the most polarizing player on this list. People either love his potential or see him as a bust. He came into the league with very little experience and a whole lot to live up to. It shouldn’t be a surprise at all that he struggled in his rookie season. And boy did he struggle. Exum, the fourth pick in the draft, shot just .349 from the field, had a horrible assist-to-turnover ratio and finished the season with a PER of just 5.6 (less than half of Terrence Ross).
Considering his experience, I would have been shocked if he hadn’t struggled, though. Bruno Caboclo might have more experience than Exum (okay, not really, but there isn’t a huge amount of difference). Exum was rated so high based on potential, not on his play. He’s very athletic, has good instincts on both ends of the court and has the physical attributes to be a great defensive player.
Exum is the perfect example of gambling on potential. Exum still has a good chance of becoming a star, but he could also never adjust to the massive leap in talent and speed he’s used to and be a bust. I think it will be closer to the latter, and a chance to grab a player like Exum is appealing.
Utah has some nice young pieces and ended up with a much better record than most people expected. They’ve got a great defensive front court, but lack scoring punch, so might be very interested in someone like DeMar DeRozan.
DeMar DeRozan for Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Trevor Booker and swapping of first round picks.
NIK STAUSKAS (Sacramento)
Nik Stauskas was a nice player during his freshman season at Michigan, but wasn’t a guy who most would have pegged as a future lottery pick. Then he went out and made over his body, worked on his weaknesses and came back as Michigan’s best player.
Stauskas is never going to win a dunk contest (like Terrence Ross) but he’s a cerebral player who is a gym rat, is much more athletic than he appears and has a great shot that seemed to be missing for most of his rookie season.
The Kings are in an hurry to compete and may not have time to wait for Stauskas, who was a bad fit to begin with (at one point they were talking about turning him into a point guard). Given some time to develop, Stauskas is the perfect shooting guard for the new NBA, and has a lot of similarities to Klay Thompson.
The Kings are in need of upgrading at several positions, one of which is point guard. Darren Collison played better than many expected, but he’s still a below average point guard and Sacramento might love the possibility of acquiring Kyle Lowry, who is the perfect George Karl player.
Kyle Lowry for Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry/Jason Thompson and Sacramento’s first round pick
HARRISON BARNES (Golden State)
Raptor fans know Barnes far too well as the player they just missed out on by winning an otherwise meaningless game at the end of the 2012 season, allowing a tie with Golden State (which was settled with a coin toss). The Warriors selected Barnes and the Raptors took Terrence Ross.
Now, Barnes was never as good as his early hype. He had a mature game in high school, but never exhibited any elite skills that would make you think he could become an elite player in the NBA. He is talented, though, and has an all-around game that is being somewhat overshadowed in Golden State. And he could end up being pushed out if Draymond Green ends up getting the money he’s expected to. Barnes will be up for an extension and as their fifth most important player in the starting lineup, he could be moved to save money.
Barnes is NOT James Harden, but he’s in a similar situation. And that could mean he’s available for the right price. The problem is that Toronto has few pieces the Warriors would want, unless the Raptors agree to take on David Lee’s gargantuan contract, which is enough to give anyone pause. Either that or a third team would need to be brought it.
Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez for Harrison Barnes and David Lee
AARON GORDON (Orlando)
Orlando surprised a lot of people by taking Aaron Gordon with the 4th pick, ahead of some players who were a little more heralded. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers at Arizona and doesn’t quite have a true position, at this point. He’s a little undersized for the 4 and is lacking a consistent jumper to play the 3. But he’s an energy player who has a much higher basketball IQ than one would expect from a high flyer like Gordon.
Gordon has the potential to be a high impact player, but he’s not a good fit for Orlando. Orlando doesn’t take a lot of threes and are fairly average at making it. That means spacing is often a problem, which means there’s not much room for Gordon to do what he does best, which is cut to the hoop.
While his position is still uncertain, Gordon is another player that would be a good gamble and might be expendable for Orlando. What Orlando might want in exchange is unclear, however. They don’t need a player like Lowry or DeRozan, and while they could use Patrick Patterson, the Raptors would have to throw in much more to get a deal done.
Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross for Aaron Gordon, Luke Ridnour and Channing Frye
TERRENCE JONES/CLINT CAPELA (Houston)
Houston is on the verge of losing in the second round to a much more talented L.A. Clippers team that has highlighted Houston’s weaknesses. Jason Terry has played far better than he should, considering he’s 37 years old and was simply not supposed to be starting for the team at point guard, but he’s not much of a defender, which has allowed the Clippers do beat them despite missing Chris Paul for two games and having him hindered when he did return.
Patrick Beverly is a very good defender, but isn’t really much of a starting point guard. They could really use an upgrade here. And that’s where the return of Kyle Lowry could come in.
Lowry might be a little too ball dominant to play alongside James Harden, but if he can adjust they could form a scary backcourt.
Terrence Jones is similar to Patrick Patterson, a muscular stretch four, but he’s two years younger, a better rebounder and defender, and isn’t as allergic to the paint as Patterson is. In Houston’s offense, Jones’ job is simply to space the floor, but he’s got talent and could be an asset that will rise in value if the Raptors acquire him and give him more responsibility.
Capela was a possible draft target last year, but Ujiri ended up going with Caboclo, instead. Capela is raw but has a lot of defensive potential and has actually played some big minutes in the playoffs, so that’s very encouraging. He’s much farther along than the Raptors’ defensive center project.
Kyle Lowry for Terrence Jones, Clint Capela, Corey Brewer and Kostas Papanikolaou
Terrence Ross has taken to Instagram to call out “fans” who have criticized the Raptors and called for change after their meek playoff exit.
To all the raptor “fans” who think we need to trade everyone or get rid of this and that, I’d just like to remind yall, technically speaking this team is the best team Toronto has ever had. Yeah we didn’t have the greatest play off run, but we had a hell of a season. An just 5 years ago, this franchise wasn’t even making it to he play offs. Our performance this year in the post season was inexcusable but non the less we are a good team. Some of yall acting like unless we won the championship, the season was a waste. It wasn’t. We are still taking steps forward to try and bring a ring home for YALL. We still are going to put the work in to get there it just takes time. So bare with us because we will only get better. #WETHENORTH
I do get where he’s coming from, some reactions to the playoff loss have been drastic, but I would have suggested that he let things simmer down and let the Wizards playoff humiliation fade into memory before making any further posts.
These comments would also carry a little more weight if they came from DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry, who carried this team this year, but coming from Ross, one of the biggest under-performers this year, they sound silly.
Dwane Casey’s job isn’t the only case on file in this week’s pod, which identified an unlikely cause for the Raptors horrific playoff failures.
Like what happened? Seriously? Did Casey have a lobotomy? Was he hypnotized by opposing coaches? Has he been led astray by front office?
Checking in on the status of your former Raptors.
When I play Madden NFL I have a tendency to ignore all logic and trust my gut. Problem is that my gut is usually wrong. Unfortunately, that has never prevented me from trusting it or even casting a dubious glance towards said gut. After all, it’s my gut and me not trusting it is a sign that I don’t trust myself, and that doesn’t sit right with me. Consciously, I know that I’m ignoring all sound evidence by going for it on 4th and 35 on my own 10 yard line in a tie game late in the fourth, but some stupid part of me tells me that this is totally a good idea even though it’s failed me every single time, except for maybe that one time.
That’s basically Dwane Casey right there. Ignoring all logic and trusting his gut. Now, it’s easy to pile on Casey at this point, but is there a case(y) (heh) to be made that he should stay and at least see out his deal. I don’t know, my gut tells me there isn’t but logic says we need to look at it a little closely.
The #1 positive of him staying is continuity, that is, if you subscribe to the theory that continuity is worth something. It’s worked out great for the Spurs and Greg Popovich, probably not so much for the Thunder and Scotty Brooks who should have been fired a long time ago. Casey staying put means that he gets to work with the players more, and maybe instill some semblance of a defensive mentality in them. Wait, wait! Don’t close the window and browse away. If you’ve read this far, may as well stick with me. Maybe Ross’s regression and Valanciunas’ lack of progression are just growing pains that Casey always had in his mind. Sort of like taking one step back to take two forward, and next year they’ll take two forward. I know I’m reaching, but maybe?
I also believe that firing a coach after he led you to a 49-win season will be looked down upon across the league, especially for a franchise like Toronto that, let’s face it, has been utter, utter garbage for decades. No matter what happened in the playoffs, a 49-win season is progression on many levels and, like Sam Mitchell, Dwane Casey may at least deserve to have a crack at the start of next season to see if he’s found his way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like firing Casey will dissuade coaches from coming to Toronto, after all, there are only 30 head coaching jobs, it’s just that it may not reflect well on the franchise overall. Kind of like when they fired Sam Mitchell only to replace him with Jay Triano, which was like firing the McDonalds manager who didn’t wash his hands, and replacing him with the cashier who hasn’t bathed in a month.
Dwane Casey also appears to have a good relationship with DeMar DeRozan, who he’s simply never called out at any point. DeRozan could go 0-24 with 14 turnovers and Casey would commend him for shooting until he made one, even though he never made one. If you believe DeRozan to be a cornerstone/franchise player, introducing a large variable in the relationship between star and coach might be too risky. Now, DeRozan’s a very coachable young man who I think would listen to any coach, but for the sake of argument, it is a risk that you introduce. I thought Casey might have had a great relationship with Lowry too, but Lowry’s end-of-season comments suggesting “things internally that probably need to be fixed” issues and Casey pointing out Lowry’s weight, suggest things aren’t so rosy, but hey, overall the players seem to like Casey and that’s got to count for something.
Lastly, if not Casey, then who? Jeff Van Gundy? Mark Jackson? Scotty Brooks? The infatuation with Van Gundy is all nostalgic because he hung on to ‘Zo’s legs in that fight and always looks like he finished the graveyard shift at an actual graveyard. Mark Jackson might have some good ideas, but his personality tends to wear on players and, based on his commentary, appears to be very aggravating, especially when Jesus makes an appearance during the halftime speech. And as for Scotty Brooks, if you thought Dwane Casey didn’t have an offensive playbook…
Now, it’s romantic to think the Raptors can find their version of Brad Stevens, an astute coach who can grow with the team and has some fresh ideas. The problem is that the Raptors are in NBA purgatory – they’re not rebuilding with enough commitment to afford to give a youthful fresh coach a chance to learn and grow with a young core, but aren’t good enough to steal away a top-tier coach (e.g., Clippers and Doc Rivers). I don’t know what Masai Ujiri’s coach scouting network looks like, or even if he has one, but keep in mind that he’s never actually hired an NBA head coach. The only thing he ever did was extend George Karl and did the same with Dwane Casey. When hiring head coaches, Ujiri is about as experienced as you and me, and there don’t appear to be any wise old Wayne Embryish heads in the Toronto Raptors organization right now. BTW, can’t #analytics tell us who to hire? Maybe this guy should look into that.
Let’s also not forget that Dwane Casey has installed a giant rock in the locker-room. If he’s gone, that rock will have to be moved because it would simply be too awkward. It would be like if your co-worker who was fired had posted picture of his 5-year old daughter’s drawings in the lunch room, and they never took it down resulting in some disconcerting moments as you waited for your lunch to hear in the microwave. What would happen to that rock? Would it be auctioned on eBay? Dumped in a landfill? Promoted to assistant coach? That last one is a serious option, so Jesse Mermuys better watch out because his job is about to be threatened by an inanimate object.
Have a nice weekend.
Tough decisions lay ahead with DeMar DeRozan, who is likely one year away from becoming a free agent.
DeAndre Daniels was the 37th pick in the 2014 draft out of UConn, and after playing a bit of summer league was shipped to Australia on a one-year deal. Chris Robinson from the Sunday Times joins me from Perth to give us an overview of the Australian league, and what DeAndre Daniels has been upto, and whether he’s NBA-ready.
- Australian league overview
- Quality compared to Europe
- NBA players currently there
- Expectations of Daniels when he joined
- His progression as a player
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Is he NBA-ready?
- Impact of Raptors potentially new D-League team on Daniels?
- Daniels’ motor
- Former Raptors from Australia
- Australians in the NBA
- Raptors talk
- NBA playoff talk
After going through the starters, the second part will take a crack at the bench and head coach.
First off, there seems to be some confusion (surprise!) over the recommendations. Think of it this way: Regarding the starters, I would actively pursue trades for both Lowry and DeRozan, but if no decent trade was available, then I would keep them until a decent deal became available. For Valanciunas and Ross, I would NOT actively pursue a deal for them, but if another team approached me with a good offer, I would consider it. For Amir, I would re-sign him only if the deal made financial sense (you can’t trade Amir as he’s an unrestricted free agent and he’s not good enough to warrant a sign-and-trade).
In other words, the recommendations are my preferences for each player. Are we clear?
Also, can we stop using the excuse that DeRozan or Lowry should be kept because they’re the best players on the team. This was the EXACT same argument people made for keeping Bargnani and Rudy Gay. Being the best player on a mediocre team is like winning the Atlantic Division in a season where the next team was below .500. The ‘not trading a player because they’re the best player on the team’ argument only works when that player is a top 10 (or so) player. Not when they’re borderline All Stars.
LOU WILLIAMS: Release
Let me say outright I was surprised when Williams won the 6th Man of the Year Award. Until I looked at the competition. This has to be one of the worst years for 6th men in a while. No one really stuck out with a great season. Williams did average 15.5 ppg and hit some big shots, but he also shot poorly from the field and only averaged what he did because he shot the ball every chance he could and took just as many cringe worthy shots that missed in crunch time as he hit. More, actually.
Masai Ujiri got a great deal when he traded a bunch of spare parts for Williams, who Atlanta seemed to have given up on. Williams reverted to pre-injury form and ended up scoring the most of his ten year career, good for third on the team. What Ujiri should have done was to turn that into something else before the trade deadline, which he obviously didn’t do.
The problem with one-dimensional chuckers like Williams is that they’re high-risk high-reward style of game is fine when it’s spread out over an entire 82 game season, but in the playoffs, when you need to minimize mistakes and every possession counts, guys like Williams become a detriment and usually see their playing time plummet (possibly the best reason to trade Lowry and DeRozan).
Plus, I can see him demanding in excess of $7 million a season, which is too much.
GREIVIS VASQUEZ: Keep*
Now before everyone has a stroke, you need to understand why. Vasquez is obviously not the answer at PG. His defense is poor and he would be a below average starter. But if Lowry is traded, the Raptors need a replacement, and Greivis can be it. For now. Having a replacement also means you don’t have to worry about getting a PG back in a trade. You can simply worry about getting the best return, and not a position of need.
The other reason to keep Vasquez is that starting him has a chance to increase his trade value, and if a good deal can be found before the trade deadline, then you jump on it.
Why keep Vasquez over Lowry? Two reasons. The first is that Lowry is the more valuable asset and will fetch more on the trade marker. The second is that Vasquez only has one year left on his contract, so this isn’t a long term marriage.
*Keeping Vasquez is contingent on trading Lowry. If Lowry isn’t traded, for one reason or another, then Vasquez needs to go.
Things To Work On: Lateral mobility
PATRICK PATTERSON: Trade
Offensively, Patterson would seem to be a very complimentary player to play next to Valanciunas, because he can space the floor and hit the three. Unfortunately, reality told a different story. Patterson and Valanciunas didn’t play a ton of minutes together, but when they did, it usually didn’t go well. Having both Patterson and Valanciunas on the floor together exposed the team defensively and they weren’t nearly as good offensively together as you might think.
While Patterson is a pretty good 3 point shooter, and a very good mid-range shooter this year, he doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table. He’s average, at best, on defense, a below average rebounder and gets to the line at a rate that would only make Terrence Ross proud. And no, it’s not just the way Casey used him. He’s always been like that.
I must say, I don’t completely understand the love many Raptor fans have for Patterson. He’s a decent bench player, but he could only start if surrounded by much better players and a great defensive center. In fact, he’s simply a darker and more muscular version of Matt Bonner. Before you argue, click the link and see just how similar Patterson is to Matt Bonner at the same point in his career.
Don’t get me wrong, Matt Bonner is a nice player, but he’s a luxury for a team that still lacks an identity and players to build around. Patterson is more valuable as trade bait to the Raptors, where he could return a young prospect or be added to a deal for a better player.
Possible Targets: Cleveland, Houston, Memphis, Sacramento and Golden State (if Draymond Green leaves).
JAMES JOHNSON: Keep
Now, without me being behind the scenes, I have no idea what transpired to make Johnson lose his spot in the rotation. That makes it difficult to really understand if keeping Johnson would be bad for the team, but I’m going to make the assumption that if Ujiri feels what he did was unforgivable, then he’ll be gone. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason not to keep him on for the last year of his contract.
Johnson had a good year, but there were definitely valid reasons why Casey didn’t end up playing him more, even when Johnson wasn’t glued to the bench. Johnson is a good defensive player who can defend three positions, but he also isn’t much of a shooter which made playing alongside DeRozan and/or Valanciunas difficult. Thankfully, Johnson has finally come to realize this and barely shoots beyond 3 feet, which is why his field goal percentage is so high.
Johnson also isn’t a great rebounder, especially for his size and physical skills, and it’s why you can’t really play him at the PF position for very long. So he’s stuck between being not a good enough shooter to be a small forward and not a good enough rebounder to be a power forward. Basically, the definition of a tweener.
Still he’s the best defensive player on the team and he’s got no trade value, so you might as well keep him.
Things To Work On: Shooting, keeping mouth shut.
TYLER HANSBROUGH: Keep
If Hansbrough wants to return to the Raptors as their third power forward at a reduced rate, then I don’t see a reason to say no. He’s a decent rebounder and defender who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around the paint and do some damage. He actually had his best shooting season of his career, by far, but that’s not saying much since he’s got a career .439 field goal percentage. Not great for a guard, horrible for a big man. What saves him is he gets to the line at a phenomenal rate for a guy who you probably want to shoot the ball.
Unfortunately, while he’s been a poor shooter during the regular season, he’s been atrocious in the playoffs, and not just shooting the ball. If the Raptors hope to make noise in the playoffs next season, then Hansbrough probably isn’t the best guy to have playing for you. Otherwise, I would say if he agrees to a minimum contract (or slightly above) then he’s worth asking back.
Things To Work On: Putting the ball in the basket, not sucking in the playoffs
LANDRY FIELDS: Release
I think it’s too bad Fields didn’t work out because he’s one of the few high IQ players on the team and if not for the presence of James Johnson, probably would be worth keeping around. As it is, he just would duplicate many of the strengths and weaknesses Johnson has.
It’s hard to say whether or not Fields will stick in the league unless his shooting stroke returns to some semblance of what it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resurface somewhere due to his intangibles. And unfortunately the Raptors lack many of those intangibles.
CHUCK HAYES: Release
An undersized big man who lost out in a numbers game never made much of an impact on the Raptors. And it’s probably time to move on an find a bigger backup center.
GREG STEIMSMA: Release
After watching him play 17 games with the Raptors, I have no idea what his strengths are. That’s probably not a good thing.
BEBE NOGUEIRA: Keep
Played a total of 23 minutes, but is tall and has great hair.
Things To Work On: Playing more, other skills
BRUNO CABOCLO: Keep
Perhaps the crack about him being two years away from being two years away was more accurate than we thought.
Things To Work On: Being able to get minutes in the D League
DWANE CASEY: Release
So much has been written about him here and other places, but I think Casey has actually become underrated. He definitely has his flaws, and those flaws make parting ways a necessity, but fans are beginning to blame him for everything now. While he must bear a lot of the blame for both playoff exists, so must the players and Ujiri, who kept the team together. I’ve already pointed out why a team comprised of Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas is not only poorly constructed, but destined to perform poorly in the playoffs.
Raptor fans were talking about Casey as Coach of the Year in December, and in a few short months turned him into the worst coach in the league. In reality, he’s somewhere in between.
While Casey definitely has his strengths, the team’s collapse in the playoffs, Valanciunas and Ross’ lack of development, and the lack of development of his coaching skills over his tenure as the head coach of the team make it impossible for me to believe he won’t be replaced.
Fans that expect replacing him and then adding a power forward and small forward will turn this team into a contender are in for a rude awakening, if that’s what Ujiri decides to do. Casey will end up leaving the team as the most successful coach in Raptors’ history, which tells you all you need to know about their history.
Next week, I’m going to look at the players the Raptors should be targeting trades and even what could be offered for those players. So stay tuned….
“How did we end up here … this place smells like balls.”
(This article ended up longer than expected, so is being split into two parts)
Now let me cut one argument off at the pass. When I suggest trading a player, I don’t mean at all costs (unless I say so, and I don’t see anyone on this roster who fits that category). Obviously you want a fair deal, but if there isn’t one out there then you don’t do it. But you jump on the first good trade.
KYLE LOWRY: Trade
Yes, he’s an All Star. Yes, he’s the emotional leader of the team. Yes, he single handedly won quite a number of games for the Raptors. He’s also all the things discussed here, which makes trying to build around him an exercise in futility. And it’s not just me saying this. CBS’s Matt Moore and James Herbert go into detail about the problems with the Raptors roster on the latest Eye On Basketball podcast and discuss both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
At 29, with his mentality and body type, keeping Lowry simply doesn’t make sense for a team in need of a major facelift. He’s got talent, that’s for sure, but the Raptors aren’t in a position to try and continue to make it work with him. A team that relies on him too much will have to put up with his inconsistency, and the Raptors’ lack of real talent means he will continue to be relied on heavily.
The challenge with trading Lowry is that his trade value is probably not very high after a disappointing second half of the season and poor playoffs. That’s not to say you can’t try. The problem with keeping him until his trade value goes up is that it then becomes tempting not to trade him. Especially if the team is playing well at the time. This is exactly what happened when Ujiri was set to trade him to the Knicks after the Rudy Gay deal. The team started clicking and winning and any plans went out the window.
Possible Targets: Sacramento, New York, Indiana, Lakers, Dallas, Houston
DEMAR DEROZAN: Trade
Let’s be clear here. I think trying to build around DeRozan is a monumentally bad idea. Worse than trying to build around Bosh, but not nearly as bad as trying to build around Bargnani. This franchise’s insistence on building around players that simply aren’t good enough is astoundingly frustrating. DeRozan is a quality shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality shooting guards, but he should not be anything more than a third option (at best) on a good playoff team.
While DeRozan has averaged at least 20 ppg the last two seasons, he does so with a variety of inefficient shots. Just because you can score 20+ ppg doesn’t mean you should. DeRozan had the 10th highest Usage Percentage in the league, but wasn’t close to being the 10th most productive player on offense. And before you argue that he’s simply taking what the offense gives him, this is the same argument people used for Bosh and Bargnani’s inefficient offense. Players always revert to what they’re most comfortable doing, and with DeRozan that’s long jumpers. That’s what he’s always done.
Take a look at his shooting numbers:
The only season he didn’t shoot the vast majority of his shots from 16-20 feet was his rookie season, when he was the 5th option. While you expect percentages to drop with more responsibility, his percentages have dropped mostly because he’s simply shooting more from places he shouldn’t be. The only thing that allows him to be as efficient a scorer as he is is his ability to get to the line, something that was taken away in the playoffs by Washington.
Here are three other shooting guards’ shooting numbers:
The first one is Monta Ellis, who has always had the reputation of a low efficiency gunner. He’s actually a more efficient scorer than DeRozan, despite the fact he’s almost as bad from three as DeRozan is (they actually had almost identical percentages this year).
The second one is Andrew Wiggins, who came into the league with similar strengths and weaknesses that DeRozan did. Wiggins was surprisingly decent from three, until it went south after the All Star break, and was far less efficient on his long jumpers, but still was able to shoot with far more efficiency because he took the majority of his shots where he could do the most damage: Within three feet.
Jimmy Butler is the third one. In Butler’s rookie season he was an even worse three point shooter than DeRozan, but improved enough that he’s now above average. What makes him efficient, though, is that he takes a third of his shots at the basket, compared to DeRozan, who takes less than 20% of his shots there. And Butler is a far superior defender, as is Wiggins.
While DeRozan has made improvements in his game every season, he’s still not a good shooter and a negative on the defensive end. At this point I don’t think Ujiri would even hesitate trading DeRozan for James Harden, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo or even Bradley Beal (a more efficient scorer, better shooter and better defender).
DeRozan not being a top five shooting guard certainly isn’t a reason to trade him, but what is a good reason to trade him is that his offense is incongruous with anyone who doesn’t shoot well from three, especially Jonas Valanciunas (both players played better when the other was off the court). While it’s certainly possible to surround DeRozan with mostly three point shooters to take advantage of his strengths, he’s simply not good enough to warrant doing so, which was the case with Bosh and Bargnani.
So the best option is to trade him while his value is as high as it is (with a decent contract).
Possible Targets: Charlotte, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Phoenix, Utah
JONAS VALANCIUNAS: Keep
There’s no denying that Valanciunas has not progressed as most hoped he would. He’s also a bit of a statistical conundrum. Some advanced stats love him while he does poorly with others. He’s got the highest PER on the team (a very good 20.6), the third highest Offensive Rating on the team and the best Defensive Rating among rotation players, but the team is actually worse when he’s on the floor. Quite a bit, actually.
This says a couple of things. You can’t pick and choose what stats to look at, even advanced stats, and Valanciunas has probably not been put in the best situation, either through teammates that don’t compliment him or an offense that doesn’t take advantage of his strengths. Or in Valanciunas’ case, both.
And while he’s become a very good rebounder (11th in the league in rebounds per 100 possessions) and efficient scorer (8th in the league in True Shooting Percentage), he also has trouble getting the tough rebounds and is a black hole on offense. In fact, his assists per 100 possessions has actually gone down each of his three seasons and it’s not as if it was high to begin with. Watching him react against double teams is like watching “that guy” you play with at the rec centre try and bring the ball up the court on a fast break. You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know exactly what.
While his defense is not as bad as it appears, because he’s too often put in a bad situation by the perimeter players, he’s nowhere close to being good enough to anchor a defense. He’s not always where he should be and is slow to react. It seems as though the extra muscle he’s packed on has slowed him down too much and reduced what little explosiveness he had to begin with.
He’s certainly not afraid of hard work and his slow development isn’t for lack of trying. This alone makes holding onto him a good idea.
Probably the most important thing in Valanciunas’ favour, though, is the fact that he’s just 22 and has been in the league just 3 seasons. Although it’s becoming more and more difficult to see him developing into a top player in the league, giving up on him now would be VERY premature. Unless another team makes an offer you can’t refuse, although I don’t see that happening.
Keeping Valanciunas is not the only decision you have to make regarding him. This summer he is eligible for an extension, so the question is whether you want to extend one, or wait until next summer when he becomes a free agent and the market decides. Personally, I would offer somewhere in the $10-12 million per season range and if he declines, then wait until he becomes a restricted free agent. That amount isn’t outrageous for a 7 footer with his skill set and in line with what other similar big men are making. Especially considering the expected rise in salaries that will come with the higher salary cap in the next few years.
Things To Work On: Mobility, decision-making, defense, jumpshot
AMIR JOHNSON: Keep
Amir Johnson is clearly on the decline, and it’s a shame. In his prime, he was a guy any team would absolutely love to have and a coach’s dream. He works hard, doesn’t need the ball and does whatever he’s asked to do. And, when healthy, he’s a very efficient offensive player, good defender and a decent rebounder. Unfortunately, his willingness to do all the dirty work, no matter what the cost, has taken it’s toll and this past season has been one of the least productive of his career.
With his mobility hindered, his help defense, usually a strength, suffered, and that could have been one of the main reasons for the Raptor’s drop off in defense. It used to be that Amir had trouble playing heavy minutes because of foul trouble (he’s gone from 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes, in his first season with the Raptors, to 4.1 this past season). Nowadays he has trouble playing big minutes because of physical limitations.
So why should the Raptors keep him?
First off, let me be clear that I would only bring him back for a two or three year deal at a similar or slightly lower figure than he’s making right now. Barring a major physical turnaround, it’s hard to imagine him being a starter, anymore, and he probably shouldn’t be paid like one. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s the type of veteran influence you want around young players, especially your big men.
And if he does get back to his normal self, then all the better.
Things To Work On: Health
TERRENCE ROSS: Keep
Fans will often take for granted that young players improve every season when that’s not always the case. And Ross is the perfect example.
After a sophomore season that saw him become the Raptors’ full time starter at small forward, with a burgeoning defensive game and solid three point shot, the athletic Ross seemed poised for a bright future that was highlighted by a franchise-tying record 51 point game. Unfortunately, this season saw regression on both ends of the court, culminating in him being taken out of the starting lineup when the team started to struggle.
Ross still shot above average from beyond the arc, but he seemed to forget what made him a good defender last season and became almost allergic to the paint, resulting in the lowest free throw rate on the entire team (excluding Bruno Caboclo, who failed to take one free throw all season). Ross’ FTA/FGA ratio of .074 is even lower than Kyle Korver, who barely sets foot inside the arc on offense, and Danny Green, who I’m sure has been told never to dribble the ball and only shoot from 3. Not getting to the line isn’t a huge problem for a complimentary player like Ross, but he better bring other valuable skills to the table. Korver is possibly the best shooter in the league. Green is one of the best defenders. Ross was 55th in the league in three point shooting (behind Chris Bosh) and often looked disinterested on defense.
At this point, Ross has little trade value, so keeping him and hoping he realizes how close he is to being out of the league is probably the best course of action. Worse case scenario, Ross continues to regress and the Raptors can simply part ways next summer. Best case scenario, he bounces back and the Raptors can either trade him before the deadline or see what the market is for him when he becomes a restricted free agent. Like Valanciunas, Ross is eligible for an extension this summer, but unless we see a huge turnaround at training camp, I don’t see the point in offering him one.
Things To Work On: Playing hard, defense, shooting, finding out where the paint is.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the bench players and head coach, Dwane Casey.
We’ve had some great years with Amir Johnson. He’s been through it all with Toronto and given us all he’s got. It will be difficult to see him go. And yet there it is, the writing on the wall.
There’s no getting around the fact that Ross is one of the most athletically-gifted 2’s or 3’s in the league. He’s not a brute of a man with muscles on top of muscles, but he can jump out of any building and run the floor with the best of them. That’s what makes the downward spiral he’s on all the more maddening, though. He doesn’t get it. And I don’t mean the “it” that Paul Pierce was referring to prior to the massacre that was the Washington Wizards series. I mean the “it” that clicks in your head, opens your eyes and makes you see things for what they are and what they need to be. Ross is complacent. Setting up camp on the perimeter and being a three-point marksman—if you can even call him that—is his bread and butter. Unfortunately, that’s all he’s really bringing to the table. He’s a one-trick pony.
The Raptors have been here before with young players. This is a team that invested years in Andrea Bargnani and Joey Graham. That hoped for the best from Yogi Stewart. While Ross has shown more talent than the latter two (and more energy than Il Mago), they all share a similar removed sense of passion; there’s a distinct lack of fun in their games. With Ross–former dunk champion, owner of a 51 point game–the game can look so easy for him. At other times, it looks like he’d rather be somewhere, anywhere, else. Like his teammate Jonas Valanciunas, Ross is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Raptors are coming to a decision point: extend him, offer the qualifying offer, or let Ross go into free agency.
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If you’re of the mind that DeMar DeRozan’s game is limited to the extent that he can’t be built around, Kyle Lowry’s about to get over-the-hill, Jonas Valanciunas won’t turn into the All-Star we were promised, and Terrence Ross is Chris Jefferies in disguise, then you’re probably not very happy and might want to hit the reset button. Except, what is the next reset button, and is there a need to hit one?
A year ago Masai Ujiri tried to hit that switch by trading away Rudy Gay, only for the team to defy all odds and, in a stroke of sheer luck, come out looking better than ever. Plans changed and a team that had admitted it was tanking was now taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Now, after a year and a half of “seeing what he’s got”, Ujiri is at a crossroads of whether to hit that button again, or go with the flow and tinker the roster with James Johnsensque signings as he did last year. Or does he double-down and go after a big name free-agent (e.g., DeAndre Jordan) and see if that’s what’s missing from his current core.
In a summer where the Celtics, Lakers and Knicks have cap-room, competition for top-tier free-agents will be fierce, and coming off a whimpering first-round exit, the pitch can’t possibly be strong no matter how many #WeTheNorth tags you slap on the PowerPoint deck, and it doesn’t even matter if you have Drake narrate it. So, let’s leave the option of strengthening significantly via free-agency aside for a bit, and talk about that reset button and what it might look like.
Is it trading DeMar DeRozan? Off-loading Kyle Lowry for youth? Or, is it cleaning under the covers by upgrading the likes of Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greivis Vasquez. Upgrading the bench would certainly improve the team, for example if the Raptors are able to add those elusive veterans that could help build a team spine that doesn’t break at the first sign of pressure. Adding a Paul Pierce-type (not many around), or even a Boris Diawesque player could add some steel to the personality of this team, though I’m yet to be convinced whether that’s the margin between a first-round humiliation and progression in the playoffs (especially in a conference where the Celtics, Pacers, Bucks, and Nets aren’t going away).
You can forget the draft route, the 20th pick isn’t anything to write home about, and is best viewed as trade-filler in a package. Given that they already have Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira taking up two roster spots and firmly glued to the bench in the name of a half-hearted youth movement, it doesn’t add up that the Raptors would draft a player adding to the backlog of players who don’t get playing time. There’s always a chance where you get a rookie later in the round (e.g., Clint Capela at 25th) who comes in to produce, but the chances are low. Don’t forget, there’s also DeAndre Daniels stashed somewhere in Australia to consider. All in all, you could improve a tad bit via the draft, though it’s unlikely to be the margin between getting whooped in the first round, and charging into the second.
There’s also the development and progression of young talent that seems to elevate teams – Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, these are all examples of teams reaching a higher plateau through organic development rather than frenzied free-agency signings or major trade. The Raptors, no disrespect to their youth (well, some disrespect), don’t appear to have the base talent that time can cultivate into stars. Jonas Valanciunas is in line to be a decent NBA center, DeMar DeRozan will always be considered a good player in the league, and Terrence Ross is in line to be taking a bus from Idaho to Iowa in a couple years. The chances of these guys alone taking the team to the next level, especially under a rigid coach like Dwane Casey, is minimal.
This leaves the trade route the most likely avenue if Masai Ujiri decides to either, blow it all up, or add to what’s here – and what’s here did give result in some memorable moments. I don’t buy the “GMs fear to answer Masai Ujiri’s call in fear of getting fleeced” BS and if you recall, that’s the same type of nonsense that was spewed about Bryan Colangelo way back when. GMs will gladly answer Ujiri’s phone call, except that what he has to say might not interest them.
Let’s get one thing straight – there is nothing Ujiri can do to add a tier 1 player to the team, because to get a tier 1 player, you either have to 1) have your own tier 1 player to deal, or 2) find an unhappy superstar you can acquire for a boatload of assets who is somehow enamoured by your situation (think Dwight Howard to Lakers). Ujiri doesn’t have the former, and there are no latter situations in the league, and even if there were, Toronto would be nowhere at the top of their list because of the state the team is in. It needs to be said that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, combined with the Raptors state, don’t have the gravitational pull to attract a top tier player.
The likely option here is to do a near-term lateral move to pacify the fans and season seat holders, hoping that it projects to an upward move in a year or two. Examining the roster and seeing what’s missing, you’ll find too many areas that need to be addressed:
Backup center: There’s zero rim-protection or interior defense, even if you move Amir Johnson to the bench and then over to center for a few minutes a game, it’s not enough. Maybe Lucas Noguiera amounts to something next year, though evidence points to the contrary unless his D-League stint is supposed to mean something.
Defense at point guard: Kyle Lowry has regressed into an irresponsible defender whose gambling appears to be endorsed by his coach, and his backup is a guy who takes an hour and a half to shuffle his feet.
Small forward: It says a lot about the state of this position when James Johnson is being hailed as the saviour. Terrence Ross has been a huge disappointment, and can’t be counted on to provide even marginal scoring or defense.
Power forward: Amir Johnson laboured the entire year, and Patrick Patterson, who concedes rebounding, most likely starts next season. This leaves Tyler Hansbrough as the backup PF which is a scary thought.
Backup shooting guard: Lou Williams should be off and if he isn’t, it means our offense will be just as flagrant in the regular season, and choke just as hard in the playoffs, especially under Dwane Casey. Williams’ departure will mean a void in scoring off the bench, and with no offensive system to generate efficient points from arbitrary pieces, Ujiri has to look to fill this void.
Coaching: Dwane Casey was exposed as being inflexible and stubborn during the regular season, and the playoffs only confirmed that view as the “defensive-minded” coach produced the worst defense in the post-season. Him and his staff should be seen as a major obstacle to overcome if this team wants to reach the next level. Either he has to dramatically improve, or he needs to be replaced with someone who can adapt to the changing game, or at least has some idea of how best to implement a system that suits his players, while improving them as individuals.
It’s very unrealistic to think that all these issues can be addressed in one summer, and maybe this is exactly where Ujiri planned to be at this point in his reign. He’s taken good stock of this roster and has a very good understanding of what he has and doesn’t have in his hands, and it’s now time to actually get on that Blackberry Passport and do some real work.
Maybe a shrewder GM wouldn’t have needed a year and a half to come to the conclusions he has now, but let’s afford him the benefit of the doubt, and I for one certainly can’t blame him for halting his tank job once the team starting winning after the Gay trade – it was just too curious of a situation to halt. So far it’s all about riding the wave of one lucky trade, his next moves are what will define him as a GM.
Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports
Zarar and Tim W chat it up as Tim finally gets a chance to tell you ‘I told ya so’, but this time he’s got answers that don’t involve driving a tank through the ACC.
Nobody will blame you if you find yourself second-guessing just where Jonas Valanciunas fits into the Raptors big picture. The big man seems to constantly sway between being the future centerpiece of this team ahead of DeMar DeRozan, and trade bait for a modern-day center who can play in the “new” NBA, whatever that means.
He’s had a string of performances where one is convinced that the Raptors offense is best suited to go through Valanciunas, because of his ability to get high-percentage shots near the rim. That feeling is quickly offset when, in the next game, you see a pesky guard double him three times in the exact same way and cause three turnovers, and you’re left wondering where Valanciunas’ awareness and IQ went, why he is so robotic, and why he can’t adjust his moves to account for the defense.
Then there are occasions where, despite having strong scoring and rebounding numbers, he’s been relegated to the bench with the loose, unproven theory being that he’s a negative on defense. On closer inspection, you realize that his guards are letting him hung out to dry, with his mobility and interior defense against penetrators being tested which he’s failing at. Despite being a good rim-protector against other centers, the coverage he provides against guards who are rampaging towards the rim ends up earning him a bench seat.
The frustration and confusion surrounding Valanciunas comes from three angles. First, it’s that he tends to disappear in games, where he should have a greater influence on account of his size alone, for example in the last two playoff series where was a complete dud. Regardless of whether plays are being called for him (they’re not), his activity levels tend to fluctuate and he cuts a forlorn figure on the court, who looks a step out of position each time. When he’s anonymous defensively, is when his offensive troubles are compounded and he’s missing put-backs and chippies that he should easily finish, creating a vicious circle of confidence loss. It’s not helped that, unlike Ross, Lowry, DeRozan, or Patterson, he has to look over his shoulder because when he’s not performing there are playing time consequences for him (not so much for others).
The second is that despite showing that he can be a potent offensive threat, Dwane Casey simply hasn’t been able to establish Valanciunas as a piece that other teams have to worry about, despite the Lithaunian showing enough to warrant further inclusion in the team’s offense. Whether it be mismanaged playing time, odd substitution patterns, commitment to going small even when it’s failing, Casey has struggled to get the most out of Valanciunas. And if a coach’s responsibility is the maximize the production given a set of resources, this is an area where Casey has largely failed when it comes to the third-year center. A usage rate which is more than 9% behind team leader, DeMar DeRozan, continues to surprise given the imbalance in the Raptors offense, which is third in the league in pull-up threes, second in pull-up jumpers, and is second in taking shots with 18 or more seconds on the clock. It boils down to Dwane Casey wanting to play a faster style of basketball which doesn’t fit Valanciunas who prefers being set up from an organized half-court set.
Finally, and most alarmingly, is that Valanciunas’ development has slowed down, or at least, he hasn’t resolved issues that he should be past at this point in his career. With the caveat that big men take longer to develop and come to their final form, Valanciunas’s progression from promising rookie to potential All-Star has a hit a roadblock. The situations which were troublesome for him in his rookie year, continue to be at the end of his third year.
He hasn’t progressed in how he reacts to being quickly double-teamed, and looks panic-stricken if a guard is in his vicinity (that is, if he even notices him). His passing continues to be non-existent in all situations. Kicking out from the post, elbow reads, and hi-lo sequences are in very short supply, and the only pass he makes at a somewhat average level is when he’s driving to left-to-right for a hook and passes it back to the top of the key (love how he thinks he’s faking the defense out by looking at the rim whilst making the pass). His positional awareness has improved slightly, but he still finds himself picking up too many fouls by contesting for rebounds with his arms rather than his feet. In short, it’s very hard to pinpoint just what he’s learned from the Raptors, and if anything, his international play is where you see Valanciunas display something new.
The combination of promise he’s shown along with the sense of frustration he evokes have many of us wondering what his true potential is in today’s NBA. He’s not as imposing as DeMarcus Cousins, isn’t the passer Joakim Noah is, doesn’t have the strength of Dwight Howard, will never be a stretch center, and doesn’t have the defensive mobility of Tyson Chandler, and perhaps may never get to those levels. He doesn’t warrant a full offense run around him, but at the same time is getting the short end of the stick given his production.
In Valanciunas’ perfect world, the Raptors would be tanking right now and he’d be getting 35 guaranteed minutes and affordance to make mistake after mistake, while he learns some basic elements of the game, ideally under a coach with a track record of player development. Obviously we’re not tanking, so the setting for his development isn’t there (something that was afforded to DeMar DeRozan). Based on the evidence of three years under Casey and his staff, his development appears to be going at a very slow rate, with Valanciunas often being singled out in press conferences and interviews as a culprit in a horribly flawed defensive setup. As the Raptors mull over offering him an extension, or picking up his $4.6M qualifying offer, his agent just might advise him to consider alternatives, if not for money’s sakes, then simply to find him an environment where he’s getting consistent, predictable minutes.
Valanciunas has also remained injury free player despite carrying a sizable frame and going up against the strongest players on the court. He’s missed three games in the last two years, having played 81 and 80 games, respectively. His ability to stay healthy and the glimpses he’s provided in his first three years will undoubtedly attract a suitor who would be willing to pay anywhere in the $8-10M dollar range, which would be a bargain deal given the upcoming cap increase. As much as the Raptors have a decision to make on what to do with Valanciunas, which should also consider whether Casey even wants to bother dealing with an entity he’s shown he has little idea on how to manage, it just might be that it’s Valanciunas who opts for a situation where he’s trusted and respected.
This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, we place our draft coverage on hold for a week with the release of our annual big board coming next Friday.
Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we branch out to explore the marketplace and play a game that really can help divert you away from hours of real work! It’s called 6 Degrees of Separation: How to get out of the 1st round and while Raptors Republic builds an iPhone app to play this game, here are the simple rules (listeners and readers are encouraged to post their ideas in the comments section below)
6 Degrees of Separation: How to get out of the 1st round
Assuming the Raptors brass grant Ujiri the chance to spend maximum money in 2015, you have almost 80 million dollars (projected cap $66.5 million and tax threshold $81.0 million) to build a 2015 roster that wins 50+ games in the East and at LEAST 1 round of the playoffs. And because continuity and chemistry are important to team success, you only get to make a MAXIMUM of 6 moves/ changes to the existing roster.
But there are some caveats:
- For arguments sake, we will all use http://hoopshype.com/salaries/toronto.htm as official for $ and years.
- You can go over the salary cap but only within league rules (ie/ using Bird rights) see Larry Coon for any cap related issues, but its simple this season since there are no buyouts, no qualifying offers, and no team or player options to worry about.
- You can sign FAs or RFAs within the CBA form this ESPN list BUT you must pay fair market value + a premium for being a Canadian team
- You have your first round pick #20 that comes with a cap hit of approximately $1.3 million that you must wither use or deal but there are NO second round picks this year.
- You can trade players but all trades must be verified by the espn.com trade machine and must also be verified by logic (just because it works in the trade machine does make it a legitimate trade)
- You have to fill all 13 roster spaces
You start with 49 million already committed to the books and 10 rosters spots already filled (this includes the #20 pick):
James Johnson ($2.5)
And the #20 pick (cap hold $1.3)
We know some of you guys don’t like Jack around here, but he makes some good points and provides a different POV on the season and team. Thoughts?
Amidst a calamitous end to the season, there’s been a flood of op-eds from writers all around. Many people – fans and writers alike – have a sense that Masai is about to blow this team up. While it’s true that everyone is expendable at this point, no one really has any idea what’s about to happen as much as they try to gain admission into Masai’s tight-leashed decision-making World which rarely leaks.
Each team has a different path to development, but there is a way to gauge what your next move should be by judging what successful teams in recent memory have done.
Comparing the Toronto Raptors’ brand of basketball to any of the other 15 teams in the playoffs puts everything into perspective. There is not a single team in this year’s post-season that had the same failure in executing basketball fundamentals than Dwane Casey’s Atlantic Division winning team.
Starting the rebuild from the head-coaching position seems like the most logical first step.
Dwane Casey is a tremendous human being and one of the best assistant coaches around – but a head coach who can lead a developing NBA team and take them to the next level, he is not.
To be more specific about what Dwane Casey is actually doing wrong, you can first look at offensive execution. The Raptors are stagnant on offense with little movement. The Raptors are a team riddled with great shooters, right? This is the reason given for a gung-ho isolation-based movement-deprived offense which somehow leads to a surprising lack of rebounding despite three-four other offensive players on the court knowing that the ball handler is about to shoot the ball.
Inexcusable. To prove just how flawed the reasoning for this offensive ‘scheme’ is, look no further than the Golden State Warriors who posses by far the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. The Raptors’ ability to shoot and drop buckets of points from the perimeter essentially is completely trumped here. Yet, Golden State – who can probably iso the hell out every offensive possession if they wanted to – are one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA.
I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the greatest offensive backcourts in the history of the NBA is statistically the third least selfish team in this year’s playoffs. The Warriors’ 26.3 assists per game are good for third best in this year’s post-season.
Their regular season numbers are even better as they ranked first in that category with 27.4 apg which led to great looks all over the floor and saw them shoot 47.8% from the field – also a league best. Sure, you get some wild shots within the ‘flow of the offense’ from Steph Curry who pulls up and takes contested transition threes as if they were lay-ups – but that’s him. Curry has the green light to do it because he’s incredible at doing so.
Go down the list of assist leaders and you’ll see the correlation between being good and moving the basketball. Atlanta was second, the Clippers third. Boston – the anomaly that finished the season incredibly strong since the trade deadline and impressively squeezed into the postseason without much talent – came fourth.
You have to go really far down to find the Raptors. Scroll past the Pistons, Nuggets, Bucks, Pacers, Nets, Knicks, and Lakers and you’ll spot the Raps at 20th in the league in apg.
There are stats that might back-up Dwane Casey’s green light for offensive freedom from the perimeter given that the Raptors did shoot 45.5% from the field this season which is above league average. But, at that point you’re settling for mediocrity and refusing to be better just because something is somewhat working.
In this case, why change, and not continue to let Dwane Casey develop? It’s true that the Warriors were not a contender last season. They were extremely fun to watch but didn’t have what it takes to take the next leap. But the team wasn’t blown up, they continued to develop, and now have a more than legit chance to win the championship. And that’s not because the competition is weak, it has to do with the Warriors being historically good.
Why the leap? You’re probably already shouting the answer at this point: A head-coaching change.
Sure, the Warriors could have stuck with Jackson who won 51 regular season games in a tenacious Western Conference. They could have let him develop and learn from his mistakes after finishing 20 games above .500.
But Jackson wasn’t going to change or adapt in order for that team to leap from good to great. There is no indication Dwane Casey is any different. Casey just about justifies every bad decision he makes. He has justified the Raptors’ lack of ball movement attributing it to the Raptors’ ability to hit shots within the flow of the offense. He’s justified benching James Johnson when the Raptors struggled to defend the perimeter and had issues rebounding, labeling Johnson a ‘match-up player who’s time will come’.
His time? Never came.
Casey also justified his extreme use of small ball stating “If I had Tyson Chandler, he probably wouldn’t be in the game… It’s no disrespect. It’s just the style of play.”
Similarly Mark Jackson had issues – albeit different ones. Steve Kerr came in and brought the best out of Golden State’s backcourt – allowing Curry to come off screens more and taking him out of the play-making point guard role. The Warriors’ offense is a thing of beauty, everyone is always moving – a sharp contrast to what the Raptors are doing. Their defense is also gorgeous. Sure, in Green and Bogut they have players who can defend like Raptor players can only dream of, but the effort is key. The Warriors are extremely quick in their defensive rotations and are basically at their spots before the ball is even moved.
The Warriors went from a good coach to a great one, and you can see what it did for their team. Hence the coexistence between change and continuity. One major change while the core of the team continues is about as sound as you get.
What’s up with this Dubs’ love-fest anyway? The Raptors aren’t on their level, clearly. The point is that the Warriors play the right way and stick to fundamentals: Effort and ball movement. Those are both within any NBA team’s grasps, and it starts with the head coach. The Raptors’ rotations are a defensive mess. It’s bewildering that on every single possession, the Wizards got everything and anything they wanted to as the Raptors cluelessly scrambled around the court.
It would be really interesting to see what a next-level coach would do with Jonas’ usage rate. I feel like he’s undervalued within the offensive system, but I’ve already touched on that enough, plus Zarar is throwing a Jonas article your way later today.
Don’t ask me just who that next head coach is, because only Masai knows, and there’s no use to speculate. Off the top of my head, Thibs would be a dream if it’s true he’s not going to stick around in Chicago past the post-season. Then again, who knows? Maybe Masai keeps Casey on for the remainder of his contract.
I’ll leave you with this fantastic analysis of the Raptors’ collapse which Coach Nick published yesterday.
In the beginning, it didn’t look like this – a premature end that creates an uncertain future – was the Raptors’ destiny. Early on, the Raptors were a good basketball team, or at least were semblance of one, and started 24-7, albeit against a poor schedule. It came on the heels of the Raptors accidently getting better after trading Rudy Gay halfway through last season, which sort of caused the team to go somewhat in this season in the first place. Lowry, for a time, was arguably the best point guard in the East-and ultimately started in the All-Star game. Some of the problems that would later doom the Raptors – poor defensive rotations, a sometimes lack of spacing, etc. – were there but Toronto hid them and tried to make room for the youngsters who needed time to figure themselves. Conversely, the strong start to the season gave Toronto a chance to evaluate what it had and figure out what this roster didn’t have. That time is now gone. Exactly when it all came apart is a hard moment to define, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Whatever went wrong with Toronto – whether it was DeRozan missing a long stretch of the season, Lowry being hurt/worn out or some combination of the two – the Raptors as we know them right now are extinct.
Experience brings confidence. Confidence breeds character. There’s more to acquiring a veteran than just finding the first “old guy” on the waiver wire. It has to be someone with something of value, whether it’s as a leader in the locker room or that missing ingredient on the floor. David West, an unrestricted free agent for the Indiana Pacers, is a perfect example of someone Ujiri should be targeting. He’s a savvy post player who can knock down mid-range jumpers, work for rebounds and get physical on the defensive end. West is also battle-tested in the postseason with 73 appearances. That’s the type of player guys like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas can look to for guidance and leadership. That’s not to say they couldn’t find that from someone already on the team, but the respect West has earned over the course of his 12-year career can’t be ignored.
“We have had ongoing dialogue with the team and we will continue to explore those possibilities,” NBA Development League president Malcolm Turner said in an emailed statement Wednesday to the Star. The D-League, as it’s referred to, kicked off in 2001 and just completed its 14th season. The league has grown from eight teams to 18 competing this season, divided into four divisions: Atlantic, Central, Southwest and West. More than 30 per cent of current NBA players have spent time in the lower tier circuit, according to the D-League. Seventeen D-League teams are either owned by an NBA club or exclusively linked with one. The 18th minor league team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, is the sole independent operation, meaning it doesn’t have to make decisions based on the interests of a single NBA team and are more catered to on-court success than player development. The Mad Ants have 13 NBA affiliates including the Raptors.
Let’s assume the Buffalo Bombers (I dunno – suggest a name! Buffalo as a location is a relatively easy choice, but maybe Syracuse or Rochester make more sense) begin play next season. The Raptors would have emergency help close to hand in case of a rash of injuries, which is something we’re overdue for. Masai would be able to assess not only young players, but promising coaches, and even trainers and dieticians (no, I’m not kidding – you can’t talk about great organizations without factoring in these people. You need a starting place for aspiring capologists, analytics gurus, and advance scouts to boot).
In a world where teams change coaches as often as players change their sneakers, patience is a virtue that has worn thin, particularly in the contemporary NBA. As the Raptors ponder what went wrong in a season that seems to have ended far earlier than they thought it would back in December, it will be extremely interesting to see whether Ujiri opts to double down on his core by re-signing his key free agents, or whether he will channel his inner Danny Ainge and start a proactive demolition project, believing that the current cast of characters he has assembled in Toronto has already peaked and played to their ceiling. By the looks of it, especially in today’s NBA, nobody should be caught off guard if it ends up being that these current cast of Raptors soon find themselves broken and extinct.
Lowry averaged 17.8 points, 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game throughout the season. He shot 41% from the field and 34% from long distance. He was the team’s leader in assists and their second highest scorer after DeMar DeRozan. During the playoffs, he averaged an ugly 12.3 points, 4.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. He shot 31% from the field and 21% from 3-point range. His very presence on the court for the Raptors was negative, since his defence wasn’t much better than his offence. Perhaps the most telling statistic is his PER value, which measures per-minute production, standardized so that the league average is 15. During the regular season, Lowry earned a 19.3, only to plummet all the way down to 7.9 during the playoffs.
Fast-forward just one year later and the Toronto Raptors are a dysfunctional mess. Once again, they were a one-and-done in the playoffs, but at least last year they were competitive. This year, they were pushed around and shredded by a hapless Wizards offense (103.7 offensive rating, 22nd in the league) that had been stagnating since theAll-Star break. During the four-game sweep, Toronto’s defense gave up point totals of 93, 117, 106 and 125 points per game (an average of 110.25 for those of you keeping score at home) to a team that scored 98.5 per game during the regular season. Toronto’s struggles on the defensive end of the floor wasn’t just a fluke, they were actually one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season. Their defensive rating as a unit was 107.7 (25th out of 30 teams), and they gave up 2.1 more points per 100 possessions relative to the rest of the league. During the Washington series, Toronto was unable to contain John Wall in any way, shape, or form. A gimpy Kyle Lowry was no match for his quickness, and he did a wonderful job driving into the lane and kicking out to open shooters.
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Finally, at long last, the Toronto Raptors are working in earnest to leverage MLSE’s financial might and the developmental opportunities afforded teams through the D-League.
General manager Masai Ujiri revealed at his end-of-season media availability on Tuesday that the MLSE board has approved the purchase of a D-League team and that the franchise is hoping they can have an exclusive affiliate in place for the 2015-16 season.
“I wish I could say,” Ujiri said of a timeline. “We’re pushing. We’re hoping, I should say. Not pushing, we’re hoping.”
That timeline seems somewhat unlikely – D-League commissioner Malcolm Turner said at the D-League Showcase in January that expansion is expected, but not for next season. That could obviously change, and with other east coast franchises (the Orlando Magic are one) looking to make D-League inroads, it’s possible the feeder system would be amenable to growing from 18 to, say, 20 on short notice.
“As Masai said yesterday, the Raptors have expressed interest in acquiring an NBA Development League affiliate,” Turner said this week, as relayed by the award-winning Raptors media relations department. “We have had ongoing dialogue with the team and we will continue to explore those possibilities.”
To be clear, the Raptors already have use of the D-League without owning their own team. Kind of. You’ll likely recall Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira being sent down for assignments to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at times this season. But the current setup isn’t at all conducive to successful development for the Raptors. The Mad Ants have the best mascot in sports, but it’s not a great place to send young players, through no fault of Fort Wayne’s.
There are three types of D-League affiliation: Straightforward ownership (exclusive “parent clubs”), hybrid setups (the team is financially independent but the exclusive NBA team runs basketball operations), and independent (which applies only to Fort Wayne). Eight NBA teams own and operate their own affiliate, nine have exclusive hybrid relationships…and then the Raptors and 12 others share the Mad Ants.
The issues with sharing an affiliate with 12 other teams are obvious. Foremost, the Raptors have no control over basketball operations. Practices, player development, in-game rotations, strategy, style of play, and what, particularly, a player may work on in games is surely suggested – and Fort Wayne is likely to comply as best they can to maintain a positive working relationship with the teams and league – but the Mad Ants are run independently and have to serve the interests of 13 teams. It’s not unreasonable to picture their basketball operations staff feeling like Peter Gibbons, answering to eight bosses without a clear idea of how to prioritize the needs and messages of each.
The assignments from this season speak to this, as Caboclo’s time in the D-League was a farce. Given his limited experience and exposure to the NBA game, simply practicing for a year and sitting on the bench with knowledgeable players and staff was likely more than enough to move him along the development curve, but it probably would have behooved the team to get a semi-regular look at him in game action to see how film study and skill work were translating. While I didn’t necessarily expect the D-League to be a huge part of his development, to call the opportunity for him to play actual basketball a missed one would be an understatement.
Here’s what I wrote about Caboclo’s potential development before the season:
What that means is that Caboclo’s development will lean heavily on the value of practices and instruction from the coaching staff. For a player as raw as Caboclo is, that’s not the worst reality – he has a great deal to learn still, from physical fundamentals to just learning more about the game of basketball. A de facto redshirt season at age 19 is still a major and expeditious step in his development. The team just needs to be careful that he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as the schedule ramps up and full practices become somewhat less frequent.
For 17 NBA teams, this wouldn’t be all that big a deal. For more than half the league, sending a player like Caboclo to the D-League is a realistic and potentially fruitful option. With an exclusive affiliation, those 17 teams would be afforded the opportunity to send Caboclo down to their farm club, where he would receive instruction from coaches and staff that the parent team has put in place. Come game time, the parent club could manage his minutes and role from afar, trusting that an organization with staff all their own would have the interests of the team and player foremost in mind.
That doesn’t entirely rule out the value of a D-League assignment for Caboclo (or Bebe Nogueira, for that matter). It would still represent more in-game playing time than he’s likely to get with the Raptors, after all. Unfortunately, the Raptors would have far less control of the situation than is ideal. Fort Wayne has to keep the interests of 13 teams in mind, and juggle development time for assignees from all of those parent clubs. That’s a difficult task, and it’s unclear exactly how much the Raptors will trust the Mad Ants with their No. 20 overall pick.
Caboclo played 62 minutes over his seven D-League games, playing more than 10 minutes in a game twice. Outside of his very first appearance – a somewhat encouraging 13-point, seven-rebound game – his role wasn’t dissimilar from the one he played with the Raptors. As it turned out, the loose D-League affiliation was a problem, and the Raptors didn’t seem to trust it as an option for Caboclo (or Nogueira, who played 80 minutes over four games there).
It’s not surprising, then, that Ujiri seemed ecstatic about the chance to further develop Caboclo through the D-League in his sophomore season, when on-court performance will take on a greater importance:
With Bruno and Bebe on the scale of maybe, by measuring them in terms of where we wanted them to be, putting on weight, nutrition and learning english, I think that stuff went very well. I think the part where we struggled was playing and exposure. The D-League didn’t work out so well for Bruno, it worked out well for Bebe, but unfortunately, he got dinged up a little bit.
Our plans, for me they are exciting now, because we’ve just been approved by our board to purchase a D-League team, which is huge for us and this franchise. I’m super-excited about that. Which means we’re going to be able to send, if this works out, we are in advanced talks with the NBA and trying to figure out where this is going to be and when this is going to be. But we’ve crossed a lot of the big barriers and hurdles. We’re really excited about this. Which means Bruno’s going to get an opportunity, Bebe’s going to get an opportunity, whoever our rookie is this year is going to get an opportunity. How you want to build a front office, a coaching model, this D-League team for us, eventually, is going to be something we want to use as our guinea pig right. Something you want to do tests and experiment and give opportunity. We are really excited about this and I think that’s going to enhance Bruno’s development next year. The summer is big for him. He went from 207 to 220. I just said that with him and he said 221. We’ll see how he develops in the summer. Same with Bebe.
I’ve been writing about the Raptors’ need to get an exclusive D-League affiliate for years now, and it’s a shame that the previous management regime either didn’t see enough value in player development or didn’t read the long-obvious tides of change for the way the league develops prospects. Here’s how I explained the advantages of being an exclusive parent club last April:
Now, say the Raptors were exclusively affiliated with a hypothetical D-League team – the Vancouver Nashes of the West Division or the Thornhill Wigginses of the East Division – and sent Buycks down. Once with the D-League team, Buycks would be practicing and playing with coaches and players selected by the Raptors organization, ones who would be operating a system that closely mirrors the parent club’s. That means Buycks’ practice and game time comes in a setting very similar to Toronto, and his role could even be controlled as such (for example, there’s probably little sense in “developing” Buycks as a 20-shot-a-game scoring guard, even if he’s the best player on that team). The left hand knows what the right is doing.
Beyond just a greater control over players on assignment (and don’t forget that the D-League training staff would also be put in place by the parent club, so rehab assignments are far safer), an exclusive affiliation also affords the franchise other benefits. Coaches can be developed, for example, and if the team saw Nick Nurse or Bill Bayno as a future head coach, they may opt to see how they handle the franchise’s D-League team (that’s actually where they found Nurse). Training staff and other personnel can be developed. More data can be collected from a biomechanic standpoint, as D-League players can wear GPS units in-game, which NBA players can only do in practice. Teams can experiment with new philosophies and strategies.
Another potential advantage not mentioned there is the chance to grow the brand nationally, though it’s unclear if that will be a consideration for the franchise. The Toronto Star reports that the Raptors have had preliminary discussions about using Mississauga’s Hershey Centre and fans have suggested Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa as potential homes on Twitter. I think geographic proximity should be a greater priority than branding, otherwise Vancouver would be a natural choice. The GTA, Montreal, Rochester and Buffalo make sense at first blush, but there are a lot of factors that go into such a decision.
At media day before the season, I asked general manager Masai Ujiri if the organization regretted being slow to the punch with respect to the D-League. It was a poorly phrased question – Ujiri scoffed at the word “regret” before kindly answering my actual inquiry – considering the timing of the front office changeover. Still, it was retrospectively short-sighted of the previous regime, and Ujiri expressed that the franchise has an interest in exploring that potential competitive edge further moving forward.
There was little excuse for a team with the resources of the Raptors to have been behind the curve – in the words of our global ambassador, “Better late than never, but never late is better” – and now the first step has been taken. The Raptors will purchase an exclusive D-League affiliate sometime soon, and they’ll have far better means with which to develop players, coaches, strategy, technology, staff, and more as a result. The 2015-16 season may be too aggressive (I hope I’m wrong and Turner changes his tune) but it’s happening soon, and regardless of specifics, it’s a major step in the right direction fro the future of the franchise.
Believe it or not, the humiliating sweep the Raptors experienced was probably the best thing for this franchise. The worst thing would have been for a competitive series against a Washington team that still has plenty of work to do themselves (starting with getting a new coach). A competitive series might have simply masked the inadequacies of the roster and had the same effect that the winning streak after the Rudy Gay did; delayed the inevitable. Again.
Grantland’s venerable Zach Low did a breakdown of the winners and losers of the playoffs and included a few rather scathing paragraphs about the Raptors, including this bit:
We know what the Raptors are now: a cute regular-season team that can no longer sustain strong two-way play, and that followed up two Atlantic Division titles — hang those banners next to the Bon Jovi one! — with exactly zero playoff series wins. Masai Ujiri knows, too, and he always suspected; he admitted to me in December that the Raps’ ascension within a weak Eastern Conference might be fool’s gold, and he wisely resisted win-now moves at the trade deadline.
Raptor fans hate when American reporters bash their team, but it’s hard to argue with him on this one. And if Ujiri had a suspicion in December that the team was not nearly as good as their record, it should have been confirmed by the trade deadline after coming back to earth in January. One might wonder why he didn’t try and turn someone like Lou Williams or Amir Johnson and their expiring contracts into something of value instead of losing them for nothing or overpaying them to stay.
But this isn’t about what Ujiri could or could not have done. It’s about what has been done and what should be done.
While fans, writers and even management can make all kinds of excuses, this team was not built or designed to succeed, especially in the playoffs.
The NBA is always evolving not just on the court but off it. That keeps things interesting, but also makes it a challenge to plan too far ahead. At one time, having a bruising power forward who would stay in the paint was the norm. Now, Draymond Green is projected to make eight figures because he’s a power forward who can step out and hit the three while guarding multiple positions.
Spacing has become more and more important as defenses get more and more sophisticated and players become longer and quicker. Players who can’t hit the three are becoming obsolete. Amir Johnson knew it, which is why he kept working on extending his range until he became a 40% three point shooter this year, the only real one on the team1. Of course, the time it took him to actually shoot the ball meant the ball couldn’t really be swung to him for a three within the offense. He would generally only shoot it if his man dared him to.
Amir had to extend his jumpshot in order to be able to play with Jonas Valanciunas and not completely kill the team’s spacing. The problem is that moving Amir away from the basket took him away from what he does best, grab offensive rebounds and score around the basket. The spacing was much better with Patrick Patterson, who is a much better (and quicker) three point shooter, but the defense suffered when both he and Valanciunas were on the court together. Patterson has his strengths, but he doesn’t have the defensive impact Amir does, although Amir’s failing body is lessening the difference, but not in a good way.
The Spurs are successful with two traditional big men, in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, but they won the Championship last year due in large part to the play of Boris Diaw, an older, slower version of Draymond Green. Splitter played less and less as the playoffs went on in favour of Diaw who ended up averaging more minutes in the playoffs than the offensively limited Splitter.
To make matters worse, for the Raptors’ spacing, DeMar DeRozan is a lot of things but a good three point shooter is not one of them. He’s a career .275 shooter from beyond the arc and shot only slightly above that this season. He’ll go through short periods where he’ll shoot well (he shot a respectable .375 from three in the playoff series against Washington), but on the whole he’s not consistent enough to stretch the defense and create space for his teammates.
DeRozan’s biggest problem is he’s simply not a modern shooting guard. He can’t shoot from outside and his offense consists of isolations and postups. Add the fact that he’s still a negative on defense, and you’ve got a player difficult to fit into a winning system. And playing with a paint-bound Valanciunas, who simply isn’t good enough to cover his mistakes on defense, is not exactly a recipe for success. Worst of all, he’s simply not an efficient scorer, despite getting to the line at a high rate, in large part due to his willingness to force shots he shouldn’t.
DeRozan is a hard worker and wants desperately to win, but his flaws make that a difficult proposition, especially if he’s expected to be your first or second option. The Raptors have tried to force an offense around a player who wasn’t worthy in the past, and it didn’t end well. We saw in the playoffs against Washington the problems with relying too heavily on DeRozan.
It is true that Dwane Casey is partly to blame for not being able to come up with a better offensive scheme to take advantage of DeRozan’s strengths and hide his weaknesses, but the best NBA offenses today rely on perimeter players who can stretch the defense and move well without the ball, neither of which are strengths of DeRozan.
Speaking of Casey, there seems to be a line of thinking among many fans that replacing him with a better coach and changing a few pieces is all the team really needs2, but that continues to ignore the flaws and limitations of the core of the team. And it goes beyond DeRozan, Amir and Valanciunas.
Acquiring Kyle Lowry, three years ago, was a bit of a gamble considering his checkered past and physical limitations (he’s a little small and not super quick). After a bit of a rocky start, he eventually became the emotional leader of the team and the main reason for their early success this year. His decline mirrored the team’s and showed just how important he was to the team’s success.
And that’s the problem.
In his nine year NBA career, Kyle Lowry has not been able to play consistently well over one entire season. His best overall season was last year, but he struggled early which may have cost him his first All Star selection. While he made it this year, it was solely based on his early play because he often looked like a below average starter after the All Star break.
It’s true he may have been struggling with injuries, but this shouldn’t be a surprise. His style of play and the fact that he’s not always been the most dedicated at keeping his body in shape means injuries are going to be the norm. The fact that he also just turned 29 should also be a bit a concern. Some players can play well into their 30s, but slower, undersized point guards who aren’t always in the best shape tend to go downhill pretty fast past 30 (Deron Williams is just a year older than Lowry).
This goes beyond just the physical, though. One of Lowry’s great strengths is that he plays with a chip on his shoulder, but that’s also one of his biggest weaknesses. Lowry thinks he’s Chris Paul, but he’s not. While his ferocity and arrogance can often help a team, his tendency to try to do too much and take bad shots is only one of the reasons he’s apparently been at odds with just about every coach he’s had, including Casey.
One of the most important things a point guard needs to do is make good decisions, and when you let your emotions get the better of you, that often doesn’t happen. Lowry actually has a good assist to turnover ratio, but where he struggles with his decision making is shooting the ball and on defense. Lowry’s a career .417 shooter and too often falls in love with the long ball. While he did show he could be a positive on defense last year, his gambling during the Washington series was a good example of how much he can hurt the team defensively.
I recently had a discussion with someone on Twitter who felt that because Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas were above average starters, that was good enough reason to keep them. But if there is one thing that Raptor fans have learned over the years it’s that a player’s importance isn’t measured by how “talented” he is. Rudy Gay was the most talented player on the Raptors’ roster since Chris Bosh, but the team played better without him.
Building a great team is not always about getting the best players but the right ones. And it’s hard to argue that the Raptors currently have the right ones. The silver lining is that Ujiri should now be compelled to do something about it.
The perceived challenge for any general manager in Toronto has always been the fact that Toronto is a far off place in a distant country with an obscure culture and an unknowable tax code. Toronto gets talked about as though it were some exotic land, even though it has more in common with New York and Chicago than Milwaukee or Minnesota has.
Of course, the problem with Toronto has never really been the city. The city has acted as a convenient scapegoat for the real reason that Toronto has had trouble attracting and retaining noteworthy NBA players: losing.
When it comes to on-court success, the Raptors have one of the worst track records in the NBA, highlighted again this week when they once more failed to win a seven-game series, instead succumbing listlessly to a lower-seeded Washington Wizards team in four games.
The fallout from that series is going to have far deeper repercussions than it seems like anyone wants to talk about right now. People are obsessed with using these Playoffs as a referendum on the past; this past season, Dwane Casey’s past transgressions as a coach and Masai Ujiri’s past decisions as a roster builder. The past, though, is in the past, and the real ramifications that Toronto’s postseason embarrassment will have is on the future — namely Toronto’s longstanding issue of attracting coveted talent to their beleaguered franchise.
After all, if you’re a popular free agent, or a trade target for multiple teams, what is it about the Raptors that would have you excited about signing up? What about that organization says that it’s worth a multi-year investment as a player over the several other options that they’ll have? One can crow about how poorly the Lakers have fared since Phil Jackson left, but that’s still a braintrust that has built Champions, whereas no one in Toronto has ever done so much as win a seven-game series (that includes Casey and Ujiri, by the way, in their respective positions as head coach and general manager).
Look at how readily the Raptors players cast blame for the failures of the club once the season unceremoniously concluded. No one was exactly selling the narrative that that was a locker room people should be clamouring to join. There was finger-pointing, there was coach-killing and there was a general refusal on anyone’s part to truly shoulder blame. They may feel like they are only a piece or two away from making some noise, but they did a terrible job of selling what they have on those course-altering pieces. Looking at the sniping coming out of that Monday afternoon would give anyone pause about signing up to join that foxhole.
Then there is the coach. Externally anyone can see he struggles with designing systems that thrive in the postseason. You can fault the roster construction all you want (and there is a lot of fault to put there) but the Raptors were ripped to shreds in two of their postseason contests and dispatched in two others. A fourth seed should not look worse than an eighth seed, regardless of the roster makeup, especially not when a good chunk of the problems came from tactical errors like where the team was getting shots from and how the pick-and-roll coverages would work.
Casey leaned hard on one-on-one isolation play on offence, insisting that his players were best suited to that kind of basketball. He offered that same explanation when trying to describe his decision making process that led to the abominable offence he had DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay executing early last season. On the one hand you can understand why a coach would want to play to his players’ strengths, but on the other hand if you don’t force players out of their comfort zone they’ll never grow, either individually or as a part of a unit. Against Washington his philosophy was thrown against a wall and beaten as the Wizards routinely coaxed the Raptors into taking terrible shots and the team had little-to-no viable structure lean on when the going got tough. Instead they’d react with a series of isolation opportunities for DeRozan, Lowry or Lou Williams — as though that was the great elixir that would settle down a fumbling offence.
That proclivity also begins to address the internal issues that Kyle Lowry hinted at as a part of his ‘read between the lines’ season-ended presser. The players were clearly not united in how Casey ran this club, and I’ve heard that most of that unrest came from a division between the guys Casey gave a limitless leash to on offence versus the guys that wanted to see more discipline and structure. Casey spoke about wanting to see more ball movement, but then did nothing to stop DeRozan from eating up entire possessions pounding the ball against double- and triple-teams. Casey is a guy that has a reputation for running a tight ship, but clearly by seasons’ end he had lost his power of influence, and if you want a reason why Ujiri may be forced to remove him from his position it’s that fact, and not his tactical errors. You can restructure a game plan, but if the players are disinclined to listen then there is no point. That’s what Ujiri has to figure out before moving on with his coach, and he’ll have to do it before July because potential roster additions will need to feel assured that whatever issues plagued the locker room recently have been corrected before signing on for a tour of duty with the Raptors.
Ujiri has done a good job of positioning the Raptors financially (a fact he was sure to point out at his press conference in Tuesday), but that won’t matter if the company he’s trying to sell people on looks too flawed to join. Last year the idea was that the Raptors were an ascendant team, one that could attract a star, or even a superstar, with the idea that they’d put the Raptors over the top. That narrative was destroyed by the Washington series. Instead they are a team with some money to spend (although it should be noted, not as much as several other teams) but a bad image to overcome. Ujiri wanted to avoid making short-term decisions when it came to contracts so that he had maximum flexibility when he was ready to spend, but he risk he took was that the product he was selling players on was going to remain an attractive one. He was always realistic about what the ceiling was for this group, but he seemed unaware of how far down the floor extended. Clearly this club plummeted far deeper than he ever anticipated they would, and it has made his job as a recruiter exponentially more difficult this summer.
Ujiri’s product is flawed, and is totally in keeping with the club’s history of an inability to build upon mild successes. That’s a hard story to overcome when selling your franchise on difference-making players. Yes, the Playoffs proved all the doubters right about what this team was last year, but the real damage is how it might prevent the club from getting better going forward. A lot of the euphoria over last year’s success was that it seemed like the Raptors were finally on an ascendant path, with new highs finally within sight. After the disaster against Washington the Raptors couldn’t have looked more familiar, and they’ll enter the summer — once again — as a club that has to do as much begging as selling if they want the kind of talent that will right the ship going forward.
We’ve had a couple days to digest the disgusting 4 game annihilation, exit interviews, and Ujiri conference. Take a bit of time to really think about what happens next. Come and share your two cents.
When I look back on the 2014/2015 Raptors, it’s hard not to think of Kyle Lowry first and foremost. I think of him for good reasons: the amazing start, the show of faith in the offseason (and the larger show of the fact that marquee free agents don’t flee Toronto like the plague), and the All-Star start. I also think of him for bad ones: a realization that he can’t carry the team on his back without a secondary star, the injuries, the rumoured rift with Casey, and, of course, the late-season collapse.
However, in both cases, there is one unassailable truth to Lowry and the Raptors: the man serves as a barometer for the whole, in both easy and hard times. As Will pointed out in his excellent piece yesterday, Lowry’s turn of form mirrored the team’s, but it’s about more than that: his emotional attitude and playing style seemed to mirror the Raptors, as well. When Lowry started chucking, instead of picking his spots and distributing, the team did, too; when he started reverting back to his old emotional ways and picking up ticky-tack fouls or gambling on defence, so did his teammates. As it stands, the man is our unquestioned leader; moving pieces around him is just window dressing.
This, of course, places the Raptors in an interesting – and unenviable – position moving forward. The Raptors, as currently constructed, are nothing without Lowry; yet if you take the playoffs as a barometer, as Ujiri suggested he’d do, the Raptors, as currently constructed, are going nowhere. It’s tough to suggest restructuring the team when you’re not sure if the foundation you’re restructuring them around is solid.
Compounding this is the fact that Lowry’s sample size at the end of the season was both short and, possibly, tainted by illness or injury. Put simply, the team just doesn’t have enough information to make a very important decision this offseason: is Kyle Lowry the unflappable leader we saw last season? Or is he (and it kills me to write this) the second coming of Rudy Gay, in point guard form?
Again, these are discussions that mirror the Raps, as presently constructed – it’s entirely possible that they are simply the team version of Rudy Gay, and Lowry’s late-season low-efficiency chucking could simply be a symptom of a system failure, or of other iso-happy teammates. Truth be told, the Raptors entire guard rotation have very similar playing styles (Greivis is a semi-outlier, but not really), and Lowry is the most well-known, well-established, and well-traveled out of them all.
However, being the team’s leader forces a microscope on you – one that Lowry would say he wants, I’m sure, if you asked him. And so, with the team playing so poorly, this all begs the question: with Lowry on a relatively large contract (though not if he plays to his 2014 levels) and the team, seemingly, at another crossroads, could it be time to re-examine the idea of moving him in order to either a) begin a teardown or b) restructure around another leader (either DeMar or someone from outside the organization)?
This is, of course, the definition of a “knee-jerk” suggestion, but you’d be kidding yourself if you said that the thought didn’t cross your mind during the Washington series. Personally, I’d prefer to try and replace the coach, the system, something, before moving to this option. It’s hard to tell what the market would even be for someone like Lowry at this stage (that small sample size is tough for both the Raptors and any other teams interested in evaluating him), and his value is likely as low as it’s been for the last couple years. It’s the safe bet – the economist’s play – to simply wait things out and re-evaluate next season.
With all that being said, I’d love to hear what you think about Kyle’s culpability in the team’s tough finish: is the man a victim of a system, a coach, injuries, and chucking teammates? Or is he, perhaps, the chicken that comes before the Raptors’ egg?
Like the Raptor front office, let’s evaluate everything this offseason. The leader of the Raptors is as good a place to start as any.
There were signs of discontentment, though. Asked about Jonas Valanciunas, who played just 26.2 minutes per game despite evident improvement, Ujiri said, “We can criticize Jonas all we want, and it’s a big discussion we’re going to have with the coach and staff: how he was used and how he is used. Those guys are hard to find.” Asked about James Johnson, who was added to the roster as a big defender and who was bolted to the bench while the Washington Wizards killed Toronto with Paul Pierce at power forward, Ujiri said, “he does some things well, he does some things not so well, and I think as time goes on Dwane is going to build trust in James, and that takes time too.” And asked about what he wants to see from this team’s style of play — which morphed into a no-defence, stop-and-chuck offence hybrid that was exposed as the season went on — Ujiri said, “I think that’s one of the discussions I’m going to have with Coach Casey . . . see what direction we want to take in terms of playing style, defensively and offensively.”
Really, there were only two firm declarations: He is done swearing before each post-season begins — commissioner Adam Silver, Raptors advisor Wayne Embry and Ujiri’s wife all scolded him for it — and that the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board has cleared the Raptors to purchase their own D-League team, something that is badly overdue. Ujiri did not commit to the Raptors having their own affiliate for next season, but said he was “hoping and pushing” for it. And that was it.
“Patience is one of the things we’ve emphasized since we came here a couple of years ago and took over,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had to be patient with a couple expiring contracts that we had to wait on. Now we’re excited about the young players we have, we’re excited about some of the good contracts we have. Excited about a couple of the all-star players that we have and the flexibility. Not just this year, next year. The roster spots, the development of our young players. I think that’s the good thing for us. The organization and the basketball team, we have that to look forward to.” And it went on like that for roughly 27 minutes.
“There’s a process of meetings we’ve set up, honestly, and we’re going to wait. If this was something that was in our head, I think I’d be coming out today and saying, ‘You know what, coach Casey is not going to be our coach.’ I can’t. … To me it’s a process. I’m going to get down to understanding some of the things that we didn’t do so well, some of the things that we did well, some of the things we have to change, where we have to be accountable. And honestly … our struggles were not only in the playoffs. I think right after all-star, we started (struggling), and maybe there’s a little bit of that, a lot of it that was on me. Maybe I didn’t get a pulse on our team. Those are all the things that I think we’re going to evaluate and then move on from there. But I will say it again: It’s not doomsday. There are a lot of good things. We broke the (franchise) record (for wins in a season) this year, we won our division the last couple of years. Coach Casey has created or helped create a good culture here.”
This series was an epic collapse — a failure at all levels. Washington’s punchless offense piled up 112.5 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have topped the league by a kilometer in the regular season. The Wizards understood that Toronto’s defense gave up the middle of the floor on side pick-and-rolls, and they came in with a simple game plan: Run those plays, see how aggressively Toronto rotates, and use that aggression against them. Over and over, John Wall would dribble into the middle of the floor, lure Toronto into trapping him, and watch as Toronto’s defense bent inward to contain Marcin Gortat’s clean roll to the rim.
When questioned about Lowry, though, Ujiri said he expects a summer of hard work will have Toronto’s struggling point guard back to the form that got him voted into the all-star game. Ujiri said he hasn’t lost any of the confidence he felt when re-signing Lowry last July to a reported four-year contract worth about $48-million (U.S.). “I have no doubt that 100 per cent he’s going to come back to being Kyle Lowry and being the fierce competitive player playing at the level he played this first half of this season and all last year,” Ujiri said. “I’m even more confident [than when he was re-signed] because we know now what we have and what we need to work on. We know who Kyle is.”
“I don’t think it was mostly on coach Casey, but mostly, maybe on injuries which happens to every team,” Ujiri said. “It’s kind of not an excuse, but he was forced to play a certain way because it was the way we were going to be able to score to survive DeMar [DeRozan’s] injury or to survive when Kyle [Lowry] was out. Now we have to go back to the drawing board and decide, now that we can maybe bring in a couple players, maybe figure out a couple things with our players, how we want to play.”
“You know me,” he said. “No knee-jerk reactions here.” We know, we know. He inherited a coach and kept him. He inherited a starting lineup and kept it. He inherited some bad contracts and patiently let them expire. He wasn’t going to fire head coach Dwane Casey Tuesday, but he is studying where his coach fits in the bigger picture. He’s got a contract for next season and a team option for the year after, but there was no indication from Ujiri if Casey will see the end of his deal. “Our struggles were not only in the playoffs,” said Ujiri.” [But] it’s not doomsday. There’s a lot of good things … Casey helped create a good culture; the base is very good and he is a big part of it.”
Back in February, Ujiri told the Sun that the Raptors had had productive meetings with the NBA in New York City about getting their own team and that significant progress had been made. It is unclear at this point whether the D-League squad will be based in Canada or somewhere close by like New York State. Visa issues could make a Canadian location tricky. The affiliate won’t just be a place to develop young players, Ujiri says. “How you want to build a front office, a coaching model, this D-League team for us, eventually, is going to be something we want to use as our guinea pig, right,” Ujiri said.
But a Raptors team in the D League would be more a financial loss-leader than some major money-making proposition; its value would be in the development of basketball resources, particularly young players like Bruno Caboclo and Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira. “(It) means Bruno’s going to get an opportunity, Bebe’s going to get an opportunity, whoever our rookie is this year is going to get an opportunity,” Ujiri said during is end-of-season wrapup news conference Tuesday. “How you want to build a front office, a coaching model; this D-League team for us, eventually, is going to be something we want to use as our guinea pig right. Something (where) you want to do tests and experiment and give opportunity.”
As for point guard Kyle Lowry’s take on Casey — a cold-as-ice, “If he’s the coach, I’m a player” — it played to type, too. Talk to folks who’ve coached Lowry and know him, many of whom quite like him, and you hear a consistent take: If things aren’t going well for Lowry — and they haven’t been going well on the floor since around the time he started for the East in the All-Star Game — there isn’t a coach on the planet with whom he will happily coexist. He’s a malcontent by nature, and an exponentially bigger one when success isn’t his. And even if you don’t believe it was particularly dastardly that Lowry picked last year, a contract year, to momentarily reform his reputation for pouty petulance —let’s just say the record shows that last year was a glaring exception of a season that saw Lowry happily coexist with almost everyone in Raptorland. Some $48 million in guaranteed money later, maybe it’s just a coincidence that he’s back to being his old difficult self — and also back, as Casey told the media on Monday, to coming out on the losing end of his career-long battle with a weight problem, this after a late-season injury saw him balloon beyond the admirably lean-and-mean form he brought to training camp.
If you had a job in some overly-intense profession and had to spend eight or nine hours with the same people doing the same thing, knowing how much was at stake and listening to family and friends tell you how badly you’re being used by your bosses and colleagues, you’d have times of resentment and anger, I can almost guarantee that. I get all the lip service that’s paid to chemistry and teamwork and all that jazz around professional sports; it’s a nice story and respect and collegiality among teammates is important. And I bet that when this team reconvenes, everything will be fine again, there may not be hugs and I don’t care if they are, but there will be that respect and willingness to accept coaching and criticism so that the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts. Yesterday was a day for some subtle lashing out, it’s totally understandable and certainly not the first time it’s happened nor will it be the last. What teams – all teams – need after nights like Sunday and days like Monday is time away from each other. And they’ve got it.
Here’s the conundrum. Ideally, you’d want Amir on this team, for his reliability even if his minutes decrease next season and beyond. But if you’re paying that price for a power forward, that slots in as your starter. It means you’re sacrificing a chance to use that money to upgrade the four spot, or elsewhere while sliding Patrick Patterson into the starting lineup. If I were to guess, the Raptors will make an offer to Amir, but perhaps only a two or three year deal, and they won’t want to get into a bidding war with other teams once the total dollar amounts and years escalate. Make an offer you’re comfortable with, and let him decide. This is one of those “always business, never personal” bridges every team has to cross, especially with a very popular player in the city and the locker room.
The success we saw earlier in the season was nothing but a result of the a hot streak from the Raptors’ guards, an easy schedule, and the fact team’s hadn’t figured out how to stop the Raptors simple offensive system. Given the simplicity of it and the failure to evolve the system, the unsustainability kicked in and inconsistent play became the story the rest of the way. Let’s talk about what was wrong with the Raptors this season.
The media relations staff of the Toronto Raptors has won the 2014-15 Brian McIntyre Media Relations Award, which is presented each season to an NBA media relations staff that best exemplifies the standards of professionalism and excellence worthy of acclaim, the Professional Basketball Writers Association (PBWA) announced today. The Raptors’ full-time media relations staff consists of Director of Media Relations Jim LaBumbard, Manager of Media Relations Roven Yau and Coordinator of Media Relations Phil Summers.
Rumors insist Lowry has never been fond of coach Casey. Not surprising considering Lowry has been deemed UN-coachable many times in his career. If you consider when this breakdown started (End of December) this was right after Lowry put the team on his back for 2 weeks. Clearly Lowry got cocky and tried to take the team away from Casey. When the coach loses control of one player because this player thinks he’s above the coach, it’s almost inevitable you lose control of the entire team. I’m not gonna defend Casey, he deserves to be gone based on rotational and play calling mistakes, but you can’t entirely blame him because he’s not the first coach who couldn’t control Lowry. He even tried to mend the relationship by inviting Lowry to coaching meetings. Lowry is quite possibly this teams cancer. If you bring in a soft coach like Casey or others who let the players have this much control, players like Lowry walk right over them and take over destroying the other players respect for their coach. (even if it’s a bad coach) And on the other hand, if you bring in a coach who takes control as the alpha dog, Lowry stops playing and fills the room with negativity like he did in Houston. Lowry is that guy who NEEDS 100% control over everything or he’s not happy and disappears. Another example of this is when Rudy Gay temporarily joined the team and was given team leader status, lowry completely disappeared until he was traded and could take over the team again. If we aren’t getting the October/November Lowry back ever again, there’s no way we should keep a troublemaker like him.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
What a wonderful, well thought out letter from just a regular everyday Raptors fan. Do yourself a favour and go read it.
Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri fielded questions from the media on Tuesday.
The writing is painted on the wall, printed in bright Raptors red. Change is coming.
At the season post-mortem press conference, Masai Ujiri revealed that the Raptors are close to getting a D-League team.
Getting swept by the Washington Wizards isn’t how the players, coaching staff, front office or fans saw this season ending.
The worst may still be to come if the exit interviews from Monday are any indication.
Kyle Lowry kicked things off with a bang by refusing to give Dwane Casey a vote of confidence.
“I respect Casey as a man,” Lowry deadpanned. “He’s a hell of a guy. At the end of the day, like I said, it’s not my choice, not my decision. At the end of the day, yeah, if he’s the coach, I’m a player. I’ve said that a couple of years now. At the end of the day, whoever the coach is, if he’s the coach, then I’ll be back playing for coach Casey.”
Lowry didn’t let up when he added: “There’s a lot of things you can say (publicly), but there’s a lot of things internally that probably need to be fixed.”
Not exactly a vote of confidence for his head coach. In fact, it’s pretty close to the definition of throwing Casey under the bus.
“He’s a motivational coach,” Lou Williams told the media. “He really gets guys going, just as far as getting guys fired up. He’s a very passionate guy.”
So, to clarify: Lowry respect Casey as a man and Williams admires Casey’s passion.
Neither player was able to sum up anything to give Casey credit for his X’s and O’s or his ability to mold Toronto into a defensive-minded team.
DeMar DeRozan was one of the few people to stick up for Casey, and claimed his head coach “gets a lot of flack,” but that he’s a “great coach.”
Things continued to get interesting When Casey indirectly admitted there were issues and tension in Toronto’s locker room this season.
“This is (DeMar’s) team,” Casey explained to the media. “If there’s something going wrong in in the locker room, say something. Speak up.”
So, one of the few players to speak up on your behalf, you partially throw under the bus? And, on top of that, you let the players deal with these issues without attempting to step in?
Casey also admitted that despite being one of the top scoring teams in the NBA this season, there were issues on the offensive end.
“Even thought you’re winning, to me, my one area, what I didn’t do a good job of, was establishing an offensive style,” Casey admitted. “Now, that sounds crazy, (because) we were in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. But establishing a style of play offensively that will help our defence. That is, as a staff, something we’ll go to the drawing board and make sure we establish tempo, a pace, a shot selection that helps our defence.
“I thought a lot of our defensive woes were connected directly to our shot selection. Our quick shots. Make or miss, you’ve got to establish a style of play that will help get you back on defence, get your jerseys back where you’re 5-on-5 more so than in transition or coming back frustrated because you didn’t touch the ball. There’s a lot of things that go into that.”
While it’s good to hear Casey realizes there were issues on the offensive end – after getting pestered for most of the season about this issue by the media – what’s frustrating is that nothing was done during the season.
You have to give Casey credit for boiling things down in a simple, easy to digest confession: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to move the ball to the weak side. Or inside.”
It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this would be a problem when Toronto ranked 22nd in the NBA in assists and three of their top shooters in DeRozan (41%), Williams (40%) and Lowry (41%) failed to shoot better than 41% from the field.
It will be interesting to hear what Masai Ujiri has to say about Casey’s job security when he meets with the media later today. By the time Ujiri meets with the media, he will have had nearly 48 hours to digest what happened in the playoffs and 24 hours to think about what players told him during their exit interviews on Monday.
If what what Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry had to say are any indication, Casey didn’t exactly get a vote of confidence from his team.
This Raptors team has very clearly reached an end of the road moment. The team as it currently exists went 25-25 in 2015, looked despondent and unenthusiastic and just got brutally swept by a higher seeded team in the first round of the playoffs. Changes will undoubtedly be made, somewhere between wholesale and considerable. So, who stands most likely to move?
From an outsider’s perspective, it seems hard to justify how someone could argue for bringing Coach Casey back. The team has stagnated badly going all the way back to December. Tuning a coach out is one problem, and Kyle Lowry certainly spawned a handful of stories implying that case based on his comments the other day, but my problems with Casey go much deeper. This team hasn’t made any kind of major adjustments in months. When it became obvious long before the mid way point of the regular season that the book on his team was out and teams knew how to take away the simple things they wanted to do offensively, there was no adjustment whatsoever. Reports in the last week have indicated that the coaching staff wasn’t concerned about the growing inefficiency of their isolation heavy offence, thinking that it would essential and effective once the game slowed down come the playoffs. The coaching staff proved themselves as out of tough as the NBA’s playoff marketing campaign with their ‘hero ball’ strategy there. On both ends of the floor Casey’s coaching was dominated by one trend: stubbornness. He stubbornly refused to trust his younger players enough to encourage their development and best utilize their skills over the last few years. He stubbornly refused to adjust his defensive scheme to reflect the abilities of the roster at hand. He stubbornly refused to adjust the offence in the light of it’s increasing inability to generate quality shots. His play calling, over reliance on veteran players who understood his defence even if they couldn’t play it, his minutes management, in-series adjustments and his development of young talent has all been less than impressive. I haven’t heard a single person even try to make the argument for bringing him back, which made ESPN’s Marc Stein’s report that the Raptors were planning on bringing him back all the more surprising. It’s hard to believe news like that leaking out so quickly from the notoriously tight lipped Raptors front office, but we will soon find out either way.
Ross had a lost season that only got worse in the playoffs. Ross currently inhabits the zone garnering the most irrational or emotional knee-jerk reactions from fans, which is never a good sign. Is he in the team’s long term plans? It’s hard to say, but it’s also hard to see him moving, just as a reality. His value has never been lower. Ultimately, it depends on how harsh the internal conclusions about Terrence are. The word was a year ago that his name was the sticking point in some bigger trades because of how highly the front office valued him. If they believed that then, it’s not outrageous to think that the would conclude that a different coaching staff could help turn his game around. It’s hard to imagine him occupying anything other than a contract filler slot in a trade based on his value.
Will DeMar be a cornerstone of the rebuild, or an asset used towards a specifically built team? DeMar is arguably at his best sell high point. If you don’t think he’ll ever be able to find reliable 3 point range and dramatically improve his decision making and shot selection, then he’s already basically reached his ceiling. To be clear, I’m not advocating for cutting ties with DeMar. I’ve been genuinely surprised and impressed with DeMar’s progression each season and what is obviously an exceptional work ethic. He’s a player, and a high character role model for teammates. But he also might be more valuable as a sellable asset to this team in the long run right now then he could be as a player depending on how other teams value him.
Patrick Patterson has great value either to the raps or someone else. But sooner or later the raptors need to start thinking about roster balance. He can’t be your 4 playing against small ball teams. He spaces the floor well with Valanciunas, but the two of them struggled defensively together, failing to communicate and both getting burned in the pick and roll. Patterson is a very capable offensive player on a decent contract who is still younger than people realize. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him kept or traded, though it’s starting to become clear that sentence can probably apply to anyone on the roster.
Vasquez is a very good backup point guard. You’re happy with him running your second unit. But he quite simply can’t be the first guard up off the bench to play with the starters. The Raptors got punished defensively whenever he played for any of the 3 starting wings in the starting lineup. He needs to work the pick and roll to be most effective offensively, which means him having the ball more than he often did with Lou Williams this year, and you’re best when you can hide him on defence. Vasquez size for a PG allows him to be hidden in a wider array of players , and that isn’t usually a problem against second units. If the roster stays somewhat in tact though, the raptors need a 3 and D guard to play his minutes with the starters.
JV needs to grow. It’s hard to imagine the raptors punting on a young 7 footer with potential if they’re not somehow getting another or more established one as a part of any deal. He should have been getting 32-36 minutes a game and close to twice as many touches to develop his game, and help him figure out the rotations and angles of defense. That was much more important than winning 49 games instead of 43 or 44 games, which isn’t a slam dunk argument to make either. Delaying Valanciunas development in an effort to maximize this teams regular season seeding could not have possibly failed more disastrously. The Raptors will be in a much better position with Valanciunas reaching his ceiling in the next couple years than they will for almost anything else they could pull off trade or free agent wise this summer.
Nobody knows what Masai’s plan for this team will look like. My best guess is that he’s going to gauge the value of everyone on his roster across the league and that his decisions will reflect what the return on any given player might be and how that return will help him best build whatever type of team he personally has in mind. It should be an interesting off season, and it could be one that wears tough on fans emotional attachment to their favourite players. Change is definitely coming, we’ll see how it looks.
A lot of you may not like this very much, but….
More clarity comes Tuesday when Raps GM Masai Ujiri has season-ending presser but initial indications are Dwane Casey to return next season
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 28, 2015
Obviously it’s early and we’ve heard similar things about other coaches in similar situations only to see them fired weeks or even days later, but this is a situation we’ll have to keep a close eye on.
I’m stuck at work with meetings all day (you know how it goes), but I’ve got some select Tweets from the locker-room clean out thing, which you can enjoy. My favorite line is James Johnson being the most talented player but not getting any minutes.
Well, that sucked. With their season on the line, down three games to nothing on the road against the Washington Wizards, with the validity of everything they’ve accomplished over the last 16 months on the line, the Toronto Raptors failed to show up. They didn’t just lose, they got embarrassed, to the point that 37-year-old dudes were out here dropping memes on the Raptors after the game.
Vasquez on Pierce: “You need to have that spiciness. You need to be a little bit of an asshole like he is.”
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 27, 2015
It was incredibly disappointing, and there’s no way around that. Even the most flexible mental gymnast isn’t avoiding negative feelings from this one. It was disappointing as a singular, gutless effort. It was disappointing as a frustrating, craven series. And it was disappointing as a conclusion to a season that had much higher expectations.
This column, by the way, was supposed to be one of our usual Breaking It Down pieces, focusing on the Xs & Os of the game. I figured absolutely nobody would want to see a dozen GIFs of the team’s pick-and-roll defense faltering, or a half-dozen screen caps of blown offensive opportunities. I could have torn up my notes two minutes into the game – the normally bland Raptors offense ran two nice plays early on, freeing DeMar DeRozan beneath the basket for a layup and Kyle Lowry in the corner for an open three. When neither look dropped – DeRozan’s shot was erased by an out-of-nowhere Paul Pierce block and Lowry waited 10 seconds before bricking the clear triple – the writing was on the wall: They were going to resort to their archaic style of play, and they were going to lose.
It’s at least fitting that archaeologists in northeastern British Columbia recently discovered dinosaur footprints resembling the Raptors logo that appear to be 100 million years old. This “dinosaur highway,” it turns out, is where head coach Dwane Casey found his offensive playbook this preseason.
Lowry: “I respect Casey as a man. He’s a hell of a guy. At the end of the day, like I said, it’s not my choice, it’s not my decision.” — James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 27, 2015
This column was then going to be a look at how to move forward for the franchise, what Masai Ujiri may do with the roster, and so on. Matt did a nice job of that for earlier, and I want to take a day or two to process before taking a strategic look at this disappointing finish. My instinct would suggest that even though MLSE would probably like assurances the team will be competitive with the Maple Leafs set to be bad and the All-Star Game coming to The North (if Paul Pierce of House Truth allows it), but that Ujiri will want to make major changes. And he should. This was never his core, Casey isn’t his coach, and the current pieces don’t fit well together.
And I guess that’s the most frustrating thing about how the last four months have played out: The pieces don’t fit well. This same Raptors core spent the 2014 calendar year excelling out of nowhere, first preventing Ujiri from blowing Bryan Colangelo’s squad up in earnest, then convincing him to bet on sustained chemistry this offseason, and then getting us all to buy in on 2014-15.
But it never made sense that the Raptors actually became good out of nowhere. They have talented offensive players, but the complete lack of a coherent offensive system, complete with finishing dead last in percentage of field goal attempts that came from a potential assist, made the offensive success tenuous. It was pretty clear that if they gave a good defensive team the time to scout and prepare and adjust, the Raptors’ offense could be solved. Solved it was, and part of it was due to the shooting struggles of Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams, but they really could have helped themselves by not finishing dead last in playoff passes per game.
This is just an incredibly selfish, one-dimensional roster, and that caught up with them.
Lowry says they started off on a high from last season. Then: “I think we got to a point where we just, the high was over.”
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 27, 2015
It’s hard to complain about the regular season success of the offense given it’s standing as one of the league’s most effective. I guess. I’ll complain anyway. Much as we may love Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and 6 Man like Lou Williams, watching such an aesthetically displeasing and frustrating offense has grown boring. “They’re good, they’ll just make their shots!” is not a scheme or playbook, and it’s ridiculous to imagine what this team may have looked like had Williams not been resurrected, completely unexpectedly.
Defensively, well, damn. They were never very good. Last year’s No. 10 finish in defensive efficiency – 12th when adjusting for opponent – was almost surely a mirage. Casey has a reputation as a strong defensive coach, but the results don’t back that up. He’s had the Raptors finish 14th, 22nd, 10th and 25th in defense the last four seasons, and while a good portion of the struggles are due simply to personnel – it’s difficult to craft a good defense without good defenders – system-based defenses aren’t supposed to fluctuate so wildly and regress so hard. His hyper-aggressive scheme doesn’t fit the roster, because the team lacks any semblance of perimeter defense when Lowry’s not right, and Jonas Valanciunas just isn’t quick or smart enough to defend the back end the way Casey’s system asks.
Raptors since December 20 per 100 possessions: 106.6 offense, 105.9 defense. Playoffs before this game: 94.9 offense, 106.3 defense.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 27, 2015
And yet somehow, this team succeeded for a full calendar year. People really sold themselves on the idea that last year’s core, which set a franchise record with 48 regular season wins and nearly made the second round of the playoffs, with the additions only of Williams and James Johnson, would take a major step forward. I predicted 47 wins and was summarily called far too negative, with 47 wins ranking as one of the lowest totals a blogger or scribe penciled the Raptors in for here in Toronto. I thought they’d have a good chance at a first-round series win in a bad Eastern Conference, and said basically that making the second round of the playoffs would be considered a successful season.
Those preseason expectations really got out of hand for most when the Raptors started the year 13-2 against a ridiculously easy schedule. They were playing great, of course, and absolutely smashing teams, so it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement, especially as the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers struggled. It was beginning to look like a “good chance at the second round” was turning into a “decent shot at the Eastern Conference Finals” or “a puncher’s chance at the NBA Finals.”
I never really bought in on that, holding close to my Bayesian priors and feeling justified as the team fell back down to earth. Hooray for me, except that I also stuck by those priors as the team floundered for months and began looking nothing like the team that had been so fun and so successful for months. When things went (we the) south, I kind of just shrugged and said they’d figure it out, or they wouldn’t. I keep coming back to what I tweeted in late January, which basically amounts to that same shrug:
When your success is based on an ethereal chemistry that can’t be described or quantified, it’s sudden disappearance is difficult to remedy. — Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 18, 2015
We could never really grasp why this team was as good as it was at its peak or as bad as it was at its valley. That doesn’t change the fact that they were really fucking good for a while, though, and that caused a lot of people to raise their expectations for the team to lofty heights.
Basketball in Canada is unquestionably growing, as is the popularity of the Raptors. I’m not sure this ugly sweep does anything to change that, much as everyone’s surely disappointed that the city’s perceived best chance at success just left made us all feel the fool. There should still be enthusiasm around a team that won 97 games over the last two seasons and has a well-respected, aggressive general manager who will likely shake things up. They’re probably going to take a step back before taking a step forward, which I understand will be disappointing, but it’s probably be the prudent move and a necessary building step in pushing this franchise to the next level. Casey may not even lose his job, to the chagrin of fans, because internal expectations were reportedly tempered even amid the hot start.
Fan expectations weren’t, and the scene on Raptors Twitter last night was quite something. The organization has to hope that a few good moves and a few months to heal are enough that voices like that of William Lou, who crushed this depressing diatribe about the loss of his fan innocence and blind optimism, don’t become the majority.
The 2014-15 Raptors season will be remembered almost entirely for its disappointing conclusion. That’s probably fair given the heights expectations ultimately rose to. It should also stand as a reminder in future seasons that if you can’t justify or explain or fathom why a team is so good, they’re probably not. It’s unfortunate that the season’s primary lesson is to never fully give in, a lesson we all should have learned by now.
But hey, exciting changes are probably coming, and if we’re being honest, we’ll all be right back here in October convincing ourselves to buy back in.
It all started so well, and then it suddenly turned for the worse.
The Raptors began 2014 at the top of the Eastern Conference, and ended it with a record of 24-8. It all seemed so certain moving forward. The Raptors were well on their way to 50 wins, an Atlantic Division Championship, a top seed in the Eastern Conference (perhaps even the top seed), and an overmatched first round opponent in a historically weak conference.
Then the calendar turned to 2015. The Raptors would finish 2015 with a .500 record (25-25), fail to secure the first 50 win season in franchise history, fall to the fourth seed in the conference, and get swept by a Washington Wizards team that made the Raptors look inferior in every single area of the game.
But hey, at least we have another Atlantic Division Championship banner hanging in the rafters…right?
Last night’s loss didn’t make me mad. It didn’t even disappoint me. If anything, it felt like a relief of sorts. A relief that it is all done, a relief that I don’t need to watch the Wizards embarrass the Raptors again in these playoffs, and a relief that change may be coming soon. After all, no matter what direction Masai Ujiri chooses to go changes are imminent.
Prior to the start of the playoffs Ujiri was asked if this playoff run would have any impact on his roster decisions moving forward. Unlike his usually cryptic answers, Ujiri was rather forthcoming and straightforward about what this would mean for the team.
Masai, last week: “Playoffs make an impact in terms of evaluating for the offseason. 100% it influences everything”. Should be a busy summer
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 26, 2015
That’s as candid as Ujiri gets in regards to his vision for the franchise’s future. “It influences everything.”
In reality, we’ve known all along that Toronto’s success wasn’t by design. The Raptors became one of the NBA’s best stories almost immediately after Ujiri shipped Rudy Gay to Sacramento for their spare parts, and a happy accident ensured as Toronto turned into one of the league’s great experiments. Could a team that intended to tank accidentally succeed without a superstar? Could they actually compete with the best the league had to offer?
For a little over 12 months the answer was a resounding yes. The Raptors went on a brilliant 12 month run that was by far the best in the franchise’s history. Two straight record breaking years, two straight division championships, a blocked lay-up away from the second round, and yet two straight first round playoff exits.
And now the experiment is likely over. The rest of the league caught up to what Toronto was doing, ended this time of success, and pushed them into the dreaded realm of being a treadmill team.
Now, Ujiri and the Raptors find themselves at a fork in the road, and the general belief is that the team could be willing to take a significant step back in order to try to eventually move forward. The Raptors could now tear down the roster than survived such a dismantling less than two years ago.
At the very least, it would be surprising to see Dwane Casey return to the Raptors bench. Free agents such as Lou Williams, Amir Johnson (the Raptors heart and soul for the last six years), Chuck Hayes, Tyler Hansbrough, and Landry Fields (Poor Blake!) could all be gone.
In reality though, it’s not just the free agents that could have just played their last game in a Raptors uniform. Is anyone on the roster other than Bruno truly safe? Could Ujiri look to explore the trade market for DeMar DeRozan? What about last summer’s marque free agent, Kyle Lowry? Has Terrence Ross outlived his ‘potential’? Is it possible that even Jonas Valanciunas, who was viewed as the future franchise cornerstone not long ago, could be sent out in a summer trade?
The noise has already started and will likely only grow as the reality of the season ending sinks in. Raptors’ fans will read/hear more and more about the potential fire sale that is coming to Toronto. Zach Lowe and Amin Elhassan recently covered just this in The Lowe Post podcast on 4/24/15. The entire podcast is worth a listen, but here is the money quote from Lowe (starting at the 43:30 mark):
Let’s say it ends on Sunday…a Raptors convincing loss in the first round, I think all bets are off about what happens in the offseason. I think literally every player is on the table. Anyone can be moved. I think Dwane Casey is in trouble. I think that’s the license that Masai Ujiri has to say, ‘Okay, this team went as far as it can go, it’s just not very good. Let me start putting my stamp on it.’
That, in a nutshell, is where the Raptors find themselves. It will be common (and realistic!) thought that will be permeating every discussion involving Toronto for the foreseeable future.
At the moment there are far more questions than anything else, and the coming months should provide the answers.
One thing is for sure though; this offseason can’t help but be more enjoyable and exciting than this Wizards’ series was.
Even though the Raptors were still alive (or better yet, gasping for their last breath), it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest the majority of this fan-base simply wanted to be put out of their misery. Well, the Wizards were accommodating hosts, handing out an embarrassing Game 4 defeat, while ending Toronto’s season with an excruciating-to-watch series sweep.
There is something to be said about pride, though, from the players to fans alike. Deep down all of us kept a little bit of hope that a Game 5 would take place. It’s just a shame the feeling wasn’t mutual.
At least Game Of Thrones was able to shake off its slow start in last night’s episode. Anybody else hoping Tyrion and Daenerys will eventually rule side by side? Hey, if you didn’t have access to a bottle of Jack, or a dartboard with Casey/Lowry as its bullseye, distractions have been encouraged throughout.
Still, in a twisted sense, every single one of this club’s hardcore supporters was willing to endure an inevitable evening full of frustration and anger to see this downfall to the bitter end. And we have every right to be resentful, as the amount of support shown to this team deserved a better fate.
I will incorporate Game 4’s gameplay as this article goes along, but this disappointing moment calls for the big picture to supersede the game’s individual perspective. It all connects, in unfortunate fashion.
Just like any hangover, the cobwebs slowly transform into moments of clarity (or regret for that matter). And realistically, the morning after hit home around the All-Star break, perhaps we’ve been our own worst enemy all along as we continued to show faith in this squad despite all the smoke being blown.
This city is starving for success, undoubtedly, so are we guilty of putting this squad on an underserved pedestal coming into this season? The year’s scorching beginning didn’t help matters, either. In hindsight, a little more investigation into what the opposition was bringing to the table should have presided.
A testament to that fact would begin with last year’s second-half charge, and the euphoric opening round against Brooklyn. Which on the surface can even be described as coming close to rivalling Vince Carter in his Raptors’ prime. But as we now wallow in a reality check, it’s safe to say we let the Raps lead us down a path of false hope.
The George Costanza syndrome, if you will:
It now seems like ages ago that the only positive revolving around this franchise was the chance at winning the Andrew Wiggins’ lottery. But with just under two seasons removed from that scenario, would the current levels of “respect” across the league be traded in for that ongoing rebuild? Whether it would’ve been Wiggins or another top prospect, the answer is yes, and no.
There’s reason to believe that Valanciunas’ development would be further along if a playoff atmosphere wasn’t stumbled upon. Less emphasis on keeping the status-quo, while presenting opportunities for JV to learn on the job without Casey’s short leash hanging over his head on a nightly basis could have worked wonders. Along with the actual shaping of an offensive identity for the long haul. The offseason will be a gruelling one, filled with what-if’s, but the Raps are heading into it with not much to show for it in the way of progression. JV remains a second-class citizen in this freestyle scheme.
On the flip-side, it’s just not that simple. Jonas’ stagnant, and somewhat deteriorated skills can’t solely be based on the way he was handled. Intelligence is a two-way street, and Gortat and Nene took advantage of at every turn.
“Progression” is my major issue with Casey. The 82-game grind is played for a reason. How long can a coach keep the Raps’ front-court woes on the back-burner? How long can tinkering with inefficiencies at both ends seemingly not take place? Did Casey lose the room halfway through? Those JJ rumours are beginning to gain legs as we speak.
At this point, the firing of DC would shock very few, and not having the foresight to address (or at least attempt to) what would ultimately be a contributing factor in the team’s failures will not work in his favour. How was the coddling maintained with T-Ross and not with JV? Especially when T-Ross is decidedly more replaceable with how this roster is currently constructed.
Add another flatline for Ross at the charity stripe. Accumulating zero free-throws is nothing new, but as long as were discussing advancement in personnel, move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here. Mix in DeRozan’s 4.25 FTA average, along with Lowry’s own minuscule 2.75 over the course of the series, and you don’t get much of an example being set.
Before Game 2 hit, I stated that if Lowry failed to show up, the benefit of the doubt he has received during his time in a Raptors’ uniform would officially disappear. Yes, injuries played a factor, but does that negate a slippage in overall basketball IQ?
Game 4’s tone was set with K-Low once again heading to the bench with three early fouls. The second was a mockery of officiating, but does that exempt him from his all-too-familiar leaving of his feet for his cheap third? Not to mention his careless technical foul while sending the Ref an attitude-filled message. Love the passion, hate his recent mindset.
The pretty 21-8-4, and 53% from the field line showed up far too late. But at least he’s owning up to it.
In what was once deemed the unthinkable, the notion of Lowry being available has now become a possibility. And that brings us to the offseason, will there be sweeping changes?
Casey isn’t the only one with one foot out the door. Amir, Hansbrough, Chuck, Fields, and possibly even Lou and JJ are all on notice. Come to think of it, DeRozan might be the only player resembling a sure bet to exist in this team’s blueprint for next season.
Just under 12 minutes. The grand total of playing time given to James Johnson across the entire 4 games. I hinted at the rumours, but Casey could have gained a bit of job security if JJ was allowed to help. Defending the wing, the interior, the not-so secret weapon of Pierce at the 4, aiding the disparity in four straight rebounding breakdowns (chalk up another 42-37 difference on Sunday), while fundamentally setting the example for the Raps’ lost art of boxing-out.
In a backhanded attempt at saving face, it is kind of difficult to attack the glass when pull-up jumpers persist to go up with the number of would-be rebounders failing to enter the half-court set before the shot gets heaved. And let’s not forget the defensive side where over-compensating in help situations gave the Wizards numerous second chances.
But back to JJ. Exactly how could he not have helped the rest of this lot with his off-ball movement, his screen awareness at both ends, or on John Wall’s drives that totally ignored the chances for countless uncontested attempts from downtown. The Raps did Washington’s dirty work for them.
102 points given up by the end of the third quarter??
There is one change that is all but guaranteed, however. One would think that TSN’s experiment with Mo Pete has run its course. Please, for the love of all things good in this world, let that be true. The addition of Sam Mitchell to the broadcasting crew saved a sinking ship.
In the end, Lowry deserved to be waived to by Beal, Porter’s defence on DeMar was stifling, JV never got a true chance to make an impact, Pierce’s manipulation was masterful, JJ deserved better treatment, and Wittman out-coached Casey by a country mile.
The next Game Of Thrones looks promising. What about the offseason? Well, it will be hard (not really) to say goodbye to this version of the Raps, but changes are in order. Take it away, Boyz:
So what do the Raptors do moving forward? We need to get a real SF or PF imo. but who’s out there, available and can fill this void? Thoughts?
Drake crazy fa this A photo posted by The Truth (@paulpierce) on
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll say it: It was embarrassing,” forward Patrick Patterson said. “A horrific effort on our part. “Something happened during the season that caused the change. I’m not exactly sure what the cause was, but the effect obviously was us losing games, going on a crazy losing streak and then non-success, horrible play in the playoffs. So I’m not exactly sure what the biggest difference was or what happened or why.” This was a bad defensive team virtually all year long, and all of their worst qualities were on display on Sunday. They helped too much, and did not have the speed or intuitiveness to recover. They failed to communicate in transition, leaving any given Washington player totally unaccounted for. They lost various Wizards off of the ball, getting caught ball watching. They got beat on the perimeter so often that the Wizards enjoyed a parade to the free-throw line.
Even as they cruised along with the best mark in the Eastern Conference back in those heady days in December, Casey was constantly harping on the defensive slippage he was seeing. But with Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams carrying the offence, even with DeMar DeRozan injured, and the rest of the league’s teams still getting in sync with their new lineups, the Raptors rode this advantage to a stunningly strong start. It turned out to be not just fool’s gold, but costly because it came without a defensive presence that was the backbone of this team a year ago. Without that backbone, the slide began in January and, with a few exceptions, continued uninterrupted through Game 4 here on Sunday night. “To be beat like they beat us in this game — and they beat guys in the series — shows you how hard everyone in that room has to work to get better at every phase of their game,” Casey said. In Sunday’s closeout, the Wizards shot 71.4% in the first quarter as they began to pull away.
What do the Raptors really have here? What are they really building on? They’re building on a team that seemed to go out of its way to avoid playing anything resembling conscientious defence. The Wizards, who had 99 points through three quarters on Sunday, shot a murderous 48 per cent for the series. They’re building on a team that seems to go out of its way to avoid making the sensible pass. Sunday’s meagre 17 assists were the latest case in point. They’re building on a team that, all through their late-regular-season swoon, insisted they’d be ready for the playoffs, and weren’t. These Raptors told the world they could adapt their game to the playoff grind, and didn’t. To wit: Terrence Ross went to the free-throw line precisely zero times in this post-season. Even DeMar DeRozan, the team’s go-to seeker of in-the-paint punishment, only got there twice on Sunday.
That the Wizards are a good team is not the debate. The question for Ujiri – and he’s the one who needs to get the answer just right – is what kind of team are the Raptors? On Sunday night they were the worst version of what they’ve been through the playoffs, the worst-case scenario of the team that went 13-16 after the all-star break – 13-20 if you count the playoffs – and won just two games against teams with .500 records. They couldn’t shoot, couldn’t defend, couldn’t rebound and didn’t compete well enough to extend the series. “I’ll say it. It was embarrassing,” said Pat Patterson. “A horrific effort on our part. Not that we didn’t try. We wanted to bring it back to Toronto, no one wanted to go out but it was embarrassing, it was horrific, it was a let down. It was just ugly. “
Few positive results came from Toronto’s performance against the Wizards, especially on Sunday. Sure, odds were that Toronto would end up being like the 110 other NBA teams that had lost a seven-game series after falling behind 3-0. But with their playoff lives on the line, the Raptors failed to put up much of a fight.
On top of all the tangible areas in which they regressed – primarily on the defensive end, where they dropped from a top-10 team to 23rd ranked – they gradually became unwatchable. Of course, that’s a generalization. On some nights, when shots were falling and their offence was buzzing, particularly early in the year, they would entertain. But remember when they played hard every night, when no deficit was too big to overcome, when their passion spread through a city and a country in desperate need of a likeable basketball team to call their own? That hasn’t been the case in a long while. Their brief playoff showing was painful. They had coughed up early leads in each of the first three contests, succumbing to Washington’s superior play on both ends of the court, before getting blown out in the series clincher. They were out-rebounded in all four games and allowed a Wizards team that could barely execute a simple play two weeks ago to score at will from all over the floor.
The 2014-15 Raptors defended like a stable full of 22-year olds. They over-helped, abandoned routine, and failed to communicate repeatedly. That this was one of the better offensive teams in the NBA barely helped – the team even improved on its top five offensive ranking in the second half of the season, and yet that second half saw the team’s winning percentage drop significantly.
“I’ve said it the entire year, we’re a young team,’’ said Casey. “First of all, this (sweep and Game 4’s 125-94 loss) should hurt. “It shows how hard everyone in that room needs to work to get better in every phase of their game. Terrence and Jonas are both young guys. They have a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do physically and mentally to get prepared for each and every night. To play at this level, you have to have razor-like focus. “Those guys made some great strides this year and I don’t want to pooh-pooh what they did throughout the season. This level is a different level. “All of our guys, all of us, have to be ready to compete at this level.” Ross and JV couldn’t, but they weren’t the only ones. Casey rolled the dice last spring when he avoided the temptation to change his starting lineup by benching Ross. He kept rolling out Ross this spring and Casey couldn’t extract more than a spot-up three-point shooter who made six three-balls in four games, not exactly a high percentage. Valanciunas started all fours games, but showed little, to no sign, that he was starting to turn the corner. Playoff basketball is a different game, a possession game that requires a lot more than what the Raptors have to offer. The Wizards exposed the Raptors and by sweeping the Raptors, they just may have ushered in some sweeping changes to the Raptors.
By the end of the first quarter, the Wizards had a cool 36-22 lead on ridiculously good 71.4 percent shooting from the field. By half-time, it was a crushing 66-50. Pockets of Raptors fans still spotted Washington’s arena on Sunday, waving their black We The North flags and hoping against hope that their team would harness all that frustration and let it fuel them into what they used to be – a fiery underdog that made you feel something. The little the Raptors could muster in the second half wasn’t nearly enough against the impressive “D.C threes” that Washington was shooting from players all over the floor: Beal, Wall, Paul Pierce, Ramon Sessions, Drew Gooden. The Raptors trailed by a humiliating 32 going into the fourth, and a couple of rowdy Raptors fans were ejected by security as taunting Wizards fans sang him out of the stands with a chant of U-S-A, U-S-A. In a city where the trees were greener than Toronto’s for late April, the sun was brighter, and flags were waving on street-posts for two professional sports teams in the playoffs, it just seemed like fate. No NBA team has ever come back to win a playoff series they trailed 0-3, and any far-off dream of history being made by these Raptors faded shortly after tip-off on Sunday.
In some sense, potentially breaking up the current Raptors core won’t be emotionally difficult for general manager Masai Ujiri because he didn’t put it together in the first place. Remember, this team is essentially an accident—one that was on the brink of a teardown-and-tank track last year before the Rudy Gay trade unexpectedly rejuvenated the roster. Making two straight playoff appearances wasn’t the plan until surprising circumstances removed alternatives. Now, after seeing the current team fail spectacularly, Ujiri, who made tons of aggressive moves in his time with the Denver Nuggets, has a full summer to think about building a new one.
What began as a series between evenly matched teams with similar regular season arcs — a torrid start to heighten expectations followed by a second-half, buzz-killing malaise — ended up being an exhibition of two teams headed in vastly different directions. The Wizards made the Raptors’ three-game season-series sweep irrelevant by unveiling a deadly small-ball lineup with Pierce at power forward and Otto Porter Jr. at small forward. The configuration unearthed driving lanes, which produced relentless drives and a bevy of three-pointers. It was, basically, a different team with a memo for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
The rest of the team stayed true to form. Jonas Valanciunas was an efficient 7-for-10 with 16 points and 9 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan had a humble 14 points. And the rest of the usual suspects did their usual things: Terrence Ross was invisible, Patrick Patterson was inconsistent, Lou Williams shot the ball a lot, and Amir Johnson struggled on valiantly. And on the whole, of course, Toronto’s defense was terrible. We don’t need to recount it here. The Wizards, led by John Wall (again) and the sterling play of Marcin Gortat, were once again too much for the Raptors. Whether it was coach Casey’s strategy or the talent of the players, nothing worked. We’ve reached the off-season sooner than we intended. Only questions abound for this team. We’ll have more post-mortems on the season this week. But tonight, let’s get things started on the game and the series. And really, everything that’s gotten us to this point.
The Wizards aren’t running plays for Porter, he’s just finding space on the perimeter. There’s plenty of it with the Raptors defense packing the paint to prevent John Wall, and Marcin Gortat (who’s shooting 70 percent from the field), from getting to the tin. Porter’s shooting touch and regular availability on the perimeter has provided a massive, dynamic shift for Washington’s offense, which produced fewer than 17 shots from 3-point range during the regular season but is attempting nearly 24 in the first round of the playoffs. Porter isn’t the only player finding himself wide-open as a result of quick, unselfish, and productive ball movement from the Wizards. The entire team is benefiting from open looks and catch-and-shoot opportunities, as well as consistent touches in the paint. “We’re making the sacrifices to do whatever it is to help the team win and that’s the key and that’s the reason why we have won three games,” John Wall said. “We wish we could do it for the regular season, but it’s even better to do it now when it counts the most.”
Well, the Wizards took the last couple of weeks in the season to get guys like Wall, Paul Pierce and Nene healthy. This is the healthiest this team has been since the first half of the season. Though everyone has their nicks, bumps and bruises, it helps to be healthy heading into the big dance. Another reason is that Wittman pulled out his big trump card–Paul Pierce at the 4. This was something discussed at length throughout the season and our own Umair Kahn called for Wittman to do it before the series started. Wittman does it, and like always with Umair, he hit the nail right on the head. The Raptors didn’t know how to handle it and we saw plenty of minutes going to the exclusive postseason lineup of Wall-Beal-Porter-Pierce-Gortat.
Drew Gooden, well, was unstoppable tonight. I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence. DREW GOODEN. IN 2015. He scored 13 points, and he also knocked down three 3-point shots. It might not seem like a big deal, but…it’s DREW GOODEN. They aren’t ordinary threes. It’s like, Brian Cook on steroid threes. Gooden has become the ultimate “No, No, No, No, YES!” player.
The Wizards went 0-3 against the Toronto Raptors during the regular season. The first game in November was a 19-point drubbing, but the Wizards’ January 31 and February 11 losses were by four points (in overtime) and two points respectively. Despite those close games, the Raptors had every right to be the favorite. And now, after two games in Toronto and two games in Washington, the Wizards did not just defy the odds*, but they obliterated them, and the Raptors. The numbers seem almost cartoonish in nature. The Wizards did not trail at any point during the game. They shot 71 percent in the first quarter, 44 percent in the second, 64 percent in the third, 57 percent in the fourth, and 55 percent for the game. They shot 57 percent (15-for-26) from the 3-point line and 82 percent from the foul line. The second unit allowed the Wizards’ lead to dwindle to eight points with 10:08 left in the second quarter, but the sharp shooting of Otto Porter and Drew Gooden took that lead back to double-figures and the lead was never less than 11 points for the remainder of the night. Paul Pierce gets to avoid customs, Randy Wittman gets to keep his job, and, most importantly, the Washington Wizards get to rest while the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks go to battle for at least two more games.
It had been a rough one for Kyle Lowry in this series. He went into Game 4 with series averages of 9.3 points (23.8 percent FG, 18.8 percent 3FG), 5.0 assists, and 4.7 rebounds. The assists and rebounds were right about where he performed against the Nets in the first round loss last year, but the scoring was roughly 12 points per game lower than those seven games. In Game 4, Lowry ended up with decent numbers if you look at the box score without context. He finished with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting (2-of-7 from 3) to go with eight rebounds, four assists, and six turnovers. In reality, Lowry was just as bad in this game as he was in the previous three contests. He committed three fouls in the first quarter, taking him away from the carnage of what the Wizards were doing to his team until about halfway through the second quarter. He put up some points, but the majority of his minutes in this game ended up being meaningless. He was a part of a perimeter attack from the Raptors that failed all series but put up some window dressing in the final box score of the series in this blowout loss. We don’t know if Masai Ujiri will tear this roster apart this offseason, just make a coaching change, or try to figure something else out, but this team only had one meaningful victory in the final 65 days of their regular season.
Defence: Z- Don’t you dare mention hyperbole. If there was a letter after Z, you’d see it on your screen. The Wizards came into this series with a bottom-10 offence, yet they looked unstoppable. Terrence Ross in particular offered little resistance, an indictment of his game at this point. What a train wreck.
The Raptors need help on the perimeter and inside, and Ujiri has roster spots to fill. Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough will be free agents in July, and there’s no guarantee the Raptors retain any of them. The backcourt of DeRozan, Lowry and Vasquez are locked in for next season, and Terrence Ross is a restricted free agent. But who is untouchable on the roster? Even if they retain those players, the Raptors need help on the wing. Center Jonas Valanciunas is a promising big man, but didn’t make enough progress from last season to this season, and with all those free-agent big men, Toronto will be in the market for forwards and centers. This is an important summer for Ujiri, who not only has to assemble a roster that can return to playoffs but assemble one that can get out of the first round. Change is coming. How much is not clear.
Derozan is a good player and there is still a place for high volume scoring in the NBA but I’m concerned about his contract status with being a lock to opt out in summer of 2016. With the high bidding market of the new CBA I assume he will get maxed out. Yes it’s not like trading for a 1 year UFA is any less of a problem for other teams but some non FA destinations may feel if they go into summer 2016 looking to sign a UFA straight up, all the good targets will be snapped up by better destinations and they won’t be able to get anyone, so trading for a player like Derozan early could make a major positive difference in resigning him
With the loss, the Raptors’ 2014-2015 campaign comes to a close with 49 regular-season victories, a second consecutive Atlantic Division title and an 0-4 record in the playoffs. This was not the way they envisioned things unfolding when the series started nine days ago, but it will be what they think about over the summer while training for next year.
Was last night the final time we see Amir in a home uniform? I still say this series goes 5-6 games, but the way we’re playing who knows. Does anyone think MU will re-sign Amir this summer and use a chunk of our cap space on a broken down Amir Johnson. I used to think he would stay here, retire here but right now i just don’t think that happens even if we were to make a miraculous comeback and get to the second round.
This was a nightmarish way to end the season for the Raptors, who set a franchise record this year for wins in a season. Unfortunately, 49 wins do not mean anything in the playoffs. The Raps looked defeated from the onset tonight, clearly not motivated to try to defy the odds and make the series more interesting. For the second year in a row, GM Masai Ujiri has to reconcile losing to a lower seeded team in the first round. After two years of bitter disappointment, change will be swift this summer. Players who have been with the club for a long team will be shipped elsewhere and a new coach will likely be hired. This will all be in the hopes that the team can find a way to get past the first round of the playoffs next year.
It’s not like it’ll make a difference to the score…
It’s just so fucking sad how I spent all my time, my fucking money on this team. I can honestly say I only missed one game of the regular season, and watched every minute of the playoffs.. and this is what we get?? I know theres other fans out here similar to me and I wanted to say sorry, sorry we both had to go through a season for nohting. Sad part is, we fans.. Not even the Raptors in general but, we Toronto fans, show up, we fucking cheer our hearts out to these teams and in the end we end up with dissapointment and sadness.. and we cant do nothing about it. nothing. We always get laughed at for being so bad but we aint the players, we aint the coaches, we aint the GMs.. All we Toronto fans can do is fucking get heckled by other people for “being too passionate” “being so obnoxious”.. I dont know.. im just fucking tired of being a toronto sports fan
Thanks for the great year, guys! It was our pleasure.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
We had three tough games into tonight. We knew, that if things didn’t go the right way, adversity may hit. And we didn’t fight through it.
We were just emotionally drained, and gave into their onslaught as the game went on.
Once they hit us with the haymakers, we didn’t have enough emotional fortitude, or whatever it was, to sustain it.
Hey coach, how did Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas fare? Here’s your chance to lay some blame on them.
Terrence and Jonas have a lot of work to do. To play at this level, you got to have razor-like focus. I don’t want to poo-poo how much they grew throughout the seaosn, but again, this level is a different level, and all of our guys, all of us have to learn how to compete at this this level.
Does this roster need a major change?
I don’t think so. That’s not my department. My job was to, er, is to get us ready to play and develop, continue the process, that’s my charge, my goal.
The next step this team and organization has to make is probably going to be the toughest, to get to that next level. To go from just making the playoffs, to continuing in the playoffs and playing for a championship. I know how hard that is. We won it in Dallas. It took us three years to get to that level. Our guys are just scratching the surface where we need to be to get to that level.
Seriously, what happened? Who’s fault is it? Say Jonas and Ross, please
The way we played in the entire playoffs was not us, as far as execution offensively, execution defensively, we didn’t get it done as a group. I don’t think you can pinpiont one person, it was all of us, us coaches, we’re in this together.
Does he regret any strategic or tactical decisions?
No, we tried everything. We made adjustments, we tried to make every proper adjustment, according to their small lineup, their big lineup, their pick ‘n roll game, their post-up game. The only thing we didn’t implement, and it was tough for us to get in, was our zone. Everything else, we switched, they exploited that.
Why did the defense suck this year?
One thing hurt us this year was DeMar’s injury, going out 22 games. I don’t know what our numbers were defensively, I thought they were pretty good before he went down. And then we became ‘how are we going to score’ [type team]. Got caught up in that game, playing a little bit faster, taking quicker shots. And somehow, somewhere, your defense is going to suffer.
It was hard for me, as a coach, to get the horse back in the barn.
I usually comment a lot more on these quotes but today I’m just drained. Only thing I’ll comment on is the quote about strategy. From one angle, I think it’s crazy that he thinks he couldn’t have done things better when dealing with Bradley Beal’s movement, Paul Pierce’s hot stretches, the defensive rebounding, or the looks he gave John Wall. On the other hand, maybe he’s just not a good enough coach to know that there are other possibilities out there when dealing with a good-passing big man in Gortat, combined with a lightning quick guard in John Wall.
I don’t think the Raptors ever made it difficult for Wall, we should’ve sagged off of him to force him to shoot, we should not have had Kyle Lowry check Bradley Beal under any circumstance, and two of our best wing defenders in James Johnson and Landry Fields (yes, he does exist) weren’t even utilized. We didn’t even think about bumping Gortat off the offensive rebounds or even offer him a different look for five minutes. In the regular season, Chuck Hayes had success against Marc Gasol where he held him away from the boards on account of his strength, not even something like that was tried, if only to slow him down for brief moments to quell the storm.
So, when he says he has no regrets, it blows my mind. On the DeMar DeRozan injury affecting the defense, the stats do support that. Up until the injury, the Raptors were 9th in defense, and since they’re 25th. So, there you go. The new working theory is that the defense sucked because everybody tried to compensate for DeRozan’s offense and forgot about defense. The coach couldn’t correct that approach, as he admits with the whole horse/barn thing.
I recorded an hour long podcast with Andrew and Will, which was really turning out to be something, only for the power on my street to go out. No word on whether the Raptors suckage from tonight created a wind tunnel so strong that it knocked out power lines in Toronto, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Instead of a three-person podcast giving varied views on various topics, you now have to settle for me. Just me.
As you can imagine, the players weren’t thrilled with how the season ended.
They Raptors really wanted to get a head start on their vacation plans.
This page will be updated constantly up until tip-off. For our game preview, click here.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
Patrick Patterson’s true shooting percentage in this series? .880 Kyle Lowry: .308. Lou: .409. Amir: .717. DeMar: .455
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
Kyle Lowry returns after anthems.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
— Kat Stefankiewicz (@MatterofKAT) April 26, 2015
Kyle Lowry just walked back to the locker room … rest of Raptors shooting around
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2015
— Matt Devlin (@Matt__Devlin) April 26, 2015
Same starters for Game 4. Bruno's inactive.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
Casey: "Whatever happens this summer, we have no control of… but we can control our effort, focus & what we're doing the next 48 minutes"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 26, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 25, 2015
I’m going to do something a little unorthodox here. I’m going to talk about slim chances without employing the Lloyd Christmas clip from Dumb & Dumber. Of course, there’s a Drake lyric in the title, so I’m already a cliche, but hey, small victories.
Speaking of small victories, maybe the Toronto Raptors will win today and extend their series to a fifth game so my homie Nav (and 18,000 others) can use his tickets for Game 5 on Wednesday. Maybe they’ll win two and keep us interested through the week. Maybe they’ll even win three and force a Game 7 back home a week from today. Probably not, but maybe.
I laid out some causes for optimism in the pregame for Game 4. As a quick refresher: The Wizards have been torrid from outside (39.4 percent after shooting 36 percent during the season). Kyle Lowry (shooting 23.8 percent) can’t possibly play worse, much as he’s working his tail off. There are a few clear adjustments the Raptors can make to swing things back in their favor.
And most importantly, the Wizards and Raptors were both frustratingly hot-and-cold this season. It takes a while, but you can talk yourself into the Raptors getting hot again and the Wizards cooling off at exactly the right time. If the Raptors can win Game 4, they’d still need to win three more, yes, but two of those would be at home. The two starting lineups the Raptors have used have combined to outscore Washington by 13 points in 45 minutes. We’ve never really known why the Raptors’ offense works sometimes and not others, so maybe that fleeting, ethereal chemistry will return at just the right time, as the Wizards hit one of their patented down turns (#PlayoffWittman be damned).
None of this is likely. Teams that fall behind 0-3 in a series are 0-111 in NBA history. Only three of those teams have even forced a Game 7, best I can tell. It’s hard to imagine the Raptors are, to steal a Paul Heymanism, “The 1 in 1-111.” I don’t think anyone is expecting that, even the most remote recesses of their minds. But I also don’t think people are as ready to give up on the season as it’s seemed on Twitter and in the comments – if the Raptors can pull out Game 4, we can at least stretch this out for another week of enjoyment and (false) hope before a long offseason begins.
As always, it helps to get the perspective of people watching with an unbiased eye. I reached out to a couple of pals keeping a close eye on the Eastern Conference to get their thoughts, asking what they see the chances of the Raptors extending the series to seven are.
Eric Buenning, BrewHoop: I give the Raptors somewhere between 0-5 percent odds to force a game 7 (sorry, Canada!). I just don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think the Raptors can suddenly start playing amazing defense, especially against #PlayoffWittman and the three-happy Wizards. I’m sorry. I want to root for you, but I just can’t do it.
So, how could they get to a Game 7? Lowry and DeRozan are going to have be the better backcourt the rest of the way by a clear margin. They can’t afford to just go toe-to-toe with Wall and Beal, they’ll have to completely control them. Also, taking a bat to Paul Pierce’s knees wouldn’t be the worst idea!
The reason I pick Lowry and DeRozan though is because that’s where your offense will likely stem from. It’s not just them outscoring Wall & Beal, it’s how they’d affect the other players. Wall’s ability to gash the defense and kick it out to those shooters is just as valuable as his scoring. You see what I’m getting at here?
Michael Pina, Literally Everywhere: 10%.
The biggest problem for Toronto right now, besides Kyle Lowry’s questionable health, is that Washington doesn’t look like the same team that stumbled into the postseason with an aimless, unwatchable offense. Instead, they look like the team most thought they’d be all along, and then some.
They’ve attempted more threes than the Houston Rockets in these playoffs. Paul Pierce is shooting 55.6% from deep. Otto Porter is at 50%. Drew Gooden (!) is at 40%. Throw in the fact that John Wall is far and away the best player in the series, and the Raptors are in a hole they simply aren’t good enough to climb out of.
The good news is Toronto is murdering Washington’s starting lineup. But when Pierce goes to power forward (whether beside Marcin Gortat or Nene), all bets are off. Dwane Casey’s yet to solve that problem at either end of the floor. If he can, and Washington’s ungodly three-point shooting simmers down, then a seventh game is…possible? But not likely.
Raptors Twitter is not optimistic
I also made the mistake of reaching out on Twitter to get a general feel for how easily people can talk themselves into a comeback.
@BlakeMurphyODC if they had a 50-50 chance of winning every game, the odds of 3 in a row would still be p low
— Rudeboy Gobert (@Cam_Oflage) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC lol k
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 25, 2015
— Crazy Cashew (@andrewsaid) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC infinite. They would have to overcome their kryptonite in pierce! 1000 to 1?
— Coach Crewe (@coachstake41) April 25, 2015
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC also, stop doing drugs
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
— 6Man (@Marcolantouris) April 25, 2015
— Raptors Fan Zac™ (@ZacCanada) April 25, 2015
— TRR (@therajraj) April 25, 2015
— Shane D. Bartlett (@ezz_bee) April 25, 2015
— Hope Is All I’ve Got (@joeymwilson) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC 5 percent
— The Glue (@jovoscrapper) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC Somewhere between 1 and 1.2%
— Mark R (@MR_Malice14) April 25, 2015
Playing with Odds
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to win a series: 0%
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: 2.7%
The percentage of teams with home court who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: I have no idea. I’m not willing to sort through 111 playoff series. But I’d imagine the odds are slightly higher, considering two of the final four games would be home affairs (including one of games 4-6).
Basketball-Reference still has the Raptors with an 11.7-percent chance at winning the series, a number that’s almost surely inflated by their early-season success.
These are not great odds if you’re Toronto. Even if you assumed they have a 50-percent chance to win each game, a loose assumption, their odds of forcing a Game 7 would be just 12.5 percent (1-in-8) and their odds of winning the series would be 6.25 percent (1-in-16). Those are bad odds but good enough to dream on.
But the Raptors don’t have a 50-percent chance to win each Game. They’re a -240 underdog in Game 4, implying roughly a 29.5-percent chance of winning on Sunday. They were four- and five-point favorites at home in Games 1 and 2 but are likely to be closer to a pick-’em in Game 5. If we assumed win probabilities of 29.5 percent, 55 percent, 40 percent (hey, they’re hot!) and 55 percent, the Raptors would still only have a 6.5-percent chance at forcing a Game 7 and a 3.6-percent chance of winning the series. In a less optimistic scenario (29.5%, 50%, 35%, 50%), those odds are 4.4 and 2.2 percent. In a more optimistic scenario (29.5%, 57%, 43%, 57%), they’re 7.2 and 4.1 percent.
In each case, these odds aren’t good. They’re not even remotely good.
But they’re greater than zero, and at some point, the NBA is going to have their 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2004 Boston Red Sox. It’s not going to be the 2015 Toronto Raptors, but until the odds are zero (hopefully not until Wednesday, at least), then they’re not zero.
Being a fan of a sports team is often like being married to a philanderer. Sure, you can ignore all the signs you want and pretend everything is fine, but eventually you’re going to end up with that burning sensation when you pee and some uncomfortable questions from your doctor.
We’ve been witnessing that burning sensation during the last three Raptor playoff games and those uncomfortable questions have been coming fast and furious by writers and fans alike.
The thing is the signs have been around since the beginning, they’ve just been mostly ignored.
Sure, you can blame Dwane Casey and his poor coaching, or Kyle Lowry and his drop off in play since New Year’s, or Valanciunas’ inconsistent play, or Amir Johnson’s physical decline, or DeMar DeRozan’s willingness to force too many shots, but you’d be ignoring the bigger picture.
This team was flawed from the start.
And it’s not the first time we’ve witnessed something like this. In fact, it’s astoundingly similar to when Bryan Colangelo was running the team.
– Both Colangelo and Masai Ujiri surprised everyone by leaving successful teams where they had won Executive of the Year by building exciting, fast-breaking teams that focused more on offense than defense.
– Both took over a young Raptor roster that had become a perennial lottery team, coached by tough-minded coaches for the previous two seasons.
– Both Colangelo and Ujiri immediately made an impact by making some popular trades and both teams ended up surprising everyone by winning the Atlantic Division in their first year and winning a franchise record number of games (well, technically Colangelo’s team won a record-tying number of games).
– Both teams lost hard-fought first round series against lower seeded teams in the playoffs in the first year, but followed it up with a disappointing second season (the Ujiri Raptors improved on their record, but played so poorly after New Year’s it would definitely be described as disappointing).
– Both teams flamed out in their second playoff appearance against teams with big, burly centers who had their way with the team.
The similarities are eery.
Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting Ujiri is the second coming of Colangelo. But it should be a warning. A warning to Ujiri that repeating the same mistakes of the past aren’t going to lead to success. And a warning to Raptor fans to stop mistaking competitiveness for success.
When your franchise has only been able to reach 49 wins in a season (once) in twenty years, it’s not a reason to celebrate. It’s a reason to demand things change. Just to highlight how bad that is, in the last twenty years, only one other franchise failed to win 50 games in a season. Washington. The same Washington Wizards that are one win away from booting the Raptors out of the playoffs. And it will be their third visit to the second round in twenty years compared to just once for the Raptors.
When fans accept mediocrity, there’s little pressure on management to do anything but build a competitive team1 similar to the current one.
Raptor players and fans alike didn’t like it when Paul Pierce claimed that the Raptors simply didn’t have “it”. But he wasn’t wrong. Pierce saw what Raptor fans, players and apparently even Masi Ujiri didn’t. And he became public enemy number one in Toronto for saying it. Then he went out and proved to everyone he knew what he was talking about.
Back when Colangelo took over the Raptors, he decided to surround Chris Bosh, a player no one was mistaking for a top ten player, with a bunch of role players and then drafted a 7 footer who couldn’t rebound or play defense. No one in their right mind would think this was a team built to actually win anything of significance. But fans ignored the flawed roster and rejoiced in the franchise record-tying 47 wins, the Atlantic Division title and the first playoff appearance in five years.
In reality, no one should have been surprised that a team full of mediocre to decent players became anything but a mediocre to decent team. Bosh realized that this philosophy was doomed, and no one can blame him for jumping ship.
When Ujiri took over, hopes were high, and after trading Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay away the team’s sudden competitiveness gave Ujiri pause. And that was how he made the same mistake Colangelo did, which lead to the situation we find ourselves in right now.
Let’s be clear, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are good players. They’ve both been All Stars and would start for just about any team in the league. But if they’re your two best players, you’re not going very far. And surrounding them with mediocre to decent players isn’t going to have a different effect than when Colangelo did it.
It’s natural to want to look for quick fixes for the team. Firing Dwane Casey is a no-brainer, but a new coach isn’t going to turn DeRozan into a good defender, raise Kyle Lowry’s basketball IQ or make Valanciunas a better passer. Adding a solid veteran big man could definitely help push the Raptors above the 50 win mark, but this would just be a continuation of the same strategy.
While it’s not going to be a popular approach, Ujiri needs to start again. Contenders are built on talent, defense and high basketball IQ, all of which are in short supply on the Raptors roster. No one on the roster should be safe, including longtime Raptors like DeMar DeRozan or Amir Johnson. Even Valanciunas, previously untouchable, should be considered simply a moveable asset.
The Raptors may win a game or possibly even two before they start their summer, but this isn’t about them losing a playoff series. This is about years of poor planning and accepting less than we should.
And we, as Raptor fans, need to say ‘enough’.
There are, as it turns out, reasons to remain optimistic about the Toronto Raptors entering Game 4 against the Washington Wizards on Sunday. What could be the final game of the 2014-15 season tips off at 6:30 p.m. on TSN from the Verizon Center, where the Raptors are tasked with beating a team that has looked far, far better than themselves in three consecutive games.
As a recap: Despite a pretty abhorrent second half, most of us talked ourselves into the Raptors righting the ship enough against an equally inconsistent Wizards team to take the series. I picked the Raptors in 7, an outcome that now seems almost impossible – teams that go down 3-0 are 0-111 in history, and it feels as if the Raptors are more rule than exception, with 0-and-Peaches-and-Cream on the way.
Game 1 saw both teams play terribly but Washington play slightly less so, stealing a 93-86 victory at the ACC. Game 2 was less open to your interpretation of variance, and the Wizards embarrassed the Raptors 117-106 on Toronto’s home turf. Game 3 saw the Raptors fight back, tooth and nail, hit some insane shots…and still come up short, 106-99 in The Capital.
In Games 1 and 3, the Raptors have done some things well enough but still been outplayed. The Wizards have been better in each outing and far better for the series. The Raptors have failed to adjust their difficult shot mix in the face of a strong Wizards defense and they still haven’t figured out how best to handle fairly simple one-five pick-and-rolls when the Wizards have a shooter at the four. If an answer for John Wall’s speed and passing exist, the Raptors don’t possess it.
The series is almost certainly over.
Still, with how much time we all invest in following the team and how high our hopes were for this season and this series…should we really just be giving up now?
I get it. 0-111. But even The Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania. The Raptors may not have a Brock Lesnar – Ed Sterner is absolutely Paul Heyman, by the way – but there are reasons, however faint, to hold on to just a modicum of optimism for Game 4.
The foremost reason: Why the hell not? Are you going to just not watch what could be the last game of the season? Are you going to actively root for the Raptors to lose? Of course not. Turn on the TV or get to Jurassic Park, and cheer your ass off while you still have the chance. Even if it only serves to prolong the inevitable, don’t you want a few more games, and the opportunity to be a crazy fan a little longer, talking yourself into a 1-3 comeback, and then a 2-3 comeback? Yes, you do. Stop being a fuddy duddy.
Another reason: The Raptors and Wizards have both been terribly hot-and-cold all season long. There remains a chance, however slim, that the Raptors could get hot and the Wizards cold at the same time, and things could change. It’s not at all likely, but again, the slightest reason for optimism.
More reasons: Kyle Lowry can’t keep shooting this poorly. The Raptors have to eventually get some things right on the defensive end. #PlayoffWittman might be a mirage. Bruno is yet to be unleashed.
And so on. I opened it up to reasons for optimism on Twitter, but people were mostly just assholes. Rightfully so, but assholes nonetheless. Here are the responses to my fruitless request for hope:
— Scott Campsall (@ScottCampsall) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC The Raptors have been in 2/3 of the games in the 4th, and Kyle Lowry is shooting 24%.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
— Arun Srinivasan (@ASports89) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC – The pressure might be off now that no team has ever come back from 0 – 3. Maybe they’ll move the ball around on Offense.
— mystery_sean (@Mystery_Sean) April 25, 2015
— Brad Henry (@bhenry05) April 25, 2015
— Phallics Rios (@the_Zubes) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC Raps losing convincingly enough will give Masai licence to blow up the team, if he wants.
— Aaron Biderman (@AaronBiderman) April 25, 2015
— Abby ツ (@transform01) April 25, 2015
How you look at Game 4 is entirely up to you, but even if the series is pretty much closed, I’m gonna hope they figure it out for 48 minutes and give us one more home game. For my boy Nav.
In terms of adjustments, it remains the same story.
James Johnson should probably play. Even though the Raptors played poorly in his Game 2 minutes, he didn’t check Paul Pierce and remains the team’s best bet to guard him when he plays the four.
There were occasional instances of the Raptors actually guarding the one-five pick-and-roll alright down the stretch of Game 3, at least for partial possessions. They did well in daring Wall to shoot on some possessions, and Bradley Beal’s man remembered he’s guarding Bradley Beal in most cases. The problems remain when Jonas Valanciunas gets turned around, or when the help from the strong corner isn’t followed by the man from the strong wing dropping between the two outside shooting threats.
This is where examples would have gone, except I was having some issues making GIFs at 2 a.m. and had to just give up. Apologies. Please believe me that the defense was mostly bad but was occasionally actually alright, including one particular play that stood out around the 6:07 mark of the fourth, if you’re so inclined to go look.
Offensively, it’s the same story as ever the Raptors. You can bet on their guys just making shots, but the refs have been conservative with their whistles and the Wizards do a terrific job of keeping drivers out of the paint without sacrificing the integrity of their coverage on Raptors bigs.
You combat that by running more complicated actions, and I don’t mean elaborate, Spurs-ian plays. Even simple high pick-and-rolls that force defenders to make decisions provide an opportunity for a defense to make mistakes. Isolation plays do not, save for foul calls the Raptors just aren’t getting as much as their accustomed to.
Dwane Casey loves this fairly simply Loop 4 play and Will did a nice job breaking down some of the Raptors pet plays before the series.
None of this is ground-breaking stuff, and it’s not as if the Raptors haven’y run plays, but consider this:
*With 255, the Raptors are averaging fewer passes per playoff game than any other team.
*They’re 14th in points created by assists per game with 45, just 46 percent of their points.
*They’re 13th in catch-and-shoot attempts per game with 19.7 and first in drives with 35.7, but their shooting 41.7 percent on drives and are 13th in free throw attempt rate.
*They’re 15th in zero-dribble field goal attempts per game (shooting 44.2 percent) and 2nd in seven-plus dribble field goal attempts per game (shooting 25.6 percent).
I could go on. The message, of course, is to pass the damn ball and stop thinking that after three games of evidence to the contrary, shots will suddenly just start dropping and the foul calls will come. They very well might, but it’s not exactly a great gamble to make with your season on the line.
One other change may be to crash the offensive glass more. This seems counter-intuitive given how good the Wizards are in transition, but Toronto has a woeful 17.9-percent offensive rebounding rate in the series, last in the playoffs by far. The Raptors are somehow getting plenty of second-chance points off of those limited offensive boards, and much as it’s risky, it may be worth it to try to extend offensive possessions and get some easy baskets. This goes doubly if the team’s go small.
The Raptors are 5.5-point underdogs for the game. Everyone sees this series as over and it probably is. It definitely is. But there are at least 48 more minutes left in the season, and I see little point in throwing in the towel (you’re a towel).
And so, much as all logic suggests my attitude should be otherwise, with the season on the line, I leave you with this, a clip from a movie that the Raptors deserve a clip from, but one that resonates anyway:
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan keep taking first-side, contested shots. The starting backcourt for the Raptors accounted for 51 of 99 attempts in a 106-99 loss in Game 3 Friday. They only made 16. DeRozan said afterwards that he thinks they were mostly good shots.
You can point to that third-place ranking in regular-season offensive efficiency as a counter-argument to this assertion, but we’d say drawing a ton of fouls and shooting a massive amount of threes will skew the metrics positively — for example, those positive traits can cover up for a lot of this team’s most-troubling tendencies. Like horrific shot selection. Only a handful of teams had a lower assist rate than the Raptors and that’s because the roster is dotted with one-on-one scorers, players who eschew moving the ball, preferring to hoist up tough shots on their own. The majority of them don’t seem to recognize the issue either, and head coach Dwane Casey feeds into it by insisting they are “good shots” or “shots they would normally make.” While they might make some of them, they aren’t “good” shots. They are tough ones that leave the other three or four players on the court out and when they fail to fall, it leaves the Raptors exposed to fast-break points at the other end. There is a fundamental problem here and it dates back to when Rudy Gay was still a Raptor.
Porter, however, has been able to keep DeRozan from getting on a hot streak. DeRozan was never able to make more than two consecutive shots with Porter defending him. I don’t know if Porter coming off the bench contributes to his better defensive performances against DeRozan since he would have fresh legs. Even if this plays a part toward that, it doesn’t fully explain why Porter has been much better defending DeRozan than Pierce. Therefore, this trend may make some wonder whether Porter should start. If he does, Porter can be on the floor from the beginning like DeRozan — and put a clamp on his early hot shooting performances. If Porter can do that, there is a good reason to believe that the Wizards could be off to a better start on Sunday’s game than they have in each of the last three in this series.
Field-goal-percentage-itis wasn’t just a Lowry problem. The Raptors as a whole took 23 more shots than the Wizards did Friday, yet finished with only one more made field goal. Lowry’s face, at least the parts of it visible behind his hands, showed how acutely he understood the futility of his 15 points. He’d been sniffling and coughing off and on, prompting at least one Toronto reporter to opt out of the scrum in front of his locker (to paraphrase, everyone else could take their chances holding mics up to Lowry’s face, but this guy would rather wait for the transcribed quotes than risk getting sick). When asked whether the flu-like illness had affected his play, Lowry insisted it had not. “It’s nothing to worry about, I know that. At the end of the day, I still have to go out there and play. And yeah, I don’t worry about [being] snake bit or whatever it is, because it’s part of why we get paid to play.” The guard didn’t have as firm an answer when asked about the Raptors’ struggles on offense. “[Washington] did a good job of forcing us to take shots contested like they’ve been doing all series, but we got some open looks and we missed some shots. I had some open threes that I missed and DeMar [DeRozan] had some open looks, two-pointers, that he missed … But yeah, our offense hasn’t been on the same [level] as it was earlier in the year.”
The contradictory explanations make sense, as it is much harder for the Raptors to admit the real reason for the loss: they just aren’t a good enough basketball team. Not stylistically, but they remind me of the post-Carmelo Anthony Nuggets teams, in that they have a collection of good but not great players. Kyle Lowry is the closest thing they have to a superstar, but he isn’t, and DeRozan, Williams, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson and the rest are all good too, but none of them strike fear into opponents’s hearts. And with free agents as lukewarm about Toronto as they are about Denver, that’s going to be awfully hard to change. As for the Wizards, most of the pieces are already there. John Wall is a top five point guard and top 15 player, and they have no obvious weaknesses either. They lack another star player to slot alongside Wall—if you’re optimistic, Bradley Beal will still develop into that player—but not much else. The Wizards’s biggest barrier to success has been coach Randy Wittman’s tactics. But all of a sudden, in the playoffs, he’s a new man. Wittman has Paul Pierce playing at the four, he’s giving Otto Porter legitimate minutes, and he isn’t sitting Marcin Gortat for the entirety of fourth quarters anymore. At this point, you’ve got to think they have a shot against the Hawks in the next round, right?
The Raptors thought they could pull that magical switch. This group is incapable, some would say delusional in believing their game would elevate come playoff time, because the Raptors aren’t built for the post-season. “I always felt we were a better team than our record showed,’’ said Pierce. “We could’ve easily been a 50-win team. “We’re showing our growth, we’re showing our potential here in the playoffs. Where people thought of us in the first half of the season, I think people see it right now. “We’re locked in, we’re more focused. Sometimes you’re going to have your mental lapses. The young guys are young. “A lot of them don’t have kids, so they have good times on the road. They go out, party sometimes. That’s the way it is. I was a young guy, did those things. Sometimes, you’re not locked in the whole 82.” Three games into the playoffs and the Wizards are locked in, matching shot for shot in the opening quarter on Friday, making all the big shots in the fourth. Toronto would take 10 more shots than Washington in the final period, but made three fewer baskets.
On the one hand, it’s discouraging that the best effort didn’t result in the Raps celebrating a win, but that hasn’t stopped the Raptors from taking whatever positives they can wring from the experience. For starters, the game-turning shots the Wizards hit in the final three minutes were more likely to miss than mark than hit it. “They made big shots,” Lou Williams said. “(Friday night) we were fighting. We played like a desperate team. Otto Porter makes two huge shots and Paul Pierce makes two huge shots and even still after all that happens we still cut it to three points at 40 seconds and then Paul Pierce makes another big three. You gotta tip your hat to them. They’re making big plays and we’re fighting like hell just trying to get a win.” All four of those threes were contested. Pierce, in particular, barely had a view of the basket with the hands in his face when he launched, but they went in. On the other end, the Raptors had a stellar quarter out of DeMar DeRozan in the first and then not much at all from any one guy in particular over the next three quarters. “That’s what’s keeping our hopes high,” DeRozan said. “We still haven’t played a complete perfect game like we normally had — not just myself getting hot, Kyle (Lowry) getting hot, Lou getting hot, other players running off a couple points, and just had that complete rhythm going. We haven’t had a complete rhythm.”
The Raptors passed the ball less and with less efficiency than nearly every team in the NBA during the regular season and are last in the playoffs so far with just 255 passes a game and they rank 13th out of 16 teams with points from assists in the playoffs. That lack of passing means tougher shots for those expected to take them. In the regular season Kyle Lowry, DeRozan and Williams were the only trio of teammates in the NBA to take at least 11 shots a game while shooting less than 42 percent from the field. Only 12 players in the entire league took at least 11 shots at that rate while playing at least 2,000 minutes this season and three of them were on Toronto. The trend has continued against Washington as Lowry, DeRozan and Williams have taken 149 shots – compared to 122 for the rest of the team – and shot just 32.2 percent, compared to 51.6 for the remaining seven players. The playoffs may be about adjustments and the Raptors have talked about the need for their primary scorers to make plays for their teammates, but it hasn’t happened yet and might not.
In response to Washington’s strech 4 lineups, Dwane Casey has done very little. He’s stuck with lineups he deemed functional in March, all of which don’t include the team’s best individual defender and plus-minus hero James Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t be a cure-all in this series, but his playing just seven minutes in three games tells you all you need to know about Casey’s stubbornness on this issue. In the end, this lack of ability to make adjustments has taken “effort” out of the question. The Raptors can shove, smack, and scream all they want – if they’re in a system that doesn’t work for their personnel, there’s no chance at success. Other NBA teams have figured out that the Raptors are in a defensive system that gambles too much. As a guy whose pedigree was on that end of the court, the Game 3 loss could be the last straw for Casey as Toronto’s head coach. The Raptors are also truly lacking in veteran leadership. Lowry and DeRozan make a great bromance, but neither has the intangible swagger that comes with playoff experience.
Ujiri hedged his bets, left his options open. Instead of adding some desperately needed veteran help up front — Indiana’s David West would have been exactly what the doctor ordered in this series — Ujiri declined to move a first-round pick or Terrence Ross at the trade deadline. A year earlier, the Wizards moved a first to Phoenix to get Marcin Gortat and he has been a destroyer against the Raptors and is about to be a key factor in a second-straight playoff series win for lower-seeded Washington. Ujiri wasn’t interested in doing the same. Even in the summer, with the buzz of the team’s stirring, seven-game battle with Brooklyn still lingering in the air, Ujiri hedged. Sure, Kyle Lowry was re-signed, but that was a no-brainer. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson were given short, moveable contracts instead of long commitments. Bruno Caboclo, who looks every bit of ESPN’s “two years away from being two years away” prediction, was selected 20th overall, instead of more NBA-ready help Even Dwane Casey only got two guaranteed years, plus a team option, whereas most coaches who had helped turn around a program like Casey had would have received an extra guaranteed year. Keep your options open, because in the NBA, things can go sideways. Fast.
The best player? Ujiri was poised to trade Kyle Lowry only a season ago. And now, in Lowry’s first all-star campaign, it’s obvious enough why. A little too short and a little too slow, Lowry is looking like a D-League stumbler in the matchup with uber-fast Wizards counterpart John Wall. Give Lowry a pass for being racked with late-season injuries if you like, but ask yourself this: Is he going to be a better, more durable player next year, when, at the tail end of a checkered run of dubious body care, he’ll turn 30? And as for the coach: It’s true that Casey is a fine man who just led the team to consecutive franchise-record seasons of 48 and 49 wins. But all of that means little when you remember that Ujiri, back when he was GM in Denver, fired head coach George Karl less than a month after Karl won the NBA coach of the year award on the heels of a 57-win campaign. Karl’s sin? He couldn’t win in the playoffs.
The problem is that Casey is a stubborn in-game tactician, usually electing to leave his team’s strategy unaltered, regardless of what their opposition is doing. For example, in game two, Casey left Greivis Vasquez on the court even though he was getting destroyed by John Wall. Wall was able to blow-by Vasquez, so he could pretty much score from wherever he wanted. Propelled by Wall’s efficient scoring, the Wizards took control of the game and never looked back. Wittman, who is often criticized for his questionable decisions, has looked like a genius in this series. He has found mismatches that Casey has not been able to address. Casey may simply be the wrong guy to help the Raptors continue to develop into an elite team. If the Raps lose tomorrow, expect Ujiri to quickly fire Casey to renew some faith in the fans, players and front-office staff.
Casey’s game is all about defence and the Raptors are among the NBA’s weakest defenders. The roster doesn’t help. And general manager Masai Ujiri is in a strong economic position over the next two seasons to remake the team as he invisions it. But eill asey be part of that remake? He has at least one year guaranteed remaining on his contract and close to $4-million owing. Around the team you have to wonder: If the Raptors are swept out of the playoffs, will Casey be swept out with them?
Watson: While the series isn’t officially over, and no, they won’t be the 1st team in NBA to come back down 0-3, there’s a chance to salvage some decency. Ultimately, I don’t think his team did him any favors, but the Raptors inability to play and reflect the style and philosophy of their head coach is telling. Read: Defence. Strickland: Pretty much. While he’s been a great coach to get this team to the level of potentially being a perennial playoff contender, a change in voice and philosophy in the Raptors locker room seems necessary to take the next step in in GM Masai Ujiri’s master plan. With seven players coming off the books, including the longest standing Dino in Amir Johnson, Toronto will look drastically different in 2015-2016 from athletes to bench boss.
This team relied heavily on its guard rotation and their ability to make shots this season and it worked well enough to get them to a franchise-best 49 wins. In the playoffs, however, that strategy just isn’t getting it done. Player FGA FG% 3PA 3P% DeMar DeRozan 22.3 38.8% 2.7 37.5% Kyle Lowry 14.0 23.8% 5.3 18.8% Lou Williams 13.3 30.0% 5.0 13.3% Terrence Ross 8.7 38.5% 5.0 33.3% Greivis Vasquez 6.0 38.9% 3.0 44.4% It’s hard to fault DeMar DeRozan’s effort, considering how much he’s been trying to will his team to victory with a line of 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in a whopping 41.7 minutes per game, but it gets shady after that. Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams, and Terrence Ross, by comparison, have all been from bad to abysmal. Terrence Ross gets a bit of a pass for at least being better than last year (yay?), but the Raps would have needed their All-Star and this year’s Sixth Man of the Year to shoot over 30 percent from the field and 20 percent from long range to have stood a chance in this series (groundbreaking theory, I know). Vasquez has been halfway decent on offence, but he’s been a sieve on defence, as the Raptors have allowed a robust 8.2 more points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor than when he’s been on the bench.
This was supposed to be the year they went further and improved upon that first-round exit last year versus the Brooklyn Nets. But now they sit after just three playoff games with their series on “life support,” as Coach Dwane Casey called it after Friday’s game. But maybe, that takes off all the pressure. “There’s a freedom and also added pressure on their part,” said Casey, putting it back on the opponent. “One of the hardest things to do in the NBA and all the series I’ve been involved in is to close out a series. That’s going to be the pressure they have on them.”
Casey said the second-year player looks like a different person than the one the Raptors saw in the regular season. “He’s the guy who has made big plays,” Casey said. “Not only shots, but big plays, winning plays, rebounding, defending.” Although the final minute was deflating, the Raptors went through Saturday’s practice focused on how they can steal a win in Game 4 and move the series back to Toronto. “We’ve just got to go out there and try to get one game,” Lowry said. “Whatever it takes. Try to get one game. We know close out games to win the series is always the toughest game to win for the other team. We’ve got to go out there and make it as tough as possible.”
The Wizards have outrebounded the Raptors in this series 151 to 117 throughout the first three games, but they allowed 22 second chance points from the Raptors in game 3. They also turned the ball over 17 times and that, coupled with 10 offensive rebounds, gave the Raptors 23 more shots than the Wizards in game 3. It’s great that the Wizards were able to withstand losing the possession battle and still win the game, but that isn’t traditionally how things work in the NBA. The Raptors bailed the Wizards out with some awful shots and they also allowed seven offensive rebounds themselves, but the Wizards can’t allow them to generate extra possessions like they did and win the game.
“Regular season is a completely different animal than the playoffs. That’s one thing,” Lowry said. “Two, these guys are playing extremely well. Their guards are playing well, their bigs are playing defense well and their game-planning has been on point.” Teammate Lou Williams has been off as well. Named Sixth Man of the Year during this series, Williams has shot 30.0 percent from the field and 2 of 15 from beyond the arc. Perhaps the biggest difference maker for Washington has been Paul Pierce. In his 12th postseason appearance, Pierce has scored 16.0 points per game, up from 11.9 during the regular season, and has twice come through in crucial late-game situations.
In NBA history, there have been 110 instances where a team fell behind 3-0 in a playoff series. In those 110 times, no team trailing has rallied to win the series … Washington has taken Lou Williams entirely out of Toronto’s offence, as the current NBA Sixth Man of the Year is just 12-for-40 from the field and 2-for-15 from three-point range … With 17 assists in Game 2 and 15 assists in Game 3, John Wall is the first player to have at least 15 assists in back-to-back playoff games since Steve Nash did it in 2010 … The Raptors have won to extend a playoff series five times in their history … DeMar DeRozan has scored 20 or more points in 10 playoff games; Vince Carter holds the franchise record with 11 games of 20-plus points.
Shootarounds were introduced by teams so that players would be forced to come in early and hopefully not party as late the night before. That’s the sole reason they exist, because from a basketball point-of-view, shooting casual open jumpers in the morning isn’t going to influence what you do at 7:30 PM that night. In light of that, the Ratpors have cancelled shootaround, and a cynical view of it might be that they’ve folded:
Raptors scrap shootaround for Game 4.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
Nevertheless, there’s some quotes coming out from Washington which paint a picture of resignation more than fight.
Amir on no pressure now: "We've got nothing else to lose … We have to get it by any means, or else it's curtains."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
DeRozan said he got 2 hours of sleep last night. Amir said he had some chicken wings, milk & cookies, which put him "right out" (actually)
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
DeRozan was asked whether he regrets responding to Pierce before the series began:
Asked DeRozan if he could go back would he have not responded 2 Pierce: "Nah Nah. It’s part of the game Why not? Nothing would have changed”
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 25, 2015
Nothing would have changed? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, master troll and future Hall of Famer, posted this on his Twitter:
— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) April 25, 2015
Please notify the burn unit. Seriously, though, I would love to have a character and veteran like Pierce on our team. They’ll probably get killed by Atlanta, but man, to do anything in the playoffs you need someone with his swagger and confidence, because that sort of thing rubs off on everyone in the locker-room.
Dwane Casey spoke as well, first conceding that he was surprised by Otto Porter Jr., and then going some ways to clarify the ‘do or die’ phrase, just in case we thought he meant that the players were going to literally die if they lose Game 4.
Casey: "For us, it’s do or die…. And die doesn’t mean we’re going to die, die means the series is over"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
Casey on Otto Porter: "He's really improved. From when he played at the beginning of the year to now, he's a different person"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 25, 2015
Props to these guys:
— Kat Stefankiewicz (@MatterofKAT) April 25, 2015
I’ll leave you with some Casey quotes from last night as well:
Dwane Casey on Paul Pierce at the "four". pic.twitter.com/CajHFRKDMk
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 25, 2015
Dwane Casey: "Our game plan was good…our defense was solid" (Wizards shot 47%)
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 25, 2015
Whatever. See this Breaking It Down post I made. That’s apparently good defense and not being beaten because of a failure to matchup against the four.
It can’t be said that the Raptors didn’t show up for last night’s game with everything they had. No fan can rightly claim to have been left wanting for effort, focus or desire. It has also become unfortunately clear that no one claim that the Washington Wizards aren’t simply better than the Toronto Raptors. The Wizards have a much higher ceiling than the Raptors, and they’ve elevated their game towards it, while the Raptors remain unable to even make it back to the plateau they found months ago.
The Raptors came out strong, playing about as well of an offensive first quarter as they have in them. They were able to drive to the basket and DeMar found the breathing space he’s been gasping for all series, scoring 20 points on 11 shots in the opening frame. Washington was able to keep pace offensively though, and they quickly slammed the defensive door shut shortly into the second quarter.
The storylines from game 1 and game 2 again played out throughout game 3. The Raptors were simply unable to contain John Wall, who tore them apart getting to the rim at will, dishing to open shooters whenever the Raptors would collapse as a group to try and stop him and picking apart the Raptors slow footed bigs in the pick and roll. Jonas Valanciunas looked lost and confused throughout the first half trying to choose between sticking with his man and picking up one of the speedy Washington guards in the pick and roll. While Valanciunas was either better or on the bench in the second half, Patrick Patterson become the Wizards victim of choice, as he spent much of his defensive minutes scattering around from high to low, desperately trying to close a gap between him and the ball handler or shooter that he was always a step or two too many away from. Washington figured out how to score on the Raptors before the series started, and the Raptors bench brain trust has been either unable or unwilling to adjust to the small ball Wizards. James Johnson remained stubbornly on the bench, as the Raptors were unable to contain Paul Pierce, Otto Porter or Drew freaking Gooden. Drew Gooden! Otto Porter! Drew Gooden was out of the league 16 months ago and Otto Porter’s fate looked optimistically as a fringe rotation player just months ago. Both of those players have been a better in their roles for Washington than anyone short of Amir Johnson for the Raptors. And the Raptors have made it easy on them, assigning Tyler Hansbrough or Patrick Patterson to defend them. Neither one of those players is put in a position where they can succeed when they’re forced to float too far away from the basket to be relevant inside and forced to sprint out to challenge a shot that they either can’t make it in time for or foolishly leave their feet at a pump fake on only to watch their cover dribble unabatedly to the basket. Playing the same scheme on both sides of the court and hoping for better results based purely on ‘effort’, as Casey implied was the problem in an earlier press conference, is madness. The results are in on these matchups, and they don’t came out in our favor.
Offensively, the Raptors ran out of steam. Lowry is clearly playing injured, and apparently sick as well. His jump shot has no lift, and while he can throw himself around the floor for rebounds, loose balls and on defense and still see results, the lack of power in his legs has everything he puts up from outside hitting the front of the rim or even air balling. DeMar found a bit of breathing room in the first quarter, but the Wizards smothered him moving forward, taking away any semblance of a good shot, knowing that DeMar would take some bad ones and that sometimes the lack of movement and spacing in the Raptors offense would force him into others. Lowry and DeRozan were both inefficient again in the pick and roll, not even looking for the roll man, who in Amir Johnson’s case was wide open for an easy layup several times, and were instead swallowed by the Washington pick and roll defense which has operated against the Raptors as essentially a two man trap, with both big man and ball defender selling out to take away the ball handlers shot. Grievis Vasquez didn’t have a particularly strong game, but he was the only Raptors wing thus far to try going hard away from the screen to counter the Wizards stacking the driving lane, and he found a bucket and an assist in the two chances he got to try it. This is the kind of adjustment the Raptors needed wholesale a game and a half ago if they were to make something of the series.
Credit goes to the Raptors for fighting, hanging on and somehow almost tying this game late in the 4th quarter last night. They badly wanted it. But that’s probably as close as they can get if Washington is going to play hungry and engaged, as they did for the final 3 quarters. The Wizards have arguably gotten 5 of the best 6 performances in the entire series, with Amir Johnson being the only Raptors player you could make a case for playing better than one of the Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat or Paul Pierce trio. The Wizards have adjusted their own game from the regular season and adjusted to their opponent. The Raptors haven’t made an adjustment since training camp. If you’re expecting the results to be different in game 4, I’m really not sure what your justification for thinking so is. If you’re looking to feel better, then watch this clip of a puppy playing the drum solo from ‘In the Air Tonight’, because there isn’t any good news to be found here.
Blake asked me to write a Breaking It down segment, so here goes. I loathe to do this to you
I’m going to focus on how the Raptors, in crunch time, couldn’t deal with Marcin Gortat screens. Gortat had 24 points on 11-15 FG, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, and had a virgin sacrificed for him after the final whistle.
What’s this dribble-handoff you speak of?
You’d think the amount of dribble-handoffs the Raptors run they’d know how to defend one by now. Just look at how much they overplay the ball-handler (try not to laugh at Ross’s jump), and they’re still not able to prevent him from getting to the rim. Amir Johnson, after overplaying has no communication with Ross and his move to get back to Gortat provide enough space to Beal to get to the rim as DeMar DeRozan’s drop-down isn’t quick enough. If Beal had managed to pass the ball back to Gortat, he would’ve had either a layup, or a pass back out to Pierce for an open three. The heart of the Raptors defense here is completely broken by a dribble-handoff.Direct Link
The silent quadruple-team
Here’s another Gortat screen, and both defenders go under it (what?) and there’s zero ball-pressure on Wall. To make matters worse, Patterson is sagging off of Porter and showing help on Wall even though he’s 10 feet away, leaving Porter wide open. For that matter, even Ross is coming down from the corner so Wall basically has his choice of shooter to pick out. This is essentially a quadruble-team with John Wall (based on minimal action) consuming Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross. This is possibly the easiest basket Washington got all night, and it happened with the game on the line.Direct Link
Weak-side switching is in fashion
Another Gortat screen. Amir Johnson gets caught in no-man’s land, he’s not guarding Gortat or pressuring Wall, and on the weak side there’s immense confusion between Ross and Patterson who are switching for some reason. This weak-side switching is typical of the Raptors defense and always backfires. Weak-side switching is a dangerous thing because it’s usually caused by secondary action in the offense to create an open look for an off-the-ball man, and it’s alarming how easy it was for Pierce to get this wide open a look in crunch time.Direct Link
You can’t spell rotate without spelling rot
Another Gortat screen, this time played relatively well to start by Johnson as he’s at least blocked Wall’s path. The release-valve is Gortat, and DeRozan collapses on him as Johnson’s still getting back. Gortat’s pass to Pierce is a simple one and it’s an easy three. The rotation back out to Pierce is never made – my guess is that’s either Lowry or Johnson. This is basically one possible outcome of the first play shown in this post. Washington wants you to trap the big, so that they can free up their perimeter shooters, and the Raptors never really understood this.Direct Link
All of the above is very basic. The Wizards are running an offense about as complicated as a middle school team, and the Raptors have proven ill-equipped to handle even initial action on sets. The aggressive trapping of the ball-handler is continually costing the Raptors because they’re not sharp enough to recover from that initial shift in the defense. Lacking defenders with instincts is a problem, and couple that with being asked to trap/rotate, the probability of missed rotations and fatigue rise.
Kudos to Randy Wittman for realizing that the Raptors had serious trouble, 1) having the PG stick with John Wall on a high screen, 2) the big making the rotation down to Gortat after trapping the ball-handler, and 3) making a secondary rotation in the event of help collapsing on Gortat.
I can’t write more. I’ve been flogging this horse for four months now.
After Game 3, I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel wronged. I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel frustrated. I only feel disappointment because I believed in this team.
“What is it,” DeRozan said, “like 0-111 or something like that?” Actually, it’s 0-110 but by Sunday it could be 0-112. As in the times a team has come back to win a series after falling going down 0-3. Never. The Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans will try to avoid sweeps on Saturday before the Raptors try to win some respect Sunday. Yes, there’s a first time for everything and when they drag themselves back to the Verizon Center Sunday the Raptors will try to buck themselves up with such motivation. But the reality in this moment is that they’re all but done and the defeat was setting in. If they lose on Sunday they will feel some relief that it’s over, they’ll have reached a level of acceptance over the following 48 hours. The sting of realization can sometimes be sharper than the final blow.
Pierce, who finished with 18 points, pushed the Raptors to the brink of elimination by showing them, along with his young Wizards teammates, what “It” exactly is. Entering the playoffs, Pierce ruffled the Raptors organization by telling ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he didn’t fear Toronto because the Raptors didn’t have “It.” The Raptors said they didn’t know what Pierce meant by “It.” They should know by now. “It” is drilling a 3-pointer when your team is clinging to a one-point lead with 6:39 left against a desperate team looking for any life in this series. “It” is delivering yet another back-breaking trey to push your team up 98-90 with 1:58 left.
“I thought Kyle played his heart out,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Again, his shot didn’t fall. That’s basketball. He’s our leader and he set the tone for us early. He played like the old Kyle — except his shot.” At one point in the third quarter Lowry had missed eight consecutive shots and DeRozan had missed 10 in a row. The rest of the Raptors tried to make up the difference. Toronto took an 85-84 lead with 6:01 left in the fourth quarter after a dunk by Amir Johnson, who was one of the Raptors’ few bright spots. He made 6-of-7 field goals and had a game-high 12 rebounds with three assists.
“In this situation, we’ve never been in it,” Lowry said. “It’s like a Game 7 for us every single game starting Sunday. We’re down 0-3 and everyone knows the history of it.” Another fast start gave the Raptors hope they could creep back into the series, but a 10-point first-half lead vanished even before the two teams headed to their locker rooms at halftime. Point guard John Wall finished with 19 points and 15 assists to lead Washington and forward Marcin Gortat added 24 points and 12 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 32 points — including 22 in the first half.
Once Otto Porter checked into the game, DeRozan cooled down. DeRozan scored just two points in the second quarter. Porter’s used his length to disrupt him and DeRozan missed all four of his shot attempts. He even got under his skin at one point, and DeRozan picked up a technical foul. It seems like Porter became a legitimately good defender overnight. Pierce’s influence has been evident throughout the entire roster, but he’s done a great job of lifting Porter’s confidence. Toronto’s offense became stagnant and Marcin Gortat protected the rim tremendously.
“He’s rolling to the basket,” Wall said. “They’re switching up their coverages sometimes. Sometimes they’re trapping me. Sometimes they’re playing soft. And we told Marc just to be ready, sitting in the pocket, be aggressive when you get the ball and make the right reads. He made some key assists to guys to make three-pointers.” Gortat played 10 minutes, 23 seconds in the fourth quarter and has missed just nine of his 30 field-goal attempts through the three games. At the other end, he frustrated Jonas Valanciunas into missing six of 10 shots and anchored another strong defensive showing from the Wizards. “I thought Marcin was solid for us in the middle again for us,” Wittman said. “Really good.”
What went wrong for the Wizards: Simply put, the third quarter was a rough one for Washington. Four straight turnovers, three straight misses and four surrendered second-chance buckets allowed Toronto to take the lead late in the period despite its own offensive issues. The off shooting extended to the foul line, where the Wizards went 22 for 31 and kept the streaky Raptors in contention until the end. Rather than rely on what got them the lead — the pick-and-roll and pushing the tempo — the Wizards lived (see above) and, indeed, almost died by the three, with 17 misses. With Washington failing to dominate the boards as it had been through the first two games, those long misses made for quick, wasted possessions. Their 17 turnovers did them in on other occasions, many of them a product of stagnant play.
John Wall is the best player on the floor in this series, and it’s not close Listening to someone pick a team to win a playoff series because they have the “best player on the floor” can get tiring after a while, mainly because there are so many cases where the team with the best player on the floor doesn’t end up winning. But when that happens, it’s usually because they can limit the “best player on the floor” in some way from doing what he wants to do. It’s much, much harder to beat the team with the “best player on the floor” when you can’t stop him. Through three games, it’s clear the Raptors can’t stop John Wall. Even though Wall had a rough night shooting (he was 5-15 from the floor) he had complete control of the game. Don’t just look at the 15 assists. Don’t just look at how well Marcin Gortat benefitted from Wall. It’s a shame that we’re not getting to see a full-fledged Wall vs. Lowry battle in this series, as it seems pretty clear Kyle Lowry isn’t fully healthy.
Drake showed up fashionably late at the Verizon Center and was booed lustily as he walked to his courtside seats. He seemed to enjoy the attention … This is what Washington does that the Raptors don’t: One basket in the first quarter, the Wizards passed the ball nine times before coming up with an easy bucket … Kyle Lowry started strongly for the Raptors even though there was some discussion his pre-game illness was going to keep him from the game. He hit two three-points shots within the first three minutes and no more shots in the first half, finishing the half with six points, below what’s generally expected of him … Amir Johnson isn’t supposed to be the Raptors’ most complete player, but he was again Friday night
DeMar DeRozan started hot, but lost all of his momentum after Q1. He had a franchise-record 20 points in the first quarter, ending the contest with 32 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Unfortunately, DeRozan couldn’t keep his composure late, earning a technical foul after pushing Otto Porter. His unseemly foul was indicative of the whole team’s frustration.
The Raptors played with more backbone on Friday evening. The process was not sound, but they clearly looked like they cared. “As far as our compete level, I thought it was big time,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We played extremely hard,” Kyle Lowry added. And it did not matter. This team, as currently constructed, is plainly not good enough, with an offensive style that is not yielding clean looks and a defence with no structural integrity. The Washington Wizards took Game 3 106-99, and now the Raptors are down 3-0. If they are to come back, they are going to have to defy 110 previous teams that have tried and failed to come back from that deficit.
Defence: C+ Toronto didn’t lack effort on defence tonight as they were able to force the Wizards into committing 17 turnovers. What killed the Raptors on defence was their inability to close out possessions and their over-help on the ball-handler driving to the rim. The coverage on Marcin Gortat was slack all game until Tyler Hansbrough came in the game and really provided that interior grit the Raptors are always lacking. Second possessions really hurt the Raptors as well, for the Wizards were able to capitalize on those opportunities and get their crowd into the game.
It was clear out of the gates that DeRozan took his own words to heart, putting forth an historic offensive onslaught. His 20 points were a Raptors franchise record for a single quarter in a playoff game, surpassing Vince Carter’s 19 in the second quarter against Philadelphia from 2001. It wasn’t enough to cover up Toronto’s defensive issues, though, as Washington only trailed by two at 35-33 after 12 minutes of action. The Wizards shot a scorching 58.3 percent from the field, with Marcin Gortat contributing 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
As is their way, the Raps fought to the end, but Pierce sank a ridiculous three with a hand in his face after Kyle Lowry had rung off five straight to pull Toronto to within three. “He’s been doing it since he got in the league,” said a dejected DeMar DeRozan, who saw a 32-point performance go to waste. “He is who he is. Next time, we’ve just got to run him off and finish at the basket.” Pierce scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth while Marcin Gortat added 24. A clearly ill Lowry was 5-for-22 for 15 points.
Pierce didn’t factor much in the Washington win in Game 3 until it really mattered. Until the game was on the line. Until it was crunch time. Then he did what he has always done. He made a difference. At the age of 37. In his 17th season. In his 151st playoff game. He hit one three-point shot and then almost-death shot with just seconds left to provide Washington with the win. “Those were big moments,” said Randy Wittman, the Washington coach. “That’s why we brought him here. He’s not scared of the moment. He’s never been scared of the moment.”
Every time a Raptor went up to the charity stripe, the video board promised fans a free sandwich from Chick-fil-A if he missed the pair, so the place got deafeningly intimidating. Washington veteran Drew Gooden was physical and provided key points. Still, the Raptors manufactured some key turnovers and kept scoring on pace. A Lowry-to-Amir Johnson alley-oop dunk put Toronto in the lead, then seconds later, Washington’s dominating big man Marcin Gortat delivered a put-back to steal it right back. Porter and Terrence Ross traded monster three-pointers. The tug-of-war was relentless. In the final three minutes, Washington just dug in harder, punctuated by big shots from Paul Pierce, ones that put the game too far out of Toronto’s reach.
It Was Over When: Paul Pierce drilled a three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up six. Pierce’s shot came after a long three from Kyle Lowry to make it a one-possession game with 40 seconds remaining. The victory gives Washington a 3-0 series lead. Turning Point: After DeMar DeRozan got off to a sensational start — setting a franchise record for points in a quarter with 20 in the opening period — the Wizards put Otto Porter on him. Porter’s length gave DeRozan trouble and he was unable to get back into the groove he had to start the game. The second-year player has been huge for Washington in the series on both ends of the floor.
“They’ve done a great job of keeping the ball out of me, Lou and DeMar’s hands, and making us take tough shots,” Lowry said after it was over, speaking of teammates Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan. “Our offence hasn’t been on the same cylinder as it was early in the year.” When Lowry’s team has needed him most, in a crucial game that could have transformed the series from futile to hopeful, he simply couldn’t deliver a marquee-worthy masterpiece. Instead, he produced a third straight dud that even a career playoff high 32-point night from DeMar DeRozan couldn’t paper over. In the first two games, Lowry was undone by foul trouble. In Game 3, save for some late fireworks that kept the Raptors within a possession in the dying moments, he was simply foul.
DeRozan was hitting some impossible shots early on: a pair of three-pointers from the elbow, a spot where he only hit one during the entire regular season, a tough runner off of the glass and a series of mid-range jumpers. He scored 20 points in the first quarter, a franchise post-season record. When that disappeared, the Raptors were left with precious little. On the second-last possession before the half, DeRozan sized up Wizards swingman Otto Porter, who has done such an excellent defensive job this series. DeRozan waved his hand, signaling for his teammates to clear out. He attempted to shake Porter with the dribble, failing. He then attempted a fall-away jumper with a foot on the three-point arc. It drew nothing but air. “I just missed shots,” DeRozan said about what changed. “They didn’t do nothing at all. Every shot I took felt good, or I rushed it a little bit. They just didn’t do nothing.”
The Raptors are in a 3-0 series hole to Washington, and Andrew has been summoned to the pod from the back of a bar to explain why that is the case.
|Amir Johnson, PF 33 MIN | 6-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 12 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -3 +/-I love Amir. He’s been the heart of the team for so many heartless seasons. Despite his body breaking down at an incredibly worrying rate, I still fear that his time in a Raptors uniform may be coming to a close. I hate seeing him run though…my body has sympathy pains. Either way, great effort to battle by Amir. He is not what he once was, and I think his time as an impact player is ending, but he still can make a big play here and there.|
|Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +1 +/-The Raptors as a whole concede plenty of good looks on defense simply by overrotating. That’s not the case for Ross. Ross just gets lost, caught on every screen he tries to fight over, and forgets where is man is. He makes up for it at points by getting a steal or a help block (such as early in the first quarter), but for a player who is supposed to be 3 and D prototype he leaves much to be desired on defense…and often from 3.|
|Jonas Valanciunas, C 25 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +2 +/-Jonas was blocked three times in the first quarter…two by Drew Gooden. I felt like crying. He was abused all night by Gortat and looked two steps slow on all of his rotations. Huge disappointment.|
|Kyle Lowry, PG 38 MIN | 5-22 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | 0 +/-Lowry came to play early, which was a pleasant surprise considering the reports earlier in the day of him being ill. His shot wasn’t falling, but he was flying everywhere and easily had his best game of the series to date. Granted, that’s not a huge accomplishment considering his first two performances, but he was clearly more mentally engaged tonight.|
|DeMar DeRozan, SG 41 MIN | 11-29 FG | 7-7 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 32 PTS | -6 +/-DeRozan hit all three of his shots from deep in the first quarter. I almost called my doctor to set up an appointment for my eyes. I have no idea how DeMar goes through bursts of such success from three, and then struggles to hit anything.
Scoring 20 first quarter points (a franchise playoff record for points in a quarter), dominant doesn’t begin to describe how good DeMar was to start the game. The same cannot be said from the remainder of the game though as he would go on to score just 32 points despite starting with 20 in the first.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 12 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | 0 +/-Hansbrough and Nene seemed at points to be playing their own game: Who can successfully rip an arm off the other without getting called for a foul. Great battle that led to very little, but still the biggest contribution that Tyler offered.|
|Patrick Patterson, PF 27 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -13 +/-Shot well, but not regularly, and didn’t rebound: The Patrick Patterson Story.|
|Greivis Vasquez, PG 17 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -8 +/-He wasn’t terrible. So that’s an improvement. His performance was so unmemorable that ESPN had him listed as “Has Not Entered Game” yet in the third quarter.|
|Louis Williams, SG 18 MIN | 3-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -8 +/-The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year was missing in action. The man seems to either light the world on fire or fails to show up. Tonight we got bad Lou. Can’t defend well, and yet also couldn’t score.|
With his level of play, Valanciunas in no way deserved to play through his foul trouble, and yet Casey gave him that opportunity. I’m done trying to figure out how Casey makes his rotation decisions. My hope is that this move will pay dividends in the years to come as a learning opportunity for Jonas. I think the Raptors have better odds at winning this series than Casey has of returning to the Toronto bench next season.
Five Things We Saw
- The Washington crowd started the night with class by booing the Canadian anthem. I’ve got no beef with booing the opposition and making your home court difficult for the opposition, but booing an anthem is classless. Just because Canada set fire to the White House so many years ago, doesn’t mean you have to respond like this Washington. Can’t we be friends until tip off? At the very least the fans should realize that the Raptors are largely made up of American players.
- I hate Paul Pierce…I hate him so much. He wasn’t even very good and I was still distracted by how much I hate him.
- Beal is exceptional at drawing non shooting fouls. He clearly understands that his shooting forces his guard to chase so closely around screens, then he occasionally will just slam on the breaks and force his man to run straight through him. Vasquez in particular was taken advantage of this way.
- Drake was seen walking to his courtside seats halfway through the first quarter, and was met by resounding boos from the hostile Washington crowd. Clearly he didn’t win any of them over with his dap to Paul Pierce.
- Someone is inevitably going to complain about the officiating and blame it for the loss. Granted, the game was called poorly, but this was the case for both teams. The Raptors were simply outplayed and overmatched. If you let Drew Gooden dominate you then you deserve to lose, and now they likely have just 48 minutes remaining in their season.
Terrence Ross had a rough first half. He was burned off the dribble, consistently caught cheating off his man, and finished the first half with just 5 points and 1 assist. Ross seems to be doing his best to play his way out of the heart of even the most loyal fan.
At least he had one highlight in the first half, a big slam over Gortat in transition.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 25, 2015
Oh Terrence…why can’t I fully quit on you?
This page will be update constantly right up until tip-off. For our game preview, click here.
Just about an hour to tip-off and DeMar DeRozan writes on the Raptors blackboard: "Fuck It, Let's Get It." It's time to play Game 3.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) April 24, 2015
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) April 24, 2015
Red, white and blue pic.twitter.com/c928K1y5Js
— alex (@steven_lebron) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 24, 2015
— theScore (@theScore) April 24, 2015
Takeaway from Raptors shootaround here in DC: Kyle Lowry has a sniffle and a cough to go with the bruised shin and bad back.
— Dave Feschuk (@dfeschuk) April 24, 2015
Casey's message to his players today: "If you’re not going to Washington to compete, dont come out to the airport…" pic.twitter.com/qREs11LMEg
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 23, 2015
Kyle Lowry is 100% healthy. Or not. You try to figure it out.
While December 8, 2013 may not hold any historical reference, it does hold a special significance for this current Raptors squad. On this date, a little more than 16 months ago the infamous trade that sent Rudy Gay packing occurred. It’s also the day Kobe Bryant stepped on the Staples Center Court for the first time since his Achilles tendon injury. The short-handed Raptors led by Amir Johnson (who scored a career high 32 points) beat the Lakers.
At the time the Raptors were 6-12.
From this date forward the Raptors went 42- 22 in what I coined the magical season. Highlighting this period, Toronto never lost 3 games in a row, were one of two teams who didn’t suffer a 20 point loss and became known as fourth quarter defensive specialists. Moreover, the playoff starved fan base was witnessing games in May and demonstrating their enthusiasm not just inside the ACC but outside in Jurassic Park and even took over the opponents’ arena.
When the Raptors jumped out to a quick start this season, seemingly picking up where they left off the team and fans were riding high. Almost a year after that game in Los Angeles, on December 30th, the Raptors played perhaps their best game of this season in Portland, albeit losing a heart breaker in overtime. From this point forward something changed. The Raptors have had glimpses here and there since then, but they never fully resembled the 2013-14 squad you instinctively knew would be in every game regardless of the score entering that final frame.
Sure, there have been injuries and personnel changes, but the essence of last year’s team has been AWOL since the loss in Portland.
Entering tonight, the Raptors are in as close to a must win as they’ll get. The Raptors do boast the best Eastern Conference road record over the past two seasons (shared with Chicago) with 44 road victories so it’s not a situation that will unnerve their confidence. However, a third consecutive loss would no doubt induce Wizard fans to show up with brooms on Sunday. For athletes of professional sports and a team who took such pride in their on and off court chemistry this has to be beyond humbling.
Yet, players and coaching staff comments regarding why the team is down 0-2, why they didn’t play with a sense of urgency, didn’t bring enough energy or were playing too comfortable is disconcerting. This is the playoffs after all.
Certainly, they can’t be saying they weren’t prepared for Washington are they? Or weren’t aware of the position they were putting themselves in by losing back to back games on their home court (in the manner they did) right?
Was this an admission they had underestimated the Wizards and were playing with a view beyond this series or weren’t properly prepared? Or is this simply as some pundits have highlighted over the past few days, a matter of a team with far greater talent on its roster beating us?
If its motivation the squad is seeking there are countless articles, tweets, and interviews Casey and his staff can choose from:
Agent zero (Gilbert Arenas) has been spouting off for over a month now regarding both Toronto and Chicago as if he’s expecting to pull on a jersey and run out of that tunnel himself. Most analysts, national media and even knowledgeable fans have declared the series over given the 93.9% success rate of teams who go up 2-0 to start a series.
Perhaps the greater concern is the Washington players’ statements and actions which have been allowed to garner additional media coverage simply because they are winning. We expect it from Paul Pierce its part of his game. And whether you like the “Truth” or despise him, the fact is his comments were masterful, as it obviously got the Raptors focusing on something other than the product on the floor.
But, for the young Bradley Beal to be waving goodbye and curiously spouting off about Toronto “thinking that we’re some punks” (excuse me, but where exactly is he drawing this from? Even Pierce denied this was the case when asked post game). However, it should serve as more than ample inspiration to do exactly that.
From my perspective, at least if Casey is going to continue utilizing Psycho T in his starting line-up then why not have him send a statement early, similar to how Matt Barnes has played his enforcer role for the Clippers. If he’s only going to play in the first quarter then let’s see a hard foul the first time Beal tries to go baseline.
I’m not suggesting he try to injure anyone, but a hard legal foul to set the tone might go a long way to remind Washington (and maybe even the Raptors themselves) of what the Wizards should expect moving forward. In fact, the one player I don’t mind seeing foul out is Hansbrough. Especially if it comes courtesy of doling out 6-hard fouls on the Wizards’guards to send that message.
Of note: for all his bravado (admittedly deserved so far) even Beal might know the We The North faithful is expected to descend on Washington in droves.
We can break down the stats, pull up film clips and discuss the factors why Washington appears poised to book tickets to Atlanta or we can point out one simple fact. These Raptors became successful (even facing more talented teams) because they played as a team and their chemistry ostensibly gave them an edge. They played with a chip on their shoulder knowing they were underestimated and they took to the court with an attitude of “I’ll make you respect me”.
They’ve extolled on this chemistry, and in fairness, unlike many teams we don’t hear of locker room issues in Toronto. But, given that fact the team knows a loss Friday will equate to them handing Masai Ujiri the flint to ignite the dynamite, tonight is their opportunity to respond.
So, if this team truly is as close as they say (and we’ve seen) that should be enough motivation on its own. Further, the fan base who has traveled around the league to overtake arenas in support has earned the privilege of witnessing their very best effort.
Honestly, we could care less what other people say about us. You know if it’s fans, the critics, reporters, analysts, it doesn’t matter. Had we worried about that, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. Especially last year where everyone was doubting us, and we were able to turn things around. So, with us we understand we’re pretty much playing with our backs against the wall. Game 3, is basically a game that we have to have, plain and simple, black and white. We cannot lose Game 3, and we are all on the same page. We all understand that and we all know we all have to bring our “A” Game and focus. – Patrick Patterson
Don’t get me wrong, I actually expect the Raptors, and more specifically Kyle Lowry to put forth exactly that this evening. Notably, the last time Lowry had back to back games with less than double digit scoring it was March 18th (the last game he played prior to sitting out initially for rest) and March 24 (the game he tried to return in Detroit and played 10 minutes). It was the only time this season that anomaly occurred.
Regardless of the future coaching situation, the injuries, the whistles or the talent across from them, what needs to be present tonight is no question regarding effort, desire, urgency or focus. As much as this series may well be over, a win tonight would at least salvage some pride for this squad and more importantly showcase to the fans they aren’t just getting lip service. Besides, just like the old sports adage goes … you take it one game at a time and you never know what can happen. It is after all the Wizards, who we have had a long history of battles against (Mo Pete hail Mary anyone?)
So, as the Raptors take to the court at the Verizon Center tonight, there should be one goal and one goal only – to bring their very best and earn back some respect: from the media, from the supportive fan base and perhaps most importantly for themselves.
You’ve read plenty of excellent analysis from my fellow writers and across the internet in the past few days, so let’s get down to brass tacks with this pre-game: the Raptors are heading into Washington tonight for an opportunity to not only save their season, but also save face.
Now, I’m not saying that a win, a great performance, even a blowout will be enough to quiet the critics and stifle the talk of repairing all the holes on this roster. It won’t. But what it will do is provide validation: that this season wasn’t a fluke, that the Raptors are, possibly, better than their middling record since the All-Star break (and certainly better than they’ve showed in games one and two), and that this team’s philosophy can actually work against good teams with the intensity dial turned up to 11.
With that all being said, here’s three things I want to see, and three things I don’t want to see, in the advance of tonight’s game 3 (8:00PM EST/ESPN2/TSN):
Things I want to see
- The Raptors playing like they have nothing to lose: Because at this point, to be honest, they don’t. The last two games, we’ve seen the Raptors play like a team with everything to lose: tentative to change their game plan, afraid to show unconventional sets or looks, and, quite frankly, unable to respond emotionally to the Wizards, despite a home crowd that was much better to them than they deserved. After dropping two games at home, the series is over if we don’t see a hail mary pass – so for god’s sake, let’s see one. Standing still in this case is certain death, while going out guns blazing at least gives the possibility of a different outcome.
- Bounce back games from Lowry and DeRozan: And here lie the two men who must be catalysts of the effort. We’ve seen both of these players play the leadership role extremely effectively over the past couple seasons – to act like they can’t do it here is selective memory. Lowry, in particular, needs to up his intensity and revert back to what worked in the past. If I were the Raptors coaching staff, I wouldn’t be making him watch game film from the first two games of the playoffs, but instead, film from last season, when he managed to find that level between chucker and distributor and only took the game into his own hands when it was absolutely necessary. Even a marginal performance from Lowry would have swung game one, as bad as the Raptors played, and they’ll need a lot more than that against a volatile Washington crowd.
- Amir Johnson in the starting lineup: I don’t even care if he plays starter’s minutes, honestly. I realize that there is a case to be made that the Raptors’ starting five has been the only unit that’s been better than the Wizards this playoffs, but Tyler Hansbrough has been basically a net zero on the stat sheet, and moving Amir into the starting lineup reunites the five players who were the catalyst of this team at its best. The gesture may be largely symbolic, but could provide a spark in giving this team an emotional lift (side note: if this happens, bench Hansbrough, plug James Johnson into his spot in the rotation, go with 9, and use Chuck Hayes if rebounding/fouls are needed. I’m serious).
Things I don’t want to see
- A coach changing his game plan to the whims of the fans; or, a coach without his own gameplan: Yes, it was good to see Dwane Casey get James Johnson into the rotation during game two. However, something about the moment seemed a tad perverse. You couldn’t shake the fact that the only reason Johnson was plugged in was because of the uproar between games 1 and 2, and Casey going: ‘you know what? If everyone’s so upset about this guy not playing, I guess I should play him.’ The Raptors have had two games now to suss out how Washington plans to play them: double the three iso-heavy players on the wings, crash the offensive glass – with no discernable changes, besides the aforementioned Johnson swap, which, again, I’m not entirely convinced came from the coaches’ room. For Casey, more than anyone, this is time to put up or shut up.
- A massive Washington rebounding advantage: The Raptors have been outrebounded by an average of 15 boards over the last two games. No matter how strong the Wizards’ frontline is, that is an unacceptable number, especially when the answer (BOX OUT!!!) is so stark. This, likely, is an effort statistic, as well as a playing style statistic (the Wizards have been playing a crash-heavy style, while the Raptors’ iso game leaves more mid-range shots and long boards), but it’s something that needs to be addressed for the team to have any chance of winning tonight. Everyone will need to pitch in, as it’s not something the bigs have the ability to do on their own.
- Coasting: By this point, these Raptors are seasoned enough to know that you can’t just play well for the first and fourth quarters and expect to win a game, yet that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the past two matchups. Everything is on the line tonight. If you can’t get up for 48 minutes in this one, then what’s the point of any of this?
Vegas has the Wiz favoured by four. Give me the Raptors by 4. I don’t think Lowry or DeRozan are going to take a sweep lying down, and, quite honestly, I expect a major bounce back performance from the team that will be partially fool’s gold, but a lot of fun to watch. And hell, no matter how badly the team is playing, I’m not picking against them in game 3 of a playoff series. Are you kidding me? Ride or die. Let’s go Raptors.
“All of our shooters, it’s important that they come out with that swag, that confidence. Next shot. Next play . . . You’ve got tot have that kind of belief, when everything else, when everyone is (saying) doomsday, it’s basketball. You’ve got to have that belief, no matter what it is, that you’re going to get the job done.” So confidence, then, is what you’re saying. “I don’t sense any give-in or give-up from anybody,” Casey said. “Like I told them, if you’re not going to Washington to compete, don’t come out to the airport. We’ll get you a nice meal back here in Toronto, in a restaurant, to watch it on television. But nobody stepped forward, so that meant that everybody on the plane is ready to go to compete.” That’s how bad Game 2 was, people; it was challenge-your-manhood bad. If you need to talk about having confidence that much — and make no mistake, Casey does — then you saw something pretty awful on the tape. But beyond the need to execute basketball in a whole pile of different ways, the Raptors need to commit, and stay committed. They didn’t in Game 2, so the Wizards got to chirp.
By the end of the game, Wizards veteran Paul Pierce was laughing on the court. The 37-year-old has become an unexpected factor in the series, having scored 20 points in Game 1, and serving as a perimeter-oriented power forward that confounded the Raptors on the defensive end again in Game 2. Confidence has not been a problem for the Wizards. “They think that we’re some punks,” guard Bradley Beal told the U.S. broadcast at halftime on Tuesday. “They think they can push us around. But we’re not rolling.” Pierce, as he left the court at the end of the game, reportedly yelled at the crowd: “I don’t want to go through customs no more.”
At least off the court, this team hasn’t lost its confidence, they’re not hanging their heads. On the court however, that’s been a completely different story, as the Wizards have pushed them around in just about every way you can think of. Washington has out-rebounded the hosting Raptors by 30 in the first two meetings, including 14 on the offensive glass. They have doubled, blitzed and pressured Toronto’s all-star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry, limiting them both and completely taking the latter out of this series. No one else has stepped up enough to make up the difference. On top of it all, the Wizards have acted the part. They’re talking trash and backing it up. “That’s all the game of basketball, whether it’s playoffs, whether it’s preseason, whether it’s a regular season game, whether it’s going up against your rival opponent, there’s always trash talking,” Patterson said. There’s always explicit language, there’s always pushing and shoving, there’s always a physical nature of the game. It’s just the competitive part of the game. And we embrace it, they embrace it, if you’re an athlete you embrace it.”
In the moments after a Game 2 demoralizing beatdown by the Washington Wizards, opposing coach Randy Wittman took the podium and talked about what was required to finish off the Toronto Raptors. Like every coach in the history of sport, with few exceptions, he took pains to ensure he didn’t provide any bulletin-board material for the still-reeling opponents who went from favoured and owners of home-court advantage to more or less vanquished in the matter of four days. The series isn’t over, the snore-inducing Wittman contended. From here on out every game is only going to be tougher, he insisted. It’s very hard to win four games, he continued. This was a message to his own team as much as for media purposes — but it was also about the most hopeful thing said involving the home side all evening long.
If Porter and Wall continue to hit their shots, it’s going to make it exponentially harder for Toronto to climb back into the series. Stopping Wall and Beal in transition and limiting the impact of Nene, Marcin Gortat and Paul Pierce are huge, but the Raptors know they can’t stop everything. “That was the difference in a lot of their offensive possessions, John Wall (was) making his threes, Otto Porter made his threes,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “From a defensive standpoint, you’ve got to live with something. There are certain things they’re doing that we have decided to live with. “Now the game of adjustments, what do we do next to compensate for what they did well offensively against us. That’s part of the playoff process, but the one thing we can’t do is go in with a lack of confidence.”
NBA players have complained from the day the Raptors arrived on the scene in 1995 about the inconvenience of having to go through customs, a daily occurrence for any traveller who needs to cross the border. That’s not going to change, but Pierce’s declaration spoke to the urgency the Wizards must now embrace. They know they’ve got the Raptors on the ropes and they know how important it is to go for the jugular Friday night in Game 3. When a team is down, players of Pierce’s ilk understand there’s no room for complacency.
Pierce scored a team-high 20 points in the Wizards’ overtime win to open the series, and afterwards talked about embracing the villain role and doing anything necessary to give his team a mental edge. “He’s got the psychological momentum from last year,” Bloom said. “And now he’s pushing it a little further.” As a member of the Brooklyn Nets last season, Pierce keyed a Game 1 comeback win in Toronto and blocked Kyle Lowry’s would-be series-clinching attempt at the end of Game 7 to advance to the second round. The Raptors are more frustrated with their play on the court at this point than anything else. But after Game 1, Greivis Vasquez put an end to any more questions from the media regarding Pierce. “He’s a Hall of Famer who knows what he’s doing,” Vasquez said. “We give him a lot of credit. He’s got everybody’s attention. We don’t have any trash talkers in our locker room. Let him do the talking, and we’ll see at the end who wins the series. We give him a lot of respect. We’ll see what happens.” This series may not become a drawn-out psychological affair, especially if the Wizards finish the sweep this weekend with two home wins. But as we get deeper into the playoffs and the difference between two teams over a seven-game series shrinks, players and coaches will continue to search for that mental advantage.
Either Toronto’s role players are failing miserably at beating the Wizards. Or Lowry, DeRozan and Williams, showing little faith in their teammates, are failing more miserably by avoiding the correct pass and attempting to single-handedly beat the blanket coverage. It’s not working for Toronto, any way you slice it. Lowry, DeRozan and Williams are shooting a combined 33% from the field in the opening two games. Lowry alone is a dreadful 5-for-20. And nobody else on the squad has stepped up to punish the Wizards for doubling Toronto’s top-three scorers. It’s been ugly to watch. But the Raptors, at least, seem aware of the error of their ways. “With us, typically we start off early, we move the ball, we share the ball, we play great defence, we build up a lead. Then, I don’t know, something happens,” said Patrick Patterson, the slick-shooting forward.
Washington expects the series to become more difficult. Toronto will be fueled by desperation after losing home-court advantage. All-star point guard Kyle Lowry has been shackled by fouls, and his influence over the series, so powerful when he is on the floor, has been stifled by those whistles. Wall is able to dominate his backup, Lou Williams, and Beal is able to handle former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez, who ends up as a pseudo-shooting guard when Lowry is out of the game. Messages from each team were unified on Thursday. The Raptors called Game 3 the proverbial “must win.” The Wizards were back in chilly Verizon Center, fighting overconfidence that could come from turning the catbird seat into a full recliner. “We can play better and we’re going to have to play better,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “The experience always helps. I think going through what we did last year, winning the first two games in Chicago and coming home, Chicago brought the fight to us in Game 3. That’s going to be no different [on Friday]. Toronto’s going to bring the fight.”
“I’ve been saying it all year long: As they go, as we go,” Pierce repeated. Beal and Wall were dismal from the field Saturday but accumulated 15 rebounds and 14 assists to complement their stingy defense and refused to curb their aggression despite shooting 11 for 41. The stubborn assertiveness proved vital Tuesday, when they relentlessly attacked the Raptors’ defense instead of succumbing to traps and went berserk on offense. Wall posted 27 points and 16 assists to become the first player since Steve Nash in 2006 to compile at least 25 points and 15 assists in a road playoff game. Beal’s career playoff-high 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting were the most he’s scored since late December. “It’s a guard’s league right now, and in Washington you have two of the best guards playing,” NBA TV analyst and Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas said in a phone interview Thursday. “If they’re at the top of their game and they continue to play at the level that they’re playing offensively and defensively, they definitely can go far.”
The Raptors ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season. But through two playoff games, they rank 14th. Their offense was much better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1, but not good enough to keep up with their defensive issues. The problems on defense aren’t getting fixed overnight. The Wizards will continue putting Jonas Valanciunas in situations where he has to move his feet, and he will continue to not move them quickly enough. The Raptors ranked 26th defensively after Thanksgiving, and they’re probably not going to flip the switch on that end of the floor. So if Toronto is to give themselves a chance in this series by winning Game 3, they have to start looking like a top-five offense again. And to do that, they have to unlock their guards. It’s no secret that the Raptors’ offense is guard-heavy. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams were not only their three leading scorers by a wide margin, but also their leaders in usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions a player uses while he’s on the floor), with another guard – Greivis Vasquez – ranking fourth. The Wizards know this. The Toronto guards are the head of the snake, and that’s where Washington’s defense has been focused.
But as Gilbert Arenas said so articulately, soft? I wasn’t expecting the Raptors to still have that tag attached to them. This year, we had hoped to turn a corner with the return of Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough [a nickname he earned from his days at North Carolina, and a moniker he has successfully carried to his career in the pros], and James Johnson, a guy who was on every highlight show in North America for absolutely destroying one of the best and toughest post players in the game in Andre Drummond back in November. All seemed well, and I was convinced we had turned a corner. Then the last two games happened, and I find myself both cursing, and praising the name Paul Peirce.
The quickest resolution starts with trading Terrance Ross – when Demar was injured he had his chance to demonstrate his potential and failed. He’s been invisible both playoffs he’s been in. He’s still a young talent, he has skills and value. It would also involve trading Bruno to a team that has a NBA development team and a proper program to develop him. Sadly, Amir Johnson appears to be on the down slope of his career. If they can’t negotiate a suitable contract for him to come off the bench he should be let go. Finally, Fields’ horrible contract should not be renewed. Moving Fields, Ross, Caboclo, maybe Amir, and likely this year’s draft pick would allow the team to bring in a veteran starting small forward (through trade or free agency) that would allow the head coach to use a less taxing defensive structure. It would also give them the space to add 2-4 true veteran players with playoff experience and pedigree. That’s the quickest path for the Toronto Raptors to succeed. The longer path involves keeping coach Casey, and Ross. Developing Caboclo, even though the Raptors lack a minor league affiliate, and hoping that draft picks develop into players before the back court of Lowry and Derozan begin to age, or move on. In short, President Masai Ujiri’s future in Toronto likely will be decided by the moves he makes as soon as the Raptors off-season begins. Hopefully, they turn things around and he gets a brief reprieve from these tough decisions.
To be fair to Johnson, he wasn’t the only player who contributed to the Raptors cataclysm in the final two and a half quarters on Tuesday. As has been mentioned, Lowry got into foul trouble, Greivis Vasquez did absolutely nothing worth shimmying about and Williams added to his poor playoff shooting totals (5-13 FG; 0-4 3FG). Still, Johnson’s stat line of 4 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists for a -14 in seven minutes was gruesome. His play highlighted many of the reasons why he probably isn’t the magic elixir for the Raptors against Washington. Based on the skills that he brings to the table, and how those skills mesh with the rest of the team, there’s a case to be made that Johnson hurts rather than helps the Raptors in this particular match-up.
Game 1 was disappointing for both John Wall and Bradley Beal, who struggled all night offensively. They shot a combined 27% from the field despite taking nearly half of Washington’s shots, only to be bailed out by the clutch play of Paul Pierce and the rest of the Wizards. Game 2 however, was a completely different story. Wall had one of the best games of his career with 26 points and a whopping 17 assists (a franchise playoff record), while Bradley Beal aggressively drove to the rim all night and chipped in 28 points of his own. Toronto will be playing desperate tonight, so Washington will need its two brightest stars to have a repeat performance to hold them off. A little more trolling from Paul Pierce would go a long way too.
This might sound like a broken record, but if the Raptors want any chance to win this series, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have to coexist and play great basketball. DeRozan was able to have a much stronger game than he did in game 1, but Lowry did not improve whatsoever. Lowry actually suffered a right shin contusion toward the end of the game which has made guard play even harder for the Raptors. If Lowry isn’t healthy enough to compete with the likes of John Wall, the Raptors will not win this series. The other guards have to step up as well. The Raptors are guard heavy, and teams know that. Not only does Lowry, Williams, and DeRozan lead the team in scoring, they also lead the team in usage rates. The Wizards have built their game plan on shutting down the guards and it has worked to perfection so far. The Wizards are playing aggressive defence on the Raptor guards, not allowing them any breathing room to operate any kind of offence. You really get a sense of the Wizards defence on the guards from the photos below.
I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]
With multiple days off between playoff games, we’re once again left to sit and stew in disappointment. We, like the Toronto Raptors themselves, appear to be devoid of solutions for how to turn this series around.
Effort? This is the playoffs. Effort can’t possibly be an issue at this juncture, and if it is, there are far deeper problems with the individuals on the team than just the fit or a fading of their once-inexplicable and intangible chemistry. Toughness? Is that even measurable, and how does it impact a game in which the team’s killed on the defensive end for long stretches at a time? Tactical adjustments? What, beyond “play better,” is a good first step?
Nobody wanted to discuss any of these questions. I opened it up for mailbag questions on Twitter yesterday, and few of the responses had anything to do with Friday’s Game 3, what amounts to essentially a must-win in Washington. Instead, it was all about looking backward and, sadly, looking forward already.
— Jake Goldsbie (@JGoldsbie) April 23, 2015
This is a good place to start. The best answer I have is that it beats reality TV, and we’re all sick, sad, depraved idiots.
Probably not, and the pick still rubs me wrong. I know the team was already going to employ Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira, and so carrying a third rookie would have been tough, but there were a handful of solid options available at No. 37 that could have contributed on a more expedited timeline. Daniels wasn’t even really on the draft radar for most, and while he looked decent enough at Summer League, his Australian stats don’t exactly jump off the page – an unspectacular 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds on 39.6-percent shooting and, most disappointing, a 34.1-percent mark from outside. I didn’t see any of that action, but the Australian league isn’t a top international league and Daniels didn’t dominate. It’s hard to pencil him in for 2015-16 plans.
— David Rouben (@david_rouben) April 23, 2015
Zarar or Will. I’m sure you can tell which day by day.
Valanciunas certainly limits what they can do defensively, at least in his current form, but he’s slowly improved over his three years, and defense is about more than just the back-end protector. It’s tough to evaluate Valanciunas as an individual when he’s constantly left to defend a steady stream of penetrating guards. This isn’t to paper over his weaknesses – he’s not exactly quick, his reads are slow and his movements methodical, and he leaves his feet far too easily – but with better perimeter defense, he may not stick out as much. I think they’ll explore all options for improving the team but I don’t think Valanciunas and a top-10 defense are mutually exclusive.
— Char-Rad (@TLOUCC26) April 23, 2015
I mean…I guess? I like Boss Davis and he looked good with the Lakers this year, but he doesn’t figure to be more than a third or fourth rotation big. If he were backing up both spots as a pick-and-roll dive threat and being kept from man-defending on the block, sure, he’d be a nice piece. But if he’s the marquee add to the frontcourt or the Amir Johnson replacement, I don’t think things have gone very well.
Get better personnel?
In seriousness, lost in the disaster of a second quarter on Tuesday was that the Raptors actually defended a few of the Wall-Pierce pick-and-rolls well. In the one-five, the key is going to be to let John Wall take long jumpers. If Valanciunas is the big, he’s not going to do much hedging out on Wall anyway, so dropping back to keep Nene or Marcin Gortat close and to prevent an easy dive or drive, while daring Wall to shoot, is the best option. (This is admittedly hard to explain with text and not pictures, and it’s far easier if Amir Johnson is the center instead of Valanciunas, as he’s quicker to recover on to the dive man after showing onto Wall. It’s also easier if Wall dribbles to Otto Porter’s side of the floor, as the corner wing can then help disrupt the play with lesser threat of a kick-out for three.)
For what it’s worth, Wall shot 37.3 percent on jump shots this season and 35.8 percent from 16 feet and out. That’s preferable to the 100 percent it feels like the Wizards are shooting once Wall and his screener can both get beneath the foul line.
— Phallics Rios (@the_Zubes) April 23, 2015
There wasn’t a major piece available that would have moved the needle a great deal without sacrificing future pieces (one of their three first round picks in the next two drafts, Terrence Ross at the low point of his value). Obviously they could have used another wing defender that Dwane Casey trusted and maybe a rim protector off the bench, but those are needs that existed in the offseason, too. Without the benefit of access to what offers the team had available, the best I can say is that doubling down on chemistry correcting itself as the team was floundering was a poor gamble.
Not white. Those giveaway shirts have been awful.
— Devang Desai (@DesaiDevang) April 23, 2015
Weird as it is to say, hopefully “very.” If this is just what Lowry is and this is a sustained period of poor performance, that’s a scary thought. If his play late in the season is due to fatigue and a few minor injuries, then we can rest a little easier moving forward. Cross your fingers it’s correctable quickly – Lowry is shooting 37.2 percent since Dec. 30.
I know this is a joke, but if the Raptors were at home for Game 3, I’d totally dress Bruno at the end of the bench instead of Greg Stiemsma. Stiemsma is never going to see the floor, anyway, and if the game got out of hand again, at least Bruno would get the experience and bring the crowd back into the game. There’s no point on the road (or at all, if I’m being honest), though.
— Brian (@bkblades) April 23, 2015
The fundamental core issue is that the team doesn’t have good defenders. Lowry has been worse than his usual standard, Williams and Vasquez are bad-to-brutal, DeRozan is in the neighborhood of average, Ross is maddeningly inconsistent, and Valanciunas is a poor fit as the rock behind a shaky frontline. Some of this is on Casey for being inflexible in a hyper-aggressive scheme that doesn’t fit the personnel, and at this point it’s difficult to tell whether he’s actually a good defensive coach who’s been dealt poor hands or if he’s living off reputation and the inconsistent results paint an accurate picture. So…a little of Column A, a little of Column B (hot take, I know).
My guess would be that they don’t trust the passing instincts of Valanciunas at the elbows and because they want the ball in the hands of their guards. You occasionally see nice dishes from Johnson or Patterson out of pick-and-roll action, as each, especially Johnson, is a decent enough facilitator for a big. It’s just not how the Raptors’ offense operates, and you could replace “high low big to big” with any numbers of fun actions and ask why the Raptors don’t run them.
— Zoltan Tar (@ZoltanTar) April 23, 2015
I’m not sure it’s a forgone conclusion they go power forward there. Were Williams to talk, there are a number of quality point guards that should be available in that range, too. If they go power forward, I love Lyles – he’s Canadian, he might be able to play a little wing at the next level, I think his stroke is pure enough to venture out to the 3-point line defensively, and I think he’ll be a better defender in the post than he was on the wing in college. Unfortunately, I don’t think he gets to No. 20, nor do I really think Kevon Looney makes it that far (I’m a UCLA guy, so I’d be all on board with that), nor does Bobby Portis (who I think is going to be a really solid, if somewhat unspectacular, rotation big).
I like Harrell enough but his lack of a jump shot makes him a poor fit with the current core. Wood will be around, and I like him a lot, even if he doesn’t necessarily fit the Raptors timeline as someone a year or two away from reaching his potential. He can hit from the mid-range, he’s a terrific shot-blocker, and if used properly on defense, his lack of strength can be masked. Of the names you listed, I’d go: Lyles, Portis, Looney, Wood, Harrell, but I don’t think the Raptors will be choosing from that entire group.
@BlakeMurphyODC How does Amir as FA impact Raptors going forward? Should Raptors bring him back or find replacement? What’s a fair contract?
— Matt Shantz (@m_shantz) April 23, 2015
— David Bassily (@TRILLBASSILY) April 23, 2015
All of the offseason questions to come require a lot more space than I’m going to commit here, but the short answer is that I have no idea. My gut tells me that MLSE, seeing the All-Star Game on its way and the Leafs in for another bad year, will want to add to the core to ensure a quality team is out there, while Masai Ujiri likely sees this team for what it is and would like to begin shaping it in his own, non-Colangelo image.
As to your specific questions, I think Ross will be back (without an extension, heading to RFA) because it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to deal him at the very low point of his value. Let him play out a fourth year at a reasonable price, and make a call on his future with the team closer to next year’s deadline, when there’s a little more certainty as to his true talent. Johnson is a tougher one, because the team could use a power forward upgrade, but everyone would surely be sad to see Johnson go. If Johnson is willing to play along, I could see the Raptors feeling out the market for a power forward and then, if it bears no fruit, doubling back to Johnson on a shorter deal with a higher annual salary than he could get elsewhere. He may not be amenable to that, but I wouldn’t be comfortable opening the offseason with a new deal for Johnson in the ballpark of what he makes right now, much as I love him and he may be worth that dollar amount in a vacuum.
One thing about the offseason I want to be clear on: I would not trade this year’s pick or either of the two 2016 picks unless it can land a serious impact player. With the cap set to explode in 2016 without a resultant increase in the rookie wage scale, hitting on any draft pick could be such a huge financial competitive advantage that it would take a lot for me to part with a pick. A quick illustration, using stated cap estimates and 120% of scale for incoming rookies (also a loose assumption that Raptors will pick #20 in 2016 and the lesser of Knicks/Nuggets pick will be #10; again, just for illustration):
|% of Cap||2012-13||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17|
|Ross (#8 pick 2012)||4.42%||4.56%||4.43%||5.34%|
|Valanciunas (#5 pick 2011)||6.08%||6.18%||5.83%||7.01%|
|Bruno (#20 pick 2014)||2.31%||2.29%||1.79%|
|Bebe (#16 pick 201||2.80%||2.77%||2.16%|
|#20 pick 2015||2.27%||1.77%|
|#20 pick 2016||1.76%|
|#10 pick 2016||2.89%|
The relative value of a productive player on a rookie contract is going to be extreme for at least the 2016-17 season and likely beyond (even if there’s a lockout in 2017 and rookie scales are adjusted, it seems unlikely the existing rookie contracts will be adjusted). Get even a capable player with the No. 20 pick this year and you’ve filled out a piece of your nine-man rotation for 2017-18 for less than two percent of your cap space. Those picks are still movable and they represent some nice trade currency, but they’re also valuable roster-building tools if Ujiri believes in his ability to work the middle of the first round.
Probably not much. Ideally, the Raptors will get an exclusive D-League affiliate in place by then so that they can have full control over the playing time and development of both when on assignment. Bruno’s trips to the D-League this year were a joke – that’s OK, because at his level, simply practicing and watching NBA basketball for a season probably developed him a great deal – and there’s little sense in using the feeder system if you’re sharing it with a dozen other teams. The D-League has said it won’t expand for 2015-16 but I’m hoping they budge or an exclusive affiliate becomes available, because regular playing time at a level close to NBA competition is the next step in the development of each. They combined to play 46 NBA minutes and 142 D-League minutes. They need to play, but it won’t be much at the NBA level yet.
When people think of arrogance they are immediately filled with images of people with an outsized ego forcing their will on everyone around them. They think of people with a fundamental lack of empathy, of people closed-off to opinions other than their own and of people with their chests puffed out and voices that dominate everyone in the room.
There are subtler forms of arrogance, though, and they can be far more pervasive if they are allowed to seep through the bloodstream of a closed-off group of individuals like, say, a professional basketball team.
The Toronto Raptors are an arrogant bunch. They aren’t arrogant in an interpersonal way — the Raptors are a mostly congenial group that get along well together and support each other — but as a basketball team they are one of the most arrogant groups Toronto has ever fielded.
Up and down the roster and through the coaching ranks, arrogance has been a defining characteristic of this club all season long. This team plays arrogant basketball. They play the game like they know something that no one else does, and they do it despite their near total lack of practical accomplishments. They force one-on-one offence even when defences suck the oxygen out of their free space. They refuse to box-out despite getting routinely manhandled on the glass. They reach against penetrating guards rather than moving their feet, which allows any halfway decent player to have a career-night against Toronto’s half-hearted stoppers.
During the regular season, the players sloughed off these inadequacies by implying that they were always one win away from turning it around or that once the Playoffs started none of this would even matter. They felt they were above their own inadequacies, or that they simply didn’t represent them like their self-perceived strengths did. They barely managed a .500 record after January 1st were a sub-.500 team after the All-Star break, and yet they continued to arrogantly assert that nothing was wrong. They continued to play in a way that demonstrated a total lack of understanding as to why they were losing so many games, and now that they Playoffs have arrived, that arrogance is making them look like they don’t even belong on the same court as their opponents. Their total (admitted) lack of urgency Tuesday night in a must-win game two contest speaks to the depths of their arrogance, with the roster figuring they could just show up and play as if they were playing some random game in February, not the most important game of their season.
On Tuesday night, Washington looked like a Playoff team. Their best player, John Wall, was utterly dominant, his supporting cast executed the team’s game plan to perfection, especially on the defensive end, and they routinely pounded Toronto in all of the ways a scouting report would have suggested that they should. The Raptors, meanwhile, looked like an over-matched scrimmage opponent. They haphazardly threw themselves at Washington, insisting on going one-on-one against the NBA’s fifth-best defence, they refused to box out despite getting pounded on the boards (again) and five players had four-or-more fouls because everyone would rather reach and grab than move their feet on defence. It takes a colossal amount of arrogance to continue to play like that while 20, 000 people are watching you get embarrassed, but that’s these Raptors, arrogantly refusing to alter their style of play in the face of all reasonable logic.
You could excuse some of this if a) this was this group’s first trip to the Playoffs or b) if the Wizards had one or two superstars that simply defied any attempts at game-planning against them. Neither of those things are true, however. Last year was supposed to demonstrate how they have to conduct themselves in the postseason so that they’d be ready this year, that was what cushioned the blow of losing to a lower-seeded team. Washington has exactly one All-Star level talent (to Toronto’s two) and the regular season sweep of the club would suggest that Toronto has the personnel to at least put up a fight.
That’s what arrogance robs you of, though. It robs you of the ability to maximize lessons learned. It hardens you against outside influence. It reenforces the echo chamber in the locker room that everything is fine and that they are one game away from turning it around. It’s what lets Paul Pierce taunt DeMar DeRozan into distraction on the eve of the postseason. It’s what lets Kyle Lowry stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the way the refs are calling these games, getting himself into dire foul trouble in both contests. It’s what allows Dwane Casey steadfastly stick to the strategy on the pregame whiteboard rather than adjust to the realities of what is happening on the court. It’s what allows Jonas Valanciunas to think demonstrating frustration is more important than moving on to the next play. It’s what allows Lou Williams to treat a double-team like it’s a dare. It’s what allows the entire roster to act like getting back on defence is beneath them. It’s what allows a division champion to lose two games at home, effectively ending their season four days into the postseason.
All year long we’ve watched this team act like they’ve accomplished something that they haven’t. We’ve watched them turn up their noses at the thought that they might not be as good as they think they are, or that they might have to work harder to get to where they think they deserve to go. If that’s the attitude that they decide to maintain, the Playoff motto will tell them where they actually deserve to go.
Win or Go Home.
God forbid we have an early playoff exit this season, but if so Masai’s got his hands full this summer and really does need to re-evaluate his team. (players & staff) Thoughts?
Kyle Lowy’s struggles and his frustration with himself have been well-documented in this series. His return from back injury during the last four games of the season saw him play heavy minutes to the tune of 33, 36, 35 and 37 in games that were, more or less, meaningless. After picking up a contusion in Game 2, the Raptors star-guard is now struggling for form and fitness, and not helped by facing a backcourt that has proven to be too quick and too nimble for Lowry. (BTW, anybody remember the “best backcourt in the East” argument which just sounds plain silly now).
There is no defensive relief for Lowry, either he’s matched up with John Wall who has no trouble getting past him, or he’s switched onto a bigger guy like Bradley Beal. The latter has made it a point to use his three-point threat to setup drives, all the while making his defenders run through bruising Nene and Marcin Gortat screens. Facing elite competition, Lowry has had no place to hide on defense, and coupled with his lingering injury, mismanagement of his return from that injury, he’s left to find his offense without being at 100%.
Lowry’s offense is predicated on short bursts of speed that get him past defenders, hard pull-ups to setup in-rhythm shots, and three-point shooting. Right now he doesn’t have the speed to blow-by defenders, his pull-up is out of rhythm, and his three-point shot is being contested with an offer to drive at the heart of Washington’s formidable frontline. In the absence of a structured offense where he could play a part instead of being forced to star, Lowry’s left to find his points in a context he’s very unfamiliar with and unprepared for.
All form is temporary, and you can attribute his subpar performances to bad circumstance. What’s been more disappointing, however, are the mental mistakes he’s making, and his reaction to making mistakes. I’ll forgive him for his Game 1 performance and write it off to playoff jitters, but it’s very difficult for me to look past why he made the same mistakes in a must-win game with three full days to think about things in between.
Incessant gambling aside, the three fouls he picked up in Game 2 jeopardized his team and were all avoidable if only minimal precaution and thought would have been taken.
Let’s look at his first foul, where fairly early in the game he’s one-on-one with Wall who has just caught the ball. Instead of laying off Wall, he’s forcing him baseline and bodying him, which is a call a ref will make 10/10 times. In space, nobody in this league can guard John Wall, let alone Lowry. His recognition of his surroundings here is poor and Wall coaxes him into an easy foul. Remember, the Wizards after Game 1 were publicly saying how they made it a point to get Lowry out of the game, and even with that knowledge, he’s made a silly error.
His second is a drop in concentration. There’s no reason to trail John Wall this closely through tight spaces. You’ve already picked up one foul, you know how early foul trouble hurt you in Game 1, and you still invite Wall to draw the easiest foul ever – all Wall has to do is slow down and there’s a trip. Again 10/10 times this gets called. John Wall took him to school here, and Lowry’s frustration after the fact isn’t to do with disagreement with the call, it’s really with himself for allowing to be baited like that.
The third is possibly the most frustrating of the three, because it shows just how disorganized the Raptors defense is. Why DeRozan and Lowry have opted for a switch on the weak side is plain weird, because it’s resulted in Sessions being checked by DeRozan, and the bigger Otto Porter Jr., by Lowry. Porter’s great movement results in a 1-v-1 underneath the rim, and Lowry’s on the wrong side of Porter. He reaches and again, 10/10 times this is a foul. DeRozan’s reaction says it all – he’s frustrated like us.
These mental mistakes are what are plaguing Kyle Lowry, and hurting the Raptors.
With 14 games to go in the regular season, Casey made it a public point to prepare his team for the post-season by tuning up their defense and concentration levels. What we’re seeing right now is a complete failure in preparation, both situational and game-level, and how little we accomplished in those last 14 games despite plenty of warning signs.
As with anything in this series, I don’t have much hopes of the Raptors correcting their ways, because at this point you are what you are. The goal of the regular season is to develop good habits, establish repeatable patterns for success, and sharpen reflexes to deal with adversity, and the Raptors haven’t done that. They’ve rode the heat wave to a record 49 wins, and when circumstances have turned south, their answer is “more of the same, but only better”. To repeat that in a 7-game series where a set of scouts, assistant coaches, and video room guys have had a chance to dissect your simplistic style of play, the odds are stacked against you.
My call for this series was Wizards in 6 and I’m sticking to it, because there’s a good chance that the Raptors, like they have all season, will get hot just on account of having good individual offensive players and the law of averages. It just won’t be for long enough to accomplish anything meaningful.
Nick and Barry are back just in time for the collapse! The welcome, friend of the show Curt Russo and discuss…
*Fans leaving early
*Kyle Lowry is broken
*The first two games in Jurassic Park
*How many games will the Raptors win?
Plus another glorious edition of the Chuck Hayes minute.
Thanks for listening during this difficult time.
The Game 2 loss to the Washington Wizards wasn’t your typical Toronto defeat. It wasn’t heartbreaking. It wasn’t last-minute or last-second. It wasn’t could have been or should have been.
It wasn’t something we’re going to talk about 10 years from now.
It felt more like a punch to the solar plexus. The kind of punch that buckles your knees. The kind of punch that leaves you gasping for air, without answers, without time, and without a sporting chance for recovery.
This wasn’t the kind of defeat we’re used to here in Toronto. We’re used to heartache. We’re used to almost. We’re used to Kyle Lowry having a last-second shot to win a series, having it blocked, getting knocked down, and then spending years talking about the series the Raptors almost won.
It was one of the lowest of the lows for the Toronto Raptors, and the morning after DeMar DeRozan summed it up best. "If being down 0-2 shouldn't stimulate urgency, then I don't know what would," DeRozan said. Yet through two dreadful playoff games against the Washington Wizards, they've been missing just that. The Raptors dropped a horrendous 117-106 decision to the Wizards on Tuesday night, and head to Washington desperate to avoid elimination in four games. They studied video Wednesday morning and came away with one glaring message.
They aren’t rolling over, but the Wizards may just be rolling into the second round. Still, while they are comfortable talking trash, none of the Wizards want to get too comfortable with their series lead. “We’ve got to play like we’re down 0-2,” Beal said of Game 3. “Nothing changes. We can’t stop being aggressive.” Wizards coach Randy Wittman echoed Beal’s comments. “It’s hard winning four games in a series,” Wittman said. “And as you continue to move on, the harder it gets. Game 3 on Friday is going to be harder to play in than these first two games. It just gets that way as the series moves on.”
“Toronto’s cooked,” Barkley said on TNT’s postgame show. “Listen, Washington to me has been disappointing. This is what we thought we were gonna get the entire season after they made the great playoff run last year. You’ve got Curry and Thompson in Golden State, but the next true great tandem is Wall and Beal. Beal has just been hurt all season. But he played fantastic tonight. And Toronto, they’re pretty much done.”
PLAY SOME ZONE — It’s clear the Raptors can’t guard Washington’s players one-on-one. John Wall has been doing whatever he wants and Bradley Beal rallied from a bad Game 1 to dominate in Game 2. The big men have gone to work as well (partly because the Raptors frontcourt members have had to help far too frequently, leaving them out of position). Casey has designed some excellent zones in the past, both in Toronto and before that in Dallas. This team has the foot-speed (a few players aside) and athleticism to cover a lot of ground. Beal can beat a zone, but Washington doesn’t have many other shooters. Take your chances letting Wall fire away.
Trevor Ariza might've been a better fit during the regular season, but Paul Pierce is better for the postseason. This isn't a matter of who is better at this stage of their career. But Pierce, aside from being able to create his own shot even at 37, has infused the Wizards with an attitude that they lacked. Though Ariza also won a championship before he came here, his personality type is more subdued. A superb defender, he always has been a role player. With Pierce, a career alpha dog, he can teach each day (with his words) and occasionally show (with his play) John Wall and Bradley Beal how to carry a franchise.
Despite losing the first two games of the series, the Raptors faithful are expected to once again head down south for the team’s playoff run in Washington, with some taking advantage of hotel and ticket packages offered by tour companies. Alex Gibbins, 27, a lifelong Raptors fan who had never seen the team play on the road until last year, decided to book a package through Elite Sports Tours to head to Brooklyn last spring. The intensity of Games 3 and 4 was at a whole new level for Gibbins. “It was electric,” he said. Bad behaviour by NHL playoff fans to the road team’s supporters has been a topic of conversation this year. But Gibbins didn’t fear for his safety, since being part of a larger group of Toronto fans made him feel like he had “backup” to deal with the inevitable heckling from wearing a Raptors jersey in Barclays Center.
It really was a case of “be careful what you wish for”, when it came to the Toronto Raptors. Whether they admit it or not, it appears they did everything possible to avoid a potential second round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls. (At least, that’s what I surmised from resting DeMar DeRozan in the second-to-last regular season game, with 50 wins and positioning still up for grabs.)
After dropping a second-straight home game to the Washington Wizards, the Toronto Raptors' chances of advancing to the conference semifinals have fallen to 16 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Basketball Power Index. Here's a deeper look at the stats. 16 percent – Raptors' chances to advance past the Wizards 6.6 percent – Raptors' chances to advance to conference finals 1.8 percent – Raptors' chances to advance to NBA Finals 0.3 percent – Raptors' chances to win the championship
The veteran has spent all season trying to pass along wisdom to John Wall and Bradley Beal and make them better leaders. In Game 1, the two guards had off shooting nights but still made contributions in other areas to help Washington take the opening game. In Game 2, Pierce beamed after seeing Wall and Beal combine to score 54 points. Wall, and particularly Beal, played with attitude. “I saw their focus before the game, even at halftime those guys were very vocal, very intense,” Pierce said. “I saw it in their eyes.” “I think a lot of the stuff that y’all see coming out I think has always been there,” he added when asked specifically about Beal’s edgy play. “I just think I kind of manifest it to another level.”
Yes, that was embarrassing. Members of the organization were shocked at the lack of response, of fight in the biggest game of the season. Maybe it was for the best, in a roundabout way. “It’s not really one thing we can pinpoint,” said Lou Williams, who is Toronto’s second-leading scorer in the two games, and is shooting 31%. “We didn’t play with the energy that we needed to, we didn’t play with the urgency that we needed, down 1-0 at home. I felt like we should have competed harder. Games like that don’t really come down to Xs and Os, it comes down to guys just wanting to win and competing. I think they just did a better job than we did.”
Following the team’s film session on Wednesday, coach Casey said Lowry needs to keep playing with a post-season intensity, while working to avoid situations that could put him in foul trouble again. “He’s smarter than that,” Casey said. “I know he is and he’ll do a better job next game.” DeMar DeRozan, who starts alongside Lowry at shooting guard, said it’s “extremely frustrating” to see his partner in the backcourt benched with too many fouls, but that he believes he can bounce back from a rough start to the playoffs. “He feels like he’s letting us down, in a sense. But we all got to stay together, no matter what,” DeRozan said. “Sometimes you just got to be there as a teammate more than anything … We’re all going to be by each other’s side.”
“We’ve got to trust the pass. We’ve got to trust our bigs,” Casey said of the Raptors’ ball-handlers. “They’re not guarding our bigs and they’re making them make plays. And they’ve got to make plays out of the double teams, out of the blitzes, out of the corrals. … The first game Amir [Johnson] was excellent in making the right reads. [Tuesday] night was a little stagnant and what we’ve got to do is make the play out of that, quarterback. And the guy with the ball has got to trust, ‘OK, we’ve got to burn them with the pass, now they take the traps off.’ That’s the mentality, instead of the guy with the ball saying, ‘OK, how can I score, how can I score?’”
As for raising Lowry’s level of play, that is a big more of a mystery. Lowry is shooting 5-for-20 from the floor in the series, has not hit a three-pointer, and has collected more fouls (10) than assists (eight). He has looked oddly flat, and his foul trouble led to the Raptors’ downfall in the second quarter on Tuesday. “Don’t put yourself in that position,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Lowry’s fouls. “He’s a smart player. He’s one of our smartest players. He understands that he can’t put himself in that position, to put the team in that position, to take a foul. We just had the same thing on Saturday. It happens. It happened. He’s smarter than that.” Do not expect his teammates to try to pump him up with a motivational speech, either. “He understands what needs to be done at this point,” Lou Williams said. “Sometimes, you (have) just got to be there as a teammate for him more than anything,” DeMar DeRozan added. “And sometimes not saying nothing can be better than saying something.”
The lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Pierce, and Marcin Gortat has played 18 minutes and outscored the Raptors by 11 points while shooting 45% from the field and 44% from three-point range. When looking at this unit's production per 100 possessions, they're crushing the Raptors with a 127.5 offensive rating and a 26.8 net rating. The second lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Pierce, and Nene Hilario has outscored the Raptors by nine points while shooting 53% overall and 50% from three in nine minutes. This unit is posting a 138.1 offensive rating with a 75.1 net rating. Neither of these lineups played more than 10 minutes during the entire regular season. Again, these are small sample sizes, so the numbers can be skewed. But the small-ball formula seems to be the difference in what was expected to be a close series between two teams that have been struggling.
"I think the difference was Wall hitting his threes," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "(Bradley) Beal came off his pin downs and knocked his shots down, even his threes. They were 4 of 9 between them and once they saw the ball go in the hole I thought that was the difference and got us spaced out a little more."
Looks can be deceiving. Sure, it appears that Bradley Beal yelled "Don't f*** with me, Kyle!" last night, but it could have been a lot more innocent than that. "Come dance with me, Kyle!" "Get pho with me Kyle!" "Buy pants with me, Kyle!" "Feed ducks with me, Kyle!" "Starbucks, Kyle?!"
That is the face of a fiercely competitive dude who has been prevented, by a bunch of stupid foul calls, from responding to a challenge directly, fruitfully, on the court, and is now being asked to respond to it indirectly, impotently, in the locker room. It is the face of a man whose body will begin glowing like the heating element on an electric stovetop soon, if the refs keep standing between him and the opponents whose asses he is dying to kick. It is the face of the most frustrated man. Maybe let’s all leave Kyle Lowry alone until Friday.
Charles Barkley, you’ll recall, said after Washington’s Game 2 first-round win over the Bulls last year that the Wizards would sweep. He was off by one game — the Wizards won in five — but he’s consistently been among the loudest Washington advocates for two seasons now. And he was at it again Tuesday night. “Toronto’s cooked,” Barkley said on TNT’s postgame show. “Listen, Washington to me has been disappointing. This is what we thought we were gonna get the entire season after they made the great playoff run last year. You’ve got Curry and Thompson in Golden State, but the next true great tandem is Wall and Beal. Beal has just been hurt all season. But he played fantastic tonight. And Toronto, they’re pretty much done.”
Well. That was embarrassing.
Like me, you’re probably reeling a little bit from last night’s loss – both losses so far, honestly. No matter how cynical a Raptor fan you were during the second-half swoon, I don’t think anyone was prepared for consecutive soul-sucking losses on home court. Now, with the Raptors facing the daunting task of winning four of five games in order to take the series, with three on the road, you may, like me, find yourself slipping into “I can’t wait for this season to be over” mode.
Well, I’m here to tell you: don’t. Not just yet.
Being a sports fan, unfortunately, can suck sometimes. The same things that make it amazing: caring too much about people you’ve never met, analyzing and overanalyzing situations with no bearing on the real world, getting to gloat to your friends when things are going well; these are the same things that can make fandom so infuriatingly, irrationally frustrating. Think about this: the collective Raptors hivemind was SO frustrated about James Johnson not entering game one, we essentially forced our head coach’s hand last night, gave ourselves a standing ovation, and were quickly reminded that we aren’t as smart as we tend to believe we are.
In the moment, sure, look at that as a precursor to an ugly blowout – a game that showed the Raptors’ many fatal flaws in high definition, and one that very likely spelled the death knell on what has been a memorable season in all kinds of ways. In the grand scheme, though, look at it a different way: we collectively cared so much about the 10th man on our team that we willed him into a game. How many fan bases can do that?
It’s moments like that that bring the bigger picture into clearer view, here. Sure, we can be frustrated by Lowry, and Casey, and Lou Williams, and Greivis and Jonas and God knows who else, but we don’t cheer collectively for individuals. We cheer collectively for the Raptors. And the Raptors are still playing this season, and I’ll be as optimistic as I can be until the inevitable, bitter end, dammit, because that’s what we do. Care way too much.
In recent years, we’ve seen the negative effects of this on another local sports franchise: the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose fans care so much (and so loudly) that they’ve developed a reputation as a difficult place to play. To say it hasn’t negatively impacted their ability to attract marquee players would be naive, and I’m acutely worried that the same thing is happening with the Raptors: as soon as the team acquired a taste of success, the expectations grew, and the fan base (myself included), inevitably, began to turn. I’m not saying their isn’t room for cynicism, or criticism (I mean, you’re on Raptors Republic right now), but there’s room for a bit of blind faith, too.
Sometimes, it even gets rewarded. I’m a Canucks fan, too, and during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals run, I remember going up 3-0 to the Blackhawks in the first round, feeling like everything was sealed, and then losing three not-so-close games in a row after that. After game 6, I remember being so mad at the inevitable collapse in front of me that I set NHL 11 to the easiest possible difficulty and just pounded the Blackhawks over and over. I was SO SURE that things were going to end in disappointment.
Then, the Canucks won. Sometimes, these things turn around. Sometimes, they even turn around twice in a series. You never know what could happen, and it’s foolish to pretend like we do.
That being said, in all likelihood, we’re staring at a first-round playoff exit, here. There haven’t been many bright spots in the first two games, and I don’t think anyone in Raptorland would be shocked if the team went quietly into that good night in Washington, and we all got to spend a few days mourning and then a couple months hoping Casey gets the boot and Sam Dekker somehow falls to us in the draft.
But that’s what I’m saying, here. That part will be there, no matter the result. And no matter how cynical, critical, or exasperated you get, don’t tune out, and don’t stop cheering. Our best asset isn’t Kyle Lowry, or Jonas, or DeMar, or Masai. It’s #WeTheNorth.
It’s time for another “Notes and Quotes” segment, which is basically where I sift through 8 reporters tweeting out the exact same thing and condense it into one somewhat-readable post.
We start with the under-fire Dwane Casey, whose powers of deduction have reduced the cause of the 0-2 hole to transition defense and blow-bys:
Casey on transition D "We were back, but we weren't communicating. [We were there] in spirit."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
Casey: "We had 17 blow-bys, which creates a whole multitude of problems." Yep yarp yorp
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
The Raptors haven’t been able to stop blow-bys all year, and they’re not going to fix them now, especially not against Washington who have John Wall and Bradley Beal, two pretty quick guys I’d say. Might want to focus on what happens after you blow-by, or reduce your chances of getting blown-by rather than asking players to stop blow-bys. This is especially the case if said player is Greivis Vasquez.
He also revealed that the team generally blames Jonas Valanciunas for their pick ‘n roll woes on defense, but concedes it wasn’t the case this time.
Also criticizes bigs impacting ball on pick-and-roll. "Usually we blame JV, but it wasn't JV."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what he’s talking about. We have trouble defending pick ‘n rolls because we rarely sag back and instead hedge hard, and our bigs aren’t mobile enough to prevent guards from stepping out and then turning a corner after the hedge. Essentially, we stretch our defense out by pressuring and then fail to recover back and get into sound positioning, leaving us scrambling. I’m quite positive I’ve written that exact same sentence about 10 times this year.
The update on Kyle Lowry is that he’s fine:
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) April 22, 2015
Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry: "He's fine." Said he's bruised and getting treatment. Okay!
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
A bruised leg isn’t going to keep him out of a playoff game, c’mon.
DeMar DeRozan feels that he’s been hounded by Washington defenders, and something needs to be done about it:
DeMar DeRozan: "Whenever we run a play, I see three guys coming at me."
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 22, 2015
Yes, other than the first 5 minutes of Game 2, DeRozan saw multiple defenders and varying looks. Problem is that his approach to them was the same as it was in the first 5 minutes of the game. Theme here: Washington adjusted, Toronto didn’t. What does he have to do to fix this?
"That's what I've realized: We've got to be a lot more physical," says DeRozan
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
Really? Physical? Can we ever come up with a tactical solution to things and not continually reduce them down to saying “let’s just do what we’re currently doing, only better”. We’re not going to out-physical Washington, we have to make them make decisions they’re uncomfortable with making. As an example, I don’t see why we can’t put a bigger guy who sags off of Wall, so he’s not picking us apart on drives easily. I don’t get why we’re still chasing Beal across screens instead of playing a zone variant, or switching 1/2/3, or giving him something other than the same look on defense. Actually, I know why. Because to do that you have to instill those habits over the course of a season, and we simply haven’t done that, and are thus unprepared.
I’ll leave you with Lou Will, the greatest beneficiary of this season, who was given a chance to shoot whenever he wanted in a contract year, and has made the most of the opportunity:
Lou: "I think we're still a confident bunch of guys." Also: "It's not only one thing we can pinpoint."
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 22, 2015
“You’re down 2-0 you have to be a little concerned … obviously our backs are against the wall here.” Lou Williams
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 22, 2015
He hit the nail on the head here: “It’s not only one thing we can pinpoint”. The Raptors defense and offense is busted, it’s like trying to put together a shattered vase. You don’t know where to start, and in a moment of honestly, Lou Williams admitted that.
As I said on the main Twitter account last night, the Raptors still have a chance in this series, but they just got to get hot. No strategy, no tactics. Just get hot and hope the shots fall. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, and that’s what needs to miraculously repeat itself within the vacuum of a playoff series.
Photo Credit: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press
I entered Game 2 with optimism.
There have been times during the course of this season when that’s been difficult for me, even if it was the best regular season in franchise history. After a torrid start, the Raptors spent months playing largely uninspiring ball, with an ineffective defense and an effective yet unattractive and cognitive dissonance-inducing offense. They were never as bad as I felt them to be at times, but I was positive they were never as good as others had made them out to be.
But with the playoffs came a sort of reset button. Expectations were largely for the regular season, and with an 82-game lens, my Bayesian priors were all but confirmed – I had predicted them for 47 wins, close enough, even if the sequencing of those wins would suggest they were never at any one point a 47-win team. They were what I thought they were, which was a team that should have a good chance at winning a playoff round for just the second time in franchise history.
In the Washington Wizards, the Raptors had a similarly flawed and inconsistent opponent with roughly the same overall talent level. Even after an ugly, narrow Game 1 loss, I remained optimistic. The Raptors had played about as poor an offensive game as they could play and actually looked to have a decent idea of how to handle non-Paul Pierce members of the Wizards roster on the other end. I stood by my Raptors-in-7 prediction and was fairly confident they’d rebound with a strong Game 2.
With 8:34 to play in the second quarter on Tuesday, my optimism remained. Seven minutes and 38 seconds later, it was gone completely.
The Raptors turned a 35-31 lead into a 58-49 deficit, giving up 13 scores and 27 points over 15 possessions, a woeful showing in a 27-14 Wizards run that has effectively ended Toronto’s season.
Sure, the Raptors will probably still win a game, maybe two, maybe even three. But teams don’t come back from coughing up both home games to open a series. What’s worse, Tuesday was one of their worst overall efforts of the season until very late, with the defense essentially surrendering to the will of John Wall.
Because I am an insane person, I made GIFs of 12 of the 15 possessions in that stretch, which began with Pierce entering the game as a power forward and concluded when he was replaced with a big late in the half. That’s not to say Pierce was the driving force in the run – he certainly helped, but it was a team effort. James Johnson even got a chance to play, but Dwane Casey curiously had him guard other players than, you know, the guy he was signed to guard (not that he made a difference, anyway – the Raps were a -14 in his seven minutes).
I strongly recommend you close the browser now. What follows is depressing.
8:34 – It begins
8:14 – Pierce misses three, Porter gets outback
The Raptors play the first one-four pick-and-roll with Pierce well enough, and DeMar DeRozan is able to get enough of a hand in Pierce’s face to force a miss from outside. Unfortunately, Patrick Patterson – rightfully moved on to Otto Porter Jr. rather than Pierce with the Raptors keeping two bigs on the floor – boxes out Amir Johnson’s man (hey, at least he grabbed someone), and Johnson doesn’t take care of Porter for his frontcourt mate. Porter gets one of his four offensive rebounds and the outback.
7:18 – Porter fouled, splits free throws
No GIF here, just your run-of-the-mill foul on an offensive player who really shouldn’t be causing a defense the number of problems the admittedly improved Porter is.
6:43 – Pierce nails triple
Before this GIF starts, the Raptors actually played solid defense for the first 10 seconds of the possession. Pierce loses the handle and in the ensuing loose-ball chaos, sneaks out of the sightline of DeRozan. When Pierce gets the look in the corner, DeRozan can’t find him and Johnson is too far away to capably close out.
6:15 – Nene scores
There’s all sorts of bad here. DeRozan is stuck on Nene coming back late in transition, and he and Lou Williams play the pick-and-roll poorly, leaving Nene a clean lane to the rim. Johnson is (appropriately) too passive helping off of Bradley Beal in the corner, and Greivis Vasquez shows help from the weak corner just soon enough to duck out of the way of a Nene dunk.
5:43 – Wall misses layup
No GIF needed here, as Wall misses a transition layup attempt thanks to a nice defensive effort from Amir Johnson.
5:26 – Beal gets a transition layup
Nice effort, Vasquez. At least Johnson put his arms in the air.
4:54 – Beal gets another layup
What do you even do with this if you’re Casey? Vasquez is on the wrong side of his man to start the inbound play and is then caught completely oblivious when Beal makes a quick move for the basket. And as a bonus, look at Williams guarding the entry pass.
4:17 – Pierce sets up Beal for three
This is a great example of the problems Pierce can cause as a small four, even if he didn’t at all deserve the assist he’s credited with. Pierce flips the ball to Beal and immediately sets a screen in what’s more or less a hand-off. DeRozan shows on Beal but panics about leaving Pierce and leaves Beal too soon, before Ross can get back into position after an attempt at going both over and under a screen.
4:00 – Wall gets a layup
I’ll take Wall 1-on-2 in transition against just about any pair of defenders, but if you’re going to abandon a shooter to help, at least provide some resistance.
3:39 – Wall “outraces” Raptors for a dunk
Nice effort, Vasquez.
3:00 – It’s Gortat’s turn for a layup
Wall is absolutely ridiculous. The Raptors play the initial pick-and-roll well, so Wall just drives and spins around Vasquez. Jonas Valanciunas provides the help but leaves his feet too early, and Wall’s able to drop it off for an easy Marcin Gortat bucket.
2:39 – Pierce hacked in transition
No GIF necessary, because we’ve all seen Terrence Ross flying out of control for a chasedown block when the shooter hasn’t even left his feet yet before.
2:14 – Nene gets back in on the action
Much as he’s physically one of the best options on Wall, here’s a good example of why Ross isn’t mentally ready to guard point guards. He and Valanciunas appear to be playing a different scheme here, with Valanciunas committing immediately to preventing a Wall drive, while Ross takes the long route around Nene’s screen to chase Wall. That means absolutely nobody has tagged Nene, and with the weak side overloaded, nobody’s around to help. Valanciunas makes a nice effort to contest the shot, but that’s about as easy a look as Nene’s going to get.
1:37 – Wall hits a long two
Pierce’s draw in the pick-and-roll is on display once again, as Vasquez and James Johnson are both more concerned with a pass to Pierce than a jumper from Wall after they’ve prevented a drive. That’s the gameplan – you’ll take Wall shooting long twos over Wall drives or dishes to Pierce all day – but that’s a bit too much time and space.
1:09 – Beal puts us out of our misery
This is just a terrific play from Beal.
0:56 – Mercifully, the run ends.
7:38 of play
27-14 Wizards run
I’m really trying to keep the faith for Game 3 on Friday in D.C. It’s difficult, but I’m not quite ready to write the season off yet. They better come out and play…well, a lot better than this. It’s still too cold for draft talk.
If the words hadn’t already come out of the mouth of the most unpopular man in Toronto a week ago, we’d all probably be saying it now: the Raptors just don’t have it. Foul trouble to Kyle Lowry again played a role, but this game had the unmistakably unsettling feeling of one team separating itself to another level from its opponent. The Wizards, led by outstanding performances from John Wall and Bradley Beal, elevated their games while Toronto remained mired in the state of arrested development they’ve spent most of the last 3 months in.
The game started with promise. The starting unit opened the game with tempo, pushing the ball and scoring well. DeMar’s shots were dropping and the Raptors jumped out to an early lead. The Raptors made an attempt to better utilize their big men early, pushing the ball inside at times and utilizing Valanciunas in the pick and roll for a pair of first quarter alley-oop dunks. When Amir Johnson subbed in for Valanciunas, he became the inside partner for the Raptors guards to work with. The second quarter even saw a 7 minute stretch for everyone’s favourite bingo-dabber haired forward, James Johnson, driving on Paul Pierce, scoring and getting to the free throw line.
Kyle Lowry then quickly picked up his second and third fouls and that was pretty much the end of that. Matched up against Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez, Bradley Beal immediately found space to shoot and John Wall single handily caught the Wizards up and then took the lead on the fast break. All of the effort the Raptors had made in the previous 6 or so quarters of basketball to contain the Washington fast break went up in smoke in a 5 minute stretch where the Wizards seized the lead and didn’t look back.
The second half saw a repeat of game 1, where Washington adjusted and Toronto was unable to do the same. On defense, the Wizards easily sniffed out the screens designed to free up Lowry, Williams and DeRozan, again throwing the Raptors sputtering offense into chaos by simply denying the Raptors ball handlers access to the ball and space, crunching their offensive possessions into a series of false starts that ended in bad jump shots. For over a year now, the Raptors have been a team unable to start any meaningful offense if you shut down the flow of their two primary guards in the side to side game. The Wizards, to their credit, did an excellent job of just that. The Raptors, out of desperation, tried to turn late to the ‘just do something Lou’ roulette strategy and even tried to live off of Jonas Valanciunas isolation post-ups in an attempt to get into the game. You know damn well from Dwayne Casey at this point that when he’s calling for Jonas post-up after Jonas post-up to try and get back in the game, he’s completely out of other offensive ideas. For him to suddenly turn to the weapon he had little interest in developing all year was fitting, as Jonas was unprepared to single-handedly carry the load.
On the other end of the court, the Wizards spent much of the second half going small with Paul Pierce at the 4, and it worked. Pierce did minimal damage himself, but with space to move, Beal and Wall torched the Raptors. The Wizard guards drained shots when Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez foolishly dipped under screens. Those two Toronto defenders were badly exposed repeatedly, either allowing Wall and Beal to drive, step in for open mid-range jump shots or pull-up for wide open 3s. Ross struggled to find defensive positioning as well, but saw minimal time on either Washington star. Lowry fought hard, but fouls and a late knee injury again muzzled the bulldog. Lowry could do enough to hold the Raptors even when he was in the game, but even with him the Raptors never figured a way to get back in the game, and it slipped further out of their fingers every time he sat.
Washington has figured out how to take away almost everything Toronto wants offensively. That’s the problem with an offense as basic and ball handler reliant as the Raptors. DeMar can’t get to the spaces on the floor where he likes to shoot. Lowry is struggling to break free off of screens and find driving lanes and Lou Williams shots, always made with a high degree of difficulty, are that much harder when he’s trying to shoot them over starters like Beal and Wall instead of opposing bench units. The Raptors found something early by better utilizing the roll man in pick and roll and creating space for DeMar to find his shot. As soon as Washington sniffed that out, the Raptors were cooked. Jurassic Park looked last night like a pack of actual Raptors ran through it, leaving only bodies and horrified on-lookers, too traumatized to move. Two games into the series, one team has shown an ability to adapt what they’re doing and elevate their game. The other team is starting to look like they know their summer is just about to start.
Just some things to remember before ya’ll fire half of this franchise.
Whether or not the Raptors are trying — it says here that they are putting in the effort, if not exercising the necessary discipline to turn it into something productive — is one thing. However, the Raptors appear to be a team without a foundation at the moment. That is the real worry. Just like in Game 1, this one turned in the second quarter. Kyle Lowry picked up his second and third fouls early in the quarter, leaving Vasquez and Lou Williams to defend John Wall and Bradley Beal. Predictably, it did not go well. Transition opportunities got the Wizards going, but the Raptors’ inability to slow Washington’s ascendant guards turned the game into a nightmare. The Raptors’ defence, so patchy during the year, always seemed destined to fail them in the post-season. That the Wizards could exploit them to this disagree just felt unlikely.
There were no adjustments that worked, no schemes to fix it, nobody who could drag them through. The Wizards offence ranked 25th in the league after the all-star break, and they had 97 points after three quarters. The Wizards went 17-23 in the second half of the season. The Wizards made the Raptors look like punks. The franchise has steeped itself in nostalgia in its 20th season — if you played and people remember you, you probably got honoured. Damon Stoudamire was on TSN Radio Tuesday, talking fondly about his time here before mentioning he was here as a promotional thing with Swiffer, whose products he basically admitted he had never used. Still, hey, brand awareness. That’s what the Raptors have built, as much as anything: brand awareness. Drake, the Square, division titles in a time of Atlantic Division cholera. You know what the problem was with Masai Ujiri’s red-meat moment before Game 1? It wasn’t the profanity. It was that when he said, “We don’t give a s— about ‘it’,” that wasn’t the truth. As the general manager of this team, that’s exactly what he cares about. He wants to achieve escape velocity from the past. Last season, the Raptors had to race to figure out what the hell they were up against. This year, it’s a race to try to overcome exactly what they are.
Without Lowry every facet of the Raptors game seemed to fall apart. When he departed they owned a six-point lead. By the time he returned to start the third quarter the Wizards had outscored Toronto 31-14 and taken an 11-point edge. “Yeah, for me it sucks because I’m trying to help my teammates, trying to be more physical and play playoff basketball, but I keep getting fouls. It’s really holding me back from being out there with my team.” And there’s no question he is being missed. “It’s tough to lose Kyle in both games to foul trouble,” DeMar DeRozan said. “To not have your point guard, that we are accustomed to having at a certain time in the rotation, was definitely tough.” There was a brief moment of hope early in the third when the Raptors came out and erased the bulk of an 11-point deficit in a hurry, pulling to within two. Terrence Ross, who did not have a single make from three-point land in six attempts in Game 1, got his second and third in those early moments of the final half to get the crowd back in it. But that moment of belief that the worst was behind the Raptors was gone as quickly as it arrived.
When it comes to the ball that was played at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, it was Wall and his backcourt linemate Bradley Beal who lit things up. Though they started out soft, the Wizards sprang into the lead in the waning minutes of the first half, riding the efficient attacks of their starting guards. Wall chalked up a double-double in assists and points by halftime, while Beal was well on his way to finishing with a game-high 28 points. “They think that we’re some punks,” Beal reportedly said in an on-court interview at halftime. “They think they can push around. But we’re not rolling.” That passion showed down the stretch. The Wizards kept rolling through Toronto’s lacklustre defence, collectively shooting more than 50 per cent on their field goals, a tally that included 10 three-pointers.
Lowry had said all the right things after his brutal Game 1 performance, but his follow-up was equally troubling and was a major reason why the Raptors fell into a 2-0 hole to the Washington Wizards, one that only four of 59 teams have rallied back from since 2003. When nearly everything was rolling for the Raptors early on in this one, Lowry was the lone concern, because he was again making poor decisions with the ball, forcing the issue too much. But it got much worse. Lowry got mildly jobbed on an early foul call against John Wall, was completely ripped off when Bradley Beal tripped on his own two feet, then picked up a legit third by being out of position. Being out of position, because he was again gambling too often defensively, put the team Lowry is supposed to carry in huge trouble. Instead of playing smarter, knowing the referees were calling everything, Lowry gambled and had to sit for a long stretch. He knew it too.
When it comes to the ball that was played at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, it was Wall and his backcourt linemate Bradley Beal who lit things up. Though they started out soft, the Wizards sprang into the lead in the waning minutes of the first half, riding the efficient attacks of their starting guards. Wall chalked up a double-double in assists and points by halftime, while Beal was well on his way to finishing with a game-high 28 points. “They think that we’re some punks,” Beal reportedly said in an on-court interview at halftime. “They think they can push around. But we’re not rolling.” That passion showed down the stretch. The Wizards kept rolling through Toronto’s lacklustre defence, collectively shooting more than 50 per cent on their field goals, a tally that included 10 three-pointers.
The Wizards backcourt would dominate, Toronto’s transition and perimeter defence exposed, stretches when shots weren’t dropping, long stretches when Washington would make shot after shot. Washington showed its mettle, recovering from an early 10-point hole, ultimately putting the Raptors into a 0-2 series hole. Anyone believing this outcome wasn’t possible should kick themselves, the Raptors-centric base losing sight of how efficient and excellent these Wizards were in last spring’s post-season when they legitimately had a chance to play Miami in the Eastern final. When Paul Pierce said the Raptors didn’t have the it factor, he was right. Washington doesn’t exactly have it either, but there’s potential because of Wall. Just ask the Raptors.
Here’s the grim numerical truth about Toronto’s best player. He’s 5-for-20 from the field in the series. In two games he has scored fewer points (13) than Wizards guard Bradley Beal scored in Tuesday’s second quarter alone (16). Lowry, too, has racked up more personal fouls (10) than he has assists (eight). And here’s what that means for the Raptors: Unless a better, more menacing Lowry emerges for Games 3 and 4 in Washington on Friday and Sunday, Toronto’s second playoff run in as many seasons is going to be a short one. “He’s just trying to get back into the groove (after the late-season back injury), and he’s struggling,” Casey said of Lowry in the pall of a post-game press conference. “I know Kyle’s not going to say, ‘Hey, it’s my back,’ or, ‘I’m struggling getting back in the groove, getting my rhythm back.’ But that’s the difference.” There are those around the team who’ll tell you it’s not as simple as that; that Lowry, though he has clearly been set back by injury, hasn’t dealt well with the pressures of his first all-star campaign; that he’s a tightly wound individual still figuring out how to navigate life as a marquee guy. And certainly it’s never just about the statistics when it comes to Toronto’s best player — although that argument is difficult to make after a night when Wizards counterpart John Wall rampaged to a 26-point, 17-assist masterpiece.
Washington shot 64% in the second quarter, 52.3% in the first half … First-half stats: The Raptors’ starting lineup was outscored by Washington 53-24 … It didn’t get better in the third quarter, with Washington putting up 37 points in its highest-scoring stanza … James Johnson got a standing ovation and seven minutes and seven seconds of playing time in the first half. The ovation was nice: Johnson’s presence did little to change the Raptors’ fortunes. He didn’t play in the second half … The Raptors will only go as far as Lowry and DeRozan take them: Neither scored a point in the second quarter. Lowry had two first-half points and spent a good deal of time on the bench in foul trouble. Lowry made just two baskets after scoring only seven points in Game 1… TSN analyst Jack Armstrong on playoff basketball: “It’s a man’s game this time of year.” … The Golden State backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is averaging 51.5 points a game for the impressive Warriors. DeRozan and Lowry have averaged just more than 20 points combined through two home games … The Raptors came unglued in the third quarter, down 15 points when coach Dwane Casey was called for a technical foul. It wasn’t a good night for the coach or his team.
“I thought we did a little bit better on the boards tonight but I see us getting knocked down going to the basket, I don’t see their guys hitting the floor,” Casey said. “I see them waltzing in, waving at us and laughing at us going to the basket and I don’t see us (knocking anyone down). “That’s what I challenged the team after the game. We’ve got to make sure we hit somebody and make it count . . . Don’t want to hurt anybody or play dirty but we have to match their physicality in the paint, going to the basket, going for easy buckets, that’s what playoff basketball is about.” It is hard to say which facet of the game Toronto failed greater at.
For the second straight game, Lowry was largely ineffective, struggling to stay on the floor long enough to make an impact once again. He picked up his second foul of the night just two and a half minutes into the second quarter. 10 seconds later he was whistled for his third. The Raptors were up by six when Lowry parked himself on the bench, they had led by as many as 10. At least one of the calls was highly questionable. Lowry wasn’t happy. Casey, who picked up a rare technical foul later in the game, opted to withhold comment on the officiating and save his money after the loss. By intermission, Lowry had accumulated as many fouls as points (nine) through the first six quarters of this series. “I guess [I was] trying to play physically,” he said after finishing with six points on 3-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes. “But I guess I shouldn’t play as physical as I want to.” “For me it sucks because I’m trying to help my teammates, trying to be more physical and play playoff basketball, but I keep getting fouls. It’s really holding me back from being out there with my team.” It went from bad to worse midway through the fourth quarter when Lowry was forced from the game with a shin contusion – he’ll be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
“We got to run through the finish line,” said Pierce, who tallied 10 points. “Sometimes we get a big lead, and it’s like the tortoise and the hare, just gets to messing around and chilling on the sideline. We got to run through the finish line. Simple and plain.”
When Kyle Lowry… picked up his second and third fouls within 10 seconds of each other just under three minutes into the second quarter and was subsequently provided a seat, the Raptors had a six-point lead. Washington then went on a 31-14 run to end the first half up 60-49. Everyone in, on, and around Toronto knew that Lowry needed to have a bounce-back game in the worst way for Toronto to succeed, and him having to sit was demoralizing, compounded by the fact that Greivis Vasquez replaced him on defense versus John Wall & Co. When Paul Pierce… was inserted at the 4-spot for the second time in as many playoff games with 8:35 left in the second quarter (this time replacing Drew Gooden), the Wizards were down four points, 35-31. Two Lou Williams free throws queued up before the timeout gave Toronto a 37-31 lead. The Wizards then went on a 27-12 run with Pierce at the 4 until the 56 second mark in the second quarter when Gooden was subbed back in. Nene spent about five minutes at the 5, Gortat spent just under three minutes there; Washington made 11-of-14 field goals to 5-of-10 from Toronto. These two events just about coincided. All but four of Washington’s points in that 31-14 run came with Pierce at the 4. So what more determined the game? Neither. It was Bradley Beal, who went 6-for-7 from the field with 13 points over the last nine minutes of the second quarter (16 total points in the period). Randy Wittman’s offense knew that it had exactly what it needed to win the game, a different, non-#PandaRange Big Panda (which is Beal’s nickname, in case you didn’t know). Beal went 4-for-4 at the basket during that stretch and 7-for-11 over the course of the night en route to a game-high (and playoff-high) 28 points.
Beal not only got to the basket in transition, but he did his best James Harden impression in the half-court, finding lanes to the rim all game long. Besides a few shots in the first quarter, Beal didn’t settle for many midrange jumpers tonight. Instead, he made the most of each possession, scoring 20 points in the first half. After a miserable performance in Game-1, we all expected Wall and Beal to play well tonight, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened tonight. Wall knocked down midrange shots, pull up threes, and made some ridiculous passes en route to the best playoff game of his career.
John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to have a bit of a dud performance in Game 1, combining to go 11-41 from the field. And from the start of things in Game 2, it looked like they could be on track for more of the same in Game 2 as they settled for some bad jumpers early as the Raptors took control early. When they reentered the game in the second quarter, they went on the type of run fans envisioned when the Wizards drafted Beal to play alongside Wall. John Wall was getting wherever he wanted on the court and hitting tough shots, finishing with 26 points and 17 assists. He was a force on the defensive end as well. If you’re looking for a six second sequence that summed up his night, here you go:
The final says 117-106, but it may as well have been a 20-30 point deficit. The Raptors could not play defense, could not get rebounds, and despite hitting shots, could not produce enough of an efficient offense to hurt the Wizards. Wall and Beal, playing like the best backcourt in the East, finished with 26 points-17 assists and 28 points, respectively. While DeRozan and Williams finished with 20 points each, it was not enough. And poor Kyle Lowry, hounded all night by defenders and… something (expectations?), was forced to watch another game slip away from the bench, an injury taking him off the court this time. The Raptors look dead. And now we expect them to lose. It’s funny how those things turn so quickly.
“It started off with transition and not getting back. The bigs not protecting the rim nearly as good as we should have. Communication on the offensive end, just talking to make sure we close out. A couple of lapses as far as communicating on ball screens. The guards pushing them one way and the bigs caught on another way. Lack of being in the same page in that area. Just so many little things, but I think the most important thing was transition.” – Patrick Patterson
Offense: C Let me get the positives out of the way. DeMar DeRozan was strong early on (nine points in the first quarter, before finishing with 20, going 9 for 18 from the field), Patrick Patterson provided a spark off the bench (15 points, perfect 6 for 6), James Johnson actually played, and the Raptors got to the charity stripe 32 times (although they only converted 21). That’s about it. The middle quarters of this game were atrocious. Credit needs to be given to the Wizards— they really dug in defensively and made the Raptors uncomfortable following the hot start from the field. Toronto didn’t adjust, after before we could blink twice, the Raptors – who led by five after the opening frame – were down 60-49 at halftime.
This is arguable when all things are equal; in truth, there isn’t much difference between these teams. But things are not equal right now. John Wall and Bradley Beal are whipping Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams. In a series that was going to be defined by guard play, it’s not a fair fight. It will be interesting to see what Lowry says about his health when he feels he can be totally honest, whenever that might be. Whether it’s the day the Raptors clean out their lockers — and that day could be approaching quickly — or it’s in training camp next fall, it seems possible he’s going to tell a tale of how much his back is affecting him at this highly inopportune time. He’s is talking a good game, saying before Game 2 that “I feel great, I’m here kicking,” but his play is saying something different. It has been for a while now; it’s truly not a surprise. And without their bulldog point guard able to engage full scale with Wall, the Raptors are just outclassed. Lowry is a shell of his normal self, the vicious and relentless basket-attacker with an angry streak that turned him into this franchise’s player.
“I think the difference in the game was [John] Wall hitting his threes,” Casey said. “Beal came off his pin downs and knocked his shots down, even his threes. They were four-for-nine between them and once they saw the ball go in the hole I thought that was the difference, and got us spaced out a little more.” The odds are now stacked heavily against the Raptors, who will play Game 3 in Washington Friday. According to an article by Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, teams who’ve fallen behind 2-0 at home to open a seven-game series have gone on to win the series just three times in 29 tries. If this series finishes with the Raptors on the losing end, there will certainly be plenty of questions around what went wrong for a team that had such a promising start to the season. And like it or not, there will be no shortage of those pointing fingers at coach Casey. And laying a portion of the blame at the coach’s feet wouldn’t be unwarranted either.
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We’ll get you the full quotes the paper guys collect in tomorrow morning’s Morning Coffee. For now, we’ll have to rely on Twitter to get some reaction to the horrible Game 2 loss.
Sam and Zarar discuss the Game 2 loss to the Wizards, which sees Washington assert their dominance in convincing fashion.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Raptors were dominated by the Wizards and face a daunting task of winning 4 out of 5.
If the regular season taught us anything (or the history of the franchise for that matter), it’s hard to imagine the Raps coming up lame in tonight’s Game 2. That statement might be filled to the optimistic brim, but hey, inconsistency is their identity, so it only makes sense. There’s only one direction to move after such a disappointing opener. Insert fingers crossed, here.
With that said, we’ve also learned never to assume a course of action will take place, as Game 1 held a far too familiar occurrence. HE’S THE DUDE WITH THE RED HAIR, COACH! CAN’T MISS HIM!
As the Republic’s Blake Murphy pointed out in Monday’s call for a James Johnson adjustment, it would be an absolute shocker if the same lineup “plan” is upheld by Casey going forward. We’ve been dumbfounded before but even DC can’t be this stubborn, right?
James Johnson right now. pic.twitter.com/CGVNYwcbLP
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) April 18, 2015
But one has to raise an even bigger eyebrow at Casey’s “matchup” comment. If he hadn’t painted himself into a corner over the course of the season, where criticism reached optimum levels, he’s now left this fan base and onlookers alike in a state of bewilderment.
It’s almost as if he’s trained himself to give robotic answers to any questions regarding JJ. One who represented the best option at attempting to seal the cracks Washington had found. Sticking with one’s original way of thinking is one thing, but allowing Johnson to waste away on the pine with not even a sniff of action is simply inexcusable.
Sure, this isn’t breaking news, especially by the time this piece drops, but just like any other major issue that has presented itself throughout the year, the drum must be beaten by default. Besides, it doesn’t seem as if the “mainstream” media wants to play a prosecutor’s role, well there’s no worries about a PR backlash here, I’m more than happy to fill the void.
There’s Always Hope:
Allotting minutes for JJ is a forgone conclusion at this point, but there are plenty of factors that fans can only hope come to fruition.
- Washington’s control of the boards in Game 1, along with the Raps’ frustrating counter-effort would make any backer of facing the Wizards over the Bucks in the first round rethink what they wished for. As much as piling on Casey would act as tidy blame, when fundamental box-outs don’t transpire, and half-assed responsibility on switches are taken, the players must be held accountable. Let’s hope a shift in power presides.
- The Jonas Valanciunas saga continues. It’s a shame this issue still must be discussed, as JV, if allowed to grow properly during the season, had the chance to be miles ahead of where he currently is. Yet this squad’s main interior presence is still reluctant to assert himself at both ends. However, if given half the chance to do so, the dynamic of this series could change drastically.
- Which connects the Raps’ three main shooters: K-Low, DeMar, and Lou. Who collectively in a one-game bubble put up an uninspiring 26% from the field, and a disappointing 45% from the True Shooting perspective. It’s one game, yes, but a reoccurring theme over the season’s duration nonetheless. Mix in JV’s minuscule 7 shots (the majority on put-back attempts) with the same amount of free-throws as JJ’s minutes received, and you get another episode of ignoring the middle brought to you by the misguided shot-selection of the Raps’ backcourt. Ride or die by the jumper, I get it (unfortunately), but Saturday hit a new low.
- As for the fan base, we can’t be content whenever Jack Armstrong utters the words: “Amazingly, the Raps are just stuck five.” I can only hope not. But hope is a dangerous thing, and we’ve become attached to what this team is truly capable of when optimized. As much as a glutton-for-punishment outcome might await us all, I still hold it in spades.
Vasquez may have brought the house down with his game-tying clutch from downtown (my neighbours are still giving me dirty looks from the noise that shot created), but if those moments are going to be relied upon, this will be a very short series.
Expect the starting lineup to assemble back to its regular season form with Amir slotted back in. A workhorse saviour in his Game 1 reserve role, AJ’s grind-it-out performance was one of the Raps’ minimal bright spots, even though trouble handling the Wizards’ size down-low was present.
If you’re looking for the player where all of the afore