Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Oct 30, 14 [Audio] Gamenight Podcap: Hawks vs Raptors Ryan McNeill
Oct 29, 14 Reaction: Raptors 109, Hawks 102 William Lou
Oct 29, 14 Video: Toronto Raptors Home Opener – Team Introduction Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 29, 14 Talking Raptors: A New Season Nick Reynoldson
Oct 29, 14 Audio: Talking Raptors Basketball on CBC Radio Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 29, 14 Gameday: Hawks at Raptors William Lou
Oct 29, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Oct 29 – New Season! Nick Reynoldson
Oct 29, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 29 Sam Holako
Oct 28, 14 It’s here, let’s ramble Blake Murphy
Oct 28, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 28 Sam Holako
Oct 27, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Oct 27 – Let the Games Begin Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 27, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 27 Sam Holako
Oct 26, 14 It’s Here: Season Opening Roundtable, Part 2 Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 14 It’s Here: Season Opening Roundtable, Part 1 Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 14 Raptors Waive Will Cherry and Jordan Hamilton, Tears Flowing Everywhere Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 25, 14 Raptors Finish Preseason on Track with Win over Knicks Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Quick Reaction: Knicks 80, Raptors 83 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Raptors vs Knicks GIFs Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 24, 14 Resting Players? forumcrew
Oct 24, 14 Gameday: Knicks at Raptors William Lou
Oct 24, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 24 Sam Holako
Oct 23, 14 Raps down Maccabi Haifa, Bebe debuts, blocks everything Garrett Hinchey
Oct 23, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 23 Sam Holako
Oct 22, 14 Reaction: Raptors 92, Maccabi 85 William Lou
Oct 22, 14 NBA GM Survey: Raptors to win Atlantic, Valanciunas to break out William Lou
Oct 22, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 22 Sam Holako
Oct 21, 14 How does Bruno Caboclo develop from here? Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 14 Update: Winner Announced – Free Tickets to Raptors vs Maccabi – Here’s How to Get Them – #RRTix Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 20, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Oct 20 – Preseason All-Star Reserves Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 20, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 20 Sam Holako
Oct 18, 14 Promotion: Free open practice, Raptors mini-packs on sale William Lou
Oct 18, 14 Terrence Ross shines as Raptors rout shorthanded Thunder William Lou
Oct 18, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Injury vs OKC Thunder Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 109, Thunder 90 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 17, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Thunder Garrett Hinchey
Oct 17, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 17 Sam Holako
Oct 16, 14 Who Will Be the Raptors 15th Man? forumcrew
Oct 16, 14 Shorthanded Raptors top Celtics William Lou
Oct 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 16 Sam Holako
Oct 15, 14 Reaction: Raptors 92, Celtics 89 Scott Hastie
Oct 15, 14 [GIF + Video] Lou Williams Hits the Game-Winning Three at the Buzzer Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 [GIF] Terrence Ross Throws it Down on the Break with Authority (Plus all the GIFs) Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 15, 14 Gameday: Raptors at Celtics (again) William Lou
Oct 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 15 Sam Holako
Oct 14, 14 PHOTO: Bruno and Bebe preparing for their first winter in Canada William Lou
Oct 14, 14 [Video + GIF] James Johnson and Dwane Casey Incident after J.R Smith Fouled Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 Raptors Exercise Fourth Year Options on Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 14, 14 The quintessential preseason game William Lou
Oct 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 14 Sam Holako
Oct 13, 14 Raptors vs Knicks: Look, GIFs…GIFs Everywhere Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Quick Reaction: Raptors 81, Knicks 76 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 [GIF] Lou Williams to Bruno Caboclo for the Slam! Raps up Late in NY Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 13, 14 Can DeMar Surpass Harden? forumcrew
Oct 13, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Press Pass Tim W.
Oct 13, 14 Raptors Weekly (Mini) Podcast, Oct 13 – Yao Ming to Vancouver Conspiracy Theory Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 11, 14 Preseason: Raptors Beat Celtics after Kyle Lowry Gets Serious Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 Quick Reaction: Celtics 109, Raptors 116 Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] Amir Johnson Undresses Kelly Olynyk on the Block Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan Passes to Himself for the Layup Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 10, 14 A Peek into DeMar’s Summer Training Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Bebe has a serious groin injury; it’s for real Sam Holako
Oct 10, 14 Preview: Celtics at Raptors William Lou
Oct 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 10 Sam Holako
Oct 9, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, Oct 9 – Working Out The Kinks Nick Reynoldson
Oct 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 9 Sam Holako
Oct 8, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Conversing With Jonas Tim W.
Oct 8, 14 Raptors’ defense fails to stop Kings’ offense William Lou
Oct 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 8 Sam Holako
Oct 8, 14 Reaction: Raptors 106, Kings 113 William Lou
Oct 8, 14 GIF: Bruno Caboclo blocks Omri Casspi William Lou
Oct 7, 14 Injury update: Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson will miss tonight’s preseason game against Sacramento William Lou
Oct 7, 14 Gameday: Raptors @ Kings preseason, Oct. 7 Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 14 Tales from Training Camp: All About Bruno Tim W.
Oct 6, 14 Tales from Training Camp: Welcome to Vancouver Tim W.
Oct 6, 14 Raptors 2nd unit shines in preseason opener Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, October 6 – Steiming Start to Preseason; Vegas Over/Under Odds Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 6, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 6 Sam Holako
Oct 5, 14 Terrence Ross Injury Update + GIF Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 Collector’s Item GIF: Tyler Hansbrough with the Corner Three Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 Quick Reaction: Kings 94, Raptors 99 – Bruno Chained Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 5, 14 WOOT WOOT! The Raptors Are Back! Zarar Siddiqi
Oct 3, 14 PHOTO: DeMar DeRozan responds to Bradley Beal’s “best backcourt” claim William Lou
Oct 3, 14 Raptors’ only camp battle a dance between disparate options Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 14 Player Preview: James Johnson and Landry Fields Tamberlyn Richardson
Oct 2, 14 Player Profile: Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes William Lou
Oct 1, 14 Landry Fields: Familiar Problems, Fresh Perspective Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 14 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry Tim Chisholm
Oct 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 1 Sam Holako
Sep 30, 14 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas Garrett Hinchey
Sep 30, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Sep 30 Sam Holako
Sep 29, 14 FACT or FICTION: Toronto Raptors Edition forumcrew
Sep 29, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 29 – Emotional Connections in West Coaching Game Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 28, 14 Raptors Pre-Preseason Mailbag Blake Murphy
Sep 27, 14 Player Preview: Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams Tim Chisholm
Sep 26, 14 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo & Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira Tim W.
Sep 25, 14 Raptors Square renamed “Ford Square” William Lou
Sep 25, 14 Player Preview: Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson William Lou
Sep 24, 14 Player Preview: Terrence Ross Garrett Hinchey
Sep 23, 14 Kyle Lowry receives the Jonathan Abrams treatment William Lou
Sep 23, 14 Player Profile – DeMar DeRozan Tamberlyn Richardson
Sep 22, 14 Raptors Weekly Wordcast – Eastern Conference Coaching Game Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 20, 14 Weekend Roundtable: Biggest weakness, win projections, most likely to breakout William Lou
Sep 19, 14 Weekend Roundtable: Most impactful offseason transaction, Patterson or Amir? William Lou
Sep 16, 14 Highlights from Greivis Vasquez’s Reddit AMA William Lou
Sep 15, 14 Greivis Vasquez will do a Reddit AMA at 9:30 a.m. ET tomorrow William Lou
Sep 15, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 15 – Economy of Movement Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 12, 14 Crowdsourcing: An extension for Amir Johnson William Lou
Sep 11, 14 FIBA World Cup Semifinal Recap: USA 96, Lithuania 68 William Lou
Sep 11, 14 VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins has thoughts of an assassin, nearly punches Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Sep 11, 14 Masai Ujiri responds to Hawks GM Danny Ferry’s “African” comment William Lou
Sep 10, 14 VIDEO: Greivis Vasquez working on his handles William Lou
Sep 9, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap: Lithuania to face USA in semifinals William Lou
Sep 9, 14 PHOTO: New Raptors court design for 2014-15 is awesome Blake Murphy
Sep 9, 14 Sorting out the 15th roster spot candidates Blake Murphy
Sep 8, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 8 – Ball In Europe (@bie_basketball) Breaks Down FIBA Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 7, 14 Jonas Valanciunas and Coach Kazlauskas Reaction after New Zealand Win Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 7, 14 [GIF] Jonas Valanciunas sinks jumper, does the finger wag William Lou
Sep 5, 14 VIDEO: Mike Tyson in a Toronto Raptors Jersey William Lou
Sep 5, 14 Breaking it Down: Tracking Jonas Valanciunas’ defensive progress William Lou
Sep 4, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap no. 2: USA dominant, Lithuania wins nail-biter William Lou
Sep 4, 14 Raptors sign Greg Stiemsma William Lou
Sep 3, 14 FIBA World Cup Recap: Valanciunas shines, DeRozan improves William Lou
Sep 2, 14 DeAndre Daniels (elbow) underwent surgery William Lou
Sep 2, 14 Q&A with @LithuaniaBasket about Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Sep 1, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, September 1, Diametrically Opposed Play Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 DeRozan scores 6 points in USA’s 114-55 Rout of Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 Jonas Valanciunas With Strong Showing at FIBA vs Mexico Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 28, 14 Breaking it Down: The Raptors’ Clutch Playbook William Lou
Aug 27, 14 The Raptors and The Lean Startup Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 25, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 25 – Leiweke Hates the 9-to-5 Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 23, 14 [OFFICIAL]: DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA William Lou
Aug 21, 14 Tim Leiweke to leave MLSE by 2015 William Lou
Aug 21, 14 What is the benefit of continuity? William Lou
Aug 21, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring with 13 points William Lou
Aug 20, 14 Beyond the Raptors: New York Knicks Sam Holako
Aug 19, 14 Reports: Bruno eating 6,000 calores per day, Tim Leiweke leaving? William Lou
Aug 19, 14 Yakkin’ About The Raptors: Brainstorming Kevin Durant Bars For Drake Blake Murphy
Aug 19, 14 Terrence Ross Throwing Down at Seatle Pro AM Sam Holako
Aug 18, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 18 – All-Time Frustrating Team and Tired Camels Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 17, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas Dominates New Zealand with 15 Points in Fourth Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 15, 14 The problem with #WeTheNorth William Lou
Aug 14, 14 Report: Raptors reach 1-year agreement with Jordan Hamilton William Lou
Aug 14, 14 William Lou asks: Who is Lou Williams? William Lou
Aug 13, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Schedule – Live Thread Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 What’s Your Starting 5? forumcrew
Aug 13, 14 Key Adjustments Needed Despite Majority Roster Returning for Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 Raptors looking to add Rochester RazorSharks as D-League affiliate William Lou
Aug 12, 14 VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas drops 19 points, 8 rebounds against Australia William Lou
Aug 12, 14 DeMar DeRozan’s Value as a Free Throw Shooter RR
Aug 11, 14 ESPN summer forecast projects Raptors to win 3rd seed with 47 wins William Lou
Aug 11, 14 Drake’s First Contribution to the Raptors: A $25,000 Fine Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 11, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 11 – DeMar’s Getting Low Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 10, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas – 20 points vs Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 9, 14 Raptors Second Round Pick DeAndre Daniels to Play in Australia Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 8, 14 How will the Love-for-Wiggins trade impact the Raptors? William Lou
Aug 7, 14 DeRozan’s new handles Sam Holako
Aug 7, 14 Why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket? William Lou
Aug 6, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Pre-Season Schedule Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 6, 14 Mild Musings on Guard Lineups Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 5, 14 A totally scientific assessment of #KDtoTORONTO2016 William Lou
Aug 4, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 4 – Solo Effort Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 3, 14 Raptors officially sign Lucas Nogueira Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Raptors Fans and the Galvanization of the ACC Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Aug 1 Sam Holako
Jul 31, 14 Q&A with Chris Faulkner of Grizzlies Bear Blues on James Johnson William Lou
Jul 30, 14 Report: Raptors Sign Will Cherry Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 30, 14 So You Drove the Ball to the Net. What next? Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 29, 14 Summer Mail Bag Vol. 1 – Amir vs. 2Pat, 2015 Free Agents William Lou
Jul 28, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Morgan Time Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 26, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan jumps over Kyle Lowry for the alley-oop slam William Lou
Jul 25, 14 [Pic] Amir Johnson Shaved His Head Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 25, 14 10 Questions Basketball Analytics Needs to Answer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 Terrence Ross throws down a 360 dunk in the Philippines Sam Holako
Jul 24, 14 Jonas Valanciunas’ Roadmap to NBA Legitimacy Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 ICYMI: Lou Williams Can Spit Sam Holako
Jul 23, 14 The New James Johnson’s Potential Impact on the Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 21, 14 Ushering in the Golden Generation of Canadian Basketball William Lou
Jul 21, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 21 – Eastern Conference Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 19, 14 Reports: Diante Garrett Waived, Dwight Buycks likely signs in Europe William Lou
Jul 19, 14 Report: Raptors Waive Dwight Buycks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 18, 14 Summer League: We Like Where He Strokes It Tim W.
Jul 18, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan’s evolution through shot-charts William Lou
Jul 18, 14 The Raptors and the NBA’s Shooting Revolution – the Nylon Calculus Shot Charts RR
Jul 17, 14 ICYMI: Lucas Nogueira Chases Luke Hancock Down For The Dunk Sam Holako
Jul 17, 14 Audio: Dwane Casey Summer League Interview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 17, 14 Recap: Buycks and Bruno shine, Summer League is strange William Lou
Jul 16, 14 LVSL Game Thread: Raptors vs. Rockets William Lou
Jul 16, 14 Raptors 2014-15 Projected Wins forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Can the Raptors Compete for the #1 Seed in the East Next Season? forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, July 16 – Summer League Barry Taylor
Jul 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 16 Sam Holako
Jul 16, 14 Raptors play Rockets in LVSL Wed at 8:30, date with Wiggins awaits RR
Jul 15, 14 Breaking: Drunk Driving Charges Against Jonas Valanciunas Dropped Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 15, 14 ICYMI: Caboclo Welcomed to Summer League Sam Holako
Jul 15, 14 Scouting Report: Say Ayy to Bebe Nogueira William Lou
Jul 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 15 Sam Holako
Jul 14, 14 Summer League: Raptors Shoot 30%, Commit 30 Turnovers, Lose by 31 to Mavericks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 What’s Next For The Raptors? Tim W.
Jul 14, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 14 – Stonewalling and Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jul 14 Sam Holako

Raptors on pace for 82-0.


Atlanta Hawks 101 FinalRecap | Box Score 107 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF Shot Chart 31 MIN | 7-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -2You da real MVP. A healthy, spry Amir was everywhere on both ends of the court. He crashed the glass hard and smartly positioned himself on the floor to take pressure off his teammates. A beast defensively too, effectively containing both Horford and Millsap. A tremendous effort.

Terrence Ross, SF Shot Chart 28 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -4Lost Korver a few times around screens, but he looked confident in his shot and stayed within his game. It’s a positive sign to see him rebound from his rather awful preseason showing. Cutting down on ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities was the key.

Jonas Valanciunas, C Shot Chart 21 MIN | 4-5 FG | 9-10 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +3An extremely strong showing, especially against the Hawks’ smallball lineups. He kept his hands high, making himself open when rolling to the basket. The Hawks had no answer his size, and had to settle for fouling him. He would have easily cracked 20 points if a few more of his looks dropped.

Kyle Lowry, PG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 3-11 FG | 5-7 FT | 6 REB | 10 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -6Kept the offense humming, looked for his teammates, and took charge when necessary. This is the Kyle Lowry we know and love. Couldn’t keep Teague in check, though. The quickness was too much to handle.

DeMar DeRozan, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 4-16 FG | 7-10 FT | 11 REB | 3 AST | 6 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 15 PTS | +2On one hand, he got shafted by the referees. No question about that. But the constant pouting and forcing of the offense was a terrible look. On a key possession down the stretch, he got hacked, didn’t get the foul, and complained about the call for the entire possession. His man subsequently knocked down an absolutely wide-open triple. More on him below. His defense was strong, though.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -1 The boxscore lies, sometimes. Hansbrough’s energy on defense was key. Surprisingly, he was the first big off the bench after Jonas picked up two fouls, but he held down the paint, crashing the glass and making smart rotations. Good stuff for Hansbrough.

James Johnson, PF Shot Chart 14 MIN | 0-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +2Stop dribbling. Don’t ever dribble. Otherwise looked good, albeit a little over-active defensively.

Patrick Patterson, PF Shot Chart 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +8Passed up way too many open looks from deep. He struggled with his shot, but the ball is designed to find him open on the perimeter, so there are shots he simply has to take. Smart rotations defensively.

Greivis Vasquez, PG Shot Chart 17 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +13A lot of YOLO type shots, but that’s just how we like him. Nailed a pair of triples in the span of 10 seconds to balloon the lead for the Raptors in the second quarter. Also put in an impressive stint inbetween the third and fourth quarters to give the Raptors a lead they almost blew.

Louis Williams, SG Shot Chart 15 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +6He’s a shot maker. That’s what he’s here for. His chemistry with Vasquez looked much better than it was in preseason.

Dwane Casey
Managed the rotation well. Coerced good production from the bench, especially with the two-guard lineups featuring Vasquez and Williams. As a result, the starters were fresh to close the game. Used timeouts well when DeRozan was hot at the refs.

Five Things We Saw

  1. DeRozan struggled to score in the first half, but he found ways to contribute defensively, which is a very positive sign. The knock on DeRozan has centered on his one-dimensionality. With the Hawks gameplanning for his drives, DeRozan understandably struggled to get any clean looks and forced more than a few bad looks. But the fact that DeRozan still found a way to impact the game speaks to his development.
  2. Kyle Korver burned the Raptors in the first half because the Hawks’ system fits him perfectly. He’s always the beneficiary on kickouts, feasting off the defensive chaos generated from multiple pick-and-rolls. Like Zach Lowe said, Korver is Atlanta’s not-so-secret star.
  3. How about those calls? The whistle DeRozan and Hansbrough got was ridiculous. On one possession, Bazemore hooked Hansbrough’s arm and pulled him to the ground on a loose ball, and Hansbrough was the one tabbed for the foul. No love, none whatsoever.
  4. Unexpected twist: The Raptors’ frontcourt outplayed their counterparts.
  5. Don’t freak out about the fourth quarter mini-meltdown. The Hawks started nailing three-pointers and the Raptors had a few bounces that went against them on offense. Process over results.

The crowd was nuts to start the game, and Lowry even gave a speech. Here are your 2014-15 Toronto Raptors. See if you can figure out where Greivis Vasquez appears from.

Had a chance to speak with Matt Galloway from CBC’s Metro Morning (@metromorning) this AM. We talked about being a fan in the early years of the franchise, players’ perception of Toronto, the current core of the Raptors, and expectations for this season.

Here’s the link to the CBC audio, you can also listen to it below as well:

The waiting is over. Bring on Al Horford and the Hawks to start the season.

Expectations are fickle.

On one hand, fans should expect big things from the Raptors. After going 42-22 following the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors finished with a franchise-high 48 wins en route to snagging third in the Eastern Conference. Whether you’re of the opinion that the Raptors are a middle of the pack playoff team, or something more, the basis is the same. The Raptors are a good team. As fans, we should expect big things. We are expecting big things.

On the other hand, expectation doubles as a weight. With karmic balance finally having swung back in Toronto’s favor, there’s something on the line for the Raptors for once. Last season was fun in part because the Raptors were winning, but it was also fun because their success took everyone — including the players and management — by surprise. The experience for both the team, and its fans will surely change with perspective. The ante is in the pot. After toiling in the league’s basement for so long, squandering the momentum is not an an option.

Personally, I’m more hopeful than expectant. I think it’s the healthier line to take. I’ll happily trade exuberance and abrasiveness for quiet victories. I don’t like shitting on other teams — excluding the Knicks and Celtics — to validate my appreciation for my own squad. As a fanbase, let’s stay humble, keep expectations in line and critiques of other teams to a minimum. Let’s not get carried away and become Lakers fans.

Now this is going to be fun (but hopefully not fun, like the 2012-13 Lakers)

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Don’t sleep on the Atlanta Hawks. Despite their 38-44 record last season, there’s more that meets the eye with the Hawks. Their frontcourt features two two-way All-Stars in Paul Millsap and Al Horford. The backcourt doesn’t nearly lend as much to name recognition, but head coach Mike Budenholzer’s Spurs-centric offense is designed to get the most out of players like Jeff Teague, Thabo Thefolosha and Kyle Korver. Their offense is well-structured, built on staying true to fundamental principles like ball movement and floor spacing to complement a roster of smart, team-first players.

But don’t get too excited, either. Don’t buy into the whole trope of, “oh, the Hawks were the third-best team in the East before Horford went down.” That tired party line is disingenuous. They played well, but 16-13 is nothing to write home about. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to get excited about the Hawks without needing to dabble in irrelevant pieces of trivia.

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Point Guard – Raptors

Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack

The Raptors have the best player in the bunch in Lowry. He’s coming off the best year of his career and he has looked sharp all preseason. His two-way play should fluster Teague and Mack for much of the game. Vasquez is more of a worry, having looked noticeably slower in preseason, but his troubles seemed to mostly stem from unfamiliarity playing with backcourt mate Lou Williams, than anything else.

Teague, however, is a legitimate concern. He has the quickness advantage over both Lowry and Vasquez, and he can score in bunches, especially if his shot is on. Having a maneuverable, savvy screen setter in Horford should afford Teague additional room to operate.

Mack is more of a combo guard. He’s very adept at spotting up as an off-guard, popping behind screens to launch threes. Luckily, his shot isn’t very consistent.

Shooting Guard – Raptors

DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams vs. Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha

The secret is finally out on Korver. If you’re still living in the past, thinking of Korver as just a shooter, do yourself a solid and read Zach Lowe’s piece on Korver’s nuanced and effective style of play. Korver will keep the Raptors on their toes all night with his movement and ability to shoot.

But DeRozan is a star, and although his three-point shot isn’t nearly as pure as Korver’s, DeRozan’s ability to create off the dribble and to draw fouls outweighs Korver’s more narrow contributions. It’s a tricky task, comparing do-it-all contributors to that of a role player. Korver serves his role better, but DeRozan’s role is bigger. That puts him ahead in my book.

Lou Williams, an offensive sparkplug that embodies the antithesis of Sefolosha’s defense-first, offense-never mentality.

Small Forward – Even

Terrence Ross, James Johnson vs. DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore

Carroll enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, trading in his fringe bench role for a well-deserved spot in the starting lineup. He is a tenacious, physical defender who can also knock down kickouts. In terms of his role, Carroll is an advanced form of Ross, who is still too inconsistent to be relied upon as a contributor on a nightly basis.

Power Forward – Hawks

Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson vs. Paul Millsap, Elton Brand

This one was close. Millsap is the best player out of the bunch, but Amir and Patterson provides the Raptors with two different looks. On the whole, look for Amir to shoulder the bulk of minutes defending against Millsap, but Patterson’s added mobility could also work. The hardest part about guarding Millsap is that he’s a threat to shoot from deep, but can also put the rock on the floor to counter closeouts. He’s also adept at finding the open shooter if and when defenses collapse.

The Hawks’ depth puts them over the top. Coming off the bench is yet another mobile floor-stretching big in Mike Scott. His playstyle might give the Raptors fits, if only because the Raptors will have to commit defenders away from the paint.

Center – Hawks

Jonas Valanciunas vs. Al Horford

Despite playing out of position, Horford is one of the best two-way centers in the league. He’s deadly as a pick-and-pop option from inside the three-point line, and his post game is decent. Most importantly, Horford ranks as a good rim-protector. He makes the correct rotations, and has enough size to challenge shots at the rim. Valanciunas will have his hands full, especially if he’s being lured away from the basket.

Prediction – Raptors 102, Hawks 99

Vegas says: Raptors by 5.5, O/U 200.

Ludacris’s cow says: Moo, bitch, get out the way.

William says: Raptors eke out a narrow win in front of a tense home crowd. Horford’s minutes are capped at 30, setting the stage for Pero Antic and Jonas Valanciunas to duke it out in the post. The stakes are high — the loser will have to shave their beard. DeRozan scores 12 in the fourth quarter and hits a pair of clutch free-throws to secure the victory.

Nick and Barry kick off the season with a new and improved episode of Talking Raptors. The kinks have been worked out, the dust shaken off and it is finally time to get down to business.

They discuss:

-Raptors odds at winning a championship.

-Nicknames… does Demar Derozan need one? Doesn’t matter.. he has one now.

-Inflatable mascot vs the Classic mascot.

-Analyzing the team and their favourite Drake songs
When will Bruno see his first action?

-Steve Nash, his impact and whether he will play again.

-Kawhi Leonard looking for a max!

and more!

enjoy and thanks for listening!

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (27:05, 26 MB). Or just listen below:

Defiant DeMar DeRozan vows to make a difference: Arthur | Toronto Star

It will require DeRozan’s defiance when it comes to making difficult shots that he shouldn’t be able to make. Remember when Ujiri bellowed out “F— Brooklyn” before Game 1 of the first-round playoff loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and said it was a spur-of-the-moment thing? It was, a few minutes earlier, when he was speaking to a group of season-ticket holders and yelled out the same thing. He liked it. He told the world. The ‘We The North’ thing is marketing, but Amir Johnson writes it in the dust on dirty cars, and it taps into something. Here we are, and we’re proud to be here. The crowd outside the Air Canada Centre in the Square became a beacon, and it looks like Toronto. There are parts of this city that have waited a long time for something to be built. “You look at something you can do in one place and leave your legacy there that will last forever, it means that much more,” says DeRozan. “I look at Alvin Williams. He comes back here and they treat him perfect, like family.”

From the mag: DeRozan’s next step | Sportsnet.ca

Farr broke the silence. “This is where your life changes,” he told DeRozan. “You see that?” he said, pointing down to the valley. “That’s where we come from, DeMar, and you can never forget that valley.” He turned to the contrasting skyline past the water. “That is where basketball can take you. The game is what will make it all possible, but it’s hard work that will get you there.” It’s a message that has stayed with DeRozan to this day. “That really put everything in perspective for me,” he says, sprawled comfortably across the curvy suede couch in the Raptors players lounge. “I realized then that I can never have an excuse for anything. If you work for it, you’ll deserve what comes. Hard work. That’s been my approach ever since.” That is the attitude DeRozan is building his reputation on. It’s allowed him to raise his game every season, bringing the franchise that took a chance on him along for the journey. Around his team, the 25-year-old is known as the guy who comes back to the arena a third time after two-a-days.

Raptors trying to control hype ahead of season opener | Toronto Sun

Sure, the franchise-best 48 wins last year and sterling 22-7 mark at the ACC post-Christmas were significant achievements, but Casey thinks his squad needs more time to prove itself. “You can’t put a number on who you are, especially where we are in our program,” Casey said Tuesday. “Right, wrong, indifferent, we’re not in that elite status yet. We haven’t earned that yet, so we’re still on our way of doing that. That’s what makes (50 wins) the unrealistic expectations. “We have to embrace (expectations) because they are there, but … if you’ve established that, you can feel that way, but coming from where we are, where we are going, we have no right to feel that way and we’ve got to continue to have that chip on our shoulder of the underdog.” Casey is nothing if not consistent. He has long refused to let his young charges rest on their laurels. He won’t accept anyone putting the proverbial cart before the horse. He has simply been in the game far too long for any of that.

Lewenberg: Raptors temper expectations on eve of season opener | TSN

“Now we know that we’re a good team and we know what we can do,” said Amir Johnson, who – along with DeMar DeRozan – is the team’s longest tenured player, entering his sixth year in Toronto. “There’s a lot of stuff we can definitely clean up, and we’re working everyday, but we know that we’re good and we have a lot of confidence. We just have to prove it on the court.” What would make this a successful season for the club? “In my eyes,” Patrick Patterson said, “winning more games than what we did last year and going further in the playoffs.” A reasonable answer and pretty straightforward method of evaluating growth, only Casey knows it’s not always that clear-cut. “There’s a great possibility we could win less games than we did last year and be a better team,” said the Raptors’ coach. “That’s a distinct possibility and if that happens so be it. So I’m not going on wins and losses or what we did last year. I’m more concerned about our development and getting better.”

Raptors roster at a glance | Toronto Sun

JAMES JOHNSON: Skinny: Savvy veteran will be used in a situational role. Might not play too often, but remains a leader in the locker room and a tremendous low-post defender. Can improve: He is what he is. Contract status: $5.95 million left on expiring deal.

Raptors need to get off to a good start to maintain the positive vibe around the team | Vancouver Sun

Granted, most of the so-called experts believe the Raptors will indeed defend their division title, but will do so with fewer victories. I’m not sure if that has something to do with the lack of quality teams within the division or whether it is expected that the Raptors will occasionally lose focus during the season since the expectation is another playoff run—this time hopefully deeper than one round. Within the team the Raptors espouse a simple goal—to win the division and take the next step in the playoffs, winning a round. For his part Coach Casey also espouses simple goals—to continue the process, the development and to keep getting better. This is still a young team says the coach. There is no way the team should be satisfied with last season’s success. One year does not make a career. The ultimate goal is an NBA championship and though the Raptors are not considered to be among the elite they should have their sights set on loftier goals this year.

Raptors: Top five things learned from the pre-season | Toronto Sun

James Johnson wanted to do too much on offence during his previous stint as a Raptor, even though he lacked the skills necessary to be a big scorer. Now, he knows what his role is. Johnson is the team’s defensive stopper. He will be tasked with guarding three positions and he has the size, athleticism and smarts to give the Raptors something they have lacked for years. The trick will be keeping Johnson happy with put-backs and transition points. Once he starts launching jumpers, his game slips. Patterson pointed out that the Raptors have struggled, allowing too much dribble penetration. Johnson might even spend some time bothering guards in order to fix that issue. ​

Raptors-Hawks: NBA game preview | Toronto Star

Horford is still not back to 100 per cent after missing more than 50 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle but he’s good enough to give the Hawks an imposing frontcourt . . . Atlanta lived and died with the three-point shot last season; Korver is one of the best from distance ever . . . Teague’s one of the quickest guards in the league, and one of the more under-rated ones . . . How’s this for constant change: The Raptors have never started the same five players on consecutive opening nights . . . Toronto is opening Maple Leaf Square for a game-night event, similar to the ones that became such a playoff phenomenon last spring . . . Coach Dwane Casey cautions about any over-confidence: “The team we’re playing . . . went as far as we did last year, Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs and nobody’s even talking about Atlanta. They add an all-star player and a player who started for a 60- or a 55-win team in OKC (Thabo Sefolosha) who is coming off bench now.”

Toronto Raptors’ James Johnson and coaching staff look to stay on same page this time around | National Post

When Masai Ujiri signed him to a low-risk two-year deal this July, it was easy to call Johnson a changed man. A trip to the D-League had taught him to relish a spot in the NBA; bouncing around the league had made him thirst for some stability. That is not just a nice story — it is at least partly valid. “It’s crazy. I’m six years in and I’ve had eight different coaches,” Johnson said. “Everybody coaches different. Everybody has his own philosophy of winning and as long as the coach can stay consistent, it’s easy to buy in. “As long as I have a job, I’m blessed.” However, that is not the whole story. A breakdown in communication involves at least two parties, and usually more. While Johnson might have been the instigator back then, Casey failed to bring him back onside. During training camp in Vancouver, Casey admitted that he made some mistakes, too.

Toronto Raptors: Why Kyle Lowry Will Make His First All-Star Appearance | Bleacher Report

By playing with this group once again, Lowry has the chance to meet two critical qualifications for the All-Star game: leading a playoff-caliber team and thriving statistically. Producing above-average numbers is a must for any All-Star. Since Lowry will play alongside multiple offensive weapons in Toronto, he will have no issue putting forth a high number of points and assists on a regular basis. However, as far as winning goes, not every All-Star is part of a successful ballclub. But when it comes to qualifying for the last few spots on the roster—a position he may find himself in come selection time—the final decision of the 15 Eastern Conference head coaches could lean heavily toward who can win. And the Raptors will win games. As a leader of this team, Lowry understands it’s on him to control the focus night in and night out.

Excitatron 2014: Kyle Lowry Over Everything | Hardwood Paroxysm

I am so happy that Kyle Lowry didn’t sign with Miami. It would have made for a boring story. Maybe you’ve heard the story before – a kid grows up with big dreams, gives everything he has to achieve them, then grows fat and complacent after finding success and just becomes another rich person, with the big house, the fancy cars, maybe a yacht, expensive food. No, Kyle Lowry doesn’t deserve an ending like that. Sure, he has his money now, but he has something else too – opportunity. As one of the franchise players with the Raptors, he has the opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong and succeed where others have failed. It fits his personality, doggedly doing what others doubted he could accomplish. When people tell him, “You can’t do that,” he just puts his head down and doesn’t give up until he finds victory. So go ahead and plow into the lane, pull up for transition 3-pointers like no one can stop you, sky for rebounds against taller competitors, and don’t give an inch on defense. Let’s knock some heads this season.

How well would Kawhi Leonard fit on the Raptors? | /r/torontoraptors

It looks like Leonard could be a free agent this summer so i was wondering if you guys thought he would be a good fit for us? Would you pay him the max?

I’ve been blogging about the Toronto Raptors since some time during the 2007-08 NBA season. Sitting here late on Monday night, a few months removed from the best regular season in franchise history and an unbelievable but heartbreaking playoff series, and days after the conclusion of a league-best 7-1 preseason slate, everything feels kind of unfamiliar.

It’s a strange unfamiliarity, because it’s bred in part by the familiarity of this particular Raptors team. I can’t recall entering a season with so few questions, nor can I recall entering with so narrow a band of expectations for the season. The Raptors are going to be good at worst, perhaps very good at best, and their win range probably sits from 44 to maybe 52 (I have them down for 47, but it appears I’m on the pessimistic end). This is a playoff team, but it is not a contender for the conference title. The team’s seven best players are returning, the coach is back, and nobody is really expected to take more than an incremental step forward. They are better on paper, perhaps appreciably so, but regression from an “everything breaks right” 2013-14 has to be baked into expectations.

These are not complaints. It’s been a relatively boring preseason devoid of narrative or competition or uncertainty. That’s safely more likeable than the opposite. The franchise’s history is a tumultuous and abortive one. Save for the 1999-2002 stretch of three – count ‘em – consecutive playoff appearances, there’s been precious little in the way of sustained success. By returning a strong core for this year and largely for next year, the Raptors are clearly valuing sustainability and continuity, something the franchise has lacked quite literally forever.

How you feel about that probably depends on what you hope to get from the basketball team you cheer for. There are some who think through the lens of championship or bust, and to them this offseason may have been disappointing. The team upgraded from a playoff team to a favorite to make the second round, but the ceiling is not sufficiently high, and there’s no clear path to a big leap forward, beyond some cap flexibility that everyone else seems to have as well.

If you’re more like me, you’re looking for an enjoyable and entertaining product with a more realistic view. I can not imagine what it would be like for a team I cheer for to win a championship. I root for Toronto teams and the Jacksonville Jaguars (don’t ask). The only championships in my lifetime were the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, but I was six and seven and at that time hockey consumed my entire life. I have no idea what a championship would feel like. Maybe because I lack that knowledge, or maybe because the teams I cheer for have been so abjectly terrible for so long now, or maybe because there’s something flawed in how I experience the world, I don’t have eyes on a title. At least not right now. I’m perfectly content to root for a team that I know will be merely good and entertaining, with a strong chance of mild playoff success.

That’s a boring outlook, of course. It’s kind of where the Raptors are at, and I think in part that’s why a good section of the fan base has become so enamored with Bruno Caboclo. Caboclo warrants attention, and any team’s fans would be curious about the league’s youngest player, one who didn’t know any active NBA players other than Kobe Bryant, and one who is very much a puppy with enormous paws, ready to clumsily run around the house crashing into stuff for a few minutes at a time. He’s interesting without team context, but within the context of a team where everything’s the same (sorry, Drake), that gets magnified.

Okay, saying everything is the same is incorrect. The starting lineup is the same but probably better, individual by individual. Kyle Lowry may never match his 2013-14 breakout again but remains very, very good, and was awesome in the preseason. I have complete faith that DeMar DeRozan will continue to make marginal improvements as a creator and a defender (and please, please as a shooter). Terrence Ross is more skilled, but I have no idea if he’s going to be a better basketball player. Jonas Valanciunas looks a tiny bit better in every single aspect of his game, and that may make a big difference in summation. Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez. Maybe Patrick Patterson has a little more to show, maybe he’s just a solid floor-spacing backup four.

There are also differences. John Salmons played 1,281 minutes for the Raptors last season. 1,281. That’s over 21 hours. I googled “what could you do in 21 hours” and here was the fourth link returned:

I don’t know if this is the internet’s way of trying to remind me that I’m projecting the Raptors for one fewer win this year and John Salmons played 1,281 minutes last season, shake it off Blake, shake it off, shake shake shake shake shake shake okay it’s 3 a.m. sorry.

It can’t be overstated how big an upgrade a literal salmon would have been over John Salmons last season. Replacing his minutes with additional run for Ross and the addition of James Johnson is huge. As much as I don’t like adding a combustible element to a team so reliant on an indefinable chemistry, Johnson is a strong defender and fills a major need with his ability to guard larger forwards. He can also guard one through four, which allows him to be deployed with nearly any lineup iteration. You know, assuming they don’t give him the ball, because he sometimes think he’s a Kobe-Nash hybrid.

Some of Salmons’ minutes will also be replaced by Lou Williams…kind of. With Williams around and so few minutes available at the one and two, we may see DeRozan at the three with more frequency. Williams is a definite upgrade as the team’s ninth man, even if the fit isn’t immediately clear. The offence looked pretty stagnant with him on the floor in the preseason, and that’s hardly a surprise. One of the reasons fans seem to gravitate toward Mr. Fourth Quarter is that he played like you play a video game, which is really fun and an effective way to score but is kind of a fascist and ineffective way to run an entire offense. I really like Williams, but I do think the preseason may have overstated his role some. Then again, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.

Williams and Johnson represent tangible upgrades to the roster. As mentioned off the top, the team is better. Why the lower win prediction then? Everything went right last year. The chemistry was perfect, nobody got hurt beyond nicks and scrapes, and the East was pretty bad overall. The team played at a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade, but again, that was the best case scenario, mostly. I’m not sure the offence is still that good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls slightly out of the top-10. The defense is very real though. This paragraph took a long time to write because I can’t stop watching that Y2J GIF. It’s the greatest.

What else is their to say about this season? It starts on Wednesday. That’s fucking awesome. I’ve never been this excited for a sports season to start before, I don’t think. Up until last season, I was mostly an all-sports person, and wrote equally as often about baseball and basketball, with some hockey and other stuff mixed in. For the past 14 months, my job has been the NBA, 40 hours a week. I loved it before. I breathe it now. This season is going to be so much fun, and the Raptors being a quality team is a big part of that. I’m hoping that’s the case for a lot of people, because late last season and into the playoffs was really fun around town. For the first time, I had random people talking Raptors with me and getting excited about the team. It’d be really great to carry that momentum into the regular season – with so much continuity and a decent schedule to start, the Raptors should be able to hit the ground running and do just that.

I’m really excited. You probably should be too. If me rambling for 1,200 words without any sense of direction, theme, or point didn’t get you fired up, maybe this will:


Also, here’s an ear worm for the rest of your day. Don’t act like you don’t love it.

The season’s here. Praise Shamgod.

Raptors’ coach Casey a keen strategist | Toronto Sun

“One thing that was really impressive about (Casey) was he was a real student of the game,” McMillan told the Toronto Sun earlier this fall in Indianapolis, where he is now associate head coach. “He had notebooks on every coach that coached a game and their plays and their calls. He had this envelope, this folder that he kept all of the plays on. He even put coaches that were fired and came back into the league two, three four years later. He would go to his garage, get out his folder, because they were pretty much running the same plays and their calls were pretty much the same. For everyone. He knew every play, every call each team was running,” McMillan said, smiling at the memory.

Why DeRozan could be the most important Raptor | Sportsnet.ca

It’s a stretch to call the sixth-year guard the best player in Raptors history — he might not even be the best on his team. But it’s no exaggeration to suggest DeRozan is the most important player in the history of the franchise, in no small part because he wants to be. In conversation, DeRozan can come across as a bit sleepy-eyed and can easily be characterized as laid back, at which point you’ve grossly underestimated him and he’s about to blow right by you. At heart DeRozan is a rebel, an explorer, someone who can only be happy carving his own path. As an uncharted territory, Toronto turned out to be the perfect place for him to be drafted. “After Vince [Carter] left it was a team that no one paid attention to. Everyone heard that,” he was saying after practice on Monday as the Raptors prepared for their season opener against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at the ACC.

Lewenberg: Lowry poised for All-Star sequel to breakout campaign | TSN

If you ask Lowry to list off his goals for this coming season, he’ll likely do so without making a single reference to himself. First and foremost, he’ll talk about winning, about getting better as a team, returning to the playoffs and going further than they did a year ago. When he lists o
ff those goals – team goals – he’s not being disingenuous. That’s the type of leader he’s grown into. But whether he’d admit to it or not, Lowry is leaving a block open in the middle of February, hoping to be in New York for what would be his first NBA All-Star Game this winter. And why shouldn’t he be? Some are still skeptical of Lowry’s NBA rags to riches story. They’ve been burned by the ‘contract year player’ before. Professional sports is littered with athletes who have taken their game to a new level with a raise on the line, only to regress back to the mean after getting paid. But the alternative is not unprecedented. Lowry’s a late bloomer, but bloom he has.


Raptors embrace healthy attitude toward bioanalytics: Feschuk | Toronto Star

If the droves of data can be daunting to digest, McKechnie soon emerged with one surprising takeaway. According to the Catapult numbers captured during Raptors scrimmages, some 80 per cent of movements were performed laterally or backwards. Only 20 per cent of athletes’ collective movement was of the forward variety. McKechnie beckoned Gary McCoy, Catapult’s senior applied sports scientist, to have a look at what he’d discovered. “Alex says to me, ‘All our conditioning is done going forward. We don’t train laterally or backwards,’” McCoy recalled. “Alex said, ‘That’s the first change we’re going to make.’” The changes the Raptors have made since embracing Catapult technology aren’t merely the stuff of tech-savvy trivia. One of the underplayed stories of Toronto’s first playoff run in six years was that, along with benefitting from the Rudy Gay trade and career-best work from a handful of key pieces, the Raptors were the least-injured team in the league in 2013-14.

NBA Eastern Conference preview | Toronto Sun

Skinny: Favourites to win the division for the first time in ages. Perennial lottery dwellers now will have to deal with the pressure of being highly regarded. Should have no trouble scoring, but could slip slightly defensively. Are two-deep at every position. Kyle Lowry will push for first all-star berth, while DeMar DeRozan keeps getting better. Johnson and Williams were underrated acquisitions. Burning question: What is Jonas Valanciunas? Is he a decent starting centre or a potential star? While playing internationally, the Lithuanian has looked like a standout in waiting, but he has yet to put it all together in the NBA. When he plays mean, he gets it done. When he relaxes, he is merely average. The better Valanciunas plays, the more lucrative his new contract will be next year.

2014 NBA Preview: Key Offseason Pickups Should Give The Cavs A Boost | FiveThirtyEight

After stints in Memphis and Houston, Lowry has blossomed into one of the toughest and best offensive point guards in the league. He ranked third among point guards in wins above replacement and ninth in points created off assists, which includes passes that led to free throws. According to Synergy Sports, Lowry’s pick-and-rolls created 0.89 points per attempt, the eighth-best mark among starting point guards. The only issues with Lowry’s offensive game are his propensity for turnovers — historically he has averaged more than 2.5 per game — and a strange inability to finish drives to the basket. Lowry only made 53 percent of his attempts within 3 feet of the basket last season, well below the league average of closer to 60 percent. In short, Lowry is a top-10 point guard at a time when the position has seen an incredible influx of talent and has taken on additional importance. That alone makes his below-max salary (in line with Steph Curry’s very favorable deal) a bargain.

2014-15 NBA Preview: Toronto Raptors | Pounding The Rock

The jury continues to be out on Casey and his X’s and O’s chops (he’s notorious for not fouling in late-game situations where they’re trailing), but General Manager Masai Ujuri had little choice but to reward Casey with a contract extension after the team won the Atlantic last season even though Casey was out-coached by Jason Kidd.

Britt Robson’s NBA preview: Eastern Conference | MinnPost

A year ago there was the distinct possibility Toronto’s roster would be razed and coach Dwane Casey fired. But after forward Rudy Gay was dealt early in the season, the Raptors flourished to their best-ever record. The off-season was about consolidating those gains, as the Raps signed their top free agent Kyle Lowry to a fat contract (along with Lowry’s backup, Greivis Vasquez), brought back former Raptor James Johnson, and traded for gunner Lou Williams. Demar DeRozan is the holdover All-Star, Amir Johnson the low-post stalwart on defense, Jonas Valanciunas the slowly developing seven-footer, Terence Ross the athletic tease. Lowry and DeRozan had career years—but are at a prime age to either maintain or improve those performances.

N.B.A. Preview 2014: Breaking Down the Conferences | NYTimes.com

The Raptors found a core to build around in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas can raise their game this season as well, Toronto should have no trouble winning one of the league’s weakest divisions. With Drake providing the team with a signature celebrity fan and Masai Ujiri proving to be one of the league’s best executives, the Raptors could soon be a team that free agents are clamoring to join.

NBA season preview: A lot of trash, not much treasure in the Atlantic | Sydney Morning Herald

The pride of the division. Keeping, and paying, Kyle Lowry was a great step. It showed everyone the intent of the Ontario-based franchise. Along with DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, the Raptors are well served in the point guard and wing positions. With all the games they have against Boston, Philadelphia and New York, the wins will come. Prediction: Should win the division. That means home court in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll probably fail to make that count again. Winning this division doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a top team.

The NBA Every-Single-Game Preview | Entertainment: GQ

In 2008, the cast of the famously defunct NBA blog FreeDarko.com previewed every single game of the upcoming 2008-09 season. It was a miserable failure, in that very few of their predictions actually came to pass. Six years later, we are giving it one more go, hoping to find redemption.

Why Toronto Loves Amir Johnson | BALLnROLL

It’s easy to love Amir for what he does on a basketball court. No one works harder, expends more energy. When asked if his game mirrors the hardworking, blue-collar fans that fill the ACC every night, he laughs. “Yeah, I would describe my game the same way. When I’m on the floor I give it my all, no matter what,” he says. While he has gained fans both in Toronto and outside of the city for what he does for a living, Amir is more than simply a basketball player—the guy wearing the number 15 jersey for the Toronto Raptors. Outside of an NBA arena is where Amir truly makes his mark with the community. He’s visible, he’s approachable, he’s charismatic. Raptors fans understand that hasn’t always been the case with their hardwood heroes.

NBA Rumors Chat With Steve Kyler 10/27/14 | Basketball Insiders

I don’t think any of those guys can be had in trade. Atlanta wants Millsap long-term. Gibson is a core piece and Monroe has the ability to veto a trade because he picked up his qualifying offer. If any of those teams were to seriously entertain something, it’s likely costing you first round draft picks and guys like Terrence Ross.

With the season around the corner, Tamberlyn joins the pod and you better watch out, unlike the rest of the crew, she’s powered by research material.  We review the preseason and preview the early season, including a very favorable schedule which could propel the Raptors and may provide setbacks to their rivals.

Part 1:

  • Steimsma makes the team despite doing nothing
  • If Bebe was healthy, does Steimsma still make it?
  • Brazilian impressions over pre-season
  • Ode to Jordan Hamilton
  • Will Cherry sayonara

Part 2

  • Easy schedule to start the season – 9 of 12 at home, good start on the horizon?
  • Atlanta, Orlando and Miami quick previews
  • Booing Bosh still a thing
  • Who we’ve all boo’d in the past and paid money to do so
  • Could Raptors finish as #1 seed? Schedule permits the possibility of injuries
  • Raptors bench compared to other top teams in the East

Part 3

  • Bryan Colangelo comments regarding how his moves usually pan out
  • Quick Colangelo look-back on what worked and didn’t
  • Guys like Austin Rivers
  • Preseason takeaways
  • Terrence Ross – defensive usage
  • James Johnnson or Jordan Hamilton
  • Chemistry concerns and Skype calls
  • Predictions for Atlanta, Orlando and Miami
  • Greivis Vasquez’s struggles

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (48:37, 47 MB). Or just listen below:

Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Raptors ready to take the hoops world by storm | Toronto Sun

“We’re trying to build more. We’re trying to grow more,” Ujiri said in Montreal on Friday, before the Raptors took on the New York Knicks as part of the NBA Canada Series. That’s what the surprisingly successful We the North campaign tried to do. The next step, as the 20th anniversary season of the franchise looms, is keeping the positive momentum going. “We don’t want to be one of those guys that cries about being outside (of the NBA’s popular spots) or being in the cold. We don’t care one bit. We want to be our own team and we have a unique opportunity in Canada,” Ujiri said. “We want to build it to where it’s plenty of pride to be the only team that’s outside of the U.S. “I think that responsibility is on me. We have to win, we have to build a brand and that’s what we’re going to try to do and build our brand all over the world.” Ujiri’s catch-phrase is, “one team, one country.” For too long, the Raptors behaved as if they were isolated outcasts, toiling away in the NBA’s northern outpost.

Toronto Raptors trying to build a championship contender without relying on a ‘superstar’ | National Post

With the $70-million salary cap about to rise significantly thanks to a lucrative new U.S. television deal, salaries will rise in concert, and some teams will inevitably find themselves hard-pressed to hold onto their talent. The rumour mill has half the teams in the league clearing cap space for Kevin Durant, whose contract with Oklahoma City runs out in two years. All of it raises questions about the right way to build a championship contender. Do you bottom out and patiently build through the draft? Or scuffle along and then hope to land a superstar prize in the summer? The former method has worked (San Antonio, Oklahoma City) and also not worked at all (Minnesota). The latter method has likewise been successful (Miami, Houston) and also rather less so (New York). “I don’t know what the model is,” says Masai Ujiri the general manager of the Toronto Raptors, a playoff team last season but one built more for balance and depth than around big-name stars.

Toronto Raptors: Building For Success | Hoops Habit

The team now enters this season even deeper than before as Masai Ujiri managed to fill the team’s two biggest needs during the offseason: offensive punch off of the bench in the form of Lou Williams, and a big/athletic defensive wing in the form of James Johnson. Perhaps in part due to the team’s history, but this rendition of the Raptors could easily be the deepest and most diverse roster in franchise history; having two and a half solid options at point guard (Williams is a hybrid, but can fulfill the role), potent scorers throughout the roster, exceptional athletes at each position, and some great one-on-one and team defenders. Toronto also still has plenty of room to grow, with an incredibly young, and still developing starting lineup.  Kyle Lowry at 28 years old, and Amir Johnson at 27 years old (and entering his 10th year in the NBA) are the young veterans, with DeRozan (25), Ross (23) and Valanciunas (22) joining them despite not hitting the prime of their careers.

DeMar DeRozan welcomes stability of Raptors roster | Toronto Star

“I’m a guy on this team who had a lot of individual success and I have to try to use that and carry that over to help my teammates be better,” he said. “I can be a better leader and push us, probably a quality I didn’t have my first couple of years in this league. “Just being around all the top players every summer, being an all-star, being an elite player, being in the same class as them. It can’t do anything but rub off on you. You pay attention. “I hear stories from a lot of them where they say they were the same way early in their careers and that’s what helped them take the next step, to know what it took to be more than a great player — be a great player to take their teams further.”

Who’s Got Next in 2014-15: Centers | Basketball Insiders | NBA Rumors And Basketball News

With newfound confidence, he looked solid although not spectacular in his second season but showed enough to give Raptor fans hope for more to come. During this year’s FIBA World Cup tournament, it was the young big man who was looked upon to be a leader on both ends of the floor and he turned heads around the league with his performances. The time he’s spent working on his strength and post moves has started to pay off. Look for the Lithuanian big man to take the next step this year as his coaches have seen his improvement and want to make him a focal point in his third year to take scoring pressure off the backcourt. Kyle Lowry has made it known that he believes it will be his duty this year to feed the big man early to help balance the scoring and space on the floor. He will have every opportunity to take the next step in his progression this year and if his young career is any indicator, he will deliver.

TSN.ca’s 2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division | TSN

The Toronto Raptors will sneak up on absolutely nobody this season. They are no longer a team unfettered by expectations and lowly cellar-dwellers who opponents can afford to take lightly. Dwane Casey’s team is the defending Atlantic Division champion and they’ll be treated accordingly by the rest of the Eastern Conference. After establishing a franchise-best 48 wins last season, the team bowed out in seven games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to an experienced Brooklyn Nets team. This left a bad taste in the mouth of the Raptors and they’re intent to build upon last year’s success. In fact, anything less than at least one series victory will be viewed as a major disappointment for the Raptors.

NBA Baseline Podcast: Atlantic Division Preview | CLNS Radio

This team found a chemistry nobody could have envisioned last season after moving Rudy Gay to Sacramento. Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez could have bolted, but returned on reasonable deals to build on what they had started. Jonas Valanciunas is going to be a big part of what they do and how they progress this season, as he’s hoping on emerging as the quintessential “third guy” that many league experts think he can be. We will have to see if DeMar DeRozan can continue to play at an All-star level, and if the natural process of team continuity can propel the Raptors out of the first round of the playoffs. Despite being the Atlantic Division Champions from a season ago, many aren’t taking them seriously, and that’s just the way they like it.

It’s finally time for the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors season. That means it’s roundtable time. You can check out part one here – part two starts now.

The participants (in order of when they sent me answers, for fairness): Blake Murphy, William Lou, Tim Chisholm, Scott Hastie, Ryan McNeill, Sam Holako, Zarar Siddiqi, Barry Taylor, Greg Mason, Garrett Hinchey, Andrew Thompson, Tamberlyn Richardson, Tim W.

6. How many minutes does Lou Williams get?

Blake Murphy: His fewest since 2006-07, that’s for sure. I really like Williams, but he wasn’t brought in to fill an obvious need, and he’s a little superfluous given how effective Lowry-Vasquez lineups are. I’d be surprised if they can find more than 16 minutes a night.

William Lou: 23 minutes per game to match his number.

Tim Chisholm: 18 minutes per game. It would be a seven-year low for him, but Vasquez pushes for minutes, too. That remains a minutes battle that it will be interesting to watch; both players are going to have to sacrifice.

Scott Hastie: 21 per game. This is tough, because our depth is as strong as it ever has been. The average number of minutes won’t really represent Casey’s rotation though. I think he will play with match-ups and whatever player between Vasquez/Ross/Williams is having the best game.

Ryan McNeill: 18-22 minutes per game.

Sam Holako: He should get all of Landry’s minutes; ALL OF THEM!

Zarar Siddiqi: 15 – all behind DeRozan at shooting guard. Dwane Casey will manage DeRozan’s minutes better, and if Williams produces, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t play even more.

Barry Taylor: Lou Williams is one of the best insurance policies the Raptors have had in recent years. When the team is healthy it’d be nice to see him for 8-10 minutes a game. But when someone goes down he’ll be a great replacement to hold everything together.

Greg Mason: 26 a night feels about right. No one can question Derozan’s work ethic but he’s sort of like that dog who will play Frisbee until he passes out because he loves it so much. Casey needs to allocate some of Demar’s minutes to Lou.

Garrett Hinchey: 20-25, similar to Greivis Vasquez. I can’t wait to see how Casey mixes and matches what may be the deepest backcourt in the entire league. All four players expected to play significant minutes are real scoring threats, and that’s exciting stuff.

Andrew Thompson: 8-10 a game. Casey’s penchant for veteran guards will be tested by his intolerance for being a defensive seive. Williams will be a valuable bench scorer and ball handler, but there a ton of bodies to compete with. Regardless, he isn’t John Salmons, and that’s neat.

Tamberlyn Richardson: With one of the deepest benches in the Association Raptors should produce early leads allowing for an even distribution of minutes. Williams is in a contract year and historically is a fourth-quarter sniper, so he’s likely to aim to repeat his sixth-man award. If he’s rolling he’ll get minutes, so I predict 20 minutes per game.

Tim W.: 17 mpg.

7. Do we ever see Landry Fields again?

Blake Murphy: Sigh. Probably not beyond garbage time scraps.

William Lou: We’ll probably see Landry cover Nikki Minaj’s Anaconda, before our minds explode.

Tim Chisholm: In spot minutes maybe, but James Johnson pushes him further down the depth chart.

Scott Hastie: He will be the glue guy when Bruno and Bebe get extended run at the end of blowouts.

Ryan McNeill: Only on a missing poster…

Sam Holako: Hopefully we will only see him on the bench; his Instagram account is interesting…errr…yea…

Zarar Siddiqi: Yes. At the airport checking his luggage in for a flight to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow.

Barry Taylor: On a basketball court, probably not. On a crappy summer reality series, definitely. Based on his contract and affinity for bad TV Landry is a natural Laker. Send the man west for a pair of the new Kobes and make everything right in the universe.

Greg Mason: No. Sad story. I’ll spare the snark.

Garrett Hinchey: In a suit, on the end of the bench, unless there are injuries. His expiring deal could be attractive to teams looking to make a splash in free agency next year. Hopefully, he’ll be part of a trade during the season. #BelieveinMasai

Andrew Thompson: Who is Landry Fields? Is this a person, because if so, I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing from him. Or is Landry Fields maybe a place? I don’t understand the question. Regardless, it clearly has nothing to do with the Toronto Raptors basketball team.

Tamberlyn Richardson: 5-games or less. Fields would rather pass to a referee than shoot!

Caveats:

  • Injury to key player(s)
  • Multiple blow-outs by Raptors
  • Ujiri decides to showcase him just prior to trade deadline in an effort to dump his salary early in favor of a playoff contributor or draft picks.

Tim W.: Yes. He’ll still struggle at the beginning of the season, but slowly get his form back and by the All Star game will start taking time away from James Johnson.

8. What are you most looking forward to this season?

Blake Murphy: It’s basketball season, what the hell is there NOT to look forward to? The team’s going to be good, maybe very good, they’re going to play playoff basketball, and they’re going to be a likeable group getting there. And seriously, Bruno. Bruno. 100 times Bruno. Every time he hits the floor, it’s going to be must-watch. Garbage time will have never felt so good.

William Lou: BRUNOOOOOO!!! Seriously, garbage time has never been more fun. Winning games would be nice too.

Tim Chisholm: Watching the team work to improve upon a successful season without having to try and integrate a major, head-shaking acquisition (Hakeem, Kapono, Jermaine). They get to just grow organically, which may or may not work but it will be fun to watch.

Scott Hastie: Success. For once in our fandom, we are not talking about all the new faces on the roster and selling hope. Analyzing a team where the weaknesses are the difference between third place and fifth place in the conference is way more enjoyable than talking about a team that is intentionally trying to get into the lottery.

Ryan McNeill: Having a buzz at the Air Canada Centre for every game. Also, having a season where the team is playing for something and high expectations are placed on the team.

Sam Holako: The four games we play the Nets; fuck I hate them…

Zarar Siddiqi: DeRozan’s quest to become the best shooting guard in the league. Very interested to see what he’ll do to elevate his game to the next level. You know he’s got the hunger to be the best, and it’ll be interesting to see what his coach and he himself will try to do to get there.

Barry Taylor: Watching good basketball on a regular basis. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a team worthy of being excited for. It’ll be great to watch the established chemistry develop and see where it can go. Really curious to see how Lowry and Demar co-exist and work on taking their games to yet another level.

Greg Mason: I look forward to seeing 15-feet of Brazilian arms laying waste to all who approach the rim in garbage time… and the purple ‘Dino’ throwback jerseys.

Garrett Hinchey: BRUNO. How can you not say Bruno? The kid is a freak of nature, and it’ll be fun watching him get his feet wet in limited minutes. Bebe Nogeuira is a close second, and Chuck Hayes runners are obviously third.

Andrew Thompson: Optimism. Remember spending all of last preseason arguing about the case for tanking? Rudy Gay wasn’t exactly a topic for calm agreement and joy either. But this year, there is reason for promise. The last time I felt that way, I hadn’t heard the name Lebron James before.

Tamberlyn Richardson: SUCCESS!!!!!!

After years of lamenting the Raptors’ misfortunes I feel like I won the lottery:

  • I joined the Republic gang
  • 95% success on predictions
  • It was a delight to see the TDot return (and possibly exceed) the basketball frenzy absent since the cousins exited the building.

Tim W.: Seeing how Valanciunas develops into a borderline All Star this season.

9. What are you least looking forward to this season?

Blake Murphy: People mismanaging expectations. Last year was great, but it was out of nowhere and unexpected. One good season does not beget a great one, development isn’t linear, and so on. I’m a little worried all the new fans and the buzz around the team could waver if the team doesn’t go gangbusters.

William Lou: Whenever Valanciunas and Amir Johnson aren’t in the game. Form your layup lines single-file, please.

Tim Chisholm: People clamouring for minutes for Bruno during the season. This isn’t like the bad years when the club had tons of on-court minutes to devote to developing rookies, those minutes aren’t there when you’re trying to win, and people are either gonna freak out at Casey for not playing him or at Ujiri for drafting a bust and neither reaction will be appropriate.

Scott Hastie: The by-product of success. With success comes blowout wins and there will be a string of non-descript games where we handle opponents and learn very little. 82-game seasons are a slog, but watching Toronto thrash teams like Philadelphia, Orlando and Minnesota further mars it.

Ryan McNeill: Trying to figure out where to find the game on TV or the radio. TSN? Sportsnet? NBA TV Canada? Or, even better, when games aren’t televised during the preseason.

Sam Holako: The four games we play the Nets; fuck I hate them…fuck, them…

Zarar Siddiqi: 7:30pm starts instead of 7:00. I cannot begin to tell you how seriously that time change has messed with my ability to watch basketball.

Barry Taylor: Lockout talk. God willing it won’t happen but there’s so much money at stake that it could get ugly in two years.

Greg Mason: Tyler Hansbrough doing awkward, flaily things that piss me off on principle alone.

Garrett Hinchey: *Knocks on wood.* The injury bug. The Raptors were unbelievably lucky last year when it came to their core players, and history suggests that that luck won’t continue for another full year. God, I hope I’m wrong. *Knocks on wood again.*

Andrew Thompson: I get the impression that Jack Armstrong is a very nice man. There are people out there who enjoy his commentary, perhaps you are one. I don’t get it, and I doubt it, but I acknowledge the possibilty that you exist.

Tamberlyn Richardson: I’ll turn a negative into a positive: Raptors will be in a lot of games late utilizing the core plus bench members Williams, Patterson, Vasquez and Johnson to secure wins. This saddens me as it means we won’t get to see much of Air B&B (specifically Bruno) and his untapped potential.

Tim W.: Seeing Valanciunas get ignored in the post again and again this season.

10. What’s your own personal goal for the season?

Blake Murphy: It’s an impossible goal, but I’d like to average six-plus hours of sleep. There is so much evidence out there that sleep is crucial to health and performance, I’d like to fit in a bit more.

William Lou: It’s my sophomore season here on Raptors Republic, so I’m hoping to sleep even less and write even more. I’m coming for you, Zach Lowe!

Tim Chisholm: Can the club avoid slow starts or getting huge leads and immediately giving them up? It’ll happen sometimes because it’s an 82-game season, but the club has to be able to avoid putting themselves against the wall like that early.

Scott Hastie: I’d love for the Raptors to sign a player with a similar name as mine. William Lou got it last year, so all I’m asking is for Toronto to poach Scott Hastings from the Nuggets broadcast crew. (Please do not do this. He is terrible.)

Ryan McNeill: I want to step up my game night blogging and tweeting. I want to give fans more insight into the team and locker room than I have in previous seasons.

Sam Holako: This needs to be the season we don’t regress. Some guys got paid, some guys are new, some have big paydays coming up, but everyone needs to be focused, and pick-up where they left off from from last year.

Zarar Siddiqi: Not accidentally delete a podcast.

Barry Taylor: Avoid a massive gut increase from all the beer consumed while watching this team.

Greg Mason: I’m living in Budapest this season, so my modest goal is to convert the entire country of Hungary into Raptors fans.

Garrett Hinchey: Lose 10 pounds, get back into squash. Why are you asking about us?

Seriously, though, I’d love to see this team improve on last year’s results. In my mind, that means the second round of the playoffs. If you put yourself in that situation, you’re a great series or an injury away from the conference finals. After that, who knows?

Andrew Thompson: Everybody is waiting to hear whether that 15th roster spot goes to Steimsma, Cherry or Hamilton. Personally, I still think I have an outside shot at grabbing it myself. Hey, until Masai sits me down and tells me it definitely isn’t me, it technically isn’t definitely not me. Hit me with a 10 day Masai; I got this.

Tamberlyn Richardson:

Tough one to answer”

  • Keep my prediction success rate high
  • Make a concerted effort to not complain about the zebras on Twitter
  • Get in less debates with my male friends at social gatherings; I know the stats so it’s an unfair advantage
  • Represent women who love the NBA; hey we’re out here!

Tim W.: To get more readers to hate me and to be able to get through a podcast without Zarar having to heavily edit out all my ums and ahs.

Do you want to know how to start a season off on just the worst foot possible? Spend an hour at 8am hungover putting together a 13-response, 11-question round table, and then lose it. That includes losing my own answers. Might be ready to call it quits on the season already.

Anyway, it’s finally time for the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors season. That means it’s roundtable time. Part two comes tomorrow.

The participants (in order of when they sent me answers, for fairness): Blake Murphy, William Lou, Tim Chisholm, Scott Hastie, Ryan McNeill, Sam Holako, Zarar Siddiqi, Barry Taylor, Greg Mason, Garrett Hinchey, Andrew Thompson, Tamberlyn Richardson, Tim W.

1. What will the Raptors record be?

Blake Murphy: 47-35. I know, it’s a step back, but is a slight step back after a major jump forward not still kind of great? The team improved, without question, but the East has fewer pushovers and, most importantly, everything went right last year. Sorry, everyone, but 50’s a longshot, as regression wins out slightly over development and depth.

William Lou: 50-32, if everyone is healthy. Even if they aren’t, the Raptors have enough depth to withstand a body-blow or two.

Tim Chisholm: 51-31 (assuming relatively strong health) because so many teams in the East are weak. I feel like its high, but they matchup well against so many bad teams.

Scott Hastie: 51-31. A weak division plus the growth of younger players like Jonas and Ross should vault us into that 50-win area.

Ryan McNeill: 51-31.

Sam Holako: Facts: the team is deeper, been together a year longer, with guys who have chips on their shoulder and need to prove that last year wasn’t an blip. 51-31

Zarar Siddiqi: 48-33-1 – I’m picking a tie against Dallas due to the game being abandoned because of an Ebola scare.

Barry Taylor: 50-32 With the returning core, Demar’s FIBA experience, Lowry’s need to prove he’s an All Star, a soft Eastern Conference and even softer Atlantic Division – barring a sever injury to one of the starting five – the Raps should have another record breaking season for wins.

Greg Mason: My gut tells me it will be another 48-win season, given the improved landscape in the East. The fan in me overrides all reason and believes that this is finally the year that the Raps hit the 50 win plateau. The fact that John Salmons will no longer play meaningful rotation minutes has to be worth two extra wins, right?

Garrett Hinchey: The East is going to be tougher sledding than last year, obviously – Cleveland, Chicago, and Charlotte are much improved, Washington will take another step forward, and the back end of the conference should be better too. With that in mind, I’ll predict a repeat of the Raptors’ 49-33 record from a year ago and a top four seed (note: it was 48-34). Status quo, in this case, represents a big step forward for this young squad.

Andrew Thompson: 52-30. Deep, young and hungry. This team wants to win every night. They’re the only top Eastern conference team with continuity and the best equipped to survive an injury for a stretch to any of their important players.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Being the eternal optimist I believe the Raptors finally break the 50-win barrier. A huge benchmark since they’re the only NBA team to never have accomplished 50-wins. Barring injury they finish 52-30.

Tim W.: 49-33.
hi-res-6cbd6a30f25f4fa68fde246edbd5366f_crop_north

2. Do Lowry or DeRozan make the All-Star team?

Blake Murphy: The point guard depth in the East will keep Lowry out once again, but DeRozan is now established as an All-Star Shooting Guard. With steady numbers, he’ll be there again.

William Lou: DeRozan makes the team, Lowry doesn’t. Increased competition at point guard might rob Lowry (yet again) of his rightful spot.

Tim Chisholm: Definitely one (probably DeRozan), but Lowry has an uphill climb vs. Rose, Wall, Irving, Wade (and maybe Rondo). It’s a popularity contest, so he won’t make it as a starter, and there is strong guard competition in the East.

Scott Hastie: DeRozan does. There are injuries at his position, and even though it is broken down into “guards” and “forwards,” I think the coaches will still vote for DeRozan because he is the best 2-guard out there. (Take that with a grain of salt, as the SF/SG position is kind of a blurred line when playing with Ross.)

Ryan McNeill: Kyle Lowry will have a better season, but, since there are so many elite point guards in the Eastern Conference, DeMar DeRozan gets the nod because he’s easily one of the top shooting guards in the conference.

Sam Holako: DeRozan repeats for sure; he’s at the top of the East for shooting guards, but Lowry may get caught up in a Kyrie Irving reality vs perception/hype beast of a situation. I’m betting both, but Lowry could find that politics blocks him two years in a row.

Zarar Siddiqi: Both do. With Paul George out and Bradley Beal injured, there’s going to be plenty of room for DeRozan to get in. Even if Lowry has a horrible season he’ll still make it, mostly due to the heavy guilt felt by coaches for ignoring him last year.

Barry Taylor: Yes. If they’re winning the way they should be there’s room for both. Injuries could/will take out guys like Rondo, Wade and Paul George. If it has to come down to one though, my magic 8 Ball says Demar will get the nod.

Greg Mason: Both will deserve a spot but given the fallout from last season’s snubbing and the return of Rose and Rondo, Kyle will likely be the only Raptor who gets the nod.

Garrett Hinchey: Yes. With Derrick Rose back, guard spots will be tougher to come by, but there’s no way one of these two doesn’t make the trip to Brooklyn. My guess is Lowry as voters try and make amends for his snub last season, but I do expect DeMar to have a huge year and wouldn’t be at all shocked if he made it, too.

Andrew Thompson: Lowry paid his nonsense penance for a bad attitude rap around the league last year, when he should have joined DeRozan as an All-Star last year. Meanwhile, with Beal out and Wade’s injury still a few weeks away, it’s not crazy to think DeMar could start. They’re both in this year.

Tamberlyn Richardson: DeRozan broke through last season making his first All Star/USA teams: He returns.

Lowry was snubbed last season with arguably the best Eastern point guard performance. Preseason he’s showcased he intends to prove 2013-14 was no fluke, and is taking the leadership mantle seriously. I’m predicting he’ll increase his shooting percentage, 3-point makes/percentage and assists plus get some crucial game winning buckets resulting in his first All Star selection.

Tim W.: Only one, and I think it’s going to be DeRozan, again, even though Lowry probably deserves it more. DeRozan, especially after playing for team USA, has more respect around the league, and that matters.
NBA: Toronto Raptors at Dallas Mavericks

3. Take a guess at the numbers for Ross and Valanciunas

3B. Who takes a bigger step forward?

Blake Murphy: Ross 12.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 13.5 PER. Valanciunas 13.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 17.5 PER

Ross has taken some nice steps in skill development, but that doesn’t always translate to the court right away. Valanciunas’ improved awareness and timing on defense should be a major help to the team’s back-end, and if he can continue to show vision on his rolls, he could be a much more effective player even without a huge statistical jump.

William Lou: Valanciunas: 13 points, 9 rebounds, 30 minutes. Ross: 10 points, 2 rebounds, 26 minutes.

Valanciunas takes the bigger step forward, maturing into a decent rim-protector. Plus, his beard game is much stronger than Ross’s.

Tim Chisholm: Ross: 12 ppg on 41% shooting, 38% from three, JV: 15 ppg, 11 rpg, 55% FG.

Definitely Valanciunas. His defence is still wonky, but his consistency is much higher than Ross. Ross has to battle the fact that with Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams and James Johnson can push him for minutes, Valanciunas isn’t sweating Chuck Hayes, Tyler Hansbrough and Bebe.

Scott Hastie: Ross – 12 points, four rebounds, one assist. His preseason has been underwhelming – an abundance of pull-up jumpers and poor decision-making – but he will probably get more run in the offence. Lou Williams and the dual PG line up of Lowry and Vasquez could screw all this up.

Valanciunas – 13 points, nine rebounds. I don’t feel confident in this and totally think JV will break through that. I need to Casey have the confidence to play him in the fourth quarter before saying he will have noticeably different numbers than last year.

Valanciunas, easily. The learning curve for young big men is steep, and I think we should expect to see an improved defensive Jonas this year.

Ryan McNeill: Ross will lead the Raptors in steals and bump his scoring to 13.2 points per game while shooting better than 47% from the field. Valanciunas will continue his steady growth and flirt with averaging a double-double (14 points and 9.5 rebounds).

His confidence and increased size will allow him to be an important cog on both ends of the floor.

Sam Holako: Ross: 13pts 3rebs (2 treys, a dunk, and a smile a game). Jonas: 15pts 12rebs (2-3 pump fakes before each shot)

Jonas will have much more opportunity to shine than Ross, who has to share wing duties with a bunch of folks. That said, Ross’ contribution will not all show up on the stat sheet; kid’s going to break out.

Zarar Siddiqi: Ross: Season averages: 11 points, 10 FF attempts, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 41% 3FG. I’m picking him to come second in the three-point contest. Dwane Casey will also be using him to guard tricky point guards in late-game situations.

Valanciunas: Season averages: 14 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1 assist. There’s a 20% chance that he’ll learn to properly use a pump-fake this year, and a 100% chance that he’ll goaltend every shot taking after the whistle by unassuming guards.

Valanciunas – the length of his legs give him a huge advantage when it comes to the distance covered in a step. Unless we’re counting jumping? Are we? From a basketball point of view, I’m going out on a limb and saying Ross because he has more areas in his game where he’ll have a chance to tangibly improve, e.g., perimeter defense, ball-handling, mid-range shooting, three-point shooting.

Barry Taylor: JV – 12PPG 10RPG 2APG Ross – 12PPG 5RPG 4APG

Devlin was on the FAN 590 the other day saying he expects JV to be a double double guy this year and that seems to be the sentiment among a bunch of Raptor media and fans. It a realistic notion based on his skill development this past summer and the fact that he’ll get the playing time. The FIBA competition he faced was valuable and will probably help him develop a bit more than Ross this year.

Greg Mason: I don’t anticipate huge statistical bumps for either guy. The improvement will come in the details. I think Jonas will post a respectable 12 ppg and 9.5 rpg and Ross will bump his overall field goal percentage up to about 45% by doing a better job of converting on two-point field goal attempts.

Valanciunas. The improvements may not slap you in the face but a better understanding of defensive positioning and physical and emotional maturation will pay dividends for Jonas in his third season. That could be said of either guy but Jonas has the physical tools to be more of a difference maker. We’ll see better defense and rebounding from him this season but he’ll continue to be inhibited by a lack of touches and frustratingly long stretches on the bench.

Garrett Hinchey: I expect improvement from both, obviously, but there aren’t a ton of shots to go around given the Raptors’ guard heavy offence. I’ll say 14/3/2 from Ross and 14/10 from Jonas.

I’d love to say Terrence Ross here, but I just can’t do it. Valanciunas has been working hard all offseason and being the focal point of his team at the FIBA World Cup can only help. I think this is the year he announces himself as a premier center. The biggest improvements will come on defence.

Andrew Thompson: Ross: 12 points, 2 assists and 4 rebounds on 40% from 3 with 10 games where fans overreact and call him a bum on the forums and 3 games where fans massively overreact and annoint him a franchise player.

Valanciunas: 14 points, 11 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1200 pump fakes and 5 games where the home announcers gush adoringly over his post scoring.

Valanciunas. He’s going to get a better opportunity to. Casey will still have a short rope with Ross given the teams wing depth. Valanciunas will be a much more adept presence near the basket defensively and better able to establish position offensively, where he has already displayed his touch.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Jonas Valanciunas: 14 Points, 9.8 Rebounds, 1.2 Blocks

Terrence Ross: 13.8 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 3.1 Assists, 1.5 Steals, 2.5 three-pointers and over 40% from three

Terrence Ross – Following a summer dedicated to improvement and feeling the heat of the bench depth Ross takes the bigger step toward becoming a complete (2-way) player and turns some heads. Consistency is his biggest issue, but I believe he breaks through with greater offensive variety and increased playing time.

Tim W.: Ross: 12 ppg with similar other numbers as last year.

Valanciunas: 15 ppg, 9.5 rpg and 1.2 bpg.

Valanciunas. He’s the only real low post threat the Raptors have and is one of their most efficient scorers. In fact, if Valanciunas doesn’t make a jump like this, it’s most likely a coaching problem with Casey not running enough for him.

Ross may make some improvements, but the wing position is even deeper this year, with the addition of Louis Williams and James Johnson, as well as Bruno Caboclo.
johnson

4. What change would you like to see on offense?

Blake Murphy: Most of my complaints on offense are minor: I’d like a few more dual pick-and-rolls to stretch teams horizontally, more creative ETOs, and for it to be less obvious when “it’s DeMar’s time” or “Okay let’s feed Jonas now.” The offense can at times get predictable, and it’d be nice to see each player be able to get theirs without telegraphing whose time it is.

William Lou: More balance. Someone else has to be able to step up when Lowry and DeRozan are having off nights.

Tim Chisholm: More Valanciunas. The perimeter players need to remember to feed him to help balance out the offence, but he can also create nice give-and-go opportunities that the team doesn’t employ all that much right now. Plus, Valanciunas will only become a better passer when he doesn’t feel he has to shoot lest he not see the ball again for ten-to-fifteen possessions.

Scott Hastie: The ball needs to go deeper into the post. JV pump-fakes have lost comedic value, and he is a good post scorer. There aren’t many players who match-up with our post options, so let’s get our guys the ball in a lethal position.

Ryan McNeill: Far too often the ball “sticks” in the hands of a few players. This results in some players becoming stagnant and not moving off of the ball.

Sam Holako: A little more creativity from Casey when drawing up plays in crunch time situations, but generally the offense was a bright spot last season. Don’t expect it to regress.

Zarar Siddiqi:

Three things:

  1. Leverage Amir Johnson’s passing ability out of the high-post – he’s a smart player than can pick out runs if screens are set properly.
  2. Related to this, a bigger focus on big-to-big passing, especially with guys like Bebe and Valanciunas who look like they can play good hi-los.
  3. Run more double-stack lows to free up Ross and DeRozan.

Barry Taylor: Any kind of low post game would be great. Some pick and roll sets down low would look nice. If JV develops something other than his pump-fake (like a double pump-fake?!) the offence could go the next level.

Greg Mason: Less predictability, i.e. Derozan isos on the final play, less stagnation, more touches for Jonas and more running 20-footers from Chuck Hayes. The Raps had a top ten offense last season, so obviously they had a pretty damn good thing going. The cracks in the system were pretty obvious however during the playoffs where we saw far too many forced shots and one-on-one play.

Garrett Hinchey: It’s very singular, but I’d love to see Terrence Ross add some more variability to his game. He’s become known as a 3 point shooter first and foremost, and mixing in a solid drive game should improve his assist and free throw numbers. He’s certainly got the speed and athleticism to be very effective doing it.

Andrew Thompson: An actual cohesive offense. The last couple seasons have been an improving defence that simply relied on tough DeRozan iso’s and free throws, Lowry bail out jumpers and drives, offensive rebounding and bench buckets. This team has the tools to be a fast break force and a handful in the half court if they put together something organized.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Hopefully preseason’s lack of passing isn’t a harbinger of things to come, so consistency on ball movement tops my wish list. Additionally more fast breaks (resulting from great defense) and better/multiple options to finish games especially close games.

Tim W.: Less isolation, more movement and more touches by Valanciunas.
casey

5. What change would you like to see on defense?

Blake Murphy: I largely trust Casey – especially with the addition of Johnson and expected defensive growth from DeRozan, Ross, and Valanciunas. Valanciunas is the key to the team being functionally better there, but even with current schemes and talent this should be a top-10 unit. Maybe a little more ball pressure high to try and let the transition offense breathe.

William Lou: Less fouling. The Raptors allowed the 7th most free-throws attempted last season. Getting that mark to league average would be nice.

Tim Chisholm: A little more strategic use of trapping on pick-and-roll because the sacrifice it creates is openings in the paint, which the team still isn’t all that good at covering for.

Scott Hastie: Weak-side help. Ross and DeRozan need to improve in coming over when an opponent drives to the basket. It’s possible that this is part of a defensive system – staying home on the corners to prevent threes – but after some preseason viewing, I don’t think so.

Ryan McNeill: None. In Dwane Casey I trust.

Sam Holako: Tighter defensive rotations, especially in the paint. Jonas will need to protect the rim better than he has in the past; he needs to be up over a block a game.

Zarar Siddiqi: Increased ball pressure. Use some variant of the old matchup press by Pitino, where there’s greater ball pressure for a longer duration of the possession. There’s enough athleticism and defensive ability on the roster that we should be a team that forces opposing offenses to pass two or three times before even thinking of initiating a play.

Barry Taylor: Honestly, I want DeMar to be able to cover his man and not have to switch with Ross. This might be asking a lot but with his work ethic anything is possible.

Greg Mason: (Insert line about doing a better job of defending big wings here) I generally loved the defensive effort across the board last season even if the individual ability was sometimes lacking.

Garrett Hinchey: From a team standpoint, the answer to this is clearly finding the answer to guarding bigger wings, as we saw with Joe Johnson in last year’s playoffs. I really hope Ross can fill the void, though James Johnson is a much better insurance policy than we had last season.

Andrew Thompson: A healthy Amir Johnson. Keeping Valanciunas closer to the paint on pick and rolls and eliminating bad habits of unnecessarily gambling to double team on the perimeter in search of a turnover. The turnovers did not materialize in those scenarios nearly as much as wide open shots did.

Tamberlyn Richardson: With 3-years under Casey’s system the Raptors should aim for a top-5 defense. Obviously team commitment to rebounding is crucial however the intangibles of increased blocks and steals should be a focus given the youth and athleticism of the squad. Note to Casey: you have depth now – use it.

Tim W.: Less help defense, which should help their three point defense and leave fewer opponents open.

The Raptors announced this morning:

It’s game over for the Raptors most beloved preseason player ever, just as Blake had called a while back. Jordan Hamilton, who was wandering the streets aimlessly before the Raptors offered him shelter, had had a solid preseason where his shooting, defense and shot-making was on full display. Unfortunately, the Raptors lack of depth at the backup center proved fatal for Hamilton, who is a victim of numbers and injury. Had Lucas Noguiera been more productive, or even healthy, perhaps Hamilton may have had a shouting chance of Greg Steimsma, but no dice.

As for Greg Steimsma, he happens to be 6’11” and that’s what got him the job. He’s been a foul machine all preseason which I suppose is good enough given the dearth at backup C.

Will Cherry never had a chance. And both Hamilton and Cherry are no doubt thankful for the Raptors organization for allowing them to showcase their skills. Hamilton will be picked up by some other team, whereas Cherry may be too, but if not, Europe awaits.

Knicks 80, Raptors 83 – Box

Preseason concludes with a win in Montreal, one where the Knicks minus Calderon put up a fight in the first half, somewhat spurred by a Raptors defense that didn’t quite know how to defend Carmelo Anthony.

Once Dwane Casey sorted things out at halftime and came up with a couple schemes to get the ball out of ‘Melo’s hands (mostly doubling), the Raptors forced enough turnovers to rock the Knick boat and built a lead in the fourth. The Knick comeback fell short after a couple empty possessions, the last one due to an unforced error. And that was that.

The main item to note here is that Dwane Casey played a rotation that most closely resembled what the regular season lineup would look like. DeRozan and Lowry played 28 minutes each, Ross played 31 and Johnson 26. It was interesting to note that Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams played 20 minutes apiece, which meant that Lowry and DeRozan were both kept under 30 minutes. Is this a strategy that Casey will employ to keep the starters fresh, or just a chance event? .

Good Stuff

From a tactical perspective, the Raptors did a few things very well.

Guards vs Bigs

Their ball-handling on the perimeter (when they weren’t carelessly turning it over) is very good and coupled with good screen usage, it puts them in one-on-one situations with opposing bigs, and they did very well to finish. Granted, it’s only the Knicks whose defensive strengths lie more in pressuring the ball than defending the paint, but it was still impressive to see the Raptors guards finish with confidence.

‘Melo Adjustments

Dwane Casey made some adjustments in how Anthony was being defended. From single-coverage through James Johnson and Terrence Ross, the Raptors gave him a few different looks, with help coming through varied ways and frequencies. It forced players like J.R Smith into making plays, which is always good for whoever the Knicks are playing on the night.

Seeking the Break

Kyle Lowry was seeking fast-break opportunities after every missed shot in the second half, and accelerating as soon as he got the ball in his own half.  He was the fastest player on the court end-to-end and that’s saying something with Shumpert and Hardaway there as well. His shape now affords him feints in transition and he sent the defense the wrong way on numerous occasions, as he carved space for his drives.

Some coaching…

Dwane Casey did some coaching, and chose to foul with the Raptors up three late, not allowing the Knicks to get a three-pointer off. The strategy paid off.

Bad Stuff

“Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat”, noted Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher. I never him but I bet he was a total downer to be around.  The kind of guy that when you go to a dance party talks about how his friend hurt his hip while dancing, and had to have hip replacement surgery, only for it to get infected and that’s when the Gangrine kicked in.

Second quarter

The Raptors coughed the ball up and the Knicks ran it back.  Turnovers are an unsightly thing and when it’s your point guards committing them, it makes them even worse.  The combo of Williams and Vasquez, who I thought were decent offensively, were overrun in that second quarter where the Knicks rode some good play from Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to a halftime lead.

Shumpert sucks

DeRozan had a good offensive game, once again shooting 50%, but did get stripped and suffocated by Imam Shumpert a few times, and took some of those jumpers that we all know about.  It doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it’s just that you don’t want to see your All-Star get turned over by riff-raff, even if it’s for a brief period in the game.

No letups

The 25-11 third quarter had the Raptors holding a 6-point lead which was extended to 8, and that should’ve been game-set-match against this Knicks team.  Wasn’t to be as the second-unit was yet again pressured by those pesky Knick guards, and the quarterbacking of Vasquez in combination with some shoddy play from Patterson had the Knicks humming again.  Tim Hardaway Jr. (9 in the fourth) got them back, and Lowry and DeRozan had to be re-inserted to see matters through. Chalk it up to a loss of concentration, after all, Montreal is a city you can’t wait to go out to.

Watch for the 15th Spot

Steimsma, Hamilton, and Cherry didn’t play, and apparently the Ujiri would huddle after the game with Casey and the coaches to decide who the spot would go to. By the time you read this post, they might’ve even announced it. The deadline is 5pm on Saturday, and my money is on the foul machine known as Steimsma making it, even though on the pod we agreed how Hamilton might be the better choice.  Bebe was thrown out there for a workout today, but I don’t know if he’s ready to contribute for more than brief stints.

Readiness

This preseason probably went about three games too long. At the same time, it was probably too short for guys like Noguiera and Patterson, who had injury issues to deal with. Kudos to Dwane Casey for tracking the minutes well, since most of the team looks to be just about in peak form in time for the season.

If you consider that the goal of training camp/preseason is to get in shape, not get injured, drill defensive principles, and practice some foundational offensive stuff, you have to be happy. The Raptors’ key guys have had very good runs, the offense has looked solid, and though there were defensive drop-offs, as we saw in this game as well, the Raptors were able to recover through refocusing. Good enough, I say.

Wednesday night, then. See you then.

Photo Credit: Dave Sandford, NBA Entertainment via Getty Images

Raptors topple the Knicks in Montreal. Check the GIFs.

New York Knicks 80 FinalRecap | Box Score 83 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 26 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +17I’m tired of writing his line for this thing. It’s always the same. The guy rarely has a dip in form, and tonight he had clearly given help defense a special focus. Was used as the help defender on ‘Melo, and did well to recognize when the big comes out to help on the drive and slide underneath for the layup. Picked up a niggle where the trainer was examining him, but that’s just normal now. Quincy Acy did out-hustle him on occasion and he did get overpowered by Amare at times.

Terrence Ross, SF 31 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +8Torched early on defense by ‘Melo and it affected his offensive game. Still, his confidence isn’t shaken like it might’ve last season, he continues to fire and tries to make the right play on offense. His ball-skills continue to impress, much more calmer and composed with the dribble in face-up situations.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 5-8 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +13Quite anonymous for the most part, since the Raptors guards were hell-bent on pushing the tempo, often leaving him behind. Didn’t get as many one-on-one possessions on the block, but did up his effort in the second half where he demanded the ball a bit better. It must be tiring to get up for these meaningless games, especially after his summer.

Kyle Lowry, PG 28 MIN | 3-5 FG | 6-9 FT | 7 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +8The one-man fastbreak. His effort-level is maximum and he pushed the ball at the Knicks in that third quarter to overcome the deficit. The guy is tenacious on defense and his lighter frame now allows him to do more jukes in transition and keep defenses even more so at their toes. He’s quickly expanding his offensive threat where defenses don’t know how to guard him. Also looks more pacey than last year, which is scary. Tonight, it impressed me how willing he was to take on the big after getting to the rim.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 28 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-5 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 15 PTS | +10Another solid outing where he worked well without the ball, ran the break beautifully (another one), and did enough one-on-one damage to get Raptors fans hopeful of another career-year from him. There’s not much else left to say about this guy, let’s just get the season going and see how he does in real games. I’m a little intrigued as to how good a fast-break player he can be if the Raptors decide to seriously push the tempo, which I think they should. He’s also showing better finishing near the rim, which I know he had come under criticism in the past. Those turnovers, though…

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +1I like this guy, man. That is all. He can also shoot.

James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7Guarded ‘Melo, guarded Amare, and guarded just about everyone else. His defense versatility is obvious, and I thought he made a difference when he came in (keep in mind the Raptors were very poor on D to start the game). Passed up a clean corner three, which was surprising, I’d like to see him take that shot every chance he gets.

Patrick Patterson, PF 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 3-3 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -15Poor game, very disjointed. Passed up shots he should’ve taken and took shoots he should’ve passed up. His movement was still good, and the Raptors probably overlooked him in the offense too many times. Remember, he was late getting started in training camp and it shows. I’m not too worried, the guy is talented enough to make an impact and is equipped with the right work ethic.

Lucas Nogueira, C 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -8The only non-rotation player to get meaningful minutes in the game, likely to get him all stretched after his injury lay off. Set some screens, didn’t get the ball back on the roll. Ran back and forth between FT lines with the look of a guy that’s figuring out what his teammates’ names are.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 20 MIN | 1-8 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -5Had a poor shooting game which masks his effectiveness as the PG partnering with Lou Williams. I’m not going to shit on him like most people these days. Remember, his scoring responsibilities have reduced with Lou Williams there, and he was clearly pass-first tonight. Had a huge rebound and steal (check the Ross dunk, too) late to make sure Knicks were held off.

Louis Williams, SG 20 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -7Very good using the high screen, whether it be Bebe or Hansbrough, and slicing his way to the rim. One of his underrated qualities is off-the-ball movement, he does not sit still on the court when he doesn’t have the ball and forces the defense to shift. Got a nice jumper after the defense lost him.  Was left wanting on defense a few times, especially in the second quarter but I’ll look past that since here’s here for his offense.

Dwane Casey
Chose to foul up three late. Good to see he’s got his coaching hat on. Extended the starters and we got a good feel of what the team’s all about. The early defense was shoddy but the halftime speech fixed that.  Must’ve been comical for him to watch the Knicks run the triangle.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Raptors were deadly in screen ‘n roll situations today, our ball-handling is too good on the perimeter right now. We can easily get past our man using a solid screen, and from then on it’s all about Lowry and DeRozan keeping their composure.
  2. No Steimsma, Cherry, or Hamilton – the decision is apparently made, though Ujiri said that he’ll huddle with coaches after the game to confirm.
  3. There was a big defensive letup in that first half, the Raptors didn’t have an answer for ‘Melo and Casey took a couple timeouts to sort things out, and came out with a double-teaming strategy.
  4. Tons of GIFs here
  5. Preseason ends 7-1, and more importantly, team is looking gelled and NO INJURIES!

Raps run a sweet play to start the game, DeRozan scores

Lowry runs the textbook fast break, Ross three

‘Melo on fire, burns Ross, Raps D nowhere

Lou Williams uses the Hansbrough screen to drive

Terrence Ross kills J.R Smith

Bebe sets the screen, Lowry and Amir do the rest

Knicks run the triangle

Ross with the D, JV with the board, Lowry with the pass, DD with the dunk

Kyle Lowry – the one-man fastbreak

Raps double ‘Melo to force the TO, DeRozan clutches and flushes on the break

Tyler Hansbrough has a jumper now

BOOM! Lowry with the And1 against Stoudemire

Jonas looks off the pass to Lowry, executes jump-hook

Vasquez with the steal and Ross with the windmill (didn’t count)

So, the Raptors have so much depth, especially at the 1, 2 and 3 positions, so we’re wondering if the best way to ultimately use that depth is to use the Spurs model of only playing most of their major players about 72 games each. Thoughts?

A broken cadre of former Raptors return to Canada clad in blue and orange.

Let’s hop into the time machine real quick. Set the dial for December 2012.

Optimism in Raptorsland was at an all-time low. A 4-13 start to the season will do that. Being the glass-half full person that I am, I chalked the team’s misfortunes to Murphy’s Law. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong for the Raptors, did go wrong. Newly acquired point guard Kyle Lowry lost his job in the starting lineup after going down with injury. DeMar DeRozan struggled in his role as leading man. Linas Kleiza couldn’t hit a three to save his life. The Raptors weren’t necessarily good, but they had more talent than their miserable record suggested. Things had to get better.

Except they didn’t. The Raptors opened the month of December with six straight losses, highlighted by an embarrassing 32-point loss to the Utah Jazz. It was miserable. The trio Linas Kleiza, Dominic McGuire and Mikael Pietrus shared duties at small forward spot. Read that sentence again.

At the center of the maelstrom were three current Knicks: Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Quincy Acy. By no means were they the sole culprits to the Raptors’ struggles, they certainly didn’t make enough of an appreciable difference to stop the slide. I’ll never have anything but love for one of the greatest Raptors of all time in Calderon and I #fearthebeard, but if your season rides on those three, your team probably isn’t very good.

That’s where the Knicks find themselves, relying on significant contributions from complementary players in hopes of a rebound from last year’s abysmal season. Calderon could be a good fit, especially in the Triangle offense (pictured below) with his passing and spot-up abilities, but Acy is still an undersized energy big, and Bargnani is still one of the most destructive NBA players I’ve ever watched in my lifetime. That’s to say nothing of their respective defensive deficiencies, of which Raptors fans here need no reintroduction.

Again, I don’t enjoy rooting for former fan favourites like Calderon and Acy. But I can’t say that I’m optimistic about the Knicks’ chances to succeed this season, either. Who knows? Maybe the Triangle offense and Phil Jackson’s magical presence solves all their problems. I have my doubts, especially when they’re counting on the Raptors’ castoffs.

mann-triangles-life

Point guard – Raptors

Matchup: Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Petey Pablo Prigioni vs. Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, Will Cherry (pls, no)

Unlike the start of 2012, Kyle Lowry has firmly established himself as superior to his former counterpart in Calderon. Lowry might not be as adept at creating looks for others in the pick-and-roll, but he’s literally better or just as effective at everything else.

As backup, the Knicks are sporting an odd couple with Larkin and Prigioni. Larkin is a quick speed demon who found himself trapped behind entrenched veterans in Dallas, but his stock is high in New York. He’s not particularly good at much else aside from his speed, but he’s good for a change of pace. Prigioni, on the other hand, is a 38-year-old, Argentinian clone of Calderon. He facilitates the offense and he nails his spot-ups. Prigioni’s favorite food is meat.

Shooting guard – Raptors

Matchup: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, Jordan Hamilton

Always be wary of players like Smith and Hardaway Jr. They’re high variance players. On the average, their numbers won’t look great, but they can get hot at a moment’s notice. Treat them like Jay-Z and Kanye. Don’t let them get in their zones.

Conversely, Shumpert is a strong wing defender with decent ball-handling skills, but he isn’t a big threat to score. If he could ever develop a three point shot, he’ll be the heir apparent to Landry Fields that New York deserves.

Shumpert will likely play the bulk of minutes to check DeRozan. Hopefully, given that this is the final game of preseason, DeRozan can cut out the extraneous tinkering of his expanded offensive arsenal, and stick to what he does best. That means less ill-advised post-ups, and more slashing to the basket.

This is also a good game for Williams to strut his stuff against a weak defense. Presumably, Casey will treat the game like a regular season matchup, so it will be interesting to watch for Williams’ minute distribution. His quickness could also come into play to check a player like Larkin.

Small Forward – Knicks

Matchup: Carmelo Anthony, Travis Outlaw (like, for real) vs. Terrence Ross, James Johnson, BRUNOOOOO!!!!!

This is the first of many tests for James Johnson. He is one of the very few players in this league who has the size to match ‘Melo’s physicality on the wing. Johnson was brought in specifically to face matchups like this. Can he do it effectively? Keeping ‘Melo under 25 points would be a win.

For Ross, my hope is that he can stop launching terrible shots. His play creation game is clearly not yet ready. No more 1-for-6 shooting in first quarters.

Also, BRUNNOOOOOOOOO!!!

Power forward – Raptors

Matchup: Amar’e Stoudemire, Quincy Acy, Stoudemire’s wine bathtub vs. Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough

Despite his body degenerating right before our eyes, Stoudemire still has a semblance of effectiveness on offense. His touch around the basket is solid and he can stroke the midrange jumper. That shouldn’t be a big problem for Amir to handle, but Johnson has mostly sleepwalked through preseason. Hopefully, he gets it into gear on the eve of the regular season.

Acy remains a pest with his boundless energy, but although his effort is commendable, his play is weak as compared to Patterson and Hansbrough’s. Sorry, Fresh Quince.

Center – Raptors

Matchup: Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith vs. Jonas Valanciunas, Ayy Bebe, Greg Stiemsma

Oof. Not exactly the best group of pivots. Valanciunas is the only starting calibre player, which earns the Raptors a win here. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Bebe.

Prediction: Raptors 94, Knicks 82

I want to elaborate on my prediction, but it basically boils down to the Knicks having no defense, and that they’re still grappling with the intricacies of the Triangle. There’s so many kinds. Right-angle, scalene, isosceles, equilateral. Let’s check in on their progress:

Seth Rosenthal’s post on Vine

The Crossover: Five Questions About The New York Knicks | Raptors HQ

Q: Are you excited/concerned about the triangle offense and Derek Fisher as head coach? A: If only because the triangle is an actual offense as opposed to the ridiculous, isolation-filled circle jerk (you can replace that with, like, “pile of crap” or something to that effect if you don’t want “circle jerk” published on your site) of an “offense” that Mike Woodson ran last year, I’m very excited about it. The Knicks, surprisingly enough, ranked 11th in Offensive Efficiency last season even with an incompetent coach. I really look forward to seeing what New York can do while running a legitimate offense. Of course, there will be growing pains, but I think the ball movement inherent in the triangle will be a huge boon for the team in the long run.

Rogers and Bell at risk of Raptors fans tuning out | National Post

The Raptors have a particularly young fan base, and cable or satellite television is already beyond many of their budgets. The NBA’s official streaming service, League Pass, does not include Raptors games or nationally televised games in Canada. However, there are many illegal spots on the internet that can be of service to the diehards. As of now, Raptors ownership is virtually pushing fans to those sites. “Both Bell and Rogers are strongly committed to the Raptors,” LaFontaine said. “Both have made it very clear that they want to make sure both the Raptors and the NBA are given great support.” That might be true. However, Bell and Rogers have yet make the team’s fans a priority in this matter. And if the two companies’ squabbles and inability to consistently present a product that they own leads to more and more people cutting off their cable, well, the irony would be quite substantial

Raptors’ Vasquez can’t wait for regular season to start | Toronto Sun

The off-season arrival of combo guard Lou Williams has complicated how Vasquez fits into that rotation somewhat. He played a lot of minutes late in games alongside starting point guard Kyle Lowry, with DeMar DeRozan moving over to small forward and has a reputation as a good closer, but Williams has also excelled in that role in the past and can play beside Lowry too. But Vasquez is confident in his abilities and eager to compete for as large a role as possible. “I love it,” he said of being a key late in games as he was against Haifa. “I’m going to earn that throughout the year. I want to close games and I want to help the team win. That’s everybody’s mentality.”

The Power of Opportunity | Huffington Post

The more individuals we see that have ties to Africa, the more programs we see that are focused on providing opportunities to our growing continent. The league helps empower children in Nigeria through the Power Forward program, works with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Senegal and assists the United Nations Foundation on the Nothing But Nets campaign to prevent malaria-related deaths throughout the continent. Each year, new NBA players show interest in visiting Africa to help provide opportunities to youth and the response is always the same; they all want to come back. I can remember the first-time reactions of Chris Bosh, Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki, Marcus Camby and Dwight Howard, among others. Seeing the value in reaching out and providing opportunities to these communities, it moved them to want to do more — and I’m not surprised. The more you give, the more you grow.

NBA Atlantic Division preview: Raptors’ title to lose | USA Today

The Raptors win the division and Nets slip into the playoffs barely. The Knicks find some momentum toward the end of the season and use it to help convince a marquee free agent or two to join them next summer. The Celtics find a good trade value for veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and sort out their rotation. The 76ers set futility records with a roster that already was historically bad but now could be without Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel for long stretches.

Here’s who should make the NBA playoffs this season | The Washington Post

They re-signed all three of their key players – Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson — and could have an emerging star in Jonas Valanciunas, whose 6.7 win shares were third most on the team last year.

Lewenberg: Raptors Top Five: Best bigs | TSN

Bosh’s Raptor legacy will always be tainted to some degree. He was never able to get Toronto out of the first round, qualifying for the playoffs in just two of his seven seasons as a Raptor – although his supporting casts deserve some of the blame there. Then there’s the way in which he left town – bolting after a half-hearted season to team up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Unfortunately, that’s all some fans remember of the artist formally known as CB4. Bosh was a five-time All-Star in Toronto, a player that worked his tail off and gave everything he had for the team and the city throughout the bulk of his tenure. A raw prospect selected fourth overall in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft, Bosh developed into a well-rounded talent, one that still tops the Raptors’ record book in most categories. Perhaps he was miscast as a franchise player, but the list of guys fitting of that criteria is as short as ever. At the very least, he’s an excellent player, a star, and the second-best this franchise has seen in its first 20 years.

Can A Rejuvenated Jordan Hamilton Make The Raptors? | Pro Bball Report

Hamilton came into the NBA as a shooter and he has a career 35.8 field goal percentage from three-point range, however, he views himself as more than that and the trimmed down Hamilton has been performing well for the Raptors so far. Over his past five preseason games, Hamilton has averaged 10.4 points in 20.2 minutes on 57.1 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from three. “People look at me as a shooter, but I think I’m a scorer,” Hamilton said. “I can get to the basket. I’ve got a nice midrange and I can shoot the three and I can get to the free throw line, so there are some things that I can do. I haven’t had a chance to display it all because most coaches just viewed me as a shooter, but Coach Casey has been letting me play an all-around game.” Scoring will not be enough to keep Hamilton around after the regular season starts and he has a reputation as a poor defender, but that is a perception the 24-year-old wants to change.

The NBA’s global expansion continued last night as the Raptors beat Israeli side Maccabi Haifa 92-85 in a lacklustre affair. One of the biggest reasons it’s fun seeing European teams come over to North America is because their playing style is so different – typically playing only a single big at a time and relying on a loose passing drive and kick attack rather than the NBA’s ball-dominant offence. At its best, it can lead to some fun positional battles and wild finishes. At its worst, though, neither team does a great job of adjusting, and the game ends up a pretty sloppy affair. This game was a lot closer to the latter than the former – but we’ll get to that.

The most exciting development of the night for Raptor fans was the preseason debut of Lucas “Bebe” Nogeuira, AKA the other 7 and a half feet of Brazilian wingspan, and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t know if he’s ready to for regular NBA minutes, but he showed the same kind of raw athleticism and promise that we’ve seen from Bruno Caboclo, and his ability to be effective in spurts cast a bit more doubt onto the outcome of the two-way-plus-Will-Cherry battle for the fifteenth roster spot.

Let’s take a bit of a deeper look at some of the storylines, rather than simply rehashing the game (click here for Will’s Quick Reaction):

All Bebe Everything

Although we’d seen a bit of him in summer league, last night was the young Brazilian’s preseason debut, and he didn’t disappoint. At times, his huge arms were downright disruptive under the hoop, where he took advantage of playing at the 4 alongside Greg Stiemsma to record some massive weakside blocks. He wasn’t a focal point in the offence, but was effective, getting to the line 4 times on a solid roll game, largely alongside Greivis Vasquez and the Raps’ second unit.

One thing that surprised me in a good way was how mobile Bebe seemed to be – playing the 4 against the four-wing lineup of Maccabi forced him out to the perimeter against much smaller checks. His side to side foot speed was up to the task (albeit against sub-NBA competition), as he hung with his man and managed to avoid the blow-by, which you would certainly expect from a raw center.

It’s clear, however, the Bebe is raw, and when he made a mistake, the entire crowd could see it. His anxiousness to contest the shot had him leaving the floor before opposing players shot the ball on occasions, and it led to his man leaking underneath for an uncontested put-back dunk just before the half. It scares you a bit to think of him out there as the sole rim protector, though obviously that won’t be happening often.

All in all, though, it was an eye-opening performance that cast a bit of doubt on to the 15th man candidacy of assumed leader in the clubhouse Stiemsma. I’d still lean towards keeping him – Nogeuira does make big mistakes and those will undoubtedly prove costly, as opposed to the solid-but-most-definitely-not-spectacular Steamer. However, who knows how long it’ll take him to correct those mistakes? It’s entirely possible he’ll have clearly supplanted Stiemsma on the depth chart within the year, which would then render the roster spot less useful in later months.

The Hunt for 15th Spot-tober (I’m so sorry.)

Stiemsma’s chief competition for that 15th spot is wing Jordan Hamilton, who has been impressive this spring but had a bit of an off-game tonight. Hamilton still managed to find his shot, but missed a couple open looks and wound up 2 for 5 for four points (along with a surprising 6 rebounds). My notes for Will Cherry, reflecting Will’s, read “Dwight Buycks with better defence,” and while I was somewhat impressed with his hustle on that end, he’s a complete nonfactor offensively and it’s really hard to see him winning a spot.

However, Hamilton, like Nogeuira, makes those kind of mistakes defensively that you notice. In one sequence tonight, he committed a bad turnover on a drive and dish attempt and then lost his man in transition for an easy finish, and it seemed like his check often swung past him easily. It’s an interesting conundrum, because if Hamilton was competing for, say, the 9th man position, his offensive abilities would far outweigh his defensive shortcomings, and he’d wind up a net positive in second unit situations.

As the last man on a roster, though, your goal is to not rock the boat, and when you only play a couple minutes, big mistakes are amplified. I’ve waffled on this a bit, but give me the solidarity of Stiemsma in a 15th man role (and Landry Fields on the wing, who may be comically overpaid but is a solid defensive option and won’t take shots he shouldn’t). It’s a risk/reward scenario either way – and Hamilton offers the greatest upside of all the options, but this team is dripping with upside in the form of Valanciunas, Ross, and the Brazilians. A defensive veteran who doesn’t rock the boat is probably what this Raptors team needs.

Maccabi Haifa

The Raptors’ opponents were largely outmatched, save for American forward Jeff Allen, who dropped 24 points in a “don’t send me back there” performance for the ages. Cast as a power forward but likely an NBA 3, Allen impressed with his athleticism and scored the ball in a variety of ways, particularly capitalizing on some sluggish defence from a larger, slower Amir Johnson and firing at will from the high post and wing. I don’t know if Allen is an NBA talent, but he’s probably good enough for the Sixers.

Like I said, Maccabi’s playing style was typical for a European squad, with a four wing, one big approach heavy on rotations and ball movement. Surprisingly, it was the Raptors’ bench that came out looking solid against the unconventional lineup, using the smaller, more mobile abilities of Patrick Patterson (who was phenomenal defensively) and Tyler Hansbrough, as well as the length of Bruno and Bebe to deal with the odd rotations.The more conventional, larger starting lineup struggled to keep up at times, particularly Amir Johnson, who looked checked out.

All in all, it was a typical preseason affair that offered little insight into Casey’s playing style and rotations for the regular season, while offering some intrigue at the fringes of the team’s lineup and another look at Raptor prospects. We’re just over 1000 words now, so I’ll leave it there – one week to go until games start to count. The Raptors sit at 6 and 1 for the preseason and and wrap up their slate on Friday against the Knicks in Montreal.

One last thing: on behalf of all of us here at RR, we wanted to offer our sincere thoughts and condolences to everyone impacted by the terrible tragedy in Ottawa yesterday. Sometimes, you get a reminder that life is bigger than basketball, and it’s important to keep in mind that while the Raptors will stay here in Canada, Maccabi Haifa will head back to Israel, a country rife with turmoil. We’re truly lucky to have what we have, lucky to have the great police and military forces that kept our citizens safe yesterday, and lucky that events like this happen so seldom that they do come as a shock.

Anyways, back to basketball. One week until the games start to count. Go Raptors go.

Toronto Raptors get trash-talked by Maccabi Haifa player in pre-season win | National Post

“That’s a part of the game for me,” Hickerson said of exchanging words with the Raptors bench. “That’s a neighbourhood game. It’s us against them. If we’re not having fun, it’s too much of a job. That’s when I’ll quit. When it’s not fun anymore, I’ll definitely quit.” About four minutes after the jumper, Hickerson finished an alley-oop off of a pass from Brody Angley, who he played with in Mexico. Hickerson got in the face of several Raptors after the played, and was given a technical foul for his trouble. Traditionally, a technical foul comes with a fine. “I’ll be at home tomorrow,” Hickerson said. “They’ll have to come to Kentucky to get that money.”

Bebe makes his long-awaited Raptors debut | Toronto Sun

“If I have to stay on the bench for 82 games, I’ll stay happy, because I know the most important thing in the first year is to learn from the veterans and develop your game,” Nogueira said. “If I have a chance to play, I’ll try to show the skills I learned in Spain: Protect the rim, rebound, I can score sometimes. I think right now I don’t have to score because we have amazing scoring guys on our team.” Nogueira made an impression on coach Dwane Casey with his eight-point, two-block, two-rebound effort in 11 minutes (he hit both of his shots and all four free throws). “Lucas came in and deterred shots and that’s what he should do,” Casey said. “I was really impressed with how he came in and played.”

Lewenberg: Nogueira makes emotional debut in exhibition win | TSN

With the preseason winding down, Nogueira returned just in time to get some run. Wednesday was likely the final opportunity for Casey to get an in-game look at his younger players – and those who are in contention for the team’s final roster spot – before he goes back to his regular rotation in Friday’s exhibition finale. If all goes right once the season begins for real next week, Nogueira – like Caboclo – will have to develop on the sidelines, in practice and, perhaps, in short stints with the D-League affiliate in Fort Wayne, but he’s well aware of what his role will be in year one and doesn’t seem remotely fazed by it. “I’m okay because I’ve played six years professionally,” he reiterated. “The first three years, I didn’t play. I stayed on the bench the whole year. Sometimes, the [centre] got hurt, coach put the shooting guard in the post, but didn’t [play] me. I’m okay if I don’t play 82 games.” “The good thing about it is the D-League,” said Casey. “We can see [Nogueira and Caboclo] playing in real games against players there if they’re not playing here. That’s going to be very beneficial to both of them, getting those minutes in the D-League and learning in game situations there more so than here.”

Game Recap: The Legend of Bebe Begins Against Maccabi Haifa – Raptors HQ

The story of the game though was Bebe and his drive for folk hero status. With eight points off of free throws, a dunk and a put back, it seemed like he was everywhere on the court. Nogueira secured two blocks in the game but changed numerous shots as the fourth quarter ticked away. Maybe it was just a flash-in-the-pan bit of preseason myth-making, or maybe Bebe has the potential to be something special. Perhaps the urgent pre-game words from Johnson resonated. Whatever it was, the Raptors are presumably grateful.

Post-Game Notebook: Nogueira Debuts And Turnover Troubles Against Maccabi Haifa | Toronto Raptors

Each of Jordan Hamilton (5 pts, 6 rebs), Greg Stiemsma (6 pts, 6 rebs, 2 blks) and Will Cherry (3 pts) logged as many minutes as the Raptors’ usual starters and while none of them truly had major impact in this one, Casey still saw positives in each performance. “We want to see where they are and if they can perform when the popcorn’s popping. I thought all three of them did something good and it is very difficult to try and showcase what you have. We’re insisting on doing team things and they are trying to do it individually.” Expect a decision on that last spot by early next week.

Toronto Raptors rookies Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira hope to learn from veterans this season | National Post

In his first appearance, in the Raptors’ 92-85 win over a tired Maccabi Haifa team, Nogueira showed a little of that. Upon checking into the game for the first time in the second quarter, Nogueira blocked two shots in quick succession. He added a dunk and put-back as the Raptors avoided an embarrassing pre-season loss in the fourth quarter, finishing with eight points. Nogueira’s lanky frame and long arms make him a shot-blocker. When he and Caboclo shared the floor together, you honestly wondered if the opposition could ever compete a pass through the middle of the defence. Their arms go on and on.

Maccabi Haifa put up good effort in losing cause against Raptors | Toronto Star

And so it goes for the storied Israeli Super League team, making what’s an annual pilgrimage to North America not under the auspices of the NBA and the EuroLeague but in a private business enterprise. “I know in college, teams go out and play against the major programs and they make some money for their program,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, putting a North American spin on a global undertaking. “I think Maccabi may be using this as an improvement for their program and also getting to tour the NBA league and financially it’s rewarding for them also, to do it.” The money better make up for the sporting cost. Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Raptors, Maccabi Haifa had lost in Washington, Portland and Sacramento on this tour by an average of almost 30 points per game.

Raptors 92 – Maccabi Haifa 85: Unsightly, but fun anyway | Raptors Rapture

Maccabi Haifa did their best, but is undersized and don’t make up for it with outside shooting. Had the Raps not had an offensive meltdown to end Q3 and start Q4, and surrendered a healthy lead, the game would have been devoid of excitement. In an hideous display of turnovers and missed shots, the Raps were outscored 21-0, which allowed Haifa to grab a 5-point lead. The Raps had gone nearly 8 minutes without a point before Greivis Vasquez unleashed a long pass to Bruno Caboclo, who gathered himself nicely and crammed the ball home. Greivis was the best Rap all night, leading our guys with 15 points and running the offense with confidence. In contrast, Will Cherry played himself off the team with a dreadful game.

Terrence Ross Drains Incredible 360 Layup | FanSided

Usually his 360’s and between the leg spectacle ends in a slam, but against Maccabi Haifa in the preseason, Ross made one of the coolest layups you’ll see this season. A 360 layup? Yes. On the fast break, Ross is terrifying. He’s one of those guys you either foul before he elevates or get out of the way.

15 feet of Brazilian wingspan saves the day. Seriously.

Maccabi Haifa 85 FinalRecap | Box Score 92 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 15 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +6Could not care less about preseason games. Every move was concerted, consciously conserving every ounce of energy on each play. It’s a smart strategy. I’m surprised he even played at all. Good help defense as always, though his feet got crossed up a few times by a smaller and faster player. Sound familiar?

Terrence Ross, SF 20 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | +6Horrible first half. It’s obvious that the mandate on the floor is to have him handle a bigger share of ball-handling and creation responsibilities, but he looked miserable. Unsurprisingly, he looked much better in the second half when he had the benefit of more concerted play calls. Snagged two steals in the second half and hit a 360 layup, Swaggy P style. His play deteriorated once more after he got lumped with the third unit dudes.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 12 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | +7Working theory: the Raptors are making a concerted effort to keep the ball out of his hands so as to keep his price low when it’s time to talk extensions. Otherwise, they’re just being stubborn in their refusal to find him in the post, let alone in the pick-and-roll, of which has all but disappeared. Strong play on defense, especially as the rim-protecting anchor.

Kyle Lowry, PG 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | +2Dude is ready for the season. Stop all this bullsh*t with playing international teams. Even his flopping for free-throw game is on point.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 18 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 6 PTS | +8Is it just me, or is he going to the post needlessly at times? He’s not establishing very good post position, and it opens him up to double teams, of which he does not deal with very well. It seems like he worked really hard on it in the offseason, but quite frankly, it’s just not a very useful tool right now. It could improve with time, but he’s still far more effective when slashing to the basket.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 9 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +1When he and Patterson are the Raptors’ bigs, they switch so seamlessly. Neither have the length to protect the rim, but putting a body in the way is important.

James Johnson, PF 19 MIN | 3-4 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | 0Strong in attacking the rim to begin the game, but drifted further and further away, until he airballed a corner triple. Solid defensively though. That’s what matters.

Patrick Patterson, PF 19 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -12Loved his energy. There was a stretch in the second quarter where he absolutely dominated defensively. Good energy elsewhere too, though it’s curious that the guards refused to find him as a pick-and-pop option.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 13 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +15He, along with Bebe Noguiera saved the day for the Raptors. Threw down a pair of dunks. Seriously, the length is real. Ujiri got us our very own Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is turning out to be all sorts of fun.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -11Continued his strong play, though his game tailed off in the fourth quarter while playing with the other two 15th-man candidates. He deserves that spot, if only to save us from having to ever watch Stiemsma or Cherry play for the Raptors ever again.

Lucas Nogueira, C 11 MIN | 2-2 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +15Fun observation about Bebe: his arms are so long, he can stop at the nail and create a hedging effect by reaching forward. That’s how long his arms are. This allows him to stay at home while providing a check on the perimeter. Strong interior defense too. Let him be the backup center…

Greg Stiemsma, C 21 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -13…so that this man isn’t the backup center. I’m not doing this to hate on Stiemsma, who will probably latch on somewhere this season. He’s just not very fun to watch, fouling opponents left, right and center. He’s not really protecting the rim if he’s hacking every dude who comes close to the paint.

Will Cherry, PG 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | +2Remember Dwight Buycks? This is his long lost twin, only trapped in Julyan Stone’s body.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 18 MIN | 5-10 FG | 5-5 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +9Looked much better than he did in previous games. Attacked the basket a few times. Made some good passes to facilitate ball movement and hit a key shot down the stretch. Good to see the ole YOLO once more.

Dwane Casey
He spared us all from watching more of Hamilton, Stiemsma and Cherry blow an easy win by putting in Bebe, Bruno and Vasquez to secure the victory. For that, it’s enough to earn him a B.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Observation from Scott Hastie: Garbage time will be must-watch television with Bebe and Bruno sharing the floor, so get your tickets early for those Raptors-Sixers match-ups, because the 15 feet of length is real.
  2. Also, nickname idea for Bebe and Bruno: The Wingspan Brothers (y’know, like Splash Brothers? No? I’ll show myself out.) Reader lon66 had the right answer: Reach Brothers
  3. A very sluggish start to the game, complete with a rash of sloppy turnovers and half-hearted play. Things tightened up as the game went along, but play unravelled in the fourth. Altogether, the Raptors turned it over a grand total of 25 times. Yikes.
  4. Remember how delay of game was the en vogue point of emphasis last season? This year it’s moving screens and shuffling feet after dodging closeouts.
  5. One more time for Bebe: He has the potential to develop into a wiry, mobile shot blocker in the mould of Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler. I know that for every Chandler and Camby there’s a million Loren Woods’s and Patrick O’Bryant’s, but the talent is enough for Bebe to earn minutes. I’d rather bet on potential than Stiemsma’s certainty.

30 NBA GM polled, top Raptors-related answers on the board.

John Schuhmann of of NBA.com published the results to the 13th annual NBA GM survey on Wednesday. 30 general managers were polled, answering questions such as “best leader” (Tim Duncan) and “most likely to win MVP” (LeBron James). Top Raptors-related answers on the board:

Which team will win the Atlantic Division

  1. Toronto — 76.9 percent
  2. Brooklyn 19.2 percent
  3. New York — 3.8 percent

What was the most underrated player acquisition?

  1. Tyson Chandler — 17.9 percent
  2. Omer Asik — 14.3 percent
  3. Spencer Hawes — 14.3 percent

Also receiving votes: James Johnson

Which international player is most likely to have a breakout season?

  1. Jonas Valanciunas — 33.3 percent
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo — 18.5 percent
  3. Rudy Gobert — 11.1 percent

Who is the best assistant coach in the NBA?

  1. Alvin Gentry — 17.9 percent
  2. Adrian Griffin — 7.1 percent
  3. Tyronn Lue — 7.1 percent
  4. Ettore Messina — 7.1 percent
  5. Mike Woodson — 7.1 percent

Also receiving votes: Nick Nurse

Notable omissions

  • Which team will win the Eastern Conference finals: Not a snub, but 3.7 percent voted for Washington. Sweet.
  • Most likely to breakout: Again, not necessarily a snub, but dudes like Otto Porter and Austin Rivers received votes.
  • Best shooting guard: No mention of DeMar DeRozan, but some 3.7 percent voted for Kevin Durant. I’m sorry, is it still 2008? Did I miss something or is P.J. Carlesimo back in the league as a GM?

Maccabi Haifa should offer Raptors a real challenge | Toronto Sun

“It’s a good test for us, because they play a different style than us, mostly four out and one in, really spread the floor a lot (with) four guards out there on the floor,” Casey said. “It’s going to be a challenge for Amir (Johnson) and Tyler (Hansbrough) and our bigs to go out there and guard off the bounce, off the dribble. Getting back on transition, we worked on today. They play fast, up and down moreso than we’re used to.” That versatility and style of play is almost non-existent in the NBA. Almost, that is. “(They run a) tremendous amount of pick-and-rolls, a lot like what San Antonio did with four ball-handlers with the ability to run the pick-and-roll, which is a little different than what you see in the NBA,” Casey said.

Lewenberg: Raptors aim to keep Johnson healthy for stretch run | TSN

The onus, at least to some degree, will be on Casey and the coaching staff to monitor Johnson’s usage and perhaps scale back his minutes, not excessively but sporadically throughout the year, something they implemented last March as the forward battled a series of late-season aches and pains. The team’s added depth and versatility should help Casey ensure that all of his regulars – including Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry – are kept fresh. Patrick Patterson was one of the league’s premier reserves after last season’s trade and figures to have an expanded role in his first full campaign with the Raptors. Tyler Hansbrough has earned praise in camp, having added a jump shot and improving his spacing and overall court awareness. James Johnson can also shift over to power forward, something Casey has experimented with in camp and feels comfortable deploying when they play small. “We’ll watch his minutes,” said Casey, “but no one’s playing that [many] minutes at the position to be overly taxed energy-wise.”

Beefed-up Ross ready for bigger stage | Sportsnet.ca

In order to move forward, Ross knew that he had to put in a ton of work during the off-season to prepare his body—and mind—for the rigours of another 82-game grind. Thus, for the first time in his career he truly committed to transforming his frame. With the help of Toronto’s trainers, nutritionists and specialists, Ross added 15 pounds of muscle. “It was a lot of eating and a lot of lifting—a combination of both,” he said. “The game is so physically demanding and it take so much out of you that you have to do this just in order to function properly. “My body feels better than it ever has. I just feel that I’ve gotten so much better over the summer that I feel more comfortable to take that right into the season. Hopefully it’ll translate.” Ross spent a lot of his summer working out with teammates in Los Angeles as well. In fact, DeRozan—who is known to prefer working out on his own more often than not—opened his doors to his younger teammate, taking Ross under his wing and going one-on-one with him throughout the off-season.

Five Bold Predictions for the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors | Raptors Cage

The former no.8 overall pick in the 2012 draft is entering his third campaign and barring any unforeseen injury will be inserted into the starting lineup as a small forward. The 23-year-old made notable strides last season averaging 10.9 ppg, 3.1 rebounds and a .395 3P % in 26 minutes per contest. However, he was a bit disappointing in the playoff series against Brooklyn. His usage and minutes will likely stabilize, but now the proverbial training wheels have been removed. Management will conclude by year’s end if he is cut out to be a NBA starter or is destined for the pine. Expect Terrence Ross to set career highs in scoring, assists, rebounding and shooting percentages even in light of the increased depth at wing and forward.  His explosiveness, defensive abilities and outside shooting cannot be overlooked.

NBA Predictions | The Amherst Student

The Raptors will have the best record in the East at the beginning of 2015.

SI.com’s Top 100 NBA players of 2015 | SI.com

In his most demanding role yet, DeRozan swelled to surpass expectations. His All-Star season was a product of incremental gains in most every phase of the game.

Respect Earned: The Raptors’ ESPN NBA Rank Finale | Raptors HQ

DeRozan was projected by Sports Illustrated as the 61st best player in the league. ESPN had him ranked at number 104 last year! Second, let’s reflect on how far DeRozan has come. DeRozan has proven himself to be a hard worker, a disciplined learner, and a straight up tough basketball player. As a kid, he modelled his game after Kobe Bryant. Now here he stands, ranked higher than his idol. Kudos.

Kyle Lowry’s shoe.. | Kijiji

Dude is selling one of Lowry’s game-worn shoes

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Toronto Raptors’ (largely untelevised) preseason, chances are you haven’t gotten an up-close look at Bruno Caboclo yet. Sure, there was Summer League, where he averaged 11.4 points in 26 minutes over five games, but he’s been playing against actual NBA competition the past two weeks.

The returns are actually somewhat encouraging, even if the raw numbers aren’t.

He’s averaged 4.3 points on 37.5 percent shooting in four appearances, he’s 4-of-9 from downtown, he’s dunked, he blocked a shot (incredulously uncredited), and he’s notched three steals. If we’re being totally honest, he still looks a babe on offense. When he’s hit the floor, he’s primarily stood in the corner and hasn’t been heavily involved in the running of actual plays. An NBA offense is not an easy thing to pick up in one training camp, and head coach Dwane Casey has understandably simplified Caboclo’s role. Defensively, it would be hard not to be disruptive with an 11-foot wingspan (I can’t confirm this is an accurate eyeball measurement). He can enter passing and driving lanes while recovering quickly, and while his instincts will take a while to come along, you wouldn’t be terrified of him being exposed in short stints during the regular season.

In short, he hasn’t looked entirely out of place. Not as much as you’d expect from a famously “two years away from being two years away” 19-year-old who only knew the name of a single active NBA player, anyway. The learning curve is expected to be substantial, and patience will be paramount.

When the season begins, it’s possible Caboclo falls out of the fanbase’s consciousness. He’s probably going to be inactive more often than not, and even when in uniform he’ll probably see run only in garbage time. It would be surprising if he topped the 146 minutes Dwight Buycks played last season.

That’s an unfortunate necessity of rooting for an incredibly raw rookie on a team with designs on a high playoff seed. This club is no longer in the business of trading wins for development, and anything they do to bring Caboclo along will have to fit within the larger context of being a playoff team.

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.

For the Raptors and 12 other clubs, that option is more tenuous. Toronto shares the Fort Wayne Mad Ants – and therefore, the best mascot in sports – with the 12 other teams who don’t have an exclusive D-League affiliation.

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.

I’ve been beating the D-League drum for a long time around these parts, and it’s quite unfortunate that the previous management regime didn’t see enough value in the development system to be an early adopter. The Raptors appear to be moving in the direction of securing an exclusive affiliate, but it’s going to be a year or two later than the point at which it may have held the most value.

At media day, 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.

With Caboclo on a multi-year development path, not having exclusive control of a D-League affiliate may not be a big deal for this season. Caboclo has far enough to come that a redshirt rookie season spent learning in the gym and by watching, with occasional playing time scattered in, wouldn’t seem anything close to a wasted year. A sophomore season split between heavier run in the D-League and spot duty with the big club would then represent a nice step forward, with an aim toward Caboclo contributing in a meaningful way in 2016.

This is all just thinking aloud, and it may very well be a case where Caboclo’s development dictates his next steps more than any predetermined plan, but it will be interesting to see how the team handles O Escolhido when camp breaks.

We’ve giving away two tickets to the Raptors vs Maccabi Haifa game this Wednesday at at 7:30pm at the ACC. To win, all you have to do is post a Vine or Instagram using the hashtag #RRTix saying who your favorite All-Time Raptor is and why. We’ll pick the winner on Tuesday at 6pm. Tickets will be emailed to the winner. Good luck!

Update, some entries from the competition. Thanks to everyone for participating. Tough decisions, we got to pick down_on_james_north as the winner. Thanks to everyone who participated!

#RRtix Kyle Lowry cause he's the man.

A photo posted by Marcus 'Calibre' Anthony (@calvicious) on

Favorite raptors of all-time cause of #loyalty and #consistency (couldn't pick between the two) #RRtix

A photo posted by Kevin helmy (@kevinhelmy) on

casey

With the regular season around the corner, the podders look at what Dwane Casey and his men have been upto in preseason, including how the second-unit is shaping up and just what to do with Jordan Hamilton and Landry fields, amongst many other Raptorsy topics.

Part 1:

  • Kyle Lowry’s ready
  • Vasquez’s slow pre-season
  • Pre-Season All-Star Bench Five
  • Dwane Casey/James Johnson incident
  • James Johnson – change of style since last go around?
  • Jordan Hamilton – how to get him a roster spot?
  • Wing or Backup C – where’s the depth issue?
  • Concerns about Vasquez?

Part 2

  • NBA TV Canada not carrying preseaosn games
  • Dwane Casey’s player management in preseason
  • Bruno Caboclo’s early impressions and lowered expectations
  • Amir Johnson injury

Part 3

  • Open practice on Sunday
  • What do Landry Fields and Dr. J have in common?
  • Bradley Beal injury impact on Raptors
  • David West injury impact on Raptors
  • Has Drake been cheating on the Raptors?
  • Did Drake’s shot in Kentucky’s shootaround go in?
  • Why we need Drake

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (47:02, 45 MB). Or just listen below:

Photo Credit: Turner/NBA

Tim Leiweke, Masai Ujiri talk about futures, MLSE board issues and Drake

The Toronto-raised musician was named global ambassador for the Raptors in an announcement last fall. “I think Drake is phenomenal,” Leiweke said. “He loves the Raptors and he loves Toronto. I love being around him. I’m not embarrassed at all about what he has said or what he does on our behalf.” Drake earned the Raptors a US$25,000 fine for tampering earlier this month after appearing to recruit reigning MVP Kevin Durant during a concert in Toronto. “I think both Masai and I are unbelievably grateful — grateful — he has given us what he has given us,” Leiweke said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

NBA denies it asked Toronto Raptors to drop Drake as global ambassador

“As the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake must follow our anti-tampering rules,” Tim Frank, the league’s senior vice-president of basketball communications, said in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “At no point did we suggest his title be removed but we were clear that as long as he acted as a representative of the team, he is subject to the league’s rules.” Whatever Drake’s impact on the Raptors’ image — he was brought on as part of the team’s efforts to rebrand the team — he is generating some buzz about the Raptors on both sides of the border.

Raptors amazed by fan support at open practice

With just over a week to go before opening night, Casey continues to try to get the Raptors ready for the regular season, which starts Oct. 29 against the Atlanta Hawks. He does not like to tip his hand, so has left out various defensive schemes and strategies throughout the pre-season. Time is running short though to implement everything. “We haven’t put in probably three or four new things that we want to keep for opening night and for the season. We have to get those in, have to get our zone work in,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff to get in these next few days that we haven’t worked on. “It’s not going to stop once the regular season starts, it’s going to be a continuous work in progress. We’re not in the elite status yet, and until we get there, we’ve got to work and claw and scrap and scrape to progress until we get there.”

Terrence Ross – Will he be Ray Allen or Sonny Weems?

During the first two seasons Ray Allen was a consistent starter: 81/81 games at his rookie season, 82/82 games as a sophomore. Since his rookie season, he was playing much (30.9 Minutes per Game) and even more during his sophomore one (40 mpg). His actual stats? From 13.4 points per game the first season to 19.5 the second one. From 4 to 5 rebounds per game and from 2.6 to 4.3 assists. His 3pt percentage? From 39.3% to 36.4%. These numbers may cause vertigo if we try to compare them with Terrence’s and, of course Sonny’s ones.

I can haz yo Raptors related links? [email protected]

Free practice and cheap Raptors tickets? Yes!

A friend of the blog from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has passed along a pair of ticket packages. The offers are listed below:

10 Game Packs

  • Single game playoff access
  • Post game meet and greet
  • 1 free game
  • Two sets (All Star Pack, MVP Pack) of games to choose from (see below)

Raps-10GamePack2015-750

3 Game Tip-off Pack

  • Season opener (Nov. 29 vs. Hawks)
    • Lowest price on StubHub for the season opener is currently $65
  • Starts at $99 per pack

If you’re interested in purchasing or further inquiries as to the promotions, please contact [email protected].

Finally, there’s also an open practice at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday Oct. 19. The event is free, but you must first sign up here. Doors open at 10 a.m. and practice starts at 11 a.m.

Terrence Ross drops 22 point against a team bereft of capable wing players.

Yours truly only caught half of the game on an expedited scan through League Pass at 1:00 a.m., so if this recap might be short on coverage. I ask for your patience. It’s preseason for everyone.

Preview | Quick Reaction | Highlights

Raptors’ 3 stars of the night

terrence-ross

First star: Terrence Ross

It was just one of those games for Terrence Ross, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field. He came out gunning, consistently looking for his shot and although many were ill-advised, Ross’s stroke was consistent, so many of his pull-up long-twos splashed through the net. I’m not entirely happy with the process, but the result is that he busted out of his funk, which is good.

Ross wasn’t really tested defensively, as he mostly spent his time closing out on the Thunder’s endless supply of spot-up shooters on the wing.

Second star: Kyle Lowry

Lowry looked solid, and like the rest of the team’s veterans, he can’t wait for the season to start. He went toe-to-toe with Westbrook, building off his performance from last season, in which he dropped 22 points, nine assists and four steals in a December win against OKC.

Lowry also hit Westbrook with a nasty crossover, before drilling the pull-up (see below). Defensively, Lowry held Westbrook in check, which is really all that’s needed to stifle the Thunder’s offense in Kevin Durant’s absence.

Third star: Tie — Lou Williams and Jordan Hamilton

I couldn’t decide between Williams and Hamilton, who both continued to impress in their stints off the bench. The Raptors’ offense slowed down last night, so they weren’t just running relentlessly in transition. Instead, we got a chance to see Williams and Hamilton play in halfcourt. The key was decisiveness. They didn’t hesitate in making their decisions, either opting to attack right away, or pull-up which gave them the opportunity to catch defenders on their back heels. Notice that I didn’t mention passing, but they really aren’t out there to pass.

Hamilton’s play puts a bind on Masai Ujiri, who must decide whether or not to keep Hamilton or Greg Stiemsma. On merit alone, Hamilton deserves the spot, but Stiemsma fit a bigger need, though it’s one I personally feel Chuck Hayes, Bebe Noguiera and Amir Johnson can fill. Wings who can score are hard to find whereas big bodies are a dime a dozen. I’ve also enunciated this point repeatedly in my last few posts because there’s only so many thoughts a man has in his head about the Toronto Raptors.

Quote of the night

“He’s one of the toughest kids in the league. He will take your head off in a good way and I like that. He’ll be a good test for JV.”  — Dwane Casey on Thunder center Steven Adams (via the Toronto Sun)

Thoughts on the enemy

kevin-durant

Thunder in trouble without Durant

As one could have expected, the Thunder struggled on offense without Durant. Westbrook launched 15 shots in 27 minutes, but he at least potted eight assists to keep it level. However, I’m not totally convinced that the Thunder can even stay above .500 without last year’s MVP.

Look at their wings. Jeremy Lamb will likely start, and his shot is inconsistent at best. Anthony Morrow could also make a case, but he’s too thin to defend anyone at small forward. Beyond them, it’s Andre Roberson, who lacks any semblance of a jumpshot and can only service as a defense-first (though not great) wing. There’s not a single starting-calibre wing between the three. Unless they play Reggie Jackson full time at shooting guard, this team will be hurting on the perimeter.

Consider their head coach, as well. Scott Brooks deserves credit for being able to develop so many excellent players, but his playcalling leaves much to be desired. He has Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka, yet his schemes are rudimentary. He has 64 crayons in his box but chooses to only paint with red, yellow and blue. That’s fine when you have an exceptional red in Durant, but Brooks’s task now is to make do without one of his complementary colors. Can Scott paint a sunset without red? Does my analogy make sense? Who paints with crayons?

He could prove me wrong, and all the other doubters wrong, but he’ll need to if his team is to survive in the ruthless Western Conference. Durant can’t return fast enough.

Thunder hit bull’s eye with sharpshooter Morrow

Morrow scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also did a decent job defensively, though Ross sunk a number of tough shots over him. Given OKC’s shortage of wings, Morrow is probably a good fantasy options for those who missed out on Kyle Korver.

Parting shots

Steven Adams Moustache
  • If Lowry could fight his contemporaries, he’d start with Marcus Smart, then go to town on Westbrook.
  • Steven Adams is incredibly physical, almost needlessly so. I see why so many players take exception to his playstyle. He fouled out last night because of course. It’s hard to dislike him, though, because look at that moustache.
  • I’m not sure if these extra looks for Valanciunas is because it’s preseason, or if it’s a product of the Raptors’ coach staff being more confident in his game. He’s looked solid in one-on-one scenarios, though he’s as robotic as ever.
    • How to play the post like Valanciunas:
      • Step 1: Throw a half-hearted pump fake.
      • Step 2a: Drive to the middle for right-hook.
      • Step 2b: Spin over left shoulder and shoot 10-footer.
      • Step 3: Profit.
  • This is going to shock you, but Amir Johnson left the game after twisting his ankle. Who would have thunk it? He appears to be fine, but I say just rest him until the season starts. He doesn’t need this. (video here)
  • How is Bassy Telfair still in the NBA?
  • The Thunder have a dude named Taliba Zanna, who is a real person who exists (maybe).
  • Greivis Vasquez sat out because he was hit by a ball during shootaround
  • Bullet point
  • Over-under on James Johnson’s technical fouls this season — 8.5. Thoughts?

Amir Johnson injured his right ankle/knee towards the end of the first half in Friday night’s win over the OKC Thunder. He limped off and didn’t return for the second half. The word from the Raptors is a “sore left foot”.

Here’s the play as it happened- keep an eye on his right leg:

Here’s the replay available via the Thunder’s broadcast network:

The culprit?

jordan

The Raptors laid the smack down.

Toronto Raptors 109 Final
Recap | Box Score
90 Oklahoma City Thunder
Amir Johnson, PF 13 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -2

If there’s one guy on cruise control this pre-season, it’s Amir. Missed a dunk on the break and soon after the coach figured that there’s little point in extending him after he tweaked an ankle, especially since he’s one of the few who hasn’t taken a complete game off this pre-season. Update: GIF of injury

Terrence Ross, SF 26 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | +1

Sometimes you lace up your shoes just right, have your legs in sync with your jumper, get the right amount of lift on the springer going either way, get your handles in sync with the ball, and have enough feints in your game that the defense doesn’t know how to handle you. This was one of those games for Ross.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 21 MIN | 4-7 FG | 6-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -1

Some nice post-moves, fought for a contested rebound and then threw it down, displayed some guile using a left-handed hook (which missed), and was too much for a Thunder frontline which saw Ibaka play limited minutes. Good stuff, real games can’t start soon enough.

Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 4-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +3

That pull-up three tells me that that his legs are back which is all I care about. Traded punches with Westbrook (who looked like a ball-hog taking 15 shots in 27 minutes) and came out looking better. Is it just me or does he look like he has more pace this pre-season than ever before?

DeMar DeRozan, SG 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 9-11 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +1

A type of game that will be overlooked on account of the poor shooting, but the 11 trips to the line in 23 minutes tells you that the defense can’t really handle him. And the impressive part of that is that the defense KNOWS that he’s trying to draw the foul, and yet can’t stop him.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 21 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | +17

He’s had some shitty offensive lines this pre-season yet I feel that his movements within the offense have been fruitful. If only he could hit an elbow-jumper. He, sort of, reminds me as Josh McRoberts in Charlotte last year as in the ball, at some point, goes through him on successful possessions. BTW, chew on a game-high +17.

James Johnson, PF 8 MIN | 3-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +16

Limited minutes in his return from exile, was part of the unit that slashed the Thunder lead and built the Raptors one in the second quarter. His role in that was hustling, hitting the glass, and giving everyone contemptuous looks.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +19

Passed up looks that I thought he should take. Only took two shots in 21 minutes but did play some defense, including getting a block playing help defense.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 14 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +2

This guy loves his threes, which I get since they’re basically unblockable. Runs the floor well and people should trust him to catch the pass and put it on the floor. Sure, he’ll screw up and look silly half the time but this season is all about getting familiar with how an NBA ball bounces on an NBA floor.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 23 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 13 PTS | +16

Another solid game of the spot-up, pull-up and driving variety. I say cut Fields, eat the salary, and give Hamilton a chance.

Greg Stiemsma, C 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +5

Got hit in the face, supplied rim-protection etc. Doesn’t matter, he could take a dump on center-court and still make the team, the Raptors are that thin at backup C.

Will Cherry, PG 10 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +3

Texted Dwight Buycks asking about cheap places to rent in Valencia.

Louis Williams, SG 16 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +15

See Ross. This guy’s getting tuned up and I like what I’m seeing. The Raptors have always had a scoring-type backup guard, but this guy’s different because he’s got deserved confidence in his game. Excited.

Landry Fields, SG 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0

I don’t feel sorry for him. He’s made more money than I will in my life.

Dwane Casey

Managing minutes well this pre-season. Nobody’s over-extended, players are getting time off, and there’s enough of the main lineup being played together to get a sense of true progress. Gave Vasquez the night off (head injury) and seems to have found a role for Williams, and more importantly, seems to have gotten Williams comfortable with the rest of the team.

Four Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors had 6 guys in double-figures. This was the type of game that we saw over-and-over again after the Rudy Gay trade. These are the Raptors that we all got excited about last season – a team built around teamwork, not reliance on a particular individual.
  2. The Raptors ball-penetration can be a dangerous thing. With Lou Williams, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and even Terrence Ross capable of breaking down defense, we’re going to get a lot of three-point attempts, like 24 in this game (38%).
  3. Hey, anyone know why my FIFA is lagging on the PS4 when I play online? I got NAT Type 2, which should work, but damn, I keep getting lag and it’s costing me goals. BTW, my handle is recroad on there so add me.
  4. The Raptors offense, man, I think it’s great that we have so many initiators on the court. The threat can come from four out of five guys on the court, and they can all draw doubles.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Pre-empted by the possibility of Game 6 of the NLCS (as I write this, the Cards lead 3-2 in the 6th), European Qualifiers Matchweek and WWE Smackdown, your Toronto Raptors will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in an exciting preseason matchup… and you won’t be able to watch (legally).

Blake’s already ranted about this a bit earlier in the pre-season, and I do understand that this is, after all, preseason, but you’d hope that there’d be a place on the Friday broadcast schedule for Westbrook, Ibaka and the gang. The Raptors aren’t exactly playing the Sixers here, and these scheduling decisions were made long before Kevin Durant’s recent injury.

Alas, though, here we are. Might as well take solace in the fact that this will be the last game of the season you have to pirate the home team’s feed for, enjoy the night off from Matt and Jack, pop your favourite brew, and sit down to that sweet, sweet, low-quality stream from whatever your favourite streaming site of choice is. Friday night basketball, everybody!

*Note: It’s been pointed out in the comments section that the game will indeed be broadcast on NBA TV Canada. If you’ve got the channel, you’re good to go.*

The Game Itself

Durant’s injury is the A story here, obviously. Zach Lowe did a great job breaking down what it means for the Thunder earlier this week, and he’s far better at this than me, so take a read there if you want to know what to expect from Oklahoma City’s top guys.

This is the preseason, though, and we’ll have plenty of time to digest the Thunder sans KD. The preseason is about taking a look at some of those rookies and deep bench guys you don’t get a chance to watch once the games start to count. For the impartial fan, the carrot for the Thunder was probably first-round pick Mitch McGary, but he’s out too with a foot fracture after impressing in his first appearance, which made me sad. Dude has moves.

Instead, take a look at which Thunder players emerge as a viable secondary scoring threat to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Assuming those two play (and they didn’t the game before), Scott Brooks will likely be trotting out a few different lineups as he looks to replace some semblance of floor-spacing, scoring balance, and all-around amazingness that is the Slim Reaper.

The favourite in the clubhouse is probably inconsistent wing Jeremy Lamb, and he’ll get plenty of touches to try and give the coaches ANY excuse to up his minutes this season. However, look for Anthony Morrow to get his, too – the Raptors were interested in signing him during the summer, and he’s a deadly corner shooter who can help space the floor out for Westbrook.

REALLY deep bench more your thing? How about Talib Zanna, the 24 year old, 6’9″ centre from Pittsburgh fighting for a roster spot? Longtime-Euro-league-guard Michael Jenkins? No? Not at all?

Fine. Read Lowe’s article, then look at Steven Adams’ moustache.

Steven Adams Moustache

You are now ready for Oklahoma City Thunder preseason basketball.

The Raptors

With only three games left on the preseason docket, expect Casey and the coaching staff to start to work some rotational kinks, moving slowly but surely toward the games and decisions that matter. Both DeRozan and Lowry received ample rest against the Celtics Wednesday and I’d imagine they’ll end up playing closer to 20 odd minutes or so tonight, but the Raptors may decide to sit them out until their last two games before the regular season, both in Toronto. Who knows? It’s the preseason.

The most important on-court battle here, save for “will Bruno block more threes than Tyler Hansbrough attempts?” is obviously the fight for the fifteenth roster spot. Expect all three contenders to see significant playing time, though consensus seems to be that the battle is largely between Greg Stiemsma and Jordan Hamilton. I prefer Stiemsma if we can only have one, but I’m quite partial to the idea of potentially waiving Landry Fields and giving Hamilton his roster spot.

Also, typing that made me sad. Sorry, Landry.

Honestly, though, it’s the preseason. The games are meaningless, there’s very little to take from them, save the occasional fun highlight and the joy of watching good basketball again on a Friday night (ROGERS!!!!!!!). Enjoy the game, however you manage to watch it, pray for no injuries and a 60-point night from Bruno, and check in here for full post-game coverage afterward.

 

Raptors working on being better in crunch time | Toronto Sun

The Raptors were a very good fourth-quarter team a year ago, outscoring opponents by 195 points in that final frame, easily the biggest edge they had in any quarter. But when it came to close games, the Raptors were vulnerable. In game decided by five points or less the Raptors were 7-14. In games decided by three or less they were 3-8. In seven overtime games, the Raptors managed just one win against six losses. So when DeRozan is asked what he wants to see his team show over these final three pre-season games, which continue here tonight in World Series-fevered Kansas, before the question is even out DeRozan is replying “showing some consistency closing out games.” According to DeRozan it was a topic of conversation on Wednesday night among the players as they made their way from Portland, Maine, to Wichita in one of the less-travelled road trip routes in NBA history. For DeRozan it’s the one area where his team can trump last season.

The League’s New TV Deal Could Mean A Very Rich Contract For DeMar DeRozan | Raptors HQ

So, while DeRozan is an above average player at his position, and an important part of this Raptors team as currently constructed, he’s still flawed in some aspects, enough so that it would be hard to see him as a max-level player. But the jump in the salary cap means there will be an adjustment in how each level of free agents are viewed in terms of total dollars. You could argue that DeRozan might not be worth $20 million annually, but how much a player is worth — aside from a LeBron James, or Kevin Durant — is entirely dependent on how they fit within the particular team. If the Raptors move forward with this current core of Lowry, DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas (who will both be due for raises soon), with the escalating salary cap, it might make sense for DeRozan to be paid double what he’s making now, perhaps even more.

Five things for Raptors fans to watch | Toronto Star

It’s early to sound any alarms but the team’s starting front court — Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas — hasn’t been good enough often enough for anyone’s liking. They were basically manhandled in two games against the Sacramento Kings and struggled against the Boston Celtics at times. Johnson is a notoriously-slow starter and Valanciunas is getting over a busy summer and might have a small amount of lingering fatigue. But size is an issue with the Raptors and they have to get more consistent production out of the starters.

Toronto Raptors: Lessons from the First Half of the Preseason | Bleacher Report

Greg Stiemsma seems to suit an organizational need. Averaging 1.25 block per game throughout his career, “Steamer” would help the Raptors who do not have a true shot-blocker. Stiemsma has been sluggish throughout camp, but Jonas Valanciunas is the Toronto Raptors’ only true center.  The smart money is on Stiemsma earning the last bench spot, though the remaining games in training camp will help Masai Ujiri in selecting which of these players will remain with the club.

Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Season Preview | Raptors Cage

The core group remains the same, the coaching staff is in tact and the Raptors are looking to build off the 48 wins they had last season. The depth the Raptors have this season is incredible. I don’t believe there’s been a team in the Raptors’ history this deep, which will help take a load off the starters and alleviate injury worries.With that being said, there are certainly some questions to be answered on who will be a rotational player and who’ll be giving high-fives for 48 minutes. Will players such as Lou Williams and James Johnson  fit in with the synergy the team had both on and off the court? Will the Raptors have the same drive as they did last year to prove that they belong?

Can Raptors James Johnson Accept His Role In Toronto? | Pro Bball Report

“I accepted (my role),” Johnson said. “I knew what my role was going to be before I signed that contract. You can’t come to a job expecting to get $5 and then want more because you work harder than everybody else. You know what you signed up for and that’s what I did. I signed up for the defensive part and I am an opportunity scorer, so I deal with that.” Johnson needs to work hard. Once again Casey sees him filling a dual role at both the three and the four. Johnson has to learn where to be on the court offensively and defensively for both forward positions and be able to switch roles even within the same game. “Offense is usually the hardest part to know where you have to go to get guys open or to get out of guys way,” Johnson said. “Knowing where I have to set the screens, knowing if I have to be in the dunking spot or the far corner. I can spread it out a little bit at the four, I just need to know when I have to be in the dunk (spot) or when I am able to spread it out.

Know Your Raptors: Landry Fields in men’s socks | Sportsnet.ca

Eric Smith wrote on Fields’ injury and fight to overcome it in depth here, but the short version is Fields is still far from fully recovered. Expect him to continue to bring defensive intensity in limited minutes off the bench, as well as a charismatic presence in the locker room. But a return to the offensive form he flashed early in his career looks highly unlikely at this point. When thinking of Fields, Raptors fans may best remember 2014-15 as the year his three-year, $18.75-million contract finally came off the books.

Statzzzzzz on Twitter

I think Toronto is gassed up and DeMar DeRozan is overrated. There are freshmen in college better than him right now

I can haz your Raptors links? [email protected]

I’d hate to be Casey and his coaching staff in the next week or so. Some tough decisions to be made soon. No offence to Will Cherry, but I think its safe to say that it’s going to come down to Greg Stiemsma or Jordan Hamilton for the last roster spot. Who do you think makes the cut?

No DeRozan and only 10 minutes of Lowry? No problem.

Highlights | Quick Reaction | Preview

Positives

Jonas Valanciunas’s post-ups

At long, at last, the Toronto Raptors decided to feed their young franchise centre a steady diet of looks in the post. It doesn’t matter that it only came as a result of necessity in the third quarter while the Raptors two main guns — those being Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — sat out. What matters is that we finally know what the offense would look like if it ran through Valanciunas in the post.

So how did he do? Fairly well, thank you very much. Valanciunas scored consistently in one-on-one coverage over both the bigger Kelly Olynyk and the quicker Jared Sullinger. Against Olynyk, Valanciunas took his time and dropped his sweeping right-handed hook in the lane. Against Sullinger, Valanciunas turned over his left shoulder and dropped a short 10-footer. His other basket came on a free-throw line jumper created out of a pick-and-pop. The Celtics eventually countered by sending a second defender his way, but Valanciunas mostly stayed calm, dutifully kicking the rock out to the perimeter and finding the open shooter. On two occasions, Valanciunas found Greivis Vasquez open from deep, but both attempts clanked out. Otherwise, Valanciunas would have added a pair of assists to his line.

It’s clear that when Lowry and DeRozan are on the floor, Valanciunas posting up isn’t a priority, but it’s nice to see that he has the capability to score when guarded in one-on-one scenarios. More promising, even, is his passing. Over the first two seasons of his career, Valanciunas often huddled up in response to pressure from help defense, rather than calmly assessing the situation and throwing the kickout. This new development makes him a more effective option which may force head coach Dwane Casey into tossing more possessions his way.

Lou Williams’s fit

Williams’s name was highlighted in my game notes long before his clutch pull-up triple which spared everyone from bonus preseason ball. His final line doesn’t look terribly impressive — 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting is decent — but it’s the context of how he played is what qualified Williams as effective on the night.

As the preseason trudges on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Raptors are emphasizing driving to the basket and pushing the pace in transition. So far, the Raptors have been mediocre on both accounts, mostly because Terrence Ross and Greivis Vasquez are both struggling (more on them below), but Williams has stepped up in their stead.

Williams got to the basket at will against the Celtics, especially with the benefit of a ball screen. His quickness and long arms allowed him to generate and finish consistently on attempts around the basket. To be fair, the Celtics aren’t exactly stocked with intimidating rim-protectors, but Williams’s ability to create with his dribble was key, especially when his fellow wings looked off.

But none of this should be surprising. As I wrote in my player breakdown on Williams in the offseason, Williams thrives as a ball-handler who can create looks for himself. As a member of the Atlanta Hawks in recent years, Williams mostly made his hay through free throws and three-pointers, but Williams’s willingness and ability to attack the basket is a positive sign, especially in the context of his continued recovery from an ACL tear.

And don’t get it twisted — Williams isn’t going to be this good every night. There will be nights when he’s a defensive turnstile who just won’t stop shooting. But the process of how he gets his looks, and his fit within the Raptors’ offense should be an asset for a squad in need of his skillset.

Jordan Hamilton’s case for the 15th spot

In a vacuum, Hamilton gets the final roster spot. No question about it. He’s outplayed Greg Stiemsma and Will Cherry. Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise, showing the ability to catch passes and either spot-up, or attack the paint. This helps tremendously in both halfcourt sets and in transition.

But the Raptors’ roster isn’t a vacuum. The 15th spot will most likely go to the player who best offsets the valleys found in the contours of the Raptors’ team design. The Raptors have Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields and Bruno Caboclo as options on the wings, while Valanciunas, Bebe Nogueira and Chuck Hayes man centre. It’s a matter of which combination you trust more. Quite frankly, given what I’ve seen out of Hamilton, I’d take him over Stiemsma’s foul-fuelled rim-protection.

Check out Hamilton’s plays in our highlight reel.

 

greasy

Negatives

Greivis Vasquez’s lack of pace

What has happened to Greivis Vasquez? I’m not reading into the deflated statlines; I promise. Rather, my concern stems from his total lack of footspeed and ineffectiveness in leading the second unit.

I get it. Vasquez isn’t exactly running the pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin and he’s never been quick to begin with. But it is concerning to see Vasquez driving to the basket, only to be totally smothered by Tyler Zeller. Huh? Zeller might be a strong 7-footer, but Vasquez should be able to make something happen in a straight drive to the basket. His lack of explosiveness, both in terms of speed and elevation, led him to either have his shot stuffed, or to put up an awkward floater. Both failed tonight.

Hopefully, it’s just rust on Vasquez’s part. The good thing is that he’s still rather effective as a passer in the pick-and-roll and his shot looks fine (tonight notwithstanding), but Vasquez will be counted upon to generate offense, especially in leading the second unit. Maybe more work with Patrick Patterson stretching the floor is the answer, but every half-decent shot-blocker is Vasquez’s kryptonite right now.

Rim-protection

Namely, there is none when Johnson and Valanciunas aren’t on the floor. Hayes provided none, Patterson little and Tyler Hansbrough’s correct positioning was betrayed by his short arms and smaller build. The Raptors’ rim-defense was embarrassing in the second quarter, allowing Zeller to run rampant on rolls to the basket. He scored on three possessions to bring the Celtics to a tie at halftime.

Here’s the problem: every big is flawed in some way. Hansbrough’s reach isn’t long enough to deter shots; same with Patterson and Hayes. Stiemsma can block shots, and Nogueira’s 9-foot-6 standing reach definitely fulfills the physical requisite, but Stiemsma will throw a hard foul at the first opportunity and Nogueira’s slender build betrays his ability to hold his ground.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. Limiting penetration would be a start, though.

Terrence Ross ain’t cut out for this transition life

At this point in his career, Ross’s comfort zone on offense is limited to finishing in transition and darting around screens for spot-ups. When he’s dribbling, it’s a win for the defense.

Mostly, Ross’s struggles circles back to the limitations of his dribble-drive game, which I touched on in another article over the summer (see all the good stuff you miss when you sleep on Raptors Republic in August?) Ross loves pulling up when attacking to his right, and he straight-up sucks when dribbling to his left. He rarely makes whole-hearted drives to the basket, settling instead for twisty finesse layups. He drove less than Andrea Bargnani last season and as a result, Ross almost never shot free-throws.

Right now, Ross’s weakness puts the Raptors’ offense in a bind. If the Raptors want to run more in transition, Ross will need to dribble more often, and attack the basket with verve. As for the starting lineup, Ross is the Raptors’ most logical option as a finisher. Valanciunas is the team’s best defensive rebounder, but he’s wholly unwilling to throw the outlet pass, so one of Lowry or DeRozan will need to stay back to accept the hand off. This leaves Ross as the lone ranger up ahead.

Bruno gets start, then gets schooled against Celtics | Toronto Sun

Despite his struggles, this was an excellent learning experience for the 19-year-old Brazilian. “It was a good lesson, he’s going against Jeff Green, who is a big-time player,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “I don’t look at the points or any of that (Caboclo didn’t score), I thought he held his own.” Caboclo was not overly excited, despite being told before shoot-around in the morning that he would start and did not spend the rest of the day fretting about it. “I think I don’t play bad, better than the other games. I only not score. Defence, I’m more comfortable, I felt so much better,” Caboclo said.

Raptors Win Ugly Against Boston 92-89 Thanks To A Late Lou Williams Three | Raptors HQ

Not much to praise tonight as very similar to Monday night, almost every player was missing their shooting stroke, besides Williams, who looked very sharp tonight as he scored 15 points on four for 11 from the field and six of seven at the line while slicing and dicing through the Celtics defense. Lowry vs. Smart was very short lived, as Kyle didn’t see the floor after the first quarter, but things did get heated early as chasing a loose ball a slight hip check from Lowry prompted Smart to give him quite the shove towards the sidelines. That put a charge into Lowry, who proceeded to play like a man possessed for the rest of the quarter, giving the Raps a jolt to get going. Also there was a #BrunoSighting as he started in place of DeMar DeRozan who took the night off to rest. While looking confused and being late on defensive rotations, Caboclo did use his length to recover and even recorded a steal

Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors: 92-89: Celtics lose near comeback to Raptors | CelticsBlog

The ugly play continued into the 2nd half.  The Celtics had a whopping total of 2 points in the first 8 minutes of the 3rd quarter.  Both teams shot poorly, so the fan in me wants to blame the horrendous offensive output on the “rims and lighting” of the location.  After scoring 2 minutes in the first 8 minutes of the 3rd quarter, Turner scored the next 7 points for the Celtics before getting ejected.  Turner was putting together a solid game before the ejection with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in just 26 minutes.  He was ejected for getting 2 technical fouls for supposedly running his mouth to a referee.  After Turner went out, the third quarter went downhill in a hurry.  The Celtics closed out the 3rd quarter down 68-56.

Recap: Celtics bench nearly steals one from Raptors | Red’s Army

Of course, there were a lot of rebounds to be had tonight… because the Celtics shot 41% and the Raptors shot 42.5%.  In a game with 95 missed field goals, I’d like to think the bigs would be able to rack up a few.

Taj Gibson Could Be Toronto Raptors Trade Target | FanSided

While the Toronto Raptors have Patrick Patterson on their roster, there’s been whispers suggesting they’re looking to add additional help to their front line….There’s no denying that the Toronto Raptors have some nice pieces to make a deal though it remains to be seen if they’d have enough to acquire Taj Gibson who’s value is sky high. It’s also not known if the Chicago Bulls would even entertain the thought of trading him within the conference if they were to make such a move.

NBA Trade RUMORS: Taj Gibson A Possibility For Toronto Raptors? | Headlines & Global News

“There aren’t a lot of top-flight power forwards available right now (everybody’s super optimistic about where they stand right now), but there’s no way the Raptors are going to get someone great without giving up some assets,” Brigham wrote Wednesday.  “(Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri) has been great about accumulating picks, so he’s got some things to work with, but getting a top-flight PF won’t be easy.  Taj Gibson might become available, and he’d be a fun guy to have in there.” Toronto might not have the assets to convince Chicago to part with Gibson, but that doesn’t mean Gibson won’t be playing for another team this season.

Lewenberg: Johnson embraces second go-around with Raptors | TSN

Whatever happened in a late-season practice that caused a fracture in the relationship between Johnson and then first-year head coach Dwane Casey, the team kept it under wraps. Whatever led to his two-game suspension and forced the deal that sent him to the Kings the following summer appears to be water under the bridge. What we do know is that Casey has always valued Johnson as a defender, no surprise given the forward’s unique combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism, and Johnson hasn’t always taken kindly to the role that Casey had assigned him. “I think [it was] just his view of how he was playing and how he was being used,” Casey said. “He’s not different than probably 10 other players in the locker room, and especially young players coming in. They feel like their value is not being taken advantage of and that was James. He just felt like at that time, [at] that point in his career, he should have been doing more.”

Landry Fields Is In Danger Of Falling Out Of The NBA | Business Insider

‘There have definitely been times that I’ve thought about the contract and you look at the production and it doesn’t quite add up,’ he said. ‘But at the end of the day, I didn’t give myself this contract. The Raptors came and took a beautiful, wonderful chance that I’m forever going to be grateful for … Whatever I can do for this team is what I’m going to do. Some people will never understand that but I have to be okay with that, otherwise I’ll send myself into a mental frenzy.’ ‘One of the scariest moments this summer [was thinking about] life after basketball,’ acknowledged Fields. ‘That’s in no way, shape or form me throwing in the towel right now. It’s just natural. It just popped in my mind. In 21 years of playing basketball, this has never crossed my mind — that life could be without [basketball].’

Your guide to 2014-15 NBA coaches and their futures | USA Today

Talk about a turnaround. After going 57-91 in his first two seasons in Toronto, Raptors coach Dwane Casey not only survived the front office change from Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri but earned a three-year extension after the Raptors became one of the Eastern Conference’s surprise stories last season (48-34 and a seven-game loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.

Scott Hastie makes his debut on Raptors Republic as Toronto downs Boston thanks to a clutch three from Lou Williams.

Toronto Raptors 92 Final

Recap | Box Score

89 Boston Celtics
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +1As the line suggests, a non-descript night from Amir. Had some good passes from the post that could have been assists, but the jumpers didn’t fall. Of all the Raptors, Johnson was the only one with solid pick and roll defence tonight.

Terrence Ross, SF 30 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -7Yeah, this scoreline isn’t pretty and it’s actually a friendly representation of his game. Questionable pull-up jumpers in the halfcourt were all too common. Granted, he had to play in some weird line-ups because DeMar didn’t play but it’s becoming clear that Ross should not be relied on to handle the ball.

I’ll be surprised if a Raptors video co-ordinator isn’t cutting tape right now of Ross dribbling into traps on the baseline.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 13 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +9His one steal was a strictly because of wingspan. Bruno’s man back cut on him, and Bruno threw his arms up without really knowing where the ball was going and ended up with it. Seeing him in the starting line-up graphic was the highlight of his night.

According to Wolstat, Caboclo dribbled into a corner and the bench asked “Where’s he going?”

Jonas Valanciunas, C 18 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -2The squad was feeding him post-ups in the third and JV made mostly good decisions. His passing out of the post was crisp, and outside of one bad attempt, the kid looks like he could be a decent post-up option.

Didn’t see much outlet passing from rebounds, but if the Raptors want to push the ball, they’ll need Jonas to improve that aspect of his game.

Kyle Lowry, PG 9 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +8Limited minutes but showed intensity. Excited to see him play real minutes in a couple weeks.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +6“How did Hansbrough score so many points in college?” is a question asked at least five times a game. No Psycho-3s though.

Patrick Patterson, PF 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +2Nothing seemed to be drawn up for Patterson tonight. Maybe that’s by design or just by chance, but Patterson’s shots came on transition looks. He was also hampered by weird line-ups and was forced to play in situations we won’t often see in the regular season.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 21 MIN | 6-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 16 PTS | +8If Hamilton can consistently provide that kind of performance, he is the 15th man. His cuts were smart, his defence is fine and he made good decisions with limited touches. Hamilton seemed to spear a Celtic at one point, which probably endeared him to many Raptor faithful. Ujiri and Casey have a tough decision at the 15 spot.

Chuck Hayes, C 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | 0Hayes scored tonight! He was Chuck Hayes! We know what we have in him.

Greg Stiemsma, C 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -1Poor defence in the pick and roll. His foot speed just isn’t there to play against Olynyk or a popping Brandon Bass. A forgettable night for the guy trying to earn the contract.

Will Cherry, PG 7 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -9Didn’t have much of an impact on the floor. He needs some extended run in-game for the team to evaluate his ability.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 3-14 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 6 TO | 9 PTS | +1Bad night from Vasquez, continuing his troubling preseason. Bad passes, poor shot selection and ill-advised drives. Marcus Smart gave him hell, but Vasquez needs to be better with the ball as the back-up point guard. Hopefully this rough stretch is just getting the rust off.

Louis Williams, SG 21 MIN | 4-11 FG | 6-7 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +5Basketball Twitter is falling in love with Lou again, and that was before that pull-up three. He has bounce, he can get to the net and draw contact. Some bad pull-ups, but in a game lacking offensive weapons for the Raptors, we should look past that. It is nice to have a player coming off the bench that could just destroy young defenders.

Landry Fields, SG 15 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -6Landry’s brain in another player’s body would be a dream come true. The guy got a basket tonight off a nice floater, but you can’t watch him play without wondering what could have been if that nerve injury didn’t happen.

Dwane Casey
Maybe it’s preseason, but Casey let two quarters end without calling a timeout to make a play out of the final possession. He also drew up a Lou Williams pull-up three at the end of the game.

Casey wasn’t thrilled with the performance, but the Celtics played their starters a ton.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Marcus Smart is damn good on the ball. Vasquez was baited into a dumb turnover where Smart reached out and just took the ball away. He had a number of poke aways while also irritating opposing point guards. Not thrilled to play against him for the next few years.
  2. We didn’t see a lot of the court because of the low camera angle. Get us to the regular season, please.
  3. All the GIFs here – Lowry’s drive, Ross’s dunk, Hansbrough’s rebound, Hamilton’s Js, Landry’s pass, Lou’s three, Jonas’s screen

Terrence Ross gets it from Lowry and throws it down against the Celtics the Raptors are up early. Check the box score for the latest.

Bonus GIFs

Kyle Lowry dribbles through entire Celtics roster for the score:

Jordan Hamilton with the move

Terrence Ross elevates for the alley-oop slam

Great commitment! Jonas continues to set screen well after being called for illegal pick

Nobody falls for JV’s pump-fake so he busts a move

Early Landry Fields highlight seems him dribbling, and then dribbling some more, before passing

Jordan Hamilton with a confident looking jumper, makes a case for that roster spot

Jordan Hamilton with another three, and Landry gets the assist

Jordan Hamilton drains another shot as Dwane Casey looks on pondering

Tyler Hansbrough is PUMPED about getting a rebound

Lou Williams hits the game-winning three!

The Confessions pt. II to last Friday’s Burn

Due to sloppy scheduling on my part, the responsibility of writing this Raptors vs. Celtics preview has once again fallen upon yours truly. You may recall (but probably not) that I wrote the preview for their earlier match-up, in which the Raptors won 116-109. In the interest of not double-dipping on the same content, I’ll direct you to our coverage from last week’s game.

PreviewQuick Reaction | Recap | Highlights

Instead, allow me to use this space to opine on three impressions I came away with after watching the Celtics lose in the ACC last week.

Brad Stevens never stops coaching

Celtics Camp Basketball

Watching the game last Friday, I was struck by Boston head coach Brad Stevens’s commitment to coaching.

Here’s an example: the Celtics were trailing by nine points with a minute left in the fourth quarter, but instead of letting the inevitable play out, Stevens burned a timeout to draw up a play. He did that once more 16 seconds later with the Celtics down seven. I booed at the time, hoping for a swift ending to the game, but in retrospect, Stevens was just making the most of his opportunities.

I’m sure everyone here is sick of the griping by writers of the banalities of preseason. I’m sick of it too. It’s annoying to watch a game, and not be able to trust in any of our observations because a giant caveat looms over every event that takes place on the court. We can’t trust the play calls, the minute distribution, the lineup combinations. It’s annoying.

But preseason is a valuable tool for coaches to drill their players while the stakes are non-existent. Stevens’ goal wasn’t necessarily to help maximize the Celtics’ chances of winning. He called timeout because they were opportunities for his team to learn.

After the first timeout, Smart caught a quick hand-off from Kelly Olynyk and drove hard to the basket against a smaller defender in Lou Williams. Smart scored the layup and dutifully completed the and-one.

On the second, Boston ran a similar play. The ball was inbounded to Olynyk in the high post, and Marcus Thornton ran through a pair of pin-downs which trapped his defender Terrence Ross. Thornton then caught the hand-off from Olynyk and had it not been for Amir Johnson’s rotation off Olynyk and onto Thornton, the Celtics would have netted themselves another easy bucket.

The point of this is not to blow smoke up Stevens’s ass. He just did what he was supposed to in that situation. I was, however, disappointed with his counterpart Dwane Casey’s wasteful treatment of those same opportunities. On the Raptors’ final possession of the first half, Casey called a timeout to draw up a play, which amounted to nothing more than DeRozan taking the ball up the court and pulling up for a long two against Gerald Wallace. No screen, no movement. Nothing. DeRozan’s shot drew front iron.

Marcus Smart’s aggression

I like players like Smart who have a chip on their shoulder. They’re all over the court, trying to make every play, trying to deflect every pass, hounding ball-handlers up and down the court. It’s what endears us to Kyle Lowry.

Smart reminds me of a young Lowry. The bulldog mentality. The constant scowling. The sheer tenacity in getting to the basket because they have no jumpshot. It’s all there, except Smart stands at 6-foot-3, weighing 227 pounds.

Perhaps as the ultimate sign of respect, Smart actually managed to goad Lowry into a brief one-on-one battle, which culminated in Lowry landing in foul trouble for much of the game. This play in particular really summed up everything there is to know about Smart’s tenacity.

Keep at it, yungun. Of course, you come at the king, you best not miss. Lowry finished the game with 18 points, six assists and five steals to Smart’s nine-point, seven-assist effort.

Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton: Two-man trojan horse

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Boston Celtics

Many pundits scratched their heads at the Celtics’ offseason additions. Taking on Thornton made sense — swallowing his salary added another pick to Boston’s saddle bag. But signing Turner, then playing him out of position at point guard was baffling to be sure. Why task a shooting guard who isn’t a good passer nor decision maker with ball-handling and distributing responsibilities?

Simple: to preserve Boston’s tankjob.

Turner, and to a lesser extent Thornton, aren’t useless players. When put into the right system with the right players, the two can prove to be useful, especially on offense. Turner has an uncanny ability to get to the hoop (albeit his touch around the basket is rather poor) and Thornton is a carbon-copy of J.R. Smith, capable of heating up enough to keep an entire offense afloat.

But on this team, with the way they’re being used, Turner and Thornton are liabilities, which is the plan. The rest of Boston’s players, although less talented, are disciplined to the point where if a few things go their way, Boston has a shot at making the playoffs, which would spoil Boston’s lottery odds. That’s where Turner and Thornton come in, masquerading as young veterans to safeguard Danny Ainge’s precious lottery balls, a play straight out of Greek history.

Match-ups

Predicting the outcome of preseason games is a silly practice. Assuming that the entire roster is healthy, the Raptors should come out on top.

One key to victory is the success of Patrick Patterson, who was highly effective off the bench, scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. His contributions helped make up for Lou Williams’ 2-for-10 shooting off-night. As long as the bench can produce enough after the starters reach their respective minute allocations, the Raptors will be fine.

But again, it’s preseason. As long as this game doesn’t end 81-76 like the last one against New York, we’re all winners.

Raptors keep high expectations in check | Toronto Sun

While head coach Dwane Casey is trying to keep his charges honest, insisting they have not proven anything yet and should not yet be considered juggernauts in the making, he finally opened up this week that yes, internal expectations are high. “Hopefully go farther in the playoffs,” Casey said simply of the team’s assignment this season. “First get to the playoffs and win a round in the playoffs, that’s our next step, our next goal, then go farther. That’s what we consider the next step, but that’s probably the most difficult thing to do in sport. As a developing team trying to get up to the elite level, it’s hard to do.” Casey is couching expectations with caution, but he is not wrong in doing so.

Lewenberg: DeRozan talks his summer, Team USA and the upcoming season | TSN

TSN.ca: DeMar, for you and Kyle both it seems like you’ve hit the ground running, a seamless transition from the season to playoffs to the summer and now to camp. How important has it been for you, not just this year but throughout your career, to make sure you’re in game shape when you come into camp each season? DeROZAN: It’s definitely important, man. It’s big because me personally, I never like playing catch-up. I’d rather do that on my own time, when I first start working out after the season. Me and [Lowry] understand we carry a big load and we’ve got to lead by example. So if we come into training camp out of shape or whatever, it’s going to look bad and might carry over for the rest of our team. We’ve got to push them and show them we’re working extremely hard. We’ve got to be the toughest dudes out there when it comes to working hard. That’s our mindset and it’s been going well.

Toronto Raptors: The Health Advantage | Hoops Habit

After all, the general consensus is that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the East, closely followed by the Chicago Bulls.  This thinking leaves the Wizards and Raptors to battle for third in the East and for what is generally a favorable first round opponent..  During their summer forecast for the Eastern Conference standings, ESPN even predicted that the Wizards and Raptors would both finish with a record of 47-35. Barely over a week into the season, the Wizards will visit Toronto for a game on Nov. 7.  Without Beal, the Wizards will be forced to go with a shooting guard rotation that features Martell Webster, Rasual Butler (formerly of Raptors lore), and Glen Rice Jr. All of this could matter very little to Toronto if a Raptor suffers a significant injury in the four remaining preseason games.  Casey can do everything he can by limiting the minutes of key players, but all it takes is one fluke play in either practice or a game, just as Beal has already reminded us.

Stop this senseless nonsense known as the NBA pre-season | Toronto Star

It is blatantly unfair to ask the unsuspecting public to pay big bucks when there’s a better than average chance that a team’s top players will get the night off or play sparingly, when the main hope is to get through the night unscathed, when coaches are basically experimenting with lineup combinations and winning or losing is basically an afterthought. The players have little enthusiasm for the games – trust me, the ones that get the nights off aren’t at all put out by that – and it shows in the effort. Luckily, I couldn’t actually witness that mess at the Garden last night but by all indications from everything I read and was told, there was a lot of “going through the motions” going on. Sure, guys may have thought they were putting out maximum effort but it’s impossible to when they know there is nothing on the line.

Know Your Raptors: Amir Johnson sings Celine Dion | Sportsnet.ca

A player demonstrating awareness of his weak outside shooting by quintupling his attempts from downtown may not seem to make sense at first, but Johnson’s spike in three-point attempts came alongside a 10.71-percent drop in his mid-range looks. If a bad deep shooter is going to take a deep shot, it follows that it’s better for that shot to be worth three points than two. Plus, Johnson still took 69.61 percent of his shots within eight feet of the rim, his highest concentration since 2010-11.

Reviewing The Tape: A Closer Look At Bruno Caboclo’s Performance Against The New York Knicks | Raptors HQ

The one thing that immediately jumps out at me watching Caboclo on offense is how quickly he makes his first move. He’s shown range with his jumper, as evident here on a catch-and-shoot corner three. Again, without hesitation, in rhythm. He was very quick with his decisions on the other possessions where he got the ball, whether he was dribbling to a spot on the floor for a step-back jumper, or driving baseline to the basket and drawing a foul. Again, this is very early, but if Caboclo can develop a consistent jumper, it’s going to open a lot of other things up for him, and he seems ready to mix it up on the offensive end.

Through the Looking Glass: Greivis for Quincy | 3sob.com

As evidenced by the fact that he has been included as part of two subsequent transactions, the Grizzlies aren’t the only team that have viewed Greivis as replaceable. To this point, though, replacing him in Memphis has been easier said than done, which has been by far the most aggravating part of watching him achieve even relative success in his following destinations while Quincy is taking time to develop and racking up DNPs. The Grizz have called upon a messy collective of Jeremy Pargo, Josh Selby, Gilbert Arenas, Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten, Keyon Dooling, Nick Calathes, and Beno Udrih to spell Mike Conley some minutes, to little avail up until the flip of this calendar year. The promise of Nick Calathes has eased up on this concern, but it’s not entirely safe to say we’re out of the woods just yet. So when you put it like that… If it isn’t obvious by now, to say that I didn’t love the trade at the time would be a gratuitous overstatement of my exuberance. I miss you, Greivis.

Raptors Bruno Caboclo Is The Happiest Guy In Toronto | Pro Bball Report

Things are very different for Caboclo since he left Brazil to begin his journey to the NBA. He has gone from a player on an under-19 team who saw spot duty on the “big club” with Pinheiros Sky that the Raptors and his agent didn’t want him to “blow up” on to playing with NBA hopefuls in Summer League and then working out with NBA players for most of the summer afterwards. An NBA training camp and preseason games is a whole other level for Caboclo.

Rookie hazing done right.

Both Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira hail from the tropical climates of Brazil, where the winter isn’t all that bad. Here in Canada, however, things are different. That’s why Jonas Valanciunas took the time to outfit the rookies with spiffy — yet warm — hats.

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Winter is coming in Canada soon. Good thing rookies have warm hats :)) #RTZ #Raptors #WeTheNorth

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In Monday evening’s pointless affair in New York, James Johnson was called for a foul against J.R Smith which he did not agree with. Johnson was pretty peeved and his coach attempted to restrain him, and Johnson’s response was to shrug him off. Or at least that’s what many fans suggested. As you look at the GIF and video below, I don’t think that “push” is intended for Casey but a demonstrative measure against the ref. Either way, Johnson is out of line but I don’t think this talk that’s surfacing about him disrespecting Casey holds water.

Here’s the GIF and the full video is below:

Straight from the source:

No surprises here. Jonas Valanciunas will make $4.7M next season while Terrence Ross will earn $3.6M. Valanciunas’s qualifying offer stands at $6.2M, whereas Ross’s is at $4.8M. For more details, check out the Sham Sports salary page.

Raptors top Knicks in a game of basketball, sort of.

How to summarize the abomination that took place in Madison Square Garden last night?

Here’s how: New York Knicks point guard Jose Calderon, who is as accurate of a spot-up three-point shooter as there is in the NBA, curled around a down screen in the middle of the third quarter, cleanly caught a pass, had an wide-open look at the basket, and launched a shot that hit nothing but air. His attempt veered wide right of the basket and landed out of bounds.

Ordinarily, when a game ends 81-76, the low tallies point to a grind-it-out defensive slugfest — something out of a nineties playoff series between the Knicks and Pacers. Last night’s contest was not a well played defensive showdown. It was a sloppy match between two teams who wanted nothing no part of basketball on a Monday night.

Positives

Lou Williams’ breakout game — We finally caught a peek of #LouTrillVille at his best. He came off the bench and poured in 21 points in 24 minutes of play. He was one of the few players who successfully managed to push the pace — something the coaching staff is drilling into the team — and operated effectively in the pick-and-roll. Aside from Carmelo Anthony and DeMar DeRozan, Williams was the only player who could make something positive happen on the court.

The most impressive aspect of Williams’ outburst was the seven free throws he attempted. Williams isn’t very efficient when he shoots the ball, but his herky-jerky way of manoeuvring around picks allows him to create decent separation from his defender, and with his slight frame, it’s not hard for him to sell the most minimal of contact.

Games like this is why Williams makes for a smart gamble. He cost almost nothing to acquire this offseason, but could potentially fill a big deficiency on the team. Williams provides a mix of ball-handling and the ability to drive, something the Raptors lack outside of Greivis Vasquez, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Williams’ contributions will often come with the sunk cost of ill-conceived pull-up jumpers, but he has the ability to buoy the offense for a backup unit.

¡ Bruno ! — Finally, our prayers for #FreeBruno were answered. Dwane Casey took him off the leash and allowed him to roam free for 13 minutes, mostly in the fourth quarter. He canned an open corner triple, he dunked on a leakout in transition, and he swipped a steal.

Altogether, the bar is admittedly low for Bruno. He just needs to show what he did last night — the ability to function as an NBA-level player. The occasional flashes of promise and the talk of endless wingspan is great, but he’s still on the court for the same reason everyone is, which is to play basketball. That’s what he did. He sunk his open three-pointer and did his best to defend a tricky player in J.R. Smith, who shot 4-for-12 in the game.

Hamilton’s ability to attack — I continue to be impressed with Hamilton’s game. He has just enough quickness, athleticism, ball-handling and spot-up three-point shooting ability to keep defenses on their toes. He was one of the few players who actually could execute the Raptors’ plan to attack in transition for easy buckets. Although he only scored one basket and finished with a measly six points, Hamilton stood out as a difference maker.

 

Negatives

Ross’s decision making — Terrence Ross tried to push the ball in transition. It was obvious effort made on his part. He dribbled with a purpose, and that purpose was to shepherd his squad down the court.

However, doing so much attacking and ball-handling clearly took him out of his comfort zone, leading to mistakes being made. He looked timid when attacking the basket as he tried to dodge defenders rather than aiming to draw contact. The trade-off wasn’t great, as he finished 2-for-12 on the night, including just 1-for-8 from behind the arc.

Ross does deserve some credit for his four steals, which is partly why he found himself in position to push the tempo so often. He got bullied by ‘Melo, though that’s to be expected. Squaring off against big wings has always been a problem for him.

Raptors’ bigs not being threats to roll — Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are exempt from this. They can roll, it’s just a matter of whether the guards can find them or not. Johnson sets great screens and makes himself present whereas Valanciunas tends to slip instead of setting a solid screen, but they can finish when given the responsibility to.

This, however, does not apply for everyone else: Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Greg Steimsma. A big part of why the Raptors’ second-unit looks stifled offensively is because the defense faces almost no recourse in doubling and trapping the ball-handler. Without the bigs being a threat to roll, there’s little motion generated and it doesn’t provide much opportunity for Williams or Vasquez to create. Patterson helps tremendously as a pick-and-pop option, but he too is limited heading towards the basket. Without the bigs presenting a threat to score, the second unit offense is liable to devolve into Williams and Vasquez pounding the rock for 20 seconds before heaving up a shot.

James Johnson brushing off Dwane Casey — There’s no excuse for Johnson brushing aside Casey in the final minute of the game. It doesn’t matter that the call against him was a bad one. You don’t push the coach aside, ever. Not cool.

Hansbrough committing flagrants in preseason — Come on, man. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s preseason. Not cool.

My splitting headache — Also not cool. It’s keeping me from writing a semi-decent recap.

Raptors top Knicks in New York | Toronto Sun

Nobody seemed overly interested in putting the round, orange ball into the hoop, particularly in a first half that saw the Raptors score 31 points and shoot 1-for-10 from three and the Knicks put up a mildly more impressive 36 on 38.1% shooting. It was so bad in the opening 24 minutes that one person on press row fled the scene and nearby fans pleaded with the media to change the channel on the monitors to the NFL game. At the half, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson had hit 6-of-10 combined shots, Williams and Chuck Hayes 2-of-3 each. The rest of the Raptors? One-for-20. Even by pre-season standards, that’s poor. Luckily, things got moderately better from there. The Raptors found their shot in the third, putting up 29 points to New York’s 18, to take the lead for the first time since early on. The fourth was mostly uneventful.

Raptors edge Knicks | Toronto Star

he Madison Square Garden crowd saw some familiar faces and some new ones and got its first look at the Knicks’ new triangle offence Monday night. In the end, the Toronto Raptors prevailed 81-76. With Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry sitting this one out, Lou Williams started and led the way with 21 points in 24 minutes. Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas also got the night off, while former Toronto No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani of the Knicks sat out with a strained right hamstring. Coach Derek Fisher said Bargnani might play Tuesday against Philadelphia, though the medical staff might prefer he gets a little more rest.

Raptors, Knicks Agree to End Preseason Game with Toronto in the Lead 81-76 | Raptors HQ

The Raptors won without Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (for the second half). The team got minutes and production from the entire roster (even Landry Fields hit a shot). We can assume that some credit for the Knicks’ horrid shooting can be given to the Raptors defense.

Lewenberg: Raptors to limit DeRozan, Lowry’s minutes in preseason | TSN

“We’re going to be smart with it,” Casey said Sunday, promising to monitor the minutes of his prized backcourt – DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry – closely for the duration of the pre-season. The list of recently fallen star players serves as further proof that injury prevention is not a simple proposition. High performance athletes, like anyone else really, can get hurt anywhere, at any time, whether it’s the result of overexertion or simply bad luck. “You can slip down the stairs and hurt yourself,” DeRozan noted. The Raptors were fortunate with good health a year ago, losing just 52 games to injury or illness, fewest in the NBA. While Toronto’s training and medical staff, one of the league’s finest, deserve credit there are far too many variables – some of them luck dependent – to count on that good fortune repeating itself in 2014-15. For a team with their sights set on April and May, the risk of setting an impact player back before games begin to matter is just not worth it.

Where’s The Hype Around Terrence Ross? | The Sports Quotient

He jumps like Andrew Wiggins, shoots as well as Bradley Beal (yes, look it up), and possesses at least average defensive potential, yet he garners little coverage from the media and receives sparse adoration from NBA fans. Why don’t we talk about him? More importantly, why should we?

67RIEFNS No. 14: The mysterious and unexpected Bruno Caboclo | ProBasketballTalk

Maybe it Caboclo – the most unexpected first-round pick in recent memory – was a reach. Maybe there’s a reason no public talent evaluator was so high on him. Or maybe Toronto sees something else nobody else did and will reap the rewards. I love the idea of the daring risk Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri took. The NBA is a more interesting place when people break the script. Ujiri set fire to the pages. Will it work? I have no idea. I want it to work. I want teams to be rewarded for thinking unconventionally. At this point, some of the mystery is gone. It’s just up to Caboclo to play well.

Catching up with former Raptor Jose Calderon | Toronto Sun

Casey, who refused to write off the Brooklyn Nets after a terrible start last season and ended up being correct, believes the scoring options the Knicks possess will keep the team in the hunt. “I look at New York as a talented team. You’ve got some bonafide scorers J.R. Smith, you’ve got Carmelo Anthony, you’ve got some big-time scorers on that team and some good role players,” Casey said Monday. “I think Jose Calderon is one of the best pass-first, shoot the three second point guards in the league. People dismiss them and I don’t see it that way. It’s going to take them some time to learn the Triangle and that system, it takes time, if you’re committed to it it works.”

Who Has The Best Backcourt In The NBA? | If I Were a GM

Lowry and Derozan are coming off great seasons, and are defensively one of the best backcourts in the game. Offensively, the only thing that stands out is Derozan’s lack of 3 point shooting ability, but overall these two paired together is a balanced backcourt that can be effective in a variety of different ways.

Lucas Nogueira Is Not Quite Ready To Play For The Raptors | Pro Bball Report

“Nogueira can block shots and he’s played in the in the ACB which is the second best league in the world,” Ujiri told Pro Bball Report. “He played a good role there when he was healthy. He is a big player that is very mobile and can protect the rim and he can rebound. His body is still a-ways-a-way, but we’ll get him there. Contributing consistently, he’s still a-ways-a-way, but we plan to develop him.”“I have a lot of advantages because I have a 7’5 wingspan and I can jump, so I am huge,” Nogueira said. “But NBA has a lot of guys like me and I never played in the NBA, so I hope to (be able to) do the same things that I did in Spain.”It has been rough on Nogueira personally since joining his teammates ahead of training camp because of the groin injury.

Toronto Raptors Preseason: What have we seen so far? | Raptors Rapture

The team keeps having defensive ups and downs. They start strong, they become “lazy” during the second and third quarter, letting the opponents to score many points, and they bounce back during the last quarter. This “tempo” reminds me a lot last season. We’ve experienced many games with this type of defensive awareness. Consistency is important in order to achieve great things, so they have to be focused on this part. Lou Williams is still trying to find his “mojo”.  He may score above 10 points per game but his stats were very low during the first 3 games. He bounced back although tonight, scoring 21 points against the Knicks with 6-9 Field goal attempts. When he feels more confident and comfortable with his new role in this team, he will be an offensive threat. James Johnson seems to have matured. He’s impressed everybody so far, he knows his role and he’s OK with this (at least for now). He will be an important player coming from the bench, more defensively but also offensively.

Toronto Raptors 2014/2015 Season Preview | The Runner Sports

One other knock on the Raptors is that they’re a bit like the Denver Nuggets have been recently since the Carmelo trade, in that there’s no real superstar on the team.  It’s hard to win in the playoffs without that A+ All-Star.  When the going gets tough, who gets going?  Is it Lowry?  Will DeMar DeRozan make that leap?  Or is Masai Ujiri, the former Nuggets GM and current Raptors GM, going to prove that he can win with superior depth?  Like all NBA seasons, all we have are questions and we have to wait for tip-off to get the answers.  For some of those questions, we’ll have to wait until a final buzzer.  This season, Toronto fans will be happy to root for a regular season winner.  And maybe the year after that, as well.  At some point, though, the expectations are going to shift and more of these questions will need answers.  I guess I’m looking a bit too far forward now, though.

Check out the Quick Reaction here – post-game in the morning. GIFs below.

Bruno’s slam on the break:

Raptors beat the Knicks.

Toronto Raptors 81 FinalRecap | Box Score 76 New York Knicks
Amir Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 4-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -3He’s like Saffron. You just need small doses of him to make the cup of tea that much better. He really is in mid-season form and the only thing stopping him from a career-year is injury. Even dished one out to Chuck Hayes.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | 0Got the start as Jonas was resting and got outplayed by Samuel Dalembert. The highlight of his night was picking up a flagrant foul which the refs took 20 minutes to review. He looked about as comfortable as a starter as Will talking to a pretty girl.

Terrence Ross, SF 22 MIN | 2-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -3Total brickfest. Missed a lot of clean looks and took some shots that were so contorted that his intestines had to be in his elbow. Did make a key shot which sparked the comeback, and handled the ball well again, but no product at the end of his possessions.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 28 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 6 PTS | +8Got the start with Lowry resting, and had some trouble dealing with the Knicks’ perimeter length and quickness. Still managed to run the offense relatively effectively, and once the Knicks’ trash/second-unit came in, he exploited them well. He’ll be fine.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 11 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -1Probably pissed he wasn’t selected for a night off. Didn’t play in the second half and only notched 11 minutes, but a great 11 minutes including a steal and dunk and a sweet spin move. I have no doubt that had he played 28 minutes in this game he’d have 35 points.

James Johnson, PF 18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -6Very patchy game but did defend ‘Melo well on a couple possessions, and supplied good help defense. He doesn’t just stand around and worry about his man, tends to read the offense and supply help where he can. Good so far this preseason, but that was a bad foul on the three-pointer on J.R Smith.

Patrick Patterson, PF 22 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +10Not too good tonight including an airball at the end of the first half. Wasn’t as energetic as against Boston, and the shot wasn’t falling. Forgettable outing.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 16 MIN | 1-3 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +4Second-half introduction and made a mark by hitting the game-tying three and getting to the line for some FTs. One thing’s for sure, he understands that in order to stay on the court he needs to play defense and he’s zoned in on that end, even though the results weren’t always there.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 13 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +4Second-half appearance for him as well. Hit a three and ran the break to be found by Lou Williams. When he’s calling for the ball on the wing he looks like a chopper about to land. Those arms have robotic extensions on them, I swear.

Greg Stiemsma, C 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +13I’m going to plead the fifth and say that I didn’t really notice much of what he was upto, but I’m sure he provided rim-protection. Don’t matter, though, the 15th roster spot is all his now that Bebe is crocked.

Chuck Hayes, C 9 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -8Missed a layup, got the rebound, put it back.

Will Cherry, PG 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | -1A disastrous first spell where he was doing Will Solomon impersonations was followed by a moderately effective second, where he scored early in the fourth quarter to get some momentum back for the Raptors. It’s difficult to see him getting minutes ahead of anyone, because it means that a guy like Williams, Vasquez, or Ross would be on the pine.

Landry Fields, SG 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2Man, oh man. How about that drive to the rim and the reverse layup? I thought that kind of an effort would deserve more than three minutes, but Casey had other ideas. Did a great job of reminding us that he exists.

Louis Williams, SG 24 MIN | 6-9 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | +6That’s the Lou Williams I’ve grown to casually admire! Good on-the-ball offense, enough herky-jerky moves to carve open the soft Knicks defense, and some good three-point shooting as well. I’d say bottle this game up and replicate for the entire season.

Dwane Casey
I’m giving him a moderate grade because he didn’t let us see Bruno enough, and for having us suffer through Tyler Hansbrough in the starting lineup. Probably a good move to rest up Lowry and DeRozan, at least he’s making an effort to manage his players, can’t recall that ever happening in preseason, certainly not to this extent.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Painful game to watch where the Raptors shot 40% and the Knicks 38%. The big guns played limited minutes meaning this was essentially a game which resembled a blowout game. And Andrea didn’t even play which meant there was absolutely no reason to watch this. Other than Bruno, of course.

The Raptors have come back late in New York, and this rebound-pass-dunk combo has got the momentum swinging on their side. Stay tuned!

With the gradual improvements that DeRozan makes from year to year, do you think he’s almost at the point in surpassing a player like Harden in overall quality level? Come and discuss.

If you haven’t already, you can read (and watch) parts one, two and three.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, this was my first experience as a member of the media at an event like this, and in this, the final chapter, I’m going to touch on the fine line media members have to walk on.

The relationship between the media and NBA teams and players is an interesting and complex one. While each side needs one another, it’s also a bit of an adversarial relationship, as NBA teams and players try to control access and message, and the media, if they’re doing their job, try to get beyond the canned interviews and sound bites they’re so often given.

Most teams and players realize they need the media on their side in order to market themselves fully, so they put up with having to deal with the interview requests and the same questions over and over again (well, unless you’re Gregg Popovich).

And most of the media realizes that they need to walk a fine line between placating to the desires of the NBA teams and players to ensure a good relationship, and writing the real story that may in fact be more critical than the team or player may wish.

Some reporters, especially the beat reporters or announcers, travel with the team and spend so much time around them that they end up building relationships with the players, coaches and executives they see nearly every day. Under these circumstances, it can be difficult to not only remain objective towards people who are like co-workers, but to be able to say the things that need to be said when you have to face these same people day after day.

Imagine being hired to write a blog at your work about your co-workers, some of whom you might even consider friends. You’re probably not going to be as critical as you would if you were writing about people you didn’t know very well and who you didn’t have to see every day. And that might mean that you aren’t as willing to publicly rip the guy in accounting who made a major screwup even though it’s your job to. Therein lies the problem with much of the media.

Ask a reporter privately his or her opinion on something and you’ll often get an answer that they would never say publicly and one that is often more aligned with the truth. But publicly, they have to measure their words, and not just to keep their relationship with the players intact, but because the people they work for may have loyalties of their own.

2014-10-03 13.56.35

When ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar in a podcast, ESPN suspended him for three weeks. And many believe the reason for and length of the suspension was because of the close financial relationship ESPN has with the NFL. Obviously this was an extreme case, and there were other issues, but an example closer to home is Michael Grange.

When Michael Grange was writing for the Globe and Mail, he was often critical of the Raptors. That mostly stopped when he was hired by Sportsnet as an on-air personality, appearing at halftime of Raptors’ games. Like ESPN, Sportsnet has a financially lucrative relationship with not only the NBA but with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, who also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As a blogger who is not beholden to anyone, and until training camp had never met any of the Raptors players, coaches or executives, I’ve been free to express my opinion without fear of repudiation or harming relationships with those I write about.

Now, there are some readers who have felt that I have been overly critical of the Raptors over the years, and many have made their objections known. Back on my old blog, I was quite critical of Andrea Bargnani from the day he was drafted, not because I didn’t like him as a person, but because I never felt he would ever become the type of player who could help a team win. I could do this because I never met him and never thought I would ever meet him, so I didn’t have to censure my opinions of him.

At training camp, while I was a member of the media, I certainly never felt like an insider. And I’d like to think of that as an advantage. At least for what I do.

It was interesting to get to talk to many of the people I have written about, and I genuinely liked the ones I spoke with one-on-one. They all seemed to care about their job and work hard at it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to criticize them, and you, as fans, shouldn’t want me to stop. This is what makes blogs often more entertaining reading than many of the traditional media outlets. We tend to be able to write a little more in depth and we’re generally not beholden to anyone, so you get a view that may not be sponsored by the NBA.

Speaking of the traditional media, while Jack Armstrong may be an employee of the Raptors, he’s also a very knowledgeable basketball fan who had a few words to say about what he’s most looking forward to seeing this upcoming season for the Raptors:

Writer’s note: Due to some technical difficulties, some footage, including an interview with Terrence Ross, was deemed unusable by my computer, so you will, unfortunately, never see it.

Super-quick pod this week on account for Thanksgiving, and perhaps we’ll even be back before next Monday with another. In this pod I talk to Vancouver-native Tim W about what he got to see at Raptors training camp and whether the city of Vancouver is ready for a basketball team. There’s also a quick recap of the week that was, and that’s about it.

Enjoy your long weekend.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (19:06, 18 MB). Or just listen below:

Celtics 109, Raptors 116 – Box

There’s already a reaction post for this game which is all a pre-season game deserves, but there are traditions to follow so here goes a post-game report.

The Raptors beat the Celtics despite playing in a low gear for most of the evening.  Dwane Casey extended Kyle Lowry to 31 minutes, including the full fourth quarter, to test out how he was coming along and the results were fantastic.  Lowry hasn’t been going full throttle the first two games of the preseason, often drifting in and out of possessions and taking shots that seem to be born out of boredom rather than constructed out of rigour.  Last night, though, it was a return to form for Lowry who inundated the Celtics with his tenacity and zeal for playing both sides of the court, as he manifested himself into the battering ram of a player he’s capable of being.

The question surrounding DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas is whether they’re able to maintain the forward progress of the summer, and on both counts the matters are affirmative.  DeRozan’s mid-range game looks more refined, and it has more to do with him simply practicing the jumper.  He’s peeling off screens very well, going the right direction on the picks set for him, and making incisive decisions in favor of having lingering thoughts about what to do. There’s nobody on the Celtics, and certainly not Evan Turner, who can stay with DeRozan in a face-up or post-up situation.  With his recent experiences as a ball-handler with Team USA, when sizing up the opposition he’s now able to see beyond just what his options are, but reflect on where on the court he needs to be to operate optimally for the pass out or the drop underneath.   Looking past the lack of execution at times, you have to be pleased with the thought process DeRozan is displaying on offense.  Defensively, he was never quite put to the test.

For Valanciunas, it’s all about converting Dwane Casey’s defensive message to action on the floor.  His offense is definitely quicker and more deliberate, and in a game like this his size becomes an automatic factor on the offensive boards and in the block.  However, it’s what he does defensively that will ultimately dictate his minutes since the coach isn’t shy about benching players who aren’t pulling their defensive weight.   Watching this game, you would have noticed Valanciunas always trying to establish rebounding position on any shot that went up, and that’s something you may not have seen last year.  Instead of vaguely pretending to be active on the boards, he’s trying to cut his way through players into the paint and it’s naturally causing disruption.  He may not always get the boards, and may even look silly trying to maneuver against more coordinated players like he did last night, but he forces a defender (or even two) to box him out, opening up rebounding opportunities for guards venturing underneath the three-point line, or other bigs.

There’s also plenty to be pleased about some of the secondary players.  Patrick Patterson looked to have recovered from his earlier injury issues as he picked up where left off from last season.  The movement off the ball, the confident long-range jumper, and the controlled yet forceful drives to the rim were a welcome sign.  At 25, he’s soon to be entering the prime of his career and if his improvements over the last 12 months are any indicator of the progress he’s doing to make over the next three years of his contract, Raptors fans have a lot to look forward to.  People tend to forget that he’s also a capable defender who can move his feet, and as part of a second-unit that involves James Johnson, he can be a force on both ends.

Speaking of James Johnson, he’s gradually easing into his role of a floor stretcher, garbage man, and defensive specialist.  He made a few attempts to come up with offensive rebounds by crashing in, and met with success a couple times.  He tended to cut to the rim where he thought he had a chance, but with Greivis Vasquez operating and looking for a big to cut right down the middle, you could sense that Johnson didn’t want to get in the way of the play and hung on the perimeter instead of perhaps following his instinct.  The positive is that he appears to know what his role on the team is, and if he sticks to that, there’s enough support on the team that his skills will shine through.

The same is true for Lou Williams, who despite going only 2-10, had a positive impact on the game due to his presence and reputation.  He’s a player that teams have to respect, whether it be turning on a screen, pushing in transition, or simply stepping back for a jumper.  When you look at the second unit, which has undergone a big change with Johnson and Williams stepping in, you have to feel positive about the balance on the court.  The Celtics, missing two of their better players in Rondo and Green, aren’t exactly a measuring stick of any kind, so watching the Raptors second unit tilt and twist their defense isn’t indicative of too much.  What we can take away from the game is Vasquez and Williams have an understanding of each other’s roles, and both being relative veterans instead of unbroken players, has a lot to do with it.  There’s a balance of offense and defense in that unit, that if fine tuned, could produce some great results, especially when you throw in a starter (like we usually do) such as Terrence Ross into the mix.  It should be noted that Vasquez was quite bothered by Pressey’s defense (great name for a defender, BTW) because he didn’t expect Brad Steven’s side to show that kind of pressure that early.  This isn’t concerning because we’ve seen Vasquez excel in negotiating this kind of pressure to good effect.

Ross’s ball-handing isn’t necessarily better so far this season, it’s that that area of his game seems to have been made a focus by Dwane Casey.  We saw him be the primary ball-handler on offense with Lowry and DeRozan on the court, and he did well to handle Avery Bradley’s pressure, and allowed Kyle Lowry to play off the ball, thus increasing the latter’s three-point threat.  The main benefit of Ross assuming this role is that it gives the defense a look that they may not have been used to during the course of the game, and when you present something like this in the fourth quarter, it forces the opposing team to make an adjustment. It’s like a card in Casey’s hand which, I’m sure, he’d love to play more often.  Sort of reminds me when Phil Jackson used to surprise teams with Toni Kukoc at the point, or a more recent example might be Manu Ginobili handling point-guard duties,

Defense is one of the last things to come around because that’s where the need for communication is the highest.  So, when I see Valanciunas being unaware of a cutting guard, or a guard not dropping down to help on a beaten big, or Williams trailing a screen instead of anticipating it, I’m not too worried.  I have some faith in Dwane Casey that he can instil the required rigour in his players, and that over time we’ll see the weaknesses of players concealed, and their strengths emboldened.  The Raptors did allow the Celtics to shoot 49% on the night and 50% from three-point line including 14 threes, which is poor.  Too many players were beaten in one-on-one situations, and the confusion on perimeter and interior coverage responsibilities was blatantly evident, but that’s exactly what preseason’s for.  I’d rather the Raptors go .500 in pre-season and identify their weak points rather than go undefeated thinking they’re infallible.

There was no Bruno Caboclo, Jordan Hamilton, Will Cherry or Greg Steimsma (concussion) and I’m sure all will feature in New York on Monday.  To sum it up, this was a night where the Raptors were rather casual with the Celtics for most of the night, but when they decided to take things seriously, the Celtics had no chance.

Finally, our own Lou Williams William Lou was at the game and offered up some observations:

  • I’m very impressed by Brad Stevens. His team was very well-coached, and executed a concerted strategy on both ends of the floor. He also used timeouts and late quarter scenarios to practice running sets.
  • The Raptors, by comparison, looked rather sloppy on defense, and wasted a few opportunities to practice plays. For example, Casey called a timeout at the end of the first half only to run a straight iso for DeMar. Why does that even need to be practiced?
  • Marcus Smart reminds me of a larger version of young Kyle Lowry. Dogged competitor, a bit of a bully, and can’t shoot yet.
  • Kelly Olynyk can only shoot the three if he does a little hop first. It’s a tell that gives his intentions away.
  • For a preseason game, there was a lot of excitement. Good crowd, all things considered.

Kyle Lowry plays extended minutes as Raptors come back to beat Celtics rather comfortably in the end.

Boston Celtics 109 FinalRecap | Box Score 116 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 25 MIN | 5-9 FG | 3-6 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -2Old Mr. Reliable, get him the ball within 5-feet of the rim in a two-man situation, and he invariably knows how to contort and maneuver his body into getting a score. You could take this game and project it out to the rest of the season, and that’s how he’ll go. Slight confusion on the defensive coverage against driving guards, but that was a general issue and not limited to him. Unfortunately, he remains the most under-used pick ‘n roll option on the team, and I long for the time when Vasquez and him develop a chemistry that he had with Calderon. It’s coming, I know it.  He also undressed Kelly Olynyk.

Terrence Ross, SF 28 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -4Lots ‘o ball-handling. Clearly Dwane Casey sees him as a way to utilize Lowry off the ball, much like he used Vasquez last year. The good thing about Ross is that he tends to keep his head up when dribbling (because he’s confident in his handles), which makes him more available to make passes and create. If he continues on this improvement trajectory, there’s little reason to believe that he can’t be an effective point-forwardish option. He’s more active defensively too, often calling out other players into position and taking more of a leadership role on defense than being a bystander.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 22 MIN | 5-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 11 PTS | -7Did well not to get shoved off the block and used his size well in rebounding positions. Sullinger proved a bit of a problem and Jonas adjusted well to take away the angles instead of conceding the open jumper. Working very hard defensively and you can tell by the rebounding numbers. Offensively, sound against a Boston frontline that doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of resistance. So far, he’s on course.  Here’s him getting a nice put-back.

Kyle Lowry, PG 31 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 5 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +16Struggled with the shot early until he looked at the scoreboard, looked at who they were playing, and decided enough is enough. He’s so much better than who he was going up against that it was only a question of whether he wanted to expend that energy to pull this game though. In the second half, he did, and there was nothing Marcus Smart or even the excellent Avery Bradley could to to keep up with his aggressive spin moves and disruptive defense.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 23 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | +5I’m not cringing when he shoots the long-two because it looks like it’s got some lift, and it happens to go in. Was a bit indecisive in some post-up situations against Turner, but has enough fade and arch in his release that he’s still able to get a clean look off. You couldn’t say that in previous years. Going to the rim was never a problem, and he did hit two threes which made me happy. He’s coming along nicely and pacing himself really well ahead of the season opener. Even when things aren’t working out for him, things end up working out.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 23 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +5In a fluid team like the Raptors, Hansbrough stands out like a sore thumb. Not necessarily in a bad way, just that he tends to be rather awkward in anything he does. He basically ran up and down the floor with great zeal and vigour, only to do nothing, and I figure it’s because the pace of this game and the matchup against Olynk and Sullinger is a bit much for him. One is just bigger, the other has one too many step-back moves.

James Johnson, PF 21 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +7What a pleasant surprise, he’s doing everything as advertised. Not being annoying, not making silly faces, just playing ball without hogging it. I wish I could just project this game over the rest of the season for him. His defense and off-the-ball movement in the fourth was key to the comeback.. Well done.

Patrick Patterson, PF 21 MIN | 7-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +18Fantastic in the first half, where his energy invigorated the team. The matchups suited him as he got to play on the perimeter outside-in, and hit a couple threes while always moving well without the ball. With his talent and effort levels, only good things can happen.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 20 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | -11Bit shoddy defensively in the second quarter but other than that, it was regularly scheduled programming. He’s so predictable on offense yet remains extremely effective. The floater is in effect and so is his vision, and his ability to pass over the defense on account of his height can’t be overstated.

Louis Williams, SG 26 MIN | 2-10 FG | 6-7 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +8Suspect in the first three quarters, better in the fourth. He’s missing his floaters and runners, but you just know that’s a question of coming back from injury and finding your rhythm and place. Much like Vasquez, suspect defensively in that second quarter but worked really well on offense as part of the bench unit that you have to think that good things are abound.

Dwane Casey
Managing minutes well. The plan was to give the starters a lot of minutes today to get some rhythm going (as confirmed by Lowry in the post-game interview), and reduce them in later games. A bit disappointed not to see any of Caboclo, Hamilton, etc., but hey, we got to see the “real” lineup for an extended period, so thank you. The team needs to figure things out defensively, especially when guards are driving as there’s lots of confusion on who has to drop down and who has to stick to the wing. Early days.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Casey extended the starters to get as much of a “real” game simulation as possible, and the results were great. Whenever the Raptors were trying in this game, they were able to do what they wanted with ease.
  2. The second-unit offense was quite fluid with Vasquez running things and flanked by James Johnson and Patrick Patterson. Even though Williams didn’t have a great shooting night, going 2-10, his presence on the court opens up the defense creating space for Vasquez to operate and dissect.
  3. Have to be happy with the +10 rebounding, something the team should make a point of emphasis this year, especially against teams that don’t have great frontlines. They ended up taking 11 more shots than the Celtics which is significant, and that’s also partially due to them forcing 16 turnovers and committing only 11.
  4. Lowry’s defensive impact was evident in the fourth quarter. He’s so aggressive on the perimeter that he’s bound to cause havoc, and when he has Valanciunas and Johnson in position to cover for him, it affords him the defensive freedom he loves. Some props need to go out to Hansbrough as well for sticking to his position on defense instead of coming out to trap without reason, thus maintaining the balance on the floor.
  5. The Raptors went through stretches where they didn’t look good defensively, and I think when you have Williams and Vasquez on the floor at the same time, it’s going to happen. The key is to maintain efficient offense during those stretches and have enough help defense on the floor. Casey definitely needs to tune his second-unit defensively, and I think this is where someone like Steimsma will really help (can’t believe I wrote that), or even a healthy Bebe (if he does end up panning out).

Did he mean it? Probably not, but it still looks pretty. DeRozan’s in the middle of having a pretty good game against the Celtics, I actually felt comfortable with him taking a deep two because the shot looked more natural than ever.

His less-than-inspiring summer league performance is starting to make more sense:

“He’s got a very serious strain, a groin strain,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s for real. The MRI showed us. It’s a very tedious thing. What we don’t want to do is rush him back where he re-injures it and then he’s out for another eight weeks or something. It’s something we have to be very careful with.”

We can chalk his impotent performance against NBA hopefuls up to an injury and not him sucking. This is actually good news for me since I didn’t know much about him and had to go by what I saw. The Raptors wont be rushing him back, but with Stiemsma and Patterson on the injury block as well, Chuck Hayes and Psycho-3 will be relied on more than we’d like in the short term.

The pre-season grind trudges on.

On Friday, the Boston Celtics (2-0) will face the Toronto Raptors (1-1) at the Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m. NBA TV) . Yours truly will be in attendance, courtesy of blogfather Zarar, sitting perched in the upper bowl.

First, a state of affairs for the Celtics, who have fallen on hard times since making the gut-wrenching decision to rebuild by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2012. The only remaining core piece of their former championship roster is Rajon Rondo, who recently broke his hand. The injury will sideline him for the next two months, providing broadcast crews plenty of opportunities to pan over to a despondent Rondo audibly counting down the days until the trade deadline.

Without Rondo, the Celtics’ roster looks much like their 2013-14 iteration, one that won just 25 games. Their roster is light on NBA-quality talent, as swingman Jeff Green and Avery Bradley represent their most name-worthy players. Green and Bradley are fine players, certainly useful in their own right, but are ill-fitting for the part of leading man.

Past that, the Celtics trot out an assortment of fading and faded stars. That includes Evan Turner — who is being trotted out at point guard; makes sense, he’s not good at dribbling or making the right pass — and a washed-up version of Gerald Wallace. There’s also Marcus Thornton, who has bounced around the league since being a useful gunner off the bench in New Orleans between 2009-2011. Brandon Bass is still floating around, serving as a three-pointer-less version of Patrick Patterson and Joel Anthony inexplicably still has claim to a roster spot in the NBA.

What the Celtics are banking on, however, is not for solid contributions from their veterans. It’s the opposite. Boston is hoping for their veterans to flop, but to provide just enough value to serve as desirable trade fodder so the Celtics can continue with their rebuild.

They’re off to a decent start with a few quality prospects. The crown jewel is this year’s sixth overall pick Marcus Smart, a heady alpha lead guard laying in-wait for Rondo to vacate his spot in the starting lineup. Smart has good size and posted impressive numbers at Oklahoma State.

The problem, however, is that the Celtics lack more talent with the ability to develop into (wait for it…) transcendent players. Tyler Zeller has potential as a third big on a decent team. Jared Sullinger is an intriguing mix of girth and shooting, but will most likely remain too big of a liability to stick as a starter long-term. Vitor Faverani could one day develop into a gigantic version of Tas Melas of the Starters. Dwight Powell is intriguing as a versatile forward, but he’s a second-round pick. James Young can’t (yet) shoot enough to stick as a wing. Kelly Olynyk is certainly skilled as a center prospect, but will most likely remain too slow to not be a massive liability on defense, a Spencer Hawes redux of sorts.

Guards – Raptors

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry scored a combined 48 points for the Raptors in their recent loss to Sacramento. The pairing represents one of the most formidable backcourt combinations in the league.

The Celtics have Evan Turner at point guard.

Wings – Even

At the time writing (Thursday afternoon), an update on Terrence Ross’ health has not been put out by the team, so going with rule of preseason, I’ll assume he’s sitting out. That leaves Landry Fields, James Johnson and a surprisingly decent Jordan Hamilton holding down the fort. Not exactly the most inspiring collection of wings.

The Celtics counter with a solid scorer in Green and their own version of Fields in Wallace (insert obligatory ‘Where’s Wallace?!’ joke here). This is a good test for James Johnson’s purported ability to defend larger wings, as Green is a solid 6-foot-8, 240-pounds.

Bigs – Raptors

Not having Patrick Patterson is going to hurt. The Celtics’ bigs aren’t shutdown defenders by any means, but they’re disciplined and stay at home on defense, meaning the Raptors may encounter resistance in their efforts to crack the paint without a floor stretcher. This also isn’t a great game for either Chuck Hayes or Greg Stiemsma as the Celtics lack a dominant inside presence — barring Sullinger exploding for another 20-20 game — so this would theoretically be a good time to #FreeBebe. Or, maybe it isn’t because Bebe has a minor injury of sorts. Should Bebe be put in the corner? No one puts Bebe in the corner. What are you even reading?

Bench – Raptors

If the Celtics’ starters are Turner-Smart-Bradley-Sullinger-Olynyk, just imagine how putrid the bench must be. The Raptors aren’t looking so hot with Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez reduced to hoisting bombs without an offensively viable big to play pick-and-roll with, but there’s enough talent to trump Boston’s collection of prospects.

Prediction: ???????????

Remember Whose Line is it Anyway? Yeah, the points don’t matter. It’s preseason.

Toronto Raptors want Jonas Valanciunas to become best defender in the league: ‘We want that as a goal’ | National Post

“One of the big focuses for us to advance in the playoffs is that he’s got to be the best rim protector — block shots, [legal] vertical [jumps] and being able to get over to that weak side early on any [dribble] penetration,” said Bill Bayno, the Raptors assistant coach who has worked extensively with Valanciunas. “At times he was great at it last year. … But we want it every night, 82 games.” By “best,” one assumes that Bayno meant he wants Valanciunas to be the best help defender he can be. “Best in the league,” Bayno clarifies. “We want him to be No. 1 in the NBA. We want that as a goal. Right now, [Pacers centre Roy] Hibbert is the best. We want him chasing Hibbert. If he comes up a little short, hopefully he’s going to be elite, one of the top five in the league.”

Lewenberg: Casey looking for “sense of urgency” on defence | TSN

The Raptors have a lot invested in third-year centre Jonas Valanciunas, hoping he can grow into the anchor of their defence but understanding he still has a ways to go. Amir Johnson has served in that role for years but has taken a physical beating. Although it’s still early and it generally takes longer for big men to re-adjust to game speed at this stage of camp, they’ve both stumbled a bit out of the gate. “[It's] not only Jonas, it’s everybody,” Casey insisted. “It’s everybody, all the interior people. We’re just not there yet. These games don’t matter, whether we win or lose, but the habits we create now are very important.” “[There's] no sense of urgency on the defensive end,” he continued. “We’re scoring the hell outta it. Everybody’s shooting the ball very well but that’s not going to win in this league.”

Raptors defence needs ‘better focus’ | Toronto Sun

“We’re not anywhere near the defensive intensity we need. We need a better focus, a better interest in playing defence and I don’t see that as a team,” Casey said. “I don’t expect us to be in February form, but we have to get out of the summer league, summer-time, one-on-one, no-interest-in-playing-defence mindset.” The Raptors were the only team in the Eastern Conference to rank in the league’s top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions), but clearly the offence is far ahead of the defence right now. “We’re scoring the hell out of it, everybody’s shooting the ball very well, but that’s not going to win in this league,” Casey said.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry winning war for respect | theScore

The extra lining in their pockets hasn’t made Lowry and DeRozan complacent. As they enter the 2014-15 season with increased expectations, they realize they are the leaders. There’s no struggle to be the Alpha, though, just as there wasn’t when the two vouched for each other instead of themselves ahead of last season’s All-Star selections. “After that,” DeRozan said in July of the team’s heart-wrenching Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, a series best described as trench warfare. “I looked at Kyle as my friend, my brother outside of all of this basketball stuff … The way I was looking at it was that I trust my dog. You trust your best friend.” They are dissimilar people but with similar chips on their shoulders. Lowry’s oft-prickly demeanor is well-documented, but DeRozan, too, uses every slight as motivation.

Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan could cash in on NBA TV deal | National Post

“I think it’s pretty cool just to see where the league is going,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely amazing. I went through a lockout year [before the shortened 2011-12 season]. A lot of teams and owners were screaming out that there wasn’t [any] money. Just to see it come back around in this type of way, to where it could be in the favour of the players, it’s definitely amazing.” In 2017, it is like the two sides will haggle over their share pie, as it is becoming more and more caloric. In 2016, though, players will get to cash in a little early. Even if DeRozan cannot negotiate a maximum-value contract, which would possibly earn him more than US$25-million annually, it would not be a surprise to see him double his current salary.

Bruno Caboclo finding his fit with Toronto Raptors | Toronto Star

“It’s different, but I feel OK. It’s normal,” said Caboclo. Figuring out how to spend his first NBA paycheque? That’s a much different story, he admitted, after having taken some good-natured teasing from Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire over his impending riches during practice. “I don’t know yet. It’s so much money,” said Caboclo, who signed a rookie deal with the Raptors through the 2015-16 season. There are two team option years after that.

This season will be about learning for Raptors rookie Caboclo | TSN

“He plays the passing lane well, he can change shots at the rim, he’s long, can rebound. . . those are qualities that you can obviously see on him,” said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan. “He’s done great. He’s still young out there, he’s got a lot to learn, not just with basketball, but just getting comfortable speaking English, learning the language, learning everybody on the team,” DeRozan added. “Everybody has that little feeling when they first come into the league, being shy, you don’t want to say too much. But he’s done great.” Caboclo, who has two older sisters who grew up playing volleyball, works with an English tutor a couple of days a week, and teammate Greivis Vasquez helps facilitate communication in practice by speaking to Caboclo in Spanish. The Brazilian conjures memories of a young Jose Calderon, who arrived in Toronto Raptors training camp speaking little English in 2005. Not knowing the word “teammates,” Calderon referred to them as his “friends.”

Know Your Raptors: Chuck Hayes on Wagon Island | Sportsnet.ca

The 10-year vet didn’t see a ton of court time for the Raptors last season, but when he did, it was often at crucial moments. Despite giving up half a foot or more to most of his opponents, Hayes is one of the league’s most dependable post defenders. Whenever Valanciunas or Johnson was getting beat up badly down low, Hayes checked in and put out the fire. Toronto allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions with Hayes on the bench in 2013-14 and 100.3 with him in the game—roughly the difference between Miami’s 11th-ranked defence and San Antonio’s unit, which ranked fourth.

New Faces in New Places: Atlantic Division | Basketball Insiders

After a brief stint in the D-League, Johnson returns to the Raptors a changed player. Johnson left the Raptors a couple of years ago after an incident with Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and appears to have put that in the past and is ready to provide the Raptors any type of role that they need. Now that the Raptors have stars in Lowry and DeRozan, Johnson knows that he won’t be the star in Toronto and accepts his role off of the bench. Johnson also brings an element of defense with him that will help when the team faces off against the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

Nick and Barry are back! Sort of… They are in podcast preseason, working out the kinks and getting in game shape for the fast approaching season.

On this episode they chat about the challenges we all collectively will face going into and throughout the season.

They touch on:

-Raptors vs Leafs… Can the Raptors take the place as the “city’s team?”

-The Raps are starting to get some respect… some.

-Predictions on how the season will unfold.

-What constitutes a successful season this go around?

-Who’s our scariest competition in the east?

-CHUCK HAYES!!!

Check it out and as always, thanks for listening.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (31:45, 30 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors look to improve defence | Toronto Sun

“They had 56 points in the paint and we put them on the free throw 50 times,” Casey said. “That just tells me we are not down in a defensive stance with a defensive focus. But the most important thing is protecting our paint and we just got pushed around.” Casey realizes this is early in the process and he expects his team that returns almost intact from a year ago when it finished ninth overall in defensive efficiency will get back to what served it so well a year ago. But at the same time, he hasn’t seen it and that is concerning. “I’m looking more for the overall identity as far as protecting the paint and rebounding and we didn’t do all those things,” Casey said. “We didn’t play the style we need to play.”

Hungry DeRozan not satisfied with last season’s success | NBA.com

When Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri met with DeRozan after the World Cup, the first thing DeRozan wanted to talk about was his newfound respect for the challenges faced by bench players. “He treats them great anyway, but he said he has more respect and would treat them with more respect because of what they have to do night in and night out when they’re called upon,” Ujiri said Monday. “I thought that was great maturity on his part.” Perhaps the best part of the international experience was the chance to swap secrets and strategies with the cream of the NBA. DeRozan found plenty to talk about with Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, comparing notes on how to get through traffic in the paint and finish at the rim.

DeMar DeRozan | The Evolution of Elite

“I just go out there and play” says DeRozan getting ready to face his fellow Team USA teammates DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in a preseason game at Rogers Arena. “I’ve always been the type of guy that if I’m putting in the work, does everything I’m supposed to do. Work to be a great player like I’m supposed to, everything, all that will come into place and speak for itself, honestly.” Vasquez explains that DeRozan’s talents aren’t just what make him a special player. “He’s a very smart player, very smart guy that understands his situation right now” the second year Raptor says with conviction. “He’s realistic. (So) that’s why he’s our best player.” Humility comes easy for DeRozan, but don’t confuse that as a weakness, because as humble as the All-Star forward is, as Vasquez explained, DeMar is realistic about the titles that are placed upon him.

Jonas Valanciunas’ busy offseason included trips to Oregon for sprint training, Spain for FIBA World Cup | Eh Game – Yahoo Sports Canada

“We were all talking about getting JV with some sort of track coach where his footwork and his speed could be worked on,” explained Weltman. “I think they did want to make him more efficient and not just in his running but in general being on the balls of his feet, his balance against contact. It wasn’t just so [he] could run a faster 40-yard dash.” “Speed is the priority. High knees, form, technique, how to run, how to use less energy, how to turn with less steps,” Valanciunas said was the focus of his sessions with Radcliffe. “It is difficult. I still catch myself doing old habits but I’m working on it.” These subtle changes will pay dividends on both ends of the court. Improved speed and an efficient running style will help Valanciunas run the floor and establish deep position in the post before his opponents get set up.

WNBA Star Lindsey Harding Invited to Observe Raptors’ Training Camp | Raptors HQ

If Harding wants to be an NBA coach, she’s going about things the right way. She’s making connections, forging relationships, learning the ropes and bringing noticeable value. She’s an asset with a high basketball IQ and superb knowledge of the game. That’s all Casey sees and that’s all his players see. Slow and steady wins the race, though. Harding is well on her way.

Raptors Bruno Caboclo Is Not 2 Years Away From 2 Years Away | Pro Bball Report

Casey wants to bring Caboclo along slowly and there has been plenty of talk about sending him to the NBA D-League to get playing time once the season starts. However, Caboclo is showing signs of being sneaky good and President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri truly believes that the best way to find out what you’ve got in a young player is to throw him into game action and see. Caboclo shouldn’t be expected to crack the rotation early in the season, but the kid Tolzman didn’t want to blow up in Brazil might be ready to play in the NBA on his own schedule and that could come a lot earlier than anyone anticipated.

You can read parts one and two of the training camp series.

When Jonas Valanciunas was selected by the Raptors with the 5th pick, in 2011, the reaction among Toronto fans, as well as many in the media, was mixed, to say the least. In fact, many were downright incensed, even going to far as to label Valanciunas Bargnani 2.0. Let me be clear, I was not one of them. Jonas has always been the player I felt was most important to the future of the franchise, not just because of his potential, but because of the position he plays.

While there has been a lot of discussion about how the game has changed and the big man era is over in the NBA, San Antonio doesn’t win their Championship last year without Tim Duncan anchoring the team. And Dallas went from a contender to a first round fodder when they lost Tyson Chandler. In fact, the only team to win a Championship without a dominant big man (at least dominant defensively) since Jordan’s Bulls did it are LeBron’s Miami Heat.

Notice a pattern there?

Yes, you can certainly win a Championship without a dominant big man, but you need the best player of his generation to do it.

Now, I’ve been criticized by suggesting that Valanciunas does not have superstar potential, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he can’t become a great player. A player I’ve compared him to in the past has been Brad Daugherty, who in just eight seasoned (his career was cut short due to injury) he made the All Star team five times and helped lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to 57 wins twice and the Eastern Conference Finals once.

Valanciunas still has a ways to go to get to Daugherty’s level, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t.

The last couple of training camps, Valanciunas’ name has been one of the first mentioned. Obviously when he was a rookie, the spotlight was on him because he was new and the next great hope for the Raptors. Last year, with the team still a lottery team, but without a draft pick, Valanciunas was still a source of discussion, wondering how much improvement he’d make in his second season.

This year is different. With the success of the team last year, there is more of a focus on how much overall improvement there will be, how DeMar DeRozan will perform after his success with Team USA and how the team will react to the higher expectations people now have of them. Basically, the kind of questions winning teams get.

For once, Valanciunas is, at least slightly, out of the limelight. But that doesn’t mean he’s taking a break.

As you will hear, Valanciunas has had a busy summer getting stronger and doing a lot of work to improve his game, including going down to Houston and working out with Hakeem Olajuwon. Terrence Ross claimed that Valanciunas had gained more muscle than any other Raptor, over the summer, and the eye test would certainly back that up. Valanciunas looks strong. Very strong, and nothing like the skinny 19 year old the Raptors drafted just three years ago.

In this short segment I had a conversation with Valanciunas that covered a variety of topics, the highlights I’ve included in this video.

Tomorrow, I will wrap up my training camp series.

It’s going to be a short recap tonight.

I’ll be forthright about this: it is currently 1:30 a.m. in Toronto, and having already endured two-and-a-half hours of preseason basketball on top of writing a 900-word quick reaction post, this recap will be light. Let’s break it down into parts.

 

Offense – B

For all intents and purposes, the Raptors’ offense was solid considering what they had to work with. Terrence Ross (knee, ankle) and Patrick Patterson (hand) both sat out last night’s largely meaningless game, which left the Raptors without a pair of floor-spacers at premium positions. Ross not being available meant the insertion of Landry Fields into the starting lineup, and no Patterson meant another two three-point tries for Tyler Hansbrough (swished one, airballed the other).

The first quarter saw the Raptors repeatedly call DeMar DeRozan’s number. After Jonas Valanciunas filled his usual quota of three looks in the post to begin the game, DeRozan became the focal point of the offense. He was guarded by Nik Stauskas, and DeRozan spared no pittance on the rookie, opting to flash the entire arsenal. He ran Stauskas through pin-downs, attacked him in the pick-and-roll, posted up a few times. To his credit, Stauskas held his ground for the most part and actually did a good job of funnelling DeRozan to help defense whenever possible, but DeRozan still managed to score 23 points on an impressive 9-for-15 shooting display.

Once the bench came in, the Raptors offense sputtered. Without any shooting capabilities from their bigs, the Kings opted to pressure the ball-handler, knowing that the Raptors’ bigs weren’t much of a threat to score. The result was a slew of poor possessions from Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams trying to attack a well-planned defense without much space. Again, Patterson would have helped tremendously in this regard.

The Raptors’ starters remained hot to start the third. Lowry, who finished the first half with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, cooled off slightly, but DeRozan stayed hot. He confidently spotted up twice from deep on consecutive possessions, sinking both. It’s obvious through two games that DeRozan has kept himself in top-form this offseason.

This is how hot Lowry was in the first half. He made this shot:

The fourth quarter saw the Raptors empty the bench. Will Cherry and Jordan Hamilton saw extended stretches of playing time, affording them a fair shot at the fifteenth spot. Admittedly, I didn’t catch too much of Cherry, but I did see Hamilton repeatedly attack the basket with strong, decisive drives, which surprised me. In Denver, Hamilton was primarily used to spot-up on the wing, but his dribble-drive game could prove to be useful for a team largely bereft of drivers like the Raptors are. Unfortunately, given the Raptors’ need for a third center, Hamilton’s odds of winning the spot is slim.

 

Defense – D

The Raptors’ didn’t bring it on defense. Plain and simple. There are times when offense is simply unstoppable, as DeMarcus Cousins proved to be in the third quarter, but the Raptors’ failures weren’t solely a product of Cousins’ dominance. There were missed rotations, a lack of closeouts, and a tonne of missed defensive rebounds. It was systematic — both the wings and bigs were at fault.

More than anything else, transition defense was pitiful. The Raptors’ bigs were consistently getting beat running down the floor and the Raptors’ guards were more or less left helpless under the basket. Darren Collison did a great job pushing the pace and Cousins was keen to throw the quick outlet pass out of a rebound, but the Raptors simply didn’t hustle enough, nor did they adjust their strategy of sending two bigs to crash the boards. The frustration is understandable — the Raptors’ bigs weren’t getting involved much on offense, so they took to the basket hoping for put backs, but it wasn’t the best trade-off.

The one positive from the defense? This block from Bruno Caboclo. What part of 7-foot-7 wingspan did you not understand, Omri Casspi?

Miscellaneous observations

  • The Kings’ broadcast crew was high on DeRozan-Lowry as backcourt pairing, calling them the “best in the East”, and a contender for best in the NBA. Take that, John Wall and Bradley Beal!
  • Greg Stiemsma and Bruno Caboclo both landed hard going for rebounds. The Raptors have already suffered one injury due to preseason.
  • Speaking of Stiemsma, he might know where to be on defense, but he’s also a foul-machine. He committed four fouls in 10 minutes after fouling out of their first game.
  • Bebe Noguiera was the only DNP-CD. It’s time to #FreeBeBe
  • DeMarcus Cousins has a bone to pick with not only Valanciunas, but the entire Raptors’ team. Jonas shouldn’t have thrown that elbow. I don’t think I like Boogie when he’s mad.
  • Lowry looks to be in great shape. Someone in the comments was chiding him for his weight. He’s fine. No post-contract bump on him. This isn’t a Hedo Turkoglu situation.
  • If DeRozan can shoot triples, the Raptors’ offense becomes all the more deadly.
  • Amir was tasked to check Boogie for much of the third while Jonas was put on Reggie Evans. Weird decision. Jonas wasn’t giving much help either.
  • Alright I’m done. This is enough.

Raptors fall to Kings | Toronto Star

He started slowly, but made a couple of three-pointers in the fourth quarter — his first two field-goal attempts — and finished with six points and no rebounds; he picked up two fouls, blocked a shot that the stats crew did not give him credit for, and just got his feet wet against full-speed NBA competition. His second stint — with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter — was eventful. And painful.

Game Recap: Raptors Fall 113-106 In Sacramento | Raptors HQ

Tyler Hansbrough hit another three-pointer, so it seems like resisting the #PSYCHO3 movement is futile at this point. The Raptors allowed 32 points in the second quarter and 33 points in the third, so the defense needs some brushing up.

Raptors fall to 1-1 in pre-season with loss to Kings | Toronto Sun

A rare pre-season trip to Sacramento confirmed one thing: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan could start the season tomorrow. But there were a few less positive signs as well in the Raptors’ 113-106 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night. Lowry and DeRozan managed to score 48 points between them, 25 by the point guard, but that was the end of the good news.

Too early to judge at least a couple of things about the Raptors | Toronto Star

Bruno makes his NBA debut, goes six minutes, doesn’t score, doesn’t hurt ‘em, doesn’t look totally lost, I put it out there and not a minute later some person sends a note that says: “So, NBDL is what the future holds.” That’s the kind of quick, senseless over-reaction that we live with. Anyway, the kid wasn’t bad, he wasn’t great, he was a 19-year-playing at full NBA speed for the first time in his life and Dwane was quite complimentary after the game. The coach was impressed with his quickness, the fact he didn’t get lost too often on defence, and, of course, his length. I like the fact he bounced right back up after a tough hard fall in the fourth quarter and stayed in the game. Casey told us after the Bruno mostly had the wind knocked out of him and there was no way he was coming out if at all possible. “The young man came in and played well,” was how Casey put it. “His length. The kid is going to be a heck of a player once he gets some time in this league.”

Press Box Report: Kings 113, Raptors 106 | Cowbell Kingdom

After a foul plagued first half, DeMarcus Cousins got hot in after the break. Toronto had no answer for the Sacramento Kings center who scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter before sitting out the fourth. Cousins finished with only four rebounds and picked up a questionable technical foul, but he gave a solid, if not spectacular 18-minute performance for coach Malone.

Kings 113, Raptors 106: Kings push the pace and spread the wealth in preseason win | Sactown Royalty

Despite the offensive outburst, Coach Michael Malone probably wasn’t too thrilled with Sacramento’s defense. Toronto shot 48.8% from the field and 41.7% from three. Sacramento also didn’t have any answer for Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 25 and 23 points respectively. When they came out of the game for good in the 3rd quarter, they had been responsible for 48 of Toronto’s 66 points (72.7%).

Instant Replay: Cousins, Casspi lead Kings past Raptors | CSN Bay Area

With 1:07 to go in the half, Nik Stauskas gave Sacramento the 52-48 lead with a four-point play and a Rudy Gay bucket at the first half buzzer extended Sacramento’s lead to 56-50. Kyle Lowry exploded for 20 points for the Raptors in the first half and Sacramento was paced by Omri Casspi’s 10 off the bench in the first 24 minutes.

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan eager to improve after career year, spends offseason working on game | Fox News

DeRozan, a first-time all-star last season who also played for the USA’s gold medal-winning team at September’s World Cup, probably won’t rest until he can crank out a letter-perfect alphabet as easily as he drops in a left-handed layup. After posting career highs of 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists for Toronto’s first playoff team in six seasons, he isn’t about to rest on his laurels. “I’m never going to get comfortable with the accomplishments I’ve made,” DeRozan said. “There’s always going to be something.” Besides trying to become ambidextrous, DeRozan has also worked to develop his voice, establishing himself as a leader in Toronto’s locker room. “He’s getting older, he’s getting mature,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s understanding what he has to do and he knows he’s a franchise player.”

DeMar DeRozan 2014-2015 Season Outlook | Fantasy Basketball Talk – Rotoworld.com Forums

Agreed. Role is solidified, franchise player, better and better Anything passed 40-45th pick I’m cool with

Resting On The Raptors | The Sports Quotient

Ujiri did his job by putting a lot of good players on the team and now it is up to Dwayne Casey to determine which players should play the most and which rotations work. For my money, Casey has proven himself to be a good coach this far, primarily due to his ability to build a top-10 defense last season. They had a good defensive roster, but scheme is primary to defensive performance. Casey will, obviously, be vital to the Raptors taking that next step as a team, especially with all the new faces.

Raptors’ defense can’t contain Kings’ onslaught.

Toronto Raptors 106 Final
Recap | Box Score
113 Sacramento Kings
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -2Got eaten alive by DeMarcus Cousins. To be fair, Cousins has a major size advantage and was a beast, but Johnson provided zero resistance. Wasn’t much of a threat to score either. His best contribution was playing the two-man game with DeMar DeRozan.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 19 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +3Strong in the post to begin with, but got no love thereafter. He played sparingly to give others look at center. Wasn’t very noticeable. Had a habit of slipping instead of setting an actual screen, which wasn’t used to great effect by the ball-handlers. Had a nice weakside block but didn’t provide enough help for Amir when Boogie was going off.

Kyle Lowry, PG 24 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | +3Dude was on fire to start the game. He sunk his first four triples and hit a wide and-one on a no-look, back-to-the-basket prayer. Stayed hot into the second half. He’s ready for the season to start.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 24 MIN | 9-15 FG | 3-6 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 23 PTS | +3Strong game overall. His numbers — especially some of the turnovers — are sullied by the Raptors’ sheer insistence to feed him the ball in the first quarter. DeRozan used nine possessions out of the Raptors first 8 minutes.

Once he settled in, DeRozan was on fire. He attacked off pin-downs, pick-and-rolls, post-ups, transitions, everything. The most promising sign was his two triples, of which he confidently knocked down.

Landry Fields, SG 14 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +10I’m like most people. It’s sad to see Fields’ career reduced to what it was tonight. He’s a free pass for the defense.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -2He was 1-for-2 from deep. He swished one and airballed the other. This floor-stretch thing is a work in progress. Was surprisingly bad on the boards, allowing Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans to run wild.

James Johnson, PF 17 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -12Active defensively, though a little too overeager at times. Shot a surprising amount of times, though I’m guessing most of those came in the fourth quarter while I was busy writing this recap. Definitely lacking the harness that Memphis head coach Dave Joerger had on him.

Bruno Caboclo, SF 15 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +8Played sparingly, mostly in garbage time in the fourth. Didn’t look that behind in terms of readiness. Sunk a three and recorded this ridiculous block on Omri Casspi. Looks much stronger than when he was drafted. He wasn’t much thinner than most of the guards out there.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 20 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +1Was surprisingly spry and aggressive. Drove to the basket repeatedly and forced the issue. Definitely not a Julyan Stone-type. Not very sound decision-making on defense though.

Chuck Hayes, C 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -12The game ain’t in me no more, man. None of it. — Cutty/Hayes tonight

Greg Stiemsma, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7Fouling is going to be an issue. He clearly understands where to be defensively, but commits too many fouls. Didn’t do much rim-protecting or rebounding tonight. Took a hard spill late in the game.

Will Cherry, PG 17 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +1Yeah, he played.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 10 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -17Offensively, Vasquez is ready. The shot is good and his passing is crisp. Trouble is, his defense on Collison was downright embarrassing, allowing Collison to blow by on numerous occasions. I’m not sure that would change as the season continues. Foot-speed has always been a problem for ole’ YOLO.

Louis Williams, SG 17 MIN | 3-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -12Good lord he makes some questionable decisions. Perhaps that will change when the season starts, but I didn’t see a single move he made that was necessarily in the flow of the offense. He’d benefit a lot from sharing the floor with Patrick Patterson because he needs room to operate.

Dwane Casey
The team was a mess defensively, but it’s hard to slag a coach during preseason. The lineups without Patrick Patterson are a mess in terms of spacing and the Raptors’ offense would have looked a lot worse had it not been for DeRozan and Lowry’s hot shooting. Disregard the grade because it’s preseason.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Stauskas. Can. Shoot. With his handles, size, quickness and ability to shoot, Stauskas looks like a solid pick at 8th overall. He was 5-for-5 to start the game and masterfully ran DeRozan into screens to get open.
  2. Cousins looked like a mix of Chris Webber and Shaquille O’Neal tonight. That’s not an exaggeration. He literally affected every possession on both ends. He punked the Raptors and no one could stand up to him. Luckily, he’s one of a kind, because defending hulking centers is definitely a problem for the Raptors.
  3. Jordan Hamilton made a strong case for the 15th spot. He’s quicker and more offensively versatile than I previously saw out of him in Denver. Stiemsma is still the overwhelming favorite, but Hamilton has a shot.
  4. Recap coming out tomorrow in the AM.

Injuries sustained during meaningless games. Why is preseason so long?

The Toronto Raptors will be shorthanded in tonight’s tilt against the Sacramento Kings, as both Terrence Ross (knee, ankle) and Patrick Patterson (hand) will sit out. The news comes to us courtesy of TSN’s Josh Lewenberg.

Ross injured himself in the closing minutes of the Raptors’ first preseason game (GIF here). Without Patterson and Ross in the lineup, expect Tyler Hansbrough to continue filling the role of floor-spacer.

Didn’t get enough of the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings in exhibition action on Sunday night? Yeah, me neither. Luckily, the Raptors have travelled down the Pacific Coast Highway from Vancouver to Sacramento, and the two sides will square off once again on Tuesday, at 10 p.m.

Wondering where to find it? Let’s have a look…TSN has an NHL fantasy draft special, helping approximately zero people since it’s one day before the NHL opens up….TSN2 has CFL action…TSN3 has a hockey season preview edition of The Reporters…TSN4’s got that fantasy special again…TSN5 has the Reporters thing…Sportsnet has playoff baseball…Sportsnet1 has baseball…Sportsnet360 has a highlight show…NBA TV has Warriors/Clippers preseason action…oh, okay.

So yeah, you can’t watch this game without an illegal stream of a Kings broadcast here in Canada. Terrific. I know it’s “just” the preseason and all, but it took me about 15 minutes from when the preseason began to become annoyed with the treatment of the team, at least on television. And this isn’t just on TSN and Rogers – I’m told the Raptors could elect to put the game on NBA TV Canada if they wanted to, but decided against it.

Right, because why would you want people watching your product and getting excited for the season?

We keep getting reminded how this team engaged the city in last year’s playoff run, and how they brought the whole team back, and how expectations are high, and how the excitement is palpable. And then we get Rod Black opening the first broadcast of the season with “Heeeeeee’s baaaaaaack” (and also just existing), and then the second preseason game is blacked out for those in the local market. Yes, ratings for a 10 p.m. preseason game probably would have been low, and every broadcast costs money to produce, but this just seems so counter to the tone and language of the preseason so far.

I digress. I’ve fully accepted that I live in the wrong country (in terms of sports fandom…Canada is the greatest, otherwise…and hockey and baseball are more than cool, they may even be equal with basketball…but…sigh).

So there’s a basketball game, surely similar to the one we saw on Sunday. If you stream it illegally or happen to live somewhere that it will be broadcast, you’ll probably see a lot of the same things you saw on Sunday. The Raptors starters will play minutes in the low 20s, head coach Dwane Casey will experiment with different second unit looks, and the players on the bubble for rotation spots will be put in opportunities to perform their expected role (not just go HAM).

There are two differences I’d expect in this game, though they certainly fall more under the umbrella of “what I would probably do” than “what I think Casey will do.”

For one, I’d be playing the starters a little less through the first three quarters and letting them close out the game. I know we’ll pull our hair out if someone gets injured in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, but I do believe there’s value in your players practicing closing out games. They already know the system and many of the sets Casey will employ late, but letting the final five get some reps in those spots is important over the course of eight friendlies. The team has a few days before their next game, too, so pushing them into the low-20s for minutes isn’t egregious or anything.

Remind me I wrote that when Kyle Lowry tears an ACL with a minute to play tonight. Sorry.

The second difference I’d expect to see: 

I have no idea if Bruno Caboclo’s calf is well enough for him to see run (or if Terrence Ross’ knee or Patrick Patterson’s hand will allow them to play…it’s early, keep an eye on Twitter), but if he is, it’s pretty hilarious that it will go unseen by the fanbase. That doesn’t really matter, but it’s painful to think about.

Anyway, enjoy the game if you can find a way to watch it! We’ll have a quick reaction right after and a proper post-game in the morning. Hey, at least the game not being broadcast forces you to come here and find out what happened.

If you haven’t read and watched part one of this series, please check it out.

Much has already been written and said about how much of a mystery Bruno Caboclo was before Adam Silver called out his name at the 20th pick, so there’s no need to get more into that here. But attending training camp did give me an opportunity to maybe find out a little bit more about the Raptors’ mystery man, which is why he was high on my list of people I wanted to talk to, despite not being sure just how much he would even understand my questions.

This was the interview he gave to the press two days after he was drafted, on June 28th:

So when the media liaison said his English wasn’t great, that’s close to what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by his level of English. He’s certainly not fluent, and he was sometimes confused by my questions, but there was no translator there and it was just the two of us. And, quite frankly, I’ve got a couple of neighbours who I have more difficulty communicating with than I did with Bruno, so I thought he did well.

Considering he’s also been kept busy with training all summer, it’s impressive that he could learn as much English as he did.

The two days that I was at training camp, Bruno was one of the last players to leave the court, which shouldn’t be surprising, since his work ethic was apparently one of his great strengths. You can’t be as unknown and raw as Bruno was, and still get picked in the first round without having a good work ethic.

And both players and coaches raved about his ability to pick things up quickly, despite the language barrier.

As you can imagine, most of the conversations I heard with players and coaches would eventually get to the 19 year old (who turned 19 just a couple of weeks ago), and while most were diplomatic they all appreciated Bruno’s ability to affect the game at both ends of the court and his willingness to learn.

For a guy who was completely unknown to most of the world just a little over three months ago, he seems to be handling things well. Despite the throng of reporters watching him, he claimed the extra attention didn’t bother him in the least, and it didn’t appear to.

It did seem that everyone was tempering expectations for Bruno as much as possible, whether to ease some of the pressure on the rookie, or because of a directive from above, and it’s really unclear, at this point, how much he’ll play in the big league next season. He’s got talent, definitely, but even the few dribbles he was asked to take during shooting drills were somewhat sloppy and it’s not difficult to see NBA defenders feasting on that weakness were he to play too many minutes against them.

I would expect Bruno to have several short visits to the Development League, so he can come back and work on things he learned and the staff can make sure he’s developing properly and under their watchful eye.

In the second of the video series, we hear from DeMar DeRozan, shooting coach, Jama Mahlalela, and trainer Alex McKechnie had to say about him before we get to hear from the man himself:

Tune in tomorrow for then third part and a discussion with Jonas Valanciunas.

Thanks to our very own Zarar, and some rather incriminating pictures of several Raptor executives I was able to photoshop, I was somehow able to secure media credentials for the Raptors’ training camp in Vancouver, this past weekend. Having never been a member of the media at an event like this, it was a new and interesting experience for me, one which I will do my best to share with you, the loyal readers of Raptors Republic, over the next few days.

After waiting in the media room with the likes of Doug Smith and Eric Koreen, we were finally let into the closed off gym at the Fortius Sport and Health Facility, where the Raptors were holding their training camp. Having never been to one of these things, I wasn’t quite sure what the protocol was, so I hovered and watched as the more seasoned reporters did their thing.

media_veterans

Without knowing what else to do, I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures and video of the players that were left on the court, being taken through their paces by the assistant coaches and trainers. This was a lot of the individual work that goes on before and after games and practices, and it’s the main way a lot of the younger players can improve during the season, when there really isn’t time for regular practices.

Eventually, Terrence Ross was ushered towards the waiting horde for a media scrum, and he regaled everyone with his rather canned and practiced answers to the regular questions thrown at him. It was obviously something he had worked on after last season.

Wanting more that just the same answers these players give hundreds of times, I had worked on some questions that I figured would cut through the crap and get the player or coach to actually think for a moment. I asked Ross what he thought the teams biggest weakness was last year and what the team was trying to do to improve on that.

He didn’t seem impressed with the question, and rather dismissively said, “Closing games out”.

Next.

Not much of a sound bite, there.

Next up, I flagged down trainer Alex McKechnie, whose work I had admired, and talked with him for a few minutes. He was MUCH less guarded than Ross had been, and was happy and willing to answer my questions in depth. We discussed everything from what he’s doing to help make Bruno Caboclo physically ready for the NBA to why he chose the Raptors when the Lakers released him, along with much of their staff, in order to save money during the previous lockout.

It turns out that while McKechnie was courted by some more glamorous and successful teams, he was most impressed by the pitch the Raptors gave, and especially the fact that they basically created a position for him which allowed him almost autonomous power over the training of the players, something he never had with the Lakers, and something that had been non-existent around the league before he joined the Raptors.

In fact, it’s a something that has since been copied by other teams around the league.

He also discussed the different things that they focus on during the season, including looking at sleep patterns, diet and how analytics can be used for training and not just coaching and player development.

Just as we were wrapping up our conversation, the media liaison pulled me aside to tell me I could talk to Bruno and Jonas Valanciunas, now, which are the two players I had expressed interest in interviewing earlier.

He had warned me that Bruno’s english was not very good, but he seemed to have made a vast improvement over the summer, and while I had to keep my questions fairly simple and not speak too quickly, he was more than willing to answer any questions I had for him. It seems he hadn’t be jaded by the media, just yet.

I’ll get more in depth on Bruno, as well as Jonas, who I interviewed next, in the next couple of instalments of the series.

DSC03457

After the two interviews I had most wanted, I noticed Dwane Casey talking to a couple of people, waited until they were done, and then asked if I could have a few words with him. He was friendly, talkative and asked about Zarar, describing him as the “older guy” who also writes for the Raptors Republic.

Casey was extremely personable and seemed like the kind of guy who could discuss basketball for hours with anyone who was interested. Probably the only thing preventing that was the media liaison who was trying to usher Casey away, as all the other players and coaches had already cleared out and were apparently waiting for him. You never felt that Casey was rushing or in a hurry, though.

It was clear that the best place to talk to any of these people were away from the media scrums where the bright lights and the number of microphones and cameras aimed at you obviously causes the defences to go up and the canned responses to come out.

For some of that interview and more, watch my first episode of Raptors Training Camp:

Check back tomorrow for part two, a deeper look at the Raptors’ 20th pick, Bruno Caboclo.

Raptors 99, Kings 92 – Box | Quick React

It’s never easy to separate signal and noise in the preseason, especially in a preseason opener that stood out far more as a marketing tool than 48 minutes to help the Toronto Raptors get ready for the upcoming season. The starters didn’t top 25 minutes, the rotation went 12 players deep, and sets on both end of the floor were rather inconsistent and seemed focused on getting a few reps of everything in rather than execute a specific gameplan.

All of that is more than fine. It’s what the preseason is for. It’s why the preseason is unbearably long (there are seven more of these). There’s plenty of time to work on anything you could want to work on. It doesn’t mean that we can’t watch the games critically, though, and try to establish an understanding of how things may go when the lights go on and the games matter.

On Sunday night – and really, thank Shamgod that basketball is back, even if the preseason is excruciatingly drawn out – the Raptors were finally in action, and the fruits of a relatively quiet offseason were on display.

The big takeaway on Sunday was that this team runs deep. We knew this, but even with Patrick Patterson sidelined, the team comfortably rolled out 12 players, 10 of whom got at least 17 minutes of run. The 10-man crew – the starting five, and then a second unit staggered featuring Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greg Stiemsma – was an effective mix of talent and grit, and of offense and defense. Figure Patterson back into the mix when his sore hand is better, and the Raptors look like a team that’s going to be really tough to play against in the middle of an 82-game grind.

Some of the preseason discussion so far has been about the specifics of the rotation, and who will get minutes where. Fair to wonder, of course. For fans who don’t have to make the decisions that Casey does, there’s comfort in knowing the team has a dearth of bad options. I count 11 players I’d be okay with seeing in a regular season game (the 12 from last night, less Jordan Hamilton and Chuck Hayes, plus Patterson). That’s appreciable, and the Raptors are fairly well-insulated in the event of short-term injuries at any position but center.

What’s more, the early returns indicate the secondary players are strong fits. Williams, in particular, found comfort in his role as a second-unit ballhandler and shot maker, especially as the game wore on. This is a guy who has averaged 14.9 points off the bench before and was known as Mr. 4th Quarter, and he’s somewhat of an afterthought when the full squad going up. Sunday, it appeared he’ll get his minutes at the two, and that the team is comfortable with DeMar DeRozan sliding to the three in those cases. He won’t find his way to 28 minutes when the starters are playing a full load, but the preseason is important for Williams, more than anyone else, to carve out a role.

Speaking of carving out a role, Stiemsma is getting the 15th-man job. He played 17 hard-nosed minutes, did the things that make Stiemsma Stiemsma and seem to endear one to Casey. He and Tyler Hansbrough – now known as Psycho Three or #Psycho3 – formed a bruising duo. They won’t see a lot of run together when Patterson’s back, but they represent a nice fourth-line style look, and bring more size in the role than Hayes does.

James Johnson also seemed a good fit, though he remains as frustrating as his last go ’round, it seems. He was incredibly active on both ends of the floor, and I appreciate the hell out of his motor, but it doesn’t appear he’s gotten all the role recognition stuff worked out.  He made a couple of abjectly terrible passes, including the worst alley-oop throw I’ve ever seen, but he also helped create transition opportunities with his length and hands – the lineup with Terrence Ross at the two, Hamilton at the three, and Johnson at the four was handsier than Zarar at the last Raptors Republic meet-up – and kept plays alive with tips and rebounds on offense.

The reserves also got to “learn to win,” something that I put in dick-finger quotes but actually believe matters. Vasquez and Williams were refreshed on creating late-game offensive looks, Johnson began to learn how he’d fit at the end of the game, and the bigs played their roles fine. We’ll never see all five try to close a game out together, but if they appear one or two at a time late in games, the familiarity with how the Raptors operate late in a game should be helpful.

When the season gets underway, we may find ourselves frustrated at times with the five-man units Casey employs in tight games. There are, depending on the opponent, up to nine players at Casey’s disposal late, which means a guy or two you like will be on the bench. Keep that Jack Armstrong quote in mind, and have some patience early in the season as Casey determines his “best five” against his “five best.”

I realize this is kind of a weird post-game. There’s been little talk about the flow of the game, but does anyone really care? The preseason is about process over results in the wins and losses sense, but the micro-level results on Sunday were very encouraging.

Quick Notes

  • Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t looked to much on offense, but his outing was encouraging. His two baskets were both refined versions of what he’s shown before: one saw him unable to establish a deep post on DeMarcus Cousins and instead flip an impressive hook shot in, and the other saw him pull up from about eight feet as he was rolling to the rim, which is a new wrinkle for him. He sealed the baseline off well on drives and showed familiarity with the “verticality” rule that’s been getting preached to him.
  • DeMar DeRozan was DeMar DeRozan. Amir Johnson was Amir Johnson. Kyle Lowry was a more passive version of Kyle Lowry. Just getting the feet wet for these guys.
  • Terrence Ross was impressive offensively, though the team struggled some with him on the floor overall. He was coming off pin-down screens quickly and cleanly, creating far more separation than we’re used to. Nik Stauskas was the guy chasing him around, though, so there may not be a takeaway here. That, and a knee contusion that may sideline him for a few days.
  • The Raptors play the Kings again on Tuesday in Sacramento. Maybe things will get heated? Maybe Bruno?
  • I’ll leave the discussion about the Vancouver atmosphere for Tim W., who was live on location and should have a report Monday or Tuesday.
  • It’s really nice to have basketball back.

Will and Andrew tip-off the preseason podcasting with a rundown of the Sacramento game and the entire East.  There’s everything from Jonas being taught how to walk, to Kelly Olynk’s NBA projection.

Part 1:

  • Sacramento win breakdown
  • Steimsma love/hate
  • Tyler Hansbrough jumpers are coming
  • Best backcourt in the East banter

Part 2:

  • Bruno Caboclo benching in Sacramento game
  • #FreeBruno and players we’ve tried to “free”
  • East over/under analysis

Part 3:

  • East over/under analysis

Part 4:

  • Jonas learning how to run

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (43:36, 42 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors still have work to do to tighten up defence | Sportsnet

“We still have a lot of work to do on the defensive end,” said Toronto’s head coach. “I was disappointed. Whether we win, lose or draw is not important in these types of games. But what is very important is our defensive [effort]. I thought we didn’t do it; we didn’t come out in the third quarter — with our starters — with that defensive intensity and that zeal that you have to have if you’re building for something.”

DeRozan looks great as Raptors win pre-season opener | Toronto Sun

“It probably didn’t look like it, but I was out there second-guessing a lot of things, I could have made it a little bit easier. It’s something I’ll get more comfortable with as I continue playing.” DeRozan looked unguardable for most of the night in one-on-one situations in the pre-season opener for both the Raptors and the Sacramento Kings. All that work with his left hand in the off-season, sitting at the dining-room table with his daughter as she learned her alphabet and dad learned how to write it out left-handed is already paying off. In 21 minutes he scored game-high 21 points, much of it effortless as the Raps put the first pre-season game in the win column with a 99-94 victory over the Kings.

DeRozan, Raptors down Kings in NBA pre-season opener | Toronto Star

“We’re going to watch his minutes. He’s not going to play his normal amount of minutes,” Casey said of DeRozan. “We definitely want to see Lou (Williams) play bigger minutes, also our younger guys (like) Jordan Hamilton, make sure we get a good look at those guys. “As it gets toward the end of exhibition, we can ramp up DeMar’s minutes.” That will be hugely important to the team’s fortunes. Kyle Lowry may be the emotional leader of the team, its combative presence. Amir Johnson may be the guy who makes more people around him better by his presence. DeRozan is, has been and likely always will be the most complete offensive force on the roster.

Toronto Raptors open pre-season with a win over Sacramento Kings in Vancouver | National Post

The oversimplified scouting report held up: Stauskas cannot be left alone on the perimeter, going 4-for-8 from the field, dusting Raptors guard Lou Williams before hitting his first shot, a corner three-pointer, near the end of the first quarter. He finished with 12 points. On the other end, Stauskas frequently got caught up in a web of Raptors screens. Terrence Ross burned him for eight quick points in the second quarter, including a dunk that was a result of a poor pass from Stauskas. Ross left the game late in the fourth quarter, appearing to be favouring his right knee or ankle.

Raptors GM is sold on Kyle Lowry | Toronto Sun

He does have a presence,’ Ujiri said of Lowry. “ He plays hard. He has the edge. That’s the honest truth — he does have an edge. You can call him what you want. He does this or he does that. He has the edge. And he wants to win. He’s very competitive every single game. The Raptors chart every nuance of the game within the game counting win shares. Whether it’s a battle for a loose ball or a rebound or a steal of the basketball, there is a winner for every battle and they are charted. The Raptors did that while working out prospective draft picks this summer and are doing it again in training camp. “All of the competitions and stuff that they do, whether it’s shooting or 3-on-3, whatever it is they do, (Kyle’s) team is always on top. … There’s something about winning. He’s very competitive.”

NBA Saturday: Who Has The NBA’s Best Starting Backcourt? | Basketball Insiders

Like Lowry, DeRozan had a career year last season, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. After the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, DeRozan became the go-to-scorer for the Raptors, and ultimately finished tenth in the league in points scored per game. But beyond scoring, DeRozan showed significant improvement as a playmaker, jumping his per game assists averages from 2.5 to four last season. However, moving forward DeRozan will need to improve his three-point shooting. DeRozan’s three-point percentage has risen virtually every season, but he still shot just 30.5 percent from range last season. If and when DeRozan starts hitting from distance at or around 35 percent, he will have a valid claim to being the best shooting guard in the NBA

Raptors try to turn Jonas Valanciunas into Usain Bolt and keep him away from DeMar DeRozan’s trash talk | National Post

With his arms chugging and his head down, Valanciunas’s running gait was not a particularly efficient one. So, the Raptors sent him to Eugene, Ore., to work with the University of Oregon’s head strength and conditioning coach, Jim Radcliffe. Valanciunas is trying to get his knees higher in order to create a more fluid motion. Success, in theory, would lead to Valanciunas both improving his speed and conserving some energy. “It is difficult,” Valanciunas said. “I still catch myself [using] old habits. I’m working on that.” “A lot of times you can expend so much energy by using too much of your arms and kind of flailing all over the place,” coach Dwane Casey added. “That was one of the main things: run lighter, more efficiently, arms tighter to the body.

Kings At Raptors In Vancouver Postgame Show | Pro Bball Report

Click to watch podcast

Terrence Ross appeared to hurt his right ankle towards the end of the Kings game.

The latest update was that it was a “right knee contusion” and he’s day-to-day. Ross had a strong first half, and ended up with 11 points on 5-10 shooting, on a night where his mid-range game was in full view and the feathery tough as feathery as ever.

Let’s hope he shakes this off because the last thing you want from preseason is injuries.

Here’s where the injury occurred:

The fall of the Berlin Wall. Man lands on the moon. Cold War starts. Cold War ends. Tyler Hansbrough hits a three. Hansbrough had 11 points and 3 rebounds, and partnered well with Vasquez in two-man situations to push the Raptors through in crunch time. Read the Quick Reaction.

Alternate angle:

DeRozan had this to say:

Sacramento Kings 94 Final
Recap | Box Score
99 Toronto Raptors
Amir Johnson, PF 20 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | +7

Took this guy about five minutes to get into mid-season form. Doesn’t look like he’s carrying a piano on his back when he’s running, nor does he favor his ankle. Ready for the season to start.

Terrence Ross, SF 25 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-3 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | -12

Lot of people were wondering what he’s been upto this summer, and as he showed in the first half, he’s been busy working on his mid-range step-back game and ball handling. Miss that feathery touch, good to see it there early. Hurt his ankle in the end, was in some pain.

Jonas Valanciunas, C 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 8-8 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +2

Good moves against Boogie early before his possessions got a little bumbly. Still got some issues with handling the ball and dribbling too high, but still, looks more ready than he did at this point last season.

Kyle Lowry, PG 25 MIN | 1-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +3

Didn’t get fat. Whew. Jumper wasn’t there, his will to pass was. Get ‘em next time.

DeMar DeRozan, SG 21 MIN | 7-16 FG | 6-8 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +2

Clearly the guy who tried the hardest in this game. You can totally tell he’s way ahead of everyone else in terms of fitness and readiness. Ready for the season to start. Didn’t play crunch time which shows you what this game means.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 20 MIN | 3-4 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -2

Hit a three. His free-throw form seems to be improved and other than that, it’s regular scheduled programming for TylerHans. Looks to be more a little more reliable in two-man games than before, certainly seems to be putting a little more thought in his play than just using all force and grit.

James Johnson, PF 26 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -1

Didn’t force the game, and instead hit the glass and tried to expend effort on defense in a pre-season game (that’s difficult to do). Cut to the rim well, seems to have some chemistry with Vasquez. So far, so good.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 8 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +10

Hit a bank shot without calling it. I think he’s the new Antoine Wright, whatever that means.

Chuck Hayes, C 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -3

You know that guy at work who always looks stressed but nobody knows what he does, but since he’s so stressed they just leave him alone? Yeah…

Greg Stiemsma, C 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | +7

Brings whatever Hansbrough brings, no idea why we’d need him other than 15th man insurance. Bah..keep him, he reminds of a Swedish tourist who got left behind on the tour bus.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 22 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +3

Deployed as part of a two-PG backcourt with Lou Williams, did well to pull the Raps back in it with some nice quarterbacking play with the second-unit. Doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat.

Louis Williams, SG 28 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +12

Tested his jumper early from all angles, wasn’t really dropping. Did a bunch of ball-handling but was most suited playing off Vasquez as part of the second unit.

Dwane Casey

Didn’t play Caboclo, likely sending a message that nothing is guaranteed. Same for Bebe. I figure both will feature heavily in the next one.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Raps looked pretty composed and in-tune given that it’s the first game of the pre-season. Probably the most cohesive pre-season game you’ve ever seen. I’d even say it was somewhat entertaining.
  2. Canadian Nick Stauskas got in the game and hit a couple shots, thus already surpassing Jimmer Fredette’s NBA career.
  3. The Raps were ahead comfortably at half-time, the Kings made a third quarter run, even took the lead in the fourth, which is when Vasquez got serious and there was enough talent on the floor for the Raptors to pull through, despite operating at 50%.
  4. Blake will have a full post-game tomorrow AM.

At Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. If I were using that microscope right now and pointing it directly at the Raptors pre-season schedule, I still wouldn’t be able to locate any interest in the games (sauce).

My #1 question right now is just where Tim W is. The man, by some freak galactic event which involved Mercury’s retrograde, managed to get a press pass and was last seen getting his head bashed in by Tyler Hansbrough.

He promised to write a couple pieces on what he witnessed, who snubbed him, who he pissed off, and how he got escorted out by security, but nothing so far. Still, I retain my faith in Tim and his ability to to purge out 2000 repetitive words, so watch out for him at some point today.

The Raptors are playing the Kings in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena at 7pm today, and it’s a bit of reunion of Team USA. First, we got DeMar DeRozan going up against Rudy Gay, who now plays no position because the Kings are exploring something called “positionless basketball”. This brand of basketball essentially entails nobody on the court having any idea on what they’re supposed to be doing, meaning this should be very easy for the Kings to pick up.

There’s also DeMarcus Cousins reuniting with DeRozan, and of course, the guy he almost tried to murder, Jonas Valanciunas. In that game Valanciunas did outscore Cousins by playing twice the minutes, which for this game means absolutely nothing. I just figured I’d mention it.

I’ll keep my eye on DeRozan’s ball-handling, Valanciunas’ post-moves, Ross’s shooting and Lowry’s speed and movement, but that’s run-of-the-mill observations. My eyes are going to be James Johnson, because he is one of the two new signings the Raptors have made this year, and any improvement outside of “growing up” will have to come from Johnson or Lou Williams, so I’m curious to see what his attitude and approach to a meaningless game will be. I figure it’ll be telling of what his approach to the season may be.

Casey, who coached Johnson in his first stint with the Raptors as well, noticed some changes in Johnson’s approach:

“At that time of his career, he wasn’t ready to accept the role he was in. It wasn’t that it was personal or anything. I’ve got a different approach with James this time. He’s at a different place in his life as a person and doing a great job of really, really staying within his lane, keeping the game really simple and making the easy plays. That’s going to be his growth pattern and the more he is able to continue doing that the more he is going to grow as a player.”

Translation: Johnson has come to terms with his talent level and is more focused on using his valuable, but limited, skill to the benefit of the greater good rather than Jamario Moon his way through life. Good on you, James, good on you.

There’s also the intrigue surrounding Bruno Caboclo, where lots of questions remain unanswered. What’s his wingspan? Is wingspan one word, or two like wing span? Is the best use of wingspan to change a light bulb on a 9-foot ceiling? How will Caboclo look with NBA players around him? What’s rawer – ISIS underground footage, or Caboclo’s jumper? Shrouded in mystery, Caboclo remains the type of swing where you can’t yet tell if the ball’s fair or foul, only time will and that time starts tonight in Vancouver.

I also watched the Lou Williams interview for you guys and fair warning, don’t try to play a drinking game where you take a swig every time he says “focused” when describing how this training camp is unique.  He’s got a shifty look throughout this interview and doesn’t make eye contact with the questioner, kind of reminds me of that time I stole a CD at HMV and this staff member engaged me in a conversation about Metallica’s Harvester of Sorrow, while I sweated profusely.

Williams mentioned that the team is taking these pre-season games “very seriously”, which is a lie, but he did drop one interesting line:

“We’re very clear on what every guy brings to the table at this point.”

This is important.  There’s always question marks surrounding certain players and where they’ll fit into the rotation and what their usage will be.  If expectations are managed accordingly and there’s a sense of responsibility and accountability for every player, then that’ll directly result in a more cohesive unit where roles are well-defined.   When this element is missing you’ll often see players stepping out of their strengths because it’s termed OK to experiment since your job isn’t defined and enforced.  There’s a need for rigour and discipline in every basketball team, and the Spurs are obviously the best example.

The Raptors should be closer to this ideal than most other teams because they’ve retained the key group and added supplements that have very niche roles.  When you examine the risk of uncertainty on this roster, it’s probably at fringe positions.  The flip side of the coin is that whenever you have defined roles and pecking order, competition at spots decreases.  Who really will challenge DeRozan, Lowry, or Valanciunas for their starting spots? No one.  The power forward and small forward are slightly more competitive, but a rather natural order sorts itself there as well.

I don’t really see an issue with three out of the five starters remaining unchallenged, because all three players aren’t the type that settle into a comfort zone and coast.  All three have something to prove.  DeRozan needs to prove that the All-Star thing wasn’t a flash in the pan and that he can be a legitimate top three SG in the league.  Lowry’s got the contract to justify, and Valanciunas has to answer to the hype that FIBA was another coming out party and that he’s a candidate for second-best center in the East.  I’d say motivation’s quite high.

So there you go, the wait to watch NBA basketball (or at least a lower form of it) is over.  Let’s go Raps!

TWITTER BEEF

On Monday, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards claimed to USA Today that he and John Wall are “definitely the best backcourt in the league.”

This, of course, sparked a maelstrom of discussions around the league. Story-starved pundits jumped all over it, and even a few NBA players like Dion Waiters chimed in.

Now, add Raptors’ shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to that mix:

Caption: They said what, haha!!? We will see…

As for my two cents, it really doesn’t really matter because there’s no wrong answer. Both backcourts are good, albeit in different ways. For the upcoming season, their production should be similar, but Washington’s backcourt has more potential, especially if Wall develops a three-point shot.

The two teams are set to square off on Nov. 7.

There’s never a paucity of things to prove in an NBA training camp, but the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors’ preseason is staggeringly short on competition. The starting five probably won’t be tinkered with, there is clarity of role for most, and so the only battle comes at the absolute margin, with three players vying for the 15th and final roster spot.

Ahead of the preseason, the Raptors signed Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, and Greg Stiemsma to partially guaranteed deals. The message seemed clear: even for that 15th roster spot, the Raptors are willing to forgo a modicum of cash and a little flexibility on the books to make sure they find the best player for that role.

The issue for the players and, to some degree, the coaching staff, is that the three players invited couldn’t be less alike. There’s somewhat of a journeyman, a prospect who hasn’t quite panned out, and a player trying to get his first shot in the league. There’s a rim protector, a shooter, and a lockdown perimeter defender. There’s a center, a forward, and a guard.

The tough part for all three is that they may not necessarily be competing against each other, but trying instead to argue the validity of their individual roles. One player can certainly look better or worse than the others, but it will be an apples-to-oranges comparison. Before the preseason, the merits of keeping each were explored, and they’ve changed little. Who you prefer to get the final roster spot likely depends on how you evaluate the rest of the roster.

“I just try to control what I can control and do what I do,” Cherry said, a defense-first point guard who has impressed in D-League and Summer League action. “Those two dudes that I’m kinda going up against are great.”

Based on comments from head coach Dwane Casey earlier in the offseason, Cherry may have the inside track on a job. Casey likes to have a third point guard on the roster, and it remains unclear if the team considers new recruit Lou Williams as a shooting guard or a combo guard. Even if Cherry were unlikely to play big minutes, there’s certainly value in a tenacious defender pushing your players in practice every day.

“In our league, that position is hard, it’s really deep. It goes two-to-three players now,” Cherry said. “That gives you a little leeway, but naw, not at all. Those are two great players beside me. Greg is a great big man and Jordan Hamilton, he’s been in the league already. I’ve watched his game, and I played against him in high school, so I already know what he can do.”

What Hamilton can do at the NBA level is still a matter of question to many, if not Cherry. Acquired in a draft-day trade by Masai Ujiri, then with the Denver Nuggets, in 2011, Hamilton is yet to put his obvious gifts to consistent use. On talent alone, he’s probably the best player of the three, but he also faces somewhat of an uphill battle given that Stiemsma and Cherry more obviously fill holes.

With his fourth-year rookie-scale option declined and his services dealt in the middle of last season, Hamilton seems to understand that “first-round pick” no longer carries cache. On a team full of players who have had to work hard to prove doubters wrong, Hamilton has found kindred spirits.

“I’m around a great group of young guys and they seem like they’re gonna all play hard,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I’m about…Shooting, I’m a shooter. Defense. Coach wants guys to go out there and do all the intangibles and I feel like I can be that guy.”

It’s little surprise that defense is a recurring theme. There has never seemed a better way to ingratiate yourself to Casey than by working hard to stop the other team rather than getting your own numbers. If the scouting report on Cherry is top-flight defense and Hamilton has great potential on that end, it’s Stiemsma who has actually proven his worth at the NBA level.

“Definitely rim protection,” Stiemsma said of his potential role with the team. “This has been a defense-first team, rim protection is important for these guys. When you start breaking down some of the numbers, not a huge shot-blocking team but still a pretty good rim-protecting team.

“I think they were top-10 in defense last year and we obviously want to improve on that. There’s always room for improvement when you start breaking down film.”

Stiemsma is spot on: the Raptors were ninth in points allowed per-100 possessions despite ranking just 24th in blocks per minute, with a middle-of-the-pack mark in opponent field goal percentage at the rim. It’s one area the defense can stand to improve, and the roster is a little thin on centers with that ability. Behind Jonas Valanciunas, there’s the under-sized Chuck Hayes, the raw Bebe Nogueira, the inconsistently-deployed Tyler Hansbrough, and Amir Johnson, who the team probably hopes to avoid burdening with too many minutes at the pivot.

There’s always the chance an additional backup center presents himself on the trade market later in the season, but for now Stiemsma seems to fit a need more than his competitors – he’s averaged 2.8 blocks per-36 minutes for his career and held opponents to a respectable 51.5 percent shooting mark at the rim last season.

If Stiemsma’s reputation hasn’t preceded him in Toronto, it doesn’t seem like it will take long for fans to get behind him. The city of Toronto loves itself a tough guy, and Stiemsma is hardly shy in the paint.

“I’ve had a couple of physicals lately,” Stiemsma said. “One of the first questions is ‘have you had any concussions?’ And I always kinda joke, ‘well I’ve given a few but I’ve never had one.’ Hopefully I can keep that mentality of being a physical guy. That’s always kind of been my niche – nothing malicious or anything intentional, but I feel like the game should be played a certain style. That physical nature just comes out when you’re in the post, and sometimes somebody ends up on the floor and hopefully it’s not you.

“Maybe if I was missing a tooth, I’d fit in a little better.”

Casey and the Raptors’ brass have four weeks to figure out just how well Stiemsma, or Cherry or Hamilton, fit. With the roles the team sees them in, with the rest of the roster, and with the culture and attitude the team discovered last season.

On the reality that two of three will be cut
Stiemsma: The more we (he and his agent) talked about it, the more we kept going over scenarios, we just felt like this was the best fit and I have the confidence that this is where I’m gonna stick.

Hamilton: It might sound kinda crazy but I feel like things for me are already destined in line. If it’s not here, then I feel like something else is gonna be a great fit for me. I’m not gonna hang my head over anything, it’s the NBA, things happen.

Cherry: I just gotta control what I can control. At the end of the day, when I do that, I’m happy with the decision they make, just knowing I gave it my all. No regrets.

Arguably there is no greater disparity between two Raptor players than James Johnson and Landry Fields. One has physical gifts and natural athleticism and one has high game I.Q. and a solid locker room demeanor.

 

About the only thing they have in common is each has been challenged by external burdens. Both enter this season with the goal of overcoming their encumbrance to carve out a niche in order to sustain a prolonged NBA career.

On the surface that goal looks far easier for Johnson to achieve given his affliction centered on his inability to accept a role within a team whereas Fields is contending with a physical limitation in an expiring contract year.

This article marks the wrap-up of our player preview series as we gear up for the season. My focus will primarily be on Johnson as Blake’s wonderful article on Fields pretty much covered the bases.

 

Landry Fields:

2013-14:
It’s fair to say Fields had the worst season of his 4-year career stemming from the ulnar nerve injury and subsequent two surgeries to repair it. Though his 3-point shot is shelved due to the nerve issues, the greater concern I have is his hesitation to shoot at all. In the rare moments we saw him on court (322 minutes total last season) he brought his defensive intensity, but on the offensive end his reluctance to shoot or perhaps lack of confidence took a toll on the Raptors’ offensive flow.

Outlook 2014-15:
Expect to see Fields utilized in short stints off the bench specifically as a defensive stopper or to add energy. Ross is likely to see his minutes increase and Vasquez will surely be utilized in late game situations in tandem with Lowry. With the additions of Williams and Johnson it’s hard to envision Fields racking up any significant or consistent presence on court.

Potentially the area Fields can add his greatest value will be in practice sessions. Accepting this role to help prepare the team for opponents and stewarding youngster Bruno Caboclo may in fact be the greatest benefit he can bring to the table. The other more obvious benefit is the cap space which will be created via his expiring contract.

James Johnson:
With news the team had signed James Johnson to a 2-year contract this off season I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in speculating: what if. Looking back at the quandary behemoth Joe Johnson created for us in the playoffs it’s easy to speculate how much different the outcome of the series may have been with James Johnson on our roster. On the other hand some people were caught off guard by the signing as his abrupt exit came about due to issues stemming from malfeasance toward Coach Casey.

It’s easy to draw a line of similarities between James Johnson and Kyle Lowry; each felt they were not being utilized to their full potential and each garnered reputations for being difficult because of their frustrations in communicating that drive and passion. The difference is Lowry is a starter, a potential All Star and a point guard who is a leader on and off the court. Johnson though a physical specimen is better suited as a role player who offers multiple intangibles.

Following his departure from Toronto, Johnson spent time with Sacramento and Memphis and even a brief spell in the D League with the Rio Grande Vipers. The latter stint was pivotal in helping him mature and recognize that being a role player was an equally important position on any NBA team. He brought his new attitude to Memphis, and made the most of his opportunity which was instrumental in him earning a 2-year contract back with the team and coach who first pinpointed his talent as a defensive specialist.

 

2013-14 Accomplishments:

  • Highest FG% of career: 46.4%
  • Highest FT% of career: 84.4% (up from 59.7% year prior)
  • Stats: 7.4 Points, 3.2 Rebounds, 2.1, Assists and 11.5% PIE
  • Post All Star Break, Grizzlies Coach, Dave Joerger increased Johnson’s minutes resulting in: 8.5 points, .05 – 3-pointers, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes per game.
  • Memphis is known for their grind house mentality and emphasis on defense. Marc Gasol won Defensive Player two seasons ago and Tony Allen is a perennial candidate. Yet it was James Johnson who led the Grizzlies in on court production with +5.5. (see chart as per 82games.com)
  • His plus/minus of +1.8 was only bested marginally by Conley and Randolph.

 

Grizzlies Production Table

 

Outlook 2014-15:
Though Johnson experienced growth in Memphis, statistically his overall best season occurred during his first term in Toronto. Initially, he was a Casey favorite who earmarked him to be the team’s defensive specialist. Certainly his 258 lb, 6’8” frame offers a luxury the Raptors haven’t had coming off the bench arguably ever. Moreover, Johnson’s size while a huge asset is coupled with speed, a rarity that offers tangible benefits as he’s versatile enough to shut down virtually any opposing guard or forward.

Like Lowry before him, this season will be a testament to how far he has grown as a person and his ability to transfer his words into actions. If he falters don’t expect Coach Casey, GM Ujiri or the players to tolerate it. On the other hand should he bond with the existing Raptor clan he would form part of the most versatile benches in the Association. And, I can guarantee you who his assignment would be if we draw Brooklyn again this April.
In a perfect world:

  • Landry Fields wakes up one morning to find his arm suddenly feeling normal again (you never know with nerve damage, it’s that unpredictable).
  • James Johnson reconnects with his inner child who loved playing the game of basketball for the pure joy of it and embraces his Raptor fraternity.

The average NBA career is 5-years; Johnson passed that milestone last season and Fields enters his fifth year this season. While both are looking to make their mark on the Raptors with an eye to the future, the reality is the progression of one will probably come at the expense of the other.

The irony is if we could meld these two players into one, we’d have the epitome of the perfect NBA role player. Perhaps a season spent together in close proximity on the bench will allow for a natural osmosis to occur. Stranger things have happened and after last year I’m not ruling anything out of the spectrum of possibility.

Don’t forget the consummate professionals.

There’s an old-timer in every workplace. Perhaps they’re a little outdated and their work lacks flash or pizzazz, but they show up on time, they work hard, and you can count on them to get the job done. They ask “How are ya?” when they walk by your desk and always participate in office pools. They’re a part of the company, if only in the background.

For the Raptors, that’s Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes. They’re far from cornerstones, but they stay in their lane and work hard. They’re afterthoughts, deep bench pieces on a good team, but a trusty option when called upon.

Tyler Hansbrough – Strengths

Hansbrough is stuck in a bad place with the Raptors. He should be the third big in a middling team, but he’s trapped behind two players in Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson for power forward. Hansbrough isn’t big enough and can’t effectively protect the rim, so center isn’t an option, but he deserves to be more than just an insurance policy, as he is here.

Hansbrough’s skillset is comprised solely of his effort. That’s not a knock against Hansbrough, as despite his talent and physical limitations, his presence on the court never goes unnoticed. He batters opponents going for stray rebounds and loose balls which frustrates players to no end. He’s a pest.

Being a pest really works for Hansbrough. Despite having little semblance of a dribble-drive or post game, Hansbrough attempted nearly a 1-to-1 ratio (0.944 FTr) between free-throw and field-goals attempts last season. He averaged 6.8 free throws attempted per 36 minutes played last year, topping the likes of Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony.

Hansbrough’s hustle also translates into stellar rebounding numbers. He grabbed 17.1 percent of rebounds available while on the court last season which places him in the company of Zach Randolph (17.4) and Kenneth Faried (16.9).

Tyler Hansbrough – Weaknesses

Hustle is great, and the extent to which Hansbrough works certainly qualifies as a skill, but it doesn’t compensate for his shortcomings. He doesn’t do much else aside from post-defense, drawing fouls and grabbing rebounds.

Take his shooting, for example. Hansbrough can’t shoot. Here’s his shot chart from last season courtesy of Nylon Calculus. The size of the squares indicate quantity of attempts, and the color represents points per shot.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.44.15 PM

There’s also the matter of Hansbrough’s passing. The Raptors’ offense doesn’t feature bigs facilitating out of the high post the way Memphis (with Marc Gasol) and last season’s Bulls (with Joakim Noah) does, but Hansbrough’s aversion to passing is a problem. He averages just 0.6 assists per 36 minutes last season, which is terrible even for a big. Hansbrough is in Andre Drummond and Chris Andersen territory, and those two only get set up for alley-oops. Hansbrough actually posted up quite a few times to start last season.

Finally, Hansbrough can’t really guard the rim. He’s undersized at power forward which lends him to be fairly ineffective at protecting the basket. He follows rotations well and he can reliably hedge and recover on pick-and-rolls, but Hansbrough also allowed opponents to shoot 53.4 percent at the rim last season which places him alongside turnstiles Pau Gasol (54.8 percent) and Spencer Hawes (53.3 percent).

This poses a problem for Hansbrough in the current era of the NBA. Bigs who can’t shoot and can’t defend the rim just don’t hold much value. It’s great that he works so hard and he’s definitely effective enough to deserve a place in the league for many years to come, but he won’t have a significant role on any playoff team.

Chuck Hayes – Strengths

Hayes’s strength is literally that — he’s really strong. He’s the immobile object built to withstand the other teams’ unstoppable forces. Despite standing at just 6-foot-6, Hayes is one of the league’s best post-defenders. It looks ridiculous when he’s matched against hulking giants like Pau Gasol, but Hayes simply refuses to concede ground.

Defense is Hayes’ specialty. He’s like Matt Stairs off the bench — he’s only here to pinch hit. When Valanciunas and Johnson are getting demolished in the post, Hayes comes in to steady the ship. Sometimes it works, like it did when Gasol was eating Valanciunas alive last January. Sometimes it doesn’t, like when DeMarcus Cousins demolished the Raptors.

In short, the clip below summarizes Hayes’ skills in their entirety.

 

Chuck Hayes — Weaknesses

Here’s a GIF of Hayes’ lone make from beyond 10 feet last season.

2014-15 expectations

Look, if Hayes and Hansbrough are called upon for more than 800 minutes each, the Raptors are in serious trouble. If Johnson, Patterson and Valanciunas stay healthy, there really isn’t a great need for either player to factor significantly into the outcomes of games.

Hansbrough, for example, is injury insurance. He’ll only find minutes if someone goes down. He might not even be ahead of James Johnson in terms of depth at the four. I predicted this last season with Hansbrough and it didn’t come to fruition, but look for Hansbrough to be moved at the trade deadline. He’s a solid bench piece, but the Raptors have much better options.

Hayes, on the other hand, will continue to spot minutes. As far as backup centers go, Hayes actually isn’t bad. He’s a savvy vet who knows where to be on rotations and he can help lockdown post-up players. That should come in handy in the Eastern Conference, where bigs like Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson and Nikola Vucevic have historically posed problems for Valanciunas. For that, and his leadership, Hayes will likely remain with the squad through the season, pitching in whenever possible.

You just read 900+ words on Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough. You love the Raptors way too much. Get help.

As the book opens on another Toronto Raptors season, the talk is about taking steps forward from an encouraging, breakthrough 2013-14 season. For Landry Fields, though, the offseason was all about taking a step back after the most disappointing year of his career.

It’s been a trying two seasons for Fields since arriving in Toronto on a three-year, $18.75 million contract. It seemed an overpay initially and has felt like an albatross at times since. He played just 322 minutes last season and another 26 in the playoffs, relegated to the bench due to injury and ineffectiveness. The promising young rotation piece of two offseasons ago has become an afterthought against developing players, intriguing rookies, and a pair of veterans brought in to fill reserve wing roles once thought to be his.

You’d forgive Fields for entering camp with a chip on his shoulder, but his attitude at media day on Monday suggested otherwise. Fields was reflective, upbeat, and optimistic about the coming season.

“It’s amazing,” Fields said. “We’re doing the best job in the world. It’s always great to be back.”

Unfortunately, the Stanford product returns to Toronto without a clean bill of health and facing similar questions to those of last fall following a disappointing Raptors debut.

Just five games into his tenure with the team, Fields required surgery to address an issue with the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. The nerve issue caused his right hand to clasp involuntarily when he attempted a shot, and the offending nerve was transposed to correct the matter. Again last January, Fields had surgery on his right arm to try to fix it.

“I was kind of up and down with everything,” Fields said. “Playing, not playing, and the whole rehab process. It takes much more out of the game that I had before than a lot of people really understand. It’s difficult to transition into kind of a new player, really. Just trying to find my mode with that, mentally, it was very frustrating. It still is at times. But if I let that encompass my world, it kind of takes over everything outside of basketball.

“And this year I refuse to let that happen.”

Fields saw his 3-point and free-throw shooting drop off dramatically in his sophomore season with the New York Knicks, and the Raptors had bet heavily he would bounce back to his 2010-11 rookie levels. If the nerve issue was fixed, there was a good chance Fields could be the player the team had been expecting.

That didn’t happen after either procedure. The nerve issue remains a complication.

“In terms of shot and the arm, it’s still an ongoing thing,” Fields said, acknowledging it’s still not 100 percent. “It’s just trying to play the best I can with it and coming to terms with it, trying to be the best I can with it. That’s just finding areas where I can be most successful. I think getting away from that (the 3-point shot) is something that will help me. At the end of the day, I’m still working on it, still trying to bring it back to 100 percent and I’ll be doing that until I’m done playing basketball.”

Trying to be the best player he can be without an effective jumpshot is easier said than done. Over two seasons with the Raptors, Fields has shot just 44.5 percent overall and 10.5 percent from long range. Last season, he all but eliminated the 3-point shot from his game, going 0-for-5 on the year. Without that tool in his arsenal, it’s been difficult for him to hold down a consistent role. He plays off the ball well and provides solid defense at multiple positions, but spacing becomes a major issue when defenders can cheat off the 3-point line against your wings.

“We have some ideas on it,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the team’s first practice on Tuesday. “One that we told him about is he can let his cutting be his penetration. He’s one of the best cutters in the league. I told him don’t even worry about the 3-point shot, don’t even think about that.”

The Raptors hope to deploy Fields on the baseline in the “dunker” role more this season, but such a strategy requires careful rotations. Casey mentioned “inverting the floor” when Fields plays, meaning pairing him with someone like Patrick Patterson, who can help maintain the team’s spacing and let Fields play inside the 3-point line. That’s not something the Raptors got to experiment with much last season, as Fields played just 13 minutes with Patterson (and 62 with the similarly rangy Steve Novak).

With James Johnson acquired to essentially fill the role once thought to be his – a versatile defender off the bench – Fields doesn’t have a lot of time to get comfortable with his limitations. Casey indicated that Landry’s familiarity with the system is a plus, but that Johnson’s size is something the team really needs.

What that likely means is that Fields is no longer being looked at as a key contributor, something he’s taking in stride.

“With me, and anybody, it’s probably just a pride thing and understanding if you are a utility player, be the best utility player you can be,” Fields said. “Everybody wants to be the main guy, but with this team I don’t see that as my role. If I come to terms with that, I can be the best at that and be the best complementary player for everybody.”

That’s not necessarily an easy attitude to have at any time, let alone in the final season of a contract. Fields will hit unrestricted free agency next summer having just turned 27, and there’s a very real possibility his resume will have consecutive seasons thin on playing time. His defensive reputation should remain intact, but without the requisite floor time to show the changes he’s made to his game, the market may be unfriendly.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s one Fields has little control over. With a new wife and a one-year old son to focus on – he cops to the fact that “my wife will kill me” if he takes his basketball frustrations home with him – a broader perspective on life appears both a blessing and a necessity.

“The secret is actually to be willing to lose everything, and that way you can focus on the here and now,” Fields said. “Tomorrow, I can’t control. But I do understand the contract might not be the same, I might not be in basketball after this year, you never know what’s gonna happen. So really, the more you can almost be okay with that, and I know it sounds brutal to say, but in my own mind, my own psyche, it helps. The fact that now I’m free to really enjoy the season.

“At the end of the day, basketball is just something I do. It doesn’t define me. As long as I’m keeping it like that, it’s not so devastating.”

That’s not to say Fields is resigned to a year at the end of the bench and an uncertain summer. Injuries happen, he could find his stride as an off-ball assassin, and, as he put it, “defense is defense.” Training camp brings with it the opportunity for new beginnings, and it sounds as if Fields has found his.

With all due respect to DeMar DeRozan and the fantastic All-Star season that he posted last year, but it was Kyle Lowry that propelled the Raptors to arguably their best season in team history. Lowry handily led the team in win shares, offering an estimated 11.7 wins for the club last season (over DeRozan’s 8.8 according to basketballreference.com), which was good for 8th in the NBA, and his leadership gave the team its identity, its never-say-die attitude. Last year’s was one of the most balanced rosters that the organization has ever fielded, but it achieved what it did last year because Kyle Lowry pushed them there night after night.

He posted career-high’s in nearly every measurable category: points per game (17.9), assists per game (7.4), rebounds per game (4.7), free throw makes and attempts per game (4.0 and 4.9), PER (20.1), True Shooting Percentage (.567), three-point percentage (.380), turnover percentage (13.4, his lowest ever), etc etc etc — the team needed Lowry to step up his game and he did it by giving the team the best version of himself that he’s ever offered. This was the version of Kyle Lowry that the Raptors had envisioned when the brought him in to run the show in 2012, and it’s the version of Lowry that they needed to lock-up in the summer of 2014.

To that end, the Raptors acted swiftly in free agency to secure Lowry with a four-year deal. At $48-million, Lowry is now Toronto’s highest-paid player, but since his deal is still well short of the max, he leaves the Raptors with plenty of breathing space in the coming years to extend new deals to fellow starters Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.

So with the band back together the expectation is that the Raptors are ready to soar even high than they did with Lowry last season. In fact, if there is any fear about Lowry going forward its only that he might not be able to replicate his breakout ’13-’14 campaign. This isn’t for fear that his weight may balloon again or that he’ll renew his clashes with Dwane Casey, it’s simply because Lowry offered the Raptors a season that seemed to max out his talent in every measurable metric and that kind of output is hard to bank on year after year.

The fact of the matter is, if Toronto’s plan had been to simply ride Lowry to that degree every single season going forward they’d be in trouble, but fortunately for Raptors fans that isn’t what the plan for the future is. The club spent lavishly to bring back Lowry’s primary backup, the quasi-starting-calibre Greivis Vasquez, and traded John Salmons to acquire scoring guard Lou Williams. Both of those guys will be tasked with providing some statistical assistance around the fringes should Lowry’s numbers take a small step back this season — reason would expect them to do so — while also helping to back-off of the career-high 36.2 minutes per game that Lowry logged last season (a concern, though not a grave one, given Lowry’s notable injury history).

The Raptors will also apply more pressure to Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, expecting them to shoulder more responsibilities, so that the club isn’t as dependent on Lowry (and DeRozan) having dominant games in order to win, especially against the league’s cellar-dwellers.

That said, Lowry will continue to act as the engine that makes this car go. Even if his minutes are trimmed ever-so-slightly and even if his usage rate dips a tad going forward, this team is really only going as far as Lowry can take them. DeRozan may be the All-Star, the World Cup gold medallist, but even he needs Lowry to be at his best to improve upon what the team accomplished a season ago. All of those fourth-quarter comebacks last season? That was Lowry’s personality personified throughout the roster. There is a reason that he was the one entrusted to take the last shot of their season last year, and even though he flubbed it, you can bet that Casey would put the ball right back in his hands if the Raptors find themselves in that same position next April.

That’s why the organization was so insistent upon re-signing Lowry this summer. It’s why Tim Leiweke was willing to go on television three months before free agency and insist that the team was going to bring him back. Lowry is this iteration of the Raptors. The club may be devoid of any transcendent, super-duper-stars in its current form, but in Lowry they have a player that the organization is willing to model the entire club after. Even if the Raptors had lost Lowry and somehow managed to replace him with a similarly skilled player, let’s say Ty Lawson, the structure of the team would be completely different. The personality would be totally turned on its head. The continuity in the rest of the roster wouldn’t matter nearly as much because the head of the beast had be torn off and that would mean starting well behind where the club had finished a season ago.

Lowry may not be as dynamic as Vince Carter or as consistent as Chris Bosh, but he is no less important to this version of the Raptors than they were to their’s. If the team is going to achieve new heights this season, it’s going to be because Lowry pushed them there. He has a wonderfully intriguing and talented support system around him to help make it happen, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t all still start with him. This team goes where Lowry is going to take them, and it should be pretty exciting to see how high that can be.

Toronto Raptors starting from scratch to prepare for season, coach says | National Post

“We’re going back to scratch,” Casey said on Tuesday after the team’s first practice, a marathon outing. “You want to skip a few letters of the alphabet but what we’re doing is starting from scratch like we normally do, building from there. We’ll build a little bit quicker from [a defensive] standpoint, but we don’t want to skip any letters, even for the older guys. [They need] to get that muscle memory back of being where they’re supposed to be and that type of thing.” To spruce up training camp, however, Casey brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to the team on Monday evening. He said he was planning on bringing in other outsiders to speak to the team throughout the year. Dwane Casey brought in a Navy SEAL to speak to the team on Monday evening. He said he was planning on bringing in other outsiders to speak to the team throughout the year. “It was really empowering and very interesting,” Casey said of Monday’s guest speech.

Raptors’ DeRozan won’t rest on laurels | Toronto Sun

“I was trying to be more ambidextrous, somewhat, try to get more comfortable with my off hand, finishing with my off hand, doing a lot of little things that probably go unnoticed. I’m just trying to find new challenges, honestly, within myself to find something else to get better.” And that’s what separates DeRozan from players, both those with more natural talent, and those with less. DeRozan had many holes in his game when he entered the league, but has diligently worked to address them and the results have clearly paid off. But he’s not done, and his teammates will help him take the next step as well. “I think he can just be more aggressive,” said Kyle Lowry. “Be more of the guy. He’s our all-star, he’s our scoring threat. He’s just going to keep getting better, keep making better passes. I think overall he has to get better at every aspect of the game.

Raptors Media Day: Masai Ujiri Interview | Raptors HQ

Masai acknowledges the team still has a lot of young players and he’s always thinking about how to improve the team. He’s happy with the team now but will see where they need to add depending on how the team performs at the start of the season. Another huge theme for Masai is continuity. He believes that consistency is important for winning teams. Says that formula has proven to work in the league and he hopes it works for the Raptors. Stresses that the guys like each other and compete for one another. Also says they’re not a selfish team.

Raptors Media Day: Dwane Casey Interview | Raptors HQ

Was asked, as everyone else were, about the heightened expectations for this season. Casey says the team should embrace it, and should act like defending Atlantic Division champions and play like it every night

Raptors Media Day: Jonas Valanciunas Interview | Raptors HQ

Valanciunas was asked about the experience of making the playoffs last season, which he called positive. He was also asked about the expectations on him this season, but mentioned that at the end of the day it’s a team sport and all the guys on the court have to contribute in their own way

Raptors Media Day: DeMar DeRozan Interview | Raptors HQ

He doesn’t think the national media gives the Raptors the respect they deserve, but he thinks players around the league respects them. Points to conversations he had at the FIBA World Cup when he heard from other players about how difficult it was to have to play against Toronto

Raptors Media Day: Kyle Lowry Interview | Raptors HQ

Kyle Lowry, no. 34 #SLAMTop50 | SLAM

Lowry will have plenty of motivation this season as he can use his snubs from last year’s All-Star and All-NBA teams to push him. Although these are all individual goals, Lowry’s selfless play and leadership is what inspires his teammates. There is no drama coming from Lowry in Toronto. He is all business and his teammates follow his lead.

If not the Wizards, who has the NBA’s best backcourt? | USA Today

The Raptors came closer than any team to having two All-Star guards last season, as DeRozan broke through for his first appearance and Lowry was a clear-cut snub. But both are coming off career years, and in Lowry’s case, it came in a contract season and landed him his big new four-year deal. They could be the best. Or they could regress a little bit without hurting the deep, talented Raptors too much.

Kelly: Raptors’ DeRozan an unsung hero, but don’t blame him for that | Globe and Mail

In a town that needs constant reassurance and kind words, Toronto’s boldface names are the dads who sit there in their armchairs, night after night, silently nursing the same glass of scotch. They only talk when you get between them and the TV. In each case, with relative differences, it’s been an imperfect pairing. Maybe this is why Toronto turns so quickly on its heroes. They never get properly attached to them in the first place. Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is here to heal those wounds. By allowing himself to talk, he’s teaching a gun-shy city to love again.

Raptors’ Lou Williams looking to rebound after difficult year | Toronto Star

“I’ve played basketball all my life and I know in the back of my mind what I’m capable of doing and just having that confidence in myself, knowing at one point that light bulb is going to click back on and I’m going to be back to my normal self, that’s what kept me going.” If there is a way to describe Williams so early in his Raptors career, it’s that he’s a true professional who understands what he’s good at and works at it. Talking to teammates and team officials and people who have known him, a consensus quickly emerges. “Lou’s a pro, he’s going to help us a lot,” said DeMar DeRozan. “He’s going to be a great teammate and he gives us something we need,” said Masai Ujiri. “He might be under the radar with some fans but in the NBA he’s not, we all know what he can do,” said Chuck Hayes.

Raptor of the Year: Preseason Power Rankings | Raptors Watch

T-Ross has immense potential, as shown by several outbursts last season, most notably his franchise-tying scoring spree against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which he dropped 51 points on their collective heads. Ross needs to get a bit stronger (says he did this offseason) and work a bit on when to snatch at the ball so that he’ll stop fouling as much on defense. Other than that, he’s a very good defender and has a beautiful stroke. Basically, he’s got the entire guard package in a raw form. As he enters his third season, most Raptors fans are expecting a breakout year from T-Ross. And if he is able to live up to those high expectations, watch out.

Coach Casey Wants Jonas Valanciunas To Learn How To Dance | Pro Bball Report

“Like I always said, it’s like dancing. Playing in the post is just like dancing. You got to have a rhythm. You got to be light on your feet or you are going to look the part if you are not careful – and if you saw JV’s wedding video, you saw where he needs to work with his feet a little bit more.”

Budding big man Jonas Valanciunas, as was to be expected from Raptor fans and NBA insiders in general, posted a landmark 2013/2014 campaign. The kinks in the armour weren’t completely ironed out – it was, after all, his second season in the league – but a number of important boxes were checked that demonstrated it wasn’t just blind faith leading the fanbase’s belief that he could, indeed, become the cornerstone of a frontline not seen in these parts since Chris Bosh (and defensively, maybe ever).

That being said, like fellow soph Terrence Ross, it’s the steps that he will (hopefully) take this season that will help push this Raptor squad to the next level. I’d argue that Jonas’ internal development will likely be the storyline of the Raptors’ season, personnel-wise – with the franchise relying on continuity to pay big dividends this year, nobody has a chance to step up quite like Jonas. Unlike Ross, Jonas’ ceiling seems to be the third star that the Raps desperately need to contend with the conference’s big boys, and if his offseason is any indication: working with Hakeem Olajuwon, a few trips down to the Drew League, and an impressive performance in the FIBA World Cup; there’s plenty of reason to be excited.

Before we move on to this year, though, let’s take a quick look at the season that was for Mr. Valanciunas:

2013-14 Stats Recap:

Regular Season:

  • PPG: Increased to 11.3 points (from 8.9)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Decreased to .537 (from .557)
  • Attempts per game: Increased to 8.3 (from 5.9)
  • Rebounds Per Game: Increased to 8.8 (from 6.0)
  • Minutes: Increased to 28.2 (from 23.9)

Post Season:

  • Averaged 10.9/9.7/0.3 in 28.6 minutes per game, on .633 shooting. Dominated the Nets’ bigs at times and was a major reason why they chose to go small for much of the series.

Highlights:

Only one real option here:

Strengths:

Jonas isn’t a particularly elite player in any aspect of the game (yet), but is solid in all aspects. His rebound positioning was something that really stuck out to me last year – his numbers aren’t elite quite yet in that department, but he would gobble down boards in bunches while he was out there, giving a perimeter-oriented Raptors squad a license to bomb away. His offensive game wasn’t quite what you’d call refined, but was certainly effective. Let’s be honest: if you can tell me how this pump fake works so often, you’re either lying or a basketball savant. For the most part, his points came off put-backs and drives to the hoop, which is certainly a positive in that a) it’s quite consistent from night to night and b) indicates that his game on that end of the floor will continue to improve as more tools are added.

Growing into a bigger role on the defensive end, Jonas showed some positive signs on that end, as well, particularly in man coverage. He’s still prone to getting blown by by wing players and biting on the fakes of some of the league’s most skilled big men – it’s part of the reason why the defensive-minded Amir Johnson is still likely a better frontcourt partner for him than Patrick Patterson – but there are certainly indicators that he could one day become the anchor the Raptors need (his quick feet, for one – the guy moves so well, for a big man).

At the FIBA World Championships, Jonas showed off what he can do as the focal point of the offence (albeit against lesser competition), averaging 14.4 points and over 8 boards a contest. He also showed off some versatility in the post that we didn’t see often last year, and got into a hilarious shoving match with DeMarcus Cousins.


Areas to improve:

As stated earlier, the Raptors’ development this season relies largely on Jonas’ ability to internally improve. Working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game is a great first step – an added versatility on the offensive end will force him into more of a focal role on offence, which is imperative in providing balance to the team’s wing-dominant scoring. Defensively, Jonas will need to be far better in help situations without increasing his foul rate. It’s hovered at about 3 per game over his first two season in the league, which is fine, but with his minutes almost surely increasing (we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s imperative that it stays there while he takes on a bigger role defensively. The best version of this Raptors showcases Jonas as a real two-way threat, and while he’s close, a little bit of polish is likely all it will take for him to hit the marks needed.

2014-15 Outlook:

As Jonas goes, the Raptors go. It’s that simple, really. The team’s lack of depth at centre has been well documented in this space and others, and barring a massive surprise from Lucas Nogueira, Jonas will need to take the lion’s share of the minutes in order to keep the Raptors without a below-average player on the floor for stretches (and to limit Amir’s minutes).

To do that, he’ll have to do a few things, namely improving his defensive presence under the rim in more perimeter-heavy lineups featuring Patrick Patterson at the 4 – he averaged less than a block a game last year, which just won’t cut it. His effectiveness at sliding over to help opposing cutters will also help keep offensively effective, yet defensively deficient players like DeMar DeRozan and (kind of) Terrence Ross from being exposed. Keep the scorers on the floor, and you score points, which means you win games.

It would be fantastic to see offensive improvement, as well, as that’s likely going to be what establishes Jonas as a pillar of the franchise. I’d love to see the team feature him more often in post-up situations, but that’s a two way street – you have to earn your touches. I’d argue that he’s earned more than he’s gotten in year one and two (and Casey’s sometimes head-scratching rotations don’t help), but showcasing an ability to do more than pump fake (maybe even hit a few mid-rangers?) and crash the rim hard is a simple and expected, yet essential, step forward in his development.

Expect big things from Jonas next year. Season 3 is typically when everything starts coming together for NBA bigs, and Jonas’ shortcomings can be easily filled with a focus on development, which has never been a red flag in his case. The floor here is a solid starting centre, so work upward from that: can he be Roy Hibbert? Andre Drummond? Better?

Be excited, Raptors fans. You should be excited. The hype train was cranked up to max last season for Jonas’ development, but this is the year he really starts to take it home. Barring injury, it’ll be great fun to continue to watch one of the game’s budding stars figure out how to go from “solid with great potential” to simply great.

Raptors must build on last season’s euphoria: Arthur | Toronto Star

“Hell, yeah,” said DeMar DeRozan, fresh off a summer on Team USA’s gold medal-winning group at the World Cup. “Yes, it do. Just the energy and the positivity of everything, and not the, ‘what ifs,’ so much. It definitely do. It do feel different.” He told a story about talking to Kyle Lowry from a plane headed to the Philippines when Lowry was re-signed — “I spent $45 talking to him,” said DeRozan — and Lowry, for his part, turned up Monday looking less like the fire hydrant he’s sometimes compared to, and more like the pit bull he’s often compared to. General manager Masai Ujiri says he’s never seen his point guard in better shape. “Those people who thought I’d (be out of shape), they’re idiots,” said Lowry. “The people who were expecting me to come back in shape, they’re smart.” “I never was worried,” said DeRozan. “I never gave him a sales pitch throughout the same time, there, because I was just trying to be there for him honestly as a friend.

Raptors’ Lowry won’t slack off after big deal | Toronto Sun

“Kyle Lowry has been phenomenal,” said general manager Masai Ujiri, who inked Lowry to his new deal. “He’s in unbelievable shape. These guys, they took the summer seriously. You win games in the regular season, but you get better in the summer.” Lowry, far more comfortable with the media and in Toronto than he was just two years ago, definitely subscribes to that school of thought. “Me, I like to work, I like to actually put work in, it’s fun. I mean, this is my job,” Lowry said. “I like to get in the gym, I like to lift weights, I like to play basketball, I like to do everything, I like to just get better.” Getting better than he was last season will be a challenge. Lowry emerged as one of the NBA’s premier point guards and should have been named an all-star.

Raptors still working on getting respect | Toronto Sun

Casey is confident that the Raptors will take another step this season, and hopefully win the Atlantic again and move on to at least the second round of the playoffs. And aside from players like DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross improving because they have another year of experience in the NBA, Casey is looking for two key factors in helping his club develop into a true elite NBA side in 2014-15. For one, he wants to his club to play like they don’t get any respect around the league, which historically they haven’t. “That’s huge for me right now,” said Casey. “The greatest 16th man on our roster was we felt like the league didn’t respect us and we were scratching and fighting for respect. “And we still don’t have the total respect of the NBA, so we’ve got to make sure we gain that respect and keep that respect,” the fourth-year Raptors head coach said. “We’re the only ones who can control that.”

Lewenberg: Raptors embrace target on their back as camp opens | TSN

“You have to embrace it,” Casey said, holding court during Monday’s festivities, held on the upper level of Real Sports Bar & Grill, across from the ACC. “This is the first time this organization, since even before I got here, had heightened expectations, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s something we’ve got to embrace, we’ve got to take it and run with it, because it’s going to be there. There’s no pressure, it’s good pressure. We’re defending division champions and we have to go out every night and play like it.” “I don’t do predictions, unfortunately,” said Ujiri. “We’re hoping to win and grow as a team. The NBA is full of surprises, issues, growing pains, adversity. We’re ready. It’s our job to fix [problems]. We’ll keep grinding it out.” Like the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs – the model for sustainable success in basketball and throughout pro sports – the Raptors are banking on continuity and internal growth to take them to the next level.

No room for complacency for Raptors this season | Toronto Sun

They’ve already lost the one playoff series they should have won, the only playoff series we’ve seen in the Dwane Casey and now Masai Ujiri era. Playing well, entertaining people, turning Maple Leaf Square into a playground, is a wonderful goal. Winning is more important than that. Establishing a winning culture, year in year out, a team that can challenge for the Eastern championship, a team that should win in the 50-game range (something no Raptor team has ever done) is not just important, it’s necessary. “We’re going to win in this city,” said Ujiri, the general manager, without a single expletive in his sentence. “We’re going to win big. “We’re still a young team, young guys. The question is, what did we gain from the experience of last year? How much did we learn? Anybody can win one year. Our job is to do it every year.”

Raptors’ Williams ‘excited to be here’ | Toronto Sun

Williams is an elite scorer and has spent the majority of this career coming off the bench and scoring in bunches. He doesn’t see anything changing in Toronto. “I’m excited to be here,” he said. “I’m happy to be with a group that wants me. These guys really respect what I have done over the course of my career and I look forward to getting started. I’m ready. I’m back to 100% now. Last year was probably one of the more difficult seasons I have had in my career. I’m excited to get this season going and get back on track.”

Raptors Media Day: A View From The Scrum | Raptors HQ

Beginning at around 10am for the first time at Real Sports Bar & Grill, the hoi polloi of Toronto’s sports media were on hand to meet and greet this year’s team. The majority of the morning, however, felt like something of a reunion. The Raptors approach the coming season with most of last year’s team intact and momentum on a definite upswing. The event had a fairly loose and informal air to it, but the question of expectations seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

Ranking The Top 7 Small Forwards | Mike’s Mind

DeRozan is looked upon as a shooting guard by many, but the reality is, him and Terrence Ross are essentially interchangeable, with either one having the ability to guard all the twos and threes in the present day association. The 25-year old from from Compton, California is coming off a career year, scoring 22.7 points a night, though his field goal percentage is lacking the beauty that one might be expecting from a top five player, at his position. He has continually improved his defensive game, one that should continue to be on an incline, and there is little question that his effort is fully given, every night. The Raptors have the possibility of ending up being a surprise team in the East, taking care of the favorite Bulls or Cavaliers.

 

DeMar DeRozan talked with me about being irked by the ranking he was given by Sports Illustrated and ESPN, playing in the Drew League with Terrence Ross this summer and how the World Cup helped him grow.

Raptors Are A Team That Is Still Developing Core Players | Pro Bball Report

From the start of last season, right up to and including the seven-game playoff series with the Nets, Casey insisted the Raptors focus was on developing Ross, Valanciunas and DeRozan. DeRozan earned an All-Star nod, but Ross and Valanciunas were going to play significant minutes even with a playoff series on the line and more veteran players available on the bench. Not much has changed for Casey this year except last year’s sophomores are more experienced. “That’s the funny thing,” Casey said. “We are talking about taking the next step with third year players and DeMar is further down the road (now), but those two guys are core guys (that) still got to get better and develop, so that hasn’t changed at all.”

Toronto Raptors: An Interview With Bruno Caboclo | Hoops Habit

“The picture I have in my mind from what I watched on TV from my house in Brazil is the Raptor’s fans going wild supporting the team. Sold out games, outside at Maple Leaf Square hundreds of people cheering. So, my ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment will be in our first home game, when I come out from that lockeroom wearing my No. 5 Raptor jersey and see all that people supporting us. Then I would feel my stomach cramping and think, ‘this is it.’ If I get some playing time and the fans scream my name, oh man, this will be an indescribable feeling.”

Hard work paying off for DeRozan | Toronto Sun

You know how the game is played. Come make a statement on this upcoming Raptors season and decide whether you think its “Fact” or “Fiction”.

The pod returns with a bang and by bang I mean Andrew and Tim W., who finally reveals what the W stands for. There’s the Western Conference coaching game, predictions, ESPN power rankings and a whole bag of apologies:

Part 1

  • Win total over/under = 45
  • ESPN power rankings
  • Tim’s fresh access to the Vancouver training camp
  • International players being better interviewers

Part 2

  • Most intriguing player heading into training camp
  • Raptors overtaking the Leafs – National Post article
  • Will Cherry’s becomes the 12th Raptor player ever to wear #1
  • Raptors overtaking the Leafs on Facebook, what does it mean? Are Leafs using MySpace?

Part 3

  • Fastest Raptors players according to advanced stats
  • The rebounder who converts the most chances
  • Western Conference coaching game

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (39:10, 37 MB). Or just listen below:

It’s a Sunday afternoon in September, so the chances anyone is reading a Toronto Raptors-related post are probably pretty slim. For now, that is. At this time next week, we’ll be gearing up for the team’s preseason opener in Vancouver. This week, we’ve rolled through some player-specific previews, as we’ll do again this coming week. We’ll also have a presence at Monday’s media day, and a presence for the Vancouver portion of training camp, so look out for that.

Over the coming weeks, preseason games, coach’s comments, and context clues will answer a lot of questions about this team for us. In the interim, we opened the floor to readers and commenters to fire questions our way.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 6.04.06 PM
From: The comment section.

On the surface, the answer to an Ennis-for-Caboclo swap should be yes from the Raptors’ perspective. The team was said to want Ennis badly enough that they tried to move up a few spots in the draft to grab him. When they failed to do so, balking at an asking price from the Suns that was said to be exorbitant, they rolled the dice on Caboclo, knowing he wouldn’t slide to their next pick at No. 37.

In other words, they valued Ennis enough that they would have used more than just the No. 20 pick to get him, and wanted Caboclo at No. 37 but took him earlier in case he didn’t slide. Obviously, then, Ennis was higher on their draft boards. In the time since the draft, Caboclo has proven a very fun project and galvanized the hyper-active portion of the fanbase online, flashing some encouraging signs at Summer League. Ennis, meanwhile, struggled at Summer League and has become expendable in Phoenix through no fault of his own, though a handful of summer exhibitions are hardly enough to drop one’s stock (or see him lose his Canadian passport, for those of you for whom such things matter).

The problem with a retroactive trade scenario is that the Raptors carried out their offseason with Caboclo, not Ennis (would the team have re-signed Vasquez if they had landed Ennis, for example?). For that reason, and because of the perhaps unexpectedly positive response to Caboclo, I don’t think the Raptors would make the swap. Personally, I’ve never been that high on Ennis (I see him as a good backup eventually, but as a starter you’d always be looking to upgrade), and the Caboclo experiment is just going to be way too entertaining. Plus, at the end of the roster, I go upside over floor all day.

My instinct is that Caboclo knows better than to make enemies in training camp, so he’ll keep his instrument holstered for the early part of practice sessions. A guy like Amir Johnson isn’t going to take kindly to some rookie getting Deez in his face on a poster, and Caboclo seems too respectful a teenager to do such a thing. So unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until about three minutes into the preseason opener before seeing Caboclo shove it down some sucka’s throat (looking at you, Boogie). #WingspanWarning #CabocloCountdown


Related question from Navin Vaswani: What, honestly, is a successful season next year?

I’m pairing the best and worst scenarios with the success question, because the best case and the goal are obviously related.

This team is going to tell you throughout the preseason that they believe they can stake a claim as the best team in the Eastern Conference, because they have to. A year after making a surprise run to an Atlantic Division title, management, the coaches, and the players aren’t going to set a goal in line with last season’s results, and they surely feel as a group they can improve. A successful season from their perspective, then, may be 50 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

If all parties were to be a little more honest and self-aware, the goal is the second round of the playoffs. The franchise has won a single playoff series, ever, and doing so again puts any Raptors team in the discussion as the best ever. While a run to the ECF isn’t entirely unrealistic, the Raptors slot in quite obviously as the No. 3 team in the conference, having already answered more questions than some of the teams after them but not matching up with Cleveland and Chicago on talent. Aggressive goals are appreciated, but a “successful season” sees the team make the second round of the playoffs and giving Cleveland or Chicago a run in the second round.

A “best case,” then, is some injury luck or an unexpected trade or breakout sees the Raptors competing in the ECF. The worst case? Well, the chemistry could dissipate, injuries could strike, and the young players could fail to develop, leaving the Raptors to compete for a playoff spot instead of a specific seed and putting the core of the franchise into question moving forward.

I’ve bunched these questions together because they all kind of point to the biggest improvement the Raptors have made this offseason: their depth. The team’s top-seven remain unchanged, but the names that should get run beyond that core group are vastly improved over last season.

Look at who was getting minutes behind the starting five, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez from Dec. 8 (the night of The Trade) onwards:

Player Minutes
Salmons,John 1281
Hansbrough,Tyler 613
Hayes,Charles 575
Novak,Steve 396
De Colo,Nando 193
Fields,Landry 113
Stone,Julyan 47
Buycks,Dwight 44
Daye,Austin 21

John Salmons is gone! Ya done, son. Get the hell on. Not only is Salmons’ ungodly minutes total being spread elsewhere, two key bench additions see some other, only marginally-useful players, slide down a peg on the depth chart:

Before After
Salmons,John Johnson,James
Hansbrough,Tyler Williams,Lou
Hayes,Charles Hansbrough,Tyler
Novak,Steve Hayes,Chuck
De Colo,Nando Fields,Landry
Fields,Landry Stiemsma,Greg
Stone,Julyan Caboclo,Bruno
Buycks/Daye Nogueira,Lucas

Salmons’ minutes will go to both Ross (in an increased workload) and Johnson, who is a very obvious improvement, especially on the defensive end against bigger wing players. Salmons was a veteran hand that Dwane Casey trusted on defense and who wouldn’t turn the ball over, but it can’t be overstated just how bad he was at basketball. Johnson is erratic and Ross’ development isn’t a given, but we’re talking 20 minutes a game off the bench that are being shifted to appreciably better players. That’s enormous.

While Williams’ role is less obvious – he’s the nominal backup shooting guard, but the team runs two points too often for that to be a sizable role – he shores up the depth at either guard spot in the event of injuries, meaning the team no longer has to fear the Buycks and Stones of the world getting on the floor.

The interior depth hasn’t really improved much, but slightly more minutes for Valanciunas and Patterson will require less from those reserve bigs. There’s an obvious hole at backup center if the team is hesitant to spot Amir Johnson there at times (it’s a tricky trade-off given the desire to keep him healthy in the long-run), but maybe Hayes, Stiemsma and Nogueira can patch it up until mid-season, when the team can re-evaluate what they have and make a play for some rim protection on the trade market.

The team is deep, far deeper than they were last season, and you can feel pretty safe with the likely nine-man rotation (plus whichever extra big Casey ends up trusting):

depth

(That doesn’t mean Amir Johnson is a reserve, just the easiest way to show him filling two roles.)

Comparing depth across teams is difficult – the Bulls have an insane frontcourt, for example, but are somewhat thin on the perimeter – but the Raptors absolutely shored up the deeper roles in the rotation. Johnson will frustrate but has a very specific set of skills, Williams is a substantial upgrade at the guard spots (even if he’s used little to start), and who knows, maybe Fields can be a thing again. Other than the center spot, this team runs deep and has acceptable contingencies in place in the event of struggles or injury, which couldn’t be said at any point last season.

Note: If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered ahead of preseason action, drop them in the comments and I’ll double back with another mailbag on Saturday.

 

Remember the start of last season, when the reserves in Toronto’s backcourt were D.J. Augustin, Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks? Sorry, did I just open an old wound?

To say that the Raptors’ cupboards were bare of quality reserves this time last year would be a terrific understatement (it’s worth remembering, too, that through the first month of last season it wasn’t like Kyle Lowry was exactly lighting the world on fire, either). Heading into the ’14-’15 campaign, however, the backcourt has been remade, and it provides the most likely area of external improvement on a roster that otherwise saw continuity prioritized over remodelling.

It’s basically impossible to talk about the re-signing of Greivis Vasquez without discussing the acquisition of Lou Williams, just like it’s basically impossible to discuss the acquisition of Williams without talking about the re-signing of Vasquez. The two guards and their roles on the team this season will be inextricably linked, primarily because they’re both used to being the primary backcourt reserve whenever they’ve been tasked with coming off of the bench, and that means that both men will have to adjust the expectations of their roles heading into this season.

For Vasquez this may be a harder adjustment. After all, he chose to stay in Toronto this summer (though something tells me the two year, $13-million contract helped make that decision easier), and he is the one coming into this season with tremendous chemistry with the pre-existing roster. He was the one that came from a starting situation, accepted a bench role with zero fuss and spoke as passionately about playing in Toronto as any player since Jerome Williams. The idea that he should have to make any sacrifices for Williams probably feels a bit absurd.

Here’s the thing, though: whether he wants to or not he’s going o have to adjust. There are only so many minutes available behind starters Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, and that time is cut even thinner for Vasquez and Williams because neither one is suited to playing the small forward position. Vasquez was already down to a four-year low in minutes per game last season (21.5), and that’s with him logging nearly 20% of the team’s available shooting guard minutes (a position he was much better suited to playing on defence, by the way, holding his opponents to an 8.5 PER at the two over a 14.2 PER at the one, a discrepancy owing greatly to his unimpressive foot speed, according to 82games.com). In fact, there was a point around midseason when Casey was using Vasquez more as a pure point, rarely teaming him with Lowry except in certain end-of-game scenarios, and Vasquez’s production dropped-off precipitously. He worked best getting some minutes beside Lowry before taking the reins of the offence in Toronto, a situation that may be complicated by the arrival of Williams.

Williams is not a point guard. He does not come close to approaching Vasquez’s ability to run an offence, execute in the pick-and-roll or make the ‘right’ pass. He’s a terrific scoring guard, though, and that means Dwane Casey is going to find minutes for him at shooting guard this season.

Now, Vasquez still gets priority in Casey’s rotation. Casey likes to lean on players that he is familiar with and that he trusts to execute his schemes, and Vasquez grew into a trustworthy player as last season wore on. Williams, though, brings skills to the table that the Raptors sorely need in their rotation. The biggest is his ability to create shots off of the dribble and get all the way to the basket with the ball in his hands. The Raptors have precious few players who can do that, and basically none that come off of the bench. Williams is that kind of change-of-pace scoring guard that can help pull a squad out of scoring droughts while also helping to ignite flurries of scoring for the team himself. There were countless incidents in the Playoffs last year where the Raptors simply didn’t have enough firepower to score against Brooklyn’s targeted defensive schemes, and a guy like Williams can have a huge impact in those areas. At this point the Raptors have to be looking ahead to building a roster that can survive the microcosmic world of the NBA Playoffs because just making it there isn’t an accomplishment anymore.

This is assuming, of course, that Williams is fully recovered from his 2013 ACL tear and his nagging hamstring problems from last season. Williams has only played above 75 games once in the last five seasons, and his two-year stint in Atlanta (both pre-injury and post-injury) showed a marked decline in productivity over his years in Philadelphia. While early indications are that he’s put his injuries behind him, that doesn’t mean that Toronto is going to be inheriting the best version of Williams this season. The expectation should be that Williams replicates what Leandro Barbosa gave Toronto in his brief stint with the club, with the hope being that he’s able to offer (a lot) more when he’s up to speed on what the team likes to run.

To that end, he may be up against a steep climb to steal too many to minutes from Vasquez in Toronto’s rotation, and there is no telling how Williams would respond to a minutes-cut like Vasquez experienced last season (he hasn’t played fewer than 22 mpg since ’06-’07). Like Vasquez, Williams is used to receiving minutes at both guard spots, which almost assuredly won’t be happening on a regular basis in Toronto, and we should remember that that defensive-minded Casey may not appreciate the considerable ten-point per 100 possessions defensive drop-off Atlanta experienced last year when Williams was on the floor. Williams has skills, though, that Toronto is going to need to lean on, just like Vasquez does. For a roster and rotation that is returning more-or-less in tact this is a rare minutes battle worth keeping an eye on.

Of course, considering where the Raptors were at this time last year, they’ll happily take the headache of sorting through too much backcourt talent over trying squeeze useful backup minutes out of Augustin, Stone or Buycks.

Bruno Caboclo

When the Raptors took Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick in the draft, the selection was such a shock that it wasn’t just fans that were left scratching their heads. There were even some GMs that were apparently asking who this guy was. And probably because of that, he became one of the biggest stories of the draft. A complete unknown who reportedly had a 7’7 wingspan, could shoot the three and was given the unfortunate nickname of the Brazilian Kevin Durant (because he apparently needed more pressure on him).

And until he walked onto the court in the Las Vegas Summer league, the only footage of him were a few clips so grainy it made the famous bigfoot footage look like high definition.

So just about every Raptor fan was waiting with baited breath to actually see him play in a semi-real NBA game.

As most of you know, his play in Las Vegas was something to be optimistic about, even if it wasn’t always that impressive. For a guy who is only 19, had only played sparingly on the Brazilian League team he played on, Bruno didn’t look out of place, but he didn’t make you think he’d be vying for Rookie of the Year honours, either.

Right now, Bruno’s biggest strengths are his physical attributes, his ability to shoot and his willingness to work. And he’s not that great of a shooter, yet.

So the question is, what exactly is his role going to be this year?

When DeMar DeRozan was drafted in 2009, he was placed into the starting lineup in order to make sure he was given consistent playing time in order to develop. Terrence Ross wasn’t given a starting position, in his freshman season, but did end up playing 17 mpg, only 4 mpg less than DeMar did in his rookie season.

Unless Bruno has made an unheard of developmental leap between Las Vegas and Vancouver (where the Raptors training camp is being held this year), don’t expect him to average anywhere close to 17 mpg, for several reasons.

raptors_wingspan4july.jpg.size.xxlarge.promo

One, he’s just not ready yet. DeRozan was polished as a rookie compared to what Bruno is, and one of DeRozan’s biggest weaknesses was his lack of polish. Bruno isn’t 2 years away from being two years away, as was famously suggested on draft night, but he is a year or two away from having the skills to be more than just a project.

Two, the Raptors also expect to be competing for a top seed in the playoffs, this year, after winning the Atlantic Conference and getting the 3rd seed in last year’s playoffs. I’m betting Coach Casey won’t want the mistakes that Bruno will inevitably make hurt the team’s chances.

Three, the Raptors are possibly as deep as they’ve ever been, and there just won’t be a lot of minutes available to him. His most likely future position is small forward, and with DeRozan, Ross, Landry Fields and the newly-signed James Johnson all expected to get minutes there, playing time will be scarce for Bruno. At least in the NBA.

Where Bruno might end up seeing far more time in the NBDL, which is probably best for him. He’ll be able to get minutes without being overwhelmed and without the pressure he’d get playing in the big leagues.

STRENGTHS

Besides his ability to shoot, which probably looks better than it actually is, Bruno’s biggest strength is what he brings on the defensive end. He’s got length, yes, but he also moves very well for a player his size and could one day end up being in the top ten in blocks. He’s also got quick hands and good defensive instincts for a player with his lack of experience. He also isn’t afraid to mix it up and grab rebounds on both ends of the court.

On offense, he doesn’t shy away from contact, but he’s also a turnover waiting to happen. Watch his NBA opponent’s eyes light up when Bruno puts the ball down on the floor. But he knows it’s a weakness and he’ll probably just end up being a spot-up shooter for the first season or two before he gets more comfortable with his ball handling.

WEAKNESSES

Offensive skills.

Well, he does have some skills, especially shooting and he does see the floor fairly well, but he’s also got a LOT of work to do. Thankfully, he’s a willing worker and you should expect to see major improvements over the course of the season.

Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira

url-24

I remember hearing about Nogueira years ago when he was a 16 year old physical freak with big hair and a smile to match. Well, not much has changed except he’s now 22 and will get front row seats to A LOT of NBA games this season.

I’m not suggesting Bebe doesn’t have some abilities. He does, but they just aren’t all that refined and there are a lot of things he LOOKS like he does well, but actually doesn’t. Like Bruno, Bebe is a physical specimen who has length and athletic ability that Rafael Araujo would have killed for.

STRENGTHS

Bebe is 6’11, has a wingspan almost as long as Bruno’s, and is quick and explosive for a player his size. That makes him a threat to block any shot near him. While he’s an intimidating shot blocker, a player of his size and athletic ability should be more dominant, on that end. Still, he will probably be the best shot blocker the Raptors have, this season, depending on Greg Stiemsma’s ability to step it up.

And Bebe while should never take a shot outside of five feet, he understands this and rarely does. He also moves fairly well without the ball and is a good offensive rebounder, so he tends to shoot a high percentage.

WEAKNESSES

Intense is probably not a word you’d use to describe Bebe. Easy going. Relaxed. But not intense, and that has hurt him during his career. He’s got the physical tools, but if he wants to stick in the league, he’s going to have to work a little harder than, say, Patrick O’Bryant, another physically gifted big man who Bebe should look at as a cautionary tale.

As mentioned, you aren’t going to get a lot of point with Bebe, either.

SUMMARY

Both Bruno and Bebe should see a lot of time in the NBDL, which will do them both a lot of good, but don’t expect to see them get a whole lot of playing time with the Raptors, this year. While Bruno has a lot in common with another physical freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Giannis had the advantage (?) of playing on a team devoid of talent and devoid of any hope of making the playoffs, so was given as many minutes as he could handle.  That might not have been the best thing, though, as he no doubt has picked up some bad habits along the way, something Bruno will be less likely to do.

No, not after the politicians.

The Raptors made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. The accomplishment rallied fans who gathered in droves in the square in front of the Air Canada Centre. National and local media outlets capitalized on the spectacle, often panning to capture footage of the fervent crowd — a coming out party of sorts for the Raptors’ fanbase. The square was affectionately named “Jurassic Park,” a nod to the origins of the Raptors’ franchise name.

The name was corny, but it at least held ties and a meaning to the fanbase. “Ford Square,” as it will now be called for the next five years, is neither. It’s soulless, and yet another example of MLSE’s relentless push to prioritize capitalization over humanity. Thanks for putting the fans first, guys!

sarcasm

Two halves of one whole.

As compared to basketball, platoons are more prevalent in baseball. The strategy is as old as the game itself. Some hitters dominate righties, but are helpless against lefties, vice-versa for others. It only makes sense to pair up two players with complementary skillsets. Two otherwise flawed players can combine to make a position of weakness into a strength. The Boston Red Sox successfully rode the pairing of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava sharing duties in left field to a World Series in 2013.

Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson are the Raptors’ basketball equivalent of a platoon. Neither player has demonstrated over the course of their careers that they can shoulder a full-time starting power forward workload, and both players have their flaws. But much like a platoon, their strengths complement one another, allowing for their impact to be maximized through smart in-game management.

Strengths on offense

 

Patterson is a floor-spacer. He sunk 41.1 percent of his three-pointers last season, a mark on-par with the elite at his position. Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans connected on 40.9 percent of his triples. Channing Frye of the Suns sunk 37 percent. The ability to stretch the floor from a front-court position helps open up driving lanes for his teammates by pulling his defender out of the paint. Ian Levy recently wrote about Patterson’s impact on his teammates on offense. Long story short, most players shot a higher percentage with Patterson on the floor including DeMar DeRozan, who experienced a 6 percent bump in Patterson’s presence. Even though Patterson isn’t a good passer or dribbler, his shooting helps make plays for the Raptors.

Johnson, on the other hand, is sometimes hard to notice on offense because he’s so often involved in facilitating the process of plays, rather than producing the result. He’s the opposite of DeRozan, in that sense. Johnson is one of the league’s best screen-setters, and runs a wicked two-man game with DeRozan. Johnson is crafty and understands how to open up space. He’s also a tremendous finisher in the pick-and-roll. He scored 1.09 points per pick-and-roll last season, placing him in the 90th percentile.

Strengths on defense

 

Patterson isn’t necessarily a bad defender. For the most part, he’s in the right place and stays attentive. Having said that, defense for front-court players has evolved to the point where the majority of possessions are help scenarios. That’s where Patterson struggles. He allowed 1.15 points per pick-and-roll from the opposing big last season. Patterson is also a fairly ineffective rim-protector. Opponents sunk 54.5 percent of their baskets around the rim last season in Patterson’s presence. On the whole, Patterson is average. His ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, for example, is 1.11, on par with relative blasse defenders like Frye (1.17) and Zach Randolph (1.03).

Johnson is the superior defender. By DRPM, Johnson ranked 5th among all power forwards who played more than 20 minutes per game. He especially excels in help defense scenarios, where Johnson placed in the 99th percentile in terms of points allowed per pick-and-roll. Johnson slides himself into the right position to provide help and challenge shots. Despite being undersized and playing a fair share of his minutes at center, Johnson held opponents to 47.9 percent shooting at the rim. Johnson isn’t given credit for his rim-protection because he doesn’t record very many blocks, but consider this: Tim Duncan (47.6 percent) and Dwight Howard (48.1 percent) posted very similar opponent field-goal percentage at the rim figures. Not bad company for Johnson, who only stands at 6-foot-9.

Statistical Profile

0000

 

Division of labor

 

In all likelihood, Johnson will be the starter and Patterson will back him up, though it’s a fair bet that both will share the court at some points as well. Although Patterson helps open up room for Valanciunas to operate in the post, Johnson provides a much needed presence in help defense scenarios. Valanciunas has developed to the point where he’s comfortable in staying at home to guard the rim but someone needs to play the role of active helper.

The luxury of having a platoon situation, however, is the ability to mix-and-match. If the Raptors are facing a rim-protector like Serge Ibaka, Patterson should play to open the interior. If instead, the Raptors are up against a pair of creaky, immobile defenders — like Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani for example — Johnson might be a better choice. Head coach Dwane Casey has options.

Best case scenario

 

Patterson — The career-high three-point percentage from last season wasn’t a fluke and he continues to excel in a bench capacity, garnering Sixth Man of the Year votes. A full training camp pays off and Patterson adapts to Casey’s defensive schemes. More time practising offense leads to more plays for Patterson than simple pick-and-pops. He duplicates Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris’ performance from last season.

Johnson — Miraculously, Johnson doesn’t twist his ankle every single game. He hits his prime at age 28 and plays a pseudo Tyson Chandler circa. 2011-12, shutting down pick-and-rolls while moving opposing defenders like pawns with his cutting. With Patterson playing so well, Casey doesn’t feel the need to overplay Johnson, and is therefore healthy for the playoffs.

Worst case scenario

 

Patterson — Fun fact: Patterson has only ever managed to play a full season once, and that was in a lockout shortened season. Injuries hit Patterson and he misses 20 games. His hot shooting from last year also turns out to be a mirage. He’s back to being just a pick-and-popping mid-range player, more Brandon Bass than Channing Frye.

Johnson — Real talk: Amir twists his ankles until his legs are nothing but twizzlers. He only misses five games, but plays hurt for much of the season. Patterson’s injury and the hole at back up center forces Amir to top 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career. As a result, he’s worn out by the time the playoffs come around and the Raptors have one less body to throw at an overrated sixth-seeded Charlotte Hornets.

Realistic projection

 

Patterson — Misses 10 games due to minor injuries. Produces a similar rate to last season, but three-point percentage dips. 10 points, 5 rebounds per game on 38 percent shooting from deep.

Johnson — Misses 10 games due to minor injuries. Plays fewer minutes per game due to Patterson and Valanciunas’ increase in roles. 10 points, 7 rebounds on 58 percent shooting overall. Attempts 100 threes, mostly from the corners.

Despite a difficult playoff run leaving a bitter taste in some Raptors’ fans mouths (that steal, though), Terrence Ross’ sophomore campaign represented an important leap for the 23 year old. Statistical gains across the board were the important, yet silent markers, but it was the more trivial ones that earned him a place in Raptor lore.

What remains to be seen, though, is how we will remember Terrence Ross. Will it be as a 51-point scoring/slam dunk contest winning/Kenneth Faried life-ending highlight factory? Or as a key cog in a young, talented Raptors team that went to heights the franchise has never seen before?

It’s an interesting question, and the one that ultimately divides Raptor fans’ discussions of Ross: yes, he’s only 23, but is what we’ve seen – perhaps a more polished, less mistake-prone version – what we’ve got? Or is there still a switch to flip that will allow T-Dot Flight 31 (and the Raptors, by extension) to soar to even greater heights?

Everyone’s got an opinion – but this year, we’re bound to get some answers. On a team that is largely relying on internal improvement to jump to the next level, perhaps nobody on the roster this season outside of Jonas Valanciunas has more to offer in that respect than Ross.

2013-14 Stats Recap:

Regular Season:

  • PPG: Increased to 10.9 points (from 6.4)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Increased to .423 (from .407)
  • 3 Point Percentage: Increased to .395 (from .332)
  • Rebounds Per Game: Increased to 3.1 (from 2.0)
  • Assists Per Game: Increased to 1.0 (from 0.7)
  • Minutes: Increased to 26.7 (from 17)

Post Season:

  • Averaged 5/2/0.3 in 22.6 minutes per game, on .298 shooting and .167 (yuck) 3 point shooting.

Highlights:

  • THE GAME
  • THE DUNK
  • THE STEAL
  • THE OTHER DUNKS

Strengths:

At the moment, Ross’ strengths lie mostly in his offensive game – specifically, his 3 point shooting, which squeaked up near 40% last season, a solid mark for a “3 and D” swingman. Ross benefited greatly from Kyle Lowry and DeMar’s drive-heavy offence by making sagging defences pay near the line at a clip much closer to what fans expected following his selection than we saw in his rookie season. His place on opposing teams’ scouting reports likely still consists of three point shooting and dunking, but role players in the NBA don’t need to be all things to all people, and the fact that Ross was a consistent offensive performer – as opposed to his rookie season, where his minutes fluctuated due to a logjam at the position, inconsistent play and some odd substitution patterns – meant a great deal to a Raptors squad that saw its offensive identity evolve to finding open shooters on the perimeter.

Ross hasn’t quite evolved defensively the way many fans would like yet, and still has trouble with larger wings – as evidenced by his supreme difficulties with Joe Johnson in the playoffs – but his efforts on that end were markedly better than his rookie year, particularly in team situations. It was nice to not see him being blown by effortlessly every other game like we did the year before, and being able to be a net-zero on that side of the ball was enough to make him a significant positive factor on a nightly basis.


Areas to improve:

Being passible on the defensive side of the floor, though, is not what the Super Saiyan version of this Raptors squad needs Ross to be. As constructed last year, the team had significant difficulties with larger wing players, and the best possible outcome for the Raps is for Ross to evolve enough to fill the void. The team signed James Johnson in the offseason to provide some support – a player who should be an offensive upgrade from the Salmons/Fields combo we saw last year – but will still be significantly less dynamic on the offensive end than Ross. If Ross can play well enough defensively to stay on the court for real starters’ minutes (30+ per game), and if he can evolve to a point where he’s a net positive on D, the sky’s not only the limit for him, but the Raptors, too.

Offensively, Ross has carved out a nice niche for himself as a 3-point bomber, but it’s always aggravating to see him refuse to drive the ball given his athleticism (he shot 82 free throws last season, as many as Draymond Green and one less than Omri Casspi). Mixing things up on the offensive end could not only lead to more efficiency, but also a more difficult check for opponents, allowing Ross to more easily evolve into a legitimate third scoring option behind Lowry and DeRozan.

2014-15 Outlook:

Look, here’s the thing: Terrence Ross is really young, and for someone who made such strides from year one to two, it’s hard to not see him improving again this year. It may remain to be seen whether we will remember him most for his on-court play or for his YouTube reel, but any player with a 51-point game has already established himself as more than just a replacement-level wing.

Regardless, though, for this team to succeed, Ross only has to be the fourth or fifth best starter on the Raptors any given night. It may be a hedge, but in lieu of any specific individual predictions, I’ll say that the amount of minutes Ross earns this season – and those will come based on his man-to-man defensive prowess – will serve as a strong barometer for the team’s improvement as a whole. If he is who we saw last season, this team’s ceiling, while still high, is considerably lower than if he’s able to take the final step towards becoming a complete two-way player. If he can, though, who knows?

(And I mean, if he can’t, there’s still the 51-point game, Slam Dunk Contest, and Faried-ening. Man, I can’t wait for the season.)

Over at Grantland, features writer Jonathan Abrams charted Kyle Lowry’s career arc.

Writing is really hard. I know this because I struggle with it on a daily basis. I have the occasional moment where I succeed in not sounding like a moron. Those are few and far between. I’m here because I’m a basic content clown.

Jonathan Abrams of Grantland, on the other hand, is not a content clown. He’s one of the best sportswriters around. On Tuesday, Grantland published a piece Abrams wrote on Lowry. Here’s an excerpt, but take my advice and read the entire piece. It’s well worth your time.

After the game, Lowry sat in the locker room, sullen and solemn as minutes ticked by. He called for his 2-year-old son Karter. “The loss stung and the shot, the play stung,” Lowry said. “But I didn’t ask for nothing but my son. I know he doesn’t care about what happens. He don’t care about nothing but his daddy.” Lowry scooped up his son and finally made his way to the postgame media conference. He crossed paths again with Pierce. “You’re an animal, dog,” Pierce said. “You’re an animal.”

That stubborn confidence was the fuel that gave Lowry steam on the court, and also the hindrance that threatened him from reaching his potential. And he knows it. “You do this interview with me when I’m younger, you wouldn’t even want to be around me,” Lowry said, recalling the way he’s felt on teams that haven’t given him the trust and responsibility that Toronto has, back to the days when he came off the bench for his AAU team. “It makes you sad. It makes you say, Damn, what else can happen? What do I have to do to prove that I can be somebody? That I can actually play basketball? That I’m actually better than this person or I can actually help a team win? No matter what level it is.”

Reflecting on the rise of the Toronto Raptors in 2013-14 perhaps the player who best paralleled the record breaking season is DeMar DeRozan.

Having spent his entire NBA career as a Raptor, DeRozan suffered through four-losing seasons, the loss of their franchise player (Bosh) and annual trips to the lottery.  From the onset, what stood out was DeRozan’s dedication to improvement.  Late night trips to the practice gym and a laser focus in the off-season resulted in his constant progress.  In addition, his relationship with co-captain: Kyle Lowry on and off the court seemed to catapult the teams’ cohesiveness which resulted in a myriad of records set by the franchise and DeRozan personally.

2013-14 Accomplishments:

Regular Season:

  • Career best point per game average: 22.7PPG,* up 4.6PPG
  • PPG – Ranked 9th in NBA
  • Career best free throw attempts per game: 8 FTAPG, *+2.8 attempts
  • FTA – Ranked 7th in NBA
  • Increased assists per game from *2.4 to 4.0
  • Career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, 3-Pt shots made and minutes played

*over previous season

Post Season:

  • First appearance in playoffs
  • Free throw attempts: Ranked 1st – 11.3PG (Howard 2nd: 10.7)
  • Free throws made: Ranked 1st – 10.1PG (Westbrook 2nd: 7.6)
  • Points per game: Ranked 7th – 23.9PPG
  • Led team in scoring  – most points in 4 of 7 games
  • Led team with most free throw attempts in 6 of 7 games

Personal:

  • First selection to NBA All Star Team
  • First time selection to Team USA who won Gold Medal at FIBA World Championship

Strengths:

While the natural assumption would be to attribute DeRozan’s offensive improvements to increased touches following Rudy Gay’s departure, it simply isn’t the case. In fact, his field goal attempts decreased while his scoring and free throw attempts went up. This progression had more to do with added bench depth, better ball movement and DeRozan’s commitment to playing aggressive.

Team depth is important on every squad due to injuries, and in this regard DeRozan is the Raptors’ Iron Man. In 5-seasons he has only missed 11-games (five in his rookie season). Considering the effect an injury to super stars like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Paul George can have on their respective team his durability cannot be over looked.

Another key factor is the chemistry between DeRozan and Lowry. While Lowry is demonstrative, DeRozan leads by quiet example which results in them guiding arguably the most unified group in the NBA.  A look at the top backcourts in the Association shows this tandem ranking first or second in all key categories.

[table]

Back Court,Points, Assists,Rebounds

DeRozan/Lowry,40.6,11.7,9.0

Curry/Thompson,42.4,10.7,7.4

Dragic/Bledsoe,37.7,11.4,7.9

Wall/Beal,36.4,12.1,7.8

[/table]

 

Areas to improve:

DeRozan is a gym rat who is constantly working to expand and enhance his game. Each October it is a veritable certainty he’ll return to camp with a new tool in his repertoire. Given the advancements he made on his offense this past season its likely this summer was spent with greater emphasis on the intangibles he can add to help improve team performance. Specifically ball handling and passing are areas requiring upgrades and as we learned in the playoffs will be key in late game situations.

At the season ending press conference there were reports Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson were scheduled to spend time with big man Hakeem Olajuwon to work on their post game. The pleasant surprise was learning DeRozan was included in this group.

Now that DeRozan has tasted the post season he knows defense is the major area of his game where the greatest strides can be made. Given DeRozan is a natural athlete it’s puzzling he hasn’t witnessed similar growth on the defensive end. Perhaps this is partially due to the offensive load he’s carried or the lure to improve the sexier offensive skills.  Continuity is important for defensive schemes, so as the core group enters their third year together the results should mirror their comfort with the system.

2014-15 Outlook:

Though DeRozan saw little playing time on the US team, when he was on court his passes were crisp and his decision making was quick and decisive. Look for DeRozan to take the lessons learned from being on a winning squad and pass them on to the Raptor youth.

To that end, having reached the upper echelon this past season DeRozan now finds himself at the next stage of his career. His growth will now be measured on maintaining his 2013-14 output, improving defensively and through his ability to improve those around him.

After a magical season don’t expect DeRozan to be satisfied with simply getting to the playoffs or making an All Star Team. He may be the quiet yin to Lowry’s loud yang, but both players have the same goal: taking the Raptors deeper in the playoffs!

 

I screwed up the audio recording of the podcast and lost everything.  All my fault, no other way to put it. Given that there’s no audio, let me just tell you what we discussed which some of you prefer anyway.

I had Will and Andrew on and Will basically ripped Greg Stiemsma for being a goon.  People who don’t bring basketball value and rely solely on “toughness” to keep their place in the league have no place in Will’s heart.   Somehow though, Tyler Hansbrough remains a certifiably decent human being in our books and brings enough on-court value to look past his rather unsavory on-court behaviour.   Andrew mumbled though this segment and when I quizzed him about Stiemsma being a guy you hate playing against, but want on your team, he gave an example of Tony Allen who is the type of guy I was referring to.  Big difference there.

I’d rather have had Andray Blatche than Stiemsma, but the point was made that Stiemsma could just be a training camp body, whereas Blatche would have to be a year-long signing, most likely.

We also discussed the Hawks race scandal and decided that the over/under of current racist NBA owners stands at 1.5, but if you include scouts and everyone else, probably a lot higher.  Danny Ferry’s “more African in him” was classified as a racist statement but didn’t necessarily make him a racist, just a really odd user of stereotypes.  Basically, not a fireable offense, but definitely punishable.

We discussed DeRozan’s placement in SI’s list and his reaction of being disrespected, and decided that guys like Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Gordon Hayward, and Chandler Parsons had no business being ahead of DeRozan, but at the end of the day it’s just a list put out by SI to keep the summertime #content flowing.

Part 2 started with the roundtable question of who should start: Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson.  It was unanimous that Johnson should start for reasons such as more defensive cover for Jonas Valanciunas, and Patterson needing more shots to be effective, which the bench role affords him.  Will also pointed out that there’s only a two-year age difference between them and that Patterson can’t really be thought of as an eventual replacement for Johnson.  I added a point that Johnson played a career-high in minutes last year despite carrying injuries, and that perhaps this year we could use Patterson more so Johnson is fresher for the playoffs.

The other roundtable question was whether Dwane Casey was a weakness, as some had suggested.  I offered that if he had a PER rating it would be 15, at which point we played an adhoc game of rating Eastern Conference coaches, and deciding whether you’d want them over Casey.  The results were as follows:

  • Atlanta Hawks, Mike Budenholzer: He showed enough quality and creativity with the Hawks offense that we termed him as an up-and-coming coach that we’d pick over Casey
    Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens: No
  • Brooklyn Nets, Lionel Hollins: No, he’s stuck in the 80s
  • Charlotte Hornets, Steve Clifford: Showed a few flashes, but Casey’s ahead of him
  • Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau: We’d take him over Casey, he kills his players but is a tremendous coach
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, David Blatt: No, doubt he’ll survive his first year
  • Detroit Pistons, Stan Van Gundy: Emotional coach that we’d all love to see on the Raptors – sorry, Dwane
  • Indiana Pacers, Frank Vogel: Showed a lack of creativity running the offense in the playoffs, and we all feel he’s a bit over-rated, what with the whole “came from the film room” background
  • Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra: No, we’ll see how he does without LBJ
  • Milwaukee Bucks, Jason Kidd: Haha, no.
  • New York Knicks, Derek Fisher: Only if Phil Jackson comes with him
  • Orlando Magic, Jacque Vaughn: Not sure why he’s still an NBA coach, or why was ever given the job
  • Philadelphia 76ers, Brett Brown: Don’t matter if he came from the Spurs system, he’s out
  • Washington Wizards: Randy Wittman: Even the Wizards fans wouldn’t pick him ahead of Casey

There you go, three Eastern Conference coaches ahead of Casey: Mike Budenholzer, Tom Thibodeau, and Stan Van Gundy.

Sorry again for deleting that audio file by accident, see you next week.

Part two of our roundtable, where Blake, Zarar and Will get together to create that honest-to-goodness content.

All the memes are true. The struggle is real for these here Raptors bloggers. We turned to the roundtable format on Friday in part one, where we discussed Amir vs. Patterson, most impactful offseason transaction and the battle at eighth-man. I guess this is part two (of my confessions, just when I thought I said…)

1. Biggest weakness?

 

1297408963484_ORIGINAL

Zarar: There’s not much over at center after Valanciunas. Bebe is too raw, very unproven, and has not been well-reviewed. It’s difficult to see him being a defensive anchor for the second-unit, and he has no discernible offensive talent beyond 1-foot. On the positive side, we haven’t gotten any worse, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

Blake: I don’t think the team has a roster hole so much as a tactical weakness at certain times. While the offense was effective overall last year , the team’s most heavily used fivesome has a bit of a floor spacing issue (see question two). With DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas all on the floor together, Lowry and Ross are the only 3-point threats. That lineup managed an O-Rating of 106.7 and shot an unlikely 40 percent from long range last season, but from an Xs and Os standpoint, it’s a tough group to scheme for.

Said differently, “NO WEAKNESS SUCKA.”

Will: The biggest weakness on the Raptors is that they don’t necessarily excel on either end of the floor. The Raptors are a fringe top-10 team on both offense and defense, but are prone to bouts of ineffectiveness. That owes in part to their relatively blasse talent level. Not to spark the “transcendental talent” debate (no, really, don’t start that again), but the Raptors are a well-balanced team with many good talents, though none great. Put it another way, I’m nit-picking, and the team is fine.

 

2. Most likely to breakout — Jonas Valanciunas or Terrence Ross?

 

cover

Zarar: Jonas Valanciunas, because he doesn’t let one bad game affect a stretch of games. Ross’s bounce-back time from having poor games seems much higher, and since shooting is all about confidence, Ross is more likely to stammer his way through the season than Valanciunas, who is also buoyed by his showing at FIBA.6. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

Blake: Do we want to play linguistic gymnastics? Valanciunas is now a known commodity and Ross is perhaps further from his ultimate ceiling, so Ross has the largest capacity to grow and “breakout.” He’s also probably a more important piece, given the team’s general strength at other positions and need for Ross to develop into, at worst, a more reliable 3-and-D guy. That said, Valanciunas has a higher overall ceiling and has a clear path to improvement with more touches and defensive experience. I’d say Valanciunas’ numbers take a bigger jump, but Ross’ development is more appreciable.

Will: The biggest jump for Valanciunas to make is on the defensive end, and that is a steady process that comes with age, so I’ll go with Terrence Ross. Small forward was a position of weakness for the Raptors last season, owing in-part to Ross’ inconsistency and inflexibility. Ross made good on his promise as a three-point shooter last season, so the next step is for him to start driving. Here’s a fun fact: Andrea Bargnani averaged more drives per game than Ross did last season. Bargs, with his stupid pump fake + drive + travel/death/missed layups drove more often than Ross. If Ross can actually start attacking the basket, he’ll become much more dangerous on offense.

3. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

 

Lowry brushes shoulder off

Zarar: 46 wins - Some of the extremely shitty teams in the East mask the overall competitiveness of the conference, and I’m thinking the chemistry the Raptors have offsets some of that, so I’m going to pick a win total shade under last season.  They win a round – I’m calling a defeat of the Heat in five games.

Blake: Let’s keep last season’s optimism rolling: while the Bulls and Cavaliers are a step above the Raptors, they manage to take care of the dregs of the conference and maintain their 2013-14 chemistry. They take a minor step back with a 47-35 record but still win the Atlantic and, most importantly for the franchise, they win their second playoff series ever before bowing out to the Bulls in round two.

Will: Let’s go with 50 wins. Excitement is high in Raptorsland, and there’s good reason for that. But it’s also important to not lose perspective. Yes, the team did go 42-22 after the Rudy Gay trade, but they were also the league’s best fourth quarter team, which was likely due in large part to luck. Last year’s squad also dodged major injuries to their starting staff, and I have my concerns about Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson’s health. Having said all that, I still think they snag the third seed and beat the Hornets in a hard-fought first-round playoff series. Then, they push the Bulls to six games before bowing out.

Zarar, Blake and Will get together to create a little content for the weekend.

I’ll level with you here, precious readers. Things are dire here in Raptors Republic. We’re hurting for content. There’s not much going on in Raptorsland at the moment. The two weeks that separate now and the start of preseason is a haunting abyss. We’ll have individual player assessments, win projections and a whole lot more in store, but in the meantime, we turn to the generic roundtable gimmick to fill these unspent columns. Cheers.

1. Most impactful transaction of the offseason?

lowry-kyle

Zarar: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. It set the tone for the rest of the summer and was the first domino to fall in the Raptors bringing the rest of the group back. If he would have gone, the questions that would’ve been asked were going to be about what DeMar DeRozan would do when his contract is up. Instead, we’re talking about winning and moving forward.

Blake: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. Every other move was made at the margin, and while they improved the team and Lowry technically didn’t (since he was here last year), his loss would have been far greater than any gains the team could have made elsewhere. Not only is Lowry a great talent on both ends of the floor, his return also keeps the team chemistry and identity in tact, for as much as that’s worth. He’s the team’s best player and the franchise’s branding strategy’s avatar. This was paramount.

William: The correct answer is Lowry, but just to buck the trend, I’ll tab the re-signing of Patrick Patterson. I’ll admit, after seeing shooters like Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon inking deals at exorbitant prices, I thought a young floor-stretching big like Patterson would be priced out of the Raptor’s budget. Instead, Parrerson is back in-tow at a reasonable price. He gives the Raptors a different look at the four, and helps balance offense in the second unit. To top it off, he’s in his prime. A tidy bit of business for Masai Ujiri,

2. Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson? Who would you start at power forward?

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Zarar: Amir Johnson. Patterson’s energy is better suited off the bench, and I’m a fan of playing Johnson and Valanciunas together. I find that Valanciunas isn’t mature enough as a defender to be played consistently as the lone big in a small-ball rotation, at least not yet. There’s also a better chance of good hi-lo play between the two, then it would be between Patterson and Valanciunas.

Blake: Johnson is superior defensively and in the pick-and-roll, but Patterson’s floor spacing is a major asset to the entire offense. In terms of the starter, I’d pick Johnson in a vacuum as he’s the better player, but Patterson is probably a better fit with the starters on offense (and Johnson can play some limited reserve five, where the team’s a bit thin). That said, Johnson and Valanciunas have a nice chemistry and Johnson is nice to have for experience alongside Valanciunas, and there’s no clear reason to break up the band. Really, though, last year they averaged 28.8 (Johnson) and 23.3 (Patterson) minutes; as long as those numbers are close to even, this matters little and could be match-up dependent.

William: There’s really no wrong answer. The numbers point to Patterson as the superior option offensively, but Johnson is far better defensively. For the sake of not rocking the boat, Casey should keep Amir in the starting lineup, but as they did last season, a mid-first quarter substitution should break up the pairing of Valanciunas and Johnson. Match-ups should also play a factor. Granting the bulk of the minutes to Patterson against a rim-protector like Roy Hibbert is a must to help open space for drives.

3. More impactful bench performer — James Johnson or Lou Williams?

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Zarar: My vote goes to James Johnson because it’s easier to make a defensive difference than an offensive one, and he doesn’t have to battle back from injury like Williams does. Johnson actually has a role to fill in the rotation, whereas I’m still struggling to see where Lou Williams fits into the picture, but I’m all for a pleasant surprise.

Blake: Bruh…BRUH. Bruno Caboclo, next question.

Seriously, I’d figure Johnson will have the bigger impact, though it may only manifest itself in certain match-ups. I used to love Williams, but he’s here for depth and as a flier, and his path to playing time is very crowded with Lowry, Vasquez and DeRozan dominating minutes in the backcourt. Johnson fills a need as a three who can body up bigger small forwards, and as frustrating as he’ll surely be – he hasn’t ironed his wrinkles out much since he left – there will be games where he’s an appreciable asset.

William: I’m hoping for big things from Terrence Ross this season, so I think James Johnson will see limited playing time (no more than 20 per game). Williams should reduce the amount of minutes DeRozan has to shoulder, which isn’t to be discounted if the Raptors have eyes for a post-season run. Williams is a good ball-handler and has a decent track record of thriving in two-point guard lineups. That makes him an ideal backcourt partner for Greivis Vasquez, though that also introduces concerns defensively.

Look for Part Two to drop tomorrow morning. In the meantime, drop us a line about our shiny new page design.

Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit.

Pertaining to the Toronto Raptors

Q: My question is: What are some funny/interesting stories you can share from behind the scenes that fans probably wouldn’t have heard about?

A: One time we are traveling from some city and one time the flight was really bumpy. And Chuck Hayes was throwing up all over the plane. And we were like what the?

Q: Aside from yourself, who is your favorite raptor? And why is it Kyle Lowry?

A: DeMar DeRozan!

Q: My question is, which player would you say is the wildest in the locker room?

A: Myself!

Q: What’s it like playing with Kyle? And, on the subject of towel waving and bench cheering, who is the biggest cheerleader on the bench?

A: It’s my goal as a player, but i’m all about the team. So, I can give up the things that I want because I love winning. And Kyle is a great mentor for me and has done a great job helping me out.

Q: Favourite pre-game meal? Post-game meal? Bonus question: Which Raptor has the deadliest farts?

A: Amir Johnson (presumably for both)

Personal Questions

Q: Hey Greivis what is your favorite pre game meal/food?

A: I love penne pasta with white sauce and grilled shrimp. With some red peppers

Q: Where do you get your hair cut?

A: Finch and Milvan. Dominican guy, Alberto!

Q: Which international NBA players are you close/friends with?

A: Marc Gasol (they were teammates in Memphis)

Q: What is your relationship with Masai Uriji like and how well did you know him before the Raptors? (Basketball without Borders)

A: We have a great relationship, he’s more than a GM, he’s a mentor for me.

Miscellaneous

Q: Hey Greivis, do you think they should retire Vince Carter’s jersey in Toronto?

A: I think eventually they should!

Q: How is Drake in person?

A: He’s a great guy, very humble. Very business oriented and knows how to handle himself

Q: Who has more swag on-court you or Swaggy P?

A: Different kind of swagger (yeah but who’s dating Iggy tho?)

Q: Favorite player growing up?

A: Jason Kidd

This is your chance to ask Greivis Vasquez a question on the interwebs.

Exciting news! Remember when Terrence Ross did his Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session earlier last season? Well, Vasquez will be following in his footsteps and doing the same tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The deal with AMAs is that it’s hosted on Reddit, which means that the top voted comments will rise to the top, and are therefore more likely to be answered. It’s imperative to submit your answers early so they have more time to accumulate “upvotes”.

A recap of his answers will be posted tomorrow, although chances are good that commentor/Vasquez aficionado “asifyouknow” will plaster his answers all over the site anyway.

 

Tim Chisholm (@timpchisholm) checks in for duty and gives his take on FIBA, the Raptors off-season moves, Adam Silver, and hypothetical scenarios. We hear from DeMar DeRozan fresh off his World Championship win, and round it all out with NBA talk, plus so much more. A peek:

Part 1

  • Jonas Valanciunas exceeds expectations
  • Tim’s view on key changes to his approach from last year to FIBA
  • DeMar DeRozan impressive in limited minutes
  • Spain/USA – The matchup that never was
  • Who is the Raptors best player?
  • Hearing from DeRozan on what he takes from FIBA into the Raptors season
  • Dwane Casey hires, sort of, Coach K

Part 2

  • Amir Johnson’s contract situation
  • Comparing Johnson to the new age power forwards
  • Lou Williams’ X-Factorish role is tough to define
  • What jersey is Tim buying this year?
  • Will James Johnson turn the page and finally accept his role
  • Money to be made playing defense

Part 3

  • Andrew Wiggins – playing time vs winning team
  • How many more racist NBA owners?
  • Adam Silver’s heavy-handedness
  • Chicago Bulls – top team or a self-destruction job waiting to happen
  • Is an 80% Derrick Rose any good?
  • Rose for Rondo – would Bulls pull the trigger?

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (52:42, 50 MB). Or just listen below:

What do you give the man who’s given everything to the city of Toronto?

Let’s hop in the time machine real quick.

It’s the summer of 2010.  All eyes were fixed on unrestricted free agent Chris Bosh. Hopes were high that he would re-sign in Toronto, but sources around the league whispered the possibility of a Big Three — Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — forming in Miami. The 2009-10 season didn’t exactly end on a positive note, as broken nose kept Bosh out of the lineup for what turned out to be a failed playoff push. But still, hopes were high.

Lost amiss all the fretting about Bosh, another Raptors power forward was also on the market, that player being Amir Johnson. At the time, Johnson was a third-big with promise but he averaged just six points and five rebounds per game. He was a darling of the analytical community having posted excellent plus-minus and advanced statistic figures, but 2010 was a slightly darker time, and “six points and five rebounds” was a damning sentence against Johnson’s case.

Therefore, it was no surprise to see the public outrage over his five-year, $30+ million extension.

“BC did it again. Over Paid a half trick pony. He is paying Amir almost 7 million a year. Wow, just wow. This is like Jose and …. all over again.” – Raptor4Ever

“This is a horrible contract …34m for Amir…i like the kid buy they overpaid…who in their right mind was going to give Amir anything close to that…so now we just added one more cap eating contract for a bench player…another good Colangelo…hope your fired soon” – Dennis

“This is the reason the raptors suck. . . Because they overpay role players. . .” – M .J

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In looking back, Amir’s extension was one of former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo’s better moves. Johnson continued to develop and easily shed the label of being “just a bench player.” Four years into the deal, Johnson has produced 23.2 win shares, tops among all Raptors players over that time. Based on his on-court performance, the deal was nothing short of a steal — that’s to say nothing of his tremendous commitment to the Greater Toronto Area, either.

But the free ride is soon coming to an end. Johnson only has one year left on his contract for 2014-15 — a club option for $7 million — which puts current Raptors GM Masai Ujiri in a bind. What’s a fair price for a soldier like Johnson?

Fair is the operative word. While contract negotiations between teams and players are oftentimes a zero-sum game, there’s something to be said for loyalty and team culture. No other player — other than perhaps DeMar DeRozan — has embodied the best of what the Raptors organization represents. That should play a factor in negotiations. It has to be a good deal for both the Raptors and Johnson.

At this point, there shouldn’t be a need to review what a player like Johnson brings to the team. He’s the team’s defensive anchor, the rare power forward who excels on defense. He’s not a Roy Hibbert-type rim-protector, and he isn’t quite a flying pterodactyl like Anthony Davis — Johnson is simply smart and always in the right spot to provide help or challenge shots. In a season wherein he battled various ailments, Johnson still managed to post the sixth-highest defensive real plus-minus among power forwards who played over 20 minutes per game.

His contributions on offense aren’t to be overlooked either. I’d like to think that we’re out of the dark woods of yesteryear, where “six points, five rebounds” was the definitive statement on Johnson’s performance, because almost every “advanced” metric paint a rosy picture for Johnson. True-shooting percentage? Amir’s career figure is .603. Finishing in the pick-and-roll? Johnson consistently scores well in synergy data. Even the little things like setting screens or playing the two-man game with DeRozan — Johnson is much more than his per-game averages.

Amir Johnson;  Blake Griffin

But even having said all that, Johnson isn’t an All-Star. He not on the same level as Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge — not even close. He’s at the bottom of the second tier, that which is populated by the likes of Serge Ibaka (who is one step removed from the top tier), Paul Millsap, David West, Greg Monroe, David Lee and Nene. He can neither anchor an offense, nor a defense, on his own.

His age and propensity for injuries is also something to consider. Johnson was the last player ever to go straight from high school to the pros, meaning he’s old for a 27-year-old. If his loses his quickness and mobility due to age, it’s reasonable to question whether or not he can remain as effective on defense. Johnson also runs into more than his fair share of minor injuries — at no time were Johnson’s ankles not sprained last year — though he selflessly plays though them. Can he still endure the pain as his career trails into his thirties?

So the question remains — how much should Ujiri pay to retain Johnson?

The most that Johnson could sign for right now is a three-year extension worth just over $24 million. Such a deal would carry through to age-30 for Johnson, which would effectively serve as his last chance at a big paycheck.

Personally, I would be entirely on board with paying Johnson between seven and eight million per year for the next three seasons. Even if his game ages and he never manages to play more than 30 minutes per game (something he hasn’t yet done for an entire season), Johnson’s skills shouldn’t entirely evaporate with age — he’s not Amar’e Stoudemire, for example.

But will $24 million be enough to rope in Johnson? Half the league is set to have significant cap space next season, and the possibility exists for a team offering Johnson an eight figure per-year deal to buyout the remainder of his prime. Jordan Hill, a worse player on all accounts, received a two-year, $18 million deal this summer.

There’s the Raptors’ cap flexibility to consider as well. Locking up Johnson long term reduces their wiggle room for 2016-17 — the prodigal summer of Kevin Durant’s free-agency — which also happens to be when Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are slated for extensions. That’s also the year DeRozan can opt out of his $10 million deal — and he will absolutely opt out in hopes for a raise — meaning the Raptors’ $18 million in committed salary for 2016-17 is more restrictive than it would appear on the surface.

And finally, there’s a new CBA looming on the horizon. With the NBA set to sign a new TV rights deal worth nearly double their current figure, the cap will almost surely skyrocket. Salary figures are relative so it’s hard to gauge value without knowledge of the financial minutiae of the new CBA.

So what say you? What’s a fair deal for Amir Johnson and the Toronto Raptors?

USA blew it open in the third to advance into Finals.

Lithuania vs. USA – Game Recap

Well, it was at least close for the first half. Foul trouble and a lack of energy bogged down the Americans to begin the game — a trend that’s afflicted them throughout this tournament. Lithuania were sure to be the aggressors, but wonky officiating also played a factor. Lithuania found themselves in the bonus just three minutes into the first quarter.

Lithuanian guard play was strong, led by the continuing upstart play of fill-in point guard Adas Jusekevicius, who pushed the tempo early in transition to help land the Americans in foul trouble. Late in the first quarter, Lithuanian head coach Jonas Kuzlauskas made a surprising move to bring little-used wing Mindaugas Kuzminskas into the game. The move bolstered Lithuania’s athleticism on the wing and Kuzminskas even flashed some surprisingly decent ball-handling skills.

Team USA, on the other hand, looked bothered by the physicality and the officiating. Their offensive execution wasn’t great, but having a Anthony Davis at center single-handedly neutralized Lithuania’s interior weapons. This included Jonas Valanciunas, who scored most of his points on free-throws. Davis’ steady presence at the rim allowed USA’s guards to be more daring and aggressive on defense. They held Lithuania to 1-of-8 shooting from deep in the first half, and forced 12 turnovers.

But still, the score at half was 43-35, a decent result for Lithuania. They were within striking distance and the Americans didn’t look their best.

And then the third quarter happened.

A layup from James Harden. A triple by Stephen Curry. A layup from Anthony Davis. Another three-pointer, this time by Harden. In the span of under two minutes, the Americans went on a 10-0 run to start the third. And with that, the game was effectively over. Harden finished with 16 points in the quarter. Team USA finished with 33. Lithuania scored just 14.

With the win, the USA will face either Serbia or France in the Finals. Godspeed to either of those two teams. The American team is a flying buzzsaw.

Lithuania vs. USA – Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan’s assessment

DeRozan’s boxscore: 0 points (o-for-1 FG), one assist in eight minutes

Valanciunas’ boxscore: 15 points (2-for-5 FG, 11-for-13 FT), seven rebounds in 27 minutes

There’s nothing to say about DeRozan. He barely played.

Valanciunas, on the other hand, struggled when it mattered. Davis’ length completely shut him down, especially in the post. Lithuania tried to prioritize Valanciunas on the block in an effort to goad Davis into foul trouble and while that strategy worked to some extent — Davis ultimately fouled out during the second half — Valanciunas also got thoroughly dominated. A sidelines pick-and-roll resulted in a block. A straight-on pick-and-roll drew a foul. A post-up resulted in another block for Davis.

That’s to be expected for Valanciunas. He didn’t have the size advantage, and quite frankly, Davis looks like the second-coming of Kevin Garnett.

The more important story was the feud between Valanciunas and Cousins. The two found themselves embroiled in a second quarter dispute. Boogie was overtly physical, but Jonas didn’t back down. The back-and-forth went on for most of the quarter and ultimately culminated with Cousins almost taking Valanciunas’ head off after Jonas threw an elbow to his throat.

The incident earned Boogie a tech, but that didn’t end the dispute. Bad blood continued in the second half, with Boogie outright hounding Valanciunas on every opportunity he had. After he fouled out, Boogie was seen mocking Valanciunas by pretending to throw elbows while talking to Harden. It didn’t even stop there, with a small skirmish breaking out after the game had ended.

Look, throwing an elbow to the throat is clearly dangerous and it shouldn’t be done, but lobbing ‘bows is a practice as old as the game of basketball. It happens. Valanciunas does make a habit of getting his arms high. But while Valanciunas moved on and played the rest of the game unfazed by the entire ordeal, Boogie’s frustration for the remainder of the game was apparent, and it hampered what was otherwise an excellent performance.

And of course, the incident brought out the worst of the internet.

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Who’s scared of the Boogieman?

Late in the second quarter of the FIBA World Cup semifinal between the USA and Lithuania, things got heated while battling for a rebound. Jonas Valanciunas threw a bow at DeMarcus Cousins’ throat (to be fair, Boogie was trying to punk Jonas for much of the quarter). In response, Boogie did the following:

Score one for Jonas, though. It was Cousins who got himself whistled for a tech.

A classy move from a classy GM.

As you may have heard, the Atlanta Hawks are wrapped up in a bit of a controversy, stemming mostly from racist sentiments asserted by a two members of their front office.

First, an email sent by part-owner Bruce Levenson, containing various racially insensitive comments regarding African-Americans, was released. He has since agreed to sell the team.

A day later, a report surfaced concerning Hawks GM Danny Ferry, in which he said the following to describe then free-agent Luol Deng (now a member of the Miami Heat).

He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him, and I don’t say that in a bad way other than he’s a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.

Ferry and the Hawks have since apologized for the incident, and he has been reprimanded, though he will remain the GM of the Hawks for the time being.

On Thursday, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri — who is of African descent — responded to Ferry’s comments in a story for the Globe and Mail. Follow the link to read his words in its entirety. Listed below is an excerpt.

When I first heard it, I wondered, “What does that mean?” I am an African from Nigeria. Luol is an African from South Sudan. We’ve worked together across our home continent, holding our own basketball camps, as well as in those organized by the NBA.

I remember an instance, in Kigali, Rwanda, when Luol honoured a commitment to show up despite being seriously ill. He didn’t want to disappoint any of the children who were expecting him.

Is that “a little bit of African”?

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

DeMar DeRozan isn’t the only one working on his dribbling this summer.

H/T Asifyouknow (yes, he’s back!)

Jonas Valanciunas’ Baltic Giants will take on DeMar DeRozan and the mighty Americans in the semifinals

Lithuania 73, Turkey 61 – Game Recap

I only caught the second half, so I got nothing on what went on in the first twenty minutes. Lithuania led 33-28 at halftime, buoyed by a 5-for-11 shooting performance from deep.

The third quarter was a see-saw affair, with Turkey’s interior defenders smothering Lithuania’s post-oriented attack. Jonas Valanciuans repeatedly posted up against Turkey’s Omer Asik, but the crafty New Orleans Pelicans center was strong in the post, stopping Valanciunas on multiple occasions. This, along with ticky-tack foul calls, frustrated Valanciunas which culminated in a technical foul and a trip to the bench.

Turkey’s attack stemmed primarily from the pick-and-roll. Lithuania’s perimeter on-ball defense was poor, so the bigs in pick-and-roll were asked to trap. This left, however, the easy over-the-top pass to the roller, which resulted in a number of easy baskets. When the occasional help defender rotated from the corner to help the roll, Turkey drained their corner three-point tries.

Lithuania’s lead was lost at one point, but the Baltic Giants managed to regain their advantage thanks to a barrage of three-pointers.

The fourth quarter saw Lithuania adjust their pick-and-roll defense, which helped them stop Turkey’s main weapon. A second big would rotate off his man to help the roll, and since Turkey’s bigs weren’t adept at making the extra pass, Lithuania’s extra big could recover in time to help and crash for rebounds.

The offense also opened up for Lithuania in the fourth as they dropped 26 points in the final frame. The torrid three-point shooting continued, aided along by better play from their bigs with Asik resting on the bench.

The victory puts Lithuania into the semifinals, likely to face the US, and in position for a medal finish.

Lithuania 73, Turkey 61 – Jonas Valanciunas Assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (5-of-9 FG, 2-for-2 FT), 13 rebounds, one assist, one block

From what I saw, Valanciunas struggled to solve Asik on offense. Asik is one of the league’s premier interior defenders, so that’s to be expected. Valanciunas got some surprising run as the facilitator in the high post which was a first, and netted mixed results. He found Darius Lavrinovic on a nice high-low for a score, but turned it over on the following possession. Personally, I’d like to see what Jonas has to offer as a high-post passer.

Defensively, Valanciunas was put in a bad spot. He doesn’t look the most mobile right now and he was asked to trap pick-and-rolls, so his man often scored because he couldn’t recover fast enough (not that any help was coming either). When Lithuania eventually switched up their strategy, he fared much better – crashing in for rebounds, shot-contests.

USA 119, Slovenia 76 – Game Recap

Same story different game. The U.S. get off to a slow start, but blew it open in the second half. There’s not even much to analyze at this point. Slovenia put up a good fight in the first half and the Goran brothers played well. But then the Americans pulled up their pants in the second half and it was over.

Some things to note for the players themselves

  • Kyrie Irving was visibly grimacing after a fall on his way to the basket in the first quarter. He was immediately subbed out for Derrick Rose, but came back later in the game and kept driving. I’m sure LeBron is thrilled about his all-out effort, and not at all worried about his health for a potential championship run in Cleveland
  • Derrick Rose looked better. After his bold proclamation on Monday, in which he essentially said “chill out, I’m a really good player”, Rose scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field
  • James Harden had a rough night. Referees weren’t biting on his blatant foul-seeking drives to the rim, thus leaving him with a hideous 4-for-14 shooting performance. He didn’t exactly make up for his lack of scoring with his defense, either
  • Klay Thompson continues to impress. Don’t be surprised if he’s included on Team USA’s 2016 Olympic squad. He’s played like the best wing on Team USA thus far
  • Zoran Dragic is an NBA-quality player. He has good size, he can handle the ball and sink three-pointers
  • No player assessment for DeRozan because he didn’t see any meaningful minutes. He shot 3-for-3 and grabbed two rebounds in nine minutes.

Per Lowe’s latest at Grantland, the Toronto Raptors will have a new court design for 2014-15, and it’s pretty badass.

Lowe ranks it as the No. 10 court in the NBA, but upon first glance I’m inclined to suggest it should be higher. I love the black base with silver text, the We The North print and relative simplicity of the playing surface. And hey, no 3D!

The Toronto Raptors will enter training camp on Sept. 29 with 13 players on guaranteed contracts, a number that is, for all intents and purposes, 14, since there’s no way that Amir Johnson’s partially-guaranteed deal is going to be waived off the books at any point.

In a move that should surprise nobody, the Raptors have added three additional bodies on deals that are only partially guaranteed (almost surely with no little in-season guarantee [see Dan H's comment below], and the guaranteed portion representing a de facto camp salary). Camp, then, has a three-man battle for a 15th roster spot lined up. A team is free to bring as many as 20 players to training camp, and it’s possible the Raptors will add even more bodies to the mix before camp, though a 17-man group is enough bodies to withstand even a few nicks and scrapes during the all-too-long preseason.

Each combatant in the race for the 15th spot that we’ll all care far too much about brings something different to the table, and who ultimately lands the gig will speak to how management and the coaching staff feel about certain players on the roster.

First, as a reminder, here are the 14 names that will surely break camp with the Raptors (and note that the deadline has passed for the team to use the stretch provision on Landry Fields or Chuck Hayes, though such a move wouldn’t have made a great deal of sense anyway):

PG: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams
SF: Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Bebe Nogueira

(Note: Earlier in the offseason, I took a very crude shot at estimating playing time given this roster.)

While guard ostensibly seems like a need laid out as such, the fact that Vasquez and Williams are both essentially combo-guards, and that Ross and DeRozan are interchangeable at the wing spots mean the depth at the two is far deeper than two names.

As a final note before looking at the players, salaries don’t really matter here. While varying experience levels mean varying minimum salaries, the collective bargaining agreement is such that veterans only count as a two-year veteran minimum for luxury tax purposes as a means of ensuring veteran jobs, so the effect is minimal.

Will Cherry, PG, D-League by way of Montana (2013)

will-cherry

The Raptors signed Cherry back on July 30 in a move that brought the Raptors roster to 15. While I admittedly haven’t seen more than maybe 300 minutes of Cherry playing – between this year’s Summer League with Cleveland, his time with Canton in the D-League last season, and vague memories of his Montana days – there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be excited about with the man William Lou will surely dub Trill Cherry.

What Cherry does offer is someone who can play point guard, an important consideration in the eyes of head coach Dwane Casey, who is on record as wanting a third point guard on the roster.

Working against Cherry is that the team already has two capable starting point guards and a flier in Williams who has spent plenty of time at the one in the past. While Williams isn’t a natural distributor or someone you’d be comfortable with running the entire offense for major minutes, as far as third options go he’d be more than serviceable. If Cherry were to get the 15th roster spot, it would probably signal that Casey either isn’t comfortable with Williams running the point, or that he’s still no closer to looking like Philadelphia “Mr. 4th Quarter” Williams than he was last season in Atlanta.

If you’re curious as to the book on Cherry, he averaged 12.8 points, four rebounds and three assists in Summer Legaue this year, averaged 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the D-League last season, and averaged 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists over four years in college. Nothing I’ve seen really shouts NBA player, but he’d represent a fairly safe option, limiting turnovers and providing above-average defense. Defense and ball protection are what would earn him the job in camp, two things Casey values and Cherry can provide, but I’d guess his candidacy comes down entirely to how Williams looks.

Jordan Hamilton, SF, DEN/HOU by way of Texas (2011)

Jordan-Hamilton-Unlocked

If Cherry was a move to appease Casey, the team’s signing of forward Jordan Hamilton on Aug. 14 was undoubtedly a Masai Ujiri move. Ujiri selected Hamilton 26th overall on draft night in 2011 after acquiring the pick from the Dallas Mavericks, clearly seeing upside in the Compton native (so you know DeRozan is on board).

Over three seasons, Hamilton has struggled to deliver on that promise but at times flashed an enticing skillset. In 126 games, he’s averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in just 13.3 minutes and shot 35.8 percent from long range, but he’s been hurt by an inability to hit two-point shots at a decent clip, though he’s taken 46 percent of his shots from downtown.

While it’s never smart to rely on the wisdom of experts, the fact that Ujiri and Daryl Morey have both seen something in Hamilton, and that he’s still just 23, make him an intriguing player despite the lack of performance. Along with the three, he brings good size for the three, something the team needed desperately before signing James Johnson but isn’t necessarily a weakness anymore, and he hasn’t translated that size into noticeably effective defense (yet).

As with Cherry, Hamilton’s candidacy could come down to how ready to contribute a guy like Bruno Caboclo looks, or how a Landry Fields looks ahead of a make-or-break season. Ujiri very clearly sees something in Hamilton, but Hamilton’s in a tough spot – he isn’t quite as productive as the team surely expects Johnson to be, and while he has upside remaining, Caboclo is the key development project on the wing.

Greg Stiemsma, C, NO/MIN/BOS by way of Wisconsin (2008)

Greg-Stiemsma

 

The latest signing may be the most interesting one, with the Raptors inking Greg Stiemsma on Sept. 14. Stiemsma not only has the hardest name of the three to spell, annoying me immediately, he is also the most established of the three players, albeit the one with the least upside.

Already 28 years old despite just three seasons in the league (he played overseas and in the D-League for three years after a four-year college career), Stimesma is what he is at this point. What he is is a 6-foot-11, 260 pound shot blocker who offers almost nothing else.

In 186 career games, Stiemsma has 232 blocks, good for 1.2 a game, 2.8 per 36 minutes and 4.1 per 100 possessions. His block percentage is the fifth-highest among players with 1,000 minutes played in that three-year span, trailing established rim protectors Serge Ibaka, JaVale McGee, Larry Sanders and Chris Andersen. Further, Stiemsma held opponents to a respectable 51.5 percent shooting mark at the rim.

That is a skill, and a valuable one, so one wonders why he’s available on a camp deal. Well, Stiemsma has averaged just 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 minutes as a pro. He has shot 63.8 percent at the rim, somewhat unimpressive for a near 7-footer, and is essentially unusable on offense beyond that distance.

With his limited utility established, his ability to protect the rim in spot minutes at the five means that he’s the favorite to land the 15th spot. The Raptors have three centers, but one of those is the ground-bound Hayes and another is the largely unproven Nogueira. If Valanciunas were to suffer an injury, the only option who could be relied on to provide rim protection would be Amir Johnson, in what would be a sub-optimal use considering his talent defending the four and on the move.

In short, while the roster position breakdown may suggest otherwise, in terms of functional role on the team, Stiemsma is the most obvious peg to fill a hole (I’ve used “fill a hole” too many times now, it’s uncomfortable).

Hamilton and Cherry seem like decent pieces, and the former in particular probably belongs on an NBA roster for another season or two to make good on the upside, but the Raptors are already carrying two developmental projects in the Brazilians. Over the course of an NBA season, a team is going to need 13 contributing bodies in all likelihood, and that has to give Stiemsma an early edge.

A lot can change between now and the season opener, and performance in camp will surely count for a good deal, but early signals suggest Stiemsma would be the logical choice.

Emmet Ryan from Ball in Europe joins the pod and talks FIBA, Jonas Valanciunas, and DeMar DeRozan. Some of the topics include:

  • Jonas Valanciunas vs New Zealand – Check out his post-game reaction talking about his big role
  • Valanciunas’s development over the last three years – Check out his coach talking about how his game has evolved
  • Whether he can translate his FIBA dominance to the NBA
  • DeMar DeRozan’s play so far
  • Team USA composition and surprises
  • Gap between Team USA and the rest of the world
  • France/Spain analysis
  • Is there a chance of a non-USA/Spain final?
  • Surprise players in the tourney – we know about Gustavo Ayon, who else?
  • Best FIBA fans
  • Guess which former Raptors brother is on the France National Team
  • Lucas Nogueira NBA projection

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (30:06, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

Couple of fantastic clips coming from Barcelona thanks to Ball In Europe (@bie_basketball on Twitter). The first is Jonas Valanciunas reacting to the New Zealand matchup where he dominated, while talking about his increased role with the national team.  He had 22 points, 13 rebounds on 8-11 shooting – box.

After that we got his Coach Kazlauskas describing his evolution as a player.

Raptors Weekly airs tomorrow on RR with Emmet Ryan from Ball in Europe breaking down the FIBA action, but for now you can hear it on Soundcloud.

Jonas Valanciunas dropped 22 points (8-of-11 shooting), grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded three blocks to help Lithuania top the Kiwis.

But most importantly, Valanciunas did this:

[H/T: reddit user BilboBanginz]

Last season, the Toronto Raptors posted a top-1o defense for the first time in a decade.

Much of the credit goes to head coach Dwane Casey — a reputed defense-first coach — for finally getting through to his squad. His mandate over the past three seasons has consistently centered around building a sound defense, but he was betrayed by his players. Last season, having finally shed defensive sieves like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, Casey’s vision of a strong defensive club finally came to fruition.

Like most coaches, Casey’s defensive scheme centers around a defensive anchor. In Minnesota, Casey had Kevin Garnett. As an assistant in Dallas, Casey had Tyson Chandler. Casey doesn’t have a Chandler or Garnett-type in Toronto. He only has an overworked Amir Johnson and a 22-year-old Jonas Valanciunas. If the Raptors are to improve into becoming an elite defensive club, it will have to come on the backs of young Jonas.

My first article on Raptors Republic was a wordy 2,500 article on Valanciunas’ rookie season. I profiled his defense, and found that like most rookies, Valanciunas struggled. His size was the culprit, as he lacked the strength to contend with centers in the post (example 1, example 2.) On the whole, Valanciunas was a poor defender at a pivotal position, and his shortcomings significantly factored into the Raptors’ 22nd-ranked defense.

In an effort to improve as a post defender, Valanciunas bulked up last summer. As Zach Harper of CBS Sports observed, Valanciunas looked 15-to-25 pounds heavier at Summer League. The most obvious result of the added bulk came on the offensive end, as Valanciunas easily overpowered opponents in the post en route to a well-deserved Summer League MVP award.

The added size also factored in defensively. Valanciunas improved in guarding post-ups. Per Synergy Stats, Valanciunas ranked 55th in points allowed per post-up last season, a substantially better mark than his 145th ranking in his rookie season.

Season Usage PPP NBA Rank
2013-14 45% 0.75 55
2012-13 51% 0.84 145

 

It’s still a stretch to call Valanciunas a strong post defender, but he’s improved to the point of being solid in that regard. In short, Valanciunas is massive and he doesn’t bite too often on fakes in the post. He does a great job of holding his ground, keeping his hands high, content in allowing opponents to tackle the challenge of finishing over a seven-foot giant.

In staying down in the post, Valanciunas trades blocks for contests. He averaged just 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes last season, but managed to hold opponents to 51.4 percent shooting at the rim, a mark good for 32nd in the NBA among players who faced over five attempts per game. That mark isn’t terrific, but ranks on par with the likes of Marc Gasol (51.2 percent) and Chris Bosh (53.1 percent.) He’s nowhere near Bosh and Gasol’s level defensively but his post defense at the rim was strong.

However, despite his improvements in the post, Valanciunas still doesn’t grade out as a good defender in most boxscore statistics. Notably, in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Valanciunas ranked 64th out of 74 players that qualified as centers last season, thus saddling him with a ho-hum -0.48 Wins Above Replacement. Why didn’t his improved post-defense translate overall?

One theory is his that his lack of blocked shots hides his true value in a boxscore-based forumla. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus formula is proprietary, so I can’t accurately comment on how it’s calculated, but the origin of RPM is said to follow in the lineage of Adjusted Plus-Minus, of which includes Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus, which has a boxscore component. If so, a lack of blocks could be to blame, although the RPM leaderboard isn’t exactly filled with shot-blockers.

The more likely explanation traces back to how defenders attacked Valanciunas. As the season wore on, teams shifted their strategy, opting instead to play pick-and-pop against Valanciunas rather than attacking him in the post. Proportionally, Valanciunas faced 19 percent more spot-ups last season, with teams readily launching shots from outside the paint in an effort to lure Valanciunas out the the lane. However, the added bulk weighed Valanciunas down, thus making him slower on closeouts as compared to his rookie season, hence the spike in points per play (PPP).

Season Usage PPP NBA Rank
2013-14 25.90% 0.95 165
2012-13 21.70% 0.81 38

 

To some degree, the increased emphasis on floor-stretching for bigs also played a factor, but opponents weren’t just launching from deep. Over 61 percent of spot-ups against Valanciunas were fired from two-point range. It largely came in response to the way Valanciunas was asked to guard pick-and-roll, dropping back to concede the jumper out of deference for a drive. In the play below, he gives Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris an open look after sagging back to hedge against a potential drive from Eric Bledsoe.

Conceding open looks from midrange is a trade-off Casey is willing to make in order to take away the drive, but making a concerted close-out is still important. To his credit, Valanciunas is willing to make the effort, but the added weight has slowed him down a step, thereby forcing him to leap a tad early on closeouts. All it usually took was one easy pump-fake to get Valanciunas off his feet on closeouts. He gets schooled in the clip below by Anderson Varejao, for example.

Given the way Casey wants bigs to defend pick-and-rolls, Valanciunas will have to learn the balance between due-diligence and over-excitement on closeouts. As of right now, Valanciunas is too willing to leave his feet, something he doesn’t necessarily need to for most shooters. It’s contextual. Leaping at a knockdown three-point shooting big like Channing Frye makes perfect sense. Flying out against a sub-40 percent midrange shooter like Varejao doesn’t.

Finally, Valanciunas also made strides as a help-defender. He mostly stays rooted in the paint where he’s most comfortable, but he will leave the paint if his man isn’t the a threat to score. His help defense on the perimeter isn’t great because he lacks quickness, but he will make smart rotations near the rim because, quite frankly, that’s where he’s usually situated. In the play below, Valanciunas recognizes that the Thunder’s biggest threat is the Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka pick-and-roll, so he leaves Steven Adams — who isn’t much of a threat to score — to help on Ibaka.

That being said, unless his quickness improves, Valanciunas will likely remain limited in a stay-at-home rim-protector role. With a (when healthy) rangy Amir Johnson by his side, Valanciunas’ limitations as a help defender is partially masked. He’s improved from being an awful defender in his rookie season to being decent as a sophomore.

But, in order for the Raptors’ defense to reach elite status, Valanciunas will have to continue to improve. That means sounder decision making and improved quickness while remaining strong in the post. It’s a lot to ask of a young player who is still feeling his way through the NBA game, but that’s the bind Valanciunas finds himself in. With the team’s core locked in for the foreseeable future, it’s up to players like himself and Terrence Ross to improve and therefore elevate the Raptors into a higher status as contenders.

Both Lithuania and USA emerged as the winners of their respective groups.

Day 6 of FIBA World Cup action saw the Americans victorious once more, capturing a comfortable 95-71 victory over an upstart Ukrainian team while the Lithuanians fought tooth-and-nail for a come-from-behind 67-64 point win over Goran Dragic and the Slovenians.

USA vs. Ukraine – Game Recap

Full disclosure, I was only able to catch the second half of this match because from time to time, I actually attend lectures. Based on scrolling through Twitter and perusing the first half boxscore, the Americans struggled to score in the first quarter and actually trailed 19-14, but carried a 44-32 point edge into halftime. The Americans getting off to slow starts seems to be something of a trend to watch for as the tournament carries into the knockout stage.

Onto what I did watch.

The Ukrainians put up a good fight. Like most teams in this tournament, they’re light on talent, but their play is well-organized, which is undoubtedly attributable to head coach Mike Fratello. Although the Americans were easily the more impressive team, their execution — especially in the halfcourt — was at times sloppy, and their boisterous totals were surely inflated by their turnover-driven play. They thrive on forcing opponents into making mistakes, though they’re not without their mistakes of their own. My impression is that Team USA will struggle against a slow, meticulous half-court team that takes care of the ball (read: Spain).

On an individual player level, Derrick Rose continued to struggle with his shot, sinking just 2-of-9 field goal attempts. The blazing speed and wicked athleticism is still there, but his timing is off. His play is schizoid, reminiscent of his brief 10-game stretch last season before he succumbed to a second knee injury. Stephen Curry also looked frustrated as his shot still isn’t falling enough to mask his abhorrent defensive shortcomings. His teammate Klay Thompson looked good (aside from when he was dribbling), excelling in a three-and-defense role. Kyrie Irving landed hard on his hip near the end of the game, but he looks more hurt than injured.

USA vs. Ukraine – DeRozan’s Assessment

Boxscore – 5 points (1-for-2 FG, 0-for-1 3FG, 3-for-4 FT), 13 minutes

Again, I didn’t watch half the game, so I can really only comment on his brief fourth quarter stint which lasted little over three minutes. He missed a three-pointer, but scored on two other occasions, once drawing free-throws on a dribble-drive to the rim, and another on a clever set with DeMarcus Cousins.

In the play, DeRozan set a back pick for Cousins in the post to force a switch. Cousins then received a post-pass, and since a switch was forced, both Cousins and DeRozan’s defenders opted to double Cousins in the post. DeRozan alertly rotated to the free-throw line and canned an easy jumper from Cousins on the shortened kick-out.

Lithuania vs. Slovenia – Game Recap

This match was nothing short of a classic. Right from the get-go, tension and energy in Gran Canaria were high. A fast-paced first quarter saw Slovenia open with a small lead, as the play-style was more to their liking. Slovenia’s lead ballooned to eight points at the half and carried a seven-point edge into the fourth, but Lithuania managed to hold them to just two points in the fourth to escape with the narrow 67-64 victory. With the win, Lithuania secure first-place in Group D and avoid a potential semi-final matchup with team USA.

As usual, Lithuania boasted a size advantage with Donatas Motiejunas and Valanciunas towering over their counterparts. Therefore, the Slovenians opened the game with a bigger than usual starting lineup. However, this took away from Slovenia’s identity as a small-ball, run-and-gun team, so a second quarter switch to a more free-flowing lineup saw Slovenia carry a lead into the half. Lithuania countered with a small-ball lineup of their own in the second half, subbing out both Motiejunas and Valanciunas with the Larinovic twins — who also happen to be seven-feet, only they can shoot — thus matching Slovenia’s strategy. The increased mobility helped in guarding Slovenia’s potent pick-and-roll attack, culminating in a come-from-behind victory.

Darius Larinovic beat the buzzer with a running hook shot with just over a minute left to put the Lithuanians up four. Slovenia had a chance to take the lead with 15 seconds left when Goran Dragic found Miha Zupan wide open at the top of the key, but his three-pointer rimmed out.

Lithuania vs. Slovenia – Valanciunas’ Assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (5-of-7 FG, 2-for-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 17 minutes played

Valanciunas played nearly the entire first quarter and looked visibly gassed after a 10-minute run. He was effective during that time, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. He was dominant in the post (guarded at times by former Raptor Uros Slokar, remember him?), scoring twice on post-ups including a driving dunk over two defenders. He continued to demonstrate good chemistry with Motiejunas, as the Houston Rocket found Valanciunas in the post coming off an well-run dribble hand–off with a Lithuanian guard.

Defensively, Valanciunas looked decent. On one occasion he hedged way too high, thus allowing his man to finish an unguarded basket at the rim. Otherwise he looked strong, serving as a general deterrent at the rim.

He didn’t play very much in the second half as Lithuania shifted to a small-ball strategy. He cheered exuberantly from the bench.

There’s already an unguaranteed wing and a point. Why not add a big into the mix?

The Toronto Raptors have signed free-agent center Greg Stiemsma to a reported 1-year deal at the minimum. It’s believed that the contract is unguaranteed (it almost certainly is), though the official press release put out by the team didn’t specify.

In Stiemsma the Raptors add another training camp body, although one that carries more NBA-experience than your average Julyan Stone or Dwight Buycks-type. Stiemsma profiles as a shot-blocker, averaging an impressive 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes over three seasons thus far. He’s spent stints in Boston, Minnesota and New Orleans to date.

With this signing, the Raptors are now slated to have 17 contracts going into training camp, but 14 are guaranteed, meaning the final spot will likely be handed to one of Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton or Stiemsma (barring a trade or waivers). On the surface, it appears as if the team is covering all its bases — one wing, one point and one big — but there are other factors like potential and performance to consider as well.

The 28-year-old Stiemsma stands at 6-foot-11 and weighs 260 pounds. He also has a reputation for being a *ahem* enforcer.

Lithuania takes down Korea, USA topples the Dominican Republic.

Day 5 of FIBA World Cup action wrapped up with both Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and DeMar DeRozan’s (USA) teams emerging victorious. Lithuania beat Korea 79-49, while the United States toppled the Dominicans 106-71.

Lithuania vs. Korea – Game Recap

As one could have expected, the Koreans were no match for the Lithuanians. The most obvious discrepancy was height — the Lithuanians boasted four 7-footers, while Korea had none — though the Baltic Giants were also the more skilled team.

Size dictated Korea’s style of play. Without any discernible bigs to speak of, Korea relied on a five-out, pick-and-pop offense built around generating open spot-ups with some neatly designed sets. The smallball strategy worked in the first half with Lithuania’s bigs struggling to rotate out to the perimeter, but a clever halftime adjustment saw Lithuania opting to switch liberally. As a result, the Koreans were held to 2o points in the second half.

Lithuania eschewed their size advantage by opting to play mostly on the perimeter. Despite both Donatas Motiejunas and Valanciunas boasting in excess of four inches and 30 pounds on their respective defenders, Lithuania ran only a small handful of post-ups. To their credit, Lithuania’s wings played well, connecting on 9-of-21 triples (three were missed by Motiejunas).

Lithuania vs. Korea – Valanciunas’ assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (6-for-7 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 22 minutes played

In some respect, this game reflected many played by the Raptors last season. Valanciunas’ first move on offense was always to establish post position — a perfectly sensible move given his size advantage — yet not once did Lithuania opt to deliver him the ball to set up a post-up. Not once. Valanciunas mostly fed off a diet of put-backs, pick-and-roll buckets and a pair of high-low feeds from Motiejunas. Valanciunas was noticably frustrated at the half, presumably by the lack of opportunities.

Where Valanciunas was most effective was on defense. Of Korea’s 48 field-goal attempts, only eight were attempted inside the paint. Granted, Korea’s prioritization of spot-ups certainly played a factor, as did Lithuania’s strong guard play, but Valanciunas did provide strong rim-protection. He was also solid in closeouts, though his limited foot speed did at times draw the ire of his head coach.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – Game Recap

Welp. It wasn’t much of a game. The States only led by three points after the first quarter due to some extremely sloppy play from the starters, and would have likely lost the quarter had it not been for the non-stop hustle from Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis. From thereon, the States went on to win the final three quarters by a combined 32 points en route to their second rout of the Dominicans in two weeks.

Having now played four games, the United States’ style of play is pretty clear — they’re relying on speed and athleticism to force turnovers and score in transition. Their play isn’t necessarily well-coordinated, nor meticulously executed, but it’s been tremendously effective in overwhelming their opponents thus far. Ironically enough, their biggest hurdle is Team Spain, whose style of play is the diametric opposite, reliant on precise playmaking and deliberate movements. It will be fascinating to see which of the two countries — and therefore styles — wins out.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – DeRozan’s Assessment

Boxscore – 11 points (5-for-8 FG, 1-for-3 3FG), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 3 steals, 18 minutes played

On the whole, it was DeRozan’s best showing thus far in the tournament. The 1-for-3 three-point shooting and five turnovers blemished what was otherwise a good performance. As me, Andrew and Zarar noted on the last episode of Raptors Weekly, DeRozan looked shaky and somewhat hesitant over his first three games. That was to be expected, as his role and teammates were both foreign to him. Therefore, DeRozan figured to improve with more games and minutes played under his belt.

He looked comfortable on Wednesday, making a few timely cuts in transition while making solid decisions in the pick-and-roll. He was diligent on defense, with the three steals coming as a result of cutting passing lanes rather than poorly thought-out gambles. Most of his contributions came in a blowout against a team with no NBA talent (Francisco Garcia sat out to rest an injury), but DeRozan’s calmer demeanor can only bode well for both himself and the States going forward in this awful tournament.

Someone learned a thing or two from James Harden.

Second-round draft-and-stash pick DeAndre Daniels had a small bone fragment in his shooting elbow.

In preparation for his upcoming stint with the Perth Wildcats, it was discovered that Daniels had a small bone fragment in his right elbow. Daniels successfully underwent surgery and is expected to return in four-to-six weeks. The Wildcats sent the update in a press release.

There were two treatment options available for the injury — maintenance or surgery. Daniels could have possibly played had the former been chosen, but opting for the surgery route appears to be the sounder long-term option.

The Australian National Basketball League (NBL) season tips off in five weeks.

 

Five questions on Jonas Valanciunas’ performance thus far in FIBA World Cup 2014.

Editor’s Note: Simonas Baranauskas (@LithuaniaBasket) is an expert on all things related to Lithuanian basketball. Raptors Republic reached out to Simonas for his insight on Valanciunas’ performance thus far in the FIBA World Cup.

1. Grade Jonas Valanciunas’ performance through three games thus far. What has stood out in terms of where he’s improved or regressed?

It would be really easy to forget how good Jonas was in the first two games after an absolute no-show in the last game against Australia, but I’ll start with the good.

The first two games went really smoothly for Jonas. He dominated the paint offensively against inferior opposition with incredible efficiency. Comparing to previous summers, teammates weren’t afraid to feed him the ball in the post and he delivered, making 12-of-15 shots in the first two games. Although the games weren’t necessarily all that easy for Lithuania, Jonas looked confident and in control.

In the last game against Australia, it all turned upside down — partly due to the swarming Aussie defense, partly due to some carelessness on Jonas’ part. He couldn’t cope with Aron Baynes’ physicality on the defensive end either, leading to him being benched in favor of experienced big man Darjus Lavrinovic, who managed to turn the tables around and played a crucial role in Lithuania’s comeback in the second half. Jonas had a very hard time establishing any presence on either end of the court and was basically a non-factor.

2. How is Jonas Kazlauskas (Lithuania’s head coach) using Valanciunas in the offense? Defense?

Valanciunas has been an important figure in coach Kazlauskas’ game plan. When Jonas made his debut in the national team in 2011, he was mostly a pick-and-roll threat, now Kazlauskas is utilizing him as a post-up option quite a lot.

Other players aren’t hesitating to feed him the ball, though the lead-up to those post-looks is pretty basic – usually just a simple back-screen in the paint trying to get a switch, which would result in a mismatch. Obviously, he’s still running a fair share of pick-and-rolls and setting screens on offense, the lack of a good playmaker on the team limits the efficiency in pick-and-roll situations.

Valanciunas still has some work to do to improve defensively and was caught over-helping his guards on pick-and-roll situation. In the first two games he asserted himself as a solid post defender, but he wasn’t playing against very strong opposition, though he did shut down Mexico’s Gustavo Ayon for most of the game.

3. Australia pulled off an upset over Lithuania on Tuesday afternoon. Valanciunas wasn’t particularly effective, scoring zero points, committing two fouls and two turnovers in the first half before finishing with four points overall. Why did he struggle?

Lithuania as a team didn’t play well and it would be unfair to single out the poor game by Jonas. Nothing was going for the Lithuanians, as the guards struggled to avoid turnovers, often struggling to get past half court against a zone-press by Australia.

Jonas’ direct match-up Aron Baynes started the game really actively and went at Jonas hard from the get-go. Jonas picked up an early foul in the very first possession of the game, which resulted in him trying to avoid a second foul. He was subbed out quite early in the game.

It has to be said, that that the entry passes into the post were poor and it’s hard to blame Jonas for some of those turnovers that were counted against him. Every single time Lithuania tried to get the ball inside to Jonas, he’d be swarmed by two or three Australian players.

4. Is the schedule wearing on Valanciunas? He did play three games over three four days.

I don’t think it’d be fair to say the schedule already had its toll, since they had a day off before today’s game against Australia. They’ve played three games in four days, which isn’t all that bad, considering Jonas did have a fair bit of rest in the first two games, playing an average of 25 minutes per game. The schedule might be an issue further down the road in the tournament.

5. What are Lithuania’s chances of finishing with a medal in this event?

Before the injury of starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis, I was pretty confident this team would be good enough for a bronze medal. But losing the captain and possibly the most important player on the team just a couple of days before the start of the tournament is a game-changer. Lithuania’s side of the bracket is relatively easy, with USA, Lithuania, Australia and Slovenia as the best four teams on paper.

In order to avoid USA until the semifinal (providing Lithuania gets there), the team needs to finish first or third in Group D, which looks like a realistic scenario. As long as we manage to stay out of USA’s way for as long as possible, which is the semifinal, I think we still have an outside-shot at a bronze medal or at least a chance to play for one in the third place game.

September is upon us so we got about a month’s worth of these podcasts before we can start talking some Raptors ball. Until then, though, the duty is to analyze and over-analyze whatever’s happening in Spain and what’s going through idle minds.

Part 1:

  • DeRozan and Team USA
  • Valanciunas and Team Lithuania

Part 2:

  • Is Hakeem Broke?
  • Raptors All-Clutch Team
  • Raptors All-Choke Team
  • NBA League Pass
  • Balls and Streams

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (30:14, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

OK, Team USA just beat Finland 114-55 (box). Someone hasn’t taken such a beating since I destroyed Sam in one-on-one at the RR tournament.

DeRozan went 1-6 for 5 points and went 3-4 from the stripe with 4 assists and three steals. He missed an open corner three to start, and then did some ball-handling where he facilitated PnRs and got a couple assists. Got a bit of run in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand, and executed one of those step-in twos which he clanked. He also tried a lob pass which went south.

On one instance, he got killed by a screen (no communication on it) and had a late contest which led to FTs. He tried another lob to Drummond, which despite being of sub-par quality, was finished off by Drummond. I thought he made some pretty sweet runs in transition but was looked off, with teammates opting to shoot threes, since this became an exhibition game quite fast. To cap his night he missed an open corner jumper.

All in all, he wasn’t really needed and his dribbles looked better, and he appeared to be a willing passer in two-man situations. He’s still looking to drive and get to the line, but is measuring up his move more carefully then before, and using his dribble to set up his attack a bit better.

That’s all I got.

Jonas Valanciunas – 8-8 FG, 17 points, 5 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Final score: Lithuania 87, Mexico 74 – box. I caught a bit of this game online and he operated out of the post quite a bit, knowing Mexico didn’t have the personnel to handle him inside. The same comment from the warmup games holds: he’s showing very little hesitation in any move he makes.

Here’s a game highlight pack which shows Valanciunas scoring, picking up an offensive, foul, clenching fists on the bench, and celebrating. What makes the video special is the tune played in the background. DeMar plays later tonight.