Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Oct 25, 16 Video: Bruno Caboclo and Kevin Durant – “The Brazilian KD” Sam Holako
Oct 25, 16 Nogueira unlikely for opener, putting pressure on Valanciunas & Poeltl Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 16 Tactical Observations from Preseason: Reintroduction of the Motion Offense Cooper Smither
Oct 25, 16 2016-17 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part Two Blake Murphy
Oct 25, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E01 – With James Keast Nick Reynoldson
Oct 25, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 25 Sam Holako
Oct 24, 16 Sullinger could miss 2-3 months, Patterson ‘leading candidate’ to start Blake Murphy
Oct 24, 16 2016-17 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part One Blake Murphy
Oct 24, 16 Tactical Observations from Preseason: The Foundation for Jonas Valanciunas Cooper Smither
Oct 24, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Contingencies for Sullinger Blake Murphy
Oct 24, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 24 Sam Holako
Oct 23, 16 Jared Sullinger to have screw inserted in foot Monday Blake Murphy
Oct 23, 16 Raptors exercise options on Nogueira, Caboclo, and Wright Blake Murphy
Oct 23, 16 PHOTO: Are the Raptors adding a Huskies court design? Blake Murphy
Oct 23, 16 Raptors release five camp invites Blake Murphy
Oct 22, 16 Report: Fred VanVleet wins 15th roster spot Blake Murphy
Oct 22, 16 Raptors end camp early, no-show preseason finale – Preseason Grades Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Raptors-Wizards Reaction Podcast – Disinterested Raptors played themselves Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 82, Wizards 119 Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Lucas Nogueira leaves game with ankle sprain Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Joseph joins Sullinger on sideline, Ross returns Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Jared Sullinger may not be ready for season opener Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 2016-17 Toronto Raptors Player Previews Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Oct. 21 Blake Murphy
Oct 21, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 21 – The importance of being reasonable Blake Murphy
Oct 20, 16 2016-17 Player Preview: Delon Wright Blake Murphy
Oct 20, 16 Raptors top Pistons as both sides gear up for season opener Blake Murphy
Oct 19, 16 Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – OK, we’re ready Blake Murphy
Oct 19, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Pistons 92 Cameron Dorrett
Oct 19, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Ross and Sullinger sit again in Detroit Blake Murphy
Oct 19, 16 Raptors rank 2nd in East in NBA GM Survey Blake Murphy
Oct 19, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Pascal Siakam Tamberlyn Richardson
Oct 19, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons, Oct. 19 Blake Murphy
Oct 18, 16 VOTE: Raptors Republic T-Shirt Design Contest Finals Blake Murphy
Oct 18, 16 We’re hosting an AMA on Reddit at 2 p.m. tomorrow Blake Murphy
Oct 18, 16 2016-17 Player Preview: Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira Scott Hastie
Oct 17, 16 Raptors not panicking as Sullinger and Ross injuries linger Blake Murphy
Oct 17, 16 2016-17 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry Gavin MacPherson
Oct 17, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Hyped for Siakam, Dreaming of Millsap Blake Murphy
Oct 15, 16 Grind Analog: VanVleet and Powell lead Raptors bench squad over San Lorenzo Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 16 Raptors-San Lorenzo Reaction Podcast – Powell’s dunk contest application Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, San Lorenzo 105 Anthony Doyle
Oct 14, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Everyone sits as Argentine champs visit ACC Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas Kiyan Sobhani
Oct 14, 16 Gameday: San Lorenzo de Almagro @ Raptors, Oct. 14 Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 16 Raptors point guards look regular season ready in rout of Cavaliers Blake Murphy
Oct 14, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 14 – Leafs-Raptors and Toronto-Cleveland rivalries Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 119, Cavaliers 94 Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Ross and DeRozan sit against Cavaliers, Sullinger out again Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Jakob Poeltl Cameron Dorrett
Oct 13, 16 VOTE: Raptors Republic t-shirt design contest Blake Murphy
Oct 13, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Oct. 13 Blake Murphy
Oct 12, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Norman Powell Tim Chisholm
Oct 12, 16 Outside Noise vs. Reality: Calling All Supporting Cast Members Mike Holian
Oct 12, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – With Jeff Landicho of Open Gym Nick Reynoldson
Oct 11, 16 2016-17 Player Preview: DeMarre Carroll Anthony Doyle
Oct 11, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Handstands and traveling Raptors fans Blake Murphy
Oct 10, 16 Raptors Republic Fantasy League(s) Blake Murphy
Oct 8, 16 Raptors 905 adding Will Sheehey, retaining John Jordan Blake Murphy
Oct 8, 16 No, the Toronto Raptors should not look at trading Kyle Lowry Blake Murphy
Oct 7, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: DeMar DeRozan Alex Gres
Oct 7, 16 A Preseason Raptors’ Wish List Matt Shantz
Oct 7, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 7 – Sexy Bargnani and camp competitions Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 16 2016-2017 Player (or Coach) Preview: Dwane Casey Cameron Dorrett
Oct 6, 16 Heslip makes his case in near-comeback against Clippers Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 16 Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – Brady and Bruno enjoy breakouts Blake Murphy
Oct 6, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 98, Clippers 104 Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger sits again, Lowry to opt out, VanVleet starts Blake Murphy
Oct 5, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Jared Sullinger Warren Kosoy
Oct 5, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 5 Blake Murphy
Oct 4, 16 2016-17 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo Gavin MacPherson
Oct 4, 16 Ross and Valanciunas propose intriguing ‘What if’ in loss to Nuggets Blake Murphy
Oct 4, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – With Aaron Hodges Nick Reynoldson
Oct 4, 16 Raptors-Nuggets Reaction Podcast – The rebirth of Terrence Ross Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 16 Quick Reaction: Nuggets 108, Raptors 106 Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger and Carroll sit in Calgary, Caboclo starts (!!) Blake Murphy
Oct 3, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Cory Joseph Shyam Baskaran
Oct 3, 16 Gameday: Nuggets @ Raptors in Calgary, Oct. 3 Matt Shantz
Oct 3, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Jonas’s breakout, scouting Siakam, basketball movies Blake Murphy
Oct 2, 16 Raptors open preseason with encouraging performance against Warriors Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 16 Preseason Opener Reaction Podcast – Raptors start preseason with win over Warriors Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 16 Quick Reaction: Warriors 93, Raptors 97 Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 16 Raptors lock arms in solidarity for national anthems Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 16 Pre-game news & notes: Carroll expected to play in preseason opener Blake Murphy
Oct 1, 16 Gameday: Warriors @ Raptors in Vancouver, Oct. 1 Blake Murphy
Sep 30, 16 Raptors announce 2016-17 broadcast schedule Blake Murphy
Sep 30, 16 What Are The Odds? forumcrew
Sep 30, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: The Final 6 Blake Murphy
Sep 30, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Sept 30 – Media Day reaction and fantasy preview Blake Murphy
Sep 29, 16 Raptors 905 put spotlight on local talent at open tryout Blake Murphy
Sep 29, 16 VIDEO: Raptors have some keep-up skills Blake Murphy
Sep 29, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Patrick Patterson Spencer Redmond
Sep 29, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Sep 29 Sam Holako
Sep 28, 16 Raptors 905 tickets on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. Blake Murphy
Sep 28, 16 2016-2017 Player Preview: Terrence Ross Spencer Redmond
Sep 28, 16 Measuring Raptors’ success will have to go beyond win total Blake Murphy
Sep 28, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Sep 28 Sam Holako
Sep 27, 16 Get 50% off Nov. 3 Hoop Talks Live until 6 p.m. today Blake Murphy
Sep 27, 16 Very Quietly, The Raptors Had Their Best Offseason Ever Tim Chisholm
Sep 27, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sept 27 – Media Day, Carroll’s knee, power forward woes Blake Murphy
Sep 27, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Sep 27 Sam Holako
Sep 26, 16 Media Day notes: Carroll not 100%, Wright close to shooting, Sullinger likely starter, and more Blake Murphy
Sep 26, 16 Raptors want to use their platform for positive change Blake Murphy
Sep 26, 16 VIDEO: Toronto Raptors 2016-17 Media Day Blake Murphy
Sep 26, 16 3 storylines to watch in training camp Blake Murphy
Sep 25, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast with special guest Zarar Siddiqi Barry Taylor
Sep 25, 16 Repost: Raptors Republic t-shirt design contest Blake Murphy
Sep 24, 16 Pre-camp weekend predictions thread Blake Murphy
Sep 23, 16 Raptors add Patrick Mutombo and Jim Sann to coaching staff, promote Jama Mahlalela Blake Murphy
Sep 23, 16 Podcast: 2016-17 Raptors preview with Rotoworld Blake Murphy
Sep 23, 16 Where does Kyle Lowry rank among NBA point guards? Blake Murphy
Sep 23, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Sept 23 – Training camp preview Blake Murphy
Sep 22, 16 Norman Powell unhappy with 2K17 render; How do Raptors rate in the game? Blake Murphy
Sep 22, 16 Who’s better: Raptors or Celtics? Blake Murphy
Sep 21, 16 Will the Raptors win over/under 49.5 games? Blake Murphy
Sep 20, 16 Raptors announce Brady Heslip signing Blake Murphy
Sep 20, 16 2016-17 Raptors Republic Community Guidelines Blake Murphy
Sep 19, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 19 – The House of The Dying Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 18, 16 Raptors to add Patrick Mutombo to coaching staff Blake Murphy
Sep 17, 16 Who do you want to win the 15th roster spot? Blake Murphy
Sep 16, 16 Report: Raptors to sign Brady Heslip to camp deal Blake Murphy
Sep 16, 16 DeMar DeRozan is not happy about his No. 46 ranking Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 16 Raptors 905 acquire rights to Heslip for rights to Roberts Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 16 4 Raptors make SI’s Top 100 Blake Murphy
Sep 15, 16 Raptors announce dates for alternate jerseys; Tickets on sale at 10 a.m. Blake Murphy
Sep 14, 16 Pascal Siakam says he’s 100 percent for camp, Delon Wright back in the gym Blake Murphy
Sep 14, 16 Patreon Thank You & Essay: Raptors and their wrestling equivalents Blake Murphy
Sep 13, 16 Raptors to start training camp in Vancouver; Media day is Sept. 26 Blake Murphy
Sep 13, 16 Early start: #LetNormDunk in 2017 Blake Murphy
Sep 12, 16 DeAndre Daniels signs in Italy Blake Murphy
Sep 12, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Sep 12 – “It had to be done” Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 9, 16 Raptors 905 name Jerry Stackhouse head coach Blake Murphy
Sep 8, 16 Raptors announce signing of E.J. Singler Blake Murphy
Sep 8, 16 Podcast: 2016-17 Raptors season outlook Blake Murphy
Sep 7, 16 Raptors Republic t-shirt design contest Blake Murphy
Sep 7, 16 Join the Raptors Republic team Blake Murphy
Sep 6, 16 Get your Hoop Talks tickets Blake Murphy
Sep 5, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Eastern Conference Preview (2016-17) Zarar Siddiqi
Sep 2, 16 Raptors sign Ujiri to extension, promote Weltman and Webster Blake Murphy
Sep 1, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – With Special Guest Dan Gladman Nick Reynoldson
Aug 31, 16 Raptors Unleash Pre-Season Schedule Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 31, 16 PODCAST: Kyle Lowry guest hosts The Vertical, is awesome Blake Murphy
Aug 30, 16 Raptors to play preseason games in Vancouver and Calgary Blake Murphy
Aug 29, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 29 – Lowry and Patterson’s future Blake Murphy
Aug 26, 16 Report: Sim Bhullar signs in Taiwan Blake Murphy
Aug 26, 16 Jared Sullinger: Offensive Scouting Report Cooper Smither
Aug 24, 16 Raptors 905 lose two in D-League expansion draft, acquired James Siakam Blake Murphy
Aug 24, 16 Raptors agree to terms with E.J. Singler Blake Murphy
Aug 24, 16 Jared Sullinger Scouting Report: Defense Cooper Smither
Aug 23, 16 Raptors unveil new Huskies, Chinese New Year alternate jerseys Blake Murphy
Aug 22, 16 Raptors 905 reveal 2016-17 schedule Blake Murphy
Aug 22, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 22 – Oh-lympics Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 21, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: USA d. Serbia Alex Gres
Aug 21, 16 PHOTOS: Lowry and DeRozan celebrate Olympic gold Blake Murphy
Aug 19, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: USA d. Spain Spencer Redmond
Aug 18, 16 VIDEO: Giants of Africa recap Blake Murphy
Aug 18, 16 Lithuania HC: Valanciunas ‘has to dedicate himself to basketball more’ Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball: U.S.A. d. Argentina Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 16 Valanciunas: ‘I was pretty bad, I got to do something with my head’ Blake Murphy
Aug 17, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: Australia d. Lithuania Blake Murphy
Aug 16, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: France d. Canada Blake Murphy
Aug 16, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: Croatia d. Lithuania Alex Gres
Aug 15, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 15 – Olympic talk, and avoiding the treadmill Blake Murphy
Aug 14, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: Spain d. Canada Blake Murphy
Aug 14, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball: U.S.A. d. France Blake Murphy
Aug 13, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: Spain d. Lithuania Spencer Redmond
Aug 12, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball: U.S.A. d. Serbia Alex Gres
Aug 12, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: USA d. Canada Blake Murphy
Aug 12, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball: Lithuania d. Argentina Gavin MacPherson
Aug 11, 16 Report: Raptors, Masai Ujiri negotiating contract extension Blake Murphy
Aug 11, 16 Everything you need to know about the Toronto Raptors 2016-17 schedule Blake Murphy
Aug 11, 16 Raptors sign Drew Crawford and Yanick Moreira Blake Murphy
Aug 10, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: U.S.A d. Australia Spencer Redmond
Aug 10, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: Canada d. Senegal Blake Murphy
Aug 9, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: Lithuania d. Nigeria Blake Murphy
Aug 9, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Aug 9 Sam Holako
Aug 8, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: U.S.A. d. Venezuela Spencer Redmond
Aug 8, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: Canada d. Serbia Blake Murphy
Aug 8, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 8 – Olympic basketball preview Blake Murphy
Aug 7, 16 Olympic Men’s Basketball Recap: Lithuania d. Brazil Gavin MacPherson
Aug 7, 16 Photo/Video: Lowry posts message to DeRozan, Poeltl and Siakam hit trick shots Blake Murphy
Aug 6, 16 OIympic Men’s Basketball Recap: USA d. China Gavin MacPherson
Aug 6, 16 Olympic Women’s Basketball Recap: Canada d. China Spencer Redmond
Aug 5, 16 Kyle Lowry named NBPA Raptors Teammate of the Year Blake Murphy
Aug 5, 16 Olympics Schedule: When to watch Raptors, Canadian women Blake Murphy
Aug 4, 16 Raptors Jersey Power Rankings Barry Taylor
Aug 4, 16 Olympic basketball odds: USA heavy favorite on both sides RR
Aug 4, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Aug 4 Sam Holako
Aug 3, 16 The Rio Olympics Power Rankings Alex Gres
Aug 2, 16 Raptors announce signing of Jarrod Uthoff Blake Murphy
Aug 2, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast, Aug 2 – Jerrymandering Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 2, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, Aug 2 Sam Holako
Aug 1, 16 VIDEO: Lowry and DeRozan hook up for exhibition alley-oop Blake Murphy
Aug 1, 16 Report: Jerry Stackhouse to coach Raptors 905 Blake Murphy
Aug 1, 16 Delon Wright out at least 4 months following shoulder surgery Blake Murphy
Jul 28, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 28 Sam Holako
Jul 27, 16 Introducing: Blue Jays Republic Sam Holako
Jul 27, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 27 Sam Holako
Jul 27, 16 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan misses potentially epic poster Blake Murphy
Jul 26, 16 Andrea Bargnani reportedly close to signing overseas Blake Murphy
Click to comment

Video: Bruno Caboclo and Kevin Durant – “The Brazilian KD”

Click to comment

Nogueira unlikely for opener, putting pressure on Valanciunas & Poeltl

So, hey, who likes rookies? Good, because the Toronto Raptors stand to be featuring both of theirs prominently in Wednesday’s season opener.

Head coach Dwane Casey revealed at practice Tuesday that it’s unlikely presumed backup center Lucas Nogueira will be able to play when the team hosts the Detroit Pistons tomorrow. Nogueira suffered a sprained left ankle in Friday’s preseason finale and has been undergoing around-the-clock treatment, but he’s still yet to return to the practice floor, and swelling and soreness persists. Casey wouldn’t go as far as to rule Nogueira out just yet, but it sounds as close to a certainty as the team would let on, anyway.

The loss of Nogueira, coupled with the absence of Jared Sullinger, stands to put a ton of pressure on the team’s two first-round picks, both of who figure to be in Wednesday’s rotation. Short of the Raptors going exceptionally small and tasking Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas with heavy workloads out of the gate, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl are going to make their NBA debuts against Andre Drummond and company.

As things currently stand, here’s how the Raptors rotation may look:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
INJ: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Lucas Nogueira

And yes, that means Terrence Ross will play Wednesday, which was mostly assumed to be the case after he played 10 minutes in the team’s final dress rehearsal. Bruno Caboclo probably won’t be used except in the event of an emergency or blowout, but if the team called his name, it would likely be at the four, where he’s shown more progress defensively. Expect DeMarre Carroll to see steady time at power forward, too, allowing the team to paper over their thin frontcourt with additional guards.

However it shakes out, there’s a lot of pressure on Siakam and Poeltl out of the gate now. It’s been a while since the Raptors had to task a rookie with a prominent role immediately, but one of the last player’s to be leaned on from Day One can share some advice for the freshmen.

“Just play hard,” DeMar DeRozan said. “You can try to give all of the advice you can, but it’s different when you get out there and feel that intensity. You really can’t duplicate that in a conversation. Stay calm, don’t overthink it, go out there and play and do what you’ve been doing all summer, all training camp and all preseason and go do what your job is to do. It’s OK to mess up. Don’t overthink it and go out there and try to be perfect, because that’s when you’ll go out there and look more crazy.”

As far as trial-by-fires go, Drummond and the Pistons present a pretty tough test for the youngsters, as well as for Valanciunas. The Raptors got a good look at Detroit nearly a week ago in the preseason, and even without Aron Baynes, they proved a good litmus at that point. Toronto emerged victorious, but Valanciunas struggled from the floor and on defense and Poeltl didn’t play until garbage time.

“They want to physically beat you up,” Casey said. “So if you’re not coming in mentally prepared to go against that then they’re going to have the advantage that night. So that’s going to have to be our whole mindset going into tomorrow night, is physically being ready for a battle. If not it’s going to be a long night.

“For Jakob and JV and Lucas, if he’s healthy, it’s going to be huge.”

Casey somewhat surprisingly conceded that Valanciunas is yet to find his rhythm in camp and isn’t quite where he was before spraining his ankle in the postseason. Getting him back to that point now appears to be a priority, because the Raptors will need Valanciunas to eat 30-plus minutes a night in the short-term, and maybe all season long. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry know they can look to him, Cory Joseph will lean on him when the units overlap, and the Raptors simply don’t have the bodies to go away from Valanciunas, even if he continues to play at something less than his peak.

For his part, Valanciunas is eager to soak up some of the responsibility and he isn’t concerned about his somewhat shaky preseason.

“Right now? Sky’s the limit,” he said when asked about his game. “You can get better every day, that’s why I’m working. I’m working every day, with Jack, with other coaches, just doing my offensive moves, trying to learn something on defense. I’m never satisfied with where I am right now…It (his playoff performance) felt really good. I wanna start what I left off. I’m gonna do everything to play the same level or better.

“You know, just give me time, I’m ready. I’m ready to step on the court and do some things.”

The Raptors now find themselves in a position where they need Valanciunas to do a lot of things, or at least a few things for long stretches of time. DeRozan is “getting to old to try to score 30 a night,” anyway, he says, and now would be the perfect time for Valanciunas’ long-awaited breakout. They’ll be asking more from their rookies than they may have expected in June, too, which has the potential to be a major positive in the long-run but painful for the time being.

Click to comment

Tactical Observations from Preseason: Reintroduction of the Motion Offense

Last preseason, after the the Raptors had been humiliated by the Wizards in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, Toronto introduced a pseudo-motion offense. It didn’t stick very long, as they progressively abandoned it throughout the season and opted to enter their base offense more quickly, instead of engaging scripted entry points that rarely produce points directly.

This year, the Raptors have decided to introduce their version of a Motion offense once again. The positives in doing so, lessening the predictable nature of their offensive attack which tends to bog down come playoff time, should be important to this Raptors team.

The sequence starts with the ball handler dribbling up one side of the court and quickly engaging the trailing big man in a swing of the ball from one side of the court to the other. If the big man cannot continue the swing of the ball to the opposite side of the court, he will pass back to the original side in which the ball came from, Sometimes this forces one player above the break to exchange positions with a corner player because one player is more adept at handling the ball and making plays on offense.

This triggers a high pick and roll.

When the Raptors are able to successfully swing the ball from one side to the other, the initial ball handler and trailing big who engaged in the swinging of the ball will set a staggered screen for the Raptor placed in the corner.

This is commonly called “Sting” action out of the “Motion Strong” sequence. The player will rarely be open for a shot, as this is such a common action among NBA teams. It can also progress into one of the Raptors base offensive sets.

As a result of this action rarely producing an opportunity to score by itself, the Raptors will sometimes scrap the staggered screen and just have the initial ball handler get freed on a single screen from the trailing big – this is referred to as “One Down.” This opens up a wide variety of options and sets. It can transition nicely into “Horns” or the Raptors “Flex Series.” Additionally, it can serve as another avenue to running a high pick and roll.  

In the following clips, we see it transfer nicely into “Flex” sets and “Horns Triple” to degrees of success only shown in the preseason.

Concluding Thoughts

It should be a shock to no one that the Raptors are attempting to tone down the levels of predictability that their offense faces. This motion offence, however basic relative to other teams, allows for impromptu decision making with reads and reactions based on what the defense is willing to give. If continued through the entire season (unlike last year), it should provide a more well balanced attack that doesn’t allow for bogging down quite as easily as the Raptors tend to do come playoff time.

Click to comment

2016-17 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part Two

At long last, the NBA is back. Enough of the much-too-long preseason, enough of the  training camp storylines, manufactured or otherwise, enough of speaking in hypotheticals. The season is here very shortly, which means all that’s left to check off the preseason To Do List is our annual staff roundtable. Part one went up yesterday, part two is below. Let’s get these 2016-17 buckets.

(Note: Answers were collected before the Jared Sullinger news.)

6. Terrence Ross. Are you in or all the way in?

Blake Murphy: If the preseason isn’t for talking yourself into players you have no business talking yourself into, what is it for? I’m buying in to the point that I think Ross will be able to show that Masai Ujiri was smart to lock him up on what amounts to a below-market deal. Ross was quietly a part of the team’s killer bench lineup last year (as loathe as some are to admit that), and he’s established himself as a top-20 shooter on a large volume of threes, an important consideration for a team without a ton of bombers. If Ross can continue to show improved aggression and decision-making off the bounce, he could really open up that second unit offense. And if he gets to the line more than once a week? Look out. (OK, he probably still isn’t going to push himself to Sixth Man of the Year contention, but there’s room for optimism here. Seriously!)

Michael Holian: No third option? How about this: In or all the way in on a grey area? One that resides between refusing to jump on the yearly T-Ross bandwagon and taking it for a joy ride. Until his annual flashes of consistency aren’t balanced out with extended stretches of disappointing decision-making, that’s where I’ll set up camp. Granted, even though it’s just preseason, seeing the encouraging signs of last year carry over (the ones where he realized he’s capable of being much more than just a spacing-the-floor specialist) has me eagerly awaiting what 90% of this fan base is predicting. Though as much as his all-of-a-sudden supporters don’t want to hear it, a breakout year also makes the notion of him ultimately being shipped out of town stronger at the same time. Don’t. Shoot. The. Messenger.

Cooper SmitherVery in on whatever iteration of Terrence/Terry/T.J./Elijah/James Ross we are currently at. Seeing him contort defenses in the pick and roll, aggressively come off screens and just driving to the hole has got to make you a believer. Or it might not if you’re a Terrence Ross pessimist. They tend to be right more often anyways. But on a semi-serious note, I thought he had a consistent/good enough regular season last year anyways, it’s showing up for one of the three playoff series that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that makes this jump seem unreasonable. Personally, comparing last regular season to this preseason, it’s a linear and logical (still important and large) step, but not out of the question.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Last year I think I was the only one still ‘all in’, so obviously I’m ‘all the way in’. I get why fans were frustrated given his natural athleticism and potential. Preseason (prior to injury) Ross confidently showcased a mid-range game, invited contact and dropped some sweet dimes. Speculation on “why now?” has ranged from the end of his relationship with Amber Rose, maturing, becoming a father etc. But, I believe it was just plain old pride – Ross felt the heat from Powell. Ross himself said lack of focus was an issue and something he worked on. His next step should be increased rebounds, assists, and steals and 100% commitment defensively.

Spencer RedmondThis is really a make or break season for Ross. A lot of people see him as a trade piece, but his three point shooting off the bench could continue to be a really valuable asset for the Raptors this season. I’m in! I hope the issues that have held Ross back in his first four seasons finally start to fizzle away and he figures things out.

William Lou: Call it the (Dennis) Schrodinger’s problem: I’m always simultaneously in AND out on Terrence Ross.

Warren Kosoy: I’ve never seen so much talent put to waste. The odd sick dunks, and the odd hot shooting nights are cancelled out by bad rotations, an inability to drive to the basket, and a very one dimensional brand of basketball. Maybe if Ross had the same chance to develop in a primary ball handling role like Derozan, this career path would be much different., but Ross is what he is at this point, and I don’t think that’ll change in Toronto. He has the talent to flourish elsewhere though.

Shyam Baskaran: So instead of destroying T-Ross again, I’ll step back and re-define what “in” and “all the way in” mean to me. “All the way in” 2 and a half years ago after the 51-point game might have been the potential for him to be an all-star, or maybe just a notch below that. I think after 4 years of seeing this guy, we’ve gotten a much better understanding of his ceiling. To me, “all the way in” today means he can potentially be the Jamal Crawford, JR Smith, etc. that we can rely on. We just need him to be a reliable bench scorer that spaces the floor, shoots 45%+ from the field, and is in the 13-15 ppg range consistently. To me, that’s “all the way in”. And currently, while I’m sold on that (or at least the reasonable likelihood of it), I’m not sold on much else.

Barry Taylor: Let’s do it. He’s got too much talent for it to never happen. This is the year. Forget the old Terrence. Forget Amber Rose.This is the season he busts out. I’m going all in. Long Live Trey Rozay!

Cameron Dorrett: I have no idea what this is  – but it sums up exactly what I feel Terry is capable of. All.The.Way.

Tim Chisholm: Sorry, not quite ready to forget the last four years, yet.

Anthony Doyle: I’m all the way in. I’ve always believed in Ross’ talent, the questions have been with his maturity and confidence. And while preseason basketball isn’t the most predictive in terms of regular season performance, there is definitely something different about his approach to the game from what we’ve seen. He’s hesitating less, talking more on the defensive end, and he’s aggressive and confident on the offensive end. I’ve been burned before by believing in Ross, and wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again, but I’m buying that this is the player we’ve known he can be for years.

Alex Gres: In, reluctantly. Like him or hate him, Ross is an excellent three point shooter, something the Raptors simply don’t have much of. He showed a willingness to be more decisive as the ball handler last season, and ideally the Raptors would want him to morph into a defensively capable Jamal Crawford type. At this point, most of us understand that probably won’t happen, and so it would be silly to continue being disappointed by his performances. Luckily, we have Norman Powell salivating the prospect of more minutes.

7. Jonas Valanciunas is also entering his fifth season. His role has stagnated the last few seasons despite evidence he could handle a larger offseason workload. What are you expectations for Valanciunas this year?

William Lou: Honestly, I don’t see Valanciunas making the jump this year simply because the dynamic of the team is exactly the same, and that the current scheme has already proven to be a winning formula. Valanciunas will put up 12 points and 8 rebounds with a block in 28 minutes per game.

Anthony Doyle: Valanciunas has consistently shown that he’s ready to be an impact player for the team on the offensive end, scoring with ease inside, or with his effective midrange jumper, even against some of the best defensive centers in the league. He was dominating the matchup against Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs prior to his injury, and I’d love to see that guy come out for a full season. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed with his effort in the Olympics and preseason. Although the numbers are fine, his approach seems hesitant and he’s not showing the aggressiveness he needs so far.

Cameron Dorrett: I get that people don’t want to hear this, honestly, I do – but I think we’ve seen JV’s ceiling. Is it the Sistine Chapel we hoped for? No, but it opens the room up nicely and isn’t going to crumble around you anytime soon.

Shyam Baskaran: We need JV to be a force – the force that he proved himself to be in the Pacers playoff series and in the first 3 games against Miami. JV needs to elevate himself to be an elite big-man, and I think this is the make-or-break season for him. In other words, if not now, then I think this is just who he is going forward. Having said that, he’s always been better in the post-season because of how the game slows down. My overall expectation is that he averages about a double-double per game, with a bit more offensive punch than last year (15 ppg or so). Part of that will hinge on our play-calling, which I expect Coach Casey to skew toward JV more this year.

Michael Holian: It’s somewhat by default, considering the lack of experience behind him, but we’re likely going to see what JV is truly made of. Can we officially expect his minutes to surpass the 30-minute mark? Well, even with the probability of Casey going small with much more regularity, JV should not only be extended the opportunity of furthering the progression he made on defense in the playoffs, but also given the chance to be incorporated into offensive sets that he would’ve normally been observing from the bench. He disappointed at the Olympics, and has left us uninspired during the preseason, but the expectation for a career year (including a capable 15-footer, and improved footwork around the basket) remains.

Blake Murphy: I’m foolishly expecting him to be a bigger part of the team’s offense. They’ve already shown a few new wrinkles in the preseason, and it seems as if head coach Dwane Casey is at least considering giving Valanciunas minutes against opposing bench units, helping out Cory Joseph and feasting on weaker bigs in the process. If they can expand his role without syphoning from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, a very good offensive team can become even better. Which is important, because unless Valanciunas takes strides at the other end (fingers somewhat skeptically crossed), they’re going to be worse on defense and trying to out-shoot teams to make up for it.

Warren Kosoy: With Biyombo gone, I expect Valanciunas to see an uptick that we have all been waiting for. He was saying minutes in the high 30s against the Heat before getting hurt. I think he will just be easier to trust than any other centers. I expect Val to see 32 minutes a night, while Patterson and Sullinger, along with periodic Poeltl minutes filling out the rest. I wish Val could pass a little better, but he is capable of taking any big one on one inside. I see a slight improvement, but no breakout.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Honestly, JV baffles me. He was dominant in the playoffs. Part of that was due to the game slowing to the half court, but that’s not the reason his passing improved exponentially. Notably, whenever Jack Sikma’s around JV plays with more confidence and offensively is less hesitant. (Note to management: hire Sikma full time.) Again, I’m confused by JV. He seemed fine with the Biyombo platoon, so I don’t imagine he would fight harder should one of Nogueira or Poeltl push him like Powell has Ross. Okay, I’m avoiding…. I expect less pump fakes, playoff type passing, 17 points, 10 rebounds, 1.9 blocks (for the record that’s also what I said last year).

Tim Chisholm: They were pretty high until this preseason, where he’s looked totally out of rhythm for long stretches. Valanciuans is a very skilled player, but I’m worried about the fit going into his fifth year. It just feels like he doesn’t mesh with what the team needs from a centre on a team with Lowry and DeRozan. That could also easily be a recency bias, because when you have a player that good you really ought to find a way to maximize him.

Cooper SmitherExpectations and hopes are tricky here. I hope he plays 30 minutes a night, but the Raptors have seemed pretty content playing him a tick above 25 minutes a game for his career. Increase in minutes would (hopefully) give him more time with the bench to boost them up, increase the usage percentage and the raw stats. We’d all love for him to get to 15 & 10, but getting there is tricky without reconfiguring where his minutes come from. He made an incredibly important step from a passing perspective last year – it’s my expectation and hope that his facilitation from the post or the elbow continues to grow after years of being a black hole.

Alex Gres: The evidence that Valanciunas is capable of being a first or second option at the NBA level is slim at best. He has shown an ability to excel in the playoffs, but he was doing so while the defense focused on Lowry and DeRozan. The big Lithuanian failed to impress as his national team’ headliner in the Olympics, sowing doubts among those who would see him promoted within the Raptors hierarchy. His real opportunity to impress may come if he features as the main option alongside the bench unit, running the pick and roll with Cory Joseph.

Barry Taylor: Based on his playoff performance last year, Casey has no choice but to feature more JV in the offence this year. With more touches Valanciunas can become an All Star. Believe that!

Spencer Redmond: My expectations are infinite, all depending on how many touches he gets. Hope the Raptors give him more opportunities, at the same time I think Valanciunas needs to keep doing all the little things to ensure he gets the ball in the best position to score. He has shown flashes (like last postseason) of really being engaged on offense and being able to score on some of the best rim protectors in the league. Other times, he looks unengaged.

Kiyan Sobhani: Given his dominant performances in the post-season, I’d expect a leap. 15 and 10 – that’s a reasonable expectation, and that’s on the low-end.

8. Are you ready for the Pascal Siakam Experience?

Shyam Baskaran: 100% ready. While Siakam doesn’t really have a ton of basketball experience, in my mind, he’s already a more NBA-ready version of Bruno. Save for maybe the offensive skillset, he’s faster, is a better defender and is great around the basket. My only concerns for him are playing time (Coach Casey is famous for not playing rooks), and discipline when on the court. He could find himself glued to the bench on missed defensive assignments, bad shots, etc. But that’s why we’ve got the 905, and I’m sure Siakam will get some run there if the NBA is too much too early.

Spencer RedmondPascal has blown away my expectations in preseason. I hope he plays the backup five, his energy and defensive smarts make him an excellent candidate to replace Biyombo in the rotation. He has the defensive skills to be a great rim protector, and has shown he has pretty polished offensive game, better than a lot of draft experts expected. I see a lot of Jerome Williams in Siakam.

Tim Chisholm: Even if I weren’t, it sure seems like Dwane Casey is. As Norman proved a year ago, energy and defence will get you minutes on a Casey team, and with Biyombo sunning himself in Florida, there is room for a ‘get after it’ frontcourt guy. So, in short: yes, I’m ready. But man, he’s going to foul a lot.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah!  Loved the pick, love the unlimited potential, love the high I.Q, love the defensive versatility, love his demeanor. Initially I expected Siakam would be Powell 2.0. But, with VanVleet likely taking roster spot 15, it leaves Toronto short on SF depth. Raptors will cap Carroll’s minutes (as they should), so if Ross gets injured Casey has to play DeRozan or Siakam. For that very reason I think he gets fast tracked. Want more gushing? Read my Siakam player preview it’s all there.

Barry Taylor: Sounds like fun. I’m always up for trying pretty much everything once. When we spoke with Jeff Landicho from Open Gym – watch your step, just dropped a name – he mentioned Siakam really stuck out to him during pre-season as a player that has potential for great things. I’m on board.

Cooper SmitherI’m pretty damn ready. Not-so-much for the possibility of him as a 3, I still think he could pivot to the 5 against certain bench units at some point in his career, but he’s looking damn-solid at the 4 regardless. I really hope he doesn’t get labeled as an energy guy, because his defensive positioning and technique are quite good and the “energy” label might be selling him short. He’s got some ball-skills on the other end which are intriguing, but it’s also easy to see the jumper is quite a ways away. Overall, pretty excited for the funky lineups he potentially unlocks.

Warren Kosoy: Definitely. He looks like a fun player. It’s hard to judge a guy from half of a summer league and a 5th option role in preseason, but I can tell that Siakam will be a guy that people like to watch. He is good at getting open on the fastbreak, and has some upside on defense. I’m tempering expectations, but a new fun player is always something I look forward to.

Alex Gres: Expectations should be tempered for the athletic rookie, though there’s little doubt he will become a crowd favorite if he gets minutes. Ujiri likes to make bets on long, raw athletic players, believing in the staff he put together to make quality basketball players out of them. Siakam is the newest experiment in the line, and may have an exciting future ahead of him if he puts in the work.

Anthony Doyle: Siakam is so much fun. He’s aggressive, confident and hard-working on both ends of the floor, and just a pleasure to watch. His game is still raw, and at times his inexperience shows, but he just never stops working. This is Norman Powell, the big man version, and I’m completely ready and bought-in on him as part of the rotation as the season goes on.

Blake Murphy: Absolutely.

Michael Holian: You mean the rookie who’s energy level and willingness to assert himself on defense already rivals any player on the roster? The one that’s seemingly capable of contributing across the board at either the three, four or five? The same player I just stashed in both my dynasty leagues? Ok, deep breath … Siakam is raw, will have to wait his turn to prove that I’m not jumping the gun, and scattered stints in the D-League are likely in his future. Still, with the thought of having a potential frontcourt fixture already in the pipeline instead of the club continuously having to dip into Free Agency, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who’s ready.

William Lou: I’m so ready. Just remember: He’s not the second Bismack Biyombo, he’s the first Pascal Siakam (although there will be just as many shanked layups, so RR might need to update that wildly unpopular “Bismack Biyombo Blown Bunny Counter.”)

Cameron Dorrett: Pascal Siakam said this, and it’s all you need to know: “No offense to Bismack Biyombo, I’d rather be the first Pascal Siakam”. I’m ready.

9. What is your biggest concern about the Raptors as currently constructed?

William Lou: That the team is too reliant on DeRozan and Lowry. Dwane Casey already came out and said, in so many words, that he’ll ride Lowry and DeRozan for heavy minutes like he always does. We need these guys healthy for the playoffs but Casey treats the NBA like the EPL as he tries his best to win the table (that Zarar’s Arsenal side can never achieve.)

Cooper SmitherThey tie together somewhat, but health and lack of security from the depth of the bigs. For a while, Valanciunas seemed like an iron man of sorts, but if he goes down again, the domino effects could be pretty drastic. Either removing Patterson from the bench and going small(ish) with Sullinger at the 5, or starting one of the unproven big man prospects. Other than that, just keeping everyone healthy come playoff time.

Cameron Dorrett: Cleveland.

Anthony Doyle: Last year’s concern is the same as this year’s for me: the Raptors are a good team that’s not quite great, and they don’t have a clear path to getting there. Doubling down on the team’s core, with DeRozan’s big extension and re-signing Casey, means that we’ll continue to be good. But it also might mean we can’t make the next step, as it makes it harder to bring in new players that change the trajectory of the team. Maybe that’s enough for some, but I’d like to win titles.

Blake Murphy: Oddly, it’s the same as a season ago: Depth in the frontcourt. It’s not so much that the Raptors didn’t address it – remember that it didn’t “seem” as if they had addressed it enough at this time last year, when Bismack Biyombo was still a relatively unknown commodity – but that they’re already in triage mode across the forward and center spots. I think it’ll be fine, as I’m optimistic that the team’s smaller wings can play some three (give me all the fun, small, annoying lineups), but the Raptors are one Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson, or DeMarre Carroll injury from being the league’s youngest – or smallest – team. That’s tough over 82 games, so as long as everyone’s healthy in April, maybe it’s OK.

Barry Taylor: They don’t have Lebron James.

Tim Chisholm: A prolonged injury to DeRozan or Lowry could be devastating, and, like I said, I’m worried that this team still doesn’t know what to do with Valanciunas, but on the whole there isn’t a lot to be worried by. They’re well constructed, they play hard, and they’re fun to watch. Maybe my biggest concern is that they go out in a competitive second round series and people decide that the season was somehow a “step back”, because they don’t understand how success is measured for good teams.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Front court depth could be an issue. But even if Toronto take a step back awaiting the development of their youngsters I’m okay with that. Plus I can offer facts to back up my optimism. Only 4 teams have no out-going draft picks for the foreseeable future (Raptors, Magic, Suns and Jazz). Five teams have an average roster age of 25.2 or younger. The Raptors fall into both columns (as do the Suns).

Average Age:

  1. Sixers – 24.8
  2. Celtics – 24.9
  3. Suns – 25.0
  4. Raptors, Blazers: 25.2

Hey, I’m an optimist; I’ll refer you to question 1 and ask you not to rain on my parade.

Alex Gres: The lack of consistent three point shooting. There’s no way to escape the fact that top tier NBA teams in the last decade boast top tier three point shooters. The Raptors are banking on Joseph and Powell to improve their consistency to the high thirties (Powell’s was above that, but in a small sample size). They have the tools to play small and outrebound their opponents, as well as quality man defenders that can slow down opposing stars. The last piece of the puzzle is maintaining high shooting percentages while increasing triple attempts.

Spencer RedmondOverall I think the lack of three point shooting is a problem. Both starters and bench units have some three point shooting, and to counter that they have a lot of ball handlers who won’t shoot threes at all. Spacing could be an issue if some of the shooters hits a cold spell.

Warren Kosoy: I think the Raptors lost some significant depth this year. Losing Biyombo is going to really hurt, and I worry about the depth at small forward. Carroll is injury prone, and the people saying that “He’s good when he’s healthy” are correct. However, we have barely seen any healthy Carroll. I worry if he gets hurt that the SF position will be a problem. I also think they were a good team last year, but I think that might have been their peak.

Shyam Baskaran: 100% ready. While Siakam doesn’t really have a ton of basketball experience, in my mind, he’s already a more NBA-ready version of Bruno. Save for maybe the offensive skillset, he’s faster, is a better defender and is great around the basket. My only concerns for him are playing time (Coach Casey is famous for not playing rooks), and discipline when on the court. He could find himself glued to the bench on missed defensive assignments, bad shots, etc. But that’s why we’ve got the 905, and I’m sure Siakam will get some run there if the NBA is too much too early.

Michael Holian: I’m confident that the Raps’ new-look frontcourt and returning supporting cast can hold up their end of the bargain. But the thought of both underperforming should make us all fearful of what it could lead to, as it opens up the potential for things to go haywire from multiple angles: A) Lowry and DeRozan continuously overcompensate, which means overextending themselves in the regular season when the mission should be the opposite. B) Norman Powell’s minutes fluctuate, which means his growth as a two-way player gets stunted. And most of all: C) Rebounding and interior defense (or lack thereof) become major factors, which means the concerns over the loss of Biyombo become all too real.

10. How many wins will the Raptors finish with? More importantly, will they make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Tamberlyn Richardson: First the team must apply lessons learned:  it’s more valuable to be rested and healthy in April. Dwane Casey needs to play the youngsters more, even at the risk of forfeiting some wins. That will help accomplish the primary goal while also providing valuable in game experience to the youngsters. For that reason I’m saying the Raptors win between 48 and 52 games. The East has improved and many pundits are picking everyone but the Raptors as top seeds (see NBA TV Open Court). That also doesn’t bother me because the Raptors play better when they are underestimated.  Bring on the shade, disrespect and give us a playoff seed that doesn’t involve the Cavaliers until the ECF.

Alex Gres: Their win total is not how the Raptors will be measured – and rightfully so, as Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll’s minutes will be carefully managed with an eye towards the real goal – making it back to the Conference Finals. A number of Eastern opponents got better (Indiana, Boston) while others got worse (Heat, Hawks), but We The North’s road to the final four will remain roughly similar in difficulty to last season. The problem is that Toronto needed two game 7s on their home court to get there. Their newfound experience will help, but the reduced emphasis placed on the regular season may cost them home court advantage in the second round and spell an earlier exit in a toss-up series against the Celtics or the revenge-hungry Pacers.

Cameron Dorrett: 53 wins. The second seed. The Eastern Conference Finals.

Michael HolianThere’s too many questions that have to seamlessly fall in place at the same time for the Raps to surpass last season’s record-breaking win total. But because they’re still in the driver’s seat to claim the 2-seed (the skeptics don’t have a leg to stand on), I have them ending up at 50-32. As for the more important question, the only things standing in the way of a repeat appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals are injuries, failure to embrace a tweak in identity, and if they don’t up the ante during postseason road games. Bottom line: When I hit up Vegas a weeks back, I already put my money on Round 3 of Toronto-Cleveland taking place.

Warren Kosoy: 50 wins and I’ll vote no on the ECF. They barely got through a mediocre Indiana team, and the Whiteside injury completely skewed the Miami series. Valanciunas got hurt too, but Miami had literally no one near Biyombo to start off the bench. This gave the Raptors a huge rebounding advantage. They barely got through Miami. I hope I’m wrong and this team proves me wrong, but I think the East got a lot stronger this year, and the Raptors got weaker to me.

William Lou: 53 wins for the Raptors. They make it back to the ECF (before getting swept by Cleveland) after beating Boston in a seven-game series in the second round.

Kiyan Sobhani: 53-29. ECF.

Barry Taylor: They’ll finish with 48 wins and take Boston in the semi-finals to make the Eastern Conference Finals but lose to…. the Pacers.

Cooper SmitherGive me 52 wins but being an equally as good squad (or marginally different) as last year. As for the ECF, i’ll tentatively say yes.

Shyam Baskaran: I’ll say 50 wins. 56 wins last year was probably as high as we’ll see with this team as currently constructed (save for a blockbuster trade, I just can’t see them winning 57 or more). That’ll probably mean seeding between 2-4 in the East, depending on how Boston, Indiana, Atlanta, or even improving teams like Detroit, Washington, Charlotte, etc. do. Can we make it back to the eastern conference finals? Absolutely. If we remain healthy and win our division (meaning we do better than do Boston), I don’t see why it’s not a possibility.

Anthony Doyle: I think you’ll see a similar year to last year, finishing around 50 to 55 wins, and with a strong playoff run. I’ll say yes on the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’ll be a tough playoff road again, and I expect the Raptors will win their division and finish with a top two seed in the Eastern Conference.

Spencer Redmond: 51 wins. They are still the second best team in the East in my mind, slightly less wins because the East got deeper overall. Eastern Conference Finals is definitely a possibility, I see them making it back.

Tim Chisholm: 52 is my guess. I’d say they have every reason to believe that they can make it back to the ECF, but the Playoffs can be weird and unforgiving so we’ll have to see about a repeat appearance.
Blake Murphy: 51 wins, but keep in mind I undershot their total in each of the last two years (I tend to overestimate the downside, I guess). It’s boring to pick chalk, but the Raptors lose to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.
Click to comment

Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E01 – With James Keast

It’s about that time folks! With the official tip-off of the 2016-2017 season nearly here, its time to get excited. Thats exactly what the guys at Talking Raptors do. On the season opening episode, Nick and Barry are joined by friend of the podcast James Keast. James is the editor for Exclaim Magazine, a Raptors season ticket holder, and an all around great guy.

On premiere episode of 4th season of Talking Raptors the guys discuss:

-The welcoming of the Newest Raptors.

-How big of year will Terrence Ross & JV have.

-Where will the Raptors finish this season.

-Western Conference and season award predictions.

-New Jerseys and Drake.

-Space Jam 2… yes or no?

All this and much more. As always thanks for listening, we hope you enjoy and we can’t wait to podcast about this team all season long.

Lets Go Raptors.

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

Click to comment

Morning Coffee – Tue, Oct 25

Sullinger could miss 2-3 months, Patterson ‘leading candidate’ to start – Raptors Republic

The obvious name to till the Powell role this time around is that of rookie Pascal Siakam, who figures to be a prominent part of the opening night rotation right now. While the Raptors are very high on the No. 27 overall pick long-term and have been encouraged by his performance at training camp, the ideal scenario for a 56-win team doesn’t really involve thrusting a rookie into the spotlight out of the gate. Whether he ends up starting in a high-energy, low-usage, defense-first role or coming off the bench as part of what could be a very fun but inexperienced second unit, Siakam’s going to be leaned on while Sullinger’s on the mend.

That doesn’t mean Siakam will start, though, despite head coach Dwane Casey’s prior preference to bring sixth man Patrick Patterson off the bench. There are different schools of belief when it comes to Patterson as a starter, but there are several reasons it’s long made sense for him to start, with some pretty strong evidence in support. Foremost, Patterson is a natural tactical and logical fit with the starters. A switchy three-point threat who doesn’t need the ball and is capable of guarding larger frontcourt players, he’s basically the description of what a team should want alongside Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas. Touches are in short supply, anyway, so a floor-spacer who provides value at the other end makes sense, and he and DeMarre Carroll together open up some options defensively.

This was the argument last year, too, however, and the team continued to start Luis Scola. There’s a persistent thought that Patterson has some sort of block when it comes to starting, and Casey has paid credence to that in the past, but there’s not a great deal of statistical evidence in support of it. Yes, Patterson had somewhat of a rough preseason trying to lock down the starting job last year, and he hit a poorly timed shooting slump when thrust into the starting lineup in the playoffs, but he was also quite effective overall in those postseason outings, and lineup data suggests the starters with Patterson could be one heck of a unit. That fivesome only played 16 minutes together last year, eviscerating opponents in a tiny sample, and then outscored Indiana and Miami by 5.7 points per-100 possessions over a meaningful, high quality-of-competition, 95-minute sample.

2016-17 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part One – Raptors Republic


Blake Murphy: Spending it with all of you.

Tactical Observations from Preseason: The Foundation for Jonas Valanciunas – Raptors Republic

The Raptors introduced Split Cuts into their offense very late last year, beginning in the playoffs. It is interesting to see that it has remained in the Raptors offensive repertoire and is a good sign of growth

Impromptu Post Ups

This last set of post ups are a bit less concrete in schematic terms but do make sense in a broad way.

During the preseason, in possessions where the Early Offense has died out on the first option or once a set has run its course without producing an advantage, the Raptors have seemed to spontaneously dumped the ball into Valanciunas. In years past, those possessions may have ended in long-range, off-the-dribble jumpers, but a possession or two in most games have seemed to find their way to Valanciunas on the low block as a way for the offensive possession to be saved.

In order, those possessions featured Valanciunas and Joseph engaging in a pick and roll, which lead to Valanciunas rolling into post position, a smart way to gain valuable real estate in the paint without having to waste valuable seconds on the clock. Next, the Raptors ran a Wedge Pick and Roll, which is essentially a screen-the-screener action along the sideline. Typically, Valanciunas’ tendency to clog up the lane would’ve worked to the Raptors’ detriment, but they leveraged his position and got him an impromptu post up where he showed decent vision after Patterson wisely sealed his man. Lastly, after Derozan failed to find a good lane to the rim in early offense, the Raptors dumped the ball into Valanciunas after clearing that side of the floor.

It’s unclear if they did this with clear instruction from Casey or Valanciunas’ incredible playoff run has brought him valuable recognition from his teammate recognizing his skills as an offensive weapon, even one that can bail them out when all else fails.

This is not to say the Raptors will no longer go to Lowry or DeRozan late in the clock. A vast majority of those possessions will stay with those two, but expect a slight uptick in Valanciunas’ usage late in the clock.

Patterson: Same answer as always, doesn’t matter if I start or not –

Raptors forward Patrick Patterson says it still doesn’t matter if he starts or doesn’t, also touches on what he sees in a young energetic, skilled Pascal Siakam.

Devlin: Caboclo project still very much a work-in-progress –

Toronto Raptors voice Matt Devlin joins Blair and Brunt to figure out how the club will look without their big free agent signing Jared Sullinger, and talks about where the Bruno Caboclo project stands right now.

Signs point to Raptors starting Patrick Patterson | Toronto Sun

“I like Pat coming off the bench but I also like experience in the game, too,” Casey said Monday. “So we’ll see. Pascal, I don’t think pressure bothers him. He’s an energetic kid. His spirit is a lot like (Bismack) Biyombo’s as far as his overall game spirit is concerned. The coaches have worked well with him defensively. Coach (Rex) Kalamian, who’s in charge of the defence, has done a good job of getting him ready defensively. We’ve just gotta continue to believe in that. That’s what he brings to the table. He’s not going to be shooting threes and (we’re not) running plays for him. His thing is to rebound, run the floor, have a pick-and-roll coverage, make sure he’s in the right place for that. So a lot of his energy and his stuff is gonna come from the defensive end of the floor, his contribution.”

Patterson has been 100% consistent every time he’s asked about starting or coming off the bench and he kept his record intact Monday when it was raised again.

“Same question I always get since I’ve been here,” Patterson said. “Same answer you’re always going to get since I’ve been here: It doesn’t matter. As long as I have a role on this team, whether I start or come off the bench, it doesn’t matter.”

Siakam may still be a rookie but he’s savvy enough to know a rookie doesn’t make demands or proclamations either when it comes to roles.

“At this point I don’t know what choices I have to make,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on so I’ll be ready whatever Coach Casey want’s me to play. I don’t care when (I play), I have no preference. Whenever my name gets called I’ll go out there and play hard just like I always do.”

Wish they sold these at @realsportstoronto #demarderozan #raptors #wethenorth

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

DeRozan and Lowry – The most unique backcourt in the NBA – Video – TSN

The Raptors All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will no doubt be expected to carry the load for Toronto again this season. Both have been vocal about their affinity for the city as well as for each other. Leo Rautins takes a closer look at their unique relationship.

Casey, Raptors out to prove naysayers wrong – Video – TSN

As the Raptors get set to open the season, Kara Wagland talks to Toronto head coach Dwane Casey about DeMar DeRozan re-signing, Jared Sullinger, pre-season rankings and how the league might be underestimating his squad.

Raptors lean on youth to fill in for injured Sullinger – Article – TSN

Whether Siakam starts or not, the rookie will have a role in the regular rotation right out of the gate. The 22-year-old says he’s ready and seems to have the confidence of his coaches and teammates coming off a strong training camp. He’s anxiously awaiting his NBA debut on Wednesday. “It’s going to be huge,” he said. “Like I always say, it’s something that is bigger than me. It’s my family, it’s my dad that passed away. There’s so much. He really wanted this. I think opening night is going to be really important for me. I know I’m in the NBA now, but now it’s real.”

NBA PM: Undrafted Players Earning Final Roster Spots | Basketball Insiders

While he may not see a lot of minutes once the regular season starts for the Raptors, VanVleet will serve as the team’s third point guard option behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. Though he may not play a lot, his time being around veterans like Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas will be beneficial for him.

In seven games during the preseason, VanVleet averaged 8.3 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. His best game of the preseason happened against the Argentinian basketball club San Lorenz, when he recorded 31 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Ujiri on Sullinger: Skinny guys have had these problems too –

Masai Ujiri talked about Jared Sullinger’s injury and how he hopes the Raptors can fill the void.

NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors – Amico Hoops

The Raptors have several things going for them: They finally got out of the first round, they are well-coached with the forever-wise Dwane Casey, and they have some real stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMarr DeRozan. Everyone else, from Jonas Valanciunas to Terrence Ross to Cory Joseph and beyond has their moments. But like most teams in the East, the Raptors are likely still playing for second. And when you’re as good as the Raptors, second place is no place. Even Casey himself has admitted overtaking LeBron James is an often fruitless mission. On the bright side, the Raptors are perhaps better equipped than anyone (in this conference) to at least make a serious run at it.

Player Preview 2016-17: Bringing Up Bebe – Raptors HQ

In talking to Nogueira before the season, it’s clear he is aware of his sometimes precarious status on the team. True, Biyombo is gone, and the team has no other backup centres with NBA experience on the roster (especially so now, with Jared Sullinger, the team’s small ball 5 out indefinitely). The minutes should be there for him, with only rookie Jakob Poeltl, the team’s other active 7-footer, on-hand to fill them. But Nogueira acknowledges nothing in the NBA is given.

“I’ve been working since the season was over, because I knew this year was going to be a very important year in my life,” said Nogueira on media day. “Of course right now people expect me to be the backup centre because Biz [Biyombo] is gone, but like I said, I don’t create expectation. They just drafted two bigs, very good players, Pascal [Siakam] and Jakob [Poeltl], so I’m not gonna say this is my position, this is my spot because I’m here three years. You gotta fight for it.”

The ongoing perception of Bebe, one he has joyfully groomed over the past two seasons in Toronto, has been of a player who is seriously unserious. Maybe it’s his wild sea anemone hair, or his wide smile, or all those times he’s offered up ridiculously long, rambling quotes to sportswriters looking for something — anything — outside the norm. (Bebe remains the best athlete interviewer of other athletes of all time, for example.) He’s always been entertaining, even when not playing. And while youth and its attendant exuberance has a value in the NBA, particularly when it comes as part of, say, a beautiful swooping alley-oop finish, or a deliciously violent blocked shot, it needs direction and purpose lest it fizzle out as wasted potential.

The Raptors announced this past weekend that they’ve exercised the fourth year option on Nogueira’s contract. Even for a player who has barely played for the team, this is a prudent move, both in a financial and basketball sense.

Sitdown with Masai Ujiri –

Eric Smith sits down the Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri ahead of the 2016-17 season, to see how management hits the reset button after a great season full of unfinished business.

No stranger to adversity, Raptors can overcome Sullinger injury –

Let’s peg his return to action at sometime around the all-star break in mid-February, which would give Toronto two months to incorporate him into their lineup before the playoffs, which is enough time, in other words.

It’s a less than ideal situation, clearly, but even as they rolled to franchise marks in almost every category a year ago, the Raptors dealt with some significant adversity.

Why were they able to get through it so well a year ago?

The Raptors were a deeper team than often recognized, given the amount of focus and attention afforded to LowRozan. James Johnson and Bismack Biyombo were more than capable fort-holders for Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, and Carroll’s extended absence created an opportunity for Norm Powell to make the leap from second-round D-Leaguer to full-on diamond-in-the-rough status.

And while Luis Scola was widely viewed as the place where power forward productivity went to die for most of last season, he missed just six games all year at age 35 and from October to January—a stretch when the Raptors were often missing Carroll and Valanciunas—he shot 42 per cent from three and posted a defensive rating of 104/100 possessions, better than the team average.

Is there reason to believe the Raptors have the depth to manage without Sullinger?

Optimistically you would have to say yes.

Hello! Jack’s thoughts as NBA season starts this week – Article – TSN

JARED SULLINGER (Raptors): A significant blow to the early season prospects for this team that had hoped to continue its rise from last season.  When you consider the departure of Luis Scola, James Johnson and Bismack Biyombo and now this injury, the Raptors don’t have an abundance of guys with a proven consistent professional track record. I understand that none of them were stars, but they all had some degree of experience that helps a whole lot. The margin of error is a little slimmer, but it can be overcome.  I don’t want to hear the nonsense about reducing Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s minutes. The job is to play and to win games – plain and simple. With that slimmer margin, it’s ludicrous for anyone to even bring that up right now. Bottom line, Lowry and DeRozan will need Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll to be at their very best early on to weather this storm. The roster has seven players that are relatively young and unproven with Norman Powell (I’m a fan) being the most promising of the group.  That’s a lot of pressure, but I’ve always been impressed with the patience and confidence that Masai Ujiri shows in his players and the ability of Dwane Casey to find a way to adapt and adjust somehow and someway. Sometimes, adversity brings out the best in folks and provides an opportunity for growth later in the season.  Buckle in.

Patterson leading candidate to replace Sullinger as Raptors starter | Toronto Star

The screw inserted into Jared Sullinger’s foot Monday set in motion a difficult stretch to start the Toronto Raptors season. For now, team president Masai Ujiri is hoping an in-house solution emerges.

Preferring to make moves in the off-season, Ujiri said he’d like to see how the players they have fare at power forward before considering a trade.

“We like continuity and I think we’ll go with that,” he said. “I know coach (Dwane Casey) will figure out how he wants to play the players and he’ll tell you guys more on that. That’s his part. But, yes, you assess the team as we go but we’re going to be very patient with it.”

Casey started rookie Pascal Siakam in the final three pre-season games, but could pull veteran Patrick Patterson off the bench if he wants to be more certain of what he’ll get when the ball goes up. Small forward DeMarre Carroll remains an option, if Casey wants to try a smaller lineup.

“Patrick, right now, is our leading candidate,” Casey said. “Love Pascal. So it’s probably going to be a back and forth between those two. Pascal brings energy and defensive flexibility where we like, Patrick’s got the veteran leadership and veteran experience at that position, so it will probably be a back and forth until Sully comes back.”

Toronto Raptors will take another step forward in 2016-17 if Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan lead them there | National Post

For Casey, who deployed the these-are-our-guys mantra last spring even as his guys were clanking shot after shot, it’s a matter of developing some extra options. “We have to say, ‘OK, they’re taking Kyle out, taking DeMar out, somebody else has to step in,’” the coach said in an interview.

The most obvious candidate is Jonas Valanciunas, the seven-foot centre who overpowered Indiana in the first round before an ankle injury against Miami derailed his playoffs. DeMarre Carroll, who battled injuries after arriving as a big-dollar free agent from Atlanta and never really got his offensive game rolling, could also be that third option, as could Terrence Ross, the talented swingman who hurt himself in training camp on a 360-degree dunk attempt, which is pretty much the perfect Terrence Ross injury.

Talk of having bigger contributions from some of the lesser Raptors, though, sounds a bit like addressing a leaky roof by fixing the windows. If this team is going to improve on last year’s post-season run, it doesn’t need a better third or fourth option, it needs better first and second options.

Five Question Season Preview: Atlantic Division – RealGM Analysis

Yet even before tackling Sullinger’s recent injury news and Poeltl’s preseason presence (or more aptly, lack of it), a dive into last year’s lineup data paints a different picture. For starters, Biyombo actually had slightly better on/off numbers than Valanciunas, despite the latter’s role as the team’s starter, per data. On/off numbers can be a bit noisy, so it can’t be looked at as totally damning. In this case in particular, Biyombo impact was likely boosted by sharing time with bench units that were among the strongest in the league while Valanciunas spent a lot of time starting alongside Luis Scola.

Dig deeper, however, and a massive, Biyombo-sized hole starts to form. Of the nine 5-man combinations Toronto rolled out for over 100 minutes last year, only three posted positive point differentials per 48 minutes, according to In those three lineups, the big man anchoring them wasn’t Valanciunas, but a certain Congolese center now plying his trade in central Florida.

The Biyombo-Patrick Patterson-Terrence Ross-Cory Joseph-Kyle Lowry quintet was the Eastern Conference version of the “Death Lineup”, outscoring opponents by 16.5 points per 48 minutes. That lineup was a huge part of the Raptors ability to have success despite middling production from their starting five. Whether Biyombo helped fuel such a potent lineup or was merely a beneficiary of it remains to be seen

A look at the NBA power rankings going into the season. | Sports on Earth

The Raptors were six wins away from winning last year’s NBA championship, and the most significant contributor they lost over the summer was a backup center. To make that small but exceedingly tricky leap to the Finals, they’ve essentially rolled back the same roster, drafted Jakob Poeltl (to replace Bismack Biyombo) and swapped Luis Scola for Jared Sullinger.

Continuity is helpful, and a healthy DeMarre Carroll should allow Dwane Casey to utilize smaller lineups that give Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan even more room to operate. The bench is filled with capable role players like Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. There isn’t much that can hold the Raptors back, even though Lowry turns 31 in March and DeRozan is a shoot-first, pass-second, defend-never magnet for criticism.

Toronto’s big picture relevance ultimately hinges on Jonas Valanciunas becoming a two-way powerhouse, and that’s not the most comforting reality. There’s nothing wrong with finishing third in the East.

This Week in Raptorland: Who’ll replace Sullinger in Raptors’ starting lineup? –

Patterson would probably be the best choice to replace Sullinger in the starting lineup, but Casey has been reticent to put him into that role because he likes the boost he provides the second unit on both ends of the floor.

That leaves a likely choice between DeMarre Carroll or rookie Pascal Siakam, who started the Raptors final four pre-season contests.

Carroll says he’s finally 100 per cent healthy for the first time in his Raptors career so he can certainly fit in at the four should the Raptors want to go with a smaller lineup. However, he is just coming off surgery and no matter how good a player feels in camp and in pre-season, it’s a completely different beast when it comes to the real thing. Carroll’s too important a player for the team to risk throwing him right back into the fire at a position where he will take a lot of contact.

So the most rational candidate to start Wednesday at the four is Siakam. While obviously not ideal, Siakam looked respectable in the pre-season averaging 9.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 block per game in 22.0 minutes per contest –relatively good numbers for what Casey and the Raptors need out of the position.

Power forward hasn’t been a focus of the Raptors’ attack in a very long while, so as long as Siakam’s able to set screens, crash the glass and block a shot here and there it should be more than enough.

Whether or not that will result in wins while the Raptors wait for Sullinger to return, however, is up in the air.

The best and worst scenarios for every NBA team this season – The Washington Post

Worst case: Lowry begins to decline and DeRozan takes a step back after getting a hefty contract. Carroll’s injury lingers and Valanciunas doesn’t make the long anticipated leap in ability. Toronto wins 45 games and goes home after the first round for the third time in four years. Lowry leaves as a free agent, coach Dwane Casey is let go, and general manager Masai Ujiri has a lot of decisions to make.

2016-17 NBA Standings Predictions | Today’s Fast Break

Toronto Raptors — It’ll be tough for the Raptors to top their franchise-best campaign of 2015-16, and I think they’re going to take a small step back. That’ll be enough to drop them to the No. 3 seed, but they should safely finish there without worrying about dropping further.

VanVleet is fitting in with Raptors – Article – TSN

That feeling – hearing that he made an NBA team and being able to share it with those closest to him – was something he had hoped to experience back in June. Alas, the draft came and went. Sixty names were called and VanVleet’s wasn’t one of them. The snub was not exactly a surprise. He knows what he is. He’s undersized at 6-feet, 195 pounds. He’s an older rookie, having played four years at Wichita State. He’s not the quickest, flashiest or the most athletic.

Not being selected may have been a blessing in disguise. Masai Ujiri and the Raptors had worked VanVleet out earlier in the month and were impressed. The qualities he does possess are things they look for and value highly – poise, toughness, tenacity and a defence-first approach. He seemed to fit the organization and its culture like a glove. The call to his agent was one of the first they made after the draft. He would be invited to play for Toronto in the Las Vegas Summer League and then, shortly after that, to join them in training camp.

The problem was there wasn’t an obvious spot for him on the roster. The Raptors were, and still are, loaded at the point guard position. Kyle Lowry is the team’s most valuable commodity. Local product Cory Joseph is coming off a breakout season and has emerged as one of the league’s top backups. Delon Wright embraced his time in the D-League during his rookie campaign and seemed ready for a bigger workload as a sophomore.

VanVleet’s fortunes turned when Wright went down with a shoulder injury that will sideline him until December, at the earliest, leaving Toronto in need of a third point guard for the first couple months of the season.
Their decision this past weekend was an easy one. Both Drew Crawford and Canadian sharpshooter Brady Heslip made strong cases for themselves with solid showings in camp, but VanVleet was always their guy.

Click to comment

Sullinger could miss 2-3 months, Patterson ‘leading candidate’ to start

With all due respect to French Montana, it seems likely that advice warning Toronto Raptors fans against panic will fall on deaf ears after Monday’s practice.

It was after the team’s Monday session that team president Masai Ujiri spoke to assembled media about Jared Sullinger, who was set for surgery on his left foot in New York around that same time. While the timeline remains somewhat vague, Ujiri at least put a rough approximation on how much time the team’s would-be starting power forward will miss. It’s, uhh, not great.

“Sometimes with these things, because they’re going in precautionary almost, so you never know, but a couple months or three months is what we’ve heard,” he said. “But we don’t know. It could be less, could be more. So I think we’ll see how surgery goes today. He’s over and he’s scheduled to have surgery today.”

Beyond the rough two-to-three month timeframe, Ujiri also provided some additional details on Sullinger’s injury. The big man had his left foot stepped on int he team’s preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors. Initially, he tried to play through soreness, but with little progress, the team opted to shut him down and limit him to off-court conditioning tasks. As he began to ramp up his activity level last week, the issue flared back up when Sullinger felt soreness following a side-cut during drills. The team decided to take a closer look at the stress reaction that results, and a collaborative decision involving Sullinger, his agent, Ujiri, and doctors was made for Sullinger to undergo the surgery. The aim is to help prevent stress injuries in the foot moving forward, including the dreaded Jones fracture, and because the procedure is preventative in nature (and may also end up involving a bone graft), it’s difficult to pin down an exact return date so early.

Ujiri was clear that the issue is not necessarily related to Sullinger’s weight, nor is it a recurrence of the same injury he suffered in 2014-15 when with the Boston Celtics. He pointed out that players like Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons have had similar issues and that Sullinger’s offseason conditioning work had gone “really well.” It’s just one of those things that happens, in other words, and the Raptors have no choice but to just work around it. There was no sense a reactionary roster move is coming – “Ee’re going to be very patient with it,” Ujiri said – and the team is patently aware that nobody will feel sorry for them in the coming weeks.

“He was as big piece to what we wanted to do and where our team was,” Ujiri said. “Now I think we have to go back to the rookies and inexperienced players a little bit but again, that’s the nature of the NBA. You don’t cry about it. It’s opportunity, and this is how you find players. From DeMarre’s injuries last year came Norman Powell and we’re hoping something comes out of this that will make us a stronger team when he returns.”

The obvious name to till the Powell role this time around is that of rookie Pascal Siakam, who figures to be a prominent part of the opening night rotation right now. While the Raptors are very high on the No. 27 overall pick long-term and have been encouraged by his performance at training camp, the ideal scenario for a 56-win team doesn’t really involve thrusting a rookie into the spotlight out of the gate. Whether he ends up starting in a high-energy, low-usage, defense-first role or coming off the bench as part of what could be a very fun but inexperienced second unit, Siakam’s going to be leaned on while Sullinger’s on the mend.

That doesn’t mean Siakam will start, though, despite head coach Dwane Casey’s prior preference to bring sixth man Patrick Patterson off the bench. There are different schools of belief when it comes to Patterson as a starter, but there are several reasons it’s long made sense for him to start, with some pretty strong evidence in support. Foremost, Patterson is a natural tactical and logical fit with the starters. A switchy three-point threat who doesn’t need the ball and is capable of guarding larger frontcourt players, he’s basically the description of what a team should want alongside Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas. Touches are in short supply, anyway, so a floor-spacer who provides value at the other end makes sense, and he and DeMarre Carroll together open up some options defensively.

This was the argument last year, too, however, and the team continued to start Luis Scola. There’s a persistent thought that Patterson has some sort of block when it comes to starting, and Casey has paid credence to that in the past, but there’s not a great deal of statistical evidence in support of it. Yes, Patterson had somewhat of a rough preseason trying to lock down the starting job last year, and he hit a poorly timed shooting slump when thrust into the starting lineup in the playoffs, but he was also quite effective overall in those postseason outings, and lineup data suggests the starters with Patterson could be one heck of a unit. That fivesome only played 16 minutes together last year, eviscerating opponents in a tiny sample, and then outscored Indiana and Miami by 5.7 points per-100 possessions over a meaningful, high quality-of-competition, 95-minute sample.

Patterson starting seems, at this point, to be a case of the numbers backing up the common sense behind an argument. For his part, Patterson is saying what you’d expect, though last week’s comments about his contract year should certainly provide additional incentive to run with the starting gig.

“Same question I always get since I’ve been here. Same answer you’re always going to get since I’ve been here,” Patterson said. “It doesn’t matter. As long as I have a role on this team, whether I start or come off the bench, it doesn’t matter.”

Casey revealed that Patterson is the “leading candidate” to start right now but that it could be a “back-and-forth” situation for a while.

“Pascal brings energy and defensive flexibility where we like, Patrick’s got the veteran leadership and veteran experience at that position, so it will probably be a back and forth until Sully comes back,” he said. “I like Pat coming off the bench but I also like experience in the game, too. So we’ll see.”

The guess here is that Patterson draws the opening night start and the team never looks back, freeing Siakam to learn in some more sheltered minutes against opposing bench units. And it’s not as if the team suddenly has 48 minutes or so to patch together – Sullinger was likely penciled in for about 25 minutes, a few of which will shift to Patterson (who took on a heavier load late in the year and can probably handle 30 minutes), a few to Siakam, and a few to Carroll in smaller lineups, something Casey suggested Monday is part of the plan. Essentially, then, Sullinger’s minutes aren’t being handed to Siakam but split between Siakam, Patterson, and the Terrence Ross-Norman Powell combo, and through that lens, the injury seems a bit more manageable.

It does leave the Raptors with precious little margin for further injury, though, especially with Carroll’s workload a constant question. Sub-optimal though this news is, there’s always a contingency plan. In this case: Hope Patterson thrives as a starter as logic would suggest, gamble that Siakam’s unending energy reserves help make up for the expected rookie mistakes, try out more small, speedy, switchy lineups, and cross their fingers that everyone else stays healthy.

Are we having fun yet?

Click to comment

2016-17 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part One

At long last, the NBA is back. Enough of the much-too-long preseason, enough of the  training camp storylines, manufactured or otherwise, enough of speaking in hypotheticals. The season is here very shortly, which means all that’s left to check off the preseason To Do List is our annual staff roundtable. Part two goes tomorrow, part one is below. Let’s get these 2016-17 buckets.

(Note: Answers were collected before the Jared Sullinger news.)

1. What are you most excited about for the 2016-17 season?

Blake Murphy: Spending it with all of you.

William Lou: Finishing the season with more wins than the Boston Celtics and lasting longer in the playoffs than the Boston Celtics. Other than that, just enjoying another year of competency from the Raptors (seriously, the franchise has like 6 of those years in its history; let’s enjoy this).

Tim Chisholm: I’m most excited about starting a season that isn’t some sort of referendum on some aspect of the club or some player or the coach or the GM — it’s just a normal season for a good team. The storylines will develop as the season wears on, without the season bearing the burden of storylines written for it before the first game even tips off. That has never happened for this team before.

Tamberlyn Richardson: In my opinion, collectively this is the most exciting the NBA has ever been. I’m eager to watch the young teams rising (Wolves/Jazz), Westbrook’s revenge tour, and all the young Canadian talent. As for the Raptors, last season was so magical I can’t even fathom a repeat (or better). It feels like we’ve embarked on a golden era for the franchise and for basketball in Canada.  It’s almost like ‘pinch me so I know it’s real’ situation. Ultimately, I want to enjoy the journey with my friends, the team at Raptors Republic and all of the people who take the time to visit the site and share their thoughts.

Kiyan Sobhani: External factors that are brewing outside the Six. I’m somehow excited about the improvements in the Atlantic, the rising force in Boston, and the unpredictable and possibly dangerous Knicks. The 76ers are no longer a free win, either. Detroit and Indiana have improved. All of this noise and hype -particularly around the Celtics – excites me mostly because I’m interested to know how the Raptors put away these teams and prove, again, why they’re the 2nd best team in the conference.

Shyam Baskaran: Probably the young guys. The Raptors have turned the corner as a franchise the past 3 years, and most of it has been centred around DeRozan and Lowry, but I think this is the first year where we’ll have significant contributions from the young guys – and I don’t just mean Ross, Valanciunas and Patterson (those guys really aren’t the “young guys” anymore). I’m talking about Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and heck, throw in Bebe and Bruno too. I want to see at least 1 more of those guys turn the corner and contribute the way Norman Powell did last year.

Cooper SmitherGetting another season of Kyle Lowry Over Everything is a treat that we’ll all look back on fondly. Some have proclaimed it, others are more hesitant, but Lowry is the best Raptor of all time. Enjoy this while you can because the Kyle Lowrys of the world dont come around often.

Michael Holian: I’m tempted to go with what Norman Powell has in store for year two (fingers crossed for the Dunk Contest), but the opportunity and expected bump in usage that lies ahead for Jonas Valanciunas to (FINALLY!) cement himself as something more than a third wheel tips the scale. Whether or not it plays out that way is up for debate, but where a leap forward for both Powell and Valanciunas is the expectation, and fun as hell to watch unfold, the difference is JV’s is absolutely necessary.

Cameron Dorrett: The calm. Recent Raptors success has been great but carries a nervousness more palpable than Caboclo with the ball in his hands and the shotclock winding down. A trip to the ECF, two All-Stars, and Casey’s extension should finally settle us all down and let us enjoy a really good team.

Anthony Doyle: Seeing all the young guys grow. We’ve got such a talented young roster, and it’s going to be fun to see how Powell, Valanciunas, Ross, Siakam, Wright, Bebe, and Bruno grow this year and just how much we can get out of those guys. That’s the key, in my opinion, to the team taking the next step forward, and it’s nice to just have a talented team that’s also so young.

Alex Gres: Norman. Powell. The youngster represents everything a sports fan is most naturally drawn to – a humble underdog no one saw coming. He stormed onto the court in the second half of the year while not featuring on the opponents’ scouting reports, but that will change this upcoming season. The second year test claimed many a rookie, but I’m excited to see whether Norm, who learned the ropes on an eastern conference finalist, will knock yet another obstacle out of the way.

Spencer RedmondEvery season brings a new slew of storylines, and fun characters. The league is in a great place overall with almost every team having a fascinating storyline, regular season NBA has become must watch TV. For the Raptors specifically, there have been a ton of interesting storylines to follow. How good is Normal Powell? Is Jonas the third option the Raptors have been looking for this whole time? What’s a full season of DeMarre Carroll going to look like? It’s an exciting time to be a Raptors fan!

Warren Kosoy: I’m most excited to see Golden State’s 5-10 losses this year. In all seriousness though, I am really excited to see how this Raptors team responds to last year’s success. I think they are going into this season with a mindset that “We’ve accomplished a lot last year and got over the hump”. I’m wondering if we will see any complacency or if this team can take that next step. Odds are that there isn’t much higher of a ceiling than last year, but that’s why they play the game.

Barry Taylor: After seeing them in pre-season, I’m pretty excited to watch the Warriors. As much as I wasn’t a fan of the KD move it’s going to be pretty awesome to see how many wins they can put together. For the Raptors, eager to see what JV can do this year. He looked so good in last year’s playoffs, if he can stay healthy it could be a big year for the big man.

2. A season after the Raptors added defensive-minded players and tweaked their defensive schemes, they find themselves without the biggest impact piece from that overhaul in Bismack Biyombo. Can this defense remain above average without their best rim protector?

Shyam Baskaran: It’s really tough to say – on one hand, we lost our best rim protector, but on the other hand, we could still maintain our rebounding edge on most nights with the addition of a capable big like Sullinger, and a fully healthy season of JV. Not to mention, this time we’ll (hopefully) also have a full season from DeMarre Carroll meaning our wing defense on most nights will be better than last year. I also expect Norman Powell to be a rotation player for a larger part of the season than last year, and we all know the kind of defense he can play. I’m not saying we’ll be better than last year, but there are certainly some elements working in our favour in spite of Biyombo’s departure.

Cooper SmitherYes. This core has had an above average defense with a far less advantageous defensive system in years past. It’s hard to statistically isolate Biz’s defensive impact as he was a part of the tremendous second unit that blitzed opposing benches to start the 2nd quarter. He was certainly a big factor, but he wasn’t the only positive defender going against weaker benches. There were some key nights throughout the regular season where he was borderline dominant defensively (vs. Minnesota, Indiana, etc…) but interpreting that as if it were an everyday occurrence would be foolish. Also, the drop-off would have to be pretty steep ~1.5 points/100 possessions to drop to average, doubt that happens.

Spencer RedmondI think the Raptors can be just as good defensively as last year, even without Biyombo. A healthy DeMarre Carroll will play a bigger role this season, Norman Powell’s defense will be more prominent with a bigger role, and Siakam shows a lot of tools to become a great defender. These additions, plus some of the great defenders on the roster like Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph, and this team will be fine at containing most teams.

Barry Taylor: They’ll obviously miss Bizmack and their rim protection will suffer a bit but JV is another year older and Sullinger is in a contract year. With the cap going up again he’s got a lot of incentive to bring the thunder every night on D.

Kiyan Sobhani: The Raptors had the third best OPPG last season. In theory, there’s no way they sustain that level after losing Bismack, who was not only terrific as a rim protector, but was also a mean individual defender and highly capable of holding his own on the perimeter when switched off. I think there’s a drop off, but I’m calling a bold one here – it won’t be that significant. With a healthy Carroll, some of those defensive dips will be recouped. If Powell gets more burn in the backcourt, some of the dribble penetration we were accustomed to last season can be sealed.

Cameron Dorrett: Biz was the 17th ranked player in the league last year from a defensive rating metric – so replacing him will be tough – but that doesn’t mean the Raptors can’t be above average. Still, I think it hinges on DeMarre Carroll’s health and effectiveness, and that has been anything but above-average.

Warren Kosoy: I think the defense can still be solid. The team is filled with good, high IQ defenders. It is very hard for ball handlers to blow by most of the Raptors guards and forwards, which helps to lessen the impact of not having great rim protectors. Demarre Carroll needs to maintain his health for this year because there is no one I trust behind him to guard opposing 3s. I think James Johnson was good insurance for that last season, and we saw flashes of that in the Eastern Conference Finals against Lebron.

Tamberlyn Richardson: In the short term losing Biyombo hurts. That said, there are reasons to believe the defense could improve especially post All-Star break. Why?

  • Sullinger is an upgrade over Scola.
  • Powell’s growth
  • Re-committed Ross
  • Presumably in his 5th season Valanciunas will take another step
  • Healthy Carroll
  • Lowry in a contract (opt-out confirmed) season
  • The inimitable Pascal Siakam

Alex Gres: If they are to repeat as eastern finalists this season, they have no choice. Casey will have a trickier task without Biyombo, but the Raptors were not elite defensively in 2015/16 even with the Congolese warrior. It may be asking too much to expect Pascal ‘mini-Bismack’ Siakam to contribute on that end as a rookie, but a guy like Sullinger brings the best defensive rating (100 DRTG as per out of Boston’s rotation players. They still have quality defenders in Joseph, Lowry (when he wants to be), Powell, Carroll and Patterson, suggesting the drop-off won’t be overly significant.

Michael Holian: Every time a perimeter defender got beat, and Biyombo was under the basket, a certain ease would come over me. I always had faith that his help defense would kibosh any attempt at an easy bucket. Not to mention the numerous times he did an admirable job on a mismatch when forced to switch, and his ability to clean the defensive glass. Fast forward: There’s enough influx of steady and opportunistic defenders (Carroll finally healthy/Powell year 2) mixed with the potential to build off of last season’s growth (JV) to weather the storm. Will they remain above average overall? Yes. Will there be setbacks regardless, particularly in negating second-chance points? There’s no way around it.

Anthony Doyle: Bismack will definitely be missed on the defensive end, but at the same time, the departure of Luis Scola will help. So it’s hard to weigh those two against each other, and I think at the end of the day it’ll really come down to whether we can get more effort at that end from our perimeter defenders, stopping the penetration before it happens, and also how much growth we can get out of Jonas Valanciunas in terms of rim protection.

William Lou: I expect the Raptors to be middle-of-the-pack in defense, but it’s possible for them to join the top-10 if enough of the following comes to fruition: DeMarre Carroll stays healthy, Jonas Valanciunas can be both mobile and aware when defending in space, and if DeMar DeRozan gives a shit on that end.

Tim Chisholm: It can remain above average, but it will take a hit. Bebe is not Biyombo as a defender. However, there are other things that the club can do now that they have some more multi-positional diversity in the front court, and so the pros should ultimately outweigh the cons when it comes to losing Bismack.

Blake Murphy: Not above average, no. I think there are enough other edges to be gained that the net impact of his loss has been overstated some – more on this in a piece coming for The Athletic today or tomorrow – but the defense will be a little worse. It’s just asking too much of a perimeter defense that already struggles to contain threes on occasion to focus even more on protecting the paint at all costs, and while Jonas Valanciunas (strong rim protection numbers in 2014-15) and Lucas Nogueira (a great small-sample block rate and a 9-foot-6 standing reach) have potential, there’s no making up for Biyombo’s presence around the rim.

3. The Raptors were once again an elite offense, despite limited assist totals (albeit with some better ball movement). It seems they can be a top-five unit at that end in their sleep. Still, what would you like to see more or less of to try to solidify their standing at that end?

Tamberlyn Richardson: Preseason has to be viewed with caution, but the Raptors (106.1) finished preseason ranked third offensively, behind Houston (111.1), and the Warriors (107.3). Everyone always talks about ball movement, but I want more player movement. Ross and JV should be factors in their fifth seasons. Ironically I think the biggest gains on offense can come from better transition defense. To that end, the bench unit of Joseph, Powell, Siakam, Patterson and whomever stand to be the benefactors of solid transition defense with all 4 of those players capable of flying down the wings for easy buckets or pull up threes.

Barry Taylor: Run more of the offence through JV. For the love of God, let him touch the ball. Have DeRozan as the second option and Lowry can take over when he needs to.

Blake Murphy: A little bit more love for Jonas Valanciunas and a little bit more ball movement. Shocking, right? Haven’t heard those notes in any season ever. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or whatever, but the Raptors could be even deadlier with a more balanced approach that involves a few more hands touching the ball. Adding savvy passers in the post like Jared Sullinger and Lucas Nogueira may help some, as should a healthy DeMarre Carroll.

Anthony Doyle: Late in the season, there were some definite signs that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both wore down, and the load they were carrying both in terms of minutes and offensive production can’t have helped in that regard. It would be nice to see the team utilize the regular season to integrate a more complex offense, letting Jonas Valanciunas help carry the load as well as creating more catch and shoot opportunities for players like DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross.

Michael Holian: Well, it’d be nice NOT to see a 5th straight decline in Assist Ratio, as only 15 percent of the Raps’ possessions (28th ranked) ended with an assist last season. Also on my wish list would be an improvement in the team’s Pace number, which came in at a 29th-ranked 95.3 possessions per game. Cleveland, in comparison, finished just above Toronto at 95.5, but a factor that helped separate the two clubs was the Cavs knocking on the door of the top 10 in the aforementioned category of Assist Ratio at the same time. We can’t expect a giant leap, but we can ask for baby steps.

Spencer RedmondIt starts with DeRozan, although he tied his career high in assists per game, and had his highest AST% total last season, there is still room for DeRozan to get better in that area. There is at least 1-2 times per game where DeRozan takes a suboptimal shot, and could have easily tried to create a better shot for someone else. He’s a great scorer, and a great player, but could be even better at both with better ball movement.

Alex Gres: The Raptors biggest need is to shoot more three pointers. In order to do that, they need to either further develop their own players or add a shooter or two in a trade. Their percentage was among the league’s best, but the shots attempted far below that. Shooting more at a similar clip may bump up the team’s assist numbers (catch and shoot) and possibly increase their pace. While it may appear that there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken (top 5 yet again), the playoffs have shown that they need to have another element in order to thrive in that high-pressure environment.

Tim Chisholm: I’d like to see the team employ Sullinger, Patterson, and maybe even Bebe in the high-post acting as a facilitator, if for no other reason than the Raptors have some good passers up front and it could give them a wrinkle to go to when the dribble-drive and pick-and-roll are being well covered. To be honest, it’s mostly just an aesthetic style of basketball I like. So sue me.

Shyam Baskaran: Ball movement. You rightly point out that our limited assist total held us back last year, and it didn’t help in many of the offensive sets to close out games last year when isolations run for Lowry or DeRozan didn’t necessarily result in the best shots. Sure, those guys can bail us out on many nights, but I’d like to see more of an “open man” offense as opposed to an iso offense. I trust Lowry to carry that out, but DeMar will have to refrain from playing hero-ball as he did on many nights early last year (in spite of the offensive efficiency progress I think he’ll make this year). I love our backcourt to death, but they’re not the only answers on offense.

William Lou: Like everyone else, I’d like to see Valanciunas involved more in the offense, but that’s probably unrealistic given how much DeRozan and Lowry covet the ball. In lieu of that, I just hope to see more aggression in transition. The Raptors ranked 24th last season in percent of transition plays last season and with a younger team this year, they should look to run more often.

Kiyan Sobhani: More ball movement, and more touches for Jonas. We can chose to accept the notion that the Raptors can live with an iso-heavy scheme because they have the numbers to back it, but on the other end of the stick, the team was that much more fun to watch when the ball was zipping around the perimeter after a nice dribble-penetration. Some of the stagnant offense was laborious to watch in the post-season, particularly against Indiana. There’s too many intelligent players on this roster to resort to those low-assist performances. A more diverse offensive blueprint is welcome.

Cooper SmitherSmall, innovative wrinkles to already existing sets and plays. They already post up DeRozan an above-average amount for a typical 2-guard, experimenting with Lowry creating on the block as well would be interesting. Trying similar things as the Clippers do with their guards running “snug” pick and rolls out of the low post wouldn’t be difficult to add but would freshen up the offense a tiny bit. Other than that, they’ve already showed more off-ball movement in the preseason. They are running more split-cuts above post entries to dissuade defenders from digging down, which was much needed, but just a commitment to off-ball movement for the entire year would be great. Additionally, continued variety for ways to get Jonas post touches.

Cameron Dorrett: The Raptors often feel like a high-octane offense, but the reality is only Utah had a slower pace last season. Do you need a fast pace to set a good offense? Cleveland doesn’t think so – but it’d be fun to watch them run a little more this season – here’s looking at you Terrence.

Warren Kosoy: I wouldn’t mind seeing the team playing with more pace. The half court offense is predictable, and much harder to depend on in the real games. The team is very talented, but when facing a team like the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the only way this team won was from hitting a high percentage of long jumpers. I also wish Valanciunas was used in the high post more as he develops his range. It would be nice to have that option in the half court offense.

4. The Raptors 905 experiment was an unquestionable success last year. Have the successes of the 905 products increased your interest in the team for their second season?

Tim Chisholm: In watching them? Haha, no. I’m perfectly happy hearing about their play, checking in every once in a while, but D-League basketball is some ugly basketball, and when there is so much good ball to be had in the real league, I’ll stick with the big boy’s club for now, thank you.

William Lou: Blake does an incredible job covering the 905, and I’ll take fans behind the scenes: most of his 905 recaps are punched out with Blake hunched over in a Tim Hortons on Hurontario at around midnight. Just keep that picture in mind when Blake details the progress in Bruno Caboclo’s dribble-drive game, and when you hit the Patreon page.

Alex Gres: Absolutely. With the continued success of the main team, the pressure to see results on the Bruno front was significantly reduced. This will apply to Poetl and Siakam as well this season, as they quietly get game practice in preparation for a main team role down the line. Meanwhile, us die-hards can witness that progress first hand.

Shyam Baskaran: How could your interest not go up after the year we had last year and the talent pool we have this year? With Siakam, Poeltl, Wright, etc. all with a chance at making trips down to the 905 and with new coach Jerry Stackhouse at the helm, I’m psyched not only for the development opportunity for the players, but also our performance in the DLeague! Okay, maybe not entirely with the second part…but it’s obvious we’re doing something right in developing these players, and with more “on the cusp” players on the roster this year than last, I would only imagine this yields even better results.

Michael Holian: Absolutely. I’d even go as far to say that the success of the 905 has helped speed up the process of the D-League not only gaining more notoriety, but also achieving direct affiliation across the board. Not that anyone living outside of Canada particularly cared about how many boards Bebe pulled down or if Bruno was progressing, but the eight remaining organizations that aren’t receiving the same benefits as the rest of the NBA might look at the 905 as a fresh reminder that they need to compile their resources and follow suit. And after seeing Powell and Delon Wright capitalize on the chance to hone their craft, Season 2 holds plenty of intrigue that’s worth getting amped up for.

Cooper SmitherIt’s probably raised hope to an unreasonably high expectation, seeing productive NBA minutes come so soon from 905 alumni. But just being able to tune in to see progression and (hopefully) dominance of inferior competition is something to keep an eye on. Also, there is definitely a sense given of how the team possibly projects how the players will be used with the big club, so seeing management’s vision for the prospects is interesting as well. Lastly, Bruno. Just be something, Bruno.

Warren Kosoy: t’s always nice to see the younger guys getting a chance at consistent minutes. I think the biggest benefit is having these players playing the same system as the Raptors team, so there are a multitude of players that are actively playing, who can have a better shot at filling in and not looking lost. I am excited to see if another young players takes the big leap forward this year from consistent ball handling and usage, like we saw with Norm Powell last year.

Barry Taylor: Nick and I have seriously been considering buying court side seats to a game. This is probably our best chance to sit court side at a game and the 905 are pretty fun. We’ll definitely be wearing suits and renting a limo if this happens. Go big or go home.

Anthony Doyle: I didn’t get a chance to watch many 905 games last year, but I’m definitely interested in the program, especially with the way it’s accelerated the development of the young guys at the end of the Raptors bench. It can’t be exaggerated how important the time with the 905 was towards Norman Powell’s ability to step in and be an impact player late in the season, and it’ll be interesting to watch how much time Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam spend with the junior club, and how it helps them grow.

Cameron Dorrett: Do my tickets to their November 20th game against Long Island answer this? Will Sim Bhullar break a backboard? Will Brady Heslip literally set the Hersey Centre on fire? Yeah I’m pumped.

Blake Murphy: Not sure it’s possible for my interest to get higher than last year. It’s been awesome, and is a huge addition to the organization. Once again this year, I got you.

Spencer RedmondAbsolutely! I didn’t live in Toronto last year, but I would love to go to a few games this season, and follow the prospects a little closer to see what the Raptors have developing in their system.

Tamberlyn Richardson: I’m not sure I’ll watch all their games, but yes I’m interested.  If Siakam ends up staying with the varsity squad I’ll probably watch fewer games.  I’m curious to see what Bruno does this season. And of course there is the Stackhouse factor. I wonder what effect he’ll have on the team.

5. Norman Powell was the primary beneficiary, playing his way into the rotation and into a role in at least one playoff series. Is there a rotation spot for him this year? Is he a Most Improved Player candidate?

Cameron Dorrett: It’s questions like these that make me appreciate just how deep this Raptors team is – but also how hard it will be for Powell to get minutes without an injured teammate. Casey likes him too much to let him sit at the end of the bench – but I just don’t see him getting the run necessary to take a crack at Most Improved.

Cooper SmitherI think he can easily have a spot in the rotation on a consistent basis. There’s already been a lot of talk about his functional height/size due to his incredible wingspan, his strong lower half and and incredible drive defensively to pair up with his fundamentally sound positioning. It’s the perfect time to be that type of player in the NBA because of the increased functionality of wings to play in small ball lineups. He can play next to Joseph and Ross and at worst just keep the defense honest against penetration and increase pressure on opposing ball handlers. He’ll find minutes no doubt. MIP is tough because players that have a larger, more defined starting role have him edged out most likely. On a different team maybe, but not a conference final contender with an all-star backcourt.

Anthony Doyle: Norm’s breakout last season was one of the most surprising parts of the Raptors’ year, and it’s hard to see him being out of the rotation. I’m not completely sold on him being able to sustain the 3-point shooting we saw late in the season, but with his defensive impact and ball handling ability, he’s definitely going to see some time on the court. I think, though, that it’d be smart to take a step back and see that he needs time yet to completely grow into his role at the NBA level, and not expect too much immediately. If his shooting continues where he left off at the end of the year, he can definitely be a MIP candidate though.

Michael Holian: After witnessing last season’s progression, it’s hard to fathom a scenario where Powell wasn’t a lock for a rotation spot coming into training camp. On the other hand, Casey isn’t always on the same page. Norm’s versatility is extensive — at the two, at the three, when the Raps go with a conventional lineup, or when they go small. But most of all, his aggressive defense, along with a jump shot (and 3-ball) that’s improving when many thought it would be a constant struggle, suggests a player who was once thought of as a long-term project has an odds-on chance at playing an integral role in the present.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Powell definitely gets consistent playing time, but barring an injury I doubt he gets enough minutes. Numerous players will get more PT based on circumstance:

  • Lottery teams:  Booker (Suns), Russell (LAL), Jokic (Den).
  • Teams on rise:
    • Wolves: Wiggins, KAT, & Dieng
    • Take your pick on Utah- Hayward, Gobert and my go to for the past few seasons Favors
  • Increased roles:
    • Antetokounmpo – playing point and likely trails only Westbrook in triple-doubles.
    • Adams (possibly Oladipo) will play a bigger part of the KD-less Thunder.

I can’t imagine Powell gets comparable minutes. However, I do think Cory Joseph could have a shot, especially if he increases his 3 point makes and assists.

William Lou: I doubt Powell gets enough touches to be in contention for MIP, but he definitely has enough game to play his way into the rotation. He’s exactly the kind of player you want playing beside Lowry, in that he makes great cuts, he’s willing to run the floor, and he can drill catch-and-shoot threes.

Blake Murphy: He’ll be battling Terrence Ross for the role of first wing off the bench, and that’s a timeshare that could change multiple times throughout the year. Powell was a revelation in his rookie season and could bring effective, versatile defense to the second unit or as a fill-in with the starters. But Ross’ shooting holds a great deal of importance, and Powell’s still proving himself to opponents in that regard. It seems as if Powell may have to claw to increase his role again this year, probably precluding him from any award consideration, if it were coming based on performance. There’s still plenty to be excited about with Powell, and he’s surely up to the task of #ProvingEm again.

Warren Kosoy: Norm is a really good player and a definite rotation player. However, unless something happens to Lowry or Demar, Norm will likely play off the ball and be a low usage player, who’s value will mainly come on the defensive end. He will be a good player, but there’s almost no chance he wins MIP. C.J McCollum was in a similar spot as Norm two years ago, and the increased role and usage was the main reason he won MIP. This isn’t the right team for Norm to win that, but he would certainly be capable of it on a worse team.

Kiyan Sobhani: I have him as an x-factor. The leap he makes this season will directly correlate with how much the Raptors can improve from last season. His projected leap is a new signing on its own.

Tim Chisholm: Is there a rotation spot? Yes, but it won’t be huge without injuries opening up minutes for him. As I wrote in my player preview, Powell is playing behind DeRozan, Carroll, Ross, and Joseph, a package of players that the club has invested a TON of money in. Powell will get minutes, but he isn’t going to be a featured player, which should surely take him out of consideration for any season awards.

Barry Taylor: It was a small sample size last season but what a sample it was. He’s definitely got to be an early bench option for Casey to at least start the year. His play is worthy of the minutes and he embodies everything the franchise and fans love about the Raptors. Chip on the shoulder, proving doubters wrong, We the North.

Shyam Baskaran: As of opening night, I don’t see how this guy isn’t a rotation player. If Terrence Ross continues any sort of silliness mid-season, I actually think there’s a decent shot he can eclipse Ross as the primary shooting guard or small forward off the bench. The most-improved player candidacy is unlikely, especially given the inherent unpredictability in predicting that award (that and 6th man are probably the hardest to forecast at the beginning of the season). But, heck, why not? The dude almost has comparable speed and athleticism to Russell Westbrook (yes, seriously) – if he can somehow develop a consistent jumper, continue his defensive prowess, and given his experience in last year’s playoffs, the sky is legitimately the limit.

Alex Gres: Most Improved may be a bit of a stretch, as Powell just isn’t likely to see enough minutes and make the needed impact to get in on the discussion. Still, he should be a part of the rotation, especially since the Raptors may opt to go smaller for longer stints this year without a dominant backup center.

Spencer RedmondNorman’s defense will keep him in any Casey lineup. The second unit could go small with Ross at the three, Powell at the two, or even Powell playing with some sort of smaller starting unit, shifting DeRozan to the three and Carroll to the four. Powell is a versatile player and with his production last season, there is definitely a chance he get more minutes this year, and potentially is a great candidate for MIP.

Click to comment

Tactical Observations from Preseason: The Foundation for Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas’s efficiency and ability to score the ball has prompted many Raptors observers to assert he needs more touches. There is certainly merit there, but in years past, there did not seem to be the schematic framework or foundation for him to actually cement his spot as a high-usage offensive weapon on a team with concrete and defined roles. This preseason, the Raptors have shown flashes and signs that there is at least the possibility for growth to occur, from a tactical standpoint, at least.

Thumbs Up

Last year, the Toronto Raptors ran a play that was signaled by, and is referred to as, “Thumbs Up.” Anytime the ball handler came down the court with his thumb held up high in the air, the same choreographed set of actions were about to unfold to get Valanciunas his token post touch. None of the actions resembled anything else the Raptors did on offense, so it is was as easily predictable of a play as they come.

The play starts with a superfluous down screen to create space between a wing player and his defender, so that said wing player can engage in a “flip” of the ball with the ball handler while continuing to exit to the weakside of the court. Additionally, the exiting wing player would sometimes use the other big man’s screen on the way to the opposite side of the court. The ball, having not moved, finds its way into the corner for the newly entered wing player to catch in tight quarters so that they can relay the ball to Valanciunas on the low block.

Some aspects of this play were glossed over, as a long, but direct, entry to the post occurred at times. Regardless, entry into the post rarely occurred early in the shot clock so that at least 5-8 seconds of  relatively useless, and rarely fruitful, actions and movements could be enacted. Then, a very difficult entry pass from the corner into the same side post occurred, where Valanciunas had to deal with perimeter defense digging down into his lap while the remaining players emptied to the other side of the court.  No meaningful movement to act as a deterrent from swarming Valanciunas was used.

Also notable is that Valanciunas is a talented post-player, so sometimes it worked. Not necessarily in spite of the play-call, but probably not as a direct result of the inherent genius of it, either. Regardless, the effort was rarely worth it as more times than not, turnovers and bad shot attempts occurred from crowded spaces.

This is not intended to be a tear-down of Dwane Casey’s ability to design a play, but to contrast it with the subtle, yet important improvements which he has made that are evident in the preseason – both in the changes made to this set play, as well as the implementation of others.

For example, upon the post-entry from the strongside corner, the passer no longer inevitably empties to the other side of the court to create more space. Rather, Casey has had them use a variant of a “brush screen,” which is almost surely an illegal screen that’ll never get called because of its infrequency and absurdity. It’s a small wrinkle, but it’s innovative and seems to work.

The issue is that the borderline-illegal brush screen still doesn’t solve the slow set-up of the post touches Valanciunas saw. Casey seems to have amended that issue while also finding ways to punish wandering weakside defenders from swarming the Lithuanian.

Slice Punch & Stagger

This set allows Valanciunas to get to work in the post much more quickly than “Thumbs Up.” First, the 2-guard sets an angled screen for Valanciunas in the paint, while he makes a Slice cut. Typically, this will catch Valanciunas’ defender, as long as the screen is set correctly, allowing for enough space for Valanciunas to gain post position.

Meanwhile, the ballhandler and the power forward engage in a side ball screen to allow for space to make the entry pass, while also occupying two defenders.

Once the wing who has set the screen for Valanciunas, and the big man who has set the screen for the ballhandler, have completed their respective duties, they space out to the weakside and engage in meaningful off-ball action! Those two will set a stagger screen for the wing who had been slotted in the corner. The impact of this is that any weakside defender who has “dug” down to swarm Valanciunas’ post up will now be out of position to negotiate defensive responsibility for the wing coming off the staggered screen, allowing for open three point attempts.

The implementation of quick, simple and effective principles do not end here.

SLOBs / Split Cuts

The Raptors have used SLOB (Sideline Out of Bounds) plays to establish Valanciunas in the post as well. A simple zipper cut from a wing player, taking them from the baseline to above the arc, is followed by an entry pass into the post. What the Raptors have done in the preseason that wasn’t evident in years prior is having the two perimeter players on the strongside of the court to engage in what is called a “Split Cut,” which occurs above a post player. The Warriors have re-popularized this action in recent years, but they do it as a means to facilitate their perimeter offense.

Its impact for the Raptors, and more specifically Valanciunas, is that it preoccupies the perimeter defense to dissuade from digging down into Valanciunas’ space. In the first clip, the perimeter defenders were preoccupied by the split cut, unable to help and dig below into the paint, allowing Valanciunas time and space to operate and score from the low block. In the second, a roaming Will Barton loses Drew Crawford after he digs down. In that scenario, the Raptors didn’t have a split cut and just allowed the post entry passer to exit to the opposite side of the court, but the principle remains the same. Having meaningful off-ball movement to counteract and dissuade defenders from helping into the lane is a positive for the emergence of Valanciunas’ post game.

The Raptors introduced Split Cuts into their offense very late last year, beginning in the playoffs. It is interesting to see that it has remained in the Raptors offensive repertoire and is a good sign of growth

Impromptu Post Ups

This last set of post ups are a bit less concrete in schematic terms but do make sense in a broad way.

During the preseason, in possessions where the Early Offense has died out on the first option or once a set has run its course without producing an advantage, the Raptors have seemed to spontaneously dumped the ball into Valanciunas. In years past, those possessions may have ended in long-range, off-the-dribble jumpers, but a possession or two in most games have seemed to find their way to Valanciunas on the low block as a way for the offensive possession to be saved.

In order, those possessions featured Valanciunas and Joseph engaging in a pick and roll, which lead to Valanciunas rolling into post position, a smart way to gain valuable real estate in the paint without having to waste valuable seconds on the clock. Next, the Raptors ran a Wedge Pick and Roll, which is essentially a screen-the-screener action along the sideline. Typically, Valanciunas’ tendency to clog up the lane would’ve worked to the Raptors’ detriment, but they leveraged his position and got him an impromptu post up where he showed decent vision after Patterson wisely sealed his man. Lastly, after Derozan failed to find a good lane to the rim in early offense, the Raptors dumped the ball into Valanciunas after clearing that side of the floor.

It’s unclear if they did this with clear instruction from Casey or Valanciunas’ incredible playoff run has brought him valuable recognition from his teammate recognizing his skills as an offensive weapon, even one that can bail them out when all else fails.

This is not to say the Raptors will no longer go to Lowry or DeRozan late in the clock. A vast majority of those possessions will stay with those two, but expect a slight uptick in Valanciunas’ usage late in the clock.

Concluding Thoughts

The preseason is a weird environment where fake lineups and minutes are paraded throughout, so sometimes it becomes difficult to take any meaning out of it. There is a lack of large sample sizes to draw concrete observations and conclusions from, but there seems to be something here with Valanciunas from a tactical perspective. This is not to say that the Raptors are going to become a team which has its half-court possessions dominated by post ups, but I think it is fair to say that there will be more variety for Valanciunas in regards to the looks he sees on the low block.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Podcast – Contingencies for Sullinger

Host William Lou invites Joseph Casciaro of theScore onto the podcast to discuss a plan of action in the wake of Jared Sullinger’s injury.


Click to comment

Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 24

The When, What, How of Jonas Valanciunas’ breakout – The Defeated

Valanciunas’ lethargic play in preseason furthered the burnout theory. Outside of his rookie year, Valanciunas was never confused with being an energetic player. He normally labors and lumbers — he just seems even more laborious and more lumbering through October. Valanciunas looks tired in most games and didn’t asserted himself to any appreciable degree in preseason.

Perhaps that was to be expected. Dwane Casey mused before their first preseason game in Vancouver that Valanciunas wasn’t fully fit. And while Casey’s comments weren’t nearly as scathing as those made by Kuzlauskas, the only difference in their words was PR training. The message was the same.

“Right now I think he’s still having a little lag from coming from Europe, coming from the Olympics … so right now he’s working himself into tip-top shape.”

Whatever the extenuating circumstances, Valanciunas’ production can’t be questioned.

He hasn’t played at peak fitness but he’s still putting up close to a double-double in just over 20 minutes per game. On Wednesday he looked atrocious on either end in the Pistons game, but to my surprise, he finished the night with nine points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and nearly led the team with three assists. Two weeks before that against Denver, Valanciunas was burned repeatedly by European counterpart Nikola Jokic but Valanciunas somehow racked up four fouls on Denver’s defense in the opening frame.
What that points to is that the talent is right there for Valanciunas to harness. Even during a bad month, sporting a bad haircut, Valanciunas still manages to provide meaningful production.

Open Gym, presented by Bell Preview: I Got Us S5E01 – YouTube

Attention to Detail: DeMar DeRozan – YouTube

Sitdown with Jared Sullinger –

Michael Grange sits down with newest Toronto Raptor Jared Sullinger ahead of the 2016-17 season, to see what expectations he brings into his new team.

Raptors’ Sullinger to undergo foot surgery – Article – TSN

The team announced that Jared Sullinger will undergo foot surgery on Monday to place a screw in his fifth metatarsal to alleviate stress.
Sullinger, 24, signed with the Raptors as a free agent in the summer and his presence was expected to help offset the loss of Bismack Biyombo, who departed for the Orlando Magic.
The metatarsal stress reaction  is the same kind of injury that limited Sullinger to 58 games with the Boston Celtics in 2014-15.
In 81 games last season, Sullinger averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 23.7 minutes a night.

Raptors’ Sullinger to have surgery on foot, could miss quarter of season | Toronto Star

Sullinger worked out in Washington on Thursday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the team’s game against the Wizards on Friday. Sullinger had his most serious setback there, prompting a trip to New York for a closer look at what was troubling him.

Rookie power forward Pascal Siakam started the Raptors’ final three pre-season games and could get the start for Sullinger on Wednesday. Veteran Patrick Patterson is an option, but Casey likes Patterson’s contribution off the bench and would prefer to keep the second-unit together as much as possible.

“We haven’t decided whether to go with Pat in that situation or start with Pascal,” Casey said earlier on Sunday, still saying he was unsure of Sullinger’s status.

“Pascal has done an excellent job. He is making a lot of mistakes but they are hard mistakes. You can live with that until he picks it up and learns.

“He is an active young man and sometimes that in itself is hard to guard. If he’s not sure what he’s going to do, you can be damn sure his opponent doesn’t know what he is going to do. That is good. But I like his disposition, his spirit. His heart is in the right place. He is going to work his behind off.”

Casey slid DeMarre Carroll into the power forward spot for stretches and used a smaller lineup in the Raptors’ loss to the Wizards on Friday

Raptors lose Jared Sullinger to foot surgery | Toronto Sun

The team had hoped the injury, a stress reaction, not a fracture, would heal by itself with rest but a slight setback on Thursday in Washington where he was actually going to attempt to play changed the plans.

The move is a preventative one in that it gives the Raptors confidence going forward that the injury is behind Sullinger for good and will not flare up again.

While there is no set timeline for recovery the team is expecting a two-month absence.

Sullinger initially hurt the foot when he stepped on an opponent’s foot in the first game of the pre-season in Vancouver.

By doing the surgery now the team is conceding it will take its lumps early in the season in order to avoid any surprises later in the season and be at their best when it is most important.

The question now becomes who slides into Sullinger’s position and takes those minutes until he returns.

Report: Jared Sullinger to have surgery on foot – Raptors HQ

The Raptors power forward (and backup centre) spot is already acknowledged as the thinnest spot on the team. With Sully out, the Raptors will have to lean heavily on Patrick Patterson, the rebuilt Carroll (depending on matchups), and youngster Pascal Siakam.

Of course, Patterson has shown to be most effective as a bench player not to be unduly taxed with long, long stretches of minutes. Carroll’s natural position is the three, despite the edicts of the modern NBA (and his surgically repaired knee). And while Siakam has shown he can run around and provide energy for the Raptors, he’s nowhere close (yet) to the polished player that Sullinger is at this stage of their mutual careers. The Raptors will need Siakam to hold the fort as much as possible now and while I think he can definitely show something, it really does put Toronto at a disadvantage right from the jump. So yes, this sucks, is what I’m telling you.

Injury bug bites early for Sullinger, Raptors – Article – TSN

For Toronto, the risk in taking Sullinger on was priced into that discount. Beyond the conditioning concerns, which have followed him since coming out of Ohio State, the former Celtic had missed 24 games with a stress fracture to the same foot in 2014-15. He was supposed to be sidelined for the remainder of that season but came back early, returning just in time to make his playoff debut.

In an odd turn of events, a stroke of unfortunate luck, the Raptors are losing a starter and their biggest free agent signing to an early-season foot injury for the second straight year (last season DeMarre Carroll was limited by plantar fasciitis before sustaining his knee injury). Sullinger figured to be a big part of their front court rotation this year. Not only was he primed to take over for Luis Scola as the starting power forward, Casey had planned on using him to help absorb some of the backup centre minutes following the departure of Bismack Biyombo.

Now, the Raptors will open the new season undermanned and may need to get creative with their rotation for as long as Sullinger is out. There’s more pressure than ever on Carroll to stay healthy – Toronto is already thin at three and could look to use him some as a small-ball four – while the team’s collection of young bigs will need to grow up in a hurry.

The next man up at power forward is rookie Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ 27th-overall pick in last June’s draft. Although they’ll continue to lean on Patrick Patterson – who should see a major uptick in playing time in this, his contract season – Casey prefers to bring the versatile vet in with the second unit. He’ll almost certainly play the bulk of the minutes at the position and close games, but Siakam could very well step into the Scola role as Toronto’s starter next to Jonas Valanciunas.

Grange: Sullinger situation could open door for Nogueira –

Michael Grange explains how the Raptors will deal with Jared Sullinger being out of the lineup and who could benefit from his absence.

Raptors To Lose Jared Sullinger For 3-4 Months Or More | Pro Bball Report

Zone 2 fractures are typically known as Jones fractures. They occur at the intersection between the base and the shaft of the fifth metatarsal. These fractures are known to have a higher chance of not healing (nonunion). They are also at risk of refracture even after healing. Surgical treatment is commonly performed for these fractures.

Patients can expect to return to full activity three to four months after a typical fracture. This includes returning to sports.

Some complications can result in the need for repeat surgery.
Full details of Sullinger’s injury are not likely to be released, but this type of injury is pretty common in the NBA and while some players get back on the court within the same season, some don’t, and some require additional surgeries/treatment for the condition before they can finally return.

While it’s possible Sullinger is back after the All-Star break, a prudent general manager would be planning on not seeing him on the court again this season.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey inspires by listening | Toronto Star

There can be no dispute that there is method to Casey’s madness. He is about to enter his sixth season as head coach — longer than any of the seven men who preceded him — and has a franchise-best 210-184 regular season record. His team’s win totals have improved every year, the Raptors won the only two seven-game playoff series in franchise history last season while getting to the Eastern Conference final. He has twice been signed to contract extensions by president Masai Ujiri, who arrived back in Toronto after Casey was in place but who has never seen a reason to replace him.

“Case, man, he never changes,” DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s always going to be the same.”

Casey’s best attribute is his ability to inspire those around him to work for the common goal in a more collaborative effort than a dictatorship. Final decisions rest with him but engaging others and paying more than lip service to their input inspires.

“He’ll listen to all his coaches in the room which is refreshing, it’s nice, it’s good for your head coach to be able to listen to and trust all his assistants and that he does,” said Rex Kalamian, now in his third season with Casey in Toronto after having first worked with him in 2004 in Minnesota.

“In a coaches meeting or in a room a lot of times you can agree to disagree but when you exit the room, you align.”

It has helped that Casey has basically grown up with a handful of key Raptors players and the relationship with them has grown. DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are among the longest-serving players, their comfort level with Casey has mirrored their on-court success.

VanVleet walks away with Raps final roster spot | Toronto Sun

When second-year point guard Delon Wright got hurt at summer league, with a return date set for late-December, at the earliest, VanVleet’s odds of making the team improved greatly.

But he still had to go out and perform and earn the spot and that he did, first showing off an improved outside shot in Las Vegas (54.5% on three-pointers in five games) with a minuscule turnover rate and then again during the pre-season. VanVleet defended well — his calling card — and also averaged 8.3 points and 2.4 assists, shooting 50% from the field, including 39% from three in seven games, two of them starts.

Back in July at summer league, VanVleet said he thought highly of the Raptors organization and that’s why he turned down offers from several other teams, even with all-NBA point guard Kyle Lowry, stellar backup Cory Joseph and Wright, the 20th pick of the 2015 draft ahead of him on the depth chart.

“They show interest in developing young talent and that’s key,” VanVleet told Postmedia.

“I’m kind of savvy in my experience, but I haven’t played (in the NBA), but I’m kind of more mature, so that plays a role in it too. I’m not 18, most organizations, if you’re not 18, they don’t really develop you,” said the 22-year-old, who made an instant impact as a freshman at Wichita State, helping the team to the Final Four.

“They might go get a vet, but they’ve shown that they develop talent with guys like Norm (Powell) and Bruno (Caboclo) and Delon. So I’m just trying to develop the blueprint and work on things. I keep my head down, work hard and do what I do, not try to be anything special outside of myself and just play my role and contribute to winning, that’s what I take pride in, contributing to winning.”

Fred VanVleet ‘humble’ for shot on Toronto Raptors roster – The Globe and Mail

Casey also said VanVleet’s “steely toughness” set him apart.

“We told Fred: ‘This is not a licence to come in and relax. You come in every day and put pressure on Kyle and Cory, I want you to try to take their minutes and make them better. It’s going to make you better, it’s going to make our team better,’” Casey said. “That’s what he does. He does not back down whatsoever from Kyle or Cory, he doesn’t let them relax, there’s no ‘buddy ball’ in scrimmages.”

VanVleet said Lowry beat up on him “pretty bad” on the first day of camp.

“I think I fouled him about 20 times, but I kept coming and that’s all you’ve got to do, never back down,” he said.

The six-foot guard credited both Joseph and Lowry for helping show him the ropes, but said Lowry, in particular, had taken the 22-year-old under his wing.

“He’s been helping me a lot more than I ever thought he would or has to,” VanVleet said. “He doesn’t have to take me under his wing like he has, but he’s been great.”

Raptors exercise options on Bruno, Bebe and Delon through 2017-18 – Raptors HQ

Finally, there’s Bruno. As we enter year three of the Caboclo project, we’re still not clear as to what exactly the lanky Brazilian, still just 21, is as a player. And from the sounds of some in the organization, they don’t know either. Bruno remains the longest of long term investment projects and since the Raptors have already put two years in (and built an entire D-League team for him), it makes sense to just keep going. Unlike Bebe and Wright however, the future for Bruno post-2018 is immensely unclear.

Raptors 2016-17 Season Preview | Toronto Raptors

It would have been entirely understandable had DeRozan and Lowry elected to keep their summers low-key, getting much deserved rest and downtime after leading the Raptors to their best season in franchise history. Instead the duo took their talents to Rio where they represented the U.S. National team in the Olympics, bringing gold medals back home with them. Both players received rave reviews from the coaching staff, with Lowry being heralded as one of the most impressive players on the team on both ends of the floor. Getting to spend more than a month of the offseason training and preparing alongside the NBA’s best talent, while being coached by a collection of some of the brightest minds in basketball can be a transformative opportunity. Not only do you have the chance daily to learn from those around you, but being around players who have reached the level of success you’re still striving to achieve is a special kind of motivation. After stellar All-Star seasons a year ago, Lowry and DeRozan were guaranteed to return to Toronto hungry for more. After the Olympics experience the two besties shared in Rio, that hunger has only intensified.

Thirty Futures: Toronto Raptors – RealGM Analysis

To the extent that athletes are permitted to be weird, the Raptors are an idiosyncratic bunch. Kyle Lowry, who had a whispered-about reputation as a bit of a jerk before he came to Toronto, has developed a comedy routine rapport with DeRozan. DeMar’s the sunny ham and he’s the skeptical straight man. Jonas Valanciunas belongs to a long line of goofily, obliviously sweet giants from former Soviet republics. DeMarre Carroll, below the radar, dresses every bit as loudly and ridiculously as Russell Westbrook. All of this eccentricity contrasts beautifully with Dwane Casey’s had-it-up-to-here police sergeant aesthetic. You get the impression on nights when Lowry commits four or more turnovers, he has to trudge into Casey’s office with his head down, produce a water pistol and plastic sheriff’s badge, and place them on Casey’s desk.

Biyombo’s absence will hurt the Raptors in terms of interior defense and sparkpluggy rebounding off the bench, but it probably means more minutes for Valanciunas, who, heading into his fifth season, is still straddling the line between promise and disappointment. Carroll is likely to improve on a sub-par first year in Toronto during which he was seemingly always playing through mild injury. There are worse backcourt bench options than Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross, and Norm Powell is coming off a decent rookie season. The Raptors were the only team to finish within touching distance of the Cavs last year, at 56 wins. They might take a half-step backwards with the Celtics adding Al Horford and the Hawks dancing blindly into the Dwight Howard Homecoming Era, but it’s not deathly important where they finish in the conference hierarchy. They’ll play well, win a bunch of games, and get bounced from the playoffs in a series they endeavor to turn into a scrap.

Four Toronto Raptors Storylines to Follow this Regular Season | Tip of the Tower

This offseason there was a visible expansion in Powell’s game, he’s a ball handler now. Coach Jama Mahlalela only had the ball in two players’ hands during summer league, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

He was once just a spot up player, to space the floor and run the break but the team now trusts him in pick and roll situations. Powell made playmaking a point of empasis during the offseason and the staff is rewarding him not only in positions to score but to distribute the ball. Powell has also shown flashes in isolation with his baby right-left cross over into pull up which capitalizes on his speed but Ross has also made progress.

Ross, each year he’s become more and more unabashed with his tjree point attempts, sometimes to his detriment. He was too coy when he received the ball but if this preseason is any indication he’s not only been able to recognize opportunities to shoot but he’s been making those shots consistently. If Ross continues to execute his 3 point shooting it’s enough to validate his value as a legit rotational player. Ross can only perform now, he’s in a situation where only time can tell as consistency can only be established when something is done… consistent.

In my eyes Powell is already a far and away better player than Ross is today. Powell played about 14 minutes a game compared to Ross’ 24, last year because he was playing behind Ross and he just came up through the D-league. Coach Dwane Casey is a defensive coach and a traditionalist, he loves to play dual bigs and he values size tremendously. Since there will be important minutes in games where one or both players play next to 6-foot Kyle Lowry and turnstyle DeRozan defensive size is a matter that needs addressing. Powell, a tenacious defender, is undersized at his position and could be an issue when switching on the court. Terrance Ross has built equity (however not a lot) with the coaching staff throughout the years and has the size he brings defensively allows Dwane Casey to sleep easy at night.

Photo credit: @Raptors on Instagram

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video/tweet to

Click to comment

Jared Sullinger to have screw inserted in foot Monday

So much for not panicking.

Jared Sullinger will undergo surgery on his injured left foot Monday, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Wojnarowski indicates that Sullinger will miss “extended” time, though what, exactly, that means is unclear.

The team confirmed Sunday that Sullinger will have a screw inserted into his fifth metatarsal, calling the procedure “a preventative measure to alleviate symptomatic stress reactions.” The team did not provide a timeline for recovery.

This is a big blow for the Raptors ahead of Wednesday’s season opener, leaving multiple positions of perceived weakness even thinner. With Sullinger sidelined, Lucas Nogueira dealing with an ankle sprain, Terrence Ross dinged up, and DeMarre Carroll’s workload being monitored closely, the Raptors find themselves thin in the frontcourt to start the year. Factor in the injury to Delon Wright, which necessitated Fred VanVleet earning the 15th roster spot, and the Raptors’ rotation could be a patch-work one when Detroit visits in three days.

Sullinger was the team’s biggest offseason splash, signing for the mid-level exception on a one-year deal meant to help him improve his market value for the summer of 2017 while providing the Raptors with a below-market asset. He figured to be the team’s starting power forward while also soaking up minutes as a backup center, solidifying the team’s rebounding presence and adding some additional offensive flare and, if his corner three came along as planned, shooting. He may still bring those things, but he’ll be getting a late start to his first season with the club now, and any role or fit will remain strictly hypothetical for a while longer.

An unknown player stepped on Sullinger’s left foot during the team’s preseason opener against Golden State, and he tried to practice through it before setbacks occurred. From there, he was limited to conditioning work, but the issue didn’t improve, calling his status for the season opener in doubt. That timeline has shifted significantly now. It was originally believed that Sullinger had no structural damage in the foot, and that may still be the case given the “preventative” part of the team’s release, but with pain persisting even as his practice load was limited, the team opted to take another look. Clearly, they’re proceeding with the longview in mind.

The news presents a pretty massive opportunity for rookie Pascal Siakam, who may find himself as the team’s starting power forward. The Raptors could shift Patrick Patterson into the starting lineup, a natural and logical two-way fit that has long been there best option, anyway, but the team’s been hesitant to do so in the past, preferring Patterson in a sixth man role he’s excelled in. Siakam’s turned in a strong preseason, and while he’s going to make some of the mistakes you’d expect from a relatively green rookie, his hustle, energy, and defensive versatility can help make up for those miscues. He’d be deployed in a low-usage role, anyway, so the biggest detriment beyond mistakes borne of inexperience may be the somewhat tight spacing, though he’d help goose the transition offense to make up for some of that. You don’t want to have to throw a late first-round pick to the wolves out of the gate, but Siakam’s at least shown some encouraging flashes early on.

Regardless of who starts, the Raptors simply don’t have the bodies to play small often enough to cover up for Sullinger’s absence, so the freshman should be in line for regular minutes to start the year. The Raptors could task Carroll with spending more time at the four, essentially using Ross and Norman Powell to help sop up the vacated minutes in multi-wing lineups. The Raptors were successful going small fairly often last year, and those groups can be a lot of fun at both ends of the floor, but they may not want to put an even greater physical toll on Carroll so early in the year.

And that’s the thing to keep in mind here, however disappointing this news and to whatever degree it stands to hurt in the short-term: The Raptors will continue to focus on what they can be in April, which is exactly why Sullinger didn’t push the matter initially. Starting the season so thin may cost the Raptors a few wins, but if they can manage to enter the playoffs healthy and with enough time to have built up some chemistry, they’ll probably survive this.


This is tough news to take on the eve of the season, and there’s not really a positive way to spin the team’s biggest signing missing extended time with a foot injury, especially when that player has struggled with conditioning and foot issues before (he missed a quarter of a season with a stress fracture in the same foot in 2014-15). If you were to spin it, the angle would be that the Raptors, for the first time ever, are comfortably good enough to be confident in withstanding such a loss in the short-run. It’s also worth noting the team was pleased with Sullinger’s offseason conditioning work and the shape in which he showed up to training camp, and the Raptors training staff has done a good job of keeping injured players in proper form in the past. (I realize telling people to try not to worry about Sullinger, his foot, and the resulting conditioning questions would fall on deaf ears, but try not to assume disaster.)

So, hey, Pascal Siakam and fun, smaller lineups, let’s go.

Click to comment

Raptors exercise options on Nogueira, Caboclo, and Wright

The Toronto Raptors are seeing the Bruno Caboclo experiment through to the end.

The team announced Sunday that they have exercised their fourth-year option on Caboclo’s rookie scale contract, ensuring he’ll be with the team through the 2017-18 season, barring a trade. The Raptors also exercised that same option on the contract of Lucas Nogueira, as well as the third-year option on Delon Wright’s deal.

The Raptors had until Oct. 31 to exercise these options, and there wasn’t a great deal of doubt that they would do so. With a rising salary cap environment and rookie-scale deals that provide labor at a cheap, fixed cost, the financial benefit of the options is simply too great. All three players represent relatively inexpensive options at the end of the roster, maintaining cap flexibility for elsewhere on the roster. They do come with a cost – the option amounts are well beyond the league minimum, they tie up a roster spot, and it precludes the team from maximizing cap space (through rescinding their rights as free agents) – but it’s fairly rare for teams in the NBA to decline a fourth-year option, and almost unheard of to decline a third-year option.

While Caboclo is still a ways away from contributing at the NBA level in any meaningful way, the organization remains encouraged by his progress, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The development plan for the No. 20 selection in the 2014 draft was always a long-term one, and any disagreement with the option being picked up would have to be directed at the draft strategy itself, not anything Caboclo’s shown in two years that have essentially been a red-shirt year and a freshman D-League season. It’s hard to say what Caboclo can or will be, given the nonlinearity of development, but he remains an interesting prospect as a potential 3-and-D combo-forward, if things work out. Caboclo’s option year will pay him $2.45 million, a raise from the $1.59 million he’s making this season.

Nogueira, meanwhile, has locked down the backup center job in his third training camp with the team, assuming his sprained ankle doesn’t linger too long. Acquired in the Lou Williams trade two summers back, Nogueira’s been relegated mostly to sitting at the end of the bench or meandering listlessly through D-League competition he’s mostly proven too advanced for. This past month has been the most consistent Nogueira’s performed during his time with the Raptors, and there’s optimism that he’s finally be ready to contribute. The talent and length is obvious with the 24-year-old, and he seems to be figuring out how to best use those assets within the context of his role. He’ll earn $2.95 million next year, up from $1.92 million this season.

Picking up Wright’s option was an obvious choice, even with Fred VanVleet now on the roster. The No. 20 pick a year ago, Wright is probably ready for backup minutes at the NBA level once healthy, and the third-year option is dirt cheap, even for a third point guard. Wright’s option will see his salary bumped from $1.58 million this year to $1.65 million next, and the Raptors will have until Oct. 31 next year to exercise their fourth-year option on his deal.

Again, none of this should be surprising given the prices involved. Caboclo and Nogueira will now become restricted free agents in 2018, and the Raptors have a little bit more cost certainty. That’s what this move is about, and while the roster looks pretty full moving forward, things change quickly.

Here’s a rough look at how the Raptors’ cap sheet will line up on July 1 this summer, excluding the cap holds for their two first-round picks (because it’s unclear if those scale amounts will be effective for the 2017 draft or not, with changes coming to the CBA). The cap is currently estimated at $103 million.

Click to comment

PHOTO: Are the Raptors adding a Huskies court design?

A reader sent along the following photo, captured during practice at the Air Canada Centre recently.

That would appear to be a new alternate court design, almost surely for use on nights the Raptors don their new Huskies alternate. This hasn’t been confirmed by team officials, but it’d be one heck of a photoshop (and from a strange angle) if it weren’t legitimate.

I wonder if we’ll see this on Halloween, the first night the team will wear the new Huskies jersey.

Norman Powell and Jared Sullinger will be doing a meet-and-greet at the Real Sports store tomorrow at 4 p.m. as part of the push for the Huskies design. Those jerseys go on sale at 9 a.m. Monday for those on a special offers list and at 10 a.m. for everyone else.

Click to comment

Raptors release five camp invites

Just dropping a line to update yesterday’s news that Fred VanVleet has won the Toronto Raptors’ 15th roster spot. The team made that official Saturday afternoon, releasing Drew Crawford, Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, Jarrod Uthoff, and Yanick Moreira.

Heslip, Singler, and Uthoff are all headed to Raptors 905. The hope and expectation is that Moreira will, as well. Crawford is expected to return overseas.

In the smallest of other notes, Axel Toupane, cut by the Denver Nuggets last week, remains undecided on his plans for 2016-17. The 905 hold his rights if he opts for the D-League route.

Click to comment

Report: Fred VanVleet wins 15th roster spot

The Toronto Raptors have chosen Fred VanVleet to fill out the 15th spot on the regular season roster, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Vertical.

VanVleet was long considered the favorite for the spot, due in part to the injury to third-string point guard Delon Wright and due to how high the team is on his play. Even before Wright suffered a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum that could sideline him into January, the Raptors were enamored enough with VanVleet to ink him to a two-year deal with a $50,000 partial guarantee for this season, as Raptors Republic reported in July. Few around the league doubt that VanVleet is an NBA talent, and he was considered among the best undrafted players this summer, even eschewing a potential second-round selection in order to better control his own future.

That gamble seems to have paid off, as he’ll enter the season as Toronto’s third guard. There may not be a ton of minutes behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, if Wright’s role last season is any indication, but VanVleet saw time alongside both in the preseason, and he impressed a great deal. He’s also developed a quick on- and off-court chemistry with Norman Powell and earned rave reviews for approaching training camp the “Raptors way,” in the words of assistant coach Patrick Mutombo.

On the court, VanVleet’s been able to bring a steady presence to bench-heavy units lacking in experience, settling the offense down and helping ramp up the pressure on the defensive end. He’s shown a nice knack for using his handful of tricks at the NBA level – midgeting, speed changes, quick pull-ups in transition – and he’s done a good job finding teammates for easy looks. Defensively, he’s held his own with the exception of a “Christening” at the hands of Chris Paul (in his coach’s words). He averaged roughly 15-4-4 per-36 minutes in the preseason, posting just shy of a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and posting a 58.3 true-shooting percentage. A couple of off nights aside, he did little to dispel the notion that his sliding through the cracks of the draft was a mistake.

With VanVleet’s inclusion, here’s how the opening night roster stands for the Raptors:

PG: Lowry, Joseph, VanVleet, Wright (injured)
SG: DeRozan, Powell
SF: Carroll, Ross, Caboclo
PF: Sullinger, Patterson, Siakam
C: Valanciunas, Nogueira, Poeltl

Once Wright is healthy, the Raptors may choose to change course with that roster spot. Carrying four point guards is justifiable given how often they play two together, and considering Wright’s length and the shooting of Lowry and VanVleet. If the team deems that roster balance inappropriate, they can cut VanVleet later in the year, hoping to slide him through waivers and making him an in-season D-League affiliate player, should he agree to it. He’d be a serious threat to be claimed, though, and his deal becomes fully guaranteed for the season on Jan. 10, so this bit of asset management will likely depend on the health and performance of the entire point guard stable, as well as the health of the team’s forwards. The Raptors maintain some flexibility and insurance here through the season’s first two months, buying time for Wright and for a longer look at VanVleet, and they very likely take the best player of the bunch forward with them in doing so.

While VanVleet was looked at as the likely choice all along, Drew Crawford and Brady Heslip gave him quite a push in camp. Head coach Dwane Casey stressed the need for defense and help at the forward positions with Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, and Jared Sullinger at varying degrees of health, and Crawford showed well as a potential three-and-D weapon at either wing position. At age 26, he brought a maturity level that’s necessary from the 15th spot with so many young players already on the roster, and the team believes Crawford is an NBA-caliber player. Heslip, meanwhile, had a tough hill to climb given his defensive limitations, but he showed progress as a playmaker and was one of the most efficient scorers, league-wide, in the preseason.

E.J. Singler also continued to win fans in the organization, too, building on a strong end to his Raptors 905 season last year, but a crunch for minutes and the emergence of Crawford and Heslip limited his opportunities some. Jarrod Uthoff and Yanick Moreira, meanwhile, didn’t play outside of the exhibition against San Lorenzo de Almagro, never really threatening for the position.

From here, the Raptors will waive the five players who didn’t make the cut, doing so by Monday at the latest. If they all clear waivers, the team could make up to four of them D-League affiliate players, though it’s not necessary in the case of Singler and Heslip, whose D-League rights they already hold. Raptors Republic has confirmed that Heslip, Singler, and Uthoff have all agreed to head to the 905, taking partial guarantees on their camp deals as sweetener for their D-League salaries. The team is hopeful that Moreira will wind up there, too, though he took no guarantee and his status isn’t confirmed yet.

Crawford, if unclaimed, is expected to return overseas, where he was an All-Star a season ago.

The 905 can use the rights of Heslip and Singler, tab Uthoff and Moreira as affiliate players, and still have the flexibility to add VanVleet later as an in-season affiliate. Should Crawford surprise and opt for the D-League, they would need to acquire his rights from Erie. The 905 rights sheet stands as something like this right now, eight days from the D-League Draft.


Following the draft on Oct. 30, 905 camp will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 9, with cut-down day coming on Nov. 10 and the season opening Nov. 11 (the 905 don’t play until Nov. 18, though, buying them what amounts to an extended camp under new head coach Jerry Stackhouse).

Click to comment

Raptors end camp early, no-show preseason finale – Preseason Grades

Raptors 82, Wizards 119 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Last night’s game was pretty a terrible, an unfit way to wrap up a much-too-long preseason. Rather than rehash the details yet again, I’ll refer you to the quick reaction and the reaction podcast. If you need more than those two pieces and the box score to ruin your Saturday morning, I recommend just watching Black Mirror, instead.

So rather than a proper recap that would amount to “Washington got an endless buffet of open shots, hit most of them, only Lucas Nogueira really played well, and then he got hurt,” I’ve compiled all of the preseason grades to get a snapshot of how each individual performed this month. It’s worth keeping in mind that the seven Quick Reactions were spread across three people (five for myself, one each for Anthony and Cam), so the grading scale may not be entirely consistent, but this should give you an idea.

Please feel free to leave your own “Preseason Grade” for each player in the comments.

(And sorry for using images – WordPress was NOT having code for tables this wide this morning.)

grades preseason-stats

Click to comment

Raptors-Wizards Reaction Podcast – Disinterested Raptors played themselves

In this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the team’s FINAL preseason game.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Raptors 82, Wizards 119

Toronto 82 Final
Recap | Box Score
119 Washington
D. Carroll 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | — +/-

Made a couple of iffy gambles on defense but otherwise looked spry, moving well without the ball and crashing the offensive glass. He got through preseason healthy, which is all I care about.

P. Siakam 19 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

Your potential opening night starter continued to play to the book on him – he’s incredibly fun, his energy will lead to some extended possessions and transition baskets, and he’ll make the mistakes you’d expect from a somewhat raw rookie.

J. Valanciunas 22 MIN | 2-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | — +/-

William Lou damn near had a Twitter meltdown as the Lithuanian lumbered his way through an abhorrent defensive first half. There’s nights guys don’t have it, and then there’s the week Valanciunas had, where it’s looked like his conditioning has actually regressed. He’s too good to be having back-to-back nights like this.

K. Lowry 30 MIN | 3-11 FG | 0-4 3FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 6 TO | 8 PTS | — +/-

Weird minutes from the Top Guy tonight. Uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, his shot was errant despite some nice space over top of screens, and he didn’t seem to be in top gear on defense (though guarding twos for a stretch with VanVleet may have contributed). I am exactly zero percent concerned. Lowry’s maybe just preseasoned out. Like all of us.

D. DeRozan 30 MIN | 11-24 FG | 1-5 3FG | 11-12 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 34 PTS | — +/-

Did everything in his power to make sure he had taken enough preseason field-goal attempts, firing off 24 in 30 minutes. And he was really efficient with those touches, scoring 34 points thanks to an EZ Pass to the free-throw line. We’ll always quibble with some of the longer mid-range stuff, and his defense was emblematic of the team’s as a whole, but so long as the mix leans toward drives and the post game, he can be efficient.

P. Patterson 24 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-2 3FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

It’s nice that he’s trying new things by putting the ball on the floor and attacking off the catch. Those are important elements for him to have so opponents can’t close out as aggressively when he spots up. But they remain a work in progress, and he either needs to improve as a finisher or commit to trying to draw contact in the paint (he’s strong enough).

T. Ross 10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | — +/-

Hard to judge from such a small run – Ross sat the second half to ice his knee, likely according to plan – but he didn’t look uncomfortable or anything. Would have been nice to keep him on the floor to keep his momentum going, but it’s perhaps telling that he played ahead of Powell, so he hasn’t lost his First Wing spot.

B. Caboclo 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

Saw a brief stint at center while Siakam was guarding Oubre in a small-versus-small end-game scenario. He did that with the 905 a bit, too, and it stands to reason that his switch to “four-three” from “three-four” will include more minutes as a funky rim protector. Had a nice left-handed drive and kick to Siakam that led to a bucket.

L. Nogueira 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

I mean…come on. Nogueira finally has a healthy camp, shows some progress and consistency, locks down the backup center job, then comes out as the ONLY Raptor playing good defense early (what a world)…then he rolls an ankle on Marcus Thornton’s foot. Hopefully this is a day-to-day thing and the four days off get him right without losing momentum.

J. Poeltl 12 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | — +/-

He might be looking at an opportuinity with Sullinger and Nogueira banged up, and I think he’d be fine in small minutes. He’s still going up to frantically around the rim, and it comes off as “weak” (I think it’s more “rushed”), but he’s had some nice moments on defense and really hit the glass well in this one.

F. VanVleet 24 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | — +/-

Not the best of last-minute extended auditions, but outside of one tough turnover, he continued to play within himself and provide a steadying presence. Even saw time alongside Lowry, which was probably cool given how big a fan he is.

D. Crawford 12 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-2 3FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | — +/-

Not a great closing argument for Crawford, who has had a mostly solid preseason. Then again, garbage time isn’t exactly where you’d expect a potential low-usage, defense-first guy to shine, and he was behind Ross and Powell for minutes here.

B. Heslip 2 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | — +/-

Isn’t nine feet tall, and as such couldn’t catch the pass sent his way for a corner look. Came in, hit a bucket, made a hustle play. He’s third in line for the 15th spot, despite doing everything asked of him the last few weeks.

N. Powell 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | — +/-

Still trying to find the balance between role player and bench-unit gunner, Powell was a little over-aggressive when not playing with primary rotation guys. He was also one of the only Raptors playing defense, showed some nice vision on a few drive-and-kicks, and continued shooting the ball well – he’s 7-of-16 on threes this preseason, an encouraging sign.

Dwane Casey

Just giving him this as a placeholder grade because I don’t know how to hang a 37-point preseason loss on a coach.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors made Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre look like All-Stars. I like both of those players more than most, I’ve gathered, but being on the wrong end of lingchi from a pair of un-established wings is a really bad look for the defense.
  2. Everything was a bad look for the defense, really. The Wizards’ primary rotation did a great job whipping the ball around the perimeter and assisting on most baskets, and of knocking down open shots. Still, credit for “making shots” can only extend so far when there’s such a steady diet of open looks.
  3. The Raptors have four practice days before the opener. I had assumed they’d get one of the next two days off, but after tonight’s performance, that might not be the case. This is about as disappointing a way to end the preseason as you can imagine, and I’d expect Casey wants to rinse that taste from the collective mouth ahead of Wednesday.
  4. Can we shorten the preseason? Jared Sullinger is hurt, Lucas Nogueira is hurt, Terrence Ross is still limited, Cory Joseph has a tummy ache. I mean, maybe it’s better the team had the extra time to heal up, especially with respect to DeMarre Carroll, but I feel like everyone would be better off with just five games over the same month-long camp.
  5. The opener goes Wednesday. I’m eternally grateful to get to spend another season with y’all, even after nights like this.
Click to comment

Lucas Nogueira leaves game with ankle sprain

Get through the final preseason game healthy. That’s the only goal. Literally, the only thing in the top tier of a Preseason Game No. 7 checklist should be “survive.” And yet, the preseason is too long, randomness happens, and the basketball gods apparently don’t think highly of noted philosopher Lucas Nogueira.

After working for most of training camp to lock down the backup center position, Nogueira was turning in one of his best performances of the exhibition season on Friday. He helped on a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, recovered, and then reached out to contest a shot. As he came down, his left foot landed on the foot of Washington Wizards’ guard Marcus Thornton, and Nogueira hit the deck, grabbing for his left ankle.

While the Brazilian was able to hobble off the floor under his own power, he’s done for the game with what the team is calling a left ankle sprain.

For a player who’s flashed plenty of talent but has struggled to provide consistency, largely due to a rash of short-term injuries, this is disappointing. But with the Raptors off now until the season opener on Wednesday, there’s room for optimism that Nogueira won’t miss any time or lose any momentum. In six preseason games entering play, Nogueira was averaging 3.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks in 15.8 minutes while shooting 62.5 percent. He had one rebound and one block in eight minutes before exiting.

In the interim, Jakob Poeltl should see additional time in the second half and would stand as the backup center if Nogueira and Jared Sullinger both missed the opener. It would also put additional pressure on Jonas Valanciunas, who has continued an up-and-down camp with a tough night Friday.

Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Joseph joins Sullinger on sideline, Ross returns

It’s finally (almost) over. Both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards mercifully close out a much-too-long exhibition slate on Friday. After nearly a month of training camp, the Raptors need only to stay (or get) healthy in the final preseason contest ahead of Wednesday’s regular season opener. The Wizards probably have a similar goal, so don’t expect either side to go all-out, even with a “real” meeting on tap for the Wizards’ home opener on Nov. 2.

The preseason hasn’t changed a whole lot, in the eyes of oddsmakers. If you look at the Betway odds here, you’ll see that the Raptors are still 26-to-1 to win the NBA Championship, sixth among all teams. Nobody seems particularly moved by a 2-3 preseason, though it’s interesting to note that the Raptors and Celtics have equal odds to win the Atlantic Division but not the conference or finals (I wonder how much of that is an expectation the Celtics could make a mid-season addition, or if it’s just the market forces we’ve discussed). The Wizards, meanwhile, have much longer odds in the East (41-to-1) than the Raptors (13) or Celtics (7), surely because they no longer have #PlayoffWittman.

The Raptors have played the preseason at the league’s fourth-slowest pace, while the Wizards haven’t been much faster, so expect a plodding game. Maybe. We know the Raptors will play slow, as they played at the league’s second-slowest pace a season ago, but Washington was top-five in pace last year. Perhaps Scott Brooks is trying to slow things down, and preseason changes in pace explain at least some of the year-to-year variability in team pace. Slower teams have been shown to have a slightly greater impact on pace than faster teams, but there’s a lot of noise game-to-game. Not that you really care about pace in a preseason game, but I went down a rabbit hole and thought I’d share.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. and has been added to the Sportsnet One schedule, although hasn’t updated their game information yet.

Raptors updates
The Raptors are going to continue to play it cautious with Jared Sullinger as he works his way around a sore left foot that’s now lingered for almost a month. He will not play in the preseason finale, and now the long-assumed target date – the season opener – is in jeopardy, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. That’s just…great. We covered this off here.

Terrence Ross, meanwhile, will sit again due to knee soreness, contrary to reports from Friday’s shootaround. AND CONTRARY TO THAT, the team changed course at the last minute and Ross IS dressing now. Confusing two hours.

Cory Joseph is out with the flu, too. Those absences should give Fred VanVleet and Drew Crawford a nice opportunity to make their closing arguments in the fight for the 15th roster spot. (Note: There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not Joseph is actually out.)

As for the others, here’s a best pass,though it’s worth keeping in mind that Casey wants something closer to a regular-season rotation.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder), Cory Joseph (flu)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Valanciunas 103 (20.6/game), Patterson 95 (19), Joseph 95 (18), Lowry 87 (21.8), DeRozan 79 (19.8), Carroll 78 (19.5)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 127 (21.2), Nogueira 95 (15.8), Poeltl 77 (12.8)
Competition 2: Powell 132 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22), VanVleet 115 (19.2), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0

Wizards updates
The Wizards are rolling in mostly healthy, but they might opt to take it cautious with their bumps and scrapes. Jason Smith has an oblique issue and Otto Porter has a rib injury, both of which kept them out Tuesday but are considered mostly minor. Meanwhile, Ian Mahinmi is probably going to miss upwards of a month of the regular season following knee surgery.

PG: John Wall, Trey Burke, Casper Ware
SG: Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Marcus Thornton, Sheldon McClellan
SF: Otto Porter (ribs), Kelly Oubre, Danuel House, Jarell Eddie
PF: Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith (oblique), Daniel Ochefu
C: Marcin Gortat, Johnny O’Bryant, Ian Mahinmi (knee)

The line
The Wizards are 2.5-point favorites. Our last piece of preseason #ProveEm.

Click to comment

Jared Sullinger may not be ready for season opener

Well, this is a little concerning.

According to tweets from Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star and Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, Jared Sullinger may not be ready when the Toronto Raptors open the 2016-17 season on Wednesday.

As a refresher, Sullinger injured his left foot when it was stepped on in the preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors. After trying to practice through it but experiencing setbacks, Sullinger was pulled from practices and relegated to conditioning work and trying to learn the team’s systems from the sidelines. The Raptors have maintained optimism that Sullinger would be back in short order – he’s basically been day-to-day since getting hurt – and the team isn’t panicking as the issue lingers, correctly opting to play it cautious here in October.

Sullinger is still dealing with pain in the foot despite the rest, and it sounds as if he could be set for additional testing to make sure nothing is structurally wrong.

I’ll refer you to the piece linked above for reaction to Sullinger’s continued absence, but obviously the longer it persists, the more concerning it becomes. It’s still too early for too much worry, given how little is at stake here early in the season, though I’d understand if anyone is waiting eagerly for word that another MRI (or whatever) came back clean. The team has every reason to play it safe if Sullinger is feeling even an inkling of discomfort, and with foot injuries being notoriously difficult and inconsistent person-to-person, it’s far more preferable for the team to go without Sullinger for a bit now than risk the problem flaring up again later.

And before you jump to any jokes – the team has been adamant that Sullinger’s conditioning remains at a high level. He spent a lot of time in Vancouver this summer preparing for the season with a focus on conditioning, and he’s been able to do non-practice activities to try to maintain it while on the shelf (he was drenched when I saw him Tuesday and looked about identical to how he looked on media day, for whatever that’s worth).

If Sullinger can’t go in the opener, it would appear that Pascal Siakam may draw the start at power forward. While Patrick Patterson would be an obvious fit alongside the starters – let’s just all agree to holster our “Patterson should start over Sullinger, anyway” takes for a few games, however justified – Siakam has drawn the start in preseason games, and the team has long preferred Patterson in his sixth man role. Siakam has shown some nice energy and hustle, defending actively and leaking out in transition, and the fact that he’d be tasked with a minimal role alongside the starters could help limit some of the mistakes that come with a rookie learning curve.

Personally, I’d be starting Patterson until Sullinger’s ready to go, but head coach Dwane Casey has always seemed hesitant to go that route. The Sullinger injury would theoretically mean a bit more small ball with DeMarre Carroll at the four to start the year, freeing up additional minutes for Terrence Ross and Norman Powell in the process. I’m skeptical the Lucas Noguiera-at-power forward experiment would continue into the regular season.

The other question that comes up is whether Sullinger’s health and a desire to keep Carroll’s workload reasonable may shift the battle for the 15th roster spot, pushing the team to keep Drew Crawford for additional wing/forward depth over the presumed favorite Fred VanVleet, who fills a need as an interim third point guard and whom the team is very high on. That decision doesn’t have to be made until Monday, so the team can at least wait for any test results on Sullinger to come back.

In other news, Cory Joseph will sit tonight with the flu and Terrence Ross will return from his minor knee injury. We’ll have more in the usual pre-game news and notes, but I thought the Sullinger item was important enough to pass along early.

Click to comment

2016-17 Toronto Raptors Player Previews

It’s the final week of the preseason, mercifully, which means we’re about ready to transition into predictions and roundtables and the like. There’s still one more preseason game ahead of the season opener, though, so we’ll pocket those pieces for early next week. For today, we’ll present you with this reminder of our player preview series, which wrapped up yesterday. You can find a season preview for each Toronto Raptor and Toronto Raptor hopeful.

The Starters

Kyle Lowry

DeMar DeRozan

DeMarre Carroll

Jared Sullinger

Jonas Valanciunas

The Bench

Cory Joseph

Norman Powell

Terrence Ross

Patrick Patterson

Lucas Nogueira

The Developing

Delon Wright

Bruno Caboclo

Pascal Siakam

Jakob Poeltl

The 15th Man

The Leadership

Dwane Casey

Masai Ujiri

Click to comment

Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Oct. 21

It’s finally (almost) over. Both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards mercifully close out a much-too-long exhibition slate on Friday. After nearly a month of training camp, the Raptors need only to stay (or get) healthy in the final preseason contest ahead of Wednesday’s regular season opener. The Wizards probably have a similar goal, so don’t expect either side to go all-out, even with a “real” meeting on tap for the Wizards’ home opener on Nov. 2.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. on but is untelevised in Canada. Luckily, finding a stream shouldn’t be too tough, as CSN is broadcasting the game on the Washington side, LeaguePass will almost surely have the feed, and, worst case, the Pistons broadcast their game online the other day.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Kyle Weidie of Truth About It, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Are the Raptors and Wizards rivals? I didn’t think so, but I’ve seen Wizards fans on twitter making “the Raptors lost 4-0 to Randy Wittman” jokes all offseason, which…yawn. Is there some animosity here I’m not grasping?

Kyle Weidie: Rivals? Not quite yet. I think at least three playoff meetings are required before ‘rivalry’ comes up for consideration — and even then, such is often predicated on the outcome. For example, the Wizards and Cavaliers met in the playoffs for three straight years (2006-2008), and given the various parameters surrounding everything (LeBron, Gilbert Arenas, Jay-Z, Soulja Boy, etc.), it seemed like a rivalry (definitely to me) … but Cleveland won each series. So there’s that.

As far as the Wiz-Raps are concerned, it was definitely fun sweeping you guys — and if Toronto considers Paul Pierce a “rival” (you should!), then sure — but I’d say nothing much exists at the moment aside from the over-played quips usually emitted from the @BulletsForever Twitter account. In another sense, I’ve always been fond of my friends from The North and am also willing to partake in some light ribbing over that sweep. For some of us Wizards folk, it’s all we have.

Blake Murphy: Let’s dial up the animosity, then: Who’s better in 2016-17, John Wall or Kyle Lowry?

Kyle Weidie: John Wall! Need I write more?

Blah, blah … I’m biased and all but I will still claim that Wall is the NBA’s best pass-first point guard after Chris Paul. Because also: Rajon Rondo is terrible on offense and he’s a dick.

But Wall — he showed up last season a bit out of shape and that, with a variety of other fun factors (Randy #WittmanFace, Kris Humphries starting at ‘stretch 4’, etc.) torpedoed the beginning of 2015-16 and ultimately, the whole damn thing. There’s a lot riding on Wall and the lack of respect — real and perceived — that he gets around the league. And I think he realizes that as much as he wants to create slights out of thin air to motivate him, you don’t get respect unless you earn it with wins.

Coming off a summertime knee surgery or so, most around D.C. expected Wall to miss the entire preseason and to possibly not be ready for the regular season. But he ended up playing in Washington’s third preseason game and has looked pretty good over the four total he’s played. Let’s check back in when the game start counting.

Blake Murphy: If the Wizards are going to bounce back to being a competitive team in the East, which individual player’s progress is going to be most important?

Kyle Weidie: The TAI crew recently put together this “Most Important Wizard” post. And while, as we wrote, such could be subjective, I think the way you phrased your question—”individual player’s progress”—narrows down the field to two candidates.

In one sense, it’s Bradley Beal, hands down. If Beal can stay healthy (and play like an All-Star), he’s ‘the’ key to the season. That said, we’ve generally seen glimpses of the best that Beal has to offer. John Wall, too. What we haven’t really seen is what/who/how/when/huh Otto Porter, third overall pick in 2013. If Porter can be more than solid on both ends of the floor, he can be a difference-maker for this team.

Blake Murphy: How excited are Wizards fans about Tomas Satoransky? He looks like a ton of fun, and between him, Otto Porter, and Kelly Oubre, maybe the Wizards finally have some wing depth?

Kyle Weidie: Wizards fans are as excited as excited can be about Tomas Satoransky. Of course there are his dunks. But there’s also this ‘please help us recover from the existence of Jan Vesely’ thing packaged with ‘dude, like everyone and their mother’s mothers was screaming to pick Draymond Green that year’ — so I think that translates to … hope? 

Our site has tracked Satoransky for years — we even have a Czech correspondent (Lukas Kuba) — and I’ve been encouraged by the development of his jumper and his game overall as he’s seasoned himself in Spain. I wish “Saty” would have come over sooner, but I can’t fault “The Process” of him becoming a better point guard in the ACB League. And his contract — three years for $9 million — was a pleasant surprise.

So the Wizards have ‘some’ wing depth … but that depth is more concerning to Wiz Nation than you might think. For one, Porter and Oubre are the only “3s” on the team (although undrafted rookie Danuel House could make the squad), and after Wall and Beal, there’s only Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton (!!), and Satoransky in the backcourt (undrafted rookie Sheldon McClellan could also make the team). When ‘aged’ (25-year-old) rookie Tomas Satoransky is the brightest spot amongst that backcourt bunch, there’s cause for concern.

Blake Murphy: Some had sticker shock when Andrew Nicholson signed, but real #CanBall heads know he can really ball, at least on the offensive end. Are you encouraged by what you’ve seen from him so far?

Kyle Weidie: When I first saw Nicholson in person this preseason, I swear I heard the gears and widgets grinding via his ‘old man game’ all the way up in section 104 of the Verizon Center, i.e., “Blogger Row.” And he did catch my eye a number of times in the past given that the Magic are in the same division as Washington. My level of encouragement is a little TBD. For one, Washington’s big free agent ‘get’ this offseason (in lieu of Kevin Durant or Al Horford) was rim protector Ian Mahinmi. Now Mahinmi is hurt (knee surgery) and will likely be out until Thanksgiving or so. This leaves Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Nicholson as the team’s interior defenders — not good. So while Nicolson might see more run given this circumstance, even at “stretch-5,” I’m wary of a) his ability to defend, and to a bigger picture extent, b) his ability to not be a ball stopper when fed in the post. Not saying that I don’t admire the crafty offensive game of “YMCA,” and four-years, $26 million still ‘seems’ reasonable given his age, but I’m more curious, and uncertain, as to how he fits in with this squad. What I will say: better than more Drew Gooden.

Kyle also asked us some questions.

Kyle Weidie: In the NBA’s annual GM survey, Kyle Lowry ranked 4th in “basketball IQ” with 3.4% of the vote after LeBron (65.5%), Chris Paul (24.1%), and Steph Curry (6.9%). How exactly has Lowry displayed his high basketball IQ to followers of the Raps?

Blake Murphy: It’s hard to put these kinds of things into words, but a memory stands out to me about Lowry: After a game in the Brooklyn playoff series in 2013-14, I asked him about why he made the (correct) decision he did on a break off of a turnover. He was able to walk me through, in detail, what would have resulted from each potential read. It was similar to how everyone raves about LeBron James’ play recall. That’s just one example, of course, but Lowry does a bunch of other things – tricky changes of speeds, smart cuts, sneaky steals and charges drawn – that might stand out to observers, and as I understand it, a lot more that goes sight unseen on the practice court as a leader. I’m not going to argue soft-skill rankings given how hard it is to observe from outside, but I’m confident in calling Lowry a high-IQ player.

Kyle Weidie: Similar question to yours: If Toronto is going to maintain its title of second best team in the East, which individual player’s progress is going to be most important?

Blake Murphy: The popular answer is Norman Powell, who really came into his own late in the year, but the answer might be his competition for wing minutes in Terrence Ross. Everyone’s been down the road with Ross before and bought in only to feel foolish, but there was a great deal of optimism about his play and attitude around camp before he tweaked his knee. Ross might have a ceiling, but if the team opts not to use Jonas Valanciunas with bench-heavy units to increase his touches, any step Ross can make on the offensive end is a step toward easing the load on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Kyle Weidie: Which little-known Raptor is most primed to have a breakout year?

Blake Murphy: I don’t think there is one, to be honest. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have difficult paths to playing time, Delon Wright is hurt, and the team’s probably going to keep a tight nine- or 10-man rotation. The answer then, I guess, is Lucas Nogueira, who isn’t little-known but is more infamous than famous. He’s played well enough in camp to win the backup center job, and he does some really fun things on the court that will get him on highlight reels (along with his award-winning smile).

Kyle Weidie: How do the Raps plan to replace the defensive presence of Bismack Biyombo?

Blake Murphy: That’s something they’re still figuring out, and it’s going to be an experiment all season long. There’s just nobody with that kind of presence at the rim to take up his minutes, and the options to replace him – Valanciunas, Nogueira, Poeltl, and Jared Sullinger – are varying degrees of less equipped than Biyombo. Head coach Dwane Casey has instead stressed the need for better perimeter defense to decrease the reliance on help at the rim, but guys can only do so much. Valanciunas’ 2014-15 rim protection numbers, Nogueira’s length, and Poeltl’s seemingly quick learning curve leave a bit of room for optimism, but the Raptors are almost surely taking a step back on that end this year, because no schematic tweaks are coming (they had already “Thibodeau’d” the defense last summer to help in this area).

Kyle Weidie: What was your approval rating for Dwane Casey prior to the 2015-16 season, and what’s your approval rating for the coach heading into this season (and why)?

Blake Murphy: I’ve always been more in the pro-Casey camp than most of our readers. I don’t think he’s a schematic mastermind or anything like that, but I think people sometimes lose perspective of the macro and overmephasize the micro in these matters. That is, Casey does big picture things like culture, buy-in, and system well, but those go far less noticed than benign end-of-quarter play-calls. I thought he showed some progress in terms of adjustments in the postseason, too, for what that’s worth. I don’t think he’s a top-tier coach, but I think he’s solid enough that it makes sense to keep rolling with him given where the Raptors are and where they can realistically go. 

Raptors updates
The Raptors are going to continue to play it cautious with Jared Sullinger and Terrence Ross as they return from their respective foot and knee injuries, but otherwise the team could be in full “dress rehearsal” mode for their final tune-up. Check back before tip-off for a confirmed lineup.

As for the others, here’s a best pass,though it’s worth keeping in mind that Casey wants something closer to a regular-season rotation.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler, Terrence Ross (knee)
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Valanciunas 103 (20.6/game), Patterson 95 (19), Joseph 95 (18), Lowry 87 (21.8), DeRozan 79 (19.8), Carroll 78 (19.5)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 127 (21.2), Nogueira 95 (15.8), Poeltl 77 (12.8)
Competition 2: Powell 132 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22), VanVleet 115 (19.2), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0

Wizards updates
The Wizards are rolling in mostly healthy, but they might opt to take it cautious with their bumps and scrapes. Jason Smith has an oblique issue and Otto Porter has a rib injury, both of which kept them out Tuesday but are considered mostly minor. Meanwhile, Ian Mahinmi is probably going to miss upwards of a month of the regular season following knee surgery.

PG: John Wall, Trey Burke, Casper Ware
SG: Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Marcus Thornton, Sheldon McClellan
SF: Otto Porter (ribs), Kelly Oubre, Danuel House, Jarell Eddie
PF: Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith (oblique), Daniel Ochefu
C: Marcin Gortat, johnny O’Bryant, Ian Mahinmi (knee)

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game is off the board. Raptors win 4-0.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 21 – The importance of being reasonable

The Extra returns, and we’re pretty much ready for the season to start now, thanks.

This week’s episode is brought to you Athlete’s Collective, where you can use promo code RAPTORS at the checkout for 15% off your first order of locally made, logo-free, premium sportswear at affordable prices.

athletes collective


Click to comment

2016-17 Player Preview: Delon Wright

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

One play can change everything.

When Las Vegas Summer League began, Delon Wright was out to prove, again, that he’s ready for a role at the NBA level. Tasked, alongside Norman Powell, with leading a summer squad thin on experience but deep on talent, Wright helped get the Raptors out to a 4-0 start, looking every bit as advanced as he had with Raptors 905 of the D-League last season. The message from Wright was clear, if a little quieter than the one Powell was sending: I’m a class above the D-League and Summer League, and I can help you now. That the message was being delivered from a frame that was noticeably thicker through the shoulders only helped drive it home.

As Wright worked to keep the Raptors steady at the offensive end in an elimination game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Vegas, disaster struck. Wright had dislocated his shoulder, and further testing revealed a tear of the labrum. From the Raptors’ perspective, how to proceed with the 24-year-old’s health was hardly a question.

“I could have played through it but career-wise, long-term, it’d be better to fix it now so I don’t have any issues with it later,” Wright told Raptors Republic on media day.

The surgery is going to cost Wright the start of his sophomore campaign, perhaps extending into the new year. He’s managed to progress to the point of doing non-contact work on the court, including shooting, a few steps from a return to game action. Once cleared, he’s expecting to do a rehabilitation stint with the 905 to get his conditioning back up to form – “Like baseball,” he explained – and his eyes lit up talking about a potential return to the court.

The injury may change plans for the Raptors in the short-term, opening up a hole in the third-string point guard position that may see Fred VanVleet crack the opening night roster. While Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph can carry substantial loads, the hope was that Wright was ready to help ease some of that burden this year, and the team may find it too risky to move forward with just two natural point guards for upwards of 20 games. That VanVleet has impressed on the court and won fans off of it only complicates Wright’s situation – rather than pushing for rotation minutes this year, he might be fighting for the third point guard role.

That’s something Wright isn’t focusing on while he works back to health, even if VanVleet is also threatening to elbow his way into the “dynamic duo” schtick that Wright and Powell have developed. His goals haven’t been altered, and in his mind, his progress won’t be, either.

“It changes the beginning of the year, obviously,” he said. “I think most importantly, as long as I’m able to contribute toward the end of the year, kind of give Kyle some rest, Cory some rest, be able to find some minutes between there, I think that it won’t really matter.”

The focus in the short-term is obviously on his health and his health alone. When he’s back, the lens will shift to look at the two biggest areas Wright was looking to improve upon in order to help carve out more time: Size and shooting.

Exceptionally long for a point guard, Wright was and continues to look to add size to help with his finishing on offense and his ability to help on shooting guards on the defensive end, opening up more options in two-point guard attacks (he even thinks he could play alongside VanVleet, if there’s a time at which the Raptors carry four point men). That VanVleet and Kyle Lowry are strong 3-point shooters makes those looks more realistic, too, and Wright possessing the most size in the group makes him a natural option to see run at the two. He won’t be able to play with Cory Joseph without suffocating the offense, though, unless one or both can improve their shooting – Joseph is flashing encouraging signs in camp, and it stands to reason that Wright will be putting an emphasis on his shot as he works through non-contact practice sessions.

It’s worth noting, too, that Wright appeared to take some strides as a shooter last year, albeit in small samples. His confidence coming over high ball screens and letting fly improved with additional reps with the 905, and he hit 23-of-63 (36.5 percent) on threes across the NBA and D-League. He showed improved finishing in the D-League, too, though there’s never really been any question about his ability to dominate on offense one level down.

wirght-nba wright-d-league

It’s difficult to reasonably set expectations for Wright ahead of 2016-17. So much will depend on when he gets healthy and what the team does – and gets from – VanVleet. There’s a scenario in which Wright’s back in late December, continues to shoot well, and helps make life easier for Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and there’s another where he’s slower to get back and VanVleet has run with that same job. Even if Powell’s found a quick chemistry with VanVleet, he’s a believer in his former Pac-12 rival bouncing back.

“I was really excited by the growth of Delon,” Powell said during training camp. “The injury really set him back a little bit but he’s been positive about it, he’s been working, been rehabbing really hard, and he’s eager to get back on the court. So I don’t think there’s gonna be any setback for him once he’s healthy and cleared. He’s gonna do everything possible to get to where he was and grow from there.

“I’m really excited for the future for both of us if we both stay on the team. We’ll be a good dynamic duo like Kyle and DeMar. It’s a little fun thing me and him always talk about.”

Wright is ready for backup minutes in an NBA rotation, he’ll just need patience and opportunity to remind everyone.

Click to comment

Raptors top Pistons as both sides gear up for season opener

Raptors 103, Pistons 92 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors look ready for the regular season.

That was the takeaway on a night where head coach Dwane Casey played something that will more closely resemble his opening-night rotation, a night on which the Raptors grabbed an early lead against the Detroit Pistons and refused to relinquish it over the game’s final 42 minutes. Three weeks into a month-long training camp that includes seven hold-overs in the primary rotation, that’s the hope – one of the Raptors’ edges is continuity and consistency, and they should be expected to hit the ground running a little better than most.

The team’s All-Star guard duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan looked comfortable, as they have for the bulk of the preseason, even after sitting out the last game. They combined for 53 points on 35 shots in a little under three quarters, passing off the fourth to the bench as they keep their workloads under the 30-minute marker. In previous games, Lowry and DeRozan have been alternating turns carrying the bulk of the scoring, but Wednesday as a sound reminder that they can trade possessions rather than entire stretches, too, and that a dual approach can be nearly impossible for opponents, the ball swinging across the floor from a pick-and-roll to someone coming off a pin-down and back, forcing defenders back and forth laterally as mismatches open up.

The primary supporting cast didn’t have it’s best night, which was somewhat surprising and disappointing after DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas looked to be rounding into form last week. Both players struggled from the field in this one, and while Valanciunas feasted on the glass and showed an exciting willingness to pass, he struggled some opposite frequent nemesis Andre Drummond. Carroll, meanwhile, continued to look solid moving without the ball, but missing three attempts essentially at the rim is discouraging given his struggles finishing a season ago. Patrick Patterson had a quiet night, too, missing a three so badly at one point he was noticeably shaking his fist at himself. None of these are concerns, really, given how comfortable each has looked earlier on, it just wasn’t a night on which everyone had (extremely Chris Jericho voice) “it.”

Cory Joseph was the one regular rotation piece who looked his part, using some crafty moves and showing off the renewed comfort in his jump shot. Joseph’s now shooting 54.8 percent for the preseason, including 3-of-4 on threes and, based on my own tracking, 11-of-22 on shots between 10 feet out and the 3-point line. He’s expressed confidence in that shot, and Casey has admitted that some combination of Joseph and Terrence Ross may need to pick up the offensive slack with second units if the team is going to keep minutes down for Lowry and DeRozan, so this could be a significant development.

Ross, by the way, sat out once again with knee soreness, joined by Jared Sullinger (foot). That meant the Raptors only had six of the eight players who appear confirmed for their 10-man rotation.

Knowing that, one would have assumed it was a big opportunity for Norman Powell to continue to claw his way back ahead of Ross in the pecking order, but Powell didn’t see the floor until the second half. Instead, Drew Crawford got the nod as the first wing off the bench. Crawford did what he does – some decent defense and spotting up around the perimeter, though his final line was pretty quiet in nine minutes – and it remains difficult to tell how seriously Casey and company are considering an extra wing for the 15th roster spot. Fred VanVleet has long seemed the favorite, and a scoreless 15 minutes in this one isn’t going to change how the team feels about him. Still, with Ross and Sullinger on the mend and Carroll’s playing time in mind, Crawford getting the nod over Powell is curious, at the least. Once Powell did get on the floor, he looked fine moving the ball but still seems to be pressing a bit, even after an outing against San Lorenzo that some hoped would settle him back into his comfort zone.

That leaves the backup center position, which Lucas Nogueira may have locked down in this one. He didn’t bring exactly what was needed defensively, allowing Drummond to establish position far too low in the post at times, but he was mostly solid at both ends of the floor. That’s all the Raptors are looking for from Nogueira, is to be solid, and the fewer times he stands out for reasons other than his enormous smile, the better. That he’s the biggest lob threat on the dive and was setting some vicious screens in this one doesn’t hurt, either, nor does the bit of passing flair he offers on the rare occasions the team wants it. Jakob Polelt was anything but bad in this one, and the game really seems to be slowing down for him quickly at both ends (his decision making is a lot quicker and sharper when he gets the ball and he’s no longer clearly counting out his three seconds on defense). Poeltl could use some extra time (few 20-year-old big men can contribute right away), and Nogueira affords the team the luxury of bringing him along at a reasonable pace.

Friday’s preseason finale should be telling in terms of the rotation. Are Ross and Sullinger back? If not, does that mean more of Pascal Siakam’s infectious brand of run-outs and energy, and is he perhaps carving out an unlikely 11th-man role that way? Is Powell in the “dress rehearsal” rotation? Do Nogueira and Poeltl flip roles for a game to get one final, longer look at the rookie? Has the defense settled in now after a few bad starts to games, or did Detroit just have an off night? It’s not a certainty that Casey is revealing his plans with these decisions, but we’re running out of preseason tea leaves to read. Thankfully. The team looks ready for the regular season, and so am I.

Click to comment

Raptors-Pistons Reaction Podcast – OK, we’re ready

Even on the night we buried the Blue Jays, we got you. In this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the team’s preseason game against the Pistons.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Pistons 92

BeBe and the Raptors put on a pre-season clinic in Detroit to save us from the colossal disappointment that was the Toronto Blue Jays game tonight. With the gut-wrenching spectacle of postseason baseball behind us – it’s time to focus on gettin’ buckets!

Toronto 103 Final
Recap | Box Score
92 Detroit

D. Carroll 26 MIN | 1-8 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +12 +/-Yikes. Carroll’s boundless energy was the only positive in his game tonight as he continues to shake off the rest from a lengthy absence. His close-out defence on the perimeter was appreciated – and the 26 minutes was a good sign of endurance, but his shot was off in a major way. He knocked down just one of his eight field goals (at least it was a three?) and never made it to the line. If the Raptors want to take another step this season – Carroll is going to have to find his touch on the offensive side of the ball.

P. Siakam 25 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-3 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 7 PTS | +1 +/-Another productive outing for the big man, and the 25 minutes were another indicator of Casey’s confidence in his rookie. Siakam battled for boards, showed off his length, and finished well at the rim. His confidence on offense will take a long time to match his confidence on defense, but the skills are there for a long, productive season.

J. Valanciunas 28 MIN | 2-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 5-6 FT | 12 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +5 +/-JV continues to baffle. His line looks decent, with the exception of his field goal percentage (25%), but there’s an energy lacking. Despite the 12 rebounds, he seemed to get bullied when he attacked on offense, and fell quickly out of any scoring plans once Lowry and DeRozan started cooking. He played off the ball well, and set some beautiful screens for his guards, but until JV becomes more assertive with the ball in his hands, he’ll continue to frustrate fans.

K. Lowry 29 MIN | 8-17 FG | 5-8 3FG | 6-6 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 27 PTS | +11 +/-Despite the Blue Jays failing to reach third base once all afternoon – Kyle Lowry had no problem racking up the triples. He looked in all-star form with five buckets from beyond the arc, and was pulling up, attacking, and passing at will. Him and DeRozan combined for 19 points…in the first quarter, and continued to trade shots. He was perfect from the line, and even got into it with Stanley Johnson. Lowry is more than ready.

D. DeRozan 24 MIN | 10-18 FG | 1-3 3FG | 5-7 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 26 PTS | +11 +/-DeMar started off sluggish. He settled for a few long jumpers in the first before watching Lowry go to work and thinking “Hey! I know how to do that!”. So he did. DeRozan attacked the rim, taking on multiple defenders, and knocking down any open looks he had. He was still just 1-3 from three point land, but at this point in his career its unlikely that part of his game is going to take off. That’s fine as long as he’s getting to the line, knocking down his free throws, and playing with that All-Star attitude.

P. Patterson 20 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +3 +/-A disappointing performance for Pat-Pat in a good spot. His energy was awesome (because it always is) but his shot looks broken in the makeover. He was just 1-5 tonight, but did knock down a three. If even one of him or Carroll can provide that tenacious energy while ALSO scoring, this Raptors lineup becomes that much deeper. Until then, we’re left with what-ifs.

L. Nogueira 18 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +11 +/-OH BEBE. If any of you watched this game, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say the Pistons announcers basically thought Noguiera was a basketball god descended from the heavens. At one point, one of the broadcasters exclaimed “ONE THING I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THESE RAPTORS WAS THAT NO-GARRA-KID BOY HES LONG BOY HE CAN PLAY” and if that doesn’t tell you about his game then I don’t know what else can. Read his line – he was fantastic and the backup center spot is all but his.

J. Poeltl 5 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +2 +/-Not much too see here – the Ninja Poeltl played just five minutes, and showed a decent touch at the rim on his two buckets, but really, five minutes is five minutes. He’ll get some more run eventually, but it looks like he’s lost ground on Noguiera.

C. Joseph 24 MIN | 4-7 FG | 1-1 3FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +7 +/-Joseph’s excellent preseason continues. He captained the ship when Lowry sat, and worked well when they were together. He still eats up a lot of clock trying to facilitate the offense, but there’s few better back up point guards in the league at this point, and he’s only getting better.

F. VanVleet 15 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9 +/-Yikes. Freddy had a shot to really solidify that 15th roster spot tonight with his 15 minutes…and did literally nothing with it (okay he got a steal). He looked timid tonight after his recent explosion, and had trouble creating his own shots when the other reserves were out. The final spot is still likely his, but tonight was a wasted opportunity.

D. Crawford 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +5 +/-Same deal as VanVleet – Crawford did nothing with his limited run, and that’s fine. Nine minutes is only nine minutes, and at the very least, he was a +5, unlike VanVleet (-9) – still would have liked to see more aggression from him,

N. Powell 18 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -4 +/-Stormin’ Norman was more of a light breeze tonight. The 18 minutes were still nice to see, and his athleticism is borderline shocking sometimes. If he can find any semblance of consistency with the ball in his hands, the minutes will fall into his lap. His three assists showed a better understanding of the offense, and the excitement should be high for Powell for the upcoming season.

Dwane Casey
Casey distributed minutes well tonight, and his trust in Nogueira to have a big game was probably his best decision of the night. He was engaged, managed his starter’s time on the court, but still pushed them to play hard. His energy and professionalism was evident in Lowry and DeRozan’s play especially, and helped calm down Kyle when he got into it with Stanley Johnson.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The emergence of BeBe. Did he shock the world with his line? No, but I implore each and every one of you to get your hands on the minutes he had tonight and you will salivate with the potential. The Pistons broadcast team said it the best “HE’S JUST SO LONG” And he is! This doesn’t confirm his back up role, but it’s the closest thing to it.
  2. Kyle Lowry ready to GET.IT.DONE. His little scuffle with Stanley Johnson was evident that Lowry is ready to pick up where he left off…which is also unfortunately concerning. The “out of gas” cliche is more applicable to number 7 than almost anyone in the NBA – here’s hoping Casey can manage his minutes and still win games.
  3. BUCKETS FROM DEEP. Fine, there were only nine, but the Raps shot 42% from beyond the arc, (mainly thanks to Lowry) but the shots were well selected, and often resulted from beautiful ball movement around the perimeter.
  4. Boards baby. The Pistons are no joke when it comes to rebounding, and while Andre Drummond still got his (13), Toronto out-rebounded Detroit by ten on the night, and thats encouraging given their field goal percentage.
  5. Making the most of your chances. The Raps had 21 points (TWENTY ONE!) off of turnovers tonight compared to the Pistons five. They pushed the ball down the court, and showed the hustle of a team thats been here before.
Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Ross and Sullinger sit again in Detroit

I’m in the middle of watching the season end for the Toronto Blue Jays, barring a late-inning comeback against one of the best bullpens in baseball. There is also pizza. We hit you with a full game preview earlier and I did a Reddit AMA earlier to cover a bunch of angles, so let’s keep this brief.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on but is untelevised. Finding a stream could even be tough (even if there are listings right now), as the game isn’t being broadcast on a Pistons’ station, either. Cross your fingers for League Pass to come through with a stadium feed.

UPDATE: The Pistons are streaming the game!

Raptors updates
The team is remaining cautious and noncommittal on the statuses of Jared Sullinger (foot) and Terrence Ross (knee). I’d have been shocked if Ross played Wednesday, but Sullinger sounded like he was a possibility. Neither is playing, though, and the team isn’t panicking, because, well, yeah, it’s the preseason. That opens up some additional minutes for Pascal Siakam to learn and for Drew Crawford to try to make a final case for inclusion on the roster (leveraging the thin forward depth at present).

As for the others, here’s a best pass,though it’s worth keeping in mind that Casey wants something closer to a regular-season rotation.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler, Terrence Ross (knee)
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

UPDATE: Those are the starters.

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 75 (18.8/game), Valanciunas 75 (18.8), Joseph 71 (17.8), Lowry 58 (19.3), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Carroll 52 (17.3)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 102 (20.4), Nogueira 77 (15.4), Poeltl 72 (14.4)
Competition 2: Powell 114 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22.8), VanVleet 100 (20), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0

Pistons updates
The Pistons are in pretty good shape outside of the Reggie Jackson (knee) injury, though Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes both have broken noses they’re adjusting to. Baynes is sitting due to his (unleash the Boban!), but Harris will play (it’ll be a short night, it sounds like). They’ll line up something like this, keeping in mind that Stan Van Gundy will use his wings and forwards pretty flexibly.

PG: Ish Smith, Ray McCallum, Lorenzo Brown, Trey Freeman
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Marcus Morris, Jon Leyer, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Boban Marjanovic

The line
The Pistons are 3.5-point favorites, but HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE CAN’T SEE IT? Sounds like a conspiracy to me. The Raptors are definitely going to win but THEY will tell you whatever score suits THEM best, since we’re in the dark. Stay woke, people.

Click to comment

Raptors rank 2nd in East in NBA GM Survey

The results of the annual NBA General Manager Survey are out, and while there aren’t a ton of surprises, there are a few Toronto Raptors notes to pass on.

Eastern Conference Rankings
Asked to rank the top four teams in the East, GMs pegged the Raptors as the second-best team 60 percent of the time, and only one GM left them out of the top four entirely (for shame, nameless GM). They’re also ahead of the Celtics, narrowly, though the Celtics getting one vote as the top team (come on) made it closer than it maybe should have looked.

Breakout Season
Nobody picked Terrence Ross. They sleep.

Best by Position
Neither Kyle Lowry nor DeMar DeRozan received votes as the top player at their respective positions, which is fine until you see that Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade received votes.

Biggest Steal
Pascal Siakam received one vote as the biggest steal in the draft at No. 27. (Dejounte Murray at No. 29 was the top pick, though these votes were all over the place.)

Nando de Colo alert
GMs voted de Colo as the third best international player not in the NBA. The Raptors own his NBA rights should he choose to return.

Best Assistant
Nick Nurse received a vote as the best assistant coach in the NBA. This should hardly come as a surprise given how well thought of he is. He’s a candidate to get plucked for a head coaching gig at some point in the future.

Home Court
Not a single vote for the ACC having the best home crowd? I guess LeBron isn’t the Cavs’ GM, after all.

Lowry received a vote as the toughest player in the NBA. I was a unanimous pick for toughest blogger.

Lowry also received a vote for highest basketball IQ, one of only four players to get a nod.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Pascal Siakam

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

If the Pascal Siakam narrative feels eerily familiar to a Raptors’ story line from last season, it should.

The Toronto Raptors are one season removed from a draft night trade which landed the Milwaukee Bucks 46th pick Norman Powell and a protected top-14 first round (2017-2019) draft pick. Tanking has long been a common strategy for franchises to capture potential star talent. But, rarely does a prospect outside the lottery, let alone a late second round pick offer instant gratification. Yet the defiant, serious Powell encapsulates the true meaning of ‘winning the lottery’.

Dwane Casey’s preference for defensive minded players and untimely injuries may have offered Powell the opportunity. However, the Raptors’ fan base knows the Pow Pow ascent was inevitable. Driven to succeed, the inimitable Powell simply made it impossible for Casey to keep him off the court.

Now with an unexpected, (for the most part unknown) 27th pick the Raptors’ republic is wondering if lightning has struck twice.

To be fair, the primary focus centered on what Masai Ujiri would do with the 9th pick linked to the Bargnani gift that finally stopped giving. Although not quite the interloper Bruno Caboclo was considered in 2014, Pascal Siakam was no less a mystery to most.

Post draft, I graded the Pascal Siakam selection B+. Obviously I was much higher on the pick than most. Granted I’d spent some time prepping for a draft prospect series. After reviewing the available data and a number of videos I compared Siakam’s ceiling to Bismack Biyombo with an offensive upside.

Where Siakam differs from Biyombo is his offensive skill set. Though he still needs to evolve in terms of his variety and shot selection there, are signs of his potential.

I’m higher on Siakam than most pundits. Again, with just 4 years of organized basketball under his belt his accelerated growth speaks to his natural talent, work ethic, and high basketball I.Q.


    • Height: 6’10” (Basketball reference lists him as 6’9″ but all the predraft metrics listed him as 6’10”)
    • Weight: 230
    • Country: Cameroon
    • Position: Power Forward
    • Age: 22, 258 days
    • Standing Reach: 8’11.5″
    • Wingspan: 7’3.25″
    • Max Vertical: 37″
    • College: New Mexico State, sophomore

2015-16 NCAA stat line:

In his 32 games last season with New Mexico State the sophomore posted per game stats of 20.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 2.2 blocks.

ESPN ranked New Mexico State 117th, so the power forward’s stats should be considered with caution. However, Siakam was the best player on the Aggie’s squad and performed well against top competition. In the game versus 32nd ranked Baylor and facing future lottery pick Taurean Prince (12) Siakam scored 26 points, had 10 rebounds, an assist, 2 steals and a block.

Most analysts pre-draft warned of his limited offense and lack of experience. If I had to point to the one factor which impressed me during the prospect reviews it was his accelerated growth specifically in terms of shooting range and efficiency.


The most important stat is missing in the above basketball reference profile. In 2014-15 Siakam took just 16 shots outside the paint connecting on 3 for 18.7%. In 2015-16 he attempted 308 shots from outside the paint making 135 for 43.8%. That’s well over a 1,000% increase in attempts and a 25.1% increase in efficiency!

Considering the talent selected in the lottery portion of the 2016 draft, it’s also worth noting the number of categories where Siakam ranked in the top 10:

  • Field Goals Made – 4th with 274 (Buddy Hield was 2nd with 301)
  • Offensive Rebounds – 9th with 132 (ranked 13th in defensive rebounds)
  • Total Rebounds –  8th with 395
  • Rebounds per game – 8th with 11.6rpg
  • Player Efficiency Rating – 6th with a 31.5 rating. Of note Jakob Poeltl was 9th (31.1), my favorite for the Raptors  first pick Denzel Valentine was 14th (29.7) and Ben Simmons was 19th (29.0)
  • Defensive Ranking – 4th (86.7)
  • Defensive Win Shares – 2nd (3.4)
  • Win Shares – 4th (7.8)


As for my early Bismack ceiling, plus offense comparison, you have to remember the Raptors were fresh out of the playoffs. In all fairness some of the videos probably influenced me as Pascal reveled in the crowd’s roar, akin to Biymobo at the ACC. Casey has likened him to former Raptor Amir Johnson (high praise). A host of others have offered a wide range of comparisons:

  • More skilled Dennis Rodman (with a lower rebounding ceiling)
  • Jordan Mickey
  • Luc Mbah a Moute

Though I meant no disrespect by my initial assessment, I think Pascal himself provided the best answer:

No offense to Bismack Biyombo, I’d rather be the first Pascal Siakam

What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas:

Many Raptors fans got their first look at Pascal in his brief appearance in Vegas Summer League. In 15 minutes he scored 12 points snagged 2 offensive rebounds, added a steal, and was a plus 21. But, it was the non-stat related items that caught my eye. Running the wings to spread the floor, boxing out under the basket, and following a shot to position himself for an offensive rebound.

2016 Preseason stat line:

In 5 preseason contests Siakam’s per game averages are impressive. Sure he’s logged minutes versus other training camp invites, but he’s also faced the likes of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

  • Minutes: 20.4
  • Points: 7.6
  • FG%: 54.8%
  • Free Throws: 40%
  • Offensive Rebs: 2.2
  • Defensive Rebs: 2
  • Total Rebs: 4.2
  • Assists: 1.4
  • Steals: 0.8
  • Blocks: 1.2
  • Plus/Minus: +3.2


Nose for the ball: Whether it’s knowing where to position himself for a rebound, when to leak out on the wing, passing to an open shooter prior to defense collapsing or cutting off passing lanes his instincts are razor sharp. Sure, he still speeds up the game at times and occasionally takes unnecessary risks. To that end, how many times have we complained about Ross or Valanciunas not doing those things even after years of film work and coaching? So, when you factor in Siakam’s natural feel for the game and ability to process complex concepts quickly it’s easy to understand the excitement.

Passing: The assists don’t jump off the page rather, you see the potential for Pascal to grow in this area. Notably, Ross and Valanciunas  combined total assists is less (6). Every game there has been a heady pass made by Siakam, once again demonstrating that natural skill and instinct.

Effort/Motor/Energy/Passion: Biyombo fathered a Nation with these assets. Siakam also has them, but he accompanies it with a calm confidence that gives him a cool factor.

Ability to Guard Multiple Positions: Although he’ll need to add size and strength to guard front court players on a consistent basis I’ll direct you to Siakam’s two most appealing defensive skills.

  • Cat-like Reactions/Timing: It may have thrown Siakam for a loop recognizing his first defensive assignment would be the lanky unicorn Kevin Durant.  Unabated he welcomed  the challenge at one point with a great block on Durant.
  • Lateral Movement: If I had a dollar for how many times I’ve heard “he needs to work on his defensive slides this summer” I’d be a very rich lady. The fact that 6’10 Siakam is quick enough to do it to guards gives me shivers.

Overall Defense: His athleticism is never more apparent than when he’s on the offensive glass and utilizes his quick second jump to grab the offensive board. And although he’s spent time on the court versus back-up units he’s also been on the court with the Warriors Super 4, and the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Despite that, he’s never had a minus differential. .


  • Like most rookies not valued for their shot or offense, Siakam is inconsistent. He’ll benefit from the Raptors coaches who have had success working with players to expand their range and fix any shot abnormalities.
  • Siakam’s inexperience will present some obstacles. Conversely, not having to break bad habits is a positive, especially with his penchant for picking things up quickly.
  • With Siakam’s quickness it’s more important for him to increase his strength than his bulk, especially with the NBA leaning toward increased pace and small ball line-ups.
  • Further development of fundamental skills and building consistent habits is vital. As good as he is on the offensive boards, his success is more a result of his instincts and energy. If he works to improve his technique and how to utilize his length he could become dominant in an area he already performs well in.
  • While his defense is his forte, he still has plenty to learn with regards to help defense


The Toronto Raptors signed Siakam through to the end of the 2019-2020 season on an extremely economical rookie-scale contract. The final 2 seasons have team opt outs. With salary caps soaring due to incoming TV money, the resulting effect is players like 30-year old Timofey Mozgov garnering 4-year, $64 million deals. At his best Mozgov produced 10.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks and not in the same season. Consider the beloved former Raptor Biyombo who signed a 4-year $70M deal. Biyombo just completed his best season with 5.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks.

Imagine if Siakam continues his accelerated growth and turns into anything close to what is projected for him.


Recent twist feels like Powell deja vu:

When I began writing this profile I was fully prepared to suggest tempering expectations and hoping the amicable youngster would follow a similar path to Powell. But, with recent developments, it seems the youngster may see minutes at the ACC far sooner than anyone expected.

Originally Siakam was expected to contend for minutes at the power forward and center positions. But over the past week it was announced Siakam is being primarily slotted in the small and power forward positions. This revelation makes for interesting water cooler discussion.

Asked if it was a difficult adjustment or causes any difficulty for him.- Siakam responded

No, from the beginning I always said I guard multiple positions. For me, no it’s not a surprise. I’ll play wherever the team wants me to play. I think my ability to move my feet and guard multiple positions is definitely going to help me in that transition. ”  

Pascal went on to say he is a quick learner, but is immersed in all the new elements. He says mastering the shot is matter of repetition and developing confidence.

Perhaps this decision came about due to necessity. Fred VanVleet appears destined for the 15th roster spot to ensure depth at the point. Now with Terrence Ross nursing an injury and the Raptors wanting to be cautious with DeMarre Carroll‘s minutes it highlights another roster hole at small forward.  What that means is he has already impressed enough of the coaching staff to recognize his versatility on defense. The final 2 preseason games should offer some insight on whether Siakam will begin the season with the varsity squad or the Raptors 905.

Certainly this equation has me pondering all the different iterations of line-ups it could foster. If Casey elects to play another hockey reserve line-up could we see a Corey Joseph, Powell (or TRoss), Siakam, Patrick Patterson, and Lucas Bebe Nogueira line? Imagine the  pace, athleticism and defensive upside that line offers. Or, remove Bebe, move everyone up one position with Ross inserted at the small forward.


Pascal Siakam’s story feels more like fodder for a movie plot.- his father’s love of the NBA and praying one of his 4 sons would one day be in the Association. Then mere months before his youngest son Pascal would recognize that dream, he was killed in a car accident.

As exciting as Pascal is on the court, he is equally engaging off it. Clearly he has a solid character which exudes humility, desire, and charm.  This too, points to how successful Masai Ujiri and the brain trust have been at establishing the Raptors identity.

And maybe it’s cliche to say it, but it feels like he belongs here. But then again, I’m someone who believes lightning can strike twice!

Click to comment

Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons, Oct. 19

If a preseason game occurs but nobody can actually see it, did it really occur?

Well, yeah, of course it did. But as someone whose job is to watch and cover the game, the fact that neither side is broadcasting when the Toronto Raptors visit the Detroit Pistons tonight is mildly concerning. It’s kind of an important one, as far as the preseason goes, because head coach Dwane Casey continues to suggest these last two exhibitions will be something “closer” to what their regular season rotation will look like. While Jared Sullinger and Terrence Ross may still be sidelined, Wednesday’s game could go a measure of distance in providing clarity in multiple areas, particularly the backup center position. As for the 15th roster spot, well, those players may have run out of time to make their case.

This should be a good tune-up, as the Pistons are closing out their preseason and should be in something resembling dress rehearsal mode. These two teams will see each other again in a week for the season opener.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on but is untelevised, so don’t rush to flip over after the Jays win Game 5 of the ALCS. Finding a stream could even be tough, as the game isn’t being broadcast on a Pistons’ station, either. Cross your fingers for League Pass to come through with a stadium feed, at least.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: I was excited about the Pistons last year and thought they were primed to make a bit of a jump in the Eastern Conference. They kind of did, I suppose, but my optimism has mostly just rolled over to this year, where I could see them fighting for home court in the first round. Am I a little ahead of myself here?

Dan Feldman: No, then maybe. I was leading the “Pistons as No. 4 seed” bandwagon (behind the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors) until Reggie Jackson got hurt. Now, I’m not nearly as confident. Not only will the team miss a key player for about a fifth of the season, the Pistons lose a chance to build on the reason I was most optimistic relative to the rest of the East — their cohesiveness. Still, I’m not sure who gets that fourth home-court seed in the East if not Detroit. There’s a big drop after Toronto, and nobody else was banging on the door.

Blake Murphy: For Detroit to take that next step, who’s improvement is most crucial: Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, or someone else?

Dan Feldman: Next step? Andre Drummond. If he continues to improve his defensive awareness, focus and effort, that’d go a long way. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope excepted, the Pistons’ defenders behind Drummond leave plenty to be desired. If Drummond can better cover for their slips, that’d make a big difference. The step after that? Johnson, who’s both very talented and very raw.

Blake Murphy: The signing of Jon Leuer made sense from a system perspective, but the price, coupled with what now appears to be a minutes crunch (forcing one of Harris or Marcus Morris off the four), it seems a little expensive. Your thoughts on that addition?

Dan Feldman: The Pistons wanted a taller stretch four for certain matchups, and Leuer fits the bill. He can even play some stretch five against certain opponents. He didn’t come cheap, but it’s always tough to judge who Detroit could’ve gotten instead. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s deal expiring, it would have been difficult to carve out enough cap space to do better next summer. And that route would’ve also meant being weaker this year. Leuer makes the Pistons better, and it’s important to get players who make the team better. Sometimes, there’s too much emphasis on chasing value. Would you rather have someone who’s worth $9 million and making $10 million or someone worth $2 million making $1 million? Obviously, context matters, but I know how Stan Van Gundy generally feels.

Blake Murphy: I’m not a big Henry Ellenson fan, but with how far he slid in the draft, there’s some value there. Do you think he’ll factor in at all this season?

Dan Feldman: Probably not, barring injuries. The Pistons are deep with big men, and he’s not different enough from Leuer to bring a change of pace.

Blake Murphy: Do the Pistons have enough offensive juice to win games while Reggie Jackson’s sidelined?

Dan Feldman: I’m concerned about the starting lineup with Ish Smith. I’m concerned about the bench unit with Ray McCallum or Lorenzo Brown. Between the two, at least one is likely to produce points at a below-acceptable rate. Losing Jackson stings.

Raptors updates
The team is remaining cautious and noncommittal on the statuses of Jared Sullinger (foot) and Terrence Ross (knee). I’d be shocked if Ross played Wednesday, but Sullinger sounds like he’s a possibility. The team isn’t panicking either way.

As for the others, here’s a best pass,though it’s worth keeping in mind that Casey wants something closer to a regular-season rotation.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler, Terrence Ross (knee)
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 75 (18.8/game), Valanciunas 75 (18.8), Joseph 71 (17.8), Lowry 58 (19.3), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Carroll 52 (17.3)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 102 (20.4), Nogueira 77 (15.4), Poeltl 72 (14.4)
Competition 2: Powell 114 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22.8), VanVleet 100 (20), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0

Pistons updates
The Pistons are in pretty good shape outside of the Reggie Jackson (knee) injury, though Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes both have broken noses they’re adjusting to. They’ll line up something like this, keeping in mind that Stan Van Gundy will use his wings and forwards pretty flexibly.

PG: Ish Smith, Ray McCallum, Lorenzo Brown, Trey Freeman
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Marcus Morris, Jon Leyer, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game is off the board. Raptors by eight, Jays hammer Ryan Merritt, we at least get a bad stream to watch on.

Click to comment

VOTE: Raptors Republic T-Shirt Design Contest Finals

As announced a few weeks back:

It’s been a while since we made any Raptors Republic gear, save for the jerseys included at our annual basketball tournaments. I felt like changing that, but I have absolutely zero artistic ability or any talent whatsoever when it comes to design. So, we’re going to hold a t-shirt design contest.

We received 12 submissions, and last week we had you vote for your favorites in groups of four. The polls had upwards of 200 (and even 300) votes, so it seems we have a good handle on what the best designs were. Now, we’ll lean on you once again to determine the very best of the designs, putting the four group winners head-to-head(-to-head-to-head).

This final four will determine the next piece of RR swag. Voting will stay open through the weekend, at which point we’ll get to work with the winner on turning the design into an actual shirt. Thanks once again to everyone who submitted a design and voted.

Group 1 Winner: RR Tower (190 votes)

Black tshirt template ready for your graphic design.

Group 2 Winner: RR Hands (99 votes)

unnamed-1 unnamed

Group 3 Winner: RR Map (149 votes)


Group 4 Winner: RR Crest (122 votes)


What’s it gonna be?

Click to comment

We’re hosting an AMA on Reddit at 2 p.m. tomorrow

Just a heads up that I’ll be hosting an AMA at R/Toronto Raptors tomorrow at 2 p.m., if you’ve been itching to fire off any preseason questions I’ve missed in the comments the last couple of weeks. The announcement can be found here, and I’ll provide an updated link here and on Twitter tomorrow afternoon for the actual question thread.

I’m looking forward to it. I’ve done one before for my fantasy baseball writing, and it was a lot of fun. If nothing else, it’s a way to kill some time and nerves before Game 5 of the ALCS, right?

If you’re not a Redditor or can’t make it, you can always tweet at me with the hashtag #RRMailbag, as that’s how I keep track of outstanding questions for the next mailbag (and one is coming next week).

UPDATE: Here’s the link. We get going at 2p.m.

Click to comment

2016-17 Player Preview: Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira

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

A throw-in from a June 2014 trade could have an impact on the Raptors’ 2016-17 campaign.

Bebe Nogueira, the 7-0 man with incredible hair and an even more incredible 7-6 wingspan, will have the opportunity to show he belongs in this league. We have seen the 24-year-old in spurts, but the departure of Bismack Biyombo and addition of a developing Jakob Poeltl, Nogueira could carve out a real bench role this season. Biyombo provided the back-up centre blueprint for Nogueira, but there are still steps he needs to take to be able to hold down the spot.

What was he last year?

In 2015-16, Nogueira shuffled between the 905s and Raptors, mostly filling with the big-league squad when Jonas Valanciunas went down with a fractured hand in late November. With the Raptors, Nogueira was intriguing yet raw. There were flashes of capability from the Brazilian, but he could not sustain a replacement-level of play.

His length was a weapon on both offence and defence. Kyle Lowry lobbed balls up where only the seven footer could get it, giving Nogueira alley-oop attempts or near-rim catch-and-finish opportunities. Bebe shot 63% last year, including 72% on shots from 0-2 feet from the rim. Defensively, Nogueira’s wingspan translated into decent rim protection and deterred some guards from even attacking the paint.

In the D-League, the Brazilian was similarly effective in more playing time, albeit only 11 games. He shot 57% and blocked 1.7 shots in 25.2 minutes per game.

In short, Nogueira was unpredictable. There were moments where he looked like he could be a disruptive force on both ends, only for him to completely run out of gas a few plays later.

Where can they improve?

Consistency is going to be the key. If Bebe is going to be a legitimate option for Toronto, he has to be relatively consistent throughout the year. It is fair to expect some games where Bebe gets into foul trouble, but the Raptors can’t afford for Bebe to take plays off. Part of the reason Biyombo was so effective was because he played with a high level of energy and did everything with a purpose.

Bebe has to improve his awareness on the court as well. This is a tall ask for someone who played limited minutes, but hopefully the D-League minutes will improve his feel on-court. Look for Nogueira to be settled on the court, not shuffling his feet chaotically or jumping out in screen and roll coverage. This is just one play, but in the first defensive sequence of the game against Denver, Bebe picked up a defensive three-seconds violation and then followed that up with a foul.

On offence, Bebe needs to continue to be a hard roll guy, just like Biyombo was. His length is his strength, and teams have to respect the Brazilian’s ability to catch-and-finish. A hard roller can preoccupy the weak side defender just for a second, ideally allowing a pass to the corner for an open three. In a perfect world, Cory Joseph uses a Nogueira screen, Bebe rolls hard to the rim, the weak-side defender takes a step to help, Joseph snake dribbles and kicks the ball to an open Brady Heslip for a corner three. (Ok, the last part is my perfect world, but it’s more likely to be Terrence Ross or Norm Powell taking the corner shot.)

What’s their role this year?

He’s probably an 11th or 12th man. Nogueira didn’t play until the second half of the first pre-season game and has been getting less minutes than Poeltl and I’m not sure how many minutes there are going to be at the five. Assuming the Raptors stay healthy, Casey will go small with Sullinger at the five and Carroll at the four, and Patterson will probably see some time there too. What minutes are left over?

Nogueira is a fascinating talent because of his body, but I’m not sure that this team really wants what Bebe could offer. Coming out of the draft, the team talked about Poeltl’s versatility and ability to run the floor, two traits that can’t be used to describe Nogueira. Bebe will have to be excellent in limited minutes to earn the trust of Casey, a tall order given Nogueira’s career so far.

Click to comment

Raptors not panicking as Sullinger and Ross injuries linger

The primary goal for most NBA teams during the preseason is to just make it through healthy. In that sense, the success of the Toronto Raptors’ training camp is still to be determined. The team is treating that as a main objective, but injuries sometimes occur, and accidents are still going to happen when the proceedings don’t count.

Like in a preseason opener, when someone steps on your big free agent signing’s foot. Or in a league-mandated open practice, when your potential breakout bench player tweaks his knee trying to awe the crowd with a 360 dunk. Things happen, and a team can’t be faulted for being on the wrong end of some minor setbacks.

As time wears on, though, Raptors fans would be justified in looking at practice reports and injury updates a little more closely. After all, the regular season begins next Wednesday, and Jared Sullinger’s stepped-on foot has kept him out of every preseason game – and most practices – since. Terrence Ross’ twisted patella has limited him to conditioning work for the better part a week now, too. The Raptors are approaching each injury with caution, as they should, bringing each player along as slowly as necessary.

Head coach Dwane Casey was unable to provide a firm update on either injured rotation player at practice Monday, but there’s optimism that both will be ready for the season opener on Oct. 26. Sullinger may even be able to suit up as soon as Wednesday’s preseason game in Detroit, conceding that he’d probably be playing if this were the regular season, anyway.

“Yeah, if there was a game today I’d probably play. Most definitely,” Sullinger said Monday. “It feels great. Slowly getting better. It’s still a little sore but it’s preseason, it’s early in the season, they don’t really need me right now. So it’s something we just want to take care of so it doesn’t linger throughout the whole season.”

Sullinger’s injury was originally considered so minor he was only expected to sit out one exhibition. As he continued to try to practice on it, setbacks kept popping up, and the team changed course, limiting the power forward to work in the gym and on the bike. In the meantime, Sullinger is attempting to play the role of sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as he can from other players and the coaching staff in order to get up to speed with his new systems and surroundings.

“The thing about it is he’s a smart player. We’re putting him in sets and plays. The main thing he has to do is (learn) the terminology,” Casey said. “A guy as smart as he is, I’ve seen older players and veteran players miss the whole training camp and jump right in. J.R. Smith is going through it right now in Cleveland. I’m not that concerned because he’s such a smart player and he’s done a good job with his weight and his conditioning.”

Casey said that he saw enough in the early parts of camp to retain confidence in starting Sullinger alongside center Jonas Valanciunas, a pairing that has the potential to goose the offense and dominate on the glass but could pose some problems on the defensive end. There’s no telling how, exactly, that will play out once the season starts, and if there’s any cause for concern, it could be whether or not Sullinger will be at peak start-of-season conditioning. That’s been an issue for the 260-pounder in the past. While the claim that he’s down 40 pounds is something the Boston Celtics heard before, too, the Raptors were thrilled with the results of Sullinger’s offseason, which included a month in Vancouver to work on his body.

Sitting on the sidelines hasn’t been the easiest for Sullinger when he could be getting important reps in with his new team, but he, like the organization, is taking the appropriate long-view.

“For sure, it’s frustrating but one thing about this team is everybody’s a family. So when I was down they understood, because it’s not about right now, it’s about April,” Sullinger said. “We just want to be as healthy as possible, something that won’t linger around, and play 82 games. A little injury like this can linger around so we’re just trying to solve that early.”

As for Ross, the team is hopeful he can be back for the regular season opener and maybe even get some minutes in the preseason finale. Entering his fifth season with the team, the lost repetitions for Ross are perhaps not quite as big a deal, but the injury could stand to dampen the momentum he was building with a strong camp.

“He’s in good condition, good shape, until he tried the bonehead move of trying to do the 360 in a scrimmage game, open gym or whatever it was,” Casey said Sunday. “So he was doing a good job up until that point. I like Terrence’s approach, he’s got a seriousness about his approach that is coming and we wanted it to be there last year, but again, he still was a young man. He’s having a serious approach about his game and that’s what you like to see.”

It’s important for all parties involved to keep the bigger picture in mind, eager though they may be to get a full team practice or proper dress rehearsal exhibition in before the season starts in earnest. These are minor roadblocks most teams have to deal with, ones the Raptors have the depth and the patience to manage in the short-term.

Click to comment

2016-17 Player Preview: Kyle Lowry

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

It’s almost impossible to get anyone to agree on anything these days, and this is especially true in the sporting world. To a lot of fans, a large portion of their enjoyment of sports comes from the discussions of – and disagreements regarding –  the vast multitudes of interpretations that exist when thousands of people watch a single event or series of events through their own personal lense. We see examples of this constantly among the Raptors fan base and blogosphere, where questions abound:

  • Is DeRozan a max player?
  • Should Patterson start?
  • Is Valanciunas just kind of bad or really bad or is he actually great?
  • Should the team have brought back Biyombo?
  • How long do we have to wait before we call Bruno a bust?
  • Who gets those backup center minutes?
  • Is Norman Powell for real?
  • Why is Terrence Ross?

When it comes to the Raptors there may be only two universally accepted truths: Andrea Bargnani was completely terrible and Kyle Lowry has been incredible. If you watched the Raptors last season the only question regarding Lowry is not whether he was great, it’s about degrees: was he a top 5, 10 or 15 player? There are no questions about whether he was the driving force behind the Raptors success, just about the level of contributions made by the rest of the rotation. In a world where nobody seems to agree on anything almost everybody who cares about the Toronto Raptors agrees about 2016 Kyle Lowry to an extent. This is a big deal and a great compliment to him.

Raptors blogs have written ad nauseam about how great Lowry was last year and everyone who watched gets it so I’m not going to get into that except to say that it was the greatest season individual season in Raptors history. Vince Carter may have been more exciting and Chris Bosh may have had seasons with better individual statistics but in terms of impact on both ends and propelling the team to new heights nobody in franchise history has come close to what Lowry did last year, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that it came from the point guard position. The most interesting part of watching Lowry in this coming season will be seeing how – or perhaps more appropriately, if – adjustments are made to keep him performing at a high level as he gets older.

For a player like Lowry, who is plenty athletic but far from being as freakishly long or explosive as other elite two way players, there is a physical toll paid excellence. It requires sacrificing his body in ways that other NBA players may never have to – not much of a concern for a 25 year old but it’s different for a player who will celebrate his 31st birthday before the playoffs begin and will be looking for a longterm deal at season’s end. At some point Lowry’s style has to become a little less “reckless hockey player” and a little more finesse oriented and that probably needs to happen sooner than later. Dropping the weight was a good start but if his play on team USA was any indication we haven’t seen the last of Lowry diving for loose balls on consecutive possessions and drawing charges on much larger players going at full speed.

So where does that leave us for this season? We know that Lowry isn’t going to change on his own, but if the team wants to invest in him going forward there are things that they should be doing to help him sustain a little longer.

Off the Ball Opportunities

I know that he’s a point guard so this seems counterintuitive and is easier said than done but this would be really beneficial to both the Raptors and Lowry. Spot up shooting is a skill that tends to age well and Lowry is one of the best in the game at it:


That’s our Lowry, 6th in the NBA in catch and shoot eFG% with an absurd 67%. Lest that be dismissed as an outlier, in 2014 his catch and shoot eFG% was 64%. It dipped to a still-solid 53% in between those two seasons but the sample size makes it clear that this is a big strength for him.

The Raptors best backcourt combos(as judged by net rating) for the last 3 years running have involved Lowry and a PG or combo guard in Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams or Cory Joseph. These lineups give Lowry more of an opportunity to play off the ball where he either destroys teams with his shooting or uses his gravity to open up easy opportunities for teammates. This is a low physical impact way to allow Lowry to continue to have a large impact on the game. Either DeMar DeRozan needs to develop into the kind of playmaker that will allow Lowry to get spot up opportunities more often or Lowry needs to play more minutes with Cory Joseph.

Reduce Lowry’s Minutes

The Raptors really need to look at staggering DeRozan and Lowry more to preserve both players. They both play a very physically demanding style so if they are going to be the backcourt of the future the Raptors need to do everything they can to preserve them while keeping the team effective. If you’re looking for a model to emulate the best option would clearly be the San Antonio Spurs. They’re getting quality minutes out of 39 year old Manu Ginobili and 34 year old Tony Parker, two players who have a lot of mileage on them after years of consistent deep playoff runs and international play.

A big part of the Spurs aging backcourt being so effective at their respective ages has been the way their minutes have been staggered. When you play your two best guards together you likely get diminishing returns to an extent while they are together and a team that struggles to generate offense when neither player is operating at their peak effectiveness- sound familiar? By reducing the minutes they play together and maximizing the minutes they play with everyone else you are potentially keeping the team performing at a consistently high level and getting precious rest for each player. Bringing Ginobili off the bench was the perfect way for the Spurs to do that – if you have a limit on how many minutes you want them to play together fewer shared minutes at the beginning means more shared minutes at the end. Obviously converting one of your best players into a supersub is not a solution that would work for every team, but staggering their minutes more is something the Raptors need to look at. It could allow them to limit the minutes of both of their star guards to something in the much more reasonable 31-32 mpg ball park.

The Raptors also need to trust their bench more. By all accounts Delon Wright can play so give him regular opportunities against real NBA competition. It’s okay that he’s inconsistent and prone to making mistakes because consistency isn’t something that players just conjure out of thin air – it’s something they develop as they play. They don’t need to find him minutes in every game but if they jump out to a 10 point lead against a basement team in December give the kid a shot to hold down the fort while Lowry gets some precious rest. If that adds up to even an extra 100 minutes of rest for Lowry over the course of a season it’s worth it, even if means they drop a couple of games they may have won had they run with Lowry for his normal 35-40 minutes. The Raptors coaching staff needs to start looking at the long game, reducing minutes for the established guards and seeing exactly what they have in the kids on the bench.

Kyle Lowry is amazing and part of me hopes he never changes – there is something very appealing in the thought of an older Lowry continuing to throw his body around the court and outplaying the youngsters in the league by sheer force of will. The pragmatist in me knows that this is likely to end up in a later-years Dwyane Wade scenario where Lowry shows flashes of greatness in between increasingly longer stints with ice packs on his knees and regular midseason vacations. I also realize that none of what I suggested is likely to happen because coach Dwane Casey has already come out and said that he may have to work Lowry hard again. My dream of watching Lowry age gracefully as he transitions from full time superhero to long range bomber/part time superhero will probably go unrealized but if the Raptors want to maximize their (hopefully) inevitable long term investment in Lowry these are things they should look at sooner than later.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Podcast – Hyped for Siakam, Dreaming of Millsap

Host William Lou is joined by Joe Wolfond of theScore to discuss all things Raptors.


Click to comment

Grind Analog: VanVleet and Powell lead Raptors bench squad over San Lorenzo

Raptors 122, San Lorenzo 105 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Fred VanVleet had just stolen Norman Powell’s scrum.

While assembled media waiting on the Wichita State product to get interview-ready, lights and cameras focused on Powell one stall over. This has been somewhat of a common occurrence for Powell since his rookie breakout started in earnest last February. And his locker was the expected gathering place of post-game media, too, on a night when Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson all sat out. Powell earned the attention, putting on a one-man dunk contest against visiting San Lorenzo de Almagro, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four assists and three steals in just 24 minutes.

Yet as VanVleet threw on a camouflage sweater and tip-toed to reach for the phone charge atop his locker – “Short people problems,” he griped – reporters tried their best to subtly shift to their left without disrupting Powell’s time. VanVleet, however, had no qualms about taking the attention from his new friend and partner in grind, especially once Powell interrupted in kind.

“I think we built that early on in Summer League,” VanVleet began to say when asked about their on-court fit together. “With just our approach to the game, aggressive, attacking, being physical, trying to impose our will defensively. Obviously, I don’t jump quite as high as he does. That’d be nice to have.”

“Cuz I’m the man,” Powell interjected. “You know I get buckets.”

“Yeah, yeah,” VanVleet conceded with a bit of an eye-roll. “He does. But no, it’s fun to play out there with him. We complement each other very well, and tonight, obviously, we had to set the tone.”

The pair have developed a quick chemistry off the court, united by the giant chips on their shoulders, their relentless approach to practice, and their desire to soak up every ounce of knowledge around them. On this night, they argue over whose grudge against the world is more warranted and, on the opposite side, who is more “big time” as a result.

“I joke with him all the time, he’s Big Time, because he feels like an underdog and I didn’t even get drafted. I’m the undrafted guy,” VanVleet argues. “We’ve got the same approach and the same background. He’s a little more Hollywood than I am, but you know, we click.”

“Fred just tries to hide that he’s a more big-time player than me,” Powell responds, laughing. “So he tries to put the heat on me.”

But who grinds harder?

“Ohhh, I don’t know,” VanVleet said.

“That’s tough,” Powell adds. “Yeah, I got the UTG. Understand the grind.”

“See, I never knew what that stood for,” VanVleet retorts. “I let the people do the talking. I don’t make my own hashtags.”

The chemistry is translating on the court, as well, where VanVleet and Powell make up an aggressive two-way guard pairing that’s been tough on opposing teams. They’re playing primarily against bench units or, in this case, Argentine champions, but second units are their likely opponents if they find themselves getting NBA run together, anyway. It’s perhaps a necessary competition caveat for Powell, who’s also fighting for regular rotation minutes while solidifying himself as the leader of the back half of the Raptors’ roster, but it’s not as if each player hasn’t had substantial time against opposing starters, either (VanVleet was given the Chris Paul trial-by-fire, for example).

With Powell’s confidence returning to form after a few shakier outings to begin the preseason and VanVleet very clearly MegaManning moves he’s picking up from Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph in practice, the pair is getting better by the game, exactly the hope in camp. Powell and Delon Wright are fond of looking at themselves as a junior version of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and Wright may have to accept a third member of their young-guard fraternity, any two of whom could hope to maintain the attitude, demeanor, and approach of the All-Star pairing. Consider it the guard rotation Freebird Rule, if they all wind up on the team together.

It sounds as if VanVleet has Powell’s vote for the 15th roster spot, for what it’s worth.

“Me and Fred clicked instantly,” Powell said at practice this week. “We’ve got a similar mindset, a similar mentality. Especially coming in as a rookie, you want to prove yourself. Especially him, going undrafted, working his way trying to get a spot. I was in the same position, even though I was drafted. I was still hungry and trying to make the team and trying to carve out a role and get minutes. He has that same mentality.

“I just love the way he plays. he’s aggressive, that never-back-down attitude. We clicked instantly on the court and we have a good relationship off the court, always talking, always hanging out, always joking around. So I’m really glad that we have him now, and hopefully he can make the team.”

That’s perhaps looking a step too far ahead for VanVleet, who still has to crack the roster to ensure his new friendship can continue without serious charges to a Presto pass. VanVleet did his best in what may be his final large-sample audition Friday, completely taking over the second half and scoring in an array of manners on his way to 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists. But while Dwane Casey acknowledged VanVleet’s strong outing, the coach was upset, in general, with the team’s defensive play.

“Our defense tonight was non-existent…We had no defensive focus tonight whatsoever, and that’s what I was looking for. So tonight, I didn’t see a lot. So everything’s still in flux,” Casey said. “Fred did a good job. He did a solid job. he ran the team pretty well. They blitzed him, he did a good job of finding people, attacking with his speed, took some hits. But again, 122 points, offense is not our issue. Defense is our issue, and they lit us up in every way.”

Those comments apply more to the backup center competition between Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl more than they do to VanVleet specifically, but it’s worth remembering that the point guard’s candidacy may hinge on the team’s comfort – or lack thereof – with rolling with just two point guards, not just his performance. Jarrod Uthoff finally say time, Brady Heslip continued shooting well, and E.J. Singler continues to play quiet, mostly mistake-free basketball. Most notably, Drew Crawford got the start at small forward, a more obvious position of need once Wright is healthy, and continued to acquit himself well as a potential three-and-D bench piece.

“I think so. Honestly, I think I deserve it,” Crawford said. “It’s something I’ve worked for for a long time. I understand my role on this team, I understand what the things my coaches need me to do, and my teammates need me to do. I think I’ve been able to show what I can do, and hopefully it turns out well.”

The six players vying for the 15th roster spot may be out of meaningful preseason playing time to state their cases now, left to prove whatever’s left to prove in practice or in garbage time. VanVleet would seem to have the inside edge based on Wright’s injury, overall performance, and a genuine sense since draft night that the Raptors are high on him. He’s a player who approaches things “the Raptors way,” in the words of assistant coach Patrick Mutombo, and he and Powell are great examples of the type of mature, hungry youth the Raptors seem to value at the end of the roster.

If VanVleet and Powell do wind up sharing a space in the Raptors’ locker-room this season, it’s easy to see their quickly-formed bond growing. There will be plenty more friendly arguments, but VanVleet’s ready to at least concede on one front and unite their grinds.

“I’mma join on the #UTG bandwagon.”

Click to comment

Raptors-San Lorenzo Reaction Podcast – Powell’s dunk contest application

Even on the night of Game 1 of the ALCS, we got you. In this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the team’s preseason game against the Argentine champions.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, San Lorenzo 105

Buenos Aires 105 Final
Recap | Box Score
122 Toronto

P. Siakam 24 MIN | 8-10 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +7 +/-Pascal continues to be everywhere in the preseason. Incredibly active when he’s on the floor, he showcased his skills hitting a nice jumper from just inside the three-point line, and also having a nice take off the dribble.

L. Nogueira 19 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +2 +/-Bebe had a quiet night. Although he had a couple blocked shots, for the most part, he wasn’t terribly visible on the floor. Against competition below the NBA level, I simply expected at this point in his career, for Bebe to be more visible in this game.

F. VanVleet 38 MIN | 12-19 FG | 2-3 3FG | 5-7 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 31 PTS | +25 +/-Very impressive night from Van Vleet. Showed his range, but was at his best off the dribble, attacking the basket. Kept the offense going in the second half with Powell out.

D. Crawford 35 MIN | 6-10 FG | 3-3 3FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTS | +16 +/-Crawford had a solid offensive showing, hitting all 3 of his 3-pt attempts, but he struggled at times defensively, losing shooters. Also had a sequence where he turned the ball over off the dribble and took a foul trying to steal it back on the other hand.

N. Powell 24 MIN | 6-8 FG | 1-1 3FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +12 +/-Norm was the best player on the court when he was out there, and he took advantage. Attacked the basket relentlessly, creating for other when the defense collapsed, and throwing down 3 thunderous dunks when given space.

J. Uthoff 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -11 +/-Uthoff only played 8 minutes, and although he had a few offensive boards, there wasn’t a lot to talk about with his performance. Also finished with a team-low -11.

B. Caboclo 20 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +14 +/-Bruno is always an adventure when he’s on the court. Gets a nice steal, a block, or scores a nice basket, and then on the next play, he’ll take a bad foul. He’s not there yet, but his defensive instincts are definitely improving.

E.J. Singler 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-6 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +1 +/-Singler had a rough first half, looking largely invisible when he was on the court and out of the play. Came out better in the second half, hit some shots and looked a lot more comfortable.

Y. Moreira 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5 +/-Moreira only played for one 5 minute stretch tonight, and my only note on him is that he’s still incredibly raw, needs a lot of work.

J. Poeltl 24 MIN | 6-9 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-3 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +20 +/-A nice line for Poeltl tonight, but he looked very tentative defensively, and it felt like he was trying to think about the right play instead of making it often. Still, scored with ease at times and showed signs of the talent that had him drafted 9th.

B. Heslip 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-4 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +4 +/-Heslip missed his first two attempts from long range but found his stroke later in the game. He’s a great shooter who can’t be left open and also had some nice assists tonight.

Dwane CaseyHard to evaluate Casey on a night when all of his regulars were sitting, and he was mostly trying to find out what the young guys had.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Early in the game, the offense was having a hard time getting anything going without Powell in the game. There wasn’t a whole lot of ball movement, but in the second half Heslip and Van Vleet took over.
  2. Defensively the Raptors lost shooters repeatedly, throughout the game, and they allowed San Lorenzo to shoot 15 for 29 from long range tonight.
  3. San Lorenzo aggressively trapped the ball handlers in the pick and roll all night, and at times the Raptors guards struggled with this. Norm simply attacked the double with speed, which opened up space for easy dunks.
  4. Rex Kalamian came out at half-time and said he wanted the team to play faster, and attack in transition. The Raptors were one of the slowest teams in the league last year, so it’ll be interesting to see if they try to play with pace this season.
  5. Clearly, from preseason and summer league, Norman Powell simply doesn’t belong in games like this, against lesser talent. He’s too good, and it shows.
Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Everyone sits as Argentine champs visit ACC

It’s good to be back home at the Air Canada Centre. I haven’t been here since Game 6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, when the Toronto Raptors were still competing, because last year was the best. And sure, tonight is only a preseason game against San Lorenzo de Almagro, and sure, I’ll be watching the Blue Jays and Indians in Game 1 of the ALCS once 8 p.m. hits, but it’s good to be home. It’s basically like when I go home to visit family now – I throw a load of laundry in, say hi to everyone, and then go do something else, but it’s home.

I kid. Every game has information, and it’ll be nice to be physically around the team on a game night for the first time this preseason. That the opponent is an international champion only adds to the intrigue, and I’d wonder if the city’s focus on the Jays may make for somewhat of a split crowd (Toronto has about 6,000 Argentines, per some source I saw from 2014 a couple days ago).

The game tips off at 7 p.m and airs on NBA TV Canada.

Champs happy to visit
The Raptors aren’t exactly trotting out a full squad for this one, but their visiting opponent is excited about the opportunity nonetheless.

“We are excited to play this NBA game in this Global Games,” head coach Julio Lamas said before the game. “Toronto is a great team, they played the final with Cleveland, of the East. We see many games in Argentina because Luis Scola played. It’s a big motivation and an important chance to learn.”

Lamas, who also coaches the Argentine national team and saw DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry up close at the Olympics, had plenty of good things to say about the Raptors’ stars, too.

“They are big talents in the NBA,” he said. “They are great with one-on-one situations. They are leading the team to be one of the best five, six teams inside the NBA…We don’t know the ceiling of these two players. They are going up.”

Raptors updates
Terrence Ross sat out Thursday with a sore knee, and Jared Sullinger missed a third straight due to foot soreness. Both are out again Friday, as are Lowry, DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson. Sullinger’s injury still isn’t considered a concern, but the longer it extends, the easier it is to talk yourself out of the typical preseason optimism. If he doesn’t suit up Wednesday, then there’s probably going to be a bigger discussion about Sullinger’s status.

The team is opting to rest all of their regular rotation players in order to get an extended look at the young players on the team. Head coach Dwane Casey specifically mentioned the competition for backup center minutes between Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl. And yes, I asked about getting an extended look at players who haven’t played yet (like Jarrod Uthoff), but Casey spoke only in general terms. Still, it stands to reason every commenter’s favorite will get some run tonight.

“It’s gonna be an opportunity for the young guys to compete and play. Get a great look at them,” Casey said. “It’s huge. I think tonight is a great audition.”

So here’s your rotation for the night, roughly:

PG: Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip
SG: Norman Powell, E.J. Singler
SF: Drew Crawford, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 75 (18.8/game), Valanciunas 75 (18.8), Joseph 71 (17.8), Lowry 58 (19.3), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Carroll 52 (17.3)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 78 (19.5), Nogueira 58 (14.5), Poeltl 48 (12)
Competition 2: Powell 90 (22.5), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 79 (19.8), VanVleet 62 (15.5), Heslip 21 (10.5), Singler 20 (6.7), Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 44 (11), Wright 0

San Lorenzo de Almagra updates
I really don’t know what to expect here, but here’s how the minutes have broken down so far this season for the defending champions, who have opened their LigaA season 3-1:

Player Country MPG PPG RPG APG
Nicolas Aguirre Argentina 26.5 10.5 3.8 5.3
Gabriel Deck Argentina 26.3 12.7 6.3 2.0
Marcos Mata Uruguay 25.5 10.5 5.5 1.3
Jerome Meyinsse United States 22.5 9.5 4.8 1.3
Mathias Calfani Argentina 22.5 7.8 6.3 2.3
Guillermo Diaz Puerto Rico 21.5 11.5 1.8 2.5
Santiago Scala Argentina 19.3 9.5 2.3 2.5
Matias Sandes Argentina 19.0 8.8 5.3 2.5
Selem Safar Argentina 16.5 9.5 0.5 1.5
Mateo Wajsglus Argentina 2.0 0.0 1.0 0.0
Lisandro Fernandez Argentina 2.0 0.0 0.0 1.5
Lautaro Lopez Argentina 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0
Leandro Cerminato Argentina 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0

Their starters are Aguirre, Diaz, Mata, Deck, and Meyinsse,

Here’s some additional color from the pre-game:

Diaz is a name that may stand out from his time with the Puerto Rican national team, as he played spot minutes in both the Tuto Marchand Cup and the FIBA Americas Championship last summer. He’s also had some Summer League and D-League reps, even getting a six-game regular season audition with the Clippers in 2007-08. Gabriel Deck and Selem Safar suited up for Argentina in that same FIBA Americas tournament, winning silver medals and punching their ticket to the Olympics in the process (only Deck made the actual Olympic roster, though).

Meyinsse is the lone American on the roster, and he’s played four NBA preseason games over the last two seasons with Flamengo, averaging 13.3 points and four rebounds. The Virginia product has never gotten an NBA look but has carved out what looks to be a nice career on the South Americans circuit over the last few years. He has three NBB (Brazil) championships, two All-Star appearances, a FIBA Intercontinental Cup, and a Finals MVP to his name.

Ross’ breakout 2016-17 includes a new dog, who is adorable.

The line

The game is off the board, which probably makes sense. Raptors by 13, SLDA gives a bench-heavy second-half squad a bit of a scare. And the Jays turn Corey Kluber to dust.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas

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

As is the case in the post-mortem of every season, the question is how to build from here – even after the most successful campaign in franchise history. Somehow many were left disappointed, given that the summer ended without any high-profile moves or shakeups to the roster. If anything, in May of last season, if you were to point out to fans that the inevitable departure of Bismack Biyombo would leave the Raptors with Jarred Sullinger and a few ambiguous draft picks and rookies as the band-aid to the delicate depth in the frontcourt, many would see that as a sign of regression, particularly in comparison to the shuffling and stockpiling some of the other teams in the East have done.

None of that should be the de-facto measuring stick, of course. Labelling Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl as ambiguous is harsh, particularly in Siakam’s case, who looks more NBA-ready than originally thought. But beyond that, assuming neither of those two players will have significant impact for the Raptors this season, the best signing of all may come to be continuity itself. Amid the quiet summer, Cory Joseph’s evolved jumper could be seen as a new signing on its own, ditto with the improved health of DeMarre Carroll and the leaps that Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas are projected to make.

This will be Valanciunas’ fifth season in top-flight basketball. By nearly every possible metric, he has improved year-by-year since he’s been in the league. His numbers have risen in points, blocks, and rebounds per game; while his foul-happy tendencies have seen a gradual year-to-year drop in the four seasons he’s been in the NBA. His field-goal percentage has dropped marginally – but that’s a reasonable slide that correlates with the increase in usage, and it’s still good for sixth-best in the Association. We’ve even seen Valenciunas show rare glimpses of passing out of the post, and witness first-hand his dominance in the post-season and back-and-forth man-handling between himself and Hassan Whiteside before they both regrettably went down injured in game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, depriving us of the greatest behemoth melee since Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone’s rumble in the ’98 NBA finals.

To boot, this is by far Valanciunas’ best haircut since he’s been in the league. The stars have aligned.

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 28: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors poses for a portrait during 2016 Media Day on September 28, 2016 at the BioSteel Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

Note: Since embedding the above picture, I have been notified by certain members of the RR staff that I am, apparently, the only human in the universe to admire JV’s new haircut. I want to take this opportunity to express my displeasure at humanity over this disagreement. The cut itself is underrated and incredible. To be fair, it looks better in-game, where a part of the hair tends to bounce as he runs back on D.

There is perhaps no better indication of where Valanciunas’ NBA career is headed than when observing his cold-blooded performances, over the years, when it matters. In his playoff debut against the Nets in 2014, in front of a raucous Air Canada Center starved of playoff basketball, the Lithuanian center rose like a phoenix when his teammates looked completely paralyzed. He didn’t seem to feel the same heebie-jeebies as other players do at their first rodeo, and to fast forward to 2016, he found ways to score the basketball during the post-season when the team struggled to carve their way through to the hoop.

In those scenarios, among others, having an asset like Valanciunas is huge. The perpetual challenge facing Valanciunas though, is how to take advantage of his efficiency more regularly. Dwane Casey likes to go to Jonas early and often, giving priority in providing early touches to JV over his all-star backcourt. Why that hasn’t been sustainable over the course of 48 minutes is still a question mark. While Valanciunas is efficient, his usage is relatively low.

He’s more than just a tip-in player who will hover the boards and get you 2nd chance points. Valanciunas’ mid-range jumper is respectable and his post-moves have proved efficient. At the very least, if he’s not scoring, Dwane Casey must find ways to incorporate him by giving him touches inside. One solution, which has been presented on RR several times by Blake, is to incorporate the Lithuanian with the 2nd unit more. That’s a sound idea, and would allow the Raptors to increase Jonas’ usage without sucking touches from their primary scorers. At the very least, even having an inside threat as good as JV while surrounding him with shooters would open up all kinds of possibilities on the offensive end. Not that any lineup would trump the Lowry + bench lineup, but this would be an interesting scenario to have.

Despite all this, Dwane Casey has stated he’s yet to commit to that idea.

Valanciunas effects the game when he doesn’t have the ball as well, to be sure. He can suck-in the shot-blocker and create space for the pull-up jumper once one of the swing-men gets inside. In this case below, if Whiteside hedges too far on Terrence Ross, he risks getting burned on a lob down-low to Jonas who was a complete menace to Miami in the post.

Year five is a milestone for Jonas Valanciunas. It’s safe to say he’s made it, and the signs over the years have been more than encouraging. In today’s NBA, he’s a rare commodity who provides Dwane Casey with a number of options to build his offensive scheme around. This season should be one where Valanciunas makes yet another leap as a player, and if he does, the Raptors have an entirely new foundation to build upon.

Click to comment

Gameday: San Lorenzo de Almagro @ Raptors, Oct. 14

The Raptors showed they can still compete with the elite this week, taking the win in their preseason encounter with last year’s NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The result didn’t do much to enhance Toronto’s standing in the Bet365 Eastern Conference NBA betting though, as the Cavs remain the 5/11 favourites – with Toronto out to third-favourite at a (now) seemingly huge price of 12/1.

Perhaps they’ll need to make a splash, something Zach Lowe recently predicted won’t happen but that’s certainly in the realm of possibility. LaMarcus Aldridge, anyone? At the very least, they should be able to approach last season’s success. In other words, the preseason has done little to change what we thought of the Raptors and their standing among the NBA’s top teams.

And hey, they’re finally playing a home game in the preseason! Not only that, but they’re hosting Argentine basketball royalty in a San Lorenzo de Almagro squad that won their first ever LNB Title last season. They’ve since lost former NBA player and Finals MVP Walter Herrmann but remain an opponent the Raptors are excited to host, and one that should prove at least a decent challenge in the last exhibition game the Raptors will treat as such (their final two outings are set to more closely resemble regular season games).

The game tips off at 7 p.m and airs on NBA TV Canada. And yes, you bet your sweet behind (I see you – keep hitting those leg days, it’s working) I’ll be watching Jays-Indians from the ACC.

To help set the stage, I would have loved to reach out to a San Lorenzo de Almagro blogger, or at least attend shootaround, but neither wound up possible (I am unfamiliar with the Argentine blog scene and there’s no shootaround in a back-to-back scenario). But hey, here are some highlights from their 2015-16 championship season!

Raptors updates
Terrence Ross sat out Thursday with a sore knee, and Jared Sullinger missed a third straight due to foot soreness. The back-to-back scenario suggests the Raptors could rest some other names, though head coach Dwane Casey suggested the Raptors could play the back-to-back straight to help with mental preparation for the season to come. Consider Ross and Sullinger game-time calls with no shootaround due to the back-to-back.

As for the others, here’s a best pass, without accounting for any potential shake-up since the last game.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross (knee), Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger (foot), Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 75 (18.8/game), Valanciunas 75 (18.8), Joseph 71 (17.8), Lowry 58 (19.3), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Carroll 52 (17.3)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 78 (19.5), Nogueira 58 (14.5), Poeltl 48 (12)
Competition 2: Powell 90 (22.5), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 79 (19.8), VanVleet 62 (15.5), Heslip 21 (10.5), Singler 20 (6.7), Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 44 (11), Wright 0

San Lorenzo de Almagra updates
I really don’t know what to expect here, but here’s how the minutes have broken down so far this season for the defending champions, who have opened their LigaA season 3-1:

Player Country MPG PPG RPG APG
Nicolas Aguirre Argentina 26.5 10.5 3.8 5.3
Gabriel Deck Argentina 26.3 12.7 6.3 2.0
Marcos Mata Uruguay 25.5 10.5 5.5 1.3
Jerome Meyinsse United States 22.5 9.5 4.8 1.3
Mathias Calfani Argentina 22.5 7.8 6.3 2.3
Guillermo Diaz Puerto Rico 21.5 11.5 1.8 2.5
Santiago Scala Argentina 19.3 9.5 2.3 2.5
Matias Sandes Argentina 19.0 8.8 5.3 2.5
Selem Safar Argentina 16.5 9.5 0.5 1.5
Mateo Wajsglus Argentina 2.0 0.0 1.0 0.0
Lisandro Fernandez Argentina 2.0 0.0 0.0 1.5
Lautaro Lopez Argentina 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0
Leandro Cerminato Argentina 1.0 2.0 0.0 0.0

Diaz is a name that may stand out from his time with the Puerto Rican national team, as he played spot minutes in both the Tuto Marchand Cup and the FIBA Americas Championship last summer. He’s also had some Summer League and D-League reps, even getting a six-game regular season audition with the Clippers in 2007-08. Gabriel Deck and Selem Safar suited up for Argentina in that same FIBA Americas tournament, winning silver medals and punching their ticket to the Olympics in the process (only Deck made the actual Olympic roster, though).

Meyinsse is the lone American on the roster, and he’s played four NBA preseason games over the last two seasons with Flamengo, averaging 13.3 points and four rebounds. The Virginia product has never gotten an NBA look but has carved out what looks to be a nice career on the South Americans circuit over the last few years. He has three NBB (Brazil) championships, two All-Star appearances, a FIBA Intercontinental Cup, and a Finals MVP to his name.

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game against an international opponent that also involves a back-to-back is off the board. For historical context, the Raptors are 8-2 overall in preseason games against international opponents, taking losses to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2005 and at Real Madrid in 2007. San Lorenzo has some history playing top North American teams, too – they played the Harlem Globetrotters back in 1951. So, yeah, your guess is as good as mine.

Click to comment

Raptors point guards look regular season ready in rout of Cavaliers

Raptors 119, Cavaliers 94 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry in July of 2012. By October of 2012, just two preseason games into his tenure, I was sold, penning an early missive of appreciation. After TWO preseason games. At the time, Lowry was joining the team with a bit of a shaky reputation from an off-court perspective, questions over whether he was a starting caliber point guard, and assurances that he had the competitive fire and tenacity to become a fan-favorite, if nothing else.

Looking back here, four years later and four games into the 2016-17 exhibition schedule, it’s incredible how far Lowry’s come. He’s gone so far beyond answering the initial questions and proving himself not just a starter, but a star, that the biggest questions around him this preseason are either ethereal in nature (Can he be an MVP candidate?) or mostly unrelated to his own performance (Can the bench step up enough to help limit his workload?). The growth in Lowry’s game, stature around the league, and importance to this franchise over the last four seasons is nothing short of remarkable, and it never ceases to both impress and inspire.

To wit, even in a meaningless preseason game Thursday, Lowry was able to awe with a stark reminder of just how good he is. It took Lowry all of 20 minutes and nine field-goal attempts to tally 25 points, helping the Raptors shake off an ugly start against the Cleveland Cavaliers and cruise to a 119-94 victory. Lowry, himself, started a little shaky, committing a few miscues in the opening minutes. He settled in from there, stabilize the youth-heavy starting lineup around him and playing the bulk of the first half, with a similar rest pattern to what he can expect in the regular season. Once down 12 points thanks to porous defense, the Raptors surged to a 19-point halftime lead on the back of Lowry’s scoring and playmaking, and he called it a night after two quarters with the game safely in hand.

Lowry, in other words, is ready for the regular season. The time with the U.S. Olympic team doesn’t appear to have slowed him any despite his admission he had to alter his offseason gameplan, and for as much as preseason can tell us, Lowry looks, well, like Lowry.

That’s all you really want to see from your established guys at this point in October. Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are fond of talking about how they trade possessions, quarters, or even games to dominate, and that’s been evident in the preseason. DeRozan went off while Lowry sat against the Clippers, and Lowry went off while DeRozan sat against the Cavaliers. All told, they combined for 45 points on 20 field goal attempts in 38 total minutes in those two games. The Raptors go how Lowry and DeRozan go, and in that sense, the Raptors would probably be comfortable with the season starting any time now.

That Cory Joseph came in and carried on Lowry’s dominance – first alongside and then in his stead – speaks further to the apparent readiness of the primary pieces. Joseph took major steps a season ago in blowing past his previous career high in minutes, but there were elements of his game that were sometimes found wanting. All through the preseason, he’s shown a renewed confidence in his jump-shot, pulling up over screens in the mid-range to complement his funky dribble-attack game. Against the Cavaliers, Joseph mixed his drives and jumpers to cruise to 17 points in 19 minutes, with the offense experiencing very little drop-off with Joseph as its primary operator. Even Fred VanVleet, called on as the third-string point, kept things humming with another steady performance. For at least a night, and really for the entire preseason, the Raptors’ point guard corps looks to be in good shape.

There’s more to training camp than just getting the regulars in form, though, and in that regard the Raptors have some work to do.

On a night in which DeRozan (rest) and Jared Sullinger (foot) both sat, the regular-season starting lineup didn’t get any time together. Sullinger’s played just once in the preseason, and his fit and comfort with the starters will likely be a major focus over the final three games and week-plus of the preseason. Terrence Ross (knee) sat, too, so the Raptors were playing without three rotation players.

That’s not a big deal in the course of the preseason, but it does leave a major question mark difficult to answer: Is the defense going to be a problem? The Raptors defended well against the Golden State Warriors, and the bench-heavy groups have done a great job executing to the final buzzer and using their energy to limit opponents at that end. The primary rotation, however, has struggled in three consecutive games, at least early on. The Clippers’ devastating three-man pick-and-roll attack was nearly unstoppable, the Nuggets scored at will for an entire half, and the Cavaliers feasted on a steady diet of open threes in the early moments of Thursday’s game. They figured it out and settled in, particularly as it pertained to keeping Kevin Love in check, but it seems as if guarding the 3-point line might be a problem once again this year.

It’s still early, though. The preseason is more about the positives than the negatives, and there were enough of the former Thursday. Kyle Lowry remains firmly Over Everything, Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, and Patrick Patterson look to be ready to go, Jonas Valanciunas continues to produce despite not looking his best, and the tryout players are performing well enough to make the decision difficult for the Raptors’ brass. Somehow, three more preseason games remain, the final two of which will be something resembling a full dress rehearsal. Until then, everyone still has Friday against San Lorenzo de Almagro to make their case for a bigger role in said rehearsals.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 14 – Leafs-Raptors and Toronto-Cleveland rivalries

The Extra returns, breaking down Raptors-Cavaliers before diving into some broader topics.

This week’s episode is brought to you Athlete’s Collective, where you can use promo code RAPTORS at the checkout for 15% off your first order of locally made, logo-free, premium sportswear at affordable prices.

athletes collective


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Raptors 119, Cavaliers 94

Toronto 119 Final
Recap | Box Score
94 Cleveland
D. Carroll 18 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +15 +/-

Still seems to be finding a comfort level with his jumper, and his pick-and-roll game is a little rusty, but everything else you want to see from him was on display here. Jumping passing lanes, pushing the ball in transition, and cutting in the set offense, it was all there. This was encouraging, especially since it feels like a month since his impressive preseason opener.

P. Siakam 20 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +2 +/-

Got the nod with the starters, and man, is his trial-by-fire ever entertaining. He’s guarded Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and Jamal Crawford for possessions now. He didn’t look perfect, but his energy was infectious, he did a great job getting back to defend in transition, and got to show off a nice move in the post.

J. Valanciunas 20 MIN | 5-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +14 +/-

I think it’s pretty telling that everyone seems fairly disappointed in Valanciunas early on, yet he’s shooting 14-of-26 with 39 points and 29 rebounds in 75 minutes so far this preseason. He’s still working his way back into regular-season form after some (arguably overdue) offseason downtime and doesn’t look as assertive as you’d like establishing position or presenting himself on the roll, but the jumper’s looking good and his touch is plenty soft.

K. Lowry 20 MIN | 6-9 FG | 3-4 3FG | 10-10 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 25 PTS | +11 +/-

Scored 25 points in 20 minutes and only took nine field-goal attempts. He dished six assists, too. He also hit a ridiculous pull—up three in transition, just to let you know he’s all the way back. Had some turnover issues early, but a couple were trying to be overly creative, and come on, 25 points on nine shots.

N. Powell 31 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +6 +/-

You could almost see the weight come off his shoulders when he canned a corner three in the second quarter. He’d been pressing a bit in the preseason, and a return to a familiar role with the rotation players seemed to help him relax a bit. After that first one fell, he settled in on the offensive end and looked more like late-season Powell than the early-camp version. I think it’s telling about where he is that the Raptors sent him back out to work late, possibly to keep building the confidence back up.

P. Patterson 13 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +19 +/-

Tough to say anything interesting given he played 13 minutes and just did what he does. The tweaked jumper isn’t a sure improvement just yet, but he hit the glass, attacked and kept the ball moving, and had active hands in passing lanes. Somehow was plus-infinity, as always.

B. Caboclo 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 3FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +5 +/-

Got dunked on, missed a couple of early looks, and didn’t wilt. This seems like nothing, but it’s progress. From there, he had a nice drive with a lefty finish, mustered an on-ball steal thanks to his length, and tag-teamed a transition block with Poeltl. Mostly, he just continued to look comfortable on defense, which is a big step for him, even if the offense is a few steps behind.

E.J. Singler 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +8 +/-

Saved a ball and turned it into an assist. Has to be a bit discouraging for him to see two minutes while Crawford and Heslip combine for 39.

L. Nogueira 16 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +9 +/-

As far as Nogueira games go, this was about as good a statement as he could hope to make. He was incredibly active on the defensive end, contesting at the rim and using his length to disrupt, even jumping a passing lane for a coast-to-coast dunk. And he stayed mostly within himself on offense, flashing his playmaking (albeit with an overaggressive high-low turnover) and even attempting a late-clock three (he missed).

J. Poeltl 12 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +3 +/-

Other than a really soft miss at the rim on a VanVleet dump-off and a subsequent shaking-it-off defensive foul, there wasn’t much to complain about here. He contested well at the rim, ran the floor, defended in transition, and flashed some touch. Needs to show a bit more to close the gap with Nogueira, I think, but patience is key here.

F. VanVleet 15 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +5 +/-

Surprised he didn’t turn and wink at Lowry when he unleashed a PU3IT of his own. Came in, ran the offense capably and within control for the most part, showed some range, continued to prove that unless the team feels the need for a specialist or forward depth, he’s probably their guy.

C. Joseph 19 MIN | 7-10 FG | 1-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 17 PTS | +15 +/-

The confidence he seems to have in his pull-up jumper right now has me way too excited. He spent the third quarter oscillating between funky drives to the rim and pull-ups over screens, and he wound up piling in 17 points in 19 minutes, all within the offensive flow. Like his starting counterpart, he looks ready.

D. Crawford 27 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +15 +/-

A little surprised he got so much run while Heslip and VanVleet sat until late and Singler didn’t play until even later. The Raptors have a good idea what Crawford is by now as a potential low-usage, defense-first type, and he did nothing to detract from the case he’s made so far. He’s just solid.

B. Heslip 12 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +3 +/-

Hit a pair of threes. Was somehow open for one of them. That’s on the Cavs. The effort he’s showing defensively is nice, too, and necessary if he’s going to be a non-zero at that end. Activity can go a long way against bench units.

Dwane Casey

Managing rest well, playing it cautious with injuries, and the young guys are keeping up the effort and defensive principles until the final buzzer. Tough to evaluate the primary defense with two starters out, but it was another tough start at that end of the floor, which is a bit concerning.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The Raptors gave DeMar DeRozan the night off to rest. Lowry and DeRozan love to talk about trading possessions, quarters, and games as the lead guy, so it’s been funny to see them take that to the extreme over the last two games – they combined for 45 points on 20 field goal attempts in 38 total minutes against the Clippers and Cavaliers.
  2. Jared Sullinger (foot) and Terrence Ross (knee) also sat out. Sullinger has now missed three games, but with the back-to-back scenario, don’t get too concerned until tomorrow. Ross had an MRI come back negative, for what it’s worth, but I’d be a little surprised if he plays Friday.
  3. Still a bit early to speculate 10 days out from cut-down day, but my gut is that VanVleet has the inside track on the 15th spot still, and that Nogueira has created some breathing room between himself and Poeltl for the backup center spot. These are fluid, though, and there’s a ton of practice time left.
  4. Some of the Blue Jays were at the game rooting on their Raptors counterparts ahead of their ALCS opener in Cleveland tomorrow. Jays in 6, RIP Josh Tomlin.
  5. From here, the Raptors head home in what’s a silly back-to-back. I get that it can help to prepare or whatever, but it’s the preseason. It’s the lone home game, too, so expect guys to play but only short stints again – Casey suggested again Thursday that the team won’t get closer to their “regular” rotations until the final two preseason games.
Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Ross and DeRozan sit against Cavaliers, Sullinger out again

We’re going to keep it pretty brief again in the pre-game notes on account of this being a preseason game and some podcast recording I have to hammer out before the game. Also, you’ve got a full game preview here.

Your Toronto Raptors tip off against the Cleveland Cavaliers at 8 p.m and isn’t supposed to be on TV based on the Raptors’ schedule, but a commenter says it’s on TSN 1 & 4, so check there.

Terrence Ross stays home
The Raptors’ brand new flashy toy is staying back in Toronto. Terrence Ross is dealing with a sore knee, according to Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun, but the real reason for his absence is very obviously that the Raptors don’t want the Cavaliers to get a close look at the secret weapon for the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals rematch. Ross has looked like a new man, leading staff and teammates to rave about the change in his mental approach, and it seems as if some fans are buying back in. And they should! It’s what the preseason is for.

UPDATE: Ross apparently tweaked his knee at Tuesday’s open practice while attempting a 360 dunk. An MRI came back negative, at least.

Notable with Ross sitting is that this represents a big opportunity for Norman Powell to swing the first-wing battle back in his favor. Ross has outplayed Powell so far, and there’s a sense that only one will see major minutes to begin the year, at least if the team’s healthy. Powell should see plenty of run alongside the team’s rotation players in this one, allowing him to get back to focusing on the more subtle contributions he makes rather than worrying about leading the bench mob. He hasn’t been bad, to be clear, and his defense is almost always on point, but it’s appeared he’s trying to do a bit too much on offense. This could be a great bounce-back game.

This could also open up additional minutes for Fred VanVleet and Brady Heslip to see how they look in two-point guard lineups, as well as for E.J. Singler on the wing.

Raptors updates
It stands to reason that with a back-to-back scenario in the preseason, some Raptors are going to be taking one of the next two nights off. My instinct is that they’d take the road game off, as they have but a single home preseason game, but the Raptors may prefer to play their top guys against actual NBA competition. Head coach Dwane Casey also paid lip service to going through the process of a back-to-back as a preparatory exercise, though one imagines this doesn’t extend to the more veteran players.

The team still hasn’t revealed the status of Jared Sullinger, who hasn’t played since the preseason opener due to a sore foot. Until we hear otherwise, assume he’s playing and starting. With the back-to-back, though, don’t be shocked – or overly concerned – if he sits one of the pair.

UPDATE: Sullinger is sitting again, as is DeMar DeRozan (rest) with Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell drawing the starts.

As for the others, here’s a best pass, without accounting for any potential shake-up since the last game.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: Norman Powell, Drew Crawford, DeMar DeRozan (rest)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler, Terrence Ross (knee)
PF: Pascal Siakam,Patrick Patterson,  Jarrod Uthoff,  Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 62 (20.7/game), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Valanciunas 55 (18.3), Joseph 52 (17.3), Lowry 38 (19), Carroll 34 (17)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 58 (19.3), Nogueira 42 (14), Poeltl 36 (12)
Competition 2: Powell 59 (19.7), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 52 (17.3), VanVleet 47 (15.7), Singler 18 (9), Heslip 9 (9), Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 29 (9.7), Wright 0

Cavaliers updates
The Cavs are taking it super-conservative in the preseason, which means no LeBron James in this one. The team rested all five of their starters on Monday, so it stands to reason that the others will be back in this one. Tristan Thompson was nursing a sore foot but draws back in here. Here’s a best guess at how things shake down, keeping in mind J.R. Smith remains unsigned:

PG: Kyrie Irving, Kay Felder, Jordan McRae, Toney Douglas, Mo Williams (retired)
SG: Iman Shumpert, DeAndre Liggins, Markel Brown
SF: Richard Jefferson, Dahntay Jones, John Holland, Mike Dunleavy Jr., LeBron James (rest), Eric Moreland (waived)
PF: Kevin Love, James Jones, Jonathan Holmes
C: Tristan Thompson, Chris Andersen, Channing Frye, Cory Jefferson

The line
After staying off the board most of the day, the Cavaliers are now 4.5-point favorites. Really, doe? (Sorry, I can’t even feign #ProveEm over a preseason line.) More importantly than Raptors by five (or whatever) is Blue Jays over Indians in 6, evening up the Toronto-Cleveland rivalry ahead of Raptors-Cavaliers II in May.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Jakob Poeltl

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

If his name is hard to understand, at least his game isn’t. A smooth-moving traditional center, Poeltl earned himself a chance at the back-up starting gig to a player his game often mimics. Taking Jakob Poeltl with the number nine pick caused the usual grumblings of Raptors fans who (thanks to Andrea Bargnani) think every European player is destined to launch long twos while doing his best impression of a shopping cart with a broken wheel in the pasta aisle on defense, but thankfully for those same fans, Poeltl is no Bargnani.


The Pac-12 player of the year earned that honour with averages of 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while shooting 65% from the field. He led the Pac-12 in two-point field goals, total win shares, and true shooting percentage. His size ( 7’1, 230 lbs) hasn’t limited any of his mobility. He remains one of the most fluid moving big men entering the league, as evident when watching him gallop beside the lumbering tree that is Jonas Valanciunas.

That mobility allows him to be an above-average offensive player. He can still add some weight to his frame, allowing him to bang in the paint more in the future. For now, he relies on his mobility to get open enough to show off his explosiveness. He has above-average hands that allow him to catch the ball off the pick and roll, and while he won’t be nearly the same rim protector Bismack Biyombo was, his touch around the rim on the offensive end will be much appreciated.

When his mobility is taken away from him – his back-to-the-basket game is there to bail him out. He has somewhere between three to five moves, relying heavily on the up and under. Still, when you’re 7’1 and can move faster than almost anyone your size, one simple move is often all it takes to flush it down.

Poeltl’s size will ultimately mean some trips to the free throw line, and that should be good news for the Raptors…eventually. Poeltl shot just 44 percent from the line in his first year in college, but saw that number spike to 69 percent after just one year, and 75 percent in a limited sample size in the preseason. If he continues to practice his touch from outside the paint, Poeltl will serve as an admirable JV-mini-me in his battle for the back-up center position.

His defense is exactly what you would expect from a lanky seven footer in his first year in the NBA. He’s an excellent rebounder, but based almost solely on his height. He’ll need to add weight to his frame in order to hang with some of the big men around the league, but his good hands allow him to pull anything down. As mentioned above, the rim protection leaves a lot to be desired from someone his size (he failed to record a block in the preseason), but if he can recreate this in the NBA, he’ll carve out a nice relief spot for coach Casey.



Wouldn’t that be nice? Sadly, every player in the NBA has weaknesses, and Poeltl is no exception. As mentioned above, Poeltl’s size will continue to be a problem until he adds on weight. Consider the fact he’s only 15 pounds heavier than Norman Powell despite being nine inches taller and it really puts things into perspective. Despite his height, he gets easily moved around by players with stronger bases, which could be tough when he’s expected to be the rim protector on the floor.

As for his offense, fans expecting anything other than the most traditional center imaginable will be sorely disappointed. Poeltl takes his shots in the paint, and thats it. He loves the paint more than Benjamin Moore. He has a closer relationship to paint than a “fixer upper” home you overpaid for. Don’t believe me? He took FOUR jumpers all year last season. He catches the ball off the pick and roll, or uses one of his handful of post up moves to let his size do the work for him. That’s a limitation in today’s NBA, and it doesn’t look like its ever changing for Poeltl.


The Raptor’s “A game” occurs when Jonas Valanciunas is on the court. The addition of Poeltl allows the Raptors to run an extremely watered down version of that “A game”, but a version nonetheless. Poeltl will still have to fight for minutes with Siakam, Sullinger, Patterson, and Nogueira all capable of playing the 5 in certain situations, but expect to see him carve out a significant role for himself during the season. His floor is high, but so is his ceiling, which means that the Raptors will have little patience if Poeltl can’t match up with the size and strength of the NBA. Still, the future is bright for a player who vaulted into a top ten pick out of literally nowhere, and the Raptors will need his scoring this year.

*Edited to note Poeltl is vying for the back-up center spot – not guaranteed

Click to comment

VOTE: Raptors Republic t-shirt design contest

As announced a few weeks back:

It’s been a while since we made any Raptors Republic gear, save for the jerseys included at our annual basketball tournaments. I felt like changing that, but I have absolutely zero artistic ability or any talent whatsoever when it comes to design. So, we’re going to hold a t-shirt design contest.

We received 12 submissions, and we’re going to lean on you to vote for your favorite from here. For today, we’ve grouped them randomly into groups of three, which will help us set up a final four to determine the next piece of RR swag. Voting will stay open through the weekend, at which point I’ll re-post the final four.

Some of the submissions are just logos for now rather than on a t-shirt, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.

Group 1

RR Claw


RR Text


RR Tower

Black tshirt template ready for your graphic design.

Group 2

RR Hands

unnamed-1 unnamed

RR Angry


RR Space


Group 3

RR Map


RR Dunk


RR Caesar


Group 4

RR 04

raptors-republic-back raptors-republic

RR Chart


RR Crest


Click to comment

Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Oct. 13

According to the latest basketball lines, Thursday night is just another game, perhaps a second-round showdown at best. We know better. As the Toronto Raptors visit the Cleveland Cavaliers, we get to watch not only an Eastern Conference Finals rematch, but an Eastern Conference Finals preview at the same time. The Raptors have emerged as Cleveland’s likely top foil, and surprisingly, that’s playing a part in a larger Toronto-Cleveland rivalry.

Because yes, we care about the Raptors a great deal, but with four preseason games and nearly two weeks left before the season opener, some attention is understandably being paid to the Toronto Blue Jays. Those Blue Jays will follow the Raptors into Cleveland on Friday to kick off their ALCS series, the first time ever that two cities have squared off in both the NBA and MLB semi-finals in the same year. Consider the Raptors among those rooting hard for their Toronto sports counterparts.

“It’s great, at some point in time every sport city, town, state, they have their moment, their run, and it’s a cool thing to be able to witness and be a part of, and I think later on when we really look back at it, it’ll be a cool thing. I didn’t even know that was a first time something like that had happened, so it makes it even that much better,” DeMar DeRozan said Wednesday. ” Sometimes you want to get out of your element of being so caught up, and stressed over your own job, you want to be able to cheer on somebody else’s profession, in your own city, and watch them perform instead of you worrying about the preparation, you going against your own opponent. Now we get to sit back, relax and enjoy.”

“Just to see how the city gets behind their team, we feel like the Blue Jays are kind of like our brothers, we want them to go as far, or further, than we went,” DeMarre Carroll added. “I think the biggest thing for us is we have to stick together and I feel like one team, one country.”

The basketball game tips off at 8 p.m and does not appear to be televised in Canada. The baseball games don’t begin again until Friday, conflicting with the second half of the Raptors’ weird preseason back-to-back. Check out Blue Jays Republic for your needs on the baseball side.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword, surely as he donned his usual black hat. Or a Blue Bombers jersey, whatever that is.

Blake Murphy: Before we talk basketball, I need to know: You’re from Winnipeg (sigh) yet you’re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, so…does your loyalty land with the Jays or Indians for this series?

Justin Rowan: My loyalty is with the Jays. I’m a Cavs fan because I’ve been one since I was young. I’m not really a baseball guy, but I’ll pull for the Canadian team in the playoffs. A man can only handle so much misery, so I only subject myself to one Cleveland sports team.

Blake Murphy: When is J.R. Smith getting signed, how much is he signing for, and how weird will it be when Terrence Ross realizes his full potential as J.R. Smith North, they go head-to-head, and get sucked into some weird vortex trying to shoot the same ball from half at the exact same time?

Justin Rowan: I think J.R. gets signed right before the season, similar to what happened with Tristan Thompson last year. The Thompson situation looked even bleaker than this one at this time last season. I think Smith signs for four years, $52 million. As it would be halfway between his asking price of $15 million a season and the Cavs offer of $11 million on a back-loaded deal. With regards to Ross, I have to say it’s nice to see him come into camp looking like he’s added to his game for the first time as a Raptor. He seems more confident putting the ball on the floor and attacking, which is a great sign.

Blake Murphy: At the risk of upsetting people – your specialty around here – do you anticipate a Raptors-Cavaliers rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals this season?

Justin Rowan: I would say the Raptors are the favourite to face the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals again. This Raptors team has the ability to add on the roster they had during last years run with a fully healthy DeMarre Carroll and maybe even an improved Jonas Valanciunas. The Boston Celtics are right there on that same tier, but they don’t have the same experience and I won’t give them the benefit of the doubt until I see take down Toronto. Other teams have an outside chance as well, such as Indiana who is improved and went down to the wire last season with the Raptors. But Toronto is still the favourite in my mind out of the second tier teams.

Blake Murphy: Is Jordan McRae set to become this year’s Norman Powell or Josh Richardson? I know playing time might be tight, but he’s good. And how excited are you about sparkplug Kay Felder, who plays basketball like Twista’s rap come to life?

Justin Rowan: I think Jordan McRae will be the Jamal Crawford for the Cavaliers this season. He’s a long guard with the ability to put the ball in the hoop and went off for 36 points and 7 assists in a game last season, filling in for Irving. Kay Felder is also exciting, as he does possess a lot of poise for a rookie. However, I think the Cavs will be careful bringing him along. The biggest key is that they take care of the ball. But either player will likely play in the same sheltered role Dellavedova played in, alongside LeBron James with three other bench players.

Blake Murphy: I tuned out when the Cavaliers got down 3-1 in the finals to a 73-win team with the first ever unanimous MVP but can safely assume how it all ended. Will the city of Cleveland ever win a title?

Justin Rowan: Hard to say, last year seemed like a really good opportunity. But there’s simply no team that comes back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. With Kevin Durant in Golden State, it looks pretty bleak.

Blake Murphy: This is unrelated to Raptors-Cavs, but Justin and I recently wrote companion articles on whether or not the Raptors should explore the trade market for Kyle Lowry. You can check Justin’s out here and mine out right here.

Raptors updates
It stands to reason that with a back-to-back scenario in the preseason, some Raptors are going to be taking one of the next two nights off. My instinct is that they’d take the road game off, as they have but a single home preseason game, but the Raptors may prefer to play their top guys against actual NBA competition. Head coach Dwane Casey also paid lip service to going through the process of a back-to-back as a preparatory exercie, though one imagines this doesn’t extend to the more veteran players.

“We have to get the mindset practice in,” Casey said Wednesday. “How do we prepare mentally? How do we prepare physically going into a back to back. That’’s what preseason is for even though it doesn’t mean anything. Creating winning habits is what it is all about.”

That leaves Jared Sullinger as the only big question mark we can speculate on. Sullinger missed the team’s last two preseason games with a sore foot, and while it sounded minor initially, he was still unavailable at practice Wednesday (this is fairly standard procedure, but was a moderate surprise after more than a week off). Sullinger will probably only play in one of the two games, anyway, so don’t be too excited if he winds up sitting out Thursday.

As for the others, here’s a best pass, without accounting for any potential shake-up since the last game.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 62 (20.7/game), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Valanciunas 55 (18.3), Joseph 52 (17.3), Lowry 38 (19), Carroll 34 (17)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 58 (19.3), Nogueira 42 (14), Poeltl 36 (12)
Competition 2: Powell 59 (19.7), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 52 (17.3), VanVleet 47 (15.7), Singler 18 (9), Heslip 9 (9), Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 29 (9.7), Wright 0

Cavaliers updates
The Cavs are taking it super-conservative in the preseason, which means no LeBron James in this one. The team rested all five of their starters on Monday, so it stands to reason that the others will be back in this one, though Tristan Thompson is nursing a sore foot. Here’s a best guess at how things shake down, keeping in mind J.R. Smith remains unsigned:

PG: Kyrie Irving, Kay Felder, Jordan McRae, Toney Douglas, Mo Williams (retired)
SG: Iman Shumpert, DeAndre Liggins, Markel Brown
SF: Dahntay Jones, Richard Jefferson, John Holland, Mike Dunleavy Jr., LeBron James (rest), Eric Moreland (waived)
PF: Kevin Love, James Jones, Jonathan Holmes
C: Tristan Thompson, Chris Andersen, Channing Frye, Cory Jefferson

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game that involves a back-to-back is off the board. Raptors by 150, Jays in 6.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Norman Powell

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

Norman Powell was destined to be a fan favourite in Toronto. He’s aggressive, he’s athletic, he’s quick he’s humble, he’s an underdog — and, oh yeah, he’s really good.

He started his Raptors life as a folk hero, a guy that the die hard’s could call their own after his eye-popping performance in the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League, that refuge of every basketball addict each July. He had the kind of performance that gets fans nervous/excited. The kind of performance that has tricked many into believing that what happened in Vegas could translate into actual NBA games. Many have failed to make that jump work (Dajuan Wagner, Marco Belinelli, and Josh Shelby come to mind), and so the previously-unheralded Powell’s performance made as many wary about buying into him too early as it made others giddy about what he could bring to the Raptors.

Fortunately for Powell, his 2015-16 season lived up to the early hype.

A lot of this had to do with good timing. He got to start the season well out of the spotlight with the Raptors 905, but made the most of his time there. He played in eight games between mid-December and the end of January (with one extra game on March 3rd) and averaged 24.9 ppg on 50% shooting, while also averaging 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Much like he had in Summer League, Powell looked a notch above nearly all of his competition, and clearly deserved a shot with the main team.

That opportunity came when DeMarre Carroll went down. Powell wound up playing 49 regular season games with 24 starts, a remarkable achievement for a second-round pick on a top-tier NBA club. His stats weren’t eye-popping (save for his 40% three-point shooting, which was an unexpected boon), but Powell is the kind of player that makes his impact in subtler ways. He plays hard, with an infectious determination, and he plays that way without making the kinds of over-aggressive fouls that often plague rookies in that style (he averaged just 2.9 fouls per 36 minutes).

More importantly, Powell was basically a series-saver against the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the Playoffs, with his ability to stick to Paul George and, of course, the steal. His impact was so great that Dwane Casey even started him on Dwayne Wade in the next round. Granted, he got toyed with, but Wade is a top-five all-time shooting guard, so the fact that Casey had that kind of trust in him at all shows far he came in one short season.

Heading into this season, though, Powell’s impact is hard to predict. Given all that he did last season, you’d expect a large bump in minutes and responsibility, but things aren’t that easy with this team. Carroll is healthy, and making $14-million, and Terrence Ross is presumably slotted in behind him, and is making $10-million. Sure, there will be minutes behind DeMar DeRozan, but there aren’t very many of those, and some of them will go to Corey Joseph when he plays alongside Kyle Lowry.

On the one hand, it’s hard to see how you keep a guy like Powell off of the court. On the other hand, there are only so many minutes to go around, and the club’s investments in Carroll, Ross, and Joseph are substantial. It’s also been telling that, so far, Powell has mostly been suiting up with the third unit in Toronto’s three preseason contests (where he has again played impressively).

It’s difficult to peg how this one will play out. Obviously Powell will get minutes, he’d seem to be too good to not, but will they be meaningful enough minutes for him to truly impact the direction of the team this year? Injuries will happen, and you have to figure he’d be in line to be the primary beneficiary of an injury to anyone except Jonas Valanciunas. Still, that’s hardly the situation you would have pegged after such a strong rookie season. He just seemed primed for more, but when faced with the reality of the situation, there may just not be any more to offer him.

The nice thing for the Raptors is that he’s not going anywhere. They have him locked up on a cheap deal for two seasons after this one, and he gives Masai Ujiri options should trade opportunities come his way. For fans, though, that have fallen in love with Powell’s game, they may not be so happy.

Still, guys like Powell tend to find their way on the court. Guys that can impact the game in multiple ways, especially on the defensive end, without demanding shots or attention, those are the guys that coaches love to reward. After all, that’s what made him a folk hero in the first place.

Click to comment

Outside Noise vs. Reality: Calling All Supporting Cast Members

Needless to say (but let’s bask in the moment’s glory anyway), it’s a hell of a time to be a Toronto sports fan. With business booming on the Baseball field for the second consecutive year, the continuation of an encouraging rebuilding process just hours away from hitting the ice, and of course, the Raptors’ mission to unseat Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy only two weeks away from officially getting underway, it’s only a matter of time before our tax dollars are going towards building a new NFL stadium. Hey, I wouldn’t rule out the year 2066.

If you’re like me, you were once salivating over the possibility of a Jays-Red Sox postseason showdown, but when one reminds themselves that the start of a Cleveland-Toronto rivalry was already brewing on the hardwood in May, we really couldn’t have asked for a better situation to set the tone for the aforementioned mission the Raps are about to embark on.

However, it wouldn’t be the Toronto sports scene without a bit of drama attached:

How many “experts” have predicted the Raptors to fall back to the pack this season? Well, judging by what you come across on various media outlets, and taking into account what social media has to offer, I can safely say that the amount of people who are dismissing the Raps’ chances at replicating their level of success from last season sits at a relatively high percentage.

That’s enough to make any fan angry. And it’s funny how certain teams can continue to be held to a higher standard when they didn’t exactly earn their keep the previous year. But, that also doesn’t mean there can’t be any validity to the naysaying when it’s all said and done.

So, to keep everything on the up and up, and to not let our hometown bias get in the way, the objective here is to take the outside noise into consideration, while attempting to figure out what direction(s) this season could be headed.

The main argument for the Raps losing a step is that while the majority of teams chasing them in the standings last year were busy improving their arsenal in the offseason, Toronto’s decision to essentially play the background is enough to question whether they’re worthy of being the Cavs’ ultimate opponent. And when you combine the loss of Bismack Biyombo, there’s been no shortage of hot takes supporting that notion.

When it comes to Bismack, there really isn’t an opportunity to play devil’s advocate when trying to downplay just how significant of a loss he could wind up being, at least in the short term. The Raps’ roster (on paper) doesn’t exactly suggest they can replace his relentless pursuit on the boards, his shot-blocking/altering presence, or his ability to wear multiple hats on defense, whether it be straight up, on a switch, or as a safety-net option when someone gets beat on the perimeter.

The hope is that a tweak in identity can weather the storm. Meaning an added emphasis on the contributions of this club’s supporting cast. Meaning the need for Cory Joseph and Norman Powell to continue trending upward, the need for Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross to once and for all put there inconsistencies behind them, the need for Jared Sullinger to show why the Raptors never should have been excluded from the “notable offseason additions” discussion, and the need for Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam to reinforce the idea that they could become a formidable duo in the not-so-distant future.

But most of all, for the Raps to truly dismiss the growing pessimism around them, two members of the supporting cast (even with one at the veteran age of 30 years old) need to officially graduate to “core status”.

It’s wishful thinking that the Raps can make a serious dent in their 28th ranked Assist Ratio (the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in assists), which by the way, their 15.0 clip marked a 4th straight decline in that department. That also means we likely won’t get to see the consistent scoring threat Carroll became in Atlanta anytime soon. Especially not when Toronto’s Pace number came in at 29th (95.3 estimated possessions per game).

Carroll’s versatility usually finds a way to shine, though. And if his preseason is any indication, one that we probably should have more faith in carrying over to the regular season than that of T-Ross’s, a full season of transition threes, elite court awareness, and the ability on any given night to shutdown the opponent’s best player not named LeBron, has a chance to soften the Biyombo blow.

26 regular season games, along with a limited postseason, didn’t provide a proper scope of what his acquisition meant in the first place.

As for JV, simply put: The time is now. To get more in depth: Even though a rotation of Sullinger, Patterson, and at times Carroll, can help ease the offensive burden when on the court at the same time, make no mistake, Valanciunas’ footwork, touch, rebound positioning, and even his mid-range jumper have to come as close to full circle as possible. JV also doesn’t have the built-in advantage of Bismack picking up the defensive slack. There will be no more in-and-out switches in crunchtime depending on whether the team needs a bucket or a stop.

He’s already displayed concrete evidence that all of this is possible as soon as opening night (specifically referring to his coming out party during last season’s playoffs), so faith in his graduation should run deep. Even if his preseason has been uninspiring.

The last thing this team needs is to place even more of the load on the shoulders of Lowry and DeRozan. If anything, Lowry’s at the point where the team really should be shrinking his minutes, even if it’s just by sitting out unnecessary 4th quarters or even when simply going up against inferior opponents.

There might not be another duo in the league that sacrifices their bodies more than the Raps’ backcourt, so the fact that DeMar is four years younger than K-Low, doesn’t exactly exclude him from that same scenario.

That’s not to say that there won’t be times throughout the year that this entire situation gets flipped on its head. There will be a time where the supporting cast is carrying this squad and the call for Lowry and DeRozan to step up their game will be shouted from the rooftops. But in the grand scheme of things, even though Lowry and DeMar have to lead the charge, there’s more pressure on the supporting cast to hold up their end of the bargain.

Besides, with DeRozan making his living attacking the rim, last time I checked a $140 million investment is worth preserving. And with K-Low embarking on the wrong side of 30, and potentially his last big contract lurking in the background, do you really see him giving a hometown discount?

But of course, it’s not realistic for all of these scenarios to come true. The most realistic thing I can say is that even though the Raps lost an integral part of their gameplan, the pieces to remain in the driver’s seat to capture the 2-seed are still in place. That and the fact that the chances of T-Ross getting dealt at the deadline should increase as the season rolls along.

In more ways than one, bring on Cleveland.

Click to comment

Talking Raptors Podcast – With Jeff Landicho of Open Gym

Nick and Barry saddle into the Talking Raptors studios to present a Raptors fan exclusive. If you’re a fan of the Raptors team, Raptors culture and Raptors lifestyle this is the episode for you. The guest this episode is one of the best in the business and an all around great guy. Adding credibility to the podcast, the guys are joined bye Jeff Landicho of Open Gym.  Enjoy a special lour beloved team from the perspective of a man thats seen it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • They guys discuss:
  • Who is Jeff Landicho?
  • How did Open Gym start?
  • Best parts of the job?
  • Worst parts of the job?
  • Predictions for the upcoming season?
  • The future of open gym?

All this and so much more. This episode was an absolute pleasure to record, Jeff is a genuinely great guy and his passion and vision for the team is second to none.

As always we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we did recording it.

Lets go Raptors.

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

Click to comment

2016-17 Player Preview: DeMarre Carroll

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

When the Toronto Raptors, a summer ago, committed $64 million over 4 years to DeMarre Carroll, the hope would be that the acquisition would propel the team past the first round, and help them establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the league. 56 wins and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals later, mission accomplished, right? We can say that this was truly a successful signing, and no one could possibly question the contract, right? If it were that simple, I’d tell you that Carroll was going to have a great year and end the profile at that. But last year wasn’t that unmitigated success for DeMarre due to health concerns, even if the Raptors got where they wanted to be.

Last year the injury problems started early in the season for Carroll, with a story breaking early in November that he was dealing with plantar fasciitis. After playing 35.6 MPG in the first 6 games of the season, Carroll then missed the next 3 games, from November 8th through 11th, and upon return averaged 33.6 minutes over the next 12, before, on December 7th, being ruled out indefinitely with a bruised right knee. Carroll would go on to sit the next 9 games, before returning on December 26th to play five more games, before sitting out yet again with knee issues and requiring surgery on January the 6th. He would go on to miss the next 41 games and return in April to play 3 games late in the season, and DeMarre was active for the entire playoff run for the Raptors, although he never looked truly himself.

We could talk about the handling of the injuries by the Raptors, and the questions over whether a player returning from injuries should be playing more than 30 minutes a night, and whether that contributed to the ongoing problems that Carroll had. But some good did come of all the time missed last season. There’s certainly something to look at there going forward with how the team handles injuries and works towards bring players back. If not for Carroll’s injuries, however, the Raptors never would’ve found the playing time for Norman Powell, and he wouldn’t have been able to develop so quickly.

The Raptors acquired Carroll to defend bigger small forwards in tough matchups, something that neither DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross is capable of doing. Carroll in pre-season has shown signs that he might be returning to that player again. In Atlanta, prior to the acquisition, DeMarre had the best season of his career, proving to be an effective, tough defender, and on shooting 48.7% from the field and 39.5% from downtown. The Atlanta offense felt tailor-made for his skillset as well, being built around passing and generating the best shot available.


(Courtesy: Austin Clemens)

In Toronto, the offense wouldn’t seem as well-fit for DeMarre, as the Raptors rank near the bottom of the league in assists, while the Hawks are perennially in the upper echelon in that category. However, Carroll was able to find his niche as an off-ball player here as well, working off DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s ball-heavy attack and using their frequent double teams to find open 3-point shots. Despite taking a much smaller percentage of his 3pt attempts from the corners than he did with the Hawks, Carroll still managed to hit 39% of his shots from long-range last year, and had an impressive 48.3% effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot opportunities. His field goal percentage, on the other hand, dropped from 48.7% in 2014/15 to 38.9% last year. A lot of this might be attributed to the Raptors asking him to create some of his own offense, and Carroll didn’t look comfortable doing this, as he struggled to score off the dribble. Whether this remains part of the Raptors offense this season remains to be seen.

The Raptors intended starting lineup from a year agi, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas played in only 15 games last season, partially due to Carroll’s injuries and partially due to missed games from Valanciunas, and never managed to fully find it’s footing. This year the starting group looks to be similar, with Jared Sullinger playing in the place of Scola, who departed during the summer. Although Sullinger appears to be a far better fit than Scola, the group still has to prove they can be an effective unit this season, to lessen the dependence on the bench being strong in order to keep the team in games, and a lot of that will depend on how much the team can get from Carroll this year. While Ross and Powell behind Carroll remain capable players, neither of them truly replaces Carroll’s defensive role and if DeMarre can’t give the team a healthy, effective season it’s hard to see the Raptors returning to the Eastern Conference Finals, or pushing further come the spring.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Podcast – Handstands and traveling Raptors fans

Host Blake Murphy brings in special guest Christian Stoinev to talk Raptors fandom.


Click to comment

Raptors Republic Fantasy League(s)

Last year, we did a fantasy basketball league for Raptors Republic readers. We did it on short notice, and even stretching the league to the maximum of 20 teams, many were left disappointed by the limited spaces available.

So, this year, I’m going to host three (3!) fantasy leagues for RR readers. The settings/format for each are the same, and there’s no flexibility on the draft date and time – I’m doing my best to accomodate a larger volume of people, but it’s be impossible to find a time that works for everyone. (There are also no prizes beyond bragging rights, but I will do my best to try to lock down something to give away during the year – no promises.)

Please don’t sign up for more than one of the leagues, as spots will probably go quickly.

LEAGUE ONE – Patreon Supporters

Those of you who support us on Patreon get your own league. You should receive an email sometime tonight with the relevant details.

LEAGUE TWO – Last year’s league, part II

Last year’s league was a lot of fun, even if your boy lost in the finals. Those who participated should receive a renewal email sometime tonight with the relevant details, and if you haven’t signed up by Friday, I’ll open up the remaining spots to readers on the outside.

LEAGUE THREE – New league

For those who don’t qualify for either of the leagues above, I’ve set up a third league that I imagine will fill up pretty quickly. You can sign up here.

UPDATE: League Three filled up quickly. If you’d like to be on the waiting list, leave a comment here, and you’ll get dibs on any open spots in the other two.

Click to comment

Raptors 905 adding Will Sheehey, retaining John Jordan

Raptors 905 are bringing back reigning Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan, according to friend of the site Chris Reichert of Upside & Motor. Jordan was expected to return if no overseas offers to his liking materialized, and it looks as if the opportunity to provide the 905 with guard depth – and retain his dunking title – won out.

Joining Jordan on the 905 will be Will Sheehey, Reichert reports. The 905 selected Sheehey’s returning player rights in the expansion draft last season, but the Indiana product opted to spend 2015-16 in France.

Prior to that, Sheehey spent time in the D-League with two teams and saw time in Greece in Montenegro. Last year, he averaged 10.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists overseas while shooting 42.5 percent overall and 29.7 percent on threes. In 17 career D-League games, he’s averaged 9.4 points on 47.2-percent shooting with a 15-of-39 mark from long-range. Undrafted in 2014, the 6-foot-7 small forward got a Summer League look with the New York Knicks and then the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging four points in 8.6 minutes across the two tournaments.

The 905 roster is beginning to fill out in theoretical terms, though a lot remains up in the air until the conclusion of Toronto Raptors training camp. Once the 15th roster spot has been decided on, the Raptors will work to convince their cuts to become D-League players (affiliate or otherwise), hoping they clear waivers to make that possible. E.J. Singler and Brady Heslip have agreed to do so if cut, Fred VanVleet and Jarrod Uthoff received partial guarantees in part to help sweeten a D-League salary, and Yanick Moreira seems likely to head to Mississauga, too (Drew Crawford will head overseas if he fails to make the team).

Player Last Season Years Remaining Notes
E.J. Singler Raptors 905 2 In camp with Raptors
Brady Heslip Italy 2 In camp with Raptors
Yanick Moreira Spain/France 0 Potential Affiliate Player
Jarrod Uthoff NCAA 0 Potential Affiliate Player
Fred VanVleet NCAA 0 Potential Affiliate Player
Drew Crawford Israel 1 (Erie) Rights owned by Erie; in camp
John Jordan Raptors 905 2 Confirmed Raptors 905
Will Sheehey France 1 Confirmed Raptors 905
James Siakam Delaware 2 Acquired at end of season
Ashton Smith Raptors 905 2
Greg Smith Raptors 905/Minnesota 2
Michael Williams N/A 1
Axel Toupane Raptors 905/Denver 2 In camp with Nuggets
DeAndre Daniels Raptors 905 2 Raptors own NBA rights; Signed in Italy
Shannon Scott Raptors 905 2 Signed in Greece
Davion Berry Raptors 905 2 Signed in Greece
Michale Kyser Raptors 905 2 Signed in Lebanon
Scott Suggs Raptors 905 2 Signed in Spain
Sim Bhullar Raptors 905 2 Signed in Taiwan
C.J. Leslie Israel 1 Signed in Cyprus
Ramone Moore Lithuania 1 Signed in Australia
Mitchell Watt Germany/Israel 1 Signed in Italy
Mustafa Shakur Germany 1 Signed in Turkey

From there, the 905 can invite four players to camp from open tryouts and then use their limited draft picks to fill out the roster on Oct. 30.

1st – None
2nd – Reno
3rd – None
4th – Own, Bakersfield, Texas
5th – None

Click to comment

No, the Toronto Raptors should not look at trading Kyle Lowry

I was going to try my best to leave the “Kyle Lowry: Impending Free Agent” stuff alone for the most part this year. At this point, I feel that most know my stance about it, that I’m not worried, that I don’t fault professional athletes for acting out of self-interest and maximizing their earnings over very short careers. And I’d hope, after going through the same process with DeMar DeRozan last season, that most readers know the important details around a superstar free agent scenario – that the collective bargaining agreement is far too restrictive to make an extension possible, that a player doesn’t “owe” a franchise anything, that having to pay substantial raises to important pieces is the cost of becoming, and remaining, very competitive.

Yes, it was absolutely notable when Lowry more or less confirmed to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical this week that he’ll decline his $12-million player option for 2017-18 at the end of this season, barring major injury. It is not, however, all that concerning, at least from a 2016-17 perspective. This won’t be a distraction, Lowry isn’t going to talk about it, and the team seems pretty well-insulated from outside disturbances, if the last few seasons are any indication. Lowry’s opting out, but everyone understands that it’s a formality. C.R.E.A.M.

More than the “yes/no” of opting out, what stood out from Wojnarowski’s piece was the fact that Lowry isn’t talking discount or short-term deal (not that he’d negotiate against himself publicly). Again, none of this should surprise, as Lowry’s been underpaid on his current deal and is about to enter a robust market for what will likely be his last major contract. Lowry wants a five-year deal, and while he loves the Toronto Raptors organization, he wants something done quickly, or he’ll look elsewhere. Totally reasonable.

From the Wojnarowski piece:

Lowry, 30, loves the life he has there, the contending core, the endorsement opportunities, the manic fanbase and the chance to someday raise his No. 7 into the arena rafters. Somewhere on the summer market – Philadelphia, New York, perhaps the Clippers, should they lose Paul – there will be an offer in the neighborhood of a max deal for him. Nevertheless, Lowry’s preference is a painless, fast, five-year deal to stay in Toronto, to take him into his mid-30s with the Raptors.

“If you’re that franchise’s guy, and you’re the guy that they’ve been rolling with, and you’ve given that franchise everything you have, yeah, I think [the talks] should be easy,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I think it should be a situation where a guy shouldn’t have to talk to another team. DeMar didn’t have the chance to talk to another team. …

“For me, I think that at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 – something should be close. If not, I’m open to seeing what else is out there.”

DeRozan took what amounted to roughly a 9.9-percent cut off of his theoretical max, and even if Lowry did the same, the Raptors would be forced to pay substantially. Under the most recent estimates – estimates that are now believed to be somewhat conservative but are confused some by potential impending changes to the CBA – Lowry’s maximum contract from the Raptors would be a five-year, $192.9-million deal. The Raptors hold the hammer in being able to offer larger annual raises and a fifth season, so like with DeRozan, there’s a chance a deal can be struck for something between Lowry’s max with the team and with another franchise (roughly four years and $143.2 million). If Lowry were to take the same marginal haircut that DeRozan did, something in the five-year, $175.3-million area comes out.

That’s a staggering amount of money, even in the new cap economy, and re-signing Lowry near that amount brings risk and complications. Lowry will be 31 next summer, and while he doesn’t have a lot of early-career mileage on him, smaller point guards haven’t historically aged all that well (Lowry is perhaps generously listed at 6-feet) – as a rough gauge (using Win Shares for simplicity), John Stockton (three times) and Allen Iverson (once) are the only players 6-foot-1 or shorter to post a season as good as Lowry’s 2015-16 at the age of 32 or older. Even Lowry’s “down” 2014-15 is a level of excellence that’s been reached by 32-plus, 6-foot-1-and-under players just 22 times in the Basketball Reference database. Lowry has some things going for him, like low total mileage and deep range on a 3-point shot that allows him to spend time at the off-guard, but he also plays a very aggressive and physically demanding style, and his performance has lagged at times late in the season or in the playoffs, owing perhaps to injury or fatigue or variance, or some mix of all three.


So no, signing Lowry to that kind of deal isn’t a slam dunk strictly from a basketball perspective. Doing so would put the Raptors in a position where they’re “locked in” to being very good, with limited flexibility to take the push to championship contender without the good fortune of a major trade or a prospect breaking through to the next level. It doesn’t preclude getting there, but it blocks off free agency as a road, and it gives the Raptors a somewhat narrow window to strike within as DeRozan and Lowry enter the back half of their aging curves together.

If you are of the mind that only a championship matters, and not the path to get there or the years surrounding it, it would be difficult to reconcile the reality of Lowry’s situation with re-signing him. I understand that completely, as someone who’s spent the bulk of my time writing about sports skewing cold and analytic. The same people who feel that way almost surely disagreed with re-upping DeRozan at his price, too. And if you’re of that mentality, you probably thought long and hard about a column entitled “Toronto Raptors Should Look At Trading Kyle Lowry” by friend-of-the-site Justin Rowan.

To be clear, Justin is a friend, has great hair, and is a smart basketball writer. He’s a Cavaliers fan, but it’s hard to blame someone from Winnipeg for any of their life choices (aside from Chris Jericho – The Gift of Jericho is literally the only positive export from Winnipeg; drink it in, man). And Justin reasons around the Lowry situation well, coming to the conclusion that the Raptors ” must assess what they could get in return for him,” and that “it would be irresponsible not to.” In this case, hesitant though I am to put a frown on his handsome face, I disagree pretty strongly with Justin.

Now, the way he’s worded his ultimate call-to-action is pretty hard to argue with. “Assess what they could get in return” is pretty benign, all things considered, especially if the Raptors could manage to navigate such discussions entirely in the shadows. (If Lowry were to find out, this argument is all for naught, because there’s a non-zero chance things would become contentious and render his free agency moot, thereby making Justin’s supposition a self-fulfilling prophecy.) By wording things as he did, Justin’s removed the biggest argument against his broader thesis – that the Raptors would never get anything resembling fair value in return for their superstar, assuming the Raptors would want to remain competitive and not blow the core up completely. There just aren’t enough teams out there with the assets for a win-win Lowry trade that would also a) think Lowry would push them to where they need to go, and b) wouldn’t have the exact same concerns as Toronto about Lowry’s impending free agency.

To take a step back from trade specifics, though, the Raptors just shouldn’t be looking to move on from Lowry, via trade or in free agency, however uncomfortable the numbers may be. Because more than just a championship matters in the larger picture.

By the end of this season, Lowry will cement his place as the best Raptor of all time. Those around him either forced their way out (Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter), left for justifiable reasons (Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady), or, a tier down, left on mutual enough terms (Amir Johnson, Jose Calderon). You could quibble between DeRozan and Lowry, given the former’s extended longevity, but Lowry’s peak has been as high as anyone to wear the jersey, he’s been at or near it for several years, and he’s been the team’s avatar, engine, heart, whatever, for the best three-year run in franchise history.

And that matters, and it matters a not-insignificant amount. The Raptors have reshaped their culture and identity entirely around a core led by Lowry, and the absence of Lowry would complicate a lot of that growth. Would a star even want to be traded to Toronto if it meant Lowry was outbound? Would Dwane Casey be able to foster the same king of buy-in without a once-notoriously hard-to-coach player working as an extension of his message and a leader, both by example and by voice? Would fans understand the sterile logic behind moving on from Lowry, without the franchise burning up all of the cache, excitement, and momentum they’ve built over the last three years? What would others on the roster think about what success with the Raptors means for them long-term?

The Raptors have talked a lot about establishing a winning culture, one that players sense immediately when they walk in the doors, with standards understood long before that point. They’ve also talked about turning Toronto into a destination franchise, leveraging Drake, the All-Star Game, the city’s overall momentum, and the recent success of the franchise as major selling points. The Raptors are now a franchise that competes – they’ll make the playoffs for a fourth year in a row for the first time ever this season – and they reward their players and staff for that success. Lowry has been a steward, a spokesman, and a symbol of all the growth that the franchise has undergone since Masai Ujiri took the reigns and accidentally held on to him.

Those things, while impossible to quantify, absolutely matter. I had a great chat with Jared Sullinger the other day about how coming to Toronto was a no-brainer for him, and he cited a lot of these reasons. Raptors fans always ask about signing Veteran X late in the year, or adding Veteran Y at the minimum like Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland can, and you need to offer more than just a roster spot to land those types of fish. Looking longer-term, the Raptors probably don’t want to be the franchise that everyone walked away from, only to alienate the stars who wanted to stay (I can’t imagine DeRozan would take a Lowry departure particularly well). They want to be a franchise that creates stars, with stars who measure the franchise and find it to be a suitable home.

On top of all of that, the path to legitimate contention, if that’s all that matters, isn’t any cleaner without Lowry. He’s the team’s best player, full stop, and nearly any move would be considered a step back to later try to take two forward. (I’d argue that there’s almost no potential Lowry leaving scenario in which it wouldn’t also necessitate moving DeRozan for the logic to hold). That road is long and paved with What Ifs and different risks than Lowry presents, whereas the Raptors with Lowry at least know they’re a second-tier team, a fortuitous break, trade, or development away.

I want a championship in Toronto eventually, too. I’m not willing to set the franchise back Ujiri’s entire tenure and make the road back to competing even harder in the process, all for an eventually-marginally-maybe-slightly-better long-term chance at getting there. Kyle Lowry Over Everything, including my normally cold black analytic heart.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: DeMar DeRozan

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

Entering his eighth season in the NBA, DeMar DeRozan is set to eclipse Morris Peterson’s all time Raptors record for most games played. His $139 million dollar contract acts as the background to the significant milestone, essentially dubbing DeRozan as the new King of Toronto. Make no mistake, DeRozan earned the deal with his all-star level play, low-maintenance attitude, hard work and unyielding loyalty. It was speculated that other teams were willing to give him a four-year maximum, leaving the Raptors with little choice but to give him the max or close to it if they wanted to retain him.

The Coronation

The 2015/16 season cemented DeRozan (alongside the Raptors) as a regular season powerhouse, as he posted career-best numbers in various categories, improving his efficiency in the process. He finished the year ninth in the league in scoring, elevated his true shooting percentage to a respectable 55% and bumped his assist count upwards as well. By all accounts, DeMar DeRozan ‘ProvedEm’ and earned the right to be the face of the franchise.


His playoff performance left much to be desired however, as his efficiency and improved playmaking disappeared, adding fuel to the raging debate that never seems to subside (for more on this, check out the summer’s best DeRozan piece, William Lou’s definitive guide to arguing about DeMar).

What do the people want?

Far from an enigma, DeMar has become a known commodity in the midst of his NBA career. He’s a strong and willing slasher who works hard to improve each and every year; he’s a crafty scorer who can hurt you in multiple ways, and is an excellent free throw shooter to boot. His skill and character earned him a second Team USA call-up in the summer of 2016, as DeRozan added an Olympic gold medal to his list of accolades. And for his first seven years in a Raptors uniform, his work ethic and volume scoring were enough. He grew alongside Dwane Casey, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and even Kyle Lowry (who had little post season experience before the Raptors), as they all took their baby steps into the gladiatorial arena that is the NBA playoffs against Brooklyn’s seasoned veterans. DeRozan fought bravely, but was outmatched.

In his second foray into late April play, a surprisingly adept Wizards team annihilated him and his squad, throwing the Raptors’ entire strategy into question. Ujiri showed faith in the Casey-DeMar-Kyle trio despite that fiasco, the decision paying immediate dividends as Toronto recorded its best season in franchise history. But DeRozan did not play as large a part in the playoff run as he wanted – at one point even sitting out a 4th quarter in the crucial second game of the Pacers series.

A strong argument could be made that the likes of Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson, the team’s role players added by Ujiri, were responsible for keeping the team playing in late May (making for an unusually short off-season in Raptor land). DeMar’s playmaking was nowhere to be found, his assists per game dropping from 4 to under 3 in the post-season, and his shooting percentage to under 40% (stood at 44.6% in the regular season). Worse still, his offensive rating dropped from 113 in the regular season to 96 in the post-season, while his defensive rating dropped by 2 points. DeRozan was downright a net negative on the floor at times.

As dark as it may seem, every cloud has a silver lining. And in the NBA playoffs, context matters. When the 2016 playoffs got under way, DeMar was slated to appear in only his 12th career post-season game. To put that into perspective, here is the playoff appearance count for active players we often see excel in the post-season as focal points of the offense:


In all but the most rare cases, highly touted college players who enter the NBA fail to dominate in their first two seasons. Despite an abundance of talent, there is a mental and physical adjustment they need to make in order to translate their skills to the bigger stage. The exact same process applies to the playoffs – it’s simply a different game. DeMar spent four full seasons in the NBA without a single playoff appearance, and six without winning a post-season round – he needed to learn how to excel and win in the demanding new environment.

With the 2016/17 season about to kick off, both Raptor pundits and personnel know that their success will be measured not by winning 45, 50, or 55 out of the 82 scheduled games, but rather their playoff performance. The Toronto Raptors have finally become a playoff mainstay, set to make the post-season for a franchise best 4th straight season this year. Their expectations and metrics have been set accordingly – success in April and May is what matters. With 31 playoff games under his belt and without the possibility of pleading playoff inexperience, DeMar DeRozan’s success will be measured in the same way. He is a smart, hardworking individual that loves the game of basketball and wants to leave his mark on the league. In order to do that, he will need to use the regular season as proving ground to prepare for April – carrying improved playmaking and efficiency into the playoffs, becoming a catalyst for the success of the Raptors.

Does the King have a Mandate?

The Toronto Raptors organization showed their faith in the young man by inking him to the massive new contract on the first day of free agency. As is the law under Dwane Casey, his usage will remain high, perhaps climbing further if Lowry’s minutes are reduced. DeMar will be tasked with the responsibility of making plays for others as well as for himself. There are many who claim that DeRozan is essentially a finished product at this point, and his style of play will not change; that he is a volume scorer, period. However, he must realize that in order to take the next step and prove SI wrong (ranked 46th in the NBA among active players), DeMar will need to make the four guys on the floor around him better. By finding open teammates when the opposing defense inevitably collapses on him, he would increase their confidence and force the other team to guard them, thereby making his own life on offense that much easier. If the newly minted Olympic gold medalist truly wants to be a mainstay in the league’s top 20, he has no choice but to evolve as a player.

For better or worse, DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors will be forever intertwined in the annals of NBA history, and Raptor fans will watch keenly as the new King of the Six faces a pivotal crossroads in his career and that of their beloved franchise. Let’s #ProveEm.

Click to comment

A Preseason Raptors’ Wish List

I knew someone growing up who had a recurring dream in which he was falling.  Granted, this is a common enough dream, but his had a unique twist to it.  He was walking down a yellow brick road, all the while being taunted to keep going by those on the edges of the path.  Without fail he would reach the end and wake up from falling off the edge.

So what does this have to do with the Raptors?  Absolutely nothing.  I just needed a transition to mention the Wizard of Oz.  You know, the movie about a fake all-powerful wizard who people/animals/things seek out to ask for gifts from??  Well I’m going to step into the role of the fact wizard and distribute some gifts.

Sure, this sounds like a dumb thing to do.  But it’s only preseason and I’m writing this well watching the Jays take on the Rangers.  I only have so much attention span write now, and research isn’t in the cards for tonight.

In other words, here’s what I would give to a few of our Raptors this season if I could.

Terrence Ross: Live Every Day Like It’s Preseason

Preseason Terrence Ross is a real thing.  This is the second year in a row that I’ve entered the season mentally ready for a Ross trade.  In fact, I’ve been expecting it for some time now.  And for the second year in a row, preseason Terrence Ross has shown up and tricked me into caring about him again.

His handle looks improved, his pull-up game has been on point, he is shooting without hestitation, and he is making the right decision more times than not.  If Ross plays like this for a full season he drastically changes what the Raptors can do on the court.  He would also greatly improve his trade value…which isn’t a bad thing either.

Jakob Poeltl: Courage

Yes, he’s a rookie.  And yes, there are going to be growing pains.  But through three preseason games he has looked hesitant to bang with the big bodies underneath the basket.  There are, as we knew upon his selection in the draft, glimmers of serious talent, but there seems to be a toughness lacking early in his career.

Pascal Siakam: Minutes, and Plenty of Them

I love Siakam.  He has shown many raw tools within a package of pure energy/effort.  What’s not to love?  I’m already imagining a future where Siakam becomes the starting power forward, and he’s already making a case for earning NBA minutes early this season.

But the NBA minutes he is earning will likely not be enough for the developmental goals that I’m picturing.  Playing in front of him is Valanciunas, Patterson, Sullinger, and possibly Nogueira, along with small-ball units that feature Carroll as a big man.  Even if he plays ahead of Nogueira, we are still talking about limited minutes with the Raptors.

Every chance there is Toronto needs to send him to the D-League for extended run.  We need another Norman Powell situation here.  Spotty minutes early with Raptors, followed by dominating in the D-League and learning the system, before returning to the big club for extended run.  Siakam could follow this same pattern this season.

Fred VanVleet: The15th Man

Kidding.  I don’t need to give him this since he’s already done enough to take it himself.  Capable defense, has shown the ability to run the offence, and does a great job of Nash-ing the pick-and-roll.  I entered the preseason hoping that Jarrod Uthoff would make it a battle, but Fred’s running away with it after three games.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry: Rest

I’m fine with not winning as many games as last year.  The important thing is that the Raptors need both Lowry and DeRozan to be healthy and rested when the playoffs start.  I’m in the camp that minute usage was a reason that both struggled for long stretches against both Miami and Indiana in the playoffs last year.

And this isn’t new.  This has been a general fan request for more than a year.  The Raptors shouldn’t ask either to be top 10 in the league of minutes per game this season.

I suppose this is what happens when it’s preseason and the Jays are in the playoffs.

If you could grant one wish to a Raptor, what would it be?

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Oct 7 – Sexy Bargnani and camp competitions

The Extra returns, once again with a guest for the second half of the podcast.

This week’s episode is brought to you Athlete’s Collective, where you can use promo code RAPTORS at the checkout for 15% off your first order of locally made, logo-free, premium sportswear at affordable prices.

athletes collective


Click to comment

2016-2017 Player (or Coach) Preview: Dwane Casey

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

What’s Happened

Can you believe it’s been five years since the Toronto Raptors organization brought in Dwane Casey? What felt like a panic-button move at the time has transformed into the best stretch of Raptors basketball in franchise history, with their most noticeable accomplishment appearing in the form of 56 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

Casey came with some pedigree: He served as an assistant with the Sonics for 11 years, was head coach of the Wolves for two, and won a championship as the Mavericks’ lead defensive coach in 2011. Still, in a city that prides itself on innovation, Casey’s pleated wool pants and wispy voice seemed like a step backwards for a team already taking one. It didn’t help that his opportunity began with the task of focusing on culture while the front office not-so-subtly tanked, putting him a little behind on public favor to start.

Fast forward to 2016 and the pants are still there, but the confidence has changed. Casey has led this team to a better record in all five seasons he’s coached while commanding the respect of his players through hard-work and open communication, a respect that wasn’t always there. That mentality of hard work finally rubbed off on a team that struggled to show resolve in it’s first two early-round exits against Brooklyn and Washington. When two game sevens reared their ugly heads this past postseason, Casey was there to guide the team through it. If you wonder where Casey’s old-school toughness comes from, look no further than this piece by Ian Thomsen on Casey’s childhood in Kentucky working in mines and tobacco plants. “Pound the Rock” was kind of a funny mantra for a while, but a few years later, the players are still buying in and it’s one of the cornerstones of the most successful run and team history.

That hard work was rewarded with a three-year contract worth $18 million this offseason, with Casey posting a 210-184 record in his five years with the team. That’s not only the best record among Raptor coaches, but among all squads in the Eastern Conference during that span.

What’s Next

While it’s true that Toronto’s offensive efficiency (107.0) ranked fifth among teams last season, Casey still has tendencies to run overly simplistic plays, ranking 10th in isolation plays last season. There’s a general feeling that it gets worse in close games and tight situations, which serves to exacerbate the issue in the public eye. Part of this is a reflection of his players (specifically DeMar DeRozan), but seeing the Raptors work better out of the post (25th last year) and in transition (20th) will go a long way in improving plays out of a time-out.

Casey’s defense is a staple of his coaching style, and that will be no different this year. Jared Sullinger replaced Luis Scola in the starting lineup, and as Cooper Smither brilliantly explained, that’s a huge upgrade any way you look at it. Casey also loves floor-spacing power forwards, and with Sullinger trying to improve his shot from deep, he may quickly become a favourite of the coach. The challenge for Casey will be making a Sullinger-Jonas Valanciunas pairing work on the defensive end, where Sullinger should still be an upgrade but where he presents some similar challenges to Scola in that role. The team also lost their best rim protector in Bismack Biyombo, and Casey and company will have to figure a way to scheme around his absence or improve the perimeter defense to make it less of an issue.

Casey isn’t afraid to make tough decisions, either. He sat DeRozan in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, and Biyombo in overtime against the Heat in Game 4. One of those decisions worked, and one didn’t, but at least both were made with confidence. Now Casey has more decisions to make: How to manage Patrick Patterson’s minutes, where to help develop Norman Powell, and what do about rookies Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poetl being real rotational players on this team. He’s done a nice job serving the developmental goals while also winning, but that only gets harder as expectations are raised higher.

If anyone’s up to the task, it’s Dwane Casey and his pleated pants.

Click to comment

Heslip makes his case in near-comeback against Clippers

Clippers 104, Raptors 98 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

For two full games, Brady Heslip sat and waited, unused as the Toronto Raptors opened their preseason slate with what amounted to a 16-man rotation. In competition with five others for the 15th and final roster spot, Heslip conceded on media day that showing off his primary source of value to a team can be difficult without game action, and with the team’s impressive guard depth, Heslip was left to keep waiting. Even Wednesday, with Kyle Lowry sitting out to rest and DeMar DeRozan calling it a night after a dominant first half, Heslip was idle into the fourth quarter.

Finally, with 8:56 to play and the Raptors down 90-74 to the Los Angeles Clippers, who were far more engaged and eager following an ugly loss to the Golden State Warriors a night prior, Heslip got his shot. It would be an audition, and working up against a bench-heavy Clippers unit would represent a nice opportunity. Playing alongside the Raptors’ training camp depth unit, too, would allow Heslip to not only run the point, something he’s been working on through the first week-plus of camp, it would also ensure he had the ball in his hands plenty. It would come with qualifiers, but it was a chance.

Less than a minute later, Heslip let fire from 20 feet and found the bottom of the net. From a mechanical standpoint, few jumpers look better, smoother, or quicker. The book on Heslip is that he has only one NBA skill, and he’s an interesting case study given just how singularly talented he is with that skill, and how important it can be to the flow of a game. An elite shooter, especially one capable of getting their own shot off, can key a run and disrupt an opponent, and if said shooter can help others around him with the attention he draws, that one NBA skill can have a major impact on a game, even if it’s only on the occasion the shooter heats up.

“My mentality is, if they are going to leave me open, I’m going to shoot it,” Heslip said after the game, declining to acknowledge that being “left” open was a lot of his and his teammates’ doing.

The final eight minutes of the game would include a lot of Heslip doing more of that – coming up over a Lucas Nogueira screen to let fly from long-range, or snaking to the elbow to create space to fire up a mid-range attempt. As Heslip heated up, the attention the Clippers paid him grew, and the Canadian used that additional attention to get to the line for a pair and dish two assists. This wasn’t a one-dimensional Heslip that averaged just one assists in 31 D-League minutes two years ago or 1.1 in 29 minutes last season, it was a Heslip who seemed to have a newfound appreciation of how his gravitational pull can open up the game for others around him. That Heslip had a direct hand in 19 points (he set up Drew Crawford and Bruno Caboclo for threes) in nine minutes while hitting just a single triple of his own shows a lot of growth for the Baylor product, even with the usual small-sample and preseason caveats applied.

These also weren’t garbage baskets in a white-flag blowout, with the Heslip-led bench group railing off a 19-0 run to turn an 18-point deficit into a one-point lead late. The Raptors put the Clippers back on their heels and took a 91-90 lead late, and while they didn’t manage to hold on – a great two-way stretch by Diamond Stone and some timely execution by Raymond Felton and Wesley Johnson prevented it – this bench group brought a ton of heart and energy. Crawford and E.J. Singler are trying to show they can bring this type of energy and the hustle plays that facilitate a comeback, Heslip is trying to show his shooting can change a game quickly, Caboclo is trying to show he can keep up with the speed of the NBA for long stretches, and Nogueira is trying to show he can play a role that extends beyond flashy highlights like the ludicrous dish on the diver he threw to Caboclo. For a night, it was mission accomplished almost across the board, and it wasn’t lost on the head coach, especially on a night when so few of his regulars had (extremely Chris Jericho voice)…it.

“I really was proud of how the young guys came out and competed,” Dwane Casey said.

That doesn’t make Casey’s decision any easier, though. Fred VanVleet was fine in a starting role with Lowry out, too, and Heslip was flanked by a solid outing from Singler. Crawford, too, has had a strong preseason on the defensive end of the floor. (Jarrod Uthoff remains conspicuous by his absence, and Yanick Moreira never really had much of a shot.) This competition is still very much open, and while Heslip made a best-case scenario statement on Wednesday, there are a number of factors that could play into who wins the role beyond just how the candidates look in limited preseason action. And Heslip still hasn’t answered questions about his ability to guard at this level, which he may not get a chance to do in the preseason.

His one preternatural skill, though, and the impact that can flow from it, was on full display. That’s a win for the 26-year-old, however things turn out.


This isn’t meant to focus only on the final five who made the comeback, but it was quite an ugly game up to that point, and the Quick Reaction is there if you need additional details. The Raptors came out flat, DeRozan was the only one who was really on at either end, and the performances varied from as-expected to mildly disappointing. Nights like these are going to happen, especially in the preseason, and it’s batter that the Raptors struggle on the defensive end now than in a few weeks. That side of the ball was concerning, though, and it’s probably not going to be a pretty week of practice when the Raptors return home.

Click to comment

Raptors-Clippers Reaction Podcast – Brady and Bruno enjoy breakouts

The season is back, and in this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the third preseason game, this one against the Clippers.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Raptors 98, Clippers 104

Toronto 98 Final
Recap | Box Score
104 LA

P. Patterson 25 MIN | 3-3 FG | 2-2 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -19 +/-Was a little surprised to see him play basically his full role. Was active in passing and driving lanes, helping lead to some of the two-way chaos, and while he passed up a good look or two to put the ball on the floor, he also looked comfortable letting it fly. Of course, he was active on defense in part because Griffin was making life tough on him and he was left to scramble to make up for it a lot.

D. Carroll 15 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -15 +/-Didn’t look nearly as strong as in the Saturday opener, and that inconsistency is, I suppose, to be expected as he works his way back to health. He’s moving well enough off the ball but seems a little hesitant in the paint, and I’m unsure if he has the post game to exploit guard switches regularly. Still, he’s playing, which is important.

J. Valanciunas 21 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -16 +/-Not exactly his best night all around, but he definitely had some encouraging moments. He found a cutting Patterson while working in the mid-post, guarded Griffin in a face-up situation capably, and turned away a couple of shots. The mid-range jumper wasn’t there today, which was unfortunate because he did really well to create space for himself, and he nearly got lobbed to death. It’s always fun when he and Jordan match up.

F. VanVleet 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -17 +/-Got the nod with Lowry resting, and it’s hard to imagine a tougher audition – he matched up with Chris Paul for the bulk of his time on a night when Paul was masterful carving in the pick-and-roll, as he is most nights. He also shot poorly, but he continues to show he’s a savvy creator for others, and the question about his NBA role falls squarely on his NCAA defense carrying over against second-unit caliber guards.

D. DeRozan 18 MIN | 8-11 FG | 0-0 3FG | 4-5 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -8 +/-Must have known he was in for a short night, because he made sure to get his spots in early and often. The Clippers had no answer for his funky forays into the lane or his fades from the mid-block, and while I’d like to see a bit more facilitating from those spots, are we really going to argue with 20 points on 11 shots in 18 minutes?

B. Caboclo 8 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +9 +/-All of the usual Caboclo caveats apply – grading on a curve, of course – and he didn’t shoot very well, including an errant drive to the rim late. But can we show some respect for the defensive improvement he’s flashed the last two games? He’s making the right decisions in help-and-recover, he tipped a few balls loose, and after falling, he came up with a very tough steal of a lob. Nice to see him contributing at one end, and at the four, no less.

P. Siakam 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +4 +/-Got reps guarding Griffin, Crawford, and even, if I’m recalling correctly, Paul for a possession. His instincts on the defensive end are really strong, and he uses his hands well one-on-one or in help situations. At the other end, he had a big put-back dunk and a near-highlight jam that drew a foul instead, and he got to put the ball on the floor a little bit once again.

T. Ross 15 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-2 3FG | 3-5 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | -9 +/-Are you back off the bandwagon after a 1-of-6 night that saw him take some questionable shots? What if I told you Ross got more free-throw attempts in 15 minutes than he has in all but two of his career regular season games, and that it included finishing through a foul in the paint? It wasn’t his first two outings, but the confidence and aggression remain intact, at least.

E.J. Singler 12 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +11 +/-Tough one to grade here given the couple of high-leverage missed buckets and a miscommunication that led to a key turnover, but Singler was definitely trying to deliver the “little things” as he promised, hitting the glass and the deck, and jumping a passing lane for a crucial steal.

L. Nogueira 16 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +11 +/-Not taking a single field goal in 16 minutes may suggest that he’s understanding what’s being asked of him right now. Or that Heslip was going crazy. Still, Nogueira set some pretty great screens for the Canadian, and his dive-and-dish to Caboclo for a corner three attempt was the stuff few big men can do.

J. Poeltl 10 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -1 +/-Started off a short night with a great run out and finish in transition, but couldn’t follow up, missing a couple of easy looks inside he could have made going up stronger. Got to show a bit of his defensive IQ in helping solidify the back line on defense when Siakam was away from the rim.

C. Joseph 18 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +1 +/-Probably the most boring player on the team to grade, especially in the preseason. He does what he does, and he did so very efficiently in this one. Most encouraging is that Joseph’s confidence pulling up over screens looks to be very, very high right now.

D. Crawford 16 MIN | 2-7 FG | 1-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +11 +/-Would be well-served dialing back the shot attempts a bit, especially when he’s pushing the ball with teammates around him. He’s here for his defense, and any offense is gravy, and in this one the latter detracted from the former a bit. Still, that defensive aggression was a big part of the comeback.

B. Heslip 9 MIN | 5-6 FG | 1-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +10 +/-Umm, wow. 13 points in nine minutes on just six field-goal attempts. I didn’t love Heslip’s chances of making the team because he really only has one NBA skill, but he’s one of the very best shooters in the world, he’s great at getting space for himself to let fly, and he works his way around screens well. The two assists – notable since he’s working as a PG in camp – stood out, too. If he’s going to have a shot at making the team, this was exactly the outing he needed to have.

N. Powell 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -2 +/-Another somewhat shaky night, though he put it together a little bit before subbing out. Offensively, that is. Defensively, he remains the team’s best prospect and might wind up their best overall defender at some point this year. His positioning and footwork guarding faced up or in the pick-and-roll are pristine.

Dwane Casey
We gave him credit for having the team ready to execute on the defensive end on Saturday, so it’s only fair that the team’s lack of direction in this one falls on his ledger, too. Then again, he gets dap for the deep bench players making a game of it, too, I guess. With a return to Toronto for a week without a game, expect defense to once again be the focus after back-to-back shaky outings on that end. And I appreciate rotating some rest and playing it conservative with minutes.

Five Things We Saw

  1. That ended up being far more fun than it had any business being. I think at one point the Raptors’ 3rd/4th unit went on a 19-0 run to make a game of it, and the bench was absolutely loving it. It’s been the case for a few years now, but these guys seem to genuinely pull for each other.
  2. Preseason games are really hard to grade. Small stints on the floor, against bad competition, while trying to control for role/expectations, at 1 a.m. no less. So as always, but especially tonight, grains of salt, everyone. I’m very tired.
  3. Jared Sullinger sat with foot soreness, Kyle Lowry sat for rest, and Jarrod Uthoff and Yanick Moreira have apparently committed crimes against Dwane Casey. Or, you know, it’s tough to get 20 guys minutes.
  4. The defense was terrible for the bulk of the game. Paul-Griffin-Jordan are impossible in their different pick-and-roll variations, anyway, but the Raptors looked pretty disorganized and at times a little disinterested. That’s two shaky outings at that end and one solid one. Still a few weeks to find it…
  5. The Raptors don’t play again until next Thursday, giving them a bit of a break to try to regroup on the defensive end.

NOTE: You’ll notice the vote for high/low/right option is gone. That isn’t me playing games – we changed the coding up for better mobile viewing and need to add that function back in still. Apologies, but please just tell me they’re all fine for the night. I’m very tired.

Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger sits again, Lowry to opt out, VanVleet starts

We’re going to keep it pretty brief again in the pre-game notes on account of this being a 10:30 start, a preseason game, and one that’s forcing me to miss basketball because nobody could cover the Quick Reaction, so I’m tired and a little salty. But hey, it’s basketball, how bad can life be, right? Also, you’ve got a full game preview here.

The game tips off at 10:30 p.m (Eastern). on TSN 1/4.

Kyle Lowry to opt out
In a pretty great piece that provides some interesting detail about Kyle Lowry’s end-of-season exit interview from 2015, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical confirms the obvious: That Lowry will opt out of his deal after the season, forgoing his $12-million player option. Barring injury, that was always going to be the case, and there’s absolutely no cause to react. Like DeMar DeRozan last year, Lowry is just making the smart play from an individual standpoint, looking to maximize his earnings on what will likely be his last major deal. And like DeRozan, Lowry isn’t going to talk about free agency much, and when he does, he’ll say the right things.

As Wojnarowski writes:

Lowry plans to opt out of the final year of his contract, he told The Vertical, passing on a $12 million salary in 2017-18 to join a point-guard marketplace that will include the Los Angeles ClippersChris Paul and Golden State’s Steph Curry, who has already said he plans to re-sign with the Warriors.

Lowry, 30, loves the life he has there, the contending core, the endorsement opportunities, the manic fanbase and the chance to someday raise his No. 7 into the arena rafters. Somewhere on the summer market – Philadelphia, New York, perhaps the Clippers, should they lose Paul – there will be an offer in the neighborhood of a max deal for him. Nevertheless, Lowry’s preference is a painless, fast, five-year deal to stay in Toronto, to take him into his mid-30s with the Raptors.

At the same time, Lowry admitted he’s “open to seeing what else is out there” if he and the Raptors aren’t close to a deal “at 12:01 a.m. on July 1,” as they were with DeRozan. Most notably, Lowry is looking for a five-year deal that we can assume will be something close to the max, which is a conversation for another time and article. For what it’s worth, the Raptors hold the hammer of being able to offer a fifth year on a deal and  slightly larger annual raises, the former of which will likely matter more than the latter, assuming Lowry’s game for a DeRozan-like sub-max agreement.

Raptors updates
As mentioned in the preview, Carroll and Sullinger sat on Monday. Sullinger is dealing with a sore foot and was expected to be back for this one but will sit once again after going through shootaround. With a long stretch off ahead, the team is playing it cautious, which makes sense. Worry to the degree you care to worry, though. Carroll was just getting a night off for rest and will return to the lineup.

UPDATE: VanVleet is drawing the start at point guard, so while Lowry is technically available, it seems very likely that he’s getting a night off, as we speculated may be the case in the preview.

PG: Fred VanVleet,Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford, Brady Heslip
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Lowry 38, DeRozan 37, Patterson 37, Valanciunas 34, Joseph 34, Carroll 19
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23
Competition 1: Siakam 43, Poeltl 26, Nogueira 26
Competition 2: Powell 39, Ross 35
Competition 3: Crawford 36, VanVleet 26, Singler 6, Heslip/Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 21, Wright 0

Clippers updates
I’m not sure if we can glean a whole lot from L.A.’s rotation on Tuesday, and the back-to-back could throw a wrench into things. We do know, thanks to our pal Jovan Buha, that J.J. Redick is getting the night off to rest and do handsome people things.

PG: Chris Paul, Xavier Munford
SG: Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick
SF: Austin Rivers (??), Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Dorell Wright, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights, Diamond Stone

This is just the greatest:

The line
The Raptors are 2.5-point underdogs because Vegas hates you, the team, and the city. You know what that means: Preseason #ProveEm. Or something. It’s an exhibition, the outcome will likely be determined by the Siakam-Johnson battle, one that would have been a rager had Johnson lasted to No. 27 and the Raptors still taken Siakam (Johnson was one of the most popular picks in reader polls).

As a reminder, the Raptors head home from here for what amounts to a second mini-camp in Toronto, with no games on the slate until next Thursday.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Jared Sullinger

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

Throughout the 2015-2016 campaign, the Raptors had a glaring need for a reliable power forward, and eventually this need caught up to them at many points in the playoffs. With all due respect to Luis Scola, who has had a very good NBA career, he was a shell of his former self by the end of the year and was not the answer for what the Raptors needed for the starting lineup. The other primary option was Patrick Patterson, and he was one of the more frustrating Raptors last season. His spacing and smart defense were so vital and important, but some nights giving up an open Patterson look was the optimal choice on defense for the opposition. Patterson did a lot of the little things right, but sometimes your big man needs to be able to get a key block, more than four rebounds a game, and a playoff 3-point percentage closer to his norm to add to the little things if you want to win a championship. Patterson maximized his talent, but the team needed reinforcements at the four.

Bbefore Jared Sullinger signed with the Raptors, the Raptors were looking like they were going to ask Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl to work at the PF position with Patterson, who would have likely had to start games. Then Sullinger signed with the Raptors. and he has big shoes to fill, despite “only” getting paid $6M to join the team. Not only does Sullinger need to fill in the void of Scola, but he also has to help fill in the void of Bismack Biyombo. Sullinger is a guy who can probably provide an upgrade at the position to start, and a unique twist to the bench lineup as a backup center.

There is a lot to say about Sullinger, and I have decided that I want to mention a lot, so here is a list of 5 things I wanted to discuss about the Raptors new starting four.

1. Remember how great of a rebounder Biyombo was? Sullinger may have some weight issues in his past and not look as athletic as Biyombo, but the guy is basically the same rebounder that Biyombo is. Last season, Sullinger averaged 12.7 rebounds per-36 minutes, and 17.1 rebounds per-100 possessions. Biyombo averaged 13.0 and 18.7. These are remarkably similar rebounding numbers. A positive to Sullinger is that he sometimes can do different things with his rebounds. Sullinger is fantastic at putting back offensive rebounds on the offensive end through contact, and he is very capable of making long range outlet passes, which is something the Raptors really lacked last year. With the athleticism of Norman Powell and Terrence Ross off the bench, Sullinger’s ability to get a rebound and throw a long pass up court is going to give opposing teams fits. Sullinger and Valanciunas both ranked in the top 20 in total rebound percentage, and with good defenders like Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll out there, there will be a lot of lower percentage shots, with very rare opportunities for a putback with these two anchoring the paint in the starting five.

2. Sullinger has had weight issues in the past. At one point last year he weighed 300 pounds. The great thing about this one-year contract is that Sullinger, who is looking skinny, will likely be very motivated to stay in shape with all of this money being thrown around the NBA. Sullinger was completely ineffective last playoffs and was not relied upon by Brad Stevens because he was being heavily exploited in the pick and roll by the Atlanta Hawks, in part because of his slow rotations. If he can stay in shape, it’ll probably make him millions of extra dollars next offseason. Through one preseason game, Sullinger looks to have his weight under control, and he looked very mobile compared to the playoffs. Hopefully he keeps his conditioning under control this year.

3. Sullinger is a little bit of an irrational confidence guy. He shoots a lot of open threes, and open long twos that defenses will give him in the pick and pop game. We saw DeMar DeRozan a few times getting a screen from Sullinger and get doubled in the first preseason game and kick it out to Sullinger, who would then have an open look. He is not really a great shooter, but he considers himself one, and that will keep defenses honest. Hopefully the Raptors can create some sort of Scola-like shooting improvement, as Sullinger has not shot over 29% from 3 in any of his four NBA seasons but rarely took the easier corner threes. I still think it is important that he has this pick and pop ability, and we saw the Raptors lineups flow much better with Patterson, even when he struggled with his three pointers. Biyombo would also force a lot of doubles, but when he rolled to the basket, it just created a lot of congestion inside and made it difficult for the ball handlers to find an open shot. Sullinger can also put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and drive a little bit, which is something Patterson sometimes does, but not effectively. The spacing is valuable, but if he is not going to shoot more than 30-33%, which is unlikely, it could be frustrating to see him shoot the ball a lot on some nights. Hopefully he can become a corner three shooter, as that is an unexplored area of his range.


4. Some fancy stats are always nice to evaluate a player’s impact. The Celtics had a +5 net rating when Sullinger was on the court last year, and a +1 net rating when he was off the court. Part of this might be playing almost 85% of his minutes with Isaiah Thomas, but the Celtics still had a +1 Net rating with Sullinger on the court and Thomas off the court, according to NBAwowy. Another interesting stat is Nylon Calculus’ DRE stat, which talks about a player’s net impact on the court. Sullinger had a +6.7 DRE at the five last season, compared to his +3.0 DRE at the four. Scola, by comparison, posted a -0.7 Dre/36, while Sullinger posted a +0.7 Dre/36. He is obviously an upgrade on Scola, and the numbers support that. Sullinger was a better player, by these numbers, at center last year, and I think he will  thrive with the second unit, with his spacing and rebounding ability, playing against other team’s benches, and his ability to throw outlet passes that will constantly stretch out a defense and force guys to not crash for offensive rebounds. I have a feeling that the Sullinger-Patterson combo will be a favorite in the analytics department.

5. Finally, here are my predictions for Sullinger. I believe he will improve the starting five from last year, especially on the glass and with his improved post defense, though not drastically on offense. I believe he will also really help the bench. I think Dwane Casey will rely on him heavily as this is a team in “Win Now” mode and I think that means Siakam and Poeltl will not see the court too often besides blowouts, and maybe some really short minute rotations on certain nights, though it looks like Siakam may be the fourth big in the rotation right now. Statistically, something like 27 minutes, 13 points 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 44% FG, 30% 3 PT feels right.

Here’s hoping Sullinger will stay fit and motivated or a lot of what I wrote will go out the door. He can be a really effective NBA player, and a guy that could easily turn into a fan favorite if he maximizes his potential this year with Toronto.

Click to comment

Gameday: Raptors @ Clippers, Oct. 5

Apologies that the preview is a little bit late, but something kind of important got in the way last night and the resultant celebration led to a bit of a late start this morning. Ubaldo Jimenez, man. With Zach Britton sitting right there. Imagine running a game-winning after-timeout play for Dahntay Jones while LeBron James spots up in the corner. Buck, your bullpen management, woof. Anyway, let’s keep that positive Toronto sports momentum going with a BIG PRESEASON WIN BAY-BAY.

You know, or not. The outcomes don’t matter much. Just keep showing progress and we’re cool, Raptors. They draw the Clippers in L.A., by the way, and it could be a thinned-out Clippers crew – they played last night, too, and it’s unlikely they’ll roll with their primary guys for heavy minutes two nights in a row to begin the preseason. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Wesley Johnson all played 18 minutes or more, so look for those guys to have a light evening of action.

The Raptors, meanwhile, may opt to give a night off or two since this is their third game in five days. At the same time, they’re off for over a week after this one, so there may not be a need. I’d expect DeMarre Carroll and Jared Sullinger to draw back in, and I could see Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan getting the night off (though DeRozan may want to play in front of his home crowd). We’ll update you, as usual, during the pre-game news and notes later on.

The game tips off at 10:30 p.m (Eastern). on TSN 1/4.

To help set the stage, I reached out to noted Drake enthusiast and ESPN NBA editor Jovan Buha.

Blake Murphy: Let’s start by getting this out of the way: Blake Griffin is no longer allowed at Sotto Sotto, right?

Jovan Buha: I assume so. He should probably stay back when the Clippers make the trip up to the 6ix on Feb. 6.

Blake Murphy: The Clippers mostly rolled the same crew over to this season, except for a few additions around the periphery. Was that the right call, given how good this core has been the last few years, and the absence of any obvious major addition to make?

Jovan Buha: Yes, I believe it was the right call. What was the alternative? Tanking? Blowing things and up rebuilding around DeAndre Jordan? If there’s a franchise that deserves years of playoff success and good basketball — even if it doesn’t culminate with a championship — it’s the Clippers. Those fans have been tortured for 30-plus years of terrible basketball. They deserve to be relevant for a while.

The Clippers remind me — and other optimists — of the early-to-mid-2000s Mavericks. Those teams always had home-court and were in the mix as one of the top two or three or four teams in the West every year, yet they constantly underachieved in the postseason. Dirk Nowitzki was labeled as soft and unclutch, and the Mavs were written off despite despite their regular-season success. Then, of course, the Mavs randomly broke through and won it all in 2011, as the West had somewhat of a down year.

I could see the Clippers taking a similar path to a title or deep playoff run. Since Chris Paul came to Los Angeles, they’ve won the third-most games in the West (behind the Spurs and Thunder). They’ve advanced past the first round three of their five years together (and would have last season if not for untimely injuries to Griffin and Paul). This team is right there, and with a little injury luck, they could eventually make the Finals at some point over the next three or four years. And once they’re there, who knows.

Blake Murphy: On a similar note, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone are a pair of popular draft picks (I really liked Stone in the second round), and Xavier Munford is a pretty savvy pickup, even if he doesn’t fit an immediate need. Has Doc Rivers finally figured out how to use these end-of-bench roster spots, or do these just amount to camp bodies that will make way for veterans or open roster spots on Oct. 26?

Jovan Buha: I’ve been as critical as almost anyone of Doc’s previous moves, but I think he’s gradually become a better president, and actually had a solid offseason this summer.

Raymond Felton is a decent upgrade over Pablo Prigioni. The Clippers will miss Cole Aldrich, but Brandon Bass and Mo Speights collectively bring better shooting and a bit more of defensively versatility, forming the team’s deepest frontcourt rotation in years. Alan Anderson as your sixth wing is a steal (if healthy, of course). Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone have the potential to become rotation-level bigs.

I didn’t love the contracts for Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, and the team still has arguably the worst small-forward crop among playoff teams, but Doc didn’t make any egregious mistakes this offseason, which is the first time I could write that sentence since he’s been in charge.

Blake Murphy: Are the Clippers the second best team in the West? Given the gap between the Warriors and everyone else, should we feel a sort of kinship as “very good teams in their conference with an annoyingly heavy favorite ahead of them?

Jovan Buha: I’m likely biased, but I think so. The Spurs lost a lot of interior depth (Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, Boban Marjanovic), Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are fading, and Pau Gasol isn’t the cleanest fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge. The Jazz, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Timberwolves and Rockets are still a player or two away from being on the Clippers’ level.

But, as you mentioned, it doesn’t matter, because the Warriors are clearly the better team. The Clippers may actually be deeper overall, but when comparing their top eight guys, the Warriors have better and more well-rounded talent by a solid margin. It’s similar to the dynamic between the Cavs and your Raptors (with the Celtics serving as the Spurs in this example). So, yes, we’re both aboard the same expensive, glitzy yacht that might be going nowhere (but is still fun to be a part of!).

Blake Murphy: I hate to do this, but our readers would probably riot if I didn’t at least bring it up quickly: What are the chances Blake Griffin hits the trade market this year, and is there any package you could see from Toronto being enough? (Just ignore that Boston could probably trump anything, though my instinct is it won’t change your analysis much given how ill-fitting the pieces might be in a Raptors-Clippers deal.)

Jovan Buha: Doc has refuted every Griffin trade rumor, and I believe it. What’s the point in trading him now? This is the lowest his trade value has probably been since he’s entered the league, and most of the rumored trade packages are disrespectful. Griffin is worth far more than Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and a first-round draft pick. Griffin is a top-10 player in his prime, a legitimate franchise cornerstone, and those type of players don’t pop up on the trade market that often — see the haul for guys like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and adjust it to the current market.

That being said, I don’t see a clean fit with the Raptors, unless they’re willing to trade DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll (and, even then, I don’t necessarily think that helps both teams). Who else could they trade? Kyle Lowry couldn’t play next to Chris Paul, and Jonas Valanciunas would fit awkwardly with DeAndre Jordan. Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell and/or Jared Sullinger are nice role players, and maybe they could be incorporated as well, but to me, there isn’t really a trade package that makes sense for both sides.

Raptors updates
As mentioned, Carroll and Sullinger sat on Monday. Sullinger is dealing with a sore foot but is expected to be back Wednesday, and Carroll was just getting a night off for rest. Again, you could definitely justify a couple nights off here, but there’s a bunch of time off coming up if not.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford, Brady Heslip
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Lowry 38, DeRozan 37, Patterson 37, Valanciunas 34, Joseph 34, Carroll 19
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23
Competition 1: Siakam 43, Poeltl 26, Nogueira 26
Competition 2: Powell 39, Ross 35
Competition 3: Crawford 36, VanVleet 26, Singler 6, Heslip/Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 21, Wright 0

Clippers updates
I’m not sure if we can glean a whole lot from L.A.’s rotation on Tuesday, and the back-to-back could throw a wrench into things. Here’s roughly how things look ahead of the season:

PG: Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, Xavier Munford
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Dorell Wright, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights, Diamond Stone

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game that involves a back-to-back is off the board. Raptors by 150.

Click to comment

2016-17 Player Preview: Bruno Caboclo

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

Two years ago the Toronto Raptors shocked the basketball world when they drafted Bruno Caboclo, a youngster from Brazil who wasn’t really on anybody’s radar as a first round pick. It was made clear from day one that Bruno was to be an experiment: can you take someone with all the physical attributes you look for in a basketball player but who has never actually played high level competitive basketball and use the D League to turn him into an NBA player? 2+ years in the jury is still out, leaving many Raptors fans questioning whether the experiment is worth continuing and putting Caboclo in the unenviable position of having to outperform people who may have thousands of hours of competitive basketball experience over him to justify his continued existence in this organization.

The expectations are more than a little unfair; they may be fair expectations of a player who grew up playing high school and AAU ball and then moved on to the NCAA or one who turned pro in Europe during his teenage years, but Caboclo is neither of those. The 1270 minutes he played in the D League last season makes up roughly ¾ of his total high level basketball experience, and going into last season he had less experience than your average high school kid. Expecting him to jump from that to being an NBA contributor in 2 seasons is unrealistic. You can argue that Masai should have taken someone more NBA-ready but on a team that already has NBA ready youngsters who they may not be able to find minutes for I’m not sure what the point would be. The Raptors found themselves in a position to try something new and they leapt at it.

The lack of experience that holds young Bruno back is also what makes this experiment so fascinating. It means he has trouble recognizing game situations that his peers have seen hundreds of times before but it also means he’s avoided some of the trappings that come from growing up a prized athletic prospect. There are no bad habits from playing against inferior comp he can physically overwhelm, no attitude issues from people constantly in his ear telling him he’s the next big thing and no entitlement issues from a lifetime of being given free gear. He’s about as close to a blank slate as a modern NBA team will ever be able to bring on board, which leaves them free to create him in whatever image they would like. They have the opportunity to take a physical freak and tailor his skillset to the brand of basketball they would like to play. It’s such an intriguing idea that there is a part of me hoping they never really give up on it. That last roster spot does not usually make a difference anyway, let the kid hold it until he’s 27 just to see what happens.

He still has a tendency to play like a deer in headlights on the biggest stage, even in garbage time and preseason, so you can’t really look to that to see evidence of his progress. The work the Raptors have done becomes very apparent when you watch his D League games, particularly the later season games from last season. The jump shot that impressed the coaches and scouts so much leading up to the draft is still there as are the athleticism and fluidity of movement but there are little things that weren’t there before: the way he gets his shoulders past his defender on drives, the way he recognizes opportunities to seal smaller defenders near the rim, the time taken to probe for space instead and patience to seek better opportunities instead of making the immediate play. His feel for the game on defense has advanced even beyond that, with Bruno already having demonstrated an ability to patiently track penetrating ball-handlers and wait for his opportunity to make a play on the ball, close out under control and position himself in ways that allow his wingspan to act as a deterrent to multiple offensive options. Most of that wasn’t there at the beginning of the Raptors 905 season but by the end Caboclo was using all of that to be an impact player on both ends of the floor.

If you’re expecting Caboclo to step in as a contributor off the bench this season then prepare to be disappointed. He’s not that player yet and realistically there was no way he was going to be capable of contributing like that at stage in his development. This was always a long term plan by Masai Ujiri and judging it in it’s infancy requires more nuance than simply looking at how productive he is as an NBA player at this point in time. Caboclo should be judged by how much progress he has made; last season he added a lot to his skillset and you started seeing the transition from the gangly ball of potential he was when he was drafted to the mobile hybrid forward he projects to become. If you’re expecting to see early stages of him living up to the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” moniker or the Giannis Antetokounmpo comparisons brought on by his wingspan you should also prepare for disappointment; Bruno doesn’t have the guard skills of either player and the team seems to be molding him into a dynamic stretch four.

In hindsight the “two years away from being two years away” label was pretty accurate as Bruno is probably about halfway through his development into an NBA contributor. We shouldn’t spend the season pining for more established players who could be underplayed the way Norman Powell projects to be this season or lamenting the lack of roster space for marginal NBA players who don’t project to be as good as Bruno(should this experiment pay off the way most of Ujiri’s moves have to date). Instead we should spend the season tracking his development. If you don’t already tune into Raptors 905 games I’d encourage you to start, if only to see for yourself how the Bruno experiment is going. If he doesn’t add things to his game this season or develop a better feel for the ebb and flow of offense in a professional basketball setting then it may be time to worry but as the 2016-17 seasons approaches Bruno is exactly where he should be.

Click to comment

Ross and Valanciunas propose intriguing ‘What if’ in loss to Nuggets

Nuggets 108, Raptors 106 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

We’ve been here before. We’ve been given glimpses, we’ve had tastes, and we’ve tricked ourselves into buying in. We know better than to invest to heavily in The Terrence Ross Experience, to get too high when things are clicking or too low when they get off track. The Rossercoaster has been in service for far too long for the fan base to collectively bite on small-sample pump-fakes.

Likewise, there’s a strong sense that the role Jonas Valanciunas has thrived in over the last few seasons is the role he’ll fill for the long term. The Toronto Raptors have consistently posted top-10 offensive ratings and are propped up by a pair of high-usage All-Stars at the guard position, little cause for fundamental shifts in philosophy. As enticing as it can be when Valanciunas feasts inside at the offensive end, the team isn’t designed to dump the ball into the post with great regularity.

And, of course, this is the preseason, and any potential harbingers of any kind need to be taken with a grain of salt, looked at through the lens of exhibition competition, and regressed heavily. On top of that, the Raptors actually lost to the Denver Nuggets in Calgary on Monday, unable to complete a frenetic late-game push with Norman Powell leading a deep-rotation unit that wouldn’t say die and gave the Alberta fans a real ride to go home happy.

So, yeah, let’s not get too excited. But. BUT.

Ross looked really, really good again. Like, 23 points in 20 minutes good. The aggression he’s shown over the first two friendlies is something he really hasn’t displayed with any sort of consistency in the past, and it’s clear the Drew League Champion’s confidence is running high. The lack of conscience firing threes off of pin-downs, even deep beyond the arc, is nothing new, but it’s how Ross is continuing those routes and moving right into pick-and-rolls, how he’s pulling up deftly from the free-throw area, and how he’s – get this – finding teammates while on the move that’s most encouraging.

The book on Ross is that he’s mostly a one-trick pony on offense. That trick is great, and incredibly important to the breathing room the second unit has on offense, but adding some wrinkles around that singular shooting talent could make Ross a far more valuable and versatile bench piece. The Raptors have shown a willingness, and even an eagerness, to run the offense through Ross for stretches when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan sit, and he’s responded well. Being able to put the ball on the floor is only going to help with the space he has to fire threes, and him showing the next step – dumping off to teammates or finding Valanciunas on the roll – is going to open things up for him further from there. He even took four free-throw attempts, which I believe is four more than his previous career high.

Even Ross’ defense looked better on Monday, which perhaps isn’t surprising given how much his defensive intensity has always seemed to flow from his offensive success. He wasn’t perfect (there was an instance where he locked Will Barton down in the mid-range, forced a pass, then kind of fell asleep and got back cut for a late-clock bucket) and he’s never going to be Powell at that end (and please, let’s get some more Powell reps on big wings like Danilo Gallinari, because I’m growing more and more convinced he can guard all threes, full stop), but Ross is very clearly dialed in and aware he’s in a fight for that first wing off the bench role. Even when the shooting efficacy comes down some, Ross is finally showing enough that he might not be a net-negative on errant evenings.

Valanciunas, meanwhile, didn’t exactly show anything new, and to be quite honest, didn’t even look at his best in posting a 20-and-9 in just 19 minutes of action. He’s still pretty clearly working his way back into peak shape (perhaps a little disappointing but mostly justifiable if he took some time off after the Olympics – he’s played year-round since entering the NBA), and he blew up early on while looking a little shaky at both ends.

After that early stumble, though, Valanciunas found his groove against a very tough Nuggets frontcourt, dominating inside and on the glass, and showing the mix of post game and mid-range touch that make some demand more touches. Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic are no joke, and while they certainly made Valanciunas work on the defensive end, the Raptors’ center mostly won the battle while he was out there. Part of that is owed to his teammates looking for him more, as Ross and Cory Joseph both appeared keenly aware of the advantage a hulking 7-foot dive-man creates.

That chemistry with the second unit is something head coach Dwane Casey should really dig into over the next few weeks, continuing to play Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger together early (Patterson started this one as Sullinger sat with some minor foot soreness). Here’s what I wrote after the opener on Saturday:

It’s also worth noting that Valanciunas, not Sullinger, got the early hook from the starters. I’ve long held that this is the best way to increase Valanciunas’ usage without syphoning touches from Lowry and DeRozan (though DeRozan found Valanciunas with a nice pass out of the pick-and-roll, an encouraging development for that pairing) – pull Valanciunas early, then sub him back in when one of Lowry or DeRozan sit, so that he can work as the second option more often. He didn’t do that a ton last year, and now’s the time to see if he can help prop up second units with this rotation pattern.

This is a belief I’ve held for a long time: If the Raptors want more out of Valanciunas and more offense from the bench, and they don’t want to alter the roles of Lowry and DeRozan to achieve those ends, Valanciunas can work as the anchor for the second unit. That group, while highly successful overall, struggled at the offensive end at times last year, with Joseph, in particular, struggling to navigate the additional pressure teams loading up off of Bismack Biyombo could create. At the same time, Valanciunas played 75.5 percent of his minutes with both Lowry and DeRozan on the floor last year. Trimming that rate to get Valanciunas more minutes as the number two – or even number one – option could help balance out the team’s attack and alleviate the pressure on the generally ineffective Lowry-less groups.

Again, we’re talking about a pair of preseason games here. None of these exhibitions “matter,” and all of the qualifiers and caveats in the world apply.

It doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening, though, and they’re potentially important things. The Raptors are betting on internal improvement to help make up for the loss of Biyombo and to help push them forward as they try to close the gap with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Powell is (rightfully) the name most point to as the player most likely to take “the leap” and improve the Raptors’ perceived talent base, but Ross and Valanciunas, as they begin the fifth years of their careers armed with new contracts and still just 25 and 24, respectively, are hardly finished products. If Ross is figuring it out or putting it all together or whatever your cliche of choice is, and if Valanciunas is carving out a bigger piece of the offensive distribution, those would qualify as the type of internal developments that could make a difference over 82 games, to speak nothing of how impressive a couple of the rookies have looked, too.

Then again, if if was a fifth…

Click to comment

Talking Raptors Podcast – With Aaron Hodges

On this episode of Talking Raptors, Nick and Barry are joined by special guest Aaron Hodges. As a New Jersey Native and a Knicks-turned-Raptors fan, Aaron is producer and host for Sirius XM Radio. He also hosts the Quick Snaps Podcast, a hilarious show focused on the world of football. You can check it out here.  The guys chat ball and welcome Aaron to the Raptors bandwagon with open arms.

They discuss:
1. Who is Aaron Hodges.
2. How does a New Jersey native become a Raptors fan?
3. Why did he leave the Knicks?
4. What ever happened to the New Jersey Nets?
5. How are the Raptor’s viewed by basketball fans outside of Canada?
6. Season predictions.

As always we hope you enjoyed listening. Let’s start getting excited about the season.

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

Click to comment

Raptors-Nuggets Reaction Podcast – The rebirth of Terrence Ross

The season is back, and in this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the second preseason game, this one against the Nuggets.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Nuggets 108, Raptors 106

Denver 108 Final
Recap | Box Score
106 Toronto
P. PattersonP. Patterson 22 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-4 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | — +/-

Something’s up with the shot here. Will thinks the mechanics have been tweaked. I need to take a closer look. He didn’t look rushed or hesitant, really, so maybe it was just the release change that was tricking me. Anyway, the usual from Patterson – the 3FG% dictates his offensive contribution, and he’s a bit susceptible on the boards against bigger fours. So steady, though.

B. CabocloB. Caboclo 15 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

Was a complete non-entity on offense but quietly showed improvement with his defensive IQ. Sealed off a drive on the baseline in the first half that necessitated a tough pass that was picked off, and blocked a three getting faced up in the second half. Was just generally solid and aware on defense far more than he was lost. He’s still far away, of course, but the IQ improving is a solid sign.

J. ValanciunasJ. Valanciunas 19 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 3FG | 8-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 20 PTS | — +/-

OK, this is a weird one. Let’s put it this way: JV went 20-and-9 in 19 minutes and it didn’t feel like he played particularly well, nor does he look to be in peak condition. When you can put those numbers up and not look at your best, that’s a good sign. And he really picked it up during a 3rd-quarter stint with what will be the second unit, which should be a giant flashing sign to Casey for how to use Valanciunas in the regular season. I’m giving him an A- for volume, even if there were instances that warranted complaint.

K. LowryK. Lowry 18 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-4 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

Understandably quiet night with DeRozan going, all I’ll say is that Lowry can feel free to ease up just a bit on the hustle plays in the preseason, for safety. Please. Like DeRozan, you know what to expect here.

D. DeRozanD. DeRozan 16 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-1 3FG | 5-6 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | — +/-

Somehow still showing new tricks, including an impossible-to-guard Euro into a runner. Would like to see him use his seals in the post to dish a bit more – the Raptors debuted a wrinkle to leverage that last game but went away from it here – but overall, no complaints. It was DeRozan.

P. SiakamP. Siakam 22 MIN | 0-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

I don’t want to get carried away on a night a guy went 0/6, but goodness, Siakam is impressing. His defensive rotations are solid, he’s contesting the 3-point line in recovery exceptionally well, he drove from the perimeter and dropped off to Nogueira, and he showed another flash of passing vision from the block. His screens are also very snug. This is about as encouraging a 0-point game as you’ll find.

T. RossT. Ross 20 MIN | 8-12 FG | 4-7 3FG | 3-4 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 23 PTS | — +/-

I don’t even know what to say. He’s aggressive. His pull-up is smooth. His range is deep. He’s finding Valanciunas on the move. He’s attacking defensive seams in the pick-and-roll. He has confidence. He’s even defending well on the ball (though he gave up on one play a bit early and got back cut after stopping Will Barton). I mean…is this Terrence Ross now? Two incredible performances to start the preseason.

E.J. SinglerE.J. Singler 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

Didn’t get much run but helped key a late push for the comeback, working actively on the defensive end on the glass and nearly getting off a wild buzzer-beater attempt on the closing offensive rebound. He can contribute in a lot of small ways, but it’d be really nice to see him in extended run.

J. PoeltlJ. Poeltl 13 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-3 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | — +/-

This really should be two ratings. Like on Saturday, Poeltl started off poorly, looking a bit lost on defense and prone to bullying on offense, missing a couple good looks. But then he got his feet about him, showed off the savvy way in which he attacks the offensive glass, and made good use of some tidy VanVleet dishes. A solid second half, to be sure.

L. NogueiraL. Nogueira 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | — +/-

Maybe Siakam shouldn’t have been crowned the fourth big just yet. OK, that’s a bit too far, and Nogueira remains and probably will remain error prone. But he looked good here, using his length to break up an alley oop and protect the rim, and he stayed within himself on the offensive end.

C. JosephC. Joseph 19 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | — +/-

The usual CoJo performance. You know what he brings at this point. One note: His confidence seems to be higher and his release a little quicker when he comes over a screen and pulls up. Did a great job looking for JV, too, a possible harbinger for the rotation (more on that tomorrow).

F. VanVleetF. VanVleet 12 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | — +/-

The people demand more VanVleet. As far as third PGs go, he definitely looks capable, as expected. He’s so damn smooth and savvy, rarely making mistakes and always putting his guys in the right positions.

D. CrawfordD. Crawford 21 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

Coming off a very strong first outing, Crawford had a chance to run with the momentum as the first wing off the bench. He started off solid with a few nice hustle plays but lost the handle a bit as the game went on, missing a couple of good opportunities to make the right pass, and he got a bit frenetic on defense. Curious if he’s still the first tryout guy up next time out.

N. PowellN. Powell 20 MIN | 3-10 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

Really, really wanted this W late, and his clutch corner three to cut the lead to two was a really nice sign. He struggled a bit finishing in traffic and didn’t quite have his jumper about him, but the defense was on point to help make up for it. It’s a really good sign when he’s bodying up Danilo Gallinari and not giving up ground, let alone drawing an offensive foul, then denying the ball to Jamal Murray, a wildly different check.

Dwane Casey

I mean, a bunch of rookies and tryout players are executing defensive sets late, rotating properly, fighting for every possession, and nearly forcing back-to-back-to-back inbounding violations late. He also took it easy with Lowry/DeRozan/Carroll/Sullinger and got a long look at JV with the 2nd unit. It’s not a W, but most things were accomplished here. Kudos.

Five Things We Saw

  1. HUGE shout out to the Calgary crowd. They were on fire from buzzer to buzzer, and it felt like they really gave the bench group a lift late.
  2. Was a little surprised that Crawford & Siakam were first up, even with the absences to the starting lineup. I figured Casey would want a long look at each tryout player. There are still five more games, including a third in five days on Wednesday that may be an occasion for additional rest.
  3. Jamal Murray is in the NBA. As someone from Cambridge, where we share an area code and a “tri-city” affiliation with Kitchener, that’s beyond cool. I hope he’s awesome. Nikola Jokic is excellent, too, by the way. Like, terrifyingly so.
  4. A friendly reminder – everything here is descriptive, as are my tweets. I’m not one to draw conclusions or make decisions off of small, imperfect samples. I’m not out or in on anybody this early, it’s all just information.
  5. Some of the grades are probably a little friendly. To be frank, I’m just really happy to have ball and all of you back, and to have something to take my mind off of the Wild Card game for a bit. Love you all.
Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Sullinger and Carroll sit in Calgary, Caboclo starts (!!)

Like with the opener, I’m not gonna spend a ton of time here, because a) it’s the preseason, b) Matt brought you a full Gameday this morning, and c) there’s nothing to report. There was, however, an outpouring of love for the Canadian fanbase and a genuine feeling that the Toronto Raptors appreciate the opportunity to represent the entire country as they held media availability after shootaround in Calgary, a session that was attended by the Calgary Flames of the NHL.

As always, I’m a big fan of the Raptors opening their camp each year by spreading their roots across the country, and it’s worked out as far as preseason success goes – they’re now 6-1 in Canada Series action. Now, can we get a quick trip out to St. John’s so I can expense a trip home next fall?

And hey, keeping with the Canadian content, Jamal Murray is on hand with the Denver Nuggets for some additional CanBall flavor. I kind of still can’t get over the fact that the 519 produced a basketball player, and I’m still waiting on my high school (Monsignor Doyle in Cambridge) to hang a banner that reads “once lost to the school that Jamal Murray eventually played at.” This will represent the preseason debut for Murray, and the NBA debut for any ballers from K-W, unless I’m drawing a blank on someone. (Shout out to Chelsea Aubry on the women’s side, though.)

The game tips off from Calgary at 9 p.m. (Eastern) on Sportsnet One/E/W/O.

Carroll and Sullinger sit
DeMarre Carroll will take the night off to rest given the team just played Saturday and he’s still working his way back to 100 percent. Jared Sullinger will also sit due to a sore left foot, which, since this is the first we’re hearing of it, probably isn’t a huge deal but is worth monitoring in the coming days (he’s expected back Wednesday, for what it’s worth). With seven preseason games and a three-in-five stretch, it was always likely some guys would sit a game or two, anyway, so no reason for alarm here.

Raptors updates
There are two potential approaches to figuring out the lineup for this one: Assume head coach Dwane Casey came out Saturday with a rotation he likes early on, and that he’ll tweak from that as a template, or believe that this early in camp, he’ll try some different things with three games in five days. As I wrote recapping Saturday’s game:

There may very well be tea leaves to read, and if you’re the type, it looks like Pascal Siakam is the early favorite for backup center minutes. He was terrific, bringing a ton of energy on the glass and in transition, and guarding well man-to-man (even lining up with Kevin Durant a few times) and in help scenarios. Casey’s substitute pattern also suggests Terrence Ross is ahead of Norman Powell in the pecking order for wings.

The earlier note about Casey potentially mixing things up game-by-game holds for those trying out for the 15th roster spot, too. Fred VanVleet saw extended run as the team’s third point guard, even working in two-guard sets, and acquitted himself quite well. He was flanked by an equally impressive Drew Crawford, who really infused the bench units with aggression guarding on the ball and pushing in transition. While both looked good, look for Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, and Jarrod Uthoff to get significant run in the coming days.

The Nuggets represent a far bigger opponent than the Warriors, so if Siakam is once again in the 10th-man role (or ninth), that would be telling. My hunch is that VanVleet and Crawford, and Crawford in particular despite a stellar performance, play a limited role so the team can get a long look at the other names in camp. As a refresher, here’s how the minutes were distributed Saturday:

Known commodities: Lowry 20, DeRozan 21, Carroll 19, Valanciunas 15, Patterson 15, Joseph 15
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (1st big off bench)
Competition 1: Siakam 21 (2nd big off bench), Poeltl 13, Nogueira 9
Competition 2: Powell 19, Ross 15 (but 1st wing up)
Competition 3: Crawford 15, VanVleet 14, Heslip/Singler/Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 6, Wright 0 (injured)

Here’s a very rough guess at how things may go tonight, keeping in mind it’s a preseason game and all. The Raptors may opt to bring Patterson off the bench to keep rotations in tact, maybe starting Siakam or even Uthoff. Who knows, for half an hour?

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Brady Heslip, Drew Crawford
SF: Bruno Caboclo, Terrence Ross, E.J. Singler, DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

UPDATE: Caboclo (!!!!) and Patterson start. I can’t imagine the logic behind Caboclo starting beyond just getting him more reps and experience, and Patterson getting the nod makes sense in a game where the second unit’s flow doesn’t really matter. I’m surprised Powell isn’t drawing the start, though, and am curious who the first big off the bench is tonight.

Nuggets updates
This is the preseason opener for the Nuggets, so we’re forced to take some guesses at how they may distribute things. Here’s

PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, Nate Wolters
SG: Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, D.J. Kennedy
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Axel Toupane (!!), JaKarr Sampson
PF: Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Juan Hernangomez, Jarnell Stokes, Mike Miller, Robbie Hummel, Darrell Arthur
C: Jusuf Nurkic

I know that looks kind of weird, but the Nuggets will try out the Jurkic duo, and then they’ll likely play a significant part of the game (and their season) with one of Gallinari or Chandler at the four and only one true big (Jokic, Nurkic, or even Faried). This is the time for experimentation, and it would have been a fun test for Sullinger and Valanciunas in what would have been one hell of a tag-team hoss fight were Sullinger not sitting.

Here’s a pretty great interview with new Raptors assistant coach Patrick Mutombo.

The line
The Raptors are 5-point favorites, which, sure! Cool! It’s a preseason point spread, I’m not going to look too much into it or bother betting on the game because so much is going to come down to how much each team plays their top guys and how well a bunch of unknowns play. I will make three predictions, though: Axel Toupane makes my heart hurt when he has a steal and transition dunk, Jamal Murray tries a three from five feet behind the line, and the Nurkic-Jokic duo lays out a Raptors guard with a double-team move than taunts the crowd, only for Siakam to rush in for the save.

As a reminder, the Raptors head to L.A. from here for a Wednesday road game against the Clippers, then take a few days off to regroup back at the BioSteel Centre in Toronto.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Cory Joseph

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

Remember that one song every now and then that you could listen to anytime you felt down? Perhaps you were sad, annoyed, confused, angry, or just needed a pick-me-up before a big game. There was always that tune at the time that had the ability to get you back up and fired up.

At least in my eyes, Cory Joseph was that tune for the Raptors for most of the games last season. Though he had his fair share of ups and downs, CoJo was, for the most part, a solid backup, who passed all the major eye tests. The defense (and every night, the effort) was certainly there; the ability to get to the rim, the efficient and smart shooting, as well as a steady handle at the point were all features of Joseph’s first year as a Raptor. And let’s not forget – that was a pleasant surprise.

Just more than a year ago, Cory Joseph shouldered the burden of a relatively large (at the time) 4-year $30 million contract to live up to, based on solely forward-looking projections, rather than any sort of solid historical data. Save for disciplined opportunistic play on a very good team during his time in San Antonio, while Joseph had the blueprint of a smart player that was ready to take the next step, it’s not like the Raptors were rewarding him for stand out play – they took a pretty reasonable bet, and it paid off very well. The value of a $7.5M a year contract for a grade-A backup in today’s NBA absolutely can’t be undermined. Just another example of a shrewd “splash” (at least for his standards) made by Masai Ujiri.

While Cory certainly may have passed the eye tests, his true value is better viewed through the lens of basic efficiency metrics.



Strengths and things to continue doing

  • Efficiency: Cory shot above 45% for most of the season last year, before tailing off in the final set of contests and ending the season around 44%. Joseph’s efficiency has been better in the past, but given the drastically higher games and minutes per game played in the 15/16 campaign as compared to his past seasons, the efficiency was remarkably reliable on most nights, with Joseph’s shot selection being the most impressive factor. Shots at the elbow areas were Cory’s favourite, mostly off the Patterson/Biyombo screen, which this year will translate to screens from Sullinger/Patterson or even Bebe/Poertl on occasion. Setting solid screens and giving Cory space should mean a green light if he’s got his feet set and is in his sweet spots.

           Cory Joseph – 2015/2016 Shot Chart


  • Ball protection: With an increased assist level of 3.1, up from 2.4 the previous year, increased turnovers were expected, but Joseph’s average of just around 1.3 a game was still impressive considering he was often given the job of anchoring the team’s offense when Lowry was either resting or playing off the ball. Joseph’s uncanny ability to protect the rock, or finish around the rim even under the most difficult of circumstances was something we grew to love every night.
  • Defensive toughness and versatility: While this was pretty much expected from Joseph, the lack of a significant historical body of data to draw from made it difficult to predict just how impactful his defense could be at the beginning of last season. But on most nights, he proved he could check not only the best point guard on the floor, but also shooting guards. Joseph’s defensive rating of 108 per 100 possessions, was a slight regression from the previous season at 104, likely due to a heavier usage and on most nights, against first-string talent. But Joseph’s ability to fight through screens, stay with his man laterally, and challenge shots all the way to the hoop was impressive.

Weaknesses and things to improve upon

  • Three point shooting: Even though Cory might have continued the DC heartbreak tradition hitting a dagger 3 to sink the Washington Wizards back in November of last year, his three-point shooting was something that was timely, but needed improvement from a consistency perspective. Cory attempted 66 more three pointers last year (110) than the season before (44), but only hit 14 more of them. That translated to a percentage regression from 36% to 27%, meaning Cory was good when needed, but when counted upon consistently and against better competition, the shooting just wasn’t there. Not to mention, when they were falling, they were generally from the same spots (Cory shot a very respectable 46% combined from the corners, but a dismal 19% elsewhere beyond the arc). I’d still like to see his three-point shot chart spread out, and with a combined percentage at least in the 33-35% range. Cory discussed working on his three-point shooting during his media day availability last week:

Cory Joseph – 2015/2016 3-Point Shot Chart


  • Shooting aggressively: While it might sound ludicrous to praise Joseph’s efficiency and then list his shooting as a weakness, it’s not just the ability to shoot and make shots, it’s also the drive to continue shooting and be opportunistic with what the defense gives you. This means increasing range and efficiency across the floor, and using screens effectively to make shots. Cory isn’t exactly a pure point guard, as he’s shown the ability to play the shooting guard position as well as defend it. So as Lowry takes charge of the offense when Coach Casey goes with the Lowry/Joseph combo in the backcourt, Cory’s got to continue pounding the ball inside on takes to the rim, as well as increase his effectiveness at the long 2’s (he shot just 40.1% on these attempts last year).

Player prediction

I was going to refrain from a player prediction since I wanted to reserve my often incredibly wrong predictions for the actual games this season, but nonetheless I took a stab at trying to predict what this guy can bring to the table this year.

Even though I expect a more polished offensive game from Joseph for the reasons noted above, I also expect some finer details that will contribute to some regression as well. For instance, Biyombo’s screen setting and rolling to the rim won’t be available anymore – something Joseph learned to feed off of increasingly effectively toward the tail end of last season. Further, I anticipate Delon Wright (who I’ll be previewing next week) will figure into the rotation at least a tad more this season after he returns from injury (not saying Wright’s going to be our second stringer, just that an opening or opportunity could mean playing time which could showcase his ability), meaning some of Joseph’s minutes could be up for grabs. Not to mention, Cory had almost no injury concerns last year, playing 80 games and without any significant damage to any part of his body. Not to sound negative, but generally speaking, that kind of luck doesn’t usually continue for multiple seasons at the point guard position, meaning at least a small degree of injury should be expected.

Having said all of that, I expect Cory to continue to be one of the leaders of this team’s second unit, with points per game in the 10-11 range, and assists in the 3.5 – 4 apg range. In a best-case scenario, he can keep his turnovers to under 1.5 a game, and increase his field goal and three point efficiency to be above 45% and 35% respectively. While the field goal percentage is hard to predict, I think it’s safe to assume the three-point shooting will be at least marginally better at just under or around 35%.

One thing’s for certain though – Cory Joseph, who’ll be entering the second year of his ultra-valuable contract, will prove himself to be an invaluable asset for this team, as a reliable second string point guard, hopefully an improved offensive scorer, and a defensively-capable secondary punch next to Lowry in small-ball lineups. For all that and more – it’s CoJo for life.

Click to comment

Gameday: Nuggets @ Raptors in Calgary, Oct. 3

It’s good to have basketball back.  This was the shortest offseason in Raptors history due to the long playoff run, the Raptors had two first round picks, there was the excitement of Summer League, and two Raptors won gold medals in the Olympics…and yet this summer lasted forever.

Raptors basketball returned on Saturday night in Vancouver, and I couldn’t care less that it was just pre-season.  To see the roster taking shape and get a first look at players like Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl made this weekend great.

And we’re back again tonight in Calgary as the Denver Nuggets hit the floor for their first game of the pre-season.

So what can we expect?  Unlike Saturday where the Raptors faced a fellow super team (am I doing that right, Derrick?), Toronto now faces a young team on the rise in the Nuggets.  And yes, the one certainty for tonight is that each team’s real roster will have little impact on the outcome, as both are very much in the experimental stage of their minute distribution.

Starters will get some minutes to try and build unity, the real bench players get a chance to contribute and get a feel for the game, and then the deep bench/youth/D-League talent get to fight for the remaining minutes.

The second game of the pre-season last year saw a decrease in minutes from game one for DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry (who sat game two due to a sore groin), and Luis Scola.  The one regular from the team’s top nine players who saw more minutes in game two was Cory Joseph, who played an additional two minutes due with Lowry sitting.

It’s entirely possible that we may, like last year, see even fewer minutes from the team’s big guns than we saw on Saturday night against Golden State.  Which I’m fine with.  I know what to expect from Lowry, DeRozan, and the like.  What I want is plenty of Norm Powell (my spirit animal).  I want to see Siakam show again that he belongs in the rotation.  And I want everyone to remain healthy.  Simple goals.

But with that said, here are three specific things I’ll be looking for tonight:

The Other Deep Bench Players

The Raptors are currently carrying the pre-season maximum of 20 players, six of which are fighting for the 15th and final spot on the roster on either partial or fully non-guaranteed contracts: Drew Crawford, Fred VanVleet, Jarrod Uthoff, E.J. Singler, Brady Heslip, and Yanick Moreira.  Saturday night saw only two from this group see time on the floor, with VanVleet getting 14 minutes and Crawford getting 15.

This leaves substantial minutes still to come for the remaining four hopeful prospects, with each a possibility to get an extended run tonight in Calgary.  If the pattern carries forward from game one, it’s possible that not all four will see the floor tonight.  This depends almost entirely on the number of minutes that Casey gives regular rotations players.

Jamal in Calgary

We all loved Jamal Murray during the draft process.  Some didn’t like the fit for Toronto, but based on his performances at Kentucky and as part of Team Canada, Murray is bound to be entertaining as part of the Nuggets.

It’s got to be a thrill for Murray to make his NBA debut in Canada, and based on his Twitter account he is looking forward to it.

He’s someone I’m cheering for and who I’d like to see succeed.

Back-up Centre Rotation

This is likely the biggest question mark for the Raptors during the pre-season.  With Bismack Biyombo as the one key rotation piece leaving the team this past summer (and yes, I’m not counting Luis Scola or James Johnson here) the Raptors are left with a large void to fill, and many unproven options to choose from.

Casey used Saturday night to give Valanciunas a quick pull, replacing him with Patrick Patterson, allowing Jared Sullinger to move from power forward to centre.  The first player off the bench to get a crack at centre was Siakam (who performed admirably), with Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira both getting an opportunity as well.

The only option that we didn’t seem to see was Patrick Patterson moving to centre as part of a small-ball unit.  Casey is clearly experimenting with players to see who could fit.

Based on one pre-season game, with all of the caveats that come with it, Siakam stood out among the options.  He was active on the glass, capably defended both on the interior and exterior (track Durant on a drive to the basket for a big block), and blew me away with how fast he is on the court.  Pascal was also the inspiration for what might have been the tweet of the game on Saturday, coming to us from Matt Moore at CBS:

As for a prediction?  I’m going with a 103-92 victory for the Raptors.

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Podcast – Jonas’s breakout, scouting Siakam, basketball movies

Host William Lou invites dunk prop Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ onto the show.


Click to comment

Raptors open preseason with encouraging performance against Warriors

Raptors 97, Warriors 93 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors couldn’t have asked for a much better start to their exhibition slate than that. Tipping off in Vancouver in front of a crowd that was a little slow to fill in but was raucous once the game got going, the Raptors handled their business against the Golden State Warriors in Kevin Durant’s debut with his new squad. They ran some of their standard stuff, they teased a few new wrinkles, they went 15-deep, and they came out completely healthy. That last note alone would make any preseason contest a victory, but the Raptors also looked good in the process, which was encouraging.

As always, a veritable buffet of caveats apply to any preseason action. It’s just one game, it doesn’t count, nobody is gameplanning for the other team, and, in this case, the Warriors only played four of their starters in the first half. The Raptors used their primary rotation a little bit longer, but nobody topped Jared Sullinger’s 23 minutes, and head coach Dwane Casey did appear to use his planned 10-man rotation in the first half.

Or at least, it looked that way. Again, caveats, and to be completely honest, this recap is probably redundant after a Quick Reaction and a Reaction Podcast. There’s just not a ton to say about the preseason opener. There may very well be tea leaves to read, and if you’re the type, it looks like Pascal Siakam is the early favorite for backup center minutes. He was terrific, bringing a ton of energy on the glass and in transition, and guarding well man-to-man (even lining up with Kevin Durant a few times) and in help scenarios. Casey’s substitute pattern also suggests Terrence Ross is ahead of Norman Powell in the pecking order for wings, and Ross outplayed Powell in the opener, looking quicker and more aggressive handling the ball. (He claims he lost 15 pounds, which by my estimate means he now weighs negative-five pounds.)

So maybe those are things worth noting. It’s also entirely possible that Casey just wanted to get a feel for that the first time out, and with three games in five days, he’ll go a different route to mix things up. Siakam, in particular, may have gotten early burn against a small Warriors frontcourt, and Denver stands as a nice test for how he’ll handle a bigger opponent. Lucas Nogueira was somewhere between OK and decent and should probably get a longer look at some point this preseason, while Jakob Poeltl struggled as you’d expect from a young big in his first real action. There’s a lot of competition left here, and if you’re going to take anything away, it should be positivity about Siakam, not negativity about the others. As for Ross and Powell, that figures to be a battle that extends into the regular season, one Powell could still swing by continuing to flash his improved jumper. Based on Ross’ attitude at media day and his opening performance, it seems as if Powell may be the best thing to ever happen to him. Buy stock in Ross at your own risk – you know the drill here – but again, room for optimism.

The earlier note about Casey potentially mixing things up game-by-game holds for those trying out for the 15th roster spot, too. Fred VanVleet saw extended run as the team’s third point guard, even working in two-guard sets, and acquitted himself quite well. He was flanked by an equally impressive Drew Crawford, who really infused the bench units with aggression guarding on the ball and pushing in transition. While both looked good, look for Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, and Jarrod Uthoff to get significant run in the coming days.

Outside of those battles, the real focus for those on Twitter and in our comments seemed to be Sullinger, which makes sense. The Raptors know what they have in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Patrick Patterson, and while Jonas Valanciunas had a mediocre outing, he is at least who he is at this point (and there’s optimism he can continue to grow into more). That leaves the Ross-Powell battle, the backup center job, and Sullinger’s fit as the primary points of emphasis for the regular season rotation. And Sullinger looked like he’ll fit how everyone is hoping, at least on the glass and on the offensive end. He uses his ample body so damn well to create space for others, box out, seal his man, and battle for loose balls, and if he can find the range from the corners that the Raptors helped Luis Scola discover, he’s going to be a major contributor. Defensively, we’ll need to see extended stretches of him with Valanciunas to get a proper feel, but the Sullinger-Patterson duo looked capable, at least against the smaller Warriors front.

It’s also worth noting that Valanciunas, not Sullinger, got the early hook from the starters. I’ve long held that this is the best way to increase Valanciunas’ usage without syphoning touches from Lowry and DeRozan (though DeRozan found Valanciunas with a nice pass out of the pick-and-roll, an encouraging development for that pairing) – pull Valanciunas early, then sub him back in when one of Lowry or DeRozan sit, so that he can work as the second option more often. He didn’t do that a ton last year, and now’s the time to see if he can help prop up second units with this rotation pattern.

There’s also the matter of DeMarre Carroll, who somewhat unexpectedly played 19 minutes. He did not look like a guy who was at less than 100 percent Monday, nor did he look like a guy who didn’t get to play a ton of basketball over the past few months. Again, we touch on the usual caveats, but on a night with a lot of encouraging performances, this might be the one that proves most important to the Raptors’ long-term success.

So, yeah, those are my thoughts from the preseason opener. Sorry if they’re a bit repetitive from the Quick Reaction, but that’s why normally we don’t have one person do both, and I kind of doubt people are reading for a game-flow style recap. These are the notes I found of interest and worth watching moving forward. And hey, it was awesome to have basketball back. As far as opener’s go, there’s a lot more to be excited about than worried about for the Raptors.

Click to comment

Preseason Opener Reaction Podcast – Raptors start preseason with win over Warriors

The season is back, and in this solo podcast, William Lou breaks down the preseason opener against the Warriors.


Click to comment

Quick Reaction: Warriors 93, Raptors 97

Golden State 93 Final
Recap | Box Score
97 Toronto
D. CarrollD. Carroll 19 MIN | 6-9 FG | 1-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | — +/-

Looked really spry defensively, anticipating passing lanes well and getting out in transition. Not a ton of lift near the rim, but otherwise this was MUCH closer to the Carroll the Raptors hoped for. This was super encouraging.

J. SullingerJ. Sullinger 23 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

Hey, look at that rebounding! He didn’t hit a three and he has some thing to figure out with Valanciunas on defense, but he uses his body well at both ends and should really help on the glass and freeing guards with screens. Good start.

J. ValanciunasJ. Valanciunas 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | — +/-

The most interesting note here is that, as I suggested was a good look, Valanciunas got an early hook for a PP/JS pairing. Valanciunas re-entering to prop up units with one of DDR/KL off would be a nice way to bump his usage up. Wasn’t very good in limited action, though.

K. LowryK. Lowry 21 MIN | 2-7 FG | 1-5 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | — +/-

Ran the team’s sets, deferred to DeRozan on offense, jumped passing lanes. Was nice to see he could share the floor with VanVleet. You know what Lowry is by now, you don’t really need seven games of him warming up.

D. DeRozanD. DeRozan 20 MIN | 3-11 FG | 0-0 3FG | 5-8 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | — +/-

Ditto for DeRozan, though his appetite for mid-range jumpers hasn’t been satiated. Not sure I saw the renewed defensive effort the team’s been boasting, but he, too, exploited the Warriors’ over-aggression/unfamiliarity early.

P. PattersonP. Patterson 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | — +/-

Not to be redundant, but you know what Patterson is, too. It was nice to see him very aggressive on the glass, and he exploited a mismatch by bullying McCaw to the rim for a bucket.

T. RossT. Ross 15 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | — +/-

TERRENCE ROSS COMEBACK SZN ALERT. Seriously, Ross was hyper-aggressive, and while a couple of the mid-range pull-ups weren’t great looks, he’s so fluid, they’re not bad, and it was mostly just good to see him attacking. The next step is to get into the teeth rather than pulling up or floating from the lips. Also, he lost 15 pounds? Dude.

B. CabocloB. Caboclo 6 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

Look, he’s very inexperienced and the bright lights seemed to get to him. I’ve talked to several who have raved about his offseason progress. But this was bad, and there’s no qualifier that will make it feel less bad.

P. SiakamP. Siakam 21 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-4 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | — +/-

It’s always a good sign when the first extended look at a player turns NBA Twitter into dust. As warned, everyone is going to love this guy. And yeah, there are areas to round out – he’s a little shaky with the ball, and he clunked a three. But he is EVERYWHERE on the glass and made smart help decisions and gambles with his length on the defensive end (with some direction from his teammates). It looks like he has the inside track on the backup center spot early on
Also, I thought this was an underrated tweet:

L. NogueiraL. Nogueira 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | — +/-

He rebounded well enough, although he conceded a runaway defensive board to Varejao. He also blocked a pair of shots, one of them a great piece of tracking back against a guard. He also fell down and looked a little clumsy. I don’t know…I still wan’t to believe he can figure it out, but not appearing until the second half is a bad sign.

J. PoeltlJ. Poeltl 13 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | — +/-

I’m grading him a little easy here because it was his first action and I liked his activity on the boards. It was a tough night for him, though, including a missed dunk on a nice roll, an illegal screen, some early foul trouble, and the sense he’s still nailing down the defensive scheme (remember: Utah was very fluid with their schemes at both ends over his two years, so he’s kind of familiar with everything and a master of nothing right now).

C. JosephC. Joseph 15 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-1 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | — +/-

Missed you and your wild late-clock forays to the rim, CoJo.

D. CrawfordD. Crawford 15 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-1 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | — +/-

Literally my only negative note here is that Crawford didn’t get to show off what he’s told me is improved range. He basically came in and played the Carroll 3-and-D role, and his defense and transition game looked really strong.

N. PowellN. Powell 19 MIN | 2-9 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | — +/-

Hit a corner three, missed another, forced some shots late in the game as The Guy with an all-bench unit. The shot looks really smooth and consistent, at least. And he was active defensively, hit the glass hard, and looked comfortable handling the ball. Looks like he’s in a fight with Ross for the first bench wing role (Ross was the first wing up).

F. VanVleetF. VanVleet 14 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | — +/-

Looked terrific pushing the tempo in transition and finding shooters on the move as they got set. Changed his pace well to keep defenders off balance, a trick the Raptors have always loved in their guards. Even shared the floor with Lowry, suggesting the Raptors want to see how he can defend in two-guard sets.

Dwane Casey

I mean, what do you want me to say about a coach’s performance in the first preseason game? The Raptors dipped into their offensive playbook and even showed a new wrinkle or two (more on that next week), and Casey let the kids make mistakes late, as he should (film sessions are probably a better teaching tool at this point than a hook).

Five Things We Saw

  1. I like the strategy of giving some of the tryout guys a LONG look game-to-game rather than playing everyone just a couple of minutes. You can learn a lot more seeing how a guy will respond over a longer stint, and I’d expect Singler and Uthoff to see heavy run Monday or Wednesday, while some of the others take a seat.
  2. It’s hard not to look too much into the rotation, but keep in mind it’s just a preseason game. That said, Ross was the first wing off the bench and Siakam was the de facto backup center. We’ll see if that stays the same Monday or if Powell/Nogueira get those looks.
  3. Again, not to extrapolate too much, but the Raptors are probably going to be an elite rebounding team. Their guards crack back well, Valanciunas and Sullinger are among the league’s best contested defensive rebounders, and Siakam is an absolute pest. I’ll be surprised if they’re not a top-five team by rebounding percentage (they were seventh last year).
  4. A friendly reminder – everything here is descriptive, as are my tweets. I’m not one to draw conclusions or make decisions off of small, imperfect samples. So I’m not out on Poeltl or Valanciunas, or all-in on Ross or Siakam. It’s just what happened tonight.
  5. Yes, I graded very friendly today. It’s the preseason opener. I’m just glowing that we have this back. And that I have YOU back, dear reader. Love you.
Click to comment

Raptors lock arms in solidarity for national anthems

The Toronto Raptors were clear on media day that they wanted to use their platform and their collective voice to continue the conversation. While the Raptors didn’t follow suit with the growing number of players and teams kneeling for the U.S. national anthem ahead of sporting events, they sent a strong message of solidarity and togetherness, linking arms as they lined up for both anthems ahead of their preseason opener in Vancouver on Saturday.

You can read more about how the team feels about using their platform for positive change here. That feeling that seemed pretty unanimous, from the president on down to the newest acquisition.

Click to comment

Pre-game news & notes: Carroll expected to play in preseason opener

I’m not gonna spend a ton of time here, because a) it’s the preseason, b) I did a full-ish Gameday this morning, and c) I’m exhausted. Check this morning’s preview for most of what you need, but a few minor updates follow.

More important than any game specifics, basketball is finally back, period.

The game tips off from Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern) on TSN.

Raptors updates
Somewhat surprisingly, DeMarre Carroll is going to play in the preseason opener, according to our pal Josh Lewenberg of TSN, who has the fortune of being in beautiful Vancouver for the week. Carroll isn’t necessarily on a minute’s restriction but Dwane Casey told reporters the team will be “smart” with his usage. Yes, please. get him a few reps with the starters at the beginning of each half and then strap the ice bags to those knees – there are three games in five days starting today, and the season opener is still over three weeks away, so there’s no sense of urgency here. I’m sure they’ll handle with care.

We’re reaching a bit with assumptions here in a preseason opener, but here’s a best guess at the rotation for Saturday:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Brady Heslip, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

Heslip has been seeing some time at the one, Ross/Powell/DeRozan are largely interchangeable as wings if Carroll has a light night. Uthoff could play the three some, and Crawford can fit in a few places. Again, it’s a bit up in the air, being a preseason opener and all. Casey could opt to play his set guys just a few minutes and basically turn the 604 into a 905.

And don’t expect too much of a Warriors-specific focus. As Casey told Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

It’s good to have different faces, different bodies, different situations because right now we’re trying to guess where our issue are defensively and offensively so that’s what exhibition season is about. It’s not about winning and losing — I’m from the old school, every time we walk out there, we want to win — but most important thing is to see what we need to work on, see how they perform under the lights with officials.

Warriors updates
It’s just as tough to guess here, with the Warriors not owing a home-country fanbase anything in terms of star minutes. Head coach Steve Kerr did say, however, that everyone will play (Hi, Julie, welcome to Canada!), likely meaning the key guys, not all 20 names in camp. I’m not sure you could make a bad five-man lineup out of this roster, anyway, and even if the stars are limited, I’m excited to see pre-draft favorite Patrick McCaw build on a strong Summer League.

PG: Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Phil Pressey, Elliot Williams
SG: Klay Thompson, Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw, Cameron Jones
SF: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Elgin Cook, Scott Wood
PF: Draymond Green, David West, James Michael McAdoo, Kevon Looney
C: Zaza Pachulia, Anderson Varejao, JaVale McGee, Damian Jones

The line
The Raptors are 4-point underdogs on the neutral court against the defending runners-up. Preseason lines are mostly meaningless and a rough, educated guess at potential playing time for stars and, perhaps more importantly in the case of the Warriors, where the action will go. Most preseason games can probably considered coin flips, for the purposes of non-bettors, but if we actually cared, the line seems more than fair on neutral court.

Excuse me, I’m out of practice, let me try again: Can you believe this disrespect? Good, I’m glad the Raptors get some more #ProveEm, anyway. But Vegas doesn’t know what’s up…forget Curry and Durant and Lowry and DeRozan, Elgin Cook ain’t got shit on E.J. Singler, and there’s no way Cameron Jones can chase Brady Heslip off the line! AND:

Or something. I can’t purport to know what Casey and Kerr might be planning with respect to minutes. Raptors lose by DQ when Russell Westbrook interferes.

Click to comment

Gameday: Warriors @ Raptors in Vancouver, Oct. 1

The Toronto Raptors get the honor of tipping off the 2016-17 NBA season with the first exhibition game of the four-week slate. It’s finally time, at long last, to watch basketball again. And yes, it counts, even if it’s just preseason, because my Shammgod I’ve been thirsty for some ball.

The Raptors also get the esteemed honor of taking the first crack at the Golden State Warriors, the would-be defending champions who collapsed but found a human regroup in the form of Kevin Durant this summer. Out went “Literally Terrence Ross” Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, in came Durant and Zaza Pachulia, and somehow expectations coming off of a 73-win season have risen even higher. It’s championship or bust for Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and company, who may be on the edge of having expended all the goodwill their aesthetically pleasing style of play creates. That might be OK, too, though – for as likeable as the Warriors can still be, I find the idea of this group donning the black hat to be pretty enticing. But I’ve always been the type to cheer the rudos.

As for the Raptors, well, it’s here. We know mostly what to expect at this point, but it’ll be nice to see the guys out on the court. That’s especially true for those vying for rotation minutes or the 15th roster spot, and with three games in five nights, the expectation should be that minutes will be distributed pretty evenly early on. If you’re hoping to see some new scheme changes or wrinkles, it might be a few days too early for that still – the Raptors sound confident that they’re ahead of last season’s progress in camp, and it’s their second year with a new system, but they’ll likely keep things simple the first time out.

And yeah, this is a long preamble for a preseason game. But we’ve gotta get our preseason reps in, too.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m (Eastern). on TSN. Oh, and it’s taking place in Vancouver, which is always cool.

To help set the stage, I reached out to my former tag-team partner at theScore, Joseph Casciaro.

Blake Murphy: The Raptors open the NBA preseason slate against the Warriors in what’s very obviously an NBA Finals preview. Do you think the Raptors will try anything out to specifically slow the Warriors’ offense in the league’s first look at it, or is this the typical first preseason game where everyone just gets their stuff in and what happens happens?

Joseph Casciaro: As entertaining as it would be to see Casey tinker with some Warriors-tailored schemes, I definitely think it’s more of the latter than the former. See guys in game-action that isn’t a scrimmage, give Vancouver a bit of a show, and start implementing your own sets and systems.

Blake Murphy: Is there even an “anything” you can try against the Warriors? Switch everything on the perimeter, get a rim protector, and pray? Basically, be Utah, then also find a way to score on them? Help me out here, Cash.

Joseph Casciaro: I wish I could, but I just don’t see what there is to try that could work against this team for 48 minutes. The Warriors can probably run a functional pick-and-roll with any combination from their new and improved Death Lineup, and will field – court, whatever – a historically good team even when one of KD or Steph sits.

Blake Murphy: The (likely) absence of DeMarre Carroll could present an opportunity for the wings and forwards trying out for the 15th roster spot. Who do you like from that group, and what are you looking for from them if they get time in these exhibition games?

Joseph Casciaro: Everyone wants to see Heslip shoot the lights out and nab a roster spot, but I’m equally interested in what Jarrod Uthoff can bring during the pre-season. He put up some impressive numbers at Iowa, can flat out score, has legit NBA size, and can probably log time at either forward position. I’m not saying he’s going to set the world on fire, but if we’re talking about guys who can fill a role as the 15th man, Uthoff has to be in the mix.

Blake Murphy: The Warriors, you’ll recall, had a 3-1 lea…is this joke dead now that the offseason is officially over, or are we still making it?

Joseph Casciaro: Don’t let the offseason officially coming to an end distract you from the fact that the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, Blake. Don’t ever let it distract you.

Blake Murphy: Do you expect any sort of peaceful protest from the two sides? The Raptors were outspoken on media day about using their platform, but they were unspecific (understandably), and it’s a preseason game in Vancouver. I’m expecting a few Raptors to kneel, but I’d understand either way here. I don’t know what to make of the Warriors on that front.

Joseph Casciaro: I thought all of the Raptors who spoke on the matter did so thoughtfully and eloquently on Monday, and like you, wouldn’t be surprised to see a few knees come Saturday night. At first I thought that the game being in Vancouver might prevent that, but if players are intent on using their platforms, there will surely be eyes on the league’s first preseason game, which just so happens to include the Warriors.

Raptors updates
The Raptors haven’t given a firm update on whether or not Carroll will play, but considering he’s not 100 percent yet (even though he practiced in full this week), I don’t really see the point in getting him on the floor in the opener. Delon Wright also remains sidelined.

We’re reaching a bit with assumptions here in a preseason opener, but here’s a best guess at the rotation for Saturday:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Brady Heslip, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

Heslip has been seeing some time at the one, Ross/Powell/DeRozan are largely interchangeable as wings if Carroll sits, Uthoff could play the three some, and Crawford can fit a few places. Again, it’s a bit up in the air, being a preseason opener and all. Head coach Dwane Casey could opt to play his set guys just a few minutes and basically turn the 604 into a 905.

Warriors updates
It’s even tougher to guess here, with the Warriors not owing a home-country fanbase anything in terms of star minutes. Head coach Steve Kerr did say, however, that everyone will play (likely meaning the key guys, not all 20 names in camp). I’m not sure you could make a bad five-man lineup out of this roster, anyway, and even if the stars are limited, I’m excited to see pre-draft favorite Patrick McCaw build on a strong Summer League.

PG: Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Phil Pressey, Elliot Williams
SG: Klay Thompson, Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw, Cameron Jones
SF: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Elgin Cook, Scott Wood
PF: Draymond Green, David West, James Michael McAdoo, Kevon Looney
C: Zaza Pachulia, Anderson Varejao, JaVale McGee, Damian Jones

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for the preseason opener on a neutral site is off the board. If you’ve come here for a hard-hitting take on what might happen in Game -7 of 82, well, sorry to disappoint. Let’s all just be happy to have something to watch and analyze again.

Click to comment

Raptors announce 2016-17 broadcast schedule

The Toronto Raptors released their broadcast schedule for the 2016-17 season on Friday. As expected, the 82-game schedule will be split evenly between TSN and Sportsnet, but you’ll need premium packages to get all 82 – while all Sportsnet broadcasts are on Sportsnet One, 24 of the 41 TSN games will appear on only some of their five channels.

You can download the schedule here.

Per a team release, there are no changes to the primary broadcast team (though I believe a change is coming to the TSN pre-game/halftime show):

For an 12th consecutive season all 82 Raptors telecasts will be produced by NBA TV Canada. Veteran play-by-play voice Matt Devlin will call all the action for a ninth season. “The Coach” Jack Armstrong will lend his expertise as the analyst on TSN telecasts with former NBA first-round draft pick Leo Rautins handling the colour commentary on Sportsnet.

Sportsnet 590 The FAN and TSN Radio 1050 Toronto will again be the radio home for Raptors broadcasts. Eric Smith will handle the play-by-play role for games on Sportsnet 590 The FAN with Paul Jones serving as the analyst. For games on TSN Radio 1050 Toronto, Jones will serve as the play-by-play voice with Armstrong and Sherman Hamilton sharing analyst duties.

The broadcast information is now available on the main schedule page.

Click to comment

What Are The Odds?

Game time. What are the odds? Post a question and let the maniacs answer.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: The Final 6

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

The battle for the 15th and final roster spot on the 2016-17 Toronto Raptors is a storyline we covered pretty in depth to start the week, and one we’ve been talking about throughout the bulk of the far-too-long offseason. And that makes sense, not only because the Raptors are a little light on other storylines for training camp, but because the competition is far interesting than it’s ever been. This isn’t Greg Stiemsa, Will Cherrry, and Jordan Hamilton fighting for the right to cheer on dunks for the bench – this year’s “15th man” could see playing time well beyond what that role normally entails, given some early injury trouble and the inexperience on the back half of the roster.

It’s also interesting because several of the names who don’t wind up making the Raptors could find their way to the D-League as affiliate players with Raptors 905. Only Drew Crawford is confirmed to be heading overseas if he doesn’t make the team, and E.J. Singler and Brady Heslip have flat-out agreed to assignments if they’re cut and clear waivers. Considering how thinned out the 905 are ahead of the draft, which amounts largely to a “crapshoot” in the words of 905 general manager Dan Tolzman, that’s not an unimportant consideration.

The Raptors invested over $200,000 in partial guarantees to make sure they had the best talent possible fighting for this final spot and to ensure the D-League roster would be strong in support of NBA assignments. That also helped them land two of the top undrafted free agents in Fred VanVleet and Jarrod Uthoff, two players who had offers to be picked in the second round but preferred to control their own freedom as free agents rather than getting stashed overseas. The ability to lure top talent for camp speaks to the organizational equity the Raptors have built with agents and players around the league, but it also makes the final decision a very difficult one.

“You’re talking about two guys that we got undrafted, they’ve got to be two of the best undrafted players. That alone makes it a hard decision at that spot, and then now when you bring back guys like E.J. and Drew, who, they fill a little bit of a role of what we might need on the Raptors, it’s a tough spot to win,” Tolzman said. “There are gonna be some good players that are gonna miss that spot, and then hopefully they help the 905 get better.”

The focus of all six players, though, is squarely on cracking the parent club roster, not the D-League one. To do so, each of the six players is going to offer something unique to the club while also battling to show that they’ve added something new, that they’ve addressed a weakness, or that their overall talent matters more than a perceived fit.

Fred VanVleet – VanVleet parlayed a strong Summer League showing into a two-year deal with a partial guarantee. He’s hoping to force the Raptors into a tough decision, one that may be made a little easier in the short-term by Delon Wright’s injury, as the would-be third point guard could be out into the new year. VanVleet isn’t using the team’s perceived need at the one as a reason to get complacent, though – it’s much the opposite.

“Naw, it just made me go even harder, things lining up that way for you,” VanVleet said at media day. “Obviously, that puts them in a bind in terms of not having that third point guard on call. But who knows? I don’t ask them every day or try to get inside their minds. I’ll let them do their job, and I do mine, and we’ll see what happens.”

Beyond filling a need, VanVleet offers a steady presence running an offense. As an efficient, low-turnover lead guard, VanVleet is the rare four-year senior who analytics looked favorably on, something his 3-point shooting helped with, as well. He was a solid defender at the college level, and the thing he may need to show most in camp is that he can defend bigger guards well enough that the team could use him in potential two-point lineups. Specifics aside, the consensus around Summer League inside and outside of the organization was that VanVleet is an NBA talent, so the next month is mostly about him showing just that.

“That I’m the best player,” VanVleet said about what he’s out to prove. “I’ve grown close with these guys over this experience, but I’m trying to show that I’m the best choice for the job. It’s nothing against the other guys, I just feel like I have the most to bring to the table.”

If VanVleet doesn’t make the roster, the $50,000 partial guarantee may help supplement a D-League salary but there’s no guarantee he’ll go there, or even clear waivers if he’s cut. He’s probably a slight favorite for the final spot just as additional point guard and insurance, and the team was really high on him even before Wright’s injury. He’ll still have to play well enough to lock the job down, because if VanVleet isn’t the choice, Norman Powell could always work as the de facto emergency point guard while Wright’s on the mend.

Drew Crawford – A steady hand capable of playing solid defense and working as a secondary ball-handler, Crawford would bring maturity despite his NBA inexperience but may be in tough due to the team’s depth at the position. Standing just under 6-foot-6 in shoes and with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Crawford is more a two than a three, though he guarded across multiple positions in Las Vegas. He’ll look to re-establish that in camp while perhaps showing added range to a 3-point shot that’s graded out as average over the last two seasons.

“I think my edge, the thing I have to do there, is defensive toughness,” Crawford said. “Being able to guard guys well, making energy plays, stuff like that. But really, getting defensive stops. And being able to knock down shots, too.”

He didn’t receive a guarantee on his one-year deal and is headed overseas if he doesn’t make the team, which would be a disappointing turn for his new best friends, Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, the latter of whom won’t lay off the Drake look-alike comparisons. Crawford’s case might be the most interesting, as he may be the most established of these six players at this snapshot in time – he was an All-Star in Israel least year – but is a poorer fit than anyone outside of Moreira.

“The fact that he would rather go overseas after if he doesn’t make the team, it has nothing to do with the Raptors,” Tolzman explained. “He can make so much money overseas, it’s hard to really push and push to sell a guy.”

Brady Heslip – A sharpshooter from Burlington, Heslip was signed to a partial guarantee and will head to the 905 if cut. While the fact that he got the largest guarantee at $56,500 may signal the team really wanted to bring him in, the price they paid for his D-League rights suggests he may not in the immediate NBA plans. At the same time, the Raptors are wondering if Heslip may be able to fill two roles at once, adding lethal shooting off the bench and, somewhat surprisingly, an extra emergency point man.

“The main thing I’m focusing on right now is defense and just showing that I can guard. In the workouts, I’ve been playing point guard, handling the ball,” Heslip revealed. “So I’m trying to show that I can run a unit, also. Showing them that I’m more than, you know, if I’m not knocking down shots on a given night, I can still bring stuff to the team. Obviously shooting’s my strong suit but you have to be able to do other stuff, too, so I’m just trying to show that.”

The book on Heslip is that he doesn’t bring a ton of NBA skills to the table, so the onus will be heavy to change minds. Even if he can’t, he might be the best shooter in the entire world not already in the league, and that type of preternatural marksmanship can really swing a game, though that’s a little tougher to put on display without preseason playing time.

“I think it’s hard to do it in a practice, but I can’t really control that,” Heslip said. “All I can do is worry about is hitting shots when I take them and being ready when my number’s called in the game.”


Brady Heslip’s 2014-15 D-League shot chart, courtesy

E.J. Singler – Acquired late last season by the 905, Singler won fans there and again in Las Vegas. His shooting and versatility make him a malleable piece, but he’s agreed to head to the D-League, with a $50,000 guarantee to ease the pain, if he can’t make the NBA squad. Singler’s an intriguing option as the 15th man – at the outset, it looks like he may only be the third-most likely option, but he may wind up the best choice given how many little things he brings to the table and how few he takes off of it. And there’s an intangible he’s trying to use in his favor, too:  Experience, which he offers more of than any of the other names competing despite never playing in an NBA game.

“I’m probably one of the older guys that are trying to make the last 15 spot. So bringing that experience, that leadership role, is what I think will maybe separate me,” Singler said. “I would be considered the rookie, but I’ve played professional basketball. This is gonna be my fourth year. I’ll have the little-kid backpack, but I’ve had the experience, I’ve gone through it. So hopefully I can bring some experience and leadership to the team.”

The Raptors probably feel comfortable with the amount of leadership they have up and down the roster, though having more has never hurt. Singler’s going to have to win the job on the court, too, where he’ll need to show that the defensive improvements he made in the D-League can carry over to the NBA, enough that his ability to work as a versatile secondary ball-handler with a deadly outside shot can be utilized without a defensive trade-off. Consider the Raptors intrigued.

“He’s a guy that we want to get a really good look at to see if he’s capable of making the Raptors,” Tolzman said.


E.J. Singler’s 2015-16 D-League shot chart, courtesy

Jarrod Uthoff – The closest thing to a fit based on position, defense, and shooting, Uthoff still has stiff competition. The potential roster fit, though, isn’t lost on Uthoff, and wasn’t when he was deciding which NBA team to head to camp with.

“That’s another thing that went into the decision, another factor,” Uthoff said after explaining how much he liked the organization. “They need another guy at my position to fill the roster. So I’m excited for this opportunity, I’m happy to be here, and looking forward to the future.”

There’s little question that Uthoff’s shooting will carry over to the next level, where he could potentially play a stretch-four role. The Raptors need help at the three, too, and Uthoff’s college track record suggests that wouldn’t be a problem for him, either. His combination of size and athleticism should make him versatile at both ends, and his steal and block rates certainly suggest his plus-defense could carry over to the pros. As much as it should translate, it’s still the question he knows he has to answer in camp

“Absolutely. I think it’s gonna be a key emphasis for myself, showing that I can defend at the next level,” Uthoff said. “I believe that I can, and I’m gonna show that.”

Uthoff came second in a Raptors Republic poll about who readers want to make the team, and his combination of floor-spacing, shot-blocking, and ability to play either forward spot are good reasons why. He’s probably the second-leading favorite after VanVleet, though he and Singler are probably close if the team goes with a forward. Uthoff was also given a $50,000 guarantee on a two-year deal that interestingly contains a $100,000 guarantee for next year, too, if he’s on the roster past Summer League. That 2016-17 bonus suggests he may be amenable to the D-League if cut, where he could really push the Raptors’ young forwards at both ends of the floor in practice if so.

Yanick Moreira – Still a bit of a project big man, he didn’t receive a guarantee but is likely headed for the 905, anyway. He’s made friends with Caboclo and Nogueira quickly, which is nice to see, and given the 905’s lack of interior depth without assignments, he could be an anchor for their defense in Mississauga. Both there and in camp, Moreira has an aggressive goal.

“I’m just trying to show my ability to rebound, run the floor, and try to block every shot,” Moreira said.

Every shot?

“Try to. You have to try. That’s it, that’s all you can do.”

From an NBA perspective, Moreira doesn’t really fit a need and probably isn’t polished enough offensively to make a legitimate push for the roster this year, though the team does hold an option on him for 2017-18 if he surprises. There’s a lot to like from a defensive potential standpoint, he’s just not there yet.

(I have it Singler-Uthoff-VanVleet-Crawford-Heslip-Moreira due to my comfort with Powell playing some point, but the top three could juggle quickly with the benefit of preseason action.)

Click to comment

Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, Sept 30 – Media Day reaction and fantasy preview

The Extra returns, this time with a guest for the second half of the podcast.

This week’s episode is brought to you Athlete’s Collective, where you can use promo code RAPTORS at the checkout for 15% off your first order of locally made, logo-free, premium sportswear at affordable prices.

athletes collective


Click to comment

Raptors 905 put spotlight on local talent at open tryout

Shaquille Keith knew the drill. Pay your $225, go through group warm-ups, and show off your skills in some elementary drills to separate yourself from the pack. From there, the coaches will know to keep a closer eye on you as Raptors 905 open tryout splits into more focused, game-oriented sessions. And then you show them what they’re looking for.

Things didn’t turn out exactly how Keith hoped a year ago, when the 905 selected him in the fifth round of the draft. He went to training camp but watched as three of the five players who received camp invites from an open tryout – Walter Pitchford, Keanau Post, and Ashton Smith – made the roster to start the year. Keith was the final cut, and he’d have to watch as Post and Smith lasted the entire season with the team, save for a brief cut-and-re-sign for Smith. And while Post had his rights snatched up in the expansion draft, Smith figures to have parlayed last year’s open tryout into a multi-year run with a team just down the road from where he grew up.

“I mean, it’s a shocker,” Keith said of being cut. “Everybody wants to play in their hometown, right? Mississauga is right there and being a part of the first D-League team in Toronto is definitely something everybody wants to do.”

Keith, meanwhile, impressed enough to make inroads with the Raptors organization. Open tryouts and training camp, even at the D-League level, aren’t taking place just to go through the motions, and the team’s familiarity with Keith reared it’s head at draft time, when he was used as an extra body at pre-draft workout sessions. Nobody is ever “just a guy,” and Keith spent a season in the NBL further refining his game and making sure he was in sight, and therefore, in mind for this summer.

When the 905 announced another open tryout for September 10, participating was an obvious choice for Keith, and his experience with a training camp under his belt proved to be an advantage in the open session.

“Definitely. A lot of the things I’m very familiar with, and I had a chance in the offseason while I was in the part of the squad to work on these things,” Keith said. “That’s something that I’ve been here demonstrating in the drills. I did learn a lot from last year and I’m utilizing that to the best of my ability.”

He was also using it for motivation. Setting out to show his catch-and-shoot game has improved, Keith chuckled with an “Oh, definitely,” when asked if he was able to send the message about his jumper in the early part of drills. The Toronto product is itching for another chance to make the 905, and if a shortlist were to be made of who the team’s likely camp invites are, Keith would make the top three.

Across the court, the other two names atop that likely list were embattled in an exciting one-on-one showcase within the context of a smaller game. Greg Morrow, announced as the number one pick in the 2016 NBL draft the day prior, scrambled to get up in the shooting motion of Negus Webster-Chan, who spent the bulk of the day shooting the lights out. Morrow’s familiar enough with Webster-Chan’s game to know not to give him much space, but the London native watched a few long jumpers get drained in his eye despite his best efforts.

“I’ve played against Negus before. I know he’s a good player and I know he has a tendency to play very well against me,” Morrow conceded, though he wasn’t willing to admit defeat at the halfway point of the day. “I know I can’t give him that much space. But I think I got some buckets on him towards the end, so it was pretty even at the end.”

Morrow’s case to crack the 905 is an interesting one, as he doesn’t boast the NCAA pedigree of some of his counterparts. A five-year senior at Western, Morrow certainly warranted being the top pick in the NBL after averaging 24 points on 52.2 percent shooting in his final campaign as a Mustang. Gaudy numbers aside, Morrow’s focus was on hustle plays and defense, the type of contributions a 12th-man at the D-League level needs to contribute, as Smith did last season. If Morrow did enough to earn a camp invite, it may draw a greater focus on Canadian college ball as a resource for D-League talent in the future.

“I think it would be a good look for the CIS,” Morrow said. “There are some good, talented players in the CIS. There are players who are capable of playing at a high level.”

If Morrow doesn’t make the team, he’ll probably do what Keith and Webster-Chan did last year – head to the NBL and continue to improve. In the case of Wesbter-Chan, the stand-out performer during the open portion of the tryout, the NBL didn’t afford much opportunity to play, but he clearly drew the attention of the Raptors’ organization (the connection the Raptors have to Hawaii, which also saw Stefan Jankovic work out with the team twice, certainly didn’t hurt, either). Like Keith, Webster-Chan was on-hand as an extra body during pre-draft workouts, likely helping stretch out some of the other forwards at the defensive end with a smooth 3-point stroke that appears to have extended in range.

Webster-Chan also had the benefit of speaking with Smith about the process, laughing when asked if he’s challenging for Smith’s spot.

“Yeah, it’s always a challenge,” he said. “I talked to Ashton a couple times – we’re from the same area, you know, from Scarborough. He gave me some advice to just play hard and do what you do.”

If it seems as though the standouts were perhaps a little obvious heading in, that’s fair – some of the names weren’t in attendance by accident. That includes Shaw product Curtis Hines, who’s been waiting two years in the D-League player pool to catch on with a team. The 27-year-old guard found his way from North Carolina to Toronto through a connection that may serve him well, one that was rekindled at a serendipitous family event this summer.

Running into head coach Jerry Stackhouse is certainly a bit of good fortune.

“He was at a family reunion in July,” Hines recalled. “And he seen me play with his family actually in his AAU team that’s based out of Georgia. They would come down for the family reunion, and I played, and he liked my game. He always heard about me, but he was just asking was I still playing, and I said ‘Yes sir,’ and he said he was going to keep me in contact. Around Aug. 15, he sent me a text that he got a job with the Raptors 905, and I should come down for a tryout, that it was a great opportunity for me.”

Again, nobody is ever “just a guy.” Except for maybe Rahul Kapil, who won a Twitter contest to have his tryout paid for by Jared Sullinger. Kapil perhaps didn’t have the experience or the skill level to keep up with the impressive amount of local talent at the tryout, but he got to show off his love for the game – “What I lack in talent I bring in heart” – and may have found himself a new favorite player in the process in Sullinger.

“I’m glad he didn’t have to pay,” Stackhouse quipped, later showing appreciation for the amount of passion Kapil and a host of others brought to the proceedings. “He wasn’t bad.”

The new 905 coach did walk away pleased with the general level of talent on display, and while he wouldn’t tip his hand – the 905 can’t risk one of their camp invites getting scooped up by a competing team – it’s clear there are plans for at least some of these players.

“We hope so,” Stackhouse said. “There’s some talent here. There really is… Obviously, our assignment guys are the priority, making sure that they get better. When they’re not on assignment, we still want to be competitive and we want to give ourselves a good chance to win. We want guys who can come in and help us win.”

If even one of the players trying out can replicate the seasons Smith and Post had, a suddenly thinned-out Raptors 905 herd could have reinforcements – and some additional local flavor – on the way.


Click to comment

VIDEO: Raptors have some keep-up skills

Our man Faizal Khamisa posted this yesterday and I forgot to pass it along. The Toronto Raptors wrapped up a practice session in Burnaby not only with some yoga yesterday, but also with a good game of Kemari/Pele/kick-ups. As it turns out, Lucas Nogueira has quite the ball control.

All the TFC games the guys are always snapping from are clearly paying off. That, or Nogueira spending the last few weeks glued to Flamenco games between workouts.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Patrick Patterson

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

In the preseason of 2015-2016, the power forward position was up for grabs after the departure of long-time Raptor Amir Johnson. The idea was that Patrick Patterson would slot into the starting lineup, spacing out the floor a bit more for drive-and-kick opportunities with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and allowing Jonas Valanciunas more space to operate in the low post. This plan would be shoved to the side when Patterson struggled in the preseason, and newly acquired veteran Luis Scola appeared to be an able candidate to fill in as a starter.

Patterson wouldn’t start in a single regular season game last season, but after a slow start Patterson would find more floor time, and his numbers would improve drastically as the year went on. Before the All-Star break, Patterson was averaging 24.4mpg, 6.3ppg and 4.2TRB on 39% shooting from the field and 34% from three, all numbers below Patterson’s averages in his previous seasons with the team. Scola would slow down a bit as the season progressed, too, and wouldn’t be able to defend in important late-game situations, so the Raptors only option was to play Patterson more.

He would step up on both ends of the floor, and he would play very important minutes down the final stretch of the season. He probably should have been starting. After the All-Star break, he averaged 27.7mpg, 8.1pts, and 4.5TRB on 44.5% shooting from the field and, most notably, 39% from three. This trend would continue into the postseason, and Patterson would start nine games in the playoffs, playing significant minutes due to his strong defensive presence guarding multiple positions and stronger forwards like LeBron James and Joe Johnson.

While Patterson’s ability to guard multiple positions on defense is a great asset, his offensive game and ability to stretch the floor also serve a major role for the Raptors. A majority of Patterson’s shots last year were above the break threes, which accounted for 174 of his 293 3-point attempts, Patterson shot 35.6% on those, which is roughly league average, while 59.4% of all of his shots were threes. While Patterson might not be the most elite shooting stretch four in the NBA, his 37% three point shooting on 2.9 attempts over a four-year sample is essential to their floor spacing. Players like Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joesph weren’t players who operated too far away from the rim, so having Patterson to kick the ball out to as the trailer helped get a lot of easy, wide-open shots. Patterson was efficient in this offensive system, and when Patterson was on the floor the Raptors were 6.2 points per-100 possessions better at the offensive end.


Entering training camp this season, the starting power forward position is not Patterson’s to lose, it’s his to win. With the offseason acquisition of free agent Jared Sullinger, who fits better than Scola next to Valanciunas on defense (the amount of rebounds that tandem is going to grab will be ridiculous), Patterson once again slots as the presumed sixth man. Sullinger also fits nicely into their offensive system, as someone who sets great screens, and his mid-range shot situates him nicely in the “Horns” offense the Raptors run a lot.

It looks as though Patterson will have to prove himself to be the starter. Both Sullinger and Patterson find themselves in contract years, and the fight for that starting spot won’t be an easy decision for head coach Dwayne Casey. As mentioned this week in the Media Day notes article that Blake Murphy wrote, Casey is leaning toward Sullinger early on:

“I’m not going to commit to it, but right now, today, I would say Jared Sullinger, it’s his to lose…I consider Pat the sixth starter for me, but for the balance of the minutes, balance of the first unit-second unit, I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind.”

Patterson still has a chance to move into the starting spot, and a hot start to the season on the offensive end might be the deciding factor that clinches this role. Also mentioned on media day was that Patterson doesn’t really have a preference as to what his role is on the team: Starter, reserve, whatever. Patterson wants to play a major role on this team, no matter where he’s situated on the depth chart, and he’d have solid value once again if he was playing the sixth man role for what should be a solid bench unit once again.

Follow – @RaptorsRepublic

Follow – @Spenred

Click to comment

Morning Coffee – Thu, Sep 29

Measuring Raptors’ success will have to go beyond win total

Head coach Dwane Casey spoke in some what circular terms, saying the expectation is continued growth and the measure of that is winning, but also that the playoffs are the measuring stick. Team president Masai Ujiri spoke about the team learning how to win and how to grow from within, and while the Raptors are well on their way to establishing that culture, becoming a “winning franchise” may only represent repeating at this very high level of success rather than taking a new, obvious step forward each and every season.

“To me, expectation in sports is winning. That’s the mandate in sports. It’s all about winning,” Ujiri said of the organization’s target. “I don’t know where to put it…I really don’t like to do that before the beginning of the season. We’re going to go out there and compete and be the best we can be.”

That’s how they should be thinking, however nonspecific it sounds. And to be clear, the next step is exceedingly difficult: Making the jump from fringe “maybe if LeBron James gets injured, they can go to the finals” pseudo-contender (a very nice place to be, given the history of the franchise, by the way) to “legitimate title contender.” The lack of flexibility the team had this offseason and the smart decision to value continuity and flexibility moving forward precluded the team from adding a piece to take that jump, if such a piece even existed. And so the ultimate goal, and the logical next step, may fall short of the “attainable” criteria.

“I think me personally, I think it’s time, I want a ring,” Kyle Lowry said. “I want to win a championship. Be the best team we can be once the regular season’s over, and then go from there.”

That’s not to say having that stretch goal in place isn’t a good thing. The Raptors were close last year, and it’s the experience of that proximity that can push the holdovers to fight to get back there. Imagine Sisyphus shooting jumpers, and all that.

“The motivation of knowing what it felt like being two games away from having an opportunity to compete for a championship,” DeRozan said. “And using that motivation going into tomorrow, the first day of training camp, and understanding that we’re at the bottom of the hill now. We’ve got to work our way up and take on every challenge that we’re going to face.”

2016-2017 Player Preview: Terrence Ross

Although his shooting is a valuable asset on the team, there’s just so much more to him athletically that is being boxed up by his lack of ball handling skills. And while having efficient catch-and-shoot players who can roll off screens for easy shots are important, they can only be used in a limited capacity when their defense is a liability and the rest of their offensive game is limited. Ross has shown flashes of greater skill both offensively and defensively, but the consistency has never been there, leading to his potentially diminished role on the depth chart. The games in which he does drive to the basket, he shows an impressive ability to finish at the rim (although he still shies away from contact), as he shot 67.1 percent on 70 attempts at the rim. Again, it’s the lack of consistency in that facet of his game that’s frustrating.

I truly believe a player isn’t who they are at 25, or when they’re still just entering their fifth year in the league, but with Ross there’s this weird feeling as though this might be it. His numbers don’t seem to move too far off of his previous year’s average. Last season, Ross averaged a little under 10ppg, on 8.6 shots, shooting 43% from the field and, far more notably, 38% from three, where more than half of all of his shots came from. He’s now shot 37.7% on 1,333 career triples, establishing himself as a top-20 shooter in the league. And those rates are almost identical to the previous two seasons, which causes a lot of Raptors to wonder, “Is Terrence Ross ever going to take the next step?”

It wouldn’t be surprising if this is peak Ross, and his numbers and role are as good as it gets. It also wouldn’t be surprising if over the next few years Ross was to figure out some of his flaws and seriously take the next step in his game, which would entail more reliable defense and more aggression attacking closeouts from the perimeter.

Raptors Training Camp 2016: Day 2 Recap | Toronto Raptors

Although he’s dealing with a roster that is younger than a season before, Casey feels that maturity trumps a player’s age in years.

“The one reason it doesn’t feel as young is all the young guys have been here for awhile,” Casey said. “We are a young team. 10 guys under 25, [but] DeMar is mature for his age. Patrick Patterson is mature for his age. I think J.V. Is very mature for his age. Our guys have been through a lot together and I think that adds to the maturity level even though we’re young. It’s always a challenge to win with a young team in the league, but I think our guys are up to the task.”

Continuity is key for building a winning culture and Casey is glad to have his core intact. He has praised both Lowry and DeRozan for their leadership off the floor and in the locker room. Lowry knows patience will be important when bringing along younger teammates this season.

“[We’ve got to] talk to them,” Lowry said. “Keep these guys uplifted. They’re going to make mistakes, but if you make a mistake that’s an aggressive mistake, we can’t get mad at you. That’s the one thing I’ll tell them, as long as you go out there and play your butt off, you go out there and give it everything you’ve got, you make a mistake, who can be mad at that? No one can be mad at that. You’ve got to respect it. As long as they give the effort, man, you’ve just got to tip your hat, say, okay, this is what happened, now how do we fix it?”

Raptors’ DeMarre Carroll ready to start with clean slate | Toronto Star

“A big difference,” said DeRozan. “It was tough for us last year to figure out ways to play without him. Even when he was playing early on he was hurt (and) even when came back he wasn’t his full self and we still managed to make history.

“To have him back at the start of camp, start of pre-season, to be able to implement him fully is going to give us everything that we’ve been searching for.”

The six-foot-eight, 215-pound Carroll only returned to the court for live action last week, and said his off-season regimen included making sure all the proper steps were taken to ensure his knee is ready for the season.

“We took a hard approach about it and we did it the right way,” said Carroll, who took a month off after the playoffs in hopes of reducing the swelling. “Last season it was more of a rush, trying to get me back. We didn’t go through the whole thing we needed to go through to get the knee to where it needs to be. I feel that we’re on the right track.”

Carroll, who averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season, came through the first two days of camp unscathed for the Raptors, who open their exhibition schedule on Saturday at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena against the Golden State Warriors.

“(The team) has talked about bringing me along slowly, not trying to kill myself in pre-season,” said Carroll. “Just be ready and healthy for the first game of the season.”

Best basketball year of Kyle Lowry’s life | ESPN

Lowry’s mother, Marie Holloway, worked 10 years at the IRS and 15 years with the U.S. Postal Service to support her family as a single parent. And when she wasn’t working, she was chauffeuring her youngest son to AAU practices and games.

“He’s just driven,” Holloway said. “Everything that he wants to do and sets his mind to do, he does it. And that’s where that edge comes in. Because even now he’s still small compared to everybody else, so he knew he had to be special.

“People ask me that all the time what did you do? I didn’t do anything. I just followed directions. Wherever he needed to be, wherever his brother told me he needed to be, I just made sure that he was there. I’ve driven halfway across the country — to Memphis for nationals — because we couldn’t afford to fly out there.”

Holloway, who lives comfortably in South Jersey now, is extremely proud of how far Lowry has grown as a person.

“He really had a thing about trusting men and making sure they were really in his corner,” Holloway said. “But the thing about him is, if he loves you, he loves you. There’s really no gray area with him. He’s matured so much. He was 19 going into the NBA and I think he had to figure things out, realizing you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But like I said, once he realizes that you really are about him and he trusts you, there’s nothing he won’t do for you.

“Over the last few years since he’s gotten married and had children, I’ve always loved him, but I really love him because now he’s starting to let people see his personality. He’s a good kid. Eventually he’ll hit a wall, but he’s still on high. He’s on a mission.”

The Raptors Are Still A Good Power Forward From Contending | Today’s Fast Break

We’ve seen Toronto use a stopgap last season, so this is not new. Scola was not a starting-caliber player last season and was clearly the second best power forward on the roster.

He was only the starter because Dwane Casey wanted to keep a killer bench unit that included Patrick Patterson, together. The starting unit with Scola at power forward was actually outscored per 100 possessions last season while the bench was among the best in the league. It was one of Toronto’s best assets, and Patterson was a big reason why.

Even with Biyombo gone, that should still be the case next season. The three-man relief team of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and Patterson is still around, after all, and it worked beautifully together last season.

That’s what’s giving Casey once again pause when it comes to moving Patterson, a better player and a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, to a starting spot. The Raptors will try to start their second-best power forward there, once again, hoping that unit doesn’t get into too big a hole and make up the ground with the subs.

That plan worked last year, but it might be harder to pull off this upcoming season. Scola is a flawed player, especially on the defensive end, but Sullinger isn’t much better. We are talking about someone who struggled when he had to guard players in space even when he played center, so it’s hard to see him do better at power forward.

Replacing Biyombo | TSN

With Raptors’ training camp under way, nearly the entire rotation that made the Conference Finals is back for the new season, with the notable exception of Bismack Biyombo, who signed in Orlando. Who will step up and inherit his minutes? Josh Lewenberg and Jack Armstrong have more.

‘Way for the guys to relax and re-centre themselves’: Raptors embracing yoga | Toronto Sun

With all the talk about filling the void left by Bismack Biyombo, one already established answer almost fell through the cracks. Fortunately Casey was there to bring it to the forefront.

“I think Jonas has a big part of (the missing rim protection),” Casey said. “There in the playoffs he had begun to do a much better job of (defending) the pick and roll and we are going to see a ton (of that). People are going to try and run us, our transition defence is going to have to be impeccable.”

Fortunately for Casey he saw his young centre take a big step in this regard last spring.

“We are going to have to contain the ball and protect the paint,” Casey said. “That’s where (Valanciunas) can be a big plus for us with his size and length. He did that when he was healthy during the playoff run. I thought he was playing some of the best defensive basketball of his career then.”

@vndsgn with a sick alternate jersey design #raptors #wethenorth #demarderozan

A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on

Listen to the HeadQuarters: Episode 40, Brought to you by Chris Bosh | Raptors HQ

In the first episode of the show’s second season, Sean Woodley is joined by John Gaudes to recap the goings on at Raptors media day, discuss the health of DeMarre Carroll, predict 2016-17 win totals for the Eastern Conference’s teams and answer listener questions. This episode is brought to you by Chris Bosh.

Media Day in 0:50. Why? Because we like timelapses. #WeTheNorth

A video posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Now I'm the same way, overtime all the time, every night, hey.

A photo posted by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

Canadian Brady Heslip’s NBA dream may yet come true with Raptors | The Globe and Mail

The challenge is to prove himself as a point guard, which is what VanVleet is, and the Raptors are looking for in the absence of Wright. Heslip has played point guard before but is more naturally a shooting guard, even though he has a point guard’s height, noted by Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

That Heslip is a lights-out shooter is not in question. In his one D-League stint, with Reno in 2014, he shot 44 per cent and set a single-game record with 13 threes. Casey said Heslip is so good from three that when he sets up for an open look it’s “almost like a layup.”

“I love the way he shoots the basketball,” Casey said.

But the opportunity is at point guard, bringing the ball up the floor, initiating the offence, defending opposing point guards, handling ball screens.

Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, Toronto’s primary point guards, both praised Heslip’s shooting. Of VanVleet, Lowry and Joseph both cited his play as a point guard.

Day ✌🏽️. #WeTheNorth

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Raptors Open Practice 2016 | Toronto Raptors

October 11 Doors open at 630pm @ Air Canada Centre

It's almost here… 🏀 #raptors

A photo posted by Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt) on

Click to comment

Raptors 905 tickets on sale Thursday at 10 a.m.

Just passing along a reminder from the team that individual game tickets for the 2016-17 Raptors 905 season go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m.

From a team release:

Raptors 905, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors, announced Wednesday single-game tickets for its second season will go on sale to fans Thursday, September 29 at 10 a.m.

Season seats for Raptors 905 are available from as low as $192 per seat. Single-game tickets start at $14 per game. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are as low as $9.05. For more details on season tickets, flex packs or groups of 10 or more please call (416) 815-6173 or email

Raptors 905 will play 22-of-24 home games at Hershey Centre in Mississauga and two contests at Air Canada Centre. This season, weeknight home games will start at 7:30 p.m., while home games on Saturday and Sunday will start at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The team will only play one home game that conflicts with a Raptors home game (compared to nine last season).

Both school day games at Hershey Centre (November 23 versus Windy City and January 25 versus Texas) are already sold out, while there is a waiting list for the two school day games at Air Canada Centre (December 20 versus Grand Rapids and March 13 versus Austin).

Raptors 905 will open the 2016-17 regular season at Hershey Centre on Friday, November 18 versus the Greensboro Swarm (7:30 p.m.). The 905 open the campaign with a season-long six-game home stand from November 18 – December 1.

They don’t provide a hard-link, but I think your best bet is to go here in the morning or check for a link from @Raptors905. You can see schedule details here.

Click to comment

2016-2017 Player Preview: Terrence Ross

The 2016-2017 NBA season is only a few weeks away. I seems like it’s been an extremely long offseason but the new season is finally here. The Raptors are coming off the greatest playoff run in their history, and for the most part, they’re bringing back the same roster in hopes that continued player development and better health this year can push them over the final edge.

One player who got talked about a lot this offseason was Raptor wing Terrence Ross, and not for the right reasons. Ross’ name had been floated in a lot of trade talk, however substantiated, especially for Philadelphia 76ers centre Nerlens Noel. Nothing came of those talks, and Ross still remains a part of the roster. In late October of last year, the Raptors re-signed Ross to a 3yr/$31M deal, a very fair contract for his role on the team in the new NBA economy, and the extension also makes him a tradeable asset. This is year five for the 25-year-old Ross, and it might be his make or break season.

After the signing of DeMarre Carroll in last year’s offseason, Ross saw a move to the bench, only starting seven games despite Carroll being injured for the majority of the season. Over the course of the season, second-round pick Norman Powell stepped up, showed he was more polished offensively than some originally thought, and proved he could be a legitimate defender against multiple positions, diminishing Ross’ minutes even further.

In the two seasons where Ross was a primary starter, he averaged 26.1 minutes, which dropped by 2.2 minutes last year. He continued to produce the same numbers, especially once a bad slump to start the year subsisded. And that reason alone is what really frustrates fans: Ross’ problems since he was drafted haven’t changed in four years. His struggles on offense primarily lie within his poor ball handling ability, which inhibits him from driving to the basket (despite his athleticism), ultimately leading to an insanely low rate free throws attempted. It also makes his game fairly predictable as a bench shooter, though that doesn’t mean the shooting doesn’t have substantial value.

Ross’ game has become pretty one dimensional. The Raptors had a lack of 3-point shooting last season, and Ross was important to have for just that reason. On catch-and-shoot attempts over 10 feet, Ross shot an amazing 40.5%, and 41.1% on threes. Looking at the shot chart below, you can see a majority of his shots are coming from the wing. It’s a pretty predictable play for Ross, albeit efficient. He shoots a lot from that wing area by curling through screens or even occasionally running an iso play from that side.


Although his shooting is a valuable asset on the team, there’s just so much more to him athletically that is being boxed up by his lack of ball handling skills. And while having efficient catch-and-shoot players who can roll off screens for easy shots are important, they can only be used in a limited capacity when their defense is a liability and the rest of their offensive game is limited. Ross has shown flashes of greater skill both offensively and defensively, but the consistency has never been there, leading to his potentially diminished role on the depth chart. The games in which he does drive to the basket, he shows an impressive ability to finish at the rim (although he still shies away from contact), as he shot 67.1 percent on 70 attempts at the rim. Again, it’s the lack of consistency in that facet of his game that’s frustrating.

I truly believe a player isn’t who they are at 25, or when they’re still just entering their fifth year in the league, but with Ross there’s this weird feeling as though this might be it. His numbers don’t seem to move too far off of his previous year’s average. Last season, Ross averaged a little under 10ppg, on 8.6 shots, shooting 43% from the field and, far more notably, 38% from three, where more than half of all of his shots came from. He’s now shot 37.7% on 1,333 career triples, establishing himself as a top-20 shooter in the league. And those rates are almost identical to the previous two seasons, which causes a lot of Raptors to wonder, “Is Terrence Ross ever going to take the next step?”

It wouldn’t be surprising if this is peak Ross, and his numbers and role are as good as it gets. It also wouldn’t be surprising if over the next few years Ross was to figure out some of his flaws and seriously take the next step in his game, which would entail more reliable defense and more aggression attacking closeouts from the perimeter. It’s hard to predict, all we can do is hope a few things click for Ross and the full potential of his athleticism and shooting come together.

Until then, Powell may be on his heels, and Ross will be a favorite of Trade Machine users.

Follow – @RaptorsRepublic

Follow – @Spenred