It’s another off day ahead of the Toronto Raptors 3 p.m. Thursday tip-off in London, England, against the Orlando Magic. There are a few minor news items today, as there were yesterday.
Let’s start with things that actually pertain to basketball.
Magic injury updates
The Raptors are at full health save for the absence of DeMarre Carroll, but the England faithful may not be getting the best Orlando has to offer.
That’s because Aaron Gordon suffered a sprained right ankle during Wednesday’s practice, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun says Gordon is considered questionable. Gordon missing the game would be a good break for the Raptors, taking a gifted multi-position defender off the floor, but it sucks from the perspective of more general basketball fandom. I love watching Gordon, and I’m intrigued by head coach Scott Skiles playing him with Tobias Harris more frequently. Gordon’s averaging 7.1 points and five rebounds in 19.4 minutes, has hit 17-of-49 from long-range (an important development if it sticks), and has lifted the Magic by 1.9 points per-100 possessions on defense (though they’re slightly better without him overall).
Meanwhile, Elfrid Payton is ready to return from a four-game absence due to an ankle contusion, though whether he starts is still a mystery, Robbins relays. Payton is averaging 11 points and 5.9 assists in his sophomore campaign, and the Magic have taken off since Skiles opted to bring Victor Oladipo off the bench and stagger his two defense-first guards. With Payton back, there will be no easy paths to the rim for Kyle Lowry and no rest on the other end for pick-and-roll defenders (who, by the way, should drop back freely and force Payton and Oladipo into shooting to prevent dribble-penetration).
C.J. Watson remains out with an injured calf, and Joe Harris, acquired this week in a salary dump from Cleveland, has already been waived. So the Magic will look something like this:
PG: Payton, Shabazz Napier
SG: Never Google, Oladipo, Tyler Harvey
SF: Harris, (Gordon), Swag God
PF: Channing Frye, Andrew Nicholson
C: Vucci Mane, Theory of a Dedmon, Jason Smith
Scola on the trip
Argentine veteran Luis Scola is a fan of international expansion but, like me, sees some inefficiencies in a one-game trip across the pond.
Cont. …. Scola would like to see the league send four or five teams over together and play three or four games spread over 10 days.
— Mike Ganter (@Mike_Ganter) January 13, 2016
I tend to agree with him, and while the league would probably be hesitant to have teams lose too many home games, I think a four-team mini-tournament of sorts, one that sees each team play two games, losing a home and a road, would be doable. They may even be able to branch out beyond England. And yes, you make the Spurs go.
Valanciunas military service
Ganter noted yesterday that Valanciunas was drafted into the Lithuanian military service on Tuesday. He’s exempt but said he will participate during the summer. On Wednesday, he posted this photo, as it’s the 25th anniversary of Lithuania’s “January Events.” Lithuania had just reestablished itself as a state and refused to accept Gorbachev’s ultimatum to recognize USSR rule, leading Soviets to storm parliament. More than 700 civilians were injured and several lost their lives, as tens of thousands of unarmed citizens stood in the streets around parliament (and other marquee targets) as human anti-tank barricades (Gintaras Einikis and Alvydas Pazdrazdis, Lithuanian basketball players, among them). I’m doing the scale of this a disservice with such a brief summary, but I suggest reading more here. It’s an enormous day in Lithuanian history.
A photo posted by Jonas Valanciunas (@jvalanciunas) on
Photos from the trip
— James Plowright (@JPlowright_NBA) January 13, 2016
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 13, 2016
Raps on the tube. 🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/3S4CBytA3D
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 13, 2016
A photo posted by Patrick Patterson (@pdpatt) on
Vote or die
A photo posted by DeMar DeRozan (@demar_derozan) on
A few good Raptors-related pieces around the web today.
Josh Lewenberg of TSN makes a great point: Lowry getting voted in as a starter may be just what DeRozan needs to get in as a reserve.
Lewenberg also has a podcast up with Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys. It’s very much worth a listen.
Marc Stein of ESPN reports that deeply beloved former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo could be in the mix for the Brooklyn Nets’ vacancy. (Colangelo gets kind of a bad post-facto rap, by the way. He was certainly flawed and made a few poor judgments, but he was hyper-aggressive, fun, and left the team with the talent that now makes up most of its core. Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, though.)
Eric Koreen and Holly Mackenzie have a halfway point podcast. Their podcast is always fun, and Raptors fans are kind of spoiled between them, the Raptors HQ pod, our three pods, and the Wolstat-Lewenberg one. Y’all getting enough audio content, or what?
Michael Grange of Sportsnet wonders the Raptors should push their chips to the center of the table.
RaptorsHQ has a man on location in London (shout out to James Plowright), and he has some audio from today’s practice session.
Alex Wong of Vice Sports talked to some of the players and the league about the trip.
Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus took a crack at creating a Rebounding Value Index based on how many rebounds a player gets that are “free” or contested. Jonas Valanciunas ranks 11th in the NBA. Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo also grade out as above-average. That doesn’t mean Valanciunas’ is the 11th-best rebounder in the league, but that his rebounds could be (this is a hypothetical framework) much more valuable (10.5 percent) than his rebounding total would suggest, by a greater factor than all but 10 other players. Biyombo grades as elite in preventing opponent O-rebounds, and Valanciunas grades quite well in that regard, too.
Sticking at Nylon Calculus, Mike Honkasalo looked at the Raptors’ bigs taking such a high volume of corner threes. This, I think, speaks to the Raptors often inverting the offense with DeRozan or Johnson inside, and how often the Raptors use their four to screen for DeRozan while the five screens for a ball-handler.