Archive for April, 2012

Raptors at Bucks Points Per Game:

- April 23rd, 2012

The road portion of Toronto’s season is over. Considering the lack of wins and the number of examples of terrible basketball early in the campaign, it went pretty quickly no? All that remains is Thursday’s meeting with New Jersey with lottery balls the only thing on the line. The game will be reminiscent of the Toronto-Miami matchup late in the pre-LeBron lottery year. The Raptors lost that game and ended up with the fourth pick instead of the fifth.

Some thoughts from the penultimate game of the year:

- Tough season for the Bucks. With a healthy Andrew Bogut they would have been a playoff team. I really like the move they made even though I’m not a big Monta Ellis guy. Ekpe Udoh is solid and Bogut never seems to be able to stay healthy. Now they can get value for either Ellis or Brandon Jennings down the line when they realize that that pairing simply cannot work.

- It was by no means Metta World Peace-esque, but DeMar DeRozan’s ejection was a little bit surprising. One thing he did a lot better this season than in the past was refuse to gripe about calls. In turn, he seemed to get a lot more respect from officials, who sent him to the line often, particularly in the second half of the season. He looked to legitimately travel on the play and then chucked the ball away. That’s likely the result of a long, frustrating season. He’s been here a while now and he’s lost more games in a couple of months in Toronto than he did in all his high school or college games.

- James Johnson continued his late surge with another good game. He was in a brutal slump after his disagreement with Dwane Casey and subsequent benching, but rebounded to close the season on a high note with a solid couple of weeks. The tough part for the Raptors, as was pointed out in the broadcast, is that Johnson seems to be at his best as a power forward. The team desperately needs a starting small forward (and a backup, though maybe a backup is no longer an issue thanks to the play of Alan Anderson) but is stacked with talent at power forward. Linas Kleiza also plays best as a power forward (a stretch four to be precise) so Bryan Colangelo surely will be busy this off-season clearing out his power forward logjam. Andrea Bargnani is the starter and nobody expects he’ll be going anywhere, but there isn’t enough room for Johnson, Kleiza, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis as well.

- The above has to rule out free agent to be Ersan Ilyasova as a fit in Toronto no?

- The word going around from Sacramento is that Tyreke Evans will be on the block this summer. He looked like a perennial all-star after his rookie of the year campaign, but fell off the next year due to reported weight issues and his numbers have slipped again as his role has decreased. Is he a fit in Toronto?  Colangelo will be looking to add talent in a trade, but Evans and  DeRozan are redundant, so DeRozan would have to go to make room. Toronto’s invested a few years now in DeRozan, he’s a good kid with no character issues. Would they gamble on a guy who has a much dicier rep who isn’t as hard a worker, even if he is a fair bit more talented? I’d doubt it.

Raptors, Alan Anderson could stay together

- April 19th, 2012

Alan Anderson’s return to the NBA after a long absence has gone better than anybody besides Anderson could have expected and against all odds, the swingman might have played himself into Toronto’s future plans.

That will depend on what president/general manager Bryan Colangelo does this summer, but don’t count out an Anderson return to Canada after stints in Italy, Russia, Israel and the U.S., among others.

His play on two 10-day contracts convinced the Raptors to sign Anderson for the remainder of this campaign recently. In nine starts, Anderson has averaged 11.8 points, shot 43.6% from three and 44.7% from the field overall (his numbers are 9.1, 42.2%, 43.6% overall in 14 appearances with Toronto).

Colangelo is going to be extremely busy this summer looking to fill holes at small forward and point guard while also bringing top prospect Jonas Valanciunas and possibly another rookie or two into the fold via the draft (Toronto has its own first round pick, its second and another second from Indiana).

Anderson’s skill-set (versatile, rugged defender, who can hit outside shots at a high rate) fits  well with what Colangelo is building, but both sides are keeping their options open, knowing the roster could see a massive overhaul in the off-season.

“We will definitely have interest in him for next season but we mutually agreed (it was) not good to be tied down,” Colangelo told the Toronto Sun.

“If we need the (cap) space we have it. If he sees less opportunity because we draft, sign or trade for a wing, then he can look elsewhere.

“It’s best for both sides, but we also mutually like the fit.”

With his team well under the cap and the free agent pickings less than ideal, Colangelo would love to make a splash via the trade route prior to July 1st. That way, he would be able to take advantage of the space the Leandro Barbosa trade created, before that no longer would be the case.

Anderson won’t command the type of deal Anthony Parker (a superstar in Israel while Anderson merely was a good player) – got the last time Colangelo rebuilt the Raptors (Parker got $12 million over three years), but a Gary Forbes-esque deal ($1.5-$2 million a season) could make sense.

- Ryan Wolstat

Raptors at Heat Points Per Game:

- April 19th, 2012

So, that LeBron James guy is pretty good. Dwane Casey wants his Raptors to put on weight in the off-season in order to match up with guys like LeBron, but the thing is, not many people can do that. More realistically, the Raptors need to bulk up to match up with other players – nobody matches up with LeBron.

That said, Casey is urging his team to “throw the first punch” every night for the rest of this season (come out and perform well in the first quarter) and the team is doing that more often than not, including against Miami on Wednesday, which is a good sign.

- James Johnson continued his resurgence offensively with another good game, though his defence has slipped significantly from how good it was earlier this year.

- That LeBron buzzer beater play was something to see. One of the more entertaining plays to go against the Raptors this season.

Hawks at Raptors Points Per Game:

- April 17th, 2012

As expected, the Hawks got revenge for Sunday’s drubbing, beating the Raptors in the finale of a rare home-and-home series. Early on it looked like Toronto would pull off another upset, but though the Hawks lack heart, they are too good to let that happen.

- Looks like Jeff Teague took getting shut down by Ben Uzoh personally eh? He was invisible at both ends in Atlanta, but bounced back with 19 points, 10 assists, just one turnover, two blocks and two steals. That’s how you bounce back from a bad effort. Though Uzoh struggled with his shot, he had 10 rebounds and eight assists. For his size, he’s a tremendous rebounder. Uzoh has great timing, aggressively tracks the ball and can jump. (No Bargnani jokes please).

- Is it too early to add Ivan Johnson’s name to the (long) list of Raptor killers? He has played very well against them in every game this year.

- Five more trips to the line from DeMar DeRozan and this time, he hit them all, making his coach a lot happier than he was in Atlanta. Again, his late-season play has to be very comforting to the Raptors who want to keep him around long-term, after a dreadful first half. After shooting 36.7% from the field in January, DeRozan has settled in around the 44% range (not great, but a lot better) and he’s shooting 88.5% from the line over his past 10 games and well over 80% over the past two months despite Casey’s recent comments that he needs to hit his free throws. With less offensive talent around him (Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon of late) DeRozan has also improved his passing and taken to scoring from a wider variety of spots on the floor.

- Nice to see Solomon Alabi rewarded with 24 minutes. He works extremely hard and these final games will be a chance for Casey to reward him for setting a good example, while also giving the team more of a chance to evaluate him before making a contractual call this off-season. Alabi surprised with eight points, nine rebounds and a block, though the Hawks went on a big run with him in the game. It’s still highly doubtful Alabi is back, but a few more nights like this could make the Raptors reconsider.

- Keep hearing talk that if the lottery balls don’t fall Toronto’s way and they pick in the 6-9 range the pick very much would be in play for a proven performer (think Jeff Green for Ray Allen, Jonathan Bender for Antonio Davis, etc.). A point guard would likely be the asking price.

 

Raptors at Hawks Points Per Game:

- April 16th, 2012

Here we go with some thoughts on Toronto’s surprising blowout win in Atlanta on Sunday.

I was (mostly) joking that Dwane Casey earned a coach of the year vote with Friday’s win over Boston. I’m serious now, he deserves a vote. Yes the Raps are a million games under .500, but what he has done here with this injury-ravaged group is worthy of recognition. Many believe Casey’s hiring is the best move Bryan Colangelo has done in his time here in Toronto.

- DeMar DeRozan is picking a fine time to stand out. There are a lot of decisions to be made by Colangeo and Co. this off-season but knowing that he has some stability at shooting guard after a bad first half by DeRozan has to be encouraging. Is DeRozan perfect? No, but he is way farther along now than he was in January when he was slumping horribly. He’s made strides in his game, becoming a competent defender, a quite solid mid-range shooter and a guy who will attack the rim all night and get a ton of trips to the line.

Obviously a priority will be to add a small forward who complements his game – ie. One who can rain threes while also getting to the line and playing solid defence. Despite his faults, Harrison Barnes remains an ideal player to put alongside DeRozan.

DeRozan posted up a bit against Atlanta and said that is something he is trying to add to his game, to emulate star guards like the guy he looks up to, Kobe Bryant.

“Just watching all the great two guards they always had that post-up capabilities,” DeRozan said.

“Take guys smaller than them into the post.”

- James Johnson still isn’t as chipper as he had been in the past – he still doesn’t look like he’s having as much fun as he once was, but the body language is improving a little bit at least. Whatever happened between him and Casey had a huge impact on him it seems (or else there is something going on with him behind the scenes).

- Casey is looking for Ed Davis to be more physical, not get pushed around as much, and we saw that at times against Atlanta. This is going to be a huge summer for Davis.

- UPDATE ANDERSON AND UZOH WERE BOTH SIGNED FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON THIS AFTERNOON

We’ll know today what happens with Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh. I’d be shocked if both aren’t picked up for the rest of the season. They’ve taken the ball and run with it, Anderson in particular. Hard to see him going back to Europe even if he could get a bit more money there. If guys like Bobby Simmons can get boatloads of cash though, surely somebody will pay a couple million for Anderson next year. At worst, he’ll have his pick of training camp invites.

-  Interesting to hear Casey talk a bit about the zone, comparing it to an eephus pitch or changeup in baseball. Atlanta had a lot of trouble with it.

“It’s a change up. We disguise it, sometimes teams don’t know if it’s man-to-man or zone. It helps, you can’t win a championship with it, but it’s a good thing to have in our pocket,” Casey said.

- Getting back to Casey’s coaching for a minute, you can tell he has this group paying attention, because they constantly repeat the points he and the rest of the staff make to them in meetings and at practice when responding to questions.

- Casey said Gary Forbes is not sitting on the bench of late because of anything he’s done, but rather because other players are performing well. “It’s hard to play 15 I’m trying to get everybody in there,” he said.

“Gary’s gotten a lot of minutes over the year, but we need to get him in there. James was playing well as a small.”

 

 

Celtics at Raptors Points Per Game:

- April 14th, 2012

Quite a victory by the Raptors and head coach Dwane Casey over Boston on Friday wasn’t it?

Not even the most hardcore of Raptor fans thought the team had a chance against Boston. Rajon Rondo clearly wasn’t into this one and Ray Allen was out, but this was still a statement game for Casey and his club. They won’t back down against anybody, they will fight and scrap and play above their talent level. It’s a very good sign for a franchise that has rarely had that over the course of its existence.

Some thoughts:

- I really liked the way DeMar DeRozan played. As he said afterwards, the shots weren’t falling so he decided to take it inside. He hit all 13 of his free throw attempts and consistently got elite defender Avery Bradley into trouble. As the clear No. 1 option, DeRozan stepped up. Now he’s going to have to learn how to do that in a complementary role going forward.

“Shots were’t falling so I was just trying to be aggressive. Get some easy points from the free throw line,” DeRozan said.

- Casey wants DeRozan to finish his and-ones more frequently, seeing that as “the next evolution” for the shooting guard.

- It was the seventh victory in team history when shooting under 35% fewest number of made field goals in a win.

- Full credit to Ben Uzoh for playing a great game. He has a knack for getting on the boards and was a major reason why the Raptors hammered Boston on the glass, a key to the win. He looked more confident and in control. Along with Justin Dentmon, he kept the turnovers to a minimum, another key.

“We defended and played together as a team, played hard. They really pick up the pressure, they really thrive on their defence. They’ve been on a roll. For us to get this win, this definitely boosts our confidence and shows what we’re capable of when we play hard, play together,” Uzoh said.

- Ed Davis remains a complete non-factor on offence and that jumper can’t be re-worked soon enough, but he is getting his on the boards. He had a game-high 12 rebounds and now has hit double figures in three straight games.

“Ed is putting his work in, paying his dues so let’s see where he is,” Casey said before the game.

- Casey’s comments about Bargnani were interesting. He basically said Bargnani (or other players) will be under a much different standard next season as the Raptors start to (hopefully) turn the corner. Minor ailments won’t mean missed games or extended absences. The toughness level and pain threshold will have to rise because the team is going to be intent on making a run at 7th or 8th in the weak East, which should be realistic with a number of upgrades coming via the draft, Lithuania, trades and through free agency.

- Casey said Bargnani’s standout first 13 games are “all he has to go on,” but later added that it might be unrealistic to think Bargnani can play at quite that high a level – particularly defensively, where he ranked No. 9 overall in the entire league, according to Synergy. Still, the coach wants him to be much closer to that level than to the Bargnani of old. As Casey says, he’s shown he can do it now, so it’s on him if he turns back into a pumpkin.

- Also interesting were Casey’s draft comments. I’ll have more on that another time, but suffice to say how hard a prospect plays will be a major factor for the Raptors. Valanciunas projects as a high impact guy with a great motor. Bryan Colangelo’s trick will be scooping up another prospect like that.

INFIRMARY UPDATE
Calderon was held out for “precautionary measures” so that he wouldn’t do anymore damage to his stitched up eye. He will try to return either Sunday or Monday against Atlanta.
His backup, Jerryd Bayless, is itching to play, but team doctors are expected to hold the restricted free agent out for the rest of the season.
Kleiza (knee) and Amir Johnson (back, foot) were able to play.

Sixers at Raptors Points Per Game:

- April 12th, 2012

A pretty predictable result on Wednesday. Philly was bitter about a recent loss to the Raptors and finally seems to be regaining some momentum after a horrific past two months.

- Raptors minus Bargnani and later Calderon didn’t have the depth, size, skill, quickness or talent to compete.

- Of course after I write about him Alan Anderson comes back down to earth. That’s to be expected though, he was shooting way better than he has historically. He did start very well though, before tailing off.

- James Johnson continues to try to do too much. He’s shooting too much, forcing bad shots and arguably not playing as well defensively as he was earlier in the year. Dwane Casey wants him to relax and play a simpler game. That message has gotten through at times, but not at others. Earlier in the year he was the best story of Toronto’s season and looked like a key piece of the rebuild moving forward, even if eventually he would be in a sixth man/defensive stopper type of role. Now? We’re not so sure. The James Johnson who doesn’t play within his role is not helping the Raptors. Johnson needs to get back to what he was doing earlier in the year if he wants to cement himself as a part of the future.

- Even after all this time, I’m still not sure what the Raptors have in DeMar DeRozan. He shows all kinds of flashes, but still needs to work on the consistency. I think he’s a solid player at both ends of the floor, but not a star. ESPN’s Chad Ford brought this up and I agree, if a shooting guard like Bradley Beal is the best player available when the Raptors pick at the draft in June, they need to take him and not worry about the fallout. DeRozan might be more of a small forward anyways. He doesn’t have the handles or shooting range of 90% of the shooting guards in the NBA. He has the athleticism to make up for some of the size he would give up playing as a small forward.

Raptors at Pacers Points Per Game:

- April 10th, 2012

Some takeaways from Monday’s game in Indianapolis, a contest that officially eliminated the Raptors from playoff contention.

First, credit to Dwane Casey and the Raptors for lasting until the final nine games of the season before being knocked out. With this bunch, that’s an achievement for sure.

Some thoughts that did not make my game story:

ANOTHER WAY

Sunday’s opponent, Oklahoma City, illustrated how to build a championship contender on the strength of top four draft picks. The Pacers are an example of another way to do it – albeit at best they are seen as a team that can win a playoff round, not a group that can compete for a title.

Instead of a superstar who is the face of the franchise the Pacers opt for a balanced, deep squad of equally talented contributors. It makes them hard to gameplan against and it asks of the players to sacrifice some of their stats for the good of the team, which many NBAers aren’t keen to do.

- Amir Johnson agreed that there are some comparisons between his former team, the Detroit Pistons and Indy in that both squads were built without superstars, both were built to be deep with equal talent at every position.

- Minus Bargnani, the Raptors ran a ton of iso plays for DeRozan, Gary Forbes and Linas Kleiza. While Forbes took advantage, DeRozan struggled with his shooting. Kleiza also got some post-ups and told us afterwards he feels he can post up small forwards and many power forwards as well.

- Amir Johnson, who went 7-of-9, many of them long jump shots, said Indiana was leaving him wide open, daring him to shoot, so he did.

- Leandro Barbosa said he is “having a good time” with the Pacers but “I still miss the guys.” He said while playing the Raptors was weird, playing the Suns as a Raptor was a little stranger for him because he spent so much time with the Suns.

- Jamaal Magloire gives the Raptors a much-needed presence. Even if he isn’t playing much or at all, he’s constantly up cheering on his teammates or instructing them. He gives it to opponents or refs when needed too. At one point, a referee told him to get back as he was too close to the floor from the bench. Magloire dished out some hard fouls and continued his season-long feud with Tyler Hansbrough. Ed Davis, a close friend of Hansbrough, said he knows all of Hansbrough’s moves from their time at North Carolina and that’s why he was able to block his shot. He laughed off any Magloire-Hansbrough bad blood. “You know how Big Cat is,” Davis said. Likely meaning he isn’t going to back down from anybody, especially physical players.

- The Raptors knew Alan Anderson could defend, but Casey said his shooting has been a surprise. I have said it before, but haven’t seen a reason yet why Anderson has been out of the league for so long. He’s better than a lot of 13-15th men on the strength of his defence alone. The shooting is a bonus. He is providing what the Raptors expected from Rasual Butler.

 

 

Raptors at Thunder Points Per Game:

- April 8th, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY —

So, the Raptors lose a game and Andrea Bargnani. Again. It’s not clear how long Bargnani will be out this time – he said his calf was hurting before the game and it got worse as it went on. He told the training staff and they told him to come off. It was too bad, since he was the best Raptor on the floor, aggressively taking the ball to the hoop as well as playing strong defence.

Some thoughts:

- I like what I see from Alan Anderson, he’s giving them a lot more than Rasual Butler did and they could do worse than making him a minimum guy at the end of the bench next season. He did a nice job on Kevin Durant, particularly early and blocked one of his shots. That said Casey was mad at everybody – including Anderson, who was on the court during that brutal 24-0 run, which was one off the franchise low, set twice.

“The end score isn’t important, I’m looking for the defensive toughness.

For the most part we’ve done that, we just don’t want to lose that down the stretch,” Casey said..

“DeMar can’t play 48 minutes and Jose can’t play 48 minutes. No matter who is on the court, you still need to have an attention to detail. Those breakdowns, they can’t happen.”

OLD KENTUCKY HOME

Former Kentucky Wildcats Casey and Jamaal Magloire were understandably pleased when shown a picture of the Superdome scoreboard taken just after the Wildcats won the NCAA title last Monday. Sunday’s backup centres, Magloire and the Thunder’s Nazr Mohammed teamed up to help Kentucky win its previous championship, back in 1998.

- Casey said he thinks there are “two teams playing at a different level, Miami and this team. Really explosive team, athletic, talented, not only on the offensive end but the defensive end as well. Present many challenges.”

- James Johnson isn’t going to get himself out of the doghouse by making poor shooting decisions.

- Toronto played very well early and forced a ton of turnovers, which kept the team in the game, but that all disappeared later on.

- You can tell from my game story, I think James Harden is a heck of a player. At one point he had only five points, but had arguably been the best player on the floor. Then he scored eight straight as Oklahoma City went on its run. Anywhere else, he’d be the top dog, or, at worst, second banana. I wonder if at some point he’ll go somewhere else either because he wants to be the man or, more likely, because the Thunder won’t be able to afford to keep so much talent?

Cavaliers at Raptors Points Per Game:

- April 6th, 2012

In a battle of two teams mixing NBAers with D-Leaguers, the Raptors looked great early and awful late.

The Raptors just have Cleveland’s number, with or without Kyrie Iriving, but, even if you make a team miss 65% of their shots, if you only make 30% of your own – as the Raptors did throughout the second half – you’re not going to win.

Some thoughts:

- DeMar DeRozan seems to have rounded out his game nicely. Not only is he getting to the line more than ever, but he’s also more active defensively – particularly in terms of looking to disrupt or block opponent shots. He told me earlier in the year that he has plenty of energy to score 20 points a night, plus play tough defence and now he’s starting to show it.

- Ed Davis is playing the best basketball of his career. With him, a lot of it is how much does he want it? How hard does he want to play? When he’s engaged and playing his hardest, Davis can be a force. His rebounding has been tremendous of late, he’s blocking shots and also looking a little more comfortable on the block. This is a good development for the Raptors as he either raises his trade value by playing this well, or shows that he might be able to replace Amir Johnson if he is the power forward traded in the off-season (it is extremely unlikely both Davis and Johnson return next year given the logjam at that position).

- I like what I’ve seen from Ben Uzoh a team can do worse than having him as a third point guard. He battles and does a lot of things solidly, including defending. Alan Anderson is showing that he can be a useful end of bench guy as well. Uzoh is fearless, he rebounds better than Andrea Bargnani despite being a foot shorter.

- Bargnani continues to sizzle offensively after slumping badly for a stretch. He’s found his shot and got off to a great start against Cleveland, but like the rest of the Raptors, struggled in the fourth quarter.

- I’ve liked Lester Hudson since he was in college and don’t see why he can’t be a scoring guard in the Earl Boykins role off of somebody’s bench. The guy can play.

- James Johnson didn’t play again. I’ve been in New Orleans, not with the team for the past week so I’m not sure what’s up other than it was an “internal issue.” The chatter has been it was back talk to Dwane Casey, but, again, I’ve been away so not as clued in as usual. Back on the beat on Sunday in Oklahoma City.