Raptors at Warriors Points Per Game: An epic disaster that might actually help franchise in the long run by forcing Masai Ujiri’s hand

- December 4th, 2013

Kobe’s 81 points; Isiah Thomas leaving the franchise after a failed coup, Damon Stoudamire following him not long after; Butch Carter, still the best coach in team history leaving after a failed coup; the Vince Carter trade; The Araujo selection; Giving fans Nets colours then losing in the playoffs despite being favoured; Turkoglu/Ball; Bargnani … the list is long, but add another entry to worst moments in franchise history when the low-light reel is played for the team’s 20th season.

How could Tuesday night happen? That’s a very good question. How do these things happen so often to the Raptors? Do other teams constantly go through them too? Is there any other NBA team where you know deep down, whether a fan of the team or someone who has covered it for a while, that no lead is safe, no matter how big? The Spurs are a polar opposite example, obviously, but when that franchise gets up big, you expect games to be closed. You never expect the Raptors to close. It helps when writing a game story, because you know you have to always have a backup option ready when covering this team, but it doesn’t do much for Toronto’s reputation.

Back on tangent: Tuesday’s epic failure could help this franchise in the long run. How?

(1) It’s clear this group lacks in leadership and winning experience. Good veteran leaders, with a winning history are some of the most crucial building  blocks in the NBA. We’ve seen it time and time again, you can have as much lottery talent as you like, without good vets, 98% of the time, you’ll accomplish nothing. This is a nice group, a talented group, but one that has no clue what to do in winning time.

(2) There’s no coming back from this for the coaching staff, so the elephant in the room, the lame duck status of Dwane Casey  will be resolved. And it can only be resolved one way now. “It’s hard to keep your head up,” said a stunned  Casey afterward. Dwane’s been around a long time. He surely knows his time in Toronto is running out, barring a miracle in the next couple of weeks – and how many miracles has this organization had on its side over the years? Starting the fourth, knowing Golden State was about to start throwing Mike Tyson haymakers, putting Steve Novak, the team’s worst defender on the floor was an odd gamble. Letting Kyle Lowry stay on the court despite getting his bell rung was a gamble. Even if he didn’t have a concussion, he didn’t look right. Julyan Stone did a decent job earlier and is a superb defender who forced Stephen Curry into a rare pull-up airball earlier in the game (Curry is the league’s best pull-up shooter). Then the team failed to load up at the three-point line, daring the Warriors the best three-point shooting team in NBA history, to beat Toronto by going to the rim. It wasn’t pretty.

(3) No more dithering. By waiting and “giving these guys a shot” President/GM Masai Ujiri thought he was being fair and also hedged, thinking players could raise their value/or come together and be a force in the East. Force in the East, even the awful, putrid, historically bad East is not going to happen. Sure this group still could make the playoffs, given half the conference is either not trying or totally discombobulated, but what’s the point. By hedging, Ujiri has seen DeMar DeRozan’s value rise significantly, seen Kyle Lowry’s stock likely rise, but also seen Rudy Gay’s value crater. He’s also made it tough for the team to be bad enough to sink to the bottom four by waiting to gut the roster. But now, only one course makes any sense. Move Lowry, become rudderless at the point and therefore, very bad and either sell high on DeRozan, or take expirings for Gay and open up cap space this summer. Anything else is futile. The DeRozan call is particularly tough. He’s now Toronto’s best player – though Gay could reclaim that spot by finding himself on offence. As good as DeRozan has been on offence – and he’s been good enough to be reasonably valuable on the open market, according to one source – he’s still a major liability defensively. Andrea Bargnani had to go because he killed the team on defence and wasn’t a huge help offensively. DeRozan isn’t Bargnani-bad on defence, not close really, but he’s still poor on that end. He is far better offensively though, so it’s a tough call. It depends on the return and just how deep you want a rebuild to go. In one scenario, if you keep DeRozan, you can become relevant pretty quickly as long as you move Gay for expirings and get a chance to draft Marcus Smart or Dante Exum. Even if you end up 8th or 9th and get Andrew Harrison, you might not have to do a complete rebuild. If you move DeRozan and don’t get a top 6 guy in the draft, you’re basically guaranteeing a long rebuild.

Here’s what I wrote before everything went to hell:

- Starts have been a major problem for the Raptors most games, but there were no issues on that front on Tuesday night in San Francisco. It might have been Toronto’s best start of the year, actually. A 14-5 edge on the boards, 66.7% shooting, did not allow the Warriors to hit a three … it was everything the team could have asked for to start a tough trip. It carried into the second quarter as the Raptors looked like the Warriors in the opening half, putting up 65 points.

- Close to home, Amir Johnson found his missing game and focus. He was a force in the second quarter, doing all the dirty work we’ve become so accustomed to. Johnson seemed to have some spring back and helped Toronto maintain the lead it built in the first quarter. It was his best performance of the season and a good sign for a club that desperately needs him.

- After a tough start to his Raptors career following a couple of injuries, Steve Novak appears to have found his form. Novak started 4-for-17 from three as a Raptor, but has shot 50% (8-for-16) since.

- The normally selfish Raptors were matching the Warriors in assists, dominating in bench points and crushing Golden State on the boards after three.

- You knew a Golden State run was coming in the fourth and boy did it ever come full bore at the Raptors. The defence that had been solid early sprung many leaks on the perimeter. The offence looked lost as Golden State increased the pressure significantly.

- Golden State was 4-for-18 from three (22.2%) before the fourth quarter explosion

- One good early sign was Toronto attacking Golden State inside early. You know Stephen Curry is going to light it up every night, so having Kyle Lowry post him up was solid coaching. Not only is Kyle stronger than Curry, meaning he could get easy buckets, he also is crafty enough to draw fouls on him down low. Was also impressed with Jonas Valanciunas getting Andrew Bogut, merely one of the NBA’s premier defenders, to bite on a pump fake, resulting in a big dunk. Still, as solid as he looked early, Valanciunas struggled later, getting pushed out of the post, leading to turnovers.

- Opponents had been dominating the Raptors in the paint over the three-game home losing streak. Knowing Klay Thompson is a great scorer, but a poor perimeter defender, DeMar DeRozan went right at him. When Andre Iguodala is playing, Golden State can make up for its backcourt’s defensive issues, when he’s not, things get dicey for them. And even though Curry can be beaten, he’s always a threat to steal the ball.

 

 

 

Categories: Basketball

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2 comments

  1. brad says:

    I still never understand tanking rationale – but in this case, the Raptors are losing, losing all types of different ways, losing after being up by 27pts – so why exactly do they need to be ‘blown up’? The idea previously behind ‘being bad’ is clearing out cap space, getting young players – but not just losing for sake of losing. What happens IF Raptors lose and gets a top 6 pick – but in the process have cleared out any other talent they have on the roster. Do they ‘tank’ a 2nd year to try to get another pick, maybe ‘tank’ a third year? And worst case, they ‘blow it up’ and don’t land a top 6 pick – or their top 6 pick doesn’t turn out to be anything more than a Derozan/Gay level. This strategy sucks. They should be setting the building blocks this year for what they want to look like – and I don’t see Gay being a part of that, but I do think Derozan can be, as well as Amir and JV – so build a system that works for them now. If they lose and get a high pick, fabulous, but do it the ‘right way’, because if you miss out then at least you’re still moving forward. Look at Bobcats and look at Pacers for same examples of how well tanking works; or how well it can work without tanking.

  2. ryan.wolstat says:

    I don’t disagree and those are actually the three players I’d keep (Ross as well). I’m not sure you’d get enough value to warrant dealing DeRozan, Johnson or Ross.

    As for tanking, you need to tank at the right time and you need a lot of luck. You need to tank in a year like 2003 or this year, where even if you miss out on the top 3, you’ll still get an extremely talented player, one who would go in the top 3 any other year, in the top 6 or 7.

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