Cavaliers at Raptors Points Per Game: You wanted the rookies and now you’re going to get them; Amir for MIP? At least DeRozan attacked; Catching up with Thompson

- March 11th, 2013

Those no-quit Raptors resurfaced on Sunday, rallying to beat a Cleveland squad that couldn’t figure out how to play once star point guard Kyrie Irving was forced out due to an injury. There is little question that Amir Johnson is the team’s MVP for 2012-13, just as he deserved that honour for the 2010-11 season (he had a poor season sandwiched in between). Adrian Wojnarowski first floated this, but Johnson probably is going to get some votes for most improved player simply because most people don’t remember what he did two years ago at all, but just recall that he wasn’t very good last season. Paul George has the award sewn up, but if Amir gets in the top 5, it will be well-deserved. He definitely is a better player than he was last year and he’s also better than he was two years ago.

Some thoughts:

-DeMar DeRozan struggled without Rudy Gay, but one of the good things he did was continue to attack the basket (eight free throw attempts) He could have done that more often early, but he at least made a point of doing it. He also moved the ball well to set up his teammates (6 assists) an under-reported area of improvement this season. He’s gone from an extremely poor passer to an above-average facilitator.

- Rudy Gay is expected to return Friday, but expect him to be rested liberally to close the season. The team knows he’s not right and it’s impacting his production. No point letting him play through this. Sounds like Andrea Bargnani could be out a while after hurting his sore elbow. The doctors in L.A. immediately told him to shut it down so it’s not like he’s embellishing or anything. It’s unfortunate, as he needed a good stretch here to up his trade value. Dealing him won’t be the easiest thing in the world this summer (well, dealing him for any kind of value that is) but somebody will pony up something. We’ve seen far worse players and contracts dealt over the years (though the new CBA is more restrictive, which limits the market further).

- You’ve probably read a half-dozen stories now about Amir, so we’ll leave out the fact that he turned in another standout performance in a season filled with them.

- Minus Gay and with DeRozan struggling, Alan Anderson stepped up, leading the team in scoring, and Landry Fields did a nice job again all-around.

- Casey said he’s going to roll with Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross now down the stretch, as long as they aren’t making mistakes on every second play. If their errors become too frequent, they’ll sit until they learn what they’re doing wrong, but the expectation is, they’ll be able to stay on the court for 25-30 minutes every night to close out this season. Ross was a little shot happy early, but eventually started to use his elite athleticism to his advantage. He needs to do more of that. He made mistakes, but also contributed across the board with five rebounds, three assists and 14 points. He also couldn’t quite finish a couple of spectacular drives. Valanciunas was his usual solid self and once he gets featured more in the offence (next season) the efficiency of DeRozan and Gay should improve.

- Casey again defended his decisions on the road in sitting Valanciunas and Ross. I absolutely agree with rookies needing to adapt to the speed of the game and that Valanciunas  has had some issues with that, but we’re going to agree to disagree about what Aaron Gray provides and how effective Valanciunas had been against Dwight Howard compared to Gray and leave it at that. I do agree that it didn’t make sense to throw Ross in against Kobe or the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.

- Kyle Lowry again looked more like the Lowry of old, the one the team needs going forward. He still needs to take more shots (it seems like he took all of the complaining about his early-season “chucking” to heart and is completely going away from it) there has to be a balance. That “no he didn’t … yes he did!” turnaround to seal the game was an example of the shots he needs to take. He’s capable of hitting them and it puts pressure on opponents, since they know he can score from anywhere at any time, when he feels like it.

- Casey on the need for three-point shooting next year:

“Corner threes. We dearly need it. We’re 22nd or 23rd in three-point shooting. To open up the floor for DeMar and Rudy, we need somebody to get that shot. We need consistent three-point shooting to open up.

There’s nowhere for he or DeMar to go (with no three-point threats).

Could be next evolution of DeMar’s career. Rudy is still struggling with his back I think that effects his shot from the first week he’s here.” As I pointed out last game, DeRozan has had far more success shooting corner threes than his long attempts from elsewhere on the court, so there’s a good chance he can add that to his arsenal.

- Valanciunas said he’s getting more acclimated to the NBA every day.

“I’m working a lot on my post moves. I feel comfortable every game, it’s getting better. That was a great effort in the second half. We were down big-time we regrouped and we came back,” he said.

“There is up and down nights because one night you feel tired, one night you feel tired. You need to adjust. I’ve been here like five months already. Every month I feel more and more comfortable.”

- Always enjoy catching up with Tristan Thompson. I’ve been covering Tristan since he was in high school and Frank Zicarelli even covered him in the Sun when he was still playing high school ball in Canada. Like Valanciunas, who went one pick after him, he’s a genuine guy who hasn’t changed, despite being drafted fourth overall and despite the money and fame that has come with that. He’s a hard worker and that relentlessness has paid off since he’s a heck of a lot better this season than he was as a rookie. The difference in his confidence on offence is night and day. Thompson said everything was a rush last year due to the lockout (no time to adjust to the NBA, being thrown right into the fire) and being more prepared and understanding the NBA game more has really paid off. Thompson sees himself as one of the leaders of the Canadian national team for the next decade or so and keeps a close eye on what his fellow Canadians are doing in the NCAA. He’s happy good friend Myck Kabongo has been tremendous since coming back from his suspension and has definitely seen what Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos have been doing at Gonzaga. It’s by no means set in stone that Thompson and Olynyk will pair up for Canada (since Andrew Nicholson and Anthony Bennett, among others, are also fantastic players), but if they do, Thompson believes they will play well together.

“We complement each other well. He’s a pick and pop guy, I’m a space eater, so we play off each other and we’re good together,” Thompson told me.

More from Tristan:

Tristan:

“It’s definitely been tough (losing Anderson Varejao to injury) because Andy, he meant a lot to us, he was 14 and 14. He played with a sense of pride and just a hunger to play hard every night, so we definitely do miss him, but, the opportunity came for me to play and I can show a little bit more, so you have to take advantage of it. It’s part of the league, injuries happen, but we wish Andy was with us right now,” he said.

On Texas struggling:

“We wish Texas could get a bit more wins, but it happens in college basketball. Some years it goes through, some years it doesn’t. As long as the young guys keep getting better, one day, we’ll get back to the promised land.”

Thompson also said he was happy that Toronto was able to create a buzz in the city by acquiring Rudy Gay. Thinks Gay will be a big addition for the team. While Thompson is a proud Cav, he loves the city and prefers to see the Raptors doing well and getting noticed (as long as they aren’t playing Cleveland).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Basketball, NBA, Toronto Raptors

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