Posts Tagged ‘Dwane Casey

Dominant Valanciunas, clutch plays by a variety of Raptors sunk the Suns

- November 25th, 2014

Remember when the Raptors were known as a franchise that never got it done in the clutch? It seemed to be that way for years. No team seemed to lose as many winnable games by doing one thing or another wrong late in fourth quarters. That simply doesn’t happen anymore. It started last year and has carried over to this season. What was different about the game against the Suns, was the way the fourth played out. Instead of mounting a furious rally, as has become their norm, the Raptors saw a 15-point lead get erased by the ridiculously explosive Suns. That forced the home side to have to make several key decisions in the biggest moments and they came through. DeMar DeRozan called some of those “muscle plays.”

- To that point, there was this crazy Kyle Lowry sequence, there was Lowry swiping the ball away from Isaiah Thomas, similarly to how he had won an earlier game in Boston by pickpocketing rookie Marcus Smart. There was Patrick Patterson hitting two free throws when he hadn’t yet scored. There was Patterson pulling a Kevin Love by launching the ball down the court and Amir Johnson making a significant play to go up and haul in the pass like Calvin Johnson (no easy feat, considering Johnson has not shown his usual life this season. A joke heard afterward was that Amir only jumped three times on Monday, but he sure picked his spots well).

- Told by a reporter that the Lowry steal and his pass to Johnson were “ballsy” Patterson responded, sometimes you have to be.

- Lou Williams winning player of the week, despite being a reserve, was one of the more unexpected storylines we’ve seen in years, though it probably shouldn’t have been all that shocking. Dwane Casey seems like a near lock for East coach of the month and Lowry likely will be an honourable mention (with a shot at winning if Toronto beats Dallas on Friday I’d say).

- Williams talked about fighting to get back from a devastating injury, a process that definitely had some dark moments. Williams admitted he had some doubts after tearing his ACL in January of 2013. When he returned last season, he was not the same player he had been before. Atlanta basically gave him away for nothing rather than paying a guy they worried might never be the same.

Williams can’t blame them. “Absolutely. When you’re sitting there and you have a cast on and wheel chair and crutches and can’t lift your leg up, you can’t ride a bike, you can’t run, you can’t jog, obviously there’s going to be some doubt there,” he said.

“Two years later it’s great to see some fruits of the labour to feel myself back to 100 per cent, being back healthy and having some success.”

Williams said he was buoyed by the knowledge his friend Lowry had battled back from the same injury, suffered while he was in college.

- A lot of anguish out there about Valanciunas not playing for most of the fourth despite his huge game, but the Suns went tiny, who was he going to guard? Yes, he was scoring easily, but Phoenix wasn’t going inside at all, preferring to just bomb away (it was working) and Valanciunas would not have been able to cover enough ground out there defensively. Against most teams, his sitting after a performance like that would be an outrage. Against Phoenix, it made sense.

“They had three point guards out there so that caused us to do some things. JV had to come out and JV had it rolling,” Casey said. “As long as they kept their big in, it really helped us but once they spread those perimeter guys out it put us at a disadvantage. Threes vs. our twos is not a good trade off.”

- Valanciunas, by the way, is fifth in the East in player efficiency rating, is shooting 59% from the field, 80% from the free throw line and putting up career best rebound and block rates, with the lowest turnover rate in his three seasons.

- James Johnson returned far earlier from his ankle injury than expected (he missed three games), but was only able to play four minutes. Tyler Hansbrough (shoulder) did not dress.

- Isaiah Thomas on Lowry: ” He’s been given a good opportunity to run a team and he’s taken advantage of it. Everyone knows what Kyle Lowry’s about. He’s like a pit bull, he’s a leader, he’s a guy that never backs down. I think his opportunity just got bigger and he just took advantage of the role that was given to him.”

- Seem to say this daily now, but the Raptors refuse to get caught up in what the standings say: “For me we’re still a growing team. It’s still too early to look at the records,” Casey said.

“My job is to continue to push, continue to improve in a lot of areas and not get caught up in records or anything like that. Once you start doing that, that’s when you get in trouble. I remember in Dallas, we were like 24-5, and you would never know we were 24-5 because everybody had a businesslike attitude. All of the fans were watching Cowboys football. We were 24-5, and you would never know. That’s the way you have to approach it. You can’t look at the record. You’ve got to make sure you do your job, not only game by game, but possession by possession. This is [an unforgiving] league and it will do you in once you start overlooking possessions or skipping letters from where you are or getting caught up in thinking you’re somewhere where you’re not.”

- Casey pointed out rebounding as the area the Raptors need to improve in the most. Williams said if this is Toronto’s “roof, we’re in trouble. I think we have a lot more things that we should accomplish and other teams that we need to beat in order to be taken seriously in this league.” Like beating the Suns.

- Ex-Raptor P.J. Tucker on the ACC crowd: “It is a lot different, it’s unbelievable,” Tucker said. “Definitely moved up to one of the best home courts, hands down in the league. It is unbelievable what they have done here.” I was impressed by the way the fans roared once Phoenix took the lead in the fourth, showing their support, helping the Raptors to get back on top.

 

 

 

 

Bulls put Raptors in their place; Pro sports needs more athletes than Joakim Noah; Raptors frontcourt can’t yet compete; DeRozan should work it around

- November 14th, 2014

The Bulls taught the formerly high-flying Raptors a tough lesson on Thursday. Chicago has been a contender for years now, Toronto is still trying to make its way up that hill. The Bulls are bigger, tougher, meaner and a heck of a lot smarter (Kyle Lowry and a couple of other exceptions aside) on the basketball court and that all showed in this one. Sure, the refs didn’t distinguish themselves well, but they were not the reason why the Raptors lost the lead and eventually, the game.

- The frontcourt just isn’t good enough to match up with the best of the best. Nobody could come close to stopping Pau Gasol. Joakim Noah was dominant and Taj Gibson did his usual thing, provide great minutes as the team’s third big. Chicago’s group is just on a different level than Toronto’s. No shame in that, does anybody else in the NBA have three guys as good up front as Chicago does?

- If Toronto wants to close the gap though, Jonas Valanciunas has to get the ball more and has to do more with it. He has to go up stronger and hold onto it better. He gets stripped far too easily inside. Amir Johnson is a great defender and did a bit better on Gasol, but not much, and he doesn’t provide enough offence for the Raptors to get to the next level. If Patrick Patterson isn’t going either, it’s usually going to be a long night for the Raptors.

- Speaking of long nights … DeMar DeRozan turned in a stinker, shooting just 3-for-17. The alarming thing might be that head coach Dwane Casey was happy with his shot selection and said he simply missed some shots he’d normally make. Not too sure about that. Jimmy Butler is a great perimeter defender who has historically given DeRozan fits. He doesn’t let DeRozan do what he wants to do or go where he wants to go. The result is a lot of forced attempts. Remember Rudy Gay? Remember when Casey said he had no problems with Gay’s horrendous shot selection? This might be a problem. If the Raptors want to have a sustainably good offence and not the one built on a mirage that we’ve seen early this season (the turnover numbers and free throw attempts aren’t sustainable, so something has to change), the ball simply has to start moving again. The way it did when Gay was shipped out and DeRozan embraced both scoring and looking for his teammates. Only two teams average fewer assists than the Raptors. Keep it up, and the great record is going to go downhill in a hurry.

- Yes, I’ll fully admit that the Bulls make you do things offensively that you don’t want to and rotate so well it is hard to find the open man. But forcing shots isn’t a solution that will lead to victories.

- Valanciunas said meeting the Bulls was like taking a cold shower and admitted they weren’t ready for a team that good and physical. They had better be next time.

- Pro sports needs more athletes like Noah. He is honest. He tried not to be after the game, looking wary of the media and insinuating he wasn’t comfortable speaking because words get twisted, then went on an epic rant . Noah is right, this whole Derrick Rose witch hunt is silly. Folks get mad at athletes when they speak in cliches, then attack them when they are honest. They can’t win. It’s all about shock value and generating a story, often when there isn’t one. Society has gone downhill, and so has much of the media. Should Rose have been less honest? I don’t think so. The guy knows he isn’t physically able to play every game so he has to be cautious. He also knows he has a guaranteed contract and has many more years to live once he is done playing. He’s thinking about that, as is his right. When he is able to play, he gives it his all and helps his team win. Would it be tough to rely on a guy like that? Absolutely. But it’s not his fault that his body has betrayed him

- Guys like Butler and Gibson really show the value of smart drafting. Chicago stole the Marquette product with the 30th pick of the draft, while Gibson went 26th. Now they are two of the best two-way players in the league.

- Positives for the Raptors: Until the third, they played a decent game. Chicago probably should have had a bigger lead after the first, but the Raptors played an excellent second and should have been up by more than seven at the half. Lowry was solid, despite probably being the one Raptor who got a bit hosed in the foul call department.

- James Johnson was fantastic and changed the game in the second quarter. Terrence Ross has become pretty good at coming off a curl to hit a floater. DeRozan could stand to get back to doing more of that, though opponents play closer to Ross because of his outside shooting ability, which gives him a bit more room to get open. The team rallied late to make it respectable. That’s about it for the positives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Varsity Raptors make quick work of junior varsity Sixers squad; Lowry not getting overconfident; Some mistakes being fixed

- November 10th, 2014

It is hard to do much analysis when the Raptors play against a team in the Sixers that is nowhere close to being an NBA outfit. But, we’ll give it a try anyway:

- Dwane Casey called Sunday’s 120-88 beatdown a “professional” outing and that describes it perfectly. The Raptors treated the contest like a real game and went at the terrible, young Sixers. Well aware that the visitors were the league’s worst defensive group, one of the NBA’s better offensive squads simply overmatched them. DeMar DeRozan toyed with his defenders, either getting buckets or drawing fouls and Kyle Lowry looked like he could do whatever he wanted, even though this was likely his worst outing of the season. Philly had no answers for Toronto’s bench guards, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez (though Vasquez got a bit too cute a couple of times and was rewarded by seeing his attempts swatted into the stands quite spectacularly). You’ll want to watch the evidence.

- Sixers or not, that Toronto has now gotten off to a couple of strong starts in a row is an encouraging sign, given how disastrous they had been at responding to the opening bell. For the second straight game, the home side seized control in the opening minutes and never let up.

- Terrence Ross had a second solid game in a row and might have turned a corner. This is timely, considering James Johnson has been very good for the Raptors off of the bench, making a case for more minutes.

- I wondered why they let Amir Johnson play, given the opponent, but thinking about it more, it set a good tone. It helped let everyone on the team know that there would be no complacency – no just show up at the arena and get a win feeling. Johnson only played 18+ minutes, but it was enough.

-It is cool that most Sixers fans are on board with what the franchise is doing, but, man, this thing is going to take years. Even if Embiid, Noel, Saric and next summer’s gem all pan out, there are no heady vets to teach them how to be pros, the culture, no matter how hard Brett Brown works, is going to be bad because of all of the losses and mockery. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange said it well: “The Sixers are the Bruno Caboclo of the NBA – two years away from being two years away.” In the here and now, it is damn ugly to watch. That K.J. McDaniels sure looks like a player though.

- Philly has been in most games this year, but not this one. “That was not us,” said Brown. “We come in here and got manhandled … they have elite athletes that can score. We got jumped and we didn’t have any answers.” Top Philly player Tony Wroten had this to say: “We came out and got embarrassed.”

- Proud Philadelphia native Lowry thinks they will be fine though. “I think they’re just rebuilding. I think they have great management, I think they have a hell of a head coach, I think they have a plan. But that’s not for me to worry about, that’s for the Philadelphia 76ers organization to worry about,” Lowry said after the game.

- It was fascinating listening to Brown talk about his job pre-game.

- As befits a 6-1 team coming off a laugher, the locker room was as relaxed as it has been all season. Jonas Valanciunas cracked jokes, the players passed around a clip of Global Ambassador Drake admiring a late-game James Johnson dunk that was nothing if not spectacular. And Lowry and DeRozan had a little exchange when DeRozan was asked what he was thinking on his pretty, near-360 layup.

“That s__ was luck,” Lowry bellowed out from the next locker, before DeRozan could even reply. “Nah, it was skill,” DeRozan shot back. They debated it for a bit, before DeRozan said “you do it then.” Lowry just laughed and eventually conceded in his own scrum that it was a heck of a play and was part of the reason why DeRozan is an all-star. Indeed, there is a short list of NBA players able to finish through contact as strongly as DeRozan does.

- DeRozan is hitting 7.6 free throws per game, second only to James Harden. Only Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard (shooting a wretched 49%) have attempted more freebies. Only Cousins’ Sacramento Kings have attempted more free throws than the Raptors. DeRozan needs 21 points to pass Andrea Bargnani for third place on the Raptors all-time scoring list.

- Toronto ranks third in the NBA in offensive rating, seventh in defensive rating, eighth in true shooting percentage and have forced the fourth-most turnovers by opponents per game.

- Alone in first in the East and tied for first overall in the NBA is an achievement, even though the season just started, but it is also doesn’t mean a whole lot. It is an achievement because the history of the franchise is so dismal. To their credit, nobody on the Raptors is celebrating. Yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors up to the challenge in biggest game of the season; Toronto frontcourt dominates; Lowry Stoudamire’s spiritual successor; Amir Johnson says he is fine

- November 8th, 2014

Facing their best opponent of the season, the Raptors put together their best game so far. The Wizards will be right there with the Raptors all year, but struggled in this one, as Toronto finally hit first and was the aggressor. Head coach Dwane Casey had been looking for that type of intensity out of the gate and finally got it.

- Kyle Lowry led the way once more, with a triple-double. Lowry once played with Damon Stoudamire and in many ways, really is the spiritual successor to Toronto’s first star performer. he’s undersize, is tough as nails, with a will to win. Lowry does a little bit of everything. He’s shooting nearly 50% for the year and has turned the ball over only six times with 36 assists (a 6-to-1 ratio).

- Amir Johnson insists he is fine, despite leaving the game early after missing the previous three contests: “Ankle is good. I didn’t re-injure it or anything. It was just a precaution thing. We were up by 20 or so so I just figured call it quits right here and get a little bit more rest,” Johnson said.

- Casey said Johnson and Valanciunas help defensively, but also on offence, because they set good screens and help their teammates get in good scoring positions.

-Terrence Ross was a fan of the throwback jerseys: “I grew up in Portland and Damon Stoudamire was the first pick here so I remember watching him and thinking they had the best uniforms. And then Vince was here and T-Mac and everybody. They just always had the best uniforms,” Ross said. Ross, who had been struggling with his jump shot, said he got up 500 shots the night before. It worked, as he finally found his missing jumper.

- Borrowing from the Globe and Mail’s Cathal Kelly, Casey had a horse analogy for the Raptors. He agrees they are like Sea Biscuit, who often came from behind to win races, rather than Secretariat, who tended to lead wire-to-wire.

“I’d much rather be Secretariat than Sea Biscuit, I’ll tell you what. It’s hard to be Sea Biscuit, there’s a story behind Sea Biscuit but that was us last year, we’ve got to learn how to start the game the way we want to play and we showed that tonight.,” Casey said.

“They decided to compete. That’s the thing. You take the whip out in the derby and just keep cracking the whip, cracking the whip, cracking the whip. We can’t be that way. It shouldn’t have to come from me to crack the whip at every turn to get us going. But they did. They decided to get going. To be a playoff or championship calibre team we shouldn’t have to say giddy up.”

- DeRozan on what he says to Lowry about facing the East’s absurdly talented point guards: “Yeah, I tell him, ‘good luck’ every night, honestly. “But we all understand it’s not just one-on-one, it’s a team thing, especially when we go against guys like that. We have to play as a team defensively, to slow down those type of guys.”

- The Raptors were happy to finally come out with a good start. “We’re going to figure it out because we’re getting tired of it too,” DeRozan had said pre-game.

“Half-time, having to have the speeches, argue and get yelled at by Casey and everything. It’s just something we’ve got to learn from and get past it if we want to be good.”

- Washington shot 55% in the fourth quarter. The Raptors came in only allowing opponents to shoot 41% in the fourth.

- Toronto is now 5-0 this year when leading after three quarters, 38-2 since last year when leading after three including 23-0 at home and has won 30 straight games when leading entering the fourth quarter.

- Washington shot nearly twice as poorly (.279) from the field in the first half as Toronto’s opponents had managed (.545) in the opening couple of quarters of the first five games.

- Washington’s starters shot just 22.9%.

- Wizards coach Randy Wittman on the game: “It was a good old fashioned butt whooping.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Celtics PPG: Forget East logjam. Kyle Lowry’s an all-star PG; What’s with the awful starts? Time to start James Johnson? Valanciunas and Amir back Friday?

- November 6th, 2014

BOSTON — Forget about the stockpile of quality point guards in the East. Kyle Lowry is an all-star. He seems to prove it whenever the Raptors need him most, like in Wednesday’s game in Boston. Lowry simply took over, scoring 14 of his 35 points in the third quarter. He also stole the ball from Marcus Smart to set up DeMar DeRozan’s winning three-point play and, for good measure, fronted Boston players in the post resulting in turnovers (the Celtics had 28 in all, which basically was the difference in the game since the Raptors had just seven turnovers).

- Not a lot separates Lowry and Washington’s John Wall. Ideally, they’d probably both be all-stars. Rajon Rondo is still pretty good too, as his triple-double indicated – “triple-double dog,” was Lowry’s response to a Boston reporter who asked if Lowry’s good friend Rondo was all the way back from injury. But one of Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving likely get voted in, even though neither is in Lowry, Wall or Rondo’s class at the moment (for all his offensive brilliance, Irving is still a ball-hog and perhaps the league’s worst defender, while Rose is not yet the same guy he once was). As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said post-game, “I said before the game that I thought he should have been an all-star last year. He must’ve taken that seriously, because he sure looked like one tonight … there’s a lot of guys like Kyle Lowry (that Marcus Smart can learn from), but there’s only one Kyle Lowry.” Stevens is right on that. Other players might have more natural talent, but Lowry’s combination, of skill, fearlessness, intensity and will to win make him Toronto’s most valuable player and one of the best players in the East.

- Five games into the season, Lowry’s stats are pretty ridiculous: He is shooting 50% from the field (though just 29% from three), averaging 5.2 assists against just 0.4 turnovers and 19.6 points per game. The Raptors rank fourth in the NBA in points per game, despite ranking just 22nd in field goal percentage. A league-best assist-to-turnover ratio has a lot to do with it and Lowry has been especially good with his decision-making.

- Patrick Patterson had another excellent game in place of Amir Johnson. His improvement could not have come at a more necessary time. After slumping badly to start the season, Patterson’s hit six of his past eight threes and looks more comfortable all over the floor. He says it is all a matter of him relaxing, not ruminating so much on his jump shot and not letting whether his shot is falling dictate how good he is defensively. Patterson said by putting the ball on the floor more and not just being a standstill jump shooter, he has been able to be far more effective.

- Patterson on Lowry:

“Tonight he was just extremely aggressive at times that we really needed him. He just stepped up as a leader and came through in the clutch for us. He’s got that angry face. That’s what he always looks like … Because we played so poorly in the first half, I think Kyle pretty much wanted to step up for himself.”

- Obviously, the worst start out of all of the terrible opening quarters this season is a major concern. That most of the big comeback came with the same players on the floor in the third has to trouble Dwane Casey. For whatever reason, the Raptors aren’t coming out with intensity, aren’t hitting first and taking it to opponents. DeRozan joked (we think he was joking) that he and his teammates are “Drama Queens” who like to make games suspenseful. Is a change to the starting lineup needed? James Johnson has played quite well off of the bench and has strong advanced stats, while Terrence Ross has alternated between invisible and poor. In theory, the offence needs the floor spacing Ross provides with his outside shooting, but he’s not taking as many shots and has hit just 30% of his threes so far. Would Johnson try to do too much as a starter, as he has in the past, particularly, forcing bad shots? The point is moot as long as either Valanciunas or Johnson are out, since Patterson is a floor spacer too.

- Pre-game, Casey made it seem academic that Valanciunas and Johnson would be back for Friday’s game against Washington, but post-game, Casey was not nearly as definitive. He used “if” a couple of times in reference to his front-court playing.

- It awfully tough to sit a few games, come in and make an impact, but Greg Stiemsma stepped up and did that on consecutive nights. He’s validating the decision to keep him around already. Stiemsma provides some rim protection, rebounding and toughness up front.

- Will have more on DeRozan moving up to fourth all-time in Raptors scoring in the paper. It is quite an achievement for a guy who keeps exceeding expectations.

- The Raptors are the first team to start a season with fewer than four turnovers in four consecutive and now five consecutive games.

Don’t tell Casey Toronto isn’t a free agent destination.

“We’ve got every amenity, every situation for a free agent in Toronto,” Casey said before the game.

“The key thing is winning. Guys want to go where you have an opportunity to win and we did that last year, we’re building that in Toronto. We have the resources, we’ll have the cap room in a couple of years and Kyle took advantage of it this year and our guys will be rewarded for winning. That’s what you’re rewarded for in this league, is winning, or should be.”

Casey says now that he has spent time in the city he realizes that the Raptors should be regarded as a “big-time organization.”

  – More on the bad starts:

Casey can’t figure out why Toronto has gotten off to hideous starts. Wednesday’s was probably the worst.

“You tell me and we’ll both know,” Casey told a reporter. “It’s one of those things, psychology, it’s not like guys are not working at it.

“Defensively we’ve got to get a rhythm, understanding of how hard you’ve got to play. How much more aggressive you’ve got to be on your challenges, on your shots, just all around defensive approach to the game. Miami shot 52% int he first half, 38% in the second half. We’re a team of two different halves.” Casey said the Raptors have to make opponents start missing shots by getting up on them tighter. The team’s defensive rotations have also been poor.

- All that said, 4-1 is still 4-1.

 

Heat hand Raptors a reality check; Hard to replace Amir; Hansbrough doing his part; Some interesting Raptors SportVu stats

- November 3rd, 2014

- Well, that was rather predictable, no? The Raptors arrived in Miami 2-0, despite not playing all that well defensively. A scorching offence had been enough to get by a good Atlanta team (the amped-up season-opening crowd and some Al Horford rust didn’t hurt either) and Orlando just isn’t yet a good team (but still held leads for stretches of Saturday’s game). Miami is better than either of those two squads and came in playing a lot better overall than the Raptors had been. With the Raptors not playing any better, a win was not in the cards. “It caught up with us,” head coach Dwane Casey said of the team’s lackluster defensive efforts.

- It is never an ideal team to be without Amir Johnson, but going up against Chris Bosh and the Heat made Johnson’s absence especially problematic. Johnson tweaked his ankle yet again and, early in the season, the Raptors opted to be cautious, rather than risk a nagging, long-term issue. The team’s defence had been iffy through two games. Minus Johnson, the top post, help, rim and one-on-one defender on the squad, it was easy to predict what came next. Johnson is an elite rim protector. Greg Stiemsma is the only other Raptor who offers any deterrence at the rim (Bebe isn’t ready yet) and he did not get into the game.

- Effort was a problem for the Raptors on Sunday, and that isn’t often the case for a Dwane Casey-coached squad. Johnson’s absence can’t explain away what happened on the boards. Getting crushed 43-28 in the rebounding department by one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams had to sting. Dwyane Wade nearly outrebounded Toronto’s starters by himself. Most of the discrepancy was a result of effort – Miami had it, Toronto did not – and smarts – The Heat did a better job blocking out and getting to the right areas.

- Patrick Patterson insisted the Heat was still a top opponent, even without LeBron James, then went out and had what might have been his worst outing as a Raptor. As Casey said afterward, it was a really bad time for Patterson to play poorly. He was a complete non-factor, failing to score a point or haul in a rebound. Unfortunately, reality says Johnson is going to miss a few games every so often because of his ankles. Patterson needs to play like he did last season when that happens.

- The Raptors really struggled to defend the pick-and-roll and were particularly susceptible to back-door cuts, often coming off of big-to-big passes. Jack Armstrong noted it on the broadcast, the Chrish Bosh-Josh McRoberts combo is going to produce a smart, high efficiency offence. We’ll see the same thing in Chicago with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

- A lot of people think the Heat are going to fall off and struggle to make the playoffs. I don’t share that view (picked them to finish 5th in the East). This is still a good team. It has some flaws (troubling lack of size, rely too much on Bosh to score), but if  Wade looks like he did on Sunday, they’ll be fine. Wade looked like himself (sure, playing the porous Raptors helped, but still …) he split through the defence at will, getting into the middle whenever he wanted to. Though Wade doesn’t take it all the way to the hoop as often as he liked to, when he sliced through, he easily set up teammates for open looks. Without a true point guard, Wade could be going make to his earlier days, where he was tasked with generating a high level of assists every night. Arguably the best shot-blocking guard of all-time, Wade also got up to make an unreal rejection on a Valanciunas attempt. It’s a long season and Wade will surely wear down, but, for now, he looks like the guy who has been one of the NBA’s best players for a solid decade now.

- One Raptor positive through three games: The play of Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough never looked comfortable in his initial season in Toronto, but has been the first big man off of the bench in 2014-15 and has played well. Hansbrough might have modest stats, but he is getting under the skin of opponents, is hitting the glass, taking charges and not forcing as many shots as he has in the past. It has been a nice-bounce back so far for the former North Carolina legend.

- Another: Kyle Lowry is averaging nine assists for every turnover through three games (though he had only three assists and his first two turnovers of the year against Miami).

- The bottom line: There is no need to panic, it is early yet. Once Johnson comes back, the newcomers get comfortable, Patterson returns to form and the Raptors wake up defensively, this will be a good squad. Are there flaws? Absolutely, but not enough to prevent a top 4 or 5 finish in the East, with the potential to be pretty solid.

- Some bonus stats courtesy of FanSided, via the SportVu tracking cameras (stats are from last season): Only five players shot 50% or better on wide-open threes. Kyle Korver led the way and Terrence Ross was one of them; Opponents guarded DeRozan more closely on three-point attempts than anybody else in the league (4.52 feet away, just ahead of how closely Kevin Durant was covered from beyond the line).

 

Happy new Raptors season, the Points Per Game blog is back; Fear Contract Year Amir; Confident Vasquez leads stellar bench; JV’s Halloween “costume”

- October 30th, 2014

Greetings everyone. With the new Raptors season, the Points Per Game blog, posted the morning after every Raptors game also returns.

As a refresher, this blog is named PPG because I break down a few interesting points from the previous game (I also usually sprinkle in some interesting quotes and relevant quotes).

Let’s get rolling:

- Welcome back Amir Johnson. Johnson, savvy veteran that he is, might just have coasted a bit through the pre-season. Johnson averaged 6.5 points and five rebounds during the exhibition slog and never seemed particularly engaged. That all changed in the opener, where Johnson got off to a fast start and probably was Toronto’s best overall player. Johnson scored 16 points, grabbed 10 boards (five of them offensive, helping the Raptors to a 48-42 advantage on the glass against one of the best rebounders in NCAA history, Paul Millsap, and the excellent Al Horford). Johnson attempted 15 shots (second on the team), something he did only four times all of last season. Johnson had a bounce in his step that wasn’t there earlier this month, in the playoffs against Brooklyn or really, since last February or so. A healthy Amir is a wonderful thing for the Raptors.

- His teammates provided another reason why Johnson was so good Wednesday: “Amir had a great game and it’s a contract year, so he gotta do what he gotta do, huh?” said Greivis Vasquez with a knowing smile. Vasquez was asked whether players keep track of contract year status. “Yeah, like you guys don’t?” Then he continued on Amir: “I don’t blame him. I hope he gets all double doubles, I hope he gets the max.”

- The bench was fantastic and that was the focus of my story last night. A bit more on that: Vasquez was a team-best +11 and looked good playing alongside Lou Williams. Patric Patterson was +10, Williams +8, Tyler Hansbrough +5. For sake of comparing, Kyle Lowry was a -2, a rarity and DeMar DeRozan led the starters at +5 (I’ll say it now and repeat it often, I’m not huge on +/- in basketball, but it was worth mentioning about Wednesday’s game).

- Vasquez on the Louquez pairing: “It’s going to be really interesting. Lou and I, we can do so much. Run pick-and-rolls, he can score, I’m definitely going to get him going, because we need him. He’s big-time, he can score at any time at any given point.”

- Dwane Casey said Hansbrough seems to have a better idea of what he should be doing while on the floor and where he should be and that is leading to improved spacing for the whole team.

- Asked Jonas Valanciunas what his Halloween costume would be … “My face!” he said, pointing to his bushy beard. “That doesn’t even make sense,” I replied as he walked off. Valanciunas just waved his hand in the air, grinning.

- Don’t think the Hawks will be quite as good as the Raptors this season, but that is definitely a playoff team in the East. They zip the ball around the court well, Jeff Teague penetrates at will, creating easy shots and the roster is stocked with gunners, including Kyle Korver, who is flat out ridiculous. Patrick Patterson mentioned afterward that Horford was clearly rusty, given his long layoff and would be back to being a force in no time. When that happens, the Hawks are going to be solid. Thabo Sefolosha was a sneaky good add who will help the Hawks guard the East’s better wings, something DeMarre Carroll can also do.

- Round of applause for the fans. Let’s see how they do when it isn’t a special occasion (I’m sure they’ll still trump most of the rest of the league), but on opening night, they were tremendous.

- Patterson wants the fans to come up with a name for the bench. Get on it, folks.

- Credit to DeMar DeRozan. Couldn’t get things going offensively, forced some shots, couldn’t get a call, but did other things extremely well. Career-high in rebounds (11) and steals (six).

- One thing Casey wants the Raptors to do a much better job of this year is get to the rim. For one night, at least, it was mission accomplished. The Raptors shot 33 free throws, Atlanta just 17. And Toronto, a good free throw shooting team, hit 82% of the shots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors PPG: Playoffs, we’re talking playoffs? Raptors go from tank to bank; What’s happened since the Raptors last made the post-season

- March 29th, 2014

So, the Raptors are in. Fittingly, Amir Johnson, exemplifying everything he brings to the table, was the one to supply the last push Friday against Boston. Amir and DeMar DeRozan have been suffering through down seasons together here longer than anyone else, the last remaining players from the end of the Chris Bosh era.

It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. A lot of bad basketball has been played since Bosh broke his face. It’s a new day. While nobody knows what the off-season will bring (a lot of change, or stability?) the tank is long-dead and thoughts about potential playoff opponents can now be voiced.

- Johnson’s been Toronto’s best overall player in the three seasons previous to this one and works harder and plays through more injuries than anybody on the team (though DeRozan is about his equal in both of those regards). That’s why it was nice to see him get the Raptors through.

- No question Kyle Lowry’s been the top Raptor this season (again, with apologies to DeRozan) and he showed what he’s all about as well in fighting off an ankle injury to make some decisive drives to the bucket that helped seal the win.

- DeRozan wasn’t about to let the pesky Celtics, who he’d already seen five times this season, including the two exhibition games, come back again. With his jumper shaky, DeRozan looked to repeatedly attack, getting five shots in the paint in both the third and fourth quarters. Now that he’s an all-star, DeRozan  is getting calls from the officials, which helps quite a bit, but it’s his mindset that is the key.

- Nice to see John Salmons find his game. To say he’s been struggling is a massive understatement. His game had completely vanished, but Dwane Casey kept the faith, even though using Landry Fields instead would have made a lot of sense, and Salmons responded by nailing his first two shots, picking up two assists, a couple of steals and no turnovers. He was also +15, tied for the team lead.

- A bonus thought: +/- is way down on the list of useful stats, but it’s a lot more relevant in basketball than it is in hockey, where power plays mess with the numbers. While it’s not a be all, end all, the eye test shows that Chuck Hayes has been excellent for the team lately. The +/- check shows Hayes has been +15 (tied for team lead), +3 (best of the reserves), +17 (2nd on team) and +16 (best on team) in his past four games. He’s supplied strong defence and helps move the ball around thanks to his surprisingly strong passing skills.

- Since Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu took out the Raptors in five games in the playoffs, Toronto witnessed (a lot more than this, but a few highlights/lowlights):

The ill-fated Jermaine O’Neal deal; The end of the Sam Mitchell era and the elevation of Jay Triano to head coach; Bryan Colangelo gifting  the Heat with the cap space to form the Big Three by dumping O’Neal for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks; The drafting of DeMar DeRozan; The Raptors “winning” the Turkoglu sweepstakes, only to almost immediately regret it once Turkoglu showed up to camp fat and unwilling to justify his payday; DeRozan starting 65 games as a rookie; the Jarrett Jack\Jose Calderon controversy at the point; A career year from Bosh, that ended prematurely when he got hurt and shut himself down in advance of his free agent flight to Miami; Bosh leaving, Bryan Colangelo ripping him, then saving some face by somehow dumping Turkoglu on the Suns (his former agent was in charge there); A disastrous season that ended with Triano out, Dwane Casey in and Jonas Valanciunas drafted in Colangelo’s ballsiest move, since he wouldn’t come over for a year and because Bargnani had soured nearly everyone in the city on European players; A lockout, followed by a shortened season where the Raptors were horrible to watch because the talent simply wasn’t there, but where Casey turned around the defensive culture and started turning around Toronto’s reputation as a soft team; The development of the youngsters and the drafting of Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy; Last season’s brutal start; The Kyle Lowry/Calderon and Lowry/Casey situations; Ross wins the slam dunk contest; The trade for Rudy Gay which sent Calderon elsewhere; The regression and booing of Bargnani; The arrival of Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri; The miraculous Bargnani trade that actually brought back draft picks; The tank talk; This season’s bad start and the Lowry trade rumours and questions about Casey’s future; The trade of Gay to Sacramento; The stunning turnaround of the team into a squad that wins two thirds of the time; Lowry’s all-NBA caliber campaign; DeRozan’s all-star nod; The return to the playoffs.

 

 

 

Celtics PPG: Raptors not scaring anybody at the moment; Patrick Patterson return will be huge because the bench has been woeful; Lowry won’t be denied; Playoff race tightening up in East

- March 27th, 2014

Wednesday was an important bounce-back win for the Raptors, but this is a team right now that isn’t scaring anybody. The group just isn’t playing the way it did for the first couple of months following the Rudy Gay trade. Kyle Lowry and at times, DeMar DeRozan, are making sure the Raptors still pull out more wins than losses, but every game has been a battle. Even without the desperately missed Patrick Patterson, Toronto shouldn’t be losing to Cleveland and nearly blowing games to lowly Boston.

- Luckily, Lowry remains a late-game destroyer. The guy just won’t let his team lose. Lowry shot 2-for-6 in the first half, went 2-for-4 in the third (both threes), then went 4-for-7 in the fourth. Since his minutes restriction of about 35 minutes a night went into effect, Lowry has averaged 23.3 points on 48% shooting (45.4% from three), six assists and more than five rebounds and two steals per the three contests. Playing fewer minutes appears to be agreeing with Lowry’s shooting percentage.

- Less Lowry means more Greivis Vasquez and Vasquez had responded with his best stretch of games as a Raptor, before struggling a bit in Boston. Perhaps he was still thinking about his decisive miscue in Cleveland? That said, he’s still giving far more than anybody else on Toronto’s bench (Chuck Hayes aside, and we’ll get to him). John Salmons has been an outright disaster for well over a month now. He was part of the reason the bench again gave back the good work of the starters. Toronto was up by 11 in the second quarter and the bench blew that edge in less than two minutes. We’ll say it again, Patrick Patterson can’t come back soon enough. The good news is, Patterson’s been cleared for contact and though the team won’t have a practice on Thursday, there’s a good chance he returns on Friday in the rematch with Boston.

- We argued here last week that Salmons could use some rest and his minutes should be limited, particularly on back-to-backs. The numbers back that up. Salmons has shot 23.4% on the tail ends of back-to-backs, 34.8% on one day of rest, 42.6% with two days of rest, 45.5% with three days and 50% the rare times he has had four days of rest. Salmons has a lot of miles on his body, he should be used sparingly so he has something left to give in the playoffs. Salmons has shot just 13% over his past five games (two made field goals) and 25.7% over his past 10. While his defence remains OK, it has slipped and his great play with the ball when he first arrived is a memory. He’s now turning it over about as often as he manages an assist.

-  Hayes, on the other hand, has upped his play. That’s three good games in a row now. He can’t jump but still blocked three Boston shots. His positioning was terrific, he grabbed big rebounds and spaced the floor well, a feat, considering he’s not an offensive force (his passing ability and screen setting are both solid). While it would be nice to see more minutes for Tyler Hansbrough to help out the struggling bench (he can score and get to the line and provides energy), it’s tough to find him time if Jonas Valanciunas is playing fantastic basketball (which earned him 35 minutes on Wednesday) and if Hayes is making that kind of impact (Amir Johnson’s always going to get his 30 minutes).

- Valanciunas was terrific against a smaller team scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Dwane Casey likes to talk about the advantages Valanciunas’ length gives the team when he’s going well and Valanciunas illustrated that in this one. Loved the ice fishing with Jonas Valanciunas half-time piece. He told me when he got back from the trip it was fun, but disappointing because he didn’t catch anything. I told him Lake Simcoe’s way better in the summer. His response: “I hope so.”

- Call off the APB on Terrence Ross. He scored 20 or more for just the third time since his 51-point stunner and more importantly, put together two straight decent games for the first time since the start of this month.

- Another game with under 20 assists (17, against 16 turnovers). Rajon Rondo’s defence on DeRozan had a lot to do with that, but Patterson’s absence, to me, is the biggest reason why the assist numbers have slipped.

- A Toronto win on Friday or a Knicks loss in Phoenix will end the five year playoff drought. Brooklyn’s loss to Charlotte gave the Raptors some breathing room, but tightened the East’s playoff race. The Raptors squeezed back into third by virtue of leading a division.

Washington is slipping and Charlotte is now just 1.5 games back of sixth. Of course, Toronto’s had issues with the Bobcats and big man Al Jefferson, so that would be no playoff walk in the park. The Raptors crushed Washington a couple of times, but didn’t look good against them the last time they met. New York’s just two games out of 8th and could slip in, since Atlanta has been struggling. But there’s still a bunch of games to go, so, let’s revisit the race in a week.

 

 

Raptors at Pelicans PPG: Horrible start, but finish counts; Hansbrough, Vasquez provide a lift; A lucky win, but a win’s a win; DeRozan/Lowry dominate; Amir’s second-half surge

- March 19th, 2014

That could have been ugly. The Raptors got lucky, but once again, the team showed why it’s the NBA’s best fourth quarter team in stealing a win in New Orleans.

- There’s really no excuses for the start. No Anthony Davis, no Jrue Holiday, no Ryan Anderson … should mean a gimme of a game. Yet, the Raptors, perhaps stunned from the absence of Davis, or maybe just tired from overtime the night before, came out in a daze.

- One big early problem: Lletting Tyreke Evans get into the paint at will – again. The guy kills the Raptors constantly, even though he can’t shoot, yet instead of backing up, the team gives him all kinds of space to attack. With his combination of ball-handling ability, quick first step and brute strength, Evans is a load. But if you dare him to shoot, you’re giving yourself the best way to stop him.

- Raptors rebounded and only gave up two points in the paint in final 15 minutes of the game after allowing 50 in the previous 33. The points in the paint battle stood at an absurd 20-2 after a quarter.

- Brutal to let in so many points in the paint against a team with no real inside presence. Just a lack of effort and lack of help defence.

- Nando de Colo at least provided a spark and made a case for more time as one of the only positives off of the bench.

- Not to be outdone, former Pelican (well, they were the Hornets then) Greivis Vasquez made his biggest contributions in the fourth, particularly on a huge play where he was fouled and hit a shot not long after Toronto had finally taken the lead. Vasquez loves punishing his former teams.

- In a stunning reversal, the Raptors just wanted it more down the stretch. Out-battled, outworked the Pelicans.

- Amir Johnson exemplified that. On a bad ankle, Johnson fought through and was a difference-maker in the fourth quarter. He went into the half with just two rebounds and had three after three, then started doing it all in the fourth. Locking down the paint, grabbing six boards, three of them offensive, and six total in the fourth quarter.

- A positive on the defensive side of things: Toronto held New Orleans to just 16 assists against 12 turnovers.

- Tyler Hansbrough had a massive effort with 13 boards, including seven offensive rebounds. Have been mentioning for a bit that he’s a better option than Steve Novak and Hansbrough backed that up with a great effort as a fill-in starter for Jonas Valanciunas.

- It was a huge win because with a loss, a visit by Oklahoma City coming up and another game against Atlanta on tap, the team could have been facing a five-game losing streak.