First, a tip of the cap to Kobe Bryant. Like with LeBron James, we are all witnessing greatness in real time. Forget a drop-off, like Tim Duncan, Bryant has been better this season than he has been in years. Maybe three players in the entire league pull off what Kobe did last night, making ridiculous shots, willing his team to a win. Sure, going away from Landry Fields on him might have hurt – Fields was doing a reasonably solid job on him again – but it’s not like Alan Anderson was doing anything particularly wrong defensively. Kobe just went off and did his thing.
- Now, on to the Raptors. It’s hyperbole, but late in games, don’t these guys seem a little Washington Generals-esque this season? Everyone wants to blame the head coach for all of it, but the players deserve blame too. This was (at least) the second time Casey told his guys to foul (Al Jefferson being other big example) and they screwed up, plain and simple. That’s on the players, not the coach. They knew what they had to do, but, inexplicably, didn’t do it. Everyone on the planet knew what was going to happen, who was going to get the ball. 1- You can’t let him even have an opportunity to catch that ball and 2 – if he somehow does, you have to be in a position to foul him before he can get off a shot. Just terrible execution. For the season as a whole, all of the blown fourth quarter leads/late game failures are on both the players and Dwane Casey and his staff.
- Where you can fault the coach fully is the rotation. While Terrence Ross needs run to develop, I fully understand wanting to win this final “statement/relevancy” game and going with Alan Anderson. It is best for the franchise long-term to get Ross out there, but very few coaches, especially ones with only a year remaining on their deal, will ever go with rookies over vets. But … not playing Jonas Valanciunas much (or at all) in fourth quarters is something I disagree with. I don’t get it at all. Since returning from injury, Valanciunas has been one of the team’s four best players overall and on most individual nights. Going small can work sometimes, but having an athletic, smart, 7-footer who can play beside a 6-foot-10 guy (Amir Johnson) who shares some of those qualities, is a good thing as well. Aaron Gray sets better screens than Valanciunas and has veteran smarts, but he still doesn’t help the team more than he’s out there than Valanciunas, rookie mistakes and all. He’s simply a much better player. Plus he’s the face of the franchise (with Rudy Gay) going forward and needs to be out there as much as possible to prepare for the time where he will be a key player in crunch time at both ends. It’s baffling and unfortunately, because he’s a great guy who coached his ass off last season, it might be one of the main things that catches up with Casey after this season. Yes, you can point to his defensive mistakes but why ignore all of the good things he does that Gray simply isn’t physically capable of doing? Lithuania made the mistake of not throwing him into the fire and the Raptors are doing it as well.
- Something clearly isn’t right with Rudy Gay. He’s far better than what he’s shown. Part of it is forcing things, trying to assert himself as “the man” part of it likely is his sore shoulder, part of it could be adjusting his shot and shooting zones (as he told Michael Grange in a recent interview). Add it all up, and it’s not pretty, especially when the contract is brought into the equation. But, I don’t think Raptor fans need to worry about Gay. He’ll be settled in by the start of next season and will be healthy and much, much more effective. The Gay I’ve been watching since his college game doesn’t shoot airballs and miss as badly as he has. Sure, his basketball IQ isn’t as high as it could be and his shot selection needs to get a lot better, but he’s far better than he’s shown so far.
- I was all but certain, based on everything I’ve heard all year, that Casey and Bryan Colangelo would have their options picked up and given a final chance to show what they can do next season. But, after a dozen or so lost fourth quarters, after the odd rotational decisions and after being unable to connect with most talented player Kyle Lowry (which granted, isn’t the easiest thing to do given how mercurial Lowry is … though franchise has given him the keys and needs him at his best), will MLSE add it all up and cancel out the many positives Casey brings to the table? It was crazy to even suggest such a thing earlier in the year, but, now, my gut says it’s 55% Casey isn’t back to 45% he is. Or, might we see a Maple Leafs scenario where Casey is forced to part with some of his top assistants the way Ron Wilson was in a final attempt to make Wilson work in Toronto (the Leafs made Wilson get rid of his two close friends and top assistants, while then-GM Brian Burke brought in replacements of his choosing … Interestingly, new head coach Randy Carlyle ended up keeping both of the parachuted-in assistants on his staff after replacing Wilson and kept them again this season). The trouble there is Johnny Davis is closest on staff to Lowry and Gay owing to their time together in Memphis so probably not wise to remove him from equation.
- Don’t see how the Raptors will find the money to bring back Anderson next year, and while his offence (when on) and defence will be missed, Landry Fields deserves more run and likely will get it.
- Would like to end with positives after all of that (needed) negativity so here they are”
Again, Rudy Gay is a lot better than he’s shown. No need to panic now. If he’s doing this in December, go ahead and freak out. He’ll likely never be “worth” $18 million a season, but I’d rather overpay a good player than a not-so-good player and Gay is definitely a well above average player. Lowry is too and Valanciunas should be one day and DeRozan can be if he gets his defence up to a league average level and cuts down on his bad shots.
Speaking of DeRozan, he played a fantastic game. One of the keys was limiting those aforementioned bad shot attempts. Long twos are the worst shots in the game. DeRozan needs to either attempt more threes or take a step in on every jumper. That will help his efficiency greatly. On Friday, DeRozan only took what I would call four “bad” shots and he made three of them. And three of those “bad” shots actually might be “good” shots for DeRozan but bad ones for most other players since he’s hit 52.5% of them (long twos from the left corner) on the season. He’s just 31% on the same shots from the other side of the floor, so those ones need to be avoided at all costs. He is around 30% on corner threes so those should probably be the only threes he takes. If he can focus on where his good shots come from and taking them from there and on becoming even an average defender, the future of the franchise looks a lot more promising. DeRozan has the work ethic and smarts to pull it off, but it is by no means a given.
- Covered Casey, will get to Colangelo next time.