Posts Tagged ‘Ed Davis

Sixers at Raptors Points Per Game: Calderon comes through; Amir “Magic” Johnson gets the game ball; Energy = success; more thoughts on Rudy Gay

- January 10th, 2013

If you stayed awake after what was an eye-glazing, insult to the sport of a first half, the Raptors rewarded you.

The effort level and intensity picked up and the team was able to do enough to knock off a tired, undermanned group of Sixers.

Toronto now is only a game back of the Sixers for ninth and 5 and 5.5 back of 8th and 7th (Boston and Milwaukee).

As always, some thoughts:

Dwane Casey told me post-game the other night he was not contemplating swapping Mickael Pietrus out of the starting lineup (he technically said not for Alan Anderson or Terrence Ross, which he did not do). Casey, of course, brought in Landry Fields for Pietrus, something this corner had been advocating and the move worked. Fields was one of the few Raptors with a pulse in the first half and continued to play decently in the second half. His rebounding gives the club a big boost and while he’s not a great shooter, Pietrus isn’t either and Fields runs the floor better, defends as well and moves without the ball and has a higher basketball IQ.

I also advocate putting Kyle Lowry back in for Jose Calderon as the starter, and it will happen, eventually, but on this night, sticking with Calderon was the right call. Lowry didn’t play a lot, because Calderon had it going. In fact, After playing what felt like the entire third quarter, Calderon was spelled for Lowry, and Lowry was brutal, part of the unit that let Philly get back into the game. It wasn’t Lowry’s night, simple as that. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the starter going forward. The luxury of having two solid point guards is you can ride the hot hand.

Credit to Calderon. After getting eaten alive by Jrue Holiday earlier this season (remember Holiday doing whatever he wanted, getting into the defence and constantly finding open teammates?) Calderon did a much better job and was Toronto’s second-best player on the night.

The best player? Amir Johnson, for the second game in a row (seems he enjoys starting). Johnson was a force. He was everywhere, he scored efficiently, rebounded, provided his usual strong defence and even added a new wrinkle. Johnson might have had two of his top five best-ever passes in this one game. He constantly found Ed Davis with nifty looks. It was kind of stunning to see him throw the passes, because two or three of them had a pretty high level of difficulty. “Just finding my big man,” Johnson said afterwards. Johnson has played a lot with Davis over the past three seasons and clearly the pair has some chemistry. If the big to big passing keeps up, that will help out the offence.

Toronto needs to run more and needs to attack the basket more. Few Raptors seemed interested in doing either. The ball movement has also been a lot worse over the past few games. The ball is getting stuck too often. Casey wants the Raptors to move it around quickly to get better looks or driving lanes, but it isn’t happening at the moment.

Lowry needs to play more like his old self. The aggressiveness that defines his game has been absent.

Some thoughts on the Rudy Gay rumours that I didn’t cover here: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/01/09/toronto-raptors-colangelo-eager-to-reel-in-rudy-gay

Bryan Colangelo has pursued Rudy Gay many times. In 2006, only Andrea Bargnani and Gay had full, clean bills of health out of the prospects the team was considering taking No. 1 overall. He took a swing at Gay and Andre Iguodala last year but was rebuffed and now, with Memphis figuring out what they could get for Gay, is trying to land him again.

Gay’s a quality player who makes a ton of money and is having the worst season of his career. Those are two pretty big warning bells, but I think he’ll bounce back and the money isn’t a huge concern if Ed Davis and his future extension ($6-8 million a year) head the other way and Linas Kleiza gets the amnesty, which likely will happen. (Of course Andrea Bargnani would have to be moved to shed some more cash, because Lowry’s going to need an extension after next season).

Davis is a good prospect, but is he the long-term answer as a starting power forward? I’m not sure, given his frame and limited offensive arsenal. He’s an excellent rebounder, the best on the team, and has taken a major step forward this season and still has a couple more steps to go. If he’s simply a great reserve, well, Amir Johnson is still around for two more seasons and is a more effective player at this point. If he becomes a solid starter, well, you have to give something to get something and there are far fewer quality small forwards around these days than quality power forwards.

My concern is Gay and DeRozan wouldn’t be an ideal combo. Neither shoot the ball very well, though Gay has more range and is a better shooter. More importantly, neither creates his own shot. If Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III are the only guys on your team that can create their own shot, you’re going to be in trouble. However, the Raptors could always deal DeRozan down the line if Terrence Ross develops his one-on-0ne game and emerges as a fit beside Gay.

Toronto needs high-end talent. Badly. Gay is a solid player. Giving up more than Davis, Calderon and a second or two would be a mistake – you can’t give away too many assets for one non-all-star level piece – but that package as is seems like a fair one. At some point, the roster needs to be built with above-average players, not below-average ones. Gay would be a step in the right direction.

Of course, Memphis isn’t going to give him away. The team is seeing what other teams are willing to pay, and, most likely, leaking out information, some of it false, some of it true surely, in order to drive up the price.

We’ll see where this goes.

 

Kings at Raptors Points Per Game: DeMarcus ain’t no Cousin Balky; Starters aren’t working; Ed wins job; Raptors miss Bargnani in this one

- January 5th, 2013

So ends the run. Just a horrible basketball game from the Raptors on Friday against the Kings. Though they deny it, the team didn’t show up to play and it was a classic let-down game. That said, even a Raptors team humming on all cylinders might not have been able to pull off a win the way a fully engaged DeMarcus Cousins was playing. That was one of the most dominant performances I’ve seen by a player at the ACC. It was Lakers era Shaq-like. It was a man against boys. There were no answers and for once, the team could have used Andrea Bargnani, who, for all of his faults, still has the biggest base on the team and holds his own in the post when he wants to. His offence also would have been useful, since all but a couple of his teammates were struggling mightily on offence. In certain games, Bargnani would be quite useful off of the bench. Speaking of which, was interesting to hear beforehand Dwane Casey basically saying Ed Davis will be his starter when Bargnani returns from injury (likely in 2-4 more weeks). It’s a no-brainer to anybody who has watched the games, but where Bargani is concerned, you never know. After being coddled and given the keys for years, I’m not sure Bargani will be satisfied as a deadly reserve, his best role in the NBA by far, and I still think he gets moved at some point. But nice to hear that Davis’ strong work has paid off.

Now, about the rest of that starting lineup. Mickael Pietrus is no longer needed with the emergence of Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross and the resurgence of Landry Fields. It’s past the time to start Fields or Anderson (Ross should be brought along slowly, playing a lot against reserves to build his confidence). Anderson’s probably a better fit if Calderon is starting, but when the Raptors do the correct long-term thing and re-insert Lowry as the starter, Fields is the better fit at the three. If Calderon starts, Amir Johnson should be starting with him (cc: Eric Koreen). They have great chemistry and though Johnson will foul a lot, he gives the team a far better chance to get off to a good start than Aaron Gray. Gray makes more sense as a fill-in if Lowry were starting.

Raptors were uncharacteristically sloppy early on. Not a lot of movement, a lot of bad passes and bad cuts and the Kings took advantage. “We were just flat from the jump, just one of those games,” admitted Ed Davis. “We didn’t have the energy, so we definitely have to come out with more energy Sunday afternoon.”

Back to Cousins for a second, he’s just a ridiculous talent. You need strong people around him to keep him in check, but you need guys with that kind of ability to be an elite team. Talent-wise, he’s top 15 in the entire league.

“He’s tough down there. He’s big, physical and we did a bad job of guarding him,” Davis said. “He was getting pretty much everything he wanted.”

With a few tweaks, the Kings could be decent going forward. Think they should move one (or both) of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Aaron Brooks for a good veteran leader or two for a start.
Think the Kings will be fine with Cousins and Thomas Robinson up front. Could probably get value for Jason Thompson too, but best to wait until next year when Robinson is more ready to step in. Don’t call Robinson a bust. Far too early. Every time I see him play he does something that makes me say wow, he’s going to be solid, even though he’s undersized. With that motor and that athleticism he won’t fail.

Some more

Cousins:

“We’re playing good team basketball. What we’re trying to change is let’s try to make each other better every night, let’s try to make your teammates better. Doesn’t matter who is having a good night, let’s feed them the rock.

Exploit size inside? I wouldn’t really say they’re undersized, I had a good game. They have some good bigs on their team, I just had a good game.

We’ve been preaching let’s try to make each person better and that’s what I tried to do tonight.

(On the trash talk): That’s basketball, that’s nothing.

I hate coming through the airport, but I enjoy coming to Toronto.”

James Johnson:

“I love Toronto, wish things could have been different, but that’s the league. I wish these guys well and it’s always fun playing here.”

Interesting quote from Gray the morning of the game:

“We feel like this is a game we should win whereas before we were just hoping and wishing.”

There was an interesting pre-game discussion with the coaches about dealing with players in this day and age. Obviously, Cousins was the reason it was brought up with Keith Smart:

Casey on handling players, egos, etc:

“Dealing, I don’t like to use that word. I like coaching, communicating. I like those terms moreso than deal, because it’s basketball, it’s a sport. We’ve played it for a long, long time. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of difference between NBA players, they want to be coached, they want to have parameters, they want to be told what to do. They want to know what the rules are. They want to be held accountable. They want to know that they’re going to be held accountable for the job they’re going to do. That’s the way I’ve always seen it, there’s other things that always enter the picture in pro sports, contracts and all that stuff, but I try not to look at that. I’m human. You know who your star players are. You have to treat them the same. They might have a little more rope as far as shot selection and missed shots and that type of thing or maybe a bad night. But for the most part, you’ve got to treat everybody the same.”

Keith Smart:

“As players and coaches, we don’t pay a lot of attention to that. We deal with the issues that are in front of us. We don’t focus so much with what’s being said or what’s being written. You guys do a fabulous job doing your work for the masses and everything. But for us coaches, our daily job that we have everyday is to refocus each player to get him ready to play that game, to get ready to practise that day. That’s what we do. I don’t hold anything personally. I let them move on. Holding stuff personally eats away at you. I quickly move and get things behind me as fast as I can. I try to share that with my team, because that’s how the game is played. You’ve got to forget about a foul or a bad shot or a turnover and get to the next play. That’s what I try to share with my basketball team. We had our issues with some things on the floor this year, suspensions here have all happened that way. We put it behind us. I try to get them to understand that you put a game behind you as quick as you can and you put a moment or event behind you as quick as you can. Myself, the staff, we continue to do our job once again of trying to get the young man to understand how to grow and be a pro, not just for this year but for the rest of his basketball career. That is also going to help him in his normal civilian life when he can’t run up and down the floor anymore. As a coach now in the NBA — I’ve been around for a while now — you have to do more communicating with your players. You’ve got to do more things daily than you’ve ever had to do. Coming through early, players just did their job. They just came to practice and worked. Now you need to spend a lot of extra time. But you also have to be prepared for the game, scouting the opponent, getting yourself ready for the opponent. But you have to be able to understand that’s the time we’re in right now. You have to be able to manage each guy. I say all of the time: in our case, on our roster, we have 14 players. These are 14 individual corporations that I have to walk into a different door and manage and see what this corporation has to offer today. Each guy is managed differently. Not all of them are the same. You may have a group that is pretty close under a certain umbrella. Overall, they’re all individuals. You have to try to get the individual group to function as one. When you’re young, sometimes that’s hard. Again, they have the alpha-male syndrome. They all want to be first. You see how our team is starting to evolve a little bit. You can see how important it is for a team to grow together and share the basketball and support each other, and how much fun it is to play the game and how much fun it is to be around each other when you try to win some games.”

Really interesting stuff, though Casey threw cold water on the idea that players today are any different than they were 15 years ago.

“That hasn’t changed. I remember when I first came into the league in the early 1990s and it’s the same thing. Older players, younger players, it’s about communication. Same thing as in college, you’ve got to communicate and talk. It may not have to be every five minutes, but you’ve got to let guys know where they stand, what’s going on, what their role is and that’s one reason why we keep the role cards in case they do forget, you go back and have their role card. Again, just a natural human being type situation where you’re communicating talking, maybe about their family, moreso than basketball, I just think that goes a long way because you’re together so much in the NBA. You’re just like a family.”

“Communicating is something I’ve always done, I do it from a genuine standpoint because people know when you’re pulling their leg. You’ve got to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but I think you have to be honest with players, people, agents, whatever it is. Sometimes the truth does hurt and sometimes the players don’t want to hear the truth, but you have to do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockets at Raptors points per game: Move the ball, play some D, success will follow; Calderon NBA’s most professional player; Sabonis, the all-time great, in the house

- December 17th, 2012

Funny what having everybody on the same page and everybody trying hard does for a team. The Raptors have been locked in, have had a focus to playing defence and a commitment to playing team basketball at both ends over the past three games, and have been rewarded with two victories (and a big lead against Brooklyn that they couldn’t hold).

There’s a clear difference between the sorry outfit we saw in November (and parts of December). A key has been getting off to better starts. Regular readers know I vouched for an Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciunas starting frontcourt and they are doing what I expected. Even though the numbers didn’t exactly jump out after the first quarter either on Friday or Sunday, it was clear, the duo were major reasons why the Raptors played well from the jump. Once Valanciunas gets stronger and puts on some more meat they’ll be even more effective, but even right now, they out-rebound opponents, get easy buckets above the rim and alter and block shots, making life more difficult for opponents.

Some thoughts on Sunday’s game:

Alan Anderson has emerged as an X-factor for the team. He might be the best perimeter defender on the squad (though Terrence Ross gets better in that regard every day), he has confidence and swagger and is extremely shifty while also having a good enough three-point shot to keep opponents honest. He’s a really nice glue player to have on the roster and played extremely well.

Jose Calderon said he doesn’t worry about who is starting or how much he is playing and just wants to be the most professional player in the league. Great quote. He’s the consummate pro. He would prefer to start elsewhere, but is going to do whatever he can to help the team play well.

That said, not about to start a point guard controversy. Kyle Lowry is a better all-around player and a better fit for a Dwane Casey-led team. Lowry just needs to settle in, stop forcing things and gamble a bit less on defence upon his return. He’ll be fine. If Calderon can be moved for value, great, if not, a lot of teams would kill to have a Lowry-Calderon combo, it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world.

I thought the Raptors stuck around to set good screens a little better on Sunday and it helped give players like Calderon, DeRozan and Anderson more room.

John Lucas’ shot seems to be back and he’s getting teammates involved too. This is by far the best he has played since starring in the pre-season.

As Casey said after the game, Toronto’s pressure and aggressiveness eventually threw Houston off from three-point range. We saw it in the third quarter and it also was very apparent down the stretch, when the Raptors forced Houston into three air balls late.

Casey sat Davis for the fourth even though he turned the game around in the third with 13 points and … it was the right call. If he wasn’t going to go big (normal?) with two 6-10 or bigger players, going with Amir Johnson over Davis as the lone big makes more sense. Davis has become one of Toronto’s best help/team defenders, but Johnson remains the best on the team in that regard. He is a bit quicker and more instinctual in terms of reading and reacting for switches and did a nice job helping on James Harden.

“Amir did a heck of a job and he was in the flow of the game. Down the stretch. I thought that Amir would be better for switching onto Harden,” Casey confirmed. Playing Davis and Johnson might have worked, we’ll never know, but if you were going to play only one, Johnson made sense this time.

Johnson was amusing afterwards when asked about how talking more on defence has helped the team. He basically said not only do they tell each other where to be or what is happening, they also just yell out random stuff at times to try to throw off and confuse opponents.

Aside from the first time I was around MJ, I haven’t been star-struck in this job before, but shaking hands and scrumming Arvydas Sabonis was pretty damn cool. There aren’t many living basketball legends, but he is one of them. Probably one of the 20 most talented players ever and I didn’t even see him before his injuries. Just from 1992 (on NBC and since then, on tape) and from when he finally came over to the NBA with Portland. Even then, when he was a shadow of his former self, you could see just how absurdly talented the man was. He’s also the biggest man I’ve ever met, bigger even than Shaq. Spoke pretty well of Jonas, but made it clear he expects a lot more from him in the future and believes Jonas will meet the challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Nuggets Points Per Game: Too little too late; The pieces don’t fit; All about effort; Time to move Bargnani to the bench

- December 4th, 2012

When you are 4-14, moral victories mean very little. It’s great that the Raptors dug deep and made a game out of what could have been a blowout. But does it really matter? The end result was still another loss. Instead of furiously battling back in games, how about showing up in every quarter for a change?

Toronto actually did well early, playing a decent first quarter, but the killer even in that quarter – and we won’t even talk about the nightmare of a second quarter that decided the game – the killer in the first was effort. You simply cannot get massacred on the offensive boards the way the Raptors were. The final stats showed 23 O-boards for Denver, 9 for the Raptors. The ratio was even worse after a quarter. That can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. The pieces don’t fit properly.

Some thoughts:

Toronto isn’t as talented as most of its opponents, and certainly not as talented as Denver … but, you can make up for some of that by playing hard and playing smart. Boxing out, making smart decisions, etc. Too often, this team doesn’t do that. Boneheaded errors lead to turnovers and fast break points the other way. Lack of effort leads to easy points created by offensive rebounding.

Andrea Bargnani had one of his better outings and still wasn’t a big plus for the team. Again, it’s time for a divorce. An important moment came at the half when he allowed Ty Lawson, a foot shorter, to grab an offensive rebound and turn that into a putback. Bargnani barely moved, barely tried to corral the rebound. The blame can be spread around though. Jonas Valanciunas had a fine start and was poor after that. Kyle Lowry had a terrible first half and a great second half. DeMar DeRozan might have been the best Raptor, but needed to be more aggressive. He got to the line just once. Jose Calderon struggled, Mickael Pietrus was a non-factor.

What would I do? Keeping in mind that nobody is just going to gift a talent upgrade to this team and assuming, as the whispers indicate, that the market for Bargnani is underwhelming at the moment … Put Ed Davis with the starters and let Bargnani provide scoring on the second unit with Calderon and Amir Johnson working off of him, as they have done well in the past.

The first group might be limited offensively, but it won’t get outworked and outrebounded as often since Davis is the team’s best rebounder and has become one of its best defenders. Let Lowry and DeRozan be the scorers. Let Pietrus bomb away from the corners, let Davis pick up the trash and let Valanciunas show a little more of his already impressive offensive game.

We’ve been over this, but let’s reiterate: Bargnani sets a bad example with his floundering effort level, with his lack of rebounding and with his wavering defensive abilities (to be fair, he was locked in for parts of the night defensively and was nowhere close to the worst offender in that category).

If you can’t deal him now, let him become a force off of the bench and give your starters a better chance of staying in games.

It’s not like the current setup is working.

A few positives:

The fight again was good to see, even if it was too little, too late.

Terrence Ross played well. Davis had an impact once he got some minutes. Lowry rebounded from his tough first half, to give the excellent Lawson fits at both ends. DeRozan did strong work on the boards.

That’s about it. Too many bad shots – Bargnani should not have taken that three late, but there were a lot of bad decisions by everybody. Too little attention to staying with energy players like Corey Brewer. Laughably bad effort on the glass.

The good news? Sacramento is a winnable game. The pieces fit even worse there and no team has more head cases per capita.

Thoughts from Summer League in Vegas

- July 13th, 2012

LAS VEGAS — In Vegas taking in summer league for the week, will post some observations here from what I see:

Day 1

Washington vs. Atlanta

Bradley Beal is the size of a point guard, which could give him some problems defensively since he’s a shooting guard, but has a silky smooth offensive game, particularly a quick first step. Beal finished with a game-high 22 points, scoring nine of them at the free throw line in a 102-82 loss.

Still not sure why Jan Vesely went so high a year ago. He has size and athleticism, but not sure about NBA skills. He did do a nice job shooting the ball on Friday though and missed most of his dunk attempts, which is quite un-Vesely like. Vesely has put on weight, which was a major issue last year. It will be important for him to show signs of progress this season. He had some issues on the foul front in his first summer league game. The Czech forward fouled out – and you get 10 fouls in summer league! – late in the game, getting a sarcastic ovation for his efforts.

Washington has a nice young bench player in James Singleton. He is athletic, plays hard and crashes the boards.

John Jenkins was considered one of the better scorers in the draft and he illustrated why, sinking 5-of-6 three-point attempts.

Toronto vs.  Houston

Raptors off to a quick start with Terrence Ross draining his first two shots as a Raptor.

Ross threw down a monster two-handed jam in the second quarter and swished a three on the next play. He had 21 points in a strong performance.

Ed Davis was getting worked by Donatus Motiejunas early at both ends. Davis did have a nice second quarter block. They have been working on his jumper and it looks much better. Still, aside from the blocks, Davis struggled defensively.

Motiejunas finished with 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting.

Toronto’s Devoe Joseph had 11 points and a couple of assists and played well defensively.

Bobby Brown scored 15 points but was too shot-happy.

 

 

Raptors at Houston Rockets Points Per Game

- February 28th, 2012

All the attention is probably going to be on DeMar DeRozan’s tweet afterwards (he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, despite leading the team in scoring), but there are other things to discuss.

- What’s up with Jose Calderon? He’s fantastic at home, below average on the road. His home-road splits show quite a disparity. Calderon averages 13.7 points, 10.4 assists and 51% shooting at home, but away he averages 8.5 and 7.5 on 41% shooting.

- Raptors and Rockets have gone in opposite directions since the start of the season. Houston opened 3-7, but has gone 18-7 since (and 15-4 at home overall), while the Raptors went a surprising 4-5 early on, but slumped to 6-19 since.

- Toronto got Linas Kleiza back following a three-game injury absence. Casey said he’d be cautious with Kleiza’s minutes. “I’ll try to be smart. I haven’t been accused of that too often,” Casey cracked. Andrea Bargnani is doing on-court running, but the team is being cautious. “He’s got to listen to his body and go with that. Kind of on his terms, as far as his calf is concerned,” Casey said.

- I talked to Leandro Barbosa and he said all the trade rumours aren’t bothering him at all. He knows it is part of the business and out of his control. But it might not all be. Sources tell me quietly, potential landing spots willing to extend-and-trade Barbosa are being sniffed out. Barbosa said he loves Toronto and would happily sign long-term. As always though, we’ll see if the price is right and if the Raptors get an offer they can’t refuse.

- I don’t blame DeRozan for being frustrated. Unlike Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, who didn’t play in the fourth (aside from 11 seconds for Calderon), DeRozan was playing decent-well. Casey said he was thinking ahead to Wednesday’s game in New Orleans, but it seemed like an odd call, especially with Kleiza just back from injury. DeRozan played the entire third quarter, scoring 10 points before sitting.

- Like Casey, I’m a big fan of Kyle Lowry. Was convinced he’d be better than Villanova teammate Randy Foye and that certainly has proven correct. He does so many things well and as Casey said: “He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s their heart and soul and spirit of their team and I love the way he plays.”

Raptors to revamp Davis’ jumper/footwork; Big game from Joseph and more

- February 22nd, 2012

Pistons Points Per Game coming by tomorrow morning but today wanted to do a roundup of assorted topics of interest:

First, congratulations to Cory Joseph, who got his first career start on Tuesday when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. It was an ugly game for the Spurs, but Joseph managed 13 points, three assists and 0 turnovers, hitting a pair of threes in a 4-for-13 shooting effort. Getting that chance will help him down the line. Believe only two 20-year-old Canadians have ever started a game in the NBA. Tristan Thompson earlier this season and now Cory.

- On to Ed Davis. A lot of people are asking me if the news that the Raptors intend to work extensively with Davis in the off-season on his jumper and footwork means he is part of the long-term plans? While it’s a positive for Davis supporters that they are talking about working with him this summer, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Dwane Casey wants to make the players he has better. That’s his job. He can’t be thinking that he won’t have certain guys to work with in the future. He can only think about what he has now and making the current Raptors better. It’s  up to Bryan Colangelo to make moves and give Casey the players to work with.

They have already worked on Davis’ jumper, like James Johnson, his mechanics look better, but they are very concerned with the way his left foot comes towards and crosses over his right when he takes a jumper (he doesn’t do this at the free throw line). The movement is all wrong, it is not a smooth motion and it is counter-productive. It will be rebuilt from the ground up in the summer.

EDIT: I do believe one of Davis or Amir Johnson will be traded this off-season. With Linas Kleiza a solid stretch 4, but ineffective at SF, Andrea Bargnani looking like the starting 4 of the future and even James Johnson putting up better numbers as a 4 than he does as a 4, that’s an awful lot of power forwards going forward. Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray and possibly Jamaal Magloire should get the centre minutes next season and even if Bargnani shifts to the 5 a bit, there will still be at least one PF too many.

Davis is cheaper than Amir and would be easier to get value for based on upside potential so don’t convince yourself that just because they are talking about working with him in the summer that he’s definitely staying. I’d be shocked if both Davis and Amir are back next season. There likely isn’t room for both of them and Bargnani, Kleiza and Johnson don’t seem like likely candidates to be moved.

- Casey likes what he has seen from Davis recently after a down period. He has totaled 20 points and 15 rebounds on 9-for-14 shooting over his past two games and was one of the only Raptors to show up against the Bobcats on Friday.

“I thought Ed did a heck of a job against Charlotte, he competed, he rebounded, mixed it up in the paint. Ed is growing, up until the last 3 or 4 games he had been inconsistent, but I thought his effort and focus and productivity offensively have been there the last couple of games,” Casey said this week.

- As I wrote today, the Raptors believe the playoffs aren’t a pipe dream. It sounds crazy and it remains a highly unrealistic outcome, but you can’t hate on them for saying so. They are trying to win games not think about draft picks and the future.

“We have a long way to go, (but) can definitely turn things around this season and make a push towards the playoffs,” said Jerryd Bayless.

- Bayless is expected to play against Detroit on Wednesday, while Linas Kleiza’s status is dicier. A lot more factors come into play with Kleiza than with some other players (ie. scrutiny from outside affiliates).

Charlotte Bobcats at Raptors Points Per Game, Naughty By Nature edition:

- February 18th, 2012

Disappointed I didn’t get to see Naughty by Nature at halftime, also wondering why the heck Treach and Co. are doing halftime shows now? Sorry Matt and Jack, but I’m not as crushed about missing your halftime show.

- The Raptors let winless Washington beat them earlier this year, so perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Charlotte’s 16-game losing streak also ended against Toronto. The Raptors need to stop playing down, or up, to the competition.

- Raptors were smart to run on Charlotte early. You don’t really think of the Bobcats as a team to run on, but that definitely can be done against them. They should have ran a lot more.

- If Jose Calderon has played at a higher level either in the NBA or internationally, it is news to us.

- Charlotte has been knocked for not playing hard this season, but you could tell they were quite anxious to end a brutal 16-game losing streak. Getting D.J. Augustin back is going to help the Bobcats win a few games. He has become the squad’s best player. The Raptors were desperate not to let-down against such a brutal team, but the squad did not come out with the same energy as in the past few games. It took until late in the first half before the effort level seemed to pick up for the home side. The shooting also cooled noticeably from recent 50% or so shooting outings.

- Ed Davis seems to have a lot more comfortable taking jump shots. Tom Sterner helped James Johnson in that regard, and it appears Davis has improved based on those sessions as well. Not only does his form look better, but Davis also looks more comfortable when he is hoisting his shots, which any shooter knows is a big part of the battle. (Note, I am definitely not a shooter, but I know that is true). The Raptors have been giving Davis more minutes and a bigger role of late in an effort to see what they have in him.

- Don’t really like Kemba Walker off the ball as Charlotte played him a bit on Friday. Don’t think he’s a true point guard either, but he needs to have the ball and to be making the decisions. If his jumper develops, perhaps he can grow into a Ben Gordon-esque role, but that’s not his game yet. Walker’s a great slasher and can set up his teammates, but he’s not going to be an effective NBAer until he greatly improves his jumper and shot selection.

- Raptors director of sport science Alex McKechnie has headed to Lithuania to work with Jonas Valanciunas.

- With Jerryd Bayless back, didn’t expect to see the Calderon-Anthony Carter backcourt again, but it gave Toronto some decent minutes late in the first half.

- DeMar DeRozan could learn some bad things from Corey Maggette, but he also could learn some good. Few players can get to the free throw line as easily and often as Maggette. He’s a bit of a ball-stopper, but he really knows how to put defences on their heels, how to draw contact and create a ton of free throw opportunities. Maggette is best neutralized by turning him into a jump shooter. Meanwhile, DeRozan has really rebounded of late after a concerning stretch of the season. He had 18 points in the first half alone.

- Leandro Barbosa, Amir Johnson and Davis keyed the fourth quarter Raptors comeback, but it wasn’t enough and the team was booed off the court on fan night.

 

Milwaukee Bucks at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 9th, 2012

Lost in the very valid points about lack of practice time causing “defensive slippage” like in Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee is one major factor nobody seems to be mentioning. Andrea Bargnani, shockingly, was playing fantastic defence. Without him, the team takes a major step back on that front (yes I never really thought I would write that sentence). Sure lack of reps is hurting the team, but I’d say the lack of Bargnani has been as much or more of a factor. Toronto is now just 2-12 without him and a return is nowhere close.

- It will be interesting to see if Bargnani is activated before the all-star break so he has a chance to be an injury selection. I know the franchise lobbied hard for him to be included and if he returns for two or three games he has a shot, especially since Andrew Bogut, Al Horford and Brook Lopez are injured. If Melo and Stoudemire are injured too (which seems to happen often), that will open up a forward spot or two (Stoudemire doesn’t deserve to be an all-star this year, but he plays in New York so is overhyped and could make it again).

- That said about Bargnani, I have no doubt the team is tired, mentally and physically, and that is why the defence has regressed. With a ton of practice time coming up, I think things will pick up in that department.

- Jerryd Bayless’ inability to stay healthy (ankles) has to be a concern for the Raptors. I still keep him over Barbosa long-term (cheaper and younger), but at some point they might have to question whether he is durable enough to be a building block.

- DeMar DeRozan seems to be taking to the small forward position doesn’t he? His numbers are better there and he seems more aggressive, since he can take slower threes off of the dribble. He seems more comfortable there, even if he often gives up a few inches. James Johnson told us that he actually prefers the power forward spot to the three, which makes DeRozan’s emergence at small forward even more intriguing.

“Ya, it’s easier for me. I dont have to run as hard as on the wing. It’s getting pretty simple, the problem was not knowing the plays, not knowing where to be,” Johnson said of playing small forward.

“I prefer (to play) whatever. I just want to win. Whatever makes us win, let’s do it.”

Johnson said assistant coach Tom Sterner has rebuilt his jump shot and given him a lot more confidence.
“That’s all Tom Sterner. Me and him rebuilt my jumper. It’s in rhythm, NBA rhythm, not one of those guys can get to or close out to. I’m getting more comfortable taking them. I’m not thinking of the fundamentals of the jumper anymore. I’m thinking about am I open.”
“I’m finally learning the catch-and-shoot or catch and make a faster decision.”

- Had a chance to talk to Ed Davis a bit before the game about his being snubbed for the rookie-sophomore game. He said he isn’t too concerned about it, but of course wants to gain recognition through his play. He maintains he will be an all-star one day.

- Funny Brandon Jennings line on whether he talks or see DeRozan much during the season. He said no but …

“We’re both doing different things. But when we see each other it’s all love. We’ll always probably go hit up Roscoes Chicken and Waffles when we’re in L.A. Just do something.”


 

 

 

Raptors at Suns Points Per Game:

- January 25th, 2012

Finally, a win. Gutsy effort in Phoenix and a lineup change results in a victory to end a long losing streak. Oh, Andrea Bargnani might have had something to do with it.

- Bargnani proved again that he is an all-star, rebounding from a bad shooting start to absolutely pick apart the Suns. Sure Marcin Gortat lit up the Raptors, but Bargnani was only defending him part of the time and did better on that end than others.

- I liked the move to start Aaron Gray, I predicted at the start of the year (before Gray had his health problems) that he would start beside Bargnani for many matchups. Gives the team more size and a better screen-setter at the five. Also sends Amir Johnson a message – get your game back in gear, and he seemed to read it loud and clear. Johnson only played just shy of 13 minutes, but was back to his old active self. Plus the move forced me to try to remember the last time the Raptors started two 7-footers … I can’t remember that ever happening actually, since none of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal, Antonio Davis or Donyell Marshall are 7-footers.

- Toronto’s 3-pt shooting was a big positive. Beside Bargnani’s 4-for-6, the rest of the team went 4-for-9. That kept them in it when Phoenix was hot, and was a major reason why the end result was a win. Which leads to …

- Leandro Barbosa. He was the reason the Raptors were within four at the half in a game Phoenix should have had well in hand. Barbosa went 3-for-3 from three and was brilliant, particularly in the second quarter against his former team.

- Barbosa’s strong play helped mask another invisible night from DeMar DeRozan. This is at the troubling point now, especially since Bargnani was back, which was supposed to help DeRozan return to form. I liked his agressiveness early, but DeRozan failed to get to the free throw line and could not finish his chances.  His regression is the most negative aspect of this Raptors season, which is now a quarter of the way complete. Something needs to change and quickly. Right now DeRozan looks like a reserve, not a major piece of Toronto’s rebuild.

- I like what Ronnie Price has done for the Suns. Gives them a defensive boost. What the heck happened to Channing Frye? He can’t play anymore. Like at all.

- One more negative before I get to some positives. One of the reasons Toronto’s defence doesn’t look as good as it did early on is because Jose Calderon is no longer keeping anybody in front of him anymore. That’s been the case the past few games and didn’t change against the great Steve Nash. Nash blew by Calderon, this time with guile, not the speed other point guards have been using. Calderon, like most, to be fair, had no answers for Nash and his crafty, change of pace maneuvers. Another concern, re: Calderon, is the fact that he is making 1-2 bad passes at critical times (leaving his feet after dribbling into no-man’s land) throwing the ball away at inopportune times. It almost cost Toronto the game and would have had Phoenix hit more shots in the clutch. He did make some better decisions late that helped the Raptors win the game.

- James Johnson followed up his best game of the season with an even better one. He defended well and was solid on offence. His play would be one of the brighters spots of this season, though I’m sure Bryan Colangelo would prefer to have Johnson showing little instead of DeRozan and Ed Davis both showing next to nothing so far, aside from a fast start from DeRozan.

- Linas Kleiza continues to help the bench with his ability to score.

- I believe Toronto turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter but ended up with 16 total, so obviously the team did a much better job taking care of the ball as the game went on.

- OK one more negative. Marcin Gortat abused the team for three quarters. There was little resistance, he rolled to the hoop unguarded or overpowered the Raptors. The team finally guarded him better in the fourth.
- Dwane Casey drew up some good plays, including one to end the first half and bring the Raptors within four when Calderon went to James Johnson for a dunk. His team also used screens very well and Phoenix puzzlingly didn’t figure out that leaving Bargnani open off of screen and rolls or pick and pops was a very bad decision.

All in all, more good things to say than bad, but DeRozan and Davis need to get on track or else Colangelo doesn’t have nearly as much in his cupboard as he thinks and this retool is in worse shape than we thought.