Posts Tagged ‘James Johnson

Not the prettiest game but Raptors will take win in Orlando; Lowry back with a bang; Hansbrough deserves more time but James Johnson needs to play too

- April 11th, 2015

ORLANDO — The Kyle Lowry comeback game was a rousing success – other than the fact he had to play about five more minutes than the Raptors would have preferred. Lowry had some rust, but still had a huge impact in the game in an impressive performance. And his presence opened things up for other scorers, like DeMar DeRozan who has been a top 10 overall player the past five weeks or so, and Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Tyler Hansbrough.

- Yes, old problems reappeared – specifically not being able to haul in a rebound at crucial times (how many chances were they going to give Nikola Vucevic?) and not guarding the three well enough (Lowry admitted Victor Oladipo, usually a slasher, surprised him by pulling up for a three). But overall, it was a good effort against a young team that plays extremely hard. The Raptors needed to match that intensity to win and they did.

- DeRozan has been spectacular recently, responding better than anyone could have imagined to one of the toughest stretches of his career. He is back in all-star form, perhaps playing his best basketball ever.

- Hansbrough has given the Raptors a lift. They might need to consider extending his minutes even when Amir Johnson returns. He gives them the attitude they sorely lack to start most games. He will go after the ball and knock heads. He has been smarter and less preoccupied with scoring the ball this season and it has paid off for him. He has been setting nice screens and rebounding. The only issue is his finishing, but he deserves more time.

- Of course so does James Johnson and his DNP-CD was a head scratcher against a team as athletic as Orlando. Especially when Terrence Ross got hurt (though the team prefers him as a power forward). If Johnson can’t play when Amir is out, against a team of greyhounds, when can he play?

- Smart foul by the Raptors late on Elfrid Payton, forcing Orlando to call a new play. It worked out better than Boston getting a chance to call a new play the other day.

- DeRozan had been just 2-for-28 on non-corner three pointers this season before hitting a massive one. He hit three in all, two from the corners where he shoots a solid percentage (particularly from the right corner).

- These are the types of things Lowry provides: Tough driving layup while being fouled to start the fourth quarter; A great pass to a cutting Chuck Hayes for a score; Rebounds in traffic; A big three when it was needed.

- Lowry said he spent his early time off of the court in the game stretching his back on the sideline to keep it loose. Later, he returned to the bench when he was of because he knew he would only be getting a brief rest.
- DeRozan on the Lou Williams game-winner: ” I just took what they gave me. I saw Lou going to the corner. Once I saw that I knew I was going to make the play.”

- Hansbrough on the dunk with about 1:30 remaining that was set up by Williams and ended up being a crucial play: “Oh yeah, definitely. It was a great pass by Lou, my man was up, expecting Lou to make a play and Lou found me under the basket,” Hansbrough said.

- Casey likes what he sees in the young Magic. “That young team is going to be really, really athletic Their speed and quickness is second-to-none.” They will need to find some shooters, but in Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, Orlando has three stat-stuffing, high energy, potential defensive stars going forward. But it will take time. Casey sees them as being in the same situation Toronto was a couple of seasons ago and it isn’t easy to go from OK to solid the way it is to go from bad to OK.

 

 
 

 

 

Raptors not named James Johnson fail to bring it in Houston and nobody picks up slack for struggling stars, injured Lou Williams

- February 22nd, 2015

- The Raptors played like a team finishing a tough back-to-back on Saturday night in Houston. Not surprisingly, that’s because they were. Even though they got some rest in the fourth quarter the night before, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan looked way off in this one early on. They shot 2-for-9, combined, in the first quarter. When they went just 2-for-11 in the third quarter, that was basically the game. They just weren’t in it, something Dwane Casey felt was a problem for the whole team. ““When you don’t come out in this league ready to play mentally and physically, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your behind handed to you,” Casey said afterward. “Tonight we didn’t come out with the right mind set. They were the hungrier team. They did all the hard and grimy things that we did Friday in Atlanta.”

- Overall, it was a hideous shooting night for Toronto’s two best players (2-for-13 for Lowry, 4-for-14 for DeRozan). With Lou Williams out due to an ankle injury, there was nobody to pick up the offensive slack, to make up for their struggles. Lowry is now a troubling 37% shooter (30% from three) over his past five games. He has averaged just 5.4 assists against a whopping 3.4 turnovers per game in that span. The hope is the all-star break gave Lowry the rest he needed to get back into top form. He was excellent in Atlanta, but turned in one of his worst outings on Saturday.

- No shame to losing to a strong squad in a building that has a loud crowd when you didn’t get much sleep. Houston, even with Dwight Howard injured, is a good squad. If Howard returns, the Howard rebound to a streaking Corey Brewer should be an effective wrinkle. As is, the team seems to be missing something (depth perhaps) to really challenge the West’s big boys, but a good team nonetheless. It was a lot to ask taking out both the Hawks and Rockets in a road back-to-back. Still, Casey didn’t think they were mentally in it and believes there is no excuse to not be ready to compete, even if you are tired. And hey, Houston was playing for the second night in a row too and still doubled Toronto’s energy.

- James Johnson was excellent. He has been quite a good fit in the starting lineup. He played excellent defence on Kyle Korver on Friday, then made life far more difficult than usual for James Harden, an MVP candidate. Johnson blocked a couple of Harden’s shots, crowded him and made him work. Harden had five turnovers and Johnson causes a lot of them. At the other end, Johnson was by far the best Raptor. Consistent throughout, Johnson got to the line and finished when he wasn’t getting fouled, on the way to a career-best 27 points. He also had four steals and four blocks. Johnson just needs to find a teammate playing at his level, because right now, no other Raptor is excelling (save for the absent Williams).

- Yes, the referees were letting them play. Yes, it seemed to impact the Raptors mentally a bit -  further proving Casey’s point that they weren’t mentally ready for this one.

- It was a season-high 25 turnovers for the Raptors and the first time they had as many turnovers as made field goals in a game in 20 seasons. Toronto only got two free throw attempts from its bench and Terrence Ross remains missing in action.

- A game after defending the rim like a team full of Bill Russells, the Raptors stunk guarding the inside, allowing Houston to shoot nearly 50% at the rim. Only Jonas Valanciunas, maybe the second-best Raptor in the game, proved a deterrent down low (Houston shot just 1-for-7 at the rim against him, 21-for-38 against rest of team).

 

Raptors need to show same energy and effort level against every team as they do against elite

- February 9th, 2015

DeMar DeRozan called it. Before Toronto’s weekend dates against the Clippers and Spurs, DeRozan mentioned how the Raptors would be ready to play and up for the encounters. The 2014 all-star said he and his teammates love to measure themselves against the very best and prove that they are for real. That’s well and good, but the trick for this team is to bring the same type of will against the league’s dregs and mediocre outfits. It won’t happen all the time of course, but too often, the Raptors play down to the level of the competition.

- The Raptors played a solid game on Sunday against San Antonio and were full marks for the victory, but it could easily have gone the other way. The Spurs just had one of those nights where nothing falls. They got a ton of good shots – something Dwane Casey was quick to point out – but just missed them. Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will each shoot below 30% maybe twice a season, if that. It was an anomaly. It was partly good Toronto defence – particularly in the paint, where Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson were superb – but on the outside, it was mostly just horrid Spurs marksmanship. Hey, the Raptors will take it.

“We are trying to get where they are and where they’ve been,” said Kyle Lowry. “It’s a great test for us. They know every night that they are getting every team’s best shot because of who they are. For us, it’s a stepping-stone.”

- Casey really played rope-a-dope with us. For days, he made a point of explaining why James Johnson was a great fit as an undersized power forward, but was not great as a small forward. Then, he inserted Johnson into the starting lineup – as a three. Against Kawhi Leonard, it made a ton of sense. Leonard himself is a guy who can be an undersized four, or a huge three. Casey only said “we’ll see” about whether Johnson would stay the starter at the three, with DeRozan moving back to shooting guard and it could depend on matchups (if the opponent plays a smaller lineup, or a more traditional one). Keeping Johnson in the starting lineup full-time makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. He isn’t good at defending the pick-and-roll, but he can quickly recover for his mistakes and is a very good help defender, improves the rebounding significantly, and is excellent in transition. Amir Johnson and an improved  Valanciunas down low can help him out if he gets burned on pick and rolls.

- Of course James Johnson hit the game-winner from three from the corner after bricking most of those attempts all season. The Raptors Bingo card is getting pretty full.

- Amir looked pretty spry in this one, particularly with his help defence and when he charged to the hoop for a crucial dunk late. He said he believed he could take Tim Duncan off of the dribble, so wanted to take advantage of that and he was right.

- Pop remains one of a kind. A couple of quotes:

On figuring out his rotation: “If I could do that, that would be good. It’s better than the alternative, not knowing what’s going on. We’re trying to get there.”

On watching the Raptors on tape: “I haven’t watched any film. I don’t watch any (other teams) too much. I’ll do it at home, turn on the TV here or there, but not to scout, mostly because the last time I checked, we weren’t undefeated. We do a lot of things wrong. I spend most of my time trying to figure out what we need to do. Once you get on the court, it’s all the same. It’s basketball. There is no new pick and roll defence. There is no post defence. There are no magic plays. The guys that compete and execute the best for the longest period of time win the ball game. It’s not that difficult.”

 

Raptors pass the ball and good things happen; James Johnson shows team what they were missing; Good toughness after Raptors lay down early vs. Clippers

- February 7th, 2015
- The Raptors changed a few things after a dismal first quarter against the Clippers on Friday night and lo and behold, the game shifted significantly. For one thing, the home side started playing a heck of a lot harder on defence and decided to attack the paint. They were about three times more aggressive at either end and it paid off. The Clippers had just over half as many makes in the second quarter and the Raptors went 7-for-9 in the paint.
- It was a trio of big men keying the revival. Amir Johnson, a notorious slow-starter, got himself in gear and went into Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode in the second, scoring seven points and adding four rebounds in the second as the Raptors started the rally. Patrick Patterson was solid as well, hitting a couple of threes, but, more importantly, helping to form a better defensive front. He helped set a tone, particularly when he went way up to meet Blake Griffin up above the rim. Dwane Casey was pleased. “That takes a lot of cajones,” Casey said post-game.

“We needed that spark from the bench. We’ve got to get a quicker start. I don’t know what we need to do with the starting unit, but we’ve got to come out with the pedal to the medal and find our group that’s going to come out and give us a spark. But I loved the way we bounced back, loved the fight, the tenacity we had defensively against one of the top scoring teams in the league. I liked the way the guys responded.”

- Chief among them being James Johnson. Back from an injury absence, Johnson showed why this corner has been arguing so forcefully that he needs to become a key member of the rotation. He isn’t in peak shape, because of the layoff, but you couldn’t really tell on Friday when he was soaring to the rim for scores, disrupting on defence and even dishing out assists. Johnson guarded a number of Clippers, including superstar point guard Chris Paul at times. DeMar DeRozan had the best stat-line – 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists (the first time he has ever led the Raptors in all three categories in a game), but Johnson and Lou Williams carried the team on this night just as much. Those three won the game for Toronto, with Johnson providing the biggest lift.

- When the ball moves, the Raptors are at their best. DeRozan had those eight assists without a single turnover. After notching just two helpers in the first quarter (on seven made field goals), the Raptors rallied by dropping 10 assists on 13 second quarter makes, then seven more on 10 scores in the third. That is excellent ball movement and they are hard to stop when that happens.

“It’s good when the ball moves,” Patterson said. “We have guys who can score in iso situations – DeMar, Kyle, Lou – guys who can go one-on-one and take their man. JJ did some damage tonight. It’s not uncommon for us to slow the ball down, isolate somebody on the wing and have them make a play. But then again at times when we move the ball, we share the ball, we pass, we drive, we penetrate, we cut, and do all the things we know how to do it makes everything else easier. It’s more beautiful too.”

- The moment you knew this one was over: When Jonas Valanciunas has a massive rejection on Paul, which led to a Kyle Lowry three at the other end, forcing the Clippers into a timeout as the Raptors and their faithful, went berserk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Ice cold Raptors heat up in a flash; Johnson absence explained again; Extra sweet win for ex-Kings; Stauskas absorbing lessons as rookie, excited about future of Canada Basketball

- January 29th, 2015

Talk about heating up. Shooting slumps don’t get much worse than what the Raptors have been going through for the past month or so. The team was connecting on 25% or so of its three-point attempts on many nights, on 30% during better ones, all the while, continuing to launch a ton of outside attempts, confident that things would turn around. Dwane Casey had said most of the shots were good looks and told his charges to keep firing away. They did, and everything turned on Wednesday against Sacramento. Suddenly, the Raptors couldn’t miss from deep. They had five (on eight attempts in the first quarter) after averaging about six makes over the previous 14 games), cooled down in a 2-for-8 second quarter, before nailing 8-of-10 in a ridiculous third quarter explosion. By the end, Toronto had made 17 threes, tied for the second-most in franchise history for one game, on 50% shooting. That kind of shooting is never going to be sustainable and it covered up some at times poor defence, but it will do wonders for a team that wasn’t feeling as confident as usual on offence lately because shots simply weren’t falling.

- Covered the job Chuck Hayes did on DeMarcus Cousins in great detail in the game story, but one more note on it from Patrick Patterson, if you don’t mind:

“It’s hard for anyone to guard that guy. He’s hands down one of the best big men in the league. He’s extremely talented. He’s pretty much a guard in a big’s body. For what Chuck did tonight on him, I throw my hat off. Chuck was with him in Sacramento, we all have a great relationship with DeMarcus. Chuck knows him better than anybody and did a great job with him tonight as far as forcing him to turn over the ball,” Patterson said.

- Patterson said it is “night-and-day” when Cousins is on the floor for the Kings, versus when he is on the bench. Hayes said he’d put him on the West’s all-star team, despite Sacramento’s record.

- Casey had a lot to say about James Johnson pre-game, saying he has handled his demotion well and has been a true professional. Someone had to lose their minutes with DeRozan back, Vasquez starting and Terrence Ross needing to get his confidence restored (which seems to have happened, judging by recent results) and Johnson was the guy, despite how well he has played. You can argue about it, and I have, but there is nothing more to it than that.

- Was interesting to see Casey leave Valanciunas out on the floor for a longer stretch again and against different type of big men, including ones fleeter of foot like Carl Landry and Jason Thompson. He was chasing them out to the three-point line at times, and doing a decent job of it. He told me he was happy to get the chance and hopes it is a sign that the coaching stuff has more trust in him now.

-Nik Stauskas seems to be finding his game a bit lately and that’s a good sign. He has struggled to adjust to the NBA, but is extremely talented. It just takes time for almost all rookies, something Kings head coach Tyrone Corbin was quick to point out.

” He’s a rookie, he’s a rookie,” Corbin repeated. “He’s learning what’s going to give him a chance in this league. He’s a shooter. . .to find his shots, be ready for his shots, when you get the double teams on the weak side, to come off and be ready when the shot’s there, if not read and take things that are available for him quickly. On defence, his body has to get stronger to be able to defend guys in this league. But he’s working hard, he’s a rookie in this league so he’s trying to find his way.”

- Stauskas said he has been in touch with Steve Nash and Rowan Barrett, Canada Basketball’s senior men’s grand poobahs, and is looking forward to the team Canada can put together this summer. “Having (Nash) now as a mentor and a friend, I couldn’t be more happy,” Stauskas said, adding there will be more serious talks about playing for Canada closer to the summer. “It’s crazy to see, especially from the Toronto area, how many guys have come out of here. We’re all happy for each other, we’re all proud of each other and hopefully we can put a good team together this summer and show people what Canada is all about.

- One more thing, I agree with DeRozan that the booing of Rudy Gay is stupid. Why boo him? He didn’t leave under bad circumstances like others or say anything bad about the franchise or the city. He was a model citizen who just didn’t fit here. Save the booing for those who deserve it.

 

More baby steps for the Raptors, major steps for DeRozan; Pacers just don’t have the horses; Delving into the Four Factors

- January 28th, 2015

After the last game, I asked, “if Jonas Valanciunas can’t play in the fourth against Detroit who can he close games against” and got an answer pretty quickly: The Pacers. That makes sense, considering he has a long history going up against Roy Hibbert, one of the biggest centres in the league. While Patrick Patterson again played the entire fourth (or close to it), Valanciunas was inserted to close the final half of it, after Tyler Hansbrough did a solid job. Perhaps because the team will be playing four games in five nights, three of them on the road, Amir Johnson didn’t play at all in the fourth. Valanciunas didn’t have a particularly great game, only stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan did that in terms of the starters, but he was decent and Hibbert didn’t go off and actually got outscored while he was on the floor, while Valanciunas provided some good rim resistance down the stretch, gathered up a couple of big rebounds and set some great screens (and one bad one).

- Another brutal start obviously wasn’t a good sign. Indiana went up 9-0 as the starters basically sleep-walked. DeRozan and Lowry were the only ones with any life it seemed. Still not sure Amir Johnson is best utilized as a starter at this point, given he doesn’t seem to start games out with energy, instead gaining effectiveness and mobility as games go on. Still vouching for Patrick Patterson and forgotten man James Johnson in the starting lineup, though that won’t happen as long as this team keeps winning. Will they keep winning with this group when the competition gets tougher, we’ll have to wait a bit to find out.

- The revival of DeRozan following his brutal slump has given the offence the boost it needed. The Raptors thrive by limiting turnovers and by getting to the free throw line. DeRozan gets to the line as well as just about any Raptor ever. He won’t get there 13 times a game, as he did Tuesday, but if he makes eight trips a night or so, the Raptors usually will be in a good place. The four turnovers look concerning on paper, but two were charges, which you’ll take every day of the week if the player also gets to the line 13 times, one was him just not being into the game at the beginning – dribbling it off himself out of bounds on the first play of the game, and one was a bad pass turnover). He had no turnovers in the previous game and generally seems a lot more comfortable dribbling the ball and attacking than he has at any point since returning from injury.

‎- With DeRozan back, the bench is again looking like one of the best in the league. Again, would prefer to see Greivis Vasquez running pick-and-rolls with Amir Johnson and having Lou Williams and Terrence Ross bombing away and Hansbrough battling for boards as a group, but that’s not going to happen right now.
- Terrence Ross got lost a few times on defence, but also was a big part of the 20-0 run and had his best quarter in weeks with nine points and four rebounds in the second. Indiana just doesn’t have the depth (with no Paul George and no Lance Stephenson) to compete against a good group of reserves like Toronto’s.
- Lowry had his best all-around game in ages. Though he thrived, carrying the team when DeRozan was out, there is little question his efficiency rises considerably when he has DeRozan out there with him.
STATS GALORE
- The Raptors have dipped a bit in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), to fourth, but have climbed back to 19th in defensive rating. They likely need to get up to middle of the pack to be taken seriously as a team that can win a couple of rounds. Their net rating is sixth-best in the entire NBA.
- Coaches love to look at the “Four Factors” and “Defensive Four Factors.” Here is where Toronto ranks now that we are more than half-way through the 82-game season and how they have been trending in these categories over the past 10 games:
Effective field goal percentage – 9th (16th past 10 games)
Free throw attempt rate – 5th (and rising, now that DeMar DeRozan is back, but still 6th past 10 games, as DeRozan readjusts).
Turnover ratio – 4th (but dropping a lot lately, just 19th over past 10 games)
Offensive rebound % – 11th (6th over past 10 as Jonas Valanciunas gets more time and thrives).
So overall, quite good, and those numbers go a long way to revealing why the team has won 67% of its games so far (that and feasting on bad teams).
Defensive Four Factors:
Opponent effective field goal percentage – 22nd (a big concern, but improving to 16th over past 10).
Opponent free throw attempt rate – 22nd (decent concern, especially since just 24th over past 10).
Opponent turnover ratio – 11th (solid and a key to their success as well, stayed at 11th over past 10).
Opponent rebound % – 24th (Massive concern, but 21st over past 10).

Signs of progress for Raptors but not there yet; If Valanciunas can’t play in the fourth against Detroit who can he play against? Keep moving the ball

- January 26th, 2015

The Raptors made a lot of mistakes and tried to hand the Pistons a game they should have been in control of throughout on Sunday, but, nonetheless, there were definite signs of progress shown by the home side: DeMar DeRozan rediscovered his jump shot after one of the worst shooting stretches of his career (8-for-14 from the field after going six for his previous 34). DeRozan also got to the free throw line 10 times, a huge part of his game, after going there only three times combined over his previous three. DeRozan’s determination to get a couple of three-point attempts off each game also is an encouraging sign. He has hit three in six games, but has connected on only 25% of his attempts. His second four (or more) assist game with zero turnovers also was encouraging, considering he did it many times last season.

- Toronto moved the ball around far better than we’ve seen in recent games. That was perhaps the best development. Getting 23 assists against eight turnovers will win you most games. The determination to get the ball inside to Jonas Valanciunas early and often also was a great sign. Valanciunas thrives against Detroit and he was quite good. He scored from both sides of the block and was aggressive at both ends. He also offered solid resistance defensively, continuing a recent trend of improved play there. Valanciunas is going up straighter and impacting a lot of opposing shots. He blocked three shots after getting four against the Sixers (which caused Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson to rib him a little bit – ‘Oh, you’re a shot-blocker now, huh?”  He ran the floor well, despite a lot of minutes through three quarters and was rewarded for it. In turn, since he was involved more, he seemed to give more of an effort everywhere else.

- Everyone wants to know why Valanciunas took a seat for the fourth after a dominant third quarter where he played the entire frame, missing only one shot on the way to eight points, five rebounds and two of his blocks. Dwane Casey prefers to play Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson down the stretch of games largely because they are far quicker and more technically sound. He also likes having Patterson’s shooting, since the team basically abandons the inside game in fourth quarters. I get that against many opponents, but Valanciunas consistently dominates the Pistons and wasn’t just doing it with his offence in this one. Detroit players scored on just 7-of-17 attempts at the rim on Valanciunas (41%) which is an excellent mark. They went 4-for-10 against Johnson, 3-for-6 against Patterson and 3-for-3 against Tyler Hansbrough, who had been doing a nice job protecting the rim before this one). Valanciunas had been Toronto’s most efficient scorer and one of its best defenders. Since Greg Monroe was on the floor, the excuse of no big being out there which has been a fine justification for Valanciunas sitting in the past does not apply. Johnson easily could have checked Anthony Tolliver. Not playing Valanciunas down the stretch simply didn’t make sense in this case, especially not if Ross is playing the whole quarter, which negates the need for Patterson’s shooting.

A few other points:

- Letting Greivis Vasquez or Lou Williams handle the ball a lot in the first two quarters of games is a good way to make sure Kyle Lowry is fresher later.

- The Raptors played a bit faster and as mentioned earlier, didn’t stop the ball on offence as much as usual.

- Terrence Ross made a smart cut for a dunk. He should do more to get open off of the ball instead of simply hanging out in the corners.

- Great play call at the end of the third quarter. Instead of doing the usual, give Lou Williams the ball and let him shoot thing, the Raptors used him as a decoy and Williams found an open teammate (two of them were open actually). Mixing things up instead of being too predictable will go a long way.

- So glad Stan Van Gundy is back roaming the sidelines, he’s the best. One example of why came later in the game, after the Pistons botched coverage of an in-bounds play (the one where Kyle Lowry charged right to the hoop and got fed a pass for a wide open layup). Van Gundy bolted up from his seat, did a full spin with his hands raised, paced a step or two, sat back down and glanced skyward. It was hilarious.

- Attention to detail still is not great (tons of bad turnovers that kept Detroit in the game and at least two crucial rebounds allowed), but this was still a good win against a team that fights extremely hard and was playing for injured teammate Brandon Jennings.

Raptors should feel better about loss in Memphis than win in Philadelphia; Time to switch up the starting lineup

- January 24th, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — Life, in sports, isn’t always fair. The Raptors worked incredibly hard in a gritty, encouraging effort against Memphis on Wednesday and came away with a loss. Then they basically were awful for large swaths of Friday’s game against Philadelphia, “expecting to simply walk on the floor to get a win,” as Dwane Casey put it afterward, but managed to escape with a win. How is that fair? It isn’t, but the Raptors return home from this trip with two wins in three tries and that will cover up some ugly moments. It shouldn’t. This group is a mess right now. The energy is lacking to start games, the offence has morphed from world-beating into a bit of a tire fire and the swagger and confidence that was so evident for the first two months of the season has completely vanished.

- It’s time to make a change. Two, in fact. Amir Johnson was a -21 against Philly. Patrick Patterson was +26. I’m not a huge fan of +/- (especially of the individual variety, since many players can look great because they mostly face backups instead of starters, with the opposite also being true), but for January, Patterson is +61 and Johnson is -95. The numbers for the entire season are even more striking. More than that, Johnson has been battling a series of nagging injuries and often takes a while to really start making an impact on games. Bringing him off the bench could be a big boost. They’d miss his excellent screens, his defence and his ability to score inside, but he’d still provide a lot of that off of the bench. If Patterson started, the team could also get away with starting the offensively limited James Johnson, who is the second-best defender on the team after Amir. That would be a big upgrade over Greivis Vasquez and would return DeMar DeRozan to shooting guard, where he is more comfortable. The new lineup would have energy, decent size, enough offensive capabilities and would allow pick-and-roll maestros Vasquez and Amir Johnson more of an opportunity to connect with Terrence Ross spotting up for threes. Or, they can keep things status quo and hope things change. Casey mentioned “nagging injuries” as one reason why the starters aren’t getting it done and it didn’t take much sleuthing to deduct he was mainly talking about Amir, who has been dealing with a bit of a shoulder issue (he is wearing more padding for games).

- Toronto had won just three of 16 quarters over the past four games, before winning two against the Sixers.

- The offence has become far too predictable. There is little movement, less pick-and-roll action than we’ve seen in past months and pretty bad shot selection. The team has shot 25% from three for most of January, yet continues to launch threes instead of going inside. Some of them are good looks that normally drop, but many more are just bad decisions. Mixing it up could be beneficial. Giving Jonas Valanciunas the ball more could help. He’s No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage and gets them higher efficiency looks than DeRozan isolations.

- Speaking of which, DeRozan is in one of the worst slumps of his career. He made a surprisingly effective return from his six-week injury layoff, largely because he let the game come to him. In the first three games, DeRozan didn’t force anything, everything came within the flow of the game. Now, he has gone back to forcing shots, most of them being at an extremely high level of difficulty. DeRozan is just six for his past 34 shot attempts and has has only been to the free throw line three times over the past three games.

“I kind of find myself looking for fouls now, instead of it coming naturally to me,” DeRozan said. Not surprisingly, he also said he didn’t think the starting lineup needed to be altered. “No, it’s on us, whoever starts because we’re the ones that come out and depict the start of the game. We don’t need to be fighting back from down 30-7. We don’t need to put ourselves in that type of hole because it can easily turn out bad,” he said.

- Credit Lowry for doing what he can do. He was unreal in the fourth, basically, strapping his teammates on his back and carrying them to a win. That’s what true all-stars do and Lowry has certainly earned his spot.

- Patrick Patterson has basically doubled his usual production on the offensive boards and has come up with some huge rebounds lately. With opponents taking away his three-point shooting lately, he said he has been trying to do other things. He also sees getting better as a rebounder as a natural progression. “I haven’t been known as a great rebounder. That’s a thing I’ve been lacking throughout my NBA career. Shot hasn’t been falling, teams are closing on me,” Patterson said. “Every year in the NBA I’ve added something. Three-point shooting. Perimeter defence. Every year is something different.”

MORE QUOTES:

“They’ve got to decide. They’ve got to make a decision from top to bottom. We can continue to say, ‘We’re going to be okay, we’re going to be okay;’ we’re not going to be okay if we continue to perform like that.” – Casey

“We have an air of complacency and I didn’t like it”.

-  “I always say, things always happen for a reason. Just sitting at his house with his family, with his son, that’s a memorable experience that’s going to go down, not just for the night, not for this year, you look back at it 20, 30 years from now, it’s something he can look back at, not only (just) for him but for his son as well.” – DeRozan to the Sun on Lowry having everyone at his house for the all-star announcement.

STATS:

- Toronto is now 20 games in front of the Sixers.

- Toronto has not scored 100 points in the past five games. The team is 5-7 when scoring below 100 and had given up 100 or more in four of five games before this run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlanta’s good, but credit Raptors for making them look THAT good; How about an APB for Ross; Patterson slumping; Will player’s only meeting help?

- January 17th, 2015

There’s no question the Atlanta Hawks are really good – duh, they’ve won 25 of 27 games and are building a solid lead atop the East – BUT, they aren’t quite as good as Toronto made them look on Friday night at the ACC.

As good as the Hawks have played during this stretch, they had shot better than 60% from the floor only one other time this season. Toronto’s defence was horrible. Players got lost on screens, they constantly got tricked or picked into bad matchups (ie. point guard guarding a centre, centre guarding a small forward, etc.) and they left the Hawks wide open all night, most damningly, during a third quarter that saw Atlanta shoot 7-for-9 from three-point range. The Raptors also scored a season-low 89 points. Again, Atlanta’s excellent, but Toronto did a lot of this to themselves.

- Could the aliens who have beamed up Terrence Ross kindly return him to the Raptors. They could really use the old Ross. This current version is in a wretched slump. He’s in the midst of his first single-digit scoring month in over a year, has hit under 30% of his three-point attempts over his past 10 games and 33% overall from the field, seems reluctant to dribble the ball, isn’t grabbing any rebounds and has lost his effectiveness as a defender. It’s not yet a crisis and you risk ruining his confidence by benching him for James Johnson, but at some point, if nothing changes, Dwane Casey simply needs to make a move. There are other culprits that have contributed to this free-fall (six losses in eight games), but Ross is right at the top of the list.

- Patrick Patterson’s game has also fallen off of a cliff. Patterson had a massive start to the season and still ranks near the top of the NBA’s three-point shooting leaderboard, but he’s really struggled lately. He’s hit only 25% from three over his past eight appearances, and 30% overall. With Ross and Patterson dipping so much, is it any wonder that things haven’t gone well for the Raptors? With the defence regressing so much, they’d need some great offensive efforts to stay afloat and neither Ross or Patterson have been providing that.

- This is a mature, largely veteran group. They will figure things out. Could they use a jolt and an upgrade or two? Absolutely, but if that doesn’t come, expect them to at least get closer to where they were prior. The player’s only meeting after the game called by Kyle Lowry was a start and the comments afterward by James Johnson about overconfidence based on the great start and the recognition that they were lacking in attention to detail were good signs. They’ve also been saying (Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan in particular), that going through this now is a good thing. Now, the trick is to make sure they aren’t just empty words. This is a team that still has a great record, but has not actually fared well against good teams. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to start getting results against the cream of the crop. The next chance comes Wednesday in Memphis. Before that, wins will be difficult to achieve against New Orleans Sunday (assuming Anthony Davis plays) and Milwaukee Monday (the Bucks surely remember getting humiliated by Bruno and the Raptors earlier this season in Toronto).

- Some people are going to ask about why the lack of touches for Valanciunas. Well, it’s pretty easy. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are smaller and far more mobile. They also are far better basketball players than Valanciunas right now and light years better as defenders. They wouldn’t let Valanciunas get the ball even when the Raptors wanted to give it to him (it is still a valid issue that they jack up too many three-pointers, but it’s not like they could have force-fed Valanciunas in this one). He had to work to guard Horford or Millsap or the other stretch bigs the Hawks have and didn’t seem to have the energy, the ability, or the will to establish himself at the other end.

- James Johnson noted that teams seem to have the book on the Raptors right now. They have been scouted well. Couple that with not “cherishing the ball” like they were earlier in the season, and this has become quite problematic.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT FROM DWANE CASEY:

“You should be frustrated. We’re getting our butts kicked, we’re all frustrated and you should be. If you’re a competitor you should be frustrated, but there’s no frustration in pointing fingers, ‘your fault, your fault, your fault.’ It’s everybody. You can go right through the roster, coaches players, say you can do this better, we can do this better. That’s what we’ve got to do, because, we’ve done it. We did it at a high level for a couple of months. We’ve just got to get that mojo back and get that 2X4 off our shoulder, the weight of the world, feels like, on your shoulder. We’re still in a good place, but we’ve got to fight through this and grind through this tough spot right now.”

HARDEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT TO UNDERSTAND (FROM KYLE LOWRY)
“Our meeting was more about what we talked about.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressive DeRozan return and wretchedness of Sixers masks so-so Raptors effort; Not playing smart basketball

- January 15th, 2015

Just what the doctor ordered. DeMar DeRozan finally returned and it was a very good thing, since there is a good chance the Raptors would have fallen to the Sixers without him on Wednesday night. Even though the Raptors are far more talented and deeper (DeRozan or not) than Philly, the Sixers played harder and seemed like they could have stolen this one had DeRozan not arrived to give the Raptors a huge list. DeRozan was extremely impressive. Don’t think anybody could have seen him fitting in so seamlessly, taking good shots, letting the game come to him and returning with a team-high 20 points. DeRozan didn’t force things (unlike many of his teammates), Dwane Casey did a great job resting him to keep him fresh throughout and he also played pretty good defence on a quick, athletic team.

- The Raptors have made a bad habit recently of going for “home run passes” instead of making simpler plays. Kyle Lowry has been the main culprit, he’s been throwing ridiculous lobs that not even Terrence Ross or prime Vince Carter could convert. He’s also getting a bit too cute, such as when he threw a no-look, over-the-shoulder dish to Amir Johnson inside. Johnson wasn’t ready for it because it was such a ballsy attempt and point guards have to recognize the likelihood of whether a pass will be hauled in. If nobody is expecting that pass, it’s unlikely it will be converted. Just calm down a bit. Related – Lowry needs to stop taking threes from the parking lot (some of them seem to from two feet behind the line). Those rarely go in (you basically have to swish them because you aren’t getting a friendly bounce from that far out) and they can kill momentum. His pull-up, or feet set threes from right around the line are great, but the ones he seems to be launching twice a game these days have to go. That said, Lowry still had a heck of a game.

- There were stretches where the team had great ball movement. It was zinging all around the court, extra passes were consistently being made, which created open looks. DeRozan made a few beauties. Scoring isn’t the only way he helps. He draws opponents and has matured into a player who makes great decisions with the ball when a double-team comes or when a single opponent is pressuring him. DeRozan is one of the best “hockey assist” guys on the team.

- Philly has some intriguing pieces and can jump out of the gym (poor Greivis Vasquez just keeps getting put on the highlight reels when he tries to shoot over K.J. McDaniels) but there is still so much work to be done. Joel Embiid has the chance to be a superstar one day, so he’ll certainly help, but they also badly need to get a couple of elite shooters to space the floor. If that happens, the Sixers might actually be good. Once McDaniels and Jerami Grant can become really solid bench defenders because there is enough talent in the starting lineup, Philly will have something. Brett Brown coaches his butt off. It’s a wonder these guys stay in games so often, considering they are so outmatched talent and experience-wise every night.

- What’s wrong with Terrence Ross? Good question. Nobody can figure out the answer. We thought DeRozan’s return would help him by giving him more space, taking pressure off of him and letting him get back to camping out in the corners, but he was invisible again. Casey’s going to have to think hard about swapping James Johnson in for Ross, even though the first group will not be able to space the floor since neither DeRozan or Johnson can hit from outside. Either that or try out Patrick Patterson at small forward and keep Johnson as the utility knife off of the bench.

- Tyler Hansbrough gave the Raptors a nice lift. He was willing to battle, to box out and go at the plucky Sixers and it was sorely needed in this one.

- Still not sure what I think about Michael Carter-Williams. Somebody has to get stats on a bad team, but no question he is skilled and will look better when he gets some shooters to play off of. He certainly had Toronto’s attention. Counted three different defenders on him in the first quarter (Lowry, Ross and Johnson).

- Patterson is really struggling with his three-point shot. His early-season numbers were not sustainable (close to 48% from three), but he’s slumping, shooting just 29% in six games in January after hitting a ridiculous 53% in December. Opponents seem to be closing out on him a tiny bit quicker than earlier this season (that happens when you hit more than 50% of your attempts), which is forcing Patterson to rush just a bit. The return of DeRozan should help a bit in that regard as he will command a lot of attention.

- Nerlens Noel should have been the top pick last year (with apologies to Giannis and Victor Oladipo). He’s going to be a better, bigger version of Kenneth Faried. That said, his touch inside is awful. Everything is too strong. If he can get a softer touch eventually, he has a chance to be effective offensively as well, instead of just a ridiculous defensive player.