Posts Tagged ‘Jonas Valanciunas

Troubling signs as Raptors collapse against Pelicans

- February 24th, 2015

It all looked so promising early on. Responding to a lethargic performance in Houston that disappointed head coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors came out aggressive and intense against New Orleans. The defence was superb particularly from Kyle Lowry, James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and nobody could stop Valanciunas inside. But that all faded and eventually, “they played harder than us,”  Lowry said of the Pelicans. That’s two out of the past three games that an opponent “threw a bigger punch” than the Raptors and seemed to want it more. That’s a bit troubling.

- Also troubling: The lack of creativity on offence. The Raptors are a three-point shooting team and that’s not going to change, as Lowry also pointed out, but how can a team that runs such efficient out of timeout plays, be so brutal at the end of quarters and of games? The Lou Williams isolation plays don’t work, because there is no variety and opponents know what to expect. You might get a call on the road with your six foot guard driving into a 7-foot shot-blocker once or twice a season. It’s just a bad decision by Lowry, the success rate is tiny. Even Casey said the team wasn’t running the plays and was just trying to “take an opportunity to do something different.” Again, troubling. DeMar DeRozan’s 22-foot fadeaways? Also troubling. DeRozan has been extremely effective when he moves the ball, doesn’t force his shots and takes what the defence is giving him. That’s the all-star version of DeRozan. We have only seen it sporadically. Perhaps it is patience that Lowry and DeRozan lack? Instead of forcing, if they’d just slow it down and make better decisions (like keeping Valanciunas involved) the Raptors would be a lot more threatening and it would be far easier to see them as a legitimate contender to make the Eastern Conference Finals or at least win a round and nearly take another. Right now, that seems like wishful thinking. Masai Ujiri gets this. It’s why he didn’t make a small move and it is why huge changes are coming the next two summers as he puts his stamp on a team that is still heavily-dominated by Bryan Colangelo acquisitions.

- Lou Williams was badly missed in Houston and Patrick Patterson was badly missed in this one. The team has grown used to closing games with Patterson on the floor and obviously couldn’t, due to his knee injury. Patterson is one of the three best pick-and-roll defenders on the team and also has a habit of hitting big shots for the club. If he had been healthy, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

- The play of Terrence Ross is still a gigantic concern. They let him play the entire second quarter and Ross only scored once on four tries, didn’t grab a rebound and like usual, didn’t get to the line. He did make at least one big shot though. All they can do is be patient in the off-season, as nobody will trade anything of value for him at this point with his value cratered.

- The coaching staff has been great all season and I’ve been the first to point it out and don’t want to seem like I’m piling on today, but why play the starters so much in the third? Three of them played the whole frame, DeRozan only a minute and a half less. Of course they were going to be tired in the fourth with Patterson sidelined. Chuck Hayes or Tyler Hansbrough should have battled against the plodding Omer Asik, allowing Amir Johnson or Valanciunas to get some rest to be fresh for the fourth (part of the reason Valanciunas didn’t play during the decisive final minutes was because the team said he didn’t have enough in the tank …). The team was up 11 when DeRozan split a pair of free throws half-way through the third, that was the perfect time to give the bigs and Lowry a break (or even up eight with three minutes left). Give the Pelicans full marks for coming back, but part of it was due to Toronto’s fatigue.

- The Raptors are adamant that James Johnson is not an infallible one-on-one defender – he makes a lot of mistakes, he just covers up for them extremely quickly – and Tyreke Evans still had his way with him, but still believe Johnson on Evans would have made more sense than Greivis Vasquez. Evans likely still blows by Johnson, but Johnson would have made him work harder and perhaps thrown him off a bit. Still, why don’t players back up off of Evans? He is a well below average shooter and a fantastic driver. Give him more room and dare him to shoot over you.

- Amir Johnson got annihilated down low, mainly by Alexis Ajinca. The Pelicans shot 10-for-13 against him at the rim, just 4-for-9 against Valanciunas.

Raptors still have Washington’s number; DeRozan just gets it done; Lowry play was vintage Kyle Lowry

- February 12th, 2015

As we said here the last time the Raptors took on the Wizards, sometimes teams just match up well against certain opponents and seem to have their number. That seems to be the case with the Raptors, as three wins in three tries this year against Washington indicate. Toronto also blew out the Wizards at the Verizon Center last year and the Raptor players seem to be able to do whatever they want offensively against John Wall and Co. Sure, the shooting percentage might not always look great, but whenever they’ve needed a big play, a big shot, or a game-changing offensive play, they have come through. The fact that both Nene and Marcin Gortat never seem to both play well against Toronto at the same time also might be a factor – and not having to go up against Bradley Beal doesn’t hurt either.

- Speaking of poor shooting numbers, DeMar DeRozan is shooting a career-low 39.4% from the field, yet his presence in the lineup is absolutely vital for the Raptors. In this case, shooting percentage is not everything. DeRozan gets to the free throw line at an elite rate (more on that here). He takes all kinds of pressure off of Kyle Lowry, giving the Raptors a two-headed monster on offence. His ability to draw fouls puts the Raptors in the bonus earlier in games and also forces opposing coaches to go to their bench players earlier than they would like to. When DeRozan is moving the ball, he also creates plenty of good looks for his teammates. He also has taken strides defensively and is averaging 1.3 steals a game. Particularly when he is at his natural shooting guard position, the team’s defence just looks better than it does when he is absent. The team is 24-8 when he has played this season.

- The Raptors have been subbing offence for defence or vice versa late in games more often recently. It was a great call to put Jonas Valanciunas back in for Lou Williams in the dying seconds. The big man’s length made Wall’s desperation potential winner far more difficult. You try shooting over a nearly 8-foot (when he is straight up and jumping) wall.

- At one point, there was a footrace between Lowry and Wall, perhaps the NBA’s fastest player. Nobody thought Lowry had a chance to win the race, but he did. Lowry slid on the ground to come up with the ball (sticklers would say he traveled, but it was too entertaining a play to call). “Calculated risk, baby, calculated risk,” Lowry said of his decision to abandon the spring and hit the court. “I’m pretty smart when it comes to that type of stuff.”

“It hurts, but it doesn’t matter, because we won the game. At the end of the day, we won the game and I’m excited that we won the game and we’re going into the break on a high note,” Lowry said.

- “That’s him, that’s the type of player he is. That’s Kyle Lowry,” DeRozan added.

- Final word to Dwane Casey: “We’re not going to out-talent anybody, we’ve got to do it collectively. If we don’t grind it, get on the floor for loose balls – like when Kyle dove on the floor from like 15 feet and hurt his hand, those are the plays we need to make.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Despite big Raptors comeback that was a deserved Bucks win; DeRozan can be baffling; Time to unleash Valanciunas

- February 3rd, 2015

You could see that one coming. For various reasons, after taxing road trips (and the Brooklyn-Washington overtime/overtime set definitely was taxing) teams playing their first game at home tend to come out incredibly flat. That was the Raptors against Milwaukee on Monday night at the ACC. Having no jump wasn’t the only reason they eventually came up short, but it was a big one. Credit the Bucks as well. Jason Kidd looked over his head for the first few months of his coaching career with Brooklyn last season, but eventually adjusted and looked quite comfortable. He’s done an even better job in Milwaukee, turning around the last-place team from a year ago. The Bucks now boast the second-best defence in the NBA and it was easy to see why on this night. Sure, the Raptors helped (more on that later), but the Bucks are long, athletic, quick and aggressive. They just don’t give you a lot of space.

- Dwane Casey has been consistent in his reasoning for not playing Jonas Valanciunas down the stretch in most games. If opponents don’t put a true, hefty centre out there, Valanciunas usually is going to sit – no matter how much he has bulldozed the opponent the rest of that evening at the other end or on the boards. Valanciunas was dominant again, but sat again. Casey rightly believes that Valanciunas cannot “scramble” defensively – cover the areas the last line of defence needs to in Toronto’s schemes – as effectively as Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson (or even Tyler Hansbrough, who has had a stealthy solid season off of the bench). Valanciunas is improving in that area and got a chance to test that development in a recent game against Sacramento -“You know, that’s an extra trust in me, so, that’s building my confidence,” Valanciunas had said at the time – but he’s still not as good at it as the others. On the flip side, he’s become the most efficient offensive option on the team (though that gets negated somewhat late in games because his teammates tend to chuck shots themselves instead of look for him the further along games go) and is the best rebounder. He’s also become quite solid defending the rim (well above average rim protection stats). So there’s a tradeoff both ways. My argument has always been that to get where the Raptors need to go, they need to have Valanciunas on the floor. He does too many good things and helps them out in too many areas now (and he surely will get better) to sit. It’s short term gain for long term pain.

- More from Valanciunas on the topic after he did play late against Sacramento and chased around Carl Landry and Jason Thompson: “To see coach give me more time to play and be out there when they go small, that’s extra trust in me. I hope I’m going to gain coaches’ trust even more.”

“I’m going to be in a scramble mode, got to get out, got to do my job. That’s kind of my job, to protect everything. To be able to rotate, we do big-to-big,” he said.

- DeMar DeRozan sure can be baffling. He can string together a number of games making smart decisions, moving the ball, trying to find better looks, then he’ll start chucking up horrible long two-point attempts with large degrees of difficulty, hurting the cause. It happened against Milwaukee and it happens often. If DeRozan could stifle the urge to force his game some nights, he’d be a far better and more effective player and the Raptors would be more effective as well. Make one more pass, feed it inside to Valanciunas, or simply attack the basket, since there aren’t 10 guys in the league who do that more effectively than DeRozan. Part of it is tired legs, part of it is stubborness, part of it is just the NBA mentality of the stars needing to get tons of shots. ESPN recently posited that DeRozan has become “More Rudy than Rudy.” I don’t agree with that, but when he puts the blinders on, you can see where that viewpoint comes from.

- What a stupid decision by O.J. Mayo. With his team short-handed (no Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, etc.) and playing well, the supposed veteran leader hurt his team’s cause greatly by getting himself kicked out for swearing at the referee. In that situation, you just have to be smarter.

The best and the worst of the Raptors in one night; Casey accentuates the positives; A statement weekend; Raptors going big on the Seahawks

- February 1st, 2015

WASHINGTON — What a long, strange trip that was. The Raptors had a real Jekyll and Hyde type of evening against the Wizards on Saturday, playing ridiculously well in the first half, and extremely poorly – letting many old problems resurface – in the second half. But in the end, the Raptors beat a really solid, rested Wizards team on the road, showed some resiliency and delivered a statement win. They sure like to make things interesting though. “We’re a drama team,” was the take from Greivis Vasquez and it wasn’t that long ago that DeMar DeRozan labelled the Raptors a soap opera team that loves to entertain.

- Sure, they blew a huge lead, again, but Dwane Casey gave them a pass because they were playing for the fourth time in five nights in four different cities and that’s a totally valid point. The only issue here is they need to analyze why they blow leads so frequently (even if they usually come back and win in the end) in order to get better and not let it happen as much. Kyle Lowry was asked if it is difficult to balance going into a bit of a “prevent mode” instead of keeping on the accelerator when leads balloon that high.

“I think it’s definitely happens a lot,” Lowry replied.  “We have to learn to fight through it and keep playing fast and keep playing and pushing the tempo.”

- The trick is doing that while still staying under control. Lowry, Lou Williams and others were guilty of forcing a lot of bad shots, far too early in the shot clock, which, along with no defensive resistance on penetration, allowed Washington to mount its furious rally. Lowry and Williams aren’t going to change, they are aggressive and shoot first and ask questions later. It works for them. They also hit huge shots and won the game for the Raptors, so you have to take the good with the bad, but a little bit more patience with large leads would help.

- Amir Johnson is really playing well. He had a fantastic January, averaging 11 points and six rebounds, playing great defence and shooting 60% from the field. Over the past five games, he has shot 72% from the floor. He even hit a road three-pointer, his second of the season. Patrick Patterson has played well beside him and said “we are the same person” meaning they try to do the same things defensively and it works.

- Casey called DeRozan “The Little O,” saying let’s not get carried away and compare him to the Big O, Oscar Robertson, but still appreciate his all-around game right now. He had a poor shooting night, but DeRozan still led the team in rebounds and assists and got to the free throw line nine times.

- This was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors won back-to-back overtime games on consecutive nights. They just keep setting new marks. They basically won the Atlantic Division by surviving against the Nets and doubled their lead against Washington and won the season series. Statement delivered.

- There might not be another team in the league that backs the Seattle Seahawks as much as the Raptors. There is no question who that room was rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday. Casey is neighbours with Seahawks punter Jon Ryan (a Canadian) and is friends with Pete Carroll. Casey has spent time at Seahawks training camp and wears the team colours often. TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg conducted an informal poll and every Raptor that had a rooting interest but one, Tyler Hansbrough, backed the Seahawks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DeRozan makes statement after missing all-star cut; Casey and staff coached a strong game; Raptors fans continue to travel well

- January 31st, 2015

BROOKLYN — He would never come right out and say it because he loathes controversy and creating drama, but DeMar DeRozan feels slighted at not making a repeat trip to the all-star game. He gets that he has missed nearly half of the season, but is confident in his abilities that his game remains all-star caliber. More importantly, he feels that the best start in Raptors history should count for something where all-star picks are concerned.

“I think you should reward winning, must come first,” DeRozan said before he went out and played like a star, propelling the Raptors past the Nets on Friday night in Brooklyn. “Just like you did with Atlanta. All them guys that’s on it deserve to be on it and you could make the argument of four (Kyle Korver might yet be added, joining Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague). Look at back in the day when Detroit had four players (at the all-star game). Because they were winning. You’ve got to reward winning, first and foremost,” he said.

- Earlier in the day, DeRozan had said about as tersely as he ever gets (which isn’t very) “I ain’t got no comment (on being snubbed).” Afterward, he smiled, then again declined to take the bait. “Everyday is extra motivation, honestly,” DeRozan said.

- That might have been DeRozan’s best overall outing of the season. Earlier in the game, he passed it around as well as he ever has, constantly setting up his teammates for good shots. After the Nets fought back, he put the Raptors on his back, both by hitting a series of incredibly difficult shots and also by making great finds when the Nets swarmed him – most notably, the dish to a cutting Amir Johnson that forced overtime. He also had to guard Joe Johnson, who killed the Raptors in the playoffs, and did a decent job on him.

“I know I can draw a lot of attention, especially when I’m in the paint. I just feel three or four collapsing on me and I know where my guys are going to be at, from the three-point shooters to our bigs,” he said.

- Despite the win, the Raptors did a lot of things wrong. They continue to get lit up by opposing point guards far too often. For all of his offensive brilliance, and he’s one of the best offensive players in the entire league by any metric, Kyle Lowry has taken a noticeable step back defensively. Yes, playing two point guards at the same time (and the fact that one of them is Greivis Vasquez, who is a poor defender) doesn’t help either, but Lowry has to be better. It’s one thing to let players like Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague or Damian Lillard go off, quite another when it is D.J. Augustin or Jarrett Jack.

- They also let Brook Lopez absolutely carve them up repeatedly inside. The Nets had no answers for Toronto’s bigs either (Jonas Valancunas and Amir Johnson were dominant offensively and Patrick Patterson made some big plays as well), but I had not problem taking Valanciunas out late. He was getting torched and they don’t give him the ball anyway late in games, so that negates a lot of what he brings to the table. They could have used his rebounding, but Patterson has emerged as an elite offensive rebounder and hauled in some crucial ones while there is simply no case to remove Amir Johnson, who along with DeRozan won the Raptors that game. On other nights, sure, Valanciunas should be out there. It made sense to have him on the bench. And while we are talking about the coaching staff, thought they did an excellent job. The after timeout plays were exceptional, most notably the DeRozan to Johnson connection.

- It is impossible not to be impressed by the dedicated Raptors fans who follow the team on the road. They were louder than all of the Nets fans combined at many points on Friday, just like they were at Madison Square Garden earlier in the season. Asked Amir if he heard them: “Oh yeah, we sure did,” he said. They even take over the local bars post-game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.