Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving

Cavaliers at Raptors Points Per Game: You wanted the rookies and now you’re going to get them; Amir for MIP? At least DeRozan attacked; Catching up with Thompson

- March 11th, 2013

Those no-quit Raptors resurfaced on Sunday, rallying to beat a Cleveland squad that couldn’t figure out how to play once star point guard Kyrie Irving was forced out due to an injury. There is little question that Amir Johnson is the team’s MVP for 2012-13, just as he deserved that honour for the 2010-11 season (he had a poor season sandwiched in between). Adrian Wojnarowski first floated this, but Johnson probably is going to get some votes for most improved player simply because most people don’t remember what he did two years ago at all, but just recall that he wasn’t very good last season. Paul George has the award sewn up, but if Amir gets in the top 5, it will be well-deserved. He definitely is a better player than he was last year and he’s also better than he was two years ago.

Some thoughts:

-DeMar DeRozan struggled without Rudy Gay, but one of the good things he did was continue to attack the basket (eight free throw attempts) He could have done that more often early, but he at least made a point of doing it. He also moved the ball well to set up his teammates (6 assists) an under-reported area of improvement this season. He’s gone from an extremely poor passer to an above-average facilitator.

- Rudy Gay is expected to return Friday, but expect him to be rested liberally to close the season. The team knows he’s not right and it’s impacting his production. No point letting him play through this. Sounds like Andrea Bargnani could be out a while after hurting his sore elbow. The doctors in L.A. immediately told him to shut it down so it’s not like he’s embellishing or anything. It’s unfortunate, as he needed a good stretch here to up his trade value. Dealing him won’t be the easiest thing in the world this summer (well, dealing him for any kind of value that is) but somebody will pony up something. We’ve seen far worse players and contracts dealt over the years (though the new CBA is more restrictive, which limits the market further).

- You’ve probably read a half-dozen stories now about Amir, so we’ll leave out the fact that he turned in another standout performance in a season filled with them.

- Minus Gay and with DeRozan struggling, Alan Anderson stepped up, leading the team in scoring, and Landry Fields did a nice job again all-around.

- Casey said he’s going to roll with Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross now down the stretch, as long as they aren’t making mistakes on every second play. If their errors become too frequent, they’ll sit until they learn what they’re doing wrong, but the expectation is, they’ll be able to stay on the court for 25-30 minutes every night to close out this season. Ross was a little shot happy early, but eventually started to use his elite athleticism to his advantage. He needs to do more of that. He made mistakes, but also contributed across the board with five rebounds, three assists and 14 points. He also couldn’t quite finish a couple of spectacular drives. Valanciunas was his usual solid self and once he gets featured more in the offence (next season) the efficiency of DeRozan and Gay should improve.

- Casey again defended his decisions on the road in sitting Valanciunas and Ross. I absolutely agree with rookies needing to adapt to the speed of the game and that Valanciunas  has had some issues with that, but we’re going to agree to disagree about what Aaron Gray provides and how effective Valanciunas had been against Dwight Howard compared to Gray and leave it at that. I do agree that it didn’t make sense to throw Ross in against Kobe or the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.

- Kyle Lowry again looked more like the Lowry of old, the one the team needs going forward. He still needs to take more shots (it seems like he took all of the complaining about his early-season “chucking” to heart and is completely going away from it) there has to be a balance. That “no he didn’t … yes he did!” turnaround to seal the game was an example of the shots he needs to take. He’s capable of hitting them and it puts pressure on opponents, since they know he can score from anywhere at any time, when he feels like it.

- Casey on the need for three-point shooting next year:

“Corner threes. We dearly need it. We’re 22nd or 23rd in three-point shooting. To open up the floor for DeMar and Rudy, we need somebody to get that shot. We need consistent three-point shooting to open up.

There’s nowhere for he or DeMar to go (with no three-point threats).

Could be next evolution of DeMar’s career. Rudy is still struggling with his back I think that effects his shot from the first week he’s here.” As I pointed out last game, DeRozan has had far more success shooting corner threes than his long attempts from elsewhere on the court, so there’s a good chance he can add that to his arsenal.

- Valanciunas said he’s getting more acclimated to the NBA every day.

“I’m working a lot on my post moves. I feel comfortable every game, it’s getting better. That was a great effort in the second half. We were down big-time we regrouped and we came back,” he said.

“There is up and down nights because one night you feel tired, one night you feel tired. You need to adjust. I’ve been here like five months already. Every month I feel more and more comfortable.”

- Always enjoy catching up with Tristan Thompson. I’ve been covering Tristan since he was in high school and Frank Zicarelli even covered him in the Sun when he was still playing high school ball in Canada. Like Valanciunas, who went one pick after him, he’s a genuine guy who hasn’t changed, despite being drafted fourth overall and despite the money and fame that has come with that. He’s a hard worker and that relentlessness has paid off since he’s a heck of a lot better this season than he was as a rookie. The difference in his confidence on offence is night and day. Thompson said everything was a rush last year due to the lockout (no time to adjust to the NBA, being thrown right into the fire) and being more prepared and understanding the NBA game more has really paid off. Thompson sees himself as one of the leaders of the Canadian national team for the next decade or so and keeps a close eye on what his fellow Canadians are doing in the NCAA. He’s happy good friend Myck Kabongo has been tremendous since coming back from his suspension and has definitely seen what Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos have been doing at Gonzaga. It’s by no means set in stone that Thompson and Olynyk will pair up for Canada (since Andrew Nicholson and Anthony Bennett, among others, are also fantastic players), but if they do, Thompson believes they will play well together.

“We complement each other well. He’s a pick and pop guy, I’m a space eater, so we play off each other and we’re good together,” Thompson told me.

More from Tristan:

Tristan:

“It’s definitely been tough (losing Anderson Varejao to injury) because Andy, he meant a lot to us, he was 14 and 14. He played with a sense of pride and just a hunger to play hard every night, so we definitely do miss him, but, the opportunity came for me to play and I can show a little bit more, so you have to take advantage of it. It’s part of the league, injuries happen, but we wish Andy was with us right now,” he said.

On Texas struggling:

“We wish Texas could get a bit more wins, but it happens in college basketball. Some years it goes through, some years it doesn’t. As long as the young guys keep getting better, one day, we’ll get back to the promised land.”

Thompson also said he was happy that Toronto was able to create a buzz in the city by acquiring Rudy Gay. Thinks Gay will be a big addition for the team. While Thompson is a proud Cav, he loves the city and prefers to see the Raptors doing well and getting noticed (as long as they aren’t playing Cleveland).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The debut of Points Per Game – Cavaliers at Raptors January 4

- January 5th, 2012

Today I’m debuting a new feature here at the blog – Points Per Game – a brief recap of things that caught my eye during or after each Raptor game. It will run the morning after every game.

- Jose Calderon is off to a spectacular start and making Bryan Colangelo feel a lot better about  the big contract he handed the highest-paid Raptor. Calderon hasn’t been this good since his excellent 2007-08 and 2008-09 campaigns, the ones where he shot 50% fromt he field (or close), 40% from 3 and 90%+ from the line.

His defence, never as bad as it appeared to the naked eye (the stats backed up the fact that Jarrett Jack, for example, wasn’t doing any better defensively, he just wasn’t as targeted by opponents as often), has improved under Dwane Casey’s system and his offence has been all-star level good. Though it is only six games in, Calderon is shooting better than ever from the field, from three and from the line, is just shy of his best per-season scoring numbers and is averaging 10 assists per game.

He seemed to take some offense to my question last night about whether he is feeling healthier and more confident so far than he has over the past couple of seasons:

“Everybody knows my problems a few years ago. I’m good, feeling great and you don’t forget about how to play basketball,” Calderon said rather pointedly.

Casey certainly is sold: “I came away with a different opinion of Jose (after watching him direct Spain at the EuroBasket in Lithuania this summer). Anytime you win a championship the way he has, that tells you something and he’s much better than people give him credit for,” Casey said.

- Andrea Bargnani is really feeling it. Offensively he’s never looked better – opponents look clueless about how to stop him and every jumper he takes seems to be on its way in. He’s really in a zone. We’ve seen similar streaks from Bargnani offensively before, but the effort and intensity level and emotion he is showing on the court is novel for him. He seems far more engaged and is much more of a presence defensively. Always a fine man-to-man defender, he is shockingly looking above average in a help role, which, along with rebounding, was his biggest deficiency since entering the league in 2006.

“Andrea? Hewasn’t that good tonight,” Calderon said with a laugh, before heaving some praise his way.

“So nice to see him smile every time. He’s really comfortable playing out there. We’ve been playing together for a long time, so it’s nice to see.”

- Casey didn’t like what he saw from Ed Davis against Orlando and New York and brought him in for a meeting and video session before the game. It worked, Davis looked far more active and played very well at both ends.

“I brought Ed in to watch film after shootaround to show him the difference in his effort during the last Cleveland game vs. his effort in New York which I thought was not himself,” Casey explained.

“I need energy, we want to develop Ed Davis, but he’s got to earn it and he did tonight. We as a staff are not going to give away minutes, but he earned them tonight and that’s what he’s got to do.”

- Casey also said James Johnson earned himself more time (not because of his 1-8 shooting) but because of his defence and rebounding.

- Finally, the coach cautioned there was still much work to be done:

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be. We’re playing the style it takes to play in the playoffs. I don’t think (we’re a playoff team).” He was happy to see the Raptors cut down on the turnovers substantially.

- And a brief mention of DeMar DeRozan. His ability to now hit three pointers with ease is a testament to the hours he put in during the lockout. This is no Shawn Kemp, people. DeRozan lived on the court and it is showing.

- Tough Toronto debut for Tristan Thompson. As my man Grange pointed out, he was going at a ridiculous clip during the warmup, maybe he burned himself out? Maybe it was the nerves – though he strongly denied that – maybe it was sitting at the scorer’s table for 5 minutes before a stoppage of play allowed him to finally come in. Whatever it was, don’t expect to see a repeat performance the next time he is in town.

Raptors draft workout tidbits

- June 7th, 2011

At the ACC today Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight were the headliners at Day 1 of draft workouts but we also heard a bit about how Enes Kanter’s workout went on Monday and that Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph are expected to be in town next week for workouts.

Will have some analysis tomorrow, for now, here is the transcript after a couple of hours of transcribing:

Jacob Pullen Kansas State:
I played with Kemba a long time, Nike camp. Known each other a long time. He’s a real talent. I think he’s one of the best point guards in the draft. They really try to rate people off potential and all that stuff, but he’s a guy that can come in and impact a team right away.

Raptors senior director of scouting Jim Kelly: We had two very good guards, Kemba Walker had a fantastic college season.
Walker showed very good passing ability. I think everybody knows he was a good scorer in his college career, most impressive today was his passing ability.
Up against a feisty competitor. I was very impressed by his passing ability I think the situation called on him to be more of a scorer. They did not have a great scoring punch he was basically the first and second option they had on their team. I think he’s a versatile enough guard that he can do both, especially scoring the ball. True 1, 1-2, I think he’s going to have the ball in his hand most of the time and I think he has the capability to be a true point guard. He measured out 6-1 in Chicago. The bigger the guard the better usually, but I think he’s got enough quickness, enough savvy, definitely enough basketball experience, he knows how to play with his size, get his shot off and still get the ball to the open man. The definition of a point guard now is a little different (than it once was). Higher scoring numbers than assists. Definitely see more points coming from the point guard spot than their used to be.

(Calderon and Bayless so why draft a PG?) Clearly we didn’t have the season that we wanted to last year and I think at this point especially when we’re in a tough part of the draft at No. 5, we’re looking for the best possible player and there happens to be a number of very good point guards there and we’ll have to make the decisions as we go if we go in that direction.

Challenges of draft? Kanter was a unique situation. Have done background on all the Europeans.

Kanter: Big, strong, physical player. Shot the ball fairly well. Couldn’t really tell yesterday (if he’s a true 5) because he shot the ball so well from the faceup position, yet, he’s strong enough that he can pound people inside. We didn’t have the situation this year that you could see him play (multiple) times.

Our numbers are down a bit (in terms of how many workouts they are having) and we don’t have a second round pick right now. A lot of guys in our range are international prospects.

In this type of setting, gives you an idea if you have a bad workout that shouldn’t knock you out, if you have a great workout, that won’t boost you up. Part of the big picture.

We keep stats on everybody here. What’s going to be more important, a bad shooting day here, or his career percentage

Great athleticism from Brandon Knight. Surprised at athleticism? About what we expected, had seen him the week before and numerous times this year. He’s a big-time athlete. Big-time motor, can really fly up and down the floor. Can’t really judge the point guard game (in this setting).

He’s a little bit bigger, probably a little bit quicker. Has all the tools to be a good defende,r I know at Kentucky that’s one of their strong points.

(On whether he might be available:) Feel good that he (came in for a workout). There’s a lot of different scenarios up top there. He’s a very talented player.

That’s what this draft has become. Enes didn’t play at all, Irving only played a limited number of games then we have Knight who might have been a combo guard who now is evolving into a true point guard.

A lot of potential out there as well as skill. The more you see them play, the better picture you get.

Don’t know if I would say it’s a weakened class, maybe a deeper class, maybe as not impact. Will get best player available. As we got later in the season his range, his percentage increased. Didn’t have a good finish but other games his three point shot was good.

BBall IQ? Very bright, intelligent, on the ball kid. Knows what he wants to accomplish, very classy individual. Shooting? Very good. Wouldn’t say it was off the charts, but much better than average.

The level of competition they played some high intensity game,s I think that counts even more (Kentucky). The coach has produced a number of good point guards the past few years. If you’re put in that setting and you perform, I think that’s the most important thing.

Kemba Walker: Second workout. Great fit. Nice pieces, it’s a young team. NBA player you see yourself similar to? Nobody. It was crazy, it was exciting, being home, in front of my family and friends and winning one of the biggest tournaments in the country.

A lot of people questioned whether I could score. This is the first year where I had to score a lot of points. Put me in a position where I had the ball. I can do it. I think I’m used to it now. Throughoout my whole career I’ve been questioned. It’s  a plus for me, at one point, people wondered if I could score or not. Now I’m scoring they’re asking can I pass the ball?

Have no control over it (if he works out with Knight).

It’s a different world, we’re not a little kid no more. Feedback? Nothing much, just telling me that I did well.  Players not wanting to come to Canada? I’ve never heard that, that’s the first time. I don’t care where I go, I’m just trying to live my dream. I have no problem with coming here. It’s a young team, know I could make some friends. I know DeMar, I’ve known him since high school.

It’s going to be tough coming in as a rookie. Going to be up to me to try to get those guys to respect (him).

On mock drafts: All that stuff means nothing. Anything can happen on draft night.

Brandon Knight:

Why work out for the Raptors: You never know what can happen, a team might not like you that much. Make sure Toronto is comfortable with taking me. Try not to leave any doubts in their mind. It’s a great place, I wouldn’t mind being here, I love the city. First time in Toronto, but been to Canada before, tournament in Windsor.

Young team that continues to grow, I know DeMar a little bit. Coaching staff seem like pretty good guys a team that wants to get better.

Listen to your agent (about workouts). Definitely going to be one of my goals, come in and be an impact (player). I’ve been able to do that on every level and my aspiration is to do that on the NBA level.

Talk to Keyon Dooling (from same area). Probably main NBA guy I talk to.

Thought I did good (in the workout) shot the ball well, ball-handling, passed the ball well. They definitely want to see how you shoot the NBA three.

More important, interview or playing? They both are important. Basketball probably weights a little more obviously, but if you’re not a good guy, you can drop a couple of spots with character issues, so I think the interview is very important.

Draft is a crazy process, I’m not sure how accurate (the mock drafts) are.

I use some of the bad (press) as motivation.

Very young and still learning, it’s going to take a while to master it and get comfortable with it. It’s an on-going process. Transition from scoring guard tough? Not really. In the beginning it was tough, but with more practice, more repetition, seeing the same scenarios over and over again in practice it became a lot easier towards the end of the season.

Cal hard on point guards? Gets on you saying crazy stuff just to get you going. He’s a great guy, but tries to push your buttons on a certain day and see how you react. Was pretty much mellow the whole time, just tried to listen.

NBA draft lottery day guessing game: Who would each team take?

- May 17th, 2011

NBA draft lottery day is one of the most exciting days of the year for basketball fans. It is the day where the future gets a bit clearer for those at the very top and a little bit muddier for those that don’t have lottery luck.

Here’s my early guess on who each of the top 8 teams would take if they shot up to the top of the lottery and who I think makes sense if they stay put. Again, this is very early and I will chance my predictions a lot over the next month or so. I’ll weigh in again once the actual lottery reveals the draft order:

Minnesota Timberwolves: They have the best odds of winning (25%) but it would be a bit of a farce if they do because the consensus top guy in the draft, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, is a point guard. The team has already invested heavily in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn though one or both could make way for Irving. Would they really take Derrick Williams with Michael Beasley already on board? It’s bad enough Beasley doesn’t really have a position (is he a small forward, is he a power forward?) Williams presents similar questions.

Who they would take at 1? Irving and trade Flynn and/or Rubio.

Cleveland Cavaliers (22.7% odds): Who they take at 1? Duh, Irving is a no-brainer. He’s not going to replace LeBron, but he’s a potential all-star at the point, something the Cavs desperately need.

Who they take at No. 2? Williams, and hope he can play the three and is less of a tweener than his new teammate Antawn Jamison.

Toronto Raptors: Who they take at 1? Irving. Yes they have Calderon and Bayless already, but it would be pretty hard to pass on Irving, even if he isn’t thought to have as high a ceiling as players like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Irving is still the type of player the Raptors desperately need and would pair nicely with DeMar DeRozan.

Who they take at No. 3? After shedding a few tears at their misfortune, the Raptors would have to decide if they think Enes Kanter is big enough to play centre because it makes no sense to take another power forward with Ed Davis looking promising, Amir Johnson looking solid and Andrea Bargnani looking much more like a four than a five. Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight have their supporters, but I think either would not be good value for a top 3 pick in a draft.

Washington Wizards: 11.9%. Who they’d take at 1? Not Irving since they have a player I think will be much better, John Wall, thanks to a lucky lottery win last year. Williams would be a pretty nice complementary piece and would make the Wizards close to a playoff contender next year.

Who they’d take at 4?Kawhi Leonard. They need Williams badly, but Leonard is probably the next-best thing. A small forward who does a bit of everything in the Shawn Marion mold. Might be a bit high, but a great fit in Washington.

Sacramento Kings: 7.6% Who they’d take at No. 1? Irving. Irving and former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans would form a backcourt that would strike fear in every NBA coach. It would be extremely difficult to contain a pairing of Irving and Evans.

Who they’d take at 5? Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight. Walker is basically a poor man’s Evans, but they would form a very intriguing and explosive backcourt. Knight is a solid defender and would complement Evans well in an offence.

Utah Jazz: 7.5%. Who they’d take No. 1? Irving. Even though they have Devin Harris, Irving has a much higher upside and the Jazz would likely happily peddle Harris for help elsewhere if they could get their hands on Irving.

Who they’d take at No. 6? They need a shooting guard, but there aren’t any good ones in this draft, so maybe Kemba Walker. He’s a combo guard who would likely play the two on offence but guard opposing point guards while Harris, with more size and a bigger frame, tries to slow down shooting guards.

Detroit Pistons: 4.3% Who they’d take at No. 1? Another no-brainer. Irving for sure. The Pistons are a bit of a mess and desperately need to unload some veterans, but they also need a true point guard, which would make Rodney Stuckey a fantastic sixth man.

Who they’d take at No. 7? Brandon Knight. Again, they need a true point guard.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 2.8% Who they’d take at No. 1. See above.

Who they’d take at No. 8? If they miss out on Irving with their higher pick, they likely go for Knight or Walker here. Jonas Valanciunas is another option.

It’s possible another team can move up, but I’ll limit this to just the top eight teams.

Tune in Wednesday at 8:30 on TSN2 to see what happens.

Time to pick a new champ

- March 25th, 2011

Duke falling to Arizona means I need to make a new pick for the second year in a row (I thought Kentucky would win it all last year).

Time to stop backing the team with the most overall talent and best player I guess.

One of UNC, Kansas or Ohio State should win with Ohio State probably being my most likely winner at this point.

Here’s what I wrote last night:

In the Sweet 16 only by the skin of their teeth, the Arizona Wildcats made sure not to leave any doubt with their latest win.
After winning their previous two NCAA tournament games by a total of just three points, Arizona throttled No. 1 seed Duke in a shocking 93-77 blowout to advance to the Elite Eight.
Derrick Williams was spectacular, looking quite a bit like Blake Griffin in a 32 point 12 rebound performance.
His third three of the first half just beat the halftime buzzer and it set in motion an 11-0 run early in the second half that completely turned a close game around.
The Blue Devils finally got a return to form from Kyle Singler, who scored 18 points and got 28 points from star freshman Kyrie Irving, but Irving’s return from injury clearly threw the team off kilter and it caught up to Duke on Thursday.
Duke’s defence was putrid as Arizona got whatever it wanted, particularly in the second half.
The defending champions now face a summer that will likely see Irving leave to be a top pick in the NBA draft while seniors Singler and Nolan Smith are definitely done.
But the Wildcats might just be getting started.