Posts Tagged ‘Rudy Gay

Raptors PPG: Playoffs, we’re talking playoffs? Raptors go from tank to bank; What’s happened since the Raptors last made the post-season

- March 29th, 2014

So, the Raptors are in. Fittingly, Amir Johnson, exemplifying everything he brings to the table, was the one to supply the last push Friday against Boston. Amir and DeMar DeRozan have been suffering through down seasons together here longer than anyone else, the last remaining players from the end of the Chris Bosh era.

It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. A lot of bad basketball has been played since Bosh broke his face. It’s a new day. While nobody knows what the off-season will bring (a lot of change, or stability?) the tank is long-dead and thoughts about potential playoff opponents can now be voiced.

- Johnson’s been Toronto’s best overall player in the three seasons previous to this one and works harder and plays through more injuries than anybody on the team (though DeRozan is about his equal in both of those regards). That’s why it was nice to see him get the Raptors through.

- No question Kyle Lowry’s been the top Raptor this season (again, with apologies to DeRozan) and he showed what he’s all about as well in fighting off an ankle injury to make some decisive drives to the bucket that helped seal the win.

- DeRozan wasn’t about to let the pesky Celtics, who he’d already seen five times this season, including the two exhibition games, come back again. With his jumper shaky, DeRozan looked to repeatedly attack, getting five shots in the paint in both the third and fourth quarters. Now that he’s an all-star, DeRozan  is getting calls from the officials, which helps quite a bit, but it’s his mindset that is the key.

- Nice to see John Salmons find his game. To say he’s been struggling is a massive understatement. His game had completely vanished, but Dwane Casey kept the faith, even though using Landry Fields instead would have made a lot of sense, and Salmons responded by nailing his first two shots, picking up two assists, a couple of steals and no turnovers. He was also +15, tied for the team lead.

- A bonus thought: +/- is way down on the list of useful stats, but it’s a lot more relevant in basketball than it is in hockey, where power plays mess with the numbers. While it’s not a be all, end all, the eye test shows that Chuck Hayes has been excellent for the team lately. The +/- check shows Hayes has been +15 (tied for team lead), +3 (best of the reserves), +17 (2nd on team) and +16 (best on team) in his past four games. He’s supplied strong defence and helps move the ball around thanks to his surprisingly strong passing skills.

- Since Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu took out the Raptors in five games in the playoffs, Toronto witnessed (a lot more than this, but a few highlights/lowlights):

The ill-fated Jermaine O’Neal deal; The end of the Sam Mitchell era and the elevation of Jay Triano to head coach; Bryan Colangelo gifting  the Heat with the cap space to form the Big Three by dumping O’Neal for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks; The drafting of DeMar DeRozan; The Raptors “winning” the Turkoglu sweepstakes, only to almost immediately regret it once Turkoglu showed up to camp fat and unwilling to justify his payday; DeRozan starting 65 games as a rookie; the Jarrett Jack\Jose Calderon controversy at the point; A career year from Bosh, that ended prematurely when he got hurt and shut himself down in advance of his free agent flight to Miami; Bosh leaving, Bryan Colangelo ripping him, then saving some face by somehow dumping Turkoglu on the Suns (his former agent was in charge there); A disastrous season that ended with Triano out, Dwane Casey in and Jonas Valanciunas drafted in Colangelo’s ballsiest move, since he wouldn’t come over for a year and because Bargnani had soured nearly everyone in the city on European players; A lockout, followed by a shortened season where the Raptors were horrible to watch because the talent simply wasn’t there, but where Casey turned around the defensive culture and started turning around Toronto’s reputation as a soft team; The development of the youngsters and the drafting of Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy; Last season’s brutal start; The Kyle Lowry/Calderon and Lowry/Casey situations; Ross wins the slam dunk contest; The trade for Rudy Gay which sent Calderon elsewhere; The regression and booing of Bargnani; The arrival of Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri; The miraculous Bargnani trade that actually brought back draft picks; The tank talk; This season’s bad start and the Lowry trade rumours and questions about Casey’s future; The trade of Gay to Sacramento; The stunning turnaround of the team into a squad that wins two thirds of the time; Lowry’s all-NBA caliber campaign; DeRozan’s all-star nod; The return to the playoffs.

 

 

 

Raptors/Magic PPG: Another slow start? No problem; Another Lowry takeover; Ross more confident with ball; Impressive stats since the Rudy Gay trade

- February 24th, 2014

Cue the recording: Another slow start, another huge third quarter and another win for the Raptors. For once, these Raptors do a good job of putting away the league’s dregs. We haven’t seen that from a Raptors team in years. Dregs might be strong, but Orlando lost for the 15th straight time on the road and is full marks for its place near the bottom of the NBA’s standings. If Philadelphia wasn’t so brutal, the Magic could well have the worst record of anybody. In the midst of one of the easiest stretches of the schedule, Toronto’s come through, winning 5-of-6. Beatable Cleveland and a Washington team that has proven no match for the Raptors so far, are next.

- There haven’t been many blowouts at home, but the goal of making the Air Canada Centre a tough place to play for visitors seems to be coming to fruition as the Raptors own a 12-3 record there in the past 15 home games.

- Tough to see Amir Johnson hurt his ankle again, especially on a freak play. Casey said he was kicked and should be fine. Will be interesting to see if he practices tomorrow ahead of Tuesday’s game in Cleveland. Johnson was a big contributor to Friday’s win over Cleveland.

- Have joked here in the past that maybe the Raptors just enjoy the challenge of fighting back in games. They certainly do it often enough. DeMar DeRozan said:

“Maybe we just like a challenge sometimes.  Put ourselves in a tough situation so we can fight ourselves out, but we’ve got to stop that and understand we’ve got to come out of the gate so we don’t make the game that hard on us.”

- Lowry and DeRozan have had some absurd quarters this season, but the third on Sunday was up there with nearly any of them. Neither of them missed and Lowry played like he was an NBA Jam on fire character.

- That allowed the Raptors to overcome a very uncharacteristic 24 turnovers. That many miscues usually will make you lose, but not against struggling Orlando (a bad team without its best player, Arron Afflalo).

- Is Terrence Ross getting more comfortable handling the ball? Sure looks that way. He’s been putting it on the deck more often lately, which has set up a number of floaters, which appear to be good shots for him. On Sunday, we saw a new wrinkle when Ross, dribbling over halfcourt with his right, stutter-stepped, then moved the ball behind his back from right to left just above the arc, attacked the rim with his left, then spun away from a double-team for a fadeaway. It didn’t go in and was a tough shot, but it was the initial attack that caught my eye. Already an elite shooter and athlete, a Ross confident in his ability to create his own shot would be something to see.

- That’s 25-13 since the Rudy Gay trade. Here are some stats since Dec. 8, the day a short-handed group of Raptors knocked off the Lakers in Los Angeles. The next game, reinforcements arrived from Sacramento.

25 wins since then, tied for second behind only Oklahoma City.

.658 winning percentage, sixth in NBA.

8.7 made threes per game, tied for 7th and percentage is also 7th and also 7th in free throws made (a good sign the offence is mixing it up).

9th in assists per game, 10th-fewest turnovers per game.

10th in offensive rating.

7th in defensive rating.

Raptors vs Spurs Points Per Game: Too much depth, talent and team play for Spurs too much for gassed Raptors; Ross gets third start

- December 11th, 2013

Well, that was a game sure to please just about any type of Raptors fan, no? (final score aside for those wanting playoffs)

It was entertaining, the home team fought hard and stunned the Spurs early, there were encouraging signs from Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross and, in the end, San Antonio showed what a championship caliber team looks like and was worth the price of admission.

As always, some thoughts:

- DeMar DeRozan takes (and makes) a lot of tough shots. He was making most of them early, but it’s tough to do that all game. Especially now that he’ll be seeing the top perimeter defender on the other side for the bulk of contests. Once Kawhi Leonard got switched on to him full-time, DeRozan, not surprisingly, wasn’t as effective. He didn’t get a single rebound, but one thing he did quite well, was move the ball. Head coach Dwane Casey said before the game he is looking for DeRozan to improve “his quarterbacking out of the post” and “making opponents pay” for doubling him. DeRozan had seven assists and would have had more had his teammates hit some makeable shots.

- Jonas Valanciunas told me he was simply exhausted after a long trip, the trade of three players and in adjusting to the three hour time change. That’s why, after a dominant start, he faded. Valanciunas was bullied by his old Rytas teammate Aaron Baynes, who benefits from playing sparingly (even with Tiago Splitter out). Valanciunas said Baynes never stops working and he just didn’t have the energy to match him after spending Monday sick in bed. He’s looking forward to working with his new teammates the next couple of days and getting a new start on Friday against Philadelphia.

- Terrence Ross  showed some flashes as well as the inconsistency that is still holding him back. There’s no question that Ross has the tools to be an effective NBA player. The mental side is where things need to come together. He’s making progress though and now will be given a larger role for the rest of the season to see just how far he can progress in his second season.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. Terrence is — and I’ve said this before and people laugh — he’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve coached in the NBA. He’s a freak athlete. But now he’s got to put all the fundamentals in there, the consistency, the mixture of shooting and driving and passing off the dribble. All those things need to be developed. He’s a great athlete, now he’s got to harness that and bring it in and be a complete player and do it on a consistent basis,” Casey said.

- Ross told me he’s ready for the challenge. He also said it’s been tough not having Quincy Acy (“he’s like a brother”) around, but said “(Masai Ujiri and his staff) are going to do what we need to do to win.”

- Casey called Greg Popovich “one of my idols.” “He’s one of the last of the cowboys, doing it for that long. They just keep coming out, churning them out. They could have come out with an emotional drunk from last year but they didn’t. They came out with revenge on their mind, which is the what a true championship team will do. That program should be the model for all of us to go after.”

- Pop was in classic form pre-game, berating reporters for lousy questions (he mocked mine,  the first of the session about whether there’s a danger in a depleted team punching above its weight) and, generally having a good time.

On why Matt Bonner remains so popular in Toronto:

“He’s a weirdo. Matty’s Matty. He’s like a lumberjack from New Hampshire. He’s like the dweeb, egghead kind of guy. Highly intelligent. Great sense of humour, well-read, coach can’t understand have of the time. He always has questions that we don’t even know how to answer. That’s why we love him.”

On Pickering’s Cory Joseph:

“You know, he just keeps advancing. He’s a hard-working kid. Really cares, he’s always ready and would probably do better if his coach would play him more.”

“He gets it. If I play him for three games in a row and don’t put him in, he’s ready to go. He’s a classy kid.”

Casey on the Rudy Gay trade:

“The trade was something, Masai’s already talked about, he had to do to give the organization certainty going into the future. It wasn’t anything to do with Rudy’s talent. He’s a talented young man. The fit with he and DeMar was a little different. But it had nothing to do with Rudy whatsoever as a talent. You do that trade coming this way nine times out of 10. It’s nothing to criticize the trade of Rudy coming here. If you remember, we were scratching and clawing for that eighth spot at the time. It was a piece we felt like was going to get us over the hump. It was a talent acquisition. It was a good move. Going forward as far as the direction of the organization, I think Masai did the right thing to give us certainty with financial flexibility going forward.”

On where he and his staff go from here:

“I feel the utmost confidence in our staff and my ability to develop players. That’s what we’ve been doing since we got here. Ed Davis, DeMar — I’ve seen growth in DeMar. Terrence Ross is still growing. Jonas Valanciunas is still growing. We’re working hard at it. There’s not a staff that’s going to work harder as far as working with players. As a coach, you also want to win. That’s my goal, also, to develop and win, which is probably the hardest thing to do in the league. That’s what we were doing. We were working with guys. I don’t want to send a message to Jonas or T-Ross to go out there and make as many mistakes as you can and it doesn’t matter if we win or lose. We’re competing to win. I do know that our job is to develop those guys and get them as good as possible for the rest of the season.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Warriors Points Per Game: An epic disaster that might actually help franchise in the long run by forcing Masai Ujiri’s hand

- December 4th, 2013

Kobe’s 81 points; Isiah Thomas leaving the franchise after a failed coup, Damon Stoudamire following him not long after; Butch Carter, still the best coach in team history leaving after a failed coup; the Vince Carter trade; The Araujo selection; Giving fans Nets colours then losing in the playoffs despite being favoured; Turkoglu/Ball; Bargnani … the list is long, but add another entry to worst moments in franchise history when the low-light reel is played for the team’s 20th season.

How could Tuesday night happen? That’s a very good question. How do these things happen so often to the Raptors? Do other teams constantly go through them too? Is there any other NBA team where you know deep down, whether a fan of the team or someone who has covered it for a while, that no lead is safe, no matter how big? The Spurs are a polar opposite example, obviously, but when that franchise gets up big, you expect games to be closed. You never expect the Raptors to close. It helps when writing a game story, because you know you have to always have a backup option ready when covering this team, but it doesn’t do much for Toronto’s reputation.

Back on tangent: Tuesday’s epic failure could help this franchise in the long run. How?

(1) It’s clear this group lacks in leadership and winning experience. Good veteran leaders, with a winning history are some of the most crucial building  blocks in the NBA. We’ve seen it time and time again, you can have as much lottery talent as you like, without good vets, 98% of the time, you’ll accomplish nothing. This is a nice group, a talented group, but one that has no clue what to do in winning time.

(2) There’s no coming back from this for the coaching staff, so the elephant in the room, the lame duck status of Dwane Casey  will be resolved. And it can only be resolved one way now. “It’s hard to keep your head up,” said a stunned  Casey afterward. Dwane’s been around a long time. He surely knows his time in Toronto is running out, barring a miracle in the next couple of weeks – and how many miracles has this organization had on its side over the years? Starting the fourth, knowing Golden State was about to start throwing Mike Tyson haymakers, putting Steve Novak, the team’s worst defender on the floor was an odd gamble. Letting Kyle Lowry stay on the court despite getting his bell rung was a gamble. Even if he didn’t have a concussion, he didn’t look right. Julyan Stone did a decent job earlier and is a superb defender who forced Stephen Curry into a rare pull-up airball earlier in the game (Curry is the league’s best pull-up shooter). Then the team failed to load up at the three-point line, daring the Warriors the best three-point shooting team in NBA history, to beat Toronto by going to the rim. It wasn’t pretty.

(3) No more dithering. By waiting and “giving these guys a shot” President/GM Masai Ujiri thought he was being fair and also hedged, thinking players could raise their value/or come together and be a force in the East. Force in the East, even the awful, putrid, historically bad East is not going to happen. Sure this group still could make the playoffs, given half the conference is either not trying or totally discombobulated, but what’s the point. By hedging, Ujiri has seen DeMar DeRozan’s value rise significantly, seen Kyle Lowry’s stock likely rise, but also seen Rudy Gay’s value crater. He’s also made it tough for the team to be bad enough to sink to the bottom four by waiting to gut the roster. But now, only one course makes any sense. Move Lowry, become rudderless at the point and therefore, very bad and either sell high on DeRozan, or take expirings for Gay and open up cap space this summer. Anything else is futile. The DeRozan call is particularly tough. He’s now Toronto’s best player – though Gay could reclaim that spot by finding himself on offence. As good as DeRozan has been on offence – and he’s been good enough to be reasonably valuable on the open market, according to one source – he’s still a major liability defensively. Andrea Bargnani had to go because he killed the team on defence and wasn’t a huge help offensively. DeRozan isn’t Bargnani-bad on defence, not close really, but he’s still poor on that end. He is far better offensively though, so it’s a tough call. It depends on the return and just how deep you want a rebuild to go. In one scenario, if you keep DeRozan, you can become relevant pretty quickly as long as you move Gay for expirings and get a chance to draft Marcus Smart or Dante Exum. Even if you end up 8th or 9th and get Andrew Harrison, you might not have to do a complete rebuild. If you move DeRozan and don’t get a top 6 guy in the draft, you’re basically guaranteeing a long rebuild.

Here’s what I wrote before everything went to hell:

- Starts have been a major problem for the Raptors most games, but there were no issues on that front on Tuesday night in San Francisco. It might have been Toronto’s best start of the year, actually. A 14-5 edge on the boards, 66.7% shooting, did not allow the Warriors to hit a three … it was everything the team could have asked for to start a tough trip. It carried into the second quarter as the Raptors looked like the Warriors in the opening half, putting up 65 points.

- Close to home, Amir Johnson found his missing game and focus. He was a force in the second quarter, doing all the dirty work we’ve become so accustomed to. Johnson seemed to have some spring back and helped Toronto maintain the lead it built in the first quarter. It was his best performance of the season and a good sign for a club that desperately needs him.

- After a tough start to his Raptors career following a couple of injuries, Steve Novak appears to have found his form. Novak started 4-for-17 from three as a Raptor, but has shot 50% (8-for-16) since.

- The normally selfish Raptors were matching the Warriors in assists, dominating in bench points and crushing Golden State on the boards after three.

- You knew a Golden State run was coming in the fourth and boy did it ever come full bore at the Raptors. The defence that had been solid early sprung many leaks on the perimeter. The offence looked lost as Golden State increased the pressure significantly.

- Golden State was 4-for-18 from three (22.2%) before the fourth quarter explosion

- One good early sign was Toronto attacking Golden State inside early. You know Stephen Curry is going to light it up every night, so having Kyle Lowry post him up was solid coaching. Not only is Kyle stronger than Curry, meaning he could get easy buckets, he also is crafty enough to draw fouls on him down low. Was also impressed with Jonas Valanciunas getting Andrew Bogut, merely one of the NBA’s premier defenders, to bite on a pump fake, resulting in a big dunk. Still, as solid as he looked early, Valanciunas struggled later, getting pushed out of the post, leading to turnovers.

- Opponents had been dominating the Raptors in the paint over the three-game home losing streak. Knowing Klay Thompson is a great scorer, but a poor perimeter defender, DeMar DeRozan went right at him. When Andre Iguodala is playing, Golden State can make up for its backcourt’s defensive issues, when he’s not, things get dicey for them. And even though Curry can be beaten, he’s always a threat to steal the ball.

 

 

 

Raptors vs. Nuggets Points Per Game: Amir hits the bench; Nuggets bench explodes; JV gets the ball; Time to start passing

- December 2nd, 2013

Amir Johnson came off the bench for the first time since last March. That was the biggest story on Sunday, when the Raptors lost yet another home game. The one that’s still lurking though and the larger one overall is the decision-making of Rudy Gay. More points after this from today’s Sun:

A season-long issue plagued the Raptors in Sunday’s loss to Denver and it appears Dwane Casey’s had enough of it.

The most selfish team in the league – at least statistically-speaking – desperately needs to change its ways.

Following Sunday’s games, Toronto ranked last in the 30-team NBA in assists (a whopping 32 behind the next-worst team in that regard), assist-to-turnover ratio (even though point guard Kyle Lowry ranks 10th overall) and 25th in effective field goal percentage.

Too often, Toronto has moved the ball early in games, only to completely abandon that approach afterward.

It happened again Sunday, when the Raptors assisted on eight of the first 11 baskets in a stellar opening quarter, before picking up only two assists in each of the second and fourth quarters.

The common thread was that when the team involved Jonas Valanciunas – who had a season-high 16 shot attempts – in the first and third frames, the offence looked far more effective. It’s been a recurring theme so far.

Heading into the contest, Valanciunas had scored more than half of his points in opening quarters.

He’s often a spectator later on. At least on Sunday he was a focal point, attempting eight shots in the third.

Rudy Gay had a decent statistical performance (23 points on 10-of-23 shooting, with three assists and two turnovers, just the third time this year he’s had more helpers than turnovers), but he also ignored open teammates ahead of him at least once on the break and held the ball far too often.

Casey is looking for a change and not just from Gay.

“We had only 18 assists, they had 29. We’ve got to start trusting the pass, moving the ball and trusting it,” Casey said of the offensive lapses against Denver.

“We have got to make the next pass, next play, whatever the decision is. I’m not telling a guy to take a shot that he’s worked on or is in rhythm, but, again, is that the best shot for our team?

“Making the next pass. That’s where our problems have started on the offensive end. When we do that, we’ve shown we can play with people, but when we don’t, it gets ugly. Until we do that, we’ll feel this way (dejected). Guys have to decide how they want to play.”

Basketball is a pretty simple game. You move the ball around, get opponents scrambling, you generally will get far better opportunities to make baskets. Gay isn’t the only one eschewing team basketball, but he’s by far the worst offender on this roster. He makes life difficult for himself and he’s making his teammates less effective.

Asking Gay to initiate the offence far less frequently also could be a potential solution. He is a below average ball-handler and passer, so it’s not clear why he has been tasked with being Toronto’s primary ball-handler, particularly with Lowry playing well.

It’s led to poor numbers, both for Gay (17 games in a row shooting less than 47% from the field, tons of turnovers) and for the team and has limited the effectiveness of Valanciunas and Amir Johnson.

If Gay adapts, perhaps others will follow. Even so, if he alone starts passing far more frequently and lets Lowry start with the ball more frequently, everybody will be far better off for it.

- So, what to do. Michael Grange has an unlikely/”drastic” idea that nevertheless, makes a ton of sense. It’s rare to see a player in the top 20 (let alone top 5) in salary who is not injured get benched. But in the final year of his contract, with his team off to a shaky start and with some late-game decision-making being second-guessed, how much does Dwane Casey have to lose at this point? He’s preaching team-first, smart basketball and his most talented player is doing everything he can to do the opposite.
As I said on Twitter: “The only thing letting Rudy Gay overlord the offence  is doing for the Raptors is keeping team in high lotto race … and maybe that’s point?
“What it isn’t doing is (a) winning games (b) helping Gay’s trade value (c) helping Lowry’s trade value (d) helping Valanciunas improve.”
I wasn’t being entirely serious with the maybe that’s the point bit, but I wouldn’t put it past Masai Ujiri to see things that way. He’s a very smart man, with one goal – winning. Letting Gay play like this ultimately gets the team closer to what it desperately needs – a top 6 pick in this superdraft – while giving the appearance to season seat holders and casual fans that the team is trying to compete. It’s brilliant actually. I termed it, jokingly, an “organic tank” weeks ago. Sure, this line of thinking is a bit out there, but stranger things have been true in sports.

- If this all isn’t some cunning plan, then Masai either can keep things status quo, stall a year of Valanciunas’ development, cripple Amir Johnson’s effectiveness and hope Kyle Lowry stays healthy (either to help the team make the playoffs, or to be traded). In the end, either the Raptors probably make the playoffs, because the East is so terrible, go out quickly and are in poor shape next year, when the East is much-improved.

- Or he can move Gay for anything he can get (even that Detroit Stuckey/Villanueva platter offered earlier looks appealing now) in order to (1) suddenly have a boatload of cap space this summer, (2) allow Valanciunas to get more touches.

Moving Lowry would basically cement a high lottery finish, as there is zero evidence Dwight Buycks, D.J. Augustin or Julyan Stone can be effective enough to lead a playoff team.

Back to the game:

- Amir Johnson clearly wasn’t pleased about the demotion, even though he’s used to being the guy benched even though a far more deserving candidate keeps his starting gig (see the Andrea Bargnani experience). He’s been dealing with some personal issues all season. As I said in this space recently about Amir, sometimes life gets in the way and needs to be dealt with first, even ahead of the job you are being paid millions for. All the best to him. He’ll be his old self soon enough.

“I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if I start or come off of the bench, I’m going to give it 110%.” – Amir said.

-  Denver’s bench was incredible. Thanks to the Carmelo Anthony trade and smart drafting, Ujiri was able to shrewdly build one of the deepest teams around. The additions since he left – Nate Robinson especially – have fit in nicely. Amazing to think this team is still missing its second-best player Danilo Gallinari and its top centre, JaVale McGee. Not a title contender, but a team built to do serious damage in the regular season.

- Casey didn’t like what he saw from his own bench. “Guys coming in have got to develop a toughness, a resilence of getting stops and it starts on the defensive end, that’s where our problems started in the second half. They shot it well, but (the bench) didn’t make them feel us and that was the difference,” Casey said

- Gay clearly is hearing/reading some of the bad press. On Amir Johnson:

“He’s taking strides. Everybody’s been through some rough times, I’ve been through, as you guys have probably written about and he’s just going through them now. Everybody goes through it at some point at some point in their career, this is the time for Amir to go through it. He’s going to be the same Amir that we know.”

Talked to Valanciunas afterward about getting more touches and whether it’s tough when he doesn’t get the ball often. Didn’t seem like a second-year guy in his professional answers, but rather a seasoned veteran:

“More touches? That came naturally, we were playing together, we were sharing the ball.”

(Tough when you don’t get it?) “You know, I have other things to do, rebounds, blocking shots, helping the teammates just to get open by setting screens, I can do a lot of different stuff not scoring baskets.”

- Valanciunas said the idea of him coming out of the starting lineup instead of Johnson was never broached. Added Tyler Hansbrough and Johnson are “both are good players.” and: “They are different, but they’re both good players, so I don’t have to change anything” (to start alongside Hansbrough).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors vs. Nets Points Per Game: Lots of blame to go around

- November 27th, 2013

The pitchforks are out this morning for Dwane Casey. He’s taking all the heat for Toronto’s brutal performance against Brooklyn Tuesday, but there is plenty of blame to go around.

- Start with defending homecourt. There has been much talk of making the ACC a “living hell” for opponents. The team has talked countless times about getting off to better starts and jumping on teams early. Instead, the Raptors declined to play any defence in the first quarter against a reeling Nets team that was there for the taking. Brooklyn was hurt (no Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko or Jason Terry), demoralized and discombobulated. A little resistance would have gone a long way. What was Toronto’s excuse? It’s a younger roster and one that had been resting since Friday’s win over Washington. Why so comfortable? Why so relaxed? Where’s the killer instinct? Only 5-of-6 shooting from three in the first prevented this from being a Nets blowout from the jump. Brutal start, brutal focus and a failure to back up tough talk. That’s on the players.

- To that end, don’t blame DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. They played tremendously and with heart and focus. The defence from them wasn’t great, but it wasn’t worse than the others early and their shooting kept the Raptors around. Unfortunately, only Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak joined them on those fronts. DeRozan’s now up to an impressive 40% (20-for-50) from three. Lowry’s at 37.7% with a 3.75:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That ranks third in the league behind Chris Paul, who is posting MVP numbers and veteran former league assist champ Andre Miller. Not bad. Lowry has raised his trade value significantly and his game has returned to previous levels, even if he’s playing differently than he has in the past.

- Back to the bad. Brooklyn shot 60% and had eight assists against just two turnovers in the first. We’ll harp on this because nobody was getting back to help, nobody was rotating properly (early zones were terrible) and there was little resistance inside. It was ugly.

- On the broadcast, Jack Armstrong said “elevate and dunk it” when Rudy Gay missed yet another layup inside. It got me thinking, has the extra weight Gay put on this summer sabotaged his game? He doesn’t get up like he has in the past (in terms of quick springs). He missed three shots right at the rim Tuesday and missed 4-of-5 overall in the paint, continuing a stunning season-long trend. He’s shooting more than 10% worse than his career norms in the paint and about 20% worse than usual from just below the free throw line. Something’s up.

- It’s time for Gay to start dialing it down. Things clearly aren’t working for him and he’s hurting the team. His defence and rebounding have been above average for his position, though the defending could be more consistent, but offensively, he’s the least efficient swingman in the league. He leads those positions in turnovers and in worst field goal percentage. As a result, the stats look ugly (which could be why he banned them from the locker room) and maybe worse, his presence has helped kill the effectiveness of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas (it’s not all his fault, Lowry’s refusal to run more than three or four pick and rolls a night is a major issue too). Valanciunas needs more action. Unlike Gay, his finishing numbers are great. He’s always been a strong finisher off pick and rolls, yet the Raptors rarely run any. Johnson also thrives in that kind of game and is being largely wasted. It’s part of the reason he’s forcing bad shots (long twos, three-pointers). If you don’t involve players (especially big men), NBA history tells us they (a) often stop running the floor (b) get frustrated and detached (3) start freelancing and taking bad shots. Considering Valanciunas is the future of the franchise and Johnson has been the team’s best player the past three seasons and its best inside finisher, what’s happening so far is not good.

- Everyone’s up in arms about the end of the game. I’ve voiced many times my issues with the ISO Gay play to end all games. It’s predictable, easy to double and a waste of the talents of the other Raptors. Gay is a proven closer when he works his way to the corners (especially the right) yet, too often, we’ve seen him pushed to the middle at the end of games. Good defending, sure, but why is nobody helping him? Why is nobody setting a screen to free him up (preferably Johnson), why is there absolutely no movement? He’s leading all swingmen in turnovers, is it really wise to let him drive and kick? It’s well past time for a change in end-game strategy.

- Remember when the Raptors went away from the strengths of Charles Oakley (so obvious in his first couple of years with the franchise) and had him hang out on the perimeter launching long twos? Good times right? Wrong, it completely wasted his amazing work on the boards and hurt the team. Is Johnson heading down the same path? His game is at the rim. He’s an elite finisher, an elite garbage bucket guy and rebounder. He needs to get back inside instead of playing around with his offence and outside game.

- There have been times Casey’s Raptors have made late-game mistakes that he has admitted to (not fouling earlier this year) and there have been more times when the players have brain cramps (against Utah last year, other examples, last night). Times when they are told to foul, often repeatedly and just don’t get the job done. That’s not really excusable. If this team is ever going to be good, it needs to figure out how to execute down the stretch in games. The basketball IQ late in games has been severely lacking for far too long.

- The end of game: Fine with not fouling down six with 1:21 left. Have confidence in your defence. Stop was made. Down four with a minute left is dicier, but the defence was finally rolling at that point and Brooklyn has looked lost for much of this season so I’m OK with that call as well. The issue is with 23.7 seconds and down one. You have to foul. How do professional players waste 12 precious seconds for no reason? How does it keep happening? They know what to do. They are told what to do, yet, don’t do it.

- Again, not just on the players, the coaching staff can be a lot better too. The rotations, the end of game plays, the offence, the reliance on Gay …

- So, as I said off the top, lots of blame to go around from most of the players to the coaching staff. Not a good night for the Raptors. Time for some hard truths and tough calls to be made.

 

 

Raptors at Sixers Points Per Game: An outlier, but an interesting game: Gay plays like LeBron; DeRozan channels Reggie Miller; Ross excels

- November 21st, 2013

PHILADELPHIA – It was an outlier of a game that gave observers of the Raptors a chance to play the “what-if?” game. The game story is here.

- Don’t expect many re-runs. It would be great if Rudy Gay looked to establish the pass early and often every night, but history shows that’s not his game and players don’t suddenly change after all these years, as Dwane Casey was saying this week.

- The Raptors aren’t going to shoot near 50% from three too often. The team was only hitting about a third from deep prior to the game. Featuring Steve Novak more often now though, something Casey can do now that he’s healthy, should help a lot. “Steve is a big-time shooter, he’s a three-point shooter, finally getting healthy and I think that’s the key,” Casey said. Gay agreed, asking reporters: “What do you think of when you think of Steve Novak? (Eric Smith told him three-point makes). “Exactly, that’s why we need him,” Gay said. Terrence Ross also helps spread the floor and when both are out there with one of DeRozan or Gay, good things seem to happen because it gives the shot-hungry duo more spacing.

- It must be said that Philadelphia’s defence, especially without Thaddeus Young, is horrendous. It’s a lot harder to get comfortable and ship the ball around against a good defensive club. Still, if Gay has the mindset of passing to teammates early, good things will happen against anybody.

Gay on whether it was a conscious effort to distribute early:

“It was. It was early because DeMar had it going and sometimes when we go into our post ups teams double and at that point you have to find the open guy and make shots,” Gay said.

- We’ll repeat some stats from the game story:

- Gay’s teams are now 29-11 over the course of his career when he passes for five assists or more … Gay shot about 54% in the paint prior to this season and over 57% there just two seasons ago. This year, he has struggled, hitting less than 40% of his attempts … Lowry isn’t shooting well, but has compiled 34 assists against just five turnovers over his past five games.

- DeRozan on his success hitting corner threes (he’s 10-for-16 this season, vs. 6-for-26 on other three-point attempts): ”

- The cost of moving the ball around for good looks from outside was an absent inside game. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson had zero offensive impact on the proceedings and played less – especially Johnson – than usual. Spencer Hawes lit up whoever was guarding him by launching threes himself.

- Gay and Lowry took over in the third quarter. Gay started 1-for-7 from the field, but hit his first four shots of the second half. He scored 15 points in the third, missing just two shots and added two assists.

- Casey on the big night from Ross, who guarded three positions at times: “I thought it was (one of his best outings). He appeared. I thought he struggled a bit in the last game, didn’t play in the second half against Portland and he came out and performed. Stayed focus on both ends of the floor. Did a decent job defensively on (MCW) and Evan Turner. Both ends of the floor he was very solid,” Casey said.

“(Was guarding Carter-Williams) for his length, speed, athleticism, quickness. I was concerned about the screen and rolls, but he did a good job. It was one of his best, most solid performances of the year.

“He could (be a disruptor). The key with him is he’s got to be consistent. That’s his whole challenge, his goal is to be consistent. Not effort because he gives a good effort. The focus every night.”

- Gay chimed in on Ross as well:

“I think it’s more of us, and him being more comfortable  and realizing what he has to do. We don’t need him to go out there and play like DeMar, we need him to play like Terrence Ross, which is a guy that can knock down the three. If they run at him, go and dunk on him and that’s what he’s been doing. It’s been making it a lot easier on him and he’s been way more productive.”

- One more point on what Novak does for the offence: “When Steve’s on the floor, it does create help situations. Guys are running, scrambling and he took advantage of that,” Casey said of DeRozan getting open shots.

On being in first in the Atlantic:

“It’s going to be a marathon. We’re nowhere where we need to be. We need to stay hungry, stay aggressive and keep the process going. I know it sounds like a broken record, but it’s a long season. It’s too early. (But), we’ll take it,” Casey said.

“It’s a great position to be in right now, it’s a feel-good position but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter until it’s the end of the season. It’s a great position to be in and build off of it. We still have 70-something games to go and we have to take it day-by-day, game-by-game,” Lowry said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Rockets Points Per Game: Raptors show great fight; set record for offensive futility; something needs to be done about offence; Ross a positive

- November 12th, 2013

Rudy Gay made history, DeMar DeRozan’s struggles continued, the Raptors showed laudable fight and Terrence Ross’ early play is a rare positive for this team. That’s the Coles Notes version of Monday’s bizarre double-overtime loss in Houston.

- First off, you have to commend the Raptors for playing some tough, gritty defence against the Rockets. This game really shouldn’t have gone to overtime or double-OT at all. It should have been an easy Houston win with the way the offence was staggering. Also must point out another strong game by sophomore Terrence Ross. The light appears to be coming on for Ross. He’s starting to defend the way the team thought he could when they drafted him. The thinking was he could be a very good perimeter defender and we are seeing signs of that. He’s come back to earth after a torrid start from downtown (2-for-7 over his past two games), but is still shooting 41.7% from outside.

- Toronto was down 80-66 in the fourth, but using mostly zones and taking advantage of Houston’s terrible free throw shooting, got right back into the contest.

- Another solid game from Jonas Valanciunas, who battled hard against both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik would be another positive takeaway.

- The negatives are a lot longer. So long, that I won’t even get into all of them. That’s losses in 4-of-5 now for the Raptors. The offence is in shambles. As I said on Twitter, “no movement, horrible passes, not enough Valanciunas, terrible shot selection.” And I said that before the fourth quarter and beyond. When Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan apparently believed every shot was a good one and passing was best left to lesser players. How is it possible that DeRozan, who went 2-for-12 from the field in the first half and 4-for-13 from there was a mere footnote to Gay’s historically brutal 11-for-37 evening? Yes, Gay remains one of the most clutch shooters in the league (as his game-tying three attests), but the problem is the other 46.5 minutes of games. He and DeRozan over-dribble, nobody else moves around, plays get broken and bad shots galore get hoisted. Rinse and repeat. Your Raptors offence.

- Surely Masai Ujiri knows (and I’m sure he knew before) that this combo isn’t going to work. We said it when Gay was acquired and a few good games doesn’t change it. These two players simply can’t work effectively together. They don’t play off of each other at all. Shoot too many low-percentage long two-point attempts and one of them is only a threat from a couple of areas outside the three-point line, the other doesn’t shoot enough threes (Gay). Add defensive liabilities to the mix and it’s not exactly pretty. Another Twitter line I’ll repeat here: “Two (poor) mid-range jump shooters who rarely pass and refuse to vary their game. You can get away with one, not two.”

- Some real statistical marvels from this one. How do you only get 10 assists on 38 makes and how do you attempt 30 more shots than your opponent and still lose? Back to Gay, he’s the second player to take that many shots and not get to 30 points. Damon Stoudamire, in his second year as a Raptor, had the previous futility record, also shooting 11-for-37, but going for 31 points because of more made free throws. And Michael Jordan also scored 29 once, but on 39 shot attempts (all according to basketballreference.com). The 10 assists on 38 scores was the worst by any team since 1985-86, according to Blazersedge.

- The Raptors didn’t just miss bad shots, the team – Gay and DeRozan specifically, missed many normally eminently makeable inside looks. Something is going on with both of them as they’ve never struggled this much inside. Never struggled anywhere close to this much, in fact. DeRozan’s shot 36% or lower four games in a row now and a lot of that is from not being able to hit shots inside he has finished over the course of his career. He is doing a better job of attacking the rim of late, but the referees are back to not showing him any love. Of course, having Howard and/or Asik waiting inside makes finishing far harder for any player.

-  Asik, the second straight Turkish big man  Valanciunas has had to contend with, presented quite a different challenge than Enes Kanter. Kanter is an offensive force, but a terrible defender, Asik is pretty much the exact opposite. He’s one of the best defenders in the league and extremely tough to score on down low. He forced Valanciunas into a turnover early than blocked a shot, though it was called a foul. But Valanciunas was able to do some good things against Asik or Howard and he did a nice job defending Howard on a couple of plays, before the big man broke loose in the first half.

- The trend would continue, but we’ll highlight how it impacted things early: Just two assists against four turnovers early. Little ball movement and the missed shots and bad passes allowed the Rockets to get out and run and build up the lead.

- Ross did a particularly good job for most of the night on Houston superstar James Harden. Harden is one of the toughest covers in the league, he’s herky-jerky, deceptively quick with his first step and basically, a new-age Manu Ginobili. But Ross has a huge athleticism advantage over Harden and that allowed him to recover quickly. But most of the time, he didn’t have to, because he was doing a great job keeping Harden in front of him.

- Why was there no play drawn up at the end of the game? That’s what everybody was asking at the end of the fourth quarter.  Gay’s had great success over the years beating teams with final second plays in the right corner of the floor. Yet, he just dribbled for a while and hoisted up a bad shot. Dwane Casey said afterward that there actually was a play drawn up, but Gay rejected it and freelanced (he didn’t say it in those words, he said they wanted Gay to attack the basket, that was the play, but he didn’t. Maybe because of fatigue or good defence). And that’s a huge problem with Gay and, to a lesser extent, DeRozan. They try to do it on their own. Don’t accept screens at times, break plays, go into iso-mode. It’s not a strategy that has proven successful over the years in the NBA. It’s difficult to call out captains getting paid so much money, but at some point, if this coaching staff wants to stick around, it probably needs to happen. The Gay three came about after (surprise) no movement.

- Like most people, I’m not certain the Howard-Asik combo is going to work long-term. But we’ll leave that for the Houston writers to scribe about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz at Raptors Points Per Game: Valanciunas sets up inside and it pays off; The music has gone sour for the Jazz; Ross much-improved; DeRozan can learn from Gay

- November 9th, 2013

The Raptors weren’t about to be the team that handed Utah its first win of the season. Toronto played spirited from the start and took advantage of a demoralized Utah team to cruise to the easiest win of the year.

- The Raptors coaching staff has been harping on Jonas Valanciunas to worker harder at establishing deep post positioning. He got the message early in this one. Coming off of arguably his worst game of the season, Valanciunas was a force from the jump. On the very first play, Valanciunas made a nice cut to get down low and scored easily. Then he hit a jumper to keep the defence honest. Later, Valanciunas was decisive after Enes Kanter pushed him out of his deep positioning. To counter, Valanciunas drop-stepped into a left-handed hook to score again. A few plays later, the big man froze Enes Kanter with an up fake, and had an easy foray to the hoop for a one-handed dunk (partly because Amir Johnson grabbed Derrick Favors, but it went uncalled. It still was a nice move). Then, Valanciunas used a series of up fakes to draw a foul on Kanter, who traditionally, had played quite well against Valanciunas in their many international meetings.

- Valanciunas still isn’t consistently getting deep enough into the post, but he’s getting quite good at operating out of the mid-post, using hooks with either hand – mostly of the running variety – as well as drop-steps and pump fakes.

- Kyle Lowry’s been looking for his three-point shot a bit more lately and that’s a good sign. That’s one of the deadliest parts of his arsenal and should open things up a bit for the stagnant Raptors offence. Ideally, Lowry would be surrounded by quality shooters, because those are the types of players that would most complement his game. If Lowry’s ankle injury isn’t serious, he needs to continue playing this style of game.

- Gay’s been a lot more active defensively the past two games. Not just doing the flashy stuff like blocking shots, but also tipping more balls. Gay also appears to have found his passing game. He’s looking to find teammates about 3X more often than he did earlier in the season and that’s what he needs to do. The variety confuses defenders and it also allows him to focus more on his shot selection. Ideally, DeRozan would follow suit.

- Terrence Ross looks far more confident now that he’s in his second season. When he shoots the ball and more importantly, when he handles it. He broke down Marvin Williams at one point off of the dribble and I can’t recall seeing him do that at all when he was a rookie.

- DeMar DeRozan continues to take bad shots. The team doesn’t want him to take long two-pointers anymore, but he and Rudy Gay can’t seem to shake the bad habit. Again, Gay has been doing a better job the past few games varying his game. DeRozan showed he can past last year but that element seems to have disappeared from his arsenal so far for unknown reasons. He would also benefit from posting up more this year. It was one of the best parts of his offensive toolbox last season.

- Utah has some nice B and C-level young pieces but needs to add an A to be taken seriously. Trey Burke might be a B+ prospect, but he’s still out for a while.

- The Raptors still need to play hard from the start every night. They know they’ll get that from Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson and Quincy Acy whenever they are in. That’s great for the identity of a franchise that too often over the years has been soft, but others need to pick up their intensity and toughness as well. Acy showed well in the minutes afforded to him by the blowout. Acy has worked for months on his outside shooting because the team doesn’t believe he’s big enough to be an NBA power forward. Acy hit two threes and continues to develop as a “power” three. Hansbrough was excellent.

Dwight Buycks got a chance and also was solid. The backup point guard job is there for the taking and Buycks didn’t hurt his case.

 

Raptors at Pacers Points Per Game: Rudy Gay comes to life; DeMar DeRozan has a night to forget; Paul George is a superstar

- November 9th, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS – The Raptors probably should be 3-3, are slightly worse at 2-4 instead and there’s an awfully long way to go this season. Yet, why does it seem there’s an aura of doom and gloom permeating the franchise. I’m not even talking about the fanbase, which seems beyond despair at this point, beaten down with pessimism thanks to years of losing both games and star players.

The players seem quite realistic (maybe because most of them were around for 4-19 last year and know how quickly a season can go off of the rails) – things need to get fixed – and quickly. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert cautioned today that it’s still very early – “The season is 6/82 complete.If the season was a game there would be 8:30 left in the 1st quarter.Let’s calm down,watch a bit more then judge,” Gilbert tweeted – but how you set the tone matter and the winnable games you blow now matter. A lot. Moreso on the tone setting part. You simply can’t lay an egg against bad or medicore teams and get extra pumped for the contenders when the bright lights are shining. That’s a losing mentality, and, unfortunately, has long been a Raptors mentality.

It also could be the way the team has lost games. Not fouling in Charlotte either time (Dwane Casey defended not doing it with 27 seconds remaining and said not doing it in the final seconds was a mistake. The overwhelming consensus has been a foul should have been committed at the 27 second mark), not playing Amir Johnson, the team’s most invaluable player, in the fourth against Miami (granted, he was being saved for a more winnable contest) and then playing five subs to start the second quarter against Indiana, losing all momentum created by Rudy Gay’s sizzling start, as well as the lead. No, it hasn’t been a good week for Casey or his players.

If you’re Masai Ujiri, what the heck do you do? (A lot more on this point coming). If you blow it up, who is buying? Lots of teams are tanking, so they certainly won’t be. Good teams have cap issues and likely will be more inclined to deal once injuries start hitting. If you want to load up to finally end the playoff drought, what area do you upgrade? Philly would love to get big returns for players like Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, Phoenix would probably part with Goran Dragic, but do you sacrifice the future to get less mediocre and maybe squeak in? If you trade a Lowry, an Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan or Rudy Gay what can you get? Who can you replace them with down the line?

The easiest way to get significantly worse would be to move Johnson. But (1) eventually you’ll need a guy like Johnson if you want to win and (2) do you really want to send out a guy who loves the city, represents it well, is putting down roots here and is proud to represent the franchise? Again, this is why Masai gets the big bucks. With his history, rest assured he’s been over all of these scenarios and thought about the domino effect of all of them down the line. It’s a fascinating time for this franchise, what the heck is going to happen? Unfortunately, right this moment, it’s also an uncertain time and the light at the end of the tunnel looks awfully dim.

If you’re all not horribly depressed after reading that, some more thoughts:

- Indiana, is really, really good. Maybe not too exciting, but who really cares? The team is built for the playoffs. The defence is superb. Frank Vogel is an elite coach already. Paul George is one of the few superstars as good defensively as he is on offence and Roy Hibbert is an absolute wall inside. They are tough, a bit mean (nobody tops David West in the scowl department and nobody sneers at referees more often than Lance Stephenson) and the bench has been upgraded from last year’s disaster (though it could still use some help … hey, Danny Granger is supposed to practice next week).

The Pacers know exactly what they need to do to win games. They let Toronto tire by playing lights out early, knowing there was time to rally and ratchet up the defence. I’m starting to regret my pick of Chicago winning the Central, these guys, assuming Granger is able to be a great sixth man, are legit title contenders.

- Kyle Lowry looked far better and was looking to create more than he has this season. He made clever passes, was constantly looking ahead and above the rim for his teammates. Even Lowry seemed a bit frustrated afterward about the shot selection of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, which has bordered on atrocious for much of this season.

“We’ve got to get DeMar easier shots. He got his shots, but we’ve got to find a way to get him some easier shots,” Lowry said.

“We’ve got to find a happy medium with those guys, they both can get shots, but they’ve both got to make shots and then make life a lot easier as a point guard.”

- Lowry was also frustrated by offensive foul calls against him in two straight games on shot attempts. “When I go left and shoot, I kick out my legs, that’s what I do,” Lowry said, shaking his head.

 

- It’s too bad Lowry isn’t more of a pick and roll point guard. Jose Calderon’s defence hurt the club, but no question he got the most out of Johnson and also was perfect for Valanciunas. Those bigs excel in that sort of offence, but can’t show it off here, because Lowry is more of a drive and kick creator and DeRozan rarely passes and Gay seldom does.

More quotes:

I thought Rudy outplayed him tonight. You can talk about Paul George, but I thought Rudy outplayed him, they won the game, but talking about individual matchups, Rudy played the game he’s supposed to play. Now we need some others to join the party.” – Dwane Casey

“We’ve got to put together a full game. We have spurts where we’re playing as good as any team but we let up and they took advantage of that.” – Rudy Gay

“It’s tough for everybody when any of us (struggle). It’s tough for the whole team when DeMar struggles. It’s tough for the whole team when I struggle. We just have to figure out how we can make both of us comfortable at the same time.”