Posts Tagged ‘Terrence Ross

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.

Finally, 48 minutes of effort; Credit Ross for answering the bell; Johnson benching was puzzling

- January 20th, 2015

MILWAUKEE — That was one of the biggest wins of the season for the Raptors. No question about it. With Memphis on deck and what could have been eight losses in 10 games, the game was as close to a must-win in January as you will see in the NBA. The Raptors answered the bell accordingly, they avoided the lulls that have plagued them lately. Sure, there were periods when the shooting went south, but it wasn’t for lack of trying and the defensive intensity was far better than it has been in recent games.

- After Atlanta shot 61% from the field and New Orleans 63% in the fourth quarter, the Raptors were desperate to show some defensive mettle. Against a weak offensive squad they did that, limiting the Bucks to 44.7% shooting and only one excellent shooting quarter (the third, where Milwaukee shot 57%, but on just 14 attempts). When the Raptors needed stops, they got them and the rim protection was far better than we’ve seen for a while. Whether it was Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough, or even Kyle Lowry, the Raptors challenged shots at the rim well. (digging deeper at the stat-sheet, it seems Amir wasn’t as good as I thought at the rim, but Hansbrough and Valanciunas allowed just two field goals on seven attempts at the rim between them).

- Yes, I thought it was a bit strange to bench James Johnson. Johnson had been playing quite well, averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.0 block over the past five games on 66% shooting. He had slipped defensively like everybody else, but he is still one of the two or three best defenders on the team. Dwane Casey said Johnson didn’t do anything to get removed from the lineup, but rather it was a case of someone needing to fall out of the rotation with Greivis Vasquez starting and Terrence Ross coming off of the bench. With the team going smaller, there were fewer minutes available at small forward and with Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson playing well, it was hard to find any time for Johnson. I would have cut Vasquez from 30 minutes to about 26 and cut Hansbrough back by a couple just to not completely take Johnson out of the rotation. You don’t want to risk losing a player, especially one who has been a bit mercurial in the past. Plus, his play has been solid and you are losing something by not having him out there at all.

- You have to give Terrence Ross props for turning in such a nice effort. He didn’t let a couple of early misses from three-point range get him down. He was able to forget about his slump and just get through it. I think being aggressive helped him – he put it on the floor and got into the paint for a floater then later got a big dunk to get him going. He was steady and made some big plays, especially the two late in the fourth. He still looks like he has regressed defensively, but playing more against reserves should help him get his defensive game back.

- The Raptors only shot 40%, but that’s a top four defence they were facing and a bunch of long, athletic players. Turning it over 15 times wasn’t terrible against that group (especially since eight of the mistakes came in one quarter) and a lot of the missed shots were pretty good looks. The team seems to be hitting only about 25-30% of its three-point attempts lately, but most of them are the same shots they were making earlier in the year. Didn’t see as many forces and bad attempts as usual.

- DeMar DeRozan was due for one of these – maybe not a 0 point, 0-for-9 outing, but you try playing three games in four nights after missing a quarter of a season. It’s a lot to ask DeRozan to keep dropping 20 points when he isn’t yet back in rhythm. It’s actually amazing how well he did in the three games he played before this one. Giannis had something to do with his tough game, but it was much more a matter of DeRozan just not having it than what the Greek Freak was doing in particular.

- Weird stats: On contested field goals (ones where a defender is within three feet), Ross shot 83% (4-for-5). When he was wide open, Ross shot just 2-for-6 (33%). Lou Williams shot 4-for-8 contested, 0-for-4 uncontested. Guess they like having a hand in their face. Lowry shot about the same contested vs. uncontested (poorly).

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

- January 17th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT FROM DWANE CASEY:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

- January 15th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A great effort goes for naught for Raptors; Despite record, DeRozan greatly missed; D finally returns; NBA needs more good refs

- December 31st, 2014

If you didn’t stay up late to catch Raptors-Blazers, you missed out on one of the better games of the year. If you overlook the awful shooting from both sides before overtime, it was close to a classic. Both teams had chances to pull it out, Kyle Lowry – otherwise spectacular – missed a few looks he’d love to have back that could have turned the tide – counterpart Damian Lillard did the same – but ultimately, Portland is very good – and even better in the clutch (best in the league with Lillard being the NBA’s best clutch player) and the Raptors, minus a sorely missed DeMar DeRozan, just couldn’t quite get it done.

- Lowry did ridiculous things, especially a trio of offensive boards at pivotal points, but right now, he is being asked to do too much, something Greivis Vasquez pointed out post-game. Without DeRozan and when Lou Williams and Vasquez are struggling, Lowry not only needs to set up others, but he also needs to be the primary scorer, in addition to a key defender. It’s just not possible on a nightly basis without some slippage. Great effort though.

- We said a day earlier it would be interesting if these teams played a close one. Both are top five in the NBA in terms of fourth quarter point differential. Amir Johnson made a couple of excellent plays to give them a chance, including his bucket down low to tie it. In overtime, Portland’s threes started dropping and when that happens, they are extremely tough to top.

- James Johnson had a huge night. Would have preferred to see him out there more in the second half instead of the Raptors going small, forcing Portland to adjust or even if they didn’t (not like Steve Blake was a huge threat, Johnson could have guarded him if necessary). Forcing the issue with more Jonas Valanciunas could have made sense too, but he played the entire third quarter and was wretched in his four minutes in the fourth so I’m not sure why so many people were up in arms about his lack of playing time down the stretch. Add the fact that the Raptors are better defensively without him on the floor (despite his recent improved defensive play) and that Portland didn’t have its centres in, and not going with him makes even more sense. Again, sitting Johnson for so long doesn’t.

- Hate talking about officiating, but the fact remains that it really stinks that so many good NBA referees either got old or sick, forcing them out of action. There just aren’t enough quality refs left. Yesterday’s crew, especially Marc Davis, looked a bit like a Benny Hill skit. They made baffling calls both ways, hurting both teams, though the Raptors were impacted most, because the biggest mess-ups went against them.  Earlier in the game, Valanciunas was getting mauled, yet they were letting things go. At the other end LaMarcus Aldridge was given the benefit of the doubt on pretty much every play. All-star vs. developing player? Sure, but if you are making those calls, don’t call a technical on Valanciunas for waving his hand in disgust at your own bad call (the foul shouldn’t have been on Valanciunas that led him to be demonstrative). It came at a point where the Raptors could have basically locked up the game and helped to turn the tied. Up 13 with under two minutes remaining in the third, Valanciunas should have hauled in an offensive rebound, giving the Raptors  a shot at a 15-point bulge, which likely would have been enough. Instead, the technical was called, the Blazers scored six straight points and it was game on. Casey offered a “no comment” when Eric Smith asked him about the clear path foul calls.

- The other brutal moments included an offensive foul call on Amir Johnson that simply wasn’t (he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t holding, Wes Matthews simply flopped). Calling an offensive foul with 1:59 remaining in a tie game takes a lot of cajones. You had better get it right. The refs didn’t. I’m not an expert on clear path fouls, but the one that didn’t go the Raptors way seemed pretty baffling. Does it not matter that Lowry was way down the floor wide open? The one on Vasquez later seemed like the right call, but not sure how you make that one, when you let such an obvious one go the other way. Of course, Portland fans will tell you they didn’t like a bunch of first half calls much either.

- As tough as the loss was for the Raptors, they have to be heartened by having a shot to win again on this tough trip, against the team with the most wins in the NBA and without DeRozan. That’s impressive. They also should be buoyed by holding such a strong offensive club to 40% shooting and just 102 points in an overtime game. That came a game after holding Denver to 102 points and 43% shooting and two after the Clippers scored just 98 points. The defence seems to be stabilizing a bit.

- Again, it’s time the Raptors shake things up at the end of quarters. The Lou Williams isolation play is stale, ineffective and too predictable. For a team that is so good on out-of-bounds plays (including a few gems on Tuesday), it feels like a waste not to run the things they are capable of.

- No shame in losing to a Portland team that is 15-2 at home and had been winning at the Moda Center by 11 points a night including nearly 14 over the past six. Toronto has still won 75% of its games so far this season and went 58-27 in 2014 as a whole, the second best record in the NBA.

A few quotes:

“It’s so much load on him. He was driving in there, creating contact and he wasn’t getting any calls. You get beat up, it takes a toll on you.” – Dwane Casey on Kyle Lowry.

“I love the way we competed in a hostile environment. If you can compete in that environment, the way we did tonight, you can compete in a lot of places.” – Casey

“We didn’t have our best scorer. Imagine when he comes back. I’ve been saying, we need this guy. Right now we are asking K-Low to do too much” – Vasquez.

“I thought we had the game. We played well for 40 minutes. You’ve got to play well for 48.” – Vasquez

Happy New Year everybody, will be interesting to see how the Raptors build on the most successful calendar year in franchise history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tired Raptors played like they were looking ahead to holidays against Bulls

- December 23rd, 2014

CHICAGO — Late in Monday’s loss to the Bulls, the Raptors really looked like a team that was tired and unwilling to push back against one of the NBA’s most physical outfits. Especially not with a much-needed vacation looming. And you know what? Toronto has played a good enough opening 29 games to deserve not to get killed for that ghastly fourth quarter. The Bulls scored 49 points in that frame, the most any Raptors team has conceded in a quarter and the most Chicago had ever scored. Ever. Even in the Michael Jordan days the Bulls didn’t notch more and even when Toronto was 16-66, there wasn’t as porous a quarter. Chicago shot 22 free throws in the quarter, which was nearly another Raptors record. The most impressive thing about last night was that I hit deadline despite the hour time difference and the 34 combined free throws in the fourth.

- In all seriousness, Though the Raptors managed to build some big leads against the Bulls, it always seemed puzzling how they were in the game at all. Chicago was outshooting them by a ton, getting to the line twice as often and blocking all kinds of shots (seven after a quarter, compared to none by the Raptors). Basically, 3-for-10 second quarter shooting from eventual stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, plus good three-point shooting early and an ability to turn Bulls mistakes into points at the other end allowed the Raptors to take a lead into the break.

- There was a lot of griping from the fan-base about the work of the referees, but the Bulls play a physical style and have been doing that for years. They might get away with some things, but it is a product of playing hard and going at opponents. Dwane Casey would love it if his team would emulate a lot of what Chicago does. On offence, Chicago draws legit foul calls. They attack and go into opponents. They love contact. Don’t forget as well that the Raptors are missing DeMar DeRozan, who draws more fouls than almost any other NBA player. With him in the game, the whistle disparity would have been a lot different.

- An aside, players on both teams were quite unhappy with the work of the officials as early as the first quarter. Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were amongst the many who loudly voiced their displeasure. It was surprising on a few of those occasions that nobody was hit with a technical foul for protesting. Eventually, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau got one. The foul disparity was 20-18 in Chicago’s favour at that point. Post-technical, it went 27-14 for Chicago. Co-incidence …. ?

- The Raptors, like most teams so far, had all kinds of trouble trying to slow down Butler. With Rose in top form, the duo was devastating. When Butler was playing small forward, the Raptors couldn’t stop their attack.  Amir Johnson said the play “killed us.” Valanciunas broke it down further, or at least tried to: “Right now we’ve got to … I don’t really know, its’ really hard,” Valanciunas said of how to defend it better. “Rose and Butler are really high-end players so they know what to do on pick-and-roll, one-on-one stuff it’s really hard to guard those guys and they have really active big guys, Noah is active under the basket, Gasol is posting, Gasol is active down there so it’s really hard to defend.”

- At full strength, the Bulls are a really strong offensive team. Gasol destroyed the Raptors in the first meeting, then was bad offensively in this one (just 2-for-7 shooting with four turnovers) and it didn’t matter at all.

 

 

Patterson “Tells on himself”; An ugly win is still a win; Raptors better on road?; Knicks are a mess and no relief coming anytime soon

- December 15th, 2014

Ugly games, there have been a few. Especially lately. At least it sure seems that way. Sunday’s Raptors-Knicks tilt was a pretty hideous affair and I’m glad I wasn’t on this road trip. The Raptors again came out flat. They were pretty lethargic, letting the Knicks get to the line too often and could have blown a game against a horrid opponent, but like good teams do, Toronto found a way to leave Manhattan with another victory.

- Give Patrick Patterson the game ball for this one. He kept the Raptors afloat in the first quarter with his offence, hitting  all three of his shots for seven points (only Kyle Lowry also played well in the opening quarter), then saved the day for them late, by finally providing some resistance against Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had been having a solid scoring game, notching 27 points on better than 50% shooting, with 10 free throw attempts, before the Raptors opted to try Patterson against Anthony. Dwane Casey had mused the other day about possibly letting Patterson try his luck against small forwards. Anthony isn’t a traditional three, he’s more of a tweener so it’s not a perfect science, but Patterson showed something against him. As Casey put it afterward, Patterson “told on himself” as in he let the coaching staff know he can guard a scoring combo forward like Anthony. Carmelo did not attempt a free throw once Patterson was switched onto him and missed six-of-nine attempts from the field. There is no doubt Patterson has been one of the team’s best performers so far this season.

- I’m surprised the Raptors didn’t go to Valanciunas more often. Amar’e Stoudemire can’t come close to guarding him, yet Valanciunas only got one shot attempt in the first quarter – an aggressive move to the bucket for a score – just two more in the second. His teammates and coaching staff simply have to make sure Valanciunas gets more involved on offence. He is a good player down low. Use him. This isn’t a debate on whether he should be on the floor or not and when, it is about when he is out there, take advantage of what he can do.

- Terrence Ross has not been sinking threes as consistently as he did when DeMar DeRozan was around to create more open shots for him with his presence, but he’s been solid overall. Since DeRozan went down eight games ago (including the ninth game, since DeRozan only played a small portion of that game), Ross has averaged 14.2 points and 4.3 rebounds, shooting 48.6% from the field and 90% from the free throw line. He has shown more of an in-between game – putting the ball on the floor more, scoring on floaters and even a hook at times. One free throw attempt a game is not nearly enough though. Ross needs to be more aggressive and needs to draw some fouls. Especially for as long as DeRozan is out.

- More Ross, and this is a bizarre one – Including the game where DeRozan got hurt up until Sunday against the Knicks, Ross has shot 48.1% from three on the road, just 19% at home. Ross has basically been the force the Raptors want him to be on the road – 18.2 points on 58% shooting in the five games – but poor at home without DeRozan – 9.3 points on 35% shooting.

- The Kyle Lowry splits are also quite interesting. Using this same 9-game span, Lowry has averaged 26.4 points on the road and 2.6 steals and 10.2 assists per game vs. 17.3, 0.5 and 8.3. He’s also shot 36% at home, 43% on the road. It’s a small sample size, only about 11% of the season, but a bit intriguing. (Late add from a reader on Twitter: perhaps it has something to do with the Raptors facing far better teams at home during this stretch – those teams are 47-48 – vs. the 30-68 dregs they’ve faced on the road).

- So much for Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher instantly turning things around for the Knicks. They are an unmitigated disaster. The 5-21 start is the worst in team history. They owe Carmelo Anthony a ton of money for four more seasons ($22-$28 million a year, yikes). They have their own first round pick this year (luckily for them, since it’s going to be a high one), but send next year’s first either to Toronto or Denver (Denver gets the better pick, Toronto the lesser one) and they have no second rounders until 2020. Seriously. They have only seven players signed for next season, but even with the cap rising, will have a hard time adding star talent and filling out the roster. It’s more of the same the next summer. This is going to take some time. It’s too bad, considering how important the Knicks franchise is to the NBA and how terrible it has been for years now.

 

 

 

 

Valanciunas dominates Nuggets and needs to keep it up; OT monkey off Raptors backs; Bench comes through led by “Patman” who hears everything

- December 9th, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before, but sometimes being lucky is as important as being good. Once again, the Raptors weren’t all that good and did their best to fumble away a game, before doing just enough to prevail. The team still has a long way to go and can’t play as haphazardly as it did against Denver against a good team and hope to win. There’s no excuse for letting a team finishing a back-to-back completely outwork a fully rested one. Denver wanted it more throughout the game and put in a lot more effort (with a couple of exceptions that we will get to).

- Denver players were left open far too often (might want to guard Wilson Chandler in the corner) and they missed a lot of shots later on in the game or else this one could have turned out differently. They attacked the boards and the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas aside, did not seem too inclined to go up with them.

- The main positive has to be the play of Valanciunas. He dominated Timofey Mozgov, who had been in the midst of a solid season. Valanciunas was aggressive and effective. He bullied the Nuggets down low and also showed a new trick when he went left in the post for a score instead of his preferred turn toward the right and the middle of the floor. With DeMar DeRozan out, Valanciunas needs to bring the attitude and aggressiveness he brought on Monday. He was coming off one of his worst outings of the year, against Cleveland on Friday, so it was good that he bounced back with one of his better games the next time out.

- Offence wasn’t the only positive where Valanciunas is concerned. He also arguably turned in his best defensive outing of the season. He was a stopper, even when each of the other Raptors were only offering token resistance. He had four blocks, five fouls and was completely engaged. He looked like a wall in the middle and Dwane Casey and his staff had to be smiling about that. The trick now is doing it again. And again and not just against the behemoths like Mozgov that seem to bring out the best in him. Do it against the quicker, undersized centres like Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, the opponent once again on Tuesday night.

- Speaking of new wrinkles, while Terrence Ross couldn’t buy an outside shot until one was needed the most, he looked good scoring off of the dribble. He is expanding his game in the absence of DeRozan, looking to put the ball on the floor to set up runners and even a hook. The more versatile Ross becomes on offence, the more effective he and the Raptors will be.

- For the second game in a row, Amir Johnson looked like his old self. He had a bounce in his step, set good screens and then … seemed to turn his ankle again. From there, he didn’t look right, but still converted a nice pick-and-roll at a pivotal moment. Still, with the way Valanciunas was rolling, it can be argued Valanciunas and Patterson should have closed the game, at least until Valanciunas picked up a sixth foul.

- Patterson obviously was great, hitting a career-best five threes including the one that forced overtime. On a night where Kyle Lowry couldn’t “hit the side of a barn with a bass fiddle” to steal a Casey quote (just 3-for-13), Patterson stepped up to provide the scoring the Raptors needed. Patterson was just as good afterward, telling the media, via TSN.ca’s Josh Lewenberg: “I hear everything. I hear the fans in whatever section, I can’t remember which one, there was a guy screaming, ‘Hey P-Pat.’ There’s another fan after I hit that three that says, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about PD-Patt,’ ‘Let’s go Pat-Man, save the day!’ I hear everything and I enjoy hearing it.” Great stuff.

- The Raptors still can’t stop teams off of the dribble. It’s a major concern. Ty Lawson is especially tough to corral because he is so quick, but he was just the latest point guard to go to town, creating open shots for his teammates. At least they came through when it mattered most, forcing Denver into a 24-second violation with the game on the line.

 

 

Raptors can thank Kyle Lowry for an ugly win in Sacramento; time to replace Vasquez with Johnson?

- December 3rd, 2014

Sometimes to get a win in the NBA you have to be good. Other times, it pays to be lucky. Some nights, it’s  a bit of both. And then there are nights like Tuesday, where the Raptors were neither good, nor all that lucky, yet still managed to come away with a victory. The Raptors (James Johnson aside) declined to play any defence for 75% of the night and had a rare off-night from Lou Williams, but still hung on, to run their record to an impressive 14-4. Why? This might seem like a huge generalization, but it came down to Kyle Lowry suiting up and DeMarcus Cousins not doing so.

- Sure, the Kings posted gaudy numbers without Cousins, one of the league’s five most dominant players (37 trips to the free throw line, 109 points, 52% shooting) but with Cousins in, the teams would not have been even on the boards, it would have been a big edge for the Kings and likely, a 10-point win for the home side).

- But Cousins was a surprising scratch, meaning Lowry was the best player on the floor and he showed it, lifting the Raptors on his back when necessary at both ends of the floor. Lowry started off on fire (nine points and five assists as the Raptors got off to a great start – 13 points, eight assists and just one turnover at the half), then finished with a bang, scoring 10 points in the fourth without a turnover. After hitting a tough layup, he then took a big charge on Rudy Gay, two pivotal plays in the end.

- Liked the way Lowry again took advantage of a smaller guard, this time going at tiny Darren Collison early in the post. Lowry can score against most point guards down there and it continues to be a good look for an offence that is searching for ways to replace DeMar DeRozan’s scoring.
- Hard to like the lack of defence from the Raptors. The Kings have some players who are good at attacking off the dribble, but at times it was ridiculous. They were blowing by Raptors defenders and the help defenders were barely even in the right area code. The Kings shot 77% from the field in the second quarter. It’s difficult to win games when you allow opponents to score at that level. The Kings were at 58% through three quarters and only a far better defensive final quarter from the league’s best fourth quarter team saved this one.- You could argue I’m being too negative, but this was an uninspiring performance from a team that is trying to prove that it is one of the NBA’s better teams and certainly a top three group in the East. The Raptors looked lazy and uninspired for much of the evening, Lowry, James and Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross aside.

- Speaking of  Ross -the third-year swingman gave the Raptors a huge boost, scoring 15 points in the first quarter and 20 in all. It was the first time in his career he managed 20 points in consecutive games. Ross had hit 46.7% of his three-point attempts over his previous three games and with a 4-of-8 performance Tuesday, is up to 43.8% for the season, including 46.4% over his past five games.

- Jonas Valanciunas over his previous five games heading into this one: 12.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 61.5% shooting from the field, 83.3% from the line. He had 15 points and eight rebounds, shooting 50% from the field (on only six attempts) and 9-for-10 from the line. The Raptors need to get him more than 11 attempts a night while DeRozan is out. He only had two attempts in the opening quarter (both resulting in trips to the free throw line) and as good as the start was, it should be a point of emphasis to get the big man involved in opening quarters. Over his career, he has tended to perform better in games where he was featured early.

- Sacramento’s bench delivered 58 points, Toronto’s, just 35. Much of that was due to an off-night from Williams but I’m very much in favour of returning Greivis Vasquez to the bench and starting James Johnson, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in a revenge game against a franchise he clearly doesn’t have fond feelings for. Vasquez and Williams have been a good pair and the offence would be strong if he went back to the reserves. However, perhaps Dwane Casey is worried that defensively, the second group could become something of a disaster if Johnson is taken out of the mix. The flip side is the starters would get far sounder defensively with Johnson replacing Vasquez and Ross moving to shooting guard. Theoretically, more touches for Valanciunas would cancel out losing the offence Vasquez provides. Amir Johnson has also shown increased range (6-for-13 from three on the season, though five of the makes have come at home) if part of the fear from Casey and his staff is Ross would be the only three-point threat for Lowry to kick to. However, the Raptors do just fine offensively with DeRozan starting and he is not a three-point threat at all, so adding Johnson would not be that foreign of a concept.

- Ben McLemore looks like a different player this season and far closer to what many expected after watching him at Kansas. He had a terrible rookie season, but looks far more confident and is now effective. McLemore threw down a monster dunk on Amir Johnson in the second quarter. To the credit of the Raptors, they came right back, with James Johnson throwing down a big dunk of his own and the next time McLemore tried to catch Amir, he was rejected at the rim.