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NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright

Raptors Delon Wright Is Blocking Shots Like He’s Kevin Durant

Toronto Raptors backup point guard Delon Wright made his presence felt on the defensive end of the court against Detroit on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre with his fifth multiple block game of the season as the Raptors 20th pick of the 2015 draft has been rediscovering his impressive college defense. Over his past 13 games, he’s been swatting away layup attempts and jump shots at the same rate as Kevin Durant.

“I’ve always been a guy that going to block shots,” Wright told Pro Bball Report. “Even when I was younger, it was just something that I was able to do.

“If you look at my college stats I’ve been blocking shots since my junior year.”

He was 5th overall in the Pac-12 with 43 blocked shots as a junior and blocked 77 shots in 68 games during his two seasons with Utah. Not bad for a 6’5 guard. So, this really isn’t anything new for Wright, from his perspective.

Returning from a shoulder strain in mid-December, Wright has been on a roll and he’s been averaging 10.7 points while shooting 50 percent from three, 4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 23 minutes since December 23rd. He should be forcing head coach Dwane Casey to find him even more minutes, if only the Raptors weren’t trying to develop so many young players this season.

As impressive as his offensive contributions have been recently with two 20 point games over the past month, it’s those blocks that have been most unexpected and invigorating to the players on the bench. Perhaps it’s time to just expect them, but like a big man playing on the weak side, those blocks just seem to come out of nowhere at just the right time.

“I like to use my timing to get those weak side blocks,” Wright said. “Whatever I can do to get a stop, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes guards will try to bump into their man and as they are hanging in the air I try to see if I can get a finger on it.”

And Wright has been getting a finger on the ball a lot lately. Over these past 13 games, Wright been blocking shots at the highest rate per minute of any guard in the association, just ahead of rookie of the year candidate 6’10 Ben Simmons, but perhaps more impressive is he’s been ahead of big centers like Steve Adams and Gorgui Deng.

Apparently, blocking shots isn’t anything outside of his skill-set and in his third NBA season, Wright has got this thing figured out.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond

Raptors Put Pistons In Their Place

Detroit is one of the NBA’s top three-point shooting teams with one of the league’s top rebounders in Andre Drummond, but that didn’t matter when the Pistons rolled into Toronto to face the Eastern Conference’s second place Raptors and center Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors are one of the best at defending the three-point line and they put the hot shooting Pistons in their place 96-91.

Toronto opened with a 31-18 first quarter as Drummond looked lost and the Pistons couldn’t shoot straight. But, the Pistons fought back only to lose the game to a Raptors 12-2 fourth quarter run that erased a one-point Pistons lead and put the game out of reach.

“Andre put up good good numbers, but,” Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “In that middle 30 minutes, second, third quarter into the fourth, I thought he was good defensively, but he didn’t start the game with a defensive mentality and then he didn’t get up on the two pick-and-rolls late. It’s unfortunate because we had fought really hard to get back in that game and to have two plays like that where you just got to be up and you’re not.

“It’s unfortunate because obviously 25 (points) and 17 (rebounds) is a helluva night against a really good player (Valanciunas) and a really good team.”

Valanciunas had 17 points and 16 rebounds playing 10 fewer minutes than Drummond.

With the centers essentially cancelling each other out on the glass, the Raptors won the battle of the boards 49-42 thanks in part to Toronto’s second best rebounder,  6′ point guard Kyle Lowry, digging out 9 rebounds.

Unfortunately for Detroit, even with Drummond, getting out rebounded is nothing new. Their rebounding differential was a -1.7 heading into the game. The Raptors are a +1.1 rebounds.

However, the most obvious issue for Detroit on this night was shooting 35.7 percent from three to make 10 on 28 attempts.

The Pistons are shooting an NBA third best 38.4 percent from three and feature six players hitting 39.5 percent or better, but not on this night.

The Raptors are holding opponents to the NBA’s fewest number of made threes per game (9.0) at the fifth lowest percentage (34.8). They average 11.2 threes shooting 35.1 percent and hit their averages going 11-31 against the Pistons.

Again, unfortunately, this is nothing new for the Pistons. As well as they shoot the three, they can’t defend it and on the season they are just a +0.4 net on made threes per game.

As if to add insult to injury, even Valanciunas made an uncontested three-pointer for Toronto on this night, improving to 7-20 from three on the season.

The loss leaves the Pistons with a 22-21 record and just a half game from falling to ninth place. There is hope the return of injured players will strengthen the team’s rotation, but as The Detroit News Rod Beard writes, Pistons torn between dealing, riding out storm

Pistons general manager Jeff Bower sat in the stands at Air Canada Centre during Wednesday morning’s shootaround, using his phone.

There’s no time for Words With Friends; he was doing some online shopping — perusing possible deals and making and taking calls about other roster possibilities.

Detroit has what a lot of teams are looking for, good three-point shooters. Maybe Bower can find a play-maker who could up his team’s bottom 10 assist numbers and create more opportunities for all those shot makers he’s accumulated?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Raptors Pascal Siakam Will Keep Shooting 3s No Matter What

It’s hard not to notice, but opposing teams are leaving Pascal Siakam wide open on the three-point line and daring him to shoot and the Raptors young power forward has kept on firing away whether they are going down or not.

“I think that’s the confidence the team gives me,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “They see my work and know I’m working on (my three-point shot), so they trust that I put the work in and to shoot it when I’m open.”

They must be going down in practice for his coaches and teammates to have confidence in his three-point shot because Siakam is shooting just 12-81 (14.8%) on the season, went on a 0-25 streak from three a month ago and in his last 10 games is just 3-18 from the land beyond.

However, Siakam shooting threes isn’t out of context from what the Raptors are trying to do this season and despite the clunks and air balls, he still has a green light from head coach Dwane Casey.

“If you’re open shoot the ball,” Siakam explained. “I think the offense is free and everyone is playing off each other. When you are open, you shoot.

“I think that is most important in this offense. There is a lot of drive and kicks and that’s the way this offense is and you have to be able to shoot that (three).”

Confidence comes from necessity and working on his three-point shooting everyday and if Siakam can find an even modestly reliable long range jump shot by the end of the season, he’ll make the Raptors second unit nearly impossible to guard.

“I work on it everyday,” Siakam said. “I make it in practice. So I got to keep working on it and I got to keep doing it.”

Siakam has earned his minutes this season with his defense plus his ability to run the floor and score in the paint. His jump shot may be cringe-worthy at the moment, but he’s just doing what he’s told and trying to fit into a style of play that demands players shoot from distance.

Don’t expect Siakam to change. He’ll keep working on those three-balls in practice and in games whether they are going in or not.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors And Bucks Should Make This Trade

The Toronto has what the Bucks need and although there is some debate about whether or not the Raptors should just stand pat heading into the NBA trade deadline, if they could pry the right player out of Milwaukee, most people would up their chances of making it to their first NBA Finals.

The premise is simple. The Bucks are dead last in rebounding and going no where this postseason, if they can even hang onto a playoff spot sitting just a game and a half out of ninth in mid-January, and the Raptors have been shopping one of the league’s perennial top 10 rebounders (on a percentage of available boards) since last summer.

The Bucks have been linked to high priced potentially available centers like DeAndre Jordan, but it’s hard to imagine how they can come up with enough assets to match a $22 million salary without decimating their roster. At $15.5 million, the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas is at least a possibility.

In Toronto the Raptors have depth at center and power forward and with the emergence of second year center Jakob Poeltl, the continuing move to play more small ball and the stated desire by Serge Ibaka to play more minutes at the five spot, Valanciunas has become a luxury that head coach Dwane Casey struggles to find minutes for.

As the starting center Valanciunas is playing just over 20 minutes per game despite averaging a team second best 19.3 points per 36 minutes and cleaning the glass at a team best rate of 13.7 boards. He is the player the Bucks lineup is missing.

Also, Valanciunas has played like a man among boys versus Milwaukee in two games this season, averaging 13 points and 9 boards in just 16.9 minutes.

In a case of its going to cost you to get what you want, the Bucks player that can help the Raptors is small forward Kris Middleton.

The contracts of the two players are close enough in salary and duration for a straight one-for-one swap and although Middleton is putting up a career best 19.9 points per game, he’s doing it taking a a career-high 15.8 shots as his three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff to 34 percent.

The Raptors would want the Middleton of the past four seasons that averaged 14.5 points and shot 40.8 percent from three and playing on a team with more offensive talent, they can probably be convinced that is the player they’d be getting.

The trade should begin and end here, but if the Bucks want to add a two-way player with the potential to replace what Middleton provided, Toronto can probably be convinced to send another piece that Casey is having trouble finding minutes for in the Raptors deep roster.

In the playoffs last April Milwaukee had Toronto on the ropes until Casey brought Norman Powell from a DNP-CD in Game Two into an increased role over the next four games. Powell averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28.5 minutes while shooting 90 percent from three in those games and helped turn the series around. That isn’t something a coach or GM can easily forget.

This year Powell has lost his spot in the rotation to rookie OG Anunoby (a swing and a miss by the Bucks who drafted the 6’10 D.J. Wilson six spots ahead of him) and is pretty much just finding minutes as an injury-reserve, but the potential as an over-achieving tough defender and offensive threat is still there.

The Raptors signed the second round pick Powell to a four-year $42 million extension this past summer and under the current circumstances, could undoubtedly be convinced to move him for another prospect, say Wilson, who the Raptors could develop in their G League franchise.

Moving Powell doesn’t help the Raptors and would be a risk if Casey needs a reliable player to cover injuries or even just foul trouble, but to make a deal for Middleton, president Masai Ujiri would have to consider it. The Bucks would probably want Anunoby, but that demand would instantly kill discussions.

As the calendar quickly moves towards the NBA trade deadline on February 8th, the Bucks will increasingly feel the pressure to do something meaningful about their inability to rebound the ball and signing two-way centers like Marshall Plumlee only smacks of desperation. They can either take a chance or accept the fact that, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo, they are still a one-and-done team in April at best.

The Raptors on a franchise record setting pace of 29-12 at the halfway point in the season are probably feeling pretty good about where they are, but the shadow of the King in Cleveland still looms and even with the Cavs current slide, Ujiri won’t be fooling himself into thinking the Raptors would be favored in a playoff series against LeBron James by standing pat.

It isn’t easy trading meaningful players with a potential playoff rival, but this is a deal the Raptors and Bucks should make happen.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Lorenzo Brown

Raptors Two-Way Lorenzo Brown Should Be An NBA Player

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri landed himself a gem when he signed Lorenzo Brown to an NBA two-way contract this season. The big point guard has been tearing up the G League with three 30 point games since the start of December and, in the process, has tied the 905 franchise record for assists (15) and points (36, tied with Norman Powell).

“I believe I’m an NBA guy right now,” Brown told Pro Bball Report and it’s a statement that’s getting hard to argue with.

In the 905’s opening G League Showcase game on Thursday, Brown put up a double-double 24 points and 12 assists in 35 minutes at noon. Then he sprinted down to the Air Canada Centre to play 19 minutes in the Raptors rout of the Cavaliers recording 6 points and 5 assists.

Brown has been playing like an All-Star at the G League level, but it’s been his impact with the Raptors in the NBA that deserves another look.

As a third string injury replacement point guard with the Raptors, Brown is filling a very different role at the NBA level, but whenever he gets more than a couple of minutes, he makes an impact.

“I have a role to play,” Brown said. “I have a role to play up there and I have a role to play here. I feel I am more aggressive down here and when the time comes to be more aggressive up there I’ll take that approach.”

With the big club, Brown’s approach is conservative. He plays defense and looks to limit mistakes and it’s working. He’s been a “plus” +/- player in each of the five games where he’s got more than a couple of minutes, a +38 in 69 minutes of action.

He may not be getting noticed by the causal fan, but the Raptors lead grows with him on the court. His focus on defense has been effective.

“That’s been my focus to tell you the truth,” Brown said. “I am a great defender when I put my mind to it. (But) when that time comes for me to be aggressive at the offensive end, I’ll show it. Right now my goal is to bring energy to the team and defend.

“(My role is) to be a great teammate.”

It’s hard for his teammates on the big club to incorporate him into the offense. They just don’t have the opportunity to play with him that much and practice minutes with guys not in the regular rotation is really hard to find.

However, even with the lack of familiarity sliding this solid scorer to the fifth option on offense, head coach Dwane Casey can leave him on the court for extended minutes because he fits on defense.

“I’m just waiting on my opportunity man,” Brown said.

That opportunity is going to come. If the Raptors make a move to trade one of their guards, Brown has shown he can be effective as a third string guard with the Raptors right now and there are always NBA teams looking for a big guard that can play defense and has the potential to be a big time scorer if given the chance.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Raptors Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers Isaiah Thomas

The NBA Shows Its Disrespect For Toronto Yet Again

So the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka gets a one game suspension for almost fighting and the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat offender Isaiah Thomas just gets fined for actually decking Andrew Wiggins with a vicious hit to the throat. But no one should actually be surprised. That’s just the usual lack of respect the NBA shows for its only team not in the USA and the overt favoritism towards certain other clubs.

Both Serge Ibaka and James Johnson got suspended for one game each after being ejected for nearly fighting in a game at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Both players threw what could be viewed as “hostile” elbows in a heated pushing match that, as usual in the NBA, never actually evolved into a fight.

While almost fighting in the NBA is risking a suspension and the punishment isn’t all that usual, Ibaka’s been in fake fights before,  but it’s hard to ignore the kid gloves treatment the league office chose to use in Thomas’ case.

This isn’t the first time Thomas lost his temper and tried to take the head off his unsuspecting opponent. As reported by A. Sherrod Blakely in NBC Sports Boston in April 2016, he’s done this before.

The Celtics got a bit of good news on Saturday with the NBA deciding to not suspend Isaiah Thomas for his first quarter run-in with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder in Boston’s 111-103 Game 3 win on Friday night.

“I knew what I did,” said Thomas who added that he had not spoken with any league officials regarding the incident. “A slower version would like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody I would have hit them.”

Replays showed Thomas connecting with Schroder’s head while running up the court.

After the play, Thomas had to be restrained by teammate Jared Sullinger.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on the NBA for buying into Thomas hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the head with what should be called a punch an accident for a second time.

Ejected for the fourth time in his career, Thomas showed no remorse and denied doing anything wrong. Tell it to the video!

Thomas said after the game that it was inadvertent and that he was going for a steal. – ESPN

No one in Toronto really wants to believe the NBA uses a double standard when it comes to Toronto, but the examples just keep on coming.

On Thursday when the Cavaliers visit Toronto for the teams first tilt of the season, Thomas will be in the lineup and Ibaka will be in street clothes and the NBA doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet

Raptors Counting On Delon Wright And Fred VanVleet

There’s a reason why teams like to carry three point guards that they aren’t afraid to play and with the Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry out with a bruised tailbone, they’ll be counting on Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet to pick up the slack.

Head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy about playing the third year Wright and the second year VanVleet significant minutes this season and the real sticking point may come when he’d like to be running out his three point guard lineup that’s produced some interesting results. However, in the process, he’s gotten these two young guards as ready as possible to cover in Lowry’s absence.

The season-to-date stats for Wright and VanVleet are as encouraging as they are misleading.

Wright has averaged 21.2 minutes over 26 games having missed a stretch do to a shoulder injury and he’s averaged 8.8 points on 50.9 percent from the field, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s as comfortable running the point as playing off the ball and has even soaked up minutes as a small forward. Versatile should be his middle name and he is really at his best when he looks to score, although he prefers to facilitate.

VanVleet has appeared in all 38 games averaging 17.9 minutes, 6.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting, 2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.8 steals. He sees a surprising amount of time in fourth quarters and isn’t afraid of the big moments.

Both players have been getting significantly better as the season has progressed and during the team’s current five game winning streak:

Wright has averaged 13 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent from three, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 25.4 minutes.

VanVleet has averaged 9 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from three, 1.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 0.6 steals in 18.9 minutes.

The Raptors are hoping the trend continues as both players will be expected to carry a heavier offensive load until Lowry gets back.

The Raptors can’t expect to replace an All-Star with a couple of young guards no matter how well they’ve been playing lately and there is no way to know if they can play as well for extended minutes without Lowry’s veteran presence. There can be no question both Wright and VanVleet have looked better playing with Lowry on the court beside them.

Next man up, opportunity knocks and a whole other list of clichés. The Raptors have no choice but to count on their two young point guards. All those minutes Casey has been been giving them this season is looking like it was a pretty good idea right about now.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Could Be Out For A Week

It looked bad, but the scary injury Kyle Lowry sustained in overtime when the Nets Quincy Acy undercut his legs as the Raptors All-Star point guard was snagging a key rebound has been listed as day-to-day.

 

 

Rotoworld reports:

Today’s update, including the fact that Lowry’s X-rays came back negative, certainly qualifies as good news.

Lowry is considered day-to-day and could be back in the lineup by the end of this week.

In what seems to be a recurring theme this season when it comes to big games, the timing of this injury couldn’t be worse for NBA fans.

This week the 28-10 Raptors are scheduled to face the 26-14 Cavaliers on Thursday and the 33-8 Warriors on Saturday. So much for trying to get a better read on where the NBA Eastern Conference’s second place team fits among the league’s elite.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan Is NBA East’s Player Of The Week For The 3rd Time

The NBA announced on Monday that DeMar DeRozan has been selected as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the third time this season. He has now been the East’s Player of the Week for games played Nov. 13-18, Dec. 18-24 and Jan. 1-7. This marks the eighth time DeRozan has earned the honor during his nine seasons in Toronto.

DeRozan averaged an NBA-high 35.7 points, 6.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds during three games last week. He shot .557 (34-for-61) from the field, .550 (11-for-20) from three-point range and .933 (28-for-30) at the free throw line. DeRozan was the leading scorer in two of Toronto’s three victories this past week.

Highlighting DeRozan’s week was a franchise-record 52-point performance Jan. 1 vs. Milwaukee in a 131-127 overtime win. He became the third player in team history to record a 50-point game, joining Vince Carter (Feb. 27, 2000 vs. Phoenix) and Terrence Ross (Jan. 25, 2014 vs. L.A. Clippers). DeRozan also matched a career-high with 17 field goals, including five three-pointers, against the Bucks and shot a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line. Two nights later, DeRozan scored 18 of his game-high 35 points in the third quarter to help Toronto pull away in a 124-115 victory Jan. 3 at Chicago.  He capped off the week by scoring 20 points during Toronto’s 129-110 win Jan. 5 at Milwaukee.

DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, currently ranks seventh in the NBA averaging 25.0 points through 37 games.

The three-time NBA All-Star was selected ninth overall by Toronto in the 2009 NBA Draft and is the franchise’s all-time leader in career points (12,381), field goals made (4,390), free throws (3,322) made and games played (632).

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Has Been A Superstar For 3 Weeks

To notice that a three-time All-Star has elevated his game to another level takes some doing, but for the past three weeks, the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan has been playing like a bona fide superstar.

The East’s second leading scorer in each of the past two seasons, DeRozan was plugging along at 23.7 points per game and the Raptors were a respectable 18-8, then things changed. The Raptors went on a 9-2 run as one of the NBA’s best mid-range players unexpectedly found the range from beyond the arc and in the process set two new personal bests for points in a game and set a new franchise record with 52 points against the (now rival) Bucks.

Now DeRozan’s jump shot was never broken and he wasn’t having a bad year, winning Eastern Conference player of the week on November 20th. It’s just that in his first eight NBA seasons he only took 9.2 percent of his shots from three and he only hit on 28.1 percent of them. Up until mid-December of this year nothing had changed. He was shooting 24.6 percent from three and had gone oh-for (0-15) in the nine immediately prior games.

Then, against Brooklyn, on December 15th, DeRozan hit a three. No big deal, but five nights later in Charlotte he goes 3-4 from deep and on the back-to-back in Philadelphia DeRozan sets a new personal best with 6 three-balls on 9 attempts as he scored a new personal best 45 points.

For the week, DeRozan shot 13-20 from three and averaged 34 points. Not surprisingly, DeRozan was the NBA Eastern Conference player of the week for the second time this season.

After a couple of post-Christmas turkeys in Dallas and OKC, DeRozan hit 5 three-balls twice. Over his last 11 games games DeRozan has been averaging 50.7 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range.

In the process, Toronto took all four games in home and away sets from the more popular 76ers and Bucks with DeRozan averaging 36.5 points. A quiet in your face ESPN, who rather overtly, would like to see Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo be the story.

DeRozan remains an early favorite to be voted back to the All-Star Game this season, but just representing a much maligned East in NBA’s big mid-season showcase isn’t enough anymore. The player who has increased his scoring by 3+ points in each of the past two seasons wants to show he can do more and his team needs it if they are to start getting respect as the Eastern Conference Finals contender that they were two seasons ago and should be this year again.

The Raptors need a superstar. A player that demands attention from ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and other points south of the border as only that level of player will command the respect of the NBA (and their on court officials) come playoff time.

DeRozan is showing signs his game commands that level of respect. In Toronto’s blow out win over the Bucks in Milwaukee, DeRozan grabbed a long offensive rebound in the corner, turned and fired a three knowing he’d hit nothing but net. He believes his new found three-point range is here to stay and if it is, how do you you stop him now?

The question is, can he keep it up? Not ordinary All-Star level respect, superstar level respect.

Over the next 30 days the Raptors will face the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Celtics at the Air Canada Centre. By rights he shouldn’t have to, but DeRozan probably has to lead his team to some wins against this group if he’s going to get anything more than polite courtesy (another, yes you’re right, we missed that call at the end of the game that cost you the win) from the NBA and it’s entrenched box score watching media.

(Another 50+ win season and second best scorer in the East isn’t likely to do it.)

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright

Raptors Versatile Delon Wright Has Broken Out

When a young player puts up a line of 25 points, 4 three-balls, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and a block for his first ever double-double in a meaningful mid-season game it gets noticed, but it doesn’t mean they have broken out. However, Delon Wright’s big night didn’t just happen, for him it’s been a rough road thru injuries, internal competition and the lower expectations that come with being a late first round draft pick.

Wright was both a seemingly unstoppable offensive force and a disruptive defensive presence during the Raptors first win in Chicago over the Bulls since 2013. His efforts were only slightly overshadowed by DeMar DeRozan’s 35 points, but this night was something we should have saw coming.

Since the start of November Wright has been shooting the ball exceptionally well and month off between mid-November and mid December to rest his second shoulder injury in two seasons hasn’t slowed him down at all. If anything, Wright has significantly improved since his return, his play at both ends of the court commanding an increased role off the bench, and everyone in the organization is telling him to shoot more.

“Everybody, even people in the top of the organization, everyone, just shoot the ball, we don’t care if you miss,” Wright said after the game.

Those requests to shoot more were not being made gratuitously. In November Wright was shooting 75 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, but he was only taking 4 shots per game. Those shooting percentages aren’t realistic for anyone to maintain and since his return they’ve dipped to 48.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three on 8.4 shots over his last 10 games, but if he keeps firing in this ballpark, the Raptors will be pushing Wright to shoot even more.

Listed as the backup point guard, the 6’5 Wright finds himself entering most games on the wing, defending ones, twos and threes. He plays off the ball at least as often as he’s expected to initiate the offense and he is almost always on the court with another point guard.

“When I am in with Kyle (Lowry) it’s more of a facilitating role, when I’m with the second unit, I can do a little of both,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “It just depends on who’s on the floor, your role kind of changes.

“It’s just something you have to do. If you want to be a guard and you want to play, you have to play multiple positions.

“I’ve played off the ball a lot and on the ball also. It’s not a big issue. It’s just sometimes I get into the mode of trying to score more instead of facilitating.”

And scoring more is something the Raptors want to see from their promising young guard. Drives to the basket and an improving three-point shot was something Wright was known for at the University of Utah.

“I have to get back to that,” Wright said about his days with the Utes. “I think I am better as a player when I am trying to score more instead of always looking to pass.”

As a senior, Wright was the first player from the Utes to be selected to the First Team All-Pac 12. He was also Pac-12 All-Defensive First Team, led the Pac-12 in steals, third in field goal percentage, and sixth in blocked shots.

There were concerns last season after he returned from a summer league shoulder injury just before the All-Star break, but couldn’t find his shooting stroke and it was a problem that persisted into October of this season.

But, Wright has been getting back into a scoring role and the Raptors are reaping the benefits. He’s becoming another driving guard with a deadly three-point shot that keeps defenses honest.

Toss in the nearly one block and 1.6 steals per game since his return to action in mid-December and head coach Dwane Casey is being hard pressed to give the versatile Wright even more playing time. 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Alfonzo McKinnie

Raptors Face Decision Deadline On Alfonzo McKinnie

The Toronto Raptors are quickly approaching the January 10th deadline when the contract of undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie becomes fully guaranteed for the rest of this season. His $815,615 salary may not seem like much in today’s NBA, but with the Raptors right up against the NBA’s Luxury Tax threshold, if president Masai Ujiri wants to add a veteran for the playoffs, he’s got a decision to make.

Toronto opted during the off season to give the young guys a chance and continue searching for new young talent to fill out the roster. So far the results are good, so good that head coach Dwane Casey faces a logjam of too many players needing minutes and no real opportunities for the guys on the back end of the roster to get any run at the NBA level.

Ujiri doesn’t have to do anything. He could stand pat up up until the trade deadline before trying to make a move, but the decision about McKinnie’s future has to be made now if he wants any sort of future wiggle room when it comes to making a deal and potentially staying below the tax. And the Raptors have a history of doing everything possible to avoid luxury taxes.

McKinnie isn’t making this an easy call, however. With no NBA minutes available, this high flying 6’8 forward has been demonstrating his evolving game with the Raptors 905 in the G League.

A questionable jump shooter coming out of college in 2015,  McKinnie has improved his three-point shooting from 30.8 percent in 50 games with the Windy City Bulls last year to 38.5 percent in 12 games with the 905. He’s taking more (4.3 three-point attempts versus 2.7 last year) and making more.

McKinnie is showing he might just have the potential to earn that NBA contract Ujiri signed him to.

“Me going down to play with the 905 is just a way to get game reps and game action, just work on the stuff that I am working on with the Raptors in practice and outside of practice,” McKinnie told Pro Bball Report. “There is a lot of good guys in the G League. There is a lot of guys who could potentially play in the NBA, if not now, later on down the line. The competition line is obviously different than the NBA, but it’s still a competitive league.”

McKinnie is putting up good numbers in the G League, averaging 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds, but this isn’t just about getting numbers for McKinnie.

“I just want to go down and do stuff that, later down the line, will help me get more minutes with the big club,” McKinnie said. “Whether it’s me nailing a corner three, or being a defensive stopper, or rebound, whatever my role role with the big club, I just try to go down and work on that.”

McKinnie put up a couple of monster games with the 905 in December. A 23 point, 16 rebound game against the Vipers on the 5th and a 26 point, 8 rebound, 2 steal effort against the Mad Ants on the 23rd.

He has shown the ability to be a dominant player at the G League level. However, Ujiri has to make the call about the 25-year-old McKinnie’s future prospects now and evaluate that against the possible benefit of a little more room under the luxury tax threshold heading into the NBA’s deal making season?

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Still Waiting On Jonas Valanciunas To Emerge

The biggest tease on the Toronto Raptors roster over the past five seasons has been the fifth overall pick of 2011 Jonas Valanciunas. A solid contributor on average with the potential to be so much more, head coach Dwane Casey is still waiting on his prized center to emerge as a dominant force on a consistent basis.

Recently Valanciunas raised the hopes of his coach yet again with a four game stretch averaging 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

“That’s what he should be doing every night,” Casey responded to Pro Bball Report after the win over Sacramento. “That’s what we expect out of him. That’s what we need from him.

“He’s just doing his job. He’s just going and getting them (rebounds). That’s what he should be doing. His size and power and strength. His attention to doing it. Focus on getting those rebounds.”

During his time in Toronto, coach Casey has been questioned about the amount of playing time Valanciunas gets. However, the big Lithuanian generally gets the minutes his play demands on a night-to-night basis. Some nights its hard to watch him come out of the game. Other nights it either doesn’t seem to matter or the Raptors look better with him on the bench and Valanciunas says he isn’t doing anything different.

“I didn’t change anything,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report after his big game against Sacramento. “I am just playing. I didn’t change my game. I didn’t change what I do. I didn’t change anything. I didn’t change what I eat. I didn’t change how I run.”

And therein lies the frustration from a team standpoint. In the three games prior to that very nice four game stretch, Valanciunas averaged 7 points, 8 rebounds and 0.3 blocks. In the two games afterwards he averaged 3 points, 6 rebounds and 0.5 blocks.

Those four games weren’t the first or even the best short stretch of games from Valanciunas. He’s done this at various times in the playoffs and in the regular season going back to his rookie year. Two, three or four outstanding games in a row, massive double-doubles often against top competition, followed by a string of forgettable efforts and there doesn’t seem to be a rational explanation for the change.

“Nothing unusual happened,” Valanciunas said about his effort against Sacramento. “16 rebounds is not something, wow.”

It’s not. Valanciunas has been a top 10 rebounder in the NBA on a percentage of available boards basis in each of the past three seasons. He’s been on par with guys like Tyson Chandler and Rudy Gobert. He only needs to play more minutes to be a double-double center.

However, rebounding alone isn’t enough. Scoring and defense are areas Valanciunas struggles to be consistent in. He can be dominant, but when he’s ineffective on offense, his inability to cover the three-point line and questionable pick-and-roll coverage gets him nailed to the bench.

“My job is to be in tune,” Valanciunas acknowledged. “My job is to see all the plays that are coming, especially on defense. I am the last defensive stopper. I got to see all the things that are coming to the basket.”

Valanciunas knows what to do and sometimes he does it. Just not consistently.

“This is the time in your career when you are turning from a young guy into a mature player,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report Report at training camp.

He couldn’t be more right.

Raptors were rumored to be shopping their big starting center during the summer and those rumors persist. However, they aren’t prepared to treat him like a salary dump. The organization continues to believe in Valanciunas’ talent and potential. He is, after all, still only 25-years-old and if Valanciunas can just find a few more of those big games at the right times, the two years and $34 million left on his contract after this season (including a player option in 2019-20) will seem like a bargain.

However, until Valanciunas can find a way to elevate his game on a more consistent basis, he risks being looked on like a tease. An asset to be moved for a player better suited to today’s higher paced game or a player taking up a salary slot who could effectively be replaced by someone cheaper.

There’s still hope Valanciunas becomes the player that averaged 14 points and 14 rebounds in his first three playoff games in 2014, averaged 14.7 points and 16 rebounds in his first three playoff games in 2016 and then rebounded after three less effective efforts to average 16.3 points and 13.3 rebounds over the next four games to help the Raptors eliminate Indiana and take a 2-1 series lead over Miami. That’s the tease of who Valanciunas could be.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Winning Raptors Wonder, Where’s The Love

Over the past four seasons your Toronto Raptors have finished in the top three of the Eastern Conference averaging 51 wins per season and in the past two playoff runs only the East’s top team, Cleveland, has managed to knock them out of the postseason. However, it seems the league has chosen not to notice and three-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan is right to wonder, where’s the love?

Despite the team featuring two three-time All-Stars in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the ESPN summer forecast had the Raptors only winning 47 games this season and ranked them behind Washington, Milwaukee and Detroit as having a chance at coming out of the East.

Someone in Toronto could be forgiven if they believed ESPN has trouble remembering the NBA has a team in Canada.

It’s not like Toronto has taken a step back from the past two 50+ win seasons either.

Currently the Raptors sport the largest points differential in the East by a big margin. Their +8.7 points per game is 4.0 points better than the first place Celtics and with Boston in a 5-5 slump, Toronto now has one fewer loss than both the Cavs and Celtics. The Raptors are on pace for a third straight 50+ win season and barring injury, 55-60 wins.

It’s not that the Raptors will win all of the five games in hand they have on Boston or even the three games in hand on the Cavs, but if the NBA is going to continue gushing over these two teams, just maybe its past time to remember “We The North” and show Toronto some love.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

Golden Peaks of Lake Louise Alberta

There’s Gold In The Morning At Lake Louise

Tourists have been taking in the beauty of Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada since the Canadian Pacific Railway replaced a fishing shack with a chalet in 1890 and increasing crowds have been mesmerized by the turquoise waters of this glacier fed lake ever since. However, only a lucky few ever see gold reflected off the surrounding peaks.

A normal day at Lake Louise sees the parking lot within walking distance quickly fill up with most tourists forced to use an overflow lot and shuttle in. As the day goes on, parking at the ski hills on the opposite side of the highway comes into play, but the view alone is worth the inconvenience and the price of admission to Banff National Park.

When the air is still, the mountains surrounding the lake are stunningly mirrored in the blue-green waters and even when a breeze blows, the view can take your breath away. The few moments provided to those on tour are never enough. The picture changes with every nuance in the weather and the walking trails on both sides of the lake are a must to fully appreciate the site.

However, few people arrive in time for one of the more spectacular sights that only a sunrise in the mountains can provide. Dawn comes cold and early at 5,740 feet above sea level and majestic Victoria Glacier at the end of the lake provides the perfect backdrop for what is about to happen.

Daybreak arrives with the sun still hidden behind a mountain and as it rises, sunlight hits the peaks and the glaciers on the other side of the lake and for a few unique moments, the golden rays are captured by the rocks and snow and reflected in Lake Louise.

The organized and dedicated adventurer can make sure they arrive early enough to witness the full beauty that is Lake Louise, but there is another way to improve the odds of seeing everything.  The Chalet is now a luxury Chateau with amazing views. It’s a lot easier to get those perfect pictures when one can just step outside to do it.

Staying at the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise will lighten your wallet, but the opportunity to see even one sunrise at this rare jaw-dropping historic site is worth it. It’s a destination every Canadian should take in at least once. The only problem is once you’re here, like so many others from the greater Toronto area who have come to Canada’s Rocky mountains, you probably won’t want to leave.

 

 

Stephen Brotherston at MoVernie StudioStephen Brotherston is the editor of ProBballReport.com and has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams since 2009. His articles have previously appeared in USAToday.com, Foxsports.com, Hoopsworld.com, Yardbarker and Bleacher Report and he has been interviewed on ESPN Radio, Fox Radio, NBA TV Canada, Canada.com and independent basketball podcasts.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Can The Raptors Go Undefeated In December?

If the Toronto Raptors want to keep up with the Celtics and Cavs in the East they need a run. Boston had an early 16 game winning streak and Cleveland hasn’t lost in their past 12 outings, but Toronto’s brutal schedule has turned and it’s time to make hay if the Raptors want to keep pace with ESPN’s preseason favorites.

Optimism heading into December should be high. Only two of the teams Toronto will face had a winning record at the start of the month although they do have to face one of them twice. It’s a 14 game stretch that should turn into a pile of Ws.

 After beating the Pacers on December 1st, the Raptors next seven games include the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets plus home-and-homes against the Suns and Kings. Combined these opponents have barely won a third of their games. Losing to any of them, even on the road, would be a huge disappointment.

If they sweep thru this riff-raff, the Raptors will be on a 10 game winning streak, but then they’ll face a Charlotte team that’s always given them trouble. The Hornets have struggled with injuries and haven’t looked good this season, but a Raptors win over the Hornets, especially on the road, has never been easy.

Then it’s a home-and-home against the surprising +.500 76ers. The Raptors crushed Philadelphia at the Air Canada Center in October by 34 points, but that was with a DNP-CD Joel Embiid. It’s going to be tough to win both ends of this series.

After Christmas the Raptors should able to take care of Dallas and Atlanta, but they’ll face a real test against an OKC team that has been very good at home even if their overall record has been beyond disappointing.

A safe prediction for December would be 10-4 giving Toronto a very respectable 23-11 record  (67.6 winning percentage) at the end of the calendar year. However, a good result would be 12-2 and if this team plays up to their full potential with no letdowns, there is no excuse for not coming away 14-0 and heading into 2018 on a 16 game winning streak that matches what the Celtics were able to do.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo

A Lack Of Confidence Still Holds Bruno Caboclo Back

Even the Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has been forced to admit he made a mistake drafting Bruno Caboclo in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft telling Pro Bball Report, “it’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

Too young, too inexperienced and all too often ignored because he just wasn’t ready for the NBA, what little confidence Caboclo had coming into the NBA was quickly shattered and continues to hold him back right to the present day.

After a wasted rookie season, Caboclo finally got regular minutes with the Raptors own D-League affiliate, the 905, in each of the past two seasons, but aside from a few flashes, his play was uninspiring even at this level until last season’s D-League playoffs.

Then, for seven games, he finally showed some potential by averaging 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 41.9 percent from three as the 905 rolled to the championship. Sure the Raptors rookies assigned to the 905, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, were still noticeably better, but at least Caboclo was making a significant contribution on a consistent basis.

“We had a really good team and in the playoffs everyone pushed their hardest,” Caboclo recently told Pro Bball Report. “I had to push my hardest and try to lead the team and I had good games.

“I think it was confidence. I had a lot of games with the 905 so I was very confident and I was taking (better) shots than I take normally and hit a very good percentage.”

Now heading into his fourth and final season on his rookie deal, Caboclo needed to show the confidence and effectiveness demonstrated during the D-League playoffs was just the first step.

“I think I got a lot better in the summer,” Caboclo said. “I really worked hard in the summer. I had a very good training camp. (But), in the preseason I played a couple of games and didn’t do that well and after that I didn’t have more opportunities. I am still working to be ready for the next opportunity I am going to get.”

To say Caboclo blew it in preseason would be an understatement. In four preseason appearances he averaged 13 minutes, 2 points, 2 rebounds and 0.25 blocks. He shot 17.6 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three. He was terrible and a trip back to the Raptors 905 became a certainty.

Unfortunately this has been a consistent theme with Caboclo. He has never been confident or comfortable with the big club and the “good feelings” he develops in Mississauga with the 905 haven’t translated to the Air Canada Centre.

“I think I can do it in the NBA,” Caboclo said. “The only thing is confidence. I am more confident now and I am just waiting for my opportunity.”

From a practical standpoint, the 22-year-old forward needs to find the confidence to play with the big club on his own and fast. If he gets a chance with the Raptors this season, he’ll be on a very short leash.

The good news is that he has been playing better at the G-league level averaging career bests of 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.1 blocks thru his first 10 games. He’s also shooting a career best 35.6 percent from three and 88.6 percent from the free throw line. All those numbers are big improvements over last season. Take out one bad shooting game and Caboclo has been hitting over 40 percent of his three-pointers. That promising jump shot finally seems to be finding the bottom of the net on a consistent basis.

However, it almost doesn’t matter what Caboclo does at this point with respect to his future in Toronto.

Pascal Siakam has won the battle for backup power forward and could well be the starter down the road. Rookie OG Anunoby has already shown more promise than Caboclo as the combo forward of the future in Toronto and the veteran C.J. Miles is proving to be better than advertised as a small forward/ stretch four.

Head coach Dwane Casey is more likely to trust the undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie in times of desperation than a Caboclo who has disappointed on numerous prior occasions.

The best case for Caboclo is to continue upping his game in the G-League and hope for a trade to a team that has minutes for a still developing prospect and will give him time to find some confidence at the NBA level.

This kid still looks like a version of KD-lite and if he could find some confidence to play with the big boys, maybe that’s still a possibility. It just isn’t going to happen with the Raptors.

 

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA G-League Toronto Raptors 905 Lorenzo Brown

Raptors Lorenzo Brown Is The Perfect Two-Way Player

When the NBA permitted teams to sign players to two-way contracts with the NBA G-League this season no one really knew what to expect. What types of players would general managers sign? Who would be valuable as a potential 16th or 17th addition to the traditional 15 man NBA roster?

Players in the old D-League were often overlooked prospects teams hoped might develop into something and then teams had to hope they’d have an open spot on their NBA roster before they lost the player for nothing to another team. A player on a two-way contract is different. First, teams can pay them enough to keep some better players from going overseas and second, teams control players on two-way contracts.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri made an interesting choice in 27-year-old point guard Lorenzo Brown who had 63 games worth of NBA experience on three different NBA teams, 75 games in the D-League and played last season in China. Brown has become the perfect compliment for a team up against the luxury tax threshold and finding itself in need of a (hopefully) short term injury replacement.

Brown had previously put up big-time numbers in the D-League, so he was also a welcome addition to Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s roster.

“The point guard play is very important for us,” Stackhouse said. “Being able to get us into our sets, not only (Brown’s) savvy on the court, it’s his talent. He’s a talent. It’s big to have him. Take 20 points and 6 assists out of any lineup, that’s tough to replace and that’s what he’s been doing for us so far.”

However, even with injuries in Toronto, Brown’s role with the big club has been very different than with the 905. The Raptors still have plenty of scoring. They just need Brown to hold down the fort for a few minutes in order to give the regulars a rest or maintain the lead in a blow out and it’s a role he’s looked very good in.

“It was a great experience,” Brown described playing with the Raptors to Pro Bball Report. “Just playing my role and trying to fit in with the guys.

“My role right now is just to defend and make the right reads on offense. Try to make as few mistakes as possible.”

Brown has played a total of 46 minutes in 4 games with the Raptors where he’s contributed a total of just 2 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and  0 turnovers, however, the most important stat for this injury reserve is his team is a +39 points with him on the court. He’s made few mistakes and has fit in seamlessly as a big guard that can defend multiple positions.

The injured Delon Wright has nothing to worry about when he gets back, but Brown has helped fill some of the void created by his absence.

“Playing as many games as I’ve had down here (in the G-League) gets me ready for the big game up top,” Brown explained. “(It) gets me a little more physical and ready.”

“It’s good for him (to play up),” Stackhouse said. “He’s learning a lot.

“He’s been a talent so far. Now he’s trying to grow into more of a time-and-score possession point guard and he’s well on his way.”

In his four games with the Raptors Brown has shown the discipline to accept and fill a role. He’s been the perfect two-way G-League player for the Raptors.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Is Raptors Pascal Siakam Better Than A NY Unicorn?

The Raptors second year forward Pascal Siakam was pressed into the starting lineup against the New York Knicks on Friday night in Toronto when Serge Ibaka was forced to rest a swollen knee, but the NY unicorn Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t exactly catching a break because the Raptors veteran missed the game. Siakam owned his more highly touted opponent all night on both ends of the court and just maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

Playing head-to-head for 31 minutes Siakam got up into Porzingis’ space to hold him to 2-11 shooting and a minus 9 points with three turnovers. It was no contest. Siakam leaving his opponent in the dust on fast breaks and drives to the hoop to shoot 6-11 himself in addition to dishing 4 dimes.

On this night at least Siakam was a lot more impressive than NY’s unicorn and that’s something going up against a player who’s averaging almost 28 points per game.

After the game Porzingis admitted Siakam was giving him trouble per ESPN

“He’s long and he was able to stab at the ball pretty good when I was playing in the post,” Porzingis said.

“As the game went on, we still were struggling finding our rhythm and finding the best positions to attack from. It was just a rough night for us.”

“I thought he did as good a job as you can do against Porzingis, who is a very dynamic offensive player,” Casey said.

At the start of the season Siakam was the odd man out in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation as the Raptors had too many forwards and not enough minutes to go around. However, injuries got him three quick starts in a row and the second year forward performed so well that Casey has created minutes for him ever since.

In his four starts coming against the Warriors, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Knicks, Siakam has averaged 14.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, a block and 1.3 steals and the Raptors have been a +7 points with him on the court. He hasn’t been making decisions about playing time easy on Casey as his regulars return to the lineup.

The Raptors selected Siakam 27th overall in 2016. It’s starting to look like president Masai Ujiri has found the Raptors another overlooked and underrated gem in the draft.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Has A Sore Back And A Double Tech

Toronto was set for an easy night when the Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall couldn’t play because of a sprained shoulder, but unfortunately the Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry ran onto the court with a massive wrap looking suspiciously like an ice-pack on his lower back during the pregame warm-ups and that should have been taken as a clue that the home team’s advantage wasn’t going to be all the big after all.

“He’s had some soreness in his back,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey responded to Pro Bball Report’s query after the game.

Lowry didn’t look right in his 12 minutes of action against the Wizards. He went 0-4 from the field, leaving his layups short, even below the rim and it didn’t take long before he started taking his frustration out on the referees. While he had a bit of a case about non-calls, it did look like he was trying to get thrown out despite the protestations from his head coach.

“I thought it was unfortunate,” Casey said. “People have said worse than that. They’ve said worse, far worse than what he said to the official.”

Casey is probably right that the official should have just walked away, but it looked like Lowry was trying to get ejected and it probably felt that way to the official as well.

Later it was discovered Lowry was using a heating pad rather than ice. It would be safe to assume he was trying to loosen up those stiff sore muscles in his lower back prior to the game.

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time Lowry has suffered through back problems. At the end of the 2014-15 season he missed nine games with back spasms and admitted or not, his back was obviously still bothering him in his very rough first round playoff series with these same Wizards.

A sore back really isn’t anything all that usual in the NBA, but it can become a concern if things don’t improve and it isn’t something that can just be ignored. A sore back hurts and affects your ability to do just about everything, just ask anyone who has ever had one.

Now that the issue has been brought to light, it is something everyone concerned about the Raptors fortunes should be paying attention to.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.