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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.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright and Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Winning And Growing

Check out Pro Bball Report editor Stephen Brotherston’s latest article about the Toronto Raptors in The Potent Lifestyle Magazine.

 

Can The Raptors Develop And Win At The Same Time?

The one constant since head Coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and that strategy isn’t one that tends to garner a lot of respect. Earlier this summer the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN picked the Raptors to drop to sixth in the East after finishing top three in back-to-back seasons, but to be fair, it isn’t easy to develop and win at the same time….

Trying to develop and win at the same time is never easy and there will be nights when a lack of veteran depth will be painfully obvious, but to start the season Casey has his young guys playing defense at a high level and making some surprising contributions on offense. If they can keep this up, the Raptors will win over 50 games for the third season in a row and Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Anunoby and VanVleet can force ESPN to just stuff those pessimistic preseason predictions…. continued

 

The Potent is a subscription based monthly magazine.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry

Can Kyle Lowry Get Back To Playing Like An All-Star?

Anyone in Toronto could easily make the argument that the Raptors would have kicked off the 2017-18 season 6-1 or 7-0 instead of 4-3 if Kyle Lowry was hitting shots, but just like last season, the All-Star point guard is having trouble finding the bottom of the net early on.

“I got to make them,” Lowry said after a disappointing loss to the Warriors. “I am not shooting a great percentage right now, but I’m going to keep shooting. At the end of the day I know my shots are going to fall. Every shot I took tonight felt good and was in and out, but it happens.”

If Lowry had of been hot from three instead of brick-laying a 2-8 in San Antonio and 1-8 at Golden State, the Raptors would have been the talk of the NBA right about now.

However, slow starts are not anything new for Lowry. Last year he shot 28.6 percent from three over the first nine games before turning things around to hit over 43 percent the rest of the way, earn his third All-Star nod and share top spot in the East with Isaiah Thomas by averaging 3.2 three-point makes a game for the season.

The best news for Lowry as he figures things out is the Raptors have been on a six game Western Conference road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue getting most of the local media attention and the World Series was a huge distraction. It’s likely few fans in Toronto have even noticed.

After that tough shooting night against the Warriors things were looking up for Lowry as he shot 3-7 from three and laid a triple-double on Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and then a double-double while shooting 3-6 from three in Portland in a pair of Raptors road wins. Unfortunately Lowry and the rest of his teammates then laid an egg (Lowry going 1-5 from deep) in a very disappointing loss to the Nuggets.

“We didn’t play well,” Lowry said after the loss in Denver. “I put a lot of the blame on myself.”

The end result for Lowry has been he’s still shooting under 32 percent from three and just over 37 percent from the field on the season. The Raptors are lucky to have two wins in five tries on this road trip with their best player still trying to find some consistency.

The good news has been Lowry’s shooting woes haven’t impacted the rest of his game. If anything, the veteran point guard has been playing harder as evidenced by his grabbing rebounds at a rate that’s better than a lot of forwards. Hauling in 5.7 rebounds per game tops anyone on the Raptors not listed as a center.

If the effort continues, there’s a good chance Toronto return from this long road trip salvaging a 3-3 record against Western Conference teams.

So if Lowry can find the range on his three-point shot by the time the Raptors start a three game home stand on November 5th, there’s a decent chance no one will even remember or care about his early season shooting struggles again this year.

 

  

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.

 

 

 

 

Cavs King James for Halloween 2017

NBA Halloween Hangovers

Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect young men to give up an excuse to party when the opportunity presents itself, but as is often the case, there is a price to paid for having too much fun and maybe a bit of a Halloween hangover contributed to some of the NBA blowouts the next night.

 

LeBron James was feeling good after a team meeting Joe Vardon reported on Cleveland.com ahead of Wednesday night’s disaster at home against the Pacers.

“It was needed and we’re receptive, and the best thing about it is guys got out everything that they wanted to, even with it being early in the season,” James said. “It was good, so, see how it translates on the floor too.”

It didn’t as the Cavs were embarrassed 124-107, but at least they had some Halloween fun.

As Vardon illustrated after the loss, the Cavs have now sunk to depths no one saw coming.

Here’s where the Cavs stand defensively this morning:

30th (worst) in the NBA in defensive rating (111.3), the primary statistic most use to give an overall grade.
30th in 3-pointers allowed (14.0 per game).
30th in 3-point field goal percentage (.418).
27th in opponent’s field-goal percentage (.470).
27th in opponent’s points per game (111.9).
22nd in opponent’s points off turnovers (18.6).

Head coach Tyronn Lue assuming the role of Captain Obvious summed things up.

“Lately we just haven’t been really good defensively,” Lue said.

No one is going to suggest the Cavs season is going down the tubes because of a Halloween party, but maybe, if only for appearance sake, everyone could have taken the night off to study film instead?

King James hasn’t released his claim as the scariest player in the NBA, it’s just the Cavs who haven’t been nearly as scary as they should be to start the season.

Lost in a 12 game Wednesday night slate of games were a couple of other teams looking like they were also suffering from a Halloween hangover.

The Toronto Raptors were on a two game road winning streak when they rolled into Denver after having Halloween night off and laid an egg losing 129-111. Even the preview by SB Nation Denver Stiffs Daniel Lewis had the Raptors winning this one. To put it mildly, Toronto’s veteran starting unit stunk looking exactly like a group that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before.

The Wizards had even less of an excuse than the Raptors as they dropped a 122-116 game to the rebuilding Suns at home.

Maybe the Wizards should have hit the sack a little earlier on Halloween night as well?

Well here’s hoping everyone had a fun Halloween and the Cavs and Raptors don’t eat to much turkey on Thanksgiving as they both have to play the next day.

 

  

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 Fred VanVleet and Philadelphia 76ers Markelle Fultz

How Long Can 76ers Markelle Fultz Hide Behind Ben Simmons?

The Philadelphia 76ers give up a lot to draft Markelle Fultz first overall in this year’s draft, but so far he’s been almost invisible playing in the shadow of last year’s first overall pick Ben Simmons who, by the way, is still a rookie.  In three games off the bench it would be hard to describe Fultz’s play as as anything more than uninspiring begging the question, how much longer can he hide behind Simmons’ success in a city that isn’t exactly known for being patient or understanding?

“Surprisingly you could be right and it’s hard to say that in our city. There’s not much forgiveness or wiggle-room (in Philly) and I say that with affection,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown about Fultz ahead of his team’s blowout loss in Toronto. “Last night Markelle steps to the free throw line and makes two free throws and the fans recognize him, reward him. I think Markelle’s growth might not be as under the microscope perhaps if he didn’t have some of these other things with Joel (Embiid) and Ben (Simmons) especially, but we all pay attention and I think that he’s handled it with a certain amount of grace. Like he doesn’t get too rattled, he’s a gamer. He’s aware of all the things and we are trying to get his shoulder right with the shot and all that, but we’ve seen some good things with him getting to the rim and making plays. We can see why he was the first player chosen.”

As of now, from the outside looking in, it really isn’t all that easy to see why Fultz was chosen first, but that’s after a very small sample size.

In three games coming off the bench, playing against other teams’ second and dare it be mentioned, third string, Fultz hasn’t shone. He’s averaging 7.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just under 20 minutes per game and he’s struggled where he was expected to do well.

In Toronto against the second string his offense was stifled and the Raptors ran up the score, but in fairness fans should be able to live with that from a rookie for a while.

However, what happened when he was facing the Raptors undrafted diminutive second year point guard Fred VanVleet who played most of last season in the D-League isn’t so easy to look past. In 11 minutes, a lot of it in garbage time with Toronto’s third string unit on the court, Fultz shot 0-2, was blocked once, had just a single rebound and a single assist matched up against his very unheralded counterpart. The Raptors like VanVleet, but watching him hold this year’s first overall pick to a -1 head-to-head is a little more than they have any right to expect.

Once again Fultz wasn’t the story on this night as Simmons absorbed all of the available sunlight in a 34 point beat down in his team’s third straight loss by putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. But how much longer can he hide behind Simmons positive vibe?

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer suggests Philly fans are ready to start panicking and he blames things on a sore shoulder affecting Fultz’s ability to shoot the three-ball.

Right now, the injury is taking on a life of its own. One that has a portion of Sixers fans panicking and second-guessing the team’s decision to trade up two spots to select him first overall in June’s NBA draft.

“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” coach Brett Brown said.

“It’s not an excuse for me,” Fultz said of the new (free throw) release. “I just go out there and do what I got to do.”

Free throws and jump shots should be the least of his worries. Maybe the concern about the 76ers guard should be about getting blocked six times in three games this year. This rookie has a lot to learn before he’ll look like the future star he was projected to be at the draft.

The theme from the 76ers in Toronto was they were looking forward to an easier opponent in Detroit on Monday night after facing the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors in their first three games. (Who was the idiot that thought a team as young as the 76ers would be in fourth place at the end of the 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 Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby

Raptors Still Trying To Develop And Win At The Same Time

The one constant since head coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and even after four consecutive trips to the postseason, the Raptors are still trying to develop and win at the same time.

“It’s very important and I think they are going to get that opportunity,” Casey responded to Pro Bball Report about playing the young guys this season. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing the entire exhibition (season) is giving those guys an opportunity to play and produce and I think that’s very important for the future of our organization (that the young guys) come out and play and get experience.

“The only way you get experience in this league, you are not going to get in the 905 (G-League), you can develop some skills there and get better and work on some things but, the only way you get ready and prepared mentally and physically for the NBA is to play in the NBA, so they are going to get that opportunity.

“The young guys are going to play.”

True to his word, the Raptors second unit in the first regular season game featured significant minutes for the Raptors young core.

Third year guard/wing Norman Powell started and played 25 minutes and third year guard Delon Wright came off the bench for 23 minutes and both players were significant contributors. C.J. Miles was the only veteran in a second unit that saw rookie OG Anunoby play 17 minutes, second year center Jakob Poeltl on the court for 18 minutes and second year guard Fred VanVleet play 13 minutes. Second year forward Pascal Siakam and undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie got minutes during garbage time in the Raptors blowout win.

The young second unit that looked good in preseason was outstanding playing against a depleted Bulls team on opening night.

“The young group has come in and done a heck of a job of energy, focus, togetherness,” Casey said. “They play together like they’ve played together for the last four or five years, so that’s been a joy to watch.”

They were a joy to watch. It was the Raptors second unit that took over Game One of the season and staked the home team to a 20+ point lead in the second quarter that they rode to the end.

In the home opener it was the starting unit that sometimes looked out of sorts with 12 of the team’s 17 turnovers, however, Toronto has a lot of talent in their first five and this team has realistic sights set on being better than last year’s 51-win season.

The team’s two returning three-time All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should do no worse than leading their team back to a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Serge Ibaka, who helped Toronto to a 14-7 record after the All-Star break while Lowry was injured last year is ready to show he’s yet to get the respect he deserves and Jonas Valanciunas has looked like a young veteran ready for a break out season.

This team is expected to win, but it’s going to take some major contributions from the young guys if the Raptors are going to improve on last season when it counts in the playoffs. The development of players like Powell, Wright, VanVleet, Anunoby and Poeltl can’t happen fast enough and they’ll be tested early and often in October.

 

  

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 and Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Has Something To Say

The 19-year-old European prospect the Toronto Raptors took fifth overall way back in 2011 as the gregarious future leader of the Lithuanian National team isn’t a kid any more. Now 25, Jonas Valanciunas is a young veteran on a team with few veterans of any age and he’s finally got something to say.

Six years ago he had to take a back seat to the veterans on his National Team and when he arrived in Toronto a year later, he was one of three rookies on a not very good Raptors squad loaded with veterans with about the same amount of experience as he has now. With English as a (not all that good) second language, he wasn’t about to take over a locker room or a media scrum.

“You got to have something to say before you say (something),” Jonas Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report at training camp in Victoria.  “You can’t just be saying nonsense. You got to collect the news first, then you can say something.”

Valanciunas has been “collecting the news” for five seasons and despite an obvious lack of quicks and rather plodding speed on the fast break, he has been a very productive player on the glass and even putting up points. For the past three seasons Valanciunas has been a top 10 NBA player in field goal and total rebound percentage.

Head coach Dwane Casey may still not completely trust his big man to defend other teams when they go small, but Valanciunas has figured out how to be a very effective player against conventional lineups and he has earned a level of confidence in his abilities.

“It’s my sixth year,” Valanciunas said. “I don’t feel like an old man, but I feel like I can give guys advice, I can bring guys together, I can say something. I am not a young guy no more.”

The Raptors got young this summer. They are going to need the leadership and experience Valanciunas can offer. Two-thirds of the roster is still playing on their rookie contracts and the team is counting on contributions from some very young big men like Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira. Now in his sixth NBA season with 33 playoff games under his belt, Valanciunas really does know something.

“This is the time in your career when you are turning from a young guy into a mature player,” Valanciunas said. “You can’t get here without being a young guy. You got to have a couple of years, four, five years, being a rook, being a guy who is listening, being a guy who is getting everything into his head.”

Now it’s Valanciunas turn to be the guy younger players listen to. His game is still developing, but he has real experience under his belt the Raptors other young big men can benefit from.

“Playing basketball is fun,” Valanciunas explained. “It’s a job, but it’s a fun job. The biggest part of the job is maintaining your body, diet, practicing, but when it comes to the game, it’s enjoyment. That’s the fun part. Before the fun part, it’s a job.

“It’s hard to be good, but by working hard, doing what you are supposed to do, by listening to other guys, listening to the coaches, everything is in (your) hands.”

After five years in the NBA, Valanciunas has done enough to have something say.

 

  

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.

 

 

 

 

Bulls Fred Hoiberg

Raptors To Face A Badly Depleted Bulls Roster In Opener

It’s no secret the Bulls hit the reset button this summer when they traded away All-Star Jimmy Butler and waived future hall-of-fame candidate Dwyane Wade, however, these moves aren’t why head coach Fred Hoiberg will be bringing a badly depleted roster to Toronto for the Raptors home opener on Thursday.

Injuries to Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Quincy Pondexter were going to make things challenging enough for Hoiberg over the next month or two, but now he has to deal with additional self-inflicted challenges created by a poorly timed bone-headed move by Bobby Portis as reported by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

The young, hungry and competitive nature the Bulls sought after choosing to rebuild crossed a line Tuesday when Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic in the face during a practice altercation.

the forward suffered two fractures and placed an early estimate for his absence at “a few weeks, at least.”

The Bulls added “surgery is likely required.”

Bulls said they are evaluating disciplinary action.

Portis will be suspended for multiple games.

Johnson goes on to say Mirotic had won the Bulls starting power forward spot and “signs pointed to Portis possibly being the odd man out ultimately in the rotation.”

In any case, it means the already depleted roster Hoiberg had to bring to Toronto will be an additional two men down and the Bulls coach is going to be forced into playing some lineups he likely never thought would be on the court prior to Tuesday.

The Raptors defeated the Bulls 125-104 on Friday in Chicago in their final preseason game.

 

  

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

The Raptors Culture Change Is Happening

The Toronto Raptors were promising culture change after getting unceremoniously booted from the playoffs by a superior Cavs squad at the end of last season and although the messages coming from the management, coaches and players were mixed, that change is happening and it started in training camp at the University of Victoria.

“The league is changing,” head coach Dwane Casey said at the end of last season. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now. We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores. We have the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

That kind of thinking has been a hard sell to a fan base who knows Casey as a defensive coach, but in an intrasquad scrimmage in front of 2700 enthusiast fans at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities in Victoria, those end of season comments started to ring true. In four 10 minutes quarters, the Raptors in black went 10-25 from three-point range and the Raptors in white went 10-28.

It appears Casey has adopted the current trend in the NBA and it’s going to be a three-point barrage coming out of Toronto this season.

“We have to have the confidence and the gumption to knock down those (three-point) shots,” head coach Dwane Casey said at training camp.

These Raptors will be firing away from deep at every opportunity this year.

After training camp the Raptors headed off to Hawaii for two preseason games against the Clippers and hoisted an almost unbelievable 79 three-balls. The final three preseason contests weren’t any different as it became readily apparent the Raptors were expected to shoot every open shot from deep no matter who had the ball in their hands.

In Toronto’s five preseason games the team averaged the second most three-point attempts per game of any team. The Raptors took over half of their preseason shots from three at 41.6 attempts per game. Only the three-ball happy Rockets shot more and they were putting up over 50 long range hoists per contest.

Everyone was taking threes and the sub-30 percent shooting reflected that, but as Casey has said on numerous occasions, in the regular season the focus will shift to getting the right players to take those shots. In the preseason, however, it was all about setting the right tone or “changing the culture.” Turning down open threes was something Casey didn’t want to see.

And for those bemoaning the overall poor shooting during the preseason, remember, those players trying to make the team or earn their spot in the rotation knew what the focus was. Even non-shooters who won’t be expected to fire away from deep during the regular season got the message.

Once the regular season starts, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and C.J. Miles will be carrying the load from three-point range and they are all very capable.

But, Delon Wright showed he had the touch as a rookie and last year in limited minutes Fred VanVleet made it known he can shoot too. These two players got a lot of run during preseason. However, the undrafted rookie forward Alfonzo McKennie quietly shot 45.5 percent from three on 2.2 attempts in under 12 minutes over 5 preseason games and the Raptors rookie OG Anunoby surprised everyone by hitting on three of his last four three-point attempts against the Bulls. Even Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira were putting up threes in preseason. The Raptors will be counting on a couple of these other guys that the league may not have on the radar to come thru as legitimate three-point threats.

Toronto was in the bottom 10 NBA teams in three-point attempts last season (24.3), but it would have taken just one more three-point attempt per quarter to put them in the top 10. At two more three-point attempts a quarter, they bounce all the way into the top five with teams like Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4) and Golden State (31.2).

The NBA’s most prolific three-point shooting team, Houston (40.3), resides in three-point universe all of their own, but if Toronto keeps up their preseason pace, they’d join them. Although no one seriously expects Casey to keep letting all those non-three-point shooters to keep firing away from deep once the games start to count.

In fairness, over the past two seasons players like DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Paterson (no longer with the team) admitted they had the green light to shoot and Casey would constantly hint about the negative impact of turning down open shots from three. Inhindsight, that was the culture change the team was looking for and it clears up comments from players like DeMar DeRozan who said the changes wouldn’t be all that great. This is the way Casey wanted the team to play.

Adding a prolific three-point shooter like Miles should help as will turning loose the extremely confident Powell, but what happened in training camp and preseason was needed to set the tone and “change the culture.”

Now the biggest concern will be maintaining the discipline to resist the temptation and comfort of sliding back into the style of play that won this team over 50 games a season during the past two years. As with implementing any change, there will be bumps in the road.

 

  

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.

 

 

 

Wilt

Tough-nosed Teammate Remembers Wilt Chamberlain

Every day there are fewer people who can actually remember seeing the Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain who dominated the paint in the NBA to such an extent the league had to widen the lane by four feet to give his opponents a chance. Tough-nosed teammate and NBA All-Star Tom Meschery talks about his friend in this fascinating interview by Ed Odeven in The Japan Times.

In the years after the larger-than-life Chamberlain passed away on Oct. 12, 1999, Meschery remembers his teammate as “the biggest man I’ve ever seen” and “the strongest man in the world. He was amazing.”

“Wilt and I were close. We were friends,” Meschery said. “We played with each other. We were teammates. . . . I don’t allow people to call me Tommy, but he did. (In that game), that’s what he was saying, ‘Say hello, Tommy. Come on, Tommy,’ like I was some kind of little boy, and I was. Compared to him I was a little boy.”

Meschery was there when Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game he admitted  “the Knicks were not a very good team.” However, he remembers the Knicks were doing everything they could to not have played a part on the wrong side in NBA lore.

“Wilt was going to score 100 points, and they beat on him. Wilt was the most beat-on player ever and he never lost his temper except once in his career.”

The old NBA wasn’t like the current rather soft version. In many ways it was more like hockey where truly dirty play and fighting wasn’t just tolerated, it was part of the game. However,  Meschery can only remember one player actually getting Chamberlain to lose control – Clyde Lovellette.

“He was a mean son of a bitch,” he said of Lovellette, “and always was, and dirty. I mean a truly dirty (expletive) player. I really disliked him . . .

“Anyway, Clyde threw one too many elbows at Wilt, and Wilt knocked him out with one punch. And the punch traveled no more than one foot maybe at most. It was just a jab, but the fiercest jab I ever saw.”

The 6’6 Meschery wasn’t a teammate of Chamberlain for his entire career. The forward played four seasons with Seattle and had his own rather embarrassing physical altercation with his friend.

Once while suiting up for the Sonics, Meschery got ticked off at ex-teammate Chamberlain, who was then with the Lakers.

“It was,” he says now. “Looking back at it, I don’t think I was thinking that at the time, but as I was being interviewed and as I’ve kind of come to think of it all my life as . . . it was like a comic book.

“Wilt was literally holding my head. I was trying to hit him and I was of course moving towards him, and so my forward motion was impeded by his hand. So he had his hand on my forehead, so imagine the pictures.

“His hand on my forehead and me wildly swinging and because of course his arm was so long I couldn’t hit him,” Meschery added with a chuckle.

Chamberlain led the NBA in minutes played, points and rebounds as a rookie in 1959-60, winning both Rookie-of-the-Year and Most-Valuable-Player and he continued that unbelievable triple-threat level of dominance for three more years in a row after that. Reaching a pinnacle in 1961-62 when he set the current unassailable NBA record for minutes played (3,882) and points scored (4,029) in a season to average 48.5 minutes, 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds in 80 games. (Just in case you might be wondering why the NBA had to widen the paint – it was getting embarrassing.)

Chamberlain will always be remembered for his scoring as he averaged over 30 points per game for his first nine seasons, but in an era where his main adversary was Bill Russell, perhaps he should be remembered for being the current NBA record holder for rebounds with 23,924 and rebounds per game of 22.9. In his final season at 36-years-old Chamberlain averaged 18.6 boards.

Yes, the all-time great Hall-of-Famer started filling the NBA record books in his rookie season to an extent never seen before and never approached after, but as Meschery remembers, perhaps the most fascinating side of this larger-than-life figure isn’t found in his stats.

Chamberlain should also be remembered for his physical dominance in an era where throwing elbows and punches were part of the game. Where being tough meant more than playing thru a sore ankle.

If more recent generations had the same level of self control as Chamberlain, maybe today’s game wouldn’t have gotten to the point where it seems like every hard foul is being called flagrant.

Ed Odeven’s article in The Japan Times is just the first of a three-part series about the very interesting life of Tom Meschery. Be sure to check out the entire feature.

 

 

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 Celtics Marcus Morris and Wizards Markieff Morris

Morris Twins Assault Trial Starts Monday

The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics may not have long to wait to find out if and when they may have the services of Markieff and Marcus Morris this season. Jury selection is complete and their assault trial stemming from an incident a couple of years ago in Phoenix is set to start on Monday as described by Terell Wilkins and Adrian Marsh on azcentral.com.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday in the aggravated assault trial of NBA players and identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, along with another man charged with them.

Two other defendants, Julius Kane and Christopher Melendez, chose to avoid trial and instead pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two counts of aggravated assault

The twins were playing for the Phoenix Suns at the time of the incident and the team quickly got out from under the potential issue by trading both players, so the ramifications basketball-wise now fall squarely on the two Eastern Conference teams vying for a top four seed in their conference.

Police say Erik Hood (the victim) identified the Morris twins as being part of the group that attacked him to the point of unconsciousness after hearing rumors that Hood had been sending “inappropriate” texts to their mother, Thomasine Morris.

While the facts of the case are yet to be determined in court and the Morris twins insist they were not part of the group that attacked Hood, the repercussions of a guilty verdict are serious. Nik DeCosta-Klipa on Boston.com provides a very detailed outline of the case and the potential implications for the players and their teams.

University of New Hampshire sports law professor Michael McCann noted that, under Arizona state law, the felony assault charges against Morris carry “a maximum prison sentence of 3.75 years and a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years.”

Given that Morris’s criminal history includes just one citation for misdemeanor battery, McCann says its unlikely he would receive “anywhere near the maximum sentence,” but could very well still face “some time behind bars or at least a suspended sentence, probation and required community service.”

Even a conviction not involving actual jail time is likely to elicit a response from the NBA and a suspension of 10 games or more.

Section 7 of the current NBA collective bargaining agreement mandates a minimum 10-game suspension for any player convicted of a violent felony

the commissioner has the right to punish players for lesser convictions

In the current environment, the NBA would likely feel compelled to suspend the Morris twins on admission of guilt to a misdemeanor charge or even on the settlement of a civil suit.

Hood reportedly suffered “a broken nose, a large knot on the back of his head and abrasions,” according to police records, and later identified Kane and the Morris twins as three of the five people involved in the attack.

In October 2016, Hood’s lawyers also filed a civil lawsuit against the Morris twins and the three other defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The Morris twins are very good basketball players with important roles on their respective teams. They’ve even suggested this incident would never have gotten to trial if it weren’t for their minor celebrity status.

However, the media reports over the past couple of years do seem to confirm this isn’t a nothing incident exaggerated by an overzealous police force and piled on by the media. It’s understandable why the Suns didn’t want to have to deal with the issue.

This trial could be over before training camps open, so no one in Boston or Washington is expected to be waiting long to find out if this is a serious matter that could impact their team this season or just an annoying public relations problem.

 

 

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.