Category Archives: Raptors Columns

In-depth stories about the Toronto Raptors and their players, coaches, management and outlook

You are here: Home / Raptors Columns
NBA Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey

Casey And The Raptors Slowly Gaining Respect

For some fans and “experts” being the winningest coach in Raptors history and the only coach to ever lead Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t enough to acknowledge the team with the best record in the East with only 25 games left this season should be considered the best team in the East, but slowly, grudgingly, this team and head coach Dwane Casey are gaining respect. And they deserve it.

As of the All-Star break ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight calculates that the Raptors are the only team in the East with a puncher’s chance (20%) at winning the NBA Championship and have a better than 50 percent chance of getting there.

 

ESPN’s NBA BPI Playoff Odds gives the Raptors an Eastern Conference best chance at a championship (26%). The Celtics are at dismal 3.6 percent and the Cavs at just 0.3 percent. Although the Cavs have started to reverse their downward slide with a trade deadline roster re-make.

These days the Raptors head coach is getting regular high praise from the opposition’s game callers as Toronto at 41-16 has built a two-game lead over the Boston Celtics and a 6.5 game bulge over the Cavs, but this wasn’t the way the “experts” thought this season would go. The preseason prognosticators had the Raptors as low as sixth place in the East and now Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports  has Casey on his short list for Coach Of The Year.

This season, he is among the small group of coach of the year candidates. It’s not just because of the Raptors’ record

Casey changed the way the Raptors play.

Casey implemented offensive changes. They shoot more three-pointers and run fewer predetermined sets, making them less predictable.

Defensively, they switch more, a sign of versatility on a deep roster.

Ujiri took a chance with this season’s roster. With a mantra of let the young guys play, he handed Casey a roster with few veterans, but lots of rookies and unproven players still on their rookie deals, and told him to see what he’s got. Apparently this was the right call and Casey deserves a lot of the credit for making it work.

“One of the hardest things to do in any sport is win and develop at the same time,” Casey said. “Our guys have worked hard and gotten better.”

But Casey is making it work. DeRozan is turning in an MVP-caliber season, and Lowry is an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season.

Rookie forward OG Anunoby, who is in the starting lineup, center Jacob Poeltl, forward Pascal Siakam, guard Fred VanVleet – all in their second seasons – and third-year guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright form a promising and productive youth movement.

Casey didn’t need to say it – again, as he says it every year he’s been in Toronto, but….

“We’re still not a finished product”

If coach Casey can lead this young roster to a first place finish in the East, he deserves to win Coach of the Year.

As Rob Mahoney says in Sports Illustrated,

None of this would be possible without Casey, whose seven years of equity in Toronto allowed for the Raptors to change shape. The NBA has seen its share of smart, well-intentioned coaches promise their team a more modern style. But there is always some star to cater to, some veteran to indulge. What made Toronto’s conceptual exercise into reality was the trust that Casey and his staff had built.

Continuity is often an undervalued asset in the NBA where coaches are seen to be hired to be fired, but it’s been the All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s trust in Casey and Ujiri’s willingness to give young players a chance to show what they got and his head coach a chance to show he can grow with his roster that has created this year’s version of the Raptors.

Casey’s success this season was finally thrust into the spotlight when he was announced as a head coach at the NBA All-Star Game, an honor reserved for the first place team in each conference (subject to certain restrictions). It wasn’t enough that he is coaching a Raptors team that set a franchise record for wins at the halfway point in the season and has real chance at surpassing the team’s previous best of 56 wins from two seasons ago. It took an All-Star appearance to get noticed.

This core has never been better. This franchise has never been better. For that, the Raptors can thank Casey, their third representative at this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

Maybe those talking heads on the ESPN and Fox talk shows should stop drooling over LeBron James in the hopes of yet another Cavs/Dubs Finals re-match and acknowledge there are other teams making noise in the NBA this 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 Bruno Caboclo

Raptors Finally Ended The Bruno Caboclo Experiment

By Frank McLean

For Raptors President Masai Ujiri it was time to pull the plug on the experiment that was Bruno Caboclo. It was something where the team finally realized it wasn’t going to work for him in Toronto four years after they took him 20th overall in the draft out of Brazil.

Ujiri was doing some outside the box thinking. He saw a kid with raw basketball skills and at the time the Raptors were not even close to being a contender so he saw someone he thought they could make into an NBA player.

If you remember, this pick by the Raptors was so off the board that during their draft night telecast ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said he was “two years away from being two years away.”

But Toronto liked this kid so much they hid him from the other 29 NBA teams so they wouldn’t work him out knowing when they got him he needed a lot of grooming.

Unfortunately, during his first year in Toronto they did not have the Raptors 905 in Mississauga so they sent him to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of what was then the D-League, but they were independently owned and he sat on the bench and missed an entire year where his development was stagnant.

The only benefit of this first year fiasco with Caboclo was Ujiri convinced the Board of Directors of MLSE to pony up the money for their own G-League franchise, and as they say the rest is history.

Immediately after trading Caboclo to the Sacramento Kings for 22 year old guard Malachi Richardson at the trade deadline, Ujiri did not make himself available to the media, but the next day he talked about what was the thought process about the move.

“It was difficult for us because I thought it was just time. We tried to, we started the process a little late, which is something we failed at but I think we will learn from.

“At some point, I think there needed to be some separation where he goes and learns something different somewhere else. On that part right he is a real talented kid.”

Ujiri did confirm that because of Caboclo they hurried the process of starting up the 905 team.

“But in the process we got the D-League team a couple of years later and it’s a question from me whether he should have stayed over. There were little things Bruno needs to deal with that I think he’ll get better at.

“But at the end of the day, I thought this was better because for where we are with our young guys and for where he is to come and try and break through, it would have been like a challenge for him.”

With that last quote Ujiri was being very politically correct. If you read between the lines he is saying that he is just not good enough to beat out anybody on the current Raptors roster. And if you have watched their last four games where the starters have not played the fourth quarter because the leads are so big the bench is good enough to not blow a lead, so who is Caboclo going to beat out  to get playing time? This is a luxury the team has never had in its history.

So where does Caboclo’s career go now? Well there is no answer to that question right now.

When he did get into an NBA game with the Raptors, which was rare, he looked lost and just couldn’t keep up. When he would dress in a G-League game for the Raptors 905 he looked more at home, but consistency was his problem. He would have one amazingly good game and then have three bad ones for a player on an NBA contract.

So it looks like it could be back to the G-League, maybe Europe or even a return to Brazil for Caboclo in the future.

Should Ujiri be condemned for the Caboclo draft pick? No. Not every move a GM or President makes in professional sports works.

Caboclo is a great kid. Very polite and friendly to everyone he ever came across.

It was a move that didn’t work for the Raptors and it was time to turn the page.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Finds His Stride

Maybe it was the pressure of signing a big dollar extension in the off season, but the Toronto Raptors young wing Norman Powell has had trouble finding his stride or even just holding onto a spot in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation this year.

While not every appearance has been a dud, Powell has struggled with his shot, his judgement and even his usually reliable defense, but maybe, just maybe, he’s back on track?

With C.J. Miles out with a sore knee, Powell is earning another shot at a regular spot in Casey’s rotation. Over his last three games Powell hasn’t disappointed, averaging 9 points, 61.1 percent shooting from the field and hitting on 5 of 9 three-point attempts.

“Not playing too much recently, going thru some ups and downs during the season, but I think it felt good just going out there and just play,” Powell said. “I am confident in my game and what I do, make or miss. I feel I am one of the hardest working guys out there. I am always in the gym working on my game, trying to improve.

“Eventually it’s going to turn around. I just work too hard.”

A starting wing spot was Powell’s to lose at the start of the season and he lost it after 12 starts to rookie OG Anunoby when he injured his hip in Boston. However, shooting 40.9 percent the field and 30.8 percent from three in those 12 games meant it was going to be easy for Anunoby to show he deserved to keep the starting job after Powell got back and Casey wasn’t about to take veteran three-point shooter Miles out of the rotation, so Powell didn’t have many minutes to go after on his return if he wasn’t playing at a high level.

Fans in Toronto should be used to Casey using an 11 or even 12 man rotation as this team continues to be focused on player development even with expectations of another 50+ win season and the possibility of finishing first in the East out there for the taking. So, Powell getting garbage minutes to stay involved and regular rotation minutes as soon as anyone in a guard or wing spot goes down isn’t a surprise.

This time, however, Powell has looked more like the player everyone was expecting to show up in October. Maybe, just maybe, he can hang onto a spot in the rotation and someone else will see their minutes cut?

If the playoff version of Powell that got him the big extension is on the court, it’s hard to sit him down.

 

 

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 Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin

Can The Blake Griffin Trade Save The Pistons?

A blockbuster deal just landed in Detroit as Stan Van Gundy makes his move to save the imploding Pistons season by acquiring Blake Griffin from the Clippers.

On the face of it, this is a good deal for Detroit. They get a bona fide max player with four more years on his deal in Griffin for the expiring contract of Avery Bradley, a productive combo forward with just one more year left on his deal in Tobias Harris, a center no one will miss in Boban Marjanovic and a couple of drafts picks that the Pistons would have probably swung and missed on anyway.

In what can only be described as a guard-driven league, Gundy has re-created the Pelicans experiment with two big men sucking up nearly all of his cap room. At least the Pelicans managed to stay in the playoff race with their two big stars (while they were healthy). At this point Gundy would be happy with that.

It’s going to be tough in L.A. to sell this trade as anything but the start of a rebuild and it would make sense to see what other assets they can grab for DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams.

But as things sit, the Clippers can argue they are still better than the Pistons post trade, not that being better than the Pistons will guarantee the Clippers a playoff spot in the West.

However, at the very least, the Pistons have generated some excitement and given themselves a chance to turn things around. It’ll be fun to see what happens.

Griffin is averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season and is still on the right side of 30 years old. If the team that gets the best player wins the trade, the Pistons can claim victory.

 

 

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

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 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 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 Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Career Year Comes With A Heavy Heart.

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is currently in what athletes call “the zone”, he is playing the best basketball of his career and he’s doing it with a heavy heart.

He averaged 25.2 points a game in the month of December which was a main factor for the team going 11-3. And in one of those games he had a then career high 45 pointer in a comeback win in Philadelphia.

He was named the NBA Player of the Week for the first week of the calendar year in 2018 where he averaged 35.7 points a game in three games and erased his career and Raptors franchise mark for points in a game on New Year’s night against Milwaukee by scoring 52.

But it hasn’t been easy for the Raptors All-Star.

DeRozan has left the team twice in the last few weeks to head home to Los Angeles to be with his father who is not doing well with kidney disease.

Heck it doesn’t surprise me that he is going this well with all that is going on his life right now. DeRozan is one of the most focused athletes I have covered in in Toronto in the 30-plus years I have been around Toronto sports. He ranks right up there with Robbie Alomar, the late Roy Halladay and Doug Gilmour for their coolness under pressure no matter what is going on.

Over the past weekend in New York,  Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter DeRozan as saying,

“I grew up in Compton, California, man, every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”

“I’m pretty sure everyone in here goes through life situations,” DeRozan added. “You live on this earth, you’re going to have some type of issue that occurs that’s close to you. It’s just a matter of how you handle it, how you go about it. I go about mine like a man, like a professional. I don’t complain. I don’t cry about it. I don’t make excuses. These are things you just got to handle.

“I just go out and play, I don’t think about the run (the last few weeks), I don’t think about nothing. I just love playing basketball. When you get in that zone and you are just going out there playing ball you are able to zone out and be in a different space than you are throughout the rest of the day doing anything else. Basketball is always that realm for me where I can just get in that mindset of feeling free.”

When you are a kid it’s usually your dad that inserts a love of a sport or sports in general and in the case of basketball it was his dad that helped him get the basketball bug.

“He is everything,” DeRozan said. “My dad put the basketball in my hands. My dad took me to the park. My dad pushed me. My dad was my dad. My dad was the reason I wanted to play sports, just like every other kid that looked up to their dad. That’s what he is to me to this day, and what he is to me forever.”

When you talk to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and you bring up DeRozan he will tell you that nothing he does will amaze you. One of the reasons players love Casey is that in this crazy world that is the NBA family comes first and he tells each and every player that.

  “This is his refuge here and he should use this as a refuge to get away from his issues and problems for those two hours,” Casey said. “But if he has to get away and go home for his family he knows he has the organization’s support to do that.”

DeRozan started week two off right in 2018 as he scored 35 points in Monday’s 114-113 overtime thriller in Brooklyn.

DeRozan is a special talent, no argument there. He is right when he says that we all have to go through something like this with a close family member at one time or another. It’s just life. We go to work every day because we have to. It’s just that when we do, we don’t do it in front of 20-thousand people in an arena and millions more watching you on television.

That’s what makes it more amazing to watch this run DeRozan is currently on.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

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 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 DeMar DeRozan

Is 52 Points From DeRozan Enough For Next Christmas?

By Frank McLean

Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?

Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.

In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.

“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”

Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.

The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.

Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.

They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.

Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.

This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.

Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.

Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.

Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.

But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.

So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.

The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.

The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.

Maybe next year?

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Halfway To A 1,000 Games, Coach Casey Keeps On Winning

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey quietly reached a milestone on their west coast road trip last week when he coached his 500th game with the basketball team.

In his seventh season with the team and following their win this past Sunday at home against Sacramento his won-loss record is an impressive 281-223. Currently they are sitting third in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8 record. They are definitely on pace for a third straight 50 win season and dare we say, maybe 60 wins.

The 20-8 record is impressive because of the tough schedule the NBA came up with. The Raptors have already played 16 road contests, in which they have completed all but three of their west coast visits and have won nine to go with the best home record in the league at 11-1.

The 20-8 mark is a lot better a start than anticipated because the team made a complete 360-degree change in how they play offense with constant ball movement and a lot more three-point attempts.

Looks like to me they caught on a little quicker than what many people thought.

But defense first is still Casey’s first commandment of playing winning basketball and they are in the top-10 in fewest points allowed per 100-poessions. When he came to Toronto, the team was 30th, dead last in defense.

It’s remarkable that into his seventh year as coach Casey has not lost his team. It doesn’t matter what professional sport we are talking about, a head coach’s shelf life is typically slightly longer than a quart of milk sitting in your fridge. Players after a few years just seem to tune them out.

Listen to the testimonials from his current stars.

“It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s a testament to him sticking to all of his guns and understanding his principles that he came in here with,” said DeMar DeRozan who is the only Raptor left on the roster from Casey’s first season with the team.

“Look at him now, he holds the record for wins and games coached, everything, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

“Always you face some ups and downs, some bumps, some downhills, but, if you are able to get back and if you are able to stay strong over those bumps, you are real then,” Jonas Valanciunas said of Casey.“He knows what he’s doing, he’s a great dude, he’s a great guy. He’s humble, he’s trying to win. That’s all that matters.”

And this from Kyle Lowry who has bumped heads more than a few times like a son does with his father.

“I don’t think our coach is ever happy, honestly. But that’s the one thing about our coach, he’s hard on us, and he’s tough on us. But we know that he wants us to be a championship calibre team, and that’s what we push for, and that’s why we respond to him so well.”

When you check out social media there are still people demanding that Casey be fired which again proves that it is the worst invention in the history of man when you hear some of the stuff being said… and it’s not just with respect to basketball.

Dwane Casey is the best thing that’s happened to this franchise period.

Casey was hired by former general manager Bryan Colangelo and when Masai Ujiri took over he could have fired Casey and brought in his own man, but he stayed with him and as a result the team has increased its win total from 23 in his initial season to 34 the next year then 48, 49, 56 and 51 last year. The Raptors are on pace to win more than 56 games this season.

If there is somebody better out there go get him, but I don’t see Greg Popovich or Steve Kerr leaving their current jobs.

I don’t think when Casey arrived in Toronto many pundits thought he would last 500 games. Hopefully, he gets another 500 games on the bench and maybe a trip to NBA Finals will finally come about.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

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.