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 Norman Powell

Can Raptors Norman Powell Become A Fourth Quarter Star?

The Toronto Raptors second year guard Norman Powell is slowly gaining notoriety as a fourth quarter player. Someone head coach Dwane Casey can count on at critical points in the game to get a stop or more surprisingly, get a bucket and that’s something from a guy who earned his minutes as a rookie with physical play at the defensive end of the court.

Surprisingly Powell seems reluctant just go with the idea that he plays better in the fourth quarter. He takes pride in playing hard from the moment head coach Dwane Casey puts him in the game, but this isn’t about playing hard, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and coaches need players that can step it up in crunch time.

“I’ve talked about it,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It’s figuring out how to go in there and play all out hard basketball. It’s nothing about me taking my time to get ready or anything like that. I go out there and play hard, but being effective, being just a little bit more active, a little bit more smart in how I impact the game rather than just going out there and playing hard.

“I don’t feel that I am pushing at all. I take the same shots I take in the fourth as I do anytime I am on the court, it’s just whether or not they are going in. I’m not pushing myself or pressing as a lot of people think. I go in there and warmup or practice or workout the same way that I do in the game. Some nights in the first quarter or second quarter the shots are falling and everything’s good. I got the whole game going. Some nights it takes one, two, three shots and you get an easy one and it starts clicking all over again. It’s just about finding easy plays.”

It’s not just a causal observation, Powell seems to consistently find those “easy plays” in the fourth quarter and for some reason, they get easier to find after the All-Star break.

The under-sized second round pick peaked Casey’s interest early on. It isn’t often a rookie can bump and grab veteran players without picking up quick fouls and an unhelpful reputation with the referees, but Powell had the knack for physical defense without fouling and he got minutes while the Raptors first round pick Delon Wright was toiling away with the NBA D-League 905.

Now Casey never believed Powell could shoot and the rookie did little to dispel that in the first half of his initial season, so Powell was playing solely because he would play bump and grind defense, but sometimes things can change.

Injuries created opportunity and the rookie was ready to take advantage. After averaging just 6.5 minutes and 1.3 points on 27.5 percent shooting before the All-Star game in his rookie season, Powell became an impact player on offense after the break averaging 22.8 minutes and 9.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting.

An unexpected three-point shot appeared as well and the rookie Casey didn’t think had a jump shot started nailing 45.5 percent of his long balls, but maybe there were clues about his ability to shoot before this. While his offense was almost non-existent to start, when Casey played Powell in the fourth quarter, the rookie was hitting 33.3 percent of his threes when he wasn’t hitting much of anything else. Hints of a Mr. Fourth Quarter even from the start.

While Casey remained reluctant to believe in Powell’s shooting, the former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys had no such reservations. He’d seen what Powell could do in the summer after the draft and he believed.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Mermuys told Pro Bball Report last year. “One, he made a ton of shots in Summer League. He was knocking it down. Into our workouts after Summer League in L.A. and in the Clippers facility workouts, he was making a ton of shots and that was my message coming back out of the summer. I said look, for a guy that can’t shoot, this guy is making a lot of shots. It’s getting to the point where this isn’t, it can’t be just he’s hot. He’s shooting the ball really well. So, I felt really confident about his shooting ability coming out of the summer.”

Powell started out shooting this season like he did after the All-Star break last year, but his minutes were wildly inconsistent and he is currently averaging just 33.9 percent from three. Powell found himself behind Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll in the rotation, however, Casey kept looking for excuses to find him minutes, especially in the fourth quarter.

However, his fourth quarter offensive output also started to level off until it wasn’t really any different from the any other time in the game, but things were about to change. A Ross trade and an injury to Kyle Lowry has handed a consistent role to both of the Raptors second year guards after the All-Star break and it’s like someone flipped a switch on Powell’s fourth quarter offense.

Since the break, Powell has been averaging 10.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting, but it’s been in the fourth quarter where he has really shone scoring 7 points on 48 percent shooting and hitting on 42.9 percent of his threes. There much be something about consistent minutes, the stretch drive to the playoffs, and the pressure of the fourth quarter that brings out the best in Powell.

“It means a lot,” Powell said. “In our development, playing together, learning the game, learning how to be big time players in big time moments when you are playing meaningful minutes and it’s going to help us.”

It’s a big help to the Raptors when a second round draft pick can step in during his rookie and sophomore seasons and make a positive impact, especially in the fourth quarter.

After the All-Star break last year Powell averaged an impressive 4.2 fourth quarter points as a rookie. This year, thru six games, his post All-Star break fourth quarter scoring is running at 7 points. That’s higher than top 10 fourth quarter scorer DeMar DeRozan (6.6) is averaging this season. If he can keep this up, Powell is a fourth quarter star.

 

 

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 Delon Wright Earning Praise On Defense

With the Toronto Raptors struggling to a 15-16 record in 2017, the only thing head coach Dwane Casey could have wanted from his sophomore third string point guard Delon Wright was getting him back sooner. Injured in Summer League Wright has only played in eight games this season, but he’s already been earning praise for what he’s been able to do on defense.

“He’s good,” DeMarre Carroll told Pro Bball Report. “He’s very long. He plays the passing lanes really well. He’s one of our better defenders. He’s young and still trying to understand, but at the same time, you can see how he’s going to be growing into his role.

“It’s something you come in with naturally, a knack for the ball. He doesn’t come in and try to force stuff, he plays his defense and tries to compose the team and that’s what we ask from him and he’s doing a great job at it.”

Currently running a second unit for coach Casey out of necessity with All-Star Kyle Lowry sidelined for at least a month and backup Cory Joseph pushed into the starting lineup, Wright has made an impact. The Raptors are an improved 5-3 with him on the court and Wright has a Net Rating of +6 points per 100 possessions largely due to a solid defensive rating 97.8.

The defensive-minded Carroll judges his own performance by the plus/minus stat and he appreciates a player who steps in midseason and starts off +44 points in their first eight games.

“I feel prepared,” Wright responded to Pro Bball Report. “Now it’s just getting more comfortable with the role that I am playing now knowing it will be a little more extended than it would have been with Kyle being out.”

Thrown into the fire with a second unit that’s still trying to figure things out, the Raptors have been above water with Wright on the court in six of his eight games. Only Wright’s inconsistent offensive production forcing Casey to look for other options when he needs additional scoring.

“I just got to find my rhythm,” Wright said. “I haven’t been shooting as well as I could have. They want me to be aggressive and if (the opposition) keeps going under to shoot it. They don’t care how many times I miss. I think that’s important that they have confidence in me to shoot it. The ones that I have missed have been bad, so it’s comforting to know they want me to shoot.”

The offense should come. Last season in the D-League and with the Raptors in April, Wright was an effective scorer and solid three-point threat. He should find his offensive rhythm again as he puts more games under his belt.

As difficult as losing an All-Star like Lowry is for the Raptors, it does provide an opportunity for a player like Wright to show what he can do in meaningful games and develop his skills against solid competition. It likely costs the Raptors a few wins now, but it could really pay off later.

“I find it better to play in some meaningful games and try to help the team keep moving forward,” Wright said. “The team needs us, all the young guys to step up to help the veterans and I think that’s it’s important for us to get better this way.”

It’s important for Wright to get better. President Masai Ujiri put his faith in the team’s own young players rather than picking up a veteran point guard off of the NBA’s waiver wire scrap heap and he’s been rewarded. It’s hard to argue the Raptors would be better off with a rental than playing the guy already in their own organization.

 

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 Serge Ibaka

The Raptors Are Making Serge Ibaka Very Happy

The Toronto Raptors haven’t seen a power forward like Serge Ibaka since Chris Bosh was playing for Toronto and they are doing everything they can to make the pending free agent very happy.

“I am so thankful with the Raptors because I am playing a couple of minutes at the five (and) at the four,” Ibaka told Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast with Woj when the Raptors played in Washington recently. “I like that. It is bringing back my mentality, my aggressiveness, my team defense to protect the paint.”

Ibaka has hit the ground running with his new team. Scoring, rebounding, nailing three-pointers, guarding the perimeter, protecting the paint and playing 35 minutes per game. There has been an understanding between Toronto and their newest star player from the instant the deal with Orlando was done. This NBA Finalist and three-time Western Conference Finalist’s job is to take the Raptors to the next level. No one needed to tell him that.

“Masai (Ujiri) is a professional, I am a professional,” Ibaka explained. “As soon as I heard they did that deal on the table, they got me, I already knew what I had to do. I already knew why they needed me. There wasn’t really a lot to talk about because you already know what time it is right now. It’s not the beginning of the season. It’s after the All-Star break.”

A 4-1 start with their trade deadline additions while missing All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry says it all. Raptors president Masai Ujiri knew what his team needed and went out and got it. In Ibaka’s opinion, Ujiri did everything necessary to put the Raptors into the same position he was while playing with the Thunder. An NBA Finals contending team.

“If everybody is healthy, yes,” Ibaka responded to Wojnarowski’s query about the Raptors potential. “The team we have right now, yes. We got Tucker. He’s a tough defender. He’s helping us with toughness. When Kyle comes back, with the guys we have, I believes yes.”

Ibaka feels that his reputation as a defender has taken a hit since he was a three-time first team NBA All-Defensive player with the Thunder earlier in his career. The game has changed since he started playing, the players on the Thunder changed and the role he was asked to play changed. However, Ibaka believes, with plenty of justification, that if his role was more like what he did when he led the NBA in blocks, his reputation as a defender would be renewed.

“The game has changed now,” Ibaka said. “The game is fast now. You have centers who shoot threes now.

“People outside don’t understand.

“The hard part is people outside in the media when they are saying Serge Ibaka, why is he always shooting threes? He never developed his post game and he (plays) out(side) now. He’s not blocking shots. All those things, blah, blah, blah.

“My role (in OKC) started to change and of course I could not say no because it was better for the team for me to be outside shooting threes. Before I used to run down to the paint for the first rebound and (then) coach asked me to run to the three-point line to open (the floor) for Kevin (Durant) and Russell (Westbrook) to attack the basket.”

It’s not what Ibaka wanted to do. He still likes the dirty work inside, but he did what was best for the team at the time.

In Toronto, head coach Dwane Casey is making sure Ibaka is getting plenty of opportunity to play inside, however, there is a cost to a couple of the guys who used to have that role.

Since Ibaka’s arrival, the Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas has seen his minutes drop from his season average of 26.2 to just 18.6 and backup center Lucas Nogueira, averaging 20.7 minutes this year, has played in just two seconds over the past three games. Keeping Ibaka happy has meant sacrifices for other Raptors’ players.

However, similarly to what happened in Oklahoma City, coach Casey is doing what’s best for the team and the role suites Ibaka perfectly. Air Congo is patrolling the perimeter like a modern 4/5, hitting threes and guarding everyone from stretch fives to point guards. Then he’s guarding the paint like a center, grabbing boards and blocking shots reminiscent of his days playing in OKC.

It turns out that keeping Ibaka happy is helping the Raptors win.

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Is It Worth Signing Waived NBA Players?

The NBA trade deadline has past and all the rage is who can scoop up the rejects from the NBA scrap heap of waived players in time to be playoff eligible, but is it worth the real cost? ESPN’s Chris Forsberg quotes Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to illustrate why maybe teams should be thinking twice.

“Listen, when I was here and we had those runs [with Boston’s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen], I’m in the general manager’s office, and I had my coaches coming in and going, ‘We need this’ or ‘We heard [about] this guy, this veteran guy.’ So we went and did these buyouts every year to try to help our team, and rarely did those work,” Ainge said this week during an appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” program.

“It sounds good on paper. Everybody said, ‘They just added so-and-so to the team.’ When, in fact, those players may take away minutes from a younger player that is better, change the chemistry and the roles of the players inside your organization.”

Ainge is specifically thinking about the impact about signing a “free agent” at this point in the season and the perceived obligation to give that player minutes over his own developing young talent that has found a useful role on his roster. A rental player for a few months taking minutes away from James Young, Jordan Mickey or Jaylen Brown just might not be in the team’s best interests.

“We have such a good chemistry with this team. We’ve had everybody contributing to winning,” Ainge said. “We’ve had James Young playing the most fourth-quarter minutes [of his career] in the last four games we won on the road. We’ve had Jordan Mickey start in a win, and we’ve had Jaylen Brown go 9-1 as a starter. There’s so many good things and so many good vibes with these guys. Sometimes you bring in a player, and the players react like, ‘Man, that’s not fair. That kid’s been working hard. That kid’s earned his chance to play.’ I think it goes both ways. Names on paper and past performances don’t always make for, like, a perfect fit with the team that they’re coming to, especially if they don’t fit our style.”

Wise words from an experienced NBA team builder. Picking up another team’s castoff isn’t always going to be in your team’s best interests or even help in the short term.

Look for teams with injury problems desperate for a stop gap solution to potentially get the most out of signing a waived player, unless of course they have their own young talent that could really benefit from the suddenly available minutes. Do you really want to cut a player to acquire someone you won’t need after this season? If that was true, why did you sign him in the first place?

Let’s see if Ainge can resist trying to fix his team’s 27th ranked rebounding with his team’s former best at grabbing boards Jared Sullinger who was recently waived by the Suns while it’s looking like the Cavs will throw anybody overboard to stay in first place.

 
 

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 Norman Powell & Delon Wright

The Raptors Will Be Relying More On Norman Powell

By Frank McLean

When Terrence Ross was traded to the Orlando Magic last week for Serge Ibaka one member of the Raptors stood to gain a lot more playing time and that’s second year guard Norman Powell.

Powell, whose rights were acquired by the Raptors on draft night in 2016 from the Milwaukee Bucks for Greivis Vasquez, has shown some spurts of brilliance in his year and a half with the Raptors. He has been a fan favorite and his two way play on the floor and hard work in practice is something head coach Dwane Casey loves and he will tell you that when asked.

He was factor in last year’s playoffs in the first two rounds against Indiana and Miami, but as a rookie he was not as successful against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was headed for their first ever championship.

This season during DeMar DeRozan absence due to his ankle injury he started and since DeRozan came back he has been a big cog in the fourth quarter providing impact off the bench like a fourth line player in hockey.


He’s only been averaging seven points and two rebounds a game, but in the last two games before the All-Star break with Terrance Ross gone he got to see a lot of time and he produced.

In 18-minutes against the Chicago Bulls he put up 13-points and the next night against the Charlotte Hornets he played 28-minutes and scored 17-points.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits that way Powell has been used it hasn’t made things easy for him.

“As a coaching staff, we put him in a tough situation. He starts one game and has a rhythm. He comes off the bench in the fourth quarter when we need him and it’s a different rhythm. That’s hard to do and it’s tough on him, but as I mentioned to the players, this is the NBA. You have a chance to do your job. If it’s two minutes, five minutes, the whole game, go in and do your job. And don’t forget what got you here. The dirty work, the grimy work. So whether it’s Norm or whoever is in that role has to remember that I got here by being a grinder, a tough defender at my position, and offensively do what comes naturally.”

Powell says it would be easy knowing what the rotation is going to be on a given night, but as the old saying goes, it is what it is.

“I think it would be easier knowing the rotations, knowing when you are going to go in, knowing when your name is going to be called, but it’s still the same thing for me. I have to go in there and produce and help on both sides of the ball, defense first. Take some of the workload off Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) when asked and just try to be productive in my minutes. That’s presented to me and I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity that I’m ready for.” 

Powell is happy for the opportunity to get more playing time, but he was close to Ross and this was a lesson that professional basketball is a business and sometimes you lose friends.

“I mean it’s crazy waking up and seeing not just your teammate, but a close friend of yours gone. Being here my first year and a half, I just wish him the best and thank him for everything we talked about and helping me along the way. All the best to him in his new situation. There’s an opportunity for him down in Orlando but, you know, he’s going to be missed.”

Powell’s opportunity almost vanished at the last second on trade deadline day when the team acquired the versatile defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, but before a game could be played, Kyle Lowry showed up with a sore wrist. A wrist injury that has now been determined will keep Lowry out of the lineup for a month or more. Minutes that supposedly had vanished were back on the table for the Raptors second year guards Delon Wright and Powell.

In the first three games after the All-Star break Powell has averaged 15.3 minutes, 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. It’s not the same role as he would have enjoyed if the team hadn’t of acquired Tucker, but it’s a role he likely gets to keep – for a while at least. Wright is averaging 13.7 minutes as the two young guards have been splitting the time the now starting Cory Joseph was playing off the bench.

Powell knows this is his opportunity to make a name for himself in the NBA and if the last five games are any indication, he’s not going to waste it.

 

 

   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 PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors PJ Tucker Is A Talking Bowling Ball With Arms

The perception of the Toronto Raptors changed when president Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay to the Kings a little over three years ago. They went from soft to tough overnight and at the time, one of reasons was 6’6 center Chuck Hayes. Described as a bowling ball with arms by some and a tree stump by Patrick Patterson, Hayes was non-stop action on defense and the Raptors missed him after he was gone. Newcomer PJ Tucker brings back a lot of that physical presence and activity.

In just his second game with the Raptors, this season’s “bowling ball with arms” lived up to the description when he accidentally knocked out Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic’s teeth.

Like Hayes, the 6’5 Tucker was undersized as a big man coming out of college, but fortunately for the Raptors, Tucker figured out how to play multiple positions and still patrol the paint like a big man when needed.

“Tucker is one of the more versatile defenders in the league,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens volunteered. “When you think about guarding guys two thru five, the way that people play in the league right now. There is not a five that you can’t see him potentially guarding. You watch him play on film, he guarding everybody from DeRozan here to some of the bigger centers. He’s a tough guy.”

“He’s a tough guy man,” Serge Ibaka confirmed. “He’s one of those guys you need on your team.”

With the loss of Bismack Biyombo to free agency last summer and a preseason injury to his de facto replacement Jared Sullinger, the Raptors lost some of their toughness and a lot of their on the court communication on defense. It’s showed, this year’s version of the team has relied more on being able to outscore teams than get defensive stops, but the additions of Serge Ibaka and Tucker have changed all that.

Almost 32-years-old, Tucker is the “senior” player on the Raptors and he wasted no time putting his veteran stamp on his new team. Tucker is a talker and a leader, not just bowling ball causing havoc on defense.

“I don’t believe in adjustment periods,” Tucker said. “I think good players learn how to play with each other. They talk through it. They make adjustments during the game. Professional. Playing basketball, adjustment, I think that’s a cop out. You learn how to play together. You make adjustments and you play.

“I talk too much. Defense is half talking. Serge talks, DeMarre talks, DeMar doesn’t talk as much, but I got him talking a little bit. I think the more (DeMar) starts talking on defense too, we’ll be even better. Once he gets comfortable with it.

“We have our own timeouts and in timeouts we are over there talking, knowing what we are going to do in situations before coach even got there.”

It’s been a whirlwind of change in Toronto as the offensive powerhouse that was the Raptors earlier in the season is starting to look like a defensive juggernaut with the additions of Ibaka and the talking bowling ball with arms, P.J. Tucker.

 

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 Serge Ibaka

It’s Just Another Day For The Raptors Serge Ibaka

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

It’s now two games in for the Raptors Serge Ibaka and from all appearances, each time out it’s been just another day at the office for the best power forward Toronto has started since Chris Bosh played for the team.

In the two wins Ibaka is averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, a block and 1.5 threes as he’s shot 55.6 percent from the field and been a beast on defense whether it’s out on the perimeter or in the post. In short, Ibaka has been better than advertised.

“I’m just focused,” Ibaka responded to Pro Bball Report. “Like I said in the beginning, it was tough a little bit. We didn’t really have a lot of time to practice together and I am still learning the plays. The one thing I know you cannot learn is playing hard, so that’s what we did.”

That Ibaka plays hard has been obvious from the start and it’s been hard play that has enabled Toronto to win without their All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“We have the potential to do a lot of good things this year,” Ibaka said. “We need a couple more practices together to learn and then when Kyle comes back it’s going to be very good.”

The schedule maker did give the Raptors an extra day before they resumed playing after the All-Star break, so Ibaka did get a crash course on how the Raptors go about their business, but after a half a season on a new team in Orlando, the long time Oklahoma City power forward has gone through a lot in a relatively short period of time.

“A little change, but really a big change, I’m going to learn,’’ Ibaka said earlier this week. “The good thing is that I’ve had people help me, making me focus on playing basketball because they’re making things easier.’’

“We threw a lot at the young man, but he comprehended a lot,’’ head coach Dwane Casey explained. “Defensively he added a buzz to the team, his communication, speed and reaction and understanding where to be.

“His teammates were all helping him, talking to him. Patrick Patterson was helping and talking to him, coaching him when he (Patterson) was playing against him. It’s like home work, but it’s different when you get here on the court, timing, having to understand it, speed and quickness, reading situations. But again, he was a quick learner. We tried to put him in comfortable situations. I went back and studied film when he was in Oklahoma City, Orlando to get a feel for where he likes the basketball, the things he did defensively and what we can incorporate.”

Casey went on to add that being a veteran helps when you get moved in the middle of the season.

“The most important thing is that there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. He’s not going to get tricked too many times. You may get him once and that’s the thing about a veteran because you’re not going to get him multiple times.

“It gave us homework and (to) prepare to understand where to put him, what he likes to do. It’s not like we’re going in one day before for a game. Again, it’s going to take time for him to get acclimated, but he is ahead of the curve because of his basketball experience and IQ.”

It’s his talent, experience and versatility that improves the Raptors roster from the one that Casey put on the floor before the All-Star break. A natural power forward, Ibaka can also play center and be a big defender when the opposition goes with a smaller line-up.

“He’s an excellent defender,’’ said Casey. “I remember the days of going at him from down in Dallas (when he was an assistant to Rick Carlisle on the Mavs). The game has changed from a shot blocking perspective, but it’s still there. He can still protect the rim.”

Is Serge Ibaka the final piece to get the Raptors to the NBA Finals?

He is playoff tested and has NBA Finals experience. Plus he has stepped into a huge role at starting power forward and instantly elevated the play of everyone around him.

He has been just what the doctor ordered to put the Raptors back on the right track.

 

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.

 

 

   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 Terrence Ross

Raptors Give Terrence Ross A Fresh Start With The Magic

By Frank McLean

When the Toronto Raptors sent Terrence Ross and a first round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for big power forward Serge Ibaka, they gave their promising young wing a chance at a fresh start. An opportunity to realize his obvious potential without an All-Star standing in his way.

During my days covering the Toronto Blue Jays, the hall of fame general manager Pat Gillick would always tell us that you always have to give up something good to get something good back whenever you make a trade.

Ross in his five years in Toronto was definition of being a hot and cold player. A player Raptors head coach Dwane Casey put a lot of time and effort into developing and showed a lot of faith in despite the inconsistent results.

He is a 38-percent three point shooter lifetime and when he is good he is real good. Like the night a few years back when he scored 51-points against the Los Angeles Clippers tying the franchise record for points in a single game with Vince Carter.

Then there are nights when you watch him and he struggles. Nights when he couldn’t put a jump shot into Lake Ontario from the shore.

Struggling to become a consistent NBA player has been something that didn’t change during his five years in Toronto.

One of the reasons he wasn’t traded sooner by the Raptors was the fear that if he was moved the light might finally come on and the potential that was always there would come to fruition and Ross would become the All-Star he was projected to be.

“As you watch our team play, it’s no secret that sometimes we struggle to make shots, and I think his ability to do just that intrigues us,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said last week when acquiring Ross. “His age, his contract are all things that we feel are positives and strengths for us. As Terrence gets situated here, I think his ability to stretch the floor, his ability to score will help our team. I think it’ll help our team at both ends of the floor.”

Ross knows that the skill sets he brings to the table will  help the Magic.

“My shooting, my athleticism and defense. I think I can try to help with that when it comes to the wing position,” Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview last week. “I’m really just looking forward to playing with the guys, getting to know the team, getting to know the city, and just playing hard for them.”

“I had a great time in Toronto. I spent five good years there and grew a lot. The city accepted me and I have a lot of memories. But I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for Frank Vogel and play for the Magic and play for the city. I’m just excited about all this.”

Ross made his Magic debut Thursday night at home against the Portland Trail-Blazers where the Magic blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead in an eventual 112-103 loss.

It looked like Ross put the proverbial dagger in the Trail-Blazers when he hit a three pointer with 9:07 left in the fourth to give the Magic a 91-80 lead and then they imploded.

As Magic coach Frank Vogel told me in a conversation we had during the Magic’s recent visit to Toronto “we have to learn how to win” and that showed Thursday night.

Ross started and played 33 minutes, going 4-17 from the field for 13 points and 5 rebounds, so maybe Ross isn’t the one player the Magic need to put them over the top and make them a consistent playoff contender, but he is a start.

Then on Saturday night against the Hawks Ross played 35 minutes and shot 10-15 from the field for a game-high 24 points as the Magic won 105-86 as if to emphasize his potential.

Ross’ long term spot in the rotation hasn’t been decided yet. He may continue to start or he could come off the bench like he did with the Raptors, but one thing is sure Ross is getting a second chance with the Magic and he is going to make the most of it.

 

 

   

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.

 

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

When the Toronto Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011 then assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini described him as, “Tyson Chandler with good feet.” He may as well painted him as a traditional big man, but in Valanciunas’ phone call to the media in Toronto, he described his game as being like the Raptors recently departed jump shooting power forward Chris Bosh. In addition to being a big young center with potential to thrive inside, Valanciunas could shoot, but his play outside of the paint is something that has often been overlooked early in his NBA career.

However, since his arrival in Toronto, the NBA game has been undergoing what can only be described as dramatic change. Traditional centers that are mired in the paint have been disappearing and replaced by guys who can stretch the floor, make plays for others and/or leap high for an alley-oop and run like a deer.

Plays based on pound, pound, pound and backing down your defender in the paint with sheer power are getting less common. It’s become obvious as this season has moved along that Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done, so it’s a great shot for him, elbow free throw line and maybe a step or two higher where he can see everything, make passes, make plays because the floor is open now.

“In his career he is going to move out further and further with that shot and he’s got a good rhythm out there. He’s one of our best free throw shooters.”

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

In the New Year, there was Valanciunas before each game standing above the arc and tossing three-pointers and in the new NBA, this hasn’t looked out of place. Yes, it’s one thing to shoot jump shots in a gym by yourself before the crowd shows up and no one is defending you, but the process has to start somewhere.

“That’s the next evolution of centers,” Casey said. “Guys migrate out there. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV is migrating out there and I think that’s going to be the new wave. Ibaka is knocking down shots (from three-point range), so that’s the new thing in the NBA now.”

“We’re practicing,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report about his three-point shooting in the pregame warm-up. “Practicing to add this to my game. This is something new. Probably coach Nurse can talk about this more. Just slowly getting that developed, slowly getting that in my game.

“It’s not usual. Most of the time I’m not there to shoot it, my job is to go inside, but I find myself liking that shot, (so) why not?”

While Valanciunas has yet to attempt a three-point shot this season and has only lofted two in 338 regular season games, he is taking more jump shots than ever before. Two years ago, he took 88.5 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. Last year that dipped to 85.5 percent, but this season it’s down to 75.9 percent. The number of shot attempts from the foul line area is actually getting noticeable during games.

“These days all the bigs are doing that,” Valanciunas explained. “The more weapons you have, the more I can do on offense. It’s harder to defend, so trying to add that in my game and have myself shooting those 15-footers.”

The number of attempts aren’t overwhelming yet and on occasion he is still turning down open shots even after making the same shot only moments before, so deliberating adding a jump shot to his regular offense is something that will take time to get comfortable with.

“Slowly getting there, slowly developing myself into that 15 foot shooter,” Valanciunas said. “Still I have a lot of work to go. A lot of practice, a lot of work to put in and that’s probably summertime work to add something new in your game.

“(Fortunately) we still got time in pregame warmups, after the practice. It’s been my work since a couple of months ago.”

Valanciunas is going to keep working on his jump shot and extending his range. As Casey pointed out, “That’s the next evolution of centers” and there are more than a few that have already evolved.

“I am not on the three-point line, not yet, but it is definitely harder to defend a shooting big than a non-shooting big, so I guess all the league is going to the shooting bigs,” Valanciunas said. “I still think that we need power inside and muscle inside, what I am trying to do (currently).”

This is an evolution not a revolution as far as Valanciunas is concerned. He wants to add an effective jump shot and extend his range, but he doesn’t see a day when being effective in the paint isn’t important.

“I hope I am never going to get allergic to the paint,” Valanciunas said. “That’s my bread. That’s where I get my everything. I still believe the game needs the big guys inside to rebound and do good things in the paint, but shooting is something that (adds to) a big man.

“Maybe in the last year of my career you are going to see me take more threes than twos.”
 

 

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 Serge Ibaka

Tucker And Ibaka Make Toronto A Deep And Nasty Team

Trade deadline deals for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have made the Raptors a deep nasty team and pushed the resurgence of the stand pat Boston Celtics back another season. At least that seems to be the conclusion of Basketball Insiders Cody Taylor, ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast Trade Deadline Special.

Basketball Insiders – Adding Tucker figures to be a move designed to shore up its perimeter defense. He’s now likely their best defender against LeBron James should the Raptors match up again with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason. By making this move now, the Raptors were perhaps the biggest winners of the trade deadline.

ESPN – Toronto swooped in for both Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, forming a deep, nasty, versatile team that should end up better than Boston even if the Raptors can’t catch up in the standings. It feels like a missed opportunity for Boston to have some fun this season.

The Vertical – Toronto is the team that has made the upgrades. They have struggled here in the latter part before the All-Star break. They have some ground to make up, but just defensively, their ability now against Cleveland in the postseason, Boston in the postseason, they have really helped themselves more than any other team. Certainly in the Eastern Conference.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger at the trade deadline big-time this season and made the biggest improvements to his roster of anyone in the East. A team that went 22-8 to start the season and then fell apart under the weight of relatively minor injuries to Patrick Patterson, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll just got a big boost to their rotation.

“I love this about these two guys added to the group we have, it helps us with toughness,” Ujiri said.

Gone from the rotation is Terrence Ross, quite possibly in the midst of his best season ever, but still maddingly inconsistent and too often failing to live up to his talent. Also gone is the team’s big 2016 free agent addition Jared Sullinger who was still trying to regain his form after missing most of this season with a broken foot, so he won’t be missed on the court.

Inbound is the proven veteran Ibaka, known for his defense and rim protection (90 blocks this season). He should instantly step in as the Raptors starting power forward and second best three-point shooter as well as someone that can score in the paint. Ibaka was leading the Magic with 846 points this season which would put him third on the Raptors, right about where he is expected to be as a scoring option in Toronto and in a role he was very familiar with in OKC.

The upgrade Ibaka brings can’t be overstated. Out of necessity, rookie Pascal Siakam has started 38 games at power forward for Toronto this year averaging 4.8 points and lots of mistakes on defense. He looks like a player with high potential, but he’s got a lot to learn.

The Raptors were thin on the wing to start this season and after trading Ross and prior to acquiring Tucker, they were potentially one injury away from disaster. Tucker likely comes off the bench and his style of play should earn him a super-sub role much like the one Patterson has earned with his tough defense and acceptable three-point shooting. Tucker isn’t a great three-point threat, but he’s good enough to keep defenses honest and good enough on defense to make a difference at the end of games.

“I love his toughness,” Ujiri said about Tucker. “He can defend. He can defend multiple positions. He can shoot the corner three and toughness, we needed to become a tougher team and I think this helps us.”

Also, the injury woes appear to be over for now at least.

Patterson is expected to play in the first game back after the All-Star break and it seemed like the team was holding him out a few extra games just to be sure he’d be ready for the stretch drive to the playoffs. He’ll return to a bench role where he’s been a super-sub in Casey’s rotation.

Carroll was still playing on a sore knee to start the season, but by early January the knee felt good and he was starting to put up some really nice numbers. Then a kick to the head by Pascal Siakam set him back, but he’s since re-found his shooting touch and his confidence and similar to the seven games stretch before the knock on the head, he has averaged 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 46.4 percent from three over his last half-dozen games.

A turned ankle cost DeRozan a couple of weeks and the Raptors scoring seemed to be sitting out with him, but now he’s back and he’s fine.

Casey has been wanting to tighten up the Raptors rotation and with his new additions, it should come together relatively quickly.

Starting:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Subs:

Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira

Bench:

Fred VanVleet*, Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam*, Jakob Poeltl*
(* rookies)

Potential closing lineup:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Tucker/Carroll, Patterson, Ibaka

With a full line-up at his disposal, this is the deepest, most talented and toughest roster Ujiri has ever handed head coach Dwane Casey. However, Ujiri has a word of caution.

“Everything always looks pretty on paper,” Ujiri said. “Now we have to go out and play.”

Ujiri has bought into the concept that this team is close and in a very competitive East, the opportunity to knock off the favorite, but short-handed, Cavaliers is there. He felt the Raptors owed it to their fans, coaches and players to give it their best shot right now.

“The way the East is situated, there’s Cleveland at the top and then there’s 5,6,7 teams that could catch steam at any time and momentum and then whoever does it at the right time, then maybe you find yourselves there,” Ujiri said. “We want to give ourselves the best shot to be there.”

Ujiri has a knack for knowing what to do and then getting it done without sacrificing the things he believes in. Things like keeping and developing his own young players, but still giving his team a chance to win. With the acquisition of Tucker and Ibaka, Ujiri has made the Raptors tougher, deeper and potentially a little nastier just in time to see if this is a group that can go deep into the playoffs and worth becoming a luxury tax team this summer.

 

 

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 2016

Raptors Fred VanVleet Gets The Rookie Treatment

Toronto Raptors rookie point guard Fred VanVleet was getting some playing time coming up to the NBA trade deadline and as someone who likes to drive and create contact, he’s been discovering what getting the rookie treatment means in the NBA.

“You shouldn’t even look for no calls,” All-Star DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report about being an NBA rookie. “Fred probably couldn’t even name all three refs out there. It just comes with the game. We all went through it. We all got to get through it. It’s just part of a rookie year and, you know, you can’t complain.”

VanVleet is enjoying the classic case of veteran defenders knowing referees are going to give them a lot of latitude when this undrafted rookie drives to the basket. Getting hacked, wacked and knocked on his backside without a friendly whistle anywhere to be found is just something VanVleet has to get used to.

“Without a doubt, that’s about 80 percent of the battle honestly,” VanVleet told Pro Bball Report about not getting calls. “That’s part of being a rookie. That’s part of being a player that (the referees) don’t know. If you look at some of the calls Kyle (Lowry) gets, we laugh about it as group cause those are All-Star calls and veteran calls that some guys get and that’s a part of the process too cause when I’m driving some guys eyes light up versus being afraid to foul. That’s a part of (being a rookie) and part of being a young player and growing.”

I am driving pretty much knowing I am not getting any calls. I got to keep that in the back of my head.”

Don’t think for a minute that’s it’s easy for a rookie to keep driving knowing the defender can lay the wood to him and likely get given ‘the benefit of the doubt’ even when there is no doubt about what just happened.

“It’s hard,” VanVleet said. “It’s hard to keep going. It’s not hard to keep the confidence, but it’s hard to know you could look pretty stupid sometimes flipping some up there, taking a shot off the side of the backboard after getting hit. You just got to have the confidence and be a little crazy about it and decide that this is the type of player I am going to be and nobody is going to stop me until coach Casey comes up to me and says I got to be a little smarter about what I’m doing and I take that into consideration, but until that happens I am going to keep going.”

Being unafraid of physical contact is part of the allure VanVleet brings to the table. There are definitely parallels to Lowry in VanVleet’s game. A toughness, a bulldog mentality that suggests VanVleet will find a way to stick in the NBA long term.

One area where the lack of a referee’s whistle can’t hold him back is on the perimeter and although the sample size is small, VanVleet’s three-point shooting at 38.9 percent has been encouraging.

“I don’t feel that when I play I am limited in any shape or form,” VanVleet said. “Other than in Brooklyn, I’ve thought I’ve shot it well and had good looks. I feel that I can score when I’m out there. It’s a matter of growing and being more efficient and each time I play, trying to get better and over time develop as a player.”

“In terms of shooting from the perimeter, I don’t think I have any issues. It’s just that when I get into the lane, obviously with bigger guys around, trying to find a way to be more efficient.”

With Delon Wright back from injury, playing time for VanVleet will get even harder to find and it’s possible one of them gets traded, possibly this week, likely before next season, so what VanVleet is able to do with whatever opportunities come his way matters. Everything he has done, and will do, will be under the microscope.

“It’s just better players, bigger players, limited time,” VanVleet said. “When I do play, it’s under a microscope. It’s just a learning process that most young players go through and it’s part of my development as a player. I’ll continue to grow and get better.”

Watching VanVleet play, there is no question he’s been getting the rookie treatment from the referees and into the stretch drive prior to the playoffs, he can expect the rookie treatment from the coaching staff as well. Minutes will be hard to come by, but the reasons why the Raptors signed him in the summer have become obvious. There is a lot of Lowry’s bulldog mentality and confidence in his 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 Delon Wright

Remember Delon Wright? The Raptors Point Guard Is Back

Remember Delon Wright? Last year’s rookie had become a forgotten man in Toronto after a Summer League injury sidelined him for the first 3.5 months of this season and the Raptors signed the undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet, but the Raptors point guard is back and making an instant impression.

In his first NBA game this season after a rehab assignment with the NBA D-League Raptors 905, Delon Wright was a lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance by the Toronto Raptors in Chicago on the Tuesday before the All-Star Break. Then on the back-to-back in Toronto against the Hornets, head coach Dwane Casey went to Wright early and played him the entire fourth quarter.

“I thought he played well (in Chicago),” Casey said pregame in Toronto. “He was very creative with the basketball and defensively did some good things. He’s going to be a good player. I thought he changed the energy of the game. We were in a stupor in the first half and I thought his play energized us in the second half. His penetrations, kick outs, his plays with the basketball and his defense. That was his charge coming into this season was improving his defense and he was guarding Rondo who is not an easy guard at that position and he did a good job.”

Wright earned those minutes back in Toronto the next night. He was the only player on his team to finish with a “plus” in the plus/minus statistic in Chicago and it was no fluke. He really did play well in his first nine minutes of action this season.

Wright has fully recovered from his shoulder injury and his rehab assignment with the 905 showed he was ready to contribute. In 5 games with the 905, Wright averaged 30.1 minutes, 12.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and more importantly 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks.

“Sort of I’m done playing there (with Raptors 905), so hopefully with what I’ve done so far it translates to up here (with Toronto Raptors),” Wright told Pro Bball Report a few days ago. “As long as I don’t have to play 40 minutes, I’ll be good. I feel I am in good condition.”

Against Charlotte Wright was in decent enough condition to play almost 28 minutes, but it also became obvious that every time Wright brought up the ball for the Raptors something good happened while when anyone else initiated the offense, it was a crap shoot. His defense on the Hornets $20 million per year wing Nicolas Batum was equally impressive. Batum shot 1-4 in the fourth quarter, only hitting what looked like pray from deep.

“Delon Wright is going to be a good player in this league,” Casey repeated after the game. “Unfortunately he is playing behind an All-Star in Kyle (Lowry), but there are some minutes to be had for him. He did a great job. His size and length helps the blitzing problem and playing under control.

“The 905 is a huge asset for us. you can go down there and play and stay ready.”

Casey went with an unusual three point guard lineup and surprisingly it made both Lowry and Joseph better in that fourth quarter, Kyle hitting 2-4 three-pointers and Cory going 2-2.

“It allows both Kyle and Cory to get off the ball. It’s what (Wright) does,” Casey said. “Teams are all locked in to play those guys. It allows Kyle to be a shooter, he’s one of the best three-point shooters and it gets him off the ball.”

There have already been cries of the ‘sample size is too small,’ but that fails to give Wright credit for how he finished off his rookie campaign. If he hadn’t been hurt to start the season, expectations were already set to rise.

 In four appearances with the Raptors in April, Wright averaged 14.3 points, on 53.8 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1 steal and 0.8 blocks in 26.7 minutes as Toronto went 3-1 in those games. He put up a career high 19 points against a Pacers team fighting for it’s playoff life.

“I feel good,” Wright told Pro Bball Report before Christmas. “Happy to be back getting some shots up and working out.

“Nothing happened to my confidence. I don’t see not going back to what I was doing.”

Give credit where credit is due. Wright has picked up right back where he left off last season and possibility even a little further ahead despite the injury. Didn’t someone say competition for minutes is good for an organization? Watch your back Joseph, someone is gunning for your court 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 Serge Ibaka

Raptors Pres. Masai Ujiri Lands Serge Ibaka On His Terms

The Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri can be a frustratingly patient executive when it comes to making a move that seems inevitable, but as has become the norm, in the end he got the Magic’s leading scorer Serge Ibaka on his terms. A deal for Ibaka was always dependent on price.

 

Magic GM Rob Hennigan took a huge risk trading for Ibaka in the summer sending Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and 2016 11th overall draft pick Domantas Sabonis to OKC seven months ago. He knew if things didn’t go as hoped, the Magic had just acquired what would become a very desirable free agent in just a year.

Ujiri also had designs on trading for Ibaka last summer, but he wasn’t willing to match or beat Hennigan’s offer and in the end, he’s acquired the three-time All-NBA Defensive First Team power forward for the player believed to be in the offing previously, Terrence Ross.

While Ibaka isn’t the shot-blocking savant he was earlier in his career, he has become the scoring “3-and-D” big man every NBA team now needs to compete at the highest level.

It’s not like Ibaka was “struggling” with the slumping Magic either. The 27-year-old Ibaka led his team with 1710 minutes, 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks. A young veteran in his 8th NBA season, Ibaka will provide an instant impact at both ends of the court for his new team.

The Magic didn’t come away with nothing in this deal. Ross is in the first year of a very reasonable three-year contract that will pay him $10.5 million over each of the next two seasons. The 26-year-old wing is an effective three-point shooter who can be a high flyer around the rim, a creator and an opportunistic defender when he’s at his best. The Raptors have been waiting for four years to see Ross become the consistent elite scorer his natural ability indicates is there. The change of scenery might do him good.

This move represents a solid acquisition for Toronto. Another team’s leading scorer, solid defender and best rim protector who been a role player on a very good team in the past. Ibaka should fit in quickly with little disruption.

However, for the Raptors to “win” this trade Ibaka can’t be just a rental. Ibaka is the kind of player every team needs in today’s NBA. Re-signing “Air Congo” should be a top priority in the summer and indicate the days of squeezing nickels at MLSE is over. One can only hope.

 

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 and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors All-Stars Lowry And DeRozan Are Asking For Help

Mired in a 4-10 streak and watching team after team pass them in the standings, the Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are asking for help. No one is mentioning names or blame, but the only one that can help them in the immediate future is president Masai Ujiri.

It’s as much how the team is losing games as how many they’ve lost. In the first half of the season the Raptors went 28-13 and lost seven of those games by five points or less. While the result was positive, how they were losing was raising concerns from head coach Dwane Casey even then. In their next 10 losses, seven more were by five points or less and were punctuated by blowing double-digit leads to teams well below them in the standings.

Injuries, rehab assignments, and playing rookies aside, Lowry and DeRozan have a right to be very concerned.

“Something got to give, something got to change,” Lowry said after the one-point loss to the Pistons. “I have an idea, but I am going to keep my mouth shut, keep it professional. I am starting to get worried. It’s not going the way it’s supposed to be going and things aren’t changing, so I am starting to get worried.”

“Help is always beneficial,” DeRozan said. “I never looked at help as a negative thing. If help is an option, why not?”

Patrick Patterson has missed 13 games because of a sore knee since the New Year, but things weren’t much better in the games he has played since then, so even when he returns healthy – probably post All-Star break – there won’t be a lot of confidence that it will be enough to swing the tide.

The best help would come from the outside via trade. An impact player who could shore up the Raptors porous defense or become a legitimate third scoring option and preferably both.

Ujiri likes to take his time and land the best deal possible, but maybe this time he needs to pull the trigger early and pay a little more. The Raptors players haven’t looked this disheartened since before the Rudy Gay trade in 2013. They need help 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.

 
 

 

NBA TOronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Carries A Heavy Load In Toronto

By Frank McLean

Okay Raptors fans who’s is averaging more minutes a game in the NBA this year than MVP candidates James Harden, Russell Westbrook and some guy named LeBron James. Would you believe Kyle Lowry?

At 37-minutes a game Lowry is leading the league with minutes played.  17-times this year he has logged 40-minutes or more in a game. He carries a heavy load in Toronto each and every night.

He has been the Raptors most consistent player because of his ability to log heavy minutes in a season where he has been one of the lucky ones to avoid extended stays on the injury list, which started in the summer league with Delon Wright and added Jared Sullinger in the preseason and more recently Patrick Patterson and his partner at guard DeMar DeRozan.

You wonder how Lowry is able to keep it up? Along with DeRozan he spent the summer with the USA Basketball winning the gold medal at the Olympics and had maybe a total of three weeks off before training camp rolled around for the current NBA season.

Lowry will tell you though he is enjoying every minute of it.

“I play basketball for a living. It’s very easy. It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun. At times you’re like I want to sleep in longer, but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon.”

Lowry and the Raptors have been enjoying something that the schedule doesn’t give you very often and that’s three days off before their next game. They also have games Tuesday and Wednesday before the team gets eight days off for the All-Star break.

Now Lowry along with DeRozan won’t get the full eight days off since they will be in New Orleans to play in the game, but with only four wins in their last 13-games, this break is needed.

But the problem for the Raptors is not just needing a rest. Their defence has disappeared and that showed in a Wednesday night loss in Minnesota.

Lowry as the leader of this team spoke Wednesday night about what needs to be done down the stretch to the playoffs because the defence has not been their consistently all year.

“Honestly, no it hasn’t,” Lowry said. “I think we had one good game where we shot 38 or 40% and we won the game. That’s one game this year. Other than that I just feel like we have to figure it out and it’s on everyone. It’s on myself to hold guys acceptable, it’s on DeMar to hold guys accountable, it’s on us to lead us. It starts with us. We got to both do it. Then DeMarre (Carroll) and (Jonas Valanciunas) and everyone else has to step up.

“Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something, we just have to figure it out ourselves. When I say something has got to give we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

Lowry has been ‘the man’ all season, averaging 23-points, five rebounds and seven assists. With DeRozan back from his ankle injury, the dynamic duo are averaging a combined 51-points a night.

This also Lowry’s contract year and a big payday of over $25-million a year will be coming his way.

He’s earned it. He has been the Raptors most reliable player all 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.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Serge Ibaka vs Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Magic Forward Serge Ibaka Trade To Raptors Hinges On Price

There has been a lot written about the possibility of the Toronto Raptors acquiring the pending Orlando Magic free agent power forward Serge Ibaka by the NBA trade deadline. As things stand now, this isn’t about to happen unless something changes.

That the slumping Magic are trying to salvage something from the high risk move of acquiring Ibaka by trade in the summer has become increasingly more obvious as the losses pile up, but the only way GM Rob Henningan can recoup anything close to what he gave up is to try and create a bidding war. To that end, the Raptors, Wizards, Celtics, Pacers, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Heat have all been mentioned in a process that feels a lot like a GM trying to maximize value.

The Raptors being singled out because it is believed the Magic outbid them for Ibaka in the summer.

Hennigan’s problem is he gave up Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and 2016 11th overall draft pick Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka seven months ago and if anything, Ibaka’s value has dropped since then. The Raptors and any other NBA team should be reluctant to provide an equivalent haul of talent for a pending free agent with less than 30 regular season games remaining.

Serge Ibaka’s 2016-17 salary is $12.25 million.

One possible scenario would see Terrence Ross ($10 million salary), a young player like Delon Wright ($1.6 million salary) and a first round draft pick heading back to Orlando, but that seems like a lot for a potential rental.

From a Raptors perspective, something along the lines of Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million), Delon Wright ($1.6 million) and either Bruno Caboclo or Pascal Siakam to make the trade math work. It’s a discount to what Orlando paid that Hennigan would probably feel is too hard to swallow, but they got Ibaka’s services for over half the season.

Neither scenario likely gets a deal done, but time’s a wasting. The Raptors need a boost for the postseason and Hennigan will look pretty foolish if Ibaka walks away in the summer and he left anything of value on the table now.

The biggest risks to a deal getting done are Hennigan sticking to his demands, another team is willing to part with more than Raptors president Masai Ujiri, and Ujiri finding a more reasonable trade partner elsewhere. Ibaka isn’t the only player in play.

What would you give up for a potential rental of Ibaka?

Are the Raptors just too cost conscious and risk averse to get the big deal done that might make this team a contender?

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira

Lucas Nogueira Is Key To Raptors Trade Talks

It’s widely assumed the Toronto Raptors are looking for an impact player at power forward prior to the NBA trade deadline to fill the one gapping hole in their rotation, however, president Masai Ujiri may have other options thanks to the development of third year center Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira has been an unexpected surprise as an elite rim protector backing up Jonas Valanciunas, but with all of the injuries and rookie Pascal Siakam being, well, a rookie, head coach Dwane Casey  has given Nogueira significant minutes at power forward as well and that makes the big Brazilian a potential key to future moves by Ujiri.

“My normal spot is not the four, but I like it because when I started playing basketball I worked on the skills of a four like shooting threes, putting the ball on the court and passing,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “I have a chance to play at the four, I am so glad to be in that position.

“I know it’s hard to guard fours in this league. Every night I am going to have a tough time at the four, so I have to be ready to play offense, but it is more important to be able to guard those fours. It is a big challenge in this league.”

Unlike many traditional fives, Nogueira has the mobility to guard on the perimeter and his length gives him an advantage in the post on both ends of the court. It isn’t easy to shoot over him, especially for those players under 7′. At this point in his career it’s mostly a lack of experience that’s holding him back from a bigger role, he’s already played four times as many minutes this year as he did in his first two NBA seasons combined.

“Every sport is about concentration,” Nogueira said. “The winner is the one who makes fewer mistakes and if you focus, you are going to make fewer mistakes.”

And yes, Nogueira makes mistakes, but while it isn’t a big sample size yet, Nogueira seems to focus harder when taken a bit out of his comfort zone playing at the four. It is certainly an intriguing lineup and a difficult matchup for most opponents when Casey has two 7-footers out there at the same time.

“I don’t pay attention to statistics about minutes at the four and the five,” Nogueira said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the four or five, every time I am on the court I try to help my teammates because I (play with) some of the greatest offensive players in the league. I just try to do the normal help as a four or five, I don’t care. I don’t pay attention if I block more shots at the four or the five.”

In a bit of a surprise, Nogueira has become a keeper in Toronto and it’s a good thing he doesn’t care about whether he plays at the four or the five as it means Ujiri can effectively tweak his lineup with an addition at either position at the trade deadline.

 

 

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 905 Bruno Caboclo

Still Waiting On Raptors Bruno Caboclo To Break Out

Not wanting to set the standards too high too soon, we’re still waiting on the Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo to break out at the NBA D-League level. No one is asking the 20th pick of the 2014 Draft to be ready to contribute at the NBA level, but it would provide some measure of reassurance if he could start dominating with the 905.

In the long list of players that have suited up for the Raptors 905 this season, Caboclo ranks 10th in scoring, 6th in rebounding, 7th in steals and 3rd in blocks.

And, if you were to look for any statistical improvement over his previous season in Mississauga, you wouldn’t find it.

.                        2015-16            2016-17
Points               14.7                       9.6
Rebounds          6.5                       5.3
Assists                1.7                       1.2
Steals                 1.1                       1.0
Blocks                1.8                       1.5
FG%                 40.3%                  40.8%
3FG%               33.5%                  32.0%

There’s the excuse that head coach Jerry Stackhouse is asking Caboclo to play more at small forward this year and cutting his minutes back a bit as winning is a bigger priority than last year, but those would be excuses for an NBA prospect in his third season playing in the D-League.

For all the outstanding performances from Caboclo like when he swatted a Raptors 905 club record 7 blocks in his 2016-17 debut while adding 17 points and 10 boards, he still disappears often enough to become a very average D-League player who isn’t taking full advantage of his remarkable natural gifts.

Caboclo ranks outside of the top 100 D-League players in scoring and outside of the top 50 in three-point shooting and rebounding. It’s hard not to blame his lack of progress for Caboclo becoming a forgotten man in Toronto.

He’s not forgotten in Mississauga, however, where he has been a regular in the starting lineup for two seasons now and the Raptors are pretty much forced in trying to get him to figure it out. Toronto picked up his option for next year prior to the start of this season.

“Everybody here loves (Caboclo),” 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said at the start of the season. “It’s my job. Masai (Ujiri) does a great job of identifying talent and he feels like Bruno is going to be a great player in this league (the NBA) and it’s our job to make sure that he does it.”

Was two years away from being two years away optimistic? It’s looking like Stackhouse will still be trying to make sure Caboclo “does it” next 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.

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

D-League All-Star Edy Tavares Deserves Another Shot At The NBA

Named to the Eastern Conference NBA D-League All-Star team, Edy Tavares is having a good year with the Raptors 905. The 7’3 center is averaging 10.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 23.7 minutes thru 30 games. Tavares deserves another shot at making an NBA roster.

The native of Cape Verde didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 17, but he was drafted in the second round by the Hawks in 2014 and split last season between Atlanta where he played in 11 games and D-League’s Austin Spurs, Canton Charge and Bakersfield Jam. It’s been a steep learning curve for the big mobile center.

Tavares shows a lot of what is expected from a big man in today’s game. He can protect the rim, run the floor and he’s got a jump shot. His range isn’t out to the three-point line yet, but he’s been hitting 50 percent of his midrange shots, so the potential is there.

Someone would be doing themselves a favor by giving this D-League All-Star a 10-day NBA contract.

Tavares joins 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse at the D-League All-Star Game and 905 guard John Jordan who will defend his title in the 2017 NBA D-League Slam Dunk contest.

The D-League All-Star Game will air live on NBA TV and tips off Saturday, February 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

 
 

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 Dwane Casey

Are The Raptors Showcasing Players For A Trade?

Over the past month Raptors head coach Dwane Casey can be excused for going deeper into his bench than he’d like with all the injuries he has been forced to contend with, but that doesn’t explain why he’s back to going 11 or 12 men deep in tight winnable games against subpar competition. His substitutions recently beg the question, are the Raptors showcasing players for a potential trade?

All those extra bodies sure didn’t help Toronto pull out wins against the Magic, two recent losses of 114-113 and 102-94, or the Timberwolves, a 112-109 loss. Even Casey admits it’s hard to play so many guys.

“It’s hard to play so many guys,” Casey said after the win over the Clippers on Monday. “I know everybody wants to see everybody play, but it’s hard in a rotation to try and get our rotation back.

“Really, realistically we are only going to be able to play 9, possibly 10 max as the year goes on when everybody is healthy.”

So why is Casey playing 11 or 12 guys? Who is this “everybody” who wants to see everybody play? It’s kind of vague, especially when the only person who could possibly convince Casey to go deeper into his bench than he’d like is his boss, president Masai Ujiri.

In Minnesota, with the Raptors up by just 6 points and 1.6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Casey brings in a 10th man in Jared Sullinger. In theory it cost the Raptors nothing. In practice it sent Jonas Valanciunas, who was shooting 7-7, to the bench and helps limit him to just 26 minutes in a game where he was very effective.

So maybe Casey was just trying to get Sullinger some playing time as there is still hope the big guy can get into playing shape in time for the postseason? But, it wasn’t doing anything to help the Raptors win this game. Sullinger went 0-2 for 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 6 minutes. Not that it would be reasonable to expect a guy coming back from injury to produce much in 6 minutes after sitting on the bench for the first half.

Then about 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, Casey subs in Norman Powell for the first time in the game as an 11th man. At this point both Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross had done a reasonable job off the bench and could have stayed in the game/ one would have stayed in the game in a tight rotation.

Powell has earned playing time during his limited number of appearances as a starter this season, but to bring him off the bench midway thru the 4th quarter without a good reason produced an almost inevitable result. Ice-cold Powell went 0-0 from the field with just a turnover to prove he was there.

“We got to have 7 or 8 guys,” Casey said postgame in Minnesota. “If we can’t play 9, we can’t play 9, but 7 or 8 who are going to play hard together.”

To whom is Casey’s message directed? He been saying an effective rotation is 8 or 9 players and maybe 10 since he arrived in Toronto, so his comments are consistent. No one in the media seems to be disagreeing with him either. This isn’t the Lottery team he started with in 2011. If he wants to put winning ahead of player development and rehabbing injuries, he isn’t going to get a lot of flak from the press.

The possibility of an inconsistent rotation has been there since the start of the season when Ujiri let several veterans walk and added three rookies to an already young roster. It’s really hard for young players to develop sitting on the bench and stints in the NBA D-League can only help so much. Unfortunately, player development and deep playoff runs are not compatible goals.

If as Casey says there are aspirations of becoming a championship contender, then at some point, preferably soon, the Raptors need to settle on a tight rotation that can win games.

If what’s been going on has been a show to help Ujiri upgrade the roster for the postseason, it would certainly help explain the inconsistencies between what their head coach says he needs to do and what he’s been doing lately.

 

 

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.