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 Delon Wright

Raptors Win When Delon Wright Scores Says John Wall

The Wizards know who the stars are on the Toronto Raptors and they’ll tell you they are ready for them, but it’s the other guys that they worry about. Role players like backup point guard Delon Wright who play better at home and whose scoring can make the difference between winning and losing.

“Delon Wright came in and made some big shots and big plays for them,” Wizards John Wall said after Game Five. “Whenever he gets over 10 or 15, nine times out of 10 they win the game.”

Well in this first round playoff series, the Raptors are three-for-three when Wright scores in double-digits and that’s not inconsistent with his season. Toronto won 73 percent of their games when Wright scored 10 or more points this year and just like in the postseason, he’s a better shooter and scorer at home than on the road. Wright hit over 40 percent of his threes at home during the regular season and he’s 6-10 from three so far against the Wizards in the playoffs at the Air Canada Centre.

“There is no reason (Wright) should be passing on any open shots,” C.J. Miles said after Game Five.

But it isn’t always easy for Wright to fight against his pass-first nature and it took a significant amount of outside pressure after two lackluster games on the road to somewhat embarrass him to get back to doing what he does well and his team needs from him.

“People were telling me to stop hesitating and just shoot the ball,” Wright said. “People all on my Twitter, Instagram, my family, about 30 people told me.”

Apparently it worked. Now Wright doesn’t tweet or post every day, but he obviously checks his accounts, so now it’s incumbent on his followers to remind him to shoot prior to every game!

 

Coach Casey has given everyone on the Raptors the green light to shoot their shots and hopefully Wright doesn’t need a reminder to let it fly in Washington on Friday. But perhaps it’d be a good idea to remind him?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Toronto Playoff Triple Header At Jurassic Park Tonight

The Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, and TFC (soccer) are all playing key playoff matches tonight and fans are encouraged to arrive early if they want their spot in the Maple Leaf Square/Jurassic Park tailgate party to watch all the action. Gates open at 5 p.m. and the on stage programming starts at 5:40 p.m., but if past years are any indication, fans wanting to take in the festivities will need to arrive very early indeed.

As Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs continues, the Toronto Raptors will host the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m in a pivotal Game Five inside the Air Canada Centre. As usual, the Jurassic Park tailgate will be jumping.

Fans wishing to watch the Raptors game can enter Jurassic Park off Lakeshore Blvd.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing the Bruins on the road in Boston at 7:30 p.m. for a “win or go home” Game Seven. Temporary screens by York St. and Bremner Blvd. will broadcast the game to provide a combined tailgate experience for fans.

Leafs fans should enter Maple Leaf Square from York St./Bremner Blvd.

Once the Raptors game ends, the screens will switch to Leafs vs Bruins.

At about 9:30 p.m. fans will be able to watch Toronto FC face off against Chivas Guadalajara in the away (final) leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final being played in Mexico. It’s a chance to see MLS history in the making.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early as space for this event is limited and a full house is expected.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors Magic Number Is 30, 30 Three-Balls That Is

The secret to the Raptors 59 win season isn’t exactly a mystery. They fire up a lot of threes and the threat of the three-ball is what opens up the floor to get to the rim. When they aren’t shooting threes, the Raptors get a lot easier to guard.

“A lot of our three-point shooters had opportunities to shoot the ball and for whatever reason we were hesitating,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after practice. “When you look at the film, they had plenty of time. We got to let it go, got to let it fly.”

As we wrote at the start of this series. These Raptors live or die by the three-ball.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory.

And it wasn’t lost on Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after Game One.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us,” Brooks said.

In those first two games in Toronto, the Raptors hoisted 65 threes and won both games. In the next two in Washington, they turned down shots and only fired up 46 three-balls and that’s a losing formula for Toronto.

As Casey indicated, it wasn’t the Wizards defense that ran the Raptors off the three-point line on the road. It was guys like Delon Wright turning down open shots to make a pass or waiting for defenders to arrive so they could drive. These Raptors have to be willing to let it fly like have been all season.

Now back in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre it should be easier for the Raptors to get back to the game plan that was so successful for them this season. If Toronto can get up 10 threes in the first quarter of Game Five, make or miss, they should be expected to hold onto their home court advantage. If not, this could be a long night for the home team.

 

 

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 Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

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 and Jakob Poeltl

Reward For Missing Raptors Bench: Best To Worst

Maybe it’s time for Toronto to offer a reward to anyone that can find their missing bench? Touted as the best bench in the NBA during the regular season, they’ve become the worst bench in the playoffs. The eye test backs up the numbers, it’s the Raptors starting unit that has been carrying the load against Washington.

This season the Raptors reserves led the league’s benches (per NBA.com) with  a net rating of +8.3 points and in the more straightforward plus/minus at +3.6. They weren’t just good, this bench turned more than a few games around for Toronto with their hustle and efficient play, but in the postseason, it’s been a different story.

With backup point guard Fred VanVleet on the shelf to start the playoffs, the Raptors second unit has had an embarrassingly bad -20.4 points net rating and a plus/minus of -7.3 points, both good for dead last among the playoff teams.

However, it hasn’t been VanVleet’s missing offense that’s the problem. The bench is scoring just 3.1 fewer points in 2.9 fewer minutes and they’ve been shooting the lights out from three-point range at 43.6 percent. The offensive production is fine, it’s the defense, rebounding, and a surprising drop off in sharing the ball that’s causing the problems.

In the playoffs the bench is garnering 6.8 fewer rebounds, 4.3 fewer assists and 1.2 fewer steals. Their defensive rating has shot up from a respectable 101.6 in the regular season to a terrible 120.1 in their three postseason games. The bench is only garnering 42.8 percent of the available rebounds which translates into lots of extra possessions for the Wizards.

With the numbers in full view, it’s easy to understand why the bench has looked so bad during the recent games.

It’s probably not fair to lay the blame at the feet of two second year players with a total of 36 minutes of playoffs experience between them prior to this season, but they kind of stand out and, even if they didn’t score, the hope would be Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl would hang onto their regular season chemistry and provide energy, defense and rebounding.

“We are letting them come to us and we are trying to react afterwards,” Poeltl said after the Game Three loss. “Me as a center, when I am guarding a guy like Scott or Morris, I have to find a good balance between being out for the shooters at the three and still being there to help at the rim for a guy like John Wall that’s coming down the lane. That’s really the difficult part for us to figure out.”

The Raptors big men off the bench simply aren’t finding that balance between guarding the three-point line and getting back to defend the rim and in today’s NBA where everybody shoots threes, that’s a big problem.

Between Poeltl and Siakam, their rebounds are down 2.3 per game, assists off 1.4 and steals have dropped to zero from 1.3. They are getting taken advantage off by a far more veteran group of Wizards big men that they haven’t been able to out-hustle or run into the ground. Those looks of “what did I do” as Poeltl picks up another foul or Siakam’s surprising lack of decisiveness (or confidence?) are not what Toronto has been used to seeing from these two all season.

Both Poeltl and Siakam exceeded expectations this year and they are going to get better, but the playoffs demand more than the regular season and these two are having to learn that on the job. Without the Raptors reserve big men playing up to expectations, Toronto’s bench will remaining “missing,” so they had better adapt fast.

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Are Wizards Still Using Last Year’s Raptors Scouting Report?

After a couple of games being shelled from deep in Toronto you’d think the Washington Wizards would have noticed that this isn’t last year’s Raptors team? But you could be mistaken, they still seem to be clinging to last year’s scouting report. From the postgame comments, the Wizards aren’t ready to accept that giving up a 122 points per game in their first round playoff series has been on them.

“There were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes,”Wizards guard Bradley Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. 

“There’s a lot of guys, we went over the scouting report, there’s guys making threes that’s not really their M.O. coming into the series,” Beal said after Game Two. 

“I really feel like it’s nothing crazy that’s beating us in terms of their sets and the offensive stuff that they’re running. I think we are just shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts, allowing guys to get open threes, allowing guys to get those shots, allowing guys to get layups. It has to be one or the other.”

The Raptors were the highest scoring team in the East this season doing exactly what Beal has described on a nightly basis.

So, are the Wizards actually looking at this year’s scouting report on the Raptors? Toronto was third in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in three-point makes this season. Almost everyone on the roster shoots threes. This team has nine players that attempted over 130 three-pointers during the regular season and outside of backup center Jakob Poeltl, everyone on the roster has the green light to shoot a three when open.

Even the Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas will shoot the three if he isn’t guarded. He was 30-74 from three during the regular season and is already 1-2 in this series.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.”

The only players on the Raptors averaging more than two midrange shots a game are are DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka and they both average over 3.5 three-point attempts per game. Toronto has shifted away from being a top 12 team in scoring from the midrange last season to a bottom six team this year. These guys score over 75 percent of their points in the paint or from three.

NBA Toronto Raptors

“They play really well together,” Beal admitted. “You got to respect what coach Casey is doing and how he meshed and gelled that team together.

“We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The drawing should probably include guarding the three-point line or this fan in Washington might not survive his next rant.

 

 

 

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

Raptors Show Hustle Over Hype In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

For the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night’s second game of their first round playoff battle with the Washington Wizards was uncharted territory. It was the first time the Raptors ever played a Game Two in a first round series up one game to nothing thanks to Saturday’s 114-106 win, so the worry was to keep the momentum up and not let down.

The theme of the night was written on the t-shirts that every fan had waiting for them at their seats “Hustle Over Hype”, that’s what head coach Dwane Casey wanted to avoid heading into Game Two, the hype after coming off a big win.

“When you get into the playoff situation, just because you win one game doesn’t mean anything,” Casey was saying before the game. “Behind one game, up one game, it’s a seven game series and you have to go on with that. It’s great to protect home court and have that mindset, but we are going into like we haven’t done anything.”

Well the Raptors past the test with a 130-119 win giving them their first ever two-games to nothing lead in a playoff series. They never let the hype of finally winning a game one get in their heads, but it was way they came out to start the game was something I have never seen in my 23-years covering the team.

They went on a 28-13 run to start the game ending the first quarter with a 44-27 lead that Washington would eventually cut to five with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors would get the lead back up to 20 points and eventually win by 11.

Toronto hit seven three pointers in the first quarter, 11 in the first half overall and were 13-of-35 for the game. They broke three franchise playoff records in the game,

The 44 points in the first quarter was a new record for points in a quarter in a playoff game.

They lead 76-58 at the half and the 76 points was new record for points scored in a half in a playoff game.

The 130 points scored overall is also a new record for points in a playoff game.

And don’t forget DeMar DeRozan who tied his playoff career high with 37 points.

But you have to give the Wizards credit, they did get the deficit down to five in the fourth quarter.

It was all John Wall, the Wizards best player, who did his best scoring 22 second half points and that is someone Casey said the Raptors will have to do a better job defending the rest of the series.

“He was going where he wanted to go with the ball,” Casey said. “We got to do a better job of getting down in the stance, containing the ball, and the bigs have go to do a better job of protecting the rim. And we have (in the past), and we’ve done it, so it’s something that can be done, we just did not do a good job in the second half tonight.”

You had to feel sorry for Wizards coach Scott Brooks who in his post-game media conference looked like he had been put through the ringer. He credited a C.J. Miles three-pointer that killed their comeback at down five points in the fourth after starting the final frame down 15.

“C.J. Miles hit a big shot and John (Wall) had a good contest. Give him credit, he stepped up and made that,” Brooks said. “The momentum shifted when he made that shot. Tough to overcome 44 points in the first quarter, tough to overcome seven threes in the first quarter, but somehow we managed to do it. We probably ran out of gas a little bit.”

But this is a different Toronto Raptors team and as I said I have not seen anything like this in 23-years the franchise has been around.

They started the game with a killer instinct and when the Wizards John Wall slowly chipped away at the lead, they never folded up like a cheap suitcase as they’d done in the past.

The Raptors passed the test, so now it’s on to Washington where there are more uncharted waters to navigate.

 

 

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 C.J. Miles

These Raptors Live Or Die By The Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors have been firing away from deep since before the season began. It was all part of the “culture change” promised by president Masai Ujiri and delivered by head coach Dwane Casey. These Raptors were going to live or die by the three-ball this season and they rode that change all the way to first place in the East.

“They are a good team,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said after losing Game One of their first round series with Toronto. “They are the number one seed for a reason.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us. They’ve been doing it all year, not 16 in a game, they averaged nearly 12 (three-pointers a game).”

From 8.8 made threes per game in 2016-17 to an NBA fourth best 11.8 made threes this year, the Raptors have embraced the three-ball and everyone shoots them. Even the guys teams aren’t prepared to guard outside like the high-energy forward Pascal Siakam, the historically paint-bound Jonas Valanciunas and the mid-range king DeMar DeRozan. It a volume approach as Toronto is just an average three-point percentage shooting team.

“DeMar even made some threes in the fourth,” Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “They were 16-for-30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes. They made them.”

That Toronto fired up 30 three-balls in Game One really should not have come as a surprise to the Wizards. Over their four meetings this past season, the Raptors averaged 31.3 three-point attempts and as a team, they see no reason to change what got them to this point.

“We’ve been playing that style since training camp,” DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “We’ve been pounding and pounding every single day, every single practice, every single shoot-a-round, every time we get on the court, we pound this style of play. Guys know where their shots are going to come from. (We) understand where to get shots from, where to get our guys shots from, it’s just second nature now. You have to go thru that training camp, preseason and early-on-season of doing it and now it’s just repetition and it’s second nature to us.”

The Raptors use the three-ball to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and versatile guard Delon Wright, who had a big impact in Game One.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.

“I’m a driver, so teams try to pack the paint on me, so I have to be willing to take that open (three-point) shot. It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The same mindset applies to everyone on the Raptors and it makes the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team very difficult to guard. About the only way to stop them is to hope they miss shots.

“It’s definitely a pick your poison,” coach Scott said. “We just have to do it better.

“VanVleet did not play, but Wright came in and had a terrific game. That’s why they are hard to guard.”

“I think their bench was great, especially C.J. Miles, ” John Wall said. “I think they played well, made some big shots and that’s what they are going to do every game.”

Three-point specialist C.J. Miles was acquired during the summer to help make the transition to a three-point shooting roster happen and he’s been living up to his end of the bargain. Miles hit an NBA second most threes off the bench at 155 on the season and he hoisted the League’s second most attempts while on the court at over one three-point field goal attempt every three minutes. He’s been prolific and, taken in context, very effective.

“That’s been the main focus of what they have asked me to do since I’ve been signed, to be that threat, to carry that threat, but it’s a testament to guys looking for me, guys screening for me and the coaches believing in what I do,” Miles told Pro Bball Report. “I work at it extremely hard to be that threat. Obviously it can get a little crazy sometimes, but it is what it is. That’s what I am put out there to do.

“I understand you are not going to make them all and you you think about the fact that shooting 40 percent from three is elite, so that’s four out of 10, so if I miss three, the numbers are bound to balance out. That’s the way I look at it. As long as they are good looks, that’s the biggest thing.

“If it comes to me putting (the ball) down on the floor, it’s got to be because they made me, not because I passed up a shot to do it.”

Miles has been critical in getting the Raptors young players to buy into the “new culture” and not turn down shots just because they missed a couple and the proof is in the results. This style of play has worked for Toronto.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

The concern about the Raptors since those early preseason games when it seemed every prospect knew their only chance of making this roster was to shoot threes at every opportunity was if the team’s All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan would stay on board at the first signs of adversity or an impact to their own personal stats. Now we know they’re on board.

Ujiri’s culture change is in full effect and these Raptors will live or die by the three-ball. As of now, it looks like they could ride this change all the way to the NBA Finals.

 

 

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 Don’t Have To Change A Thing For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors won Game One of their first round playoff series with the Washington Wizards Saturday 114-106 by not changing a thing about the way they played in the regular season.

That was the theme in the two days leading up to the first game of this series.

On Thursday DeMar DeRozan made that quite clear when he sat down with the media because some people still think 59 wins overall and 34 wins at home was somehow a fluke.

“We did it 82 games,” DeRozan said. “We won 59 games. If that’s not the ultimate understanding of what got us here wasn’t a fluke, it really worked, we’re not going to sway away from that. I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s going take us even further.”

And they did that. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey rolled out 11 players out of the 13 he dressed for Game One which is nothing different from what he did during the regular season. The subs known as the BENCH MOB contributed 42 of the 114 points scored.

That has been this teams MO all season, use everybody and make it work.

There seems to be a theory that come playoff time you have to shorten your rotation to eight players heck maybe seven. Casey has had success running out 10-11 men a night and let it be known that he does not subscribe to that theory.

“Our record, we had the number one bench plus-minus in the league, one of the best producing benches in the league and that’s who we are and that’s one of the main reasons I say that and we’ll stick to that,” Casey said.

Six players had 10 or more points. You could see the difference from other years in which everything was centered around DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They were sharing the ball looking for the best shot and taking numerous three point attempts.

Down 59-55 at halftime they went on a 11-2 run hitting four straight three-point shots and grabbing a 66-61 lead. They were 16-of-30 behind the arch for the game, plus the real C.J. Miles came back hitting four-of-seven.

The Raptors looked confident throughout the game. They didn’t get rattled when they gave up the lead, something that in past playoff games would cause them to lose focus and get so far behind they couldn’t catch up.

“We been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”

It’s only one game, but the Raptors showed a confidence they have never shown in a playoff Game One during the Dwane Casey era. If they keep playing this way, it’s going to be a long postseason run and they don’t have to change a thing.

 

 

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 OG Anunoby

Rookie OG Anunoby Is The Raptors Version Of Otto Porter

It was just plain lucky that a college injury allowed OG Anunoby to fall to Toronto at 23rd in last year’s draft. The 6’8 combo forward came back months ahead of schedule and ready to play at the start of this season where he has shown all the potential to become the Raptors version of the Wizards Otto Porter or more.

The Wizards signed Porter to a $106 million extension last summer, but the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft didn’t exactly have a rookie season to remember. A hip flexor injury cost him three months at the beginning of the season and when he returned, he barely played. It wasn’t until his second season in 2014-15 that he got minutes almost worthy of his draft status and as a second year player, those numbers weren’t as impressive as Anunoby put up this year.

Anunoby (2017-18): 74 g, 20.2 min, 5.9 pts, 2.5 rbs, 0.7 asts, 47.1% FG, 37.1% 3FG

Porter (2014-15):       74g, 19.4 min, 6.0 pts, 3.0 rbs, 0.9 asts, 45% FG, 33.7% 3FG

Although both players are legit 6’8 and are elite athletes, Anunoby has the advantage in physical tools across the board. (Based on NBA predraft measurements)

OG                          Otto

Weight                        232 lbs                    198 lbs

Reach                          8′ 11.5″                    8′ 9.5″

Wingspan                   7′ 2.25″                    7′ 1.5″

Hand length                 9.25″                      8.75″

Physical attributes aren’t the be-all and end-all in the NBA and heading into this year’s playoffs, Porter has a distinct advantage in experience. His length and athleticism made him a natural defender and in his fourth season he became one of the NBA’s elite three-point shooters earning him that massive four-year extension. While Anunoby performed well from the three-point line for a rookie and his defensive game is showing a lot of promise, he’s got a lot of development ahead of him to match what Porter has gone thru during 343 regular season games and 26 more in the postseason .

Through Anunoby’s rookie’s rookie season he’s been hot from three, then cold and finally recovering to shoot 46.7 percent from three over his last 14 games since returning from a mid-season injury on March 16th. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can stay hot throughout the playoffs.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has given Anunoby a lot of latitude because of his defensive potential and flexibility summed up by his postgame comments after a recent game against Indiana.

“(Anunoby) did an excellent job,” Casey said. “I thought he did a heck of a job. He did a tremendous job of getting into (Victor Oladipo), being physical, using his length and size and we need that. That’s the OG that we need defensively. He made it hard on Oladipo.”

It wouldn’t be fair to put all the onus on Anunoby to offset what Porter will bring to the Wizards on offense and defense in their first round playoff match-up and fortunately the Raptors don’t have to. Casey can call on the more experienced and playoff standout (in first round series) Norman Powell or the 13-year veteran C.J. Miles who will make Porter work hard to defend the volume of three-point shots he can put up. Casey could even match up the fast and versatile Pascal Siakam on Porter if he becomes a problem from the outside.

Anunoby vs Porter is an interesting playoff match-up between a developing rookie and a young veteran with similar games and physical attributes. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can grow up fast playing against a guy the team hopes he can surpass in the future.

 

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 coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Show Unprecedented Improvement Under Coach Dwane Casey

Quietly north of the border over the past seven NBA seasons head coach Dwane Casey has led the Toronto Raptors out of the lottery wilderness to the top of the Eastern Conference in a show of unprecedented steady improvement in the modern game. It’s a feat that hasn’t been seen in over 35 years and has only been done twice before in NBA history.

Casey is the third coach in NBA history to improve his team’s win total in six of seven seasons. The others were Boston’s Red Auerbach (1955-56 to 1961-62) and Phoenix’s John MacLeod (1974-75 to 1980-81). – The New York Times

Inheriting a team that won just 22 times the year before he got there, Casey has won 23, 34, 48, 49, 56, 51, and 59 games in successive seasons. His win total in Toronto of 320 and winning percentage (57.3%) dwarfs any previous coach in Raptors history.

An unwavering coaching philosophy based on defense-first earned Casey the trust of his team’s star player (on arrival his only star) DeMar DeRozan because of his consistency. There never has been a reason to second guess Casey’s motives and his players appreciate it. It is the primary reason his players accepted the dramatic changes to how he wanted them to play this season with nary a complaint. 

Recognition of his achievements south of the border hasn’t come easily and, somewhat surprisingly, during his tenure there have even been calls for his head coming out of Toronto. Coaches may be hired to be fired, but the complaints about Casey have been beyond ridiculous.

Now with his fifth NBA Coach of the Month award in the past five seasons and a team exceeding everyone’s expectations, Casey has been getting some significant applause for what he has accomplished. ESPN’s Jeremias Engelmann puts this season in perspective.

Vegas bookmakers had the Raptors pegged at 47 wins, a drop of four wins from last season.

Cut to eight months later, and the Raptors’ bench is regularly mopping the floor with opponents.

the Raptors’ starting unit also outscores opponents by a healthy margin of around six points per 100 possessions. However, it’s the bench that comes in and usually puts the game out of reach.

the majority of the credit has to go to Casey and his staff for pushing all the right buttons, and ultimately creating the sixth-strongest bench since 1997 with an average age of just 25.

And as ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes,

They have surged past Boston and Cleveland, and by any metric, they are closer peers to the Western Conference superteams than to anyone in the East. They are the only team ranked in the top five in both points scored and allowed per possession.

They are unpredictable, harder to grasp. Casey has mothballed a lot of set plays. … Everyone is free to launch 3s and drive.

“We’ve been through the heartaches and the letdowns,” DeRozan says. “This time, with this new approach, we feel comfortable.”

To be blunt, DeRozan looked pretty comfortable in the previous two seasons as the second best scorer in the East. So it came as a surprise that he stayed comfortable giving up his own points to record a career best in assists this season.

The Raptors rode this new approach to a franchise record 59 wins and it’s an accomplishment deserving of recognition. However, Casey convinced his players to do it for a chance to go further in the postseason than ever before. If they have success in the playoffs, look for another franchise record for wins next 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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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

G League MVP Lorenzo Brown Joins Toronto Raptors For The Playoffs

Last night at the Hersey Centre just before Game Two of the NBA G League Finals, Toronto Raptors two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown found out he was this year’s G League MVP and soon after the Raptors converted his status to a standard NBA contract just in time for the first place Toronto Raptors playoffs.

 

 

 

Brown is now eligible to participate for the Raptors in the postseason.

The big point guard has appeared in 14 games with the Raptors this season, averaging 2.3 points, 1.1 rebounds and 9.8 minutes and hasn’t looked out of place because of his defensive presence. He scored a season-high 11 points on April 9th at Detroit and recorded a season-best five assists on January 11th vs Cleveland.

Brown earned his NBA G League MVP by averaging team highs of 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 32 games (all starts) for Raptors 905.

The 2017 defending Champion Raptors 905 had the third best record in the G League at 31-19 this season and went 25-7 with Brown in the lineup. They were the only team in the G League to hold opponents to under 100 points per game on average over the regular season.

The Raptors 905 advanced to this year’s Finals by defeating the Grand Rapids Drive, Westchester Knicks and Erie BayHawks in single-game elimination contests. Brown averaged a team-high 20.2 points and 8 assists in five G League playoff games.

 

 

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 head coach Dwane Casey

Do The Raptors Want To Win 60 Games?

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.

McLean:

The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.

Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.

Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.

After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.

But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.

“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”

Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.

“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”

One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.

So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.

Brotherston:

The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.

“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.

“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”

Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.

“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.

“I just want to play.

“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”

The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.

Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Raptors Have An Old Fashioned Enforcer In Serge Ibaka

Basketball might look like a non-contact sport to the uninitiated and basketball fights more often resemble rough horse-play than anything else, but intimidation can be very real in the NBA and toughness is still a valuable and necessary commodity. While the Raptors have toughness in players like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas, they have an old fashioned enforcer in Serge Ibaka.

“It is very important when you are a team where you think you want a championship one day or you are a team with an opportunity to go far in the playoffs, you have to have toughness,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report. “You have to because in the playoffs things get ugly, things get tough, that’s why you need toughness.”

Ibaka has only been with the Raptors since last year’s trade deadline, but he’s already been in two fights where, gasp, real punches have been thrown in anger. Ibaka was ejected last season in March for exchanging blows with the Bulls Robin Lopez and this season in January for throwing punches with James Johnson of the Heat.

“It’s good,” Fred VanVleet explained to Pro Bball Report. “You want to have a tough guy quote en quote or enforcer and Serge has kind of taken that on himself to do that. Obviously we’d like him to save his money sometimes, but sometimes it’s needed and he kind of walks that line of when it’s needed and when it’s not.”

“It’s important in the league where we are now, people oughta to know, because people like to attack the weak(er) people,” Ibaka said. “If they know this guy’s nice or he’s weak, they are always going to come (after) you. (You need) a guy out there who if you go after (a teammate), he’s going to respond and that gives you a better chance for people to respect you out there.

“On a team you always need someone like that who is going to be there for his teammates, stand up for his teammates.”

The three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player from 2011-2014 who led the NBA in blocks from 2010-2014 has seen his game evolve under the pressure for big men to hit the three-ball, but he still likes to mix things up in the paint.

“He does way more than just try to be an enforcer out there and you saw that tonight with his shooting, spacing the floor and obviously his defense that we depend on him for,” VanVleet said.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Ibaka is second on the Raptors in blocks with 94, rebounds with 469, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in personal fouls with 203. But as VanVleet wants us to remember, Ibaka is third on the Raptors in scoring at 12.8 points per game, fourth with 106 made threes while shooting a respectable 35.9 percent and fourth with 372 made field goals shooting a solid 48.4 percent.

Ibaka has evolved to become more than just a paint-bound player, defensive specialist and sometime enforcer and the media adverse big man would like people to know he’s not the same guy off the court that you see treading line between toughness and hot head on the court.

“It’s hard because people really don’t know (me). They think this is how you are,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes people off the court they can’t look at (me) differently. That’s the hard part. You don’t want people to think about you off the court like 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Is The Raptors Secret Weapon Lucas Nogueira?

With the Toronto Raptors on the verge of finishing atop the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history as they set a new franchise record for wins in a season, there shouldn’t be much that isn’t known about this roster. Two four-time All-Stars and the best bench in the NBA, but maybe this team has a secret weapon in third string center Lucas Nogueira that could be a difference-maker when the Raptors are in trouble.

“When Lucas is locked in, I think Lucas is one of the best centers, shot blockers, shot changers in the league,” Kyle Lowry said after the Raptors recent win over the Celtics in Toronto. “It’s unfortunate sometimes his rotations haven’t been good for him all year.

“He’s a true professional. He’s been coming in and getting his extra work in and when he’s playing, he’s been good.”

It’s fair to say Nogueira has been a true professional this season, unfortunately that statement would have been a lot harder to make in the past. The fun-loving big Brazilian center has come across as entitled, unfocused, and soft in past seasons, but his natural gifts made everyone around him hope he could put it together and this year, there’s a case to be made that he’s doing it.

In his 47 games this season Nogueira has put together a team best defensive rating of 96.7. Steady reliable Fred VanVleet comes in second at 99.6 in his 73 games.

When it comes to blocking shots, Nogueira’s been swatting away an insane career best 8.3 percent of the two-point shots while he’s been on the court. To put that in context, the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis is the official leader in that stat this season at 6.4 percent. Jakob Poeltl is next best on the Raptors at 5.4 percent and Serge Ibaka swats 3.7 percent. (Toronto has the second most blocks per game in the NBA this season.)

But it’s Nogueira’s defensive play since the end of February as his teammates started taking their collective efforts off the defensive end that really stands out. In his last 12 games, Nogueira has a defensive rating of 76.4. Over the same time period Delon Wright has been the Raptors best regular rotation player on “D” with a defensive rating of 102.9.

“He gives us a presence at the rim,” Fred VanVleet said. “He makes those intangible plays in the game that are rare for a big.”

And he does make those intangible plays that are rare for a big man, but Nogueira still has to fight the perception that he’ll lose his focus the longer he’s on the court, so coach Casey remains reluctant to use him unless Poeltl and Jonas Valanciunas aren’t getting the job done.

This year Nogueira has been ready to play when Casey calls and he’s been seen so little by the Raptors opponents that he really is like a secret weapon. It is almost impossible to prepare for the impact of a focused Nogueira as his game is completely different from Poeltl or Valanciunas as was readily evident when Casey subbed him in against the Celtics on Wednesday night. (Nogueira had a plus/minus of +19 in 17.8 minutes.)

It’s worth noting Nogueira will be a free agent at the end of this season. He’s talented, motivated, and needs to prove he deserves a new contract next year. History has shown that can be a dangerous combination if you’re on the other team.

 

 

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 Jerry Stackhouse and Pascal Siakam 2017

Will The Raptors Lose Coach Jerry Stackhouse To The Knicks This Summer?

By Frank McLean

In professional sports when other teams look to try poaching your assistant coaches, or front office personnel it’s considered a compliment. It means your organization has been successful and teams which have not had much success will try to grab someone from a winning team in the hope that they can bring that success to them.

Such is the case of Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse. The work he is done with the Raptors G-League entry has not gone unnoticed in the front offices of the NBA’s other 29 teams.

After leading the 905 to the championship last season with a roster that had a lot of help from current Raptors Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Fleet, it was almost like they brought in ringers, but that wasn’t the case. It was player development and you can see it in their play on the big club this year.

This season, however, it’s been a different story.

With a roster that did not have half the talent that last year’s squad had, they started 4-9 and then went on a 27-10 tear to finish 31-19 and just one game back of the Westchester Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division.

After knocking off Grand Rapids in a one game playoff at home they went to Westchester Monday night and beat the Knicks in another one game playoff highlighted by a stifling defense that shutdown the baby Knicks. If they can beat Erie Saturday night they get a shot at back-to-back championships.

As a result, a story in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Post has the Knicks interested in Stackhouse being their next head coach as current head coach Jeff Hornacek’s future on Broadway could be in doubt.

Now if Stackhouse does interview with Knicks it wouldn’t be the first time he looked for work in New York City.

In 2014, after he had retired with the Nets as a player at 38-years-old, Stackhouse interviewed with then Knicks President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills as a player development coach and that’s what makes Stackhouse a good fit for a struggling team. He has proven he can teach the skills needed to be successful in the NBA and more importantly, teach you how to win.

The Knicks are a mess and they are going to have to start from scratch and rebuild and Stackhouse fits what they should be looking for in a coach. Unfortunately for the Knicks, as many as 10-other NBA teams looking for a coach in the offseason.

During the G-League Showcase back in January I talked to scouts and front office people from other NBA teams and they were all talking about the work Stackhouse has done. It would be a surprise if Stackhouse does not get a shot at an NBA head coaching spot this summer.

That’s what happens when you are good. Teams come for your people. The Raptors should be flattered.

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas

16 Blocks Shows Why The Raptors Will Be A Force In The Playoffs

The Raptors blocked a season high 16 shots in their 114-110 win over a desperate Nuggets team still clinging to the hope of a playoff berth and reminded everyone Toronto is still a top five defensive team.

The Raptors block the second most shots per game of any team in the NBA at 6.1 and they do it as a collective. No one on the Raptors is in the top 15 for blocked shots this season, even though Serge Ibaka leads the team at 1.3 blocks. It’s guys like Lucas Nogueria who blocks an insane 8.7 percent of opponents’ two-points attempts in the very limited minutes that he is on the floor. The surprising Jakob Poeltl who already has 96 blocks this season, and even the guards chip in. Backup Delon Wright at half a block per game is sixth in the NBA among point guards.

In the game against the Nuggets, Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, the starting point guard, had four blocks each. Nogueira had three blocks in seven minutes. Poeltl blocked one shot.

With no obvious dominant shot blocker in the regular rotation, Toronto has the ability to make any opponent’s attempt at the rim an adventure as they’ve swatted away 460 shots this season – and the season isn’t over yet.

The recipe for success in today’s NBA has been to shoot threes or layups and relegate the midrange to a distant third choice and it’s a change the Raptors finally embraced this season. After finishing last season as a bottom 10 team in three-point attempts and makes, this year they are third in both categories.

However, in what may be an even more difficult feat to accomplish in today’s three-ball happy NBA, the Raptors lead the Association in allowing the fewest three-point attempts (25) and makes (9). No where was this feat made more evident than when the Raptors held the NBA’s more prolific three point takers (42.5) and makers (15.5) the Houston Rockets to 9-27 from three in the Raptors 108-105 win on March 9th. It was the only setback the NBA’s first place overall team has faced in their past 28 contests.

The Eastern Conference’s first place Raptors have alternated wins and loses since their 11 game winning streak was snapped by the Thunder 10 days ago as the team has looked like what can only be described as tired. However, they have three full days off before their next tilt against a surging but injury riddled Celtics team in Boston.

After Boston the Raptors re-visit the Cavs who outscored them 132-129 a week ago and then play the Celtics at the Air Canada Center where the crushed the Cs 111-91 in February. These games will test Toronto’s ability to ramp up their vaunted three-point and rim defense against the best the East has to offer and show they will be a force in the playoffs this year.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

Pascal Siakam From Bricklayer To Raptors Best 3-Point Shooter?

No one saw this coming so perhaps that’s why opposing defenses continue to forget about the Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam when he’s standing at the three-point line, but the season’s first-half bricklayer has become his team’s best outside shooter – at least he’s been good when no one is guarding him.

Over the past four games Siakam has shot 6-9 from three-point range and he’s hit a team best 60 percent of his three-balls over the past 10 games. Sometimes it still looks like he’s shooting against his will, but they are going in anyway.

“I just continue to try to be confident, I work at it every day,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “I am improving, (but) a lot of the shots that I missed at the beginning of the season they just didn’t go in.”

It’s perhaps the biggest understatement about a shooting slump ever. Siakam went on a 1-27 streak from three in December and was hitting just 16.3 percent of his 1.9 three-point attempts per game until things surprisingly turned around early in February. He went 1-2 from three on February 8th after a 1-7 start to the month and has continued to find the range since, and, maybe, got just a bit more selective by reducing his attempts to just 1.2 per game.

Over his last 21 games Siakam has hit on 44 percent of his threes. He knew in today’s NBA he had find at least some semblance of a three-point threat eventually, it just didn’t seem likely he get there this quickly.

“No, well I think I did, I was going to evolve to that, I didn’t know how quickly,” Siakam stumbled over explaining his developing three-point range. “The game is evolving and you got to evolve with the game.”

For most of this season anyone watching Siakam setting up in the corner cringed when the ball was swung around to him because he was the guy opponent’s knew they could help off of without consequence, but no longer. Siakam was told to keep shooting no matter what, it was an important part of the Raptors new offense and now they are going in.

“I think that’s the confidence the team gives me,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report in January. “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.

“I make it in practice. So I got to keep working on it and I got to keep doing it.”

The MVP of last year’s NBA D-League Finals didn’t come into the season with a jump shot, but it looks like he’s heading towards the postseason with a pretty good one.

 

 

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 coach Dwane Casey

Hey Raptors Fans, This Is What Success Looks Like

The Toronto Raptors have won 48, 49, 56 and 51 games over the past four NBA seasons and at 54 wins with 9 games remaining are likely to have the franchise’s first ever 60 win season this year. But even in the midst of an 11 win 2 loss month of March, doubters remain. Hey Toronto, this is what success looks like.

It’s been a while now that the Raptors players have looked listless, unfocused and possibly bored with the process. Once they got a double-digit lead in games over the rival Cavaliers and a nearly insurmountable lead on the second place Celtics, there just hasn’t been many situations that would really make a difference.

“We went thru it in Dallas, we went thru it in Seattle, so it’s not anything that’s new to our team,” head coach Dwane Casey said to explain the Raptors lack of focus in the win over the Nets. “It’s an NBA phenomenon.”

The Raptors have been starting games without the defensive intensity they showed earlier in the season. Up until March the Raptors were top 10 in fewest points allowed in the first quarter (26.2 points allowed) and finished the quarter up a respectable +1.9 points up on their opponents, but this month they’d dropped to 23rd at 28.8 points allowed and a misleading +0.1 points differential as its often been up to the bench to make up for the starters early malaise.

Call it boredom, a lack of focus, or just the realization they can beat most of the teams in the NBA if they just play hard for the last six minutes of the game. But as coach Casey points out, this isn’t anything new. In reality, this is what success looks like in the finals days of the regular season.

When you have a 50 win team in March, can the playoffs start soon enough?

 

 

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.