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

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.

 

 

 

NBA DeMarre Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Raptors DeMarre Carroll Admits To Playing Hurt Recently

Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll takes a lot of pride in being able to overcome adversity, so it wasn’t until he had started playing better again that he would admit to playing hurt recently. Carroll hadn’t been the same since an accidental kick to the head by teammate Pascal Siakam in Philadelphia three weeks ago.

“It kind of threw me out,” Carroll told Pro Bball Report. “I probably shouldn’t of come back as early as I did. I probably should have taken a couple of games off, but I’m a fighter and that’s what I do.”

He really should have sat down for a few games and recovered. In the 10 games going back to Philly, Carroll averaged 5.7 points in 25.9 minutes on 25.6 percent shooting from the field and 15.4 percent from three. He looked bad and took a ton of heat in social media.

“Outside people don’t really know what goes on with an NBA player, so it’s just one of those things,” Carroll said. “You got to have tough skin.

“I’ve been through so much I don’t take any game for granted.”

It’s easy to forget that Carroll has been through a lot in his life, doesn’t take anything for granted and appreciates the faith the Raptors have placed in him. He’s even admitted, “I don’t want that stat that I’m injury prone.” Although almost anyone watching that play in Philly would of concluded he had a concussion afterwards.

“I’ve been through a lot of obstacles in my life,” Carroll said when he first joined the Raptors. “From being shot in college, to having my liver condition, for an organization to take me under their wing and bring me here and look at me as a true part of this team, it means a lot.”

Fortunately things seem to be getting back on track over the past two games. On the back-to-back wins over the Nets and Clippers, Carroll averaged 12 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field and he hit on 3-8 three-point attempts. He looked more like the player who was finally getting everything back together again like in did in the weeks immediately prior to getting kicked in the head.

“I am slowly getting there,” Carroll said. “It’s not only physical, it’s mental. I’m trying to come back and missing shots and my finger and everything and all this, but now I am feeling more comfortable. Hopefully going into the playoffs I’ll be playing the best basketball.”

It’s been frustrating for the fans in Toronto to watch Carroll underperform because of injuries, but it’s been more frustrating for Carroll. He had high expectations for his new team and himself when he joined the Raptors last season and it wasn’t until mid December of this year that he was finally able to play every game and produce like he expected he would.

This setback, however, should be brief and hopefully, well before the playoffs, Carroll will be playing like he did on that 60-win Atlanta Hawks team.

“I really didn’t have the whole summer to workout like most guys, so at the end of the day I am trying to get my rhythm and everything thru the season,” Carroll said. “My knee is great (now). I got nicks and bruises, finger and elbow, but the knee’s great, so I just got to keep pushing.”

There is no doubt Carroll will give all that he has. He been through tougher situations than this.

 

 

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 Fred VanVleet

Are The Raptors Showcasing Fred VanVleet?

For the second game in a row, undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet was given the Toronto Raptors usual backup point guard Cory Joseph’s minutes in what is hard not to describe as an obvious showcasing of a talent someone might covet as we approach the NBA Trade deadline.

“Cory (Joseph) is still a big part of what we are going to do,” head coach Dwane Casey confirmed after the win in Brooklyn on Super Bowl Sunday.

“(VanVleet) has always played well in practice. He has done well with our D-League team the 905. He is a very talented point guard, so we wanted to make sure we gave him a look.”

Casey has played VanVleet for 20+ minutes four times this season, on the road in Orlando twice, on the road in Brooklyn twice and he has looked pretty good in those games averaging 9.8 points, 3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 39.4 percent from the field, 36.3 percent from three and going 9-9 from the free throw line in his last two games.

“I thought he played well,” Casey said. “I liked the way he quarterbacked. He had 4 assists, knocked down his free throws and I thought he did a good job defensively.”

With Toronto losing eight of their past ten games coming into Sunday and several players, including Joseph, looking a little worse for wear at this point in the season, it’s hard to blame Casey for giving the rookie a chance, but with the NBA trade deadline rapidly approaching, it’s equally hard to not be suspicious of the Raptors real motives here.

President Masai Ujiri put four point guards on his roster to start the 2016-17 season and now that last year’s rookie Delon Wright has three D-League games under his belt with the 905, the obvious question becomes, how does he justify keeping all four? Especially when the Raptors are so obviously thin and vulnerable at the big man spots in the rotation.

Wright has averaged 11.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and 1.7 blocks in 26.4 minutes with the 905, so his rehab assignment is going to start looking redundant real soon. If Wright is ready to come back up to the big club, Casey knows what he’s getting as Wright was starting to look NBA-ready at the end of last season.

What Ujiri is going to do about his point guard situation is unknown, but the best reason for playing VanVleet recently was to give him the information needed to make a decision. It’s hard to see all three of VanVleet, Wright and Joseph still on this roster after 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

DeMarre Carroll Hasn’t Been The Same Since A Kick To The Head

Right about now the fans in Toronto are ready to ride forward DeMarre Carroll out of town on a rail. The Raptors big free agent addition of 2015 has been beyond terrible over the past 10 games, coinciding with an accidental kick to the head by rookie Pascal Siakam in Philadephia.

Going back to that fateful night in Philly when Carroll went 0-6 from the field, the Junkyard Dog 2.0 has averaged 5.7 points in  25.9 minutes on 25.6 percent shooting from the field and 15.4 percent from three.

In the days after the game Carroll admitted his neck was stiff, and no wonder, the blow to the head he took from Siakam looked like it could have been very serious and as if that wasn’t enough, it didn’t come out until much later that he also injured a finger.

The injured finger has “affected his mechanics,” how’s that for the understatement of the season?

The really tough part to accept about Carroll’s situation is that he had only just admitted he was starting to feel good about his offense a couple of days before getting kicked in the head.

“It’s gone (knee problems), now I can just focus on my game,” Carroll told Pro Bball Report after scoring 20 points on the Knicks in Toronto on January 15th. “Last year was always about (that). This year was I hope my knee don’t hurt tomorrow. Now my knee is good.”

Carroll had put together a seven game streak averaging 14.4 points in 32.9 minutes on 46.6 percent shooting from the field and 42.6 percent shooting from three. He looked every part of the impact free agent forward the Raptors thought they were getting and then, in an instant, it ended.

How Carroll managed to avoid missing several games with concussion protocol isn’t known. Assume he passed, but he was definitely shaken up in Philly. Carroll has mentioned more than once he doesn’t like to sit out and will play thru pain (and probably other symptoms), even if it isn’t always a good idea. Plus with Patrick Patterson sidelined with a knee contusion, he likely felt even more pressure to play.

His finger will heal, the neck stiffness should subside with treatment and time, but the pressure to stay on the court regardless of how he feels isn’t about to go away with the Raptors losers of 8 of their past 10 games. The lack of veteran depth in Toronto this season wasn’t his idea.

 

 

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 Phoenix Suns Tyson Chandler and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Raptors Missing Veteran Voice Could Be On The Suns

The Raptors on-court defensive play calling has gone somewhat silent in Toronto this season with the veteran Luis Scola helping out in Brooklyn and backup center Bismack Biyombo anchoring the Magic’s defense and it shows. There’s a lack of proven depth, but that missing veteran voice could be on an imploding Suns team that should be on everyone’s NBA trade deadline radar.

“P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense,” reports Basketball Insiders Michael Scotto.

Suns coach Earl Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”

The 31-year-old Tucker is making trade rumor headlines today, but the Suns will be rebuilding, again, and there are other players that could help a team like Toronto as well.

Everyone knew the Raptors got real young real fast in the event anyone in the rotation was hurt. At the beginning of the year President Masai Ujiri had hung onto prospect Bruno Caboclo, injured sophomore Delon Wright, the very promising sophomore Norman Powell and added three rookies in Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The only “old guys” in Toronto are Kyle Lowry (30) and DeMarre Carroll (30).

The Raptors started out hot, going 22-8 to start the season, and the current 8-12 collapse coincides perfectly with a knee injury to their best big man defender Patrick Patterson who missed 10 of those games and has been hobbled until very recently in his return. Then as Patterson gets his legs back under him, DeMar DeRozan tweaks an ankle and the slide gets worse.

A team that has counted on mediocre defense and unbelievable offense this season has shown they have no one to replace either of these two players for even brief periods. Not even Kyle Lowry putting up +30 points a night can compensate.

It’s not like Ujiri hasn’t been aware of the situation. Reports of him going hard after Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka have been out there since July and right up to now, but the price has been unpalatable for the risk of acquiring a player that could walk away as a free agent in the summer.

Adding another “star player” might not be necessary either. A team that won 56-games last season and was on track to exceed that before Patterson was hurt is more in need of a tweak than a homerun.

The Suns thought they’d be better than this or they wouldn’t have signed the now 34-year-old Tyson Chandler to a 4-year $52 million deal in July 2015, but while that was a big number then, $13 million a year now is nothing special. Tyson has lived up to expectations too. The Suns might suck, but he doesn’t as one the best rebounders in the NBA (4th) collecting 22.9 percent of the available boards (better than Jonas Valanciunas at 8th).

Tyson is a veteran leader, a guiding voice on defense, and someone who has the respect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. If Ujiri could pry the combination of Tucker and Chandler out of Phoenix, his team’s shoddy defense would have received a major upgrade.

However, the Suns aren’t going to part with these players for nothing.

The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders. 

The Raptors have assets the Suns should be interested in, young players, picks and contracts that haven’t fulfilled their promise to make the trade math work. There is a deal to be made here if Ujiri wants to make it and it will almost undoubtedly be less painful than trying to pry Ibaka out of Orlando (although he’ll probably keep trying on that front).

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Is A Trade The Solution To Toronto Raptors Olay Defense?

By Frank McLean

Olay, olay, olay, olay, the question Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was asking after Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic was “Where did their defense go”?

The Raptors lost the game 114-113, but as the old saying goes, ‘The score was not indicative of the way the game went.’ The best way to describe the way they played defense was like a bull fighter, an olay defense.

After leading by nine points at the end of the first quarter the Raptors trailed by nine at half time after allowing the Magic to go on a 21-2 run in the final 5:45 of the half. The Magic run put the Raptors in a large hole to try and comeback from in which they ran out of time and lost by just one point.  

The lack of defense was the frustrating part of this game for the Raptors who should not have lost like this to a bad Magic team.

No disrespect to the Magic who came into the game 18-30, but they did have the riot act read to them on Saturday by their coach Frank Vogel after they as he said “didn’t show up” for their game Friday night in Boston where the lost by 30.

After the game Casey was lamenting that he couldn’t find five guys who could defend and as a result had lost six of their last seven games.

The answer to the problem might be over in the Magic locker room with Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors have yet to find a consistent replacement for him and yes that is a factor to why they are struggling with their defense.

Biyombo went on with the local media Sunday on what went right for the Raptors last year.

“I don’t think we play for any other reason than to find a way to get three stops out of four possessions and I think that’s what made us to be a great defensive team last year. I understand that the whole team relied on me to guide them. (Jonas Valanciunas) is a great player and I’m sure that they’ll find a way. Lucas (Nogueira), they are all great players, I know they (took) a step back, but you can only hope before the playoffs they can find a way to catch up to that because when the playoffs start, that’s when things really matter and I can only hope for them to get better.

“They have enough to get it done”, Biyombo added. “Hopefully they get to repeat the same thing that we did last year or go further, because the fans here deserve it more than anything. They came out, they supported the team every night, they bring the great energy and you’ve got to work with them, they work with you.”

So what do the Raptors do to correct the problem?

Well with the trade deadline coming up do they make a trade or look at a solution within?

Jarred Sullinger was brought in over the offseason to fill Biyombo’s role on the roster, but he is working himself back into game shape after a foot injury in the first preseason game kept him out the first two months of the year.

Lucas Nogueira is trying to grow into the role, but he is still green and is a work in progress.

If they go the trade route where do you go?

Nikola Vucevic of the Magic could be available. He had a 25-and-10 game Sunday going three-for-four behind the three point arc. It’s believed he was put back in the starting line-up for the purpose of showcasing him.

And of course there is DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. He is a powder keg for sure with an explosive personality and a noted coach killer.

At the NBA D-League Showcase last week I came across my sources with the Kings organization. They said they thought Cousins could thrive with the Raptors for two reasons.

One, Dwane Casey is a respected coach that Cousins would not try to push around.

And two, he played with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with USA Basketball at the Olympics and he respects their leadership and their spot in the Raptors locker room.

Regardless, the defense has to be fixed or a long playoff run could be jeopardy.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Should Be Starting Norman Powell

After last season’s impressive performance post NBA All-Star break and then in the first round of the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors rookie Norman Powell might/should have been expecting a significant bump up in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation this time around and he is getting more minutes than in the first half of last year, but based on what he can do, Powell should be starting.

Most rookies, even NBA Lottery Picks, find it hard to average double-digit scoring and it’s even rarer for a rookie to play a physical brand of defense without fouling, but Powell managed to do both as a starter in 24 regular season games with the Raptors last season. It cost Toronto nothing to put Powell in the starting lineup either as the team went 18-6 in those games to claim second place in the Eastern Conference.

Powell only got his chance because of injuries to DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson, but that’s typically how it goes for second round draft picks. What was unexpected is the 6’4 wing/guard took the veteran 6’9 forward Johnson’s spot in the rotation and kept it, only losing out to Carroll when the Raptors highly-paid free agent acquisition finally got back to some semblance of his pre-injury form.

Carroll was still easing his way back into the rotation at the start of this year because of continuing knee soreness, but the veteran has been handed the starting role since his return without question and somewhat surprisingly, Powell was even bumped back of Terrence Ross coming off the bench.

“(My role is) the same as last year,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It is a little difficult with DC (Carroll) being healthy, but just being that energizer coming off the bench trying to make a spark being a defensive stopper. Trying to get the confidence in the coaching staff that when they put me out there I’m getting stops on defense and picking the team up, changing the pace.

“Pretty much the same role as last year. Just trying to find areas in the game where I can be effective.”

That role is as an injury replacement for Carroll and DeMar DeRozan plus whatever time Casey can squeeze out of the rotation by stealing minutes from Ross and Cory Joseph. It hasn’t been easy not having a regular defined role, but when Powell gets to start, he shines brightly once again.

In 11 starts this season, Powell is averaging 15.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 31.2 minutes. That would put him third in points per game on a team that has struggled to find anyone who can consistently provide a third scoring option behind Kyle Lowry and DeRozan.

But its more than just offense. As a starter, Powell seems to find a way to energize his teammates with at least one opponent demoralizing steal that he takes in for a spectacular dunk every game. Unafraid, Powell will take on the challenge of guarding guards, wings or forwards, whomever is giving the Raptors fits that night and even when it seems he’s overmatched, Casey doesn’t often have a better option when his team is in trouble defensively. It’s just a lot to ask of a sophomore who has often been nailed to the bench until his coach gets desperate.

It isn’t going to be easy to find a way to put Powell into the starting lineup. It would be a lot simpler to just carve him out a role as the first wing off the bench (sorry Ross) and steal some minutes away from Joseph, but there is a strong case to be made for starting Powell in Carroll’s place.

Carroll is still showing signs of a player coming back from a knee injury. He almost certainly wants to start and play big minutes, but if the Raptors want to have him available for the playoffs, it would be wise to bring him off the bench and manage those minutes until they face the matchups in the postseason he was signed to help with. Besides, Powell is putting up better numbers as a starter than Carroll is.

Carroll is averaging 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 44 starts this year. However, in starts, Powell is the more aggressive player on offense and based on his defensive rating, the more effective player at that end as well. Powell has a team best defensive rating of 100.2 compared to Carroll at 106.7. It’s not close, offensively or defensively.

But perhaps the best reason to start Powell is to give him confidence. It isn’t often a second round pick shines this brightly this quickly and as president Masai Ujiri’s mantra is developing his own young talent, it’s been a long time since the Raptors drafted a player that has shown this much promise this early.

Carroll won’t fall apart coming off the bench either. He’s a veteran with a solid team oriented attitude and just maybe he can give that second unit a badly needed boost.

Powell won’t be shaken by being given a starting role. It’s far more likely he’ll blossom and improve by leaps and bounds with greater responsibility and trust. The risk seems low and this team needs the ‘kick-in-the-pants’ a young, high-energy, unafraid player like Powell can bring.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Raptors Should Target Magic Center Nikola Vucevic

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has openly stated more than once he likes to develop his own young talent, but at some point the goal has to become winning and despite the recent slide, Toronto could be as close as one solid player away from upsetting the favorite Cavaliers in the East this year. That player could be Magic center Nikola Vucevic and there is every indication that he’s available.

“If there is one team that really has to look at the NBA trade deadline seriously it’s got to be the Toronto Raptors,” said Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler. “They are one player away from being legitimate challengers in the Eastern Conference.

“Let’s face it, they are not the challenger they would like to be and let’s face it, they could be. They got some assets they could move and the window is not going to be any more open for the Toronto Raptors than it is right now.”

The Magic are having a very disappointing season, the recent 114-113 win over the Raptors in Toronto notwithstanding. Vucevic, who put up 25 points and 10 boards (in a showcase effort?) in Toronto, has been bumped in and out of the starting lineup because, despite general manager Rob Hennigan’s best intensions this past summer, the Magic are a poorly constructed team. Too many quality big men needing minutes and too few quality guards to spread the floor and set up the bigs.

Sending out guard Victor Oladipo for pending free agent power forward Serge Ibaka last summer and signing free agent center Bismack Biyombo seemed like good ideas at the time, but it took minutes away from Aaron Gordon in a crowded frontcourt and left the Magic with a backcourt that’s suspect and unfortunately plagued by injury problems.

“The Magic are probably working the phones now and just seeing what’s available out there and if they find a right fit, then I think they ultimately make a move to help get their team some additional scoring power,” Basketball Insiders Cody Taylor said.

Re-signing Ibaka has become a career-saving necessity for Hennigan as pending free agents just don’t return much in trade during the season, so getting the most possible for Vucevic has become the best way out of this self-inflicted jam.

Fortunately for Henningan, Vucevic is tailor made for solving the rebounding allergic Celtics biggest problem and almost certainly would vault Boston ahead of Toronto this season and possibly beyond. That in itself should be enough to rattle Ujiri (it would certainly rattle the fan base), but the Raptors need to solve their own rebounding issues this season and they need to add another reliable scorer to the All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry if they want to advance their own cause.

That’s good news for the Magic. Henningan should be able to get value back for his double-double center despite the bargain contract he’s on.

Now in his sixth NBA season, the 26-year-old 7′ Vucevic has recorded a team-high 20 double-doubles during the 2016-17 campaign and now has 178 double-doubles during his NBA career. Bounced in and out of the starting lineup this season, he has 10 double-doubles off the bench and is averaging 14 points and 9.7 rebounds.

“We asked (Vucevic) for a while to come off the bench, but he’s back in the starting lineup,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a team player, (has) a great attitude putting the team first when we asked him to do that. Back in the starting lineup, we are running more offense thru him.

“He has responded to me asking him to improve on the defensive end. For the most part this year, he’s been really good (on defense).”

Vucevic is known for his offense, but to get ‘smash-mouth basketball’ Vogel to compliment him on his defense is either a significant change or an overt sales job.

“Vucevic is a handful for anybody,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He is so talented, so skilled with the basketball that he causes a problem for everybody. He’s not your typical back to the basket center. He’s going to face you first and if you don’t react properly, he’ll knock down a jump shot, so you got a multitude of things you got to guard. The face-up game, plus the back-down game, plus he has a very dominant left hand. He can use that left hand as well as his right.”

A scorer throughout his NBA career, Vucevic has added three-point range to his jump shot this season, averaging one deep attempt per game and hitting on 31 percent of them. Of course in Toronto, he went 3-4 from three as the Raptors failed to guard him standing just outside the three-point line at the top of the arc. It seems every center in the NBA is being looked as a potential floor-stretcher and Vucevic, at least, has legitimate range on his jump shot and should be able to become proficient.

“All centers now are kind of migrating out there (three-point line),” Casey said. “It’s the next evolution of centers. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) is migrating out there. I think that’s going to be the new wave. That’s the new thing with the NBA now.”

In Toronto, Nogueira has shown three-point potential in a handful of attempts, but Valanciunas is still working on hitting a consistent jumper at any range. Right now it’s just Patrick Patterson at power forward and an inconsistent DeMarre Carroll in small lineups. The Raptors could really use another big man to stretch the floor.

The hope in Toronto was the Hawks would part ways with All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, but with Atlanta now just one game back of the third place Raptors, the slim possibly of snagging the Hawks soon-to-be free agent have become even more remote. The Magic’s own soon-to-be free agent Ibaka would be a similar catch, but it would be very tough to part ways with the talent the Magic is going to want back in return for what could easily become a very short term rental.

Vucevic is a lot younger and cheaper than Millsap and unlike Ibaka, he has two years remaining on his contract after this season. In the two seasons prior to this year, Vucevic averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds. For a Raptors team in need of someone who could pick up some of the rebounding load and be a legitimate third scoring option, he seems to fit the bill.

Vucevic has 62 career games with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, six career 20-point/20-rebound games and two career 30-point/20-rebound outings.

There’s nothing like having a player show up in your building and rub your team’s current deficiencies in it’s face. It would become especially painful for the Raptors if Vucevic was doing was he does for the (now) second place Celtics instead of the struggling Magic.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Bismack Biyombo 2016

The Impact Of Bismack Biyombo Is Still Helping The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Bismack Biyombo makes his first appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre since he left town in the off season after signing a huge free agent deal worth $72-million over four years with the Orlando Magic.

You can’t blame the guy for taking the money and running to Florida’s Gulf Coast area after making around $3-million in his one season with the Raptors. He got the contact that has set him up for life, which is not bad for a guy who makes his living as an energy guy coming off the bench, a rebounder who struggles as a shooter from the field and the foul line.

His numbers from his one year in Toronto and his half a year in Orlando haven’t changed much. In Toronto he averaged 22-minutes a game, 5.5-points, 8.0-rebounds and 1.6 blocks. In Orlando in 47-games it’s 24.5 minutes, 6.3-points, 7.7-rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Now don’t get me wrong. A player with Biyombo’s knack for rebounding is a valuable piece that is needed when a general manager is putting together his 15-man roster.  But 72-million over four years for a guy that mainly rebounds is obscene and it shows that with the salary cap rising each year thanks to ESPN and TNT’s television money that teams are overpaying for talent when they try and find it through the free agent route.

Biyombo’s influence in his one year in Toronto was felt in more ways than just the numbers on a box score. It was with the guy who has taken over his minutes on the floor and that’s Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira was reflecting on that after Saturday’s practice with the media and he let everybody know that he’s not Biyombo’s replacement.

“I am never going to replace Biz,” Nogueira was saying. “The city loves him. I personally love him too and I am so thankful for what he did for us. I can block five shots a night like I did on Friday, but I’m never going to replace Biz. I do think I have the hardest job in the league trying to replace Bismack because he made a huge impact here.”

Nogueira did say though that Biyombo was his mentor.

“Of course he was my mentor,” Nogueira said of Biyombo. “He changed my habits. He made me become a better professional and he made me see how it was important to take practice seriously and take my basketball life seriously. In life sometimes you only get one opportunity and if you don’t take it seriously you might not get another one. He made me realize that. That’s the reason I say he was my mentor when he was here. His level of professionalism made me a better professional.”

Nogueira is averaging 21.3-minutes a game, but in the month of January it’s up to 25-minutes which shows the coach Dwane Casey has the confidence to use him more.

“He has done an excellent job of protecting the rim, blocking shots and doing what we need him to do in the paint,” Casey said. “He’s doing an excellent job of catching the ball out of double teams and quarterbacking, making teams pay when they do blitz Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and that’s what we needed. That’s a plus that Biz didn’t give us. He was strictly a defensive plus. Lucas gives us that guy who can quarterback, kick it out, he’s a huge target with great hands so he gives that to us on the offensive end as well.”

Casey did say that there is a missing link from the way the Raptors played defense last year to this year that Biyombo brought that he wished they picked up on.

“I wish one thing rubbed off more from Biz and I think it did but they seem to have forgotten it without Biz being around. It’s talking loud and confidently. And not just Lucas, but all of our centres — (Jonas Valanciunas), Jakob (Poeltl), and Pascal (Siakam). Talk loud and with confidence and that is what Biz brought. He brought an energy, but he rubbed off on those guys.”

As you can see, Biyombo’s influence is still being felt on the Raptors.

The Orlando Magic is a young struggling rebuilding team and new coach Frank Vogel is hoping Biyombo can have a big influence there as well and he has a massive four year contract to do just that.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Has Earned The Respect Of His Opponents

By Frank McLean

It was one of those things you took for granted was going to happen, but you weren’t quite sure until it was officially announced, the Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry would be going to his third straight NBA All-Star Game.

Lowry got the word Thursday night that the coaches had voted him on the Eastern Conference roster as a reserve and that he will be joining his Siamese twin in the Raptors backcourt DeMar DeRozan next month in New Orleans.

DeRozan, who had been a reserve last year, was named a starter in the fan/player/media voting two weeks ago.

Lowry has been one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference all season. He has averaged 22.7-points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists a game. You figured the coaches have got to pick him right?

“Of course I would love to have the fans voted me in,” Lowry was saying to the media on Friday.  “But for the coaches to vote you in, it means they respect your game, respect what you bring to the team.”

Meanwhile his coach Dwane Casey was saying he didn’t have to contact his fellow coaches around the league and put in a plug for his player.

“Not much (lobbying) because a lot of (the coaches) said they were all in. Kyle’s numbers and us hovering around second place spoke for itself .”

During his time in Toronto Lowry has become respected around the league. His play, hustle and the extra work he has put in the gym are major factors towards him making his third straight appearance in the All-Star Game.

Before Lowry came to Toronto he played in Memphis where he was drafted out of Villanova and then went to Houston. In both places he came with a reputation as an uncoachable player always arguing about the way he was being used and not going along with the game plan.

Lowry’s story is quite similar to that of another Toronto star of the past, center fielder Devon White of the Blue Jays. White came to the Blue Jays in a trade with the California Angels spent the next five years as an all-star and major part of Toronto’s two MLB World Championship teams.

White arrived in Toronto with the same reputation as Lowry, yet when you saw White play everyday, you saw a hard worker who played the game the right way and was a quality teammate.

When Lowry first arrived from Houston he knew he had a bad rap, but Dwane Casey and Raptors management showed him the right way to be pro and the results are there in black and white.

Lowry is ecstatic that he’s going to game again with his pal DeRozan.

“It feels great. It’s pretty cool to be able to say the things we’ve done from the end of May (including a gold medal win with the US National Basketball team at the Olympics) until now and continue to grow with me and him. It just shows the hard work, the passion, the dedication to be great and to win is there.

“He’s one of my best friends ever. We can hang out, go to dinner, hang out with our families.  My first year (with the Raptors) I really didn’t talk to anybody. I was trying to figure (things) out. It just happened to grow and we became leaders of the team, we took that upon ourselves on the basketball court and we developed a great relationship off of it.”

Lowry’s hard work and play on the court during his time in Toronto has made him a respected veteran and player any coach can trust with big minutes during a game.

This coming off season it will be time for Lowry to get the big maximum contract that veteran players get with his numbers.

It’s a no brainer that he will get that respect.

 

 

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

Lucas Nogueira Helps Raptors Throw A Block Party

It’s time to just accept it, if anyone is going to throw a block party on behalf of the Raptors, it’s going to be their third year center Lucas Nogueira. Just ask those long athletic players on the Milwaukee Bucks who found themselves being swatted at the rim five times by the big Brazilian in yet another loss to Toronto at the Air Canada Centre Friday night.

At the start of this season the Raptors were worried about a lack of rim protection without last year’s finger-wager Bismack Biyombo, but midway thru head coach Dwane Casey seems to have found a solution as Nogueira has emerged as the top shot blocker per minute in the NBA.

At just under two blocks per game, the only thing stopping Nogueira from outright leading the league in blocked shots is a lack of minutes, but as Nogueira appears to be gaining confidence, Casey has been addressing that issue as well.

18.6 minutes per game in November increased to 20 minutes in December and 25.1 minutes in January, and since returning from a concussion four games ago, Nogueira has averaged 27.3 minutes, 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

47 games into the season Nogueira has accumulated 70 blocks compared to 72 for Biyombo at the same point last year, however, Nogueira did it in nine fewer games due to minor injuries. Biyombo only has 62 blocks for the Magic in 47 games so far this year. The long arms of Nogueira also give the Raptors something Biyombo couldn’t do, the Brazilian picks up a steal per game on average. Biyombo averages a steal about every three games.

Looking at Nogueira’s first two seasons in the NBA, what’s happening now was completely unexpected. Often injured and when he did play, often looking completely lost. There was nothing beyond his obvious physical attributes that would suggest he could perform at this level.

It took awhile, but Nogueira has finally figured out this league doesn’t owe him anything and he’s bringing “it” on a nightly basis.

“I think every day, every night I bring something different to the court,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “I think it is the most important thing to bring something to the court. It doesn’t matter what, no matter what, you got to bring something and this is something I try to do every game now. I think if one time you step on the court and don’t bring anything, it makes no sense to stay out there. So every night I try to bring something, defense, offense, whatever. Give the coach a reason to keep me in the game.”

Throwing a block party on a regular basis is reason enough for coach Casey to keep finding more minutes for Nogueira.

 

 

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 905 Delon Wright

Raptors Delon Wright Deserves To Play In The NBA

It’s a scenario that plays out almost every year. A young player on an NBA team is deserving of minutes, but there is no opportunity to play on the team that drafted him and the Toronto Raptors 2015 first round draft pick Delon Wright is a perfect example. He deserves a chance to play in the NBA. So, unless something changes, finding a way to “free” Wright is going to be crossing his agent’s mind in the very near future.

Wright’s situation went from doubtful to abysmal when he injured his shoulder in NBA Summer League and the Raptors picked up the undrafted Fred VanVleet as their third string point guard. Now that Wright is finally back, he finds himself on a rehab assignment with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga and fourth on the point guard depth chart in Toronto.

Completely off the radar because he hasn’t played, Wright wasn’t sitting around moping as he waited for medical clearance to play. A shoulder injury didn’t stop him from working out and he’s been putting up shots for the better part of a month.

“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.”

And what he was doing at the end of last season was pretty impressive. 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.

In his first game back with the Raptors 905 this season, Wright managed an impressive 10 points, 4 assists, a steal and 2 blocked shots in 21 minutes as the 905 defeated Texas 114-108,  quickly shedding any rust and proving his conditioning is already pretty good.

“My minutes were limited,” Wright said after the game. “For the time I was out there, I felt good. I wasn’t too tired or anything.”

The NBA often isn’t “fair” to young players, but if Wright is lucky, some other NBA team will see the obvious potential in this 6′ 5.5″ point guard and have the need and the desire to give him minutes, plus the willingness to give Raptors president Masai Ujiri sufficient return in trade to pry him away.

 

 

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.