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NBA Portland Trail Blazers Ed Davis

Ex-Raptors Series: Ed Davis Has Figured It Out In Portland

Ed Davis was drafted by the Toronto Raptors 13th overall in 2010 as a skinny athletic 21-year-old power forward that needed to find a way to make his mark in a man’s game. His skill and energy made him a fan favorite, but he still got shipped off to Memphis in his third season as part of the trade that brought Rudy Gay to Toronto.

Davis was a likable young man during his time in Toronto, but he never gave the impression that he knew his game still needed a lot of work. Getting pushed out of the way in the post was an all too frequent occurrence and he had to work hard for whatever he was going to get. At the time, working hard, especially off the court, wasn’t something that seemed to cross the young Davis’ mind nearly often enough. He needed to mature and the school of hard knocks was about to make an impression.

“I think sitting on the bench for a year and a half in Memphis really matured me,” Davis told Pro Bball Report. “I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve been humbled, so I just try and take my experiences and try to help other guys out and use all the negative times I’ve had throughout my career as to not take things for granted.”

After his rookie deal expired and the Grizzlies let him explore free agency, Davis discovered just how humbling the NBA can be as he ended up signing a minimum deal with the woeful Lakers. However, the school of hard knocks seemed to inspire Davis and he had a good year on a bad team. The Trail Blazers noticed and signed him to a three-year $20 million contract last summer.

It isn’t easy to evaluate talent playing in a bad situation, but Davis’ evolution was for real and he’s having the best season of his career coming off the bench for a surprising playoff contender. He’s figured out how he can help a team.

“Just how I can come in and help a team somehow, however that might be,” Davis said. “Come off the bench, bring energy, change the game up. Whatever I can do to help the team get extra possessions, the hustle plays and things like that.”

Davis is older (26) and stronger, but he still isn’t about to push anyone around. He is, however, rebounding at an impressive rate at both ends of the court (18.9 percent of available boards) and he’s taken his shooting up a notch (60.9 percent).

“He keeps getting better and feeling more comfortable with what we are doing at both ends,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s a great guy, a great teammate. He has a knack of getting a shot off in the paint. He is a versatile defender and he complements what we are doing. His ability to guard inside guys and outside guys has really helped us.

“He still is not a bulky figure, but he really holds his own against some of the bigger guys in the league. He finds a way to get things done. Sometimes it’s a little unorthodox, but he finds a way to be productive at both ends of the court.”

Davis has enjoyed some big games with Portland. He’s put up eight double-doubles so far this year and perhaps more importantly, 16 double-digit rebounding efforts. Davis has figured out how to help a team and he is part of the reason Portland is in the playoff picture rather than tanking for a draft pick right 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 Sacramento Kings Quincy Acy

Ex-Raptors Series: Kings Quincy Acy Is Still The Energy Guy

Former Raptors forward Quincy Acy was drafted in the second round by Toronto in 2012 and was becoming a popular player on a bad team when he was shipped out of town with Aaron Gray and Rudy Gay in that franchising changing trade with the Sacramento Kings in December 2013. There wasn’t always a lot to cheer for back then for Raptors fans, but a self-professed energy guy who wouldn’t let anyone outwork him like Acy was someone the fans could get behind and Acy is still trying to fill that role today.

“It’s going well,” Acy told Pro Bball Report during the Kings only visit to Toronto this season. “Same things. Just staying prepared. Trying to get the crowd to love me. Playing hard any time I get a chance. It’s the story of my career.

“Every play, every opportunity, every chance I get to provide energy in some way I’m doing it and that’s if I’m on the court or off the court. I am always trying to be in guys ears helping them. Always talking, a man full of energy.”

The Kings traded Acy to the Knicks last year, but when he became available again this past summer the Kings signed him to a new two-year deal at the NBA veteran’s minimum salary. The second season was originally reported as a player option, but subsequent reports suggest the second season isn’t guaranteed.

Acy has been an undersized power forward at 6’7, but he was showing signs of developing a three-point shot to go with all the energy and effort inside. As a stretch four or power small forward, Acy’s utility in a league gearing towards small ball at every opportunity would be greatly increased.

With the Knicks, Acy played in 68 games and shot 18-60 from three-point range, both career highs. He also maintained his solid defensive rebounding rate of 20.5 percent while averaging the most minutes of his career (18.9), so the energy was still there.

Acy has been in and out of the Kings lineup this season, playing in just 29 games with 7 starts, but when he’s gotten a chance, he has been productive.

In three games between January 5-9, Acy averaged 13 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in 21 minutes while shooting 88.2 percent from the field. Then in a four game span from January 26 to February 1, he averaged 4.3 points, 6.5 rebounds in 16 minutes on 47.1 percent shooting.

“I am still a young dude, still learning every day,” Acy insists.

This year Acy has hit on just 5-11 three-point attempts as his opportunities to play have greatly decreased from his time with New York, but his game hasn’t changed and at just 25-years-old, it should continue to improve – if given the opportunity. Acy still can’t wait to get up in the morning and head to the gym.

“It’s still fun,” Acy said. “I still wake up early and still try to be the first person in the gym. When you’re not having fun with it, you’re done with it. I definitely have a passion for this game. I love it and I always want to be around it.”

Acy’s love for the game showed while he was in Toronto and that’s why the fans loved him back. He is a guy worth watching because you know the effort and the energy will always be there.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Quincy Acy 1Quincy Acy: Bringing Life To The Raptors

“My game is high energy,” Acy said.  “It is not just based on that I am an offensive rebounder or a defender, I can do anything to provide a spark.  That is my main thing, just to put some life into the team whenever I can, whenever they need it.”

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Sonny Weems

Ex-Raptors Series: Suns Sonny Weems Loved Moscow

It doesn’t really seem all that long ago when a young Sonny Weems was flying around the court with the Raptors looking every bit the better of DeMar DeRozan. A fearless driver without much of a jump shot, Weems missed his chance when a wonky back kept him from stealing a starting role in his second season and he was off to greener pastures in Europe the next year.

More than a few superior athletes from this side of the pond have crashed and burned playing international ball. There is no defensive three-second rule and a no blood no foul guideline seems to apply to those reckless enough to drive the lane. Americans looking to succeed in Europe either adapt quickly or get sent home with their tail between their legs.

Surprisingly Weems adapted, discovered a jump shot and became a valued member on one of the top teams in the Euroleague, CSKA Moscow. In four seasons in the Euroleague, the last three with Moscow, Weems averaged 13.4 points on 49.2 percent shooting from two-point range and 36.8 percent from three-point range. Not bad for guy shooting 27.9 percent from three in his last season with the Raptors.

Sonny Weems

Weems credits going overseas with helping him learn the game and grow up as a man.

“It was a learning experience growing as a man,” Weems told Pro Bball Report. “It helped me learn the game of basketball also. It helped me learn how to play, not just be a full court guy, but learn how to play in the half court. Learn how to read defenses. It was a great experience these four years, it helped me a lot, especially on the basketball court.

“I had too, especially in Europe you have to learn how to shoot the basketball cause no three seconds so you got guys standing – three or four guys – just standing in the lane so you can’t penetrate all the time. You have to learn how to expand your game beyond the mid-range game. You got to shoot the three-ball and that’s what I really exceeded at over there.

“They don’t call fouls over there. They don’t call a lot of fouls and the referees aren’t that good, so that’s the main reason they don’t call a lot of fouls cause they aren’t that good.”

It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy for anyone coming from North America to adapt to playing overseas. You have to want to adapt, be willing to change to new rules and another style of play. Weems made a point of not fighting it. He was going to fit in.

“You have to be willing to (adapt) when you are over there,” Weems said. “Most guys don’t want to accept that they are over there and that’s the biggest challenge that I had to deal with was accepting that I’m over here, now I have to make the best of it and that’s what separated me from most of the American guys that was over there. I made the best of it. I kind of realized that I was over there, that was my home over there, so that was what really helped me out.”

Weems fit in and was doing well. The pay was good. The team was good. He had a big role. So why come back to be a veteran role player in the NBA?

“Things are changing (in the NBA),” Weems explained. “A new collective bargaining agreement. I can always still go back, Europe is always there for me. I can always go back and play over there, but I wanted to try and finish my career here.

“I feel young. I can still run up and down the floor. I can still move around like I’m 24, 25. I didn’t have a lot of injuries, so my body is feeling great. I kind of see myself as a young guy. Age tells me different (29), but I still feel I play young.

“I think those European days (shorter schedule) they really helped my career out a lot.”

That European option really is open to Weems. He was an impact player in Moscow and he liked it there in the New York of Russia. It wouldn’t take much for him to land another Euroleague job.

“I call it the New York City of Europe and Russia,” Weems explained. “It’s just like New York City, fast-paced, a lot of condo living, traffic, a lot of different cultures, different foods, diversity, it’s just like New York. The city is lite-up. You can find anything you want over there. I actually liked it over there. Sometimes I miss it, but I wouldn’t go back.”

Weems signed a two-year deal as a veteran role player with the Phoenix Suns this past summer, however, the second season isn’t guaranteed until July 11, 2016 which makes him a potential trade asset. With their season unexpectedly imploding, the Suns should be more interested in future oriented assets now.

In limited minutes Weems has been shooting 46.2 percent from three for Phoenix and the 29-year-old just might be the low risk hired gun a playoff bound team might look at to bolster their roster. Maybe even Toronto?

 

 

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 New Orleans Pelicans Alexis Ajinca

Ex-Raptors Series: Alexis Ajinca Back In The NBA To Stay

When Alexis Ajinca arrived in Toronto back in January 2011 he was the typical young big man who blew teams away with his unbelievable physical attributes and let them down hard when they couldn’t seem to convince him to use them. In the end, it was three years and out for the 7’1 center with the 7’9 wingspan who the Charlotte Bobcats had drafted 20th overall in 2008.

Ajinca seemed to have it all.  His length made it easy to block shots, swipe steals and grab rebounds. His smooth shooting stroke let him sink shots out past the three-point line with efficiency. However, Ajinca couldn’t put it all together and it became apparent that coaches wanted him to play in the paint where those obvious physical attributes should have given him an advantage on the offensive glass and made him a superior rim protector at the other end. Instead he showed a love for long range twos and threes.

These tendencies made Ajinca look soft and inconsistent. He was as frustrating a player to watch as there could be because he should have been able to do so much more.

Alexis Ajinca interview,

 

“I guess when you are young, you are still learning everything,” Ajinca told Pro Bball Report. ” Now it’s been seven years, so now I know what’s going on and what to expect. I am more aware of how to work hard and stay in shape than when I was younger and when I was in Toronto.”

Ajinca played in the French Pro League before he was drafted and he returned there after his brief stint in Toronto. He had a lot to learn about himself and how to be pro.

“I went back overseas after the lockout and the main focus was being consistent, energy and everything,” Ajinca said. That’s one thing I learned, to be consistent and be a leader and stay ready no matter what the case may be.

“Just stay focused because sometimes I’d lose my focus, maybe just stay too much relaxed and that’s a big change.

“Something young players have to learn is you may have been unstoppable for four games straight, but its only four games out of 82 games, so it’s nothing yet. You have to do the whole season like that.

“Nothing that you achieve is ever enough.”

When Ajinca returned to the NBA for the 2013-14 season with New Orleans, he stuck and last summer the team rewarded him with a four year $20 million contract.

Gone were the three-point attempts. Ajinca has only shot two three-balls since his return and his shooting percentages reflect the improved discipline. He has become a reliable reserve that rebounds at a high rate at both ends of the court.

At 27-years-old, Ajinca is still young for a big man and his game still has room to improve. It’s even possible he’ll get a chance to develop that three-point shot he loved during his first go-around in the NBA if he can stay disciplined enough to keep doing the things that got him back in the NBA to stay.

 

 

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 Dallas Mavericks Charlie Villanueva

Ex-Raptors Series: Charlie Villanueva Is Making A Difference In Dallas

By Frank McLean

11-years ago the Toronto Raptors chose a 20-year old forward from the University of Connecticut with the seventh pick overall in the first round of the NBA draft named Charlie Villanueva.

After one year with the Raptors, Villanueva spent three years with the Milwaukee Bucks and then five more with the Detroit Pistons before ending up with the Dallas Mavericks where he is currently in his second season with the team.

I had a chance to catch up last week with Villanueva when the Mavericks where in Toronto and he told me that after 11-seasons he is happy to be still making a living in the NBA.

“I’m still living my dream. 31-years old, it seems like yesterday drafted and playing for Toronto, time flies. It’s my 11th year in the league and that’s a blessing. There aren’t a lot of guys that can say they played that long.”

When he thinks about the year he spent in Toronto, it was different coming to a new country and there were some little things that were different from the United States.

“Yah I was 20-years old. The currency was different, y’all don’t get ESPN and the cell phones were different.”

He did say he adjusted to life in the great white north and the best thing that happened was that he had son when he was here and the smile lighted up the room when he mentioned him.

This current Mavericks team is an interesting group. The team made a massive wholesale change of the roster in the offseason to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Right now the Golden State Warriors are walking away with first overall. Then you have the powerhouse second place San Antonio Spurs, but the third through eighth seeds are wide open. Many experts questioned before the start of the year if the Mavericks had a shot a home court in the first round of the playoffs.

When you talk to Villanueva he disses those doubters.

“A lot of people doubted us with all the changes. We have seven or eight new players, people kind of counted us out. Each and every guy in this locker room believes in themselves and this team and what it is capable of doing.

“Can we make the playoffs? Absolutely we can get the third spot, we are right there. The season is still young we have the ability to get better and see what happens.”

Villanueva does use that magic word chemistry when talking about the Mavericks and that it is the best group of guys he has played with.

“We have a great team, great chemistry the way we bond on and off the court. We have a great group of guys, veteran guys who know how to play and know how to win. We have a leader in Dirk (Nowitzki). He is doing amazing things and he’s leading the pack. Guys are taking his personality the way he does things it’s terrific.

“But it’s a combination of everything, Mark (owner Cuban), Rick (head coach Carlisle) and Dirk. They put this together. This is a great group of guys. It’s the best bunch of teammates I have ever had.”

Villanueva is still making a contribution. He is averaging 11-minutes a game and just under six points a night.

Time will tell if the Mavericks get home court in the first round or make the playoffs for that matter, but one thing is for sure, Villanueva will be part of how their 2015-2016 season ends up.

 

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.