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NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

Is It Worth Signing Waived NBA Players?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker Adds Defensive Toughness To The Raptors

With some unexpected last minute flair, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri added defensive toughness and filled the gap on the wing by trading Jared Sullinger and two second round draft picks for the Suns small forward P.J. Tucker.

Ujiri had made a massive upgrade at power forward by acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Magic just days earlier, but to get the deal done, he traded Terrence Ross, the team’s backup small forward. The soon-to-be 32-year-old Tucker is a tougher, more experienced and more consistent defender than Ross albeit not quite as an effective three-point threat.

Suns teammate Jared Dudley has been singing the praises of Tucker’s defense this season as has Suns coach Earl Watson.

Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He (Tucker) 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.”

While Tucker averages 7 points, 6 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 28.5 minutes and shoots 33.8 percent from three for the Suns this year, against the Raptors he’s scoring 12.5 points and grabbing 7 boards in two unexpected wins as the Suns held the high scoring Raptors to an average of 97 points.

Being good at isolation defense has been key to stopping the Raptors and it becomes even more important in the postseason.

Tucker was originally drafted from the University of Texas at Austin 35th overall in 2006 by the Raptors and played in 17 games for Toronto before being waived in March 2007. After playing five seasons overseas, he was signed as a free agent in 2012 by the Suns. He is in the final year of a three-year $16.5 million contract that pays him $5.3 million this season. He had been primarily used as a starter, but has come off the bench since December 31st.

On another note, the Boston Celtics have stood pat as the Raptors added talent 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 Jared Sullinger

Raptors Jared Sullinger Finds His Shooting Touch With The 905

It was a big night in the 905 for the Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger. The big man found his shooting touch, going 6-11 from the field and 2-2 from three-point range to score 16 points to go with 10 boards and 5 assists.

 

Sullinger has yet to make much of an impact in Toronto since returning from foot surgery as his team is struggling to get out of a slump and head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t had the luxury of letting him play himself back into shape. So, for the second time since his return, Sullinger volunteered to go to Mississauga to shake off the rust and work on his conditioning.

Raptors 905 won the game 118-88 over the Canton Charge. Fred VanVleet contributing 8 points and 11 assists. Brady Heslip leading the 905 in scoring with 18 points by shooting 5-8 from three. Center Edy Tavares also had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

How Close Is The Raptors Jared Sullinger To Playing Normal Minutes?

It’s “injury season” in the NBA and the Toronto Raptors have been participating fully in what’s often described as the “dog-days” ahead of the All-Star break. Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira and now DeMar DeRozan have been nicked up and Jared Sullinger is just three games back since a broken foot in preseason interrupted his campaign. Under the circumstances, the Raptors need to know how close their presumed starting power forward is to playing normal minutes?

It should be soon.

“It’s going great,” Sullinger told Pro Bball Report after his last game. “Every day it’s getting better. It feels stronger every day. Slowly moving (forward). It’s going to be a process.

“This is the first game that I really felt great about just movement wise and the productivity of the legs, what they were able to produce. They are feeling great.”

Sullinger returned to action with a minutes limit. In part to be cautious and in part because he spent about six weeks after surgery without any weight-bearing activity on the repaired foot.It’s going to take time to regain his conditioning and no one wants to see any setbacks.

“With all the running I’m doing trying to get my lungs back and on top of that the shooting right after,” Sullinger said. “We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see. That’s just how it feels every day. There are going to be ups and downs, but I’m slowing battling thru things.”

So how close is Sullinger to reclaiming his starting spot in the lineup and playing 24+ minutes a night?

“It’s just conditioning,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “I thought he did an excellent job of going in screening, finding the middle, finding people on the weak side. It’s going to take him 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 games, I don’t know how many it is to get in condition where he can go long extended minutes. That’s going to be up to him how much he can handle.”

On that time-frame look for Sullinger to be back to playing his typical 24-28 minutes a night by the weekend – the slumping Raptors 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 Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger Could Answer The Raptors Only Glaring Need

The Toronto Raptors have been scoring the ball at an unprecedented rate for this franchise, an NBA East leading 111.2 points per game and that’s with their “big” free agent acquisition sitting on the sidelines rehabbing a broken foot. The Celtics young veteran free agent Jared Sullinger was signed to fill a gaping experience hole in the Raptors big man rotation caused by the loss of Bismack Biyombo to the Magic and if he doesn’t have any setbacks to his recovery, he could be the answer to the Raptors only glaring need.

There isn’t a lot to complain about in Toronto this season. After the toughest schedule of any team in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors are in second place and on track to exceed last year’s win total for the fifth year in a row.

However, there are a couple of areas of concern.

The obvious issue is on defense where the Raptors are giving up 104.6 points per game, although that’s almost exactly the league average in a season that has gone offense crazy with no team in the East holding opponent scoring under 100 points.

Slightly more subtle, but perhaps more easily corrected with Sullinger’s return, is a significant decline in the Raptors ability to rebound the basketball. Last year Toronto was 7th in the NBA with a rebounding differential of +2.6 boards. This year they are -0.4 and it has cost them games.

Hereto the league seems to be undergoing change as teams are more focused than ever on shooting the three-ball and dragging big man away from the basket. The “best” rebounding team currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture is Cleveland with a rebounding differential of only +0.8 boards. Last year the Cavs were third best in the NBA at +3.5, but how’s a team supposed to rebound effectively firing up 33 three-pointers a game (over 10 percent more than last year) and playing the lite-weight glass-allergic “big man” Channing Frye almost 20 minutes a game?

Toronto, led by mid-range scorer DeMar DeRozan, is bucking the league-wide three-point trend, but Sullinger’s injury forced head coach Dwane Casey to play the rookies Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl a lot more than was planned and third-year forward/center Lucas Nogueira has been pressed into the rotation for the first time in his brief NBA career.

The impression of all three players has been positive, but for all they’ve been able to do, they haven’t been that good on the boards.

Siakam has started 34 games at power forward and while the effort is appreciated and the experience invaluable to his development, that five-man unit has been putting the Raptors in a hole at the start of games almost every time. Casey has recently been giving Nogueira a real shot at starting power forward and the change looks very promising. This has also opened up more minutes for Poeltl, again at Siakam’s expense. However, the moves have only further confirmed the need for rebounding help.

Siakam: 17.9 minutes, 3.6 rebounds,  grabbing 11.1 percent of the available boards.

Nogueira: 20.5 minutes, 4.8 rebounds,  grabbing 13.1 percent of the available boards.

Poeltl: 10.6 minutes, 2.9 rebounds,  grabbing 15.1 percent of the available boards (in 21 games).

Biyombo (8 rebounds per game in 2015-16), like Jonas Valanciunas still does, grabbed over 20 percent of the available boards last year. What the Raptors need now is what Sullinger gave the Celtics last season.

Sullinger: 23.6 minutes, 8.3 rebounds, grabbing 18.7 percent of the available boards.

“A big time rebounder, a high level rebounder especially defensively,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri described Sullinger during training camp.

It is completely fair to believe that Sullinger, in his fifth NBA season, could replace the minutes played by the rookies Siakam and Poeltl and grab an additional 3 or 4 rebounds a game for the Raptors. That should lead to fewer opponent possessions plus his experience on defense should help reduce the rather gaudy opponent’s scoring numbers.

Nothing happens in a straight line, but it isn’t hard to believe playing Sullinger 18-24 minutes a night instead of the rookies will help. A three rebound swing would bring the Raptors rebounding differential back in line with last season. As an added bonus, Sullinger, averaging 10.3 points per game last year, also brings a lot bigger offensive threat to the table than either Siakam or Poeltl.

Is Sullinger enough to get the Raptors past the first place Cavs? That’s hard to tell as it seems LeBron James has owned the East for the past six seasons and keeps finding another gear as needed. But the games between Toronto and James have been close going back to last season. The Raptors typically aren’t losing by much and when looking for a specific Cavaliers advantage, the Cavs have outrebounded Toronto by an average of 3.4 boards in three games this year.

For Ujiri to know if any trade is warranted this season, his team’s second best rebounder Jared Sullinger can’t get back in action 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.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Stuff Happens To The Raptors Powell, Siakam And Poeltl

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors they were hoping the Celtics free agent big man Jared Sullinger could fill the one hole they had in their starting line-up, but sometimes in sports, just like in life, circumstances play a big part into how your lot with a team is going to go. Like the T-shirt says, “Stuff Happens”.

In the case of four different players on the current Raptors roster the “stuff” that has happened since the start of the off season has affected them good and bad.

First you have to feel sorry for power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year six-million dollar contract in the summer in the hopes of parlaying that into a long term mega-deal as an unrestricted free agent next summer just like Bismack Biyombo did.

Sullinger and bad luck hit smack on in the Raptors first preseason game when he landed on the foot of one of his teammates and will be out of the line-up till around the All-Star break. However, bad luck for Sullinger has turned into an unexpected opportunity for rookie forward Pascal Siakam.

Drafted 27th overall in the first round out of New Mexico State the rookie is getting a chance to start games and bring an element of his game, speed.

“Speed is a great advantage to have,” Siakam said. “As a big man being able to run the floor I think a lot of big men don’t do that. The fact that I can do that on a consistent basis is great. I’m just trying to use all my advantages and be able to help my team win.”

As a result of Siakam’s success a major contributor from last season’s playoff run, Norman Powell, has become a forgotten man. Powell says he just has to keep working hard and earn head coach Dwane Casey’s trust.

“I trust Norm,” Casey said. “It’s not about trust. It’s about it being hard to play 11 or 12 guys. It’s not trust at all. Hell I trusted him in the first round of the playoffs last year as a rookie, so it’s not about trust.

“It’s just he has a guy like DeMar DeRozan in front of him on a hot streak and DeMarre Carroll who is our defensive guy who is healthy now so it’s a tough situation for him to be in. Then there’s Terrence (Ross) shooting the ball the way he is shooting, so he’s got a triple-headed monster he’s fighting against.”

Meanwhile at center the Raptors other first round pick Jakob Poeltl is getting a chance to play some quality minutes because the Raptors did not re-sign Bismack Biyombo this past summer.

This past Sunday he got a chance to start against Sacramento with Jonas Valanciunas out with a knee bruise. He got a quick lesson in how to deal with big centers in the NBA. In this case DeMarcus Cousins.

“It’s like every other game,” Poeltl said about the Sacramento game. “Learn from it, watch what we did, what we did wrong, and try and improve that. Obviously, it was far from a perfect game from us today and from me personally, too. So look at it and try to learn from it.”

As you can see circumstances have changed the complexion of the Toronto Raptors line-up and with the playoffs not until the middle of April you can be sure that more “stuff” will happen to change the line-up a few more times.

 

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Raptors To Lose Jared Sullinger For 3-4 Months Or More

The Toronto Raptors announced Sunday forward Jared Sullinger will have a screw inserted into the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. The surgery will be performed Monday afternoon by Dr. Martin O’Malley in New York City.

The procedure is a preventative measure to alleviate symptomatic stress reactions. Sullinger’s status will be updated as appropriate.

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society describes this injury as:

The metatarsal bones are the long bones in the middle of the foot. The fifth metatarsal is the last bone at the outside of the foot.

Jones FractureZone 2 fractures are typically known as Jones fractures. They occur at the intersection between the base and the shaft of the fifth metatarsal. These fractures are known to have a higher chance of not healing (nonunion). They are also at risk of refracture even after healing. Surgical treatment is commonly performed for these fractures.

Patients can expect to return to full activity three to four months after a typical fracture. This includes returning to sports.

Some complications can result in the need for repeat surgery.

Full details of Sullinger’s injury are not likely to be released, but this type of injury is pretty common in the NBA and while some players get back on the court within the same season, some don’t, and some require additional surgeries/treatment for the condition before they can finally return.

While it’s possible Sullinger is back after the All-Star break, a prudent general manager would be planning on not seeing him on the court again this season.

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry 2016 media day

Coach Casey Says Raptors Are Going To Score This Year

The Toronto Raptors played at the second slowest pace in the NBA last season, but they still managed to put up points in the dead middle of the pack (102.7 points per game) while playing solid defense so they had a league fifth best plus/minus of +4.5 points. Head coach Dwane Casey maintains it’ll be defense first again this season and he isn’t worried about scoring. “We’ll score,” Casey explained after a recent preseason practice and one look at this Raptors roster suggests they’ll score more than last season unless the injury bug bites them hard again this time.

In the Raptors starting unit of 2015-16, center Jonas Valanciunas missed 22 games, small forward DeMarre Carroll missed 56 games and the 35-year-old power forward Luis Scola started 76 games as his team’s best starting option at his position.

The Raptors blew through these issues somewhat seamlessly, but likely impact of injuries to starters and Scola on their scoring isn’t that hard to see.

The stone-fisted Bismack Biyombo was a solid replacement for Valanciunas in the starting line-up, but he he averaged 7.2 points as a starter versus 12.9 points for Valanciunas.

Carroll averaged 11.9 points as a starter, but more importantly spread the floor with 5 three-point attempts as one of the Raptors best three-point shooters. Veteran forward James Johnson stepped in for 32 starts, but he only averaged 5.9 points and 1.5 cringe-worthy three-point attempts per game. Rookie Norman Powell eventually won the job and started 24 times (almost all after the All-Star break) and averaged a solid 10.1 points and 3.2 three-point attempts while shooting 46.1 percent from three. Powell doesn’t have Carroll’s experience or size, but he sure makes that Raptors bench look a lot stronger heading into this season.

As much as everyone would have liked a stronger starting power forward than Scola, the veteran was pretty effective averaging 8.7 points and spreading the court with 2.1 three-point attempts and hitting over 40 percent of them. Still, newcomer Jared Sullinger is bigger, younger and forced his way into the Celtics starting lineup over several bodies put in his way before the season started. In his 73 starts with Boston, Sullinger averaged 10.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. He only shot just over one three-ball per game, but like Scola last season, the potential to become a three-point threat is there.

The other scoring aspects of this year’s roster are:

1) Valanciunas, third on Toronto in scoring last season, is expected to play significantly more minutes this year.

2) Sullinger is also expected to play significant minutes at center where he’ll be a much more effective offensive player than Biyombo could ever hope to be.

3) Lowry, coming off a career year, is heading into a contact year that should/will land him a deal in the $130-150 million range. Look for the Raptors’ leader to have an even bigger year this time around.

For purely fantasy purposes, a quick look at the Raptors projected nine man rotation using last year’s stats illustrates why Casey isn’t worried about scoring.

Starters:
Kyle Lowry 77 games, 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds
DeMar DeRozan 78 games, 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds
DeMarre Carroll 26 games, 11 points, 4.7 rebounds
Jared Sullinger 81 games, 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds
Jonas Valanciunas 60 games, 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds

Reserves:
Terrence Ross 73 games, 9.9 points, 2.5 rebounds
Norman Powell* 25 games, 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds
Cory Joseph 80 games, 8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds
Patrick Patterson 79 games, 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds

Totals: 113.7 points, 44.1 rebounds (last season 102.7, 43.4)

* Powell post All-Star break

The biggest fly in the fantasy numbers will be Casey trying to find minutes to develop players like Lucas Nogueira, Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright. The reality is there isn’t enough minutes available to give the nine guys in the rotation all the time they should be getting and are expected to earn this season – unless someone gets hurt.

 

 

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

Sullinger And Siakam Impress In Raptors Win Over Warriors

In front of a sellout crowd at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena the Toronto Raptors came away with a closely fought, poorly shot, and somewhat sloppily played preseason opening win over the visiting Golden State Warriors on Saturday night 97-93. The Raptors free agent addition Jared Sullinger with 7 points, a game high 10 boards, a steal and a block in a game high 23.3 minutes of action and rookie Pascal Siakam with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in 20.8 minutes particularly impressed in their Raptors debuts.

This somewhat meaningless contest will be mostly remembered as Kevin Durant’s first appearance in a Warriors game and the superstar scored 9 points on 2-9 shooting from the field, but from a Raptors perspective, Durant will be remembered as the first NBA player Siakam blocked at the rim on a layup attempt. Siakam is a high energy power forward/center that Raptors head coach Dwane Casey keeps finding reasons to mention and the rookie hid his first game jitters with effort.

“I was nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Siakam said after the game. “I didn’t expect that at all in my first possession I was going to have to guard (Kevin Durant). This is the guy you watch on TV, you look up to and you get to play your first game, your first minutes against him. I was nervous, but at the same time, you’re here. I was happy.”

Sullinger looked really good as the starting power forward and when moving over to backup center after Casey rolled out his first set of substitutions. If his rebounding prowess continues thru the rest of preseason, it’ll be Biyombo-who real fast this year. However, Siakam is going to be the hot topic because he’s a rookie. Everyone knew, or should have known, Sullinger can rebound the ball at a high level.

“Pascal is going to be the type of guy that can guard multiple positions,” Sullinger said. “His energy level, his intensity and his ability to change shots at the rim, Pascal is going to be a difference maker.”

Throw out the score, the bad shooting, the sloppy play. The takeaway from this game was the Raptors out rebounded the Warriors 58-42. Toronto is going to be a good rebounding team again this season.

It was obvious from the start this was a preseason game as the two teams combined for a dozen first quarter turnovers on their way to 44 for the game. Both teams opened with their anticipated starting lineups for the upcoming regular season and not a single starter on either team had a positive plus/minus. There’s a lot of rust to be knocked off before the season starts at the end of the month.

The Raptors organization breathed a collective sigh of relief to see DeMarre Carroll look like the Carroll of two seasons ago as their starting small forward shot 6-9 for a team high 14 points to go with 4 rebounds and 4 steals. This was how it was supposed to go. Carroll completed his rehab from last season’s surgery in August and was reporting no ill effects from workouts or practice, but watching him move this smoothly and effectively in a game situation had to make his coaches feel good.

The Warriors took a look at 18 players in this contest and the Raptors played 15 guys. While the vets shake off the rust in limited minutes, the coaches are looking at who might crack the rotation or win one of the last spots on the roster and there’s a long ways to go on both fronts. At least the fans in Vancouver seemed to enjoy themselves.

“That’s what exhibition is for,” Casey said. “It’s to see guys like Drew Crawford and Norm Powell and those guys, Pascal and see what they can do. Fred VanVleet he came in and did a good job. All the young guys were impressive.”

The Raptors next preseason game is at the ScotiaBank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday against the Denver Nuggets.

 

 

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 Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll

Raptors Are Fighting To Be The Next Man Up In Toronto Again

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has one of those nice problems to have. He has too many deserving players and not enough minutes to go around leaving a group of guys fighting to be the next man up when opportunity finally knocks.

Even with the departure of starter Luis Scola, back up center Bismack Biyombo and heavily used fill-in James Johnson, finding meaningful minutes for players outside of the team’s top nine players will be a challenge unless someone gets hurt.

Plus, if Casey can, he’d like to find more minutes for some of the guys in his top nine, but if all of them were to just average playing the minutes they had last season, he’d have to create about 10 more minutes a game just to do that.

The Raptors will feature a three guard rotation with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph soaking up virtually all of the minutes at the one and the two spots. These three very durable guards averaged so many minutes last season (98.5 minutes combined out of 96 available) that the only way Casey could keep them on the floor was to play them together. In 74 games Casey ran a lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Patrick Patterson and one of Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo for an average of 3.2 minutes per game.

Heading into this season, the developing Joseph could see even more than the 25.6 minutes he averaged in his first go around in Toronto and since the All-Stars DeRozan and Lowry aren’t likely to be cut back, those minutes will have to come from somewhere (someone) else.

The one player Casey has already hinted at trying to “protect” this season so he’s available in good shape for the playoffs is DeMarre Carroll. Carroll averaged 30.2 minutes, but only played in 26 games due to injury and has only recently returned to playing five-on-five basketball in practice. Known as the Junkyard Dog 2.0, Carroll won’t exactly be excited about playing 24-26 minutes a game, but he’s secure in his contract and a team player. Besides, Casey knows he has to create minutes for the very deserving Norman Powell somehow, someway.

With very limited opportunities expected to be available at shooting guard, Casey will be left searching for ways to get Powell and three-point specialist and all around super tease Terrence Ross 24 minutes a game each this season. Casey can create time by playing small ball and the Raptors, like so many other NBA teams these days, have featured very successful lineups of guards and wings with one big man on the court.

Ross led the Raptors bench in three-point attempts last season (4.6), averaging 9.9 points in 23.9 minutes. As much as Ross can frustrate the fans for not doing more, Toronto needs his ability to stretch the floor. Post All-Star break, Powell averaged 9.6 points in 22.8 minutes and hit on 45.5 percent of his 3.1 three-point attempts, plus Casey loves his physical brand of defense.

The squeeze may come with the big men, although it won’t be easy to sit these guys down either.

Jonas Valanciunas was third in Raptors scoring (12.8 points) in just 26 minutes per game last season and he came up huge in the postseason before he was injured. Now entering his fifth NBA season, the pressure will be on to find JV more playing time. It’s easy to project Valanciunas at his 2016 pre-injury playoff numbers of 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, a steal and 1.4 blocks if he gets 28 to 30 minutes a night.

The crunch may come with Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson. Sullinger averaged 23.6 minutes a game in Boston putting up 10.3 points and a team best 8.3 rebounds. He replaces Scola (21.5 minutes per game) at starting power forward, plus Sullinger is expected to spend some time at backup center. Patterson played 25.6 minutes a game last year. However, both players are on expiring contracts and will be pushing hard for a bigger role this time around.

Sullinger and Patterson are highly motivated and very talented players, so Casey isn’t likely to find any minutes here to hand out to someone else. If anything, these two guys should be expected to earn more playing time than last season. It just isn’t that easy to see where the additional minutes for them are going to come from.

Then there’s the crew fighting to be the next man up if and when Casey needs someone.

Sitting on the sidelines and hoping to make an impression on coach Casey at training camp are centers Lucas Nogueira, rookie (9th pick) Jacob Poeltl and rookie (27th pick) center/power forward Pascal Siakam (who is eerily similar to Biyombo except this kid can score too). In other circumstances, on a team without so many quality big men or not fighting for a high playoff seed, these guys would play.

Nogueira has natural gifts of length, hops and quicks that are hard to find. He has the ability to be the best screen setter on the team, the potential to be a three-point threat or to feed the post from the outside for dunks and layups, and a is natural shot blocker. He just has to stay healthy and put it all together for longer than a quarter at a time.

Poeltl was described as the least likely player to be a bust in this year’s draft, a back-handed compliment to be sure, but not wrong. He has all the earmarks of a solid traditional NBA center. He might even become better than JV given time to develop.

Siakam is the guy everyone is likely to get excited about. High energy with more skill than he’s been given credit for, this is the guy to watch in preseason – even if he’s the one pegged as most likely to see time in the 905 right away. There’s just a “Norman Powell-like” feel to this kid.

Just maybe Casey makes the effort/sacrifice to create a few minutes for one of these three big men at backup center?

There never really was an issue with Delon Wright or Bruno Caboclo.

Wright won’t be available until December and he might not even get backup minutes at point guard if Lowry or Joseph aren’t available. Powell looked just as good as Wright running the offense with the 905 last season.

Is Bruno still two years away? t.b.d.

Of the six guys in training camp hoping to land the 15th roster spot, 26-year-old 905 Wing E.J. Singler has the three-point stroke and all around game that would make him an ideal replacement for last season’s injury reserve James Johnson. However, nothing is for certain with this group.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has a lot of decisions to make before the regular season starts, but they feel more like tweaks than earth shattering moves. His biggest issue may be trying to keep everybody happy with the number of minutes he has available and to keep guys fighting to get 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.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

Raptors Jared Sullinger Credits His Mom For His Rebounding Style

Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri had a big hole in the rebounding department to fill this summer after losing backup center Bismack Biyombo to free agency, however, he found his answer by scooping up the Boston Celtics best rebounder Jared Sullinger in his own free agent move.

Sullinger was a top 20 rebounder in the NBA last season, grabbing 18.7 percent of the available rebounds for the Celtics, but the stocky 6’9 260 lb Sullinger has a distinctly different style of owning the glass than the rangy Biyombo. Sullinger is a guy that can box his opponent right out of the the picture.

“Well, there’s this thing behind me called my butt that my Mom gave me,” Sullinger responded to a query from Pro Bball Report about his rebounding style. “So, that’s my style. Thanks Mom, sorry I know you get tired of me talking about your butt, but you gave it to me. It’s my Mom.”

Last year Sullinger pulled in the same number of boards per minute as Toronto’s top rebounder Jonas Valanciunas and he’s looking forward to not having to deal with Toronto’s starting center’s elbows in the post this year.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to guard him, I can tell you that much,” Sullinger said. “From all the elbows I used to have to take from JV. The times he boxed me out, the times I boxed him out, the times he post up, the times I post up, I’m just happy I don’t have to guard him.”

While Sullinger is a natural replacement for Biyombo, he is penciled in to take last year’s starting power forward Luis Scola’s role, so the Raptors new big man is expected to play significant minutes at both the four and the five spots.

“Basketball IQ, rebounding, somebody that can play inside, somebody that can play the four and the five position, I think (Sullinger) can play both positions really well,” said Ujiri for what must have been the upteenth time since signing Sullinger this summer. “A skilled player. You want to add a thinking player, that’s what he is. He’s always been like that and now he’s expanded his game a little bit. You saw in Boston, I don’t think he played as much inside, but you saw him outside a lot, he could spread the floor and we always need players like that with the way Kyle, DeMar and our shooters play.

“A big time rebounder, a high level rebounder especially defensively.”

Sullinger can thank his Mom for the natural gift of a solid base, but it’s his ability to use his butt to box out and create space that allows him to be one of the best rebounders in the NBA.

 

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Can The Boston Celtics Catch The Raptors Next Season?

The ESPN Summer Forecast predicts 51 wins next season for both the three-time in a row Atlantic Division winning Toronto Raptors and last year’s second place team in the Division, the Boston Celtics.  Boston made the biggest new addition of the two teams in July when they added All-Star Al Horford to a young up-and-coming roster and as is often the case, the biggest splash creates the most optimism, but with all that has gone on this summer, is the addition of Horford enough for the 48 win Celtics to catch up to the 56 win Raptors?

A Celtics Summer

Boston’s summer started with a bang, but it seems to be going out on a whimper. After adding third overall pick Jaylen Brown in the draft and Horford in free agency, the next big thing was the recent addition of 30-year-old journeyman Gerald Green.

As Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog wrote mid way thru July,

Everyone seems to agree on just one important point: The Celtics are aggressively looking to get something done.

By now we all know the names by heart. Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler, Jahlil Okafor, and even a little Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins tossed in for good measure. Will any of them be coming to Boston this summer?

The short answer Jeff is “No,” no one else is coming. The Celtics are who they are pending future trades – maybe towards the trade deadline?

To make room for what happened and possibly for what they hoped would happen, the Celtics also lost two big pieces of last season’s rotation.

Veteran swingman Evan Turner averaged 28 minutes a game in Boston last season and put up a reliable 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The 27-year-old has become a solid two-way player and the Trail Blazers gave him $70 million this summer.

Turner’s price tag was way too high and Green will provide a really solid backstop for the rookie Brown. It was time to move on, but there is no way to say the Celtics are better next season with Green and Brown taking Turner’s minutes.

Jared Sullinger was far and away Boston’s best rebounder and it’s not even close, but his qualifying offer was pulled late in free agency and the big intriguing power forward/center signed a one year Mid Level Exception deal with the team the Celtics are chasing in the Atlantic.

Sullinger’s loss could be bigger than advertised. He started 73 games in Boston last year and averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in just 23.6 minutes. From the moment the Celtics landed Horford, Sullinger’s days were numbered, but shouldn’t something have been done to shore up this team’s abysmal rebounding after his departure.

Last season Sullinger pulled in 27 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court and the Celtics needed every one of them. The 26th worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA just took a step back and Horford is not the solution. With Horford replacing Sullinger in the starting lineup, the Celtics could be as much as 2.9 rebounds a game below last year’s pace.  Sure the Hawks were able to win games as a terrible rebounding team and Horford’s basketball I.Q., scoring and superior (compared to Sullinger) rim protection will help, but it gets hard to beat winning teams if you can’t get the ball back.

Last year the Celtics added 8 wins to their previous year’s total and it’s a lot harder to add the next 8 wins that get you into Conference Finals contention. More than the addition of Horford, improving on last year’s win total will come down to the progress of players in their mid-twenties – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and even Kelly Olynyk. These players are the ones that have to take their game up a notch if the Celtics are to have any hope of catching the Raptors.

If should be noted that while the Celtics have a solid rotation, they get real young and inexperienced real fast if someone gets hurt.

There are at least three more moves in Boston. The team has 18 players under contract with John Holland and Ben Bentil on non-guaranteed/partially guaranteed deals.

A Quiet Raptors Summer

LIke in Boston, the Raptors hoped having extra first round draft picks would lead to a little more activity at the draft and during the free agent period, but, like in Boston, there was nothing doing.

However, the Raptors are not trying to become Eastern Conference Finals contenders, they were in the Eastern Conference Finals last season and they are bringing substantially the same roster back this year to defend their position.

It looked like something was up at the draft when Toronto took 7′ center Jabob Poeltl 9th overall and then took the rim protecting power forward/center Pascal Siakim at 27. As much as Toronto wanted backup center Bismack Biyombo to return and Biyombo was willing to give a hometown discount, there was no way (under the CBA) to come close to matching the $70 million offer from the Magic when Toronto didn’t hold Biyombo’s bird rights.

The Raptors focus in free agency was to re-sign All-Star DeMar DeRozan and it only took a matter of minutes to come to an agreement on a new near max five year deal. That done and the Raptors salary cap space was gone.

For a seemingly long time the Raptors appeared to be sitting out the rest of free agency until the Celtics pulled Sullinger’s qualifying offer. Within hours, Sullinger was being sold on the benefits of bringing his skills to Toronto for about half of what he was being offered by other teams. It wasn’t a hard sell. Biyombo bet on himself last season by taking a bargain contract with the Raptors and it paid off bigger than anyone could have predicted. If you believe in yourself, and Sullinger does, it looks like a good bet.

In addition to losing Biyombo to free agency, Toronto also lost starting power forward Luis Scola and third string forward James Johnson.

Biyombo is active player, superior rim protector and outstanding rebounder, but beyond setting very good screens, he provides little offense and in half court sets, teams can play off him.  He averaged 5.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes per game and had several 20+ rebound efforts. He’ll be missed.

The obvious replacement for Biyombo is last year’s third string center Lucas Nogueira. A true 7-footer with a wingspan that doesn’t end, raw speed, quickness, court vision and a developing three-point shot. If Nogueira could have played up to his obvious potential, he would have taken minutes away from Biyombo last year. On a percentage basis, Nogueira is an excellent shot blocker, ball theft and offensive threat, if the proverbial light comes on. If he continues to only show flashes of consistency, Casey will be forced to give the rookie Poeltl a look and that might be the right move anyway.

At 35-years-old, Scola developed a never before seen reliable three-point shot last season and he can still rebound, but a year later and a year older, this Argentine superstar is well on the downside of his career. He only averaged 21.5 minutes per game as Patrick Patterson was the guy head coach Dwane Casey looked to to close games and pick up the slack.

Sullinger will take the starting power forward job and is expected to play a lot more minutes per game than Scola, but those minutes will not come at the expense of Patterson. Sullinger is also the Raptors real replacement for Biyombo. Like Biyombo last season, Sullinger will be given the opportunity to expand his game and take on a bigger role and he brings an offensive aspect to the center spot that vanished when Jonas Valanciunas was subbed out.

In a Celtics Blog Roundtable, they described the big man that was about to leave Boston,

Kevin O’Connor: Jared Sullinger is better than he gets credit for. But he should also be better than he actually is … I think Sullinger has All-Star-level talent that will ultimately go unrealized unless he makes strides soon.

Wes Howard: I do want to point out that he brings a skill that no one else on our roster has been able to duplicate consistently over the past couple of years. Sully has repeatedly demonstrated that he is able to handle large, strong, bruising centers down low.

The Raptors best rebounder and second best rim protector, Valanciunas will be expected to play more than 26 minutes per game next season just like Sullinger will be expected to play more than 24 minutes and more minutes will be expected from Patterson. Unless someone gets hurt, there probably isn’t going to be many minutes for Nogueira and Poeltl to fight for.

Basically James Johnson only got to play because DeMarre Carroll missed 56 games last year. He did a great job filling in, pedestrian numbers, but the Raptors kept on winning. Then the rookie Norman Powell took his job. As much as Johnson was a solid dressing room guy and well liked by the fan base, he isn’t going to be missed on the court (unless someone gets hurt).

Carroll had knee surgery early in the year to remove loose debris and Toronto only barely got a look at him during the regular season and only a shadow of what he could do in the playoffs. The knee is expected to be 100% next season and his return could be looked at like adding the free agent the team thought they were getting last year to this year’s rotation. Carroll was one of the best “3-and-D” forwards available last summer.

Out of nowhere, the second round pick Powell became a 45 percent three-point shooter and gritty defender on the wing after the All-Star break averaging 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 25 games including 20 starts. The rookie had an impressive playoff run as well. The now 23-year-old didn’t look out of place in the starting lineup and should be a big boost off the bench.

Unlike the Celtics, the Raptors don’t have to improve on last year’s regular season results to be taken seriously. Winning 56 games will do that, but they do have seven players in their rotation who are in their mid-twenties and just like the Celtics young core, these guys are supposed to be better than last year as well.

The concern in Toronto revolves around depth after the nine guys who will be the key players in Casey’s rotation. Poeltl and Siakam are rookies and enough said. Bruno Caboclo will be in his third NBA season, but for all intents and purposes he is the same as a rookie too. Third string point guard Delon Wright did improve over last season, but he isn’t proven at an NBA level and neither is last year’s third string center Nogueira.

Toronto does have an open roster spot with two players on non-guaranteed contracts vying for it, so, like last year, there could be more late additions. They may not be done yet.

Raptors vs Celtics

Toronto took the season series from Boston last year 3-1 with an average score of 103 – 98.5 and the biggest difference other than scoring came on the glass. The Raptors were +6.5 boards per game and that’s one stat that doesn’t have a reason to move with the changes that happened over the summer.

The Celtics lost their best rebounder to free agency in starting power forward Sullinger and the Raptors lost their second best rebounder in backup center Biyombo and picked up Sullinger to replace him. If Toronto kills Boston on the glass again this year, that’s got to hurt.

The ESPN Summer Forecast could still prove out. A lot can happen between now and the start of the season, even if it isn’t likely anymore. Boston should be better. Horford should make a difference and the young veterans are expected to improve, but that’s against a back drop of having to make up 8 wins on the team they are chasing, a team that isn’t likely to be any worse than last year and has probably improved in lock step.

Jae Crowder was quoted as saying he isn’t worried about Toronto and he shouldn’t be in July. It’s not even a fair question, but it does indicate a potential rivalry in the making. This season both teams will be striving to be better and the odds of Boston catching Toronto in the standings really aren’t that good – yet.

 

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Raptors Building A Defensive Wall With Jared Sullinger

The Toronto Raptors are genuinely excited to land the Boston Celtics free agent starting power forward/center Jared Sullinger, but questions immediately came up about how the 6’9 270 (cough cough) lb big man would fit in defensively on the Raptors. Toronto lost last year’s big defensive deterrent in the paint Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sullinger isn’t exactly known for blocking shots.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri sees the Raptors adapting their defense to fit with Sullinger’s strengths.

“Defensive rebounding and building a wall,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report. “I know Biyombo was a shot blocker, but we will probably have a different type of defense now with a big wall there and sometimes now you might not get that shot blocked, but (Sullinger) will stand in front of you and you’ll know he’s there.”

Sullinger isn’t a direct replacement for what Biyombo brought to the Raptors last season. Both players are among the elite in rebounding, but where Biyombo was a deterrent at the rim on defense, Sullinger has the ability to put up a lot of points and just maybe that will give head coach Dwane Casey a little more flexibility as he can play Jonas Valanciunas or Patrick Patterson with Sullinger and not lose his floor spacing, paint presence or defensive rebounding. Raptors fans will remember Sullinger’s 25 point 20 rebound game against Toronto.

“The basketball I.Q. is the biggest thing for me,” Ujiri said. “I love to talk about the picks he sets which will be great for our guys. He stretches the floor and he can play the four and the five.

“To be limited (by the salary cap) and to get a guy like this without having to move anybody, it fell in our lap. We got extremely lucky and we are extremely excited.”

“(Sullinger) is going to be our starting four guy,” Casey said on Sportsnet 590 The Jeff Blair Show. “Our goal is to get him and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) to mesh offensively and defensively.

“He has an opportunity to step in and solidify the power forward position.

“He is going to be able to play not only the four position, he is going to bounce over to the five. It is up to us to mesh he and JV and Patrick (Patterson) and our other bigs in that situation to get that rotation solidified.”

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sullinger’s skills, effort or all around play, weight issues have haunted him since he was drafted and he needs to get in better shape if he’s to take full advantage of his opportunity in Toronto.

“Jared is going to have to get out and guard some of the Kevin Loves of the Association and move his feet if guys like Chris Bosh comes back and guard guys out on the perimeter and he’s done that,” Casey said. “I’ve watched a lot of film on him and his charge – and he said it yesterday in his press conference – and it’s no secret that he has to get into the best condition of his career.”

The Raptors were lucky to get Sullinger. The Celtics had made him a restricted free agent and didn’t pull their qualifying offer until nearly all of the money available in free agency was gone. Sullinger was left to choose between playing for money on a bad team and taking the Raptors Mid Level exception to play in a winning situation. He chose winning and that says a lot about what’s important to this young man.

“It’s a winning situation,” Sullinger said. “If you look at history, you look at Masai’s track record, you will understand that those (other) offers were nice, but at the end of the day it’s all about winning and open opportunity and I see an open opportunity and I also see winning and that’s what made it a no-brainer.”

 

 

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 Boston Celtics Jared Sullinger

Celtics Free Agent Jared Sullinger Heads North To Toronto

Everyone in Toronto can relax, Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri has landed a pretty decent free agent. Soon after being made an unrestricted free agent by the Celtics, Jared Sullinger finds his way headed north to division rival Toronto.

The deal is assumed to be in the $6 million range because, without trading a player for salary cap space, that’s all the Raptors can offer. However, Sullinger and his agent likely realize free agent monies are drying up fast and the last big man to come to Toronto for a year, Bismack Biyombo, left with a $70 million contract after helping the Raptors get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Taking less now and playing for a team that wants rebounding and defense can lead to big rewards later on.

Sullinger was an obvious choice for the Raptors as he has burned them on numerous occasions in the past. The 24-year-old big man averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 23.6 minutes over 81 regular season games with the Celtics last season. In 12 career games against the Raptors he averaged 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in 24.5 minutes and he shot 8-21 from three-point range, got 12 steals and 5 blocked shots.

Last season, Sullinger pulled in 10.6 percent of the available offensive boards and 27 percent of the available defensive rebounds making him a better offensive version of the rebounding machine that was Biyombo. Biyombo pulled in 11.7 percent of the available offensive boards and 29.5 percent of the available defensive rebounds last year with Toronto, but those numbers were way ahead of his career averages. After four seasons, Sullinger actually has slightly better rebounding percentages than Biyombo did at the same stage of his career.

Sullinger does not provide the same rim protection as Biyombo, blocking the ball at about a third of Biyombo’s impressive rate, however, Sullinger grabbed steals at four times the rate Biyombo did and he uses that 270 lb body with great effect in the paint. Sullinger also has the hands and the jump shot that Biyombo is still hoping to develop some day, so opponents will no longer be able to play off of the Raptors backup big man when Toronto runs their offensive sets.

Like Biyombo, Sullinger’s minutes were slipping with the Celtics and it had become apparent he wouldn’t be back next season. He should be driven to show what he can do and used to sharing minutes with another big man which is important for chemistry as he’ll likely be backing up Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson.

Once again the ever patient Ujiri has found value for the Raptors.

 

 

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