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NBA Spurs DeMar DeRozan vs Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Is The Better Scorer DeMar DeRozan or Kawhi Leonard?

The current title of greatest ambassador and scorer in Raptors history belongs to DeMar DeRozan. His name will be etched into the franchise record books beside games played, minutes played, field goals, free throws and points scored into the foreseeable future. No Raptors player has committed more towards his adopted city and franchise both on and off the court.

However, president Masai Ujiri traded in the face-of-his-franchise for, perhaps, the best two-way player in the game. A two-time defensive player of the year, four-time All-Defensive team selection and an NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard has earned the tag of best defensive player and best perimeter defender in the Association in this year’s annual GM poll  again, but no one who follows the NBA isn’t aware of his offense that elevated his status to back-to-back All-NBA First team in 2016 and 2017.

As great an offensive powerhouse as DeRozan has been in Toronto, there should be some question about how even he stacks up against Leonard’s offense and there is good reason to believe that under head coach Nick Nurse, Leonard is going to be given the freedom to take his scoring to another level.

“I am still trying to keep it a little free,” Nurse responded to Pro Ball Report about Leonard’s offense. “I want him to feel like he can go inside and post if he feels like it, if he feels the matchups there. If he wants to play screen and roll if he feels it. If he wants to bring it up the floor, all those things. He can really do all that stuff so we want to let him do all that stuff.

“We want him to be aggressive. He is a team player. He has to knock off some rust. In that first (preseason) game he was a little not aggressive enough and we talked to him a few days in there let’s be a little more aggressive in your offense and turn him loose a little bit.”

If the Raptors want to entice Leonard into staying in Toronto, in addition to a deep postseason run, there may be no better way to stroke his ego than helping him win an NBA scoring title and a shot an an MVP.

Since Leonard missed most of last season and DeRozan’s best offensive output was two years ago, a head-to-head comparison from 2016-17 may shed some light on which player is the better scorer.

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard

 

While DeRozan got opportunities early in his career to dominate the Raptors offense when the team he was on politely sucked, Leonard was developed in a Spurs organization that had higher expectations and he didn’t average double-digit shot attempts until his fourth season. Maybe that’s why he shot so much better than DeRozan from both two and three point range initially, but it’s a trend that continued even after the Raptors evolved into a 50-win team and Leonard had to shoulder a much bigger piece of the Spurs offense.

DeRozan, the two-point assassin, has never shot from midrange as effectively as Leonard and as much as the Raptors tried to develop deep range on DeRozan’s jump shot (that has nothing obviously wrong with it), he’s still an unreliable sub-30 percent three-point threat. Leonard, on the other hand, can’t be left unguarded beyond the arc and is especially deadly from the corner.

None of this is to say DeRozan isn’t an elite scorer. It’s just the numbers suggest Leonard is better and the real test of any scorer comes in the postseason where some players take their game to another level and some can’t.

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard playoffs

Contrary to popular opinion, DeRozan hasn’t played badly in the postseason, he just didn’t step up his game. He has averaged over 20 points per game in each of his five postseason runs, but what happened in 2016-17 and his career playoff shooting percentages are a pretty good measure of how he’s done versus the regular season and his fans can only cringe a little.

Leonard on the other hand has been a playoff beast. He has flat out upped his offensive production under pressure and that’s been a key missing ingredient in Toronto over the past five years.

And the early indications in preseason are Leonard is about to take his game to another level.

“He’s definitely more vocal than he’s ever been on and off the court,” Danny Green said after practice. “It looks like he feels comfortable. It looks like he feels at home. He’s talking to guys, he’s leading by example. In the huddles, he’s chiming in, saying what he feels, saying his opinion.

“He’s leading vocally more than ever before.”

An engaged Leonard assuming a leadership role is going to have a huge year.

Who’s the better scorer between All-Stars playing on different teams in different conferences under different coaching styles isn’t an easy thing to measure, but the numbers suggest the Raptors didn’t just get a massive upgrade on defense by trading DeRozan for Leonard, they have picked up the better scorer as well. And if Nurse can set Leonard free on offense and get him to lead, there’s no telling just how far the Raptors newest star can take it.

 

 

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 Kawhi Leonard

Takeaways From Watching The Rusty Raptors v Blazers

It’s only fair to say, never read too much into any preseason game. The coaches and the players treat them as practice and/or tryout sessions, but there were some takeaways to be gleaned by watching your rusty Raptors beat up on the Trail Blazers 122-104 in Vancouver.

Serge Ibaka as starting center.

Don’t assume the starting center job is Ibaka’s just yet, but it makes sense. What makes even more sense is Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Greg Monroe didn’t play together. Who ends up playing center with which unit will be a question of fit and effectiveness, but we got a solid clue about how head coach Nick Nurse sees these three players in his rotation.

Valanciunas looked like a player fighting for his job and he impressed.

CJ Miles as starting power forward.

Well maybe not, but that was a very veteran starting five Nurse threw out there in his first preseason game as a head coach. Miles could start, but it probably means OG Anunoby, who had the night off for personal reasons, is a good bet to be your starting power forward when the season starts.

Miles shot 2-3 from three and looks ready to go. Nurse will have him slotted into the rotation somewhere.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green looked a little rusty.

No surprise the two former Spurs looked a little rusty, but it wasn’t hard to look past the 1-9 three-point shooting they combined for and see a dominant offensive force coming soon to Toronto.

While Green was barely noticeable in the starting unit as he deferred to Kyle Lowry and Leonard, he stood out with the second unit after half without hitting a shot. He brought a strong veteran presence to a younger group.

The second unit is ready to go.

Fred VanVleet (3-4 from three), Pascal Siakam (13 rebounds), Delon Wright (a blocked shot) look ready to pick things up where they left off at the end of last season. The Raptors bench is going to terrorize opponents again this year.

Norman Powell had a good game.

It’s hard to know if there is anything Powell can show in preseason to crack Nurse’s rotation until someone gets hurt, but he looked good in Vancouver hitting 2-3 three-point attempts and playing an overall solid game.

 

Nurse gave his starters and key reserves 15-20 minutes of playing time and they worked up a good sweat. His reserves are ready for the season now and the starters worked off a bit of the rust and showed signs of developing some chemistry. It was a solid start to the preseason and a good night for the fans in Vancouver.

 

 

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 Kawhi Leonard and Masai Ujiri and Danny Green 2018 media day

Raptors Are Finally Serious About A Championship Run

In the end, winning in the NBA comes down to money. Either a team is willing to spend what it takes to compete for a championship or they aren’t. Period, end of story and Raptors president Masai Ujiri has finally, reluctantly, admitted that this is how things are done.

According to Spotrac, the Raptors head into training camp with the league’s third highest salary commitment and a potential Luxury Tax bill exceeding $50 million.

“I think it’s even more important to say, to give props to our owners,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report at Media Day. “They’ve given us this opportunity and that’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think it shows a commitment to winning.”

And it’s about time. After making Ujiri jump thru hoops to avoid paying Luxury Taxes in previous seasons, ownership has allowed the Raptors to hold onto their depth, add talent and take risks that could significantly add to payroll next year. This is what it takes to compete for a championship and come next July, this is what it will take to convince a superstar player like Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with their team.

“If you go by history and you go by numbers, I think there are very very few teams that have ever done it without this kind of commitment,” Ujiri admitted.

It may not be easy to be heard over the hype coming out of Boston, but the Toronto Raptors are finally, yes finally, serious about going on a championship run this season. With a payroll that rivals the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, this organization has, for the first time, put their massive financial resources behind their team.

No longer is the goal to merely end the embarrassment of being one of the NBA doormats (2008-2013), making the playoffs, winning 50 games in the regular season or even finishing first in the East.

Money talks and BS walks and the Raptors are finally spending to win 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 Kawhi Leonard

Good Reasons Why Kawhi Leonard Will Love Toronto

There’s been a lot of speculation about where the Raptors new addition Kawhi Leonard might head to next summer, but none of it is based on anything Leonard has said directly. The former Spur rarely says anything to the media, so after the standard thought that Leonard will sign in L.A. after this season, now the discussion turns to the reasons he might just fall in love with Toronto.

Give Raptors president Masai Ujiri some credit for knowing how to make players want to stay.

DeMar DeRozan was going home to sign with the Lakers a couple of years ago, he didn’t even talk to them and Kyle Lowry was headed home to sign with Philly a year ago, never gave them a chance, but those were the easy ones.

Serge Ibaka re-signed in Toronto after a trade deadline move and one has to believe it was in part because the Raptors let the big man break every convention when dealing with the media. Ibaka is a more media-friendly version of Leonard and he’ll just ignore requests pre-game, post-game and after practice by making the press wait until filing deadlines chase them out of the building. Some of us have waited well over an hour in an empty room postgame just for a chance to talk with Ibaka. It isn’t much of a stretch to believe Leonard would love the same latitude with the media Ibaka’s been enjoying in Toronto.

Then there’s the city itself. DeMarre Carroll made an impression when he first arrived by saying his wife loved it there because she could go shopping downtown with no hassles. We’ll just say professional athletes and their families aren’t “hassled” in “Toronto the good” and by the typically polite Canadian. A reserved Leonard might just appreciate this.

Going to a 59-win team that will be a Conference Finals favorite and at least even-money to make the NBA Finals probably helps, but it’d be nice to hear that from Leonard directly.

In The San Diego Union-Tribune, Mark Zeigler gives his own rationale,

Toronto?

a fan base that is loyal and passionate but will leave you alone in public

a locker room full of versatile, defensive-oriented players who don’t care about scoring averages

a progressive front office that, unlike many franchises, helps players secure local marketing deals

(Danny) Green, one of Leonard’s closest teammates from the Spurs (was traded to Toronto)

Then there’s,

Leonard has called meeting Barack Obama during the Spurs’ visit to the White House following their 2014 championship “one of my greatest experiences.” Ujiri is tight with Obama and spent last week with him in Kenya opening a basketball court by Ujiri’s Giants of Africa charity.

Leonard likes listening to rapper Drake. Toronto is Drake’s hometown. He’s courtside for most games.

Sharon Powell… mother of Norman Powell “(Toronto)’s just a fabulous place.” It’s a message she will share with Kim Robertson, Leonard’s mother whom she has befriended through basketball circles.

(worth noting) the team hosted a news conference. With Ujiri, not Leonard.

It’s interesting that Zeigler picked up on the Raptors slick move of letting Leonard skip the traditional press conference after his physical that even average NBA players have to attend post acquisition, but it’s a move that speaks volumes about just how far Ujiri will go to make Leonard feel comfortable in Toronto.

Really there is no rush and nothing to worry about. Leonard can meet the press in Toronto when he’s good and ready on his own terms and unlike the “eat your young” treatment Toronto Maple Leafs players may have experienced from the media in years gone by, Raptors players tend to get treated with “kid gloves”. Remembering James Johnson in his second stint with the Raptors thanked the local media post scrum for not asking about his recent legal problems at the time.

Throwing up softball questions to Raptors players is the norm in Toronto and it will help next July.

After seven NBA seasons, the 27-year-old Leonard isn’t a kid anymore and everyone should expect he’ll make his own decisions for his own reasons no matter what anyone does or says over the next 11.5 months. In the end it’s a job and Leonard, as an unrestricted free agent, can decide what’d best for him.

The Raptors will be hoping that polite, laid-back Toronto and playing for a very good team in the East is more attractive than being front and center with all the sometimes harsh media attention that should be expected in Los Angeles.

Here’s what someone who knows Leonard as well as anybody told me privately: “He’s going to fall in love with Toronto – it’s going to happen. He’s not going to leave, I’m telling you.”

It could happen.

 

 

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 Masai Ujiri

Raptors Masai Ujiri Is Sweating His Big Move

Has anyone in Toronto ever seen the Raptors president Masai Ujiri sweat? Well after returning from Africa this morning and immediately heading down to Scotiabank Arena for a press conference about the big move that sent fan-favorite DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, the usually steadfast Ujiri was sweating the details in front of the media.

This wasn’t the first time Ujiri has sent someone he knows well and respects packing, but this time it took a toll. From the apologies to the explanations to admitting maybe he misled DeRozan unintentionally, Ujiri has never bobbed-and-weaved so much in front of the media in Toronto and maybe ever.

“When I met with (DeRozan’s agent) at Summer League maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time. At the time we were fourth on the ranks of trying to get anything done and I didn’t see anywhere the talks were going,” Ujiri explained.

“It’s my job to go to these guys and talk about our team as it is. That’s my job every year.”

Understandably it’d be hard to tell a star player his name had come up in trade talks. Especially if you believed those talks weren’t going anywhere, but as Ujiri later admitted, the he believed Raptors as constructed would be stuck in the same spot they’d been for a while now and that wasn’t good enough anymore.

Ujiri should be sweating over this move. Leonard wasn’t at this press conference that was in essence about him and the best Ujiri could say was his new star would be here “soon” and based on the reporting rules for traded players, soon should have been “today.”

The Raptors got the best player in this trade and added a badly needed veteran wing player in Danny Green, the team got better on paper – a lot better, but Ujiri was still sweating.

Maybe everyone in Toronto should be sweating until Ujiri can put Leonard in front of the media for a photo shoot in his new jersey.

 

 

 

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

A Cold Wind Of Change Blows Thru Toronto

A new air mass arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and with the more pleasant temperatures came a cold wind of change for the Raptors. The always ruthless Masai Ujiri has shipped the face of his franchise to San Antonio.

Thanks to ESPN’s WOJ, we now know All-Star DeMar DeRozan, promising young center Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected draft pick has been traded for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and “3-and-D” veteran wing Danny Green.

Maybe everyone in Toronto should have seen this coming. The face of the franchise had been BENCHED numerous times this past season in the fourth quarter because the soon-to-be Coach of the Year Dwane Casey had much better defensive options in his young second unit and offense was only rarely an issue for this team in their run to first place in the Eastern Conference. It was sold as rest, but that wasn’t always easy to accept.

DeRozan has earned his popularity with the fan base since being drafted ninth overall in 2009 and being thrust into the spotlight with the departure of Chris Bosh the next summer.

 

NBA Spurs DeMar DeRozan

 

DeRozan holds franchise records for regular season games played (675), minutes (22,986), field goals (4716), free throws made (3539), and points (13,296). In the playoffs, where DeRozan often gets flak, the All-Star never averaged less than 20 points and in his 51 career playoff appearances, he averaged 21.9 points.

Loyal to a fault and an excellent franchise ambassador, a frustrated DeRozan wrote on his Instagram page Wednesday morning,

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

But as previously noted, Ujiri is ruthless.

On a pure talent basis, Ujiri won this trade by a landslide. A healthy Leonard is arguably the second best player in the NBA with an all-around game that even LeBron James couldn’t claim this early in his career.

Leonard can do it all. From guarding the best player on the other team in today’s game 1-thru-5, to shooting the three (career 38.6 percent), hitting over 53 percent of his two-point shots and hitting a much higher percentage from the mid-range than even the mid-range assassin DeRozan. Leonard can control a game like only the historically elite in the NBA have done.

Of course there’s a downside or the Spurs would never have considered trading Leonard and it’s really hard to “win” a trade with San Antonio, buyer beware.

Aside from the FACT Leonard can opt out of his contract after this season and would rather be in L.A., this petulant 27-year-old sat out most of last season with pain that his team thought he could/should play thru.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games

But the risk is manageable. Green is a very serviceable veteran wing on an expiring contract and if Leonard leaves after a year, Ujiri will have cleared over $30 million off his payroll and escaped the Luxury Tax after just one season. Lowry and Ibaka will then be on expiring deals and the rebuild can begin in earnest. If Leonard is healthy and happy, Ujiri could end up the real NBA Executive of the Year no matter who gets the award. From a GM perspective, it’s a no lose situation.

It was a cold, calculated and ruthless move to trade a popular face-of-the-franchise who wanted to be a Raptor-for-life, but that’s who Ujiri is. If you’re an owner, he’s the executive you want. If you’re a fan of DeRozan, Ujiri just stabbed him in the back and his fans in the heart.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard

Beware The Spurs In Trade Talks For Kawhi Leonard

The rest of the NBA should know by now to beware of the San Antonio Spurs in trade talks and that includes Kawhi Leonard. When you are dealing with the Spurs, just accept the fact that somehow, someway you’re going to look bad afterwards.

There is perhaps nothing that gets NBA teams, their fans and the media more excited and willing to accept huge risks than the possibility of landing a true superstar talent and Leonard fits the description. No one is talking about this superstar’s injury history and it’s an annual event. (See Rotoworld)

Leonard was drafted in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and missed the Rising Stars Challenge game with a minor injury, but he played in 64 of the 66 games and that was the first and last time he got close to playing an entire season.

Over the next five years Leonard missed an average of 15 regular season games and the Spurs had every reason to believe last year shouldn’t have been any different as their doctors said he could play, but he didn’t and “choose” to sit out 73 contests.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games – so far. However, the big concern has got to be that right thigh as Leonard missed a month in November/December 2012 due to that one and it’s his right thigh that was was hurt in March 2016 and was the primary issue during all of last season.

The battle lines appear to be drawn around the Spurs team doctors who reportedly thought Leonard could play last year and Leonard’s own advisers suggesting he needed rest and recovery. When you’ve missed as many games as Leonard does each season, maybe Leonard was right? Then again, maybe the Spurs are starting to believe Leonard’s pain tolerance isn’t very high?

Suddenly an organization that never lets a star player escape is filling the rumor mill with trade proposals for a true franchise changing level talent. Not very Spurs-like and to the cynically minded, a huge warning sign.

Supposedly the trade offers for Leonard have been underwhelming so far, but maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how many games he played last season. Another superstar, DeMarcus Cousins, pretty much had to beg teams to make him an offer in free agency coming off an injury and Leonard’s injury situation isn’t nearly as straightforward as Cousins.

The end game in any trade for Leonard is to sign him to a new $200 million contract next summer, but if his past injury history is predictive of his future, the Spurs could be the big winners no mater what they get back in a trade.

Buyer beware.

 

 

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.

Confidently took vacation during the 2018 NBA Draft believing the Raptors weren’t about to do anything.