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NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby

Raptors Still Trying To Develop And Win At The Same Time

The one constant since head coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and even after four consecutive trips to the postseason, the Raptors are still trying to develop and win at the same time.

“It’s very important and I think they are going to get that opportunity,” Casey responded to Pro Bball Report about playing the young guys this season. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing the entire exhibition (season) is giving those guys an opportunity to play and produce and I think that’s very important for the future of our organization (that the young guys) come out and play and get experience.

“The only way you get experience in this league, you are not going to get in the 905 (G-League), you can develop some skills there and get better and work on some things but, the only way you get ready and prepared mentally and physically for the NBA is to play in the NBA, so they are going to get that opportunity.

“The young guys are going to play.”

True to his word, the Raptors second unit in the first regular season game featured significant minutes for the Raptors young core.

Third year guard/wing Norman Powell started and played 25 minutes and third year guard Delon Wright came off the bench for 23 minutes and both players were significant contributors. C.J. Miles was the only veteran in a second unit that saw rookie OG Anunoby play 17 minutes, second year center Jakob Poeltl on the court for 18 minutes and second year guard Fred VanVleet play 13 minutes. Second year forward Pascal Siakam and undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie got minutes during garbage time in the Raptors blowout win.

The young second unit that looked good in preseason was outstanding playing against a depleted Bulls team on opening night.

“The young group has come in and done a heck of a job of energy, focus, togetherness,” Casey said. “They play together like they’ve played together for the last four or five years, so that’s been a joy to watch.”

They were a joy to watch. It was the Raptors second unit that took over Game One of the season and staked the home team to a 20+ point lead in the second quarter that they rode to the end.

In the home opener it was the starting unit that sometimes looked out of sorts with 12 of the team’s 17 turnovers, however, Toronto has a lot of talent in their first five and this team has realistic sights set on being better than last year’s 51-win season.

The team’s two returning three-time All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should do no worse than leading their team back to a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Serge Ibaka, who helped Toronto to a 14-7 record after the All-Star break while Lowry was injured last year is ready to show he’s yet to get the respect he deserves and Jonas Valanciunas has looked like a young veteran ready for a break out season.

This team is expected to win, but it’s going to take some major contributions from the young guys if the Raptors are going to improve on last season when it counts in the playoffs. The development of players like Powell, Wright, VanVleet, Anunoby and Poeltl can’t happen fast enough and they’ll be tested early and often in October.

 

  

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 Powell Wright VanVleet Siakam Poeltl 2017

Are The Raptors Opting For Youthful Excitement?

The further Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri gets into July, the fewer his options are to actually move the needle on expectations heading into the upcoming season. So, apparently, the Raptors are opting to develop the young guys and at least it has the potential to produce some youthful excitement.

Ujiri has done a good job of getting below the luxury tax threshold as, once again, that was a lot more important than he let on before the draft. The Raptors may be hard-capped at $125 million in total salaries, but the tax bill will be minimal or zero with a little room left over to go add some cheap veteran help.

Like last year, the Raptors currently have what should be a pretty solid eight man rotation with a few positive changes.

  1. All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are back to lead the show.
  2. New three-point threat C.J. Miles is a major upgrade on the wing over DeMarre Carroll in terms of actually being about to hit threes.
  3. Serge Ibaka will be around for training camp and the start of the season this year. At power forward or center, he’s a huge upgrade. And, yes,
  4. Even Jonas Valanciunas is a veteran that can rebound and give smaller centers fits in the paint and on the glass (until he’s traded?)
  5. Third year players Delon Wright and Norman Powell are expected to be solid young additions to the rotation playing significant minutes at guard and on the wing.
  6. Last year’s lottery pick Jakob Poeltl looked pretty good backing up center after the All-Star break and is an obvious successor to Valanciunas if and when JV gets traded.

The impact of youth on the Raptors season will be evident from the start. They’ll need Powell, Wright and Poeltl to bring all the energy and excitement they can.

However, like last year, the rest of the roster has its question marks. (Thus the need to find another cheap reliable veteran.).

Lucas Nogueira could be an impact player at power forward and center if he could get out of his own way. It’s on him to get serious and focus on basketball. Hopefully, head coach Dwane Casey isn’t forced into using “Bebe” because he doesn’t have a better option and the 25-year-old from Brazil earns a spot in the rotation at training camp. The Raptors leading shot blocker and turnover machine from last season is a guy that could move the needle on the season, if he’s ready, if he really wants to, t.b.d. (not holding my breath.)

The other project from Brazil, 21-year-old Bruno Caboclo, finally played well in the NBA D-League championship run by the Raptors 905, but that was after a pretty mediocre regular D-League season. No one is counting on anything from Bruno. His brief appearances in the NBA over three seasons don’t fill one with confidence. He’s a straight up ‘show me you deserve to be here’ player.

The NBA D-League Championship MVP Pascal Siakam started 38 games as a rookie for the Raptors at the start of last year solely because the viable rotation was that thin, so at least he has some NBA experience and he is improving. But is he really ready to backup power forward this year as a 9th or 10th man? Casey might not have another option but to go with the potential of this young developing athlete again. It could be exciting, but not necessarily in a good way (yet). He can fly around a court though.

As soon as he is 100 percent healthy, ready or not, rookie forward OG Anunoby is going to get a look. He missed NBA Summer League rehabbing his knee. It’s hoped he’ll be back in time for training camp, but no guarantees. He’s an uber-athlete, but hasn’t played since January, so no one will really have any idea what to expect this year, but in terms of excitement, his coaches and his fans can’t wait to find out.

Reminding everyone of a young Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet keeps showing enough to believe he’s going to stick in the NBA for a long time. The problem is, even if he unexpectedly beats out Wright for minutes at backup point guard, that isn’t going to move the needle on the Raptors season. It’s more likely his big impact will come if one of the four guards ahead of him gets hurt and he steps up to fill in the gap.

With the Raptors just over the luxury tax line, eventually the recently acquired Justin Hamilton will be traded or waived and stretched. The excitement Hamilton is expected to be providing comes when he makes room for someone else.

Did you see the Pogo Stick Alfonzo McKinnie has been riding at NBA Summer League for the Raptors? The 6’8 24-year-old forward should be reminding everyone of Jamario Moon back in 2007-08. He has a $100,000 guarantee on a two-year minimum contract, so he still has to make the team at training camp, but at the very least, this kid will be fun to watch in preseason. If you want excitement, you should be hoping he makes it.

Getting below the luxury tax threshold is good for the Raptors corporate owners. Watching the young guys play during the regular season isn’t even a bad deal for the fans as they will be exciting. However, for anyone hoping against hope this team would be trying to surpass the Cavaliers this season, how much luxury tax the Raptors were prepared to pay was a benchmark.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

Stephen 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

Raptors Norman Powell Is Ready To Take On A Major Role

Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking within for the change needed to take his team to another level and no one has looked more ready to take on a new major role next season than Norman Powell.

Going back to his rookie season Powell has shown the signs of huge potential despite his second round status and the persistent doubts about his jump shot. Ignore the career averages of 7.3 points per game and 35.1 percent shooting from three and focus on his 42 regular season starts where he averages 12.5 points and 43 percent three-point shooting. It seems like every time he has been called upon, he has performed.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell career stats

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Powell has played better when given a consistent spot in the rotation with consistent minutes. Almost every young player performs better under those circumstances.

Unfortunately for Powell, he has been stuck in a spot where it has taken injuries to get regular consistent minutes at either the two or the three and when everyone is healthy, he’s been battling an uphill fight against the Raptors big free agent addition DeMarre Carroll and until last year’s trade, Terrence Ross.

Now Ross is gone and it’s time to admit the Raptors have played better with Powell starting instead of Carroll even if that means an undersized three-guard lineup. Just ask Milwaukee about the difference Powell made to the Raptors in the playoffs.

“In the Milwaukee series being the ball handler, taking the pressure off of DeMar and Kyle in that series,” Powell explained. “Being able to make plays off the bounce is always a focus. I draw so much attention driving to the rim, getting to the bucket and when I attack, find the open player, being able to create off the bounce.”

Milwaukee had no answer for Powell and going back to last year’s playoff experience against Paul George and the Pacers, the postseason has had a big impact on Powell’s development.

“It’s really helpful,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report after Game Four against the Cavaliers. “Letting me see myself in these moments, reading the game, slowing down, seeing what I can work on, seeing how to play, calming myself down and keeping myself even keeled.

“It’s going to be really big for my development down the road and makes me even more motivated and fired up to keep working to get better. To see myself being in these moments and playing with DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry).

“Every game I go in trying to figure out how to get better and ways I can take my game to the next level and get to where I want to be. Being in a (playoff) series like this and situations like this really helps with that.”

The Raptors  believed in Powell’s potential as a secondary ball handler from the start and took advantage of the Raptors 905 D-league team to get him minutes as a point guard early in his rookie season.  However, Powell first earned minutes on the big club with his defense on the wing, but in the current high scoring NBA, the Raptors now need him for his offense and Powell is ready to step into the starting rotation and make a big impact.

“I am always ready,” Powell said. “That’s where I see myself, playing a bigger role. That’s what I work for.

“I want to be(come) a focal point. Watching DeMar, watching Kyle, I am learning from them. How to be the guy. How to take that responsibility and it’s fun being able to talk to some of the best players in the league and pick from them what I can and what they see.

“(Lowry’s) bulldog play, playmaking mentality. He’s a great guy who can create in tight spaces. How he is able to thrive in those situations and then I am able to watch DeMar and how he is able to thrive in iso situations using his body, his footwork to create separation and get guys off balance. So I get the best of both, scoring from DeMar and playmaking from Kyle.”

And the lessons don’t end with the season. The summer is where players build on what they learned during the season and work on new aspects of their game.

“I am going into the off season with that, learning from DeMar and hopefully going to work out with some of the other best players in this league and really develop my game, to focus and learn from them.

“It’s definitely going to be a good summer for me.”

Powell has looked good when given an opportunity in his first two seasons with the Raptors, however, his third year with the club should be expected to open some eyes. The ability to drive, dish, finish and hit threes is all there. He’s ready to take on a major role next season.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

There are plenty of clues coming out about what the Toronto Raptors rotation could look like next season. President Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly trying to hide what he believes in and the direction he will be taking his team.

When doing the rounds with his corporate masters recently. (The Raptors are owned by Rogers and Bell who control Sportsnet and TSN respectively.) He did his best to clarify his comments about “culture change” and any perceptions regarding head coach Dwane Casey and his All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“Our culture is pretty good,” Ujiri told Tim and Sid on the Fan 590 just to set the tone for the entire interview.

“I am the problem solver here,” Ujiri said in regards to re-signing Lowry (and just about anything else.)

“I am confident (coach Casey) can pull those things off.”

As he has said since the beginning of his tenure as president (and general manager), Ujiri believes in developing his own talent and it is something he is doubling down on under the new CBA.

“The new CBA means a lot of players are going to stay where they are at,” Ujiri explained. “That’s just how it works. The way (the CBA) is constructed a lot of teams are going to have the ability to keep their own players. So we have to figure out ways with our own players.

“Drafting and developing our players is a high priority for us. We have to develop from within.”

There aren’t any false hopes about Paul George or Jimmy Butler arriving in Toronto anytime soon.

Ujiri is confident Lowry will re-sign with Toronto and not without a lot of justification. The Raptors and coach Casey made Lowry a three-time All-Star, his best friend is DeMar DeRozan, and they will pay him $30 million plus a season to stay.

He is equally confident about Serge Ibaka and more than few media reports suggested Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto. Ujiri has the checkbook to re-sign Ibaka to a $100 million plus contract as well. P.J. Tucker almost came out and said if Lowry comes back, he’s coming back.

It shouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out what type of ‘culture change’ Ujiri wants. He has always wanted a ‘tougher’ team and absolutely no one can ignore the need to have an excess of three-point shooting today.

Fortunately, the Raptors got a glimpse of what their future could look like in their first round series with Milwaukee.

On opening night, the Raptors starting line-up should look like this:

PG Kyle Lowry 22.4 ppg, 7.8 3FGA, 41.2% 3FG
SG DeMar DeRozan 27.3 ppg, 1.7 3FGA, 26.6% 3FG
SF Norman Powell* 15.6 ppg, 4.1 3FGA, 39.7% 3FG
PF P.J. Tucker** 5.8 ppg, 2.5 3FGA, 40% 3FG
C Serge Ibaka** 14.2 ppg, 4.5 3FGA, 39.8% 3FG

* Powell as a starter in 18 games last season
** Tucker and Ibaka as a Raptor after the All-Star break

A three-guard lineup of Lowry, DeRozan and Powell tore thru the Bucks in the postseason and represents the direction the NBA is headed but with a toughness that fits with coach Casey’s preferred style of play.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Powell will guard bigger players and was effective as a rookie guarding Paul George last year which is no small feat. It’s time to put Ujiri’s player development to the test and insert Powell into the starting rotation from day one.

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Tucker is just plain nasty. A combo forward who can guard either spot against anyone, just putting him into the starting rotation could be considered a culture change for the Raptors.

“The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see,” Tucker describes himself.

It looked like Ibaka had lost a step during the playoffs, but that’s only if you forget he was playing on a sore left ankle. Prior to that Ibaka was switching out onto guards and stuffing them at the three-point line. He represents a huge improvement in mobility and versatility over a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas.

This is a starting lineup that stretches the floor and can panic defenses trying to simultaneously guard the three-point line and the paint. Even DeRozan should be expected to improve on last season’s three-point shooting over the summer. No one should be surprised if he’s hitting 33 percent or more of his open threes next year.

Who backs up these starters isn’t even close to being decided, except for some obvious things Ujiri must be considering. Cory Joseph and a group to be determined including possibly one or more not even on the roster yet.

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

There will be battles for minutes off the bench and Ujiri could/should be looking to make moves to create opportunities for some of his young guys to develop or just to get a little closer to the luxury tax line. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker will put the Raptors $15-25 million into the tax unless Ujiri can shed some salary.

As much as Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, this may the time to sell high on Jonas Valanciunas and the unproven but very real possibility of him developing a three-point shot. With a salary of just $15.5 million and two years left on his deal, Valanciunas will have value on the trade market.

The temptation to keep DeMarre Carroll around will be high as his trade value is suspect. Although injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do in Toronto thus far, he remains a decent three-point shooting forward in a league where three-point shooting forwards are in demand. However, if Ujiri could move his $14.8 million in salary, it would really help lower the luxury tax bill. (Even if next year is finally the season he starts without being hindered by injury.)

Moving Valanciunas and potentially Carroll opens up minutes for last year’s rookie center Jakob Poeltl and forward?/center Lucas Nogueira.

Poeltl impressed as a rookie and seems poised to take a big step next season assuming Ujiri opens up a spot in the rotation for him. He doesn’t have any range on his shot, but he rebounds, has soft hands and good mobility for a big man. In keeping with Ujiri’s mantra of developing his own players, this is one guy that needs to play.

It probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ujiri or Casey, but Nogueira had a team fifth best plus/minus of +3.1 points last season. Sure he lost the few minutes that were available at center to Poeltl after the All-Star break trades, but Casey made a concerted effort to try him out at power forward and those efforts weren’t completely in vain. NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Look for Nogueira to be battling it out for minutes at the four (and maybe the five). Pascal Siakam, who started 38 games at power forward for Toronto last year but has a questionable jump shot, possibly a player to be traded for, or even the Raptors draft pick (if it’s someone like UCLA’s T.J. Leaf) could be in the mix at the backup four spot.

If Carroll is traded, the Raptors could be thin at small forward. Tucker can play both forward spots, but this could quickly become a big hole. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ujiri traded for a small forward prospect as no one will be planning on Bruno Caboclo being ready to play in the NBA next season – hoping maybe, planning, not a chance.

Backup guard is potentially the most interesting spot. NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Cory Joseph will continue backing up Lowry and as his three-point shooting was dramatically better up until the All-Star break last season, look for Joseph to solidify his hold on the role by coming into training camp after another summer of improving his shooting.

Delon Wright looked good after coming back from injury late last season, but he has competition from a potentially better three-point shooter in Fred VanVleet. Wright has more versatility than the undersized VanVleet and showed potential guarding the wing, but Casey hasn’t shown any reluctance to playing Joseph and VanVleet together. This could be the best and most predictable battle for minutes on the roster.

The Raptors starting lineup will be good, better than last season and another 50+ win campaign will be expected, but as Ujiri has said, that isn’t the goal.

“If we are just going to be stuck in second, third, fourth every year and some years we are disappointed in the playoffs and some years we are happy – that’s not the goal,” Ujiri stated. “The goal is to win a championship.

“The way we have played hasn’t worked the past three, four years to take us to the highest level and it’s one of those things we have to figure out a way.

“I hate losing to those guys (the Cavaliers). It drives me crazy.”

To get past the Cavs, it will take more than a better starting lineup and developing young players while the Cavs boast the highest payroll in the NBA doesn’t make it any easier.

Ujiri has to find a way via trade or a big step in the play of one/some of his young guys, but it has to be consistent with what he believes in. A copycat move isn’t going to work against LeBron James in the East or the Warriors in the West.

“We are not saying we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team.”

Ujiri has to find his own blend of grit, toughness and three-point shooting. Someone(s) out of Powell, Poeltl, Nogueira, Wright, VanVleet, Caboclo, a rookie, or an undervalued trade prospect had better take a huge step forward or next year will be another year Ujiri doesn’t get past the Cavs.

Although Ujiri really didn’t say anything new during his recent media tour, (if anything the Raptors president has been consistent since day one), in case you missed it, you can listen to Ujiri on Tim and Sid here.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Must Ignore Matchups And Start Norman Powell

The Raptors went with a big starting lineup in Game One of their second round series against the Cavaliers, but in the ever changing landscape of today’s NBA, head coach Dwane Casey must ignore the traditional matchups and start second year guard Norman Powell over center Jonas Valanciunas if he wants to win.

This isn’t an easy call for Casey. Valanciunas (“JV”) has been his starting center for five successful seasons and the big man has been nothing less than awesome in the postseason, at least he used to be awesome until this year. Telling a 24-year-old that he’s lost his starting job at this point in the season isn’t easy and could have future implications, but if the Raptors want to have a chance at getting by the heavily favored Cavs, that’s a bitter pill Casey is going to have to hand to JV.

JV had already been pushed into taking a back seat to Powell in round one out of necessity. For whatever reason, the high energy dominant center of the past three postseason runs hasn’t shown up yet and in his four starts (including Game One versus the Cavs), JV is a +/- of -11.5 points per game and in this case that +/- stat accurately reflects his impact on the games he’s started.

Powell, on the other hand, was a +14.3 points in his three starts so far this postseason (all against the Bucks) and there is no way to sugarcoat it, the Raptors would have lost that first round series if Casey hadn’t made the change.

The object of using a big starting lineup was to matchup DeMarre Carroll with LeBron James, Serge Ibaka with Kevin Love, and JV with Tristan Thompson. However, JV didn’t dominate Thompson and the lack of three-point shooting and poor perimeter defense quickly put the Raptors into an early hole they didn’t get out of. JV was a -9 points in the first quarter of Game One in Cleveland.

Like the red hot three-point barrage the Bucks buried the Raptors with early in that series, the starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan Carroll, Ibaka and JV (-5.8 points per game this postseason), didn’t score and couldn’t stop the Cavs (30 points and 4-7 from three in the first quarter) from scoring either.

The Raptors starting unit was +5.3 points in the three games Powell got the nod over JV.

As bad as a small forward matchup between the 6’4 Powell and the 6’8 reigning King of the NBA James looks and undoubtedly is, this postseason Powell has given the Raptors starting unit the elements they are going to need to survive the offensive onslaught in the opening minutes against the defending champion Cavaliers.

“The league is changing,” admitted Casey after practice on Tuesday. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or you get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now.

“We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores.

“We’ve got the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

As it quickly became obvious against the Bucks, Powell gave the Raptors starters a third ball handler that frustrated Milwaukee’s efforts to  disrupt Toronto’s offense by putting pressure on Lowry and DeRozan. Powell also provided a badly needed three-point shooting relief valve as he went 9-9 on threes as a starter in addition to creating a faster paced offense and another player that could drive and finish in the paint.

What the Raptors give up in size defensively with Powell they should gain in better perimeter defense and a harder to defend offense. They may or may not be able to stop the Cavs from scoring, but at least their own offense should be more effective.

There have also been calls for P.J. Tucker to get the start over Carroll, but the numbers don’t back up that move. The best two man unit for Toronto this postseason has been Carroll and Powell at +9.3 points. Powell and Tucker have been +3.4 points. Conversely, the worst two man unit has been Ibaka and Valanciunas at -6.0 points, so it isn’t that hard to see which two-man unit is the one that needs to be broken up.

Breaking up Ibaka and JV seems to be the Raptors answer to improve defense and offense. Five-man lineups with Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Valanciunas and either of Carroll or Tucker have been +4 points in the postseason. For the most part, JV has looked good coming off the bench and gives the Raptors a superior backup center.

Three years ago it was all about player development for the Toronto Raptors  when they finally got back to the postseason after a five year absence, but this year is different. Coming off consecutive 50+ win seasons and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning in the postseason matters. It might ruffle some feathers, but coach Casey has to do what is necessary and the numbers say start Powell and bring in JV off the bench.

 

 

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

Norman Powell Shines As Raptors Win Game Five

By Frank McLean

Game Five of this Milwaukee Bucks-Toronto Raptors series went according to form when you looked at the past performances of each franchise in Game Five of a seven game series.

The Bucks record was 1-5 in Game Five of a best-of-seven series on the road when the series is tied at two games apiece and the Raptors were a perfect 4-0 in Game Five of a best of seven series that was being played at home.

The Raptors won 118-93, so as Chuck Swirsky used to say when he worked in Toronto “you can book it”.

But of course there was more to this Raptor win then just having everything in the universe fall into line like it was supposed to. It was Norman Powell’s time to shine.

For the second straight game Powell started at small forward, which allowed Serge Ibaka to slide into the center spot, and Jonas Valanciunas to come off the bench and battle Greg Monroe when he came off the Bucks bench.

Powell was the Raptors leading scorer on the night with 25 points, adding four rebounds and four assists to go with three steals and a block.

All five of the Raptors starters were in double figures scoring along with the 10-points Cory Joseph chipped in off the bench.

It was a full team effort with everybody chipping in offensively and defensively. The team set playoff records with 118 points on a franchise postseason best 57.7 percent shooting. They dished 28 assists, 10 of them from Kyle Lowry who played 36 minutes with a bum back.

The Raptors dominance continued on the glass where they held the Bucks to an opponent’s postseason low 22 rebounds and just two offensive boards.

The ironic thing about this is that the Bucks on draft night in 2015 picked Powell in the second round and then traded his rights to Toronto along with a protected future first round pick for Greivis Vasquez.

At the time though Vasquez was someone the Bucks needed. They desperately needed a shooter, but little did they know he would get hurt and pretty much be done as a serviceable NBA player. But that’s the way pro sports go. You make a trade and you take your chances.

Powell was someone the Raptors really wanted on that draft night back in 2015.

“It was great job by our scouts and Masai (Ujiri) and Jeff (Weltman),” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about how the team was able to get Powell. “I remember he had a great workout when he was here. He is a very physical player and a tough kid which is needed in a playoff game.”

Casey is very fond of the fact that Powell is rarity in that he spent four years in college at UCLA where he was more prepared to be ready to play at an NBA level compared to the one-and-done in college and off to the NBA which is the type of player that the NBA draft is full of.

Powell’s shooting has gotten a lot better since he was drafted and the work he has put in to get better is one of the reasons Casey was not afraid to insert him in the starting line-up in Game Four.

“Just constant reps,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report’s query about his improved shooting. “Getting extra work in the morning, coming back late at night, watching film of Kyle Korver, Larry Bird, good three-point shooters and trying to make adjustments.

“It’ just the constant reps day-in and day-out trying to get better, tweaking it here and there and finding what’s comfortable with me and shooting with confidence. I put up so many shots before the game and days off that it’s just shooting with confidence and trusting in the work.”

Powell has sunk his last seven three-point attempts going 3-3 in Game Four and 4-4 in Game Five.

“They move the ball better with (Powell) in the game,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “They can spread the floor better, everybody can attack, everybody can make plays.”

As we head into Game Six on Thursday back in the state of milk and cheese in Wisconsin, the Raptors hope to change the form they have shown in past Game Sixes.

Lately, it’s been win Game Five at home, check. Then go on the road play Game Six and lay a giant egg before coming home to play Game Seven and win.

If they can get another full team performance like they did Monday, then, hopefully, they can change the way things went in the playoffs last year.

Winning the series in six games and getting a few days off before facing the resting Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs second round would help a lot.

 

 

   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 Norman Powell

Raptors Coach Casey Has All The The Right Buttons Pressed

In his Game Five preview, Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz has the Toronto Raptors taking a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night as head coach Dwane Casey has all the right buttons pressed against this less experienced foe.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, and Dwane Casey definitely made some big ones that got the Raptors right back in this series.

Benching Jonas Valanciunas was a move that paid off.

Serge Ibaka excelled at center.

Powell hit all three of his (three-point) attempts and kept the Bucks defense on their heels by staying aggressive.

A smaller but effective move that also paid off was Casey’s decision to play Delon Wright more than Cory Joseph.

The Bucks, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them if they want to steal another game on the Raptors’ home court.

Be sure to check out the full preview.

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Overlooked has been Ibaka playing on a sore ankle, something that has definitely been affecting his jump shot and perimeter defense, but should be getting significantly better with each passing day.

Playing big with both Valanciunas and a hobbled Ibaka on the floor at the same time didn’t work against the longer more athletic Bucks, but Casey’s Game Four rotation neutralized much of what Milwaukee had been using to take advantage of their more experienced and higher seeded opponent.

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Raptors Are Winning With Crushing Defense

The Raptors silver lining in the cloud of not having Kyle Lowry available after the All-Star break has been a forced buy-in to playing better defense and the numbers speak for themselves. When Toronto plays the crushing defense they are capable of, they win easily, but in a high scoring game without their second leading scorer and floor general, stealing a victory by out-scoring their opponent is hard to do.

In their seven wins post All-Star break, the Raptors are holding teams to just 91.4 points and are 5-0 when holding teams under a 100. When they give up over 100 points, Toronto is 2 wins and five losses.

“We got to make our stand on the defensive end,” said Norman Powell. “We can’t play an offensive game. Offensive games are not going to win us basketball (games.) You got to be able to get stops. You can’t just go back and forth scoring the ball. We got to get stops.”

Earlier in the season going back and forth scoring worked for the Raptors. If it wasn’t DeMar DeRozan, 12th in the NBA in 4th quarter scoring with 6.3 points, it was Lowry, 3rd best in 4th quarter scoring with 7.8 points. But with Lowry unavailable, getting bailed out by a big offensive comeback just got a lot harder to accomplish.

“That’s how we got to play,” said P.J. Tucker after holding the Pistons to just 75 points in Detroit. “Today was the definition of Toronto basketball, how we got to play. We didn’t win with our offense.”

After an embarrassing 123-102 loss to the Thunder in Toronto the night before, the Raptors rolled into Detroit on a mission, holding the Pistons to just one field goal in the first six minutes of the game and one field goal over the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Raptors know what they are playing for, an opportunity to move up in the standings if they can pull their defensive game together without having to wait for Lowry’s return.

The second place Celtics and third place Wizards have gone just 6-4 over their past 10 games and it isn’t about to get easier for them. Isaiah Thomas is expected to miss a couple of games (or more) with a right knee bone bruise. The Wizards are just a week away from a brutal five game road trip that could go 0-5.

The Celtics and the Wizards face-off on Monday and Washington hosts the 5th place Hawks on Wednesday providing the 4th place Raptors additional opportunities to make up ground.

“We are all looking at (the standings),” Powell said. ” We are all talking about it. We talk about how close the playoff seeding race is right now. This is the best part of the season, fighting for playoff position. Especially in the East, it is really close.”

The Raptors hope to get Lowry back at the end of the month, but they can’t afford to wait if moving out of the less desirable 4th place in the standings is going to happen and their only reliable way of getting wins for the moment is with the crushing defense they proved they could do against the Pistons (87-75), Mavericks (100-78) and Pelicans (94-87) recently.

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Can Raptors Norman Powell Become A Fourth Quarter Star?

The Toronto Raptors second year guard Norman Powell is slowly gaining notoriety as a fourth quarter player. Someone head coach Dwane Casey can count on at critical points in the game to get a stop or more surprisingly, get a bucket and that’s something from a guy who earned his minutes as a rookie with physical play at the defensive end of the court.

Surprisingly Powell seems reluctant just go with the idea that he plays better in the fourth quarter. He takes pride in playing hard from the moment head coach Dwane Casey puts him in the game, but this isn’t about playing hard, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and coaches need players that can step it up in crunch time.

“I’ve talked about it,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It’s figuring out how to go in there and play all out hard basketball. It’s nothing about me taking my time to get ready or anything like that. I go out there and play hard, but being effective, being just a little bit more active, a little bit more smart in how I impact the game rather than just going out there and playing hard.

“I don’t feel that I am pushing at all. I take the same shots I take in the fourth as I do anytime I am on the court, it’s just whether or not they are going in. I’m not pushing myself or pressing as a lot of people think. I go in there and warmup or practice or workout the same way that I do in the game. Some nights in the first quarter or second quarter the shots are falling and everything’s good. I got the whole game going. Some nights it takes one, two, three shots and you get an easy one and it starts clicking all over again. It’s just about finding easy plays.”

It’s not just a causal observation, Powell seems to consistently find those “easy plays” in the fourth quarter and for some reason, they get easier to find after the All-Star break.

The under-sized second round pick peaked Casey’s interest early on. It isn’t often a rookie can bump and grab veteran players without picking up quick fouls and an unhelpful reputation with the referees, but Powell had the knack for physical defense without fouling and he got minutes while the Raptors first round pick Delon Wright was toiling away with the NBA D-League 905.

Now Casey never believed Powell could shoot and the rookie did little to dispel that in the first half of his initial season, so Powell was playing solely because he would play bump and grind defense, but sometimes things can change.

Injuries created opportunity and the rookie was ready to take advantage. After averaging just 6.5 minutes and 1.3 points on 27.5 percent shooting before the All-Star game in his rookie season, Powell became an impact player on offense after the break averaging 22.8 minutes and 9.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting.

An unexpected three-point shot appeared as well and the rookie Casey didn’t think had a jump shot started nailing 45.5 percent of his long balls, but maybe there were clues about his ability to shoot before this. While his offense was almost non-existent to start, when Casey played Powell in the fourth quarter, the rookie was hitting 33.3 percent of his threes when he wasn’t hitting much of anything else. Hints of a Mr. Fourth Quarter even from the start.

While Casey remained reluctant to believe in Powell’s shooting, the former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys had no such reservations. He’d seen what Powell could do in the summer after the draft and he believed.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Mermuys told Pro Bball Report last year. “One, he made a ton of shots in Summer League. He was knocking it down. Into our workouts after Summer League in L.A. and in the Clippers facility workouts, he was making a ton of shots and that was my message coming back out of the summer. I said look, for a guy that can’t shoot, this guy is making a lot of shots. It’s getting to the point where this isn’t, it can’t be just he’s hot. He’s shooting the ball really well. So, I felt really confident about his shooting ability coming out of the summer.”

Powell started out shooting this season like he did after the All-Star break last year, but his minutes were wildly inconsistent and he is currently averaging just 33.9 percent from three. Powell found himself behind Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll in the rotation, however, Casey kept looking for excuses to find him minutes, especially in the fourth quarter.

However, his fourth quarter offensive output also started to level off until it wasn’t really any different from the any other time in the game, but things were about to change. A Ross trade and an injury to Kyle Lowry has handed a consistent role to both of the Raptors second year guards after the All-Star break and it’s like someone flipped a switch on Powell’s fourth quarter offense.

Since the break, Powell has been averaging 10.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting, but it’s been in the fourth quarter where he has really shone scoring 7 points on 48 percent shooting and hitting on 42.9 percent of his threes. There much be something about consistent minutes, the stretch drive to the playoffs, and the pressure of the fourth quarter that brings out the best in Powell.

“It means a lot,” Powell said. “In our development, playing together, learning the game, learning how to be big time players in big time moments when you are playing meaningful minutes and it’s going to help us.”

It’s a big help to the Raptors when a second round draft pick can step in during his rookie and sophomore seasons and make a positive impact, especially in the fourth quarter.

After the All-Star break last year Powell averaged an impressive 4.2 fourth quarter points as a rookie. This year, thru six games, his post All-Star break fourth quarter scoring is running at 7 points. That’s higher than top 10 fourth quarter scorer DeMar DeRozan (6.6) is averaging this season. If he can keep this up, Powell is a fourth quarter star.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell & Delon Wright

The Raptors Will Be Relying More On Norman Powell

By Frank McLean

When Terrence Ross was traded to the Orlando Magic last week for Serge Ibaka one member of the Raptors stood to gain a lot more playing time and that’s second year guard Norman Powell.

Powell, whose rights were acquired by the Raptors on draft night in 2016 from the Milwaukee Bucks for Greivis Vasquez, has shown some spurts of brilliance in his year and a half with the Raptors. He has been a fan favorite and his two way play on the floor and hard work in practice is something head coach Dwane Casey loves and he will tell you that when asked.

He was factor in last year’s playoffs in the first two rounds against Indiana and Miami, but as a rookie he was not as successful against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was headed for their first ever championship.

This season during DeMar DeRozan absence due to his ankle injury he started and since DeRozan came back he has been a big cog in the fourth quarter providing impact off the bench like a fourth line player in hockey.


He’s only been averaging seven points and two rebounds a game, but in the last two games before the All-Star break with Terrance Ross gone he got to see a lot of time and he produced.

In 18-minutes against the Chicago Bulls he put up 13-points and the next night against the Charlotte Hornets he played 28-minutes and scored 17-points.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits that way Powell has been used it hasn’t made things easy for him.

“As a coaching staff, we put him in a tough situation. He starts one game and has a rhythm. He comes off the bench in the fourth quarter when we need him and it’s a different rhythm. That’s hard to do and it’s tough on him, but as I mentioned to the players, this is the NBA. You have a chance to do your job. If it’s two minutes, five minutes, the whole game, go in and do your job. And don’t forget what got you here. The dirty work, the grimy work. So whether it’s Norm or whoever is in that role has to remember that I got here by being a grinder, a tough defender at my position, and offensively do what comes naturally.”

Powell says it would be easy knowing what the rotation is going to be on a given night, but as the old saying goes, it is what it is.

“I think it would be easier knowing the rotations, knowing when you are going to go in, knowing when your name is going to be called, but it’s still the same thing for me. I have to go in there and produce and help on both sides of the ball, defense first. Take some of the workload off Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) when asked and just try to be productive in my minutes. That’s presented to me and I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity that I’m ready for.” 

Powell is happy for the opportunity to get more playing time, but he was close to Ross and this was a lesson that professional basketball is a business and sometimes you lose friends.

“I mean it’s crazy waking up and seeing not just your teammate, but a close friend of yours gone. Being here my first year and a half, I just wish him the best and thank him for everything we talked about and helping me along the way. All the best to him in his new situation. There’s an opportunity for him down in Orlando but, you know, he’s going to be missed.”

Powell’s opportunity almost vanished at the last second on trade deadline day when the team acquired the versatile defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, but before a game could be played, Kyle Lowry showed up with a sore wrist. A wrist injury that has now been determined will keep Lowry out of the lineup for a month or more. Minutes that supposedly had vanished were back on the table for the Raptors second year guards Delon Wright and Powell.

In the first three games after the All-Star break Powell has averaged 15.3 minutes, 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. It’s not the same role as he would have enjoyed if the team hadn’t of acquired Tucker, but it’s a role he likely gets to keep – for a while at least. Wright is averaging 13.7 minutes as the two young guards have been splitting the time the now starting Cory Joseph was playing off the bench.

Powell knows this is his opportunity to make a name for himself in the NBA and if the last five games are any indication, he’s not going to waste it.

 

 

   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 Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Should Be Starting Norman Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It Should Be Norman Powell Time In Toronto

At 16 wins and 7 losses, the Eastern Conference second place Raptors are running well ahead of last year’s 56-win season, so there isn’t much to complain about in Toronto, but after watching this team easily handle their main challenger in the Atlantic Division, just maybe one Norman Powell should be asking when it will be his time in Toronto?

In Boston on Friday night Powell started his fifth game for the Raptors this season and for the fifth time he scored in double-digits. No one should be surprised either. Powell was outstanding as a rookie after the All-Star break last season and had a huge impact in Toronto’s opening playoff series win over the Pacers. The hot hand and solid defensive play this season is just a continuation from last year.

Head coach Dwane Casey has used Powell as a starter in order to give DeMarre Carroll the night off in back-to-back situations with solid success and squeezed out a handful of minutes in other games whether there has been a good reason to do so or not.

Powell has been ready to play every time. However, the backup small forward job was Terrence Ross’ job to lose and he’s been playing some of the best ball of his career. Casey and the Raptors have depth on the wing and it’s a problem, albeit a good problem for the Raptors.

 

 

Casey has put so much time in effort into developing Ross that he has to be genuinely happy to see the 25-year-old putting everything together this season. His shooting and decision-making are better, his turnover rate is way down (again) and his nose for steals and blocks has improved. Ross is having a good year.

Powell is having a better year.

If there is one thing that is biting the high scoring Raptors this season it’s their rebounding and while Ross has 3″ in height over Powell, Powell is tougher on the glass. In fairness, Powell plays tougher than most players. It’s what caught Casey’s attention last season and it’s why this second round pick got on the court in the first place.

Surprising to those that didn’t follow Powell’s brief D-League stint with the 905, he’s also a lot better ball distributor. When Powell was sent to Mississauga to get playing time early last season, then head coach Jesse Mermuys let him have significant minutes running the team at the point. Powell had a knack for it too and it shows as he’s racked up assists at double the rate of Ross or Carroll. Powell is the team’s fourth best player at dishing the ball.

Giving Powell more minutes isn’t going to be an easy change to make. He’s undersized at small forward and isn’t going to displace Carroll. Also, while Powell is handling wild fluctuations in minutes from game-to-game, Ross isn’t likely to do so well in an inconsistent role.

The Raptors are winning with Powell bouncing in and out of the rotation and he gives them a solid starter on the wing if any of their regulars goes down. That’s a luxury few teams can boast. However, Powell has earned more consistent minutes than he’s getting. It should be time for Powell to somehow someway get a bigger role.

 

 

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 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 Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Style Combines Dwyane Wade And Tony Allen

The Toronto Raptors found themselves a gem in the second round of the NBA Draft last summer. A throw in from the Greivis Vasquez draft day trade with the Bucks for salary cap space and the Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round draft pick, 6’4 guard Norman Powell is striving to combine the strengths of Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Tony Allen and based on the second half of his rookie season, he is on his way.

“On film, I’m watching Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler on offense, and Tony Allen on defense. I watch those guys because they play like me with an aggressive mindset,” Powell told Jared Zwerling in an NBPA interview. “Dwyane was one of my biggest idols — somebody I looked up to and really tried to model my game after with how he uses his body, his Eurostep move, his step throughs, his finishes.”

“Playing against Dwyane was really competitive in the Eastern Conference finals, and I was still in the, “Damn, I’m playing against Dwyane Wade phase.””

Powell was supposed to be a mainstay of Toronto’s new NBA D-League affiliate the Raptors 905 located 20 minutes away in Mississauga last season. However, unexpectedly, head coach Dwane Casey kept giving the rookie a regular look, starting with eight appearances in November and 24 in total before the All-Star break. He was only averaging 6.5 minutes a game, but that was a lot more than the Raptors 2015 first round draft choice Delon Wright who only got into 14 games totaling 41 minutes by that time.

It was becoming obvious why Casey kept throwing the young man out there. He liked the toughness, the physical defense. It isn’t that common for a rookie guard to figure out how to make opponents “feel” him on defense and that Tony Allen comparison was exactly what his coaches were looking for.

“When (Powell) came down (to the D-League) and even in the summer when he was guarding DeMar (DeRozan) a lot during our workouts, he was playing college defense,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report. “He was a good defender, but you can’t use your hands up here, especially as a rookie that’s automatic, (the refs) are going to hit you (with a foul). It’s an easy call for them.

“I was teaching him. You got to play NBA defense. You have to figure out a way to be Tony Allen. Be aggressive, be up in them, harass them, be physical without fouling and that’s not easy to do in the NBA.

“He got better at it as the season went on and now you see him doing it up there (in the NBA). (The Raptors) are putting him on the best player and that’s big time man. That’s really hard to do.”

“Just his toughness,” Casey said. “I like his toughness, his confidence as a young guy. He’s a four-year (college player). In coaching we still look at him as a young guy because it’s his first year in the NBA. He’s a confident young man. The moment doesn’t bother him, but his overall physical toughness, his presence gives us a person at his position to guard, to put in front of a person like Westbrook, chase Kyle Korver. He’s really been a plus for us from that standpoint.”

That ability to be tough defender continued right into the playoffs where Powell played in 18 of the Raptors 20 games and was a significant contributor in their 4-3 first round series win over Indiana averaging 18 minutes per game.

The predraft scouting report on Powell indicated he had the potential to become a lockdown multi-positional defender in the NBA, although no one reasonably expected him to progress as fast as he did. However, offense was a different story. No one believed he could shoot coming out of college. His offense was suspect and he didn’t do much to dispel that impression before the All-Star break except maybe to a few believers.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report. “One, he made a ton of shots in Summer League. He was knocking it down. Into our workouts after Summer League in L.A. and in the Clippers facility workouts, he was making a ton of shots and that was my message coming back out of the summer. I said look, for a guy that can’t shoot, this guy is making a lot of shots. It’s getting to the point where this isn’t, it can’t be just he’s hot. He’s shooting the ball really well. So, I felt really confident about his shooting ability coming out of the summer.”

“Specially with Norman, I thought he learned to be aggressive (in the D-League), but not be – selfish isn’t the word – not be tunnel vision of one a one trick pony guy and that I think has really carried over to the big club.”

“Right before All-Star I went 4-6 in Minnesota and that’s when it started to click, started to be able to recreate that feeling, recreate that feel on my jumper in games,” Powell said. “Calm myself down and focus on the little things that just make it more natural and after that things started to flow and I really started to find my grove in the offense.”

Injuries created opportunities and Powell played in 25 games averaging 22.8 minutes and started 20 games after the All-Star break. Once he was in, there really was no way for Casey to get him out of the rotation.

Playing at the two and the three, Powell averaged 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists after the All-Star break. He was shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range on 3.1 three-point attempts a game. Eventually even Casey had to stop calling Powell’s offensive production “gravy.”

Powell was tenth in rookie scoring after the break and had the fifth best rookie plus/minus at +2.9. He had earned his right to be on the court with his defense, but his offense was just getting too hard to overlook.

In April, he earned the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award averaging 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 31.6 minutes in eight games.

At 23-years-old, Powell isn’t a finished product and he doesn’t have to look like Wade or Allen to be a very important and effective player for the Raptors next season. Just maintaining that aggressive mindset and taking another step forward in his skills development will be big for Toronto.

Lots of young players come into the NBA every season with much higher assessments of their skills and potential, but few arrive willing, able or confident enough to work as hard or as effectively on the defensive end of the court. By focusing on the games of Wade, Westbrook, Butler and Allen, Powell has set a very high bar for himself and after the strong finish to his rookie season, his coaches and teammates will expecting a lot from him as well.

 

 

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

Can Raptors Terrence Ross Shake The Underachiever Label?

The eighth overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft, Terrence Ross was credited with one NBA ready skill by Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, he could shoot the three-ball. The 6’7 sophomore had averaged 16.4 points by hoisting 194 three-pointers for Washington that season and in just his second NBA season, he was averaging 10.9 points on 39.5 percent shooting from three. Expectations were Ross would live up to his lottery pick status, but instead he’s earned an underachiever label as his second NBA season remains his best NBA season two years later.

Ross knows what he needs to do in the summer to get better and it sounds like he might be on the right track as Basketball Insiders’ Oliver Morney quotes Ross as saying,

“I’ve been putting a lot of focus on getting stronger too; that’s the main goal for me this offseason. I want to make sure I can be more physical when my team needs me to be.

“I want to continue to get stronger and be able to absorb contact better when I’m driving. I’ve been shooting a lot of mid-range shots too. I’m just learning how to read defenses and make the best play possible when I’m out there. Strength helps a lot of things, but thinking about the game and putting myself in scenarios in practice is just as important. I want to become a complete player, so that means I have to work on every area of the game. I’m fully taking advantage of the offseason to improve my game and that’s what I’ve done since I came in the league.”

If this quote sounds like deja vu, there’s a reason. After his second season with the Raptors, Ross said he had put on 15 lbs and just prior to the start of training camp told Pro Bball Report,

“I don’t feel like a rookie. I feel like one of the young guys. I’ve been in too many situations. I’ve had enough playing time that I can’t use that excuse anymore. Right now I feel like I am a different player and I can do a lot more than I did last year.”

“I feel like even where I am at right now there is a lot more to go. I am never going to be complacent or content where I am at. I just took it upon myself to go further than I did last year and that is always going to be my new thing – do a little more than you did last year.”

Blame season three on the bone spurs in Ross’ ankle, it was a small step back from the year before, but last year Ross still didn’t get back to his sophomore stats and his four year career averages are starting to look like that’s who he is. 9-10 points, 2-3 rebounds, 38 percent shooting from three and a former Slam Dunk champion that takes less than 10 percent of his shoots within three feet of the basket.

That wasn’t the picture Ross painted for Pro Bball Report as he headed into his fourth NBA season.

“(Go) inside and be a little more versatile and switch everything up, a couple more moves to get separation for shots. A lot of running on the down screen. I just run all over the court and get into condition to do it during the season.”

Ross told Morney, “I’m pretty motivated” and this summer, he should be. Raptors rookie Norman Powell outplayed Ross last season and is poised to take his spot in Casey’s rotation. Powell is stronger, plays a more physical style of game and he shot 40.4 percent from three.

Ross has the potential to become a complete player, as he stated, since he has impressive athleticism and the ability to shoot threes. He seems to possess all the necessary tools to be a talented scorer. – Morney

Ross does have all the tools to become a complete player and a talented scorer. He’s had them since he stepped into the League and occasionally he shows them off in a big way. He thought there was a lot more to go after his second season and so did everyone else, that’s why he’s earned the underachiever label he desperately needs to shake. There is a young talented hungry player working hard to get Ross nailed to the bench next season if he doesn’t.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell From The D-League To The NBA Playoffs

By Frank McLean

If a team is going to advance in the NBA playoffs they need contributions from every single player on the roster not just the starting five. Heck when it comes to playoff time a team’s starting five is not exactly etched in stone. It can change from game to game depending on how an opposing coach makes adjustments to who the other coach is starting.

For the Raptors their rookie guard/forward Norman Powell’s work in game five and game seven of their first round victory over the Indiana Pacers was one of the reasons why the Raptors are heading to the second round for only the second time in franchise history.

First to Game Five and the fourth quarter when the Raptors came back from a 13 point deficit to beat the Pacers and take a three games to two lead in the series. The Raptors opened up the quarter on a 15-2 run to tie the game 92-92. The run was capped when Powell stole the ball from Paul George and went coast to coast for a slam dunk to tie the game. Then in Game Seven Powell played 23 minutes going five for six from field, three for four from behind the three-point line for 13 points.

Powell started wasn’t thought to be a rotation player at the start of this season. As a rookie on a veteran team, he was sent down highway 401 to Mississauga and their new NBDL team the Raptors 905. However, Powell never got down with the demotion, he knew playing in the NBA would happen sometime.

“I knew it was going to be up and down,” Powell said. “I was going to have to prove myself, let my work ethic and determination prove everyone wrong. Get into the gym and working to give me the opportunity I wanted.”

The scouting report on Powell said that he lacked poise and maturity and he has used that as motivation.

“I never get tired of it. I added it to my motivation. I’m just proud of myself just trying to achieve more.”

Of course if you are going to get any playing time out of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey you have to play defense. Powell has proven that he can do that and that just might get him more minutes in the second round against Miami Heat than the 18 minutes a game he averaged in the first round.

“What I expect of him is to continue to be an elite defender, like I said earlier in the season,” Casey said. “His three-point ball has gotten to be a part of his repertoire, but it’s not the most important part. It used to be just gravy, but it’s gotten to be a little more important now because he’s proving that he can do it.”

“If that happens, if that matchup is there, if we have that matchup, again, it’s a challenge,” Casey hinted if Powell will get time defending Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.

“Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson is a challenge for any team. They’re veteran scorers, they’re born scorers, they’ve done it for a long period of time, in the playoffs. It’s a challenge for whoever guards him. I’m not saying Norm’s going to guard him, but whoever guards him, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Powell is definitely up for the challenge.

“It’s going to be fun. Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modeled my game after growing up. He was a role model for me. It’s going to be fun for me in the minutes I do get to guard him. I’ve been watching him my whole life, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for Norman Powell that all started with the Raptors 905 and now it has landed him as a rotation player in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Powell’s play is proving to everyone he is ready for the NBA.

 

 

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 Norman Powell

Raptors Should Start Norman Powell In Game Six

Based on his play in the second and fourth quarters of Game Five alone, Toronto Raptors rookie Norman Powell should start in Game Six. The 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals were nice, but as head coach Dwane Casey likes to say, Powell is in there for his defense and the scoring is gravy, nice gravy, but gravy.

Powell was in the defensive group that held the Pacers to just nine fourth quarter points in Game Five as the Raptors snatched victory from the near certain jaws of defeat to take a 3-2 series advantage. He led his team in plus/minus for the third time in the playoffs with a +16 and is a team best average of +8.2, more than double Kyle Lowry’s +4.0 who holds down the second spot.

“He played well,” Lowry said. “The kid’s been doing well. He’s been doing this for the last month and a half, two months now. He’s been phenomenal throughout this whole season.”

Coach Casey hasn’t been trying to hide his rookie out there against the Pacers. Powell has often been the primary defender on the Pacers All-Star Paul George and the numbers in the playoffs speak for themselves. Toronto is winning with Powell on the court.

1. Powell +8.2
2. Lowry +4.0
3. Biyombo +2.2
4. Joseph +1.0
5. Scola +0.8
6. Patterson -1.4
7. Ross -1.8
8. Valanciunas -2.0
9. DeRozan -3.0
10.Carroll -5.0

“The only thing I told him today when we were sitting on the bench is that you have to do one thing for all of us to be able to win this game,” Patrick Patterson said after Game Five. “We all have to do one thing and right now we just have to play defense. You’ve got Paul George who is an All-Star. You have to take one thing away from him.”

George scored two points in the fourth quarter of Game Five and Powell stole two balls intended for the Pacers All-Star. He took away more than just one thing and he brought some “gravy” to the game as well.

In Game Five Casey changed the starting lineup and shortened his bench in an attempt to shake the team out of a Game Four malaise that allowed the Pacers to tie the series. Luis Scola was a DNP-CD and Patterson started. The result was as disastrous as it was predictable.

Casey had attempted to use Patterson as a starter last season, but this very effective player off the bench never looked comfortable or effective as a starter. He tried again in preseason this year, but was forced to give up and insert the 35-year-old veteran Luis Scola into the starting unit.

Scola wasn’t giving Casey a lot as a starter in the playoffs, but he wasn’t hurting the team either. Unfortunately Patterson crashed and burned as a starter once again. He was a -15 in the first quarter and a -4 in the third quarter of Game Five.

“Pat was a -20,” Casey said. “I love him to death, but I don’t know if I took him out of his rhythm or whatever. We got to re-evaluate that.”

While Casey could go back to Scola, he has another option that just might give him the boost he’s looking for. Plus Patterson averaged a +3.5 coming off the bench in the first four games and that’s the kind of “rhythm” the Raptors need from him.

A starting unit of Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Carroll and Valanciunas with Patterson, Joseph, Biyombo and Ross coming off the bench should give Casey the additional speed and quickness he needs to counter Pacers head coach Frank Vogel’s move to put the rookie Myles Turner in his starting unit and give the Raptors more options when defending George.

It would also add some toughness to the starting unit and in a series where the Pacers are quite literally trying to push the Raptors around at every opportunity, a boost in physical play off the start should be a good thing. Powell loves the physicality of the playoffs.

“I’m loving (the physicality),” Powell said. “It brings me back to my high school days, being physical, putting pressure and intensity into the game. It’s going to be a war out there and that’s how I look at it every time I step on the court. It’s going to be a battle you know, not to back down no matter who is in front of you.”

It can be tough for a coach to put a rookie in the starting lineup over a veteran, but sometimes the rookie has earned it and sometimes the rookie has what you need.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Luis Scola & Norman Powell

Raptors Scola And Powell Unfazed By The Playoffs

With the Toronto Raptors All-Stars starting to admit they were feeling the pressure of the playoffs in their home opener against the Pacers, their oldest and youngest active players came through with steady, solid efforts.

“I think we was just too tight on both ends,” DeMar DeRozan finally admitted after shootaround. “We really didn’t get a rhythm offensively. We let a couple of things get past us defensively that hurt. That one’s over, we get another opportunity tonight.”

Much to the dismay of his detractors, Raptors veteran power forward Luis Scola got the start, just like he has all season and the 35-year-old veteran did what he usually does. He was steady, solid and came out of the game midway through the first quarter with the score tied.

Scola doesn’t play big minutes for Toronto and when he has the occasional big game it’s a bonus. In Game One he played 14.6 minutes, scored 4 points on 4 shots, grabbed 6 boards and a steal and exited with a -1, the second best plus/minus on the team.

What Scola did was hold his counterpart Lavoy Allen to 4 points on 6 shots and 7 boards in nearly identical minutes. Scola did his job and he’ll be expected to do it again as long as the playoffs last for Toronto.

As much as rookie Norman Powell has caught the imagination of the local fans, it wouldn’t have come as a shock if head coach Dwane Casey had turned to the veteran DeMarre Carrol or even James Johnson for the start in Game One. However, in fairness, Powell earned the start with his play since the All-Star break and he didn’t disappoint.

“(My coach and teammates) thought I did well,” Powell explained. “Just focus on details. Pick-and-rolls being more physical, trying to feel out the game how physical I can be. They thought I played well in the minutes that I’ve gotten.”

Getting permission to play more physical should draw an interesting response in Game Two from a rookie who likes the rough stuff.

In 16.8 minutes, Powell scored 5 points on 4 shots and his corner three-ball rimed out in the third quarter or Casey probably can’t take him out of the game. Powell was a -2, good for the third best plus/minus on the Raptors. It was tough watching Terrence Ross struggle at both ends of the court in the fourth quarter and not wonder what if that was the rookie out there instead?

Casey attributed Ross’ struggles to the team’s deeper rotation with DeMarre Carroll back, but this is the playoffs. If a player can’t handle his assignment, someone else has to take over.

The Raptors success or failure in the first round of the playoffs is not going to hang on the play of their youngest and oldest players. As they have all season, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are expected to carry them. However, it should be apparent Toronto isn’t going to lose a series in the playoffs because of Scola and Powell. They aren’t fazed by the moment.

 

 

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

Raptors Norman Powell Is EC Rookie Of The Month

The National Basketball Association announced Friday that Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell has been selected as Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April 2016.

Powell is the ninth Raptors player to win the award, joining Jonas Valanciunas (March 2013), Jamario Moon (January 2008), Andrea Bargnani (January and February 2007), Jorge Garbajosa (December 2006), Charlie Villanueva (December 2005), Vince Carter (March and April 1999), Marcus Camby (March 1997) and Damon Stoudamire (November 1995 and January 1996).

In April, Powell averaged 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 31.6 minutes in eight games (all starts). He shot .548 (40-73) from the field and paced the team in scoring four times. He led all Eastern Conference rookies in average points and three-point makes (1.9) and tied for second in steals (1.4).

The native of San Diego, California set careers highs with 30 points, nine rebounds, 12 field goals made and five three-pointers and also matched his career-high five assists in Toronto’s 103-96 win April 13 at Brooklyn.

Earlier this month, he played a career-high 41 minutes and recorded a career-high 14 points from the free throw line in a 27-point effort in Toronto’s 111-98 win April 8 versus Indiana.

Powell also collected a career-high three steals in the Raptors’ 122-98 victory April 12 versus Philadelphia.

The Raptors acquired Powell in a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks on June 25, 2015, along with a future first-round draft pick in exchange for guard Greivis Vasquez. Powell was selected by Milwaukee in the second round (46th overall) in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Powell has averaged 5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 14.8 minutes, while shooting .424 (97-229) from the field in 49 games (24 starts) this season. Powell also played in eight games (all starts) with the Raptors’ NBA Development League affiliate, Raptors 905, where he averaged 24.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 39.4 minutes.

Pro Bball Report predicted Powell would win the award immediately after the Raptors final regular season game even though he has never been on anyone’s NBA Rookie Ladder and until the middle of March, he really hadn’t played enough minutes to gain much attention outside of Toronto.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey finally admitted he should stop calling Powell’s scoring gravy in his pre-postseason media availability.

 

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