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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan Gets Some MVP Love From The Western Conference

While the Houston Rockets James Harden is the run-away leader for the NBA’s MVP award this season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry singled out the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan as another worthy candidate. Gentry acknowledges that despite a great season his own star Anthony Davis isn’t even in this race. As it should be, it’s all about winning.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle quotes Gentry as saying,

“In my opinion, (James Harden) is the MVP of the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not even close, really, what he’s doing with his team and the numbers he’s putting up.”

“He’s been fantastic. He’s been unbelievable,” Gentry said of Davis. “I think the only difference in him not being heavily, heavily in the conversation is obvious we haven’t had the type of season that a Houston has had or a Toronto has had, you know with (DeMar) DeRozan and those guys.

“We just don’t have the wins that those teams have and I think that’s the difference in where he is on the scale of MVP as opposed to Harden or DeRozan.”



NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Closing In On First Overall In The NBA

On a seemingly ignored 10 game winning streak the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of passing the Golden State Warriors in the overall standings and are just three games back of the Houston Rockets who they have defeated twice this season.

These aren’t your Raptors of the past four years. Yes, those teams set club records with 48, 49, 56 and 51 win seasons and were better than anything fans in Toronto had experienced, but this team is on a pace never before seen north of the border and there is still an element of disbelief around the NBA and even in the local fan base. And that’s despite this winning streak really stretching back to late January at 19-2.

While the blow out wins in February were impressive, what deserves more notice are the recent hard fought wins over desperate teams fighting for playoff position. Games that in past seasons probably would not have ended in the Raptors favor.

Toronto crushed the Pistons hopes of sneaking into the playoffs by blowing them out at the Air Canada Centre at the end of February and a week later broke their hearts in an overtime thriller in Detroit that the Pistons had to win to stay in the playoff race. The Raptors also took wins away from the Wizards in Washington and the Pacers in Indiana in the fourth quarter with both teams fighting for home court in the postseason.

However, the signature win came against the Western Conference’s first place Rockets who came into Toronto on a 17 game winning streak having lost earlier in the season to Toronto in front of their home fans. The Raptors were playing their third game in four nights, but it didn’t matter as they held the NBA’s second highest scoring team to just 105 points.

The Warriors are experiencing injury woes and dropped a couple of road games recently. Currently Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb) and Kevin Durant (ribs) are all on the shelf, so there may be a few more losses coming before they get all their superstars back. Passing the Dubs in the overall standings is a very real possibility for the Raptors.

The Rockets, however, may prove to have too big of a lead. Houston has bounced back for three wins in a row after losing in Toronto. The Raptors can see first place overall, but there doesn’t seem to be anything standing in the way of James Harden and company running the table from 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 Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Move To Number One In NBA Power Rankings

It isn’t easy for We The North to get much recognition south of the border, but after completing the season series sweep over the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are getting some much deserved praise.

In John Schuhmann’s Week 22 Power Rankings on NBA.com the Raptors rose two places to head the list at number one.

The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.

Over at Sports Illustrated ,  Rohan Nadkarni also bumped the Raptors from the third spot to first overall.

Week 22 of the NBA season is here, and we’re seeing a shake-up at the top of the Power Rankings.

The Rockets have been bumped from the top spot after Toronto ended their 17-game win streak.

The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, the CARM-ELO ranking system still has the Rockets first with the Raptors a close second. Both teams are given a 60 percent chance at representing their respective conferences in the NBA Finals.

ESPN Power Rankings have left the Raptors in third place behind the Rockets and Warriors choosing to ignore the recent losses by those teams and the Raptors NBA best 15-1 record since February 2nd. Occasionally it feels necessary to remind ESPN that the NBA has a team in Canada.

Despite seeing their 17-game winning streak come to an end against the Toronto Raptors, the Houston Rockets are in no danger of losing their No. 1 position in the NBA Power Rankings. And even after back-to-back losses without Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors still call their familiar No. 2 spot home for now.

While the Rockets were winning 17 in a row, the Raptors, almost unnoticed,  were almost as unbeatable and with the streak stopper against the Western Conference leader on Friday night, Toronto earned the top spot in the NBA and SI Power Rankings.



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 Houston Rockets James Harden and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors A Slight Favorite Over The Rockets

In what has to be viewed as the biggest game of the 2017-18 season to-date, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors face the Western Conference’s first-place Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

ESPN affiliate FiveThirtyEight.com gives the home court Raptors a slight 0.5 point advantage and  a 52 percent chance of winning.

Toronto (47-17) clinched a playoff spot this week with their sixth win in a row by beating Detroit 121-119 in overtime and holds a two game lead over second place Boston. The Rockets (51-13) hold a slim half game lead over the Warriors thanks to an impressive 17 game winning streak.

The Raptors defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113 way back in November and a series sweep would send a strong message to the few remaining doubters about just how good the team north of the border is this season.

The Air Canada Centre has been a tough place for opponents to steal a win. The Raptors have the best home record in the NBA at 27-5 where they pile on the points at 112.8 per game and outscore their opponents by a league best 11.9 points.

However, the Rockets are a league best 26-7 on the road this season, scoring 111.8 points and winning easily by a front-running 8.9 points in their opponents’ buildings.

It’s the NBA’s leading scorer and MVP front runner James Harden vs the Eastern Conference Player of the Week DeMar DeRozan and the NBA’s best bench. This should be a good one.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Drive For 60 Wins

Sitting atop of the NBA’s Eastern Conference after 60 games is a place the Toronto Raptors aren’t familiar with, but at 43-17 they have 2 fewer losses than second place Boston (44-19) while the preseason favorite Cavs (36-25) have slid to 7.5 games back and are at a real risk of slipping out of the top four. Toronto only has to close out the season going 17-5 for 60 wins, so it’s there for the taking if the Raptors want it.

For the first time in franchise history the Raptors should be favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals based on their dominating 27-8 conference record versus the Celtics 28-13 or the Cavs 26-14 and ESPN Basketball Power Index continues to reflect Toronto’s position by giving them a 24 percent chance at an NBA Title versus 4.2 percent for Boston and a 0.2 percent chance for Cleveland.

But games and playoff series aren’t played in mathematical models and it’s the stretch drive to the playoffs that will provide the best information about how these Toronto Raptors may fare after the regular season ends.

Of the 22 games remaining, Toronto plays 13 teams who are no better than eighth in their conference. Facing Detroit, Brooklyn and Orlando twice more each should help run up the Raptors Eastern Conference best points differential.

There will be interesting contests against Washington, OKC and Indiana (2x), but it’s the March 9th date at the Air Canada Centre against the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets that should be the most watched game of the season to this point (ESPN where are you?) Way back in November the Raptors won 129-113 in Houston.

However, the best indicators of just how effective this Toronto team could be in the playoffs comes with two games at The Q in Cleveland on March 21st and April 3rd. Then two games against the Celtics starting March 31st in Boston and back home on April 4th.

Toronto beat the Cavs 133-99 in January, but realize things might be different next time. Boston won 95-94 at home when DeMar DeRozan missed two potential go-ahead shots in the final 19 seconds in November. Three weeks ago Toronto got their revenge with a 111-91 pasting of the Celtics at the ACC.

It’s likely these four remaining games will determine if Toronto ends the season in first place or slips to second in the playoff seeding, but if the drive for 60 wins comes true, there is likely nothing that can stop the Raptors from claiming top spot in the East this year.

While is should be expected head coach Dwane Casey will put zero emphasis on reaching the 60 win mark, it is a point of pride for any NBA team and their fan base base, especially the first time.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.

An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).

John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 36-16 
Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 39-15
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.
Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE

Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).

The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.

In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.

Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.

It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.

For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).

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 Jonas Valanciunas and Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond

Raptors Put Pistons In Their Place

Detroit is one of the NBA’s top three-point shooting teams with one of the league’s top rebounders in Andre Drummond, but that didn’t matter when the Pistons rolled into Toronto to face the Eastern Conference’s second place Raptors and center Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors are one of the best at defending the three-point line and they put the hot shooting Pistons in their place 96-91.

Toronto opened with a 31-18 first quarter as Drummond looked lost and the Pistons couldn’t shoot straight. But, the Pistons fought back only to lose the game to a Raptors 12-2 fourth quarter run that erased a one-point Pistons lead and put the game out of reach.

“Andre put up good good numbers, but,” Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “In that middle 30 minutes, second, third quarter into the fourth, I thought he was good defensively, but he didn’t start the game with a defensive mentality and then he didn’t get up on the two pick-and-rolls late. It’s unfortunate because we had fought really hard to get back in that game and to have two plays like that where you just got to be up and you’re not.

“It’s unfortunate because obviously 25 (points) and 17 (rebounds) is a helluva night against a really good player (Valanciunas) and a really good team.”

Valanciunas had 17 points and 16 rebounds playing 10 fewer minutes than Drummond.

With the centers essentially cancelling each other out on the glass, the Raptors won the battle of the boards 49-42 thanks in part to Toronto’s second best rebounder,  6′ point guard Kyle Lowry, digging out 9 rebounds.

Unfortunately for Detroit, even with Drummond, getting out rebounded is nothing new. Their rebounding differential was a -1.7 heading into the game. The Raptors are a +1.1 rebounds.

However, the most obvious issue for Detroit on this night was shooting 35.7 percent from three to make 10 on 28 attempts.

The Pistons are shooting an NBA third best 38.4 percent from three and feature six players hitting 39.5 percent or better, but not on this night.

The Raptors are holding opponents to the NBA’s fewest number of made threes per game (9.0) at the fifth lowest percentage (34.8). They average 11.2 threes shooting 35.1 percent and hit their averages going 11-31 against the Pistons.

Again, unfortunately, this is nothing new for the Pistons. As well as they shoot the three, they can’t defend it and on the season they are just a +0.4 net on made threes per game.

As if to add insult to injury, even Valanciunas made an uncontested three-pointer for Toronto on this night, improving to 7-20 from three on the season.

The loss leaves the Pistons with a 22-21 record and just a half game from falling to ninth place. There is hope the return of injured players will strengthen the team’s rotation, but as The Detroit News Rod Beard writes, Pistons torn between dealing, riding out storm

Pistons general manager Jeff Bower sat in the stands at Air Canada Centre during Wednesday morning’s shootaround, using his phone.

There’s no time for Words With Friends; he was doing some online shopping — perusing possible deals and making and taking calls about other roster possibilities.

Detroit has what a lot of teams are looking for, good three-point shooters. Maybe Bower can find a play-maker who could up his team’s bottom 10 assist numbers and create more opportunities for all those shot makers he’s accumulated?



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 Raptors Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers Isaiah Thomas

The NBA Shows Its Disrespect For Toronto Yet Again

So the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka gets a one game suspension for almost fighting and the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat offender Isaiah Thomas just gets fined for actually decking Andrew Wiggins with a vicious hit to the throat. But no one should actually be surprised. That’s just the usual lack of respect the NBA shows for its only team not in the USA and the overt favoritism towards certain other clubs.

Both Serge Ibaka and James Johnson got suspended for one game each after being ejected for nearly fighting in a game at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Both players threw what could be viewed as “hostile” elbows in a heated pushing match that, as usual in the NBA, never actually evolved into a fight.

While almost fighting in the NBA is risking a suspension and the punishment isn’t all that usual, Ibaka’s been in fake fights before,  but it’s hard to ignore the kid gloves treatment the league office chose to use in Thomas’ case.

This isn’t the first time Thomas lost his temper and tried to take the head off his unsuspecting opponent. As reported by A. Sherrod Blakely in NBC Sports Boston in April 2016, he’s done this before.

The Celtics got a bit of good news on Saturday with the NBA deciding to not suspend Isaiah Thomas for his first quarter run-in with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder in Boston’s 111-103 Game 3 win on Friday night.

“I knew what I did,” said Thomas who added that he had not spoken with any league officials regarding the incident. “A slower version would like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody I would have hit them.”

Replays showed Thomas connecting with Schroder’s head while running up the court.

After the play, Thomas had to be restrained by teammate Jared Sullinger.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on the NBA for buying into Thomas hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the head with what should be called a punch an accident for a second time.

Ejected for the fourth time in his career, Thomas showed no remorse and denied doing anything wrong. Tell it to the video!

Thomas said after the game that it was inadvertent and that he was going for a steal. – ESPN

No one in Toronto really wants to believe the NBA uses a double standard when it comes to Toronto, but the examples just keep on coming.

On Thursday when the Cavaliers visit Toronto for the teams first tilt of the season, Thomas will be in the lineup and Ibaka will be in street clothes and the NBA doesn’t see anything wrong with that.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Can The Raptors Go Undefeated In December?

If the Toronto Raptors want to keep up with the Celtics and Cavs in the East they need a run. Boston had an early 16 game winning streak and Cleveland hasn’t lost in their past 12 outings, but Toronto’s brutal schedule has turned and it’s time to make hay if the Raptors want to keep pace with ESPN’s preseason favorites.

Optimism heading into December should be high. Only two of the teams Toronto will face had a winning record at the start of the month although they do have to face one of them twice. It’s a 14 game stretch that should turn into a pile of Ws.

 After beating the Pacers on December 1st, the Raptors next seven games include the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets plus home-and-homes against the Suns and Kings. Combined these opponents have barely won a third of their games. Losing to any of them, even on the road, would be a huge disappointment.

If they sweep thru this riff-raff, the Raptors will be on a 10 game winning streak, but then they’ll face a Charlotte team that’s always given them trouble. The Hornets have struggled with injuries and haven’t looked good this season, but a Raptors win over the Hornets, especially on the road, has never been easy.

Then it’s a home-and-home against the surprising +.500 76ers. The Raptors crushed Philadelphia at the Air Canada Center in October by 34 points, but that was with a DNP-CD Joel Embiid. It’s going to be tough to win both ends of this series.

After Christmas the Raptors should able to take care of Dallas and Atlanta, but they’ll face a real test against an OKC team that has been very good at home even if their overall record has been beyond disappointing.

A safe prediction for December would be 10-4 giving Toronto a very respectable 23-11 record  (67.6 winning percentage) at the end of the calendar year. However, a good result would be 12-2 and if this team plays up to their full potential with no letdowns, there is no excuse for not coming away 14-0 and heading into 2018 on a 16 game winning streak that matches what the Celtics were able to do.



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.




Cavs King James for Halloween 2017

NBA Halloween Hangovers

Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect young men to give up an excuse to party when the opportunity presents itself, but as is often the case, there is a price to paid for having too much fun and maybe a bit of a Halloween hangover contributed to some of the NBA blowouts the next night.


LeBron James was feeling good after a team meeting Joe Vardon reported on Cleveland.com ahead of Wednesday night’s disaster at home against the Pacers.

“It was needed and we’re receptive, and the best thing about it is guys got out everything that they wanted to, even with it being early in the season,” James said. “It was good, so, see how it translates on the floor too.”

It didn’t as the Cavs were embarrassed 124-107, but at least they had some Halloween fun.

As Vardon illustrated after the loss, the Cavs have now sunk to depths no one saw coming.

Here’s where the Cavs stand defensively this morning:

30th (worst) in the NBA in defensive rating (111.3), the primary statistic most use to give an overall grade.
30th in 3-pointers allowed (14.0 per game).
30th in 3-point field goal percentage (.418).
27th in opponent’s field-goal percentage (.470).
27th in opponent’s points per game (111.9).
22nd in opponent’s points off turnovers (18.6).

Head coach Tyronn Lue assuming the role of Captain Obvious summed things up.

“Lately we just haven’t been really good defensively,” Lue said.

No one is going to suggest the Cavs season is going down the tubes because of a Halloween party, but maybe, if only for appearance sake, everyone could have taken the night off to study film instead?

King James hasn’t released his claim as the scariest player in the NBA, it’s just the Cavs who haven’t been nearly as scary as they should be to start the season.

Lost in a 12 game Wednesday night slate of games were a couple of other teams looking like they were also suffering from a Halloween hangover.

The Toronto Raptors were on a two game road winning streak when they rolled into Denver after having Halloween night off and laid an egg losing 129-111. Even the preview by SB Nation Denver Stiffs Daniel Lewis had the Raptors winning this one. To put it mildly, Toronto’s veteran starting unit stunk looking exactly like a group that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before.

The Wizards had even less of an excuse than the Raptors as they dropped a 122-116 game to the rebuilding Suns at home.

Maybe the Wizards should have hit the sack a little earlier on Halloween night as well?

Well here’s hoping everyone had a fun Halloween and the Cavs and Raptors don’t eat to much turkey on Thanksgiving as they both have to play the next day.



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 Fred VanVleet and Philadelphia 76ers Markelle Fultz

How Long Can 76ers Markelle Fultz Hide Behind Ben Simmons?

The Philadelphia 76ers give up a lot to draft Markelle Fultz first overall in this year’s draft, but so far he’s been almost invisible playing in the shadow of last year’s first overall pick Ben Simmons who, by the way, is still a rookie.  In three games off the bench it would be hard to describe Fultz’s play as as anything more than uninspiring begging the question, how much longer can he hide behind Simmons’ success in a city that isn’t exactly known for being patient or understanding?

“Surprisingly you could be right and it’s hard to say that in our city. There’s not much forgiveness or wiggle-room (in Philly) and I say that with affection,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown about Fultz ahead of his team’s blowout loss in Toronto. “Last night Markelle steps to the free throw line and makes two free throws and the fans recognize him, reward him. I think Markelle’s growth might not be as under the microscope perhaps if he didn’t have some of these other things with Joel (Embiid) and Ben (Simmons) especially, but we all pay attention and I think that he’s handled it with a certain amount of grace. Like he doesn’t get too rattled, he’s a gamer. He’s aware of all the things and we are trying to get his shoulder right with the shot and all that, but we’ve seen some good things with him getting to the rim and making plays. We can see why he was the first player chosen.”

As of now, from the outside looking in, it really isn’t all that easy to see why Fultz was chosen first, but that’s after a very small sample size.

In three games coming off the bench, playing against other teams’ second and dare it be mentioned, third string, Fultz hasn’t shone. He’s averaging 7.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just under 20 minutes per game and he’s struggled where he was expected to do well.

In Toronto against the second string his offense was stifled and the Raptors ran up the score, but in fairness fans should be able to live with that from a rookie for a while.

However, what happened when he was facing the Raptors undrafted diminutive second year point guard Fred VanVleet who played most of last season in the D-League isn’t so easy to look past. In 11 minutes, a lot of it in garbage time with Toronto’s third string unit on the court, Fultz shot 0-2, was blocked once, had just a single rebound and a single assist matched up against his very unheralded counterpart. The Raptors like VanVleet, but watching him hold this year’s first overall pick to a -1 head-to-head is a little more than they have any right to expect.

Once again Fultz wasn’t the story on this night as Simmons absorbed all of the available sunlight in a 34 point beat down in his team’s third straight loss by putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. But how much longer can he hide behind Simmons positive vibe?

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer suggests Philly fans are ready to start panicking and he blames things on a sore shoulder affecting Fultz’s ability to shoot the three-ball.

Right now, the injury is taking on a life of its own. One that has a portion of Sixers fans panicking and second-guessing the team’s decision to trade up two spots to select him first overall in June’s NBA draft.

“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” coach Brett Brown said.

“It’s not an excuse for me,” Fultz said of the new (free throw) release. “I just go out there and do what I got to do.”

Free throws and jump shots should be the least of his worries. Maybe the concern about the 76ers guard should be about getting blocked six times in three games this year. This rookie has a lot to learn before he’ll look like the future star he was projected to be at the draft.

The theme from the 76ers in Toronto was they were looking forward to an easier opponent in Detroit on Monday night after facing the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors in their first three games. (Who was the idiot that thought a team as young as the 76ers would be in fourth place at the end of the 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.




Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder and Washington Wizards Otto Porter

Early Favorites For The NBA Most Improved Player Race

Like every other award handed out to NBA players after the season is over, the Most Improved Player isn’t going to be a completely fair race. To even be an early favorite, several things pretty much have to be in the players favor right from the start.

First off an MIP has to be on a team that garners some attention. If you’re not in the playoffs or at least in contention for the postseason, it’s going to be pretty hard to win … anything.

Also, it would really help if the player could average over 20 points per game and that average is up from the prior season by over 5 points per game – the bigger the increase the better. Sure the other stats matter, but nothing captures attention in the NBA more than scoring.

Over the last five years, the MIP race ended like this:

Last year the next four top vote getters were Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Otto Potter and Isaiah Thomas and three of them should be early favorites this year.

It’s worth noting that Antetokounmpo was 3rd in voting in 2016 and top 10 the year before that, so he was a guy everyone should have (did) see coming.

In no particular order, our early favorites for the MIP in 2018 are:

Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets landed Paul Millsap in free agency they solidified their hold on a playoff spot and gave Jokic his chance to turn last year’s second place MIP votes into a spot at the top if he can continue to improve.

He’ll need to average well over 20 points per game, but don’t count him out.

Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic exploded after the trade from Denver to Portland going from 8 points per game playing limited minutes behind Jokic to over 15 points as a starter. The Trail Blazers exploded with him in the lineup as well, winning 14 of the 20 games he appeared in.

On the season Nurkic only averaged 10.2 points per game, so if can improve even a little on his first 20 games with the Blazers and his team gets back to the postseason, he’s going to get a lot of votes.

Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert

After losing Hayward to the Celtics, the Jazz need Gobert to be in contention again for the MIP award if they are to get back to the postseason. After a 4.9 point improvement in scoring last year, there will be opportunities for Gobert to up his offensive production yet again in Hayward’s absence.

Someone has to carry the scoring load on this defensive-minded club and it seems pretty clear Gobert is now their best player.

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter

Porter is developing into an elite two-way player with deadly outside range and the only thing that appears to be holding him back is greater utilization. Porter only got 10 shots per game last season and had his team’s (ugh!) 12th highest utilization rate.

Unless the Wizards coaching staff has been living under a rock this summer, they’ll be working on ways to get their most effective scorer more involved with the offense. Look for a big jump in scoring from Porter next season on a team that should win over 50 games for the first time in four decades.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jae Crowder

The only knock on the Cavaliers in recent years has been the roster was old and wasn’t winning as many regular season games as expected. This was a team that needed what an energetic two-way 27-year-old forward with three-point range could bring to the table.

Twice before Crowder has gotten votes for MIP, but this could be his year.

Crowder fills a need on a Cavs team that wants LeBron James to play fewer minutes and take more time off during the regular season. He will get his opportunity to shine on a team that loves to hoist the three-ball and needs his younger legs to soak up minutes. Don’t be surprised if Crowder has a career year.

Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka

The Toronto Raptors have been looking for a third impact player to support Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and they believe they’ve found him in the three-time All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka.

However, the Raptors will be looking for a lot more than just defense from Ibaka in a lot bigger role than he has been limited to in the past. Ibaka has evolved into a 40 percent three-point stretch-four/five and he’ll get his chance to show off all of his offensive range this season.

If the Raptors can get back to the 56-win pace they ran at for a season and a half up until mid-January last year and Ibaka gets the offensive opportunities his new three-year $65 million contract suggests he will, then he could be a surprise contender in this year’s MIP race.

There are other interesting candidates like the Pacers Miles Turner and the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, but neither of these teams are likely to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the voters.

The last time a player from a non-playoff team won the award was when Kevin Love became an All-Star for the first time in 2011. So, it’s not impossible, it’s just a very high bar.



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 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.


If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?



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.






Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about now?



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





NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Check Out Pro Bball Report On The Potent Lifestyle Magazine

Check out Pro Bball Report editor Stephen Brotherston’s article about the Toronto Raptors on The Potent Lifestyle Magazine.

Raptors Hit The Wall?

Eventually it happens with every successful professional sports team. Whatever got them on their current run starts to run out of steam. The fans continue to show up for a while reliving the memories, but the passion isn’t the same. In Toronto, the fans seem to know the Raptors have hit the wall.

Also check out Studio to Street Wear, the Artist’s Showcase, Music, and lots more in this inaugural relaunch issue.

2017 NBA free agents Raptors Patrick Patterson and Timberwolves Shabazz Mohammad and Warriors Ian Clark and Pacers Jeff Teague collage

Some NBA Free Agents Your Team Can Actually Get

There is no more exciting time for most teams and most fans than NBA free agency, but it can quickly become the most disappointing couple of weeks in the off season when you strike out.

If a team is going to put all their focus into hitting a home run, they had better have a really good idea about why that player is going to choose them over all of those other opportunities because as you wait, the next best options are coming off the board.

Here’s our list of getable free agents that if you act fast, you just might just lock up before the competition realizes what happened.

Point Guard

Jeff Teague, Pacers UFA, 29-years-old

2016-17, 15.3 pts, 4.0* rbs, 7.8* asts, 1.2 stls, 35.7% 3FG

* career best

A former one-time All-Star, reliable starting point guard who has only played one year with the Pacers. While other teams are wasting their efforts pursuing Kyle Lowry and George Hill, impress Teague and solve your point guard issues.

Micheal Carter-Williams, Bulls UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 6.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 23.4% 3FG

The 2014 NBA ROY saw his minutes slashed in Chicago and made an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if your team is out of cap space and not planning on a postseason run, giving this big point guard another second chance might not be such a bad idea. He was an 11/5/5 player with 1.5 steals for the Bucks two seasons ago.

Shooting Guard

Dion Waiters, Heat UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 15.8 pts, 3.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.9 stls, 39.5% 3FG

It was a breakout season for Waiters and teams will have their eye on the possibility of stealing him from the Heat as his current team doesn’t hold his Bird Rights. Strike fast with a big offer while Miami is focused on Gordon Hayward and you might just steal him.

Ian Clark, Warriors UFA, 26-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 1.6 rbs, 1.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 37.4% 3FG

The Warriors only hold Clark’s early bird rights, so this is one player you can outbid a luxury tax sensitive team for. He put up those numbers in less than 15 minutes a game. It’s time he got his chance to show everyone what he’s made of.

Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves RFA, 24-years-old

2016-17, 9.9 pts, 2.8 rbs, 0.4 asts, 33.8% 3FG

While the Timberwolves are busy gloating over the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and looking for the next piece of the playoff puzzle, Shabazz is kind of sitting on the outside looking in, but this a solid young defensive wing who could become a real steal if, as the expression goes, “the lights come on” with a change of scenery.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Clippers UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 6.1 pts, 2.1 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 39.1% 3FG

The Clippers are in trouble and only hold Mbah a Monte’s early bird rights, so pile on and pick apart the carcass. This guy went from a defensive forward to a  much more valuable ‘3-and-D’ forward last season and there is a lot of teams that could use him coming off the bench.

Power Forward

James Johnson, Heat UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 12.8 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 1.1 blks, 34% 3FG

A non-bird free agent means the Heat have to use salary cap space to re-sign him, thus making James Johnson a great target for other teams. A breakout season that James should be crediting to the tough love he got in Toronto – the place where he finally figured out how and when to shoot the three-ball without it being embarrassing.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors UFA, 28-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 4.5 rbs, 1.2 asts, 37.2% 3FG

While the Raptors are distracted by Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, Patterson should be an easy target and a reasonable contract.

The ‘3-and-D” Patterson is one of those glue-guys who makes other people around him better even if he isn’t filling the stats sheet while doing it.


Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs UFA, 27-years-old

2016-17, 5.1 pts, 6.5 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.8 blks

Dedmon played 17.5 minutes a game for Pop last season and that alone should put this guy on your radar.  The Spurs don’t hold his bird rights either, so he is very getable.

Zaza Pachulia, Warriors UFA, 33-years-old

2016-17, 6.1, 5.9 rbs, 1.9 asts, 0.8 steals

If your team needs an infusion of toughness, grit, nastiness, Pachulia can still bring it. Culture change in a 6’11 don’t give a crap how it gets done center. The Warriors don’t hold his bird rights.


If your team is on the cusp and has a load of salary cap space to burn, sure take a run at Hayward, Blake Griffin, or Paul Millsap. Not sure any of those big name free agents are using your team as anything more than a free lunch and a means to extract a better contract from someone else? Then move down a tier and get a player that can actually help move you closer to your goals before someone else gets them.



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 Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

Thirteen years as a Lottery Team would weigh on anybody and the Minnesota Timberwolves new president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t sign up to run this team last year with the intention of extending that streak. He proved that in spades at the 2017 NBA Draft by trading potential future stars Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the number 7 pick Lauri Markkanen for Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler and the number 16 pick Justin Patton.

The Timberwolves instantly got better, but if Thibs is serious about making an impact in the postseason next April, he still needs some playoff proven veterans help to get his remaining highly talented crop of young players to the next level and Toronto Raptors starters DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas could become available because of Luxury Tax concerns.

Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman reported on the desperation for change by owner Glen Taylor at the end of the season,

“(Thibodeau) needs some players that will come off the bench and keep us going and not give up the lead,” he said. “I think he would say if he can get some guys with experience that would be helpful, so he can mix them in with our young guys during those substitution times. I think that will be a priority.

“We could also always use another big guy. If we back up a year and we were hoping that Pek [Nikola Pekovic] would be part of that and be a big, strong guy that would come in and take minutes off, so Karl [-Anthony Towns] didn’t get beat up so much and play so many minutes.”

Pek is officially done and last year’s attempt at veteran stability with players like Cole Aldrich (8.6 mpg), Jordan Hill (6.7 mpg), Omri Casspi (17.1 mpg) and Lance Stephenson (on two 10 days, 11.2 mpg) didn’t work.

However, even after the draft night trade, Thibodeau still has a ton of cap flexibility to sooth that burning desire to win now.

The Wolves will have Pekovic’s contract numbers off the books for next season, and because he did not play this season, his contract is covered by insurance, so that means their current salary cap should be in the $66 million range (prior to the Butler trade).

It wasn’t going to be easy attracting quality free agents to a team with a losing record let alone a mind-blowing 13-year losing streak and there is no pretending Minnesota is anything like New York, L.A. or Miami. So, just like the deal with the Bulls, the best way for Thibs to get what he needs is most likely to be accomplished by way of another trade.

Enter the Toronto scenario. Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he wants to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but to do so would put his team deep into Luxury Tax territory with no guarantee they’d be able to escape the Eastern Conference currently owned by LeBron James. A tax bill of $45 million plus is a steep price to pay if you’re fighting for second best in your conference.

However, Ujiri could almost wipe out that tax bill if he could get one of Valanciunas or Carroll off of his books and a trade involving both players with the right asset back could give him the “culture change” he’s looking for next season as well.

While there is no chance the Timberwolves are going to part with another one of their young stars, Minnesota does have a player the African-born Ujiri would almost certainly be interested in, Senegal’s 27-year-old Gorgui Dieng.

Deng’ offensive production has stalled at about 10 points per game over the past three seasons as has his rebounding at about eight boards, but the power forward/center is known for his defense and has started to show he just might have an effective corner three-ball. It’s not hard to see him fitting into the “culture” Toronto is trying to build.

It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Thibs to trade the guy Dunking  With The Wolves George Rinaldi sees as a sixth man instead of a T-wolves starter in the future.

Dieng is producing decent basketball when needs be, but in all honesty, would perfectly suit a bench player.

What Dieng offers is a solid defensive player, able to knock down mid-range shots on a regular basis, and give a significant number of rebounds per game.

Just the chance to add a couple of starters like Valanciunas and Carroll from a team coming off four consecutive trips to the postseason and back-to-back 50-plus win regular seasons should be enough to get Thibs rushing to try and do a deal. The Twolves would go from being too young to win last season to a team with veteran depth.

The 25-year-old Valanciunas is a legit 7′ traditional center who can start, but actually played his best basketball coming off the bench in this year’s playoff run. He has consistently been in the top 10 for rebounding percentage in the NBA and produced a consistent 12 points and 9-plus rebounds in 26 minutes over the last three years. His contract is similar to Dieng’s four-year deal and has two more seasons plus a player option left.

The Raptors acquired the now 30-year-old Carroll from the 60-win Atlanta Hawks two summers ago and although the “3-and-D” combo forward missed most of his first season in Toronto due to knee problems and he’s taken a lot of flak from the fan base for not living up to early high expectations, he can still space the floor, hit threes and play defense the right way. He played 72 games last season and he would be the poster-boy for the type of veteran that could help stabilize a young team like the T-wolves. He has two years and $30.2 million left on his contract.

While simply moving Carroll’s contract into Minnesota’s cap space would largely solve’s Ujiri’s tax problems this year and give Thibodeau his veteran on a short two year leash, the larger deal could do more for both teams. One team trying to get to where Toronto is now and the other team trying to find a way to take the next step without setting new franchise records for luxury taxes.

There will be a lot of opportunities for these two teams to look at after free agency opens up in July, but signing free agents is tough and it often isn’t easy finding a motivated trade partner you aren’t competing with.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan Pacers Paul George Raptors PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Pacers Star Paul George Puts Himself In Play

Pacers star Paul George has been rumored to be wanting out of Indiana for some time now, but with no action forthcoming from general manager Kevin Pritchard, he decided to put himself in play. He made sure “The Reliable Source” for NBA rumors Adrian Wojnarowski knew he wanted out of town and couldn’t be talked into re-signing next summer.

Make no mistake, the “rumor” and timing was deliberate. By making it seem likely he’ll only be a rental until next season when he can bolt to L.A. as a free agent, teams won’t give away the farm to get him and rebuilding teams won’t even look at the possibility. Plus, less than a week ahead of the NBA draft, good teams with a chance to contend for the conference finals might be willing to part with a prospect and a late first round draft pick and under the circumstances, that’s more than generous.

Pritchard might be hoping the Lakers would ante up some of that young talent, but thanks to Wojnarowski, they’d look like idiots for giving away anything of value for a player they can sign for nothing in a year.

If anyone thinks Boston is going to give up the talent they fleeced the Nets for to take a risk on a rental, they should think again.

The Clippers should be interested in taking a run at acquiring George as it would help them re-sign their own free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and remain relevant in the West. Not having a first or second round draft pick this year doesn’t help their chances though.

The Cavaliers may be temporarily in panic mode (that should pass), but the reality is, unless the Pacers are in love with Kevin Love, they’ll have trouble coming up with a package that Indiana would be interested in.

The Raptors should be the most motivated to take the risk and they do have some young prospects and a first round draft pick. President Masai Ujiri hates giving away any of his young talent, but for a chance at George, it should be possible to convince him to relinquish something Pritchard believes has value in a rebuild.

If Ujiri can re-sign his own free agents (and he believes he can), the Raptors could have a starting lineup of:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka.

That just might be good enough to win Toronto first place in the East during the regular season and let the chips fall where they may in the playoffs.

At the very least George has significantly upped the potential for excitement at this year’s draft.



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 Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.



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



Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.



NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

ESPN Wasting No Time To Forget Toronto Exists

It took no time at all for ESPN to forget Toronto even exists as they forecast the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals again next year.

Sure the Cavs and the Dubs are heavy favorites no matter what any other team does this summer, but what the ESPN Forecast panel is predicting can only be called bizarre and insulting.

The third place 51-win Raptors don’t even get a sniff ahead of the Bucks team (4.4%) they eliminated from the playoffs, a 49-win Wizards team (2.2%) who they took two of three games from during the regular season or the dysfunctional Pistons (2.2%) who didn’t even make the playoffs.

This panel are either making a ton of assumptions about the inability of Raptors president Masai Ujiri to keep the key pieces of his roster together or, more likely, they just forgot Toronto has an NBA franchise.

The assumptions required to believe the Celtics will win the East next season are not any easier to make happen than those required for the Raptors to be back in the top three of the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards largely face the same challenges this summer that they faced last summer to take another step.

The Bucks are an up and coming team, but do they break thru next year?

The Pistons? Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t predict his team wins the East next year.

It might not be easy for the US based ESPN to remember “We The North” exists, but they could at least look at last year’s standings for some background info before forecasting next year.

There is no one in Toronto that shouldn’t take the Pistons being given a better chance than the Raptors to win the East as anything but a huge insult. Even the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Heat should be questioning how the Pistons are getting more respect from ESPN than they are.



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.