Veteran 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 journalist in Toronto that keeps coming back for more. Frank takes a look at the current Raptors roster to provide his unique insights into the team and provide some guidance about what to expect and what to worry about for the coming season.
“I started covering sports in 1983 when I picked up a volunteer job at CFMU radio, McMaster’s 50 watt FM station in Hamilton,” McLean said. “The first year I did the Leafs was Wendel Clark’s rookie year out of junior. There was this small cafeteria in the Gardens and they introduced me to this Wendel Clark character who turned into a legend in Toronto and that was the first person I sat down with a tape recorder and talked to. (Covered the Raptors since) their first year in the preseason and the opening night against the Nets and from then on I have been at pretty much every home game in the franchise’s history.”
To start, McLean takes a look at this year’s starting lineup on the Raptors and then every remaining player on the 15 man roster.
“Kyle (Lowry) looks like he is doing what they wanted him to do. He is actually playing some defense and he is actually shooting the ball. This is what they wanted from him last year.”
“DeMar DeRozan looks like he has finally got it now going into his fifth year. I thought in his second year under his previous coach they had asked him to grow up 3 years in 1 year and that set him back. Now after a full year of Dwane Casey, he understands his defensive commitments and he is doing what a guard does when he has the opportunity to shoot the ball, he is shooting and he is not afraid to and he’s not intimidated by who is guarding him.”
“Walt Frazier, legendary Knicks (player) and long time broadcaster said, ‘DeRozan, he’s good now!’ and coming from Walt Frazier, that says something. I mentioned that to (DeRozan) in the dressing room when I said hello and his eyes lit up.”
“Rudy Gay seems interested. He seems enthused. He is shooting free. I wonder if he is hoping that he gets traded at the deadline or if he actually likes it here. I hope he really likes it here and would like to stay and if he can be the Rudy Gay that Memphis wanted and was hoping for when they drafted him, a guy who can average 20 points a night and get some rebounds and be the guy you can get the ball to in the last 30 seconds of the game and let him make that shot – what Vince Carter used to do.”
“Everybody in the arena knew that when the Raptors were down by 1, they were drawing the play up and the ball was going to Vince – he wanted that ball and he would take it and go for the win. Hopefully in Rudy Gay’s case, he is ready to grasp that role because that is something the club needs and they have never had anybody in the last few years – the who are you going to give the ball to the end of the game when you have a chance to win it. Rudy Gay has done that in the past and he seems healthy and happy. When you see him on the court, he has a smile on his face that he is enjoying himself and he wasn’t enjoying himself last year. I think he had a lot of aches and pains and was not saying too much – he wasn’t healthy (last year).
Amir Johnson is going into his ninth year. You just hope he stays healthy. He can contribute and may be that second option when Rudy is double-teamed. Rudy is going to be double-teamed, even triple-teamed a lot because of his background and the type of game he plays, so Amir is going to have to step in there and make a couple of big shots as a second option and hopefully he can do that. He will be more of a defensive option because Rudy Gay is going to be the cherry picker; Amir is going to have to get back there to help out the point guards (on defense) and try to get the ball up to (Gay).
(Valanciunas) is in his second year. Now he understands what the NBA is all about. The whole world of professional basketball in North America is not European basketball. It’s the first thing European hockey players learn when they come to North America, you are not playing a 40 game schedule, you are not playing 2 games a week and the longest road trip isn’t 3 hours by train. Its back-to-back nights. You are playing at home one night and the next night you are on a plane and at three in the morning you are arriving in Milwaukee and you have to get up with your sore body from the night before and go play a game – 82 times a year. He seems to have adjusted. He’s hit that rookie wall that every coach talks about, so now he knows what to expect and he can prepare himself physically and mentally. Now when you are watching him in preseason you are seeing him learning the NBA, not being afraid in the paint, doing the dirty work and getting the rebounds, drawing fouls and going to the line. (The Raptors) are going to ask him to do that. It takes a year to adjust, especially a rookie that has to adjust to pro ball regardless.”
“(Valanciunas) is everything the scouts drooled about that went over to Europe and saw him 2 years ago and said ‘this kid Toronto drafted is going to be something’ and you are starting to see that. Just don’t expect him to win an MVP this year.”
“(Hansbrough) is another rebounder. This team has lacked rebounding and three-point shooting, consistent rebounding and anyone who can shoot a 3 consistently. Hansbrough comes off the bench and Toronto fans are going to like him. Toronto fans have that hockey mentality and he gets in there with the elbows and he likes it rough. He likes to rebound and he likes to clear the paint and the fans are just going to love this. He may have a 20 rebound game – one of those exceptional nights – kind of like a Popeye Jones used to do. Popeye Jones used to play that same type of role. He would get in there under the basket in the paint and just start shoving guys around and boxing people out and for the longest time he had the club record for the most rebounds in a game. I can see Hansbrough having some big nights – 16, 17, might even put up a 20 rebound game. If he gets to the line enough and draws enough fouls, I could see a 20/20 game in there sometime this year, you just never know. He is going to be fun to watch.”
“They wanted (Landry Fields) to be the first guy off the bench. He didn’t have the type of year they expected or the year Landry Fields expected out of himself. He has been the first option again. He is moving the ball up the floor – which is what a guard does is move the ball up the floor and he’s making shots and he is making good shots. He is making good shot selection, he is not taking bad shots like last year. (Last year) he’d be taking shots – why are you shooting from there? This year he seems to have slowed the game down and making sure he takes that right shot and if he can’t make a shot, he is getting the ball to somebody who can.”
“Another thing I was talking to Walt Frazier about – what has impressed him – was the ball movement. It seems like every one of these guys we just talked about, they are moving the ball around. If they can’t get a shot, they are getting the ball to someone who can and they are using the shot clock and that’s something that will help them be competitive in games against those higher echelon playoff teams.”
“Augustin” has the track record. He has been in the league for 5 years. He seems invisible during games, but maybe (it’s because) there are so many bodies out there? You only have 48 minutes and you are trying guys out and I think it has just gotten to the point where he is lost in the shuffle. Maybe we’ll see the D.J. Augustin that was in Indiana once the regular season starts. He is the guy with the 5 years experience. He is the guy you are going to want coming off the bench.”
“The games I have seen Buycks in, he has sped the game up. He plays at a higher pace than (Augustin or Stone). There may not be room for him. He might be the 10th or 11th guy on the bench. He may end up in Bakersfield in the D-League, who knows. He needs minutes and if he doesn’t get it here, he may end up getting it in the D-League. I don’t think he is going to get those minutes here unless there are a lot of injuries.”
“(Stone) might be one of those guys that you have low down the bench who comes in when you want some energy. Stealing a hockey term – you have the energy line – 3 guys who go out there that have hands of stone when it comes to (scoring), but they go out there and they cause havoc. Maybe he’s the guy to go out there and play some hard defense and get the ball up the floor and into the hands of the people that know how to shoot. He doesn’t have to shoot, just create some energy in a dull game and give the team a kick in the butt sometimes in a game that might be starting to get away from the Raptors.”
“If I had a Loonie for every time Casey said we have to improve our three-point shooting, I would have had a very nice summer holiday this year. They so desperately need a guy who is just a three-point shooter to come off the bench – like a place-kicker in football – and just start shooting threes. Hopefully he can be what Donyell Marshall was with this team a few years ago, a guy that can just hit the threes. I did that game when Marshall set the NBA record (tied with Kobe Bryant at 12) for threes made. He just kept setting up in the corners and he was lights out. They haven’t had in my opinion had a guy you can rely on for three-point shots since Donyell Marshall was here.”
“I haven’t seen enough of (Daye) yet. I don’t know if the coaches have either. It might be to the point where we are trying to get a read on you, but we have so many bodies and only 48 minutes in a game. I think he has been just lost in the shuffle.”
“One of my favorite people to talk to and a great guy and I wonder if there is something left for Aaron Gray to be around here. He is just such a good guy in the dressing room. The (other) guys just might be better than him now to do that role – that can play 20 minutes and get the rebounds and do the dirty work under the hoop. He might be a good guy that has to find another job somewhere else and in a 30 team league, there is going to be job openings if it comes to that.”
“He may be a coach-in-waiting. He is going into his 7th year and he does have basketball smarts. If you go in the dressing before the game, some nights he is the only one in there watching the tape of that night’s opponent and he’s pointing stuff out. I see him talking to other players. There might be a coaching role in there. He is already breaking down film and he is still a player – there is an assistant coach job somewhere down the line.”
“Terrence Ross, now there is an enigma. He won the slam dunk competition, but that’s like winning the home run derby in the baseball All-Star game, it doesn’t mean anything. The common theme when you talk to people from around the league is you just don’t know what you are going to get from him. Some nights he is making shots and other nights he is not, it’s not consistent from game to game. Defensively, I don’t think he has a clue about how to play defense, but he’s a second year player and who does? I just don’t know. I don’t know if he has regressed or just hasn’t improved at all. Until he learns how to consistently make his shot, I just don’t see any chance of him getting large minutes.”
“This team has improved talent-wise since the end of last season, there is no question there. There may not be minutes for Ross unless he learns to play better defense and be able to make shots consistently.”
“(Acy) tries hard and looks like he doesn’t want to go back to the D-League. Rebounds well, but if he could shoot more consistently, he probably would get more minutes.”
A special note of appreciation to Frank McLean for taking the time to share his insights into the team.