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NBA Toronto Raptors Danny Green

Does Defense Still Win In The Playoffs?

After a regular season in which every team in the NBA averaged over 100 points per game, every team in the postseason was over 110 and no team was even close to holding their opponents under 100 points on average, it would have been fair to question if defense could still win in the playoffs?

Pay attention and it looks like it’s still possible to play winning defense in the postseason of this new high scoring NBA.

Thru the Sunday night games of the second round, defense stands out. The best at opponent’s field goal percent, points allowed and defensive rating are making noise.

 …………………….opp FG%        Def. Rating     Points Allowed    (Record)

  1. Celtics              39.0                      94.6                   91.4                       (5-0)
  2. Raptors           38.9                      96.2                    92.5                       (5-1)
  3. Bucks               41.6                      99.8                 100.8                       (4-1)
  4. Rockets            41.6                    100.5                   98.8                       (4-2)

Boston has held their opponent’s under 100 points in four of their first five games and stunned the Bucks in game one of their second round series by keeping The Greek Freak and company to just 90 points. The Celtics have sent a message, this once mighty defensive team has their defensive intensity is back and the Bucks had better adjust quickly.

In Toronto fans have been lulled into thinking that with the defensive-minded coach Casey in Detroit and his offensive assistant coach Nick Nurse now in charge that defense wasn’t a focus of this year’s team. Apparently not.

“(The Raptors) have two defensive players of the year,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said in Toronto prior to game one. “Think about that in Kawhi (Leonard) and Marc (Gasol). And you have a first team all-league defender that I coached for I don’t know how many years in Danny Green. And we haven’t even talked about Kyle (Lowry) and (Pascal) Siakam that is taking off. So defensively this is elite.”

Brown isn’t wrong. Lowry leads the playoffs with 8 charges drawn, 12 loose balls recovered and is second with 21 defections.  Siakam has contested an NBA best 44 three-point attempts in the postseason. Coming off the bench in limited minutes, the almost-forgotten-at-times Serge Ibaka has the fourth most box outs.

After the 76ers 108-95 game one loss to Toronto that was only that close because of over four minutes of garbage time, Brown reflected further on the Raptors defense.

“You got to give credit to Marc Gasol,” Brown said. “He was the defensive player of the year for a reason. I thought Serge came in and did a good job athletically making it difficult for Joel (Embiid).

“The way Toronto guards, they really scramble well. They aren’t afraid of attacking penetration.”

The Raptors have held their opponent to under 100 points in five straight games.

In the Warriors-Rockets series, Houston had been playing better defense than their more highly-touted opponent and as a result had an easier route to the second round. But maybe Golden State got the wake-up call as they beat the Rockets 104-100 in game one with defense, holding Houston to 41.9 percent shooting from the field. Not that Houston wasn’t doing a good job defensively on everyone not called KD.

Defense is back in a big way and the easy scoring of the regular season is in the rear view mirror.

 

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

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Can A Nicked-Up 76ers Run With The Raptors?

The second round Eastern Conference playoff series between the 76ers and the Raptors kicks off Saturday night in Toronto with some rather obvious questions about a nicked-up squad from Philadelphia that will need to find a way to run with one of the NBA’s best fast break teams.

“(Fastbreaks are) one of the areas that we have great respect for the Toronto team in how they run after misses,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said ahead of game one. “Just the commitment running after misses and they are unique in that they run after makes.”

Back up forward Mike Scott played the fifth most minutes (118) of anyone on the 76ers in their first round playoff series win over the Nets and while no one is mistaking the 30-year-old journeyman for an All-Star, he is the kind of player that can make a big difference off the bench and as a fill-in starter if necessary.

But Scott has plantar fasciitis in his right foot and that’s a pretty solid explanation for why this deadly three-point threat only hit on 26.1 percent from three in the first round of the playoffs. A bruised heel has him missing at least the first game of the second round, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to be running with Pascal Siakam or even to expect he’ll be 100 percent again until after the summer.  The 76ers will definitely miss a healthy Scott.

It’s no secret that budding superstar Joel Embiid is playing on a sore knee and has already sat out one game of the playoffs, but the 76ers need his imposing presence and he knows it.

“It’s still not there. It’s still trying to get better,” Embiid said at shootaround Saturday in advance of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the favored Raptors. “But that’s an issue that’s going to be there at least all playoffs until I actually get some real time to get some rest and work on myself. …

“But, we did a good job managing it. Obviously I only averaged about 24 minutes last series, so this one I’m definitely going to need way more than that.” from ESPN

“It’s hard because I’m known for playing through anything and pushing, pushing it,” Embiid said. “And in some situations like Game 3, I couldn’t go because it was too much. But like I said, I just got to keep managing it and see how I feel and then go from there.”

Toronto isn’t going to slow the game down because the Sixers are down a key reserve or Embiid might want to protect a sore knee. Head coach Nick Nurse has emphasized the fast break all season and isn’t about to change now.

“(The fastbreak) is part of who we are and it’s usually a lot harder to do in the playoffs,” Nurse responded to Pro Bball Report prior to game one. “The sprint back effort by everybody playing in the playoffs is better than it is in the regular season.

“We want to get it out and attack and even if you can’t complete those long passes to Pascal, you still want to get it out there and run. It stretches the defense and somebody has to go back with him.

“Maybe it takes somebody off the boards.

“Maybe it opens up driving lanes in transition.

“Maybe we don’t get the long pass, but we get to stretch them and open up the paint somehow.”

Now as coach Brown reminded everyone, the 76ers were the top offensive rebounding team during the first round of the playoffs and he isn’t going to play scared. So look for a contrast in styles that should make for an exciting series and a battle of coaching prowess.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Predicting the NBA East Playoff Seeds

The races that matter in the NBA East are all but decided if one is inclined to look past the first round of the playoffs. Predicting the top five playoff seeds has been pretty easy for quite a while now, but the bottom three seeds have gotten even tighter as the season winds down.

The Bucks are all but locked into first sitting four games ahead of the Raptors with six games remaining. The Raptors are all but locked into second place 4.5 games ahead of the 76ers and the 76ers are all but locked into third at 3.5 games ahead of the Celtics and Pacers.

The Celtics and Pacers are tied with one head-to-head remaining in their schedule that should decide who gets home court in a first round matchup.

  • 6th Detroit    38-37, (last 10: 4-6)
  • 7th Brooklyn 38-38, (last 10: 5-5)
  • 8th Miami      37-38, (last 10: 6-4)
  • 9th Orlando  37-39, (last 10: 7-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 35-40, (last 10: 5-5)

The fight for fourth will have a huge impact on which teams grab one of the bottom three seeds and because of their own playoff races, neither Boston nor Indiana can afford to take a night off. This should make for some good end of regular season viewing.

  • The Pacers play Orlando, Detroit twice, and Brooklyn.
  • The Celtics play Brooklyn, Miami twice, and Orlando.

Detroit has a tough schedule. Portland, Pacers twice, OKC, Charlotte, Memphis and the Knicks. If they don’t dramatically improve on their play over the past 10 games (4-6), they will find themselves on the outside looking in on April 13th.

Brooklyn‘s schedule could be even more daunting than Detroit’s. Boston, Milwaukee twice, Toronto, Indiana and Miami. The Nets best hope is that the Raptors and Bucks may be running out their third string for big portions these games as they rest up for the playoffs, and if the Nets don’t beat Miami on the last day of the regular season, they could be the odd team out.

Miami‘s schedule starts out soft and gets rough real fast. The Knicks, Boston twice, Minnesota, Toronto, Philadelphia, Brooklyn. Take one of two from the inconsistent Celtics and the Heat will feel pretty safe.

Orlando has to believe they’ve got a real chance to move up in the standings. Sixth place is not out of reach. A schedule of Indiana, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte has more penciled-in wins than any of the three teams ahead of them.

Charlotte looked like they were still in this race until they dropped a game to the Lakers. Now they have to face Golden State, Utah, and New Orleans on the road. At two games back, their season could be over before coming home to play Toronto and then getting their shot at Detroit and Orlando with what should be an easy win over the Cavs in between.

There is a very real possibility Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami, and Orlando all finish the season with a record of 40-42 and some unimaginable tie-breakers deciding their respective seeding.

  •  Detroit    40-42, (last 7: 2-5)
  •  Brooklyn 40-42, (last 6: 2-4)
  •  Miami      40-42, (last 7: 3-4)
  •  Orlando  40-42, (last 6: 3-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 37-45, (last 7: 2-5)

 

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

  photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

How Fast Can The Raptors Pascal Siakam Up His Game?

With only 10 games remaining in the regular schedule, the Toronto Raptors sit neatly wedged two games behind the Bucks and two games ahead of the Warriors for second place overall and head coach Nick Nurse is “not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results” of his remaining games. What he is emphasizing is the continued development of his emerging star Pascal Siakam.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old Siakam is high on everyone’s list as the Association’s most improved player this season and the surprise second leading scorer on the Raptors at 16.6 points per game is being pushed to do even more despite leading his team in minutes played by over 300 and virtually everyone else on the roster getting time off this season. But, there’s no rest coming for Spicy P as Nurse wants to keep expanding his game.

“Pascal, he’s as fresh as a daisy,” Nurse told Pro Bball Report in Toronto this week. “He’s a young guy and started (his) playing (career) late and has low miles on that motor he’s rolling with.

“We want to keep him in rhythm. I want to keep expanding his game. Get him in more situations to handle the ball, post-ups, start the offense, turn him loose a little bit and some play calling, ISO plays.

“That kid is continuing to grow and we need to see how much he can grow in another month.”

Siakam was getting noticed for his high motor two years ago as a rookie and that’s still a huge reason for his success, but he’s been showing off the P Skills version of his nickname all season and it’s been earning him a steadily increasing role.

Last year as a 20 minute per game backup, Siakam shot the three, but not very effectively at 22 percent and passed the ball, but without a huge impact at 2 assists per game. The potential was obvious, but it was mostly against backups. This year he took the starting power forward spot and he’s never giving it back.

With the blips expected of a developing three-point shooter, Siakam has been effective from beyond the arc at 35 percent, deadly from the corner shooting 40 percent and that alone would have been enough to garner him a lot of attention. Add in his progression in distributing the ball and decision making and it’s easy to understand why Nurse is pushing him to do more.

Thru 10 games in March Siakam is averaging 4.4 assists and Nurse is “turning him loose” to initiate offense and as seen in OKC, putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line. And Siakam has a long rope as he gets his chance to show what he can do. There was no push-back when Siakam ran into a charge with a second left in OKC on Wednesday night instead of dishing to an open Fred VanVleet in the corner. That was precisely the in-game experience Nurse wants Pascal to get in these remaining 10 regular season games because in the postseason teams are likely going to be trying to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard’s hands in crunch time and Siakam could be the deciding play-maker.

The Raptors G-League Finals MVP of two years ago is upping his game faster than anyone anticipated. The only question may be, can he develop fast enough to become a star in this year’s playoffs?

 

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

  

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Raptors Plan On Coasting Into Second Place

Outside of the red hot 9-1 Spurs and Rockets, who are very motivated currently, there seems to be a lot of coasting towards the postseason going on in the NBA these days and the Toronto Raptors aren’t any different as they coast towards a second place finish.

“For the last 12-14 games, (I’m) not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse recently. “We want to play well. We want to pick off wins when we can get them, but I don’t think anybody can get caught up in the results.”

Three loses behind the first place Bucks and 4 losses ahead of the third place 76ers and only 11 games remaining, the Raptors are pretty much locked into their playoff seeding. Throw in the fact their first round opponent probably won’t be set until the last week of the regular season and Nurse doesn’t have a lot to use as motivation.

“It is a challenge,” Nurse admitted. “You can look around the league and it’s kind of going around a little bit. I think you are seeing mixed results all over the place.

“”It is a little bit difficult to focus.

“”I’m happy as always to get a look at some other guys and figure out where they are going or where they are not going.

“For now, (the rotation) is 10 or possibly 11. I’m okay with it now.

“I just want to keep finding guys minutes, continue to polish and expand our defensive coverages.”

So don’t look for Nurse to start tightening up the rotation or reacting to losses to teams the Raptors have no business dropping games to. Like last season, Toronto will be coasting towards the playoffs with 55-60 wins a sure thing and next to nothing to motivate them beyond just don’t get hurt.

 

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

  

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jeremy Lin

Raptors President Ujiri Gets His Veteran Buyout Addition

It’s been a busy trade deadline and buyout market for Raptors president Masai Ujiri. At risk of breaking league rules for having fewer than 11 players on his roster after trading away five players and only getting one in return, Ujiri added a couple of warm bodies from the G-League Raptors 905 and then found a 10-day prospect in Kings castoff Ben McLemore.  But, those hoping Ujiri would find an addition who would be more of a sure thing had to wait a little longer.

Toronto will be the 30-year-old Jeremy Lin’s seventh team in nine seasons, but when healthy the guard has been able to put up points everywhere he’s played averaging 11.8 points in 25.8 minutes over his career and he’s particularly been a thorn in the Raptors side averaging 16.9 points in 16 games versus Toronto.

Lin provides Ujiri what his team needs, a solid veteran backup at both guard spots who shouldn’t be unhappy with a reserve role as the 10th or 11th man and might, possibly, make a big enough impact to command a more significant role. At the very least, Lin is great insurance.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Chris Boucher

Raptors Have Nothing To Offer Buyout Candidates

In what appears to be an historically deep buyout market the Toronto Raptors have nothing to offer players looking to showcase their skills in the hopes of getting that new deal in July. Toronto is solid thru their top seven, Norman Powell, signed to a long term $42 million deal, has gotten his game back on track, they are not going to bench sophomore OG Anunoby as his development is important to the future of the franchise, and even Patrick McCaw seems to have earned a little of head coach Nick Nurse’s confidence on defense. It’s no wonder buyout players aren’t rushing to sign up in Toronto.

Then there’s president Masai Ujiri’s deep commitment to the luxury tax that filling the four mandatory roster spots with cheap help would improve and it’s hard not to believe that isn’t a major consideration. A fact proven by Ujiri adding two Raptors 905 G-League players to his roster.

Now the Raptors like Miller and keep giving him looks and Boucher has been a pleasant surprise, but neither of these players move the needle in Toronto even slightly, they will help Ujiri with his tax bill though. Besides, Boucher is fun to watch as he has the potential to do everything from blocks and steals to rebounds and threes if he can figure out the NBA game. Miller was hurt most of this year so even his G-League stats aren’t very enlightening.

These signings will allow Ujiri to sign players to 10-day contracts and save even more off the tax, so the previously reported Ben McLemore deal can go forward and Ujiri shouldn’t have any problem getting a second 10-day guy on the books before his two week grace period to get back to 14 warm bodies expires.

McLemore, however, is worth a hard look as he brings the one skill everyone knows the Raptors need to upgrade. Over the last five seasons, he’s been shooting the three-ball at 36 percent and in very limited minutes this year he was hitting on 41.5 percent. McCaw is 0-5 from three with Toronto, so maybe McLemore has a chance to steal his minutes?

There are lots of players with NBA experience available in the buyout market who could be important depth pieces on the Raptors if they don’t mind filling the third string role on an already deep team. It’d be nice to see at least one of them in Toronto for the stretch drive and what should be a long playoff run.

 

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 Ben McLemore

Raptors Jump Thru Hoops To Sign 10-Day Contracts

The Toronto Raptors are working overtime to get their roster back above the league minimum 11 players and eventually to the 14 guys they must have under contract within two weeks.

However, the first reported moves president Masai Ujiri has in the works post trade deadline are 10-day contracts for their own 905 wing Malcolm Miller and former Kings guard Ben McLemore, but those guys can’t be signed until Ujiri gets his roster back in compliance with league rules.

Since the Marc Gasol trade appears to have been finalized, the only way Ujiri can be in compliance with the league minimum 11 contracts is if the Greg Monroe trade is still in process. Fortunately the Nets really aren’t going to care if this trade takes another couple of days for all the requirements to be finalized.

However, Ujiri still needs 12 guys on his roster to be able to sign 10-day contracts, so there are some more hoops he’s going to be jumping thru to get these deals done. Basically, he has to sign two players for the rest of the season first.

Expect player news from north of the border to remain very busy over the next few days.

 

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 Greg Monroe

Raptors Dump Greg Monroe On Nets

The Toronto Raptors make a last second trade deadline move and dump Greg Monroe on the Nets.

 

 

Monroe had an expanded role with the Raptors after Jonas Valanciunas was injured, but the veteran center was inconsistent and, apparently, the Raptors think they can do better in the 10-day contract and buyout market.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Marc Gasol

Three-Time All-Star Marc Gasol To The Raptors

The Eastern Conference’s second place Toronto Raptors have made a significant move by adding three-time All-Star center Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies.

The Raptors are sending center Jonas Valanciunas who has missed nearly two months with a thumb injury, guard Delon Wright who has underperformed expectations this season and three-point shooter C.J. Miles who has struggled shooting until very recently and had lost his spot in the rotation to Norman Powell.

The Raptors will now have four open roster spots and must fill three of them within the next couple of weeks (by league rule), so watch the buyout market for veteran three-point shooters.

Valanciunas was having a good season in limited minutes before he was injured, but there should be no question that Gasol is a significant upgrade averaging 33.7 minutes, 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and a career-high 4.7 assists – second among league centers. For head coach Nick Nurse, Gasol will give him the opportunity to play big lineups with both Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the court and that was something he really wasn’t comfortable doing with Valanciunas and Ibaka.

Gasol has a player option for $25.6 million for next season which he’ll probably take and is in line with Raptors contracts with Kyle Lowry and Ibaka.

Raptors fans should expect a re-invigorated Gasol who is coming from the second last place team in the West and has been playing for nothing this season. It’s been five years since Gasol got to the Western Conference Finals and his Grizzlies just barely snuck into the postseason in each of the past two years.

Gasol should give Toronto a counter to potential key postseason opponents like Celtics Al Horford, 76ers Joel Embiid and Bucks Brook Lopez.

 

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 Malachi Richardson

Raptors Clear a Roster Spot – Stay Tuned

The Raptors have announced they are sending Malachi Richardson, a 2022 second-round pick and the draft rights to Emir Preldzic to Philadelphia in exchange for cash considerations. This clears a roster spot for, possibly, another trade so stay tuned.

Toronto now has 13 players under contract and can, potentially, add up to two more players by trade or thru the buyout market.

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Should Raptors Go All-in On Anthony Davis?

If one pays attention to Raptors president Masai Ujiri he’ll tell you he’s doesn’t just look at what’s best today, he has to look five years down the road as well, but the Anthony Davis sweepstakes represent an all-in opportunity that could elevate one team from pretender to NBA Championship contender in one swoop.

There will be competition for Davis, but both of the obvious favorites, the Celtics and the Lakers, have previously kept their hands in their pockets, unwilling to give up their hard-earned accumulated assets even for moves that could radically improve their franchises. They’ve just watched as other teams have traded for Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler and maybe they’ll just watch as other teams pursue Davis too?

As Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer says,

New Orleans has options right now. The Lakers, Knicks, Bucks, and Raptors are expected to make trade offers for Davis ahead of the deadline, according to multiple front-office sources.

but the Pelicans will be taking the best offer regardless of their star player’s wishes, like the Pacers and Spurs did before them.

Take the Raptors, for example. If Raptors president Masai Ujiri were to theoretically acquire Davis for an offer including Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and other assets, they’d immediately become the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Maybe they even win it all and both Kawhi Leonard and Davis commit long term to form a potential dynasty in Toronto. Even if Davis’s agency prefers him to play in Los Angeles

Davis, above all else, wants to win. “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” Paul told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s hard to foresee him leaving a team that makes a title run.

No one should be surprised if the Rockets, Nuggets, 76ers and Pacers make a play for Davis as well.

Years of going nowhere, 13 total playoff games in six seasons, and no prospects for a meaningful postseason again this year would harden any perennial All-Star’s desire to play for a winner and the Raptors have been to the playoffs for five straight years with a conference finals appearance and finished the regular season second overall in the NBA last year.

Adding Davis to a deep Raptors roster would move them from conference finals contender to heavy favorite, so Ujiri can argue adding Davis to Kawhi Leonard improves his chances of keeping both players.

However, it’ll cost Ujiri a big part of of those assets he’s accumulated for the future and some of his assets that his team has been winning with right now.

NBA Raptors Pelicans

Perhaps the even riskier piece the Pels are likely to demand and get would be a future first round draft pick that would most likely be conveyed after the contracts of both Leonard and Davis have expired.

Ujiri showed us he was willing to gamble when he sent the very loyal DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Leonard who could leave after this season. So, maybe he’d gamble again? It does seem out of character for the Raptors president, but with big risks can come big returns… then there’s the lessons learned from the Brooklyn Nets experience and no one wants to go thru 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 New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis

Can Celtics Muscle Into The Anthony Davis Trade Talks?

It’s an open secret that the Boston Celtics want the Pelicans Anthony Davis, however, they are barred by rule from acquiring the superstar until July because of Kyrie Irving’s contract. Despite having the best assets to offer in trade, waiting patiently until the summer opens the door for the Lakers to scoop up Davis at the trade deadline, so Boston will have to muscle it’s way into the discussions now if they want to ensure this prize comes to them.

The Lakers can put together a package of players the Pels will be hard pressed to ignore. Per the ESPN trade machine:

NBA Lakers Pelicans

According to sources unauthorized to speak publicly on the deal, a Lakers offer for Davis would have to start with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and a first-round pick. Davis requested a trade from the Pelicans last week. –  Broderick Turner and Tania Ganguli, LA Times

The two teams can tinker with their preferred trade pieces, but at least one big Lakers contract will need to go to the Pels to make the trade math work and the Lakers can include a first round draft pick, so if no one steps up with a better offer, there is no reason for New Orleans to wait on Boston for a hoped-for better deal.

But Danny Ainge doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch. He can stick his nose in with two of the four first round picks he could be forced into using this summer plus an upgrade to the package the Pels could get if a three-way trade is possible?

Why would the Lakers entertain this? 1) LeBron James just might prefer to be reunited with Irving who must be shipped out if Davis is heading to Boston, and 2) doing a three-way deal could net them a first round draft pick and a deeper roster for this year’s postseason.

The Pelicans? Well, they get full value for Davis.

NBA Celtics Pelicans Lakers

The trade machine suggests everyone is slightly worse off, which can be an indication of a fair deal, but Boston gets to move Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown up a peg in their rotation and with Davis on board, they are, arguably, the NBA’s best shot at upsetting the Warriors (for real now).

The Pelicans get two players with future All-Star potential in Ball and Tatum, the rebuild looks more like a re-load.

Irving and James in L.A. is a core the Lakers management can believe in. This is a pair they can build around for a shot at a title during the King’s tenure. Besides, if the Pels are sold on Tatum over anyone the Lakers can offer and indicate they are willing to wait, this is probably as good as they can get.

There may be no better chance for the Pelicans to maximize their return for Davis than right 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 Kawhi Leonard and president Masai Ujiri

Raptors And Kawhi Leonard Are Completely In Sync

Kawhi Leonard has yet to play both halves of a back-to-back this season for Toronto and recently sat out four games in a row for “load management,” so Raptors fans have been understandably nervous about the health of their team’s newest All-Star. However, they have nothing to worry about. The Raptors and Leonard are completely in sync about how to get the most out of Leonard during the regular season and more importantly, the postseason.

At shootaround in Houston Leonard set the record straight about how the Raptors are working with him this season.

“I only played nine games last year,” Leonard explained. “My first time playing 5-on-5 was probably in September, no October whenever training camp started.

“So it’s just about managing, making sure nothing flares up and they want me to be healthy, I want to be healthy, down the road once the playoffs come.

“So it’s just about making sure that I am good. That there ain’t no downfalls (setbacks) and I am just staying (progressing) at a steady pace.

“I am not hurt or anything like that. I already played three-times the games I played last year. (You) can’t just come out here and run your body into the ground.

“I guess the Raptors understand. They want me to be healthy. I am listening (to them) and we are moving at the same pace.”

No sweeter words could have come from Leonard if you’re a Raptors fan. His team understands him. He likes what they are saying. They are on the same page when it comes to managing his comeback, and, make no mistake (like the Spurs did), it is a comeback after missing nearly all of last 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 C.J. Miles

Can C.J. Miles Be The Raptors Three-Ball Savior?

Outside of Danny Green, the Toronto Raptors haven’t looked good hoisting the three-ball this season. The hope is that as Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet “feel better” they’ll round back into form, but it was C.J. Miles that president Masai Ujiri acquired last season who was supposed to be the volume difference-maker in a new style of play where Toronto shoots over 30 threes a night.

When Miles was acquired from the Pacers after the 2016-17 season, he had shot better than 41 percent on over five three-point attempts per game and he was going to be expected to shoot more in fewer minutes with the Raptors. He did it too, but his shooting percentages reverted back to his historical average of about 36 percent from three. That’s good, but not great. Useful, but not scary.

This season we’ve been led to believe Miles has been playing sore/hurt and that’s why his minutes, three-point attempts and success rate are all way down from last year. So when he returned to the rotation after barely seeing the court after Christmas and hit on 10 of 20 three-point attempts in his last four games, the cry of “he’s back” began to ring out, but do the Raptors really have their badly needed three-ball savior in Miles?

It’s hard to know.

Miles is a savvy vet, an excellent locker room presence and a contributor on offence, but is asking the nearly 32-year-old wing/undersized forward to turn around a sagging three-point attack really fair? It might have seemed so at the start of the 2017-18 season, but no one should be buying into it now.

The best the Raptors have seen from Miles came during last year’s playoffs when he hit on a career postseason best 42.2 percent of his three-point attempts, but he accomplished that taking two fewer three-point attempts per game than in the regular season in three more minutes and that’s not what Toronto needed from him. On a team evolving, like the rest of the Association, into a group that has to shoot the three to succeed, Miles must be a volume three-point threat in as few minutes as possible and maybe, just maybe, that’s asking too much.

If Miles is truly back to 100 percent healthy and no longer too sore to get his legs into his shot, we will see a guy that can shoot 6+ threes in 20 minutes or less at a rate better than 35 percent. He’ll help them during the regular season win as many or more games than last year, but that has never been the goal of a team investing 35 million luxury tax dollars while trying to convince Kawhi Leonard to re-up in July.

If Ujiri can find a trade to improve his team’s three-point proficiency, now’s the 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 Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

Can DeMarcus Cousins Stay On The Court In Today’s NBA?

DeMarcus Cousins had a fabulous debut in L.A. against the Clippers with 14 points in 15 minutes while hitting three three-pointers. It’s obvious his offensive game fits with the Warriors style, but today’s NBA isn’t the same one this highly skilled big man left with a major injury last season. The League’s top fouler is going to have to find a way to stay on the court with referees on a mission to find reasons blow the whistle.

In his first game back, Cousins was called for two fouls in the first three minutes, picked up his third foul 32 seconds into the second quarter and got his fifth foul just 30 seconds into the fourth. NBA referees know Cousins and they know him for fouling early and often.

Cousins had been a top 10 player in personal fouls every season he’d played in the NBA until last year was cut short after just 48 games, but in 2017-18, he was on pace to lead the entire Association in fouls for the fourth time in eight years.

Ask the physical defenders around the NBA about how referees are applying the rules this season and they’ll tell you it’s a lot harder to defend without fouling this year. Scoring is up and it’s up for a reason and it’s on the players to adapt.

Now Cousins does not have to develop a big role to help a stacked Warriors team get back to the NBA Finals for a fifth straight year. Adding an unstoppable big man who fouls out early is scary enough to the rest of the Association. However, getting his personal foul rate down to a manageable level will be important to Cousins in July when he’ll be looking for a new long term max contract.

 

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 C. J. Miles

Five Big Moves For The Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors residing at or near the top of the NBA all season have been gaining respect in the numerous weekly power rankings as the Association’s best team, and in the ESPN midseason forecast, they have become the heavy favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. So what big moves are worthy of President Masai Ujiri’s consideration to a roster that is already deep and about to get veteran center Jonas Valanciunas back from a thumb injury around the end of the month?

Having swept the season series from a Golden State team that is still forecast to three-peat as NBA Champions, Ujiri could believe standing pat is good enough, but those wins came against a “struggling” Warriors squad that had yet to play a game with DeMarcus Cousins, so just maybe they haven’t seen the best from Curry and company. There’s also a real risk one or more of the Bucks, Pacers, 76ers, or Celtics find a way to further boost their roster by the trade deadline.

The Raptors, as good as they are, reside in the bottom half of NBA teams when it comes to three-point percentage and they shoot a lot of threes. Last year’s gunner C.J. Miles is apparently injured, mired in a terrible season and has lost his job to Norman Powell leaving a huge gap at forward for a floor spacer that would be very nice to fill.

As reluctant as Ujiri has been to part with any of his young developing talent, his team’s chances in the postseason would be greatly enhanced with another rotation worthy veteran or two, especially proven defenders that can hit the three. Raptors that should be available include: Malachi Richardson ($1.5m expiring UFA), Greg Monroe ($1.5m expiring UFA), and Miles ($8.3m, plus a player option). All these could be moved with virtually no impact. Plus there’s Norman Powell ($9.4m, in the first year of a four year deal) who would be nice to move, if anyone was willing to gamble on his development. Delon Wright ($2.5m expiring RFA) or OG Anunoby ($2m, with a year left on his rookie deal) should be available if Ujiri gets a player back to fill their spot in the rotation. The reality is, other than Valanciunas, the Raptors bench hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders with any consistency this year.

Ujiri also has a couple of trade exceptions ($2.45m and $2.95m), but any players added without sending salary out adds $3.25 per $1 in luxury tax (ouch). He also has the full taxpayer MLE.

The safer (and cheaper) moves are to tinker around the edges of head coach Nick Nurse’s rotation as other teams face the reality that playoffs aren’t in their future and then, maybe, to watch for more interesting options to begin to open up. However, in terms of sweeteners to get a deal done with a rebuilding team, Ujiri is rather limited having traded a top 20 protected first round draft pick to the Spurs in the Kawhi Leonard deal. He can dangle late second rounders… for what they’re worth? So, if the Raptors want a significant upgrade in talent, one of Ujiri’s young players may have to go.

Some “Safe” Options

Knicks Noah Vonleh

Knicks Vonleh ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick

The Knicks undoubtedly will hope to get more for a young power forward reclamation project (and they might) who seems to have finally found a three-point shot (41.1%) and is gaining some respect as a defender, but as an unrestricted free agent that will likely command more than they’re willing to invest, getting something for the future via trade now should look enticing for a team trying to win the draft lottery.

Vonleh would be a good fit as Pascal Siakam’s backup and be considered a “big move” in hindsight if he can earn his minutes on a team actually playing for something. At the very least, Vonleh can provide Nurse an option if OG Anunoby struggles with his three-point shot or defense against bigger forwards. The Raptors are thin at the four.

Bulls Bobby Portis

Bulls Portis ($2.9m, expiring RFA) for Raptors Richardson, Monroe and two 2nd round picks

Portis has missed most of this season do to an assortment of injuries, but he should be ready to play and the 6’11 power forward brings an aggressive attitude, a high motor, has some three-point shooting and is a solid rebounder. He can also be a handful to coach/manage. He sent teammate Nikola Mirotic to the hospital after punching him in the face at the beginning of last season.

It’s hard to judge what the Bulls can command for a player like Portis, and they’ll probably hold out for a first round pick until they can’t do better than seconds, but at his best, Portis can be impactful, at his worst, Nurse might pull out what’s left of his hair. Portis is worth the risk… might even be worth considering Wright as the trade bait?

Wizards Jeff Green

Wizards Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick

The Wizards season is over, except for Bradley Beal piling up stats, so they may as well start off-loading some of those veterans that won’t be back next season.

Now in his 12th season, the combo forward Green defines veteran presence and is even shooting the three-ball at a half decent clip (36.8%). He would be a useful player to have on the bench of just about any playoff team, so the Wiz certainly won’t miss him.

Some Going-For-It Options

Wizards Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, and Jeff Green

Wizards Porter ($26m plus a year plus a player option), Satoransky ($3m expiring RFA), and Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell, Fred Van Vleet, Miles, and Anunoby.

Instantly upgrading the Raptors three-point shooting with the “3-and-D” forward Porter (39.2%), guard Satoransky (39.2%) and forward Green (36.8%), Toronto gets the bench they need for the postseason and the Wizards off load Porter’s huge contract for some much more manageable options as they hope to engage in a quick rebuild with John Wall’s $170m deal about to kick in next season.

Porter’s contract is a risk as he’ll likely be backing up Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, at both forward spots, but if there was ever a highly skilled player being underutilized by his team, Porter is probably it. He can be a difference-maker for the Raptors this postseason and future salary cap consequences be damned.

It won’t be easy to give up VanVleet, but the Raptors don’t really have a better option to make up the needed salaries to land a big contract like Porter.

Timberwolves Robert Covington and Anthony Tolliver

Timberwolves Covington ($10.5m plus three more years) and Tolliver ($5.7m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell (or Miles), Richardson, Monroe and Anunuoby.

The T-wolves never planned on trading All-Star Jimmy Butler for the All-NBA Defense First Team Covington and a young Dario Saric (who has another year on his rookie deal), but with an imploding season, their hand was forced. Unfortunately, their fortunes haven’t changed, their veterans on expiring deals aren’t likely to return and the “3-and-D” 28-year-old Covington fits better on a team ready to win now. The possibility of acquiring a high-potential prospect like Anunoby should get the T-wolves attention.

Covington has been shooting the three at 37.2 percent and the 33-year-old Tolliver has be hitting on 39.5 percent, so they are just what the Raptors need off the bench.

The only “fly-in-the-ointment” is Covington’s ankle bone bruise which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to heal. If there isn’t a reasonable timetable for his return by the trade deadline, there’s no prospect of a deal.

It would be really nice from a Raptors standpoint to add the former 76er to their roster for the playoffs assuming he’s good-to-go. Covington’s as close to the “missing piece” as Ujiri is likely to find.

 

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

Raptors Rise And Fall With The Kyle Lowry Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors hot start to the season has been showing some cracks lately as, once again, this team’s success rests in the hands of their four-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

It isn’t hard to see when the Raptors are in trouble. Their three-ball isn’t falling and when the usually reliable Lowry tries to step in and provide some long range help, his shots go astray as well. Lowry is putting up six threes on average, win or lose, but in wins, he hits on 43.2 percent and in losses he only sunk two in 24 tries or 8.3 percent.

“Missed a couple of shots,” Lowry said after the OT loss in Boston. “I got to play better.

“Shooting the ball pretty bad lately. So I got to find a way to get a rhythm.”

Even with a 12-4 record and sitting top 10 in three-point makes and attempts, Toronto isn’t a great three-point shooting team. They hoist an impressive 33.6 three-point attempts per game and make a respectable 11.2 threes, but even in wins they only shoot a pedestrian 36.8 percent and in losses that plummets to a terrible 24.4 percent. There’s a temptation to give the opposition some credit for great perimeter defense, but that would be a mistake. The eye test says, when the Raptors shoot poorly, it’s mostly on themselves.

Watching the Raptors in losses is frustrating. A team that averages 118.7 points in wins puts up nine fewer points in losses and doesn’t look like they could put the ball in the ocean from beyond the arc. If Lowry and company could hit threes at the same lukewarm pace they sink them in wins, they’d put up about 13 more points and most if not all of those Ls would be Ws.

It’s early days in the 2018-19 season and most teams are going thru some kind of struggle to get in shape, find their shooting touch, and/or create or re-create some team chemistry. The hot start Raptors came out the gates with is largely on the shoulders of Lowry and when he’s off his game, it shows.

Outside of Danny Green and the injured Norman Powell, no one on the Raptors is hitting threes at the rate expected over the entire season. Minor injuries and unfortunate distractions have undoubtedly hurt the Raptors rhythm.

However, even as the rest of the crew finds their stroke in the weeks ahead, the guy putting the most pressure on opposing defenses from deep is still going to be their starting point guard. Higher expectations based on a significantly upgraded roster aside, this team still rises and falls with Lowry.

 

 

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

Have The Toronto Raptors Adopted A Canadian Identity?

Like a typical Canadian, the Toronto Raptors appear to be deflecting and apologizing in advance of what should be the most successful season in franchise history. This team has never had this much talent or so many good young players fighting for recognition while playing behind proven veterans.

It’s a situation that seems to have Brian Windhorst of ESPN somewhat confused, but Americans have always had a little trouble understanding the Canadian identity.

The Raptors are a big, bad, beast of a team

When it was pointed out to various Raptors that their wing-loaded roster, the presence of a signature star and experienced gritty, defensive-minded All-Star point guard, plus their devotion to shooting 3-pointers, made them a bit of a Houston Rockets-East, they ran from the comparison.

Lowry outright laughed. As did new coach Nick Nurse

It’s one thing to not want to put anything on an opponent’s bulletin board. It’s another to try to demur as a defensive mechanism for later danger.

Windhorst sees the Raptors as shrinking away from the obvious greatness of this new roster because of the past failures in the postseason and the future risks associated with free agency, but no Canadian team would publicly want the comparison to the 65-win first place overall franchise of last year or the previous champion. It’s not how things roll north of the border.

“Oh no, I wouldn’t say that,” Nurse said about the Rockets’ comparison. “We just really like our versatility.”

“We have a long road before we ever think about matching up with the champions like Golden State,” Kawhi Leonard said.

Toronto had the second best overall record in the NBA last season with 59-wins and the additions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and (even) Greg Monroe have significantly improved every aspect of their roster and preferred style of play. A prolific three-point shooting team with a top six defense just added two superior three-point threats and All-Defensive team selections to their starting lineup in Leonard and Green while moving out the worst three-point shooter and defender in last year’s starting lineup. (Sorry DeMar, Toronto still loves you)

it doesn’t take much imagination to see the Raptors as a nasty defensive team that flings 3-pointers by the bushel

All sports news and comparisons live in the moment and if the Raptors were to get swept by Boston and Washington in their first back-to-back of the season, ESPN would just as quickly be throwing doubt on new head coach Nick Nurse and be speculating how long it will take for Kawhi to be pushing for a trade. Conversely, if Toronto beats the Celtics and the Wizards in games two and three of the season, Windhorst’s vision of the “big, bad beast of of team” will be the hot topic.

Of course neither result really means all that much at this time of the year.

Sorry.

 

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 Spurs DeMar DeRozan vs Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Is The Better Scorer DeMar DeRozan or Kawhi Leonard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard

 

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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