The Toronto Raptors held an open practice at the the home of their new NBA D-League franchise in Mississauga on Wednesday and a nice crowd gave an enthusiastic response to a soft workout by the players followed by a pickup style game with a shot clock and referees. This free event was a gift to the fans and a promotional event for the Raptors 905, but it added to the growing list of clues head coach Dwane Casey has been letting slip about his intended rotation at the start of the regular season.
The black and white scrimmage featured the now anticipated starting unit of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas in one group.
The second group featured a starting lineup of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo.
While an open practice doesn’t even hold the meaning of a a preseason game, it does appear to confirm Coach Casey’s recent comments about how effective Scola was with the starters and that Patterson will provide three-point shooting off the bench again this season.
With the starting lineup seemingly solidified, the most interesting observation comes at backup small forward. Caboclo has been getting a lot of burn at small forward off the bench during preseason and has earned some compliments from his head coach in the process. Perhaps the most important observation is Caboclo isn’t getting noticed for screwing up, he actually looks like he belongs.
Every year Casey talks about wanting to run with a nine man rotation, something that never seems to happen, but this year it would actually make sense. Joseph deserves extra minutes in Casey’s favored two point guard lineup and Ross should be able to easily shift to small forward in small lineups. Those moves limit Casey’s need for a bigger backup small forward like Caboclo and the second year forward will likely see some time in the 905, but he’s a player to keep an eye on this season. Casey designating James Johnson as a four/five this season only makes Caboclo’s situation that much more interesting.
During the black and white scrimmage the first substitutions off the bench for both units were at power forward. Anthony Bennett stepping in for Scola with the starters and Johnson taking over for Patterson in the second group. Thus setting up one of the bigger, and likely season-long, battles to be the Raptors fifth big man.
Casey knows what he has in Johnson. The versatile forward started 17 games for Casey last season and is a proven, if inconsistent, commodity. There is no doubt Johnson can help the Raptors if a big man gets in foul trouble or is injured and there are signs his suspect jump shot may have improved over the summer.
Bennett had a breakout summer with Team Canada. He is in the best shape of his career according to Canadian head coach Jay Triano and Bennett wasn’t injured over the summer – for the first time in a long time. However, Bennett was cut by the Timberwolves which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of his potential as an NBA basketball player, but this former number one overall draft pick does leave one with the impression we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
Bennett is a local product who chose to come home to play and that will weigh in any decision about his playing time – assuming he keeps progressing along the path witnessed this summer and he doesn’t get hurt again. As both Bennett and Johnson will be free agents after this season, this is another battle worth watching.
The Raptors Open Practice event was fun for the fans and everyone got a good look at all the team’s players, prospects and those likely to be playing with the Raptors 905 in November. But even in an event that wasn’t taken all that seriously, Coach Casey started out with the five-man units he needs to build chemistry before the season opener that is now less than one week away. For a throw-away practice, this was interesting to watch.
“I thought (Scola) was solid,” Casey said after Scola started. “I thought his I.Q. was good. He was in the right places. He made the right decisions with his passes. He made his shots. He made (the Cavaliers) pay for putting a smaller four on him in the post which is smart on his part. He did a very good job in that (starter’s) position.”