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NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Takeaways From Watching The Rusty Raptors v Blazers

It’s only fair to say, never read too much into any preseason game. The coaches and the players treat them as practice and/or tryout sessions, but there were some takeaways to be gleaned by watching your rusty Raptors beat up on the Trail Blazers 122-104 in Vancouver.

Serge Ibaka as starting center.

Don’t assume the starting center job is Ibaka’s just yet, but it makes sense. What makes even more sense is Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Greg Monroe didn’t play together. Who ends up playing center with which unit will be a question of fit and effectiveness, but we got a solid clue about how head coach Nick Nurse sees these three players in his rotation.

Valanciunas looked like a player fighting for his job and he impressed.

CJ Miles as starting power forward.

Well maybe not, but that was a very veteran starting five Nurse threw out there in his first preseason game as a head coach. Miles could start, but it probably means OG Anunoby, who had the night off for personal reasons, is a good bet to be your starting power forward when the season starts.

Miles shot 2-3 from three and looks ready to go. Nurse will have him slotted into the rotation somewhere.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green looked a little rusty.

No surprise the two former Spurs looked a little rusty, but it wasn’t hard to look past the 1-9 three-point shooting they combined for and see a dominant offensive force coming soon to Toronto.

While Green was barely noticeable in the starting unit as he deferred to Kyle Lowry and Leonard, he stood out with the second unit after half without hitting a shot. He brought a strong veteran presence to a younger group.

The second unit is ready to go.

Fred VanVleet (3-4 from three), Pascal Siakam (13 rebounds), Delon Wright (a blocked shot) look ready to pick things up where they left off at the end of last season. The Raptors bench is going to terrorize opponents again this year.

Norman Powell had a good game.

It’s hard to know if there is anything Powell can show in preseason to crack Nurse’s rotation until someone gets hurt, but he looked good in Vancouver hitting 2-3 three-point attempts and playing an overall solid game.


Nurse gave his starters and key reserves 15-20 minutes of playing time and they worked up a good sweat. His reserves are ready for the season now and the starters worked off a bit of the rust and showed signs of developing some chemistry. It was a solid start to the preseason and a good night for the fans in Vancouver.



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 Norman Powell

Toronto Raptors: All Quiet Up North

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri isn’t known for letting much leak out of his organization and it’s been all quiet up north heading into the NBA free agency scramble that’s only days away.

However, just like last summer the Raptors appear to be slotted in as a luxury tax team with no chance of competing for an NBA title and if the dumping of the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey in order to save a few million dollars by promoting his assistant Nick Nurse is any indication, then the historically cheap ownership in Toronto will have Ujiri jumping thru hoops to save money again this summer.

The little bit of actual news emanating out of the North revolves around the obvious desire to re-sign pending restricted free agent Fred VanVleet and the likely salary dump of Norman Powell. The teaser in this scenario being Ujiri will probably still have to find a way to off load a few more million to stay below the luxury tax threshold, so just like last summer, Ujiri will need to make another move to keep his bosses happy.

The good news, if one can call it good news, is the team is deep enough and Ujiri is good enough at making deals that even with a rookie head coach and no obvious upgrade in talent on the horizon, the Raptors should have enough for another 50 win season and get back to the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, that scenario will sell seats, fill the owners’ pockets and give the organization little rationale doing what it takes to build a real contender.

While Ujiri isn’t expected to tank for a rebuild as that would cost the organization a lot of money, anyone expecting/hoping for a blockbuster deal involving Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan is going to be disappointed. This duo is more than good enough to win regular season games and give Ujiri job security.

It’s going to take something special to pry one of Ujiri’s young assets out of Toronto which makes this unlikely, but anyone interested in center Jonas Valanciunas or power forward/center Serge Ibaka will be listened to. While the trade market for traditional big men is dubious, these two players are Ujiri’s best hope for a trade that brings back less salary and a useful asset accomplishing the organization’s twin goals of respectability on the court and high profits.

More palatable trade scenarios where Toronto takes on salary to try to improve the roster (like going after Otto Porter or Andrew Wiggins) and gives new head coach Nick Nurse a shot at building on last season might be possible as the wild ride that’s about to start as other teams pursue LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and others, but those nearly infinite possibilities would all entail crossing that luxury tax threshold with no guarantee of getting out of the Eastern conference. The history of the Raptors firmly suggests that will never happen.

It’s all quiet up North and the reason being, just like last summer, what Ujiri is likely working on isn’t anything that anyone outside of Toronto will even notice.



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.

Confidently took vacation during the 2018 NBA Draft believing the Raptors weren’t about to do anything.




NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Casey Says Raptors Will Bet On Their Bench In The Playoffs

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey plans to bet on his bench in the playoffs this year. When asked if he could play his 10-11 man deep rotations the same way in the postseason, Casey stumbled over a why wouldn’t I?

“We are going to find out,” Casey said after his bench beat up on the Wizards in Washington on Friday night. “The goal is to find out. Why not? What’s our record right now?

“Why change because of some rule book somewhere, if you find it, please send it to me cause I’ve been on some teams where you keep the same rotation.”

The Toronto bench hasn’t just been good this season. They’ve been outstanding and the eye test says they’ve been getting better as the season has moved along. But don’t just trust your eyes, the numbers confirm the five-man bench Casey rotates in is the best five-man unit in the entire NBA that have played at least 100 minutes together this season. In 207 minutes over 22 games, C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright have a top three offensive rating of 121, a top six defensive rating of 94.7 and a league best net rating of +26.3.

Now no one is going to confuse the Raptors bench unit with the offensive powerhouses in Golden State or Houston that lead the NBA in offensive ratings, but on most nights they are destroying their opponent’s second unit and are often giving the opposing starters brought in to stop the bleeding a rough time.

As Casey rotates in his bench mob, the pace of play picks up, the ball moves faster and opponents often struggle to adjust. As a result, the Raptors dominate the second and fourth quarters.

Toronto is the league’s best second quarter team with a net rating of +14. The next best second quarter team in the East is Charlotte at +4.5.

Toronto also has the best fourth quarter net at rating +8.7. The Celtics are second best at +7.3.

In February, these second unit guys were closing games out for the Raptors.



“We take a lot of pride in coming in off the bench and changing games,” C.J. Miles said.

The Raptors starting unit that has featured rookie OG Anunoby 44 times hasn’t exactly been terrible as they’ve posted a very respectable +12.1 net rating, but the bench can take at least some of the credit for the starters success as they’ve often been the guys to put their opponent on its heels.

Anyone who has followed the Raptors under Casey and president Masai Ujiri shouldn’t be surprised by a commitment to the young guys coming off the bench or a rookie in the starting unit. Player development has been front and center in each of the Raptors playoff runs under their management. The difference this time is, this bench looks like they’re ready to make an impact.



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 Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet

Raptors Counting On Delon Wright And Fred VanVleet

There’s a reason why teams like to carry three point guards that they aren’t afraid to play and with the Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry out with a bruised tailbone, they’ll be counting on Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet to pick up the slack.

Head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy about playing the third year Wright and the second year VanVleet significant minutes this season and the real sticking point may come when he’d like to be running out his three point guard lineup that’s produced some interesting results. However, in the process, he’s gotten these two young guards as ready as possible to cover in Lowry’s absence.

The season-to-date stats for Wright and VanVleet are as encouraging as they are misleading.

Wright has averaged 21.2 minutes over 26 games having missed a stretch do to a shoulder injury and he’s averaged 8.8 points on 50.9 percent from the field, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s as comfortable running the point as playing off the ball and has even soaked up minutes as a small forward. Versatile should be his middle name and he is really at his best when he looks to score, although he prefers to facilitate.

VanVleet has appeared in all 38 games averaging 17.9 minutes, 6.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting, 2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.8 steals. He sees a surprising amount of time in fourth quarters and isn’t afraid of the big moments.

Both players have been getting significantly better as the season has progressed and during the team’s current five game winning streak:

Wright has averaged 13 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent from three, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 25.4 minutes.

VanVleet has averaged 9 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from three, 1.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 0.6 steals in 18.9 minutes.

The Raptors are hoping the trend continues as both players will be expected to carry a heavier offensive load until Lowry gets back.

The Raptors can’t expect to replace an All-Star with a couple of young guards no matter how well they’ve been playing lately and there is no way to know if they can play as well for extended minutes without Lowry’s veteran presence. There can be no question both Wright and VanVleet have looked better playing with Lowry on the court beside them.

Next man up, opportunity knocks and a whole other list of clichés. The Raptors have no choice but to count on their two young point guards. All those minutes Casey has been been giving them this season is looking like it was a pretty good idea 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



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.




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

Raptors Still Trying To Develop And Win At The Same Time

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

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

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

“The young guys are going to play.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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






NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet

Raptors Already Have Another Solid Three-Point Threat

After the Toronto Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, president Masai Ujiri lamented the fact his team’s three-point shooters didn’t make shots going 27-90 from deep. So changes were coming and they came, but he may have already had at least one other solid three-point threat on his roster just waiting for an opportunity.

“I think we have the ability to shoot the three,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report prior to the NBA draft. “But I don’t think we shot the three well. In parts of the season we shot the three well, (but at the end), one, we didn’t have Kyle (Lowry) and (two,) a couple of our guys that usually shoot it okay did not shoot it well and so it’s something we are paying attention to and we hope to get better at.

“There was emphasis on that obviously because Kyle didn’t play these games (versus Cleveland) and we just didn’t shoot the three-ball well as a team.”

Players the Raptors were counting on to stretch the floor in the postseason: DeMarre Carroll (31.8% 3FG), Patrick Patterson (30.8% 3FG), and P.J. Tucker (32.1% 3FG) are now all gone via trade or free agency.

In bound is one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA, 30-year-old guard/forward C.J. Miles, who shot 41.3 percent from three-point range with the Pacers last season. And, he should help, a lot.

Earning a much bigger role in this upcoming season during the playoffs was guard/wing Norman Powell who hit on 44.1 percent of his postseason three-balls.

But sliding under the radar and getting very little attention until July’s Las Vegas Summer League has been last year’s undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet, and for a team seemingly desperate to add more and better three-point shooting, he’s been there all along.

VanVleet had another solid stint in Las Vegas hitting on 8-18 three-point attempts (44.4%) and running a group of players with little practice time very effectively.

However, the undersized guard wasn’t just standing at the arc firing up three-balls. Looking like Kyle Lowry clone, he was driving to the basket and making shots thru traffic with seeming ease. He got to the free throw line a lot (for Summer League) and hit on 15-15 from the charity stripe over his four games.

None of this should be a surprise.

Last year at Summer League he shot 6-11 from three over five games coming off the bench and in college he went 141-365 (38.6%) over his four years at Wichita State. VanVleet is a three-point shooter.

While Summer League and college doesn’t always translate to the pros, in VanVleet’s case, it looks like it has.

In his 16 regular season G-League (formerly D-League) games with the Raptors 905, VanVleet was at his best firing from deep, hitting on 22-54 attempts (40.7%).  Then in his limited run with the big club, he hit on 11-29 (37.9%) versus NBA competition.

He’s not afraid to shoot the three against anybody and so far, the level of competition hasn’t affected his ability to hit them.

As expected, he didn’t play much in the NBA playoffs, but in the 29 minutes he did get, VanVleet shot 2-5 from three.

There was a time when an undersized player at any position was going struggle to get the attention their talent deserved. However, things have changed in the NBA. There has never been more focus on getting and developing effective three-point shooters and the Raptors may have found one in VanVleet.



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





NBA Toronto Raptors Powell Wright VanVleet Siakam Poeltl 2017

Are The Raptors Opting For Youthful Excitement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Stephen Brotherston 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 Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Poeltl, Siakam And VanVleet Cruise Thru Summer League

Rookies no more, the Toronto Raptors Summer League “Big Three” Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have cruised thru the first three games in Las Vegas. They’ve been here before and it shows.

If one can overlook those five turnovers in his last outing where the game against Nuggets turned into a version of “Keystone Cops” at the end, VanVleet has shown off his full range of skills over the three contests.

Driving to the basket and finishing thru traffic, VanVleet has hit on 57.9 percent of his two-point attempts. He’s also hit from outside on 5-11 three-point attempts (45.5 percent) and 7-7 from the charity stripe. Over the three games, VanVleet has averaged 14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals.

There have been those “Summer League Moments” where everyone isn’t on the same page and concentration has slipped, but it’s looked all too easy this time around for VanVleet.

Those Summer League announcers could back off a little on their regular Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse quote that Siakam is “the best defensive player on the Raptors.” That’s stretching things really far.

Siakam is having a relatively easy time in Las Vegas though and is showing off a jump shot that not many would be expecting this soon in his NBA career.

Siakam is averaging 18.3 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 1.7 blocks on 56.4 percent shooting from the field, but the real story is that he has made a three-pointer in each game and has shot 4-9 from deep. The Raptors want more three-point shooting and just maybe Siakam can add stretch-four to his list of attributes?

Poeltl is doing what Poeltl does. He is surprising people with his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive and he is effectively using his size to overpower just about everyone around the basket at both ends of the court. Averaging 14.7 points and pulling in 10 rebounds in each game, Poeltl is finishing at a 69 percent clip and looking very mobile for a big stocky center.

The Raptors newest signing, Alfonzo McKinnie, showed off why he was inked to multi-year/training camp invite contract in Game Three against the Nuggets. This kid can sky for putbacks and rebounds with ease.

Fun to watch and looking like the typical overenthusiastic rookie, McKinnie had 11 points and 11 rebounds against the Nuggets and if he can find some polish to his offense (5-15 shooting), this kid could become a real find.

Stackhouse loves this kid’s energy and it’s easy to see why.

By going 3-0 in the preliminary round, the Raptors earned themselves a practice day before the next round of the tournament starts.



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 Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and Raptor 905 at Las Vegas Summer League

Raptors Las Vegas Summer League Play Starts Friday

The Toronto Raptors will open the preliminary round of NBA Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, July 7 against the New Orleans Pelicans at Cox Pavilion. The Raptors will then face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, July 8 at Thomas & Mack Center and the Denver Nuggets on Monday, July 10 at Cox Pavilion. All games will be played on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus.

After the three preliminary round games, teams are seeded in a tournament format that starts July 12 (schedule t.b.d.) and culminates with the championship game on July 17. Each team will play at least five games.

ESPN will present all 67 games from Las Vegas across its various platforms. NBA TV will air 28 games, starting with the league’s opener July 7, when the Raptors face the Pelicans at 6 p.m. ET.

Current Raptors Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet will headline this year’s squad. First round draft pick OG Anunoby will not participate in the tournament while he recovers from a right knee injury. Raptors assistant coaches Jama Mahlalela and Patrick Mutombo will serve as the team’s coaches.

It’s noteworthy that Bruno Caboclo will not be playing in Summer League this year.

This year marks Toronto’s 10th appearance at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (2006, 2008-10, 2012-17). The Raptors finished Summer League in 2016 with a 4-1 record after reaching the quarterfinals of the tournament.

NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Shabazz Muhammad and Miami Heat James Johnson and Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson

What Is The Next Shoe To Drop For The Toronto Raptors

It feels like things are stalling out in the NBA for trades and free agency as teams wait on Gordon Hayward and the few remaining free agents with profile to decide where they want to go/ who wants them plus what is likely the inevitable return of Otto Porter to the Wizards after he signs an offer sheet with somebody. But until there’s some clarity, the next shoe to drop for teams like the Toronto Raptors is left hanging up in the air.

The Raptors aren’t the only ones looking to dump salary, the Bucks, Celtics? and likely and handful of other teams are also waiting for the big picture to work itself out as well. Toronto, however, after coming to terms with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka is in a must deal versus might or would like to deal situation.

Toronto Raptors NBA

It likely isn’t as bad as being $17 million over the luxury tax line in Toronto. The first year salaries of Lowry and Ibaka combined could be about $5 million less than the three-year average, VanVleet is not guaranteed and can still be released, and their first round draft pick isn’t signed/could still be traded, but if paying the tax is a big deal for president Masai Ujiri, he still needs to move at least one of Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll or (for a partial tax savings) Cory Joseph.

The most obvious shoe to drop is at point guard.

The Raptors have four and nobody needs four healthy point guards on their roster. The easy solution is to waive the non-guaranteed deal of VanVleet, but he’s a cheap option as a third string backup and Ujiri has been noticed trying to shop the $7.6 million expiring contract of Joseph.

A potential deal with Indiana apparently fell though, but solid young backup point guards are a reasonably valuable commodity. Joseph is trade-able.

Ideally Joseph would be packaged with Carroll or Valanciunas so Ujiri could get something of value back and still dip below tax line.

Even if the fan base couldn’t hold the door open fast enough to help Carroll move on, he is still a useful player at a position of need, assuming he can stay healthy. So, Ujiri can’t be too fussy if it’s his traditional slow-footed rebounding center Valanciunas or the disappointing ‘3-and-D’ forward Carroll who he manages to off load to save the tax. Both players are starters and would have a useful role coming off the bench in what is expected to be a higher scoring small ball focused Raptors rotation next season.

However, if Ujiri can find a way to fill the gaps in the rotation caused by their departure, internally, by way of trade or free agency, then both Valanciunas and Carroll could be on their way out for cheaper options.

While what could come back by way of trade is harder to judge, if Ujiri could move both Carroll and Valanciunas, there are still some interesting options in free agency.

The Timberwolves have withdrawn the qualifying offer from small forward Shabazz Muhammad.

Combo forward James Johnson is available and a known quantity in Toronto.

Patrick Patterson becomes a viable option who knows the Raptors systems and has been a very effective, if at times frustrating, glue guy.

Another option could be Clipper free agent Luc Mbah Moute who evolved into a 39 percent three-point shooter last season.

At this point in free agency, the list of second tier options is long. However, the first step is clearing enough space below the luxury tax line to make room.



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 Delon Wright, Cory Joseph, and Fred VanVleet

Should The Raptors Trade Canadian Cory Joseph?

It is widely assumed the Toronto Raptors will re-sign All-Star Kyle Lowry in July and that lands them back squarely in the untenable position of carrying four point guards again next season. So, taking all of their options into account, should the Raptors trade backup Cory Joseph even though he’s the popular local Canadian kid who’s made good?

Joseph was an upgrade at backup point guard when president Masai Ujiri signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2015. The young guard had spent four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs honing his craft, playing in 41 playoff games and collecting a championship ring in 2014.

Just turning 24-years-old at the start of his first season in Toronto, it was expected he’d continue to build on the steady improvement shown in San Antonio and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made sure this local prospect would be given every opportunity to excel.

Joseph has backed-up Lowry and Casey found additional minutes for him with regular two point guard line-ups. Over the two years Joseph has averaged better than 25 minutes a game and had some big moments, but one can be excused if they are having trouble finding “a next step taken” in Joseph’s game.

  • Joseph’s three-point shot that hit 36.4 percent in 2014-15, back-slid to 27.3 percent in his first season with the Raptors and only rebounded to 35.6 percent last year.
  • He is still scoring at the 13.3 points per 36 minute rate he left San Antonio with, his rebound rate is down and his assist rate hasn’t changed.
  • Known for his defense, his steady steals rate of 1.2 per 36 minutes reflects the barely noticeable change at that end of the court as well.

In many ways, the soon to be 26-year-old hasn’t shown any significant improvement in the past four seasons. The shade being thrown at him from some corners notwithstanding, Joseph isn’t playing poorly. He just hasn’t gotten better.

Last year Ujiri unexpectedly signed undrafted free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, bringing his rookie total to three and his point guard total to four. Neither situation making much sense heading into a season with high expectations. If he re-signs Lowry as expected, continuing to carry four point guards still doesn’t make any sense.

The barely acceptable excuse for signing VanVleet was Wright’s injury at Summer League that was expected to keep him off the court for a couple of months into the season, however, Wright is back and looked pretty good after the All-Star break.

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

The 6′ 5.5″ Wright showed defensive potential covering multiple positions and the maturity expected from a 25-year-old. He looked ready to assume the backup point guard role and take his game to another level if given a chance.

The undersized VanVleet has drawn comparisons to Lowry for his style of play. The “younger” 23-year-old was still making rookie mistakes and playing too fast, but the effort, hustle and fearlessness was hard to ignore.

What the Raptors saw from Wright and VanVleet should make Ujiri very comfortable in making Joseph available in trade talks and Joseph should draw plenty of interest from teams in need of a reliable floor general.

Joseph is still young enough that another organization, if interested, will believe they can further develop his game. His contract is modest and the risk is low.

  • Joseph has averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 69 career starts.
  • He’s played in 71 playoff games.
  • At worst, he’s a solid backup and great teammate.

How Ujiri decides to handle his four point guard “problem” remains up in the air and the Raptors opportunistic leader will undoubtedly resolve the issue based on what brings back the greatest value. However, with Luxury Tax issues expected to overhang this summer’s moves, Joseph trade rumors should be starting up any time 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 Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Raptors Undrafted Rookie Fred VanVleet Talks About His Role

That Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri was impressed with the undrafted Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet was kind of obvious going back to Summer League, but signing him to a team-friendly two-year deal and then keeping him on their NBA roster past training camp, that came as a surprise. Just what kind of role could he have as the fourth string point guard on a team that had just gone to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Maybe the signing was motivated by the injury to last year’s rookie point guard Delon Wright who wasn’t expected to be available until the new year, but the signing meant Toronto would have three rookies, two sophomores and two players from two drafts ago. Now that’s a lot of young guys needing a lot of development and no veterans on the bench in case someone got hurt.

Head coach Dwane Casey was going to be sending VanVleet down the QEW to Mississauga to play for the Raptors 905 often and any minutes with the big club would have to be squeezed out of the margins. This would be a challenging season for the rookie.

“It’s tough not being in a natural rotation,” VanVleet told Pro Bball Report. “Sitting for a while and depending on how the game is going, trying to come in and make an impact and I think the few games I’ve been able to come in and spark a run or just change the momentum of the game. I just stay ready, that’s part of being a professional is you don’t get to control when and where you play.”

VanVleet is typically getting his minutes out of blue without warning or any kind of consistency. He has to be ready to contribute and he isn’t going to get more than a minute or two to get his head in the game.

“I am not going to the coaches and asking them if I’m playing or what the rotation is,” VanVleet said. “I trust them and whatever they decide to do, I support it, so I’m definitely not complaining when I’m going in there, but it’s tough and it’s hard to get a rhythm, so that first trip up and down the floor trying get loose and figure it out and then you settle in for a little bit. For the most part I think I’ve been pretty good in those scenarios with few exceptions.

“Any time I get in there, I’m trying to contribute.”

Surprisingly VanVleet has been able to contribute in this unconventional role. There have been games where its been obvious like the recent games against Miami, Dallas and Chicago where he earned to right to play for about 20 minutes because of his positive impact. But it’s his overall impact in the 33 games he has played in that is more impressive. On average, VanVleet contributes.

This season VanVleet is a +1.8 points when he’s on the court and he’s played in just about every type of lineup imaginable in every situation from garbage minutes to key stretches in the middle of games and the fourth quarter. Don’t look at the 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists, instead look at a team best defensive rating of 89.6 points allowed per 100 possessions to get a better indication of what’s been happening with VanVleet.

“Earlier in the season we seen the potential, seen how composed of a point guard he is, seen how much he is working, his work ethic and how good of a player he is actually,” Cory Joseph responded to Pro Bball Report after the win over Chicago. “It’s paying off for us. We need him. A game like today he came in, he was a complete professional today. He was ready to go. He changed the game for us. Picking up full court, with steals, making the right plays. He’s a smart I.Q. player, nobody is going to rush him when he is on the offensive end. He is going to play hard strong defense. He was one of the main reasons we won the game.”

The Raptors have “let” VanVleet gain some experience in the NBA D-League where 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse could put him in the starting lineup and play him big minutes. It probably helped him early on, but the role is so different with the big club, it’s been VanVleet’s ability to adjust that has allowed him to enjoy some level of success with the Raptors this season.

“(The 905) that’s totally different,” VanVleet said. “You get way more time, play more minutes, feel the game out and make mistakes. When you are playing a short span, you got to be almost perfect in those minutes. They are not asking a ton out of me. They are not asking me to come and score 20 points off the bench, but I think part of being young and being a rookie is to come into a game with that fresh energy and maybe change the pace or speed the game up a little. It’s not always indicative in the score, but picking up a guy full court, turning him a couple of times just to change the flow of the game.  Obviously it’s different than being the main focal point of a 905 game, but it’s part of the process and I’m embracing it.

“I definitely go in (to a Raptors game) with the mindset that I’m not taking any plays off. I’m ready to play as hard as I can for those couple of minutes because it’s a short amount of time. I try to play like that all the time, but when you know it’s only five or six minutes, you go a little bit harder, go all out for those minutes while you are in there and try to contribute. I’ve never done that (short minutes) before, but the biggest thing that has helped me was that I was prepared to say nothing has changed, I prepare today like I’m playing and if I do, I do. I’m ready. If I don’t, it doesn’t hurt me.”

VanVleet has done well in his rookie season. He plays hard and doesn’t seem to get rattled easily. His +/- and defensive rating may be a little misleading as coach Casey pulls him when he gets in trouble and extends his minutes when things are going well, but things have gone well often enough that VanVleet has justified Ujiri’s faith in him as a player who will make it in the NBA.



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 2016

Raptors Fred VanVleet Gets The Rookie Treatment

Toronto Raptors rookie point guard Fred VanVleet was getting some playing time coming up to the NBA trade deadline and as someone who likes to drive and create contact, he’s been discovering what getting the rookie treatment means in the NBA.

“You shouldn’t even look for no calls,” All-Star DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report about being an NBA rookie. “Fred probably couldn’t even name all three refs out there. It just comes with the game. We all went through it. We all got to get through it. It’s just part of a rookie year and, you know, you can’t complain.”

VanVleet is enjoying the classic case of veteran defenders knowing referees are going to give them a lot of latitude when this undrafted rookie drives to the basket. Getting hacked, wacked and knocked on his backside without a friendly whistle anywhere to be found is just something VanVleet has to get used to.

“Without a doubt, that’s about 80 percent of the battle honestly,” VanVleet told Pro Bball Report about not getting calls. “That’s part of being a rookie. That’s part of being a player that (the referees) don’t know. If you look at some of the calls Kyle (Lowry) gets, we laugh about it as group cause those are All-Star calls and veteran calls that some guys get and that’s a part of the process too cause when I’m driving some guys eyes light up versus being afraid to foul. That’s a part of (being a rookie) and part of being a young player and growing.”

I am driving pretty much knowing I am not getting any calls. I got to keep that in the back of my head.”

Don’t think for a minute that’s it’s easy for a rookie to keep driving knowing the defender can lay the wood to him and likely get given ‘the benefit of the doubt’ even when there is no doubt about what just happened.

“It’s hard,” VanVleet said. “It’s hard to keep going. It’s not hard to keep the confidence, but it’s hard to know you could look pretty stupid sometimes flipping some up there, taking a shot off the side of the backboard after getting hit. You just got to have the confidence and be a little crazy about it and decide that this is the type of player I am going to be and nobody is going to stop me until coach Casey comes up to me and says I got to be a little smarter about what I’m doing and I take that into consideration, but until that happens I am going to keep going.”

Being unafraid of physical contact is part of the allure VanVleet brings to the table. There are definitely parallels to Lowry in VanVleet’s game. A toughness, a bulldog mentality that suggests VanVleet will find a way to stick in the NBA long term.

One area where the lack of a referee’s whistle can’t hold him back is on the perimeter and although the sample size is small, VanVleet’s three-point shooting at 38.9 percent has been encouraging.

“I don’t feel that when I play I am limited in any shape or form,” VanVleet said. “Other than in Brooklyn, I’ve thought I’ve shot it well and had good looks. I feel that I can score when I’m out there. It’s a matter of growing and being more efficient and each time I play, trying to get better and over time develop as a player.”

“In terms of shooting from the perimeter, I don’t think I have any issues. It’s just that when I get into the lane, obviously with bigger guys around, trying to find a way to be more efficient.”

With Delon Wright back from injury, playing time for VanVleet will get even harder to find and it’s possible one of them gets traded, possibly this week, likely before next season, so what VanVleet is able to do with whatever opportunities come his way matters. Everything he has done, and will do, will be under the microscope.

“It’s just better players, bigger players, limited time,” VanVleet said. “When I do play, it’s under a microscope. It’s just a learning process that most young players go through and it’s part of my development as a player. I’ll continue to grow and get better.”

Watching VanVleet play, there is no question he’s been getting the rookie treatment from the referees and into the stretch drive prior to the playoffs, he can expect the rookie treatment from the coaching staff as well. Minutes will be hard to come by, but the reasons why the Raptors signed him in the summer have become obvious. There is a lot of Lowry’s bulldog mentality and confidence in his game.


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

Are The Raptors Showcasing Fred VanVleet?

For the second game in a row, undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet was given the Toronto Raptors usual backup point guard Cory Joseph’s minutes in what is hard not to describe as an obvious showcasing of a talent someone might covet as we approach the NBA Trade deadline.

“Cory (Joseph) is still a big part of what we are going to do,” head coach Dwane Casey confirmed after the win in Brooklyn on Super Bowl Sunday.

“(VanVleet) has always played well in practice. He has done well with our D-League team the 905. He is a very talented point guard, so we wanted to make sure we gave him a look.”

Casey has played VanVleet for 20+ minutes four times this season, on the road in Orlando twice, on the road in Brooklyn twice and he has looked pretty good in those games averaging 9.8 points, 3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 39.4 percent from the field, 36.3 percent from three and going 9-9 from the free throw line in his last two games.

“I thought he played well,” Casey said. “I liked the way he quarterbacked. He had 4 assists, knocked down his free throws and I thought he did a good job defensively.”

With Toronto losing eight of their past ten games coming into Sunday and several players, including Joseph, looking a little worse for wear at this point in the season, it’s hard to blame Casey for giving the rookie a chance, but with the NBA trade deadline rapidly approaching, it’s equally hard to not be suspicious of the Raptors real motives here.

President Masai Ujiri put four point guards on his roster to start the 2016-17 season and now that last year’s rookie Delon Wright has three D-League games under his belt with the 905, the obvious question becomes, how does he justify keeping all four? Especially when the Raptors are so obviously thin and vulnerable at the big man spots in the rotation.

Wright has averaged 11.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and 1.7 blocks in 26.4 minutes with the 905, so his rehab assignment is going to start looking redundant real soon. If Wright is ready to come back up to the big club, Casey knows what he’s getting as Wright was starting to look NBA-ready at the end of last season.

What Ujiri is going to do about his point guard situation is unknown, but the best reason for playing VanVleet recently was to give him the information needed to make a decision. It’s hard to see all three of VanVleet, Wright and Joseph still on this roster after the trade deadline.



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 Fred VanVleet NBA D-League

Fred VanVleet Reluctantly Admits The Raptors 905 Is Helping Him

Toronto Raptors rookie point guard Fred VanVleet has a lot of confidence and pride, two things he’ll need to survive in the NBA and he’s been taking his “demotions” to the Raptors NBA D-League affiliate seriously and putting in the work. Although, there is more than just a tinge of I don’t really need to be there, when forced to talk about it, VanVleet will admit the Raptors 905 is helping him – maybe.

“I guess that’s a two-part answer for you,” VanVleet responded to Pro Bball Report about playing with the 905. “Number one, I’ve done it and I’ve been doing it and I was ready (to play in the NBA), so I guess you could say it helped me and number two, I don’t know what the alternative is, so who’s to say if I didn’t play (with the 905), I wouldn’t have been ready?

“Whatever the case may be, I was ready when in that moment and I’ve been here with the D-League team, so I guess you could say that was the reason why I’ve been ready, but I just think you’ve got to mentally prepare and physically prepare every day. Work as hard as you can and that’s something I put a lot of pride into, so I think it’s a combination of all those things.”

VanVleet got his chance to play backup point guard minutes with the big club when Cory Joseph missed a game with “flu-like” symptoms and he was ready. The rookie didn’t blow anyone away, but he didn’t look terribly out of place either. It was a solid outing playing meaningful minutes.

At the very least, even VanVleet had to admit the 905 helped get him into “game-shape.”

“Obviously playing and getting game reps helps,” VanVleet admitted. “There is no way to simulate a game other than by playing a game. You can work out all you want to, but until you go out there and go up and down and get into a stance and go for loose balls and make a couple of trips up and down, that’s how you get in game-shape.

“I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. It would be better if I was playing every day, but I don’t feel sluggish or slow out there at all.”

Maybe it’s the 249 minutes he has played in Mississauga with the Raptors 905 over the past month that should be getting credit for that lack of sluggishness? And maybe it’s the practice in eight live D-League  games that made sure VanVleet didn’t look like he was covered in rust when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey threw him out there for 23 minutes in Orlando?

Casey has little doubt about where the credit for VanVleet’s readiness to play belongs.

“It’s just a tribute to our program, top to bottom,” Casey said after the win in Orlando. “The 905, the experience (VanVleet) has down there. He is going to go down there and practice tomorrow.

“It shows how tight our program is. It says a lot about our program, having our guys ready. (If VanVleet) had just been just sitting on the bench down there and not having game experience and game reps as he’s had, he wouldn’t have been ready.

“This is a great testament to our program. The investment we made in the 905 and Fred being ready and stepping up. Fred did a good job.”

Mississauga Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse knows what he’s been able to do to help the rookie as well.

“I think every coach knows that with that team (the Toronto Raptors) they aren’t going to get a ton of practice to get up and down,”  Stackhouse said. “Fred doesn’t get a lot of up and down. A lot of his stuff comes from drill work and having to get his conditioning himself, so being able to come down here and actually being able to get some game reps, it helps him out a ton.

“It’s a little different feel for us when we have Bruno (Caboclo) and Fred, but that’s who we are.”

The 905 was acquired to get players ready for the Raptors in Toronto. Fred VanVleet, whether he realizes it or not, has just joined a rapidly growing list of guys on the big club that have benefited from this investment.



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.





Mississauga Raptors 905 at the ACC

Red Hot Raptors 905 Invade Downtown Toronto

By Frank McLean

Usually when you see a convoy of yellow school busses making their way into downtown Toronto there is some kind of protest going on at Queen’s Park or City Hall or Blue Jays fans storming the Rogers Center wanting them to re-sign Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista.

Instead on Tuesday morning it was an invasion of school children, some 15,011 of them, at the Air Canada Centre which became the largest crowd to watch an NBDL game as the Raptors 905 hosted the Grand Rapids Drive in an early 11am tip off .

Mississauga Raptors 905 fans

The Pistons farm team made the 905ers looked like they were sleepwalking in this one as they were thumped 114-87 ending a franchise-high seven game winning streak.

Even the high energy of an arena full of kids screaming, as most for sure were strung out on sugary drinks and pizza, could not help the home side with some extra energy of their own.

Coming into the game the 905ers had a 10-2 record with a NBDL leading .833 winning percentage, but before the game head coach Jerry Stackhouse was prophetic in his comments before the game that “yes we are winning games, but we have a lot of work to do.”

“Today was just one of those games,” Stackhouse said after the game.

“We were ok in the beginning of the game in the first quarter then they took off and made threes. I think they set a new NBA(DL) record for threes in a game today.”

Stackhouse was right about that one.

This past Friday night the Houston Rockets in their win over the New Orleans Pelicans set an NBA record for three-point shots made and attempted as they went 24-for-61 behind the arc.

Grand Rapids tied that NBA record by making 24 trey’s but they did it on far fewer attempts, 48.

The leading scorer for the 905ers was Fred VanVleet who gets action with the 905 when the Raptors aren’t playing.

However, Tuesday was a little bit of a different animal for the Raptors rookie as six hours after the 905 game ended VanVleet will be in a Raptors uniform on the bench supporting the big club for their game with the Brooklyn Nets.

“I’m ready to play anytime I’m called upon,” VanVleet said about the possibility of playing a doubleheader on the same day.

“I’m always mentally prepared and physically prepared to play. It’s something that I put a lot of pride in.”

But the story of the day was the kids.

The 905 already had a school day game this year in their home arena in Mississauga where they filled the Hershey Centre with close to five thousand fans.

Bringing a home game downtown for the second year in a row is a no brainer as they expose their brand of NBDL ball to a captive audience of school kids just happy as heck not to be in class doing math or english just three days before they take off for their Christmas break.

These late morning games are done in minor pro hockey and baseball and have been a great success at selling their product and making fans out of the game with the kids.

I just wonder. Why didn’t they have these games for school kids when I was in school 40 years ago?



DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.






NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet NBA D-League

Can Raptors Fred VanVleet Find His Groove With The 905?

The Toronto Raptors liked 22-year-old undrafted Wichita State senior point guard Fred VanVleet so much in Summer League that they gave him a training camp invite and made it obvious from Day One he was a likely choice to make the team. However, as the fourth point guard on the organization’s NBA roster, he was going to have to find his groove playing with the Development League Mississauga Raptors 905.

The primary purpose of the 905 is to develop players Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes have the potential to help his team win in the future and it proved its worth last season with Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira last season. This year VanVleet, Caboclo and Jakob Poeltl have made the trip to Mississauga in order to get playing time that’s simply not available to them in Toronto at the moment.

VanVleet debuted with 20 points on 53.8 percent shooting to go with 6 rebounds and 7 assists, but since then he’s had to work hard to make an impact. However, 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse is going to let him work thru every manner of mistake and keep him on the court quite simply because that’s why the team exists.

“Fred’s smart, he knows that if his shot is not going down he’s going to find other ways to help the team, to help his teammates get easy opportunities,” Stackhouse said. “They are going to guard him closely.”

“The thing about my game is a lot of it’s predicated on getting to the line and getting some calls and the thing about getting calls is sometimes you don’t,” VanVleet said. “It can look pretty ugly there at times when I’m going in there failing at the rim, but I’ve just got to keep aggressive.”

Now four games in, VanVleet is averaging 17.3 points on 41 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals and his 905 team is 3-1. He has been getting to the line 4.8 times per game.

For comparison, last year’s Raptors rookie Delon Wright in 15 905 games averaged 17.7 points on 53.6 percent shooting, 5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.6 steals, but Wright started out red hot in November shooting 73.9 percent from the field in what should be considered the easiest part of the D-League schedule.

“My ultimate goal is to lead the team first and get wins and run the show,” VanVleet explained. “Individual stats and all that comes second. Obviously I know I can play a lot better and keeping working and getting better and trying to deliver. A couple of extra assists might make the stats look pretty.”

It was a long time between preseason games and meaningful minutes for VanVleet with the Raptors in Toronto and he needs the playing time available to him with the 905 if he is going to improve.

“It’s good,” VanVleet said about the 905. “I’ve been fairly rusty and just trying to get back into rhythm. It’s just different playing with a different team and some of the schemes we are doing are different. Different cultures, different teammates, different opposition, so I’m just trying to get acclimated.”

VanVleet has looked very good at times, controlling the pace and the offense and playing like a young NBA player among prospects. He’s also looked, as he noted “ugly” at times as well, turning the ball over 2.8 times per game and struggling to finish or get calls at the rim. His long jumpers aren’t falling with any consistency yet either.

However, the purpose of the 905 is to allow players like VanVleet to get comfortable playing professionally and get a chance to play thru mistakes and find their groove. The Raptors believe VanVleet has the potential to become an NBA rotation player and it’s Stackhouse’s job to get him ready so he can prove it when his chance comes.




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 2016

Why All The Fuss Over Raptors Camp Invite Fred VanVleet?

The Toronto Raptors have an entire five man unit of training camp invites trying out for one possible roster spot that president Masai Ujiri could opt to leave open and a couple of those players have already played at a very high level in the NBA Development League, so why all the fuss over an undrafted 5’11 22-year-old college senior who was cut from a very weak Team USA Pan Am roster a couple of summers ago? Why does head coach Dwane Casey seem so enamored by Fred VanVleet?

Toronto already has a third string point guard in Delon Wright who they drafted 20th overall a year ago and while the 24-year-old is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury, he’s expected back in December and the Raptors surely don’t need two point guards on the 15-man roster who’ll spend more time in Mississauga with the 905 than at the Air Canada Centre.

Wright spent most of last season in the D-League as he was overshadowed by second round pick and fellow rookie guard Norman Powell, but the Raptors drafted him because they believed Wright was more NBA ready than a younger prospect and by the end of the season the signs were there that they were right.

In four games in April with the big club, Wright averaged 14.3 points on 53.8 percent shooting from the field, 3.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists as Casey gave some of his regulars a bit of a break before the postseason. It isn’t a big sample size, but Wright particularly impressed in a win over the Pacers where he scored 19 points. There are signs this kid could be as good as advertised by the Raptors when they drafted him.

Despite going undrafted VanVleet did have a solid four year career with Wichita State, however, progress in his development is hard to discern after his freshman season. As a senior he averaged 12.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals and those stats aren’t any better than the previous two years. His shooting percentages actually dropped quite noticeably.

However, Casey saw something he liked and VanVleet got a quick invite to Summer League where he averaged 6.2 points, 3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals in just 16 minutes and managed to hold his coach’s attention enough for a training camp invite. In his first three NBA preseason games, VanVleet has averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists in 15.7 minutes and still gets praise from Casey. It’s a good thing for VanVleet that Casey values things besides stats.

“I love Fred,” Casey said after practice recently. “He doesn’t change expression. He is under control. He is never off balance and that’s one thing you really like about him.

“He does some subtle things that you don’t recognize. On crack downs, he was one of the few guys that really sandwiched (Clippers center) DeAndre Jordan. He got physical with him. Those are things a point guard has to do and he does all the little things that you want out of your point guard.”

No coach Casey, VanVleet is doing all the little thing YOU want out of all your players. Powell got minutes early last season ahead of Wright because he played tough physical defense and Powell took the veteran James Johnson’s spot in the rotation for the same reason plus some unexpected solid three-point shooting. The formula for getting love from Casey isn’t all that complicated. Hit someone on defense every time down the floor, physically impose yourself offensively, and don’t foul (unnecessarily) and you’re a keeper in Casey’s books.

VanVleet says, “Hopefully (the Pan Am team) is the last time I get cut.” However, in the game against the Clippers, Chris Paul let him know just how far he still has to go to make it in the NBA, and no Paul wasn’t really working all that hard to abuse the potential NBA rookie.

“You got to take those (situations) as a young player in the league and just learn from it,” VanVleet said about playing against Paul. “I didn’t play very well to start the game. That was a new experience for me trying to find a rhythm with the starters. Those guys play at a different pace.”

“I put (VanVleet) out there to get him christened against Chris Paul,” Casey said. “That was a great experience for him to go against a veteran, a great player like Chris Paul just to see all the things, the situations a guard like that puts you in.”

It’s pretty obvious Casey likes what VanVleet brings even if it might be a tough sale arguing to keep both Wright and VanVleet on the roster this season. There is no playing time for a developing third string guard who really needs more seasoning in the D-League on the Raptors this season.

What Ujiri really needs is for the NBA and the NBPA to hurry up and agree on the terms to extend the CBA with the rumored expanded rosters and two-way contracts. Unfortunately, union negotiations rarely follow a predictable timetable and the two-sides have until December to cut a new deal.

With Casey’s comments in hand, it’s easy to see what all the fuss over VanVleet is about. The point guard plays the physical style Casey loves. It just isn’t all that easy to see where or how he fits on a roster already loaded with guards.

“I think he’s catching the league’s eye,” Casey said. “He’s an NBA player. I don’t think there’s a question. He just needs some seasoning.”



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.