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Raptors Lou Williams Wins NBA’s Sixth Man Award

The Toronto Raptors will present the 2014-15 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award to Lou Williams this afternoon at 3:30 pm in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel Ballroom, Toronto. Williams won the award with 78 out of a possible 130 first place votes. The Celtics Isaiah Thomas finished in second place with 33 first place votes.

Press Release

NEW YORK, April 20, 2015 – The Toronto Raptors’ Lou Williams, who averaged a career-high 15.5 points this season and helped Toronto win a franchise-record 49 games, is the winner of the 2014-15 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award as the league’s best player in a reserve role, the NBA announced today. The 6-1 guard becomes the first Raptors player to earn the honor.

Williams, in his 10th NBA season and first with the Raptors, amassed 78 first-place votes and 502 total points from a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics finished second with 324 points (33 first-place votes), and two-time winner Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers was third with 131 points (eight first-place votes).

Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. To be eligible for the award, players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

Williams came off the bench in all 80 of his appearances and averaged 25.2 minutes. He led or tied for the team lead in scoring 18 times, second most in the league for a reserve, and the Raptors went 14-4 in those games. The 28-year-old also led the Raptors in free throw percentage (86.1) and made a career-high 152 three-pointers, nearly double his previous high of 88 set with the 76ers in 2010-11. On March 4, Williams set a Toronto record for points in a quarter with 21 in the fourth period against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As part of its support of the Kia Sixth Man Award, Kia Motors America (KMA) will donate an all-new and more capable than ever 2016 Kia Sorento LX CUV to The Remix Project — which helps young people from disadvantaged communities who are trying to enter the creative industries or further their formal education — on behalf of Williams.

The 2014-15 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award is part of the Kia NBA Performance Awards, a series of on-court performance awards. For the second year in a row, complete media voting results for each NBA annual award will be posted on nba.com/official after the announcement of each winner.

Below is the all-time list of winners:

ALL-TIME KIA NBA SIXTH MAN AWARD WINNERS

1982-83 Bobby Jones, Philadelphia 76ers
1983-84 Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics
1984-85 Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics
1985-86 Bill Walton, Boston Celtics
1986-87 Ricky Pierce, Milwaukee Bucks
1987-88 Roy Tarpley, Dallas Mavericks
1988-89 Eddie Johnson, Phoenix Suns
1989-90 Ricky Pierce, Milwaukee Bucks
1990-91 Detlef Schrempf, Indiana Pacers
1991-92 Detlef Schrempf, Indiana Pacers
1992-93 Clifford Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
1993-94 Dell Curry, Charlotte Hornets
1994-95 Anthony Mason, New York Knicks
1995-96 Toni Kukoc, Chicago Bulls
1996-97 John Starks, New York Knicks
1997-98 Danny Manning, Phoenix Suns
1998-99 Darrell Armstrong, Orlando Magic
1999-00 Rodney Rogers, Phoenix Suns
2000-01 Aaron McKie, Philadelphia 76ers
2001-02 Corliss Williamson, Detroit Pistons
2002-03 Bobby Jackson, Sacramento Kings
2003-04 Antawn Jamison, Dallas Mavericks
2004-05 Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls
2005-06 Mike Miller, Memphis Grizzlies
2006-07 Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix Suns
2007-08 Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
2008-09 Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
2009-10 Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks
2010-11 Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Lakers
2011-12 James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
2013-14 Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
2014-15 Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

Lou Williams warmup shooting by Paul Saini FYLMM

Will The Raptors Lou Williams Win The NBA Sixth Man Award?

The sentiment in Toronto is strong. Lou Williams should be recognized hands down as the best man off the bench in the NBA. The Raptors would not be on the verge of setting a new franchise record for wins in a season without his instant offense. However, he is not the only reserve making a big impact for their team this season. Other cities can point to bench players making a huge contribution to their team’s success as well.

There are the obvious scoring leaders off the bench in contention for Sixth Man honors and some less obvious but equally impactful players filling up the rest of the stats sheet. These are our choices for the best of the NBA’s reserves.

Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

In an unusual twist for a player coming off the bench, Lou Williams has led the Raptors in scoring 17 times and his team has won 14 of those contests. If you didn’t understand why Toronto believes they have the NBA’s Sixth Man before, you should now.

After 80 games, Williams leads all NBA reserves in scoring (1226 points), field goals made and attempted (372/915), three-point field goals made and attempted (152/443), and free throws made and attempted (330/384).

Williams has been a reliable points producer for the Raptors game-in and game-out, only failing to score in double-digits 16 times and putting up 20 or more points in 20 games.

Not known for his defense, Williams is second among reserves in total steals at 87, just one back of defensive specialist Andre Iguodala and his total plus/minus while on the court (+292) is third behind Iguodala and Manu Ginobili. At a plus/minus of +3.7 points per game, Williams has a significant positive impact that stands out over the other top scorers off the bench.

Williams totals are boosted by the fact he has come off the bench in 79 games whereas the two reserves that just edge out his points per game scoring (15.5) have played significantly fewer games. However, you can’t help your team win if you aren’t playing. He is third in minutes played off the bench (1985), trailing only Andre Iguodala (2031) and Patrick Patterson (2004).

Williams has averaged a pedestrian 40.7 percent shooting from the field and 34.3 percent from three-point range, but there is no arguing with how effective his shooting has been in winning games or his impact on the court.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

In 64 games off the bench, Isaiah Thomas leads all reserves at 16.4 points per game and just edges out Williams number of trips to the charity stripe (5.2 to 4.9). Thomas has scored 20 or more points 27 times this year and has a respectable plus/minus of +2 points per game.

Thomas can claim the better shooting percentages at 42 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from deep and he piles up the assists at the third best rate of 4.2 (tied with Manu Ginobili), however his chances of Sixth Man recognition are both helped and hurt by the midseason trade to Boston.

In 19 games with the Celtics, Thomas is averaging 19.6 points and 5.3 assists off the bench and he is a big part of the reason Boston is in the playoff race and should claim a playoff spot. However, the sample size is probably too small to win him an award.

Jamaal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

In one of the Country’s biggest media markets the impact of Jamaal Crawford doesn’t go unnoticed, but unfortunately, the biggest thing about this season that has been noticed is the 17 games in a row that he missed in March and early April.

Crawford is averaging a second best 16.1 points per game off the bench, but he is shooting just 40.1 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three. Throw in the plus/minus of +1.8 points per game and the recent 17 game absence, and it’s going to be tough to argue how he edges out either Williams or Thomas – playing a tougher schedule notwithstanding.

Crawford probably doesn’t win any awards this season, but the Clippers are a lot more concerned about just getting their instant offense off the bench ready for the postseason. At 35-years-old, he is still their Sixth Man.

Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

It’s easy to look past the Spurs for almost every award, their own standards are set so high that excellence is just expected. However, in the rush to reward pure offense, the overall game of Manu Ginobili deserves a second look.

At 37-years old, Ginobili has the second best plus/minus total of the bench at +326 points (+4.8 points per game). His 285 assists leads all players off the bench and he still shoots a respectable 43 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three-point range and scores 10.7 points per game. Like some of the other Spurs players, his impact begs the question, how does he still do it?

Ginobili probably gets overlooked in the Sixth Man conversation, but he shouldn’t be.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

Andre Iguodala can start and score when asked to and he has proven it in the past, but he has set aside his own personal scoring statistics and minutes for a chance at a championship and his overall contribution to the NBA’s top team shouldn’t be ignored.

Leading all bench players in minutes played (2031), plus/minus (+441 points) +5.9 points per game and in steals at 88 total, Iguodala still makes the most of his limited scoring opportunities at 8 points per game by shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from deep.

If one sits back and takes a hard look at the offensive powerhouse that is the Golden State Warriors, it would be fair to question if this team would be 15 wins better than last year without Iguodala coming off the bench?

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

Lost in the fanfare of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, an down then up season and some major trades, Tristan Thompson has quietly put together a huge season off the bench in Cleveland.

Thompson averaged a double-double in 14 games as a starter and off the bench in 65 games he kept pace with 7.5 points and 7.7 rebounds. Thompson has maintained a solid plus/minus as a reserve at +4.4 points per game and he has become a dominant offensive rebounder leading all reserves with over 200 offensive rebounds and 501 total rebounds off the bench – 85 more total boards than the next best bench rebounder (Raptors Patrick Patterson 416). Thompson leads all reserves with 8 double-doubles off the bench (tied with J.J. Hickson).

Getting noticed in Cleveland isn’t going to be easy, but he shouldn’t have any trouble getting noticed as a free agent this summer.

Honorable Mention

This list of bench players making noise is by no means all-inclusive. Honorable mentions to Ryan Anderson, Kelly Olynyk, Boris Diaw and Josh Smith should be made.

Our choice for the NBA’s Sixth Man this season goes to the Raptors Williams. Give us your selection in the comments.

 

 

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.

photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

Lou Williams warmups by Paul Saini FYLMM

An Almost All-Star, Lou Williams Is The Raptors X-Factor

The Raptors guard Lou Williams comes off the bench for Toronto, but he received 82,135 All-Star votes from the fans this year and that was almost as many votes as the Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. There is a reason for Williams’ popularity, when he is on his game, the results are spectacular.

However, the door does swing both ways for Williams. When he is hot, he’s unstoppable and when he’s cold, Head Coach Dwane Casey has to realize it quickly or he will shoot his team out of a game. A true X-factor who impacts the outcome of a match both ways and he’s been hot a lot this season.

“A shooter never forgets,” Casey said after the Raptors final game before All-Star break. “It’s just like riding a bike. He is not going to forget how to shoot. The good thing tonight, when he wasn’t shooting, he did a good job of quarterbacking, not turning it over, making solid plays and playing defense. Those are the things that he did that allowed him to get his rhythm offensively. If you are not scoring and you’re not defending, then you are not playing probably. He did a great job of doing both of those. He defended and then when his shot wasn’t going he distributed and then he got to the free throw line.”

Williams is a scorer as opposed to a shooter and his career shooting averages of 41.6 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point line still hold true, but following a down year in Atlanta after returning from injury last season, Williams is having a career year in Toronto.

It’s those huge games that Williams can put up coming off the bench that stick with the fans, his teammates and even the coaches. Williams has scored over 30 points twice this season and set a new career high of 36 points against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. In the 18 contests Williams has scored 18 or more points, he is shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three point range, getting to the free throw line over 7 times and the Raptors have a record of 15 wins to just 3 loses. When Williams is hot, the Raptors win games by over 9 points on average.

However, when Williams is cold, Toronto is often headed for a rough evening. The good news has been Williams has only failed to score in double digits 12 times this season and the Raptors still managed to win five of those games.

On those dozen cold nights, Williams shot 18.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three-point range and he was taking almost 4 long range bombs before shutting it down or being shut down by Casey. A shooter has to believe the next one is going in, but when it isn’t happening, it can be painful to watch.

There seems to be no rational way to predict when Williams will have an off night ahead of time. His biggest scoring nights have come in the second half of back-to-backs or with two days rest. Too much time off or one day off can almost cut his production in half. This long All-Star break may not be the tonic Williams needs, but maybe the four games in five nights the Raptors play starting in Atlanta on Friday are?

When their X-factor is firing somewhere between hot and ice-cold, Toronto has won 16 of 23 games, right around their norm for the season. Williams has averaged 39.9 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from deep when scoring between 10 and 17 points and has been just dangerous enough to keep opposing teams on their heels. The opposition has good reason to worry if Williams scores in double-digits. The Raptors are an impressive 31-10 when that happens.

Toronto went after Williams in an off season trade with the Hawks to add some scoring punch to their bench last summer and they got what they were bargaining for in spades. At 15.2 points per game, Williams is their third leading scorer, but this X-factor has already hit both extremes. A zero point game just before the All-Star break and a career high 36 points against the Cavaliers earlier in the season illustrates what instant offense from a scorer really means.

However, Williams has been hot more often than not and the Raptors opponents have been paying the price. Toronto wins over 75 percent of their games when Williams scores in double-digits and they are almost unbeatable when he tops 18 points or more. Bench players aren’t expected to get All-Star consideration from the fans, but it’s hard to ignore the impact Williams has had on the Eastern Conference’s second place Raptors wins and losses this year.

 

 

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.

photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

Lou Williams warmup shooting by Paul Saini FYLMM

Has Coach Casey Bought Into The Myth Of Lou Williams?

Even to the casual observer it isn’t hard to tell that Toronto Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey prefers to trust his veterans even as he is putting effort into developing younger players and after 9 NBA seasons, shooting guard Lou Williams is a veteran.

Part of the myth of Lou Williams is his instant offense off the bench and it’s true – some of the time. Williams wins teams games because he can provide that spark, that instant offense, but he doesn’t do it every time or against every defender. However, since DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin strain, Casey has increasingly turned to the veteran Williams to pick up some of the lost scoring punch with mixed results.

Williams quickly made his mark in Toronto. Playing the fewest minutes per game since his second season in the league, Williams was scoring 14.3 points on 9.8 field goal attempts over his first 16 contests in a Raptors uniform. He was shooting a blistering (for him) 44.9 percent from the field and hitting over 40 percent of his three-point attempts (career 34.2 percent). It was an ideal situation with defenses distracted by Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, but it was also way out past the margins of what was reasonable to expect.

Williams has always been a volume scorer best suited to smaller doses as a change of pace player defenses have to adjust quickly to or pay the price and Casey was able to maximize his production by increasing or decreasing Williams’ minutes to match his effectiveness. Then DeRozan got hurt and everything changed.

With DeRozan out of the lineup, Casey bumped Williams’ minutes from 20.8 per game over the first 16 contests to 26.9 minutes over the next 21 games and Casey did get more scoring, but at a price. Williams took 2.6 more shots, but only scored 1.3 more points with that extra time as his field goal percentage dropped to 38.3 and his three-point shooting plummeted to 30.9 percent without DeRozan around.

Defenses have noticeably tightened on Williams, but Casey’s excuse that a player isn’t going to shoot well every game is starting to wear thin. When Williams was firing at the best rate of his career earlier in the season, playing less than 20 minutes was not unusual and Casey only let him play through one bad shooting performance. Williams never played over 30 minutes with DeRozan in the game, but since then, he has played over 30 minutes in four games and in three of them, he shot 5-15, 6-14 and 6-16. In the 21 games sans DeRozan, Williams has worked through 10 off nights averaging 28.3 percent shooting from the field and it’s been hard not to notice.

The Raptors are currently mired in a stretch of 3 wins and 6 loses and Williams struggles with increased playing time have only become more blatant. Over the past nine games, Casey has been giving Williams 28.6 minutes per game and Williams has been averaging 16.1 points, but his shooting has dropped to 37.9 percent and his three-point shot is missing-in-action at 24.1 percent on 6 long bombs per game.

It appears that more hasn’t been better for the Raptors when it comes to Williams, but this is a problem that should fix itself once DeRozan returns to soak up his 34 minutes per game at shooting guard. Williams should get better looks with DeRozan around and Casey should find it easier to park Williams on the bench if his veteran doesn’t have going that night.

The only concern is Coach Casey’s tendency to turn to his veterans when things aren’t going well even when the veteran he is turning too doesn’t have it going that night either.

There were signs Casey was starting to buy into the myth of Williams before DeRozan was hurt. Hopefully this latest stretch of games has driven home the point that the myth of instant offense isn’t the reality every night and Casey needs to look a little deeper into that bench of his when Williams hasn’t got 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.

photo credit: Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

Lou Williams closeupRaptors Net A Needed Veteran Scorer With Lou Williams

“(My role is) to just come off the bench and bring a ton of energy and score the basketball,” Williams said. “(Provide) leadership, experience, in Philadelphia we had some pretty good runs. We were two possessions away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals when we had barely even made the playoffs, so I’ve been on teams that have started from the bottom and created some great opportunities for themselves and I think that is what I bring to the table.”

 

 

Williams and Cousins

Raptors Williams And Kings Cousins Named NBA Players Of The Week

The NBA has announced that the Toronto Raptors Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

NBA News:

The Toronto Raptors’ Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 23.

Williams helped the Raptors to a 3-0 week, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference with 23.7 ppg and ninth with 2.0 spg. He scored a career-high 36 points and matched his career high with 15 free-throws made, becoming the first player in team history to come off the bench to shoot 15-for-15 from the line, in a 110-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 22. He connected 10 of his 19 attempts from three-point range. Williams has sparked the Raptors to their best start in franchise history and an Eastern Conference-best 11-2 record.

Cousins led the Kings to a 2-1 week and paced the league in rebounding (16.3). He averaged 25.7 points (second in the league) on .577 shooting (30-for-52) and tallied five blocks. On Nov. 22, he recorded his sixth consecutive double-double with 31 points and 18 rebounds, matching his season high, in a 113-101 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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TOR_Casey_Dwane
Raptors Lou Williams Impresses Coach Casey With Defense

“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”

 

 

Lou Williams phone interview close up

Raptors Lou Williams Impresses Coach Casey With Defense

There has been a steady if not dramatic improvement in Lou Williams’ level of play since he arrived in Toronto. Known for his instant offense off the bench over his nine seasons in the NBA, Williams has been surprisingly effective on defense and he is earning Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey’s respect as a result.

“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”

Over the past four games, Williams has averaged 21 points, shot 50 percent from three-point range and pulled in a total of 8 steals. He has been effective on defense against a range of players and seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time at both ends of the court.

 

 

 

“I always play with energy,” Williams said. “When you are playing out there, you are just trying to make positive plays and we have some very good schemes here and we are supposed to be in certain spots on the court. Certain plays – we do scout these guys – and I was just able to make plays.”

The Raptors schemes seem to be tailor made to Williams’ style of play. Last year it was Greivis Vasquez coming in to play beside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with defenses being forced to use single coverage or even hedge off of Vasquez to stop the Raptors two top scorers. However, Vasquez is a pass-first point guard and defenses made him become a scorer. Williams is a scorer and he is thriving in that role with most of the attention on Toronto’s other two guards.

Williams’ success putting the ball in the basket isn’t exactly a surprise. What wasn’t expected is just how fast Williams has adapted to Casey’s defensive schemes. No one expected Williams to provide a defensive presence, but the guard is consistently in the right place at the right time to come away with the ball on defense without taking big risks. He’s been solid on defense.

Against the Cavaliers, Williams netted a career-high 36 points, played a season-high 29 minutes and he picked off three steals. Casey had to leave him in the game against Cleveland and as Williams gets even more comfortable in Toronto, it’s only going to get harder to take him off the court.

 

 

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.

 

 

TOR DeRozan Lowry WilliamsSweet Lou Williams Leads Raptors Demolition Of The Cavaliers

There was nothing the Cleveland Cavaliers could do to stop sweet Lou Williams from revving up the hundreds of Toronto Raptors fans that had invaded Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night to watch their NBA Eastern Conference leading Raptors totally and utterly dominate LeBron James and company.

 

 

TOR_Williams_LouRaptors Net A Needed Veteran Scorer With Lou Williams

“(My role is) to just come off the bench and bring a ton of energy and score the basketball,” Williams said. “(Provide) leadership, experience, in Philadelphia we had some pretty good runs. We were two possessions away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals when we had barely even made the playoffs, so I’ve been on teams that have started from the bottom and created some great opportunities for themselves and I think that is what I bring to the table.”

 

 

TOR James Johnson Vasquez and Williams

Is The Raptors Rotation Already Set For The Season?

With less than two weeks left before the start of the 2014-1015 NBA regular season, the Toronto Raptors rotation appears set. Any tweaks Head Coach Dwane Casey might make to what should be a 9 or 10 man group of regulars is down to some very fine distinctions.

Depth Chart

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams

Small Forward: Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields, Bruno Caboclo

Power Forward: Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough

Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Lucas Nogueira

Training camp tryouts: guard Will Cherry, forward Jordan Hamilton and center Greg Stiemsma

Last year’s franchise record setting starting lineup is back and unless someone gets hurt, they’ll be the starters for every game this season. Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas led the Raptors to the best record in the entire Eastern Conference (41-22) after the seven-player trade with Sacramento in December and their 29 wins as a starting unit was a franchise record for a single season. There are no decisions to be made here.

The backup spots are a little less clear, but only slightly. There are players who can win jobs and minutes, however, it’s unlikely Casey is going to change his rotation based on preseason games alone.

Backup Guards

The battle for the backup guard spots was over before it began. Cherry has a camp invite, but even if he sticks, it will be as a 15th man. Vasquez was re-signed to a $13 million 2-year deal to back up Lowry and the 9-year veteran Williams was specifically acquired to bring some scoring off the bench. Both Williams and Vasquez are used to playing well over 20 minutes per game and their impact on the court suggests they should play more, but Lowry and DeRozan are both big minute players and unless Casey gets creative with some three guard lineups, the backup minutes at guard will be low and inconsistent.

Fortunately for Vasquez and Williams, Casey had a lot of success with two point guard lineups last season and more of the same should be expected. Plus at 6’6 Vasquez can guard a lot of the wings in this league, so Casey has options, but perhaps the biggest benefit of all this depth will be to cruise through injury situations and to keep his starters minutes more manageable.

If the backup guards prove to be as effective as expected, the big loser in terms of minutes is likely to be James Johnson.

Backup Wings

After getting beaten up by Joe Johnson in the playoffs, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri would look to add a big mobile athletic forward that can cover a power small forward. James Johnson is just such a player. This is his second tour with the Raptors and the 27-year-old shows the signs of maturity that come from bouncing around the league and losing one’s spot in the rotation after periods of being pretty effective. The small forward backup role is Johnson’s to lose and he can earn himself more minutes at power forward in small lineups with responsible defense.

Fields can cover both wing spots and is a responsible defender, but his shooting touch has been lost to a nerve issue in his shooting arm that just will not go away. He remains a nice depth player because of his basketball I.Q. and willingness to defer on offense, but unless he can re-invent his game, he’ll be a 12th man on the Raptors.

Caboclo just turned 19-years-old and it will be the franchise’s story of the season if he can crack the rotation on merit, but no one is selling that possibility too hard just yet. Elastic-man long arms and a decent three-point touch suggest the potential is there to surprise, but on a veteran team, Caboclo is expected to play more in the D-League than the NBA this year. However, don’t sleep on the rookie either – pay attention to what he does with any opportunities.

The surprise coming out of camp could be Jordan Hamilton. Because of the Raptors depth at this position, the training camp invite was given no chance at a job before preseason began, but since then, Hamilton has been showing that maybe he deserves to stick anyway. The kid can score and hasn’t looked out-of-place – for a guy striving to grab the 15th spot on the roster.

Backup Big Men

Patrick Patterson re-signed for 3-years and $18 million this summer and will be the first big off the bench. The 25-year-old looks and acts like he’s closer to 30 and he thrived in the role Casey gave him last season. A stretch-four than can guard in the post as well as on the perimeter, Patterson believes he could steal the starting job and that isn’t an unreasonable goal – really tough to accomplish, but reasonable.

Casey could easily decide to run with just three big men in a 9-man rotation and no one could seriously argue with him. Amir Johnson is this team’s next best center, however, Toronto has a wealth of big men, so Casey has some very solid options.

Last season Patterson and Hansbrough played well together even if it left the center position a little undersized. There are few players that are more active in the paint and willing to fight for position than what Hansbrough brings every night. Fortunately, there are also few teams that can put a decent 7-footer on the floor as a backup center, so the 6’9 Hansbrough is not at as big a disadvantage guarding the basket as he would be in the starting unit.

Hansbrough has some serious competition, however. The veteran Chuck Hayes is at an even bigger height disadvantage than Hansbrough, but he is smart, quick and able to show and recover better than most big men. At 6’6, Hayes does not provide any rim protection or much of an offensive threat, but he comes well prepared and will outwork almost anyone.

The rookie Bebe Nogueira has that long lanky look of many centers in today’s NBA. Fast with quick ups and the ability to become a true rim protector on defense and a rim rocker at the other end – that is if he can figure out the NBA game after a couple of years as a reserve in Spain. Currently sidelined with a groin strain, the Raptors are still waiting to find out what this kid can do. If he can play effective defense, he can win the backup center job – hands down, but that’s a big if.

Stiemsma has played for three NBA teams in three years and proven he can play defense at this level – offense, not so much. He has the potential to fill the role Aaron Gray once held on the Raptors as a spot duty center that can block shots, play defense and foul hard when the team is getting beat up in the paint. Except for the rim protection, Hayes fills much the same role, but the attraction of Stiemsma as a third string center is real.

Raptors Rotation

Starters: Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson, Valanciunas

Second Unit: Vasquez, Williams, James Johnson, Patterson, Hansbrough

The starters are set, the second unit is ready to go and there is enough depth to cover injuries. Plus there are just enough question marks to create a little intrigue over battles for minutes and the impact the two rookies could have during the season.

Based on how Ujiri likes to develop young players, both Caboclo and Nogueira will get a fair shake to earn a spot in the rotation at some point during the season. The question then becomes, will either of them be ready and what does Ujiri do about it if they are?

 

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

 

 

TOR DeRozan Ross ValanciunasToronto Raptors Roster Has The Depth For Success In 2014-15

During the Toronto Raptors five years in the NBA Draft Lottery, the team was exposed over and over again as susceptible to collapse with just one key injury. A lack of depth was a consistent problem that paralleled the lack of talent.

 

 
James Johnson closeupCan Raptors James Johnson Accept His Role In Toronto?

James Johnson has taken his turn at the school of hard knocks over the past couple of seasons. “Memphis gave me some time to reflect on who I really was,” Johnson said.

 

 

Lou Williams closeup

Toronto Raptors Are Hungry For Playoff Success

The Toronto Raptors exceeded everyone’s expectations last season by winning the Atlantic Division and then taking a veteran Brooklyn Nets team to seven games only to lose by one point. The result has been a very hungry group that wants more and believes that this season, they will go further.

“They are hungry,” newcomer Lou Williams said. “They want to be respected. They want people to take them seriously.”

Lou Williams audio:

 

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri knows the expectations of the organization, its fans and their returning players are a lot higher than last season and he has significantly bolstered his roster to ensure it happens. The addition of some proven instant offense off the bench with nine year veteran Lou Williams and the big defensive small forward the team was missing during the playoffs in James Johnson should ensure the growth the Raptors experienced last season doesn’t slow down and team chemistry isn’t disrupted. Johnson has previously played in Toronto for Head Coach Dwane Casey and Williams works out with Kyle Lowry in the summers and knows several of the Raptors players well.

“Kyle (Lowry) and I worked out a lot because he is a Philly guy and I was in Philly,” Williams said. “Amir (Johnson), Tyler (Hansbrough) and myself were all in the same class, we’ve basically known each other since high school.”

Williams confirms the feelings of his new teammates that just making the playoffs isn’t enough. They expect to do better than last season and his tone suggests it’s a lot better.

“Based on the season that they had last year, based on what I can bring to the table, I feel like being in the playoffs isn’t enough for this group,” Williams said. “And they feel the same way. After speaking to everybody, just making the playoffs isn’t good enough.”

After being on teams that went to the postseason in six of his past seven seasons, Williams knows what it takes to be in the playoffs and to enjoy success there and he is hungry for more. This time, he can play the role of a productive veteran that helps a young team taste playoff success for the first time in a long time. They are all hungry.

 

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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.

 

 

Lou Williams scrum closeup

Raptors Net A Needed Veteran Scorer With Lou Williams

The Toronto Raptors netted themselves a proven veteran scorer from the Hawks when they sent the non-guaranteed contract of John Salmons to Atlanta for Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira. Toronto assumed the final season of Williams three-year $15.7 million contract and the Hawks waived Salmons for $1 million.

The 6’2 Williams was a big time contributor off the bench for the 76ers over his first seven NBA seasons averaging almost 15 points in just 26.3 minutes in 2011-2012, but the Hawks scooped him up as a free agent that summer and it looked like a great move initially. Williams was averaging over 14 points per game halfway through his first year in Atlanta when he blew out his ACL and missed the rest of that season and the start of the next rehabbing from the surgery to repair it. Last year Williams scoring dipped to 10.4 points, but his rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers remained at their normal levels and Williams believes he’ll be back to his usual self this season.

Lou Williams audio:

 

“Physically, I’m fine,” Williams said. “(Last year) was difficult. I am a guy that prides myself on the way I work in the off season, how I prepare for a season and I didn’t have that opportunity coming back from a knee injury. I missed the first 10-15 games and going into the season I just didn’t have an opportunity to get into the vibe of things, get into the rhythm of things. I didn’t have the opportunity to have training camp with my teammates, to be in practice with my teammates, to understand where guys wanted the basketball and create that rhythm and that is very important with basketball, it’s extremely important when you are trying to win basketball games. By the time I came back, the guys that were there in training camp, that were there in the summer, they had already caught a rhythm, so I just felt like the whole season I was playing catch up. Definitely one of the most difficult seasons that I’ve had, but I look forward to the new opportunity being here in Toronto, being with a new group of guys and continuing my career.”

Williams believes that he is really close to his pre-injury level of ability.

“I feel like I am close (to pre-injury), just by working out, being in the gym, playing in a few Pro Am games and knowing the things that I am capable of doing, getting that confidence, being explosive towards the rim,” Williams said. “I feel like I am really close.”

Unlike previous seasons where the Raptors have brought in shooters like Steve Novak to add scoring to the second unit, the addition of Williams is that of a true scorer. Williams can shoot from deep (career 34.2 percent) and drive with a quick first step, terrific speed and excellent ball handling, but he can also pass (averages 3-4 assists per season) and make his teammates better. He is a true scoring combo guard that has made a career out of providing instant offense to a team’s second unit. Williams knows his role well.

“(My role is) to just come off the bench and bring a ton of energy and score the basketball,” Williams said. “(Provide) leadership, experience, in Philadelphia we had some pretty good runs. We were two possessions away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals when we had barely even made the playoffs, so I’ve been on teams that have started from the bottom and created some great opportunities for themselves and I think that is what I bring to the table.

“I think that when you have a scorer, a scorer makes plays for other guys as well as himself because of the attention that we bring. Sometimes shooters you can just run them off the line and they probably won’t be as successful. Some of those guys can’t dribble, can’t make plays for other people, so that’s the difference between a scorer and a guy that just shoots.”

Williams is also familiar with a number of his new teammates even though he has never played with them before. There are already reasons to believe chemistry will exist pretty much from day one. The dinner Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri arranges in Vegas for his players every season will pay the expected dividends later.

“Kyle (Lowry) and I worked out a lot because he is a Philly guy and I was in Philly,” Williams said. “Amir (Johnson), Tyler (Hansbrough) and myself were all in the same class, we’ve basically known each other since high school. Those are the relations I’ve had (with the Raptors players) before coming here. I have never played with any of these guys so I’m just excited to be around all of them.

“It has been very delightful just to be around these guys. We had dinner when we were out in Vegas with the guys and they are hungry. They want to be respected. They want people to take them seriously and I am one of those types of people. I accept challenges. I love a great challenge. I love to play with guys that want to be challenged, that want to be great and that’s the attitude these guys have. I look forward to it.”

The Raptors style of play fits Williams as well. Head Coach Dwane Casey likes his offense to move and not let the other team’s defense get set. Williams excels in transition and getting into offense sets quickly and he will fit perfectly into Casey’s highly successful two point guard lineups.

“I’m excited,” Williams said. “They play an open style of basketball. That’s a style that benefits the way that I play, that benefits what I bring to the table. So I look forward to getting up here and getting the season started and starting a fresh year with fresh legs without injuries and just going for it.

“I’ve played on teams (with two point guard line-ups). In Philadelphia I’ve played with a Jrue Holiday and an Evan Turner and all three of us on the court at the same time and then in Atlanta, Devin Harris, myself and Jeff Teague being on the court at the same time creates small lineups and playing at a fast pace, so it’s something that I’ve had experience with, something I’m used to and I feel like we’ve had success with it.”

Although Williams will not turn 28-years-old until October, this will be his tenth NBA season and this veteran will bring something to the Raptors they didn’t have last season. Those times when the Raptors second unit can’t put up points should disappear with Williams playing alongside Greivis Vasquez or Kyle Lowry and hopefully let Casey manage the minutes of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry a little better.

The Raptors have added some scoring punch off the bench with Williams this 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.

 

 

Lou Williams phone interview

Playoffs Are Not Enough For Raptors Veteran Lou Williams

For the Raptors newest veteran Lou Williams merely getting back to the playoffs isn’t enough. After meeting his teammates and knowing what he can bring to the table, Williams expects more. Toronto has a young team, although like Williams, they are becoming a team of young veterans. Williams sees himself as one of the older players and he likes what he sees.

“I think I’m the oldest guy on the team right now if I’m not mistaken,” Williams said. “And that’s scary because we have a lot of talented guys. I’m still considered a young guy in this league, but that just speaks volumes about the type of team they have put together. A very young and athletic team and I look forward to adding to that.”

At 31, Chuck Hayes can challenge that assumption about who is the oldest. Hansbrough turned 28 last November and Lowry turned 28 in March, so that puts Williams in fourth spot by a few months as he doesn’t turn 28 until October, but he is not far off. This is a young team that is expected to improve on their own and adding a veteran like Williams will make a huge difference.

“Based on the season that they had last year, based on what I can bring to the table, I feel like being in the playoffs isn’t enough for this group,” Williams said. “And they feel the same way. After speaking to everybody, just making the playoffs isn’t good enough. I don’t want to be the new guy and (set) all these expectations, but we definitely expect to be successful.”

The Raptors were on a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade last December and as DeMar DeRozan emphasized, they lost in Game Seven to the Nets by one point, one point. Just getting back to the playoffs is definitely not going to satisfy this group.

 

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.

 

 

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Raptors Trade For Lucas Nogueira And Lou Williams

The Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has acquired the shot blocking big man he was thought to be after in the draft except it’s the Hawks 2013 first round draft pick Lucas Nogueira of Sao Goncalo, Brazil who played for Estudiantes in Spain last year.

Ujiri traded John Salmons to the Hawks for Lou Williams and the rights to Nogueira. The Hawks have the right to buy out Salmons for $1 million on June 30 thus creating about $4.5 million of salary cap space for some yet unknown purpose. The Raptors pick up a 21-year-old center and a 27-year-old combo guard on a $5.5 million expiring contract.

 


 

At the 2013 adidas EuroCamp Nogueira measured 7’ 220 lbs with a 7’6 wingspan and a 9’6 standing reach. This kid is long. He has a couple of years playing double-digit minutes in Spain under his belt and will turn 22-years-old in July. Nogueira has lots of potential if he can continue to develop his game, add some strength and stay healthy.

Peachtree Hoops reported that Nogueira missed about half of last season with knee tendinitis. In the 18 games he played last year, Nogueira averaged a career best 6.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.6 blocks in 16.6 minutes. Despite having one-year left on his deal with Estudiantes, he was expected to join the Hawks Summer League team. Peachtree Hoops estimated Lucas’ buyout for this season at about $800,000.

After signing a two-year deal with the Hawks in 2012, Williams missed over half the season following ACL surgery, but he returned in mid-November to play in 60 games last year. The 9-year veteran averaged 10.4 points and 3.5 assists in 24.1 minutes for the Hawks and his shooting improved over the season. It’s likely there has now been enough time since his surgery that Williams can continue his usual instant offense role off the bench for Toronto.

Once again Ujiri has managed to trade an asset he didn’t need into future potential.
 
 

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.