The Toronto Raptors were promising culture change after getting unceremoniously booted from the playoffs by a superior Cavs squad at the end of last season and although the messages coming from the management, coaches and players were mixed, that change is happening and it started in training camp at the University of Victoria.
“The league is changing,” head coach Dwane Casey said at the end of last season. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now. We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores. We have the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”
That kind of thinking has been a hard sell to a fan base who knows Casey as a defensive coach, but in an intrasquad scrimmage in front of 2700 enthusiast fans at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities in Victoria, those end of season comments started to ring true. In four 10 minutes quarters, the Raptors in black went 10-25 from three-point range and the Raptors in white went 10-28.
It appears Casey has adopted the current trend in the NBA and it’s going to be a three-point barrage coming out of Toronto this season.
“We have to have the confidence and the gumption to knock down those (three-point) shots,” head coach Dwane Casey said at training camp.
These Raptors will be firing away from deep at every opportunity this year.
After training camp the Raptors headed off to Hawaii for two preseason games against the Clippers and hoisted an almost unbelievable 79 three-balls. The final three preseason contests weren’t any different as it became readily apparent the Raptors were expected to shoot every open shot from deep no matter who had the ball in their hands.
In Toronto’s five preseason games the team averaged the second most three-point attempts per game of any team. The Raptors took over half of their preseason shots from three at 41.6 attempts per game. Only the three-ball happy Rockets shot more and they were putting up over 50 long range hoists per contest.
Everyone was taking threes and the sub-30 percent shooting reflected that, but as Casey has said on numerous occasions, in the regular season the focus will shift to getting the right players to take those shots. In the preseason, however, it was all about setting the right tone or “changing the culture.” Turning down open threes was something Casey didn’t want to see.
And for those bemoaning the overall poor shooting during the preseason, remember, those players trying to make the team or earn their spot in the rotation knew what the focus was. Even non-shooters who won’t be expected to fire away from deep during the regular season got the message.
Once the regular season starts, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and C.J. Miles will be carrying the load from three-point range and they are all very capable.
But, Delon Wright showed he had the touch as a rookie and last year in limited minutes Fred VanVleet made it known he can shoot too. These two players got a lot of run during preseason. However, the undrafted rookie forward Alfonzo McKennie quietly shot 45.5 percent from three on 2.2 attempts in under 12 minutes over 5 preseason games and the Raptors rookie OG Anunoby surprised everyone by hitting on three of his last four three-point attempts against the Bulls. Even Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira were putting up threes in preseason. The Raptors will be counting on a couple of these other guys that the league may not have on the radar to come thru as legitimate three-point threats.
Toronto was in the bottom 10 NBA teams in three-point attempts last season (24.3), but it would have taken just one more three-point attempt per quarter to put them in the top 10. At two more three-point attempts a quarter, they bounce all the way into the top five with teams like Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4) and Golden State (31.2).
The NBA’s most prolific three-point shooting team, Houston (40.3), resides in three-point universe all of their own, but if Toronto keeps up their preseason pace, they’d join them. Although no one seriously expects Casey to keep letting all those non-three-point shooters to keep firing away from deep once the games start to count.
In fairness, over the past two seasons players like DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Paterson (no longer with the team) admitted they had the green light to shoot and Casey would constantly hint about the negative impact of turning down open shots from three. Inhindsight, that was the culture change the team was looking for and it clears up comments from players like DeMar DeRozan who said the changes wouldn’t be all that great. This is the way Casey wanted the team to play.
Adding a prolific three-point shooter like Miles should help as will turning loose the extremely confident Powell, but what happened in training camp and preseason was needed to set the tone and “change the culture.”
Now the biggest concern will be maintaining the discipline to resist the temptation and comfort of sliding back into the style of play that won this team over 50 games a season during the past two years. As with implementing any change, there will be bumps in the road.