To my loyal dozen of readers – I’m sure you were thrilled when I resurrected the ol’ blog after two full seasons of DNP-rest. We’ll see how often I feel like chiming in on the Raptors Road to the 2nd Round Exit, but full disclosure, I brought the blog back because I’m going to be covering the Road to the Six. If you aren’t familiar with the reference, it’s the Raptors 905 slogan.
The big club’s G-League (formerly D-League) affiliate is starved for attention. Did you know they won the championship last season? Did you know Bruno Caboclo won Finals MVP?
Pro athletes trying to make the top leagues of their respective sports invariably have interesting backgrounds. Rather than just report on the results of the games, I’d like to tell the players’ stories.
Material Arrivals CJ Miles
Serge Ibaka (essentially)
Delon Wright (essentially)
Material Departures Patrick Patterson
If you fancy yourself a contender in the East you have one goal – assemble a roster that can challenge the Cavs. While losing Cojo’s reliability and the versatility that both Pat Pat and PJ brought seems to hurt, if the team stood pat (pat), there’d be no reason to believe they could achieve said goal.
After falling down 3-0 to the Wizards those of us that weren’t convinced already accepted that:
1) The Raptors are an average NBA team in an awful Eastern Conference.
2) As Zach Lowe wrote, “DeMar DeRozan is basically a random points generator. He takes brutal shots that go in some nights and not others.” Dero’s ball handling skills are below average for a two-guard, and that was exposed by the Wizards. Somehow no coach before Randy Wittman realized that if you don’t bite on DeRozan’s pump fakes, he’ll shoot the resulting horrendous shot anyway. DeMar went 40% from the field, and averaged only 4.3 free throw attempts (as opposed to 7.2 in the regular season).
3) Dwane Casey is a poor strategic coach. It’s not like I would have come up with some great plan, but refusing to adjust your defensive approach to John Wall, and sticking with getting torched from the perimeter, is pink-slip worthy.
After Game 4, we learned another key nugget about this team, especially its core – when pushed, it will quit. How else do you explain falling down by 20 midway through the second quarter in an elimination game and never showing a hint of fight? Even more damning are the performances of teams in equally dire situations:
1) The Bucks lost two straight heartbreakers to go down 3-0, come out energized for Game 4, won, then take another game in Chicago to force a Game 6.
2) The Mavs – down 3-0, with Rajon Rondo cut by the team mid-series, fight the potential MVP and a spry Dwight Howard to force a Game 5.
3) The Blazers – down 3-0, trailing by 10 in the 4th, crowd silent, go on a furious rally led by frickin CJ Mccollum to force a Game 5.
As the cliche goes – these teams could have quit, but they had some pride and successfully extended their seasons. The Raptors laying down and dying is inexcusable. Masai Ujiri has known for a while that this roster is underwhelming. Now he knows it lacks heart too.
It’s easy for smarty-pants bloggers to criticize their teams’ players for all their faults, especially when there’s no proof available to back up the claim that said team would be worse off without him. I’ve targeted DeMar DeRozan for his inefficiency from the field (under 40% this season), his subpar defence (Joe Johnson murdered him in the playoffs last season), among other things. But on November 28, when DeMar went down with a groin injury, my theory that the Raptors would be just fine without him would be tested. Continue reading “Raptors: With and Without DeMar”
Thank God regular season hoops is back. If anything can cool the anticipation for the regular campaign, it’s the pre-season. “Going through the motions” – pre-season are you.
Last night Raptors fans came out not only to the arena, but filled Maple Leafs Square as if the playoffs were still on. Not much had changed for fans, and not much has seemed to change for the players. While I’m not a fan of drawing conclusions from a one game sample, the following are safe to bank on.
Kyle Lowry is not letting the new contract get to his head.
In the second quarter Toronto fell into jumper-happy mode. While the shots weren’t terrible, the Raps simply were not taking it to the basket.
Lowry made a couple of strong drives to the basket, absorbing, nay, inviting contact, and finishing or making the right pass. Terrence Ross was the beneficiary of a number of open looks courtesy of Lowry. Jonas Valanciunas was getting his required touches in the post. And Demar DeRozan was doing whatever he wants (more on that later). By the start of the fourth quarter, when the lead was built up to double digits, Lowry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. He also finished with six rebounds, including three on the offensive end. Lowry was a bull all night – indicative of money (four years, $48M) not compromising effort.
Amir Johnson will be wonderful, until he gets hurt.
Amir’s touch around the rim cannot be understated. It is not easy to post up Al Horford, and finish in traffic after an offensive rebound. But without fail, Johnson gets that righty hook shot that either goes straight in, or touches the rim five times before gently rolling through. Johnson was 7 of 15 from the field, five of those field goals coming within nine feet.
Problem is he’s going to roll his ankle five times during the season. So that sucks.
DeMar DeRozan is good, but still doesn’t get it
The effort is unquestioned. He also made a number of positive contributions, including a career-high 11 rebounds, six steals (huge for someone who we’ve known to be a subpar defender), and 10 free throws attempted. But damn that shot selection hasn’t improved in the slightest.
There should be a drinking game for every time DeRozan kills his dribble from 20 feet out, up-fakes, then shoots anyway. Also he consistently gets caught up in trying to finish impossible shots after making a pretty move to get to the hoop.
The shot chart is ugly. 4 of 16 from the field – including 1 for 8 from 16 feet and beyond. And the baskets he made in the paint were mostly off transition, not in the half court. I can’t fathom that Dwane Casey or someone on this coaching staff doesn’t discourage these shots, but the fact that the Raps run pin-down after pin-down to get DeRozan these looks (ie the very first possession of the season) must mean I’m wrong.
I guess Raptors fans have to take the good with the bad with DeMar, and just know that the net is slightly positive. He gets to the free throw line, does a decent job of creating his own shot – something the Raptors lack – and it appears his teammates like him. If he can continue to defend at a reasonable level I can stomach him playing all those minutes (he averaged 38.2 last year).
Other trends will develop as the season continues. But the above can be counted on to play out the same way all year.
The theory of momentum in pro sports has been dissected by stats people who know a lot more about stats than me, and their conclusion is unequivocal – it does not exist. According to the mathematicians, going on a 10-0 run in the NBA, in and of itself, has nothing to do with extending that to a 16-0 run. Stats gurus like John Hollinger have studied the hot hand fallacy – the mistaken belief that making five shots in a row has anything to do with the likelihood of success of the sixth shot. Continue reading “Tennis – Putting the Momentum Theory to Bed”
Even though it’s not official, it’s official – Andrew Wiggins, along with Anthony Bennett, have been dealt to the T-wolves for Kevin Love. A no brainer for Minnesota, since they were losing Love to free agency after the upcoming season. But what about for the Cavs? Continue reading “Cleveland – You Will Regret This”