This season will be a critical year for many within the Toronto Raptors organization, namely head coach Dwane Casey. Implicit in the fact that he’s on the last guaranteed year of his contract is that this is in all likelihood his last chance to build a sustainable winner here in Toronto. While Casey has in many ways ushered in a new era of inspired play and heightened expectations, there have been some glaring holes in his system which have lead to countless head-scratching moments on the part of the fan base.
Let’s break down some key points of focus in which we hope to see Dwane Casey make some improvements:
5. Play Jonas Valanciunas in the 4th quarter.
Let’s be completely honest here; Jonas Valanciunas has a long way to go with his defensive awareness. I say this because his defensive shortcomings have long been blamed for his lack of playing time in the fourth quarter, and that criticism is fair.
Dwane Casey is known for preferring to play his most experienced players in critical late game situations and in most cases nobody would argue with that game-plan. However if the future of your franchise is heavily linked to the growth and development of your young big man then you’ve got to give him the opportunity to play some meaningful minutes in crunch time.
This year Casey will be evaluated party on how much production he is able to get out of Jonas. The fact of the matter is that Valanciunas is one of the NBA’s most skilled young centres. For all the growing he still needs to do he still manages to be very effective offensively when given the opportunity. JV has grown in to one of leagues most efficient interior scorers, become better at remaining vertical when protecting the rim, rebounds at a respectable rate, and makes free throws.
It may take Valanciunas a while to get one step ahead of the rotations and become a serviceable weak-side help defender, but the team’s ceiling is far lower without him on the floor. Masai Ujiri and MLSE just gave JV their vote of confidence in the form of a hefty extension, now it’s up to Casey to make it work.
4. Reign in the back court.
The Raptors’ embarrassing performance in the first round of last years playoffs made it abundantly clear that an offence revolving around Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan playing hero ball is not a sustainable way to win against high level competition. This doesn’t mean that the offense can’t or shouldn’t still be run primarily through our back court – this simply means that they need to do a better job of getting their teammates involved for a more balanced offensive attack.
In their defence, Lowry and DeRozan are just doing what Casey has told them to do since he got there. Their shot selection has always been questionable at best and set plays are a foreign idea, but it’s not as if Casey has ever held them accountable for their decision making. They were given the ultimate green light, so who can blame them for using it.
A large part of what makes an inclusive offensive system work is trust. Management has brought in players from some of the NBA’s best passing teams in Corey Joseph and Demarre Carroll, so this is where Dwane Casey needs to lead that movement. Sure, the players are the ones on the court, but the coach is the one who sets the tone. This year Casey needs to reign in his back court duo and take control of this offence himself.
3. Find more minutes for James Johnson.
“James Johnson is probably the most talented guy on our roster… he was kind of the odd man out. It’s tough to get all those guys minutes.” – Dwane Casey
James Johnson has his flaws, but if you mean to tell me that James ‘Easy Button’ Johnson doesn’t have a lot more to give to this team than he’s had the opportunity to then I just plainly disagree with you. Not only does he get into the painted area seemingly at will but he’s also a very capable finisher, in fact he finished the season with the second best true-shooting percentage on the roster. Most importantly he provides needed physicality and versatility at either forward position. His defensive rating of 101.9 was good for second best on the entire team last year. He brings a toughness to the team that is desperately needed against some of the leagues more physical front courts and this season he deserves to be given his fair shake when it comes to the breakdown of minutes.
2. Improve late game decision making.
I mean how many games did the Raptors throw away by wasting important possessions on isolations when Casey should have drawn up a play to get a better shot. He calls it trusting his players. Everyone else in the world calls it being lazy and lacking creativity as a play caller.
And that goes for both sides of the ball. I mean how on earth does one rationalize this?
1. Get back to the basics: Defence.
When the Raptors were at their best they were stifling penetration, eliminating passing lanes, and switching on pick and rolls fast enough to kill an opponent’s opportunity to score. In order to build a brand of basketball that can win sustainably in this league the Raptors need to renew their commitment to defense.
It’s worth noting that Casey has been consistent in his preaching of attention to detail on the defensive end but he hasn’t always been consistent with holding everyone accountable for their performance on that side of the ball. Guys like Jonas and James Johnson will hear about every mistake they make in the locker room and then again in the post-game scrum, meanwhile excuse after excuse will be made for Demar and Kyle – if we hear anything about them at all.
Perhaps prioritizing offensive performance over defensive discipline wasn’t the right approach last season, but Casey has time to right the ship. He now, for the first time since arriving in Toronto, has a solid amount of defensive minded talent. Joseph, Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Bismack Biyombo, Johnson, and Delon Wright are guys that if nothing else can be counted on to guard their position effectively.
This year Casey needs to prioritize the teams performance on the defensive end over their performance on the offensive end and not give his stars a pass for not bringing the effort. Of course, the player have to go out and perform, but he controls the lineups and the minutes. It would be nice to see him leverage his power in favour of defensive performance.