No draft pick. No playoffs. Ouch.
25-40 is good enough for the ninth seed in the Eastern conference (at the time of the writing of this article) and that is exactly where the Toronto Raptors currently sit, unfortunately.
Raptors fans were hoping for a late season playoff push with the acquisition of Rudy Gay on January 30th that saw Toronto parting ways with fan favourites Jose Calderon and Ed Davis. The Raptors are 9-10 (8-9 with Gay in the line-up) since that trade and playoff hopes are all but gone for a team that hasn’t played in the post-season since the 2007-2008 NBA season in which they lost to the Orlando Magic, four games to one.
Mathematically, the Raptors aren’t technically eliminated from playoff contention. In reality? The nail in the coffin came on March 2nd with a 114-122 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are now 8.0 games ahead of the Raptors in the Eastern conference seeding and this game was a big reason why. The week leading up to that loss, the Raptors also lost crucial games against the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Indiana Pacers. These were must-win games and the Raptors just couldn’t execute for one reason or another. It has been a frustrating season for Raptors fans full of up-and-downs. Andrea Bargnani missing significant time, Coach Dwane Casey’s questionable rotations, and some close games that should have been wins.
The remainder of the season can be used for good, rather than just being meaningless games. Here are three key things that should happen in the next 17 Raptors games:
1. Develop Chemistry With The Core
The Raptors have a very strong core going forward in DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, and Gay (I’ll comment on the rookies later). I’ll even mention Sebastian Telfair in the core as it would be foolish to lose him this summer for nothing (recall that we gave up a second round pick to acquire him). So those six guys and our two rookies should be known as “the core”. These are the guys that guys be getting 99% of the minutes and shots.
If Alan Anderson, Aaron Gray, and John Lucas aren’t part of the core, why in the world are they getting minutes? All three of them should be sitting on the bench and only playing is there is a blow-out, injury or foul issues. They should not be taking substantial minutes from our core and more importantly, from or rookies. Coach Casey absolutely adores Anderson and he gets a ton of shots and minutes. I just can’t understand it. Why? He is a role player at best and may not even be with the team in the foreseeable future. Give those crucial minutes to someone that needs it.
2. Develop The Young Guys (Rookies)
This one kind of makes me upset. We have two very good rookies (three if you want to include Quincy Acy) in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas who need playing time. Why did they not receive any consistent playing time until there were some injuries to some other players? It makes no sense. Players can practice all they want but they will not learn a thing if they don’t get to practice and execution in real-game situations.
Raptors commentators and analysts have picked on Ross and said he hasn’t been serious about his craft ever since he won the dunk contest but that is just an unfair assessment. Before the March 6th game against the Phoenix Suns, his minutes and touches have been very erratic. How do you expect consistent play form a first-year guard when his minutes are as follows: 3, 14, 6, 13, 5, and 8. His inconsistent play is consistent with only one thing: his inconsistent minutes. Allow Ross to establish his game and his role.
We all know what Valanciunas is capable of; he has a great motor, can block shots, rebound, has a few moves down-low. For a European player, his game does not come with the stigma so many players from out east come with (see: Bargnani). That being said, he needs big playing time. He still does get some bad foul calls, is late on rotations and can learn from in-game situations. This will only come with playing time. Valanciunas is definitely going to be on Toronto for years to come, so give him all the minutes he can handle, and now.
Both rookies should be playing 32 to 36 minutes a game as long as they are not in foul trouble or suffering from exhaustion. Acy should also be brought back from the NBA D-League and allowed to get some experience as well. He has a high motor, good length and a decent jumper. This is their opportunity to play with the core and learn from them. These are still two (or three) very raw rookies who have a ton of upside. I for one want to see them develop into something special which I know they have the potential for.
3. Establish Long-Term Culture
“Pound the rock”. This has been the mantra of Coach Casey for the last two years. He is known throughout the NBA as the defensive guru that helped lead the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship. His first year in Toronto was no different: he completely turned the team around defensively and they became a top-15 defensive unit. Unfortunately, the Raptors have been very inconsistent on both ends of the floor, thus all of the close losses that could have been wins. If Coach Casey can re-establish the “pound the rock” mantra and a winning mentality in this team, great things can come. Now is the chance to do it.
This is a franchise that has not won a whole lot in its short history. This is a city that has not had a winning team in years. Toronto needs something and the Raptors can be that something.
Although the season is almost done, a lot can still happen. These games can be crucial in the development of the core, rookies, and will be useful in setting up the long-term winning culture for years to come.
But don’t fret Raptors fans; the future is definitely bright in Toronto.
Image source: GREG WAHL-STEPHENS / AP