Raptors Cage

Observations From The Pre-Season

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4b0defa9474c4a80a4f9b0729bd-09-04-2013-010936-0400-high-jpgThe Toronto Raptors pre-season is officially over with the last game being cancelled due to unsafe court conditions. I guess there’s a first for everything. With that being said, we start the countdown to the home opener against the Boston Celtics.

If you didn’t watch the preseason, here’s what you missed. Take it with a grain of salt since it is the preseason.

First up, we take a look at the defensive system coach Dwane Casey emphasized in training camp, after the drop in the defensive ratings last season compared to the year prior. Staying away from stats in this article (being that it’s pre-season), the team has shown a want and desire to get after it defensively. Kyle Lowry doesn’t gamble for the ball as much, meaning the defense stays grounded and allows the back line – Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas – to stay and worry about their man.

Toughness has also been an observation, especially whenever Tyler Hansbrough is on the floor. Regardless of it being pre-season, he’s playing as if it is the playoffs, and that type of effort will rub off onto his teammates. We’re also seeing more commitment from guys who would not be expected to make an impact defensively. DeMar DeRozan has shown better overall effort in staying in front of his match-up, Terrence Ross is consistently pressuring the ball, and Steve Novak – who’s known as a liability on that end – has shown some effort as well in trying to keep guys away from the paint.

Offensively, the Raps struggled initially, especially with turnovers. In the pre-season, they are currently averaging 20+ turnovers a game, and most of which are unforced – this is a major concern. With a few days before the season starts, this team needs to tighten up the screws on their offensive game-plan. It’s understandable that the team and certain players are still trying to get a feel for one another, but 20+ turnovers in an NBA game is unacceptable.

There are also specific players that have showed up more than others in pre-season, so we summarize and discuss the observations by player.

Landry Fields has looked much more confident on the floor – he’s exploded to the rim on occasion, his shot (still looking funky though) has been visibly under work this summer, and he continues to be a smart player on the court by defending, making smart cuts, and rebounding. Landry Fields in pre-season looks twice the player he was last season. He’s bringing a lot of positives on the floor, and that wing tandem off the bench of Ross/Fields looks solid, and will the two biggest factors off the bench.

Fields to the Rack and the Foul

DEMARDeMar DeRozan’s post game has been a major positive. The ability to create closer to the rim and find ways to get to the free throw line has been huge. He’s also improved the three-point shot and his form hasn’t gone out of whack compared to prior seasons when he would fling the ball. Hitting three’s consistently will be the key going into the season.

DeMar is smarter on the court, he now has a change of pace on the offensive end, and he’s improving his court awareness on both ends of the floor. “Before, I was worried about what the defender would do, now, I’m trying to make the defender worry about what I’m going to do” DeMar on how comfortable he feels offensively. DeRozan looked like the best player on the Raps this pre-season.

DeRozan With the Spin Move Over Chandler Plus The Foul

Terrence Ross looks nothing like a rookie anymore. There really wasn’t much of a problem with his athleticism last year, or as a matter of fact, the three point shooting wasn’t an issue despite the low shooting percentages. It was his consistency and his confidence – Ross hit the rookie wall early, and never really recovered since the all-star weekend last year. In this pre-season, he’s looking like a possible candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. His great offensive performance – 27 points, 6/13 from 3 – against the Knicks in that double overtime game was just a sample of his potential and ability. Hopefully his efforts and offense carry into the regular season, along with consistency defensively, because he will be the main x-factor for this team this season – the bench lives and dies by Ross and his performance.

Terrence Ross With A Big Buzzer Beater To Send It Into OT

Rudy Gay has looked better, at times. He hasn’t blown me away, despite all of the “improvements” such as the extra weight, eye surgery, and the off-season work. He looks like he’s in cruise control more often than not, and even when it’s pre-season, it’s not really great knowing your “leader by example” isn’t leading by example. With that being said, when he has chosen to attack the rim, play aggressively, get down on defense, he looks like an NBA All-Star. He gets to the painted area with less trouble than he did last season, and is looking more confident in taking that 3 ball. I do guarantee he’ll look more assertive and engaged come opening night, though. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, he wasn’t efficient, but he seemed to shrug off Tony Allen quite well when looking to get his shot off. Rudy is one of those players where the pre-season really doesn’t matter, and I still believe he’s poised for a huge year.

Rudy Gay With The Strong Follow-Up Jam

Austin Daye is playing in his role – shooting the 3, using his length – which is good to see in a young player looking to get a role in the NBA again. His 6’11 height has helped him offensively in stretching over some of those smaller wing players, and at times, it’s helped him in getting a block or two. The problem is, he is still a liability defensively because he’s not quick enough to guard true wing players, and his lack of weight and strength limits him from defending big guys – his defense made Kelly Olynyk look like an MVP. When Daye can get hot though, he’s quite hard to defend.

Steve Novak has been injured in a couple of games with a right hand problem, so throughout the pre-season he hasn’t really shown much other than a game vs the Timberwolves. There isn’t much to say about Novak, or expect out of him. He’s a 3-point specialist, and he’ll definitely be able to contribute come regular season time.

uspw_6667144_crop_exactKyle Lowry is looking thinner, quicker, and as hungry as ever (not for food). Being in a contract year, there will be a sense of urgency from him, and it started in the off-season. In the 2013-2014 pre-season, he’s looking like a pass-first point guard, which is definitely what you like, considering DeRozan, Gay, Valanciunas, Ross and others on this roster demand touches.

He’s also been staying home defensively; not gambling for steals and making Valanciunas/Johnson worry about their assignment. However, turnovers have been an issue for Lowry. As the point guard, even if he isn’t the one committing turnovers, he has to be able to run the offense, and take control of his team.

Kyle Lowry Going Coast-to-Coast

DJ Augustin is looking to make his name again as well after a disappointing season with the Indiana Pacers. He has all the tools to be a solid contributor off the bench for this team this season, and we’ve been seeing some flashes here in pre-season. He’s quick with a tight handle, a solid defender, and doesn’t force things on the offensive end. His problem is him not hitting the perimeter shot, which was a part of his game that he relied on constantly. If DJ can get his three-point shot back, he will be one of the best back-up PG’s in the league.

Dwight Buycks has made it obvious that he’s a rookie. He seems to have trouble with the speed of the game, and while he was successful back in France and Summer League, the NBA game is a new game, whether it’s pre-season, regular season, or playoffs. He’s having trouble running the team when things break down, his perimeter shot hasn’t been there for him, and his slashing has also been rare. He’s got to start getting acclimated to the speed of the game for him to crack the rotation.

Julyan Stone has been a surprise. After the failed signing due to health issues earlier, he has made the roster. He has the size over most point guards in the game being 6’7, and that certainly helps him on both ends of the floor. In the pre-season, he has shown his ability to control the game to whatever tempo he chooses, his size defensively has disrupted most point guards, and being bigger allows him to see more on the court. The big problem is his non-existent outside shooting. There was also that missed dunk that even his nephew won’t forget. 

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta HawksAmir Johnson is Amir Johnson. The effort, the hustle, along with what Matt Devlin calls, “the summertime three.” He hasn’t played consistently, and has barely been seen after the first half, but we all know what he brings to the table – there aren’t any worries with Amir. The only real improvements we can hope for is a lower foul rate and his jumpshot being a constant threat.

Tyler Hansbrough has been a joy to watch. It’s the pre-season, and yet he’s putting out 110% effort on the floor. The guy can definitely rebound the ball, and he’s been more effective offensively than expected. He is strong, physical, and has a persistent attitude that allows him to put the ball in the basket. His negatives though, are the fouls, and sometimes, he’s out of control in the post. He’s got below average court awareness, which might be a problem for a guy who’s not known as an offensive option. But hey, you can always count on him giving some guys a bow and attitude, ask Metta World Peace. Well, maybe that’s a poor example.

Hansbrough and Peace Get Tangled

Quincy Acy has rarely gotten run, which is a little surprising because he’s perfect for the pre-season environment. In the time we’ve seen him, he’s been solid. He’s been able to get to the rim, rebound like he’s supposed to, and even spread the floor. I hope Quincy isn’t forced to play that 3 spot all the time, it just isn’t in him to guard quicker guys. He’s shown some good basketball elements – hustle, rebounding, put-backs, outside shooting, and handling the ball with more confidence.

Quincy Acy With the Fast Break Dunk

Aaron Gray has played about 2 minutes. Probably got a rebound or something, so, that’s cool.

Jonas Valanciunas, has been inconsistent. In the recent second overtime game against the Knicks, he had trouble on the inside against Tyson Chandler, had miscues finishing around the rim, missed assignments, with poor rotations defensively. He has also shown a nice touch around the hoop with the hook, and has looked more physical. Against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, he was quite productive. In their pre-season match-up, he finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes of work, before getting hit by Randolph. He attacked the glass, was more engaged defensively, and his length bothered a paint-dominant team. Coming into his second year, fans and such are expecting more from him this season – just don’t expect him to make an all-star appearance yet. He plays a huge role and has got to be more consistent for this team to make the post-season.

Beautiful Passing Leads To A Jonas Dunk

063070There are a lot of new elements to this team, but some old habits die hard, such as the turnovers and stagnant offense. Hopefully the new emphasis defensively, the revamped offensive system, and the new and improved players on this roster can bring the playoffs back to Toronto.


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