Who Toronto Raptors Fans Should Be Clawing for this Weekend

March 19, 2009

by Mark Milner… With the Raptors bottoming out and a nice stretch of games on TSN2, there isn’t a lot of pro ball that Toronto fans can really find interesting.

But there’s still a ton of great college ball to watch, as March Madness kicks off on Thursday.

The “Madness” will feature a ton of prospects that could end up being drafted by the Raptors later on this year, and more that could wind up here through other routes (the D-league, training camp invites, etc.).

But randomly watching whatever marquee game is on The Score might not help you get a look at some of these guys. It’s likely the broadcasts will focus on players who will go before the Raptors can pick, such as Blake Griffin from Oklahoma or James Harden from Arizona State.

But if you sign up on the NCAA’s website, you can select what games to watch on your computer.

In the meantime, here’s a handy guide for a few games that may not be exciting, but will feature players you might be interested in.

Thursday

(15) Morgan State vs (2) Oklahoma

Who to watch for: Willie Warren

This is a game that will feature Griffin a lot, but also highlight Willie Warren, the Sooners’ starting shooting guard. ESPN describes him as somebody who has the size and ball handling to play both the one or two guard in the pros, with draft gurus projecting he goes late in the draft.

Stats wise, he’s decent, averaging almost 15 points per game, nailing about half of his shots. That said, he doesn’t create much, and has yet to get more than seven assists in a game. That’s not a good sign for a team where he’s one of the playmakers. He’s young and may not declare this year—but if he does, he is somebody the Raptors could surely use, especially as Parker ages.

(15) Binghampton vs (2) Duke

Who to watch for: Gerald Henderson

Granted, most Dukies never seem to cut it in the pros (exceptions: Battier, Jay Williams), so I’m skeptical of Henderson. Especially since he plays on a Duke team that seems particularly overrated this season.

He’s a good shooter, but he’s had wrist problems already. DraftExpress.com reports he can’t create his own shot and isn’t a great ball handler, but has the makings of a smart sharpshooting guard.

My impressions of him aren’t far off that assessment, though I haven’t locked him into my mind as a sure-fire prospect. Still, having a good perimeter shooter never hurts. I suppose he reminds me of Ray Allen, at least a little in that sense. He’d be a good second-round pick if he’s still around, but I’m still a little wary of taking him with a lottery pick.

(16) Chattanooga vs (1) UConn

Who to watch for: Hasheem Thabeet

Thabeet is a huge (7′3″!) center who rebounds well and can defend the paint. And while there’s a few questions about him—DraftExpress.com hints at his basketball IQ, post moves, and most bizarrely, his age—he’s a player who has been improving as the season’s gone along. And in a tough Big East, he’s been a part of UConn’s excellent season.

He’s a big man who could come off the bench for Bargnani, or even replace his spot at the five spot, moving Il Mago to the four, and giving the Raptors a twin-tower set. He’s projected to go early, though, so he could be gone by the time the Raptors make a pick.

Friday

(13) Cleveland State vs (4) Wake Forest

Who to watch for: Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu

Both of these players are on Wake Forest and both are players the Raptors have been projected to take. ESPN has them taking Aminu in almost every projection, while DraftExpress.com has them taking Teague.

Teague is a guard with a deft scoring touch. He’s a good shooter who can make plays and could work at the one or the two. But DraftExpress.com calls him wild—an apt word.

Teague has turnover problems. His turnover to assist ratio is almost exactly 1:1. Still, he’s the kind of player who could back up Parker and maybe replace Ukic. I’m tepid towards him, since I’m not sure the Raptors need another player at the two at this point.

On the other hand, Aminu is somebody I’m hot on. He’s big (6′8″), hits the boards (averaging eight a game) and can score a few points.

But he’s hot and cold.

He’s bounced from monster games (21 PTS, 12 REB against East Carolina in December), to dismal showings (4 PTS and 4 REB against Miami last month).  Still, I think his game translates best to the Raptors, who could use a player like him in the future.

One final note: just as I did last year, I’ll be blogging the tournament over at North of the 400, so be sure to check that out.

My 10 Favourite Toronto Raptors Wins

March 14, 2009

by Mark Milner… I was getting some X-rays today (long story, don’t ask) and bumming myself out about the state of the Raptors when I decided to cheer myself up—by counting down my 10 favourite Rap wins.

And before you ask, yes there are 10 of them. One is even a playoff win, too.

10) Mar. 11, 2007: Toronto 120, Seattle 119
The Raptors make a quick comeback, with a rookie Bargnani hitting a couple clutch free throws to tie the game—just to force OT and sneak away with a pretty good win in the only Raptors game I’ve ever seen at the ACC.

9) Jan. 13, 2008: Toronto 116, Portland 109
A double OT game that I remember thinking the Raptors had lost (or had won) at least four or five times. For some reason this Raps team always matched up well against the Trailblazers. I dunno why.

Honourable mention 1:
Mar. 22, 1998: Toronto 100, Chicago 102

The Raptors take the 1998 Bulls - Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, et al - right down to the buzzer at the Skydome. Doug Christie and John Wallace (remember him anybody?) light it up, each scoring 20+. Easily the highlight of a 15-win season.

8) Feb. 27, 1998: Toronto 115, Orlando 107
The Raps pull out a win with a huge fourth quarter, then endure three overtimes against a pretty solid Magic. Christie and Wallace with big games, again. The only three OT game I remember the Raptors winning, though I’m sure there are more.

7) Nov. 3, 1995: Toronto 94, New Jersey 79
Not just Toronto’s first game, but their first home game and their first win, too. Alvin Robertson drops 30 and Damon Stoudamire has a double-double in his first NBA game.

6) Feb. 21, 1999: Toronto 102, Vancouver 87
Remember Kevin Willis? He had 17 points and 15 boards in this game, while VC netted 27 in a win over the hapless Grizzlies. And the Raptors played their first game in something called the Air Canada Centre on this night too.

5) Dec. 20, 2006: Toronto 98, Los Angeles Clippers 96
Despite being generally outplayed by a solid Clippers team—pretty much the same one that took the Suns to seven games the previous spring—TJ Ford hits a shot at the buzzer to win the game.

Clippers season-ticket holder and ESPN scribe Bill Simmons starts cryptically making hints towards Raptor truthers around this point. Maybe it’s not a great win, at the time it showed the Raptors weren’t just a team that looked only looked good against subpar opponents in the Atlantic division.

4) Feb. 27, 2000: Toronto 103, Phoenix 102
Not just a wildly entertaining game against a fun Suns team (Penny Hardaway and Jason Kidd on the floor at the same time!), but one where VC drops 51, still the team record. Why this isn’t shown more on Raptors TV is beyond me.

3) May 11, 2001: Toronto 102, Philadelphia 78
In game three of the 2001 Semifinals, VC drops 50 on the 76ers, while Antonio Davis and Chris Childs each get double-doubles. Not the most exciting game from a pretty frustrating series to remember, but a pretty big moment in Raptor history.

Honourable mention 2:
Feb. 27, 1996: Toronto 100, Houston 105
In a close game against a team just off back-to-back NBA titles, Stoudamire
has 17 points and 19 dimes, still a record for the Raptors.

2) Apr. 6, 2007: Toronto 94, Philadelphia 85
A late season win without a lot of drama, but an important win nonetheless - it clinched the Raptors first-ever Atlantic Division title. A very big moment for the team, although not as big as…

1) May 4, 2001: Toronto 93, New York 89
Toronto wins it’s first-ever (and still only) playoff series, on the road and in the deciding game—a pretty close one, as I recall.

VC, dueling against Spreewell, leads with 27 points while all five starters score in double digits. One of the only Raptors games I have a copy of DVD, too.

So that’s my top 10. What about you—what’s your favourite Raptors wins ever? That one against VC in the playoffs? The close win against Boston last year? That one where Mo Pete hit a ridiculous three to send the game to OT? I feel like I should know these things.