Raptors-Lakers: How Do You Like Toronto Now?

January 27, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… On an early Sunday evening, a crowd of over 20,000 people watched the Toronto Raptors gut out a hard-fought win over the Western Conference’s first place team and last season’s NBA champion L.A. Lakers.

The game was easily the most exciting and intense of the Raptors season to date: A game won by the Raptors in the final 1:26 by scoring the final five points and defending Kobe Bryant into three missed jump shots.

It was Andrea Bargnani, who scored 12 of the Raptors 24 points in the fourth quarter, driving to the basket and finishing a reverse lay-up plus the foul with 1:16 left to bring the Raptors within one point.

And it was Hedo Turkoglu, who Jay Triano trusted with 11 seconds left in the game, driving to the hoop and getting fouled at least twice as three Lakers converged to stop the lay-up attempt. Turkoglu calmly drained both free throws to put the Raptors up by one with 1.2 seconds left.

And, as Matt Devlin should have said, “How do you like me now!”

Earlier in the season, Raptors TV personalities actually asked Bargnani how he could help Bosh get his game back on track. On two occasions, Triano actually sat Bargnani on the bench and watched winnable games slip away as the Raptors were unable to score.

But now, how do we like Bargnani? Even his biggest detractors have to admit Bargnani has been making huge contributions at both ends of the floor for some time now.

Bargnani’s amazing driving lay-ups and dunks have become a part of every Raptors game this season. Multiple block nights are commonplace.

And in this game, Bargnani dueled with two of the league’s premier big men and held his own at both ends of the floor. He matched the Lakers young center Andrew Bynum (21 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) with 22 points, eight boards, and a block of his own.

But it was Bargnani outscoring Bynum when it mattered, 12-2 in the fourth!

Bargnani’s reverse dunk in the first quarter was something special. And in the fourth quarter, he answered his critics questions about his ability to be the go to guy when it mattered. With Bosh held to just two points over the final 17 minutes, the Raptors went to Bargnani for scoring.

For the month of January, the much maligned Hedo Turkoglu has struggled with his shot. And some fans and media seem to be only able look at the stat sheets to evaluate his performance—they should really get out to a few games!

So how do we like Turkoglu now? Hitting the game winning free throws against the Lakers has to count for something!

Like in the Raptors last win against Milwaukee, Turkoglu contributed a lot more than showed up on the stat sheet.

Turkoglu made the Lakers’ Ron Artest the invisible man. Artest was held to just five points on 2-8 shooting, with one rebound and three assists. And when the Lakers took out Artest to go smaller, Turkoglu guarded Kobe and did a good job on the league’s best player as well.

Turkoglu did shoot poorly in this game, going 1-6, but he was 6-6 from the free throw line, had five assists and a block. Like in the last game against Milwaukee, Turkoglu helped make the Raptors more effective than their opposition in the fourth quarter.

Anyone complaining about Turkoglu’s hard-fought performances over the past couple of games just hasn’t been paying attention.

Other players who have felt the fans wrath lately include Jose Calderon and Antoine Wright.

Calderon played in only 15 minutes as it took two stitches to close a gash over his eye after being hit collecting a rebound in the third quarter. But Jose did manage a team high five assists, three of which came in five minutes of the fourth quarter.

Wright played only 10 minutes and collected just one rebound. But he played good defense and was Triano’s choice to guard Kobe in the final 15 seconds of the game.

And how do we like them now? We should! They did what was required when it was needed and helped the Raptors win this game. It is hard to know if media and fans appreciate just how much they contributed in limited minutes.

The Toronto Raptors did get off to a poor start this season and it took all of December to make up for it. Only recently has the ACC been filling up again for Raptors games.

But for the second time in January, the Raptors have fought their way back to a better than .500 record by beating the best teams from the Western Conference.

So how do we like the Raptors now? In January, the Raptors have beaten the San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, and L.A. Lakers.

The Raptors are 7-5 so far this month, only losing games that have been part of difficult back-to-backs, each of which started with either Boston or Cleveland.

While there still seems to be some lingering doubt about just how good this Raptors team can be, it is now well past time to show the hometown Raptors some love.
Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

Should the Raptors Consider Acquiring the Kings’ Andres Nocioni?

January 24, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… Real GM has published yet another story that the Sacramento Kings‘ Andres Nocioni is available. The Kings have a glut of small forwards and are focusing on the future. The 30-year old veteran is only getting in the way of their younger players.

The rumour that the Kings would like to move Nocioni and are looking for a serviceable a big man is nothing new.

But this year, one of the Raptors “holes” is a decent backup small forward. With no disrespect to Antoine Wright, his skill set is limited.

Nocioni is overpaid at $7.5 million, but he has been a very serviceable SF who can still put up 10 PTS and 4 REB in less than 24 minutes, play decent defense, and start if needed.

Raptors fans may remember Nocioni from his five seasons in Chicago where he was always a steady performer. He is a tough guy who this Raptors squad would benefit from having on the floor.

Nocioni’s contract runs three years, declining each season to $6.6 million in 2011-12 with a team option for a fourth year.

A Reggie Evans or Marcus Banks plus Wright for Nocioni trade works (with minor luxury tax concerns that should be able to be overcome).

The Kings are not going to be expecting much for him. He is no longer needed and there is that November DUI issue hanging out there.  Plus Reggie Evans may just fit their future needs.

Or an Evans plus Banks for Nocioni plus Sergio Rodriguez deal also works.

A deal for Nocioni represents the kind of minor in-season roster tweaking Bryan Colangelo likes to do.

Something that will not upset player rotations but provides a upgrade at a key position with a team-oriented guy.

Nothing in the wind about this potential trade as of yet, but Raptors fans should be paying attention.

Toronto Raptors Player Updates After 40 Games

January 20, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… The Toronto Raptors are getting better as expected. The emergence of Andrea Bargnani as a defensive force, Jarrett Jack proving he can start when called upon, and the emergence of the Raptors “young guns” as a force to be reckoned with (at times), have propelled the team a .500 record overall.

And at the 40 game mark, the Toronto Raptors players have put together their best 10-game stretch of the season thus far.

Jose Calderon

In the 22nd game of the season versus Chicago, Calderon injured his hip and was unexpectedly sidelined for most of the next 13 games.

But since returning to the lineup five games ago, Calderon has re-established his role as Toronto’s best point guard, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists in just 24.6 minutes off the bench.

In his last game against the Knicks, Calderon tied his season high in points, with 21 in just 26 minutes of action.

On the season Jose is averaging 11.6 points and 6.0 assists in 29.9 minutes, a significant drop from his 12.8 points and 8.9 assists last season. But with Turkoglu and Jack averaging 4.5 assists or better, it will be difficult for Calderon to hit last season’s numbers.

Since his return, Calderon has significantly elevated his level of play and is beginning to look more like the 2007-08 player who captured the hearts of Toronto fans.

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan has started every game for the Raptors this season, but what has captured the media’s attention is the first ever “dunk-in” contest against Eric Gordon for an invitation to the NBA All-Star slam dunk competition.

After 40 starts in 40 games, DeRozan is averaging 8.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 46.8 percent from the field, and his 0.6 blocks and 0.4 steals illustrate that he is active on defense.

In the past 10 games, his scoring has increased to 9.1 points on 56 percent shooting.

The Raptors have drafted a player!

Hedo Turkoglu

Toronto’s big free agent acquisition has taken some heat as of late for not living up to his big contract. But a more objective view might be that Turkoglu’s play has been wildly inconsistent and the recent complaints are resulting from his slow start in 2010.

By averaging 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists this season, Turkoglu has disappointed fans and media alike. That’s because last season in Orlando, Turkoglu averaged 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists.

But Turkoglu appears to have been nursing a sore back this season, and most of the drop-off in production can be found on the second night of back-to-back games.

With a more favorable schedule going forward, Turkoglu should be able to return to form in the second half of the season.

Perhaps the bad press has been just a little overstated.

Chris Bosh

Is there any doubt CB4 will be selected as an All-Star for his fifth consecutive season?

With 2009-10 as his best statistical season ever, Chris Bosh is averaging career highs in points and rebounds. After 40 games, CB4 has: 23.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 35.3 minutes per game.

Bosh continues to average his lowest number of minutes played per game since his rookie year, and Bosh is playing 2.7 minutes less than last season. Hopefully, the new lighter load will keep Bosh on the floor for all 82 games this season.

Until the game in New York, Bosh had a streak of five games where he averaged over three assists per game, including a six assist game in the two-point win over the 76ers.

As a career 2.1 assist per game player, finding open teammates is perhaps the last offensive hole in Bosh’s arsenal.

Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani has finally broken out and put together a streak of games that shows just how dominant a center he can become in the NBA.

In the past 10 games, Bargnani has averaged 20.1 points on 49 percent shooting to go with 7.4 rebounds and, 2.0 blocks in 38 minutes per game.

And in the past five games, Andrea has averaged 9.6 rebounds, including a career high 17 against Indiana.

The Big B is on track for his best season in the NBA. So far, Bargnani is averaging career highs in points at 17.2, rebounds at 6.5, blocks at 1.4, and shooting percentage at 47.2.

It seems almost everyone has noticed the big improvement in Bargnani’s defense and rebounding as the season has moved along.

Why all the surprise?

Jarrett Jack

Jarrett Jack continues to start for the Toronto Raptors, and with the success the team has experienced, why mess with a good thing.

In the five games since Calderon has returned, Jack has averaged 11 points, 3.2 boards, and, 4.2 assists in 28.8 minutes. Combined with Calderon, those represent very impressive numbers from the point guard spot.

In his 18 games as a starter, Jack has averaged 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.6 assists in 32 minutes. While Jack may continue to start, his minutes could drop to his pre-starter’s role minutes of 24 to 26 or less.

The signing of Jarrett Jack continues to make Bryan Colangelo look like a very wise GM.

Marco Belinelli

Belinelli has bounced back from his awful previous 10-game stretch of shooting just 31 percent from the field and averaging just 5.3 points to return to his season averages of about 8 points on 39 percent shooting in his past 10 games.

To be fair, we were warned! Belinelli is a player who is usually either very hot or very cold.

But Belinelli has been heating up lately. In his last four games, he has averaged 9.8 points on 50 percent shooting.

Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson has struggled recently.

As Andrea Bargnani’s play has improved and his minutes increased by about five per game, Johnson’s play has suffered and his minutes have dropped.

Over the first 30 games Johnson averaged 5.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 17.2 minutes.

In the past 10 games with Johnson averaging 15.3 minutes, and his production has slid to 2.9 points and 3.4 boards.

Plus, Johnson’s usually high shooting percentages have been dropping: from 66 percent in November, to 49 percent in December, to 38.5 percent in January.

The only good news comes from a jump in blocks to 1.1 per game over the past 10 games.

Johnson is just 22 years young, and he is still showing the heart, hustle, and potential that has been evident all season. But it would nice to see the young man show some progress on the offensive end of the floor.

Sonny Weems

Sonny Weems has found a spot in the Raptors’ rotation, albeit not as big a spot as he initially received when he first sent Antoine Wright to the bench after the Atlanta debacle.

Over the past 10 games, Weems has averaged 5.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.5 blocks while shooting 42.9 percent in 15.9 minutes per game.

His recent contributions were likely more representative of Weems’ current ability than his initial five games in the rotation when he averaged 8.4 points on 50 percent shooting.

Sonny continues to be effective since being inserted into the rotation and does provide a significantly more athletic back-up wing player than Antoine Wright.

Antoine Wright

The Raptors’ defensive specialist made a re-appearance over the past 10 games. In 13 minutes Wright averaged 3.4 points on 45 percent shooting, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. But these numbers were grossly inflated by the 35 minutes Wright played against San Antonio.

The past five games are more representative of Wright’s current place in the Raptors rotation, with averages of 2.8 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 9.4 minutes.

And Wright’s 35.7 percent shooting over this period is unfortunately also more representative of his ability.

Marcus Banks

The return of Jose Calderon to the rotation meant the return of Marcus Banks to the bench.

The Raptors should be thankful for his contributions while Calderon was unavailable and be thankful that they are not presently required.

Stay ready Marcus. The Raptors may need you again.

The Rest of the Raptors

Rasho Nesterovic continues to get spot duty and remains surprisingly effective when called upon. Playing in just 21 games and averaging just 9.2 minutes, Nesterovic has put up 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

The Raptors are fortunate to have a reserve big man who has put up four double-digit scoring efforts while never knowing if he’ll even play that night.

Reggie Evans remains out with a foot injury. His return date is still shrouded in mystery. Maybe next month?

Patrick O’Bryant continues to style from the sidelines in a suit most nights.

Pops Mensah Bonsu played in 16 games for the Raptors before finally getting his release in January. There just wasn’t any reason to keep another big man project on the roster.

Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo: Deal Maker

January 18, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston…  As many have said before, the silly season is upon us and despite some misgivings from those who prefer news over rumor, trade speculation will run rampant until the trade deadline is past.

And why not!  Midseason trade speculation is the hope of every teams fan base that their team will acquire the missing pieces to contend  for a title or even just make the playoffs.  Even those fans who just want to blow it all up and start over again have something to hope for.

In Toronto, the Raptors GM has already blown up a substantial part of two teams and rebuilt them in only his fourth season at the helm.

Bryan Colangelo has made at least 15 trades since coming to Toronto and signed numerous free agents.  And since his teams have been to the playoffs in two of three attempts, his rebuilding history isn’t too shabby.

Bryan Colangelo joined the Raptors on February 28, 2006 just after Wayne Embry had completed some much-needed salary dumps courtesy of the New York Nicks.

By the time next season started, Colangelo had nine new faces on his team, putting his stamp on the Raptors and giving Toronto their first NBA division title.

June 2006 trades:

Rafael Araujo > Kris Humphries
Matt Bonner > Rasho Nesterovic
Charlie Villanueva> TJ Ford

Key free agent additions:

Anthony Parker
Jorge Garbajosa
Fred Jones

Bryan Colangelo established early on that he was not afraid to take chances and make deals.

After early success, Bryan Colangelo proved that he was willing to take the big gamble and go for it all when he sent TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston, and a first round pick to Indiana for big man and former all-star Jermaine O’Neal.

And the risk was as big as O’Neal’s $20 million contract.  After several years of knee problems, it was hoped that O’Neal had recovered enough to regain some of his all-star form and lead the Raptors deep into the playoffs.

No sooner had the experiment with O’Neal been deemed a failure, Bryan Colangelo was on the phones trying to move his recent acquisition.  Shawn Marion’s expiring deal was acquired to remove the financial limitations of O’Neal’s contract.

No one can say that Colangelo is hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal that he believes will help his club.

This season, like in 2006, Bryan Colangelo cleaned house yet again by bringing in nine new faces.

Summer 2009 trades:

Jason Kapono > Reggie Evans
Roko Ukic + Carlos Delfino > Sonny Weems + Amir Johnson
Shawn Marion + Kris Humphries > Antoine Wright + Devean George + Hedo Turkoglu
Devean George > Marco Belinelli

Key Free agents:

Jarrett Jack
Rasho Nesterovic

And the result of all this movement is the team at 21-20 is just ahead of the Atlantic Division Champion 2006-07 Raptors who were 18-21 after 39 games.

Way to go Colangelo!

But this season is different from 2006-07.

In 2006-07, the Atlantic Division did not have many obstacles for the Raptors to over come in their pursuit of first place.  This time, a proven veteran Celtics team will not permit a 47 win up-start to claim the title.

This season, the Raptors face a potential point guard controversy similar to the TJ Ford/Jose Calderon problems of 2007-08.  A controversy that cost the Raptors games down the stretch and saw that team significantly under-achieve.

And this version of the Raptors is better than the 2006-07 team.

Key players like Bosh, Bargnani, and Calderon are more experienced.

Key free agent additions are stronger than their counterparts in 06-07.  Specifically Jack > TJ Ford and Turkoglu > Garbajosa.

The 2009-10 Toronto Raptors may only be one or two additions away from truly contending in the Eastern Conference.

But is often noted by realists with a mind to contend, acquiring the necessary talent to put around Bosh will take the Raptors into luxury tax territory.

And MLSE  has permitted the Raptors to be a luxury tax payer when they have had a chance at becoming a perennial playoff team.  As recently as 2004, the Raptors paid $4 million in luxury tax.

The opportunities will likely exist for Bryan Colangelo to make the big deal before the NBA trade deadline that could vault the Raptors from a fifth to eighth seed and an early first round playoff exit to a team with legitimate aspirations of contending for the Eastern Conference finals.

MLSE has permitted the Raptors to spend to succeed in the past.

Is there any chance that a deal maker like Colangelo lets this opportunity pass his team by?

Let the rampant speculation begin!
(Oops too late.)

Will Jose Calderon Be Traded By the Toronto Raptors?

January 11, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… With the NBA trade deadline less than 42 days away and several teams significantly under-performing expectations, some in outright disarray, trade speculation is ramping up to take over the “news” wires.

Since game 20 of this NBA season, the Toronto Raptors have gone 11-5 to bring their record back to .500 and slow the speculation that Chris Bosh’s departure is inevitable.

Not that several media sources have ceased to speculate about (dream) of a trade or free agent acquisition of the Raptors All-Star.

But with the Raptors improved play of late, thoughts have turned to what are the missing pieces or tweaks that could turn this year’s Raptors from first round playoff fodder into legitimate playoff (second round?) contenders.

Meanwhile, some will argue that the Raptors should just let things stand, develop the young guns, and look to the future. Not to mention the fact that many fans believe Jose Calderon is the Raptors best point guard. If the opportunity to dramatically improve the Raptors fortunes presents itself, shouldn’t they take advantage of it?

The obvious holes in the current Raptors line-up are at:

  1. Starting shooting guard where the Raptors are relying on the rookie DeMar DeRozan with options to use the inexperienced Marco Belinelli or the limited Antoine Wright.
  2. Back-up small forward where the Raptors have been utilizing players like Wright, Sonny Weems, and DeRozan, who are all better suited at shooting guard.
  3. An experienced shot blocking, defensive big man. A very young Amir Johnson has provided energy off the bench but is over-matched in size and strength at times. Reggie Evans, who doesn’t block shots, has yet to play a game, and Rasho Nesterovic watches from the bench.

As Andrea Bargnani continues to develop and play more minutes, the need for a back up big man with superior talents to Johnson is diminished.

The Raptors have been able to hide their weakness at back-up small forward recently by using Wright for defense and Weems for athleticism.

DeMar DeRozan is showing signs that he will develop into a shooting guard of Andre Iguodala’s status in time. But as it has been discussed in several forums, the biggest leap the Raptors could make this season would be to acquire a veteran starting shooting guard.

ESPN’s Chad Ford ,

“Unless the Raptors are legit contenders, I don’t see Bosh sticking around. The Raptors are another team I think will be very active at the trade deadline. I think they’ll try to see if they can swap Calderon for a starting two guard.”

And acquiring a high quality starting shooting guard could take the Raptors from pretenders to contenders in this year’s playoff race.

The list of team’s under duress this season due to monetary or performance pressures includes (for now): Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Indiana, Philadelphia, Utah, New Orleans, and Golden State.

Some will be willing to make trades now while others will want to see how the season progresses. But there are teams that will be looking to make trades that they didn’t envision at the start of the season.

Some possible trading partners:

Washington Wizards, for obvious reasons, are reportedly willing to trade anybody on their roster and if this is true, they’ll be looking for expiring contracts, young players, picks, and luxury tax relief/cap space.

Caron Bulter is a veteran star wing with a manageable contract. But the Wizards should be demanding a premium young player in return. Would (should) the Raptors be willing to part with a Belinelli or DeRozan in addition to expiring contracts to get him?

The Philadelphia 76ers are 10-24 and miss Andre Miller more than they ever expected. They’d probably like to unload Elton Brand’s $80 million contract or Samuel Dalembert’s huge deal. But with Brand under-performing and Sammy’s 15% trade kicker, this seems unlikely.

The other piece getting mentioned is Andre Iguodala and his $12 million per year.

The 76ers need a pass first point guard to resurrect Brand’s career and the Raptors need a starting shooting guard. Is an Iguodala and Jrue Holiday for Calderon and DeRozan (plus parts) deal possible?

Could things have started out any worse for the Detroit Pistons? Every move they have made in the past two seasons has turned against them. At 11-23, they have to be thinking deal.

Not sure what the Pistons believe they need to fix their problems. But since Chauncey Billups left, they’ve needed a point guard who will pass the ball! Calderon for Ben Gordon?

New Orleans has gone from contender to out of the playoffs in one swift season. They are over the luxury tax cap and are reportedly looking to dump salary.

The Hornets have no interest in acquiring a point guard. But, would a Morris Peterson for Reggie Evans shore up the Raptors backup small forward position?

Would the Hornets consider a bigger salary dump of Emeka Okafor for Evans and Johnson?

One interesting trade possibility that shouldn’t be expected until the offseason would involve the LA Lakers’ need to replace the aging Derek Fisher with a younger point guard. Jose Calderon providing the obvious chemistry with Pau Gasol.

This is one trade that would provide such obvious long-term benefits to the Lakers that the Raptors could hold out for top flight help in return. I’d settle for nothing less than Lamar Odom, there being little else that might be available worth taking off the Lakers’ roster.

In the coming days and weeks there should be enough rumours, suggestions, speculations, and even opportunities to keep everyone’s interest until trade deadline day.

Everyone (except possibly Raptors fans?) will over-estimate their team’s players value and downplay the value of other teams’ guys. But trades are done to meet team needs, not necessarily to acquire the best player.

There should be true distress situations among several NBA teams this year. The Raptors are well-financed and profitable. Shouldn’t they be one of the teams looking to take advantage?

Chris Bosh’s decision this offseason may well depend on Bryan Colangelo’s moves over the next 30+ days.

Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

New Year’s Resolutions for the Toronto Raptors

January 3, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… With only 48 games left for the Toronto Raptors, what New Years Resolutions will they be making (fans hope):

9)  Be better than .500

The time for gelling is long past.  Either the Raptors have gelled or they are Jello!

8)  Bargnani bests eight boards per game in 2010.

The big “B” is averaging a career high in boards this season but the fans want more.  Time for the beast in Bargnani to make his appearance.

7)  Big Commitment from Bosh

Enough of this making everyone wait. Fans need to know if Bosh wants to stay or go!

6)  Be on US National TV

Raptors have toiled for long enough in obscurity. Make TNT and NBA-TV bring a Raptors team back to the national scene. And make Rick Kamala learn how to pronounce Toronto.

5)  Reggie Evans Plays

It’s time fans saw the Raptors toughest player on the floor.  The return of the (Raptors) Joker!

4)  Jose Calderon Returns to 07-08 form

An apparent minor injury has kept the Raptors starting point guard out for a month.  It’s time to get the Raptors leading passer and best shooter back on the floor and playing at the level we all remember him playing at.  And no Jackerons!

3)  MLSE Agrees to Spend to Win.

Whether it’s offering Bosh a max contract or making the trade that puts the Raptors into luxury tax territory.  Fans want MLSE to do what it takes to bring a winner to Toronto.  And that’s no joke!

2)  No More Injuries

Bosh, Turkoglu, Bargnani, Calderon, and Jack must resolve to play the rest of the way!

1)  Make the Playoffs

In 2010, no resolution can be more important than making the playoffs this season.  This ain’t no rebuilding year!

Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

Raptors Player Updates After 30 Games

December 26, 2009

by Stephen Brotherston… The Toronto Raptors have had a wildly inconsistent start to the 2009-10 NBA season.

After going 5-5 in their first 10 games, the Raptors went 2-8 in their next 10, and finally 6-4 in the last 10.

Those kind of wild swings were bound to have ended in change, and change we got!

In the stretch between 20 and 30 games, Raptors fans witnessed some new faces in the starting lineup and in the regular rotation.

Jarrett Jack made his first starts of the season. Sonny Weems cracked the rotation on a regular basis. And Antoine Wright has found himself a spot on the end of the bench.

At the 30-game mark, here’s how the Raptors players are doing.

Jose Calderon

After a tough start to the season, Jose Calderon was putting up some decent numbers, not as good as last year, but very respectable none-the-less.

Currently, Jose is averaging 11.7 points on 51.5 percent shooting and 39.7 percent shooting from three. And while his 6.2 assists are tied for 11th in the NBA, it is well below his last season’s average.

But in game 22 of the season versus Chicago, Calderon injured his hip and is currently out of the Raptors rotation.

Jose has only played in three of the past 10 games. His return date is unknown.

DeMar DeRozan

After 20 games, the Raptors were on a five-game losing skid and had just surrendered a season league-high 146 points to the Atlanta Hawks. There were calls from the media to shake up the Raptors starting lineup and the player most mentioned was DeMar DeRozan.

Fortunately for DeRozan, Jay Triano didn’t believe the team started games poorly and saw no reason to make any changes.

After 30 starts in 30 games, DeRozan is averaging 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. He is shooting 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. His 0.6 blocks and 0.5 steals illustrate his active defense.

DeMar DeRozan is developing into a solid young player who looks to have a good career ahead of him.

Hedo Turkoglu

Toronto’s big free agent acquisition appears to have been slowly working his way back into form as the season progresses.

Averaging 14 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 33.5 minutes, Turkoglu is playing over three minutes less per game than in his last two seasons in Orlando and getting about three fewer shots per game.

While Turkoglu’s productivity may be disappointing to some, he is averaging about the same as in his five seasons in Orlando and in recent games Triano does appear to have figured out how to use Turkoglu’s skills more effectively.

Special note: Turkoglu is averaging a career high 0.5 blocks per game with the Raptors.

Chris Bosh

CB4 continues to put up All-Star worthy numbers this season, but his productivity has not been consistent and the Raptors fortunes have followed it up and down.

In the first 10 games, Bosh averaged 27.7 points and the Raptors went a surprising 5-5 in a tough opening schedule.

Then he averaged 20.4 points in the second 10 games and the Raptors sunk to 2-8.

For the past 10, Bosh’s averaged bounced back to 23.3 points and the team was 6-4.

Interestingly, Bosh is averaging his lowest number of minutes played per game since his rookie year. At 34.6 minutes per game, Bosh is playing 3.4 minutes less than last season.

But his averages of 23.8 points and 11.1 rebounds are the highest of his career. Hopefully he can keep this up.

Maybe it’s the contract year effect?

Andrea Bargnani

The Big B is on track for his best season in the NBA. So far, Bargnani is averaging career highs in: points (16.2) rebounds (6.2) blocks (1.2), and shooting percentage (46.5).

Bargnani’s scorching start in his first 10 games has tapered off as Andrea’s shooting has gone a little cold recently. But as everyone should have noticed, his defense and rebounding have improved as the season has moved along.

Jarrett Jack

When a player changes teams, it can take some time for him to adjust to his new surroundings. And over the past 10 games, it can safely be concluded that Jack has made the adjustment.

Just in time too! Jarrett was thrust into a starting role for the Raptors eight games ago when Calderon went down with the hip injury.

On the season, Jack has averaged: 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 27.3 minutes per game.

As a starter, Jack has stepped up to provide: 12.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.4 steals in 33 minutes a night. And he has shot an efficient 52 percent.

Those are the type of numbers that generate discussions about who should start for the Raptors!

Antoine Wright

To start the season, Triano had nothing but positive comments about Wright’s abilities and most nights it was Wright who was first off the bench.

Then the highly touted defensive specialist appeared to have found himself a place in Triano’s doghouse in the Raptors 20th game in Atlanta.

But Jay Triano re-inserted the veteran back into the rotation for the next five games before re-nailing Wright’s butt to the bench.

On the season, Wright is averaging: 4.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 0.8 turnovers in 17 minutes off the bench.

He is shooting just 33 percent from the field and most of his offensive plays feel like turnovers even if they aren’t officially listed as such.

One of the few veteran wing players on the Raptors, Wright has yet to find his game this season. Now Wright is going to have to fight for minutes with the “young guns” off the Raptors bench.

Marco Belinelli

We were warned! Marco Belinelli can be a very frustrating player. When his shooting is hot, it looks like he’ll never miss again. When his shooting is cold, nothing wants to drop!

Over the past 10 games Belinelli has gone cold, shooting just 31 percent from the field and averaging just 5.3 points.

But that’s nothing compared to his last five games where Belinelli has shot at just a 19.4 percent clip. And Marco hasn’t been taking bad shots, they just aren’t falling.

On the season, Marco is averaging 7.6 points in 18.7 minutes and is shooting at 39.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three.

Belinelli will find the range again and it will likely be soon. He isn’t afraid to shoot and will likely average 40 percent from three at the end of the season.

But fans should expect a wild ride all year long.

Amir Johnson

Johnson’s play has been a very pleasant surprise for the Toronto Raptors.

Expected to be trapped behind Rasho Nesterovic and Reggie Evans on the depth chart, Johnson has made the most of his opportunities. Playing in all 30 games, Amir has averaged:

5.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 17.2 minutes.

Johnson at just 22 years young and only 210 pounds still faces challenges from the bigger post players in the NBA. But the heart, hustle, and potential has been evident all season.

Sonny Weems

In the past five games, Sonny Weems has found himself taking the pine-riding Antoine Wright’s minutes in the Raptors rotation.

Prior to this, Weems was finding himself mostly playing garbage time minutes in the Raptors all too frequent blow-out loses. And he wasn’t always doing himself any favors as his shot selection and his decision-making was too often reflective of the game he was playing in.

But things changed once Weems found himself playing when it mattered.

Over the past five games, Weems has averaged: 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.6 blocks while shooting 50 percent in 24 minutes per game.

Sonny has been effective and disciplined since inserted into the rotation.

And paired with DeRozan, the two have provided an exciting, up-tempo, athletic

Marcus Banks

No one really anticipated Marcus Banks to ever see serious floor time with the Raptors this season. Barring injury that is.

With Calderon unavailable and Jack starting, the Raptors needed a backup point guard and Banks has stepped in to provide effective minutes off the bench.

In seven games with Jack starting, Banks has averaged: 5.4 points on 47 percent shooting in 14.6 minutes per game. He hasn’t looked too bad on defense either.

Now no one expects Banks to remain in the rotation after Calderon returns from injury. But Banks has shown that he can be a very effective third string backup point guard and Colangelo made the right choice keeping him on the roster.

The Rest

Rasho Nesterovic continues to be used in spot duty and remains effective when called upon. He just isn’t seeing much playing time.

Pops Mensah Bonsu has played in 13 games for the Raptors. He is averaging 2.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and half a block in 7.5 minutes per game.

While Jay Triano has given Pops some burn lately, it’s hard to see how the Raptors can justify guaranteeing his contract for the rest of the season.

Reggie Evans remains out with a foot injury. His return date still shrouded in mystery.

Patrick O’Bryant has played in four games this season and seems destined to watch from the bench.

Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

Toronto Raptors’ Matt Devlin: Never Give Up on a Dream

December 26, 2009

by Stephen Brotherston… When you hear the stories about how some people made it in their chosen careers, the formula for success is often the same. Never, ever, for any reason, give up on your dream.

Matt Devlin, Toronto Raptors TV play-by-play broadcaster, didn’t just luck into one of the handful of major league professional sports broadcasting jobs.  He earned it with hard work, determination, and overcoming more than a few setbacks.

But Matt didn’t start out in life envisioning himself as the play-by-play guy for his favorite team.  Like most kids, he loved to watch and play sports, and the Syracuse, NY native played baseball, football, and basketball well into his teenage years.

And when Devlin went to Boston College to pursue a communication major, it wasn’t the hands-on program one might expect from a future broadcaster but rather a media theory course.  Matt still had no aims at a career before the TV cameras.

Surprisingly, for someone with such an easy-going manner when the lights come on, Matt Devlin had never participated in theater, calling high school games, or working for his college’s radio station.

But in his fourth year at Boston College, with no real idea of the challenges that lay ahead of him, Matt decided that he was going to be sports broadcaster.

Just about everywhere media outlets offer internships, and Matt was given his opportunity with an ABC affiliate, WCVB in Boston.  But Matt wasn’t one to turn down opportunity, so he also interned with another ABC affiliate, KTRK in Houston, TX.

Just to be clear, intern equals unpaid laborer.  But Matt used his internships to produce his first resume tapes and send them to every station he thought might have an opportunity.  From Alaska to North Dakota, Matt Devlin was willing to go anywhere to get his first job in broadcasting.

After graduation in 1990, Matt started his first job at KRCB in Abilene, TX as a sports anchor reporter for $5 per hour.  It was here that he decided he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer.

Matt remembers Vince Scully saying, “If you wanted to be a good sports broadcaster, you have to do some play-by-play.”  And the best sport to practice play-by-play is baseball.  Football is once a week and basketball has only 15 to 25 home dates, but baseball teams play almost every night.

So in the summer of 1992, Matt became the play-by-play announcer for the minor league baseball team, the Springfield Cardinals.  A $3,000 summer job that saw him selling tickets, maintaining the field, acting as the janitor, and of course announcing games.

After this, Devlin kept after his dream alive by doing whatever broadcast jobs he could find, including announcing at college and high school games on a fee per game basis until he got job with the minor league affiliate of the Rockies, the New Haven Ravens, in 1995.

It was here Matt got his first big break.  Sacred Heart University was a small Division I school nearby that didn’t have a radio package for their basketball games.  Matt convinced his station to provide the equipment and talked the school into paying him $100 per game to provide the play-by-play.

The deal should have blown up when the school’s athletic director told Matt that he couldn’t pay him.  But it was Matt’s wife Erin who reminded him that they were doing this to get the demo tapes of Matt doing live basketball.  The money wasn’t that important.

It was these demo tapes that got Matt Devlin his next three jobs and his big breaks with ESPN, TNT, NBA-TV, and beyond.

But success didn’t arrive in a straight line from there.  After the Scared Heart adventure, Devlin attempted this strategy again, bringing Yale and the local radio station together to broadcast Yale basketball games.

The strategy worked; Yale and the station came to terms.  But when it came to picking the announcer, the Yale athletic director insisted the job go to one of his friends.  Matt’s services were not required.

Anyone who works this hard at their profession is bound to be noticed.  Matt’s continued efforts to self-promote and find progressively better situations were paying off.  Some of the highlights:

In 1996, Matt Devlin announced the Double A All-Star game for ESPN.

In 1997, Matt filled in for the St. Louis Cardinals long-time announcer Jack Buck as Mark McGwire made his debut for the team.

In 1999, Matt worked for NBA-TV during its inaugural season.

Those Scared Heart tapes helped Matt get his first WNBA job calling Liberty games at MSG with the now familiar Jack Armstrong.

And since then Matt has been the play-by-play broadcaster for the Grizzlies (2001-04), the Bobcats (2004-07), and now the Raptors.  Any available gaps being taken up by TNT and NBA-TV for regular season and playoff games.

And Matt’s talents have not gone unnoticed elsewhere. NBC has used Matt’s services at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, and Matt has covered the NFL for Fox and college football for the Big Ten Network.

Not bad for a communication major who had never seen a microphone close up before his fourth year of college.

Since arriving in Toronto for the 2008-09 season, Matt and his family have settled into their new surroundings quickly.  For the first time in his career, Matt had friends and family living in the area before he got there.

Toronto also has many of the services the Devlin’s have not had access to in the smaller communities they have lived in as Matt moved to advance his career.

Matt’s three boys are now all playing hockey, and Erin has become the typical Canadian hockey Mom, getting up at 6 am to bundle the kids off to the rink.

And Matt appreciates having relatives in the area who can cheer on his sons at the rink while he is off on Raptors road trips.

It looks like the Devlins have adapted well to life in Toronto and our community is better off for their addition.


A special thank you to Matt Devlin for granting an interview and providing stories from his exciting broadcast career.

Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

Sonny Weems Is Soaring As Toronto Raptors Find a New Wing

December 22, 2009

by Stephen Brotherston… During the preseason, it became apparent that last year’s forgotten rookie on the Denver Nuggets was an outstanding athlete.  Sonny Weems is obviously faster than the typical NBA shooting guard, and he has leaping ability that rivals Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan.

But last season, Weems couldn’t crack the deep Nuggets rotation and played just 55 minutes in the NBA.

“Weems spent most of last season in the NBADL with the Colorado 14ers where he played in 22 games and averaged 20.5 points on 48.8 percent shooting and collected 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2.8 turnovers, and 3.0 personal fouls in 28.3 minutes.”  Sonny Weems

For practical purposes, Sonny Weems is every bit as much of a “rookie” as DeMar DeRozan.

Throughout this past preseason, Jay Triano brought  Weems off the bench and even started him at shooting guard beside DeRozan, creating an up tempo, high-flying duo that was exciting to watch.

In the preseason Fight for Minutes, Sonny Weems Impressed.

“Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Antoine Wright’s unfortunate incident in the Raven’s gym during training camp has been Sonny Weems.  As Wright sits resting a bruised knee, Weems has been showing that he’s the most deserving shooting guard when it comes to minutes this preseason.”

But Jay Triano was more impressed with the fifth-year player Antoine Wright’s ability to pick up on the Raptors new defensive schemes in classroom settings and one preseason game.  When the season started, it was Wright and not Weems who had the coach’s confidence.

For the first 25 games this season, Weems was only getting minutes in about half of the games.  And, the only time Weems saw double-digit minutes was during blow-out losses.

Perhaps fortunately for Weems, double-digit losses were happening a lot more than expected this season.

The first real sign that Weems may have caught his coach’s attention was in the 146-point debacle in Atlanta.  Weems played 29 minutes in that game and while his stat line might not have been outstanding, no one could say Weems wasn’t trying.

The public comments about the coaches and players from Jack and Wright that followed the Atlanta game and a “clear the air” players meeting seemed to spark a Raptors three-game winning streak.  But in the two losses that followed that brief revival, Weems played 19 and 18 minutes, respectively.

Since then, it has been Weems who has had the coach’s confidence and Wright who can only get minutes in garbage time.

Weems has been in the Raptors rotation for five games now.  Coming in early in the first quarter to be paired up with DeMar DeRozan while Hedo Turkoglu takes his first scheduled break.

And the change appears to be working.  The Raptors have three home wins and two road losses in that stretch, which includes wins over Houston and New Orleans.

Weems has averaged 8.4 points while shooting 50 percent, and had 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 1.4 turnovers, 2.6 fouls in 24 minutes over the past five games.  A statistical line that towers over what Wright has been able to provide this season.

And Weems seems to be getting more effective the more he plays. As evidenced the game against New Orleans where he played 30 minutes.  In part because of his energetic defense, but in part because when Weems and DeRozan were on the floor together, they ran the ball down the Hornets throats.

In the third quarter, it was Weems feeding DeRozan for the alley-oop dunk on the fast break and both players drove into the paint for easy scores off half-court sets.  These guys were fun to watch.

Weems finished the New Orleans game with seven points, five boards, five assists, a block, and a steal.  A good night off the bench.

The last time the Raptors had two exciting young “rookies” on the floor together were Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham.

But right now, the show belongs to DeRozan and Weems.  It’s looking like there is some excitement ahead for Raptors fans this season after all.

Jarrett Jack Leading the Toronto Raptors

December 18, 2009

by Stephen Brotherston… When Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo signed restricted free agent Jarrett Jack to a four-year, $20-million contract this summer, there was little doubt he overpaid, based on what Jack could have received from the Pacers.

But there were few complaints from the Toronto media and Raptors fans, as everyone understood that acquiring a restricted free agent forces a team to overpay, and the Raptors could ill-afford to head into another season without a quality backup point guard to Jose Calderon.

With Jarrett Jack in the Raptors’ rotation,

“Raptor fans are expecting the point guard position will be a source of strength for the team this upcoming season and with a solid backup in Jack, those expectations are extremely reasonable.” Jarrett Jack, Toronto Raptors Best Backup!

When Jack was introduced to the Toronto media, it was apparent that he came from a team-first background above all else. Jack’s parents fed, clothed, and entertained his teammates all the way from grade school through college.

It was also apparent that Jack himself was a team-first player who wants to do what he can to help his team win games.

And Jack loves to talk. Even with Chris Bosh trying to muscle in on Jack’s inaugural interview, Jack held his own with both Bosh and Raptors TV.

Jarrett Jack struggled to start this season with the Raptors, averaging just 6.25 points and 3.0 assists over his first dozen games.

Perhaps it was the eight road games against Western Conference clubs? Perhaps just a lack of familiarity with his new teammates? But it could also have been the significant number of minutes that Jay Triano used Jack as an undersized shooting guard.

Because of his size and strength, Jack has played shooting guard in the past. Even in college, he has enjoyed his best success as a point guard, and legitimate questions were being raised. (Can the Toronto Raptors’ Jarrett Jack play shooting guard?)

While Jack can likely provide good minutes at shooting guard when playing against specific smaller lineups, Triano appeared to grossly overuse Jack in this capacity early in the season.

After the Raptors returned from their 1-3 Western road trip, Jack began to find his game with the Raptors. Following a 17-point, three-assist game against Miami, he went for eight points and 11 assists against Orlando and 18 points and six assists against Indiana. Jack had officially picked up his game!

Unfortunately, the Raptors were about to lose theirs. After the win against Indiana brought the Raptors back to a respectable 7-8 record, the team managed an uninspired five-game losing slide that culminated in the 146-point surrender in Atlanta.

That losing streak was highlighted with two hard fouls on the Raptors’ Chris Bosh that barely provoked a response from his disinterested teammates.

It would be fair to say at this point that the team, the fans, and the media looked to Jay Triano and Chris Bosh as leaders who would pull Toronto out of their malaise.

But all we heard from Chris Bosh was that the team wasn’t very good, and Jay Triano kept saying the team is just missing shots.

The calls for change came from the most unlikely of sources:

“Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright are saying the coaches are not making players take responsibility for their mistakes. The coaches are not teaching players how to correct their mistakes. They are being told everything is okay—but it’s not okay!”  (Toronto Raptors Quarter Season Results)

More than a few people pointed out that Antoine Wright hadn’t earned the right to complain publicly, and that his own poor play was part of the problem.

No one complained about Jack’s public outburst. It just seemed odd that it was coming from one of the team’s newest players.

The result of this apparent locker room division between players and coaches was a road visit from Colangelo and a players’ meeting to clear the air.

And clear the air it did. The Raptors won two road games in a row for the first time this season.

In that second road win, the Raptors’ Jose Calderon suffered a hip injury that has kept him out of the Raptors starting lineup ever since. And as Jack himself pointed out, injuries are a part of the game, and provide opportunities for other players.

As a starter for the past four games, Jarrett Jack has significantly stepped up his performance. While shooting better than 55 percent from the field, Jack has averaged 14.8 points, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. The only complaint would be his 3.25 turnovers per game.

But perhaps the most impressive thing Jack has done recently was to show real leadership on the floor.  In the game against Houston following Trevor Ariza’s attempt to behead Raptors’ rookie DeMar DeRozan, Jack made it clear he was going to stand up for his teammates:

“I actually didn’t see what happened. I was up running with DeMar and when I turned around I saw the ref making the technical foul signal and I saw our whole bench standing up. I knew he must have done something. I’m going to have anyone’s back in that situation and stand up for them. No question.”

With that move, Jack showed everyone that he is the team’s leader on the floor.  He can do more than just complain about bad play and weak coaching. He will take charge of bad situations when it matters and where it happens.

Jack’s actions over the past two weeks represent what has been missing from the team during this season and in the recent past: a person who other players can look to for inspiration and support.

Jarrett Jack is not the most talented player on the Toronto Raptors. But a team’s leader does not have to be the team’s best player.

Jack has seen a leadership void and stepped in to give the Raptors what they have needed most: someone to follow.

Hopefully he can keep it up.

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