The Toronto Raptors had a few important decisions to make this summer. All-Star Kyle Lowry and starting power forward Serge Ibaka were both free agents. Key role players such as Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker were as well. They already had big money tied up in DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph.
For a team that was swept in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers, they had little room to operate in order to improve a roster that clearly needed some tinkering. They had made re-signing Lowry and Ibaka a priority, but bringing both players back all but ensured that the Raptors would have minimal cap space to work with.
As it turned out, they lost Patterson to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Tucker to the Houston Rockets. They also traded Carroll to the Brooklyn Nets in a salary dump that cost them two draft picks, and they traded Joseph to the Indiana Pacers, receiving C.J. Miles in exchange. Each of the departing players were, at times, key rotation pieces complementing the Raptors’ “Big 3” of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka.
With their main free agents back in the fold, the Raptors were not only over the cap, but hard capped as well. Miles was their only major new addition. Thus, the key to keeping pace in the East, and trying to field a team capable of challenging Cleveland, is simple for Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. It’s going to have come from within, from the multiple young players on the team.
“It’s really important, I think where our franchise is right now, we’re in a situation where we’re building,” Casey told Basketball Insiders. “Just to have those core guys come back, we have DeMar, Kyle, Serge, Valanciunas, what we have to do now is get some of our young players to step up and improve.”
In contrast to when he first took over as coach in 2011, Casey has been giving some of the younger players regular minutes where he sees fit. One player who worked his way into the rotation his rookie year was Norman Powell. In the 2015-16 season, Powell entered the rotation when injuries hit the Raptors backcourt.
Powell quickly became a mainstay with his defensive prowess and overall aggressiveness. His defense on Paul George during the Raptors’ first round series that year against the Pacers was a big reason why they advanced. Powell knows that he and the other young players will be counted on to keep the team competitive.
“I think we bring energy. We bring commitment, hustle, we buy in to doing whatever the vets need. DeMar, Kyle, Serge, whatever they need to help them with their play, making it easier on them,” Powell told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s gonna be good for them cause we’re able to develop and we have some room to grow.”
Powell took another step further in his development this past season. Needing a spark after going down 2-1 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, Casey inserted Powell into the starting lineup. He responded by holding Khris Middleton to 12.3 points per game on 38.2 percent shooting. He also shot 10-11 from the three-point line throughout the series.
“I think it’s gonna help with my development, help with my maturity, being able to go in there and play minutes, and play big for the team and help them get wins,” Powell told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just looking forward to improving and taking a big step this summer to be ready for my third year with them.”
In addition to Powell, the Raptors have a couple of other players looking to make their mark on the team. Delon Wright was drafted by the team the same year as Powell, but his playing time has been a bit more sporadic. He finally got a chance at extended minutes this past season when Lowry went down with an injury following the All-Star break.
In the playoffs, Wright’s numbers didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but his presence was clearly felt. He did a better job at times than Joseph at keeping the ball moving offensively and staying aggressive. His length bothered the Bucks’ second unit defensively. Now with Joseph gone, he knows his time has arrived.
“It’s a good opportunity for me because they’re kind of expecting me to step up now with it being my third year. They’re looking for me to step up and I think I’m ready,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “They expect the young guys to bring energy and play hard, and just kind of do little things that the veterans aren’t doing right now. Get loose balls and play defensively.”
One player who fits that description perfectly in terms of bringing energy and playing hard defensively is Pascal Siakam. Siakam was a rookie this past year and was thrown into the fire from the get-go. The Raptors had signed Jared Sullinger last summer in hopes that he could ultimately emerge as their starting power forward. Unfortunately for them, Sullinger needed surgery on his foot prior to the beginning of the season.
Instead of turning to his veterans, Casey opted to start Siakam. He started the Raptors’ first 34 games and showed a knack for rebounding and tough defense while being able to finish around the rim. He had four games where he scored in double figures during that stretch, including a season-high 14 points on 58.3 percent shooting in a 44-point win over the Atlanta Hawks on December 3.
“It was good to be able to learn. A lot of rookies sit on the bench and not play,” Siakam told Basketball Insiders. “I had the opportunity to play and it was the best thing I could ask for.”
Siakam eventually hit the rookie wall and as the season progressed, his playing time began to decrease. Once the Ibaka trade happened, he began to rack up DNP’s and was put on the inactive list. But with Patterson gone, he will again get his chance to become a regular in the rotation.
“Just step up, that’s all we have to do,” Siakam told Basketball Insiders. “As far as the young guys, we got to come in and just play. We’re gonna have opportunities and we have to take advantage of what we’re given.”
This summer, Powell, Wright and Siakam have been making the rounds of the offseason Pro-Am leagues. They’ve played in the famed Drew League in Los Angeles as well as the newer Crown League in Toronto. Although there’s always chatter about NBA guys playing in some of these leagues, Casey is in full support of his guys getting in summer run.
“I think it’s great. I think the whole summer league situation is great for our young players to go through and experience,” Casey told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s great for a young player to do this, just getting some good work in. It’s great competition so it’s a great experience for them.”
They all know that much of the Raptors’ season will depend on how quickly the younger players are able to contribute. They’re still learning and still developing. But even so, they have some high expectations.
“As a team, try to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and go from there,” Wright told Basketball Insiders.
It was only a year ago that they did just that. Although they eventually lost in six games to the Cavaliers, they were the only team in the East to win games against Cleveland in the playoffs. The series was even tied at 2-2 before Cleveland put it away.
Other teams have improved since then, however. The Boston Celtics added Gordon Hayward to a team that finished first in the East and got to the conference finals. The Washington Wizards also have a young core that’s still developing, and they added some much-needed bench depth with Jodie Meeks, Mike Scott and Tim Frazier. The Raptors believe they’re up for the challenge.
“We just got to go in with the mindset that we got to work to get back to where we were last year. Nobody’s gonna give it to us, nothing is given,” Casey told Basketball Insiders. “We got to go back with our work boots on, our hard hat mentality to get back where we were last year. Nobody is gonna hand it to us.”
NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role
The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.
The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.
On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.
Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.
“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .
Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.
Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.
“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.
In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.
Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.
“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”
If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.
Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.
“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”
After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.
Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.
Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd
The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bucks assistant coach Joe Prunty will be installed as interim coach, league sources tell ESPN. He will coach Bucks against Phoenix tonight.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17
Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.
It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.
There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
6. Hassan Whiteside
After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.
5. Anthony Davis
Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.
4. Josh Richardson
Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.
Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.
3. Kevin Durant
This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.
In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.
2. Joel Embiid
Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.
Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.
Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.
Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.
He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.
1. Paul George
Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.
Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.
“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.
“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”
Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.
“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”
That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.
Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.