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Coach Casey Creating Optimism In Toronto
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On December 30, 2011 @ 9:00 am In All,NBA | No Comments
The Toronto Raptors entered this season with only the lottery and next year to look forward to based on the expectations from the media, fans, and even President and general manager Bryan Colangelo, but the mood surrounding the team has been surprisingly up-beat. Part of that positive vibe comes from the team’s commitment to a genuine rebuilding process, however after the first few games under new Head coach Dwane Casey, the team is playing harder and looking more competitive than was originally anticipated.
After years of being among the worst defensive clubs in the NBA, Coach Casey has an offensive-minded group of players locking down on defense in expeditious fashion. A very short training camp that quickly led to two preseason games against Boston and now two regular season games has seen Casey’s team hold their opposition collectively below 40 percent shooting.
Nine-year veteran Rasual Butler who finished last season with the Bulls describes Casey’s impact on the Raptors.
“(Casey) is an excellent coach,” said Butler. “He is a defense first type of coach and that’s what is going to help us be successful. The really good coaches that I have played for, Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Byron Scott they all were all defense first coaches. They teach defense first and that’s what made those teams successful. (Casey) is a players’ coach. He understands how to enact what he knows when to get on you and he knows when not to. He’s doing a great job.
“He has a great defensive system. We work on it every day. We work on our rotations every day. Whether it’s pick-and-roll defense, man-on-man coverage, post-ups, or whatever it is we go over those things every day with intensity, and when guys make mistakes, he corrects them and everyone is doing a great job at picking up those concepts. He is an excellent teacher at both ends of the floor. He has won a championship before. He has been on playoff team’s coaching staffs and he knows that in order to be successful in this league, we have to hang our hat on defense. That’s the message he has brought here to Toronto.”
Considered a defensive guru for some time, Casey has brought the defensive principles used by other successful coaches in the league to Toronto and the players have taken to these concepts quickly and with good reason.
“It’s a difficult defense that just got put in but we drill it,” said James Johnson. “Doing the right thing and being where you are supposed to be is our job. Luckily for me, we did this defense in Chicago with Thibodeau so I actually kind of know it. We drilled it the same way when we got a new coach there.”
“Coach Casey’s defense is the defense I played in college and my first couple of years in the league as well,” said point guard Jerryd Bayless. “I know how he wants to play and it’s not that big of a transition for me.
“This is the same stuff. Most teams do the same things so last year was a different thing for me. Every other team I’ve been on has done the same thing pretty much.
“There is no secret formula to it. Everybody knows what works and what doesn’t. Coach Casey is bringing that back here and it is going to work. It might take time to get everything down as there are a lot of different concepts that we have to learn but overall I think it’s a great system and it will end up working.”
The team’s newly-acquired veterans echo these comments and provide Casey the support he needs to get his system implemented without question.
“We were the second best defensive team last year in Miami and a lot of the principles are the same,” said Jamaal Magloire. “The concepts are the same. Coach Casey from day one has been stressing stopping our opponent and accountability and that’s the kind of mentality that got us to the finals (in Miami).”
“Very similar (to Monty Williams),” said Aaron Gray. “Both defensive-minded coaches, both coaches who are going to ask you to play hard and get the maximum potential out of you. It’s funny; sometimes I feel like I am still in New Orleans with the way he coaches and the way he pushes guys. It’s good.”
The less experienced players on the team describe the differences from last season and how Casey runs his team.
“Coach Jay was more of an offensive-minded coach and Casey is more of a defensive-minded coach,” said the 22-year-old Ed Davis. “Nothing wrong with what Jay did and there is nothing wrong with what Casey does, they are just two different philosophies. With Casey you can either buy into the system or you can go to the bench. You pick your poison. What do you want to do? Do you want to play and do what he says or do you want to sit?”
“Coach Casey holds everyone accountable for your mistakes and where they are supposed to be,” said newcomer Gary Forbes. “Everyone is pretty much treated at the same level. There is no one guy who gets away with anything.”
When Colangelo hired Casey as the team’s new head coach just before the draft, he made sure everyone understood that this was now Casey’s team and Casey has made sure that message is well understood. An emphasis on defense and defensive measurements makes up Casey’s opening message to his players and the media alike, but it was his recent comments about offense that cemented what this coach expects from his players.
“This is not a democracy offensively,” said Casey after the season opener in Cleveland. “We want to make sure we get the ball where we want it to go. This is not a my-turn game. It’s not a rec-league game. We want to make sure our offensive players who are closers get the basketball.”
As Davis explained, “With Casey you can either buy into the system or you can go to the bench.”
The Raptors have only a couple of weeks instruction from their new head coach and mistakes implementing Casey’s systems at both ends of the floor will continue to be commonplace for awhile yet, but the Raptors have bought into this and there are quiet suggestions that more should be expected from them this season.
“We all have bought into it,” said Magloire. “It’s just a matter of doing it over and over and over again until it’s instinctual.”
“We do not have any guys who are rebellious or going against it or trying to be tough guys,” said Davis. “The vets Jamaal, (Carter), Rasual, Amir and all those guys act like there is nothing to it and are trying to get to the playoffs. That’s our main goal.”
Change has come to Toronto and any opposition expecting to face the defense presented by prior year’s Raptors teams is going to be in for a shock. A lockout shortened season may not give Casey enough time to mold this group of players into a playoff bound team, and Colangelo may be waiting for the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas, another top draft pick and a couple of free agents next season, but the culture change in Toronto has already happened and a solid defensive system combined with hard work could lead to some surprises.
Coach Casey is creating optimism because the Raptors are building a team the right way and at the very least they should be expected to meet Colangelo’s goal of “hitting the ground running” next season.
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