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Raptors Battle For Minutes In Training Camp
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On October 4, 2012 @ 9:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The Toronto Raptors boast a lot of continuity as head coach Dwane Casey has eight rotation players returning from last season, but he also has seven new players on guaranteed contracts in training camp. Casey has repeatedly stated that starting jobs and minutes are up for grabs.
“We have better talent. We have more talent. We have better shooters,” Casey said. “(Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo) and (executive vice president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski) did a great job of bringing in shooters for us this coming year which was our weak point.
“Right now, we have so much competition at each position. The point guard position, the two, the three, the four – the four I would have to say Andrea (Bargnani) has pretty much got that solidified right now – but the five position and those positions are going to be competitive as far as for minutes.”
Under Colangelo, the competition for minutes in Toronto has been somewhat suspect in the past as every one of his lottery picks has been guaranteed a spot in the rotation, whether this cost the Raptors wins or not. This year, things may have changed.
“The goal is making the playoffs,” reaffirmed Colangelo.
“(The rotation is) probably eight to nine (players),” Casey said. “If (the rookies) are not in the rotation, they are going to get a lot of individual work. This year is about winning, getting the five, eight, nine guys on the court that are going to produce a win. We are not going to use games to develop guys like we did last year.”
The battle lines for playing time have been drawn in Toronto and there will be no free rides for young, developing players this time around. What the Raptors lineup will look like by opening night is already starting to take shape.
Starter – Kyle Lowry
Backup – Jose Calderon
Despite Colangelo and Casey insisting that Calderon could start for the Raptors this season if that is best for the team, this possibility just doesn’t mesh with Colangelo repeatedly calling Calderon his best trade asset over and over again. The Raptors acquired Lowry to start as part of the team’s ongoing culture change and Calderon will be a great second-unit guy for as long as he remains in Toronto.
“Kyle is an alpha-dog, he is a leader,” Casey said. “He plays like a pit bull. He is a different type of player than Jose, a different type of point guard and we need that type of toughness, that approach that he brings to the table.”
“Jose is a pro,” Colangelo said. “He has been around the block. He has been a big part of this organization and has done a lot for us. I anticipate that as long as he is here, he is going to continue to do the things that are going to help this team win basketball games.”
John Lucas III will be filling the same role in Toronto that he did in Chicago. Lucas will be waiting for his opportunity to play because of injuries or trades, but Casey acknowledges the veteran point guard’s skills fit with the Raptors’ style of play.
“(John) is more of a two/one than a one/two,” Casey said. “He is one of our best three-point shooters. He is one of those guys who knows how to play. He has been through the wars. I think he is going to be a pleasant surprise. I know John is going to make a case for himself and it is going to be hard to keep him off of the court.”
Starter – DeMar DeRozan
Backup – To Be Determined
Now in his fourth NBA season, a lot will be expected from DeMar DeRozan. Colangelo has labeled DeRozan as a face of the franchise in the past and ensured the young wing has been given every opportunity to play and develop. This year, a more mature looking DeRozan unexpectedly set his personal goal at an All-Star level after competing with the 2012 USA Men’s Select Team.
“(All-Star), without a doubt,” DeRozan said. “Going against (Team USA) this summer really challenged me more to get there this season.”
“(DeRozan) is still our starting two,” Casey said. “Nobody has emerged. Terrence (Ross) is doing a good job of working him, but DeMar is an experienced player and he is using it.”
No one else in Toronto is talking about an All-Star appearance for DeRozan this year, but he doesn’t face any real challenge to his starting two-guard position either and the obvious candidate to back him up hasn’t even taken that job. In an eight or nine man rotation, the backup off guard might not be the usual suspect.
“Terrence, we will see how it goes,” Casey said. “I have to see Terrence in training camp. On individual work, he has done an excellent job. Competing against DeMar, he has made DeMar’s job hard which is good, but we’ll see who comes out in that battle. If he is not in the rotation, he will get a lot of one-on-one work to develop.
“I watched a lot of tape of Houston and Kyle and (Goran) Dragic played a lot of minutes together and coexisted very well together, so that is something we are going to look at in training camp because (Lowry and Calderon) are two of our best players, not only our best point guards, but two of our best players. I think that it is up to us to make sure we know situations where we can put them on the court together.”
Casey likes and respects Calderon and the easiest way to boost his playing time is to play Lowry and Calderon together.
Starter – Landry Fields
Backup – Linas Kleiza
There was some obvious disappointment in Toronto when the Raptors failed to acquire a star small forward this summer, but that vibe is not coming from Coach Casey.
“I love our three-position right now,” Casey said. “Landry is doing a heck of a job. Kleiza is shooting the ball extremely well and he is healthy from last year. I like our guys because Landry is such a smart player and Kleiza gives us the three-point shooting that we need.”
The starting job is Fields’ to lose and there are no indications that will happen.
“We have what we consider glue players,” Colangelo said. “Guys like Landry Fields might be that piece that brings players together. He plays hard every possession on the court, but he is also the kind of guy that is very personable and jovial off the court. He has a little personality and I think our room lacked some of that last year.”
Keeping the pressure on Fields and Kleiza will be Alan Anderson, Dominic McGuire and rookie Quincy Acy. Anderson won a job in Toronto with his three-point shooting and defense last season and McGuire has impressed at training camp.
“(McGuire) is a defender first of all,” Casey said. “A tough, gritty, grimy defender who has experience. He is an excellent passer who can get the rebound and bust out to start the break. He is a legit 6’9 who can guard multiple positions, so that is going to be his specialty for us. A four/three (position) would probably be the best way to look at it, but that defensive type of guy that we need if we are having trouble stopping someone.”
Starter – Andrea Bargnani
Backup – To Be Determined
Casey has made no secret of his expectations for Toronto’s former first overall draft pick. Bargnani is expected to evolve into the role Dirk Nowitzki filled for Casey when he was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.
“(Bargnani) is the same guy he was, even better than he was, before the season started last year and before he got hurt,” Casey said. “He came into camp in great shape, 15 pounds heavier and stronger, but he is playing at that high level that we saw last year and I am excited about it. When he plays at that level, he can be an All-Star. He is one of the most talented players in the league when he plays at that level and I have all the confidence in the world that he is going to play at that level.”
The backup power forward job has largely come down to two relatively equal but vastly different players in Ed Davis and Amir Johnson. While both could end up in the rotation, these two guys will be competing for minutes.
“There are going to be nights when one guy is more important than the other,” Casey said. “One night we might need a little more speed running the floor, the other night we may need shooting. Like I said, there is not a lot difference between eight, nine and ten. It is pretty even, so there is going to be competition between those two young men on a given night. I don’t think we would be wrong by playing either one as they are equal.
“Ed is an excellent offensive rebounder, one of the best. He has a knack for being around the ball. Amir worked on his shot this summer. Amir is one of our best rim runners, running the floor. He gives us that presence, which along with Valanciunas, opens up the floor for our three-point shooters and also our passers.”
McGuire and Acy can challenge for power forward minutes, but they are starting off at a significant disadvantage unless one of the incumbents fails to live up to expectations during the preseason.
Starter – Jonas Valanciunas
Backup – To Be Determined
Colangelo’s prized draft pick from last season arrived in Toronto fresh off an appearance at the 2012 Olympic Games for the Lithuanian National team. Despite earlier attempts to downplay his impact, expectations for the 20-year-old center are high in Toronto.
“The bottom line with Jonas (Valanciunas) is I think you are going to see a young player who is going to have an impact regardless of what he does stat-wise this year,” Colangelo said. “I think it is going to be hard for the coach to keep him off of the floor because of the things he brings to the table.”
“JV will get his playing time because he deserves to be there, not because we are called to develop him,” Casey said. “We are going to throw him into the fire, not to give him experience, but because he can help us win. He is good enough to throw in the fire and learn on the job without saying we are putting him in there to develop. He is past that.”
Although undersized, Johnson plays a similar style to Valanciunas and could earn additional minutes at center. Toward the end of last season, Casey suggested Davis might be able to soak up some minutes here as well and playing these two young big men at both the power forward and center spots would help keep Casey’s rotation at the desired eight to nine players. However, Casey repeatedly complimented the seven-foot, 270 pound Aaron Gray for filling his role on the Raptors last season and this team does not have anyone bigger, better at setting hard screens or tougher to move out of the post. A poor man’s Emeka Okafor, Gray filled a role for Toronto last season and it remains unclear if the team has anyone else who could fill it better this season.
The battle for minutes at center is far from over.
Day three of training camp has wrapped up, but those to-be-determined spots are not something that can be easily resolved during drills and scrimmages. Preseason games are going to matter in Toronto as Casey determines each player’s role for the coming season.
“We will have a good idea after this week,” Casey said. “We have a good feel for what we want to do, nothing in concrete, but it will probably take half of the preseason to really get that concrete first team, second team.
“In a couple of weeks we will give (each player) three cards, one for the locker, one for the pocket and one for their agent in case they forget and lose one of them. I really believe that role acceptance and the role that you play on a team is huge and I put a big emphasis on that. We’ll get those laminated cards out pretty soon.”
This season, the battle for playing time in Toronto is being decided based on a player’s ability to help the team win games now. Player development is being shuffled off to one-on-one work with the assistant coaches. Lowry, Calderon, DeRozan, Fields, Kleiza, Bargnani and Valanciunas have their spots in Coach Casey’s rotation leaving Ross, Davis, Johnson, Gray and McGuire to fight for the one, two or possibly three spots left.
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