Archive for the ‘Aaron Gray’ Category

The Raptors finished the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League with a 2-3 record, but for the hundredth time, Summer League isn’t about numbers, records and statistics. For us, it should be about trying to get a grasp on certain players’ NBA talents.

So what have we learned over the last week?

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After a crazy few days for the Raptors last week, the only news to come out of the weekend was that the team has reportedly come to terms on a new contract with Aaron Gray. Woj later tweeted that it would be a two-year deal, though a couple of days later, financial details still haven’t been leaked. Hopefully we’ll know more by the time everything becomes official on Wednesday.

While the re-signing of Gray will likely be seen as one of the more minor moves in what should go down as a busy summer for Bryan Colangelo, if you’ve been reading RaptorBlog, you’ll know that I’m definitely in favour of it.

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Game No. 33: Raptors 103, Pistons 93

The Raptors came out of the gates with a great effort to close out the first half of the season with a 10-point victory over the Pistons.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

1- While I wasn’t necessarily excited to watch a matchup between two teams with a combined 20-46 record, I was very interested in seeing how this Raptors team would respond to their first real break of the season. After playing a ridiculous 32 games in 53 days to start the season, the Raps were gifted with four days off between their ugly loss against the Bobcats and Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons. Toronto came out aggressive on both ends of the floor and looked to jump on the Pistons early, as Detroit was on the back end of a back-to-back. I can’t say that I saw anything specific that screamed “practice time” but the Raps definitely brought an energy that a well-rested team should always have, even without guys like Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza in the lineup.

2- A lot of that aforementioned energy came from an unexpected source in Aaron Gray. I’ve given Gray praise throughout the season for his workmanlike game and attitude, but even I couldn’t have predicted what we saw against the Pistons. 12 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, a couple of dimes and even some “M-V-P” chants in 29 hard earned minutes. The stability and consistency Gray gives Toronto in short spurts is already enough to justify his being here, exploding for nights like this makes his minimal deal an absolute bargain. I’m not saying the guy should be a core piece of the future, but I do think re-signing Gray after this season should be a priority for the Raptors. For the right price, he is an excellent option as a fourth or fifth big.

3- From one positive to another, how about that game from DeMar DeRozan? DeRozan scored 23 points on just 15 shots and contributed elsewhere by grabbing seven rebounds. DeMar mixed in some hard drives to go with a red hot jumper as he took advantage of a smaller guard (Rodney Stuckey) guarding him. He still needs to get to the line more often (finished with six FTA after having four in the first quarter alone) and obviously needs to work on his handle (three turnovers), but it’s hard to harp on the negatives while he continues to put in efficient performances like this. In his last three games, the 22-year-old is averaging over 25 points on nearly 60 per cent shooting and has scored at least 21 points in six of his last nine games. If you expect DeRozan to become a superstar or a true franchise player, than his shortcomings are alarming. But if you simply learn to accept him as a guy who can be a solid piece going forward and perhaps a third option or better in the future, then his string of recent performances is encouraging.

4- The other glaring positive from this game, and the one aspect that probably did have to do with increased practice time, was how well the Raptors shared the ball and how crisp their offence was in general. Playing one of the worst defensive teams in the league probably helped the cause, but I don’t want to take too much away from the Raps, who had an impressive 30 assists on 40 made field goals. Jose Calderon led the charge with 15 assists (compared to just one turnover) and eight of the nine Raptors players who touched the court finished with at least one helper. Even shoot-first guards Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless finished with four assists each in about 20 minutes of action.

5- A few words on the Pistons. I think Detroit is one of the teams close to Toronto in terms of development and hope for the future, which will make the draft lottery and subsequent draft itself one of the deciding factors in which team ends up with the brighter outlook. The Raptors are in slightly better shape in terms of salary cap flexibility going forward, but the Pistons might have a good young core in place if they can add a top-five pick in 2012 to the group of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko. You could say the exact same thing about the Raps with Bargnani, Valanciunas, DeRozan and other possible “core” candidates. If there is one team worth watching in the Tank Nation “standings” from a Raps fan’s perspective, it might just be the Pistons, though I do think they will eventually win enough ball games to give the Raptors the “advantage.” Before blowing a 17-point lead against the Cavaliers on Tuesday, the Pistons had won seven of nine. I don’t think we have to worry about the Raptors going on any kind of run like that this season.

6- While the Raptors and Pistons were entertaining us on the court, the twitter world leaked some interesting Raptors-related notes. During the game, I wrote my take on Wilson Chandler being linked to Toronto again and reports of a draft day trade that almost was between the Raps and Pistons. Check it out and leave your feedback.

It’s crazy to think that half this season is already gone, but at the end of the day, the Raptors are exactly half way to my prognostication of 20 wins, so I’m feeling pretty good about my pre-season predictions.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 39 Min, 23 Pts, 9-15 FG, 0-1 3PT, 5-6 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 TO (Calderon’s spectacular running of the offence and Gray’s work on the boards make them easy candidates here as well)

Pistons Player of the Game: Greg Monroe – 38 Min, 30 Pts, 9-21 FG, 12-16 FT, 14 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk, 4 TO

Game No. 26: Wizards 111, Raptors 108 (OT)

Between a putrid first half effort from the Raptors and a very Wizards-like performance in the second half, some very quiet fans in Washington were treated to quite the finish in this ball game. I refuse to call it good basketball just because it was a close overtime finish, but I will say, it was exciting.

If you’re a Raptors fan, you had to see this coming. A bad young team playing another bad young team the day after an admirable effort against the Heat and three days after beating the very team they are playing is the perfect recipe for a “trap game” or let down game.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’ll keep referencing it as long as it continues to happen, or not happen in the case of the Raptors. That’s now 14 straight games without winning a first quarter for the Raps, who have trailed by eight points or more after 10 of those 14 first quarters. Tonight was definitely one of the uglier opening frames during this ugly stretch. The Raptors shot just 29 per cent to the Wizards’ 65 per cent, they had five shots blocked and their best player through 12 minutes was Aaron Gray. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the makings of an NBA disaster.

2- Speaking of Aaron Gray, while I joke (not really) that it’s a pathetic indication when he plays like the team’s best player, he does deserve credit for the workmanlike attitude he displays on the court. He sticks to his role and does his job, and that’s a hard attribute to find in today’s world of professional sports. Gray moves the ball when it’s in his hands, attempts a shot only when it is a clearly efficient attempt and boxes out perfectly when trying to grab a rebound. He contributed four points, four rebounds and an assist in the game’s first seven minutes. I’m fine with Dwane Casey giving Gray starts if he can continue to open games the way he has been recently.

3- Linas Kleiza came through with one of the best individual performances we’ll see from any Raptor this season. 30 points on just 16 shots, five rebounds, an assist, a couple of steals and an unbelievable bank-shot to tie the game. I was one of many Raptors fans who was disappointed with Kleiza’s play last season, and was skeptical that he could pick his game up after microfracture surgery. I am very pleased to admit that I was wrong. In general, he’s been surprisingly good since his return from surgery, but over the last four days, Kleiza has been absolutely lights out, scoring 62 points in just 77 minutes played over his last three games. Even better, he’s done it on nearly 60 per cent shooting.

4- A changing of the guard? For the second straight game, Jerryd Bayless nearly helped carry the Raptors to an improbable win while Jose Calderon watched. In a span of about 35 hours, Calderon committed eight turnovers compared to just seven assists, while Bayless scored 47 points and recorded six assists to just two turnovers. Decisions shouldn’t be made based on a two-game sample, but if Bayless can start stringing some good performances together, he will make it a lot easier to imagine a short-term future without Jose Calderon and make it easier to part with Leandro Barbosa via trade.

5- A few words on the Wizards. I know John Wall makes some careless decisions on the floor and doesn’t shoot the ball well, but he has the quickness and skill to be a star point guard in the NBA. The other thing I like about Wall is that he actually seems to care about winning, which is a lot more than you can say about a guy like Javale McGee, who seems to be more concerned with his own highlight reel than he is with the result of the ball game (saluting and celebrating dunks in games where his team is down 20 is a clear indication of this). What the Wizards need to do is find a way to get John Wall away from the “Dumb and Dumber” cast that is the rest of the Wizards’ roster, then get him a real NBA coach. With a young core of Wall, a top-five pick in 2012 and Jan Vesely, the Wizards could be a team on the rise, where as I doubt the Wiz  can go anywhere with guys like Andray Blatche and Nick Young.

6- If you watched this game, you know that Jamaal Magloire’s fumbled rebound after a missed Wizards free throw was a major contributing factor to the end result. You can now make the argument that between his airballed free throws against the Pacers last month and his butter fingers on Monday night, Jamaal has had a hand in giving the Raptors two extra losses so far this season. Add those losses to the point Scott made about Magloire in his game thread, and I’d have to assume that “Tank Nation” is loving this acquisition right now.

It’s hard to believe, but this was actually the Raptors’ last road game for 22 days. After playing 17 of their first 26 games away from the Air Canada Centre, the Raps will begin a seven-game home-stand on Wednesday that will see them play the Bucks, Celtics, Lakers, Knicks, Spurs, Bobcats and Pistons. In fact, Toronto’s next road game will come after the All Star break. I’ll be interested to see how this team handles three weeks at home.

***

Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 35 Min, 30 Pts, 11-16 FG, 4-8 3PT, 4-8 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 TO

Wizards Player of the Game: John Wall – 44 Min, 31 Pts, 10-19 FG, 0-1 3PT, 11-14 FT, 5 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 TO

Game No. 24: Raptors 106, Wizards 89

I was very intrigued to see how the Raptors would come out to start this ball game. They had their butts handed to them on back-to-back nights by two greatly superior teams in the Hawks and Celtics, and then had to endure a day of practice on Thursday instead of the customary day off after a back-to-back.

The Raps responded and showed some passion out of the gates against the Wizards. While Toronto still hasn’t won a first quarter in 13 games, they did finish the first half up 10 thanks to some assertive and aggressive offence to go with the return of their solid defence.

Washington cut the lead to just one point midway through the third quarter, but again, Toronto responded with a spirited run to get their first home win in 25 days.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- Welcome back, Amir. Amir Johnson bounced back from an ugly stretch (less than three points and rebounds per game over last nine games) with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from him. 18 points in efficient fashion to go along with 13 rebounds, three blocks and a couple of assists. Johnson seemed to have that spring in his step again, and it was a most welcomed sight for Raptors fans. A lot of readers and commenters took my Thursday post on Amir as a suggestion that he should be amnestied. My intention was to simply point out that if he didn’t step his game up this season, his contract is as legitimate an amnesty candidate as any other on this roster, in my opinion. As I’ve often pointed out with Amir, performances like what we saw against the Wizards on Friday can be the norm for him if he stays focused and out of foul trouble.

2- That was by far the most aggressive I’ve seen the Raptors play on the offensive end this season. The wasted shot clocks and ill-advised jumpers were replaced with smart movement off the ball and hard drives to the basket. The result, aside from cracking the 100-point barrier for just the second time in regulation this season and the first time at home, was a respectable 45 per cent shooting, an eye-popping 68 points in the paint and 28 free throw attempts. I realize the Raptors won’t be able to put those numbers up against many NBA teams, but if they attack the basket the way they did against the Wizards, they’ll be in a lot more ball games, even without Andrea Bargnani.

3- One negative the aggressive offence brought to light was how poorly the Raptors are shooting free throws the last couple of games. Their 19-of-28 (67.9%) performance from the charity stripe on Friday means the Raps are just 27-of-46 (58%) from the line over their last two games. The Raptors entered Boston as a top-10 team in terms of free throw percentage and are shooting 75 per cent for the season, so let’s hope these two games have been a simple blip on the radar rather than the beginning of a decline.

4- Speaking of blips on the radar, it appears as though DeMar DeRozan’s 27-point performance in New Jersey on Sunday was just that, a blip, rather than the beginning of a climb back to respectability. DeRozan scored just 11 points on four-of-12 shooting on Friday, though in DeMar’s defence, he was once again denied a chance at more free throws by some very questionable non-calls. In three games since his outburst against the Nets, DeRozan has just 28 points on 10-of-33 shooting in 88 minutes of action. During that time, he’s gone to the free throw line just 14 times. On Sunday, he scored 27 points in 41 minutes and went to the line a career-high 16 times. I know DeRozan’s struggles seem to be documented on repeat right now, but at this point, he’s leaving us no choice. DeMar has to get it going for more than one game every few weeks.

5- These two guys may never get into another Thoughts on the Game post, so I wanted to take some time to give Jamaal Magloire and Aaron Gray some love tonight. Aaron got the start in the middle for the Raptors and provided his usual stability on the boards and the defensive end. Magloire came in for a short stint to close out the first quarter and picked up right where Gray had left off, just playing good fundamental big man basketball. The result was that the two combined to grab 12 rebounds in 17 total minutes, with Magloire adding a couple of blocks. They may not have done anything pretty or memorable in their short time on the floor, but make no mistake, Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire helped set the tone for the Raptors early on in this game, and the rest of the team carried that same hustle the rest of the way. If these two guys can combine for anywhere from 10-20 minutes of solid play in the middle on any given night, they will be well worth the minimal investment.

6- That aforementioned tone that Gray and Magloire helped set to start the game translated into a truly memorable team performance on the glass for the Raptors. With 61 rebounds, Toronto set a new franchise record for rebounds in a regulation game. Nine different Raptors grabbed at least three rebounds and the Raps out-rebounded the Wizards by a ridiculous margin of 24.

***

It may have been against the lowly Wizards (4-19, 1-10 on the road), but entertaining home wins like this, where the fans get some free pizza, are crucial from time to time to keep everyone’s sanity in this rebuilding season. Even Tank Nation loyalists can’t be that disappointed tonight, since realistically, the Raptors don’t have a chance to finish below the Wizards in the standings unless injuries come into play.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 27 Min, 18 Pts, 8-13 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 13 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Blk (Jose Calderon’s performance of eight points, 17 assists and eight rebounds should get some consideration here too)

Wizards Player of the Game: Trevor Booker – 32 Min, 13 Pts, 6-11 FG, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Blk (Nick Young and John Wall made too many careless decisions in this one to get the nod)

The Raptors are in Miami to take on the “Heatles” on Sunday afternoon, but stop by RaptorBlog on Saturday if you get a chance. I’ve got a fun post planned as part of Super Bowl weekend.

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