Archive for the ‘James Johnson’ Category

Game No. 18: Raptors 99, Suns 96

Despite another sluggish start and early double-digit deficit, the Raptors were able to battle back on the road in Phoenix for just their fifth win of the season. The game was won between the second and third quarters, when the Raptors put together their first back-to-back 30-point quarters of the season.

In addition to snapping an eight-game losing streak, the Raptors also beat the Suns for the first time since February 10, 2004, and for the first time since November 2, 2001, they beat a Steve Nash-led team.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- It’s a bit easier to get some offence going and get a W when you have an All-Star in the lineup, and I continue to believe that’s the caliber of play Andrea Bargnani is bringing this season. Despite missing six games with a strained calf and being out of action for 13 days, Bargnani picked up right where he left off. Sure, he got off to a slow start offensively (0-of-4 from the floor), but he was still doing the little things on the floor and staying aggressive, which told me he was mentally into the game and just needed to get his timing back.

What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly that timing would return. Bargnani exploded for 18 points in the third quarter alone, when the Raptors really turned the tide in the ball game, and finished with a game-high and personal season-high of 36 points. Even better, he did it on 21 shots while playing some solid defence and coming up with six rebounds. Andrea the All-Star? Yes, Andrea the All-Star.

2- As if Ed Davis’ season hasn’t been frustrating enough, the young big man had to feel like he hit rock bottom tonight. Three minutes of playing time, zero points on 0-for-1 shooting, one rebound, one turnover, three personal fouls.  Ouch, that’s really all there is to say. This has to be the bottom of the barrel for Davis…right?!

3- I mentioned that the Raptors had to claw back after another sluggish start to a game and another early double-digit deficit. For a young team that should be able to pounce on older teams early, these first quarter woes are really becoming a major concern for Toronto. In their last six first quarters, the Raptors have been outscored by a combined 159-88 (an average of about 26.5-14.7), have trailed by anywhere from eight-to-16 points after the last six opening frames and haven’t scored more than 18 points in a first quarter in any of those games. With that aforementioned youth, I assumed the Raptors would lose a lot of games this season after opening up surprising leads early on. Instead, they’re almost facing an uphill battle by the game’s first stoppage.

4- As bad as the first quarter was for the Raptors in this game, the third quarter was that much better. Carried by a barrage of Bargnani buckets, Toronto outscored Phoenix 31-19 (Bargnani himself, with 18 points in the third, almost matched the Suns’ entire output for the quarter), and went from being down four at halftime to up eight heading into the fourth quarter. It was definitely one of the best, most complete quarters of the season for the Raptors, if not the best so far this year, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint.

5- Here’s my quick take on the Suns. Outside of Steve Nash, and maybe Marcin Gortat, I don’t think you can name one player on that roster who is an NBA starter at this point in their career. Even beyond looking for starters, can you even find more than three or four guys on that roster who can legitimately impact a game on any given night? The Suns need to blow it up and start all over again, and that process will be made easier when about $30 million comes off their books this off-season. But they can speed up the rebuilding process by trading Steve Nash before the trade deadline (and freeing him from this mess of a situation) and stock-piling some good young talent, which they have none of right now. Trading Nash mid-season would also likely put them in better position for the stacked 2012 Draft.

They owe it to Nash, and they owe it to themselves.

6- I could spend my last thought knocking another lackluster performance from DeMar DeRozan, but I’ve said enough about his recent play already. Instead, I’ll take the high road and talk about a positive right now, and that’s James Johnson. Johnson finished with 18 points (on seven-of-12 shooting) to go along with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. In addition, he played more minutes than anyone besides Bargnani and turned the ball over just twice in those 35 minutes. In his last three games, Johnson is averaging 16 points on 54 per cent shooting to go along with six rebounds and about two blocks and two steals.

He doesn’t have to score that prolifically, but as I’ve mentioned recently, if Johnson can even become an average offensive option when the Raptors need him, then coupled with his versatile defence, I’d say at 24, he definitely has a place in the Raptors’ future in some capacity.

***

Next up for the Raptors is the back end of a back-to-back in Utah on Wednesday night. The Jazz are an underrated team in the Western Conference and are sitting at home well rested, so the Raps could and should get knocked back down to earth after this win.

Never the less, even in a mostly lost season more about draft positioning than anything else, you still don’t want to see double-digit losing streaks, so this was a much-needed victory for the young Raptors.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 42 Min, 36 Pts, 10-21 FG, 4-6 3PT, 12-12 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Suns Player of the Game: Marcin Gortat – 38 Min, 21 Pts, 9-16 FG, 3-5 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk

Despite the Raptors’ poor start and early struggles to the condensed season, most of my posts have still been somewhat positive, though I’d like to think of them as realistic.

I’ve written about how bright the future of this franchise could look in just six months time, and I meant it. But I wrote posts like that with hopes of a few things coming to fruition.

I came into this season thinking there were two ways the Raptors could take a step forward. The less popular of those outcomes might have been if this year’s team over-achieved and actually contended for a playoff spot on the backs of break-out seasons from guys like DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and other members of the team’s young core. Had that happened, I would have been content with adding a decent draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas and salary cap space to what would appear to be an already emerging young group.

The more realistic outcome I saw occurring was that under Dwane Casey, the Raptors would give us plenty of competitive contests and the odd upset victory or two with the young core all developing, all while still losing enough games to land Toronto a top-five pick in a loaded draft class. To many, including myself, this was probably the best case scenario. Develop the young core, get them game-tested in close games and tight battles, then add a great draft pick, Valanciunas and the aforementioned cap space.

Unfortunately, a quarter of the way through the lockout-shortened season, neither of those outcomes is looking very likely, and so far the only bright light at the end of the tunnel for Raptors fans is that this season will be over rather quickly.

DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, who I still do have high hopes for, may have taken a step backwards in their development. Amir Johnson and James Johnson, while providing the odd spark, have still been too inconsistent to be taken seriously as integral parts of any future building plans. Jerryd Bayless has only played in four games so far because of an ankle injury. When it comes to the Raptors’ 25-and-under “core,” virtually no questions have been answered in this season that’s supposed to be about finding out what we have here.

To me, the only concrete positive developments so far are that Andrea Bargnani actually looks like a legitimate starting power forward, and an above average one at that (though he’s only played 11 games this season and is currently nursing a strained calf), and that Dwane Casey looks like a legitimate NBA head coach who can get a sad-sack of defensive talent to look competent.

Add this mostly negative opening quarter of the season to the fact that the Raptors have lost eight straight (and are still navigating through a tough stretch of the schedule) and are 4-13, and the only positive thing Raptors fans can talk about is the 2012 Draft.

Unfortunately, even that might depress you.

Today, I looked at the NBA standings in depth for the first time this season, and saw something frightening from a Raptors perspective. At 4-13, I just assumed that Toronto had to have one of the worst two or three records in the league. Instead, despite being on pace for just 15.5 wins, the Raps are still fifth-worst in the NBA.

If you’re a “Tank-Nation” subscriber thinking that Toronto’s current pace will easily see them land a top-three pick, think again. Teams already below them or around them in the standings, like the Wizards, Bobcats, Hornets, Pistons and Nets could easily play their way to a sub-Raptors record.

How depressing would it be if the Raptors continue to play as poorly as they have been recently, don’t see any development from young players like DeRozan and Davis, finish with around 50 losses out of 66 games, and still don’t land a top-three or even top-five pick this June?

Maybe it’s the hangover from another lengthy losing streak, maybe it’s symptoms of the late January blues, but whatever the case, this frightening thought has suddenly popped into my head.

Sorry to further depress you on what many experts believe is already the most depressing day of the calendar year.

Here’s hoping that in a month’s time, when we look back at the first half of the 2011-2012 season, we have more encouraging things to discuss.

Game No. 16: Trail Blazers 94, Raptors 84

In similar fashion to their loss against the Celtics on Wednesday night, the Raptors dug too big an early hole against the Blazers and saw a good run during the middle of the ball game fall short. While they kept it much closer than the 23-point spread in Boston, the Raptors still weren’t really in this game past the midway point of the first quarter, other than maybe one part of the third quarter.

LaMarcus Aldridge was simply a man amongst boys in this one, and the Raptors failed to contain him.

Now here are six thoughts on the game:

1- A great crowd. You will not find many markets in the NBA that can pack 17,537 people into an arena with a 4-11 team. Just look at places like Philadelphia and Atlanta, big American cities with currently competitive teams, for proof. The Raptors haven’t had great home crowds since their home opener sell out, and I definitely wasn’t expecting a large crowd to watch the good, yet unspectacular Blazers. Seeing the Air Canada Centre pretty full and housing a vocal and passionate crowd was nice to see. The fans were into the game early, booed when the Raptors looked like an elementary school team in the first half, gave them a nice ovation when they finally decided to show up, and really stayed active and alert all game. It’s a shame they didn’t get a good contest for their efforts.

2- I mentioned the booing in the first half. Believe me, it was very well deserved by the home side. No one really expects this team to compete for a playoff spot or to beat teams like the Blazers, but they do expect an honest effort on both ends of the floor. There were stretches of the first and second quarters where Raptor players were clearly just going through the motions on offence, running at half-speed with their arms glued to their side, totally unprepared to accept a pass or get involved in the action. It was hideous to watch. For more on this offensive offence, check out Blake Kennedy’s excellent post from earlier on Friday.

3- If you’re going to have a horrible shooting night in the NBA, as the Raptors did on Friday night (36.6 per cent), then you better have a good night rebounding the ball, or you’re in trouble. As you can probably deduce by now, the Raptors did not have a good night on the glass, either. Portland out-rebounded Toronto 55-40 and came up with 15 offensive rebounds to give themselves plenty of opportunities for second-chance points. Thank goodness Dwane Casey has this defence clicking, because if not for another good defensive effort, the Raptors would have been blown to smithereens.

4- DeMar DeRozan had another one of those awkward nights where you’re not quite sure if he’s starting to break out of his funk or is actually just digging himself deeper into a hole. Sure, he finished with 22 points and finally got to the line a good number of times (10), but he also shot seven-of-21 from the field (33.3 per cent) and missed a couple of shots that left everyone in the building face-palming. There was a point in the third quarter where DeMar converted an and-one and seemed to get genuinely angry after that. He began attacking the basket, got to the line and looked capable of single-handedly bringing the Raptors back into the game. Unfortunately, that only lasted for about 10 minutes.

5- A word on the Blazers. What other team in the NBA, or in all of pro sports for that matter, could have one prized lottery pick (and their franchise player) be forced to retire before fully entering his prime and another never even become a shadow of what the team expected him to be, and still not miss a beat? Yes, it’s depressing to think what this team could have been had Roy and Oden or even just one of them stayed healthy, but it’s also uplifting to watch what Nate McMillan and the current players on the roster are doing. They’re not the flashiest or most exciting team, but their offence is improved, their defence still looks very good, they seem to have good chemistry and LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play like an All Star. Are they championship contenders? No, but this team might have a couple of good playoff runs in them.

6- I wrote about how unimpressive and downright awful James Johnson was in his first start of the season in Boston, so I’ll give him some love for what was a surprising offensive outburst against Portland. Johnson, who was averaging four points on just over 30 per cent shooting coming into this game, scored a career-high 23 points, and did it in very efficient fashion, on just 17 shots. Most impressive, he was able to do it while still contributing in other areas of the game that he thrives in, like rebounding and defence. He continues to show that he’ll never give up on a defensive play, even when an opposing player has a 10-step head start on a fast break, and was the only Raptor to play more than five minutes and finish with a positive plus/minus (+2).

The Raptors don’t need James Johnson to become an offensive weapon, but they do need him to become a respectable offensive option when he’s on the floor if he wants to have a serious future in Toronto. Too often this season, the Raptors have been offensively handicapped at the small forward position, no matter who’s played the three.

***

With that, the Raptors have now lost seven in a row and continue to face a daunting schedule. Nine of Toronto’s next 10 games are either against winning teams or teams that have already beaten the Raptors this season. If they can get healthy, perhaps they can win a few of those games, but if Andrea Bargnani and even Jerryd Bayless remain sidelined, this season could get horribly embarrassing over the next few weeks.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 31 Min, 23 Pts, 10-17 FG, 1-2 3PT, 2-3 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 Blk

Trail Blazers Player of the Game: LaMarcus Aldridge – 39 Min, 33 Pts, 12-25 FG, 9-14 FT, 23 Reb, 5 Ast, 2 Stl, 6 TO

Blake Kennedy is a basketball coach and official with an appreciation for the burgeoning field of NBA statistical analysis. He has used those tools to inform fans as well as to consult other high school coaches in establishing statistical methods for their own programs. You can read more of his work at The Hoops Institute blog and he’s on Twitter @BorisDK1.

Note: This post was meant to go up on Wednesday, so the numbers will have changed slightly after Wednesday’s night’s game.

I can honestly say I didn’t see this coming.

Any favourable odds you want to imagine would not have been enough to persuade me, prior to this season, to put money on the notion that the Raptors would be the 28th ranked team in points / 100 possessions in the NBA after 13 games. There’s no way I would have taken that bet.

Yet, that’s exactly where they are. Not only are they generally inefficient offensively, but in every single one of the Four Factors they are just not getting the job done. They currently sit ranked 23rd in effective field goal percentage, 26th in turnover percentage, 24th in offensive rebounding percentage and 22nd in free throws / field goal attempts. In other words, they don’t do a single thing well.

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Game No. 15: Celtics 96, Raptors 73

Yes, the Celtics are old and slow and are barely a shadow of their former selves (more on them later), but you had to know even in this state, they weren’t going to lose their sixth straight game (and fall to 4-9) with a home loss to the 4-10 Raptors. Not going to happen.

For all intents and purposes, this game was over when the Raptors went on an 0-for-10 stretch during the first quarter and went down 21-7 early. Though the game got somewhat close in the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter, Toronto never got within five again after digging that early hole.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- As frustrated as I’ve been with DeMar DeRozan for the last couple of weeks, I can’t really knock his hustle tonight. DeMar was consistently attacking the basket and trying to draw contact when he wasn’t driving, but between just not getting calls and some careless turnovers, DeRozan couldn’t put it together. There were at least three or four occasions when I thought DeMar deserved a couple of free throws, but in the end, he finished with just three attempts from the line. There were also a couple of times DeMar looked like he was starting a strong move towards the basket before ultimately fumbling the ball and turning it over. It may not sound like much, but between the non-calls and the turnovers, DeRozan probably lost six-to-eight potential points.

2- I liked what I saw from Ed Davis tonight, though his missed “gimmies” from a few feet away continue to frustrate me. Davis seemed much more active than he has been in a while. He was rebounding, working to get good offensive positioning in the post and seemed to have some good chemistry with Amir Johnson, as the pair made a few surprising, beautiful passes to each other. In the end, Ed finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes, but I’ll always think about what his numbers might look like this season if he could convert seemingly easy buckets. If he can figure it out offensively (he’s still way too young and inexperienced in the NBA to be declared offensively inept forever), he’s a walking double-double.

3- The other positive for the Raptors was the play of Gary Forbes off of the bench. What Forbes showed us in Boston is basically what I was hoping from him when the Raptors signed him. I don’t expect him to score an outstanding 18 points on just six shots in 19 minutes (as he did tonight) on a consistent basis, but I do think he can be a good scorer and the type of player who can alter momentum in a ball game. His play is obviously starting to win over Dwane Casey as well, as Forbes has logged 49 minutes over the last three games after playing just 45 minutes in the first 12 games combined.

4- That will about end the positives from this game. Now on to the much more visible negatives…Everyone wanted Rasual Butler yanked from the starting lineup, and with Linas Kleiza still rusty and Gary Forbes filling in as a back-up point guard, the next option at the three was James Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t exactly take the starting job and run with it in his first start of the season. James started the game with seven minutes of goose-egg basketball, as in he put up zero points (on zero-for-three shooting) to go along with the zeros in every other category (expect personal fouls). He quickly found his place on the bench, and finished with four points, two rebounds, a steal and three turnovers in 25 minutes.

5- Now about those aging Celtics. I picked the Knicks to win the Atlantic Division this season, but I still expected the Celtics to be a top-four or top-five team in the East that could win a playoff series or two if they got the right bounces. After watching them on a few occasions through three weeks of the season, I’ve already soured on them. They’re simply too old and slow to compete with the NBA’s elite, but the scary thing for Celts fans is that they almost look too slow to even compete with mediocre teams. From what I’ve seen, I can’t see Boston finishing anywhere near the top of the Eastern Conference, unless they end up winning the Atlantic with a barely above .500 record. I still think they’ll make the playoffs (not if Rondo is out for an extended period of time after Linas Kleiza’s flagrant foul), but they’re looking at a battle for sixth to eighth in the East instead of fighting for first to fourth.

6- I don’t believe for one second that Dwane Casey is playing to lose or that Bryan Colangelo enjoys the early losing that goes with the process of rebuilding. I think Casey is honestly trying to get every ounce of effort and output he can from this severely over-matched bunch, and for the most part, I think he’s doing a pretty good job. But you can’t tell me that giving Rasual Butler and Aaron Gray a combined 34 minutes is in an attempt to beat the Boston Celtics. Are they necessarily “trying” to lose? No. Would they ever admit that they are creatively trying to tank? Hell no. But come on, trotting out Butler, Jamaal Magloire and Anthony Carter for anything more than a minute each in 2012 is a form of tanking, whether admitted or not.

And for all of those Raptors fans who have fully embraced “Tank-Nation,” you have to be thrilled tonight. With the Wizards stunning the Thunder, the Raps are now just one-and-a-half games ahead of the last place Wiz, with games against the Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets coming up in the next nine days. In all likelihood, this will get ugly in a hurry, but could get oh, so sweet when the ping pong balls drop in May.

Raptors Player of the Game: Gary Forbes – 19 Min, 18 Pts, 5-6 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 7-8 FT, 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Celtics Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo – 28 Min, 21 Pts, 7-8 FG, 7-11 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 TO