Archive for the ‘Julian Wright’ Category

It's time for Triano to make the call. Is he up for it?

By now, you may be sick of people praising Julian Wright and campaigning for the fourth-year player out of Kansas to get more minutes. Unfortunately, you’re about to get more of it.

In 312 total minutes played over just 24 appearances, Wright has brought a style of play that hasn’t been seen in Toronto for the better part of a decade. Here’s a swing-man whose first priority is defence, who always seems to be active on the defensive end, grabbing rebounds, forcing turnovers, blocking shots, etc.

Now, he’s no threat on the offensive end, but what should keep Wright on the floor is that he also knows his limitations, and plays within himself. Julian has attempted just under three shots per game in his appearances, and because he usually waits for an efficient scoring opportunity rather than just chucking the ball from anywhere, his field goal percentage hovers around 50 (currently 49.3).

Simply put, Julian Wright plays winning basketball; defence first and efficient offence.

Wright has only played 20 minutes or more five times this season. The Raptors are 3-2 (which is a small sample, but also decent when you consider that’s a quarter of the team’s wins) in those games, with wins in Orlando and Dallas. He’s also had his fingerprints on a few other Raptors wins this season, like when his pesky defence helped spur the biggest comeback in franchise history in Detroit.

It makes sense, if you think about it. A guy who can come up with loose balls, does the little things right and forces turnovers helps a young, athletic team that wants to get out and run.

So the question becomes, why on earth does Julian Wright average just 13 minutes per game?

It’s because Bryan Colangelo has too much invested in Linas Kleiza, and Jay Triano seems to have a man-crush on Sonny Weems.

I’m aware that Kleiza has stepped his game up since being re-inserted into the starting lineup, but at the end of the day, in a one-possession ball game, I’d be willing to bet that most NBA-caliber coaches would have Wright on the floor instead of Kleiza.

As for Weems, I’m actually the one, who just two months ago, wrote that he had played his way into a role in the future of this franchise. It took less than a month for Sonny to selfishly play his way out of that role, and the unfortunate timing of his back injury didn’t help.

Weems used to play a similar brand of basketball as Wright, before he woke up one day believing he was Kobe, and turned into a chucker and a hog. He rarely plays defence anymore and has become incredibly inefficient on the offensive end. It hurts the team to have him on the floor. Not to mention, I don’t believe it is just coincidence that DeMar DeRozan has grown leaps and bounds without Weems around.

The only hope for Weems now is that he has some sort of trade-value as February approaches.

Some would argue that Weems and Kleiza should be allowed to play through struggles, because they are two of the young building blocks going forward. I have two answers for those uninformed people.

One, Sonny Weems and Linas Kleiza should not be building blocks for the future of an NBA franchise. Two, Julian Wright is actually younger than both Weems and Kleiza. Doesn’t Wright, at just 23, deserve to play through struggles (of which he has had few this season) and deserve time to develop? Realistically, the only wing player that should be ahead of Wright on the depth chart is DeRozan.

At the beginning of the season, Jay Triano stated that without any stars on this roster, every single player would have to earn his minutes and that no player is safe when they return from injury. Even if that player was a starter, he would have to work his way back onto the court after injury.

Using this method, it should be a no-brainer that Wright will see more floor time than Weems, whenever Sonny returns from injury. But then again, it should also be a no-brainer that Julian Wright deserves some solid playing time. Instead, the only players Wright plays more than, on average, are Solomon Alabi and Peja Stojakovic (who doesn’t really count, does he?). Think about that coaching decision for a minute.

The truth is that Triano has been preaching the same song and dance for two years, and yet he never seems to follow through on his word. Remember that this is a guy who has stressed improved defence prior to the last two seasons. You see, all the post-game swearing in the world can’t hide the fact that Triano looks lost managing his rotation and coaching defence.

But guess what, Triano is in a fortunate situation, where his general manager is giving him the chance to grow as a coach and his ownership is too cheap to pay off another fired coach. For someone who is getting more than his fair share of second chances, shouldn’t Triano be equally rewarding to players like Julian Wright?

If you ask me, and a lot of others who follow the Raptors, Julian Wright should not only be rewarded with more playing time, but should also be starting.

But hey, that’s just the opinion of a young blogger and some basketball fans. The guy who’s getting paid millions to make those decisions is the smart one, right?

Let’s see Jay make the Wright decision, then.

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This game was out of reach in a hurry

Whatever it is that you would expect when a 27-7 team who is 15-2 at home hosts a 12-23 team who is 5-13 on the road, you got it on Friday night in Boston.

The Raptors hung with the Celtics for about four or five minutes before the flood gates opened.

If you watched the first quarter, you saw that the Raptors actually weren’t playing that poorly (but they did commit six turnovers), and yet still found themselves down 12 after giving up 34 points. The message was sent in that opening quarter: either play above your heads, or prepare to be run out of the building.

Jay Triano said that on Wednesday in Cleveland, he didn’t need to say anything after the first quarter. All he had to do was write “38 points” (the amount the Raps had given up in the first quarter that night). Well on Friday night in Boston, Triano should have simply written “Luke Harangody.”

The rookie out of Notre Dame was enjoying a coming-out party against the Raptors, and the embarrassment of that alone should have woken the team up.

More turnovers, atrocious defence and an all around lackadaisical second quarter all but sealed the Raptors fate. The Raps headed to the break down 22, and the Celtics were shooting a blistering 66 per cent thanks to the piss-poor Toronto defence.

The Raptors getting trounced in Boston should come as no surprise, so fans shouldn’t have been too upset.

But having said that, the young Raptors are still expected to at least pretend they despise losing. Aside from DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon, if you watched the players’ reactions in the first half, you could see there was really no problem with getting skunked.

Even more frustrating for fans was the lack of playing time given to Julian Wright. Wright has been one of the few consistent performers for Toronto this season, is the team’s best defender, does all the little things right and was coming off of his best showing of the season in Cleveland. Considering all of that, and considering that defence would be necessary to hang with the stingy Celtics, it was mind-boggling to see Wright play only five minutes in that ugly first half and just 13 minutes overall.

The second half was filled with missed opportunities for the Raptors. Here were the most glaring of those opportunities.

With the Raps down 15 in the third quarter, the Celtics miss a shot and four Raptors hover around the basket. Somehow, Ray Allen comes up with the rebound, which results in a Nate Robinson three-pointer. Later in the third, the Raptors have it down to 13 and Andrea Bargnani is backing down Glen Davis. He proceeds to fire an air ball from the paint.

Early in the fourth quarter, Toronto had actually sliced the deficit down to 12, and were able to get a stop. Leandro Barbosa then launches a rocket-pass off of Linas Kleiza and out of bounds. The Raptors get another stop, Barbosa gets the ball again, and promptly throws it away…again. Barbosa then attempted to redeem himself on the defensive end by leaving Ray Allen open, which quickly resulted in an Allen three.

In a matter of minutes, the Celtics lead was back up to 21.

Yes, the Celtics did dominate the Raptors, as expected. But the Raps also had their opportunities to make it interesting, and repeatedly shot themselves in the foot when presented with those opportunities.

From an individual standpoint, no one was really good, but DeRozan, Calderon and Kleiza were at least respectable. Most of the men in red were cringe-worthy on this night, to put it mildly. And perhaps no one was worse than Andrea Bargnani. After scoring 48 points in his first two games back from injury, I expected Andrea to attack the Celtics bigs and create some matchup problems.

Instead, Bargnani was thoroughly outplayed by Luke Harangody. Need I write more?

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 42 Min, 20 Pts, 8-15 FG, 4-4 FT, 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Blk

Celtics Player of the Game: Luke Harangody – 27 Min, 17 Pts, 8-11 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 0-1 FT, 11 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk

Goat of the Game: Leandro Barbosa – 26 Min, 15 Pts, 5-13 FG, 3-8 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 1 Reb, 7 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Last night, Julian Wright was the dĂ©butante at a coming-out party at Quicken Loans Arena. When he entered the game with 1:29 left in the first quarter, the Raptors were trailing 32-19. He remained on the court right through to the end of the half, when the Raptors led 66-63. In those 13 minutes of playing time, Wright had 11 points, four rebounds and four assists — he was the main reason the Raptors got back in the game.

The Raptors still led by three points when Wright re-entered the game at the 5:46 mark of the third quarter. He played the remainder of the game and helped lead the Raptors to a 15-point win. He finished the night with season-highs in minutes (31), points (15), rebounds (9), a career-high in assists (5) and an amazing plus-32 rating for the game.

What impressed me most about Wright last night was his court vision. I was reminded of the fact that he played point guard in high school by the seeing-eye assists he dished out. His ability to run the floor, score in transition and be a disruptor on defence were well established. His playmaking ability was a revelation to me.

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The back-and-forth battle between Bargnani and Stoudemire was a joy to watch

After back-to-back blowout losses to the Knicks and Pacers, I said the Raptors needed to at least compete in New York to prove their “want” metre was still running. They did more than just compete, but still came up a shot short at MSG.

The first quarter was an offensive back-and-forth affair, but unlike Sunday and Monday, the Raptors hung around and were still in the game after 12 minutes. In fact, the hot hand of Andrea Bargnani and some solid defence early in the second quarter had the Raps up 13.

But you had to know any large lead would be short-lived. Raymond Felton went crazy to close the second quarter, and the Knicks ended the half on an 18-6 run to take a 59-57 lead into the break.

The third quarter was the DeMar DeRozan show, as DeMar made a conscious effort to attack the rim for the first time in over a week. The result was a 19-point performance for DeRozan, and a tie ball game heading into the fourth.

In the fourth, it was simply Amare Stoudemire versus Andrea Bargnani, and what a show the two put on. The Knicks and Raptors went back and forth, trading baskets and stops for much of the quarter, while Amare and Andrea dazzled.

At one point in the fourth, the Knicks opened up a six-point lead, but the Raps battled back to tie it. Then, down three, Toronto looked to “Il Mago” to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and he did, nailing an ice-cold three pointer with about 27 seconds left.

Before the Raptors could celebrate or regroup, the Knicks were running back the other way to set up a potential game-winning possession. Felton unloaded a bit of an off-balance, heaving three that bounced off the rim four times before falling. It was one of those shots that have to make the opponents hang their heads and think, “this isn’t our night.”

Bargnani had another shot at a game-tying three, but his deep attempt fell way short. And that’s how the Raptors suffered their third straight defeat.

There are a few things that need to be written about. First off, Bargnani was as good as we’ve ever seen him. He’s always seemed to have solid performances at MSG, but tonight was truly something special. Andrea went off for a career-high 41 points and was literally un-guardable from beginning to end. His passing ability also stood out tonight, as he made some sound decisions and crisp passes when he was doubled and sometimes tripled.

As I mentioned, DeRozan had a solid game because he decided to attack. It should be simple, at this point, for the coaching staff. Let DeMar know he has two choices: be aggressive, play defence and don’t force shots or watch the game from the bench.

Speaking of the coaching staff, Jay Triano had another one of those nights that leaves us scratch our heads. He elected to give Sonny Weems and Linas Kleiza a combined 59 minutes and major fourth quarter time despite the fact that the pair went a combined 5-of-18 from the field tonight and didn’t do anything particularly well. Julian Wright, who played hard enough to warrant playing time when the other wings are having an off-night, never saw action.

And Ed Davis, who played his butt off on the defensive end and grabbed five rebounds in 10 minutes, didn’t see any action in the second half. I actually thought he may have been hurt.

But the most puzzling of all Triano decisions: taking Bargnani out for a couple of minutes with just four minutes remaining in a tight ball game. Did I mention Il Mago was having a career night? I won’t lie, the Raps made up a point or two with Bargs out, but the decision still left me shaking my head.

Two more quick points. Free throws continue to kill this team (23-of-31 tonight) and the refs were “iffy,” to say the least. Jose Calderon was given a technical for flailing his arms, while Amare got nothing for arguing all night, and Linas Kleiza got whistled for a five-second violation late in the game that usually wouldn’t be called in the pre-season.

But I digress. No matter what we have to say, the Raptors were beaten by a better Knicks squad for the third time in 22 games.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 39 Min, 41 Pts, 16-24 FG, 2-3 3Pt, 7-9 FT, 7 Reb, 6 Ast, 2 Stl

Knicks Player of the Game: Amare Stoudemire -42 Min, 34 Pts, 15-27 FG, 4-4 FT, 14 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Blk

Goat of the Game: Linas Kleiza – 28 Min, 8 Pts, 3-11 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 1-4 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 TO (I could have gone with Sonny or Linas, but Kleiza’s four extra shots in three less minutes, three missed free-throws and five-second violation sealed his fate)

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Who's leading the charge, and who's taking the back-seat approach after one month?

If you have read any of my recaps or freestyle posts over the last month or so, you know that I was keenly interested in how the Raptors fared over the first 17 games of the season (through the end of November).

I thought the answer would give us a good indication of what type of team we were dealing with this year.

With a tough schedule in the opening month that included playing most of the legit title contenders and a couple of tough road trips, I thought that a 5-12 or 6-11 record should have the team and fans content. That record fell in line with my pre-season prediction of about 35 wins and a 10th place finish in the East.

Well, what do you know? The Raptors escape November at 6-11, with wins over Orlando and Boston to their credit, and a couple of spirited efforts against the Lakers and Heat. As a team, the Raptors may have surpassed expectations for the month, at least lived up to them.

But what about from an individual standpoint? For a young team learning to grow together, the development of the Raptors’ young talent will be more relevant than their win-total.

So, after one month, 17 games and six wins, here’s my evaluation of the 15 players that make up the Toronto Raptors, to date.

Solomon Alabi – We knew what we were getting when the Raptors traded for Alabi on draft night; a project. Anyone who thought the young Nigerian could make an impact this season was dreaming. He’s played a grand total of less than a minute for the Raptors, I believe, and is developing as we speak in the D-League with Erie Bayhawks. Alabi is averaging 9.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.75 blocks  in 21.5 minutes per game in four games with Erie. If he keeps putting up solid numbers in the D-League, perhaps an opportunity will present itself this season.

Leandro Barbosa – I don’t think Barbosa has been as good as advertised so far this season, but he’s also been far from a bust. He was probably the Raptors best player in the pre-season, but a wrist injury in the final pre-season game in Montreal and a shoulder injury earlier this season seem to have seriously hampered his season. When healthy, the Brazilian Blur has still shown the eye-popping quickness that once made him a star, and he is one of the few Raptors that usually decides to attack the basket. If you believed he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Toronto, then you probably see him as a major disappointment. But if you simply wanted him to be a solid contributor off the bench, you probably don’t have much to complain about.

Andrea Bargnani – He still struggles with help-side defence and the fundamental skill of boxing out, but let’s admit it together, Andrea Bargnani has upped his game so far this season. He has shoudlered the offensive load with Bosh gone, and has seemed more than happy to do it. Il Mago has expanded his offensive game to a nice mix of inside-outside, and is one of, if not the best, scoring centres in the league. His rebounding numbers dipped while Reggie Evans pulled down every board available, but with Evans out indefinitely, I think we’ll see Andrea’s numbers at least return to last year’s average. He’s no All Star, yet, but Bargnani is improving, and people are taking notice.

Jerryd Bayless – Finally, Bryan Colangelo made a move with the future in mind. And what a move it was, if you believe, like me , that Jerryd Bayless can become a star in this league. In three games with the Raptors, Bayless has struggled shooting the ball, but has shown an intensity on the defensive end and a knack for getting to the basket like no point guard this franchise has seen in years. It might take him a while to get acclimated to the offence, but once he does, and things start clicking, Bayless will become a major contributor to this team. Both this season and for the foreseeable future.

Jose Calderon – I’m one of the biggest Calderon doubters out there, so it means a lot if I’m saying he has impressed me this season. His jump-shot seems to be slowly coming back to him, as does his burst, and while his defence is still laughable, he no longer looks like the worst defensive player in the NBA. He still would have been the better point guard to trade for obvious reasons, but it looks like he’s stuck here, so let’s make it work. If he can run the offence effectively, put in an honest effort on defence, mentor Jerryd Bayless and eventually let Bayless take the starting job, I’ll have nothing to complain about. Having said all that, I expect that in a few weeks, I’ll be ranting and raving again when Jose proves he should not be starting in the NBA.

Ed Davis – Up until now, much of the debate about Davis has been whether or not he was classy for trying to interact with the fans, or incredibly stupid for risking injury to play in a bush-league pick-up game. With news that the 21-year-old Tar Heel should make his NBA debut on Wednesday, it looks like we’ll finally be able to discuss his game. He averaged 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 17.5 minutes per game in two games with Erie. Those are impressive numbers. Come into the Association, don’t try to do too much, play D, contest shots, and take what comes to you offensively. Those are the things I’m looking for from Davis in his first season. It will be interesting to see how Triano handles the rookie’s minutes.

DeMar DeRozan – This is going to be a frustrating season for DeRozan supporters. He has had games (Orlando) where he looks like a budding star ready to break out, and others where he looks like a deer in headlights. I guess inconsistency is to be expected from the second-year player, but DeMar needs to find a groove quickly. If his numbers are slacking but he’s attacking the basket and getting to the line, fans will forgive. If he’s playing like the shy kid on the playground while admitting he’s slacking, things could get ugly.

Joey Dorsey – We haven’t seen enough from Dorsey in a Raptors uniform, but Reggie’s injury likely means we’ll see a lot more in the coming weeks. In the small sample we have seen, Dorsey looks like a physical big who, like Reggie, knows his role and chases every loose ball. His rebounding efficiency will not compare to Evans’, but he has more finish around the rim and should provide some quality minutes here and there.

Reggie Evans – Reggie was, without question, the most pleasant surprise of the early season in Toronto. His hustle and energy became infectious on the floor, and it makes you wonder how much this young team will miss their vocal leader. Sitting in the top-three in the NBA with over 12 rebounds per game, you could make the argument that Reggie Evans is the most valuable player to this team. Time will tell if that is true, but for now, Reggie just has to work on getting back to 100 per cent.

Amir Johnson – I don’t know if you can say that Johnson has been a disappointment so far, but most would agree they may have expected too much, too soon. Amir’s penchant for picking up quick, silly fouls is still haunting him. Until he can learn to limit those calls, his numbers will continue to hover where they are and his place will remain on the Raptors’ bench. Though you have to wonder, in a season that’s supposed to be about development, what’s the harm in starting Amir and letting him foul out every night?

Linas Kleiza – He has been the biggest disappointment for me through 17 games. I didn’t, like some people. expect him to come in and take on the role of primary scorer. But I did expect him to put up more than 10 points per game and shoot better than 25 per cent from three-point range. I think we forget that Kleiza is only 25 and, like most of the roster, still has room to grow. But he is supposed to be one of the more polished Raptors, and he has only shown that in glimpses so far. If the Raptors are to succeed this season, they need more from Kleiza, bottom line.

Peja Stojakovic – Peja probably more showed more game in his first two appearances than most assumed he would show all season. But now he’s banged up and many, including myself, are questioning what his role on this team is. If the Raptors want to surprise some teams this season and squeak into the playoffs, Stojakovic could help get them there. If it really is all about the future, find a deal that works for all parties.

Sonny Weems – No one could have predicted that Weems would be the team’s second-leading scorer through 17 games. Sonny’s mid-range game continues to improve while he reminds us that he’s still a force when he decides to attack. I’d still like to see him attack more often on offence, but if his jumper keeps falling and he continues to play defence, he will have a place in the future of this franchise.

Julian Wright – This guy’s been the epitome of a pro in his limited appearances this season. He works his butt off on the defensive end, never gives up on a play, comes up with timely steals and blocks, shows some finish around the basket and rarely settles for poor shots that disrupt the offence. I think it would be wise to see what Wright can bring you on a consistent basis. It doesn’t hurt to have another athletic wing pushing Weems, DeRozan and Kleiza for minutes.