Archive for the ‘Solomon Alabi’ Category

Game No. 66: Raptors 98, Nets 67

18,161 people packed the Air Canada Centre to watch the 2011-2012 season finale between the Raptors and Nets. The loser would still have an outside chance to finish tied for the third worst record. The winner would finish seventh-worst or in a tie for eighth-worst.

Once the ball was tipped, the Nets gave new meaning to the word “tank” and the Raptors’ scrubs were made to look like an NBA powerhouse.

Now here are some thoughts on the game, for the last time this season:

1-For the Raptors, Ed Davis, Gary Forbes, Alan Anderson, Ben Uzoh and Solomon Alabi all played at least 40 minutes. Jamaal Magloire started. For the Nets, Johan Petro, Armon Johnson, Jordan Williams and Sundiata Gaines played major roles. Those lineups pretty much tell you all you need to know about what this game was all about.

2- The one thing you can say for the Raptors is that the players who saw action on Thursday night at least played with pride. I’m not sure you can say the same about the Nets’ sad sack of a rotation in this game. They were chucking shots, turning the ball over, running into each other, bumbling, stumbling and just doing their best to cause some in the stands to wonder how much Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z paid these guys to take a dive.

3- The combination of blatant Nets tanking and some solid efforts from Toronto’s players led to some inflated numbers for certain Raptors. Most notably, Ben Uzoh recorded the first triple-double by a Raptor (12 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) since Alvin Williams did it way back on March 23, 2001. Until Uzoh achieved the feat, the Raps had the longest triple-double drought in the NBA. Uzoh added four steals for good measure in 46 minutes of playing time. Ben seemed to do everything asked of a 10-day guy and then some in his time as a Raptor this season, and as I’ve said recently, I’d like to see him brought back as the team’s third string point guard next season.

4- Ed Davis got a preview of the Summer League competition he’ll see this off-season and made good with the practice, posting 24 points on a ridiculous 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. But perhaps the biggest indication of the type of team the Nets fielded tonight was the statline put up by Davis’ frontcourt partner, seldom used Solomon Alabi. Solo, who hasn’t even played 150 total minutes in his NBA career, finished with 11 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks in 40 minutes of floor time.

5- A quick word on the Nets. I know it’s been said before, but if this team doesn’t land a top-three pick, the franchise will be in a world of hurt for the forseeable future. They were bad enough as is. Take away Deron Williams, take away the possibility of acquiring Dwight Howard, and keep them without a lottery pick this summer, and Brooklyn might be getting the worst team in the NBA next season. If there really is an NBA conspiracy to “fix” the lottery, then my money would be on the Nets, for the simple premise that anything outside of the top-three (and therefore a pick that would move to Portland) could be a death blow for the franchise before they even pack up and move. Us Raptors fans think we have a lot riding on this year’s lottery and draft, but no team has as much at stake on lottery night as the Nets.

6-Before the game, Jamaal Magloire took the mic at centre court on behalf of the organization to thank the fans for another season. Magloire mentioned the “p” word for next season (he pretty much guaranteed it), which I thought was ballsy, and probably not something the organization wants to start doing. While I think the opportunity is there if the right moves are made, if the team gets some lottery luck and if Jonas Valanciunas can make an impact, I still don’t think the Raptors should give fans the impression that a playoff trip is expected for next season. I feel like that’s welcoming disappointment and possible disaster. Plus, while I do like the bold statement, I’d prefer it if a player who will have more of a say in whether it happens or not makes the bold statement.

Raptors Player of the Game: Ben Uzoh – 46 Min, 12 Pts, 6-19 FG, 11 Reb, 12 Ast, 4 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Nets Player of the Game: N/A (I picked a player of the game for both teams in every game I shared my thoughts on this season. I think I’m entitled to this one, especially considering there really wasn’t a Nets player worthy of the honour. If you want to praise Armon Johnson, Johan Petro or Jordan Williams, then go ahead.)

***

A quick reminder. If the Warriors beat the Spurs by the time you read this, then the Raptors will finish with the seventh-worst record, which brings with it 43 lottery combinations and a 4.3 per cent chance to win the Draft Lottery. If the Warriors lose, the Raps finish tied for seventh and eighth-worst, which will bring either 35 or 36 combinations on lottery night (to be determined by a coin flip), and about a 3.5 per cent chance.

While this is the last time I’ll “foul out” with six personal thoughts until October, we here at RaptorBlog will continue to have you covered throughout the off-season with pre-lottery coverage, pre-draft coverage, player evaluations and the rest of the usual summer stuff, along with some episodes of RaptorBlog Radio along the way. As long as nothing breaks this weekend while I’m recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed, then you’ll be able to find all of your Raptors-related off-season material here.

Game No. 62: Hawks 109, Raptors 87

After over their head wins against the Celtics on Friday and in Atlanta on Sunday, the undermanned Raptors were due for a letdown, and the playoff caliber Hawks had to have revenge on their minds.

So I was actually pleasantly surprised to see the Raptors taking the game to the Hawks in the first half and hanging with them for a good chunk of three quarters. But once Atlanta started to pull away early in the fourth quarter, you knew the mini winning streak had run its course. The 22-point spread may be closer to what most people expected from this game, but it was in no way indicative of a dominating performance from the Hawks.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’m not going to come out and proclaim that Solomon Alabi can flat out play, but come on, hands up if you even thought the guy could hold his own against fellow NBA-ers, let alone against a 36-25 team. Alabi wasn’t great, but he did in fact hold his own, and looked far from out place while putting up better numbers than any other Raptors big man that played (Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Aaron Gray). Solo finished with eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block (plus three personal fouls and two turnovers) in 24 minutes. I know he shocked the hell out of me, and personally, I’d like to see him get some minutes in the last four games of the season to judge whether this was a mere aberration, or if he can actually serve a purpose as an extra big man off the bench.

2- Another guy whose performance I liked in this game was Ben Uzoh, who along with Alan Anderson, was signed for the remainder of the season on Monday. In recent recaps, I’ve noted Uzoh’s impressive perimeter defence (though Jeff Teague torched him tonight) and his quickness in penetrating the opposing team’s defence. But another thing I like about Ben’s game is his rebounding prowess for a point guard. At 6’3, Uzoh is usually one of the smallest, if not the smallest guy on the court. And yet I’ve noticed that he’s always one of the Raptors crashing the boards on both ends of the floor and putting his body on the line to gain or save possession of the ball for his team. There was no better example than on Monday night, when Uzoh grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in 33 minutes, upping his average since joining the Raptors to seven rebounds per 36 minutes. It’s just one part of his game, but it shows me that he’s got heart and a great motor, and when combined with his quickness, defence and youth (he only recently turned 24), is one of many reasons I’d like to see him back in Raptors colours as a solid third point guard next season.

3- Welcome back, James. After being benched for two games by Dwane Casey a couple of weeks ago, James Johnson had failed to really make an impression in his first few games back in the lineup. That started to change on Sunday night in Atlanta, when Johnson’s big fourth quarter helped the Raptors pull away for the win. Then on Monday night, James put up 18 points on a very efficient 7-of-11 shooting to go along with four rebounds, five assists, a steal and a Raptors dunk of the year candidate that got everybody in the Air Canada Centre up. Hopefully he can build on his last five quarters of solid play and finish the season strong.

4- From a team perspective, I liked that the Raptors out-rebounded the Hawks 46-42, but what I really liked was watching the Raptors’ bigs hammer Hawks players on a handful of very hard fouls in the paint. Aaron Gray, especially, committed a couple of mean fouls, and I can recall one hard foul Ed Davis committed on Marvin Williams where Ed got up and walked right over Williams’ sprawled out body. At the end of the day, all most of us care about with this team is eventually getting to see a perennial winner and legitimate contender, but if you ask me, I’d prefer they get there with an intimidating mean streak, and I saw some good signs toward that in this game.

5- A few words on the Hawks. Yes, I realize that they just won a game by 22 points without ever looking like they were rolling on all cylinders, and yes, I’m aware that at 36-25, they’d be on pace for a 48-win season in a regular schedule, but I haven’t come away impressed from watching the Hawks play in a while, and I honestly don’t see them being much of a factor come playoff time. They’ll probably end up fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference (which is a testament to how improved the East has become over the last couple of years) and have to play the Celtics or Pacers in the first round without home court advantage. They should make it at least competitive, but I don’t see them beating Boston or Indiana four times out of seven. Even sadder, it appears the Hawks’ decline has started without them every truly peaking. Though to be honest, I can’t feel too bad for a “fan-base” that has never really rallied around this team. This is their fifth straight season as a playoff team, and yet they’ve finished between 18th and 25th in attendance in each of those five seasons.

6- A lot of people seem to be talking about the Raptors’ impressive play of late, especially their now 5-5 record in the month of April. But they’ve actually quietly been playing pretty well for the last three or four weeks, as if you look back to their home win over the Knicks on March 23, the Raptors are basically playing .500 ball (7-8) over their last 15 games. And if you think point-differential is a good measure of how competitive a team is over a period of time, the Raps have averaged 93 points per game while allowing 93.9 points during the 15-game sample. When you consider the fact that Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza have all missed time over the course of this stretch, and that 12 of the 15 games have come against winning teams, it really does speak volumes about the job Dwane Casey and his staff are doing here. Just like the final result of this game, the Raptors’ record isn’t an indication of their effort and improvement in certain areas.

Hopefully next season, we’ll be able to see the fruits of that labour in terms of winning results over an 82-game stretch, not just in samples here and there.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 22 Pts 8-14 FG, 1-1 3PT, 5-5 FT, 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Hawks Player of the Game: Jeff Teague – 36 Min, 19 Pts, 6-11 FG, 1-3 3PT, 6-8 FT, 6 Reb, 10 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk, 1 TO (Honourable mention to Ivan Johnson’s 21 points and eight rebounds)

“Building season” or not, that may have been one of the worst back-to-backs I’ve ever seen from the Raptors, as they were first thoroughly outplayed and outworked by the lowly Nets and then absolutely dismantled by the good, but far from great 76ers.

Chances are, Raptors fans might not be in the best mood today. Their team was just spanked around like a government mule and the weekend’s already almost over. So I thought I’d try to cheer you up with some Jonas Valanciunas and Solomon Alabi news. Don’t laugh.

First things first, Jonas Valanciunas was voted Lithuanian Basketball Player of the Year after a meteoric rise in 2011. The Lithuanian phenom was probably already popular enough in his native land, but after putting up some impressive numbers in Euro Ball, being selected fifth overall in the NBA Draft and looking like a man amongst boys at the FIBA Under 19 Championships, Valanciunas really burst onto the world basketball scene.

The catch though, is that Valanciunas was voted this award by the general public, which takes some of the prestige out of it. Still, the fact that a 19-year-old got this award in a basketball-mad country speaks very highly of Valanciunas.

Now on to the less expected, but much more intriguing note of the day. Remember Solomon Alabi? The 7-1, 250-pound, 23-year-old centre who could never get any burn with the big club? Well I’ll be honest, I thought we had got to the point where we could already kiss his NBA chances goodbye. But over the last week, the Raptors big man has been putting up some dominating numbers with the Bakersfield Jam in the NBA Development League.

In three games with Bakersfield, Alabi has averaged 14 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, capping the week off with a 22-point, nine-rebound, four-block performance on Saturday night against the Idaho Stampede.

While three games is obviously a small sample, consider that Alabi averaged just seven points and five rebounds in 22 D-League games with Erie last year. Has Solomon’s game been quietly developing, or are his inflated numbers a result of an increase in minutes (from 18.5 to 27.3) from last season?

I’m not naive enough to believe that Alabi can translate numbers even remotely close to those into the NBA, but I will admit that I am suddenly interested in monitoring his numbers from here on out, and also interested to see if he can get back on the court for the Raptors some time in the near future.

For a physically imposing centre, I don’t like the fact that he’s shooting below 50 per cent (48.6) in the D-League, and that makes me think that he still won’t be able to contribute anything at all on the offensive end. But if you’re over seven feet tall and have a knack for rebounding and blocking shots, you should be able to carry some of that defensive presence with you to the NBA.

With Aaron Gray still sidelined and Jamaal Magloire looking like he’s on his last legs, averaging 1.1 points (on 44 per cent shooting), 3.8 rebounds and 0.2 blocks in about 11 minutes per game, I ask you, can Solomon Alabi really be that much of a downgrade?

Friday night and Saturday night provided a stiff reality check of what this season is about, in case we had forgotten after six games, and the way I see it, if you’re going to call this a building season and want to see what you have in some of these young players, then you might as well see what you have in a 7-1 big man who’s actually producing results somewhere.

With a condensed training camp and pre-season in the books, it’s time to take one final look at what the Raptors’ rotation looks like, or at least what I believe it to look like, before the regular season gets started on Monday night in Cleveland.

I’m basing this on both the little I saw from players in the pre-season and on Dwane Casey’s comments about certain players throughout training camp.

Let’s get to it.

Point Guard: Jose Calderon will likely start on opening night, and if he plays the way he’s capable of and shows Dwane Casey he can out-defend a pylon, he may even keep the starting job for the entire season. But Jerryd Bayless is nearly seven full years younger than Calderon, is quicker and a much better defender than Calderon, and obviously has a lot more potential than a 30-year-old. Quite frankly, the only one who can get in the way of Bayless earning the starting job this season is Jerryd Bayless, himself. His penchant for sloppy play and turnovers can hurt his minutes and his team, but if he can find away to take care of the ball, the tenacious Bayless should surpass the injury-prone Calderon on the Raptors’ depth chart in a very physically demanding season. I don’t expect Anthony Carter to make much of an impact in games, but I can definitely see Casey going to Carter if Jose and Jerryd falter. As Casey himself noted, Anthony Carter always starts as a team’s third point guard before slowly but surely climbing the charts.

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan will start. That’s not even a question. The only question is who gets the majority of minutes at two-guard off of the bench. Leandro Barbosa possesses explosive speed and the ability to score in bunches, but you could also argue that his playing style clashes with Dwane Casey’s coaching style more than any other player on this roster. Barbosa should be given the benefit of the doubt to start the season, but if he gets into a habit of carelessly chucking shots and refusing to play D, wing players like Gary Forbes and even Rasual Butler can take his minutes.

Small Forward: James Johnson is by far the best defensive perimeter player on this roster, and his acceptance of his role in the offence is a nice compliment to that above average defence. Johnson will start, and I predict for the time being, Gary Forbes will be the first guy to replace James off of the bench. Rasual Butler will get a look here too, and you would have to imagine that Linas Kleiza will be given every opportunity to prove he belongs once he is ready to return to action. But overall, if I had to put money on it, I’d bet that Johnson and Forbes get the majority of minutes at the three.

Power Forward: We know Andrea Bargnani will start, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk. But we also know that Dwane Casey won’t worry about Bargnani’s feelings getting in the way of the facts. If Andrea doesn’t show a consistent competitive spirit on the defensive end and doesn’t up his rebounding numbers, and if Ed Davis has the kind of break through I think he is capable of this season, then we may very well see Davis starting at the four at some point this season, with Bargnani possibly being used as a scorer off of the bench (a role some believe the seven-footer is better suited to anyway). I assume that between the two of them, Bargnani and Davis will get nearly all of the minutes at power forward, with Amir Johnson splitting time between the four and five.

Centre: My gut tells me that Jamaal Magloire will get the first couple of starts. My head tells me Casey might go with Aaron Gray for a short period after that. But my heart tells me that Amir Johnson should and will be the starting centre at some point this year. If Casey absolutely wants a true centre to start all season long, then we may see Solomon Alabi get a start before Amir does, but the coach did mention in a recent scrum that Amir Johnson can play centre. If Casey continues to believe that, and Amir plays well enough to warrant it, don’t you like this team better with Amir Johnson starting ahead of Magloire, Gray and Alabi? Though I guess in the grand scheme of things, as along as Johnson is getting more minutes than those three, which he will, then it doesn’t matter whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench.

That’s how I see the Raptors rotation shaping up this season, barring any major injuries or transactions. As I’ve said in a number of recent posts, if this team performs as poorly as most of us believe they will from a wins and losses standpoint, then watching how players like Bayless, Davis and Amir fight for a bigger piece of the pie that is the Raptors’ future might be more exciting than the actual outcomes of the games. It will be really nice to see a team whose minutes are properly distributed according to work ethic and defence for a change, something we haven’t seen on a consistent basis in about five years.

With reports indicating that the Raptors will finally move Andrea Bargnani to his natural power forward position, the question in Toronto has moved from “Will Bargnani ever be a legit NBA centre?” to “Who will play centre beside Bargnani this season?”

Despite recent reports stating that the Raptors actually want to bring Jonas Valanciunas over to Toronto this season (a move I would fully support), I’m going to assume that the Lithuanian big man will arrive as originally expected, in time for the 2012-2013 season.

Based on those assumptions, we can rule out Bargnani and Valanciunas as starting centres for the 2011-2012 season. So, just who will plug the gaping hole in the Raptors’ middle? Let’s examine.

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