Archive for the ‘Sonny Weems’ Category

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Yup, that's Sonny taking another jump-shot

Friday night, lively crowd, great ball game, overtime, ten losses in a row. Hey, at least you got your money’s worth.

The Raptors faced another winnable game at home (if you can call any game on the schedule ‘winnable’ anymore) on Friday night, and though their performance was somewhat acceptable, the end result was loss no. 34 on the season.

The Raps came out with good energy in the first quarter, but were undone by absolutely brutal interior defence, particularly from Andrea Bargnani, leading to a 10-point deficit after one.

The second quarter was by far the Raptors’ best of the night, as they jumped out to a 10-0 run to start the quarter, and even started to stretch out a lead of their own as the quarter wore on. Alexis Ajinca was surprisingly good in that second frame. He made jump-shot after jump-shot from the top of the key, was solid defensively and even had a big block on little Earl Boykins. Leading the way though, for the Raps, was Jerryd Bayless, whose aggression and pesky play sparked Toronto to a 57-55 lead at halftime.

The third quarter was the Ersan Ilyasova and Corey Maggette show, as the Bucks began to assert their will on the court. The only thing keeping Toronto in it was the stellar effort being turned in by Amir Johnson.

The Bucks led by as many as 10 in the final quarter, and looked like they could run away with it, when Andrea Bargnani finally came alive. Bargs got hot at the right time for the Raps, and hit a jumper to tie the game with under a minute to play. Amir Johnson stepped to the free throw line with 18 seconds left to tie the game again, and the Bucks, like the Grizzlies on Monday, had 18 seconds to break the Raptors’ hearts.

Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Carlos Delfino could not channel his inner Rudy Gay, and he stumbled out of bounds, leaving Toronto with the ball and 2.8 seconds to do something with it. After calling back-to-back timeouts, the play the Raptors settled for was Andrea Bargnani shooting a turnaround jumper from the right corner. It never came close, and overtime was on the horizon.

Despite Bargnani’s obvious inability to guard Andrew Bogut throughout the ball game, it was Andrea trying to handle Bogut in the first minute of OT, and I think you can guess what happened. Bogut scored the first six points of the extra frame before the Raptors realized something wasn’t working. Amir switched over to guarding Bogut, and though the Raptors came back to tie it again, they ultimately came up six points short.

Onto some notes from the game now. I mentioned above that Ajinca was hot in the second quarter. The truth is his jumper was falling, but over the course of just 13 minutes, it became pretty clear that he has no offensive game; just a nice stroke. If defenders close in on him, don’t expect much.

Sonny Weems had a decent game on Friday night, finishing with 10 points and showing some nice passing ability with six assists. However, Sonny continued to settle for jump shots and finished 4-of-13 from the field, which included missing a wide open put-back. He certainly was not good enough to blow anybody away or steal minutes from a guy who’s been busting his butt for the last month.

Oh, I guess he was. Weems replaced Julian Wright as a starter to begin the second half, as Wright was having a bit of a rough game. Sonny finished with 43 minutes, Wright had 12. We appreciate all your hard work Julian, but you were always just one bad quarter away from losing your spot to an undeserving player. Wait until Kleiza comes back and chucks his way past you in the rotation.

The highlight of the night was definitely Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong grabbing the mic and leading the crowd in a sing-along to “Living On A Prayer.” No joke, the crowd was ten times louder for that than they were for Rob Base’s halftime performance.

As I wrote up top, fans certainly got their money’s worth on this night, but that shouldn’t fool people into thinking the effort was acceptable. Yes, the Raptors fought back from another late deficit, had their chance to win it and forced overtime. Their effort on offence was commendable.

But there is another side to the story. The Raptors let the worst offensive team in the league (Milwaukee averages 91.2 points per game on 42.3 per cent shooting) score 104 points in regulation and shoot 55 per cent from the field. If someone thinks that a great effort went into that just because the game was exciting, they’re dreaming.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson -34 Min, 24 Pts, 8-11 FG, 8-9 FT, 12 Reb, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

Bucks Player of the Game: Ersan Ilyasova – 34 Min, 25 Pts, 9-10 FG, 2-2 3Pt, 5-5 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 Blk (Bogut and Maggette could take this place too)

- Injury report: Jose Calderon left shootaround early and is still being held down by that flu. Jay Triano said he will be a game-time decision tonight. I’m kinda hoping he sits and gets healthy and Jerryd Bayless gets some serious burn.

- We spoke to Sonny Weems at shootaround and got some insight into his injury and how he’s taking precautionary measures to keep his back right. While Weems said he’s feeling much better and had his first real, full practice with the team yesterday, he spoke about how tough it was to be down with an injury for so long and how young players blessed with athleticism often take their bodies for granted and don’t put in the necessary work to take care of them:

“Before the injury I didn’t do anything. I didn’t stretch. I hated stretching. It caught up with me. I never stretched, even in high school, college, throughout my whole career, I never stretched. It caught up to me. Taking more heed to it now, though.”

And now?

“I love it. I loooove stretching now. I try to do it as much as I can.”

Weems said he was given an exercise ball from one of the Raptors’ trainers and that he is so focused on his core strength he has taken to sitting on the exercise ball instead of the couch while watching TV. It sounds like the injury caused Weems to take a moment and evaluate how he had been treating his body:

“It makes you more humble. A lot of young players don’t like to stretch, don’t like to do the simple stuff to make you become a better athlete. A lot of young players take that for granted. Me for one, I did that. I took that for granted. One thing I know, I’ll never do it again.”

Weems had his family come up to Toronto last week while the team was on the road because he needed some positive reinforcement. While they’ve returned to Memphis (“My dad’s a pastor, so he has to get back to church and my mom, she’s the first lady, so she had to get back, too”), it sounds like their visit was exactly what he needed as he went through four hour treatment sessions while the team was gone.

It was real tough, man. I had to bring my mom and dad up here just to have family around. You want other people, like your family members to tell you it’s going to be alright. It’s nothing like having your family around when you’re going through tough times. My mom and dad came up here and made me think about everything else.”

Wondering how DeMar DeRozan assesses his game and what he needs to improve on? Here’s what he had to say about things he needs to focus on besides his offence:

“Defence. Defence is always the key, especially at this position. Going against the two guards every night that are extremely good. Just get better at that end and once that gets down pat, offence will come easier…Sometimes I get frustrated with myself when I see I only have two or three rebounds because I should be at least having six or seven or eight rebounds. Just going in there, definitely helping them out.”

I think those six, seven, eight, rebounds might be a bit of a lofty goal for every night, at least at this point, but hey, nice to see the sophomore aiming high and expecting big things out of himself. I’d take the defence before rebounding if I had to take one, but, to sound like every guy who has ever played professional basketball before, “it is what it is.”

DeRozan also told us his team during his first two years in high school was “horrible” and that he got through the bad times by staying positive and telling himself that tough times don’t last forever, but tough people do.

While the doom and gloom of an extended losing streak looms over Toronto, it is important to remember that the ACC faithful (a measly 14 127) were actually treated to another great basketball game on Monday night.

The Raptors, who played only eight players due to an assortment of injuries, made it clear early on that they were not the same team that was drilled by a combined 57 points over the weekend, but rather the scrappy young team we came to know over the first month or so of the season.

Led by DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors got off to a fast start, and led by as many as nine in the opening quarter. Predictably, the Grizzlies made a run to close out the first to take a one-point lead into the second quarter. The Raptors continued their hard-working first half, but still trailed by two at the break.

Toronto had actually played tough defence in the first half, but saw that D slip in the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, as the Grizzlies opened up a 12-point advantage with about eight minutes to play.

The Raptors responded with a spirited effort to close out the ball game, going on a 11-0 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes and even taking the lead in the last three minutes of the game.

With the teams exchanging buckets and stops down the stretch, the Grizzlies found themselves with the last possession of the ball game, tied at 98. Rudy Gay then proved his worth by nailing a 15-foot, contested jumper from the right corner with just 0.8 seconds left.

A last-ditch effort to get a shot off failed for the Raptors, who saw their losing streak hit eight games; their longest such streak in five years.

If there is one thing the Raptors have become known for, (besides horrible defence, losing star players and European teams) it is likely losing heart-breakers at home. Seriously, someone should research this stat, because I’d be willing to bet that in the last five years or so, few teams have lost more games within three points on their home floor than the Raptors have.

Two moments in the final couple of minutes stuck out to me. First, with Ed Davis playing great defence on Zach Randolph down the stretch and getting his hands on loose balls, you would think that a defensive substitution to get Amir Johnson into the game would pull Bargnani out, not Davis. But Jay Triano replaced Davis with Amir, who had five fouls, and on the next play, the Grizzlies got an offensive rebound that looked to be tapped by Randolph. Memphis ended up with two points out of the extra possession, and on the next defensive possession, it was Bargnani who came out of the game.

After that play, the Raptors had a chance to tie, but ended up with another broken play out of a late timeout. It’s a shame we have to keep harping on this, but it truly is getting ridiculous that an NBA team can’t seem to run a competent play with the game on the line. As I’ve said before, either Triano can’t draw up a play under pressure, or his players aren’t listening to what he wants done. Either way, that’s an issue with coaching if you ask me.

Though they may be hard to acknowledge in another loss, there were plenty of positives for the Raptors on Monday night. Bargnani seemed to find his touch around the basket again, and started knocking down his jumpers early, to finish with 29 points. DeMar DeRozan continued his improvement with a 25-point, nine rebound, two block performance. Jerryd Bayless came within two rebounds of a triple-double, and registered career highs with 11 assists and eight rebounds in his start in place of the injured Jose Calderon. Ed Davis was solid defensively and finished with five blocks, including a couple of monster denials of Randolph.

And what more can you say about Julian Wright? He was efficient in the few shots he did take, led the charge defensively, rebounded the ball well and even threw in a couple of blocks (the Raptors actually had 11 blocks overall). Most of all, Wright continued to earn the fans’ respect with what are termed “hustle-plays,” which included him ripping the ball out of Grizzlies’ hands on multiple occasions. If this guy hasn’t earned a starting spot on this team, then this coaching staff is either blind, or has serious issues.

On a negative note, Sundiata Gaines was not good at all in relief of Bayless, and looked for his own shot too often. He also chucked two airball threes. Sonny Weems returned from his 17-game absence in ugly fashion. Weems missed the only two shots he took (both jumpers), turned the ball over once and finished minus-10…in just eight minutes played. I understand he was likely trying to play through rust, but let’s not pretend like he was playing well before injury. He had already done enough to play his way out of the rotation.

Two more things before I go. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Raptors’ (meaningless) NBA record 986-game three-point streak came to an end on Monday night. I’ll put this the nicest way I can: there are plenty of smart basketball fans in Toronto and in Canada, and then there are the type that care about things like that streak.

Lastly, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that in the grand scheme of things, that game went to perfection for the Raptors. The young guys were forced to play heavy minutes due to injuries, the team put in a commendable effort and provided quality entertainment for the fans, and yet the resulting loss should help draft positioning. As of right now, the Raptors would likely land the fifth pick.

Raptors Player of the Game: Julian Wright – 41 Min, 11 Pts, 5-7 FG, 1-4 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk (Bayless, Bargs and DeRozan had flashier numbers, but Wright was the engine that drove the team tonight)

Grizzlies Player of the Game: Rudy Gay – 39 Min, 21 Pts, 8-20 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Goat of the Game: Sundiata Gaines – 17 Min, 6 Pts, 3-10 FG, 0-4 3Pt, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO

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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Andrea had a certain look in his eye on Friday more about it below

From a Raptors perspective, it was a frustrating game for three quarters, but you have to admit, it was entertaining throughout.

With both Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani listed as game-time decisions before hand, it was a bit of a surprise to see both players start, and combine for 73 minutes. But believe me, the Raptors needed every second out of those two.

Through three quarters of play, the Raptors were exciting to watch on the offensive end, but dreadful to watch on the opposite end. Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries (yes, old “Hump” himself) were having their way on the inside, and any momentum the Raptors were generating was quickly being squashed by a lethargic performance on D.

Heading into the fourth quarter down two, a disastrous home loss to the Nets was looming.

The turning point seemed to be a timeout around the midway point of the fourth quarter, when Jay Triano could be seen laying into his under-achieving team. It was something many Triano critics have been waiting for, and it was something the young Raptors needed.

The Raps came out of that timeout a different team. They buckled down on defence (though it should be noted, that’s no accomplishment against the woeful Nets) and created scoring opportunities off of that stingy D. It was amazing to watch what could have been, had the Raptors played 48 minutes of hard defence instead of just six. The Nets would have been run off of the floor.

Never the less, Toronto picked up win no. 10 on the season, and now we turn to the usual individual evaluations.

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way. That second half was the most impressive and dominant I’ve ever seen Andrea Bargnani. Yes, I’m aware it was just the Nets, I’m aware he’s had good games against better opponents, and I’m aware he’s dropped 41 at MSG. But I have not seen that fire in Andrea’s eyes since his days in Italy.

He flat-out demanded the ball on offence, he was locked in on D and was even diving for loose balls (something I’ve actually never seen Il Mago do before). Andrea was the total package in the second half.

I’m not sure if Sam Mitchell being in town had a similar effect on Bargnani as Apollo Creed coming back to train Rocky, but I tell you, in all seriousness, Bargnani had the Eye of the Tiger tonight, and he looked very much like an Italian Stallion.

Jose Calderon returned from his time off with what may have been his best performance of the season. 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 14 assists; you can’t ask for much more from your starting point-man. More than anything though, Jose controlled the offence beautifully, and you don’t need a boxscore to have noticed that.

Linas Kleiza looked good in his first start in a while, as he knocked down most of his open jumpers, attacked when given the opportunity, grabbed 12 rebounds and cut down on his “what the hell was that?” shots. I didn’t think Kleiza had earned his starting job back, but I definitely believe he has earned another start after tonight.

As mentioned earlier, it was nice to see Triano give his team a public scolding. They needed it, and I think fans needed it to believe Triano was as fed up as they were. Now there’s one more thing I ask of Jay before this Christmas: let Sonny Weems stew on the bench for a while.

Sonny did not play tonight because of back spasms, but hasn’t played well enough, lately, to warrant rotation minutes anyway. When Weems is healthy again, scratch him. See if that teaches him a lesson and gets him back to playing team-ball, because his sporadic, selfish play of late should not be welcomed back with open arms.

On a side-note, is anyone else wondering what happened to Devin Harris? The guy who burst onto the scene as one of the NBA’s up-and-coming young point guards, during the 08-09 season, has come crashing down to earth. He isn’t a horrible point guard by any stretch, but certainly is nowhere near where he was just two years ago. And if you’re thinking, “it’s no big deal, he’s still young,” then I must remind you, Harris is now 27-years-old.

Back to the Raptors.

After grabbing win no. 10 against the lowly Nets, the two-time defending NBA champions are in the house on Sunday, so the young Raps best be prepared.

If you’re looking for some positives though, know that the Raptors have played the Lakers extremely well in their last three meetings, which included the big win in Toronto last season. If nothing else, at least you know the ACC will be rocking again on Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy your weekend, Raps fans.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 38 Min, 32 Pts, 14-26 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 3-3 FT, 9 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk

Nets Player of the Game: Brook Lopez – 32 Min, 20 Pts, 7-13 FG, 6-7 FT, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 4 Blk

Goat of the Game: Sasha Vujacic – 27 Min, 6 Pts, 3-10 FG, 0-5 3Pt, 2 Reb, 2 Ast (and one bone-headed play in the final minute)