Tag: Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey gestures while watching the Raptors and the Boston Celtics in Toronto

Report: Raptors to keep Dwane Casey as coach


New Raptors head of all things basketball Massai Ujiri has not been shy about making changes — gone is VP of basketball operations Ed Stefanski, some other front office people and a number of scouts. Ujiri wants his people in place.

What is not changing is the coach.

Despite a rough season last year, Dwane Casey will be back at the helm of the Raptors, reports the Toronto Sun.

Casey, according to league sources, has already spoken at length with Ujiri and (Raptors CEO Tim) Leiweke and would seem safe from any purge. He has a year left on his contract.

However, it looks like Casey’s staff is going to get an overhaul. A lot of assistant coaches.

Casey enters the season as a lame duck under new management, but one that likely can save his job if Toronto makes the playoffs. And that’s a reasonable goal.

In Casey’s first season with the Raptors (2011-12) the team showed some real development. Yes, they won just 23 games but they were actually a middle-of-the-pack NBA defense that made teams work for wins. They played hard. They just didn’t have enough healthy talent to score regularly, so it was a heavy dose of DeMar DeRozan and Leandro Barbosa.

But this past season things flipped — they became an average offensive team but regressed on defense. They won 34 games and had the mid-season of Rudy Gay to deal with, but the team didn’t defend and hustle quite the same way.

Giving Casey a third season makes some sense — if he can get them to defend well again, plus find ways to use Gay more efficiently on offense, the Raptors can step up into playoff contention in the East. That may be the goal Casey needs to meet to get a new contract.

NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

Raptors Bargnani reacts to a missed basket against the Nets during their NBA basketball game in Toronto

We wrap up PBT’s Atlantic Division previews this week by going north of the border. Next week we head to the Midwest and the Central Division.

Last season: Sure, a 23-43 record isn’t good. But it really wasn’t that bad. Seriously. Sure, the Toronto offense was dreadful and would have been the worst in the league had it not been for the Bobcats setting historic records for futility. It was frustrating for Raptors fans because Toronto has talent — Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan can score — but it didn’t show up much on that end of the floor (in part because Bargnani missed half the season with injuries).

But here is why there is hope — new coach Dwane Casey got Toronto to play defense. Pretty good defense. They went from the worst defense in the league two years ago to a respectable 12th in the league last season (101.5 points per 100 possessions). And the Raptors played hard, the effort was there every night. They didn’t have much talent but you could see the framework of a solid foundation being built.

Key Departures: Not many. Leandro Barbosa is gone, but they don’t need him anymore. After that the guys going away are people like Rasual Butler. No key players departed this year.

Key Additions: This is why there is hope — Toronto had a good offseason. It’s like they add two lottery picks to go with some nice free agents. After another year in Europe, 2011 No. 5 pick Jonas Valanciunas is coming to Toronto — and Raptor fans are pumped about this one. Last season they lacked a good defensive presence in the paint and Valanciunas is expected to provide that. And a few points would be nice, too. Toronto also has this year’s No. 8 pick, Terrence Ross, plus Quincy Acy coming aboard.

However, the biggest acquisition will be Kyle Lowry, the point guard who played at an All-Star level in Houston last year. Lowry can drive, score, set guys up, do just about everything pretty well. Plus, he’s in a contract year with something to prove. Toronto also added Landry Fields (remember Bryan Collangelo’s attempt to screw up the Knicks with a poison-pill deal — so they couldn’t sign Jeremy Lin — but it backfired and now the Raptors have Fields).  The Raptors also signed John Lucas III.

Three keys to the Raptors season:

1) Just how good is Jonas Valanciunas going to be? Toronto fans are pumped about the young Lithuanian big man — more than one fan in Cleveland screamed “noooo” when they drafted Tristan Thompson in front of Valanciunas. Because Valanciunas has the upside, the potential to be special — he was a defensive force at times in Europe and has dominated age-restricted international tournaments

But I watched him a fair amount during the Olympics and I’m not sold he makes a big impact out of the gate in Toronto. He can play some defense, but he needs to get stronger. His offense was a mess. His coach described his play as the game looking like it was moving too fast for him, and that’s what it looked like. He looked hurried, rushed. He can get over that with time, he can still be very good, but he looked like a project and this season may be a lot of work without a lot of fruit from the garden.

2) Just how much better is the Toronto offense going to be? The Raptors are not going to finish 29th in offensive efficiency this season, not with Kyle Lowry running the show at the point (and Jose Calderon behind him, who played very well last year). With Lowry driving the lane, with DeRozan slashing from the wing and with a healthy Bargnani shooting away from deep the Raptors are going to be better on offense.

The question really is how much better and how can Casey fit all the pieces together? While the Raptors are certainly a deeper squad they are building for the future and that means giving quality minutes to young players — rookies Valanciunas and Ross will both be in the heart of the rotation, Ed Davis is entering his third season, and while DeRozan has been around longer it is just his fourth season and he still plays young at times. Developing chemistry is going to take some time but the Raptors need to find a rotation that both can win and grow a young team.

3) Cut down on the turnovers. While Calderon played well for Toronto last season they had the fifth highest turnover percentage in the league — 14.8 percent of their trips down the court ended in an empty possession, a turnover. Theoretically you can win that way (the Thunder had the highest turnover rate in the league) but you make it a lot harder on yourselves. And while they bring in Kyle Lowry he’s not a guy known for taking care of the ball.

Last season the Raptors were third worst in the league in turnover differential. Their margin for error is not so big that they can keep it that high for another season. They need to take care of the rock.

What one thing should scare Raptors fans? Have you seen the Atlantic division? They play in a division with the Celtics, Knicks, Nets and Sixers — four playoff locks. It’s going to be hard to overcome that group for the next couple years unless the Raptors make some big leaps forward.

How it likely works out: Toronto fans are thinking playoffs. And that’s not out of the question — but everything has to go just right. Valanciunas has to give them a defensive presence they need in the paint from day one. Bargnani needs to play like he did at the start of last season and stay healthy. Lowry needs to play like he did last season. Terrence Ross needs to adjust to the NBA quickly. And so on down the line.

The Raptors likely are in the mix for the eight seed for much of the year, with teams like the Bucks and Cavaliers. They will give Raptors fans hope. But things never go as smoothly as one would hope and most likely the Raptors just miss out on a playoff spot this season and will look at this as a building year.

Prediction: 38-44, finishing like the ninth or 10th seed in the East. The Raptors are building something good but it’s going to take a couple more years to get all the way there.

Gregg Popovich named NBA Coach of the Year

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, DeJuan Blair, Gregg Popovich

The announcement came Tuesday afternoon with a press conference to follow where Gregg Popovich will be uncomfortable answering media questions.

Spurs headman Gregg Popovich has been named NBA Coach of the Year. Mike Monroe of the Express-News was first with the report but the league has now confirmed it.

And it’s a good call. When the Spurs were winning titles last decade they were a great defensive team that had enough offense to beat you, but as his core aged the role players shifted that formula no longer worked. So in the past couple years Popovich has helped the Spurs evolve into an offensive powerhouse — they play at a faster tempo, they move the ball and guys work off the ball, the steps are taken to get guys the ball where they can succeed (Tim Ducan where he can drive or go to the bank, Matt Bonner spacing the floor, Tony Parker off picks and getting to make decisions). Popovich has been a master at putting guys in places where they can succeed and he has been at his peak with that the past couple years.

There were other guys who had great years. Second place in the voting went to the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau, who did a better job this season than last when he won the award — he was without Derrick Rose much of the year, not to mention Rip Hamilton and he got role players to win the East. Frank Vogel got as much out of the Pacers roster as could be expected and he came in third. Lionel Hollins of Memphis finished fourth and Doc Rivers of the Celtics fifth in the voting.

You can’t really be unhappy with Popovich as the call. He earned it this year, he has earned a bunch more as a lifetime achievement award. This is a good call.

Don’t tell anyone, but Andrea Bargnani is playing well

Raptors Bargnani reacts to a missed basket against the Nets during their NBA basketball game in Toronto

It’s seems weird to write this but…

Andrea Bargnani is playing really well this year. Raptors blogs are noticing. Everyone watching them is noticing.

He’s shooting better (52.7 percent overall and 37 percent from three), scoring more (22.8 per game) while taking fewer shots, rebounding more, turning the ball over less and has an All-Star level PER of 23.5. Monday night he dropped 31 on the Timberwolves Monday and seemed to do well against every defender Rick Adelman threw at him.

It doesn’t make up for the last five years and it’s a small sample size, but maybe coach Dwane Casey can work miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he has figured it all out.

What seems different is his shots seem less contested — watching a number of his attempts from last season and this (thank you Synergy) he is getting cleaner looks. If that means putting the ball on the floor and turning a three into an 18 footer without a hand in his face, he’s doing it. If he can get all the way to the rim he is, something he did not do in previous years.

Still, it’s not a matter of where the looks are coming from as much as he is hitting a higher percentage of shots. This season Bargnani is getting 22 percent of his shot attempts on spot up and he’s hitting 56.1 percent of those shots. Last season he got about the same percentage of his offense on those looks but shot just 39.2 percent. This season he is getting some in looks in isolation (18.5 percent of his shots, shooting 43 percent on them) and is doing well setting the pick then popping (shooting 47.8 percent on those).

The one difference from last year is Casey hasn’t sent him to the post as often, even although Bargnani was fairly effective there. He shoots more on the perimeter, but he is getting inside to rebound better than he ever has.

The bottom line is he’s getting cleaner looks and making more shots. Small sample size warning, we’re not going to say he has figured it all out yet. Will his focus and effort drift over the course of the season as it has in years past? The book is still out on that one.

But early on, we seem to have the Andrea Bargnani the Raptors have patiently (or not so patiently) waited for.

Can the Dallas Mavericks repeat as NBA champions?

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

After a trying, decade-long run that consistently placed them along the title’s periphery, the Dallas Mavericks finally claimed their first ever NBA championship last June. The fact that Dirk and the Mavs are the reigning champs still seems like a hazy dream — a vision almost too similar to a storybook to be real, and an image obscured just enough by the lockout to give it that ethereal glow. But the trophy itself is no fantasy, and the Mavs will set out this season to defend their right to another one just like it with every resource at their disposal.

It won’t be easy. Even with an impressive run of low-cost off-season additions, the Mavs are hardly in a position to repeat as the league’s champions:

Losing the “best offense”

Contrary to their offense-first reputation, the Mavericks were a surprisingly balanced team last year, as they finished the regular season ranked eighth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It was that two-way effectiveness that really pushed Dallas over the top in the NBA Finals; although Dirk Nowitzki was a certifiable terror all throughout the Mavs’ playoff run, it was the team’s defensive flexibility that allowed them to corral LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the title on the line.

Dwane Casey, the former Mavs assistant who now sits at the head of the bench for the Toronto Raptors, was a big part of that. It was Casey’s system that put Dallas’ many defensive elements into their appropriate context, and turned Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler into versatile, switchable, and highly deployable defensive weapons. Dallas just had so much size and mobility across the board, and that positional flexibility gave the Mavs an uncommon success in defending the pick-and-roll.

Things could get slightly tougher without Casey, even though his system has been handed off to assistant coach Monte Mathis. Yet they’re assuredly going to be more difficult without Tyson Chandler, who didn’t receive the long-term security or financial commitment he desired from the Mavs in free agency. Chandler is now a New York Knickerbocker, leaving some combination of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, and Brandan Wright to fill in minutes as Dallas’ defensive anchor. Haywood is still quite underrated in that regard, but even at his best he’s a few steps below Chandler. He’ll battle opponents in the post, do his best do hedge screens, and generally make the right rotations, but Haywood consistently lags behind Chandler in terms of overall defensive efficacy.

It’s the depth at center that could give Dallas more significant problems, though. As is usually the case, Chandler’s one-time backup is ready to step in and produce. But what of the players behind him? Ian Mahinmi may be the most talented fouler in the NBA. Nowitzki and Odom would give Dallas a virtually unmatchable offensive alignment if they played center, but don’t have the same rotational value as Chandler or Haywood. Wright is athletic, but is undeniably a work in progress. Yet that group will have some huge responsibilities when Haywood is resting or plagued with foul trouble, and it’s hard to imagine them living up to last season’s benchmark.

The never-ending quest for improvement

Even though the Mavs will enter the 2011-2012 season having accomplished their greatest goal the year prior, they still face the same pressure that falls on every defending champ: the burden of being even better. Dallas can’t just be as good as they were last season; in order to counter all the moves that have been made, the development of young players around the league, and the more nuanced understanding opposing coaches now have of how to use their respective rosters, the Mavs will need to find some legitimate means toward actual improvement.

And looking up and down this roster, it’s hard to find compelling reason why Dallas would actually be a better team this season. Chandler’s departure obviously hurts quite a bit, as do the losses of Caron Butler and J.J. Barea. But above all, it was Dallas’ decision to value financial flexibility over all else that’s put them in their current position.

The Mavs have done an incredible job of upgrading their roster under these circumstances; the additions of Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West, and the aforementioned Brandan Wright are downright gaudy considering their minimal financial costs. But how does the shift in personnel impact Dallas’ ability to field competitive lineups? They’ve bolstered their depth virtually across the board, but what have they given up at center in order to make that possible?

I think at best, you’re looking for a Mavs team that would essentially be a wash in terms of overall quality, as they compensate for some defensive slippage with offensive gain. Yet it’s hard to see — even in that best-case scenario — how the defending champs would meet their burden for improvement beyond their performance last season. Dallas’ moves to date have done well to mitigate some of the team’s free agent losses, but aren’t quite robust enough to completely erase them.

If you keep rolling the dice…

On the Mavs’ Media Day, new Maverick Vince Carter may have summed up Dallas’ playoff run best.

“[The Mavs] just made it happen,” Carter said. “It takes a lot of luck and opportunity, and they seized the moment. Could people honestly say they were going to win it at the beginning of the year? No, not really. Not even in the middle of the year. When you put a team like this together that’s committed and when you get a bunch of veteran guys, anything could happen.”

With a team like the one the Mavs had last season, anything could happen. Dallas put itself in a position to succeed time and time again, and rolled the dice. On the ropes against the Portland Trailblazers? Rolled a six. Comeback victory against the Lakers on the road thanks to a favorable call? Rolled a six. Need a knockout punch in Game 4 against the defending champs? Six. A complete blitzkrieg en route to an impossible comeback against Oklahoma City? Another one.

You get the idea, because we all witnessed it: Dallas got every single break they needed in every single series of last year’s postseason, and while that made their championship run one for the ages, it also makes it incredibly difficult to replicate. Dallas is a very good team, but thanks to surges and breaks and explosions at the best possible times, they — if only temporarily — became a truly amazing one. You, I, and the history books will never forget it.

As Carter says, anything could happen. But it’d be silly to expect the same result, even after the Mavs again put themselves in a position to roll the dice with quality regular season performance.