Each week during the regular season and playoffs I’ll be making observations on one thing Raptors and two things about the NBA in general. Fans don’t watch basketball because of percentages, they watch for the entertainment. This column will often step off the hardwood and onto the bar stool, making claims that are biased and subjective. Indulge!
First Round Anxiety
Despite having the greatest team in our franchise’s history, everyone’s feeling uneasy about the playoffs. It seems that last year’s traumatic post-season collapse has scarred our collective conscience. Predictions seem pointless; everybody just wants to see the Dinos prove it.
After several nightmares of John Wall getting into the paint, his office and occasionally his own house, Masai hit the phones and decided to bolster up the defense. Lou Will and Vasquez were streaky scorers and occasional creators but were turnstiles on the other end. We essentially swapped them out for Cory Joseph and Biyombo, who have their offensive limitations but are elite stoppers. Despite a prolonged absence of a healthy Demarre Carroll, our defense has vastly improved.
Raptors Defensive Ranking in the League (per Basketball Reference)
Even though Dwayne Casey is labeled as a defensive coach, this is the second season the Raptors have been one of the best offensive teams in the NBA.
Raptors Offensive Ranking in the League
The loss of Vasquez’s YOLO floaters and Lou Will’s two girlfriends might have resulted in dropping a spot but our offense is still really good. Why? Because we run it through Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan, the league’s most underrated scoring duo.
I suspect their lack of league-wide popularity isn’t about their northern residency; it has more to do with their aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, that’s the root to feeling anxiety about this squad. Lowry ranks 13th and Derozan ranks 3rd amongst all players in terms of free throw attempts per game. In order to put up their 20, these dudes need to get to the line. In much the same way people hate on Harden, they draw a lot of fouls that would be no-calls on the playground.
In the playoffs, no-calls on the playground are no-calls on the court. We saw it last year and it was frustrating for all those involved. Derozan has grown as a playmaker and Lowry’s weight-loss gives him more energy, yet they rely on pump-fakes, rip-throughs and pick and roll baits to get them easy points at the line. In the playoffs, when the opposition has full resources dedicated to stopping these two, defenders won’t fall for their shenanigans.
Take away Demar and Kyle and the Raptor’s scoring flexibility is exposed. I don’t know where to assign blame but we don’t trust JV’s post scoring despite its effectiveness and his growth as a passer. Other players do not have creative license nor do they necessarily have the ability. If the duo isn’t making the machine work, it gets ugly.
Kyle and Demar’s clear cut role as leaders of the squad rears its ugly head when they’re not rolling. After multiple failed attempts they don’t place their trust in the supporting cast. Instead, they keep chucking, often spiraling out of control when getting heated with the refs.
I was hoping to get Detroit but instead, we got Indiana. While the Pacers have sputtered and consistently give inconsistent effort, I fear George Hill and Paul George’s lockdown defensive ability. They got speed, strength and most importantly length that has proved to be an issue due to Kyle Lowry’s stature and DD’s athletically dependent shot creation tendencies.
To avoid misunderstanding, I think the Raptors can and will beat the Pacers. I’ve just watched too much of this core not to confront their habits and abilities. We’re not winning a playoff series without one of these guys having a GREAT series, or both of them maintaining their current 45 points combined a night. Hopefully, the growth of KLow and DD, along with Casey, will get these guys rolling because god knows I can’t handle another post-season disappointment.
The Biggest Teams in the NBA Suck
According to Forbes at the end of last season, the average NBA team was worth 1.1 billion dollars. A 74% increase from the year before, the biggest one-year gain ever for the four major sports leagues since 1988.
The two most valuable franchises in the league are the Los Angeles Lakers (2.6 billion) and the New York Knicks (2.5). Those figures are largely based on their TV deals. The Lakers have a 20 year, 4 billion dollar contract with Time Warner cable that started in 2012. Last year, the Knicks drew the biggest TV audience with 163,000 viewers on average per game. These teams have got deep pockets, huge media coverage, and loyal fans.
While these two teams find themselves on TV a lot, it is not for their on-court success but due to their off-court failure. They’ve sucked for the last few season and it’s going to be and the path to contention is not on the horizon.
That has a lot to do with management.
Dr. Jerry Buss carved the way for the Lakers organization, establishing winning cultures around Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Shaq and Kobe. He handed the team down to his daughter Jeanie who would oversee all business operations and his son Jim would run the basketball side. As some kind of loyalty bonus (possibly genius tanking strategy) the team decided to give old man Kobe Bryant a max contract. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash turned out to be a catastrophe. Bringing back Metta World Peace seemed like a joke.
A combination of D’Angelo Russel breaking the bro code and Kobe’s stubborn aura has defamed the once pristine reputation of the franchise. For the first time ever, free agents might favor playing for Doc Rivers, Steve Ballmer and the weird mascot for the Clippers.
Then there’s the Knicks. They haven’t really won anything since Willis Reed limped out the tunnel and won a championship in 1970. As CEO of the company that bought Madison Square Garden and the Knicks, James Dolan has orchestrated a disastrous run by playing the role of the meddling owner.
League Pass and an increased presence on social media have decreased the value of playing in a big market.
Look at Lebron, Durant, Westbrook and Kawhi. That’s four of the best five players in the league playing on small market teams. The NBA landscape has shifted away from the days where prestigious franchises held a monopoly over championships.
The result? Franchises that once attracted big names due to their history and popularity have become chaotic environments breeding a steady cycle of TMZ drama. Players on the team experience constant pressure created by irrational expectations.
This summer and the next will be pivotal in gauging if these landmark franchises are still attractive to the big free agent names. The allure of power has produced some shaky management choices and agents have started to factor in what the “culture” of the franchise is when viewing potential landing spots.
At the end of the day, the league is more successful when these two franchises are good. Keep an eye out for their place in the free agent market.
What Sam Hinkie Taught Us
- Tanking is Not Implemented on the Court
Adam Silver likes to say that no player or coach is actively trying to lose and that’s true. Tanking happens on the level of management. Sam Hinkie was well aware that he was fielding a roster that didn’t have the talent or the experience to compete with other teams.
The media holds the power of portrayal. While sports reporting claims to be unbiased, personal feelings will always bleed into writing. Hinkie opted for secrecy, which alienated the reporters and consequently the fan base. When you speak to people you gain equity, trust, a cushion for a future mistake. With no solid results for his work, when the Sixers brought in Colangelo the wolves came out and tore him apart. Got to play the game man!
- Culture is Important
Imagine being a player on the Hinkie 76ers. You know you’re not being put in a position to win. You know that the franchise has no interest in keeping you long-term. You know that every opposing team feels they have a night off every time they roll into your city. There is no way to calculate “morale” but when agents of rookies (Okafor and Porzingis) express a desire for their client not to end up on your team, you’re doing something wrong.
- As a GM You’re Always On The Hot Seat
It seemed that owner of the Sixer’s Josh Harris was all on board for “The Process”. He was willing to wait out multiple losing years in order to grab a franchise player in the draft. Yet, Sam Hinkie’s firing is an example that billionaire owners are an impatient bunch. As much as you’re supposed to focus on basketball, you need to make sure that you and your boss are on the same page. These private equity investors didn’t get rich by being nice.
- The League’s Lottery System Needs Reform
At the end of the day “The Process” made sense. Hinkie was just exploiting a flawed system that incentivizes being the worst team in the league. If it wasn’t Sam, it was going to be someone else. It’s just a bad look for the NBA if there’s a team that no one wants to see play. Gotta fix up the lottery Mr. Silver!