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Monday, 28 December 2020

The Raptors Files Game of The Week Preview: Bucks Vs. Heat #RPTZFLZ


      Despite what happened to the Bucks the other night, they're still a good team and are expected to be a potential title contender in the east.  The Miami Heat don't have anything to prove as far as being one of the best teams in the league and you'd be crazy to count them out as the defending eastern conference champions.
      What's Good?: Both teams will most likely be bringing their best games on both nights.  Yeah, that's right.  They'll be meeting up twice this week and this preview is more for the second game than the first.  Both teams will show up on both nights in terms of effort, so you can view this as a mini playoff series of sorts.
       What's Bad?: We won't be seeing them play one another for a while.  We might not see them play one another in the playoffs.  😳
       The X-Factor: This is where we're going to see if Jrue Holiday is indeed that extra help Giannis has been needing.  Could this be the game that determines whether the GMs for either team decides to pull the trigger on a James Harden deal?

 

Turmoil In T.O. #RPTZFLZ


      Geez!  It sure doesn't take a lot for some fans to turn their backs on a team that's just a season removed from winning an NBA Championship.  A feat, you should be reminded, that twelve teams still have yet to achieve, and of those twelve, five have been in the league twenty plus seasons longer than the Toronto Raptors.  So why the big stink?
      Well, for one, it's hard to accept losing when you've been winning as consistently as the Raptors have.  The Raptors have been a forty-plus game winning team since the 2013-2014 season.  It was going to be hard enough without Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol add the fact that there are going to be ten fewer games on the schedule for a team expected to win just over forty games.  The casual fans they attained after their finals win have already written them off as a non-playoff team.  The social media vitriol aimed at players like Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam has been nasty for the most part, and that's to be expected as fair-weather fans are known to be, but even die-hard fans are starting to question the legitimacy of this team.  Even Kyle Lowry is on record as being concerned about the season thus far.
       Should everyone really be all up in arms about the Raptors not having won their first couple of games though?  Really?
       What's Bad?: No Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.  As underutilized as Marc Gasol was by the Raptors, his ability to control traffic and set brick wall screens to free up the guards on the team will be sorely missed. Not to mention his occasional three-point shot here and there.  And his defense and rebounding were underrated as well.  In Serge Ibaka's absence there's going to be a lack of muscle on offense and defense.  Yeah, you can say some of those qualities are still there in Aaron Baynes but not on the same level of energy.
        Energy.  Another key component that doesn't seem to be in the air the team's breathing nowadays.  I don't know if it's the short off-season and bubble fatigue and not being in familiar dwellings but there just isn't the same fire that was burning prior to last season.  
        When you look at the lack a training camp and preseason, you're looking at new, and in some cases, unfamiliar faces and playing styles and personalities to get acquainted with in a short amount of time.  It's definitely another aspect affecting not only the players but the coaches as well, as the rotation looked a lot tighter in the second game.
        Where are Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby?  While they're still trying to learn more about their new teammates and new roles off the floor, the same is happening on the floor and it shows.  Uncharacteristic turnovers, defensive lapses, indecisiveness and suspect shot selection have been on full display as a direct result of the combination of new teammates and roles in the start to this new season.
         What's Good?: The fact that they weren't thoroughly beat up in those two games, considering who they played.  The Spurs barely beat them and only by a couple of possessions in a game where the Raptors top players had a mediocre outing.
          If you're a casual basketball fan you only noticed what the aforementioned three Raptors didn't do and not what they did do.  They didn't fill up the hoop but they were able keep the ball moving and not try to force their respective games, which helped mitigate the number of turnovers they could have had.  
          A lot of fans didn't like that Nick Nurse didn't go further down the bench, but noticing right away that the on-court comfort level hadn't been adequately met by game time, keeping the most familiar players together on the floor kept the game closer than it could've been.  We didn't get to see a lot of Malachi Flynn which means we didn't get to see Malachi Flynn in the mix of potential blunders which would've made the fan-rage even worse.  The last think you need is a rookie with a ton of potential start second guessing himself a few games later after making a couple of mistakes in games prior, hindering whatever progress has already been made.
          Chris Boucher showed a great example of how advanced the Raptors scouting and development program is.  Beyond that though, he's a special breed of NBA player.  He's hungry, willing and learn and he has a great motor.  His basketball I.Q. will develop well as time goes on.
           I can totally understand the frustration, confusion and dismay of Canadian basketball fans with the Raptors thus far.  Even I had to re-examine my own playoff predictions, where I have the Raptors finishing sixth, and imagine a playoffs without them.  Having been a long time fan of the NBA and having seen the ups and downs of the league, teams and players, and I've learned to love all of it because eventually the light shines on the darkness.  This is the same team that figured out how to win a championship, they'll figure this out too.
          

 

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Game of The Night Preview: Suns Vs. Kings #RPTZFLZ


      They're not the powerhouses of the west but they're young and energetic and they probably think they've each got a shot in this game.
      What's Good?: De'Aaron-Fox continues to impress and Chris Paul's ability to score and create makes this Suns team a little bit more competitive and disciplined.
      What's Bad?: Because each team will see this as a 'gettable' game, it's most likely not going to be pretty.  Bad shot selection and turnovers should abound but it should be fast-paced.
      The X-Factor: Expect a high scoring game from Fox and Booker but I'll be watching Deandre Ayton, I wanna get a better sense of what his game is like.

 

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

FIRST LOOK: Air Jordan 12 Retro "Reverse Flu Game " |SHIEKH #FLZVision

Game of The Night Preview: Jazz Vs. Blazers #RPTZFLZ

 


      I usually avoid watching games involving either of these teams because they look the same every season.  They both tend to play the middle of the pack with the same players they've had forever.  This game tonight though intrigues me for that fact.  Something's gotta give between these teams.  Which one of them is going to break out of that logjam first?  Both sides should be healthy and ready to go so we'll finally get to see which team is better.  For the most part.
     What's Good?: Jusuf Nurkic is back and the Blazers really missed him.  His return is probably why a lot of fans are looking at the Blazers to break out of the west.
     What's Bad?: The missing fans.  Damian Lillard tends to play off of energy.  It shouldn't interrupt his game much, but it's fun watching him respond to their energy.
     The X-Factor: Carmelo Anthony coming off the bench for the Blazers is going to be the element that's going to be hard for most teams to match.  He's still not the defender but he seems to be in the best shape of his career and he was born to score.  How effective will he be leading the charge off of the bench?


Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Game of The Night Preview: Lakers Vs. Clippers #RPTZFLZ

 


   Opening night of the NBA's 2020 -2021 season presents a tough choice for the game of the night.  I'm going to go with the Lakers - Clippers game since Draymond Green won't be showing up for the Warriors - Nets tilt and it just won't be any fun without him.
   The Clippers all but promised a championship to those rogue basketball fans in Los Angeles who choose to root for them and they came up very short of actualizing those expectations.  This is a new season, though only a couple of months removed from the last, and Clippers fans may have more reasons to be optimistic.
   What's Good?: You're potentially watching the battle for the western conference championship when you watch these two teams play.  Arguably combining the most talent and championship pedigree in the west, it's hard to bet against either one.
   What's Bad?: Is everyone healthy?  I mean injury-wise and energy-wise.  They each battled hard in the playoffs not very long ago.  It'll be interesting to see who finishes the game more than anything else.
   The X-Factor: What do the Clippers look like on the court this season in terms of leadership?  Will Paul George be the on-court vocal leader or will Serge Ibaka bring the co-leadership role he held in Toronto to the Clippers?

Monday, 21 December 2020

FIRST LOOK: Kobe VI Protro "Grinch" |SHIEKH #RPTZFLZ #FLZVision

The Raptors Files Western Conference NBA Playoff Review 2020 -2021 #RPTZFLZ



      The NBA championship trophy appears like its home will stay in the west this season but a lot of teams in the conference showed the last post-season that they may pose a formidable opponent this time around.

1) Los Angeles Lakers: Sadly, it's officially the post-Kobe Bryant era and now the Lakers are winning for themselves.  The hunger is the same and the confidence became more palpable with every playoff game.
    What's Good?: Anthony Davis should be elite level good this season, especially if he's comfortable with his three-point shot.  Their latest pick-ups make them faster and more physical.  Better.  Period.
    What's Bad?: The short gap between the last playoffs and the start of the next season.  This season's shorter but by the time the playoffs start, wear and tear may start to show and sideline key players.
    The X-Factor: The Lakers bench is going to have to do more heavy lifting than is typically expected but they prepared well enough for such an event.

2) Los Angeles Clippers: High expectations this season that failed to pan out have humbled the Clippers players and fans somewhat but they shouldn't be ruled out of the championship conversation.
    What's Good?: They've made key veteran additions that should bring some much-needed maturity to the team and discipline on the floor as the lack of that was what ultimately led to their undoing against the Nuggets.
     What's Bad?: The fact that this team that was all but guaranteeing a championship win after the big moves they made to acquire Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, were considering blowing it up this past off-season.  They've re-signed Paul George but this season still looks like more of an experiment than clarity of their sense of the next few years.
      The X-Factor: Serge Ibaka fits perfectly as the player who'll be able to corral the team if they start to steer waywardly.

3) Denver Nuggets: The team that most exceeded expectations last season returns just as hungry and just as capable, but there was a bit of luck on their side last season.
     What's Good?: Health and good spirits about their prospects about exceeding expectations.
     What's Bad?: Only thing I can see as a negative is that they didn't try to make any moves in the offseason but it's not a team that has any glaring deficiencies.  They lacked experience and now they have it.
     The X-Factor?: Michael Porter Jr.'s growth will determine how far they go this season.

4) Portland Trailblazers: This is probably the team I always underestimate the most going into every season and maybe I'm doing the same here, but I wouldn't mind them proving me wrong.
    What's Good?: Familiar faces.  Enes Kanter returns to add some toughness off the bench.  Mostly the team and gameplay are the same, and that's good for a team that continues to get getter.
     What's Bad?: The fact that they're kinda still the same.  They don't need to win now but they need to win soon.
     The X-Factor: The bench is going to have to help out this season if they really wanna make a serious move into the conference finals.

5) Utah Jazz: Still steady, hovering in that upper middle of the pack.  It's like watching a cyclist in the Tour de France keeping pace in a pack behind the lead, looking for the right time and place to pounce.  For the past decade or so, they've been having trouble finding that gap.
     What's Good?: Fan and teammate favourite Derrick Favors is back.
     What's Bad?: The lack of new young blood.
     The X-Factor: Jordan Clarkson.  The Jazz need a second consistent scoring threat and Jordan Clarkson has the ability, he just needs the push.

6) Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks have been throwing players into and out of the mix for a few seasons in an attempt to find the right solution, this season looks to be about the same.
    What's Good?: Porzingis might be returning sooner rather than later.
    What's Bad?: Porzingis is out.
    The X-Factor: Dwight Powell is the most versatile big on the team after Porzingis.  His return in could health could act as a stopgap until Porzingis is back and healthy.

7) Phoenix Suns: Really started finding their groove last season into a playoff run that showed a promising future to come.
    What's Good?: The great young talented core on this team.
    What's Bad?:  The lack of veterans on this team.
    The X-Factor: Chris Paul.  They're going to need everything they can get out of him.

8) New Orleans Pelicans: With promising young talent starting out with one of the best coaches around, don't be surprised to see this team exceed expectations.
    What's Good?: Zion Williamson has LeBron James potential when it comes to the impact he can have on the fortunes of a franchise's winning ambitions.  If he can avoid injuries this season, the future looks immediately promising.
     What's Bad?: They have great young talent but they don't have a lot of experience to match.  It would've been great to see them add more vets during the offseason but if that's going to be their only flaw, it's not a bad one to have.
     The X-Factor: Lonzo Ball is going to have to look for his shot more often than not.  It won't be a necessity, but it would be a bonus.
    



 

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Raptors Files Eastern Conference NBA Playoff Review 2020 - 2021 #RPTZFLZ


    The competition ramps up in the east this season, but it doesn't necessarily mean the outcome will be different.  

1)  Brooklyn Nets: Back in the mix, just like that.  A new coach and the healthy return of two of the league's top ten players means the east is a little more competitive.
     The Good?: While they're getting back two superstars, the team was able to make it to the first round of the playoffs without them and that core remains the same.
     The Bad?: Their superstar players are two of the most dramatic players in the league off the court.  It shouldn't be too long before the media has them turning on either one another or their team or their coach or the fans or the ownership, etc.
     The X-Factor: Steve Nash is going to have to become really good really quick at coaching two players who've played under the best of them.  The key is going to be Steve Nash gaining their respect immediately.

2)  Miami Heat: There's something about playing in a championship series that makes you feel invincible.  I don't know for sure because I've never played in one but the Miami Heat have and I have a feeling that the desire to get back still subsides.
     They defied the odds set out ahead of them with confidence and a lot of attitude only a couple of months ago, so that fire should still be burning when they hit the court again next week.
     What's Good?: The Heat were swinging on their way down against the Lakers, which was a good sign that the fight in them never died so they should be entering this season feeling like the job isn't done yet like they've got something to prove.
     What's Bad?: They've relied on their defense to carry them more often than not and that's not gonna change this season.  It would be really good for them to add a scoring heavyweight or even middleweight.  That could come from within the team but it would have to be someone with consistent physicality scoring both inside and outside.
      The X-Factor: This team goes as far as Bam Adebayo's three-point shot takes them.

3)  Milwaukee Bucks: So, they got their guy and the pressure's off on that end, now all they gotta do is find a way to get to the NBA finals.
     What's Good?: Having a sense of future direction.  I don't know if it makes them any more attractive as a free agent destination but it lays a good foundation for future draftees who blow up in Milwaukee and are concerned about whether or not the team is willing to invest in their talents.
      What's Bad?: The east continues to improve around them and the east has the majority of big market teams.  It won't be long before the likes of the Knicks, Bulls, Hawks, Pistons, and 76ers start loading up with multiple superstars of their own.  In the meantime, the Brooklyn Nets have started the process meaning the Bucks' first-place finish from last season, is in jeopardy.
       The X-Factor: DiVincenzo, Connaughton, and Middleton.  There has to be some growth with that group of players.  Middleton hit a bit of a slump and DiVincenzo suffered an injury, but though not long, they've played together a couple of seasons, they've gotta show some growth in performance.

4)  Boston Celtics: Finally getting over the hump of the second round was an achievement for this young team but they were hungry for more.
     What's Good?: Now that the keys have been fully handed over to Jayson Tatum, the offense should be a bit tighter and focused.  And Jalen Brown blossomed into a reliable second scoring option during their time in the bubble, that should be able to help them draw some help in the next offseason session.
     What's Bad?: Having to start the season without Kemba Walker.
      The X-Factor:  Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson will be relied on to bring playoff experience to this young core led squad.  Thompson brings added physicality to a team that was roughed up a bit by the Miami Heat.  Should they meet again, they're a bit more prepared for the match.

5)  Philadelphia 76ers: About to begin a season many are viewing as a last opportunity to win it all before the "process" gets a re-evaluation.
     What's Good?: Added depth.  Not superstar depth but shooting and support have been addressed, and it should translate to a visit to at least an eastern conference visit.
     What's Bad?: Ben Simmons' name brought up in trade talks.  Whether true or not, his name was put out there.
     The X-Factor: The potential change on the horizon.  Whether for the better or the worse.

6)  Toronto Raptors: A bit younger and raw and maybe even, a bit more vulnerable.
     What's Good?: Malachi Flynn.
     What's Bad?:  Losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, at the moment it is anyway.  Rebounding was always a sore point with the Raptors and now that they have young bigs who haven't had a whole summer and preseason to prepare, that fact is going to be made all the more glaring.  They've lost a lot of physicality.
      The X-Factor: OG Anunoby has really gotta show up this season.  He's most likely going to be a starter and his production as the second guy on most nights is going to be more essential than it's ever been.

7)  Indiana Pacers: A great basketball culture only gets better.
     What's Good?: A new coach and a slight tweaking of an already solid culture, besides getting two of their best players back.
     What's Bad?:  They still come up a bit short when it comes to having go-to guys.  It's great in the regular season but it usually catches up to them in the playoffs and that most likely isn't going to change much this season.
     The X-Factor: Health.  If Sabonis and or Oladipo get hurt for an extended length of time, their playoff hopes will quickly be dashed.

8)  Atlanta Hawks: Potential gives way to great expectations for the most up and coming team this season.
     What's Good?: The addition of playoff experienced players to mix with the young, and athletically dynamic young core should convert to success.  Trae Young is a budding star in the making.  He's a great overall point guard who now has a lot less of a load on his shoulders with the acquisition of Bogdanovic and Gallinari.
      What's Bad?: They're going to have to develop a better defensive mentality, a point of emphasis this season.  If they can become as good at that as they are on offense, you might be looking at one of the top teams in the east.
      The X-Factor: Cam Reddish was the one time top prospect of the 2019 NBA draft.  He's been good, this season he's going to need to be great.








 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

FIRST LOOK: Air Jordan 13 Retro "Hyper Royal " |SHIEKH #RPTZFLZ #FLZVision

Toronto Raptors Preseason 2020 - 202: Giannis Antetokounmpo Re-signs with Milwaukee. #RPTZFLZ





    Yesterday the inevitable happened.  Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed an extension deal with the Milwaukee Bucks that will see him stay with the team for another five seasons at over 200 million dollars US.  The general managers of every team in the league felt like they had a legitimate shot at the most coveted potential free agent in the league and waited with optimism as he spent the week contemplating his decision.  And in the end, he did what he had always said he was going to do, which is take his time contemplating his decision before he finally signs with Milwaukee.  Surprise, surprise.
      Very much to the dismay of Toronto Raptors fans who thought surely the connections to Masai Ujiri and the largest Greek community outside of Greece were going to be enough to drag him away from the only other home he's known and a team that managed to finish in first place despite having only one all-star player.  Also very much to the dismay of Masai Ujiri who felt that he had helped create a system that should be attractive to a superstar seeking a team of role-players capable of achieving championship level goals.  
      Alas, Giannis Antetokounmpo is cut from a different cloth.  His loyalty lies with the team that was the first to extend his family a hand out of poverty.  And besides, the Milwaukee Bucks have always been a steadily run organization, with a fairly reliable basketball fan base.  What more can you ask for?
      Well, now what do you have to look forward to if you're a Toronto Raptors fan?  For one thing, the peace of mind that the Milwaukee Bucks will never be a serious threat.  One of the reasons they were able to retain Giannis is the fact that he's not a ring chaser.  He knows that because of the Bucks organization's inability to attract superstar talent that he may never get the chance to play next to the type of player who would be able to help him win a championship, and he's fine with that.  At the moment anyway.
       There are a few options the Raptors have going forward into the future as they navigate the next few seasons trying to return to the promised land of large parades, Drake one-liners, and banners in the rafters.
       Staying the course of finding mature, moldable players from various parts around the globe to shape into hard-nosed, dedicated role-players and all-stars.  The Raptors have surpassed the Sana Antonio Spurs at finding talent from unforeseen places to put on the floor and on the bench in coaching roles.  It's made them the most consistently winning team in the league for the past five seasons and I don't see that abating so long as the brains of the organization remain in place.  The guarantee of a process of such is a chance at a championship more often than not and that's better than a lot of franchises will ever have.
       Getting reacquainted with a player from the past can be rejuvenating.  The Utah Jazz recently brought back franchise favourite Derrick Favors, who has always been a fan and teammate favourite.  Could the Raptors bring back a player from their past?  Say a Demar Derozan or a Kawhi Leonard?  Especially in regards to Kawhi Leonard, he wasn't at all averse to re-signing with the team.  Maybe a couple of bad seasons in L.A. might persuade him to return to a franchise and city that more than appreciated his hard work and level headed mindstate.
         Acquiring the next best player in free agency might be another option if the price is right.  The pickings are slim as far as finding the player that gets the Raptors back into the championship.  Maybe if they find the right TWO players willing to take a cut for a run at the ship?  I don't think so.  The Raptors, with the exception of their championship season, tend to be more long-term oriented.
         I think the thing to expect the most when it comes to the Raptors is the unexpected.  Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster never take their focus off the main goal which is a championship, but  they try to avoid the trappings that put other franchises in situations that leave them in a rut for multiple seasons, so you can expect whatever's unexpected of them to be calculated and precise and they might have seen this scenario as a possibility when they approached Serge Ibaka and let Marc Gasol go.  The odds are that they knew they might be rebuilding with multiple lower-tier free agents when the time comes.  The main thing Raptors fans can rely on is the fact that they'll be competing for another championship sooner rather than later.
      
       

 

Monday, 14 December 2020

Toronto Raptors 2020 - 2021 Training Camp: Next Man Up! #RPTZFLZ


    So, first preseason game down, and some Raptors fans liked what they saw and some didn't.  Either way, it's just one game in the preseason and it's way too early to make an assessment either way about how the season will turn out, let alone, who's gonna start, come off the bench, or even make the team for that matter at this point of the process.  What can perhaps, be discussed is who are the players most likely to be next up in the Raptors' future regular rotation plans and I think there are a couple of players who are very likely to be and one who less likely but has the basic components required to be considered.

    Matt Thomas, as clearly put on display in the first game, realized he needed to work on his foot speed and defense in the offseason.  And in the short time he had to do it, he's more than succeeded.  No longer is he a liability and a focus of exploitation of opposing teams but he's actually a contributor, thus far, to the Raptors defense.  He still lacks the height and athleticism to be a complete stopper but he's better able to stay in front of his assignment and push him out of his comfort zone, and that's all you need to ask for on the majority of nights.  
    Another area he's addressed is finding his own shot.  Last season, he was a couple of steps slower so when he would run to his spot so it would allow for the defender to catch up with him.  And the Raptors, historically, haven't been the type of team to facilitate an offense for their snipers.  It's the reason why players like Jason Kapono and Demarre Carroll and similar players were never able to stick with the Raptors.  If you're a sniper on the Raptors, you must be able to create your own shot.  He's been able to add the foot speed required to beat his defender to his shot and his release is a bit quicker as well but it's not rushed because he has the time to take it.

      Paul Watson is a very slept-on offensive player but the aspect of his game that should see him get off the bench often and early is his defense.  It would appear to be the part of his game that he's worked on since the end of last season.  The Raptors are a defense-first team and as good as he is at scoring it probably became clear to him that he can contribute just as much on the defensive end.  In addition to a big block, he was also able to disrupt the offense on the ground and grab some much-needed rebounds.  
    Going forward, I can imagine that his scoring will be key to the Raptors' future success but if he sticks to his extra utilitarian abilities on the defensive end, he'll able to get those extra minutes at the three and the two this season.

    Henry Ellenson didn't have the greatest showing in the first game but I think the Raptors do have a plan for him or he wouldn't be around.  The tools are there, the height, and the ability to shoot, most especially, but like Paul Watson learned, he's really gotta find his defensive groove.  He's one of the more versatile bigs on the bench with the departure of Gasol and Ibaka and with Hernandez, a developing big also gone, the ability to develop his game in the rotation is up for grabs.
    



 

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The Chronicles of James Harden #RPTZFLZ

 



The NBA, like a lot of major pro sports leagues, is experiencing an unprecedented situation that has seen them have to begin a new season just over a month out of completing one prior and you can bet that it isn't going to be easy on the players who have already had to go through a sequestering of sorts in the NBA's first bubble league.  Add to that, it's going to be hard for the league to function as players and other team members try to dodge Covid 19.

Prior to the beginning of the season, James Harden of the Houston Rockets demanded a trade out of Houston, but the market yielded no takers as teams, felt that the price was too high but also most likely, doubted how much James Harden really wanted out of Houston.

Well, they should doubt no more.  Although John Wall has gone on record in stating that James Harden is committed to staying on the Houston Rockets roster, his recent actions have displayed the opposite.  So the question now is, are the Houston Rockets going to look at moving him before he can even attempt to attend the next practice?  Maybe not, but who would be surprised if they did?

So if the Rockets do move to trade him, who should bust a Masai Ujiri and take a win now chance on him?

I've gone down the list of teams with assets and best chances of contending should they go all in and make a move on James Harden.

The Philadelphia 76ers:  This is more of a long-term investment but it has the potential of making the 76ers a perennial eastern conference champion for a few seasons.

There seems to be a bit of an on-court clashing between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.  They're the team's two best players but they both have the same outside-in style of play.  Many analysts have observed that the team would be better off if they were to move either player but preferably, Embiid.  The Houston Rockets are apparently looking to steal on whichever team chooses to deal with them so the loss would be pretty large once the cost is tallied but it would still see them go deep this season and most likely contend next season.

The Pros:  It would give the 76ers the outside shooting threat that they've been lacking for the past few seasons that is made glaringly obvious, every time the playoffs begin.

James Harden is also a better defender than he's given credit for.  He's not necessarily a stopper but he's good at sneaking into passing lanes and pestering ball handlers enough that he's good for a few steals every now and then.

Doc Rivers is a well-seasoned coach and his coaching staff is loaded with enough veterans of the game to keep Harden's temperament even-keeled.  

The Cons:  The only con I can see in this scenario is Harden's age.  If his conditioning holds up for three seasons, one of those could be a championship winner.

The Houston Rockets would get Joel Embiid and Terrence Ferguson.

The Boston Celtics: Another long term move here, and one that makes the Celtics a solid finals tenant.

The thing the Celtics lacked the most in recent playoff visits is consistent scoring.  Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum tend to take turns letting off the gas pedal here and there and as much as Jayson Tatum is seen as the future and rightfully so, his game still needs some rounding out.  He's a big, dramatic scorer who needs to figure out how to get buckets to come easier to him.

The Pros:  James Harden loves to score.  He's what I call a low energy scorer, he doesn't need to expend a lot of energy to score.  He utilizes tricky footwork more than he uses his athleticism.  This translates to more buckets, more often.

Brad Stevens is young but basketball wise and he's a player's coach.  He's not going to butt heads with Harden and I don't think he would be given reason to.  The Celtics organization is steeped in basketball tradition and experience from Danny Ainge down so they've never really had to deal with player disruption interrupting winning games.

The other thing the Celtics have had is great player personnel.  On-court, every player knows their respective roles and are willing to follow the team leaders.  Nobody's going to be crying about James Harden holding the ball for too long so long as they win.

Kemba Walker was a deadly scorer in college and since he's primarily become a ball-handler on the Celtics, it's taken away a bit of his bite.  With James Harden handling the ball more often than not, Kemba Walker gets to go back to shaking his defender to open spots or on the way to the rim.

The Cons:  Their defense might take a bit of a hit due to the players they would be losing, but James Harden is used to playing on teams known more for outscoring opponents.  They would also be less athletic but they would be a bit more efficient.

The Rockets would get Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Toronto Raptors:  It can happen.  I just don't know if he would be down for serving three seasons.

The Toronto Raptors are the most winningest team in the NBA over the course of the past five seasons and have been a perennial playoff team over that time.  This is, most likely, going to be their most competitive season as they're younger than they've been in a long time.  There are going to be a lot of growing pains along the way, and they've faced such in past seasons, but their roster make-up has always been one that was able to make the adjustments necessary to keep them in the mix.  With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, they lost a guaranteed bucket getter.  

The Pros: James Harden's inside game.  Not just getting to the hole but his mid-range game is sorely needed on a team that lives and dies by the three-point shot.  The Raptors have been one of the heavier three-point shot attempting teams in the league for the past ten seasons, James Harden would be able to explore other facets of his game, thus, allowing the Raptors to be a bit more efficient in other areas on both ends of the floor.

The Cons:  When the culture of your team isn't used to playing with the caliber of player of the likes of James Harden, there tends to be an adjustment period in the regular season and the playoffs.  One of the problems the Raptors had when Kawhi Leonard was around was in town was they tended to end up watching him and standing still.  They adjusted rather quickly but it was still a thing.

The Rockets would receive Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell.


At the moment The Rockets appear to be hanging on to the hope that James Harden wants to remain a Rocket, but he hasn't shown it, even if he says so and the Rockets won't be so bad off starting a season with DeMarcus Cousins and close friend John Wall, add another team's best piece or pieces.  I'm betting the Rockets are casting the bait for the sharks wading in the bloody waters around them.



Monday, 7 December 2020

The Toronto Raptors 2020 - 2021 Training Camp Preview - In Develpment: OG Anunoby #RPTZFLZ



The most fascinating aspect of the NBA draft from a fan's perspective, is the intrigue surrounding their team's latest pick.  How will that player contribute to the long term success of the team's championship aspirations.  Will said pick have a superstar impact, or will they contribute just enough to ensure many seaons of solid attempts?

In the latter question is that player on every team, in his third or fourth season whose potential is undeniable but for some reason or other, has yet to max out the credit granted them.

The Toronto Raptors' OG Anunoby is going into a fourth season as a player bursting with, at the least, all-star potential.  He's been slowed only by injury and a competitive roster of players peaking individually ahead of schedule while he's been out.  This season though, should be one that sees OG fully bloom into the player that he gives rare glimpses of and Masai Ujiri envisioned when he selected him in the 2017 NBA draft.

Although he's fairly polished and poised on the floor, it's his position in terms of leadership that are in question the most.  Is he a starter, or can he lead the charge of the bench and contribute at least fifteen or more points a game?  The departure of key veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, means that he'll be called on to lead rather than just contribute and it's that aspect of his game that is the reason why he's being written about in regards to being "in development".

OG has shown that he's very athletic and skilled at various facets of basketball, from being a solid defender to being a reliable scorer.  

Most likely, the third or even second most talented player on the team, he's going to have to be ready and assertive in initiating and sustaining offensive and defensive runs over the course of the upcoming season that will go a long way in determining the playoff hopes of the team.




 

Friday, 4 December 2020

In Development #RPTZFLZ








With the start of a new training camp comes new names, a lot of these names will crack the Raptors roster and a few will make up the roster of the Raptors 905.

This season players who would've been placed on the minor league roster will be thrown directly into the fire but I wanna take a look at the players the Raptors might be able to gain from in the future when the Raptors 905 season starts.

In Yuta Watanabe, the willingness to defend is there and the offensive capability is there, the key thing missing is an adherence to a defined skillset.  What should he do when he gets the ball?  Is he more comfortable with a mid-range jumper?  Is he a slasher?  His career has seen him do a little bit of both but not enough to be reliable at each.  With the Raptors 905, I imagine they'll try to get him to develop at the four who can spell for the likes of Pascal Siakam.  He'll have to work on physicality and his three-point shot but adding low post versatility would make him a more valuable asset.

I really like that Jalen Harris can find his own mid-range shot.  The Raptors won't though.  The Raptors are really high on the three-point shot, and I don't think that will be an issue for him as the college game, especially for seniors, tends to breed mid-range shooting guards who are capable of shooting the three even though college coaches aren't fond of them.  He's a great physical player, he's great at using his body, so he'll be able to take a charge and finish and draw fouls in the process.  I would imagine that getting used to guarding shorter, quicker guards in the NBA would be the part of his game they're going to want him to be efficient at.

Very raw size and athleticism define the qualities Alize Johnson brings to the team.  I don't think the Raptors will want him to do more than be reliable on the free-throw line, rebound, and defend on the perimeter.  He's good on the fast break which is all they'll need from him at the moment as they try to develop his ball-handling and three-point shooting.

The Raptors are only getting better and better at player development and you can see them tightening up on the range of player they bring in so there's a good chance that you'll be seeing these players in the Raptors organization long term or as assets for trades as opposed to disappearing in free agency at some point.  The biggest problem they might end up with is finding a way to many great young players happy as they wait their time in line and that's never a bad problem to have.





Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Toronto Raptors 2020 - 2021 Basketball Camp Preview: Diamond In The Rough - Paul Watson

 

The point and shooting guard positions are the easiest to fill on an NBA roster.  Not necessarily the easiest to get all-star production from but definitely not the hardest to find and going into this season's abbreviated training camp the Raptors find themselves with a handsome bounty of guards at both those positions.

  One of those players is Paul Watson.  A 6'4" guard blessed with spectacular speed and athleticism.  

  The thing that attracts me most to his game is that he knows his game.  He doesn't second guess and he doesn't go outside of it.  If the lane is open, he takes it, if a long-distance shot is open, he takes it.  It's an efficiency that's needed from deep bench players on a team that's looking to make a deep playoff run, in a season that might see teams lose as many as four players at a time.



Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Toronto Raptors 2020 - 2021 Basketball Camp Preview #RPTZFLZ




Last season, which befitting of the bizarre year 2020 has been, ended only one month ago and considering the major loss of Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors finished the season exceeding the expectations of many in the media and basketball fan landscape.

A new season is due to begin in twenty-one days and with the beginning of training camp today, the Raptors will arrive minus two key players from their championship run.  

I can't remember a time when the Raptors prospects at the beginning of a season were ever more raw and uncertain.  

Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have both headed for Los Angeles on opposing teams which means that for the first time in a few seasons, the Raptors will be starting a couple of new bigs.  Not just new to the line-up but new to the team.  How will they meld into a culture that has been about hard nosed, defensive play?  

Chris Boucher has shown flashes of being a contributor in small flashes last season.  Can he contribute more significantly as the first big of the bench this season?

Is there any hope for Stanley Johnson in, what is most likely, his last NBA stint?

Who will emerge as the Raptors true go to guy between Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam?

Is this a rebuilding season of sorts and if so, does Kyle Lowry start to eye the exit to a contender before the season ends?

Is Henry Ellenson the next Chris Boucher?

Although these questions will linger in the air, the certainty that the near future bodes well for the Raptors in terms of having one of the league's best player development systems means that this will probably be the only preseason for a while that these questions will arise.

Last season, the "run it back" themed optimism among fans was a lot higher than it will be this season, but this season's promising new theme of "hope for the future" doesn't necessarily mean doom and gloom.  The Raptors are still a playoff caliber team and great players prefer to sign with teams that were playoff teams before they arrived there.  The question is, who will be on that list of great players when the time comes?

So this season can be looked at as more of a pause.  Don't expect too much but don't think that the Raptors run of being the league's most winning team in the past five seasons will come to an end abruptly.  It's going to be a shorter and quicker training camp and preseason but I doubt it will be any less fruitful than training camps of seasons past.