Talking Raptors With A Raptorologist

Dwane Casey
How good is Dwane Casey when he’s not enraged? Do Raps fans have faith? That & more below. (AP)
Dwane Casey
How good is Dwane Casey when he’s not enraged? Do Raps fans have faith? That & more below. (AP)

With the first round of the playoffs upon us, we’re flush with Brooklyn Nets coverage. But what about the other side? How do the Raptors look from the perspective of someone who’s seen them, day in and day out?

For that, I’m joined by Toronto’s own Blake Murphy, news editor at The Score and contributor to Toronto Raptors blog Raptors Republic. Blake has been kind enough to answer five burning questions on the Raptors, and his answers are below. Check it out.

TBG: Despite the fact that they’re the sixth seed, some Nets fans wanted the Raptors matchup because they feel more confident than against the Bulls. Do you think the Raptors are getting undersold? They don’t have a lot of stars, so how are they so good?

  • Murphy: I’m not sure undersold is the right way to put it, because the Bulls are a pretty terrifying match-up for any of the five-through-seven seeds. I certainly wouldn’t want to play them. With that said, there are two factors that seem to make people shrug their shoulders at the Raptors: their best player is ‘just’ Kyle Lowry, and they’re the Raptors. But they’re very good, and Lowry is excellent, even if that fact isn’t universally known.

    You don’t post the best record in an entire conference, no matter how bad, over four-plus months without some serious talent. It’s more of a system-based, whole-better-than-the-sum-of-their-parts thing, but they’re also underrated defensively and have two, maybe three (Jonas Valanciunas) guys who can be trusted to score when needed.

    TBG: On December 6th, the Raptors fell to 6-12 in Rudy Gay’s last game with the team. After he left, they went on a tear, finishing the season 42-22. Was it that simple?

  • Murphy: At the time, kind of. He was using almost 31 percent of the team’s possessions and had a true shooting percentage of -31, so simply re-distributing those possessions more efficiently was bound to help. Of course, Gay isn’t that bad and was bound to regress (as he did in Sacramento), but the near-instant regression for the Raptors and the introduction of a more holistic brand of ball reinvigorated the team, and just as important as the Gay trade, kept the Raptors from blowing things up further.

    I could write 5,000 words on this but, in short, Gay’s removal allowed for a bunch of marginal gains (DeRozan improving, Lowry with a bigger role, Ross/Valanciunas development) that added up to be a big deal.

    TBG: Who should the Nets be afraid of that might not show up on the first page of a scouting report?

  • Murphy: It depends on how good Lawrence Frank’s daily reports are, I guess.

    I’d assume the Nets are very familiar with the Raptors, having played them four times but what they may not realize is that since they last saw Toronto, Valanciunas has turned a major corner offensively. Since the March 10th loss in Brooklyn, he’s averaged 14.9 points and 10 rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting, up from 10.2 and 8.5 on 51.4 percent. He’s found his stride in terms of post-up offense, and is finally making good decisions as the dive-man with consistency.

    TBG: Despite leading his team to a surprise division win, there’s not a lot of national press for Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. What’s the skinny on him? Does he deserve more publicity?

  • Murphy: Casey is tough to evaluate given what’s transpired the past three years. In his first year, the team was tanking, something Bryan Colangelo later admitted to. Still, Casey coaxed a No. 14 defense out of a team that gave Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Gray and Gary Forbes a combined 5,303 minutes. Last year, he did an awful job, but the team also underwent two pretty major turnovers, and the offense made strides. This year, the team is top-10 on both ends of the floor.

    So he’s now shown an ability on each end twice in three years. What do you make of that? Nothing from the numbers, really. He’s clearly got an effective plan when it comes to defense, and he understands what his players can and can’t do (except for John Salmons). Like any coach, he has issues, like offensive creativity in close games and playing John Salmons 6.6 minutes per fourth quarter.

    Is this enough words to say “I’m still not entirely sold, but I like him and, at worst, think he’s a solid defensive coach who needs a strong offensive assistant?”

    TBG: Okay, enough of that. Gimme a prediction.

  • Murphy: Raptors in seven, because WE THE NORTH, damnit. I think the experience factor is apparent, though exaggerated. I think the teams are razor-close in terms of overall quality, especially when looking at just their play since the turn of the new year and their four meetings. I think Kyle Lowry is the best player in the series. And I think I’d be a bad fan to not pick the Raptors in a series so close.

    Want more Raptors coverage throughout Raptors-Nets? Follow Blake on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.