At the Air Canada Centre tonight, the Raptors will enter the second half of their pre-season schedule against the Boston Celtics– four games down, four to go. And, as Eric Koreen points out, this is around the time that pre-season starts to feel like a bit of a grind.
A million turnovers (22 per game for the Raps, to be exact), weird line-ups, too much Austin Daye -- yep, pre-season games are hardly the most aesthetically pleasing spectacles. But they are necessary; necessary for game-fitness, for figuring out rotations, for building chemistry etc. etc.
But, you know, maybe all that can be figured out in less than 8 games.
Entering tonight’s game with the rebuilding Celtics, the Raptors are 3-1 in pre-season – coming off back-to-back wins against the Knicks and Timberwolves last week. It’s really tough to make any major inferences from those victories given that the closing minutes of those games saw bench unit vs. bench unit in an epic battle of 'whoever screws up the least, wins'. We’re certainly not going to see a Buycks-Ross-Fields-Daye-Hansbrough line-up closing out tight games in the regular season – unless, of course, Ujiri blows the roster to pieces.
Pre-season is about watching the games within the game – how DeMar DeRozan looks down in the paint (really good, actually), or how Landry Fields’ jump-shot looks (really bad) -- and ignoring the final result for the most part.
...or, if you're name is Tommy Heinsohn, comparing rookies to future Hall-of-Famers. A gazillion Tommy Points to Kelly Olynyk!!
That said, here are 3 points of interest to keep an eye on tonight:
The Battle to Back-up Kyle Lowry
On Saturday against the Timberwolves, Lowry played just 12 minutes while Dwight Buycks and D.J. Augustin -- currently battling it out to be the back-up point-guard on the roster -- played 24 and 18 minutes, respectively. Casey knows what he has with Lowry, of course, and wants to see which of his other two guards is ready to step up and take the back-up spot. From what we’ve seen so far – hardly inspiring, I must say – I’d give the spot to Buycks. He had a nice game against the Knicks and has a quick first-step, which helps him get to the rim. Augustin better start hitting some more shots from the outside
Which leads us to…
The Raptors are shooting 28% from 3-point range through 4 games – not great – and DeRozan, who’s apparently been working on his 3-point shot all summer, has yet to make one. Although you don’t want to crunch the numbers from 4 pre-season games too enthusiastically, and fall victim to small sample-size hysteria, it would’ve been nice to see the Raps have a little more success from the beyond the arc thus far. The Raptors' poor shooting from 3 isn’t exactly a pre-season anomaly, but part of an ugly 3-year trend.
The team played an intra-squad scrimmage game at Casino Rama this past weekend, and apparently everyone and his brother were nailing 3s. But just like Dwight Howard hitting free-throws in practice, it’s all meaningless unless it happens in the actual games.
That All-Important -- Yes, ALL-IMPORTANT -- 15th Roster Spot
Ryan Wolstat had a good piece yesterday on Julyan Stone impressing Casey and his coaching staff. Based on some of Casey's comments, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to assert that Stone is probably leading Chris Wright and Carlos Morais when it comes to that final roster spot. Of course, Stone was on the verge of signing with the Raps earlier in the summer before failing a physical, and Ujiri was a fan of his during their time in Denver.
Stone is intriguing in that he has the potential to guard 3 different positions, something that none of the Raptors' other guards can do (can Augustin guard one position?). It’ll be interesting to see, however, whether Morais or Wright – neither of whom have seen much playing time until now – can do anything in the remaining four games that catches the eye of Casey or Ujiri.