The majority of the offseason for the Toronto Raptors was spent attempting to find a suitable option to start at point guard for the club going forward. After--apparently narrowly-- missing out on the Steve Nash sweepstakes, Bryan Colangelo turned to what many thought was the best option all along, then Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry.
With Kyle Lowry in place, talk of how he would improve the starting unit began, and has continued until last night when Lowry finally donned the red and white in front of a sparse home crowd at the ACC--and they would not leave disappointed.
Lowry finished the game with 14 points, 6 assists and 3 steals while igniting the starting unit offensively on a number of occasions.
With Lowry at the helm, we finally caught a glimpse of the new high octane offence that Casey has been talking about implementing since the beginning of training camp.
Another byproduct of Lowry's great play was the play of small forward Landry Fields who had struggled mightily in his first three preseason games in a Raptor uniform.
Fields fed off of Lowry all game long, making a number of great cuts, receiving the ball in prime positions to score including one play late in the second quarter in which Fields went backdoor, received the ball from Lowry and delivered a resounding reverse slam. Consequently Fields lead all scorers with fifteen points and played a lot like the Landry Fields we saw in New York playing alongside Raymond Felton during his rookie season.
"I thought he did an excellent job running the floor, back cutting and moving without the ball," Casey said about Fields' performance in the game. "We went to DeMar in the post, but yet still his movement on the weak side created havoc and took out their help. And again, those things you can't teach"
Aside from Fields and Lowry's individual performances, the interior defence was another aspect of the game that stood out.
Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas continued to pose a defensive threat for teams with their length and activity inside. Although Bargnani was still a step slow on a number of defensive rotations, Valanciunas' quick defensive instincts helped to cover up some of Bargnani's defensive shortcomings.
By night's end, the pair had combined for 5 blocks and, despite a few hiccups here and there, seemed to be genuinely building some chemistry together on that end of the floor. This was all done in limited minutes as well, prior to Bargnani leaving the game in the third quarter with a left calf bruise.
The starting unit did look good in a number areas, but again struggled to build a lead early.
"Our starts are horrendous and we have got to find the answer to that," coach Casey said after the game. "I think they scored 24 points in the last six minutes of the first quarter, and then to start the third we dug ourselves a hole"
Thanks to some creative lineup choices by Casey however, the team was able to climb out of that hole.
In the fourth quarter Casey turned to two separate lineups that featured two of the team's three point guards.
For an extended stretch to begin the quarter, Casey threw out a lineup of Jose Calderon, John Lucas III, Dominic Mcguire, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis and it was perhaps their most effective of the night.
Lucas and Calderon took turns knocking down three-point shots, while Davis and Johnson went to work in the paint.
Johnson had 13 points, making five of his six shots from the floor including a pair of jumpers from the top of the key and Ed Davis grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds to go along with 8 points.
The Dinos closed out the game with a lineup that included both Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III. This is a lineup that we could see again in the future, and one that Lowry is in favour of using again.
"it was cool, you know," Lowry said about sharing the floor with another point guard. "like I always say, a two point guard look is always easier for a point guard because, you know, you don't have to have the ball all the time and each one another can make a play for each other or other teammates"
One of the biggest strengths that this team possesses is it's depth. And because of that depth, coach Casey can get creative with the different types of lineups. Granted, it is still the preseason, but we are less than two weeks away from the beginning of the regular season so don't be surprised if you see some of these types of lineups come November.
The Raptors will have one more practice tomorrow before flying to Montreal for their matchup with the New York Knicks at the Bell Centre on Friday night. As the season approaches, expect to see tighter rotations from Dwane Casey as he attempts to fine tune what will eventually become his opening night rotation.