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RaptorsHQ Talks With Raptors' Assistant Coach Eric Hughes - Part II

To get to the level of Kobe and other elite shooting guards, DeMar DeRozan needs to continue spending a lot of time in the weight room.
To get to the level of Kobe and other elite shooting guards, DeMar DeRozan needs to continue spending a lot of time in the weight room.

Part one of our off-season chat with Coach Hughes touched on a number of topics, from Ed Davis' re-designed shot to Terrence Ross' Summer League play. Today? Lots of DeMar DeRozan with some Landry Fields, Kyle Lowry and even Solomon Alabi sprinkled in...

When we left off yesterday, Toronto Raptors' Assistant Coach Eric Hughes was touching on the development of some of the younger members of the Dinos, particularly DeMar DeRozan.

No need for much of an intro to part two today then, let's start in right there...

RHQ: Let's talk some more about DeMar then. Statistically when you looked at his numbers last year overall, there was some miniscule improvement in certain stats, bigger in some than others, but then a lot of pundits would point to more usage etc, etc. You guys know DeMar's development better than anyone though, so did you think that he took another big step forward last season?

EH: You know, it's still hard for a young guy like that to carry a team. With Andrea missing a major portion of the season and you've got guys coming and going, and trading Leandro, that's still a big adjustment for a young kid to make. So yeah, I thought DeMar made some strides. Is he where he needs to be? No, I'll be the first one to admit that. He's not behind, but I'd like to take another step next year and I think Coach Casey has really helped that process for him and again it's holding DeMar accountable at both ends, at the offensive end and the defensive end. It's physical play for DeMar that's going to take him to another level and that goes for both ends.

But yes, he definitely made some strides. He went from a less than 10 per cent three-point-shooter to almost a 30 per cent three-point-shooter. But 30 per cent is still not good enough though so did he make some strides, yeah, but still not where he needs to be. He got his free-throw percentage up to over 80 per cent, he led us in free-throw attempts which is a good number. Again, DeMar is definitely showing growth but I'm not satisfied with where he's at and I know he's not and for him to take another step will ultimately help our team take another step.

RHQ: Do you think he'll play some 3 this year?

EH: You know I'd assume he probably will have to. Obviously with the addition of Landry, Landry is kind of like DeMar in that he's a 2 but can also play some 3 as well. DeMar is a 2 that can play some 3, Linas has obviously had a great Olympics so he'll be there, and Alan Anderson is back so we've got some nice options.

I think DeMar is 2-man in the league but DeMar can play some 3 and again the thing you've got to look at is on the defensive end. Guarding 2's and guarding 3's are two completely different things. Offensively playing the 3 might not be that big of a difference but guarding 2's vs. 3's is a huge deal.

RHQ: You touched on the Olympics, any early thoughts on the play of Jonas Valanciunas? He hasn't played a lot but...

EH: ...yeah, I've watched him play a little, obviously he doesn't play a lot of minutes with them. I loved Jonas watching him on film last year, I know our management who've watched him play in person many times are obviously very high on him so we're excited. But again, it's a big jump to go from playing in Europe to playing in the NBA. I'm sure there will be a learning curve for him too but the one thing I do know about him is that he's got the physical ability right now to make the transition, he's got the mentality, he wants to learn and he wants to get better.

RHQ: Who's the one player you're most excited to see in terms of a new face next year, and what he can do?

EH: I would say Kyle Lowry. I've always been a big fan of his, I took a trip to China with the NBA a couple years ago and Kyle was the NBA player on that trip so I've gotten to know him a little bit and he's got a great relationship with Alvin Williams so I know he's a kid of character. I know he works hard so I'm excited about him but I'm excited about some of the kids we had for half a season last year like Alan Anderson. I'm really excited to have Alan back. I spent some time with him this summer and I just think he's such a glue guy and a solid guy that you can throw in and just have play. He can make you a three, play some really good defense, he knows the game, plays hard, so I'm excited to see what he can do.

I'm excited about Jonas obviously, and then our three young guys because we just spent a lot of time with them. I put Eddy Davis in that equation as well when I speak of the three young guys, I mean the Summer League guys, as he hasn't had the same opportunities, as we discussed. Quincy I think has a ways to go because he's an undersized 4-man but he's got an unbelievable motor and a will and excitement to him that we haven't had since we had Reggie Evans and I'm excited about that.

And then Terrence obviously because we've lacked outside shooting and he's definitely a guy who can make outside shots.

Honestly I'm just excited mostly to have a full season with these guys. Last year was such a chopped up affair with training camp so short and no summer to work with the guys, so you had to cram a whole summer into a shortened time period. And then with a brand new coach, you're trying to implement your offence and your defence and it was really hard, it was really hard for Coach Casey and then for his staff to prioritize what you wanted to work on and what you could work on. And there's an example of during a shortened season like that, Eddy Davis' shot, and working on it, you had to find time to do it. And when you're playing five games in a week and cramming a 66 game season into four months, it's hard. Because it was only 16 games less than a normal season with basically two less months!

So that's hard. It's hard on guys' bodies and it's hard to figure out what you could and couldn't do in practice, and how much guys had in the tank, and what did you need to do to prep for the games so it was hard. And so mostly I think I'm just excited to have a normal season with our guys and a full training camp and a full off-season to help with the progress of our players.

RHQ: I actually wrote a piece during the lock-out last year where I wondered if the Raptors wouldn't be one of the teams most hurt by it. You've got so many young players, and the future of the team really predicated on their development, and then you can't spend the necessary time to develop must have been very frustrating at times last year from a coach's standpoint.

EH: Yeah, it was just really hard. From figuring out how much you could do in practice to how much you could do after practice, should we practice on days off, should bring guys in or not, it was tough. So I'm excited to get back to a normal routine where guys are getting their rest and you can do stuff before and after practice and work with them. Last year we didn't practice till noon because we wanted guys to get extra rest, so there were just a lot more challenges and I'm looking forward to a return to normal.

RHQ: Two final questions about individual players. One, Amir Johnson. I know we haven't touched on him much yet but he had sort of an up and down season last year and didn't seem to be able to stay healthy. How's he looked this offseason?

EH: Amir came up to Toronto right before the draft and spent about four days with us. The biggest thing we're trying to do with Amir is extend his range. I don't think people think of Amir as a three-point shooter, and not that we're going to run plays for him to get three-point shots, but we're trying to extend his range a little bit and make him a little more of a driver too so he can take advantage of his quickness and athleticism down on the block rather than have him shoot jump hooks.

So he spent those days before the draft with us, then he came to Summer League for a week so we worked out in Vegas during that time, and then I spent a few days in LA with him, and I'll be with him the next two weeks in LA when I get back from this current camp and we'll spend a few more weeks working with him before we go back to Toronto.

RHQ: Final question, a player that's come up a lot on our site, Solomon Alabi - what happened to Solo?

EH: Solomon was a definite example of a player who just didn't get enough of an opportunity last year because we didn't have time to figure out if he could play or not. Because it was such a shortened season we kind of gave an opportunity early and for whatever reason it didn't work out, and ultimately he spent a bunch of time in the D League last year. With the drafting of Quincy Acy and having Amir, having Andrea, having Eddy and then Jonas, and now Aaron Gray, who we just re-signed, there's just not really enough room. That's more of a question though that you would have to ask the management in regards to why they did not want to re-sign Solo but unfortunately for him, that lock-out hurt.

He was one of those players that fell by the wayside a little bit because we didn't have a summer to work with him, he didn't get a chance to play Summer League, and then we came back and it was go, go, go, and not a lot of time to develop and unfortunately for Solo, management decided to go in a different direction.

But I think there's a place for Solo if he finds the right situation and slows down a little bit, and doesn't go too fast. Because he's a great kid and he wants to get better and he's a hard worker so I'm hoping Solo finds the right situation where he can play.

RHQ: I think we're all hoping that.

Awesome Eric, thanks so much, that's all I've got but greatly appreciate the time and have a great honeymoon!

EH: No problem Adam, thanks again.