It was so rosy at 24-8. The Cavaliers were still figuring themselves out, the Hawks hadn't become a juggernaut yet, and the Wizards were good at losing to the Raptors. The Raptors have gone 18-22 since that flying start, and there have been growing sounds of discontent among the fan base.
However, in ESPN's annual (I think) coach ranking, they have Dwane Casey ranked 13th in the NBA. It isn't a case of just rewarding teams with winning records either, as Randy Wittman's sitting down at 26th despite having the Wizards well above .500.
This begs the question -- are Raptors fans over reacting to a prolonged slump? Or has Dwane Casey taken this team about as far as he's capable of taking it?
Looking at the rankings, it's hard to argue Casey shouldn't be where he currently is. It's a stark reminder of how few coaches in the league make unquestionably good decisions almost all the time. Some of the names below him have definitely had a year to forget coaching-wise -- SVG in Detroit, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn. And those are all guys the majority of people agreed were very good coaches. Then there's the entire section of coaches handling lottery teams, who deservedly shouldn't sniff the top half of the rankings.
Relative to his peers, Casey's definitely done a commendable job with the Raptors. Relative to the precedent he set last year and in Dallas though, there are some worrying signs. Last year, Toronto was one of only three teams, along with OKC and San Antonio, to be ranked top-10 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This year, the team's defensive rating has slipped ALL the way down to 25th. One of my favourite stats from last year was that the Raptors were the only team in the league to not lose a game by 20 or more points all season. This year, they've been soundly blown out multiple times. The numbers back up the eye test here. The Raptors have regressed mightily on the defensive end of the floor - the end that's supposed to be Casey's calling card.
Then there's the entire issue of his game management. It's clear that Casey's scrambling, rotating system doesn't suit Jonas Valanciunas on the defensive end. That's why we see him prefer a limping, injured Amir Johnson to JV in crunch time. I'd find that pill a lot easier to swallow if there wasn't a double standard in how he hands out minutes at the wings. James Johnson is second on the team in Defensive Rating, and third in Net Rating. He's a part of almost every lineup combination in which the Raptors outscore their opponents. But his minutes are continuously sliced at the expense of an ineffective Terrence Ross, or an inefficient Greivis Vasquez/Lou Williams combination. If the "he prefers veterans over youth" is the reasoning for playing Amir over JV, it doesn't make any sense to have James Johnson's minutes fluctuate so much.
Re: last RT, that's the type of effort we saw late in the Mitchelll/Triano eras. Are they bad or have they tuned out the staff?— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) March 26, 2015
In spite of all that, I respect Masai's patient approach to evaluating this roster and coaching staff. It's so easy to forget the dire days of Kevin O'Neill and Jay Triano. As fans, we've gotten greedy for success. I don't think it's unreasonable to want a change if you feel like the Raptors have reached their ceiling with Dwane Casey at the helm. But there needs to be a clear plan in place. You have to find the right coach, so you mimic Golden State going from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr and not Sacramento going from Mike Malone to Ty Corbin.
It promises to be an interesting couple of months in Toronto. Of course, Dwane Casey can make all of this go away if the Raptors just start to resemble an NBA team again. What do you all think?