Yesterday was the official start to the Raptors’ 2016-17 season, their 22nd in the NBA. The team is off in Vancouver now to start training camp and begin the preseason (first game on Oct. 1 against the Warriors). But before we start talking about those (non-real) games, let’s reflect on some Raptors lessons we learned from Media Day 2016.
And just for the hell of it, we’re doing it in the form of a list. Because who doesn’t like a good list? [Hannibal Buress voice] Nobody.
So, here goes: 10 lessons we learned from Raptors Media Day.
The newest full-time Raptor, Jared Sullinger, is the likely starter at power forward for the Raptors on day one. As expected, he’ll take on the role Luis Scola held last year — complete with a questionable defensive pairing with Jonas Valanciunas, and dodgy three-point shooting numbers.
Sullinger projects as a better offensive player now than Scola was last season (I mean, he’s ten years younger which counts for something), and checks out as a legit monster rebounder. So, there are definitely positives to having Sully on the team in the starter’s spot. That he’s in a contract year and clearly looking to establish his credentials for a big pay day next season is also true. Coach Dwane Casey did say he reserves the right to change his mind about all of this — but it sounded like Casey’s typically resistance to being pinned down early to a specific decision.
(Still: Look for Patrick Patterson to continue on as a valuable crunch time piece for the Raptors, given his proven three point shooting ability and ace defensive skills all over the court.)
Lucas Nogueira will get his shot to be a part of this Raptors team. When I spoke to him, he acknowledged the expectations, with Bismack Biyombo now gone, for him to step into the backup centre role. But he also acknowledged that it won’t just be handed to him. There are new guys on the team that could take his minutes. But let me tell you, with the Raptors forced to make a decision regarding Bebe’s option year before October 31st, I hope Nogueira makes the most of his chance this year.
Case in point:
“My goal is for people to take me more serious. Because people don’t take me serious as a player. Sometimes it’s kind of sad to me. But my goal is not to make $100 million a year or whatever. My goal is for people to start respecting me as a player ... This is my goal for next year.”
Who wouldn’t want to cheer this guy on?
Also, it is adorable how Nogueira supports his countryman Bruno Caboclo. After praising the strides Bruno has made, Bebe said, “I say it from my heart, I don’t say it for marketing.” You gotta love it.
As I wrote over here, DeMarre Carroll is still on his way back from the brutality he put his body through last season. Look, there’s no other way to put this: it’s not the greatest thing to hear Carroll say he’s still not 100 percent. It’s admirable to consider what he put himself through last year, particularly in the postseason, when it was clear Carroll was barely at 50 percent. But the Raptors are looking at another three years of DeMarre, so a healthy upswing this year would be huge.
On that note, the optimism is good — Carroll sounds much happier right now, and more on top of his situation than he did last year, as his body failed him. There’s something to be said for training camp’s ability to round him into shape and put his knee (and the rest of him) to the test. This is good.
And if you’re still nervous about all of this, remember: the Raptors were still quite good even without Carroll (or him hobbling around out there in fits and starts).
When DeMar DeRozan was asked about what he worked on in the off-season (an annual tradition!), he implied he’s added something to his game, but didn’t specify what.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing it for the last seven, eight years,” said DeRozan. “I think it’ll be shown once we get out there and start playing again, of me just finding out ways how to be better, how to be a better player, how to make my teammates better. So, I think, without giving it away, I’ll let y’all be the judge of that, as me as an individual would.”
DeMar, you tease!
Delon Wright is progressing from the shoulder injury he sustained during the Las Vegas Summer League, and subsequent surgery. As big dog Blake Murphy reports however, Wright says his return will more likely come in late December or early January, instead of the original four month timeline which pegged his return for early December.
On a positive note, Wright expects doctors to give him the OK to use his full range of motion, which would allow him to get some shots up as part of his rehab. In the big picture, this is a minor setback for young Delon. While it sucks he’ll miss a couple months of games (and presumably some heavy minutes in the D-League with the 905), he’ll be back soon.
Jonas has grown his hair out into some sort of bowl cut. And he’d like you to watch his dribbling moves.
He's, uh, working on it. pic.twitter.com/eKGz1YbKqS— Daniel Reynolds (@aka_Reynolds) September 26, 2016
You’ll never guess what Cory Joseph spent his time working on in the offseason. Spoiler alert: yes, you will.
“My three point shot, a lot of repetition, a lot of time in the gym spent on my three point shot,” said Joseph. “[To] create some more spacing for myself and the team, be able to attack that much easier.” To which I’d like to add: amen, brother.
Last season was the first time Joseph averaged more than one three attempt per game (1.4 on the year). But his percentage from deep dipped back below 30 percent (to 27.3), which is the death knell for guards in the modern NBA. The Raptors bench unit was still a fearsome force (thanks to shooting from Terrence Ross and Patterson, along with Kyle Lowry’s guiding presence) but to add Joseph to that deep threat mix would be something altogether more powerful.
Given their surprising finish (to a certain extent) last year, the Raptors — from Masai Ujiri on down — were not keen to put any name or number to their expectations for the season. Obviously, a championship is the ultimate goal for the Raptors, but there was a greater understanding, it seemed like, of what it would take to get there. And the slow and steady progress that implies.
“We have to keep winning,” said Ujiri. “I don’t know if we ever said ‘win a round’, but I think that was the perception. And everybody knows it’s something we wanted to do. But I think we’re trying to build a culture here of winning, finding winning ways, winning habits, and let that be part of our culture, and set the bar high.” This is a simple organizational philosophy of course, but it means a lot for a team like the Raptors which, as Ujiri acknowledged, is “trying to improve from within.”
So the goal this season appears to be, again, taking those small steps towards the ultimate goal, and building on the lessons of last year, the year before, and so on. As Lowry said (twice): “We have to be the best team we can be when the regular season ends, get to the playoffs, and go from there.” Translation: be cool with less than 56 wins, guys.
Pascal Siakam is worried about Canada’s weather — he’s not sure how he’s going to handle the winter — and he’s not ready to assess Toronto as a city just yet. Buddy, I got you.
Lowry is not going to address his contract at all this season, but I’ll tell you what: bet on him making it very difficult for the Raptors to just let him walk. Sure, he’s tilting into his early 30s with a relentless and physical style of play intact; but with Lowry, there’s always more to it than that. He jokingly compared himself to a bottle of wine — you know, like those fine ones that get better with age — before going into more detail about his mindset.
Lowry acknowledged he spent the early part of his career playing fewer minutes a night. With the Raptors, it’s been different. Two years ago, when Lowry was clearly breaking down, something had to improve. Now after a few years in a row of with an intense workload, he’s learned how to take care of his body. We saw last season the result of that re-think, as Lowry played at a dang high level for almost 100 games (even when, yes, in the postseason his shot wasn’t falling for long stretches).
So to hear Lowry talk about working on his consistency, and improving his jump shot, and embracing his leadership role, etc. makes it clear he’s not about to slow down now.
And as Ujiri said: “The way Kyle goes, we go.”