Author Archives: Brendan Ballantyne

The Raptors Coaching Search

After an extremely disappointing end to a historic season for the franchise, Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors organization decided something had to give. As is the case in the sports world, that usually means that the coach must go. Dwane Casey is undoubtedly the best coach that the Raptors franchise has ever had, but all good the things must come to an end. It’s a tough look for the team that Casey was fired following him being voted the Coach of the Year by his peers, but Ujiri claims the team needs a “new voice” and I guess you can’t really blame him after witnessing another second round sweep.

Now we look ahead to who that “new voice” could be. Shortly after Casey had been relieved of his duties, names had started being floated around as potential candidates to fill the new coaching vacancy in the North. Here’s a brief look at some of the perceived candidates.

Nick Nurse:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, Toronto Raptors (2013 – Present)

Notables: D-League Coach of the Year (2011), 2-time D-League Champion (2011, 2013)

Nurse has been a long time coach at various levels and experienced great success in the D-League. The Raptors gig was the first shot he’s gotten in the NBA, but his 5 years with the team has been the best 5-year stretch in team history. The only issue being that he has direct ties with the man who was just fired and doesn’t really have that “new voice” factor.

Rex Kalamian:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, Toronto Raptors (2015 – Present)

Notables: 21 seasons as an Assistant Coach in the NBA.

Kalamian has clearly paid his dues as an assistant in this league, he’s done it for as long as I’ve been alive. But he has the same issues as Nurse, a long time Dwane Casey “guy” (coached together in Minnesota previously) and doesn’t qualify as a “new voice”. It appears unlikely that he’d be the guy, but he’ll get a look.

Jerry Stackhouse:

Most Recently: Head Coach, Raptors 905 (2016 – Present)

Notables: D-League Coach of the Year (2017), D-League Champion (2017), 18 year NBA playing career that included 2 All-Star appearances, 3rd overall pick in the 1995 Draft.

“Stack” is an interesting young coaching prospect because he has made the quick transition to coaching, and successfully, just 5 years after retiring from his playing career. He could offer a fresh perspective and appears to be the most logical “promote from within” candidate, but he also has other suitors too, which apparently includes Orlando and Detroit.

Mike Budenholzer:

Most Recently: Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations, Atlanta Hawks (Resigned in 2017).

Notables: Coach of the Year (2015), All-Star Game Head Coach (2015), 4-time NBA Champion as an Assistant Coach with the San Antonio Spurs.

The most intriguing and qualified candidate of the bunch. Budenholzer appears to be being fought over by the front offices in Toronto and Milwaukee for his services. Budenholzer has a solid resume in getting the most out of a team (see 60 win Atlanta Hawks) and systematically operates his teams in the heavy three-point shooting, “find the open man” type of way that the Raptors did so well in the regular season. He has also been crushed by LeBron in the playoffs, but who hasn’t really?

Becky Hammon:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, San Antonio Spurs (2014 – Present)

Notables: First full-time female coach in NBA history, Head Coach of San Antonio Spurs Las Vegas Summer League Championship winning team (2015), 6-time WNBA All-Star.

Like Budenholzer, Hammon has grown her coaching experience under the tutelage of the legendary Greg Popovich. She has gotten a lot of buzz recently on how she’s ready to be a head coach in this league, and it would certainly be something if Toronto was the city where that happened.

Raptors Second Round Playoff Preview

The Toronto Raptors enter tonight’s second round series opener coming off of a solid showing that saw them dispose of the Washington Wizards in 6 games (4-2). It was a series that included a trio of mini two-game winning streaks that the teams traded back and forth, but the Raptors ultimately did their job as the #1 seed and proved they were too much for the #8 seed to handle. DeMar DeRozan was excellent in the series (26.7 PPG), but the performance of Delon Wright stepping up with Fred VanVleet injured and impacting both ends of the floor was a major positive for the Raptors. Most notably, he added 2.7 points per game and 1.3 steals per game on top of his regular season averages, headlined by an 18 point performance on 6/10 shooting in game 5. Now with VanVleet seemingly back to full health after returning in game 6, the Raptors are back to full strength personnel wise with their demons that swept them a season ago staring them directly in the face in round two.

Tale of the Tape

Toronto Raptors

(#1 East)

Team

Cleveland Cavaliers

(#4 East)

59-23

Record

50-32

113.8 (2nd)

Offensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

112.9 (5th)

105.9 (5th)

Defensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

111.9 (29th)

+7.78 (2nd)

Margin of Victory

+0.94 (14th)

57.5% (4th)

True Shooting Percentage

58.4% (3rd)

Projected Starting Lineups

Kyle Lowry

Point Guard

LeBron James

DeMar DeRozan

Shooting Guard

J.R. Smith

O.G. Anunoby

Small Forward

Kyle Korver

Serge Ibaka

Power Forward

Kevin Love

Jonas Valanciunas

Centre

Tristan Thompson

Offense:

Based on regular season statistics, the Raptors and Cavaliers operate offensively in similar fashions. They average a strikingly similar number of possessions per 48 minutes (Raptors 97.4, Cavaliers 98.0) and they both take a large chunk of their shots from beyond the arc (Raptors 37.7 – 5th in NBA, Cavaliers 37.9 – 4th in NBA).

As for an evaluation of the first round, I have zero clue how the Cavaliers managed to scrape by into the second round (other than because of the LeBron James guy). Here’s a look at how the Cavs measured up in some notable statistics compared to the other 16 playoff teams in first round play:

Stat

Rank (out of 16)
Field Goal Percentage 14th
Three Point Percentage 15th
Free Throw Percentage 10th
Rebounding 14th
Assists 15th
Turnovers 12th
Points Per Game 16th

The Raptors ranked higher is every single one of those. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that the Cavs supporting cast was awful in the first round. Not surprising, because they are awful. LeBron shot 55.3% and the rest of the Cavs shot 38.8%…if anything like that happens again, the Raptors will smack the Cavs.

Edge: Raptors

Defense:

This area is definitively an edge for the Raptors, there isn’t even really a reason to talk about it. The biggest concern for the Raptors though is obviously the question of “Who will slow down LeBron?”. Well, it appears that man will be 20 year old rookie O.G. Anunoby. ESPN came out with an article today with some interesting numbers. Apparently, when Anunoby is the one guarding LeBron the Cavs are scoring 1.09 points per possession. This isn’t remarkable, but the Cavs season average with LeBron on the court is 1.14. The major difference is that when any other Raptors is guarding “the King” , that points per possession jumps to 1.38. Check out the full article here.

This is a big time and a big stage early in the rookie’s career.

The one concern the Raptors should have defensively is with the Cavs three point shooting. While it wasn’t up to their standards in round one, the Cavs were 6th in the NBA in the regular season (37.2%). The Raptors held their opponents to the 10th lowest three point percentage in the league, so they need to play up to their capabilities in that respect.

Edge: Raptors

Star Power:

Nothing against DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, they are perennial All-Stars, but they are simply not LeBron James. Even though “playoff Lowry” may not be what you think against the Cavs:

The 2017-18 Raptors are all about depth, and the Cavs aside from LeBron are horrible. Yet here they both are in the second round.

Edge: Cavaliers

Bench: If you take away LeBron the Raptors bench probably sweeps the Cavs starters.

Edge: Raptors

I am confident heading into this series that the Raptors will pull this out. I just can’t stress enough how ineffective the supporting cast in Cleveland is and has been. They have rode the back of the GOAT all the way to this point, but I think it ends for them in round two.

The Pacers did the Raptors a favour forcing their series to a seventh game, and in turn, wearing down LeBron just that much more.

If you look at that series as a case study, you would see that the Cavs had trouble containing the Pacers guards of Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison. I take DeRozan and Lowry over those two 1000 out of 1000 times. Add that to the fact that the Cavs clearly had trouble with the length and athleticism of the Pacers, and the Raptors have a much more talented group in that regard. That being said, the Pacers were **+40 in a series that they lost** because of one man and one man only. It’s ridiculous how much influence he has on a game, but this really comes down to the question if the Raptors can beat LeBron James. I think they can over the course of a series. I don’t like the odds of the Raptors closing it out on the road in comparison to at home, so that leaves us with 5 or 7 games as possible scenarios. I think LeBron is great enough to get more than one game for his team, so I think this series goes the distance. 

I’m also 1/1 in my predictions so far, so there’s that:

…these Raptors are the better TEAM and possess more depth and defense than the Wizards, which I think will eventually wear the opposition out. Wall and Beal certainly have the ability to win games if/when they take over, which I think they might for a game or two, but I’m confident that the Raptors will come through and advance past the Wizards.

Prediction: Raptors in 6

For this one, I think the Raptors make the most of the home court advantage they’ve never had against LeBron and punch their ticket back to the Conference Finals.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

Schedule:

Tuesday May 1st @ 8pm in Toronto

Thursday May 3rd @ 6pm in Toronto

Saturday May 5th @ 8:30pm in Cleveland

Monday May 7th @ 8:30pm in Cleveland

Wednesday May 9th TBD in Toronto

Friday May 11th TBD in Cleveland

Sunday May 13th TBD in Toronto

If You’re A Fan of the NHL, You Should Hate the Vegas Golden Knights

Why don’t we all give a round of applause for the Vegas Golden Knights. Wow, what a great season it’s been! Proving all the doubters wrong. Incredible. Just remarkable, wow!

Alright, now everyone shut up.

I’ve had enough of all of this “success” and if you’re a fan of virtually any other franchise in the league, you should be fed up too (save for the Penguins maybe, because you don’t have much to complain about). Why? Vegas has single-handedly made the NHL appear as a complete joke and the worst part of all is the league basically did this to themselves. Gary Bettman has to know this, and I’m sure he’s cheering his bag off on the inside for the Sharks to pull off a series win and finally beat this Golden Knights team. Early returns aren’t encouraging for the Sharks. Especially not good after that 7-0 shellacking last night in game one of the second round.

Here’s the thing, everything was all well and good in the early goings of this process. It was a cool story. I’d never experienced an expansion draft as a hockey fan because the last expansion had taken place when I was just three and a half years old (Columbus, 2000). It’s clear the league had seen expansion drafts before, but we had apparently never seen something quite like this because this team was going to be “much more competitive than any other expansion team we’ve seen”. How cute, maybe they won’t finish last. But it was still an edgy pick to even have Vegas finishing inside the top 30 of 31 teams. Why wouldn’t you have them there though. What other precedent did we really have to base things off?  Read more

Toronto Raptors Round 1 Playoff Preview

The Toronto Raptors 2017/18 regular season has just come to a close and it has been a historic one at that. With a franchise best 59-23 record, the Raptors clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and the best home record in the NBA. It’s clear a lot has gone right for the Raps this season and much of that can be attributed to the great work of Dwane Casey, the advancement of DeMar DeRozan’s game, the continued high-end stability of Kyle Lowry and the unmatched production from the bench. Because the NBA season as a whole came to an end on Wednesday night, the finishing touches have been placed on all of the matchups for the NBA playoffs that tip off on Saturday.

As the number one seed, the Raptors drew the number eight seeded Washington Wizards. The teams split the season series 2-2 while going back and forth between results in fairly tightly contested games each time (WSH 107-96, TOR 100-91, WSH 122-119 and TOR 102-95). Let’s preview the matchup ahead:

Tale of the Tape

Toronto Raptors

(#1 East)

Team

Washington Wizards

(#8 East)

59-23

Record

43-39

113.8 (2nd)

Offensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

109.3 (14th)

105.9 (5th)

Defensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

108.7 (15th)

+7.78 (2nd)

Margin of Victory

+0.59 (15th)

57.5% (4th)

True Shooting Percentage

56% (12th)

Offense:

The Raptors offensive efficiency has been very impressive this season as it has consistently been at the top of the league. While the Wizards managed to finish in the middle of the pack despite the absence of their starting PG for half of the season. The reality of this offensive matchup is actually a lot closer than I would’ve expected as the Wizards actually have an advantage in three point percentage (37.5% to 35.8%), assists per 100 (25.8 to 24.8) and offensive rebounding per 100 (10.3 to 9.9). But the fact remains that the Raptors simply are the better at putting the ball in the basket. Their two point attempts are converted at a better clip, they attempt more three pointers in their winning formula and are 4th in the NBA in free throw percentage. While there are a few things that are encouraging from a Wizards perspective, we’re talking about a Raptors offense that scored more than the Warriors per 100 possessions this season, which simply can’t be ignored.

Edge: Raptors

Defense:

This is fairly similar to the breakdown on offense, the Raptors find themselves in the top five and have for the course of the regular season and the Wizards are somewhere in the middle. Simply from a personnel standpoint I see the Raptors combination of bigs (Valanciunas, Ibaka, Poeltl, Siakam) causing the Wizards some issues. The Wiz are one of the few teams that consistently lean on a classic style centre in Marcin Gortat, but Valanciunas is quite capable in that matchup, as is Poeltl. But looking deeper, the Wizards lack the size and defensive presence to really scare me away, unless they’re planning on sending out a heavy dosage of Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. In that case, be my guest.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 5.44.30 PM.png

Jason Smith averaged 3.4 points per game in 8.6 minutes per game this season…this is hilarious.

Anyways, in a small lineup the Wizards do possess some defensive length and athleticism in the form of Otto Porter, but the Raptors boast a very long and capable defensive lineup that has allowed them to average the 12th highest defensive rebounding percentage and second highest blocks per game while holding opponents to the third lowest effective field goal percentage. The Wizards aren’t in the top 15 in any of those categories.

Edge: Raptors

Projected Starting Lineups

Kyle Lowry

Point Guard

John Wall
DeMar DeRozan

Shooting Guard

Bradley Beal
O.G. Anunoby

Small Forward

Otto Porter
Serge Ibaka

Power Forward

Markieff Morris
Jonas Valanciunas

Centre

Marcin Gortat

Bench:

ESPN’s “FiveThirtyEight” put out a short clip fairly recently that focused in on the Raptors second unit’s dominance, it’s kind of crazy how much of an impact they’ve managed to have on both ends of them floor when the majority of the players are sophomores that have been developed within the Raptors organization. They have now formed themselves into the feared #BenchMob and have even campaigned for a shared 6th man of the year award. While that won’t happen, I’ll still take this group over Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre and company .

Edge: Raptors

Star Power:

These two teams have fairly similar foundations in that they’re both built upon the leadership of All-Star guards. The matchups of Lowry/Wall and DeRozan/Beal will determine much of how this series plays out. John Wall has been injured for much of this season as he’s only appeared in 41 games in the regular season due to injury, but when healthy he’s a player that has the ability to be the best player on the floor in this series.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 4.01.28 PM.png

The main (and maybe only) critique of the Raptors is their All-Stars not providing All-Star production in the playoffs and based on the past couple years of playoff appearances, those comments can certainly hold some weight. While the Raptors are quite reliant on their top two players to provide offense, the Wizards lean on Beal and Wall even more so and with that comes a great deal of pressure as well. The reality is that these are probably the two best backcourts in the East and a high quality matchup at that.

Edge: Toss Up

Conclusion:

Looking at this matchup from a numbers standpoint it’s pretty clear that the Raptors should be the favourites. I mean to be honest, it’s a 1 v. 8 matchup, you shouldn’t even have to look at the numbers to come to that conclusion. But for years the narrative of the Toronto Raptors playoff mishaps and let downs have been built up to the point that us Raptors fans can never shake the seed of doubt in the back of our minds…even as the team with the second best record in the NBA.

On the other hand, this season’s edition of the Raps second unit has the ability to spell the starters to a certain degree more than they have ever been able to in the past, so I feel that if Lowry is to struggle with his shot they will still be able to roll. And with that, these Raptors are the better TEAM and possess more depth and defense than the Wizards, which I think will eventually wear the opposition out. Wall and Beal certainly have the ability to win games if/when they take over, which I think they might for game or two, but I’m confident that the Raptors will come through and advance past the Wizards.

Prediction: Raptors in 6

Schedule: 

Saturday April 14th @ 5:30pm in Toronto

Tuesday April 17th @ 7pm in Toronto

Friday April 20th @ 8pm in Washington

Sunday April 22nd @ 6pm in Washington

Wednesday April 25th TBD in Toronto

Friday April 27th TBD in Washington

Sunday April 29th TBD in Toronto

 

I know we shouldn’t really look ahead, but this isn’t an encouraging trend:

Bench Life Sports: 2018 MLB Predictions

Ahhh, baseball season is upon us once again. With Major League Baseball clubs opening up their season’s this past Thursday, those of us on the bench figured it was time to dust off our crystal ball (or dartboard) and fire away with a blog packed full of a variety of our predictions for the upcoming season. What follows is a collection of our picks for division winners, World Series champions and a variety of individual awards. Each of which can all very easily be used as ammunition to completely dismantle our credibility for being completely off in about 7 months time. So without further ado, our 2018 MLB predictions: Read more

The Cavaliers Wild Trade Deadline

In: Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., “Heavily Protected” 2nd round pick

Out: Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, 2018 first-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

That amount of turnover in player personnel would be significant if it were a full offseason’s worth of changes, but it’s actually just what the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to do yesterday in about an hour total prior to the NBA’s trade deadline. It’s kind of ridiculous how one team could steal the deadline so dramatically, but they did, and obviously it was LeBron’s team that was behind it all.

Here’s a quick recap of the deals themselves and the implications that come along with them. In brackets are the times that the deals were first announced by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cavaliers 2018 1st round pick in exchange for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson (12:05pm):

The first WojBomb to drop. The key player (Thomas) the Cavs received in the Kyrie Irving deal is gone after suiting up for just 15 games in a Cavs uniform. Thomas never looked like himself in Cleveland, and he appeared to be one of the main sources behind the infighting with this team.

Channing Frye has had his moments in recent years as a solid off the bench shooter, but he is 34 and not very relevant anymore. Both Thomas and Frye are unrestricted free agents come seasons end.

The Cavs get younger and more athletic in picking up Clarkson and Nance. Both attributes that they hope will help improve their awful, 29th ranked defensive rating.

From a Lakers perspective, this can really be boiled down to them dealing Nance and Clarkson for a 1st round pick and cap space to gun for a superstar(s) in free agency. This is because I can’t see a reason why they’d be interested in re-signing either of Thomas or Frye to an extended deal.

Rodney Hood and George Hill to Cleveland; Joe Johnson, Iman Shumpert and a 2nd round pick (CLE via MIA) to Sacramento; Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose (to be waived) to Utah (12:58pm):

By far the biggest deal of the day. At this point players were being thrown around like ping pong balls at a Friday night beer pong tournament. One of these guys is currently injured and has been basically all season (Shumpert), two will likely – or are – going to being waived (Rose and Johnson) and Jae Crowder simply has a new home. As for the Cavs, they get a veteran point guard in Hill that should help defensively and he is set to make $18 million through 2019-20 (ouch). They also get probably the most impactful player in the trade (not saying much) in the form of Rodney Hood. Hood’s pretty fragile when it comes to injuries, but I guess he can add a decent scoring punch from the wing,. He’ll probably start too.

Dwyane Wade to Miami in exchange for a “heavily protected” 2nd round pick (1:06):

This to me seems like nothing more than an act of goodwill towards Wade from the Cavs front office. Their return was almost non-existent, but they essentially clear a roster spot, clear some cap-space and get a little younger in the process while Wade likely gets to sail off into the sunset with the team he’s built up a Hall of Fame worthy resume with. Definitely the feel good deal of the deadline.

Verdict: The Cavs improved but the American media is still infuriating

Why do we constantly give these talking heads the time of day? They think that in a snap the Cavs are the team to beat again? They can’t be serious. It appears that their main arguments are that “they brought in guys that are comfortable in their roles” and “they got rid of the drama in the locker room”. I’d like to see some results on the court before we get ahead of ourselves. Again, they’re role players, not impact stars. This is not in the same universe as a Kevin Love acquisition. Who’s to know right now what happens with this team?

“But it’s LeBron James’ team, they’re always a threat”. Well I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s been there all year, they haven’t played good basketball and are 6.5 and 7.5 games back of the Raptors and Celtics. Certainly not his fault, but it is a reality. So why are they being vaulted to the top automatically? I honestly don’t have an answer. Sure, I’ll admit that by the looks of things they have improved their roster. But “best in the east”, “100% better” and “Eastern Conference favourites again” is excessive. Never would I have thought guys like Hill, Hood, Nance Jr. and Clarkson could shift the landscape of the NBA. I had to contain my laughter typing that.

I’m a salty Raptors fan right now, I hate how they’re constantly disrespected. Shannon Sharpe actually called them the “baby dinosaurs”. I also hate the Celtics, but they’re still better than the Cavs too. Bottomline, if you’re a Cavs fan just chill out, or get a George Hill jersey so I can laugh at you, because the Raptors are still making the finals with or without Bruno Caboclo. Book it.  

The Top 15 Most Hateable Current Athletes

In the wake of the NHL All-Star weekend in Tampa Bay, we ease into this week having learned a bunch of things. Connor McDavid is still the fastest skater, Ovie has the hardest shot, Brock Boeser has the most accurate shot, and so on. But maybe the funniest piece we could take away from the weekend is that Brad Marchand is definitely the most hated star in the NHL, or at least the most fun to hate.

This reaction from the crowd in Tampa was pretty hilarious to see, and Marchand handled it very well, much like he would on the ice, with a smug and sarcastic smile. He’s clearly embraced his role as a “super-pest”, and the best (worst?) part of it all is he can manage to put up 50 points in 38 games while he’s at it. Read more

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