Category Archives: Basketball

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.

What should the Raptors do with the NBA’s Coach of the Year?

Obviously it’s a terrible look to get swept in the second round as the conference’s 1 seed. It’s an even worse look to go 2-12 versus Lebron in the playoffs over the past three years (conference semis in 2016 (4-2), 2017 conference finals (4-0), 2018 conference semis (4-0). All of these tough losses have come in seasons where the Raptors were considered “contenders” because of the strong play of All Stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan with a rotating cast of solid role players. As the dust has settled on yet another playoff disappointment this year, while the Raptors core has taken their lumps, coach Dwane Casey and his future with the team has seemingly been pushed to the forefront. Read more

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

The Madness of March 15th: Game-by-Game Recaps from the First Day of Tournament Action

The most wonderful time of the year has finally arrived for sport fans alike. The Madness officially began yesterday and it did not disappoint. In this quick piece I’ll go over the outcome of every game, some of the top performers, and the many reactions on social media. Without further ado, lets jump right in.

10Oklahoma Sooners 78 – 7Rhode Island Rams 83 (OT)

The first game of the day was a nail-biter to the very end. E.C Matthews buried a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in overtime to put the Rams up 5 and they never looked back. Rhode Island shot a cool 39% from deep (11/28) on the afternoon and had 4 different players with double digit scoring totals. Trae Young, the nation’s leading scorer, led the way for the Sooners with 28 points but Rhode Island’s guards pestered him all game forcing Young into 6 sloppy turnovers. This loss marks the 13th defeat in the past 17 games for the Sooners while the Rams have won a March Madness game for the second straight year.

14Wright State Raiders 473Tennessee Volunteers 73 

More like Wrong State, haha, why is nobody laughing? This was the most lopsided game of the day by far. Regardless, this was the most successful season the Raiders have ever had in D1 but they were no match for the high-powered Tennessee team. Lamonte Turner poured in 19 points and dished 9 assists to pace the way for the Volunteers.

13NC-Greensboro Spartans 644Gonzaga Bulldogs 68

This game had legitimate “busted bracket” potential for a while. The score was tied 64-64 before Zach Norvell Jr. drained a go-ahead 3 with just 20.8 left on the clock. The Zags have been labelled as a trendy sleeper pick by some pundits so a loss here would have been an epic disaster. Jonathan Williams was the offensive catalyst for Gonzaga putting up 19 points and 13 boards in a winning effort. The scrappy Spartans held the 9th best offense in the country to just 68 points but they could not close down the stretch.

16Pennsylvania Quakers 601Kansas Jayhawks 76

History was not made on Thursday as it was business as usual in the 1 v. 16 matchup. The Jayhawks faced a 10 point deficit early in the first half but once they grabbed the lead they never surrendered it. Devonte Graham, the Big 12 player of the year, was a beast in this one dropping 29 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists for Kansas. Shockingly, the Kansas starters were responsible for 72 of the 76 points scored in this one which means bench play has to be a cause for concern for the rest of the tournament.

15Iona Gaels 672Duke Blue Devils 89

Another game that was never particularly close. The Blue Devils come into the tournament as one of the odds-on favourites to cut down the nets and they looked like worthy competitors in this match-up. Freshman Marvin Bagley III was his exceptional self with 22 points (on 71% shooting) and 7 rebounds in this one. Grayson Allen (16 points, 9 assists) also successfully managed to have social media talking about his performance instead of a dirty play. This was a good first step for a team looking at much bigger things.

11Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 646Miami Hurricanes 62

This game was a perfect example for why the tournament is called March Madness. After Lonnie Walker IV missed a free throw with 9 seconds left, the Ramblers’ Donte Ingram buried a deep 3 at the buzzer to push Loyola-Chicago onwards. This was their first tournament appearance in 33 years and they did not disappoint as that finish will be etched in the minds of fans for years to come. The end of this game was a bigger adrenaline rush than seeing those three dots pop up after you sent the “you up?” text at 2 A.M.

12South Dakota State Jackrabbits 735Ohio State Buckeyes 81

The upset that never was. Despite the best efforts of Mike Daum (27 points, 6 rebounds) the Buckeyes were too much for South Dakota to handle. The Buckeyes launched a ridiculous 40 3-balls in this contest and had 3 players that topped the 20 point plateau. Keita Bates-Diop had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the 5th seeded Buckeyes who now get to face Gonzaga in the round of 32.

9North Carolina State Wolfpack 838Seton Hall Pirates 94

There were 66 total free throws taken in this high-scoring affair. Khadeen Carrington put up 26 points for the Pirates while Desi Rodriguez also chipped in 20 off of the bench. The game’s leading scorer was Allerik Freeman from NC State who had 36 points and was 6/8 from deep. Seton Hall led wire-to-wire and were able to withstand any runs the Wolfpack had in them. Their formula for success was ball security (only 7 turnovers) and efficiency at the free throw line (31/39).

16Radford Highlanders 611Villanova Wildcats 87

This was basically a shootaround for the top scoring offense in the nation. Villanova dominated this matchup start to finish and shot a ridiculous 59.6% from the field. Every one of the Wildcats starters hit double digits in points as Jalen Brunson led the charge with 16. A dominant debut for one of the favourites in the tournament.

12Davidson Wildcats 735Kentucky Wildcats 78

Wildcat-ception saw Kentucky fail to score a 3-pointer in a game for the first time since 1988, but they still managed to pull out the W. The boys in blue dominated the foul line (26/32 compared to Davidson’s 14/17) which was the biggest difference in an otherwise tight game. Kevin Knox was the game’s leading scorer registering 25 points on the stat sheet while Jon Axel Gudmundsson was Davidson’s top threat with 21 points. Davidson has not won a tournament game since the 2008 Steph Curry run.

14Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 603Texas Tech Raiders 70

This is the first tournament win for Texas Tech since 2005 and they did it mainly on the back of senior guard Keenan Evans. He had 23 points for the Raiders and has seemingly been flying under the radar compared to other star players in the field. The Lumberjacks kept the game close for the majority of the contest but were simply outmatched by the guard play of the Raiders.

11San Diego State Aztecs 656Houston Cougars 67

Rob Gray was arguably the best player on any court during Thursday’s matchups as the senior guard put up 39 points to propel the Cougars to their first tournament win since 1984. Gray laid in the go-ahead bucket with just 1.1 seconds left in the game while San Diego’s buzzer beater heave would not go. If Gray keeps this up for the rest of the tournament the Cougars may be that annual lower seed that sneaks their way into the Elite 8.

9Alabama Crimson Tide 868Virginia Tech Hokies 83

Freshman point guard Collin Sexton was the player of the game for the Crimson Tide in this contest. Down 43-41 at half, Sexton scored 21 of his 25 points in the second stanza to will Alabama to a victory. This game saw 10 lead changes but Alabama was able to roll with the punches before pulling away late. It was another unfortunate loss for Virginia Tech who now only have one tournament win since 1997.

13Buffalo Bulls 894Arizona Wildcats 68

This game didn’t just bust my bracket, it eviscerated it. The Bulls were able to hound Arizona’s bigs all game long while handily winning the 3-ball battle (Bulls were 15/30, Arizona 2/18). This was a colossal failure for Arizona who was pegged as a legitimate Elite 8 contender in large part due to the presence of star freshman Deandre Ayton. He still had 14 points and 13 boards in the loss but the Bulls stingy defense really kept him under wraps. The defensive side of the ball was the biggest difference of the game as Arizona looked absolutely lost on D against the speedy Bulls squad. The Buffalo backcourt dominated with Wes Clark and Jeremy Harris chipping in 25, and 23 points respectively.

11St. Bonaventure Bonnies 626Florida Gators 77

Egor Koulechov, who sounds more like a KGB sleeper agent than a college basketball player, was the focal point of the Gators offense on Thursday night. The lanky Russian import led the game with 20 points on 8/17 shooting. The Bonnies just could not hang in the second half but they should be proud of what they accomplished this season nonetheless. It was the defense that really did it for the Gators as they had 11 steals and forced 18 Bonnies turnovers.

14Montana Grizzlies 473Michigan Wolverines 61

It is unfortunate that this was the last game of the day because I have a feeling it put many viewers to sleep. The Big-10 Champions are able to say they moved on although the win failed to inspire much confidence offensively. Charles Matthews was the hero for the Wolverines as he dropped 12 of his 20 points in the first half while the game was very much up for grabs. The Grizzlies simply just fell apart in the second half getting outscored 30-19 and shooting a paltry 25% from the field (7/28). The Wolverines were one of the hottest team’s coming into the tournament and they managed to survive a poor start to this game. They need to be better against Houston in the next round.

Throwback Thursday: NBA Players in College

Credit: (Feb. 2, 2015 – Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

To look for the future stars of the NBA you typically need not look any further than the NCAA. With March Madness kicking off today I though I would take a look back at the current stars of the NBA when they were in college.

James Harden, Arizona State (2007-09)

Who is this guy? Burgess pointed out to me that without his beard that Harden used to kind of looks like Ludacris.

Image result for ludacris

Hard to argue with that. Read more

March Madness for Dummies

My favourite month of the year is here and that’s because March Madness is finally here. I’ve recently dropped out of high school after a bit of March Madness of my own with the CWDHS Falcons and our OFSAA run. Now I have a ton of free time and with it I have been filling my days watching college basketball. This has made me a bit of an expert (?) since I’ve been following the storylines leading up to the tournament. So I decided to create a guide for casual college basketball watchers, or even people that just fill out a bracket in their office pool that lose to Susan from sales every year. Dammit Susan!

Read more

Contest Alert: Bench Life Sports March Madness Bracket Challenge

If you’re looking for a March Madness bracket pool to join look no further! The boys at Bench Life Sports have started a group on ESPN.com. The rules are pretty standard: one bracket per entrant, $10 entry fee, whoever’s bracket is the best will win the whole pot. The winner will also receive a custom Bench Life t-shirt that is currently being designed by our top-notch team of graphic designers.

For challenge entry DM one of us on Twitter to discuss payment options and we’ll share the password and invite you to the private group.

Twitter handles:
@benchlifesports
@twaind4
@BrendanBall96
@CameronBurgess
@MondoHarrison

Cheers and happy Madness!

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