Throwback Thursday: the 2003-04 Washington Capitals

Let’s remember a few names. In honour of the Capitals finally making the Stanley Cup final, I thought I would look back at the roster that netted them the first overall pick in the 2004 draft and the right to draft Ovie. This team of studs went 23-46-10-3 (59 points) and set the foundation for one of the best regular season teams of the past decade.

Steve Konowalchuk

Konowalchuk was captain of this juggernaut Capitals squad… for 6 games. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche with Washington’s third round pick in the 2004 draft (Casey Borer) to Colorado Avalanche for Bates Battaglia and Jonas Johansson. Since retiring in 2006 Konowalchuk became an assistant coach from 2009-2011 and served as the head coach for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds from 2011-2017. The grit grinder is now an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks. Read more

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.

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Breakdown and Predictions

Alright so I have to be honest, I did not see this coming. Maybe I was thinking too much with my heart and not my head, but I had both of the Second Round matchups dead wrong. First of all, I thought the Bruins would’ve actually been able to compete with Tampa, especially after watching the Bruins take Game 1 pretty convincingly. Yes, the refs were bad throughout the series and that didn’t help, but you don’t lose a series in five games just because of the refs. Even though the Bruins found a way to contain Stamkos and Kucherov, the secondary scoring of the Lightning showed up big time. Losing in 5 is tough, but they still did a lot better than I expected at the start of the season so I’m okay with that. Read more

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

Should Mark Hunter get more buzz as Toronto’s next GM?

Ever since it was announced yesterday that Lou Lamoriello is stepping down as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, rumours have been been swirling surrounding his potential successor. The dark horse pick seems to be Shanahan’s hand-picked man Kyle Dubas. The other internal option is Mark Hunter, but I think that it will shock a lot of people if Dubas wasn’t the pick. Considering Dubas is the poster boy of my current degree, Brock Sport Management, you would assume that I would be championing Dubas as my man to lead the Leafs to the promise land. But, as the title to this blog suggests, I’m going to make the case that Mark Hunter could be the better pick. Read more

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Second Round Breakdown and Predictions

While the winners in the West had a bit of a cakewalk to the second round, things weren’t so easy in the East. Tampa Bay took out the Devils in 5, but Taylor Hall did just about everything he could to give New Jersey a chance. The Capitals looked like they wouldn’t be able to lose in the second round this year after dropping the first two games of their series against the Blue Jackets, but after making the switch to Braden Holtby in net the Caps went on to win the next four games. The Penguins showed a glimpse of why they are the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in their 6-game series win against the Flyers. The one thing we learned this series is that the Penguins can seemingly score at will, finding the back of the net 28 times in the series. Last but certainly not least, the Bruins and Leafs were the only series to go the distance and I was very happy with the ending.

Read more

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