Hey, Toronto Raptors fans, have you noticed that the game has changed? Are you tired yet about hearing of the evils of “non-paint twos” or figuring out what the hell a “shot spectrum” is, let alone whether DeMar DeRozan can find a niche beyond being, you know an all-star?
Here’s some good news: As far as head coach Dwane Casey is concerned, the job of his second unit – a strength through the Raptors’ first two games against inferior completion – hasn’t changed from last season.
“The main thing with us is making sure they don’t lose the lead; either expand it or maintain it,” Casey said Saturday night. “Our second unit has a distinct style right now; moving the ball and moving bodies. The good thing is with C.J. (Miles) on the unit – one of the best three-point shooters in the league – the ball seems to find him. So the identity for us with the second unit is speed, energy and maintain or expand.”
Raptors play-by-play man Matt Devlin has it right: Instead of focussing on simply attempted or made three-pointers, keeping tabs on the number of passes in a game will tell us early whether or not the process of culture change is working. The Raptors were 27th in the NBA in passes last season with an average of 274.7 per game. Against the Chicago Bulls in Wednesday’s opener, they had 302 passes and the second unit was notable for its ability to find the open man.
“It’s still about taking what the defence gives you,” Miles told me after the Bulls game, when asked whether anything new was needed from the bench in the new-look NBA. “The biggest thing is still about energy and pace. We have five mobile guys, two point guards, two wings and a mobile big guy (Jakob Poeltl) who is extremely hard to guard. My pick, (Delon Wright‘s) pick and roll … (Fred VanVleet‘s) pick and roll. He’s going to be important, because there will be games when the other team is doubling or jumping out and he’s going to be the guy who gets the ball.”
And, hey … about the three-pointer? The Raptors’ opponent on Monday night, the San Antonio Spurs, were just 1-for-12 in attempted treys in their last game, an 87-77 win over the Bulls. Last season, only three teams went through a game making no more than one three-pointer.
OH SAY, CAN YOU CAPITULATE?
We are now in that predictable phase of the NFL’s crazy-quilt national anthem controversy where nobody much knows where it goes from here or how to get out of it.
All we know is that again this weekend some players knelt, waited in the tunnel, or stood back from the rest of their teammates during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. This after a meeting in New York City last week between owners and player representatives that resulted in much talk about continuing dialogue that sounded suspiciously like owners – to borrow a phrase from another sport – ragging the puck in the hope players eventually succumb to political or public pressure or, simply, decide it’s not worth it.
You’d think the logical way out would be one that would follow the template laid out by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, whose reaction to J.T. Brown raising his fist in the first game of the regular season was to support his player and begin a dialogue that has seen Brown get face-to-face meetings with the Tampa Police Chief and some of his officers and get involved in community programs.
Would that alone end the problem of police brutality against members of the African-American community – which is, remember, what Colin Kaepernick’s protest was all about? Hardly. But it’s easier to effect some measure of change locally.
If NFL owners weren’t beholden to the stumbling leadership of commissioner Roger Goodell and weren’t insistent on league-wide resolution – and could stop talking about the optics of the anthem and instead focus on the core issue – my guess is there would be a way out to satisfy both parties and maybe even do some good.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Unless Joe Girardi isn’t back with the New York Yankees, there will be no more intriguing off-season hire in Major League Baseball than the New York Mets hiring Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway as their new manager.
Toronto Blue Jays fans will of course rejoice if as expected it now means that John Farrell will be Callaway’s replacement instead of finding employment within the bowels of the Blue Jays organization – he is a confidant of Mark Shapiro and if you don’t think there’s a chance in hell that he’d ever manage the Blue Jays again, ask yourself if you ever thought you’d see John Gibbons 2.0.
But beyond that, those of us with memories of the largely unfulfilled promise of the Mets Generation K rotation in the mid ’90s (Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen) can now hope that this current collection of generational Mets arms will be able to develop the way the Indians current core did under Callaway.
• Sean Avery is scheduled to join Stephen Brunt and myself Tuesday on The Jeff Blair Show to discuss his book “Offside: My Life Crossing the Line” (it’s also called “Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey”) and, yeah, it’s definitely what you’d expect. Firing up a spliff with Scarlett Johansson in the private office of a New York City nightclub is worth the read alone – I have a new entry, now, on my bucket list – and there’s plenty of stuff like that but it’s his description of backstabbing and skullduggery in the NHLPA under Bob Goodenow that was most revealing.
Avery’s suggestion that Goodenow used to wheel out the bar cart at the beginning of players’ association summer meetings before dealing with complicated matters leading up to the 2004 lockout pretty much sums up what a lot of us thought was one of the problems with the association before Donald Fehr. Avery writes: “It was apparent that this meeting was a well-executed event designed to get us drunk and bloated and to result in absolutely nothing productive getting done. And so nothing was.” Terrific stuff.
• You’re going to hear a great deal about the curveball when the World Series begins Tuesday night, and not just because Houston Astros‘ Lance McCullers threw 24 of them in a row in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series or that curve that Justin Verlander threw to Todd Frazier of the Yankees in Game 6.
The Los Angeles Dodgers threw the second-highest percentage of curveballs in the majors this season (14.9 per cent, behind only the Indians) and the Astros threw the fifth-highest (14.2 per cent) while also seeing the fifth-highest number of curves in the game – and that’s without a steady diet of Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. The Dodgers didn’t get many curves during the regular season; just three teams saw less.
The Raptors will start their longest road trip of the season Monday night in San Antonio as they continue to test drive the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Last season, the Raptors went 3-3 on a six-game run that took them away from home from Dec. 22 (when they chartered out for Utah for what would be a 104-98 win over the Jazz) to Jan. 3, when they finished up with a 110-82 loss to the Spurs. That trip included losses in back-to-back games to the Golden State Warriors (121-111) and Phoenix Suns (99-91).
The new CBA shortened training camp and is also designed to mitigate back-to-backs and those god-awful four games in five nights and the Raptors don’t have any back-to-backs on this trip; in fact, they will have two full off-days between Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers and next Monday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
“Hopefully, while other teams are trying to get their chemistry together, we can sneak out a few wins,” said Wright, noting that the Raptors’ pre-season road trip that included stops in British Columbia and Hawaii might give them an edge in preparation. Either way, once again the NBA has shown itself as the North American pro league that just gets it. Remarkable what an effective players’ association can do, isn’t it?
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from, 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan