Raptors Roundtable: Casey, Ujiri & front office Q’s

DeMarre Carroll led all Raptors with 16 points as they topped the Wizards 92-82.

With the regular season fast approaching, Sportsnet’s panel of Raptors & NBA experts will be answering the burning questions heading into the 2015-16 campaign. In this edition of the Raptors Roundtable:

With an off-season emphasis on defence, has Ujiri and the Raptors’ focus gone too far away from offense?

Eric Smith, analyst & radio voice: Not at all. Two years ago the Raptors had no problems scoring with DeRozan and Lowry as the core — with an even younger Ross and Valanciunas. Plus, your defence can feed or even create your offence. The Raptors may not be top 5 or 10 in the league on offence this season but I believe they’ll still find enough scoring to be effective. It’s all about the D anyway.

Evan Rosser, senior editor: The Raptors scored 108.1 points per 100 possessions in the 2014-15 regular season, the third-highest mark in the NBA. Then the playoffs rolled around and that number fell to 95.4, second-worst among playoff teams. The off-season moves seemed designed with both defence and ball movement in mind. That could lead to more transition opportunities and an offence that’s more sustainable in the post-season.

Paul Jones, analyst & radio voice: No. There will be offense provided through defense. If you have a system where there is solid defense, ball movement and unselfish play at both ends you can win. The system makes people stars.

Craig Battle, senior editor: The focus on defence was a must, but it’ll be interesting to see how well the offence of this lineup handles itself. Last season they were a weird contradiction in terms—they were relatively efficient despite taking lots of unadvisable shots. But they’ve lost their two most consistent bench scorers, who—for whatever downsides come along with this—could create their own shots. If the commitment to ball movement doesn’t take, that just leaves a larger burden on Lowry and DeRozan, and a lot of late-clock heaves in the hands of guys who don’t thrive in doing so.

Steven Loung, associate editor: I think so. The NBA has changed so much and scoring is more important than ever—almost a complete 180 from previous eras—and the Raptors really only have two guys (Lowry, DeRozan) who you can rely upon to get a bucket when you really need one. Last season, as defensively deficient as they were, Lou Williams and Grievis Vasquez had both the ability and confidence to take shots and score when the team was desperate. Who’s going to step up as the secondary source of offence now?

JD Bunkis, SN590 THE Fan producer: Outside of Biyombo its not like the guys they brought in to improve the defence wont contribute on offence. Carroll can shoot the ball and both he and Joseph can put the ball on the deck and get to the basket. Biyombo is a total zero on offence, but they balanced that signing by grabbing Scola an established scoring big.

Donnovan Bennett, staff writer: I hate knee jerk reactions and, in some ways, the over-emphasis on defence-above-everything seemed like one. However, it is done with the knowledge that those who perennially play in the Finals are always top five defensive teams. The correlation isn’t the same on offense, which the Raptors learned first hand last year. As a GM you are looking to exploit inefficiencies in the marketplace, like the fact that players get paid for offensive output—not defensive impact. By valuing players who affect win probability with defence, Ujiri is cornering the market of a undervalued resource.

Dwane Casey is back, but his coaching staff has changed. In what ways to you expect that to impact the team’s success and/or style of play?

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Smith: With all due respect to the current and previous assistants, I think the direction of the team is dictated by the head coach and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the skill-set of the players on your roster. Everyone and everything else falls in line after that. In saying that, the assistants will do what the head coach wants and work as hard as they can to preach and teach that philosophy and style. Last season, Toronto needed/wanted to be more offensive-minded. The coaches taught that. It worked. But the defence dropped off. This year, with a few new voices on the staff, the philosophy is swinging back to a more defensive-minded attack. The coaches will respond accordingly. I may be over-simplifying things, but as long as an assistant is prepared and doing the video and scouting work behind the scenes, I think their impact is a direct reflection of what the head coach wants. The one guy, perhaps, to keep an eye on is Jerry Stackhouse. I do believe former players — recently retired former players — can have a huge impact on a staff if for no other reason than relating to today’s NBA player (both on and off of the floor).

Bennett: Jerry Stackhouse helps because he’ll keep guys accountable. Stackhouse will have no issue putting players in check when necessary but has the balance of being an understanding ear as he’s played in the new-era NBA. Andy Greer was brought in from Chicago to basically be the defensive coordinator. Like Thibodeau was for Doc Rivers in Boston, Greer provides Casey with a confidant he can trust with defensive scouting and adjustments so he can focus on managing the rest of the team.

Loung: The only change offensively I can see is more pick-and-roll action. Joseph is adept at running it, as is Lowry and now that they’ve added a deadeye shooter from the corner (Carroll) who will force defenses to shift while trying to guard the pick-and-roll. Defensively, the scheme will stay the same: man-to-man heavy, as opposed to the more popular pack-the-paint. This burned them before because the Raptors didn’t have the personnel. Now, theoretically, they do.

Michael Hoad, contributor: I still expect this team to finish with between 45 and 50 wins and lock up one of the East’s middle seeds for the playoffs. How they get those wins will be the difference as fans can expect lower scoring contests in 2015-16. It might not be as ‘exciting,’ per se, but nothing beats winning, right?

Bunkis: Player personnel moves should improve Casey’s defensive system but lets hope the coaching staff changes add more creativity on offence. One thing that was so frustrating when watching the Raps last season was how basic and predictable they were on that end of the floor, relying heavily on ball handlers to create shots for themselves. What’s more, the team lacked leadership and maturity in the playoffs last year. Injecting Jerry Stackhouse into the mix should help in that department.

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