Bryan Colangelo has built a team that is starting to reflect the coach he decided to hire last season. What all of his off-season moves have in common is a defensive mindset. That is something that Dwane Casey looks to expand on from last season. Camp in Halifax will begin just like a shortened camp did last season. "Our first call of duty tomorrow, it is going be a defensive practice." Casey said. "We were the only team in top 10 in defensive field goal percentage that did not make the playoffs. To get there we got to get our offense going to get a balance."
Coalngelo has added guys that can help in terms of some depth in three point shooting, something that both he and Casey made mention of with guys like Fields, Lucas and Ross. However, what all of these additions have in common to varying degrees is a defensive mindset and the ability to play on both ends of the floor. Perhaps, no one fits the bill more so than Kyle Lowry.
While Colangelo and Casey went out of their way to still say that it is competition for the starting job at point guard, the reality is Kyle Lowry will be the guy with the first unit. Casey talked about how Jose has been through these situations in the past and spoke to his professionalism. He also said this, “I owe it to him to make a quick decision and to make sure he knows where he stands.”
It doesn’t take a basketball genius to determine that Casey values defense and that Lowry offers much more in that regard. It also was made pretty clear long before Casey ever arrived that Calderon is not up to the task of guarding top level point guards in this league.
Aside from the point guard situation perhaps the other burning question of media day was the Raptors plans for their new center from the 2011 draft Jonas Valanciunas. The plan seems to be to give him every opportunity to play. That plan hit a speed bump with this calf injury from last Saturday. Colangelo and Casey stressed they will not rush him back even though Casey noted Jonas “Is chomping at the bit to get back in.” He had some high praise for his new rookie center making a comparison to Sam Bowie who Casey knows from his time with the Kentucky Wildcats. “He has those kind hands that Sam had, He is quicker and better athlete than Sam Bowie at young age. He doesn’t shoot it like Sam, but he can knock down jump shots.” What Casey also likes is his aggressive nature, “He loves contact. He initiates it. That is another area where young players have a hard time being the guy that hits first. We have to be smart with him. He might get three ticky-tack fouls but that will help him grow too.”
Casey has decisions to make this year thanks to the added amount of talent on this roster. About the only thing he would commit to is that Andrea Bragnani would be starting at the power forward position. Casey also stressed how he was able to be contact with players throughout the off-season. Something he was not afforded in his first season with the NBA Lockout.
All the moves Colangelo has made speak to his commitment to his coach, from Lowry on down the list to even the drafting of a guy in the second round like Quincy Acy speaks to the mindset of Casey. John Lucas III played last season in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau and sees similarities in Casey. “It’s the same, he really doesn’t care about offense. Thibs didn’t care about offense. We have enough guys that can score. We don’t want a team to score more than 80 points. Coach Casey is the same way,” Lucas said.
Bryan Colangelo has given his coach more guys willing to “Pound The Rock” and that makes his coach very happy. Casey when asked about the slogan from last season joked that is was going to remain because he couldn’t find anyone to remove the big rock from the locker room. However he went on to say in a more serious tone how the players really bought into that philosophy last season and how he hopes these new additions can learn and add to that mentality.
Much had been made of the relationship between Sam Mitchell and Bryan Colangelo. How they never truly seemed on the same page despite Sam having some great success. The experience with Jay Triano was one in which the two seemed on the same page but the team didn’t seem to buy or understand what Triano was selling. It saw the Raptors sink to the bottom of the NBA in defense. Now Dwane Casey has brought them back to beyond being a respectable defensive team. Armed with more talent on that side of the ball you can only conclude the Raptors should improve on what they started in 2011-12. Colangelo seems to be willing to give Casey the tools he requires to be successful. While Casey, has taken some of the players that might not have fit that mentality, and been able to get them to make the effort and hide their weaknesses on that end of the floor. The direction seems clear, it just is a matter of if this team can make as big a leap as they expect and hope to do.