Observations from Raptors-Warriors

gettyimages-611853234Welcome! And thank you for stopping by.

As we move into a new NBA season, I’m going to try to use this site as an addendum to my coverage of the league for The Washington Post. While I’m writing plenty about the league constantly for the newspaper, there isn’t necessarily a place for me to leave my thoughts on the games that I’m watching, or other things that are happening on a daily basis. That is what this space will try to be, and hopefully it’s something you’ll enjoy reading.

I’ll happily listen to any tips or suggestions about things you’d like to read here, or additional coverage ideas you’d like to see. Feel free to tweet at me (@TimBontemps), comment on a post here or email me at tim.bontemps@washpost.com.

With all of that out of the way, let’s dive into the first game I was fortunate enough to watch live this season: Raptors-Warriors in lovely Vancouver, British Columbia:

— First, something needs to be said about the city of Vancouver. I made the drive to and from Seattle with Kevin Pelton from ESPN (who was in a delightful mood after his Washington Huskies obliterated Stanford the night before), and it was as beautiful a trip as I had been told it would be. But nothing prepared me for the drive into the city itself, which was absolutely spectacular.

For those who haven’t been able to make the trip there, as you drive into the city on Highway 99, it appears in front of you encircled by a ring of picturesque mountains. It was a beautiful sight, and made me wish that I could be making the Seattle-Vancouver swing NBA writers were able to on a regular basis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Then came the game itself. Someone who had been to regular season games in Vancouver back then, Howard Beck from Bleacher Report, summed up how he felt about the atmosphere within the building, and how much different it was from those bygone days when the Grizzlies were consistently abhorrent during their six seasons in Vancouver – they were an unbelievable 101-359, good for a 28.1 winning percentage – and subsequently had zero local fan support before moving to Memphis in 2001:

Two other things have changed about Vancouver over the past 15 years: money has poured into the city and region, and the population (thanks in part to B.C. legend Steve Nash) has grown much more interested in the sport. A similar situation has happened in Seattle, where the money coming into the city from the explosion of Amazon (which, as a point of disclosure, is run by Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post) has changed circumstances there, as well.

Seattle is certain to get the next NBA team, either via a move or through expansion. If the latter becomes an option, though, then the challenge for the NBA will be for a second team to go with the new SuperSonics to boost the league from 30 teams to 32. Vancouver is one of several potential candidates for that spot, though it has something significant working against it: that it won’t factor into television ratings because, like Toronto, it being outside the United States prevents it from falling under the American ratings system.

Still, it was hard going to Vancouver, even for just a few hours, and thinking anything other than it would be wonderful for this beautiful city to have another shot at being in the NBA again.

— Now, after several hundred words, we finally can get to the game itself! Predictably, it was a muddled affair, as I wrote about in my column for the newspaper afterward. After a few days of practice and one half of a preseason game (the entire Warriors starting five sat out for the second half) it was impossible for anyone to expect Golden State to look like it will in January.

Still, there were things that could be gleaned from the first half, when Steve Kerr went with what appeared to be a fairly normal rotation of players. Kevin Durant was used as the anchor of the second unit, which was both an expected and logical move. Doing this allows Durant to get some of the isolation touches he’s used to, and continues the process of slotting Durant almost exactly into the same role Harrison Barnes played for the Warriors the past two years (just at a far higher level).

David West was the only true big who played in the first half off the bench, further reinforcing that the Warriors already have eight rotation spots completely locked up: the starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia, and Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and West off the bench. That leaves one, and at most two, rotation spots up for grabs, and that’s where the interesting position battle to come out of Saturday’s game resides.

Ian Clark, who spent last season with the Warriors, got the first crack at that ninth rotation spot and was spotty. He knocked down a pair of open 3-pointers – something he’s going to need to do to stay in that spot – but also committed a couple of turnovers. Meanwhile, second round pick Pat McCaw was very impressive, finishing with 11 points, four assists and, most notably, five steals. McCaw earned praise from several players, including Shaun Livingston and Kevin Durant, and while it was just one preseason game, he seems certain to get a crack at winning a rotation spot out of camp. On a team where so many spots are already locked up, this will be something to monitor over the next few weeks.

— One weakness to watch for the Warriors all season will be rebounding. The Raptors, who have an imposing frontline with Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas, outrebounded Golden State 42-33, including 16-9 on the offensive glass. Given how much offensive firepower the Warriors have it may never matter, but the teams that can both attack Golden State there and not be too badly burnt at the other end will have the most success against them.

— Obviously I’ve spent more time around the Warriors, but it was nice to get a chance to see the Raptors up close Saturday (and there will be a column later this week after a conversation with Masai Ujiri about the team after spending the last week in Vancouver for the start of camp). A few things stood out there, beginning with Sullinger starting at power forward.

That wasn’t exactly a surprise, as even though Patrick Patterson is likely a better player and fit as a legitimate power forward who can stretch the floor, Toronto likes having him come off the bench. And Sullinger, despite his faults, is a better player than Luis Scola, who spent the vast majority of last season playing as the team’s starting power forward.

— It was only a brief snap shot, but it appears Toronto’s second first round pick, Pascal Siakam, is ahead of the team’s first selection, Jakob Poeltl. Siakam looks like he may, at least eventually, be able to provide some of the same things for Toronto that Bismack Biyombo did before departing in free agency. While Siakam, like Biyombo, has virtually no offensive game – he dropped the ball multiple times, went 1-for-4 on free throws and missed a 10-foot jumper by about three feet – he managed to block a Durant shot, finished with eight rebounds and a pair of rejections and played with a ton of energy.

Poeltl, by comparison, struggled to make a similar impact, and got significantly fewer minutes. It seems unlikely either of them will be in Dwane Casey’s rotation anytime soon, but for now my money will be on Siakam getting a chance first.

— I know he’s become a cult hero on the internet, but it’s becoming time to seriously consider the fact Bruno Caboclo will never amount to much of anything as an NBA player. Fran Fraschilla famously said Caboclo was “two years away from being two years away” when the Raptors stunned the world and took him with a first round pick in 2014, and has since proven Fraschilla right.

Now 21, Caboclo didn’t get put into the game until the final six minutes by Casey, playing behind Drew Crawford (the son of referee Danny Crawford, and who was impressive in the game, scoring seven points in 14 minutes). And Caboclo didn’t exactly make an impact, missing one shot and committing three turnovers in those six minutes.

He’ll undoubtedly get another full season with Toronto’s D-League team this year, where he averaged 14.7 points and 6.5 rebounds in 37 games last season. Perhaps another year of seasoning will allow him to translate his incredible length into the possibility of being a contributor in the NBA in the future. But it just seems that, at this point, there may be too much ground for him to make up.





One thought on “Observations from Raptors-Warriors

  1. Annie

    Great reading your thoughts! And glad that you enjoyed your short stay in Vancouver. I agree, the NBA seriously needs to think about bringing a team back to Vancouver! Can’t wait to read the rest of your thoughts in the upcoming season.

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