Five thoughts on Game 7: Nuggets 129, Raptors 111

Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets Nov 1

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors dropping a stinker in Denver against the Nuggets:

The Raptors were back at full strength for the first time since game 2

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka both returned from injury, and with Lucas Noguiera healthy as well, the Raptors had their full roster available. Jonas was rusty, and mostly invisible; Ibaka, naturally, came out gunning, and airballed his first three. It was on the defensive, end, though, that Ibaka was exposed—a common theme for the Raptors on this night. Ibaka allowed Paul Millsap to score 11 straight points and picked up a foul on a MIllsap three pointer (he gave him a four-point play in the 2nd quarter as well) within the first five minutes. The Nuggets hit their first 7 shots and jumped out to a 20-10 lead—and that led to the quick hook for JV and Serge; Pascal Siakam and Nogueira came in at the the 6:17 mark. It didn’t help, as the Nuggets extended the lead to 34-19 by the end of the quarter.

This Nuggets team is an odd mix, but they can score

The Nuggets don’t start a traditional point guard (heck, they don’t even really have one on the roster) or a traditional centre (and I’m not sure what position Nikola Jokic even is) but it’s a group that works extremely well together on offense. They’re very aggressive and they move the ball extremely well—not just in the amount of passes they make, but the ball really pops when they pass it, and they cut with purpose after making passes (as Jack Armstrong pointed out on the broadcast, the Raptors have seemed oddly vulnerable on give-and-go cuts this season, and the Nuggets exposed them. Which is stunning, since that’s a basic basketball play teach you in the third grade). Beyond that they get out on the break and aren’t afraid to bomb threes. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris may not be a traditional backcourt, but they can score.

The Raptors three-point shooting continues to be a major problem.

It’s not just the misses, it’s also the unwillingness to take them—and/or, the knowledge that they can’t make them. Case in point, in the second quarter, Kyle Lowry broke down his man on the right side of the floor; Nogueira flashed into the paint as the defense shifted and Lowry found him. As the defense rotated, Bebe turned and found DeMar DeRozan in the left corner wide open. (Bebe is a great passer; often, too willing a passer, but he sees the floor well.) But that’s not DeRozan’s shot. Instead, he drove… right into the defense… and settled for a midrange J that missed. At this point, the Raptors just aren’t threatening from deep, and teams will give the Raptors the three-point line until they prove they’re dangerous from out there. And we all know, that three-point shooting is the way the league is going; if you can’t shoot it, you won’t be able to keep up. Look no further to the Raptors’ two playoff exits vs. the Cavaliers the past two seasons to see what I mean. They finished 11-31 but most of those makes came in garbage time.

There are always nights like this…

Every team has them; some nights, nothing works, you fall behind early, and it just gets ugly from there. (I suspect a lot of teams have them in the altitude in Denver.) I don’t read too much into it, especially this early in the season; as long as there’s not a “hangover effect” in Utah on Friday night, as long as the errors we saw don’t turn into habits, then there’s nothing to panic about. (Well, except maybe the shooting.)

…so, you try to look for the bright spots.

Norman Powell had his second “just OK” offensive game in a row, which is a big step up after the five “oh God Norm what are you doing” games in a row he had. He finished 6-11 with three dunks, and led all starters with 14 points; of course, 4 of his 5 misses were 3-pointers. He also finished -26, a rarity for Norm. Alfonso McKinnie saw his first action of the season, and made the most of his garbage time minutes—he didn’t miss a shot. OG Anunoby had a couple lovely drives to the hoop, but needs to learn to finish strong. Delon Wright finally saw a couple threes drop… yep, that’s about all I’ve got.

—–

Let’s see how the Raptors fare in their final game of the road trip in Utah!

A requiem for Garbo: Five thoughts on Jorge Garbojosa

Jorge Garbojosa, Toronto Raptors

If you were watching the first game of the NBA season, you saw Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward go down with a horrific ankle injury. (If you weren’t watching, do not seek out the replay. You don’t want to see it.) As a Toronto Raptors fan, I was immediately taken back to 2007, when then-Raptors forward Jorge Garbojosa suffered the same injury, against the Celtics. I have a few thoughts on it:

1. 2006-2007 was a magical Raptors season.

That team might just be my favorite Raptors team ever. New GM Bryan Colangelo came in at the end of the previous season and managed to trade Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis, which essentially meant cap space (ed. note—realized later that it was Wayne Embry who actually made that trade), and Colangelo spent that cap space on a couple international players—Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker and Spanish forward Jorge Garbojosa—as well as Fred Jones, who he soon traded for Juan Dixon. He also drafted Andrea Bargnani and PJ Tucker, traded Charlie Villanueva for TJ Ford, traded Rafael Araujo for Kris Humphries, and traded Matt Bonner for Rasho Nesterovic. Chris Bosh, Morris Peterson, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon were the only relevant holdovers. It seemed like a mishmash of parts on paper, and no one expected the team to go anywhere—and after a 2-8 start it looked like another lost Raptors season. But then the team jelled, went 45-27 the rest of the way winning the division for the first time and returning to the playoffs after a five-year absence.

2. Jorge Garbojosa was a big part of the reason it worked.

He didn’t have a great jump shot, wasn’t a great athlete or jumper, wasn’t much of a ball handler or rebounder… but he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, especially on defense. He was just an incredibly smart, intuitive basketball player. You may not have wanted him taking the final shot in a close game, but you’d want him on the floor, because you could be confident that, no matter what happened, he’d make the right play. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28 minutes a night, and was named rookie of the month for December and eventually named to the all-rookie team.

3. But Garbojosa’s season was cut short in March of 2007.

The Raptors were in Boston, and were losing to the Celtics, trailing by nine with about 4.5 minutes left. Al Jefferson got the ball ahead on a breakaway, and went up to slam it home. Garbo went for the block. He fouled Jefferson, and ended up on the floor; I’ve never been sure if he landed on Jefferson’s foot or just fell awkwardly or slipped or what (and I can’t watch the replay). But, the end result was much like Hayward’s injury—his left foot was trapped beneath him and his entire body weight came down right on top of it. Like Hayward’s, his foot ended up pointing the wrong way.

4. I’ll always remember the screaming.

When Garbo went down, Jefferson turned to help him up, saw his foot, and immediately turned away—he couldn’t look. Around that time the pain must’ve hit Garbojosa, and he started screaming. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” He was right under the hoop so the microphones under the rim picked it up clearly. “AAHHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!” It was horrifying. The injury was eventually diagnosed as a fractured fibula, dislocated left ankle, and torn ligaments. He was done for the year, obviously; he came back the following season for a few games but was never the same, and was eventually cut.

5. The dream season ended too soon.

The Raptors made the playoffs as a top-3 seed without him (and Bargnani, who had his appendix removed) but lost to Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in six games. You can’t help but wonder if the Raps would’ve won that series had Garbo been able to play. For one thing, the Raps came out nervous and anxious in game 1, and again in game 3 (first on the road); a veteran of the Euroleague and big-time international competition, Garbo wouldn’t have been bothered by any of that. The Raps got inconsistent play from Joey Graham at the SF spot through games 1-4 before going to Morris Peterson, but Garbo would’ve been the steady presence they needed there. He could’t physically keep up with Carter or Richard Jefferson, but I’m certain his basketball smarts and team defense would’ve made a big difference.

—–

Jorge Garbojosa’s time in Toronto ended acrimoniously; he wanted to play for Spain internationally, the Raptors wanted him to heal and rest. They bought out his contract so he could do what he wanted. He was named president of the Spanish basketball federation in 2016. But I’ll always wonder “what if” about that playoff series…!

Five thoughts on Game 6: Raptors 99, Trailblazers 85

Toronto Raptors at Portland Trailblazers Oct 30

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ second straight road win, this time against the Trailblazers in Portland…

Lucas Nogueira came back, and started.

Serge Ibaka missed the game with a bad knee, and Jonas Valanciunas remains sidelined with a bum ankle. (Starting to wonder why Jonas came on this trip at all…) Bebe came back from his ankle injury, and it was the usual mixed bag—great, athletic plays off of pick and rolls and lobs, dumb fouls, a three, lackadaisical effort on a loose ball, an offensive rebound tap-out, not paying attention to a Kyle Lowry pass… you just never know what you’re gonna get from this guy. Naturally he finished with career highs in points (17) and blocks (5).

DeMar DeRozan owned the first quarter.

DeMar came out firing; he clearly was feeling it early tonight, scoring 13 of the Raps’ first 15 points on 5/5 shooting with a dazzling array of jumpers, floaters and layups; the Blazers were shooting hot from deep and DeMar kept them in it early. He had a little help from Kyle Lowry, who hit 3 of his first 4 3-point attempts, and the score was tied after 1. Overall the Raps all-star backcourt combined for 44.

OK, so what the heck happened to the Blazers in that second quarter?

Portland scored one (1) (one!) field goal—and it came with 5.4 seconds left, off of an offensive rebound on a broken play. I honestly thought they weren’t going to score a bucket (they had 4 FTs) which I don’t believe I have ever seen before. Part of it was the Blazers missing open looks, and generally looking a bit lost. But you gotta give the Raps’ speed and length some credit. Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Bebe, Delon Wright and OG Anunoby were all getting in passing lanes, bothering shots, and chasing down loose balls. The Raps won the quarter 25-6. Special shoutout to Anunoby who was everywhere on defense (and whose name I shall endeavor to spell correctly going forward).

The marksmanship of the Raptors’ young bench backcourt is, ah, concerning.

That second-quarter lead would’ve been even greater had Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet been able to buy a basket. I’ve been patient with Delon’s shooting, but now he’s out here missing layups (two in the second quarter, at least one more in the fourth) as well as threes (he’s 2-19 on the year now). Meanwhile, I’m not sure what VanVleet is bringing to the table. He’s a smart player and, supposedly, a good shooter. But I’m beginning to think he’s too small and too slow to get his shot off. He’s now 6-24 on the year.

Norman Powell showed signs of life in the third quarter.

Norm had a terrible first half on offense (he was fine on D as usual); his confidence looked completely shot. On one play, DeMar kicked it to Norm on the wing on a delayed break, but he hesitated so long on the J, the D caught up. So Norm drove… right into the teeth of the D… got tied up… jump ball. Gotta shoot that, Norm, I yelled at the TV! (This is a thing I do.) (Often.) The third didn’t start out well for Norm either, as he traveled on his first possession. But then… he hit a three (without hesitation). Missed another. Then hit a drive. Hit another three. Drove and found Bebe on a lob. Could Norm be back? I hope so!

—–

Overall it was an easy win, fueled by defense, and the Blazers didn’t show me much. There are two games left on this trip—tough games at altitude, in Denver and Utah. Can the Raps come home over .500?

Five thoughts on Game 5: Raptors 101, Lakers 92

Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Lakers Oct 27

Five thoughts on the Raptors squeaking out their first road win of the season:

  1. Pascal Siakam started for the second straight game; he earned it with his excellent play in the Warriors game, and he played just as well tonight. All told he’s 17-22 with 38 points in his two starts! He’s only grabbed 7 total rebounds, which isn’t ideal for a starting SF, but he’s also only turned the ball over once, which is impressive for a second-year player. Much like fellow sophomore Jakob Poeltl, I’m really impressed with his hands and his touch; big men and rookies often have a hard time catching tough passes, and getting the ball up on the rim or backboard quickly. Both of these guys have quick hands, are able to grab passes even when they aren’t on the money, and don’t need a lot of time to gather themselves and shoot.
  2. Speaking of Poeltl, he and the Raptors bench finally came back down to earth after four solid games. They pretty much crapped the bed at the end of the first quarter and into the second, giving up a 17-6 run and looking completely listless on both ends of the floor. Poeltl seemed outmathced by Julius Randle, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright couldn’t get anything going outside or going to the rim, and OG Anonuby, while playing with good energy once again, shot 2-8. The Lakers bench definitely seemed like the better second unit!
  3. Thankfully, the Raptors starters finally delivered a decent all-around game. Kyle Lowry continues to shoot poorly, but he did earn a triple-double, and hit the game-sealing three with a minute left (after a wonderful, Steve Nash-ian zig-zag dribble right under the hoop, back out through the paint to the three-point line). DeMar DeRozan carried the Raps in the fourth with his usual array of midrange shots. Serge Ibaka and Siakam combined for 16-20 shooting. (You won’t believe this, but Ibaka finished with 0 assists.) Norm Powell is still struggling big-time on offense, but managed to finish with a +17, so he must be doing something right out there. Overall the five Raps starters were all positive in plus/minus, and the five bench players all negative. The Lakers? Exact opposite.
  4. Lonzo Ball is gonna be a good pro, no doubt about it. Everything everyone says about his court vision, awareness and timing is spot-on. He sees the floor extremely well; and not just when he has the ball, he just seems to be in the right place at the right time, even on defense, which is impressive for a rookie (even though his actual 1-1 defense isn’t strong yet). But that jump shot… I can’t believe the Lakers aren’t trying to correct that. His accuracy is terrible, so defenders are letting him shoot. But the mechanics are so poor—he shoots, basically, from the side of his chest—that, if he ever does get his accuracy up, defenders will stick to him and he won’t be able to get that shot off. So strange.
  5. As for the rest of the Lakers, it’s a weird team, man. Everyone’s heard the rumors that the team’s in a holding pattern, waiting for LeBron James to sign there next summer… and looking at the roster, you can’t help but think, “yep, they didn’t give a crap about this season.” I mean, they’re long and athletic,  they have nice young players in Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Randle… but no one on this team can shoot! And they can’t defend for anything. If they Raptors could shoot, and if their bench didn’t look like they spent all night partying in Hollywood, I think the Raptors blow the doors of this team. But if they have indeed preserved enough flexibility to acquire LeBron James and another star and team them with Ball, then I guess they’re the winners in the long run!

The road trip is half-over! Up next, it’s the Trail Blazers in Portland.

Five thoughts on Game 4: Warriors 117, Raptors 112

Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors Oct 25

Five thoughts on the Raptors’ tough loss to the reigning NBA champs:

  1. Kyle Lowry continues to struggle for the Raptors, and I’m starting to worry. This team isn’t going anywhere if its best player continues to average 13 points on 38% shooting, 28% from three, and a PER of 12. I hope it’s rust, and that he shakes it off soon. The rest of the starters seem to be settling in; DeMar DeRozan is shooting 50%, Serge Ibaka is shooting 40% from deep (although my God Serge, pass the ball sometimes, man), and Norman Powell—while still not scoring much—is making positive plays in limited minutes. But Lowry is the weak link right now, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
  2. Jakob Poeltl watch: Came in in the first quarter, immediately got two offensive rebounds, a steal and two buckets off of great passes from CJ Miles. And did you see that play in the fourth where he set the screen on a Lowry PNR, Lowry missed a three, and Poeltl got the board and putback? Also: I just realized I’ve been spelling his last name wrong all along.
  3. Bebe watch: Injured. As Blake Murphy pointed out on Twitter, this was—unbelievably—the longest Lucas Nugueira had made it into a season without getting hurt. Three games! I was a bit surprised Poeltl didn’t get the start, to be honest. I generally like Casey’s “keep the bench unit together” approach, but thought that Poeltl earned those minutes following his play the last two games. But, can’t argue with the results; the start went to Paskal Siakam, who did not disappoint—a career high in points, dunking and hitting threes, running the floor like a champ, sticking to guys on some solid defensive possessions. And Poeltl was—again—a stud off the bench.
  4. As for the final minutes… You can pin the loss on the Raptors falling back in to old habits at the end of games—it was Lowry and DeRozan iso-ball on the final few possessions, abandoning the ball movement that had given them the lead just moments before. I didn’t mind the shots themselves—a couple 15-footers from DeMar and a floater from Kyle—but there was no movement to get those shots, the defense was completely set, rebounders were firmly entrenched. But old habits die hard, and the progress overall through four games is promising. The play in the final two minutes that just killed me was Kevin Durant’s three. Shame on Serge Ibaka for backpedaling way too far when everyone and their brother knew that, down three with the ball in his hands coming off a stop, Durant wanted to take the pull-up 3. Ibaka gave him the space. Durant took it. And nailed it. And that was it.
  5. The Warriors are the champs, and they’ve won a billion games the past three years. We should be used to their greatness by now… but man, they are something else. The length, the speed, and the shooting… that 9-0 run in the second quarter happened so fast, and they make it look so easy. And then the run to close the game… mistakes against this team, or any failure to capitalize on a stop or offensive rebound, will kill you. They are so deadly. They’re a joy to watch… against any team but your own, of course.

Let’s see how the Raps do Friday night against the new-look Lakers!

Five thoughts on Game 3: Spurs 101, Raptors 97

Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Oct 23

Five thoughts on the Raptors’ first road game, and first loss, of the season:

  1. There are two obvious answers to why the Raps dropped this one, after keeping it close for most of the night: Shooting and rebounding. Two kinda important things! But the Raps shot 10-37 from three (34-80 overall) and were out-rebounded 55-34. Perhaps the Spurs would’ve blown the doors of them if they themselves hadn’t shot so poorly from distance (5-20) and the free throw line (16-23). I won’t read too much into the shooting this early into the season but the rebounding is a concern. The Spurs are big, yes, and the Raptors were missing their starting centre, but one has to wonder if this team as constructed has enough size? Norman Powell is small for a starting SF, and CJ Miles is small for a backup SF. Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet are a small backup backcourt (and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan aren’t huge either). Yes, the Raptors seem to have a glut of centers but Lucas Nogueira is unreliable, Jakob Poetl is still foul-prone and Serge Ibaka, who can slide in there, isn’t a huge rebounding presence. Again, it’s game three so not something to panic about—but something to watch.
  2. Speaking of centers, Poetl was undeniably impressive off the bench yesterday. He was the Raptors’ only rebound presence (he had 12; Nogueira had 6; no one else had more than 4). He showed his quick hands and soft touch again, getting the ball off the glass and up on the rim quickly. He blocked shots, got his hands on loose balls and ran the floor well; he ran a great pick and roll with Miles. It’s only three games, but three excellent games, and he showed enough promise last year that I’m starting to think they may have really struck gold with this guy.
  3. Bebe, on the other hand, was a disappointment. This is a big year for Bebe, his fourth in the league; it’s the time that he really needs to show whether he belongs and if he’s worth a second contract beyond his rookie deal. And, getting the start for Jonas Valanciunas, this was a great opportunity. But he looked lost out there. He looked good against the Sixers, and I know the Spurs, with their incredible execution, make a lot of players look bad, but he had a serious quickness advantage over Gasol and Aldridge but didn’t bring anything to the table. He executes the pick and roll as well as anyone on the team—he sets great screens and finds the seams beautifully. And he plays with energy. But I’m not sure there’s much else to his game.
  4. The starting lineup was overall a disappointment again. I still managed to observe a few highlights, not the least of which was Kyle Lowry getting all ornery with Dejounte Murray and one of the officials, getting a foul call, then a bucket, then getting called for a foul. I love ornery Kyle. (And speaking of ornery… Ibaka does seem to have a way of getting under people’s skin, doesn’t he? He and Aldridge went at it in the fourth!) Norm’s game didn’t show up in the stat sheet, and his shooting was off again, but he made a number of nice plays (including a steal and bucket at the end of the first half that should have counted). Overall though, the Raps need more from their starting five than 59 points on 40% shooting and 16 (!) rebounds.
  5. The Spurs remain the Spurs—good, and ageless. It’s amazing that guys like Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili (and Tony Parker though he’s hurt at the moment) contribute so much so late in their careers. And the young guys they find… I mean, Patty Mills and Danny Green are known quantities now. But Kyle Anderson? And Murray! I’m super impressed by Murray. He’s aggressive, shoots the ball well. Their scouting department is top notch.

Let’s see if the team can get more balanced production between the starting unit and the bench Wednesday night against the champs.

Five thoughts on Game 2: Raptors 128, Sixers 94

Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Oct 21

Five thoughts on another easy Raptors win:

  1. The bench was great again, but the starters showed up a little better after starting slowly on opening night. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan looked like themselves again, combining for 47 points on 24 shots and 18 free throws. Serge Ibaka dropped in 21, and Jonas Valanciunas was off to another decent start before spraining an ankle and missing the second half.
  2. Jacob Poetl continues to impress as the backup to Jonas, and Lucas Noguiera had a stellar season debut in relief as well. Poetl’s got excellent hands, catching tough passes and snagging loose balls, and I love how quickly he gets the ball up on the rim. As for Bebe, the lead was already double digits by the time he came in, and the Sixers were on the second night of a back-to-back, so I won’t get too ahead of myself. But he brought tons of energy and managed to play under control, ending up with 10 points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes.
  3. The Raptors shot 44 three-pointers. 44! Sure, they only hit 13 (Ibaka had five of them), but the way those shots opened up the floor for DeMar to get into the paint was critical for his big night. Much was made of the Raptors new-look offense and how DeMar would fit in, since the three-point shot isn’t his forte. If it turns out that everyone else jacking threes gives him and the bigs more room to operate, then I think that’s fine; important to note, though, that better, more veteran defensive teams won’t scramble as much on those threes as the Sixers do. The Raps will need to shoot closer to 40% to keep teams honest.
  4. The only starter not to show up tonight was Norman Powell, and that was disappointing. He picked up a few dumb fouls, never got into a rhythm, and only ended up with two points in 17 minutes. I’m really looking for Norm to bring consistency night-to-night this year, something the Raps have lacked in the small forward spot for years.
  5. The Sixers have tons of great young pieces, but they’ve still got some ways to go, especially on defense. And I know they were missing their best player in Joel Embiid, and playing their third game in four nights. But,  the Raptors got a lot of open looks and had a lot of drives with the defenders back-pedaling, which led to a lot of free throws. Young teams usually struggle at the defensive end so that’s not a surprise; but many pre-season predictions had the Sixers taking a big leap this year, and I think that was overlooked. Another thing overlooked: These guys have never played together! Embiid has only played 30 games; Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are rookies; J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson are new to the team. Every time a “superteam” comes together, we say, “hey, these guys will need time to gel;” well, I’d say that’s even more true of a young team like this. This team has a ton of potential, but, I think a little patience is warranted.

The Raps now head out on an incredibly tough six-game road trip. Glad they got these two early wins!

Five thoughts on Game 1: Raptors 117, Bulls 100

Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Oct 29

Five thoughts on an easy Raptors victory:

  1. Kyle and DeMar looked kinda like… playoff Kyle and DeMar. Shots were off, they were hesitant at times, and tried to force things other times. Ibaka was also kinda invisible. Norm and Jonas looked good though! Jonas missed a few chippies (and bricked a triple) but had a pretty complete game, Norm was aggressive and on point from deep.
  2. The bench was sensational. The full platoon change in the final minutes of Q1 was an oddity, but it worked! The amazing thing is, all five subs played well. Sure, Anonuby had his rookie moments (a weak drive), Poetl continues to pick up cheap fouls (two moving screens) and VanVleet’s shot looked off, but as a unit they blew the Bulls off the floor. And CJ and Delon were the best players in the game, along with Jonas.
  3. The Bulls are… wow, they are bad. I know they were missing two potential starters (because they got in a fistfight in practice, come on now) but still… that’s a really terrible NBA team.
  4. I definitely have issue with Casey leaving Kyle and DeMar in as long as he did in the fourth (especially bringing them back with two minutes left). He said he wanted to give them extra minutes to shake off the rust, and I guess I get it, but man… the injury risk is so high. Much greater that the reward of a couple extra minutes of burn, in my mind.
  5. CJ Miles is a pure gunner, and while he’s definitely not going 6-9 every night from downtown I love that the Raps have someone like that on the team. A deep threat like that opens up the floor for others—witness the drives that Anonuby and Wright had—and keeps the defense moving.

It’s tough to judge too much on one game against a weak opponent, but every win counts! Nice to see the Raps open the season this way.

 

2017-18 Raptors preview, aka, “just read these guys”

I had intended to lay out my thoughts on the 2017-2018 Raps ahead of the Raptors season opener tonight, but, I’ve run out of time. Instead, how about a quick roundup of the top Raptors writers you should follow throughout the season to get the best insights, game recaps, features and more?

I’m gonna give some mini-breakdowns below, but the simplest answer here is just to buy a subscription to The Athletic. It’s cheap; $5/month, and they’ve got lots of promotions for first-time subscribers. (Yes, people, sometimes the internet makes you PAY for good content!) They’ve got two of the best Raptors writers around—Eric and Blake, read more below—and a third up-and-comer, Seerat. They produce a lot of Raptors material. You get access to all The Athletic sites, which currently means NBA coverage of the Warriors, Bulls, Cavs, Sixers, Pistons and—oddly—the Timberwolves, as well as the Raps. And of course, all of their non-NBA content, as well. Here’s their 2017-2018 preview panel.

It’s worth it, trust me.

On to the peeps (in no particular order):

Who: Doug Smith, Toronto Star

What to read: His game recaps. Doug’s a classic newspaperman and his game reports are sharp and concise to give you the detail you need, and with just enough analysis and post-game quotes to give you the color you want.

Samples: His recap of game six against the Bucks; his 2017-2018 preview

Where to follow: www.thestar.com/authors.doug_smith.html

Stray thoughts: Doug’s the grandfather of TO hoops coverage, having covered the Raps since day one… and he kinda acts like your crusty old grandpa, too, especially on Twitter, complaining about the volume level in games, twitter trolls, etc. Just follow the game recaps at the Star and avoid him on Twitter and you’ll be fine.

—–

Who: Eric Koreen, The Athletic

What to read: All of it, but especially his features; Eric’s longer features are like a Chris Paul floater—the stories unfold slowly, and finish with a soft touch.

Samples: His Norm Powell profile; his search for the truth about Patrick Patterson

Where to follow: www.theathletic.com/raptors; www.twitter.com/ekoreen

Stray thoughts: Eric’s a fun Twitter follow; he pulls back the curtain to reveal a real human being and it’s nice to see something so genuine. If he’s not the best overall Raptors writer yet, he will be soon.

Who: Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star

What to read: His features. Great prose style, sees the big picture but keeps the heart of the story in focus.

Samples: His look inside the Raps’ new offense; talking about racial tension in America with DeRozan and the Raptors

Where to follow: www.thestar.com/authors.arthur_bruce.html; www.twitter.com/bruce_arthur

Stray thoughts: Bruce writes about all sports, but I think he’s got a special touch on his Raptors stories. He isn’t for everyone on Twitter because he doesn’t “stick to sports” but that’s one of the reasons I think he’s a great follow.

Who: Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic

What to read: His analyses. Blake goes deep enough that he’ll help you see the game beyond the shots and assists—but not so deep you start to feel lost.

Samples: His analyses of the DeMarre Carroll trade and PJ Tucker loss; his post-game report after the Raps dropped game 1 to the Cavs

Where to follow: www.raptorsrepublic.com/author/blake; www.twitter.com/BlakeMurphyODC

Stray thoughts: Blake’s the managing editor at Raptors Republic, but he also contributes to The Athletic, to Vice Sports, and to a few other places as well. Oh, and anything you want to know about the Raptors 905—he’s your man there too. He’s not just prolific—he’s a good writer and a great basketball mind. If you wanna catch it all just follow him on Twitter! By the way, Eric and Blake do a podcast, the Raptors Reasonablists, which is pretty darn entertaining as well.

Who: Scott Stinson, Ryan Wolstat and Steve Simmons, The National Post

What to read: All-around coverage

Samples: Stinson on offseason insanityWolstat’s season previewSimmons on Kyle Lowry

Where to follow: http://nationalpost.com/category/sports/basketball

Stray thoughts: I don’t think too many people think of the Post as a great sports paper, but they’ve put together a solid basketball group, and they’ll pick up additional stories from the postmedia network as well. The Athletic would still be my choice, but this is a solid backup plan!

All-in-all, that oughtta have you covered for the year!