Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press about the Pistons. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.
Hoops Rumors: Jonas Valanciunas plateaued last season, but the Raptors signed him to a four-year, $64MM extension this summer. What can they do to help him improve and get the most out of their investment?
Ryan Wolstat: Getting him the ball more often would be a good start. Too often last season, Valanciunas was frozen out of the offense, with DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams needing to get theirs before the big center was fed in the post. He also needs to play more later in games, something Dwane Casey has said will happen. Valanciunas will need to get better defensively and improve as a passer out of the post to justify a bigger role.
The team has adjusted its defense a bit with [assistant coach] Andy Greer coming over from Chicago and the changes should help Valanciunas out, because the Raptors are now forcing opponents to the sideline on pick-and-rolls instead of to the middle of the floor, where Valanciunas usually couldn’t get to quickly enough.
Hoops Rumors: Where do the Raptors and Terrence Ross stand as the deadline for an extension draws near?
Ryan Wolstat: Wait and see mode. Ross played well defensively two seasons ago, but was brutal last year. An ankle injury that he had fixed in the offseason seemed to work, with Ross again looking like a plus defender early in the preseason (team-best eight steals, along with five blocks in five appearances through Sunday’s game) before rolling the surgically-repaired ankle. Offensively, Ross had really struggled though.
If Ross would sign a bargain extension, the Raptors would bite and bet on continued improvement, but most likely, they’ll see what the market will bear next year after another year to figure out exactly what Ross is.
Hoops Rumors: DeMarre Carroll swiftly turned into a quintessential three-and-D player in his two years with the Hawks. Do the Raptors need more from him to justify his four-year, $58MM contract, or is that simply the going rate for a player with his skills?
Ryan Wolstat: Considering how insane the money is getting in the NBA, the Carroll deal seems pretty fine to me. His track record isn’t as long as you’d like, but he’s been a very good player for a while now, and was by far Atlanta’s best performer in the playoffs, and that was a very good team. He’s a perfect fit both on and off the floor. He gives Toronto badly-needed size at small forward, another outside threat in the starting lineup and above-average defense and a willingness to compete against any of the NBA’s top swingmen. He also is a leader with an infectious style of play. His relentlessness, similar to how Lowry plays, already seems to be rubbing off.The Raptors would love to see the postseason version of Carroll every night, but if the regular season guy shows up, that will be fine.
Hoops Rumors: The Raptors don’t appear to have an obvious starting power forward, though they have a bunch of options at that position, with Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett, James Johnson and Carroll. Is it enough to get by?
Ryan Wolstat: At some point, Masai Ujiri intends to field a true contender. He knows they aren’t there yet, but he also knows that to get there, an excellent two-way power forward is required. A Chris Bosh-caliber player needs to arrive at some point. For now, this group is going to have to make it work. Each gives the team something different: Patterson is an elite three-point shooter and a solid defender, but can’t rebound or score off of the dribble; Scola is still workable, but getting older and a poor fit alongside Valanciunas; Bennett has turned some heads and should be useful off of the bench as long as he continues to defend well; Carroll will play some small-ball four, but Johnson likely won’t be a factor.
Amir Johnson will be missed, but he was breaking down and was no longer reliable every night, which is a shame.
Hoops Rumors: Do the Raptors have any expectation that Bennett will produce this season, or is whatever he gives them simply a bonus?
Ryan Wolstat: Originally, the team thought he’d see most of his time in the D-League, getting huge minutes there, but Bennett has exceeded expectations. He’s been OK offensively but quite solid on the boards and defensively. He has earned a longer look, but in order to be in the rotation behind Patterson and Scola he will have to do something he never has before — stay healthy.
Hoops Rumors: How can the Raptors make up for the loss of the 15.5 points per game that Lou Williams gave them last year?
Ryan Wolstat: It won’t be as hard as it looks on paper. Williams won the team some games, but he also lost a few and took other players out of rhythm offensively because he would shoot so often.
Scola and Ross should replace a lot of that scoring and Valanciunas should get more touches as well. Cory Joseph, who has been superb in the preseason, should take care of the rest.