Ignore the fact that their season is non-existent for an indeterminate amount of time. Let’s talk Raptors.
1. Past Raptor Love
I am a suckerrrrr for camaraderie and loyalty. Might be the hours of playing “war” with my action figures as a young tyke. Or, my odd obsession with what I now know, as an adult, is a fraught portrayal of cowboys and frontiersmen (Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett, etc.) and their lonesome, but dedicated groups of gangs and padna’s. Anyway, mix that with Toronto Raptors alum and I’m gushing.
All within a couple of weeks, we saw the love percolate.
“If my mom had another son, it’d be Kyle. If his mom had another son, it’d be me. That’s as simple as I can put it,” he said. “That’s how close we are.”
This isn’t anything new. We know how tight they are. Tighter than Ed Rogers’ wallet.
I just love seeing it over and over again. And we Raptors fans deserve to relish in all its wholesomeness. We watched a chubby Kyle and raw, solemn DeMar mature in unison. We experienced their achievements and failures as individuals and as a team. That Goddamn 5-year streak of playoff losing really did a number on my arterial integrity. Mannnn were those painful.
Now, look at these two. They’re still All-Stars. Each leading playoff-destined teams. Each fawned over by the rest of the League’s fanbase as though they’re some unknown, extraterrestrial entities suddenly landing back over the border to be revealed as really f-ing good basketball players.
None of any of that success has thwarted the love and chemistry the Raptors backcourt still share all these years later with each other and with the rest of the boys back in Toronto.
“Mafuzzi’s my Guy”
After hitting 7 threes (IN THE FIRST HALF WITHOUT MISSING[!]; 1 OF 5 GUYS TO DO IT SINCE 1996-97!!!!!) against the LA Clippers, Jonas Valančiūnas spoke fondly about former teammate, Serge Ibaka.
You can see the light in this suave James Bond adversary’s eyes brighten as he speaks about Serge. The same look as when he discovers his shared penchant for pig’s head with Mafuzzy Chef.
There’s more here than just dudes getting along with one another.
To me, it speaks to how great these guys are as individuals and how successful this organization has been in both acquiring the right personalities and fostering a brotherhood. That’s what made that championship run so special. That…
…and the Boardman.
Team chemistry is what old fogies and NBA Luddites proclaim when they eschew analytics: “you can’t measure the locker room”; “it’s a team sport!!!” [insert hoarse cigar-laden voice].
While that’s sort of true – you can’t actually put a number to the ethereal measure of emotional and basketball intelligences players share; though, on/off numbers and assists %s and other stuff can kind of get you there – it’s irrelevant.
What’s important is that an organization becomes a breeding ground for these kinds of bonds. Ones that persist beyond shared jerseys, salaries, achievements, goals, competition, whatever. The other stuff, like role definition and the x’s and o’s, thrive in that kind of environment. It’s less likely to occur the other way around.
We see it so profoundly with this current team. They’re not yet the most skilled, but the effort and determination has spread like wildfire down the roster. Or, maybe, the new guys are just like that; they’re merely fuel to the fire. Hard to say.
Either way, a lot of what we see now can be attributed to the tough and soft love these 4 former Raptors effused.
Let that be a lesson to us all: love is a potent motivator.
2. Justin Time
I talked about this in a recent Post-Game. Rebounding is more than just a physical triumph. True, rebounds often go to the tallest, the highest-jumping, the hardest working, the biggest bum, the widest frame, the lowest-centre of gravity, and/or the most aggressive.
Rebounding is an intellectual pursuit too. One who lacks those aforementioned traits, yet possesses a feel for where one needs to be at a certain place and time can still end up with the ball.
Dennis Rodman was the ultimate hustler. But listen to him in The Last Dance describe his honing of the rebounding skill:
“I’d just sit there and react, react. I just practiced a lot about the angle of the ball and the trajectory of it. You got a Larry Bird, it’s gonna spin. You got a Magic, it’ll maybe spin. When Michael shoot over here, I position myself right there. Now it hit the rim, it’s boom. Click, go back this way. Boom, here, here. Click, go that way. Boom, that way. Click here, this way. So basically I just start learning how to put myself in a position to get the ball.”
Justin’s, obviously, not Rodman; he does demonstrate similar thoughtfulness though.
JC rebounds like a spy. His legend is that of an innocent, weakside, [not good] corner-3 shooter. In truth, he’s an offensive rebounding menace looming the baseline behind enemy lines waiting for the opportune subversion of boxouts.
You can see his patience. Watch him watch each play unfold. As play progresses, he tippy-toes hoopward, “innocuously”, not letting on to his ulterior motive. (Sometimes, he’s perfectly positioned for the dish off in the dunker spot too). When a shot goes up he’s still not at 100% speed. He doesn’t need to with those pre-steps. He’s already in a position to get in position before anyone else. Then he explodes.
That’s smart stuff for a rook.
The total package is knowing where the ball’s heading post-shot-release. Justin seems to have that figured out too. Two of the New York and Brooklyn plays look nearly identical. In one sense they are. JC observes Yuta and GTJ take their respective shots and ends up rebounding them at the exact same location. But the plays are entirely different. Yuta’s is a short corner three from the left side – interestingly, corner shots are typically long misses than short, JC still reads it – and Gary’s goes long off a pull-up from the right side.
Doesn’t matter. JC gets a touch on both with his giraffe-neck arms.
We’d probably be talking about his rebounding knack and sweet touch around the rim a whole lot more if his heroic putback against Oklahoma City had occurred a millisecond sooner the other night.
3. Bench Boy Blocks
Ring the Hot Take Bell:
Posterizations are bad for the game of basketball.
Ya, that’s right. Let that braise a bit in your brain.
Looking at them strictly from the game of basketball perspective, I think I’m right.
They disincentivize aggressive, altruistic defenders. The celebration of a jam – and the fear it strikes in many an opponent – awards the ferocity of an offender and punishes the generosity – nay duty – of helpside correcting a teammate’s error.
A step slow, a foot too far and you’re best off letting the attacker go about their business rather than risk TSN Top 10 or, more culturally relevant, 18 hours of Twittermania.
Not for Yuta Watanabe though. He was a victim of such a posterization last year. Anthony Edwards the assailant. You go find it; I’ll not propagate the footage any further. It’s a thing of the past.
But Yuta was truly unfazed. In a post-game interview, Yuta simply remarked:
“When you get dunked on like that, you often become the laughing stock/people make fun of you. But, even though I did become famous for something not great, not going for the block was never an option for me. The only regret I have is that I fouled him. I’d try to block it if I had to do it over again. A lot of players nowadays know that when you get dunked on like that, it goes viral on the internet, so they try to avoid those situations. But I don’t think I would deserve any play time if I didn’t try to block that dunk and I instead let him score.
[translation from Japanese to English]
Wonder if anyone took note? I know a couple of guys who didn’t…
Now playing in a theatre near you: Yuta’s Revenge.
(Love how Yuta has the nerve to ask if Dillon Brooks is okay!? What a thoughtful prick).
One such thunderclap is, perhaps, an exception. Multiple times and you have to start considering Yuta as a top-top-tier defender (he’s in the 90th percentile in block percentage for wings). Not just because of the blocks – though they do exemplify his athleticism, awareness, and timing – but because he’s a superb one-on-one defender, a sixth-sense team defender, and capable of guarding 1 to 4 no problema.
Inspired, Svi starts his own spinoff series: Svihicular Manslaughter.
4. The Look-Back
L.O.L. to these.
You see this in the NFL all the time.
A wide receiver goose-steps their way towards the endzone, slowing their pace to look back at the desperately sprinting defenders – who have to keep running or risk a scolding from some unforgiving sideline drill sergeant – and holding the ball out as a reminder of the D’s failure and the futility.
In the NBA, such blatant arrogance is less common. For being a flashy sport, basketball has less taunting than you’d think. Perhaps, the defence-offence rivalries of the NFL create deeper enmity. Basketball players are too empathetic to be so obviously braggadocious. They know the chickens inevitably come home to roost on some crossover or some facial jam in the distant future.
When high-level showmanship does happen, there’s, typically, a sneer or pretension behind it. MJ and Kobe mean. Iverson and Shaq vain.
That’s what makes Scottie’s Look-Back dunks so unique. He’s brash and boisterous, but Scottie’s no asshole nor narcissist. All of the yelling and pointing and glancing at his hand is just cute. A young pup running around barking at the old dogs in the park. There’s a shared knowledge that he’s got way too much energy and he’s just playin’ with you. It’s not personal. He’s harmless.
It also fits squarely with his audaciousness, as Samson Folk explains; while it’s unusual to have such mocking hubris, it’s also just good ol’ Scottie testing limits – and their patience.
Of course, when he botches it, it’s all the more endearing. Someone toeing the edge is bound to, eventually, fall.
Old schoolers want him to stop. It’s disrespectful; disgraceful; foolish.
Nah. It’s spicy. Everyone – fans, teammates, opponents – love spice. It’s good for the game and it hones competition amongst professionals participating in a sometimes repetitious activity.
Scottie should keep doing it. Push those limits further: a toss off the backboard, rebound, glance back, then dunk. Fake a timeout call and then cram it.
It’s all great. So long as the ball ends up in the hoop…
5. Paul Jonesin’
Paul Jones and Leo Rautins – filled in for Matt Devlin and Jacko while in Health and Safety Protocols. As did Kia Nurse, Kayla Grey, Eric Smith, and Amy Audibert.
Everyone was great – I, again, will advocate for more more more and more Gray and Nurse!
Paul, though. Paul was in his element.
The only Raptor hotter in the first quarter of the Golden State Warriors game on Saturday was Paul.
Here’s a list of metaphors, similes, and idioms he dropped in the 1st and early 2nd quarters alone – not all of which I can recall to explain:
- Something about the IRS and CRA and collections and rebounds;
- He’s “all hat and no cattle”;
- Pascal Siakam’s “coupon expired” after missing his And-1 free throw;
- A “wide-receiver push-off” referring to an offensive player giving a nudge to the defence;
- Nick Nurse, dramatically calling the referees over, “looks like he’s hailing a cab”;
- “Dish out the sugar”;
- “Feed the dog to guard the yard”;
- “Soft as church music”;
- “Bottom of the well”.
I don’t know if those come out naturally or if Paul sits in his office overdosed on caffeine just listing out anything that sounds remotely like a basketball act. Either way, as one who enjoys the absurd and poetic, it was hilarious.
FYI: Also, I didn’t know this, but his brother Mark is THE Mark Jones. Two bros, two announcers:
Toronto Raptor ticket prices are nuts on a normal day. We’ve accepted the absurdity of these inflated prices based on the fact that we live in the only NBA market in Canada chock-full of corporate scenesters who care more about being seen at the game with clients than they do about Pascal Siakam’s field goal percentage efficiency from 5-9 feet. Which, by the way, is top in the NBA:
Then, at the height of the XXth wave of the Plague, Ontario reduced stadiums to 1/2 capacity. MLSE, understandably, kind of, refunds all non-season ticket holders. And then….and then!!!! Their little miser, money-grabbing collective frontal lobes decided to sell additional tickets at inane prices for fans to see the Warriors’ 6,7,8,9,10th best players.
How about a little charity? Discount tickets or donated ones or something. ‘Tis the goddamn season and everything. Or no tickets at all, maybe, seeing as Omicron‘s playing The Grinch this year anyway.
Speaking of, this whole playing through the season until all that’s left are basketballs, twinkies, and Florida is bad news. The Raps are now without Pascal, Scottie, Precious, Banton, Freddy, Malachi, and Gary; the league’s missing a sizable chunk of its players and have called in the National Basketball Reserves – Katie Heindl describes the mixed feelings we share as fans this week in BASKETBALL FEELINGS. Perhaps, we just slow down the whole squeezing-money-at-every-stop train and get a refuel in Compassion Town?
Sorry about the ranting. I just have a thing about super-rich corporations (read: NBA and MLSE) extracting every cent and dollar from us suffering, basketball-loving masses.
In the meantime, I’ll just continue to stream illegally.
Jack’s not modest about his penchant for the odd drinky-poo or two. Nor snobby about it. Miller Genuine Draft, sure. Some Irish whisky? Absolutely. He doesn’t espouse any esoteric bullshit about woody, earthy, velvety, tobaccoy “wine” either.
Nah, he’s too busy throwing respect to the ultimate drink of the people:
Happy Holidays, friends.
Stay warm. Stay well-fed. Stay safe. Stay buzzed. And stay compassionate.