Originally posted at Saving the Skyhook on March 17, 2013. Edited December 4, 2015.
In 2013, I finally did it. I splashed out and bought NBA League Pass International. It happened at All-Star Weekend, when I caved in and got the cut price special. $150 for the rest of the season, I was sold. For the ensuing four weeks or so, I’ve only emerged from my room for food, water and academics. Friends say I’m harder to find than John Wall’s three point stroke. Okay, so perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but truly League Pass is a joy to behold. With unfettered access to every game across the Association, it gives one the chance to pay attention to the teams that motor on a little more quietly, those who aren’t going to make any postseason noise, but are yet a lot of fun to watch. So I present to you the first part of a series of teams that I recommend as essential NBA League Pass viewing, whether you’re lucky enough to catch it in real-time, or as a condensed game before you head off to sleep at night. The first team up is Canada’s own Toronto Raptors.
Why? Offense. Oh, the offense. The Toronto Raptors are my League Pass crush. My lover on the side, my best kept secret. Where do I start with the appeal in this team? From point guard is the beautifully unpredictable Kyle Lowry. Every possession is wrought with tension as the result could be anything from him hitting a fading three ball far beyond the arc to…well, him missing that ill-advised fading three. Coming off the bench behind Lowry is John Lucas III, who is by far one of my favourite back-ups in the league. He drives at the rim like he has a death wish (or perhaps is still bitter after the LeBron dunk), and shoots the three pretty well, too. He’s streaky, and I’m sure he causes Raptor fans to tear their hair out at times, but as a neutral onlooker, it’s a blast watching Lucas play.
Toronto’s guard rotation includes DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson. DeRozan is the biggest name player of the trio, best known as a past Dunk Contest participant and high-volume scorer. Although his potency as a slasher is his primary means of scoring, DeRozan has began to develop a more versatile offensive game that is making him more and more fun to watch. His backcourt partner, Terrence Ross, burst onto the scene winning this year’s Dunk Contest as a rookie after topping Utah’s Jeremy Evans in the final. Ross’ minutes are still limited as his overall game develops, but expect the University of Washington product to add many more putbacks, windmills and dagger threes to his already impressive highlights package.
The latest Raptor on the block, Rudy Gay, brings his silky and powerful scoring touch with him from Memphis. Coming from the sluggish ‘grit’n’ grind’ Grizzlies outfit, Gay’s in the midst of the big adjustment to Toronto’s frantic pace. It’s allowed for more streaking drive, clutch floaters and a hell of a lot more mayhem from Gay. He may not be the kind of player who can lead a franchise to a championship, but he’s undeniably impressive and entertaining when given the keys like he has in the Raptors offense.
The Raptors front court doesn’t boast the same entertainment value as the back court, though Amir Johnson always plays like he’s in a street fight and Jonas Valanciunas has heart for days. Andrea Bargnani’s quest to play his way out of Tornoto may be painful viewing but Johnson’s lunging blocks and thunderous dunks off the bench are enough to offset that. Valanaciunas is a quality work-in-progress, making enough hustle plays to make you grin while still making all those rookie errors that allows things like this to happen.
Toronto’s style of play isn’t always pretty. They have a lot of guys on the roster who take a lot of bad shots, Lowry and Gay specifically. Their record speaks for itself as the team is still deeply flawed. Don’t count on the Raptors making a deep playoff run. However, they’re a young squad with a lot of energy in spite of their dismal record. It serves as a credit to the ever-excitable coach Dwane Casey and a sign that the future may be looking up in Toronto.
Whenever you’re scanning the list of games for the day, always keep an eye for who Toronto’s playing. Against the elite teams, I’d steer clear. Blowouts are never fun, and a good defense can make Toronto look very bad, very quickly. However, when they clash with fellow lottery teams such as the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Hornets? Mark it as essential viewing. It’s the best team Toronto’s put out since Vince Carter left (sorry, Chris Bosh), and they’re only getting better.