Lucas Finds An Unlikely Fit

John Lucas III doesn’t look the part of a third-stringer.

The diminutive point guard carries himself with pride and purpose, and talks excitedly about what he and the rest of the Toronto Raptors feel that they can accomplish this season.

“I came here because I see this as a place where I can contribute by helping some of the young guys and doing my part to keep things going in the right direction,” says Lucas. “We know that we can be a playoff team.”

Lucas’ current standing as a third-on-the-depth-chart floor general on the Raptors says less about his own abilities and more about the newfound depth that the club’s off-season additions have afforded them at the position. Kyle Lowry came over from the Rockets via trade in what was the team’s biggest move of the summer. With Jose Calderon already in tow, Lucas knew where he stood when he signed with Toronto in late July.

However, the soon-to-be-30-year-old doesn’t sound like a guy disappointed with his lot in life.

“I love it here,” Lucas says emphatically. ”I’ve been telling all my friends back home that Toronto is a mix of San Francisco and New York combined. […] It’s very liberal, very free-spirited – like San Fran, but then there’s the hustle and the go-go-go lifestyle, like New York. […] Plus, I’ve already gotten to know the team a bit and it’s a great group of guys here.”

For Raptors fans, it’s refreshing to hear from a player who is not only proud to play in Toronto, but carries high expectations and believes in the organization’s prospects.

In some ways, it shouldn’t be surprising considering the parallels between the player and his new team. For one thing, they are both underdogs – Lucas is a scrappy 5’11 ball handler (if Lowry is the bulldog among Toronto point guards, Lucas is more the chihuahua) who went undrafted despite leading Oklahoma State to the Final Four and has toiled in the CBA and NBDL. The Raptors, meanwhile, have been outside the playoff picture for five years and are never mentioned as players for marquee free agents.

For another thing, they both enter this season having made some strides in the previous campaign. In 2011-12, Lucas struggled to simply find a spot on the Chicago Bulls’ roster, getting cut and re-signed on two separate occasions during the season. He ultimately found a permanent role in the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s groin injury and thrived, pouring in 25 points off the bench against Miami and helping the Bulls to an 8-4 record in the absence of their star (he didn’t fare quite so well in a disappointing playoff run).

For the Raptors, the gains were more modest. Under new head coach Dwane Casey, the club’s increased commitment to defence helped them to a one-win improvement in spite of playing 16 fewer games.

In spite of his current third-string status, Lucas can still be expected to carry a significant role within Casey’s system. He brings energy, character and intangibles, all of which fit within the club’s new culture. On top of that, he brings the type of reliable jumper (50% shooting and 13.7 points per game through three pre-season games) that the team so desperately needs in light of last year’s bottom third league finish in scoring average and field goal and three-point percentage.

For a second straight season, Lucas’ big opportunity may come from unfortunate circumstances surrounding a teammate. While an injury is always possible, a likely scenario also exists in a move involving Calderon. Long-standing trade talk concerning the Spanish veteran got even louder this summer, to the point where GM Bryan Colangelo publicly acknowledged it, admitting that ”you have to look at Jose’s [expiring] contract as something that would be a vehicle to accomplish [a deal]”.

Regardless of how things play out, Lucas with be ready to seize any opportunity as it presents itself.

Bayless Gives Toronto A Boost

Just last week I was chatting with some other members of the media who cover the Raptors about how Toronto would limp through any games they were forced to play without Jose Calderon.

Sure, the lose of Andrea Bargnani was tough, but the reality is Calderon does such a great job running the offence that his loss would be a tough one to swallow for the Raptors.

Well, with the Spaniard limping through Toronto’s locker room prior to the game in a walking cast, it looked like the worst fears of Raptors fans were about to become a reality.

I guess Jerryd Bayless didn’t get that memo.

Toronto raced out to a 14-8 lead thanks to the infusion of energy Bayless provided the starting five. Bayless went 2-3 from the field during that stretch while scoring four points while dishing out three assists and getting a steal in his first six minutes of burn.

Watching the game unfold it was easy to be impressed with Bayless in the first half. Toronto finished the first half shooting 54% from the field (24-44) and had an impressive 16 assists on 24 field goals which helped Toronto go into halftime with a 56-51 lead.

In the second half, however, they only had six assists as a team.

“The point I made about Jerryd (Bayless) is you need to make sure you see people as they are coming off the screen and they are ready to shoot,” Casey explained. “It’s timing. Andrea (Bargnani) is a little rusty coming off of screens, catching the ball, handling the ball. All of those things put together with Jerry in a new situation because usually he has the ball in an agitated situation where he is able to attack and pick-and-roll and kind of look for his with the second unit. With the first unit he has the job of getting everybody involved and that’s a new endeavour for him.”

Even though there was some noticeable growing pains, there was plenty of positives like his six assists and only one turnover.

Bayless also scored 16 points while hounding Jennings into one of his worst shooting games of the season.

“I thought Jerryd (Bayless) did a much better job or running the point guard position,” Casey raved. “It’s a difficult thing to get everybody else involved. His job, and his gift, is attacking the basket and scoring himself, but one thing he has got to learn to do himself – and he’s doing a better job of it – is involving other people, feeding Andrea (Bargnani) and seeing other guys on the roll. On one pick-and-roll he made a nice little pass to Amir (Johnson) who was rolling to the bucket. Those are the kinds of things we need to have out of him.”

While the loss was tough to swallow, the fact Bayless was able to run the offense while getting open looks for himself and his teammates had to be an encouraging thing for the coaching staff to see.

Plus, the team didn’t flatline with Calderon out of the line-up like many people predicted. That’s got to be worth something, right?

Gilbert to Jose: “You’re not an All-Star”

All-Star weekend is just one day away, with the festivities starting Friday night with the celebrity game and rookie-sophomore game. Saturday night consists of the Skills competition, three-point contest and the dunk-off. Even though all these smaller events are fun to watch and very entertaining, most of the emphasis is on the big game on Sunday where all the stars come out and showcase their skills in a fun but competitive game (well in the fourth quarter). But like always there are a couple of people who get overlooked and do not get to participate in a game that they deserve to be in. Baron Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Smith just to name a few. But I am not here to talk about these guys. I’m here to talk about someone who should have been on the Eastern Conference squad. Someone that has stepped up when a fellow teammate has gone down. Someone who has showcased that they are one of the best at running the point at a very consistent level.

I’m talking about Jose Calderon.

Since T.J Ford’s injury early December, Jose has done nothing but fill his shoes and help lead the Raptors on the floor night in and night out. With his quick thinking and great awareness on the court, it seems like he can’t do any wrong in a game. Calderon is always under control even when the game is on the line. Can you remember a time where he took a bad shot or tried a behind the back pass to look fancy and turned it over? What he does is simple. Fundamental basketball is his game and he is putting the league on notice that he is not just a backup point guard. Calderon could be starting on almost any team in the NBA. But according to one person, he should have never been mentioned in All-Star talks.

On the East side, I don’t know if there were any big snubs. I mean, some people wanted Jose Calderon. Jose Calderon? Who? Come on man, this is All-Star, people. When I’ve seen some of the names that are being thrown around on the ticker as snubs, it’s killing me. I understand Calderon has the best assist-turnover ratio in the league, but you know what’s funny? All back-up point guards have the best assist-turnover ratios. Screw it, Kevin Ollie should be an All-Star then! For like five or six years, Ollie was No. 1 in assist-turnover ratio!An All-Star is an All-Star! He’s playing at a high level. That means, if you take him off the team, that team should fall down if he’s that one guy. An All-Star means that he is dominating the game of basketball. It’s not even about numbers necessarily, it’s about dominating.I could probably say that Richard Jefferson got snubbed maybe Josh Smith too. His 18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks puts him at No. 14. Richard Jefferson is No. 13. Turkoglu is No. 15. But, El Calderon? Come on.I’ve been loving the way he’s been playing for the last two years. When he first came into the league he was a little timid and scared to shoot the ball, but he’s taking over that team. But All-Star? He’s about 20 years away from being an All-Star.”

Now I personally love Gilbert’s blog and what he usually writes but when I read this I was shocked. I could not understand the comparison of Kevin Ollie to Jose Calderon. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m guessing that Mr. Arenas is not following much basketball during his time off (get better soon by the way) but it’s ludicrous to say that Jose should not even of been considered.

I understand Calderon has the best assist-turnover ratio in the league, but you know what’s funny? All back-up point guards have the best assist-turnover ratios.

Backup point guards may have the best assist-turnover ratios in the game but let me ask you this: how many backup point guards average 26.8 minutes a game? Before Ford went down, Jose was averaging 26.8 minutes. Kevin Ollie is averaging 8.3 minutes a game. Jose is averaging 8.9 assists on the year (which is fifth in the NBA). Ollie is averaging 1.2 assists. Using my Sherlock Holmes skills I decided to dig deeper into this comparison of Calderon against Ollie and decided to compare the two in full detail. After combing through the statistics that each player has put up so far this year, it’s obvious who plays a bigger role off of the bench for their respective teams. In fact, it’s so one-sided in Calderon’s favour that there is little sense in discussing it further.

Here’s another quote I like that Arenas said.

An All-Star is an All-Star! He’s playing at a high level. That means, if you take him off the team, that team should fall down if he’s that one guy. An All-Star means that he is dominating the game of basketball. It’s not even about numbers necessarily, it’s about dominating.

So Mr. Arenas, is Jose not playing at a high level? He is fifth in the league in assists. Shooting over 54% from the field, 47% from behind the arc and his assist–turnover ratio is 5.51 which is he best in the league. But yeah he’s just playing average.

As for dominating a game, when was the last time that Joe Johnson has done that? Last time I checked Atlanta is 21-28 and in which Mr. Johnson should not be attending this years All-Star game. Yes he is a good player, but he is not helping his team win games. On the other hand, the Raptors are in second place with a record of 28-23 which Calderon has had his share of big moments and showed composure when the game was tight.

My final thought is this about your recent bashing of Calderon. Everyone starts at the bottom. Did you not start off your career sitting on the bench awaiting your chance to show what you have to offer any team? This is exactly what Calderon is doing. He is showcasing his talent to the whole world at every game. Unfortunately he won’t be showcasing his talent at a game that is watched worldwide and one that includes the best of the best. I am a fan of yours Gilbert, but I disagree on this topic 100%. Even though I am a Raptors fan at heart, Jose should have made the All-Star team.

Don’t worry Jose, Toronto has your back. We appreciate your efforts and hope you continue to contribute to the Raptors all year long.