Raptors focus on evolving offence

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo (left) speaks with head coach Dwane Casey during the club's...

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo (left) speaks with head coach Dwane Casey during the club's media day at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 1, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:10 AM ET

TORONTO - Dwane Casey met some of his players for the first time walking into the gym for that first practice last season.

The lockout was over, the troops had been assembled and the Raptors rookie head coach could begin putting together the team he envisioned.

Compared to that, Casey is already leaps and bounds ahead of where he was in his rookie season.

Having spent the summer meeting and generally being around his new charges, there really isn’t anything unexpected waiting for him in Halifax.

So when camp officially opens Tuesday morning, Casey goes in with a firm grasp of what he wants to get done and the knowledge that unlike his first season, he’ll have the time to do it.

But first on the agenda, as anyone who knows Casey well could predict, is a little reminder of how he wants this team to defend.

“Our first call of duty on Tuesday is going to be a defensive practice,” Casey said. “We have seven new guys who weren’t here last year so we will start out with the emphasis on defence.”

Casey admits the condensed pre-season of a year ago meant he really only got to establish a strong defensive philosophy. The offence just kind of evolved over the course of the season and the lack of shooters and a lack of athleticism a year ago meant it that evolution was stunted.

Casey doesn’t see that with this group in the upcoming season.

“We have better shooters,” Casey said. “Brian (Colangelo) and Ed (Stefanski) did a great job of bringing in shooters this year. That was our weak point last year. So we’ve got guys in now who can shoot the three. We want to make sure we emphasize that, utilize that.”

Those guys brought in with a long-range game include point guard Kyle Lowry, small forward Landry Fields and rookie Terrence Ross in addition to point guard John Lucas III.

Casey said the emphasis on the three-point game will be the one most obvious to Raptors’ fans.

“If there is going to be one big change in our approach, our identity, it’s that when we do come down (on offence) we will make sure we utilize the three-ball,” he said.

Heading into camp most, if not all, of GM Bryan Colangelo’s work has been done. He’ll be in Halifax of course, keeping a close eye on the team he and his staff have brought Casey and while there’s plenty of battles to focus on, what he’ll be paying particular attention to is the evolving offence.

“I’ve already seen some of it talked about whether it’s in the coaches meetings or just discussions with Dwane — but there is an emphasis on the offence and the pace of the game,” Colangelo said. “I think that’s more than anything what I will be focussed on because I know the defensive foundation and the workload will be the same if not more.”

With the defensive foundation already laid and with a full month of the pre-season, Casey doesn’t foresee any reason the offence won’t be light years ahead of where it was last season.

“The offence we wanted to put in last year where we come down and play in flow, in random, we never got that because it was such a short training camp,” Casey said. “It was just going to take too long to get to that.

“We kind of got into it a little bit as the season went on but we will be into it full mode this year as far as coming down, playing random, whether it’s pick and rolls, pin downs, dribble handoffs or whatever. The guys will make those determinations bases on what the defence is giving them.”

What Casey says you won’t see this year is his team walking the ball up the court. An up-tempo offence is the goal and with the time and the personnel to run it, Casey heads into camp very confident.

“We have to score,” Casey said. “We did a terrible job last year of creating tempo as a coaching staff. We had to slow it down to give ourselves a chance to win. But this year we have better athletes, better three-point shooters and to utilize that we have to make sure we get out and run. Our whole thing is to be able to create tempo in the first four seconds or three seconds of the shot clock. We can’t walk the ball up the floor as we did last year.”

Also expected to get an overhaul is the Raptors second unit. Attrition only guaranteed the unit would be different, but Casey also wants its focus to be different.

“Where we had a dropoff last year is our first group would go in and hold par and kind of hang tough and our second unit would come in and then we would have to scratch and claw to get back in it after they had lost the lead,” Casey said. “That second unit for us is going to be huge. Offence will be their main goal, to push the ball to make sure we run in transition and keep the tempo at a high level offensively.”

It sounds like an awful lot of change until you consider Casey and his staff will have a full month to get it all in.


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