League Pass Essentials Pt. 1: Toronto Raptors

2013 marked a personal milestone for myself, as I finally decided to buy in to NBA League Pass International. It happened at All-Star Weekend, when I caved in and got the price cut. $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 little bit, but League Pass is a joy to behold for one reason more than anything – you can see any team play. It gives you a 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 those who are 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.

Feb 22, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay (22) waits to take his next free throw as point guard Kyle Lowry (3) tries to quiet the crowd in the closing minutes against the New York Knicks at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Knicks 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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, 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 from 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 ball watching Lucas play.

Toronto’s guard rotation includes DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson. DeRozan is the biggest name player of the trio, a past Dunk Contest participant and high-volume scorer. Although his potency as a slasher is his primary means of scoring and adding to the highlight reel, DeRozan has began to develop a more versatile offensive game that is making him more and more fun to watch. Terrence Ross burst onto the scene winning this year’s Dunk Contest as a rookie, 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. The key difference between the two however, is Toronto’s frantic pace. It allows more streaking drives, more clutch floaters and a lot more mayhem and fun from Gay. He may not be the kind of player who can lead a franchise to a championship, but he’s an impressive, entertaining player without a doubt.

The Raptors front court doesn’t boast the same level of entertainment as the back court, though Amir Johnson always plays like he’s in a street fight and Jonas Valanciunas has heart for days. While Bargnani, perennial whipping boy, makes for some painful viewing, the lunging blocks and thunderous dunks that Johnson brings off the bench makes up for it. 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 Anderson specifically. They’re hardly a flawless team, as their record indicates, and I don’t write this with the intention of painting them as an elite team full of superstars. But in a sense, that makes them endearing to watch. They’re a young squad with a lot of energy in spite of their dismal record – something you can credit to the ever-excitable coach Dwane Casey.

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.