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Casey will use advanced stats, get Raptors to play defense

Jun 28, 2011, 2:39 PM EST

Dwane Casey smiles after being introduced as the new head coach of the Raptors in Toronto AP

Put me in the group of NBA bloggers who wanted to see Dwane Casey get another chance at the big seat.

First off, he did a pretty good job in the big seat the first time but got thrown to the sidelines because an owner misread how much talent his team really had. And in the admittedly limited dealings we have had over the years, he’s seemed a good guy.

Casey has his chance in Toronto. Where he faces some challenges, which he admitted in talking to Zach Lowe at SI’s The Point Forward (you should read the whole Q&A, good stuff there). Those challenges start on defense.

It’s all about what you emphasize as a coach. Jay [Triano] has done an excellent job at creating an offensive atmosphere, and I don’t want to take away from that. But we have to have a defensive emphasis. We have to create a defensive identity. Every single day there will be a theme of the day about defense, whether it be working on one thing in regard to the pick-and-roll or man-to-man or whatever. There will be a theme every day until we get an identity we can compete with.

Casey comes out of Dallas, one of the NBA teams that is most immersed in the advanced statistics pool. (Which is why this Grantland piece about how the Mavs leaned on J.J. Barea in the face of stats seemed way off base to me from the start, but Ziller did a good job ripping it apart already.)

He said he plans to use those stats in Toronto. That includes looking for ways to make Andrea Bargnani less of a defensive liability. And Casey made an interesting comparison with Bargnani.

Well, he’s not going to be our starting center, really [because he’s more of a power forward]. He’s in a similar situation with Dirk Nowitzki at this point in his career. I’d have to check their numbers, but I’d venture to say at this point in his career, he’s probably somewhere in the same area where Dirk was, where both have had to live down the reputation of being soft. And by the way, Dirk has never been anywhere near soft. Don’t ever use that word with him….

Because he’s one of the toughest, hardest-working guys in the league. I don’t know Andrea. All I know is what I’ve read and seen. I am excited to get to know him. He’s going to get better defensively, and he’s a great offensive player. But we have to work with him, coach him up and put him in the right situations so he is not exposed as much. I think Amir Johnson can be an above-average defender in the same position, and that we can put someone like Amir in a system so that Andrea is not exposed as much.

Look, our challenge is to find a five-man unit that is above-average defensively. Who that five will be, I just don’t know at this point. But when you win 22 games, you’ve got to change things. You can’t come back with the status quo.

The Raptors are going to get better under Casey. How much better remains to be seen, but they will get better. And they will defend.

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