Former NBA player Leo Rautins is a Canadian basketball legend. He was the youngest player ever to dress for the Canadian National Team at the age of 16, and after that, continued his strong play with a stellar college career, first at the University of Minnesota, then finishing at Syracuse University, where he was named Most Valuable Player in the Big East Tournament and was selected to the school’s All-Century Team.
Since then, he has played in the NBA, coached the Canadian National Team, been named to the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, and is now a broadcaster for the Toronto Raptors. As the Knicks and Raptors gear up tonight for their second game against each other this week alone, Rautins offers his expertise breaking down tonight’s matchup.
In addition, Rautins takes time to share his thoughts on how son Andy is doing with the Knicks, and also talk about some other NBA tidbits. A man of many experiences, he certainly has a wealth of knowledge about the game. Read below for more.
Q: In this past Sunday’s match up against the Knicks, even though the Raptors lost, they were resilient and just wouldn’t go away until the end. Amir Johnson was all over the place and seemed to be a part of that, exposing the Knicks’ weaknesses down low. Has he been doing that all season long for the Raptors?
A: Amir’s been getting better as the season goes along. He had a strong season last year too. He may have started off a little slow this year; his foul trouble was a bit of an issue. But since Reggie Evans has been out of the lineup due to injury, Amir has really elevated his game. His rebounding and scoring numbers have gone up and he’s provided the Raptors with a real inside presence. He runs the floor extremely well and keeps the ball alive on the glass too. Defensively, he blocks shots. I just think his presence in the absence of Evans has been a real bonus for the Raptors.
Q: Obviously the Raptors are dealing with the big loss of Chris Bosh and are still trying to find themselves as a team. How do you think that are coping with that?
A: I think the Raptors are still searching for their identity. In fact, their record at this point of the season is almost identical to what it was with Bosh last year. There hasn’t been a huge drop off in terms of production. At the same time, I think the main guy that obviously has to step up is Andrea Barngani. I think he’s still trying to find consistency. I know his numbers have gone up every season he’s been in the NBA, but he’s got to be there every night. He’s teammates also need to start recognizing that he is going to be the guy that has to get the ball and the one his team focuses in on on offense. I think ultimately this team is still trying to find themselves, but there’s a lot of positives to look at, especially when you consider the absence of Bosh.
Q: When you talk about guys stepping up, maybe Sonny Weems is a guy that the Raptors want to look at. He was scoring in bunches for Toronto early on but has since cooled off. Can he do the one to step up again?
A: I don’t think Sonny is a major scorer, but he’ll get his opportunities. He’s best in transition and looks flashy when he attacks the basket. He falls into the trap of trying to be a jump shooter at times, which he’s not. I think he’s got to be a defensive presence for the Raptors, so he needs to step up in that regard. He’s had some games where he has stepped up and scored but now that teams are focusing in on him, I think he has to realize that it’s the little things that will really make his presence felt.
Q: You actually played on the Canadian National Team with Raptors Head Coach Jay Triano. What fundamentals do you remember Jay playing with that he now instills in this Raptors squad?
A: I think in regards to the international game, you see a lot of movement, much like Coach D’Antoni tries to do with the Knicks. You don’t want to stop the ball, just push it up the floor. That was always crucial for guys like myself, Jay Triano, and Mike D’Antoni. The ball has got to move. I think a lot of times in the NBA the ball stops The Miami Heat are a great example of that, where you have players who stop the ball, and everyone else kind of just watches. What Jay and Mike are trying to do is consistently move the ball in order to make sure everyone gets good looks and good touches.
Q: Your son, Andy (Rautins) plays for the Knicks and has obviously not only been going through a transition from the college to the pros, but is also transitioning from mostly playing shooting guard to now point guard. Can he be the one to fill that backup point guard void for the Knicks?
A: I think he can. That’s what he does best: push the ball. He won’t pound the ball and dribble the ball, but he’ll move it with the pass. He also can keep the defense honest with his shot. His international experience should help him there because he played point guard. He did a good job for us by pushing the ball and getting it up the court quickly. I think he can definitely help in that regard.
Q: Thus far, Andy hasn’t seen much time on the court. What kind of things do you draw from your own experiences to keep him motivated?
A: The big thing is just that he’s in the NBA, and things in this league can change from day to day. The most important thing is to always be ready. He can’t get down, can’t worry, and you always just have to be ready. The only thing you can do is play ball and be ready. You always want to try and incorporate new things into your game when you aren’t playing; be a student of the game and use everything at your disposal to become a better player. When that opportunity is there, be ready.
Q: The Knicks have been on a tear obviously with their big winning streak. What have they been doing that the Raptors will have to look to stop tonight?
A: During their matchup with the Raptors on Sunday, I think the Knicks did a great job knocking down three-pointers. Amar’e Stoudemire simply took over the game in the fourth quarter. The Raptors need to force other players to make plays, not allowing him to do it. The two wins that the Knicks have had against the Raptors this season have resulted from Stoudemire taking charge in the game. Allowing threes creates a lot of problems for the Raptors, as it did against the Pacers the other night, so they will have to tighten that up too.
Q: There have been a lot of comparisons between Canadian superstar Steve Nash and Raymond Felton. What do you think of the job Raymond is doing for the Knicks?
A: I think Steve is a great point guard that obviously thrives in the Suns system. Raymond is new to the system, and if you look at his progress from training camp to this point in the season, I think he’s made great progress. He’s getting more and more comfortable as he and Amar’e develop a great working relationship. I think it’s unfair to compare the two: Steve’s a MVP type player, and Raymond is still trying to incorporate things. With time, as Raymond continues to improve, he’ll be tremendous for New York.
Q: To close things out, as the coach of the Canadian National Team, is there a player from your squad on the horizon that NBA fans should look out for?
A: Joel Anthony of Miami has done a great job for us. He has a little bit of a different role with the Heat than he has for us; he’s basically known for his defense and rebounding. During the summer though, he did a great job of scoring around the basket. As the Heat players get more comfortable with their roles, I think they’ll start to take advantage of Joel’s talents. Whatever success that team has, I think he’s going to be a part of that. No question about it.
For more on Leo Rautins, visit his website.