Raptors' Greivis Vasquez a real gamer

Whether he’s asked to start at the point and embrace the role of floor general, slide over to shooting guard in a starting rotation or come off the bench, no role is too big for Greivis Vasquez.

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Each, naturally, poses different challenges, all three role definitions forcing Vasquez to bring a different mentality to the floor.

For most of his run as a Raptor, Vasquez has been the leader of the team’s second unit, a crafty shooter who has this knack for getting his shot off, whether he’s pulling up in transition or roaming on the perimeter.

When the Raptors are playing well on both ends of the court, which hasn’t been often in recent weeks, there isn’t much of a drop off when the second unit enters the game, assuming health isn’t an issue.

If DeMar DeRozan is injured and Vasquez lines up with Kyle Lowry in the backcourt, the Raptors field an extra ball handler who can shoot the ball from beyond the arc or be used as a facilitator when teams run him off the three-point line.

With Lowry taking some much-needed rest following weeks of carrying the team on his shoulders, Vasquez has started at the point.

“This year has been tough for me,’’ said Vasquez of the changing roles and adapting to each changing situation. “I have to adjust to one, two, three different roles.”

But in his basketball world, the key for Vasquez is to win games and ensure the team is positioned properly for sustained success, no matter what sacrifice is required.

A true baller in the purest sense, Vasquez is willing to do whatever.

He isn’t, by no means, the quickest guard in the NBA and he can be vulnerable on the perimeter when the Raptors’ team defence is compromised.

But he’s a gamer, the kind of pro who wears his emotions on his sleeve, unafraid of any moment on the court, not afraid to express whatever is on his mind off it.

During the team’s five-game slide, which reached its low point during Saturday night’s loss to the lowly Knicks in New York, shot selection, selfish play and defensive deficiencies, to name a few, were all factors.

By all accounts, the Raptors have a good locker room, but confidence became tenuous and players tried to do too much on their own.

Following Toronto’s loss in the Big Apple, players aired it out.

“We talked and said some things,’’ said Vasquez. “We’re good now. We can’t hit the panic (button).”

Lest anyone should ever forget, the Raptors are far from a finished product, their warts, and there are a few, resurfacing every now and then as signs of what areas require addressing.

Even when they were compiling a string of wins at whatever time this season, their perimeter-happy style, lack of a post-up game and overall team defence were often overlooked in the wake of a win.

In time, maybe the Raptors may look back on their five-game funk as an important lesson.

“We were trying to figure out the answers, but we weren’t doing it the right way,’’ said Vasquez.

Then along comes a win over the host 76ers and all is well in Raptorland.

It would be foolish to assert such a statement, but wins, no matter the opposition, breathe life into a team that was clearly struggling with its identity.

Philly made 52.6% of its shots with the visiting Raptors needing a season-high 35 points from DeRozan to produce the win.

Vasquez has never lost sight of the big picture, even as the bandwagon began to swell.

Toronto isn’t equipped to win an NBA title this season, but Vasquez knows the franchise is pointed in the right direction.

And when it comes to his role, he’ll do whatever it takes.

“I just want to win,’’ said Vasquez. “I just want to play in May.”

Whether it’s Vasquez or any other player in the NBA, the difference between starting or coming off the bench is mental.

When one starts, one is virtually assured minutes, barring early foul troubles, getting into a rhythm made easier given the nature of a starter’s role.

When one is asked to come off the bench, players have to produce quicker.

“It’s a great experience because I can do both,’’ said Vasquez.

LOWRY LIKELY OUT AGAIN

Kyle Lowry didn’t practise with the Raptors Tuesday, his time best served with trainers as his status remains a game-to-game proposition.

It’s unlikely he’ll be available for Wednesday’s home tip versus LeBron James and the Cavs, but at the same time nothing should be ruled out.

“What I admire the most is that he admitted he needed to clear his mind a little bit,’’ said Greivis Vasquez, who has started for Lowry in Toronto’s past two games. “And we needed him to do that.

“Obviously, he and DeMar (DeRozan) are our two best players.”

The Raptors will be in the playoffs, the only unknown involving their slot and opening-round opponent.

One of these days, Lowry will be back and one of these days the Raptors will have the exact starting unit and rotation off the bench for the post-season.

“We want to finish the season the right way,’’ said Vasquez. “Kyle knows what he’s doing. He’s a great pro and he cares about this team and this city.

“We got his back and we want him right.”

When Lowry is right, he’s making winning plays in crunch time at both ends of the floor.



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