Virtually every aspect of his game is more refined, but his ball-handling and passing have been most visibly upgraded. Though Siakam can play some point-forward with bench lineups, his ability to pass and create alongside Toronto’s stars will be of much more significance to the team’s ceiling. Siakam’s abilities fit perfectly alongside those of his more heralded teammates.
Lowry and Fred VanVleet are both terrific shooters, and their best skills may be showcased as they reposition around the arc when a teammate drives to the basket. Both set great screens for their size, and neither is ever still. They scoot around the court, losing defenders during the mayhem of an active play, freeing themselves for open jumpers. This skill can only be leveraged when Lowry or VanVleet do not have the ball in their hands; the Raptors need a variety of secondary or tertiary ball-handlers to unlock the off-ball movement of their point guards.
Leonard is a terrific option. He’s one of the league’s best pick-and-roll practitioners, having used the pick-and-roll more often and with higher efficiency than Steph Curry in 2016-17 (and during a limited nine-game sample last season). A team needs secondary options around even the best primary ball-handler, and that’s where Siakam blends seamlessly. Leonard bends the defense before passing, and Siakam is great at using slight edges to probe further into the paint, then kicking the ball to his in-motion shooters.
Siakam’s continued finishing will be especially important for his development this year. His first step is fast enough to blow past virtually any opposing bench big, and he became a monster finisher at the rim last year. After connecting on a poor 57 percent of shots at the rim in his rookie year, Siakam hit a ridiculous 71 percent last year, per Cleaning the Glass. His finishing can occasionally be awkward, but he has great touch around the rim. His helter-skelter layup attempts can freeze defenders, giving him a free beat to loft a floater toward an unprotected rim.
Webster will steer you on the road to the deal, just not into many specific areas.
“You may have to talk to Bell (phone company) to figure out the records,” he said of when he spoke to Wright and how often.
He won’t give any secrets away.
“It’s a little bit proprietary in how we do our business … I don’t remember who called who, but when you have a relationship and a background (with each other) and, most importantly, trust … Most of those things are important to do a deal like this.
“Are you communicating with someone? Do you understand what they’re saying. I don’t really know what happened first — the thing I remember most, I know Brian and I trust Brian — and that allowed us to get to places that sometimes it wouldn’t allow you to get to.”
At one point, Ujiri had to step in with a call to Buford and ask: Are we wasting our time here? If you’re not interested, we’re out.
At least twice, the Raptors thought the deal wasn’t going to happen. Maybe more times than that.
“Deals happen, then they fall apart, sometimes with 24 hours, within 48 hours,” said Webster. “This was a unique case because of a few of the unknowns … I don’t know if there’s a moment when we said, ‘There’s a deal.’ Sometimes you stop short. Sometimes you’re a couple of inches apart. I don’t know if there was one moment when either said yes.”
Multiple times Webster thought no deal would be made.
“You’re never quite sure when enough is enough. How much do they want? How far are you willing to go? Is this enough? Is that enough? That’s the tough part.
“And then you wake up the next day and it’s on to the next idea.”
Given the relationship with Nurse, the momentum he’d established with a strong rookie season, and his proximity to a full-time NBA contract, Miller could be forgiven if the situation got him down some. A serious injury on the precipice of getting a more firm hold on his dream would take a toll on most. Miller didn’t allow himself that type of reflection long, instead trying to turn the page as quickly as possible.
“I try to be as positive as possible but I’m human at the same time,” he said. “I realize exactly how close I was to achieving that goal and that dream, but you know, it just so happened to be prolonged a little bit. When I stopped focusing on what did happen and what I can make happen, that’s when I kind of changed my mindset. I was down a little bit, but you’ve got to move on to the next step. Everything’s got to be progressive.
“I’m beyond what could have happened. I’m on to focusing on getting back to that status.”
That initial work and positive attitude was rewarded last week when the Raptors signed Miller to an Exhibit 10 contract and then immediately waived him. The move was largely procedural, a way for the Raptors to secure his G League rights and allow him to rehab with Raptors 905 while receiving a $50,000 bonus to supplement his $35,000 G League salary. It is not the NBA contract he was close to signing by any stretch, but it’s something, considering he spent his entire free agency injured and isn’t expected back on the court in full until January.
The path for Miller is fairly straightforward from here, although how and when he’ll get back to where he was headed is unclear. A summer working out at home in Maryland with family nearby as a support system has allowed him to continue progressing even despite the injury. He’s spent the time without use of his right arm working on his left hand, which should help his overall game when he’s back, and he’s progressed as far as shooting and lifting weights, the former of which is a helpful mental hurdle to clear as rehab workouts grow repetitive. The next step will be a contact.
CBS Sports: Since the trade this summer, whenever people talked about the team they’d add the caveat, “if Kawhi is healthy, if Kawhi is back to where he was.” Based on what you’ve seen, is Kawhi basically the same guy he was before the injury?
C.J. Miles: Yeah. He’s been great. Obviously he had to play some basketball, get his sea legs under him because he was out with injury, as far as really getting back to the grind of every day, the travel, the two-a-days and all the things you do during training camp. But if you’ve seen some of the preseason games, I know it’s just preseason but, still, that’s him finding his rhythm. He’s been able to do much more than the — air quotations — “people” have been saying all summer — the reporters or statisticians, whatever you want to call ’em, all the numbers guys.
CBS: What’s it like playing with him and just being around him? I saw Danny Green said he was much more vocal now, and I was like, “Kawhi, vocal?”
CM: Yes, he has a quiet demeanor. Everybody knows that. But he speaks in the huddle, he’s been vocal during practice, he cracks jokes like every other guy when he’s with the team. It’s hard for people to see that from the outside because when they see him just sitting somewhere, he’s minding his business. I think the narrative can be shifted either way, but he’s been extremely vocal, you can tell he’s ready to compete. His fire is lit. He’s trying to win some games.
Kawhi Leonard (maybe) signs with the (maybe) Clippers
I have no inside information — I am not on the Leonard camp text list — but you can’t write a predictions column without going out on a limb about him. The Paul George and Irving precedents bring optimism in Toronto. The Raptors are first-class. Toronto is an amazing city. The team has a real chance to make the Finals. If the young core takes another step, Leonard could see Toronto as a place to chase titles for the rest of his career.
But he might also need to see a long-term co-star. Is that Kyle Lowry at age 33?
If Leonard didn’t care about the supermax in San Antonio, the fifth year only Toronto can offer him might not be much of an advantage. One injury changes that. That fifth year is massively important to some players in Leonard’s age range. (Look at Butler.) A lot of them worry they won’t make the same money in Year 5 as free agents in their early 30s. Others prioritize re-entering free agency after their 10th season — that’s July 2022 for Leonard — when they become eligible for the largest possible contract.
That West Coast buzz was strong in June and July. If Toronto makes the Finals, let’s give them a 60-40 shot at keeping Leonard. If they don’t, the field gets a huge edge. If he bolts for L.A., the wager here is that he sets his own path instead of following LeBron. In the aggregate, that makes the official prediction Leonard is a Clipper next season.
Nurse knows expectations are sky-high thanks to the arrival of superstar Kawhi Leonard, a true difference-maker in a league where that can be said for only about 10 players.
“You’ve got to embrace that stuff. (I) certainly like it this way (rather) than the alternative,” Nurse said Tuesday before the first game of the season.
Then he made it clear where the franchise is at.
“If you want to lay it right out there, I don’t think 59 or 54 or 52 or 48 or 62 (regular-season victories) means anything to this organization right now,” Nurse said.
“It’s going to be how our team performs in the playoffs and what kind of a run we make. That’s what we’re looking at and we are gearing ourselves up to playing our best basketball at that time of the year.”
There’s no fast-forward button, however, so Nurse, his new staff and their players will have to slog it out for six months of travel, practices and games before things really start to matter.
Nurse doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“More than anything the identity of this team over the last five years has been a team that’s come to play over the 82, maybe more than anybody in the league,” Nurse said.
“The team came out and played really hard, even if things were going really bad, down 20, most of the time we’d find a way to climb back into the thing and maybe not win it, but at least put a super effort out there.
“It’s something that hasn’t changed. How did we get it there, well, we worked extremely hard, were very diligent in our preparation and it’s a mindset that our guys brought in there. Definitely, you still see that.”
In Episode 396 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley goes solo to discuss Chris Boucher earning the second two-way deal ahead of Deng Adel and Eric Moreland. He then takes a few listener questions to wrap up the preseason.
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“There’s only a small part of you that wishes he was here, that you wanted to knock him out,” said Nurse when asked if he was happy to see James leave the East. “I had that mode going last year pretty strongly that we wanted to be the ones that took him out, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way. [I’m] in the former category [now]. Have fun out in L.A. and we’ll see you way down the road if we see you at all.”
Of course, the path to conference supremacy is not guaranteed for the Raptors. The Boston Celtics are generally viewed as an elite superpower and a visit to Toronto on Friday will offer somewhat of a showcase for both teams.
“In the regular season, they all only count for one win or one loss,” said Nurse. “But for a team or coaching staff, these are tests and you want to see where you’re at. They’re certainly tremendous learning experiences. That’s kind of where we are — we need to play these real games, we need to play some good teams and find out exactly where we are, so we can begin on the process of getting down the path of reaching our potential.
“You can’t do that unless you play some real good teams. It’s a great test for us to see where we are.”
Leonard has looked rusty on offence at times, but expects his jump shot to start falling soon. His confidence, the result of winning three major NBA awards in the past, hasn’t slipped at all and neither have his expectations of what this team should be able to accomplish.
“I want to win. Right now it’s just taking each game at a time, building the chemistry, and just winning. That’s my expectation, is just trying to win each game,” Leonard said. “As time goes on, you start getting comfortable, second-nature starts to come in and take over.”
Once that happens, Toronto fans will see a level of player they’ve never witnessed toiling for the Raptors in the 23 previous seasons of team history.
Leonard can change games with his defensive work and can be unstoppable on the attack.
He’s the rarest of NBA animals, and he’s raring to be unleashed.
In the past the Raptors have focused on making the playoffs and advancing to the next round, but as Josh Lewenberg explains, there has been a lot of talk surrounding ‘championship’ heading into this season.
6. Coach Nick Nurse uses less than 12 different starting lineup combinations during the season.
Last season, set-in-his-ways coach Dwane Casey used 12 different starting lineups for the Raptors. Most of this was due to injury/rest, but it represents a good baseline for the team moving forward. As of press time, we still have no idea just how creative Nurse plans on getting with his Raptors’ lineups. Does he start Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas together or bring one of them off the bench? Where does OG Anunoby fit? Is Danny Green a lock? Has Pascal Siakam improved enough to deserve some starter consideration? It’s (possibly) all still up in the air, or to be dictated wholly by match-ups.
Nevertheless, I feel like these other considerations are merely academic exercises. The logical starting lineup for the Raptors is Lowry with Green, OG, Kawhi and either Jonas or Serge, and that’s it. All the talk of creativity is fine and dandy, but you still want to play the good players together at the start of games (and keep the effective bench unit as whole as possible).
As such, my gut says we actually see fewer different starting lineups for the Raptors this year. Huzzah.
3. What intrigues you most about Nick Nurse’s first year as head coach?
Heindl: Nick Nurse and intrigue, as far as word association go, don’t really collide for me. But I guess I am interested in seeing him not blow it, and curious at how and when he will potentially serve me my words and doubt for dinner.
Jacob: With the proposed flexibility the starting lineup will have, I’m most intrigued by how the different bench units will perform. The continuity the Bench Mob had last year is gone so it will be interesting to see how it all comes together.
Koreen: The stuff we cannot see. I think Nurse’s basketball mind is perfect for this team, with his knack for experimentation and desire to empower players. I’m much more interested in how he handles things the first time Leonard or Lowry (or both, oh no!) aren’t getting along. Those are two big egos, and no matter how experienced of a coach he is, Nurse has never been in charge of running an NBA team. I think he will take to it well, but it is a near-total unknown.
Murphy: The more important questions come about the softer side of things, like how egos and personalities are managed over 82 games. Personally, though, I’m excited to get a look at his ATOs now that he has the clipboard and marker in his hand. We know how he expanded the offence a season ago, but Casey still had the final say, and the Raptors were one of the most predictable (albeit still successful) teams out of dead balls last year. More fun, please.
The only thing for certain is things will not be the same as they were last season, as much as Miles would like that and as fond as fans were of the five-man unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl and its game-changing style of play.
“I think we all have brains here, we can assume Kyle (Lowry) and Kawhi’s spots are locked in and anything outside of that will be fluid depending on matchups and who’s playing well and who we’re playing,” VanVleet said. “I think that kind of gives us a bit more continuity and have more of a mix.
“Last year it was like having two separate teams; it was like football almost where you had five in five out. So I think it’ll be a bit more meshed.”
But the Bench Mob, RIP, was beloved, even if it turns out to be a one-year wonder. It played more quickly as a group than the first unit did, Siakam’s ability to run the floor was eye-opening and VanVleet was so good he became a de facto closer in tight games, seamlessly transitioning from the second group to the starting unit, usually sending Anunoby to the bench so VanVleet could play alongside Lowry and DeRozan.
Nurse wants the same production from the second group but less of a dramatic change between it and the starting five. He seeks more balance in speed and style of play and the ability to mix and match more often. Last year, head coach Dwane Casey loved the production he got from running out five backups, but if Nurse can blend the two groups more smoothly it will ensure some familiarity when rotations are traditionally cut back in the post-season.
“I think we have a pretty good second unit there if we do it similar to the way we did it last year,” Nurse said. “Who replaces Poeltl is yet to be seen. Again we are going to try and keep things a little more versatile.”
So the Bench Mob, such a fun part of a 59-win team a season ago, may be no more.
Dwane Casey always preached defence first but how will that change with Nick Nurse taking over the reins? The NBA on TSN panel explains that no matter what the new head coach does, he’ll have options with some of the new acquisitions to his team.
NBA Reporter for Dave McMenamin joined Scott to talk about the Lebron James joining the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard’s future and if the Warriors will win their 3rd consecutive title.
The starters for Game 1 are approximations but make sense given the matchups each present … Cleveland gave backup forward Larry Nance a four-year, $45-million contact extension to start the season … Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Delon Wright is expected to be “questionable” with a thigh injury … Toronto has won its last five season opening games and is 14-9 all-time in first games … Love has averaged 19.1 points and 11 rebounds playing for Cleveland against Toronto … Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs.
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