Asked after practice on Friday based on his experience as a report-writing assistant under Dwane Casey how long it takes a breakout player like Siakam to make it high up on the scouting report, Nurse was frank.
“He’s probably there now, I think,” Nurse said, before speaking to what Siakam’s emergence has meant to the team.
“That’s the real beauty of it, because you know they’re game-planning for (all-stars Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard), and I’m not sure people game-planned for Serge (Ibaka) much when he was playing the four but now you can see they’re planning for him rolling and playing inside the other night,” Nurse said.
“The adjustments, you make them as you see teams doing other things. Now there is Pascal. It’s tough to game-plan for a whole bunch of people, but that’s what we’re trying to get to. What I end of thinking is, they have to do it or else those guys will continue to hurt them, but it will open up more things for Kyle and Kawhi again.”
The Toronto Raptors completed a four-game sweep of a Western swing for the first time in history Wednesday when they defeated the Sacramento Kings.
Yet, the Raptors feel that they can be better.
“It’s just four wins,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said.
“Just finding a way,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “None of these (wins) were particularly pretty, except for the Lakers game, and even in that second half, we (let them have) a run.”
The Raptors (11-1), who are off to their best start in team history. return home Saturday afternoon to play the New York Knicks.
They are 6-0 at home this season.
The early season has not gone so smoothly for the Knicks (4-8).
The team announced Friday that they will be without forward Lance Thomas for at least he next month after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday to remove loose bodies.
“In the last week or so you could tell it was really bugging him,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said.
The 30-year-old began the season as a starter but was relegated to the bench after five games by Noah Vonleh. Thomas, the longest-tenured Knick and the captain last season, has averaged 3.9 points this season and did not play Wednesday in the 112-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Just like the new motto says, it is early. So early. The Raptors have played less than 15 per cent of their schedule, and the NBA has become a league where the best teams spend much of the early part of the season working out the kinks before getting serious about winning sometime after Christmas. More relevant to fans of the Toronto franchise is its own recent history, when the team has looked great in every month that is not May, when it counts the most. Last year’s edition looked like an entirely different team as late as March, but the defence dropped off down the stretch, which turned out to be a very accurate ominous portent, as ominous portents go. One could forgive Raptors fans if they were a tad hesitant to read too much significance into the first 12 games of a season. One minute you are reading all these stories about how the Raptors have reinvented themselves and then LeBron James comes along in the playoffs and casually rips out the team’s heart again. At least that particular scenario seems very unlikely to repeat itself again.
But with all of those caveats noted and filed, my word what a start to the season the Raptors have had. For several seasons prior to this one, the team had prized continuity as one of its greatest strengths. After team president Masai Ujiri blew all that up with the firing of coach Dwane Casey and the DeRozan trade, it was fair to wonder how much that continuity would be missed.
“You have to choose which one you do the best. Not everybody can do everything at a high level. So you choose the one you think can help your game,” Ibaka said “Myself, sometimes I like to get this one in the paint early to get myself confidence to keep going on. I’m not gonna try to force to look for threes, but if the three is open, I’m gonna shoot it.”
The average 7-foot opposing centre is finding it tough to chase Ibaka around.
“There are not a lot of [centres] that can guard him,” Siakam said of Ibaka. “He can step out in the mid-range and also to [small forward], and that makes it hard for a lot of [centres] to guard him. Also, a lot of [power forwards] are like smalls, so it’s probably hard for him to keep up with them, but having him as a [centre] is great for him. There’s better spacing and he is able to bring the big out.”
Siakam, now in his third NBA season, has been an enormous source of energy for this year’s Raptors. He’s no longer the raw talent you saw mostly with the bench mob. This year, Siakam has started 11 of Toronto’s 12 games and he’s averaging career-bests with 12.5 points and seven rebounds.
Siakam’s fearlessness and relentless motor will be something to watch this season as the Raptors gear up for a long playoff run.
A role player has to emerge to take over pockets of the game when the superstar is being handled. Andre Iguodala won the Finals MVP in 2015 when the Warriors needed other players to step in for a hobbled Steph Curry. Siakam has already been named a Finals MVP, albeit for a Raptors 905 group that won the G-League title in 2016.
Siakam is winner. He does what the Raptors need him to do on every defensive and offensive possession. Recently he has become a scorer, dropping 21 against the Kings, 16 on the Jazz and Lakers.
Graduating from the Bench Mob, Siakum has started 11 of 12 games this season, averaaging 12.5 points per game to go with seven rebounds.
Standing at 6-foot-9, the 24-year-old is too fast to be guarded by the average NBA big man.
Coaches are notoriously bad sleepers, or so the cliché goes. When things are going wrong, they toss and turn all night. When things are going well, they toss and turn some more, fretting about disasters averted and what might go wrong that they haven’t thought of yet.
Toronto Raptors first-year head coach Nick Nurse has lost his fair share of sleep through the first three weeks of the NBA season, but not because of why you might think.
He says he’s always been able to sleep soundly after losses, but less so after wins – they’re too much fun.
“It’s exciting. It’s more that than anything,” he says. “You look forward to getting to the next game and see if you can get it rolling … I wish I was sleeping better to be honest with you.
“I’ve always been like that: after a loss, I go home and pass out and don’t give it another thought. When I’m winning, I’m too excited. I’m trying to even-keel it a little bit more, like I’m telling the team to.”
Richardson was assigned to the Raptors 905 of the G League on Friday.
Richardson has played a very limited role with the Raptors this season and recently had his fourth-year option declined. He should have the opportunity to get some extended run with the 905 in the team’s game against the Long Island Nets on Friday night.
Nurse was happy to see his team outrebound the Kings 53-31 on Wednesday night, thanks in large part to big nights from Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. That has not always been the case: In half of their games, the Raptors have failed to outrebound the opposition. Overall, their rebounding percentage is 50.2, 14th in the league heading into Thursday’s action.
“We haven’t been rebounding very well and I told them in there: We did one rebounding drill today in shootaround and look what happens,” Nurse said post-game on Wednesday. “So, look for some more in practice coming up.”
Toronto is also turning the ball over too often for Nurse’s liking, averaging 14.6 per game, and he’d like to see the Raptors capitalize more when they force turnovers.
“We haven’t been great in our transition offence after creating a turnover. We’ve had a lot of advantages that we’ve let get away, so that’s something we’re going to need to clean up, for sure.”
Nurse hasn’t added a turnover drill to shootaround — yet.
“It has not worn off, it has been exploded off,” Stern said in phone interview with The Canadian Press from his New York office this week. “Toronto has the most wonderful array of sports assets and a cosmopolitan community and a great building.
“It’s a pleasure to see that it is a destination city that players want to go to.”
Ujiri interjected to answer a question directed at Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — acquired in the blockbuster DeMar DeRozan trade with the San Antonio Spurs — at the Raptors’ season-opening press conference, frustrated that the narrative of Toronto being among the league’s least-desirable outposts still lingers.
“That’s old and we should move past that,” Ujiri said in September. “Believe in this city, believe in yourselves.”
He then repeated those sentiments to a couple dozen reporters.
“We have to move on,” he added. “To continue to hear about people not wanting to come here is actually irritating after a while. It is. Come on. Let’s be real. People like it here.”
What separates the Raptors from most great 3-point-shooting teams is that their perimeter threats play defense, too. They are built like last season’s Cavs, who surrounded LeBron James with shooters, except they have the no. 9 defense in the NBA, instead of no. 29. There’s no weak link to attack. Lowry, Green, Kawhi, Siakam, and Ibaka are all plus defenders for their positions. It doesn’t change when they go to their second unit. They have waves of long and athletic players coming off their bench, and they can all shoot 3s, too.
Toronto is one of the deepest teams in the NBA. OG Anunoby started last season as a rookie, and Fred VanVleet could start for a lot of teams at point guard. Anunoby is the ultimate role player at this stage in his career: He’s a good shooter who moves the ball and has the size (6-foot-8 and 232 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan) and athleticism to match up with almost any player. Delon Wright, Norman Powell (who is out for six weeks with a shoulder injury), and C.J. Miles could all handle bigger roles. No injury will derail them in the regular season. They have capable players who can step in at every position. They are the answer to the basketball version of the question, “If the black box on an airplane is indestructible, why not build the whole plane out of that material?”
Drake, as always, wins. The OVO-branded jerseys are the caviar of city jerseys. They just look luxurious. I’m a sucker for unconventional shapes, so the champagne-colored arrow with “North” in black lettering gets a high mark. The white is also much better than the black edition from last season.