Raptors player development is world class elite | Ujiri makes his own decisions; they are always right | Ibaka styling
The Raptors, though, want to be sure any knee issues are in the past. They immediately shut him down from 5-on-5 play, held him out of Summer League action and, as of the team’s latest voluntary sessions in Los Angeles, he was still focusing on individual work and a strength and rehabilitation program. (The team’s younger players also recently had their annual stint with Alex McKechnie in Burnaby, B.C., and rookies attended the NBA Rookie Transition Program in New Jersey last week.) Coming off of a season in which load management was a popular phrase, the Raptors believe they have a competitive advantage with a medical staff that can help a player in a situation like Konate’s. In fact, that’s part of why Konate was drawn to Toronto when post-draft camp offers came in.
“We feel really strong about our medical staff and what the proper sort of approach you can take to a rehabilitation project,” assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said. “We’re curious to see what he can become. It’s all about getting him ready for the start of the training camp and see what he does from there.”
There is no rush from Toronto’s perspective. Whatever the specifics of his 2018-19, they want to make sure the issue is behind him for good. They feel they were able to sign someone draft-worthy — in addition to landing Dewan Hernandez at No. 59 and Terence Davis as an undrafted signing — they can get into their development pipeline and make the most out of. Konate was actually ranked, on average, slightly higher than Hernandez on publicly available draft boards, and there’s plenty of theoretical upside considering he only began playing basketball after transitioning from soccer when he was 15 and improved rapidly year over year. (I wrote a bit more about Konate’s profile here.)
If nothing else, Konate will block shots, likely as a shorter centre, given his physical profile. Over three college seasons, Konate turned away 15.3 percent of opponent 2-point field goals while on the floor, the highest mark among any player to play more than 750 minutes in that span (and fourth if the cut-off is dropped to 500). That’s higher than names like Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Jaren Jackson Jr. in recent years, with Hassan Whiteside standing as the only college player with a notably higher block percentage (18.8 percent) in the last decade.
The 905 couldn’t have had a bigger endorsement than the NBA Finals. Including Loyd and point guard Malcolm Miller, Raptors 905 general manager Chad Sanders notes that there were six players with 905 experience in the NBA Finals.
Siakam tore up the Warriors in transition, scoring 32 points in Game 1 and averaging 19.8 points for the series. He also scored a floater to put the Raptors up three with 26.5 seconds left in Game 6. VanVleet looked like he couldn’t miss against the Warriors, shooting 40 percent from three and knocking down a step-back jumper late in the fourth quarter of the championship clincher. For players who hadn’t made it past the NBA Conference Semifinals prior to 2019, they looked comfortable hitting clutch shots in pressure-packed moments. But Siakam and VanVleet have been through these sort of moments before in the G League Playoffs.
“I think if you look at the big shots Fred hit in Game 6 of the Finals, you can trace those back to the ones he hit back in the G League championship two years prior,” Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela tells SB Nation. “The minutes that they got and the reps that they got on the court in those relatively big moments in the G League helped them in the super big moments in the NBA.”
That big-moment experience was a result of the 905’s dedication to staying competitive. The franchise could focus on developing one or two good players to the detriment of the overall team, but the 905 aren’t afraid to spend time coaching unproven players, or taking second looks at players who were once considered potential stars. Last season, they brought in former first round picks Malachi Richardson and Wade Baldwin IV to compete for minutes. The 905 are also active in the trade market, acquiring Toronto native MiKyle McIntosh last December.
The Raptors and the 905 run similar offenses, making the transition easier for players moving back and forth between the teams. Moving to the NBA is a tough adjustment: the pace is much quicker, and players want to make an impact in the limited minutes they have.
“I think for us the program that [the 905] run is so aligned with the Raptors that it became something that was manageable because we ran so many things that the Raptors ran,” Mahlalela says. “Same offense, same flows, same terminology.”
If Smith wants to believe that, he’s totally allowed to. However, after bringing a title to Toronto, Ujiri sits on a very high pedestal. Knowing how committed he is to making the Raptors a success, it’s hard to imagine him not doing everything within his powers to keep the club competitive. Additionally, it would take a pretty drastic change for him to lose the faith and support of the fanbase.
Sure, his job gets more difficult with the departure of Leonard, but the Raptors should still challenge for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference next year.
Smith could also be nervous that Toronto’s chances of winning another title in the future look a whole lot better with Ujiri at the helm. We already know how he feels about having a champion from Canada.
So while the ESPN personality may be upset that the successful executive didn’t bolt to the United States, that doesn’t change the fact that Ujiri is still a member of the Raptors organization – and an NBA champion.
Smith believes Masai should have moved on after pulling off one of the gutsiest off-season moved to trade for Kawhi and firing Dwane Casey. Now Simmons agreed with Smith in saying that he should have left.
There is the point that the Raptors don’t necessarily have a long term outlook that gives them much of a chance to remain contenders. However, to suggest there is nothing for Ujiri to build with is a bit rash.
Considering the steps Pascal Siakam took this season, you have to think he holds the key to the Raptors remaining relevant down the road. Also, Ujiri has a blank canvas to work with when Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol come off the books.
Why would he want to leave that for the Washington Wizards who are a disaster and have an anchor of a contract in John Wall that is unmovable at this point? There really is none.
if we have learned anything about Masai in the time that he’s been in Toronto it’s that you don’t let the doubters disprove what you are trying to accomplish. Block out the noise and have faith in your plan. As Tim and Sid once taught us “I Believe in Masai.”
Last night, BOSS partnered with Toronto Life and FASHION to celebrate the grand opening of the brand new flagship store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Naturally, they were joined by Toronto’s most fashionable, including Traci Melchor, Bernadette Morra, Glen Baxter and the evening’s special guest, Toronto Raptor Serge Ibaka, who just returned from visiting his home country of the Republic of Congo with the Larry O’Brien trophy. (Ibaka sported a BOSS suit, of course.)
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