Siakam poised for jump | Raps get a fabulous new assistant coach
Next year, Siakam will not only be without Leonard but also Danny Green, who was the Raptors’ best long-range shooter last season. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster opted not to replace them with any shooters, and while the Raptors placed sixth in the league in 3-point percentage last year, a lot of it was down to the gravity of Leonard creating open looks for other players. Siakam will need the likes of Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell to continue their improved shooting so that he can have the requisite spacing to allow him to dominate on the interior.
The Raptors’ offense often struggled in the postseason when Leonard came off the court, as opposing teams would stick centers like Joel Embiid and Brook Lopez on Siakam to prevent him from driving to the basket and initiating any offense. For the most part, it worked. The big men were able to sag off him above the break and baited him into driving right at their bodies.
The simple counter to that, which Siakam must develop, is a reliable pull-up jump shot. If he can manage to convert a respectable percentage of his looks from the mid-range above the break, it will open a new avenue of options. Adding a mid-range game would require defenders to step out to him a little more, opening up space for him to blow by them with his athleticism.
With Leonard gone, Siakam will almost certainly be forced to spend more time above the break as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Leonard led the team last year with 6.3 pick-and-roll plays per game as the ball-handler, and it’s a role that Nick Nurse will ask Siakam to play much more this season.
But Siakam’s unselfish style and highly underrated passing abilities make him more than ready for added pick-and-roll possessions. Last year, he ranked in the top five among players who played over 1,000 minutes in terms of points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler – notching the same mark as Giannis Antetokounmpo. With his athleticism and ability to drive downhill, Siakam is a menace coming off a pick. His 20 percent free-throw frequency in such situations also ranked in the top five among qualified players.
Flournoy, who has been a player/coach with the Newcastle Eagles for 17 years after being convinced to play in Britain by Nurse, when the Raptors head coach was with the Birmingham Bullets, also confirmed the move.
“I knew this day would come at some point,” said Flournoy, who has coached or played on 24 championship or Cup-winning teams in Newcastle.
“I won’t deny I shed a few tears and I still don’t think it’s sunk in. I have spent the last 18 years living and breathing Newcastle Eagles and it’s been an absolute joy.”
Why change must start at the top after Canada’s FIBA World Cup letdown
There is no question that Flournoy will be among the most intriguing assistant coaches in Raptors franchise history.
He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Prince William in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 2017, for his service to basketball and community work in the northeast city of Newcastle.
Flournoy, 46, is a rising star in the European coaching ranks. The New York native played for Nurse for two years with the Birmingham Bullets, and had since faced Nurse in subsequent seasons as a player-coach. Flournoy has also played for Nurse with the English National team.
Over the past 17 seasons, Flournoy had been the face of the Newcastle Eagles. But with Nurse taking on the head coaching position with the Raptors last season, Flournoy had been around the organization in recent months, and has landed the vacancy left behind by former Raptors assistant Phil Handy, who received a promotion to join the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.
“I enjoyed the NBA Playoffs and the summer league campaign with Toronto in Las Vegas but returned to Newcastle with no thought in my mind that I’d be offered a full-time post,” Flournoy told Simon Rushworth of Chronicle Live.
“Having said that Nick has been plugging away at me for a few years — even before he became Raptors’ head coach — asking me when I was going to take on a new challenge.”
Flournoy is a native of New York City, New York.
He attended Jane Addams Vocational High School in the Bronx, where he would not begin playing basketball until his sophomore year in 1988.
As a late bloomer, Flournoy first landed at Panola College, a junior college in Carthage, Tex. After two seasons at Panola, Flournoy would spend the final two seasons of his college career at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La.
At McNeese, Flournoy posted averages of 9.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals over 51 games, with his college career coming to a close in 1995.
The loss caps a whirlwind six weeks or so for the program. There is plenty of postmortem to come — and blame that will be spread around — but it’s remarkable in the moment to consider just how dramatically the bar fell for Canada. When they released their initial invite list for their training camp on the heels of hiring Nurse, the expectation was that there would finally be international success commensurate with the talent pool. After over a dozen NBA players declined or dropped out, the depth of the program was forced to shift up in roles — a replacement becomes a reserve, a reserve becomes a key rotation piece, a quality backup becomes a big-minutes starter — and that’s exposed Canada against high-end programs like Lithuania, who never have player commitment in question, and Australia, who are deep and talented enough to withstand a half-dozen absences.
That’s something we discussed here plenty when the actual roster came out and will explore more once the tournament ends, because there’s a major gap in the program right now. There’s little getting around the disappointment, frustration or let-down, and these losses can snowball. For example, Canada finishing poorly in the World Cup continues to feed a poor FIBA ranking, which feeds future seeding and grouping, which feeds future success, which feeds sponsorship and commitment and so on. Everything is connected.
Difficult though it may be for the players who did show up in China, they have to avoid this kind of thinking for another week. Canada has a final group stage game Thursday and will then play two classification games against Jordan and Germany, and their results in those games — especially with such a poor point differential through two games — is important. Nobody entered the World Cup cycle thinking about where Canada would finish from 17 to 32, but it matters if Canada hopes to reverse this disappointing trend and make what would now be a surprise qualification for the Olympics through last-chance tournaments in June or July.
Tuesday’s loss to Lithuania wrapped up what would have looked like the worst-case scenario for Canada a couple of months back when they drew into a tough group and thought they’d have a comparable roster to Australia and Lithuania. The focus now shifts to avoiding an even worse scenario that could bleed into 2020 and beyond.
The ripple effects are significant. Why would corporate Canada get involved with the men’s program when so many of the players with the highest profiles don’t want to be involved themselves? Now that it has almost become routine for top players to bow out of key international events, how does Canada Basketball make the case that participating is vital to the next wave of top talent? And if they do show up, will they ever have enough collective international experience to compete at the level their talent suggests they should be able to?
The good news is this never-ending (it feels like, at least) conversation can change quickly.
After playing their last game of the opening round against Senegal on Thursday, Canada will compete among the 16 teams that don’t advance for spots 17-32. If they can finish anywhere from 17 to 23rd — which shouldn’t be a problem, at least on paper — they will automatically qualify for one of four last-chance qualifying tournaments of six teams each — fields, dates, and locations as yet to be determined. They can earn a spot in Tokyo by winning one of those tournaments.
In some ways it’s a potentially an easier path than what they were facing in China, requiring them to win a maximum four games instead of the five, six or perhaps seven wins they would have needed at the World Cup. And while there will certainly be some top teams to face given only two teams from Europe will qualify from China to Tokyo this summer, it can’t be much more difficult than facing Australia and Lithuania just to advance from pool play.
So the rosy picture is next summer six or eight of Canada’s best NBA players are joined by the best of their European pros, Nick Nurse works his magic, they get hot and they make it to Tokyo.
Again, it will be a tall task for Canada to secure their first Olympic berth since Steve Nash led the team in Sydney 2000. Only seven teams from the FIBA World Cup will automatically qualify through the World Cup, with a maximum of two teams per region. That means Canada could very well see teams like Australia and Lithuania standing in their way again next summer.
Part III of Caroline Szwed hanging out with Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, to find out where he was when Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers, and what motivates him most heading into the
3. Pascal Siakam will make an All-Star bid
With Leonard out of the picture, Siakam now becomes the top guy on the Raptors for the 2019-20 NBA season, as he was their clear second-best player for most of this past season.
As a result, Siakam, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award, should see a lot more touches this year, and it would not be surprising to see him average 20 points per game on solid efficiency.
It’s not like the East is as stacked as the West, either, so there should be room for Siakam to potentially make the All-Star team. After all, Khris Middleton made it this past season when his numbers certainly did not seem All-Star caliber (although playing on the team with the league’s best record certainly helped).
I would be more surprised if Siakam didn’t at least contend for a spot on the All-Star team than if he actually made it.
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