Ibaka has a lot to say…. | Brittni can hold it down | Team Canada a mess, but there’s hope
"I couldn't imagine winning a championship in Toronto because how they treat me and we didn't win anything. … To leave, it's not easy at all. The people and the love that that place gives out. Toronto was a great start for me, some of the best fans in the world." — @chrisbosh pic.twitter.com/knzg5rcmc7
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) September 6, 2019
Donaldson excelled in the front office, but made sure to touch and feel the game up close. She played pickup with the team’s staff, outplaying most of them. (Her Toronto player comp: Fred VanVleet.) She rebounded for players at practice. Her passes still snapped.
“Every rep I do, even if it’s just passing and rebounding, I try to be really precise and show that I’m there to make them better,” Donaldson says. “I don’t mess around.”
The players noticed. “They trust her,” Ujiri says.
One highlight: The Raptors were on the road when they acquired Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, but Gasol had to visit Toronto to undergo a physical. He asked whether someone might run him through a workout. The team thought about calling one coach back in. Higher-ups decided Donaldson could handle it herself.
“That was special for me — to be basically the first person he interacted with on the basketball side,” she says.
Ujiri watched from his office and was impressed when Donaldson sat with Gasol after the workout, opened a laptop, and took him through some of Toronto’s plays.
“We were confident Brittni could do it,” Ujiri says. “But when you see her do it, it’s different.”
In addition to becoming the first female assistant in Raptors’ history, Donaldson becomes the league’s youngest assistant at just 26 years old. Donaldson was most recently a data analyst for Toronto for the last two seasons, while also serving on the coaching staff of the same Summer League team that Goodwillie ran.
Toronto hired Donaldson from Stats LLC just two years ago after being thoroughly impressed with her work as it corresponded to them. Her rise through the Raptors coaching ranks speaks wonders to her abilities as a basketball mind.
“There isn’t a discussion of whether we’re capable or not, we are,” Donaldson said in a telephone conversation Monday. “It’s an exciting time in the sport.”
It has been circuitous route to an NBA coaching role for Donaldson, a former high school and college standout. After graduating from Northern Iowa — the same school as Nurse, although the two were not acquaintances in the small world of Iowa basketball — she spent time in the business world as an actuarial and data analyst. But a move to the basketball data company STATS LLC started her on a journey that eventually landed her in Toronto in 2017.
She impressed not only Nurse with her basketball acumen but also Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster. After two years in the team’s analytics department — as well as working on-court with players in practice and before games — Nurse, Ujiri and Webster saw enough to promote the 26-year-old to replace Eric Khoury, who will join the G League Raptors 905 this season.
Donaldson will be involved in all facets of the game with the Raptors — player development, statistical analysis, game preparation and scouting — and will have a seat behind the bench when the season starts next month.
“It’s been a different route,” she said.
Donaldson’s promotion just keeps with the Raptors’ progressiveness in getting women into what might have been untraditional roles at one time. Teresa Resch is the franchise’s vice-president of basketball operations and player development, Shelby Weaver is the manager of player development, Jennifer Quinn is the director of communications.
There are limits to how valuable a lumbering big man like Gasol can be on defense in this era. It’s hard for him to stay in front of smaller and faster players on the perimeter, so all he can do is put a hand up and hope they miss. He struggled when forced to guard Danilo Gallinari in Spain’s 67-60 victory over Italy on Friday.
Gasol doesn’t have an answer when teams go small. Not only does he not have the quickness to defend at the 3-point line, he doesn’t have the offensive game to punish a smaller defender. Gasol is more comfortable facilitating than being a primary option. Pounding the ball in to him in the post so that he can take contested shots in traffic is not a winning strategy. His inability to exploit those types of mismatches has long been Spain’s Achilles’ heel against Team USA in international play.
The same thing could happen again if Spain faces the U.S. in the World Cup championship game on Sunday. The Americans have been at their best in China when they have taken out their centers and spread the floor with five perimeter players. Gasol can win an old-school matchup with Myles Turner and Brook Lopez, but he can’t chase Harrison Barnes and Khris Middleton around the perimeter. The best chance for Spain to win a gold medal is if France or Serbia upsets Team USA and advances out of that side of the bracket, allowing Gasol to dig deep into his bag of tricks against Rudy Gobert or Nikola Jokic.
At this stage of his career, Gasol is best as part of a center platoon, which was how he was used in last season’s playoffs. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse pushed all the right buttons when it came to mixing and matching Gasol and Serge Ibaka at the 5. They are no longer a championship contender now that Kawhi Leonard is playing for the Clippers, leading to speculation that they could trade veterans on expiring contracts like Gasol and Kyle Lowry as part of a rebuilding effort. But Gasol could actually be more valuable to them now than if Kawhi had stayed.
If the travel and commitment factors were too daunting for the 2019 World Cup, take them out of the picture for the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. It might prove expensive to host, perhaps beyond Canada Basketball’s capability right now. That’s an unfortunate chicken-and-egg as sponsors wait for national team success and the program waits on greater funding through sponsorship. Regardless, it needs to be explored to the fullest extent. A tournament on home soil should increase the chances of players turning out since it would require less travel and, theoretically, time commitment. The homecourt advantage factor could be real, too. If Canada is serious about showing players it will meet them halfway on participation, bringing the biggest tournament in the program’s history since the 2000 Olympics to them would be a great first step.
This is a large, complicated issue that there aren’t easy answers for. A lot of what results from these conversations might amount to incremental changes. Even those matter. Canada’s margin for error in an Olympic Qualifying Tournament figures to be very small with the fields shaping up as they are and greater NBA turnout to fortify the current core is important. Canada is facing a scenario in which they don’t qualify for the 2020 Olympics and are back to square one for the 2021-24 cycle, possibly without Nurse, whose commitment is through 2020.
Failing to qualify for the Olympics doesn’t guarantee that feeling of yet another restart. The talent pool remains elite and young with runway to compete well into the future and reinforcements developing behind it. They need to begin playing and building together at some point. An Olympic berth, or even an encouraging showing in qualifying, could be an important step. This cycle needs to end on a positive note to build momentum for the next cycle. Basketball in Canada has never been hotter or healthier and accepting underwhelming international standing as a necessary reality should be beneath Canadian basketball at this point.
One major issue with potentially removing Barrett is that his son R.J. was just picked third overall by the New York Knicks. With there already being so much difficulty in attracting top talent, alienating R.J. would be counterproductive. R.J. was seemingly committed to this year’s tournament had it not been for a leg injury, but he does intend to play in future events.
The other issue George pointed to was that Canada Basketball — in an effort to build in enough preparation time prior to the long trip to China — asked for too much time from their players.
Would the likes of Murray or Powell have been available if the commitment was shorter? Or if they could have done what Joseph did and skipped the trip to Australia and met the team in China? George didn’t say specifically, but reading between the lines the impression I got was going forward the question for Canada may be: What do they value more? Continuity and preparation? Or talent? It may be difficult to get both.
“It really comes down to bad timing and our guys are stupid young,” said George. “Next summer (the Olympic qualifying tournament) is in July and they’ll all be in.”
Of all members on the Raptors roster, Anunoby is the most likely candidate to be considered an X-Factor, as a big leap in his third season could help propel this team into the top half of the Eastern Conference.
Complications surrounding an emergency appendectomy at the beginning of the postseason prevented the 22-year-old from making his impact felt on the floor during the Raptors title run, but he’s primed to get back to it in year three.
OG’s familiarity with Toronto’s system makes him a logical replacement for Leonard at the small forward position, giving him the platform and opportunity to put his development on display. Last season, the Raptors were 13-2 in the 15 games that Anunoby scored in double digits, including a win over the Wizards in which he posted a career-high 22 points while Leonard sat out.
Anunoby has the size and strength to fill in nicely as a starting forward and has displayed the potential to develop into an elite perimeter defender. Lost in the whirlwind of this past season is that Anunoby started in 10 postseason games as a 20-year-old rookie and held his own when tasked with guarding LeBron James, who was in the midst of one of the best postseason runs in league history.
OG’s been there before and competed at the highest level against the very best. He showed growth despite having to re-adjust to a reserve role in his second season and a shift back to a starting spot in year three could be just what it takes for Anunoby to become the player the Raptors will need him to be.
After a break out season that saw him be named the NBA Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam has now become a cornerstone for the Raptors future. Last season, we saw Pascal blossom into a two-way force and specifically, he became a much better offensive player, improving as a scorer allowing him to be a great second option for Kawhi Leonard.
This season, however, Pascal has an opportunity to be a No. 1 option, which means we need to see if what happened last season was truly growth, or did he benefit playing behind a superstar player in Kawhi Leonard.
There are two major improvements Pascal needs to make if he wants to take the next step. The first area is his shooting, specifically his 3-point shooting needs to get significantly better. Last season, Pascal shot a career-high 37 percent from deep however most of his shots were wide open catch and shoot corner 3’s, which are fine shots to take.
However, in the modern-day, NBA players need to be able to shoot off the dribble which is an area that Pascal needs to improve on. The good news is that Pascal has shown flashes of developing a pull-up mid-range jump shot so it is definitely possible for him to extend his range to the 3-point line.
The second area Pascal needs to improve his game is in his playmaking ability and creating opportunities for his teammates. Last season, the Raptors had the luxury of having Kawhi Leonard on their team which meant majority of the defensive attention was focused on him, thus allowing players like Pascal to have more open opportunities.
This year, defenses are going to be aware of Pascal at all times which means there are going to be many situations where Pascal is going to be double-teamed or trapped. Therefore, Pascal needs to learn how to take advantage of these situations and create open opportunities for his teammates.
The question now remains, can Pascal build upon what he was able to accomplish last season and continue to blossom into the star player he has shown flashes of being.
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