Ibaka is a good guy; feeding people | VanVleet sponsors area | light news day
Anunoby is the team’s best individual defender (at least so far this year) and profiles as the type of defender who can at least make Antetokounmpo work harder to get the points he’s going to get. Siakam has been a little uneven to start the year, and he’s carrying a huge offensive load.
Nick Nurse’s comments Friday explained why he’d use Siakam first and primarily: Siakam is too young and can be too good defensively to stress about his energy. It’s fair. He is, after all, about to be paid a maximum salary, and it’s expected that Siakam’s oft-excellent defence is a part of that package.
The justification doesn’t sit well with me, though. It’s one thing to say Siakam can handle it sometimes, or to not hide him on the worst offensive option. He needs reps against guys like Antetokounmpo to continue improving. But Anunoby is defending at an elite level right now and also needs continued reps guarding that type of player. Even if you don’t want to shelter Siakam for energy reasons, sheltering him so that he doesn’t pick up foul trouble is worthwhile — Antetokounmpo is one of the league’s best foul-drawers and Siakam has struggled with foul trouble all season so far. Siakam’s too important to the offence to lose him for long stretches.
It played out poorly. Siakam picked up two early fouls, which might have helped prevent him from getting in an offensive groove until late in the third quarter. He then fouled out in the closing minutes of the game, more or less ending the comeback hopes. Meanwhile, Anunoby did a solid job on Antetokounmpo in his minutes against him.
This is something that will probably come up again. Nurse is right to not want to punt on Siakam’s defensive value. Right now, though, Anunoby is the stopper.
There isn’t really one issue that Siakam needs to correct. He commits fouls by not moving his feet quickly enough on defence sometimes, he reaches into plays he shouldn’t every now and then and he has a tendency to pick up at least one offensive foul a night either spinning into a second defender or driving too excitedly.
All of it is manageable but it’s a trend that needs to stop.
It’s impressive that Siakam has been so dominant offensively in so many of Toronto’s first six games, given he’s been limited in how long he can play some nights. He still leads the team in scoring, has had three games of 30 or more points and is shooting a career-best 42.4 per cent from three-point range.
Siakam is averaging 33.5 minutes per game but, given how Nurse is riding his starters so heavily — Kyle Lowry is playing 38.8 minutes a night, Fred VanVleet 37.8 and OG Anunoby 34.2 — the coach would surely like to have Siakam for four or five minutes more per night.
Siakam played 32 in Milwaukee and 35 in the loss in Boston, both games when he could have conceivably been looking at 40-plus minutes.
This foul blip is very likely just that, a minor imperfection on a rather blistering start to the season for the fourth-year player. Each time the Raptors have asked for more from Siakam, or he’s realized that he needs to alter or expand his game, he’s been able to do that. There’s no reason to think he won’t figure out why he’s being called for so many fouls.
But on a Raptors team still trying to develop some depth, especially in the front court, he can’t afford to watch long stretches of games early.
That Gasol is even talking about this speaks to how much behind the scenes he has already been prodded to look to score.
Head coach Nick Nurse is at the forefront of that campaign.
He was asked post-game in Milwaukee if he needed to see Gasol become a little more shot happy than he has been. Nurse began by pointing out that Brook Lopez, the man guarding Gasol for the most part on Saturday, is sort of he Bucks’ designated roamer on defence, so there were definitely opportunities there for Gasol to impose his will offensively on the game more than he did.
Initially, it sounded like Nurse was going to avoid a direct answer on the question of needing more scoring from his centre. It didn’t stay that way for long.
“Yeah, we want him to be a focal-point offence scorer at some point this year,” Nurse said.
Gasol’s teammates also see the opportunities and like the coach seem willing to bring Gasol along slowly towards becoming that guy who more assertive offensively.
“Just time,” VanVleet said of what it will take to get Gasol fully on board with this. “Everyone goes through it, his is right now. He’ll figure it out. Marc’s played a lot of basketball in the last few months and we trust he’ll figure it out.”
But VanVleet said some of the onus is on himself and the rest of the Raptors too to ensure Gasol feels good about the shots he’s taking.
“We have to do a better job of getting him involved and putting him in situations where he’s not just a playmaker or just in a catch-and-shoot,” VanVleet said. “We have to give more options, more flexibility. He’s got to do a little better job being more assertive. We’ll figure it out, we’re not worried about it. Over time, we trust he’ll be good.”
Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are averaging a combined 76.6 minutes per game, a staggering number. VanVleet has never been a full-time starter before and is averaging nearly 10 minutes more per game than his previous career-high. Lowry is averaging a career-high 38.8 minutes per game at the age of 33 — talk about load management.
Toronto’s backcourt bench is looking perilously thin. Norman Powell is the only other guard averaging double figures in minutes while playing in every contest. Matt Thomas is averaging 10.0 minutes per game, but he’s only played in three contests, with 20 of his 30 minutes coming in a game against the Chicago Bulls. Lowry is the only true point guard on the roster.
This is okay for now. But this is not sustainable in the long run. If the Raptors want to make noise in the postseason once again, they need to add depth to their backcourt, particularly at the point guard position. Otherwise, Lowry is going to burn out before the calendar even turns to March.
A trade may be one way to add help. Both Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson have been disappointments, though the latter has been dealing with a groin injury. They have combined to play in just three games and averaged 3.5 points per game. With both already in danger of falling out of favor, they could be candidates to be traded once eligible.
“Food means everything to me,” the Raptors centre told the group. “Before I’d go to bed, I used to pray, ask God the next day, so I could have some food. Just prayed in the morning and then, you know, all I was thinking about growing up was where can I find where to eat, or something to eat.”
Ibaka said he is grateful now not only to have enough food for himself, but that he can feed others too.
As for the kids, they were grateful to meet one of their heroes. Marwan Ahmed said he was “really surprised” when Ibaka walked in, adding he “never knew he was going to come in.”
Ibaka, also known as Mafuzzy Chef, has his own food show on YouTube where he serves interesting dishes for his teammates and friends. But as for “Canadian flavours,” Ibaka says to him it’s less about the taste of the food and more about the people who make it.
“The cultures here, the people who make the food, I think that to me is one of the most important. It’s something I’ve been enjoying since I’ve been here in Canada.”
The event was held in support of the Regent Park Community Food Centre, an organization that supports low-income residents with education and skills training when it comes to growing and preparing food.
“We teach the kids, like the food not only gets from the store- food grows in the ground, so it’s like from the garden to the table,” Ashrafi Ahmed, who works with the centre, told CTV News Toronto.
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