Nurse not sure wtf is going on with Siakam’s fouls | Lowry has good taste | Raptors play the Kings
The Raptors rank 10th in the NBA with a 101.7 defensive rating so far. That’s a pretty solid mark considering they’ve played two top-five offences (Milwaukee and New Orleans) and only one bottom-seven one (Orlando).
They have not done as good a job as that ranking might suggest when it comes to forcing opponents to take bad shots. The Raptors are actually giving up a slightly above-average frequency of high efficiency shots, meaning those that come at the rim or from beyond the arc. In broad terms, you’d like to see the Raptors do a little better there. If their offence is designed to hunt those shots, their defence should want to prevent them. There is some nuance here, though.
Opponents have taken 33.2 percent of their field-goal attempts at the rim against Toronto, which is the eighth-best mark in the league. The Raptors have the best at-rim defence in basketball, with opponents shooting just 52.1 percent. That’s an unsustainable percentage. The Bucks led the league there last year with a 57.5-percent mark. It’s hard to turn away half of those shots. The Raptors do appear to show some sustained ability to defend the rim, though — they ranked fifth last season and second the year before that. 2017-18 was when they tweaked their scheme to feature more drop-backs from their centres and greater switching along the perimeter, with the idea being to better contest in the paint and, hopefully, turn at-rim shots into floater-range shots. And while the team doesn’t possess an elite rim-protector in the traditional sense, Serge Ibaka’s move to centre has agreed with his block percentage, OG Anunoby is showing a nose for blocks, Marc Gasol uses his size well and Kyle Lowry is the league’s best inch-for-inch rim-protector. The Raptors can be an above-average defence at the rim, by volume and percentage.
The threes are more alarming. Opponents are taking 37.6 percent of their attempts from outside, including a league-high 11.2 percent from the corners. There is some evidence that defences can exert a level of control over opponent 3-point percentages through contesting well and being selective about who is left open.
There isn’t strong evidence that is happening so far, as opponents are hitting a league-average 36.3 percent of their attempts against the Raptors, including a scorching 42.2 percent from the corners. This is an extremely small sample for team-level 3-point shooting, though, and slightly less than half of opposition threes have come without a defender within six feet. (For comparison, the Raptors are taking 53.2 percent of their threes without a defender within six feet; the league average so far is 47.3 percent, and opponents are at 49 percent.)
That’s a noisy way of saying that the Raptors would be well-served to guard the corners a little tighter, but that they are at least doing a decent job of contesting. If there’s an element of schematic selectivity with shooters there, we might see it produce better numbers over time.
Nurse is a little perplexed as to where the foul trouble is coming from since he doesn’t remember Siakam being the type to be so foul prone. After averaging two fouls per game his first two seasons, the Cameroonian averaged three fouls in an expanded role last season. Through six games this season, he’s up to 4.5. What gives?
“He needs to knock it off,” Nurse said. “For some reason all of a sudden he’s picking up two early in games and most of them are silly. It’s not like he’s being put in difficult situations. A lot of them are 30 feet from the basket and he’s just got his hands on (the opponent). He’s got to adjust.”
To Siakam’s credit, he’s taking full ownership of the situation. He acknowledges that he’s been caught off guard a few times and that he must do better as far as his readiness is concerned. For those wondering if the offensive load is burdening him, at the very least, he won’t admit it.
“I’m good enough to be a great defensive player and a good offensive player. That’s what I think.”
“He just needs to knock it off,” Nurse said. “I don’t remember him being a foul-prone guy at all. For some reason, all of a sudden, he’s picking up two early in games and most of them are silly. It’s not like he’s being put in difficult situations. A lot of them are 30 feet from the basket and he’s just got his hands on him. He’s got to adjust.”
Siakam owned up to it on Tuesday, and said he needs to be better.
“Obviously there’s some fouls that I can avoid and not take because it’s definitely important for me to be in the game,” said the 25-year-old from Cameroon. “It’s a part of growing and if you guys know me – I’m always about improving and evolving. And I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn and by the end of the season I can look at these games and say they prepared me for something bigger.”
Nurse said the coaching staff has been doing some extensive film study with Siakam on this trend, stressing that he needs to be very aware of what he’s doing with his hands.
Siakam said he needs to improve his defensive readiness. He must move his feet more efficiently so he’s not caught off guard when an offensive player nears him, then he will be less likely to put his hands on the guy he’s guarding.
Siakam also acknowledged that he is not yet seasoned – like many veteran players are – in how to effectively talk to officials on the court.
“I’m learning, just knowing how to talk to the refs. Even if you want to say something find a good way to say it,” Siakam said. “Know their names, or little things I’m learning now that I didn’t have to worry about before. Like I said, all part of the game and part of growing as a player. And I think it’s important that I take that seriously.”
To make up for the lost minutes he has sacrificed in some instances of foul trouble, Siakam has found ways to go on late-game scoring bursts at times this season. But that’s not a sustainable way forward.
But for all his recent elevation in status, Siakam did not deflect responsibility when Toronto head coach Nick Nurse called him out to the media after practice, publicly airing a relatively minor quibble with Siakam’s game. Siakam, it’s no secret, has fallen into a nasty early-season habit of finding himself in foul trouble. He’s been disqualified with the maximum six fouls in two games, including Saturday’s loss to the Bucks. He’s picked up five fouls in two others. Six games into the season, the whistle has not been kind to Siakam. And on Tuesday, neither was the coach.
“He’s got to knock it off,” Nurse said. “He hasn’t been very smart, if you want me to be honest with you. Most of those have been fouls …
“I don’t remember him being a foul-prone guy at all. But for some reason all of a sudden he’s picking up two (fouls) early in games. Most of them are silly … he’s got to adjust.”
Even when Nurse was encouraging, the second-year coach made clear his patience was short.
“It’s OK. It’s something he can change quickly,” Nurse said. “I’m expecting him to change it (Wednesday night against Sacramento).”
Siakam, to his credit, didn’t publicly mope, not even for a moment. In a testament to the culture of accountability that’s been built around the defending NBA champions, the fourth-year swingman took responsibility for averaging a team-high 4.5 fouls a game — the third-highest rate in the league heading into Tuesday’s games.
Alarmingly for this gifted a scorer, Siakam has committed two more fouls than he’s drawn.
“I think I’ve gotta be ready a little more, just my readiness defensively and being ready to help.” Siakam said, adding he can’t just be standing up straight, he has to be prepared to adjust to what his opponent is doing without putting his hand out instinctively. “It’s all part of the game, all part of learning, it’s a part of growing and if you guys know me, I’m always about improving and evolving.”
The odd thing, as Nurse pointed out, is Siakam has never been a high-foul player in the past and wasn’t often called for touch fouls.
“I don’t know if I remember him being like this, so I’m not sure why he’s doing it now and I don’t know if it has anything to do with anything other then he needs to knock it off,” Nurse said. “For some reason, all of a sudden he’s picking up two early in games and most of them are silly. It’s not like he’s being put in difficult situations. A lot of them are 30 feet from the basket and he’s just got his hands on (a player). He’s got to adjust.”
Siakam has done that in the past, particularly on offence, so there is no reason to expect he won’t follow through now. He even seems to be looking forward to meeting yet another challenge.
“I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn and by the end of the season I can look at these games and say they prepared me for something bigger,” he said.
“It’s something that’s going on right now and I have to find a way to be better at it. It’s on me. It doesn’t matter what the ref does or what happens. It’s gotta be on me to make sure that I adjust properly to what’s being called out there and that I’m ready to help my team win, and that’s by being on the flour and not fouling out.”
“From our standpoint, they’re still a very dangerous team. I think that they’re a playoff-calibre team, and they’re trying to figure it out. They’re coming off a big win, and that’s always a dangerous spot to be in when a team’s rolling like that. We gotta be ready for them.”
Fox provides speed, shooting and playmaking, while Hield is as good a shooter as just about anyone in the world.
“He comes at you full speed and then there’s nothing you can do,” VanVleet said of Fox. “So you try to take the space away, close the gaps down with the help defenders. Obviously, Buddy Hield, you can’t give any help to. They’ve got a lot of playmaking, a lot of explosive scoring.”
The Kings have slowed down the pace under Luke Walton and his staff, which includes long-time Ryerson and Eastern Commerce head coach Roy Rana, along with former Raptors assistant/inaugural Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys.
“They’re running entirely different things. There’s a lot of different talent on that team,” Nurse said pointing to some new additions.
“They just stumbled a little bit early but they’ve looked pretty good in the last three. It’s a very talented team.”
The Raptors will reunite with Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Delon Wright in the trip that will follow Wednesday’s game.
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