Boom Biddy Bye Bye.
Vecenie: Between this and our undying love of pop-punk music, our relationship has been on firm ground for years, and I’m glad we’re actually getting a chance to talk about first-rounders instead of late-round flyers!
As you mentioned, the Raptors have been immensely successful at getting contributions from young players. It speaks not only to their talent identification — which is excellent and always has been — but also to their strong organizational culture and development-driven mindset. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster are two of the smartest people working in basketball, period, and they know what they’re looking for in how to make a prospect fit within their scheme. To me, the Raptors and the Heat are the best examples of why drafting for organizational fit as opposed to taking a “best player available” approach is so essential.
You ask about what “a Raptors prospect” looks like. I think, first and foremost, they find guys who are great teammates and have unselfish mindsets but are also incredibly driven with insatiable work ethics. All of the players you mentioned above, that’s the absolute No. 1 thing that stands out. Some of those guys are a bit more talkative when it comes to personality; some of them are extraordinarily quiet. But they all have a deep internal drive and want to keep getting better.
From a physical standpoint, the Raptors tend to look for guys with plus positional athleticism and plus positional length mixed with a well-developed frame that carries weight and strength well. One of my theories of draft evaluation over the past few years has been that teams drastically undervalue guys with true physical strength for their position. The Raptors seem to agree with such an evaluation given whom they have prioritized not only in the undrafted free agency market but also within the draft.
I will also note that the Raptors tend to value older prospects more than most. Siakam was 22 when they drafted him. Powell was 22. Wright was 23. Poeltl turned 21 before his first NBA season. Davis and VanVleet were four-year college players. Really, only Anunoby was on the younger side, and he perfectly fit everything else the organization looks for due to his elite-level physical tools, his frame and his mentality.
Honestly, few organizations do better than Toronto in the draft. The Raptors are very smart. I’ve tried to take some of what they look for and incorporate it into my own analysis, and they’re one of the few organizations I would say that about.
Murphy: That sounds like a pretty great rundown of what the Raptors are about in the draft. The one thing I would add, which isn’t something they look for necessarily but are willing to accept: A track record of strong shooting is not a prerequisite. Powell, Anunoby and Wright all had questions about their range, Siakam was a complete non-shooter and even Davis wasn’t believed to be a sure thing to translate that skill (which is bizarre given how well he “vaults up,” as Nick Nurse is fond of saying).
The Raptors seem to believe — and evidence suggests they’re correct — they can turn anyone not named Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into at least a passable shooter. Given the premium on shooting around the league, it stands to reason that devaluing shooting to a small degree allows you to value other, less teachable traits more highly. There might be sample-size and repeatability concerns with such an approach, but it’s worked so far.
So if we’re making a checklist, we’ve got work ethic, length, positional strength and athleticism — basically all the components of “defensive versatility” — with age and shooting less of a concern than it is for most teams.
To me the answer is obvious: Antetokounmpo actually plays basketball. He’s the reigning NBA MVP, the likely back-to-back winner of the award, and just 25 years old. FiveThirtyEight’s ranks him the third-best player in the NBA, BBALL-INDEX ranks him as the top player in Wins Added, and Basketball-Reference has him second in Win Share. If every player in the NBA was available to be drafted with both age and contract taken into account, Antetokounmpo wouldn’t fall lower than first or second. If you put him on the Raptors right now, they’d go from an elite Eastern Conference team to probably the best team in the NBA.
So what’s the case for Ujiri?
The Toronto Raptors seemed largely lost in the wilderness for years before Ujiri showed up. Since taking over the franchise in 2013, the Raptors have made the playoffs every single season and nearly improved year-over-year, culminating in an NBA championship last season.
He turned Greivis Vasquez into Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, Andrea Barnginai into Jakob Poeltl, who he later paired with DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, and he’s hit on essentially every draft pick since 2015. He’s undoubtedly one of, if not the best executives in the NBA, and he’s made Toronto one of the most respected and stable franchises in the NBA.
Nance has Crohn’s disease and uses a therapy that has enabled him to have a successful basketball career but also suppresses his immune system.
“I would hope there would be an understanding [from the league] if someone didn’t feel comfortable coming back that’d you get a pass,” Nance said. “Just because you may look like the picture of health, some people have issues you can’t see.”
Two months ago, when the NBA shut down following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test, Nance described himself as “absolutely terrified” because he’d recently played against Gobert. He’d already been consulting physicians and had considered staying home from a West Coast trip the Cavs were scheduled to leave on just as the league was suspended.
“We’re young and you know the kind of shape players are in, you’d like to think [the virus] wouldn’t be what it could be for others. But you don’t know,” Nance said. “I’m still scared and don’t want to get it.”
Nance’s fears have been calmed in recent weeks as he has learned more about the virus and consulted various gastrointestinal specialists. The drug he’s been on for the past 10 years via periodic IV infusions has shown to be helpful in fighting off the infection for some with his condition.
There was enough interest, though, for Sky Germany’s coverage of the first round of games — headlined by Dortmund’s derby with its fierce rival, Schalke — in this bleak new world to draw in six million viewers, a record, each of them watching from home, atomized and all but alone, a tribe still bound by its colors but unable to gather under its standard.
To some, what they watched was not soccer but mere business, a transaction devoid of emotion, an event held simply to protect broadcasting revenues. Sport, after all, does not have an inherent purpose; we imbue it with meaning, with consequence, and the fans in the stands serve as avatars for the millions more watching at home, their reactions shaping and reflecting ours.
Most of Germany’s powerful organized fan groups had made it plain that games played in isolation, without the public, without the spectacle, could only ever mean nothing. A slim banner was displayed in the stands for Augsburg’s game with Wolfsburg. “Soccer will survive,” it read. “It’s your business that is sick.”
In those first few minutes of play on Saturday, as the players tried to shake off the rust in front of gray, still stands in six cities, and two more on Sunday, it was hard not to wonder whether it had any meaning at all. It was not a spectacle. Without the spectacle, it is hard to make a case for it as a business. Without the business, the sport — at least in its current form — cannot go on.
But then, with a little less than half an hour played, something happened. Dortmund’s Julian Brandt flicked the ball into the path of his teammate Thorgan Hazard. His cross evaded Schalke’s defense. Erling Haaland took two paces, opened his body, and steered the ball home: the first goal of soccer’s immediate future.
In that moment, you could see beyond the silence and the grayness and the sorrow, beneath the business and the sport, that soccer is just a game. But it is a good game.
Under question from President Trump during a White House meeting of restaurant industry executives, Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta expressed optimism that the 2019-20 NBA season will resume this summer while acknowledging that the novel coronavirus pandemic has “definitely brought [my business] back to earth.”
Fertitta, the billionaire CEO of Landry’s Inc., asked Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “add a category” to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for the “larger private restaurateur” and to “do something with lease terminations” to provide his company financial relief during the pandemic. The 62-year-old executive explained that he had to lay off 40,000 employees from his chain of full-service restaurants in March and that he had recently borrowed “$300 million at 12 percent” interest because he “needed the liquidity to keep the company afloat.”
The comments were captured in a video posted by the Hill.
Last month, the Los Angeles Lakers applied for and received a $4.6 million loan through the PPP, which was administered by the Small Business Administration and intended to help businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The Lakers, who were valued earlier this year by Forbes at $4.4 billion, returned the funds but were heavily criticized for applying. Fertitta told Trump that he also had applied for and received PPP funding for Landry’s, but that he “sent it back and did not spend a dollar of it” because he had been criticized for the layoffs and was worried that he would be perceived as “that billionaire who took the money from the little business.”
A sympathetic Trump referred to Fertitta as a “friend” and said that the businessman’s restaurants “paid me rent for a long time.” Mnuchin, meanwhile, said qualifying for the PPP was a “complicated issue.”
“We didn’t anticipate that the Los Angeles Lakers, who I’m a big fan of, would be taking a PPP loan,” he added. “As a result of that, there was a lot of backlash. We realize the issue, how it impacts your workers, and we’re sympathetic to that. This was a program for companies that were not necessarily quite as big.”
“Definitely not giving up on the season,” James said. “Not only myself and my teammates, the Lakers organization, we want to play. There’s a lot of players that I know personally that want to play. And obviously, we don’t ever want to jeopardize the health of any of our players or any of the players’ families and so on and so on.
“This is a pandemic that we have no idea (about). We can’t control it,” James added.
“We’re seeing a lot of sporting events, UFC, soccer, we’re hearing baseball’s about to get going in a little bit,” James said. “You know, I want to get back to playing. I love to play the game of basketball. I know how inspiring the game of basketball is. I know how inspiring sport is, itself. As soon as possible, when we can get back out there, we’d love to bring the game of basketball back to our fans.”
James and the Lakers were atop the Western Conference standings when the NBA suspended play. At 49-14, the NBA’s second-best record behind Milwaukee, the Lakers had already clinched what would be their first playoff spot since 2013.
“I know we all miss it,” James said. “I’d be sitting here lying if I said we don’t.”
The NBA’s draft lottery won’t take place Tuesday in Chicago as originally planned, but whenever it does happen it is likely to look the same as last year, league sources told ESPN.
Since play was suspended March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams at the top of the standings have been curious about the league restarting because they are in pursuit of a championship. But for teams at the bottom of the standings, the focus has been on what the lottery will look like.
Although some will inevitably grumble about the order being determined by an incomplete regular season, the belief among several executives is that the lottery will remain as it was scheduled to be before the pandemic.
“I wouldn’t expect changes,” one executive with a lottery-bound team said.
Executives brought up several potential reasons why the lottery wouldn’t be tweaked because of the unusual circumstances the league finds itself in. One was the fact that every team in the league has already played somewhere between 63 and 67 games, or over 75 percent of its season — a more than representative sample. Although things likely would have shifted around over the final few weeks of the regular season, there isn’t a credible argument that there haven’t been enough games played to fairly set the order.
Another was the changes the league implemented to the lottery last year. Under the old system, the top three picks in the draft were determined by the lottery, with the team with the worst record having a 25 percent chance to win the right to the first pick in the draft, with a sliding scale for each subsequent pick.
Under the new system, the top four spots are selected via the lottery, and the odds were drastically flattened. The teams with the first three records all were given 14 percent odds of winning the top pick, with teams from fourth through 13th in the lottery all having their odds of moving up increased.
Raptors Uprising are 4-0 to open the esports league’s third campaign, turning heads one-quarter of the way through the regular season.
“Now do you believe?” Hailey tweeted in the wake of Raptors Uprising’s most recent win.
The answer appears to be a definitive yes.
“Raptors are the real deal,” tweeted Ryan (Dayfri) Conger of Wizards District Gaming.
“Them boys @RaptorsGC are tough,” echoed Xavier (Type) Vescovi of Hornets Venom GT.
“The Raptors are no joke,” said Trevion (All Hail Trey) Hendrix, a former member of Raptors Uprising now with Cavs Legion GC.
“I’m loving it, man … The best start to my career,” Hailey said in an interview.
“We’re confident against any team. The teams are preparing for us, they’re scouting for us,” he added. “We’re the team to beat. We understand that and we’re going to keep working as hard we we’ve been working.”
Raptors Uprising’s first-ever draft pick taken 11th overall in the league’s inaugural 2018 draft, the 30-year-old Hailey is the franchise’s cornerstone. A Memphis native, he was working for AT&T as a distribution co-ordinator until he quit his job to game professionally.
After playing several positions last year, he is now firmly ensconced as point guard having nailed down an arsenal of dribble moves in the off-season.
“Now when you see me out there moving around, I’m doing it effortlessly,” he said.
Hailey was named the franchise’s first-ever player of the week after averaging 35.0 points in best-of-three series wins over 76ers GC (2-0) and Wizards District Gaming (2-1) in Week 1.
Kyle Lowry – Football
Most people are probably going to assign Lowry to a sport where his butt can look the best. Baseball pants. Soccer shorts. Swimsuit. Take your pick.
My decision is instead solely based on skill. Lowry is known to not be afraid of standing in and take a charge, no matter the size of his opponent — similar to an NFL blocker. Lowry is small enough to dribble his way through the defense — or quick enough on his feet to be a running back. Meanwhile, Lowry has the ability to see the court and pass the ball quickly up the court — much like having the arm and vision of a quarterback.
Lowry’s complete game allows for him to work his way into almost any position on the football field. (Though, yes, maybe not as an offensive lineman; we wouldn’t want him getting hurt for a potential return to the Raptors.) Still, there’d be quite the learning curve here. Apparently Lowry has never played football before because it’s “too physical.”
They actually might fare better than two other classes of players, however: Those who agreed to max contract extensions a year ago, and first-round draft picks who sign rookie deals in 2020. Pascal Siakam’s projected $116 million deal with the Raptors, for instance, could be slashed to more like $80 million. Ouch. As for 2020 first-round picks, their salary for their first four seasons and the qualifying offer for the fifth are all contingent on the salary cap for 2020-21.
Additionally, a potential cap spike in 2021-22 or 2022-23 offers a similar quandary in reverse. We all saw what happened in the no-smoothing summer of 2016 – an orgy of horrible contracts – and it would only get worse in a potentially much sharper spike in the summer of 2021.
Finally, there’s a huge element of uncertainly in all of this, in a system that relied heavily on its predictability. The players want to get paid their fair share – something that is written into the CBA, which entitles players to 49-51 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) by letter, and nearly always 51 percent in reality. That just got a lot harder to map out.
For instance, the league might project a huge revenue drop if there aren’t fans in 2020-21, but what if we have a vaccine six months from now and the league restarts in December with full arenas? The players could potentially be signing away a huge chunk of money if they agreed to a cap dip right now.
The owners face a similar risk on the opposite side of the coin. They can’t agree to pay the players based on next year’s original, pre-coronavirus cap projection – a now-laughable rise to $116 million per team – and then be left high and dry with no fan revenue. Nor can they sign off on a rosy projection for 2021-22, because we just don’t know how long we’ll be dealing with COVID-19 or what innovations might help us manage it.
TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg joins Rod Smith to break down his ‘Worst Timeline’ for Toronto this season which would see an early exit in the playoffs.