Gasol keeping age-to-weight ratio in check.
Is this an indication that two of the defending champions’ best players are primed to have a monster bubble season?
Maybe. At the very least, however, it’s an indication of how well the two, and the entire Raptors team, has kept in shape during this NBA hiatus due to COVID-19.
“It’s good. I mean, I’ve seen Marc myself a few times on some Zoom calls and in mostly just his face in there,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday in regards to the photos of a more lithe-looking Gasol. “So I thought he was probably trimming down a little bit. But I think both him and Kyle look good, and I mean most of the guys (have).
“We’ve – as you guys probably expect – been asking for weekly weigh-ins and things like that and there hasn’t been any red flags or any issues at all, really.”
Relieving news to hear for any who may have been concerned that multi-million-dollar professional athletes would somehow let themselves go completely in just the three-month span since the season suspension.
A more realistic concern isn’t whether players have kept up a certain level of fitness, but if that level is up to snuff for professional NBA basketball.
According to Nurse, he believes the only way to achieve that is by getting out onto the court and doing basketball things.
“I think there’s a legitimate conditioning thing,” said Nurse. “Getting in basketball shape only happens on the basketball floor, going up and down. It doesn’t happen (in) one-on-one drills, or riding an exercise bike or any of that stuff. So there’ll be some concerns on that stuff, for sure.”
As the NBA and its players union move closer to finalizing a return-to-play agreement, the issue of participation has become a major problem. The risk of contracting COVID-19, the ongoing protests against police brutality against African Americans and concerns over being separated from families for the early portion of this return have made a number of players hesitant to head to Orlando and take the court, and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the return agreement that the league and players are working on is not expected to punish players for choosing not to make the trip. Those players would forfeit the prorated portion of their salary that they would have earned for games played, but would not face discipline from the league.
The NBA’s current plan calls for families to join players in Orlando after the first round of the postseason, which would come around two months into their time at Disney. The idea is to maintain a steady number of around 1,600 people in the bubble at a time. Family joining players in Orlando would need to undergo a quarantine period upon arrival.
Even so, the threat of coronavirus still looms over the NBA’s planned return. Florida has seen a recent spike in positive tests, and while governor Ron DeSantis claims that it is due to increased testing, there is no way of knowing how safe Orlando will be when teams arrive a month from now.
As the NBA’s only Latino president of basketball operations, the Wolves’ Gersson Rosas hopes this tragedy can increase diversity in front offices in professional sports.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. The opportunity to have equal opportunity for individuals is critical to not only representation sake but also for success. Our game of basketball is not an American game, it’s an international game, a global game,” Rosas told reporters during Wednesday’s end-of-season Zoom media availability. “And you’re cheating yourself if you don’t have diverse perspectives.
“There’s not just one way to play the game. If you ask anybody that studies our game, we’re playing a European game right now. This is not a U.S.-made, developed game, it’s different, and because of that, there’s an opportunity with different perspectives and experiences in different backgrounds.
“I’m very blessed and humbled by the opportunity that I’ve been given, but I shouldn’t be the only one, and I’ve got to do my part to provide those opportunities and to open those doors and to help others. Not just Latinos but any underrepresented community,” he continued. “It’s going to be critical that we do our part, and there’s qualified individuals out there. Whether it’s to run teams or to be head coaches, our league is full of talent, and the NBA, in terms of professional sports, has been a leader in diversity and development in training, and we have to continue along those paths. In a lot of ways, we’re a reflection of the community, and our ability to do our part to open those doors and support those opportunities is incredible.”
NBA team personnel are expected to be asked to submit personal medical histories to a panel of physicians who would review the individual risk of serious illness due to any spread of the coronavirus in the NBA’s bubble environment in Orlando, Florida, sources told ESPN.
It is unclear what authority, if any, that panel might have in prohibiting any personnel from attending the league’s restart — or placing limitations upon them — but there is some anxiety about such limitations among teams, sources said.
One significant factor in establishing risk for health complications due to the coronavirus is advanced age. That leaves three head coaches among those in the 22-team July restart — San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (71), Houston’s Mike D’Antoni (69) and New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry (65) — perhaps vulnerable to recommendations of those evaluations, sources said.
The NBA is nearing completion on a voluminous health and safety guide detailing the protocols for the teams involved in the league’s resumption at The Walt Disney World Resort, sources said. (ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company.)
Personnel are expected to begin an evaluation process by submitting medical information to their individual team doctors, who will then share that with at least one non-team-affiliated physician before a recommendation would be rendered, sources said.
Last week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested that head coaches could be limited in access to their teams on the bench, perhaps restricted to meeting and locker room scenarios.
“When it comes to actual play, we’re not going to want them that close to players in order to protect them,” Silver said during a TNT interview Friday.
Coming back during a pandemic which has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States is far more complicated, and the potential fallout much more catastrophic. When Silver has been tested in the past, the risks were never this severe. Ousting Sterling or moving the All-Star Game out of Charlotte may have offended a few people who will end up on the wrong side of history. Not completely kowtowing to China cost the NBA significant money, but even that loss in revenue pales in comparison to the worst outcomes of the league’s plan to play. What if a coach gets sick? What if one of the Disney employees gets infected and doesn’t have access to the same level of care as those affiliated with the league? What if bringing 22 teams and hundreds of people to one city causes a small outbreak in a state whose curve looks more like a rollercoaster? The worst-case outcomes of this return would cost the NBA and Silver much more than money.
Silver, of course, is not alone in wanting to return. Owners and players alike would like to recoup some of the lost revenue that’s come with the season’s suspension. But Silver is undoubtedly the figurehead of the league’s comeback. He unilaterally made the decision to stop play when Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus on March 11. And since then, Silver has preached patience and science in the months without basketball. Because of his ability to guide the league through other tense moments, Silver seemingly has the full trust of everyone in the NBA and NBPA. That not only means Silver deciding on the best path to playing was going to be widely accepted. It means if he didn’t want to come back at all, that sentiment would have carried immense weight.
We’re reaching a point in this country’s history at which people are demanding action. Silver‘s legacy isn’t just some cute talking point for sportswriters, it’s going to lay bare what his motivations really are at a moment when people are demanding for institutions to, at the very least, be more socially conscious. The NBA’s return is about money more than anything else. The comeback will test what lengths the league is willing to go to protect its bottom line. How many people would have to get sick within the bubble for the league to shut down again? Is that even an option? Does the plan to start playing the 2020-21 season in December assume there will be a vaccine? Or is the league prepared to keep playing at a theme park for the foreseeable future?
It has been calculated that the COVID-19 hiatus has been basically the length of an offseason. So the question must be asked: Did Pascal Siakam work on whatever he planned to work on this offseason during the hiatus? Can we expect another Siakam Leap these playoffs?
The answer to this could determine how far the Raptors go in the postseason. That’s not to put it all on Siakam, but it’s pretty clear from Nurse’s approach to the season and the team’s results that how Siakam grows into the top scorer’s role is significant. The good news is that, while there were stumbles, this year’s leap was encouraging and maybe even a bit ahead of schedule. There were also meaningful areas he could look at to improve, particularly with his finishing package and his decision-making once he sees a second line of defence. He won’t have the benefit of working on those things against NBA defenders – I’d imagine his brother has played a great deal of defence these last few months – but Siakam’s ability to absorb teaching and turn mistakes into experience has been remarkable so far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see things clicking for him once those eight reseeding/tune-up games are under his belt.
Besides probably the Lakers, do we think there are many other teams that probably benefited as much from the time off as the Raps? Obviously, the chance to heal injuries is one thing, but I’m thinking the collective IQ and togetherness this squad has shown is one that other teams (particularly younger teams) won’t have. My gut tells me they more than others are in a position to get back their mojo rather quickly.
This is what the Raptors will hope for: That their collective institutional knowledge and communication snap back into place faster than less molded teams that may have to relearn. The Raptors’ defence, especially, thrives on that group IQ. I think that’s a factor, and it should help the Raptors look pretty good early on. With that said, I would think eight reseeding games and the first round of the playoffs would be enough time for most of the other good teams to catch up and adjust. So while this could be an advantage for locking in the No. 2 seed and making quick work of a first-round opponent, that advantage diminishes the longer the Raptors stick around Orlando.
What can each (key) player do to help fill the void of not having a superstar this time around? How can/should each player up their game individually so they can fill the void collectively?
This has kind of been the question they’ve worked toward answering all year. The biggest answer comes on the defensive end, where the Raptors didn’t lose a step at all. I don’t think there’s anyone that can reach peak playoff shutdown mode Kawhi Leonard on that end, but the collective is still incredibly strong, and if Leonard is No. 1 as a wing defender, OG Anunoby probably isn’t any lower than fourth or fifth. Offensively, it has to be collective. It’s true that Siakam took on much more usage, and that will have to continue. Lowry, Powell and VanVleet ticked upward, too, and the team’s 3-point shooting (and relative lack of non-shooters in the rotation) helped a lot, too. Still, the offence was only a shade above average, and there aren’t many bad defences ahead. Lowry’s driving, VanVleet’s shooting, Anunoby ticking his usage up as a shooter and cutter, the bigs firing from 3, all of those things will have to be working together because it’s unlikely Siakam will carry the offence to quite the degree of Leonard against the 76ers, for example.
5. The Raptors’ secret weapon, OG
The Raptors’ roster is jam-packed with potential game-changers for a playoff series, but OG Anunoby — someone who didn’t have much of an impact on their title season during a turbulent and injury-riddled year — might be the most overlooked X-factor of all.
At 6-foot-7 and 232 pounds, Anunoby has the length, quickness and core strength to make life hell for any of the league’s premier wings and big men alike. He may not “stop” the likes of LeBron, Kawhi or Giannis, but he’ll absolutely make them work every second they’re on the floor. His ability to guard positions 1-5 grants head coach Nick Nurse extra versatility in his lineups, whether the situation calls for small-ball with Anunoby at the 5 or placing him at the 2 in a jumbo lineup with Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol sharing the frontcourt.
Aside from being an All-Defensive team candidate with a knack for playing passing lanes, Anunoby is also sneakily useful on the offensive end. Containing Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell is difficult enough as it is, but Anunoby’s ability to make defenses pay when matched up with their weakest link can be a huge advantage when he’s properly engaged.
Not only was the third-year wing shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent on 3s before the season went on hiatus, but his shot quality is extremely good and in shot clock situations defined as “late” (4-7 seconds remaining) or “very late” (0-4 seconds) by NBA.com, he’s made 48 of his 92 attempts (52.2 percent).
He doesn’t get the brunt of those late shot clock looks as a very low-usage player, but late in a playoff game, when opponents are trapping to get the ball out of Lowry and Siakam’s hands, that ability to convert could come up big as long as Toronto keeps him involved.
1. We take Gasol’s passing for granted at this point. He’s always been regarded as one of the best passers at his position, but it feels like we almost never talk about that part of his game anymore. It’s not just the numbers that are impressive. It’s the types of passes he makes. He’s a good passer compared to every other player in the league, not only compared to other 7-footers.
2. Gasol makes the game so much easier for everyone else. A lot of which has to do with his passing, but it’s also the spacing he provides as a 3-point shooter. The simple act of him standing on the 3-point line draws opposing bigs out of the paint, which opens up driving lanes and cutting lanes for his teammates. None of this is new, of course, but like his passing, it’s easy to take it for granted at this point.
2. The Raptors Need to Lock up the Two-Seed
With their three-game lead on the third-seed Boston Celtics, the Raptors are in pretty good shape to finish with the second seed and play either Brooklyn or Orlando in the first round… but it’s far from a lock. It’s likely the Raptors and Celtics will play each other once in the remaining eight games, and the Celtics currently have a 2-1 season series lead, so that potential game matters a lot, both for overall record and for tie-breaker purposes.
Securing that second seed means avoiding Philadelphia or Indiana, the two teams battling for fifth and sixth. Philly in round one? No thanks. Even though I’m confident the Raptors can win that series (jacked Ben Simmons doesn’t worry me, sorry Sixers fans), they’ll likely come out of it battered and bruised, which isn’t what you want in the first round. And Indiana? They scare me too, with their size, and part of me feels like this three month layoff was probably really good for Victor Oladipo, who didn’t look great after his initial return from injury.
On the other hand, Brooklyn (without KD or Kyrie, and without a functional coach, either) and Orlando don’t scare me in the least.
3. 22 Teams is A Weird Number
Why not 20? The Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns are not making the playoffs. And they’re not even going to get close enough to trigger the play-in format. They’re just too far back, with eight games to play, to make that space up. And who really wants to see either of those teams play, besides their fans? Sure, there’s a chance Bradley Beal or Devin Booker goes off on any given night, but neither of these teams are League Pass darlings. 20 is a nice round number and it seems like those four current non-playoff teams in the West do have a chance to catch up to the eight seed.
I also think abandoning the idea of re-seeding without regard to conference standings is a missed opportunity here; the play-in idea could have been even more exciting in that scenario. Speaking of which…
1995 NBA Draft Grade: A
The reason I’m giving the Toronto Raptors an A is because Damon Stoudamire was a hit for the Toronto Raptors despite leaving only after two and a half seasons. The only reason the Toronto Raptors don’t get an A+ here is that their second-round draft pick, Jimmy King, only ended up being remembered for having a really cool name. Oh, and he only played 64 NBA games… in total.
So they may not have gotten their Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or Michael Jordan in this draft, but they did get a short exciting player to watch, despite it being for a short amount of time.