Who can slow down Giannis?
Nobody can stop the Greek Freak.
Back in March, I wrote about how he’s quite literally been the most dominant player over the last three decades against good teams. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case once again in the bubble.
This is the one area where the Raptors have a decisive advantage.
Yes, it’s true that Kawhi Leonard isn’t walking through that door. And though Leonard took on the task of guarding Antetokounmpo over the final four games of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors unleashed a swarming help concept by building a wall, packing the paint and smartly rotating extra help defenders time and again. Help defence isn’t sexy but Nick Nurse and the Raptors taught a masterclass in it against Antetokounmpo.
Be it Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have a number of viable options to throw at the MVP and make him work – and think – each time down the floor.
Boston has its own steady stream of switchy big perimeter wings but doesn’t have anywhere remotely close to the frontcourt length that worked wonders in building that wall. Even when the Celtics had Al Horford, Antetokounmpo torched them in last year’s playoffs as he averaged just shy of three million free throw attempts per game in their first-round series.
Daniel Theis is nice but umm… well, he’s not Horford and he’s certainly not Gasol or Ibaka.
Does a pick at the very end of the draft really matter?
Of course it does. The Raptors had Kostas Antetokounmpo plucked off their undrafted list with the No. 60 pick a couple of years ago, temporarily delaying the tampering process. In other years, like 2019, they wind up with four players they were considering with the same late pick (Dewan Hernandez, Oshae Brissett, Terence Davis II and Shamorie Ponds). The draft is an imperfect allocation of talent, and that dynamic allows for opportunities everywhere in the process, up to the 60th pick and the undrafted market.
What are your thoughts on the rest of the games happening at Disney World?
I think it’s pretty cool because I’ve never been to Disney World! I don’t know how they’re going to do it with everyone there, but I guess everyone’s not originally gonna be in Orlando. But, you know, I think it’ll be cool, though.
What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?
Oh man. For the rest of season? I’m thinking playoffs already! But honestly, man, I just wanna gain the trust my teammates. When the game is on the line, you know, I just wanna really compete. I wanna be competitive, man. I wanna help these guys go back-to-back, so I can get me my first ring. That would be ideal. I know a lot of the guys, if not all the guys, really think they can repeat.
Do you think that you guys can repeat?
No doubt. Like, why can’t we? That’s the goal! I mean, you always want to be on top. You want to be your best. That’s what it is.
Remember that point mentioned above of the Raptors holding the NBA’s third-best record, well that didn’t happen by fluke.
The fact is the Raptors were already an elite NBA club, something their second-ranked defensive rating and fourth-ranked net rating can attest to.
As such, while upgrades are always welcome, looking out at the landscape right now do you really see an improvement to be found over what the Raptors already have?
Look, Jamal Crawford was a really, really good player, but he’s 40 now. And even if he still has it and may qualify as more talented than some of the end-of-bench players on the Raptors, that still doesn’t mean he’d be the right fit for the team now mainly because there simply isn’t enough ramp-up time to get him adjusted to what the Raptors do.
If this was during around the time of the buyout market then the time could’ve been there, but for a Raptors team that relies heavily on its defence to win and with a coach who seemingly adds a new wrinkle to his coverages every game, even with a pre-resumption training camp, eight games before the playoffs hit simply isn’t enough to Crawford or any new name on the same page as the rest of the team.
And this is especially the case when you think about the fact that a lot of the existing team will need to re-adjust to playing with each other as a good chunk of the team has seen significant time out of the lineup injured this season. So why bother risking adding someone who hasn’t even been in-house this season at all when there’s already likely some chemistry kinks to hammer out before the post-season?
Those who were in Toronto travelled to the Fort Myers area on Monday. Some of the rest, who had spent the past few months in the United States or elsewhere, were already there.
The plan is for all members of the travelling party to be tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday before work begins on the court later this week.
The Raptors won’t be going full bore in Fort Myers, however, where they will work out in the gym used by Florida Gulf Coast University.
Under the NBA’s return-to-play plan, only individual and small-group workouts are allowed right now. The league has eased restrictions in this phase — a slight increase from the number of players and coaches allowed to use team facilities for almost a month — with up to four players now allowed on the court at the same time. There is no restriction on who can coach them, but the process is still voluntary.
“Strict protocols have been designed to ensure this initial level of access will take place in a safe, controlled and healthy way,” the team’s release said.
No mandatory team workouts can be held before July 1.
Why the Raptors chose Florida is unknown, and neither team president Masai Ujiri nor general manager Bobby Webster have publicly discussed it yet. However, with restrictions still in place for anyone entering Canada, it was likely not feasible to use the OVO Training Centre in Toronto.
Fort Myers is on Florida’s Gulf Coast about 250 kilometres from Orlando, where the Raptors and 21 other teams vying for the 2020 championship are expected to start play in late July.