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Boucher says he's gained 15 pounds. Said it was easier than other times he's tried because he's developed better nutrition and workout strategies, and seeing progress further motivated him.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) July 6, 2020
— Serge Ibaka (@sergeibaka) July 4, 2020
The latest challenge is for Siakam to prove it in the playoffs, and not just as a quality second option behind a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. There will be tougher assignments, diligent game plans designed specifically to make him uncomfortable, and more double teams coming his way. Siakam approached the regular season with this in mind, and hopes that experience will serve him in the postseason.
“I’ve been getting attention all season long. It’s something that I’m definitely working on. Obviously the playoffs are more specific in terms of preparation, and teams are going to be ready for different things. I’m just gonna take it a day at a time. I know the actions that I’m involved in, and how teams would usually guard me, so I’m definitely working on those things and ready to adapt in every situation,” he said.
And again, Siakam isn’t afraid to fail. He understands that growth only happens through making mistakes. Last year’s championship run exposed weaknesses in his game, which informed how he designed his training. In response, Siakam expanded his range at the top of the floor, and laid the foundation on his budding midrange game. The upcoming playoffs will just be another step in his development.
”It’s part of the journey, and at the end of the day I don’t see it as being difficult, I just see it as the process of a player working to be the best that he can, so that’s part of the journey and I accept it with all the good and the bad,” he added.
Dig a little deeper, and we can diagnose the problem more specifically. The Raptors ranked third in points per transition opportunity, per Synergy, a strength the carried over from prior years. That per-possession efficiency on the break was amplified by the Raptors finishing possessions in transition 21.7 percent of the time, more than any other offence in the league. As a result, the Raptors were a top-five team in effective field-goal percentage early in the shot clock, per data from NBA.com. It’s no surprise that the Raptors are elite when they can get out and run, which is why a major part of Nick Nurse’s defensive philosophy with this personnel is to use length and speed to create turnovers and transition opportunities.
Depending on how you expect the bubble games to play out, that transition strength could be a major edge or something you’d expect to be minimized. If Norman Powell’s assertion that the crowd-less games will feel like “glorified pickup games,” then you might expect a looser style of play that fosters more transition opportunities for all teams. That would play to the Raptors’ advantage. The NBA’s pace before hiatus also remained consistent with last season’s spike, and while the playoffs are historically played a bit slower than the regular season, playoff pace has risen in recent years. However, that playoff-pace decline could be worrisome — even the Raptors, who were nearly as transition-happy last year, saw a 13 percent decrease in transition opportunities last playoffs. (There are some confounding factors there, like playing more minutes with Leonard, with whom the team played slower. Still, transition attempts dropped off in the playoffs leaguewide, with the Milwaukee Bucks being the notable exception.)
So while it’s great that the Raptors end a larger share of their possessions early in the clock than the average team, they’ll need to improve their later-clock half-court play.
4. Toronto Raptors
Record: 46-18 (.719)
Title odds: +1700
Previous ranking: 4What will Toronto’s rotation look like?
The Raptors dealt with a string of injuries to key players throughout the season, with their top seven players, excluding OG Anunoby, missing at least a month during the regular season. Now that everyone is healthy, coach Nick Nurse can spend the next few weeks figuring out how he wants to deploy a versatile roster once the playoffs arrive. Once they do, the Raptors are confident that they have a chance to make another deep playoff run as they try to defend their title. — Tim Bontemps
Remaining schedule: LAL, MIA, ORL, BOS, MEM, MIL, PHI, DEN
So far during their time in Florida, the Raptors have not had a positive test for coronavirus and as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explains, it is providing the rest of the league a blueprint for how to successfully make it through the NBA bubble unscathed.
The Raptors appreciate it too. While typically someone in Brissett’s position on the depth chart might not be slated for significant minutes – if any — during the crucial stages of the regular season or playoffs, playing professional basketball in the midst of a pandemic is uncharted waters for all concerned. Anything could happen — injuries attributable to the long layoff, a positive COVID test or two – and Brissett wants to be prepared if he gets a chance to make his case for more playing time and ultimately a full-time deal.
He’s making do without his new family. Lots of video games and TV binging are breaking up his workouts, but the cause is worthy.
“I feel from when I got here [in Florida], coaches and players have been telling me to always stay ready, ‘you don’t know what’s going to happen’, really encouraging me like that,” he said.
“…I don’t know what’s going to happen, how everything is going to play out,[so] I attack every day, I work out hard every day because I want to play, I want to be in the rotation, want to help guys so I just do what I got to do to better my chances to get on the court.”
Teams can’t begin five-on-five practices until they settle into Disney World and get through a 36-hour quarantine. In the meantime, Brissett has used what has been an extended off-season to develop skills that can help him now and in the future.
At 6-foot-8 he was primarily a paint threat in college. His NBA future will rely on him adding a range of perimeter skills — improved ball-handling and a reliable three-point shot (27 per cent in the G-League) foremost among them. During the season there isn’t always time to drill down on an individual’s specific weaknesses but Brissett feels like he’s used his time wisely.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better for sure,” he said. “These individual workouts definitely have me focused on things you don’t think about during the season because, for me, I want to play within the system and just focus on that certain way I can help the team.
“Now the coaches I work out with, they tell me different things and try to help me in ways to better my all-around game because that’s the kind of player they see me as, doing kind of everything on the court so just these individual workouts definitely, I feel, propelled me in the right direction for sure.”
He’s able to focus on basketball in part because Ellai is in good hands. Lots of them, as it turns out.
For Boucher, the most likely of the aforementioned trio to find minutes in Nick Nurse’s rotation in regular circumstances, the opportunity for more is all he can ask for and he has spent the majority of his “COVID-time” — as he calls it — doing all he can to ensure he’s ready to take advantage.
“I’ve worked enormously on my body just to get stronger to be able to take the hits and finish inside,” Boucher said of all the alone time he has had since the NBA shut down back on March 11. “There’s a lot of stuff that by watching the film I was able to understand and understand why maybe if I was doing this better, it would be able to help me out.
“I focused on that just to be able to help the team. Coach has been doing an excellent job. I’m not here to tell him what to do. I’m just here to get better and, whenever my name is called, be ready to play.”
The added bulk is something Boucher has attempted to do in the past, but for whatever reason wasn’t successful. But during this pandemic, Boucher took another crack at it and has managed to add 15 pounds of bulk to his lanky frame.
“I think one of my biggest problems was I was never able to see the change and it’s always hard when you feel like you are working hard and you don’t see that change,” the 6-foot-9 centre said. “I figured ways to maintain my weight and gain a little bit more every week or two. One thing I focused on was my nutrition. What I was drinking and what I was eating. I made sure that whatever I was eating or drinking, if I worked out, I would check out how many calories I lost just to make sure I could take those calories and add more. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t understand about nutrition and I took the time during COVID-19 to focus on those things.”
Mark Roe and Dave Poulin are joined by TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg to get the latest on the Raptors transitioning to Orlando, the number of NBA teams who’ve had to close their practice facilities and what we’ve learned about the team since they’ve been in Florida.
The Raptors have received a head start to life in the NBA bubble as they became the first team to travel to Florida last week, but is it an advantage over every other team? The Jump debates the idea and believe Toronto is showing all teams how this can all be done successfully.
Only a year and a half after being drafted with the fourth pick, Chris Bosh was handed the keys to the organization. Colangelo’s tenure with the Raptors was almost entirely Bosh-centric. He made every roster move to satisfy and complement Bosh, putting him in an almost LeBron-like role for the franchise. When he signed his three-year extension with the Raptors in 2006, Bosh said, “I’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been playing basketball, to be ‘The Guy.’” What we’ve learned from the last decade is that Bosh really was most comfortable not as ‘The Guy,’ but as an overqualified sidekick. He had the talent to be the best player on a great deal of NBA teams, but what would be the ceiling of that team? As the Raptors’ alpha, the team never got out of the first round. In short: Bosh was very good, but it’s possible he didn’t have it in him to be the absolute best.
In fairness to Bosh, though, who was meant to be his sidekick? Who was the team’s second-best player? Ford? Parker? Both solid players, but certainly not top-three on a true contender. The Raptors’ strength was in the deepness of its roster, the skill possessed by its sixth through tenth men. But as we witnessed with the 2018 squad’s ‘Bench Mob,’ a team that relies on depth is not usually a good playoff team, as opponents shorten their rotation to seven or eight men. Good playoff teams are generally top-heavy — the 2007 Nets’ third-best player, for example, was Richard Jefferson, who easily would’ve been Bosh’s best teammate. The Nets’ two best players, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, were both All-Stars. None of Bosh’s teammates were even in the All-Star conversation.
The big knock on Bosh’s time as a Raptor is that his teams never advanced past the first round. But Lowry and DeRozan could depend on each other to carry the offense if one was struggling. Even Vince had the comfort of the veteran Antonio Davis as his second banana. Bosh never had a clear number two option who could divide an opposing team’s attention. A collection of skillful role players can be successful in the regular season, but for the slog of post-season basketball, Bosh needed a teammate who could play aggressively and create his own shot.
Here’s an excerpt pulled from an AP recap of New Jersey’s 102-81 Game 4 victory, just to properly illustrate what Bosh had to work with: “After three straight poor starts, Mitchell inserted Bargnani into the starting lineup in place of Joey Graham — even though Bargnani … hadn’t been playing well, either, since returning from a 14-game absence after an appendectomy … He shot only 5-of-18 in the first three games of the series.” Let’s get this straight: Joey Graham started at small forward for the Raptors in their first three games. After watching Graham score a total of 6 points on 2-of-12 shooting through these three games, Sam Mitchell decided that Andrea Bargnani, the recently injured seven-footer who’d scored a total of 15 points through three games, had played his way into the starting lineup.
Factor in that Nesterovic and his 3.4 points per game was Toronto’s starting centre at the time, and you come to realize that the Nets’ defense only needed to pay attention to three, sometimes four players at a time. Coupled with the thin Garbajosa-less frontcourt rotation, the lack of a shot-creating second option for Bosh meant the defense could throw everything at him without being punished. So maybe Bosh was never meant to lead a team deep in the playoffs, but it can’t be ignored that the construction of the Raptors at the time was flawed from the get-go.
The film sessions have given Boucher an appreciation not only for better shots and perhaps less reactionary play, but also for what changing each can do to help him contribute to the team on a more consistent basis.
There is no doubt he has a unique skill set as a rim-runner and sneaky rebounder. It’s the need to calm down a bit, doing more by doing less, that he’s seeing.
“There’s a lot of stuff that, by watching the film, I was able to understand … why maybe if I was doing this better, it would be able to help me out,” he said. “I focused on that just to be able to help the team.”
Boucher and teammates Matt Thomas and Oshae Brissett might turn into valuable pieces in this unusual season.
Legitimate championship contenders tend to pare down their rotations in the post-season, but this is unlike any other year. It may end up that deeper rosters are able to survive the “foot immediately to the floor” restart. There may be more nagging muscle injuries, for example. Teams that can run out the most consistent contributors might have an edge.
“I feel from when I got (to the Raptors), coaches and players have been telling me to always stay ready — ‘you don’t know what’s going to happen’ — really encouraging me like that,” said Brissett.
“Even now, no one knows what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen, how everything is going to play out. I attack every day, I work out hard every day, because I want to play. I want to be in the rotation, want to help guys, so I just do what I’ve got to do to better my chances to get on the court.”
Thomas also spent time working on his game virtually, through video and other exercises, while waiting to get back on a court.
That Naples bubble has allowed the team to, most importantly, stay safe in a state with exploding COVID-19 case counts and participate in valuable conditioning work before they’re allowed to start working at 5-on-5 again. As Raptors forward Serge Ibaka admitted in a conference call Saturday, “Physically, it’s going to take us a little bit of time.”
Thankfully, getting their wind back seems to be the only concern for the Raptors from a competitive standpoint. As far as where their mental focus is right now, this is a team that appears locked in and hungry to win.
“Mentally, I think we’re ready,” Ibaka said. “Mentally as a team, I can see from everybody, I think mentally we’re ready. We know what is waiting for us out there, now it’s time to get a little bit (of) game condition and then we’ll be good to go.”
Expanding on this, Ibaka said he can tell his team is already prepared for the battles ahead mentally because of the attitude everyone brought to camp.
“I saw just how everyone is in great shape. They came here in great shape and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people are locked in and they’re ready mentally, and when they’re not. So I can tell you right now mentally everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”
It’s this self-belief among the Raptors, described by Ibaka, that explains why the defending-champion squad has high expectations for itself entering the restart.
Ibaka was asked what it was that he saw in his teammates that made him so sure they were ready for another title run.
“I saw just how everyone is in great shape,” Ibaka said. “They came here in great shape and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work. I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people are locked in and they are ready mentally, and when they are not. So I can tell you right now mentally everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”
Considering how seamlessly the Raptors marched through the first three quarters of the season without Leonard and Green, and while dealing with injuries to every key member of the rotation save OG Anunoby, it’s actually surprising that the defending champs aren’t being shown a little more respect.
Take into account the short eight-game window before the playoffs begin and one would think a team that is both versatile and adaptable to just about any playing style like the Raptors would be seen as more of a threat, not less.
Ibaka, and he speaks for his teammates on this as well based on previous interviews, really couldn’t care less. He knows what this team has already accomplished this season without Leonard and Green and he expects more now that the whole team is healthy for one of the first times this season.
“Yeah. I’m very excited,” Ibaka said. “I can’t wait, because like you said we didn’t have everybody all season this year. I think it’s going to be a little weird in the beginning to have everybody at the same time, but I think it’s a good thing because we need that. I can’t really wait to see how it’s going to work out for us having everybody back.”
The sheriff’s deputy of Alameda County, who was allegedly injured in a shoving match between him and Raptors President Masai Ujiri may have to repay the $142,000 to the county. Deputy Alan Strickland is currently in a federal lawsuit against the shoving match with Uriji. If Strickland wins, then the county would like repayment of the $142,000 in worker’s compensation he has received.
The county has been paying Strickland $142,984 and since the shoving match in June 2019. As of four months ago, he has not returned to back work. Last week, Alameda County filed a lien against Strickland.
According to insurance experts, this move by Alameda County is typical to happen as they try to recoup some payments. Alameda has been using taxpayer dollars to pay Strickland as it is a self-insured county.
1. Toronto finally gets to defend their title (via Raptors HQ)
You’d be forgiven if you forgot the Toronto Raptors are the defending NBA champs. It’s been over a year now since The North brought home the Larry O’Brien and once Kawhi went west so did all the media attention. But the Raptors are healthy, have a great coach, have the second-best NBA defense and Marc Gasol is still ticking. Don’t sleep on Toronto.
We can admit here, between friends, that the Raptors are not considered the favourites to win the 2020 NBA title. The smarter money is betting on LeBron James and the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. This is a fair stance to take; those are three really good teams.
But, it bears mentioning: the Raptors were the fourth team in that little mix and spent most of the season playing a man, or two, or three (or four?) down.
Toronto’s mental preparedness will be crucial as it embarks upon a season unlike any before. As four months will have passed between the final regular-season games played on March 11 and July’s seeding games, the 2020 postseason won’t begin until mid-August, meaning the Raptors’ title defence will last for at least 14 months. When asked if it feels like the team is still defending its 2019 title given the unique circumstance, Ibaka acknowledged that things have felt a bit different but that the team’s focus lies ahead.
“It’s been a little bit weird with everything that’s going on right now but one thing we know is that it’s over. Whatever happened last season is over and we are trying to put our mindset (as) ready to go for this one. And we know it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a challenge, everybody is going to try to come for us because we are the champs, so we have to be ready.”
While the four-month break has made things weird with respect to continuity, one benefit it has provided this Raptors team with is health. According to Spotrac’s Injured List Tracker, Toronto had missed the fifth-most man-games due to injury (219) prior to the season’s suspension in March, with every rotational player outside of OG Anunoby missing extended time. Ibaka, who missed 14 of the team’s 64 regular-season games, expressed his excitement about the team being at full strength.
“I’m very excited, I can’t wait because we didn’t really have everybody during the season this year, and I think it’s going to be a little weird, in the beginning, to have everybody at the same time but I think it’s going to be a good thing because we need that, and I can’t really wait to see how it’s going to work out for us, having everybody back.”