Morning Coffee – July 8th, 2020

25 mins read
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The anomaly in the Raptors defensive profile
This is something we’ve discussed a lot this year and warrants refreshing. Based on Cleaning the Glass‘ location eFG% metric, which applies league-average accuracy from each zone of the floor to the opponents’ shot mix, the Raptors are mediocre, ranking 25th. In the macro, the Raptors shouldn’t be able to hold teams to the poor shooting they do, given which shots they give up; they’re winning a battle against league averages, and historically it’s difficult to do that to such an extreme.Look closer, and it’s not protecting the rim that’s a problem for the Raptors, which is a positive, especially considering their middle-of-the-pack foul rate. Opponents take 33.2 percent of their shots at the rim against the Raptors, the seventh-lowest mark in the league, and they shoot just 59.3 percent, the third-lowest mark. They don’t block a lot of shots, but they make it difficult to get into the paint and make it uncomfortable to finish there.Outside of the rim and the free-throw line, the next most efficient spot on the floor on average is the corners. This is where convention and location eFG% dislike Toronto’s approach. As we explored earlier in the year, the Raptors allow the most corner 3s in the league. By far. Among every team ever. Nearly 14 percent of all opponent field-goal attempts come from the corners, which is 32-percent more volume than any other team surrenders.

Nurse is already prepared for some diversions.

Several of his players — not to mention the team’s coaching and support staff — are parents and in the early stages of what could be a minimum of seven weeks away from their families. Nurse himself has two little ones three and under.

So, while a typical training camp environment is designed to leave the outside world behind for a little bit and become immersed in all things basketball, when hoops are all there is going on in the ‘bubble’ some outside world distractions will be welcomed and encouraged.

“For me, I would say that it starts with conversation, when you’re bumping into Fred [VanVleet] or Kyle [Lowry], and you’re asking ’em how are the wife and kids, and what are they doing, and when was the last time you talked to them,” said Nurse. “There’s a lot more of that going on than I would say normally would happen.

“It’s not like we don’t do it normally but there’s a lot more now because we’re all showing pictures and whatever. I just think from my standpoint, it’s another one of those things you’d be more lenient on.

“Like, I don’t know, what’s an example? Well, we’re getting ready to start a meeting and right as that happens, somebody says ‘oh, man, my kid’s FaceTiming me, and you say take it, go out in the hall and take it and we’ll wait for you’ or whatever.

“I think sometimes hooking up with schedules and kids, sometimes when those FaceTime calls come, you’ve gotta take ’em and drop everything you’re doing.”

Nurse can relate.

“Like, when I left, I have a three-year-old kid… he didn’t quite understand how long I’m gonna be gone. I told him I’m gonna coach some games, and he said well I’m gonna wait right here for ya.

“I hope he’s moved from that spot because it’s gonna be a while.”

As far as basketball is concerned Nurse remains bullish on his team, which will carry a 46-18 record into the restart — second-best in the East and third in the NBA — even though it will be four months since his team has played a game or even practised 5-on-5.

Nurse has been in the gym watching his charges go through solo workouts with the aid of the Raptors coaching and development staff and likes what he sees.

The Toronto Raptors, who just got a brief taste of what life will be like in the bubble, offer some hope. On Thursday, the defending champions will make the short trip from Naples to Orlando for the start of training camp.

As the only team granted permission to reconvene outside of their home city, 45 members of the Raptors organization – including all 17 roster players – have been in Florida since June 22. For two weeks they went back and forth between their hotel – which was closed to the public and reserved exclusively for them – and nearby Florida Gulf Coast University, where they trained.

They haven’t reported any positive tests – though that doesn’t necessarily mean there haven’t been any – and, fortunately, they haven’t had to shut things down. It was an unusual experience but they insist it felt safe, all things considered.

“Let’s not get over-confident but let’s say [I’m] slightly more confident [that things will go smoothly in the bubble],” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, via videoconference on Tuesday afternoon. “It feels like we are in a safe environment. We’re going a long ways out of our way to make it extra safe, as we should. I think that contributes to it. We really are in the hotel. We’re confined. We’re away from everything. There is cleaning all over the place. Everybody is wearing masks. We go to the gym and there’s cleaning and we come back. It feels really safe.

“I think the early stages or days of the Disney thing are critical – getting a whole bunch of testing done I think it will all be done at a really high level and remain fairly safe. I hope I’m right. Again, this is no time to [get too comfortable], you really don’t know, but I would say I feel much more safe than maybe I thought I was going to.”

However, a two-week sample size is small, and so is Toronto’s travelling party relative to what the NBA will have to contend with once all 22 teams arrive on site by Thursday evening. Instead of managing the safety of 17 players and 45 people in one hotel, they’ll be responsible for roughly 374 players and 814 people in three hotels, and that’s not including league personnel, media or Disney employees.

On the court, what he has seen has also been good. It’s been strictly individual on-court work to this point — one player per basket, no more than four on the court at any one time — but Nurse is confident the team got as much as they could have out of the situation given the circumstances.

“We’ve been solid,” he said. “I really like the individual work that especially a lot of our young guys have gotten I think it’s been way more consistent. I mean, when you’re not flying and playing and games interrupting and there’s late flights where you need a day off the next day, it’s just been, it’s just been a consistent block of work, both in the weight room and on the court.”

Nurse pointed out that having the team all together in one place for these past two weeks has also allowed them to control things like their food intake and nutrition.

And while one would normally expect a group of wealthy young athletes to somewhat bristle at their sudden lack of freedom, Nurse hasn’t sensed much of that at all.

“They’ve had great attitudes,” he said. “I haven’t sensed hardly any boredom or whining or ‘not another day of one on zero work.’ I’ve sensed great energy, great professionalism. The vibe in the gym, even though it’s different, has still been pretty good. We still got our music playing and you look across the floor and guys are working and sweating and getting better so it’s been probably a pleasant surprise and a pleasant experience so far.”

But now the grand experiment begins. Take 22 teams and put them in a confined space for up to three months. What could go wrong?

Well, the correct answer is anything and everything, but the league is hoping all the preventative measures they have taken to prevent an outbreak within the bubble will be sufficient.

Four “camps” are basically unheard of. Nurse is wading through uncharted territory, unable to really plan the final stage that begins on the weekend, when the Raptors are expected to have their first workout at the NBA’s campus on the Disney grounds outside Orlando.

“Once they give us a chance to play and have multiple people on the floor, I would assume the guys are going to want to get up and down,” he said. “In comparison to a regular training camp where you might take up a big portion of first 90 minutes with drill work, I could see very short chunks of drill work and getting right to the five-on-five play. I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball; I don’t think they want to do drills.

“So it may be a little different where you drill short, scrimmage long early, just to get that feel, and then go back and drill longer on things you think you need to do. Again, I’m all over the place. I really need to take a look at it.”

So far, though, Nurse is buoyed by what he’s seen in individual workouts over. He’s been able to watch and supervise and get a grip on each player’s conditioning and commitment to a monotonous workday, and he hasn’t seen any disinterest set in.

“I haven’t sensed hardly any boredom or waning or ‘not another day of one-on-zero work,’” Nurse said. “I’ve sensed great energy, great professionalism. The vibe in the gym, even though it’s different, has still been pretty good.

“We still got our music playing, and you look across the floor and guys are working and sweating and getting better, so it’s been probably a pleasant surprise and a pleasant experience so far.”

That all changes on the weekend.

For the first time since 2017, the Toronto Raptors are in a position to pick in the first round of the NBA Draft. The last couple of times the Raptors had a crack in the late first round, those picks became OG Anunoby (23rd overall in 2017), and Pascal Siakam (27th overall in 2016). Not bad, eh?

Looking at Masai Ujiri’s drafting history going back to his Denver Nuggets days, it’s safe to say that he’s used to scouting for talents outside of the lottery range. Except for Toronto’s Jakob Poeltl pick in 2016, most of Masai’s first-round picks have been from the 20th pick onwards.

This year, of course, is a strange one. The NBA Draft is to be held on October 16, thanks to the ongoing restart to the season. As it is, there’s still plenty of work to be done for every team. The 2020 NBA draft class may promise to be bit flat on top-level talent, but the gap between the late lottery versus mid-second round picks may not be that big. If Masai and GM Bobby Webster are looking to restock the cupboards for the Raptors, this draft might be “it” in terms of a mini-rebuild.

The Raptors are projected to select 28th in this upcoming draft in the 1st round. This is not set in stone, as the standings may change based on the remaining games to be played in Orlando at the end of the month.

Brissett, a guard/forward, said Callum has plenty of help with the baby.

“Jamaican families are large,” he said with a laugh on a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “She has a whole bunch of support, for sure. That’s why I’m not really worried, I know that she’s going to be loved and taken care of the same way she would even I was there.”

Florida recorded an all-time high of 11,400 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, and has seen its positive test rate over the past two weeks reach more than 18 per cent. Seven NBA teams have had to temporarily shut down training facilities due to coronavirus cases, most recently the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Raptors are scheduled to travel to Orlando on Thursday, where they’ll join 21 other clubs in the league’s quasi-bubble at Disney World.

Brissett, whose other brother Dejon was selected No. 2 overall by the Toronto Argonauts in April’s CFL draft, plans to carefully follow the coronavirus protocols.

“I’m going to do everything to stay away and keep myself as away from the virus as possible because I have my daughter to think about,” said Brissett, who was on a two-way deal with Toronto this season, splitting time with the Raptors and their G League affiliate Raptors 905. “When she does come down here I don’t want to have any problems, and also I want to be on the court and play.

“Those two things, I know I want to play and I want her to be down here and not to worry about anything happening to her.”

Lewis landed the role for the 2020-21 Raptors season. It comes with a $30,000 stipend, with travel and accommodation on top of that, to gain operations experience at events including the NBA Summer League and Basketball without Borders world camp held during NBA all-star weekend.

“It’s an amazing level of access. I’d do it for free,” said Lewis.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity and it’s easy to be motivated for something you are so passionate about.”

Aaron Rose from Sports Illustrated’s AllRaptors joined me today as I asked him how the Raptors fanbase views Marc Gasol – one of the most beloved Grizzlies of all time.  I also shared with him how Jonas Valanciunas is coming along here in Memphis.

Of the four challengers, the Raptors are the only team to have not won a game against the Bucks. Antetokounmpo unleashed vengeance in the sixth game of the season, posting a 36-15-8 with four blocks in a 115-105 win against the team that eliminated him from last season’s conference finals. Even without Marc Gasol in the middle for their late February meeting, Toronto did a better job of slowing Antetokounmpo (19 points on 5-for-14 shooting), but the result was just the same, a 108-97 Bucks win.

Half-court defense: 1st (88.5 points per play allowed)

Transition defense: 12th off live rebounds (0.9 PPP added); 8th off steals (1.3 PPP added)

3-point defense: 1st in accuracy (34.3 3P%); 29th in frequency (40.5%)

Rim protection: 3rd in accuracy (59.3%); 7th in frequency (33.2%)

Defensive turnover rate: 2nd (16.8%)

Even without Leonard, the Raptors have long-armed disruptors in Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to throw at Antetokounmpo on the perimeter. Behind them are Gasol and Serge Ibaka, a pair of high-level and high-IQ post defenders who acquit themselves well on switches and protect the rim with aplomb.

Their collective length and athleticism helps them defend in transition and contest 3-pointers, even as their rim-protecting scheme might allow more long-distance attempts from Khris Middleton and Milwaukee’s many wing shooters — signs of a solid modern defense you will find common in this space.

Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are both among the league’s more underrated guard defenders, and they should make life difficult for the Bucks’ secondary ball-handlers. Eric Bledsoe, whose playoff problems are well documented, could be in for more trouble if the point guard’s turnover woes keep plaguing him.

The only outfit better suited to defend the Bucks than this year’s Raptors is probably the version that stopped Antetokounmpo and company last year, only with Leonard’s brilliance filling Anunoby’s shoes.

Can the Toronto Raptors hold off the Boston Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference? |

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I won’t kid myself and pretend that three games could be easily made up in such a short span but I also can’t ignore the differences in strength of each team’s respective schedules.

That being said, I’d consider Boston to be a mild threat. The odds might not support it happening, but there are definitely a few realistic scenarios that would allow the Cs to surpass the Raptors.

Rafferty: It’s funny, when the 22-team return was first reported, I basically wrote that I thought the Raptors were a lock to finish with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Several weeks later, I’m not feeling quite as confident. Not that I think the Celtics should suddenly be the favourite to get the No. 2 seed or anything, but I think it’s more like 70-30 that the Raptors stay where they are.

For what it’s worth, models still give the Raptors a significant advantage. For example, The Ringer ran 2,500 simulations, and the Raptors finished with the second-best record 87 percent of the time. That just feels a little high to me given everything we now know.

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