Cover Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 20, 2020
Given Toronto’s depth and a condensed game schedule after such a long layoff, how many players do you think Nick Nurse should (and will) play through the reseeding games? I’ve somehow managed to talk myself into 13-14 guys actually seeing the floor during the ramp-up period, in the interest of injury/fatigue prevention and of having everyone stay ready just in case. Is that at all plausible in your mind? — Robert D.
I think some of it depends on how strong the Raptors come out of the gate. Nurse has been open that he’d like to try to get a good number of players involved, which makes sense — you don’t want to have to call on someone in a high-leverage scenario who hasn’t played since February or March. The Raptors are also managing their practice load with an eye on additional time off for their top seven when necessary, and that line of thinking will probably extend to games. The eight reseeding games just aren’t important enough to risk Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol or Kyle Lowry playing heavy minutes (not to mention on their one back-to-back).
If the Raptors come out strong, this should be fairly easy to manage. They have a good hold on the No. 2 seed — which will be their goal in these games — and beating Boston in their fourth game will more or less lock it up. If that position in the standings nudges from a roughly 90 percent probability to 95 percent probability early in reseeding games, Nurse will have a lot more freedom to reach deeper down the bench. That could be especially true in the final games, as their opponents might be doing the same. (That tasty Bucks matchup, on the second day of a back-to-back for Toronto and with no stakes for Milwaukee, could be a real bust.)
All of that said, I don’t know that Nurse will go 13 or 14 deep in any one game. It might be more of an 11-man rotation situation (plus garbage time), with the players in the Nos. 8-11 spots rotating based on who has looked good to date. Paul Watson Jr. and Dewan Hernandez might be on the outside looking in beyond the scrimmages, but I’d expect to see everyone else at least get a shot.
“There’s a little bit of natural selection,” said VanVleet. “You’ve got to figure it out as time goes on. It’ll be a process. I don’t expect you to see us at our best right away, Aug. 1 [when the Raptors play their first seeding game against the Lakers] but hopefully we can build to that pretty quickly, and find our rotation, and find our rhythm.”
Nurse will have to be at his juggling, creative best to get the maximum out of a roster that can easily go 10 or 11 deep. It’s the kind of challenge coaches love to have. The Raptors play the first of three scrimmages beginning Friday as they ramp up the intensity in advance of the eight remaining regular-season games starting Aug. 1 and the playoffs, which begin Sept. 1.
“[It’s] a welcome one,” said Nurse. “I think it’ll be a while for that, too. I think coming up in these scrimmages, we’ll hold certain guys out of certain ones. I think everybody will probably take their turn of staying out, so I wouldn’t imagine we’ll have the full complement maybe ’til the first game against the Lakers.
“But yeah, it’ll be a good challenge. I certainly welcome it. I think we need that top eight to play together a little bit, you know, the top eight we envisioned at the start of the year has very, very few minutes together, if any at all.”
The Raptors won an NBA championship leaning on a starting lineup that had played 116 minutes together before the playoffs began, so they know better than most that chemistry can come together quickly. But they also know that a long playoff run creates opportunities for almost everyone.
Nick Nurse very confident in Raptors ability to adjust to ‘new stuff’
VanVleet lived it. He went from an afterthought late in the Raptors’ second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, when he struggled with the Sixers’ big backcourt lineups, to being the pivotal figure in Toronto’s comeback from down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Raptors have a lot of different players they can use to unlock games – they relied on them by necessity throughout the first part of the regular season. But now that they’re all available, not all of them will get the chance.
For Wiggins, the timing couldn’t be better. The intersection between basketball and social justice has never been tighter, making this a prime time to reach fans while they’re engaged in the issues. He’s also found an encouraging level of engagement from players, who have already begun sharing thoughts and ideas for initiatives they’d like to be involved in.
“The world is listening now on issues that maybe they weren’t always paying attention to before,” Wiggins said. “And people are sitting up and saying, ‘I’d like to learn more, I’d like to hear more.’ And there’s even more people that are saying, ‘let’s take some action.’ And I think that makes it a lot easier to do, maybe than ever before.”
Moving Wiggins off of the highly successful Raptors 905 program is a necessary trade-off to continuing the organization’s work as citizens of impact. In Charles, a Toronto native, there is a natural line of succession. A track-and-field athlete at Lewis University and coach at Marshall University — he’s faster than Norman Powell, no matter what Powell says — Charles began as an intern in the organization in 2006, working his way through several roles, with a heavy focus on the player development side in recent years. His job has involved helping players transition to the pros on and off the court, with Ujiri highlighting Charles’ “commitment to making the people around him better.”
“You’re talking about 15-plus years of just institutional knowledge on how to do things. And I think it’s time for fresh perspective for the 905,” Wiggins said.
Those views align well with the long-term outlook and empathy the G League requires. As natural a move as this is for Wiggins, it’s equally seamless for Charles.
Charles’ vision for the next steps for the 905 includes a greater focus on social justice and humanity. Along with the recent hire of Alex Auerbach as the Raptors’ director of wellness and development, Charles is hoping to add a heavier emphasis on mental wellness as a development pillar, too. His role works closely with the Raptors’ player development staff, and while nothing has been announced, it would follow logically that manager of player development Shelby Weaver and vice president of basketball operations Teresa Resch could take on more responsibility executing the development program on the NBA side. The Raptors approach building their staff like they do their roster: Next person up.
The Raptors announced Monday that they have hired John Wiggins, a well-respected native of Mississauga who had been running the G League Raptors 905, as vice-president of organizational culture and inclusion. It’s a new position and a tangible step toward addressing nationwide issues that are so firmly in the general consciousness these days.
“With this position, we can directly impact change,” Wiggins said. “That’s what excited me so much about the role — the chance to impact change directly in my organization, my community and my country.”
The Raptors know how powerful and important their voice is across the country, more than any other sports franchise. Hockey, football and soccer teams are generally regionalized and the Blue Jays have not been nearly as proactive on social awareness and causes as the Raptors have.
Ujiri’s work with students in the tiny north Saskatchewan town of La Loche in the wake of a school shooting there in 2016 is a perfect case in point.
“We throw a party and three million people come,” Wiggins said of the team’s coast-to-coast reach. “We feel that responsibility from Vancouver to Halifax and want to change things across Canada.”
Citing far-ranging issues affecting women, Indigenous Canadians and the LGBTQ community, Wiggins knows the work cannot be limited to Toronto and issues of race. There are too many areas where the Raptors can make a difference with support, funding, aid of any kind.
“We want to effect change on a global scale, and that has to begin at home,” Ujiri said in a release. “John knows this community and he knows the people who live in this community. He understands how to get things done and how to build consensus.”
So how do the Raptors win a championship without a superstar? Seems to me all of the recent champions have had at least one. You might have to go all the way back to Detroit in 2004 who didn’t have one. Also, I don’t see a team that isn’t in luxury tax territory winning. That also seems to be a requirement. Hello, Milwaukee. – Geoff K.
It’s true that it’s difficult to win a championship without a star. If we frame that as difficult to win without a high-usage offensive star, it gets a little easier to find comparables. The 2014 Spurs, for example, were led by Tony Parker’s 26.5-percent usage, which is significantly lower than Pascal Siakam’s (at roughly the same efficiency). The benefit the Spurs had, though, was having three other players with a usage rate of 22.6 percent or higher — they were a very well-balanced offence to complement a top-three defence. The Raptors follow a similar usage distribution, with Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell all falling roughly in that Tim Duncan-Patty Mills-Manu Ginobili usage range. All of those players except VanVleet are also above-average in terms of true-shooting percentage, and the Raptors own an even better defence (in relative terms) than those championship Spurs.
That’s probably the most encouraging precedent in the modern era. The Spurs were still a much better regular-season offence than the Raptors, so there are concerns, but it’s evidence that if your defence is good and your offence is smart, you can win in the playoffs.
As for the tax, the Warriors technically weren’t a tax team in 2015 or 2017 and the Spurs weren’t in 2014, so that’s doable.
After the NBA reported zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside the bubble. The Raptors Fred Vanvleet says it’s reassuring to hear that and goes to show that the plan is working.
1. Nick Nurse: “I’m a good candidate, having lived in four different countries and not exercised my own right to vote enough over the years”
Nick Nurse was one of voices participating in the Raptors’ PSA about absentee voting, and that’s him explaining part of his reason why. It’s a very simple, straightforward ad — the most effective kind! — simply stating what you need to do to vote. It doesn’t fall on any side or lean right or left. According to the ad there are more than 650,000 US citizens living north of the border; that’s not an insignificant number!
Voting, voter turnout and vote suppression is clearly an important issue to the NBA and its players; we’ve see LeBron James start a voter rights initiative, “More than a Vote”, encouraging Americans to get out and vote and perhaps more importantly, to understand their rights as voters and understand how certain groups and elements want to make it harder for other groups to have their votes counted. Hopefully it helps get the message across; I too find it disappointing, and frankly alarming, when I see low voter turnout numbers, both in Canada and the U.S., and when people in power seem to want to keep those numbers low, well, that’s the exact opposite of democracy. As always I’m impressed and proud that the Raptors are speaking up.
“Nick Nurse was so generous and I really would love to talk to him more about music education because he’s such a strong supporter of it,” Jung said.
Nurse, who plays guitar and has appeared onstage with Arkells, launched the foundation in March.
The charity’s “series of programs will support the academic development of children and young adults through a mentorship approach,” the foundation’s website says.
“These programs intend to encourage parental involvement, while exposing students to music, sports and literacy.”
Jung explained that sharing of instruments was already an issue at the school even before the pandemic, but now with new COVID-19 safety precautions in place, it’s even more of a challenge. This donation will be a big help, she said.
“It won’t give every student their own instrument, but it will definitely help to disperse them. And then we can find other ways to accommodate them,” Jung explained.