Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 23

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Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Cover Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

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Why the New-and-Improved Marc Gasol Should Have the NBA Afraid | Complex

“What we do here is just a portion of life, and sometimes we’re caught up so much on our job and that kind of takes away from our life and, this, what you do is not who you are, it doesn’t define you,” Gasol said. “I think, once you look at basketball as what it is, and just as a great thing, it frees you in a way. I like Bam, I like everybody to be honest with you. I have fun interacting with players, but I also like competing against them and trying to beat them—that’s when I have the most fun. I always say: Don’t confuse my kindness with weakness. I’m gonna go at your neck and I’m trying to beat you every time that we step on the floor.

“It’s just the way I see myself, and the way I feel like you can help the next generation of guys and that’s what this is about. Obviously, we compete against each other every day and year-in, year-out, but somebody was telling me the other day that there’s only been about 4,000 players in the history of the NBA. So, we are a small family when you compare it in the grand scheme of things, you wanna look out for the game, you wanna look out for the players, make sure the game that has given you so much, you can pass down what you learned over the years.”

Maintaining perspective plays a big part in allowing Gasol to keep track of his North Star in the face of temporary obstacles. When he went through the worst two-point shooting slump of his career earlier this season, he didn’t get caught up in the chatter of age catching up and maintained the belief that good times would return by recognizing he was doing plenty of other good things such as his passing, defence, and three-point shooting. He also made the adjustment of bringing in his own people from Spain to work on his shooting mechanics, and that helped him raise his two-point percentage from 25.5 percent through Nov. 28 to 60.3 percent since.

That improvement teases that Nurse can make his plans of making Gasol a bigger part of the offence a reality, knowing that he’s just the type of player to understand that having a play run for him is about putting him in a position to take what the defence gives him and make the best decision in the face of difficult circumstances and not necessarily take the shot.

Soon, Gasol will survey the floor and see options dry up like a shallow well in the driest of conditions, but still keep looking to find a way to quench his team’s thirst for a bucket anyway. The defence has taken away the first, second, and third look, but in doing so, he recognizes a slight opening and makes eye contact with his teammate while tilting his head ever so slightly. His teammate blindly follows the subliminal message like sheep following their trustworthy shepherd and the result is an easy basket.

It’s Gasol’s vintage move. Why panic when you can adapt?

Ibaka’s wish for more time with Gasol may work well for all considered | The Guardian

His body balked at the request and back-to-back hamstring injuries resulted. It meant far less Gasol and much, much more Ibaka who flourished in his good friend’s absence.

But a four-month, pandemic-forced hiatus from the game and what had to be a monk-like devotion to diet and exercise has Gasol back looking leaner and stronger and fitter than ever.

On the surface this would seem to push back Ibaka to a lesser role but that’s not necessarily true if all the talk about the Raptors jumbo lineup coming from head coach Nick Nurse is in fact more than just talk.

No stranger to finding his own path, Nurse seems to be willing to buck the trend among most NBA teams and go bigger, rather than smaller, in an attempt to have an advantage over his opponents.

Now Nurse has never said he was considering starting games this way but on more than a few occasions these past few weeks he has shown a real fondness for what he calls his “jumbo lineup” that features Gasol at centre, Ibaka at power forward with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam holding down the small forward and shooting guard positions.

That is four of five bodies on the floor between 6-foot-7 and seven feet, which will dwarf just about any other lineup an opponent can throw at them.

For Ibaka it means getting to play meaningful and substantial minutes with Gasol, a player he would normally sub in for when both men are healthy.

Ibaka, having played with Gasol previously as a member of Spain’s national team — born in the Congo, Ibaka was granted Spanish nationality after moving there as a teenager and it’s where he began his professional career — knows exactly how well the two complement each other and how successful they can be.

Clearly, Nurse is of the same opinion.

“I think you’ll see Marc and Serge together quite a bit. I think there’s more familiarity there,” he said. “Again, I just think with Serge’s increased skill-set has been able to play a little bit more four, and Marc’s so smart defensively. As you know, he can switch out on to about anybody and figure out how to guard guys and take away the three-ball, and stuff like that. So it makes it good because of those guys’ skill-set and their IQ.”

Serge Ibaka tailoring his routine around bubble restrictions – TSN.ca

“One thing I learned [during the pandemic] is in a difficult moment that’s where you have to figure out how to bring the best out of you,” he said. “I can [only] try to do what I can control. You can’t really control everything that’s going on, but what I can control I’m going to try to do the best I can to give 100 per cent.”

It’s been more than four months since Ibaka and the Raptors played their last game, dating back to that impressive win in Utah on March 9. Ibaka turned in one of his best outings of the season that night, scoring 27 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and outdueling Jazz centre Rudy Gobert, who would go on to test positive for COVID-19 a couple days later.

“I think Serge has raised his level of play and level of confidence on the offensive end [this season],” said Nurse. “I think particularly because of the work he’s done on his shooting. He really has gone to work. And that has stayed the same. Maybe there was a break there [when he was quarantining early in the pandemic] but he’s been in the gym now for several months, at least two months, if not more, so the shooting aspect for him, I think he just feels more confident.”

After two weeks of scrimmaging against each other in practice, the Raptors will finally get to square off against another opponent on Friday.

Ibaka has been craving it – the competition, the bright lights and that passion with which he’s always played the game. So, regardless of how late he can stick around once those lights go out, he’s looking forward to getting back to work.

“This is what I love to do,” he said. “I love this game. When I step on the court I’m going to compete. That’s one of the reasons I work hard every day. That’s one of the reasons [I worked hard] during quarantine. I was trying to do the best I could to stay in shape and work hard.”​

Ibaka’s wish for more time with Gasol may work well for all considered | Toronto Sun

For Ibaka it means getting to play meaningful and substantial minutes with Gasol, a player he would normally sub in for when both men are healthy.

Ibaka, having played with Gasol previously as a member of Spain’s national team — born in the Congo, Ibaka was granted Spanish nationality after moving there as a teenager and it’s where he began his professional career — knows exactly how well the two complement each other and how successful they can be.

Clearly, Nurse is of the same opinion.

“I think you’ll see Marc and Serge together quite a bit. I think there’s more familiarity there,” he said. “Again, I just think with Serge’s increased skill-set has been able to play a little bit more four, and Marc’s so smart defensively. As you know, he can switch out on to about anybody and figure out how to guard guys and take away the three-ball, and stuff like that. So it makes it good because of those guys’ skill-set and their IQ.”

About that increased skill-set. Nurse has seen Ibaka, who has been a defensive game changer his entire career, become more and more confident on the offensive end having put in as much work as he has on his shooting in particular.

“He really has gone to work,” Nurse said of Ibaka. “And that, you know, that has stayed the same. Maybe there was a break there (during the pandemic). But he’s been in the gym now for several months. At least two months, if not more. So the shooting aspect for him, I think he just feels, and rightly so, to himself that he’s a more confident shooter. Will the numbers stay as high and be as significant, or whatever? I don’t know about that. If I had to guess, I’d say probably not. I don’t think that’s really going to be the true indication of whether his level of play is as high as it’s been.”

Ibaka wants to contribute as much as he possibly can and if possible do so with Gasol on the floor beside him.

“Playing with Marc has really helped me a lot, especially since he’s been here with us,” Ibaka said. “Just watching him and the way he understands the game, his IQ, and specifically passing but from just watching him play and the way he passes really motivated me to work on my passing game. It really got me better.”

Raptors big man Serge Ibaka says his message is about respect | The Star

Ibaka’s perspective is far more global than most of his Raptors teammates and NBA confreres. He was born in Congo, played in Spain, holds a Spanish passport, has lived in various American cities and is a fixture at the Paris Fashion Week each summer.

When he talks about global issues of social justice, it is with a unique perspective.

“Whatever is happening right now in the United States, is going to affect all parts of the world,” he said. “If we can fight for change here, that change is going to affect everywhere. “Like you saw when people started protesting (after the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd) in the United States, and then guess what? It led to people out in the streets protesting (everywhere). The fact that we are protesting here is bigger than just here. It is going to affect everywhere.”

Ibaka’s off-court pursuits will reflect that in the coming months. He already has a widely popular YouTube cooking show and plans to expand that to greater social issues.

“Actually I’m trying to create a show where I can give other players and myself the opportunity to come to share our thoughts, to talk about what is going on now,” he said.

Ibaka, and the rest of the NBA, will get to truly send their message out globally now that the league’s pre-season scrimmages have begun on the Disney campus just outside of Orlando.

Toronto will be one of the last teams to play a game — the Raptors face the Houston Rockets on Friday night — and they are champing at the bit for some true competition.

Ibaka, one of the more intense competitors on the roster, is particularly interested in getting a chance to face someone other than a teammate.

“When I step on the court I’m going to compete,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I work hard everyday. That’s one of the reasons (I worked hard) during quarantine. I was trying to do the best I could to stay in shape and work hard.”

Film About Congolese NBA Star Serge Ibaka, Produced By LeBron James’ Uninterrupted Canada, To Debut On Crackle – Deadline

Nearly a year after its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Anything is Possible – The Serge Ibaka Story will have its U.S. debut on Crackle on August 1.

The feature-length documentary about the Congolese NBA star was produced by Vinay Virmani at LeBron James’ Uninterrupted Canada along with Jordi Vilà and Ibaka’s Ouenzé Entertainment.

Ibaka, a power forward, played a key role on the Toronto Raptors’ championship team in 2019. In the Raptors’ upset NBA Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard won MVP honors but Ibaka proved essential, especially in a 20-point performance on the road in Game 4.

In the film (check out a teaser above), Ibaka is shown returning to his birthplace, the Republic of Congo. Carrying the Larry O’Brien trophy won by the Raptors, he meets with local residents and tours the streets where he grew up. He reflects on the death of his mother when he was 8 years old and the imprisonment of his father for political reasons. Ibaka also talks basketball with the country’s president, returns to a restaurant where he once begged for food, and visits with his old coach and the basketball club where he fell in love with the game.

Toronto Raptors broadcasters ready to do their jobs remotely – TSN.ca

“There’s a reason why we’re doing it remotely,” said Matt Devlin, play-by-play voice of the team. “I think everybody understands why it’s appropriate, given the pandemic. We’ve had weekly calls, multiple calls, since March 9 and have been in communication with each other. So, we’re going to make the necessary adjustments and, as a broadcaster, I know all of us are going to do everything we can to provide the best broadcast possible to the fans.”

It’s a challenge that all 22 teams participating in the restart, and their broadcast crews, will have to contend with. In an effort to limit the amount of people on site, only the NBA’s two U.S. national broadcast partners – ESPN and TNT – were granted access into the bubble. Each local television and radio broadcast will be produced remotely, working off of a clean video feed provided to them by the league.

That means each network will be responsible for adding its own graphics, transitions and promos. It also means their on-air talent will have to call the action from a screen, in Toronto’s case, more than 2,000 kilometres away.

While the circumstances are less than ideal, the Raptors’ crew should be familiar with the process of calling games from afar. They’ve each worked on several FIBA telecasts over the years, covering Canada’s many international qualifying tournaments from a studio back home.

Devlin estimates that he’s called around 12 games remotely over his career, including his first professional broadcast – a contest between Australia and New Zealand for ESPN International in 1998. His most recent came in October, when the Raptors travelled to Tokyo, Japan for a pair of preseason games.

Assuming everything goes smoothly, most fans shouldn’t be able to notice the difference.

“When I was doing Canada games or any international games, or when we did the [Raptors’] Tokyo games, if we didn’t tell people we weren’t there 98 per cent of people have no idea,” said analyst Leo Rautins. “I remember [when] Canada was playing in Mexico and I’d go to dinner that night people were saying, ‘Hey, when did you get back?’ or ‘Are you going back tomorrow for the next game?’ Like, seriously, a lot of people don’t know.”

“I don’t have an issue with calling [games remotely], as long as we have a very visible big screen where you can see everything. I’ve done it so many times. So, for me, I just feel like I’m calling the game.”

Who will be the X-factor for the Raps? – Video – TSN

Bryan Hayes and Mike Johnson are joined by TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg to get his take on where Terence Davis fits in with the Raps’ lineup and if he, or someone else, could potentially be the X-factor for the team in their return.

Raptors’ Terence Davis says focus should remain on Breonna Taylor’s killers | CBC Sports

Terence Davis is using his platform for things bigger than basketball.

In Wednesday’s media availability, the Toronto Raptors rookie’s message was brief and direct. He answered his one question — about basketball — with a message about Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old who was shot and killed by police officers on March 13.

“A lot of the guys, we’re united right now. We’re just keeping the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers. That’s what I want to keep the focus on this week,” the 23-year-old said.

“It’s nothing against you guys — and I can answer all of you guys’ questions post-game or any time after we’re playing – but right now I just want to keep the focus on what’s really going on in the world. There’s a lot of social injustice going on and I just want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing and using my platform, as well as other athletes, to just continue with this thing, man.”

Davis’ thoughts came two days after Sixers forward Tobias Harris used his media availability to send the same message.

“We all stand united. We don’t all have to be on the same team but we’re still united in the league. I just want to keep the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers and just keep that going, man, because it’s still going on in the world,” said Davis.

He then said goodbye to reporters, stood up and walked away.

NBA players use media availability to steer conversation toward Breonna Taylor, social justice – ESPN

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis answered a question Wednesday by saying, “We’re united right now keeping the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers. That’s what I want to keep the focus on. I can answer your questions postgame or anytime after we playing. Right now, just keep the focus on what’s going on.”

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Bucks swingman Sterling Brown said, “Every day I wake up and I’m able to breathe, but that’s not the case for a lot of people, that’s not the case for Breonna Taylor, so I feel like we need to focus our attention on that more so than what’s going on here.”

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart answered every question Tuesday by saying, “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”

In the months that have passed since Taylor was killed, plenty of players also have used social media to express their outrage.

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet among best shooters in 2020 free agent class | NBA.com Canada

A big reason why the Raptors have been able to get away with starting two points guards in Kyle Lowry and VanVleet this season is because they’re both knockdown shooters.

According to NBA.com, VanVleet has 43.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts entering the Orlando bubble. Of players attempting at least 2.0 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game this season – a group that is made up of 213 players – only 15 are making them at a higher percentage.

This season isn’t an anomaly either. VanVleet has been a big catch-and-shoot threat since entering the league back in 2016-17, making over 40.0 percent of those opportunities each season.

Fred VanVleet catch-and-shoot (NBA.com/Stats)
Season Frequency (Percentage of total FGA) 3PM-3PA
2016-17 23.2% 9-22 (40.9%)
2017-18 36.5% 81-182 (44.5%)
2018-19 31.3% 77-187 (41.2%)
2019-20 26.7% 82-187 (43.9%)

VanVleet has grown as a 3-point shooter off the dribble as well. His efficiency hasn’t changed much since last season – he’s at 32.4 percent on the season – but he’s almost doubled the amount of pull-up 3s he’s taking per game.

The better he gets at those shots, the higher VanVleet’s ceiling is as a primary creator.

NBA season restart team previews: Toronto Raptors – Yahoo!

Where were the Toronto Raptors?
Record: 46-18

Place: Second in the East

The Toronto Raptors entered this season intent on a formidable championship defense despite losing Kawhi Leonard to free agency, and they were well on their way to achieving that goal. Pascal Siakam followed his Most Improved Player campaign with an All-Star leap, and his production replicated much of what Toronto lost in Leonard. Likewise, Fred VanVleet rode the momentum of his playoff success into this season. Supporting cast members Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell were enjoying career years, and the Raptors unleashed even more versatile wings on a depth chart anchored by Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol.

Even more remarkable than their second-place standing is the fact that they reached that perch while everyone in the rotation but OG Anunoby missed significant time. Gasol had missed 16 of Toronto’s final 17 games before the break with a hamstring injury. He returned to training camp healthy, with a slimmed-down physique, and the rest should serve everyone on the roster well after last year’s deep playoff run.

Who’s in and who’s out?
The Raptors expect to have a full roster for what feels like the first time all season. Even rookie center Dewan Hernandez, out since December with a severe ankle sprain, has been cleared to play in Orlando. Toronto’s expected starting lineup of Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol had appeared in just 17 games together this season. They are outscoring opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions.

Odds:

Over/under wins in the bubble: 4.5 (Over -110; Under -110)

NBA Finals odds: +800

Championship odds: +2200

Send me any Raptors related content I may have missed: [email protected]

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