A limitation of the process has been a lack of new information to contrast against established baselines. Whether that’s body changes or skill development or demonstrated capacity for development, teams might land closer to their initial opinions this year than in previous years.
“I think it’s gonna come down to trusting in our gut feeling in some of these players that we don’t have the pre-draft process to change your mind after seeing guys, here or there, or watching them through different setups that we usually do,” Tolzman said. “So going based on what our initial feeling was on guys. It’s gonna be interesting to see if not just us, but teams in general, how the draft goes in terms of teams basing their picks on gut feeling and video.”
Uncertainty around the salary cap, two-way contracts and the G League for next year offer even more complications. The Raptors project players based on certain assumptions about their developmental system, and the loss of, say, a Raptors 905 season might change what that looks like. It’s another area the Raptors will trust they’re larger process and track record, believing they’ll find new ways to get players the necessary reps.
There have been small benefits to the extended period between the college season and the draft. Zoom interviews, for one thing, are easier to conduct en masse, even if some of the fidelity is lost. There’s also been far more time for additional film work and potentially for a sharp analytics department that already has a hand in the collaborative draft process to really dig in to find distressed value. The Raptors have also used the time for “a lot of background digging on players,” trying to get to know them via former coaches, teammates and so on. Normally a complement to the in-person feeling out of a player’s true personality, that may now take on greater weight.
Within the restrictions lie potential advantages, too. It helps that this draft class is particularly flat, which means the Raptors could get a player at No. 29 or No. 59 that they like much more than the draft slot suggests; team-by-team tiers and rankings of prospects will probably vary a great deal this season, giving the Raptors a window to potentially land a pair of players they like. Tolzman estimated they could be looking at 50 different players with their first-round pick, which would mean a few of those names should be left in the second round as well. They’re also always one of the league’s more active teams on the undrafted free agent market, a market that could be especially fruitful this year.
And it’s probably for this reason that the Raptors are so confident picking where they are right now and why they’re looking to cast their net as wide as 50 possible players they could be interested in. No matter who they acquire, the team’s player-development program has proven to be one that can turn prospects into good NBA players with names like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell being shining examples of that.
So while this is a draft that may lack the kind of star power of previous ones to draw casual eyeballs, Tolzman’s assessment that this is a balanced pool of players seems very fitting and explains why he suggested that even players who go undrafted could get plenty of attention from around the league.
“There’s going to be a lot of rotation-level players that come out of this draft, kind of all across the board, and I think probably more than usual the undrafted market is going to be huge because normally players that maybe early on were expected to go undrafted, they worked their way into the draft picture and those workouts and those opportunities for them to do so just didn’t happen this year. So a lot of these guys that have maybe been earmarked unfairly as an undrafted player, they’re going to end up on that market and you’re going to see guys come out of nowhere and be contributors next year.”
Some of the players that may get overlooked are the Canadian contingent, which includes point guard Karim Mane of Montreal, shooting guard Nate Darling of Saint John, N.B., and power forward Isiaha Mike of Toronto. Unlike 2019’s record-setting draft for Canadian basketball, the crop of Canadians hoping to have their name called on draft night in 2020 is much smaller in both number and profile.
“I think the few [Canadian] players that are in the draft are interesting and we always like to make sure that we get to know all of these guys and we don’t want to miss anything with any local guys because we kind of pride ourselves on having a pretty thorough program in terms of keeping guys developing with some local ties because it makes it easier for them to get comfortable and develop as young players as well,” Tolzman said.
“So, there’s definitely some interesting players who we see with the right development, the right program put in front of them they could absolutely turn into legitimate NBA players.”
The Raptors have never drafted a Canadian player in the franchise’s history. Given the kind of draft this is, this year might not be a bad one to cross that particular bit of Canadian basketball history off of the club’s list.
Among the league guidelines for this year’s draft, teams are prohibited from conducting their own workouts or attending workouts. They can interview potential draftees via Zoom calls, but the only workout footage they have access to was conducted under the watchful eyes of the league after 85 potential draft picks were measured and weighed and worked out.
The Raptors, at least since Tolzman joined the club, have been a team that puts a huge emphasis on really getting to know the individual they are selecting, not just his on-court strengths and weaknesses, but the type of person he is away from the game.
That well-rounded approach helps avoid drafting those players that look good when you see them in a game but aren’t built to withstand the rigours and pressures of an NBA season.
“We’re not looking at it as a negative by any means,” Tolzman said of the changes to the process. “Like I said, the way that we do things to begin with, we don’t need to change much of our operation. I think that we’re a front office that spends a lot of time digging in on guys throughout the entire season, not just during the pre-draft. So a lot of the work we’ve done, it happened earlier in the year while the games were still going on, so we feel pretty comfortable with where things were at when everything got changed.
“I think it’s gonna come down to trusting in our gut feeling in some of these players that we don’t have the pre-draft process to change your mind after seeing guys, here or there, or watching them through different setups, whether it’s the combine or drills or three-on-three settings that we usually do.”
The draft is just under a month away – Nov. 18 – and in the meantime the Raptors will continue to touch base via zoom calls with prospective picks.
The feeling though is that without the workouts to sway decisions, Tolzman and the Raptors already have their minds pretty much made up. It’s only a matter of what has already been taken when that 29th pick rolls around.
There needs to be an acknowledgement of how important VanVleet was to this past season. VanVleet was third in minutes, third in scoring, second in assists, and first in steals. In the playoffs, he was first in both scoring and assists, and made double the amount of threes of any other Raptor. VanVleet also took on the most difficult point guard assignments every night, and led the league in deflections at 4.2 per game. That’s not bad for a player who is supposedly too small to effectively play his position.
Early in the year, when Lowry suffered an ankle injury in New Orleans, VanVleet carried the load with averages of 21.2 points, 7.5 assists, and 2.4 steals while leading the Raptors to a 9-2 record with losses coming only to the Clippers and Mavericks on the road. When the season restarted inside the Disney bubble, VanVleet hardly missed a beat as he poured in a career-high 36 points against the Miami Heat, before dominating the decimated Nets and outplaying Kemba Walker in the second round.
Keep in mind that this was VanVleet’s first season as a starter. He was thrust into that role when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left, and he elevated his game accordingly. VanVleet bumped his scoring from 11 to 17.6 points, while maintaining the same efficiency. He led the Raptors in drives per game (14.3), five more than Lowry (9.6), and was the primary initiator on the floor. His presence allowed Lowry to play more off the ball as a shooting guard, and VanVleet also shared great chemistry with Pascal Siakam in the two-man game. He also showed an improved ability to get open without the ball while extending his range to stretch well beyond the arc.
Defensively, VanVleet remains elite for his position. If the Raptors’ defense were a body, Lowry was the brain, Siakam and OG Anunoby were the long limbs, Marc Gasol was the muscle, and VanVleet would be the hands. He ranked fourth in steals, and consistently guarded star point guards. In the Celtics series, VanVleet put the clamps to Walker, and held the four-time All-Star to 26 points on 8-of-26 shooting in direct head-to-head matchups across the seven-game series. This is hardly an outlier, either, as VanVleet had a similar effect on Stephen Curry, Terence Ross, Eric Bledsoe, and J.J. Redick in last year’s championship run. In a league flush with talented point guards, having an elite defender on the perimeter is a must.
Tim Bontemps: Fred VanVleet is the best unrestricted free agent who could change teams this offseason. He could help Phoenix or Atlanta take a significant leap forward. But if Toronto can keep him at a price that preserves cap space, it will strengthen the Raptors’ case for a max player to join VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby next offseason.
Will the Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet?
The Raptors haven’t been shy about signing their own players to lucrative new contracts and extension in recent years. Kyle Lowry has signed a pair of new deals since 2017, both of which paid him more than $30MM annually; Serge Ibaka got a long-term deal worth nearly $22MM per year in 2017; and Pascal Siakam received a maximum-salary extension last fall.
That pattern suggests that the team should have no qualms about locking up VanVleet to a new contract this offseason that fairly reflects his market value. But even if the Raptors feel that way – and I think they do – their long-term salary cap outlook complicates matters.
Toronto has long had its eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and is close with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri. For the time being, Siakam’s $31MM cap hit is the only guaranteed money on the Raps’ books for 2021/22, and even though the team will also have to account for Norman Powell‘s player option, cap holds for OG Anunoby and Terence Davis, and some other small charges, that leaves plenty of room for a maximum-salary player.
However, if VanVleet signs a pricey new multiyear deal, his ’21/22 cap charge would cut into that remaining cap space in a major way.
We have no clear sense yet of where the NBA’s salary cap will land for ’21/22, and Powell’s extension and Anunoby’s next contract are wild cards that could affect how much flexibility the Raptors actually have a year from now. But as long as Ujiri and the Raps still have an outside shot at Antetokounmpo, the sense is that the franchise will want to maximize its cap room for 2021 as much as possible — and that will affect how much the club is willing to offer VanVleet this fall.
Lawyers for Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri say a law enforcement officer’s court motion should be denied, calling allegations about a confrontation between the two at the 2019 NBA Finals “a complete fabrication.”
Ujiri’s legal team filed its response on Monday to Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland’s motion to the United States District Court in California, which came in the aftermath of the Raptors executive’s counterclaim earlier this year.
The response says it’s “entirely unreasonable” for Ujiri to be a security threat, as Strickland alleged in his motion.
Strickland’s document said because it was a high-profile sporting event, there was a risk of crime. It lists examples including the 1993 stabbing of tennis star Monica Seles, the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 2004 NBA brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.
A Zoom hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Bjorkgren takes on a roster built around the backcourt of Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo (entering the last year of his contract after injury troubles), and the frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. They’ve also got a pair of Holidays, and the loud skills of T.J. Warren. The Pacers are a capable team, a veritable lock — when healthy — to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The question is: can Bjorkgren take them up another level or is he supervising an incoming inevitable decline?
(We won’t get too much into the racial optics of Indiana’s decision to fire veteran coach Nate McMillan, who was dealt a bad hand in 2019-20, for an unproven coach like Bjorkgren. But we will have to see what kind of leeway the latter gets from management if the Pacers get healthy and still falter in the East.)
Optics aside, Bjorkgren has put in the coaching hours and deserves a shot at being a head coach. Being attached to the staff of a recent NBA champion opens a lot of doors, so congrats to Nate for making the leap. We look forward to his duels with former mentor Nurse in the coming season.
“It was pretty evident pretty quickly that he was going to be a really good basketball coach,” Nurse said earlier this year before he and Bjorkgren and the rest of the Raptors staff coached in the NBA all-star game in Chicago. “His care level was (unmatched) and the biggest thing is he’s a super positive guy.”
Bjorkgren takes over in Indiana from Nate McMillan, the coach of four years who was let go after the 2020 NBA playoffs.
“This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said. “He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative, and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous.”
Bjorkgren’s hiring, while a shot to Toronto’s staff, will be well greeted by Toronto players.
“Nate is one of the best. Well deserved,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said on his Twitter feed when Bjorkgren first had an interview with the Pacers.
“Nate is the man,” guard Kyle Lowry said in an interview prior to the all-star game. “He’s always that positive, happy go-lucky guy, always looking at the plus side, not looking at anything negative. We need that.”
OVO City Edition” – (2019-20)
The annual continuation of a ground-breaking partnership that has merged sports, music and culture, the OVO Raptors jersey always comes highly anticipated. And while Drake’s consortium has come out with some sweet ensembles in the past, the 2019-20 OVO City Edition has to take the cake.
The look seamlessly blends the old with the new. The stegosaurus spikes on the nameplate make a welcome return, along with the ’90s font on the front. As to be expected, the jersey is drenched in OVO’s signature black and gold colour scheme.
The jersey also says “Toronto” on the front, a rarity in franchise history that adds to the civic pride that the uniform evokes.
Since becoming the team’s global ambassador in 2013, Drake and his OVO brand have increased in prominence with the team. OVO now has the naming rights to the Raptors’ practice facility, along with a patch on their warm-up jerseys that made every hypebeast go crazy.
Sun Life Financial is the current in-game jersey sponsor for the team, but when that contract runs out, could the OVO owl make its on-court NBA debut? If this came to pass, it would only further an unprecedented relationship between a musician and his childhood team.
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