Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 5

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AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Second generation NBA: A five-step guide to developing Raptors' Gary Trent Jr. – The Athletic

Allow your child to diversify
There has been an increasingly loud debate about whether a young athlete should specialize in a sport, getting as skilled as possible, or try a whole different set of activities. Even hockey parents can find ways for their kids to participate in on-ice activities 12 months a year. At some point, if your child really excels at a sport, there becomes a tacit pressure to devote all your resources to getting better at that particular sport.

There are countless examples of that perhaps not being the best approach. Steve Nash, Trent Sr.’s old teammate, famously played soccer as well as basketball growing up, and has mentioned how it helped his court vision. Stephen Curry played a cadre of sports. Allen Iverson and LeBron James, both basketball savants, played football to varying degrees.

Trent Jr. had identified preposterously early he wanted to be a basketball player. As involved as his dad was, he refused to make that his only athletic outlet.

“I had him play other sports to get him some balance, introduce him to other things,” Trent Sr. said. “I didn’t want him to get burned out on basketball. Go play football for a few months and give you a chance to miss basketball. When you come back, you’d be ready to work and you’d be excited about it because you’d been away from it. My sister was a professional track athlete, so she trained him in track. And it just gave him more diversity in other sports.”

Nick Nurse shuts down narrative that Raptors are tanking – Sportsnet

So while he may not like it, Nurse does also get it.

“It’s reality, right? It’s the reality of it,” said Nurse. “But we’re still playing to win and we’re still playing to make the playoffs and were still playing to get better.”

For the pro-tanking crowd out there, that’s probably not what you want to hear, but do try to remember that it’s the head coach’s job to win basketball games and it’s also not as if Nurse’s goals are all that farfetched, either.

The Raptors are just 1.5 games back of the Chicago Bulls for the final play-in tournament spot in the Eastern Conference, and with 23 games left in their season, there’s more than enough time to make that push.

So even if parts of the team’s fan base won’t be quite as enthused, don’t expect to see the Raptors suddenly hit the brakes on this season. They’re still serious about trying to win and making some noise in the playoffs.

And if you want definitive proof of this then look no further than what Nurse was up to on Saturday night. While just about everyone was losing their minds watching the Gonzaga-UCLA tilt, Nurse was busy watching his next opponent, the Washington Wizards, getting work in while only listening to that college classic on the radio.

“I did not watch it,” said Nurse. “I did start listening to it on the radio, but I was watching the Wizards play last night and then I was going back-and-forth between two or three NBA games that I was watching but once I saw it was real interesting I switched that to the radio and turned my volume down on my video that I was watching and was just kind of continuing to work.”

The Raptors play Washington Monday night and the extra homework Nurse was doing could quite possibly go a long way for his team as he continues to navigate the season without a full-strength roster.

In Monday’s game, the Raptors will be without star point guard Kyle Lowry (right foot), Rodney Hood (right hip), rookie Jalen Harris (right hip), Patrick McCaw (left knee) and Paul Watson (health and safety protocols).

Being without these five players was basically expected, but very concerning for the Raptors was the inclusion of Fred VanVleet on the injury report, who is listed as questionable for Monday’s game with a left hip issue that forced him to exit Toronto’s historic win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday midway through the third quarter.

This is foreboding for the Raptors because if VanVleet would be unable to go Monday, they would be limited for point guard options. Nurse said rookie Malachi Flynn would likely get the start and DeAndre’ Bembry, who just returned from health and safety protocols the game before, would act as the primary backup.

Ready or not, the Raptors turn to Malachi Flynn in push for the play-in | The Star

The 22-year-old guard is getting his chance at extended minutes now with Kyle Lowry on the shelf with a foot infection for perhaps another week, and the Raptors playing five games between Monday and Sunday.

In the past nine games, Flynn’s averaged about 16 minutes after missing more than three weeks under the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Raptors have also listed guard Fred VanVleet as questionable for Monday’s game against Washington with a left hip problem, giving Flynn even more responsibility.

“Malachi would start, DeAndre’ (Bembry) can play some point, then we’d probably start shifting it around to some other guys from there,” coach Nick Nurse said Sunday.

Flynn is getting more comfortable as he plays more; that’s just logical growth for an NBA rookie. His defensive abilities are undeniable: good lateral quickness, a toughness that belies his slight build and a defensive “sense” that fits well with what the Raptors want to do.

His offence, though, lags far behind. He’s tentative and his shooting is subpar — 8-for-44 overall from three-point range isn’t good enough — but it could very well turn around as he plays more.

“He’s just got to continue to feel comfortable at the offensive end,” Nurse said. “I don’t think he feels or looks that comfortable down there yet. He’s just got to run the team, get us into stuff … (I) would like to see a lot more straight-line driving, harder penetration, pushing up the floor in transition with some speed.

“But I think it’s just a little bit of a tentativeness. It’s almost like rust. We’ve got to knock some of that off there, and that only comes with more minutes.”

In a perfect world, Flynn might have had 30 or 40 G League games to at least polish his skills and find his groove against professional talent. He would have had a handful of practices with the NBA team to get used to those teammates, and games with the Raptors 905 to get up to speed.

It's next-man up for short-staffed Raptors against Wizards | Toronto Sun

The words ‘tank’ and ‘tanking’ get thrown around rather liberally when a team such as the Raptors falls into the lower third of the conference standings.

Coach Nurse hears the talk, and he understands the inevitability of it getting attached to his team. It’s part of the reality of pro sports in the 21st century.

That doesn’t mean Nurse has to listen to it.

“Yeah, I don’t like it,” Nurse said. “I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like thinking about it, and I don’t like that it goes on.”

But is it insulting when people talk about it in regard to the team you are coaching?

“It’s reality, right?” Nurse said. “It’s the reality of it. But we’re still playing to win, and we’re still playing to make the playoffs and we’re still playing to get better.”

Toronto Raptors: NBA trade deadline winners and losers – Hoops Habit

Loser: Gary Trent Jr. (present)
This is not to say that the Raptors are losers for acquiring Gary Trent Jr. In fact, he may be the best acquisition they made at the deadline. Trent could be a real part of the franchise’s long-term future.

In the present, however, Trent has downgraded from a team that is going to make the playoffs and perhaps advance in the playoffs to one that will likely do neither. For any player, that’s likely to feel like a bit of a bummer.

Trent was developing into a bonafide star in Portland. He was averaging a career-high 15.0 points per game, shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range and hitting an average of three 3-pointers per game for the first time in his career.

His best skill is his ability to secure the basketball. So far this season, Trent sports a 4.8 turnover percentage, which is the best for qualifying players in the entire league. The Raptors are one of the better teams at avoiding turnovers (12.7 per game), so adding Trent is improving upon a strength in that department.

With an increase in minutes, Trent has seen an uptick five games into his Raptors tenure. He’s up to 16.8 points per game and his hitting a putrid 43.2 percent of his threes. His turnover percentage is even better than before, too, at 1.3 percent.

The early returns are looking good. Trent just turned 22 years old and has plenty of promising development ahead of him. Ultimately, it should be a win-win for both player and team if he develops into a high-caliber starter.

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