Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 18

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Raptors mailbag: Lowry sign-and-trades, free agent targets – Yahoo!

Q: Would the Pacers be interested in a Gary Trent Jr. for Myles Turner swap?

A: Indiana is an interesting team to watch as it seems poised for a shakeup beyond just the undignified dismissal of former Raptors assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren. If the Pacers look to shuffle their roster, Myles Turner is a logical target to be moved since there has always been a layer of redundancy between him and Domantas Sabonis sharing the frontcourt. That being said, the Pacers should be able to score more than Trent Jr. on a sign-and-trade if they were to move Turner, who led the league in blocks and is the rare center who can also knock down threes.

The Raptors would also be trading from a position of weakness. Trent Jr. is not perfect, but he is the only starting-caliber shooting guard on the team. Toronto traded Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan, Terence Davis, and Matt Thomas in recent years, while also allowing Danny Green to walk in free agency, so there is no depth at the position. Even if they re-signed Lowry, which is a 50-50 proposition, there would still be a need for more guards. Of course, the Raptors could also use their pick on a shooting guard or sign one in free agency, but then what was really the point of flipping Powell for Trent Jr. at the deadline? Cleary, the team sees potential for Trent Jr. to grow in their system.

Kyle Lowry in free agency: Teams outside the Raptors that could vie for his services – The Athletic

As Kyle Lowry approached free agency for the second time as a Raptor back in 2017, it seemed possible he would get a deal close to a maximum-value contract.

Lowry was coming off arguably his best two seasons in the league. In 2015-16, he recorded 11.6 win shares, and followed up with a 10.1-win share season — in just 60 games. Those are two of the top eight Raptors seasons by that metric (Lowry has posted four of the eight 10-plus-win-share seasons for the club). He was halfway through his six-season run as an All-Star, a clear difference-maker when it came to winning basketball games.

Alas, the Raptors were swept by the Cavaliers in the second round that year, with Lowry missing the last two games with an ankle injury. He averaged just 14.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game against the Bucks in the first round, with an ugly shooting line of 42.6/25/79.1 percent. The Raptors seemed to be up against their ceiling, and perhaps that affected how other teams perceived Lowry, who just turned 31. Most memorably, the Spurs, who had the ability to create cap room, did not go after Lowry in the offseason, but there were other potential suitors who did not materialize. The Raptors gave Lowry a three-year, $100-million deal, and that was just one of many happy accidents that helped bring the franchise a title in 2019.

The contract was probably more than the Raptors needed to offer Lowry, but that pivotal offseason is a reminder of how things don’t always play out as predicted. Negotiation has at least a little to do with the leverage you can create, and having other bidders is a significant part of that.

With that in mind, let’s look at the most likely suitors for Lowry. We will also look at Gary Trent Jr.’s market later this week.

First off, let’s go back to what Lowry said about the factors that would play a part in his free-agent decision after the season ended.

“To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this,” Lowry said. “And also, money talks, and years talk, and all that stuff. Let’s be real. I play this game for the love of the game but at the end of the day, I want to make sure my family is still taken care of for generations and the time to come. Even though they are now, I wanna continue to be able to do that for my family, and when I pass away, my family (is taken care of).

“This is way different with my family, and my kids being older. My kids, they’re at a point where stability is going to be key. They’ve had some good stability in Toronto so far, and we’ll see what happens with that. It’s a big difference because of my family situation, where I’m at in my career. I don’t want to finish my career, I want more championships, that’s always been the goal. Yeah, the money comes with that and you’ll get paid, but championships are a big key to why I play this game.”

So, in no particular order, family, money and a chance to win another title are Lowry’s priorities.

There are other ways to acquire a free agent than just signing him into cap space, but for starters, let’s look at the top 10 teams in terms of practical cap space via Spotrac. As it happens, these are also the 10 teams that figure to have more than the projected $9.5-million mid-level exception, which teams that are above the salary cap but below the luxury tax, to offer players. This is just an initial look, as several teams not on this list might be able to wiggle their way to significantly more cap space if they make a few complicated decisions.

2020-21 Toronto Raptors Player Review: Pascal Siakam became the team’s best player this season – Raptors HQ

The thing about Siakam’s start this season is that, by the numbers, it wasn’t even that bad. He didn’t drive winning the way he would later in the year, and a dust-up with the team that got him suspended cast some shady vibes over the team in those early days. But on the whole, that opening stretch was more or less in line with his season-long numbers.

During the 2-8 start: 9 GP / 20.4 PTS / 8.8 REB / 5.1 AST / 2.6 TO / 54.6 TS%

Final 62 Games: 47 GP / 21.5 PTS / 6.9 REB / 4.3 AST / 2.3 TO / 54.7 TS%

Still, the Raptors’ awful start, punctuated by rimming-out game-winners for Siakam on back-to-back nights in Golden State and Portland, hung over him like a cloud of sewage exhaust, giving rise to all sorts of misconceptions about the type of player he is.

Maybe we’re talking about straw-person arguments here. But I don’t really think so. The avalanche of replies to any Siakam highlight from a big account, the free-flying jokes and takes from loud basketball internet and TV voices, even the comments on this here website suggest the consensus on Siakam is lower than his play warrants.

“He has no bag — all he does is spin!” is one thing you’ll see a lot. It is, of course, stupid.

Yeah, Siakam has a spin move, and yes, he uses it a lot. That’s because it works. Siakam is incredibly fast; channelling that speed into a defense-confusing spin move seems like a pretty good use of one’s strengths.

Where it’s gotten him in trouble before is when the opponent is ready for it. Against the Celtics for example, there was no surprise when he busted out the spin against Brown and Marcus Smart roughly 78 times per game. The grind of playing a team over and over has a way of taming your pet moves. You need to have a retort, and for any one of a half dozen possible reasons, Siakam didn’t have ‘em to close 2020.

And so, as good players do, he diversified his bag of tricks in his second year at the wheel of the Raptors offense. He adapted. Most notably, he learned to pass like a number one option has to.

No Raptor flashed a more important new skill this season than Siakam did with his playmaking. Instead of getting locked into Satan’s spin cycle on telegraphed post-ups, he learned to leverage double teams into kick-outs and weak-side swings for threes. Moving downhill, he sprayed passes to corner shooters, and leveraged his two-point scoring gravity into cute dump-offs to dunker-spot bigs and baseline-cutting OG’s. In the process of hiking his assist percentage from 16.4 to 20.5 year-over-year, he managed to trim decimal points off of his turnover rate. All of this came with defenses throwing more of their time and energy his way than ever before, thanks in large part to Toronto’s consistently depleted roster. Operating as a number one gets way trickier when Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry are your corner shooting options.

Scoring-wise this was not Siakam’s best season, despite his shooting percentages holding steady or improving from his 2019-20 marks from every area of the floor aside from three-point range, per Basketball Reference.

He ranked 19th in the NBA in drives per game, per’s tracking data. When he took a shot on those drives, he scored 58.7 percent of the time, 23rd-best among all players who drove 10 or more times a night. Among those within a couple percentage points of where Siakam finished up: James Harden, Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, and Paul George. Maybe even more impressive was his 4.9 turnover rate on drives, which ranked seventh-best among the 58 players averaging double-digit slashes to the basket.

Throw in a 76th percentile rank scoring as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (up from 43rd in 2019-20), and a 63rd percentile finish as an ISO scorer (up from 57th last year and 19th in the playoffs), and you’re looking at a more well-rounded player than we saw at the close of Toronto’s Bubble stay. So yeah, he spins a lot. But to focus on that part of his game is to miss a forest of sprouting trees.

Do any of his statistical bumps put him on the level of other contention-guaranteeing superstars? Of course not. But either way, Siakam’s development curve has never been as high as it is today, all thanks to his playmaking and the avenues it opens up. His raw scoring was down this season almost entirely due to a down year from outside. A bounce back to the league average-ish clip he achieved over the prior two seasons leaves a similarly potent scorer to the one we saw before the COVID shutdown last March, but a much more well-rounded one.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 Player Review: Tracking OG Anunoby’s ever-expanding game – Raptors HQ

We pretty much knew what we were getting with OG on the defensive end; what I really wanted to see this past season was how his offensive game would develop. With Serge Ibaka having departed in free agency, there were a few extra shots to go around, and it seemed likely some of them would end up with OG.

They did. Anunoby’s shot attempts jumped from 8.2 per game to 12.1, and although his overall field goal percentage was down slightly from the prior season, his three-point shooting and free throw percentages hit career-high marks. He shot consistently well from all over the floor, focusing on shots at the rim and behind the arc.

Truly, a prototypical highly efficient offensive wing player.

That said, I’m not suggesting that OG was sitting behind the line waiting for the ball to come his way or just scoring from the dunker’s spot. No, one of the best things about this past season was seeing Anunoby use his strength and quickness to create off the dribble.

You can see the whole offensive package on display from his 30-point game against the Pacers:

There’s still plenty of room for improvement of course. Anunoby’s handle is pretty loose, and although the “Bambi on ice” moments are becoming less frequent, as defenses adjust to his bigger role you can bet they’ll be looking to swipe those high, wide dribbles away. OG also showed a propensity to drop his shoulder to clear out defenders, picking up more than a few offensive foul calls; his strength is a huge advantage, but he’ll need to learn to get inside of his defender before using the shoulder to protect the ball, rather than trying to create space with it.

Based on the steady improvement we’ve seen in OG’s game over his first four seasons, I’m certain those improvements will come.

Before we sign off, I think it’s worth taking the time to reiterate what OG Anunoby is not. He’s not Pascal Siakam, who had a meteoric rise between his second and third seasons; Anunoby’s growth plan is more of the steady uptick variety. He’s also not Kawhi Leonard, as much as we might want him to be (and as much as his defensive prowess makes the comparisons inevitable). Kawhi, as he’s reminding us in the 2021 playoffs (or was, before he got hurt) is also an extraordinary talent on offense. Anunoby, for all of his offensive strides, simply does not seem destined to reach that level.

All of which is fine. He’s not Siakam, he’s not Kawhi. He’s OG Anunoby, he’s one of a kind, and he’ll continue that steady growth as a Raptor for the foreseeable future.

And that’s a damn good thing.

RJ Barrett’s international savvy could be Canada’s secret weapon with a Tokyo Olympics berth in sight | The Star

Barrett’s experience does belie his relative youth, and includes a vital role on Canada’s gold-medal team at the FIBA under-19 world championship in 2017. Despite having just turned 21 this week, the Mississauga native will be seen as one of the veterans on the Canadian team that will face five others in Victoria, with one Tokyo berth on the line.

“I know I have a lot to learn, but I feel like I have an advantage just in terms of, I’ve played FIBA so much that I can see certain things ahead of time — like make certain placement passes,” the New York Knicks swingman said. “That’s all a tribute to how I grew up. It’s a tribute to the programs and everything, so much basketball and movement and passing and making the right plays. So I feel like that’s been an advantage for my game and I’ve been able to adjust in any situation.”

The situation will certainly be different than what Barrett — or any of the other NBA players on the Canadian team emerging from this camp — sees on a nightly basis from November through May. It’s more physical, more loosely officiated, and there’s a premium on craftiness and brute strength over nuance or athleticism.

“You drive in the lane and a hand goes on you and it’s a call in the NBA, and sometimes you might play pinball with a couple bodies in FIBA and there is no call,” Canadian coach Nick Nurse said.

“Even though these guys aren’t making the quickest, flashiest moves to the paint or to the rim, they’re doing it with strength and craftiness and experience that you’ve got to continue to guard and … not be surprised that these 6-9, 6-10 guys are taking it off the bounce and methodically getting it to where they want to go.”

Canada, relatively undersized and missing frontcourt strength and experience without Khem Birch and Kelly Olynyk, is going to have to adapt against veteran international teams such as Greece and Turkey. Nurse would love to able to match muscle with muscle, but that may not be possible.

“If we can’t, then we go to my next thing. And you know me well enough, we are going to get the best players on the floor and we’ve got to figure it out,” the coach said. “If we have to use a 6-6 guy to wrestle a 6-10 guy, then he is going to have to do it.”

Barrett ready to bring that ‘Golden’ experience to senior men’s team | Toronto Sun

“Even this morning somebody said ‘How good do you think he’s gonna be? Is he gonna be an all-star?’ I just keep saying he’s 21. Anything’s possible for this guy with where he’s at right now. I don’t know, but I’d say he made a huge, huge leap, this year and that takes some getting used to. There’s some pretty good grown men playing in the league that he’s playing in. So to make a leap like that says a lot about him.”

Nurse has known about Barrett, the son of senior national team GM Rowan Barrett for some time, but this is the first time he’s actually coached him.

“It’s been interesting for me because he’s very smart.” Nurse said. “He’s picking up everything just like that. He’s got a kind of an infectious energy that he practices with, which, I would never know that. He kinda plays with, he’s kinda got a demeanour that’s always the same as a player, and it’s interesting to watch his energy, to watch the smiles, to watch him talking and getting his teammates going. I’m not talking about in a super rah-rah way, because that’s not really who he is, but he’s been really active and energetic and focused and concentrated and smart.”

Barrett made believers out of everyone in the NBA this past season helping the Knicks to a top four seed in the East. He improved his three point shooting from 32% to 40% and his overall shooting from 40% to 44% and was just a more complete player overall.

Now consider that the international game is even more up his alley and you begin to understand why Nurse and the rest of the Canadian contingent are so excited about Barrett.

“My game has always kind of been international,” Barrett said. “I’ve adjusted a little bit to the NBA. But I grew up in Canada Basketball, playing the right way, making the right reads, making the right passes. It’s not going to be too much of an adjustment for me personally. I’m up for the challenge.”

That said, the NBA experience he’s accumulated since he last wore Canada across his chest can only help.

“Playing in the NBA, I feel like I understand a little bit more about the game of basketball, even concepts and things like that,” Barrett said. “I’m able to pick up things faster. I’m able to see a little bit more. I’m also able to now help other guys. I think that’s the biggest change for me now.”

That gold-medal experience is now four years old, but it’s something that Barrett reflects on a lot and it is what drives him to push for another.

“That probably is the most special basketball moment of my life,” Barrett said of that gold medial in Cairo, Egypt. “I always cherish that. No one can ever take that away from me and no one can ever take that away from my country. I say that with great pride. It’s also why I’m here right now. I’m trying to bring that feeling back to Canada, bring a medal back home.”

Canada has another week in Tampa where the team is training before they head to Victoria. The team opens the tournament June 29th taking on Greece.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 Player Review: The rocky season of Aron Baynes – Raptors HQ

What went wrong with the Aron Baynes signing?
The short answer is “everything,” but you didn’t come here for the short answer, did you? No, you came to relive the greatest misses from the centre spot, in a Raptors season with a heck of a lot of lowlights.

First, the basics. As alluded to above, Baynes does not have very good hands. He struggled to catch passes on the move or in any kind of traffic. This was especially cringe-worthy to watch because, as Raptors fans, we’ve seen Kyle Lowry deliver picture-perfect pocket passes to big men for years, from Jonas Valanciunas to Amir Johnson, from Serge Ibaka to Chris Boucher, heck, even to Bismack Biyombo, not exactly known for his hands either. To see Baynes fumble away pass after pass was extremely disheartening.

Then there’s the shooting. Baynes had seemingly transformed his game last season, adding a three-point shot to his game and becoming a stronger outside, pick-and-pop threat. That shooting disappeared this season; his three-point shooting percentage decreased from 35% to 26%; he also took half as many three-point attempts per game.

Rebounding? While I remember thinking at times in the past couple of seasons that Serge Ibaka was a poor rebounder for his size and athleticism, Baynes quickly banished those thoughts and had me wishing for Ibaka’s rebounding numbers. Baynes pulled in only 5.2 boards per game, good for sixth on the team; that number surely would have been higher were it not for the strikingly high number of balls that Baynes seemingly punched out of the air in no particular direction, rather than attempting to, you know, grab the rebound.

Now, an Aron Baynes defender (if there is such a thing) might tell you that per 36 minutes, Baynes’ 10.0 rebounds per game would have been 3rd on the team. That same defender might also tell you that Baynes led the team in rebounding rate (tied with Chris Boucher), at 15.3%. To them I say, A) this Raptors season was bad enough, now you want us to imagine it with Baynes playing 36 minutes per game!? and B) the Raptors were the 28th-worst rebounding team by rebounding rate in the entire league. Being the best player on the team at something the team is objectively bad at isn’t much to write home about; Baynes had the 31st-best rebounding rate out of 50 centres who played in 25 games and played 18 minutes per game.

Finally, the hardest thing to quantify might have been the negative impact that Baynes’ presence had on his teammates’ offense, particularly the starters, when he was on the floor. All too often, it felt that rather than being a contributor, Baynes was in the way on offense. He couldn’t seem to find the right spots to get to that would allow Pascal Siakam to operate effectively. He didn’t move the ball well (when he did catch it).

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