Morning Coffee – Wed, Sep 29

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Cover Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

We still have a few slots left for our 3-on-3 Tournament. The event will be on Sunday November 28 at Mattamy Athletic Centre (Yonge/College) at 1 PM. Registration is now open with limited spots available.

The Details:

What: Survivor Series – The 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament

When: November 28, 2021, at 1:00 PM

Where: Mattamy Athletic Centre – 50 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5B 1J2 (venue website, Google Maps)

Cost: The cost per team is $150

How to Sign Your Team Up

1. Send $150 e-transfer to [email protected]
2. Buy the tickets on Eventbrite here

3. Send money using $RAPS coin here

Special Offer:

I’m looking to sponsor a team for the tournament, drop me a line ([email protected]) and we can sort you out. First four people, or a full team to hit me up, is in.

Fred VanVleet Aids Toronto’s At-Risk Communities in New Initiative | Complex CA

The Raptors point guard has linked up with Penny Appeal Canada to launch “Heart of the City,” a new initiative aimed at aiding at-risk communities in Toronto, with multiple projects planned for the year. The first, which took place last week, saw VanVleet hook up 1,000 students across the Greater Toronto Area with some flashy backpacks.

“Toronto has become my second home,” VanVleet tells Complex. “I give back to my hometown of Rockford but I really wanted to do more here. The kids that cheer me on every day on the court needed to know that I’m cheering for them too.”

VanVleet made a surprise drop-in at Lord Dufferin Public School, in the city’s Regent Park community, to hand out 300 of the backpacks to kids himself. The bags were customized by Toronto artist Casey Bannerman, featuring a comic book-ized version of Fred’s face and his motto “Bet On Yourself”—a reminder to kids to have faith in their own capabilities. Penny Appeal Canada had already distributed 3,000 backpacks across Canada, and increased their total by another 1,000 after connecting with the Raptors star.

“I partnered with Penny Appeal Canada because I believe in what they’re about,” VanVleet says. “The work they do aligns with the reasons I give back. I want to give back not just as a band-aid fix, but to lift them out of their tough situations which we don’t know about.”

Nick Nurse’s ‘basketball brain is always working’ and it’s time to get weird with Raptors’ roster construction – The Athletic

The natural assumption is that Nurse’s professorial instincts will be hampered by the roster’s offensive limitations. The coach openly daydreamed about a lineup featuring Siakam, Anunoby, Birch, Barnes and Precious Achiuwa after Tuesday’s practice, the first of the year, but such a lineup would require notable jumps in ball-handling skills from some combination of Siakam, Anunoby and Barnes. The natural way to make up for a lack of half-court dynamism would be to relentlessly push the pace, but Nurse said he did not want the Raptors to be a “run-and-gun” team, although he clarified that it would be silly to put an emphasis on turnovers and not try to convert them into easier offence.

When asked what the biggest challenge of coaching this roster might be, Nurse said that it would be fair to wonder if there is enough scoring on the roster, before saying he believes that his staff’s schemes and the development of some of the players should be able to account for that.

“It’s only just important that we go out there and we try to be who we are,” Nurse said. “What’s our identity? Well, we like to play really hard and like to guard really hard and like to attack on offence, and we like to do it on a nightly basis. And that is all I’m striving for with any team. The start of any season I sit here and am trying to get the team to max out its ability. It’s no different this year than it was three years ago.”

The success of the first post-Leonard team put Nurse in rarified air. In a players league, he seemed like a notable difference-maker from the bench. Last year offered a bit of a corrective on that, with Nurse’s Raptors suffering the type of the season that inevitably takes the shine off of any successful first-time head coach. Brad Stevens had them in Boston and Steve Kerr has had them with the Warriors. Notably, the league swung quickly and definitively to prizing recent playing experience in new head-coaching hires this year, the implication that maintaining good relationships with players is the priority, and scheming can be figured out. (Not that this summer’s hires necessarily lack in knowledge of Xs and Os, but they are comparatively short on head coaching experience.) Four of the seven head coaches hired this summer played in the NBA within the last 10 years, and five are 45 or younger. Talent is most important in this league.

Still, if this roster is being shaped around anyone, it’s Nurse. The Raptors could have played it safe and gone with Jalen Suggs and filled out the backcourt for the future, but that would have turned them into a far more traditionally constructed team, and thus limit the coaching possibilities. With Barnes, whose ceiling suggests a player who is versatility personified, the Raptors’ future is a lot more open — it’s formless, in a good way.

Indeed, the Raptors’ front office has handed Nurse a stretchy ball of clay, and the coach is free to turn it into the appropriate shape at the appropriate time. Nurse’s reputation as a good tactical coach is secure, but just how he plans to manipulate that clay will say a lot about how much of a difference-maker he really is.

OG Anunoby growing into leadership role with Raptors

“You just see how strong (Anunoby is),” said Barnes after the Raptors’ first official practice of training camp on Tuesday. “He knows how to get to his spots on the floor and I think that’s a great thing to see … how he can get to the basket, force his will when he gets into the paint, be able to score, he’s really good at getting to his mid-range, getting up shots, he gets his shot up from three. I would say he’s really good, he’s a really good basketball player. He’s got all the tools.”

Anunoby isn’t a big talker with a microphone in front of him but privately he’s more willful and aware than he lets on. He knows that to make an all-NBA defensive team, his offence might be the deciding factor if votes get tight. Even though he’s in the first year of a four-year, $72-million contract extension, he knows that further individual and team success will only help his cause when he hits free agency again in what should be the prime of his career.

What did he try to add to his game this summer?

“Everything,” he said. “Shooting off the dribble, getting into the lane, finishing, and passing, (using my) teammates.”

Did he improve?

“I think so.”

The early returns have been positive — not only from the first official practice but from informal workouts over the summer.

“I think his skill set and scoring ability continues to develop,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I think he’s put in a lot of work on it at both ends, I think there’s starting and ending drives, he’s gotten a little bit craftier, starting to get free and I think he’s gotten stronger and more balanced at the end of them and a (has) different array of ways to finish.

“But I also feel he’s developing a pretty good tempo of playing in between as well. Just being able to look at somebody and not necessarily go by him but make him move to get clearance for a shot as well.

“Again, continue to see progress with that,” said Nurse. “I think just from what I’ve seen this summer and today and this fall, I think he’s gotten better.

“We’ll see but, again, I think he’s got more things in his arsenal to be able to score.”

Anunoby growing as an offensive force would help the Raptors in all areas as they try to find their identity as a new-look team. The best way to lead in the NBA — whether young or old — is by example.

Toronto Raptors Training Camp Update, Day 1: Nick Nurse – Raptors HQ

OG Anunoby, “old but young”

OG Anunoby took to the podium after Nurse, and as always, was cool as can be. He said it was great to be back in Toronto and seeing everyone, and he talked about filling in the leadership void with Kyle and Norm gone, and how he’s both old, but young — he can still look up to a veteran like Dragic, but he can also help mentor the younger players like Barnes.

Anunoby also spoke about his new teammates, reassuring everyone that everyone on the team is smart and talented, and at this point it’s about coaching, and putting people in the best position to succeed.

Just as Anunoby was about to talk about Scottie Barnes, the Zoom call broke, so I missed what he said there — and when the Zoom call came back, OG was gone! Which means we also missed this exchange between OG and Sportsnet’s Michael Grange:

Old but young, and wise either way!

Raptors hoping Fred VanVleet Pascal Siakam can help fill Kyle Lowry leadership void –

It had to be strange. How could it not be? The organization just enjoyed an unprecedented run of success and through it all Lowry was one of the lone constants, its undeniable heart and soul. His voice wasn’t always the loudest in the room but it was the most powerful. It garnered the most respect. Without it, there’s a void in Toronto’s locker room as the team transitions to a new era.

“We all know and witnessed the great leadership that Kyle provided in a lot of ways, and that will be a void that we’re gonna have to try to fill, for sure,” said head coach Nick Nurse.

“But I think it’s gonna probably be up to a collective group of other guys to provide some of that. Those people are pretty obvious. It’s the people that have been immersed in this culture and been here for a few years. Our veterans aren’t veterans by age but they’re veterans by number of years that they’ve been here now.”

and aren’t just the longest-tenured Raptors. They have more years of service (10 total) than the other 10 roster players combined (nine).

VanVleet is Lowry’s natural successor, both positionally and spiritually. He possesses many of the same qualities as his mentor, including the ability to lead and command the respect of his peers. And because he’s been grooming under Lowry for the past five years, the transition shouldn’t be drastic.

“I think he took on more of a leadership role last year and was starting to understand that at some point I wouldn’t be there to be ‘the leader’ or ‘the guy’,” Lowry said after signing with the Heat over the summer. “I think he’s ready… He’s put in a lot of work to be in that spot and to be able to carry a large load on his shoulders.”

“Off the court, I’m pretty comfortable there,” VanVleet said on Monday. “I was allowed to have a voice pretty much from my first year, second year and it’s just been steadily growing. And everybody else’s perception or expectations of me have changed, maybe, but for me, I’ve been vocal in the locker room for the majority of my time here. That’s not really gonna change. I think now I’m seeing that my actions have reactions and consequences. It’s a different feel from the other side of the room when people are looking at you versus just leading with my heart. I’m probably gonna have to be a little more calculated and patient.”

Lowry’s absence also opens up an opportunity for Siakam to take the next step in his development and solidify himself as a co-leader of this team in a way he obviously felt he couldn’t when the veteran point guard was around. That’s what he was alluding to in an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, when he spoke about how he didn’t feel like he was “the guy”, despite his max contract extension – comments that were misinterpreted by some.

“I think my interpretation of what he was saying was that, listen, ‘I got paid the max and when I got paid the max all the fans expected me to become this, this, this and this and with that came a lot of responsibility, but in my way was the greatest guy to ever do that for this franchise and it wasn’t a clear-cut distinction’,” said VanVleet, who stressed the importance of nuance in Siakam’s comments. “Kyle didn’t just bow out gracefully, he wouldn’t be if he did… He’s not gonna just back up and let somebody else do it.”

For Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes, NBA success is right at his fingertips | The Star

Barnes’s shooting is the most obvious hole in his game at the moment, but that’s hardly newsworthy when discussing an NBA rookie. The speed of the game, the skills of the defenders and the 18-inch difference in the three-point line often conspire to set even the best first-year players back a little bit.

It’s putting in the time to make subtle changes to mechanics that’s important, — to understand why changes are being made, and turn an altered shooting motion into a natural one — that turns a young player into someone who can be counted on. It’s a painstaking process, but necessary.

“Each and every day, just getting more and more reps,” Barnes said. “It’s a process of, every day, getting more reps. Just constant shooting.”

It’s foolish to even speculate on what kinds of numbers Barnes will put up this season. He will get a chance. His defence and athleticism should keep him on the floor, and the scoring and shooting percentage will come.

Nurse said Barnes is going to play. The Raptors didn’t pick him No. 4 overall to sit and watch; they want to find out quickly what he’s got. And the more he plays, the happier the franchise will be with him.

“I would say that he’s going to get out there and play,” the coach said. “Probably not looking at the stats would be one way. Don’t judge him by that. I don’t have any idea of what kind of numbers he’s going to throw up; I know that’s kind of impossible these days.

“I think his shooting will start in a place and improve. I think his free-throw shooting will start at a place and improve. I think his decision-making will start at … you know, all those things.

“I’d probably judge him by the amount of minutes he logs this year. Because that’s the way he’s going to get better, is being on the floor.”

Barnes impresses Raptors with first day of work | Toronto Sun

Head coach Nick Nurse said his prized rookie will get a lot of work, period, moving forward.

“He’s gonna get as many reps as possible and that’ll start next Monday night (in the pre-season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers),” Nurse said.

And Nurse cautioned against people expected crazy numbers out of Barnes immediately when asked how his season should be evaluated.

“Probably not by looking at the stats. Don’t judge him by that,” Nurse said.

“He’s an all-around player. He’s going to play defence, he’s going to guard all positions, he’s going to bring (up) the ball. He’s going to play all positions on offence. I think he’s unselfish,” Nurse said.

“I’d probably judge him by the minutes he logs this year because that’s how he’s going to get better is by being on the floor.”

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Barnes said the speed and size of NBA players has been an eye-opener, but Nurse said he’s fit right in.

“He looked great today ,I thought. Handled it like a lot of young players do. He was super excited. He was very enthusiastic all the way through (clapping and encouraging others). But also understand there’s a lot of learning going on,” Nurse said.

Anunoby is already looking ahead to how the energetic Barnes can help boost the spirit of the team.

“It’s very helpful, especially as the year goes on … It’s good to have. He brings the energy to everyone, he’s singing to the music, he’s always dancing. It’s fun to see. He’s fun to be around.”

Added Nurse: “He’s kind of a vocal, he’s a clapper, like, ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s play D.’

“He just likes to talk, he likes to smile and he loves the game, and he plays that way.”

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