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.
What: Survivor Series – The 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament
When: November 28, 2021, at 1:00 PM
Cost: The cost per team is $150
How to Sign Your Team Up
3. Send money using $RAPS coin here
I’m looking to sponsor a team for the tournament, drop me a line ([email protected]) and we can sort you out. First come first serve (4 people).
If ever someone deserved to have tomatoes or a shoe thrown at him, it was Banton in that moment. Truly, it was the humblebrag nobody wanted to hear, and we all could have figured it out by looking at Banton, who is listed as 6-foot-9 and 204 pounds. (If you want to be truly dismayed, Banton is only fourth from the bottom in terms of pounds per inch, a totally normal statistic, on the Raptors’ 20-man roster. Isaac Bonga, Malachi Flynn and Chris Boucher will be joining him at a fast food joint at 3 a.m., presumably.)
Once rage subsided, some more material insight presented itself on Wednesday. First of all, Nick Nurse views Banton as a point guard. With the Raptors going all-in on positionless play and flexibility, anybody daring to assign any player an actual position is notable.
As you might know, the Raptors have three point guards — Fred VanVleet, Goran Dragic and Flynn — on the roster. Banton has a guaranteed contract, all but assuring him of a roster spot on opening night. So, where does he fit in?
“I think probably my first priority or concern with him is to make sure he’s got the ball in his hands somewhere, that he’s getting on the floor and doing something,” Nurse said when asked if Banton will spend time with Raptors 905 of the G League. “I don’t know how it’ll all shake out. I think Malachi needs a lot of reps, too. He’s not had a traditional start because of where we were (last year) and all that kind of stuff and the G League wasn’t there for him, really, last year in the way we would like it to be.”
Without definitively answering the question, then, Nurse indicated he’d prefer Banton start in Mississauga. With Pascal Siakam starting the year injured, that leaves 10 players on guaranteed contracts who might play on opening night against Washington. The Raptors can also keep up to three of the five players on the training camp roster.
With that in mind, it is time for my first effort at roster/rotation projection. Would it be prudent, even sensible, to wait for Monday’s initial exhibition game, or at least Saturday’s intrasquad game in London, Ont.? Obviously. But anybody can see how Nurse juggles his roster in pretend minutes and guess how he’ll do so when the games start to count. I am attempting to do all that with no visual evidence, only the voices in my head — others’ and my own — to go on.
Will I be hilariously wrong? Probably. That is half the fun, though. We will keep Siakam out of this exercise, confronting his return when it nears. Let’s get to it. (Asterisk denotes starter.)
Tellingly, his support system is tight in both numbers and profile.
“I’m very blessed to have genuine people around me who just want the best for me. They understand just not having the access to me just to be able to stay focused, coming into the gym two-to-three times a day I don’t have time to hang out and do all the other stuff that people might want to do,” he said. “But everybody understands the situation that I’m in, the close people that I have around me. So, I guess they just know that I’ve been focused on really just grinding and am focused on the future and what the future has to hold for me to try to get ready for the season and training camp.
“So every week has just been building for me so I have something to look forward to the next week. So it’s just been a grind and everybody understands that and I’ve been grateful to have the support team around me and the Raptors, you know, anything I need they’ve been there for me for anything. So I feel like the support team I have around me is [too] good for me to have a downfall. I know there will be bumps along the road, and I know that, but I feel like when you have the best support team around you it just puts you in position to be successful.
Who is he relying on?
“Just definitely my mom, my dad, my family, my grandmother, my uncles. Just the people who have been there and understand, really, where I come from. It’s easiest for me to talk to them and get that guidance from… but [having] my whole community behind me in Rexdale is just, you know, I have a lot to look forward to and a lot of people who are motivated. So I know what’s on the line and just want to continue to be positive and successful.”
He’s got some practical concerns to address to make that happen. He’s got to improve as a shooter — he shot only 41 per cent from the floor in two college seasons and 23.7 per cent from deep. To that end he’s a pupil in what the Raptors refer to as their shooting academy as they work to hone one of the most important skills of the game with a group of players who have plenty of attributes but don’t shoot the ball well.
“Just getting some things ironed out and straightened out and trying to put those in a groove that feels comfortable then put them on autopilot and get the reps in,” said Nurse.
The other is getting a little more bulk and strength distributed across his never-ending arms and legs. It’s a process.
“It’s definitely been a long road for me,” said Banton. “I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work toward my body. If I can just wake up and say I want the results, I would do that, I would get it. But I feel like it’s a longevity thing. You just have to build days on top of each other for guys with fast metabolisms or guys who can’t get gain weight rapidly like other guys… it’s the amount you eat and the amount you put in. I lose weight if I don’t do anything. The more that I’m in the gym lifting the more that I’ll gain by being active… [it’s] kind of just understanding your body and having the professionals here to help you do so and learning what’s good for you and not good and doing it the right way rather than the wrong way.”
Worst case, a little home-cooking probably can’t hurt either.
“I’d kind of like him to not be so much all or nothing on the defensive end,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday. “He’s going to make these humongous blocks and steals and I’d like them to be all solid … just playing coverage and getting in there and making the right rotations and blocking his man out, not necessarily getting the rebound but just kind of continue to take those swings at the blocked shots, to continue to pick off those threes that he blocks, getting in the passing lanes a little bit because that’s just kind of a knack that he has.
“But then again continuing to grow and understanding just solid defence and rotations and coverages.”
It’s very much a “less is more” situation.
Whether Boucher is able to handle that request — to temper his enthusiasm for the big play to make the right play — will determine just how much he’s asked to contribute to the Raptors this season. A major contribution is vital.
“You’re gonna get some leadership responsibilities just from years of service on this team because there’s just a handful of guys who have been here for a little bit, and he’s been with us for a little bit,” Nurse said. “When we’re doing a drill and nobody knows what we’re doing, he’s first in line, and the four guys, he goes, ‘Watch me do it. I’ll show you how.’
“My thing with him is again, can he consistently bring that energy and hard play that is kind of his calling card. Which he does. There’s hardly any — everybody has them — but there’s hardly any nights where you look back and say, ‘Chris wasn’t playing hard tonight.’ It’s pretty much his calling card.”
Boucher is among the longest-serving Raptors with Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
“I think obviously now I’ve got to talk a little bit more, especially for the guys that play my position,” Boucher said. “I’ve got to kind of tell them what to do. But also it’s just about perspective. I went to every camp this summer just to show (the young players) that even though I’ve been here for a couple, I’m still working on it.
“That’s some kind of leadership that you’re showing. Like I said, Fred did it before, Pascal did it before, it’s just my turn now. For these guys to get better, you kind of need somebody that’s already there to do it with them. I’m happy to be doing it with them.”
Whether that’s as a starting power forward filling in for the injured Pascal Siakam to start the year or a veteran presence on that second unit or some sort of mixed role at power forward and centre, Boucher’s stock has risen to the point where chasing minutes will never be a concern again.
With that and with his newfound veteran status, on an admitted young team, comes a sense of belonging and ownership to the whole thing and Boucher is very much leaning into that.
That becomes immediately apparent when he’s asked about his focus going into this year.
“No, my priority is on defence,’ Boucher said sounding very veteran-like. “I think I could do a lot of things on defence. You know, I can rebound, I can push the ball, I can get some deflections, block shots. And I feel like since, you know, this year we got an era where we want to switch everything, we want to be disruptive. This is what I got to focus on the most. I feel like scoring is in me. I kind of find ways to score most of the time. But on a defensive end, that’s where I got to focus more.”
A year ago from the previous season, Boucher added over 10 minutes of run a night to his daily workload, shot over 50% from the field and just better than 38% from three. Improving those numbers may not the priority, but that too will be a goal.
“I’m trying to be above 40%,” Boucher said when asked about his three-point shooting. “Like I said, for half of (last) year I was at like 45%. So, I think the one thing that’s gonna help me better is I’m better able to handle it and everything, so it’s probably going to limit the contested shots that I took last year.
“I think that’s what dropped my number,” he said. “I got to a point where I was trigger happy again. And like I said, now it is more about reading, obviously I have my open shots and they’re going to close out a little bit better. And it’s just about making the read now and I’m getting better every year so this year you’re gonna see something different again.”
Head coach Nick Nurse came to rely heavily on Boucher in one of the tougher years in recent Raptors history last season in Tampa, but he sees room for more growth and more development this season.
And just like Boucher, Nurse is focussed on the Montreal native’s defensive potential. Boucher can be and was sensational at times defensively a year ago. Nurse just wants him to be a little more consistent with his defensive execution.
On the surface, his comments may have come off as arrogant or disrespectful, but those who know Dragic or have followed him closely over the course of his incredible NBA career know he’s anything but.
Whether it’s by his legions of fans in Miami, where he spent the last seven seasons and is beloved, or former teammates with the Suns, Rockets and Heat, Dragic has always been well regarded around the league. Chatting with him for even a few minutes, it’s not hard to see why. He’s engaging, personable and sincere.
He’s a class act. When Lowry, his friend and former Rockets teammate, called to ask for permission to wear his No. 7 with Miami, Dragic didn’t hesitate.
“We talk a lot, he knows my family, I know his family, so it was nothing,” he said. “He asked me for the number and I said, ‘yeah, no problem, you’re my guy.’ He won a championship and everything so he deserved it.”
Meanwhile, Dragic – who will be switching to No. 1 with Toronto – didn’t even consider asking Lowry to return the favour, understanding and appreciating what the Raptors legend means to the franchise, and that his jersey will be hanging from the rafters at Scotiabank Arena one day.
Dragic has great respect for the organization and what it represents. He sees the similarities between the Raptors’ culture and Miami’s and is embracing the opportunity to come in and help them transition to a new era. Whether Toronto was his preferred destination or not, he’s determined to fit in.
“To me, it didn’t seem like he didn’t want to be here,” said , who has been working out with Dragic since the veteran point guard arrived in Toronto a couple weeks before the start of training camp. “He’s trying to help everybody, he’s talking about winning, trying to tell us what we can do to bring another championship to Toronto. For me, if you ask me personally, I think he wants to be here and help us win. That’s what I’m seeing.”
“He’s been fantastic,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I checked in with him after the trade, a few days after some of that stuff. We discussed possible roles, and he’s just like, ‘coach, whatever, I’m good’. He’s very enjoyable to talk to. He’s got a super high IQ. He loves the game, obviously, competes to win, plays smart. He’s been really, really fun to have.”
How long will Dragic be in Toronto? That remains to be seen. By all accounts, the team is still hoping to move him ahead of the trade deadline, extracting an asset or two from a club that’s gearing up for a title run. The odds of him being a Raptor past February are low. Even still, there’s plenty that he can offer a young team like the Raptors.
Calderon, who played eight seasons in Toronto and remains one of the all-time favourites among fans, is leading an Athlete Tech Summit this week to assists players from all sports to prepare for their post-career lives.
“Tech now is in everything, it doesn’t matter what you like, there is always some kind of tech part,” Calderon said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “It could be in health or in sports or whatever you can name.
“It’s knowing how things work (or) maybe you actually have the start up that you need help with to launch because you have something going on.
“That’s all we’re trying to do and that’s what the Athlete Tech Summit is about: a lot of people talking about their experiences, what they are involved in and how you can get more involved with all that stuff.”
The meeting — a free virtual summit organized by the Athlete Tech Group — brings together athletes and entrepreneurs from sports and business to offer advice, experience and support for athletes who want to investigate career possibilities after their playing days are over.
“We want to empower athletes to begin their entrepreneurial journey and explore the many opportunities within Canada’s fast-growing tech industry,” said Randy Osei, the founder of the Athlete Tech Group.
Calderon, who retired in 2019 after a 14-year NBA career, knows first hand the need to prepare for the years after career ends. He dabbled in technology startups near the end of his career, held a stake in a renowned jamon co-operative in his native Spain throughout his years as a basketball player. He made sure that when he was finished as a player, he’d have something to jump right into if he wanted and that’s what he wants to impart in the day-long summit.
“I know sometimes it’s weird when you are in the best moments of your NBA career and you think that’s all you’re going to have but there are so many years after that and you have to think about it,” he said. “If you know what you’d like to do, I think there’s always time. We spend so much time in planes and hotels, it’s about just reading, educating yourself while you’re playing basketball.”