Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 10

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OG Anunoby Might Be The Next Star Wing … But He’s Finding His Own Way There | FiveThirtyEight

That Anunoby has not developed his pick-and-roll game has not proved debilitating to his offensive impact. Even though improved efficiency handling in the pick and roll so often constitutes the vehicle through which NBA players ascend to stardom, Anunoby is choosing his own ride. But it’s hard to pinpoint one area in which his improvements have come. Anunoby is shooting worse from the field and from deep than he did last year. He’s attempting fewer free throws per game this year than last. If those declines mean anything beyond the small sample sizes of an early season, they point towards him adjusting to his new role. Anunoby is averaging just over eight extra touches per 100 possessions, and he’s distributed those touches in a variety of ways.

Anunoby has posted up 31 times already — a top-15 mark on the season, per Second Spectrum. (He ranked 68th in total post-ups last season.) Anunoby seems patient in the post, waiting to see how the defense reacts. If the paint is clogged, he’s still precise in finding interior passes. If he remains defended in single coverage, Anunoby can often overpower defenders and reach the rim.

Even though he hasn’t improved his efficiency as a handler in the pick and roll, Anunoby has expanded his game as a roller. Per Second Spectrum, he leads the Raptors in picks set by non-centers, and the team is scoring more than a point per chance on shots directly involving an Anunoby screen. His frequency of screen-setting is far higher than last season. Furthermore, he was fourth in isolations among Raptors last year, and he leads the team in 2021-22 by a wide margin. He’s by far the most efficient transition scorer in the league among players with 15 such shots or more. Anunoby remains a generalist on the offensive end.

But because of Anunoby’s wide-ranging skill set — and despite his struggles in the traditional haunt of wing stars — the Raptors are far better on the offensive end with him on the floor. Per Cleaning the Glass, his on/off offensive points per 100 possessions is +7.7, second-highest among rotation Raptors and by far the highest of his career.4 Even though the means through which he’s scoring isn’t developing in the same way as his archetypal predecessors, he still offers enormous offensive impact — with a larger on/off offensive points per 100 possessions than any of George, Brown, Leonard, or Antetokounmpo in their fifth seasons.

Another commonality between Antetokounmpo and George, if not Brown and Leonard, is they both won Most Improved Player awards, incidentally the year they attended their first All-Star Games. Could Anunoby be on track for the same recognition? Regardless of what does or does not fill his trophy cabinet at the end of the year, Anunoby is already following in the footsteps of giants. He’s just walking the path in a way that’s entirely his own.

Raptors report: Good stats, bad stats, neutral stats and Precious Achiuwa’s role – The Athletic

Hey, enough with the statistics that even have a chance to be construed negatively. Let’s keep it unambiguously positive. After all, the Raptors are 6-5, generally exceeding expectations given the absence of Siakam and playing an engaging brand of basketball. The Raptors are fun!

Part of what makes them fun is their penchant to hit the offensive glass — hard. They are grabbing 33.7 percent of their misses, first in the league. (Khem Birch, the most effective player in that area, will miss both divisional games because of a sore knee.) Offensive rebounds went out of style for a while, as several coaches felt transition defence suffered because of any attempts to get second chances.

Well, the Raptors are only allowing 1.038 points per transition opportunity to their opponents, ninth-best in the league. In addition, only one team, Chicago, allows its opponents to shoot less frequently in transition than the Raptors do. Only 13.4 percent of the Raptors’ opponents’ possessions have been on the run. (This contributes to the overall pace as much as the Raptors’ own laborious half-court offence.)

In other words, the Raptors are accomplishing the rare feat of feasting on the offensive glass without having to pay for it on the other end very often.

“It’s effort. They play really hard, man,” Nurse said. “It takes a lot of effort to get on the glass, and then if you’re getting on the glass to still get back — it’s effort. … Some of the stats are showing you the effort: the turnovers, the offensive rebounding, the defensive transition. They’re showing a lot of effort, and that’s as simple as that.”

If you want an explanation for why the Raptors have been so fun to watch, despite the comparatively slow pace, there it is.

Raptors notebook: Effort and connection are difference-makers in solid start

“Some of the stats are showing you the effort: The turnovers, the offensive rebounding, the defensive transition, they’re showing a lot of effort and that’s as simple as that. So we need to play hard, we need to play harder, more consistently. We’ll be in good shape.”

And Raptors centre Precious Achiuwa echoed Nurse’s comments.

“It’s effort. That’s one that we have and that’s why I think we’re a really good team. We play hard and we cover for each other. We play together, not just on offence but on defence as well,” Achiuwa said. “We’re able to cover for whoever goes for the offensive rebound until they get back on defence. It’s all effort. If you go for the offensive rebound you’ve got to scramble back on defence, whether you get your matchup or not, and play from there.”

Hustling and playing hard does seem like a logical explanation for why the Raptors have been able to be both a great offensive rebounding and transition defence club. But you have to think that if the requisite to being good at both of these things simultaneously was simply effort, as both Nurse and Achiuwa said, then every team in the NBA would at least be halfway decent at these things because basically every player in the league, in one way or another, plays hard and with great effort. If they didn’t, then they likely wouldn’t be in the NBA.

No, for the Raptors, there appears to be something special about this particular group to want to go that extra mile for each other.

“I think just because guys on the team are naturally good guys,” said Achiuwa, when asked what makes the effort this Raptors team special from effort other teams put in. “We enjoy each other’s company off the court, on the court, and it’s a lot easier if you have a relationship with somebody and can look out for the person and play hard for the person next to you.”

Most notably, the trust Achiuwa was alluding to is best seen on the defensive end of the floor, where the Raptors have played a high-risk, high-reward style of defence, predicated on forcing turnovers by either getting steals or deflections.

Such a defensive scheme isn’t possible without guys trusting each other.

“Having great defenders on your team and guys that can help you on the defensive end, you can miss certain gambles and still recover, still get a stop, or don’t get the ball at all so it’s a good thing to have teammates like that,” said Gary Trent Jr.

Trent leads the league in both steals and deflections, and owes quite a bit of his success there to the fact he trusts his teammates to cover for him when he decides to take a risk playing a passing lane or blitzing an offensive player.

So, while the Raptors obviously do play hard, it’s the effort they put in, combined with what looks like a special connectivity the players on the roster share with each other that’s been the major difference in what has been a solid start for the team.

Toronto Raptor Gary Trent Jr.’s quick hands, Raptors’ defensive edge – Raptors HQ

During the offseason, he signed a three-year, $54 million contract with the Raptors, securing his spot on the roster for the near-future. Again, as this season started, he was expected to be a key bench player and provide an offensive boost, something that was needed as the team waited for Pascal Siakam to recover from shoulder surgery. Due to Siakam’s absence on the starting lineup, Gary was given the chance to start — which seemed to make ALL the difference as the Raptors tried to survive before their star player returned to the lineup.

Sure, he provides much needed points on the offensive end, but what has really made the difference so far has been Trent’s defence. He currently leads the league in steals, averaging 2.8 per game, as well as deflections, averaging 4.5 per game. His quick hands have helped the Toronto Raptors lead the league in deflections and loose balls recovered per game, at 21.2 and 8.4 respectively.

Trent’s explosive defence has also lead to a steady offensive performance — he currently averages 15.2 points per game, which is significantly higher than his career average of 11.3 PPG. Though those numbers are not too much of a leap from last season both with Portland and Toronto, his defensive abilities will only lead to him getting more minutes (and hopefully more points) as the season continues — especially under the defense-first mindset of Coach Nick Nurse. His current season average of 2.8 steals per game is a huge increase from his numbers of 0.9 with Portland and 1.1 with Toronto last season.

Gary Trent Jr. seems to be a great addition to the culture of the Toronto Raptors, which prioritizes defense so highly. There was speculation as to what the starting lineup would look like as Siakam returns — would Nurse elect to keep a true-center at the five spot, or give the nod to Trent and play small? If Sunday’s lineup against the Brooklyn Nets was any indication of where Nurse’s mind is at, it seems like Gary Trent Jr. has earned his spot in the starting lineup. This seems to make sense, with all three of Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby bringing height, and the Raptors’ recent history of playing position-less basketball.

One thing is for sure — Gary Trent Jr. has brought a spark to the Raptors’ backcourt, and seems to be fitting in well. We’re excited to see how it all blends together once Siakam gets acclimated and the rest of the team gets healthy. At 6-5 to start the season, this team has promise, and Gary Trent Jr. has been a key factor so far. While we loved seeing all his incredible Bench Fits last season, we hope Trent Jr. is a strong presence on the court for the rest of the season.

Raptors’ Trent Jr. has found his defensive chops | Toronto Sun

A week ago teammate Khem Birch paid Trent Jr. the ultimate backhanded compliment when he described him as a guy who “Not played defence (before) and then suddenly became a good defender.”

If Trent Jr. heard about it, he didn’t let on yesterday when he was asked.

“I’m not too sure about that, it’s whatever,” Trent Jr said. “It’s just a credit to the hard work I’ve put in, him seeing it.”

Trent Jr. though did drop a few hints as to how this transformation came about, besides the obvious hard work.

“Years of work, years of being in the league, learning guys’ tendencies, knowing what certain guys can do, knowing what certain offences do, and where I can put myself in position to be successful on the defensive end, just reps and playing,” he said.

But there’s another element to this and that is the system he now plays. Basically on a Nick Nurse team, if you don’t play defence, you don’t play much at all. And this year with a bunch of like-bodied 6-9 types, all of them athletic and all of them with a defensive bent, there is the obvious need to keep up with the rest of your teammates or get left behind.

“It’s everything we do, it’s our DNA, it’s our core,” Trent Jr. said. “Playing hard, playing together, I feel like that’s what all great teams do.”

And for a guy who previously only received praise and accolades for his scoring, the defensive props are actually pretty cool.

“The more recognition you get on defence and the more you see on defence: you’re stealing the ball from guys, knock it loose, you get a certain confidence, you get a certain feel about yourself on the defensive end,” Trent Jr. said.

“Also, playing on this team, great defenders on this team so it gives me an opportunity to play hard, I know every one of my teammates got my back and they’re going to   help me.”

Trent Jr. has managed his fine defensive start to the year without sacrificing any of his offence too.

Raptors establishing an identity as one of the NBA’s hardest teams to play against – Video – TSN

Despite two straight losses, the Raptors feel like they are trending in the right direction and establishing an identity as one of the hardest playing teams in the NBA. Josh Lewenberg has more on Toronto’s tough to play against attitude ahead of a tough stretch of schedule.

The Raptors aren’t big on following NBA trends. They’re gambling on the offensive glass and making it pay off | The Star

If the Raptors, under head coach Nick Nurse, have never been much for following the conventional wisdom, here’s a stat to underline their contrarian streak: Three weeks into the season, the Raptors aren’t just leading the NBA in offensive rebounds per game. They rank second in preventing opponents from scoring fast-break points (all numbers heading into Tuesday night’s slate of games).

In other words, contrary to the fears of the NBA orthodoxy, they’re effectively manufacturing second-chance points — the fourth-most per game — while limiting the damage on the other end. It’s possible they’re also taking advantage of the fact that opponents, knowing the Raptors like to crash the glass, are spending too much effort attempting to box them out to effectively run the break.

Whatever is the case, Toronto’s relative effectiveness comes down to one thing, according to Nurse: “It’s effort.”

“It takes a lot of effort to get on the glass, and then, if you’re getting on the glass, to still get back,” Nurse said. “These guys play really hard.”

None of this is to say the Raptors, with their 6-5 record, are setting any trends. And certainly Nurse isn’t exactly reinventing the sport. Emphasizing offensive rebounding isn’t a statement of ideology as much as it’s an admission of necessity. With the Raptors bereft of a bankable, shot-creating star, they’ve essentially turned their attention to the merits of on-court gambling in an effort to manufacture easy offence.

They’re not only all-in on chasing tap-ins and kick-outs on the offensive glass. They’re leading the league in steals and loose balls recovered. While Nurse acknowledged that there’ve been games when their defensive aggressiveness has backfired — particularly in Friday’s loss to the Cavaliers — the Raptors rank third in the East in creating points off turnovers. Which is a good thing considering Toronto’s offence often looks hard-pressed to create points off its own schemes.

It helps that they’ve got three players ranked among the league leaders in total steals: Gary Trent Jr. (first), OG Anunoby (tied for 12th) and Fred VanVleet (tied for 18th).

“Having great defenders on your team and guys that can help you on the defensive end, you can miss certain gambles and still recover, still get a stop,” said Trent. “So it’s a good thing to have teammates like that.”

Raptors Credit Hustle for Early Season Success – Sports Illustrated

The biggest thing that’s jumped out about the Raptors this season is their hustle, specifically on the offensive glass and on defense. They rank as the NBA’s best offensive rebounding team, grabbing rebounds on nearly a third of their live-ball misses, per Cleaning the Glass. Their 32.2% offensive rebound rate is 6.6% better than league average and 8.2% better than last season.

Traditionally, crashing the glass has meant giving up transition buckets at the other end. But Toronto has spurned that basketball equation. Despite their offensive rebounding prowess, the Raptors also snuff out transition chances better than anyone in the league. They’re letting opposing teams run in transition on just 12% of their possessions, the lowest in the NBA.

“It’s effort. They play really hard, man. It takes a lot of effort to get on the glass and then if you’re getting on the glass to still get back,” Nurse said. “Some of the stats are showing you the effort: the turnovers, the offensive rebounding, the defensive transition, they’re showing a lot of effort and that’s as simple as that.”

That effort is in the team’s DNA, Gary Trent Jr. said Tuesday. It’s what makes the Raptors who they are. It’s why on any given night they

“That’s why I think we’re a really good team,” Precious Achiuwa said. “We play hard, and we cover for each other. We play together, not just on offense but on defense as well. We’re able to cover for whoever goes for the offensive rebound until they get back on defense.”

That’s the benefit of having such a versatile roster. The Raptors can let two or three players crash the glass without having to worry about who is running back in transition to defend. They can defend across positions, so whoever is back defending is just totally equipped to handle an opposing big or slow a speedy guard running downhill.

Raptors 905 raring to go this week after almost two years away from Mississauga | The Star

The last time the Raptors 905 played in the Paramount Fine Foods Centre? March 11, 2020. They were on a four-game win streak, had won seven of eight and were the hottest team in the G League, seemingly destined to make a championship run. Then their title hopes were ripped away.

Just like the Raptors, the 905 spent last season in Florida. They finished with the best record in the regular season, but fell short in the second round of the playoffs in the G League bubble.

Sanders says the bubble was a great experience overall, with more downtime and opportunities to get to know players. The difficult part, he adds, was limited reps for players with the parent Raptors. When in Mississauga, the organization often treats the 905 as a revolving door for young guys who weren’t getting minutes in the NBA.

Even though the G League was relatively close to where the Raptors played in Tampa, it was hard to shuttle players because of protocols that required a four-day quarantine after leaving the bubble.

“That was the difficult part of it, not being able to operate how we typically would and maybe get guys like Malachi (Flynn) a few more reps,” says Sanders, the 2020-21 G League executive of the year. “Once we pulled him out of the bubble — when some guys were down with injuries (with the Raptors) — it was hard to get him back without missing too much.”

There are only two returnees from last season’s 905 roster, and they lost all three of their core players: Henry Ellenson, Alize Johnson and Gary Payton II. But almost 600 days after their last home game in Mississauga, things feel normal again.

“We’re back to where we were two years ago,” Sanders says. “There’s constant communication back and forth between both organizations, and the front office and coaching staff on trying to find the best time to get these guys reps, both in practices and in games.”

Smith, a Scarborough native, says he’s excited to join the staff of the team that first got him interested in coaching.

“I wasn’t playing that much, but I was always with the coaches, watching film with them,” Smith says. “On the road, I’d be with Nate watching what he was doing.”

Congrats to Manny Rao for winning our second Trivia Tuesday on Discord.

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