Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 4

24 mins read
Cover Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

NBA rookie roundtable: Are Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes the foundation of a legendary draft class? – The Athletic

I am in a weird place of now believing that Barnes’ upside is that of a top-five player in the league and still needing to see the proof that he can become an All-Star. There is a lot of space between those two bars, and it mostly comes down to how Barnes grows in the future. Per Synergy Sports, Barnes has finished 23 possessions as a ballhandler in a pick-and-roll and 15 as a roller. Meanwhile, Cunningham has used 164 possessions as a handler, while Mobley has used 79 as a roller.

Raptors fans are probably tired of me saying this, but before I can say how good he is going to be, I need to know what type of player he’s going to be. (Counter: Maybe the whole point of Barnes is that he does not conform to a simple “type.”) It’s not a rush: You can figure that stuff out and evolve as you go. Hell, it was just last year when Giannis Antetokounmpo fully activated himself as a roller and post threat. It is just that his season so far tells me little about what he will become, other than that he has a remarkable capacity for growth. And that’s cool!

Watching the Raptors try to build around him, and with him, will be fascinating. Siakam has been an All-Star, Fred VanVleet could be one this year, and OG Anunoby is still improving as an attacker while being an elite perimeter defender. I think the Raptors will slowly shift some of that offensive burden to Barnes over the next few seasons. In the interim, collecting some more shooting around him will be key.

Kelsey, I think out of these three teams, the Cavaliers face the most short-term urgency to win. So where does Mobley go from here, and how do the Cavaliers navigate around him?

Raptors Notebook: Siakam slowly returning to all-NBA form – Sportsnet

And it isn’t just counting stats where Siakam has appeared to elevate his game, either. When Siakam says all-around, it truly appears to be exactly that.

“I’m seeing a lot of improvements. A lot of, maybe, things that don’t show up in a stat sheet or, maybe, aren’t even that noticeable until you go back and watch the film,” said Nurse of Siakam over the last three games. “He’s really doing a good job of, defensively, guarding multiple positions, providing help, getting back out and keeping the ball in front. Rebounding as well, he’s been pretty assertive on the glass. So, there’s a lot of positives to other phases of the game other than the scoring and assisting.”

The particular mention of rebounding from Nurse is of noted interest because, more so than any other aspect of his game, the work Siakam’s been doing on the glass has stood out as of late.

On Sunday against the New York Knicks, Siakam grabbed 14 rebounds and during the Raptors’ New Year’s Eve victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, he matched his career high, pulling down 19.

Of course, two games is a small sample size, but these two big rebounding performances is indicative of a specific focus that Siakam’s been working on.

“They call me Pascal Rodman out there so I don’t know,” Siakam said while laughing. “I was talking to Nate [Bjorkgren] and we watch a lot of film on rebounding and sometime being able to get extra possessions and I think it also comes with getting my legs under me and not being tired all the time and having the ability to make the effort to crash the glass and try to get extra possessions.”

In the words of Siakam’s former teammate Kawhi Leonard: “Board man gets paid.”

But in Siakam’s case, it’s more like “Jack-of-all-trades gets paid,” and that includes what appears to be fruit borne of work he’s put in over the past couple seasons as an improved playmaker that’s seen him very comfortably draw double and even triple teams, make the right reads and pass off to an open man, leading to assist numbers of eight, seven and seven over his past three contests.

“I have confidence in everyone out there on the floor to make the shots and, obviously, [if I’m] getting more attention, someone is going to be open,” said Siakam. “I’ve always felt like I’ve always been a willing passer. That’s just a part of my game and I feel like guys just have to be ready when I pass them the ball. Even when their men double team, because I know that I’m always going to get two or three people around me when I have the ball, just because I feel I can always attack whoever is guarding me. So, yeah, I’m willing to make those plays and the guys around know that I will make that pass and they’ve just got to be ready to let it go and either shoot or do whatever.”

Pascal Siakim playing with versatility, showing signs of his old form on the court | Toronto Sun

It’s not that long ago that a significant portion of the Raptors vocal social media base were tripping over one another coming up with various clubs they could ‘unload’ the career-long Raptor on.

Siakam had shoulder surgery in the off-season and wasn’t on the court when the team opened up the current campaign. He missed the first 10 games of the season as he rehabbed the shoulder and got it ready for the grind of another NBA season.

He has missed three more since, one two games after his return for injury management of the same shoulder and then two games around Christmas when he was in the league’s health and safety protocols.

There’s no denying that Siakam had some issues through the previous season and a half dealing with first the isolation of COVID and then the effects of that isolation as he and the NBA returned to the court in the Bubble in Atlanta.

The following season spent playing home games in Tampa included a physically draining bout with COVID and perhaps most concerning an out-of-character defiance with management and the coaching staff that led to two public clashes with the team and one internal suspension.

Siakam has said since that all of it was at some level related to the impact the pandemic has had on both his personal life and his basketball life.

As early as the beginning of training camp when Siakam addressed those issues head-on taking responsibility for them and received a spirited public defence from his teammate and good friend Fred VanVleet,, there has been a calm and a quiet confidence about the only current All-star on the Raptors roster. Throughout his rehab time he was a vocal and enthusiastic presence on the bench travelling with the team when it was not required just to be around them and with them as this young group began to mesh.

Once back on the court he preached patience as his mostly new club learned his tendencies and likes on the court and he theirs.

Six games into his return there was the 32-point night in Sacramento signalling once and for all the return of that go-to scorer was real.

But it has been these past three games – games of 28 (points), 8 (assists) and 6 (rebounds) followed by 25-7-19 and then 20-7-14 that have really cemented the return of the Siakam that was never considered trade fodder by the team’s fan base.

And none of those numbers even address the defensive contributions that Siakam is making to a team that when it is all the way back will be first and foremost the kind of team opponents despise coming up against.

Raptors can’t overreact in this roller-coaster NBA season | The Star

The good teams, the stable ones, the great ones, the ones that are still standing when spring turns to summer know that it’s never as bad as it seems and it’s seldom as good as it feels.

It’s how you handle all of it, how you bounce from good to bad to worse and back again that separates teams at the end.

And it is to the credit of the Raptors, a testament to their even-keeled nature and knowledge that things can turn quickly that they find themselves more optimistic today than they have been all season because they did not give into some terrible times.

It was less than two weeks ago that the Raptors year was circling the drain and the outlook was never more bleak.

Four backups started a game on Boxing Day in Cleveland, part of an eight-man roster comprised of emergency call-ups basically anonymous to anyone but the most ardent G League fan and all seemed lost.

Today, with a team back together, bodies healthy and minds at ease, that disastrous holiday trip to Ohio seems like it never happened.

And the players’ belief in themselves and each other, which never wavered, is its most important trait.

“I think we felt good about our group all year, to be honest with you,” Fred VanVleet said. “I just like our spirit and our chemistry and kind of the enthusiasm that we have for the game. It’s going to take time to get it to be where we need it to be, but you would hope if we keep climbing (that) by April and May we’ll be at our best, and that’s kind of the goal.”

Perhaps the best thing is that the Raptors have at the helm is a coach who is fully aware that nothing is ever as it seems and someone willing to roll with the punches, take the good times but not to expect them every night out and not live on past performances or future promises.

If there’s one thing that Nick Nurse knows, and something that’s been proven true in the past month or so, it’s that every night is different from the next.

It goes from big picture to laser focused, and with Nurse it’s never personal because he knows imperfection is at the base of professional sports DNA.

Raptors Discuss Changing Lineup Combinations Moving Forward – Sports Illustrated

But there may be an issue with bringing both Birch and Achiuwa off the bench together. The two bigs have not played a single minute together this season. On Sunday, Nurse brought Birch off the bench as the lone big in the first and third quarters and let Achiuwa handle the second and fourth quarters, with each big playing about 18 minutes.

“I’m not quite sure how that’s gonna work,” Nurse said of the two bigs both coming off the bench and potentially playing together. “We’re gonna have to talk through it and communicate through it and have some patience probably with it.”

It’s a topic that’s already come up within the organization. While Birch and Achiuwa haven’t practiced playing together so far, there’s an expectation that those minutes are coming either in practice or in a game, Birch said.

“They’ve just got to make sure they know some of the basic sets and out-of-bounds plays and things like that,” Nurse said. “Who’s gonna guard who — I really like both of their feet. What are we gonna run on offense? Give ‘em a chance if that happens.”

It’s going to take a little while to figure out how to optimize this rotation. With so many equally talented players and no clear-cut starting lineup, there will certainly be some tinkering. But having too many healthy players is certainly not a problem the Raptors are going to be complaining about any time soon.

2021-22 NBA rookie rankings 2.0: Franz Wagner’s growth, Ayo Dosunmu’s rise, Alperen Sengun’s vision and more – The Athletic

Pascal Siakam? More like, Pascal Rodman.

It was the joke the Toronto Raptors forward couldn’t hold back Monday afternoon after his second straight double-digit rebounding performance on Sunday night.

“I heard they call me Pascal… they call me Pascal Rodman out there,” he said as he struggled to tell the joke through his laughter.

It’s been an impressive two-game stretch for Siakam who pulled down 19 rebounds on New Year’s Eve and 14 on Sunday night against the New York Knicks. He said he’s been talking to the coaching staff about being more aggressive on the boards these days. He’s finally feeling close to full strength following offseason shoulder surgery and a bout with COVID-19 and now he’s just trying to round out his game even more.

“We have a lot more guys that are a threat out there. So they’re gonna shoot the ball so somebody’s gotta rebound them when they don’t make them,” he said. “I think that I felt like ‘hey, why not, just actually try to crash (the glass)’ and some nights it’s gonna go my way and some nights it’s not but as long as I’m making the effort, I’m good with that.”

Raptors Have New Nickname for Pascal Siakam – Sports Illustrated

Pascal Siakam? More like, Pascal Rodman.

It was the joke the Toronto Raptors forward couldn’t hold back Monday afternoon after his second straight double-digit rebounding performance on Sunday night.

“I heard they call me Pascal… they call me Pascal Rodman out there,” he said as he struggled to tell the joke through his laughter.

It’s been an impressive two-game stretch for Siakam who pulled down 19 rebounds on New Year’s Eve and 14 on Sunday night against the New York Knicks. He said he’s been talking to the coaching staff about being more aggressive on the boards these days. He’s finally feeling close to full strength following offseason shoulder surgery and a bout with COVID-19 and now he’s just trying to round out his game even more.

“We have a lot more guys that are a threat out there. So they’re gonna shoot the ball so somebody’s gotta rebound them when they don’t make them,” he said. “I think that I felt like ‘hey, why not, just actually try to crash (the glass)’ and some nights it’s gonna go my way and some nights it’s not but as long as I’m making the effort, I’m good with that.”

It’s not just that he’s been grabbing more rebounds, he’s actually generating more possessions for the Raptors by grabbing more contested rebounds than ever before. That number has jumped from 3.1 contested rebounds per game to five contested rebounds in each of his last two outings, per NBA Stats.

NBA Power Rankings: The Bulls are contenders, plus New Year’s resolutions for all 30 teams – The Athletic

This Week: 18
Last Week: 20
16-17, +0.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Sixers, Win over Clippers, Win over Knicks

New Year’s resolution: Make the Play-In Tournament.

The Toronto Raptors just can’t seem to find a way to have a normal season anymore. They had to live in Tampa last season, and now that they’re allowed back home in Toronto this season, we’re seeing their crowds cut down due to the pandemic. They’re the only team in the NBA currently going through this crowd control process. With everything that’s gone on for them in these two seasons, the Raptors managing to fight through the crowded East into the Play-In Tournament would be a great marker for their season. They’re currently a game ahead of New York and Atlanta. Their injuries and absences have left them struggling to defend, but their offense continues to be good enough to compete. From mid-January to late February, 15 of their 20 games will be on the road. The Raptors don’t seem to be able to catch a break with anything when it comes to good timing, and yet they’re still firmly in the mix. Making the Play-In Tournament would be a real accomplishment.

NBA Power Rankings, Week 12 – Where the first-place Chicago Bulls and other streaking teams stand – ESPN

This Week: 18
Last Week: 19

Despite a season full of injuries, COVID-19 issues and now playing in an empty arena in Toronto, the Raptors have pulled themselves back to within a game of .500 after Sunday’s win over the Knicks. Coach Nick Nurse’s team finally has its best lineup — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes — available, and now Toronto will try to scoot even farther up the standings. — Bontemps

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