Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 18

VanVleet talks to Draymond | Buyout targets | All-Star Break

Nick Nurse’s All-Star break homework: Find a way to breathe some life into Raptors’ half-court offence – The Athletic

The Raptors are going to need Nurse to be at his creative best in the homestretch of the season. The Raptors (32-25) got a nice win on the road to pull within a half-game of the Celtics for the sixth playoff spot heading into the All-Star break. For the Raptors to avoid the Play-In Tournament — and they have one of the easier remaining schedules of the teams in that range in the standings — the Raptors are going to have to get a bit better at pumping up their attack.

The Raptors take pains to avoid playing in the half court, but even if they continue to force turnovers at nearly the league’s highest rate, they will still play 80 percent or more of their possessions in the half court. The Raptors entered the game ranked 25th in half-court offence in the league, ahead of this murderers’ row of teams: Orlando, New Orleans, Detroit, New York and Oklahoma City. Those five teams, none of whom are currently in as much as a Play-In Tournament spot, have a combined record of 92-201.

The first response to that, then, is to commend Nurse for coaxing so much out of the Raptors through 57 games. Even if there have been fair concerns about the number of minutes that all of the starters have played (OG Anunoby struggled through another game, and hopefully stays a long way away from the court during his break), it has to be said the coach has got a lot out of the flawed roster.

Still, there are times when the lineups are weird and the spacing is nonexistent. In a year in which Anunoby is struggling with 35.1 percent 3-point accuracy, the Raptors have just two high-volume shooters to be concerned with: Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are the only accomplished creators, as well. With VanVleet not playing, Finch threw a lot of zone at the Raptors, and Nurse’s team went 31 minutes and 14 attempts between 3-point makes.

“The rhythm of the game got kind of funky. I thought initially, we were executing very well against it but not making any of the plays,” Nurse said. “We were in, out, cutting, kicking out for wide-open 3s and we didn’t hit anything. … And then we went through a stretch where we got a little stagnant and didn’t get a lot of great shots. I thought Pascal kind of figured it out a little bit. He just kind of decided to keep moving from the side to the middle to the side and finding a way to get in there and find cutters and kick out.”

Indeed, the Raptors finally got a few makes, with Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa both knocking in timely corner 3s. Moreover, even if the Raptors are short on shooting and dribble-drive ability, they have plenty of interior creativity: Scottie Barnes and new acquisition Thaddeus Young are elite passers for their size, Khem Birch is solid while Anunoby and Achiuwa show flashes.

Things will have to get a bit more intricate for this team. The Raptors play a lot of mismatch basketball, which is fine when all of their starters are flowing. But as Anunoby and Barnes have hit production walls, there needs to be a little more organization within the Raptors’ improvisational system. The Raptors have the lowest assist percentage in the league. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Utah has the best offence in the league and the second-lowest assist percentage. However, the Raptors don’t have Donovan Mitchell to go on scoring binges or Jordan Clarkson to lift up bench groups. They need to find a way to lift each other up a bit more.

“I think we’re still trying to get used to who’s playing where and (at) what position and stuff,” Nurse said. “Like, we’re coming out with Thad, Chris and Precious and yeah, I’m not even sure what position they’re playing out there. So we’ve got to get some time together to figure out who’s gonna go where and maybe they’re interchangeable depending on matchups. And so it’s a bit of a work in progress and I think it’s going to need some time and need some work and some evaluation, for sure.”

Can the Toronto Raptors get in on the buyout market action? Five targets that make sense. – Raptors HQ

Robin Lopez, Orlando Magic (16.5 pts, 7.5 rbs, 3.4 ast, 1.2 blocks, 12 mascots maimed per 36)
Fit: Sure, he’s not his brother, Brook, but Lopez is huge, intelligent, and has developed a nifty little hook shot that’s actually become pretty hard to stop. The Raps would have to play more drop-coverage on defense with Lopez out there, but his under-rated passing could help their offense in the half-court.

While I think the Raps need for a bigman is somewhat over-stated, at least in the East where only the Bulls (Nikola Vucevic) and the Sixers (Joel Embiid) loom as true paint menaces. But given how those two guys play, I think Lopez’s size — 7ft, 280 lbs. — gives him the edge over other big men options out there.

6.5/10 (He’s only really a better option for Nurse against the bruiser centres, but in the right matchup he’s a true upgrade. I’m adding a half-point for the on-going theatre that would be him vs. The Raptor.)

Likelihood: With the Warriors and the Sixers both rumoured to be looking for a big man, this may be another situation where even though the fit is there, and the player wouldn’t presumably have a huge bias against the city, Toronto may just lose out to more “attractive” options, playoff basketball-wise.

Then again Lopez is a huge comic nerd, and Toronto is a great comic nerd town – maybe we toss in some FanExpo passes??? (Robin, if you’re reading this, I’ll give you a signed copy of every issue I’ve ever worked on.)


VanVleet on relationship with DeRozan & Lowry, being an All-Star, and new documentary – Video – TSN

Raptors All-Star Fred VanVleet sits down with Kayla Grey to talk about being named to the NBA All-Star team, his relationship with former teammates Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and his new documentary.

Raptors Fred VanVleet Explains Why Nick Nurse is So Special – Sports Illustrated

It’s one thing to be brilliant. Take Raptors consultant and former assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren for example. Bjorkgren and Nurse came up through the coaching ranks with one another, scheming up gameplans in dungy basements well into the night. They’re both brilliant coaches. Yet while Nurse has found almost unparalleled success in Toronto, posting a 170-113 record in four seasons, while Bjorkgren lasted just one year as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers before relationships soured and things went sideways.

Nurse gets it. It’s why he’s spending the first part of his All-Star break not in some sunny vacation destination with his family, but rather in beautiful Cleveland, OH., to watch Fred VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa, and Scottie Barnes compete in All-Star Weekend festivities.

“I’m really proud of those guys, all of them, for making it and representing us,” Nurse said. “I just felt like I wanted to be there and support them. That’s it, really. I just think it’s a special moment for them, and I wanna be there to see it.”

Those things aren’t missed by the players. Small acts of kindness go a long way over the course of an up-and-down 82 season when tensions can get high at any moment.

“It means the world. It just shows you how cool of a coach he is, and just the relationship. And for him to be traveling to Cleveland to support us, I think it says a lot about where we are as a franchise and just the relationship that we all have together,” VanVleet said of Nurse’s decision. “Definitely helps build that (chemistry), to have that support, have your head coach go out of his way to come show you some support and some love and be there in the flesh. He’s one of the best coaches in the league for a reason, and I think things like that go a long way.”

Raptors happy for the rest, hoping to avoid the rust of a well-earned break | Toronto Sun

On the one had the rest is probably needed.

“We’ve been running in the red a little bit, pushing guys through some minutes, that’s the first thing so the break’ll certainly help I think regenerate there,” Nurse said.

But the downside is the momentum this team has been building suddenly stops for an entire week.

Outside of Fred VanVleet who was voted in as a reserve for the game itself and will take part in the three-point contest, as well as Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa who are in the Rising Stars tournament, no other Raptor is likely to pick up a basketball until next Wednesday when the team is tentatively scheduled for an evening practice in Charlotte two days ahead of their first post All-Star game action.

A break is rarely a bad idea for a team except when things are going well and that happens to be the case for the Raptors right now who have won nine of their past 11 with really only one stinker in the whole bunch and that was Monday’s loss in New Orleans.

But even rest isn’t considered overly imperative because the Raptors are already trending in the direction of more bench minutes meaning less of a strain on the starters who were the one’s who were being overly taxed.

“I feel like recently here, we’re starting to develop some guys off the bench and I would say all of ‘em — Dalano (Banton) and Malachi (Flynn) didn’t do much but they sure played confidently out there,” Nurse said referencing Wednesday’s win over Minnesota. “Thad (Young) was very good, Precious was very good, Chris (Boucher) was very good, Khem (Birch) was very good. I didn’t mention any of our normal five there.

“These guys (the starters) kinda held the fort here a little bit but I see some development here where we can manage minutes differently coming out of the break,” Nurse said.

Raptors Fred VanVleet a ‘Stud’ Timberwolves Chris Finch Says – Sports Illustrated

“Freddie’s a stud. I loved being around him. Such a great leader. (He) sets the right tone,” Finch said Wednesday. “Just watching the respect that Kyle Lowry had for Fred Van Vleet tells you everything you need to know about the importance of Fred on this team. It’s all business.”

No game better embodies that to Finch than VanVleet’s record-setting 54-point performance against the Orlando Magic last year. It’s one thing score 54, it’s another to do it on 17-for-23 shooting without ever throwing off the rhythm of the offense.

“I watched him score 50 points in the flow of the game and not one play run for him,” Finch recalled. “He has the ability to do whatever the game needs and he battles every minute.”

Barring a setback to VanVleet’s ailing right knee, that should be on full display this weekend in Cleveland where VanVleet has earned his first All-Star Game nod and will partake in the three-point contest. It’s a prestigious honor Finch is not at all surprised VanVleet has earned.

Fourth Antetokounmpo brother is his own man with Raptors 905 | The Star

It would be easy to treat him like an Antetokounmpo brother but within the walls of the 905 program he’s just Alex, a young kid trying to accomplish a dream. During 905 games, he gets a few extra cheers from fans when he’s on the floor because they’re familiar with the name stitched on the back of his jersey. But Sanders said it’s a sign of maturity that he’s been able to handle pressure of game day and the hype that surrounds his family.

“He (Alex) does a great job at being himself,” Sanders said. “I’m sure there is a target on his back (based on) who he is and his last name but that doesn’t change anything about him. He is his own person. He’s creating his own path and I respect him for doing that.”

Youngest brother Alex Antetokounmpo, front, a member of the Raptors 905, is looking to become the fourth of the five Antetokounmpo siblings to reach the NBA, following two-time MVP Giannis, left, Kostas, rear, and Thanasis.

Raptors 905 assistant coach Travon Bryant said Antetokounmpo is still working on performing the fundamentals at a high level. Despite getting limited opportunities on game day, Bryant explains that staying ready and learning to play with urgency is part of his evolution. He’s played in nine games this season, averaging 6.6 minutes and 2.9 points per game. There’s hype that comes attached to the Antetokounmpo name, being the youngest brother to the NBA’s best player, but Bryant said it’s not something they talk about.

“He’s running his own race. He has to understand that. He is Alex. He is not like any of his brothers. We have to help him try to get there,” Bryant said. “He has potential to be a professional. The one thing that professionals experience, they have that moment and it kind of ignites them — this is how I have to train to be able to live out their dreams. He sees how hard he has to work, but it’s still a way to go for him to be able to completely manifest that dream.”


Wisconsin basketball legend and retired Dominican High School coach Jim Gosz became a close friend of the Antetokoumpo family.

After practices he used to drive Alex home, a 20-minute trip to the southside suburbs, a safe space where he respected his privacy. It’s when they would talk about basketball philosophies mostly. Sometimes Alex would FaceTime his brothers in Greek or sit there scrolling through his phone in silence. Gosz said he avoided talking about Giannis or personal family matters.

“We had to protect Alex. He was like the Michael Jackson of basketball in Milwaukee,” Gosz said. “A lot of people would be coming out to games. Sometimes there’d be 50 kids in the stands with Giannis jerseys who had no affiliation with the school. They just wanted to see an Antetokounmpo on court. But Alex signed every jersey.”