Morning Coffee – Tue, May 3

18 mins read
Cover Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Nick Nurse on the Lakers rumours, the Raptors’ half-court offence and roster construction – The Athletic

On what the team needs the most: “Every game all year long, there (are) like two starters missing from every team, and I just don’t remember that being the case five years ago. So whatever reason that is, it means your ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th guys better be able to go out there and play, and not just look like it once and while. They’ve gotta be players. So that would be my first thing: We’ve gotta get some depth to keep up with the times.”

In his first press conference after being named Raptors president in 2013, Ujiri said he always wanted the back end of his roster to be young. He has generally stayed true to that vision, which is part of the reason so many players have been able to go from significant time with Raptors 905 to significant roles with the Raptors.

Toronto ended the year with players 23 or younger occupying nine of the 17 roster spots. Save for David Johnson and Isaac Bonga, all those guys got real looks from Nurse, but those looks were rarely extended ones, Dalano Banton’s excluded.

Even if Ujiri wants to keep the bench young, it will be important to have Nurse’s blessing on many of those players. The less he believes in those players, the more he will lean on his main players, which led to the Raptors relying more on their starters than any other team.

“We played (Fred VanVleet) a lot of minutes this year, for sure,” Nurse said. “Trimming that here and there would probably be advisable, for sure, as we did with Kyle (Lowry). It’s always easier said than done.”

Despite over-achieving this season, Nick Nurse is ready for Raptors to go further – Sportsnet

So, about that roster.

If you were watching all season, you may have noticed a few things about how the Raptors played and what they struggled with. Chances are, they’re not all that different than what Nurse was trying to manoeuvre his way around: working with a roster that had talent, but was a puzzle with a lot of odd-shaped parts as well.

As a team, they didn’t shoot very well (27th in True Shooting percentage), lacked a lob threat (the Raptors were 19th in dunks as a team and didn’t have a player in the top forty for dunks individually), got almost no production from anyone outside of their top-seven players and were last in bench scoring.

“I said this early in the year, you can’t go into a season with eight or nine guys anymore, you can’t. There’s Covid that knocks a bunch of guys out and ever-prevalent injuries seem to be way more frequent than I can remember,” said Nurse. “… So whatever reason that is it means your ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th guys better be able to go out there and play and not just look like it once and while, they’ve gotta be players. So that would be my first thing, we’ve gotta get some depth to keep up with the times.

“[Also] we could probably use some catch-and-shoot. I’m still after some more wing players, some more athletic wing players so we can continue to come at you in the style of play we want to come at you with.”

And lob threat?

“That would help too. I think that probably lifts a little bit of pressure for guys like Fred [VanVleet] and Gary [Trent Jr.], OG [Anunoby], those guys that could get more open corner looks because of the pressure being put on the rim on the weak side.”

But Nurse remains sold on the Raptors’ style of play where they crashed the boards, stormed the passing lanes and sent a second defender to the ball at almost every opportunity.

The plan was to earn more possessions than the other team (they took more shots than their opponents in 69 games) as a way to paper over the fact the Raptors’ half-court offence wasn’t particularly good – per Toronto was 26th in that area.

But Nurse is hoping that his club can maintain the advantage they gained by winning the possession battle, but still be a more effective club offensively. He would love more depth, more shooting and a lob threat, but he wants more rangy wing players too, or at least he wants the ones he has to be able to fill in more of the existing gaps.

He’s still all-in on ‘vision 6-foot-9’.

“What I would say is I really like the length and all that stuff,” said Nurse. “What I would say is we need to get those guys more versatile. We need bigger guys that can guard smaller guys and bigger guys or schemes that can guard bigger guys when there’s an extreme at either end.”

Does he see the Raptors competing deeper into the playoffs, sooner than later?

It’s the ultimate question and could well have an impact on Nurse’s long-term future with the Raptors. The 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year has built a reputation such that his services will be in demand among teams trying to make leaps in the coming years – from up-and-coming to good, or from good to great.

Fortunately, there is reason to believe – and for Nurse to believe, most importantly – that those same steps can be made in Toronto with his own 48-win club, even without major off-season surgery, though doubtless some tweaks and trims would be welcome.

There is potential at hand.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse laments lack of bench depth | The Star

There is organic growth that will have to be a major part of greater success next season. OG Anunoby has to be healthier all season, rookie of the year Scottie Barnes and second-year breakout big man Precious Achiuwa have to continue to improve — those are the obvious ones.

The addition of consistent contributors is the bailiwick of team vice-chairman Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster. Nurse can’t know right now what kind of roster they’ll present him with next fall.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse take a moment to collect himself in a January game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers.

But there’s little chance the Raptors will abandon the somewhat unorthodox style of this season, a bunch of long, athletic players scrambling and gambling and imprinting their own style on games.

Nurse liked what he saw most of this past season; he’s not going to abandon it after one year.

“What I would say is I really like the length and all that stuff,” the coach said in a wide-ranging 45-minute session. “What I would say is we need to get those guys more versatile. We need bigger guys that can guard smaller guys and bigger guys or schemes that can guard bigger guys when there’s an extreme at either end.”

One of the great misconceptions about this team is that it needs some gigantic interior presence. It’s not like the NBA is over-run by monstrous 7-footers that dominate the league. There are probably two — Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Denver’s Nikola Jokic — and it’s worth noting the Raptors beat Embiid’s team more often than not and they see Jokic only twice each regular season.

Instead of changing, the Raptors need to do a bit more with that they’ve got.

“That comes down more to us,” Nurse said. “We have to figure out ways and schemes to beat those guys … one or two guys that you have to figure that out. We just got to get better at that.”

That process begins now. Nurse was to meet with Ujiri on Monday afternoon and, after a bit of a break, the process of off-season development will begin. It’s painstaking and a 12-month-a-year process that includes individual and group and some introspection from the coach.

Toronto Raptors HQ Podcast — That’s A Rap #180: Raptors-Sixers Wrap Up – Raptors HQ

3:40 — Therapy session
In a season like no other — where the Raptors had the Rookie of the Year AND an All-Star in the same season (and possibly an All-NBA player too) — nobody was hanging their head or was heartbroken after getting eliminated from the playoffs.

11:35 — Bright future
Even while the team was hovering around the .500 mark and unsure of their play-in position, Nick Nurse kept preaching that this Raptors team was a playoff team and that he wanted the young players to get meaningful playoff experience. It’s safe to say he achieved that goal. Precious Achiuwa showed promising signs guarding Embiid and Harden. Gary Trent Jr. battled through illness to provide some necessary scoring. Most importantly, Scottie Barnes showed no decline from his outstanding regular season — despite an ankle injury — and solidify his place as Toronto’s next superstar.

25:25 — Resilient Raptors
There’s a reason no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. All it takes is one bad shooting night (or a hot one from the opponent) for the series to end. However, if there’s one thing Nurse has proven during his Raptors coaching tenure, it’s that his resilience rubs off on his players. The team battled back and gave the Sixers a serious scare. How serious? Doc Rivers threw Tracy McGrady and his Orlando team under the bus as an excuse for his losing ways!

32:00 — Thank you
With the season officially over, it’s time to give out flowers. On this site, Josh has been an endless stream of support for our podcast. As we approach our 4-year anniversary, it never ceases to amaze me to see how this little podcast with die-hard Raps fans has grown. If you’ve ever listened, clicked, interacted, tweeted, or wrote to us, we thank you!

WOLSTAT: Expect busy Raptors off-season | Toronto Sun

How does this group of veterans in their prime years (Siakam, VanVleet, Chris Boucher, all at least 28) and emerging, but already good players (Barnes, 20, Achiuwa, 22, Trent, 23 and Anunoby, 24) take the steps forward to make winning a couple of rounds of the playoffs and maybe more beyond that a reality?

The good news is Barnes and Achiuwa are on rookie deals and under team control for a long time. Siakam and Anunoby have two years left on their current deals (Anunoby has three, but will likely opt out after two) and the team is well under next year’s projected $149 million luxury tax, meaning Boucher and possibly Thaddeus Young could be brought back via Bird Rights, and much-needed pieces could be added via the available cap exceptions (non-taxpayer mid-level and bi-annual).

The not-as-great news is both VanVleet and Trent can (and, assuming they stay healthy almost assuredly will) opt out after next season and become unrestricted free agents.

It is possible that either VanVleet or Siakam ink extensions this off-season. VanVleet would probably be more likely to lock in a huge payday knowing that injuries could risk his future earnings. Siakam is going to get another big deal whether it’s this year, next, or in unrestricted free agency, so there might not be much urgency to get anything done now.

Assuming neither sign extensions, keep in mind that it’s harder to build long-term teams in today’s NBA with contracts being shorter than they were under previous collective bargaining agreements and it’s also challenging to construct when the young starters aren’t necessarily on the same timelines as Siakam and VanVleet. But these Raptors have great chemistry, which should help.

What they don’t have is great shooting. Hideous work from outside helped sink them in Game 6 against the Sixers. VanVleet’s absence would have been massive regardless in that regard, but it was especially apparent how much work needs to be done without VanVleet. Today’s NBA is all about spreading the floor with shot-makers and Toronto is several players short there. That’s the greatest need.

Getting VanVleet some help at guard should also be a priority. He once looked great alongside Kyle Lowry (and vice versa) and even if getting a comparable player to Lowry is not an option, at the least, he needs a viable backup to ease his load. Otherwise he’ll break down again, just as Lowry used to when he was tasked with doing everything during a long season despite being the smallest player on the floor.

The Raptors also bizarrely tried to reinvent the wheel in another way by not rostering a true centre all season. They don’t have to get a star 7-footer (though that would be nice), but they at least need one for the bench to match up at least a bit to bang with the league’s great behemoths like Joel Embiid.

All of this should be doable. The 20th pick of the draft is heading to San Antonio through the Thaddeus Young trade, but the team will have the 33rd selection, doesn’t owe any other future first-rounders and could offer one up after the draft for an upgrade.

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