Morning Coffee – Fri, Sep 30

Siakam in focus | Hines is a gem | Need these games to start ASAP

Raptors’ Pascal Siakam wants to be a superstar — here’s how he could get there – The Athletic

It is lamentable and, frankly, wrong that when the pandemic hit, questions about Pascal Siakam’s work ethic popped up in the discourse. Siakam opened himself up to it when he said he wasn’t able to get on the court during the three-plus-month span between the Raptors’ last game in March 2020 and reconvening at the end of June in preparation for the NBA bubble, but the basketball world could have used it as a moment to express empathy for a player who wasn’t sure of the practicalities of finding a court in the weirdest of times.

If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, of course, it’s that as life has become more difficult for people across all walks of life, our capacity for empathy hasn’t risen apace.

Pardon the tangent. Oh yes, Siakam: A player’s growth cannot be one of the most stunning success stories in the history of individual development without that player not only working hard, but finding joy in doing so.

“I enjoy the process of getting better and knowing that, before I couldn’t do something and now I can do it,” Siakam said Monday in Toronto. “That process of the game is so important to me. And having the opportunity to do that while healthy, it was amazing. I just get lost in it.”

Said Siakam’s teammate, Khem Birch, on Thursday: “Pascal’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen — ever. When he wakes up in the morning, I don’t even think he eats breakfast or stretches. He works out for hours before practice, practises, and then works out for another hour after practice. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

That effort leads to the self-belief that typical developmental curves do not apply to him. Siakam turns 29 in January, which would be an unusual time to become a better player. Different? Sure. Better? Again, it’s the rare player who can do that.

“It’s time to take another step. I always do that,” Siakam said. “And I try every game to take a step up. I think for me, after the year that I had, just accomplishing that level of play — I’ve been All-NBA, I’ve been an All-Star, I wanna be a top-five player in the league. I wanna be one of the best, and I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.”

A quick scroll through the league lets you know just how difficult that would be. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embid, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry — that’s five guys. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, Ja Morant — that’s five more. We could go on.

Despite making the All-NBA cut in two of the last three years, Siakam wouldn’t crack the top-15 list, assuming full health, that most experts would make. ESPN ranked him 30th overall. In The Athletic, Seth Partnow ranked him in his “tier 3C,” putting him between 25th and 32nd. CBS had him 24th. Those lists aren’t objectively correct, but they do a good job of representing where the consensus stands right now. There is a path, however, for Siakam to put himself in the MVP conversation.

It happened with Devin Booker and, for a while, DeMar DeRozan last season, two players you wouldn’t have expected to be in that company that last October. It starts with the Raptors having tremendous success, but Siakam has enough of a track record that he could wind up there as the best player on a very good team.

“Obviously, I have goals individually, but that doesn’t matter until we get to a point where we’re a top team in the league or we’re up there,” Siakam said Thursday.

Sure, the whole provides context for the individual, but the individual helps determine what the whole can amount to, too. For Siakam to get closer to his ceiling, and the Raptors to get closer to theirs, there are a few obvious things to improve upon.

With the right mindset, Siakam could climb to a peak no Raptor has reached – Sportsnet

“Pascal’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen — ever,” said Raptors centre Khem Birch. “When he wakes up in the morning, I don’t even think he eats breakfast or stretches. He works out for hours before practice; practises, and then works out for another hour after practice. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think he’s gonna be very special, coming soon. This is gonna be a really big year for him.”

But being great isn’t just about skills or effort. It’s about believing in yourself to a level that’s almost irrational. There’s not much room for second-guessing when trying to be one of the best in the world.

On that front, there is optimism from those who know him best as well.

The Raptors added one of Siakam’s mentors — player development specialist Rico Hines — to head coach Nick Nurse’s coaching staff in the off-season. It was at Hines’s summer pick-up runs on campus at UCLA where Siakam began to flash his potential before his breakout season in 2018-19.

The expansion of his skills over the years has been one thing, but Hines has seen Siakam develop the kind of uncompromising mindset that elite players have to have.

“His mentality, you know?” said Hines, when asked about the most important ways he’s seen Siakam grow recently. “He’s always been a nice guy. And now he’s becoming a little bit meaner. You know what I mean? And that’s good.

“We want them to continue to grow in that aspect, because that’s what it takes to be one of the elites, is just his mentality. That’s been a big thing, his mentality of being addicted to being great … that’s the biggest growth that I’ve seen.”

How does that translate? For Siakam it means shaking off his urge to avoid mistakes or being burdened by the need to have games unfold a certain way only to be discouraged when they don’t.

It’s a normal reaction, but superstars can’t have those kinds of setbacks. They have too many people depending on them to let poor stretches or poor performances stand in the way of a great game or moment to come. It’s not being selfish but being arrogant in your self-belief.

Siakam’s working on it.

“I think for me, over the years, just the player I am, I want to be perfect,” he said. “Like it’s hard. I miss a shot and I get mad and it’s just like every day I have to hear that … it’s okay, you don’t have to be hung onto every shot and want to make everything perfect. Like, it’s okay [to miss shots] because you put the work in.

“So that’s my mindset,” Siakam added. “Just growing as a player, understanding that and knowing that you can miss five shots in a row, but just take the same shots because you believe in it, and you work on it every day.”

If Siakam can stick to that, and stay healthy, and lead the Raptors to the type of season they believe they can have – even if the rest of the league might not see it yet – he could very well end up on peaks no Raptors has ever climbed.

Reimagined Raptors jersey with Indigenous touch unveiled | The Star

Renowned designer and illustrator Casey Bannerman and artist Mike Ivall from the Chippewas of Georgina Island say the reimagined 1995 Raptors jersey is meant to reflect the way Indigenous art interacts with the sports community. Created in a woodland art style, the new jersey features the Ojibwe word “Giiwedin,” which means “North,” on the front.
In addition to inspiring important reflection and conversation about the country’s reconciliation process, the collaboration will use proceeds from sales of the $165 jersey to support the Orange Shirt Society, a non-profit organization that supports Indian Residential School Reconciliation.
“This project gives me a sense of pride, both for my city and my heritage,” said Ivall, known in the artistic circles as Big Nish.
Based in Toronto, Ivall has worked for years on various sports projects involving designs for the Argonauts, Maple Leafs, Buffalo Bills and others. Always an avid basketball fan, he said the inspiration to create this jersey peaked after the Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship.
“I thought it would be cool to see my culture in the Raptors logo, so I indigenized it in the woodland art style,” he said. “My art is my personal healing journey. It allows me to learn language and teachings that I never had growing up.”
Bannerman has worked with a number of Raptors including VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell.
Forever intrigued by Indigenous art and its place in society, he thought it would be meaningful to collaborate with an artist from the Indigenous community on a project that would honour their culture within sports while at the same time supporting a worthy cause.
“The depiction of Indigenous people within sports, with regards to logos and names and mascots, has been less than favourable,” he said, referring to some of the recent controversies around the Washington football team, Cleveland baseball team and others.
Toronto artist Casey Bannerman and Indigenous artist Mike Ivall (Big Nish) collaborated on an Indigenous-inspired Raptors jersey in honour of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Toronto artist Casey Bannerman and Indigenous artist Mike Ivall (Big Nish) collaborated on an Indigenous-inspired Raptors jersey in honour of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Uploaded by: Ho, Patrick
Toronto artist Casey Bannerman and Indigenous artist Mike Ivall (Big Nish) collaborated on an Indigenous-inspired Raptors jersey in honour of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Toronto artist Casey Bannerman and Indigenous artist Mike Ivall (Big Nish) collaborated on an Indigenous-inspired Raptors jersey in honour of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Uploaded by: Ho, Patrick
Toronto artist Casey Bannerman and Indigenous artist Mike Ivall (Big Nish) collaborated on an Indigenous-inspired Raptors jersey in honour of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Bannerman said the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment have been at the forefront of honouring and promoting social causes, particularly within the Indigenous community, and showing support to such artistic works would be consequential. He also praised VanVleet for being “hands on” and for his dedication to the project.
“It’s almost hard to imagine that he’s that good at basketball and also so involved in all these other things,” Bannerman said.

Raptors doubling down on great position-less experiment –

Aside from adding second-round pick Christian Koloko – the first seven footer on their roster since Alex Len’s brief tenure came to an end in January of 2021 – they didn’t do much to address what most people would’ve considered to be their most pressing positional needs going into the summer. Otto Porter Jr., their biggest off-season signing, is 6-foot-8 with a nearly 7-foot-2 wingspan. Juancho Hernangomez is listed at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan.

Sound familiar? Yes, the Raptors have a type. Of the 13 players with guaranteed contracts in training camp, nine are between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9 in height and possess massive 7-foot-plus wingspans.

“There are definitely a lot of arms and legs flying around everywhere,” said one of the lone exceptions, 6-foot-1 point guard Fred VanVleet, following practice earlier this week. “It doesn’t look like much when they’re all standing next to each other, but when we’re flying up and down out there, when we’re playing another team, you can always tell they’re feeling the pressure we have out there.”

“We can’t get enough [length and versatility],” Precious Achiuwa joked. “It’s like we’re just out there looking for 6-8, 6-9 guys – hey, come on in! But that’s the vision. If you look around it’s basically just guys who are versatile, can play basketball, athletic, can run, jump, shoot, dribble, get to the basketball and play defence. We’re just trying to out-size and out-speed the other team at every position. I think that’s the goal and so far we’re looking good.”

After pushing the limits of position-less basketball, the Raptors have doubled down on their great experiment. Now the question is, can they continue to take advantage of its strengths while mitigating its inherent weaknesses?

The addition of Porter, a 40 per cent career three-point shooter, should help a Raptors team ranked 27th in effective field goal percentage last season – only a hair better than Orlando, Oklahoma City and Detroit, three of the four worst teams in the league. But given the veteran’s injury history and likely role coming off the bench, they’ll need at least a couple of their more prominent players to return with improved jumpers, namely Pascal Siakam, who hit 34 per cent of his threes last season, and Scottie Barnes, who shot 30 per cent as a rookie. It was a focus for them this summer and getting those guys closer to league average from deep – roughly 37 per cent – would go a long way in raising this team’s offensive ceiling.

Admittedly, Nurse’s team got away from his preferred shot spectrum last season. Only 37.5 per cent of the shot attempts came from beyond the arc, eighth-fewest in the league. They attempted the 11th-fewest shots at the rim and the fifth-most shots from mid-range, which is the antithesis of how most teams want to play these days. It’s also the style of play that Nurse felt fit the strengths of his roster, and while the same could be true this year, he is planning to emphasize more looks in the paint and, ideally, more trips to the free throw line, where they ranked 21st in attempts.

That they boasted a league average offence despite ranking towards the bottom of the NBA in almost every shooting category is a credit to their knack for creating extra possessions with their active defence and offensive rebounds, and then valuing those possessions by limiting turnovers.

The defensive end is where they excelled, especially over the final 25 games when they ranked second in the league, and that’s where they can be special again this season.

Raptors See Pascal Siakam Joining MVP Conversation This Year – Sports Illustrated

“I see Pascal like the better Pascal from when Kawhi (Leonard) was here, in the Finals when Pascal was like scoring everything off anywhere,” Chris Boucher told reporters in Victoria B.C. “He can score from anywhere. His confidence is there, his swagger is there, so it really looks good.”

Even on the heels of an All-NBA caliber campaign, Siakam is looking to take another step forward this season. He wants to be a top-five player in the league, the kind of true difference-maker that can lead a team to the top of the NBA mountain top and enter that MVP conversation.

Can it happen?

“Absolutely. No doubt about it,” Fred VanVleet told reporters. “He’s got the toolbox. There’s not anything on the court that he can’t do.”

VanVleet is right. Everything is in there for Siakam to step into the next level. He’s been a top 15 to 20 player in the past couple of seasons. Now it’s about putting it all together.

“When somebody works hard like that usually it pays off,” Boucher added. “You guys are gonna see it this year I think he’s got you know all the tools to be in the MVP conversation and everything.”

Hines’ arrival can only help take Siakam to that next level | Toronto Sun

For starters — and anyone who isn’t aware of this just hasn’t been paying attention — he is the personal off-season coach of Raptors’ forward Pascal Siakam, the focal point of the Raptors offence. The nights he isn’t taking the most shots of any Raptor will be few and far between, assuming he stays healthy this season.

Hines, who previously worked in Sacramento, is also the man in charge of the NBA summer staple runs at UCLA.

It wasn’t a coincidence that this past summer, the first summer he came under the Raptors employ, more Raptors than ever before took part in those runs.

The runs are also where Siakam first joined the NBA elite class reserved for those players able to score and impact the game the way only the very best can.

Siakam did this in 2018 alongside Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, and OG Anunoby, but it was Siakam that was getting all the attention from the upper echelon of the league for his near-impossible-to-defend spins into the paint for easy buckets.

Hines and Siakam go all the way back to New Mexico State where Siakam was more of a hidden gem than the player legitimately looking to break into the Top 5 players in the league this season.

Siakam made that bold assertion on media day but was noticeably less aggressive with that when it was brought up again on Thursday, a few days into Raptors training camp.

“I don’t think I need to explain myself, I said what I said,” he replied, effectively cutting off any further discussion on the subject.
But even if it’s not something Siakam wants people focused on, it is something he strives for. Even his teammates are talking about it in terms of what they can do to help make it happen.

Hines, who knows Siakam’s game as well as anyone in the world, has a rapport with the Raptors’ go-to scorer that no one else can claim. For that reason alone, it just makes sense to have him on staff.

“Like obviously he’s someone that I’m really close to and having just that voice and he’s always someone that could just like get you going no matter what, just with his voice, his presence. And obviously he knows the game,” Siakam said.

“So, having him (around) every single day, yeah, it’s a blessing to be honest, like it feels like summer every day. So, it’s good.”

Siakam isn’t the only one that will benefit obviously.

Rico Hines joins Raptors staff after famed summer runs | The Star [paywall]

Hines has an imagination vivid enough to challenge any number of professionals to show up for a week or two each summer in Los Angeles to work with like-minded athletes.

That he’s achieved a level of notoriety is nice for him but he’s not reinventing the wheel. What he’s done — and what he will do as a full-time Raptors staffer — is provide the support to players who want to work.

“He’s as good as there is in the business in player development, that’s a big statement,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “Guys trust him. He can command an entire gym, not with just one player but with 60 in it sometimes, and he has a deep, deep passion for the game.

“He’s in the gym all day. He loves coaching and he loves making people better.”

Taking a full-time gig with Toronto just seemed like a natural progression for Hines, a 44-year-old native of North Carolina. His summer runs include almost every Raptor — along with dozens of other NBA players and top-level European pros — so becoming exclusive with Toronto for the season made sense.

“I think it fits like a glove and here’s why: They believe in hard work, they believe in development and they believe in doing everything in house and I’m a big fan of that,” Hines said. “It’s all about hard work and not skipping a step. We always talk about not skipping any steps and having a great plan all summer and even throughout the season having a plan as well.”

The Raptor most closely associated with Hines is Pascal Siakam, who was first tied to Hines’ workout plans in the months before he was drafted by the Raptors in 2016.

Siakam’s rise, and Hines’ role in facilitating it, has created a unique bond between the two.

“He’s been around great players over the years and I think just with a young group also, he just brings that swag, that energy that we all need,” Siakam said. “So, having (him) every single day, yeah, it’s a blessing to be honest, like it feels like summer every day.”

Hines has been busy with the Raptors since two-a-day workouts began here Tuesday and that’s when most of his intense work has been done. It’s also the most important time to develop skills other than the off weeks in the summer because once the season begins and the games and travel grind hit, the daily workload on a team’s top players drops off precipitously.

FIBA Women’s World Cup Takeaways: Learning experience for Canada in loss to U.S. – Sportsnet

Despite the lopsided nature of the loss, there’s certainly positives for Canada to take from its game with the U.S. 

For one, it’s abundantly clear what the top of the mountain looks like for this team as it looks to build towards the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The United States is an unfair team filled to the brim with not just WNBA talent, but WNBA stars – Kelsey Plum and Sabrina Ionescu comes off the bench for the U.S. Yet, this is the kind of obstacle that will need to be overcome if Canada is to achieve its gold-medal dreams. 

Understanding what you’re up against is never a bad thing, even if it may seem demoralizing as you embark upon the journey. 

For Canada head coach Victor Lapena, this game, and all the others Canada has played in so far, have been valuable building blocks for what’s to come. 

“It’s very, very important to be in these games for us,” said Lapena. “Before coming here we didn’t talk, we didn’t expect to be in the semifinal, but on the other hand we didn’t think that we wouldn’t be able to do it. … 

“I’m very happy with the group because all our games were difficult work for us. Serbia, France, Japan. Very difficult, but this is experience and experience and experience and they’re very different styles. So, for our team, looking to the future, looking towards Paris, looking after the Olympics, looking at the next six, eight years [playing in these games] is very, very important.” 

U.S. runs past Canada into World Cup gold-medal game | Toronto Sun

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offence anymore after that.”

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game by making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals, which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round, topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

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