Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 3

Banton looking the park | Kolokolo too | This is pre-season, so don't get excited, but you can get excited | Take the over on the Raptors win total

Christian Koloko putting in time to become a piece the Raptors do not have – The Athletic

Observations

• If Scottie Barnes starts hitting turnaround jumpers over defenders as good as Jarred Vanderbilt with any sort of regularity, the league is going to be in trouble. If he starts to operate out of the post more often, it could become a nice pet shot.

• Nurse said the starters wouldn’t play much, and then nine minutes into his first stint, VanVleet pressured Collin Sexton into a turnover. These guys were excited to play anybody but their own teammates.
The Raptors played the first 18 minutes or so with what looked to be a regular rotation — Thaddeus Young, Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher were the first three players off the bench — and then veered away from that. No Raptors starter played more than Gary Trent Jr.’s 18 minutes and 23 seconds.

• O.G. Anunoby Role Watch™: Attacking the very attackable Clarkson in isolation, the Raptors forward lost his dribble. On the next possession, Clarkson tried to shake Anunoby with a crossover, and Anunoby blocked his jumper.

• It seems unlikely Raptors fans will get to see their biggest offseason acquisition in the preseason. Otto Porter Jr. strained his hamstring during training camp in Victoria, B.C., and Nurse said he will be out for “a little while.” The Raptors haven’t said how serious they believe the injury is, but considering it’s a soft-tissue injury for a veteran player, it’s hard to believe his return will be imminent.

• Justin Champagnie missed the game with hip soreness. The second-year player said he felt it after the intrasquad scrimmage Friday. Despite being listed as questionable, veterans Young and Khem Birch played as they navigate knee ailments. Birch is still trying to get back to full strength following offseason surgery. Birch came in to start the second half and looked spry and physical.
“I was really happy for him,” Nurse said. “The first thing I said to the staff in the locker room is, ‘Khem went out there with some energy and some fight.’”

• The scrimmage was sold out, and Rogers Place was packed, too, filling the 17,100-person capacity. So long as NBA teams throw in preseason games to disinterested season ticket holders, neutral-site games, especially ones featuring the Raptors elsewhere in Canada, can make exhibitions more exhilarating.

“Normally for these games the reception is great; the crowd is into it. It’s their one chance to see some of the home talent (in their) home area,” Nurse said. “They usually bring it. It’s cool because there are a lot of preseason games you have that have zero energy, almost tipping toward negative energy in some of those games. We don’t have to go through that. It’s fun.”

Almost everyone at Rogers Place hung around until the end of a blowout game in the preseason. It’s a testament to Edmonton’s fans and how the Raptors and Canada Basketball have increased interest in the sport over the past few decades. (The Raptors played in Edmonton twice previously: in 1999 and 2008.)
“You look up to the rafters and it felt like people were hanging from the ceiling,” said VanVleet, who spoke over fans chanting, “Fre-ddy, Fre-ddy!” from the other side of the window as he spoke to the media. “It was just electric.” VanVleet then walked over to the glass and took a selfie with the fans.

Raptors amazed by Edmonton crowd: ‘Felt like people were hanging from the ceiling’ – Sportsnet

Otherwise, what to glean from what turned out to be a 114-82 blowout?

Well, not all that much. Nurse had said beforehand that the game would be light on minutes for starters and heavy on opportunities for those in the middle of his rotation.

The starters turned it over a lot and looked a little rusty – Pascal Siakam was 1-of-6 in the first quarter with four giveaways all on his own. But Scottie Barnes looks like he’s ready to pick up where his rookie-of-the-year season left off as he had eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 17:31 of floor time.

Precious Achiuwa looked quick off the dribble, and calm and collected in transition, suggesting he’s not about to regress to the early-season awkwardness he started with early last season. He led all Raptors scorers in the first half with 10 before sitting for the second half.

“He looks confident when he has the ball,” said Nurse.

“He’s trying to use some of the force that he has. I thought he made quick-decision shots on the perimeter. That’s it. I think he should look to attack because he’s got the ability and great size and strength to do it. And if it comes around, just take it because he’s a pretty good shooter. Simplify it a little bit, but confident. Just more composure with the ball, I think he showed tonight.”

But there was little for the established players to prove. More interesting was what was going on elsewhere on the roster.

“You could sit here and say a Wednesday practice at training camp is very low stakes,” said Nurse. “But when you’re fighting for position or fighting for rotation minutes, you’ve got to play well. You’ve got to play hard, and you’ve got to play well.

“… We’ll see what translates from practice to the game floor. It’s the same things I always say: First and foremost are you going to give great effort? Are you going to compete? Are you going to play winning basketball? Are you going to do the schemes right? Are you going to fill a role? The list is pretty long, but those would be some broad-stroke ideas that would be helpful to guys to make the team.”

Early in the second quarter Raptors fans got their first glimpse of rookie big man Christian Koloko.

The seven-footer from Cameroon made a few nice plays: finishing off a clever pass from Siakam, a fellow Cameroonian, for his first bucket and looking comfortable shooting from the baseline on another, though the ball didn’t drop. He got to the free-throw line after making an adventurous drive to the rim from the perimeter, though only made 1-of-2 shots there. His highlight was a putback dunk off an Achiuwa lay-up late in the first half that sparked the Rogers Place crowd.

More interesting was that defensively – which will be his ticket to a steady role in the NBA – he was directing traffic, communicating, and consistently engaged. He looked comfortable guarding pick-and-roll actions on the perimeter as well.

“He’s handled things very well. He falls into the category of ‘you just don’t see him making very many mistakes’,” said Nurse. “He’ll block a shot, he’ll get a tip in, he’ll move the ball, he’ll get an extra possession with an offensive rebound; those things all add up and there’s not a whole lot of takeaways from what he does or things that take away from the team.

Utah Jazz get blown out in the second half by the Toronto Raptors – SLC Dunk

It’s a good thing we can’t really draw conclusions from the first game of the preseason because the Utah Jazz did not look good. Coming into this season, many experts and fans expect the inexperienced Jazz to have a hard time winning games this year. But if the Jazz play like they did Sunday in Toronto, it is going to be an even longer season than expected for Utah fans.

Give credit to the Raptors in this game. They have become a team that is always hard to play with their core of Pacal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Fred Van Fleet. Who knows what the upcoming season will hold for this team, but if they play anything like they did tonight then they could become a dark horse team to watch in the Eastern Conference. An eye popping 18 players saw the floor for the Raptors tonight and they turned in a balanced performance as a team with everyone that played registering a positive +/-. The Raptors bench turned in the most important performance tonight with a dominant 3rd quarter to put the game away for good.

The Jazz were only trailing by 1 point at halftime but the Raptors opened up the third quarter on a 10-0 runs and the game was never close again after that. Even though it is only preseason and new coach Will Hardy may have been experimenting with what is almost a whole different team, it is hard to see this Jazz team winning more than 20-25 games this year. Lauri Markkanen was a bright spot tonight with 20 points to lead Utah. No player on either team played more than 25 minutes tonight and the Jazz managed to get a look at 15 different players. There was definitely some experimenting going on and it is exciting to think about who is going to emerge and become a leader on this team.

Although this game might have brought a sense of hopelessness to Jazz fans, lets remember that it means nothing(yet) and this season still has the potential to be exciting even if it’s just because their isn’t as much drama as there has been in recent seasons. Let’s just hope that the Jazz can bounce back and get the win against Portland on Tuesday.

Recap: Toronto Raptors open preseason with 114-82 win over Utah Jazz – Raptors HQ

Not that the preseason matters towards the overall standings, but these games are a good opportunity for the team to shake off the dust, figure out lineups, and prepare for the real thing! As for fans, we’re just excited to be able to watch some Sunday Toronto Hoops again.

The game itself was a great first look at this ever-developing team. It started off a little rocky, but that’s to be expected. A few turnovers were overshadowed by steals, defensive energy, and a few of those chef’s kiss three-pointer shots Raptors fans know well.

The Raptors went into half time up 50-49 against the Jazz — who, by the way, are undergoing some serious rebuilding. They traded star players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell in the offseason and are figuring out their very new roster. That won’t stop us from celebrating a good win, though.

2021-22 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who grows more into a fan favourite by the day, looked great from the start. He had energy on defence, made some great plays, and showed off the (quite obvious) bulking he’s done in the offseason.

Precious Achiuwa, in his second season with the Raptors after coming to Toronto from Miami as part of the Kyle Lowry trade, also looked great. He made a three-pointer, grabbed some rebounds and got 10 quick points. He is someone to keep an eye out for this year when it comes to incoming improvement.

As we rolled into the second half, it was the newer guys who showed out for the Raptors. For most of them, these preseason games are a tryout as they compete to secure one of the final roster spots on the team. There are six players competing for three open spots.

Dalano Banton, Juancho Hernangomez, DJ Wilson, Justin Champagnie, Gabe Brown and Josh Jackson are all up for those spots, and they got ample playing time tonight to show off their skills.

The arguable standout was Toronto boy Dalano Banton (#Rexdale), who showed off his speed with a few coast to coast trips to the rim. He played a stint with the Canadian National Team recently and looks in great shape heading into this season. He has a great handle and shows spurts of excellent shooting ability. Keeping him could mean a great backup point guard option.

Raptors give Edmonton crowd a thrill with win over Jazz | The Star

Well, the Raptors have found one way to keep Fred VanVleet’s minutes down and end the fascination with his workload: limit him to fewer than 10. VanVleet played only the first 9:39 (three points, three assists) before getting the rest of the game off. Pascal Siakam played about 15 first-half minutes, and O.G. Anunoby just 14. The only starters to see the court after the first half were Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr., and they were both on the bench before the third quarter was half done.

“I don’t know how to phrase it better, but the middle of the roster, I guess, would probably get the bulk of the time today,” coach Nick Nurse warned before the game.

Barnes — with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 18 minutes — probably had the biggest impact.

Raptors Debut Strange Lineups in Preseason Victory Over Jazz – Sports Illustrated

Off Ball Fred
Speaking of giving the ball to Siakam and Barnes, the prettiest transition play of the night for the Raptors came in the first quarter when Siakam sped up the court off a missed bucket and found Fred VanVleet above the break for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. The bucket wasn’t exactly spectacular, per se, but it was the kind of easy offense the Raptors are looking to create this year by moving VanVleet more off the ball, allowing him to make the most of his deadly three-point jumper.

Achiuwa Not Missing a Beat
The offense may have been a little sloppy early for Toronto’s starters but Precious Achiuwa looked like he picked up right where he left off last season. The third-year forward was once again making quick decisions on offense, putting the ball on the court and driving with conviction. He finished the night with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting.

Rotation Notes
Toronto went with the usual starters followed by Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, and Thad Young who all checked in together midway through the first quarter. Boucher ended the night with a team-high 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Malachi Flynn came in well ahead of Dalano Banton, suggesting the third-year guard may have a slight edge early on in preseason. Flynn nailed both his three-point attempts, continuing what’s so far been an impressive training camp.
Christian Koloko also saw early minutes, though continued to look a little raw at both ends. He took a three in the key foul and got into trouble a couple of times defensively. Offensively, he looked his best right at the rim, cleaning up the boards with a put-back dunk and a pair of driving layups.
Juancho Hernangomez appears to have set himself apart from the rest of the minimum-contract players. He checked in early
Josh Jackson, D.J. Wilson, Gabe Brown, Jeff Dowtin Jr, and Ron Harper Jr. all played minutes late. Jackson looked the best of the group, playing tough defense while tallying 10 points and two rebounds. 

Nick Nurse pleased with Raptors in win over Utah Jazz | Toronto Sun

Not even getting limited minutes from some of the key Raptors like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby who didn’t see the floor much after the first quarter could quell their enthusiasm.

Chris Blucher, one of the three Canadians on the Raptors roster actually led the team in scoring with 11 followed closely by the 10 from Precious Achieuwa and still-fighting-for-a-roster-spot Josh Jackson.

Khem Birch, another of the Raptors Canadian contingent didn’t have a big scoring day but he caught the eye of his coaching staff.

“I was really happy for him,” Nurse said of he Montreal native. “The first thing I said to the staff in the locker room is Khem went out there with some energy and some fight.”

Birch is coming off a year in which his patience was put to the ultimate test with injury after injury.

Then in the off-season there was one more surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He’s only now getting back up to close to game speed.

“It’s been a long time since he played,” Nurse said. “He missed a lot of time last year, he didn’t play at all this summer, they held him out all the way to training camp so you just don’t know. I thought he came out with “listen, I’m here to fight for some minutes, too” and it’s good.
I think if they can go out there and expend as much energy as they can in five or six minutes like that and they can be productive, that’s a big bonus for us.”

But more than anything the game was about reps against live NBA competition that can’t be replicated anywhere else.

“Listen, it was a good practice, guys flying around,” VanVleet said of the game in which he only was asked to play just over 91/2 minutes. “I’m not going to try and grade by any stretch. There were a lot of breakdowns, a lot of mistakes and that’s to be expected. But I thought we played with great energy and played together, played hard and we had fun so that’s all you could ask for right now. Try to clean up some of the stuff we need, build our system and foundation for the year but I thought the guys played hard.”

The Raptors headed back to Toronto immediately after the game and will get a practice in on their home practice court Tuesday before heading back out on the road for a couple of more pre-season games in Boston on Wednesday and in Houston on Friday.

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