Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 7

Koloko and Jackson raising some eyebrows in training camp | VanVleet wants to be a Canadian

Josh Jackson is fighting to join the Raptors – Raptors Republic

In short, Jackson has not been playing desperately. At least, not in a bad way. Through his entire career, Jackson has had a usage rate at or around the 90th percentile for his position. That’s not going to cut it for a role player who is low on the offensive hierarchy of a new team. Jackson is fighting just to make the Raptors, not to run the offense. And he’s playing like he understands that, with a usage rate below that of Jeff Dowtin, D.J. Wilson, or Dalano Banton. Jackson is taking lots of shots, but he’s under control and finishing — with the highest true shooting percentage on the team outside of Malachi Flynn, who missed the second game of preseason. He’s rarely creating for himself.

Jackson would not be the first end-of-roster-churn player to battle onto Toronto’s roster. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson found a home with the Raptors in 2019-20, and Stanley Johnson did the same during the last two seasons. Both were hardnosed defenders who fought onto the roster through that end of the court. Both were high draft picks who had washed out of multiple NBA stops before reaching Toronto. And both proved at times to be solid, to not make mistakes, and to be trustworthy veterans who were solid end-of-bench options when not asked to do too much.

So far, Jackson is proving to be built in a similar mold. He helped lead a Raptors comeback against the hated Boston Celtics in preseason, taking a horrific 19-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and turning it into an overtime win. It was, as far as NBA basketball goes, as good as it gets — regular season or otherwise.

In overtime against the Celtics, Jackson took over. He swept through the lane for a baby hook, spun in transition on the next possession for a finger roll. He finished tied with the most points for Toronto, scoring 13 in just the fourth quarter and overtime. He led the Raps with a plus-24 in his minutes. This is new ground for Jackson’s mold. The most Hollis-Jefferson ever scored in preseason with the Raptors was seven. (His high that regular season would be 21.) The most Johnson scored in preseason with the Raptors was six in 2021. Both were comparable defenders, but Jackson has surpassed both — to this point in their respective Raptors careers — on the other side of the ball.

That matters.

If Jackson is going to make the team, it will be because he is a veteran able to contribute now. He may only be 25 years old, but the Raptors have enough projects on the squad already. In fact, Jackson is fighting against some of them, especially Justin Champagnie, who has yet to appear in preseason because of injury, for Toronto’s final roster spot. Jackson’s ability to contribute now has to be his advantage. And no matter how strong he is on the defensive end, he has to offer abilities on offense to help the team.

Josh Jackson, No. 4 pick in 2017, opening eyes at Raptors camp | The Star

He was a late addition to the pre-season roster, signed to a non-guaranteed training-camp contract in late August, about three weeks before the team took the court. There were those who thought he was just camp fodder, another guy to provide competition and a warm body for practices, scrimmages and the odd exhibition game.

He seems to be throwing a wrench into those expectations.

The six-foot-eight swingman made a big statement for winning a job Wednesday in Boston, playing the final 17 minutes of a stirring comeback that ended in a 125-119 overtime victory. He had 13 points and a couple of rebounds in that stretch when Toronto rallied from a 19-point deficit and it was the kind of in-control, steady production the team is looking for from someone who would likely play sparingly in the regular season.

The 25-year-old Jackson doesn’t do anything flashy but he’s a solid and willing defender who doesn’t take risks or cause issues on the other end of the floor. He also has some shooting skills the team could use.

It’s that kind of package that led the Raptors to take a flyer on him. Jackson’s inability to stick with any of the five teams he has been with since Phoenix took him fourth in the 2017 draft is a bit troubling. He’s had off-the-court issues — minor run-ins with the police on two occasions and a suspension for violating team rules with the G League Memphis Hustle — and that may have been enough to scare off a handful of teams. Raptors officials say privately they are hope his issues are behind him.

Getting a relatively risk-free look at someone with undeniable skills was too good for Toronto to pass up. And the lack of any guarantee has put the onus on Jackson to prove himself, which he seems to be doing quite well through a week of camp practices, scrimmages and two exhibition games.

“We feel like he’s one guy who has had some success and experience full-denying a player, and playing with some speed and athleticism and some length … just one of those guys who is a nuisance on defence; that’s kind of his thing,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said near the end of camp. “That’s why we have him in, and we’re looking at him.”

Whether Jackson can claim the final roster spot hasn’t been determined after two pre-season games. Justin Champagnie, another player fighting for the job, has yet to play because of a hip issue. The Raptors know him from the 2021-22 season spent on a two-way deal and that will help, but he has to get on the court in games with this group before he’s signed or cut adrift.

Raptors’ Koloko raising eyebrows early in pre-season – Sportsnet

Koloko’s NBA career got off to a nice start when he scored on a lay-up assisted by fellow Cameroonian Pascal Siakam, who – like Koloko – hails from Doula.

The feedback was instantaneous. “I saw a lot of people posting about it: ‘Cameroonian connection’ and all that stuff, and people from back home sent me videos and they were just happy, proud,” said Koloko. “That’s a good moment, proud moment, to be Cameroonian and my first basket in the NBA is assisted by someone from the same city as me. It was really nice to see.”

There were even more highlights to come against Boston, where Koloko made the most of his 13 minutes, most of which in the second half. He got started by posting up the smaller Derrick White early in transition and scoring on a tidy left-handed jump hook. He canned a tricky little floater from just outside the paint on the baseline a moment later and then drifted to the other baseline to make himself available for 15-foot jumper.

None of his makes were spectacular, but all came from areas on the floor and in situations he’s most likely to earn his touches. He also looked good sliding down the lane with Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon before rising up for a blocked shot, and generally looked like the NBA game – the pre-season version at least – isn’t moving too fast for him.

How any of that projects to the regular season is too early to tell, but Koloko is doing all he can at this stage of his career to prove himself credible and reliable as the Raptors’ lone shot-blocking seven-footer on the roster.

“Everything is new for him,” says Siakam, who has tried to offer his countryman some guidance in his rookie year. “I think the more we try to be there for him and continue to help him through everything [it will get easier].

“But I like what I see. He’s just gotta continue to work on getting stronger, continue to just say set screens hard, block shots, like literally like the simplest things, like just keep the game simple. And I think as he goes, he’s gonna continue to grow.”

Koloko is determined to do just that.

“I mean, I’m here to play,” he said earlier this week. “I’m here to do whatever the coaches want me to do. I didn’t put my name in the draft to come in here and just sit on the bench, so I’m going to be ready whenever the coach wants me to do whatever they want to me to do and help the team.”

Like the Raptors, Koloko is off to a good start.

Leave a Comment