Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 10

Banton making the case for a full-time role | Precious is a fierce defender | Nurse wants to play some too in the pre-season

Precious Achiuwa could be the best defensive prospect on a team full of them – The Athletic

It tends to take a lot for a Raptors player to break through in terms of All-Defense voting because the scheme, rather than the individual players, tends to get the focus. O.G. Anunoby has a reputation of being the Raptors’ most physical defender, whereas VanVleet is known as a pre-eminent pick-and-roll defender. Pascal Siakam personifies the scrambling scheme, and Scottie Barnes was brilliant in his first year as a help-side defender behind the play.

Achiuwa, then, might be able to stand out by doing a bit of everything. VanVleet testified to his perimeter skills. Meanwhile, despite the presence of Christian Koloko and a hopefully healthier Khem Birch, Achiuwa should continue to get the bulk of the looks at the league’s more dangerous big men if and when the Raptors want to go away from their Siakam/Anunoby/Barnes frontcourt.

In the playoff series against Philadelphia last season, Achiuwa guarded Joel Embiid for 187.6 possessions. Embiid’s individual numbers were good — 47 points on 33 field-goal attempts and eight free throws — but the 76ers scored just 143 points in those possessions. Embiid also turned the ball over eight times compared to just four assists, proving he put up enough initial resistance to allow his teammates to help out.

“Defensively, when I’m guarding guys like that, I’m trying to use my speed against them,” Achiuwa said. “I understand that I’m faster, (have) quicker hands, quicker feet. So I’m trying to beat them to the spots, read their moves before they make them and anticipate.”

If you were a regular Raptors viewer last season, you know that Achiuwa’s offensive wildness often overshadowed what he was doing on the other end. In general, his process got better as the year went along, which coincided with his 3-point shooting getting way better. He shot just 30.5 percent from deep on only 59 attempts before the All-Star break but 39.2 percent on 97 attempts after, going from 1.2 attempts per game to 3.9. Even if his percentage settles somewhere in the middle, he would become a useful offensive player if he keeps his volume where it is.

That assumes the offensive decision-making improves. The Raptors don’t need to keep Achiuwa as a mere screen-and-dive candidate; they just need to expand his tunnel vision that sometimes takes over when he attacks. In the team’s intrasquad scrimmage, he had his typical highlight reel dunk in traffic but also ran into a wall of defenders at the rim with no exit strategy.

Amid heavy travel, Raptors show signs of progress in pre-season loss to Bulls – Sportsnet

Much more interesting is the battle for the final two guaranteed contracts on the 15-man roster.

Well, check that: after Dalano Banton turned in yet another impressive performance – he’s been the Raptors most consistent player in the pre-season – the rangy guard from Rexdale is all but assured of starting the regular season with his hometown team and having his second-year option picked up.

“I think the big thing is he just looks so comfortable out there, “ said Nurse after Banton chipped in 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of court time. He’s now shooting 65.5 per cent from the floor, mostly on his trademark swooping drives, but with just enough jump shooting to hint at what the future might hold. “He’s playing at the tempo he wants to play at and I think he’s doing a little bit of everything, not only at the offensive end.

“I think he’s playing in transition. He’s running the team pretty good, He’s executing the sets, those kinds of things. But he’s really been good at the defensive end, right. He’s really noticeable, getting his hands on the basketball and poking it away or reaching in from the weak side or whatever stripping one away. He’s done a good job, I think using that length and he also has really good instincts about where the ball is going maybe a little bit ahead of time, right, so he can get his hands on ‘em. So that part’s been good to see, his defence and his kind of on and off the ball success.”

Banton credits a busy off-season where played on the Raptors Summer League team in July, scrimmaged with the Raptors against other NBA pros in runs organized by assistant coach Rico Hines in August and they played for Raptors assistant Nate Mitchell for Team Canada at the AmeriCup in September.

“I definitely feel like just confidence-wise, I feel like the guys out there are trusting in me to do what they believe I do well,” said Banton afterwards. “And then definitely the play over the summer – a lot of games through Summer League, playing at Rico and then playing in Brazil with Team Canada. I just feel like a lot of live reps in the summer helped get me going and I’m going to continue running with it. My confidence is there. I feel like with these guys looking for me in my spots, helping me play to my strengths and trusting me and being there for me as a young guy has been great for me and my development.”

Bulls’ Javonte Green leads second half comeback in win vs. Raptors – NBC Sports Chicago

Another night, another 20-plus point outing for DeRozan. He scored 21 points to lead the Bulls in this one, and has now scored at least 20 in each of the team’s preseason games. DeRozan is a cumulative 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) from the midrange and averaging 7.7 free-throw attempts in exhibition play; plus, on Sunday, he even swiped three steals and took a charge. No rust to report for the reigning second-team All-NBA forward.

Bulls vs. Raptors final score: Javonte Green, Andre Drummond 3-pointers spark massive 2nd half in 115-98 win – Blog a Bull

Green now has 50 points on 17-of-22 shooting in the preseason, and he’s doing all he can to earn the starting power forward spot. While benching Williams last game was rather controversial, there’s no doubt that Green has outplayed Pat by a mile and has staked his claim to the job. Williams was bad in this one, scoring six points on 1-of-8 shooting and doing little else. He had a few aggressive drives to the basket to draw fouls, but he also struggled at times to control the ball on drives and wasn’t close on most of his shot attempts.

Then there’s Drummond, who hit not one, not two, but THREE triples in this game, with two of them coming early in the fourth quarter when the game was still close. He didn’t hit rim on any of them, splashing them through the net like he’s not career 13.2% 3-point shooter. This was made all the more hilarious by the fact that Drummond missed his other two attempts, a pair of layups, badly. He finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes. Will Andre Drummond 3-Point Shooter actually be a thing in the regular season? Stay tuned!

The Bulls also got another big performance from, who else, DeMar DeRozan. The former Raptors star did it all, going for 21/8/8 on 7-of-12 shooting and 7-of-7 from the line. He also racked up three thefts. He’s already in midseason form, especially when it comes to drawing phantom fouls.

Nikola Vucevic’s stellar preseason continued with 13/9/2, and Ayo Dosunmu played an aggressive game with 14/7/5. Ayo matched Green’s +27 in the box score in 29 minutes and was part of a closing group that featured those two, Coby White, Dalen Terry and DJJ. This unit blasted the Raptors’ scrubs to smithereens, using their relentless activity and even some 3-point shooting to pull away. Terry can sometimes be a bit out of control, but he just makes stuff happen and is making his own case for rotation minutes. White didn’t shoot the ball well (3-of-10) and had four turnovers, but he also had six assists and forced the issue a lot in positive ways. Goran Dragic got the night off for rest after he played well against the Nuggets, giving the young guards more of an opportunity.

Zach LaVine had another quiet game as he continues to work his way back from his knee surgery. He’s clearly not quite himself yet and really struggled with turnovers in the first half, coughing the ball up five times and also getting two jumpers blocked. The Bulls as a team made a lot of careless passes in the first two quarters, struggling to even make simple entry passes. They tightened things up a bit more in the second half, though, finishing with 24 turnovers after racking up those 16 in the first half. The Bulls shot nearly 60% from the field and 8-of-16 from 3-point range over the last two frames.

The Bulls are now 2-1 in the preseason and have one last exhibition game before opening the season in Miami on Oct. 19. A home date against the Bucks at the United Center on Tuesday will wrap up the preseason slate.

NBA preseason recap: Toronto Raptors lose to Chicago Bulls 115-98 – Raptors HQ

It will be an intriguing watch this year to see how teams with plodding big men cover the Raptors. The most logical option for a matchup would seem to be Scottie Barnes. Considering Barnes doesn’t have a fantastic jump shot, loves to play around the rim, and seems to be the roll man in a lot of offensive actions, he would be my personal choice as an opposing coach, and it seems that Billy Donovan would agree.

However, you still noticed a lot of moments where Barnes would square Vucevic up directly and take him off the dribble. The way Toronto is set up, they will have mismatches for and against them, and if they can manage to guard true centers on the defensive end, they could be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams.

We also saw the opposite plan of attack for the Raptors as well. When Vucevic was off the floor, we saw Toronto attempt to get small guards like Ayo Dosunmu on Pascal Siakam or Barnes, and we saw Toronto quickly dump those matchups into post-up situations.

Another note from tonight is that Gary Trent Jr. heard all of your Precious noise! Trent played extremely well tonight, finishing with 17 points off 6 for 8 shooting, and you could see how needed his 3-point shooting is going to be this season.

For a while there, even though Toronto was maintaining a lead, and scoring at a solid pace, the offense just seemed like a grind with a lot of the scoring coming from inside the paint. Which is extremely ironic for a team full of mobile, versatile wings.

Also… Dalano Banton… Again… Enough said.

Toronto will head one province East on Friday to play in front of what is hopefully another great crowd in Montreal, Quebec, as they look to finish the preseason with another win against the Boston Celtics!

Josh Lewenberg: Banton making case for role in Raptors’ early-season rotation – TSN.ca

The preseason has been a mixed bag for the Raptors, who fell to 2-2 in exhibition. Their offensive struggles continued into the weekend, as they shot just 35 per cent against the Bulls, including 8-for-37 from long range. Admittedly, Fred VanVleet, who hit just three of his 12 three-point attempts, is working his way back into game shape, and the same could be said for a few of the team’s other regular rotation players.

“Nothing,” VanVleet said, somewhat tongue in cheek, when asked what he’s liked so far. “It’s preseason.”

But if you’re looking for bright spots look no further than Banton. In four games, the 22-year-old sophomore is averaging 10.5 points on an efficient 62 per cent. And, by all accounts, he’s been every bit as impressive behind closed doors – during practice and in team scrimmages.

When he’s at his best, Banton comes into the game and uses his elite combination of length and speed to push the tempo and make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. With his physical tools and skill set, he checks off a lot of boxes for the ever-versatile and position-less Raptors. It’s one of the reasons he was able to beat out the smaller Malachi Flynn for the backup point guard gig out of camp a year ago.

Now, thanks to his strong play and injuries to a couple veterans on the roster, he’s making a push to earn regular rotation minutes once this season tips off on Oct. 19.

“He’s playing at the tempo he wants to play at and I think he’s doing a little bit of everything, not only at the offensive end,” Nurse said. “I think he’s playing in transition, he’s running the team pretty [well], and he’s executing the sets. But he’s really been good at the defensive end. He’s really noticeable, getting his hands on the basketball and poking it away or reaching in from the weak side or stripping one away. He’s done a good job using that length.”

“He just seems to be more comfortable with the reads, with the speed of the game,” said VanVleet. “Obviously it’s going to be hard for a 6-foot-9 point guard not to have success in the NBA just with the size and the lanes that are available to him, being able to finish around the rim. He’s getting more comfortable with the jump shot, so it looks like a guy who has taken that step and feels like a guy that is ready to crack the rotation.”

With so little turnover on the roster – the Raptors have a league-most 13 players returning from last season – Nurse came into camp with a pretty good idea of what his rotation could look like. When healthy, last year’s starters – VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam – seem likely to open games, with Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jr. making up the second unit.

Banton and Flynn are the only other point guards on the roster once again, but Nurse has shown he’s more than comfortable using Siakam or Barnes as the primary ball handler when VanVleet rests. It appears that the plan was to use a nine-man rotation without a traditional backup point guard. But plans change.

Trent Jr., Banton look good as Raptors drop pre-season tilt to Bulls | Toronto Sun

Gary Trent Jr. looked pretty strong all night but seemed to shine particularly bright in those minutes he played with the bench unit to start the fourth quarter.

Nurse has played around with the rotation of which starters stick around or come back with the bench unit and Trent Jr. seemed to stand out in his time with four reserves on the floor.

“Gary was good in general,” Nurse said. “I thought the best thing was he made some really good passes all over, inside, outside, drawing defenders and finding the next play in front of them which was good and he also just kind of turned out that way that he ended up with that (second unit) group. But it’s good, it’s good to see and kind of figure out who kind of the ball can go through at different times in the stages late in the first quarter, early second, etc. And that’s kind of why we keep kind of tinkering around with it a little bit.

Trent Jr. finished with 17 points in 28 minutes, a point off the Raptors game-high of 18 set by Pascal Siakam.

Dalano Banton was another guy who stood out in the game chipping in with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in just under 17 minutes.

Banton has been strong throughout camp but this was probably his most complete showing. He’s earned praise from both his coach and his teammates alike.

Post-game, Fred VanVleet suggested Banton’s biggest move has been his overall comfort level on the floor and feel.

Nurse noticed something similar.

“He just looks so comfortable out there, right” Nurse said. “It just doesn’t look like he… he’s playing at the tempo he wants to play at and I think he’s doing a little bit of everything, not only at the offensive end, I think he’s playing in transition. He’s running the team pretty good, He’s executing the sets, those kinds of things. But he’s really been good at the defensive end. He’s really noticeable, getting his hands on the basketball and poking it away or reaching in from the weak side or whatever stripping one away.”

Raptors hand Dalano Banton reins in pre-season loss to Bulls | The Star

Dalano Banton ran the offence and he ran the floor, calling plays one moment and finishing on the break the next.

Exactly the kind of all-around outing Raptors coach Nick Nurse wanted as Toronto played its lone home pre-season game on Sunday night.

“Mixing it up for him is the ideal thing,” Nurse said before the Raptors dropped a 115-98 decision to the Chicago Bulls at Scotiabank Arena, leaving Toronto 2-2 on the pre-season.

“To just give him the ball all the time — time after time after time — I think lessens one of his big strengths, which is cutting and receiving at the end of (the cuts) and getting out and running a little bit … Mixing it up for him is what we’re trying to get to.”

Figuring out where Banton fits best is one of the ongoing stories of the pre-season, but he does usually energize the Raptors whenever he’s on the court. The six-foot-nine native of Rexdale played 17 minutes on Sunday and had 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal.

But the key was the variety of ways he scored. He had a pretty finish in transition off a Thad Young pass, tipped in a Pascal Siakam miss with an offensive rebound, and ran the team as a more traditional point guard for a few minutes.

Raptors Not Concerned About Preseason Shooting Woes – Sports Illustrated

Not much is going to worry Fred VanVleet at this point in the year.

Yes, his shooting hasn’t looked good this preseason. He managed just 1-for-6 from behind the arc last Wednesday against the Boston Celtics and Sunday’s 115-98 loss to the Chicago Bulls wasn’t much prettier. After opening the night with an above-the-break three-pointer off a nifty kick-out pass from Gary Trent Jr., VanVleet’s shot went ice cold. But it’s early, VanVleet says, and seven years into his NBA career he’s not concerned about how the preseason looks. It’s the regular season and, more importantly, the post-season he’s concerned about.

“It’s a process,” said VanVleet who tweaked his offseason training to keep him better in shape this season. “I have my own goals for the season and where I am now, I’m surely not playing my best, but no one really cares at this point. My body’s feeling good and I got a new body, I’ve got to test the wheels out a little bit and shake the rust off and, again, we want to be playing in April, May and June and I want to be peaking at the end of the year and not in October.”

Aside from Trent, none of Toronto’s regulars was particularly effective against the Bulls. Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, and Precious Achiuwa managed just 6-for-23 shooting, with just one three-pointer made between the three of them. The Raptors as a team shot just 35% from the field and 21.6% from behind the arc, their third straight game in which they’ve been unable to manage at least 25% from three-point range.

“I don’t think you worry. I would say that the body of work, well (VanVleet) and O.G., puts them in the, I don’t know exactly, but probably the 38 to 40% range in the body of work,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “I think they both had a lot of good looks tonight, too. It’s getting the rust off, getting in shape, getting all those things going, but I think those guys body of work over the last couple of years speaks for itself and I’m sure they’ll continue that body of work when it’s for real.”

For the Raptors, NBA pre-season also lets coach Nurse play | The Star

The plan to experiment with two bigs immediately off the bench is on hold for a few days, however, with Boucher sitting out Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

“Don’t think it’s super-serious but, just like with Otto (Porter Jr., who has yet to play this pre-season because of bad hamstring), those things are touchy,” Nurse said. “(Boucher) will be not with us for a little bit.”

For a spell in the 2021-22 season, Nurse brought Boucher and Dalano Banton off the bench in tandem because he felt their size, athleticism and speed were integral to changing the pace of every game. It’s not precisely the same with two big men, instead of a big and a guard, but the theory is the same: try things out, see how they work and be adaptable either way.

“I’m not sure, again, it’s ideal position-wise or matchup-wise to just do it without giving it any thought,” he said of the Achiuwa-Boucher tandem. “(It’s not) ‘This is the way it is, no matter who we’re playing and whatever’s happening’ … It has been in the pre-season because I’m just trying to keep those guys ready, get ’em in the game as quick as I can and get ’em playing, get their minutes in the pre-season.”

Sunday’s game was Toronto’s third in five nights, quite a heavy pre-season load for an NBA team. Throw in a week in Victoria and Edmonton right off the bat and that’s a lot of long flights and late nights before the grind of the regular season arrives. It’s just a fact of life for a team that really represents an entire country.

“I would never complain about being Canada’s team, but part of it is we’re going to go play these games in other cities in Canada and that causes us to have a heavy travel schedule.” said Nurse, who also coaches the national men’s team.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is taking advantage of opportunities to experiment with matchups in an unusually hectic pre-season.

“The reality of it is that, it’s not that easy to get (other) teams to … play us somewhere in Canada. So in return, we have to (return the favour) at some point and that’s just how it lands sometimes. It’s been a lot of travel and a lot of late nights already, but that’s OK. We’ll be just fine.”

Justin Champagnie Ready To Show Raptors He Belongs – Sports Illustrated

Coming into training camp this year Champagnie seemed like a favorite to make the roster this season. He’d gone from an undrafted and unknown player on a two-way contract last season to a G-League standout and occasional rotation player for the Raptors. Normally when an investment pays off like that, those players stick around, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned.

“You’d like to say Justin did some good things for us last season. He’s been in the system, had a pretty good Summer, his shooting is improving a bit. You’re leaning towards that as part of the, you know, it’s a lot of time and investment made already. But he’s got to play,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

“It’s not like the other guys haven’t piqued some interest.”

Josh Jackson, in particular, has drawn the curiosity of the coaching staff. The former No. 4 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has looked at home within Toronto’s complex defensive system, another versatile 6-foot-8 defender who has shown some offensive ability so far this preseason. 

So far the roster decisions have been difficult, Nurse admitted. The conversations within the coaching staff have been intense and votes for who should and shouldn’t make the team have constantly been changing. Champagnie’s goal is to make that decision even more difficult. He’s been thrilled to see his teammates succeed, he said, but now it’s go time.

“I’ve got two games to prove what I can do,” he said. “Just gotta go out there and play to my best.”

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