Dalano Banton, guard
Malachi Flynn broke a bone in his face in the Edmonton game, and Banton has run — literally — with the opportunity to play more. After handling the ball more often than not in his rookie season, Banton has been moving without the ball more often as Scottie Barnes has had the rock a lot more. Banton has shown how good he can be running on the wings in transition.
Banton has also managed to get to the line regularly. As his point guard skills develop, he is going to have to show utility as an off-ball threat. With his 3-point shot unreliable, that will come from cutting and running. Meanwhile, he’s lanky enough to cause problems defensively even if he still stands a little too upright to optimize his frame.
“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,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “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.”
Fred VanVleet, guard
Game 1: nine minutes. Game 2: 19 minutes. Game 3: DNP. The VanVleet load management plan is going according to schedule. VanVleet joked after the first game that he thinks he would be able to hold up at this pace.
With veterans, there is little to draw from the preseason, but after VanVleet struggled with his health so much down the stretch last year, it was good to see him back to his normal self against Chicago on Sunday. He was in passing lanes, finishing with five steals, launching 3s from well behind the arc and generally adding some essential verve to the Raptors half-court offence. VanVleet is ready to go, and that’s all anyone needed to see.
“My body is feeling good,” VanVleet said. “I got a new body and I got to test the wheels out a little bit, shake the rust off.”
O.G. Anunoby’s All-Defence chances
Zach LaVine was once capable of accomplishing some of the most spectacular athletic moves in the history of the league. Even after knee surgery, he is still an explosive scorer.
Well, Anunoby blocked him twice on Sunday. In a row. On jump shots. I mean.
Otto Porter Jr.’s importance
No, he hasn’t played a game because of a hamstring injury. Every time a Raptors’ swingman clanks a 3, his value is underscored. Here’s hoping he is healthy soon, although the Raptors will absolutely not rush him.
“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,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse following Banton’s 11-point showing Sunday night against the Chicago Bulls. “I think he’s playing in transition, he’s running the team pretty good, 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.”
Late in the third quarter Sunday, the Raptors sent a pair of screens to the top of the arc to spring Banton loose. A year ago, Banton might have panicked with the final seconds of the quarter winding down and tried chaotically to beat his man to the bucket. This time, though, he stayed calm, and when the Bulls switched the first screen and dropped on the second, Banton made the wise decision, finding Juancho Hernangomez for an open three-pointer.
Moments later, when Toronto ran the same action to start the fourth quarter, Banton saw a mismatch against Andre Drummon and decided to attack, using his speed to drive to the rim and flush a one-handed slam.
“It just feels like he’s reading the floor a little bit in his second go-around and we hope to continue to see him take strides out there,” said Nurse. “I’ve liked the communication that he’s had to get the rest of the guys into sets and organizing them and he’s done some of that on his own”
“He just seems to be more comfortable with the reads, with the speed of the game,” Fred VanVleet said. “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.”
“For our group it’s just a matter of ironing things out, seeing how we can continue to get better and grow,” said VanVleet. “We got a lot of different tracks and a lot of different talent growing at different paces. It’s a funky group. Sometimes you got to put it together and see what’s best for the team.”
The Warriors’ situation is at the extreme end of what happens when groups of competitive men who are used to expressing themselves physically get thrust together for long periods of time. No one who has played sports at any serious level can be unfamiliar with teammates – even friendly ones – getting heated and emotions spilling over. But almost all the time a ‘fight’ is a lot of talking, some shoves or harmless blows before the parties get separated.
Then again, everyone should know by now that the environment where professional athletes work bears almost no resemblance to where the rest of us mere mortals go to earn our daily bread.
The demands are different, the rewards are different, and the rules are different.
For example, in a ‘normal’ working environment Green would be fired instantly and almost certainly be criminally charged, while Poole would be in position to file a lawsuit. Based on the video, it’s almost impossible to argue otherwise.
But in the NBA?
The whole incident might have been swept under the rug and never spoken about publicly had TMZ Sports not obtained the clip of the over-in-a-blink-of-an-eye moment. To the extent it was addressed, it would be handled ‘in-house.’
In professional sports the priority is always to win games first and – a close second – manage public perceptions.
Which is why even reasonable minds like Warriors head coach Steve Kerr seemed as upset about the evidence being leaked as the crime itself.
For the Raptors, the hope is that they won’t have to deal with a moment as explosive as what happened in Golden State, while acknowledging that regardless of precautions taken, things happen.
“I think you have to give credit to management and coaching staff. They have their hands full in terms of putting together a locker room that works before we even step on the court,” said VanVleet. “I think we have done a good job of building that back up. It feels more like a Raptors team now.
“I know after the championship we had to kind of find the best available. It seems like we have more of our picks and our guys and guys that fit the mould and we have to continue to grow that. And the best way to do that is to come into work every day and continue to win ball games. If you win games, everyone is happy.”
You would hope. The Warriors are the defending NBA champions and have won four titles in the past eight years.
Last season’s results: 48-34 record, third in Atlantic Division, fifth in Eastern Conference, lost in first round.
2022-23 season betting odds: Over/under 46.5 total wins this season and +2447 odds to win it all, according to Sports Interaction.
Projected starting five: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam.
Noteworthy arrivals: Juancho Hernangomez, Christian Koloko, Otto Porter Jr.
Noteworthy departures: Svi Mykhailiuk, Yuta Watanabe.
Team outlook: Vision 6-9 remains in full effect for the Raptors, and after a surprisingly successful 2021-22 campaign last season using the apparent strategy in what was supposed to be a down year, there’s no reason why Toronto wouldn’t come back with what was working before.
On paper, the Raptors look better than last season with the addition of veteran three-and-D man Otto Porter Jr., fresh off helping the Golden State Warriors win it all.
Additionally, Juancho Hernangomez, A.K.A. Bo Cruz from Netflix film Hustle, should also provide some much-needed shooting that the Raptors have lacked for a little while now. And because of the guaranteed money on his contract, he likely has the inside track to claim the Raptors’ last roster spot.
Rookie Christian Koloko is also an interesting new addition for Toronto as he’s, at last, a legitimate seven-foot rim protector that the club’s needed for a while now as well.
These new faces, along with the fact Pascal Siakam is coming into the season fully healthy, expected growth from rookie of the year Scottie Barnes and potentially a lighter workload for Fred VanVleet make for much optimism around the Raptors to perform at least as well as they did last season.
Best-case scenario: Barnes is, by far, Toronto’s most interesting player to watch this season. He deservedly captured rookie of the year because of how reliable and consistent he was, regardless of the situation, on both ends of the floor. If he can take that next leap into becoming a legitimate star then the sky will feel like the limit for the Raptors.
This will require Barnes to look to be even more aggressive than before and improve as a shooter, but with chances at point guard coming his way this season he should get a fair shot to prove himself.
Worst-case scenario: For all the benefits all this versatility provides the Raptors – switchability on defence, athleticism at all five positions, etc. – a lack of role definition and a more traditional positional depth chart can lead to real problems.
An egalitarian approach to offence looks great, but a player like Siakam still needs to be fed for the offence to run at its best. And to this point, as much as they attempted to address it, the Raptors still have a dearth of shooting as most of the team is made up of multi-positional athletes that are better as slashers and distributors. Half-court offence could remain a problem unless some of these athletes really begin stroking it.
There are not many players or coaches throughout the NBA willing to publicly discuss the specifics of Draymond Green’s attack on Golden State Warriors teammate Jordan Poole in practice last week.
It should have been, they will tell you quickly and forcefully, a private incident dealt with internally as so many dust-ups in professional sports have been over the years.
None of the other run-ins, however, matched the level of violence Green perpetrated on Poole — it’s often just pushing and talking and threatening while waiting for teammates to intervene — and only the release of leaked video from inside the practice facility escalated the reaction to it.
“We obviously saw it. Most people just talked about (how) there’s situations that happen sometimes in a competitive environment … did it ever happen to you anywhere else you have been and things like that,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “And most of them always ended up, like, nothing much happening. You know, two guys look at each other and then nothing happens. It’s over.”
Fellow NBAers will rightfully steer clear of discussing the details because they weren’t in the Warriors facility, and because it’s really none of their business. They don’t personally know the full backstory, the buildup to the explosion.
“It’s not any of anybody’s business, and I know it became public, which is a shame. I’ll let them worry about that,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Sunday. “But just generally speaking, you never really know what you’ve got until you hit some adversity. You would not like that adversity to come from within (and) most of the time you deal with it internally. But again, we’ll see (what the fallout is).”
The greater story, and one people will talk about, is the bigger picture of team chemistry and how to navigate what have to be difficult circumstances.
Throwing 15 or so players together with a half-dozen coaches and a gaggle of staffers who are around every day — many on different career paths with disparate personalities and needs — is a delicate balancing act. Tempers can flare when anyone’s with the same group for 180 or so days a year, with bus rides and plane rides and the emotional ups and downs of wins and losses. The fact that teams tend to manage them so well is no mean feat.
VanVleet also spoke about that generally with regard to this group of Raptors, all of whom seem to get along well.
“I think you have to give credit to management and coaching staff,” he said. “They have their hands full in terms of putting together a locker room that works before we even step on the court. I think we have done a good job of building that back up.”