Morning Coffee – Wed, Oct 19

Siakam and VanVleet up for big pay days | Injuries suck | Raptors vs Cavs LFGOOOOOOOO!!! 🚀

Top Raptors’ storylines on the eve of 2022-23 season opener – Yahoo

Pascal Siakam is ready to hit the ground running

We spend a lot of time during training camp and the preseason worrying about things on the periphery, such as who will win the final roster spot (congratulations to Justin Champagnie. I hope he thrives. But it’s worth remembering that we spent the same amount of time worrying about the 15th spot last season when Isaac Bonga, who is now in Germany, ultimately won it). But what really matters after a summer away is how the very best players on the team look when they return. Which brings us to Pascal Siakam.

Siakam averaged 21.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists along with 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes this preseason, shooting 42.3 percent from the field (despite hitting just 18.8 percent of his threes). And while those numbers might look underwhelming at first, Siakam was letting it fly from three — as he should during preseason, but maybe not as frequently in the regular season, as we saw last year. When he chose to attack the paint instead of settling, Siakam shot 52.8 percent inside the arc, which is where we know he does the bulk of his work. Plus, Siakam got to the free-throw line 7.0 times per 36 minutes, better than his career-high 5.6 times he got there last season, when he averaged 37.9 minutes per game. Defensively, Siakam has been as disruptive as ever, looking quick and strong enough to switch onto almost anyone in the league. Simply put, he looks ready.

“I think he came in probably as sharp as anybody,” Nick Nurse said of Siakam. “Just with his skills and with his conditioning and all that stuff. And I think he’s been pretty impressive at both ends as a two-way player and I’ll say that that’s what he needs to be, [that’s] who he is.”

Where do the Raptors fit in as a new season begins? | The Star

Never mind that Pascal Siakam is still on a growth curve at age 27, trying to add DeMar DeRozan-like footwork to his own long, agile frame. (Though between his age and his ambitions, it’s tricky.) Never mind that VanVleet is a walking culture cheat code. Never mind that Scottie Barnes is the future star who will be given opportunity after opportunity to do more. He was the rookie of the year while more or less test-driving his way through the league, so what happens when he feels confident enough to really go?

And never mind that the Raptors will come out of the gate with their long-limbed defence in high gear, while maxing out their pieces with a program that demands high standards and accountability. Other teams, in the league of stars, are sexier. Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo are a year removed from a title, Boston and Jayson Tatum reached their first finals, Philadelphia has Joel Embiid and a slimmed-down James Harden, and the Brooklyn Nets have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and whatever Ben Simmons is now. The Nets feel like one of those old casinos that are scheduled for implosion, but they haven’t accepted it yet.

Does Toronto fit with the rest? Miami stuck to being Raptors South Beach, developing pieces around second-tier stars. Chicago stood pat with a team that wasn’t quite enough last year.

Then there are the teams that made their moves. Atlanta burned first-round pick value to get combo guard Dejounte Murray from San Antonio, and Cleveland burned future first-rounders and some young player capital to grab Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz, after Minnesota had already reset the market with five first-round picks for defensive star Rudy Gobert.

Murray is a nice piece, but he wouldn’t have elevated Toronto’s problematic half-court offence, or added the requisite shooting and shotmaking. Mitchell, meanwhile, is an upper-level scorer and fearless playoff performer, sure. But could Mitchell have defended a pick-and-roll to the level that Nick Nurse demands? Could he learn to survive in Nurse’s defensive system? Could he work with others?

No, the Raptors didn’t look very hard at Donovan Mitchell, because if you’re going to make the big move, you have to be sure what you’re buying can live up to your exacting, franchise-defining standards. Toronto looked for bigger fish, nosing their way into the Kevin Durant sweepstakes that went nowhere, and are now back to growing from within. The Raptors could have chased Gobert, one supposed, and tried to win by surrounding Gobert with Toronto’s army of big and active wings and surrendering 80 points a night. It’s probably for the best they didn’t try.

How NBA’s growing revenues impact Raptors’ negotiations with Siakam, VanVleet – Sportsnet

Similarly, if VanVleet doesn’t sign an extension — unlike Siakam, his new deal can be struck any time this year — it’s unlikely a reflection of his views on his long-term future in Toronto, but just him being a businessman and keeping an open mind.

“I will just say that I love being a Raptor,” was VanVleet’s media day answer, and one he doubled down on Monday. “I have a great relationship with management, ownership, coaching staff. There’s nothing I could really ever complain about being on this team. But I’m not going to speak on contractual things so you guys will know when it’s time to know. I’m happy with where I am, and I think it’s a mutual love.”

But love doesn’t always equal money.

By league rules, the most the Raptors can offer him is a four-year contract and a 20 per cent increase on his current deal — so $114 million — which would kick in for the 2022-23 season.

With the cap rising and contracts like Poole’s or Herro’s to use for comparison, VanVleet can likely proceed with confidence, knowing that — like Siakam — just because he doesn’t cash in now, doesn’t mean there’s not a bigger pot of gold waiting for him in the near future.

And by the same measure, the Raptors can take some comfort in that if they do have to dig deep into their considerable pockets for deals for their stars that might have seemed incomprehensible not all that long ago (former Raptors star Vince Carter earned just $171 million over his entire 22-year NBA career), it will be because VanVleet and Siakam are playing well, and the team is benefitting.

“My individual success is pretty much based on how the team does,” VanVleet said Monday. “The way I play is relative to how the team does. I’ve always won, I’ve been a winner, and I’ll continue to strive to be that. So, if we do well that means I’m probably playing well and the team is doing well… everything else will probably work itself out.”

A lifetime of riches likely didn’t seem possible when VanVleet was spending a hot summer day working on 1-on-1 moves in a gym in Rockford against a promising high school kid, but the NBA is a place where dreams can happen in a hurry.

2022-23 Toronto Raptors Preview: Fred VanVleet is leading by example – Raptors HQ

Fred the Head-High Leader
We’ve established that VanVleet perfectly fits the mold of a “3-and-D” player that thrives in today’s NBA. What else can he do to help the Raptors over-achieve again and push closer towards championship contention again?

The answer to that question appears to lie in his workload. Fred ranked 2nd in minutes in the NBA — trailing only Pascal Siakam. He also ranked 2nd in total games where he logged at least 40 minutes (21) — also trailing Siakam (30… let’s not do this again, Nicky). Missing the first month of the season may have allowed Pascal to log as many minutes, but for Fred, the workload started to wear him down. By the time the playoffs started, VanVleet was a shell of the man that carried the team in Siakam’s absence.

It’s easy for critics to point at the minutes and exclaim, “Play him less.” But with Fred, it’s more complicated than that. Reducing Fred’s minutes will have a negative impact on the team because he’s essential to everything that works in Nick Nurse’s system. VanVleet’s on/off metrics rank very favourably in points per possession (76th percentile) and effective field goal percentage (82nd percentile) on offense — AND defense (72nd & 82nd respectively).

While I expect a slight reduction in minutes, I don’t expect it to be that dramatic. There’s been a major shift in minutes played in the NBA. Gone are the days of superstars regularly logging 45 minutes. Load Management is here to stay, baaabbbyyyyy! Siakam and VanVleet may have led the league in minutes, but their averages were one of the lowest in league history (compared to other minutes leaders).

VanVleet has spent the off-season working on his stamina and endurance to avoid another breakdown in April. However, the best way to save his best for last is for Nurse to take the ball out of Fred’s hands.

Last season, there were 23 players who averaged at least 13 drives per game. Fred VanVleet ranked dead last with a 40.2 FG% (LaMelo Ball was the next closest at 44.4%) and 2nd-last in drawing fouls. He was obviously driving with the intent to kick out (pass percentage was the highest of anyone in that group). How effective is passing out of drives when Fred’s the team’s best shooter?

Remember that 3rd benefit I foreshadowed in the Catch-and-Shoot section? Fred’s ability to knock down threes off kickouts offers a new wrinkle to Nick Nurse’s offense. Siakam’s increased usage (read: more time with the ball in his hands) and Scottie Barnes’ emergence (yes, he is now listed as a Guard-Forward) can really open up the playbook and, hopefully, rid this team of stagnant offensive sets.

Pascal’s drives are the first key. The aforementioned list of frequent drivers? Siakam ranked 6th in both points per drive and field goal percentage. When he’s not driving to score, we already know how effective he is at finding the open man. With Fred presumably playing more off-ball, his best move would be to find a corner since he ranked in the 82nd percentile in shooting corner threes.

Scottie operates most effectively out of the post. Imagine what this kid can do with the ball in the low block? He could zip a pass to a cutting Anunoby or Siakam. He could find Gary or Fred creeping to an open spot beyond the arc. Heck, he could just shoot over the unlucky defender! The options are plenty but the fact remains: with the ball in either Siakam’s or Barnes’ hands, Fred should be able to make it rain from downtown while also saving his energy for maximum defensive peskiness!

Year after year, Fred VanVleet has been asked to wear different hats. Whether it’s leading the 905 to a championship, hitting pivotal threes during the NBA Championship run, or taking on the mantle as team leader after Lowry’s departure, Fred has always answered the call. This season, he’ll likely be asked to fill a different role. Do you really doubt he’ll do anything but succeed? Because Fred VanVleet is the hero Toronto deserves. It’s up to his coach and teammates to determine if it’s the one they need right now.

Raptors Discuss Scottie Barnes’ All-Defense Chances` – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

Scottie Barnes set a goal for himself coming into last season. From Day 1 he made it clear he wanted to win the Rookie of the Year award and, nine months after the Toronto Raptors made him the No. 4 selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, the 21-year-old accomplished his dream, hoisting the award in front of a packed Scotiabank Arena.

This year, Barnes has set a new goal for himself: Make an All-Defense team.

“I feel like that’s what I do best,” Barnes said of his goal. “That’s one thing I always pride myself on, trying to guard. That’s my goal.”

If last year’s goal seemed lofty, this one will be even tougher to reach. For one, Toronto’s defensive style is so team-oriented that it’ll be difficult for any specific player to earn the kind of defensive recognition necessary to receive the honor. It’s part of the reason O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet have never earned All-Defensive honors despite their reputation as two of the best defensive players at their position. 

Secondly, it’s rare for a second-year player to have built up the kind of respect with voters to receive All-Defensive honors. In the past decade, only three sophomore players have ever made an All-Defensive team: Matisse Thybulle, Dejounte Murray, and Patrick Beverley.

But is it doable?

“I don’t see why he couldn’t make it,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

“He’s a good defender. He’s a really good defender. … He can go out and pressure the ball full court at his size. … He can guard every… position because of his size, so that makes him a switch candidate. It makes him an inside player. It makes him a wing defender. It gives us a chance to switch if he’s guarding the screener in the screen-and-roll. It does all kinds of things. He’s a really good defender. ”

To do so, Barnes is going to have to cut down on the mistakes and stay more focused this season. For all the impressive plays he had last year, there were plenty of rookie mistakes from the 6-foot-8 forward who looked a little out of sorts at times early last season. This year, the expectations are higher and he’s going to have to bring that defensive intensity every single night.

“Scottie is an amazing basketball player and I don’t even think he knows it. He’s so young and he’s just scratching the surface,” said Thad Young. “He doesn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. Yeah, sometimes he might do something but for the most part, he’s playing under control, he’s always playing the way he needs to play in order to make us a better team.”

Cavs-Raptors preview: On Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley, the East and more – The Athletic

I asked Nick Nurse how much patience he was going to have for Barnes learning some new parts of the offensive system — basically, operating more in the pick-and-roll on both sides of that equation than he did last year — except I disfigured the question beyond recognition. Thankfully, the coach mostly understood what I was going for.

“It’s not like, we’ve got (to give him) more new moves we want you to work on twice a night,” Nurse said. “It’s more of when you see openings, man, go down and put the guy in the rim, put him on your back and put him in the rim. When the ball gets swung around to you, take the shot — rhythm-type things like that.”

I’m not entirely buying this. The Raptors’ half-court attack was too poor — 25th in points per possession, according to Synergy — and Barnes is too gifted of a passer to not use him more often in more intricate spots on the floor. Obviously, it would be great if his 3-point shot became more reliable, but I’m more interested in seeing how Barnes’ playmaking improves, especially when the game slows down. I don’t have a number of assists in mind, but I’d like to see him in those Draymond Green-like four-on-three situations more often, and see him making the right decision more often, too. Defensively, I think his perimeter defending, especially on smaller players, is the thing to watch. He is a ball-hawking monster on the weak side already, but his one-on-one skills were hit-and-miss last year.

I asked Barnes about Mobley on Tuesday, and Barnes said he was Mobley’s roommate when they teamed up for an under-15 version of Team USA, and he tried to get Mobley to come out of his shell then. He thinks Mobley has come a long way in that area. As for on the court, there’s nothing but love.

“He looked like the future for that team,” Barnes said of Mobley’s rookie season. “They can build around him, do so many different things with him. He’s great on the floor, to be able to roll to the rim, dunk. He has a little midrange game. He can do a lot of different things on the floor, alternate shots on the defensive end, block shots, run the floor.”

So, my question: What areas of Mobley’s game will you be watching most closely this season, and how will you measure his success? After that, let’s predict where both teams will finish, because being wrong is fun, especially when you’re on the record.

Injuries already an issue, but Raptors better equipped this time around | Toronto Sun

When they come periodically, they are usually manageable. When they come in bunches they can wreak havoc on a team’s season.

A year ago, the Raptors had more than their fair share starting the season with their go-to scorer out for the first 10 games. When Pascal Siakam returned, the team started to settle in. Then came a series of injuries to OG Anunoby. Eventually Fred VanVleet finally succumbed to what was a growing list of ailments and needed time off.

Those are huge absences.

Whether the Raptors avoid those this year will go a long way to determining how they finish.
But, at least to start, the injury situation is relatively tame.

In that respect, the Raptors are already ahead of last year going into the new season. On the eve of the opener, there is not a single starter on the injured list.

There are, however, three reserves deemed integral to team success that do find themselves on that list.
Otto Porter Jr., a potential answer to some of the team’s shooting issues, not to mention another key veteran presence on the roster, has not been able to really get started with his new team all pre-season thanks to a hamstring injury.

Porter Jr. was getting some shots up earlier this week in practice, but there is no known timeline for his return.
Chris Boucher, another early option off coach Nick Nurse’s bench is also dealing with a hamstring issue, although he is just questionable for the season opener. There is a decent chance he plays.

And then there is the Khem Birch situation. Birch developed some swelling in his good knee — he tore his MCL last season and addressed that in the off-season, but there is a belief that even that knee will remain somewhat of an issue this season.

Raptors Share Injury Update With Knee Injury for Khem Birch – Sports Illustrated

An injury in practice on Monday will force Khem Birch out of the lineup for the season opener on Wednesday night.

The Toronto Raptors forward is battling swelling in his left knee, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday. The injury comes after Birch had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee over the summer.

Otto Porter Jr. has officially been ruled out with a hamstring injury. It sounds like he will miss a few games as he’s potentially weeks away from returning to the court. He was seen working out at practice but not taking part in team activities Tuesday.

Chris Boucher, meanwhile, has officially been listed as doubtful, though Nurse called him “questionable” to play. There’s a chance he does make it back in time for Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers despite his hamstring injury.

Malachi Flynn has officially been cleared to return and he’ll be active for the opener. He will, however, be forced to play with a mask as he recovers from a fracture in his left cheekbone.

Gary Trent Jr. is also not listed on the injury report after missing the preseason finale with tightness in his right IT band. He has been a full participant in practice.

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