Morning Coffee – Fri, Oct 28

Waiting patiently on Porter Jr. to boost the bench | Boucher's return was needed | Siakam is damn good | Raps @ Sixers tonight

Boucher, Raptors’ bench steadily improving despite Porter Jr.’s absence – Sportsnet

The Raptors had the lowest amount of scoring from their bench league-wide last season and were 20th in three-point percentage. So it wasn’t all that encouraging when the Raptors were the second-worst three-point shooting team in exhibition play.

Porter — who has shot 39.8 per cent from deep in his career and was a useful bench piece for the Warriors last year — was signed to two-year contract worth $12.3 million to help alleviate both issues

Except — so far — the Raptors are more than getting by.

After they went 16-of-37 from three in their win over Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Raptors are second in the NBA in their accuracy from beyond the arc at 41 per cent. Overall their True Shooting percentage, which factors in three-point shooting, two-point field goals and free throws is 56.6, which is 19th in the league but a significant step up from 54.3 and 27th a season ago.

The sample size — all five games of it — is not big, but it’s at least encouraging.

“Well, we’re getting pretty good shots, I would say that much,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on Thursday. “I think there is a fair share of catch-and-shoot shots with a fair amount of being open or lightly contested, etcetera, so that’s always the key to get rhythm, not contested ones is where it starts. Taking good ones.”

The return of Chris Boucher, who also missed pre-season and the start of the campaign with a hamstring strain before joining the lineup for Monday’s win against Miami, has put a charge into a unit that needed some. They were scoring just 19.7 points a night through the first three games of the season, compared to 29.7 for their opponents.

With Boucher in the line-up the Raptors bench-scoring is up to 25.5 points a game over their past two starts, outscoring their opponents’ second unit in each case.

The addition of Porter Jr., when he returns, should only help.

“I think it could be exciting, we play a lot of different positions,” said Boucher, who began to fully embrace his role as an energizer off the bench in the second half of last season and has made himself an essential piece of Nurse’s rotation since. “I think we’re all starting to realize our role and how we can help the team, I think it’s a good combination of all guys who can do a lot of different things and really disturb the other team. Hopefully, we can figure it out really quick and keep up with the starters and win games.”

Adding Porter to a bench mix that is long on length and defensive energy but a little shy on dead-eye shooting should give Nurse more lineup options. The presence of Porter’s shooting should ease up the urge Nurse feels to keep Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. on the floor as long as he has been with the second unit.

Return of Boucher gives Raptors’ bench the lift it needed –

That Boucher’s absence coincided with the bench’s early-season struggles wasn’t accidental timing. Without him in the lineup, that group couldn’t seem to find its rhythm and wasn’t impacting games. Even Achiuwa, who shares sixth-man duties with Boucher, didn’t quite look like himself.

Over these past couple games – a pair of impressive victories over Miami and Philadelphia – you could feel the difference with Boucher on the court. His mere presence adds another dimension to Nick Nurse’s rotation, and the effort and energy he brings has given the team’s bench a much-needed lift.

“I think it was super noticeable,” Nurse said. “Just that speed up the floor, I think it’s contagious. When a guy whizzes by you, I think it drags other guys up the floor faster too. It really is a special skill of his. He’s really fast and he needs to air it out and do that because even if it isn’t creating something for him, it’s probably creating some forward movement for the rest of our guys.”

Generally, it doesn’t take long for Boucher to make his presence felt, for better or worse. He may have been a bit too overzealous when he made his season debut in Miami on Monday, picking up four fouls in his first eight minutes of action. Still, he scored 10 points, grabbed three rebounds and helped spark a 10-0 run during that same shift.

He was even better against the 76ers on Wednesday night. With Montrezl Harrell playing off him, Achiuwa found Boucher for an open three at the top of the arc late in the first quarter.

VanVleet set him up for another three, this time from the corner, to open the second quarter. A minute later, Scottie Barnes found him on a back cut to the rim for a dunk. Then, he hit a baby hook shot over Joel Embiid off a broken possession. That was all part of a 16-6 run that gave the Raptors a 13-point lead, one they would never relinquish.

“He just plays with a little bit more energy than the rest of us at times,” VanVleet said of Boucher, who finished that game with 13 points in 17 minutes. “Fresh legs and just being able to fly around, throw some corner-threes in, [grab] offensive rebounds. He just finds creases that a guy like him is skinny enough to slip through. He’s just a great presence for us out there.”

At this time last year, Boucher was limited by another training camp injury, a dislocated finger that required surgery. It set him back, and while he was ready to start the season, he struggled to find his place on an improving team. During the Raptors’ ill-fated 2020-21 campaign in Tampa, Boucher put up career numbers as a high-volume scorer on a bad team, but that approach wasn’t going to work last season. At age 28 and in his fifth NBA season – a contract year – he had to reinvent himself or risk being run out of the league.

What happened next would ultimately save his career and change his life forever. Boucher realized and accepted that you don’t need to start or even score to impact games. Just because anybody can bring effort and energy each and every night, doesn’t mean that everybody actually does. If Boucher could do that – combined with his natural length, speed and athleticism – he could blossom into the type of player that every team in the NBA needs. So, he studied the way somebody like Dennis Rodman carved out a long and iconic professional career through hard play, defence and rebounding, and he set out to become a star in his role.

Raptors and Sixers seem to be headed in different directions | The Star

“It’s weird to see the same team every time,” Toronto’s Chris Boucher was saying after Raptors practice Thursday. “I feel like I’m playing a video game.”

If the NBA were a video game, of course, the Sixers would likely be rated a superior team to the Raptors. A season ago, Philly finished two games out of the East lead, three games ahead of Toronto in the standings. Philly’s best player, Joel Embiid, was the league’s scoring champion, and he finished second in MVP voting. When Philadelphia and Toronto matched up in the playoffs, the Sixers quickly bullied the Raptors into a 3-0 series hole. And though the Raptors made a series of it, winning Games 4 and 5 to make the Sixers nervous, the Sixers reeled off an easy win in Game 6 to assert their superiority and advance the second round.

Still, injuries depleted the Raptors in that series, with Fred VanVleet missing Games 5 and 6 on account of what amounted to season-long overuse. And video-game ratings don’t always tell the whole story. Friday’s game will mark the six-month anniversary of that first-round finale. And judging from the early-season returns, a lot has changed in a mere half-year for two teams that appear to be going in decidedly different directions.

It’s not that Philly’s season is over after a 1-4 start, although that’s hardly the beginning that was expected from a team with championship aspirations.

And it’s certainly not to suggest that the Raptors, with their 3-2 win-loss record, are some juggernaut. Pascal Siakam, mind you, looks bent on making another all-NBA team, averaging as he is 25.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists — the kind of stat line that’ll get you into the MVP conversation if you keep it up. Still, some of Toronto’s early success, including Wednesday’s impressive 119-109 win over Philadelphia, has been a product of lights-out jump shooting. Toronto came into Thursday sitting second in the NBA in the three-point accuracy, a significant jump for a team that ranked among the worst-shooting franchises in the league last season. And as much as the organization takes pride in its track record of improving its in-house shooting skills with a rigorous and high-tech development program, head coach Nick Nurse chuckled at the mention of the No. 2 three-point-accuracy ranking.

“It’s a little early” to get excited about such stats, Nurse said.

Still, it’s not too early to make common-sense observations about the games in front of us. And if you’re comparing the Sixers and Raptors, the difference is stark. Philadelphia has more talent, perhaps, and certainly Embiid, at his best, is a force with few peers. But on most nights the Raptors play harder, as exhibited in Wednesday’s win, when they hounded the Sixers into coughing up 13 turnovers that led to 21 Toronto points. And the Raptors play better together, even if their 32-assist effort on Wednesday was a performance in productive ball-sharing that won’t be easily repeated.

Philadelphia, by contrast, has spent a lot of the early season watching its three best players, Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, take turns going one on one. And if the Sixers’ offence hasn’t been great, the defence has been worse. You could illustrate that with an array of numbers, but consider this one: Philly ranks dead last in contested-shot percentage, which means they liken getting a hand in someone’s face to an unsavoury chore.

SIMMONS: Raptors, Siakam are everything you want the Leafs to be | Toronto Sun

The Raps are 3-2 – three games on the road, two at home – against playoff teams from a year ago. One record seems impressive with one fewer win: The other, just so.

You open your eyes on Basketball Night In Canada – that’s whenever the Raptors play, and you see Pascal Siakam doing things he’s never done before. Good as Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet can be, Siakam is clearly the Raptors star. He’s travelled to this place from winning an NBA championship, losing himself in the bubble, fighting back to find his career and now this, taking a step to another level.

A level everybody almost everybody in the NBA is talking about and believe me, it isn’t often when everybody in the NBA is saying anything about Toronto at all.

As Matthews looks to find his scoring touch and Marner looks to recapture 100-point form – and those numbers will come – Siakam has bolted out of the gate to begin this NBA season, sprinting past so many of his peers around the league.

When teammate Chris Boucher was asked Thursday what position Siakam plays, he answered with numbers.

“One, two, three, four, five,” said Boucher. In other words, he plays all of them. Nikola Jokic in Denver does the same many nights and he’s won the MVP two years in a row. That would be equivalent to Matthews scoring the most goals – which is still expected – and leading the NHL in scoring, which is not expected. And then playing on defence.

The Siakam of today seems like a complete recreation of the player who lost his confidence against Boston in the Orlando bubble. The Siakam of today has become a show in itself.

“I’m not sure he has a position,” said coach Nick Nurse, who has clearly established himself as one of the best in the NBA. “His level of engagement from the moment the season ended last year, workouts at a high level, great concentration and desire in him. He’s playing both ends of the court with great desire.

“He looks comfortable with the ball out there. People who have seen us a little bit, not as much as you guys, say he looks a lot different this year. I would echo that.”

Through five games, Siakam has led the Raptors in scoring three times, in rebounding twice, and in assists twice and that includes his impressive 20 points and a remarkable 13 assists – four of them on three-pointers – give him an overall total of offence at 50 points.

Raptors Insider: Is Lowry joyless in Miami? Porter nears return | The Star

We’re sitting in the baseline seats at the arena in Miami on Monday a couple of hours before tipoff, catching up with some assistant coaches and staffers while the Raptors are getting their pre-game work in.

All of a sudden one ball comes bouncing our way and then a second, certainly not thrown hard but enough to get our attention.

Across the court, smiling but really wanting to get to work, is Otto Porter Jr. and, yeah, he’s impatient to play and the Raptors really want and need him.

“That guy’s a great shooter,” one of the coaches says. “I mean, that guy’s a great shooter. Can’t wait ’til he plays.”
The Raptors, though, are not in any real hurry for the nine-year veteran to get fully healthy and on the court.
Porter wants to play and he’s close but there’s no urgency from on high to rush him back.

The day he signed, a very high up official told me that if they got out of Porter what the Golden State Warriors got last year – 63 games and about 22 minutes game — they’d be fine with that.

They knew his injury past — he lost about three years before last season — and felt the risk/reward on a one-year guaranteed deal with a second season a player option was well worth it.

It is because no matter what anyone thinks of the Raptors second unit, it simply doesn’t have enough shooting. Not even close.

The Toronto Raptors introduce Otto Porter, their biggest free-agent signing over the summer. He hasn’t played for the Raptors yet due to injury.

And if they get a career 40 per cent shooter from three-point range even for three quarters of the season, they’ll be far ahead of where they were ago.

It’s no secret within the organization that outside shooting is an issue but the feeling is that Porter will address that need when he’s back from the hamstring problem, at least until February when the trade chatter starts and the Raptors can decide how all in they are on this season.

Raptors still waiting for Otto Porter to complicate rotation questions | Toronto Sun

Porter, who used to frustrate the Raptors while a member of the Washington Wizards, was signed away from the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, where he was a key reserve and sometime starter. Whenever he’s available he’ll be a factor, Nurse suggested.

“We want him back. He’s a high level player, high level shooter (career 40% three-point shotmaker). Certainly need (that). I would assume he’s going to get right into the rotation and we’ll figure out how that affects the rest (of the team),” Nurse said.

The coach is as creative as it gets, but he will have to be even moreso this season because of the forward-laden, guard-lacking roster management has handed him.

Last year’s pickup, Thaddeus Young, has barely played after fitting in well down the stretch and in the playoffs. Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher have earned plenty of time and there’s also veteran Khem Birch, intriguing rookie Christian Koloko and sharp-shooting movie star Juancho Hernangomez on hand as viable options to round out the bench behind all-star Pascal Siakam, top defender O.G. Anunoby and rookie of the year Scottie Barnes.

Fred VanVleet, Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. are three of only seven players this season averaging 38 minutes or more a game.

Nurse said he just had a chat with Young.

“He’s got to stay ready. I talked to him after the Miami game. And he was like: ‘You know, Coach, I’m ready and I’ll always be ready,’ and you know, totally with what we’re doing all that kind of stuff,” Nurse said.

“I wouldn’t say that I planned on not using him in Miami that night really just how it turned out and we’ll see. We’re going to need him, there’s just no doubt about it … It’s kind of a night to night thing.”

Young has made three appearances, totalling 28 minutes, this season. He was in and out of San Antonio’s rotation last year until the Raptors acquired him and played him about 20 minutes a night.

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