Morning Coffee – Mon, Oct 31

VanVleet promises to bounce back after a bad game | VanVleet also playing too many minutes with not enough usage | Raptors host the Hawks tonight

Raptors early-season trends: What is and isn’t sustainable in their 3-3 start? – The Athletic

Fred VanVleet’s usage percentage is 15.7, seventh among regular rotation players
Last year: 2nd on Raptors (23.3 percent)

That’s right: Siakam, Barnes, Trent Jr., Achiuwa, Anunoby and Boucher are using more possessions than VanVleet, who was an All-Star a year ago. VanVleet has said he is OK playing facilitator, although his coach wants him to be more aggressive. (That was before VanVleet’s awful 0-for-11 night Friday.)

“We want him to get some more attempts. He’s too good of a shooter for us to go up and down, up and down for a large section of the game without getting some attempts. We’ll try to involve him with setting screens for him, coming off the ball, not being on the ball or in ball screens because a lot of times teams are just switching to make him get off it. We’re setting some off the ball (for him). … We’re just trying to use him (with) a bunch of different tactics.”

Sustainability scale: 3. He was just below his career high in usage last season, and there are good reasons it is down this year. Barnes and Achiuwa are more familiar with the offence, and the Raptors want them to take a bigger share of the offence. If and when the Raptors’ shooting cools down a bit, though, VanVleet will take a bigger role. As well, turnovers count toward usage percentage, and VanVleet’s caretaking will not remain this pristine.

Josh Lewenberg: Raptors’ Young staying professional, ready despite lack of playing time – TSN.ca

Young impacts the game in ways that aren’t always reflected in the box score. He’s not the type of player that’s going to come in and score in bunches. Over his 16-year career, he’s carved out a niche as one of the league’s great glue guys – a high IQ player who does a bit of everything on both ends of the floor and makes his teammates better.

So far, head coach Nick Nurse has kept his rotation tight, with the bulk of the minutes going to his top seven players – the five starters as a well as Achiuwa and Boucher. From there, he’s skewed younger. Rookie centre Christian Koloko and sophomore point guard Dalano Banton are the only other players who have appeared in all six games. It could just be a positional thing, with Nurse prioritizing Koloko’s size or Banton’s quickness in certain matchups. Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, they may prefer to use those minutes to develop and see what they’ve got in those younger guys.

Of course, nothing is set in stone. It’s a long season and the back end of Nurse’s rotation tends to be fluid. He spoke to Young after last Monday’s game in Miami, the first of two straight DNPs for the veteran forward, and his message was: “stay ready.”

“I wouldn’t say that I planned on not using him in Miami that night, it’s just kind of how it turned out,” Nurse said last week. “We’ll see. We’re gonna need him, there’s just no doubt about it. It’s kind of a night-to-night thing.”

Young’s routine hasn’t changed much, even if his role has. If anything, he’ll be at the gym a bit earlier, or leave a bit later to make sure he’s getting his work in. And even if he’s not able to contribute as much as he’d like to on the court, he knows that he can always make an impact off of it.

“When you’re not playing you have to find other ways to make the team better,” said Young. “One of my ways is continuous leadership – helping the young guys, making sure I’m giving tem pointers on what to do, yelling at guys from the bench, and then constantly staying in the young guys’ ears. Some of the young guys come in and they have a lack of confidence, but I try to continue building them up, continue helping them grow their game.”

He can’t help but have some déjà vu. Young found himself in a similar spot a year ago, sitting on the bench and waiting for his opportunity. He was going into the final year of his contract when the rebuilding Spurs acquired him from Chicago in the DeMar DeRozan sign and trade, and he didn’t factor into their long-term plans. At one point, he appeared in four of 28 games for San Antonio before being dealt to the Raptors for veteran guard Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.

Unlike Dragic, who requested a personal leave when he fell out of the rotation in Toronto, Young stuck it out. Despite his disappointment, he remained professional, continued to bring leadership and help guide his younger teammates, and worked hard to stay ready for his next opportunity, whenever and wherever it would come.

The trade to Toronto was freeing, in that sense. It felt like the perfect fit for the player and for the team. With the Raptors, he was playing regularly again, making an impact on the floor while also bringing some much-needed veteran leadership to one of the league’s up-and-coming clubs at a crucial time, heading into a playoff push. That’s why he signed a new two-year, $16.3 million deal to remain with the franchise this past July.

The irony of finding himself back in limbo isn’t lost on him, but he’s handling it the only way he knows how.

Raptors will wear out VanVleet again without trade for help | The Star

If there was anything else to be gleaned from Friday’s loss, it’s this: Barring a trade that significantly changes Toronto’s roster, Nurse will likely be hard-pressed to make good on his pre-season vow to play VanVleet less exhaustively than he did a season ago, when the wear-and-tear of the six-month grind saw him miss Toronto’s final two playoff games to injury.

Witness Friday’s game, when the heart-and-soul point guard was obviously out of rhythm and possibly ailing, and Nurse still felt the need to stick with him for 34 minutes. Sure enough, six games in VanVleet is averaging a team-high 38 minutes a game, up a tick from last season, when VanVleet and Pascal Siakam sat atop the league averaging 37.9 minutes apiece.

“I’m gonna play him less minutes,” Nurse said before the season. “I think that he has played great and we need him out there. But we’ve got more depth, as we learned in the playoffs we can move pieces and do some things.”

Never mind the notion that treating VanVleet as beyond indispensable has already proven unsustainable. The idea that the Raptors have more depth is so far more theoretical than practical. Last season, the Raptors bench was the least-used in the league, averaging a scant 14.4 minutes a night. This year, Nurse is using his reserves even more scarcely, playing them a league-low average of 12.9 minutes.

Raptors all-star point guard Fred VanVleet was shut out on 11 field-goal attempts Friday night against the 76ers.

Some of that comes down to a difficult early-season schedule, and some can be attributed to the early-season absence of Otto Porter Jr., the team’s key free-agent acquisition. His shooting prowess will be a welcome addition off the bench whenever he’s ready for action. Porter, alas, has yet to play a game on account of a hamstring injury and, more recently, an excused absence from the team for personal reasons.

So far the only reserves getting steady minutes are Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko. Achiuwa has been relied upon for 23.2 minutes a game, right around last season’s rate. And there are those who’d suggest it would make sense to move Achiuwa into the starting lineup so that Gary Trent Jr. can provide instant offence off the bench. Boucher, who missed the opening three games with a hamstring injury, figures to average something close to the 22 minutes he played Friday. And Koloko, the seven-foot-one rookie who played a season-low 10 minutes, figures to get a fair shake at a regular run.

Beyond that, the bench has been hard-pressed to find a niche.

Veteran power forward Thaddeus Young was left out of Nurse’s rotation entirely in the two games previous to Friday, when he played all of five minutes. And as for Juancho Hernangómez, the Netflix star whom Nurse had spoken of as a welcome addition as a three-point shooter? The Spaniard didn’t take his first field-goal attempt of the season until Friday night, when he was inserted for a scant three minutes. In the previous five games he’d played just once, getting six minutes in the season opener.

VanVleet wasn’t hurt in ugly Raptors loss: ‘I’ll be better’ | The Star

To expect VanVleet not to bounce back would ignore years of history and his driven personality, a willingness to accept the challenges and responsibility of leadership.

He is an NBA all-star and a champion, a driven leader whose level of frustration and anger about games like Friday’s starts with himself, long before it moves onto teammates or coaches or even circumstances.

“I think that we all know the value that he has as a leader for us,” coach Nick Nurse said Sunday. “And that usually means this for him: He really impacts winning. That’s kind of his M.O. his whole life.

“I say this, too: Those guys are going to have (a bad game) once in a while. They’re not always going to play great. How do you bounce back? How quick do you bounce back? So, he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy. I’m sure he’s not happy with the way he played the other night.”

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was his own toughest critic after Friday’s loss to the 76ers at Scotiabank Arena. “I’ll definitely take responsibility.”

He’s not.

“Just a tough night for me overall,” he said. “I didn’t have much pop, much energy.”

The blessing, if one can call it that, is that the chance to bounce back comes quickly. He’ll get to chase around the speedy Atlanta backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray when the Hawks are at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night, and Friday’s game will be a million kilometres in the rearview mirror.

“There’s definitely no nights off,” the 28-year-old VanVleet said. “That’s the great part about the NBA, it’s a challenge every night. You’ve got to be up to the task. I just look forward to putting that one (Friday) behind us and moving on.”

The task of trying to slow Young and Murray of the 4-2 Hawks won’t fall solely on VanVleet, because the Raptors defend as a group. Still, VanVleet is who he is and he accepts it.

“There’s some nights where I know I have a big burden of responsibility, like obviously Trae Young is one of those guys,” he said. “The problem is, I take it personal if anybody scores on me. So, it’s a little frustrating at times, but (I’ve) just got to trust the overall plan and the defensive schemes.”

VanVleet, who knew he’d have to do a media scrum Sunday, made it clear there’s nothing physically wrong with him. He knew the questions would come, and answered them forthrightly as he always does. He went to the locker room briefly in the second quarter Friday (“yes, everything was fine”) and changed shoes at halftime because he does that often.

Much ado about nothing.

“We don’t have to make it a big deal. The next time you guys see me, I’ll be better,” he said. “And we’ll go from there.”

Raptors Fred VanVleet Talks Rough Night vs. 76ers – Sports Illustrated

Toronto is going to need VanVleet back at 100% Monday night when the new-look Atlanta Hawks come to town with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young leading the way. If Maxey was a problem for the Raptors on Friday, Young poses a much bigger threat as a similarly quick and uber-talented offensive player who has given VanVleet fits in the past.

Last year, for example, Young broke out for 41 points in late February against the Raptors with 24 of those coming against an ailing and slowed VanVleet as his primary defender, per NBA Stats. This time around, the Raptors are planning to approach Young a little differently this time around.

“I think you just gotta show bodies and show a crowd,” VanVleet said of defending Young. “I think just being in tune to the game plan and just having the focus and the energy to get just fight and get through the screens, and be able to show multiple bodies.”

If that doesn’t work, Monday could turn into a shootout for the Raptors and VanVleet might need to start that streak again with a couple of three-pointers as he finds his groove again.

Raptors’ Fred VanVleet looking to bounce back from an off-night | Toronto Sun

It’s actually a testament to his consistency that it was still a subject some 38 hours after the fact.

But watching VanVleet go 0-for while his primary defensive cover in Tyrese Maxey was going off on his way to a 44-point night was just so out of character.

VanVleet admitted he did not sleep well after that performance, but that dwelling on it is not an option.

And, again, if we’re all being honest, few expect to see another night like that VanVleet any time soon, certainly not VanVleet himself.

“It was just one of them nights, man,” VanVleet said. “I don’t really have too many of those. It was just one of them. It takes a lot of energy and takes a lot of focus and just the high performance I work myself toward being one of those players where the team depends on me to do a lot of things. I didn’t really answer the call in many of those areas. You won’t see many of those from me. I’m looking forward to bouncing back. Just a tough night for me overall. I didn’t have much pop, much energy. I’ve had a few games like that. I usually throw a couple threes in there late and people forget about it. It didn’t go that way this time. I’ll live with it. I’m built for it. I’ll bounce back.”

For the record, VanVleet’s line was 0-for-11 from the field, 0-for-8 from three-point range and 1-of-3 from the line for a one point night. Maxey, and it wasn’t VanVleet solely responsible for him, but he was on him the majority of the night, shot 15-for-20 from the field, 9-for-13 from three and five-of-six from the line.

Fortunately, VanVleet doesn’t carry previous games with him for long, the good or the bad.

“I didn’t sleep much,” VanVleet said. “It’ll keep you up all night thinking about this, playing it back in your head. Then you wake up and it’s a new day. I don’t really hold on to good games or bad games that long. I’ve got a pretty short memory when it comes to that.”

But as for excuses, like maybe the late decision by Philly to sit Joel Embiid and how that played into Toronto’s seeming lack of preparation, VanVleet had no time for that at all.

“I don’t know,” VanVleet said. “I don’t really think there are many excuses we can make. It’s kind of a no-excuse league. There are people we can talk to within the organization that we can give explanations. I don’t really put you guys on that list. It doesn’t really matter why or when and how. Just the fact that we didn’t answer the call. I was terrible. We move on.”

Head coach Nick Nurse is one of a handful of people who seem to realize, or at least publicly state and understand, that asking a player never to be ‘off’ is unrealistic.

He consistently talks about just asking his players to give him a little more. It’s ‘not be perfect every night;’ it’s ‘give me that great play three out of four nights’ or four out of five nights instead of two out of five or one every five.

And when it comes to VanVleet, well, to say the concern metre about getting what he needs from him is low for Nurse would be a huge understatement.

“He really impacts winning, right?” Nurse said. “That’s kind of his M.O. his whole life, right? You know when he has a tough game like he had the other night, you know me, I say this too, those guys are going to have those once in a while. They’re not always going to play great. How do you bounce back? How quick do you bounce back? All those things. Again, I think all those things fall under his M.O., right? So, he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy. I’m sure he’s not happy with the way he played the other night.”

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