Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 4

O.G. is a defensive menace | Siakam approaching top-5 status | Raptors vs Mavs tonight

Pascal Siakam has never been better for the Toronto Raptors – SBNation.com

According to Synergy, when the defense commits, his points per possession rank in the 89th percentile or better in pick-and-rolls, isolation and post-ups, all substantial jumps from 2021-22. He simply is not flustered, regardless of how many eyeballs, limbs and bodies are determined to frustrate him. The timing on his slew of varied passing reads is pristine.

Siakam’s passing uptick has arrived in tandem with scoring progression. He’s amid his most prolific bucket-getting and creating campaign. Sixty-seven percent of his makes are unassisted, the gaudiest rate of his seven-year career. The smorgasbord of scoring is on display. He’s delivering in the post, as a driver and pull-up sniper, and even splashing home some off-screen triples.

Anecdotally, it seems Toronto is scheming more mismatches for him, whether he’s receiving or setting a screen. So many teams in the regular season will surrender their advantage on switches and the Raptors are exploiting that apathy.

The proper archetype to curtail him hasn’t been unearthed yet this season, despite facing a multifaceted gamut of defenders already. Against bigs, his slippery handle and burst fuel his slashing. If they sag off, he buries open jumpers. In Toronto’s 119-109 victory over Philadelphia last week, P.J. Tucker tried the latter tactic and Siakam torched it. When smaller dudes try to crowd his handle, he leverages his size, strength and length advantage to discard them, shooting over the top with ease.

His intermediate touch on the move, through contact and from funky angles is elite. He’s comfortable maneuvering through small spaces like few others his size. The NBA’s premier initiators prosper in tight windows, and Siakam is no different. Most are just not 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Physicality is his ally. He loves to use his elbows, hips and shoulders to apply subtle contact for minor separation inside the arc. When defenders try to employ bully ball and rattle him, he calmly endures it en route to shots he’s attempted countless times. He assesses defenders and picks from his array of creation avenues to strike.

Siakam’s intersection of size, speed, flexibility, functional handle, balance and physicality render him a distinct cover. He’s keenly aware of his novel existence, and looks a little quicker and more physical this year. His .412 free-throw rate is by far a career-high (.320 in 2018-19).

The emphasis on mismatch-hunting undoubtedly helps, but Siakam is also supremely difficult to prevent from frequenting his desired spots and that’s borne out thus far. If he reaches them and is greeted by newfound defensive pressure, he’s unfazed and methodical. His means of compromising the opposition is wide-ranging.

Everything he’s exhibiting through two weeks is that of a superstar readily equipped to assume all the expectations associated with a preeminent offensive focal point. The manner in which he wilts defensive shells and exposes their breakdowns as a scorer, foul-drawer and facilitator are that of someone ascending toward the utmost tier of creators. Glimpses were often evident last season, yet they weren’t strung together quite as regularly as this year. Those flashes appear to be an outdated relic, replaced by present-day consistency.

Raptors are finding multiple avenues to run their opponents into the ground – The Athletic

Whether it has been by forcing turnovers or vacuuming in defensive rebounds, the Raptors have found ways to run — a credit to the organization for empowering almost every player to dribble up the floor after getting a rebound. The difference so far between this year and last — the Raptors are running for efficiency and not just frequency.

“I think we (have) talked every day about running to the corners, someone running to the rim and just creating spacing,” Pascal Siakam said last week after the Raptors beat Philadelphia. “I think we work on that every day. I believe, and I hope that we’re going to continue to get better with spacing. Because again, having someone like me or Scottie coming down the lane, we’ve got to have shooters in the corners and the right spacing so we can attack. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re getting better.”

A lot better.

According to NBA.com, the Raptors played 18.4 percent of their offensive possessions in transition last year, fifth highest in the league. They scored 1.09 points per possession, just 24th in the league. Different sites disagree with the specifics, likely based on the definition of what a transition possession is, but the general takeaway was the same across the board: The Raptors played in transition a lot, but weren’t particularly good at finishing their opportunities.

This year, Toronto is playing 22.3 percent of its possessions in transition, most in the league, but scoring 1.32 points per possession, second only to Atlanta in the league. The Raptors are scoring 32.3 points per game in transition, 6.2 points more than New York, who is scoring the second most. That difference is the same that separates the Knicks and 21st-ranked Detroit. That has been the biggest driver in the Raptors’ entering Thursday’s play with an offensive rating of 115.8, lower than only Phoenix and Dallas.

Given that Fred VanVleet has missed the last two games, in which the Raptors have run the ball down their opponents’ throats, due to lower back soreness, it is tempting to draw a link. To be sure, the Raptors’ ability to throw an endless supply of capable defenders with very long arms at opponent ball-handlers has been key to creating turnovers. Even Nurse didn’t want to draw too many conclusions from that after beating Atlanta.

If you are a team that is looking to dominate through the possession battle, trading away the guy with the 6.57-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1 to 1 for his career) who routinely is near the top of the league in deflections and steals (11th and fourth, respectively, this year; third and sixth last year) is a radical idea. Even if he has the ball in his hands less often in the short-term and long-term future, which is the plan, he is a massive weapon as a standstill shooter — again, especially in transition. He changes just how much switching the Raptors can do defensively, but he helps in enough areas where, for now, that looks like a comparatively minor concession.

Whether or not he plays on Friday, Dallas provides a major test for Toronto. Luka Dončić is one of the toughest and most skilled pick-and-roll creators in the league, and the Mavericks have been a low-turnover team since he has been playing at a high level. Almost all games will be tougher than Wednesdays.
Early in the season, the Raptors have proven that they are going to find a way to get running, one way or another.

Raptors forward OG Anunoby’s defence is better than ever | The Star

It’s early, sure, and those numbers probably aren’t sustainable. But what’s undeniable is that Anunoby has emerged from the 82-game season’s starting blocks in a full sprint. And it’s a big reason why the Raptors, who lead the NBA in steals and fast-break points, have been able to turn defence into offence en route to a 5-3 record.

So what’s behind Anunoby’s fast start? When the Raptors handed the San Antonio Spurs their worst home-court loss in franchise history Wednesday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse tossed out a theory that, along with benefiting from the accumulated wisdom of 300-plus NBA games, Anunoby looks to be in better shape this season. “You know, game shape,” the coach said.

“It’s noticeable how quick he is to the ball, out of gaps, in gaps, swiping the ball. It’s been his thing since he got into the league. It just looks like he’s moving better and it’s showing up at the other end, too. He’s getting to the rim better, finishing better, a lot more on balance and composed at the rim, I think. I think that’s just rhythm and conditioning.”
When asked if the coach’s assessment was accurate, Anunoby was dismissive.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t know.”

So he didn’t spend the summer emphasizing workouts that would improve his in-game powers of jaw-dropping separation?

“I always try to emphasize that,” he said.

Or he didn’t do something special to come into this season looking like the better version of himself we’re currently seeing?

Raptors forward OG Anunoby swipes the ball and looks up court in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers last month.

“I mean, I don’t know. I’ve always trained hard in the summers,” he said.

Like the five-position defender who makes his name anticipating and countering the best-laid moves of opponents, Anunoby comes by his gift as a press-conference contrarian naturally. And he doesn’t reserve his verbal swats for the coach.

Raptors OG Anunoby Wants Defensive Player of the Year Honors – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Within media circles, Anunoby has always been talked about as a high-level defender. The issue for him has been his health. He hasn’t played in at least 70 games since his rookie season and has failed to eclipse 50 games played in each of the last two.

This year, though, Anunoby seems to have found a groove. He’s leading the NBA in steals, averaging 2.9 per game, and he’s been smothering defensively, holding the player he’s defending to just 40.7% shooting, according to NBA Stats.

“He just looks like he’s got his rhythm back,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “I don’t know if that’s partly just getting a number of games under his belt, maybe a tough of getting a little bit better shape, you know, game shape, because to me it’s noticeable how quick he is to the ball, out of gaps, in gaps, swiping at the ball.”

That’s come with learning tendencies of other teams, Anunoby said. He’s constantly watching film, trying to understand situations, and figuring out when to jump into passing lanes or make an attempt at the ball.

The key will be staying healthy and maintaining that high-level defensive ability throughout the year. Can he do it?

“I think he can, that’s just the type of player that he is,” Pascal Siakam said. “He has the ability, he has the tools. I’m gunna keep saying it. … He’s just gifted that way.”

O.G. Anunoby has arrived and his abilities are fuelling swarming Raptors defence | Toronto Sun

“I try to play hard defensively,” Anunoby understated.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse had indicated post-game that it seemed like the oft-injured Anunoby’s superb play might be a result of being in a groove based on consistently being in the lineup.

“For me, he just looks like he’s got his rhythm back. Maybe getting in better game shape. To me it’s noticeable how quick he is to the ball, in gaps, swiping at the ball. It’s noticeable here in the last few games,” Nurse said.

“That’s been his thing since he got into the league, but it just looks like he’s moving better and it’s showing up at the other end too. He’s getting to the rim better. Finishing better. A lot more composed and balanced at the rim too. I think that’s just rhythm and conditioning.”

Anunoby didn’t seem convinced, saying he did his typical work ahead of the season.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know. I’ve always trained hard in the summers so I think it’s carried over,” he said.

He did admit that the defensive pressure the Raptors put on opponents is contagious.

“I think it starts with seeing Scottie (Barnes) picking up the ball full-court. And then I’ll rotate with the ball full-court. We’re all picking each other up. I think the energy is contagious. We’re all running around (causing havoc),” Anunoby said.

In private moments in past seasons Anunoby has been frank about his aspirations and his confusion about a lack of respect when it comes to all-defensive team votes.

But with the entire league starting to take notice of just how much of a defensive force he is, Anunoby seems more willing to go on the record about where he wants to be.

“Defensively, I’ve always wanted to be defensive player of the year. I’ve always felt I was the best defender in the league,” he told reporters. “I’ve felt that way for the last, I don’t know how many number of years. So … “ He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

Anunoby has truly arrived and it’s impossible to ignore what he’s doing.

3 things to watch as the Dallas Mavericks host the Toronto Raptors – Mavs Moneyball

Luka Doncic versus length
What bothers Luka Doncic when it comes to basketball? At this point, we’ve seen everything possible: strength, size, length, double teams, single coverage, zone, you name it he’s seen it.

The immediate response to the question tends to be a variation of “nothing” or “the referees”, but a flood of length is perhaps the best recipe to stifling Doncic’s game. The Raptors have the ingredients for that recipe.

Watching how Luka Doncic breaks down the Raptors (and I have every reason to think that he will) should be a really fun chess match to watch. Will the Raptors single cover Doncic and cut off his passing lanes like we’ve seen a number of times already this season, or will they send waves of defenders at him?

Tim Hardaway, finding a role
There’s no other way around the fact that through six games, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been dreadful. He’s playing 25 minutes a game, taking a shot ever two and a half minutes, and connecting on just over 30% of his field goals and three pointers. He’s mostly getting good looks, but there’s somewhat of a lid on the basket and it’s made his minutes painful, particularly as he’s looked off other players in the bench unit.

Hardaway had a key function with the Dallas Mavericks for two seasons before coach Jason Kidd arrived. The coaching staff needs to go review some tape and figure out whether less was more for Hardaway with the previous administration. He’s yet to have meaningful, helpful basketball minutes under Kidd for a sustained stretch of games. But the talent is there! Perhaps he can find something against Toronto.

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