Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 16

Banton shining | Concern for Barnes? | Raptors slipping a bit | O.G. DPOY?

The NBA First-Month(ish) Awards – The Ringer

Defensive Player of the Year: O.G. Anunoby
There’s a chance O.G. Anunoby isn’t even the best defender on his own team. (Holy Koloko!) I don’t care. Anunoby is everywhere, doing a little bit of everything. The Raptors forward regularly assumes the most difficult assignments within a scheme that can best be described as “organized confusion” and currently ranks in the top five in defensive rating with him on the court.

The man is a pickpocket ar-teest, snatching a league-high 2.9 steals per game. He’s also third in total deflections and recovers more loose balls per game than anyone else. Anunoby is a brick wall defending the post against those who actually test him—few bother—and will sometimes unleash enough ball pressure on the perimeter to convince you that the matchup is personal.

When the Raptors hosted the Hawks on Halloween, I was curious to see how Anunoby would act toward De’Andre Hunter, another burly wing who had just received $23 million more on his contract extension than Anunoby got back in 2020. (Yes, the cap is higher now than it was two seasons ago but that’s still quite a big difference!) Then stuff like this happened, (possibly) confirming my suspicions:

The beauty of Anunoby is that he can do it all. He’s both versatile and strong. He knows when to thwart a drive in the gap and when to rotate back to the perimeter to force a drive. He’s a fire-repellant blanket, snuffing out sparks before they incinerate Toronto’s defensive effort. Of course, sometimes he gets burned on closeouts, reaching for a steal, or freelancing off his man in search of an interception. But the Raptors would have a much harder time playing how they want (blitzing the second-most ball screens per 100 possessions) without his impulsive activity.

Honorable mentions: Bam Adebayo, Mikal Bridges, Brook Lopez

Dalano Banton shoots up Raptors’ depth chart with hard work | The Star

Banton’s improvement has been startling in the small sample size of 14 games this season. In 147 minutes, the six-foot-nine guard has made 11 three-pointers in 31 attempts, up from 13 of 51 attempts over 696 minutes in 64 games of his rookie season.

“Obviously he’s shooting the ball really well this year,” Nurse said after Banton went 3-for-7 from beyond the arc while scoring a career-high 27 points in Monday’s win over the Pistons. “When he’s catching and faced up (to the basket), you’re expecting him to make them now, which is a huge step forward for him.”

Banton didn’t magically become a good NBA shooter — and there could be regression as the season goes on — simply by good fortune. It was an obvious hole in his game last season and he set out this summer to fix it in myriad ways.

“Live games playing for FIBA playing for Team Canada (at the AmeriCup in his national team debut) and summer league and stuff like that,” Banton said. “Just going through the training with the Raptors development team and just trusting in the process and the tweaks and things they want to make to my shot.

“It’s definitely … putting in a lot of reps and (trying to) master your craft, doing what you can on your own time working to try to produce in the games.”

Raptors guard Dalano Banton scored a career-high 27 points in Detroit on Monday night.

Banton is never going to be one to take much credit for any improvement. He constantly points to the team’s developmental coaches, a system that allows him some measure of freedom, and teammates who trust him to fire away when he’s open.

He has been given a plan and latitude and takes advantage of it.

“I definitely feel like it was a gradual, gradual progression,” he said. “Just every night trusting the work whether I make or miss it. I still believe in my shot … but yeah, definitely, it’s good to see your shot go in. And it’s good to see it carry over to the next game and stuff like that.”

Banton’s shooting prowess, should it continue, could allow the Raptors to use him in variety of ways. He is not going to continue to play more than 20 minutes a game when Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are available but Nurse sees Banton as someone who can play both backcourt positions. That versatility should move him ahead of Malachi Flynn on the depth chart most nights and give Nurse what he wants: options.

WOLSTAT: What’s eating Scottie Barnes? | Toronto Sun

Some observers, including Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, think what’s missing with Barnes right now is that zest for the game.

“I said that his biggest challenge going into the year was to have the enthusiasm that he had last year,” Nurse said after the Raptors barely beat the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

“Every game (of his rookie season) was a kid in a candy store (feel), and that’s part of now, you’ve got some attention, you get (to be a focus in opposing scouting reports) you get some tough defenders, you get knocked around a little bit,” Nurse explained. Suddenly, NBA basketball isn’t quite as fun for Barnes.

Barnes had a quiet night in Monday’s 115-111 victory. It’s been a recurring theme recently, in particular. Barnes has averaged only 11.8 points on 37.4% shooting in six November games after shooting 52.2% in six October contests. It’s likely no coincidence that All-NBA Raptors forward Pascal Siakam has been absent due to injury for those six games. Siakam is Toronto’s top player, he gets the ball the most and garners the most attention from opponents. When he’s out, others get that attention, especially Barnes. Subtract all-star Fred VanVleet and starting shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. from the lineup too, which was the case against Detroit, and the attention on Barnes only intensifies.

Barnes looked uninterested in dealing with that focus against the Pistons. He mostly handed the ball to O.G. Anunoby and got out of the way on offence. Sure, he played well later in the game, which Nurse noted, but too often lately he’s been a non-factor. That was rarely the case previously, when you couldn’t really take your eyes off the rookie Barnes.

Nurse said before Toronto’s 1-2 road trip that Barnes was not scuffling because of a couple of ankle tweaks in recent weeks. He said the same on Monday night.

“I think he’s OK. Physically. I mean, I think he’s got some, normal NBA grind, lots of games, bumps and bruises rather than feel perfect out there,” Nurse told Postmedia.

Barnes was part of the most heralded rookie class to enter the league in years. Interestingly enough, most of those players have had uneven follow-ups so far, just like Barnes. Top pick Cade Cunningham, who missed Monday’s game against his friend Barnes due to an injury, also went from a good October to a rough November (33% shooting in four games before he got hurt). Rookie of the year runner-up Evan Mobley, who went a pick ahead of Barnes to Cleveland, has also not yet played up to his first-year level. No. 2 pick Jalen Green, of Houston, in contrast to Barnes and Cunningham, has turned a poor October into a strong November (26 points per game on 54% shooting).

Barnes is confident he and his young friends are getting better, regardless of the stats.

“I think everybody’s been stepping up. Taking it to the next level, seeing that jump that they wanted to make,” Barnes told Postmedia after playing Green’s Rockets last week. “Everybody’s getting more used to their roles on the team. Everybody in the class you can really see that. They are more comfortable and their roles are developing.”

But three games after those comments, it’s not clear that’s currently the case when it comes to Barnes.

Still, teammate Chris Boucher believes this is just a step in the journey to the top of the league for Barnes. Something that will be forgotten soon enough.

“I think it’s just a bad segment that’s he in. I had that before, so I know how he feels,” Boucher said.

“I don’t think his energy is down or anything. I think that people are going to focus so much on what he’s doing with Pascal out. But he’s going to get out of it. He wasn’t the rookie of the year for no reason. He’s going to get to a (top) level and understand what he needs to do.”

Which of Kyle Lowry’s Raptors franchise records will stand the test of time? – The Athletic

2. Win shares

Lowry’s record: 74.5
Top contender: Pascal Siakam, 34.5

Fittingly, given how much advanced statistics underscored Lowry’s value to the Raptors over the years, it is this record that seems like it will be one of the toughest ones to topple. Lowry has four of the top eight seasons in franchise history in win shares, and only the very best seasons from Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, not to mention Jose Calderon’s party-crashing 2007-08 season (the win share deities look kindly upon a 5.38-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and a 60.7 true shooting percentage) interrupt his dominance in the category.
VanVleet has 27.4 win shares and has topped out at 6.7 win shares in a season. He would need to virtually match Lowry’s back half of his career to come close, and that is unlikely for anybody. Siakam is closer at 34.5, and had 9.3 win shares in 2019-20. If he can extend his peak into his mid-30’s, he can get there.
If we assume a star development for Barnes, he might make it. He started his career with a 6.6-win share season, although he was contributing at a higher rate last year than this one. Assuming the start to this year is just a blip and Barnes morphs into a top-20 impact player, he can be pencilled in for eight win shares per season. However, that assumes consistency and health. Even still, he would need eight years at that pace to get to Lowry. That’s a lot of greatness to just assume.
1. Assists

Lowry’s record: 4,277
Top contender: Scottie Barnes, 324

It feels like this record is going to be safe for a long, long time. VanVleet has topped out at 434 assists in a single season, which he did last year. He is 2,505 assists behind Lowry. Even if he records that career-high every season, he would need almost six more full seasons to pass Lowry. In a Raptors ecosystem that will have Barnes and Siakam having the ball more often, and VanVleet’s minutes likely dropping a bit as the years go on, his raw assist numbers should go down. All things considered, I’d bet VanVleet needs closer to eight seasons to catch Lowry. Siakam’s assist rate might be trending up, be he is almost 3,000 assists behind Lowry. He won’t be able to get there barring a remarkable close to his career.
That leaves Barnes as the most realistic candidate. It will require Barnes growing into a starring role. However, he recorded 256 assists with just 19 percent usage last year. If Barnes becomes the player the Raptors think he can be, it’s easy to picture him getting up to the 6.5-7.0 assists per game in a few years time. If he can do that, he’ll be up 438 assists per season, assuming 65 games a year. Nine seasons and he’ll be right there.
Like I said: This could take a while.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics surge; Lakers’ troubles; good wins and bad losses for each team – The Athletic

13. Toronto Raptors (previously ninth) | 7-7 | +2.5 net rating

Weekly slate: Loss at Bulls, Win over Rockets, Loss at Thunder, Loss at Pacers

Good wins: Cleveland and Atlanta. Out of nowhere, the Toronto Raptors obliterated the Atlanta Hawks when they faced off earlier this season. They also started off the season beating Cleveland, which looks like a very high quality win.

Bad losses: Oklahoma City and Indiana. Back-to-back losses against OKC and Indiana have soured their start to the season a little bit. Can’t give up 130-plus to OKC and can’t lose by double-digits to Indiana when you’re up eight going into the fourth quarter.

Not sure how to feel: Wins over Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago, and losses to Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Brooklyn. We don’t really know how these teams who have been middling in the East and full of issues are going to look by the time the season is over. Ultimately, the wins should be good and the losses shouldn’t be terrible.

What does it mean? The Raptors have had one of the toughest schedules so far, and the results are all over the place. Considering they’re .500 on the season and have some quality wins with the potential for more of their wins looking like quality results, they should be pretty happy with how things have started off. Their defense has slipped a little, but their offense looks strong. They need to get Scottie Barnes back up to where his efficiency should be, but this team continues to handle what’s in front of it really well.

NBA Power Rankings, Week 5 – Can anyone slow the streaking Celtics? – ESPN

14. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 8-7
Previous ranking: 11

Toronto is dealing with an injury crisis, but it still managed to finally get a win against former Raptors coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons on Monday behind a career-high 27 points from Dalano Banton. Until Pascal Siakam & Co. get back on the court, it’s going to be a bit of an adventure for Toronto to stay in the thick of a competitive Eastern Conference playoff picture. — Bontemps

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