Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 23

Nurse not happy with Trent's defensive hustle | Barnes on the IL | Koloko shining as a rookie

Vecenie’s NBA Rookie Rankings: Paolo Banchero’s All-Star case; Walker Kessler surprises – The Athletic

Christian Koloko — No. 8

Not to be outdone necessarily by Kessler, Christian Koloko has entered Toronto’s starting lineup for almost half of its games this season and been extremely effective as a defense-first big Nick Nurse can rely upon to be an impediment to opposing teams. It has to be seen as a bit of a surprise that Koloko has been this useful this quickly given that he was a second-round pick and his overall frame still needs some work in terms of lower-body strength. But my top two defenders in college basketball last season were Kessler and Koloko, and we have a real track record of the best collegiate defenders over the last few years turning into early impact NBA defenders (Davion Mitchell, Herb Jones, Matisse Thybulle) even though defending in college basketball is often dissimilar schematically from defending in the NBA due to the increased space that has to be covered.

I think Koloko is having an even greater impact on Toronto’s defense than Kessler is on Utah’s. The numbers in terms of on/off metrics aren’t as staggering, but they’re close. Toronto gives up 105 points per 100 possessions when Koloko is on the court, versus 117 when he’s off it. And Koloko’s actually a bit more versatile in terms of his coverages than Kessler. Toronto will at times play Koloko closer to the level in ball-screen coverages or will flat drop him. Occasionally, he’s shown the ability to get caught out on an island with athletic guards, and Toronto can deal with the results when that happens. Koloko’s mobility and length makes him such a weapon in recovery. Just ask Jaden Ivey, who is one of the most athletic guards in the league and thought he had Koloko beat in this play below until he didn’t. Koloko just swallowed up every millimeter of space Ivey had created with the blow-by in one single stride.

It’s obviously not all about being able to stick out on an island. It’s also about Koloko being an enormous impediment at the rim. He doesn’t contest quite as often as Kessler, but teams are shooting just 54 percent when he’s the closest defender on shots at the rim, per the NBA site. The most mind-boggling number, though, has to do with what his presence back there allows his teammates to do. Toronto’s perimeter defense is built around long, rangy, switchable defenders — as well as noted ball-hawk Fred VanVleet. When Koloko is on the court, per Basketball-Reference, teams turn the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions. That’s not a direct reflection of Koloko himself forcing those turnovers but rather of his presence empowering those players to gamble a bit more and force live-ball turnovers — something that also really helps the Raptors’ offense given how bogged down that can get at times. Toronto leads the NBA in turnover percentage, and Koloko has been a big reason why even if he’s not the one getting deflections.

Speaking of the offense, I do think Koloko’s presence out there hinders the Raptors in a fairly real way. He’s not someone opposing teams really need to worry about out there when he’s on the court. He’s shooting just 46 percent from the field, despite the fact that 45 of his 57 attempts this season have either been layups or dunks. He’s a total non-threat if he’s not dunking. Somehow, Koloko has made just nine of his 25 layup attempts this season. If you can stop him from dunking, he can’t really hurt you right now because he’s not a post option, and frankly you don’t really feel all that comfortable when he has the ball in his hands away from the rim in different actions. He has taken only 57 shots in almost 300 minutes and isn’t really a threat as a passer. Nurse does a fairly good job of scheming him so he doesn’t get in the way all that often, but Koloko has a lot of work to do on the offensive end to become a league-average starting center. The good news for the Raptors is that his defensive ceiling is through the roof based on the early returns. If he can figure out a way to improve his touch and feel as a passer, his defense will allow him to be a significant impact player.

NBA Power Rankings, Week 6 – Luka and Steph can carry their teams only so high – ESPN

16. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 9-8
Previous ranking: 14

Another season, another slate of injuries for the Raptors, who should get Gary Trent Jr. back Wednesday when Toronto hosts the Nets and have Pascal Siakam following along behind him in the near future. That said, Toronto is still in the top 10 in offense and overall net rating even with all the injuries it has had — pointing to the possible upside for this group if coach Nick Nurse can get all of his players on the floor for an extended period of time together. — Bontemps

The Rap-Up: Toronto Raptors Games for November 21 – 27 – Raptors HQ

Do you care about moral victories?

On Saturday, the grossly under-manned Toronto Raptors strolled into Atlanta with almost 50% of the team injured/ill and a not-even-close to 50% chance of winning… and still almost came away victorious.

If you didn’t watch the game and were told they lost by 2 in overtime, you’d likely feel some sort of relief that Toronto almost pulled off the upset. Maybe you’d be further encouraged to know there were season-highs from Scottie Barnes, Malachi Flynn, and Thaddeus Young.

Barnes’ performance would be especially eye-catching — not because his aggressiveness had been in question since Pascal Siakam went down with a groin injury — because he fell 1 assist shy of the 6th 30-point triple-double in franchise history (and 4th this calendar year). Flynn’s output had twice the benefit because the Raptors sorely needed any kind of bench production AND it raised his trade value for all you sickos (me included) throwing him into fake trades. Young has really stepped up since Nick Nurse remembered he was on the team scoring in double-figures in 3 of the last 4 games.

All of that doesn’t matter though because all you read/thought about was Scottie not dunking at the end of regulation or Scottie losing AJ Griffin in overtime.

What about the moral victory part? Personally, I was always against moral victories because, for the longest time, they didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. What’s so good about a moral victory if you don’t have enough actual victories to win a title? Well, that changed after 2019!

Now, these moral victories feel relevant because they’re building towards something. Scottie needed a game like Saturday to boost his confidence and, hopefully, get him over the sophomore slump. Malachi needed Saturday, not only to motivate himself to continue working hard but to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves more playing time. Young needed Saturday because when everyone’s healthy he should be the VanVleet of the reserves — leading the group with all of his veteran expertise.

As players start to return to the lineup, the hope is that whatever was learned from these moral victories can be applied and drive Toronto towards another strong playoff run. For now, a two-game week is exactly what the doctor ordered!

Raptors Need Better Defense from Gary Trent Jr. – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

Trent was averaging 4.1 deflections per game at this time last season, the second most in the league. He’d generated 38 steals at the time too, tied for the third most in the league, and it wasn’t hard to envision him becoming a long-term piece for the Raptors as a truly valuable two-way player, the kind Toronto has coveted over recent years.

These days, though, Trent’s defensive intensity has fallen off significantly. He’s no longer the pest he showed he could be last season and if that doesn’t change, his days in Toronto could be numbered.

“It’s disappointing,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Trent’s lack of deflections and steals this season. “I would say that’s been a little bit of negative because he’s capable of really getting after the ball and getting his hands on the ball a lot and that’s what we want him to do.

“We’re going to get him his shots and get him his points but we want him to be a disruptor. He kinda fits us if he does that, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t fit us. We need to get him back.”

So far this year, Trent is averaging just 2.4 deflections per game, down from the 3.4 he finished last season with. His steals too have fallen from 1.7 last season to 1.4 this year.

Part of that, Nurse acknowledged, could just be some injuries Trent is working through. The 23-year-old guard had been battling a hip injury before a non-COVID illness knocked him out of the lineup. Trent brushed off the notion that he’s not been 100% lately, but he certainly didn’t sound fully healthy following Tuesday’s practice.

Trent’s name is going to start popping up in plenty of trade rumors over the next few months. For one, he’s a young and talented shooter and every team could use more of that. More important, though, is his contract. He has a player option for next season that he’ll likely opt out of and with the way the market for young shooters developed this past summer, there’s little doubt Trent is in line for a big payday this offseason.

The last time Toronto faced a similar decision in 2021, Norman Powell was sent packing, ironically in the deal that brought Trent to the Raptors. With Powell, the story was very much the same. He’d developed into everything the Raptors could have hoped for on the offensive end but his defense was never quite as good as Toronto needed. With his payday approaching two years ago, Toronto opted to part ways with him rather than let him walk in free agency.

Nothing is going to happen soon with Trent. The trade deadline is still over two months away and the Raptors aren’t going to make any rash decisions with Trent. But, if his defense doesn’t improve, his Toronto tenure could be coming to an end.

Scottie Barnes latest to join Raptors’ parade to the injured list | Toronto Sun

The latest addition is Scottie Barnes and his sprained right knee to an injury list that already includes Pascal Siakam (out eight games so far with a strained adductor), Precious Achiuwa (a ways away according to Nurse after strained ligaments in his ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (in a walking boot with a dislocated toe), Dalano Banton (non-COVID illness) and Justin Champagnie (lower back soreness).

Throw in Gary Trent Jr. who is practising after missing three games with both a hip injury and a non-COVID illness that you could still hear in his voice on Tuesday and the injury picture isn’t just muddled, it’s a complete mess.

The Barnes knee injury is the latest and a bit of a mystery as the Raptors aren’t sure exactly when the injury happened.

It was pretty clear to anyone watching Saturday’s game in Atlanta that he had to leave the court when he came down awkwardly on Trae Young’s foot in a tangle of bodies under the Raptors’ basket late in game, but he returned and finished that game.

Nurse suggested Barnes’ injury might have even occurred before the Atlanta game.

In any event, it looks like Nurse will once again be overhauling his starting lineup to account for another huge absence.

“It’s hard to see anything right now,” Nurse said of his current options. “Like with all the guys out, we’ve just got to go night to night right now and we’re not really looking at big picture stuff much. We’re just trying to survive the next game.

“We’ve got, again, several lineup changes Wednesday, several starters will change, all that stuff and we’re going to have to, like I said, we’ll see what happens when the ball goes up and hopefully, we can develop chemistry and make the right rotations and figure that out as the game goes on,” Nurse said.

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