Mid-Morning Coffee – Fri, Dec 2

Barnes needs to respond to adversity like Trent did

5 things: Raptors lack energy and focus in humbling loss to Pelicans – Sportsnet

3. On the other side, the Raptors got nothing but an unfocused showing from Scottie Barnes, who didn’t even see the court for most of the second half and finished with four points. Barnes was hardly the only offender, but his stretch of misplays at the end of the first quarter allowed the Pelicans to pull away. Barnes whipped a pass at Juancho Hernangomez’s ankles for a turnover, took a reach-in foul on a harmless play in the bonus, hoisted a two-for-one triple completely out of rhythm, and then hustled backward by saving a rebound with two seconds left only to pass it directly to Larry Nance Jr. for a dunk. Despite being one of the few Raptors to actually have a size mismatch, Barnes rarely looked to drive the ball as coach Nick Nurse has repeatedly asked for, opting instead to settle for outside jumpers and swinging the ball from the top of the floor. The expectation was for Barnes to take a bigger role this season, but he hasn’t even performed up to the standards he established last year, and his inconsistency is a clear issue that he and the team will need to improve. To be benched in his previous game, to respond with only four points and even fewer minutes played, is a concerning trend to say the least.

4. Barnes needs only to look at his teammate Gary Trent Jr. as to how to respond. Trent Jr. has also dealt with injuries and missed time, which has undoubtedly bled into cold stretches, but he’s been singled out for his defense by Nurse, been bluntly characterized as potentially not a fit, and then benched for two games. But you wouldn’t know it from how Trent Jr. has performed of late, including this game, where he scored 35 points while accounting for half of his team’s threes and steals. Even with his circumstances worsening, Trent Jr. has only increased his focus on the court, while giving mature and accountable responses when facing the media. He was always too good of a shooter to stay in a slump too long, but his effort defensively has been stronger. Since Nurse called out the dip in disruptiveness, Trent Jr. has averaged nearly three steals a game. Trent Jr. also continues to work in a strong pairing with Pascal Siakam, who consistently gets Trent Jr. easier looks on kickouts, where he can catch-and-shoot, or pump fake and to attack the closeout.

Chaos theory: Raptors’ approach not always clear through season’s first quarter – Sportsnet

It’s hard to believe, but yes, Barnes had some low moments during his charmed rookie season a year ago. Ten times, he posted a “game score” (a catch-all number for box score contributions where above 15 is quite good and below five is pretty bad) of less than five, which is some version of poor shooting and lack of obvious activity as a passer, defender or rebounder.

This season, Barnes has had only two real statistical stinkers – and one of them was on Wednesday against New Orleans, where he demonstrated his appreciation for returning to the starting lineup after one game coming off the bench by going 1-of-7 from the floor and grabbing a single rebound in 21 minutes. He made some nice passes with five assists, but also three turnovers. He was a non-factor in what might have been his worst game as a pro (his Game score was 1.2, the lowest of career).

Instead of highlights this season, there have been lowlights – missing a game-winning lay-up against Atlanta or getting lost in coverage in overtime as Trae Young raced the length of floor and found AJ Griffin for the game-winning lob.

Against the Pelicans, it was his sequence at the end of the first quarter when he turned the ball over, leading to a dunk by Larry Nancy Jr., and then carelessly inbounded the ball and basically handed it over the Pels Garrett Temple for a lay-up before the horn.

Barnes needs to pick up his game, there’s no question. His playmaking has been a bright spot this season but even his three-point gains have slipped lately. But it’s not so much the low points that Barnes has managed early in the season, it’s the lack of high points. He had 30 outings last season with a “game score” of 15 or more, where you couldn’t help but notice him. Several nights he was the Raptors’ best player. This season, he’s had four with 25 per cent of the season played already. It’s too soon to diagnose a sophomore setback or anything, but the Raptors need Barnes to be better.

Raptors Insider: Scottie Barnes raises eyebrows with poor game | The Star

The 20 shots he took would have been too many in a normal game but that one was anything but normal after the team’s ugly start. The goal would be maybe 18-20 minutes a night, a shooting threat off the bench that didn’t exist before this week and a more evenly distributed offence. It was a minor topic of conversation the last couple of days around the team but mostly in the “yeah, that makes sense” manner.

The “message” part of the week is more serious, and more troubling. And it has to get fixed if the Raptors are going to reach their potential.

Not starting Scottie Barnes against the Cavs on Monday was explained away by coach Nick Nurse as not wanting to be too disruptive with guys coming back from injury — putting Pascal Siakam right back into a starting role was right but the coach couldn’t see putting both Siakam and Barnes back, even though Barnes had missed only two games.

That’s logical but losing a starting job because of injury — if only for one game — is tough but the message was clear.

If someone’s going to pay, it’s not going to be a veteran. Rookie of the year status means nothing if the play isn’t up to snuff.

And it hasn’t been.

Barnes played all right against the Cavs but was a no-show in New Orleans on Wednesday, hardly the kind of bounce back effort either his coaches or teammates needed. Going 1-for-7 from the field is unacceptable, the five assists were nice but the lack of engagement in the game was obvious.

Nurse got some cover in the fourth quarter when a group of backups made a nice run and put some juice into the game so he didn’t have to go back to Barnes. But the end result was Barnes played fewer minutes — 21:04 — than he has in all but one game of his career and he was hurt that time.

One of the quietly spoken about aspects of this season around the team is that Barnes has been good at times, but never great. He’s not taken over a game, or even a half, and they need him to be better more often.

Not 25 points a night better, just better and more energetic. More a part of what they do.

No one’s ready to give up on Barnes, that’s for sure. He’s ultra-talented and a vital part of the team. Everyone knows it and he’ll get a wide berth. But the Wednesday response to the Monday lineup shift caused a few eyebrows to be raised.

Raptors See Gary Trent Jr. as a Weapon off the Bench – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

On one hand, he’s undoubtably like every other NBA player with a thirst to get back in the starting lineup for the Toronto Raptors, having been swapped into the sixth man role for the past two games. To do that, the task is simple: Play better and prove you deserve a starting spot again. But therein lies the problem. The better he plays as off the bench the further entrenched he becomes as Toronto’s sixth man of the future.

A two-game sample size is virtually meaningless, but at this point it’s all we have to work with. So here we go.

Coming into last Monday night, Trent had been mired in quite possibly the worst shooting slump of his career. He’d shot well below 40% for the better part of November and was sub-30% from behind the arc. Then came the switch to the bench. Toronto moved Trent into a reserve spot and ta-da: 16-for-26 (55.2%) shooting from the field, 8-for-16 from three-point range, and 49 points in two games including a 35-point breakout on Wednesday night that set a franchise record for most points scored by a player off the bench.

OK, it’s not quite that simple. But what’s notable about these past two games is Trent’s usage rate. He’d averaged a 22.6% usage as a starter this season, a number somewhat bloated by a recent stretch in which Pascal Siakam and at times Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet were all sidelined. In his two games off the bench, his usage has jumped to 28.7%.

Trent is, for better or for worse, the kind of player who needs the ball in his hands to thrive. In the starting lineup, surrounded by a pair of All-Stars, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and a burgeoning O.G. Anunoby, there’s not much room for Trent to create for himself.

Off the bench, that’s an entirely different story. There’s opportunities galore in the second unit for Trent to dipsy-doodle around defenders with his herky-jerky pull-up game.

“He can score the ball whenever he wants to,” Siakam told reporters Wednesday night in New Orleans. “He can be the offense in that in that second unit, just coming in and playing and just having the basketball.

“He’s the type of player coming off screens or whatever and I think hopefully it makes him feel like comfortable and he gets the offense, it translates to [his] defense and all that. So I think he’s a good weapon for us.”

That’s where Trent thrived last season. He ranked in the 84th percentile in scoring off screens, the 72nd percentile in scoring off handoffs, and 75th percentile in scoring in isolation, per NBA Stats. The problem for him was a lack of attempts with so many skilled players flanking him on the court.

The change may not have been how Trent envisioned his season going, especially as a presumed-to-be free agent this summer. But now Trent finally has an opportunity to show exactly who he is as a higher usage offensive player the way Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole did off the bench before signing massive contracts this past summer.

WOLSTAT: Once a mentor, now a teammate, Thad Young saw O.G. Anunoby’s rise coming | Toronto Sun

Even though Anunoby was under the radar nearly a decade ago when he started playing for the veteran big man’s AAU team in Memphis, Young has always maintained he knew Anunoby would at least make it to the NBA. And if a few things broke right, Young felt the young man could become a household name.

“When we first got him on Team Thad I said: ‘That’s a pro,’” Young told Postmedia after Anunoby’s massive performance against MVP candidate Luka Doncic last week.

“He’s going to be a top guy in the league. Great defender. All he has to do is just bring the offence along and he’s done that,” Young recalled of what he was thinking could happen back then.

“He’s learned how to actually score the basketball, to do different things that he needs to do in order for us to win basketball games”

Anunoby is having a career season both as a scorer (18.7 points per game, the fifth-straight season he’s raised his scoring average) and as a defender. Vegas recently installed him as the third-best choice to come away with defensive player of the year honours after he’d been off the board for the whole year.

Again, Young isn’t surprised.

“He’s probably one of the best two way players in the league, if not the best two way player,” Young told Postmedia.

“He’s getting steals, he’s going out there and playing 30 plus a night guarding the other teams’ best players and he’s still scoring over 20 a night (quite often).”

Young has been a steady player both on offence and defence since entering the NBA in 2007, but he’s only averaged over even 15 points a game in a season three times, so can appreciate just what exactly Anunoby has managed so far as an elite player all over the floor.

“That’s the toughest thing ever, because every team has a really good wing scorer. So, him having to take on those matchups and those assignments, that’s huge for him. But it’s also huge for us as a team. And it’s super tough, but he’s, he’s getting through it. He’s fighting. He’s battling and he’s putting us in a position to win.”

Coincidentally, Boston’s Jayson Tatum was the choice for Eastern Conference player of the month, announced Thursday, over the honourable mentions like Anunoby. Anunoby played with Tatum on a different AAU team where Anunoby was a bit lost in the shuffle before he ended up on Team Thad. There he was basically discovered by Indiana University, when reps from the school came to see some of his teammates and couldn’t take their eye off him.

Ever since he’s leaned on Young as one of his mentors.

“In the summertime he was there a lot and then like anyone could text him any time. I talked to him before I made my college decision, before I left for NBA and even when I was in the NBA, my rookie year,” Anunoby told Postmedia three years ago before playing against Young’s Chicago Bulls.

Young might never have expected they’d be teammates one day, but he predicted this rise.

And about O.G.’s quiet demeanour?

“He definitely talks when he needs to talk,” Young said.

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