Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 13

Raptors suck at shooting | Barnes on the hot seat | NBA settles who's better: Jordan or LeBron (Jordan is and was always better)

It’s been a rough stretch for the Raptors but nothing like like free Ladbrokes football bets to inject some excitement into what has been an otherwise drab stretch in the regular season.

10 things: Raptors’ letdown loss to Magic a sign of bigger issues – Sportsnet

The Raptors’ front office must see that the current situation is untenable. It’s not that they need to panic about a random loss in December, or that they have slipped too far in the standings since most teams are at or around .500 in a historic year for parity in the league. But rather, there seems to be two timelines that are completely at odds.

Whether they try to win now and add pieces to support Siakam’s efforts — a starting calibre centre and a third guard are must-haves in that case — or they need to take a step back and assess what they can get for their underperforming veterans. Right now, the mood around the team is one of frustration, players aren’t being maximized in their current roles, and most importantly, they’re not winning.

The Raptors can’t shoot — here’s what they can do about it – The Athletic

With the way that the Toronto Raptors played over the weekend in Orlando — and over the past two weeks, in general — it is tempting to say something is wrong, foundationally. Maybe they’ve lost their identity, as wayward defensive first quarters in New Orleans, Brooklyn, and Orlando on Friday would indicate. Maybe there has been enough slippage in the categories they generally dominate to expose the flaws that are apparent on this team.

For the most part, any search for that type of answer yields nothing. Over the last two weeks, when the Raptors have gone 3-5 but often played worse than that record suggests, they have committed turnovers at the league’s third-lowest rate while forcing them at the fifth-highest rate. Their offensive rebounding has taken a hit, but they have still been a very good team on the defensive glass, allowing them to continue to dominate the possession game. They take the third-most field goal attempts per 100 possessions and allow the fewest, both for the year and over the last fortnight, when they took more than seven extra field goal attempts than their opponents per game. The free-throw game, despite what the ever-petulant Raptors might lead you to believe on your television screen, has been basically a write-off. The Raptors foul a lot, but they also get fouled a lot, leading to nearly identical free-throw rates for the Raptors and their opponents. A few more second-chance points would be nice, but only one of the Raptors’ five most recent losses, Friday’s in Orlando, might have been turned by that.

Nope. It is sadly time to invoke Occam’s razor: The Raptors cannot shoot worth a damn. There was optimism that Pascal Siakam’s return to the lineup might help get his teammates back in rhythm, but while Siakam (25 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game since coming back) has been largely brilliant, it has done nothing to improve things as a whole.

Let’s break it down into simple terms. The Raptors average .975 points per possession. For the year, they are taking eight more shots per 100 possessions. The Raptors average 98.6 possessions per game. Let’s be generous and say the Raptors are scoring eight more points than their opponents on those extra shots. Great!

Well, the Raptors take 32.7 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, middle of the pack, and hit 32.3 percent of them, making them spacing-deficient tortoises if we are to keep the “pack” analogy going. They are scoring about 31.7 points per game via the 3-ball. Their opponents are scoring 36. There go four of those bonus possessions. (Over the last two weeks, the Raptors were very good at limiting opponent 3-pointers, allowing 33 points per game from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, they were at 29 points.)

Essentially, the Raptors are undoing a lot of their great work in dominating the possession battle by missing a ton of shots. Combine that with slippage on the offensive glass and some poor defensive gambles, from everybody from Scottie Barnes to Thaddeus Young, and that is enough to turn easy wins into close games, and close games into losses. We can find the culprits easily enough, but that does little to help things along. What can be done about this?

Lowe’s 10 things – Vengeance from Anthony Davis, teetering instability in Atlanta and a Bucks super-sub – ESPN

6. Scottie Barnes’ push shot

This is a nifty and unusual weapon for Toronto’s young centerpiece:

You seldom see players dribble one-on-one into unassisted floaters anymore — no pick-and-roll, no screening action of any kind. Barnes does it a lot. Some of his shot-puts begin as post-ups:

Barnes is shooting 46% from floater range, offsetting some of the dreadful and very long 2s he takes. Imagine if Giannis Antetokounmpo had this shot down pat?

This is the broad strokes vision for Barnes, and really for the Raptors in general: gigantic point guard who can brutalize mismatches, see over the defense, and work as a threat to score or pass from anywhere.

Barnes’ sophomore season feels almost like a disappointment, mirroring the Raptors’ middling 13-12 start. He’s shooting 45%, down from 49% last season, turning the ball over more, and veering off-kilter at times on defense.

I’d dial back any pessimism. Barnes is barely 21, exploring his game on a veteran win-now team. That’s an awkward netherworld. He’s slinging five dimes. Nothing he’s done this season should alter whatever long-term projection you had for Barnes three months ago.

Rival executives are watching Toronto closely, bracing for fireworks if the Raptors are hovering around .500 in two months. Will Masai Ujiri stick with a middle-of-the-road team? Does Fred VanVleet fit their vision? Can Barnes, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam fit long-term?

Toronto ranks dead last in half-court scoring efficiency, per Cleaning The Glass. You can rig the possession game, but you still won’t get far in the postseason if you can’t score in the half-court. VanVleet is shooting 33% on 3s and 39% on 2s — and hasn’t hit above 44% inside the arc in any season.

VanVleet will perk up. Pascal Siakam has missed 10 games. Their initial starting five — VanVleet, Barnes, Anunoby, Siakam, and Gary Trent Jr. — has logged only 94 minutes. Their presumed alternative — with Precious Achiuwa in Trent’s place — has shared the floor for five possessions total; Achiuwa’s season hasn’t gotten off the ground.

I’d still bet on the Raptors surging, but they’d do well to start soon.

From the Boston Celtics to New York Knicks, ranking every team’s shooting and why it matters – The Athletic

27. Toronto Raptors| Average rank: 23.5

Midrange FG: 17th
Midrange FG percentage: 29th
3s: 23rd
3-point percentage: 25th

Make or miss league? Disagree

Analysis: The Raptors are a decent team, but the shooting is poor from everywhere. Only the Rockets are less accurate at making midrange shots, but the Raptors take significantly more of those shots to undesirable results. Pascal Siakam makes 40 percent of his midrange attempts, but Gary Trent Jr., the team’s other primary midrange threat, is under 40 percent. Scottie Barnes is under 30 percent in the midrange. Trent Jr. has also gotten off to a slow start from 3, while the one player shooting north of 40 percent from 3 rarely stays in the rotation (Malachi Flynn). No team forces more turnovers than the Raptors, so they’re an outlier as a bottom-five shooting team. They win possession battles to avoid the make-or-miss league theorem. But they don’t have a dynamic paint presence like the other possession champs, Ja Morant’s Grizzlies.

The Rap-Up: Toronto Raptors Games for December 12 – 18 – Raptors HQ

December 14 vs Sacramento Kings

The Kings are #5 in offensive rating. To say that’s a crowning (sorry) achievement would be an understatement. Sacramento hasn’t had a top-5 offense since the ‘04-’05 team with Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic.

Sacramento has offensive playmakers throughout the lineup. De’Aaron Fox is in the 89th percentile among guards in points per shot attempt. He also ranks in the 97th percentile in short-mid accuracy and the 92nd percentile in accuracy at the rim. Kevin Huerter has been lethal from the outside. Almost 50% of his shots have come from non-corner threes and he’s hitting them at a 44% clip! If the Raptors try to force the Kings off the line, Harrison Barnes and Sabonis are in the top-20 in 2-point FG%. If the Raptors want to kick-start their league-leading fast-break, the Kings have the #1 transition defense!

Whether it’s Lighting the Beam or post-game bling, the vibes in Sacramento are immaculate!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Sabonis has not even played the equivalent of half a regular season with Sacramento (40 games in a Kings uniform) and is already putting up elite numbers. He leads the team in rebounding (11.3) and assists (6.5). Sabonis is one of only four players in the NBA who leads his team in both of those categories — and the only one who does not also lead his team in scoring.

The other three are Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and Pascal Siakam.


The Raptors catch the Kings on the back end of a back-to-back, while they get to enjoy two days of rest after spending the weekend in Orlando. The Kings should be road-weary as they play their third game in four nights and the fifth of a six-game road trip. Toronto has won 9 of the last 10 meetings and scored at least 118 points in six of the last seven. The Raptors are the only team in the NBA without a 3-game losing (or winning) streak.

With all that said, why are the Raptors still in danger of losing?

It’s hard not to be concerned after watching the offense struggle in Orlando. With O.G. Anunoby possibly out of the lineup and the Kings posting their best defensive performances recently — holding the Clippers and Cavaliers under 100 points — the Raptors are not likely to score anything close to the 118 points they’ve had in recent matchups with Sacramento. Toronto falls to Sacramento, 115-110, and sends all remaining Raptors optimists into panic mode.

What’s wrong with the Raptors? – TSN

TSN’s Jack Armstrong and Josh Lewenberg joined SportsCentre to discuss what’s been going wrong for the Raptors, as they currently sit below .500 on the season, and examine any possible trade candidates that might help turn Toronto’s season around.

The Raptors have become the team that can’t shoot straight | The Star

It’s probably not a great sign when a coach has roster envy of an Orlando franchise that came into its two-game series with the Raptors in 30th place in a 30-team league. But such is the grim reality in Raptorland. Because while Orlando was reeling off those 14 three-pointers on 31 attempts on Sunday, the Raptors made a season-low six three-pointers on 25 attempts. Which might be fine if such depressingly inaccurate marksmanship were an anomaly.

Alas, the Raptors have enjoyed scant moments this season in which they have appeared to be a team of credible long-range shooting skill. The opening five games of the season saw them shoot a collective 41 per cent from three-point range, a mark that was third in the league at that early juncture. Since that hot start, it’s been a cold, unrelenting regression. In the 22 games since, the Raptors are dead last in the league in three-point shooting at a remedial 30 per cent. For the last month and a half, essentially, the Raptors haven’t been able to throw it in the proverbial ocean from the beach.

“We’re having a hard time shooting the ball right now,” Nurse said.

It’s possible, he said, that the misses are becoming contagious.

“It wasn’t like we were shooting turnaround jumpers from three. There were some faced-up looks and things like that. And that probably gets into your psyche a little bit. It probably affected us,” Nurse said. “I think your offence is going to affect your defence. And (the Raptors) were giving everything they absolutely had defensively for superlong stretches of that game. And it gets a little discouraging when your offence can’t get going, when your shooting can’t.”

There are reasons why the shooting is the pits. For one, the Raptors aren’t constructed to be an elite shooting team. Last season they shot 35 per cent from deep, 20th in the league. And the chief roster tweak aimed at improving that number, the acquisition of Otto Porter Jr., has been rendered moot by an assortment of injuries and absences that have so far limited Porter Jr. to eight games of action in which he has made a grand total of six three-pointers.

For another, Porter isn’t the only Raptor who has struggled with various injuries this season. Fred VanVleet, the team’s best shooter, has been hobbled by a sore back. Scottie Barnes, the struggling sophomore, spent time on the sideline during Sunday’s loss doing a series of stretches with the help of a member of the team’s training staff that spoke to ongoing injury maintenance. And that’s just to name a couple of players who’ve performed at a level below what’s expected. Nurse pointed to the team’s collection of bumps and bruises as an explanation for the copious bricks this weekend.

“There’s some physical issues they’re playing through, I give them some of them a lot of credit right now, because some of them aren’t feeling that great,” Nurse said. “And they’re still, you know, lacing them up and going out there and fighting like heck, and it’s not easy to do that sometimes. Because what leaves you a lot of times when you’re not feeling great is your shooting stroke, right? … That’s no fun, and it’s hard to push yourself to continue to do all the little things.”

Raptors swept by Orlando Magic, the panic pushers are out in force | Toronto Sun

Anunoby is the anchor of the Raptors defence, and without their defence running on all cylinders, this team is life and death to beat even the mediocre of the NBA.

Which brings us back to the Orlando Magic.

The Magic is a team whose record is deceiving, not championship contenders but far too skilled to be bringing up the rear in the NBA’s Eastern Conference

But up close and at least close to healthy — it is still without Jonathan Isaac and Jalen Suggs who will make them better— this is a team that clearly is better than its record.

The Magic starting five in both games went 7-foot-2, 6-feet-11, 6-feet-10, and 6-10 with a thick 6-foot-4 point guard.

Franz Wagner and his lesser known but harder playing and older brother Mo are gamers. Franz, the No. 8 pick in the Scottie Barnes draft year is going to be a steal when we look back on this draft in five years.

Then there’s the inexplicable Bol Bol, who towers over everyone on the court, shoots threes like a point guard and somehow gets to the rim and finishes without having his rail-like body broken in half.

He’s probably the closest thing the league has to Victor Wembanyama at this point, and there isn’t a team out there that wouldn’t give up their No. 1 option right now for Wembanyama.

Paolo Banchero is a rookie in status only. He plays like a veteran using his Anunoby-like body to get where he wants to go and with a decent long-range game to boot. He’s tough as nails and everything you would expect of a No. 1 draft pick. As good as he is, he’s going to get better.

Another former No. 1 runs the point and while Markelle Fultz will never live up to that billing, especially in a class that included Jayson Tatum, he fits in very nicely with this group.

He’s a bulldog going to the rim with a good handle, has speed and just enough size to get there where he becomes a willing passer setting up easy buckets for teammates.

Yes, his shot is easily one of the ugliest in the league but when on, like he was Friday, even those ugly ones find the mark from three.

It’s not a championship team yet, but when it’s on, and especially at home, it is capable of beating anyone.

The Raptors ran into them at the worst possible time.

Orlando’s size took away Toronto’s opportunities for offensive rebounds, a big part of its offence which isn’t exactly operating at peak efficiency right now.

That and the fact the Raptors couldn’t hit a three if their lives depended on it made scoring very difficult.

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