Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 13

Three wins in a row have seemed to change things, but have they? | OG would bring back a haul. | How successful have the raptors really been in free agency?

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How successful have the Raptors really been at finding value in signings? – Sportsnet

Coming off of a championship with the Golden State Warriors, Porter had established a few things ahead of free agency: He was still a very good outside shooter, he could contribute 20 minutes to a title-calibre team, and, if managed carefully, he could stay reasonably healthy.

Two truths and a leap of faith, which, combined with Porter’s reputation as a true 3-and-D stalwart and solid veteran presence, made him an on-paper fit for a Toronto Raptors team with limited capacity to spend.

And so the Raptors gave Porter a two-year, $12.3-million contract. A guard or centre may have made more roster sense, but there weren’t obvious options for the mid-level exception, and the Raptors had recently gone down the pay-for-position road to poor effect (Aron Baynes, Alex Len). If Porter could stay healthy once again, the Raptors had another top-eight rotation piece with the versatility to figure out positions later.

If, as always, was the operative word.

Earlier this week, the Raptors announced that Porter had undergone season-ending surgery on his left foot. The first year of his contract saw him play 146 minutes.

Paying $6 million — $12.3 million if Porter goes the likely route and exercises his player option for 2023-24 — for next to nothing isn’t new to the Raptors in free agency. While the team has been a success for a decade under the stewardship of Masai Ujiri, free agency has rarely been a key part of that strategy. It’s been a successful part of the strategy even more rarely.

That framing is a bit unfair without context. Since taking over in May of 2013, Ujiri and company have had just one offseason in which they had true cap space. The NBA’s tricky soft-cap often makes it more helpful for a team to stay above the cap and use a series of exceptions to build out their roster rather than strip it down for maximum cap space.

Several times, the Raptors have opted to go the over-cap route, and several times they’ve had no other choice. That’s left them shopping in two tiers of the bargain bin most often: The mid-level exception pool, and the minimum-contract pool.

Speaking generally, the most efficient contracts in the NBA are maximum deals for stars and rookie-scale deals that deliver value before a young player reaches restricted free agency.

There are exceptions, but for the most part, the cap environment dictates that most middle-tier contracts are break-even propositions at best; you’re simply hoping to find the right player and the right fit at a fair price, not mine surplus value. And so the Raptors having cap space only once in a decade has rigged the free-agent game against themselves.

Still, the Raptors have signed 125 contracts during that time (excluding contracts for draft picks, which are almost always either for the set rookie scale or the minimum), and you’d hope for a more encouraging track record.

A few years back, I evaluated every Raptors’ front office based on their success in trades. Ujiri’s group was by far the most effective at “winning” trades. They were also better than every other Raptors’ front office save for a small-sample Rob Babcock run, though the franchise has consistently underperformed the league average dollar-per-win mark in free agency.

NBA midseason grades: Report card for 30 teams, from Celtics to Lakers and more – The Athletic

Toronto Raptors: D+

The Raptors hoped their four-man core of Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes would continue to grow together after last year’s excellent second half. Instead, VanVleet and Barnes have had massively disappointing years, and the four players’ skills have not complemented one another despite Siakam putting together an All-NBA-worthy season. Combine that with an underperforming bench and defensive tactics that are losing their effectiveness, and the Raptors have been very disappointing. Their recent play is trending positively, but they’ve dug themselves a significant hole. — Eric Koreen

Trading for O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam: Raptors as sellers, Part 2 – The Athletic

The Raptors hoped Anunoby would develop into a more solid offensive playmaker over the last few years. In his opportunities to do so, it hasn’t really happened. Considering the chances he gets, Anunoby is the most turnover-prone player above-average-usage player on the team. For such a strong player, he has trouble finishing through contact when he’s on the move.

With all of that said, Anunoby is, at the very least, an elite 3-and-D wing, with an emphasis on the “D.” He is at or near the league leaders in steals, deflections and loose balls recovered. When he dials back his aggressiveness, he is a tough, physical defender that is as versatile as anybody in the league. Since returning from hip and hand injuries last month, he was shooting 43.1 percent from 3 heading into Thursday’s game against Charlotte.

Anunoby has all-star upside, and any team would love to have him as a mid-usage starter. Excluding offensive creators at any size, his player type is the most coveted in the league. Due to his salary — about half of Siakam’s but twice Barnes’ — he should be the easiest of the three for the Raptors to move. For the Raptors to give him up, they would surely want some combination of multiple young rotation players and draft picks.

To Grizzlies: Anunoby, Thaddeus Young (two years, $16.3 million remaining, $1 million guaranteed for 2023-24)
To Raptors: Dillon Brooks (one year, $11.4 million), Ziaire Williams (three years, 15.35 million, likely RFA in 2026), Danny Green (one year, $10 million), 2023 first-round pick and EITHER 2024 first-round pick (belonging to Golden State) OR 2025 first-round pick (belonging to Memphis)

The Grizzlies’ view: Take Dillon Brooks out of the deal and you’re on to something. Teams do not trade heart-and-soul pieces in the middle of title contention, and that’s who Brooks is in Memphis. I like the idea of O.G. on the Grizzlies — maybe shrink this deal so it’s just him who comes over from Toronto. — Joe Vardon

To Kings: Anunoby
To Raptors: Richaun Holmes (three years, $36.16), Davion Mitchell (three years, $16.35 million), better of Indiana/Sacramento 2023 2nd-round picks, 2026, 2028 first-round picks*

(* — Kings would have to remove protections on the 2024 pick they owe Atlanta to be able to trade those first-round draft picks.)

The Kings’ view: The Kings feel good about their core — and, yes, that includes veteran small forward/free-agent-to-be Harrison Barnes. But while the 30-year-old Barnes may be a better fit for their books if they’re able to re-sign him this summer, I could see this intriguing the Kings as a way of aligning the timelines of their core players and lifting their ceiling. De’Aaron Fox (whose max contract runs through the 2025-26 season) is 25 years old, Domantas Sabonis (who is a free agent in the summer of 2024) is 26, and Anunoby (who is also a free agent in the summer of 2024) is 25. — Sam Amick

To Knicks: Anunoby, Khem Birch (two years, $13.65 million)
To Raptors: Obi Toppin (two years, $12.19 million, RFA in 2024), Evan Fournier (two years, $36.85 million, plus team option for 2024-25), better of Knicks or Mavericks 2023 first-round picks, 2024 Pistons second-round, 2025 Knicks first-round pick

The Knicks’ view: I’m intrigued, though I imagine the Knicks would grapple about that 2025 pick. This team still plans on star hunting, and if there’s one lesson to be learned from the Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Dejounte Murray trades from this past summer, it’s that they’ll need unprotected picks to get one done. That said, such is the price of going after an excellent, two-way wing, and I could see Anunoby fitting in wonderfully to this roster. I think there could be something here. My greatest wonder is whether Toronto would do this right now, considering I think they could acquire similar value in the summer. — Fred Katz

To Pelicans: Anunoby
To Raptors: Dyson Daniels (four years, $25.06 million, RFA in 2026), Devonte Graham (three years, $36.3 million), 2023 first-round pick, better of Lakers/Bucks 2024 first-round picks

The Pelicans’ view: In a vacuum, this deal seems like a really good fit for what New Orleans needs. Anunoby is an elite defensive wing who could cover up some of the problems that come with a starting lineup featuring Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. He’s also a better floor spacer than Herb Jones. But Anunoby’s contract situation makes this one a little more complicated. He’s able to opt out of his current deal after the ’23-24 season, and I’m sure he’ll be looking for a hefty payday. Daniels is young, but he’s already a very capable defender at a much more team-friendly price. As tempting as this one looks, I think the Pels probably pass. — Will Guillory

To Suns: Anunoby
To Raptors: Landry Shamet (four years, $42.5 million), Dario Saric (one year, $9.24 million), 2023, 2025, 2027 first-round picks

The Suns’ view: Suns president of basketball operations James Jones has been very patient with his assets to this point, and I just don’t see him spending three firsts for Anunoby when they already have Mikal Bridges signed through the summer of 2026. Jones is waiting for a bigger fish, so to speak, than O.G. — Amick

Could a mini-surge change Raptors’ deadline approach? It shouldn’t. – Sportsnet

It was a welcome win – they all are – but who you play matters in the NBA, and when you play them too. For 39 games the Raptors couldn’t defend at a high level, couldn’t score at a high level and couldn’t win enough games to be in the playoff picture.

But against a Portland club that is in the midst of a 2-8 slog with their wins coming over – yes – Charlotte and the Detroit Pistons, the other team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, Toronto looked pretty good.

Against the Hornets, whose 11-32 record means they should be in the mix for Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson at the top of the draft lottery, the Raptors looked great.

Certainly there was plenty to like in the opening moments, like Fred VanVleet vacating the right corner to go fake a screen for Siakam, who used the misdirection to get his feet into the paint and then zing a pass to the corner that VanVleet had left just in time to find a wide-open O.G. Anunoby for three.

Or VanVleet finding Barnes for not one but two dunks on the pick-and-roll in the first eight minutes of the game. Or Barnes setting a hard ball screen for VanVleet, catching the ball on the roll, and then whipping a pass to the corner for Siakam, who cashed that.

After counting 32 assists to match their season-high against Charlotte on Tuesday and 20 threes – the highest total going back to the 2020-21 season, the Raptors kept it going in the rematch. They jumped out to a 38-28 lead and counted 12 assists against 15 made field goals and were 5-of-8 from deep.

In that sense, the Hornets – now 2-8 in their last 10 – were almost medicinal for a Raptors team that has been reeling for so much of the season.

“I think it gives you a little chance not to spend a whole 48 hours preparing for the next opponent,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “You’ve prepared for them. You’ve just got to look at some adjustments, look at some things. It does give you a chance to zero on working on what we need to do, yeah.”

The second quarter was more of the same as six different Raptors scored at least four points. The Hornets were relying on Ball, who replied with 13 points for Charlotte on his way to a 20-point first half for the third-year star. The Raptors couldn’t contain him, but Toronto was still able to push its lead to 69-55.

But Ball’s ability to do what he wants, when he wants on the floor, seemingly – he had 24 points and 14 assists on Tuesday – should give the Raptors pause.

They could use a player like that — even in addition to Barnes, if the reigning rookie of the year reaches the heights many project for him — and most of them are gone after the first few picks of the draft, Ball being the No. 3 pick in 2020. Ball’s not perfect, but the passing vision, shooting range and quickness he provides as a 6-foot-7 lead guard are special.

“If you want to win the whole thing, it’s all about how many guys do you have on the floor that can command a second defender?” said Hornets head coach Steve Clifford in singing his point guard’s praises. “It’s a simple as that. When you get down to the last five minutes of every game in our league, what happens? It’s an [isolation] against a guy who can’t guard 1-on-1 or a pick-and-roll. That’s it. There’s nothing else. He has the ability to be that kind of player.”

How many players do the Raptors have like that right now? Siakam is likely the only one, and it’s probably a question for another day, but it’s something Toronto’s management should be laser focussed on as they figure out how to navigate the coming weeks and months.

Recap: LaMelo Ball scores 32 but Hornets lose to Raptors again, 124-114 – At The Hive

The teams traded baskets for the opening stages with Terry Rozier and Mason Plumlee taking center stage for the Hornets. Rozier hit some trademark tough shots while Plumlee cleaned up on the glass and had a couple of unorthodox baskets of his own. Cody Martin hit a 3-pointer and converted a 3-point play near the end of the third quarter. Those buckets along with Rozier’s 14 point quarter helped pull the Hornets within single digits heading into the fourth quarter.

A deep three and driving layup from Ball set the Hornets up for a chance at a fourth quarter offense, but the offense dried up after that. The Hornets went two minutes without a point, which prevented them from making a run while the Raptors struggled to score on the other end. They turned the ball over eight times in the quarter, and a number of them were simply careless decisions with the ball. Back to back turnovers from Plumlee and Ball led to four Raptors points that put them up 12 with under four minutes to play and effectively put the game out of reach. A wild pinball possession led to a Mason Plumlee and-1 to pull the Hornets within five, but Ball smoked a layup on the next possession to make it a one possession game. Fred VanVleet made a heavily contested dagger from the corner on the other end of the floor. The free throw game fluffed the score and set the final margin.

LaMelo Ball fouled out, but the final three of those fouls came in the final 40 seconds with the Hornets trying to get the ball back with the game essentially out of reach. He otherwise had a pretty strong performance outside of that missed chip shot at the end.

Terry Rozier wrapped up a strong road trip with 21 points on very effiecient shooting. Mason Plumlee did the same with his fifth double double in his last seven games.

The Hornets shot the ball really well but did themselves in with self inflicted wounds. They turned the ball over 22 times and converted just 70% of their free throws. They struggled to contain the Raptors inside, but that almost felt like a secondary issue to the sloppiness the Hornets played with.

Raptors knock out Hornets for the second time, winning 124-114 at home – Raptors HQ

This stretch of games is INCREDIBLY important to the Raptors’ season trajectory, as most of the opponents they face this week and next are below .500 teams, and winning could boost them in the standings.

It’s not entirely clear what the Raptors game plan is to finish off the season, with the trade deadline looming, team decisions to make, and their chances at a playoff spot in jeopardy. Their record after next week will surely help in the front office’s decision making.

With a short injury list (Porter Jr. and the guys down at the 905), The Raptors started out tonight with tons of energy. Their biggest lead of the first quarter was 13 points, and all starters shared the points pretty evenly.

By the end of the first, the Raptors were up 38-29. Top scorers were Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby with 12 points each, leading all scorers in the game.

It continued to be a great team effort by the Raptors in the second half. By the end of the half, four players were in double digits for Toronto.

The bench also contributed, with Chris Boucher making an impact early on. Precious Achiuwa was also active, sinking one of his silky three’s to add to the Raptors growing lead.

Of course, it was helped along by the fact that the Hornets offence wasn’t going very right at all for them. LaMelo Ball was the only player in double digits at the half.

By the end of the half, the Raptors were up 69-55.

Leading all scorers was Pascal Siakam with 18 points. LaMelo Ball was the only player for Charlotte in double digits at the end of the first half.

That being said, a little surprising the score was that close at the half, but we proceed.

Charlotte stayed in it through the third quarter, with Rozier heating up. He was up to 19 in by the end of the third quarter, along with Ball’s 22 points.

At the end of three quarters the Raptors were only up nine points, 97-88. They were able to keep that lead around the same throughout the fourth, ending the game with a 124-114 win against the Charlotte Hornets.

Along with taking the short series against Charlotte 2-0, it’s also the Raptors first three-game winning streak of the season. They need the momentum as they face the Atlanta Hawks Saturday to end their home stand. Then, they will head on the road for the rest of January.

Not only was the win itself a positive, it was also a full team effort (including the bench), something the team has been struggling with throughout the season. No player reached 40 minutes of playing time — though they got close — which is an improvement.

Nurse’s big-and-tall experiment gives Raptors bench a boost | The Star

They have decided to run out the team’s three tallest players at the same time at key points in games, letting Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko use their length and athleticism to do their disruptive stuff even if there is no guarantee it will work.

“I’m just, again, trying to come up with a solution after we had such a rough stretch there with guys off the bench,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said this week. “I tried enough combinations and all kinds of stuff so I was just trying to come up with a solution.”

So far, so good.

The three — each about six-foot-nine with long arms and a penchant for creating havoc with their defensive length — have proven to be a formidable trio, backstopping a second unit that generally starts the second and fourth quarters of each game.

“I thought they’ve done a great job the last two games,” guard Fred VanVleet said before the Raptors hosted Charlotte at the Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. “(They) had some good practices, shoot-arounds and had some good carry-over. So we’ve got to continue to grow and the more they play well, the more leash they’ll get and that’s how you grow a bench unit and we’re going to need those guys.”

The new look was forced upon Nurse and the Raptors because the bench wasn’t providing enough defence or offence with any consistency to allow the starters to get significant rest. Even if there are offensive limitations, getting solid defensive work solves one part of the problem.

“That’s a big defensive lineup,” Achiuwa said. “Having Christian back there (with) his ability to change shots, block shots, puts me and Chris on the wing in the zone, being able to close out with speed, quickness, and also recover. It’s very versatile.”

The coach simplified the schemes when the three are on the court by almost exclusively putting them in a zone defence and cutting back on the offensive play calls to make that part of the game easier.

“Let them go back to zone,” Nurse said. “We were trying to press a little bit after free throws like a three-quarter press and then back to zone, just to help their defensive transition and make it a little something different in the game.”

They can leave the bulk of the scoring to Gary Trent Jr., who is almost exclusively on the court with them. Boucher can make a shot now and then, Achiuwa seems to be finding his rhythm after missing 24 games with an ankle injury, and Koloko is learning how to finish strongly at the rim.

Achiuwa and Boucher were at times a formidable bench duo last season, and adding a third frontcourt player with many of the same physical attributes can’t hurt.

“We feed off each other, so that’s pretty good,” Boucher said. “And Christian is just another body that we can use to go after offensive rebounds. It feels good to have guys that can protect the rim, move fast and play together.”

Raptors Open 2nd Half of the Season with Win vs Hornets – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

The offense clicks against teams like Charlotte. The half-court struggles start to loosen up as the ball whizzes from side to side with ease. Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes both had no problem picking apart the Hornets’ lackluster defense, hooking up with one another for easy buckets repeatedly while making kick-out passes to open shooters. As a team, Toronto recorded assists on 30 of their 43 buckets.

Pascal Siakam barely broke a sweat, casually racking up 35 points on 11-for-13 shooting including a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc. Even the bench that’s plagued Toronto all season stepped up for the second straight night with Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher both finding a groove. Achiuwa recorded a career-high five steals in the game.

When Charlotte did go on a run in the fourth, cutting Toronto’s lead to just five, VanVleet stepped up, nailing his first three-pointer of the night on a great find by O.G. Anunoby. Moments later Gary Trent Jr. converted a pair of free throws and the Raptors clinched their first three-game winning streak of the season and moved to 19-23 on the year.

“We’ve just got to keep going. Don’t settle for less,” said Barnes who finished the night with 21 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. “Stay hungry. That’s what the team mindset is right now, stay hungry.”

Toronto now has an opportunity to start piling up some wins in the second half. Between their relatively easy schedule and the talent already on this roster, the Raptors are good enough to make the play-in tournament and contend for a playoff spot. If things go well, they could even push a first-round playoff series to five or six games.

“We’re trying to make some progress here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse added. “I think that there’s a good sign with some shots going in. There’s some good signs with a high number of assists. There’s some there’s little bit more life off the bench. There’s some good signs there for sure.”

But is fighting for a play-in spot the plan?

Pascal Siakam fuels suddenly hot Raptors to third win in a row | Toronto Sun

The quality of Toronto’s opposition hasn’t been high, but the Raptors can now salvage their home stand with a win Saturday when Atlanta, another beatable team, comes to town before Toronto heads out for a three-game trip.

With the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline looming, some potentially tough decisions might have to be made. One shouldn’t involve Siakam unless it’s a package Toronto’s upper brass simply can’t refuse.

Siakam embodied the epitome of efficiency Thursday, requiring 11 shots from the field to reach 28 points.

He reached the 30-point milestone with 4:53 left in fourth quarter on a sweeping jumper, his 10th basket on 12 attempts.

It marked Siakam’s 50th-career 30-point game, which places him fourth in franchise history. He finished the evening by pouring in a game-high 34 points.

Siakam and Charlotte’s dynamic point guard LaMelo Ball were the game’s premier players. The difference between the two involved Siakam’s teammates and how each complemented the star’s performance.

Ball’s 32 points led Charlotte before fouling out with seven seconds left.

Charlotte never led, but it did provide some opposition and moments when the Raptors were forced to dig deep to ward off the Bugs, including the game’s final minute.

Toronto recorded 30 assists in this game, two nights after it recorded 32.

“We could have had 40 off of good plays that we didn’t convert,’’ head coach Nick Nurse said following his team’s latest win. “But it was good. We’re creating opportunities to draw defenders and pass the ball. Much better.”

According to Nurse, the Raptors are focused on rolling to the basket on pick-and-rolls with the stated goal of getting the ball into the hands of the roller, which causes defences to collapse at the risk of exposing the perimeter.

And, by the very definition of getting the ball into the roller, it puts added pressure on the opposing team’s defence to guard the paint.

While Siakam did his thing by being the focal point on offence, it was Scottie Barnes who helped set the tone.

He was very good early and ended the night by netting 21 while recording nine assists and hauling down seven rebounds.

“Try to play with pace, try to get it to both sides (of the court), try to set good screens and be able to roll,’’ Barnes began during his post-game availability.

The roll action was key, but Barnes’ ability to find shooters was also instrumental.

When defenders drop into coverage, Barnes would kick it out to a shooter. When lanes to the basket were available, rim drives were initiated.

Barnes played well because he moved the ball well and made good decisions with the ball.

“It was a good game for us,’’ Barnes said.

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