Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 20

About last night...that was embarrassing. This season is a fucking disaster.

‘Vision 6-9′ isn’t the Raptors’ problem. ‘Vision no shooting’ is – Yahoo

When I asked Nurse about what he makes of the lack of 3-point improvement from the Raptors’ young players, he said “That’s a tricky one. I think that on one level, you’ve got to be incredibly happy with guys coming into the NBA that weren’t really shooters and that they’re getting some success done, and they are in the process of climbing up the ladder.

“And I don’t know, I just think that again, some of our biggest drop-offs this year have been with some of our established guys. But I would also say that the year’s not over and there’s a lot of room for those things to even themselves back out.”

But this season is quickly getting out of reach, and the Raptors’ patience should be running thin. I wrote at the end of last season when the Philadelphia 76ers had success against the Raptors in the playoffs by taking away the paint and daring them to make 3s that the Raptors couldn’t depend on internal development alone to fix their 3-point shooting problems — that they had to go out and do something about it externally.

Instead, they ran it back with practically the same group plus Koloko and Porter Jr., who hasn’t played, and they are in a similar predicament. Even if their established shooters were shooting it at career-average numbers like Nurse alluded to, the Raptors’ offence would still be porous because they have so few shooters on the roster, and all shooters go through slumps. You simply cannot depend on three guys to provide all of your 3-point shooting to be good in the modern NBA.

That last point is even more true for the Raptors, who are built around two offensive fulcrums in Siakam and Barnes, who are non-threats from the outside and who command a lot of attention in the paint, where they are elite playmakers. The Raptors need to surround Siakam and Barnes with the type of shooting that is going to bring the best out of their two most important offensive players moving forward, which includes taller shooters and movement shooters who can play with Barnes in dribble-handoffs.

Ujiri once said about the DeMar DeRozan-era Raptors that “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again,” which is why he made the trade for Kawhi Leonard. Well, how many non-shooting forwards are the Raptors going to acquire before they realize they are doing the same thing over and over again with very limited success?

To an extent, it seems as though Ujiri understands that not all of the Raptors’ shooting improvements can come from within, saying at the end of last season that “I know we’re playing a certain way and people talk about playing all these long six-nine guys, but we do look for these other types of players. And sometimes the time frame doesn’t match with how you try to build an NBA team.

“And we have to look for those kinds of players that fit how we play. So we’ll continue to be aggressive out there and look and see how we can build from there.”

The Raptors undoubtedly have other problems besides 3-point shooting, but if they are building a team around Siakam and Barnes, they need to start prioritizing shooting in every transaction going forward.

The NBA has changed, and 3-point shooting is becoming more and more important every season. The sooner the Raptors accept that, the better off they will be.

5 things: Raptors find new ways to disappoint with another late collapse – Sportsnet

2. The surest sign of a team that doesn’t play together is how it defends. Blame it on fatigue, blame it on discord, blame it on the schedule — the bottom line is that the Raptors have lost their identity as a defense-first team. This is the 10th time in their last 19 games where Toronto conceded 119 points or more. Last season, the Raptors ranked top-five on defense from January onward, which turned the season around and propelled them to a strong finish with 48 wins and the fifth seed. It’s a mystery how the exact same team, with the same eight-man rotation, could be so consistently awful a year later. Toronto struggled so much on defense in this loss that coach Nick Nurse resorted to playing zone for more than half the game, and not just because it was tactically prudent, but simply just to get players in their spots and to have them communicate with each other. And yet the Timberwolves just got whatever they wanted each time down, which is why the Raptors led by only eight despite racking up 109 points through three quarters. When the inevitable drought hit, the Raptors capitulated.

Rested Raptors squander opportunity with fourth-quarter collapse vs. Timberwolves – Sportsnet

Defence was the issue again for Toronto as Minnesota shot 50.6 per cent from the floor and 17-of-40 from deep after a slow start with Russell’s late explosion a symptom of a greater ill for a Raptors team that gave up 130 to a short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team on Tuesday and ranks 29th in opponents effective field goal percentage.

“He obviously got going,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Russell. “But I don’t think it’s ever too late [to adjust], you just really gotta get out to him, press up on him and make him bounce it. Or make him almost drive it inside line and make something else happen, especially after he’s made a couple [of threes].”

The Raptors drop to 20-26 with the loss, 1-2 on their three-game road trip and 6-15 on the road overall. They are in 11th place in the East and 1.5 games out of 10th place and the final play-in spot, and five games out of sixth place and the final playoff spot.

Minnesota is trying to hold its own and got a much-needed win on tired legs while short-handed to help their cause and improved to 23-24.

Nurse and TWolves head coach Chris Finch are old friends, but there is no room for sympathy in these types of situations.

“We don’t call to commiserate, no,” joked Nurse. “All I know, I think they’re playing very well.”

The Raptors did what they do as well as they’ve done in quite some time, at least in the first half. The Raptors led 76-66 with some gaudy shooting numbers for the NBA’s worst shooting team: Toronto shot 9-of-14 from three and 64 per cent from the floor overall.

VanVleet has played some of the best basketball of his season on the Raptors’ three-game road trip and got Toronto going by seemingly getting into the paint anytime he wanted. He converted at the rim and spit the ball out to an open three-point shooter as appropriate and knocked down both of his three-point attempts also.

NBA — Wolves 128, Raptors 126: D’Angelo Russell Comes Alive in Fourth Quarter of Comeback Win – Canis Hoopus

Your Minnesota Timberwolves, after giving up 76 points in the first half and 64% shooting to a Toronto Raptors team that looked like it was going to just manhandle them all night, locked down in the fourth quarter to gain a huge, huge victory. Let’s go down the road of how the Wolves stole this one.

Kyle Anderson, the Connective Tissue
When asked about the play of Kyle Anderson after the game, Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch called Anderson the “connective tissue” and a “perfect fit” for this team. There is no better way to describe Anderson than that. Nearly every issue this team has can be answered with inserting the for UCLA Bruin into the game. He is a nightly threat for a triple-double at this point, as he was tonight, finishing with 20/10/6/2/1 on ridiculous efficiency. Minnesota won Anderson’s minutes by 15 points.

He just does everything. He makes his defensive rotation with precision, he fights for rebounds, and most importantly he gets the ball moving. The ability for Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell to get off of the ball early by giving it up to Anderson, while knowing they’ll likely get it back in a better position to score, is such a weapon for this team. There were other standouts who took this one to the finish line, but this game gets out of hand early if not Anderson keeping the Wolves in striking distance. He is everything the Wolves could’ve hoped he would be when they signed him to a two-year deal, plus so much more.

Jaden McDaniels’ Two-Way Stardom
It has sort of happened slowly, and now all at once, but Jaden McDaniels has officially cleared the “3-and-D super-role player” idea. Who knows what heights he will reach, but it would be foolish to think of Jaden as anything but a star in the making. He’s probably never going to be someone you throw the ball to on the wing and consistently expect an isolation bucket, but his offense is no longer something dragging down the impact he makes on the other end of the floor.

McDaniels finished tonight with 18 points and 7 rebounds on 7-14 shooting, including 4-7 from three, which now puts him over 40% from deep on the season. You expect his threes to go in, now. It is more shocking when those don’t go in than when they do, now. Aside from just the threes, though, as he took OG Anunoby to the rim twice in the first half when the Wolves were threatening to let go of the rope. He’s a legitimate two-way terror now.

Defensively, he just did what Jaden McDaniels does. He, like the rest of the day, was a step slow in the first half, but when it was time to lock in, he did exactly that. His ability to snake his way through multiple screening actions in succession is unrivaled, and with Anthony Edwards on the ball more, he was a disruptive force in the passing lanes as well. He is just so good. So, so good.

Toronto Raptors blow 18-point lead, lose to shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves 128-126 – Raptors HQ

Tonight’s loss was pretty consistent with the team’s troubling trend of playing bad defense. The Raptors had allowed 33.2 points per first quarter in their five previous games – in tonight’s opening frame, they allowed 31.

Within the game’s first few minutes, the Raptors appeared, once again, neither fully connected nor intense on defense, and gave up a couple open corner threes due to some delayed rotations. Even when they got stops, they gave up some second chance points on easy offensive boards. They looked good on offense, though, as they continually pushed the ball off turnovers and defensive rebounds, leading to eight early fast break points in the quarter.

Precious Achiuwa was the first player off the bench and put in an excellent shift, beginning with a fast break alley-oop from Fred VanVleet. On the other end, he deflected a pass bound for a backdoor cutter, likely saving a couple points. On another defensive possession he made a timely rotation and a beautiful block. He followed that up with an offensive board and a drawn foul. He missed both free throws, but made up for it with a putback on the next possession, then a three. Achiuwa – who was notably not accompanied by frequent collaborator Chris Boucher (DNP) – provided a nice injection of energy and production, helping them score 37 in the first.

In the second quarter we got our first look at Joe Wieskamp, who’s on his second 10-day. Wieskamp hit two corner threes, then another one in the fourth. Wieskamp!!

The Raptors looked like the much better team in the second quarter, and played at a blistering pace. Siakam led the bench unit with his facilitation, and VanVleet was locked in, hitting threes, mid-range pull-ups, and creating easy shots for teammates. Scottie Barnes finished plays with nicely timed cuts and finishes inside, and Trent provided some important secondary shot-making. Most importantly, their zone defense flustered the Wolves for a few minutes, allowing them to extend their lead to 18. But once Minnesota started picking the defense apart again, the Raptors provided far too little resistance and allowed them to close the gap to 10 by halftime.

O.G. Anunoby didn’t play his best game, turning the ball over three times in the first half and losing a couple defensive gambles that ultimately cost them points. Siakam only ended up with 13 points, but he was the engine of the offense in the third quarter, setting up a couple threes for VanVleet and hitting a mid-range fadeaway. Barnes was solid in the first half, but really picked things up in the third. He had a particularly nice stretch where he stopped Naz Reid one-on-one, then drove by him at the other end for a layup. On the following possession, Barnes finished inside on a nice pass from VanVleet, who initiated the offense to end the third, and ended the game with 25 points and 10 assists.

Despite looking like the superior team, the Raptors left far too much meat on the bone. Towards the end of the third, Barnes threw a lob to Achiuwa, but the lob was a bit high and Achiuwa missed the dunk. Achiuwa also missed all four of his free throw attempts, which blemished his otherwise very solid game. The Raptors’ transition defense was slightly disorganized and Anthony Edwards capitalized with a three, capping off a five-point swing to make it 106-101. On an inbound play, the Raptors essentially gifted the Wolves two free points as Siakam fell asleep on a backdoor cut. They just weren’t stingy enough to keep building the lead.

Raptors undone by defence in road loss to Timberwolves | The Star

“Joe Exotic, that’s his nickname,” VanVleet said. “He’s coming with great energy, shooting with confidence. Could be a good (addition to) that bench unit, add some shooting and some spacing out there. He’s got to hold his own on the defensive end, but I thought he was great tonight.”

Wieskamp and Thad Young, who had been out of the rotation for a handful of games, played in the second quarter ahead of Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko.

But that energy and an offensive performance that included 29 points from Scottie Barnes, 25 from VanVleet and 18 from Gary Trent Jr. went for naught. Toronto’s offence went stagnant late in the game, including nearly five minutes without a field goal.

“We just didn’t probably get enough quality looks at the offensive end,” Nurse said in trying to explain the last few minutes. “It was too bad on some of them, because we made the right plays and didn’t take the shot. We got the ball deep in the paint, maybe to the dots; a couple of times tried to make an interior pass that got knocked away.

“We had three really good looks down the stretch and didn’t make any of them. Gotta make one of those, probably, and you’re in good shape.”

While the Raptors were going cold, Russell was heating up.

“I think if you look at all of them, most of them — probably 80 per cent — were in transition off our misses or turnovers,” VanVleet said of Russell’s big fourth. “We definitely turned the ball over more than usual tonight — 16 is pretty high for us — so they were getting out in transition. And then the matchups and flow is kind of funky on the defensive end, so he was able to shake free and make a couple of tough ones. He’s a tough player, and made a smart play late to draw the foul to go up two.”

For Trent, the ball went up for the opening tip with nothing untoward, which meant he was already ahead of the last time he played in his hometown.

A year ago, Trent made his return to the Twin Cities with his father, younger brothers and various other friends and family very obviously in attendance at the Target Center — and was hit with a technical foul before the game began, for jostling with then Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley.

“I didn’t even do nothing,” Trent laughed here Thursday morning. “I was just standing there. I can’t react to nothing because they love to tech me up.”

Trent, who scored 30 points in that game, had 10 after a big first quarter Thursday.

Raptors Squander Ideal Opportunity with Loss to Timberwolves – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

They came into the season with what was considered to be one of the easier schedules in the NBA. They had more rest-advantage games than almost anyone else and it shouldn’t have been so hard to pinpoint a few schedule victories for Toronto. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example, didn’t make the trip north in early December and the Raptors ran away with that out. But far too often this year, it’s gone the other way. Golden State knocked off Toronto without Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins in mid-December. More recently the Milwaukee Bucks have twice topped the Raptors without some combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday in both games.

Thursday’s trip to Minnesota should have been easy. The Timberwolves were on the second night of a back-to-back after a late night in Denver and were playing without Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. In the NBA, that’s a schedule victory.

Not for these Raptors. Nothing can be easy.

A 14-point fourth-quarter Raptors lead vanished with nearly five minutes of scoreless basketball by Toronto. When the Raptors needed buckets late, O.G. Anunoby missed two crucial three-pointers including a would-be game-winner in the corner as the Timberwolves escaped with a 128-126 victory Thursday.

Toronto simply has no answers for DeAngelo Russell in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves guard nailed four three-pointers, digging Minnesota out of a massive hole before Anthony Edwards tied things up with a three of his own. Moments later, a questionable rip-through by Russell drew a pair of free throws, giving the Timberwolves a late two-point lead from which they never looked back.

Fred VanVleet kept his hot streak going early against the Timberwolves, dropping 18 of his 25 points in the first half, including a pair of catch-and-shoot threes as the off-ball guard working with Pascal Siakam and Precious Achiuwa early. He followed it up later, beating Minnesota’s blitzing defense with a deep three out of a pick-and-roll with Achiuwa. 

It’s been over a month now that VanVleet has been Toronto’s best playmaker. Even when his shooting stroke has betrayed him, he’s found a way to create for others, working the pick-and-roll or getting into the paint before creating kick-out opportunities for others. To end the first half Thursday, he scored or assisted on 16 straight Raptors buckets as Toronto closed out the half with a 10-point lead.

Siakam had a slow start offensively but kept the Raptors going with some playmaking of his own. He found Barnes for a pair of dunks early in the second quarter and hooked up with VanVleet for three early in the third, part of his nine-assist night.

Raptors trade tiers 7.0: Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam? (Almost) anything could happen – The Athletic

Almost untouchable

Scottie Barnes (three years, $25.79 million, team option for 2024-25, extension eligible in 2024, potential restricted free agent in 2025)

The best thing about the last 10 games or so of this disappointing Raptors season has been watching Scottie Barnes once again impact games in numerous ways. Whether it has been as a screener, passer or as a physical presence in the paint, Barnes is back to flashing his potential every game. Barnes is averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game over the last 10 games, heading into Thursday’s contest in Minnesota. He has probably been the best Raptor during that stretch.

I’ve stuck “Almost” up there as more of an acknowledgment of how strange this season has been from a team perspective. The Raptors should have been humbled to the point where absolutely nothing is entirely off the table. Saying that, coming up with a sensible trade for Barnes is nearly impossible. The most likely outcome remains the Raptors offering him a maximum-value extension two summers from now, and Barnes remaining a Raptor for a long, long time.

Why would we give him up?

Precious Achiuwa (two years, $7.22 million remaining, extension eligible in 2023, RFA/UFA in 2024)

Christian Koloko (three years, $5.24 million remaining, 2024-25 unguaranteed, potential RFA in 2025)

Achiuwa has yet to show he can be a starter in the league, but his excellent play in the second half of last year and since he returned from his ankle injury should have the Raptors keeping him around for a while longer. Raptors president Masai Ujiri has said he still sees Toronto as a “team of the future,” and Achiuwa, with his massive defensive skill set and improving offensive decision-making, could be a meaningful part of that.

More to the point, with the Raptors unlikely to be in win-now mode this deadline, they shouldn’t be in the position where they have to add sweetener to get a deal done. After Barnes, Achiuwa is the best player the Raptors still have on a rookie deal. I’d bet against an extension getting done this offseason, just because the Raptors currently exist in an uncertain state, but that could change.

Koloko, who has provided above-average utility as a second-round pick, is less likely to move because of his comparatively low salary.

We’d rather not, but give us your best offer and we’ll think about it

O.G. Anunoby (three years, $55.93 million remaining, includes player option for 2024-25)

Pascal Siakam (two years, $73.34 million remaining)

Both Raptors forwards are extension-eligible this offseason. However, given Anunoby won’t qualify for a supermax, the Raptors could offer him a starting salary of about $22.4 million, with a maximum of eight-percent raises. If he were an unrestricted free agent this summer, some team would offer him a minimum of $30 million as a first-year salary, and that’s being conservative. If Siakam makes All-NBA this year, he’ll be eligible for a starting salary at 35 percent of the salary cap as opposed to 30 percent.

Anyway, Anunoby is more likely to move at the deadline for many reasons, primarily: He is easier to incorporate into an offence midseason, and he makes half of what Siakam does. Barring something unforeseen, Siakam’s value shouldn’t change dramatically between now and the summer, because part of the appeal of acquiring him would be the ability to realistically extend him. In case you’re worried the Raptors might win too many games with him, the likes of San Antonio, Detroit, Houston and Charlotte will be impossible for Toronto to “catch” in the lottery standings. The Raptors are more likely to fall somewhere in the 5-9 range. It’s obviously beneficial from a single-season perspective to have the best lottery positioning possible, but that’s more about the floor than the ceiling.

I digress. I’d bet against either Siakam or Anunoby moving at the deadline, but the latter is more realistic than the former.

Raptors find way to lose against tired and banged-up Timberwolves | Toronto Sun

Of course, the Raptors have done a pretty fair job themselves this season of failing to take advantages of situations just like this one.

They somehow managed to send this gift back as well.

In a game in which they led by as many as 18 points and held a lead for the vast majority of the game, the Raptors found a way to lose this one 128-126.

The Timberwolves’ winning points came a on a pair of D’Angelo Russell free throws with 9.9 seconds remaining.

The Raptors had a chance to tie and force overtime or win, but a well-planned play got O.G. Anunoby a wide open, side-step three that missed the mark.

Scottie Barnes got a hand on the rebound and had it slapped out of his hands and out of bounds by Kyle Anderson.

Toronto challenged the call but the call was unsuccessful leaving the Timberwolves only to inbound the ball successfully for the win which they did. 

In a season of low points, this one scrapped the very bottom. 

And once again it will be the Raptors’ beleaguered defence that bears the brunt of the blame in this one. 

While the Raptors were scoring at will most of the night, so too were the Timberwolves keeping pace with the Raptors even when it felt like the game was very one-sided. 

Both teams had 30 or more points in each of the first three quarters. 

As much as Toronto needs wins right now, a solid defensive effort would go a long way to restoring some confidence in this team and that just doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now. 

The thing is the effort, and, yes, the energy, is there defensively. The Raptors are flying around but they’re just not getting stops. 

On Tuesday in Miwaukee with the Bucks down both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, it was Jrue Holiday going off on the Raptors. 

Thursday night in Minny it was a combination of Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Anderson doing the damage. 

Then in the fourth when D’Angelo Russell got hot from three, the defence was slow to recognize it and Russell almost single-handedly brought the Timberwolves to a win. 

Eventually, Fred VanVleet took that threat away, but by then it was a one-possession game and the home side found a way to make that one possession in their favour. 

If there was any good news for the Raptors it was at the other end of the floor. Offensively, the Raptors again looked more like the kind of Raptors offence that shows up when the team is feeling good about itself. 

Barnes had a season-high 29 points in the loss. 

Raptors can’t afford load management whether it works or not | The Star

Still, as much as VanVleet is struggling through a difficult season, the terrific performances from Siakam and Anunoby could be seen as an anecdotal case against the now-standard league protocol of pacing high performers with pre-emptive rest, scarce practice time and carefully managed minutes. The Raptors, on top of playing their best players more than pretty much every other team in the league, have practised far more frequently than they ever did in more prosperous times under head coach Nick Nurse. And yet — touch wood, heading into Thursday — they hadn’t yet been hit by an unusually crippling rash of injuries.

Which was the point of a Twitter beef from former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy the other day. Van Gundy made the point that in the 1990s, NBA teams practised “more often and harder,” played a schedule that featured more back-to-back sets and were staffed by a modest contingent of player-performance specialists, usually a trainer and a strength and conditioning coach.

“Teams now have huge medical (and) ‘performance’ staffs and value rest over practice. Yet injuries and games missed are way up,” Van Gundy continued in his tweet. “Something’s not working!”

Now, some hilarity ensued after Van Gundy mistook a co-signing of his tweet by Nets forward Kevin Durant. Durant tweeted two words in reply: “Stan spittin’” — short for “spittin’ facts.” In other words, K.D. agreed. Van Gundy, unwise to the slang and assuming Durant was disagreeing, assured Durant in an ensuing tweet he wasn’t criticizing players, merely pointing out what he sees as a league blindly following a standard of player deployment that, at least anecdotally, doesn’t seem to be producing desirable results.

As Van Gundy told the “Dan Le Batard Show” on Thursday: “Even with all the load management … actual injury, and people being out with injuries, is way up. So at some point, when do you say, ‘Hey. This isn’t really working. Maybe this theory we have isn’t right, or at least not right for everybody’ … Everybody should at least have the curiosity to say, ‘Are we doing this right?’ And I don’t see teams doing that. I just see that across the league it’s accepted that the less we do, the less we demand of players, the better it is. Well, then why are we having more injuries?”

It’s a great question. But for the Raptors, it’s a big-picture concern best saved for teams with the luxury of using the regular season as a runway to bigger things.

Sitting five games under .500 heading into Thursday night — a half-game out of the final play-in spot — the Raptors won’t be in a position to pace themselves unless they shift into tank mode and begin to invent reasons to rest their best players, a bit of self-sabotage they performed during their Tampa residency a couple of seasons back to improve their draft lottery odds. Far from the Raptors complaining about the state of the league, it’s voices around the league poking at the state of the Raptors.

“Something needs to change, because they’re way too talented to be struggling the way they’ve been struggling throughout the season,” C.J. McCollum, the New Orleans Pelicans guard, was saying on his podcast this week. “They got too many good pieces, they got too many guys who are not only impactful and quality NBA players on that team, but that would be impactful and quality players on other teams, and probably have larger roles depending on who they decided to move.”

Safe to say it didn’t sit well in Toronto that McCollum, also president of the NBA players’ association, went on to speak of “rumblings” about certain Raptors “not being happy,” while hypothesizing that “something’s going to happen” with Toronto’s roster before the trade deadline. Precisely what is anyone’s guess.

Here’s what’s for sure: Between now and then, the Raptors won’t be treating regular-season games like some extended dress rehearsal for the post-season. As a team on the play-in bubble, load management is now only a memory of better times. Depending on your outlook, it’s either a luxury — or, in Van Gundy’s view, an inanity — they can no longer afford.

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