Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 24

Trading ain't easy | The post-up is still effective

Assessing Raptors at the NBA trade deadline: Hollinger and Koreen – The Athletic

Koreen: Step away from the Raptors’ perspective and move over to their potential trade partners. Let’s assume they’re title contenders: How much more complicated is acquiring a player who will have as big of a role as Pascal Siakam now versus in the offseason?

Hollinger: It’s harder with a guy who will be top two or top three in your food chain. For instance, the Gasol trade was easier for Toronto because his offensive role wasn’t going to be primary; the Raptors were going to run through Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry regardless of who was playing centre. And it’s also harder to bring in a guy like Siakam who is such a high-usage player in Toronto and ask him to dial back to a third banana someplace like, I dunno, Philly.

But the thing about trading for Siakam now is he’s still under contract following this season, so it’s almost like you make the deal in the offseason anyway. Plus, you get an extra half-year to work out the kinks and maybe make a playoff run.

Koreen: Since it happened, I’ve viewed Utah’s Rudy Gobert return more of an outlier than a market-setter. Do you agree? How do you think the league would view Siakam compared to some of the stars who have moved recently?

Hollinger: That’s a serious outlier and the results in Minnesota are going to chill the market for that level of blockbuster for quite a while. I’d look at Donovan Mitchell and Dejounte Murray as more realistic market setters with the return on a player of Siakam’s ilk likely falling somewhere between the two and probably closer to the Murray end of the spectrum. That is, presuming the receiving team feels good about their odds of extending him before he hits free agency in 2024.

Koreen: Unless they move a lot of their players and take almost no long-term salary back, the Raptors will not have a path to meaningful cap space this offseason (it’s not a great free-agent class, anyway). With that in mind, who are some players under contract you would target if you are the Raptors? Let’s assume Siakam and Scottie Barnes are both Raptors next season, but I’ll limit the certainties there.

Hollinger: Anyone who can play centre, of which there are a great many who might be available. Let’s start with Myles Turner, who is young enough to grow with the current core, could be available and shouldn’t be expensive to acquire. Plus, his long-range shooting ability will keep the middle open for the likes of Barnes and Siakam. To me, he’s the target for the Raps.

Moving down the food chain, you get into guys who can sort of fake their way at 5 against backups but probably aren’t the ones you want for the Philly or Denver game — John Collins, say, or Kelly Olynyk. There also are some older candidates who might be available but might not fit Toronto’s plan right now, such as Nikola Vučević. Finally, of course, there’s the idea of a reunion with Jakob Poeltl, although I imagine San Antonio would drive a very hard bargain.

I focused on centres, but Toronto also just has a general lack of plus rotation players at every position except 4. Just getting half-decent players who make less than the midlevel exception and won’t induce fires when they check in for the starters would be a plus. Like, how valuable would Delon Wright be about now? Or a healthy Danny Green? Heck, even Cory Joseph!

Armstrong on Raptors: ‘They got some decisions to make’ – Video – TSN

Bryan Hayes, Jeff O’Neill and Jamie McLennan are joined by TSN Basketball analyst Jack Armstrong to discuss the expectations for the Toronto Raptors entering the second half of the season.

One last gasp for Raptors or has their fate already been sealed? | Toronto Sun

Of course, the then still-a-ways-away trade deadline of Feb. 9 was pushing that narrative. What sports fan doesn’t love a bit mid-season trade to shake things up? But while the 3-3 homestand and a 2-3 record since hasn’t altered the public narrative one iota, social media hasn’t been this negative with the Raptors since LeBron was openly mocking them while stealing their collective lunch money every playoffs (or so it seemed).

As usual the front office has remained tight lipped. The trade deadline could still be the blowout sale of Masai Ujiri’s career (although we don’t believe that).

The month of January has not been pretty. The Raptors, through 12 of the 16 games they will play before the calendar flips, are a woeful 5-7. Four of those five wins have come against two teams, the fully-tanking Charlotte Hornets and a New York Knicks club that seems to be the one unit that still fears the mighty Raptors brand.

Not exactly inspiring if your name is Ujiri or Bobby Webster and you’re in charge of deciding whether this is the time to put a stick of dynamite under the roster or ride it out until the summer and maybe re-assess then.

You can argue the team is actually playing better now than they were through that dreadful 4-11 stretch from late November through all of December.

Rookie Scottie Barnes is looking every bit — and more — like the player he was a year ago when he earned rookie of the year honours and had the fanbase predicting big things.

Veteran Fred VanVleet, the Raptor whose stock has plummeted with the majority of the fanbase faster than Stefon Diggs got out of that losing Bills locker room Sunday, is looking very much like the Steady Freddy who was relatively recently the toast of this town.

His three-point stroke is back, he’s digging into defenders and those VanVleet hands are wreaking havoc on opposition ball-handlers.

Precious Achiuwa has also returned to that second-half 2022 form. All of it combines to provide a sliver of optimism, but quite frankly that’s not the overriding feeling one gets about this team right now.

Certainly not all has been fixed. The defence continues to confound with its inability to settle in like they did a year ago with basically the same roster. For the three games before Sunday’s win, all of which contained periods of really good basketball by the Raptors, the final quarters looked very much like a team that had already started to tank.

All that said, the trade deadline remains 2½ weeks and eight games away.

Seven of those games make up a potentially deciding two-week road trip that begins Wednesday in Sacramento and concludes Feb. 5 in Memphis.

How NBA Teams Are Bringing The Post-Up Back To Life | FiveThirtyEight

There are correlations between the players who are best at posting up, those best at hand-offs and their teams’ offensive efficiency. Jokić and Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis are two of the league’s most efficient and frequent post players, and so too are they the two most frequent hand-off providers. And both of their teams currently rank among the top 5 highest offensive ratings in history.

One common thread is that Jokić and Sabonis are brilliant scorers and passers; using them in either capacity out of the post is a good tactic. That’s not unusual: Across the league, possessions with passes coming out of the post carry practically the same efficiency as possessions seeing shots coming off of post-ups. For today’s multi-talented bigs, the post can be used as a vehicle between every kind of event on the court, rather than an end in and of itself.

And yet, in the entirety of Second Spectrum’s database (beginning in 2013-14), 2022-23’s post-ups are the both most efficient play type on record and the least frequent. In fact, post-ups have been the most efficient and least frequent play type in every season in the database other than 2013-14 (when it was the most efficient and second-least frequent play type).

There is an inherent tension in a play slowly growing in efficiency yet shrinking in usage. Are teams now using post-ups too infrequently? Will there be diminishing returns if they’re used more often again? With (most) teams in the league maximizing efficiency and applying Moneyball principles to the NBA, there must exist to some extent a relative “objective” equilibrium between frequency and efficiency of individual play types.

Other factors impacting where such an equilibrium might settle haven’t shifted dramatically for the past few seasons. While 3-point attempts have generally been on the rise over the past few decades in the NBA, they’ve been stable for the last four seasons. So too has 3-point accuracy and pace. 

But unless the rules change, or post-up artists like Jokić and Sabonis lose their skills to alien invaders in a real-life Space Jam situation, it’s hard to see plays in the post becoming less efficient. More likely, their frequency could rise at some point. And wings like Tatum are perhaps the next frontier in the post-up’s reclamation of offensive attention. The Toronto Raptors last season went all-in on non-big post-ups. Wings like DeMar DeRozan have long been post-up wizards. But as post-ups are becoming tools to punish mismatches created elsewhere, or a means of chaining together events like hand-offs and pick-and-rolls, the wing’s ability in the post will be an important tool in any necromantic resurrection of the play.

The day of the post-up receiving the first billing is likely done; no realistic amount of equilibrium shift can undo so many years of tactical evolution. Teams can certainly turn to the post for simple, static buckets at times — like the Celtics did with Tatum against the Thunder. And it’s important to remember that modern NBA offensive sets are often in flux, with multiple pieces flowing together like a complex ballet. How post-ups can fit into the theater around them, as finishing moments to exploit mismatches or as continuation events to move players or the ball across the floor, is changing. There are now many advantageous uses for the post-up in the NBA. And as its efficiency continues to rise, teams are poised to recommit to more and more of them. 

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