Morning Coffee – Fri, Jan 27

Raptors poor play may cost Siakam another All-Star bid | Precious is making his case for a big pay day | Trade chatter getting all time

Precious Achiuwa is showing his best self in time for negotiations with Raptors – The Athletic

If anything has been surprising about Achiuwa’s mid-season arrival in his third NBA season, it is that: The former agent of chaos is going about his business in fairly normal terms on offence. In the first half of last season, Achiuwa was a certifiable adventure, with any result, from comical air ball to beautifully in-rhythm pull-up jumper, on the table. He fine-tuned his decision-making as the season went on, but still retained some of his wildness.

He isn’t suddenly a mistake-free player, but Achiuwa has put up a 53.8/42.8/66.7 shooting line on the way to averaging 12.9 points over his last nine games. He generally has an avoidable offensive foul or turnover once a game, but he has dramatically cut down on his out-of-control drives. More often, he is catching the ball, reading the defence and reacting — quickly.

“I think it was him getting to know us and the system, and us getting to know him,” Nick Nurse said on Thursday of Achiuwa’s early days as a Raptor. “And you guys know me: I’m not somebody to really put somebody in a really small little box right away. I go the other way around until I can see what’s available out there. Maybe in the short term, that may not be the right approach, but I always think in the long-term growth of a player and the long-term value to a team that’s the way to do it.”

“Just playing the game, reading the game, reading bodies,” Achiuwa said of his approach. “See where people are playing within the flow of the game.”

It sounds so basic, but it appeared impossible last November. Unquestionably, skill development has been a part of it, too. For a team that has been having a bit of a dry spell in player development, Achiuwa’s growth is a wonderful bright spot.

Achiuwa’s primary value still comes on defence. On a team full of multi-positional defenders, Achiuwa ranks behind only O.G. Anunoby in terms of flexibility. It is that ability that made the Raptors have patience with his offensive game. As Nurse mentioned, that is now paying off: Like, Achiuwa has a bankable left hand now? This was the same guy who shot 37.9 from the floor, primarily as a paint presence, in his first month as a Raptor last year.

Achiuwa’s recent play has made him feel like a sixth starter. Against Sacramento, Anunoby got poked in the eye in the fourth quarter. Achiuwa simply stayed in the game and helped the Raptors carry it the rest of the way.

“I think he’s going out there and he’s got his priorities,” Nurse said. “He’s going out there to play hard. He’s going out there to guard. He’s really competing, trying to guard whoever he gets matched up on. On the glass. He’s running better both ways. And then (offensively) we’re getting down to him taking it to the rim, which is what we want him to do, and he’s taking the rhythm 3s, which is what we want him to do. So that’s a good priority list. That’s about seven things there, and he can stop thinking about most other things.”

Nurse makes it sound like a process of simplification; perhaps it is. However, Achiuwa still has to wear a lot of hats, especially when you consider his additional rim-protecting abilities. This version of Achiuwa can impact a lot of areas. Individual runs like this should make fans optimistic if the Raptors decide to move on from one of Pascal Siakam or Anunoby, Achiuwa should be able to fill in at least some of the gaps.

After 79 seconds as a Warrior, things sure have changed for Raptors’ Boucher – Sportsnet

If the Raptors are going to make a run, the kind of contributions Boucher is able to make at his best — his ability to find offence in cracks and creases, the way his speed can alter the tempo of a game and his knack for keeping possessions alive on offence or coming up with blocks and deflections on defence – will doubtless have to be part of it. Boucher hasn’t been as consistent in his performance this year — though good luck separating whether that’s due to him or due to the inconsistencies of the Raptors as a whole —  but he’s been consistent in his approach andhis routines.

His sprint off the bench and up to the scorers’ table when he gets called to sub into games and his sprint to the floor are just small examples of habits he’s nurtured as he’s fine-tuned what it takes for him to be at his best.

“I think it’s I think it’s a step in the right direction or whatever, for being a pro. Right?” said Nurse. “Learning how to get yourself ready to play each and every minute is not that easy to figure out and it’s an individual thing and I think  he’s figured it out. For the most part.

“He’s like everybody else. He has his ups and downs. He has some games where he doesn’t, you know, just things don’t click for him or whatever. But I’d say more often than not, he sprints up to the scorer’s table, he sprints in the game, as my high-school coach used to say: he’s a guy that makes a lot of things happen — not always good, but he’s making a lot of things happen, and that’s OK.” 

They’re all lessons Boucher has learned along his unlikely journey and in his documentary he shares the challenges he had with his mental health and steps he’s taken to improve it. He hopes he can help someone by sharing his experiences.

“It was more to be an inspiration for everybody, just talking more than basketball, more what you go through in your mind, what you can go through in any sport, any career. Injuries and all, it was more for that,” he said of his motivation for making the film.

He’s not the same person he was as a Warrior, but remains someone who has to battle.

“You go through a career, there’s ups and downs and when those downs are coming, you got to find ways to free your mind and be able to come back to the person that you are and the player that you could be,” Boucher said. “Those are when meditation came up and it helped me out, cleared up my mind thinking about the past. Sometimes it creeps up and you don’t want to become the same guy that you were before.

“Those are all things that meditation did for me and having a therapist and all that.”

In a different set of circumstances there’s a possibility that Boucher would be on his homecourt at Chase Center, getting ready to host the Raptors, Canada’s team. However, he wasn’t ready for success when he was here. He was able to make the most of a second chancebefore it slipped through his fingers in Toronto.

Having come through the challenges presented by immigration, poverty, homelessness, injury, and his own stubborn nature — a benefit and a curse at moments over his career — Boucher can appreciate his journey more clearly than ever before.

“Who knows, maybe I never would have learned what I learned coming to the Raptors,” Boucher said of his time with Warriors. “I can’t say that. I do know that obviously being away from the Warriors definitely helped me [learn] how to be a professional and all the things I had to do just to stay in the league. You can be out the league so fast. One day, I was on a first-class ticket back home so … [I’m] just be grateful of every situation that happens.”

Raptors Insider: Poor record may cost Siakam an all-star berth | The Star

But back to Siakam. He’s an all-star, no doubt, and has been to the All-Star Game once as a starter in 2020. But his team’s losing record is going to factor into a lot of coaches’ votes this season. It matters, it really does.

The thing that’s most impressive about Siakam’s season is that even when he doesn’t look flashy or dominant, he is.

Take Wednesday night in Sacramento, for instance. He put up all-star numbers for sure (26 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one turnover, two steals and two blocked shots in less than 35 minutes) but somewhat quietly led Toronto to one of its best wins of the season. He dominated in the flow of the game and didn’t hold back any of his teammates.

“Twenty-six, 11 and seven is pretty fantastic to me, two blocks,” teammate Fred VanVleet said. “(It’s the) progressions of the greats. They find ways to manage the game as well and get their game off. I thought he was really patient. He shot it from three. He got to the mid-range in the second half. He was big defensively, made a lot of big plays and help rotations that we need on the back line and on defence and rebounding the ball at a high level.

“He did a little bit of everything for us and he’s a staple of what we do, obviously.”

Tellingly, coach Nick Nurse pointed to passes as much as anything when going over Siakam’s contribution to the 113-95 win.

“He had a stretch where he made a really tough basket near the rim, came down the next time, made the same kind of move, fired it to O.G. (Anunoby) for a three; came down again and fired it to Fred (VanVleet) for a three. Three successive possessions where he created really high efficiency offence.”

That’s all-star play and Siakam deserves to be in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19.

But sometimes life isn’t fair.

Trade Anunoby for Westbrook? How fans would run the Raptors | The Star

How would you grade the team’s performance so far this season?

It wasn’t a very good report card for this edition of the Raptors. The majority of votes (80 per cent) were split between “C” (41 per cent) saying they’re not playing up to standard but there’s no need to panic, and “D” (39 per cent) who say they haven’t been enjoying this season as much.

A small group were more blunt by giving them an “F” grade (15 per cent) and calling the season a failure, while an even smaller group (four per cent) gave a “B” grade, accepting the ups and downs of a long season.

There were no “A”’s to be found on this report card.

What direction do you want to take this team?

The answers to this question are a good representation of the discourse we’ve heard around the Raptors all season: Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. There was nearly an even split between the 106 fans who voted on the direction to take with this group.

Thirty-six per cent of fans took a calm and reasonable approach saying there’s no need to panic. Thirty-five per cent of fans went the opposite direction and said it’s time to rebuild and tank for Victor Wembanyama. While 29 per cent of fans who voted say they believe in this group and want to fight for a playoff spot.

Would you make a coaching change?

Our Raptors readers who checked in for this survey have full confidence in coach Nick Nurse despite a tough season. Sixty-one per cent of fans said they would not consider moving on from their championship coach, while 31 per cent will give him the rest of the season before re-evaluating and just seven per cent (eight votes) said it’s time to make a change.

Raptors can rejoice in wake of win as tough Warriors are up next | Toronto Sun

The way the Raptors defended, the way they moved the basketball to record 16 first-half assists on 24 makes, the way they protected the basketball, one would think there’s no way the team would even contemplate breaking up this unit.

Despite the win, the future of the team’s core players continues to dominant the basketball conversation.

At 22-27, the Raptors are five games behind Miami for the sixth seed in the East, a slot that would avoid competing in the play-in tournament.

The 22 wins are just as many as Chicago, which resides in 10th place.

Whether it’s VanVleet, whose list of rumoured suitors in potential trade scenarios continues to grow, the likes of O.G. Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. or even Pascal Siakam, results such as Wednesday’s win almost get lost in the shuffle.

As he has often done this season, Siakam led the way by scoring 26 points.

He wasn’t nearly as efficient on this night, requiring 24 attempts to lead all scorers.

Siakam added 11 rebounds, while recording seven assists.

Just as impressive was the one turnover he committed.

The Raptors, in fact, were a plus-10 in the turnover battle and emerged with a plus-6 in rebounding, an area that has not been a strength.

“We looked good and felt good,” VanVleet said. “We were locked in. We have had our struggles this year.”

The Raptors led by as many as 20 against a Kings team that will embark on their own seven-game odyssey.

Five players scored at least 16 points for the Raptors.

Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa combined to score 35 points by making 16 of 22 shots.

The bench duo also combined to haul down 19 rebounds.

Achiuwa did have three turnovers, one third of the team’s total.

There have been times this season when Toronto’s play reaches such a high level that opposing coaches are left in awe.

Such was the case in Sacramento.

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