Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 2

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Raptors-Jazz observations: The ‘what if’ of Walker Kessler and more – The Athletic

Walker, not a Raptor

Nurse called on Christian Koloko as the first substitution, which gave us a chance to see the big man the Raptors selected in the second round of the draft and the first centre taken after the first-round pick the Raptors moved in the Thaddeus Young trade — Walker Kessler, the 22nd pick of the draft. The Raptors sent the 20th pick to San Antonio.

Koloko had his moments, dunking right through Kessler on his first attempt of the night. After that, Kessler dominated. The Raptors as a whole, and not just Koloko, had fits finishing with Kessler at the rim. He blocked a Siakam floater and made Scottie Barnes’ life hell as the Raptors sophomore got offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Kessler also had a few key offensive rebounds, out-positioning Koloko for one that led to a Jordan Clarkson 3. He got two on the same possession before his own putback in the fourth. He finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds and seven blocks.

“One time Scottie got it and just hit him in the chest first and then laid it in,” Nurse said. “That’s what you’ve got to do to those guys. If you let them just be free and jump and use their size, then they’re gonna do that.”

Given the Raptors’ years-long problem finding a playable centre, it is easy to dream of what Kessler would look like with the Raptors. Kessler has blocked 3.5 shots per 36 minutes, and the Jazz are 9.2 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the floor than when he’s on the bench. (Koloko has a similar impact on the Raptors, albeit in a much smaller role.)

It’s impossible to say whether the Raptors, who generally don’t draft for need, would have taken Kessler if they had just kept their pick last year. Kessler might have developed differently with Toronto, too. Still, we can tentatively add him to the Desmond Bane “It Would Sure Be Nice If He Were A Raptor” All-Stars.

The most Raptors game ever

Partly due to Kessler’s interior presence, this game played extremely to the Raptors’ type. Between the Raptors’ offensive rebounding advantage, which occasionally was just collecting their own blocked and altered shots, and the turnover disparity, the Raptors took 27 more field goal attempts than the Jazz. The Raptors had 25 offensive rebounds to Utah’s 13, and half the number of the Jazz’s 16 turnovers.

“It’s hard to wrap your mind around, that’s for sure,” VanVleet said.

The Jazz were getting whatever shot they wanted off of Raptors misses for much of the game. The Raptors have at least started to defend the paint better, but that has once again led to great looks for opponents from 3. The Jazz took 47 to the Raptors’ 23.

The Raptors ended up with an excellent 129.6 offensive rating despite shooting 45.5 and 69.2 percent from the field and the free-throw line, respectively. That is not easy to do.

Jazz rookie Kessler shines against a Raptors team in need of similar skills – Sportsnet

Kessler’s first quarter alone was proof of concept. He had four blocks in the first eight minutes of the game — starting modestly with a swat on VanVleet and building up to a crescendo when he spiked a floater by Young, sprinted the length of the floor and finished an alley-oop from Colin Sexton. The Raptors were 2-of-19 in the paint during Kessler’s first eight-minute stint and the Jazz led 21-13 and seemed poised for a blowout — the Raptors trailed by 14 early in the second quarter — before a blizzard of Jazz turnovers and Toronto offensive rebounds kept the visitors close.

Toronto had an 11-2 edge in turnovers and a 15-3 advantage in offensive rebounds, the main reasons they were able to go into the half trailing 65-60 even though Utah shot 55.8 per cent from the floor and made nine threes to the Raptors’ two.

But Kessler’s impact both now and potentially in the future was hard to ignore. How does he command the paint on defence so convincingly and – for such a young player — how does he do it without fouling?

“One his size, and length and athleticism, and he’s got great feet,” said Jazz head coach Will Hardy, who was an assistant with the Boston Celtics when Robert Williams emerged as an elite defender at centre. “Really good instincts around the basket. But he does such a good job of following the ball with his eyes. He doesn’t just jump blindly around the rim … he follows the ball with his eyes and then that allows him to what I think he does best, which is block shots with both hands, he doesn’t reach across his body a lot. And so to the officials that gives you the look of maintaining good defensive position … He’s a special athlete to me.”

None of those qualities were certain at the trade deadline a year ago when Toronto made the move for Young. who they hoped would add some depth for their playoff push, help in the development of Precious Achiuwa and take some of the leadership burden off VanVleet and Pascal Siakam.

Admirable goals but if they could do things over again would they keep the 20th pick and draft Kessler, who looks like he’ll be anchoring Utah’s defence for a decade or more?

I’d think so. The margins are slim in the NBA when you don’t have an MVP-level superstar to cover up your mistakes.

All season long the Raptors have been desperate for three-point shooting, so it has to hurt a little bit when they see what Yuta Watanabe is doing in Brooklyn this season. He was with Toronto for two seasons and struggled for playing time through injuries.

With the Nets? Watanabe is among the league leaders, connecting on 49 per cent from deep. Ish Wainright was a late cut in training camp a year ago who is a nice rotation piece for Phoenix. Raptors fans will always lament that with the 29th pick in the 2020 draft, Toronto took Malachi Flynn, while the 30th pick, Desmond Bane, is a budding star with the Memphis Grizzlies and one of the better young shooting guards in the league.

You can cherry pick examples like those with almost every team. But for several years, it was the Raptors who seemed to win those ‘small’ moments and eventually they added up and led to a championship.

The hope is that as the Raptors embark on their next phase, they win more of them than they don’t.

Jordan Clarkson outduels Donovan Mitchell late as Jazz beat Cavs – SLC Dunk

Utah coughed up the ball 16 times and Toronto snagged 25 offensive rebounds. Those opportunities turned into 37 points for the Raptors. As we saw tonight, a formula based heavily on volume can only get you so far.

The Jazz shot the ball quite well but it was living at the line that saved the game. They were led by Lauri Markkanen shooting 10-10 and Mike Conley going 9-9 on the night.

Let’s dive into some other fun points on the night:

The Lauri Markkanen/Pascal Siakam duel was fun. Despite some similarities, their differences were on display. Siakam’s ability to self-create got the Raptors back into the game while Markkanen’s insane efficiency poised a massive hill to climb.
Mike Conley yet again demonstrated why his name is floating around trade circles and why the Jazz are insisting on pick compensation. He finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Malik Beasley continues to shoot the cover off the ball, sinking 4 threes to keep him in the top 5 of most player 3’s made in the league, despite largely playing bench minutes. His is also a popular name ahead of the Feb. 9th trade deadline.
Second year star Scottie Barnes proved pretty underwhelming outside of his 14 rebounds. He secured 18 points, 3 assists, and a steal but on an abysmal 37.6% true shooting.
Let’s look at the 4-factor advantage stats to get a feel for the game as a whole:

eFG% advantage: +13.3
TOV% advantage: -8.1
OREB% advantage: -8.9
FTArate advantage: +14.9

This win puts the Jazz at 27-26, finding themselves tied with the Golden State Warriors for 8th in the West.

Looking ahead, the Jazz will turn their attention to the Atlanta Hawks who come to town in the second of this four game homestand. The Hawks are 25-26 on the season ranking 8th in the East.

It’s sure to be an interesting matchup with multiple storylines surrounding the contest, including Utah’s reported interest in John Collins and the proximity of the teams in the league standings.

Utah Jazz rock and roll the Toronto Raptors, 131-128 – Raptors HQ

Tonight, the struggles of the Raptors’ reserves continued up till the end of the third quarter. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to the entirety of the bench, when it was really just Chris Boucher and a few solid possessions of Christian Koloko.

Boucher deserves credit, because he has been really good lately. Tonight, he finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds on an extremely efficient clip.

Speaking of deserving credit, and being really good lately, Fred VanVleet certainly continued to up his trade value… Or, whatever the Raptors are playing for now adays. An outstanding triple double of 34 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. All of that with 4 made three-pointers, and 6/6 from the free throw line.

VanVleet was one of the few Raptors to put up efficient numbers from the line, where as a team they shot 69% tonight. You aren’t going to win many games shooting that poorly from the stripe, and it especially hurts when you lose by three and miss eight.

The only thing more on fire than VanVleet tonight was that microphone that flamed up before the game started.

It was enjoyable to see a legitimately competitive second half. There was quite a few lead changes in the fourth quarter, but once again, the lack of an interior presence killed the Raptors.

It’s one thing for Markkanen to finish with 28 points and 13 rebounds, continuing to cement his all star campaign. It’s another for rookie center, Walker Kessler to finish with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks. Who by the way, has been fantastic and probably more affective than Rudy Gobert when you account for their price tag.

But it is the absolute last straw when a team trots out a starting lineup whose small forward towers over your center. It is already expected that the opposing team’s center is going to make us look like we play in a lower age group, but a small forward?

Yes, I know. Utah is an exception where Markkanen is a seven-footer on the wing, but when the only true big in your lineup is a second round rookie, it’s a difficult life. If you read all of my articles you are probably annoyed at the fact that I belabour this point every game, but it turns out to be a factor every game.

All in all, the Raptors put up a solid fight and made it a really tight game at the end. It was never really in question, because the Jazz continued to answer back every time Toronto would score.

Jazz too tall an order for Raptors in Toronto’s loss to Utah | The Star

When the game got a bit frenetic and the Raptors could get out and run, they were able to make a game of it. But when they had to guard in the half-court, they got picked over as the Jazz shot nearly 54 per cent from the field.

“In the guts of the game there when we were making them miss quite often, I think we had a stretch of seven consecutive stops, and then the two or three would-have-been stops if we had limited them to one shot,” coach Nick Nurse said. “It was just keeping them off the glass for just a little stretch. For the most part, it wasn’t bad initially, defensively.”

Lauri Markkanen led Utah with 28 points and Jordan Clarkson had 23, while rookie Walker Kessler dominated inside with seven blocks.

Nurse said before the game that defensive toughness would be the top issue the team has to deal with down the stretch.

“I just don’t think we’re quite as nasty on the defensive end as we were a year ago night after night,” he said. “I just don’t feel as dominating a presence when we go out there, that we’re going to take you out of stuff and you’re going to have to really work.

“Now, we do it in stretches. We do it in certain games. We do it very well, very similar to the way we did it last year, but that has been probably the most inconsistent thing.”

The grind of an NBA season is real and it takes an immense physical toll on the players who do much of the heavy lifting.

“We need to be a lot more physical,” VanVleet said Wednesday morning. “That’s one area we can improve on, just with a change of mindset. “Whether it’s your preparation or your activation or whatever, it’s getting your body ready to fight a little bit better.”

Whether it’s dishing out physicality or playing through the hits they take, the Raptors could be better with a more even distribution of toughness every night.

“It’s easy to say, hard to do,” VanVleet said. “Nobody goes into a game saying ‘Oh, I’m going to play soft today’ but sometimes it happens.

“It’s just staying on top of that and just keeping your body ready. Whether it’s better synergy with the things we’re doing or better preparation, that’s an area we can get better at.”

For a team that had supposedly given up on the season after trading away all-stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have stayed surprisingly competitive all season. They’ve amassed a deep roster of solid players and Markkanen has grown into an all-star level talent to keep them right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Raptors Haunted By Front Office Mistake in Loss to Jazz – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

It’s easy to look back with hindsight and second guess some of the decisions the Toronto Raptors have made in recent years. Passing on Desmond Bane to select Malachi Flynn in the 2019 NBA Draft probably comes to mind first. But it wasn’t all that difficult to first guess the Thad Young deal when Toronto sent its 2022 first-round pick and Goran Dragic to the San Antonio Spurs for Young and the pick that eventually became Christian Koloko. It felt a little unusual at the time.

Who would the Raptors have taken with the No. 20 pick had they kept the selection? The truth is, it may very well have been Koloko. As Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said before the draft, the organization didn’t see much of a difference between the late lottery and early second round. But maybe Toronto would have gone in another direction, taking the center drafted just ahead of Koloko, Walker Kessler.

It might have changed the outcome of Wednesday’s 131-128 loss to the Utah Jazz.

There’s no doubt Toronto’s front office deserves all the praise it’s received in recent years for its string of savvy moves. Their draft record was almost perfect in the latter part of the 2010s and their trades have been near-flawless. But things haven’t exactly gone smoothly to start this decade and the price is now being paid.

Kessler is exactly what Toronto needs right now. He’s a 7-foot shoot-blocking behemoth who deters shots in the paint like few others in the league. It felt as though the Raptors couldn’t even look at the restricted area for large swaths of Wednesday night as the 21-year-old rookie racked up a career-high seven blocks to go with his 17 points and 14 rebounds.

He almost single-handedly put the nail in Toronto’s coffin, turning a three-point game into an eight-point Jazz lead late in the fourth with two straight buckets before a kick-out pass to Lauri Markkanen for three sealed Toronto’s fate.

The Raptors kept it close for most of the night thanks to a 109 to 83 field-goal advantage and a season-high 25 offensive rebounds. How exactly did they get that many offensive boards? Well, Kessler and company contested Toronto’s inside attack over and over again to the tune of 40 missed shots in the paint and 45% shooting from the field.

Toronto Raptors’ VanVleet’s big night goes for naught in Utah | Toronto Sun

The Raptors fought back gamely from their early issues and had the lead on numerous occasions through the third and fourth quarters, but fell short yet again in a 131-128 loss.

VanVleet was outstanding in this one, setting a career high in rebounds with 12 in addition to his game-high 34 points and 10 assists, but where the Raptors got one truly outstanding performance the Jazz had two.

First there was seven footer Lauri Markkanen, likely on his way to the All-Star game as the representative of the host team, filling up the scoresheet with 28 points and 13 rebounds. He’s been doing that all year since coming over from Cleveland in the Donovan Mitchell trade.

The bigger surprise on the night was rookie Walker Kessler. Kessler is quickly making the basketball fans in Utah forget Rudy Gobert was ever a member of the Jazz.

All Kessler did was contribute 17 points, pull down 14 boards, seven at the offensive end and, most impactful of all, block seven of the 11 shots the Jazz had as a team.

Kessler’s mere presence at the rim had more than a few Raptors even considering heading to the rim the way he was swatting away attempts.

And doing this as a rookie had to make Raptors head coach Nick Nurse cringe as he’s got his own shot-blocking rookie in Christian Koloko who, for whatever reason, has never seen the benefit of the whistle that Kessler seems to be getting in Utah.

In any event, Kessler played a very large role in this one, particularly in the early going when he had four of his seven blocks.

Kessler along with Markkanen and Canadian Kelly Olynyk gave the Jazz a huge height advantage over the Raptors and that played into the final result.

But give the Raptors credit for refusing to back down, particularly on the offensive boards where Toronto had a huge 25-13 advantage led by Barnes’ nine offensive rebounds.

It was that kind of effort, along with VanVleet’s night, that allowed the Raptors to keep this one as close as it was.

Could O.G. Anunoby put a team over the top?: Vecenie’s trade deadline mailbag – The Athletic

Anunoby is the league’s most versatile defensive force on the perimeter. I use the word “versatile” purposely, given that there are so many important defensive roles and styles. Guys like Holiday defend guards better. Guys like Bam Adebayo are switchable in ball-screen actions and can force significant problems for offenses. Draymond Green is probably the best communicator and defensive leader. Jaren Jackson Jr. is probably the best overall force in help defense. But Anunoby is one of a handful league-wide who can slide across the positional spectrum in on-ball matchups and be impactful.

There is no one better at guarding big wing shot creators one-on-one. He’s enormous at 6-foot-8 with a near-7-foot-3 wingspan. He’s also turned into a tremendous team defender who uses his length to wreak havoc rotationally as well as force turnovers. Anunoby has the third best defensive EPM rating in the league. He’s top 20 in ESPN’s RPM metric defensively (seventh among wings). And those on-ball settings against the best big creators become even more magnified in the playoffs.

At 25 years old, I wouldn’t sleep on his offense either. He’s always been a good catch-and-shoot guy and has made 38 percent of his 1,041 3-point attempts since 2019-20. The numbers say he’s been stagnant since the 2020-21 season, averaging about 16 to 17 points per game, but there have been incremental improvements each season in the way he drives to the rim and how he’s started figuring out how to use his physicality and balance on that end. His footwork and handle in ball screens is better The significant thing holding him back at the moment is his pull-up shooting. He’s made just 96 of his 314 pull-up jumpers over the last two years, according to Synergy. Typically, it’s because his feet get a bit mixed up in his load-up, and it can lead to some trajectory inconsistency. He has clear touch, though, and he has the ability to get where he wants on the court, as you’ll see on this drive against Dejounte Murray. When he puts his shoulder into someone in one of these isolation situations, there’s really nothing a non-big defender can do.

If Anunoby averages 17 points, six rebounds and two assists while playing elite-level defense for the next five years, that’s worth multiple first-round picks, given that he’s on a bargain contract (the team acquiring him would get him for the rest of this year and have him locked in at $18.6 million next year). But if that ability to become an isolation wing scorer keeps improving, then his value goes through the roof, and we could see him become something like a 22-point per game player. It’s rare that wings this young, who are this good already and have a bit of tangible upside, hit the market.

Anunoby does have an injury history, however. Last year, he suffered a hip pointer and a fractured finger that forced him to miss time. He’s missed time with various calf injuries, wrist sprains, an eye contusion and an emergency appendectomy. Nothing has been serious in the NBA, but he did tear his ACL at Indiana and break his wrist in high school. There is some small consternation across the NBA about being the team that will be asked to shell out a significant nine-figure contract to him. All of this is why it makes more sense for a team with established stars to be the one to acquire him. And particularly, I think there is a real case this is the player Memphis has been waiting for to hit the market.

5 thoughts on “Morning Coffee – Thu, Feb 2”

  1. LGS: Türkiye’de nitelikli liseye girmek isteyen öğrencilerin katılmak zorunda olduğu bir sınavdır. Bu sınav genellikle Haziran ayında yapılır ve öğrencilerin matematik, Türkçe, Fen ve Sosyal Bilimler alanlarında bilgi ve becerilerini ölçer. Başarılı olan öğrenciler, istedikleri lise türüne girebilirler.


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