Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 14

The Poeltl hype train has left the station | Adrian Griffin being positioned to take over for Nurse in the offseason

Is Poeltl’s arrival enough to reboot Raptors’ season? Early returns are good

The Raptors’ defensive rating with Poeltl on the floor is 98.9, compared with their 113.8 rating for the season (18th) or 115.4 for the last two games when Poeltl sits, the latter the equivalent of the 25th-worst mark in the league this season. For perspective, Cleveland leads the NBA with a rating of 108.9.

It’s not hard to see Poeltl’s role and minutes expanding in rapid fashion.

“It’s certainly a luxury to have someone with this size, and he’s just such a smart, intelligent player,” Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, who has been filling in while head coach Nick Nurse attends to a personal matter, said on Monday. “Sometimes we may get beat off the dribble because we’re out there pressuring the ball so much. But to have someone like (Poeltl) give us that rim protection, block shots and limit them to one shot — you limit teams to one shot and you can get out of the run, you’re gonna have success. … He’s only been with us for a couple of days, and he’s already picked up a lot of our concepts. So he’s only going to get better.”

Poeltl is certainly feeling more comfortable, even if his ramp-up period has been so short. It helps that he can rely on the likes of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet — his teammates for two seasons in Toronto when they all joined the club as rookies in 2016-17, before Poeltl was traded to the Spurs in the summer of 2018 in the deal that brought back Kawhi Leonard — to help acclimatize.

But he’s also a seven-year veteran who understands his job and his role and is comfortable learning on the fly. He was effective on Friday in his debut against Utah, where the Raptors blew a 13-point lead in the final minutes, mostly with Poeltl off the floor — but even more so on Sunday against the Pistons.

“It was like night and day,” said Poeltl. “First day was kind of like you get thrown into the deep end. You are just trying to make it work out. Obviously I knew about the schemes, I knew about the plays, but I didn’t really have it down yet. Like I said it’s about getting into a habit of doing things so that was tough the first game. I think it was a lot better already in the second game.”

Coincidence or not, each of the Raptors’ offensive primary cogs had strong games on Sunday, with VanVleet putting up 35 points and Siakam 28, with eight and six assists, respectively.

“It’s like he never left, you know, just kind of the chemistry there,” VanVleet said of Poeltl on Sunday. “I forgot how much we talk during the whole game trying to find ways to be successful.

“… I thought he got better as the game went on and just having another playmaker out there. He knows he’s got a very high IQ and he’s such a smart player, so definitely lucky to have that at the centre position.”

The challenge now is translating the additional defensive support and offensive playmaking into wins.

Raptors Seeing Early Impact of Jakob Peoltl on Defense – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

It starts in the paint. Poeltl has done a fantastic job of keeping opposing teams away from the hoop. In terms of shot frequency, the Jazz and Pistons were less willing to get into the restricted area when Poeltl was on the court compared to when he sat, a difference of about 7%, per Cleaning the Glass. As important, those same teams shoot 8.6% worse at the rim when Poeltl was on the court compared to when Toronto went without a traditional center.

“It’s certainly a luxury to have someone with this size, and he’s just such a smart, intelligent player,” said Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin following Monday’s practice. “Sometimes we may get beat off the dribble because we’re out there pressuring the ball so much, but to have someone like Jak give us that rim protection, block shots and limit them to one shot — you limit teams to one shot and you can get out of the run, you’re gonna have success.”

Getting beat at the perimeter has been a major part of the problem for Toronto this year. The Raptors have been so focused on gambling for turnovers that opposing teams have easily blown by the initial defense almost routinely this season. It’s why Toronto simultaneously leads the league in generating turnovers while also allowing opposing teams to shoot 49% from the floor, the fourth worst in the league.

With Poeltl on the court, though, Toronto can gamble with the understanding that the worst-case scenario actually isn’t all that bad. Getting beat on the perimeter is still going to hurt, but it’s a whole lot harder to make a shot at the rim when a 7-foot-1, 245-pound giant is standing at the rim ready to contest that shot.

“He gives us a big presence down there to discourage guys from coming in driving into the paint and stopping short for contested twos or contested mid-range jumpers,” Thad Young told AllRaptors last week. “It gives us that ability to contest those shots and get out and get off to the races.”

Toronto’s defensive aggressiveness has, however, been a little different for Poeltl coming over from San Antonio’s more conservative defensive style. For most of Poeltl’s career, he’s been a traditional drop coverage center, sagging off pick-and-roll coverage and staying in the paint the way most slow-footed big men around the league defend ball screens.

With the Raptors, though, things are more complicated. There’s not going to be a ton of situations in which Poeltl finds himself on the quickest guards, but he knows he’s going to be pulled out to the perimeter a little more often than he’s been used to in the past.

“It’s different to the last couple years in San Antonio for sure,” Poeltl said Sunday. “It’s definitely something I can do. I don’t think I’m gonna be in a 1-5 switch situation all the time. But I’m gonna end up on guards. It’s just a matter of closing those gaps as a team and making plays.”

Raptors’ Poeltl making presence felt early despite big learning curve | Toronto Sun

Poeltl got in his second practice on Monday with the Raptors and will get his third shootaround with the team Tuesday morning in advance of the 7:30 p.m. tip with Orlando.

While that is all helpful, the real teacher are the in-game reps.

“(The practices) help for sure,” Poeltl said following Monday’s practice. “Especially just running through these plays and stuff like that. We’re not really having live practices so the defensive schemes, that’s more like a mental thing for me to get used to. I think running through it in practice only does so much. It’s about doing it in game speed in the game and being able to react in time. Getting used to or almost making it a habit so if I have to react in a split second, I do the right thing.”

In his 42 minutes through two games, Poeltl has a defensive rating of 99 which is far and away the best mark on the team. Granted it is also a very small sample size but the feeling is Poeltl is only going to improve on those numbers once he gets a firm grasp of the schemes.

Poeltl, it is only fair to point out, is going from one end of the defensive spectrum to the other with the move from San Antonio to Toronto to say nothing of the change in offence.

“Defensively, and I’ve spoken about this before, (I’m) kind of going from a sit back, passive type defence like being very careful and not giving up fouls to a very aggressive style defence, trying to force turnovers. Maybe making a couple fewer solid plays but trying to be aggressive and forcing opponents to make mistakes,” Poeltl said.

“And then on offence like, I feel like I’m just in a little bit of a different role,” he added. “In San Antonio I had the ball in my hands a lot and I was trying to create for other guys. So far here I’m just in a lot of pick-and-roll situations. We have really talented one-on-one scorers in P(ascal) and Fred and all those guys so yeah, I’m just trying to play a more supportive role on offence I guess.”

Again, this is all a very early days scenario. Things are likely to change for him on both ends of the floor, almost definitely on the defensive end once O.G. Anunoby returns from injury, but it’s fair to say the comfort level is already coming very quickly which should make things better for everyone wearing the Raptors’ logo.

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin keeps eye on NBA head coach gig | The Star

Griffin cajoled the players, sniped at officials, made decisive moves and, most important, got the Raptors a win.

“Obviously we hope and want Nick to be back but … A.G. from practice to the game he did everything right,” two-time all-star Pascal Siakam said Monday. “(He) prepared for the game and it was good and I was happy for him.”

Griffin was quick to give credit to the rest of Nurse’s staff and veteran players like Siakam and Fred VanVleet for helping Sunday.

He was back at it before and during Monday’s brief workout, seeking feedback in case Nurse has to miss the final game before the week-long, all-star break.

“You’re always your toughest critic, after games, wins or losses,” Griffin said. “I love feedback. One thing I try to do is ask questions after the game to the other coaches about what I could have done better, what the team could have done better, managing the game, managing the rotations. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

It’s no secret that the 48-year-old Griffin wants to be an NBA head coach and he’s been deep in the interview process with different teams each of the last two summers.

He’s been an assistant since 2008 — he joined Nurse’s staff in 2018 —and played in the league for nine seasons. He’s got the background, and the experience that comes from handling games like Sunday is just another chip to play.

“It’s something I’d like to pursue in the future as far as being a head coach so this is good practice for me,” he said. “But I never lose sight of what’s important and that’s the players.

“I’ve got to make sure that they’re prepared, I’ve got to make sure that they know what’s coming and put them first.

“Yes, I appreciate this opportunity but I always try to keep it in perspective: We’ve got a game to win and my job is to prepare them to win.”

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