Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 21

Post-ASG Hangover; buckle up!

5 questions that’ll decide the 2022-23 Toronto Raptors’ season – The Athletic

Can the Raptors thrive with both Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes, and can they thrive individually?

If you want a long-term question instead of a season-focused question, this is it. At 1,321 minutes, Barnes and Siakam have logged more court time together than any Raptors duo, save for Barnes and VanVleet, who are six minutes ahead. The Raptors are 2.2 points per 100 possessions better than those opponents in those minutes. That is fine, but it does not scream two players enhancing each other. For comparison, the Raptors have outscored their opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions when Barnes and O.G. Anunoby share the floor, and 5.0 points when it’s Siakam and Anunoby. Of course, all three have been on the floor for many of those minutes, but it underscores how important Anunoby’s skill set, which still skews more toward a 3-and-D role, is to making things work.

Monitor two things. First, how often do we see Barnes and Siakam screening for the other? With Poeltl, the spacing will be complicated, but the easiest way to keep both involved without diminishing either is to have them work together offensively. Secondly, watch each player’s catch-and-shoot opportunities from 3. No, you don’t want either player spending too much time on the periphery of the offence, but it will be necessary sometimes. Barnes is shooting just 32 percent on his 125 catch-and-shoot 3s, while Siakam is at a passable 36.5 percent on his 148 attempts.

In order to be at least solid in the half court, it’d really help if both players can bump those figures up in the final 23 games.

What changes does Nick Nurse make in the season’s final quarter?

The Raptors go into the final stretch with four players in the top 25 in minutes played per game, with Siakam leading at 37.7, and three in the top 27 in total minutes. With the results of the games mattering more now than the rest of the season, it’s hard to see the starters’ minutes falling dramatically, unless the reserves we talked about above really click.

The bigger question is schematically: Does Nurse opt for drop-back coverages — not only to take more advantage of Poeltl’s presence, but also to lighten the load on his best players? The Raptors’ hyperaggressive defensive scheming has their stars running more than most of their peers. VanVleet, Siakam and Barnes are second, fifth and eighth in miles travelled per game, while all three, plus Anunoby, are in the top 10 in miles travelled defensively per game.

It’s a lot, and at different times, those players have looked worn out throughout the season. If the Raptors want to even flirt with a top-six seed and avoid the Play-In Tournament — they are four-and-a-half games behind the Knicks, with three teams in between them — they’ll need to put together something like a 17-6 finish to the year. That will require good health, and the Raptors’ best players being at their best. The Raptors’ schedule isn’t jam-packed, with only three sets of back-to-backs remaining.

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